11.27.2013

Infertility and Why Husbands Should Lead in Comforting and Counsel.

    The Introduction: 
           Theological precision has its rightful place, and with equal footing, the serving of these truths must be compassionately timed, especially within intimate relationships. Eclipsed by my own pride and ignorance, I stumbled in this area many times early during my marriage. Desperately wanting to convey Godly leadership within my family, I found myself weighing every conversation to guard against baneful theological regurgitation and the impact it might have without thoughtful consideration. Oftentimes I would be paralyzed by own frustrations and excuses. On one hand never fully trusting the Lord to give wisdom on certain situations and on the other hand never truly knowing how or when to present what I believed to be the woman I loved.  This became fully realized on an autumn morning during our first year of marriage.
A chilling wind rushed into our lives in August, which left me staggering for theological balance.  I received a call in my office to come to where my wife was teaching preschool. Jessica had passed out while cleaning up the floors after the children’s lunch. Lying on the floor, through tears, she began to describe the incredible pain she was having. Helplessly I knelt beside her held her hand and listened. Little did we know, our first child was already in the hands of The Creator. Prior to that moment I thought I knew how to lead, but the winding road ahead was quickly becoming foggy and more treacherous.
A few more difficult months and years went by for us. Doctor visits. Hospital visits. Calendar marking. Testing. Surgery. Build up excitement and expectations on the foundation of professional direction and faithful prayers, would crumble every 28 days. There was no longer a point of the denying the fact: Jessica and I were infertile. In spite of all the evidence that showed we were capable of having children, the Lord had closed our womb.

Now, how was I supposed to begin to navigate the multitude of decisions and questions that we had. Are we to embrace our infertility with joy in light of the commands in the Scripture to procreate? Are we now disobedient to this charge? To encourage and comfort my wife, should we pursue all courses of fertility treatment? Even when we may have moral/ethical dilemmas with some treatments? How do I know when I should risk emotional hurt for a greater good for us both? How can I compassionate love my wife in this season and at the same time speak truth and direction when it seems antithetical to our situation?  These questions were just the beginning to our journey in infertility.

2.20.2013

Healing after a Failed/Disrupted Adoption


To the Reader,
You may have gone down this path or know someone who has. If so, I pray that this ceremony can bring comfort in such times.  ~John

Ritual of Healing for a Disrupted Adoption
Chaplain John L. Craven
18 FEB 2013


This ritual of healing is primarily for a couple that has recently experienced a disrupted adoption. Due to the nature of the event’s intimacy, I recommend that this ritual be performed with just the couple experiencing the grief and loss. A recommending place for this ritual would be an open park with view of the skyline toward the west. A place where the couple can see the sunset would be fitting and beneficial as well, but not necessary.

Place: A neutral (preferable not familiar) secluded place/park with view of the western skyline.
Time of ritual: A few minutes before sunset, 10 minutes.
Items: A helium-filled balloon with weight, picnic blanket, flashlight.


Instructions: Place the blanket on the ground comfortably. Place the balloon and attached weight in the middle. Couple may wish to sit side by side facing the sunset with the balloon as a center-piece. Begin the ceremony when both of you are comfortable and ready. There is absolutely no reason to rush this moment. This is between the two of you and the Sovereign Lord. He knows your heart.

Opening Our Hearts to You
(Holding hands in prayer)

Husband:Lord, you say in Isaiah 41:10, “…fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
…Lord, I need you now with me..
[pause in silence]
Wife:Christ Jesus, you say in Matthew 28:20, ‘And behold,  I am with you always, to  the end of the age.’
…Lord, I need you now with me.
[pause in silence]
Husband: “Lord, David writes in Psalms 23, ‘Even 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.”
…Lord, we need you with us. Please meet with us. Amen.


Our Confession, Your Assurance
Wife: God, we don’t know what will happen to precious [insert child’s name].
Together: But You know.
Husband: God, our friends and family don’t know how to comfort us right now.
Together: But You know.
Wife: God, we don’t understand your hand in all this right now.
Together: But You know.
Husband: God, we don’t know the answers right now.
Together: But You know.
Wife: God of heavens, in my brokenness and hurt how will I be able to strengthen [husband’s name] right now.
Husband: He knows.
Husband: Lord of all creation, in my heartache and grief how will I be able to lead [wife’s name] right now.
Wife: He knows.

[pause in silence]
Husband: Your Word says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” God hear our prayers not only for ourselves, but for [insert child’s name.]We will treasure the short time you gave us with [her/him]. We recognize that as we let go symbolically of this balloon, only You truly know the final destination. We will watch and pray as it leaves our hands, and we will trust You alone for its safety. In the same way that [insert child’s name] left our hands, only You know where [he/she] will go. God please grant us your comfort as we watch [him/her] leave our side.

Release the Balloon.
[Wife unties weight, and together they let the balloon go. Watch the balloon until it is out of sight.]
[pause in silence]

Our Continued Hope

Wife: Right here. Right now, As the sunsets,…Lord our only hope is in you. You say in your Word, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” May tomorrow’s dawn bring new hope to us. Amen.

9.13.2012

Writing Your Theology, from memory only.

In a requirement at CPE, I was asked to write theological response to the bold statements [3 paragraphs]. In the notes we were told to use our personal thoughts without citing particular passages. I think this was a good challenge to see how much you could formulate from your own heart/thought. Here is what I have so far:

1.God is…

God is a Spirit and does not have a body like man.[our children's catechism question] He is the Creator of all things.  He exists in three persons united in one essence as: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. His qualities and attributes are perfect. Some of these he shares with his creation (goodness, love, mercy, justice, knowable, personal). Some of these he does not (all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present). God masterfully created a universe full of his beauty which reflects his attributes and we (creation) can learn a great deal about his goodness by observing it.
              God also saw it fit in his divine wisdom to allow/permit evil to exist in his plan without being the author of it. He allows evil to exist to fulfill his plan by showing his otherwise unknowable attributes to his creation, (i.e. mercy, grace). In this allowance, humanity of their own freewill chose to follow their own desires and glorify themselves rather than honor God. Therefore, before the foundations of the world in His divine wisdom he also purposed to save his people from their sin, by sending his own Son, Jesus, to be the perfect image of God. Christ Jesus, fully God and fully man, would fulfill the entirety of the Law that God would require. Christ Jesus would then lay down his own life as substitutionary atonement for the people for whom God would save, thus propitiating the wrath of God on his people. Christ Jesus would save these fallen image-bearers. Christ Jesus resurrected from the dead, as his work was completed and ascended to sit at the right hand of God making intercession for his people.
              The Holy Spirit would come to convict and counsel those for whom the work of Christ is applied through faith. He works the miracle of salvation in the fallen sinner by granting faith and repentance. As the individual operates in this faith given by the Spirit, they are redeemed from the curse and counted righteous. The fallen image-bearer is then adopted into the family of God and sealed till the final day of redemption.

 2. People (in relationship to God) are…

  People are the masterful grand-finale of creation. All people have been created in the image of God. Although humanity has been given such an ability to know God and to reflect his goodness and kindness, the first humans willfully chose to rebel against God and sinned. This dishonoring of God created a separation between God and humanity. A continued result of this sin rippled throughout creation with a curse, nothing was left the same. Not only was our relationship to God changed, but also our relationship to other parts of creation (even ourselves). All humanity has inherited the sin nature/fall/curse from Adam, but also willfully participates in their own personal sin as well. Therefore, all humanity stands guilty before God. In addition to this guilt, no human seeks restoration with God, instead we seek out crafting idols and would rather glorify a corrupted image than restore our relationship with the one true God. No action of an individual will ever rectify this problem. It is only by the work of the Holy Spirit to grant a new heart to an individual that they will pursue God out of faith. As the individual places their faith in Christ Jesus as their only true gift, is this relationship fully restored as an image-bearer.
  It is at this point that they pursue a life of properly bringing God glory through a process of sanctification incrementally. Their life is a daily constant struggle with mortifying the old self and cultivating holiness. Each individual with gifts given by the Spirit seeks communion with other believers to fulfill the commands of Christ, thus glorifying God.
  
3. I am (in relationship to God)…

A fallen creature that has been saved by grace through faith and this is nothing of my own. It was a gift of God. By grace, God has called me to the work of the Chaplaincy to bring him glory. Daily I wrestle with my ability to justify my own sins and craft fanciful idols. I long for holiness, but often find myself comparing myself to my neighbor and feeling ‘holier than them’, which satiates this desire. I find myself many times asking, “Why have you shown me grace? I know how dark my thoughts go. What good can I do that could bring you glory?”
Thankfully, God continues to pursue me even now.

3.28.2012

The After-Sermon Effect.

The Reformed Chaplain's Study/Playroom/Small Group Zoo
The final "Amen." has been said. The music begins and people begin gathering their belongings. Kids are showing parents their Sunday School artwork, while bulletin inserts decorate the trampled floor. You take your mic off, untangle the wire from your sweaty collar. Grab the notes off the pulpit and ease into the sea of people, who you have talked to for the last 30-40 minutes. But now,...its time for them to talk back. The monologue is now a dialogue.

It is at this point I have found my old self emerging from his dying slumber. I hate it, but it happens. I have two clear reactions, but both grow out of my pride.
My first inclination is to tuck my head down and stiff-arm my way to the audio booth, spin move and toss the mic. While at the same moment, I bring my keys out...unlock the truck...crank and make the great Get-A-Way. Untouched. I know why I do this. It is not because I am shy guy. Its because I do not want to hear what people thought. I don't want to hear a bit of thoughtful criticism or insight that might confirm my fears of 'John Craven is flawed.' I want to live in my own guarded fortress of mirrors that praise me as the 'Fairest Preacher of them all.'

My second response is just as dark. It is the lingering around or baiting questions that long for the approval of men. It is subtle, but revealing. It is the reassurance that John Craven still has the 'right stuff'. Its the Pharisee in me, that says, "I sure hope they heard that articulate well-crafted sentence." It shows up at home or in the car en route. Its longing for more than the 'help' of my wife, it is longing for the aggrandizement of my skills.

The After-Sermon Effect is such a lure for me. So, easy for me to preach Christ for 30 minutes and suddenly long for people to worship me after its done. I have learned the scheme and lure. How many times will my eternal reward be summed up with, 'Good Job, John.' spoken by a peer...when what I should be longing for is 'Well done, my good and faithful servant.' spoken by my Savior, Christ Jesus.


Final Thoughts:
1. If you are a layman, do not stop encouraging your pastor due to this blog,...continually be supportive. But please keep Christ as the center of all your praise. This helps us as preachers/teachers not to gloat.
2. Brothers in ministry, let us fight to keep Christ as the object of all worship. The Gospel does not need anymore stumbling blocks, especially pride-soaked, no towel, puddle-making pastors.

3.12.2012

Sunday Worship as Preparation.



(13 Days to go)
After a crazy weekend with the Crisis Hotline Chaplain phone, I managed to grab a few hours of shut eye before Sunday morning. (Few, meaning 2). Therefore heading to church Sunday morning was a little tiring seeing that I wondered if I would pull my composure together in order to even listen to anything. I think we have all been there before.

The music started. I labored to pay attention. Then at some point during a song, a verse of Scripture during the midst of the chorus spoke to my heart. I remember thinking: How merciful a God to be speaking to my heart, when even now I feel (truly mean that) not-present. It wasn't the McDonalds coffee that spurred my butt to holiness at that moment, it was the kindness of God.

Our teaching elder began to preach from Mark. It was familiar, but nourishing. It was amazing that after the service,...I was assured of some issues that I had to resolve that had been bothering me all weekend. I had the confidence to deal with them because I was convicted of my sin in the matter and needed to repent and move forward. Humbled at lunch I addressed our family and made it right.

I didn't look at the passage at all. BUT, I did think of something. I have 3 sermons that I must preach on Sunday, 900, 1030, and 1700 (5pm). I have three sections. If I do my math correctly,...instead of polishing a sermon throughout the day, what if I prepared 3 separate sermons? What if 0900 got Part A, 1030 got part B, and 1700 got part C? The dependency on each section is not too heavy so what if I took this approach? Could this be too cumbersome? Apart from this blog forum, no one would even know.

Just a thought. Today, I look at the Tax section. Hmmm. Wondering why I get this passage so close to April 15?

3.11.2012

Let the Commentaries Begin.

Day 4: JC Ryle & IVP New Teestament Background

Today, I took the first section of the sermon regarding the Tenants and started reading some extra material that may help me understand some of the growing questions that I have with that section.

Some of my questions are:
1. Do people in NT times build vineyards and then just lease them out to tenants, then ask for fruit from them? Is this a Middle Eastern practice?
2. What is the social relationships between tenants and landowners?
3. Is it possible that Jesus is saying that the 'vineyard' is Israel/ blessings of being his people? (I am guessing that is probably the case).
4. Can tenants be the rightful heir of a property if the rightful heir (the beloved son) is killed or dies?

Those are some of the questions at this point. JC Ryle wrote a commentary on Mark, as well as a more well known book...Holiness. I am not very familiar with JC Ryle outside of these two books, but after reading his commentary today. I felt like he gave a simple 3-4 point sermon on this section that was really helpful. Nothing too precise or outlandish...no Greek or Hebrew language references. Just a very concise exposition.

InterVarsity Press, New Testament Background is one of my favorite books as it gives me the insight I need into the cultural nuances that as a 21st Century American would have no idea what I am reading. It helped to show that Jesus was truly making a case that the tenants were REALLY idiots, regarding the inheritance issue. (which was one of my questions) This book is a must for the little blurbs in the passage that have to do with that 'time period'; not much exposition beyond that.

Total reading today about: 10 pages, a little note taking for section I.  About 1 hour today thinking about it.



3.09.2012

The World Doesn't Stand Still for Prep: 16 Days to Go.

DAY 3: If the Lord Permits...
   
   My life and your life does not stop just because you have a sermon to write or an assignment on a calendar. From the time I step foot in my office this morning, I have had a laundry list of things to accompish before I could get to my sermon prep time.
    
     Currently I am working on a NANC certification in counseling, a CCEF class, and also preparing a lesson on Sola Scriptura. I love all it. The problem is making sure that in the midst of the academic/study time that I am fostering a good relationship with people in my life (soldiers, staff, and family).
I say all of this because at the end of this two weeks of preparing, God still holds me accountable for the way I treat my 6 year old little girl, if I 'listened' to the DOD Civilian in a counseling session, and whether I encouraged a brother-in-Christ at lunch today as he seeks career direction.

If the Lord permits:
     Therefore, my goal today is rather simple. I can clearly see after looking at the passage that I have THREE major parts that I am going to focus on primarily. Today, is the first section. I am going to read it today, then try my best to see if any other of the Gospels have a parallel passage that may bring more information into the parable. At the end of the simple reading today, I will formulate a one line sentence with what I believe the author/Jesus was trying to say. This meaning will then be the basis for applications later on next week. But before I get ahead of myself.
Todays Course of Action (COA):

1. Read the section (Mark 12:1-12) that I believe is going to be point 1.
2. Look for other passages in the Gospels that may have more information regarding context/content.
3. Write a basic 'meaning' sentence that will anchor my thoughts later on in developing the 'application' and call to respond.
4. Pray that God will honor this time with granting wisdom and illumination.
5. Humbly live my life.