Change The World

change the world

Change the world.   Isn’t that really what we want to do?   Don’t we see so much evil, so much wrong in the world?  There really is so much we would want to change.

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Jesus referred to James and John as the “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17).   Why?  Because maybe more than any other disciples, these two brothers believed that the way to power, the way for Jesus to overthrow Caesar and establish his throne forever, was through the taking of the sword of Caesar.  They believed, as we still do, that political and military power was true power.

cross of glory

This is what we see here in Mark chapter 10 as these brothers begin jockeying for position in the new kingdom they believe Jesus is bringing in.   And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”   Jesus and the disciples were on their way to Jerusalem.   They all expected something great was about to happen.  They expected Jesus to be crowned King (which, indeed, he was).    “And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him,” Mark 10:32 ESV.   They are headed to Jerusalem, to the coronation of the True King, and his followers are both amazed and afraid.  Amazed that they are about to change history (This is really happening!).   Afraid because they knew that this crown would not be won without a fight.  Some of them might very well lose their lives.  The only one who could not lose his life would be Jesus….

glory

Jesus was about to come into his glory, and the Sons of Thunder wanted in.  Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.   They have imagined Christ as Caesar, and they want to be vice-Caesar and Secretary of the Treasury.  They see the endgame in sight, they are willing to fight for the revolution, and they expect to enjoy the fruits of the last 3 years of walking with Messiah.  They expected, they wanted, to fight fire with fire.  They expect to fight political power with political power.  They are willing to die for the cause if need be.  They expect their Messiah to overthrow the military might of Rome with the power of God.  Jesus is about to lead the revolution into Jerusalem and finally set things right!!!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”   Only Jesus knew what was coming.  He tried repeatedly to explain it to them, but they just could not hear.   They could not imagine any other way.  They could only understand the world as it was, not as it could be.   But Jesus was doing something new and truly beautiful.  He was not imitating the ways and means of Caesar, but bringing in the Kingdom of God.

not to serve

And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.   Jesus came to change the world.   But he did not, he does not, imitate the ugly ways of Caesar fighting over power and dominance.   Instead, we work in His kingdom by the countercultural means if humility, service, and sacrificial love.  These things are truly beautiful.

carry-cross

When we follow Christ, we are choosing the path of humility, service and love, not political dominance.  Political dominance is not the way of His kingdom – You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you.   We have forgotten, or simply ignored, that Jesus brings in His kingdom by refusing to oppose Caesar on Caesar’s terms.  He did NOT fight political power with political power.   As He was submitting to His state-sponsored execution he tells Pontius Pilate “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting…” John 18:36 ESV.  We share a beautiful Gospel.  Part of that beauty is that the Kingdom of God comes not by the sword of political power, but the cross of self-sacrificing love (Take up your cross and follow me).  Jesus didn’t ride the war horse into Jerusalem, he didn’t swing the sword for political power (All who take the sword will perish by the sword), instead he absorbed the blow of the injustice brought upon him, and committed his fate to God.

kingdom

In the words of Pastor Brian Zahnd, we cannot fight for the kingdom of Christ in the same manner that the nations of the world fight, for the moment we do, we are no longer the kingdom of Christ but the kingdom of the world!

white house

We live in a broken world.  But what is most wrong in the world is not our politics or who runs Congress or lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.  What is most wrong with the world is the distorted face of humanity brought about by the dehumanizing forces of lust, greed and pride.   We are not called to protest, or campaign for political solutions, but to live an authentic Christian alternative.  We advocate another way.  We do participate in the political process, but we do this mostly as ambassadors of the Kingdom of God, teaching and showing the virtues of that Kingdom.  We show what it means to be Christ-like in what is still a Caesar-like world.  But, this requires us to take up our cross, put down our sword, follow Jesus, and trust in God.  It’s not meant to be practical.

“And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.””

Mark 10:35-45 ESV

http://bible.com/59/mrk.10.35-45.esv

John Lewis

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In God We Trust

in-god-we-trust1

Looking at Mark 4 today, specifically the story of Jesus calming the storm.

a great windstorm

If you don’t know this story, then here it is.  It is the story of Jesus and his disciples getting into a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee when a great storm comes upon them.  On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.   They took him just as he was…Jesus had been teaching the people all day from the boat, so they left without returning to shore, heading for the other side where He would heal a demon possessed man who had been living in the graveyards.   They wind up in a great storm, which is not unusual for the Sea of Galilee due to the presence of the mountains and the up and down currents of the winds there.   This storm must have been particularly powerful to have frightened these experienced fisherman.

Jesus storm

But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”    The disciples may have been afraid, but apparently Jesus was not concerned.   He was in the back, sleeping like a baby.   Sleeping like he was unaware they were all about to die!!

do you not care...

And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?””    So Jesus wakes up, and calmly commands the storm to stop.  To which, the storm listens, the wind ceased, and all was calm.  And Jesus then does something that, maybe, seems a little strange, maybe even unfair.   It seems as though he rebuked his disciples here –  “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”   

little-faith

Is it just me, or does it seem like Jesus is a little irritated or impatient here?   Why does he rebuke them?   Their boat was about to sink, was it not?   I would think that would be the perfect time to cry out to Jesus to save them!   What else were they supposed to do?   Didn’t the fact that they cried out in their panic, in their time of desperate need, show that they DID have faith?

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So here is my take here.  Mark says they went to Jesus and cried out  Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?   Matthew’s account of this event says “And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.””   Matthew 8:25 ESV. The disciples were terrified.   They were panicked.  This is why Jesus asks them “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”   Maybe the correct response for the disciples would have been to, calmly, wake Jesus and just say “Hey, we need you to calm this storm Jesus.”   And just expect that it will be done.   Because, what else were the disciples to do but to go to the Son of God in their time of need and ask for salvation?

north-korea-military-march

They were rebuked because of their fear.  Because if we are trusting in the Lord, we should not have fear.  These disciples are a little like us today.  We are freaking out in the world right now, are we not?  We have issues.  We have North Korea, The Donald, and nuclear weapons all around.  Not a good combination.  We have Russian investigation, hurricanes that keep coming, scientists are telling us the earth is boiling.  We have to do something, don’t we??!!

have-trust-in-God

The question is, do we trust God or not?  If we say we have faith in God, then at some point we have to trust God.  We do all that we can responsibly do, but that still won’t calm the fear in you heart, the anxieties that keep you up at night.

in guns we trust

Think about this – every time a human being kills another human being, whatever good reasons there may be, it comes down to not trusting God.  If you have a gun pointing at me, and I can kill you before you kill me, I can only obey Jesus’ command to love my enemies if I’m trusting in God.  There’s no other way.  Because if I die, I die.  It’s not the end of the world.  It’s not the end of me.  Do I believe that or do I not?  Our money has the inscription “In God we Trust.”  But, really, should it not say “In guns we trust”?  Because do we not trust FAR more in our guns than in our God?   When we take matters into our own hands because we are not trusting, and we act out of fear, we almost always turn to violence.

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What exactly are we trusting God for?  We are not trusting Him to get us out of our situation.  That’s not the point.  We are trusting that if this happens, and I die, I’m ok with that.  I’m trusting that God is going to work this out for good, make the best of this situation, and work it out ultimately for good.  Because I believe in life after death, I believe in the resurrection of the dead.  So, if you kill me…then what?  You got nothing else…

hope

The hope of the New Testament is always directed to that ultimate future.  We are not trusting God for a new car, or to pay the bills, or to buy a bigger house.  That is not our hope.  For believing Christians, the worst case scenario is not a bad scenario.  Christian leaders tell us to trust in God, but they don’t tell us what we are trusting for.  So, we think that God is supposed to get us out this our out of that.  But if he does, or if he doesn’t, either way that day is going to come.  It may seem dark, but we will all die eventually.  And if not, scientists tell us the universe is decaying, how are you getting out of that one?  What are you trusting God for?  He may not, he will not, get us out of every bad situation, but we trust that there is a good situation he’s getting us into, no matter what happens.

war zone

The New Testament says the here and now is a war zone.  Bad things can happen.  We might get fed to the lions or be burned at the stake.  But we trust in the character of God, who will ultimately win in the end.

guns

So they can kill us now, but so what???

“On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?””

Mark 4:35-41 ESV

http://bible.com/59/mrk.4.35-41.esv

John Lewis

A Good Investment?

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Today I have a meditation which I may or may not expand upon later.

well done

Part of my morning prayer time includes prayerfully reading the Gospel reading from the common lectionary, which is used by tens of thousands of churches worldwide.  This weeks reading is the parable of the talents found in Matthew 25:14-30.

hid talent in the ground

I’m not really worried today about the multiplying of the talents for the man who was given 5 talents or 2 talents.  I’m going to focus on the character in this story who represents most of us, the poor soul who was given one talent to manage.

well done good and faithful

We’ve all (mostly) known the story.  A man going on a long journey gave 3 servants 5 talents (a measurement in those days of something of value, like gold or silver), 2 talents, and 1 talent to manage respectively.  The servants given 5 and 2 talents each doubled what they had received, and each one heard from his master  ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’   A joyous declaration for any master to his servant.

sow-seed

But for the man who had but one talent, the reception was a little different.  He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’  So this servant had received but one talent, and had done nothing with it.  Not only that, but said to his master  I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed.  That’s a gutsy thing to throw at your master when he comes around checking productivity, is it not?   But here’s the point of what I’ve been meditating on this passage since Friday, that this, by and large, may be how we view our master in heaven.  He reaps where he has not sown, and gathers where he has scattered no seed.  And dog-gone it, we are not putting any of our talents, our treasure, or anything else in play to gather in that field, or reap where we don’t believe God has been working.

don't eat shrimp

We are like Peter in the Book of Acts, refusing to eat anything on that sheet being lowered from heaven with all the unclean animals upon it. “But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.”” Acts 10:14 ESV.  Peter refused to eat what God was offering him because the holy scriptures, the Bible, told him not to eat anything that slithers upon the ground, certain birds of prey, meat from animals that don’t part the hoof or chew the cud (this is just a small sample).  Peter was doing exactly as his bible told him.  Oh yeah, and no shellfish.  Yes, God said don’t eat shrimp.  Or crabs, whether you have Old Bay or not (sorry for the local Maryland reference!!).

SteamedCrab

But now, God is pushing the limits in what Peter can comprehend or accept.   “And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.”” Acts 10:15 ESV.  And, just for good measure – God sent Peter immediately to the house of Cornelius.  Cornelius was a Roman centurion who loved and feared God, and had been commanded in his own vision to send his servants to bring back Peter.  So Peter, at the word of the Holy Spirit, does go with, and says this upon entering the house of Cornelius – “And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.”” Acts 10:28-29 ESV.  Peter, who had actually been with Jesus during most of his earthly ministry, had been taught directly by Jesus and had been following Jesus ever since, took a long time to get to this point.  This is about 10 years after the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and Peter has barely left Jerusalem.  He still has not gotten the fact that salvation is for all, and still doesn’t associate or eat with Gentiles.  Paul had long been eating and associating with the Gentiles, Peter was just a little slower in his understanding for some reason.   But once he gets it, he gets it – “So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” Acts 10:34-35 ESV

no partiality

We know what is expected of us (“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,”Matthew 28:19 ESV), just as this lazy servant in the parable knew what was expected – a return on his investment.   We look at the world around us and don’t like what we see.  Just as Peter once looked at the Gentiles who were all around him, and he knew he was not to associate with them.  The bible told him so.  And in his understanding of what the Bible told him, he was correct.   Just as we are correct in what the Bible tells us (at least we think we are).   But, now as then, God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.   We may misunderstand the nature of God, and believe him to be a hard man.  We may look at the world around us and see that God has done no sowing or planting.  But in truth, it is not  God who has done no sowing or scattering, it is we that are called to do the sowing and scattering, then the reaping and gathering.  He has given us all we have, the breath in our lungs, the life in our bodies.  He’s given us our abilities, our potentials.  All he expects is the effort.  The effort to participate in the fulfillment of his kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven.   

heaven-on-earth

Christ will come again.  What will be his return on the investment he made in you?   When we go before his judgment seat, there will be an accounting, a reckoning.  What did you do with what he gave you?  Did you invest it in the lives around you?   Or did you bury it?   Will you give Him a multiplied return on his investment?  Or will you give Him excuses and justifications?

christ

“”For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

Matthew 25:14-30 ESV

http://bible.com/59/mat.25.14-30.esv

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all!!   Striving to be grateful as St Paul was grateful – for all things, in all afflictions, despite the results he could (or couldn’t) see, and in the face of all challenges.  Paul stayed grateful and in a state of constant Thanksgiving.

May we all be able, at least for one day, to give grace and thanks to our Lord and savior for he has given, all he has done, all he gives, and all he is doing.

Happy Thanksgiving

Love you all.

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

Philippians 1:3-11 ESV

http://bible.com/59/php.1.3-11.esv

“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

1 Corinthians 1:4-9 ESV

http://bible.com/59/1co.1.4-9.esv

“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

1 Corinthians 1:4-9 ESV

http://bible.com/59/1co.1.4-9.esv

“We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 ESV

http://bible.com/59/1th.1.2-3.esv

John Lewis

Denial University

University

Human pain is the great unifier.  We all have pain in common.  It’s a part of our solidarity.  To be human is to hurt.   But in our pain, we always look to find our way to Jesus, because if you can get to Jesus everything is going to be alright, amen!!

emmanuel

God in Christ is “Emmanuel“.  GOD WITH US.  God with us in the solidarity of human suffering.  Beginning at Bethlehem, Jesus entered the world of the wounded, and was himself wounded.   But here’s a beautiful and sacred mystery, “By his wounds we are healed“.  If we can bring our own wounds to the wounds of Christ, it does not multiply woundednes but produces healing.  But first we must acknowledge our own woundedness.  This is hard for us as American Christians.  We are raised on John Wayne, Bruce Willis, and pick yourself by the bootstraps.  We are very slow to acknowledge our woundedness and pain.  In many cases, we never actually do.  In the words of Walter Brueggemann, we are schooled in denial.

wounded

The wounded in our society are everywhere.  The hardest task is to break through denial so people can get in touch with their own pain.  Our zeal for certitude and absolutism is an anxious, frightened response to the reality of pain.  We think we can not bear the pain, so we protect ourselves by pretending we don’t know about our own pain.  What we discover is that if we can get access to our pain within our community which we trust, then our pain is almost always bearable because the trustworthiness of our brothers and sisters will hold and not let us fall through.  Sometimes we need to be helped to see or hear that our certitudes are mostly phony, that life does not conform to our certitudes, and our absolutes are much less than absolute.

So what do we do about a people schooled in denial?

lamentation

Lamentations, that little book between Jeremiah and Ezekiel, was composed in response to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.  It was end of world for the Jewish people.  Imagine  September 11 times 1000, that’s 587 BC for the Jewish people.  It was a great national humanitarian and economic crisis.  But it was also a great theological crisis.  It caused them to question everything thought they knew and believed about themselves.  Are we the people of God or not?  We’ve not been rescued, we’ve not been delivered.  This pagan nation has destroyed our great city and burned our temple.  Everyone but the poorest of the poor have been carried off into captivity and exile.  We don’t even have a land to call home anymore.  That’s context for the book of Lamentation.   It’s the Jewish hymn book of grief and sorrow.  And the Jewish people have had plenty of opportunities to lament.

lament

Lament brings pain, sorrow, and anguish out into the open where it can be acknowledged, shared, and eventually healed.  What the book of Lamentations does is make it possible for the Jewish people after the destruction of the temple to be able to get past their certainties and absolutism and allow God to come in and bring true comfort.

Look at how the Lamentations opens.

lonely sits the city

“How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow has she become, she who was great among the nations! She who was a princess among the provinces has become a slave. She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has none to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her; they have become her enemies. Judah has gone into exile because of affliction and hard servitude; she dwells now among the nations, but finds no resting place; her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress. The roads to Zion mourn, for none come to the festival; all her gates are desolate; her priests groan; her virgins have been afflicted, and she herself suffers bitterly.” Lamentations 1:1-4 ESV

Now look at how the book closes.

how long

“Why do you forget us forever, why do you forsake us for so many days? Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old— unless you have utterly rejected us, and you remain exceedingly angry with us.”

Lamentations 5:20-22 ESV

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Always, always, the question we want answered is “How long, Lord?”  Notice how Lamentation reaches no nice resolution.  There is no happily ever after.  It hangs there in ambiguity.  Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old— unless you have utterly rejected us, and you remain exceedingly angry with us.   Restore us Lord, renew our days as of old…unless you are just going to be angry with us forever.   No certitudes or absolutes to be found, even inspired by the spirit as this was.  There is no happily ever after.

everything's going to be alright

Leading up to the great catastrophe, all the prophets in Jerusalem said everything is gonna be alright.  We have the temple, we have the promises of god, God is on our side.  God is our defender.   There will be peace.  We have the covenant of god and the promises of God.  This city will not, can not fall, because after all we have the temple of the lord!!  All the prophets, that is, except for Jeremiah.  “Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’” Jeremiah 7:4 ESV.  Jeremiah brought a minority report.  Jeremiah said there is idolatry in that temple.  He said the city and temple will be destroyed.  The people will be carried into Babylon   Jeremiah warned, as all the other nations in the area fell, that they would fall too.  Jeremiah warned them Do not trust in these deceptive words. “Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it because of the evil of my people Israel.” Jeremiah 7:4, 12 ESV.  Jeremiah warned them to remember Shiloh, the place where the ark of the covenant itself had been kept.  The original dwelling place of the lord had been wiped off the map, what makes us think we won’t be is the warning.

jeremiah in the well

Jeremiah’s message was not very well received (go figure).  He was arrested, censored, his prophesies were burned, he was even thrown into a well.  At least they didn’t kill him…

587 bc

All the other prophets said everything’s going to be alright, but it was Jeremiah’s prophecy that came to pass.  In 587 BC, the city fell, the temple was burned, and the people were carried into captivity and slavery.  The moon was red as blood, the sun refused to shine, all the stars fell from the sky.  It was the end of the world as they knew it.  And they could no longer take comfort in false promises of what turned out to be the false prophets.

noweapon

Lamentations is about preparing a place for comfort to come by doing work of lamentation.  It is a primer in overcoming our denial and false certitudes.  What is meant by false certitudes?   Isaiah 54:17 says that ‘No weapon formed against you shall prosper…”.   There is a time and a setting, a context, where that is the word of the lord.  But we grab hold of that verse (and others like it) and carry it around with as our own personal badge of bravado, we tell everyone who will listen how no weapon formed against me shall prosper, we carry on in our certitude and absolutism.  Until the day comes when it seems every single weapon being formed against you is totally prospering.   Then what do you do??  Just keep denying, keep on the brave face, never let ’em see you sweat, never show weakness, amen?

grim

When the diagnosis is grim, the bankruptcy is filed, the divorce is final, our loved on has died, our certitudes go out the window.  Lamentations was born at this point, at the pain point of 587 BC. Even the book of psalms, which we mostly see as the praise songs of the Bible, is full of lament.  One-third of the psalms at psalms of lament.  Israel is famous for its psalms of lament.

jerusalem-destruction

We need to really understand where Lamentations fits into the Bible.  If you look at the book of Isaiah, it is divided into two parts. The first 39 chapters are warnings and prophecies of dire consequences which are coming.  This part is pre-587, before the destruction of the temple.  Chapters 40-66, that is all after the destruction of the temple.  This us where most of our liturgies from Isaiah are actually from, from chapter 40 on.  So we have Isaiah 1-39, warnings and prophecies of what is to come.   Then August 587 BC comes, and the destruction of the city of God, the burning and destruction of God’s temple, and God’s people being carried off into exile.

none to comfort

This is where Jeremiah’s (we believe) lamentations come in.  There is phrase that appears 5 times in the Lamentations,  she has none to comfort her.  There are none comfort, there is no comfort, this is said five times during the book of Lamentations.   Bu5 what happens in Isaiah 40?   “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” Isaiah 40:1 ESV.  It’s no longer none to comfort, it’s comfort, comfort my people.  The work of Lamentation that’s been done has opened the people up to real comfort, the comfort of God given by others.

Blessed are those who mourn

Jesus himself says what about this?  “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4 ESV.   Mourning, laying down our false certitudes, being vulnerable, opening yourself up to the comfort of a God carried by another.  Grief is not a reality to be denied, but work to be attended to – Pastor Brian Zahnd.  The work of grief and lamentation must be done if we are to allow true comfort into our lives.  But we would rather anesthetize ourselves with entertainment…

thepursuit

We so crave happiness.  You might say we are a happiness obsessed culture.  We’ve even got a constitutional right to pursue it!!  (I know, it’s not actually in the constitution.  But we believe it is…).   We think we can just whistle past the graveyard and forget that death is the very backdrop of human existence.  We actually believe we can get out of this alive.  We are so like the great whore of revelation – ‘I sit as a queen, I am no widow, and mourning I shall never see.’ Revelation 18:7 ESV.  We think mourning we will never see, we can just whistle past those graveyards, but it’s all just a lie.  It’s propaganda we so want to believe and live our lives based upon.

stay miserable

But when we are schooled in denial, we earn our degree in just staying miserable.  We have become a people addicted to entertainment, and we earn degrees from Denial University.   When we experience loss and the grief and pain that accompanies it but will not acknowledge it, it us simply internalized and begins to poison our soul.  The effects of the poison can be seen in things like depression, anger, addiction, physical disease, other types of things.  When we go off to Denial U, we earn our degree in how to stay miserable.

A_twelve-steps

This is what is so powerful about our 12 step programs like AA, NA, SA, or my favorite Celebrate Recovery.  It is through these programs and living the 12 steps that we can be unschooled in denial and begin road real recovery.

funeral

School of denial belongs to the empire that can not bear to face reality of death.  You know someone’s been schooled in denial when they refuse to attend funerals.   “I don’t do funerals“.   Some say this like it’s  a virtuous thing.   We are so selfish, are we not?   But what this really is just someone so schooled in their own denial that what they’ve told themselves is some virtuous decision not to attend funerals is really just away for them to face the reality of the one funeral they will be required to attend.   Because we are all required to attend at least one funeral in our lives, are we not?    We’ve turned funerals these days into an exercise of trying to cheer someone else up when the real purpose of a funeral is grief and lament as a community.   We grieve together, we share in the loss with those closest loved ones.   Because lament purges the soul.  It does not add to the problem, it is a part of the healing process

denial

One last bit here.  Consider this prayer, tucked away right in the middle of the book of Lamentations, starting with verse 3:16.

“He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.” Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”

Lamentations 3:16-26 ESV

love of christ

When we are honest enough about our pain and grief to share it with our brothers and sister, we can then be opened up the love of God carried to us by another.  Because, really, how are we to receive the love of God in this world except through another made in his image?  God almost always works through people, does he not?   So the beginning of healing and recovery comes through sharing that pain, sorrow and grief, not covering it up.  Become a Denial University dropout and experience the love of Christ the only way we know how – by being opened up to receive it through another human being.

John Lewis

The Last Word

The Last Word

The Book of Revelation.  The last book of the canon of scripture.  Chapter 1, verse 1 begins “The revelation of Jesus Christ…“.  “Of” here carries a double meaning.  It is the revelation about Jesus Christ, and it is the revelation from Jesus Christ.   He is the content, the subject, of the revelation, and the agent of the revelation.  As Eugene Peterson puts it, “Jesus Christ is the way in which God reveals himself to us; Jesus Christ is also God himself being revealed to us.”

As such, we need to understand that revelation is not given to be information about the broken world we live in.  It is not a report about the persecution of the church in the first century, and it’s certainly, ABSOLUTELY, not chiming in about all the geopolitical events of the 21st century.  Anything regarding past and future evens in revelation are only given because they are useful in revealing Christ to us.  Because the Revelation is nothing if not focused on Jesus Christ.

Martin Luther disagreed with this statement.  In fact, brother Luther wanted to remove Revelation from the Bible altogether.  Martin considered revelation to be “neither apostolic or prophetic…I can in no way detect that the Holy Spirit produced it…they are supposed to be blessed who keep what is written in this book; and yet no one seems to know what that is, to say nothing of keeping it…Christ is neither taught nor known in it.”

All of which did not prevent him from using the revelation to prove the pope was the antichrist.  The same pope who, in turn, used revelation to prove that Martin Luther was the antichrist.  The same antichrist who, by the way, is not mentioned in the book of revelation.  Anywhere.

But I digress.  Like I said, Revelation is nothing if not focused on Jesus Christ (despite the objections of Martin Luther).  It may be hard to maintain this focus through all the symbolism and topics flashing at us (especially for our ADHD, instant gratification minds), but it is the only way to read the Revelation with any degree of sanity.  In fact, the only way to read any scripture rightly is in subjugation to Jesus Christ.  If Christ is not the center of it all, then our Holy Bible is little more than an encyclopedia of religion, with no more plot than a phone book.

Without Christ as the center, all the individual stories and words of the Bible are just out there.   So we have a talking snake, floating axe heads, a snake on a pole, strange rules strangely repeated like the law not to boil a kid in its mothers milk.  We have seemingly pointless genealogies at random points, which we need for what??   We have the thundering “Thus saith the Lord!” moments.  We have some of the favorite sayings of Christ himself –  “you are salt of the earth…and the light of the world“, “Enter by the narrow gate“, or “Do unto others..“.  We have Paul’s paradoxes  – “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”   We have Paul’s stirring conclusions – “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” or “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”   AMEN!!

So, what does it all mean??  What do we make of the information, all the stories, this mass of material we call our bible??  By this time, we can be completely confused and bewildered.  This is where the revelation steps in.

Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters.    We turn the page and find the magnificent Christ described in such a way that everything is imaginatively subordinated to him.  He was suggested, anticipated, prayed for and promised in the ancient Hebrew scriptures.  He’s been presented in the Gospels, taught and preached in the epistles.  If we are careful and maintain our focus, we could have held true to our awareness throughout of Jesus the Christ.  But we don’t read carefully and maintain our focus.  Instead, we argue about predestination, we theorize about atonement.  We count miracles and worry about grammar and style.  Then we come to Revelation and we are startled out of all our tangential arguments and diversions.  Everything that was said before is brought back into proportion.  Christ himself is the last word.  He was and is the word made flesh, John brings us back on track, brings Him back into focus.  We’ve been climbing the mountain but we’ve lost our way.  We are climbing, seeking after Christ, but we’ve lost sight of the guideposts along the way.  John brings the path back into focus, and clears the brush for us.  A mountain peak determines all the preparations and the path climbers take to reach it, even when it’s still out of sight.  The peak is always the goal toward which everything was aimed.  The Revelation gives us the last word on Christ, and this word is that Christ is the center and at the center.  He is the mountaintop we are seeking throughout the mountain of scripture.

Keeping Christ at the center can be difficult.  We get lost along the way, and other things find their way to the front.  The golden rule, our doctrines of atonement, the Ten Commandments,  justification, diagrams and explanations of the trinity, denouncing the wicked.  We know all along that Christ is one to be reckoned with, but we forget that he at the center of all, filling all things with himself.

So what is Christ, who is he, and how will he be presented to hold onto this centrality?  John is commanded by the trumpet voice and describes him as one like a son of man.  This phrase originates in the vision of Daniel – I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.   Jesus, the Son of Man, is a commanding, all powerful, redeeming, glorious figure! We want to manage him, keep him in his box, but he will not be managed.  We go along with, we believe in, we teach Jesus as a piece of the puzzle for our own private lives, a private decision to be kept out of the public space.  We believe in a secularized, managed-for-our-own-purposes Jesus.  But he will not be managed.  He does not fit nice and tidy into our little shoebox.

In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.  The word from the word, coming forth like a sharp two edged sword, searching hearts, judging rebels, and slaying sinners.  BUT, the word tells us Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.   He is the first and the last, the alpha and the omega.  He is the word, slaying sinners with a spoken word like a two edged sword so they can then be resurrected into newness of life with Him.  He died, yet he is alive forevermore, and he holds the keys to death and Hades.   He is “...the firstborn of the dead…” Revelation 1:5 ESV.   Because he went ahead of us we can Fear noteven death, because He has conquered it forever.

He does not live in our acrostics.  He’s not a part of our self help plans, he’s not contained by our 12 step programs.  He migh meet you on a Roman road, but he does not live there.  We can’t keep sinners from his table, because no matter how hard we try he just keeps calling out and inviting them.  He is the one who sits, eats, and drinks with sinners.  He doesn’t care about atonement theories, He just forgives sins and sinners.  He doesn’t argue about justification, He justifies.

He is the Son of Man, to him is given dominion and glory and a kingdom.  He is the beginning and the end, the firstborn of all creation, the firstborn of the dead.  He is the first word of creation, and the last word of Revelation.  He made all things, all things were made through Him.  In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and no, the darkness has not overcome it.  “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14 ESV.

“Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”

Revelation 1:12-20 ESV

http://bible.com/59/rev.1.12-20.esv

“”I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”

Daniel 7:13-14 ESV

http://bible.com/59/dan.7.13-14.esv

John Lewis

The Price of Admission

The Price of Admission

man of sorrows

He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.

world of hurt

We inhabit a world of hurt.  Pain is an ever present possibility.  Grief stalks us.  We are haunted by the specter and possibility of sorrow.  We know it can strike at any moment.  This reality is not restricted to third world nations, it is not present only for those living under violent dictatorships and backward regimes.

This IS the human condition.  Pain is no respecter of persons.  It comes to all of us.  Most people know this instinctively.  And most, at least to some degree, accept it.

very powerful

But there are three kinds of people who struggle with the real occurrence of pain in this life.  These are the very rich, the very powerful, and the very religious.  There are people in this world, perhaps you are aware, that believe that if you have enough power, enough money, and/or the right religion, you can mostly avoid pain in this life.

very powerful 2

Throughout history, the rulers and citizens of the richest and most powerful nations have been especially susceptible to this particular line of propaganda.  With enough money, enough might, and the right kind of religion, we might be able to get out of this thing alive.  Rich and powerful nations feel as though it is their birthright to live above the pain and sorrow that falls upon the rest.   We just need a big economy, a big army, and a big God on our side.  Get enough gold, guns and God, and you can avoid all pain.

I sit as a queen

This is nothing new.   This is exactly what the rulers and citizens of the Roman Empire thought.  This is what John the revelator mocks in Revelation 18 – ‘I sit as a queen, I am no widow, and mourning I shall never see.’ Revelation 18:7 ESV.  But of course she sees mourning, it’s all just empty propaganda.  The Romans sat on top of the world, the playground bully, they believed pain and suffering were for the rest of the world, to be doled out by themselves upon others as necessary, but never for them to suffer through.   The problem is, they were still left with their own real world hurts and real world pain, but their own propaganda added the additional burden of keeping up appearances…

big economy

Modern Americans are tempted to believe the same propaganda, and propaganda it is.  We have a big economy, big guns, and a big God on our side, Amen!   Things should be different HERE.  We are, after all, the wealthiest, the most powerful, and one of the most religious nations on earth.  But, unfortunately, that is no guarantee (and we do like our guarantees).  But there is no guarantee that tomorrow we won’t face a terminal diagnosis, financial ruin, crushing bereavement, bitter betrayal, personal rejection, or some other event that can cause us to take up residence in the house of pain.

big god

Understand this – the idea that if you can become rich enough, powerful enough, and religious enough then you can make it through this life without pain is a pernicious lie.  We try to live without pain, do all we can to avoid pain.  But to try to be without pain is to attempt to be superhuman, and when we attempt to be superhuman, we wind up being less than human.  We wind up as less than human because those that use power, wealth and religion to avoid pain only end up inflicting that pain on other people.

Syria

Look at what happened in Syria a couple of years ago.  A powerful man who wanted to avoid all pain, inflicting it en masse on others.  How about the financial crisis of 2008?  Very, very rich people acting very irresponsibly in an attempt to avoid pain.  And we don’t even need to start talking about how much pain religion can and has inflicted upon the world.

Las-Vegas-shooting

Or how about the Vegas gunman?  An extreme example, but the last article I read about him talked about how, for the past two years, he had been on a bad losing streak in the high stakes gambling rooms and had lost much of his wealth.  He was at a point where he was about to feel the pain of the loss of his status with family and in those high stakes gambling rooms.   A pain he was not prepared to bear, and so 59 people had to die and hundreds more severely injured and otherwise scarred.  I know, it makes no sense, but the portrait we have is of a man who couldn’t bear even that pain of losing his image.  That burden of keeping up appearances

The-Passion-of-the-Christ-1

Look at the passion of Jesus Christ.  Here you had the whole gathering of the very rich, the very powerful, and the very religious.  Pontius Pilate had the military might of the worlds most powerful army.  King Herod was the wealthiest man on earth.  Then there was Joseph Caiaphas, the high priest, at the top of the great religion of the world.  It was these three who were directly involved in the crucifixion of the Christ, it was these three who controlled the money, the guns, and the temple.  And their whole lives , not just in relation to Jesus, were spent dealing out pain to others to insure they never had to experience pain themselves.

superhuman

Attempts to live without pain do not make us superhuman, they make us subhuman.  When we try to be inhuman, we wind up inhumane.   Because pain is the price of admission…

desspised and rejected

In a meditation on the nation of Israel and the expected Messiah, Isaiah wrote He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.   We know this now to be a vision of Jesus.   The word made flesh, God incarnate.  He came and joined us in our humanity, pain and all.   He did not come and take up a partial share in what it means to be human, he took a full share.  He was fully immersed in all that it means to be human, pain and all.   Because pain is the price of admission.

AdmitOne

The price of admission to what??  It is the price of admission to life, to existence, to being.  It’s the price of admission to being real, authentic beings.

Baby being born via Caesarean Section

Have you ever seen a newborn baby?   Not a week old newborn, not even an day old, but two minutes old?   It’s our welcome into this world, but sometimes the poor baby looks like they’ve been in a fight.  Because they have.  We cry tears, but they are tears of joy, because it’s a joyous thing, the birth of a baby.  We want to cry out “Welcome to the world!!”  But the baby just wants to cry out.  Because pain is the price of admission.

pain

It is a traumatic experience, being born.  Maybe that’s why it’s the picture Jesus paints for fellow rabbi Nicodemus in John chapter 3, that you have to be born again to see the kingdom of God, because sometimes rethinking a lifetime of knowing can be a traumatic experience.   But as we say to the newborn baby, welcome to our world!!  The introduction is pain.   Because if there is no possibility of pain, there are no possibilities at all.

Think about this – if you take away all possibilities of pain, then you take away all possibilities.  For God to create beings in his own image involves real risk.  It’s the risk inherent with freedom.  The freedom to be real, authentic beings, the freedom of real choices in life.

let there be

In the beginning, God said “Let there be…”.  And he created the stars and the sky and the light.  He created the seas and the land.  He created the plants and the animals, but something was missing.  There was creation, but it was a creation which, maybe, was missing something.  So then God says “Let us make…man in our own image,”  now He has risked something.   Because God made man, creatures, in His own image and yet distinct from Him.

image of god

He made man, created beings with true freedom, real choices, and now there is the real possibility of sin and death, pain and suffering.  God always knew this was the chance he was taking, but He made us anyway.  Not only did He create man in His own image, making possible for pain and suffering to enter the world, but He comes and meets us in that world right at the intersection of pain and suffering…

every tear

But there is a hope, after all.  As Christians, we do have a great hope for the world, do we not??  “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new…””  Revelation 21:4-5 ESV.  Christ will come again.  This is our hope.  It is what we confess by faith.  There will be no more pain, no more mourning, no more sorrow, and all things will be made new.

all thing made new

So, how will this happen?  How will all things be made new, and now mankind, with all of our freedom and authenticity, be able to live in that freedom and authenticity without pain??   I don’t know.  I don’t know how the plans and purposes of God are being and will be played out.  But this is what I hope and believe will ultimately happen.

risk

But why risk in the first place?   Why do we take risks?  Why did God risk making us in His own image?    What risk is acceptable?  Do we really even want to live in a world without pain and without risk?   Do we want to live in a world where we could all just live as couch potatoes, fingers on the remote, doing nothing but eating potato chips and drinking beer, then step on a plane, fly to Nepal and scale Mt Everest without any problems?   Seriously, is that even worth it?  Again, without the possibility of pain, are there any possibilities at all?

traumatic

We live in a world where the former things have not yet passed away, of that I am sure.  Maybe we are only in the first stage.   Maybe this first stage was always necessary, something mankind had to go through to get to where God wants us to be in our journey.

christ

The great Christian mystic Julian of Norwich once said “First the fall, and then the recovery from the fall, and both are the mercy of God…” Sometimes (maybe every time), we have to fall down before we can look up.  But those of us who have fallen, if we can stay the course and not jump off the ship when we feel it sinking, can look back and say “It was good to fall in the first place.

We have hope for our world beyond hurt.  But we are not there yet.  It is pain that remains the price of admission into God’s good creation.   We do cry tears of joy at the birth of an infant even though we know that baby has just been through a traumatic experience – with many more to come.

“He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.”

Isaiah 53:3 NLT

http://bible.com/116/isa.53.3.nlt

“As she glorified herself and lived in luxury, so give her a like measure of torment and mourning, since in her heart she says, ‘I sit as a queen, I am no widow, and mourning I shall never see.’”

Revelation 18:7 ESV

http://bible.com/59/rev.18.7.esv

John Lewis