Victory Memorial United Methodist Church
Sunday, April 30, 2017
A caring community of Christian persons.
“When ‘Keeping the Faith’ Gets Tough”
By Pastor Gary Holdeman
I Peter 1:6-8a, 9 (NLT)… “There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him….The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.”
I Peter 4:12-13 (NLT)… “Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world.”
I want to say….first of all…that I will be sharing some very personal things this morning…I do so for a reason….Certainly not so you will feel sorry for us! But because I know, from personal experience what it is like to suddenly lose a family member, you love deeply…our first grandchild….15 yrs old….and I also know that it is one of the toughest things anyone can go through! Physically….emotionally…and it shakes your faith to the very roots! There are many people out there….many of you….who have gone thru that as well. And most importantly….there are many well meaning folks out there who try to help us….but don’t really know how…unless they have been thru it themselves. And many well-meaning people….say things to try to comfort us…that either wound us further by their words….or don’t know what to say….so don’t say anything.
And there are MANY, MANY misunderstandings about God and his will….that our culture, or even well-meaning pastors and Christian friends tell us that don’t help at all….and even add to the confusion and loss and sense of abandonment we often feel when we lose someone.
So…I want to share very personally today….like I’ve never shared anywhere except in the small, close group of the Bishop and Cabinet….who graciously loved and supported us….and allowed me to share my pain and my faith journey thru the WILDERNESS…until I could begin to experience a little light at the end of the tunnel!
1. The day Andrea was born…..Jan. 26, 1993….was a beautiful day, for Jan. in K.C. Our daughter had been in the hospital for a week…Our first grandchild was trying to come too early…and the doctors wanted her to wait another week….for her lungs to develop. Jan. 26 was the day they were going to induce labor. We were all excited….we had been listening to that little heart beat on the monitor for a week now….me in delivery room….taking movie.
Named her “Bugaloo”…..going out to car after birth…..It was one of the happiest days of my life! We were blessed to have her in our home for the first 18 months of her little life! She was more like another daughter….we always shared a special bond with her!
2. Fast forward…15 years to Sept. 18, 2008…without a doubt…the worst day of my life! Coming home from a Cabinet meeting in Oklahoma City…we had gotten out a little early that day….had gotten to the corner of NW Hwy and Kirkpatrick Turnpike…when my cell phone rang….it was our daughter, Angela…She was in a panic…in her mini-van…She had heard that there had been a wreck between Woodward and Mooreland…she tried to call Andrea on her cell phone and she wouldn’t answer. Would I call Woodward Police and see if I could find something out?? Etc….As a Police Chaplain I had given literally dozens and dozens of death notifications to people who had lost husbands, spouses, children, fathers…2 even on Easter Sunday mornings….but NEVER had I ever anticipated that one day…someone would give me one!
Longest drive home….to tell Joyce before anyone else called and told her. We packed a few things and drove the hour and 10 minutes to Mooreland. We were all in SHOCK. We cried most of the next 4 days or so before the funeral. Andrea had been like a second mother to her two youngest siblings; Amy and David. David…was 5…he was our “little cowboy”.
That first night….the two little ones couldn’t comprehend what had happened….all they knew was that people kept coming over to the house….and everyone was crying….and Andrea went home to be with Jesus. Little Man….had not shed a tear….and as was our practice…he always wanted to sleep with Papa….so we finally got things settled down enough that first night….around midnight or 1 O’clock we went to bed exhausted….laying there….Little Man….was silent…had his little arms wrapped around my neck….finally he asked a question: “Papa, do cowboys cry?” I said, yes, buddy…cowboys cry. Then he said….”REAL COWBOYS?” “Yes, buddy….real cowboys cry!”
The outpouring of love to our family was incredible…It was the largest funeral in the history of WW First UMC….over 800 people were there. Quite honestly….for the first few days…it was all a pretty much a blur….we were in desperate shock…all we could do was to barely function….
From the moment I heard from the WW Police…..till many, many months…I couldn’t pray anything but “Oh, God!” In fact…At one time….I didn’t know if I could ever go back to pastoring a church again. The wounds were too deep….and for the longest time….I didn’t know if I was going to make it, spiritually and emotionally.
Oh…the first few days and even months…we were in severe shock! We couldn’t believe what had happened….it was like a terrible nightmare! I would tell people….I’m not mad at God….I know in my mind…and had preached many times about the nature of this fallen world we live in….I wasn’t mad at God…..just confused. But as the time passed…I finally had to admit it….Yes, I was mad. I had prayed everyday of my life for God to “be with my family”….and now it seemed God had been asleep on the job!
For the longest time….I couldn’t pray….but I discovered that although I couldn’t pray…yet Christian music became my prayers. Two songs….I listened to over and over again…still on CD in my truck right now….”Be Still My Soul”….and “I Must Tell Jesus”! Over and over again….while driving back and forth to OKC….and to churches in my District….literally hundreds of times….I played these two songs….they became seemingly my only lifeline to God in those days.
I could go on and on….but I wanted to share the basics of my spiritual journey….because many of the questions you have written me are what I call “WHY QUESTIONS” about God.
And, in fact, my next series of messages I have decided is going to be entitled just that: “WHY QUESTIONS ABOUT GOD”.
But in that pains-takingly slow spiritual journey….and in counseling with people today I have discovered some “MYTHS ABOUT GOD” that I have had to figure out….that I thought I knew the answers to in my mind…..but I had to discover the answers to in my heart as well. These “MYTHS ABOUT GOD” can inflict terrible spiritual and emotional damage on our lives and faith….
For me….searching for some of the answers…was an act of desperation. I knew that if I were ever going to be a pastor again…I had to “figure some of this out”….in my head and my heart….or I was never going to be able to continue in role as a pastor….and to try to bring help and healing to hurting people…
Honestly….In my desperate search for answers….most of what I read…even Christian books were not helpful. Some….I would read the first few pages…and they just made me mad. They didn’t seem to me to be spiritually and emotionally honest! They were too “preachy” and didn’t really deal with the depths of grief in an honest way…that would help me thru my wilderness journey.
Basically 4 sources that helped lead me thru the valley of death….The first I already mentioned was Christian music…..”Tracks of a Fellow Struggler: Living and Growing Thru Grief” by John Claypool……”Why? Making Sense of God’s Will” by Adam Hamilton….and a brief series of books by Stephen’s Ministry called “A Time to Grieve” by Kenneth Haugk.
So I want to share with you briefly, this morning….4 MYTHS THAT HINDER OUR FAITH IN DIFFICULT TIMES.
4 MYTHS THAT HINDER OUR FAITH IN DIFFICULT TIMES
MYTH #1: “If we have FAITH in God and try TO DO GOOD we will be EXEMPT from SUFFERING.”
Now….maybe we don’t outwardly say that…..but inwardly….we think it! …Don’t we?
You know….if I try to live a good life, go to church, do my best to help others…and pray then I can expect that God will watch over me and mine….and life is supposed to be pretty good!
Then when something goes wrong….or something bad happens…..we say:
Why ME??? Why MINE??? WHY NOT ME? WHY NOT MINE?? WE LIVE IN A FALLEN WORLD…..IT’S NOT THE WORLD GOD INTENDED AND CREATED IT TO BE! IT’S A FALLEN WORLD….A WORLD OF SICKNESS, ACCIDENTS, DEATH, A WORLD WERE PEOPLE HAVE THE FREE WILL TO HURT OTHER PEOPLE!
DID GOD EVER SAY THAT CHRISTIANS WILL BE EXEMPT FROM SUFFERING AND TRIBULATION??
I WAS FORCED TO RE-THINK WHAT I KNOW ABOUT THE BIBLE. ALL THE APOSTLES WITH THE POSSIBLE EXCEPTION OF ONE….SUFFERED TORTURE AND WERE PUT TO DEATH BECAUSE OF THEIR CHRISTIAN FAITH!
JESUS…THE SON OF GOD…WHO LIVED THE ONLY SINLESS LIFE….DIED A HORRIBLE DEATH ON A CROSS….UNJUSTLY….AT THE HANDS OF SINFUL MEN!
IF YOU KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THE HISTORY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH…YOU’LL KNOW THAT THE EARLY CHRISTIANS WERE OFTEN BRUTALLY AND PAINFULLY….KILLED….FOR NO OTHER REASON THAN BECAUSE THE CONFESSED JESUS CHRIST!
EVEN JESUS, HIMSELF WARNED US…...LISTEN TO THE WORDS OF JESUS….
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. IN THIS WORLD YOU WILL HAVE TROUBLE, but take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
NOW YOU KNOW….IN OVER 40 YEARS OF MINISTRY I’VE NEVER HEARD ANYONE CLAIM THAT PROMISE!
God never promised us a “free pass” through the trials and tribulations and heart aches of this fallen world! In fact, God warned us about them!
AND THE PROMISE HE GAVE US WAS THIS: “I WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU NOR FORSAKE YOU!”
NOT….”I WILL PROTECT YOU FROM THE BAD THINGS EVERYONE ELSE GOES THROUGH”…..BUT….IN THE MIDST OF THEM….”I WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU NOR FORSAKE YOU.”
FRIENDS….THERE’S A WHOLE LOT OF DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THOSE TWO UNDERSTANDINGS…..AND I’M AFRAID A LOT OF MISINFORMATION IS FLOATING AROUND OUT THERE THAT WE NEED TO CORRECT IN OUR HEARTS AND MINDS!
MYTH #2: “EVERYTHING that happens is GOD’S WILL.”
Now…that is a particularly difficult one to handle. You see, for hundreds and hundreds of years….Christian people have debated that statement.
To say that “everything that happens is God’s Will” is to say that we humans don’t have any free choices…..it is to say that we are nothing more than puppets on a string…and God is pulling the strings and making us do things both good and bad….
Adam Hamilton….”As I began to actually read the Bible I found that my assumptions about what the Bible taught were wrong. The sweeping message of the Bible is not a promise that those who believe and do good will not suffer. INSTEAD THE BIBLE IS LARGELY A BOOK ABOUT PEOPLE WHO REFUSED TO LET GO OF THEIR FAITH IN THE FACE OF SUFFERING!”
Hamilton….tells the story of a pastor whose wife was diagnosed a few years ago with cancer. After a 2 year battle…she died. I asked him how he made it through her death with his faith intact. He told me how….following his wife’s death…..he would go to her grave and shout at God. It struck me as he described these times…that even this shouting was an act of faith. To shout at God requires that one believe in God. God is “big enough” to handle the anger that comes from our profound grief.
The pastor noted that he had never really believed God gave his wife cancer….but his anger was a part of grieving. He continued to pray…and his friends surrounded him with love. Slowly the anger began to diminish….and in his loneliness he began to feel God’s presence in his life again. One night…he sat on his front porch looking up at the stars in the dark western Kansas sky…and he realized how big God is….and at that moment he felt once more…the confidence that his wife was with God and that he would see her again one day. As we spoke he quoted the first verse of Psalm 136….”O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good….for his steadfast love endures forever.”
FRIENDS….EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS…..IS NOT GOD’S WILL….WE LIVE IN AN FALLEN AND EVIL WORLD….
WHAT THE BIBLE DOES SAY IS THAT ONE DAY….REVELATION 21….GOD WILL BLOW THE FINAL WHISTLE ON THIS FALLEN WORLD….AND IT WILL BE THEN THAT….
“God will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
MYTH #3: “A person of STRONG FAITH shouldn’t experience the EMOTIONS of GRIEF like everyone else.”
“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.”
“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death…” Matthew 26:38
“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46
“For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” Hebrews 2:17-18
I COULD GIVE YOU LITERALLY DOZENS OF PASSAGES IN THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENT THAT TELL US THAT PEOPLE OF STRONG FAITH….EXPERIENCE ALL THE HUMAN EMOTIONS THAT EVERYONE ELSE DOES!
WE ARE NOT EXEMPT FROM FEELING THE HURTS OF THIS FALLEN WORLD!
AND YES….BUDDY…..REAL COWBOYS DO CRY!!!
MYTH #4: “Christians should WORK THROUGH their GRIEF faster than OTHERS.
RIDING IN THE TRUCK WITH A WELL-MEANING FAMILY MEMBER…I LOVE DEARLY….WE WERE TALKING ABOUT GRIEF….HE SAID THESE WORDS: “They say….that you should be able to work thru your grief in about 2 years!”
MY INITIAL REACTION KIND OF SURPRISED ME!.....I WANTED TO PUNCH HIM….IN CHRISTIAN LOVE!!!…..(Who is “they”?) Someone who tells others how to do it…but never been thru it themselves???!!!
Those who HAVE been through it themselves….say that EVERYONE GRIEVES DIFFERENTLY! THAT SOME WORK THROUGH THEIR GRIEF FASTER THAN OTHERS….IT DOESN’T MEAN THEY ARE MORE SPIRITUAL….OR BETTER….BUT JUST DIFFERENT!
OTHERS….DON’T EVEN BEGIN TO “WORK THRU” THEIR GRIEF BEFORE 2 YEARS…..OR MORE!!!
SOME PEOPLE GET STUCK! THEY GET SO FAR….AND THEY CAN’T SEEM TO GET ANY FARTHER….
BESIDES….IT IS MY EXPERIENCE…THAT YOU NEVER HEAL COMPLETELY…THERE IS ALWAYS A SCAR! AND THAT SCAR CAN STILL BE VERY SENSITIVE! (BROKEN COLLARBONE?)
“TRACKS OF A FELLOW STRUGGLER…..JOHN CLAYPOOL…..
“…Those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31 (NLT)
LET ME REPHRASE THESE 4 MYTHS IN A POSITIVE WAY…IN CLOSING:
1. GOOD PEOPLE….EVEN CHRISTIANS ARE NOT EXEMPT FROM SUFFERING. WE LIVE IN A FALLEN WORLD AND UNTIL GOD BLOWS THE FINAL GAME WHISTLE….WE WILL ALL EXPERIENCE SUFFERING OF ONE KIND OR ANOTHER.
2. EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS IS NOT GOD’S WILL. GOD DOESN’T CAUSE EVIL THINGS TO HAPPEN!
3. EVEN A PERSON OF STRONG FAITH HAS THE SAME EMOTIONS AS EVERYONE ELSE. BEING A CHRISTIAN DOES NOT EXEMPT US FROM BEING HUMAN. EVEN JESUS WAS “A MAN OF SORROWS…ACQUAINTED WITH GRIEF!”
4. LASTLY….EVERYONE GRIEVES DIFFERENTLY….AND AT A DIFFERENT PACE. THERE ARE MANY, MANY FACTORS THAT DETERMINE HOW SOON WE BEGIN TO HEAL….IN OUR GRIEF. FASTER….IN NOT NECESSISARILY BETTER!
SOMETIMES…..OUR FAITH CAUSES US TO “SOAR HIGH ON WINGS LIKE EAGLES”
SOMETIMES….OUR FAITH ENABLES US TO SIMPLY “RUN AND NOT GROW WEARY.”
BUT SOMETIMES…..WHEN THE WOUNDS ARE DEEPEST….OUR FAITH ENABLES US TO SIMPLY….”WALK AND NOT FAINT.”
AND THAT, FRIENDS…..IS GOOD ENOUGH!