Hijacked!

20131006_164332I was sitting in my window seat winging my way on a work trip, kindle in my hand, earbuds in with old southern gospel playing in my ears when the hijacker appeared. I don’t think anyone else noticed this interloper. He was benign enough. Was this a terrorist? An ideologue? Someone intent on my harm? No, the reason no one else noticed is that the hijacker was a song in my play list. You see, I was minding my own business reading when a song began to play in my ears that would hijack my thoughts for the rest of the day.

Lost in thought as I tried to finish a book I started months ago about the gospel my foot began tapping to an old friend, a song my mother introduced me to and one she requested sung at her funeral – The Uncloudy Day. As I cranked up the familiar melody in my ears and my foot began pounding out the beat to the point I was sure I was disturbing my seatmate on the flight I was transported back 16 years to the church where I grew up. It was not just any day I was transported back to, no I was taken back to the day my brother and I buried our parents. You see the only thing my mother had ever said about her funeral before she died was that she wanted The Uncloudy Day sung at her funeral so that is one of 2 songs we requested be sung that day. However this is not the memory that hijacked my thoughts.

No, the memory that arrested me at 30,000 feet was my memory of watching a man who loved my whole family dearly sing a song from a genre he hated just to serve my brother and I and to honor my parents. In my minds eye I was 20 once again, numb from grief, deeply desiring God to be honored through the Gospel being preached and that He be praised through the testimony of song, sitting on the front row in the meeting house of the saints and knowing as the first notes of this Southern Gospel staple hit the speakers that the only reason Brother D would be singing this song was because of his deep love for his Heavenly Father which poured out and overflowed in his love for me and my brother.

I remember watching his hands shake slightly as he took the mic from the stand and raised it to his lips to sing. I remember him fighting to keep his voice even as he began to sing and watching as his eyes closed so he could focus on the melody and the words so he could get through the song. Was this nervous stage fright in the face of the standing-room-only overflow crowd? 20131006_164518No, I had the privilege of watching him praise the Lord through song for over a decade at this point and it would have taken far more than that crowd to have rattled him. No, the shaky hands and those eyes closing were because D loves deeply and for whatever reason he had decided to love my family many years before therefore that love wanted nothing more than to “mourn with those who mourn”.

This choice D had made was not an un-costly decision. More than once one member of our family or another had caused him no small frustration, sometimes pain and more than a little confusion but he loved us anyway. Not only did he love my parents because they served with him in ministry and my brother and I because he served us in ministry, but D was one of our elders. He was charged with watching over our souls, a responsibility he took seriously and discharged with great joy. The only way D knows how to love and serve is with his whole heart. That is why he was one of the first ones to come to comfort my brother and I on that terrible Sunday morning. He did not come with many words but came with a hug that would not let me go as he sat next to me on the couch and cried.

So at 30,000 feet when The Uncloudy Day began to play my heart was overwhelmed and captivated with gratitude to God for D and for the privilege of being so deeply loved by him. Long had he preached to our stubborn hearts that we should strive to be “Jesus with skin on” and in that moment, like thousands before, as he struggled to sing a song he did not even like D demonstrated exactly what that looked like as he brought us into the presence of The Balm of Gilead who alone could bind our wounds and heal our hurts. I love you D!

 

 

 

Lessons from Cancer: The Crucible

image credit

   “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:3–9, ESV)

My cancer treatments were all inpatient treatments due to the type of cancer I had and its aggressive nature. When you are relegated to a hospital room for weeks you have a lot of time to think and reflect. During one particular difficult hospital stay in which I was in intense pain, my thoughts were directed toward the truth that this suffering was going to reveal my true character. Oh how I desperately prayed that the nurses and techs would see the grace of God in me, how I begged God that I would have the grace and strength to not make their tough job worse. How I did on that front others would have to tell you.

However, during this struggle I kept thinking of a crucible. For those unfamiliar with this special vessel (as if I am some master smelter or something), a crucible is the specially constructed vessel used to test and purify precious metals. The master smelter will take the metal to be purified and place it into this vessel. Then the crucible is placed into the furnace to melt the metal into a liquid state. Once in a liquid state several options are available to the smelter to rid the metal of its impurities. One of the oldest is to take an implement and skim the surface of the liquid metal dragging the impurities out. Then the vessel is replaced in the furnace which causes more impurity to rise to the surface after which the entire process is repeated until the smelter is satisfied with the purity of the metal.

With this process playing over and over in my mind coupled with the knowledge that my pain and struggle was revealing my own character, I began to reflect on what spiritual value and truth I could glean, what did this tell me about God? What did the Word say about me in relation to these truths? What should my response be? One of the first things I thought of was that much like the metal in the crucible, I was being tried and tested. The genuineness of my faith was GOING to be revealed and how I desperately wanted the aroma of Jesus to permeate everything I did and how I feared that I would prove myself to be an unworthy servant. I wanted everyone to see the pure gold of the fruits of the Spirit but I feared that all that would be found was the lead of my evil heart. So I prayed hard that God would give me grace to bear up under this travail and if there is any praise it belongs to Him and He alone.

The second truth that I was reminded of is that unlike gold brought out of the ground and placed in the crucible, which has intrinsic value in and of itself, I had nothing good in me (Isa. 64:6-7). In and of myself I am a wretched rebel who of my own volition spurned the Law of the Righteous Judge, declaring war on the Holy One of Israel seeking to depose Him from his rightful throne as Lord over all of creation and all peoples. Because of that rebellion I was a rotting, bloated, lifeless corpse. Left to myself there was nothing to put into the crucible – I was nothing but impurities: there was nothing good in me.

The third truth is the corollary to the truth above, namely that any good that might come out of my life was the direct result of God’s imputation of Christ’ righteousness to my account (Rom 5:15-17). To have anything to put in the crucible to refine I must first be given it (Eph 2:8-9). God in His condescending benevolence, providence and mercy grants Christ’ righteousness to rebels like me. Does that meant that I have arrived? No, I am not yet what I will be but Praise God I am not what I was!

Finally, as I lay there in that bed I was overwhelmed with humble gratitude. Making it through each moment was not an act of my own power or ability but was in fact a gift of grace from a loving Father who chose not to rescue me from the flames, nor meant me harm in them but rather was putting His power and might on display as He walked in the fire with me.

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” 1 Cor 10:13 ESV

16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with fury, and the expression of his face was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He ordered the furnace heated seven times more than it was usually heated. 20 And he ordered some of the mighty men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace. 21 Then these men were bound in their cloaks, their tunics, their hats, and their other garments, and they were thrown into the burning fiery furnace. 22 Because the king’s order was urgent and the furnace overheated, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. 23 And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell bound into the burning fiery furnace.

24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.” 25 He answered and said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.

26 Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the burning fiery furnace; he declared, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here!” Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire. 27 And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men. The hair of their heads was not singed, their cloaks were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them. 28 Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. 29 Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way.” ” Daniel 3:16-29 ESV

*emphasis mine