Matt. 1:20-21 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,because he will save his people from their sins.”
I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of his wrath. He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light; indeed, he has turned his hand against me again and again, all day long. He has made my skin and my flesh grow old and has broken my bones. He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and hardship.He has made me dwell in darkness like those long dead.
He has walled me in so I cannot escape; he has weighed me down with chains.Even when I call out or cry for help, he shuts out my prayer. He has barred my way with blocks of stone; he has made my paths crooked.
Like a bear lying in wait, like a lion in hiding, he dragged me from the path and mangled me and left me without help. He drew his bow and made me the target for his arrows.
He pierced my heart with arrows from his quiver. I became the laughingstock of all my people; they mock me in song all day long. He has filled me with bitter herbs and sated me with gall.
He has broken my teeth with gravel; he has trampled me in the dust. I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. So I say, “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord.”
I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him;
Men especially have difficulty paying attention to their emotions. Some men would admit to having only two primary emotions: Anger and Hunger. But when I pay attention to my heart attitudes and emotions, I realize that the Holy Spirit and my brain are sending SIGNALS to my consciousness that there’s something going on deep inside of me. Emotions, like those red warning lights on the dashboard of our cars, are often the means that the Lord uses to bring about change and repentance. So I am learning to pay attention when I feel anger or anxiety. I’m learning to notice when I feel too confident or arrogant. And I’m starting to wake up to myself when I’m tempted to lose self-control or when I feel depressed and hopeless.
Here’s what our emotions could be telling us about our lives:
- Anger = often reveals an inordinate and yet unattained goal that your heart feels worthless without.
- Anxiety = often reveals an exaggerated need for security.
- Arrogance – reveals an inordinate confidence in a human attribute that in your heart makes you feel superior.
- Tempted to lose self-control – reveals an excessive appetite that your heart needs satisfied to be happy.
- Despair – reveals a false reliance on something that you once possessed but now you’ve lost and your heart thinks there’s no hope for you.
So when we find these emotions present in ourselves, it is a signal that I need to spend some time with God, His Word and His People. We need to talk about these things to someone (God and/or a trusted, wise Friend, or counselor) who can understand and empathize with our situation. Paying attention to the emotions and seeking to understand their source is a big part of keeping short accounts with God, confessing our sins and living a life of repentance.
Before the children encounter Aslan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Mr. Beaver is trying to describe what Aslan is like when he is interrupted by Susan, who seems to have an exaggerated need for her personal security, asks “Is he—quite safe?” To which Mr. Beaver replies, “Who said anything about safe”? “Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.” Later in the narrative when the group finally meets Aslan, C.S. Lewis’s narrator tells us, “But as for Aslan himself, the Beavers and the children didn’t know what to do or say when they saw him. People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time.”
This image of Aslan, who is both good and terrible at the same time, is particularly challenging for Christians who think of God as their safe, huggable bestest buddy. While the Lord is certainly good, compassionate and approachable, He is also fear-inspiring and awesome!
And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” 17His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”John 2:15-17
We may call it a crisis, but the Lord calls it an opportunity. From His perspective it is an opportunity to bring a deeper consolation to our souls so that we can find ourselves more satisfied in Him; so we can experience the God who is Enough for us! But we are only transformed to this deeper place of Christ as our sole satisfier if our false rests and pseudo-saviors breakdown. This is at the heart of the disorientation of midlife. Through our 20s and 30s our souls find temporary satisfaction in relationships, roles and results. But as we approach our 40s all the way through to almost our mid- 50s, those relationships, roles and results begin to disintegrate or drain of their power to fulfill. This becomes a catalyst to expose our exaggerated needs for security, control and affirmation creating anxiety, disorientation and anger. And though we search to resolve our new undefined feelings in many places sometimes creating even greater problems, the solution is a spiritual one.
Midlife reveals to many of us that we have not allowed our initial introduction to Jesus to deepen into a deep intimate knowing. We talk about having a personal relationship with God, but the reality is that many of us have less knowledge of God than we have of our casual acquaintances. J.I. Packer says, “a little knowledge of God is worth more than a great deal of knowledge about Him.” Too easily we have settled for knowing about God which is not a substitute for deep personal knowing. So midlife becomes the opportunity to step out into vulnerability and uncertainty and be met by the Lord who wants to satisfy your deepest needs and answer your most personal queries. So….
When We Ask: Who am I? “What’s wrong with me?” “Why am I feeling this way?” and “Why am I talking to myself?”
He Answers: “You’re my Child. You belong to me. I have taken away your shame and given you a new identity filled with eternal value and dignity! Talk to me.”
When We ask: “Where am I?” “Will I have to face the future alone?” “Will everyone abandon me?”
He Answers: “I have a plan for you, and I will go with you into a certain future to provide comfort and courage to you. You will never be alone! Just hang onto me and trust me.”
When We ask: How am I doing? Why aren’t my strategies to control working? Why do I feel so angry and resentful?
He Answers: Because I have conquered death and hell, life is no longer a struggle to be won. The battle has been won and the enemy has been defeated! So, do you really have any right to be angry? I’m in control, I’ve got this! Nothing in your life is wasted and all will be redeemed for your benefit.
Why is it that the middle of everything is the most difficult? The beginning is usually filled with excitement, anticipation and expectation and the adrenaline usually carries you for a while. While the end has its own celebration of patience, endurance and perseverance and the satisfaction of a job well done! It is the middle where all of the battles are fought, all of the decisions are made and challenges, obstacles and hurdles are faced. And some of these take us off guard, surprising even the most prepared among us.
The middle presents us with questions we were never forced to entertain before. Questions like “Now what?” and “What does all of this mean?” In the beginning we entered with certainty and confidence, but the middle throws us for a loop and we experience uncertainty, fear, frustration, disappointment anger, shame, and doubt. From the initial perspective in the beginning, the future was always bright, but the middle is ruled by the dankness of the mundane and ordinary. This sometimes produces disorientation in identity and direction and we wonder internally, “Is this all there is?” or “Has my life been a waste?” In the middle, we interact with our own thoughts asking deeper questions about ourselves and our lives while rarely admitting them aloud:
Who am I?
In the beginning, I thought I knew who I was. I was able to define myself based on the job I performed, the important role I played, or the special relationship I had. But in the middle, I don’t feel as valuable and worthwhile as I once did by defining myself as I did. Things have changed. Now I wonder, “What’s wrong with me?” “Why am I feeling this way?” and “Why am I talking to myself?”
Where am I?
In the beginning, the future seemed clear, secure and filled with exciting probabilities. But in the middle, the support system that once provided security hasn’t proven reliable. Now I’m left to find a safe way forward to a uncertain future. As I try to figure things out in my head thinking up strategies to be safe, I’m filled with anxiety and dread. Now I wonder, “Will I have to face the future alone?” “Will everyone abandon me?”
How am I doing?
In the beginning, life felt like a struggle to be won and my efforts to control relationships and circumstances through my own strategies helped me to stay on top. Fixating on my assessment and judgment of things has helped me to prevent being dominated, tainted or upset. But in the middle I’ve exhausted my abilities to be able to control everything and everyone in my life and now I’m just resentful or angry. At who? At everybody!
The Middle is part of a Divine Conspiracy
In the middle, all of our exaggerated needs are exposed, the sinful passions that have always ruled our lives fail us and our shallow heart commitment to the Lord is exposed. But the middle sets us up for a deeper encounter with Christ to have our deeper personal questions of identity, significance and direction answered and to experience God’s goodness and favor at a level never before grasped. The middle is the opportunity for the Lord to impart hope to our souls as we learn to be satisfied in Him. In the middle we learn that God is Enough!
It was the Breaking News that turned the world upside down. As the news headline spread, everyone in the region and eventually in the world would have heard the claims of hundreds of eye witnesses. A following would develop that would become the preeminent movement in the world based only on this news. This historical event would be the most discussed and most transcribed event of its era yet many would deny its authenticity. Skeptics would challenge the historicity of the event years later claiming that it couldn’t be proven scientifically. This headline would have all of the same limitations for scientific proof of other historical events because categorically, it’s very difficult to scientifically prove historical events. Sir Karl Popper, perhaps the greatest philosopher who ever lived would later say, “You cannot prove history scientifically.” Taken to its logical conclusion, if one refuses to accept the historicity of a past event based on its lack of scientific evidence then all of history comes into serious doubt. Necessarily we’re led to doubt everything that happened before the invention of YouTube.
The truthfulness of History is most often proven by the eyewitness accounts of people who have observed and documented it. The Gospel Writers: Matthew (aka Levi), John Mark, Luke the Scientist and John the Apostle either witnessed or interviewed witnesses of the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus Christ was not a secret event with limited publicity. Instead news would have spread to everyone in the region even during the 40 days between his resurrection and ascension into heaven. Saul of Tarsus, Simon Peter son of John and James the Just would also write about their first hand encounters with the Risen Christ. Very few doubt the main events in the lives of historical men like Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great, yet many doubt the most important event in the life of Jesus Christ. Yet the resurrection of Jesus Christ has greater textual attestation than any event in antiquity.
What were the disciples looking for on the first Easter Sunday Morning?
On that first Easter morning, there was a band of women and a group of disciples who were hunting. But they weren’t hunting for Easter Eggs, they were hunting for their best friend, Jesus the Christ, the Promised One…
But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.”
The gospel accounts testify to the physical, literal, bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Because the Resurrection of Christ is so crucial to the Christian faith, gospel writers Matthew, Mark and John are very careful to record the details of what they saw with their own eyes. Luke, another gospel writer, includes eyewitness testimony from as many as 500 people who saw the Risen Christ in order to assure us that Christ is risen from the dead. He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!
“If looks could kill” is a familiar idiomatic expression used to characterize the look of strong hostility in the penetrating eyes of a murderous heart. Often we evaluate the look we get from people because the eyes tell us much about what the heart is thinking. After Peter’s third denial of and disassociation from Jesus in the midst of His interrogation by the High Priest, the eyes of the Lord meet Peter’s. But what kind of look was this?
Peter had denied any association with Christ, with no feelings of repentance, his heart becoming harder each time, searing his conscience. The denials became progressively easier, a warning to us about how sensitive we ought to be to our consciences upon the first occasion for sin. The first time, it won’t seem like a big deal to sin, but the second time creates a habit and the third time we risk the lulling to sleep of our conscience, grieving the Holy Spirit within us our will is rendered ineffective to resist anything. When we push through the barrier of grieving the Spirit, we find ourselves on the other side of the fence with no one to restrain us. Certainly Peter understood this retrospectively when he wrote years later in his first epistle, “Therefore preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” We must be early on guard against sin which desires to master us but when we sin there is only one thing that can bring us back to Jesus, His Look. Luke 22 tells the story this way,
But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
While Peter was warming himself by the fire numbering himself among wicked men and Jesus was being struck in the cheek by the closed fist of an interrogator in the courtyard of the high priest the entire scene enters into slow motion. What happens feels like a private moment between Jesus and Peter. Only Jesus sees that Peter has fallen while everyone else seems oblivious. There are no words exchanged and the Savior doesn’t disgustingly shake his head nor look away in disappointment. This is not even a parental, “I told you so” but a look of sympathy and mercy. This is a look that says, “I understand and I want you to come back!” Jesus knows the intensity of a battle with the evil one so he his sympathetic to Peter in his failure. This is the look of a friend who understands and a God who loves.
In Peter’s darkest hour, Jesus gives him THE LOOK of Mercy that initiates Peter’s repentance instantly after the moment of his greatest failure. When we sin, the only thing to bring us back is an apprehension of the mercy of God that is found in Christ’s look of sympathy and mercy. The Look that says, “I understand and I want you to come back.” Even in our most rebellious, frustrated and independent moments when our hearts rage against God we must catch the glance of the Savior, to see His eyes inviting us back to intimacy with Him. He gives us an efficacious look that meets our eyes and its rays of grace penetrate our hearts. When we fall, our repentance is always initiated by the Lord’s look of mercy. If He is not merciful, we should not dare turn back to Him but He is merciful, generous and patient towards us. What brings Peter back and what brings us back time and again is the Lord’s look of sympathy and mercy. This is no ordinary look nor a look that could kill, it is a look that gives life!
What a startling statement it was! Jesus sat was with His twelve best friends in the world. They had been together for three years, they ate together, they slept together, they walked mile after mile together. They sat under His teaching, saw Him perform countless miracles and were so excited about being a part of His Future Kingdom that they argued about who among them would be the greatest in it. They knew Jesus and they knew each other. And once again they came together for an evening meal, relaxing together at the table and eating when the words came out of Jesus’ mouth, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.”
His words were puzzling, cryptic, surprising and even shocking. Yet they knew that His words were always True, so they began to weep. How could it be that one of this inner-circle would betray their Lord, their Savior, their Friend? After initial abhorrence and disgust at the idea they moved with eagerness to clear themselves of suspicion, to judge their own consciences and defend themselves declaring, “Surely Not I?” One by one each man declared his innocence; thoughts of betrayal were far from their hearts. Even Judas spoke up saying, “Surely Not I?” The disciples were often in the position of overestimating themselves and failing to see their capacity for rebellion and betrayal. In fact, later in the evening they would all abandon Him.
I remember when I was a new believer attending a holiday conference for college students when a speaker asked a section of 100 students to stand and then preceded to ask 50 of the number to sit back down. He then made a startling prediction, “In ten years, half of the 100 will no longer be walking with the Lord!” His prediction was not based on any specific knowledge of the sample group, but on anecdotal evidence of working with young people who declared themselves to be “on fire for Jesus” in their youth but later would show no evidence that they ever truly believed. Ironically, the thoughts that penetrated my mind and heart on that evening were “Surely Not I?” Then looking at my friends and thinking, “Surely not them either, right?”
The Apostle Paul exhorted the Corinthians to “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” A regular call to look within ourselves to discover Christ and Faith is not a harmful thing for the Christian to do. Jesus makes this startling prediction of his closest friends, “One of you will betray me,” because He knows they have overestimated their commitment to Him, that their faith is not mature and their foundations will soon be rocked. He wants all of them to do a heart inventory and by doing so reminds His disciples and us that we are chosen but we are not choice. He wants us all to see our capacity for rebellion and to see our great need for His grace and mercy. He wants us to ask ourselves, “Are we following Him because the crowd follows Him?” and “Are we following Him because of the nice gifts He provides.” If we follow Him because of the crowd or the gifts, it is likely that one day we will walk away from Him. There will come a time in our earthly lives when we feel alone in our faith and the crowd is not following. There will also come a time when His gifts momentarily cease, when our faith will be tested with the question, “Do I love the Giver or do I love the Gifts?”