It’s just a fact:a man’s calendar and bank account paints the most accurate picture of his true affections. (See Luke 12:34)
Today, I found myself looking in a mirror: my check register; in it, I asked God, “am I obsessed with my own comfort?” You decide what He had to say…
Oil change –Cost: $24.95.
Reason – not “because it was overdue”, but because I was uncomfortable with how my wife looks at the “next oil change” sticker on the windshield. (Avoid discomfort.)
Box of 72 Pizza Bagel Bites – Cost: $7.49.
Reason – not “because it was a killer deal after my coupon”, but because I wanted something quick and easy that they wouldn’t complain about. (Avoid discomfort.)
Pair of fluffy, winter socks for my wife – Cost: $6.99.
Reason – she loves them and it makes me feel comfortable when her love tank is full and discomfort when it’s not. (Comfort/Avoid Discomfort.)
“So what?” you say, right? “Regardless of your selfish, comfort laden motives, things that needed to get done got done, Aarron. Quit being so picky.” But, was God’s agenda accomplished or merely mine? Or, did I spend money and time trying to walk around my discomfort rather than through it?
What if the point of those tasks wasn’t my comfort (or avoidance of discomfort)? What if God was out to forge and strengthen my character via discomfort? What if my sanctification – growth into Christ-likeness – was what God was after, rather than mere stewardship of van, household food shopping, and husbanding my wife?
Paul David Tripp took a quick look under the hood of our hearts in his excellent (short read) article with a brief (5-6 min) video clip. I hope it challenges you to walk through, not around, the divine discomfort. >>> Uncomfortable Grace
Lost the Plot, Did We? Amazing how great and tragic loss gets us asking the right questions, isn’t it? Sad there are so many distractions to take our eyes off the plot. Ever felt so stuck in the swamp you forgot you were sent there to drain it? Then, you must have seen the news on Friday, too… Terrible that we have to lose dozens of precious children to get us to pray more fervently, attend church more faithfully (even at all), or take a break from the busy-ness of business to consider what really matters at the time of year that really matters… Then, as the media cycle dies down… back to our Christmas shopping again, right?
Which is more tragic, the tragedy we saw or the tragedy of forgetting it?
OK, Shift Gears… In Pursuit of Happiness… At the intersection of all the newer stuff out there every year – the better, sleeker, smaller/larger (depending on the technology) – the “better deals than ever“, and the constant IV-drip of the marketers’ “you, you, you”, lies what used to be the village of “I really ought to get something for me”.
It was founded decades ago when Madison Avenue discovered that adding a few drops of consumer psychology to our water supply could turn grown adults into whiny, tantruming children who lose their minds when they can’t have what they want when they want it. Today, the town has grown up into a bustling city, renamed “Gimme” and you and I all have hearts that speak its native language.We even have a gift or two on our list that we’re buying just for us, right?
Paul makes in interesting point in 1 Corinthians 1, as he points to the identity of his audience:
“[I am writing this letter] to those who have been set aside/dedicated to serving God – holy by calling”
In fact, the letters God inspired Paul to write are all reminders to people who have lost the plot. “You started out on the right foot. You just got so caught up in the walking, you forgot where you were supposed to be headed. You’re so wrapped up in the men around you, you’ve lost touch with the Maker. You were called out to be holy – turn around and stick with first things in light of what’s been done for you!”
See? You just read half of the New Testament.
To Regain the Plot, Consider the Characters We were created in God’s image, not a carbon copy of God, though. We are the creation, not the creator, and not endowed with the wisdom of all He knows. We lose the plot constantly because we don’t think like God. Yeah, you’ve been reading the Bible for a decade or two. That’s great. Me, too. That just makes me more prone to the sin of pride. God calls out to His people over and over again – “repent” – change your mind, radically and agree with the ways of God.
God isn’t so busy wrapped up with my deadline, your project problems, her sales quota, their ballet, soccer, karate, and gymnastics schedule. He always knows what the plot is… His glory. He’s totally stuck on Himself, but it’s okay. He’s the most important person in His life, and that’s okay. Implication: we’re not. We’re not the reason we’re alive, not the answer, not the point of the story… So, when we get all caught up in “us”, by whatever device, we’ve hijacked the lead role and lost the plot.
The Good News The Good News, of course, is Jesus. But, the message of the Gospel isn’t. The Message of the Gospel is something far more offensive to our carefully tuned ears: “repent”. That’s great news – there’s a solution to… us. Repent… Turn away from the way that you used to think when you were, as God calls us, dead in your sin. Take off the old self, what’s familiar to you, “The Pursuit of Me and My Stuff”, and put on new thoughts. Renovate your mind.
But, the news Paul writes in 1 Corinthians is not to those who don’t know Christ. These aren’t people who are “dead in their sin”. These are people who’ve received grace by faith, but are being tugged this way and that by “every wind of teaching and the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Eph 4:14). Know anyone like that?
The great news is, at least we know the Main Character and the plot. At least we have a means to regain the plot once we’ve lost it. And, despite the pain we’re feeling over our loss, their loss, any loss, we have gained something by the tragedy – a painful post it note that reminds us there was a plot in the first place. Go ahead, put your kids’ picture or one of the photos of those victims of the shooting on your dash board. But, don’t let it be there in vain – let it be a reminder of who the story is about and who you and I are not.
Pray for comfort for the families who have lost. Pray that God puts a smile on their face through the comfort that can only come from “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,who comforts us in all our troubles (2 Cor. 1:3-4)”. But, pray also for the salvation of all around them. No sense in showing up to the gates of Hell with a smile on your face… Let’s not gain a smile and lose the plot. Give the gift of the Plot Writer to yourself and others this Christmas.
Jesus is the reason, not just a season. Grace, peace, and momentum to you today in Christ!
This past year, the Lord met us in (or directed us into) some dark places. The term “dark night of the soul” became not only a phrase we understood more empirically, but an everyday, household word that brought our own, human weakness into the foreground and had us on our knees regularly in upward reverence. One thing became clear – God was supreme author of this season. A byproduct of this time we spent in the crucible is that His exposition of the pain in our past would clearly be used to minister to others on the other side of the night.
Cristine asked me to look this story over before sharing it on the blog, but I don’t have much to add or subtract. I hope if you have experienced pain, loss, abortion, grief, or other similar tribulation, that His story of how He loves us and the grace He can and does pour out on us meets you, comforts you, and lifts you up to know more than just a shadow of the Almighty who calls us to be His own. – AP
Cristine’s story (or, more of it than you had before): As some of you know, I had an abortion when I was 22-yrs-old. I was not a believer in Christ, so my decisions were based on my fleshly fear & selfish self will. Years later, I believe the Lord showed me that this baby was a boy. I also felt impressed by the Lord to name him (posthumously) “Jack”. (I also highly recommend seeking the Lord to name your aborted child in order to bring greater completeness to the grieving process).
I often pray to God that He will open the Heavens every now & then to allow Jack to see me so that I can tell him how much I love him. As I write this, I do believe I have received full forgiveness from Jack as well as the Lord from this grave sin against both of them as well as myself and the many others who would have been impacted by Jack’s life here on earth. Now I just want Jack to know that I love him, that I think of him often & that I can’t wait to see him when I get to Heaven.
Over two years ago, I became pregnant with our twins. As only one with multiples can imagine, my mind was blown in the natural about the fact that I was carrying two babies. But, in the supernatural, it was also blown because I couldn’t imagine that my Heavenly Father would double my blessings in that way after having this abortion back in 2000. And really… it was a triple blessing since He had already gave to me Presleigh 8 yrs after having the abortion!
Coincidence? Probably not. Aarron and I have always put great thought and prayer into naming our children. It took us going through the 5,000 Baby Names book, the 10,000 Baby Names book, and an even bigger one before we came up with (and agreed on) a name for Presleigh. We had already agreed on a name for our daughter “Jovi”, which means “joy”, but hadn’t come up with a boy name. One day in November, we were driving to our counselor’s office the day after already finding out they would be boy/girl twins, when the Lord downloaded to me the name “Jezreel”. So, I was thinking… “I wonder what the meaning of ‘Jezreel’ means.” Both within 15 minutes and before I could tell Aarron, he turned to me & said “I wonder what the name ‘Jezreel’ means?”
WOW! Say what you want about coincidence, but that’s not a very common name. It’s also not one that either of us had read about recently in our devotional time. Wow. I mean, I hadn’t yet had a chance to tell my husband what name just popped into my head the moment before… & here Aarron got the same confirmation from the Lord at the same time! We were amazed, to say the least- as well as VERY anxious to find out what that name meant.
What’s in a Name? Now, it just happened to be that our counselor had a Biblical name book at her office. So, once we arrived & told her what happened while on the way to her office, she immediately grabbed that book in order for us to find out! The meaning showed up in Matthew 13 where the Bible says “the Son of Man sows seed”, and “Jezreel” comes from the Hebrew meaning “the Lord sows/plants”. Now, there is another place in Hosea 1:11 “The people of Judah and the people of Israel will be reunited, and they will appoint one leader and will come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel.”
In that verse it is believed to be that the “scattered seed- known as the people of Israel- would then be gathered by the Lord”, so great is the day of ‘Jezreel’ (or rather ‘the gathering up of what was once the scattered seed.’) And, of course, we know that we Christians are referred to as the ingrafted branch of Israel, so applying that Scripture to me meant “that I was once lost but now I am found (and gathered up by the Lord), as well” -very fitting, wouldn’t you say? I mean, the fact that this son that the Lord now blessed me with was to be THE very representation of what My Heavenly Father has done for me in my life was too awesome!
When Does the Other Shoe Fall? You also may remember there was a little hiccup during that pregnancy. The perinatal doc was concerned that “Baby A”- aka “Jez” could very likely have a brain problem from some ventricle showing up as congenital abnormality (according to the ultrasound). I thought… “Yep, here it comes… my punishment for my aborted son Jack.” I had so much guilt, worry & concern that I brought about this ailment- that my transgressions were now falling upon my unborn child. So, we prayed, I confessed, repented, wept… we gathered the troops (fellow brothers & sisters in Christ) to pray and PRAY HARD along with us! (Thank you to those of you who were part of that, btw!) And we waited & hoped & trusted in God’s Word. For He says in Psalm 103:12“as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”
Fast forward to months later we see that during the time of delivery, both babies were not only allowed to be born naturally, but were healthy & whole- Praise God! Abba Father has also allowed Jovi to be the physical proof of the joy the Lord returned to me WHILE ALSO showing me how she was meant to come into this world alongside of her brother Jezreel (“Sower of seeds). He brought me evidence of this in Psalm 126:5-6“those who SOW in tears will reap with songs of JOY. He who goes out weeping, carrying SEED TO SOW, will return with SONGS OF JOY…” !!! Jezreel AND Jovi- united in Christ (who is “the Word made flesh”). Now, as most of you know, I have the best husband ever. [He’s blushing while he proofreads this…] While were just dating I made him fully aware of the abortion, so now upon my request of wanting to honor Baby Jack in some way, we both agreed that Jezreel’s middle name would be “Jaxton”. This is the name Jack whose Hebrew origin is John meaning “The Lord is gracious”. As Aarron so eloquently puts it: “The name Jack, with an ‘x’ [a cross to symbolize the work of Christ] in the middle and a ‘ton’ [a suffix meaning “town” or “from the town of”] conveys the meaning ‘from the town of John’ or more poetically- “from a place where God’s grace makes His home”.
The Living, Active Word: Ok, so with ALL of that said… today my Master Creator showed me something else that showered me with even more revelation of His unfailing love, compassion and kindness to me.
Sometimes I like to be refreshed & reminded of Jesus’ love, so I was reading in Hosea 2:6-7about how God had once upon a time “blocked my path, walled me in, allowed me chase after other lovers (literally) but not find them (not find the love I needed in them) to then call me back unto Himself“; to find my true Love & Husband in My King & My God. So, there I was falling even more in love with the One who loves me & saved me when BAM! My eyes were yet again enlightened by what I was reading!
Hosea 2:22 says when we (in that book referring to the people of Israel) return to the Lord God He will cause the earth to respond with “grain, new wine, new oil and they will respond to ‘Jezreel’.” So, I go to Biblos.com for further understanding on what this may mean. The first part of that passage is referred to as: to nourish and strengthen; like “wine” to comfort, cheer, and revive; and like “oil” to heal and soften, as well as make glad”. (Do you see how “Jovi” for “joy” is in this passage yet again?!?!?) Ok… I am seeing this all come together now. Then the Lord ties it in a beautiful bow for me when I ask? “So, what about ‘will respond to Jezreel’?”
Well, the commentary goes on to say: “And they shall hear Jezreel; or ‘answer’; that is, these trees and fruits shall answer to the requests and desires of Jezreel who shall be abundantly blessed with them.” Jezreel is not used here as the name of a place as it is in other verses of Scripture. No, here it seems to mean “the people of Israel just as I wrote about above from the verse in Hosea 1– unworthy in themselves yet shown such favor through the riches of God’s grace He still chose to bestow upon them.” The commentary also translates it as “The great rejoicing with which they shall receive God’s gracious returns towards them”. The end of this chapter goes on to tell us that “God will show His love… we will be called His people… and there will be no denying the One we call Our God.” (Hosea 2:23 paraphrased by Cristine.)
How Great is Our God? “Wow” just doesn’t seem to suffice. Even after all I have done to You, Father God, mixed with the hurt I have inflicted upon others as well as myself by committing the sin of murder in aborting Jack along with innumerable others wicked deeds- Your grace still allowed me to live, Christ’s blood still covered my sins AND Jesus still calls me friend! Where can I go from there but forward? I mean, to know that I will someday see the fulness of my family when I see Jack in Heaven is exactly that hope the Bible speaks of in Romans 5: 5 “hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” And by faith I pray that this testimony continues to defeat the enemy in my life as well as help those reading overcome the accuser just as it says in: Revelation 12:11“They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony”.
My Dad’s “parting shot”, taken at the National Cemetery
Ever have someone congratulate you for “holding it together”? I used to think of it as a compliment. It is, in some senses. I mean, they mean it as a compliment.Ever experience joy at a funeral? No, not schadenfreude, but honest, heartfelt joy? Just before Christmas, I got an incredible gift of true joy that came from a guy who’s discipled me for years, at a time when it made all the difference in the world:
It was a week before Christmas. Dad had died a couple days prior. Arrangements had been made. Now, I was on a plane from ATL to BOS, to a funeral I didn’t think I needed to be at (I was over it, remember?). I was leaving my wife to watch 4 kids, including two sick 8 month olds, by herself for 48 long hours. In the middle of the trip to Dad’s funeral, I got a text, one I didn’t think I needed, which sustained me and became a banner of hope I carried for the rest of my stay.
“Make sure to feel what you’re feeling. There’s no script for this.”
Suddenly, clarity. I thought for hours about how my family had made a name for itself by making it
through the tough times with humor. We could deflect from our issues with the best of them – just crack a joke at an uncomfortable moment, and we didn’t need to weep anymore. We’d also built a great reputation for “holding it together”. You know, keeping a stiff upper lip when the chips were down. We could “be strong” with the best of them.
And, yet, we were missing something.
There’s a point in the opening chapters of Matthew when Jesus gets up on a hill and starts teaching people some of the definitive points of what the kingdom of God is all about. It’s an upside down economy where the weak are made strong, the wise seem foolish, and something I needed to hear brought me tears of both pain and great joy. “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be…”
Holy $#!&. Are you serious? No magic words? No secret prayer that’ll make it all go away in one fell-swoop? I thought all I had to do was “keep it together” and everything would be alright. Be strong and you’ll be fine? Not in God’s economy. Jesus promised us something amazing would happen to us if we’d just let down our guard to Him: mourn and we’re candidates for comfort that we’ll never find anywhere else. Conversely, we’d all (my 8 brothers and sisters, our aunts and uncles, etc.) been carefully taught to ignore the pain and it would go away. But, in truth failing to mourn revokes our candidacy for true comfort. Don’t mourn = disqualified for the comfort tailor made for you by the God who made you.
Gathered around the sarcophagus (alright, it was just a coffin, but it sounds more Indiana Jones, doesn’t it?), getting ready to bring Dad’s body from the funeral home to the church, were my brothers, sisters, and I. My brother Jamie had power of attorney, so his past few days had been eaten up by the taskmaster of preparing the funeral and taking care of administrative details so sterile you could eat off them. Yet, here, aside a body vacant of life, he finally fell apart for just a moment.
I couldn’t hold it in any longer. “Guys. Before we go, can I tell you something that’s given peace to my soul in a way I can’t even describe to you? Jamie finally cried. And, we all need to follow that example.” I told them about the text I’d gotten – read it aloud, told them how the guy who sent it to me had lost his dad to Alzheimer’s just over a year prior, quoted Matthew 5.4, and preached for 12 seconds on not being strong:
“Please, fall apart soon.” I said, “fall all apart, teary and snotty and messy. Nobody wins by being strong and Paul even said God’s power was made ‘perfect in weakness’. Please, don’t be strong.”
I didn’t know if it would have an impact, really. I just knew I had to say it.
I also knew something else: I had experienced it right there, several times. From the wake to the funeral, I’d had about a half dozen or more opportunities to look my Dad’s body right in the eyelids and weep, sob, or just tear up for a moment as I realized the many losses that had piled up, confessed them to God, and knelt overcome by the comfort that rushed in, in its place. This wasn’t one of those things they just tell you in a ministry training, conference, or seminary. It was the truth. Straight from a guy who’d discipled me for three years and right out of the word. And, I’d experienced it to be true.
So, are you experiencing loss? Will you trust God like David did in Psalm 6, Psalm 51, etc., like I was told to by my mentor, like my mentor before me had, and mourn? You will be… comforted.
LINK CORRECTION: the February newsletter link to part 2 of this series was incorrect. To see part 2, click here. This being the inaugural post of our Seasons of Life blog, I thought I’d keep it light. But, then, I thought about how many of you have been so kind to ask how we’re doing since the loss of my Dad just before Christmas. Thus, our first post is about a new season in our life, one without the presence of someone who wasn’t really physically present in our lives, but gave us a great present when he left: joy and peace. Enjoy. -AP
“I’m so sorry for your loss… So sorry for your loss… I’m sorry for your loss…” It went on and on. Family members I had forgotten existed or didn’t even recognize me passed through the line shaking hands, hugging us 8 brothers and sisters, even shedding tears or telling riotous stories that got us all laughing. “I’m sorry for your loss…sorry for your loss… sorry for your loss.”
But, what had I lost?
The call came in late on Tuesday night, December 14th. “Dad’s taken a turn for the worse.” Translation: the end is near – very, very near. Bob Pina had suffered multiple heart attacks in his 40s and 50s, at least 7 strokes during his 50s, 60s, and 70s. Cumulatively, this meant at least two things: 1) if my dad could weather all that, I might be bulletproof. And, 2) vascular dementia for him. Vascular dementia is similar to Alzheimer’s in that the victim suffers a loss in cognitive function (reading/writing/word retrieval) and either periodic or gradual memory loss. Over the past 10 years Dad’s been in and out of nursing homes and most recently moved from a hospital in Florida to a nursing home back home in Massachusetts where he spent the rest of his days.
Replacement hat for Dad’s Korean War Vet hat.
Dad and I had a “lost and found” kind of relationship. I began losing him (to his job, an affair, and other extracurricular activities) around 6 or 7. He and mom divorced when I was about 10. I spun my wheels in my early teens trying to “find” a father/son relationship with him, gaining only inches overall. As an adult in college we’d find each other for a few hours here and there on the phone, but I was busy with school and he had already begun suffering health troubles. Sometimes, an open heart surgery would give us some forced conversation, but I never “found” what I was looking for. Again, I lost him, to “life as usual” and the busyness that was my 20s.
As his health began to decline, I discovered he was failing mentally and finding what I sought might be biologically impossible: he was no longer the same “Dad” and I was no longer a kid seeking to play some catch in the back yard. I was losing what little I thought was left of him and had better make the best of the time left.
In 2001, I came to salvation in Christ by faith alone. The list of debts Dad owed me had grown long: a “normal childhood”, a father/son picnic, scouting, self esteem, an apology I’d never get for him not “being there” at performances, games, and other events, an “I’m so proud of you, son”. But, now, saved by grace, I thought if Christ forgave me when I was yet His enemy, how could I not forgive the man who brought me into this world?
I carved out time and opportunity to have a handful of “I forgive you” conversations. Not only did it bring us together despite the hundreds of miles between us, I found great freedom and comfort knowing there was no longer a debt/debtor relationship between us. I had wiped that account clean. Deep breath. Exhale. “Found,” again, but slipping away mentally and showing physical signs of age. Lost, this time in stages.
Fast forward to the funeral I didn’t think I’d attend. My younger brother confirmed the news on December 15th, 2010 – after “winding down” for nearly a decade: “Dad died at 3:15 AM.” Our twins had been sick for several days, we were running on little sleep, funds were tight with Christmas ahead and I was busy manning our year end fundraising drive. A trip to Massachusetts just didn’t look feasible nor necessary. Having made peace with Dad and the loss that had been building over the years, I thought I’d buried my Dad a shovelful at a time with each fading neuron.
Somewhere in the midst of the long line of mourners and well-wishers, I caught a glimpse of my Uncle John, across the room. Just as I was about to give a sarcastic look to the next person shaking my hand and say “Lemme guess, ‘you’re sorry for my loss’? What do you know about my loss?!” I was hit with an epiphany – “I have no idea what it’s like to be in my 70s and lose a brother I’ve had for 70 years or more.”
Just when the cliché was becoming cliché, it dawned on me how specific this generalization really could be. I stepped out of the receiving line and went over to Uncle John, hugged him hard and said with more sincerity than I thought I had in me:
SORRY… for your loss… I’ve never lost a brother, just a dad. But, I’m so sorry for your loss.”
Suddenly, I saw everyone in the room with a new face: a brother, a dad, a grandfather, a dune-buggy racing buddy, a drinking buddy, a racing buddy, a cousin, an uncle – everyone lost someone in that room, it just happened he was my Dad. Lost… but peace and joy (at a funeral?!) I thought I’d already found was found anew, afresh, and in greater abundance.
Last year (2010), the truth of 2 Cor. 1.3-7 became a banner my wife and I carried around with grateful hearts as we followed our Lord and the calling He’d placed on our lives. The verse essentially talks about how God gives comfort to those who are afflicted not just so that they may receive comfort in and of itself. Rather, He comforts them so that they may have an inkling of understanding on how to comfort those experiencing the same affliction. My hope is that God consoled my Uncle John, Uncle Rufus, Uncle Kenny, Uncle Freddie, my Mom, Louise (Weezy) – Dad’s first wife, and the many others in that room through the overflow of comfort He poured out on me.
May you have an opportunity to minister to others not out of an empty cup of hypothesis, rather the overflow of a cup teeming with comfort akin to the suffering of those around you who need it. May your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. May you comfort those in any trouble with the comfort you yourself have received from Christ.