Safely Through the Valley

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow. . .”

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One of the biggest privileges I have as a pastor is getting to dedicate babies to the Lord.

This morning we dedicated Rick and Cindy’s little girl Ashleigh. Truly a blessing that, unless you know the whole story, you can never fathom. Just as, unless you have experienced the grief of having walked through the valley of the shadow of death, you cannot appreciate the joy of getting to celebrate life like we did this morning as we gave a little life over to the care of the redeemer, to the restorer.

As the young shepherd boy become King once wrote:

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23

No doubt all of us have walked through that valley and have had to say goodbye to people we love, if we were fortunate enough to have time to say that goodbye. And if it was a child, you know it is especially hard. Nine years ago, this very week, I was doing another baby dedication for Rick and Cindy as we committed the soul of their stillborn daughter Hanna to the Lord.

It was a funeral that tore at my heart but at the same time boosted my faith and confirmed to me like few things ever have that faith is more than a feeling and that our God is alive and well and gives us faith and grace when we are not strong enough, when there is no earthly or tangible reason to have any. Not because I had it, but because I saw it lived out before me.

Nine years ago Cindy was pregnant with the second child they had wanted for twenty years, a miracle. Then, well into the pregnancy trouble struck, I won’t dredge up the details but it was dire for the baby. But, after a lot of prayer it seemed another miracle had happened and the baby was hanging in there, and then, after enough time had passed that it seemed the miracle was secured, the worst happened, the little girl was lost. The emotional roller coaster of hope and fear came to a bitter end as it appeared to plunge irreversibly into darkness.

And so, on a cold December day we committed her body, placed in a tiny stainless steel coffin, to the ground, and committed her spirit to the Lord who created her and loves her still. But, for those who are loved by God and called according to his purpose, darkness cannot hold us anymore then death can. “O’ grave where is thy victory and death where is thy sting.”— Destroyed on the cross, that’s where.

Now, here’s why my soul found restoration in the midst of this tragedy, I watched my good friends—who had every reason in the world to lose their faith, to turn their back on God for apparently turning His on them, and simply walk away, angry and justified—I watched them cling to Jesus. I feared for them. I feared that the pain and disillusionment would be too much for them and that their faith would be shattered, but it wasn’t. They walked right on through that darkness and feared no evil and goodness and mercy followed them.

Of course I was praying for them but nonetheless, I was amazed and blessed. Many prayers were being offered in that season by many people as we stood in the gap for them.

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I feared for them as a friend and as a pastor because as a pastor with the call to comfort the broken hearted there is nothing harder than having to explain to someone why God let the one they cannot imagine life without die. Theologies and platitudes have no meaning in times like that. But, what does have meaning, and it is something we cannot explain or understand, until we are in it, is the presence of God.

I knew God was real when I saw Rick and Cindy hang on to their faith and never waiver in their commitment to being a light to this world and in their belief that they indeed had a second daughter who they would one day get to hold and cherish, in the resurrection or when they join her in heaven as they await that resurrection day.

God sustained their souls and because, I believe, because they were faithful in their recognizing his goodness, they have seen a restoration in a way they would never have imagined. Yes there were tears, yes there was anger, but through it all there was faith, faith that what the enemy had meant for evil, the God of restoration could turn to good.

Hanna is safe and loved, her parents are living in the faith that will ensure their reunion, and she now has a younger sister; Ashleigh.

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The God of restoration saw a baby in need, a little girl whose parents were simply not willing or ready to be the parents she would need, but were committed to bringing her into this world and allowing her to live. So the Lord moved the reluctant mother to call uncle Rick and Aunt Cindy, whom God remembered and already had this planned when their Hanna went home early.

A few short months later Rick and Cindy were in a hospital room witnessing the birth of a healthy little girl whom they got to hold, name, and take home just as they would a daughter of their own. And now she officially is. Two weeks ago the adoption was finalized and today in her dedication to the Lord, they took the step of faith and obedience to commit themselves to raising her to the best of their ability in the ways of the Lord and to entrust her soul into his hands until such day as she can make that decision to make him her Lord, to choose whom she will serve.

On that day she too will get to experience the joy of knowing that she has a restored soul. A soul that we pray was never rent by the enemies wiles before she recognized and accepted the Love of her Savior with the faith of a child that will never waiver, just as her parents faith hasn’t.

That is why they are blessed, that is why they have been able to live to see this incredible restoration, and why we have been witnesses of it today.

So today we got to dedicate their third daughter to the Lord. And together, this family of five, will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Let’s read that whole Psalm.

Don’t just read it, own it.

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.

Yetrday's troubles

God is good. He is more than good, he is love. He is not Santa Clause, he is not an insurance agent. We don’t just get to give him a list of things we want and wait by the tree for the presents to show up. We don’t get to file a claim for things that were lost and wait for a check. We get to live in the knowledge that we have a God who knows better than we ever will what we need as opposed to what we want. How those around us will be affected by the choices we make, and by how he answers our prayers.

Only God sees the big picture and understands how everything is tied together and will affect people he died for in years to come, even for eternity. God is shaping our eternity first and foremost. We must trust him with our todays if we want our eternity, our tomorrows secured or restored.

I know enough about people to know that you have probably experienced great restoration in your life, restoration in very important areas. But, if you’re like many, you may not recognize it and fully appreciate it enough to live in the joy of that knowledge. When you do, you will get that loving feeling back—soul restoration.

Only you can know what that will look like, you and your Lord.

And he has only just begun.

Shepherd meme

Check out my latest book:

Barbarians in the Kingdom

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