Thirty years before the cross was considered a method to kill Jesus, He had to flee for His life.
You see there was something about the birth of our Lord and the surrounding circumstances which frightened King Herod. The wise men were the final blow to his aroused jealousies. He tried to use them to discover the whereabouts of the infant Jesus, born in Bethlehem. He asked them to return to his palace as soon as they had seen the child and presented their gifts. The wise men were warned in a dream not to return to the envious King. They didn’t and the old tyrant was furious. He flew into an infantile rage which must have been one of his best. He would fix this Jewish baby boy who was receiving so much fanfare! The death of all male children under two years of age in the Bethlehem area was ordered.
From the very first days our Lord’s life was not an easy one. A new life had entered the earthly realm. It was not just any combination of flesh and blood. The Son of God was born to Joseph and Mary. Had He been less promising His problem of existence would have been greatly lessened.
Joseph, Mary, and Jesus made their way to Egypt, a far and strange land. Their journey was not a long one by our standards. We have no way of knowing the exact route the family followed. The shortest distance between Bethlehem and the borders of Judea to the south was approximately thirty miles. It is safe to say they traveled, at least, one hundred miles to Egypt. In our automobiles this takes about two hours . . . if we stay within the speed limits. It took Jesus and His parents days and perhaps weeks. Walking by foot or even riding a donkey over treacherous terrain can be very time-consuming. Joseph was a good man and tried to do what God commanded. God told him to take the child to Egypt for His safety. Joseph was a poor carpenter and must have wondered how he would finance such a trip. Never-the-less, he didn’t argue the matter. Father, mother, and their bundle of joy set out for Egypt. A country both remote and unfamiliar.
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If we will, you and I can make a splendid and instructive similarity at this point. Does not our Father take us into far and strange lands? Does He not do so that we might avoid spiritual stagnation and even death? We do not relish or willingly accept Tragedy,
Pain, Sorrow, or Failure. Nevertheless, they have their place. On bended knee you and I are summoned to admit the truth of the matter.
We so not like the blistering hot sun, desolate ravines, and scrubby trees in the Land of Tragedy.
Much too often we react in bitterness.
A sword is gouged into our soft religious flesh, and it hurts . . . An automobile accident has taken the lives of two dear friends. They were good, likable people, but we had never given them a serious invitation to worship with us on a specific Sunday morning. Oh, we hinted a few times that their lives might be greatly helped by worshipping with us and others. Our words betrayed us. They were interpreted to mean the Church is something less than the Body of Christ and a spiritual Fellowship of Believers. Every time we visualize the crinkled hood, smashed sides, and broken windows of their automobile, the pen of bitterness writes another negative impression.
Red-hot coals touch a tongue not yet fully dedicated to Christ. . A seminary professor and outstanding preacher once told us without warning, “I don’t like God”. Some of us stared in amazement at what we heard. One or two very conservative chaps were ready to register a complaint with the dean. Some were thinking along the lines of psychiatric help for our teaching brother. Well, several minutes later in the class period he said, “I don’t like God because several years ago He took away our baby’s life that I wanted more than my own”. God spoke to him in the only way he would listen. The professor’s point was made and the softness in his face told us the story of tragedy remade into triumph. There is no absolute law that says you and I have to react in bitterness to such experiences.
We can respond in love to the God who is an expert in healing broken hearts.
Our trouble is in trying to use our own strength in mending our brains and soothing our emotions. We take a little sweetness and patch it on a place worn raw by our internal turmoil. We produce a mask of kind understanding and wear it on suitable occasions. We lift our heads far higher than they should be for proper posture and pretend our injuries don’t show. We talk ourselves into becoming interested in some new fad in hopes it will make us forget.
We can save a lot of time and energy by going directly to God. (Need we be reminded that’s what being a Protestant is all about?) A great deal of shoe leather can be saved simply by falling upon our knees. Many sentences can be saved simply by articulating with sincerity the words, “God help me!”
God is Master of creating. Ah, but He is also Master of re-creating!
The Land of Tragedy may or may not be a manifestation of God’s wrath. It is a means to quicken and perfect our religious lives. Another far and strange land beckons to us to share its rewards.
We do no like the gigantic thistles, sharp rocks, and parched earth in the Land of Pain.
We are all too ready to wallow in self-pity.
A leg is badly broken, and hospitalization for many days is the result . . . We admit it isn’t the first leg which has ever been broken. The room accommodations are good. One nurse likes to give orders, but the others are quite understanding. The doctor seems to be doing his best. We try the “stiff upper lip” routine, but it is only an awkward mechanism. We were sent to our bed of affliction to take inventory of our lives, but we can only feel the pain of the body which is about the worst ever recorded. We wouldn’t take time to think about God, but He makes us stop long enough for us to know the He is still God and will continue to be forever.
A son has gone off to the army . . . The mental anguish keeps our brains throbbing. Will he have enough to eat? He will and all six courses will probably be heaped in one delicious, delectable pile. Will someone wash his clothes? Yes, he will – at least – for several weeks. Will he have his shoes polished? He had better have. Our son is gone and God knows what he needs. Our Father also knows the degree to which we have done our work as mother and father. If we have not done an acceptable job of rearing him, we should not pity ourselves. We should pity the top sergeant, the commanding officer, or – better still – our son.
Self-pity is a terrible waste of time.
There are always others who are experiencing greater pain.
Let’s view together three brief word-pictures. a young man being brutally attacked by a malignant tumor . . . An old lady with both legs pinned beneath her dying husband’s automobile . . . A man at the peak of his career stricken by spinal meningitis.
There is always somebody who is in greater pain than we are. We complain of our poor hearing, until we notice a deaf mute. We complain of our poor eye-sight, until we see a blind beggar.
The Land of Pain is not welcomed. It is a method to shake us out of step with the death march of souls. Another land in the distance calls us.
We do not like the hail-stones, thunderclaps, and lightning flashes experienced in the Land of Sorrow. The easy way out is to repsond in sulkiness.
A life-long partner in business absconds with all available funds. You are financially ruined. You want to tear everything in sight to pieces. The business is gone for all practical purposes, but that isn’t the most important event. One that you trusted over the years has shown complete disloyalty. He has hurt you deeply and the temptation to withdraw from life in resentment and apply his betrayal to all other human beings has begun to get the upperhand.
Years ago you loved a young man and wanted to marry him. With great pride you introduced him to a girl friend. They fell in love and were married. As the years have passed, you have remained single and the resentment increases with each passing day. Your abilities have lain dormant so long you can feel them slipping away forever. For want of a better term, you have become a “psychological cripple.”
There is no purpose in inflicting such destructive punishment.
Sorrow can be used to push us into losing ourselves in worthwhile activities.
If some sorrow is weighing us down, we should not ask that it be lifted. We should implore our God to put us to work in those areas where He needs us. If we can’t find adventures that really count, it is safe to say we have never earnestly asked. Our prayers were timid requests which expected little or nothing. Beneficial activities cannot completely blot out sorrow which is deep-seated, and this is to our advantage. Becoming engrossed in such activities is not a running away from reality. It is running to our God!
Our parents’ and grandparents’ admonition was “Don’t cry over spilled milk.” There is wisdom in that injunction. However, we need to add the words, “but don’t sit around and let the cup remain empty.” Even the most expensive and potentially useful vessel is subject to deterioration.
The Land of Sorrow is intended to lift us above and beyond ourselves. A final far and strange land awaits us.
We don’t like the torrential rain, pesky sleet, and heavy snow in the Land of Failure.
Failing to attain a worthy goal is often met by “sour grapes.” We become scornful of the thing we are after only because we cannot have it or did not get it.
There was an opening on the varsity basketball team. A lad on the second team squad could see himself in a varsity suit. He would capture that unfilled position! He worked very hard at the next practices, and the coach was impressed. He did everything within his power to gain that coveted position. The coach picked someone else. Upon leaving the gym he told himself, “Oh, well it wasn’t worth having anyway.”
This isn’t purely a teenage characteristic, is it? Adults use the same mechanism. some of us probably react so often this way we aren’t even aware of it.
There was an opening in the store chain, but we weren’t selected. Our reply, “It wasn’t worth the additional responsibility.” Isn’t that interesting?
There was a retired farmer seeking a good tenant, but we didn’t make the grade. Our reply, it wasn’t the type of farm land desired anyway.” Again, isn’t it interesting?
Whether they be big or little failures, “sour grapes” is not the solution.
Those who are successful have learned one small – highly significant – lesson: profit from your mistakes. The most successful people in the world have failed dismally in one or several things.
The lives of the saints are sprinkled by this common occurrence. Do we recall what their secret was? They sought out the reasons for their inadequacies and called upon God to supply the essentials for victorious living. We can do no more than that today, but we can do that.
A word of caution: We ought to be sure we have actually failed and have not simply been termed a failure by someone’s irresponsible indictment. The Apostle Peter failed three times in a few hours. Had this not happened, we may never have known him! Perhaps in God’s grand design it had to happen in order for his greatness to emerge.
Thus, we have briefly traversed the Land of Failure.
You and I must not despise Tragedy, Pain, Sorrow, or Failure.
“Taking what life hands out and doing something with it” is not an eloquent expression. Not all truths need to be stated with eloquence. May God continually remind us.
Christians are called upon to see the unusual opportunity in the unpromising situation. This is the difference between anemic and dynamic Christianity. Such a difference is colossal and points to whether or not “dem dead bones gonna rise again.”
Our Father does take us into far and strange lands to refresh and reactivate our inner lives. Then – if we will – we can be those radiant, outgoing Christian. Then, internally and externally we can testify to the riches of Jesus Christ.
Donald Charles Lacy is a retired United Methodist pastor who resides in Muncie, IN.