Archives For Mourning

Divine Encounters

November 8, 2011 — 2 Comments

I work at the YMCA Monday-Tuesday from 5am-8am to make a little extra cash on the side and it helps pay for my membership.  In the few months I have been there I have experienced a few divine encounters that have left me in mourning at how people hurt.  I call them divine encounters not because I meet the divine face-to-face but because I believe God places me in that situation to be present with someone in their deep anguish.

In walks Doug (not his real name but we will call him Doug).  Doug has come to the Y now for a couple of months and he always has the greatest smile on his face and greets me with the warmth only a Krispe Kreme doughnut could bring.  Whenever I say, “How are you doing?” I know that his usual “I am doing really well” is an honest answer not rehearsed for trite conversation.  He means it. Today Doug was leaving the Y and wanted some coffee but he was waiting on the fresh decaffeinated coffee I was brewing.  So I made short conversation.

“Beautiful day isn’t it?” With a smile he said, “Absolutely gorgeous.  I am going to go play a round of golf after this.”  “I wish I could go,” I said.  “I used to play a lot but with four kids six and under golfing is one of those things that is taken off the list.  I got to have my priorities.  I am a dad first.”

What he said next I was not ready for…

“You definitely have your priorities straight.  I lost two kids in the span of nine months so cherish each moment that you have with them because you never know when it will be your last.”

My heart broke.  I wanted to cry, give him a hug and pray with him on the spot.  The amount of pain this man has endured cannot be expressed in words.  All I could say was, “I am so sorry.”

I stepped away and did a few things then I walked back because I couldn’t let the awkwardness of that conversation get between an opportunity to just be present with this man so I asked him, “How long ago was this?”  I acted like I was cleaning something beside the coffee so I could mask the desire to be close to this man.

“My youngest son died of colon cancer when he was only 21.  That was back in 1997.  Then nine months almost to the day later my oldest son died in a car accident.”

“I am so sorry,” I muttered in obvious nervousness since I really did not know what to say.  “I guess you play golf as a release?”  He answered, “Yeah but the important thing is that I have to be around people.”  The next question I asked floored me, “Did you have any other kids?”  He said, “No, that was it.”

That was it…

Three words that evoked more pain, anguish and sorrow than I have ever experienced.  In a span of nine months this man goes from having a wonderful family full of promise to just he and his wife.  I prayed for Doug.  I now have perspective when each day he tells me that he is doing really well.  I now understand that people have different levels of pain that they experience and we all assume that everybody is OK.

Doug is a great guy.  I hope he gets to see his boys some day.

Pretty sure I met Job this morning.

Sorry…

August 21, 2011 — 2 Comments

Normally I am good about posting and keeping up with the blog and my vlog but this week has been tough.  My wife’s cousin went missing in rural North Central Arkansas and this past Sunday they found his body.  We attended the funeral services this week and between the emotions, driving and other work related things I just did not feel like blogging or vlogging.  Barry Treadway (my wife’s cousin) was only 27 and he left behind a legacy of faith and friendship.  One story that struck out to me was that he was in the process of studying the bible with a former gang member who said that Barry impacted his life in a tremendous way.  This brought me to the realization of two things:

  1. Like the Ecclesiastes writer said, life is but a vapor as it comes and goes without our control.  At any point our world can be turned upside down and we are not in the seat of control to say whether we want this to happen or not.
  2. What will be our legacy?  I know that is a typical preacher thing to say but I could not help but to think about what we leave behind.  Will people remember us as disciples of Christ or something else?

Death is a sobering blow to the cycle of boredom and apathy.  It rocks all of us to the core.  It is one appointment that none of us can escape (Heb. 9:27) and it is best to make sure we are doing everything to follow the will of the one who sent us.  See you this week as I hope to post more.


So it has been almost a month since my last post and since I used Facebook and I must say that I actually feel great. I activated Facebook and discovered I had missed some things but overall I really was ok. I am not sure how mug facebooking I will do but it will not be nearly as much as I used to. I will blog a lot but that is because it is a part of my spiritual formation and a way to connect to others.

Today is a special day because my daughter Madelyn turns 3. In many ways Madelyn has been the forgotten child as Kaleb is the first boy, Amelia is the first girl and Samuel is our baby. As a parent you want to think you are impartial but sometimes we just forget about the important things and unfortunately sometimes that is Madelyn. Of all the kids Madelyn was the one who least liked me until she was a year old. She wanted mommy to hold her and many times she would ball her eyes out until mom picked her up. Things change though and now that girl is wrapped around my finger and she is so amazing. Every time I cook dinner she says “thank you daddy!” She is the first to give me a hug when I come home. I could go on and on. I want to thank God for blessing this world with Madelyn and truly being a joy to so many.

Then there is Bin Laden. U.S. forces shot and killed him in a raid of a compound in Pakistan. I have witheld my opinion because even now I struggle with it. Ezekiel 18 is clear in that God does not rejoice in people dying and Jesus was clear when he said that those who kill by the sword will die by the sword (Matt. 26:52). Also there is the certainty that God is one who is just and surely bin Laden and his cohorts have killed thousands even post 9/11. Yet, we juxtapose a man dying by the same tactics he employed (kill with the sword and die by it) with the command by Jesus to turn our cheek (Matt. 6:38-42) and love our enemies (Matt. 6:43-48). Keep in mind Jesus said those things in the context of those who desired revenge. Yet, was the killing of bin Laden part of the purposes of God and not man? We may never know the answer. Perhaps we need to mourn his death as we mourn anyone who dies in habitual sin and pray that we go about the work of righting wrongs on earth as a part of what God does in heaven.

What bothered me tremendously were the drunken celebrations of people on the streets which, by the way, was painfully reminiscent of the celebrations over there when 9/11 occurred. That was unacceptable and probably fueled the view that America is filled with a bunch of drunken gun-slinging cowboys who care nothing more than to dominate the world. I mourn for that as well.

That is about as political as I will ever get. I plan on finishing my review of Bell’s book and then a series on youth ministry.

Deo gratias

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Does the Bible offer hope to teenagers who live with emotional and spiritual pain?  What about all the suffering that exists in the world today?  What can we do as Christians to help others through these tough times?  In this post I want to share with you a few different ways to explain to teens how to endure pain and what God is ultimately doing to evil and suffering in the end.

The problem of our pain and suffering has a source and if we do not understand that source then we will not understand the solutions that God provides.  The problem that exists in this world is sin.  If we do not place the blame on sin, then we will not understand the answers God provides in the Bible.  Sin is the cause and reason for pain and suffering.

Sin began in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:6).  We find in the rest of Genesis 3 that every area of life was dramatically affected by sin.  This sin has touched the world around us.  The entire message of the Bible from Genesis 3 on is how God is dealing with this sin problem.  Let us look at some of the solutions to this problem.

The first solution to the problem of evil and suffering is to understand your purpose.  The Bible tells us that our purpose is to know God (Philippians 3:10).  This may not give a solution but it may give you motivation to endure what you are going through.  There are two ways to find a purpose in your suffering.  The first is to know that God wants you holy, not happy (1 Peter 1:15).  This may mean that the suffering that is taking place is intended to make you a better person.  God does not care how happy you are if you are leading a life that will end up in hell!  The suffering that comes from our personal sin helps us turn back to God.  We must also remember that some of the things we endure make us look to a loving, heavenly Father for answers.  Another perspective from your purpose of knowing God is that the pain and suffering may be a test of spiritual maturity.  Do you love God for God’s sake, or for what you get from God?  Much of the pain we endure can bring about glory for God or can remind us about spiritual truths.  Death is a reminder of our short time on earth.  Suffering as a Christian can be a testament to others who see our faith.  Just enduring suffering with an understanding that God still loves us is an amazing tool for evangelism and encouragement.  These two areas of knowing God help us to look at pain, evil, and suffering differently.

The second solution to pain and suffering is that we need to understand that on the cross, Jesus did the ultimate judo move to sin.  If sin is the ultimate enemy, then what Jesus accomplished on the cross defeats its power.  What is the essence of the marital art of judo?  To use your enemy’s strengths against them!  Think about what Jesus does for us on the cross.  1) He defeated all the political evil that exists in the world.  He was tried and found guilty unjustly by Pontius Pilate.  2)  He also defeated all the religious evils.  The Pharisees and Sadducees called for his arrest and crucifixion.  3)  All the Satanic evil was defeated.  Satan entered Judas’ heart to turn Jesus over to the authorities.  These three areas were turned against themselves with Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection three days later.  There is hope for us all in the fact that the cross took the evil in the world and defeated it!

The third area is my personal favorite.  We need to understand that in the end God makes everything new!  Revelation 21:5 says this, “And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’”  Stop and think about this for just a second.  God does not say, “Behold, I am making all new things.”  What God says is that “I am making all things new,” in that order.  God, in the end, takes all that is wrong in the world and put it back to what is right!  Romans 8 gives an even clearer picture when it says in verse 21, “that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”  Even the evils that fall on us from the physical world will be made right in the end!  The final message of the Bible is that in the end, God makes everything new!  What has existed in this sinful, broken world will be made right in the end.  Isn’t that more of what we long for than just a simple answer in the midst of our suffering?  

 As we close, I am reminded of the words of C. S. Lewis when we think of the day when Christ returns and turns all that is wrong back to the way God wants it to be.  Lewis says, “they say of some temporal suffering, ‘no future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.”   Today, we eagerly wait for that glory and we need to understand that with Christ’s work on the cross all pain, evil, and suffering has been defeated!

Barry Throneberry has been the youth and family minister at the Highland Church of Christ for over 8 years.  He is married to Rebecca Schwartz Throneberry and writes a blog called Theology with Throneberry.  He is also part of the team that does the Studentminister.com podcast.  His interests are in the areas of Theology, Spiritual Disciplines, and Apologetics.

His name is Ted Mackenzie and he is my hero.  He also happens to be my father and for many reasons  I am thankful for him but probably the greatest quality I admire in this man is his devotion to me and Donnie no matter what.  I was a problem child for most of the 22 years I lived with him.  Detentions, suspensions, F’s on my report card, blatant disobedience, and a host of other things.  However, he stuck with me even in the hard times.  I imagine the most difficult thing for my dad to do was to watch me fail time after time when he knew there was so much more potential in me.  I remember a particularly rough moment in my life and I started crying and ran away, dad chased me and I ran in the basement and tried to run away from him and he held me in his arms and started crying.  I cried some growing up and I am sure Dad did as well but that was one of the few times we cried together.   

Dad, for me, was much like Boaz was for Ruth (obviously in a different connotation but you understand).  Boaz was Ruth’s kinsman-redeemer (Hebrew goel). The kinsman-redeemer in Israelite culture was the closest relative who would redeem their kin in times of trouble so that the women could have a chance in a male-dominated society (this is too short of a synopsis so click here for more information).  In short, Boaz sought to redeem Ruth but the problem was there was a kinsman-redeemer who was nearer to Ruth in kinship than Boaz (3:11-12).  Ruth tells the news to Naomi and this is her reaction:

“Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens.  For the man will not rest until the matter is settled today.”  (3:18)

The New Living Translation renders the word “wait” as, “Be patient” but the Hebrew word for “wait” is yashav and literally means to “sit or to dwell.”  In the most literal sense Naomi is telling Ruth to sit there while Boaz (and God!) tries to consult the nearest kinsman-redeemer.  This may seem like a moot point to you but for Ruth this is her whole world.  This is her one chance and now she has to wait.  

Sound familiar?  Some of us have gone through some of the worst pain we have ever had to face.  We did not ask for it but it came nonetheless.  People keep telling us, “Everything is going to be all right,” yet we see none of that!  All we see is pain…

anguish…

an empty side of the bed…

an empty desk in a classroom… 

the sound of silence where laughter and joy once roamed. 

“Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens.”    That’s tough.


I remember the phone call very well that I received when I was a junior in high-school.  It was one of my best friends from Marietta, Georgia named Ryan on the line (at the time I was living in Chattanooga, TN).  This was great since we hadn’t talked in months and so I looked forward to the conversation but  I could tell something was wrong.  My best friend when I lived in Marietta was my next-door neighbor Johnny Struck.  We did everything together and that included good things but often bad things.  When I moved to Chattanooga we remained close but drifted apart somewhat and so we lost touch.  Ryan told me on the phone that day, “Robbie, I don’t know if you have heard but Johnny is dead.”  I don’t remember anything else Ryan said to me but I do remember being shocked at the time.  I told my parents and I remember my dad looking at me asking if I was ok.  I said I was but I wasn’t.  I never was told about the funeral and to this day I have not grieved properly for Johnny.  The weeks and months that followed Johnny’s death (without getting into details) were nothing short than providential. 

Ruth and Naomi at this point cannot see the big picture.  It makes no sense what has happened to them and being women they have now way of providing for themselves and so they are at the mercy of God’s will.  A woman today could more than likely get a job and provide some reasonable amount of income for her family but back then it did not happen that way.  Women were secondary to men and who you were was about who you were married to and what you owned.  Naomi and Ruth had little to nothing.  But…the barley harvest was beginning (1:22).  We pick up the story in chapter two where Ruth and Naomi simply need grain either to sell to get money or for food on their table.  Ruth offers to go pluck some grain in a field where someone would let her do so.  Naomi lets her and we come across a particular verse:

So she went out and began to glean in the fields behind the harvesters.  AS IT TURNS OUT, she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimilech.  (2:3)

“As it turns out” is not simple mishap or happenstance but it is descriptive language to describe that this is something God is doing.  God seems to be almost guiding her paths for Elimilech was Naomi’s husband and thus Naomi and Ruth would be from that particular clan.  As it turns out ;), Ruth meets Boaz and she is allowed to pluck grain as she wills and furthermore Boaz provides protection for her while she gleans in the fields.  When she returns to Naomi with all of the grain Naomi  is amazed when she finds out Ruth makes contact with Boaz.  To the point she says this:

“The Lord bless him!”  Naomi said to her daughter-in-law.  “He has not stopped showing kindness to the living and the dead.”  She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our kinsman redeemers.”  (2:20)

We will not go into the specifics yet of what she is talking about but as we close this post I want you to pay attention to one thing.  Naomi has gone from proclaiming the Lord’s hand as the source of her troubles (1:14, 20-21) to now proclaiming the Lord as the source of her blessing.  Contradiction?  No way…she is holding to the ancient truths that God is in control of all things and that what is happening now in their lives has no other source than God’s steadfast love!  His providence is at work…this has been a long struggle for Naomi and Ruth and we must see that this did not happen overnight…but God is still at work. 

He will redeem them…He will redeem us!  We shall see this tomorrow in part 3.


I was reading in the obituaries where a 9-year-old girl who was a member at the White Bluff church of Christ recently passed away after a long battle with cancer.  This came after hearing the news that Mickey Bell, a preacher for the churches of Christ with three boys (2 of whom I knew personally) lost his courageous battle with cancer.  Then yesterday one of my students was particularly bothered by something so I asked what was going on and they told me that they learned that just yesterday (Saturday) one of their friends was killed in a motorcycle accident.  My heart aches for the families and friends who are left picking up the pieces of their broken lives.  Sometimes grief is easier when it is anticipated but when something comes upon us so sudden and so quick we are left with questions, doubts and pain.  Death comes upon us all but it is hard to see death come to those who are (from our perspective) so young.  So what are we to do with the pain, the questions, the confusion and all the pieces scattered out like bits of broken glass? 

I read the book of Ruth this morning and it was such a positive read since I just concluded the book of Judges.  Ruth starts out with tragedy though if you remember the story.  A woman by the name of Naomi loses her husband and 10 years later loses her two sons.  She is left with her Moabite daughters-in-law and nothing else.  Her pain is immense and the anguish must be too much.  She appeals to her daughters to “pick up the pieces” and quit waiting around for something to come up (Ruth 1:11-13).  Naomi’s words ring with emotion describe her emotional state: 

“It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has gone out against me” (1:13).   

Now as a minister or a counselor we would want to discourage someone from saying that but what is clear by the narrator of this story is that they neither say this is false or true.  They leave it uup to the reader to decide and that is tough.  Did God do this?  We are simply not told.  Orpah returns to her land and her gods and Ruth refuses to leave Naomi.  They travel back together to Bethlehem and all the towns people gather to see this woman who has gone through so much.  I imagine it is like when you pass a wreck on the interstate and you don’t want to look but you do it anyways because it is so horrible.  If you lost your husband and two sons…it is horrible.  Note what Naomi says again:

“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them.  “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.  I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.  Why call me Naomi?  The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”  (1:20-21)

Again, we are left with no answer to the validity of Naomi’s comment…just our own set of questions and perhaps our own set of answers.  The picture Naomi paints is hardly one worth looking at.  She goes from having everything to losing it all and according to her it is the Lord’s fault.  Her, Ruth and Orpah (wherever she goes) is simply left to pick up the pieces and find meaning in their broken lives.  Things do not make sense.  But something happens that gives us a clue that God begins to work in their brokenness:

So Naomi returned…accompanied by Ruth…arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.  (1:22). 

I understand that this is setting up what will happen in the next chapter but I also believe this is a subtle hint that for Naomi and Ruth, this is the beginning of God doing something amazing in their life.  For us (especially for the families and my student) the pain is real right now and no words will comfort…but God is at work in the midst of even the most painful of situations. 

Part 2 is tomorrow.

A Call to Anguish

November 12, 2009 — 1 Comment

My teenagers informed me of this video by David Wilkerson who founded Times Square Church in New York City.  I disagree with his prophecy views as he is said to have predicted economic disasters etc.  I do agree with the premise of this message and I think it is one that is most powerful. 

Perhaps we do need to be in anguish.  Maybe we do need to lament and repent in dust and ashes.  What do you think?


“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:16-18).

This past week I fasted from Facebook for about 4 days.  It was an uplifting experiment and one that I think many of you “addicts” should attempt to do in your own time (props to my friend Kalyn Drake for braving the fast with me…you are awesome!!!).  Fasting is one of those practices that I believe we have not discussed at length in the churches of Christ.  Rusty Pettus, on his blog, reviewed a book by Scot McKnight called Fasting in which I ordered a few minutes ago and I am looking forward to reading.  Rusty said that, “the purpose [of fasting] is to respond to something that compels us to stop and morn [sic. actually – mourn] the situation. It could be death, sin, hurt, pain, anxiety, injustice, or any number of things. Fasting helps us internalize the moment, grieve the consequences, and seek comfort from God.” (By the way…Focus Press released a series based on the Sermon on the Mount [includes fasting] written by Rusty Pettus and Joe Wells.  It’s called WORSHIP

Fasting.  A simple definition would be to do without.  Jesus said it best when he said, “no man can serve two masters [lit. ‘lords’]” so I have come up with a personal project for 2010 of which I need your creativity.  For 52 weeks I am going to fast.  This is not an effort to show my piety nor is it designed to poke fun at ancient disciplines.  This is a serious attempt to discover what consumes me and what I really value.  In my experience of fasting from Facebook I discovered that I was interested more in looking at photos, status updates and comments than I was imply staying in touch.  Facebook, for me, had become an addiction and I was consumed by checking it all the time so I decided I needed to fast from it.  I learned that I really do not need Facebook so it helped me to understand what is most important in my life: my relationship with God Almighty!!! 

So what ideas do you have?  Each week (Monday-Friday) I am going to fast from something.  What are your ideas?  I will give you the ones I have so far and I want you to add to them in the comment section.  

  • Talking
  • Caffeine
  • Saying/Thinking Negative Things
  • Candy
  • Shelter
  • Radio
  • TV
  • Internet
  • Driving a Vehicle
  • Watching Sports
  • Using a Cell-Phone
  • Eating meat
  • Eating fried foods
  • Drinking anything except water
  • Spending money

There are so much more but I want to know your ideas.  Please understand that this is not a cute, “Lessons-Learned,” blog for me to write about.  I am looking to make changes in my life and help others do the same.  A major component of fasting is to prepare oneself for mourning and difficult circumstances.  Much of next year will be for that as it will prepare me for a new phase in my ministry.  A new dedication and a new focus.  Please help me out! 

     

Blessed Be Your Name

October 7, 2009 — 2 Comments

Maybe you have gone through some depression.  Maybe you are divorced or just married.  Maybe you have so many decisions to make you just don’t know what to do.  Maybe someone really close to you has died.  Watch this video…it will help.  Have a blessed day!