Sunday, February 25, 2007

The LORD was with him?

Old Testament scholars tell us ancient Hebrew writers often use repetition to make a point. If this is true, then the point of Joseph’s story in Genesis is the fact that “the LORD was with him.”

When I ask myself what I would expect to result from a repeating statement like this, I know it wouldn’t look anything like what actually happened to Joseph.

Jealousy and hatred get the best of his half-brothers. They kidnap their father’s favorite son and throw him into a pit with every intention of murdering him. Then, in a so-called act of mercy, they sell him into slavery. Seventeen-year-old Joseph is chained and hauled off to Egypt. If his brothers were tried for such offences today, they’d all be serving time.

But Joseph’s troubles have only begun. Torn from his father, betrayed by his brothers, given up for dead—Joseph is habitually the victim of the treachery or forgetfulness of others. He is sold, falsely accused, and unjustly imprisoned. Twenty-two precious years with his father and his younger brother Benjamin are lost.

Then, when Pharaoh’s cup bearer is restored, and at last there’s finally a glimmer of hope, Joseph is promptly forgotten and left in prison for two more long years. I can’t imagine how profoundly dumbfounded Joseph felt.

Grief is the subtitle underneath Joseph's story. Later his brothers would be tormented by the memory of his desperate cries and tears. But how many tears were shed that they knew nothing about?

Our storybook versions of his sufferings don’t begin to grasp what he endured. The Psalms tell us “They bruised his feet with shackles, his neck was put in irons” (Ps.105:18). What was it doing to Joseph’s heart? We read his story in minutes. He suffered for years, and the scars remained with him for a lifetime.

Yet there it is—that simple repeating reassuring refrain, “the LORD was with him”—winding through Joseph’s story like a stubborn thread all tangled up with the misery and the utter sense of being forgotten. It’s hard to put it all together.

I don’t pretend to know how to make sense of it. It doesn’t fit the formula we usually hear and certainly not the one we want. All I can see is that these two conflicting realities coexist: God’s continuous presence with His child and heartbreaking calamity. If Joseph’s story can be trusted, our troubles are no proof that God isn’t around. And although this unleashes a whole new set of questions, still I find it strangely comforting.


Monday, February 19, 2007

Monday's Rescue on Mt. Hood

Monday's events bring it all back. Three climbers lost on Mt. Hood. High winds. Rescue workers taking to the mountain to find and bring them safely home. Anxious family members and friends praying and waiting.

Only this time the outcome was different.

News reports read: "Three climbers who tumbled off a ledge on Mount Hood were taken away in an ambulance after they hiked down much of the state's highest peak with their rescuers - and a dog who may have saved their lives."

We can only imagine the joy and relief of their loved ones at the safe return of these missing climbers. At the same time, we are painfully mindful of two climbers still on the mountain. For them we still wait, praying that searchers will find and bring them down off the mountain soon too.

Please remember the families and friends of Brian and Nikko in your prayers as they gather this week and next for memorial services. Details about their services are posted below, along with a new photo of Nikko, taken on the day of his engagement to Michaela. The family friend who sent the photo wrote:

"Thank you for your wonderful efforts in maintaining the blog--reminding everyone how special our guys were and keeping their memories alive. They were incredible men whose zeal for life, deep faith and reverence for the Lord's majesty, and absolute devotion to their loved ones reminds us all of the true meaning of living fully. [This] image of Nikko presents him as he is to us, a wonderfully charismatic, energetic, enthusiastic and friendly soul whose smile could melt away all your worries."

Brian's friends describe him as "a shining example of living each and every day of life to the fullest."

"From a very young age, his zest for life and winning smile were infectious. He turned each day into an exciting adventure, always testing his limits and discovering new talents. . . . He has scaled Mt. McKinley and Mt. Rainier in the U.S., as well as several peaks in the Andes of South America. Yet the summit of any mountain has never been his goal. Rather, the refreshing solitude, grueling physical and mental challenge, technical expertise, camaraderie with fellow climbers and the serene kinship with nature are what he has always cherished."

Visit their websites at: and

Feeling Better Yet?

After the death of a loved one—or any other sorrow or loss—there is the expectation in the minds of many Christians that the sorrower should put their grief aside and move on with their life. Our troubles are like hurdles placed in our path to test our spiritual fortitude. It’s a sign of spiritual maturity (so we tell ourselves) to rise above the pain or at least to conquer it at some point. The goal is to surmount successfully these miserable hurdles and get on to the smooth stretch on the other side. Someone who months or years later still feels depressed, still talks a lot about their loss, or whose eyes still well up with tears at the mention of their loved one, just doesn’t know how to let go.

As much as others expect it of us, no one wishes to walk away from grief more than the person who is grieving. And we are hard on ourselves when our broken hearts don’t heal. After the death of his beloved wife, Joy, to cancer, a broken C. S. Lewis admitted it was hard to get beyond his grief. In his poignantly personal book, A Grief Observed, he exposes the fallacy of this kind of thinking.
“To say the patient is getting over it after an operation for appendicitis is one thing; after he’s had his leg off it is quite another. After that operation either the wounded stump heals or the man dies. If it heals, the fierce, continuous pain will stop. Presently he’ll get his strength and be able to stump about on his wooden leg. He has ‘got over it.’ But he will probably have recurrent pains in the stump all his life, and perhaps pretty bad ones; and he will always be a one-legged man. . . . At present I am learning to get about on crutches. Perhaps I shall presently be given a wooden leg. But I shall never be a biped again.”
The intriguing thing about Lewis, and other suffers like Job and Naomi, is that the lingering pain is actually purposeful—actually opens a conversation with God (heated and intense at times to be sure), but one that wouldn’t occur otherwise. They’re asking questions about God that their pain provokes, and they’re looking at Him through their pain. Forever after a major part of them was always missing, and there was a distinctive limp to how they walked. Their lives were shaped and deepened and defined by their losses and the wrestlings with God that ensued.

If we’re not careful, we can use Scripture or one or two key theological precepts to short circuit that conversation. God’s sovereignty over our circumstances or over the number of our days doesn’t blunt hard questions about God, but rather provokes them. Why bother questioning God if He was wringing His hands over the weather on Mt. Hood? Why be upset with Him if He wasn’t around or if He was helpless to protect the three climbers from their deaths? No, God’s power, presence, and love are the very reasons we are troubled when He doesn’t intervene to spare us from painful losses, and we are swamped in grief.

Christian philosopher, Nicholas Wolterstorff, shared Lewis’ perspective when his son died in a mountain climbing accident. “The world has a hole in it now,” Wolterstorff lamented, “I shall look at the world through tears. Perhaps I shall see things that dry‑eyed I could not see.”

Are we feeling better yet? No. Not really. For God and we have work to do. According to Lewis, there will always be a limp. According to Wolterstorff, there will be growth, and we will come to know God better. In the meantime, there are questions to be asked and wrestling to be done. But we have every hope that through our tears, we will see things that dry-eyed we could not see.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Remembering Brian Hall & Jerry "Nikko" Cooke

The families and friends of Brian and Nikko are planning memorial services to celebrate and thank God for the lives of these two men. As you know, Brian and Nikko are still on the mountain, and this has intensified the grief for their loved ones.

Many of you have continued to pray for them. Please keep these memorial services in your prayers as well—that they would bring comfort to the families and honor to these two beloved men and to their faith in God.

Brian Hall
Memorial Service

Thursday, February 22, 2007
1:00 p.m.
Highland Park Methodist Church
Dallas, Texas

A reception will follow.

Friday, February 23, 2007
6:30 p.m.
Brian's close friends and family will gather at Performance Playground.

Remember to pray for Brian's sister, Angela, and his parents, Dwight and Clara Hall.

Jerry "Nikko" Cooke
Memorial Service

Wednesday, February 28, 2007
3:00 p.m.
The Cathedral of St. Patrick
New York, New York

A reception will follow the service where everyone is welcome to share their sentiments with friends, family and colleagues.

Remember to pray for Michaela, Jerry's wife, and his mother, Maria.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Journey of Grief

[The following post is taken from Frank's message at the Reformed Theological Seminary/Orlando chapel service on February 6, 2007. ]

The past months have been harrowing for my family and for me. I am profoundly and deeply touched by the outpouring of prayers and support. Many have sent communications that ministered to my heart in very special ways.

I tell people who never met Kelly that they would have liked him. He marched to the beat of a different drummer. Not many in my circles knew I had a 48-year-old brother with hair down to his shoulders. His wife’s girlfriends called him Tarzan. He dressed like a rock star, and his musical taste ranged from Sinatra to Social Distortion. Of course his three brothers had no mercy and made fun of him regularly. It was like water off a duck's back. Our teasing never fazed him. Kelly was something I never was. Kelly was cool. He would have really loved all the media attention. It was just like Kelly to make a grand exit.

Although I did not share his flamboyant style, we did share a common faith that went back to our high school days. I know he is enjoying sweet fellowship with the Lord. But I must confess he leaves a big hole in my life.

Grief is a strange beast. Some who have lost loved ones tell me you never get over it. I guess I will find out. Now I am on the journey of grief. One might expect that the grief would lead to bitterness against God. After all, we prayed and publicly declared our faith in God, and yet Kelly is gone. But that has not happened.

There is disappointment, numbness, sadness and confusion. And yet, there is what I call a kind of gravitational pull toward God. No doubt that is the Holy Spirit drawing me. This gravitational pull especially has drawn me to the Psalms. David has become a companion in grief. There is something profoundly genuine about David who can say to God: “How long, O lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1).

Somehow David’s journey of grief always led back to God as he declares at the end of the same Psalm: “But I trust in your unfailing love” (Ps 13:5). Even as he pleads with God to “show up,” David acknowledges God. David combines brutal honesty with a defiant grasping faith. He juxtaposes disappointment with God and hope.

It is paradoxical that David would trust a God who hides Himself when David needs Him most. But I sense that David had different kind of relationship with God—a more intimate relationship than many American Evangelicals understand. It is honest and emotional. It is mysterious. It is a relationship where spiritual formulas and pious platitudes have no place.

David begs God to come to his rescue and David waits and waits—Have you ever noticed how many Psalms are about waiting? David anguishes and agonizes about his fate. Amid all this spiritual consternation, in the shadow of death, God manifests Himself in the grief. He is somehow in the disappointment, the confusion, and the raw emotions. This does not exactly make sense to me. I don’t understand this spiritual dynamic and I am not even sure I like it. But the gravitational pull toward God seems strongest when our hearts are broken.

I must remind myself to keep Kelly’s death in context. When Kelly died in mid-December, there were many other deaths that week and in far more tragic circumstances. Many died that same week in Darfur, and many young girls endured a living death in the sex-trade in Southeast Asia.

Kelly followed his passions. He enjoyed the freedom and possessed enough resources to pursue his passion for climbing mountains. He was very fortunate to go out doing something he loved. Many others died from genocide, brutality and persecution. I must not forget that there are things worse than freezing to death on a mountain.

RTS/O Chapel
6 February 2007

RTS/O Remembers

This past Wednesday, Reformed Theological Seminary/Orlando held a memorial service for Kelly—A Service of Lament and Longing. It was an unforgettable time of reflection, worship, sorrow, and hope. Both Frank and I were blessed by this gathering with the RTS community and other friends who joined us. Reggie Kidd, Professor of New Testament and a man who knows the sorrow of losing a brother, gave a heartfelt message from God's Word.

We'll be posting Frank's remarks here shortly and hope to have other portions of the service on this blog as well.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Poem by Rod Jellema
in the intro to Lewis Smedes' Memoir

I have to look for cracks and crevices.
Don’t tell me how God’s mercy
Is as wide as the ocean, as deep as the sea.
I already believe it, but that infinite prospect
Gets farther away the more we mouth it.
I thank you for lamenting his absences—
His absence from marriages going mad,
Our sons dying young, from the inescapable
Terrors of history: Treblinka. Vietnam.
September Eleven. His visible absence
Makes it hard for us in our time
To celebrate his invisible Presence.

This must be why mystics and poets record
The slender incursions of splintered light,
Echoes, fragments, odd words and phrases
Like flashes through darkened hallways.
These stabs remind me that the proud
Portly old church is really only
That cut green slip grafted into a tiny nick
That merciful God himself slit into the stem
Of his chosen Judah. The thin and tenuous
Thread we hang by, so astonishing,
Is the metaphor I need at the shoreline
Of all those immeasurable oceans of love.

[This poem came to us from our friend Judy Nelson,
who read it and thought of us. Thanks Judy.]

Death Be Not Proud

Yesterday we celebrated Kelly’s birthday. My brother Ben suggested we release balloons in Kelly’s honor. In Florida, we set our balloon free at precisely 9:53 am CT—the moment of Kelly’s grand entrance into this world in 1958—and watched as it floated upwards until we could see it no more.

Joyless, I muttered: “Happy Birthday Smelly Kelly”—one of the many irksome aliases I have bestowed on my little brother throughout his life.

There were tears and a heavy heart. Still there was a bittersweet satisfaction in acknowledging Kelly’s birthday. We love him; we miss him; we grieve his loss.

Death is ugly and we cannot, indeed should not, try to make it palatable or explain it away with pious platitudes. Death is a cruel reality in life—ugly, brutal and fearsome. It is an intruder and a thief. The vital living relationship I had with my brother is disconnected by death. Kelly is not returning my calls. I miss the sound of his voice. It is as if I am stumbling in the dark reaching out to find him, to embrace him, to laugh with him—all to no avail.

Kelly was created for life and had a fearless zest for living it. When death strikes suddenly with hurricane force winds at high altitude or hounds a ailing loved one mercilessly over time, survivors feel cheated and experience a kind of dizzy disorientation. Somehow we know in our hearts it is not supposed to be this way. Kelly was made for life and yet he is gone, swallowed by the mountain.

John Donne warned death not to be proud. Death will face its own mortality. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (I Cor 15:26). I believe death’s gloating grin one day will be wiped away forever. Until then I lament my brother.


Friday, February 2, 2007

February 2

Today is Kelly's birthday. He would have been 49.

Around the country, family members are remembering and missing him. At 9:53 am CT, we released helium balloons in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Florida to commemorate a day that has always been significant to us and now carries with it a tremendous sadness.

Once again we are grateful for all who have become a part of Kelly's story with us, by praying, hoping and now grieving with us.

And we thank God for forty-eight plus years of Kelly and the memories of him that we will always cherish.

Happy Birthday Kelly!