There are two songs we sing that remind me of each other but – they’re about three hundred years apart in the making. First, “I Sing the Mighty Power of God” was published by Isaac Watts in 1715 and was actually meant to be a children’s hymn. To my surprise the words are associated with at least two hymn tunes: Forest Green and Ellacombe. I had only known of Ellacombe. The Forest Green tune seems to me to be a more likely children’s hymn and so perhaps is the more traditional.

Gazing upon the sky


God’s Power Described

Watts declares God’s power, wisdom and authority using examples of creation. And that’s just the first verse! Looking further we see God’s goodness, His care of His creation, and His omnipotence. So while at first glance it may seem that Watts is primarily extolling creation, that’s not the whole story. He is praising the many attributes of God by drawing our attention to His creation.

I sing the mighty power of God, That made the mountains rise;
That spread the flowing seas abroad, And built the lofty skies.
I sing the wisdom that ordained The sun to rule the day;
The moon shines full at His command, And all the stars obey.

I sing the goodness of the Lord, That filled the earth with food;
He formed the creatures with His word, And then pronounced them good.

Lord, how Thy wonders are displayed, Where’er I turn my eye:
If I survey the ground I tread, Or gaze upon the sky!

There’s not a plant or flower below, But makes Thy glories known;
And clouds arise, and tempests blow, By order from Thy throne;
While all that borrows life from Thee Is ever in Thy care,
And everywhere that man can be, Thou, God, art present there.

These verses are split exactly in half in the way they speak of God. The first verse and the first two lines of the second address God in the third person. Thereafter God is spoken to and praised directly.

Fast Forward to . . .

In 2002, Laura Story wrote the song “Indescribable”. These ten years since it has become beloved far and wide. This song is in the verse and chorus style, the verses holding the main descriptions of creation. One example from the second verse:

Who has told every lightning bolt where it should go
Or seen heavenly storehouses laden with snow

It is the chorus which gives us the praises of God, especially how omnipotent and unknowable He is:

Indescribable, uncontainable,
You placed the stars in the sky and You know them by name.
You are amazing God
All powerful, untamable,
Awestruck we fall to our knees as we humbly proclaim
You are amazing God

This song almost completely speaks directly to the Lord. The exception is the second verse, which asks the question, who has done all these miracles of creation? At the end of the last chorus Story’s praise of the creation of humanity and His relationship with them is personally expressed.

You see the depths of my heart and You love me the same
You are amazing God

What do you think?

Each hymn of praise expresses itself in the style of its day. For myself, “Indescribable” says something to me in my “native tongue”, the language of today. “I Sing the Mighty Power of God” also combines praise for the wonders of God and creation; using the “Ellacombe” version makes it a vital declaration, while “Forest Green” captures the gentle simplicity of the children’s song it was originally.

Which do you prefer?

Categories : Creation, Hymns, Music
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Apr
23

God’s Voice of Truth

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It’s All the Same

Life isn’t any different. Some problems get solved, some are works in progress. The mornings are beautiful; housekeeping is not beautiful, as they always have been. Music still lifts my soul and paying bills does not. Nothing new there. And yet . . . .

Lately depression has been holding me in its sharp little claws like a scared kitten. “ The same, the same,” it whispers. “What you do and who you are or make yourself out to be will not matter. It is all the same, the same . . . .” And who can you be with when you’re such unscintillating company? “Ssseee, they are all busy with their happy lives,” the whisper hisses. “But for you, it is all the sssame . . . .”

The Starry Host

I was leaving a Bible study the other night and looked up to the night sky. As the church is located in a rural area, it’s especially nice to view the clearer, darker sky that I cannot see at home. It reminded me of a well-worn passage of my Bible:

“to whom will you compare Me?
Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
Lift your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one,
and calls them each by name.
Because of His great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.
Isaiah 40:25 & 26

The Voice of Truth

Something utterly, dependably the same, as long as I’ve been looking up, and much, much longer: God overwhelmingly and indisputably controlling the universe. Always and ever the same, always and ever glorious, always and ever in love, always and ever in peace.

Not Only the Big Picture

And I am not careening randomly through this universe. The next verses seem to say, “You see how the universe is firmly taken care of. So, what do you think? Is God not able to reach down from the big picture into your life?”

Why do you say, O Jacob,
and complain, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord;
my cause is disregarded by my God”?
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and His understanding no one can fathom.
Isaiah 40:27 & 28

When I can’t fathom what seems to be a bottomless pit with no life in it for me, God is saying, “No, look the other way. Look up! No one can fathom the starry host that he can see, and no one can fathom My understanding of events that he cannot see. Look for my power and strength and understanding that you cannot see yet.”

Then God shows His willingness to lift us up and keep us moving from where we are:

He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Isaiah 40:29 & 30

My struggle to look up and trust in God’s strength reminded me of Voice of Truth, a modern song that talks about those voices in our minds that pull at us. The depression is “reminding me of all the times I tried before and failed.” But, thank God, “the voice of truth tells me a different story.” Please enjoy that song which I’ve included today, which I especially like because this version has many pictures of the heavens that God has created and cared for.

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I work as a substitute organist for several churches, “pinch hitting” for a church organist who is sick or away. Not too long ago I spent three weeks at one church while their regular organist had surgery. Since my stay was prolonged, I got an idea.

Sing Unto the Lord a New Song

I decided to ask about teaching a new song to them, one of the hymns recently composed by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty, “In Christ Alone.” Other congregations I know have been deeply touched by this hymn, which is a great statement of faith in Jesus. At first there were people who discouraged me; they said I wouldn’t get the pastor’s approval. But, you know, it never hurts to ask – and he said yes! I set about making “In Christ Alone” happen for this church.

Can We Learn Something New?

I’d asked a young man at the church to sing the song with me and play along on guitar, but his work prevented him from coming to church on my Launching Sunday. Mine is neither the loudest nor the best voice, but I was going to have to lead this hymn by example. Suddenly I found my Secret Weapon: the choir rehearsed before service, and I taught them the song. They would leave the choir loft by the time the congregation sang the song, but I thought this situation was even better. They’d be standing at their pews, dispersed among the people, singing the newly learned song with confidence. They would “amplify” my singing everywhere.

I Don’t Want to Learn Something New

Before church started, I talked to one gentleman, Rich, who was a skeptic. “I like to sing the things I know,” he told me. I encouraged him that he’d be able to learn it, and I really thought he’d like it. Just give it a chance….

Because, if you think about it, every song of praise to God was new at one time, and some congregation somewhere gave it a chance. And these songs spread and become well known because they resonate with people. The new words give them new ways to voice their praise, and “Sing to the Lord a new song, His praise in the assembly of the saints” (Psalm 149:1) lives, a new and fresh reality.

Can We Sing it Again?

The song was a “hit,” and everyone agreed we should sing it again the next week in order to learn it better. Then my time with the church was up. Their own organist came back to work, and I went on my way.

I returned on Palm Sunday. Rich, my doubter, wanted to know if we could sing “In Christ Alone”. “Oh, you decided you liked it?” I teased him gently. Rich had gone from being against the new song to becoming its proponent, actually anxious to sing it again.

Especially interesting to me was what he said next. “It has words that are easy to sing,” Rich told me. He had stumbled upon a phenomenon I’ve long believed in. As beautiful as older hymns are, as poetic as their lyrics are, they are from a time gone by. They express the faith we share, but in the music and language of the people of their time. We don’t speak that way anymore. Our music isn’t the same style. We need the new expressions that reflect our style and our way of speaking about our faith to add to the rich body of Christian music and lyrics. All those who have gone before have sung their praises to God in the way that reflected the times they lived in. Now we must add our voices, too.

I’m so glad the church has embraced their new song. In August I’m coming back for a few weeks, and we’re planning to learn something else new then. I can’t wait!

Categories : Hymns, Music
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Apr
08

He is Risen in Joy

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He is risen! Happy Easter to all, and may the joy of Easter spread through your week. My Easter morning was spent at my home church, Living Hope Christian Church in North Kingstown, RI. The sermon I heard got me thinking. I don’t think my pastor, Peter Atkin, will mind if I use it as a jumping off point.

We looked at the woman who anointed Jesus in Bethany just days before his crucifixion (Matthew 26:6-13). Jesus explains that she has anointed Him in preparation of His burial. I started to wonder about that. I am used to anointings that come in times of great joy, but we don’t think of burials as joyful. For instance, I thought of one of my favorite verses from Psalm 45, where a wedding is taking place:

You love righteousness and hate wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
by anointing you with the oil of joy.(Psalm 45:7)

The writer of Hebrews says that Jesus saw the joy beyond the crucifixion:

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)

Jesus encouraged His disciples to see the joy beyond the coming days:

Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. (John 16:22)

Past the days of the horrible death and burial lay a reunion with the risen Christ and a joy no one could take away. More than that, He wanted for them a joy that was complete (John 16:24b) and that was the full measure of His joy as well (John 17:13b).

Then Paul ties together the reason for Christ’s suffering with a wedding, not the one literally described in Psalm 45, but the spiritual one that we all are part of:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy…. (Ephesians 5:25-26a)

So the anointing of Jesus’ burial could still be an anointing of the joy set before Him and the joy that lays ahead for us when we are with Him in perfect joy.

The Open Tomb

Apr
05

What is Truth?

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Good Friday Prayer Request

My sister and I have long had a tradition of each choosing a special person to pray for on Good Friday. There is no question who my person is this year, and the need is so urgent I want to invite everyone to join me. Janice Wray, a beautiful 20 year old Christian woman, was in a terrible car accident on Palm Sunday. She has broken her neck and twisted her spinal cord. She cannot feel her hands or her legs, and doctors do not expect her to walk again. Please pray for her and her family – healing, strength, comfort, however you are led. There is no limit to how our God can work in this situation.

The Gnawing Question

The narrative of the Passion always draws me in, no matter how many times I’ve heard it. So many parts of it go right to the heart of the matter: who is Jesus, and why did He come to us? This exchange from John 18: 37 and 38 is one that hits me hardest.

Jesus answered, “…for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” Pilate asked.

Pilate had a lot of “truth” to balance that day. He had to keep the Roman agenda in mind, but the Jewish leaders had their own idea of truth, and they wanted to entangle him in their plots. Then there is the extraordinary man before him, who began telling Pilate that He was the truth.

Pilate did not see that Jesus was the truth above all the others. With some misgivings he continued trying to balance the false with the true until it led to Jesus’ death sentence. But the disciples, or at least Philip, didn’t comprehend it fully, either. Jesus had just hours before told his disciples, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6) He is telling them that He Himself is everything they need – an astounding thought. But Philip answers, “Lord, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” He doesn’t see that the Father is in Jesus and Jesus is in the Father. Jesus explains to him, “Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9b)

Even today I don’t think we always have such an easy time knowing what is truth when we go to live it out. Yes, Jesus is the truth. He tells us the truth of our spiritual condition. He gives us His blood, that becomes our salvation. What about truth in our day to day situations?

Two 21st Century Questions

Last summer someone urged me to walk away from my mortgage. Instead I chose not to believe her claims that the house was worthless and I would never be able to afford it. I fought to keep my house. Was that my stubborn pride, or was I fighting for what I believed God wanted me to have? What is truth?

When my son was on drugs several persons urged me to toss him out of the house. They were sure this would straighten him out and help me regain a peaceful home. I never could do it. Had I done it, he would never have gotten my help to keep him alive when he overdosed. When he came back from rehab, some still felt he should not live with me. My son and I have fought and negotiated and learned from each other over these months. We are closer than we ever would have been because I did not kick him out. What is truth? Was my method just the truth of a sentimental mother or was it a reflection of God’s truth for our situation? It is easy to say now that it seems to have worked out well. I took a lot of opposition for the decisions I made and the stands I took. And remember, those with contrary advice felt they were reflecting godly wisdom, too.

You know many examples from your own life. Things come up, and then what is truth? And is my truth a reflection of His truth?

Come, My Way, My Truth, My Life

This has made me think about the hymn, “Come, My Way, My Truth, My Life,” written by George Herbert, who lived from 1593 to 1633. The music, while sounding characteristic of Herbert’s era, was actually the work of 20th century composer Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Jesus’ declaration, “I am the way and the truth and the life” ceased being only doctrine to Herbert and became his own truth. He embraced Jesus, calling Him “my way, my truth, my life”. But there’s more. Herbert shows in his verse that he expects the way, the truth, and the life to speak into his life, teaching him and changing how he lives it.

Come, my way, my truth, my life:
Such a way as gives us breath;
Such a truth as ends all strife;
Such a life as conquers death.

Just think: a way that is so easy and light that we breathe peacefully in it; a truth that comes in and settles conflict without and our hearts within; a life that we live knowing “we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37)

I hope in your Easter you find Jesus to be your way, your truth and your life as never before.

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Apr
02

A Word Aptly Spoken

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A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. – Proverbs 25:11

Recently several of my friends have been hurt by remarks that lacked tact. As I’ve thought about this and wished my loved ones had been treated more tactfully, I’ve realized I have plenty to learn, too.

Although tact isn’t a listed fruit of the Spirit, it calls upon a lot of them. Kindness, gentleness, and self-control come to mind, along with as much wisdom as we can muster. Tact is needed in confrontation, but also in sharing the truth and speaking one’s mind. It is knowing when a thing should be addressed privately, or later on, or perhaps a realization that you’re not the one who should bring it up at all. Or, as little as we like to admit it, our opinion is not needed in the situation. Ouch!

I think Christians are especially susceptible to crossing the line in truth-sharing. We are called to proclaim the Good News but you can’t win everyone over – the apostle Paul certainly didn’t! “Trying harder” can take a wrong turn and start sounding like arrogance. Many times I’ve found out later that the people who seemed to be shutting us down when spiritual things were presented were really thinking about what was said. It’s made me remember one of my grandmothers. In my childhood she used to say, “I would rather be right than President,” and she made sure she was. But people did not remember her correct opinions or her intelligence. They remembered being hurt by her sharp tongued comments.

When King David’s son Absalom rebelled against him, he asked his soldiers not to harm him when they captured him. Nonetheless, he was killed, and the man who reported it to the king said, “May the enemies of my lord the king . . . be like that young man.” (2 Samuel 18:32b) The patriotic sentiment was tactless in the face of David’s losing his beloved son. Only God knows if David wept all the more over Absalom because the men around him saw an impudent enemy vanquished while only David saw a much loved wayward son come to a terrible end.

Jesus gave us instructions about confronting another person that showed love, concern, and were designed to give a person a place to reconsider their actions. (The instructions include the appropriate action for the rarer egregious problem that requires churchwide attention, but I am not addressing that here.) The basic step is “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.” (Matthew 18:15a) So much damage is done by people who confront others’ faults in anger and in public. We are supposed to talk to others in love and in private to find a reconciliation, not shout out their faults to demoralize them.

Priscilla and Aquila, two strong believers in the early church, came across a man named Apollos who was preaching publicly, but did not know the full details of the Gospel message. Did they butt in and take over on his speech? Did they criticize him for not preaching everything they knew about Jesus? No, “they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.” (Acts 18:26b) Even in the case of his preaching an incomplete message, they spared Apollos every public embarrassment that intervention or criticism would have brought him, and instructed him privately.

I missed the opportunity to show tact recently when I rebuked someone on Facebook. In my anger I thought I was justified – don’t we always? The result was we both found there had been a misunderstanding that left each of us feeling foolish and embarrassed. Considering the fruits of the Spirit, the tact that I should have been using, and the love I have for my friend, I wish I had gone to her privately.

One last thought: sometimes a person is blind to a fault because the Holy Spirit knows he is not ready to confront it. The Holy Spirit guides us perfectly in revealing and healing our faults. He chooses the right time when we can bear to look at our shortcomings, and His healing makes that possible. When we feel someone should hear the truth about themselves now we need to pray about the possibility that we are running ahead of the Holy Spirit and what that person is ready to hear. Instead of tact we may find we need patience(!) and a renewed love for the person just the way they are – which is, of course, just how God loves them.

“People don’t care how much you know–until they know how much you care.” – John C. Maxwell

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A couple of weeks ago, Michelle was asking me when I’d weigh in about the pastor who wanted to burn Qurans. Although we’re not talking about the pastor in particular anymore, I’ve found a place where I think the Bible weighs in on the controversy – and as always, right down to our hearts, too.

I am reading my way through 2 Timothy, a book I’d have to say I don’t know too much about other than the “famous” verses that pop out. It surprised me to find some thoughts about kindness and gentleness that sound all too a propos for these days.

I have a fondness for those fruits of the Spirit that seem to get lumped together and not discussed – goodness, kindness, gentleness. This started years ago when I was asked to speak on all three for 10 minutes in a presentation on the fruits. Someone put them all together, thinking they were basically the same thing. They are not! I tried to show that in my allotted ten minutes. Then it started me on the lookout to find these qualities in the Bible for the last 25 years.

These are instructions for anyone who wants to be “the Lord’s servant.”

And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. – 2 Timothy 2:23-26

There are two ways to get into a quarrel: you are drawn into one when another person becomes combative, or you pick a quarrel, saying inflammatory things that you know will lead to quarreling. If we’re told to be careful not to get pulled in to a quarrel, we certainly shouldn’t be starting one.

Now, putting “Quran Burning” in huge letters outside a church is an extreme example. (An aside: many bemoaned the attention the media gave the story. I don’t know exactly how they found the pastor, but think about it: he wanted to be found. He was picking this quarrel and hoping to amplify it.) But at home, on the smaller scale, how many times have you heard someone say the “clever” snide remark that is going to humiliate and raise ire? The one that comes to my mind is the “joke” about Adam and Steve, by which some people feel they’ve handily put down their opposition. But then there are the people who say, “Those people who believe in eternal security, they….” or, “those people who speak in tongues, they….” I’ve worshiped with both of “them” over the years. It’s a disgrace to talk about other believers like that. Because

Instead, {the Lord’s servant} must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. – 2 Timothy 2:24b

To be kind to another, we have to be respectful of him as a human being, even if we cannot respect his viewpoint. To be able to teach, we have to know Scripture, not hearsay or smart remarks. To not resent the other person’s religion and what hurtful things that religion may have done, we have to put away our pride. We are not better than the other person or his ideas. We have found Someone better than both of us. Someone who ended quarrels. Someone who was not only kind, but even gentle and humble of heart (Matthew 11:29). Someone whose very name is above any other name – most certainly our names (Philippians 2:9). The very thought of my name compared to His makes me wither. We are supposed to introduce others to that Someone – Jesus – holy and true, not someone combative and prejudiced.

Those who oppose him he must gently instruct – 2 Timothy 2:25a

If you confront a person on any subject, you need to know what your objective is. Are you bringing up your points to bring harmony, or a greater understanding? If your objective is to show the other person “what’s what”, or to make sure they know you are right and they are wrong, then pride is leading the way, not reconciliation.

Here, the gentle instruction is going to lead to evangelism, the opportunity to share who Jesus really is with the person. Posturing and put downs are never going to do it. I doubt that anyone has ever said, “Now that you’ve shredded all my beliefs and made me look like a fool, I want to accept your Jesus.” You realize that’s ridiculous once I’ve said it; do we always realize it when we’re talking to someone?

That they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. – 2 Timothy 2:26

Paul says the unbeliever is trapped. They have been taken captive, and often have been taught to take more people captive into the same false religion or cult. There’s been an outcry about human trafficking in part because we can see, and hopefully stop, the horrible kidnappers and abusers. Even when people are being belligerent about an ungodly viewpoint, Paul is saying that beneath it all, they are trapped by the real enemy that we do not see. If we could see their captivity, would we argue with them? Wouldn’t we rather work with them gently and try to get them out of there?

Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. – Philippians 4:5

Lord, it’s a human failing to want to fight and put down others. Please help us all to be kinder and gentler the next time there is a conflict of opinion and remember it’s an opportunity to show Jesus’ kindness, gentleness and love. Amen.

August 12, 2010

The night my son was born was one of the greatest moments of my life. When he was put in my arms I could immediately sense that somehow this child was special. I know every parent thinks that, but there was just something about him. He was the first boy to be born in my family in 41 years; that boy, my brother, had died in 1965, so now there was only my 81 year old father and this new little life. My father had had strokes and couldn’t speak well, but there was no disguising how pleased he was. My son showed so much promise, especially in art, where he actually started out as a prodigy. I tried to give him extra exposure to art, and opportunities to explore music and sports as well. We saw a bright future ahead.

This morning one of the worst moments of my life took place as I watched my beloved 19 year old son plead nolo contendere to the felony of dealing marijuana. I listened as he addressed the judge clearly and politely; I listened as she explained the rights that were being taken away. It stung me as she told him that the most basic right of a citizen, the right to vote, would be refused him for five years.

He got the best sentence possible under the circumstances. He was being sent to drug rehab for six months to a year instead of being exposed to the harsh and dangerous environment in our state prison. It was the outcome we had all been praying for. But my son has already started detox and rehab two weeks ago. It’s been tough for him, and he has missed home terribly. He had hoped against hope that he would only be there for three months, at most six. When the sentencing finally came, he began to close up like a turtle resolutely drawing into his shell. My son wouldn’t talk to us and wouldn’t look at us. It brought my ex-husband to tears. I felt like crying, too, but I knew I had also won a years-long battle to get my boy the help he needed, painful though it was. My son was addicted to much more dangerous drugs than the marijuana. I had finally done the only thing I could do to get him help and hopefully make it end.

I finally had my cry at the end of the day while I thought of the beautiful baby I had 19 years ago and the young man who had to stand guilty before the court this morning. How it hurt to see him punished and to know he desperately needs the correction and discipline the rehab house will give him. I wondered if God “weeps”, or the spiritual equivalent, when we disobey and must receive harsh consequences. Do my actions hurt the heart of God the way my son’s actions hurt mine? It makes me think a lot differently about my own disobedience.

I was thinking tonight about a verse I must have learned decades ago because the way I recalled it was in the King James Version, which I haven’t used in a long time. This is the New King James Version of the verse:

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. – James 1:2 -4

Patience has its perfect work to do. Patience (or perseverance in the NIV) was the quality I need to call upon in the months ahead. Even though my son doesn’t trust in Jesus, he is going to have to learn patience, too. He needs patience with the situation he’s in and the rehab where he must stay. He needs patience with himself to face the feelings that led him to use street drugs and prescription drugs to feel better. And many of us are hoping and praying that someday he will have patience because he recognizes that it is the Lord who is bringing healing to his life.

Tomorrow is a new day to pray for my son. Tomorrow is also a new day for me to count my trials “all joy” and be patient while God works patience in me.

Postscript: It is now the end of August and Jon is beginning to enjoy the feeling of being drug free. He is starting to gain perspective and it’s wonderful to see the “real” Jon unmasked by the drugs. It’s a real encouragement to see him start down the right road.

My last blog was about my son Jon’s near death experience with heroin and other drugs. I’d been studying rejoicing, one of the fruits of the Spirit. Rejoice in all things, Paul said. Now that “all things” weren’t so hot, I challenged myself.

The first reason to rejoice: my son lived. He awoke at the hospital and was able to talk to us. Later, while he slept, I watched his breathing the way parents watch a newborn’s little breaths while he sleeps. It seemed no less a miracle to me now as it had then. Looking into his groggy blue eyes, I was so thankful I was even seeing them again.

I rejoiced in what Jon had to say when he awoke. I’m really sorry, he said. I know I need help. I want to get clean. I want to go to rehab. Of course his bravado returned in a couple of days, but in all these years of drug use he had never, ever acknowledged that he was at rock bottom and needed help. Unmasked in the seriousness of the situation, he admitted that he’d lost control of his drug use.

Another blessing in disguise: Jon had pneumonia and had to stay in the hospital for a few days. There he was able to see how many people cared about him as friends visited. He was not so alone in the world as he had imagined.

Something unusual happened when we found Jon in his bedroom at home. He had been saving a two-liter soda bottle filled with water. His friend, Jesse, had brought it over the last time he visited us and had forgotten it there. After Jesse died Jon kept the water bottle on the floor like a relic, and it was by his feet when we found him unconscious. I knew that was “holy water” as far as Jon was concerned, but one of his friends grabbed the bottle and threw the water on his face to try and revive him. When I told Jon what happened to the water, he said, “So he saved me. Jesse saved me.”

At the most I would entertain the idea that the hand of Jesus was guiding Jesse’s when he left that bottle there almost two years ago. But after that Jon didn’t ridicule God again. If I mentioned God, he never again told me that there was no God and my beliefs were on par with the Tooth Fairy. He saw in that forgotten water bottle a spiritual intervention to save his life, and he gave up his insistence that the world consisted only of what we can touch and see. It’s a start. I rejoice.

I wasn’t prepared to be tested and tempted to display my worst attitudes.
After nine hours of standing watch over my son, I left the hospital. Getting away will be a relief from the tension, right? Oh, no. The assault came immediately.

I sat down to eat at a restaurant with family members. All I wanted was a respite and a bowl of soup. They had an agenda. (Do not eat with people with agendas. It spoils the digestion.)

I tried three times to change the subject, but one family member was completely undeterred. She was going to ask every question about Jon’s situation then and there. She caught me when I was tired, scared, and hungry. It was not a good conversation.

As we left the restaurant, she berated me for not “making connections” and not “giving trust”. She said that as I’d called her early in the morning about Jon’s condition, she was entitled to details. I said nothing, but I left the parking lot furious. Couldn’t she see I’d had enough? Why didn’t she care about the condition I was in? What made her think I owed her anything? Couldn’t she let me eat in peace?

I knew I needed to forgive them, but the restless waves that often form our family relationships rose to a tsunami. This has really crossed the line, I fumed. There was no consideration for me. She didn’t want to know about Jon, she wanted information for her own gratification. They think if they’d been Jon’s mother they’d be doing a better job. They’d know the answers. They’d get him in rehab. They think I failed.

I was upset, too, that anger and unforgiveness were getting the better of me. I kept thinking of the lines of an old gospel song: “Joy, joy, joy/ Joy in the Holy Ghost/ Don’t let anybody rob your joy/ there’s joy in the Holy Ghost”. In the hospital I had tried so hard to rejoice in this disaster. Now this situation had robbed my precious joy and replaced it with a rock-hard heart, and I hadn’t stopped it. I’d even reveled in it. Weren’t their bad behaviors rooted in attitudes I had suspected all along? Didn’t they deserve my contempt?

My mind came back to Philippians 2:5 – 7:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
Did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
But made Himself nothing……

Equality with God is a big deal for Jesus to let slip from His grasp. It’s one of the many humbling things He did for us. I have what I think of as my own big deals. I mean, they’re big deals to me, but God’s not so impressed. What if that passage said:

Anne should not consider being respected as something to be grasped; or
Anne should not consider always being right as something to be grasped; or
Anne should not consider always having her way as something to be grasped.

I have a feeling there could be a hundred more of those uncomfortable little phrases informing me I have to let my grasp go.

In Psalm 45, the bridegroom is praised in this way:

You love righteousness and hate wickedness;
Therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
By anointing you with the oil of joy.
Psalm 45:7

I pray that I would hate the wickedness that would have my heart,
And I would lift my hands to praise God,
And He would anoint them with the oil of joy
So my grasp would slip from the things that would rob me.

Aug
23

Joy in the Trial

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One thing I’m noticing about rejoicing: we are told to rejoice in the most unlikely circumstances. The apostle Paul is full of joy while he’s under house arrest, while out on the streets of Rome, mixed in with true evangelists, men with false motives are also preaching the gospel. The book of James launches right in: “Count it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds…” (James 1:2) As I’m looking at Paul’s example and James’ lesson, I just knew the moment was coming for me to test this out.

Boy, did it ever.

Last Tuesday morning at 3 a.m. I found myself in my son Jon’s room. Two of his friends and I had found him unconscious in a chair. The air was thick with pot. Jon was covered in vomit, ashen, and not breathing. Not breathing.

“Call 911,” I ordered one of his friends while I picked up Jon’s lolling head and supported his neck. I pulled him upright and found it caused him to gasp for air past the vomit in his airway. I kept doing it. “Keep breathing, Jon,” I told him, but he wasn’t breathing except for those gasps I forced his lungs to take. As I looked at my hand behind his neck I had a flashback to supporting his newborn head in the first moments I had ever held him. Nineteen years later, was I doing this for the last time?

Of course, we didn’t arrive at this wretched scene from out of the blue. At the beginning, Jon was a longed for and cherished baby, the first boy in 41 years on my side of the family. We loved and nurtured him intellectually, spiritually and physically. But even as a baby Jon was stubborn. Every limit had to be tested, every barrier needed a battering ram.

Around the seventh grade the first strands began to unravel. There were sliding grades, problems at school, and the beginnings of drug abuse. Yes, there were serious problems in our home, but Jon was going out and heaping problem upon problem. We tried to get him help, but Jon was like a tornado headed out on his own path, churning up more trouble than we could keep up with.

Where did we go wrong? Did we go wrong? We certainly got plenty of advice. Advice, however, is cheap. Solutions were nonexistent.

There had been two other episodes with drugs and two other polices visits to our home. Each time we hoped it would be the clarion call that would wake up Jon. Then, when he was 17, one of his closest friends died in an accident. Jon became fatalistic and started taking unreasonable risks. Worst of all, he refused to believe in God.

Where was the little boy who loved Bibleman and Captain Bible, who sat on my lap for hours while I read Little Pilgrim’s Progress and The Chronicles of Narnia? We were forced to watch Jon’s faith sink into fatalism just as we helplessly saw the drug abuser’s mindset overtake him.

Tonight was by far the worst. As we waited for the police to come, one of his friends, a Christian boy he’d known all his life, prayed over him frantically. Once the policeman was standing by me, I remember saying, “Thank God”. Isn’t that what we always think? That the police and rescue will come, and they will fix it?

The police found the needle, and the tracks on his arm, and another dose of heroin in his room. Later we would find out that on this night, he’d used a concoction of Xanax, pot, vodka, and three shots of heroin. When he got to the ambulance, his respiration rate was 6. People on their deathbeds have rates of 6.

No one was offering any assurances that they caught him in time. They put him in the ambulance; the doors swung shut. The ambulance didn’t leave for a while. Not good. I looked at those closed doors and wondered if I would ever see Jon again. Jon’s 16 year old sister and I stood on the lawn and bawled, not caring who in the neighborhood would hear us in the middle of the night.

Count it all joy. Somehow.

More to follow about Jon later this week.

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