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Covenant Hope for Empty Arms

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BY BENJAMIN R. LEE, Assistant Pastor, Oakwood Presbyterian Church 

     It happened again. For the second time in 9 months, there was no heartbeat on the ultrasound monitor. Two beautiful image-bearing babies. Two traumatic hospital stays. Two pairs of empty arms. It’s hard to put into words the heartbreak Maggie and I, our three boys, and our parents have experienced over these last 9 months. How can you? We hadn’t finished grieving the first baby yet. It’s only been a few months since Annie’s due date passed. Annie – that’s what we named her. Our first daughter. We only buried her last Thanksgiving. When we found out Maggie was pregnant a few months back, we feared it might happen again. It seemed like a bad dream that couldn’t come true, but it did. Now here we are again; waiting for another due date to come and go, thinking of all we’re going to miss out on. I’ll never hold those babies in my arms, or dry their tears, or sing them to sleep. I’ll never play dolls with Annie, or send her off to college, or walk her down the aisle. Our arms are painfully empty.

     There was a time when Abraham’s arms were painfully empty, not through miscarriage, but through infertility, an equally acute pain that remained with Abraham for many years. However, at the age of 75, God made a promise to Abraham, a promise that would continue to sustain him for another 25 years until the birth of his son, Isaac. The promise is the covenant of grace. Even when Abraham’s hands remained empty for those 25 years God promised, “I will be God to you and to your children forever” (Genesis 17:7). The covenant of grace was a promise to Abraham that he would be saved from his sin by grace through faith in Christ, and that his children would be included in the covenant community. It was a promise that God would care for Abraham and for his children, for “to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14).

     During those dreadfully sad hospital stays, it was this promise that filled me with hope and gave rest to my soul. This same promise is, after all, given to us in Christ. While we are not Abraham’s physical descendants, we are his spiritual children (Galatians 3:7), so the same promises belong to us. God will be God to us and to our children forever.

     It is not wise to pry into God’s sovereignty. We could never comprehend all He is doing through our suffering. I don’t know all the reasons God planned for this to happen. But the covenant promise tells me that one of God’s purposes in this is in his kind sovereignty, God allowed my precious wife to carry these two babies for a short time so that they could be counted as belonging to the covenant of grace. In other words, God used my wife’s womb as an ordinary means by which he grew his kingdom. Through stillbirth and miscarriage, we’ve come to be able to say with the Apostle Paul that what has meant death for us has meant life for our babies, who are now enjoying life to the fullest in heaven (2 Corinthians 2:14). Our arms are empty, but Christ’s aren’t. “Let the little children come to me,” he said…and they have. Our two little babies have been brought safely into the arms of Christ and he will hold them forever.

     But we have an even greater consolation than this in the covenant of grace. God promised Abraham that he would give the promised land to his descendants (Genesis 15:18), but even Abraham knew God wasn’t speaking about an earthly home. The promised land was just a picture of a new and greater promised land – the new heaven and earth (Hebrews 11:10). When we said goodbye to these two little babies my greatest consolation wasn’t even knowing they are with Jesus, but that one day I’ll see them again. That’s why John reiterates the covenant promise in Revelation in his vision of the new heaven and new earth: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation 21:3). We were given a painfully short time with our two babies, and oh man, I feel like I’m going to miss out on so much. But I know my Redeemer lives, and at the last, he will stand upon the earth (Job 19:25), and my babies will be standing with Him. On that day, and for another 10,000 years, it will seem as though we never missed a thing.

     In the meantime, as we wait, our empty hands can hold onto nothing more steadfast than the covenant of grace. In spite of all the promises and hope the pain is still real. The tears still burn. Empty arms ache. But we hold on to Jesus because the promise of his covenant is that just as Jesus holds our babies, he’s holding us too. We were not alone in the ultrasound room, or at the hospital. We were not alone when we wept at the graveside. Jesus has been holding us in his mighty hands, and He’s not letting go. His Spirit keeps on whispering the promises through His word. He tells me it won’t be long now. Just a while longer. One day, when we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be.

Posted by Rev. Ben Lee with

Who Are You Owin’? (7)

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BY OWEN HUGHES, Associate Pastor, Oakwood Presbyterian Church

Who Are You Owin’?

DISCLAIMER: My blog posts will be about gratitude. Gratitude, thankfulness, and appreciation do not come naturally to me, but there are so many people that I owe so much to. People who invested in me, who spent time with me, who pursued me, and who shaped me. Some were intentional, others were unintentional, and others were just being themselves. So, my blog posts will be about people who have made me who I am today. People I am “owin’” for making me, well, Owen. Disclaimer: I am not a writer and I’m not an aspiring writer. So, if my writing is “offensive,” either because of structure or grammar or both, please forgive me.

Dad and mum

     My next two blogs will be about my dad and my mum. Obviously, in a blog that is all about folks that have formed, informed, and transformed me, my parents play an integral part. This month I am going to write about my dad and, next month, my mum.

     My father grew up in South Wales. His father was a farmer for years and then worked for the local municipal government on their road crew. My father’s mother was a stay-at-home mum who cared for him and his younger brother, Gordon. She passed away when my father was in his early twenties. He and his brother, Gordon, both had polio as children. My uncle’s polio was much worse than my dad’s, but both now walk with a limp. My dad also has diabetes and when he was first diagnosed, he was very sick and almost died.

     Dad was a fine rugby player. He still loves the sport, but his diabetes diagnosis finished any hope of having a rugby career. He went to college and studied the Welsh language, which is my father’s first language. He told me that he learned English by singing hymns. The church was also part of my dad’s life, but it wasn’t until his conversion at the age of 16 that it became his passion.

     At 16 my father saw his sin and his need for a Savior and saw that the only Savior that could save him completely was Jesus. At the moment of his conversion, my father’s life was on one trajectory and that was to become a preacher and a pastor. I say preacher and pastor because my dad is both an excellent preacher and pastor. He preached his first sermon at the age of 17 and he is one of the finest preachers I have ever heard. There are three things that make him an excellent preacher:

  1. He believes in the fear of God.
  2. He is convinced of the power of God’s Word.
  3. He loves God’s people.

     What made him an effective preacher is that he was an effective pastor. He believed, and has told me often, that “preaching starts in the pulpit, but is applied in the parlor.” Meaning preaching is good and needed, but it’s most effective when you meet with people and apply the Word of God to their daily needs. My dad did this very well.

     One characteristic of my dad’s ministry is that he is a “visiting” pastor, which means his philosophy of ministry (he will hate that I call it that) is to meet with everyone in his church at least three times a year. He would prepare for two sermons (Sunday morning and evening) in the mornings, and then in the afternoon, he would schedule visits with everyone in his congregation. He has pastored churches in Wales, England, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. The churches ranged in size from 60 to 250 people and he would follow the same pattern in every church. My father loves God, the Word of God, and God’s people, and his ministry was marked by those convictions and affections.

     It may come as no surprise that my father has a good sense of humor. He is witty and enjoys a good laugh. He uses humor to disarm people, to put them at ease, and to connect with them. He uses his humor to apply Biblical truths, to point out sin, and to show the beauty of Jesus. Humor is something we both share, along with deep insecurity and spiritual depression. We both deeply want to be noticed, talked about, and pursued. Not by everyone, but by certain people. This can, at times, lead us to be very ungracious to others who capture the limelight. We can also be very self-deprecating in a way that, in reality, is a form of pride, as we want others to pity us.

     As mentioned, we both struggle with spiritual depression. Doubt, fear, and our sin can put us in the “Slough of Despond.” A place where our hearts and our minds are consumed with a lack of assurance, wondering why Jesus would even love us, fixated on whether we have done enough in our ministries, and fear that we have brought shame on the name of Jesus. This can be very crippling in our ministries, in our marriages, and in our parenting. But God has never left us in that slough. He has always carried us through by reminding us of His love, grace, and mercy. He has done that for both me and my dad through old hymns, old books, and old preachers.

     Although my father is getting older (he will turn 80 this year), his faith has always been ancient. His faith has been informed and transformed by old writers, old traditions, and the Ancient of Days, Himself. One of my father’s “ancient" loves is for the Puritan pastors, in fact, he might be the last one. Men like Richard Sibbes, Thomas Boston, and Samuel Rutherford were some of my Dad’s pastors through their writings. They taught him to love the Word of God, to apply it to all of life and faith, and to care for God’s people. To this day, I always find Puritan books on my dad’s nightstand or reading table.

     Several years ago my father told me about the idea of “thumbprints.” “Thumbprints” are the impressions we leave on other people. As preachers/pastors, we have a unique opportunity to “impress” values on a congregation that creates a culture. My father’s “thumbprints” were not only left on the churches he pastored, but also on the people he has encountered including those who have moved all over the world. My dad has, and is, leaving that indelible “thumbprint” on me as well. One which I hope to leave on my marriage, my children, and my ministry. A “thumbprint” that is marked by a love for God, a love for His Word, and a love for His people.

     I owe my dad more than I can repay, and if I am half the preacher/pastor that he is, then to God be the glory!

So my question is… who has left a “thumbprint” on you….Who are you ownin’?

Posted by Rev. Owen Hughes with

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