SHED THE SHROUD

Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!” [John 11:43-44 (NLT)]

red-spotted purple admiralWhen Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb, the once dead man emerged from the tomb with his face wrapped in a head cloth and his body bound in burial garments. Jesus commanded people to unbind him and free him from the trappings of the grave. Something tells me that, after four days in a tomb, Lazarus left behind more than some linen cloth soiled with the detritus of the tomb and death. While we don’t know what he experienced during those days, He must have returned to life with a new perspective. As he walked into the sunlight he never expected seeing again and inhaled the air he never anticipated breathing again, can you imagine how much he appreciated his new lease on life? Given a second chance, he probably wasn’t about to bring any regrets, resentment, anger, or guilt with him. Raised from the dead, he probably shed much of his past along with that shroud as he stepped from the tomb’s gloom.

Unlike Lazarus, we haven’t physically died. Our family didn’t wash us with warm water, rub us with spices and oil, wrap us in a burial garment, lay us in a tomb, and mourn our passing. Like Lazarus, however, we were dead before answering Jesus’ call. Born again into a new spiritual life, we are no longer spiritually dead and our grave clothes are no longer necessary. Lazarus shed his, why can’t we? We tend to carry the detritus and debris of our yesterdays with us when we come to Christ. Instead of putting on the new clothes of salvation and righteousness, we stay wrapped in the shroud of the past that’s stained with betrayals, anger, disappointment, loss, and hurt and embellished with remorse and disgrace. Even when we think we’ve donned the fresh clothes of a new life in Christ, we often tuck a pang of guilt or shame into a pocket. We can’t believe we’ve been forgiven, but we have; we can’t believe we’re good enough, but we are; we can’t believe He could possibly love us, but He does!

When Lazarus stepped into the light from that dark tomb, he shed his shroud. When we accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we were given a new spiritual life; let us shed our past and clothe ourselves with joy and the presence of Jesus Christ.

And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. [Galatians 3:27 (NLT)]

You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy. [Psalm 30:11 (NLT)]

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COMPASSION FATIGUE

Then he went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.” [1 Kings 19:4 (NLT)]

hibiscusMost of us think of sloth as laziness: a dislike of work or any physical exertion. Having watched the local zoo’s sloth in action (or, rather, inaction), I think the sluggish animal is appropriately named. Spiritual sloth, however, is far different than being a couch potato. Originally, the sin of sloth was two sins: sadness and acedia. Compiled by Evagrius of Pontius, 4th century monk, these two “capitals sins” were part of a list of eight he believed to the greatest threats to devout monasticism.

We know what sadness is and it’s important to remember that the sadness which Evagrius found problematic for his monks was not clinical depression; it was that despondency or gloom that easily came upon a monk living an ascetic life of prayer, fasting and labor in the middle of the Egyptian desert in the 4th century. It was unhappiness with one’s present situation and the melancholy that comes from longing for something different. It was distress at one’s circumstances and the inability to give thanks in all things. In this troubled world, we certainly don’t have to be monks to suffer that kind of sadness.

Acedia comes from the Greek and means without care or concern. Rather than laziness, it is apathy or a fatigue of mind and soul. A spiritual boredom or weariness, acedia results in listless prayers, study or service. In the midday heat, the monks were tempted to let their minds wander during study and prayers and then fall asleep causing Evagrius to call acedia the “noonday demon.” Seeing the correlation between sadness and acedia, in the late 6th century, Pope Gregory combined the two sins into sloth .

A few mornings ago, I fell victim to compassion fatigue and began to understand spiritual sloth. The previous night’s discussion in Bible study had been disheartening. We’d talked of the recent hurricanes (with yet another one on the horizon), Mexico’s earthquakes, Puerto Rico’s devastation, Korea’s threat, the horrendous carnage in Las Vegas, a polarized nation, and the unrest in the Middle East. As I added that night’s heartbreaking prayer requests to my already burgeoning and depressing list, I grew numb with grief. “What’s the point? I wondered as I listed a two-year old just diagnosed with metastasized stomach cancer, a woman who may lose her feet because of nursing home neglect, and a friend’s suicidal son. “What difference can I make? Why bother?” I cried. At that point, my heart was so weary with grief that I no longer wanted to care or pray. I probably felt as Elijah did when, while fleeing Jezebel, he sat down under that broom tree and said he wanted to die. That’s spiritual sloth and it’s not just monks and Old Testament prophets that can be afflicted with it. The enemy wants us all to become so downhearted and world-weary that we fall into spiritual inactivity or sloth.

Elijah was cured of his spiritual sloth by food, rest, and a talk with the Lord. Although I didn’t eat, I was nourished by Scripture. I didn’t sleep but I rested in the words I read and then, like Elijah, I had a prayerful chat with God. God whispered to Elijah and gave him new strength. He whispered to me and refreshed me with his words of love, comfort, reassurance and hope.

I cried out, “I am slipping!” but your unfailing love, O Lord, supported me. When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer. [Psalm 94:18-19 (NLT)]

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. [Philippians 4:8 (NLT)]

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WHAT LEGACY?

But God said to him, “You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?” Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God. [Luke 12: 20-21 (NLT)]

Trumbull Cemetery - OhioWhen touring a nearby resort town, a beautiful old mansion was pointed out. It was once owned by a man who made so much money on his invention of the sanitary milk bottle cap that he retired at the age of 26. For 93 years, the Chicago White Sox played at a ball field named for the team’s founder. In 2003, the field was renamed US Cellular Park and then, in 2016, it became the Guaranteed Rate Field. When I went to Northwestern University, the football venue was named for a former Evanston mayor. In 1997, the stadium was renamed to honor the family of a generous donor to the school’s athletic facilities. A friend’s daughter is attending a school named for a German immigrant who opened a Chicago butcher shop in 1883. Who were these men?

If you’ve not been on a Lake Geneva boat tour, you’ve never heard O.N. Tevander. Although one can still find pictures of his bottle capping machine, he doesn’t even rate a mention in Wikipedia. Do today’s baseball fans know that Charles Comiskey was a key person in the formation of the American League and founder of the Chicago White Sox? Do the Northwestern Wildcats know anything of William Dyche, class of 1882, and that his name was to remain on any NU stadium for perpetuity? In another twenty years, will they have any idea that Patrick Ryan founded Aon Corporation and once served on the university’s Board of Trustees? By then, it’s possible that another large check will have been written and the stadium will have yet another name. When you hear the name Oscar Mayer, do you think of an immigrant butcher from Bavaria or of a large corporation (now owned by Kraft), hot dogs and the wiener song?

Even if we amass great wealth, make generous donations, or achieve some modicum of fame, chances are that most of us will be forgotten in a few generations. Our last name might remain on a corporate letterhead or, if wealthy enough, we could have a building or stadium named after us (at least for a while). Our headstone may rest in a cemetery, we might be listed in a genealogy chart, or an old letter or picture of us may reside in a box of memorabilia stored in someone’s attic. Nevertheless, we will be long gone and, for the most part, forgotten. For William Dyche, perpetuity lasted only 71 years! How long will it last for us? Even if a great grandchild has our china, a piece of our jewelry or carries our name, our essence will have vanished. We will be little more than a short family story or a faceless name.

Jesus told a parable about the rich man whose land was so productive that he ran out of room to store his crops. Rather than share his excess, he just built bigger barns so he could relax and enjoy his wealth for years to come. Unfortunately for him, he died that very night. A simple parable, it points out the temporal nature of life.

Financial planners often ask their clients, “What will be your legacy?” The rich man in the parable left a legacy of filled barns for someone else to enjoy. Sadly, he forgot the most important thing—his soul. Sometimes we’re so busy thinking about our legacy here on earth that, like the man in the parable, we also forget about our souls. Whether or not we are remembered in this world isn’t really important. The real question is whether or not God will welcome us into His kingdom in the next.

Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. [Matthew 6:19-21 (NLT)]

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UNFORGIVABLE

I tell you the truth, all sin and blasphemy can be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. This is a sin with eternal consequences. [Mark 3:28-29 (NLT)]

snowy egret“I’ll never forgive him!” I vowed in anger and fear. My husband and I had taken our three children shopping for school clothes. While I was busy with the eldest, my husband said he’d take the other two for a walk through the mall. Unknown to me, the four-year old had convinced his father that he’d stay at the store, sit quietly in a little cubbyhole by the entrance, and wait for his dad’s return. Unfortunately, having the attention span of a gnat, the little guy quickly grew bored watching shoppers. After wandering into the store to hide in the clothes racks, he looked for his brother and me. Not seeing us (since we were in a changing room), he decided we’d left without him and calmly went looking for us in the parking lot. While I was paying for our purchases, my husband returned with only one child in tow. Almost simultaneously, with panic in our voices, we asked one another, “Where’s Scooter?” While the saleswoman made the call to mall security, I thought, “I’ll never forgive him if something has happened to our child; our marriage will be over!” Fortunately, a concerned woman had spotted the boy and taken him to security where he was enjoying a red lollipop. Through God’s good graces, his misadventure had a happy ending but what if it hadn’t? While angrily deciding I’d never forgive my husband, it never occurred to me that he’d be hard put to forgive himself!

I thought of that incident when a friend’s grandchild died. Wanting to go on a ride with his dad, the toddler had quietly left the house. He was standing in the driveway behind the car when his father backed over the youngster. A tragic accident, it ended up destroying a family through divorce and then the father’s suicide. Apparently, neither parent could forgive the other nor could they forgive themselves. I sometimes think of how my husband and I narrowly escaped a similar ending.

Jesus spoke of only one unpardonable or unforgivable sin—blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. After seeing His miraculous works, the Pharisees had irrefutable evidence of Jesus’ power and yet they deliberately denied His identity and accused Him of being demon possessed. The only unpardonable sin today would be continued unbelief; for the repentant believer, all else is forgivable.

It is hypocritical for us to ask God to forgive our sins if we withhold forgiveness from anyone else. As mere mortals, we do not know the hearts of men nor do we have the privilege of deciding what, who or even when to forgive. Forgiveness isn’t easy; sometimes, it can seem nearly impossible. Nevertheless, we ask God to forgive us in the way we forgive others. Unless we want God to pick and choose among our sins and failings, we cannot pick and choose among the actions of those who’ve failed us. We don’t get to forgive the little transgressions and withhold forgiveness on the big ones unless we want God to do the same with us.

And forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. … If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins. [Matthew 6:12,14-15 (NLT)]

Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven. [Luke 6:37 (NLT)]

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COUNTING THE COST

If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. But don’t begin until you count the cost. [Luke 14:26-28a (NLT)]

coreopsisHis cautionary words to the disciples are difficult to understand. How can Jesus, who told us to love our enemies and do good to them, tell us to hate our families? Do we have to despise our relatives if we want to be his disciples? Fortunately, after getting the disciples’ attention with that unusual statement, Jesus followed with a parable about a man who undertook a project without counting the cost and then couldn’t finish what he began. Hating our family is just a hyperbole; it’s a way of saying that anyone who follows Christ must love Him more than anything else. Christ is to be first and foremost in our hearts and minds. In comparison to our love for Jesus, we are to love them less (or “hate” them). To be His disciple, Jesus demands total commitment; we must be willing to give up everything for Him, even if that means the things and people we love. Sadly, when we choose Christ over loved ones, they might perceive our love of Jesus as a betrayal and may even hate us for that choice.

I was raised in a family of believers and married a believer so I never had to choose between Jesus and family. For a moment, however, consider the disciples and their families. When they left their jobs to follow Jesus, did they leave behind loved ones? Did their families disown them or distance themselves from what seemed fanaticism or membership in a strange cult? What about the Apostle Paul? Originally known as Saul of Tarsus, he came from a family of Pharisees and spent many years studying Scripture under the celebrated rabbi Gamaliel. If not already a member of the Sanhedrin, he was well on his way to becoming a member of the high council and was an active leader in persecuting the followers of Christ. Saul was probably everything a devout Jewish family would want in a good Jewish son until he became a Christian evangelist named Paul! Think of what it cost him to follow Jesus.

While some of us gave up a few bad habits or unsavory friends when we accepted Christ, Christian apologist Nabeel Qureshi gave up far more. When this Pakistani-American gave up his Muslim faith, he gave up his loving family as well. His becoming Christian caused a devastating destruction of their relationship and it took nearly ten years for the healing to begin. I cannot begin to comprehend the difficulty of his choice to follow Christ and the pain experienced by both parents and son. When I read Qureshi’s story, I finally understood what Jesus meant when He said to count the cost before we give up our lives and pick up that cross.

How could I betray my family after all they had done for me? By becoming a Christian, not only would I lose all connection with the Muslim community around me, my family would lose their honor as well. My decision would not only destroy me, it would also destroy my family, the ones who loved me most and sacrificed so much for me. I began mourning the impact of the decision I knew I had to make.… “But Jesus,” I said, “accepting you would be like dying. I will have to give up everything.”… For Muslims, following the gospel is more than a call to prayer. It is a call to die. [Nabeel Qureshi]

Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. [Luke 9:23-24 (NLT)]

Then Peter began to speak up. “We’ve given up everything to follow you,” he said. “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life. [Mark 10:28-30 (NLT)]

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NO REGRETS

Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever. [Revelation 21:3-4 (NLT)]

It is the same way with the resurrection of the dead. Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies. [1 Corinthians 15:42-44 (NLT)]

tiger swallowtail butterfly on bergamotWhen writing yesterday’s devotion (“It’s Curtains”), I couldn’t help but feel a brief pang of regret because I never had those conversations with my parents before they died. The thoughts, “Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you,” may have been assumed but never were spoken. I was fifteen when my mother succumbed to cancer. I saw her that day in hospital but, when I walked out that afternoon, I was sure I’d see her again when I visited the following day. I never thought the next time I saw her she’d be lying in a casket. When people would say, “She looks so good,” I wanted to shout at them and say, “She doesn’t look good; she looks dead!” Five years later, I was in the same funeral home and surrounded by many of the same mourners. That time, it was my father’s body lying so still in the front of the room. Two day earlier he’d been hunting pheasants when his heart failed; he died in the middle of a corn field. I’d seen him just a few weeks before that and never thought our farewell was the final one. Did my parents know how much I loved them? Did they know how sorry I was for my failings? Did they know I forgave them for theirs? Did they know how thankful I was for the life they gave me?

If we’d had those conversations at that time, however, I’m not sure how satisfying they would have been. I was far too young to have any concept of what it meant to be a parent and make the difficult choices parents do. I was too immature to have a real appreciation of the sacrifices they made for me or to understand the depth of parental love and the pain that so often accompanies it. And, I was far too young to acknowledge how wrong I’d been in so many ways. I think of the Apostle Paul’s words, “I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child.” Indeed, I did. Now, more than fifty years later, I have the blessings of faith, maturity, perspective, and experience but those conversations cannot take place. Surely, like me, there are others whose final farewells were nonexistent or less than satisfactory. Nevertheless, they were final.

Although I expect to meet my parents in heaven, I think we’ll be too busy joyfully worshipping God to bring our regrets with us to the afterlife. What’s done is done and those last farewells, as unsatisfactory as they were, will have to do. The past is just that—passed! There really is no room in our lives for regret or looking backward. After all, we still have a race to run.

To dwell on the past simply causes failure in the present. While you are sitting down and bemoaning the past and regretting all the things you have not done, you are crippling yourself and preventing yourself from working in the present. Is that Christianity? Of course it is not. [Martyn Lloyd-Jones]

I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. [Philippians 3:13b-14 (NLT)]

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