Tag Archives: salvation

What to do when life is hard and filled with tears

19 Dec

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A friend of mine has graciously allowed me to borrow his tiller each year to get our garden ready for planting.  It is a monster of a tiller.  You have to grip that thing with all your might, lower your center of gravity, and hold on for dear life. I am not kidding.  It is a workout.  Then if you hit a patch of hard ground, where the tiller blades might not be able to dig deep, the blades bounce off the ground, and the tiller lunges forward dragging you along, like the guy in the photo above.  It is a scene.  But as you muscle the machine back around for another pass, and another pass, that hard ground eventually gets broken up into smaller and smaller pieces.  Until finally, the tiller runs through earth smoothly, the dirt ready to be planted. And I’m sore for a few days.

Gardening and farming, done well, usually involves hard work, doesn’t it?

In my previous post, I talked about how our next Advent psalm of lament is a psalm of ascent.  It includes uplifting songs of joy, but it also talks about the hard work of growing produce.

We can see both of those emphases in the two sections of the psalm:

  1. Verses 1-3 Joyful Memory
  2. Verses 4-6 Tearful Lament

There is a phrase at the beginning of each section that serves as a marker, helping us know that there are in fact two sections.  That marker is the similar statement “brought back captives” or “restored our fortunes”.  In the original Hebrew these are nearly identical.

So let’s look at each section.

Section 1, verses 1-3 – Joyful Memory

The word “captives” in verse 1 reminds us that the psalmist is referring to the Babylonian exile.  The powerful Babylonians had attacked and defeated Israel, and carted them off.  They lived in Babylon for 70 years.  Then the Persians attacked and defeated the Babylonians, and Cyrus king of Persia allowed some Jews to return to Palestine.

My seminary prof, Dave Dorsey, taught that likely only 5% of the captives returned to Israel, 95% remained in Babylon.

But those 5% who returned, the psalmist tells us in verses 1-3, were like men who dreamed. One alternate translation I read says that this could be saying “Men returned to health, given new life.”

Imagine the wonder of that moment.  For 70 years they were in captivity.  You are taken into captivity.  If you were about 30 years old when you are taken into captivity, you probably have a young family in captivity.  Think about what happens in 70 years?  Likely you pass away, and it is maybe your kids, or even more likely, your grandkids, who return.

We talked about this last week.  The kids and grandkids have been hearing stories of the glory of Jerusalem and the temple and how wonderful the Promised Land was.  And now they get to return.

And they are laughing and singing.  They are praising the Lord!

You can see why this would be a great Pilgrimage song.  Just as the original exiles returned excitedly to Palestine and Jerusalem, singing songs of joy, each year as people all over Israel journeyed to Jerusalem for the various feasts, they would re-enact the original pilgrimage of those first captives who returned from exile.

So the psalmist is excited.  But his joy turns to lament.

Section 2, verses 4-6 – Tearful Lament

He laments because there is much yet to be sorrowful about, much restoration yet to take place.  In this lament, he uses the image of farming, talking about how sorrow leads to joy.

Planting is hard work, which is why he calls it tears of sorrow.

We have a garden in our back yard, and we like to plant some vegetables each year.  When gardening, the first thing you have to do might be clearing away old growth and weeds.  And then there might be the tilling, as I described in my experience with my friend’s monster of a tiller.

But tilling is only the beginning.  Next you do the work of planting, and then you do the work of protecting your plants, putting up fences to keep out the rabbits and groundhogs.  Then there is weeding, and then regular watering, and more weeding.  Day after day after day.  Week after week.

To be fair, we are spoiled here in Lancaster.  Our soil is astoundingly rich.  And we get regular rain.

In a dry climate like some parts of Israel, farming can be extremely difficult, and could even appear to be pointless.  How do you know if rains will come?  Will this be a waste?

That is possibly what is going on in the minds of the exiles.  They will not only be doing physical, real farming.  They will also be tending the figurative land, seeking to rebuild the city, the temple, and in a more important way, seeking to rebuild their nation and their relationship with God.  For the psalmist, the idea of planting tears, with the hope of reaping a harvest of joy, has deep, deep meaning.

That’s where we can take a look and examine our own lives.

What is the hard work of planting tears that you are doing in your life? What ground are you tilling?

It could be parenting.  Grand-parenting.  Reaching out to neighbors and friends.  You are investing time and energy in people, especially in your family and friends.

It could be a ministry in church, serving, teaching, using your gifts.

What other kinds of planting are you doing in your life?  What is hard?

Think about what you are praying for.

Is it a broken relationship, healing from physical pain and illness, financial hardship?

When you are praying, and when you are waiting, you are planting seeds of sorrow. That is lament.  Lament is prayer in which you are planting seeds of sorrow.  You are crying out to God, saying “Lord, this is hard work!  I need you to intervene.”

Israel was crying out to God for salvation, to send a savior.  The land was in bad shape.  They wanted God to come and save them.

That is what Advent is all about.  Advent means “the coming”.  In the season of Advent we remember the first coming of the savior, the Messiah, Jesus.  And we examine our lives and seek to make our lives ready for his second coming.  He came once and he said he is coming again.

In the midst of the difficulty, the darkness, in the midst of the hard work of planting tears, God entered the world.  Do you need God to enter your world?  Perhaps you’ll consider lament.

Surprising ways people come to know God (and never hear about Jesus!)

25 Oct

Image result for Jesus is not the only way?

Is God fair?  Will he send people to hell who never had a chance to know about salvation in Jesus?  Yesterday we looked at some options for how Christians try to answer this difficult question.

Today we seek for any other biblical passages that might give us some help.  Thankfully there are some.

Last week I talked about how God speaks through nature. Remember these verses?

In Isaiah 6:3 we read that the earth of full of his glory.

In Psalm 19:1, we read that the heavens declare the Glory of God.

And in Romans 1:19-20 we read this:

[S]ince what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

Scripture teaches, therefore, that God speaks through Creation.  Of course God speaks a lot more through Scripture, but in Romans 1:19-20 Paul tells us that what God speaks through creation is enough that men are without excuse.  Meaning, when people stand before God one day, and God says to them, “Why did you not choose to believe and follow me?” those people can’t say, “Well, we never had the Bible in our language, we never heard about Jesus.”  There is enough, rather, in Creation, in nature, in the universe to point to God, without the need for people to hear the story of Jesus.

Some Christians say tribal people like the Yanomami in Brazil can know God just by nature.  It seems Paul was saying something like that.

Additionally, many reports have come out of Muslim nations in the past few decades, where God has come to individual Muslims in dreams, telling them the truth about Jesus.  Google it.  There are loads and loads of reports of these occurrences.

But what about those that mentally incapacitated?  They cannot look at nature and perceive God.  To respond to this question, many Christians fall back on God’s love and say that he will still accept the mentally incapacitated into heaven.  There is one story in the Bible that many Christian parents who have lost babies and infants look to for hope that they will again see their child in heaven.  King David lost an infant son and in 2 Samuel 12:23 he says “”Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me”.  That makes it seem like he, David, will one day go to where his son is.  We presume that David, a man after God’s own heart, as he is often described, will go to heaven one day, and that David himself believes he will go to heaven, so thus his son is already there.  That view is also in line with God’s love and mercy.

At this point you might say, “Wait a minute, don’t those views conflict with Solus Christus?”  Solus Christus means “Christ Alone”, and as we have seen this week in our continuing study of the Five Solas of the Protestant Reformation, the reformers taught that we are saved by Christ alone.  If we can see God in nature and if God allows babies or mentally handicapped people into heaven, then neither of those situations need Christ.  The same could be said of believers in the Old Testament.  Any believers before Christ’s death and resurrection.  On what basis were they accepted into heaven?  Were they accepted into heaven?

These are good complex questions, but the general answer is that when Jesus died on the cross and came back to life, this act of God was sufficient for all people, for all time.  Those true believers before Christ are accepted by God on the basis of Christ’s anticipated death and resurrection. Those true believers after Christ are accepted by God on the basis of Jesus completed death and resurrection.

We might not be able to answer all these questions, but we know this: we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.  I am not telling you what to believe today.  You have to search the Scriptures and decide for yourself.  But I urge you to search the Scriptures.

There is something is even more compelling to me in this discussion.  And we turn to that tomorrow.

Q & A with Jesus – How many will be saved?

24 Dec

Every now and then I get to preach on a passage of Scripture that I’ve covered before.  This coming Sunday is one of those times, as we will study Luke 13:22-35.  Last time it gave me the chance to talk about a guy I’d like to think I know pretty well, Bono, the lead singer of the band U2.  At the time, I was preaching the Lectionary texts for Lent.  (You can read all about it here.  And the follow-up post here.)

I try to read back over those sermons each time I preach them again.  If there is material I can use again, I just might, but almost always I find that I need to start from scratch, even if I feel that previous sermon was decent.  Technically, last time I only preached on Luke 13:22-30, and this time we’ll add verses 31-35.

Take a look at the passage, as it raises some difficult questions.  Luke sets the scene by telling us that Jesus is continuing his preaching and teaching ministry in the towns and villages he passes through as he is on his way to Jerusalem.  The crowds are big, no surprise, and on this particular day, a person in the crowd starts a little Q & A with Jesus.  The person asks “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”

It is a question that comes up often in Jesus’ ministry, and one that people still today ask.  Recently a college friend asked this very question.

The answers are varied.  Some believe all will be saved.  We call that view universalism.  It is quite popular as it depicts a gracious, loving, merciful God who can’t let any of his human sons and daughters perish in hell.

Others believe there is no hell.

Still others believe that there is a hell and people will go there.  Some views depict God placing people there of his own desire and choice.  Others say that humans choose to go there, mostly out of disobedience to God, primarily for failing to believe in him and follow his ways.

What is so interesting to me, as I write this on Christmas Eve, is that tonight at our Christmas Eve Service we will be talking about and celebrating the purpose of Jesus’ birth, and in Luke 13:22-35 Jesus himself, about 30 years into his adulthood, is also talking about his purpose.  What does adult Jesus have to say about why he came?  What he has to say directly relates to the question of how many will be saved!

As is so often the case, he decides to answer the question from the crowd with a story.  A story about a man with a house that has a door.  Then he goes on to liken himself to a chicken, and a female chicken at that!

Join us Sunday at Faith Church to hear how Jesus answers the question of how many will be saved!