Thursday, July 23, 2009

When Midnight Comes Early



“Cause all too soon the clock will strike mid-night, and she’ll be gone”.



As a dad, my heart has been touched too many times to count when listening to the song “Cinderella” by Steven Curtis Chapman. I have a daughter, and I have frequently rushed through the bedtime routine so I can get back to whatever it was I was doing before. Rarely is that task ever really of great importance, yet I rush her non-the-less. I have also had the privilege of dancing with my daughter, singing to her as the song played. It was a very memorable event that I have permanently locked away in the memory banks.

Chances are anyone reading this knows that the song “Cinderella”, though not intentional at the time, became quite prophetic in at least 2 ways, one beautiful, the other tragic. The beautiful fulfillment came in the engagement of Steven Curtis Chapman’s oldest daughter Emily. Chances are the future holds a beautiful and tearful daddy/daughter dance at Emily’s wedding reception. The tragic fulfillment came when 5 year old Maria Sue was killed in the family’s driveway when she ran into the path of their SUV as her older brother Will Franklin was returning home. Midnight had come and gone, and the clock struck midnight before all but One expected it to. The One is, of course, our heavenly Father. The One who holds the future in His hands, Who knows the beginning from the end, Who has written all the days of our life before we breath a single breath. He knew when midnight would come for Maria Sue Chapman. He picked out the exact moment; choose it out of the million available moments. As hard as it may be to fathom, His choice of midnight was not a random choice. He didn’t just throw a dart at the dart board of her life and where it hit midnight would strike. I don’t believe there is anything random with God. There is purpose in everything He does, a plan, and we know from His Word that His plan for use is good. In Jeremiah 29:11 we read “For I know the plans I have for you, ‘declares the LORD’, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” I would have pictured those words written by a man who knew quite well, what prosperity was all about. But it is interesting to note, that the man who penned those words, had an intimate relationship with tragedy. One of his closest friends, King Josiah, died a painful death at the hands of Pharaoh Neco II. On top of that, he was chosen of God to deliver the message of God’s impending destruction to the Nation of Judah, his Nation, a Nation he loved. Then he painfully watched as his prophecies were fulfilled. Yet still he wrote “For I know the plans I have for you, ‘declares the LORD’, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”. Amazing words from a man known as “The Weeping Prophet”.

So what does this mean to the Chapman family? Well to a very large degree that story is still being written. Part of that story is playing before our very eyes. Just this morning the Chapman family appeared on Good Morning America. In an interview conducted by Robin Roberts, who herself appears to have been snatched from the clutches of death in her battle over breast cancer, the family shares of the hope they have. One of her early statements was particularly telling. She says that after spending time with the Chapman’s: “I saw a family closer than ever before, there for one another, and a family facing the future, with great hope.” Hope lived out in the day to day life of a family living in the throes of tragedy. Hope spoken from the mouth of a father to a son, dieing daughter in an ambulance heading for Vanderbilt hospital, possibly already haven taken her last breath, as he rolled down his window and shouted; “Will Franklin, your father loves you!” A father who sensed the strong possibility of losing one child and wanted to make sure he didn’t loose a second. Hope lived out in a mother for her remaining children, who at times has to, in her own words “shift her grief” because; “I have Emily who's getting married and her fiancé, Tanner, and Caleb and his girlfriend, Julia, and Will Franklin. You know, he's my baby boy. And then Shaoey and Stevey, and my grief gets shifted to making sure they’re as whole and as healthy as they can be.” Hope lived out in the lives of a bother and sister who have, in the midst of their own journey through “the valley of death’s shadow” sought to minister to their younger brother. Caleb said it so well when he said; “When you see someone hurting, and you see someone burdened. You…you want to take that burden from them.”

I couldn’t agree with Caleb more, but I have learned through life that you can rarely “take that burden from them”. However, you can walk with them through those dark valleys. In fact, that is what we are called to do. As believers we are called to come alongside one another, even if it means a trip through the “valley of death’s shadow”. This is not an easy task, but there are few tasks whose rewards are more telling, more evident, more fulfilling, more eternal. It is those stories you and I are writing today. That we will continue to write tomorrow, that we have the opportunity to live out each day God gives us breath. It has been said that “Hope springs eternal!” But I am here to tell you that there are times that hope is a distant memory so far removed that you struggle remembering what it is like. Times where it is so dark, so painful, so heart wrenching that you literally feel like you have to fight for every breath. I am also here to tell you that there is light at the end of that tunnel. Light so brilliant that it is beyond your imagination. However, when you are deep inside that dark tunnel, it seems like the only thing you have to hold on to is the assurance from God that “I will never leave you or forsake you”. One of our terrific responsibilities is to be used of God to show others the truth of that statement “I will never leave you or forsake you”. The question is what will you do? Let’s follow the lead of this amazing family and come alongside one another to speak, to minister, to live out hope. Then let’s watch as God takes the dark colors from our “valley of death’s shadow” and paints them into a beautiful masterpiece of His graciousness.

A Masterpiece in progress,

Jim












It is not often that I add to what I have already posted. In fact, outside of the comment section or minor edits, I have never done this. However, today is a different day. Last night the Chapman family, with the exception of the 2 youngest, appeared together on Larry King Live. It was a touching hour of remembering what took place. Of reflecting on how they as a family have come together while on deaths dark and winding road, and how they have all seen the Hand of God even in the midst of tragedy.

You know one of the things I love about live TV is that, to a very large degree, the hands of the editors are tied. Outside of the traditional 5-10 second delay, the editors don’t have much power. As I watched the show live last night, I rejoiced at the way the Chapman family sought to bring honor and praise to the Lord. I don’t know this for a fact, but I am guessing that there were key points in the interview conducted by Robin Roberts of Good Morning America, that never got past editing room floor. But things are different on live TV.

I wrote earlier about “Hope lived out in the day to day life of a family living in the throes of tragedy.” Last nights interview brought more of that hope to the forefront. Interestingly, I just watched Larry King do a recap of the show in his regular review titled About Last Night. His words are amazing. He said the subject of the hour last night was “Faith, and faith renewed, and faith restored.” His next statement is very telling. He stated; “I am always amazed at that. I’ve never been able to make that leap into blind faith which they have… and trust. They believe that their daughter is in heaven, watching down. I wish I had that…belief. But it was incredible to spend time with all of them, and the strength of all of them. And even though that strength may be looked at… some, looked by some as leaning…on a fence, a fence that is God or religion. I looked at it as stronger than that. They were an incredible group, I’ll never forget it!”

I have been listening to or watching Larry King since, if my memory serves me correctly, the late 70’s or early 80’s. Back in those days he was not on TV. He was a syndicated radio talk show host with a pension for attacking Christians. He has softened considerably in the years since. I am not completely certain what it is that has changed him. Perhaps he has been impacted as he has, through the interview process, walked with believers as they traveled through tragic times. Who could forget his interview with Todd Beamers wife days after she lost her husband on Sept, 11, 2001 (for more on that see my blogs titled “Triumph In Tragedy” and “Lets Roll”). In that interview she talked about how Jesus had sustained her through the tragedy. Or perhaps it was his own journey to the threshold of deaths door. I am not sure, but I pray that the day will come when he makes that “leap into blind faith”. If, or perhaps I can be bold enough to say, when he makes that leap. He will realize what I have come to realize. I do not lean on a fence that is God or religion! My feet are firmly planted on a foundation so strong and so powerful, that the gates of hell cannot prevail. Every step I take, He takes with me. When I face tragedy, it is as if His hands are resting on my shoulders, reassuring me that I am not alone. I feel his breath on the top of my head and I know that One more powerful than me, is there. My tears are seemingly met by His nail scarred hands and I know that I have a God Who understands my pain. My hope rests in a God Who has no limits, Who is surprised by nothing. Who holds the future, and even the past, in the palm of His Hand. Who gave Gideon his battle cry and guided the stone of David. Who toppled the walls of Jericho as His people watched. Who guided, fed, gave water to and preserved the clothing of more than 2,000,000 people wandering in a desert for 40 years. Who spoke “Peace! Be still” and calmed the storm.

Are you wandering in a desert today? He stands there with you! Looking into the eyes of a giant? Have faith in the God who guides small stones and topples insurmountable odds. Facing a battle you can’t possibly win? Hold high His lamp, break the jar of dependence on yourself and press your lips to the horn of His faithfulness and watch as He wins the battle for you. Look as He breaths on the mighty walls of the enemy and they fall. And listen to His voice as he speaks to the storm, in His perfect timing (His, not ours!)and then rest in His peace. My point is this. I have learned through the pages of His Word and through my own life and its many tragedies, that God is real, and He is there. If I remain in Him, rest in Him, and rely on Him. If I seek Him, follow Him, and hold fast to Him. If I grow in Him, pray to Him, and trust in Him. If I look to Him and hope in Him. My eternity is secure. He doesn’t promise me a life without problems. In fact the opposite is true. I will face sickness. I will see the ugly face of death. I may experience poverty, hunger, pain, loss, unspeakable sorrow. But I am not alone, and the Word of God is clear that:
Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff,
they comfort me.

Psalm 23:4

I am not alone! You are not alone! We are not alone. He is with us in the valley of the shadow of death. That is God’s assurance that we don’t face that dark valley alone.

That is the great hope that the Robin Roberts spoke of that she saw in the Chapman family. That is that faith renewed, and faith restored that Larry King will never forget. May others see that great hope in us as we walk through the tragedies of life. May our faith renewed, and faith restored have an eternal impact on the yet to believe world that watches us.

To God be the glory….even in tragedy,

Jim

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