The Greatest Songs, We Write from Brokenness

It Is WellWhen Paul and Silas were beaten and jailed for the crime of healing a young girl and freeing her from slavery in Philippi, the Bible says “at midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” (Acts 16:25 NKJV)

When (the future) King David had lost his family, his wife, his mentor (Samuel), his home in the palace with King Saul, and his best friend (Jonathan), he hid in a cave, scratched out a meager life alone for a while, and wrote the 142nd psalm, “I cry out to the Lord with my voice; with my voice to the Lord I make my supplication.” (Psalm 142:1 NKJV)

When Jonah was trapped in the belly of the great fish for three days and nights, having exhausted his effort to run from God’s presence, he wrote a song, “I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction, and He answered me.” (Jonah 2:2 NKJV)

Horatio Spafford lost his son to scarlet fever, his livelihood in the great Chicago fire, and all four of his daughters in the sinking of the SS Ville du Havre. His wife, who survived the sinking telegrammed him the simple message, “Saved alone…” While Spafford crossed the Atlantic himself to meet up with his grieving wife, he wrote, “When peace like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know, It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

The greatest songs history has ever seen have been written from the depths of loss and pain. From the depths, the valleys, the darkest moments in life and history, God’s people have found comfort enough in God’s character to cry out to Him. It reminds me of the title of a message I once heard Kenneth Bobo preach – From Sighing to Singing.

There is a modern movement within evangelical Christianity toward a gospel of prosperity in which our comfort, “blessing,” and happiness replaces every other objective God might have for His children. It is offensive. It is dangerous. It is not the gospel but rather a cheap counterfeit. And it devalues every song ever written from the heart of one clinging to the eternal, unchanging character of God in the most desperate moments of life.

Our witness to the glory and saving power of God comes not from our comfort, our success, or our ignorant bliss surrounded by a world of suffering. Our witness comes from our living in and often swallowed up by suffering ourselves. This is the way of Jesus, Himself, who was willing to suffer with us, for us, and as us on the cross. And from that cross, Jesus cried out Himself, “It is finished!” Or more literally, “Paid in full!”

Mourning with Rick and Kay Warren and Family

Brandon Cox and Rick Warren
Pastor Rick and I in his study behind his stage at Saddleback on the night he gave me his blessing and many words of wisdom for planting Grace Hills Church.

I’ve started to write this post quite a few times, and each time, I’ve deleted it. It’s hard to know what to say when someone you admire and love goes through something as tragic as what Rick and Kay Warren have endured the last few days. Their son, Matthew, ended his own life at the age of 27 after battling severe mental illness for many years. I have heard Rick speak of this behind closed office doors, asking for prayer and pouring his heart out concerning his love for his son and his trust in his God in spite of not understanding all the reasons why Matthew suffered so terribly.

I believe that Rick and Kay, their other two children, and all of their loved ones will battle an array of emotions for quite some time. But I also believe that the message of hope that Pastor Rick has shared for the last three decades has come from the deep conviction of his heart. Rick believes that “God never wastes a hurt,” and Matthew’s life and death will prove this, perhaps in ways we cannot fully see just yet.

I love the Warren’s and believe that now is a time when God’s people should pray for them fervently. It isn’t that they somehow deserve prayer more than others because of their success and popularity. Rather it is that Rick is a man who has surrendered himself and all that he possesses completely to God, and God has blessed him by using his life to change the world. And because God has given him such a public platform, his private pain is perhaps amplified. Not only do the Warren’s have to suffer through the loss of their son, but they must do so somewhat publicly by virtue of their influence.

There is little that I can personally do to alleviate their pain. In managing the website and community, I’ve sought out some voices that deserve to be heard, such as Beth Moore, Geoff Surratt, and Greg Laurie. I’ve received and answered dozens of emails to Pastor Rick sent via, all of which have been positive and encouraging. And I’ve also read some of the most cold and heartless comments on the web from people who have decided to use this moment of pain to pounce on the Warren’s.

What I can do is pray, and I believe that prayer is powerful, effective, and meaningful. And I’m inviting you to pray with me as you read this. As we pray for Pastor Rick Warren, for Kay, and for their family…

  • Let us pray that God gives them a peace that passes all understanding – that is a peace that is present when it doesn’t seem possible.
  • Let us pray for the heart of a Dad, a Mom who lost a son as well as a brother and a sister who lost a brother.
  • Let us pray that others who struggle with mental illness in the shadows would seek help in the light and find churches that will look beyond the stigma of mental illness to offer real compassion and healing.
  • Let us pray for gospel-empowered change in the hearts of accusers and cold, calloused critics who would use a moment like this to spit venom on the devastated and broken.
  • Let us pray for a church that hurts for her shepherd and a global community of church leaders that hurts for its mentor.
  • Let us pray that all that Pastor Warren has taught about the trustworthiness of God and the hope we have in Jesus be all the more believable to a watching world as the Warren’s continue to boldly proclaim their faith.
  • Let us pray that in their understandable weakness, God’s grace would be sufficient and God’s glory would be spread.

I can’t imagine their pain. I was in Pastor Rick’s office one day a couple of years ago when he was asking a few of us to pray for Matthew who was at that time hospitalized because of a severe bout with depression. As Rick became transparent and asked a few trusted friends to guard Matthew’s privacy and to lift him before the Father, he also taught a powerful lesson. He explained that life is not a roller coaster with up’s and down’s, but rather a set of railroad tracks where we endure suffering and blessing simultaneously. Pastor Rick never claimed to fully understand the reason for the existence of mental illness. But he did testify to the faithfulness of God in spite of it. Even through tears of hurt for his son, he was teaching powerful truths.

There are only a small handful of men on the planet that I consider to be my pastors, and Rick Warren is at the top of the list. So I’m praying for my Pastor and his family today, and I’m inviting you to pray with me.

Coping With the Stress of Infertility

StamenWe have a beautiful six-year-old daughter, for whom we are so incredibly thankful. Our own struggle with infertility is not as harsh as that experienced by many because of her, but it’s a struggle nonetheless. We had some issues leading up to her birth and were so incredibly grateful when we were finally blessed with Ella that we gave her the middle name of Grace (God’s undeserved favor). Since having Ella, we’ve endured an ectopic pregnancy and another miscarriage and have spent nearly six years in the waiting game.

Infertility is hard – no bones about it. I don’t write or talk about it much, perhaps because of my own fear of being vulnerable in such a public way, but I have come into contact with so many people who suffer this plight that I wanted to share in the hopes that my words might educate and encourage someone else.

Continue reading Coping With the Stress of Infertility

Real Christians Hurt… And Show It

As Paul concluded his second letter to Timothy, he expressed some hurt. Demas had forsaken him. Alexander the coppersmith had caused him much harm. At one point, no one was willing to stand with Paul. Rejection, criticism, and abandonment hurt! The world is watching believers to see how we’re going to handle it all.

Continue reading Real Christians Hurt… And Show It

What A Wonderful World

At our wedding, Angie and I chose to have Louie Armstrong’s song played… What a Wonderful World. In light of yesterday’s shootings, and so many other monumental tragedies in recent years, is it really a wonderful world? We were driving to Fort Smith yesterday for the annual meeting of the BMA of America and were reflecting on some of the tragedies that have taken place at this same time of the year such as the Oklahoma City bombing (April, 1995), the Waco compound burning (April, 1993), and Columbine (April, 1999). Each of these tragedies evoked emotions of fear and trepidation about living in this present world.

Our daughter begins kindergarten this fall. She’s nearly five years old and we’re already speculating about the nature of the world in which she will grow up and go through school. The news media tackles subjects like campus security and the psychological reasons behind such an awful rampage. But the secular media can never fully comprehend the nature of human depravity. Evil men will do evil things, no matter our level of security. If not on a campus, then in a restaurant, an airport, or a World Trade Center. Is this really a wonderful world?

There are natural and supernatural factors that can only be seen through a God-centered world view. The depravity of man runs deep in the heart. Evil abounds in humankind and murder, war, and bloodshed will continue as long as lost mankind has some dominion over this present realm. Further, Satan is labeled in Scripture as the “prince of the power of the air… the god of this world.” We who live on earth, live in a time and place where darkness has dominion. Is it really a wonderful world?

My answer, surprisingly, is yes. Why? Because it is in this present realm that God is actively working to extend His saving and healing grace to a lost and depraved people. It is here that God moves. It was into this humanity that Jesus, the light, came into the world. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. God’s glory was put on display through the life of Jesus Christ, through His atoning death, and through His miraculous resurrection. Do we live in a wonderful world? Only insomuch as Jesus makes the difference.

Last night, we were ministered to by a wonderful gospel singer who performed the old song Beulah Land. I love the lines… “Beulah land, I’m longing for thee, and someday on thee I’ll stand…” Our world, inundated with pain and loss and suffering, is merely a waiting room, a practice run, an incubation chamber for eternity. For those who believe in Jesus Christ as Savior, heaven is our real home. Hell awaits those who reject His free offer of grace.

Amazingly, we cannot forget that it is this world which will someday be renovated by fire. This world will be redeemed. It currently groans with birth pains, waiting to be delivered from its depraved lostness. It’s a wonderful world, plagued by the inherent sinfulness of humankind. It’s wracked with pain and evil. Yet everything on God’s time line is moving toward a great and triumphant finality. Jesus will rule and reign.

Our hearts are gripped, in times like this, with uncertainty and fear. Then Scripture speaks on behalf of its divine author… “For God hath not given us a spirit of fear; but of power, and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7) “Casting all your care upon him, for he careth for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) “Be careful (anxious) for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

Is this world your home, or do you seek a city to come, a home not made with human hands preserved in the eternities for you? Jesus Christ came to be the light and hope of a lost and dark world. He came to offer you peace, pardon, and eternal life if you’ll only trust fully in Him, even in the world’s darkest moments. More is to come. Scripture foretells that times will wax worse and worse. Yet Jesus’ hand is always extended toward you. Embrace Him who is ready to embrace you, and enjoy the unspeakable peace and confidence of God.

I Shall Arise

“Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me.” -Micah 7:8

When I was rather young, I went sledding down Bowling Green’s “Hospital Hill” one snowy day with my brother and my Dad. I was so excited about taking my first run on my own, but something went terribly wrong. there was a snowdrift covering a stump and I hit it head on. The sled went down, I went up (and what goes up must come down) and I hit the ground and lay flat on my back. My wind was gone, I felt I couldn’t breathe, and I was panicking. In moments my brother and my Dad were there to check on me. But the instant they saw that I would survive, their concern turned to jubilation. They laughed! They laughed hard! And I must admit, it was probably funny.

Others often take our calamity lightly. Our pain and our suffering, to us, is always immense. We see the world from a darkened valley while the masses look on from the cliffs and mountain peaks. Our enemies especially take advantage of every opportunity to rejoice in our tragedies. But for the Christian there is a great promise – our calamities are but for a moment. Micah, the contemporary of Isaiah, knew what would befall Israel in a matter of decades. He knew of their coming captivity and the suffering they would endure under slavery to Babylon.

The nations around Israel could rejoice at her defeat, but Micah, speaking under inspiration of God gave warning to the nations. Rejoice not! We have not been destroyed, we shall rise! Darkness is inevitable, it will consume half of every day. Falling is part of life. But Micah reminds us that for all of the failures of the children of God, there will be a rising in the end. For the darkness we endure here, there is the light of God’s presence and the revelation of His promises. The future is bright, our hope endures. As children of the King, we shall rise and reign! Take courage, be hopeful, the end is not yet!

Life… In All Its Complexity

The blog has been put on hold for a couple of weeks now, primarily because of all that my wife and I have been experiencing in our personal lives. Here’s a recounting of it…

On Monday evening, October 30, Angie left her ladies’ Connection Cafe meeting feeling well, but by the time we drove from the church to our house (just a couple of minutes) she was in terrible pain. We decided to go to the emergency room. Our beloved friends, Cory and Lachelle McCaig, came to sit from about 10:00 pm until 4:30 Tuesday morning while Angie was subjected to numerous tests, which found essentially nothing wrong.

On Tuesday morning, October 31, we went for a follow-up visit at her physician’s office and he became concerned about some possible internal bleeding. He decided to admit her to St. Mary’s hospital where he would perform a laproscopic procedure simply to explore any potential problems. He, like the emergency room physician, sought to rule out the possibility of an ectopic pregnancy. One he began the procedure, he discovered the worst scenario, an ectopic (tubal) pregnancy, which can be deadly.

The short, one-hour procedure turned into a two and one half hour operation with a large incision. I was so moved as I waited in the surgery waiting room as about two dozen members of our church surrounded me, waiting to hear that Angie had come through the surgery okay. We were delighted to hear that she would be just fine. The physician explained that she had sustained heavy internal bleeding and that her risk of possible death had been higher than he had anticipated.

Angie’s Dad brought her Mom down from St. Louis to help take care of her for a few days but her stay was interrupted by yet another family emergency. On Thursday, Angie’s grandmother suffered a heart attack and was in intensive care in Washington, Missouri. The family had hoped that she was improving, but in the middle of Thursday night, a call came alerting us that she had taken a turn for the worse. Angie’s Mom borrowed my car and drove through the night to be at her mother’s side. Ella Briggs (our daughter’s namesake) went home to heaven on Friday, November 3.

Later that afternoon, Angie and I loaded up our van and began the trip to St. Clair to attend the funeral, but wisdom along with some forceful but loving input from our family, prompted us to turn back and stay at home. Angie was recovering a little each day, but it may be a total of six weeks recovery time before she is completely healthy again. We’ve taken a much needed one night sabbatical to a nearby vacation spot and have attempted to settle back into a routine, with Angie returning to work on this past Monday, November 13.

The Sunday before all of this began, my text included Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are the called according to His purpose.” That Monday night, Angie testified at Connection Cafe that she had (at least we thought at the time) a miscarriage, but that God was faithfully teaching us to trust Him. It isn’t merely a cliche that “everything happens for a reason.” When you’re a believer, nothing is left to chance anymore. You realize that God has a sovereign plan that allows His children to endure some very difficult crises in life in order that we might enjoy “the fellowship of (Christ’s) sufferings.”

Since we learn how to be disciples through the tough stuff, what have I learned from all of this?

First, I’ve learned the importance of God’s timing. Had Angie not been persisent with her physician in his office, he would have sent her home where she may have bled to death. We’ve heard numerous testimonies from others who experienced the same trauma and were in grave danger. God rescued Angie just in time. On a similar note, I’ve learned the mysterious nature of God’s timing. Why would Angie’s grandmother pass away just after Angie’s surgery when her mother would have to make a midnight dash for Missouri and when Angie could not attend the funeral? All I can conlcude us that God is ultimately wise.

Second, I’ve learned the value of a loving church family, a fellowship of believers. I was surrounded in a waiting room by numerous friends and members of our spiritual family. Once home, people provided meals as well as company with their visits. We’ve experienced an outpouring of love and compassion for which we will be forever grateful. I’ve often heard others say, “I don’t see how people make it through things without a church family.” That statement was exemplified in our tragedy.

Third, I’ve learned what a beautiful and courageous woman I married! I sat in the surgery waiting room virtually helpless. I could do nothing to ensure her safety except to pray. I could do nothing to help her recover except play nurse and fetch water. Yet I watched as Angie handled the situation like a champ. Note that champions have weak moments, moments of curiosity about the activity of God and moments of emotional break-down. Tears rarely come from cowards. I’ve learned a new respect for her. While it was our baby that died so prematurely in a pregancy complication, it was her body that experienced such drastic trauma. I wish I could be half as strong as her!

More than anything, we’ve learned “in all things (to) give thanks unto God, for this is the will of God for (us) in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) At our former church, we used to have a responsive chant: “God is good… all the time… and all the time… God is good.” God really is good. We don’t always get what we expect or want, but God never ceases to be holy or loving. God has been glorified in our lives in so many ways in the last few weeks, all we can do is humbly give Him praise, cry our tears, and go on in faith that God will always be good!