Overcoming seasonal depression by the two advents of hope.

This Christmas is our fourth holiday season without our beloved Jacob. Much has changed in our lives since his departure. Much is an understatement of the truth I suppose. Truth is, everything has changed and nothing is the same for us in life which especially includes our holiday observances.

Stacey and I have often said to each other, “I can’t believe this is our life.” It’s as if we walked through the wardrobe into Narnia but the way back was lost to us. If I were given the script for our biography to read five years ago I would have placed it in the genre of fiction. I guess truth is truly stranger than fiction. Through it all I have found the words of king David to ring true and provide much comfort for my soul.

The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart,
And saves such as have a contrite spirit.

 Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
But the Lord delivers him out of them all.
 He guards all his bones;

I am thankful that God is near me, that he saves me, delivers me, guards me and protects me in all my troubles. This is especially true at this time of year when seasonal depression and waves of grief can overcome my heart so quickly.

I remember the terrible dread of those first couple holiday seasons. I also remember hearing from others who had lost children that the grief will change, it will get better but Christmas will never be the same. I have found this to be true.

The Christmas season is here again and advent is being observed by many Christians. We all get a little short-sighted at this time of year. The holiday buzz is everywhere and I can get distracted quickly with all the sights, sounds and smells of the season. I can also easily get swamped by grief and focus on the empty chairs in the family room. My eyes can lose their focus very fast. When hope is forgotten, comfort is forfeited and despair grips my heart when I lose sight of the reason for the season.

The coming of Emanuel was prophesied by Isaiah. The hope of nations was born in Bethlehem, placed in a manger and later nailed to a cross for the redemption of all who believe. He walked out of the grave, showed himself to many witnesses, ascended to the right hand of God and now Christians wait for the great second advent of the King.

God comforts the Christian. He dries the tears of his children with the tissue of hope. My hope is anchored in the reality that Jesus is coming again. As a believer in Christ I do not grieve as the world grieves because I have a living hope. I have God. This brings me great consolation.

All my sorrow will someday be turned into joy when I see Jesus face to face and he reunites me with my boy. All this is possible because the promised advent of Messiah was fulfilled in Jesus over 2000 years ago. The second advent is assured by Jesus himself and secured by his victory over sin and death through his resurrection from the dead.

In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. John 14:2-3

The prophesied first advent is over and the promised second advent is soon to come. There is something far better waiting for those who love him and watch for his appearing. I encourage you to wait patiently in hopeful anticipation as you endure the many trials of this life. I leave you with theses comforting words of God penned through the apostle Paul.

13 But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17

Merry Christmas Jake!

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A joyful and hope filled Christmas to you all!

 

 

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Better not bitter

I met a man who is a member of “the club” on a Monday not long ago. His name is Leroy and his membership began the day before his son turned 21. Leroy’s son John was murdered in 1995. We shared our stories without shame of tears in an empty laundry room for about thirty minutes. There was an immediate bond between us, an understanding that only a father or mother in the club can know.

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The lives of all parents that have lost children are segmented into life before and after death. And so our stories went in the conversation. I loaded the washer and listened to my new friend describe his pain, his anger, desperation and the hopelessness he wrestled with after his son died. He then shared how all that changed through his faith and love for God.

Our stories are very different but very similar at the same time. Like a two-track through a dark woods our paths run side by side headed in the same direction. We spoke of our paths of hope and how terrible pain pressed us both into a deeper faith in God. Of course, this isn’t always the case with bereaved people, it can go quite the opposite way in fact. I agreed and mentioned to him what the preacher said in his sermon the day before.

“Everyone will suffer in this life” the preacher said, “and how we respond to it will either makes us bitter or better.” He went on to say that the difference between the words better and bitter is simply the letter I in the middle. When suffering becomes I centered bitterness can overtake us.

Leroy described in detail his bitter anger and hopelessness in the early days of his grief. But all that changed for him in time. He went on and spoke of how God has used the death to shape him into someone much different and better than before. I can relate, and so can everybody else who loves God in the midst of suffering.

All things, good and bad, have a definite, useful, and good purpose in the life of a Christian. Who is a Christian? We are those who love God and love his Son Jesus Christ. The believer understands that suffering is used to shape us into something good. Someone better. Someone beautiful.

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

All things really do happen for a reason but this promise is only for a believer. The good purpose of God is to use everything in shaping those who love him into looking like his Son. “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” Romans 8:29 

I suppose suffering can push those who hate God to confusion, despair and hopelessness. But for Leroy and I we spoke of our love for God and his love towards us. Without a doubt the murder of John and the overdose of Jacob were the most terrible events in our lives. Have those events made us bitter or better? We only spoke of the good intentions of a loving God in our shared stories. There are only happily ever afters for those who love God. God is making us better.

The purposeful good end of all things for those who love God is that he shapes us into the image of Jesus on his potter’s wheel. Someday the shaping will be complete and I will in my flesh behold the face of God. 

Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” 1 John 3:2

What a beautiful and meaningful ending to our journeys with suffering and pain.

I am better not bitter.

 

The end of evil

… Nobody robbed a liquor store on the lower part of town
Nobody OD’ed, nobody burned a single buildin’ down
Nobody fired a shot in anger, nobody had to die in vain
We sure could use a little good news today

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Anne Murray released “A little good news” in September 1983. The song rose on the billboard charts and reached #1 and remained there for 20 weeks. The lyrics of the song are timeless because the pain and problems do not change in our world. Sadly, they only get worse and are reported more often than ever. The headlines were the same for previous generations and continue to darken the monologues on the nightly news. Evil is among us and evil is here to stay. For now but not forever.

A feel good story is refreshing to our souls like a spring rain and soothing as lap full of puppies. Yes, we all sure could use a little good news today Ann Murray.

There are countless philosophies that people hold concerning evil. I don’t occupy myself with philosophical speculations as to why a man shoots into a concert venue killing 58 people. Or why a man rents a Home Depot truck with the sole intent to kill. I don’t need to wonder why these things continue and get increasingly worse because I know why.

I am a simple-minded evangelical Christian. I believe and teach the Bible. I believe in absolutes and I believe in truth. In a world of speculation concerning evil there is an answer to the big one word question.Why? I need not speculate as a Christian because truth is absolute and unchangeable. I know the truth about evil because my God has revealed it to me in his book of truth.

“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned— Romans 5:12 

This inflexible position is intolerable in our post-modern and post-Christian American culture. Christians are perceived as stupid, uneducated and arrogant pin heads. I accept this false diagnosis of me. The world did not accept Jesus and his diagnosis of evil and its cure. As I proclaim his message I can expect to treated with contempt as well.

Consider for a moment the following scenario.

Is an Oncologist a stupid, uneducated, ignorant liar when he accurately diagnoses cancer? Does a reasonable patient brush off the truth? Does he reject the doctor, the diagnosis and the treatment? No, because when the facts are absolutely true the patient will accept them and do all that is required so that the cancer does not kill them.

Life is full of facts, truth and absolutes. But when it comes to evil, its origins, and its consequences, the world rejects truth and enters into all kinds of religious philosophies and off the wall speculations. They reject the doctor, they reject the diagnosis and in so doing they reject the cure.

The bible diagnoses every man as having terminal spiritual cancer. There is evil present in us all that brings forth death for the soul and the flesh. The payment for sin is always death. That’s the bad news for all of us. We can reject the truthful diagnosis, we can reject the treatment, we can reject the gracious cure but if we do death will win and we have only ourselves to blame.

Breaking news! This is the moment where the headlines speak of rescue and heroism. A breath of fresh air in a landscape that reeks of death and disaster. When hope is seen in a hopeless world. We sure could use a little good news today, and there it is on the front page of the bible. Spiritual cancer was cured, life is given and death has no more sting! Yet the world turns off the good news and rejects the story of truth to their own demise. The story of the cross is foolishness to those who do not believe.

I stand with a few who hold this unbending way of thinking and faith. I am a Christian therefore I stand with Jesus and he stands beside me, therefore I am on solid ground. He humbly proclaimed, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” and affirmed the scriptures saying to his Father, “Your word is truth.” I say what he says, and I proclaim the good news today of what he has done to crush evil.

The good news story concerning evil and its ultimate destruction took place in Jerusalem over 2000 years ago. On a cross, on account of sin, Jesus, the Righteous One, took our evil. He was made sin for us and imputed his righteousness unto all who believe in the good news, the gospel concerning him, his death, burial, resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God.

But God demonstrates His own love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not ony that, but we rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now  received the reconciliation.  Romans 5:8-11

There is no greater good news story in the headlines than this. Evil was overcome, evil must run its course but evil has an ultimate end. Evil will eventually be history and evil has no future storyline. That’s the good news for today!

And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” Revelation 21;3-5

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering Jake

Jacob was born March 3rd 1992. A chubby and content newborn, nearly ten pounds who could have won a cute baby contest. Soon he was sitting up, soon he was walking, soon he was dressed for his first day of kindergarten. Not long after we were attending football games, wrestling matches, choir concerts and high school graduation.

Birthdays, Christmas, vacations, and Sunday afternoon dinners with the entire family have vanished. All that remains are these snapshots of his life. Just frozen images of places, times, and events but not much more. His life doesn’t run like a movie in my mind. There are only clips and screenshots, bits and pieces that flash in my memory.

Sometimes Facebook jars my memory and I recover a forgotten snapshot in time.

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I can’t remember. I want to remember but it seems most of the files have been deleted. They are scattered, unrecoverable and taken away like leaves with the cool winds of fall. There are a few leaves left behind that the late October wind left behind. I hear his voice and the garbled laugh of his great-grandmother. I see his thin-lipped crooked smile and clips of his maturing face as he grew from a boy into a man.

There are other memories that exist in a firesafe box in the basement. They are digital memories on discs and VHS tapes. The box has not been opened. The digital images remain in darkness, unseen but available. I have not come to the place where I can open the box, the very thought still causes me to shutter. Pandora’s box? Perhaps. I guard myself from places that complicate my grief. I’m not ready and I am not sure I will ever be ready. Maybe his brother and sister will discover it years from now and open the treasure chest of their brother’s life. I hope it makes them smile. I hope it warms their hearts. Near the firesafe box is a cedar chest. Someday they will also open the hope chest  and in it they will discover all the cherished family leaves gathered in one place. Full of color, full of beauty, full of memories and full of love.

I long to hear his voice, but not in this way. I desire to see him but not on a 60 inch flat screen. Not now, not yet, perhaps tomorrow, perhaps never.

Life begins and life gets lost in forgotten moments that have passed me by. How I wish to gather the leaves into a pile and admire the beauty of each colorful fallen leaf. Scattered memories are all that remain and every so often I pick up fallen leaf in time and recall a sweet moment. Once insignificant moments in time that have become beautiful and cherished snapshots for me to enjoy today.

Someday hope will end and I will realize my hope when we meet again face to face.

“For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:15-18)

 

 

 

A comforting sign

It is Easter Sunday morning and I have been awake since 4:30. I sip on my coffee in the silence with this Mac on my lap as I listen to a robin sing outside my window. I ponder what life would be like if the birds hushed their singing. What a wonderful grace this is from God that the silence was broken by the melody and harmony of his creation. The wind, the waves, the songbirds and the sound of rain on my roof all speak of the gracious Creator who reveals himself even in the sounds which we often ignore.

Painted in Waterlogue

I am not a sign seeker. God is everywhere and I don’t need something miraculous to affirm that he is, I need only to look and listen to my surroundings to be assured of his presence. Yet, some weeks back, just before the three-year anniversary date of the death of my son I whispered a prayer to God. I asked him to give me peace again and assurance that Jacob with him in his presence. I asked for a comfort and to do something to give me peace.

I kind of had forgotten the prayer until some other things happened. I wouldn’t call it a sign, it was just an answered prayer from God to comfort my sometimes troubled heart.

I need to fill you in on some background before I tell you what happened.

Let not your heart be troubled

The words of Jesus in John 14:1-3 were written on the heart of my son and Jacob could quote them when he was a young boy.  They read as follows, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (John 14:1-3)

On the headstone where Jacob rests are engraved the first six words of these verses. These words that came from Jesus and were etched in the heart of my son. We had them engraved in marble that we might never forget the promise of heaven and a family reunion.

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My wife Stacey found these words so comforting that she had them put on her arm. In memory of the promise of Jesus and in memory of our beloved son she had this tattoo done shortly after his death.

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So, March 26th came and it happened to be on a Sunday this year. We went to Eden Bible Church and sat in the seats we have been sitting in for years. The service began and I got a light elbow to the ribs as Stacey leaned over and whispered, “Did you notice this?” She handed me the church bulletin and you guessed it, our verses were right there on the front for us to take comfort in. Three years to the day of Jacob’s passing this was the bulletin we were handed.

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I had kind of forgotten the prayer I made to God. Sunday passed and my dad and I were having breakfast at Ursa Major on Thursday morning and our conversation triggered my memory of the prayer I had made. I told him about the prayer and the church bulletin and asked, “Do you think God used this to answer my prayer for comfort?” My dad believed he did and I do as well. Irony? I dont think so. A sign? Perhaps.

Here’s your sign

Today is Easter. This is the best day of all Christian celebrations because it is this resurrection day that stills my heart and says, “Let not your heart be troubled.”

I don’t need nor do I seek a signs from my son. But God in his grace to me has assured my heart once again by answering a prayer in a most ordinary but immensely comforting way and for that I thank him. It was like he was saying to me, “Here’s what you prayed for, let not your heart be troubled.”

Today I celebrate the greatest day in human history. Jesus promised to give the world a sign that he is God by walking out of his grave after three days. He conquered death and by faith in him I have been given life and my heart is not troubled. He has prepared a place for Jacob and he is preparing a place for me, he has promised to come for me so that where he is I will someday be also.

There is only one sign and only one faith that points to heaven and that sign is the resurrection of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Good Friday has passed Jesus is alive; There’s your sign!

“Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:38-40)

Happy Easter my friends!

 

Never Forgotten

Remembering

When I was younger I never gave thought to my legacy and how I would be remembered after death. Now that I am beyond mid-life I think of it quite often and am reminded that each day I live is a day that might be shared in my eulogy.

We want to remember the lives of those we love and we do many things so that they might not be forgotten. This week I will transplant Jacob’s memorial tree from our old house to our new home.

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Jacob’s tree

Last week I had a memorial tattoo put on my right arm of a sticky note that Jake secretly placed in my bible. People have memorial events, establish memorial scholarships and give donations to charities in the name of the ones they love. All of this is good and comforting to do because we never want to forget nor do any of us want to be forgotten.

I visit the graveyard where my son and other loved ones lay in rest for the great day of Christ’s return (John 14:1-6). I remember their lives, I walk around and I see the names of many unknown and forgotten people. There are people who have been resting there for over a hundred fifty years and I ponder who they were and does anybody remember their life? Unless you made a huge dent in human history it is likely that people will forget all about us after about 3 or 4 generations. My life is a vapor, I am here today and gone tomorrow (James 4:14). The most I can hope for is that I leave something behind for this generation and the next that was meaningful and eternally significant.

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Rewarding

 I expect to be forgotten and I am just fine with riding into the sunset and disappearing like a morning mist. Perhaps in a hundred fifty years somebody will look at my headstone and wonder, “Who was this Mike Fekete and what was his life like?” I am OK with that but what I am not OK with is to be eternally forgotten by my eternal God. Thankfully, with God, there is a legacy believers are currently living in this life that will never be forgotten and better yet will be rewarded by him. “For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister.” (Hebrews 6:10) Let us not forget that when we love and serve our Christian brothers we love and serve our Lord. Let us work, let us labor in love, let us persevere to the end for the name of Jesus. FullSizeRender-9

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:10)

In ancient temples the wealthy memorialized people by purchasing a marble pillar in the name of the deceased. Jesus knew this and said to the church, “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.” (Revelation 3:12) Those who overcome are never forgotten and always rewarded by Jesus. When we honor him on earth he promises to honor us in paradise.

 

 

When hope is lost

Life is difficult. Pain is real. Grief, sorrow and trials are experienced by all in this world. We live by the golden rule, we walk by faith…or so we say, or so I have said. Yet lately, for longer than I want to admit to myself I have lost my hope. Oh, I say that I hope in God but that hope is mingled with a hope for better things in this life. I had dreams, but they died. I had desires for good things but they were cast down. I suffer pain, grief, sorrow and loss and I feel disheartened and crushed. I must admit that the death of my son Jacob has crushed my spirit to hope for better things.
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Therein lies my problem. I have fallen into the trap of placing hope in this temporal life, for passing earthly hopes that disappear as quickly as they appear. Oh, I would say that I was also looking to heaven for my eternal hope, but when my eyes fell again on the horizontal plane towards my hopes in this life I have been repeatedly disappointed. In these past three years I have guarded myself from hoping for better things in my life. However, when I let my guard down many times I was crushed again by another disappointing and difficult life event. I had forgotten and lost my sight of the promises in the valley of the shadow of death. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23)
We have faith in God, we have love for God and we have good hope in God. Faith can be turned to fear, love can grow cold, and hope will be shaken when the eyes of our soul turn away from Jesus to the things of this life. God has corrected my eyesight in the last couple of days with the help of some of his servants. I had lowered my spiritual eyes and turned away from the only eternal and unwavering hope. I still desire, expect and hope for good things from my gracious and merciful savior in this life. I will hope and wait for his goodness but whether in the pain or in the pleasure my hope is assured by an anchor in heaven. When hope in this life is robbed by trials I have learned, and have been recently been painfully reminded again that earthly hope is a mirage and a dissipating vapor.
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Cor. 4:17-18 ESV) There have been times I have wanted to put a choke hold on people who quickly respond to trials by saying, “Everything happens for a reason.” While this is true it is of no comfort to the sorrowful, in fact it can be maddening. I have been in the fire, I am in the fire and I expect be in the fire again. This verse assures me that the my afflictions are temporal and no matter how bad life gets they are considered light and purposeful. I can rejoice in hope in the fire that prepares me for my future glorious inheritance in heaven. This is assured and this is our unchangeable and eternal hope.
I have been comforted by God and my hope has been restored because my eyes have turned heavenward where Christ my hope is seated at the right hand of God. “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace,  comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. (2 Thess2:15-17) Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.