East, West, North, and South

Have you ever lost something or someone very significant to you? Loss is a crushing thing, whether it’s the loss of a job, a marriage, a loved one, a home, a rebellious child … and many times when we endure a loss, we feel that God is lost from us as well. It is a normal reaction to the shock of being separated from that thing or person that you so desperately loved.

Job struggled with this when God allowed Satan to test Job’s righteousness. In a matter of days, he lost everything, including his wife and children, who perished together when a mighty wind from the desert caused their house to collapse on them. He was left with the company of useless friends for comfort. In the midst of his tremendous loss, he cried out that he could not find God anywhere in the void of all that has been taken from him: 

Job 23 (New International Version)

Then Job replied: 

“Even today my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy in spite of my groaning. If only I knew where to find Him; if only I could go to His dwelling! I would state my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would find out what he would answer me, and consider what he would say to me. Would he vigorously oppose me? No, he would not press charges against me. There the upright can establish their innocence before him, and there I would be delivered forever from my judge.

But if I go to the east, he is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find him. When he is at work in the north, I do not see him; when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him.”

Part of Job’s perspective about the loss of his property and the death of his sons and daughters was that God was nowhere to be found. Indeed, many people feel the exact same thing. Their perspective of death includes the notion that they have experienced the complete abandonment of God.

Even Jesus, in His moment of agony on the cross, cried out: 

“My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, NIV) 

But God’s response to Job illuminates exactly where God is and has been in the midst of all of our temporal struggles:

Job 38 (New International Version

4“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? 

On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone
while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?”

God reminds Job that as Author of creation of the earth, he was there when the morning stars sang their first song together; he was the One who marked off the depth and breadth of the earth. He was and always will be THERE…. and where was Job? In this seemingly harsh response, God is reminding Job about the temporary nature of Job’s fleeting life in comparison to the magnitude of creation, which has been brought forth over the span of eternity. In God’s perspective, Job’s complaint is but a fleeting second in the context of Time.

God is in every moment of our being. 

From God’s point of view, death is not the worst thing. In fact, death isn’t even the last thing; death never gets the last word. Hear these words from the book of Romans: 

Romans 8 (NIV)

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So, we see here that nothing, even death, can separate us from God. 

Are you struggling with a loss today? Take heart. God is wholly centered in your situation with you. You are not alone. Thanks be to God!

Today’s devotional is an excerpt from Mourning Break, available at Amazon.

Morning Break by Michelle Robertson

A Double Portion

If you could have a double portion of anything in the world, what would it be? Fame? Fortune? Vacation time? A new house? A carefree lifestyle? Cheesecake?

In our continuing story of the prophet Elijah and his apprentice Elisha, the moment has come when Elijah is called up to heaven in quite a dramatic way. Elisha has been dreading this moment, as we all do when a loved one is on the verge of leaving us. What was on Elisha’s mind in the moment of this reality?

2 Kings 2 (Contemporary English Version)

Fifty prophets followed Elijah and Elisha from Jericho, then stood at a distance and watched as the two men walked toward the river. When they got there, Elijah took off his coat, then he rolled it up and struck the water with it. At once a path opened up through the river, and the two of them walked across on dry ground.

After they had reached the other side, Elijah said, “Elisha, the Lord will soon take me away. What can I do for you before that happens?”

Elisha answered, “Please give me twice as much of your power as you give the other prophets, so I can be the one who takes your place as their leader.”

It may seem self-centered that Elisha would request a double portion of Elijah’s prophetic power. But it reflects a healthy awareness that Elijah is indeed on the way out, and Elisha will have to put on the mantle of being the prophet for the people. Life goes on, and Elisha is hoping to be as prepared as he can while Elijah is still with him in these final moments.

10 “It won’t be easy,” Elijah answered. “It can happen only if you see me as I am being taken away.”

11 Elijah and Elisha were walking along and talking, when suddenly there appeared between them a flaming chariot pulled by fiery horses. Right away, a strong wind took Elijah up into heaven. 12 Elisha saw this and shouted, “Israel’s cavalry and chariots have taken my master away!” After Elijah had gone, Elisha tore his clothes in sorrow.

Now equipped for the task ahead, Elisha demonstrates the true measure of his condition by tearing his clothes in sorrow. But the next day he will get up and do the work of the Lord in Elijah’s name, having been made ready for the task at hand.

I have a friend who lost her husband. On the one-year anniversary of his death, she made some changes in her environment and in her heart. She still grieves, and will always grieve, but she has taken a great step forward in being ready for the work to which she is called. Her example is a beautiful reminder that even in the midst of crushing sorrow, God still has a plan and a purpose for our lives.

God has a plan and a purpose for you, too. Like Elisha, I pray that the sorrow that has caused you to rend your clothes in grief will subside, and that your sense of purpose will take over so that you can move forward with doing the work to which you are called.

And know that you are NEVER alone.

Gone The Sun

Don’t Leave Me

Today we travel back to a time in the Old Testament to observe the close relationship between Elijah, the great prophet, and his apprentice Elisha. I once served in a church that had a youth program called “The Elijah Project.” It paired youth with willing adults in our congregation with the intention of one-on-one mentoring. The project lasted about six months and mentors were instructed to be in touch with their students at least once a week. Some of those relationships lasted well beyond the scope of the program. At the end, we held a banquet where youth and their partners got to share their stories. One of the adult partners stood up at the banquet and hobbled over to the mic on crutches. He had broken his ankle while inline skating with his mentee. Now that’s dedication!

You will see in the following passage that the relationship between Elijah and Elisha is more than just mentor-mentee. Indeed, there is an intimacy here that sounds more like a father-son relationship. Anyone who has lost a loved one will be able to relate to the urgency of Elisha’s responses to Elijah’s imminent departure.

2 Kings 2 (Contemporary English Version)

2 Not long before the Lord took Elijah up into heaven in a strong wind, Elijah and Elisha were leaving Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, “The Lord wants me to go to Bethel, but you must stay here.”

Elisha replied, “I swear by the living Lord and by your own life that I will stay with you no matter what!” And he went with Elijah to Bethel.

A group of prophets who lived there asked Elisha, “Do you know that today the Lord is going to take away your master?”

“Yes, I do,” Elisha answered. “But don’t remind me of it.”

Who among us, knowing that someone we love is dying, hasn’t said the same thing? Like Elisha, we cry out “I will go with you until the end, but don’t leave me.” We resist hearing that our loved one is soon to depart, for the pain is too much to bear. We don’t want to be reminded of it.

Elijah then said, “Elisha, now the Lord wants me to go to Jericho, but you must stay here.”

Elisha replied, “I swear by the living Lord and by your own life, that I will stay with you no matter what!” And he went with Elijah to Jericho.

A group of prophets who lived there asked Elisha, “Do you know that today the Lord is going to take away your master?”

“Yes, I do,” Elisha answered. “But don’t remind me of it.”

Elijah then said to Elisha, “Now the Lord wants me to go to the Jordan River, but you must stay here.”

Elisha replied, “I swear by the living Lord and by your own life that I will never leave you!” So the two of them walked on together.

We will finish the story in tomorrow’s devotional, but for now, ponder this: everyone you know is dying right now. Everyone you know has accomplished one more day on earth and is moving toward that certain day when they will leave you or you will leave them.

How will you spend this time together? Will you make extra efforts to be present with them…and not just physically present, but emotionally present, spiritually present, present in giving your full attention to them…or are you looking at your phone?

Having lost both my parents, I can tell you that I wish I had been more present. I wish I had more time. But what I can do now is make the extra effort to be with the rest of those whom I love.

God calls us into HIS presence every day. Are you paying attention to him, fully aware of his presence as you go about your tasks, or are you distracted by worldly things?

Time is running short. Don’t miss a minute to be with people you love. It’s time to re-prioritize.

Basking in His Presence by Michelle Robertson

Standing in Awe

I recently watched the movie I Can Only Imagine, which is the story of how the number one Christian song by the same name was written and produced. The band Mercy Me and its lead singer Bart Millard are the central characters in the story, with a great performance by actor Dennis Quaid as the abusive father. There is a surprising twist of how Amy Grant played a pivotal role in what happened. Those are all the spoilers you will get here, so go find it and watch it.

The song explores what happens when we die. Millard asks the question, “Will I dance for you Jesus, or in awe of you, be still?”

I have a friend who is actively dying. I have lain awake at night trying to process this. I am no stranger to death. My parents are dead, and as a pastor, I have seen more funerals than baptisms and weddings combined. I have been with people at the very moment of death and watched that transition.

A group of Girl Scouts once interviewed me as part of their merit badge program, and the question was asked, “What is your favorite part of your job?” I looked at this pack of giggly girls and I’m sure they expected me to say, “Weddings!” Every giggly girl would think that would be just wonderful, to be part of so many weddings. This is not the case. I told them that ministry with the dying was my favorite part, and their faces fell. I went on to explain that it is in those moments that I feel closest to God and experience the pure and uncomplicated “sacred.”

We understand the word sacred to mean set apart. Things that are sacred are set apart from the ordinary, set apart from the earthly, and set apart for God’s use and his glory.

Death is sacred. There is not one sacrament created by the church that can even touch it. Communion, baptism, and all the other things churches observe as sacramental cannot hold a candle to death.

In the moment of death, the veil is literally torn between this earth and that heaven. The process of transition is that moment of our lives where we experience God in his fullest. Even our birth isn’t as powerful as our death.

When I was a very young pastor, I was called to the hospital bed of my church organist’s mother. She was dying, and we waited. We held her hands and talked in soft voices as she took her last breath. It was the first of many times I would experience the moment of death, and the memory is still vibrant to me. I saw/felt/understood her spirit rise out of her body and linger in the upper corner of the room. It was so real, I turned my head to look up at the corner. When I looked back at her, she was gone.

Gone where?

Philippians 3 (The Message)

20-21 But there’s far more to life for us. We’re citizens of high heaven! We’re waiting the arrival of the Savior, the Master, Jesus Christ, who will transform our earthy bodies into glorious bodies like his own. He’ll make us beautiful and whole with the same powerful skill by which he is putting everything as it should be, under and around him.

The thief on the cross next to Jesus who believed Jesus was the son of God was promised that he would be in paradise THAT DAY. The moment of death becomes the moment of life, when we enter into our citizenship of high heaven. Our earthly bodies become transformed into something glorious, beautiful, and WHOLE. Death has no victory…death has no sting! No more pain, no more illness, no more confusion, no more tears.

Ponder this today, and make it your life’s goal to enter this paradise. And do not fear death. You will never experience the sacred in this life in the way you will experience it in death. God with us, Emmanuel, in a way we have never felt before.

Can you only imagine?

The Open Portal by Michelle Robertson