The ‘Winter’ of Life

Have you felt the chill of that icy wind pierce your soul? Have you been through times when you thought that nothing else could possible go wrong, but it did? Have you wondered if you would ever see the last of it, but you hadn’t, that there was more that could and did go wrong than you could have ever imagined? Have you ever wondered if even God has abandoned you? Were there more questions than answers, and did most of those questions start with “WHY?” Those are the questions of someone going through one or more of life’s winters.

I have written previously about this topic, but with everything that has happened over the last several months, it is a topic worth revisiting.

I have been there, done that and got the T-shirt…many times, but this isn’t about me. Someone else both comforted those in the winter of life, and experienced it first-hand Himself. Our Lord Jesus Christ met several people in the winter of life several times, and then experienced it Himself on the cross.

So, what IS a “winter-event“? Five things come immediately to mind; death, divorce, disease, disability and disaster. This list isn’t all-inclusive, but you get the general-idea. Trauma, in all its forms, also belongs on this list. A “winter-event” is anything that seriously-disturbs what should be the “norm“, something that turns your world upside-down.

In Matthew 9:18-34, Jesus met five people who badly-needed for Spring to come. One was dead, one was sick, two were blind, and one was mute and demon-possessed. Spring returned in a big-way as the dead girl was raised back to life, the sick woman was healed, two blind men received their sight, and the demon-possessed man was freed and his speech was restored.

In Matthew 15:29-31, after healing the daughter of a Gentile woman (15:21-28), a crowd gathered around Jesus, bring many who were sick, lame, blind, mute and maimed, and Jesus, the Bringer of Life, brought healing and Spring back to them. Then, to top it off, He fed the crowd (15:32-39).

In Luke 7: 11-17, Jesus met a funeral procession. A young man had died, and was being carried out to be buried. He was the only child of a woman who was also a widow. Everything dear to her had been stripped away. She was alone, and in mourning, but the story doesn’t end there. The Author and Giver of life stopped the funeral procession and raised the young man back to life. Jesus had met her in her Winter, and proclaimed that Spring is here.

In John 4: 1-42, Jesus was traveling, and came to a town in Samaria. The relations between Israel and Samaria were frosty at best. While His disciples went into town to get lunch, Jesus sat by the well to rest a bit. As He was resting, a woman came to draw water, no doubt trailed by a gaggle of children. They were from several different daddies, as she had been married five times. Some of them may have been fathered by the man she was living with, but not married to. The Jews would have considered her a woman of ill-repute, but Jesus wasn’t put off by her bedraggled persona. Jesus met her in her Winter, and proclaimed that Spring is here. The Kingdom of Heaven had come to earth in the person of the Messiah, and He touched her heart with healing and grace.

In Luke 8: 42-48, again as Jesus was traveling, a woman touched Him. She was extremely sick and penniless, because she had spent all of her meager income on doctors who couldn’t cure her of her problem. The Great Physician did what only He could do…heal her completely. Jesus met her in her Winter, and proclaimed that Spring is here. The Creator and Giver of life is also the Great Physician.

They were a close family, and maybe even lived together. Two sisters and their brother were dear friends of Jesus, but that didn’t keep the unthinkable from happening. The brother fell ill and died. In John 11:1-44, we meet Mary and Martha, and their brother Lazarus. When Lazarus fell ill, Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that their brother was sick, but He didn’t even make it back in time for the funeral. When Jesus did come back into town, Lazarus had already been dead for four days. Mary and Martha knew that Jesus could have healed Lazarus, but He didn’t, but He did meet them in their Winter, and proclaimed that Spring is here. Grieving sisters met the Resurrection and the Life, and Lazarus rejoined his family.

Simon Peter was part of the inner-circle, one of Jesus’ closest associates. He was bold, brash, arrogant, and often mouthy. On that last journey to Jerusalem, he proclaimed his undying loyalty to his Lord. That was until Jesus was arrested, and he met a servant-girl. Then, he was faced with his most severe test, and failed. He denied his Lord, not just once, but three times. Heart-broken, he went back to fishing, his old occupation (Matthew 26:69-75), but the story doesn’t end there…

Jesus had met others in their Winter, and had proclaimed that Spring has come, but He still had to face His own Winter. Jesus had always had perfect fellowship with His Father (John 1:1-5). Jesus took on our flesh and blood (John 1:14), so that He could experience our winter with us. When Jesus was crucified, He experienced His own winter (Matthew 27:45). The perfect, sinless, Son of God, who had not experienced separation from his Father for even a picosecond, was abandoned, forsaken. God turned His back on His own Son… Our Winter became His Winter… He experienced Winter first-hand…

Three days later, Spring returned in a big way, as Jesus was resurrected. Not only did Spring return, but He had purchased our Spring for us. Grieving friends were met by the risen Savior (Matthew 28:9-10) and (John 20:11-18). Jesus had conquered our worst enemy – death. He who was the Resurrection and the Life was alive and well.

Jesus had only been resurrected for a few hours when He met Mary at the tomb. The loss of a loved-one to death is certainly a “Winter” experience. She had seen Him crucified, but His prediction that He would be raised again on the third day had gone right over her head. The risen Lord, in speaking her name, proclaimed that Spring is here, and she was to share the good news with the rest of His disciples. (John 20:11-18)

A short time later, Jesus met two of His disciples on the dusty road to Emmaus. They had also seen Him crucified, and all their hopes and dreams were dashed. They imagined a conquering Messiah who would liberate Israel from Roman bondage. Instead, they experienced the Suffering Servant who Isaiah had foretold. When Jesus broke bread with those two broken-hearted disciples, their eyes were opened, Spring came in like a lightning-bolt, and their grief was turned to joy. Even though they had planned to stay in Emmaus that night, they high-tailed it back to Jerusalem to tell the rest of the disciples. Good news can’t wait. (Luke 24:13-35)

After the resurrection, Jesus met Peter in his winter, and gave him a new commission. He was to tend His sheep…to be an under-shepherd to the Great Shepherd. (John 21:15-17). Peter was to proclaim to others that Spring has come…

Are you experiencing those icy winds of winter? If so, I invite you to come to the One who has experienced our winter, and has proclaimed that Spring is here. Do those memories of winters-past still haunt you? I invite you to lay them at the foot of the cross, and receive the healing which only He can give. We have a great High Priest; “Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.” “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 2:17-18, 4:14-16), Who has experienced our winter, and stands ready to heal us, and proclaim that Spring IS here.

We often think that our problems are too tough, and our Winter is too bleak, but He who conquered sin and death also said; “ALL authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching the to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to even the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

These “Winter” events in our lives remind us that we lost far more than our innocence in the Fall. Life itself became tenuous and fragile. We aren’t in Eden any more.

As a fellow-sojourner, who has experienced more than my “fair-share” of the winters in life, I am here to proclaim the Good News that spring IS here. As we look back on our Lord’s passion week and His resurrection, there is no better time to bring your Winter to find the Spring which only He can bring. The clinic is open, the Doctor is in, walk-ins are always welcome, and there is no waiting. The price is already paid. Come as you are… Will you come to Him for healing? I pray that you do, because you will be glad you did.

Sola Deo Gloria!

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Do Firearms Belong In Churches?

Several high-profile church-massacres in recent years beg the question; “How should we protect our churches and their members?” While we expect that our homes and our churches will be “safe-spaces“, home-invasions occur every day, and church shootings are occurring all too frequently. The church massacre in Sutherland Springs, Texas last Fall drove this point home to me. The only thing that ended that carnage was a few well-placed shots made by a “good-guy-with-a-gun“. Are there really any “safe-spaces” left?

Any time there is a massacre in a place where we should be able to assume is a “safe-space“, there are always questions about what went wrong and how best to prevent similar incidents in the future. One thing we know for certain, is that bad-guys always select “soft-targets“, because the last thing the bad-guy wants is to become the victim of his own chicanery. “Soft-targets” are “easy-targets“, regardless of where and what they are, and a “No guns allowed” sign is like a “Welcome Mat” . One of the questions is “How “hard” is “hard-enough”?”

You can’t get into the capital building without passing a controlled entrance, metal detectors & capital police. How far would you get walking into any other government building, court house, major bank, sports or entertainment venue, media headquarters, or airport with a weapon? Disney, the “happiest place on earth“, uses metal detectors and has armed-security. If these places have been made into “hard-targets“, are they more “important” than the other places we go? Are they more “important” than our churches? Money is transported in armored trucks protected by armed-guards. Is money more “important” than human life?

The White House is protected with multiple-layers of security, controlled by the Secret Service – armed to the teeth. Our politicians are surrounded by an armed-web of security. Are they more “important” than the rest of us? What about our entertainers? The Oscars was crawling with armed-security, some of it visible, some of it hidden. Are the “stars” more “important” than us and our families? They would have us believe so…

While this is about churches, not schools, the recent wave of mass-murders in schools has many people asking how we can protect our children from harm. Some would-be killers have been intercepted by armed-security, limiting the impact of their intentions. Armed-security works. It is of course, an extremely sad commentary on our society that we would need to harden the schools populated with our children. But at some point, we will almost assuredly ask the question we’ve asked about these other facilities. It’s not why would we do it, but why did we wait so long?

Let’s end the gun control debate & just protect our children & schools like we do elected government officials.

As we have seen recently, not even restaurants are safe. There was a shooting at a restaurant in Oklahoma City, and a bombing at a restaurant in Canada. Can’t we at least eat in peace and safety? Apparently not. No place is immune…

NOTE: This is NOT about “gun-control” or “reasonable gun-laws“, because we already have way too many laws on the books and more won’t change a thing. Criminals don’t obey the law, or they wouldn’t be criminals, so more laws are worthless except to restrict the rights of law-abiding citizens.

Some dear friends of mine belong to a church which has armed-security every time the doors are open. They have also restricted access to the main-entrance only, particularly during services. They live in a state where it is way too easy to find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time, as I well know from living there for several years. Yes, the threats are real. Does that mean that they don’t trust God to protect them? No, but they aren’t stupid either, and God sometimes uses “means” for self-protection.

There are two polar-opposite “camps” when it comes to “hardening” churches and related Christian institutions. On one side are those who have no qualms about “hardening” churches and related Christian institutions, including having armed-guards. Some even post signs indicating that there is armed-security on the premises. On the other side are those who believe that they are “honoring God” by refusing to protect themselves, thus “proving” that they are more “spiritual” than those who arm and protect themselves. My question for the latter group is “Are you courting martyrdom?” Do they even lock their doors? We can stick our heads in the sand, or we can acknowledge that churches require security from criminal assault just like every other organization.

When King David retrieved the Ark of the Covenant from where it had been stored after the Philistines returned it, it was escorted by thirty-thousand armed men – an army. (2 Samuel 6)

Even while Jesus was preparing to be arrested, He started preparing His disciples for their expanded-role in spreading the Gospel. While the Parable of the Good Samaritan was indeed a parable, it represented a real-life problem in that part of the world. There WERE thieves and robbers, and they would prey on anyone they could, particularly if they were defenseless. There was safety in numbers while they were all together, but that wouldn’t always be the case. They needed to be prepared.

35 And He said to them, “When I sent you out without money belt and bag and sandals, you did not lack anything, did you?” They said, “No, nothing.” 36 And He said to them, “But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me, ‘And He was numbered with transgressors’; for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment.” 38 They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” And He said to them, “It is enough.” (Luke 22:35-38)

Some commentators interpret “It is enough.” as “Enough of this nonsense“, as if Jesus didn’t REALLY just say “whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one.”, but in this context, that interpretation is playing-off of their own cultural-hangups, not the clear-meaning and spirit of the text. Neither Jesus, nor the rest of the Bible, ever denies a person the right to lawful self-defense, and Jesus never told His disciples to leave their weapons at home. Evidently Peter wasn’t the only one “packing-heat”.

Maybe you are questioning the wisdom of having weapons in God’s house, but we haven’t always been this hesitant to protect what really matters – God’s house. The Gospels include many references to “temple guards” and “officers of the Chief Priest“.

When Jesus was buried, the Jewish religious leaders were afraid that His disciples would steal His body and claim that He was alive, so after getting Pilate’s approval, they set a guard over His tomb. (Matthew 27:62-66)

After Jesus rose from the tomb, the Jewish religious leaders paid-off the guards to lie about the resurrection. (Matthew 28:11-15)

Captains of the Temple” is mention during Jesus’ arrest. (Luke 22:52)

Officers sent to arrest Jesus failed in their mission. (John 7:32, 44-46)

Part of the mob that arrested Jesus included “officers from the chief priests and Pharisees” (John 18:3)

In the 1st Century, Herod’s Temple was incredibly-ornate, not to mention, fabulously-wealthy. All of the articles used in worship were solid-gold, and there were hundreds of them. All temple-taxes and donations were in cash and there were no banks to deposit that money in, so it had to be kept in the temple-treasury. Thus, 24/7/365 armed-security was an absolute-necessity. The temple guards also kept order in the Temple and enforced the segregation-regulations.

Segregation-regulations“? Yes, there were three “courts” in the Temple. Only Jewish men were allowed in the inner-court, closest to the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. The second-court, or the “court of the women” was for Jewish women. The outer-court was known as the “court of the Gentiles“, so someone had to make sure that nobody went where they didn’t “belong“. The Jewish leaders weren’t beyond requiring a “robe-check” to make sure Gentiles didn’t get where they didn’t belong.

Do you remember where the first mention of an armed-guard is in the Bible? Would you believe Genesis 3:24, in the Garden of Eden? After God tossed Adam and Eve out of the Garden, He placed an angel with a flaming-sword at the entrance to the Garden. Because God met Adam and Eve in the Garden, it could rightfully be considered “God’s house“.

Yea, but… but they didn’t have firearms back then… No, they had swords, spears and bows – weapons. Firearms are simply updated-weapons. Weapons technology has come a long way in the past two-thousand years.

The Vatican, which is entirely-within the city of Rome, has its own security-force, and the Pope has his own personal body-guards, the Swiss Guards. The Pope is the most powerful religious-leader in the world, and his beliefs and opinions aren’t always popular.

“After-action-review” or “Arm-chair-analysis”…

I don’t usually like to do “after-action-reviews” or “arm-chair-analysis” on recent events, but there are way too many obvious lessons to be learned from them. Let’s look at what we know about these recent shootings, notice what went wrong, and what could have been done better. Note: I don’t have any “insideinformation“, so everything I know is based on whatever information is publicly-available.

Louie’s Lakeside Restaurant – Oklahoma City

While this shooting was stopped fairly-promptly by two men with their own guns, they had to retrieve their guns from the trunks of their cars first. Neither one had a Concealed Carry Permit, and the Governor of Oklahoma had just vetoed a “Constitutional-Carry” Bill which had been passed by the State Legislature. The Governor had gone against the will of the people as expressed by the Legislature. Had their guns been immediately-available, the outcome might have been even better.

The shooter had exhibited bizarre-behavior and had come to the attention of the FBI, but that didn’t prevent him from becoming a Licensed Security Guard with the right to carry a weapon. Why?

Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School – Parkland, Florida

A security-analysis of MSD High School had been done by a retired Secret Service agent two months prior to the event, but it was ignored, swept under the rug. The School Board had Grant Money available for school-security-upgrades, but hadn’t used that money for what it was intended for. Authorities at all levels, including the FBI, had ignored all the warning-signs that the shooter was a serious-threat… because he was a “minority“.

The Sheriff’s Deputy who was the School Resource Officer cowered outside while the carnage went on, as did three other Deputies. What happened to “Protect and Serve“?

First Baptist Church – Sutherland Springs, Texas

I spent many years in that part of the country, and in rural-areas, a gun-rack and hunting-rifle is pretty much “standard-equipment” in most pickup-trucks, and yet, regardless of how many hunting-rifles were in vehicles in the church parking-lot, they were worthless, because the shooter was BETWEEN those gun-owners and their guns. Those guns might as well have been at home in a gun-safe.

The shooter should have been ineligible to buy and own weapons due to his violent-past, but because he was in the Air Force when they happened, and the Air Force had neglected to enter his data into the FBI database, he never got “flagged“.

It took someone OUTSIDE the church, with immediate-access to a weapon and the skill to use it, to finally end that carnage. Texas has some of the most liberal handgun-carry laws in the nation, and yet nobody was armed. Why?

Your church – my church

Is YOUR church in a “safe-area“? Mine would seem to be, but the County Sheriff, who knows the “lay-of-the-land” far-better than I do, put out a video recently encouraging County residents to do whatever is necessary to be able to carry a gun to protect themselves. What does he know? Maybe there is only a “veneer” of safety…

The leadership of each church must analyze the level of risk, and decide how much risk is “acceptable”. As “under-shepherds” commissioned by our Lord, with the responsibility to care for the “flock”, not only spiritually, but physically while they are “on-campus”, they must decide wisely. Can they really AFFORD to not provide “sheep-dogs” (armed-security) to protect the “flock”?

Some of you may recoil in horror at the thought of even owning a gun, let alone carrying it to and in church, but there is nothing “unchristian” about protecting yourself and those you love from harm and violence. As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome here.

Steve