“WHY SHOULD MY FACE NOT BE SAD?”

 

grieving

Just before Christmas I visited a man who has been incarcerated. We have been friends for a long time. The recent circumstances of my friend’s life have motivated me to remain close to him.

During the course of our conversation, I asked, “What seems to cause you the greatest struggle?” He lowered his head. After a brief silence, he tearfully responded, “I question, Will I ever experience true happiness again?” He continued haltingly, pensively, rehearsing the actions of his past that had put him out of touch from all that once meant everything to him.

The book of Nehemiah traces the actions of Nehemiah in leading the rebuilding of Jerusalem. The sin of the nation of Israel had placed them far from their beloved homeland. The Bible has a lot to say about the “wages of sin.” Sin always leads us to places that we don’t want to be.

We don’t know all of the sentiments of Nehemiah as he lived through the “prison” of his captivity. There must have been something about his character, in spite of his circumstances, that caused his rise to being cupbearer to the king. I have often heard that the isolation of imprisonment only enhances ones skills as a law breaker. Nehemiah was different. His character remained in tact. He was promoted to a trustworthy job. There were reasons for him to be a happy captive.

Any peace of mind that he might have had was destroyed, however, as he conversed with one of his fellows who had just returned from Jerusalem. He simply asked his friend a question. “How are things going in Judah?” Hearing a description of the fallen down walls of Jerusalem and the gates being burned with fire stole any contentment that he once had.

My imprisoned friend has often said to me, “If I could just find a “re-wind” button. If I could somehow erase the wrong that I have done. If I could somehow heal the hurt. But I can’t.” Why should his face not be sad?

Nehemiah couldn’t hold back the tears. He mourned for days. His visits to the king couldn’t conceal his sadness. It was on one of those days of sadness that the king questioned his cupbearer. “Why is your face so sad, since you are not sick?” Nehemiah responded with a question of his own. “Why should my face not be sad? The city, the place of my fathers tombs, lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire?” Nehemiah 2:3

The tears of Nehemiah and the nobility of King Artaxerxes, resulted in the end of a sad story. Nehemiah was granted release to return to his homeland for the purpose of rebuilding the city of Jerusalem.

WHY SHOULD MY FACE NOT BE SAD?

Statistics make it clear that some people cannot survive life outside of prison. Years of bondage seem to acclimate some to the security that imprisonment provides.

The Christian life is not a call to perpetual sadness. There is reason, however to experience sadness in a world like ours. Our recent Christmas season became clouded as we were forced to ponder the actions of a lone gunman who masacred more than twenty small school children. “Why should my face not be sad?”

The words of an old Gospel song seem to catch the sentiments of my remarks. “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue. The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door and I can’t feel at home in this world any more.”

Paul captured these thoughts another way. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18

Like my incarceraed friend, like Nehemiah, like Paul, let’s not get so acclimated to the prison of the present that we lose the capacity to be saddened by “the wages of sin.”

“Why should my face not be sad?”

Farewell, my blogging group. It’s been a fun year.


A Final Hallelujah!

Friday
Revelation 19 concludes with some final Hallelujah’s because The Beast has been defeated.  The warfare image aptly describes my journey of faith.  There are beast without and beasts within that must be overcome before the consummation of all things.  As this year comes to a close I say with John the Revelator Hallelujah!  Those from Christ Communuity Church may recall that it was about this time last year that I began saying, “a year from now I sense that we won’t even recognize the church.  God is getting ready to do something big and something new!”  I can with complete honesty say that I never could have predicted the way that this “word” would come to pass.  I can say with a year later, however, that God did exceedingly and abundantly above all that I could have asked or could have imagined.  Between the word and the Hallelujah was a tremendous battle.  Little did I know that I would be a major part of the BIG CHANGE that was coming.  As you know, the Lord called us to leave our beloved church and friends in order to be pioneers and help relaunch a church in Tennessee.
Unraveling our entire social network and uprooting our family was the hardest thing I have ever done.  The love I have for Murphysboro and Christ Community was only confirmed by the pain of leaving.  We came willingly but we heavy heart and a great deal of trepidation.  A battle raged within my own heart and truthfully there are still skirmishes to fight.  God came through for Christ Community by sending a dynamic pastor and his family who are changing the face of Christ Community and they have brought fresh vision and energy which is already paying dividends.
In Knoxville, we are already on the grow and new friendships are being forged which don’t replace the old ones, but simply add to the tapestry of the beautiful destiny God has for us all.  I am more refreshed than I have been in years and I’m so excited about the new opportunities and challenges ahead.
It has been a joy to blog through the Bible this year.  This is my last CCC blog and I will retreat into the background and allow all of you to experience the great future God has for you under the leadership of your new pastor.  Pastor Rick has my full support and I promised him and you that I will never interfere or speak anything but positive things about the journey you are on together.
However, I will still be writing, blogging, preaching, proclaiming, discipling, and teaching until that last Beast has been defeated and we all begin our eternal hallelujahs together.  Continue to pray for us as we will be praying for you!

A year in The Word

Today’s reading: Nehemiah 7-9; Revelation 18.

This will be my last entry in this devotional blog, and it’s been good to follow along with everybody. I’ve learned a lot, and been encouraged by many of the devotionals. Today’s reading seems to be a good time to revisit one of my passions: the importance of Scripture.

Following the completion of the labor in repairing the walls of Jerusalem, Nehemiah doesn’t stop there. He is interested not only in Israel’s economic and political health, but also in it’s spiritual health. Ezra the priest begins a public reading and preaching campaign, to a people who have been in exile for 70 years: the people in front of Ezra quite possibly hadn’t heard what was written in the Law for several generations. I imagine it had probably become a theoretical reference point that people knew existed but hardly anyone actually had read. There were probably rules that people had taken out of it that were passed around but nobody really knew whether that was actually from the Law or just made up by someone. Whatever the case, the people were eager to hear what the Law actually said, and were struck to the heart when they heard it. It motivated them to rededicate themselves to God, and to submit themselves to His lordship.

Reading the Bible has a significant effect, I think we all can agree. It’s how we know God’s voice, how we can be encouraged or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before, and the most reliable evidence of what God is really like. It is the most valuable thing I think we humans have ever been given. I’m blessed to be able to work for Wycliffe USA, a Bible translation organization that is involved  in translating the Bible into the nearly 7,000 languages used around the world. I consider it to be among the most vital, fundamental works going on in the world: evangelism, church-planting and humanitarian missions are important, but all of them can go only so far in advancing God’s kingdom unless people can read the Bible and apply it for themselves. Working here has given me a greater appreciation and a greater love for God’s Word and for what it can do in people’s lives. It allows each of us to approach God on our own and study His Words spoken to us, personally.

As we enter the new year, I am planning to be more intentional in studying God’s Word; this past year I’ve started slacking off, I have to confess. Regular reading, thinking, meditating and applying what we read in the Bible is essential for our spiritual health, and I hope and pray that you will continue to be impacted by God’s Word throughout this next year.


Be an Encourager

Today’s text: Nehemiah 4-6,     Revelation 17

A few days ago I had the opportunity to have most of the employees I supervise together at one place at the same time. I took advantage of the occasion to give them a small gift for Christmas but more importantly to remind them of the value of their commitment. I reminded them that the sacrifice they had made in going beyond what is required does not go unnoticed or unappreciated. I told them of the importance of what they do and how much better we are as an organization because of each one of them. I did this for two reasons. First, because I believe it and secondly because I know that when dealing with the public it doesn’t take long to realize that there are more people willing to complain than those wanting to compliment. We have all had those days when we’ve headed out with a song in our heart and smile on our face only to cross paths with someone who just didn’t care much for music and was determined to make us give up on smiling all together. There are those who seem to be determined to rob us of our joy. After we have had the opportunity to meet a few of those more ‘memorable’ folks it can become difficult to maintain a proper perspective. We can easily lose sight of the significance of our calling and become discouraged in our efforts.

In today’s text we read about Nehemiah and his commitment to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem. The task was daunting. The walls lay in ruins. When he went to examine the condition of some of the more distant parts of the wall he found the rubble to be impassable. After investing a significant amount of sweat equity in the project Nehemiah met a few of the more ‘memorable’ neighbors. Almost any project has its Sanballat and most have a Toiah, or a Geshem around just to keep things interesting. Their rhetoric and ridicule soon become a tiresome grind. We all have experienced the venom of those who seem bent on discouragement but like Nehemiah we can not let that distract us from the calling. In his response to the discouragers, Nehemiah lays out a good pattern for us to follow:

  • First he took his situation to the Lord. Bringing our needs before the Lord and seeking his wisdom should be commonplace in our daily walk and even more so in times of distress.
  • Secondly he added to the security of the workers by strengthening their defenses. There is wisdom in quickly addressing obvious deficiencies or making corrections to oversight when and if necessary.
  • Thirdly he addressed the sin and oppression that was ongoing in the form of slavery and charging of usury. We likewise need to rid ourselves of anything that may separate us from the favor of God.
  • Fourthly he resumed with commitment the task for which he had been called. While we may not be able to control the circumstances that we find ourselves in, we can control our response to them. Never lose focus on what is most significant.

As you look around you will find that many are in need of encouragement. They may be dealing with gift return lines, snow covered roads or just grouchy people but we all need to be reminded that we are loved, that we are of importance, and that what we do really does make a difference. Be an encourager.

Deuteronomy 31:6 Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”

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.

Deuteronomy 31:8
It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”

Psalm 9:9 The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.

Psalm 23:4 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.

Psalm 55:22 Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.

Matthew 11:28-29 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

John 16:33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Romans 8:6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

Philippians 4:6-7 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.


Our Loss, Heaven’s Gain

Friday

Revelation 12: 7-12

7Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 8 But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. 9 The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:  “Now have come the salvation and the power  and the kingdom of our God,  and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,    who accuses them before our God day and night,     has been hurled down. 11 They triumphed over him     by the blood of the Lamb     and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much     as to shrink from death. 12 Therefore rejoice, you heavens  and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury,  because he knows that his time is short.”

“Our loss, heaven’s gain,” is frankly a phrase that irritates me.  It’s one of those trite statements people make in the face of tragedy, suffering and loss.  One of the most irritating things I ever witnessed was after a child was killed in a hunting accident.  The caregiver who was trying to comfort the grief-stricken parents said  “God must have needed another angel up in heaven.”  I was incensed for the parents.  I thought that we needed that child on earth much more than God did in heaven.  In the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting these phrases seem a little inadequate.

Having said that, Revelation 12 outlines for us the origin of this phrase.  In dazzling poetic language, John describes the war in heaven by which Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and prevailed so that Satan was kicked out of heaven and cast down to the earth.  That was truly earth’s loss and heaven’s gain.

As I reflect on this passage, I am glad that this war happened even if we have to deal with Satan on earth.  Much deeper than the issues of gun control and mental health issues which are legitimate issues to discuss, is that fact that we leave in enemy occupied territory.  There is a real Satan that is on the loose who seeks to devour us.  Thankfully, that is not the end of the story.  God has also invaded earth in the person of Jesus Christ and we have access to God and to the army of angels who originally defeated Satan.

The good news is that we only have to deal with him temporarily.  Heaven is the place that needs to be free of Satan because this short struggle on earth pales in comparison to an eternity that is free of Satan and free of evil.  Imagine dying and going to a war-torn heaven.  Because Satan has been defeated we look forward to an eternity where tragedy and evil will never reign again.  Therefore, our loss when Satan was unleashed on our planet was also our gain.  Satan is relegated to the realm of temporariness while God reigns for all eternity.

 

 


The Savior is Born

Today’s reading: Esther 1-2; Matthew 1; Luke 3.

Today we get to read the beginning of the Christmas story, because the organizers of the reading plan wanted to put it in its most significant place in the reading of Revelation: right before the allegory of the woman and the dragon. Our church down here in Florida just recently finished their Children’s Christmas play, which I watched because, of course, my daughter was in it🙂 It focused on dispelling some particular myths surrounding the traditional “Christmas story”: the fact that there could’ve been more than 3 wise men (we’re told how many gifts there were, the number of wise men is just tradition), the angels “singing” (the Bible actually just says that they “said” “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”). However, it came back to emphasizing that the important part of Christmas isn’t these minor details that aren’t recorded for us, but the fact that God came down to become a man and to live among us.

As the production stated, we don’t know for sure that December 25th was “Jesus’ birthday”. I was struck by the significance of the fact that we have no idea what day Jesus was born: in fact, scholars argue about what year it even was. It emphasizes the obscurity that God chose to introduce Himself into the world. People challenge God by saying, “if He exists, why doesn’t He make Himself plainly visible?”: the fact is, even when He did come to earth, He didn’t make a big fuss. That’s not His style (at least, at this stage in history. Things change when we get to His second coming). I’m amazed by His humility, to come in such a way that His birth (probably the most earth-altering event that had ever happened up to that time) went unrecorded and almost completely unheralded, except to a few smelly herdsmen outside the city.

Think about it: if you had no Christmas story and were just writing a novel: making up a story in your head about God coming to earth, how would you have it happen? I would probably have Him spontaneously appear in the desert, a handsome, mysterious, muscular 25 years old, perfect in beauty, ready to conquer the thrones of the world. Maybe He would take advantage of a natural disaster: step out of a tornado that destroyed the White House, or a crack in the earth that swallowed up the Kremlin or something. Maybe He would descend from the sky in a shining, iridescent ball, like the witch of the North in Wizard of Oz. Nobody could make up the Christmas story that God’s given us: it’s too mundane, too common. If we hadn’t heard it all our lives, we wouldn’t accept it as real. Why would God be content with such humility and obscurity?

Let’s remember: He accepts those who come to Him: He doesn’t force Himself on anyone. Let’s consciously seek Him out this season.


Mining for Gold

Today’s text: Ezra 5-7, Revelation 11

gold-minersI truly enjoy studying the book of Revelation. As I read the 11th chapter in preparation for this next to my last blog I was reminded of two illustrations that are so true when it comes to the study of eschatology.

The example of the polished needle: I once heard a gentleman talk about examining a highly polished needle with a magnifying glass and found it to be perfect. He then put it under a microscope and found it to be riddled with minute flaws. As he increased the magnification he found an ever increasing number of defects in the needle. He then looked at the wing of a butterfly with a magnifying glass and saw details and patterns not visible with the naked eye. When he placed the wing under the higher magnification he found an ever increasing level of detail and a degree of craftsmanship at the cellular level that is beyond the skill of man to duplicate. Studying the Bible is similar in that the more we dig down into the detail the more beauty we find.

The example of a South African gold mine: A number of years ago a farmer was clearing some debris from a field. He inadvertently scraped his burden against an outcropping of rock and happen to notice what appeared to be gold within the rock. As he chipped away at the rock he saw that there was more gold. Over the next few years he gradually chipped away finding more and more treasure. One day he decided to form a partnership with his son and grandsons and start a real mining operation. Over the next several years they drilled, blasted and hauled load after load of rock looking for gold. They always found enough to stay in business but never enough to make a very comfortable living for their families. One day they had made repairs to their refining process and wanted to test their work. Instead of waiting for some of the good ore to be brought up out of the mine they loaded up some rock from the spoil pile. Imagine their shock when they discovered what they had been dumping as scraped contained almost as much gold as the good ore. They learned by experience that there is more than one type of ore. They spent the next several years recovering the ore from the spoil as well as find enough ore in the mine to make them all very wealthy.

As we continually study the Bible we become increasingly more adept at recognizing where the treasure is found. At first we can only glean those nuggets that are in plain sight. When we have attained a better understating of scripture as a whole we find greater rewards that we would have previously passed over. As we become more seasoned and more mature in the discipline of study our magnification level increases and we find a whole new level to appreciate and enjoy. Don’t take my word for it. Remain disciplined, remain consistent to your study and see what treasures you may find.