Thursday, September 19, 2013

Love Is Not for Cowards

In his philosophical and theological study of love titled The Four Loves, author, C.S. Lewis, has this to say about the risks we take in endeavoring to love and be loved, 

     To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

Part of what is so interesting in Lewis' point is the irony of how we tend to view vulnerability as a mark of weakness when, in reality, vulnerability takes great courage and a commitment of honor. Vulnerability as weakness is certainly true in nature. The vulnerable creatures—the ones that foolishly reveal themselves by walking alone—are typically the ones that are devoured when some opportunistic predator takes notice. 

The sickly, the small, the frail, the lonely, the wounded, and the elderly zebras are frequently lunch for the lions, and there is a sense in which that fact is also true among human beings. Those who reveal themselves to be limping along somehow, those who are the weakest and most alone in the world, are very often gobbled up by the predatory people roaming among us. Still, God has provided a system of protection through His command to love one another. We just fail to use it.

Perhaps our collective "buy in" to a Darwinian view of the world has cost us our critical understanding of the substantial ways that we are different from the animals. If we view our chief end as a matter of survival, then it stands to reason that we would consider vulnerability a character trait of the weak and the foolish. Fair enough. Worldview sets the perimeter for belief. So in wrestling with our animal instinct to survive and our human need for companionship, most of us settle on being selectively vulnerable. We are satisfied that caution + wisdom = relative safety. Sounds reasonable.

But if our worldview is rooted in biblical Christianity, we cannot necessarily apply the same standards of reason to our beliefs. There's no fence to straddle. The chief end of human beings—their raison d'etre—is to love God and to enjoy relationship with Him forever. If Lewis' argument (love requires vulnerability) holds, then the greatest love we were created for is no exception. In both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, we are told that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. In other words, hold nothing back. Nothing. No. Thing.

In fact, in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew Jesus is asked about this commandment, and he makes it clear that loving God and loving others are practically inseparable. In keeping the commandment to love God without holding anything back, by extension we're required to love others as if they were our very own selves.  By holding these two commandments as our principles for living, we essentially obey the whole law of God...but, of course, we don't...not by a long shot. Our human instinct to survive sets us up to abandon our supernatural calling to be vulnerable—to be open, accessible, transparent, generous lovers of God and man.

Well, here's the reality of wearing the name Christian. We cannot take that name on and off like a name tag at a conference. Sure, we may do that and fool a whole lot of folks, but God sees. He knows a poser when He sees one. If we wear His Name with integrity and sincerity, then we don't get to pawn off our lack of love and vulnerability toward our fellow humans as merely the "animal" nature. <insert "wrong answer" buzzer here>

Commandments aren't suggestions, and being given the name of the king to wear as our own isn't like a hall pass to go and smoke in the rest room. Our sin and survival instincts are not license for cowardice and dishonor.  Love and vulnerability require courage and honor. 

Love rides into the valley of death with God and with others. Love goes follows its cause and its calling out of obedience to God even when it seems crazy. Love doesn't question or reason, it just forges ahead through anything and everything...propelled by courage and by honor. Love is but to do and die. Courage pushes us forward when our honor is on the line.

     That's why courage is tricky...sometimes you might not even know why you're doing something. I mean, any fool can have courage, but honor, that's the real reason you either do something or you don't. It's who you are, and maybe who you want to be. If you die trying for something important then you have both honor and courage, and that's pretty should hope for courage and try for honor, and maybe even pray that the people [you love] have some too. —from The Blind Side

The Bible says it this way,        

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

New International Version (NIV)
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.

To call ourselves Christians is to answer God's call to courage and honor. There's no way around it. Love may call us into the muck and mire of people's lives. Love may call us deep into the valley of death, but we are never called by a leader who hasn't been there already. He made it back alive. Follow Him. Trust Him. Obey Him. You'll make it out alive too.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Field Notes from the Prayer Trenches

So...I received this prayer burden today (an extra measure of spirit-tugging beyond what has been a nearly 4 year calling) and somehow, before the day was out, it became a determination to spend the next 5 days praying for a pretty lengthy list of people and situations. I'm very excited...and a bit overwhelmed. It's strange how prayer always seems like the least you can do for someone...until you really hit your knees and hunker down on the prayer front. Then, suddenly, the idea of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane and sweating blood doesn't seem so far fetched. Prayer can be nearly an athletic endeavor sometimes—truly exhausting!

I spent part of the day meditating on Hebrews 4:15, which reminds us that Jesus is our greatest comforter because He has experienced and risen above every weakness, sickness, and temptation that comes to us through sin. By the time I came to prayer late this evening, I'd really started thinking about how profound that is. I had in mind the horrific tragedies people experience, and live to tell about, in life. One friend lost a dear one in the World Trade Center attack, another found out she has breast cancer, several others have out-lived their children, someone else was raped...and it goes on and on. I stopped and wept over one particular situation that someone we love has endured. My heart was stirred deeply as I held fast to the hem of God's garment and pleaded for His attention and blessing in prayer.

There amid my tears and prayers it hit me. There are some circumstances in life that can only be comforted by the Lord Jesus, who really gets it. I thought about Job, and what it must have been like to receive wave upon wave of horrible news—his children, servants, livelihood, and health all gone. And with them all but a strand of faith dangling over a pit of despair, the Slough of Despond

As I wept and prayed for our dear one it occurred to me that some life experiences bring home to us the idea that nothing and no one on this earth is "safe" from anything. Not one breath is promised...not one moment of peace or innocence can be protected from violation. Once you come to that realization by way of hard times and tragedies, it's not so easy to just call up a pile of comfort from within. The thing about tragedies is that they leave us with a sense of emptiness and depletion. They fill us with fear for what could be next to count among our griefs.

I wept harder as I continued to pray and wonder what it could possibly take to restore people who endure unimaginable tragedies and losses...the things we dare not speak of because they are our worst fears. My breath went away from me momentarily. How, I wondered, does anyone endure the nightmares of this life? When the hideously unimaginable comes home to roost, how in the world do we hold onto hope and let go of fear?

The answer came to me in the verse I started with. There are times and seasons and circumstances in life that rock us to our core, and that cause our souls to bleed with pain that defies our best explanation. The agony cannot be reasoned away; it can only be given over to the One who understands and can truly empathize with our sufferings because He has experienced them all himself...even though He was sinless. Jesus—Wonderful, Counselor Jesus—endured it all. And yet He did something amazing. Jesus gave it all, paid it all, so that we would not be left without a genuine whose agonies included and exceeded our own. Then He did something even more amazing. HE LIVED.

Isn't that an incredible model? Jesus gave his flesh—all the sin, death, and temptation this world could hurl at him—and received, whole, healed, blessed intended to be given away for our sake again, and again, and again. Wow!

As I sat there, poured out before Jesus in prayer and meditating on why and how it could be so comforting to know that a sinless man from over 2000 years ago understood and sympathized with our troubles, I asked God this question. What difference could it make that anyone (sinless or not) cares about our times of tribulation and really sympathizes? That brought on more weeping for our dear one's suffering. Then...light. I remembered what made our King Jesus and his sympathetic comforts so special. 

I envisioned Moses hearing the news that he would not enter the Promised Land. I imagined Job confronted by God while in the throes of grief and unexplained tragic losses. I thought about Elijah fleeing from Jezebel and suddenly encountering God. There was a truth I'd neglected to examine and bring into focus. The reason we don't read about Moses, or Job, or Elijah growing dark with fear and despair after their personal experiences with God is because He is Light and Life. He is the one the angels called "Holy, Holy, Holy." His faithfulness is great.

We can receive comfort from even the most heinous disasters when we focus on not only the humanity of Jesus who knows our troubles by way of personal experience, but  also when we focus on the breathtaking deity of Jesus who overcame sin and death through His perfect holiness...all so that we can live and live fully. If you are struggling to find the hand of peace and life in your darkness, meditate upon His humble humanity and His glorious holiness. Give him your fears and ask for life in return. Then...praise Him.

I promise...He will not fail you.

"Oh praise the One who paid my debt, and raised this life up from the dead!"

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Message from an Empty Tomb

Luke 24

English Standard Version (ESV)

The Resurrection

24 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.


Can you even imagine this scene? I'm pretty confident that everyone who heard the news of Jesus' empty tomb must have been thinking they'd lost their minds. Let's get real. Having an encounter with an angel first thing in the morning isn't exactly business as usual. Who sees "two men in dazzling apparel," except in Las Vegas or on Broadway? But there they were, announcing Jesus' resurrection.

We've been talking all week about grief and the resurrection, but let's talk for a minute about  the promise and the message we have been given though grief.  From deep within our grief, do we ever stop and return to prophesy of a glorious day when we will be resurrected? I know that in my own times of grief and sorrow, it has been easy to look forward to death and being with Jesus in heaven away from all the pain.  In those times, I relate to the Bible promises about being with Jesus in heaven. But, to be honest, when I'm grieving I have trouble clinging to promises about my life on earth. I have trouble singing songs of hope.

This feeling of being disabled from hope is not unique, and it often feels like future joy mocks us. It is as if the days to come are like bullies who torment us saying, "Let's see you talk about hope and really mean it now!"

When the Israelites were captives of the Babylonians, they were asked to entertain and amuse their captors.

Psalm 137

English Standard Version (ESV)

How Shall We Sing the Lord's Song?

137 By the waters of Babylon,
    there we sat down and wept,
    when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
    we hung up our lyres.
For there our captors
    required of us songs,
and our tormentors, mirth, saying,
    “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How shall we sing the Lord's song
    in a foreign land?

The Israelites were devastated. The psalmist says they just sat down and wept thinking about what was in their past—their homeland and heritage. They hung up and put away their musical instruments for praise and worship, but their captors required them to sing songs from home. The people of Israel were grieving, and wondered how they could ever sing the songs of their homeland—songs from the good ol' days—while being held captive. Isn't that just how it is for us when we grieve and mourn? But the psalm goes on to say, 

If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
    let my right hand forget its skill!
Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth,
    if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
    above my highest joy!

Dear friends, grief can choke off our praise and pull a curtain around our memories of happier times...cutting them off from our hope for today and for the future. We we are in the clutches of grief and sadness, our lives can feel like tombs of death sealed from the outside by an immovable stone. We feel empty and depleted. 

Yet, what if we chose to see things differently? 2 Corinthians 10:5 says that we can "destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ," and that ability can be put into practice amid our pain and suffering. We can make up our minds, even right now, that we will not forget God's promises to us that are for THIS life, not just the life to come. Even though we grieve and mourn we have hope and we CAN experience joy!

My friends, out of our ashes, and out of our tombs of grief and loss, our God has been faithful to raise us up because HE was raised from death to life! And so, because He conquered sin and death for us, we have not only hope for the future, but hope for TODAY. We have a message—a testimony of Jesus' great faithfulness to us. But that is not the end of our message.

What we find in grief is not only that He lives—Jesus who has already borne the sacrificial, crucified, tormented death of our griefs, and of all our sickness, sin, and shame—but WE live...and we live to share that message of hope that rose with Jesus out of the tomb. We live to share His love through our own stories of life, death, and resurrection from our personal tragedies and griefs.

I am praying today that everyone who grieves and mourns will take both courage and encouragement to let Jesus raise you up out of life's griefs (the stains of sin and death on our human hearts) so that you can tell His story and proclaim His love through your message from an empty tomb!

And for anyone who does not yet know, or has not heard, the beautiful story of God's love, please visit my friends at What is the Gospel? and find out how you can have hope and share the great message from the empty tomb!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Sound of Silence

If you have ever heard or read the story of the prophet, Elijah, you may remember that, at one point, he was on the run and in fear for his life from the evil Jezebel. Elijah was literally running for his life; there was a price on his head. 

I have heard Elijah's story told like the religious version of a Nora Ephron film, where, after many fits and starts, Elijah has this romanticized moment of closeness with God that turns the whole thing into a happily ever after tale. Forgive me, but I am impatient with these kinds of interpretations of Elijah's story. 

First of all, he wasn't running like Chicken Little and crying that the sky was falling. Jezebel really wanted to have Elijah murdered! Second of all, it's all well and good to give messages on what a more brave and faithful Elijah would have/should have done, but the humanness of Elijah's story really ought to help us relate to the franticness of knowing that a life was truly in jeopardy. But, for me, Elijah's encounters with God are too neatly tied up by most people who discuss his mountain top revelation.

God had been asking Elijah, "What are you doing here?" and I am sure it wasn't because He didn't know what was on Elijah's mind. I sort of imagine it as God's way of getting Elijah to think beyond the immediacy of his circumstances. I can almost hear God saying, "Um...Elijah, not for nothin' but...did it ever occur to you that you are not where you belong? That you're not doing the work I have called you to do? Hmmm...?"

So by the time Elijah goes up to the mountain and experiences the drama and dangers of the wind, the earthquake, and the fire he was probably FINALLY beginning to wonder what it was that God had in mind...what God wanted him to do. Scripture goes on to tell us that God was not in any of the violent weather, but was finally revealed in a "a gentle blowing" sometimes referred to as a whisper, or "a still small voice."And yet even after that God still asked Elijah what he was doing there. That suggests to me that the still small voice was probably a supernatural breath into what was otherwise a deafening silence for Elijah.

My friends, profound grief comes with much legitimate fear. In grief we learn just how much we can lose, how cruelly and suddenly we can lose it, and how quickly the world seems to go on despite our agony. There's a reason people struggle to comfort the bereaved. Grievous events and situations are thieves of words and crushers of our explanatory powers. We cannot get our minds around the catalysts of grief because they are both entirely normal within the human experience, and yet entirely personal to us as individuals.

Can you imagine all the on-lookers and Jesus' mother, friends, family, and followers after it was clear that he was dead? Imagine the theatrics and then the equivalent of an announcer saying, "That's it folks. Show's Over. Everybody go home. Jesus has left the building." It's like that as we experience grief. 

In the midst of the dramas that lead up to our grief, we are asking God, "what am I doing here?" and expecting some grand response from on high. But for a time the answer may be nothing more than a whisper of wind and silence. In the vortex of pain and suffering that follows our traumas and opens the portals of grief, we too go silent for a time, and only occasionally ask what it is that God expects us to do with our suffering. We want to repeat our list sorrows to God. Yet our gentle Father in Heaven continues to ask us, "What are you doing here?" Dear ones, my sense is that God means to tell us that we cannot pitch our tents in the wilderness of grief and expect mountain top revelations akin to Moses' encounter where he received the 10 commandments and chiseled them on the tablets.

In fact, more often than not God will send us back to our lives to continue His work as before, only wiser and with greater reverence, humility, and obedience before Him. That is certainly true of Elijah. And in one way or another it is inevitably what God has in mind for us. Job did not remain in sackcloth and ashes. He got up, scarified, prayed, and went about the business of starting a new family...knowing well that it could all be stripped away again without explanation. Ezekiel was not even allowed to grieve the death of his wife. Jonah was put right back on task.

Maybe the reason the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds is because He has work for them to do that requires their prayers of repentance, their acts of sacrifice, their commitment to the calling God placed on their sum, their trust and obedience.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

This Cup Is the New Covenant

1 Corinthians 11:25

English Standard Version (ESV)
25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

As we're thinking about grief and the resurrection, we come to Maundy Thursday—our recognition of the Passover feast and the covenant of communion. I have not made a study of Jesus' last days, but as I was preparing for this post I couldn't help thinking about Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Matthew 26:36-56

English Standard Version (ESV)

Jesus Prays in Gethsemane

36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” 37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” 40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”42 Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”

It is interesting to me that even before the Passover feast, Jesus is talking about the grief he is about to bear as a cup. It may be he is referring to the cup used to pour out offerings on the altar in the temple, though I think quite a few scholars point to the cup as figurative language referring to a person's destiny. Either way, I think the cup also provides a useful metaphor for us to talk about grief. Can you imagine Jesus in the garden saying, "Father, if it is possible, please don't ask me to sign this covenant in grief," knowing, as he did, the agonies that were to come?

Isn't that just how we feel when we encounter grief? The precious parents I know who have had to endure the loss of their children, whether pre-birth or in adulthood, have all shared with me the experience of feeling poured out before God and pleading with God to let the agony of such devastating loss pass from them. I have heard many people who have a mother, father, sibling, parent, or grandparent facing death, as well as spouses who are enduring the griefs of divorce, share similar sentiments. Even the loss of a home, job, relationship, or health can call us very painful feelings of impending grief and loss. Let's face it, when we encounter grief it is never welcomed because we recognize the absoluteness of death and loss that is coming our way. We sense in advance, as Jesus did, that it will be unbearable agony.

The Bible tells us in Isaiah 53 that Jesus "bore our griefs" and made "His soul an offering for sin." We might say that there is a sense in which our human grief is poured out as a response to sin—the pain, suffering, death, and loss we experience in this life. Thinking in that way can help us begin to better understand Christ's sacrifice for us on the Cross.

My friends, if you are grieving the sins and agonies of this life—whether as part of this Easter season of prayer, sacrifice, and resurrection, or as a result of suffering and loss in your life—I am praying that you will take comfort in the knowledge that there is One who understands your heart and your hurt because He died for your healing. As you walk through your grief and endure suffering in this life, you can gain comfort and strength that Jesus died for you to experience a life of perfect comfort, peace, joy, and wholeness that you can practice now in preparation for the life to come...with our Lord and Savior in heaven.

Let us pray in confidence, faith, and hope the words that Jesus taught us when He said these words, recorded in Matthew 6:9-13,

In this manner, therefore, pray:

Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

And let's pray together, that when we must endure the cup of grief and suffering that we can give it to God for His use and purposes in bringing comfort and hope to others.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Valley of the Shadow of Death

If you have ever walked alone in the dark, or on an isolated road, then you know that feeling of impending doom. There's an anxious tension that pulses through you as every leaf rustles. The sight of someone coming toward you brings on a sweat and palpitations. In those moments, we feel as though we are in the scene from To Kill a Mockingbird where Scout and her brother, Jem, are walking home from the school play.

When we walk through dark, lonely places we are conspicuous and vulnerable, and we fear the worst.

That is precisely the feeling David speaks into in Psalm 23:4. He says, 

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

David knew very well the dangers on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem. The Valley of the Shadow of Death (see image, top) was a real place—a dangerous passage between the high cliffs where robbers and assailants could lay in wait and attack. It may well have been the image Jesus was invoking when he told the parable of the good Samaritan. 

The man walking on the road—through The Valley of the Shadow of Death—was beaten, robbed, stripped, and left for dead. That is just what we fear when we walk alone, and it is also how we feel (beaten, robbed, stripped, and left for dead) when we grieve. Grief is nothing if it isn't a lonely walk through a valley that is made fearsome and dark by Death's shadow.

But isn't it comforting to know that even amid all of the feelings of grief that leave us stripped bare, empty, and bruised all over we can walk through the valley fearlessly? Just as a shepherd has his crook to keep his sheep both on the path and safe from danger, we have God walking with us, in Spirit and in Truth. 

If we have a personal, saving relationship with Jesus, then His spirit goes with us everywhere. His Truth—the Word of God...the Bible—speaks back to fear and reminds us that God is walking with us all the way through this life and into the next. Throughout Scripture we are told, at least 365 times, not to fear. Yet, grief is so powerful because it is often the realization and aftermath of our fear(s). 

Even as people of faith, grief makes our hearts cry out to God in pain and confusion saying, "I thought you were with me! I thought your rod and staff were there to protect me from <fill in the blank>." Grief calls up emotions that rehearse our pain and trauma over and over again, each time wondering where the rescuer was, and why we were abandoned.

Dear one, this life is filled with sin and death. No one escapes such things this side of heaven. There are times and experiences in life that may literally leave us beaten, robbed, stripped, and left for dead. Ask anyone who has ever been sexually assaulted. Rape is violent and sometimes deadly. We cannot always understand where God was when something like that happens. We cannot easily explain God's seeming absence when tragedies occur like the Newtown, CT shooting. These are the valley experiences that demand our faith in God's sovereignty and wisdom that are beyond our understanding. That kind of faith only comes from living a life that is steeped in God's Truth, which we receive through his Word.

Our fearlessness does not come from our emotions. It does not come from our experiences. It comes from deep faith in the Truth, that the Lord is our shepherd.

As you encounter the griefs of this life that come from sin and death, remember that you do not walk through them alone. Our fearlessness comes not from an assurance that bad things won't happen to us, but from the hope that we have that when our walk through this life and its trials is complete we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Psalm 23

New King James Version (NKJV)

The Lord the Shepherd of His People

A Psalm of David.

23 The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What's Love Got to Do with It?

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

New American Standard Bible (NASB)
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.

Willa Cather was an American novelist who wrote stories about life on the Great Plains. In a novel titled Death Comes for the Archbishop, there is a scene in which one of Cather's characters explains love as a supernatural activity akin to the miracles of the Church, so we see our dear ones through the lens of our heart's affections. "Where there is great love" Cather writes, "there are always miracles." Thinking along those same lines, I have often said that it is truly a miracle that we are loved by anyone ever at all. Our incredible propensity toward sin and selfishness really ought to make us virtually unloveable, but God in His mercy created us to love and be loved. Everyone always has someone out there somewhere who truly loves them, and even if by some chance that isn't true we are loved infinitely more than we could ever imagine by our Creator, God. Wow!

The thing about love and miracles is that they are not always packaged neatly. Otherwise, no one would ever grieve because our love would always raise the dead. No one would ever have to weep over a grave. In truth, the miracles of great love sometimes take great faith and greater patience, wisdom and understanding, compassion and generosity. Sometimes the miracles and the mercies of love are buried deep within a mess of grief. I would argue, then, that where there is great love there is always grief...of one kind or another. Love and loss are perpetual companions, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. After all, isn't it finally grief, deep sorrow over the losses we incur through sin, that finally drives us toward forgiveness and reconciliation?

I cannot tell you how many times I have returned to the words of Isaiah 61 and Job 42 over the course of the past few years. Clinging to hope and faith that there miracles even in life's worst and most agonizing messes of sickness, death, and loss, I have held tightly to the words of Scripture that promise and demonstrate God's heart for miraculous love and mercy. Our God has a grand plan of reconciliation and restoration that He says will repay us a double portion of mercy and blessing in exchange for our miseries. Where there is great love (for us, by God) there are always miracles.

My friends, with Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday just days away, I can tell you that at my house our hearts are coming upon these days with some pretty substantial grief in our hearts. We have faced the last two Easter holidays heartbroken. Each year, someone we loved very dearly passed unexpectedly from life to death, and we were already cut to the core from two years of Christmas holiday losses. I can tell you that there is not even one day in our lives when our great love does not bump or bang into our great grief. One life affects so many, and death never takes only the ones who go to the grave. The bereaved die too in some ways, and each day we need to depend upon God's miracle to raise us from the dead and help us to breathe and live through a new day. 

Yet each day He wakes us to see the sun and lays us down by the light of the moon we are given new miracles and new mercies...if only we will open our eyes to see them and our hearts to embrace them. We sin, yet we are loved. We grieve, yet we are loved. There is bad news, and yet there is always good news. 

If you are struggling with grief this Easter season—whether it is grief over the death of a loved one, the loss of a friend or a job, the problems of your past...anything at all—you have plenty of evidence of the bad news. But because Jesus, the Lamb of God, lived a sinless life and took the sins of the world upon Himself so that we can be right with God and live on eternally, there is always very good news.  Check it out this presentation some friends of mine put together to explain how the bad news of sin and death leads to the good news that comes from Jesus, who bore the weight of our griefs.

Dear one, though we grieve and mourn, we have hope. Though our hearts may be in pieces there is One who can take each and every broken piece and turn it into something  not only useful, but beautiful. You cannot love without grief, but you cannot truly and miraculously live without it either.