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The end of the world, judgment or just bad weather, President Trump’s UN speech, How to study your Bible, questions from audience.
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 James Kirkwood
This is pew #46, where Robert E. Lee used to sit with his daughters at Christ Church in Alexandria Virginia. It sits just across the aisle from the pew where George Washington had often sat. One day, after the war had ended, General Lee would rise from this pew and demonstrate the strength of true grace.
It was a relatively small church. The parishioners knew each other quite well. Or did they?
Families had helped build each other’s houses. Barn raisings had been a common, even social event. Their children had courted each other, some having gone on to marriage. They had stood together and cried together at the gravesides of countless loved ones over the past five years. They had gone through a most traumatic period as a community. Now it was time for the healing to begin.
Together in church one day they would be challenged and together most would fail.
Such is the story of human history and sadly of the Body of Christ known to the world as, “the Church.” Sometimes, there is but one man who has the courage of his convictions, and that sole man’s faithfulness in the heat of battle may melt the hard-hearted and inspire the lesser men around him.
One sunny day in a little Virginian church parishioners gathered to observe what is known in much of Christendom as The Lord’s Supper – the Eucharist. As the people were about to keep the ritual a young man, a young, “black man” entered from the back and approached the podium to himself partake.
There was a noticeable gasp, an uncomfortable drawn out silence for which even the parson seemed at a loss. For this was no mere mistake, this was an outright offense.
Did this man not know of his station in life? How insolent! He had his own place of worship, a “black” assembly, but this was “ours!” Something must be done!
Just when it seemed that chaos might break out a distinguished elderly man arose from a middle pew.
Well known and well respected not just in this little Virginia chapel but also in the whole of the Confederacy, even throughout the entire country; he would set things straight. When he arose there seemed to be a collective sigh of relief, the congregation was able to breathe again and some of the men were eager in their anticipation of the coming “fix.”
Approaching the young man, the young, “black man” whose head was now bowed as he knelt at the altar, the elderly gentleman to the surprise of those assembled took his place next to him. Next to the “black man.”
Without saying a word, he slowly knelt. His age and the cost of war made it slow but deliberate, then he looked his parson in the eyes and nodded as if to say, “get on with it,” bowing his head once more to await his turn.
It may have shocked some in attendance, though they’d never challenge their hero about this in public or in private. It most certainly shocked the young man who, rightly or wrongly, decided to interrupt a church service to make a statement.
The parson began the ritual and the young man, (who never really was that young, “black man” but a fellow believer, even a brother in Christ), was allowed to partake.
As the old man took the wafer, another man rose and slowly made his way to the front, and then another followed by yet another.
Not because of the will of the people or the wisdom of the parson but because of the courage of one old man what could have turned into a terrible wrong was made right, the wind and the waves rebuked.
It would have been very easy for the old man to stay in his seat, they were his friends, they were his family, and he was their hero. The peer pressure must have been overwhelming, but he did the right thing. He did the hard thing.
A few years earlier on another battlefield this “old man” faced the pressure of another battle with an overwhelming enemy. Outnumbered nearly three to one, poorly supplied and facing the annihilation of his army he had to make another hard choice. Surely the easy thing to do would be to retreat, fight the battle another day or at least dig in and let someone else take the initiative, but not he. He did the hard thing, what many would call the impossible: he attacked and he won.
Many may know what General Robert E. Lee achieved at Chancellorsville in early May of 1863 but only a few of what he accomplished in that little Virginia chapel after the war had ended.
Some say that bravery in the face of the enemy is the highest and most honorable of virtues. Others would argue that it is the courage one must muster in the face of friends, family and peers when those dearest to you are out of line. That is the epitome of valor!
Hollywood loves the charged ending with a charismatic character in righteous indignation calling down fiery condemnation on those in the wrong – a scorched earth campaign like Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men or Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman. Sadly, in the face of unrepentant sin, this is sometimes necessary. But notice the grace bestowed by the good general: grace to a young black man with an agenda, grace to a hesitant, paralyzed parson, but most of all, grace to the stilted crowd.
There was no condemnation here, no presumption about their character. The old general simply did the right thing and led by example, and he did it in a manner so as to give those in his company an “out” so that they too could join him in victory.
This is noble! This is magnanimous! This is the heart of true, Christian courage!
*To find out more about the inspiring life of Robert E. Lee, read R.E. Lee: A Biography by Douglas Southall Freeman (preferably the 4 volume set)
By John J Kirkwood
There is a species of eagle that mates for life and when the female is looking for a mate she will swoop down to the ground and pick up a rock and then fly back into the air, usually with two to three suitors circling her. She climbs as high as she can and then drops the rock. The male that she chooses will be the one that catches the rock on his back in midair. When he does, he’s proven to her that he’d be a worthy mate who would not drop their eaglet when they’re teaching him to fly. Sometimes, the animal kingdom can be infinitely wiser than our own. Here are five things to watch out for when choosing the right eagle, ladies!
#1 – AN AWOL PRIESTHOOD
Many of our failures as fathers are cloaked to the public, known only to those in the immediate family, but there is a particular day each week where the failure of a father is actually tangible – on display for all to see.
The world judges a man’s worth by what he does Monday thru Friday but the real test of a man is what he does on Sunday. Wives, if Sunday is his new Saturday and the lawn, the fishing pole, the honey-do list, or Starbucks and the New York Times are his priority, you married a loser.
It matters but little that he’s thoughtful, generous and a good listener; if he’s not fulfilling God’s call of spiritual leader in the home, he’s a spiritual dead-beat dad. That’s right, it doesn’t matter if your husband is a good provider, a legendary lover, a father who buys organic food, braces for Sissy’s overbite, and even gets the kids into Harvard; you’ve married a man that is clueless about the most important relationship that he has to his kids. A father is God’s agent to bring children to maturity and purity – to nurture their spirit. If dad has been distracted by caring merely for their body and soul, his children go into this world ill-prepared to tackle the real pressing issues, and unprepared to stand before the throne of God.
I’m not saying that being in church every time the doors are open is proof of his spiritual capacity; any man who is not caught by his children at least two or three times a week pouring over the Scriptures, is probably not legit. But the man who has ignored spiritual education altogether has taught his children that mammon, fishing, or the NFL are life’s top priorities and the odds are – they will follow his lead and wallow in a life of distraction. The first priority of a father is to be the spiritual leader in the home.
#2 – LOVELESS MARRIAGE
The next major failure for fathers is neglect of their wives. I know this column is about fathers not husbands, but to God they’re an inseparable weave. In the Bible, the two greatest expressions of God’s love for his people are the models of God as “Father” and Christ as “Bridegroom.” In a letter that Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, he tells husbands to love their wives “as Christ loved the church, and gave himself for it.” That means that the husband is to be the initiator of love in the relationship and that it should be a sacrificial, unconditional love.
Most men view their marriage like an old hunting trip – it was a rush when they were in the hunt, but once they bagged their prey and the ring was on her finger, it’s off to the taxidermy and then the den. Men mount their marriages on a wall only to regard it once in a while in passing. A Christian man should be the best lover in the world – attentive as he is creative, and constantly about the art of woo. Romance is not something that happens in bed, (though it may end up there), it begins in the mindset, it is best premeditated, and it’s an everyday adventure.
The Apostle Paul went on to say that the love of the husband toward the wife, as Christ toward his church, has a distinct purpose, – “that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.”
We get it backwards here in modern America, the bride shows up at the wedding “glorious, unspotted, unwrinkled, and without blemish,” but if we were to follow God’s reckoning, she’d show up like My Fair Lady and end up years later like the Disney princess. And the husband would play a significant spiritual role in bringing that about.
A good father will be a model to his daughter of the type of man that she is to look for in a mate and he’ll be the type of father that will put the fear of death and dismemberment in any young suitor who may be confused about desire and intention. A good father will model to his son the type of a man that will revere God, honor authority, punish bullies, respect adults, and woo a woman worthy of bearing his last name.
#3 BEST FRIENDS AND DRILL SERGEANTS
You are not your child’s best friend, not in the formative years anyway. Even “The Prodigal Son” knew that he’d have to live like Hell in “a far country,” and not under his father’s roof. The home is a nest and it’s a haven, but it is never a dorm room.
Many fathers in our day neglect to discipline their children either out of apathy or because they’ve become men without chests, brow-beaten by feminazis.
Discipline is an act of love and a crucial element, not of raising children but of raising God-honoring, freedom-loving men and women. As the great Colonel R.B. Thieme Jr. once said, “You don’t spoil a child by giving him things, you spoil a child by withholding discipline.”
If your son mouths off to “his mother” remind him that “Mom was my wife before she was your mother; if you talk to my girl like that again, you’ll need the Fire Department and the Jaws of Life to retract my size 13 from your gluteus-maximus.”
Discipline, however, is not punishment. Punishment, when it is controlled, understood, and necessary, may be an aspect of discipline, but God did not inspire The Great Santini. If your kids see you as either their best friend or their Gunny Sergeant, then you’ve failed miserably at parenting.
We are on the threshold of celebrating a day that says “I have the best dad in the world,” and nobody reacts to that with animus. But when it comes to saying that our fathers were exceptional in the manner in which they planned, built, and fought for this country, then all of a sudden you’re a xenophobe for mentioning it. I don’t think so!
The root of the word for patriot is pater – father. The love of one’s country is the love of one’s fathers. America is exceptional because our fathers trusted God. And when America forgets God or treats Him as an enemy, America will cease to be exceptional. As you’ve seen from the above, a father’s main role is to teach his children how to love. Whether it be their God, their parents, the right man or woman, or their country, a father who doesn’t instruct in how to love is negligent.
And remember dads, Bonhoeffer was a great German because he was a great Christian.
#5 HOT HOUSE FLOWERS
Not just fathers but most parents make the mistake of raising their children like hot-house flowers. It is one thing to shield your child from unnecessary vulgarity and information that may not be age appropriate, but it’s quite another to shelter them from reality. Ever see what happens to a hot-house flower when it is taken into a cold Chicago blizzard? It doesn’t last long. Life is more like Chicago weather then it is living in a self-contained, germ-free bubble.
It’s been said that “The Godly parent prepares the child for the road not the road for the child.” The father that shields Jr and Sissy from every dark cloud thinks himself holier than God, for even God didn’t remove the tree or the serpent from the midst of the Garden.
Allow your children to be “tried” but not “tempted.” The difference between God and the Devil is that Satan will tempt you to fail but God will never try you if you aren’t capable of success. Groom your children to think critically and as soon as they show maturity, give them more leash. With greater responsibility comes greater growth and capacity.
That’s it dad – you are to be a warrior-priest, a fighter and a lover. Don’t allow culture to guide you, follow the example of great men, utilize resources to refine the “art of dad” and never stop with your continuing education. Be the first to hug and the last to get off the phone. Admonish, rebuke, even chastise but never provoke. Among all else, love until it hurts. It will, but it’ll be worth it.
And always remember to act happy when you unwrap the tie or the Aqua Velva. Happy Father’s Day!
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.