Steve’s Letter – October 2013
OCTOBER 1, 2013
There are times when everything looks bleak and it’s sort of like looking through dark glasses. It passes but, while I’m there, the “dark clouds” in my sky seem to be a very present reality. Sometimes there is a reason and sometimes not. It’s just dark and I don’t know what to do about it. Frankly, prayer, reading the Bible and doing religious stuff don’t help much. It’s just dark.
There is an old hymn my friend, Frank Boggs (the first recording artist signed by Word Records), used to sing: “How Tedious and Tasteless the Hours.” Let me give you a couple verses:
Lord, if indeed now I am thine,
And thou art my sun and my song,
Say why do I languish and pine,
And why are my winters so long?
O drive those dark clouds from my sky,
Thy soul cheering presence restore,
Or take me to thee up on high,
Where winter and clouds are no more.
You ever feel that way? I do sometimes.
I don’t get suicidal or anything and I’m not ready to become a Buddhist, but there are times when everything looks bleak and it’s sort of like looking through dark glasses. It passes but, while I’m there, the “dark clouds” in my sky seem to be a very present reality. Sometimes there is a reason and sometimes not. It’s just dark and I don’t know what to do about it. Frankly, prayer, reading the Bible and doing religious stuff don’t help much.
It’s just dark.
Steve, not you. You’re saved and a preacher. Even if you feel that way, you shouldn’t tell people. You’re going to lose your job.
I know, but I don’t care. I’ve said it and now I feel better. Not only that, I’m in very good company.
The prophet Isaiah said that the coming Messiah would be “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). I’ve been thinking about Jesus’ tears over Jerusalem (Luke 19) and at Lazarus’ death (John 11), and his anger and grief in Mark 3. There is great human pathos in the question Jesus asked his disciples when so many were leaving: “Are you leaving, too?” And the cross is, of course, the great example of hard places where he asked his Father why he had forsaken him.
This morning I was reading Luke 22:39-46 and the parallel passage in Mark 14:32-41 referring to Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. You will remember that Jesus went off by himself to pray. He told his disciples, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch” (Mark 14:34).
The disciples didn’t remain and watch. They just went to sleep.
Luke wrote, “And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44).
As I read that this morning, a question came to mind: When Jesus was in agony and his sweat like drops of blood, how did the disciples know? Who told them? The disciples didn’t see Jesus’ agony. They were asleep. So how did they know? Where did Luke and Mark get the story?
Jesus told them.
Is being dark a sign of unbelief?
I suspect there were a number of reasons he told them. One of those reasons was to remind them that being human isn’t fun sometimes. Jesus was saying that the dark was a “normal” experience for believers…not a sign of unbelief, sin or apostasy. As I read that and realized what Jesus did in telling his disciples, I felt better about my own periods of darkness.
There are a lot of things unique about the Christian faith, but maybe at the top of that list is Christ’s identification with everything human. “For because he himself has suffered…he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are…” (Hebrews 4:15).
This summer we went with our grandchildren and their parents to Boston. Anna and I served in New England for a whole lot of years and we wanted to share something of the American heritage with them. We walked the Freedom Trail. We visited Old North Church and the homes of the famous (and dead) who have made America what it is. We experienced an enactment of the Boston Tea Party. We went to the birthplaces of two American presidents—John Adams and John Quincy Adams—just a block or two from the church we served. We visited Plymouth, Gloucester and Salem.
It was a wonderful time.
Uh…well…no, it wasn’t. At least it wasn’t for me. I don’t do tourist stuff well. There are just so many dead people’s houses I can take. By the time we were in Salem where the witches were killed, I wanted to kill a few myself.
When we were at the Granary Burying Ground in Boston (founded in 1660), it was a hot and humid 97 degrees…and we had already walked a thousand miles.
Anna told our granddaughters she would give five dollars to the first one to find five graves—those of Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, Mother Goose (yeah, she’s buried there too) and two others. They promptly scattered into the burial ground and found all five.
Do you know what I did? That entire time, I sat on the ground and sulked. My goal on those kinds of trips is to not ruin it for everybody else. To be honest with you, I did quite well…until then. I didn’t say anything, but just found myself envious of all the dead folks in the cemetery. When we left, I was not a “happy, joyous Christian” and, having a pity party, walked behind everybody else.
Do you know what happened? Courtney, my youngest granddaughter, having, I suppose, noticed my mood, fell back and slipped her hand in mine. “Hi, Pops!” she said, grinning. “If it’s alright with you, I’m going to walk with you awhile.”
That’s when everything changed!
I wasn’t so fed up anymore with dead, white males and historic monuments. In fact, a little later, when we all got ice cream, I sat there and thought, It doesn’t get any better than this.
I’m not big on the “Victorious Christian Life.” Truth is that the victorious Christian life is often just keeping your nose above water a while longer. But Jesus does make the difference. Let me give you a couple more verses from that hymn:
Content with beholding his face,
My all to his pleasure resign;
No changes of seasons or place,
Would make any change in my mind.
While blest with the sense of his love,
A palace of joy would appear,
And prisons would palaces prove,
If Jesus would dwell with me there.
I can’t tell you that is my experience…but it is, sort of. Sometimes when I go through my dark times and complain to Jesus, I think I hear him say, “I know, child.”
Then there are other times when he comes alongside and says, “It’s does get dark, doesn’t it? If it’s alright with you, I’m going to walk with you awhile.”
Might help you too, when it gets dark.
He asked me to remind you.
In His Grip,