Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Saved or lost?

It's been painful to hear about, excruciating to watch, and even worse to imagine. On March 8, 2014, Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 went missing with 239 souls aboard. Since the flight vanished without a clue, no trace of what could have happened, families have waited with anguish: these people we love with every fiber of our beings...are they saved or lost? The faces we cherish so dearly we have memorized every line and freckle on them--will we ever see them again? The torment of not knowing is only outweighed by the terror that perhaps your worst fear is true. They are lost. No chance to change it.

I've been with those families. I have felt their pain. I have had the sick ache in my own stomach as I wondered, "Saved or lost? Will I ever see them again?" Not from an airplane crash. Some of them left us quietly in their own beds. Some young and vibrant slipped away from us because of unwise choices, some in the peak years of life from unexpected events, some aged and weak, though still too soon. But there was a common thread. They vanished without leaving a certainty about where they went. 

Most people believe in an afterlife, especially when someone they love dies. They desperately want to believe they will see the one they love again, and so,  most are like the loved ones of the Flight 370 passengers. They cling to hope that the one they loved is saved...somewhere, regardless of the evidence or lack of it.

God calls that place heaven. He created it. As the Creator and Owner of heaven, He determines what it takes to get there, to be saved. "For God so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son that whoever believes in Him will not be lost, but will have life forever." John 3:16  Saved or lost? We have the choice...but we have to make it before the plane goes down.

The best gift you can give yourself is to be saved. The best gift you can give those you love is to make your commitment to Jesus Christ so clear by the way you live that when the sun goes down on you, they will grieve, of course, but never be tortured by the uncertainty, "Saved or lost?" They will know--reunion ahead.

Friday, March 21, 2014


One of my favorite possessions is a long wall hanging in our hallway. It speaks the values my husband and I have had in our home since our beginning. And my parents raised me in just such a home. It says:

                With just a tiny tweak or two, that would aptly describe any home where grace and truth are in place, the home for which every heart longs. When a family works as it was designed, one can be sure grace and truth are always central to its success. The family is key unit intended to impact the world, and the key unit in the family as God originally designed it is husband and wife. When this relationship is right, everything else has at least a fighting chance.
            When we struggle in our marriages, we usually run to the next book, program, formula that tells us “If I do this, then he will do that." We love formulas and programs because they make us feel like we have control. But ultimately, formulas fail. Marriage is not a math problem. Formulas feed expectations, and unmet expectations are an expressway to resentment. Instead of trendy manipulations, we would do best to head for beefing up our commitment to truth and grace. Truth is giving and receiving what is real, and grace is giving and receiving unmerited favor and blessing. Put them together, and you have an invitation to authentic intimacy, the craving of all hearts in relationship.
            If we're honest, we can admit that marriage has the potential to be the most difficult of all relationships. The apostle Paul has taken considerable heat over the centuries for saying that anyone who marries will have many troubles in this life (I Corinthians 7:28), but he wasn't a marriage hater. He was a realist. Marriage unites two wildly different sets of hormones, two diverse personalities and perspectives, two extremely varying temperature preferences, and a host of other individual characteristics, then expects them to live in peace and harmony.
           The coup de grace is that the husband and wife are two adult sinners who usually add a couple of little look-alike sinners to the mix. Of course there will be many troubles.  Unless and until the truth- and-grace thing takes hold."Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." Hebrews 4:16 (NIV) That's not a formula. It's an invitation to get the help we need for our relationships.(taken from Grace and Truth,  by Brenda Mason Young, (2013, Barbour Publishing, Inc.) pp.115-117

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Fight the Good Fight!

Paul famously urged us to fight the good fight. But the letter to his young son in the faith Timothy where he recorded this urging says much more than that. It was on Dad's mind this morning. After having a good time visiting with 3 different godly men friends, having a successful trip around the nurses station with a PT nurse, he was exhausted. He was sitting in his chair, eyes drooping. I said, "Daddy, you look really good today."

Anguish darkened his blue eyes. "I wish I felt good today." I was really surprised and asked what the problem could be.

He said, "The game has changed for me, Brenda. It's a whole new battle now." Then he went on to explain to me the dreams that are haunting his sleep.He said, "I have 5 dreams that I keep telling myself are dreams, but they seem so real." He got through 3 of them, and then, as so often happens in the hospital, the most necessary tasks have to happen at the most inopportune times. We were interrupted for about 30 minutes. At the end of it, he leaned back in his chair, and sighed so big his shrinking body shook inside the blue gown that highlights his eyes.

I asked, "Are you tired, Dad?"

"Exhausted, " he breathed.

I asked the nurses to put him in bed, and I leaned over him, kissed his forehead, and said, "Go to sleep. Daddy. I will be right here." He immediately dozed off, holding my hand. Then he awoke with a start.

Gripping my hand, he asked me in tortured tones, "Why did I steal that car? Why would I take something that wasn't mine? Why would I do such a thing?"

I told him it was a dream, he was a good man who loved and followed Jesus with all his heart, and God knew that. In a moment he repeated to himself, "Yes. A dream." In another 90 seconds, a tear rolled down his cheek from his closed eyes, and he said, "This is why I can't sleep, honey. I am afraid to go to sleep and I fight it. The dreams are so real. It takes me so long to shake it.  I want to fight the good fight, I so want to finish well. I want to leave here strong. My dreams are getting the best of me, though."

Here's the thing. Dad knows what Paul knew. The fight is not for a day, or even a decade. Dad is almost 93, following Jesus with his whole heart since he was 28. And he doesn't get to lay down his sword yet. He's at a stage of life where anyone who lives long enough will enter. His body and mind are betraying him. In his weak moments where he can't take charge of his mind and memory, his despicable Enemy uses his broken state against him. Dad has to keep fighting, because the battle is not over yet.

The greatest joy of my life in these days is to help Dad pick up the sword when his arms are weak. I am fighting with him with a vengeance. I got to remind him of the scriptures that have been his strength so long. I reminded him of the truths he has told others. We prayed together the prayers he has prayed over me many times, including personalizing Psalm 121:4, "The God who keeps Jim Mason will neither sleep nor slumber." Then I sang him to sleep with one of his favorite songs. He was gone before I got to the end, but I kept singing, because I needed it as least as much as he did:
  1. Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,
    Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heav’n and home,
    When Jesus is my portion? My constant Friend is He:
    His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
    His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
    • I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free,
      For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
  2. “Let not your heart be troubled,” His tender word I hear,
    And resting on His goodness, I lose my doubts and fears;
    Though by the path He leadeth, but one step I may see;
    His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
    His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
  3. Whenever I am tempted, whenever clouds arise,
    When songs give place to sighing, when hope within me dies,
    I draw the closer to Him, from care He sets me free;
    His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
    His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
(Side note: His young father roommate, who really needs a physical and spiritual miracle,  walked around the curtain about 30 minutes later and said, "Thanks for that song and what you said to your dad. I really needed that, too." Good God.)

So here's what Paul knew and Dad knows, and I am learning deep in my heart. It is in my soul, and my heart is set to fight the good fight, and not be discouraged. I want to help Dad and myself keep grabbing hold of the eternal life to which we have been called. The day is coming when our Commander, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, will appear, and every enemy be vanquished. To Him be glory now and forever.

 But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He will bring about at the proper time—He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.

Friday, March 7, 2014

When Life Throws You a Curve Ball

A few years ago I got the privilege of doing premarital counseling, and then "tying the knot" for a beautiful young couple. Aaron is a hero, one of our Army reservists, in additional to his daily job. Tonya is a skilled teacher. As their pastor, it has been my joy to watch them grow in their walks with Jesus, and take many steps to build their marriage and family. In the early days of their marriage, they attended DOS, a small group for young couples, and built solid friendships and relationship skills. They attended church regularly, and responded as God spoke to them. They took Financial Peace University seriously, paid off thousands of dollars of debt (even became leaders in it), and enabled themselves to buy a house that meets the needs of a growing family. Which is GREAT, because on Monday, they added their 3rd exquisite child to their family.

Their daughter, Harper Grace, is so beautiful, little chubby rolls and alert tender eyes. Her names mean "musician" and "undeserved favor", and that is perfect. I can see Harper already adding beautiful harmonies, unexpected joy and blessing, to so many lives. But Harper arrived on the tail wind of a curve ball. While they were still celebrating the joy of her arrival, sending texts to say, "She's finally here!", they received news that made their knees buckle. "Your little girl has heart problems, and she has Downs syndrome." As Tonya shared with me a few hours later through tears, "No parent ever wants to hear that their dearly loved, precious child, has major challenges to face."

I have been with other people in similar situations. Their reactions caused me to feel pity, concern, and frankly, incredible frustration. No good emotions. Not these two. Aaron and Tonya have inspired me, caused me to weep tears of joy and admiration, and deepened my own faith. Harper Grace and her family are so blessed by each other---they are already spilling over on all of us.

Let me tell you a few things they have already done right, Oh, so right. Pay attention. You are going to get a curve ball some day, too, and you'd better get ready.

1) They took the right steps BEFORE the curve ball came.
They learned to walk with Jesus and trust him.  They got rid of debt so they could have a house that fit them. They addressed potential marriage issues. They cultivated great friendships with other young couples who shared the same values (today, those friends are gathering around them as an incredible team of support.)

2) They turned TO God, not away.
They texted and called me, saying they were searching the Bible for verses to strengthen them. They were praying, believing, trusting. That's the order of every day.

3) They controlled their emotions; they didn't let their emotions control them.
Of course they cried. Of course they have wept buckets. But with the right people in the right places.
Of course they asked questions. But to the right people with the right attitude. They didn't jump on FB or twitter or the phone and say things. They went into a period of silence, except with a trusted circle, while they processed. They waited to have clear information and calm souls before they shared. They were ever so careful to not make things hard on their other two children by information getting out too early that might scare them. Oh, boy---I wish they could teach a class. So many people I care about as I do them, get a small hurt, a small disappointment, and shame themselves and their families by their emotional public reactions.

4) They even tightened their "team".
To watch Aaron and Tonya with Harper is to experience true teamwork. They are relying on each other, trusting each other, knowing how they need and value each other. The encouragement I heard them give each other would be oil to make any marriage run better.

5) They remembered their other responsibilities.
 They took care of themselves, but didn't write off the rest of the world. Of course, Harper is center stage at the moment. But as her condition stabilized, their minds quickly went to the other two children. "We need to see them. We need to spend some time with them." Sometimes we allow our curve balls to so consume us that other valuable things wither and die.

6) They processed.
They listened to everything they could learn from the hospital caregivers. They did internet research. They talked and talked some more. And they saved their words for the world until they knew just what they wanted to say.

7) They are allowing themselves to experience incredible joy, and look to the future with faith.
Harper...well, you just have to see her. She is so beautiful. She is full of everything wonderful. As her Aunt Meg expressed, "The unexpected will not define her. My niece is strong. She is beautiful. She is loved. 'For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.' (Ephesians 2:10) "(Oh yes, they have let their wonderful family in, and Team Harper is awe-inspiring!) They have owned there are challenges are ahead, but they already believe in God, themselves, and their amazing beautiful daughter they enjoy so much right now. Aaron said, "We will support and help her be all she wants to be...and she will be amazing."

I am sure she will blow the lid off in many ways. Her parents do. And they serve a God who is committed to do more than they could ever "ask, hope, or imagine, in their wildest dreams."(Ephesians 3:20)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Public Service Announcement

This Facebook post from my daughter Rachel Young Carpenter is superlative and so needed. She is my first guest blogger. :-)

Friends, with all the love in my heart - truly - I offer this Public Service Announcement:

Unless your Friends List only includes a handful of people that you consider your closest, most trusted confidants, I strongly urge you to filter the level of intimate details you share about your emotions, insecurities, pain, disappointments, etc. (And how often you share, as well.) Not because they are invalid or unimportant, but rather because they ARE. And, frankly, social media is not the medium where your precious heart and struggles are going to be heard and handled in the way you desire.

You see, the majority of us have Friends Lists 90% consisting of casual friends and acquaintances. People we haven't seen in a decade. Didn't actually hang out with in high school. Sorta know from work or church or that one party or through another friend. Are these really the people you want to know the depths of despair and fear, anger and insecurity, and desperation you feel about life/your job/relationship/family and so on? They are incapable of the personal investment it takes to value you, and cherish your feelings well and appropriately - with understanding and grace. Chances are that, at best, many of them will read your most raw emotions and feel pity for you. And, at worst, they will feel contempt and disdain. I promise, neither of these responses are what you want from sharing the genuine struggles weighing on your heart and mind.

I encourage you to find a few friends that can be trusted to handle your heart and feelings with love and care. Confide in them privately. Lean on them for support and invite their perspective. Let true, real-life, 3-D friends love you through your stuff.

Otherwise someone is going to post the attached picture and be thinking about your soul-bearing status when they do. Who wants that?!

Praying for us all to be wise in who and how we share the most uncensored and fragile parts of who we are and the experiences we're surviving.