Strength for the Journey

I like to look for parables of God’s kingdom in the world around me; elements of eternal truths being lived out in temporal ways. If you watch carefully, you can see this happening all the time. This plays a big part of how I write a message for a funeral service; taking those visible signs of God’s grace in the lives of the saints and using them to demonstrate God’s providential care. God’s truth, His word, is the very fabric of creation, and by His Word all of creation is held together. It should come as no surprise, then, that His word is woven into the lives of His people.

I’m writing this in Colorado, as we are making our way to the funeral service for my wife’s grandmother, Lois Crow. I have a lot of great memories of Grandma Crow, but there is one in which I see vividly a parable of God’s gracious provision for His people.

When Christi and I were first married, I worked for Sterling College in the admissions office, recruiting students from Western Kansas and Colorado. In the fall I would travel up and down the eastern range of the mountains, visiting high schools, making house calls, and doing all I could to promote my alma mater.

There was one tour in Colorado where I found myself near Grandma Crow’s house for an evening before a series of College Fairs along the I-25 corridor. Graciously, Grandma Crow welcomed me into her home for the evening, visited late into the night, then promised a warm breakfast for the next day.

Normally when I was on the road for College Fairs, my breakfasts consisted of coffee and whatever I could grab on the way out of the hotel lobby. Not this morning. I was woken to the aroma of bacon wafting into my room, and when I came to the table for breakfast, my first thought was, “Who else will be joining us today?”

Grandma had made bacon, eggs, pancakes, toast, and coffee. As I’d clean my plate, she’d pour more food on. I don’t think she ever sat to eat with me, but just kept serving and serving. I ate so much I felt like I’d never have to eat again. And I didn’t eat for the rest of the day. I drove up and down the front range meeting with students, and never once did I even want to stop for a bite to eat. I was still full when I went to bed that night, and the next morning when I left my hotel, I had to convince myself to take something for breakfast on the road.

As I thought back on this story, I was reminded of the time when Elijah was fed by the angel of God. 1 Kings 19 tells of Elijah’s flight into the wilderness. He had just defeated the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, but fearing for his life, he ran from the armies of Queen Jezebel. Thinking his life was over, the forces against him being too strong, he went into the wilderness to die.

In the midst of Elijah’s brokenness, an angel of the Lord came to him, and fed him three times, telling Elijah, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” Elijah ate and was strengthened, and continued his journey to Horeb (40 days and nights of wandering), where he spoke with God on the mountain.

Isn’t that how God continues to provide for us? When we are at our weakest, God graciously comes to us, strengthening us with His presence, and encouraging us for our journey. Psalm 23 says He prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies, and our cup overflows. Through the prophet Isaiah, God invites all who are thirsty to come to Him (Isa 55:1). Jesus even said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). When we place our faith in Christ, resting in and receiving Him as our Lord and Savior, our hearts are filled and never wanting. He cares for and provide for our every need, so that we need not look elsewhere for satisfaction. When we “feed” on Christ by faith, we will never be hungry again.

I like to think that Grandma’s breakfast that morning so many years ago was a parable, visible evidence of God’s invisible grace. As she fed and provided for my needs that day, Christ had also come to feed and provide for my every need. The journey before me that day was tough, but I was sufficiently fed and strengthened to face the task. The spiritual journey before me today is impossible in my own strength, but Christ has, by His grace, more than sufficiently fed and strengthened me for the task.

May you be strengthened in Christ for your journey today; and may your eyes be opened that you may see God’s truth being lived out before you!

Grace and Peace

Pastor Ethan

In Memory of Dad

Let me begin with an apology.  I have no excuse for not writing anything for my blog since Christmas.  It just didn’t happen.  For those of you (if you’re still out there) who actually read this, I make no promises to write more regularly.  I would like to, but I know myself too well.

Here’s the big news.  It has been one week to the day since my father’s funeral.  My dad, Larry Sayler, passed away on Sunday, March 22nd, from complications resulting from surgery.  His death was sudden and tragic, and he will be missed greatly.

I had the honor to speak on behalf of the family at dad’s funeral.  It was a difficult thing to do, and odd.  Usually, as the Pastor, I can be somewhat disconnected from the raw emotions and grief experienced by those who come to the service.  Not that I am cold and unfeeling, but usually I can maintain some distance which allows me to get through the service and minister to those in need.  Not this time.  And I am really glad that Dr. Marsh, the pastor at Eastminster Presbyterian did such a wonderful job.  My job this time was different.  Rather than help bring our attention to Christ and the promises of His gospel, I got to speak about my dad.  I don’t know how well I did, it’s all just a blur now.  But I thought I’d take a moment to share here some of my thoughts.

When we lose someone close to us, one of the things that we notice is all the stuff they left behind.  As we sort through it, our thoughts turn to what we stand to inherit, and what we have already received.  My brother and sister and I have been given so much from my father (both good and bad), and I thought I’d share with you just a few of those things.

I would like to blame some of my poorer attributes on my dad – would like to, but I can’t.  Dad could be stubborn, when he made up his mind, there was no moving him.  No matter how much his doctors said pushed diet and exercise, dad wouldn’t.  I see in myself some of these same characteristics, and while I’d like to say that’s his fault, I know well and good whose responsible here.

But one thing I can say is that I have inherited dad’s sense of humor (or lack thereof).  The first time Dr. Marsh (who I knew from Sterling College) preached at Eastminster, my dad, who was a member there, came to Dr. Marsh after the service and said, “I believe you know Ethan Sayler.”  To which Dr. Marsh replied positively.  Then my dad said, “I live with his mom.”  Silence.  That was how my dad introduced himself.  His favorite movies was “Dr. Strangelove: Or How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb” and he and I would stay up late to watch Dr. Who.  If you know either of the two, you will understand my dad a lot better (and me).

I have also inherited many qualities of my father that have made me a better man. 

I have been overwhelmed by the number of people who have come by, called, or have written in the time since my dad’s death to say how dear a friend my dad had been to them.  If dad considered you a friend, you knew it, and he would go to great ends to help you with anything you needed.  To a fault, dad would give of his time, money, and wisdom to help a friend in any situation.  He was a fierce and loyal friend, and I pray that I can be that kind of friend to those God has placed around me.

Dad was also a man of great faith.  When I was younger, I didn’t understand this.  When I was in High School, it kind of put me off – all those old books and old ways of thinking.  But now I understand how rich and deep his faith ran.  He loved Scripture, and had a daily walk with God through the study of His Word.  Dad and I really connected when I was in seminary.  He loved those conversations when I’d call to talk about what we were studying.  Often, I’d email him at midnight a copy of a paper for him to proof-read, and he’d have it back to me in about 30 minutes.

He loved reading Barnhouse, Boyce, and even Calvin.  He was a Five-Point Calvinist, and he knew his salvation rested in God’s grace alone.  And dad loved the old hymns, didn’t care much for the new praise music, for him it lacked substance and meaning.  That was dad.

Ultimately, dad was a loving and devoted husband and father.  He never missed a concert, game, performance that Aaron, Amanda, or I were in.  At every cross country and track meet, which had to be the most boring things to watch, dad was there, with his orange hat, cheering us on.  He was incredibly proud of his children (and their spouses), and wasn’t embarrassed to brag about them to everyone.  And then he had grandchildren.  All TWELVE of them.  They were his joy and delight, and he loved every moment he had with them.

That was dad.  Even with all his bad jokes and stubborn ways, he was a man of loyal friendship, profound faith, and great devotion to his family.  You might have been blessed to know him, but we were definitely blessed to have him as a father.  As we remember dad, let us carry with him the very best of who he was.