No - it's not Monday morning and I'm not sharing multiple upcoming events or programs at our church, the typical DNA of postings at this site. It's Wednesday and I'm sad. And if I'm really being honest, I'm mad as well. And as a Christ Follower, I know I'm supposed to be glad. I know it, because I've read it in the Bible all morning long as I've prepared both Sunday's sermon (James 1) and Sunday's Bible School lesson (2 Corinthians 1).
I'm sad and I'm mad because sometimes life really stinks - sometimes life simply doesn't make sense. The storms of life visit and wreck havoc and chaos in the lives of people who love and serve the Lord.
Consider what is happening in the nation of Turkey involving American Pastor Andrew Brunson. That's right, Pastor Andrew Brunson. He is under house arrest currently after spending close to two years in prison, charged with being a subversive against the Turkish government. There is so much I could write about this case, but I'll cut to the chase with this: it truly is an injustice of enormous proportions and reminds us once again how blessed we are to live in the USA. I read about Andrew Brunson and I'm sad and I'm mad - and I want to do something.
What about the case of Pastor John Cao, currently serving a 7 year prison sentence in China? That's right - 7 years. And what did Pastor Cao do to create such a sentence? He built 16 schools for the Wa people, an impoverished minority group in Myanmar. Unhappy with his faith-based work, the Chinese government harassed and ultimately prosecuted Cao for facilitating illegal border crossings. Literally a shell of who he once was, Cao has lost 50 pounds over the past several months and has been unable to communicate with his wife or sons. I read about John Cao and I'm sad and I'm mad - and I want to do something.
Both cases were featured last week at the first ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom held at the US State Department. Both Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were vocal in their support of this event and also the continued pursuit of promoting and defending religious freedom all over the world.
A more thorough article about these cases can be found at:
Closer to home, I received news last night that one of my LCC classmates Jim Ramos passed away after suffering a heart attack late last week. Jim was truly one of a kind - truly lived out the JOY of the Lord each and every day. I had the opportunity to see Jim somewhat regularly in the Champaign area and he ALWAYS had a smile and spiritual encouragement. He and my friend Hank Sanford regularly ministered through both music and word at Champaign area retirement centers. Our world, and especially my hometown, is a better place because of the life and love Jim Ramos brought to it! And I think about Jim - and I'm sad. Sometimes life just doesn't make sense!
This morning I received news that Rick and Karen Hobler's son Matt passed away last evening after a really challenging battle with cancer. Matt is younger than I am. Rick has served as contract lawyer for our church over the past couple of years and Karen was part of our India mission team in March of 2017. Rick and Karen have spent a lifetime serving the Lord. And now they will prepare to bury their son. I think about Rick and Karen - and Matt - and I'm sad. Sometimes life just doesn't make sense!
And Sunday we begin our study from James 1, where the brother of Jesus writes these words: "consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance." Also Sunday, the Faith Builders class will begin a multi-month journey through 2 Corinthians, looking this week at this teaching from the Apostle Paul: "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God."
I read these teachings from James and Paul and I'm reminded that when I'm sad and when I'm mad, I need to let God's word teach me - guide me - help me - console me - encourage me - comfort me.
As I read James 1 and the call to consider it PURE JOY when you face trouble, I thought of Pastor Andrew Brunson's own words about his arrest and the events of the past two years shared by his daughter Jaqueline: “‘It is a privilege to suffer for the sake of Christ.” ‘Blessed am I as I suffer for him. Blessed am I as I am slandered. Blessed am I as I am lied about. Blessed am I as I am imprisoned. Blessed am I as I share his suffering.’” It's pretty hard to be anything but encouraged when you read about this man's faith in the midst of trial and tribulation!
As I read 2 Corinthians 1 and constant reinforcement and reminder that God is the God of ALL COMFORT, I thought about Karen Hobler's Facebook this morning: "We have a great big hole in our hearts but heaven has a new angel named Matthew Ryan Hobler!!! He has a new body and he is no longer in pain and no longer fighting the beast known as cancer. For each card that you sent, each hug that you gave, and each expression of concern and support, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts!!! To God be the glory!! Still we will praise HIM!" What a powerful faith in the midst of life's nightmare, only possible because of the God of ALL COMFORT!
So why did I share all of this?
I'm not really sure to be honest, but I'm glad I did. Maybe it's spiritual therapy. Maybe it's helping me finalize a sermon and a lesson. Maybe I just needed to remind myself that when I'm sad and I'm mad at the storms of life in this dark and troubled world that for Jesus Followers there is always HOPE!
So pray for those imprisoned for the sake of Christ - Andrew Brunson and John Cao and so many others - pray for their families as well.
And pray for the Ramos Family and the Hobler Family - and so many other hurting families.
Pray that the God of all comfort will do what He does best. And do your part as well - look for ways this week - even today - to be an Ambassador of JOY and COMFORT in the name of Jesus.