Deep Water

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As a small child I was very close to my great grandmother, Lucille Mason Bishop (Big Mama). My cousin Chris said everyone in our family has a “favorite family member”. Big Mama was my favorite. She was my Saturday morning coffee drinking buddy. She was my friend.

When I was 9 she became ill. I remember riding with my mother to visit her in the hospital several times. When she was in ICU I couldn’t go in to see her because I was too young. Then one day after school my mother picked me up and headed to the hospital. I waited while my mother went in to assess the situation. Then she came back to tell me Big Mama had passed.

I was too young to know what depression was, but looking back, I know I was depressed. I was grieving and it showed up in several ways. I couldn’t sleep. I was an “A” student but I began to struggle with school. I stopped caring. I felt so empty and lonely and bottled up that I wouldn’t talk to anyone. I wouldn’t cry either. Eventually, it caught up with me. 

I began to have a feeling of thickness in my head and severe headaches. The headaches became unbearable and my mother took me to the emergency room. I don’t remember her name or what she looked like but the nurse in the ER got on my level and talked to me. She asked me questions and began to relate to me. This nurse was the first person to draw out my pain. I shared my feelings for Big Mama with the nurse and began to cry uncontrollably. My headaches and most of my sadness went away that night.

“Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water, But a man of understanding will draw it out.” (‭Proverbs‬ ‭20‬:‭5‬ NKJV)

WebMD.com has the following description of the depression stage of grief: http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/mental-health-coping-with-grief

This stage of grief occurs in some people after they realize the true extent of the loss. Signs of depression may include sleep and appetite disturbances, a lack of energy and concentration, and crying spells. A person may feel loneliness, emptiness, isolation, and self-pity.

Don’t take this stage lightly. Don’t think that one day you’ll just “feel better”. Depression is real. It’s not simply emotional either. It can become chemical where your body gets out of balance. Sometimes others won’t understand and try to get you to snap out of it. But the feelings you have must be drawn to the surface and dealt with in a healthy way. It’s like deep water that must be drawn out with understanding. 

In the past four years, I have personally sat down with a counselor and discussed my feelings when loved ones have died. I have also found wise counsel in family members, good friends, and fellow clergy. God has put people in my life who can sympathize and empathize with my losses. Their understanding and encouragement has helped me correctly identify my feelings and pray for healing. 

There are ministry leaders and professionals who have been educated to help us with depression. There is nothing shameful about getting help. You’re not weak if you go see a counselor. On the contrary, you’re strong and wise for acknowledging your condition and seeking help. Don’t worry about the cost either. Many of you work for companies that provide counseling or a certain number of visits may be covered by your insurance. Get the help you need so your heart can heal from your loss. 

I Just Got That Faith

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Another stage of the grieving is Bargaining. According to WebMD “This stage may involve persistent thoughts about what could have been done to prevent the loss. People can become preoccupied about ways that things could have been better. If this stage is not properly resolved, intense feelings of remorse or guilt may interfere with the healing process.” (http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/mental-health-coping-with-grief)

In July of last year, we lost my mother-in-law, Pheobia Taylor to cancer. Prior to her passing, she lived with us for a little more than a year. During that time, my wife Melissa was working long hours to support our family, and I was Pheobia’s primary care taker. On Melissa’s behalf I monitored every meal, kept a log of every doctor and hospital visit, every conversation with physicians and specialists, and every medicine taken and their side effects. 

When she was in the hospital multiple times, we went to be with her everyday, sometimes staying overnight. When the nurses and therapists would visit the house, we greeted them and got reports on her vitals and progress. We were there for every chemo treatment, every blood transfusion, every CT scan, and every trip to the emergency room. We were glad to do it all because that’s what families do for each other. We would do it all again because we love her.

When she passed, we wrestled with every possible scenario. We wondered what we could have done differently. Did we miss something? Did we fail to get her the best possible care? Maybe if we had seen a different doctor, they could have found a way to cure her. Maybe she came home from the hospital too early and could’ve received better treatment. The cancer, heart, and kidney doctors all had her on special diets, but maybe if we had seen a nutrition specialist we could have prepared meals to help her heal. We thought if we had just done more, or done better, she could’ve lived longer. 

Her loss was hard to accept. Just like the bargaining description above, we wrestled with unresolved feelings. Regret, guilt, and even blaming surfaced in our hearts. It was unhealthy. I’m still not sure if we’re completely healed but here are the truths we’ve learned along the way. 

God is sovereign. 
Life and death are in his hand. We may ask for his healing, grace, and mercy. He hears us and considers our requests. But ultimately the decision is his alone. In II Samuel 12:15-23 David fasted and prayed for his son to live but the son died. In II Kings 20 Hezekiah prayed when he was dying and God granted him 16 more years to live. In both cases, prayers were made and faith was engaged, but the decision was God’s to make. 

Faith can sustain us. 
We learned from Pheobia how to trust and believe in God through every circumstance. We needed to trust God with our feelings and allow him to sustain us as we grieved. Things didn’t turn out the way we wanted but that was no reason to turn away from God. Instead, we prayed and worshipped to get close enough for God to comfort us. 

The Saints are amazing. 
People who really know God told us the truth. When we began to bargain and talk about “would’ve, could’ve, and should’ve” they gently validated all we had done for Pheobia. They reminded us of our love and sacrifices for her. They told us what they saw and affirmed that God was pleased. They assured us that there were no regrets. Their words of encouragement freed us to celebrate Pheobia’s life. Her eulogy is below. 

Mrs. Pheobia Barnes Taylor
11/23/51-06/15/13

“I Just Got That Faith.”

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible. By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, “and was not found, because God had taken him”; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. (Hebrews 11:1-6 NKJV)

In our text today the writer of the epistle or letter to the Hebrews is reinforcing the importance of faith in the lives of believers. In the previous chapter he openly reveals the futility of animal sacrifices and legalism and tells his readers the just shall live by faith. Chapter eleven opens with a definition of faith. 

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1 NKJV)

Faith is more than belief. Faith is what happens when we believe enough to live and act on what we believe. It is conviction. It is being fully persuaded. If we say we believe in God and fail to live our lives in accordance with those beliefs our faith is dead. Faith without works is dead. 

We must have a faith in God that is so strong it gives substance to things that we hope for. We must have a faith that has enough conviction to stand in the court of popular opinion as tangible evidence of things we can’t even see.

Some of us believe there is a God. Others of us believe in a higher power. While even more of us equally believe in luck, and astrology, and superstitions. And somehow we think we’re ok with God. So the writer of Hebrews pauses in his list of examples of faith to bring clarity to the definition of faith. In verse six he says…

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6 NKJV)

Mrs. Taylor had the kind of faith that’s explained in this passage. Because of her faith, we as a family can be assured we will see her again in glory if we are faithful. I want to share a few things with you today to inspire you to have a faith like hers. 

Faith Pleases God

Faith is not a physical substance. I can’t be seen with the naked eye. People can mimic godliness and faithfulness. We can come to church and within a week, we know when to stand, when to bow, how to clap and lift our hands. But none of those things matter if our actions aren’t birthed in a faithful heart. Faith without works is dead. Works without faith is just as dead. 

Coming to church out of obligation isn’t faith. Giving offerings out of guilt. Serving because nobody else wants to isn’t faith. Showing kindness while expecting the same from others isn’t faith. Helping someone while complaining isn’t faith. Buying a bible and never reading it isn’t faith. Praying only when you’re in trouble isn’t faith. 

God isn’t pleased if we do things without faith. God isn’t impressed. Trying to do something for God without faith is like buying roses for a woman you don’t love. The roses are nice but You know you don’t love her. She knows you don’t love her and she isn’t impressed. You could’ve kept your $20. 

God is the same way. He isn’t moved. It’s easy to look at the actions of others and try to gauge where you stand with God but never forget God looks at the heart. Without true faith it’s impossible to please God. Our faith must be in God and God alone. 

Our Faith is in God Alone

Pheobia and Dr. McBroom
After Pheobia finished 9 rounds of chemo, she was hospitalized and transferred to Atlanta. The surgeon, Dr. McBroom said her cancer was inoperable. He also told the nurse he recommended hospice. Even after hearing this report, she never placed her faith in doctors. She pressed forward trusting God. Her hope was in God who held her life in his hands. When we have faith in God we must believe that he is everything he says he is. He can do everything he said he can do. 

Pheobia knew God was a healer and God is a keeper. She knew where her strength came from. God was more than an idea to her. He was more than just an answer to her problems. God was totally and completely God almighty, the king of glory, The Lord of hosts. 

When we have true faith in God, we recognize his sovereignty in every area of life. God is the provider. God is the way maker. God is the healer. God is our savior. God is our redeemer. God is our protector. God is the deliverer. God is a very present help in times of trouble. 

Live, but put your faith in God. Have faith in God for your career. Love your spouse but have faith in God for your Marriage. Raise your children but have faith in God for their futures. Manage your money and pay your bills but have faith in God to provide for your Finances. Listen to your doctors and take care of yourself but have faith in God for your Health. If you put your faith in God alone and seek his face, he will bless your life. 

God Rewards Diligent Faith

In our passage today it says “He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”

The word for rewarder here means one who pays wages. The word for diligence means to seek or to search out. People who have faith understand it pays to seek The Lord. But you have to diligently seek him in faith. Let me tell you what diligence looks like. 

Pheobia Taylor knew where her help came from. She sought The Lord with all her might. When she came to stay with us she requested a bible. When she got her tablet and smart phone she wanted the bible on them too. There were times she was sick but made the drive to come to church anyway. We would leave the house and pray and she would go into worship. 

When the doctors said said the chemo wasn’t working she said “I just got that faith.”
When she limited to a wheel chair she said “I just got that faith.”
When she progressed to a walker she said “I just got that faith.”
When she heard the cancer had spread to her brain she didn’t flinch. She said “I just got that faith.”
When she was too weak to stand she said “I just got that faith.”

She knew her faith would be rewarded. She had a Blessed assurance that she would be rewarded with a crown of glory that never fades.