Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Will I Ever Smile Again?

The broken heart of a child is so easily mended. How wonderful life would be if all of our heartaches came upon us in those early years when life is simple, worries are few and we are blissfully ignorant of conditions such as despair and hopelessness. Unfortunately as we grow in physical stature we must also grow in our knowledge of reality. Man’s days are short and full of trouble and those troubles come all too often when we are least prepared for them.

“Cheer up!” one might say to a disheartened soul. “Everything will be alright,” and “there is a reason for it all” cut to the heart of one who is suffering because, no matter the sympathy with which they are said, the one who hears knows the reality: things may never be “alright” and some things happen that are far beyond reason. And so the weariness of life wipes the smile from our faces as our hearts are crushed within us. Such was the case of one young man.

Having been broken into pieces to the point of being unable to even find himself, he threw his cares on the ear of an elder whom he thought would readily be able to sooth his hurts with time-tested words of wisdom. Yet, as he looked into the elder’s weather-worn face, the young man could see the telltale lines that come only through winces of agony and the sorrowful expressions of the brokenhearted.

“Elder,” said he, “will I ever smile again? Will I ever be happy again? I’m crushed and wounded. I cannot even trust my own mind for fear that my condition has stolen my sanity and reason. What do I have to live for? What purpose can I now serve? Is there any hope for tomorrow? Oh elder, please tell me…will I ever smile again?”

The elder pondered the plight of this young man. And, with a wisdom that comes only through the school of personal experience, the elder looked deeply at his petitioner and replied:

“Son, I don’t know.”

With this, the young man bowed his head and wept bitterly.

“It might be,” the elder continued, “that you will never again taste the same joy that you have so wonderfully supped from in the past. Life is not fair by our judgment; not fair in the least. I cannot say if you will ever again have a smile on your face or feel a mending of your broken heart.”

The elder paused, now wiping away tears of his own.

“But, I do know this: the joy of the LORD is your strength. It doesn’t say His joy is your joy; it says His joy is your strength. Whether or not you ever find your own joy again I cannot tell. But in His presence there is fullness of joy. You may have to cry for the rest of your days and a smile may never again grace your face, but take heart. His joy in His presence will be sufficient for you.”

The young man lifted his head and embraced the reality. Life is not fair. Things happen we cannot control. It is not wrong to grieve. You are not incorrect for feeling sorrow. And if it so happens that you never return to that same place of joy that you once had, look to the Lord and be strengthened in His joy. It will be sufficient and you will be able to endure.

Hebrews 12:2
“looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross…”


Friday, March 6, 2015

Hymnspirational Moment #2

HIDE THOU ME

Verse 1
Sometimes I feel discouraged and I think my life in vain
I’m tempted then to murmur, to grumble, and complain
But when I think of Jesus and what He’s done for me
Then I cry O Rock of Ages, Hide Thou me

Chorus:
O Rock of Ages, Hide Thou me
No other refuge have I but Thee
Through life’s dark vail I wander so far, far from Thee
Then I cry O Rock Of Ages, Hide Thou me

Verse 2
I have a friend in Jesus blest anchor of my soul
I feel His presence ever when stormy billows roll
And when I think of Jesus and what He’s done for me
I cry O Rock of Ages hide Thou me

A woman sits alone in the living room of her modest but comfortable home in the middle of the night.  Her husband is sleeping soundly in the other room and the house is silent.  She sits alone looking out of the window wondering just how many more nights she will have left.  The doctor used words like "advanced," "aggressive" and "inoperable."  Tears fill her eyes as she thinks of her husband, her children and, not least of all, her own eternity.  Meanwhile, on the other side of town, a young man kneels in the floor as the tears of pain begin to pool before him.  For the first time in a decade his home is empty.  His wife is gone and the note said, "forever."  He wrestles with the coldness of betrayal, the heat of anger and the numbness of inevitability.  

In a small apartment on the more impoverished side of town a small child clutches his pillow in his arms.  He doesn't know where his father is or the identity of the angry man in the other room with his mother.  He doesn't understand why the man is there or what the argument is all about but he recognizes the sound of a hand striking a face and his mother's whimpering cry.  As the front door slams shut, the little boy is torn between the concern for his mother which would draw him into the next room and the fear that keeps him cowered in a dark corner in his own room.

"Sometimes I feel discouraged and think my life in vain," the songwriter would say.  Whether the dying woman, the divorced man or the battered child, all could sing that line with passionate conviction.  Yet they would not be able to stand alone in the chorus.  Many others, Pastors, Ministers, Sunday School Teachers, Missionaries, could all stand and, at times, echo the sentiments of the first line of "Hide Thou Me.'"  And still, the choir would not yet be assembled in its entirety.  Add to their ranks the countless day-to-day people, saint and sinner alike, who feel like the circumstances of life have rendered it all vanity.

The single mother weary with the load of two jobs and seeing bills marked "Past Due."  The career laborer looking at 20 years of pay stubs representing survival but not significance.  The student unsure if there really is a job waiting at the end of the degree.  The lonely young person watching her peers slip away into a life of worldliness while questioning her own upbringing and convictions.  It is akin to the observations which would inspire Solomon to write, "All is vanity and vexation of spirit" (Ecclesiastes 1:14).

Thankfully, the song does not end there.  At some point the writer understood that there was one higher than we meager mortals who does understand and, in spite of the evidence presented by the circumstances before us, cares.  "Then I cry, 'O Rock of Ages, hide Thou me!"  We have a friend in Jesus who understands.  In His arms there is safety whether we are in the midst of an oven of fire, surrounded by lions in their den, confronted with our own mortality, shaken by the failure of our family or paralyzed with the fear of brutality.  We may run to that Rock which is higher than not only ourselves but our circumstances and He will hide us there in safety.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Just Bake The Cake

"Then Elijah said to her, 'Do not fear; go, do as you have said, but make me a little bread cake from it first and bring it out to me, and afterward you may make one for yourself and for your son." - 1 Kings 17:13 (NASB)

The actions of a rebellious ruler had brought the wrath of God upon a nation.  Elijah the prophet had earnestly prayed and, as a result, the heavens were closed up and a famine fell upon the land.  For three and a half years the hand of God was against the government of Ahab and, consequentially, the entirety of his domain.  Nevertheless, the Almighty God had his eye on a few individuals in particular.  One of them was Elijah the prophet.  Certainly the Lord was going to care for His prophet since, after all, it was not going to rain again until he spoke the word.  So great was God's care for His prophet that ravens were sent with provisions for him when there was little hope of sustenance from any reasonable source.  But the great prophet Elijah was not the only one God was watching. 

In the coastal village of Zarephata was a widow who, upon the arrival of Elijah, was gathering sticks with her son.  The Scriptures tell us nothing of the widow beyond her location and, as evidenced by the gathering of kindling, her great poverty.  The prophet had traveled for approximately 100 miles from the Brook Cherith to meet this widow by commandment of God and, understandably, was thirsty.  The widow willingly brought him water.  After all, water was a natural resource which required little more investment than the energy needed to draw it from a well.  However, the next request would shake her to the core. 

"Please bring me some bread," the prophet ordered.

"But, sir," the widow replied, "I only have enough for one meal for my son and I.  We were going to eat and die." 

The eyes of the weather-beaten and road-weary prophet fell upon her as he said, "That's fine, but bake my cake of bread first."

Now, whether or not Elijah was cold or cutting in his manner of speech is immaterial.  The widow most certainly heard those words as uncaring, unfeeling, unconcerned and possibly completely cruel.  Didn't this stranger hear her?  Didn't he at least care about her starving son?  How could he possibly demand bread BEFORE she cared for her own child?  No amount of, "please," "thank you," or "don't worry" could possibly soften the way the tone of such a request would have been received. 

But that's just how God works. 

The woman was about to be the recipient of a tremendous miracle.  She and her son were on the verge of receiving complete provision for the duration of the famine but such a dispensation of grace was completely up to her.  The prophet Elijah gave the promise, "If you will do this, the Lord God will see to it that you are taken care of until this famine passes."  But it was completely up to the woman to decide to believe or not and, once believing, to take action in confidence of the Word of God.  In her case she chose to hang her being and that of her son on the promise of God given through Elijah the prophet and obey by faith.  It was completely counterintuitive.  Baking a cake for someone else instead of herself and her own son was insanity.  It was also the best decision of her life. 

What God did to the widow at Zarephata was to introduce her to the concept of the paradox.  A paradox was described by one professor of philosophy using a formula:  A = A and A ≠ A at the same time.  In other words, what you THINK you're doing might look like it is the opposite of accomplishing what you need but it just might be the very thing that God needs you to do in order to bring about the miracle of provision in your life. 

When we consider the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we are confronted with many paradoxical statements.  The way to live is to die (Matthew 16:25).  The way to be the greatest is to become the least (Luke 22:26).  The way to be exalted is to humble yourself (Matthew 23:12).  The way to get is to give (Luke 6:38).  The principle Christ is trying to teach His people is very easy to summarize:  JUST DO WHAT I'M TELLING YOU TO DO EVEN WHEN IT DOESN'T MAKE SENSE.  JUST BAKE THE CAKE. 

Do what God said to do.  Even if it is illogical, improbable, seemingly ridiculous, absurd, counterintuitive, logistically backward and fundamentally imprudent, if God said it...just bake the cake.  Take God at His word.  There might not be any rain falling, but God doesn't need the rain to provide.  There might not be any crops in the field, but God doesn't need your wheat to make His bread.  There might not be an open door in sight, but God doesn't need any man's preplanned passageway to bring in a blessing.  God needs nothing to bring provision into your life except your faithful obedience to His Word.  Choose to bake the cake and watch God make a way. 

Always keep in mind that God can see the end from the beginning.  The steps He asks you to take today might not make sense to you but they are perfectly logical to Him.  You will look at the twists and turns the Almighty asks you to traverse and begin to question your own sanity for following and His wisdom in leading you in that direction.  But you are looking at a small stretch of roadway in front of you while the Lord sees the entire journey from beginning to end with every obstacle and detour along the way.  Trust in His Word.  Just bake the cake.  Just do what He says.  You don't have to understand it.  God wants your faith and obedience, not your ability to logically comprehend the instructions. 

God's will needs no interpreters; only doers.  Just bake the cake.  God will not let you down.