Thursday’s Column: Carlnormous Comments
Six hundred years before Christ would make His providential appearance, a righteous man finds himself in captivity. While exiled, Ezekiel, was able to witness the spirit of God in a very intimate way (Ezekiel 1). Even so, he was still living under the thumb of the Babylonians like every other Israelite with him. While under these unideal circumstances though, he is privileged to see awe-inspiring visions from God. Have you ever paid attention to the eerie sensations described throughout this book? In Ezekiel 1:4 the prophet feels a great and stormy wind on the bank of the river Chebar. The wind brings with it a massive cloud with fire flashing around it and a substance like glowing metal in the center of it. The wings of the creatures he saw (verse 24) made sounds like that of roaring waters. The voice of the Almighty was like the sound of a great army camp. What sights he was able to see! This great connection to God didn’t take away his pain or sorrow, though.
Chapter 19 is one long lament as Ezekiel cries over his hardhearted Israelite brothers. Why won’t they listen to him? Even after Ezekiel performs some radical visual illustrations like eating his bread over dung and laying on his side for an entire year, they won’t respond to the “invitation.” How frustrating is that, preachers? God never abandons His faithful servant, but His confused prophet is still left to wonder what God is going to do about the mess which makes up his reality. A familiar feeling for many faithful Christians today.
Never underestimate the hand of the Almighty. This truthful statement can be pulled from Ezekiel 37, when the prophet is taken up and then placed in the middle of a dark valley. Ezekiel is surrounded on all sides by heaps of dry human bones and he’s probably wondering why in the world God has taken him to such a place. The text answers the question by asking a question. God speaks to Ezekiel and says, “Can these dry bones live again?” What an odd thing to ask. However, Ezekiel responds, “Only you know, O Lord.”
It’s always when we’re deep in the valley’s of life that we’re forced to answer the difficult questions about God’s abilities. When we’re surrounded by darkness, the question we have to ask is, “Does God have the power to see me through this?” If you remember, Ezekiel has become frustrated with the fact that Israel just won’t listen to him or Him. He’s lost hope in their ability to change— they’re just too far gone. However, God demonstrates to His prophet in a dramatic way that NOTHING is impossible for Him.
He doesn’t bring the bones to life in the blink of an eye, but we know He could have. Instead, He allows Ezekiel to hear those bones rattle and to hear the sounds of fibers and flesh sticking together. He wanted to leave an impression on Ezekiel to demonstrate the might of the Almighty. Ezekiel had no idea how those bones came to life, but he knew one thing for certain. God did it. You may not understand why God has allowed you to enter your valley, but you can be certain that He has the power to see you through. You are standing on your two feet because God has given you the strength to do so. God has promised His faithful servants a heavenly light at the end of our tunnels and whatever God says— He will always accomplish (Ezekiel 37:14).
Many emotions run through our hearts when we’re faced with the loss of a loved one. These emotions can present themselves as questions:
Who can answer these questions? Who can provide comfort? Who can guide our hearts through the heartbreaking moments of life?
Is it not the Creator of life who can explain the end of life, even though “end” is a very human term?
100 years from now I’ll be alive and so will you. 150 and 200 years from now, I’ll be alive and so will you.
In Genesis 1:26-28, God said, “Let us create man in our own image.”
How sad and how tragic it would be to live your life with no hope! Today, I’m here to offer wonderful, comforting news, at a time where such news seems all but missing.
God loves you more than anyone else does.
Though many cry for and with you when you grieve the loss of a loved one, that love falls short of the one who expresses His love in a way that’s perfect and unfailing. You will experience feelings you may not be able to put into words, but God feels and understands them. God can walk you through them. Life doesn’t have to be impossibly tragic and void of purpose.
God created the heart, so He can heal yours. God created the mind, so He can sort yours out. God made the soul, so He can save yours. God created the body, so He can give you rest. God created the eyes, so He can wipe your tears away. God created the shoulder, but His are the only shoulders capable of bearing the weight of all those who lean on them.
“Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thes. 4:18).
Tears are a very interesting and important part of the human anatomy. Tears are produced by the tear gland, which are small glands that are in our upper eyelid. Tears keep the surface of your eyeball clean, and help protect your eye from damage. But there’s another function of tears. They appear when we experience heartache and sadness. They form when we encounter joy, heartbreak, and sometimes for no reason with some people.
When we cry because of something emotionally painful, most of the time we wish that the problem never would’ve happened In the first place. Tears are a natural part of life. It’s going to happen, no matter how tough we claim to be. At some point we are going to break under the pressure of this world. That’s why I’d like to spend a few moments in one of the most encouraging passages of scripture in the Bible, Isaiah 25:8-9. In these two verses we will notice three painful types of tears that will be wiped away.
It reads, “He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
The first type of tears that will be wiped away are tears of death (v. 8). Every human on earth will experience death. Our lives will end in death, and scattered all throughout our days on earth we will lose those we love. Death is terrible. It tears us apart– we feel like we are drowning in heartbreak– that this pain will never end. We have to watch as mothers and fathers lose their children, children lose their parents, and spouses lose each other. Death is inevitable and something none of us ever want to go through. But there will come a day when we will never have to shed a tear over a loved one. We will never stand at a graveside again. God will make sure that his children never have to experience this heartache ever again. I long for heaven because the tears of death will be wiped away.
He will wipe away the tears of disgrace (8b). We can all agree that this world is full of evil. There is murder, rape, liars, gossip, and broken homes. This world is a place full of tears over the pain that comes from evil. Homes are torn apart and hearts are broken over the sin of others. A day will come when Christ will wipe away all tears (Rev. 21:4). A day will come when Christ will mend the hearts of the broken. David spoke of his Joy in God. He says, “Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me! O Lord, be my helper!” You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness” (Psa. 30:10-11). As Christians we can turn to God with hope, knowing that He is our helper and strength. We don’t have to face the evil of this world on our own. God can turn our heartache into Joy. He can wipe away the tears that sin has placed in our eyes. A time will come when the tears of disgrace will be wiped away.
God will wipe away the tears of distance and discouragement (9). It is common after a tragedy has occurred to hear someone pray, “Jesus come quickly.” We say this because we know that Christ is our way of escape from this world. Christ is our hope. We want Him to come back, to help us escape the sin that is around us. Sometimes this distance from God can cause us to become discouraged and to think that He isn’t coming back to save us. God will wipe away the tears of discouragement.
And on that day we will say, “This is OUR God.” The God that we have placed all hope and faith in. “This is OUR God that we have waited on to save us.” “This is OUR God that has brought us salvation.” The day will come when God will wipe away the tears that have been formed by the distance and discouragement we encounter on earth.
The day will also come when we will be judged for how we lived on earth. Can we say that we have waited on God? Can we rejoice in His return? Can we truthfully say that we have placed our faith and hope in God? On that day our tears will either be wiped away, or they will continue on into eternity. The question we must ask ourselves is this: “Will God wipe away my tears?”
With a name like “Lamentations,” you know it isn’t a joke book. It’s not lighthearted or jovial. It’s the inspired record of Jeremiah’s tears and troubled spirit over the punishment of Judah for her idolatry and abandonment of God. It is graphic (see 2:20-21; 4:4-10; 5:11-14). Conditions became terrible for the nation (cf. 1:9-10). The book is filled with apocalyptic language and hyperbole (3:1-16).
In the middle of the prophesy, though, Jeremiah expresses the hopeful effect of all this calamity and reaping. The desired effect of captivity was three-fold, according to Lamentations 3:40. First, it was for self-examination–“Let us search out and examine our ways.” Second, it was for repentance–“and turn back to the Lord.” Finally, it was for spiritual development–“Let us lift our hearts and hands to God in heaven.”
When we sin or even are caught in some long-term transgression, there will very often be consequences. If we fail to overcome it, the consequences will be unending and most serious. Yet, if we “come to ourselves” (cf. Luke 15:17) and let go of what is keeping us from being right with God, it can have those same three positive impacts on us. It cause cause us to engage in proper self-examination. It will hopefully lead us to repent. Then, this paves the road for us to grow close to God through proper spiritual development.
The ideal is to avoid spiritually spiraling out of control or into some sin problem. Yet, if or when we do, let us remember Lamentations 3:40. Good can come from bad.
This statement in Psalm 104:10 is spoken literally of God’s physical provision for His creatures. But, have you ever thought about how that is true for you and me when we find ourselves in the valleys of life? In between the mountaintops of successes and happy days, we can find ourselves seemingly down in the valley of the shadow of death (cf. 23:4). I am so thankful that in those moments that might seem dry and thirsty, God sends forth springs in the valleys of life. Whatever creates the valley for us, it can seem like a deep place hard to climb out of. How does God send forth spiritual and emotional springs for us, even in the valleys of life?
Many years ago, I heard Franklin Camp talk about the valleys of his life and how he overcame. His young daughter accidentally burned to death in a brush fire. He faced other huge losses in life, but brother Camp through it all was a man who had his eyes fixed on the ultimate mountaintop experience. In the valleys of life, let us look for the springs God sends. They will refresh, renew, and relieve us until our journey is complete.
Jesus died an awful death. Ruthless assassins, terrorists, sadistic and serial killers, savage and perverted criminals have all received much more humane treatment than He received that day. What Jesus endured at the cross can only be described as vicious. Consider the violent aspects of His crucifixion.
There was physical torture. He was scourged, beaten with a jagged whip (Mat. 27:27). He was fitted with a crown of thorns (Mat. 27:29). He was hit on the head repeatedly with a staff (Mat. 27:30). The soldiers struck Him with their hands (John 19:3). He carried His heavy cross until it fell on Him (John 19:17). He was nailed to that cross (John 20:25).
There was mental anguish. His countrymen hatefully yelled for His death (Mat. 27:25). Soldiers mocked Him and pretended to worship Him (Mat. 27:29). People hurled abuse at Him (Mat. 27:39,40). Religious leaders mocked Him (Mat. 27:44). The Heavenly Father left Him alone (Mat. 27:46). His disciples followed Him, mourning and wailing (Luke 23:37). Earlier, all His disciples forsook Him and fled (Mark 14:50).
There was social embarrassment. They stripped Him (Mat. 27:25). He was spit upon (Mat. 27:30). The soldiers gambled for His clothes (Mat. 27:35). He was watched like a sideshow (Mat. 27:36). They jokingly put an elegant, purple robe on Him (Luke 23:11). He endured great shame (Heb. 12:2).
The sheer brutality of the crucifixion tells one how serious sin is! The proposal from heaven is, “Stop sinning and serve the Savior!” In the light of the cross, examine Heaven’s every demand, command, and reprimand. What expectation from the Father or requirement from the Son is too great? Before answering, look back at the cross!
Friends, the cross spells the difference between heaven and hell, hope and hopelessness, joy and sorrow, night and day!
If I have a favorite chapter of the Bible, it would have to be 2 Timothy 4. Yes, I love the first eight verses, but that alone is not what cinches this chapter as dearest to me. It’s Paul’s personal remarks starting in verse nine. There’s his longing to see his spiritual son, Timothy. Twice he implores Timothy to come see him (9, 21). He’s in prison, persecuted for preaching the Prince of Peace. He longs for Christian companionship. Then, he shares his dejection over the abandonment of certain fellow-workers (10). He wants to see cohorts with whom he has done spiritual battle (11). He has personal needs and wants (13). He warns Timothy of a spiritual troublemaker (14-15). Then, he shares personal feelings of isolation and loneliness, a time when he needed a Christian brother by his side but had none (16). Bold, risk-taking Paul, who would stand up to any opposition, the epitome of true manliness, was now in undoubtedly dire, dank conditions, the smell of squalor in the air. Whatever he saw, heard, and felt as he wrote, Paul scratched out these words: “At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was rescued out of the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (16-18). These words aren’t the end of the letter, but they are the end of the matter!
This faithful Christian was deserted by men, but he felt God’s presence and power:
You and I cannot fathom the price Paul paid for proclaiming Jesus. But even if we were ever to face privation, punishment and pain for our faith, what was true for this apostle will be true of us. He promised to be with us always (Mat. 28:20) and never forsake us (Heb. 13:5). Even if you ever feel physically alone, you will have the spiritual assistance Paul speaks of in 2 Timothy 4. Through it all, you can say with Paul, “To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen!”
It is hard to describe the beauty of faith evidenced in Room 913 yesterday as all the elders and their wives, Wes and Teri Autrey, and Tiffanie and Bethany Vaught stood with Myrna and the rest of the Murphy family at University Hospital yesterday. We sang songs and Dave Chamberlin prayed a touching, loving prayer. Moments later, a godly, wonderful woman made her transition from this life to the better one. Despite the inevitable, natural flow of tears, the heartache of separation, and the final earthly stanza of a beautiful, 59-year-old love song played by Ray and Myrna. Myrna was an obvious success as a mother, wife, grandmother, and friend, but central to everything she did and who she was was Christ. She did not fear death nor the condition that brought it. She was ready because of Christ.
When I think of the red-letter days that have occurred in our nation and world during my lifetime, whether the bombing of the Murrah Building, the horrors of 9/11, the unbelievable natural disaster of the December 26, 2004, tsumami (“Boxer Day Tsumami”), the disappearance of the Malaysia Airliner, and the like, I am made to think how many stood in the wake of such tragedy without the hope and promise made possible through Christ. Yet, every ordinary day where death looms through the natural course of life, people come to those final moments either ignorant or bereft of the bright prospect of what happens beyond death. Certainly, some think they have hope, but it is not hope rested in what they can find in Scripture but rather what they think, feel, or have been told is real and true. In some ways, those situations are the most tragic of all. Others are convinced that we are the result of chance and will cease to be when we draw our last breath, yet they continue to try and live with purpose and even act in the interest of others without bothering to ask why they behave civilized with such an animalistic point of view.
But for the one whose hope is built on the truth of what God’s Word says, there is no tidal wave of heart or explosion of life powerful enough to wrench us free from that hope. Paul exalts that we are saved by unseen hope (Rom. 8:24-25). In the rest of the chapter, he proclaims the unfailing love and promise of God for the redeemed who place their trust in Him. Paul encourages the Thessalonians not to face death, sorrowing like a world without hope (1 Thess. 4:13). Without Christ’s resurrection, there is no hope (cf. 1 Cor. 15:19-20). However, because He lives, we can face tomorrow, all fear is gone, we know who holds the future, and life is worth living (Bill Gaither lyrics from “Because He Lives”).
The Murphys will have sorrow and grief to bear. This is a testimony to their humanity. But they look at tomorrow with an even brighter anticipation. This is a testimony to the Christ who lives in them. It is available for us all!