Don’t Be Scared: He Holds Your Hand

Uncle Kev, God holds his hand
Uncle Kevin, 8/26/60-2/19/12

Note: A version of this post appeared in February 2012, the month Uncle Kevin went home. That post—I Hold Your Hand—was the first post written for JoyfullyPressingOn.

Firm Hold

No, Mom —no! It’s very scary. I don’t want to go. Pleeeeease—nooooo!

Waterpark guests stared. Lifeguards raised their brows. I tightened my grip on the four year-old’s hand.

Gabe’s four-year old cousin and his six year-old brother couldn’t get up the stairs fast enough. So yes, by golly, Gabe would try it once.

Onward, then—his screaming and squirming matched by my firm hold.

Very Scary

You’ll love it Bud. It’s not very scary. It’s very fun.

But the boy didn’t buy it.

No, Mom. I’m too scared. The green slide is too dark and too steep and it goes outside. Pleeeease. No!”

For a split second, wavered. But then I envisaged Gabe’s goggled grinning face bursting from the chute and toward the stairway I strode, struggling boy in tow.

By the first landing, his body had stopped protesting, a couple landings ahead of his mouth. So I lowered him, but to prevent retreat, I did not relax my hold. Hand in hand, we climbed, whine-singing, “Why Mom? It’s too scary. (x2) Please don’t make me go down.”

You can sing it to the tune of “Skip to my Lou.”

Please No

One hundred-twelve steps up we hit the summit, a relentless, omniscient mom and her reluctant, scared-to-death son.

At the sight of the gaping green mouth, Gabe made one loud, last stand.

No, Mom. Please, no.

It passed and I plopped us square on the blue tube, and wrapped him tight.

You’ll be back ten more times, assured the sage teen who pushed us off.

Let’s Go

There we were. Together on our tube, sliding along through the seafoam tunnel, awash in mid-morning sun. No longer did Gabe project fear. He broadcasted joy.

And as the tube splashed into the pool, he burst with those words I hoped to hear,

That was so fun! Let’s go again.

In the course of the next hour, with help from Grandpa (2 runs), Grandma (2 runs), Aunt Charissa (1 run), Aunt Danielle (1 run) and mom (the remaining 4 runs), Gabe enjoyed not one, not two, but ten runs down the feared and dreaded, once very scary green waterslide.

Not Strong Enough

What’s your very scary?

Is it fear of that your pain or the heartache will never away? That the grief and loneliness will always stay? That your prodigal won’t come home, that you love is in vain, or even that your faith will fail?

Rest assured: Your faith will not fail while God sustains it; you are not strong enough to fall away while God is resolved to hold you. (J.I. Packer, Knowing God). He will hold you fast.

From the first run down the green chute to the last breath on this green earth, the Lord takes his children by the hand and walks us through every very scary.

His Unseen Hand

This post was written in memory of my generous, joking, winking, eye-twinkling, and fearless Uncle Kevin. On Sunday, February 19th, 2012, God took hold of Uncle Kev’s hand and walked him home.

In the nearly ten years since, the truth of God’s unseen hand gripping mine means immeasurably more now than it did then. Then, I felt it as a parent clinging to a scared child and as an observer of a dear soul fading into glory.

Now, I feel it more as a fragile parent-child whose hand is gripped by the Everlasting Father. I feel it more as a servant looking to the hand of her master, waiting for mercy (Psalm 123:2). Now I know what that I only cling to him because his hand upholds me.

Speaking of holding, had he been here Uncle Kev would have held his first grandchild, little dark-haired, rosy-cheeked Ellie last month. I know there are no tears in heaven. I hope there is a beaming Grandpa Kevin amazed by the wonder of Ellie.

For I the Lord your God hold your right hand; it is I who say to you. ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you.’

I am the one who helps you, declares the LORD, your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel. 

Isaiah 41:13-14

No Evil Shall Befall You: What Real Rescue Means

Woman with COVID-19 Mask

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
    nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—
    the Most High, who is my refuge-
no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
    no plague come near your tent.

Psalm 91:3-6, 9-10

President recommends Americans wear masks in public. That’s today’s headline.

Fear is at fever pitch. There were more Google searches for prayer in March than in the last 5 years that comparison data has been available. People are afraid.

Then this.

No Evil Shall Befall You

He will deliver you from the deadly pestilence. Those words from Psalm 91 sound like a perfect fit for these post- COVID days, don’t they?

People recite it as they wash their hands or “brave it” to the grocery store. Many are clinging to these verses for health—and for life. The words, for some, are like a Christian incantation, a hex on a deadly plague.

And that makes me very uneasy.

But the Psalm does say, No evil shall befall you, no plague will come near your tent.

So what does that mean? Does it mean that if I have faith, or better yet, if I have faith and wear a mask and wash my hands and self-quarantine I—and those in my tent—won’t get COVID-19?

Is that what Psalm 91 really means?

Real Fear. Right Guilt?

Faith, by cheering the heart, keeps it free from the fear which, in times of pestilence, kills more than the plague itself…

Charles H. Spurgeon, Commentary on Psalm 91:3

Abby, I’m really scared. My caregiver does not wear a mask. That’s how my friend Jean started our call. Jean is physically fragile and homebound. She paused, then added, I feel guilty for being scared because I believe in God.

Jean, about the guilt: You can’t stop a bird from flying over your head, but you can keep it from building a nest in your hair. You can’t stop the fear that tenses your gut. But you can keep fear from nesting in your head. She liked that.

May I share two things I try to do when I’m really scared? She agreed.

Here’s what I told Jean.

Reality Therapy for Real Fear

What is the worst thing that could possibly happen if my worst fear comes true? I try to ask myself that the moment fear springs up. Whether I hear a bump in the night or I feel a lump in my chest—I ask,

What is the absolute worst thing that could happen?”

Then I sit with that answer a while. And usually, Jean, if I’m honest, my worst fear is death.

But the second thing is even more important. As I sit with the worst case in my mind, I try shine God’s truth on it. It might be lyrics that buck me up, like I fear no foe with you at hand to bless Or, Teach me to live that I may dread the grave as little as my bed.

Or it might be a truth like all things work for good and nothing can separate us from his love

Like, no evil shall befall you.

How can you be so sure, Miss Abigail? That’s what you’re thinking, right? Because faithful Christians will die of COVID-19. Pestilence and plague will befall us. Death will come near our tents.

They may have done everything right and may have even prayed Psalm 91 each night.

What Does “No Evil” Mean?

Not to burst your bubble, but unless Jesus returns first, you will die. I will too. We’re mortal. We must.

So what does, No evil will befall you mean? We’ve got to understand rescue the right way or we’ll be greatly shaken when good folks get sick and when we have to look death in the eye.

Charles Spurgeon ministered through a deadly cholera epidemic in London. He explained “no evil” like this:

It is impossible that any ill should happen to the man who is beloved of the Lord; the most crushing calamities can only shorten his journey and hasten him to his reward…Losses enrich him, sickness is his medicine, reproach is his honour, death is his gain. No evil in the strict sense of the word can happen to him, for everything is overruled for good.

Let that thought nest.

Because one way or another, God will deliver all his children. He will rescue us from the fangs of COVID-19 and bring us safely into his kingdom.

One way or another, in life or in death, he will.

Real Rescue

God does not say no afflictions shall befall us, but no evil. -Thomas Watson.

The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. Those are among Paul’s final words. They’re at the end of the last chapter of the last book he penned in prison shortly before he died, probably by beheading at Nero’s wicked hands.

He had just mentioned Alexander the coppersmith who did him much evil and he knew his days were short. What most of us would call evil was “befalling” Paul.

Then in 2 Timothy 4:18, he writes,

The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.

We must understand this to “get” what Psalm 91 means. Real evil was is that Paul’s faith would wither. Real rescue was being brought safely home to Jesus.

That is it! If we make the Lord our refuge, then fear won’t cripple us- because we know that the worst—even disease and dying—brings the best.

Because real rescue means God bringing us safely into his kingdom.

When Death Sounds the Retreat

Faith is endangered by security, but secure in the midst of danger, someone said. If there was an upside to COVID-19, this is it.

I know the Puritans paint a rosier picture of death than we’re used to. But tell me this isn’t true:

Friend, if you were prepared, death would be to you a change from a prison to a place, from sorrows to solace, from pain to pleasure, from heaviness to happiness. All your sins and sorrows would be buried in your grave and the ship of your soul…and you would arrive at a blessed and everlasting harbor. Death would sound the retreat, and call you out of the battlefield- where the bullets fly thick in your combat with the flesh, world and wicked one- to receive your crown of life.

George Swinnock, The Fading of the Flesh and Flourishing of Faith, 1662

We are under his wings. Evil cannot touch us there!

And, if it seems to, as John Piper wrote, there must be a glorious deliverance we can’t see. What else can we conclude when we put these two Psalms together:

Psalm 44:22 – “For thy sake we are slain all day long.”
Psalm 34:19 – “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.”

Remember how Jesus talked to his disciples this way?

Luke 21:16 – “…some of you they will put to death.”
Luke 21:18 – “But not a hair of your head will perish.”

Jesus doesn’t tell lies and he doesn’t speak out of both sides of his mouth. He speaks truth. He is the truth.

So Jean, this all means that you might—I might—get infected with COVID-19 and Psalm 91 is still true.

No evil will befall you.

What is our hope in life and death?
Christ alone, Christ alone
What is our only confidence?
That our souls to him belong
Who holds our days within his hand?
What comes, apart from his command?
And what will keep us to the end?
The love of Christ, in which we stand

Christ Our Hope in Life and Death

Words and Music by Keith Getty, Matt Boswell, Jordan Kauflin, Matt Merker, Matt Papa

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.

Romans 8:38-39

When Your Pain Is Real And Pressing

Some weeks we feel it more. Some days strung in a row, it’s heavy and it clings. Our pain feels real and pressing.

Some springs we just feel the fall more. Paul wrote: The whole creation groans

Last week, when April showers were snowstorms that dampened weddings and canceled ballgames and delayed burials and postponed buttercup plantings, I think I heard it groan.

Grandpa On Monday

It was Grandpa’s burial that was delayed last Monday.

Not that it that day so much when I heard the moan.  Because we’d watched him fade and Grandpa was blessed to make 98.

Two days before his last, we stopped to say our thank-you’s and good-bye. Grandpa’s head was a little bloodied and bruised from a nasty night-time tumble.

All creation groans.

Grandpa was thirsty. I swabbed three times with water- no hyssop, no wine. Then I leaned in to the “good” ear that could maybe hear a.  We love you Grandpa. He winced and softly moaned.

All creation groans. 

Still- or so?- we sang- Youtube and I- into that one good ear. 

There’ll be no sorrow there, no more burdens to bear, No more sickness, not pain, no more parting over there. And forever I will be with the One who died for me.

What a day, glorious day that will be! What a day that will be when my Jesus I shall see,

And on and on we sang for 4 or 5 more songs.  Until the troops got hungry and restless. For all creation groans. 

His funeral was Monday. I heard it then.

Groaning the Rest of the Week

But, got louder- it felt heavier- as the week wore on.

On Tuesday when a tearful friend detailed a long-standing heart-wrenching marriage ache. And Wednesday, I heard it when another friend described her pain as she wrote the hardest word on her son’s tax return- “deceased.” He would have been 18.

All creation groans. 

Thursday, I felt it when a newly widowed friend explained how a court and a judge are needed to unravel wrongs from before her husband died. And I heard it Friday when another friend requested more prayer for a heated custody battle her son is in.

All creation groans. 

Then, Saturday, I felt it in myself. In a struggle in my mind that comes and goes but may not end, I think, till I die, (And that’s okay- suffering is fitting.) And Sunday, Jim and I heard it when our friend’s sick lungs kept him in bed, even on the sunny day when spring came.

The whole creation groans. But He knows.

God knows what He’s about. 

When God Wants to Drill a Man

I’d heard this (anonymous) poem before. But when I woke up Friday last week – that string-of-days week – to hear Joni read it, it meant more.

When God wants to drill a man,
And thrill a man,
And skill a man
When God wants to mold a man
To play the noblest part;

When He yearns with all His heart
To create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall be amazed,
Watch His methods, watch His ways!

How He ruthlessly perfects
Whom He royally elects!
How He hammers him and hurts him,
And with mighty blows converts him

Into trial shapes of clay which
Only God understands;
While his tortured heart is crying
And he lifts beseeching hands!

How He bends but never breaks
When his good He undertakes;
How He uses whom He chooses,
And which every purpose fuses him;
By every act induces him
To try His splendor out-
God knows what He’s about.

Hammers and hurts, converts. Bends, but never breaks, when his good He undertakes. For sure: amazed, by God’s methods and ways.

Which may include pain.

When Your Pain is Real and Pressing

But this blog is called Joyfully Pressing On and Philippians 3:8-14 is my theme.

I know this suffering, this all creation groaning, is not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us. I believe this. The pain and pressing now is not worth comparing to the glory then.

But more.

Our suffering now isn’t merely to be endured. In a sense, it’s to be a source of joy. Yes, joy! Because our groans, our faithful groans, our I-believed-and-so-I-spoke groans, are actually achieving glory.

Our real and pressing pains are some of the God’s means to prepare and produce and achieve this splendid glory. To try his splendor out.

When you see this, says Joni Eareckson Tada, you’re a Rumpelstiltskin weaving straw into gold; like a divine spinning wheel, your affliction works a far exceeding and eternal weight of glory (When God Weeps, p. 210)

Glory will be so glorious not in spite of our suffering, but because of it.

Eternal Weight Of Glory

Let’s don’t doubt it, friends: Our suffering is productive. If we’re in Christ, it’s working for us, even as we groan. 

While we waste away, God is preparing an eternal weight of glory– from our real and pressing pain.

Earlier this snowy, groany month of April, a friend gave me a new Wendell Kimbrough CD. I listened to track nine over and over last week. And if you’ve had your own string of days- if you’ve felt the fall this spring- you might enjoy a listen too.

So I’ll leave you with the lyrics to track number nine- Eternal Weight of Glory- since it’s high time I say good-bye.

Because the snow finally melted and I’ve got some buttercup bulbs to plant.

Eternal Weight of Glory 
Now the days and hours and moments
Of our suff’ring seem so long;
And the toilsome wait and wond’ring
Threaten silence to our song.
Now our pain is real and pressing
Where our faith is thin and weak,
But our hope is set on Jesus;
And we cling to him, our strength.

Oh eternal weight of glory!
Oh inheritance divine!
We will see our Lord redeeming
Every past and future time.
All our pains will be transfigured,
Like the scars of Christ our Lord.
We will see the weight of glory,
And our broken years restored.

For behold! I tell a myst’ry:
At the trumpet sound we’ll wake

“Death is swallowed up in vict’ry!”
When we meet our King of Grace
Every year we thought was wasted
Every night we cried “How long?”
All will be a passing moment
In our Savior’s vict’ry song

We will see our wounded Savior.
We’ll behold him face to face;
And we’ll hear our anguished stories
Sung as vict’ry songs of grace.

Words and Music: © 2015 Wendell Kimbrough.

A Tale Of Two Showers

So I say to you, “If you knew the blessed God, and who it is that is offered to you-the sweetest love, the richest mercy, the surest friend, the chiefest good, the greatest beauty, the highest honor, and the fullest happiness… You would be more willing to leave these frothy joys and drossy delights for the enjoyment of God than any prisoner was ever willing to leave the misery of jail for the liberty, pleasures, and preferment of a court.”

-George Swinnock, The Fading of the Flesh and the Flourishing of the Soul

I attended two bridal showers last Saturday. Funny thing was, I didn’t even know I was at the one until I got to the other. Then these dull eyes started to make sense of what I’d seen. 

Because you’ve got to have no sight at all to miss a bride making ready for her big day. 

Bridal Showers

One shower was bigger, with dozens of cousins and aunts and friends. The other was just three sisters, until along came me. 
One shower had a table spread big with buffet of sandwiches and salads and mixed nuts and cake. The other was not so broad- some sips of soup and applesauce. Both showered refreshment on the guests. Both tables amply laid. 
At one shower, the bride-to-be was getting vases and sheets and picture-less picture frames. The other was giving vases and quilts and pictures in their frames away. Both had a devoted sister beside her, noting each gift opened or given away. 
At one shower, the bride is counting down-38 days and 18 hours-before she’s given away. The other bride knows not the day nor the hour. She suspects she knows the season and content to leave the precise timing to her bridegroom. 

She says, His timing is always best.

Preparing For Their Big Days

Both brides are picking playlists for their celebration days. Both select from among the special songs that marked their relationships along the way. One bride might play I’ve Got You. The other, for sure, Trust and Obey

Both brides are clearing clutter. One bride has far less than the other. Both sort through unneeded things from their single days. Both go deep into closets and drawers to throw old clippings and awards and cards and notes away.
Both brides can talk a blue streak about her beloved. Both smile and look just a little bit smitten when each says, in so many words how she knows his love. Both brides describe- in a word- their husband, their betrothed, as faithful every day 
Both brides will relocate upon their wedding days. One will move across the country to her groom’s new medical school. The other will go a little further than Philly. Both might miss some folks, but they say they’re not afraid to go away. 
I’m dense sometimes. I don’t always see through God’s signs to the truth that is behind. But even I couldn’t miss the message of the brides after the shower last Saturday. 

And Grandma Did A Fist Pump

It is possible for your dying day to be your wedding day…for then the fairest of ten thousand and your soul will be solemnly knit together. 

-George Swinnock, The Fading of the Flesh and the Flourishing of the Soul
Two weeks ago we found out Grandma’s cancer had came back. This time it was more painful-incurable pancreatic. We don’t know just how long. And how I wanted to visit while Grandma still felt, her word, perky. 
So I headed up Friday night, clueless about her shower. The second one Saturday, for lovely cousin Hannah, that one I knew about. You can see how the surprise was all on me when I walked in to find the three. Grandma with her sisters were gathered around the table writing lists and making plans and setting up the service. 

What’s the oldest blessing in the Bible? they asked me. Aaron’s, I think, at the end of Numbers chapter six. Grandma’s sister read it. 

That’s it, Grandma declared. Now, write that down so you don’t forget.
Then she let me to recite some verses I’d been working through. And when I got to- Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemptionshe broke right in with glee.

Here where Grandma fist-pumped and said so joyfully, 

That’s me! I’m sealed for the Day of Redemption, for Jesus. Oh, I’m so glad He loves me!   

Revel A Minute

A Puritan named George Swinnock lived 350 years ago and he would have fist pumped, too. Because what Grandma knows, Swinnock knew- that when outside is fading, the inward can be renewed. And that the abundant life Jesus gives only starts with our short as dew, fading like wildflower lives on God’s green earth.

We can know this too. We-me and you, church, the body of Christ, his betrothed bride-we aren’t unaware.

So revel here a minute with Swinnock and Grandma and me.

Come forth; behold your beloved in all His glory. His arms are stretched out to embrace you. His lips are ready to kiss you. Oh, what a loving look He gives you! I am certain that you have a greater place in His heart than you have in your own…Your beloved will entertain you with precious and costly feast at His own tableIf you accept this offer, it will be life for you to think of death. You will lift up your head with joy when the day of your redemptions draws near. (Swinnock, p. 76-77)

Saints know where their portions lay. Grandma’s portion showed through at her shower on Friday night. I saw Grandma’s affections are getting more set on Christ, her true husband, and that this world is gently easing out of her, so it’ll be easier to say good-bye. 
For now Grandma’s showering us all-her beautiful Connemara Girl and woolen Sunbonnet girls, her hand-sown quilts and beloved hymnals, even her dear Dutch art-her Delft blue and windmills and tulips. She’s giving it all away. 
And she’s sealed and dressed in fine linen and fist-pumping awaiting one glorious redemption day. 
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,
“Hallelujah!

For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. 

Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory,

for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready;

it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

Revelation 19:6-8