A Lesson in Mourning

“A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one’s birth. 
It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart. 
Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. 
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. 
It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools. For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool: this also is vanity.”
—Ecclesiastes 7:1-6

I imagine many of us are thinking something like this: “Okay, yes, a good reputation is valuable. I need to make sure I keep a clear conscience.” Some of us might even get all spiritual and think: “Wow, yeah, and since we are God’s people, we need to make sure we care about God’s reputation.”

But what’s this? The day of death is better than the day of birth? Yikes!

I’ve heard people teach on Ecclesiastes almost dismissively, kind of skipping ahead to the end where it says, “Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.”

Okay, what a relief, we can go on “fearing God” and doing the right thing. Good character, God’s plan for success in life.

But wait! “Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.”

The Bible is dripping blood and tears, echoing with the pain of human existence—Jeremiah, Lamentations, Psalms, Job.

In Romans 12, as part of his unpacking what it means to love, the Apostle Paul tells his readers, “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.”

Weep. Not encourage, not minister to, not instruct. Weep…with.

For those of you already reaching for your journal or making a mental note to “remember to weep with others,” please don’t.

It’s the difference between contemplating a cloud and being struck by lightning. You weep with someone when your heart is broken too. Maybe not in the same way, maybe not to the same extent, but broken.

And in those moments, when you don’t know, when you really can’t move, when “trusting God” seems like a cruel joke, in those moments, there is a kind of insight.

There is an earthiness, an embodiedness, to suffering. In Romans 8, Paul wrote, “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.”

It cries out for meaning beyond pallid spiritual platitudes, beyond success formulas based on “biblical principles.” It cries out for redemption.

God does not call us to be good or be happy or eat healthy or succeed. He calls us and our suffering to Himself.

The Bible tells the stories of prophets thrown down wells, of babies put to the sword, of Jesus bloodied, tortured, crucified—a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, our grief.

The Bible tells us we are loved.

“Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” —Matthew 5:4



Damage from a tornado in Moore, Oklahoma last month.

Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do bad things happen to anybody? If God is good, why does He allow bad things in this world – sometimes terrible things?
Last month we had several very powerful tornadoes in our area. One of them came within one mile of our house. Thousands of houses were destroyed, billions of dollars of damage, hundreds of people injured, and more than fifty people killed. I attended the funeral of one of the victims whose father I knew. Hundreds of people were there…and amazingly, it was a hopeful, encouraging time. Everyone was supporting each other, seeking God together, reminding each other that God goes with us through our pain. God suffers when we suffer. And God brings good out of our suffering and His suffering.

I don’t know why God let the tornadoes happen – probably there are many reasons. Probably there are special reasons in the lives of each person who was affected. Some of God’s reasons might be difficult to accept if we knew them. But maybe it wouldn’t be so difficult if we saw how everything fits together.

The week after one of the storms, I was listening to a sermon on Sunday morning and noticed what Joseph said to his brothers in Genesis 50:
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” (Gen. 50:20).

You know the story of Joseph, right? His brothers sold him as a slave into Egypt, where he was falsely accused of assault and imprisoned for three years. Because of that, he met the king’s wine taster. Because of that, he met the king and saved Egypt from a famine. Because of that, his own family moved to Egypt. Because of that, the family grew into a large nation: Israel. Because of that, the Egyptians hated them and they left Egypt and wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Because of their experiences in the wilderness and the Law that God gave them, they learned to trust God instead of themselves. Because of this, Israel was set on a path that would prepare them and even us to trust Jesus Christ. The evil done to Joseph was an integral part of the picture of God’s redemption of the world.

And this all began because Joseph’s brothers intended evil against him. Who fully understands God’s power to bring good out of evil? Certainly not me. But I think we can see glimpses of it at times, and those glimpses can help us to believe in bigger pictures like this one. This is part of living out God’s reality…in the middle of the reality around us. VOICE 2013 starts in less than a month and we’ll be talking about all kinds of stuff like this with more students and staff. See you there!

Have You Forgotten the Truth?

lies-truthI recently read a book called Eyes Wide Open written by the Christian novelist, Ted Dekker.In this book, the two main characters – Austin and Christy – find themselves in a world where they’re struggling to find out the truth of who they really are despite the lies of what people are telling them. The longer they listen to the lies, the more the characters begin to believe that the lies actually are their reality. It’s only when they see their world through a mysterious pair of glasses, that their eyes are finally opened to see beyond the deception and into the light of truth. Finally, everything in their lives make sense. However, these glasses are quickly torn from their eyes and they’re again forced back into their old reality. The challenge that they then face is remembering the truth in a world that seeks to deceive them. One line that jumped off of the page at me was this:

“Life is a cycle of remembering and forgetting.” 

Maybe it’s an overly simplistic concept, but think about it: we’re prone to forget the truth, only to be reminded again, only to forget again. This is the cycle and struggle that, towards the end of the book, Ted Dekker does a fantastic job of portraying.

I wish I could say that I don’t understand this cycle of forgetting. But actually, I do. Because this story isn’t just about Christy and Austin…it’s also about me.

This past year, I did a lot of forgetting. Even though I’ve known and experienced the truth of God’s faithfulness in my life, I went through times in the past year where God felt distant and far removed from my circumstances. From where I was standing, life didn’t make sense. I wanted God to prove Himself and silence my doubt like He’d done for His people all throughout the pages of scripture. But He didn’t. Or at least not in the way I was hoping for. I started to believe the lies that God was distant to my pain, elusive, and silent to all of my questions.

However, when I needed it most, God brought people into my life who reminded me of truths that I’d known in the past, but had forgotten when the skies of doubt had clouded my horizon. It was the remembrance of God’s faithfulness, promises, and love that eventually gave me the eyes to see the truth that God’s goodness and ways don’t always fit into my way of understanding the world. And that’s okay. Because He’s God and I’m not.

I think we all have gone through or will go through periods where we wonder what in the world God is doing. We may question God’s plans and start to believe the lie that He’s not truly good if He allows pain and trials in our lives. However, we have to remind ourselves that no matter what our circumstances or emotions tell us, God never fails or makes mistakes. When we choose to open our eyes wide to the reality of truth, every lie of unbelief will come crumbling down.

We Walk by Faith

Have you ever had doubts about your life as a Christian? Are there concepts within your faith that you cannot rationally comprehend with human logic? Often we are confronted with questions from unbelieving friends that may bring about questions in our own minds. How do we know that God is real, or that the Bible is true, or that the earth was created? Each one of us has struggled with questions either before we believed in Jesus Christ or after. James encourages us to embrace challenges, and to realize that through testing and trial, we grow in our faith (James 1:2-3).

In a recent discussion group some friends of mine host for local university students, we read the story of Jesus walking on the water and the response of his disciples from Matthew 11. Like Peter seeing Jesus defying gravity and everything my science book teaches about buoyancy, we find many ideas about God and living the Christian life to be difficult to believe. And like Peter and the rest of the disciples, our reasoning cries out: “It’s a ghost!” Or a fairy tale, or just too impossible to believe. But then we take a step of faith and trust that what God is telling us is true. We step out of the boat into the water and try to walk like Jesus does.

Walk by FaithIt is hard to leave the safety of the shore, or a boat, or whatever our logical reasoning has clung to in the past, and step out on the water. Peter did, and he started out fine. But then he noticed the wind and the waves, and began to have doubts about the reality of what he was doing, and began to sink in the water. We also may take a few steps in faith and then encounter circumstances that bring about doubt in our minds regarding the legitimacy of our faith and beliefs. Often, like Peter, these doubts lead us to rely on our own wisdom and reasoning, and we start to sink in confusion and fear.

Our doubts and struggles are indications that our faith is being strengthened. We have the opportunity to search out the truth for why we believe what we believe. Sometimes we may not find an answer to our questions that satisfies our own reasoning. This is when we step out in faith and believe in what we have seen, and heard, and know to be true. Step out!