Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
The beleaguered prophet, Jeremiah, had had it. He was, in the words of Andy to Barney, “beat to the socks”—and then some! He was surrounded by sin and disobedience. At every turn, he was being disappointed by people he expected so much more from. He was fed up, and he wanted to escape from it all. Can you relate? Have you seen so much hatred, man’s inhumanity to man, gross immorality, defiance and rebellion, God-less living, and the like that you are done with it?
Jeremiah wrote, “Oh that my head were waters and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people! Oh that I had in the desert a wayfarers’ lodging place; That I might leave my people and go from them! For all of them are adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men. ‘They bend their tongue like their bow; Lies and not truth prevail in the land; For they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know Me,’ declares the Lord” (Jer. 9:1-3). Keep reading and you see a dirty laundry list of other transgressions, like treachery and deceit, immorality, and unbelief (4-8). In fact, God pronounces judgment against that nation for its collective guilt. So, the astute and informed prophet grieved for the people and longed to escape from this agonizing reality.
Isn’t it wonderful that God has given us refuges from the similar conditions we see around us today? We can choose to consume the salacious, depressing headlines and news stories, monitoring it day and night. We can engross ourselves in the various activist positions currently advocated in our culture and society. Or…
There are probably quite a few, though lost in spiritual ignorance, who would love to know about this “wayfarers’ lodging place,” not to escape from people but to escape to God. There are brothers and sisters in Christ groping to get to such a place. Perhaps we forget that “there is a place of quiet rest, near to the heart of God. A place where sin cannot molest, near to the heart of God.” Jeremiah was discouraged by his daunting task. We who stand this side of the cross know, whatever is happening around us, “our inner man is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16).
Wanna get away?
I witnessed something beautiful last night. A young man responded to the invitation and I was amazed by an outpouring of love and support shown by so many of his spiritual family. At least a dozen people, young men and young women as well as older men and women, came forward, too. They were not responding to the invitation to confess sin, but responding to this young man’s response. But there was room for about five on that short pew. The rest of them either stood nearby or sat on adjoining pews. They just wanted to be there for their friend and brother.
I could not help but think about what a beautiful display of family that was! This young man was hurting and struggling. It takes a lot of courage to admit wrong, to ask for help, and to do so publicly. It is obvious that this congregation has concluded that no one should ever have to do that alone.
It is not the only way to do this, but it is definitely one way to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), encourage and build up one another (1 Th. 5:11), provide edification according to the need of the moment (cf. Eph. 4:29), to bear the weaknesses of those without strength (Rom. 15:1), and to strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble (Heb. 12:12). Think about what occurs with such an overwhelming outpouring of comfort! It tells the one who has come forward that they are special, important, and that they matter. It treats their problem(s) as most serious. It makes a statement about how they are seen, as a vital member of the body.
What would happen if every time anyone—a middle-aged man, an elderly widow, a struggling divorcee, a new member, a deacon, elder, or preacher, a teen, or any other sub-classification—publicly responded, they were met with such encouragement and consolation? Wouldn’t we be reflecting the heart of the Prodigal Son’s father in Luke 15, who ran to meet the boy who’d come home? Please consider this the next time someone publicly responds. Don’t worry what others may think of you. The one who responded didn’t worry about it. Don’t stop to ask what it might look like. That broken man, woman, boy, or girl didn’t. If we’re going to err, let’s err on the side of charity and not severity! The church should ever seek ways to create a culture of compassion!
Remember the words of Paul: “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (Col. 3:12-13).
Jahaziel would have been a man of interesting and diverse talents. As a Levite, he would have served with the priests in the temple. As one of the sons of Asaph, he would have either been a literal descendant “or more probably [one of] a class of poets and singers who recognized him as [his] master” (Easton, M. G. Easton’s Bible dictionary 1893 : n. pag. Print.). But on the occasion recorded in 2 Chronicles 20, Jahaziel would have been a “seer” or prophet. The Spirit of the Lord comes upon him during the reign of Jehoshaphat, a righteous king of Judah (2 Chron. 20:14). Judah has been invaded by the Moabites and the Ammonites (20:1). Jehoshaphat’s response is righteous, seeking the Lord, proclaiming a fast, and leading a prayer service (20:3-13). Entire families, men, infants, women, and children were all assembled, “standing before the Lord” (13). Then, it happens. Jahaziel is the man God chooses and uses to respond to the touching prayer of the king. What can we learn from Jahaziel’s message?
Just like that, Jahaziel fades back into the woodwork of obscurity! His minute of sacred fame came and went, but how masterfully the Master used Him. However anonymous or average you may believe yourself to be, God has a greater message for you to share than He did for Jahaziel! As you faithfully share it, you can help produce an even greater outcome in the life of somebody you know. Perhaps He will use you to save someone from spiritual rather than physical death! Be on the lookout for that opportunity today and share God’s comforting message.
The first time I recall understanding the significance of the story in 2 Kings 6:30 was sitting in a class taught by Wendell Winkler. He called the lesson “Hidden Cares.” He told us to remember that sitting in the audience each week we preached would be any number of folks carrying around hidden cares. In over twenty years of full-time preaching, I become more aware of that every day. Recently reading about the woman in Mark five who had been suffering for twelve years, I was reminded of this as I thought about the faces of individuals I see all the time suffering in a variety of ways. While we usually know some of the burdens our brothers and sisters are bearing, there are still many others whose troubles are not as widely known.
Jehoram is no Old Testament hero, but is rather a wicked Israelite king. He does not make the cut for the Hebrews eleven list and he does not even behave properly regarding Elisha after the event mentioned in the verse above, but he does illustrate the many who walk around with hidden cares. The verse reads, “When the king heard the words of the woman, he tore his clothes-now he was passing by on the wall-and the people looked, and behold, he had sackcloth beneath on his body.”
The sackcloth was coarsely woven cloth, often made of goat’s hair. It was worn to show mourning and submission to God. No doubt, wearing one of these for any length of time would bring itching, irritation, and discomfort. The garment was apparently meant to reflect outwardly the feelings of the heart and affliction of the spirit of the wearer.
Whether we are preaching or teaching or simply dealing with one another, may we keep a few things in mind. At any given point, the person with whom we are dealing is likely wearing their own “hidden sackcloth.” We may not be able to tell this by looking at their facial expressions or through any verbal cues when we converse. Further, the hidden cares they carry may affect the way they respond to us. Let us not assume they are upset with us or that it is even about us at all. Finally, keep in mind that people cope with their hidden cares in different ways. It is no reflection on the quality of our friendship or relationship if they do not share it. Each of us must determine how, when, and with whom we disclose these things. Let us pray for family, church family, coworkers, neighbors, and others with whom we have relationship as they wear these unseen cares.
To those with sackcloth underneath, remember that God has made us family. There are those you can trust to help bear the burdens. Pray about this and then act. Let these cares refine your relationship with God and sharpen your focus on the place where there will be no such cares. Remember that God is gracious and will not give you more than you can bear. This may seem doubtful at times, but on the other side of the sorrow it will be clear.
No matter how “spiffily” or “slobbily” one is dressed, be aware that underneath may be that figurative sackcloth. May this drive us to be more compassionate and understanding in our dealings with one another.
Whose name meant “comfort”? Noah’s! Lamech says as much. When Noah was born, Lamech proclaimed, “This one shall give us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands arising from the ground which the Lord has cursed” (Gen. 5:29). The NIV and KJV, among others, puts the word “comfort” for “rest,” Lamech was optimistic that Noah, would help alleviate the labor pains of farming in cursed ground.
Have you stopped to think about the meaning of Noah’s name and the mission of Noah’s life? What was his task? He was to build the ark, but he also preached (cf. 2 Pet. 2:5). Now, as to how many people Noah preached to, the Bible is silent. One might assume that he preached as far and as widely as a man engaged in such an enormous building project could. Or, one might say that he preached by the example of his righteous life (cf. Gen. 6:9). The best understanding of 1 Peter 3:18-21 may be that Christ preached to the disobedient ones through Noah’s efforts prior to the flood.
If Noah did preach to the disobedient, and/or admonished and exhorted onlookers and scornful neighbors to get on board the ark, he still was seeking to provide comfort. The thing to understand about giving comfort is that it does not always mean speaking soothing words, placating people, or telling them what they want to hear. That is, at times, a very appropriate and needed response–especially when people are suffering or trying to stay faithful. Yet, comfort can also be the fruit that only comes after a warning or rebuke. When a person is on a self-destructive course, they are destined for something inconceivably awful! What can a compassionate Christian do but try with tremendous effort to steer them back on course? That may be the only way that wayward sinner comes to the place where eternal comfort is once more a possibility.
Remember Jude’s teaching. He said, “And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh” (Jude 22-23). Sometimes, comfort is in the product and not in the raw material or the manufacturing. Always being loving, let us risk offending now so that eternal comfort can be had later! The Christian’s name, nature, and business centers around that real, spiritual comfort, both for the Christian and those whose lives he or she touches (cf. 1 Tim. 4:16).