Posts Tagged ‘death’

2 Samuel 15:13-37 (Part 2 of 3)
David Escapes from Jerusalem

Over the weekend, my senior pastor (and my boss) lost his father to death. Although his dad’s death has been anticipated for a while now, it does not take away the shock of the finality of death. I can feel for Pastor Tim and his family. My wife can too. My mom passed away in November 2010 and Elena’s dad passed in March of this year. In each of these cases, death came almost as a relief. Each was ready to go meet Jesus and was just waiting around and suffering til the time came in God’s providence.

My mom passed away in November 2010 at the fairly young age of 70. Although the last six months of my mom’s life was like watching some other person occupy my mother’s body. Her mind had degenerated into dementia and she was not the mother that I had once known. She had become paranoid and delusional because of the dementia. She was in excruciating pain from her back (where she had surgery on various parts of her spine 4 times in the final 6 years of her life). Crippling arthritis made even the smallest move of her body difficult. It was difficult to watch my mother suffer both in mind and in body. It ripped holes in my heart watching her suffer particularly those last 6 months of her life. We had been anticipating her death those last six months. However, it was that last 6 days where she was at death’s door. We were ready for it. The Sunday before she died on Thursday we waited at the hospital ICU for her to pass on, but she fought it. She was a feisty woman all her life so she wasn’t going to die without a fight. Finally, the day came. Not long after I got to work on that Thursday, I believe it was, my dad gave me a call and told me that I needed to get to the nursing home as quick as I could. The hospice nurse had told him that the end was within hours.

I was able to get to the nursing home in the little town of Starr, SC (the town where my dad was pastoring a small United Methodist church on a part-time basis at that time) pretty quickly. It was the middle of the morning and the drive down from the Greenville area was pretty smooth as rush hour was over. When I got there mom was breathing heavily in labored breaths and was totally incoherent. Her body was simply functioning. Her mind had already checked out. It was just her soul still making things happen in her body. She did not respond to any stimuli. As the remainder of the morning progressed, the breathing was not as labored but the breaths were beginning to be further and further apart. I finally was able to muster the energy to hug my mom and whisper in her ear that it was OK to let go and go be with Jesus and to see her mom and dad and brother. And within the half hour after that, she just…just stopped breathing. And that was it. No grand cataclysmic event. She was there one second and then she was gone. It was a peaceful passing. She just stopped breathing and it was finished.

I am getting a little choked up as I write this because even though it has been almost 8 years now since my mother’s passing, I can get choked up by thinking about her if I let myself think on it long enough. I miss my mom. I really do. I miss dreading having to answer the phone because I knew I would be stuck on the phone for 30-45 minutes. I miss her being all up in my business. I miss her unique Carolyn Bowling way of loving me. Since she has been gone, I have come to realize that mom was the glue that held us together (my dad, my brother and me). Family get-togethers do not seem quite as special now. My mom made our family time seem special. I miss that. I miss her.

But the thing that always keep coming back to is that I know my mom was a believer in Jesus Christ. I know that she is now in heaven. I know that she has been spending almost 8 years, by how we reckon time on this side of eternity, praising her Savior all the day long. She is fully healthy now in heaven. She is no longer ravaged by dementia. She is no longer in severe back pain. She is experiencing joy immeasurable.

That’s the believer’s promise. That is what we have in store for us in heaven when we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior and have spent the rest of our lives making Him our Lord. No matter how tough things get. No matter how deep the valley. No matter the physical pain. No matter the troubling circumstances that we must go through in our lives, we will emerge on the other side on top of the mountain in heaven in victory for eternity. Eternity in heaven experiencing perfect joy and praising the Savior. That is how we as believers emerge from the valleys of this life is in the hope that we will one day be in heaven. Things may seem dark now on this side of heaven. You may be going through a valley that never seems to end but heaven is our reward.

That was the thing that I thought of today when I read this passage for the second time of three readings that I have planned for this passage, 2 Samuel 15:13-37. Let’s read the passage now:

13 A messenger soon arrived in Jerusalem to tell David, “All Israel has joined Absalom in a conspiracy against you!”

14 “Then we must flee at once, or it will be too late!” David urged his men. “Hurry! If we get out of the city before Absalom arrives, both we and the city of Jerusalem will be spared from disaster.”

15 “We are with you,” his advisers replied. “Do what you think is best.”

16 So the king and all his household set out at once. He left no one behind except ten of his concubines to look after the palace. 17 The king and all his people set out on foot, pausing at the last house 18 to let all the king’s men move past to lead the way. There were 600 men from Gath who had come with David, along with the king’s bodyguard.[a]

19 Then the king turned and said to Ittai, a leader of the men from Gath, “Why are you coming with us? Go on back to King Absalom, for you are a guest in Israel, a foreigner in exile. 20 You arrived only recently, and should I force you today to wander with us? I don’t even know where we will go. Go on back and take your kinsmen with you, and may the Lord show you his unfailing love and faithfulness.[b]”

21 But Ittai said to the king, “I vow by the Lord and by your own life that I will go wherever my lord the king goes, no matter what happens—whether it means life or death.”

22 David replied, “All right, come with us.” So Ittai and all his men and their families went along.

23 Everyone cried loudly as the king and his followers passed by. They crossed the Kidron Valley and then went out toward the wilderness.

24 Zadok and all the Levites also came along, carrying the Ark of the Covenant of God. They set down the Ark of God, and Abiathar offered sacrifices[c] until everyone had passed out of the city.

25 Then the king instructed Zadok to take the Ark of God back into the city. “If the Lord sees fit,” David said, “he will bring me back to see the Ark and the Tabernacle[d] again. 26 But if he is through with me, then let him do what seems best to him.”

27 The king also told Zadok the priest, “Look,[e] here is my plan. You and Abiathar[f] should return quietly to the city with your son Ahimaaz and Abiathar’s son Jonathan. 28 I will stop at the shallows of the Jordan River[g] and wait there for a report from you.” 29 So Zadok and Abiathar took the Ark of God back to the city and stayed there.

30 David walked up the road to the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went. His head was covered and his feet were bare as a sign of mourning. And the people who were with him covered their heads and wept as they climbed the hill. 31 When someone told David that his adviser Ahithophel was now backing Absalom, David prayed, “O Lord, let Ahithophel give Absalom foolish advice!”

32 When David reached the summit of the Mount of Olives where people worshiped God, Hushai the Arkite was waiting there for him. Hushai had torn his clothing and put dirt on his head as a sign of mourning. 33 But David told him, “If you go with me, you will only be a burden. 34 Return to Jerusalem and tell Absalom, ‘I will now be your adviser, O king, just as I was your father’s adviser in the past.’ Then you can frustrate and counter Ahithophel’s advice. 35 Zadok and Abiathar, the priests, will be there. Tell them about the plans being made in the king’s palace, 36 and they will send their sons Ahimaaz and Jonathan to tell me what is going on.”

37 So David’s friend Hushai returned to Jerusalem, getting there just as Absalom arrived.

In this passage, we see that the Kidron Valley is mentioned for the first time in the Scriptures. The Kidron Valley runs below the southeast wall of Jerusalem, separating the city from The Mount of Olives to the east. It then turns southeast from Jerusalem and follows a winding course to the Dead Sea. The Kidron Valley is nearly always dry but does have a waterflow during rainy season. Here, we see the first reference to the valley when David and his people crossed through the valley over toward the wilderness. This strategic move would give them a way of escape if the forces of the rebel army of Absalom decided to attack the city. The people and the king wept bitterly during the move because it had such a depressing significance – they were abandoning the city without a fight.

Later Shimei was forbidden by Solomon to cross the valley on the penalty of death if Shimei did so (1 Kings 2:36-38). Josephus, the Jewish historian, mentions the wicked queen Athaliah was put to death in the Kidron Valley (see “Antiquities” 9.7.3). Jesus crossed the Kidron Valley on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane just prior to his crucifixion (John 18:1). Because of David’s sad crossing and Jesus’ sad crossing, the valley has come to symbolize suffering. We may have our own “Kidron Valley” to pass through; stay true to God, and he will stray true to you throughout your sufferings.

Each of us has hope in Jesus Christ. Once we accept Christ as our Savior and begin to grow in making Him the Lord of our lives, we have our eyes opened to one immutable reality. No matter how deep the valley or how severe the trouble, we have hope in a God that promises us deliverance. It may not always be on this side of eternity. Someone once said that “what’s the worst that could happen? I die and go to heaven? I can live with that!” Our ultimate prize is heaven as believers. That gives us comfort even in the toughest times. That gives us comfort when a loved one who was also a believer dies. We may miss them terribly but we know where they are. They have emerged from this valley called life into their victory on the mountaintop on the other side. Jesus gave us this hope through His resurrection. Death could not hold him. He arose from the dead to prove to us that He was our Messiah, Savior and Lord. He arose from the dead to show us that we have hope in everything that the Bible tells us. Jesus had His Kidron Valley moment but He emerged victorious in the resurrection.

So whatever you are going through including the loss of a loved one, take heart. Celebrate that there is a reward for being faithful to God even in the valleys of life. We have all eternity to celebrate with our Savior in heaven.

Amen and Amen.

Matthew 14:13
Jesus Withdraws To Solitary Place

Have you ever got bad news that someone has died suddenly? It’s a gut punch when someone you know who was alive and vibrant one minute and then the next thing that you hear is that they are dead. You are stunned and sometimes you just have to be alone with your grief. When you get shocking news of death, it can knock you for a loop. I experienced such a thing twice in my life.

On June 28, 1980, two weeks before, I got married the first time to my high school sweetheart and first wife, Lisa, her brother, Lex, was killed in a single car accident while on his way home from the nightclub where he was a part-time DJ back in those days. He was home on Christmas break from Clemson University. He was a radio DJ on weekends and spun records at nightclubs as well. While on Christmas break, he was working at WQOK and at O’Sullivans as much as possible. While on his way home, he fell asleep at the wheel and ran off the road and flipped over several times in a field and died at the scene. Gut punch to his sister and the whole family. Life changed for Lisa that day and it consumed her. She drifted into a life of defeatism and medications from which she never really recovered. Although she had periods where she would function fine in the world, she was never really the same. The Lisa that I knew from dating died with her brother that day. She never was the same. She medicated her way through life, to the point that she quit working in her early 30s and died at the relatively young age of 54, one month shy of her 55th birthday. Her body was just wore out from the strain of grief, medications, and self-imposed exile. Death can consume you and defeat you. Since it was not my brother who was killed suddenly, I cannot condemn Lisa for her way of dealing with Lex’s death, I can observe how she let it defeat her and let it consume her. Life was viewed from a point of view of being defeated by a severe blow. Sure, we grieve and we should. No one should tell us that we should not grieve. Death of family member suddenly does change us. We will never be the same nor should we be. If we love, we risk pain. We are left behind. However, the shame lies in that Lisa had the potential to be whatever she wanted and could have been this amazingly talented nurse but she let her brother’s death and other factors in life defeat her and she permanently withdrew from the flow of life. Certainly, Lisa had more than her share of death and pain in life. Her father was killed in a car accident when she was three years old back in 1963. In that same car accident, her mother was left partially paralyzed and could only walk with the assistance of others. She raised Lex and Lisa from a wheelchair. Life dealt Lisa a raw deal. No doubt about it. And in the end, she let the raw deal defeat her.

The second time I experienced this news of sudden death was when I was married to my second wife. My stepson, Trey, was killed in a car accident on February 25, 2002. Even then, at the accident scene, although injured, he was still conscious and we held to the belief that he was going to be OK. While in the ambulance though (his mom in there with him), he started to drift in and out of consciousness and began to complain of severe pain in his stomach area. The medics recognized that something was wrong and began working on him in the ambulance. When they arrived at the emergency room at Greenville Memorial Hospital, they whisked him away to the operating rooms immediately. He was in surgery for what seemed like forever. Periodically, someone from the OR staff would come out and tell us that there problems with internal bleeding that they were working through. He was in surgery long enough for his stepsisters and brothers to get there and many members of the extended family that lived in Greenville and Spartanburg. Never though did we imagine that the doctor would call Trena, the kids and I into a separate meeting room and tell us that the invincible sixteen year old, Trey, was dead. It was gut punch that changed the course of life for us all, especially for his mother. Although Trena was permanent and irrevocably changed by the death of her son, she did carry on. I have lost touch with her after our divorce was final and since all the kids and stepkids are now grown and we never conceived any children together. I last spoke to her on the day of our final hearing which was in November 2004 so I am not clear as to how she has handled life these last 11 years but I do know that she got back to work, got back into the world and carried on in whatever changed form that might be following the death of her son.

I am not condemning Lisa and exalting Trena here. Surely, if anyone had an excuse to take the road of death overwhelming and occupying us, Lisa was the poster child. Surely, I do not know how Trena has handled Trey’s death since we split in 2004. However, I simply look back at what I observed. They did deal with death differently during the time I observed. I am not claiming that one handled better than another and most definitely do not claim to have any knowledge of the relationship that either one had or has with Jesus Christ.

Why do I bring up these ex-wives at all? They are examples of how we humans process death of a loved one. It is also to transition into today’s very short passage for review today. It is one verse, but yet it so packed with power that there is a whole blog in this one verse. It is to show us Jesus knows this experience (the loss of a loved one) and his reaction to it is what we can learn from. Let’s read of Jesus and his reaction to sudden death of a loved one in Matthew 14:13.

13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns.

There is some debate as to how closely related Jesus and John were. Many believe that Jesus and John were second cousins based on Luke saying that Mary and Elizabeth were cousins when describing the relationship between the two women. So, without definitive evidence otherwise, we will go with the fact that Jesus and John were second cousins. So, they were related. As well, Jesus and John ministries intersected as well so there was a professional relationship as well. We know from Scripture that these guys knew each other well. John knew that his cousin was the Son of God and knew it to the point that when Jesus asked John to baptize Him, John balked initially at the idea. Jesus earlier in this Gospel spoke of the greatest of John the Baptist. Could you imagine being at their extended family get-togethers? John and Jesus hanging out in the corner talking shop about their respective ministries. I don’t that such things happened but just imagine! Since Mary and Martha were so close because of their mutual understanding of the significance of the children that they gave birth to, it would be safe to assume and a good bet that Jesus and John probably saw a good bit of each other growing up. So, these two knew each other well. They knew each other’s divine and scripturally foretold missions. There had to be great love and respect for one another from their family connection and from their divine respect for each other’s place in God’s plan. Although Jesus knew, as God in the flesh, what was going to happen to John, it does not take away his human reaction to the death of dear, dear friend and family relation. From a human point of view, as Jesus was as fully human as he was fully divine, the death of John was a gut-punch. He knew it was coming from his omnipotence but it doesn’t lessen the human emotional impact of it. A dear friend, a family relation, it probably hit Jesus pretty hard. He had to get away from the crowd. He couldn’t handle the overwhelming emotions that He must have been feeling. He just wanted to be alone with his Abba Father. He withdrew from his mission for a moment. He needed time to grieve privately. Although I am sure that Jesus knew better than anyone that John was eternally safe in the arms of the Father in heaven, but in His humanness, He was going to miss His fellow cousin and preacher, John. We can sometimes tell ourselves that our loved one is in a better place but it does not take away the pain of them not being physically present in our lives anymore. Jesus I am sure felt that same pain. Add to it the fact that John was taken way too young through a sudden death and not by old age, Jesus had to be filled with shock and grief. He need to pray and commune with His Heavenly Father. He had a range of emotions that He had to process through with His Father.

Here we see that Jesus did grieve over the death of a loved one and a dear, dear friend. Jesus grieved. We know that He wept over death from the Lazarus story. Jesus grieved and Jesus wept over the loss of loved ones. Although not stated here, we are safe to assume that in His humanness that He probably wept over John when he got away from the crowd. He probably had emotions of humanness that He was having difficulty processing and He had to get away. From this, we know that Jesus understands our grief when in this fallen world, loved ones are taken from us far too soon. In His humanness, He could not process that this was part of God’s plan. He knew that it was but in His humanness, it was emotionally difficult to process. John died horribly. At the whim of a teenage girl at the request of her politically driven and jealous mother, John was beheaded. That had to hurt and even anger Jesus. From this episode, we knew that Jesus knows grief. He experienced it. He lived it. So, let no one tell you that you cannot grieve over the death of a loved one. It is a natural human response. We love. We grow attached to the people in our lives. When we love, we risk pain. Pain happens when we have those relationships severed through the loss of the relationship or when people die. Jesus knows this pain and He wants us to come to Him with our confusion and anger and all those wild emotions that overtake us in grief. He knows those emotions. He has felt them. He experienced life as we experience it and He wants us to know that He can not only sympathize with our feeling, He can empathize with them. He has been there and done that. He wants your anger to be expressed to Him. Tell Him that you are angry at Him. He can handled it. He knows why you are angry when someone dies. He has had the same range of emotion. We see it here in this one verse. He wants to come to Him when you feel like your control over life is gone. He wants you to seek Him in this dark hour where nothing seems to make sense anymore. He wants you to cry out to Him at this time when it seems that you do not know what to do and what to do next. He wants your raw emotions and feelings of helplessness. It is now that we learn that we do not control our lives and it is now that we see that life is limited. It is now that we see that we do not control the world around us and we feel helpless. It is now that we need Jesus the most. It is now that we must rely on Him to get us through each day or we can let death consume us.

I love the reality of this passage, because it has so much to teach us as well. In the same sentence, we see Jesus withdraw to be alone with His Father, but the world crashes in. The crowds follow. Jesus had to get away but the crowds follow. Life crashes in during his time of solitude. I like the way that Justin Deeter says it, “Put yourself in Jesus’ shoes for a second. How would you respond to seeing the crowd on the shore? You might think, ‘Really God, ministry now, I just want to be alone!’ You might even hate these people, wishing they would just all go away.” No matter how much we want to withdraw, life marches on. For Jesus, ministry needs continued. For us, life goes on. We still have bills to pay. We still have kids to raise. We still have job and/or home responsibilities that continue. We must process grief on the fly. We must process grief. Yes, we all need time to grieve particularly in the immediate aftermath of a sudden death. Jesus did too. The emotions are overwhelmingly intense in the immediate aftermath. The emotions are so raw and so overwhelming that we cannot even think of handling even the most mundane routines of life. We need the time of grief. We need that time to wrestle with emotions and feelings of helplessness. We need to cry out to God. We need to real enough to admit that we are angry with God. We need time to realize that we are overcome with emotion and that we are helpless to move forward. It is in these times, we can come to realize that we need God more than ever. We come to realize that we are not in control and that we are not made to understand everything under the sun. We are changed by the death of a loved one. We will never be the same and should not expect ourselves to be. Death in our midst changes who we are and how we view life. It is right to grieve. It is right to cry. It is right to be changed. It is right to have loved someone so much that we feel pain at their passing. It is right to have difficulty trying to reconcile our pre-loss of a loved one person with the post-loss of a loved one person. Our friends most surely just need to be there for us and let us process in their presence. We need their comfort and presence more than we need for them to tell us how to process our emotions. So, don’t get me wrong in this blog, it is alright and perfectly normal to grieve and carry that grief with you for the rest of your life.

However, what is not right is to let the death of a loved one effectively kill two people. We can let death conquer us or we can go on living. Jesus could have said “Sorry, folks, I cannot deal with you guys. Go away.” Jesus doesn’t respond in that way. Jesus sees the crowd and he has compassion on them and he immediately got to work healing their sick. Although Jesus grieves the loss of his dear friend, his grief empowers him for ministry. In the midst of his emotional pain, Jesus turned outward instead of inward. Rather than turning in on himself and thinking “woe is me”, he turns outward to serve and to love the crowds. If we give in to death, let it overwhelm us permanently, let it become an excuse for not continuing on to live the life that God has given us, Satan has won. We live in a fallen world where death is part of life. Sudden, gut-wrenching death is often part of life. We have a choice to let Satan win or to let death of a loved one become part of our ministry to the world. We can let it rule us or we can make it part of the changed person we are post-death of a loved one. We can withdraw from the world and show the world that it is a hopeless place or we can take one step at a time in recovery from death and show the world that death does not define us and that it can be conquered through complete and utter dependence on Jesus Christ. He knows our pain. We must cast our cares on Him because He knows what we are going through. Jesus carried on with life, even though I know in His humanness that he probably felt the pain of John the Baptist’s sudden death with Him the rest of His earthly life. Jesus carried on with His ministry. Jesus teaches us that we can use our use our grief for ministry. We must be so very careful that in our mourning we don’t turn our sorrow in to self-pity and self-loathing. We can become self-ish, self-centered, in our grieving. One of the dangers of life is always seeing life through how it affect us only. By nature, we are selfish creatures and we can be self-ish in death as well. We can make the world about how it has dealt us a raw deal. We can make the world about how people do not understand me because I have lost someone close to me. We can make life about people making exceptions for us because we lost someone. We can make life about excusing our behavior because we lost someone. Death of a loved one can make us give in to our own selfishness and even deepen it to a point that we lose everyone in our lives because we can only see ourselves. Satan smiles. Death claiming more than one victim!
We have a choice. We can let ourselves be consumed by death or we can use it to power on in life in complete and total dependence on God. We can use our own pain to either destroy ourselves or to help others. Our sorrow can empower us to love and serve others who suffer. We can identify with them and minister to them. We can be examples of the power of the cross to move on. All that hurt, all those emotions you feel, take them and use them to show compassion on people who desperately need the love of Jesus. In your brokenness, God is able to use you to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others. In your desperation, your dependence on Jesus serves as a powerful testimony to this lost and dying world. It is ok to grieve. It is ok to cry. It is good to mourn for lost loved ones, but may our emotions turn outwards to radical, Gospel driven, compassion rather than self-centered, self-destruction. We can choose to let Jesus’ resurrection be an example of conquering death or we can let Satan win and go to the grave with the ones we love and stay there.

Jesus shows that that we can and must grieve the ones we have loved and have lost. It is right and natural for the death of a loved one to change us and make us different from who we were before. Our grief is evidence that we have loved hard and deep. We must mourn. It is natural to mourn. It is natural for sudden death to blow us away and change us. It is part of life. We all have lost a dear friend suddenly. We all have lost a family member suddenly. And if you haven’t yet, it is a certainty that you will experience the pain of death of a loved one in some way or another during your lifetime. That’s what makes this passage so practical, so powerful, so real. Jesus mourned. Jesus needed time. Jesus needed time to grieve. Yet, even though he carried His grief over John the rest of His life because he was equally human as He was divine, He did not let the sudden death of John end His life and His ministry. He is our example. We must carry on. We are left behind for a reason. We have opportunities to minister as a result of our pain and through our pain. We can turn our grief into ministry. We can minister to others that you can survive this. We can minister to others that we will never be the same and should not expect to be. We can minister to others that life can give us a raw deal but in Christ we can carry on as we deal with grief. We can minister to others that the only way we get through these things is to hold the hand of the Man that understands, Jesus Christ.

Pointing people to Jesus Christ is what Christ followers are to do in this life, even in things that we do not understand in this life, like the sudden death of a loved one. Pointing people to Jesus through our pain. Using our past as our ministry, that’s what we do. Amen and Amen.

Luke 11:37-54 — Jesus be gettin’ serious up in here. Tellin’ like it is. Gettin’ real with the Pharisees.

Have you ever met people that are so concerned with appearances. There’s our mothers who seem obsessed with clean underwear when you have a wreck. LOL. But seriously, why is it that, especially a lot of people who claim to be Christians are obsessed with appearances.

It is funny how God has perfect timing. It is ironic that I read this passage on this day. I recently (as in this week—and it’s only Tuesday) had friend get rebuked by her church friends (at a different church from the one I attend) because she shared a picture from her past on her Facebook page, from her pre-redemption days, from her previous party lifestyle. The purpose of her sharing it, according to her caption to the picture, was to demonstrate that God redeems us from the pit of our own self-destructive paths. He can redeem even the biggest partier, the biggest sinner. Maybe, yes, should have thought a little more about her Facebook audience before she posted her picture, but her point is a valid one. We all have our pre-redemption stories. It is these paths that lead us to our knees before Christ and beg Him to come into our lives and redeem us from the pit.

For church members not to see the beauty of her redemption story is to be a Pharisee, the very people that Jesus is rebuking in our passage. For these church members to condemn someone for having a past is simply unfathomable to me. Jesus criticized the Pharisees harshly. They washed themselves outwardly (gave all the right appearances). They gave of their income but they participated in injustice. They loved praise and attention, but they loaded the Jewish people down burdensome religious demands. They would not accept the truth about Jesus, though He was the Messiah. He was a threat to their power so they prevented others from seeing the truth. They were concerned about outward appearances but not the inner condition of the heart. People do the same when their service to the church comes from a desire to be seen rather than from a heart overflowing from the joy of salvation and from a simple love for the Lord that leads us to love on others.

It is like when the people dig up dirt on people running for president for something that they did thirty years ago. Wow. It just seems insane. To condemn a person for the lifestyle they led before they met Jesus just boggles my mind. God love us when we were yet sinners. There is no one righteous not even one. We continue to commit sins daily and are not perfect until we are joined with Jesus in heaven after our life’s journey is complete. At this friend’s church, I would ask this questions. Who among you is without sin? Who among you does not have a past that you are glad to be free from? Are you not glad to have this lady that has come into your church and energized its youth program? Are you not energized by her story of redemption? Her story is the story we should be sharing with the world not condemning her. She is redeemed from the life she used to lead. Her testimony is filled with how Jesus redeemed her from the destructive path that she was leading. We should celebrate this Jesus victory. Let us make our churches what they are supposed to be – spiritual hospitals. Let us make our churches welcoming to those who are sinners. It is here that where they are supposed to get healed. We are to welcome the saints to our door and we are to especially welcome the harlot, the murderer, the liar, the adulterer, the thief and the whole host of sinners to our doors.

White washed sepulchres, all beautiful and white on the inside and nothing but dried up bones and death on the inside. That is what Jesus said of the Pharisees. Is that what Jesus would say of us today when we condemn people for not having been perfect from birth, for having a past. Is that what Jesus would say if we are more concerned about someone’s past than we are about her present and her future in Christ. Why aren’t we celebrating the victory of Jesus over the past. No wonder so many churches have so few people in them. Churches should be out in the street witnessing to the redemptive power of Jesus in their own lives so that others will see that nothing is so horrible that Jesus cannot redeem it. Then, our churches will not be empty. Churches should be places of redemption rather than places of judgment.

Jesus cares more about the condition of our heart than anything else. How is your heart? Are you more concerned with appearances and keeping rules than really getting to know Jesus? Jesus wants you to confess all before Him, make Him the Lord over your life and He will make you pure and clean. Jesus help me to see my own sins and confess them. Give me a heart of thanksgiving for my salvation such that I can serve you out of my desperate love for you for having redeemed me and made me a new person. Father, Father, I love you so much for making into a new creation! Help me to celebrate the thankful celebrations of others who have been redeemed as well. It is the beggar who is truly thankful for his food. Amen.

Luke 6:20-23 — What is the most shocking loss you have experienced? I think for me the most recent shocking loss was the death of my stepson, Trey, 12 years ago. I saw him at 6pm that night. Two hours later, he was in a car accident that eventually within two more hours took his life. Life. Death. Within hours. A teenager gone in a split second. We weep over such things. We do not understand such things. How can this be blessed? We weep. We shake our fist at God. Trey’s death changed our lives, exposed sores in a marriage that eventually destroyed it. The trajectories of lives forever altered. Weeping. Loss. Change. Loss. Tears. Loss. How can this be blessed?

In the second half of v. 21, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who weep now, for you shall laugh.” This beatitude just flies into the face of everything that we know in our humanness. To us, weeping is a bad thing. How can this be a blessed state of being? When we think of weeping, it is usually thought of in the context of a major loss, particularly death, especially the death of a loved one. It is defined in the dictionaries as “to feel or express sorrow or grief over (misfortune, loss, or anything regretted); deplore”. However, Jesus always looks at life differently and in a more eternal way that we do. Jesus says basically here that mourning means something good in the end. It means that comfort will be given by our Father. Why does Jesus say this?

Let’s look at this. I think what Jesus is saying to us here are several things. Weeping in the sense of this text cannot be limited to simply grief surrounding death of an important person in our life. It is meant, I think, to include all forms of grief, Inherent in mourning is that we have lost something that we cared about. What is the biggest thing that hits us hard when we grieve the loss of a loved one? It is the realization that we do not have any true control over the course of our lives. Grief is more than losing a loved one. It is the hopelessness of not having control. For most of us, mourning is the result of realizing that we do not control our own destiny. Trey’s life was taken in a instant. When we are young we think we are invincible. As we grow older, we don’t think that we are invincible but we do still think that we have our world under control. While we mourn we also see that life has a way of continuing to work its pattern regardless of what we do.

There was an old song by the Byrds back in the 60’s that still occasionally gets air play today on light rock stations. Part of the lyrics are “to everything, turn, turn, turn. There is a season, turn, turn, turn.
And a time to every purpose under heaven.” The song has almost a fatalistic tone to it, in that there inevitability in everything and that we don not control anything. That concept seems depressing to us as those who believe in the American Dream. We control our own destiny, right? However, there are things in life that happen that make us realize we are not the masters of the universe. We are not even the masters of our own situations. We see this often in the expression of grief over the death of a loved one. In coming to that realization, there can be an inevitable descent into hopelessness.

This is true in mourning caused by other factors in life not just death of a loved one. We often mourn over

• loss of a marriage,
• loss of a job,
• loss of money,
• loss of a home,
• loss of a friendship,
• loss of anything in our humanness that we cling to as important in our lives.

We all handle this hopelessness in different ways:

• Some may completely ignore it. They try to escape it by replacing it with worldly pleasures.
• Some try to escape it by means of alcohol or drugs, when they cannot bear the pain, they just run away from it.
• And there are few, who turn to God for finding solace, comfort in their time of suffering and pain.

Yes, it is a harsh way to come to God – through loss. However, once we realize that we do not control our lives like we think we do – then we are open to God. We are broken. We cannot We then reach out to something greater than ourselves. Like crawling in our daddy’s lap when we hurt ourselves and there we find comfort and feel oh so loved and secure. In that instant, we feel nothing can hurt us or at least that daddy will fix it for us. That is what God wants for us. We often complain about God’s silence in our time of need or suffering. But this beatitude (blessedness) depicts very different picture. God is calling us near, ready to comfort us, all we need to do is to respond to Him. This idea is fully realized in the Words of Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Through mourning, the realization that we are not in control but rather out of control, we can honestly without hesitation in our heart turn to God, our Heavenly daddy and say please fix this, please fix my life. Only then can we turn our life totally over to his control. It is when we are brought to our knees by the events of life that we can finally see God. It is there that we can finally NEED God. All of our pretenses are laid bare. We have tried and failed to run our own lives. We have tried and failed to control our own lives. We have failed. There are also things that happen to us through no fault of our own that knock us to our knees. There are events that knock us to our knees. When we weep. We weep because we do not understand. We weep because events are controlling us. We weep because someone else has dumped their crap on us. We weep. We are broken. We are no longer proud. We are ready to see our Savior. We are ready to give Him control.

Again, as we see here, Jesus turns our conventional wisdom about what is good and what is bad on its ear. Through our weeping, we find God and rid ourselves of the hopeless randomness of this world. In Jesus’ view, we can come out of the other end of weeping as one who is solely dependent on God. And is it not the truth that the joy we find in giving our lives over to God that we can smile and even sometimes laugh at the joy we now know in Jesus Christ. Are you on your knees? Are you broken? Are you weeping? Jesus awaits. He will take your burdens and make them His. He will give you rest. He will give you joy eternal! Amen.

Luke 3:21-22 — Why did Jesus allow Himself to be baptized by John The Baptist? He was sinless wasn’t He after all? There are several reasons. First, it is symbolic of Jesus’ earthly life.

First, it was symbolic of Jesus’ earthly life. Jesus lived an earthly life (symbolic of Him prior to immersion in the water). He lived here among us as a human being. He know the life that we live. We have that in common with Jesus Christ, God in the flesh. As we have discussed here before, Jesus understands the human existence. He lived it. The only difference between Him and us was that He was able to go through this life without sinning. We see in Matthew 4:1-11 that Jesus was tempted by Satan Himself during Jesus’ human existence but never failed, never sinned. However, His lack of sin does not mean that He does not understand our existence. He lived among us. The next step in the baptism process is the immersion in water. This is symbolic of Jesus’ death on earth. Being in the water symbolic of the time from Good Friday at sundown to sunrise on Easter Sunday morning when Jesus was in the tomb. Again, it is a reminder that Jesus experienced death just as we do. Jesus’ death was an excruciating ordeal on the cross. Jesus knew that physical pain that sometimes occurs as we die. He knows of slow agonizing death. He knows of welcoming His last breath. He knows that hour when the body gives up and shuts down and stops working. He knows of that moment when the life force stops. But that is not the end of the story with Jesus nor is it the end of story for us as His followers. The next step in the baptism process is the rising out of the water. It is symbolic of Jesus’ resurrection into new life, and a new body. He arose from the dead just as he arose from the death of the water. There is such beauty in this symbolism.

In another gospel, John The Baptist ask this same question. Jesus said that we must carry out what God requires (Matthew 3:15). The baptism thus was not about a symbolic rejection of sin, because there was no sin in Him. It was about carrying out God’s mission. Jesus was baptized because it is symbolic of Him taking on the sins of his nation and of all people. He was following Nehemiah, Ezra, Moses and Daniel. In His baptism, He again identifies with you and me and any who would believe in Him. He who was without sin was baptised. Again, He shows that He is willingly taking our place though He had no personal need to do so. He shouldered the sins of the world on the cross. He is doing it here as well. The sinless substituting Himself for the sinner. He is identifying Himself with those who are repentant. You will notice He is in the water with the penitent ones not up on the shore with the watching Pharisees. There are some today who stand on the shore and believe that they are righteous in their own right. Jesus does not stand with them. He stands in the mess of the murky water with us, the sinners. Jesus, the perfect man, did not need baptism as the symbolic gesture of rejecting our past life of sin, but He accepted baptism because He, as the Son on earth, was being obedient to the Father. His Father in Heaven was well pleased in the obedience of His Son and what it means to us.

The baptism is also an annoucement. It is announcing to the world that Jesus’ ministry has begun. It is public now. All the preparation is over. There is no turning back from the pre-ordained trajectory of Jesus’ life by the Father. Jesus’ baptism is saying to the Father, I am ready. Let’s do this. Prior to arriving at the Jordan, Jesus had been preparing for His ministry for 30 years. He was learning the human experience. He lived it from birth til now. No one could ever say that Jesus could not possibly understand what it’s like to be human. He did it for 30 years! He did not magically appear. People knew him as one of them. He was a tradesman’s son. He lived the life. He experienced joy, laughter, happiness, pain (physical and emotional). He was a child and knew what that experience was like. He was a teenager and knew what that experience was like. He was a young man learning to make a living in the world. He knew what that was like. He was now ready to end that portion of His existence with all that it allowed Him to experience and move on to the specific purpose for which He was sent. As Rafiki says to Simba, “It is time.” It is now time for the stakes to be raised. The game is on. It is also interesting to note that Jesus’ announcement of the beginning of His ministry begins in humility, on the fringes, in the dirty water, not in the main court of the Temple. He went to the river and identified Himself with those who were actually interested in repenting of their sins. This annoucement is humble. He submits Himself to John just as He submitted to the Father in everything He did. Jesus was so humble and obedient to His Father. He was obedient to the point of death on the cross because that was what God required of Him. It all starts right here.

Right here in this moment of baptism, we see our humble Savior saying to us, “I am with you.” I identify with you. I know what is like to be human. I know and understand it from birth to death. He knows how hard it is for us to not sin and how hard our very existence is. In this moment of baptism, He is telling us that He is taking on our sins – a theme that took him through the remaining three years of His life to the cross. The baptism and the cross are book ends to His willingness to take on the sins of His nation and the sins of the world. He loves us that much. His entire earthly existence was preparation. It was understanding of the human experience. It was all pointing toward taking on our sins. He came to give us an out from the condemnation that we deserve. The baptism was the beginning of the ministry. The crucifixion was the literal sacrifice. The baptism the symbolic one. Through His literal sacrifice on the cross, He did what God required to solve man’s sin problem permanently. But like the end sequence of His baptism ritual, that’s not the end of the story. Jesus came out of the water at His baptism. Jesus came out of the grave after his sacrificial death. He demonstrates to us that through Him we have conquered sin and death. We have promise of eternal life with Him through His resurrection. It all starts right here in the Jordan River. The ministry that changed the world begins here in the murky, muddy waters of the Jordan.

Luke 2:25-35 — Simeon’s Song. Are you ready to die in peace? Have you seen what you need to see? Done what you needed to do? For Simeon, everything had been accomplished. He had seen the Messiah and he now knew that the Messiah was the salvation for all people.

According to the opening of this passage, Simeon was a righteous and devout man who eagerly waited the coming of the Messiah to rescue his people, Israel. When the Messiah Child comes into his presence, he says first, “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace as you have promised.” Simeon was content. He knew that his life was complete. It got me to thinking about whether my life was complete and whether I am ready for death when it comes. Sure, there are selfish reasons to not want to die just yet. I haven’t accomplished everything I want to accomplish in my life. As well, there are those that I love that would be left without me. My wife would be devastated. My daughters would be lost without their daaaaady. These are reasons to not be ready for death. Many of us, even Christ followers, who don’t even like to think of the prospect of death. However, death comes to us all. It is as inevitable as the tax returns that we have to file each year. Are you ready? Am I ready? As Christ followers, we should be like Simeon here. He is contented. He has seen the Lord. Death is welcomed because he had full confidence that he had done everything and seen everything. He was a righteous man. When a person is mentioned as righteous in the Bible, it means that they pursued God daily and lived their life to please Him. Here, he has seen the Messiah and he immediately knew this child to be his salvation. Nothing else need be accomplished in life. He had done what needed doing in this life.

Are you afraid of death? Do you want it delayed as long as possible, even as a Christ follower? I am not suggesting that we go around wishing for death. Each day that God allows us to remain on earth means, as the old Christian saying goes, “He’s not done with me yet!” Our lives should continue until our appointed time. We should pursue righteousness daily as Simeon. We should follow our calling from the Lord. We should share the gospel with a lost world. We should love our families, and friends. We should love our neighbors. We should live life that is pleasing to the Lord. We should live life as God perfects us daily as we progress in our walk with Christ. However, as Christ followers, one thing we should not do is…fear death. We have seen the Messiah. He is that salvation that Simeon says is the salvation of all people. When we got saved, our eyes were opened to the Messiah. We have seen Him. We continue to see Him as we walk this Christian walk. Therefore, we should be like Simeon. We should not fear death. We should welcome it when it comes. We know where we are going. Death holds no sting for us. We get to live in the presence of God for eternity in a perpetual state of praise and joy. We will be praising our Savior daily. We get to move to the best neighborhood EVER! Life on this earth is nothing compared to what awaits us there in heaven. In the meantime, though, God’s not done with us yet. Let it be said of us like Simeon that we are righteous and devout. I don’t want my life’s byline to be anything other than that — for it to be said of me that I was a righteous and devout man. I have a ways to go on that. God’s not done with me yet. One thing is certain though, I know where I am going at death. Mission accomplished. As I mature in Christ, may I become less and less fearful of the end coming and more and more content that I have seen what I have needed to see in this life. I have seen the Messiah and in that I can die contented.

Father, you are the One who sent Jesus to be my salvation, the salvation of all people. Thank you for the love that You have shown us God in sending your Son. Thank you for the assurance that I can never be snatched from your hand when I accept your Son as my Savior. Help me to seek righteousness daily. Help me to do the work now that you need me and have appointed me to do. Help me to know that when the work is done that I am coming home. Help me to understand that death has no longer any sting for me. I will be coming home. I have seen the Messiah and in that I can die contented. Death should not be wished for but welcomed when it comes. Help me to know and believe that daily so that I am ready when it comes. Amen.

Luke 1:57-66 — I had struggled to know what to write about in this passage today because it seemed rather ordinary. It seems to just be a transition piece, filler if you will. It reminds me though that sometimes we have become so accustomed to the ordinary things in life that we fail to see God in the details. Here, if we take a closer look, we find God at work in this passage.

God is at work in the simple fact that Elizabeth gave birth when it was time. As far as childbirth is concerned, it is typically a game for the young. Elizabeth may have not been elderly but she was advanced in years for having babies. The fact that she even got pregnant was a simple miracle of God. That she gave birth without dying is another. In this era of time, even the healthiest of young females were in danger of dying during childbirth because of loss of blood. Add to that, Mary’s age increased the risk. Even today there is risk in childbirth. It is a miracle of God that happens every day that we take for granted. Sometimes, things that happen regularly we do not see as miracles. Even conception itself is a miracle. A life from joining of microscopic cells of a man and a woman. How is this not miraculous. Science can explain how conception happens but it cannot explain that moment, that instant when life is created. God guides this action daily around the world. Cells joining together becoming a human being is an unmitigated act of God. Our skin cells regenerated daily but they do not create a human being. We should celebrate God each time a baby is born. Let us see God in the intricate details of life. He is a daily miracle worker.

God is at work in the things that we take for granted. Zechariah took for granted that he could speak but God took it away when he doubted. We can logically explain how the speech center in the brain works and how the vocal chords create sound. However, what gives our voice control is our brain’s speech center and we can explain it up to a certain point. What makes the neurons fire to create a thought turned into speech is simply an daily miracle of God. Just as swiftly, when Z was obedient (in naming the child John [Hebrew for “God’s gift”] as commanded by the angel), his voice and hearing were restored. It is a reminder that the things we take for granted in life, speech, hearing, vision, are all part of this miraculous machine called the human body. The human body is astoundingly complex and all of our body works together to provide a vessel for our mind, our existence. Things we feel create emotions and emotions create reactions in the body that can be measure. Emotions that cannot be measured created reactions in the body that can. It is amazing when you think about how our mere existence, though explainable by science up to a certain point, is a full on God designed miracle that happens daily.

Even in death, we see God. Science can explain conception and birth and science can explain why we die. However, that instant in which we take our last breath is not under our control. It is God’s decision. What makes our heart beat daily thousands of times in a lifetime but in an instant it quits and we die. Sure, we can understand when a person meets a violent death that loss of blood causes death. How bout though that elderly person who lives long past when people expect. They linger on for days and even months at the point of death. But one day, the heart stops and they die. That same God who gives the spark of life to cells that become human beings is also there when our routinely beating heart stops. Life force vanishes. God is in that. He chooses our moment when life in its barest essence begins and he chooses when it ends. This is God working miracles daily.

Take the time in life to reflect upon God’s presence in our daily lives. Let us reflect on how God performs unnoticed miracles daily. Like how plants convert sunlight into energy that causes them to grow. Science can explain what happens but not the why. Let us remember that life itself is a miracle of God. We are here by his grace. When we get caught up in the mundane details of life and think there is nothing precious about our mundane lives. God is there. He is working. There is evidence all around us daily. Nothing is mundane when we think of the things that God orchestrates daily without us even noticing. Celebrate God daily. He is working all around you, in the birth of a child, in human life itself, in the salvation of souls through Jesus Christ. Just think every minute of every day not only is there the miracle of birth but every minute of every day someone comes to Christ somewhere. The greatest miracle of all — complete and radical life change through Christ that no one can explain except say it’s a miracle. God reigns! God is in the miracle business daily. Take time to notice!

Romans 8:31-39 — Nothing can separate us from God’s love. No matter what we go through.

This is the good news. This words were written to a church in Rome that would soon undergo terrible persecution. In just a few years from the time that Romans was written by Paul, his hypothetical situations would turn into painful realities. This passage reaffirms God’s profound love for His people. No matter what happens to us, no matter where we are, we can never be separated from God’s love. Suffering should not drive us away from God but help us identify with Him and allow His love to heal us.

These verses contain one of the most comforting promises in all of Scripture. Believers have always had to face hardship in many forms: persecution, illness, imprisonment and death. Although here we may not be imprisoned or killed for what we believe but we can suffer painful losses such as death of loved ones, betrayal, divorce, the results of other’s actions such as greed, jealousy, and people that are just downright evil to us. Sometimes we suffer because stupid choices that we have made that have short-term or even long-term negative consequences for our lives. Sometimes, when we go through trials, in whatever form they may take, we may fear that Christ has abandoned us. Paul, however, exclaims that it is impossible to be separated from Christ. His death on the cross, and His willingness to do so, are proof of His unconquerable love for us. Paul says that Jesus is pleading our case before the Father. We are acquitted of the penalty for our sin before the Father through Jesus so the Father listens to the Son. Jesus is our advocated sits at the Father’s right hand to present our case. If we believe these overwhelming assurances, we will have comfort and not be afraid.

Sure, going through hard times when you feel all alone is tough. As a believer there is that faint hope even in the worst of times that things will get better. That feeling comes from God. Those who have Christ as their Savior know that current hardships are temporary. We know that God will walk us through our trials and tribulations. He will set us on the mountaintop when the time is right, when the purpose of the valley is complete. Recently, in the book, Radical, I have been reading it challenges you with the question of basically, “How far are you willing to take your ‘yes’? Are you willing to go where God sends are you so married to the American dream that you will not spread the gospel in the place and in the way that God leads.

The combination of this passage and the book that I am reading leads to the question now of how much do you believe in the reward of heaven? Are you a good-time Christian only? When times get tough do you run from God? The Bible promises us suffering in this life, particularly when we are following Christ. Satan will attack. Bad things will happen to us. Are we capable of weathering the storms of life with our faith intact here in America where our problems pale in comparison to the minister in Nigeria who watches his village be destroyed and people killed for not denying Christ. How deep is your faith? How deeply do you believe that your reward is heaven? Our suffering here has an end game. It is heaven. We will be rewarded for our endurance and perseverance. When will we as Christians really believe in our reward so much that we can put it all on the line. Leave our comfort zone. What’s the worst that can happen? We die….and go to heaven. We talk about how wondrous it is. Do we really believe it.

Paul says it here. No matter what we go through. We have Jesus on our side. He will deliver us one way or another through what we go through. In this life, our suffering has a purpose when it occurs. It helps us to see and experience our dependence on Him. It helps us to demonstrate to others that there is something far greater than our suffering. Our suffering and the way we handle it can lead people to Christ. Our suffering and the way we handle it can give glory to God. Because we knew for a fact that we have hope. Even if our suffering doesn’t end before we die, we still have hope. We have heaven awaiting. We have Jesus waiting there. We have glory unmeasurable awaiting. Even if our suffering does end before we die, God is preparing us for what’s next. Our suffering gets us ready for what God has planned for us next. That is the hope we have. When we see God’s guiding hand in it all, we see hope. We see a plan. Let us not lose hope. He is preparing us for what He has prepared for us. Live with abandon in this assurance. Follow where He leads. Do His Work. Spread the Good News where it needs spreading. Do not let fear of suffering hold you back. What is the worst that could happen? We die and go to heaven. Believe it. Live life like you believe that heaven awaits!