“The Insanity Of God: A True Story Of Faith Resurrected” By Nik Ripken

109. “… Still his tormentors were unable to break him. Dmitry pointed to 2 reasons why his strength in the face of torture. There are 2 spiritual habits that he learned from his father. Ones that Dmitry had taken with him into prison. Without these 2 disciplines, Dmitry insisted, his faith would have not survived. For 17 years in prison every morning at daybreak, Dmitry would stand at attention by his bed, as was his custom he would face the east, raise his arms and praise God, and then he would sing a heart song to Jesus. …” ~ Nik Ripken

“Dmitri’s Song (Jesus Is Alive)” ~ Todd Smith

“Spiritual Rhythm: Being With Jesus Every Season Of Your Soul ~ Winter ~ TUNE -IN 1 – YOUR CLOSEST FRIEND

Who’s your closest friend?

Your winter, like my wife’s, may have descended because you lost – through a move, a death, a fight – your closest friend. Or maybe someone else brought on winter, and in it you realized that you have no close friends.

In the preface I allude to Philippians 3:10-11. The full passage is this: “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Paul conjoins, here and elsewhere (see for example 2 Corinthians 1:8-9; 12:1-10), power and weakness, resurrection and death, glory and suffering. Inhis mind and experience, the two things are twinned.

I believe every heartache and hardship, and the profound loneliness that such things bring, has a back door. They allow us entry into a communion with Christ we don’t ussually experience in ourdays of ease and song. Most of us have had our deep encounter with Christ, not on mountain tops but in valley floors.

The word companion – a synonym for friend – literally means “one who shares bread with you.” In that light, it’s telling that Jesus, both to commemorate His death and to anticipate His resurrection, shared bread with His friends.

He companioned with them at a very dark moment.

Here’s a simple spiritual exercise. You can do this alone, or with a friend or two. Prepare and receive communion as an act of companionship with Jesus. Drink the cup, eat the bread, with a mindfulness that Jesus shared bread with His friends, including one who would betray Him. Soon after, at the darkest hour, Jesus was seperated from His Father. He was plunged into the anguish of complete abandonment. “My God, My God,” He cried. “Why have You forsaken Me?”

For a time, darkness was His closest friend.

Take the bread. Hear His words, “This is My body, broken for you.”

Take the cup. Hear Him say, “This is My blood, poured out for you, for the forgiveness of sins.”

Proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes, until that day you see Him face to face and sit in the dazzling brightness of His presence.

He entered this darkness for you. There’s no darknessin which He hasn’t gone. There’s no darkness that He won’t meet you in. There’s no darkness that can hide Him. There’s no darkness He won’t, in time, lead you out of.

He’s a good companion.

Your closest friend.

* * *

Perhaps you’re in winter now.

I’m sorry.

If I could, I’d stand with you in it, watching, waiting, trusting that my presence and silence were, if not enough, at least something, a kind of light, a kind of lightness.

But now I fear speaking any further. Yet at the risk of sounding trite – at the risk of offering cold comfort – I invite you to read on. In the next chapter, I dare to speak of both the gifts and the tasks of wintertime.

~ Darren’s Comments ~

Coming out of my dream-state (what I thought was a horrible dream), I awoke to the reality of what I prayed during that moment of dedication to God only to be true. I was really in a terrible car accident, which only later did I found out the grim reaper (satan) was knocking on my door but God kept him out. It all goes back to the pre-graduation dream I had, and it was natural for me to think that I was still in that horrible dream. Still thinking I was in a nightmare that wouldn’t end, I woke up out of my one month coma just as the EMT’s were transporting me from one hospital to the next, the Elliot Hospital to the Northeast Rehabilitation Hospital. It wasn’t until a few weeks later that I began to question why I was here in this everlasting nightmare. One night, after supper and it was time for the patients to settle down in their rooms, I made a prayer to God. I began pouring out my complaints to God and I gave Him a timeline (by morning) for this was of an urgent matter: my life dedicated to Jesus Christ. However, I made this one caviot: promising that if this was real (my bondage within myself due to the traumatic brain injury I suffered), God would give me what I would need to make His glory shine brighter through my life. That night I slept with extra confidence as I fully expected to wake up in my comfy bed at home.

When I woke the next morning, I went through a few moments of disbelief, then the Holy Spirit reminded me of what I promised to God the night before – that I would do my best to let His light shine out through me no matter what the circumstances. It harkens back to that promise I made to God when I was only thirteen – it was a Sunday night service, and a missionary spoke, and he gave an alter call for those who wanted to dedicate their life to Christ. I went up and dedicated my life to Christ, whatever He had for me to do. Back then, I submitted myself to being a missionary when I graduated college, or an inner-city youth pastor. “Now,” I thought in my head, “how are You going to use me? But I’ll follow You where ever You want me to go.”

From that morning, the Lord Jesus Christ did a miracle in me. From being stuck in a high-back wheelchair with no words to speak walking out just two and a half months later. My team decided it would be better if I had stayed there a week longer where I would have all the things I needed, instead of sending me home where I be only limited to an hour of speech, occupational, and physical therapies. And the verse that I had memorized back when I was twelve, when I experienced tumultuous things that were going on in my life, I found this verse helpful: “A man that hath many friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a Friend that sticketh closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24 KJV). That obvious Friend was Jesus.

“How Do You Measure Your Spirtual Growth?” ~ Mark Buchanan

~ Darren L. Beattie, The Soul Blogger ~

108. “The Insanity Of God: A True Story Of Faith Resurrected” By Nik Ripken

108. “A PRISON SINGS: The authorities moved Dmitry a 1,000 kilometers away from his family and locked him in a prison. His cell was so tiny that it just took a single step either to get to the door of his cell, to reach the stained and cracked seat mounted on the opposite wall, or to use the use the foul open toilet in the far corner of the cell. Even worse, according to Dmitry was that he was the only believer among 1,500 hardened criminals.  He said that his isolation from the body of Christ  was even more difficult than the physical torture, and there was much of that. …” ~ Nik Ripken

“Dmitri’s Song (Jesus Is Alive)” ~ Todd Smith

55. “Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates The Claims Of The Gospels” By J. Warner Wallace

55. “… Christians sometimes write to me that they are struggling with doubt because they aren’t sure if the evidence is sufficient?  In many ways these people are struggling with the same question that jurors face in every case: when is enough enough? When is it reasonable to conclude that something is true? When is the evidence sufficient? …” ~ J. Warner Wallace

“What Kinds Of Evidence Can We Use To Make The Case For Christianity” ~ J. Warner Wallace

“The Insanity Of God: A True Story Of Faith Resurrected” By Nik Ripken

107. “… Indeed, it was a painful story. Dimitri spoke quietly of long and heart wrenching seperation. He spoke of sweat, blood, and tears. He talk about sons growing up without their father in the house. He talked about a poor, struggling family enduring great hardship. This is not the kind of inspirational story that we love to celebrate. It was a story of raw, Biblical faith. This was the story of one man who refused to let go of Jesus  and refused to stop telling the Good News to his family and neighbors. …” ~ Nik Ripken

“Dmitri’s Song (Jesus Is Alive)” ~ Todd Smith

“Spiritual Rhythm: Being With Jesus Every Season Of Your Soul ~ Abscence Of Friends, Living Death, & Darkness Is Your Closest Friend” By Mark Buchanan (pgs. 35-39)

Absence of Friends

Winter is friendless. In it, we experience a terrible, terrifying aloneness.

You have taken away from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them;

I am confined and cannot escape . . . .

You have taken from me friend and neighbor —

darkness is my closest friend.

(Psalm 88:8, 18 TNIV)

Abandonment. Rejection. Isolation. This is the shape of the soul in winter. And it feels that way even, maybe most, in a crowd. At church. In Bible study. At weddings or reunions. Even when many surround us, the heart’s winter makes us feel estranged. It makes usunloved and unlovable.

Carol was prone to winter — the same Carol whose death threw me into that place. She was unmarried, not by choice. Sometimes her loniliness grew wide and deep and swallowed things whole — her many friendships, her prodigous gifting, her love for God — and darkness became her closest friend. She avoided others, and when she couldn’t, she hide inside herself and showed others a mask of herself, a smiling mask that she could barely animate.

I particularly remember a visit she took to Turkey. Something happened there — not an incident but a shifting inside her. She grew fearful, and doubtful. God grew distant. She visited a place where Paul, the apostle, worked and preached and built churches. Those buildings those Christians once inhabited, thundering the gospel and storming the gates of hell, were now only ruins, bleached stones scattered in empty fields. The places of heavenly worship had become the haunts of jackals and owls. Mohammed had chased out Jesus and left only rubble to mark the place.

It was a personal apocalypse for her. She nearly lost her faith. And in the pounding heat and wide light of the middle-eastern sun, Carol tumbled down into darkness, and took a year to come out. In that time, she was alone even, especially, when she wasn’t alone.

Winter is friendless.

Living Death

Last and worst, winter is death. It’s living death. Death haunts us and surrounds those in winter. The psalmist describes in vivid and sometimes lurid terms the pall that death casts over this season of the heart: “my life draws near to death”; “I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie down in the grave.”

Though he walks through the valley of the shadow of death, he has no assurance that God is with him, that God in any way protects him, that goodness and love are trailing him or the house of the Lord awaits him.

All is dead, or appears so. A tree so stark and bony in winter, it’s almost impossible to believe it will ever bear fruit or give shade again. Winter is when your heart is so closed up you can’t imagine it ever opening up again, your dreams so buried you can’t conceive of them resurrecting.

When Carol died, this psalm gave voice to my numbness. Even more, it did that for Cheryl, my wife: it was her elegy, the song of her broken heart. It was the bleak inventory of a devastating loss. Carol and Cheryl were closer than sisters. They knew the fellowship of Christ’s suffering, the fellowship of uproarious laughter, the fellowship of voracious God-hunger, the fellowship of movie watching and purse shopping and party planning, the fellowship of caring each other’s secrets and bearing one another’s burdens. You don’t lose that and keep much else. Cheryl was engulfed, overwhelmed, cut-off. “You have taken from me my closest friends.” It devastated her. But maybe worse was what replaced the one taken: “Darkness is my closest friend.” Her winter, ours, gave us unwanted intimacy with night.

Winter is death.

DARKNESS IS YOUR CLOSEST FRIEND

It’s how John The Baptist must have felt. He languished in Herod’s prison, the cost of meddling in the king’s personal life, daring to denounce his brazen immorality. Herod’s pride and anger and despotic power converged, and he imprisoned John. But then he froze in indecision. He hated John but also feared him: feared his holiness, his boldness, his wildness. Herod, for all of his pagan ways, nursed a deep dread that John might be right, and that the wrath of God would befall him, or that the people would overthrow him, which might be the same thing. An, of course, following the line of all the Herods, he was paranoid, and superstitious, and egotistical, and insecure, and together that concocted a potent brew of self-doubt.

From prison, John hears of Jesus’ comings and goings, His preaching and His miracles. This is the same Jesus whose mother’s voice caused John to leap in his own mother’s womb. This is the same Jesus whose sandals John felt unworthy to untie., the same Jesus he declared “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” the same Jesus whom he remarked, “He must increase, and I must decrease.” And this is the same Jesus who declared John to be great in the kingdom of God.

But now, John’s not sure. All these bold declarations seem a stretch. If all these things be true, why is he here, rotting and starving? Why does his life hang by a thread in the hand of a vain and capricious king? If Jesus is the Christ, why is He not coming to the rescue, swooping down in retribution on Rome and all her lackeys? Surely, for the sake of kingdom, Jesus will act. And if not for the sake of His kingdom,then for the sake of John’s Elijah-like status as the Messiah’s forerunner. And if not for the sake of John’s status, then for the sake of Jesus’ relationship with him — they’re cousins, after all. This is a family matter.

So he waits, and so his waiting turns to wondering, and his wondering to worrying to open doubt. He hears about all that Jesus is doing — the astonishing miracles. The people proclaim Him as “a great prophet.” But something sits askew for John. Something doesn’t add up. So he dispatches two of his disciples to ask Jesus a pointed question: “Are You the One to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Luke’s commentary and Jesus’ reply are cold comfort: “At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to the blind. So He replied to the messengers, ‘Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of Me.'” (Luke 7:21-23 TNIV)

Jesus says, in effect, “John, I’m busy. I am busy being the Messiah — healing, liberating, raising the dead, preaching good news — but if you’re asking what this means for you, well, I’ve got some hard news. I’m not dropping by. Herod will have his way with you. Blessed are you if you don’t fall away on account of Me — if performing miracles left and right with nary a one for you doesn’t drive you into unbelief. Blessed are you if I leave you in the dark and you still trust Me.”

With that, Jesus sends John’s disciples back to him and then turns to the crowd and makes these remarks: “What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one whom it is written: ‘I will send My messenger ahead of You, who will prepare Your way before You.’ I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the One who is least in the kingdom is greater than he. (Luke 7:24-28)

I don’t think Jesus’ remarks are unrelated to the message He sent John. Who is greatest in the kingdom of God? Who deserves God’s favor? To whom does Jesus, by virtue of their faithfulness or status or kinship with Him, owe a miracle? Maybe John the Baptist, maybe also the Sons of Korah, as though their closeness with God entitled them to heavenly benefits here and now, with no deductible.

So John’s suprised to find himself in this prison, in this winter, lonely and afraid. Abandoned, while his own cousin saves and blesses and cures every beggar and whore and tax collector He comes across, bestows divine favor on every wayward stranger He meets.

John sits in the dark, waiting, dreading, brooding. He hears the dungeon-keeper approaching, hears the clink and thud of the keys in the lock. He knows in his bones what he’s come for.

It’s not to deliver a pardon. It’s not to announce a visitor. It’s not to herald a miracle.

Darkness is his closest friend.

~ Darren’s Comments ~

Winter Is Friendless

Just picture this– you are in a dream-like state — abscent of your mother, father, siblings (whether they come by marriage or not), both sides of your grandparents, and your closest friends. Just picture in this dream, you can’t get out because your strapped on a hospital bed only aware of the people around you however each time you went to speak absolutely nothing came out of your lips — like a glacier on a below 0° day. Meanwhile all appears fine, but you can hear the talking going around you — the nurses, your high school friends, the girl you just took out on a date. Well, that was my dream just five weeks before my car accident with my new 1985 pre-owned Dodge Charger Turbo, when realness of it hit me something fierce praying it was all a dream. Come to find out, I was in a car accident which I suffered a traumatic brain injury. Yet, one thing I didn’t see, in my dream-like state, was some of my closest friends.

See, I was a sociable guy, but not snobish to any one group of people like so many teens. And this one fact gave me hope that the stuff that I was going couldn’t possibly be real because I was friendless. Then appeared my mother and those close to me by blood. I thought it odd that they would appear to me in my dream (though some would classify it as a nightmare since the length and breadth of were too much to overcome). Then about 3 weeks later on a Thursday night, after dinner in my wing of the Northeast Rehabilatation Hospital, I prayed this prayer to God: “God, I am sick of experiencing this dream. Furthermore, I don’t know what You want from me from experiencing this dream, so by the time I wake up tomorrow, I expect to wake up in my nice, comfortable, warm bed and get on with my life serving You in preparation to be a lifetime youth pastor. Yet if this is real, the things that I am going through, please let it work out all for Your glory and give me the strength to get through it. In Jesus’ name, Amen” as I said it with emphasis in my head. I thought that I had all my bases covered by putting “In Jesus’ Name” onto my prayer until the next morning. Only then I discovered my real fate and knew that I was going to have to rely solely on God.

Furthermore, the weight of my promise had come crashing down on my soul that I had to keep because God doesn’t like anyone who does not keep their promises to Him (Ecclesiastes 5:4-7). Unfortunately, for me as I was unsure of what was going on, I woke up in the room at the Northeast Rehabilatation Hospital. I knew from that point on, even though I was was going through my own personal apocolypse, God would be with me. Yes, I experienced God on a deeper level, however, in that time, I was alone, especially, when I wasn’t alone.

(Northeast Rehabilitation Hospital Video)

Living Death

Winter is death. It’s living death. … The psalmist describes in vivid and sometimes lurid terms the pall that death casts over this season of the heart: “my life draws near to death”; “I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie down in the grave.” And that is how I felt. No promise of anything other than that of my promise to the Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and Solomon. God of the apostle Paul, Barnabas, Silas, and Timothy. Earlier in my life, before that horrifying accident, I said I would do anything to spread the Word of God. Back then, I was ready to go into the mission field to other countries, where the dialect would present me with difficulties or a pastor to the American inner city youth. Back then, I would do ANYTHING! Well, God took me at His Word because ANYTHING is what I promised, and just after turning 18, I got to experience that ANYTHING through personal tragedy that slowly turned into an unfolding miracle. It was a living death, however. What was the emotion that best describes it all would be an intense frustration. Once I woke up to the heartache reality of my life post-accident (the in-patient speech therapy, in-patient occupational therapy, and the in-patient physical therapy), words could not capture. however, intense frustration is the closest. But I made a vow or a promise to God. Despite my situation, it was a Living death.

Darkness Is My Closest Friend

So he waits, and so his waiting turns to wondering, and his wondering to worrying to open doubt. He hears about all that Jesus is doing — the astonishing miracles. The people proclaim Him as “a great prophet.” But something sits askew for John. Something doesn’t add up. So he dispatches two of his disciples to ask Jesus a pointed question: “Are You the One to come, or should we expect someone else?” I have been “likened” to Job, but never to John the Baptist except once. My former pastor of where I go to church said that I was like John in that I am to herald Jesus and the miracles He performed in my life. I don’t think, though, I quite realized how much in common I have with the way John must have felt during his deepest darkness of waiting there while still in prison.

I don’t think Jesus’ remarks are unrelated to the message He sent John. Who is greatest in the kingdom of God? Who deserves God’s favor? To whom does Jesus, by virtue of their faithfulness or status or kinship with Him, owe a miracle? Maybe John the Baptist, maybe also the Sons of Korah, as though their closeness with God entitled them to heavenly benefits here and now, with no deductible. After all, I dedicated all of my life to serving Him when on a Sunday night at church service I made that committment when I was 13. When I was 14, God called me, and I made the crucial error of deciding what God wants from me — to be a youth pastor. By the age of 18, however, I thought I was all set to go, and go to Southeastern Assembly of God College ( a.k.a. Southeastern University) in Lakeland, Fl to fulfill my dream of being a youth pastor. I prayed, and prayed for God’s direction in my life, each time I do something for God and the youth, it seemed to be blessed. Until that morning of June 28, 1989 where I began to experience DARKNESS IS MY CLOSEST FRIEND.

“How Do You Measure Your Spiritual Growth?” ~ Mark Buchanan

~ Darren L. Beattie, The Soul Blogger ~

“The Insanity Of God: A True Story Of Faith Resurrected” By Nik Ripken

106. “… because Dmitry was sitting right in front of me in his own home, the persecution story was a story of survival and victory. The story would obviously have a happy ending, but that did not mean the story would be nice or easy to hear. …”~Nik Ripken

“Dmitri’s Song (Jesus Is Alive)” ~ Todd Smith

As A 2020 Merry Christmas Gift TRUE LIFE CHRISTIANITY Gives You This: “Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates The Claims Of The Gospels”

“… WHERE IS THE TIPPING POINT? You’ll never know the impact that a particular piece of evidence will have on those considering your case. Sometimes the things that don’t matter much to you personally are the very things that matter the most to someone else. I’ve been producing a pod cast and a website, PleaseConvinceMe.com for several years now. People email me with their questions and doubts related to the Christian world view. Skeptics sometimes write me that they simply don’t believe that there is enough evidence to prove that God exists. …”~J. Warner Wallace

“What Kinds Of Evidence Can We Use To Make The Case For Christianity?”~J. Warner Wallace

“The Insanity Of God: A True Story Of Faith Resurrected” By Nik Ripken

” … Sounding like an Old Testament  prophet, she declared, ‘You have laid hands on a man of God and you will not survive!’ That happened on a Tuesday evening, and on Thursday night the officer dropped dead of a heart attack. The fear of God swept through the community. At the next house church service,150 showed up. The authorities couldn’t let this continue, so Dmitry went to jail for 17 years. …”~Nik Ripken

“Dmitri’s Song (Jesus Is Alive)~Todd Smith

“Spiritual Rhythms: Being With Jesus Every Season Of Your Soul ~ The Heart In Winter” By Mark Buchanan (pgs. 30-35)

THE HEART IN WINTER

What I do believe, now, is that our hearts have seasons, and the longest of them, if not in duration then in intensity, is winter. There’s no preventing it, though there are ways to steward it. But before we get there let me attempt a simple little description of what the heart in winter is like.

Bankruptcy

Ecclesiastes, again, describes winter.

In this case, it’s the winter of life –decrepitude– but it hints at the heart of winter, too. Here’s the passage:

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth,

before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say,

“I find no pleasure in them” —

before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark,

and the clouds return after the rain;

when the keepers of the house tremble,

and the strong men stoop,

when grinders cease because they are few,

and those looking through the windows grow dim;

when the doors to the street are closed and the sound of grinding fades;

when people rise up at the sounds of birds,

but all their songs grow faint;

when the people are afraid of heights and of dangers in the streets;

when the almond tree blossoms and the grasshopper drags along and desire is no longer stirred.

Remember Him — before the silver cord severed,

and the golden bowl is broken;

before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,

and the wheel is broken at the well,

and the dust returns to the ground it came from,

and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher.

Everything is meaningless!” (Ecclesiastes 12:1-8 TNIV)

Two details here equally describe both life’s winter and the heart’s. Verse 1: “I find no pleasure…” Both life’s winter and the heart’s winter have this in common: pleasure is bankrupt. Things we once craved and relished — our sources of delight — we now avoid and disdain. The foods we once savored, the friendships we treasured, the activities we cherished — none of it gives us anything other than weariness and sourness. It only deepens our aloneness.

And verse 8: “Meaningless! Meaningless! . . . Everything is meaningless!” Both life’s winter and heart’s winter have this in common: meaning is bankrupt. Things we once found captivating and stimulating– rich with meaning — we now find futile and bewildering. The trips we used to go on, the art we once pondered, the books we loved to read, the subjects we delighted to talk over — winter makes it all dreariness and drudgery. We go from the purpose-driven life to the purpose-starved life. Events and accomplishments are leached of significance. Ambition, accomplishment, aspiration, beauty, courage — none of it means anything in wintertime. I once showed during a Sunday school service a video of a Baptist missionaries martyred in South America. I was hugely inspired by their example of heroic and sacrificial faith. But a woman came up to me afterward who was in the winter of the heart. All she said was, “That was meaningless.”

We savor little or nothing in winter. Pleasure is bankrupt. Meaning is bankrupt.

A Song in the Night

There’s another passage of Scripture that, even more than Ecclesiastes 12, describes the wintertime of the heart. It’s Psalm 88. As with the passage from Ecclesiastes, this one is quite lengthy. I’ll quote the Psalm in full since it renders unflinchingly the experience I’m trying to describe. As you read it, linger over it like a note left from a close friend.

Lord, You are the God who saves me;

day and night I cry to You.

May my prayer come before You;

turn your ear to my cry.

I am overwhelmed with troubles and my life draws near to death.

I am counted among those who go down to the pit;

I am like one without strength.

I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom You remember no more, who are cut off from Your care.

You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths.

Your wrath lies heavily on me;

You have overwhelmed me with all Your waves.

You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them.

I am confined and cannot escape;

My eyes are dim with grief.

I will call You, Lord, every day;

I spread out my hands to You.

Do You show Your wonders to the dead?

Do their spirits rise up and praise You?

Is Your love declared in the grave, Your faithfulness in Destruction?

Are Your wonders known in the place if darkness, are Your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

But I cry to You for help, Lord; in the morning my prayer comes before You.

Why, Lord, do You reject me and hide Your face from me?

From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;

I have borne Your terrors and am in despair.

Your wrath has swept over me; Your terrors have destroyed me.

All day long they surround me like a flood;

they have completely engulfed me.

You have taken from me friend and neighbor —

darkness is my closest friend. (TNIV)

Scholar Walter Brueggemann calls this psalm ” an embarrassment to convential faith.” He even asks, “What is a psalm like this doing in our Bible?” (Walter Brueggemann, “The Message of the Psalms“, 1984). His answer in my words: Psalm 88 gives us the language that transposes agony into prayer. Sorrow seeks to render us mute. Psalm 88 gives voice to what is most angry and grief-stricken and frightened inside of us. It shapes brokenheartedness into sacrament. It allows us to break our silence even when God refuses to break His.

And it does that, first, by describing what winter in the heart feels like. This psalm is no cool, clinical, dispassionate, detatch listing of symptoms; it erupts, wild and raw. It’s a diary of disappointment, a soliloquy of complaint, a testimony of anguish. It’s the howl of a man in the grip of heartache.

The experience of this psalm evokes bears a close resemblance to clinical depression. Winter is not exactly that, and not exactly not that. Winter shares a landscape with depression, but I think it has a different doorway: with depression, we enter a doorway within ourselves, whereas with winter we enter in a doorway outside ourselves. What I mean is that depression is triggered mostly by circumstances. But maybe the difference is inconsequential. For the record, I have never been clinically depressed. But I’ve attempted, clumsily I think, to pastor many people in clinical depression. At the least, I’ve learned a little of depression’s tyranny, it’s whims and wiles and heavy, heavy hand. I don’t think it’s amiss to read Psalm 88, or my thoughts on it, as equally a description of both winter and depression. But my counsel on stewarding wintertime, in the chapter that follows this one, might not apply equally.

But I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Absence of Light

What does Psalm 88 tell us and show us?

To begin, this winter feels all-consuming and never-ending. It’s worth noting the authors of this psalm: the Sons of Korah. These are the same composers who collaborated on many psalms, such as 84 and 87. “Better is one day in Your courts than a thousand elsewhere,” they effuse in Psalm 84, and celebrate God’s intimate protection even of sparrows. Psalm 87 ends, “All fountains are in You,” just as before Psalm 88, the bleakest psalm, which ends, “Darkness is my closest friend.” The tenor of most of the Sons of Korah’s repetoire is upbeat, gladsome, celebrative. They write, mostly, dance tunes, love ballads, patriotic anthems, not blues songs. Psalm 88 is out of character for them. These men have given a little sign till now of disappointment with God (though Psalm 85:5 sounds the mood that might have triggered Psalm 88). They are not perpetually gloomy. They are not habitually dyspetic. They do not chronically murmur. They do not appear to nurse grudges, or keep company with the disgruntled, or rehearse the lament of the victim. These brothers, most of the time, deeply experience God’s goodness, and gladly declare it. They know God in the light.

Psalm 88 is a record that, at least once, they lost God in the dark. Yet to read Psalm 88, it’s as though the they never found Him. It’s as though they they never stood in the light of God’s favor, never tasted His blessing. It’s as though darkness and sadness have marked their existence from the womb and will plague it till the grave. Winter is like that: it has the power to eclipse all the good we’ve srored up, and to plunge us deep into nighttime that seems all we’ve ever known, and worse, all we’ll ever know.

Winter seems all-consuming and never-ending.

Absence of God

Winter hides God. It has the power to sever my knowledge about God from my experience of Him, and to hold the two apart, so that my theology and my reality become irreconcilable.

The psalmist affirms at many points — starting right at the beginning — some of the most exquisite and enduring theological truth about God. He is the God who saves me (v. 1). What follows is a steady drumbeat of God’s attributes: “Your wonders” (twice), Your love, Your faithfulness, Your righteousness (vv. 10-12). That is what this man (the psalm, though composed by a collective, individualizes the lament, so I will as well) knows about God. He gets an A+ for orthodoxy. There’s nothing shaky, vague, or half-baked in his doctrine.

It’s just that his experience and his doctrine bear no resemblance to each other. What he tastes and sees of God (or doesn’t taste and see) mocks what he confessesand proclaims about God. He talks about God’s wonders and love and faithfulness, but experiences only God’s rejection and anger and indifference. At every turn, he’s met with more bad news — sorrow upon sorrow, trouble upon trouble, loss upon loss. Darkness overtakes light. Sadness consumes joy. Despair overtakes hope. He experiences a God who simultaneously abandons him and punishes him, a God of apathy and wrath, a God who hides Himself and shows up only to vent Himself.

This is winter. It’s when God seems either too far or too near — aloof in His heavens, or afoot with a stick. Either way, it’s as though there is no refuge.

Winter hides God.

~Darren’s Comments~

“Darkness is my closest friend”~My life was like this – “The Heart In Winter” – ever since the horrific day of the morning of June 28, 1989. It turn out to be the hottest, most humid day that summer; however, my heart was about to feel extremely cold as in wintertime. Once I became semi-conscious (for I was in a one month coma where my mother – (I decided to call her that out of respect at a young age) – told me that my life was on edge for the first 72 hours of that coma), I was transported from the general hospital to a rehabilatation hospital. I thought I was still in that absolutly horribly horrific dream that I suffered from on May 19th. See, after going through an experience like I had, your memory doesn’t come back all at once, so it’s perfectly natural for me to think that I was in a dream (a never-ending dream or nightmare). The kind of dream in which the head psychiatrist of Northeast Rehabilatation Hospital says to my mother that I would be better off at another rehabilatation facility because of the severity of my injuries. I thought this was all part of a cruel dream, only thing it turned out to be real.

.

Darkness is my closest friend. There’s no telling what a coma feels like except I am going to try and explain what I went through for a month. Truly, during that period of time, darkness was my closest friend. See, what I thought was a horribly horrific dream turned out to be a reality – a reality that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy (if I had one). Imagine yourself pierced by darkness with periodic relief of visions of yourself in the hospital unable to move and not being able to communicate at all. The Elliot Hospital is where I stayed during the coma, and I could not technically remember except being carted off by the ambulance with the EMT’s to a rehabilatation hospital. However, I recall a couple of times I was outside my body. Whether or not I technically, physically died or not, I am not sure. Yet my physical life was in danger of me losing it during the first three days.

Dr. Lyon’s had the undistinguishable pleasure of telling my mother of his findings as soon as he came out of the surgery room. He and my mother professionally knew each other, so what he had to tell my mother must have not been pleasant as he told her that my situation was grave. Three days passed by, and my situation didn’t improve and Dr. Lyon’s suggested that I be taken off the ventilalator, but my mother refused saying that God called me into the ministry, and she wouldn’t take me off because she knew that the Almighty Hand of God was working in my life. So there I laid in the hospital bed, in a coma that would last about a month. But, wait a second! I was starting to come out of that dreadfully long sleep!

“How Do You Measure Your Spiritual Growth?” ~ Mark Buchannan

~ Darren L. Beattie, The Soul Blogger ~

“The Insanity Of God: A True Story Of Faith Resurrected” By Nik Ripken

“As the officer pushed his way back to the door, a small grandmother took her life in her hands and stepped out of the anonymity of that worship community and waved a finger in the officer’s face. Sounding like an Old Testament  prophet, she declared, ‘You have laid hands on a man of God and you will not survive!””~Nik Ripken

“Dmitri’s Song ( Jesus Is Alive” ~ Todd Smith

” Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates The Claims Of The Gospels” By J. Warner Wallace

“… They told me that after reviewing the evidence and taking their first vote, juror number 8 was the sole hold out. While everyone else was sure that the defendent was guilty, juror number 8 was not so sure. ‘I take that reasonable doubt stuff seriously,’ he said. ‘I mean my gut was telling me he was guilty, but I wasn’t sure if they had enough evidence to meet the standard that the judge was talking about. I just needed to see the evidence one more time. …”~J. Warner Wallace

The Rich, Robust Evidence For Christianity”~J. Warner Wallace

“The Insanity Of God: A True Story Of Faith Resurrected” By Nik Ripken

“… Then, one night as Dmitry spoke in the very chair I was now seated, the door to the house was suddenly and violently burst open. An officer and soldiers pushed through the crowd; the officer grabbed Dmitry by the shirt and slapped him rhythmically back and forth across the face, slammed him against the wall and said in a cold voice, ‘We have warned you, and warned you, and warned you! I will not warn you again! If you do not stop this nonsense, this is the least that is going to happen to you!'”~Nik Ripken

“Dmitri’s Song ( Jesus Is Alive)” ~ Todd Smith

“Spiritual Rhythm: Being With Jesus Every Season Of Your Soul ~ Winter ~ (pgs. 25-29) By Mark Buchanan

The long dark season of everything stripped to nothing began so sudden, overnight, with the gust of one phone call, then never left. The only miracle here is waiting to see how much night can a day hold and still be called day.

-Mark Buchanan

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 TNIV)

A confession: most of my life I’ve ignored this, that all is seasonal. Maybe I’ve not even believed it. For everything there is a season. For everything? In the natural world, that’s obvious: the earth moves in seasonal rhythm:

Cold, hot

Work, play

Light, dark

Sow, reap

Fruitfulness, barrenness

Nothing could be more self-evident.

But Ecclesiastes talks about another kind of seasonality, seasons that define not earth’s rhythms, its tilting to and away from the sun, but life’s seasons, its inevitable tilting toward the light and away from it.

Existence is seasonal.

Our hearts know this. Our hearts taste the rapture and leisure of summer, the industry and urgency of fall, the bleakness and loneliness of winter, the busyness and expectancy of spring.

Maybe that, too, is obvious. Only, until lately I had no corresponding spirituality for it. I had ways of adapting my yard and home and habits to the variations of climate and daylight that prevail with each season.: I cut my lawn in the summer, clean my chimney in the fall, stack my wood in spring, wear my boots in winter. But I had no equivalent ways of adapting my spiritual life–my prayer and worship, my listening and my speaking, my being with God, with others, with self– to the seasonal shifts inside me. Especially, I didn’t know what to do with winter. Winter is bleak, and cold, and dark, and fruitless. It is a time of forced inactivity, unwelcome brooding, more night than day. Most things are dead, or appear so. It never seems to end.

I wanted to run from winter with all my might. To disavow its reality. To conduct myself in blatent defiance or outright denial of its existence. I wanted to frolic like it was high summer despite the engulfing darkness and shivering cold inside me.

When my father died in June 1996, I hardly paused. I came back from his funeral and preached at my church what I was scheduled to preach. The elders offered me a time of bereavement. I declined it. I didn’t alter one thing in my spiritual regimen. I carried on as though a minor interuption, not one of life’s hardest and loneliest passages, had just visited me.

In 2001, when three young men in the church died within three months of one another, I did the same. I just carried on. But several months later, I sat in a cabin on the beach and thought I was losing my mind and my faith both, and wasn’t sure I wanted to chase either.

That was the start of slow awareness.

It’s foolish to plant corn in January. It’s foolish to transplant shrubs in July. Each season has its suitable tasks., its required duties, its necessary constraints.

Concerning earth’s cycles, I get that. But it’s taken me almost fifty years to grasp this same truth to my own heart. The death of my friend and colleague Carolmade it a matter of reckoning. That event, and events surrounding it, plunged me into winter deep and long, and I couldn’t flee it any longer. There was nothing else but to enter it, and dwell in it, and learn from it.

And maybe, just maybe, to grow from it.

But I still don’t want to talk about it.

Too raw. Too fresh. Too recent.

Yet in all my conversations with people about these things, it’s winter that most intrigues them, and I hazard a guess that it’s because it’s little understood and often hidden away. Winter shames those in it. It feels like personal failure, something we’ve caused, or missed, or faltered in. We chide ourselves from being there. We’re sure it’s our fault. We wonder if we’re crazy, lazy, stupid.

And most people around us don’t help. They pep-talk us. They serve up warmed-over platitudes. They scold us or offer useless advice. They hold up as examples of how to beat the winter blahs. “I know exactly how you feel. I felt that way last month for two or three days. I just cut back my coffee consumption, got an extra hour’s sleep each night, got on the treadmill, and I popped right out of it!”

So we tend to close up in our winter houses and smile a lot to divert attention. We nurse our sadness in aloneness, which is kind of how we want it anyhow. It suits the season.

The assumption many of us labor beneath is this: God can’t be in winter. God has abandoned me, or I have wandered from Him, but this bleakness– the fruitlessness — can’t be blessed by Him. If I loved God, if God loved me, I wouldn’t be here.

It’s an assumption I no longer believe.

~ Darren’s Comments ~

Depending on where you live, you might not feel so conscious the truest effects of winter; however, I live in the northeast up near Canada where the beginning of winter comes in fast and hard. The long, hard, and personal alonesomeness of physical winter can be draining since in winter you experience all kinds of depressing situations. Like you feel abandoned once winter finally has its lock on you. For example, the sun is almost down at 4:30 p.m. which spells doom and gloom for those suffering from seasonal affective disorder. This proves to be the one season that now I look on with hesitancy: I had to get my snowblower serviced in late fall for the coming winter snow which can fall significantly from now till the end of March; I take on the duty of snow removal with the snowblower and depending upon which types of snow fall and its rapidity  of the snow storm I usually have to fit it in between work; I am going tomorrow to put my winter tires on because I usually schedule my change over in the middle of November; and for fun in this depressing season, my family is limited to the factors that don’t include skiing or snowboarding because none of my immediate family does both. We have to find our enjoyment elsewhere.

As with the last line of of Mark Buchanan’s Spiritual Rhythm talking about an assumption I believe no longer, listen to the beginning of my major testimony, a true story that happened in my life: Spiritual Rhythm likens each season of the year to each season of your physical life. Jesus Christ’s life did also. Many Christians come up with the excuse that underneath it all, He was divine leaving us mortals are trying to find our way into this physical life. Paul said when writing to the Philipians that Christ Jesus emptied Himself of all that He was heavenly endowed (Philipians 2:7). Now, just think about that. The reason He wouldn’t save Himself from the cross was because in order to fulfill His Father’s command (remember when He prayed so earnestly that He was pouring down as sweat in the form of blood just before His deathly trial [Luke 22:39-53], the Father denied His request on behalf for all of humanity). Christ Jesus “emptied Himself” from all the power that was afforded to Him in heaven. He is omnipresent (everywhere), omniscient (all knowing), and omnipotent (all powerful), but He chose to empty Himself completely, so He had NO advantage even though He was God. So Christ Jesus had seasons of His soul too.

Again, that Holy advice coming from Mark Buchanan (just like Ezekiel continually warned the Israelites-The Book of Ezekiel) would have helped me shortly after my eighteenth birthday. See, I graduated from Calvary Christian School on June 3rd, 1989; a week later, I turned eighteen (June 10th); and meanwhile I was preparing to start my training to be a youth pastor (for it would be near the end of August that I was scheduled to be a freshman at Southeastern College of the Assembly of God, Lakeland, Florida). All was looking well for me: I had a new pre-owned 1985 grey and black Dodge Charger Turbo I bought with my new car loan, I was graduated 7th in my class, I was on the National Honor Society, I was set where I thought God wanted to take me (to be a youth pastor), I visited that college on winter break that I later went to, I had been well spoken of by the top brass of the Northern New England Assembly of God, I participated in several youth preaching competitions in which I won one of them in summer camp in 1986, etc. I just wanted to see how God was going to use me next as the miracles that took place in the book The Cross and the Switchblade. All was set, except the dream I had that I couldn’t wake up out of, for another miracle of God would happen slowly.

Speaking from my own perspective the most frightening dream that one could have had is fortelling the future. That occurred to me the night of May 19th. God informed me through a dream just five weeks before it was to happen something catastrophic would happen to me since in my dream I was paralyzed to a hospital bed unable to move. I was all alone, seemingly no one to help me. In fact the morning of June 28, 1989 was a morning that changed my life in all sorts of ways. I mark it like this: twenty-five days after I graduated, eighteen days after my 18th birthday, I was in the most severely horrific car accident, a sort of late birthday present that would affect me for the rest of my life and a l birthday present that I can’t return. So as the morning mist was rising on June 28th, 1989 (the hottest day that year), it was about 6 in the morning going up the highway on my way home.

As I said it was early morning when the sun is just about risen for the day, when I was headed home in my 1985 Dodge Charger on the interstate highway. Lining on each side of the highway traffic were beautiful, majestic, granite ledges as apparently I was so tired that I fell asleep and hit one of those granite ledges. The ambulance came, as well as the police and the fire personnel came to the site, all were astonished that I lived. My mother received the bad news as the chief of police in the town we lived in was coming up the driveway.  Instead of the usual expectation of her son, my mother received the bad news of her son’s accident. Yet I don’t remember anything at all what happened when I sped off the highway into one of those ledges sending me into an instantaneous coma, for I hear the grim reaper knocking on my door to let him in and death would overtake me.

However, God in His ultimate purpose (Roman’s 8:28) wouldn’t allow Satan to take my life (Job 2:6) as one of the cars followed close behind me as he noticed the erratic driving of a particular 1985 Dodge Charger. That driver that followed close behind me, it turns out, was a medical doctor. My new preowned sports car held up well given the conditions: travelling about 70 mph on the highway. I apparently fell asleep after being up over 24 hours, and was the subject of over correction due to me being so tired. I apparently veered to one side of the highway, and I tried to correct my swerving car and the over correction made me crash into a granite ledge rock (one of the hardest stones out there).

Fortunately or unfortunately, due to memory loss of the horrific car accident and the incidents surrounding it, I was forced to rely on credible sources (my mother who practiced being in the Intensive Care Unit in the hospital for 15 years, and the doctors who were in charge of my case). Memory loss is normal for everyone, but you tend to remember the days leading up to a major incident; however, that is not the case for me. Unlike a major incident like the person that is subject to the abuse may lock it away in the files of their head, I’ve begged and pleaded with God to reveal to me those things that happened. Yet God has not chosen to reveal those days to me, and I have to trust it is for my own protection. There are days missing from June 18th to the 28th like a little puppy dog gone missing. Stay tuned in to see the next issue of Spiritual Rhythm: Winter as I tell you of my experiences during my hospitalization in Darren’s Comments.

“How Do You Measure Your Spiritual Growth?”~Mark Buchanan

Darren L. Beattie, The Soul Blogger

“The Insanity Of God: A True Story Of Faith Resurrected” By Nik Riken

“… ‘When the group grew to 50 people, the authorities made good on their threats. I got fired from my factory job,’ Dmitry recounted. ‘My wife lost her teaching position, my boys were expelled from school, and,’ he added, ‘little things like that. When the number of people grew to 75, there was no place for everyone to sit. They just stood shoulder to shoulder and cheek to cheek.’ …”~Nik Ripken

“Dmitri’s Song ( Jesus Is Alive)”