Here I Raise My Ebenezer

Our family has a very personal Ebenezer.

Ebenezer. It certainly isn’t a common word in contemporary language. Every time I try to type “Ebenezer” into my phone, predictive text wants to change the word to Ebook, which is further proof that it is uncommon terminology. Perhaps the word first brings to mind the famous book, A Christmas Carol and the memorable protagonist of the story, Ebenezer Scrooge. Maybe you sang the familiar hymn, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, as soon as you saw the title of this post. But rarely do we think of the word Ebenezer or it’s purpose. I now think of this word often, as our family has a very personal Ebenezer.

The origin of Ebenezer is Hebrew and it means “Stone of Help”. 1 Samuel 7 tells the story of the Israelites returning to the Lord and forsaking their foreign gods. While Samuel is crying out to the Lord on behalf of the Israelites the Philistines came up to attack them. Verse 9 says that Samuel cried out to the Lord on Israel’s behalf and “the Lord answered him.” Verse 12 says “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far has the Lord helped us.'” The stone was set up as a memorial, to remember what God had done.

Remember who you were, remember what God has done, remember who God is and who you are called to be.

A few days ago my friends and I were discussing all the good we hoped would come from this crazy and hard time of Covid-19. Being the natural pessimist that I am, I mentioned my concern that we would in fact forget and probably not learn much. If history has taught us anything, it is that humans are prone to forgetfulness. Countless times in Scripture God’s people are told to remember. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” (Exodus 20:8) “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there.” (Deuteronomy 24:18) “Do this in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:24) These are only three of countless admonitions to remember. Remember who you were, remember what God has done, remember who God is and who you are called to be.

I’ve always felt that, in hindsight, we tend to be critical of the Israelites. We ask, “how could they forget the plagues, the parting of the sea and immediately make an idol?” But how often I forget. In the same conversation with my friends, about all we hoped would change and the good that would come out of this time, I mentioned our family’s own personal Ebenezer.

Our personal Ebenezer is not a literal stone, but rather a memorial of gratitude. Just a couple of days after Jane passed away, I started making a list of ways I had seen the Lord work. I wrote down ways the Lord had been our help. I wrote down seemingly small blessings in disguise. I did this because I wanted to remember, even staring in the face of tragedy, how good God is and the help He had given us.

Our personal Ebenezer is not a literal stone, but rather a memorial of gratitude.

Here are a just four entries from my personal list. The ways I am thankful actually fill many pages of a notebook.

  • I’m thankful that Jane broke her leg at the beginning of the year, because I have so many more pictures and videos from that time. She was still and I had many more sweet moments to hold her. In the moment, I was sad for Jane and it seemed inconvenient, now I see the Lord’s blessing.
  • I’m thankful for our church family and community, who literally surrounded our house, praying and singing over us the day after Jane passed away. I didn’t even like our home town when we moved here six years ago, but now I see how graciously God provided this specific community.
  • I’m thankful that the gospel has been shared with many and is still being shared with many, all over the world, through Jane’s story. God is a God of redemption and I’m grateful He is allowing us to see small gifts of His redemptive plan.
  • I’m thankful that God’s timing is gracious. As much as I wanted more time with Jane, had she died just three weeks later, because of the pandemic we wouldn’t have been able to have a funeral. No one would have been able to come to our home. Robert and I wouldn’t have even been allowed to go into the hospital to see Jane one last time.

In the midst of joy and blessings, I want to offer a song of thanksgiving. But I also want to meet heartache and grief with gratitude. Hear me say, gratitude is not an attempt to be dismissive. Gratitude does not change the facts, but it does change my heart.

Gratitude does not change the facts, but it does change my heart.

On a rainy night in February, Robert and I were ushered into a room at a hospital to wait and see a doctor who would pronounce Jane’s fate. I remember the exchange perfectly. The doctor, clearly burdened, walked into the room and introduced himself. He bent down in order to be eye to eye with us and said, “I’m sorry, it isn’t good news.” That was a fact. Jane’s death was not and is not good news. This terrible tragedy is a fact, but it does not change the fact that the gospel is good news. I don’t have to be thankful for Jane’s death. I am thankful that, when I repeatedly whispered a quiet prayer, “Jesus please be near”, He was near. Psalm 46:1 says “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” God doesn’t promise us an exemption of trouble, but He promises to be our refuge, strength and help. I know that and I’m thankful for that.

This is our personal story. Our gratitude is our Ebenezer. I still pray that we won’t forget the goodness of God. I pray that we won’t be complacent, prone to forgetfulness and tempted to be bitter. As a community, I hope that good will come out of this scary and uncertain time of Covid-19. I hope that even when the facts are bleak and the news isn’t good, we will remember the good news of the gospel. I pray that we will clearly see the faithfulness of God and His ever present help in times of trouble. I hope that we will remember. While the facts might not change, I hope that our hearts do.

“Here I raise my Ebenezer, Hither by Thy help I come. And I hope, by Thy good pleasure, Safely to arrive at home. Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God. He, to rescue me from danger, interposed His precious blood.”

Prove Satan Wrong

God is omniscient, which means God is all knowing. Satan is not.

A couple of years ago, I kept saying how much I wanted to do a Bible study through the book of Job. I was met with less than an eager response by friends and fellow Bible study goers. A book about suffering doesn’t seem as promising as studies about the character of God or the special task of motherhood. Now I see this desire to study and understand Job was a provision from the Lord. Recently, I’ve been reading Job again, because where else do you immediately turn in Scripture when you’ve experienced profound loss and suffering?

There is so much truth and so much to digest in just the first two chapters of Job. But here is the thing that I need to be reminded of, and the thing I think we all need to remember. Satan doesn’t know the outcome. God is omniscient, which means God is all knowing. Satan is not. Satan is a formidable enemy. He seeks to kill, steal and destroy. Sin, death and the enemy are not to be taken lightly. But I think sometimes we give Satan too much credit. 

Job 1:6-12 says, One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them.  The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.” Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied.  “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land.  But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.

Notice, God brought Job to Satan’s attention first. God knew the outcome from the beginning. Satan then complains that of course Job is upright because God has put a special hedge around him and blessed him. But notice what Satan says in verse 11. “But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” Surely.

NIV and NAS include the word surely and although the word in absent from the ESV translation the meaning is the same. The definition of surely is as follows. Surely is used to emphasize the speaker’s firm belief that what they are saying is true and often their surprise that there is any doubt of this. Satan has a firm belief that believers are only faithful as long as they prosper. He claims, that once their prosperity is taken away, they will inevitably reject God. He used the same tactics in the wilderness with the Son of God and against many other faithful servants throughout Scripture. But Satan didn’t know the outcome, God did.

Satan has a firm belief that believers are only faithful as long as they prosper.

Friends, we live in a privileged and prosperous nation. However, let’s not be foolish to assume that hard times and suffering will never come our way. In the evening hours of February 24, 2020 my daughter was inexplicably taken away from me. It is a devastating blow and shock to our family. Satan didn’t even know the outcome. Satan doesn’t know how we will process and respond to such devastation, but God does. It brings me immense joy knowing that through the power of the Holy Spirit we have the ability to prove Satan wrong. While the enemy seeks to kill, steal and destroy our family, it doesn’t mean he will be successful.

Can I look loss and tragedy in the face and say, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”? Through the enabling work of the Holy Spirit, I can. When my flesh is pricked, blood comes forth. When tragedy pierces deeply, what will come forth? Will it be complaining, anger and bitterness or will it be the Fruit of the Spirit flowing forth in praise?

When my flesh is pricked, blood comes forth. When tragedy pierces deeply, what will come forth? Will it be complaining, anger and bitterness or will it be the Fruit of the Spirit flowing forth in praise?

In the midst of a pandemic, in failing health, in unemployment, can we trust God’s sovereignty? Can we be filled with the Holy Spirit? Can we meet tragedy and dismay, with confidence and praise in God? Yes, a million times over. God is not asking us to understand our circumstances, He is asking us to trust His character. It is my prayer that Satan doesn’t gain a single foothold in our family. Let this be your prayer too. Don’t give Satan the power to achieve the outcome he desires. Let God have control and prove his unfailing love and faithfulness.

The Paradox of Good Friday

Written by Robert

“so that when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.”

Today we sit in reverence and awe of what Christ accomplished on the cross. We declare this day to be good because in His ultimate selfless act a fountain was opened to cleanse us from sin and uncleanness. We sing, “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins; and sinners plunged beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains.”

It is good because in the work of Christ we are made holy, blameless, righteous, a chosen priesthood. We have been made new by His grace and His work, not our own. Hallelujah, what a Savior. 

“Man of Sorrows what a name, For the Son of God who came, Ruined sinners to reclaim, Hallelujah! What a Savior!”

Yet, the paradox that in the midst of knowing, seeing and feeling this joy of salvation there is deep, profound grief and mourning. Zechariah 12:10 … “so that when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.” I can not describe to you the magnitude of pain, sorrow, anguish, and grief that losing a child bears. It is a deep, piercing open wound. So with this verse we see depth of our sin and the great cost that our redemption exacts. Today, we weep as if our only child has died at the sight of what your sin and my sin has done.

The saddest and worst day in history also created the most joyful and good day of history. Joy and grief intertwined, so join me in singing today, “Man of Sorrows what a name, For the Son of God who came, Ruined sinners to reclaim, Hallelujah! What a Savior!”

How Important is Truth?

In the last six weeks I’ve received hundreds of texts, messages and emails containing encouragement and Scripture. We have received dozens of books, songs and podcast recommendations. I’m so thankful for this. It demonstrates how much people care and so much of it is full of truth we need to hear right now.

I am unwilling to sacrifice truth to “feel” better.

I’ve always been cautious about books. I love to read, but when the topic pertains to God and the Bible, I want to know it is true and not false. Now, more than ever, we’re having to look at everything with a fine-tooth comb. There has never been a time in my life where I have sought more comfort and understanding, but I am unwilling to sacrifice truth to “feel” better.

So how am I navigating this influx of new material? When someone sends me Scripture, even a familiar verse, I read at least the entire chapter. Who was this written to, what is it referencing, is it a principle to live by or an actual promise? Are the songs we are singing and listening to full of sound doctrine and theology or does it contain falsehood that is just pleasant to my ears? Are podcasts pointing me to Christ and aligning with Scripture or is it sitting comfortably with sin and excusing bad behavior in the name of grief?

We’ve received and read wonderful books. We have found new artists and music that have led us to worship. We are learning the Biblical way to lament through helpful resources. So please hear my heart, I’m grateful for the influx of messages, music and materials. Much has been helpful and much has brought us closer to Christ.

In our time of pain and weakness, Satan would love nothing more than to distract from and distort truth.

I’m also very aware that in our time of pain and weakness, Satan would love nothing more than to distract from and distort truth. It was Satan who offered the first distortion of truth in the garden, “did God really say?” 1 Peter 5:8 says “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” It goes on to tell us to resist him and stand firm in the faith.

Perhaps you aren’t in a season of grieving or pain, but I’m willing to bet you’re in a season of having a lot of time on your hands. Will you take the time to carefully evaluate the information and entertainment you are allowing into your heart and mind?

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is praise worthy- think about such things.” Philippians 4:8