It started with a piece of tape.

And then another, and another and another. And then the next roll. And the next….

A view from upstairs and you can see what it is. The chairs are all gone and the tape marks the outline of where the congregation normally sits.

Why?  Because Good Friday isn’t comfortable.

Then came the musicians.

Plugging in cords. Setting up microphones. Tuning the cello and the guitars.

Hey, you see those two over there? What are they doing? I don’t know.

They move from place to place around the room. Soon it’s obvious what they are doing.

They are praying. They are praying for the worshippers that will soon be coming in. .

Every one of them.

The pastors and musicians gather for prayer as people start wandering in. Some of the elderly sit in a row of chairs around the back. Everyone else sits on the floor.

Just enough light shows to help people pick out spots on the floor. Families sit in groups. Parents tell their little ones why it’s dark and why they are sitting on the floor.

Some are very comfortable on the floor, many are not. But more and more people are coming in.

It’s quiet, unusually quiet. Reflective, somber, anticipatory.

And more people come in. The ushers keep busy trying to find a place for them.

They succeed even as the empty spots get smaller and smaller. They ask and people gladly move closer together.

The minister spoke in the dark. Words of reverence and hope. Words of redemption. Words of awareness.

The music joined in – many of the musicians were playing from their heart and soul – and without any written music. The music wove itself throughout the room, turning people’s hearts to Jesus and to Good Friday.

“Were the whole realm of nature mine, that would be a present far too small.” A heartfelt admission that we are more broken than we think we are and more loved than we could ever imagine.

The seven stations of the cross – followed by a candle being extinguished. The darkness grows.

Judas betrays Jesus. The darkness grows.

Peter denies Jesus. The darkness grows.

The thief begs for salvation. The darkness grows.

Every step of the way, the darkness grows.

“Father into thy hands, I commit my spirit.

It’s late on Friday and a wise man and a believer worked with the Mary’s and get him down and buried him.

It’s Friday – but Sunday’s coming.

It’s Friday – but Sunday’s coming.

The pastors jointly said, “May the Lord Bless you, may the Lord make his face to shine on and keep you. Go forth in the knowledge it is currently Friday, but Sunday’s coming.

Sunday is coming and God is so so good.

Tom

The undercover Face of Grief

I don’t think I ever really grasp, until this last year, the impact that my previous “episodes” with my AVM had on me. Looking back on it, there are a number of times where it changed the course of many things and I didn’t know it at that time.  Looking back on it, my life, my family and both sets of parents are richer because of it.

I’m going to call this Face of Grief – the Undercover Face. I know I probably watch too many cop shows on TV, but you know the undercover cops? The ones who are just moving around in the “normal” world trying not to be noticed.   
Trying to do their job, trying to gain access to the center of what’s happening, and trying to do it without you realizing it. That’s what the undercover face is.

Except on the cop shows, the undercover cop is the good guy and the people he’s trying to get “in with” are bad guys. In this case, it’s the exact opposite. He’s the bad guy, grief is the undercover face that’s trying to sneak in to your life. And you don’t see him and you don’t notice the trail of dirt that he left walking through your kitchen late at night. You don’t see that all is not well.

And then suddenly, you realize that he’s there. And suddenly you see all of the things that have happened which are ways you could should have seen him coming. But you didn’t. And he scared you quite badly.  

My parents lived with that undercover face of grief from 1972 to 2018. He was always around, but not always seen. I believe that in many ways, God used the grief and the sorrow that my dad experienced with his cancer to make his ministry and his life a much deeper and more impactful life for so many.

I’ve had that undercover face of grief hiding around me for a long time too. 1978 – I was in 8th grade. And I had to go to Mayo Clinic (at that point, I thought Mayo was the place where all of the really really sick people went). 1986 – the AVM was back – just as I was finishing college and expecting our oldest…..

So what have I learned from the Undercover Face of Grief? A couple of things:

 • Trust God – God is the parent there to help you when you are scared, sad, worried, and happy, funny, joy-filled. God is there to walk beside you – invite him to join you or you join him and the Undercover Face of Grief won’t be so scary when it shows up – and it will – we live in a fallen world.

 • Remember that as scary as the undercover face might be, when he “shows up” the light of Jesus and the support of others makes him less scary.

 • Don’t live your life scared of the Undercover Face. Instead, look for the joy in life. Look for the things that will add purpose and meaning to your life. Look for the difference you can make in your world – whether it’s in your home, your community or way beyond that.

 • Look around you – there are probably people you know who are staring down that Face of Grief right now. Stand up with them, stand next to them, tell them, “You are not alone.”

One of the many things I have learned over the last years is that there are way more people who are struggling and way less people who have all of their “ducks in a row” than I ever would have thought.

So, when your grief shows his head after hiding behind the scenes, acknowledge him, look at your life – are there things you’ve been doing that have made it easier for him to hide? I’m thinking of the old country and western song about drowning your sorrows…..

God’s grace is enough. Actually, the writer of Psalm 4 says, “I have God’s more than enough”

When grief shows it’s face, know that God’s grace is more than enough.

TJV

The Faces of Grief

I’ve wrestled with grief a lot in this past year, actually this past year and then some. It’s been a time of deep spiritual growth and also deep spiritual “testing.”

I’m still not done with it. But I thought that before we get into a journey through my Dad’s preaching, I’d take a bit and fill you in on some of what I’ve learned about grief. Many of the “formal” educated writings about grief talk about the stages of grief. Instead, I want to look at it as the “Faces of Grief.” Why?

Because I don’t think you actually move from one stage to another and so on and then you get to stage 7 and grief is gone. Grief doesn’t go away. It changes, it looks different, it hides around the corner some times, but it never actually goes away.

At least not until God calls us home and reunites us with those we’ve been separated from. Then all grief is gone.

Along the lines of being called home, I was talking to a friend a few months back and we were catching up on the hard years we’ve both been having. My friend commented, “You know, I don’t know how they would do it. I’ve gotten to know other families in the ICU over the months we’ve been there. Some of them are Christians and their faith is helping them make it through. Others aren’t Christians and say that they have no belief in anything beyond the here and now.”

“I know it’s hard to understand, actually I don’t understand, why bad things happen to good people, but to have no hope for a future? No hope of ever being able to hug your Dad again?”

If you are in that place, struggling to understand why bad things happen, trying to understand God’s ways, don’t suffer quietly. Talk to someone – a minister, the chaplain at the hospital, a friend, stop in to the church down the street and ask to talk to the pastor. Don’t wait until it is too late.

I will be the first to admit, I don’t have all of the answers. Shoot, if I’m honest with myself, I have to admit I don’t have hardly any answers. I don’t know why my Dad got hit with cancer 5 times during his 80 years on this earth. I don’t know why I have been dealing with this ArterioVenous Malformation for 41 years now. I don’t know why previous treatments (1978, 1986, 2009) left me with very little side effects but the 2018 surgery left it’s mark on me and that mark isn’t going away.

I don’t know why, I don’t know what the future holds. But I know who holds my future.

And that’s good enough for me.

Tom


“I’m one of those”

I’m one of those….. I said

Those what? He asked.

Those people who look fine, I said

Well, that’s good, he said

Isn’t it? I asked

In some ways, it is, I suppose…… I wondered

If I look fine, then people will treat me like I’m fine.

I think that’s good? I asked myself….

But wait, he said

If you look fine and they treat you fine, aren’t you missing the point? He said

What point? I looked at him quizzically.

The point of life, he said

Life that pleases God, he said

What is the point of life? I said

What do you think the point of life is? He tossed the question back at me

Hmmm….. Can you give me a clue? I asked

It’s got three actions in it – straight out of the Bible, He said

I need more to go on than that, I said.

How about I’ll give you the actions and you fill in the rest? He said

Okay, I’m in.

The first one is Act
The second one is Love
The third one is Walk

He said and then sat back, took a sip of his coffee and waited.

Oh, I get it…..

Act Justly – right? I said.

He smiled and nodded.

Love mercy?

Yep

Walk Humbly?

Yep – but walk with who? He asked

Look it up in the Bible, he said.

A light dawns in my brain.

“Act Justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” I said, with a big smile on my face.

Micah 6:8

A road map for life.

Simple to read.

Hard to do.

Tom

Amen or Ouch?

“Say Amen or Say Ouch”

The pastor at our church has a saying that he will use quite often in his sermons:

“Say Amen or say Ouch.”

‘Say Amen” – acknowledge that the conversation that is happening between God and his people in that particular location at that time is good.

It is soul refreshing.

It is strengthening.

It helps you get ready for another week, “Out there.”

Or

“Say Ouch” – acknowledge that the conversation that is happening is challenging you, it is making you realize that you can “do life” better. It’s a realization that what God says through the Bible in that particular place isn’t all peace and comfort. It shows us where we fall short. It shows us where God expects more from us. It challenges us to go “out there” and do better, because while we know we can’t do it perfect, we can do it better. It also acknowledges the grace and forgiveness that comes when we say “ouch” and realize we messed up.

“Say Amen or Say Ouch.”

John 13:34-35 says:
““Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.””
https://www.bible.com/97/jhn.13.34-35.msg

Love one another – say amen or say ouch?

Love one another the way Jesus loves us – say amen or say ouch? Remember, Jesus was known to have dinner with IRS agents and prostitutes.

“Everyone will recognized that you are my disciples – when they see the love you have for each other.”

If someone looked at your Facebook wall – would they see the love of Jesus on there?

If someone saw the comments you make on someone’s social media post about police shootings or race/hate crimes or protest marches or refugees seeking to come to America, would they see the love of Jesus?

If someone watched ________________________ that you did, would they see the love of Jesus there? Would they see your love for one another?

Or does “one another” only refer to people in your circle of friends? Or people who speak English as their first language? Or people who are……..

In all of the struggles that this world is going through, we have an opportunity, as the church of Christ, to show love.

How do you think we’re doing?

Yeah, me neither.

TJV