Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Take Heart! There's More to Come!

After my last blog entry, I received an e-mail from a 44-year-old unmarried woman with cancer who feels like the possibility of ever having children is passing her by. I thought my response to her might be helpful to someone else, so I am posting it here:

“The thing God has taught me the most through losing a child is that this world is not our real home if we are in Christ. God has promised ETERNAL life to those who have accepted the free gift of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Eternity is a very, very, very long time. It's forever. This life we are living right now isn't the real life. It's only preparing us for the perfect home that all of us really desire. In that home and in that day, noone will ever be sick. Noone will ever die. And listen to this passage from Isaiah 54. "'Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married,' says the Lord." (Is. 54:1)

Don't think that just because you aren't married and have cancer that this is your last shot. It isn't. Everyone talks about their biological clock ticking. Well, there's not going to be a biological clock in heaven and on the new earth. Do you realize everything will be made new? Everything. You are going to have a life you could only dream of someday if you cling to Jesus as your very own husband. Seek God, and the treasures of heaven will be yours. There will be no tears there, no fears either. It will be perfect. Hang onto that hope, and you will see your faith become sight!!!

I personally can't wait. But while I'm here, I hope to do my part to help others come along to heaven with me, because I am certain, completely certain, that I am going there. Nothing could ever take me away from God. Nothing. "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, not things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39)

So, don't limit yourself to this world and this time. You'll have plenty of time over there. But, again, while you're here, pursue God, pursue righteousness, and don't let the opportunity to help someone in need pass you by. You have a lot to give. Those who have suffered with Christ have an insight into what God really desires from people. We need to understand that this world isn't about pursuing worldly pleasures, but it's about pursuing holiness. And you can certainly pursue holiness without children, a husband, and with cancer. Stand firm. Fight the good fight, and run your race. Don't give up on God, and who knows? You could be married and cancer free next year. God knows, and you have to trust Him. His ways are always the best ways, even if they seem bad at the time.

I really recommend the book I am reading right now, Randy Alcorn's If God is Good; Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil. It is absolutely perfect for those who have suffered. I'm going to give you just a tidbit from the book here to give you an idea of why I love this book so much. "Josef Tson, who faced much evil in communist Romania, told me, 'This world, with all its evil, is God's deliberately chosen environment for people to grow in their characters. The character and trustworthiness we form here, we take with us there, to Heaven. Romans and 1 Peter make clear that suffering is grace from God. It is a grace given us now to prepare us for living forever.'" (Chapter 37, page 393)

So, you see, we're able to face our challenges here in this world if we believe that we are to "rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." (Romans 5:3-4) "If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth." (Colossians 3:1-2)

I really do understand your desire to have children. They are joy inexpressible, yet with them comes much pain and suffering. Every child has hurts and struggles here in this world. So, think of it like this, you may get to have and raise children in heaven and on the new earth without having to ever watch them cry or suffer or be left out. I try to look at my future life with Bronner that way. His 2 1/2 years here on earth were good, but they are nothing compared to what they will be on a new, restored, and perfect earth unmarred by sin, shame, or death. I believe that Rick and I will get to raise Bronner up on that new earth free from all fear, pain, or suffering but rather in complete joy, awe, and wonder. And maybe, just maybe, this could end up really being God's blessing and not His curse. Bronner's childhood there will be so much better than it could have been here. My boys who are left here with me truly believe that Bronner is in a better place than they are, especially the younger one. Brody is looking forward to heaven and seeing his baby brother more than you could ever imagine. It's amazing to see children who are looking forward to Christ's return, who pray for it everyday, and who eagerly long for heaven and the perfection that will come when this world is restored.”

Keeping the faith,

Sherri Burgess+

(Proverbs 3:5)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

What I've Learned on the Path of Pain and Suffering

The second anniversary of Bronner’s heaven-going has come and gone. On Tuesday, January 19th, 2010, Rick and I were surrounded by friends and family and lots and lots of flowers. Surprisingly, it really was a beautiful, uplifting day. That, to me, is proof of the power of prayer, because I know so many people were lifting us up that day. So, thank you, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, for your prayers, support, encouragement, and love. Without you, I’m not sure where we would be. I’m just glad I don’t know, because you certainly have been obedient to the Lord when He said, “Weep with those who weep, and mourn with those who mourn.” You were there for us in our time of need, and for that, we thank you.

And since you have shared with us this grief and pain shedding many tears alongside our family, I’d like to share with you some things I’ve learned along the path of suffering. First, I’ve learned that the body of Christ is much bigger than I ever thought it was. It seemed to me that the church everywhere mourned the loss of our precious baby, because he was precious. Not just to me and Rick and his brothers and his sister and the rest of his family, he was precious to God. His life mattered, and it still matters. Bronner’s legacy is strong and fruitful and mighty. It’s been amazing to see how such a small child can make such a big difference in the lives of so many.

There have been innumerable people tell us that his life and death have changed their perspective on everything. Because death has a way of waking us up to the reality of itself and showing us how serious God takes sin. Death is a very harsh punishment. Death is horrifyingly painful, because it rips apart what was never meant to be separated, our spirit from our flesh, wives from their husbands, children from their mothers, and fathers from their sons. It was never supposed to be this way. We think death is just a part of life, but it didn’t have to be.

God placed Adam and Eve in a paradise where they had everything they could ever want. They had each other, and they had God’s very presence with them. They were given the opportunity to walk with God everyday in the cool of the day, but that wasn’t good enough. That ancient serpent who has been a murderer and a liar from the beginning convinced them to do what God had explicitly told them not to do. It was a test that God allowed, and they failed as we continue to fail. We all have a choice to make everyday. The same choice Adam and Eve had. Are we going to listen to the voice of the serpent, or are we going to listen to the voice of the Most High God?

Why does God allow such testing? The Apostle Peter answers the question this way, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 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.” (1 Peter: 1:6-7) Our faith is tested when there is faith to be tested. Abraham was a man of great faith the bible says, and he was asked to sacrifice his own son. Abraham got up and went to the place God had told him to go to kill and burn his own son on an altar. Young Isaac asked him ”Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” And Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” On that day, it was a ram caught in a thicket by his horns, but ultimately God provided for Himself a lamb without blemish in His son, Jesus Christ.

But, can you see Abraham’s faith? He knew that God was faithful. He knew that God had the power to raise his son back up for him even from the dead. But mostly, Abraham knew that God was good and wise, and he knew that God loved him. So, Abraham trusted God even in such a great test as this. Did Abraham pass the test? Yes, he did, with flying colors, and he got to keep his son. He walked right down Mount Moriah with his son at his side. And I expect I will too one day. Abraham was called a friend of God. There was a closeness between Abraham and God. There was a trust, a willingness to serve, and a desire to fellowship with God in Abraham that God desires from all His children. He wants to call you His friend, too, as well as a son, a child of God.

Secondly, I have learned that the hardest part of all of this testing is the longevity of it. I’ve been two years now without Bronner. Before, I was distressed over leaving him for a weekend. I could have never imagined making it two years without him, but I have. I have, and I’m o.k. God has given me the strength to endure, to wait patiently on the day when I’m reunited with my baby, to wait upon the Lord. It’s hard. Running the long race of life is the hardest part for all of us. Can we keep the faith? Can we fight the good fight? Can we run the race? Everyone can say they love Jesus for a day, but can they love Him forever? That’s the question. Will we be faithful to God, as He is faithful to us?

Jesus told us in the Parable of the Sower that many will hear the word of His testimony and will receive it with joy, but because they have no root in themselves will only endure for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. Randy Alcorn, in his book “If God Is Good,” says that’s a good thing. He writes, “When people lose their faith because of suffering, it’s usually a week or nominal faith that doesn’t account for or prepare them for evil and suffering. I believe that any faith not based on the truth needs to be lost. The sooner, the better.” He goes on to explain that “losing your faith may be God’s gift to you in that only when you jettison ungrounded and untrue faith can you replace it with valid faith in the true God—faith that can pass, and even find strength in, the most formidable of life’s tests.”

As Jesus, our only true example of a life lived out in holiness and perfection, was about to go to the cross, He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternity. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” And then He said, “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour?’ But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” (John 12:24-26)

Did you hear that? “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me.” Where was He going? To the cross. He was going to the cross when He said these words. What I am learning is that each of us has to follow Him to the cross where He suffered unbelievably, yet He endured it for the sake of love, for us, to bring many sons and daughters into His inheritance. He loves us. That’s really all we need to know in order to take up our own crosses and endure them for His sake. He loves us, and our suffering here in this world “is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen, for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

God explains in Hebrews, Chapter 12 that “It is for discipline you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (vs. 7-11)

Bronner was a perfect baby to me. He gave me such joy. I loved to just look at him. He was so cute, and he was so much fun. He had tons of personality and spunk, and he was always right there in the mix if anything was going on. I loved to watch him play and run and sing and pray. He could sing “Jesus l Loves Me,” and he always bowed his head for prayer when we would pray. And when we would say “Amen,” he would say “Amen.” He knew who Jesus was even at that young age, because he had been taught the scriptures from infancy as the Apostle Paul said of Timothy.

Oh, but holding that baby in my arms was pure heaven, so I have said, that in Bronner, God was giving me a little glimpse into what heaven is going to be like for me, but for now, He’s telling me to put my working boots on, and feed his sheep. For if I am alive, I serve the Lord doing my part to bring many sons and daughters to the Lord. As Paul said, “To die would be far better.” But Rick and I believe that now isn’t the time to give up and die. Now is the time to act. Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” (Luke 10:2) We have to work for our Lord, because we know that this seed, Bronner, has been planted to grow into a fruitful tree bearing much for the Lord.

We’re just thankful we’re able to see so much of what God is doing through our little Bronner. I’m sure there’s much we won’t know or understand until we get the heaven, but there is much we can understand. The Bible, God’s Word, does provide answers if we’ll take the time to search it out. It tells us to “Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7)

Our family has lost our lives for the sake of Christ, not by choice, but we have. And we have accepted this rocky path of suffering knowing that our Lord Jesus Christ has and is and will redeem all of it so that one day we will hear those same words the Apostle John heard on the Island of Patmos, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

And, thirdly, we have learned that God is bigger than our pain and that life isn’t so much about the pursuit of happiness, wealth, pleasure, or worldly recognition, but life should be about the pursuit of holiness. I kept saying after it happened, “But we were so happy.” “We were so happy, God.” And He said, “But I want you to be holy.”

God tells us over and over in his word, “Be holy, for I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:44) “You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:45) “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1) And that is just a sampling of verses on the importance God places on our holiness. According to an on-line encyclopedia, the word “holy” appears in the King James Version of the Bible 612 times. I think that says He’s serious about us being holy. In fact, Hebrews 12:14 tells us that “without (holiness) no one will see the Lord.”

So, how do we achieve the kind of holiness that God desires for His people? First, let me say that holiness doesn’t mean the same thing as righteousness. The first time the word “holy” appears in the bible is in Genesis 2:3 as God is talking of a day that would be different from all the other days. “So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that He had done in creation.” So, to be holy is to be different, set apart for the glory of God. And we know that the Apostle Paul said that all his righteousness is like filthy rags compared to a Holy God, and if Paul’s was, so is ours. So, how do we become what God is setting us apart to be? We can be certain we can’t do it on our own. Any good work we do should be a result of our salvation, but it doesn’t earn us our salvation. We know that nothing we could ever do could make us “good” enough to satisfy the righteous requirement of the law, for the bible says that only an “unblemished” lamb could be sacrificed for the sins of a man. We are all marred with the stain of sin, and only the atoning blood of Jesus can wash us clean again.

Jesus is the unblemished Lamb of God slain for the sins of the world so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16) So that “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” (Romans 8:1-6)

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) There is no other way. Jesus is the narrow way that leads to life. (Matthew 7:14) He is Jacob’s ladder to heaven. He is the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:11) He is the door of heaven who has said, “If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. “ (John 10:9)

Have you found His pasture? Have you gone through the door? Take His hand and walk with Him. He will never leave nor forsake you. And, if you have accepted the free gift of God of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, His Son, be encouraged today that He is able to strengthen you to walk this path of life, that He will be with you in your fiery furnace, and that He will hold your hand during your time of testing. Be faithful. Endure. Keep the faith, and hope. Always hope in the Lord. And, love one another as Christ loved you and gave Himself up for you.

And, please, remember Bronner in you prayers tonight.

Love in Christ,


(Proverbs 3:5)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

"I Hate When Flowers Die"

Have you ever really thought about flowers? I mean really pondered how lovely each delicate blossom truly is and how many different kinds and colors and personalities there are and the fact that they’re all from the Father’s hand? How creative and beautiful and wonderful God must be to come up with the big, sunny sunflower and to paint the regal rose. I love them all from the dainty little violets to the old-fashioned hydrangeas and from the tantalizing smell of my gardenias to everybody’s favorite, those spunky gerbera daisies. I love the way my forsythia heralds the spring with its yellow bells, but my very favorite of all is the camellia.

Bronner, my special angel baby, went to heaven January 19th, 2008 just after we had purchased an 80-acre farm in Jemison, Alabama with a sweet little farmhouse on it. I had envisioned him growing up going to the farm, running in the big hay field, learning to fish from the pond, riding on the four-wheeler with me or his dad. He only got to go there a few times, but he was all about it. He was all boy and would have loved a childhood with that to go to.

We hadn’t yet furnished the little house when he was around, but I had talked about it with a decorator friend of mine. I called her after Bronner went to heaven and asked was there any way she could get some mattresses or something down there because I knew I wouldn’t want to go home after his memorial service.

She did so much more than that. She and another decorator friend furnished that whole little farmhouse in a matter of two days. And we did go down there that night after the memorial, and we stayed there in our little sanctuary for about three months. It didn’t take me long to find my beautiful camellia bush blossoming its rosy blooms, and I thought, “You, little flowering bush, must be from Bronner, a gift for his mommy when she is hurting so badly for him.”

My camellia bloomed for me when nothing else was blooming, nothing within or without. I now see that camellia as Bronner’s way of saying to me, “It may not seem like it now, but I’m blooming. I’m just as alive as I ever was, and I’m going to send you little reminders of it throughout your life starting with this camellia, a flower for my mommy.”

I never was one to cut flowers out of my yard and put them on my table before then. I just didn’t think to do it, but I cut some blossoms off that camellia bush, put them in a vase, and set them on my table to remind me of my baby blooming in heaven for me and waiting on his mommy and daddy to join him. Since then, I do it a lot, and if there’s nothing blooming in my yard, I’ll pick them up from the market.

Over the Christmas holidays, I found a lovely bouquet with red gerbera daisies, red roses, and the branches of evergreens that was just perfect… for about a week. One day Brody and I were sitting at the kitchen table where that Christmas bouquet was on its last leg when Brody, my eight-year-old poignant and pensive son, said, “I hate when flowers die.” That’s all he said; “I hate when flowers die.” What a profound statement from a young boy. “I hate when flowers die.”

“I do too, Brody.” That’s all I said, and we sat there in silence pondering the death of our flowers. I’ve thought about that a lot since that December day and wondered at how flowers are so beautiful and bring such joy. The only thing is… they don’t last. They’re here today and gone tomorrow, but aren’t they just like everything else? We see it played out in the flowers so clearly because their blooms last for such a short while, but that 200-year-old oak will one day die too. Everything is passing away, all but the word of the Lord which says that we are to set our minds on things above not on earthly things because what is seen is temporary but what is unseen is eternal.

Jesus said from the Mount of Beatitudes, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth not rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

God wants us to know and shows us over and over and over again that this world is not all there is and the earth isn’t what it will be, but there will come a day when He will say “Behold, I make all things new.” Heaven and the earth will be made new, and God will dwell with us on that new earth. We, who have acknowledged our need for a Savior and have put our faith in Jesus Christ as that Savior, will be His people. He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore. In that day, the prophet Isaiah tells us the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.

Maybe that child will be Bronner.

I’m looking forward to that day. On that day, I will have my Bronner back. On that day, sin and death will be no more. On that day, I will look upon the face of my Savior and be held in the arms of a Father. I know it’s coming. I know it just as I know the daffodils will come in springtime, and I say, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.” Amen.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Snowflakes Falling

(written Thursday, January 7, 2010)

I received a phone call from my children's school yesterday informing me that there would be no school for today due to impending weather. Anticipation for snow was high, and my kids were beside themselves ecstatic that they wouldn't have to go to school. And on top of that great news, there would be snow, too! What a wonderful day for an eight and a ten year old! The snow wasn't to come until around noon, so the boys got up and had some doughnuts for breakfast (the day's going great so far) and still in their pajamas, I started reading their daily bible reading to them. We were all snuggled up on the couch in the family room with the big window when Brody said, "It's snowing!" We watched the flakes fall for a few minutes before we couldn't stand it anymore. We stuck on some shoes and walked out onto the deck. The boys started trying to catch snowflakes on their tongue, and I snapped a few pictures. Then we went back inside to finish our bible reading and watch the snow fall as we read. Brooks said, "Something about reading the bible and watching snow fall just goes together." I agreed. The snow looked almost heavenly gently falling on our Alabama winter.

But then, the snow stopped falling, and none of it was sticking. And I thought, "Nothing happens like we expect it to; does it, God?" So much anticipation, so much to look forward to... The boys had wanted to make a snow angel in the snow. They talked of how they would build a snowman. But then, just as quickly as the snow was given to us, it was taken away. The boys put on their clothes and their coats anyway and went out hoping that the snow would start again, and it did in spurts throughout the day, but there would be no "blanket of snow" that Brooks kept asking about. "When will there be a blanket of snow?" he would say. I didn't know. I thought maybe by nightfall, but it never came. We had expected to spend our day playing in the snow, and it didn't happen. But we did have that wonderful moment with the snow when we were all snuggled up on the couch together reading and watching out the window as the little white flakes fell. The joy was short lived, but it was wonderful while it lasted. We know it will come again, but we don't know when.

Even after the snow was taken away though, the day went pleasantly enough. Yes, the boys were disappointed that the snow didn't "blanket" the ground, but they did get out of school. And they did go outside and play. And I had taken a few great photos of my boys. And I said, "God, thank you for the snow today, and thank you for my babies, each one of them. I still have my first two, Brooks and Brody, but you have my Bronner. He did bring us so much joy even if for just a little while. And we know we'll get him back soon, we just don't know how soon."

I have been surprised at how joyful my boys have been even after such tragedy in their lives. I've been surprised by my own joy and excitement from time to time these past two years without my little one. Life is full of surprises. Some good. Some bad. But our family clings to the good, the hope, and we have faith to believe that all of this is working together for good. We trust God, not only with Bronner in heaven, but with our own lives. We believe that God is good and that He loves us with an everlasting love. Knowing that Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior will come again and set things right some day gives us the courage we need to endure this life, to persevere, and to press on even as the pangs of Sheol encompass us. We know that heaven is waiting for us, and so we wait for it. And in the meantime, we are finding some joy even in this imperfect world and in our imperfect lives. We have learned the hard way that this world isn't heaven. Not yet anyway...