My son Bryan was invited to share his story at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. He was one of two featured speakers on a night when almost every participant in the room shared some kind of disability. Disabilities included Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS), asthma, depression, cancer, arthritis, etc. Each person was asked to write a poem about their challenges and to highlight what was bad as well as what was good. Then, throughout the evening, volunteers could come to the front of the room and share what they wrote.
What causes people to be downcast? I would surmise in most cases it is because of unfavorable circumstances. We want something that does not materialize. We deal with sickness. An enemy is a relentless grief-flinger. “Sixty students who had attempted suicide were asked why they had wanted to end their lives. The majority, 85 percent, said they had tried to kill themselves because their lives seemed meaningless and without purpose . . . Without purpose we lose motivation and sometimes lose health and even lose life.” Without understanding God’s ever-present love we are destined for despair.
There is a passage in the Talmud that says, “We don’t see things as they are; we see things as we are.” It is easy to be pessimistic if our perspective is rooted in the wrong place.
1 Samuel 16:1—The LORD said to Samuel, “How long are you going to mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and go. I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem because I have selected a king from his sons.”
Jesus in the final hours before getting arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane asked eight of the disciples to sit while he prayed. Then He took Peter, James and John with him further into the garden. Disclosing His anguish to His three closest friends, He asked them to stay awake with Him. Then He went a little further and fell face down on the ground to pray. When He returned to the three he found them sleeping. He confronted Peter, “Simon, are you sleeping? Couldn’t you stay awake one hour?” (vs. 37)
Genesis 12:10-13—There was a famine in the land, so Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine in the land was severe. When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “Look, I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ They will kill me but let you live. Please say you’re my sister so it will go well for me because of you, and my life will be spared on your account.”
The story of Abraham would make a great movie. Knowing how attractive his wife was and what the Egyptians were like, he was correct in being concerned. Pharaoh’s
Loquacy ran up the red winding trail as fast as his four little legs would take him. He did not stop until he reached the wide brown mound where Sage lived. The old wolf sat above the entrance and looked curiously as Loquacy panted, trying to catch his breath.
“Help me Sage,” the young Chihuahua gasped. “I seem to have made a mistake and I don’t know what to do.”
Mark 16:10-13—She went and reported to those who had been with Him, as they were mourning and weeping. Yet, when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe it. Then after this, He appeared in a different form to two of them walking on their way into the country. And they went and reported it to the rest, who did not believe them either.
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?
Aside from Jesus, Job is perhaps history’s most famous man associated with suffering. Messengers report to him one fateful day of: enemies stealing his oxen, donkeys, camels and killing his servants; lightning destroying his sheep and shepherds; and, a powerful wind that wipes out all ten of his children. The poor man stood up, tore his robe and shaved his head and then fell on the ground in worship saying, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will leave this life. The LORD gives, and the LORD takes away. Praise the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21)
1 Samuel 27:1,2—David said to himself, "One of these days I'll be swept away by Saul. There is nothing better for me than to escape immediately to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will stop searching for me everywhere in Israel, and I'll escape from him." So David set out with his 600 men and went to Achish son of Maoch, the king of Gath.
On several occasions, I have read or heard amazing testimonies of people who experienced God’s deliverance via angels from an enemy intent on their destruction. God’s Word extensively teaches us about angels with over a 105 references to them in the Old Testament and more than 170 times in the New Testament. The Bible teaches that angels:
Numbers 13:33—“We even saw the Nephilim there.” (The offspring of Anak were descended from the Nephilim.) “To ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and we must have seemed the same to them.”
When cadets return to West Point in January, they enter what is called the gloom period. The buildings are gray, the skies are dreary and a feeling of “I wish I could just take a long, extended nap” settles upon the Corps. I lived through four years of that gloom period. Imagine my surprise when I moved to San Diego and discovered that June was called the same thing! The ever-present sun gave way to incessant fog and a chilly air. What were we thinking when we moved to western Oregon, a place famous for what can often be eight months of drizzle and fog?
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?”
Nadjya* came into our center to get food. As Bryan had her fill out forms, she shared she was mentally struggling. He forewarned me that she seemed kind of bizarre. I called her in and asked her questions to determine her financial and spiritual status. Essentially, a bout of pneumonia and lingering weakness caused her to miss enough work that she was in need of our help. I was surprised at how well her job paid. Most people who visit us make very little money or are in between jobs. I was also impressed with her faith in God’s mercy and forgiveness. She seemed to have a good grasp of the Bible.
Job 3:25,26--For the thing I feared has overtaken me, and what I dreaded has happened to me.I cannot relax or be still; I have no rest, for trouble comes.
He was the picture of success, a blameless and upright man who feared God and shunned evil. He had ten children and was fabulously wealthy—the greatest man among all the people of the East. Job was so concerned about living a pleasing life to God that he would have his children purify themselves after partying and he offered sacrifices on their behalf in case they might have sinned. So why was this mighty man fearful that something bad would happen to him?
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.
Psalm 28:2--Listen to the sound of my pleading when I cry to You for help, when I lift up my hands toward Your holy sanctuary.
Have you ever studied the Psalms? A most interesting phenomenon occurs with the poet David. He often begins his psalms by telling God of some distressing circumstance he is anxious about. Sometimes he frets over his wicked enemies. Other times his heart is convicted of personal sin or he longs for the taste of God’s mercy and strong presence. Curiously, towards the end of these stress-permeated laments a shift takes place. The poet who is troubled becomes a troubadour extolling his love for his Lord. What began as an imbroglio ends as praise!
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.