Category Archives: Repentance

IT’S STILL TRUE

20140530-190412-68652651.jpg

When we are invited into the “fellowship of His sufferings” and the “gospel of weakness” is preached to our soul and makes us its convert, and, like Job, we are left with hanging hands, questioning heart and smitten soul…we need to be able to face the most urgent questions of our lifetime.

IS GOD IN CONTROL?

and

CAN I TRUST HIM TO BRING ME THROUGH THIS INTO A BETTER PLACE?

The Psalmist said,

“it is GOOD for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn to trust Your ways.”
Psa 119:71

He preceded that with this stunning piece of insight:

“YOU ARE GOOD, and You do good…”
Psa 119:68

(Notice the order; we want to reverse those clauses)

Allow me to share some insights God showed me recently from Romans 8:18-39 – one of Paul’s strongest sermons ever.

Go ahead and read it. I’ll wait…

🔹🔹🔹🔹🔹🔹🔹🔹🔹🔹🔹🔹🔹🔹🔹🔹🔹🔹

I saw it again recently. It wasn’t overt; it was subtle, not evident. But it was there, even if only a flicker or quickly passing guarded judgment.

I opened a gate into my personal space for a friend I hadn’t seen in many years. I chatted about our lives, what’s been happening…and the truest and most painful update of all. I revealed to them that we buried our son – who they remembered as a young child – the weekend of Christmas, each revelation more difficult and dark. Might as well say it all, I was thinking. Someone said, “there’s no valor in faking it; there’s tremendous valor in facing it.”

So I faced it.

“Our son was a heroin addict. He died of an overdose.”

It was there. I saw it. The quick unspoken interview, dying to ask, holding back, not wanting to judge, but still…

How did that happen?
(He was such a sweet child)
What drove him to drugs?
(It had to be something in his upbringing)
How could you, the gatekeepers of everything that influenced him, his protectors, his spiritual guardians, let him sink so low?
(Couldn’t you see the signs?)

All that in the quiet space of about two hundredths of a micro-second. I saw it. I could tell. Then I thought, I know what you’re thinking because those are the very first questions – even accusations – that would pop into my head if I were sitting where you’re sitting.

This time I didn’t react to the look and quickly go to a defensive tack and say how it was the bent of his heart mixed with bad company, adding to that the “mark of Cain” of being given up for adoption, placed in a minister’s home, and calling a disabled man “Dad.”

What I did, instead, was to say that the Father saw my son – yes, with a needle in his arm and hating himself for it (I know he did) – He saw the pain in his soul and heard his cry for mercy and RAN to him, met him in the back seat where he was all alone on a Minnesota December morning, and, as his life was ebbing away, said, “Graham Scott, you’ve had enough of this pig sty, and I’m going to do two things: I’m going to hug you with the stench of offal and sour earth still on you, yes; and then I’m going to escort you to the kingdom I’ve prepared for you.”

I told my friend that God is a Good Father, a Gracious King and a merciful Rescuer. I told my friend that Sandy and I, though wrecked with an earthly grief that persists to this morning and beyond, we’re confident that even in this God is good. That is STILL TRUE. Taking Graham from us was an incredible act of mercy on His part.

GOD.

IS.

GOOD.

And now, perhaps one or two are having a similar internal dialogue in response to what I’ve just said.

Wait. Your son was an addict. He died from a heroin high. He had been partying with friends. How is it you’re so sure he’s with God?

I have to tell you, when I got inboxed on Facebook from Graham’s birth mother on the day he was found in that pitiful condition, saying that he was on life support but no other info was available to her, that when I finally was able to get through to her, understood that our boy was grave and the next 24 to 48 hours were critical.

My first thought?
Oh, God, what if he dies (didn’t know he was already gone)?
Lord, will our boy be with you?

My theology doesn’t allow for a “say a prayer” one-and-done salvation. It is constructed of the message of the Kingdom, that salvation is “from faith to faith” and thoroughly “from first to last.”

I suppose you can see the conflict, knowing what you know now.

Lord God, Father of mercies, what will become of my son?

And, as sure as a burning bush glowed in my dining room, as sure as if an angel made an entrance into my space and time, as sure as Elijah hiding out in a mountain cranny, the Father’s Word split through the gauzy mist of the moment and reassured me.

Psalms 85:2-3,10
[I] forgave the iniquity of your [son];
[I] covered all [his] sin.
Selah
(Now I can say:)
You withdrew all your wrath;
you turned from your hot anger.
[Your] steadfast love and faith meet;
[Your] righteousness and peace kiss each other.

I read those words from that day’s scripture on my Bible app and knew without a shred of doubt that my son was in that moment dressed in white, being carried by angels and laid at the feet of sinful man’s Redeemer and Eternal Hope. There Graham bowed and was hugged by God Himself.

How can this be?
How can God call “holy” that which, from all appearances, seems so unholy?
Does He, then, save everyone, universally, unconditionally, no questions asked?

Well, no, of course not.

What “saves” us?

Romans 8:24 says “hope” saves us. Hope in something we can’t see.

YET.

Specifically, the “redemption of our bodies” (v23) is what the saved hope for. What, then, does this entail?

(1) Firstly, The understanding that there’s something past the grave, that death doesn’t end it.

(2) Secondly, The submission to the truth that we need something outside ourselves to extend our lives on into eternity, namely a Somebody, a Redeemer.

(3) Thirdly, The recognition that there’s something in us worth redeeming, that we are not lost causes.

(4) Fourthly, The sometimes-painful truth that what we see now is not the finished product, that the Father obligates Himself – through our yielding and repentances – to make us fit for eternity

The apostle says hope that can be seen with our natural sight is not the hope he’s referring to. Thank God THAT’S not what saves us! If we have hope of future glory based solely on going to church, being moral, living clean, minding our tongue, giving to charities, and the like, we’d be sunk.

Where the Lord looks – not where we can see – is into the heart. If Graham walked in here this morning, looking the way he did before December 16, 2013, most of us would see a lost soul. Covered in tattoos, fully sleeved, face, neck, legs and hands, thick with the cloying smell of nicotine, pants sagging, and ghetto-speak, we’d start praying for his soul.

And I’d be praying right along with you!

It’s sad that many of us put ALL our trust in our performance to save us rather than God’s foreknowledge and grace. In the end, when we appear before the King Who Reigns – and all of us will – the question (forget the St. Peter at the gate jokes) that will be asked will be “What did you do with My Son?” and the only response accepted will be “I looked to Him and cried out for His mercies to save me from beginning to end.”

The Father will say “I know. I saw you choose My Son before you were even born. It was in eternity past that I elected you based on your disposition toward My Son. Enter into the joy of the Eternal Kingdom!”

The woman of Sychar wouldn’t pass inspection either. But Jesus wouldn’t write her off. Nor would the woman who was face-planted at the feet of Jesus in John 8 be most churches’ candidate for membership. But Jesus wouldn’t condemn her. The shady woman that interrupted a dinner party in Luke 7 wouldn’t make the grade but Jesus didn’t interrupt her love-fest on His feet. I’ll bet most of the Twelve who were in Jesus’ band wouldn’t be our cup of tea either, but they were the Master’s Men.

Yeah, one was a devil…and we know he’s in hell.

What you’re thinking is what I assure you I still preach: “but,” you say, “the woman at the well surely ceased her wild ways, the woman of John 8 who got a divine reprieve most likely took Christ’s counsel to heart and repented, the grateful whore of Luke 7 certainly mended her ways, and the disciples were noticeably different after having been with Jesus.”

Yes. All that is true.

I twice warned my son “as long as you’re looking for a way OUT instead of the way HOME, you’ll always remain a prodigal.”

The Father, it says, “searches the hearts” (v27) and who are we to “condemn His elect?” (V33) because “it is God who justifies” whom He will (v33) and who He justifies,”He also glorifies” (v30).

These great verses are preceded by one very important qualifier: God offers His Holy Spirit to help the weak (v26). We’re too weak to save ourselves. We’re even too weak to hope for the redemption of our bodies! We need God to accomplish in us what we are too weak to do for ourselves.

Andrew Murray, in The Two Covenants, wrote long ago:

“There are some still looking wistfully at this blessed life [New Covenant], and yet afraid to trust themselves to this wondrous grace. They have a conception of faith as something great and mighty, and they know and feel that theirs is not such. And so their feebleness remains an insuperable barrier to their inheriting the promise. Let me try and say once again: Brother, the act of faith, by which you accept and enter this life in the New Covenant, is not commonly an act of power, but often of weakness and fear and much trembling. And even in the midst of all this feebleness, it is not an act in your strength [that saves], but in a secret and perhaps unfelt strength, which Jesus – the Surety of the Covenant – gives you.”

The Spirit in the believer “groans” for the believer to be fitted for eternity, to make it Home (v26). Do you think any of the Holy Spirit’s prayers will be unanswered? Of course not! Verse 27 tells us that the Holy Spirit prays according to the will of the Father! AND GETS RESULTS! (Grk meaning)

What is the Father’s will?

(1) To call sinners too weak to save themselves.
(2) To justify sinners too weak to reconcile themselves to God
(3) To transform sinners into holy beings.
(4) To make us overcomers in this life.
(5) To give sainted sinners the same glory He gives His Son.
(6) To pray us into His eternity (vv27,34).
(7) To remove all condemnation by making us His own, and loving us unconditionally and never letting us go.

What if the elect don’t look elect?
What if they do not overcome in this life?
Can there still be hope?

Remember, hope that is logical, *makes* sense, *looks* like hope, *holds up* to our standard of hope…still hasn’t even come close to the Hope of Christ. Isn’t that amazing?

His Hope accomplishes “ALL THESE THINGS”.
The reason we can overcome in “ALL THESE THINGS” (v35) is because of ALL THESE THINGS:

“The Lord searches and knows our hearts” and still accepts us (v27)
“The Lord sees our weakness” and helps us (v26)
“The Lord intercedes for the saints” (v27)
“The Lord works it all together for our good”(v28)
“The Lord elects”
“The Lord predestines”
“The Lord conforms” (v29)
“The Lord calls”
“The Lord justifies”
“The Lord glorifies”(v30)

What is the common factor in all those blessed promises? What is constant?

Our salvation – from first to last – is the Lord’s doing! It’s all of grace! Not of works, else we’d make salvation less divine and more human. God prophesied that He’d take our hearts of stone and make them flesh…FOR HIS GLORY! (Ezk 36:25,26)

But isn’t there some expectation that those who have had heart transplants (I.e., born again) should walk in holiness?

I say amen.

Am I resetting the standard just because it’s my son? No, and God hasn’t reset His either. Not by a long shot.

That’s why my son was taken out of this earth – he put himself under the severest discipline of the Lord who is both merciful and “severe” (Rom 11:22) and committed the “sin that is unto death” (1Jn 5:16). How God handled Graham Scott in the end shows us two things:

(1) God saves “sinners”, that salvation is messy because it forgives the unforgivable, and,

(2) whom God saves, He lays claim to, and has rights to, He owns and can treat how He will (we know from the Romans 8 passage that He only deals with His own in love).

>The Lord searches the hearts
>The Lord knows who belongs to Him (2Ti 2:19)
>God is FOR His own
>No charge, no accusation, no condemnation stands up against His decree

If you’re struggling with condemning thoughts, do THREE things:

(1) Examine yourself, whether you’re in the faith

The quickest way to determine this is to answer “Who/What are you trusting for your day to day strength and eternal destiny?”

(2) Exhibit yourself under the holy gaze of the Spirit of God (Psa 139:22)

Let Him show you where you are failing in the grace of God, where you are being overcome instead of overcoming…and REPENT

(3) (Then) Excuse yourself from self-condemning thoughts and evil accusations

If the Lord set His affection on you to save you…

IT’S STILL TRUE.

If Jesus ever loved you before…

IT’S STILL TRUE.

If He adopted you, not based in your ability to measure up and qualify, but in His foreknowledge and provision to save you,

IT’S STILL TRUE.

If grace saved you at the first…and you were not worth saving…

IT’S STILL TRUE.

If God began the work of salvation in you…

IT’S STILL TRUE…

…and He will finish His work, fit you for His eternity and redeem your bodies, your spirit and your soul.

I just read this morning – a quote by Perry Noble – and it’s spot on for all of us who are kinda looking at ourselves as we are, our circumstances, all the things that really, well, stink, and wonder if there can be a miracle in my mess…

“If it ain’t good, God ain’t done.”

Forget the grammar; embrace the grace.

God forgives, forgets, makes new and makes it permanent. When my son died, I was overcome by a massive tidal wave of emotions but God channeled them all to the harbor of Truth and I wrote these words:

“God blessed Sandy and me with the gift of a lifetime, our son Graham. We were blessed to have our baby boy (our only) for twenty-four fun-filled, amazing, tragic, adventurous, never-a-dull-moment, heart-wrenching, miraculous, painful, sweet, cuddly, hard, eye-opening, jaw-dropping, hand-clapping, sweet-as-pie, soft-as-silk, abrasive-as-sandpaper, thrilling, magical, wonderful years.

Yesterday, he went Home. He’s with Jesus. The war is over. The struggle has ended. Devil, you scoundrel, you wanted to destroy him but God promoted him. You can’t touch him anymore. Can’t. You lose. Gra-Gra is with God now. Praise Jesus, his chains are gone. Amazing, amazing grace.

Hallelujah. Selah.”

And, beloved struggler on the way: He is for you too. It ain’t done. But when He finishes you out – if you trust Him to do it – you’re gonna be breathtakingly beautiful.

It’s true.

Selah.

Clouds Into Stars: Celestial Stories of Our Son

20140208-190903.jpg

My boy on one of the many ‘father-son’ ministry trips we took together; here, we’re at Christian Overcomers disability camp

Today is month two of our son’s leaving his cold, hard earth and finding full and final freedom in the arms of Jesus. He is home free and we, the left behind, praise the Father for giving our sweet, embattled boy an entrance (2Pe 1:11). These final two posts will be the most difficult in the series, as I want to tell the truth, painful as it is, but preserve the memory of Gra-Gra with the grace and dignity it demands. Thank you, reader, for following along with us…

__________________________________

What does this ‘resurrection body’ look like?…What we plant in the soil and what grows out of it don’t look anything alike. The dead body that we bury in the ground and the resurrection body that comes from it will be dramatically different. You get a hint at the diversity of resurrection glory by looking at the diversity of bodies not only on earth but in the skies—sun, moon, stars—all these varieties of beauty and brightness…

– Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthian believers (Chapter 15, MSG)

____________________________________

Once upon a Sunday night, my little boy was staring out the passenger window and looking into the evening sky. He was silent for several minutes.

“What’cha thinking about, buddy?” I asked.

He turned to me and I saw the most serious expression on his sweet boyish face.

“Dad,” he began, “you know when the clouds go away they become stars?”

“They sure do, buddy.” I smiled at my prodigy.

My boy.

Sigh.

Oh, the insufferable ache!

Fifteen or so years later, give or take, I’d be looking into his casket; face, neck, hands and arms – every exposed place – just covered with tattoos. Innocence erased. Boyish wonder swallowed by a life that had stolen away too many spring-times and summer adventures and given only harsh winters in return. My little boy lost. A young man who tried to grow up way too fast and far too free.

Looking back, I’ve said some pretty hard words in my years of life and ministry…but nothing I’ve ever had to say compares to this:

My sweet boy died from a heroin overdose, cold, alone and homeless.

I can’t believe those horrible words just spilled from my fingertips and now smudge my screen. Dark. Unrelenting. Mocking. It’s out there. I’ve actually written it. And now I feel sick.

This boy?

This same little boy who, on the way home from church on Sunday, with family settled in for the quiet ride, begins singing “I Love You, Lord” word for word – and in perfect pitch – from his little fastened-in car seat? And, oh, did I mention he was only 18 months?…

This same little charmer who sidled up next to his mama and bravely watched a drama depicting the five missionaries who spilled their life-blood in Amazon sand and were added to the hallowed list of martyrs, at which he looked up at her with fiercely honest eyes and remarked, “that’s what I want to do with my life!”…?

My little third grader whose girlfriend Stasia ‘broke up’ with him, then later, on the playground, had told her best friend he broke up with her, which led to said friend pushing Gra-Gra down and calling him a “stuck-up ***-hole”, then mocked him, saying, “aren’t you going to cuss back?” and our Gravy Train picking himself up, brushing himself off and replying with a sense of bravado, “Nope. I’m a christian”, then she called him a “stupid christian” and he just smiled…?

You mean, that brave little guy?

My precious seven-year old who told me he wanted to be an astronaut when he grew up, and when I jokingly asked “you don’t want to be a preacher?” (I never pushed this on him), honestly replied, “I’ll be an astronaut who goes to church and loves the Lord”…?

Our darling first-grader, holding the ‘S’ sign for his Christmas program and standing ramrod-straight and belting out the all-too-famously encouraging Advent passage of Luke 2:10,11 loudly and proudly? Surely not him?…

The very Gra-Gra Scott who changed his “when I grow up” declaration a year later and told us he wanted to be THREE THINGS: “a father, a ‘ski racer’, and a husband”, then proceeded to inform us with utter sincerity “I won’t even kiss a girl before I’m married, and if she asks me to dance, I’ll say ‘uh-uh, not until I get married!'”…?

Our little ‘Bubby’ who would not be silenced on McDonald’s playgrounds, telling other little boys and girls about his True Love Jesus, and Sandy getting a couple different stare-downs from appalled mothers, to which she could only smile and shrug, and the day our little guy actually “led a little African-American playmate named Terrance to the Lord”…?

Him? Dead of a heroin overdose at twenty-four, all alone in the back seat of a car?

Our precocious nine-year old who walked in on Mommy and Daddy one morning in Clearwater, Florida, then ran out giggling and telling Grandmother about what he saw…?

Not my ten-year old little shadow who lamented to me one day he didn’t have a best friend, then me saying “sure you do, buddy, tell me who you’d rather spend your time with more than anyone else on earth” and hearing him say, “you, Dad”…?

Him?

Oh, dear God, no…

But…yes. The very same.

I have an entry in my journal, dated July 1, 1999, when Graham was not yet ten, and I’m crying out to my Father in heaven for the soul of my son who was struggling with his young faith, questioning everything about God, already with a scary bent to go every way but God’s way and I’m drawn to a single phrase that apparently reflected the fear I held for my child: “

“Dear God, I beg you, do not let my son run in rebellion…

The prayer that was my mainstay through the second third of his life, written all through my prayer journals, was that the Lord would keep my baby from drugs, pre-marital sex and a prodigal life. I wanted him to go to the altar a virgin. I begged God to make my son “a man You would write about”.

Over and over…

                                 and over…

                                                                  again.

How I wish for better endings.

And yet…

I’m reminded of a wrinkled piece of paper I carried around the country with me for many years, tucked in with my sermon notes; an illustration I used to highlight the sovereign goodness of the Almighty who can override our wants and plans anytime He chooses, simply because He loves us relentlessly and wants so much more for us than we can imagine for ourselves.

It told of a parchment found in the clothes of a dead Confederate soldier that cataloged the prayers of the fallen man throughout his life, and how nothing turned out as he hoped. The final stanza included the words, “in the end, I got nothing I asked for, but everything I hoped for.”

I’ve got my own stanzas and recollections of our Gra-Gra Scott (there are dozens and dozens more, I assure you), each their own separate “star” in an evening sky clouded right now by heartache, questions, griefs and wish-fors. Even some Dad regrets.

But, in the end, when the clouds roll away, there is nothing left but a brilliant galaxy of truth, lit by the unarguable proof from our Father (next post) that the same tattooed shell I looked upon in his casket two months ago is right now and forevermore adorned with everything his crying heart on earth hoped for: real peace, real hope, real answers, real freedom…real life.

Among those whom we shared a hug with in the five-and-a-half hour long receiving line at Graham’s viewing was a blind man who sees things mere mortals can never see, a friend, arm-in-arm with his wife who guided him to me. Tom handed me a note and told me to give it to Sandy later. He said it was “hefty and robust” and she needed to know what God spoke to him.

Later on that night, home and still reeling from the impending chore of burying our only child the next day, I unfolded the note, read its contents, and silently broke. The words told my wife that “one day you will see your son, running to you, skin gleaming.”

You were right, son. When the clouds go away, they turn into stars. Tonight we’ll look up and ‘see’ you shining and feel you running toward us.

And we’ll be okay.

__________________________________

Graham at Teen Challenge, PA 2005

Graham at Teen Challenge, PA
2005

___

Gravy and I, Good Friday Passion Concert, Verizon Ampitheater

Family, Millennial Gathering, 2012

Family, Millennial Gathering, 2012

Sandy and Gra The Keys, 2007

Sandy and Gra
The Keys, 2007

043

Gra-Gra during testimony service following mission trip to Honduras.

Scan0009

Kindergarten program at school

My son and I praying together at a church event.

Gra and I praying together at a church event a decade ago.

Adoption Finalized; 1990

Adoption Finalized; 1990
Parents and sister, back row with ‘official’ Mommy

Sleep Sweet In Jesus, Baby Boy

20140116-174129.jpg

A month ago today our 24-year old son, Graham, closed his eyes on the brutal winter of his world and opened them in the eternal warmth of heaven. He died alone in a car on a cold, cold Minnesota morning but was not at all alone when he passed from this life. For over a decade he battled demons and fought dragons but, in the end, our baby boy found everything he was looking for when he met Jesus face to face. This is a second installment…

_______________________________________________________

There was a baby sent from God whose name *would be* Graham.

Gra-Gra.

Gravy Train.

Graham Cracker.

Grambo.

Bubby.

But in the beginning he was simply, in the eyes of the court, “Baby Boy N___________.”

Let me tell you about my son, my only son, whom I love:

I wanted five kids – four girls and one ruggedly handsome, rough-and-tumble boy. When I was newly injured, a 21-year old T-7, T-8 complete para – when reality began to set in – I looked in the direction of my suddenly-diminished male potency, then at my mom from my hospital bed and said, “Well, Mom, I guess you’re going to have to settle for an adopted blue-eyed, blonde-haired little granddaughter.” I remember how her face softened into a tender, doting, couldn’t-be-prouder ‘mom-face’ and how her eyes twinkled when she said, “Oh, I’d love one!” She could’ve even clapped. I can’t fully recall.

So when I heard that sweet young voice say into the phone eight years later, “Congratulations, Dad, you have a son,” my heart, I must confess, gave a momentary whimper. I was pulling for a girl.

Now, don’t you just hate me?

But wait, I’ve gotten wayyyy ahead of myself and need to back up a few city blocks.

I married my college sweetheart, my best friend, and the most selfless person I’ve ever known. Sandy is the bomb. She knew everything about me already, so she walked into our marriage with eyes wide, w i d e open. She knew about catheters, pressure sores, bowel programs, ramps, wheelchairs (remind me to tell you about my wheelchair and her hose sometime), paraplegic “periods”, dysreflexia, and, of course, impotence. Sandy married me knowing there was a very real chance we’d be childless.

But we prayed.

And prayed.

Then prayed for six and a half more years.

Fertility clinics. Tests. Sorry, Mr. Mitchell, you’re less than a man (what I heard, not what they said). Fruitless marriage relations. Adoption agencies. Need your moolah up front. A lot of it. Home studies. A baby abandoned at the hospital. Oh, sorry…somebody else got to it first. A teen-aged girl is thinking about giving her child up…nope, the grandparents are going to adopt, sorry

And prayed some more.

One August Sunday morning I awakened with preacher-boyish excitement. Only twenty-eight, I was going to fill in for the highly esteemed pastor Wayne Barber at one of Chattanooga’s largest churches. I was to be given the pulpit for both morning services and return that evening as a soloist in a summer mini-concert. Yeah, on the heels of some nobody named Wayne Watson a couple weeks earlier. Mmm-hmm. Pinch me.

I can’t even recall the sermons that day, and the concert was mostly forgettable. What happened that morning, however, is easily remembered because a tearful conversation changed mine and Sandy’s lives forever.

In between the morning services my bride and I were asked to share our stories with a large group of single young adults. I think we’ve got a really romantic tale which only deepens with time, and we love to talk about it. We both shared back and forth and soon offered some time for questions. We didn’t know at the time that a darling pregnant 17-year old was mixed in among those college-aged coeds. As Sandy and I bantered, God was already beginning to write an epic story on her heart. And ours.

That’s for next time.