My Garden of Tears
by John James Kirkwood
To live is to die a thousand deaths. To suffer a thousand heartbreaks. But He is here. He is with us. The God who knows our sleepless nights, who keeps our tears in a bottle has not forsaken us. The God who is present at the fall of every sparrow walks with us in our sorrow.
I can imagine a day when He’ll show us His collection of our tears. And there will be a vast barren land in front of us. And a nail-pierced hand will hand us a bottle and speak to us of it and we will open it and pour out our tears and each tear when it hits the ground will be a note and a great melody will spring forth. And our garden of tears will begin to bloom, colors and smells that we couldn’t begin to imagine, that cannot be captured even by the most vivid imagination.
And there will be different sections of our garden, and when each bottle is expended we will walk through it, and when we do, our memories will be stirred of the wounds that caused the tears. But now they only cause us to smile or to cry in a different way. This time they are tears of joy and of that serenity that only comes from understanding and contentment.
We will walk through tears of folly and we will laugh. We will stop in that corner of the garden that blooms our tears of anxiety for things that never came to be and we will shake our heads.
And through our tears of regret the wind will pick up and we will hear Psalms whisper through the trees. And finally, we will walk through that corner of the garden that is the most breathtaking, the most spectacular of all: The tears we have shed over the departed – over the death of loved ones.
And here the music will rise to a great crescendo, building with our every step, and we will begin to run with hands spread out, our fingers touching the flowers. Here will awaken a song of triumph for we will realize that we are running through a victory garden.
And suddenly we will see it, the empty tomb. And He will lead them forward. All of ours who have died in Christ will walk out of that wound singing the song of the Lamb:
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
He has ransomed us from the power of the grave; He has redeemed us from death: O death, He is thy plagues; O grave, He is thy destruction!
And suddenly we will notice that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, each with their own tear garden, all leading to the empty tomb.
And the fragrance of our prayers will fill the garden, and our symphony of tears will rise from an orchestra of every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, will be heard to sing, “Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.”
by John J Kirkwood (from 04 April, 2016)
Just a random rambling over my first cup of coffee, listening to Bobby Bland. (forgive the typos, have to go to church).
Suffering? Where is God? There is no God?
Have you considered what suffering has given you, what suffering has given us? From the Declaration of Independence to Bobby Blue Bland, from Beethoven to Miles Davis, from Van Gogh to Bobby Fischer, from Florence NIghtengale to Dr. Scholls. Suffering gave us Anne Sullivan, Harriet Tubman, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther, Martin Luther King, Joe Scheidler, and Jesus Christ.
Suffering has led to the highest poetry, the greatest intimacy, the most remarkable acts of humanity, and the greatest opportunity to reflect the love and compassion of almighty God to those in need.
So the alcoholic becomes the greatest counselor and thousands of lives are touched, the heroin addict goes from abuser to nurse, the homeless man rises up and starts a chain of rescue missions still touching lives today. The man whose girlfriend aborted his baby doesn’t stop spreading truth and healing and his joy is exuberant.
The battered wife becomes the shoulder and the strength to lead women through or to lead them away, the song written by the outcast is played over and over to allow a generation to overcome. The poem, the movie, the stand-up act may do the same. Jazz, country, the blues – Americans excel at suffering and the natural consequence of the godly under the whip. They take their inspiration from the history of the Jew and from the “negro spirituals.”
There must be something about “That book” that unites them all. Ultimately, it’s suffering that gave us “That book,” suffering that is infused and then defused down a blood stained path – the Via Dolorosa, ending with a man of sorrows who hung on a cross of suffering and an empty tomb that announces its defeat.
That’s right, suffering for the Christian isn’t karma from a previous life or inshallah – the will of God; suffering is an enemy, and it’s a beacon, it’s man-made, and it’s only undone by the pierced hand of a risen savior.
You suffer? Hallelujah, you’re still alive! You’ve suffered greatly! Great! Bring it to the altar, offer it up to God. Thank Him for the opportunity that it has given you to show His strength, to spread His comfort. Then show your scars to your kids and share the wisdom that your pain has purchased.
Take your suffering and put it into verse, or song, and most importantly, into your life’s work. Use your suffering to offer the hand to the next guy, pull him up from pain, confusion, and despair.
If you must suffer, and we must, suffer righteously. Suffer like Ken Hutcherson, who thanked God for his cancer and the opportunity that it gave him to display the love of Christ in his broken body. Know that brother Ken didn’t thank God for giving him cancer, that would be blasphemy because Adam gave him the cancer. No, brother Ken thanked God for the opportunities that cancer opened for him, as Paul thanked God for his chains and the furtherance of the gospel that a Roman imprisonment opened for him.
Would I want to live a life devoid of pain and sorrow? No, I’m not willing to give up suffering for the sake of your idea of a sane universe, because I’m not willing to give up what suffering has given us. What suffering has given me.
Suffering gave me a compassion for the incarcerated, the addicted, the lost. Thank you Lord, for allowing me to suffer.
I’ll take Bobby Bland on a cold April morning in Chicago and a big heaping side of worship with the people of the Book.
By John J Kirkwood
I have a pastor friend who happens to be black. He, like the Apostle Paul, cries out for his brethren after the flesh, not because they are unsaved but because they preach, teach, and embrace one thing on Sunday and go out and vote contrary to it on Tuesday. This election, the pasty-white Republican will join the African-American Democrat as a majority of Christians will go out and vote contrary to their beliefs on a Tuesday in November. And it’s not merely the fault of Jesse Jackson Jr and Al Sharpton on the Left, or Jerry Falwell Jr, Franklin Graham, and Robert Jeffress in the Bible belt. These men may be, in this context, worthless shepherds, but they have huge flocks more than willing to follow them.
This election has been a winnowing. The integrity of a people has been measured and found wanting. I’m speaking of the American people as a whole. There may be major disagreement over who to vote for, or, to vote at all, but one thing where there is near universal agreement is that the two people at the top of the ballot are despised.
There has never been a time in American history where two presidential candidates have been so disliked. They both share record high unfavorable ratings in a time where the same poll shows that most people feel the country is headed in the wrong direction. So how did it come to this? It’s uglier than you think.
I have taken a lot of heat for not supporting the Republican candidate and for writing passionately against the man and against so-called “Evangelical” support of the man. Some people are wondering just why I’ve taken such a strong stance against Donald Trump when I have written so prolifically about the evil of his opponent and the modern Democrat Party. But it is because I have written about evil in “them” that I can’t neglect it when it occurs in “us.”
Now, before you break out your arguments of moral or immoral equivalency between the candidates, and drop the lesser-evil card, remember that up until a couple of years ago, Donald Trump was one of them. And most who support him now, think he’s as low as I say but given the alternative, they’re just fine with that.
Here’s what I’d have to give up to support Trump:
I’d have to apologize to every other politician who I’ve held to a higher standard. Every argument that I’ve ever made about “character” would have to be incinerated and I’d have to do it with my children watching. What would that say to the next generation? To my own progeny?
I’d have to resign my pulpit. To be consistent, all that I’ve taught about virtue, integrity, faith over fear, idolatry, evil, lesser evil, fellowship with darkness, faithfulness over expediency, and finally, hypocrisy, would already declare anything else I had to say, “Dead on Arrival.” And if you think that men like James Dobson, Robert Jeffress, and Jerry Falwell Jr. have a shred of integrity left, then I guess we should apologize to Demas, Bill Clinton, and Lot’s wife.
I’d have to confess to my children that I’ve been wrong this whole time. That integrity, character, and principles matter MOST of the time. And that the will of God is to be preferred until and unless it differs with the will of the people, following a primary. But if the will of the people following a primary can cancel out your principles then why can’t the will of the people following a general election do the same?
I’d have to look at all those I’ve counseled who have been victims of sexual assault, both female and male, and say, “Sorry guys, you’re going to have to take one for the team.” And why should they? Because we stand for what’s right?
This may be the deepest and most unfortunate wound of the whole campaign. Talk about being victimized all over again. But this time, it’s your pastor, your brother, your father, your fellow conservatives who stand by indifferent. NO ELECTION IS WORTH THAT. NO ONE CANDIDATE IS WORTH THAT. We owe our brothers and sisters more than a callous indifference toward their pain to win short-term political gain. A perceived gain.
I’d have to sacrifice my testimony not just as a pastor as shown above but as a follower of Christ. I could never speak of moral issues again without being challenged by others with my support of Donald Trump.
And it wouldn’t just be moral issues, although those are the most important. There are dozens of issues that Donald Trump has supported that no Conservative, without a gun to his head, would dream of supporting: a trade position to the Left of Bernie Sanders, paid maternity leave, raising the minimum wage, torture, killing innocent family members of suspected terrorists, single-payer healthcare, no fly-no buy gun control, threatening the press with a breach of the 1st Amendment, threatening his own party on the down ballot by telling his people not to vote for them.
In essence, I would have to become something that for my whole life I have loathed in the godless, worldly, secular-humanists who make politics their religion, government their god, and win-at-all-costs their motto.
Christians in this election have been shown to be idolatrous in their preference for “values” that are absolutely opposed to Bible doctrine:
- Choosing evil that good may come. (Supposed “Lesser Evil”)
- A forced binary (situational ethics, same as above) – If you want to reduce voting to a binary then for the Christian it is never Candidate A over Candidate B if they are both evil, in that case, it would have to be faith over fear because one should never sin against conscience.
- They do it so why can’t we? – In the recent days, I have seen Christians defending Trump’s statement from the final debate that he may not respect the outcome of the election based on the fact that Al Gore, Hillary Clinton, and even Barack Obama have said similar things in the past. Notice, if you will, how our measuring rod has moved from Richard Nixon (pretty low to begin with) to the absolute worst, vile Alinskyite’s in the other party. Men and women who wouldn’t accept, “Well, everyone’s doing it,” from their disrespectful tweener, are all of a sudden embracing the same philosophy in their defense of a 70-year-old man.
- But Hillary is mean and scary. – “The question for the believer is never the strength of the enemy,” wrote my father, James Kirkwood, “but the power of God and the means of supply.” It wasn’t the wind and the waves that caused Peter to sink, it wasn’t Egyptian chariots or Assyrian archers that caused Israel to fail. It was little faith. Adopting the language of fear, desperation, and pragmatism leaves no room for faith; and frankly is a heck of a lot closer to the report of the ten spies than it is to Joshua and Caleb.
Finally, I’d just like to point out that every argument that believers make for supporting Trump is made from pragmatism. “He’s not Hillary.” Neither is Elizabeth Warren, but I wouldn’t vote for her just based on that. To buy into the lesser evil argument means that there is no election that you are not held to a fixed binary irrespective of any foundational principles. If it comes down to Pilate or Herod, you’re all in on Herod.
One of the most impassioned arguments is that the integrity of the Supreme Court is at stake, so we must be willing to sacrifice our character as a people to enshrine our character on the court. SCOTUS has become an idol. And I’m convinced, God will smash that idol shortly.
The frightful truth is that these two candidates are a reflection of who we’ve become. As a wag pointed out on the internet the other day, “Trump is everything that is wrong with our culture, and Hillary is everything that is wrong with our government.”
I firmly believe that God is using Donald Trump as he’s using Hillary Clinton, as a judgment on a wayward, stiff-necked people. Hillary Clinton is a judgment on a nation that has forgotten God and in some cases mocked Him, and Donald Trump is a judgment on a hypocritical party who waves a platform around when they need checks, volunteers, and votes, but when they get to Washington, ignore it and refuse to fight for it.
I am thankful that we haven’t yet received what we really deserve. As bad as Donald and Hillary are, we are deserving of much worse – having committed graver indiscretions than other nations who have been judged harsher.
The proper mindset toward the judgment of God is not to dig in our heels and kick against the goads but to fall to our knees and repent; to fast, to pray, and to remain immovable and unshakable in our simple faith.
As Vaclav Havel has said so eloquently, “The power of the powerless consists not in clever political strategies but in the simple daily discipline of living within the truth and refusing to lie.”
God calls for moderation in dress and behavior but absolutely condemns it when it comes to duty, devotion, and discipleship. Nothing is more extreme than presenting your body a living sacrifice, forsaking father and mother, letting the dead bury the dead, taking up your cross, and loving your enemies while praying for those who persecute you.
The life of the disciple is to be shaped by moderation in regard to self but extreme animation in regard to Christ. Too many Christians hold to moderation with their allegiance and animation in regard to self. Some choose moderation across the board and believe they are justified in their spiritual apathy. These will only grieve the Holy Spirit of God and, to quote DeNiro from “A Bronx Tale,” are “Wasted Talent.”
Christ says that the moderate offering will be rejected: the candle snuffed out, the chaff burned, the drink spewed. We are either a sweet-smelling aroma in the hall of the King, a refreshing drink in his hand, or we are spittle on the floor.
Who are you?
By John J Kirkwood
The problem with the church today?
The Western Church today is bound by two poles. On the one end are all those who have turned grace into lasciviousness (Jude 1:4). Think of all the denominations that now bow to the rainbow flag… and Jimmy Carter.
On the other end are those who have fallen from Grace, men who have distorted the gospel message in response to the prodigal brothers mentioned above (MacArthur, Brown, McDonald, Muehlenberg). These are the new Pharisees, the Judaizers, the legalists; these are the Galatians who the Apostle Paul held in doubt, called bewitched, and told us to beware of, because they were accursed for perverting the gospel (Gal. 1:6-9).
Here’s the problem. While it’s easy to notice the first group because they are obviously so contrary to the will and word of God, the second group is cloaked in spirituality.
It is easy to tell what’s wrong with the son in the far country, whether he is reveling in the bar or eating with the pigs, but what of the brother in the field?
The Galatians go to church on Wednesday and twice on Sunday. They read their Bibles, march with pro-lifers, defend traditional marriage, blow a whistle at AWANA, write Christian books, host Christian radio shows – they’ve got street cred and “Christian” callouses but they’re more insidiously dangerous than the wretch in the gutter.
Have you ever noticed how many ministries are geared toward reaching “the prodigal son” while the whole church is oblivious that the targeted audience in that story was the Pharisees who were bitterly attacking Christ and his gospel? Go back and read Luke 15 and you’ll see the whole point was to rebuke the Pharisees, to bring guilt and shame on the elder brother in the field.
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: (Luke 15:1-3)
So, the church is caught between the lascivious and the ascetic, the prodigal at the brothel and the proud in the field, but be careful not to take sides for the proper response to this continuum is the Father – watching on the roof, falling on the neck of the prodigal, and rebuking the elder son in the field.