James 4:8-10--Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, sinners, and purify your hearts, double-minded people! Be miserable and mourn and weep. Your laughter must change to mourning and your joy to sorrow. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.
Mourning is not something we hear discussed much. In truth, our society does not want much to do with mourning—it lives for pleasure not for sorrow. Yet Scripture is filled with great teaching about the importance of mourning and there are significant reasons why we ought to embrace this sorrowful concept.
Mike’s wife left him. She was having an affair and had no further desire to remain married. Her bizarre behavior shook the very foundation of Mike’s life and the lives of their three children. Yet, despite the intense pain of betrayal, the long hours of soul-searching and the challenge of holding his family together, now years later, I watch Mike thrive. He leads his company with deeper passion and a higher compassion. His walk with God is on fire—the holy, can’t-get- enough-of-Jesus flame that melts the hardest skeptic.
Jenny wears a smile as pure as mountain spring water. She does not understand the girls sarcastically mocking her bowl-cut hairstyle because for her there is no sarcasm. But she does know pain. When the teams are picked for kick ball, she wonders why they don’t want her to play. When she drops her tray of food at lunch and they laugh and point their fingers her spirit droops. When the 4th grade bully rubs mud on her new jacket and calls her “stupid” it takes a small box of tissues to dry her tears. Yet, when he breaks his hand playing football, she will be the one who brings him flowers from her mother’s garden.
This September I will celebrate my 30threunion with hundreds of other West Point classmates who graduated in 1981. One of our traditions is to meet in the Cadet Chapel for a memorial service remembering our deceased classmates. Darryl will read twenty two names and then finish with Daren Hidalgo, a 2009 graduate killed in Afghanistan. Daren is the son of our classmate Jorge. Somber air will mark the mention of each friend. But in the hush of those granite, shadowed halls it will be a different hurt that salutes a son of our own.
Watching the news is as about as fun as playing frisbee with a cat. Between the stock market plunging over 500 points in one day, Syrian rioting, Mexican gang violence, Texas drought, and political debt bickering, lamenting seems to be a worldwide sport. Listening to a Christian radio station today in Wisconsin, I heard the DJ ask if it seemed like God was angry. That seemed ironic since I had just read from my quiet time in Psalm 85:5, “Will You be angry with us forever? Will You prolong Your anger for all generations?” Moses observed in Psa. 90:7, “For we are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed” (ESV). Jeremiah warned, “Come out from among her, My people! Save your lives, each of you, from the LORD's burning anger”(51:45). What people in what century have not experienced pain and attributed it to God’s wrath?
1 Samuel 20:41—When the young man had gone, David got up from the south side of the stone Ezel, fell with his face to the ground, and bowed three times. Then he and Jonathan kissed each other and wept with each other, though David wept more.
Tonight we sat in church and celebrated with hundreds a Christmas Eve service. There was good music and message and the proverbial ending replete with candles lit and singing Silent Night. Then we went home. I thought about how easy it is to be joyful when no one is shooting at you and the most treacherous aspect of the holidays is negotiating icy-snowy roads. How different it is for my friends in India, Kenya and Nigeria who have experienced the sudden upheaval of violence, barely escaping the hate of those who despise Christians.
Psalm 42 and 43 belong together as one work and could aptly be titled “Depressed.” Verses 1-3 in chapter 42 indicate the writer’s distance from God:
As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for You, God. I thirst for God, the living God. When can I come and appear before God, the living God. When can I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while all day long people say to me, “Where is your God?”
Part of me is lost and I don’t like it. If I could skip this day in time or have never lived it I know I would be the worse for it but at least I would not sense this absence that came too fast and . . . heartrending and heartbreaking are too strong in meaning for what I’m feeling. Perhaps in this poignant period a more apt description is heartmissing. The good news is she is only three and a half hours away. The bad news is there are 206 miles between us.
I remember Michael Bennett as a man who truly loved God and it showed in the way he treated people. Mike was funny, kind and a quick wit. He was totally in his niche as a children’s pastor. When he unexpectedly died last year he left a hole in a lot of people’s hearts and a grieving wife and four children. I wasn’t able to attend Mike’s funeral. And I didn’t do a good job of connecting with Annie*, his wife, always missing her with phone calls or procrastinating. But last week, prompted by the Holy Spirit, I knew I needed to talk to her. In the sovereign kindness of the Lord it was the night of their wedding anniversary.
I don’t know her but I feel from her face a pain that I can deeply understand. It is the pain of loss. There is an old Hungarian proverb, “Adam ate the apple and our teeth still ache.” When man corrupted God’s plan the consequences were staggering. A fruitful planet became a fallen world where evil, disaster and death leave no one untouched.
Psalm 116: 5--The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is compassionate.
Another day of silence . . . what sickness has quelled my mind and muzzled my voice that should thunder like an awesome waterfall the roaring news of God’s eternal love? Why do I languish far behind the Master’s call and command? Where is the compassion in my heart for those groping to find the Light? How can I shun spreading the antidote to sin to those whose eyes wear its unmistakable mark? Have I forgotten so quickly the One who willingly hung there abandoned and abused to take my sin?
When crocodiles cry, their tears are not like our tears at all. A crocodile’s glandular excretions act to expel excess salt from its eyes. When a man is remorseful but not repentant he acts like a crocodile. He sheds tears but they are not from a true sense of shame over wrongdoing, but rather to put off the one aware of the sin. Remorse is that sensation we experience when we are caught. Repentance is the revulsion we taste for the evil in our lives.
Caleb’s head sunk in agony. On the splintered beams of a weathered deck stood the only life left that really mattered—his daughter. And now she was to be sold into slavery—auctioned off like some four-legged beast of burden.
We come to the time of year when Christians around the world celebrate the incredible birth of Christ. For many it is a time of giving gifts—a holiday ritual recognizing the second greatest gift of all time. What manner of love for those of His image--yet deeply flawed, possessed God to send His Son to be conceived a baby? What marvelous humility flowed from our omnipotent Lord that His Son should bypass the greatest of human protocols to be born in a smelly stable? Like the wisemen who followed the star, we trace the life and ministry of Jesus, joyful that His holy journey liberated us from the dungeon of sin. But there is so much more to His story, so much more to who He is.
There will come a time in your life when your heart is surrounded by sorrow and the light of life seems remote, flickering against the howling wind of affliction. In times of tenebrific anguish, it is important to realize that you are emotionally at a much deeper level than most who are around you. This heightens the possibility that they will not understand what you are experiencing. If you are in a prolonged state of anguish, many will tire of your depressed condition and suggest you need to quit feeling sorry and move on with life. Misery may love company but not for long.
She stood by the side of the road in the face of a steady rain as cars streamed by her in both directions. Across her waist was a cardboard sign with large letters pleading, “I need work for food. Have two kids. Please God”. Hers was not the ordinary sign of the typical person waiting at strategic intersections for someone to feel guilty, stop and give money--the kind of person whose demeanor actually begs the question “Why don’t you go get a job and work instead of standing here all day.” This woman was sobbing. Her eyes cried the pain that emanates from a broken spirit. Her trembling transcended wet-induced cold to a dark hopelessness. Her plight evoked deep compassion in me not because she needed food or money. Her sign was more profound than that. Her real cry was—“Please God!” This woman knew that her deepest needs went far beyond what caring strangers could offer.