I’m reflecting on Hineni (Here am I!) this morning and came across this article. I long for God’s Presence yet the warning at the beginning of the article is so true. I shrink back from fear of harm or loss. My family has been through a lot of loss these last few years. What if God calls me to something else that hurts deeply? Can I really say Hineni? Am I willing to be fully God’s servant? I desire such, but I also fear loss. Besides the fact that I often forget God's Holiness and take Him for granted.
The digital art above is about Ezekiel's vision. However, Isaiah and Daniel had similar visions as well as the Apostle John. Holy, Holy, Holy! Can we even comprehend God's Holiness? Ezekiel falls down as though dead. This is the God we are calling upon when we pray. This is the God whom sinners should fear!
However, later in the article the author points out how God says Hineni to us! He is willing to pay the cost and take on the losses and pain to be fully present with us! This brought me great peace, comfort and even joy! God's Son was fully present on earth in the flesh. He was acquainted with suffering even to the point of death. He was fully present so that we could receive His Presence fully! This is my greatest desire and need! How about you? This is the God whom sinners should love, because He first loved us - even while we were still sinners.
Yes, Lord be fully present with me! Then perhaps I will be strong enough to be fully present with you and with others in my life! Thank you for entering into our pain, suffering, loss and total depravity so that we could enter your Presence fully! Though we are sinners and deserve death, you rescued us through Jesus! I praise You, Holy, Almighty and merciful God! Glorify your Son today in all of the earth! Make Your Presence known that the world may know the hope that is only found in you! In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit! Amen!
What do you need Jesus to do for you today? Ask Him!
My first thought using this title was,
"Who is going to read this that has had a meal with me lately?"
But that isn't the point I will be making to call out friends and family members or even myself - though we are all sinners. :) Instead I want to point out an issue more broad that I would have liked to comment on someone's ranting YouTube post. Responding to him directly most likely would not have had any affect on his convictions or have any chance of a civil discourse.
Recently a well known and up and coming Christian music artist Lauren Daigle toured on the Ellen Show. She sang a song from her latest album called "Rise Up!" She was soulful and vulnerable and filled with joy as she worshiped freely in her short one song segment. The YouTube-er that ranted was criticizing and even judging Lauren's faith based on her appearance on the show. He had several judgements regarding first Ellen's reputation, then how could Lauren dress in the attire she was wearing and how could she ever be a Christian and be on this show!
This response is an attitude that I see growing and becoming more pervasive among Christian's, especially on social media and the internet. Perhaps it's because this is a political season? We all vote on Tuesday. Or maybe there is something going on in our churches where "us Christian's" need a heart check. Legalism has always been an issue since first century Judaism and throughout church history. Many of the Apostle Paul's letters deal with this topic as the Judaizes who were wedging their way into the churches and causing confusion about the law and God's grace through salvation in Christ.
What is correct doctrine (teaching)? How should a believer live their lives? What is permissible? Can we watch that movie? Can we drink this drink? Can we spend time with those people? Can we perform our music on that show?
Can we eat with "sinners?"
When we encounter questions as these we turn to God's word (the Bible) for wisdom. What did Jesus have to say about "eating with sinners?"
Mark 2:13-17 New International Version (NIV)
13 Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.
15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and "sinners" were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the "sinners" and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and "sinners"?”
17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but "sinners.”
(Bold and quotes added by me for emphasis).
As Jesus made his tour of preaching and teaching he first called Levi (Matthew) to follow him. Then he ate with Levi at his home. This was extremely controversial for the Jews since it was against their law. The legal overseers of the law (the Pharisees) took notice. They noticed Jesus ate with sinners. It was difficult to miss because such large crowds of sinners followed Jesus. Did you notice? Jesus called only Levi to follow him. However many other tax collectors and "sinners" made their own minds to follow too. We know what was in the mind of the Pharisee's as they obviously saw what they considered the breaking of the law by Jesus eating with sinners. But what was in the mind and hearts of all of these "sinners"?
I want us to put ourselves in their shoes for a minute. Imagine you are a tax collector. You couldn't make ends meet in your community. You had no choice, so you took a job that would lead you to work for a company/ or the government who took more than their fair share of your people's money. Now you are becoming wealthy by charging more than a fair price. You live this life for a while and family and friends begin to despise you and call you a traitor. You are cut off from your community and are also expected to bring in more money from a government that is, let's say very persuasive. How are you feeling? What are you needing? What do you desire most?
I imagine I'd feel shameful, lonely, fearful and longing for relief and acceptance again. I'd miss my family and friends and would hope for some type of reconciliation and restoration of our relationships.
Jesus came along and by calling just one "sinner," gained many other sinners (the harassed, shame filled, lonely, fearful, longing for acceptance) as followers too. They were attracted to a community that would accept them and love them unconditionally, even with the acknowledgement that they were indeed "sinners." It is the sick that need a doctor, not the "righteous" Jesus said.
Let's come back to the news worthy topic of Lauren Daigle visiting the Ellen show. I don't know Lauren's or Ellen's hearts. I know only parts of each of their life stories. I don't know them fully as God knows them. So what is my or any Christian's purpose in responding to events like this? What choices could we make that would be in alignment with God's character and will?
1) We could choose to condemn and judge others and discredit their faith - basically calling condemnation on their Christian identity.
2) We could choose to (if necessary) remember what Paul taught Timothy. "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."
2 Timothy 3:16.
3). We could choose to stay totally out of discourse and say nothing.
Do you see the difference? One takes the posture of being judge and bringing condemnation on a sister in Christ. The other through relationship offers teaching and discourse to train a person in righteousness to be a servant of Jesus. The man who posted the condemning YouTube post took the posture to condemn. And I will just bet he hasn't read much about her story, he doesn't know her heart and has probably never met her previously. But if he had a Christian disciple making relationship with her I think the conversation would be more as stated in 2 Timothy.
Is it possible that by Lauren Daigle worshiping the Lord in such a public forum, on this one controversial show, could bring many "sinners" to follow Jesus?
It is amazing we can have such a broad reach to the world through the platform of social media while sitting at home or on our smart phones. But there are professing Christian's with several different and polarizing viewpoints speaking out through social media. So let's keep in mind our purpose as Christ followers to build up and encourage each other in disciple making and in our call to proclaim this "Good News" of the Kingdom to a world of "sinners" in which we all are included. There are times when we need to rebuke or correct someone. However there is a difference between these and condemnation. Do you see the distinction? Is this helpful in our own social media and relationship interactions?
Certainly there is more to this conversation, but for today try this: Inviting just one "sinner" to dinner or for coffee. One person who you've had conflict with or who holds different views than yours. Serve, listen and love them! I'd love to hear your stories if you are willing to do this.
The invitation is set - God invited us all to His feast! We all are invited! Will you join Him?
It was a beautifully sunny yet cool autumn morning in Southeastern Michigan. The leaves were glorious! Vibrant colors of orange, red, yellow, brown and some green covered the landscape next to the Huron River. The chapel tower pierced the blue sky. Anticipation for something new and wonderful was in the air! My bride was preparing in her quarters. And I was waiting, nervous but so excited to begin this new journey of marriage. Prior to the service (breaking tradition) we took our photos out on the grounds of Concordia Ann Arbor. My bride was dazzling and elegant all dressed in white and exuding purity as was her heart and soul. I had waited 30 years for this moment. Both of us had sought to honor God and each other, though we did not know each other until a year prior to this wonderful day, by saving ourselves and passions until marriage.
As it says in Song of Solomon 8:4,
"Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you:
Do not arouse or awaken love
until it so desires."
Of course this goes for the sons as well. But alas our waiting was over and this moment that we dreamed about and waited for had arrived: The wedding Day! I'm a future thinker, a visionary and so I had been praying for my future wife since at least forth or fifth grade. Praying for her protection, health, safety and most importantly that her faith in Christ would grow and mature. It is such a blessing to marry an equally yoked spouse. God has been so faithful through our seasons of singleness and now to the point of our wedding day. I look back and remember this day with fondness and joy.
Today I look around and wonder about the vision that most people have about marriage. It doesn't seem to be cherished or dreamed about; at least in the way that God intended. My hope and prayer is that children, adolescents and young adults can reclaim that holy vision of marriage and singleness. I pray they see and understand that God loves us and wants the best for us. Do most of us believe that? Do we believe God's character is good? Or do we simply fall to our fleshly desire and passions of the flesh thinking we know better than God?
The problem is that people sell their birthright and inheritance from God for a measly bowl of soup! Remember the story of Jacob and Esau in Genesis 25. Esau, though he was the first born and rightly deserved his fathers inheritance, gave it all up for a bowl of soup. He let his immediate desires override his long term gain of an inheritance for him and his posterity. His choice not only affected him but all of the generations of his family. Therefore Jacob received the father's inheritance not only in monetary form but also the promises that God had given his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham. Jacob's children now would be blessed too!
God has been faithful to Laina and me as well. We sought to be faithful to Him and each other before and during our marriage. And though the last several years have been difficult as Laina battled cancer and as we faced her death, God is still faithful! This last year the Lord reminded us of his faithfulness through His word.
1 Samuel 7:12
Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen.
He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”
Thus far the Lord has helped us too. He has been faithful even through cancer and facing death. Laina lives in eternal joy now! God is good! I remember and will dwell upon His faithfulness as I remember Laina and my marriage. He is our Ebenezer!
I'm looking back on so many memories, photos and videos. Even items around the house bring to mind various thoughts about Laina. It is difficult to let go of people we love and other items of significance. Life is packed with meaning and memories. Below is a patch from the quilt that she made me. She gave it to me just over a month before she passed. Read what she wrote...
It is good to "Remember" wonderful memories and especially the Lord's faithfulness. Lauren Daigle sings a song called Remember on her latest album. Take a listen and "Remember" even up until this very moment God has been faithful!
The rain is falling this dark night. I listen to the drops fall upon the roof and against the windows. I hear occasional gusts of wind blow swiftly through the trees. The seasons are changing. There is always turbulence during change and transitions. Change isn't all bad but it definitely disturbs our comfort level. Our family had it's "normal" shaken. And now with the change that Laina has passed into new life with Christ, a new normal is starting to emerge for us as well. I recognize that this next year there will be many "firsts." The first time I go to parent teacher conferences alone. The first time I care for myself and the girls while we are sick. The first time I plan and prepare for Matea's birthday without Laina. The first time (in two weeks) that I will remember our 12 year wedding anniversary and be without my wife. The changes come with remembering the wonderful times of the past, but also questions and uncertainty of the moving forward. I still have dreams and hopes, but not my partner who walked with me through them. Life is a journey. We need to keep moving forward. I could choose to stand still and do nothing. Or I could seek God whole heartedly as I've always done and trust Him to walk with me and the girls through this transition. A new season is upon us.
I must say, I am so thankful for my daughters. The faith of children is a wonder to me. I'm getting more cuddles and having wonderful, deep theological conversations with them about life and death, heaven and hell, sadness and joy... They understand more than we give children credit for. Of course they miss mommy as I do. But their hope, joy and peace encourages me. Matea and I watched mommy's video again today. Such rich words of wisdom, grace and peace that Laina offered. And you should see the girls faces when Laina shares about their names and our hopes for them. I see a sparkle in their eyes and their faces light up. They have received the blessing and love of their mother and can remember her love through the video and our stories. I'm not saying that everything is perfect and that there will be no challenges. But through this transition I see God working in our lives, together.
The last couple years I've studied and prayed through this passage,
Matthew 11:28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
We often refer to these verses when we are tired, worn out or frustrated with life. And I have definitely hit those moments with ministry and the cancer journey. But what I did not expect is how God has used our trials, fears, uncertainty, weariness and pain to shape us into His son's image more and more. Isn't that the goal that God has for us to be made into the image of Christ until we all reach maturity? If we are following Jesus closely, we will face trials and suffering. That is a hard truth isn't it? Yet when we are weary where else can we turn? The internet? Alcohol or drugs? The latest fad or trendy religion? A relationship? People do turn to these but Jesus is the best answer though it is difficult to follow him at times. Peter said to Jesus, "To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." Our momentary trials are working within us the Christ-like maturity that God desires for us. It's amazing really. That though my wife has passed away and I miss her terribly - I still have peace, joy, love... because of our precious faith in Jesus. He gives us the fruit of the Spirit. I feel rest in Him. My burdens though many with grief, paperwork, housework, taking care of the girls and considering my vocation - is light. Jesus is humble and gentle of heart - He cares for us. Seasons change but God uses those transitions to change us. We cannot stay as we are or have been, we must reach maturity in Christ. We don't do this on our own, it is with Christ's help, the Holy Spirit's empowering and counsel and with other Christian's in community.
When I consider all that we have been through these last couple years, I ask God: Is this the rest you give when I come to you?! Yet, whether I came to him or not we would still have to go through this suffering, through cancer. And the truth is that I (we) have seen God's extravagant love continually through this journey! So yes, the Lord is true to His word at giving us rest for our souls. I'm learning to take His yoke/burdens on and learning from him. If I look in contrast to the burdens and yokes that others put on me or even the burden I put on myself - Jesus's burdens are light and easy. I've had employers give me a ton of work while they are surfing the internet or joking around. Has any employer ever asked you to work late, miss family events or even church to complete projects? That is a heavy burden and at what cost? The cost of time with family? The cost of a marriage? The cost of your soul?! Jesus has much to teach us if we are willing to learn from him. The last couple years have been extremely burdensome learning to detach and let go of many things and people. Yet my heart and eyes are learning to look heavenward. By fixing my eyes on eternal life I don't make other inconveniences or burdens such a big deal.
The invitation still stands from the words of Jesus, "Come to me..."Once again, today I come to him, seek him and learn from him. He is gentle and humble of heart - I know I'll find rest for my heavy soul. Jesus promised!
This Saturday at Oakwood Church in Hartland, WI we will celebrate a memorial for Laina Jerdon (Rowe). One way that we can continually remember Laina and cherish some of the beautiful things that we enjoyed together, is to contribute to the building of a prayer garden in her memory. The photo above is schematic, but will give you an idea of what we are trying to create. The prayer garden will be hosted on site at Oakwood Church. The girls and I, along with Laina's parents and others can come to the garden to remember Laina, but most importantly seek the Lord in prayer surrounded by the beauty of His creation.
Laina and I loved going on hikes in nature and talking to God as we walked along. My previous poem indicated such a time of prayer. Laina and I also loved taking time to pray in prayer labyrinths as well. This practice of prayer labyrinths dates back a couple thousand years ago. What Laina and I like about it is that it forces us to slow down, breath and listen to God. We may bring our journals and Bibles or just walk and talk to him. I won't go too deep into it's practices for now. But for the sake of Laina's memorial we wanted to create a place where people could come and meet with the Lord and pray.
If you'd like to contribute to the design and building of this memorial please send checks to:
Oakwood Church and note in memo "Laina Jerdon Memorial Garden".
We appreciate your donation to this memorial or to Angels Grace Hospice in memory of Laina Jerdon in leu of flowers.
Lastly, we will also be posting the memorial service on Facebook Live on Saturday at 1:50pm.
We are missing Laina... but rejoicing she is with the Father in Heaven and seeing the face of Jesus!
PS> Thank you to Josh Larson for the design of the prayer garden and for Oakwood Church in their generosity in hosting this memorial.
A prayer Labyrinth in Tennessee where Laina
and I celebrated our 10 year anniversary.
1 Peter 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
(A little writing therapy for me...)
Laina came home from the hospital two days ago. She is in bed sleeping as I write. The last couple weeks have been rough for us. The doctors were uncertain of what was going on with her body as the cancer has now moved from her brain, lungs and liver to her spine. Each day holds uncertainty and unforeseen trials. Thank you all for your prayers, encouragements and questions. I know we all want to help during this time of testing. Hopefully this blog will answer some of your questions and challenge you as well.
In times of trial, when our faith is tested - how do we endure? Can we stand strong and have peace even though through tears and grief we are weak and broken? Is testing really necessary?
The last two years have been a severe testing for my family and it's continuing to be more difficult daily. I've personally moved through the grieving process a few times - shock and disbelief, anger, bitterness, self examination, fear and even moving through anxiety, depression and despair. There is much we do not understand and so we fall on our faith in Christ and His word. We are human and subject to all of these feelings and emotions.
I've learned that we cannot deny these desires and emotions. We just move through them.
As my eyes focused on our circumstances I felt like I was falling into a deathly trap. Fear and despair were like chains upon my thinking and soul. Then someone gave me a reminder at just the right time. "Have faith, Todd!" Faith is greater than fear." I've also come to a place of surrender before God.
Don't get me wrong, cancer and other types of suffering are grievous and I despise these things that lead to death. Suffering and hardship do cause us to fear. Death and suffering are enemies! Yet we have a loving God who offers us hope in the midst of our trials!
I want you to see this - we have hope! And not just any hope, but a "living hope!" And this hope is obtained by grace (undeserved gift) through faith (belief and assurance in God and His promises) in Jesus." It's not faith in myself or positive thoughts or in faith itself. It's faith in Jesus!
Yes Laina and our family are suffering for a little while. This is a taste of what could be an eternity for anyone without faith in Jesus. Without Jesus there is suffering that has no hope of relief. Yet God in His great love for us reached down, and through His Son Jesus offered Him as a sacrifice that led to the atonement (covering) of our sins and reconciliation with God the Father. All of those bad things we've done have been covered through the suffering and death of Jesus. There is no balancing of good and bad. We have to be all clean and clear before a Holy God. Jesus is the only means by which we can attain our cleansing from sin.
Why am I sharing this talk about Jesus during our time of suffering? Because it is our faith in Him that gives us strength through our weakness and trials. He is acquainted with suffering even to the point of death. But thanks be to God that He has power in the resurrection for all who believe! There is a living hope - Jesus Christ the resurrected one!
Dear friends, it is Laina's and my hope that all who are watching us, learn and grow in the faith that we not only proclaim with our words, but also in our actions. If there is any fruit from our suffering, may it be those who read about and know us:
1. By responding to the extension of God's grace to you through Jesus, believe that by faith in Him your sins are forgiven and that He claims you as a child of God!
2. Turn away from wrong doing; Not just what you think is wrong in your own eyes, but look through God's eyes and His word. He will show you what is true and just.
3. When you believe in Jesus, God Himself puts a seal of approval on you, the promised Holy Spirit. How do you know you have the Holy Spirit? You will confess that Jesus is Lord and Savior and you will start a process that is progressive - sanctification. Basically this means He is making you more and more like Jesus. (Read John 1-3 and 1 John).
4. The church - community of believers is where sanctification is purposed to be most fruitful. Again read John 15; Ephesians 4. Many friends and family who are praying for us say, "I believe in God." Or "I believe in Jesus." But they do not belong to a community of believers. What happens to someone who is apart from the vine and other branches? Read John 15 again. I feel I need to speak more boldly dear friends. As we face suffering and death the Lord's burden for you and your salvation is a burning fire within my heart and soul! I grieve for Laina. But I grieve more for those who don't believe in Jesus or fail to listen to His words.
As Laina and our family suffers we are being sanctified and we bear fruit that is ever-lasting! This is only through the power of God through Christ! It is our hope to see the fruit of our friends and family believing in Jesus and for believing friends to grow in Christ-like maturity. What a blessing it would be for Laina to see people she loves believing in Jesus while she is still living!
Today is the day of salvation (saving)! (Read Hebrews 1-4).
This is a sinful world that is bent on suffering and death. And as it says in the text above,
"...if necessary..." we suffer for a little while. God can make good from our suffering. It is my prayer that the Lord will send His Holy Spirit and touch your life right now. Is it necessary for us to go through this trial so that YOU will be saved?! I don't know. But God knows.
Last night I was talking with Laina and my parents about this topic. Laina said,
"If this suffering causes others to believe and grow in Christ then this is worth it."
She is such a faithful wife, mother and servant of Jesus. I responded, "Yes, maybe this is the Laina revival period in history." She liked that idea. That was last night. Today she is more confused and losing words. The good moments are fleeting, but I hang on to them. I love her. But as the Lord has continued to remind me through this journey, "Keep moving forward." We move forward by faith! And our faith is not without hope, a living hope that is only found in Jesus!
Heavenly Father, glorify your Son Jesus through our suffering, that many may believe and be saved! Oh Lord, I don't want anyone to suffer for eternity without the Hope and Love that you offer. Draw them to You, Lord! Bear fruit as we wait for the redemption of our souls in Christ Jesus. And we do continue to pray for miraculous healing for Laina even now. But if your will is that she comes to your heavenly kingdom we submit to You. Only grant us your Presence so that we have grace, peace and strength for each day. To the praise of Your great name! Amen.
You are loved dear ones.
While Laina and I were dating she happened to see my dresser filled with t-shirts along with a huge tub that was also filled with t-shirts. I hadn't thrown out any t-shirts since I was in elementary school. Hey, they are all good t-shirts and have significance to them. Laina of course thought I had way too many of them. "Forty two t-shirts!" She said, "That's way too many, you'll never wear that many t-shirts!"
I protested as each of them was special to me. Her next argument stopped me. "Well, how about I make you a quilt with 30 of your t-shirts." She suggested. I paused and thought about it and obliged her offer.
Fast forward about 13 years later. Did I have a quilt? No sir. Did I have t-shirts? No, they were all cut up years ago, but never stitched together. That was until a couple weeks ago. Laina and the girls called me into the living room. I knew she was up to something, because several times I asked her what she was doing and she said, "nothing." That is our code for "Hey I've a surprise brewing up for you so give me some space." Kysa and Matea brought me a huge bag and I pulled out this wonderful quilt! Is there another quilt like it? I think not. It's a quilt of many colors and I will cherish it for my lifetime. And one day it will be passed on to our daughters and their families. It's not just a quilt, it's my story. There is everything from my baby blanket to sporting t-shirts, to concert t-shirts, to mission trip shirts to graduation and even a couple of Laina's t-shirts and Kysa's baptism shirt. Kysa and Matea even drew a couple of pictures on two patches as well. Each panel has a story and a memory. It is a very special gift from my wonderful wife. Laina has always been a woman of integrity and she keeps her promises.
Pick a panel and I'll tell you a story. Some of you may even see a panel that you participated in that part of my life. Feel free to post your memories in the comments below. What do you remember?
Thank you to Laina, Kysa, Matea, Krista (Rei), Kara Blake and our small group ladies from Oakwood Church who helped make this possible. There were many hands that had a part in this beautiful work of my life story. Our lives are so interwoven to make a whole story. And if we'll take a moment and get an even bigger picture, we'll see that we are a part of an even bigger story, God's story.
Thank you Laina! What Laina wrote sums up our lives together. She is so insightful and discerning. I am so thankful for a Godly wife, who has integrity, keeps her promises and loves me truly.
Here you will find updates, thoughts, discussion and prayers for my life and ministry...