A Christmas Thought

For God to come to you with the Peace and Joy of Christmas,

he had to spend Christmas alone without his Son.

When the Son of God was growing in the virgin womb of Mary, he was really there – in flesh, by the overshadowing, the equipping of the Holy Spirit. The Son of God was in Bethlehem, not heaven. He was in an animal stable, not with his Father in heaven.

What kind of great love is this that the Father would spend Christmas alone, without his Son, so that you, by faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, could know true joy and peace forever?

Enjoy the song by Sovereign Grace Ministries – we love singing this in worship each year the first Sunday after Christmas.

Suffering and Sadness During Christmas – part 7

January 26, 2011

It’s here. The morning that the Lord has made like he has since the beginning when the heavenly host shouted with joy and the morning stars sang over what the Triune God had done (Job 38:6). Ecstatic joy, not erratic excitement, was and is to come and presently is the most appropriate response to God’s handiwork. Creation is the stage upon which the godliness of God is displayed in the cross of Christ. And this much-anticipated morning will be no less. I’ll get to this gospel message and my fear in a moment.

Cheryl’s laparoscopic surgery is today – around noon. It’s supposed to last about an hour. By this evening we’ll know whether she can return home tomorrow or if a second attempt is needed on Friday. We give thanks to God for your prayers, for God has chosen to use them and has safely brought us by grace to this moment. Keep us in prayer this day as you have – by the end of this day may our Risen Savior receive glory for what he has done for us.

When affliction is upon you it is as natural to contemplate your personal sins as is breathing air:

“Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.                                             The troubles of my heart are enlarged; bring me out of my distresses.                                   Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins” – Psalm 25:18.

I distinctly remember the first time that I wondered if God was punishing me.  I was around age 9. I had a stomach ache from eating too many apples and thought that God was angry with me for some unknown reason. Even at that young age one can begin to muse on the mystery of personal pain and the vengeance of God. Thankfully, a little later the stomach ache went away and so did my wondering. And as a 9 yr. old, back to playing.

But when I was in THE SERENITY ROOM an annoying conundrum began to whirl around in my head that I have long entertained but not at this level: Are my sins, at least in part, the reason why I’m in this room? My tormented prayers began to sound out: “God – are you punishing me for some unconfessed sin? Have I angered you for the last time? Will you now get even with me?” Not all seasons of affliction cause me to question this way but this time was different. I was afraid – really afraid. This is why your heart has to be literally filled to the brim with the gospel as your SERENITY ROOM comes upon you like a thief in the night.

To honestly answer, “Are my sins, at least in part, the reason why I’m in this room?” – yes and no, is the gospel truth. Yes – because if there were no sins, at all, anywhere, nowhere in my life and in yours, and in the entire human race, then there would be no affliction. No Sin . . . No Sorrows! You and I suffer because of our contribution to God’s Wonderful Creation: We have sinned. It’s a grievous and outrageous act when a creature created in the image of God for the eternal enjoyment of God turns against his maker and then happily feels jealousy, envy, covetousness, murderous rage, lust, revenge, self-pity, selfish ambition, self-righteousness – and pride.  I do admit, it is a no-brainer to discern the connection between sinful laziness and getting a failing grade on a test, or the persistent pleasure of porn and a crumbling marriage, or a judgmental eye and lack of sustained friendships – all examples of the consequence of sin in the heart. But it is not so easy to discern the connection of personal sin to this kind of affliction.

Here is where the gospel is exquisite and requisite for THE SERENITY ROOM: If Jesus’ death on the cross was insufficient to satisfy the just wrath of God for my sins, this affliction would be directly related to my personal sins. In fact, if Jesus’ blood is not enough then nothing is! You and I would be thrown into a dungeon “yesterday” and we would never get out. There would be no grace – at all – in your affliction. But the prayer of the afflicted can sound like this as it did for me:

“Dear Lord, because you sent your son to die in my place,                                                     ‘remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;                                                     according to your steadfast love remember me,                                                                  for the sake of your goodness, O LORD!’ – Psalm 25: 7

And,

“The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” – Psalm 103:8-14

Are my sins, at least in part, the reason why I’m in this room? Though in one sense, yes, but in another, with joyful praise, No. Jesus has died and is risen. My sins, not in part, but in whole – are nailed to the cross and I bear them no more. Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, O my soul.

I’m not saying that it is easy to discern the connection between personal sin and suffering. But I’m just happy as can be in THE SERENITY ROOM for my Savior’s sweet sacrifice has removed my sins from me.

As these gospel drenched, cross anticipated psalms filled my heart and my crying began to cease, I fell asleep whispering to myself:

“God is satisfied with his Son.                                                                                                  I am in the Son and the Son is in me.                                                                                      I am afflicted.                                                                                                                            God loves me like he loves his Son.                                                                                        Jesus is enough.                                                                                                                     I love Jesus. Praise his name!”

Ivan

Suffering and Sadness During Christmas – part 4

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It’s Christmas, 2010.

I bought Cheryl a Replica Tiffany DragonFly Lamp (not a real one of course! – and now in the corner of our bedroom). I wanted her to have beauty in her room – something that instilled hope and peace, something to quiet the soul, to give light, to give her some of the colors that she loves. When someone is suffering, bring some beauty into their room. We have to remember that we are whole beings, both spiritual and physical, and often the one affects the other. When struggling spiritually, you can actually make yourself sick (Psalm 32:3). And when struggling physically, doubts, unbelief, hopelessness, cynicism and despair can begin to eat at the soul (Psalm 42 and 43). It is not a betrayal of God’s Word to use physical means that the Lord created to lift your spirits. We were made to behold beauty, to feel the smoothness of oil that heals the wounds, to smell aromas of lavender, cinnamon, amyris, red cedar-wood, vanilla, and tea tree.

When visiting people in the hospital I take two things with me: my bible and my guitar. To read scripture, pray, and play a soft piece of music, sometimes humming the melody gently, has stirred hope and healing in those who suffer. What a great mystery: God’s marvelous design of our humanity, weaving the tangible with the intangible.

All of this reminds me of the promise that we have in our Lord. One day, the body will never be interrupted with suffering. One day, the body will never experience the dissonance between hope and healing. One day, the body will never know the loss of senses as present aging stretches the simplest joys further and further out of our reach. One day, the agonizing tension of longing to be dead as a better alternative to living in pain will be gone. One day, for all who know themselves as crucified with Christ, will be raised with him (Galatians 2:20). One day, in Christ, we will be raised incorruptible (1 Cor. 15). Not only will we not know sin, but its effects too. The reason why we light up our rooms with beauty is because we know deep down that that’s the way it’s supposed to be. One day . . .

 

Suffering and Sadness During Christmas – part 2

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Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2010

“I had said in my alarm, ‘I am cut off from your sight.’ But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried to you for help.” Psalm 31:22

For the protection and cure of my soul I have been feasting on the protection/abandonment emotional paradoxes of the psalms. All my life I have read this emotional tug-of-war from the songwriter with more estrangement than knowledge. But no longer. Each night after Cheryl falls asleep and I tidy things up in her room, prepare for my own sleep, I enter alone into this emotional nightmare of feeling like God has abandoned me and yet I seek his protection from danger. What gives? I’m not exactly sure at this stage of my worship but it is new to me. I am presently reading the entire psalms, paying close attention to this roller-coaster cry: “you crush me down” and “you are my rock” – all in the same breath. What kind of strange worship is this? I’m hooked. Not to over-dramatize my experience but I am hungry to know what God is doing; it feels exactly like what I am reading in the Lord’s songbook.

What God did for Cheryl Today

The good news for today is that Cheryl’s white cell count was 23,000 down from 27,000. This is another positive ingredient for moving ahead. Also, she was transferred out of Intensive Care here at Loyola to an intermediate room (#6331) because she is now stable. God is very, very good. Later this evening she was given a medicine induced stress test. The reason for this test is that Cheryl’s heart experienced what seems to be a mild heart-attack during the episode that almost took her life. Her cardiac enzymes were way up and they now want to rule out or rule in that she suffered slight damage to her heart. We’ll see how this turns out and if anything will be done at this time.

This evening we had our “Christmas Morning” with Cheryl’s parents, Joshua, Joe and Ashley, and Anna in the hospital with us. It was a blessed evening as some presents were opened, raspberry and pumpkin pound cake enjoyed, and Christmas songs sung with the guitar. Someone got a little bored with my guitar playing and logged on to youtube and listened to Alvin and the Chipmonks sing Christmas songs. Oh well,  “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”

After Cheryl’s parents and the kids left, and a round of nurse care was provided, Cheryl and I read from psalm 30 and worshiped:

“To you, O LORD, I cry, and to the Lord I plead for mercy. What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? Hear, O LORD, and be merciful to me! O LORD, be my helper!” (vss. 8-10).

David is distraught with the futility and senselessness of his untimely death and attempts to reason with God to spare his life. Still, David cries to his God to help him. How does a worshiper ask for help from his God who seems to have abandoned him? When it seems to you, that God does not hear or care or know or feel or provide or keep safe or comfort, what do you do – what do you pray? Whatever it is that causes you to feel this way about God, he knows that you feel this way about him and he invites you to worship him by crying out this two-sided prayer. I have felt both, the heavy hand of the Lord and the gentleness of his compassion. He terrifies me and comforts me at the same time.

After we read, cried, talked, and prayed, Cheryl went to sleep and I began to write out my thoughts.

Until Tomorrow

Cheryl and I, and our children want you to know that we love you and feel your love for us.  We are so blessed to be part of a Christ-Seeking family like you – you’re one in a million.

Lord willing, I will be back to church this Sunday ready to lead you to Christ in worship. I will finish the series with, “The Greatest Never Ending Story.” We miss you very much  – keep praying for us – more mercies coming in the morning. It’s almost Christmas and we look forward to worshiping Jesus who came to save us from our sins.

Ivan