Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Seasons

The other day I was sitting in the den looking out the sliding glass door. It was an emotionally difficult day and I was feeling rather depressed. As I was staring at the leaves that had fallen on to the deck, I could identify with their condition deep within my soul. I told the Lord, "I feel like those leaves, shriveled up and lifeless." Sadly, Christians often are scandalized with the thought of putting depression and Christian in the same sentence. As Author Jim Palmer states in his book entitled "Divine Nobodies", "You're not supposed to be depressed if you are a Christian. After all, it's "non-Christians" who are the miserable ones needing to see our ecstatic, smiling, problem-free faces and hear our radical stories if they are ever to find Jesus. You're never going to grow a church with a bunch of despondent people moping around!"  Mr. Palmer himself went through a deep depression and points out that the church often doesn't allow for us to be real with our brokenness. He states,"Many times I have been in this condition at church when someone asked how I was doing, and I replied, "Fine." I've responded like this so many times, one day I decided to look it up. To be "fine" is to be "optimally functioning with freedom from disease or abnormality." So my answer is a bald-faced lie. But after all, lying seems to be consistent with church rules of engagement---pleasant questions, pleasant answers, even if they are untrue." I can identify with what Jim Palmer is saying.  I had nothing to really offer to the Lord so I asked for a word from Him. The Lord spoke through the words of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 and the meditation from the booklet "Our Daily Bread" which surprisingly was focused on the same Bible passage. The passage from Ecclesiastes is very familiar to many people as a rock group called the Byrds popularized it in the 60's. The song went, "To everything turn, turn, turn, There is a season turn, turn, turn, And a time to every purpose under heaven." The song then proceeded like the Bible passage to lay out the high and lows of those seasons. God drew my attention to those shriveled leaves to remind me that just as the meteorological seasons change  the typical flow of our lives also have their seasons. The author of the meditation in "Our Daily Bread"states, "We do a disservice to ourselves and others when we portray the Christian life as peaceful and happy all the time. Instead the Bible portrays the believer's life as consisting of seasons of ups and downs." The author concludes with this thought, "Every season needs faith to get us through it." It is faith that calls me to trust in the Lord even in the seasons of despair. Faith says it is O.K. to feel like a shriveled up leaf because there will be another season of hope and new life. God allows us joys as well as sorrows to draw us closer to Him. In fact Jim Palmer used to be ashamed of his depression but states that he now sees it as a "trap door to God." When it hits and he finds himself sinking into a "black hole", he often finds Jesus there. Mr. Palmer says, "I acquired in seminary a lot of theologically correct answers to the question of who Jesus is....But now when I am asked, I am most inclined to say, "Jesus is the one who sits down close to me in my black hole of despair, offering himself until it passes. In some strange way, even though my black hole remains, I'm starting to really know Jesus, and knowing him makes me feel whole." Perhaps knowing Jesus better is less about pretending and more about moving through the reality of the seasons in our lives. And being aware that in every season, God's divine love holds us, and that awareness brings healing and a sense of wholeness.
In His Love,
Pastor Sheree

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Numbering Our Days (In memory of Jacob Bratkon)

My day started out fairly uneventful. It was Thursday so that meant the typical routine of morning exercise, shower, breakfast and laundry duty. I went to check my e-mail and received disturbing news. On Wednesday, September 7, a dear sister in Christ lost her 17 year old son in a tragic car accident. I was in shock as I could not even begin to imagine the devastation the family and friends of this young man were experiencing. A heaviness settled into my soul and hung on for most of the day. I had to go out to the grocery store in the afternoon and had a hard time motivating myself to get there. I felt like I was in a fog as I walked through the store and watched other people going through their shopping routine unaware that a tragedy had taken place 24 hours earlier. Upon returning home I continued to feel very unsettled so I turned to the One who often comforts me in difficult times. I asked the Lord for a word of comfort to try and make sense of this "unnatural"event where children die before their parents. The Lord led me to Psalm 90:1-12 which was the meditation from the devotional booklet, "Our Daily Bread." This Psalm holds special meaning for me as it was a favorite Psalm of my great-grandmother and my great aunt. In fact I read this Psalm at my great aunt's funeral service. The first eleven verses make reference to the brevity of life and it was verse 12 that captured my attention. "Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." Another word for gain is "harvest." We are to harvest a "heart" of wisdom. The heart in Biblical language is the center of the human spirit, from which spring emotions, thought, motivation, courage, and action. It is the wellspring of life according to Proverbs 4:23. The writer of the meditation in "Our Daily Bread" challenges the reader to think about the meaning of "numbering our days." He suggests that our focus needs to be on gaining wisdom and becoming more Christ-like. I confess that I can go through life's routine assuming that it will carry on uninterrupted. However, I am quick to point out to my clients that we can not assume that when we leave our homes we will return safely later on that day. The writer of the meditation also states, "The relentless ticking of the clock reminds us that our time on earth is limited. Despite the joys and pains of life, time always marches on. For the believer, our time on earth is an opportunity for gaining wisdom....Numbering our days is the wise response to life's inevitable progress." I asked the Lord, "How am I numbering my days?" If a young man's life can be over at age 17, what are we to do with the time we have been given? If my life were to end tomorrow would others be able to say of me that they saw the Lord transforming my life? As Jacob's family and friends move through the days of grief and pain ahead, there is the assurance that God knows how it feels to lose a child because He lost His Son.  One of my favorite CD's is by the Taubl Family. There are 7 children (3 girls and 4 boys) all musically gifted. The three sisters put out a CD in 2001 and it includes a song that still brings tears to my eyes. I pray the words will bring some measure of comfort to Jacob's family, friends and all who are experiencing loss. 
 "He's Been To The Top" (The Taubl Sisters)
"The mountain is just sometimes too hard to climb, the way is steep and there's never enough time. You look up ahead, you see the dangers and you say, you fear that you've lost both your vision and your way. You can't take another step, your strength is all but lost. Then a hand reaches out for you, that has been nailed to a cross. And that's when you hear Him say,
 (Chorus) I've been to the top and I want to take you there,
So don't lose hope, don't you ever give up,
I know that you're tired and I know it's scary out there,
I've been to the top and I want you to know there is no struggle there,
Only peace and joy.
The mountain that Jesus climbed for me, was a long dusty road that led to Calvary. He took all my pain and He bore all my burdens that day. In the darkest hour of life, He's waiting to take your cares away. So wander aimlessly no more, just rest in Him complete. There's a peaceful childlike quietness when you kneel down at His feet. And that's when you hear Him say..(Chorus)
May Jacob rest in the peace and joy of our Lord as we wait to join him at the top.
Shalom,
Pastor Sheree