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Sick Kids and Empty Graves

Sick Kids and Empty Graves

By Trevor King

 

Recently, my wife and I endured another sleepless night with sick children. Both of our girls were sick and, being extremely young, couldn’t have any medicine to help alleviate their symptoms. This kept them both up, which kept us up. On top of that, our youngest was teething, which meant endless fits of crying for days. Even when moments of silence miraculously occurred, we both heard their cries in our ears.

After numerous nights awake with a sick and teething toddler, tensions were high. I’d like to say that we never lost our cool. I’d like to say we were exemplars of grace and compassion at every moment. But that wasn’t the case. We were stressed, exhausted, and frustrated. Sadly, even looking at the sweet face of a tired, sick, and hurting baby, it was hard not to be frustrated with her for not sleeping and not letting us sleep. In moments like this, I’m often reminded of something a professor of mine used to repeat: “People and circumstances don’t determine your behavior; they only give you an opportunity to reveal what’s in your heart.” And in those moments, it becomes clear that my heart is a wreck.

Maybe you can identify with us. Perhaps it’s comforting to know that none of us are alone in those moments. Life can be hard, and the day-in and day-out parenting challenges can sometimes feel overwhelming, especially when sleep is elusive and the sound of crying babies becomes the soundtrack to our lives.

During this bout of crying and sickness, when I felt utterly overwhelmed, I was reminded of a passage in the Bible that points to God as our comforter in times of difficulty. And in reading that passage, I was drawn to one verse in particular:

“Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death, so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9).

It’s easy to dismiss this verse as inapplicable amid the  challenges of first-world life. Most of us don’t feel like we’ve received the “sentence of death” (even though multiple nights with a crying baby might make us think otherwise). So bringing this verse to bear might seem overly dramatic, but I don’t think it is.

Life is hard, and in a fallen world, as fragile beings, we can feel overwhelmed. The pain points of life can feel crushing. Sometimes it feels like things are as bad as they can get. When we feel defeated, we identify with Paul. It is right and good to honestly confess that life is hard. Things are not the way they are supposed to be, and we feel it in sickness, soreness, sleeplessness, and sorrow (you’re welcome for that).

But we also see in this verse several truths that comfort our hearts:

God is sovereign over our afflictions.

Paul is quick to remind us that God raises the dead. This is a direct reference to Jesus (and perhaps Lazarus), who was raised from the dead. Even in the darkest moments of Jesus’ life, God had not lost control of the situation. Christ’s death was not outside of God’s sovereign plan. God didn’t abandon Jesus in his darkness; so what makes us think he would abandon us in ours? Even when the trials of everyday life feel overwhelming, we can have confidence in the God who watches over us with compassion and love.

God uses our afflictions to teach us to trust him.

Our suffering, though often inexplicable, is not without purpose. Paul writes that they felt the sentence of death so they would trust God in their circumstances. While we may not always understand our afflictions, we know the God above them. We may fear near death, but it reminds us to trust and rest in the God who conquers death.

God promises to comfort us in our afflictions.

This should give us hope in our valleys of darkness. We can find comfort that we are not alone in suffering. We have a Savior who identifies with us in our afflictions. But more than that, we have a Savior who has overcome affliction. He conquered death, sin, sickness, and sorrow, and his victory is ours. Though the momentary darkness seems unrelenting, dawn is coming.

God will deliver us from our afflictions.

When the new dawn appears, when light bursts through darkness finally and with finality, we shall be delivered. Our God raises the dead, and he will raise us. He has promised to deliver us, and he will surely do it. In the next verse, we see the promise that God has delivered and will deliver us: “He has delivered us from such a terrible death, and he will deliver us. We have put our hope in him that he will deliver us again…” (2 Corinthians 1:10). Our greatest enemy is defeated, and we have hope in the daily struggles of life. But more than that, our Deliverer will bring us near to himself, our greatest comfort. In the end, we get Him.

Whatever challenges you face today, if you feel overwhelmed and afflicted, take comfort in the promise that God is sovereignly using your circumstances in ways unseen. In the pit of this broken world and its struggles, lift your eyes upward and trust the God who raises the dead.

The grave could not hold our Savior, and because of him, it shall not hold us. 

Trevor is originally from Oklahoma and serves on staff at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Mid-America Christian University as well as a master’s degree and a doctorate from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a fan of good coffee, bookstores, and superheroes. Trevor and his wife, Ashley, raise their daughters in Wake Forest.

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Fears Reveal Loves

Fears Reveal Loves

In a world full of danger, it’s natural to experience fear. The biblical command to “not be afraid” that we see throughout the Scriptures should clue us in to this reality. But the presence of fear doesn’t explain the reason for fear. Why are some people afraid of spiders, and others are not? Why does conflict paralyze some, but doesn’t seem to bother others? Why do some people struggle with social anxiety, and others seem to thrive on being the “life of the party?” To understand why we are afraid, we have to look within.

What does fear reveal?

In short, our fears reveal our loves. Fear reveals what we hold dear, what we love, value, and treasure. So an essential step in navigating fear is cultivating an awareness of our heart, which is what Jesus tells us to do in Matthew 6.

For anyone who has battled fear and anxiety, Matthew 6 is a popular chapter. In verses 25-34, we see Jesus addressing anxiety by calling our attention to our Heavenly Father’s care. “See the birds,” Jesus says. “See the flowers,” Jesus says. If God cares for them, then he will care for you. Don’t be anxious about those things; instead, seek God’s kingdom: love what God loves, pursue what God pursues. Live how God lives. However, to fully understand how to do battle against fear and anxiety, you need to back up to verse 19:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Loving what God loves

Jesus points us to one of the most important truths about life: where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. In other words, what you love will greatly impact how you live. If you love that which is heavenly (what God loves), your heart is secure. If you love that which is earthly—what can fade, be destroyed, or taken from you—your heart is vulnerable. And a vulnerable heart will oftentimes be revealed through fear or anxiety. If you treasure something that isn’t secure, you will have no choice but to be fearful. You will be afraid (or anxious) that you won’t be able to have the thing you love. You will be afraid (or anxious) that you won’t be able to keep the thing you love. Loving the kingdom of God will always require us to understand our temptation toward loving the kingdom of this earth.

Loving as God loves

There’s a slight wrinkle to this process of discerning your heart. What if you experience fear and anxiety that seems to be centered around something “good?” Take the safety of your family as an example. Shouldn’t I love my wife and kids? Shouldn’t I care about what happens to them? Shouldn’t I value them, treasure them, and seek to protect them? Of course I should. So if I Iove something or someone I’m supposed to love, why am I sometimes afraid or anxious? 

In some cases, the issue is not what we love, but how we love it. Sometimes our loves are disordered—we love things we shouldn’t love. Sometimes our loves are misordered—we love things in ways we shouldn’t love them. My wife is amazing, and my kids are precious, but contrary to popular sentiment, they are not my “all in all.” They don’t provide me with ultimate comfort, satisfaction, or peace. And I can’t provide that for them. True peace, comfort, and satisfaction can only come from Christ. When the good things of our life take up more space in our hearts than God, we open our hearts to vulnerability in the same way we do by loving things we shouldn’t love. 

In Matthew 6:33, Jesus tells us to “seek the kingdom of God” because he wants our lives to be centered on and wrapped up in the things God loves. He wants us to treasure righteousness, peace, truth, and the love of others. He wants us to set our hearts on him, not on the perishing things of this world. He wants us to experience the peace and freedom of loving and trusting him wholly and completely. That includes trusting him with the good things we love most. Not only does Jesus want us to love what God loves, but he wants us to love as God loves.

Learn to discern

So when you find yourself anxious, take a deep breath and peek into your heart. Ask yourself some questions: What are you setting your affections on? What is consuming your mind? What treasure are you pursuing or trying to hold onto? Then ask God to redirect or reorder your loves. Ask him to help you love what he loves, the way he loves it. Finally, thank him for being a good Father who has given you access to the kingdom of heaven, an inheritance that will never perish or fade, a treasure secured by his sovereign power.


Kent is a native of southern Illinois and a graduate of the University of Illinois. He holds an MA in Biblical Counseling from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He met his wife Hope at a Christian sports camp in Pennsylvania in 2007. They got married in 2010 and have three kids: Silas, Anna, and Grace. He is an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan and loves talking about the intricacies of the golf swing. As a pastor, he loves having a front-row seat to watch how Jesus transforms people’s lives.

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Five Things the Lord Taught Me About Grief

Five Things the Lord Taught Me About Grief

As a trained biblical counselor, you might think that I know a lot about grieving. I know many things, but learned things come into greater clarity when you experience them personally. So I thought I would share a few new things the Lord has lovingly taught me these last six months since my mom passed away. I hope you will find them helpful.

1. A good listener is a wonderful gift.

Shortly after my mom’s death, I had two sweet, godly friends ask me to lunch. When I had lunch with the first friend, she let me share all the details of what happened the month preceding mom’s death. She just listened. I felt loved and cared for.

The second friend tried to be helpful and every so often in my telling the details, she would compare my experience to her painful experience when one of her parents died. I am quite certain her responses came from a loving heart. However, the comparisons were not helpful. What I found when leaving lunch with the second friend is that I not only felt the burdens of my own pain, but I also felt hers. As a result, I left feeling more sadness and grief.

To serve someone well in their grief, be a good listener. You can start the conversation simply by asking, What happened? As a follow-up question, you might ask, What was the hardest part? A final question might be, What could I do that would be helpful?

2. Some friends may not understand; don’t be hurt by this.

I have many wonderful young friends. Because they are so young, many of them have not yet experienced the loss of a parent. This makes it difficult for them to understand the grief I felt. Additionally, I was so blessed to have had a godly mother. She was my best girlfriend and we spent a lot of time together hanging out. I miss her every day. The Lord showed me that another impediment to a friend understanding the grief I experienced could be the fact that they have a very different relationship with their mom/dad. It may be strained, superficial, or even non-existent. In cases like this, there may even be some jealousy.

The Lord was gracious to help me realize no one could truly know how I was feeling. It may have been because of a lack of experience of grief or due to very different relationships. Either way, I had to recognize these truths and choose not to have my feelings hurt but rather to extend grace. In some situations, I found myself taking advantage of a teachable moment to help friends understand ways they could serve a grieving brother or sister.

3. Anger – it may surprise you.

If you’ve ever studied grief, then you probably know that anger is often cited as one of the “stages” of grief. I knew this. However, I assumed it meant you were mad at the person responsible for the death, the person who died, or maybe even God. I found that I was angry, but not at anyone in particular. I found I had a very short fuse and became angry at the most ridiculous things – like the bank teller being too slow. Knowing this aspect of anger during grief can help one understand the actions of the grieved and react with grace and care.

4. Be honest about your feelings.

I think a natural tendency for most people is to hide their feelings. How many times have you been having an awful day and yet you respond with, “I’m fine” when asked? I found it helpful to simply say, “I’m not doing too well today, but thank you so much for asking,” or “I’m really struggling with sadness today, would you pray for me?” This does two things. First, it helps you to tell someone when you are hurting, not to elicit some response or action from them, but to simply acknowledge out loud how you feel inside. Second, friends really do care, and telling the truth about your feelings gives them insight as to how they can pray for you and be a better friend.

5. Meal delivery gift cards are a remarkable gift.

I grew up in the South and was taught the “right” way to minister to someone who is grieving is through food. While I do love a tasty casserole, I experienced the beauty of calling for a meal when I needed it the most, such as when I felt immobilized in my grief and could not get off the couch. Not every day is the same when you are grieving; some days are just harder than others. The meal delivery gift cards were incredibly helpful on those days.

Grief will come to all and for a variety of reasons. I hope this article has been helpful for you both personally and as you serve your brothers and sisters.


Denise has served as the Director of Women’s Life and Assistant Professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, where she taught graduate courses in ministry to women. Prior to serving at Southeastern, Denise was a student there and earned both her MA in Biblical Counseling and Doctor of Education. Currently, she serves as Director of Counseling Development. Denise and her husband Rod have been married 46 years and have two married daughters and six grandchildren.

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The Witness of Imagination

The Witness of Imagination

I love fiction. While many people enjoy watching “reality” shows like The Amazing Race or The Great British Baking Show, I prefer stories set in galaxies far, far away. As comedian Jerry Seinfeld quips, “When men are growing up and they’re reading about Batman, Spiderman, Superman … those are not fantasies … they’re options“. I appreciate a good imagination and storytelling that is full of possibilities. Whether we like reality shows or high fantasy novels, we all have an imagination, and God created us with the capacity to imagine things other than they appear.

C. S. Fritz writes, “Imagination is simply the ability to visualize that which is not visual, to see the unseeable”. A vital part of belief is the ability to imagine. For example, the Apostle Paul encourages us to set our minds on things above, not on earthly things (Colossians 3:2). This requires the ability to imagine—to see a world under the perfect reign of King Jesus in our mind’s eye.

Take another example: When a father brought his son to Jesus to be healed and said, “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus, ever merciful and patient, replied to the scared father, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:20-24). This anxious dad needed to see, to imagine that Jesus could do it, that he would do it, that he is who he says he is.

Can we envision—can we imagine—God saving someone else by using us to share the gospel?

In his book, The Arts and the Christian Imagination, professor and apologist Clyde S. Kilby shares about the Christian imagination:

“Can the Christian ever be a true witness to his neighbor until he comprehends the sin which captivates his neighbor, until with some vividness he imagines his neighbor different from what he is now? And is it not this very process of creative imagination which enables brotherly love to move forth dynamically in relation to another human being? In fact, apart from such imaginative participation, will not one’s neighbor become mere object-to-be-saved, to whom a formula of regeneration is indiscriminately spoken robot-fashion and apart from genuine sympathy and love?”

Kilby encourages us to use the gift of our imagination to visualize our lost neighbor as someone different, someone redeemed, someone brought into the grace of the Lord Jesus. Our imagination allows us to see that person, in all their uniqueness, transformed by the gospel.

Can we not imagine our neighbor as other than what he is? I’m not saying that we use our imagination to will something to occur. Instead, as Kilby argues, imagination fuels movement and action. When we do not conceive of the glorified, eternal soul redeemed by the Savior, we do not feel the importance of sharing our great hope with them. Imagination becomes a power for our evangelism because we “see” what is possible and know that our God can do it.

We too often share the gospel for our own sake—to ward off the shame or fear of not speaking when we know we ought. “Well, I tried,” we say after a robotic presentation disconnected from the uniqueness of the person standing in front of us. But to share for their sake—this specific person’s sake—requires seeing them as they are and imagining them as God desires them to be.

Do we believe that he can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power at work within us (Ephesians 3:20)? Imagine the demons shuddering; imagine the sick healed; imagine the dead raised to life. And imagine this person before you, not as a project but as a possible recipient of God’s transforming gospel.

Imagining the Kingdom is more than conceiving the streets of gold upon which we will one day walk. Imagining the Kingdom is also about imagining our lost neighbor as a citizen of that Kingdom, a partaker of its ministry, and a unique and beloved creation of God.

What shall we do? As Christians, it’s important to cultivate what many refer to as a sanctified imagination—an imagination shaped by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God. Theologian Kevin Vanhoozer shared in an interview two simple ways to begin cultivating a sanctified imagination:

  1. Reading. Vanhoozer writes, “Reading, then, is a kind of strength-training that flexes the muscles of our imagination. Those who read widely are often those who are able to employ metaphors that connect ordinary life to the wonderful real world of the Bible.”
  2. Viewing myself as part of the ongoing action that the Bible recounts. We seek to view the world and our participation in it through the lens of the gospel. We also view our relationships through this lens—we are part of God’s redeeming work in the world, fleshed out in numerous ways in every interaction we have.

Jesus is the hero of the Great Story and, by his grace, we get to participate with him in his saving work. May we cultivate our imaginations so that we can see the possible in the lives of those we seek to reach with the gospel.


Trevor is originally from Oklahoma and serves on staff at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Mid-America Christian University as well as a master’s degree and a doctorate from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a fan of good coffee, bookstores, and superheroes. Trevor and his wife, Ashley, raise their daughters in Wake Forest.

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Salt in the Wound or Balm for the Soul? How to Respond Biblically to Your Grief

 

In a broken world, grief is inevitable. While the experience of grief is common, responding well to grief is not. Perhaps you have seen a grieving person spiral downward into a pit of self-despair, or display self-destructive habits, or completely isolate themselves from friends and family. Perhaps that person is you. The experience of grief is bad enough; responding poorly to grief can be like adding salt to an open wound. Thankfully, God provides wisdom from his word to help us respond well when we are grieving. While we see many responses to grief in the Scriptures, let me highlight three for your consideration.

Grieve with honesty

Healing and comfort will be a stranger to you if grief is suppressed, denied, or left unexpressed. Most importantly, you must work toward expressing the truth of how you feel to God. You cannot allow yourself to believe that God does not want to hear “how you really feel” or that he cannot handle your pain, frustration, doubt, confusion, or anguish. 

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest” (Ps. 22:1-2).

The Psalmist doesn’t shy away from expressing how he feels about the situation, specifically his feeling that God does not feel close. David takes this feeling straight to God. As we see in Psalm 22, David is not only committed to being honest before God about how he feels, but he is also committed to being honest before God about who he knows God to be.

“Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame” (Ps. 22:3-5).

David felt that God was far away so he expressed that grief to God. David’s honesty allowed him to process his pain in light of the truth that God reigns on high as a trustworthy God who delivers and rescues his people. Honesty in grief is not just about declaring how we feel, it is also about declaring what we know to be true about God.

God will hear you when you cry out, and that is why you must cry out. God will draw near when you express your grief. He is not afraid of your honesty, and he is unmoved in the midst of distress. Grieving with honesty concerning your pain and God’s character is an important step toward allowing the comfort of God to penetrate the pain of your heart and bring healing in the midst of brokenness. 

Grieve with expectancy

Grieving is a natural response to pain, suffering, and hardship. In the midst of grief, it is common to feel or even start to believe that things will never get better, easier, or more manageable. When you feel like the pain will never come to an end, let me encourage you to find hope in the God who comforts, heals, and restores.

“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42:11).

Psalm 42 reminds us that grief doesn’t have the final say. This doesn’t minimize the grief you may currently be experiencing; it simply places it in proper perspective. As a believer in Christ, you should expect to experience the healing work of the Lord in your life as you press into him. Like the Psalmist, we live out our faith in God by believing that we will again praise him, because he is our salvation and our God. We fight back against the pull toward depression and despondency because we know that God will not abandon us or let us see corruption (Ps. 16:10). Because comfort and healing are coming, we grieve with hopeful expectancy.

Grieve with community

Grief can tempt us to turn inward and become isolated from others. This can happen in very obvious ways. We stop showing up for corporate worship, we stop showing up for small group meetings, and we stop meeting with others in social settings. But this can also happen in less obvious ways. There is a way to be physically present but emotionally absent. When you are grieving the hard things of life, resist the temptation to simply “go through the motions.” Don’t shut people out of your life. One of the many benefits of the body of Christ is that it is one of the primary ways God brings healing in the midst of grief.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

God has graciously given us brothers and sisters in Christ to be an extension of his comforting hand. While it can be hard to share grief with others, it is vitally important that we pursue the grace of God in the context of community.

We won’t be free of grief this side of eternity, but with the presence of grief comes the power of God to heal and restore. As you suffer, remember to grieve with honesty, crying out to God. Remember to grieve with the expectancy, believing God will bring comfort and healing. And remember to grieve with community, engaging brothers and sisters who can extend the Lord’s hand of comfort in the midst of your pain.

 

Kent is a native of southern Illinois and a graduate of the University of Illinois. He holds an MA in Biblical Counseling from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He met his wife Hope at a Christian sports camp in Pennsylvania in 2007. They got married in 2010 and have three kids: Silas, Anna, and Grace. He is an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan and loves talking about the intricacies of the golf swing. As a pastor, he loves having a front-row seat to watch how Jesus transforms people’s lives.

Blog AdminSalt in the Wound or Balm for the Soul? How to Respond Biblically to Your Grief