Gospel Gardening: Ferguson and Beyond


Gospel Gardening: Ferguson and Beyond

Gardening(1)

Something is wrong with our garden. God cares about it. We should too.

There are weeds preventing water from reaching the soil. There are plants suffering drought. There are areas where soil nutrients are being overtaxed. Recent events are a reminder that our garden in America is unhealthy and is in desperate need of maintenance; specifically when we look at the powder keg that is race in America.

A few examples: The shooting fatality of Mike Brown in Ferguson. The choking fatality of Eric Garner in Staten Island, NY. The shooting fatality of John Crawford III in a southwestern Ohio Walmart. The shooting fatality of Ezell Ford in Los Angeles. The shooting fatality of Darrien Hunt outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. All unarmed African Americans killed while being arrested or in custody.

There are also certainly huge issues within the African American community. High absentee father rates, high incarceration rates, and high recidivism rates remind us that there are significant issues without clear answers. But one thing is clear, regardless of what side of these issues you’re on.

Something is wrong with our garden. God cares about it. We should too. 

Sadly, some of us know this and are apathetic and uncaring. Others of us don’t know that we should care. Within American evangelicalism, both groups route their apathy and/or ignorance in hollowed out churchy platitudes like “Racism is bad, but sin is the real problem” or “Racism will never end until Jesus returns). Platitudes like these, even if true, provide convenient ways to ignore the holistic mission of God in all the world to which He has called his people.

We are created to be Gospel Gardeners

Part of the reason I think we (including myself) can become apathetic or ignorant on issues of systemic injustice is because of how we are likely to answer this question: “What is the oldest job in the world?” If your answer is “Prostitution”, you’d be wrong. (Thanks a lot Rudyard Kipling!)

We learn what the first vocation given by God actually is in Genesis 2:15,

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it”.

The first job given to Adam was two-fold: To work it (Hebrew word ‘abad’ meaning to tend, prepare and cultivate) and to keep it (Hebrew word ‘shamar’ meaning to preserve or guard it).

The garden was the place where God created man to dwell. We were created to cultivate and protect the garden. We were created to be Gardener-Guardians. Although Adam and Eve were kicked out of the original garden, our garden is wherever God’s people are. God always expected his image bearers to tend the garden. We see this in the OT:

Zechariah 7:9-19 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another. Do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against one another in your heart.”

Psalm 82:3-4 “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

Micah 6:8 “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but you do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”

God has called us to always care about the garden. This includes both individual sin issues, as well as systemic injustices. Sadly, we usually emphasize one at the expense of the other. And in the case of American evangelicalism, we avoid the issue of systemic racism and injustice by emphasizing individual sin exclusively.

On the Sunday after the Travon Martin/George Zimmerman decision, or the Sunday after Mike Brown’s death, many majority culture, predominately white churches were largely silent. Church went on like usual. Conversely, many ethnic minority churches were heavily conversant on that Sunday morning. For those churches, Sunday was a day of heart wrenching mourning.

God shows us that caring for the garden means we mourn with those who are mourning. We don’t have to necessarily agree on the reason for their mourning. We still mourn with them because they mourn. This is how community in the garden is supposed to work.

Something is wrong with our garden. God cares about it. We should too.

We struggle with caring because we are beholden to an abrogated and truncated gospel.

We fail to do justice because we don’t understand it. It’s been hijacked politically. Regardless of your political flavor, you have an understanding of justice that likely isn’t God’s definition. Justice in scripture means to make things right. It means fulfilling mutual obligation.

When justice is mentioned in scripture, you normally see these words close by: widow, fatherless, poor, hungry, stranger/immigrant, needy, weak and oppressed. This means we don’t turn a blind eye and/or a deaf ear to those who are unjustly affected by a broken system.

It’s why I don’t believe believers (gospel gardeners) should avoid the news. A lot of us avoid the news because it’s so “negative” and “sad” and it gets us down. This isn’t only because we can be apathetic or callous. For many of us, injustice can be so overwhelming because of the sheer enormity of the issues. We can’t begin to think about how we could ever fix the problems, so why expend emotional and intellectual capital on it? I believe this is the subtle way that, as American evangelicals,  we anesthetize ourselves from mourning injustice. In so doing, we grieve the heart of God.

Something is wrong with our garden. God cares about it. We should too. 

We mourn the ways in which the garden doesn’t work. God hates injustice! He hates when people use power and privilege for exploitation and not human flourishing.

If righteousness means making things right within, then justice means being made right without! This means that, to quote Jim Wallis, “Your faith may be personal, but it is never private”. God’s mission isn’t just to redeem broken people, but to redeem broken systems. We are called into a relationship with Christ in which we are changed and re-oriented to use our passions, talents, gifting and vocation to advocate for human flourishing.

So how should Christians respond?

As an African American pastor of a new multi-cultural church plant in Atlanta, I don’t have the luxury of ignoring the ways in which the garden doesn’t allow for people to flourish. I can’t avoid the fact that there are at least two different perspectives of law enforcement in my own household. My wife (who is White and grew up in an upper middle class white suburb of Chicago) had an experience with police officers quite opposite from me (a Black man who grew up in Detroit). We both have experienced being pulled over and although she was driving, the first question the white police officer would ask is “Ma’am, are you ok???” as if to imply that this woman had to have been with me against her will.

Don’t get me wrong. I also have family members and friends that are exemplary police officers. The issue isn’t about how great or horrible cops are. Beyond anecdotes, the point is that we have a huge challenge to cultivate and protect our garden. How do we do this?

Well, a good gardener always looks for the things that may inhibit the garden’s flourishing.

  1. Listen, Learn and Locate: This means we look for weeds. We learn the reasons weeds exist. This means being slow to speak and being quick to listen to others’ accounts of how the garden doesn’t work well for them. This means we don’t use our experience as the litmus test for whether or not their experience is legitimate. We listen and learn. What does law enforcement look like in our garden? What does access to good education look like? What does access to good jobs look like? What do family structures and dynamics look like? What systems are in place that unfairly and unintentionally benefit some and harm others?
  1. We Engage: This means we engage in prompt weed removal to prevent more weeds from becoming established. This keeps weeds from robbing moisture and nutrients from other plants. This also keeps from allowing a haven for pests and disease to exist. When we see injustice, we become burdened and we act. Whether it’s predatory lending, or exploitative check cashing businesses, we work to end their existence. Even if we do it imperfectly, we still image God well when we do.
  1. Monitor: We look for symptoms of disease or pest problems regularly. Individual sin is definitely at play in all forms of injustice. That’s not going to be eradicated on this side of eternity. This means we expect to see systemic injustice arise in myriad forms. We need to keep a watchful eye as we guard the garden.
  1. Expect: While injustice won’t be eradicated completely, we can see signs of hope. The beauty of our hope being rooted in the resurrection, is that we have a new life and new creation to look forward to. But this doesn’t mean we hide in our prayer closets in our bubbles and wait for Jesus to rescue us. Saying “racism will always be here so it’s silly to rail against it” ignores the holistic gospel mission of God.The reason the Lord’s prayer includes “Your kingdom come, your will be done in Earth as it is in heaven” is because in caring for the garden, we become signposts for the kingdom that is coming. We give a picture of what perfect community looks like in Revelation 7:9-10 “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Mike Brown’s death is bigger than whether or not he “deserved” it, or whether or not he “brought it on himself”. I’m not sure if we’ll ever truly know that. What we do know is that this forces a larger courageous conversation that needs to be had by American Evangelicals. A conversation guided by this question, “How is our garden doing? Any other response, whether it’s looting or ignorant passivity is at best lazy, and at worst blatant disregard for the heart of God.

Something is wrong with our garden. God cares about it. We should too. 

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Let’s Admit It, Christianity IS a Crutch!


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Regardless of where you are on your spiritual pilgrimage, you have shared or heard this view of Christianity. Karl Marx famously coined the phrase, “Religion is the opiate for the masses”. Many believe that religion is designed for people who are incapable of dealing with life’s turbulences. Critics believe these are people that are emotionally “weak” therefore they need religion. This usually reinforces the idea that those who can face life without religion are “stronger” or “braver” for staring life in the face without a “crutch”. Sadly, I think many Christians react in knee-jerk fashion and frenetically try to prove all the ways Christianity isn’t a crutch. This misses the heart of Gospel.

Just examine the statement: “Christianity is just a crutch for the weak”. The implication is that the veracity of the claims of Christianity is somehow rendered impotent because it serves as a crutch. But does being a crutch warrant this criticism? Maybe you share this criticism. If so, consider this – do you look at a paraplegic in a wheelchair with disdain or disapproval and say, “Wheelchairs are just for the weak”? Probably not. You likely ascertain the reason for the wheelchair – their debilitating physical condition – and think nothing further. You definitely don’t denigrate the wheelchair because you agree on its necessity. Calling Christianity a crutch is a smokescreen. We don’t honestly have anything against crutches, wheelchairs, slings, etc. We have a problem with seeing OURSELVES as crippled therefore to be called as such, is offensive. Who wants a wheelchair when they believe their mobility is uninhibited?

This analogy doesn’t go far enough though. Consider Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:1-5

1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  But God, being rich in mercy,  because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses,  made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved”

The Gospel is offensive because it begins with the ultimate anti-self-esteem message, “You are worse than crippled, you are spiritually dead”. Throughout scripture we are called “dead in our sins”. This doesn’t bode well for those us who pride ourselves on our “bootstrapping” abilities. When life gets hard, we fight back, make lemonade, become the captain of our own ships, etc. Christianity isn’t offensive because it is a crutch, its offensive because it kills your ego.

Responding to this rebuttal with a salvo of apologetic arguments proving that Christianity isn’t a crutch fails in showing why the Gospel was and is necessary in the first place. The truth is that almost every person in history (with the exception of Adam, Eve and Jesus – but that’s for a different post) to breathe air was born spiritually stillborn. You and I were born with a condition called sin that, by its very nature, desires to rebel against God and place ourselves on the throne of our own hearts and lives. Psalm 51:5 reads:

“Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.”

Genesis  8:21 reads:

“…the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”

In the first verse I listed, Paul refers to believers as once being “children of wrath”. This doesn’t mean that we are meandering about slashing people’s tires and Achilles (it doesn’t mean we are as bad as we could be) but it does mean that our hearts will naturally never desire to relate to God rightly on their own.

We were born without a spiritual heartbeat. In this way, crutch may not be a harsh enough word to describe Christianity. In the mid 90’s I spent a high school internship at the University of Wisconsin’s hospital with one of the only 2 neuro-pathologists in the state. The doctor and his team were known for being the group that did Jeffrey Dahmer’s autopsy. Every Tuesday was scheduled for brain cutting and autopsies, at which I was required to attend. Needless to say, for a 16-year-old kid, this experience was surreal and not for the faint of heart. I remember a woman being rushed into emergency surgery on a Monday and I believe the next Tuesday was on our table having died. As we began her autopsy, one of her arms was slightly bent and it needed to be straightened. I was asked to straighten it! Rigor mortis had set in so moving her arm just a few degrees would be a little difficult and although she was dead, I was still afraid of hurting her for some reason. As I straightened it, her arm made a cracking sound and I just wanted to whisper, “I’m sorry”. I knew that if she was alive, this would be unbearable pain. Her arm could have even been broken, but no one would know.

This has stuck with me for 17 years because I believe this is the closest picture I have of what it means to be spiritually dead. Much like this woman, outside of the work of the Gospel, we have no clue we’re even dead. The woman had no cognizance of the physical trauma her body was under, therefore she couldn’t respond. Her physical heart had stopped beating.

The Gospel is a crutch, but it’s much more than that. It’s God’s story about how He’s been on a mission to restore what sin has marred and destroyed, including relationship with Him.  He promised in Ezekiel 36:26:

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. “

He takes those that are His enemies by nature, makes them into vessels of His mercy, and adopts them into His family by giving them the ultimate heart transplant! He did this by suffering a horrific, bludgeoning death in our place so that we could be made into spiritually alive, and therefore no longer unacceptable enemies. 2 Corinthians 5:21:

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”.

Criticizing Christianity for being a crutch really is a misplaced criticism because the one levying it isn’t being honest about their actual point of contention. Crutches don’t bother us as much as our feebleness does. We want to feel strong, brave, significant, empowered, etc. The Gospel doesn’t afford us this luxury, and this is offensive although it can be quite liberating. You no longer have to work tirelessly to seek approval, status, acceptance, affirmation! This gets tiring eventually because once you achieve approval for a short time, now you’ve got to work harder to maintain it. It is a heart posture that collapses within itself.

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I will close with this tragic piece of history. During World War II, from September 17th to September 25th, the Allied Forces planned a military operation called Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands and Germany. Up to this point, this was the largest airborne battle ever. The over-simplified version of the plan was to have allied forces parachute into strategic locations and secure bridges allowing for rapid advancement into northern Germany. This would come to be known as one of the largest Allied failures of the war. On day 5, the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade was airdropped into Germany, but due to a number of issues (logistics, poor communication/intel, and the Nazis retrieving a copy of the operation from a dead allied soldier), the Polish parachuted into enemy territory. While floating through the air, they were under heavy enemy fire. The Polish would eventually lose 2/3 of this brigade. Imagine what must have been going through their minds! They saw imminent death before them, with little to no hope of rescue.

As difficult as this is to revisit, this gives us a look at the nature of our spiritual condition. If you pride yourself on being “strong” enough to make it without a “crutch”, you are missing a vital reality. You are parachuting inevitably into enemy territory, with no hope of survival. You think that your greatest need is to navigate the difficulties of life, and since you’ve done so without the help of Christianity, it isn’t for you. But you’ve misidentified your greatest need. We all need to be made alive. We all need a heart transplant. We all need the Gospel.

Hypocrites in the Church


Hypocrites in the Church

“There are too many hypocrites for me to ever be a Christian”. This is probably one of the most frequently quoted rebuttals against the Christian faith. And usually, the examples lying therein are absolutely on point. The daily news cycle is replete with accounts of professing Christians soiling their reputations after being exposed for sexual immorality, financial impropriety, racial insensitivity, and/or worse. I’ve had friends that couldn’t seem to wait to bring up a case like one of these and ask a question such as, “That guy was supposed to be a Christian, huh?” or sarcastically saying, “Wow. Sign me up for THAT religion!”

These statements are often tied to more personal situations. There are many who unfortunately have been wronged, hurt, abused, and let down by people who claimed to be a follower of Christ. The logic underlying these responses typically goes like this:

  1. Person A professes to believe the claims and teachings of Christ
  2. Person A just violated said claims/teachings.
  3. Person A’s actions proves that said claims/teachings are insufficient and therefore easily dismissed.

I think the logical flaw here can best be encapsulated in this illustration:

Let’s say that I have possession of a tool that I claim to be the greatest thing since sliced bread. It can hammer nails, paint your house, rotor-till your lawn, eliminate termites, alleviate gangrene, and decrease the national debt. I’ve been singing this “All World Tool’s” (AWT) praises including all the amazing things it’s done for me.

Now, let’s also say that in your driveway sits your dream vehicle. It’s loaded with all the audio and visual aesthetic pleasantries your heart desires. You’ve invited me over to your home and I show up with, of course, my AWT (as I and it have been inseparable). I walk over to the automobile and begin shattering the windows, ripping out electrical wiring, slicing the tires and setting it on fire. There is no shortage of emotions likely going through your mind as you watch this transpire, but ultimately you resolve to never have anything to do with that tool again. “That was supposed to be a tool that repaired things, not destroy them! You claimed it was supposed to make things better, not make it worse! I will never trust that thing again!!”

Dismissing Christianity because of failing examples is analogous to dismissing a tool because of its misuse or abuse. This doesn’t minimize or trivialize the heinous offenses of some professing Christians. In the above example, I should absolutely be held accountable for my offenses, but for the skeptic, or unbeliever – this serves as no excuse for skepticism or unbelief. It simply serves as an object lesson that sometimes, the problem is the fool wielding the tool, and not the tool itself.

As a teenager, I began to seriously doubt Christianity. I had been in “church” all my life with several close relatives and family friends in ministry. The more I watched their lives, the more convinced I became that Christianity was merely a cultural convention. Having experienced heartache, physical pain and abuse, I wanted any reason to be an atheist. I thought, “If there is a God, why would he let me, an ‘innocent’ child, suffer through such reprehensible circumstances against my will?” I began making the same logical mistake as the above example. I judged Christianity by its adherents as opposed to the veracity of its truth claims.

There appears to be only two possible answers when asking why these horrible things happen at the hands of professing Christians.  First, the professing Christians may not be truly converted believers and are merely “Christianized”. They know what to say in like-minded circles, can quote scripture (even in context in some cases!), listen to the “right” music, etc. They externally reflect the cultural expectations of “Christianity” but remain in need of a spiritual heart transplant. God promised this in his words to Ezekiel, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ez 36:26)

If not truly converted, it’s possible that they (or we) could be the people Paul warned Timothy about, “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.” (2 Tim 3:1-5)

This is every human being apart from Christ’s work. Sin nature reigns in the heart. Consider the words of the most wise man to ever live, King Solomon, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.” (Ecc 7:20) Also, Paul reminds us that, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” (Rom 3:10-11) By nature, our greatest desire is never God. That’s why we need a new heart.

Post-conversion, sin merely survives in the heart and is progressively being crucified. In Christ’s death and resurrection, he made it possible for sin to no longer reign. While the disease of our sin nature doesn’t completely go away, we are equipped to fight and be victorious over it. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”(1 Pet 2:24) This process will ultimately culminate when Christ returns and eradicates sin nature completely for eternity.

The second possibility is that the truly converted believer is succumbing to their surviving sin nature. If you are around professing Christians for any amount of time, you will get hurt, because you’re still around sinful people. The difference should be whether or not they come to repentance. Paul said, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.” (2 Cor 7:10-11)

The mark of a true believer isn’t whether or not they sin, it’s whether they have a heart that is genuinely grieved over their sin to the point that they repent. This isn’t the person that only feels sorry over the consequences of their sin (sorry for being caught). David Fairchild puts it this way, “Repentance, at its heart, is not about feeling bad for your action. It’s the heart breaking awareness of whom you’ve acted against.” If the professing believer does not repent, it’s highly probably that they still maintain a dead heart with holy “window dressing”.

If you are one who believes that Christianity is full of hypocrites, my point isn’t to dissuade you. In fact, I couldn’t agree more! If by hypocrite you mean people who claim to believe one thing yet do another, then I am among the guilty. The message of Christianity isn’t that people are transformed by the good character of other Christians. The message of Christianity is that we are changed by our belief in the character, life, death and resurrection of Christ himself.

This is the approach I take toward Christians who have contributed greatly to the cause of Christ, while at the same time profaned Him with their actions. I don’t think we ought to look to people as heroes, because they are sinners guaranteed to disappoint us. This doesn’t mean that we can’t be inspired, motivated, challenged, and convicted by people. The problem arises when they become “idols” to us. Paul said, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 1:11). How do we know if they are idols? If you find yourself wanting to defend someone whose sin is exposed, just because you know them, love them, or blindly follow them, you’re likely idolizing and possibly worshiping them.

There are people throughout history that have been instrumental in my spiritual growth as a Christian. These range from living friends/mentors to dead theologians. Several of these have also done things that I disagree with, and have actually brought shame to Christianity in either their public or personal lives (John Calvin, Martin Luther, and Martin Luther King are a few examples). The shortcomings of these people in no way nullify the Christ-exalting work they did. Nor do they invalidate the legitimacy of their belief. I, prayerfully, will imitate their actions and thoughts everywhere that that imitate Christ’s. I will, prayerfully, denounce all those that don’t.

For the skeptic/unbeliever – Back to my earlier example; If you were to take a look at the manual for the All World Tool, you would learn the actual reason for which it exists. You then can look at my misuse of the tool and determine that I am the one in error, not the tool. To dismiss the tool without investigating its documented purpose and function, isn’t intellectually honest. This isn’t to say that there aren’t other rebuttals against Christianity to be discussed. But this particular one is a bit on the lazy side.

To professing believers – let’s examine ourselves. Do we have a changed heart? Are we genuinely mourning over our sin and repenting? Or are we cultural Christianized fools wielding a tool with which we are entirely unacquainted? Let’s echo David’s prayer in Psalm 139:23,

“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!”

 

A Confession of the Heart


Where were you?


I remember the day that Saddam Hussein was captured. Do you remember where you were? I will never forget it. I was sleeping on my cot in a tent in southeast Iraq (modern day Ur-birthplace of Abraham) near a city called Al Nasiriyah. The clamor, commotion, and shouts were almost deafening. With crust still in my eyes, I instinctively reached for my helmet and flak jacket and my heart rate rapidly increased.

Weeks prior, the base had fallen victim to a double suicide bomb attack, during which I had been sleeping. The force of the explosion jarred me out of bed and onto the floor scrambling to make sense of what was happening. A few days after that attack I was leading worship rehearsal at the base chapel when some of the singers and musicians came in with eyes bloodshot from crying. They had lost several people in the attacks. I don’t think anything compares to a highly trained killing machine, painfully weeping without relief.

You can imagine my concern when I awoke this time to the loud yelling, the incessant shuffling of boots through the same sands of ancient Babylon. I soon realized something was very different though. There was no crying, nervousness or fear. There was celebration, and rightly so. The U.S. military (greatest military force in the world, no less) had just captured our number one Iraqi target! We all rejoiced and feverishly endeavored to extract every detail available through anecdotal stories, Fox News, CNN etc. Remembering the faces of those men and women who mourned the loss of their fellow brothers/sisters-at-arms, I was thankful to God that justice had come to Hussein, and would eventually come to complete fullness soon.

My wife also spent time in the Middle East; Afghanistan to be exact. She spent two tours in a much more dangerous location than I. She had friends and co-workers who were injured and even killed. I remember the day she called our home in Alaska in tears as she described how a friend, who was a sniper, had been killed. She was both mourning his death, and eager to avenge it. In addition to her emotional stability and safety eroding, spending 10 months apart definitely did little good and even damage to our very young marriage.

All of the above serve as but a few reasons why, from September 11, 2001, until recently, I have prayed for Osama Bin Laden to be brought to justice. Now that there is certainty that this prayer has come to fruition, I rejoice in God’s justice concerning all that has come of Osama Bin Laden. I find it difficult to celebrate his death in isolation outside of the context of God’s justice, however.

In a battle of “proof-texts”, the online scripture salvos have ensued in discussing this issue, of which I am no exception. On Facebook, I posted Proverbs 24:17-18 (although I misquoted the chapter as 27):

Do not rejoice when your enemy falls,
and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles,
Lest the Lord see it and be displeased,
and turn away his anger from him.

In Ezekiel 18:23, God says:

Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live

While it’s clear that God doesn’t rejoice in the death of the wicked, John Piper points out that He does rejoice in His justice. Ezekiel 5:13 says:

Thus shall my anger spend itself, and I will vent my fury upon them and satisfy myself.

My confession: In my flesh, I want to rejoice in the death of Osama Bin Laden, much like I wanted to do when Saddam Hussein faced the gallows. The problem is that I can’t do it with a clear conscience before God because I can honestly say that my rejoicing isn’t motivated enough by His justice. It’s motivated more by my wish for vengeance, which is nothing more than self-regulated and self-centered justice. I think about the people I know who had loved ones working in the twin towers on 9-11. I think about the frustrating times in my marriage because of our separation due to military deployments. I think about the people who died in both Iraq and Afghanistan that my wife and I knew, and thousands others that we didn’t.

The tension is tough, but God demands we wrestle with it.

I am thankful for God’s justice. I’m also sobered by it. I will still rejoice imperfectly, repeating the words of the Psalmist, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!”  I pray that those who are rejoicing do so out of a humbling, Gospel-centered reverence for God’s holiness and judgment. May it be said that we seek God’s vengeance beyond that of our own.

O LORD Almighty, you who examine the righteous and probe the heart and mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you I have committed my cause. –Jeremiah 20:12

I Still Want Barabbas


I Still Want Barabbas

 

Have you ever been in a car with a bunch of hungry people, going through a restaurant drive-thru? I have, and I am not a fan, especially if I’m the driver. It’s not so bad if what everyone wants is perfectly arranged in one of the displayed combos. The problem comes when you get that one person that wants their burger with no meat, two drops of ketchup, and an entire head of romaine lettuce on a cracked wheat poppy-seed bun (only one side toasted) cut into eighths.  After all that, they still have the nerve to ask for a large, sugar free Boku with 3 ½ ice cubes and get angry when told that all they have is Coke products.

As crazy as this is, we take pride in this. It’s the “beauty” of consumerism. We want what we want, how we want it, and when we want it. Commercials tell us to “Have it your way!” Songs add melodies to this idea with lyrics like “You can have it your own way” or “I did it my way”. We are all about customizing as much of our lives to satiate our desires and anesthetize our pain.

Now, I’m not saying that being an informed consumer that knows what I want is wrong. I love the freedom to customize just about everything to my liking (who doesn’t love Pandora?), but there exists the temptation to take the same approach toward our understanding of and relationship to Christ. We love the things about him that resonate with us – freedom, blessings, love, and protection from danger, etc. We selectively ignore the things that don’t resonate or blatantly offend us – our sin nature, God’s wrath, our lack of self sufficiency, Christ’s exclusivity etc.

Our 3rd President, Thomas Jefferson, took this approach when he created, “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth” also known as “Jefferson’s Bible”. As you might guess, Jefferson wanted a Jesus that was exclusively a “moral” one. In doing so, Jefferson took a pair of scissors to his Bible and sliced out any verses referring to his Deity, miracles or anything else that made Jesus anything more than a good teacher.  As a Deist, much like several educated citizens in the New World including George Washington, Jefferson rejected miraculous occurrences and prophecies and embraced the idea of a well ordered universe created by a God who withdrew into detached transcendence.  In a letter sent from Monticello to John Adams in 1813, Jefferson said his “wee little book” of 46 pages was based on a lifetime of inquiry and reflection and contained “the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.”

The desire to customize Jesus to “fit” us goes back to the time he walked the Earth. In Matthew 27:11-26, we see Jesus being questioned on by the Roman governor, Pilate. After Pilate found no fault, he didn’t want to be responsible for sentencing Christ, an innocent man, to the death penalty. Apparently, Pilate had the custom of releasing one prisoner selected by Jewish crowds every year during their Feast of Passover. Pilate gave the crowd the choice of releasing a famous rebel leader named Jesus Barabbas or Jesus Christ.

This appears to be a picture of the choice that we are faced with every day as Christians. I know that my life’s goal is to please God by striving to look more like his son (Romans 8:29). What if that “image” isn’t the correct image of Jesus? Which Jesus do I REALLY want in my life? A deeper look at who Jesus Barabbas is, has convinced me that I, like many Christians still want Barabbas.

Who was Barabbas?

We see Barabbas very briefly in scripture so it’s pretty easy to overlook his significance. We know that the patronym or family name “Barabbas” is a combination of two Aramaic words: bar, which means son, and abba which means father. So Barabbas likely means “son of the father”.  The name could also be a combination of bar (son) and rabbon (rabbi or master) meaning “son of a rabbi”. It was quite common for a rabbi to be referred to as father due to his teachings.

So it’s possible that Barabbas was the son of a prominent rabbinic family in Jerusalem. If this was the case, then he likely would have received the best formal education and been well connected politically.

You may be wondering why I listed Barabbas with the first name “Jesus”. His name appears as “Jesus Barabbas” in the Syrian and Armenian versions of Matthew 27:16-17. Christian scholar, D.A. Carson, wrote, “On the whole it is more likely that scribes deleted the name [Jesus from Jesus Barabbas] out of reverence for Jesus [Christ] than added it in order to set a startling if grotesque choice before the Jews”[1]. Several other scholars agree with this rendering and it makes sense. Jesus was among the most common names in New Testament times. It was the same as the Hebrew name, Joshua. Acts 13 talks of a sorcerer named Elymas whose family name was “Bar-Jesus” meaning “the son of Jesus”.

Barabbas seemed to be a political rebel focused on change through self redemption, and not redemption through the Christ. Scripture refers to him as an insurrectionist using the Greek word that means one who rises up against the authority and institutions. For one person he may have been a seditionist, or possibly even a terrorist. To another, Barabbas was a revolutionary for Jewish civil rights seeking better treatment from the Roman Empire.

Barabbas didn’t want to wait for a messiah to deliver the Jewish people from their plight. He wanted to save the Jewish people and tried to loosen the yoke of Rome through political and violent means. Essentially he became driven by his own brand of liberation theology. He looked at the Roman Empire as tyrants and sought to free his people by the use of power, violence and any other means necessary. Jesus Barabbas was a freedom fighting revolutionary and quite opposite Jesus the Christ.

Mark 15:7, Luke 23:19 and Acts 3:14 refer to Barabbas as a murderer. He’s also referred to as a robber in John 18:14. Ancient Jewish historian, Josephus, says that the word used for robber here is the word, lestes, which referred to a religious movement called the Zealots. These were folks who supported themselves by robbery. It’s possible that Barabbas and his band of “merry men” were members of this group. It’s also possible that the two thieves who were crucified with Christ were members of this radical group. Since robbery was not a capital offense at the time, it’s likely that the two thieves on the cross were guilty of murder as members of this patriotic, freedom fighting insurrection led by Jesus Barabbas.

Barabbas wanted to perform a coup d’état and take political power immediately. Eventually, he and his followers attempted to put their plan into action in Jerusalem against the Roman Empire. They were caught, faced trial, convicted and Barabbas was condemned to the harshest death penalty known at the time – crucifixion. When Pilate presented the Jews with both Jesus Barabbas and Jesus Christ, the crowd overwhelmingly asked for Barabbas to be released. Why?

The Jewish crowd is a picture of the decision that we are forced to make sometimes daily. Which Jesus do we really want? The crowd wanted a Jesus that was customized to fit their desire for political change and their desire for self-redemption. They wanted fair representation, economic and political freedom, restoration of their “rightful” place among the nations. Essentially, they wanted their rights fought for, and Jesus the Christ didn’t fit in with what they believed to be their greatest need. Jesus Barabbas did.

I’m really wrestling with the question, “Which Jesus do I actually look like?” This question is tied to the question, “Which Jesus do I really want?” The Jesus we want becomes the Jesus we look like. We are what we want. I still want Barabbas.

As a husband, I want my marriage to be fundamentally about my happiness which leads to my selfishness. If my “right” to be happy in my marriage isn’t properly acknowledged and tended to, then I’m upset and conflict arises. On the road, if we’re cut off by a driver who clearly thinks that a red light means he still has a half second to go, we’re upset and tempted to let the driver know about it. If our candidate doesn’t get elected, our ability to be joyful and even pray for him/her becomes impeded.

We ultimately base our happiness on the things in which we most find our identity. If I’m happiest when my rights as an African-American are acknowledged to my satisfaction, then I want a Black Barabbas. If I’m happiest when my political ideology is best represented, then I want a political Barabbas. If I’m happiest when my desire for peace and goodwill without respect to the gospel, then I want a Moral Barabbas. The sad thing is that many of us have a “Jesus” that looks more like the aforementioned, then Jesus Christ.

We want a Jesus that affirms our emotional well being and self esteem who can make us feel better about ourselves. This is what Jesus Barabbas, if successful, would have brought.  Jesus Christ, however, said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Essentially, Jesus Christ says that our job is to acknowledge our spiritual brokenness and lack of ability to do ANYTHING good outside of being transformed by the death and resurrection of Christ. Your “blessedness” comes from acknowledging your lowest self esteem, so that your ONLY esteem is in your relationship with Jesus Christ.

We want a Jesus that says, “Don’t worry about your sin. It happens. You’re born that way. Do what you need and when things work out, you’ll feel better.” Jesus says, however, “Blessed are those who mourn[over their sin], for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4). Christ is saying that living life “without regrets” isn’t the goal of the Christian. We are to mourn and be broken over our sin in such a way that ONLY Christ and his Gospel can comfort us.

We want a Jesus that says, “Understand your worth, rights, entitlements because of your race, political party, socio-economic status, birthright, etc. Stand up and exert your rights! ” Or, “Don’t let anyone come before you. Do what you must to be ahead!” This is what Jesus Barabbas exemplified. The attitude of Jesus Christ is described by Paul in Philippians 2:5-8, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Earlier Paul states that we are to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests but to the interests of others” (vv. 3-4).

I can honestly say that although I want to want Jesus the Christ, my heart still wants Barabbas. I am becoming increasingly convicted by my Barabbic (yes, I made it up) heart. I’m praying for my heart to desire Jesus Christ without customization. I’m praying for this Christ-centered desire to manifest itself in my marriage, my parenting, my citizenship as well as my vocational ministry. Lord, deliver my heart from Barabbas.


[1] D. A. Carson, Matthew, in vol. 8 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, edited by Frank E. Gaebelein, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), 574.

You Might Be Pavlov’s Dog


Several years ago B.C. (Before Children), my wife and I were out with some friends and their kids. As we headed to our cars, we could hear loud music emanating from a car speeding by. I can’t remember what song or style the music was, but I do recall a pretty heavy drum beat. I didn’t think much of it and as I turned to look at our friends’ kids, I noticed that they were covering their ears. They looked at their parents and asked, “Why does that music have drums, and why is it so loud?” to which the mom replied, “Son, they don’t have Jesus in their heart. We need to pray for them”. Have you ever seen something so bizarre that you have a gazillion things running through your head in response, but you’re so stupefied that you succumb to temporary paralysis? Off hand and including this one, I can think of two. The other was while we were outside of a movie theater in Alaska in -40 degree weather and seeing a guy in a kilt standing proudly.

Please understand that this isn’t an indictment on the parenting skills or character of our friends. We love them dearly and appreciate their friendship. This underscores a deeper problem that I think plagues many of us within evangelical circles. So often we (I being the chief culprit) incorrectly identify sin and attack or avoid something that “appears” to be the problem, when it isn’t. In other words, it’s very easy to put the em-PHA-sis on the wrong syll-A-ble thereby creating a culture of behavior modification without genuine transformational heart change.

This problem manifests itself as we evaluate our relationship (or lack thereof) with various cultural expressions (i.e. music styles/genres, clothing, vernacular etc). We seem to ascribe the label of “sinful” to several of these expressions. We then avoid them as “sin” or potential “on-ramps” to the sin highway while urging others to do the same. We say things like “Christians need to avoid all cultural expressions that the ‘world’ engages in, to stay separate”. We think that because the expressions exist within groups of people blatantly engaging in sin, that the two must be connected with one causing the other. This is the logical fallacy known as “cum hoc ergo propter hoc” (meaning with this, therefore because of this). Essentially it means that correlation must equal causation.

This means that if a group of drugged hippies are listening to rock music, then rock music (as a genre, not based on lyrical content) should be avoided. If a group of inner-city youths are selling drugs or robbing people and they listen to rap music, rap music should be avoided. If you’ve suffered intense racism from a white supremacy group whose car radio is playing a song that happens to have the thick twang of country music, then you think that country music (and those who listen to it) should be avoided.

 

Many of us have heard of and/or learned about the scientific experiments involving Pavlov’s Dog. In a nutshell, dogs drool when they encounter food. Nobel prize-winning scientist Ivan Pavlov noticed that his lab dogs would often begin drooling without any food in sight. Interestingly, he learned that the dogs were reacting to the lab coats. Whenever they were served food, it was at the hands of people wearing lab coats. Consequently, the dogs reacted as if a meal was forthcoming when they saw a lab coat.

Over a series of experiments, Pavlov sought to discover the connection between a stimulus (food) and a response (drooling). He did this by ringing a bell (among several other sounds) in close association with the dogs’ meal. The dogs gradually began to associate the sound of the bell with food. After a while, they would drool at the mere sound of the bell with or without food present. These experiments proved that animals can be conditioned to respond to stimuli that ordinarily wouldn’t have the same effect.

Many Christians take a Pavlovian approach to sin in many cases in relation to culture. Let’s take the example of my friends’ kids. They knew that there were people who engage in all forms of sin while listening to music with loud and fast drum beats. For my friends, the “bell” was the music style and they began to “drool” on cue. They had no clue about the message or the lyrics of the song. To their credit, they rightly wanted to avoid sin. Scripture is very clear that we are to hate sin (Hebrews 1:9; Psalm 97:10; Psalm 101:3; Psalm 119:104). Romans 12:9 says this, “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to that which is good”. All of these verses are clear that we are to hate SIN but this doesn’t include hating the surrounding periphery. In doing so, we actually overlook the real sin issues. Many people in churches like this learn to modify their behavior in such a way as to not trigger the “drooling” reflex from their fellow church members. They look “holy” enough, and talk “holy” enough, and their friends approve, while the heart is still struggling with sin.

Remember 3 things as you try to achieve a balance when trying to separate sin from the culture:

1. Ensure that you have a proper understanding and application of the Gospel, who Christ is, and God’s mission.

Many of us understand the Gospel and who Christ is, but we don’t understand the relationship between those two and God’s mission. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve brought sin into the world. This sin didn’t just affect their relationship with God (man-to-God). It created broken relationship between each other (man-to-man), and broken relationship between themselves and creation (man-to-earth). Our sin nature separates us from God, each other, and all creation. We were born with a verdict of “guilty”, deserving the death penalty as a result.

Jesus came to take our punishment thus rendering us “innocent” when we face judgment, but God’s mission was more than just our redemption. God is on mission to redeem ALL of creation. Colossians 1:19-20 says this about Christ, “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of the cross”. Do you see it? Christ’s redemptive work on the cross was about reconciling everything that God created- INCLUDING THE CULTURE! God is on mission to redeem all peoples and cultures so that they will bring him maximum glory.

This means that He’s on mission to redeem cultural art forms as well. These could be rock, acid jazz, tap dancing, quilting, hip-hop, country (a stretch), ballet, or rap. Genesis tells us that man was made in the image of God. Creative expression is certainly one of the attributes of God. The first two chapters of Genesis testify to this. Cultural expression shows the creativity of man given to him by the most creative being ever!

2. Separate Sin from Subterfuge

Ascertaining real sin becomes evasive when it’s entrenched in cultural art forms, or things that are not intrinsically sinful and in many cases are good. Again, look at the example I began with. The music coming from the car driving by was judged as sinful based on the heavy rock-drum style. Is a music style in of itself bad? Some may argue that it is, but I think they struggle to do so biblically. Colossians 1:20 makes it clear that not just “some” things are being reconciled, but ALL things. Now if the lyrics are glorifying sin then we have a legitimate problem. We are to hate sin, not revel in it. Getting angry with styles of music is akin to drooling when seeing the lab coats or hearing the bell ring. Learn the biblical difference between biblically centered “convictions” and culturally conditioned “preferences”. We too often mix up the two.

3. Engage the Culture

We were saved and empowered to be on mission with God. We are sent as ambassadors to glorify him with our lives and share the truth of the Gospel with everyone within the context wherein God has placed us. It’s vitally important that we understand the context/culture to effectively be on mission. This is what Paul wrote about in 1 Corinthians 9:19-22, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are with­out law, as with­out law, though not being with­out the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are with­out law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.”

Paul made it a priority to learn and engage the cultural context where God placed him. He was able to separate things that are sin, from things that were cultural preferences and thereby never compromising. This is a picture of what it means to be missional – being on mission with God.

I recently had the opportunity of doing spoken word at my church. Now culturally, my church wouldn’t be considered “hip-hop” by any stretch. It was definitely the first time a cultural expression like this had been displayed. The words were written by a Christian hip-hop artist named Shai Linne. Linne, is training for pastoral ministry and is being used mightily by God in sharing the Gospel with many people who live within a hip-hop context (for some reason the Gaithers haven’t caught on in Detroit!). After I completed the oration, there were many words of encouragement from people and I was excited that people were blessed by the powerful words. Many people loved the variety and embraced the art form. Some people came up to me and said, “That was really good and it almost sounded like rap!” It was almost as if they couldn’t fathom that full blown rap could ever glorify God the way a “milder” spoken word could.

I’m certainly a long way from “arriving” in this respect. It wasn’t until recently that I began to see how powerfully the Gospel is penetrating into metal and punk cultures. There are people proclaiming Christ, living imperfectly but seeking holiness and hating sin within this culture. God is on mission to redeem it. I grew up thinking that these folks were Satan worshipers! It was obvious right? As a kid, I remember seeing videos of people on MTV doing metal and the little that I had heard that some of them worship the Devil. So whenever I heard that style of music, without regard to lyrical content, I heard the “bell” ring and started “drooling”. Lord help us to not be Pavlovian Christians – Amen.

What’s So Good About a Funeral?


What’s So Good about a Funeral?

Funeral Procession

My wife’s grandmother passed away 2 weeks ago at the age of 77. When I was asked to preach the funeral sermon, I was humbled and began preparing diligently for it. While studying several passages, one jumped out at me and forever changed my view of death and mourning.

“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind and the living will lay it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter for by sadness of face the heart is made glad. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” –Ecclesiastes 7:2-4 ESV.

Most seem to look at Ecclesiastes as a book of pessimistic cynicism. Many of us fail to glean the rich wisdom of Solomon, because we get caught up in the apparent “negativity”. I think one reason for this is our view of sorrow and suffering often fails to fit in with our idea of a loving God. Sorrow and suffering are things that we normally try to avoid or escape at all costs. It’s quite common for us to even despise these things. Many of us have an improper theology of suffering/mourning. That’s why passages like these pose quite a paradigm shift in thinking.

Funerals over Feasts? (Verse 2)

Solomon’s words aren’t an invitation to a morbid death fanaticism! I doubt that when Solomon punched his “Kingly” time card at the end of the day, he decided to forgo taking a dip in one of his famous pools to frequent the late night “funeral scene”. But he makes it clear that it’s better to go to a funeral than a party. Why? I think that one reason is that God gets our undivided attention regarding life and death.

Over the past 2 weeks, I’ve preached at a funeral for one person (77 years), and attended the viewing for another (41 years) and I couldn’t help but ponder 2 things:

1. The age ranges between these two women underscore that time isn’t promised and shouldn’t be taken for granted.

2. Death is inevitable. We are all going to end up in the same state as the one we see in the coffin. We are all going to have people mourning our death.

Throughout Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, Solomon frequently compares the wise man and the fool. This passage is one way he does it. Wise people go to funerals and pay attention. Wise people see the Tsunami horrors and watch and think carefully. Wise people know the days are few and each day they live is an opportunity to learn and to grow in wisdom and should invest in those things that are most profitable for them, and they constantly uncover those hidden treasures of the heart. For you and I this should be Christ.

Sorrow is better than laughter (Verse 3)

Have you ever been around someone that laughs at everything, even when it isn’t appropriate? Fools want to laugh at everything. Solomon tells us in chapter 3, that there is a time to laugh and a time to cry. There are times that the wise person must go through times of sorrow and it is better than laughter.

Contrary to popular belief, Sorrow Is Necessary! It is often ordered by God for the destruction of sin, which is the chief problem of the Christian. Sorrow is the great conqueror of cavalier and half-hearted affections for God. Sorrow brings to the surface how delighted we really are (or aren’t) in God. When we mourn or are sorrowful we are reminded how shallow their joy in God is or how rich it is. We also are reminded how thankful we are for temporary troubles which will produce greater trust, greater faith, greater dependency upon the all-sufficient grace of God, great desire to arrest God with all our strength and not release Him.

The fact of the matter is that sorrow teaches us lessons that would not be learned any other way. You may recall the scene in The Wizard of Oz, where the Tin Man says, “”Hearts will never be practical until they are made unbreakable.” Well, as great at the movie was/is, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Solomon says that the opposite case is actually true. It is the fact that hearts are fragile that makes them practical.

Tin Man

Sorrow often leads to repentance. Repentance of sin is deeply painful, but it is required as necessary to salvation. Repentance of sin is a sorrow stemming from vision of who God is (glorious and merciful), and our awareness that we fall short of His glory and don’t deserve His mercy.

This sorrow doesn’t have to end on a low note, though. It should result in sustaining and lasting pleasure since not only do we find pleasure in seeing the glory and mercy of God in Christ, we find pleasure when we repent and sense God’s grace acting upon us to satisfy us, to purge us of pursing other things above Him, and to land us safely into the hands of our Savior.

Repentance is a sweet sorrow. The more of the sorrow we possess, the more pleasure in God and His mercy we attain.

There is a distinct difference between just being sorry and being biblically sorrowful (repentant). Many of us are sorry that we’ve disobeyed or failed to honor God, but only because we are sorry that we’ve been caught. Or we’re sorry that we didn’t receive the blessings or rewards that sometimes follow obedience and holiness. This isn’t biblical repentance though.

My youngest daughter, Audrey, has an incredibly tender heart. Although she’s only 21 months, she’s keenly aware of my approval, or disapproval. Often times, if I scold her for disobeying, she lowers herself to the floor and begins to cry. Usually she starts crying before I even show her why I’m reprimanding her. She isn’t broken over the fact that she didn’t get that fruit snack that she was earnestly endeavoring to pilfer. She is broken over the fact that she is displeasing me, and she badly wants my approval again. This is true sorrowful repentance.

True sorrow is being broken over the sin of not enjoying god the way we should. We are broken for not having God as our treasure that completely satisfies. How do you know if you are truly biblically sorrowful? You have to really want holiness because obeying God is actually precious in itself. We should find ourselves weeping sorrowfully over not possessing God as your treasure.

Sometimes, the only way to receive joy, is to endure sorrow and pain. And sorrow is perfectly fine, as long as it’s directed toward God and not away from Him.

Pain or Pleasure? (Verse 4)

What do you do when painful sorrow is coming? Do you try to insulate yourself with distractions (food, alcohol, entertainment, sex, etc) so that you don’t have to think about it? Solomon tells us that “the heart of the wise is in the house of mourning”. The wise person isn’t running from their problems in bars, buffets, box offices, or brothels. They are willing to voluntarily remain in the stream of sorrow. Why? It’s not like they are sadomasochistic “sorrow-seekers”!  It’s because they realize that it is good  contemplate the weight and gravity of the pain, grief and sorrow in this world.

Fools get drunk, go to nightclubs, graze at a buffet line, because they refuse to go through the hard stuff of life. Further, they try to ignore it by throwing a party. This is not what needs to happen when God ordains sorrow in our lives.

God expects that we will drink the cup of sorrow and exchange being drunk on pleasure with immersing ourselves in God and become intoxicated in Him.

What’s wrong with distractions? Why not do what we believe is necessary to dull the pain and sorrow? Diversions don’t allow for us to be shaped into the kind of man or woman that God intends. Wise people know that the house of mourning will produce a true joy and a lasting countenance because the house of mourning should lead us to Christ.

I leave you with these questions:  How do you respond to sorrow and pain? How do you view sorrow and pain? Do you see it as always a sign of God’s disfavor? Can you receive joy from your sorrow?