Jesus most likely spent his last night in this hole under the house of Caiphas, the high priest. Reading Psalm 88, it’s hard not to see it as a prophecy about Jesus’ experience. That night, as the psalm says, darkness was his only friend.
My friend, Dan, gave me a book to read this year. I’ve added it to my daily morning readings. It’s called, “The Book of Mysteries” by Jonathan Cahn, who is a messianic Jew. It’s set up like a story. A man goes out to learn from a teacher in a small school in the desert. Each day is another lesson from the teacher. One of them connects with our theme of joy…let’s check out the “Night and Day Paradigm”. If you’re been listening to Pastor Denny’s teaching for very long, it will sound familiar…
Some of you might remember that I wrote about Troy back in December. At the time, he was facing terminal cancer. At the time I wrote,
This past weekend, I led singing for a baptism service. It was for a man named Troy. Troy wanted to make a profession of faith about his love for Jesus, above all else. He also wanted to tell his kids that God is a better Father than he will ever be. “So when I’m gone,” Troy said, “remember this day.”
I also wrote,
I’m following the example of Troy. I want to serve God now. I want to worship God now, instead of idols, in the wilderness of our world.
Troy died this week and went to be with Jesus in eternity. As I reflected on Troy’s life and how to worship in this wilderness, I was reminded of something else I wrote, after my son died. I want to share it with you as we remember the testimony of Troy Mann and follow his example in walking with Jesus through the valley of the shadow of death…
Life moves on. I get up in the morning and put my pants on, one leg at a time. I eat my cereal and drive to work just like everyone else. As I watch the faces of the other drivers, I wonder, “What they are thinking about?”.
The death of a loved one changes us in too many ways to count. And now as I look again at the faces of the people driving past me on the way work, I realize at least one thing my son’s death has enabled me to do…
It enables me to give death “the finger”.
You might be shocked that I would say that. But stay with me…at my son’s funeral, we sang Matt Mahr’s song, “Christ is Risen”. The bridge is taken directly from Paul in 1 Corinthians where he paraphrases Isaiah 25:8 and Hosea 13:14. He writes about the resurrection…
THEN THE SAYING THAT IS WRITTEN WILL COME TRUE: “DEATH HAS BEEN SWALLOWED UP IN VICTORY.”
“WHERE, O DEATH, IS YOUR VICTORY?
WHERE, O DEATH, IS YOUR STING?”
As we sang, Sara and I raised our hands to worship the Lord of Life, but as we did that, I instinctively turned my open hand into a fist. I wasn’t just praising God, I was insulting sin and death that had taken our son.
I was giving death the finger.
Death might think that it took my son forever. Death might think that it took Troy forever, but we know that because of Jesus this is temporary. And as we live now, we are following Paul’s lead in defiantly living in the face of death with tears in our eyes. Think about it…
Where is death’s power to hurt us? We believers are dead and then we come back to live again forever. We are out of death’s reach. What kind of heat is it packing now? We can trash-talk it’s power and give the finger to it’s wrath. And the grave?!?!?! Where is it’s victory? We used to be it’s prisoners, but now the doors are blown open. The locks and dead-bolts have been broken. Our chains are thrown off. Death has died and captivity is now captive.
I still get up in the morning and put my pants on, one leg at a time, just like the other drivers on their way to work every day. But for me, for us, we can now give death the finger.
Worship itself is a re-presentation of Christ. . . . Consequently, when we worship, the conflict between good and evil that we experience in our everyday lives is confronted and resolved. We leave worship once again with the personal assurance that the battle is won—Satan has been, is now being, and will be defeated. Because we are confident in Christ’s victory, we experience a great release from the burden of our sin and we become filled with joy and peace.
I was in the hospital again this week with a friend. He’s home now and is going to be ok. I met with another friend over lunch who is struggling with what is happening in his life right now. Both were struggling so I thought there might be others out there too.
Here is a psalm that I re-wrote for you when you’re tired, hurting, sick or just emotionally worn out. It was originally written by David because he struggled with the same kinds of things…and he wrote this to God…for himself…for you…
don’t hammer me in your anger
or whoop me in your wrath.
Please have some mercy, Lord, for
Heal me, Lord, for my stomach’s on fire.
My soul is delving deep in darkness
And my heart is a liar.
Turn, Lord, so I can see you;
save me because of your animating love.
The numb no longer know your name.
Who praises you while staring at the TV screen?
(Remote control: click, click, click…)
And here I am worn out from…everything
All night, I sit like a vegetable with arms
and mumble many mono-syllables.
My eyes grow heavy and hurt;
and then my nose
Get behind me, sarcasm,
(And yeah!, the Lord has seen my selfishness and…that sarcasm too.)
The Lord has heard me “hello?” for help;
the Lord accepts my pathetic prayer.
All my insecurity will be overwhelmed with holy dreams and sleep;
as my will repents and prays,
“…the Lord my soul to keep”.
I discovered this poem and it touched me deeply. I don’t know the situation or the circumstances that birthed these words, but I resonate with them. The joining of grief, art, faith, lament, hope…
Echo of the clocktower, footstep
in the alleyway, sweep
of the wind sifting the leaves.
Jeweller of the spiderweb, connoisseur
of autumn’s opulence, blade of lightning
harvesting the sky.
Keeper of the small gate, choreographer
of entrances and exits, midnight
whisper travelling the wires.
Seducer, healer, deity or thief,
I will see you soon enough—
in the shadow of the rainfall,
in the brief violet darkening a sunset—
but until then I pray watch over him
as a mountain guards its covert ore
and the harsh falcon its flightless young.
Advent is a time when we ask, even plead with God not to leave us alone, for when God leaves us to our own choices and turns us over to our own ways, we are certain to drift from him. . . . If we would break away from a spiritual life growing cold and a Christ who is becoming distant, we must be attentive to our spiritual discipline and long for God to break in on us with new life.
-Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year
October is change. Leaves change and whole trees and bushes seem to catch fire in reds, yellows and orange. The mornings awake with a chill, but the frost hasn’t hit the pumpkins yet meaning there are still tomatoes to pick. This is one of those many in-between times. The end of summer leads to the beginning of winter. And for me, it’s remembering the death of my son 4 years ago while living life in the now.
It was while riding bikes together in the woods with my two girls that I had a sudden sense of peace. The sun was shining down on the patchwork of dead leaves carpeting the path in browns and yellows. The trail ahead had a tree leaning over it. The wild grape vines completed the small little tunnel. Ahead past the tunnel of trees and grapevines, I could see the sun shining, but I couldn’t see where the path went beyond it.
And I was ok with that.
Last week, I had lunch with a friend who has had some similar tough experiences. We both ate sandwich and soup. A couple times one of us got slightly teary eyed and we spoke in a kind of short hand that people who have been through the valley of the shadow of death use with each other. It was a hard meal together, but it was a needed communion for both of us.
And now as I sit here, I realize that life is like that path in the woods where life and death mingle.
It is only through death that we find life and in Christ even death, pain and suffering takes on meaning and purpose.
This is redemption. Not just redemption of our souls, but of our lives today.
Fall tells me that it is only through death we find life.
Fall tells me that winter, cold and darkness is coming.
But Fall also tells me that after that, comes Spring.
Beginning Holy Week, we are focusing on some of the reasons people have rejected Jesus over the millennia. It’s been interesting for me to look at all the references to the Messiah being rejected in the Old Testament. It doesn’t seem like a surprise on this side of the story. So I worked on a spoken word piece based on Isaiah 53 to help us reconnect with the rejection of the Son of God who came to suffer and die for the world.
We rejected Jesus.
He grew up,
a bitty boy
from the wrong side
of the tracks.
He wasn’t handsome,
a stud or lady killer.
He wasn’t built,
majestic or ripped.
He was hated and forgotten,
full of grief and sad with sorrow.
He was like the homeless man
(we look the other way
when we can).
He was hated and forgotten.
We rejected Jesus,
but he took our sadness
sorrow and shame,
“Save us” was his name,
We rejected Jesus.
He was beaten
mocked and scorned,
For our sin he freely bore.
Smashed and crushed.
whipped and nailed
and by his blood
sinners are healed.
those who rejected Jesus.
With all this injustice
he didn’t say a word.
Mute like a lamb,
a lamb part of God’s plan,
he didn’t say a word.
He was taken away,
nailed to a beam
and while it might seem
like he was guilty,
he was pure…
but we made sure
We rejected Jesus.
But not just you and me.
God was pleased
to hang him on that tree,
an offering and sacrifice.
His life was the price.
He didn’t need to give it twice.
As soldiers rolled the dice,
Jesus came to be our Christ.