Merely buzz words? No way.

If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you probably use a fair bit of Christianese. It’s a language with words like saved, believer, walking with Christ, gospel, and on and on. Do you ever wonder if they’re just trendy words with which we pepper our speech to impress others? Yeah, it’s true. Sometimes they are. But they don’t have to be. For when we press to know, to unpack the truth, and to understand, they are life altering. For instance, examine Romans 5:1-2 for a minute.

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

Paul spent the previous chapters explaining the Gospel, our abject need for it, and Christ’s centrality in it. Now he turns to what “knowing Jesus” really looks like. And it looks like justification, which means to be declared innocent. Not only did Jesus take all your sin, he gave you ALL of his righteousness. This was a one-time, legal act. You’ve heard it this way–just as if I’ve never sinned, just as if I’ve always obeyed.

This is how God sees you. But do you really believe that? I mean, doesn’t that just fill your heart with awe and wonder? Doesn’t it lift the heavy burden of guilt and shame? Amen!

But Paul doesn’t stop there. He says because you are justified, you have peace with God. Whoa. No strife. No contention. No wrath. So, the result of being declared righteous is peace. That’s propitiation. Imagine God’s great fireball of wrath hurtling through time and space at YOU, but at the last minute it’s absorbed by the cross.There Jesus bears all the weight and fury of it. That almost sounds like a work of epic fantasy. But it really happened. No wrath to you anymore, ever. All you know is grace. You’ve been adopted, reconciled, and redeemed. Through Jesus you have a secure standing. You have full access to God. You stand in grace. The fitting response? “We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” The deeper these truths penetrate, the more unshakable, overflowing, and abundant is our joy. Buzz words? No way.

The gospel, then is power that turns sinners into saints. It is the power to obey.


5 Radical Words. “I am praying for them.”

Ipraying for them think I’m kind of an emotional creature. Scratch that. I’m definitely an emotional creature. But this is not a bad thing. God created emotions, and he has big emotions for me.

I like having big emotions. I like loving deeply. I like laughing heartily. I like being ridiculously excited. I love superlatives.

But sometimes my emotions become a jumbled up mess. Mix big emotions with a tendency toward introspection, and presto I see a thousand strands of spaghetti interwoven and tied in knots with each other! I think we’ve talked about this topic before? Probably so. Anyway, one thought affects another. That one affects five more and so on. Untangling them seems daunting, impossible, and futile. I mean why would you ever want to untangle spaghetti anyway? Well, I suppose it’s there the analogy breaks down. But nonetheless, those days and weeks come. The knot grows until the burden of untangling it seems so heavy it’s crushing.

Anybody else relate? Can I get an amen?

For me at least, big conflicting emotions are one way God reminds me of my neediness, and that he is enough to meet those needs. They teach me to preach truth to myself even when I don’t feel like it. And I learned long ago, that if I keep hearing enough truth, my emotions will surely catch up.

I’m not always very good at preaching to myself, however. Though I get to counsel others all the time, sometimes I struggle to counsel myself. I guess that’s why God made the church a body. I need precious friends who will say, “Ami maybe you just need some time to be still before God.”

Duh. Why didn’t I think of that? It’s something I totally know, but I had to hear it from someone else. Many of us struggle to be still, myself included. We tend toward Marthaness and not Maryness. Yes, I possibly just invented two words. And if you have no idea what I’m referring to, go check out Luke 10. But being still is one of the themes of this year. I’m still learning it. When I really stop, sit down, cry to God for help, and physically write out what is true, He is ALWAYS faithful to meet me there. He is always faithful to make truth sink in! It’s the Holy Spirit who illumines. He is truth. And He’s the one that untangles the knot.

But that’s enough discourse on my thoughts and emotions. Enough metacognition.

Let’s get to the good stuff. Over the last few days God’s been using John 17 to distill the thoughts and smooth out the snarls. Enter, big excitement! I am dying to share this with you! This is staggering stuff.

Jesus’ imminent return to the Father was close at hand. Suffering and death was coming. Ending his sermon, he started to pray. Yet it wasn’t a silent conversation with his Father. He wanted the disciples to listen in! And now we get to listen in. There’s so much rich theological truth happening in this chapter, but it was five words that utterly blew me away.

Jesus said I am praying for them.” 

Do you recognize what just happened here?

Jesus is praying for his church. And as part of his church, Jesus is praying for me! for me?

I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.” (v9) Let the full weight of those words wash over you for a second. Don’t miss the significance here. Staggering right?

Jesus, King, Messiah, Savior, Lord, Son, God, is praying and I get to look over his shoulder. Seated at the right hand of the Father, he pleads for me. He always lives to make intercession for his own. (Hebrews 7) Here I get a glimpse of the way he talks to the Father. About himself. About his church. About me! Holy stars and stripes batman!

And just what does He pray?

  • Keep them
  • Make them unified, one with each other
  • Guard them
  • Protect them from the evil one
  • Give them my joy
  • Sanctify them in the truth. Transform them.
  • Make them one with us
  • Teach them that you love them as you love me!
  • I desire them to be with me. Bring them where I am!
  • Help them know that I am in them and they are in me.

Keep them. Guard and protect them. I know there’s so much more implied here, but for me this week, the link was to my thoughts. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7) When I cast my jumbled up worries, fears, anxieties on Christ, the result is peace. Peace that cannot be understood. Because he already died for those sins, Jesus guards all of me.

And if that’s not enough, just think about some of the other gigantic implications of this prayer. Jesus shows deep, personal, intimate care for his own. He knows we’re sheep. As the great shepherd, he protects and lays down his life. He also prays that we know we are in him and he is in us. Therefore, I am never alone. There is never a moment when Christ is not fully aware of my needs, struggles, and fears. He gets it, even when I think no one else does. Because he’s also God, he knows exactly how to pray for me. I can’t get over that he actually does, nonetheless perfectly! Wow. I admit, union with Christ is something of a beautiful mystery. It’s easier to get that he’s in me. But I’m in him? Still contemplating that one.

Likewise, because I’m part of his church, part of the bride, he desires me to be with him! And he sees me with affection and delight. It means I’m wanted. Always.

The way he prays reveals resounding oneness with the Father. It also reveals that he wants his own to know the same intimacy. Because Jesus satisfied God’s wrath, he accomplished that for me.Therefore, God loves me with the same love with which he loves the Son. That’s almost crazy talk! But it’s true.

And, let’s not miss what he doesn’t pray. He does not ask for believers to be taken out of the world, to withdraw from it, to create fortresses around ourselves. Also, “not of the world” isn’t a command. Rather it’s an indicative, already a reality. Believers are already not of this world because of who we are in Christ. But he doesn’t ask for us to be removed from it.

He does not ask that his followers would have a life of ease and that everything would be tulips and mint-chocolate-chip ice cream. He does not pray for us to have health, wealth, and prosperity. He does not pray that we would squabble over peripheral issues. Rather he prays that we would know the unity he has with the Father.

He does not pray “show them that they earn favor with their toiling. Show them that you love them more or less because of their actions.”  That truly is staggering.

“I am praying for them”

Five words calmed my soul, got rid of the knots, stopped the roller coaster, leveled out the hills and valleys, and reminded me that Jesus is truth. Not just true, but truth. The truth.

This chapter is so rich. There’s so much more, but we’d be here for days.

“No earthly feast can even faintly compare with the nourishment we are given in Jesus’ high priestly prayer.” (ESV Gospel Transformation Bible)

Yeah, I agree with that.

Jesus’ Stunning Grief

So yesterday I recounted the story of Lazarus and of how Jesus grieved. Go back and read that one if you haven’t already. It’s called “a shocking story, but with fresh eyes”  Today follows closely on its heels and ties it all together.

And I said I would explain how Jesus’ grief relates to the “next” for me. And so I will.

Several months ago, I had the thought, “I wonder what it was like for Jon to see Jesus’ face. How beyond my comprehension that must have been!” But then that thought was followed by a selfish one, “But what about me?”  I have no biblical proof for this, but in my imagination I see Jesus coming to get Jon, rather than Jon just waking in the presence of Christ. Does that make sense? Must be too much influence of that silly show Touched by an Angel as a kid. So my thought spiraled down this way… “But what about me? Did he look back? Did he ask Jesus if I was going to be ok? Or was there no more thought of me?” And of course, if all thoughts of me were utterly erased at the sight of His Savior, then that would be perfectly right. For it’s true, I think that “the things of earth grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”  But my internal battle continued…”And God, if you were there with exuberant delight welcoming Jon home, how were you also there weeping with me?”

Of course I knew the answer to that question. I know God is omnipresent. And I know that all believers are indwelled by the Holy Spirit. But all previous assent to these truths seemed irrelevant. So I battled for days, “God did you leave me all alone? How could you have been there? Did you weep with me?”

Here’s where Lazarus’ story comes in, and how the truths from it have become stunning to me. In the midst of my deep struggle with basic truths such as God’s sovereignty, His omnipresence, His compassion, HIs love for me, His promises to never leave me, God brought my friend Elizabeth.

She shared her own story of the death of her fiance just months before her wedding, how God carried her through the depths, and how He eventually brought her husband Rob across her path. She could share with me what loving two men looks like, and how God equipped Rob to “handle a woman with grief.” She could tell me what grief looks like several years down the road. She answered my questions before I ever asked them. We sat at my house talking for hours crying and laughing together. And it was Elizabeth who reminded me of Lazarus in John 11.

So I went back and started studying it with fresh eyes. I began to see the radiance of this story for the first time. God’s truth resounded emphatically when I saw Jesus weeping with His friends, angry at sin and death, and in awe of the power that was about to course through Him–all in one moment! And I realized finally, “Yes, Lord you were there delightedly receiving Jon, and you were there broken by grief, weeping with me.” I think I have in the past taken the totally personal nature of God for granted. Yes, there have been other times when I’ve been acutely aware of God’s presence, but in general it’s easy to forget just how invested in me He is. Another truth so shocking was that He was also there with every other believer for whatever they were facing at the exact moment! All the beauty of the promise, “I will never leave you or forsake you” rushed upon me. And the truth of God’s intimate presence was startlingly real. Perhaps I’m learning these basis truths experientially. You may be thinking, big deal. Of course these things are true.  But I encourage you to view them as magnificently as they really are… not just as Sunday school lessons you’ve heard all your life.

The God who created everything knows me and loves me. He is more intimately aware and concerned with my life than I am.

Since then, God keeps using this passage to teach me. He reminded me that love doesn’t always look the way I think it should, but in His love He sometimes does things I don’t understand. As with Lazarus, He’s doing more than I think. Also, though God didn’t raise Jon after four days, he will be bodily raised one day! And I’ll get to see him. And laugh with him. And hug him. And most importantly, worship God for all eternity, alive together!  But even before that, when Jon died he was absent from flesh and present with Christ. For the death of a believer is really him stepping into new life. As Jesus said of Lazarus, “His illness doesn’t lead to death.”  So, for Jon his illness also led through death! In the immediate days of sorrow, it was NOT comforting hear folks say, “But we can rejoice, for Jon is with heaven with Christ!” I didn’t care. I wanted him back. Thoughts of eternity didn’t help assuage the grief. But I think now I’m starting to see the beauty of the words, “O death where is your sting? O grave where is your victory?” For those chosen by God, saved by grace alone, through faith in Christ alone, death is death only for those left behind!

Likewise, the depth of Jesus’ grief has thoroughly comforted me. How marvelous is Hebrews 2:17 ‘Therefore, He had to be made like His brothers in every respect, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because He Himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.”  He had to be made like his brothers in every respect. Therefore, he also had to know grief like his brothers. Jesus fully satisfied God’s wrath for me, and He did it as one who knew all the weaknesses of human flesh, yet without sin.

And we don’t just see Jesus’ grief for Lazarus, but also his much more profound grief in Gethsemane. I was reading Knowing God by J.I. Packer and came across these words about the garden. I certainly don’t think I can improve upon them so I’ll just give you the quote.

In discussing how you would see Jesus presented in the gospel of Mark, Packer says, “Your final impression will be of One for whom this experience of death was the most fearful ordeal. In Gethsemane, ‘horror and dismay came over him, and he said…’My heart is ready to break with grief’ (Mark 14:34 NEB). The earnestness of his prayer (for which ‘he threw himself on the ground,’ rather than kneel or stand) was an index of the inward revulsion and desolation that he felt as he contemplated what was to come. How strong was his temptation to say ‘amen’ after ‘take away this cup from me,’ rather than go on to ‘nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt’ (Mark 14:36 KJV), we shall never know. Then, on the cross, Jesus bore witness to inward darkness matching outward darkness with his cry of dereliction, ‘My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?”

My first thought after reading this paragraph was that Jesus even grieved perfectly. Though there was tremendous grace in the ER to say- “God you’re good. He’s yours,” how many times since then have I doubted or railed against God? I have not always grieved well. And I have not always said, “not my will but yours.”  But O how beautiful it is that Jesus already grieved perfectly! And His death and resurrection are sufficient for my failure to grieve perfectly. He’s sufficient to remind me of Himself when I doubt.

I wonder how much greater was Jesus’ grief because He had never been separated from HIs Father. Never was there a fractured relationship due to sin. Never was there less than a perfect union. I can’t say that I’ve ever sweat blood.

I’m humbled by these instances of Jesus’ grief. But this is the humanity of the One who is also God. Words to an old hymn just sprang to mind as I type, “No one ever cared for me like Jesus… O how much He cares for me.”

So how does Jesus’ grief relate to pressing in to God’s “next”? Well, Jesus’ own grief was temporary. And so shall mine be. It will not last for eternity. For after the cross and death Jesus was raised, exalted and seated at the right hand of the Father. And now I’m called an heir with Christ, one day to be glorified with Him. One day to never see sin and death again. For as Paul said “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us.” (Romans 8)

It is because He grieved that I can have a “next.” It is because He said “not my will by yours,” then suffered unto death that I know life, and freedom, and joy and peace. So I return to the passage I began with yesterday–  “If God be for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will he not also with Him graciously give us all things?”  God is for me. There is such power in those simple words. Moreover, these verses have “to do with knowing and enjoying God, and not with anything else. The meaning of ‘he will give us all things; can be put thus: one day we shall see that nothing–literally nothing– which could have increased our eternal happiness has been denied us, and that nothing–literally nothing– that could have reduced that happiness has been left with us. What higher assurance do we have than that?” (Packer)

How then could there not be “next”? Not just in eternity, but in this life also. This is hope. This is confident expectation.

a shocking story, with fresh eyes

Rainy day reflections...
Rainy day reflections…

I’ve been thinking a lot about Jesus and grief. Well, duh. That seems like an unnecessary sentence. Of course these are the two biggest themes in life for me right now. My confident expectation is that the first will always be the biggest theme. But I’m coming to realize that the second will over time make way for other themes. Just recently a friend encouraged me to press in to the reality that God has more in life for me.  It’s not deserved or earned, but God does have a “next” in store for me. That was hard to believe for awhile. It is still is hard to believe sometimes. For a long time it felt like my “next” had died with Jon.

But grief is not the only theme by which God intends to characterize my life. My wise friend is right. It’s time to live with expectancy that God is doing more in me and through me than I understand. Of course He is. Through no merit of my own, He’s weaving my story into His story. A tiny part in the grand plan of redemption. So then, it is not really my story at all, but His. And as He ties my life to His story, what beautiful assurance there is in the generosity of my God! For “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” That doesn’t mean that God is promising the house, the family, the health, the wealth, and the prosperity. But what He is promising is Himself. He already gave the most costly thing He has. So therefore, no good thing will finally be withheld from me. I know who He is. And I know He is doing good. (Romans 8)

So It’s not my grief that I’ve been reflecting on most recently. What I should have said is, I’ve been thinking a lot about Jesus’ grief. And herein lies a vast storehouse of comfort.

I said there’d be a “Part 2” to my previous post, and so there will be in due course. I think my dearest friends already know what it looks like, for they bear it with me. There’s more to say, but perhaps Part 2 will come after some months as time changes the shape of grief for me. But for now, it’s the riches of my Savior’s humanity that have captured my attention. He is bringing me to more fully understand the words of Isaiah 53- “surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” And it is in viewing Jesus’ grief, that He so clearly reminds me of the “next.” Let me explain, but first let me tell you a story.

In my desperate place God keeps meeting with me in distinct ways through His Scripture. He continues to shore up these lessons and illumine my heart. He’s made several instances in Jesus’ life to be shockingly beautiful to me. Specifically, I’m talking about Jesus’ grief for His friend Lazarus, and His grief in the garden of Gethsemane.

So let’s talk about Lazarus. Pretend you’ve never read this story before. Read it with fresh eyes. Did you know that John is the only gospel writer to include the story of Lazarus? I suppose it’s because John was writing to present Jesus as God. And he certainly does. But in John 11 we see the cohesive unity of Jesus’ deity and His humanity. Here’s the scene. Lazarus, Martha, and Mary are close friends of Jesus. We don’t know how they came to know Jesus, or how their friendship blossomed, but it’s evident that He loved them. Knowing how Scripture plays out, it’s safe to say that His love for them was stronger than even “family love.”

So Jesus received word that Lazarus was close to death, and everyone expected that He would go. They expected that He would rush in and save the day. After all, they’d seen Him do it before. He had turned water to wine, fed a multitude, gave sight to the blind, calmed a raging sea… Therefore, they believed He could heal His friend. And they were right. He could have done that. But what Jesus actually did was incomprehensible and seemingly callous. He stayed where He was for two more days! Let that sink in for a minute. He stayed. What would you have done for someone like family? You would have hopped on the next plane to Jerusalem! You wouldn’t be able to heal your friend, but out of love you would have wanted to be there.

John 11 tells us however, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when He heard that Lazarus was ill, He stayed two days longer in the place where He was.” Did you catch that?  Let me paraphrase. Because He loved them, He stayed. Now since you’re reading this story for the first time, doesn’t that sound ludicrous? If He loved them, how could He stay away?  Yet He did. If He really had the ability to heal His friend, wasn’t it just cruel not to go?

Let me blatantly foreshadow for a second. He is going to show them something they certainly didn’t anticipate… that His love for them was bigger than what they knew. And that sometimes love doesn’t look at all the way it is expected to look.

So Jesus tells His disciples that the illness does not lead to death. Whew! The sigh of relief penetrated their hearts and a glimmer of hope sprang to every face. Lazarus was going to be all right. A quick aside- I knew that glimmer of hope for a moment. “Ok we’ve got him back, but it’s still touch and go.” My husband was going to be all right.

Back to my story.

But a few sentences later, Jesus plainly tells them that Lazarus has died. How then could His words be true- “His illness does not lead to death”? Did He lie? For Lazarus really was dead.  As a first time reader, my confidence in this Jesus certainly is starting to wane. He’s either delusional or merely a charlatan. But yet I can’t put the book down and I cling to a frail hope that “maybe he knows what he’s doing?”

Finally Jesus comes to Bethany only to encounter loud mourning and lamenting. Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Had He made a mistake? How could He not have cared? Why hadn’t He come earlier? And Martha and Mary both cried out, “But Lord if only if you had been here…”  Even in their deep grief they were confident that Jesus could have saved their brother. No doubt though, there must have been the questions stirring inside, “But why didn’t you?” I think I’ve played that question 1000 times.

Beautifully, the scene shifts to some of the most tender words in Scripture. “When Jesus saw her weeping… He was deeply moved in His spirit and greatly troubled.” Don’t let the language trip you up– This is Jesus grieving! It’s Jesus full of sorrow over His friend’s death. It’s also His great compassion for His other friends. This is Jesus carrying their sorrows and bearing their griefs! It’s also Jesus indignant over the curse of sin and death. But then the words get even sweeter, “Jesus wept.” Have you wept over the death of a loved one? Then you know the crushing emotions He felt.  If Isaiah 53 is true, then Jesus, manifesting His full humanity, experienced the full weight of grief. Isn’t that kind of amazing?

But wait there’s more! Jesus commands that the stone be rolled away. What!?  Are you kidding me? You would have said just what Martha did…”But Lord, he’ll stink!” They still couldn’t see it. So often neither can we. Yet Jesus responds, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So the story reaches it’s dramatic climax.

“Lazarus COME OUT!” Can you imagine it?  Can you imagine Jesus’ authority as the words rumbled out, His deity on full display? I wonder if Jesus hadn’t specified, “Lazarus,” if ALL those who had gone on before would have also been raised by the sheer power of His voice?

Out stumbled a figure still bound tightly in all his grave clothes. Hold on a minute, the Bible has mummies? Yep. But this was no wraith or zombie. (Good, because I’m not a huge fan of zombies).

It was a perfectly well, living, breathing, raised from the dead, Lazarus.

Now the Bible doesn’t say this but I can imagine the celebration that night was unparalleled! In my head I see Lazarus, having been cut loose from his wrappings, run to Jesus and embrace Him in an unashamed bear hug. And in my imagination I see more weeping, but weeping mingled with laughter.

So how does this relate to the “next” for me? What are all the conclusions and implications from this story? Well I fear this post has already gotten lengthy, so you’ll just have to come back tomorrow for the rest.

Well, I’ll at least give a quick teaser…. Because Jesus loved Jon and me, He stayed. He stayed His rescuing hand, and with exuberant delight welcomed Jon home. Like Lazarus, Jon’s illness did not lead to death, but through it.

But what about me? Was He there weeping with me too? The truths God keeps cementing in my mind very clearly lead me to say, yes.

“NO God!” But He brought me back.

name written“Behold I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” Isaiah 49:16.  I’m getting a necklace made from Jon’s fingerprint. So of course, last Sunday as this text was preached, God illumined my heart anew and captivated me by the parallels. I was reminded that I am God’s fingerprint, or hand print even. How could He then forget me? 

I was so thankful because I thought, “This is how I’ll use the necklace to remind myself of the gospel.” Just as I could not forget Jon, so God has not forgotten me, nor will he forget me.  He chose me and He calls me His own.  Jon’s fingerprint will forever be a part of me. His life and our love have left an indelible imprint on my heart. I’ll always love Him.

But even better than that, I am an indelible imprint on God’s heart. And it is not because of anything I have done, nor who I am. But it is because of who He is, and what He has done.  Because Jesus paid the penalty for sin, I am rightly restored to God. Because of the gospel, I am His child. Because of the gospel, I am engraved on His hand.  There is great hope. And His name is Jesus.

But how quickly do I forget. I’ll be honest. This past week I’ve been in one of the lowest places I’ve ever been, perhaps the lowest.  The deep places of the last seven weeks are new. I’ve never been here before Jon’s death.  I mean, I’ve had sorrow and suffering before, but I’ve never been brought to these depths. Since I’ve been a Christian I never have been in a place where I questioned the very root of faith, that is, hope in Christ, or more accurately Christ Himself.  But I got there this week. I feel like I relate to the psalmist who says, “Out of the depths O Lord I cry to you,” in that place where the only words I can form to pray are, “God I need you.”

I know it is ok to go to the low places. It is ok to grieve, to mourn, to question, to be raw in honesty before God.  It’s ok to not rush grief. It’s kind of where I’m living right now. But God broke my heart during worship service this morning. He showed me that somehow I was no longer just in the low place, but instead captive by it. Up to this point, though in the low places, there’s been grace to say, “But God…” In the intense emotions and the questions I could still remember who God was. I was able to remember the gospel. But I couldn’t do that this week. I couldn’t preach truth to myself. I forgot to say “Behold the risen Christ” even in the depths.  I chose to forget.  But I suppose, it wasn’t really so much forgetting as it was fighting. 

Let me be really specific. All week long God reminded me of the hope I have in Christ. He reminded me of the verse that so touched my heart. “Behold I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.”  At the beginning of the week, though I struggled, I tried to listen.  I struggled to believe God was carrying me. I struggled to recognize grace. I told God just to take me home to be with Him.

“God I don’t care about being here anymore. Just let me come there.”

Yet still, I struggled. I’m reminded of a song “Hallelujah! We are free to struggle. We’re not struggling to be free!  Your blood bought and makes us children. Children drop your chains and sing!” It’s a blessing to know the struggle is not wrong.

 But by Thursday morning, I was shouting, “No God! This truth is no longer for me!”  Here’s the circumstance. Wednesday night I had my first nightmare since Jon’s death. I awoke to my own voice screaming his name. I have no idea what the nightmare was, but I was in a sheer panic. I’ve had plenty of sleepless nights, but not that. And it scared me. It felt again like God had forgotten me.  As I drove to work Thursday morning wrestling with these thoughts, there was a magnificent sunrise, and God brought to mind what I had written the day before Jon died. “Reminded this morning by a gorgeous sunrise that light comes after dark. Spring comes after winter. What mercy and grace the Father gives!” 

But this time when the words sprang to mind, I refused the comfort. Instead I fought God’s gracious gift. I fought His mercy.

“But God do I still have a right to believe this? Is this even for me?  I mean maybe you intend for it to always be winter in my soul. Is there really going to be light? Is there really going to be spring? Do I still have hope for this life?” 

And for the first time, I answered those questions with a resounding no.

“This truth isn’t for me. It no longer applies.” Just to clarify though, I wasn’t doubting my eternal hope. I still knew my soul was secure because Jesus purchased my salvation. I can’t take back what has been bought.  But the despondency stemmed from thinking, “Yes there is hope for eternity, but this life is hopeless.” It’s kind of a crazy dichotomy, but that’s where I was. I know it doesn’t make sense.  Yet, to say there was no hope, was to doubt Christ Himself.

“But God rich in mercy…” (Ephesians 2:4)  But my Savior is merciful, lavish, and unfathomably loving. I have a Savior who knows grief.  He understands sorrow. And as I continued to battle these thoughts over the next couple days, God did not answer me with strong rebukes, though I daresay they were deserved.  He didn’t say “You foolish blind sheep! Why can’t you see? You wretch, get up and obey.”  Rather, His tender voice continued seemed to gently say, “Oh my darling child. I remember your frame. I know you are dust. I know you can’t do this.”

And He met me with grace upon grace… a note full of truth on facebook, a text from a friend at the right moment, a card, a listening ear who felt no need to respond, a principal who knows I need to step out of the room sometimes, a gift from a student’s parent, a conversation with my sister, a package full of fun girly things…

Yet I still argued. Driving home on Friday, this was my rant, “God you’ve got the wrong person. There is some saint out there way better equipped for this than me. Whatever this task is, I am not the one for it!” However, on the heels of my rant followed these words. “Lord I do want to believe. I want to know that you are enough. I desperately want to be like you. I desperately need you.”

And so I came to worship this morning begging God to meet with me. To make clear in my heart the truths He wanted me to see.  So here it is. As Isaiah leads to his climax in Isaiah 53 where he prophesies Jesus’ death, the theme is “Listen! Awake!” It could be paraphrased this way; God’s saying “Your oppressors are walking all over you, but rise up. I am setting you free.” As my pastor unpacked the beautiful truths from Isaiah 50-51, these are the verses God made leap from the page.

“For the Lord comforts Zion; He comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.” (51:3)

“And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (51:11)

And he asked this question, “What has you locked down? What is holding you back from seeing God’s promises in Christ?’ Immediately in my heart was the word, grief.  And it hit me like a ton of bricks. The low places had taken me captive. I was a slave once again. I couldn’t see Christ anymore.

But here’s reality. I do have great hope. His name is Jesus. He is hope not only for eternity, but for this life also. Sorrow and sighing shall flee away because Jesus conquered sin and death! My waste places will be like Eden because Jesus is the true Sacrifice! The comfort God brings to Zion is His own Son! Joy, gladness, thanksgiving, song; all are possible because of Christ rose from the dead!  

In chapter 52 Isaiah exhorts me to behold the glory of my Savior. Behold the risen Christ—This is why light comes after dark. This is why spring comes after winter. This is why joy comes after mourning. The hope is found in resting, looking, gazing, and beholding the beauty of my Savior. When Jon was preaching weekly he would say, “I have only one message to unpack 100 different ways.”  I think I have only one message too– Life and hope and all things are found in Jesus.  Likewise, the only thing in Scripture called the “Power of God” is gospel. This is the power available to me. Because He died and rose again, Jesus is my Great High Priest. He ever lives and pleads for me. Praise God, that when I forget, He brings me back.

So here I am full circle. “Behold I have engraved you upon the palms of my hands.” I’m there because of the wounds He bears. I’m there because He died for me. I’m there because He rose again. And I’m there because He calls me His own. What mercy and grace the Father gives! Oh that I would not forget!

I know I always give you songs, but music is a powerful communicator of God’s truth to me. This is “O My Soul Arise.”  Go listen to it! Seriously. The title is a link. I love the Sovereign Grace arrangement that makes me “aware that the battle to remember the scriptural truths contained in these verses is a battle! But how sweet it is to contend with our souls knowing that the object of our trust is Jesus Christ. He is our unique and perfectly qualified Great High Priest, and our assurance that we do not fight alone.” (Eric McAllister)

O My Soul Arise
Arise, my soul, arise
Shake off your guilty fears
The bleeding sacrifice
On my behalf appears
Before the throne my surety stands
Before the throne my surety stands
My name is written on His hands. He ever lives above
For me to intercede
His all redeeming love
His precious blood to plead
His blood atoned for every race
His blood atoned for every race
And sprinkles now the throne of grace. O my soul, arise
Behold the risen Christ
Your Great High Priest
Your spotless sacrifice
O my soul, arise
God owns you as His child
Shake off your guilty fears
My soul, arise. Five bleeding wounds He bears
Received on Calvary
They pour effectual prayers
They strongly plead for me:
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry
“Don’t let that ransomed sinner die!” My God is reconciled
His pard’ning voice I hear
He owns me as His child
I can no longer fear
With confidence I now draw nigh
With confidence I now draw nigh
And “Father, Abba, Father,” cry
DSCN2915 jon & ami-10 jon & ami-25

Credits:  Verses by Charles Wesley (1742), music and additional words by Eric McAllister  © 2012 Sovereign Grace Worship (ASCAP)

Cranberries and Cooking Utensils: How Jon taught me Jesus


It was our second Thanksgiving married, but our first Thanksgiving to cook the big feast! I was so excited about our 20 lb turkey we got for $4.65.  We were cooking only for four, but I suppose we had enough for about 15!  Jon and I had so much fun researching turkey preparation and cooking methods. We even watched a YouTube video.  Of course we were having all the sides. And you can’t forget my mom’s famous pumpkin pies. So here we are, the night before thanksgiving enjoying the time together as we prepared for the next day. Jon and I were a great team in the kitchen, and cooking together was always quality time we both enjoyed. That is, of course, after we decided who was head chef and who was sous chef for a particular meal. I’m pretty sure I was head chef for Thanksgiving.

Let's see if we have a masterpiece!
Let’s see if we have a masterpiece!

We were having such a great time, but then somehow an argument arose. I have no idea what it was about! But isn’t that the way it is most times? The hurt feelings or the selfishness seems so important at the time, but then later you can’t even remember what caused the rift. I guess that’s the beauty of true reconciliation. I do know however, that I was the fighter. I never realized until I got married how stubborn and selfish I am.  And I think it’s not an exaggeration to say I started the vast majority of our “discussions.”

So on this occasion (and in many others), I was so angry and wanted to continue to fight even when Jon calmly said, “We’re not ready to talk about this right now.” You see, he consistently handled disagreements with a gospel-centered, unselfish perspective. And it made me mad. Because each time he responded rightly, I saw my own guilt and selfishness. So what did I do this time? I grabbed fresh cranberries and lobbed them at his head as hard as I could. Yes I did. With each stinging phrase from my mouth, came a cranberry flying from my hand.  Yeah, I know, ridiculous.  But by this time, I wanted him to sin. I wanted get a reaction to make me feel better about myself.  So I kept pitching cranberries.

Then Jon did something that caught me totally by surprise. Wordlessly, he bent down and starting picking them up. “Stop picking them up! Stop picking them up Come on! Fight me! !” I shouted, outraged.  But he just kept picking them up. I was livid. So I switched to cooking utensils. Now I did have at least some semblance of rational thinking because I consciously avoided the breakable items. 🙂 And I did at least stop chucking things at his head. But one by one, I grabbed a utensil from the flower pot on the counter and slammed it to the floor.  He just kept picking everything up. Finally realizing that my tantrum wasn’t getting anywhere, I ran out of steam, and stomped down the hall slamming the bedroom door.

I know, looking back, this event is pretty stinkin’ comical, and we laughed about it many times later when were were talking with newlywed couples.  But in the moment, I was so angry at his selflessness. His humility starkly contrasted my pride and obstinate fighting. As I lay on our bed fuming, the Holy Spirit started breaking my heart.  I finally realized my sin. God reminded me that Jesus died for that selfishness. He reminded me that Jon could only respond the way he had by the power of Christ in his life.  He reminded me that my sin “threw” much worse than cranberries at Jesus.  I had to remember that because of Jesus’  life, death, burial, and resurrection, I had been chosen and  reconciled. I had been served when I hated Him. Just as Jon knelt, and served when I was being wretched, Jesus showed the ultimate humility on the cross for me. So I repented and with broken heart returned to my husband.

Another occasion I was so angry that I wanted to hurt Jon with my words in any way I could. I wanted to cut him to the core. And I did.  And again, as I lay in our bedroom fuming, the Holy Spirit started pricking my soul. But this time Jon came in and laid on the bed too. I told him I wasn’t ready to talk yet. And he just laid there and let God work. When I rolled over, he immediately sought forgiveness from me before I could say anything. As if my heart wasn’t broken enough! I was the wretch! I was wrong! So as I cried because of my shame, he stroked my hair and said, “I adore you. You are so precious to me.  You are so beautiful, and I love you”.  And in that moment, it was Christ speaking, not Jon. How lavish is the love of Jesus! “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). In my heart I realized, “Ami, Jon is teaching you Christ.”  This is Jesus’ love. I am completely unworthy of it, but He calls me precious. He adopted me, and He calls me His own.

So these are some of Jon’s Gospel Lessons.

They were not lessons he was consciously trying to teach, but nonetheless so powerful because he lived them. I wanted to share these precious memories, so folks would continue to know the man my husband was. This blog is his legacy. He taught me Christ everyday through his sacrificial love. Yes, of course, there were times when Jon failed or when he sinned against me. In most arguments, not just one person is wrong. There is usually selfishness on both sides.  But Jon taught me how to argue to the glory of God. He taught me how to clarify and ask questions. He taught me how to forgive quickly and how to seek forgiveness quickly. And slowly God began to transform my heart. It’s only by His grace that I can look back and see the  fighter changing. In the last year or so, our arguments became much fewer and farther between, and less volatile when they did happen. And when I think of arguments, I also rejoice to think of the some of the sweetest times that followed.

So Gospel Lessons. So some of you might be thinking, “I don’t quite get it. What do you mean?”  By Gospel I mean the truth that Jesus lived a perfect life and never sinned. Jesus died a horrible death on the cross, was buried, and rose again on the third day.  I mean that I deserved God’s righteous wrath, but Jesus took it on Himself and absorbed all of it. God paid the penalty for my sin.  He became sin, who knew no sin that I would become righteous. (II Corinthian 5:21) The gospel is the truth that I was blind, lame, dumb dead, and in desperate need of a Savior.

Jon titled this blog  “When Mercy Found Me: Living Life Through the Lens of the Gospel”  And that’s what he did. That’s what “gospel-centered” means. It means that I need the truth of Gospel to radically influence my daily life.  I need to know its facets and be able to unpack them for myself. All the truth I’ve given above wasn’t just for the moment I first believed. I need it every day. Especially now. It is the truth that Jesus reconciled me to God, that enables me to in turn forgive and seek forgiveness from others. It is the truth that I have been redeemed, bought back, purchased, that reminds me that my my life is not my own! It reminds me even in the midst of my deepest suffering that I belong to God. It  is the truth that if God would give His own Son for me, shall He not do all things for me that are good? This grief is the craziest place I’ve ever been, but consistently God keeps leading me “to the Rock that is higher than I.” He is the One carrying me!

This post is not about me. I’m a mess. I still miss my husband and want him back.  But this is the way I process things. So, I want you to see Jon. But mostly I want you to see Jesus.

This is the wallpaper on our computer. Created by our Pastor. And one of the reasons for this post.
This is the wallpaper on our computer. Created by our Pastor. It’s missing the T in “This” because our computer cut it off. But that’s ok.

Relentless Pursuit


A month and three days.The pain is still just as crushing, and I suppose it will be for awhile. I don’t think there is a defined timetable though–some magic date when I’m ok. People keep telling me that it will get easier. Perhaps they’re right. Perhaps they’re wrong. I don’t know. Sometimes I still think, “How is this possible God? Wasn’t there another way?” God’s grace is overwhelmingly tangible, but likewise so are the extreme emotions. It has not gotten any easier. There are days when God gives grace to speak abundant truth to myself and others. Days where I can see God’s hand. Days where I know He is working in and through me. Days when I want to serve and minister. But more often than not, there are days of intense struggle. I wonder when there will be a day without tears. I wonder when I won’t feel like I have to hold it together for my Kinders all day, and then weep on the way home.  I wonder when it will seem like I have a future. I’m learning that grief is not black and white. God’s spirit within me might be saying one thing, and my emotions totally the opposite. I’m realizing that it is possible to trust God even in the midst of questions. It is the Gospel, of course, that makes me free to struggle.

For days God has put on my heart that it was time to post again. But I’ve avoided it. I didn’t think I could tackle “this” subject, not yet. But God keeps bringing me here. So I guess I’m just going to ramble and we’ll see where my thoughts take me.

When we went to the ER that night, I don’t think either one us of expected that I would leave alone. I most certainly did not. I had even packed a bag because I was sure we’d be transferred 45 minutes away to a larger hospital (where Jon’s cardiologist was), just like we had been the week after Christmas.  This trip was different though. This time everything happened fast. It seemed as if the entire nursing staff was in there doing something, and they were all doing it quickly.

But I still thought it would be ok. In my head, the only plausible scenario was that Jon would be going into surgery once we were transferred to St. Anthony’s. After all, we had just seen the cardiologist two days before. He had ordered more invasive tests, planned to schedule surgery shortly thereafter, and was definitely frustrated that he couldn’t see exactly what was going on. He assured us, however, that Jon’s symptoms were not life-threatening. So I sat there preparing myself for open heart surgery, Jon’s long recovery, financial pressures, putting our desire for children on the back burner… This was the suffering we had seen coming. This was the suffering about which God and I had had many conversations.

And as they worked, Jon was still being Jon, talking, telling them he hated being stuck with needles. In those moments there was never a glimmer of thought that he might die. God would not take me through that. At one point the doctor said, “Ok looks like your blood pressure is high enough and stable enough to transfer you.”  But still they worked at a feverish pace. So either there was much they weren’t telling me, or they couldn’t foresee things turning badly either.

There are some details about the ER that I just can’t write, nor will I probably ever write. It was trauma in ever sense of the word.  I’ve already replayed them a thousand times in my mind, as it is. But reliving the most horrific moments of my life does not help. It is not healing balm for my soul.

I realized that things were serious, but I still didn’t know. As the nurses flurried in and out, there wasn’t much time for conversation between Jon and I. But I told him at one point, “Babe, I know you don’t want them to do these things, but they have to. It’s ok lovee,”  and he said, “I know, love.”  But the nurses were everywhere, so that was it.

Right before the unthinkable, God gave us one beautiful moment. A nurse moved out of the way, and my darling love looked at me with eyes so full of love, adoration, but yet sadness too. And I gazed back at him. Then it was gone. The nurse once again blocked my view. Perhaps Jon had realized then; I don’t know.  I still did not. But between us passed the depth of our love, without any words. i’m so thankful for that moment. Praise God for grace even then.DSCN1118

And then almost immediately, life shattered. They tried to bring him back for over an hour. At one point, they had. But God said his days were done.

Now I must take us on a small rabbit trail, but there is point. It all interconnects.

Jon was a preaching junkie. He listened to podcasts all the time. It was one way the thirst for truth manifested itself.  And he usually wrangled me into his passion as well. One sermon we listened to months ago was “The Underestimated God” preached by Lig Duncan from Together for the Gospel 2012. Jon had gotten to go to the conference, but still listened to all the messages again when he got home! See what I mean, sermon junkie. But I digress.

So let’s connect “The Underestimated God” and the Night in the ER.  I listened to the sermon again recently and God is still overwhelming with me its truth. It’s all about suffering. And idolatry. It’s about when life’s expectations are unfulfilled or shattered. And it’s about the “ruthless compassionate pursuing grace of God, in which He relentlessly goes after His servants for His glory, and their everlasting joy.”

And that’s just it. Somehow, the most horrific night of my life is God’s grace. God is relentlessly coming after ALL of me. He wants it all. And somehow this will work out for my everlasting joy. My joy!! I don’t understand it, but in taking Jon, He will show me so much more of Christ than I would have ever comprehended or thought possible. When I think about the night my expectations were shattered, God enables me to say with confidence say that Jesus is the best, even when my emotions say opposite.

Ok, so I’m probably not being very clear at this point. Well, then here’s what you need to do. Go listen to the sermon! For real. Seriously, use your smart phone and listen to it while you drive. I promise you, it will be some of the best 57 minutes you could ever spend. There is so much there that I haven’t even scratched the surface of in this post. And Lig Duncan can say it so much better than me.  I’ll even attach the link:  The Underestimated God– Ligon Duncan

When I edited Jon’s posts, I told him that people wanted to read small chunks. Ha! I guess I don’t take my own advice. But, I warned you this would be a ramble.

“Lord I know that you are relentlessly pursuing all of my heart. As I continue to experience all of the extreme emotions of Jon’s death, the longing for him and missing him, I  know you are teaching me that you are enough. Somehow it is your grace that took Jon home. Somehow it is in your grace that you have stripped it all way. You want all of me, and I want to learn to give it to you. You are doing in my life what will lead to everlasting joy. It’s hard to see Lord. But faith is trusting when it doesn’t make sense. Lord do what you need to do in me! Lord thank you for tangible grace. I cannot neglect to write of your goodness even now in the depth of the valley…”

Psalm 138:8 “The Lord will fulfill His purposes for me; your steadfast love, O Lord endures forever…”

He’s still relentlessly pursuing my heart. To read about God’s continuing, tangible grace…

He is Abundant: Reflecting on a Year After Death

Anticipating Tomorrow

An Oak of Righteousness? Two Years After Death

“Yes, God. You are who you say you are.”

ImageI have always been fascinated by bloggers, but never considered becoming one. Ever. I’ve written for myself for a long time, but not published for others to see.

But those of you who knew my Jonathan can testify of his persistence and exuberant passion for anything he set out to do. Things were done with wholehearted devotion or not all. So, before Jon died he felt strongly that he needed to start writing again. And I agreed. My love had a fantastic way with words, and I knew without doubt that God would use his words to encourage others and spread the gospel. I always told him that someday he should write a book. Blogging was perfect for Jon. And I was content to be his cheerleader, his behind-the-scenes “editor and chief,” as it were.

Even as I type these words, I smile because I imagine him with a smirky grin saying, “I told you that you should write, lovee.” You see, though we had no idea Jon’s earthly life would end so suddenly, it seems as though Jonathan planned his blog for me. In my mind I hear him saying,”Ok, now you have no excuse. The blog is already set up for you.”  Of course, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, he had persistently told me for months that I was the one who needed to write. Stinkin Jonathan Andrew! I love you, but this is not funny! However, when Jon set his mind on something, he usually got his way. So, somewhat reluctantly, here we are. My first blog post ever.

My desire is to continue what Jonathan started. I want his legacy to spread as far and as wide as God wants to take it. He would not want himself praised though. He would want Jesus exalted and magnified. My husband lived with reckless abandon for God and the gospel. He was captivated by Christ. He lived and breathed that others would know the truths of redemption, propitiation, and adoption: to have the same hope and confident expectation. Oh that I would have even half of his passion! I always told him that God had great things planned for his life. This is still true.

Even in my grief and sorrow, by grace that only God gives, my soul cries within me, “My life is yours! Take it and do with it what you want, Lord!” I recognize my utter need for and dependence on Him. I’m a big mess. I can’t even get myself out of bed in the morning, nonetheless express thoughts and feelings for others to see! God has seen fit to strip my faith and life down to only Himself. He is teaching me the reality of “Hallelujah, all I have is Christ! Hallelujah, Jesus is  my life!” He is teaching me to trust Him when the bottom falls out, when all I hold dear is gone.

However, I must admit, I still selfishly view this endeavor as merely for myself. I’m writing for solace, comfort, and healing. But I suppose I give you permission to look over my shoulder.

Questions. Answers. 

In the weeks since Jon’s death I’ve been brought to questions that I never thought I’d ask. “How can this possibly be good, and how can you possibly expect me to praise you? Why didn’t you save him God? Have we struggled to live faithfully and obey you for nothing? Do I still believe you are who you say you are?” 

And in answer God keeps taking me to a journal entry I wrote a week before Jon died.

“Father, I bow my heart to you, and I recognize my deep need for you. Lord I’m feeling pretty overwhelmed because of Jon’s health. The not knowing and waiting for answers and a timeline for surgery is hard. Lord he just coughs and coughs at night, and I feel helpless like there is nothing I can do to make it better. His cough has definitely gotten worse over the last few days, and nothing seems to be providing relief. He feels achy and exhausted. I think we are both feeling emotionally drained. Father I pray you would help us trust you. To trust that you are sovereignly in control of all things, even congestive heart failure and pulmonary edema. Lord, I pray that surgery would be in your timing. If we can’t wait till summer, I know you will take care of us. I know you will provide. You are faithful. You have always met our needs. Help us to draw near to you.  Continue to strengthen Jon spiritually. Give him abundant grace to to be dependent on you. To know that you are strong when he is weak.”

And after that prayer, God gave me overwhelming truth from His word:

Isaiah 43: 1-4  “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shalt not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I gave Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored and I love you.”

“You are mine.” — ‘What defines me is not my guilty blindness, but the Grace of the One who chose me. I am secured by God’s resolve to be glorified through my salvation.’ (From the ESV Study Bible)

“When you walk through the waters…” Trials and suffering will come because our world is still broken. Because I still live on a fallen planet. Though God has put a new spirit within me, my physical body is still broken. The brokenness and deep waters will always be there until Jesus restores all things and makes them new. But to His chosen ones, there is great promise. “I will be with you.” The God who lovingly, artfully, masterfully formed me also chose me and purchased me. This God says He will be with me. The God whose love has no boundaries says that He will walk with me through the water and fire. He will protect me, and He says my soul is secure. Jesus already absorbed all of God’s wrath for me on the cross. I was the “worm” from Isaiah 41, but Jesus died for me! And now, though I can’t fathom it, He calls me precious, adored, chosen, His own possession.

Psalm 66:10-12 ” For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried…We went through fire and water; yet you have brought us to a place of abundance.” 

There is such beauty here! “place of abundance”– after the fire and water! Lord I believe you will bring us again to a place of abundance. I know we must go through dark times–the water, the fire– to be more like you, and in order for your reflection to shine accurately through us. For your name to be glorified.”

All of this I wrote a week before life crashed around me. God knew what He was doing. I didn’t know He was preparing me to face inestimable pain. But even these words are grace.

The answers to my questions are rooted firmly in the character of God, and the reality of the Gospel. Yes, God. You are who you say you are.Image