Posts Tagged With: suffering

Saul, the Man Who Had It (And Lost It) All

You talk about a rising rockstar.

You are about to meet him in this PODCAST, up close and personal: Saul of Tarsus. Disciple of the renowned Rabbi Gamaliel. One of the Jerusalem-based Pharisees. Soon to become a voting-member of Israel’s Supreme Court—the Sanhedrin.

This was a guy whose career-path was rocketing skyward in an ever-ascending trajectory to greatness.

In terms of his religious tradition, passed on to him by his Pharisee-father, Saul was a guy who had it all—

  • A rapidly-increasing influence.
  • A growing respect among his peers.
  • Certainly the pride of his parents.
  • The possibility of fortune to go along with his ever-expanding fame.
  • And, of course, to his way of thinking, the super-abundant approval of God, along with all of God’s bountiful blessings that Saul though he deserved, and that allowed Saul to justify to himself his murderous rage.

Indeed, Saul had it all.

And consequently, Saul had it all to lose.

And lose it, he did. In the blink of an eye, literally.

Please remember that depending upon your web browser and connection speed, it may take up to 60 seconds for this podcast to begin to play.

God bless you richly as you listen.

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Mary, Did You Know???

mangerMary’s was NOT an easy life. 

Consequently, she is a woman whom I greatly admire. As should we all.

Just imagine what it must have been like to walk in her sandals, or to ride on her donkey.

At the time of the angelic visitation announcing her miraculous pregnancy, Mary was assured that her baby was the vital part of God’s plan of salvation. Not only for her, but for the whole world.

Yet we know that very late in her pregnancy, Joseph and Mary were forced to make the arduous journey from Nazareth-Bethlehem,60 miles as the crow flies. A harrowing 3 to 5 day journey under the best of conditions into what was for all intents and purposes a different country far removed from Nazareth geographically, culturally, and demographically. More like 5 to 7 days considering Mary’s condition, walking or on camelback, through treacherous terrain, exposed to the elements and the ever-present threat of bandits, all to register for yet another Roman tax.

This poor couple living, as we learn a little later in the Gospel accounts, barely above the poverty line, having even what little they had plundered by their corrupted government officials.

Mothers, think back to what it was like when you gave birth to your firstborn child – the fears, the insecurities, the feelings of inadequacy. Now imagine that when you did give birth, it was not in the clinical cleanliness of a hospital room or birthing center. Imagine you were in a cave, dark and alone, unsanitary to the extreme, no nurse, doctor, or midwife to help you, and you are all of 13 or 15 years old, in what was essentially a foreign country, away from your family, with only your fiancé to help you.

Add to all of that the political climate of the world Mary was living in – a world of crushing oppression and a brutal and barbaric military occupation. One that would soon force the holy family to flee to Egypt in the wake of Herod’s maniacal and murderous attempt to kill the baby Jesus in His crib.

Mary was completely obedient to and submissive to the will of God for her life, whatever that might be. She stepped out in obedience to God, and yet everything that could go wrong did go wrong.

Which begs this question:

Why do we expect that if we are indeed obedient to the will of God, everything should go right for us, go good for us? That our obedience buys us a trouble-free existence?

Mary would beg to differ. So would Abraham.

As the OT begins, Abraham obediently followed God’s call to leave his country, his extended family, his friends, and his home, everything to travel to a Promised Land that he had never even seen before.

While en route, his beloved dad died. No sooner had he settled in that land, a severe famine hit the land and down to Egypt he was forced to go. Welcome to the Holy Land, Abraham.

Abraham did everything right, and everything that could go wrong did go wrong. It happened to Abraham.

And as the NT begins, the exact same thing happened to Mary. 

Maybe, just maybe, it has happened to us. Or will happen to us. Unexpected, uninvited, and unwanted trials and tribulations may well be proof-positive that you and I are right smack dab in the middle of God’s will. Unexpected, uninvited, and unwanted trials and tribulations may well be the precursors to God’s richest blessings.

So don’t despair, no matter how rough your road. God never abandoned Abraham; He surely never abandoned Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. And we can be sure that He will never abandon us.

The pathway to God’s blessing is often strewn with boulders. Speed-bumps abound. But as we learn from this Christmas story, with Mother Mary showing us the way, God’s blessings always win out in the end.

Just one of the snapshots of Christmas from last Saturday night’s Safe Haven Christmas celebration. The podcast of the full five of these snapshots can be heard by clicking HERE.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

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Want to Know the Heart of God? Look Where You Least Expect It

Jesus weptHave you ever wanted to know the heart of God? I mean to really, truly know it – deep down where it counts, in the hidden depths of your sizable soul? To know what He thinks, what He feels, what He experiences every day of His life?

I have. And the answer came from the unlikeliest of places.

For the longest time, the picture of Jesus that dominated my thoughts was that of a happy-go-lucky, spirited young man sprinting through the countryside with a smile on His face and a spring in His step. A man beaming with blazing optimism, brimming with boundless joy. A guy on top of the world. Because, after all, He created the world. He owned it. So of course, He lived to enjoy it.

But try as I might, I could not find that Jesus in the New Testament. Nor, for that matter, did He appear in the Old.

In his place, I discovered a very troubled Jesus. Someone who bore the weight of the world on His sagging shoulders. Someone who every day encountered everyday people – people just like you and just like me. People whose challenges seemed overwhelming. People whose difficulties were difficult even for the Son of God to understand.

The deeper I dug into the Scriptures, the more this alternate picture of a melancholy Jesus began to emerge. The Jesus about whom it was written, “He was hated and rejected; his life was filled with sorrow and terrible suffering” (Isaiah 53:3 CEV).

That didn’t sound very happy-go-lucky to me.

“He suffered and endured great pain for us” (Isaiah 53:4 CEV). An intense, unrelenting suffering that He carried not only during His trials and crucifixion, but throughout His life and His ministry as well.

For instance, did you know that Jesus apparently lost His adoptive dad, Joseph, at a relatively young age, and was therefore raised by His single mom, Mary? While this desperate situation doesn’t get a lot of press, we do get a glimpse into Jesus’ household when He stopped dying on the cross just long enough to assign to John the care of His beloved mom. Add to that that Jesus’ brothers all rejected Him. His enemies hounded Him. Even His disciples deserted Him. None of which makes for a spirited young man to my way of thinking.

“He was wounded and crushed because of our sins” (Isaiah 53:5 CEV). Wounded and crushed don’t sound like the attributes of someone sprinting through the countryside to me.

How about a smile on His face with a spring in His step? I don’t think so. Not when I read, “He was painfully abused, but he did not complain. He was silent like a lamb being led to the butcher” (Isaiah 53:7 CEV).

“Who could have imagined what would happen to him?” Isaiah asked, as a thoroughly appropriate, if unsettling, question. 

Who could have imagined the unimaginable? Who would have anticipated the unthinkable? Who should have expected the unexplainable?

There is a reason we read in the Gospels that “Jesus wept.” Yet, nowhere do we read that Jesus laughed. Think about that for a minute. A smile on His face? A spring in His step? Guess again. 

This theme, the seeds of which are planted in the Old Testament, comes into full bloom in the New, with such confessions such as this: “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death.”

Yes, Jesus admitted that in Matthew 26.

Rather than beam with blazing optimism, Jesus daily discovered the depths of despair that darkened the souls of the people He loved. And this all-pervading sadness clouded His countenance with heart-rending compassion and never-ending concern.

There is a reason that Isaiah made a point to highlight the raw reality that Jesus’ “life was filled with sorrow and terrible suffering.”

Gaze into His eyes and I think we’d see much more dejection than delight. 

All of which means this: Our worst times might be our best times to know, to experience, to feel the heart of God.

Yes, it’s true. There are some lessons, perhaps our most profound lessons, that can only be learned in the classroom of personal pain. 

So much so that you can take this to the bank: Our worst times might indeed be our best times…tears

Our darkest days might indeed be our brightest opportunities… 

…to truly know, to genuinely experience, to actually feel the heart of God.

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