Psalms of Lament

A sermon for November 1, 2020

There was a time when I was in great pain and sorrow.  I was depressed, I was anxious, and life appeared to be hopeless. I was afraid of everything from being able to pay my bills, to thinking about never being able to pursue the life and career I had felt called to, that my dreams were grounded in. 

Many of us have gone through something like this, will go through something like this, or know people who have gone through these seasons of worry, doubt, and fear.

When I was going through this, I spoke to my close friends and family about it, but the most comfort came from people who understood what I went through. The most comfort came not from pat answers, eloquent responses, or encouraging cards, but through simple sounds of acknowledgement, through periods of silence that allowed me to think and process, and through simple gestures that cared for the wellbeing that I had abandoned.


God and I had some issues though.  

Where was God in the midst of the mess?  It seemed as though God had abandoned me.  It seemed as though God had taken everything from me. It seemed as though my life would now be defined by forgotten meals, and extinguished hope.

But what I learned in the midst of the mess was that God understood what I was going through because Christ understood loss, depression, anxiety, fear, and pain. Luke 22 describes our Lord in the garden awaiting his captors.  Jesus was so distraught that he was sweating drops of blood, he was shaking in anxiety. He was crying out to the Father to spare him of what what about to happen. He was about to be betrayed by someone who he has just shared a meal with, and 3 years of life with. 

And in the book of Psalms, there are Psalms of Lament in which we read the emotions and questions of the writers as they cried out for God to answer their pain, and their grieving. 

The beauty of our faith is that we have a God who understands our suffering and our joy, and we have examples of people of faith who have followed God before us, who had the same questions, and doubts, and struggles. 


And so if you are thinking that you are alone and abandoned when you don’t feel positive about your life, or your faith.  Or if you are grieving long after the funeral, long after people stop calling to check on you, this message is for you. 

If you are at a good place right now, but you know other people who may not be, this message is for you. 


Lets look at Psalm 22.

Verse one starts out with: “My God, My God….Why have you forsaken me!?”

How many times have we felt as though God could not be in the mess in which we find ourselves in?

How many times have we wondered how the world can be so bad and evil, if God exists?

These are emotions and questions that even children feel and ask. And yet, when we have these questions and we ponder them, we feel as though we are alone. 

But this Psalm which has been read and sun for thousands of years reminds us that we are not alone in these moments. 

In Matthew 27, verse 46, as Jesus is on the cross he cries out what humanity feels when we are suffering by quoting psalm 22- My God, My God…why have you forsaken me?

And then Psalm 22, which has been interpreted as a prophecy of the Messiah, goes on to say, “I am despised by others” (v. 6), “my bones are out of joint, my heart is melted, my mouth is dry as I’m laid down to death”, which aligns with Christ hanging on the cross, his bones coming out of joint because of it, his side being pierced, and his thirst before he gave his final breath. 

Psalm 22 shows us when we feel abandoned, when we feel like God is not amidst our suffering, that we have company.  But Christ quoting Psalm 22 reminds us that God understands our suffering.


Moving on to Psalm 42.

A few years ago, our church had a concert series at the amphitheater park near the Library.  For this concert, we have different music showcased, and I had the privilege to be a part of that.  Chad Kilhefner and I spent a lot of time playing music together for the evening service, and overtime, we wrote a series of songs that painted a picture of someone coming to Christ from a place of initial doubt and brokenness.

One song of ours drew its lyrics partially from Psalm 42 with the line, “my tears have been my food” in verse 3, though the lyrics being:

“When my tears cloud my vision, they become my food, when I’m on my knees crying, oh God where are you? Be…still..my soul..”

And its a song that talks about the struggle between a faith that hopes and life’s disappointments. And Psalm 42 is, in a lot of ways, a psalm about a God that restores and helps, and a world that can be damaging. The psalmist seeks to comfort their soul by remembering all the good things that God has done for God’s people, and by hoping that God will answer their brokenness like God has in the past. 

The last verse of Psalm 42 points to the tension that is having hope amidst struggle:  Why are you cast down, oh my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my help, and my God.

But I want us to pay attention to the intentionality of that phrasing – Hope in god, for I shall again Praise him.  

This speaks to how we can have hope, even when our hearts are saddened.  We can Hope for God to move, even if we don’t feel like singing the happy songs right now. 


On this day when we think of those we know who have passed on, as we think of the legacy that they left behind, we can have peace in the midst of our grief as we accept that God understands our raw emotions and our pain through our study this morning of Luke 22, Psalm 22, and Psalm 42. 

In the days ahead, whenever we face uncertainty, disappointment, depression, anxiety, fear, may we be reminded that those feelings are not shunned in the church, but that saints who have gone before us felt those same things, and that God felt them in the life, ministry, and death of Jesus. 

And sometimes having someone deeply understand us in times of sorrow is more important than having someone tell us what they think the answer to our pain is.  Because sometimes knowing that someone is with us at our highs and lows is the only answer that comforts us.

This week, I want us to think about the people that we may be thinking about today as we honor those who we have lost this past year, and I want us to think about others we may have lost before. Think of the legacy that they left impressed upon you – things that they did, the kinds of people they were, that you really appreciated.  Go to God in prayer and talk to God as you would talk to a friend about what you feel, and ask God to grow you in the areas you admired about those who have passed, or to show you the ways in which you can leave your own legacy of faith wherever you go.

I would also encourage you to look up psalms of lament online if you can, and read through a few this week to see if there are others that we didn’t read this week that you identify with more.  Or to examine the ones we looked at more closely on your own.

And above all, remember:  God is with us in our brokenness, and in our happiness, and let us all remember that the Bible, and particularly the Psalms, can help us in showing us that we have a faith that welcomes our yearning for God, just as a deer yearns for the fresh stream of water on a hot day. Amen

Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 58 – From Pastor Joyce

Friday June 5, 2020

Psalm 25:4-10 New Living Translation (NLT)
4 Show me the right path, O Lord;
point out the road for me to follow.
5 Lead me by your truth and teach me,
for you are the God who saves me.
All day long I put my hope in you.
6 Remember, O Lord, your compassion and unfailing love,
which you have shown from long ages past.
7 Do not remember the rebellious sins of my youth.
Remember me in the light of your unfailing love,
for you are merciful, O Lord.
8 The Lord is good and does what is right;
he shows the proper path to those who go astray.
9 He leads the humble in doing right,
teaching them his way.
10 The Lord leads with unfailing love and faithfulness
all who keep his covenant and obey his demands.


We all have felt lost at times. Sometimes it is because we have missed a signpost while travelling and ended up at some unknown and unfamiliar location. Maybe it was a time when a decision needed to be made and there seemed to be no answer to prayers for guidance and discernment. Or perhaps a decision was made by following what seemed to be God’s direction, but the outcome was not right and there seemed to be no way to remedy it.

Feeling lost is nothing new. David, the writer of this psalm, felt separated from God, lost in the wilderness, and without direction several times in his life. David’s life was filled with ups and downs. He went from being the youngest and least of several brothers, relegated to tending sheep, to being a bold and crucial fighter who felled an enemy champion, Goliath, with a slingshot and a stone. He went from that shepherd boy to being anointed by the prophet Samuel to be the next king over Israel. He went from being one of King Saul’s favorite companions to being hunted by this same king who wanted to kill him because God’s favor left Saul and was bestowed on David. He went from being a beloved king to being hunted by one of his sons.

And the list could go on – there is much, much more to his story. Trouble was a part of his family relationships and his reign throughout his life. David must have felt abandoned by his family, his companions, even his God at various times in his life. It must have been hard for David to remember that God had called him “a man after God’s own heart” even though this remained true. No other person in the Bible was ever referred to in this way. David was truly special to God.


Even with all of his difficulties, along with his many failures to do God’s will – those times he turned away from God’s leading – David never doubted God’s presence with him. David always knew that God would hear his prayers. He may have felt lost or abandoned, without direction, but that never made him feel that God was absent. David’s reliance on God is abundantly clear in this psalm. It is a confident prayer for forgiveness and guidance. David asks God to show him the right path, to point out the road he should follow. He desires to be led by God’s truth and teachings. He proclaims that God is the One who saves him and for this reason he can place his hope in God.

David reminds himself (and us) that our God is filled with compassion and unfailing love for us. And not just for us, but for all peoples in all times, past, present, and future. He asks God not to remember the wrong things he has done. He asks for forgiveness and believes this will happen because God is loving and merciful.

David continues to give honor to God, reminding himself (and us) that God is good and right and will show those who go astray the proper path. Then he makes and interesting comment – God will lead the humble in doing right. The word translated here as “humble” can also translated as meek. This brings to mind one of the beatitudes: Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). It certainly sounds like it is a good thing to be meek and humble. Both of these words in today’s world are used to characterize someone who does not see themselves as important; they have a low estimate of themselves. In today’s world these words are words that express little power or significance.


However, in this psalm being humble or meek did not have this modern meaning. Instead, while their synonyms were then, as now – respectful and deferential – humble people then, not like now, could be very strong, both in body and in mind. It was a very good thing to be humble because such a person was teachable. In God’s eyes, humble people were willing to do things God’s way. In the beatitude about the meek, Jesus teaches that these folks are blessed. Blessed can be translated as “happy.” It can also be translated as “God will be good to.” By combining these two verses, we can conclude that God will be good to those who are willing to learn from God.

David reminds us in the final verse of today’s scripture that we are in a covenant relationship with God. This, too, is an important concept. Covenant is not a word often used today in everyday conversation. Yet we do hear this word at weddings – marriage is a covenant between two people. In general, covenant conveys the idea of two sides coming together in mutual understanding. Covenants are usually bilateral, meaning that the two sides are equal. That is why marriage can be characterized as a covenant while an employment agreement cannot be seen in this way.

Here though, the covenant David describes is a covenant initiated by God; it is God’s covenant with God’s people. This is not a bilateral agreement since the two sides are not equal; it is unilateral. God initiated this covenant, decided on the terms of the covenant, and chose to be part of such a covenant with us. We are the recipients of this agreement rather than contributors. We are called to accept this covenant as God offered it, to follow its terms, and then to receive the outcome – being blessed – “God will be good to.”

That never should be taken as insurance against bad things happening to us. If we look at David’s life, we can see that even someone as favored by God as David disappointed God at times and had a life that brought difficulties and pain to him. Throughout his life, however, David never doubted that God was with him, listening to his prayers. We have that same assurance. But with even more confidence since God has given us Jesus as teacher and Savior and the Holy Spirit as comforter and paraclete – one who has our back. In these difficult days, let us rely on God’s guidance and forgiveness, just as David did again and again. Thanks be to God!

-Pastor Joyce Donigian

Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 34 – From Jon

Friday May 1, 2020

12 So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13 for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

Romans 8:12-17 (NRSV)

In Christianity, the phrase “Born Again” is often used by Christians to describe what it was like after they had accepted Jesus as the Lord and Savior of their life. Although the phrase may be new to some people, or it may make them think of the street preachers who harass people with signs saying that they must be born again, the phrase is actually a quote from Jesus as He was speaking to Nicodemus, a Jewish Pharisee who was a leader in the Temple. When Nicodemus came to Jesus in secret, for fear of being found out by his peers in the temple, Jesus told him, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless they are born again” – from John 3:3.

People don’t always like change. Change is an affront to a person’s current reality. When that change has to do with their thoughts on religion, or their way of life, the change that would be required to be “Born Again” is intimidating and it can be insulting.


One of my favorite and least favorite games to play is Monopoly. I like it because I love making contracts with my fellow players (that are written and signed) so that both of us could possibly avoid paying rent on each other’s property when we land on them. To me, this is a creative spin that I bring to the game to make it last longer, and to ensure that my money pile keeps growing. However, something that you can’t make a contract for is when you land on the space that sends you to jail. The only thing to save you from Jail is either paying a fine, rolling dice to try to get out, or by employing a “Get Out of Jail Free Card”.

When you have that card, either by chance, or by making it a condition of a contract between players, going to Jail is no big deal because the penalty of Jail is alleviated by the playing of that card.

But Monopoly is my least favorite when my contracts are up, when I have no Get out of Jail Free card, and when friends may turn against each other for the purpose of gaining property, money, and winning the game.


During Monopoly, players are tempted to fall into the trap of turning against each other (with genuine emotion) over a fictional game. I have certainly had my share of heated discussions over my fear of losing my properties and money that I worked so hard to earn.

But it’s just a game, right?

Although it is just a game, the emotions can become real, and while you may be a nice person outside of the game, the game can bring out qualities of yourself that are normally controlled.


But imagine if the anger and frustration that can take place during a game of monopoly began to become a part of your every day life. You might begin to seek out wealth and power whenever you could, even if it means stepping on other’s toes to get to where you want to be.

Thats what happens when we live according to what the Bible calls “flesh” and “sin”. It might not be wealth or power, it may be other things that you may seek out – like attention, addictions, etc., but whatever it is, we all have the capability to do wrong and even evil things when we only live according to our own desires and goals, without thinking about others, or what these desires may be doing to our character as we seek them out.


The passage today tells us that when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior – we don’t have to be enslaved and tied to our selfish desires. When we are born again, we are servants instead to the Spirit of God to do God’s will.

And more than that, we recognize that we are no longer alone, but that we have become adopted as God’s own child. The message is so extreme that when we feel defeated, not good enough, or marked by our past mistakes, that God sees us as being covered by the righteousness and Grace of Jesus Christ. Because the penalty of our wrongs has already been paid by Christ, and the chains of our desires and addictions no longer hold us down for eternity because Christ broke those chains in the Cross and the Resurrection.

Yet the passage today also conveys the truth that though we are covered by the grace and protection of God, that we will also likely suffer on this earth at the hands of others who may be letting their lust for power, money, and their own desires get the best of them.

But we must remember that when it comes to our own life in the eyes of God, we have been Born again, and when we are confronted by our worries of how God sees us, or when our own desires tempt us to come back to seeking them out selfishly, we are no longer bound, and we have been made free. Its not because we did anything to deserve it – its a free gift that saves us from the result of our sinful pursuits. Like a Get Out of Jail Free card.


In times such as these when a calamity is striking our world, we can either follow our own selfish desires and buy all the toilet paper and supplies that we can find, or we can live according to the will of God by helping one another through this time by getting them supplies, praying for them, checking in on them, and by being kind and courteous to those we run across when we make our trips to the store.

And the best thing that we can do is to be a voice of the hope of our faith by following God’s will in our actions, and by telling those who are close to us that though we too are worried, that we have hope and peace through Jesus Christ.

-Jon Bauman

Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 7

Wednesday March 25, 2020

18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
    and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

1 Corinthians 1:18-25 (NRSV)

When I was 15 years old, God showed me in a profound way that my life had meaning and that I had a purpose.

I went with a friend’s youth group to a beach retreat that spanned a full weekend in the summer of 2007. It was an exciting thing for me because I had only been to the beach once before, and they were going to be camping near the beach in tents. On that saturday, we packed our beach gear and headed to the shore.

Our charismatic leader made it easy for all of us to have a lot of fun that day, but one thing that I didn’t know about before that day was how to swim if you get caught in a riptide. As my friend and I were out in the water, we started to notice the water looking rough near the jetty, and we saw two people about our age by the jetty who looked scared. We called out to ask if they needed help, and when they said yes, we swam over and attempted to get them to safety.

But I didn’t know how to swim in a riptide…I was able to pull one of the them away from the jetty, but I quickly got swept up in the riptide myself as I lost my grip. I remember trying to swim straight towards shore, but every time I made a little progress, it was instantly taken away as I got pulled back in the other direction.

Eventually, as I continued to gasp for air and got some saltwater in return, I looked up to the sky, thinking I was going to drown, and told God that I was ready to Go – that God could take me then (A bit dramatic, I admit, but when you are 15 years old, thats par for the course). Immediately after that, and I can’t stress that enough, I was actually able to swim to shore when I had not been able to do so previously. I walked on shore with only a few scratches on my ankle, and a story that would define my life from that point on.

When I was on the boardwalk that night, I bought a cross necklace that I still wear today to always remind me of that instance when God told me that my life had a meaning and a purpose. After that day, the faith that I always knew and believed in became real and tangible, and I was committed to following Christ in a whole new way.


But to other people, that story could be explained by coincidence – the riptide could have just happened to stop immediately after my prayer. Likewise, as we are all struggling with what this COVID-19 crisis will mean for the health and finances of ourselves, our families and friends, and nation, some may say that believing in God is foolish optimism.

This faith seems especially foolish if that belief includes believing that our God died on a torture device at the hands of a human government over 2000 years ago. For if you or I were going to make up a religion, a God who suffered and died is not a logically good start.

But I believe that it is precisely that reason why Christianity is relevant for us today – Jesus came to earth, lived a life of righteousness, performed miracles, and healed and defended the lowest members of society, and STILL died on a cross and rose again in order to show us that sin can be forgiven and that an earthly death is not the end of our core existence.

Christianity provides the world with a God who understands the suffering and pain that we go through in the most empathetic way, and it also shows the world that there is HOPE beyond what is right in front of us.

Pray to the Lord today for help and guidance; knowing that God understands you at your weakest moment, and has cleared the path before you, through the cross, that leads to Hope and Peace.


“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another:

“What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”

– C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

The Passionate Kingdom – Reflections for Holy Week (Part 4)

After being sealed in the tomb, along with all of our questions and concerns for our world, Jesus rose again, and the stone was rolled away from His grave.

Our God Lives.

Everything that he had said before about His Father in heaven, the Kingdom of God, the temple being rebuilt, and all of his teachings were completely confirmed in his Resurrection.  He is who he said he was.

574672-Thomas-Aquinas-Quote-Christ-was-either-liar-lunatic-or-Lord.jpg


So where does that leave our largest looming question from Part 3 – How did the Crucifixion and the Resurrection change our world for the better?

The crucifixion was God, The Son, going to the logical end of our suffering, which is death.  This was the day that the “Revolution Began” as N.T. Wright says. Christ’s initial followers were in mourning over the great loss of losing a God that was also a friend.

The Resurrection was God overcoming all of the suffering, evil, sin, and death in the world in order to breathe life into His people.  The initial followers of Jesus, who were mourning his death, rejoice to see that Christ, their King, is Alive!

The crippling bondage of our suffering is gone through the listening and guiding of a friend who’s been there, and through the decree of a King that there WILL BE a resurrection from our earthly calamity. 

In these things, we realize that we are not alone in our suffering and that there is hope for the future, even in the moments when we can only see darkness.

a9567b09e071dba7053c224794ce804b.jpgWhen we go through trials:

  • It is liberating to have someone to talk to who has experienced something similar to you. That is Jesus.
  • It is empowering to hear the words of an authoritative figure saying, “this too shall pass; this is not the end”, when we can’t see the end of our affliction. That is Jesus.

When others go through trials:

  • The bondage of Humanity’s suffering loosens when followers of Jesus live in this world as citizens in a Kingdom that washes the feet of those that the world rejects.
    • The Church has a real message of understanding, empowerment, and hope to provide, and that message is made tangible through the love, care, service that we show others, and in the words we teach.

But Christians are not always perfect. In fact, we never are perfect.

Terrible things have been done in the name of Christ on a grand scale.

Shameful things have been done by Christ followers when they believe the doors are shut.

Hypocrisy is an unavoidable side-effect of a religion that calls flawed people to follow a flawless God. And more than that, human sins have a way of replacing our devotion to God by convincing us that what we are doing is okay – greed, pride, anger, and other things can all be justified in some way.

 

gottmituns

“God [is] with us”

 

That is why when we look back in human history, (which is cataloged by war, victory, and loss more than achievement, art, and compassionate acts) we find hypocrisy…

Hypocrisy makes it hard to see the good, and harder to see the Holy.


But Jesus Christ, through his life, teachings, death, and resurrection, shows us a consistency of character that is unparalleled; a character that is so completely devoted to the “other” that hypocrisy could have never been a charge made against Him.

We can’t be Jesus…but we can try to be more like Him each day, and part of this is through viewing the overlooked positive things about the past; it’s seeing the Christians fighting against Hitler and deciding, THEY are following the ways of Christ…the Nazis are just using the name. 

And we can also become more like Jesus when we begin to realize that a speck in another person’s eye doesn’t matter when we have a plank in our own…It’s harder to accuse others of sin when we realize our own sinfulness.

But when we view ourselves and others as equally in need of a God who redeems and restores, we are more willing to take part in that restoration by washing the feet of another.

foot_washing_by_andinobita.jpg


Theological Rabbit-Trail – Christians do not all agree as to what Christ dying actually accomplished:
  1. Some believe that Christ was the perfect sacrifice to the righteous Father for humanity’s sin (Penal Substitutionary Theory)
  2. Some believe that a payment had to be made to the powers of evil in order to free humanity from its grip which started after the Fall of Adam and Eve (Ransom Theory)
  3. Some believe his death and resurrection defeated the bondage of evil [sin, death, earthly governments, satan, demons] on the people of God (Christus Victor Theory)
  4. Some believe that Christ lived and died on this earth in order to restore humanity, and his death and resurrection are meant to be an inspiration for others to follow the ways of God (Moral Influence Theory)
The above popular theories of WHY Christ had to die, and WHAT that accomplished are called “Atonement Theories”, and not all of the atonement theories are present here.
I do not believe that ONE atonement theory, by itself, is completely satisfactory – I believe there is more nuance in the Bible than that in regards to these thoughts. Instead, I think that we should view the death and resurrection of Jesus with multiple theories in mind.
What do you think?

 

The Passionate Kingdom – Reflections for Holy Week (Part 3)

Betrayal is something that many can never get over.

As Jesus prayed in the garden for his suffering to be over, his friend Judas was orchestrating for his suffering to increase.

After Christ was arrested, the same people who shouted Hosanna before, we’re now shouting “Crucify him!”.

gethes.jpg

His own disciples, when asked if they were a friend or follower of Jesus, denied their connection to him out of fear.

Jesus was alone in captivity, alone is his torment, and the only ones calling him a King now were Roman soldiers as they portrayed him as a lunatic with a ragtag sceptre, and a painful crown…


He carried his cross to the place where he would die. He watched as nails were driven into his hands.

87674682.jpgAs he was lifted up, not on a throne, but on an execution device for criminals, he saw soldiers gambling over his clothes…he heard the mocking of the crowds…he heard the taunts of one of the other criminals on one side, and the confessions of another on the his other side.

Some saw him as a King of the World…some saw him as the scum of the earth.

On that day, the Jesus that rules over the Passionate Kingdom, died.


Before he died, he proclaimed, “IT IS FINISHED!”.

His life, ministry, and death ALL meant something for this world – every Christian will agree to this.

But what did it do that made the world quantitatively different?

Why do we still experience evil, torment, betrayal, and blood-thirsty crowds?


Jesus knew our pain, our sorrow…our hopeless and endless longing for something to change.

He knew the hurt from betrayal.

But He became a King at a Table amongst friends and a King on a cross amongst enemies.

And he died for both audiences.


But what was finished?


In this time of reflection upon the death of Christ, our questions linger inside of a sealed off tomb.jesus-sealed-tomb.jpg



Subscribe for part 4 after Easter

Sackcloth and Ashes

Within the last eight weeks, two of my friends, both in their 20s, have passed away.

One of them was named Zach.

Zach was not just a friend, he was my wife’s cousin who was just six months or so younger than her.  Zach welcomed me into the family with open arms, useless facts, and sarcasm. He always knew how to rile up the uncles at family gatherings to discuss politics, how to get along with the younger kids, and how to make a newcomer feel as though they were always a part of his life.

Zach was also a man who would be there for anyone in need.  He would drive an hour away after a full shift to help Courtney and I move our things into our house, and he even drove two or three hours to spend some time with the family as we fished off a pier in New Jersey.  Family was important to Zach.  Courtney was important to Zach.  I was important to Zach….

Unfortunately, Zach passed away in an accident while coming home from work.  The accident was not his fault as far as we know.  The whole family slowly found out through getting calls late in the night.  I held my wife as she shook, and it was the worst pain that I have ever felt for another human being.

His funeral was PACKED.

As the minister, who knew Zach personally, led us all in processing the loss of someone who made such large of an impact on our lives, something hit home: “Zach kept a journal by his bedside, and one of the last entries was him writing his goals in life: to ‘be a godly man, have a godly family'”.  Zach was FULLY committed to Jesus Christ, and his last message for us all was of his own commitment to Christ…and you knew that in that funeral room, Zach would have wanted for all who were present to join him someday in the presence of God.

I haven’t allowed myself to process his death in the fullest sense, I don’t think.  I always feel odd when there are others who need to grieve before I begin to let myself fully grieve. But that message of Zach’s hit home….


The second friend who passed away, I will leave out of this post out of respect for his family and his close friends who need time to mourn. His funeral was packed as well as a testament to how much of an impact he had on others.


And Here we are.

When you are in your teens, and your twenties, you feel invincible.  You expect your life to extend to your 80s, at least.  But I lost two friends in the last 8 weeks who were both under 30, and who both stayed away from drugs, and other harmful choices.

It makes you think….

Am I leading a life that is blessing others?

Am I leading a life that is remaining faithful to my God?

Will my funeral be a source of encouragement, oddly, to those gathered?

I hope so.

And I’ll see my two friends again.

A Poem – Based on Psalm 42

Oh, life was full of light and then
The Clouds became my smokey lens
Images became silhouettes
And hope, a lost memory
When all that is, is but despair
I doubt the very truth of prayer
Images become silhouettes
And hope, a lost memory
Oh, My soul… Awake!
Why are you in turmoil…Awake!
You once were soaring high enough
But now I’m calling on your bluff
Oh, My Soul… Awake!
I try to think on blessed times
On grace shown then, despite my crimes
On love displayed for all to see
Of hearts filled with great empathy
But now my heart has turned to cold
My apathy becomes more bold
And I am left down on my knees
With folded hands and desperate plees
Oh, My soul… Awake!
Why are you in turmoil…Awake!
You once were soaring high enough
But now I’m calling on your bluff
Oh, My Soul… Awake!
I will recall those blessed times
And thirst for Truth, wade past the lies
For I will again find the light
For this I am willing to fight
Awake!
Oh, My soul… Awake!
Why are you in turmoil…Awake!
Hope in God for I shall sing
Praises to the blessed King
Oh, My Soul… Awake!
——————————-
The Psalms are full of the ups and downs of life and faith, and sometimes life is so full of apathy, and anguish.  The Scriptures tell us that expressing ourselves with these feelings is okay, and in fact, it is in scripture where we find comfort in knowing that we are not alone in our turmoil.
Christ calls us to follow him, but sometimes we lack the strength to stand. It is then that we are perplexed by our own slumbering Soul that seems to lack the passion it once contained.  We need help that extends past what we can accomplish ourselves because the fight of faith and life is worth fighting.