All posts written by Daniel Montgomery

Song Of Solomon Playlist: Your Favorite Songs Of Romantic Longing

Wouldn't It Be Nice by The Beach BoysThis week we began a sermon series on the Song of Solomon at Sojourn Gathered. Via Twitter and Facebook, I asked you to nominate your “favorite songs of romantic longing” for an imaginary playlist to Song of Solomon. Here are your choices:

  • Hungry Eyes by Eric Carman
  • Wouldn’t It Be Nice by the Beach Boys
  • Slow Hand by the Pointer Sisters
  • Lay You Down by Conway Twitty
  • Oh Sheila by Ready For The World
  • Love Is Waiting by Brooke Fraser
  • I’m On Fire by Bruce Springsteen
  • Tonight You Belong To Me by Steve Martin
  • 13 by Big Star
  • Crush by Dave Matthews Band
  • I Burn For You by The Police
  • To Make You Feel My Love by Bob Dylan
  • Unchained Melody by the Righteous Brothers
  • A Love Supreme by John Coltrane
  • Beginnings by Chicago
  • I Love You, Period by Dan Baird
  • In Your Eyes by Peter Gabriel
  • My All by Mariah Carey

What else? Have we left off anything that should be on this playlist? Let me know in the Comments!

 

 

Sojourner Stories of Suffering: Death Of A Child, And Worshiping In The Dust

Stories of Suffering

During this season of Lent, we journeyed together through the Book of Job. It’s a story of suffering, faith, questions, and one man who cries out to God in the midst of heartbreaking affliction.

I’ve shared stories of “suffering well” with you, from Sojourners at each of our campuses and from brothers and sisters that have come to know Christ through Sojourn International, our missions ministry.

Here is one more in this week before Easter, known as Holy Week in the Christian Calendar. This testimony comes from Kristen Gilles, one of our worship leaders at Sojourn New Albany. The Sojourn Music band has recorded the new song “Bless The Lord Who Gives And Takes,” based on the Book of Job. Kristen wrote the song with her husband Bobby after losing their newborn. You can hear “Bless The Lord Who Gives And Takes” at KristenGilles.com.

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“My dear friend, when grief presses you to the dust, worship there! . . . Remember the exhortation of the Psalmist David, “Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us” (Ps. 62:8). When you are bowed down beneath a heavy burden of sorrow, worship and adore God there. In full surrender to His divine will, say with Job, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15). This kind of worship subdues the will, arouses the affections, stirs the whole mind, and presents you to God in solemn consecration. This worship sweetens sorrow and takes away its sting.

– Charles Spurgeon, Beside Still Waters

When I first read these words I imagined myself literally pressed to the ground, with a mouth full of dust, crippled under the weight of an immovably heavy burden of grief, specifically the suffering brought on by the unexpected death of my infant son, Parker, who was stillborn after living 42 weeks in my womb.  Then I imagined myself mustering praises to God from this posture in my current assignment of suffering. With my face smashed against the ground and struggling between breaths I pursed my lips in praise, declaring the goodness and faithfulness of the Lord who had saved me and saved Parker and has been our Refuge all of our days.

What I’ve just described is precisely how I felt the day that Parker was stillborn and in the following days, weeks and months. As difficult as this season of suffering has been, when I consider the goodness and love of the Lord, I am convinced that the most appropriate response for us is to praise the Lord.  He proved Himself to be faithful and true long before He ordained this suffering in our lives.  He hasn’t broken any of His promises or abandoned our souls to the grave.  He has been our shield, our strength, our healing, our help, and our exceedingly great reward.  He has demonstrated thoroughly that He is who He says He is; and He is worthy to be praised and loved and trusted.

This worshipful response has not been empowered by any denial of the pain pressing on my heart, nor is it made possible by my “amazing” faith.  This response is fueled by the life that I now live hidden in Christ, the Man of Sorrows who suffered in my place and bore all of my sorrows and pain in His own body when He was killed upon the Cross, punished for MY sins.  Because of Christ, I am able to worship the God who loved the world so much that He gave His only Son to take away the sins of the world.  Jesus gave His life for me and He took away all my condemnation and shame; He canceled once and for all the record of my insurmountable debt of sin!  Because of Christ, I will bless the Lord who gives and takes.

“Lord, You gave and You took,
Somehow for our good;
Our eyes burn with tears
But they turn to You:

“Help is coming from our God who saves,
Who has numbered all our days,
Bless the Lord who gives and takes!
Man of Sorrows, You have borne our pain,
You have suffered in our place,
Bless the Lord who gives and takes!”

Sojourner Stories Of Suffering: Imprisoned For Faith In Christ

Stories of Suffering

During this season of Lent, we journeyed together through the Book of Job. It’s a story of suffering, faith, questions, and one man who cries out to God in the midst of heartbreaking affliction.

I’ve shared stories of “suffering well” with you, from Sojourners at each of our campuses and from brothers and sisters that have come to know Christ through Sojourn International, our missions ministry.

I’ll share a couple more with you in this week before Easter, known as Holy Week in the Christian Calendar. As we reflect on these stories of suffering, let’s also remember our Lord, the Savior who suffered in our place. Remember that we are healed and given an eternal inheritance by the scourge marks on his back and the nail prints in his hands. Here is a testimony from someone we’ve ministered to through our international ministry. We’ll call him “Andy” because he’s in a part of the world where it would endanger him and our missionary workers if we revealed his identity:

For Andy* life changed both for the better and worse when he became a Christian. Before then he was an average young man, living with his family, hanging with his friends, proud of his local religion. He was from a city nestled in the mountains, a crossroads and melting pot for tribes and faiths.  Most everyone seemed to get along— except for the most hated group in the city, Protestant Christians.

After years of hearing and rejecting the gospel from a missionary, God finally opened Andy’s eyes to the truth and he trusted in Christ.  His change was radical, and so were the repercussions. He was immediately kicked out of his family, his circle of friends, and his community. He fled from everything he’d ever known and ended up in a city where he connected with one of our Sojourn missionaries.

Slowly his youthful zeal was coupled with wisdom as he became part of a house church. He found a job as a house guard and began renting a small room. It wasn’t long, however, until his landlord noticed the differences in him, such as how he didn’t keep the holy days of the local religion. He was called names and kicked out again.

Soon afterward he was falsely accused of stealing from the house he was guarding. The police arrested him as ‘guilty until proven innocent’ and he was thrown into the filthy local jail. After weeks of trial, even though it was proven that another man had stolen from the house, Andy was sentenced to several months in prison.

However, from his demeanor there was no sign of an incarcerated man. He smiled and comforted those who came to visit him. He quickly made friends with fellow inmates and prison guards. And he shared the gospel that had changed him so much.

Twelve men trusted in Christ and Andy began to disciple them. He asked the missionaries to bring Bibles into the prison so he could distribute them. It was easy to forget that Andy was enduring the shame of prison and the months that dragged on, sleeping on the floor with shoulder-width personal space, only eating what was brought to him by visitors, and fighting the diseases common to overcrowding and third-world sanitation.

When he was released it was less than a week before he visited the prison again, encouraging the believers to remain strong in the truth. Andy continues to plant and disciple groups in addition to his former inmates. He is now visioning and preparing to return to the people groups in and around his hometown.

 

Sojourn Stories Of Suffering: Sickness, Death, False Accusations and Hope In Christ

Stories of Suffering

During this season of Lent, we’ve journeyed together through the Book of Job. It’s a story of suffering, faith, questions, and one man who cries out to God in the midst of heartbreaking affliction.

I’ve shared stories of “suffering well” with you, from Sojourners at each of our campuses and from brothers and sisters that have come to know Christ through Sojourn International, our missions ministry.

I’ll share a few more with you in this week before Easter, known as Holy Week in the Christian Calendar. As we reflect on these stories of suffering, let’s also remember our Lord, the Savior who suffered in our place. Remember that we are healed and given an eternal inheritance by the scourge marks on his back and the nail prints in his hands. Here is a testimony from a Sojourn East member:

Over the last five years, these have been my milestones:

-Losing my job in Colorado when the company I worked for closed after a fatal accident took place.

-Moving my family to New York, entering the Army National Guard as a combat medic and spending six months in training away from my wife. We saw each other for four non-consecutive days during the first half of 2008.

-Two weeks after returning home from training I was indicted on multiple felonies in Colorado in relation to the fatal accident, and was named in a 32 million dollar lawsuit (despite being ridiculously innocent of any wrong-doing). The details surrounding this are complex, but – in brief – despite being unemployed and nearly bankrupt the Lord worked in my favor to help me acquire a $1500/hr legal defense team, which included the Denver Broncos’ corporate attorney. I’m nobody and I have nothing but the Lord rescued me from wrongful criminal accusations in a powerful way.

-This period in time led to a season of immense repentance in my life and marriage. Many deeply rooted sins in my heart and my wife’s heart were confessed to each other and forgiven. I decided to pursue seminary rather than medical school. We recognized that all of our reasons for waiting to have children were sinful, based on doubting the Lord’s provision for us. So my wife became pregnant with our first child shortly thereafter. It took felony charges to awaken me from my spiritual stupor and sinful selfishness.

-At the same time, our church in New York went through a schism over a doctrinal disagreement amongst the elders. Many of our friends left the church, effectively ending contact with us as well. Our efforts to keep in touch with them were futile. We lost many people whom we thought were our good friends.

-A couple months later I got a phone call from my mother while I was at work (for my dad’s small business), asking me to come check on my father who wasn’t feeling well. My lawyer called while I was driving to my parents’ home and told me that all the criminal charges against me had been dismissed “with prejudice” (meaning the lawsuit can’t be brought against me again)!

I arrived at my parents’ house to share the good news with them, but recognized that my father was having a stroke. I carried him down the stairs of the house where I had grown up and into an ambulance which would take him to the hospital. He died there, just days later – Dec 19, 2008.

-I was the only one with my father through his last conscious moments, praying with him and reading Scripture to him and holding his hand as we walked together through his death. He was a believer and I was overwhelmed by gratefulness before grief, and I spent the last moments with him thanking him (and the Lord) for being my father, rather than saying goodbye.

-Since I worked for my dad at the time, I quit taking a paycheck so my mom could have the money while I shut down my father’s business; the only job I could find after that was pressure washing out garbage trucks and street sweepers to barely make ends meet for my family.

-Our first daughter was born a couple months later. We named her “Abigail,” which means “a father’s joy,” because the news of her conception and her birth were some of the only purely joyful moments in 2008-2009. We viewed my wife’s pregnancy and Abby’s birth as signs of the Lord’s favor in the midst of deeply trying circumstances. (It’s really hard not to spoil her now as she gets older!)

-Then we moved to Louisville so I could attend seminary; I worked 40-70 hours a week for an ambulance company while going to school full time for the first year in order to pay our bills. I couldn’t sleep much, I didn’t eat well, I didn’t exercise at all, I saw a lot of death and suffering, and I was away from my family nearly all the time. It took a toll on us.

-Before the end of the first semester I found out that I would be deploying to Iraq, so I would have to be away from my family for an extended time again and my education would need to be put on hold.

-My wife suffered a miscarriage shortly thereafter. It was heartbreaking.

-A few months later, she gave birth to our second daughter alone (on Father’s day) while I was deployed, then the baby was rushed to intensive care immediately for respiratory issues, and I came home on emergency leave to support my family and see my little girl covered in tubes and wires. We were not able to hold or touch her for days. I was home for six days then had to return to the deployment, though she came home on the seventh day (Hallelujah!), so I didn’t even get to see her meet her sister for the first time. Then I missed the first six months of her life while I was in Iraq.

-Last fall, my son was born and taken to intensive care as well, with a rare viral meningitis. We spent a week in the hospital watching over and praying for him before bringing him home as well.

Throughout all of these circumstances, I was not as faithful as Job. I sinned with my mouth. There was an extended period of time, particularly after my father’s death, in which I was very angry with God about the circumstances of my life.

Just as with Job, the devil bets that he can make us curse God. “I bet I can make them hate you. I bet they don’t love you like they say. I bet I can make them curse you.”

For a time, I believed God to be sovereign, but not good. In 2010, through counseling with pastors in our local church and through some of my required reading at seminary I was led to earnest repentance of this sin and was freed from anger directed toward God. I firmly believe that He has done all things well – even in my worst experiences – and “I have set my face like flint and I know that I shall not be put to shame” (Is 50:7) by sinning against God again in this way. By his grace, anger is not a life-dominating sin for me any longer, and he kept me faithful throughout the trials of miscarriage, combat deployment,and the illnesses of my newborn children (among others).

Throughout this suffering the compelling story of the cross of Christ has been driven home to me and my family in unshakable ways. I realized that the ugliness of my sins of anger were things which Christ took on himself. He absorbed my anger and the punishment my anger deserved, and has only ever responded to me with the severest mercy. So my sins of anger killed him – there’s a real sense in which anger kills.

But then he rises again to new life — and in the power of the Spirit which raised Christ to new life, I can live a new life as well. I’m not only free from the guilt and the shame associated with my past sins of anger, but I am free to respond in the future like my Savior has responded to me. When I perceive an offense to me and I would normally become angry, I can absorb that offense just as he absorbed the offense of my anger, and I can respond with mercy to others, just as he has responded with mercy to me.

So in the cross and the resurrection of Christ I find the pardon for my anger and the power to overcome my anger. “My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought, my sin, not in part, but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, O my soul!”

More than anything else, what I have learned through these trials can be summarized in 2 Cor 4:17-18,

“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.”

 

Sojourner Stories of Suffering: From Divorce And Despair To Healing And Hope

Stories of Suffering

During this season of Lent, we’re journeying together through the Book of Job. It’s a story of suffering, faith, questions, and one man who cries out to God in the midst of heartbreaking affliction.

Over the last few weeks I’ve shared stories of “suffering well” with you, from Sojourners at each of our campuses and from brothers and sisters that have come to know Christ through Sojourn International, our missions ministry. Here is a testimony from Brad Walker of Sojourn Midtown:

This is my story of a trial I never expected and wasn’t sure I would make  it through. Yet God, in His grace, saw me through every minute of every day.

I was in my early 20′s and excited about life. I was graduating from Boyce College (at SBTS) and getting married in the next few months. We belonged to a great church and our pastor was a trusted friend and mentor. It was an honor to be the first wedding he performed.

As we moved through our premarital counseling, we discussed that both of us came from divorced families. We made a covenant then and there to never put ourselves, children, and families through such pain.

Two years went by. We bought a house, got a dog, and were making great money for two kids in their twenties (about $75k). On top of that, I was serving as a bi-vocational youth pastor in the church where we were married. But with all of that, neither of us seemed to be satisfied. We bought car after car, changed jobs annually, and things seemed tense at home despite the happily married couple mask we wore everywhere else.

I took a full-time youth pastor position in the Atlanta area, and I thought we had “arrived.” I was finally doing what God had laid on my heart for seven years leading up to this point. But the unhappiness continued, even after our daughter was born. Conflict emerged in the church between us and another couple which resulted in them leaving for another congregation.

I began feeling a draw to be a lead pastor/church planter. With this in mind and my wife physically home sick, we decided to move back to Louisville to be with her family and for me to work toward my Masters of Divinity at SBTS. Little did I know, that this entire time she was planning with her family to file for divorce. It all came to a head one morning and she asked me to leave the house, and unknown to me, she filed papers with the courthouse the next day. Our daughter was nine months old.

My world came undone. I dropped out of school, stayed with a seminary professor for two days, then a hotel for two days, and was eventually admitted into the hospital for malnutrition and dehydration. Everything I worked for had been ripped from my hands. My ministry hopes: gone. My wife: gone. My daughter: inaccessible. My bed: now a lonely twin.

By the grace of God and some faithful Christian brothers, my wounds slowly healed. There were days I was unable to formulate a decent thought. I cried hysterically to the point of almost passing out. A church I had attended once stepped in. They allowed me to be a part of their lives, their families. I am eternally indebted to the men who would leave their jobs in the middle of the day, just so I could embrace them and sob in their living room – no words being said.

All the while I was having horrific nightmares. I couldn’t close my eyes without envisioning my wife in bed with faceless men. It tortured me day and night. Sleepless days became more days, and eventually weeks at a time without sleep. My body and soul were suffering.

But through family (blood and spirit), the sacrifice of many to serve me, the hope preached to me from the Scriptures, and the faithful prayers of brothers and sisters around the world, I had an amazing realization.

My divorce does not define me. My past does not define me. My struggles do not define. My Savior Jesus Christ defines me.

It was in that moment that healing began. True healing.

Since this season, now five years ago, God has truly changed me. Where I was once anxious, I am now restful. Where I was once angry, I can now forgive. What I once felt was lost, is now nothing compared to living with Jesus.

I still struggle. But grace endures.

God has blessed my relationship with my daughter more than I could have imagined, and shown me grace by sending me my beautiful wife. We eagerly await our son to be born in June.

My encouragement to those in a time of trial, suffering, and pain – God is bigger than this. He repairs the broken and draws near to the downcast. Trust His word and allow his people — your family — to suffer with you.

“Thy mercy, my God, is the theme of my song,
The joy of my heart and the boast of my tongue;
Thy free grace alone, from the first to the last,
Hath won my affections, and bound my soul fast.

Without Thy sweet mercy I could not live here;
Sin would reduce me to utter despair;
But, through thy free goodness, my spirits revive,
And He that first made me still keeps me alive!”

 

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