Category Archives: Hope

A Response to TGC on weeping

A couple of days ago, Kevin DeYoung published an article on The Gospel Coalition’s website concerning weeping with those who weep.

I found it quite disturbing, and I want to attempt to explain why.

To set the mood for the blog, he introduces Romans 12:15 and writes,

In recent years, the second half of the verse in particular has been emphasized as a key component in caring for victims, in listening to the stories of the oppressed, and in showing compassion to the hurting.

And then he adds:

These emphases are right and proper. Oftentimes the first thing we must do with sufferers is simply come alongside them, acknowledge their pain, express our condolences, and assure them of our love and prayers.

So far so good.

And then he spends the rest of the blog adding qualifier after qualifier until nothing is left.

The most disturbing sentence is this one:

Surely, the second half of Romans 12:15 does not mean that the only response to grieving people is to grieve with them. Diving into facts, pursuing objectivity, listening to all sides—these are not invalidated by Romans 12:15. “Weep with those who weep” does not dictate that the reasons for our weeping can never be mistaken. In short, the verse must mean something like “weep with those who have good, biblical reason to be weeping.”

I will explain why this disturbs me in a moment. First, to be fair to Rev. DeYoung, I would like to give his reasoning. Arguing from the parallelism of the passage, he writes:

One, almost everyone interprets the first half of Romans 12:15 along the lines just stated above. That is, no one thinks God wants us to rejoice with those who rejoice over the Taliban coming to power. No matter how genuine the rejoicing may be, Christians should not join with those who celebrate abortion or parade their sexual immorality or delight in racial prejudice. Instinctively, we know that the first half of Romans 12:15 means something like, “rejoice with those who have good, biblical reason to be rejoicing.”

His argument, then, is that since we do not indiscriminately rejoice over the Taliban coming into power, but rather we rejoice with those who have good and Biblical reasons for rejoicing, it then follows that weeping also must only be done with those who have good, biblical reasons for weeping.

First of all, this trend among the celebrity neo-“reformed” to view compassion with suspicion is quite disturbing. Why is there such a need in these guys’ minds to add caveat after caveat to compassion and empathy? As soon as we start defining who is and who is not worthy of our compassion, we enter into dangerous territory.

But before I go there, I would first like to critique his exegesis. He adds so many “traditions of men” that the command of God is of no effect, and is therefore committing the same fallacy as the Pharisees of old. Jesus explains this in Mark 7:9ff.

9 He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition.
  10 “For Moses said,`Honor your father and your mother’; and,`He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’
  11 “But you say,`If a man says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban “– ‘(that is, a gift to God),
  12 “then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother,
  13 “making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
  (Mark. 7:9-13)

In other words, according to the teachers at the time, if they had “good and biblical reasons”, they were not obliged to provide for their parents. What more biblical reason could there be than dedicating all of your goods to God himself?

DeYoung makes the same error, in my view. He takes a simple command…weep with those who weep…and adds so many caveats in order to explain that not EVERY person weeping deserves our tears of sympathy.

There have been so many articles lately about this that it is starting to bother me. What are they trying to prevent? Why are the tears of the abused so threatening to them that they have to find a way to silence them?

But back to DeYoung’s exegesis. His example of the Taliban does not hold up, because according to the text itself, Paul is speaking of the context of our neighbors, our fellow church members, and those that we interact with every day.

DeYoung finds the most extreme example (surely you wouldn’t rejoice with a terrorist) and then seeks to apply that to our neighbors.

He also draws a false contrast – “Diving into facts, pursuing objectivity, listening to all sides” is contrasted with weeping with those who weep. It appears that what he is saying is that you can do one or the other. If you dive into the facts, etc., and then determine that the one weeping has grounds for weeping, then Rom. 12:15 comes into play, but not before.

Wow. It just got complicated, didn’t it? Since sin is in the world, if you follow what he seems to be saying, you will always find a reason not to weep with those who weep. There will always be sin involved, therefore I don’t have to obey God. We nullify the command of God so that we might keep our traditions.

One more note on this, Paul isn’t talking about a judicatory of the church. Why must we all, as private citizens, assume that we are the arbiters of truth and that every complaint brought to us must be decided as if we were judges and jurists? Why can’t we just believe people and weep with them? Paul isn’t talking about adjudicating their case. He is talking about compassion.

But what if this passage means exactly what it says. “Leave vengeance in the hands of God. Love without hypocrisy. Empathize with one another.”

Rejoicing and weeping require some entering into the emotions of others, and this terrifies certain minds of the Reformed persuasion. But what if we let the scripture shape us, rather that us trying to make scripture fit our molds?

What if we learned what made our neighbors weep and wept with them?

Suppose, to use and extreme example, our neighbors are a gay couple. And suppose the state legislature passes a law forbidding gay couples from cohabitating together. They are scared. They don’t know what the future holds. Their whole world has turned upside down. Do they have “good and biblical reasons” for weeping?

It gets tricky, doesn’t it? Now you have to determine if the desire for safety and peace, the longing for acceptance and worth, and the security of a person’s home are biblical desires, and if so, are they trumped by the fact that they are living in sin?

Suppose the Taliban has taken over and has commanded that every gay couple be publicly flogged and then executed? Do we weep with them then?

If we ever get to the point that we are OK watching anyone getting flogged publicly, or executed by stoning, we are in a very scary state indeed.  I fear that we are headed there faster than we think.

Wouldn’t it be easier to simply weep with those who weep, and try to enter into their pain and sit with them?

Example two – a 15 year-old girl is raped. She gets pregnant and she is terrified of her church finding out. So afraid, in fact, that she sees no alternative but to abort her baby.

Is she no longer worthy of our tears? Is she no longer human now? What if it happened while she was at a party that her parents didn’t know she went to? What if she was drinking there? Is she now no longer worthy of our tears? No wonder she is terrified of telling the church, if their response is dictated by people like DeYoung. First, determine if their weeping is good and biblical. THEN weep with them. No wonder we are losing the war against abortion.

One example I read a few months ago was this one, “Surely you wouldn’t weep with a drug dealer who lost his whole stash in a house fire.” Once again, using the most extreme example that you can think of isn’t really the best way to do exegesis.

But let’s look at it. Suppose that this drug dealer is your son. And the drugs that he lost weren’t his. And now the cartel is after him. We can certainly hold to our belief that actions have consequences and at the same time be crushed with grief and tears. Surely every parent knows this grief. Surely the father of the prodigal wept great tears at the state of his son, even though it was his son’s fault he was in that state. Isn’t that the point of our faith?

Don’t we worship a God who plucks us out of the miry pit?

Jesus himself wept over Jerusalem, even though their destruction was just and good.

I would never bare my heart to anyone who says things like this, and it certainly isn’t what Paul means.

Paul means quite simply what he says. If your friends and neighbors are rejoicing, rejoice with them. If they are weeping, weep with them. It simply means to enter into their lives. They are image-bearers of God. It certainly doesn’t mean to approve of their sins. If means to have compassion.

You cannot do this without empathy. I am extremely disturbed that compassion and empathy are viewed with such suspicion in the church in these past few years.

But such is the result when you think that the point of Christianity is winning a culture war rather than loving God and your neighbor. These are two quite different things.

But there is one more thing even more disturbing. It is inexcusable that a pastor of sheep wouldn’t be aware of this. Do you know what this article will do in abusive homes?

Do you know what will happen if we tell abusive and violent men that they must not weep with their wives and children if they do not have biblical reasons to weep?

To me, this is the most disturbing part of the whole thing. It is saying that I must determine if your tears are biblical before I can weep with you. The damage that this will cause will be immense. Wait for it…

Wisdom is justified by her children. So is foolishness.

I am afraid that this teaching will bear some very ugly children.

If we are secure in our righteousness before God, if we truly understand that we are complete in Christ already, then we can weep with those who weep without fear that we will somehow become tainted by their sin.

If Jesus waited until he had good and biblical reasons to weep with us, we would still be lost in our sins.

2 “Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abominations,
3 “and say,`Thus says the Lord GOD to Jerusalem: “Your birth and your nativity are from the land of Canaan; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite.
4 “As for your nativity, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed in water to cleanse you; you were not rubbed with salt nor wrapped in swaddling cloths.
5 “No eye pitied you, to do any of these things for you, to have compassion on you; but you were thrown out into the open field, when you yourself were loathed on the day you were born.
6 “And when I passed by you and saw you struggling in your own blood, I said to you in your blood,`Live!’ Yes, I said to you in your blood,`Live!’
7 “I made you thrive like a plant in the field; and you grew, matured, and became very beautiful. Your breasts were formed, your hair grew, but you were naked and bare.
8 “When I passed by you again and looked upon you, indeed your time was the time of love; so I spread My wing over you and covered your nakedness. Yes, I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you, and you became Mine,” says the Lord GOD.
9 “Then I washed you in water; yes, I thoroughly washed off your blood, and I anointed you with oil.
10 “I clothed you in embroidered cloth and gave you sandals of badger skin; I clothed you with fine linen and covered you with silk.
11 “I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your wrists, and a chain on your neck.
12 “And I put a jewel in your nose, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head.
13 “Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen, silk, and embroidered cloth. You ate pastry of fine flour, honey, and oil. You were exceedingly beautiful, and succeeded to royalty.
14 “Your fame went out among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through My splendor which I had bestowed on you,” says the Lord GOD. (Ezek. 16:2-14)

Isn’t that beautiful. He doesn’t wait for his people to live before he gives them life. He doesn’t wait for them to be worthy of compassion before he has compassion.

Are we not to be tenderhearted, as God is tenderhearted? It seems we are missing something crucial about our faith.

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Filed under Faith, Gospel, Grief, Hope

Is God still Good?

We see the announcement of a pregnancy, and we rejoice. “God is so good!”

God hears our prayers and a job opportunity arrives and we rejoice. “God is so good!”

We recover from the disease. We heal from the surgery. A care package arrives and we rejoice. “God is so good!”

He is good to us, isn’t he? We see the sun and the moon and the stars and we rejoice. We taste the apricot and the wine and the olive oil and we say, “God is so good!”

But what happens when you are on hour number eight- again – in the Emergency Room, fully expecting, “All your tests were normal. Follow up with your regular doctor tomorrow.”

What happens when the specialist that your wife REALLY needs to see as soon as possible can possibly squeeze you in in October?

What happens when you spend year after year watching the one that you love suffer so much and there is nothing anyone can do about it?

What happens when your friend is dying from cancer?

Is God still good then?

Is God still good when the baby is born blind?

Is God still good when your children turn their backs on God?

Is God still good when your friends are suffering and you can’t help at all?

When you are outside the wall of the best health care in the world but you can’t get access?

Is God still good then?

And all you can say is “Lord, save me!” and you know above all that God is good.

It goes deeper than “he has a plan”. That too often just seems trite.

I think it is more like silver in a furnace. Like a launderer’s soap.

Even then, though – that doesn’t really speak of the goodness of God.

What language shall I borrow? What words can I stammer? When “Lord save me” doesn’t quite cover everything, what else can I say?

And yet, there he is. In the bottom of the well. In the depths where I cry. There he is, because he is good.

And if I didn’t spend hour after hour in the emergency room, if I we didn’t suffer together, we wouldn’t have seen it. We would have thought that the goodness of God is the same as oil and wine and bread and new babies.

They are great gifts of God. But they are not God. And when we suffer in the depths, that is where we most often meet him.

He is there when the dross is burning away, where the last remnants of self-help and our arrogant pride and self-assurance are being burned away in the fire, when we are exhausted from the race, and just want to throw in the towel….there he is.

In the valley of the shadow of death. He takes us through because he knows it is the only way to the green pastures.

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Filed under Goodness, Hope

Why did Lazarus die?

Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.
  2 It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.
  3 Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.”
  4 When Jesus heard that, He said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
  5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.
  6 So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was. (Jn. 11:1-6)

As I was reading this over my coffee this morning, it struck me. (Funny how that works – I’ve read this countless times, and I didn’t exactly miss it before, but it didn’t strike me like it did today).

Because Jesus loved Lazarus and Mary and Martha;

And because he heard that Lazarus was sick…he waited two more days.

Think about that. Lazarus is dying. Jesus can heal him. But instead, Jesus delays. Lazarus dies. And he loved them.

This is astounding. Imagine what Mary and Martha were going through. For days and days they wait for Jesus to show up. Jesus delays. He dawdles. He stays two more days. Lazarus gets sicker.

Finally Lazarus dies. Mary’s heart breaks. Martha’s heart breaks. Where was Jesus? Why didn’t he come? Does he not care?

(If you have never asked those questions, have you really lived on this earth? How often do we wonder the same thing. How much more? How much longer? Why won’t he stop this? Why won’t he heal?)

But at the beginning of it all, Jesus tells them why. “That the Son of God might be glorified through it.”

There is something about Jesus that hadn’t been revealed yet. He hadn’t been “glorified”, that is, he hadn’t been seen for who he truly was – the Resurrection and the Life.

They all thought that not even Jesus could do anything about death. Lazarus is dead. It’s over.

And then Jesus says, “Lazarus, come forth!”

When God allows the pain to take hold; when God allows yet another thing to strike a blow; when God allows the devil to ravish and devour; when God allows us to go as low as we think we can – and then he takes us even lower –

It isn’t because he hates us. It isn’t because he hasn’t forgotten us. It isn’t because he is negligent or evil.

It is because we close our eyes and think we can solve all of our own problems. We can fix this, if we do just one more thing.

But when death occurs, when we reach that point where there is NO fixing it, NO coming back, NO solution – THAT is when we begin to see Jesus for who he is.

Not even death can stop the power of the Son of God.

Not great sin, not great despair, not great pain or great illness – not even death.

We have a hard time seeing it until we do. And that is worth everything.

If the Son of God can be revealed in our suffering and weakness, our pain and sorrow, then it is worth it all. No one falls through the cracks. He never fails.

The day will come when he will call you out of this tomb as well. And there will be no more tears and no more curse.

When we’ve seen the tears and the curse and know what it is to suffer great loss, then we are the first to shout for joy when victory comes.

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Filed under Encouragement, Gospel, Hope

Perspective

I wonder…

Some days are rougher than other days. Some days I don’t know if I can handle one more thing. I then God gives me one more thing. And another.

I asked my wife if maybe we live on an old nuclear testing site, or a sacred burial ground. If I listed every health issue that my family and I have gone through, you probably wouldn’t believe me. Most people don’t. Most of what I do in Emergency Rooms is try to convince the doctor that, yes, we really do have these rare disorders. It was much, much harder to do before everything was computerized. Now if we can only get them to look at charts….but I digress.

And I wonder. Why yet another thing? Why do I spend hours at the doctor’s? It seems to me that there is  so much more I could be doing. I have people to visit, books to read, sermons to prepare, writing to do, communities to be involved in…

But I am sitting in another doctor’s office.

As a disclaimer, I don’t at all begrudge my family for this. I love sitting with my wife and daughter when yet another thing strikes. I wouldn’t be anywhere else. I know that if I am not there to advocate for them, they would be ignored or not believed.

A broken arm or a nail in the head is believable. You can see it. Doctors are good at things like that. We, my family,  never get those. Our are the diseases that they tell you about in medical school. One doctor said that he spent 6 hours in a seminar on it, and then they said, “But you won’t ever find anyone with that, so don’t worry about it.” But I digress.

My father used to tell me that my business is always with God. And that is where I wonder. I have questions and I want answers and I wonder.

I don’t resent my family. They suffer more that I do, and my heart goes right out to them and I want to just take all of this away. But I can’t. I see other people running and swimming, camping and biking. I see other people traveling and golfing and hiking. And I think those days are over for us. (This isn’t about fitness and essential oils, by the way…)

But why does God continue to inflict? Why is it one massive thing right after another?

So I cry out to him. I beg him for mercy. I want answers. But it seems as if he is so silent.

And then I remember that he isn’t silent. He answers the curse that is on the world with the cross of Jesus. God became flesh and took all of this on Himself. He laid it on his only-begotten son (these two sentences do not contradict. They resolve in the mystery of the Trinity. “The word was with God and the word was God”).

There is a curse on the world. By man, death entered and reigned over all. But by Man came the resurrection from the dead. United with Christ in resurrection doesn’t come without union with his sufferings. We are only just tasting that in our family.

Why? I don’t know. I know that we all are one aneurism away from the grave.

We are one virus away from death. One aortic rupture. One spontaneous colon rupture (which I’ve had, by the way – but God spared my life).

And then I remember that this world isn’t our home. This world is “under the sun”, what our forefather called “the valley of tears.”

So I stop. I look up. I remember.

(My daughter lost her ability to smell. She said, “That’s OK, Daddy. I’ll smell things in heaven…”).

I try to remember that but my heart hurts for her.

I try to remember that we will run and hike and stand and walk and sing in the new heaven and the new earth; I try to remember that I will run hand in hand with my wife through the hills in the new earth when our bodies are made new, and that gives me peace for another day.

And I try to remember that God’s grace is not promised to be sufficient today for everything he will bring on me tomorrow, but it is promised to be sufficient for whatever trial he brings me at the time.

My father told me once that worrying is useless. He said that everything he ever worried about never came about. I agree that worrying is useless. But it is a bit different for me. Everything I have ever worried about actually did happen, and worse. But worrying is useless because of the sufficiency of God’s grace and the fact that I am a creature, and do not hold the world in the palm of my hand.

I am still anxious though. I still fear. I still wonder. I still want answers.

And He responds as he always has, “My grace is sufficient for you.” And it is.

I used to think that this meant that he won’t give me more than I can handle. But that isn’t true at all. I have had more than I can handle over and over and over again.

And when I get another blow that I can’t handle, I want an answer. I cry out. I have no idea how to take a step or what step I should take or if this is the right way to go, or if I should just stay, or if I go the the ER again knowing that they most likely won’t be able to help or if I should not go and perhaps watch a loved one decline until it is too late and I could have fixed it but I trusted the wrong guy and what do I do now and I just don’t know………..

And then I stop. Breathe. I try to understand that it is actually too much. My life is not held in my hands. My wife’s life is not held in my hands. My daughter’s life is not held in my hands.

We are all one aneurism away from death, and that won’t change by any decision I make or fail to make. All I can do is the best that I can, which usually isn’t all that great.

There is so much I don’t know. And far more weeping ahead. I know that ahead there will be more suffering and more death and more pain and many, many more questions.

So here is what I’ll try to do.

  • I’ll try not to get involved in disputes that aren’t mine. I have too much already, and God hasn’t promised me grace to get involved in other people’s disputes.
  • I’ll try to remember that today has its own worries. The amount of emotional energy I have been given is limited. It is enough for my day today, my circle today, my family today, my congregation today. God will replenish that for tomorrow, for his grace is sufficient for me.
  • I’ll try to remember that “I will smell things in heaven.”
  • I’ll try to remember that there is not one person who cried out to God for mercy who did not receive mercy.
  • I’ll try to remember that God still sends rainbows.
  • I’ll try to remember that I’m human, and when it is all too much for me, that is OK. I wasn’t made to be a god. I was made to rest in the arms of another.
  • I will try to remember that the day will come when I will again say goodbye to someone I love and it will wrench my heart again.

And then I will breathe. I will eat some pie – but sugar free, my body still won’t cooperate with what I want to eat. But I will have great pie in heaven.

I will listen to some music and maybe find something new.

And I will continue to cry out, and continue to wonder, and continue to want answers.

But I will try to remember that God hasn’t promised me to answer all my questions. He has promised much tribulation, but after that we inherit the kingdom.

Until then,

Of making many books there is no end, and much study is wearisome to the flesh.
  13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man’s all.
  (Eccl. 12:12-13)

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Filed under Gospel, Grief, Hope

Jesus touched the leper

Do you get that?

Does that sink into your soul?

A leper was unclean. He was untouchable. To touch a leper was to make yourself unclean.

They were cast out. They were driven from society. The were not allowed in the Temple.

And Jesus touched them.

(Mark 1:40-41)  40 And there came a leper to him, beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying unto him, If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.
  41 And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean.

And when he touched them, they became clean. And he took their uncleanness upon himself.

And then the Romans and the Jews and the World dragged him outside the camp, with all of our uncleanness, and crucified him – along with all of our uncleanness.

Think about that. Jesus touched the leper.

Who are we afraid to touch? Who are we afraid are too dirty for us?

If you think that someone is too dirty, then you do not yet understand. Read it again.

JESUS TOUCHED THE LEPER.

The greatest sorrow that crushes our soul is the sorrow of uncleanness. Being driven away; being hated; being considered unclean.

Too dirty, too sinful, too seductive, too “other” for all of us clean people.

Do you feel like you just showed up at the feast and you are filthy? Do you feel that in your soul?

Your soul crumbles under the weight of your uncleanness. You are unclean yourself. What you have endured left a film of stain on your soul that you just wish would go away.

How you long to be one of the normals! To just live and shop and eat and drink and love as if you didn’t have a huge, ugly sign attached to your neck: UNCLEAN. DON’T TOUCH!”

Jesus touched the leper.

Jesus touched the leper.

Stand up straight. Lift up your eyes. strengthen your knees.

You are the circumcision of God. You are clean. You are in his presence.

Because Jesus touches you as well.

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Filed under Gospel, Hope

Achan and the Gospel

When Joshua conquered Jericho, God gave Israel specific instructions concerning the goods there. Everything was to be killed, burned or put into the treasury of the temple.

The story of what happened next is disturbing. The next city to be conquered was Ai. It was a far smaller and less powerful city, and the strategy was just to send a few of the army there. But they were soundly beaten, which caused Joshua and all Israel shock and great sorrow. What happened? Why had God forsaken them? Why did the army flee? Had God forgotten about them? What about the rest of the conquest that they were promised?

Joshua fell on his knees and asked the Lord what had happened.

Someone took gold and silver and clothing from Jericho and kept it for themselves against God’s command. Because of this disobedience, all Israel was troubled and God gave them into the hands of their enemies. God pointed out the criminal and Achan was stoned with his whole family in the valley of Achor.

Read the account. It is disturbing. Joshua 7.

This morning, I received a question about the event. The person asking the question was taught that if a parent had sin in their lives that God would punish the church and their children until they confessed it and turned from it. They were taught that this was the message of Achan. If someone is disobedient, the whole church will suffer, and their children will suffer.

I was greatly disturbed by this and have been thinking about it all day.

This, by the way, is not the gospel. The gospel is NOT “if you sin, God will punish your children.” And didn’t Jesus say that all of scripture taught of him?

We do learn of the holiness of God in this account. He is not someone to trifle with. He cannot bless disobedience. He cannot dwell with sin. He does indeed visit the iniquity of the fathers unto the children to the third and fourth generation (Exodus 20:5) and his character does not change.

How can any of us escape? How are any of our children blessed? How can anything unclean stand in his sight, and who of us are clean enough?

The wrath of God and the horrors of sin are the backdrop of the gospel, but they are not themselves the gospel. “Do this and live” is not the good news, for who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?

The stoning of Achan is disturbing, for God does not change.

But centuries later, the prophet Hosea saw the gospel from a distance. Israel had been divorced by God – they were no longer his people. But Hosea was shown a glimpse of the gospel.

14 “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, Bring her into the wilderness, And speak kindly to her.
15 “Then I will give her her vineyards from there, And the valley of Achor as a door of hope. And she will sing there as in the days of her youth, As in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt.
(Hosea 2:14-15).

There will be a new exodus and a new deliverance. God’s bride will be gathered from every land and every nation. The gentiles will be gathered in as well. And the valley of Achor will be a door of hope.

What does it mean? How can this scene of the trouble that came on Israel be a door of hope for God’s bride?

Because Achan pointed to Christ. Achor pointed to Calvary. Christ was taken outside the camp and bore all of our uncleanness. Christ was cut off from the land of the living, bearing our curse. Achan’s sin troubled all Israel, and when he was cut off by stoning, the curse was taken away and they went on to victory. But that victory was short-lived, because all Israel were descended from Adam. All of them were unfaithful, just as all of us are unfaithful. The conquest was incomplete. The book of Joshua concludes with the book of Judges. What hope is there for any of us?

All of us have sinned and come short of God’s glory. All of us are unclean. How can Achan be stoned and take the curse away from us when every single one of us is Achan?

Only in Christ. In Christ, true God and true man, the curse that lay upon each one of us is taken away.

Isaiah puts it so clearly.

4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted.
5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.
6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.
7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living, For the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due? (Isa. 53:4-8)

That is the gospel. The curse is on us because all of us have hoarded our stolen things. All of us have trusted in our own resources rather than trusting in the living God. If God marked iniquity, who should stand?

But God doesn’t send US outside the camp to bear our iniquities. He laid them upon Jesus Christ. Or you could say that he took them upon himself. Because of the mystery of the Trinity, both are correct. God laid them on Christ. God took them on himself.

The story of Achan is not “Behave or God will curse your children”. It is “come to Jesus, who bore our iniquities in his body on the cross.”

Teach your children about Jesus when you teach them about Achan.

The valley of Achor becomes a door of hope at Calvary.

Praise God!

On another note, if your church has never taught this, then it is not teaching the gospel. If you are being taught that God’s blessing comes on you when you obey and when you disobey you will earn God’s curse, then you are not being taught the gospel. Flee those churches. It is what God calls a synagogue of Satan. Go to where the gospel is proclaimed.

There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

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Filed under Gospel, Hope

coming out

When Paul was in chains in Rome, he rejoiced that the power of the gospel was seen in his weakness.

One thing that I have read continually from those who heard Ravi Zacharias speak is this: when he spoke, you knew you were in the presence of a great man. he was so articulate, so wise, so charismatic. He could work a crowd. He could answer any objection.

Paul was just the opposite. In fact, Paul said that he preached in weakness and trembling. He was ridiculed frequently for NOT being a great public speaker, or a skilled rhetorician.

As I was thinking these things, I decided to come out. I have hidden something about myself for many years. I’ve hidden it even from myself, preferring to beat myself up for not being quite right than acknowledging that I have a weakness that I can do very little about.

I have anxiety disorder. Whether it was inherited or whether it was learned through much experience, or perhaps a little of both, it is a chain around me that I cannot rid myself of.

My brain warns me that I am in danger and tells me to flee, usually at the most inopportune time.

My heart races. My face flushes. I break out in a sweat. I start to shake. My words start to stammer.

If it is bad, I won’t eat.

I wake up frequently in the middle of the night having conversations in my head, running events through my head over and over again – until I break out into a sweat and my body temperature goes up.

I read recently that Herman Bavinck, arguably the greatest theologian of the 20th century, vomited before every sermon.

I don’t vomit. But I completely identify with the sentiment.

I manuscript sermons because I don’t know when my mind will go blank. I rehearse conversations because I have no idea what to do in them.

Social events are exhausting. I tend to flee somewhere just to regroup. Weddings are torture.

My mind tells me that everything is OK. God is on the throne. I am just human. My conversation is fine.

But there is a part of my brain that attacks me during every single conversation:

“You are such an idiot. I can’t believe you said that. They are going to hate you now. You will be left alone. Don’t you know how to people?”

“You are doing this wrong. You are going to fail. You’ll never make this. They will think you are stupid.

I won’t try out a new restaurant if the ordering procedure is too different. I have never tried sushi. I have never attempted to do something new for fear of failing.

When I am in a new place, or trying something new that I am required to do, my heart races and I go into panic mode. “Failure deserves to be beaten, outcast, isolated, and alone.”

I would far, far rather serve the table than sit down at it and be served. When I am clearing dishes I know what is expected, and when I know what is expected, I don’t break out in a cold sweat and listen to my heart pound in my ears.

I have been like this as long as I could remember. When I was younger, I would pinpoint a person that I figured was an acceptable person and try to imitate them. Maybe I wouldn’t be rejected if I could be someone else.

But that is a hard way to live.

One of my earliest memories was being terrified of trying out the slide. My parents, not knowing what to do, spanked me until I went down.

I remember the absolute terror of my first fire drill when I was about 5. They should not allow children to be tortured like that.

I self-medicated with nicotene for years. It gave me a good excuse to leave any social situation and it would calm my panicked nerves. But when I quit several years ago, my panic attacks and anxiety would attack from out of nowhere.

Today I know that it has a name and there are things to do about it. I have anxiety disorder.

I have anxiety disorder.

My dad used to say that worrying about stuff never helped. He was fond of saying that the things he worried the most about never happened. I’m very glad for him.

For me, everything that I ever worried about actually did happen, but those are stories for another time.

The curse on this world is very real. People do things that are even worse than you can imagine. The hate that the world can throw at you is unfathomable.

Illness is real. Cancer is real. Brain damage is real. Suffering is real.

The cross is real, and if we are Jesus’ we will pick it up with him and follow him.

And like Paul, when those chains tie us down, paralyze us and keep us from doing what we want to do – God will show himself strong.

“How can you be a minister” – my anxiety tells me repeatedly.

And then I remember Paul’s words:

(1Corinthians:2:1-5)  And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.
And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:  That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

And so I’ve decided to quit pretending that I’m something I am not. I will speak the truth. I will teach from house to house. I will visit. I will call. I will do what I can to show the power of God in the cross of Christ.

But then I might have to sit down. I might have to go outside and regroup. I might need to do something to calm my pounding heart and my rapid breathing.

I’m not the kind of preacher that has everything together. When people see me, they don’t say, “I’m in the presence of a great man” and that’s OK.

Because if I can lead someone to the living water, if I can exalt the power of God, if I can tell you about the beauty of Jesus who sweat great drops of blood, who fell down terrified at Gethsemane in order to bring me to God – then it is all worth it. Because I also know that when I am at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, I will sit in his presence and rejoice and no longer panic. I will no longer feel like an outcast. I will no longer be an outsider looking in on the normals.

And that is what I long for. But more than that, I long to be free from sin and misery.

In the meantime, don’t look for me to exalt human strength. I don’t have any. When I am in God’s presence, it won’t do me any good anyway.

Instead, I have an anxiety disorder. And so I look to Jesus.

Jesus didn’t come for the well. He came for the sick. He didn’t come for the strong, he came for the weak and foolish – and that is me.

If you are like me, and struggle with these things, don’t be ashamed. Walk right into it, for Jesus is with you through the valley of the shadow of death.

I wrote these words so that you might not feel so alone. There are a lot of us out here. I just thought that you might want to meet one.

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Filed under Anxiety, Hope

Things for the New Year

Things to do for 2021, in no particular order:

Meditate on things that make you smile.

Think about things that are beautiful.

Sit on the porch and look for birds.

Listen to a kind of music that you have never listened to. Put the effort in to appreciate something different. Beauty is worth the effort.

Listen to someone who has different political views without viewing them as an enemy to be destroyed. You might learn something. At least you will be stronger in your own conviction. You might actually change your mind about something.

Understand that changing your mind about something is absolutely necessary for spiritual growth.

Kiss your spouse every day.

Quit thinking all the time about who is in charge and simply enjoy the ride.

Slow down. Smell the wine. Swirl it around the tongue. Try to understand what the label is talking about.

Think about the people you are going to hug when this is all over.

Call someone who is lonely and ask them how you can pray for them.

Stop being afraid of everything.

Go outside and walk beside a river.

Find a bird sanctuary and sit and listen. Leave your phone at home.

Give a cold bottle of water to a homeless person on a hot day.

Quit dividing the world into us and them. Reject all notions of the “repugnant cultural other”, and learn to honor the dignity of the image-bearer of God in front of you, no matter who they are.

Buy a coloring book and crayons.

Forget the label and just have chips and queso. Just know when to stop.

Clean out your closets. You might find a memory.

Wear the clothes that you like to wear.

Buy a pair of fabulous socks.

Pray for your pastor every day.

For each of the things above, for the crisp air, the fabulous wine, the birds in the sanctuary, the sound of the river, the flowers in the grass, the chips and queso, the colors and sounds and textures – just stop for a minute and give thanks to our great God and Father, who makes all things.

And give thanks to Christ who has redeemed us by his blood and made us kings and priests.

And give thanks to the Holy Spirit who breathes life into us so that we can see and hear and taste and touch and marvel and the wisdom and beauty and faithfulness of our Father.

O that men would praise the Lord for his covenant faithfulness, for his works of wonder among the children of men!

Happy New Years!

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Filed under Goodness, Hope, Thankfulness

Just a little more…

“I’m supposed to be writing something, but I can’t think of anything to write!”

I complain to my daughter.

“What?” She says.

“What should I write about? I can’t think of anything.”

It’s been a long two weeks. At first I was looking forward to a time of exile. Perhaps I could accomplish something. My life is the endless quest to accomplish, accomplish, accomplish….but it seems as if God always has other plans.

I am doing dishes. The dishwasher is broken, so I do them by hand. And it never fails. I drain the water. And clean the sink. And I find one more. Just one more. Just finish that one, and then you can sit. Then you can write. Then you can read. Then you can learn that sonata you’ve wanted to learn. Just one more.

But after that one, there is just one more….

But life doesn’t give you the instruction manual. I see myself at sixteen. I am full of ambition and hope. I see my High School yearbook, full of promises and dreams. I read the “Stay in touch!” from the people that I haven’t spoken to since they wrote that close to 40 years ago…

My brief foray into video games happened at age 15. It was 1978. Asteroids, or some such. I put my quarter into the machine and waited for the instructions to tell me what to do. And while I waited the machine beeped. And then it said, “Game Over”.

I never played again. I don’t like feeling stupid.

At 20, I’m in college trying to fit in, trying to be someone else. I am trying so hard not to be the guy who can’t even figure out Asteroids. I don’t know how people behave. I am keenly aware that I look at the world differently and I loathe myself. I study what other people do and try to imitate them. I don’t know how to matter to anyone, and in my quest to matter to anyone, I lose the friends who care about me. The game was over before I even started.

But there is always another change. So move. Get another job. Pay some more bills. Try to get to a point where I am not paycheck to paycheck and I might even get a few dollars put aside.

But there are only so many hours in the day, and so many of them are working, working, working. And there are bills. And they pile up. And you have to put food on the table. And there are diapers. I’ll get to writing after just one more. Pay off one more loan. Work one more job.

If I could accomplish something, maybe I could get my father to pay attention and see me. If I could just do more maybe my life would matter. Maybe I could leave a legacy behind…

I think about it from time to time. But there are 12 hour work days. One right after another. Horrible pay. No advance. Year after year. Putting food on the table. Paying bills. Just one more, and then I can start my life’s work, my life goal.

Maybe then I won’t end in a mass grave where no one knows my name…

Do more. Work harder…and finally, you hit middle age and then come the chronic illnesses.

For many, many years now my wife and I have had one life-threatening, rare illness right after another. Some have no cure. Some involve surgeries. Some we just live with. Constant pain. Dislocations. Heart trouble. Ruptured colons. Ehlers Danlos. Complex Regional Pain Syndrome.

Maybe I can get something accomplished when the next round is finished. But there seems to always be just one more…

And then you hit fifty five and the machine starts to beep at you. The day when the neon flashes “Game over” is far closer than it used to be. And I still haven’t written that book. I still haven’t done anything that really matters. I still haven’t finished that Sonata. Wrote that music. Accomplished anything, really. I’ll get to it someday.

And then the exile. Quarantine. Outcast, unclean. Locked away.

I say to myself, “This is my life’s goal! I now have plenty of time and nowhere to go!”

But my wife is so sick she can’t get out of bed. My daughter needs full-time care. The dishes need done. The laundry is piling up. Just one more…

“What do I write about, Maggie?”

“I don’t know anything. I don’t get those words…but look, the tree is starting to get yellow…”

And I look, and sure enough the broom bush is starting to blossom.

And the jasmine is breaking open its perfumed buds into tiny white flowers; and the roses are in bud; and birds are singing.

And I think about it….

I put some tomato plants into the ground, and I think about it.

I trim some bushes and I think about it. I pick some mint and make a mojito and I think about it.

This evening I zoomed with my grandson in Colorado. He laughed at my ostrich puppet and called me “Grandpa”. I thought about that too.

And I thought that maybe I have been looking at this whole thing all wrong.

Maybe I’m not just sitting by the asteroid machine waiting for it to start. Maybe I’ve been knocking them all back one after another my whole life. Or maybe life isn’t a video game without instructions after all and the smartest thing I ever did was just walk away from that stupid game and went outside. I just wish I could have embraced that about myself a lot earlier.

Instead of life being about how much we accomplish, maybe we should just learn how to rest. Maybe that is what it is about. It isn’t about putting away more money in the bank, or leaving a legacy, or making your life matter, or getting a high score – because in the long run, none of those things will make me matter at all.

Maybe it is finally realizing that I DO matter, because Christ died for me and has restored me to his image and not a hair can fall from my head without my heavenly father…

And maybe I’ve been so busy trying to win some imaginary game, hoping that some imaginary person might recognize my worth that I forgot how to just live.

Youthful habits are hard to break, though. But I am going to try.

I’m going to try to just sit and listen to the birds. I’m going to see the jasmine and watch the roses open.

And most of all, I’m going to love my wife, continue to perfect Lebanese Hashweh and maybe just play the piano because I enjoy it, and not because I have anything to prove.

And I pray above all else that my heavenly father will forgive me for all the time I have wasted trying to prove something that didn’t need proving. And instead, I need him to teach me how to just stop and rest and finally know what it means to be accepted in the Beloved – to listen to the music. To quit talking. Quit overthinking everything. And just walk through the woods. Listen to that bullfrog outside. Smell the jasmine. Watch TV with my wife and daughter and praise God that I have them to walk through this valley with.

Sometimes I forget what a tremendous blessing it is to have a wife. And not only that, but a wife with whom I am never alone. 25 years of marriage, and I have not had one day alone, even when she is ill. Not everyone can say that, and that, it seems to me, is far greater than any earthly blessing. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

So I gave my daughter a hug. Now I know what to write. I’ll get to it in a minute. After one more dish….

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Filed under Abuse, Coronavirus, Hope, Trust

Here comes the sun

  2 But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.(Malachi 4:2)

This earth seems very dark indeed at times. The power and the ugliness of sin corrupts and rots the heart.

The oppression of the strong against the weak – the relentless assaults of the world, the flesh and the devil…

And the despair…does anyone care? Is anyone listening? Will this pain every end?

Will I ever get well? Will my friend talk to me again? Am I as ugly, unwanted and shameful as I so often feel in my heart?

Some wounds don’t ever seem to heal. Words are thrown about that cut to the heart. Parents let their kids know that they are unwanted, ugly, unclean. Spouses telling the ones they once vowed to love that they hate them. “You’re so stupid. You are worthless. If I threw you out, no one would have you…”

But we were created in honor. A little lower than the angels, crowned with glory! We were given dominion and the wonderful blessing of fruitfulness and life and love and unity: Be fruitful and multiply!

Sexuality was God’s way of delight and joy and spreading his kingdom throughout the world.

And how ugly it became! Instead of joy, now there is shame and guilt and pain. Heartache and loneliness. Anger, oppression.

It is an ugly, dark world and it so very often seems like the darkness will never end.

But Malachi describes the coming gospel – the Sun of Righteousness will arise with healing.

Here comes the sun, and I say it’s alright. With apologies to the Beetles.

Malachi was going for true light though, not wishful thinking. He wasn’t thinking of dreams of air, but the gospel of Christ. He had in mind the word of God made flesh and pouring out his life as an offering for sin.

All of your sin and guilt and shame was nailed to the cross, and instead of the curse you are restored to glory and honor in him. Here comes the sun!

And when the gospel is proclaimed and believed, it is as if the clouds have broken open, the first glimpse of the glorious day is seen from afar and we know…

We KNOW…

Here comes the sun. The Sun of righteousness is coming, and healing is coming with him. We know that because we have already glimpsed it. There is already hope there; we see the beginnings of a new life; a new way of thinking. So we can endure the remainder of the night, for the Sun is coming!

So let’s quit walking in darkness. Let’s quit walking as dead men who have no light, stumbling over the obstacles as blind men.

Awake, you who sleep, and Christ will give you light.

Healing is coming, dear ones! The broken heart will heal. The body will heal. The words that tore your soul will heal. Your tears will be wiped away. The scars will be wiped away. The soul will be restored, new and whole and light as air, freed from the muck and mire of sin and shame, filled with goodness and righteousness and truth.

And the filth that festers and grows in darkness will be flushed away when the Sun arises.

And we will walk again. We will rise up with new wings as eagles, filled with the Spirit of Christ, pure again with beauty and glory and honor!

Take heart, dear ones. Here comes the Sun!

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Filed under Gospel, Hope, Light