Nine things to know about widows

Here are nine things you need to know about the ever-increasing member of society, the widow:

1. A widow’s deepest pains last longer than a year. Immediately after a death, the church community is adept at responding with flowers or a casserole but far less gifted in maintaining a ministry to her long-term. Her experience can feel like major surgery—a radical amputation, to be specific. She may be numb for several months. After the cards and letters stop, the visits drop off, and friends return to their normal lives, her hardest work has just begun.

2. A grieving widow who lives alone may go several days without hearing another human voice, especially months after the initial funeral. Emails and text messages are good; however, phone calls and visits may be better. While this may not seem like the most efficient use of your time, efficiency and effectiveness are sometimes mutually exclusive.

3. A grieving widow’s pain is unique and volatile. What encourages one woman may be painfully unhelpful to another. Grief is like a virus that waxes and wanes with intensity. Emotional mine fields such as these may require intimate knowledge of the bereaved. A close friend might be better suited to visit than a newly hired pastor. Don’t confuse compassion for a church acquaintance with a call to take personal action. If you don’t know the widow well, allow one of her close friends to direct your ministry efforts.

4. A grieving widow is often physically and emotionally exhausted. Don’t call her late at night or early in the morning. Be patient if she is slow in responding to your acts of kindness. Graciously accept her “no thank you” when she says she’s not up to going to dinner. She isn’t refusing help or harboring bitterness. She may simply need rest.

5. A grieving widow loves her children. Watching her children suffer is a misery that compounds grief and one in which the body of Christ is uniquely suited to offer comfort. The day of my husband’s funeral, students from my children’s college (Covenant) drove more than four hours one-way just to be with my kids. The sight of several pews packed with young adults will forever stay with us. One of my son’s professors eats breakfast with my son nearly every Friday. Loving a widow’s children is loving the widow.

6. A grieving widow often feels second (or third) to everyone else. Months after my husband, Jim, died, an ice storm crippled our city. Power outages citywide and downed trees littered homes and businesses. The damage was so widespread that I couldn’t possibly ask church friends to leave their own homes to address mine. But leave they did. A tree had fallen through the roof of one church friend’s home, yet he and his dad headed first to my place. “I’m waiting on the insurance company to call me,” he said. “I can wait here working a chainsaw as easily as pace the floor there.”

7. A grieving widow’s life is not a tragedy but a gift. When she is ready, encourage her to serve. In many cases, the death of her spouse did not hamper her gifting. Quite the contrary, it is part of how God heals her. Don’t look at her through the lens of her loss, but rather chose to see God’s faithfulness as she deepens her trust in her Savior.

8. A grieving widow’s finances may dramatically change after the loss of the primary breadwinner. More than half of elderly widows now living in poverty were not poor before the death of their husbands. She may have life insurance policies, long-term savings plans, and family to lean on, yet still find her finances overwhelming. After my husband’s death, two of his friends—one an accountant, the other a senior bank vice president—helped me work out a budget based on my lower income level. And these two did not treat me like an obligation. Every time they left my home, a piece of my burden went with them.

9. God loves a grieving widow. He does not despise her tears nor shudder when she doubts her faith in the darkness. The widow knows much of Jacob’s wrestling with God. He walked with a limp the remainder of his earthly life, but gained a changed heart.

A grieving widow needs gospel-drenched compassion and not pity. While compassion walks beside the bereaved, pity stands off at a safe distance. The day my husband collapsed, my boss—a physician and head of a busy community clinic—canceled his appointments immediately and came to the hospital. He looked after my in-laws with uncanny tenderness and prayed with them. When my children came in from out of town, he wrapped his arms around them both and shed tears as I told them their dad was not expected to survive. To offer compassion in any circumstance is to share in another’s suffering, and in so doing, we mirror the suffering of Christ on our behalf.

Gaye Clark

Posted in Church, Death, Elders, elders in the Church, Fear of death, Grieving, Loss, Sadness, Widows | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Weakness is the way

J. I. Packer’s book Knowing God changed the way I understood God.

I read it for morning devotions as a freshman in college (1979-1980). I could only digest small portions, but each paragraph led to deep contemplation of the God I had come to know through Jesus Christ.

I am not aware of a book by Packer that doesn’t live up to this standard (and I’ve read many of them). 

This is why I encourage you to read his new little book, “Weakness is the way.”

“God does not allow us to stay with the idea that we are strong. O, we may have that idea. But the Lord is going to disabuse us of it one way or another and it will be good for us and give glory to Him when he does so.” (J. I. Packer).

J. I. Packer tells his story about weakness.

See also: Thorns of Grace

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How to listen to a sermon

Jesus said, “So pay attention to how you hear. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what they think they understand will be taken away from them” (Luke 8:18)

The late George Whitefield offered “some cautions and directions, in order to help you hear sermons with profit and advantage.”

1. Come to hear them, not out of curiosity, but from a sincere desire to know and do your duty. To enter His house merely to have our ears entertained, and not our hearts reformed, must certainly be highly displeasing to the Most High God, as well as unprofitable to ourselves.

2. Give diligent heed to the things that are spoken from the Word of God. If an earthly king were to issue a royal proclamation, and the life or death of his subjects entirely depended on performing or not performing its conditions, how eager would they be to hear what those conditions were! And shall we not pay the same respect to the King of kings, and Lord of lords, and lend an attentive ear to His ministers, when they are declaring, in His name, how our pardon, peace, and happiness may be secured?

3. Do not entertain even the least prejudice against the minister. That was the reason Jesus Christ Himself could not do many mighty works, nor preach to any great effect among those of His own country; for they were offended at Him. Take heed therefore, and beware of entertaining any dislike against those whom the Holy Ghost has made overseers over you.

Consider that the clergy are men of like passions with yourselves. And though we should even hear a person teaching others to do what he has not learned himself, yet that is no reason for rejecting his doctrine. For ministers speak not in their own, but in Christ’s name. And we know who commanded the people to do whatever the scribes and Pharisees should say unto them, even though they did not do themselves what they said (see Matt. 23:1-3).

4. Be careful not to depend too much on a preacher, or think more highly of him than you ought to think. Preferring one teacher over another has often been of ill consequence to the church of God. It was a fault which the great Apostle of the Gentiles condemned in the Corinthians: ‘For whereas one said, I am of Paul; another, I am of Apollos: are you not carnal, says he? For who is Paul, and who is Apollos, but instruments in God’s hands by whom you believed?’ (1 Cor. 1:12; 2:3-5).

Are not all ministers sent forth to be ministering ambassadors to those who shall be heirs of salvation? And are they not all therefore greatly to be esteemed for their work’s sake?

5. Make particular application to your own hearts of everything that is delivered. When our Savior was discoursing at the last supper with His beloved disciples and foretold that one of them should betray Him, each of them immediately applied it to his own heart and said, ‘Lord, is it I?’ (Matt. 26:22).

Oh, that persons, in like manner, when preachers are dissuading from any sin or persuading to any duty, instead of crying, ‘This was intended for such and such a one!’ instead would turn their thoughts inwardly, and say, ‘Lord, is it I?’ How far more beneficial should we find discourses to be than now they generally are!

6. Pray to the Lord, before, during, and after every sermon, to endue the minister with power to speak, and to grant you a will and ability to put into practice what he shall show from the Book of God to be your duty.

If only all who hear me this day would seriously apply their hearts to practice what has now been told them!

“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches” (Revelation 2:7).

Wisdomforlife

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Seven means for Christian witness

The New Testament refers to specific means for offering a clear witness of Christ to the world. Consider seven of them. Share and discuss this with others.

1. I Peter 1:14; 4:3-4 – Change in behavior/life direction

“You have had enough in the past doing the evil things that godless people enjoy—their immorality and lust, their feasting and drunkenness and wild parties, and their terrible worship of idols. Of course, your former friends are surprised when you no longer plunge into the flood of wild and destructive things they do. So they slander you” (I Peter 4:3-4).

Application – Offer other examples of how change in behavior is noticed (Galatians 5:19-23)

2. Matthew 5:16 – Good deeds

“In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

Application – Discuss examples of good deeds.

3. I Peter 3:15 – Hope

“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,”

Application – How is our hope evident to those outside of the faith? 

4. Philippians 2:14-16a – Attitude

“Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe 16as you hold out the word of life.”

Application – Identify attitudes that are different and make a difference.  

5. John 17:20-21 – Unity

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” 

Application – How does our oneness or unity (or lack of it) as believers relate to our witness? (see John 13:35) 

6. Colossians 4:5-6 – Wisdom and speech

“Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.”

Application – Discuss illustrations of how these verses apply.

7. Matthew 28:18-20 – Making disciples

“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’”

Application – Is there a difference between getting people to make decisions and making disciples?

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Should we obey Old Testament Law?

If someone asked me if I considered myself directly under the Old Testament law, I would answer…

Wisdomforlife

How should believers in Christ relate to OT Law?

In reading various viewpoints, I kept returning to Matthew 5:17-20 where our Lord taught that he has fulfilled the law and yet strongly affirmed the enduring validity and applicability of the least stroke of a pen within the law. He then warned those who break “the least of these commandments” and “teach others to do so” that they will be demoted in the kingdom of heaven.

 

An apparent problem

Very few Bible teachers believe that every Old Testament commandment should be obeyed today. Should we insist that the food and dietary laws be enforced? Both Jesus and His apostles released people from these laws (Matthew 15:1-20;Mark 7; Act15). How many of us offer sacrifices at a temple in Jerusalem or even consider ourselves required to do this?

Perhaps Jesus only meant the enduring validity and applicability of the moral law…

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Two Scriptures

Short but thought-provoking!

Wisdomforlife

You Can Memorize Scripture This Year | Desiring GodI woke up this morning reflecting on the power of Scripture. I often think, “If I could get my life around just one verse (and I could choose many), it could radically trnasform me.

Two verses of Scripture come to mind

1. Philippians 1:21 – To me, to live–Christ; to die–gain. (the original text has no verbs). Punchy, direct; to the point!

We live; we die

The range of experience is common to all: To live—-To die. Today, some will live; Today, some will die. I anticipate living today. But I also know how unpredictable and vulnerable life can be. Death is a possibility. We live; we die. But for what? or, For whom?

2. James 4:14 – “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while then vanishes.” This second verse that grabs my attention opens with about life. What is it? Your life, that is? The answer, though realistic…

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Is being good enough?

I have always wondered why people insist that Christianity is about being good. That all decent, good people are going heaven. Hence our salvation would be based on works or our behavior. But the Bible is telling us the polar opposite:

You are saved by God’s grace by faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. It’s not something you did that you can be proud of. Instead, we are God’s accomplishment (poetry), created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives. (Eph.2:8-10)

We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Salvation is a gift. Faith is a gift. Grace is a gift. Jesus is a gift. It’s all God’s work from start to finish. Even the idea is God’s. Our role is to receive these gifts and believe. Like Lewis Sperry Chafer has stated “Anyone can devise a plan by which good people may go to Heaven. Only God can devise a plan whereby sinners, who are His enemies, can go to Heaven.”

However, we know that a person isn’t made righteous by the works of the Law but rather through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. We ourselves believed in Christ Jesus so that we could be made righteous by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the Law—because no one will be made righteous by the works of the Law. (Gal. 2:16)

We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Not by being good and doing good. That will come later, when the Holy Spirit works in and through us. God has planned great things for us to do when we are inspired and empowered by the Spirit. Those works are fruit of the Spirit and we will always be just vessels of God’s grace. But those works don’t save us, only faith in Jesus does.

I died to the Law through the Law, so that I could live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the life that I now live in my body, I live by faith, indeed, by the faithfulness of God’s Son, who loved me and gave himself for me. I don’t ignore the grace of God, because if we become righteous through the Law, then Christ died for no purpose. (Gal. 2:19-21)

In defense of Grace, Amazing Grace, saving grace. There is a distinction between good people and people who use good to further their own status.

Good people show up all over the place – and it’s not helpful to raise questions about their integrity, motives or spiritual status. Grace Alone has made for lots of lazy Christians who talk the faith but hardly live the faith – but that’s okay, because they’re saved by grace (Paul deals with this in Romans).

This is a distinction based upon a misreading of Paul, filtered through Luther – sadly, we end up reading Jesus and the Old Testament through Paul, rather than the other way around. We need to read Jesus in the light of the Old Testament, and Paul in the light of Jesus. We’re still stuck in the old Reformation paradigms, which are of value, but limited value, not absolute.

The doctrine of grace, as noted here, can make us spoilsports – we see good, as the Pharisees did, and reject it, because it “lacks” the verbal or whatever-witness we expect.  Where there’s good, there’s God! Where there’s God, there’s good.

God constantly creates good in all sorts of places so that the “elect” don’t get uppity (see latter half of Genesis 12 where Pharaoh lectures Abram on ethics and morals). Christians have often used this idea in a one-upmanship style – that we have the “true and right” understanding, and while the framers of the doctrine intended a great humility, in the souls of some, it’s the doctrine that has come to mean more than the grace, and thus the pride of knowing the doctrine rather than grace.

We have been co-crucified with Christ. When we receive God’s grace, we are saved through our faith in Jesus. Then it is not us but Christ doing those good deeds. We can only boast in the cross. We can only brag about God’s grace. And even that is free for all.

If we say that Christianity is about being good and all the good people are going to heaven, we are making the crucifixion unnecessary (Galatians 2:21). We are ignoring God’s grace, downgrading the power and meaning of the blood of Christ.

Lord, have mercy!

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Un-sanitized Worship

Learning from David, a man after God’s heart.

Wisdomforlife

If we wanted to shock people or find ourselves called before the Church board for questioning, let your public worship and prayers echo what we find in the Psalms.

Unlike the stoic legalist, or safe Churchman, the psalmist expressed the full range of emotions in worship. He felt no need to pretend that he had it all together. Nor did he limit himself to using only safe clichés.

One of the reasons the Psalms are deeply cherished by God’s people is because they openly express many familiar emotions. Sometimes it’s debilitating anxiety and fear; other times a sense of despondency and discouragement. He vented with anger over injustices and admitted lossing perspective when he envied the prosperity of ungodly people.



The psalmist reminds us that there is a language of lament permitted in worship. One writer suggested that, “…it is precisely those who have the closest relationship with God who…

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Discipline vs. Punishment

Is there a difference between God’s general discipline (of which all believers share as they move toward Christian maturity) and targeted discipline (in response to a particular sin or area of disobedience)?

Is there a difference between God’s discipline and His punishment of sin?

Jesus bore the punishment our sin deserved (all of it). Should we then be uncomfortable with the thought that God punishes believers for specific sins?

Jesus’ clearly settled the judicial matter of our standing with God and our eternal destiny (Romans 3-6).

Discipline, by contrast, is focused on a parental rather than a judicial purpose. It is a sign of membership in God’s family and of God’s fatherly love for His redeemed children (Hebrews 12:4-11).

It’s worth pondering the strong imagery of Scripture when it refers to God scourging every son he receives (Hebrews 12:6). This is a graphic picture of painful punishment. And, discipline is unpleasant and painful.

On an earthly level, we remind parents that the focus of discipline should be on what we do for our children not what we do to them. Children are often slow to “get” this and God’s children are much the same.

Scripture repeatedly emphasizes that God disciplines us for our good

  • The experience of Joseph: Genesis 50:20 `You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.’
  • The experience of David: Psalm 119:67,71 `Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word….It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.’
  • The experience in all things: Romans 8:28 `And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.’
  • The experience of discipline:Hebrews 12:10b `…But God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness.’

There are also specific cases of decisive actions from God. Consider the circumstances in the Church at Corinth when believers were disrespecting each other at the Lord’s table:

I Corinthians 11:29- 32: “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.”

The same tone of warning is found in the letters to the seven Churches in Revelation 2-3. In Revelation 3:19, Jesus said: “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.” Even more to the point is the warning he gave to the Church at Thyatira concerning their toleration of “that woman named Jezebel”:

In Revelation 2:21-23 Jesus said, “I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways.  I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.”

These are the words of Jesus to the Church — words for all who have ears to hear what the Spirit says.

When trying to understand the trials that come into our lives, tracing the specific purposes of God is difficult at times. It is tricky to interpret as discipline each specific trial.

Does God use hardships to punish us or to get our attention? Consider Paul’s thorn in the flesh. Follow his description of the purpose of this great trial in II Corinthians 12

“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.” Paul acknowledges the beneficial restraining influence of his suffering. After three seasons of prayer, he comes to understand God’s greater purpose: v.8- “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Although this thorn is from Satan, and personally tormenting, the apostle recognized that God was protecting him from a more dangerous temptation: “Conceit”—the sin that occasioned the fall of Satan himself (I Timothy 3:6). God allowed him to remain in a significantly dependent awareness so that his source of power would be Christ.

In Paul’s case, we cannot say God sent the thorn because he had become conceited but to keep/protect him from allowing conceit. It is highly instructive to realize that God uses the forces of Satan and intense suffering to keep us from sin.

The original readers of the NT book of Hebrews were also perplexed about how they should read their trials in relation to God and His care for them. The text reminds them that their hardships were not an indication of being abandoned by God but of being His children. Whatever the reasons (or the sources), they are charged to “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons” (7).

What did hardship include for these early believers? From the context, it at least included hostile treatment from unbelievers. These believers faced unpleasant and painful circumstances (11) yet they must be assured that “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.” (10). Spiritual transformation includes a painful training process of our Father’s loving dicipline.

Sometimes it is hard to get a specific read on God’s dealings in our lives (and even harder, and often ill-advised, when looking at the lives of others). Yet the “Why?” question can always be answered through these general statements of purpose and biblical examples found in II Corinthians 12 and Hebrews 12 (also, James 1:2-5; II Corinthians 4:16-18; esp. Deuteronomy 8:1-5).

We do not want to be like Job’s three friends. And, looking at Job’s own struggle with the “Why?” of his suffering, we learn much about God’s response. In a sense, God said, “Don’t go there.” “It is beyond what you will understand.” Forgive the paraphrase but there was a purpose to all those questions God presented to Job—right? In the end, Job repents. Of what does he repent? Perhaps of his demand to understand.

Is it possible that God “aims” specific discipline at specific disobedience or sin? Yes. But we must be careful not to read this the wrong way. Our tendency is to “hunt down” the sin we think is being disciplined and confess it with the hope of sudden change in our circumstances. What happens, however, when we get “fully confessed up” and the trials remain—or increase?

God’s refining purposes are much larger than we realize.

It is wise to go back to these revealed purposes of Scripture and live out our response in light of them. Otherwise, Satan might trap us in a paralyzed state of self-pity, defeat, or a warped view of God.

Steve Cornell

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Children feel helpless and hopeless when…

“The life-altering effects of disruptive and dysfunctional childhood experience profoundly affect the way we think, feel, and act in adult life. Enjoying healthy adult relationships will depend on how well we process these experiences.”

“Children feel helpless and hopeless when traumatic experiences significantly disrupt the most formative years of life. They lose their sense of safety and security. Home feels like an unstable place. Such disruptions could include divorce/separation from parents, physical or sexual abuse, domestic violence, incarceration of a parent, death of a loved one, or a severe illness. In this chapter, we will consider a few of these.”

Chapter 6 of “The 18-Year Factor” (AMAZON)

Steve Cornell

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