Which One Do You Want First?

Well, I’ve got some good news, and I’ve got some bad news.

Which one do you want first?

I remember hearing lots of jokes like that. Like this one:

These two old men had been best friends for year, and they both live to be well into their 90’s, when suddenly, one of them falls deathly ill. His friend comes to visit him as he is lying on his deathbed, and together, they reminisce about the great times they have had together, throughout the years of their long friendship.

The friend of the dying man says, “Lou. Listen. When you die, I want you to do me a favor. All my life, I’ve wanted to know if there’s baseball in heaven. Will you come back and tell me if there’s baseball in heaven?”

The dying man looks tenderly at his old friend, and replies, “We’ve been friends all our lives. This, I’ll do for you.” And then, he dies.

A couple of days later, the surviving friend is sleeping, when he hears his buddy Lou’s voice. Lou says, “I’ve got some good news, and some bad news. The good news, my friend,  is that there’s baseball in heaven.”

“What’s the bad news?”

“The bad news is that you’re pitching Wednesday.”

So, here’s the bad news: Unless Jesus comes back, there ain’t none of us who are gonna be making it out of here alive.

We all ponder that notion, from time to time, the thought of our own death. When someone close to us dies, we tend to think of it a bit more.

To some of us, it is a welcome thought. Life is sad, and hard, and we’ve seen too much pain and too much suffering, and the thought of making all that pain stop sounds pretty attractive. At the other end of the spectrum, are those of us for whom our own death is a specter to be escaped from, and we run from it like Indy ran from that boulder in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Denial is not just a river in Egypt for some of us: it’s a lifestyle. And De Nile is where we’d like to push those thoughts of our own impending turn on the pitcher’s mound, if you know what I mean.

Once again, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about death,  in part due to the grief being experienced by a couple of my friends. Both of these friends have a close relative in hospice at present. Each are doing the best that they can to care for their dying loved one. Both are grieving in their own ways. And I’m just praying for them to receive some measure of comfort and peace as they watch their loved ones’ final struggle.

And just last month, my high school buddy Charley died from ALS. I haven’t been close to Charley in years, but he was a wonderful human being, and the fact that he was robbed of health, and the rest of us were robbed of a wonderful guy like him just stinks.

I don’t know why it has to be this way. I know of no easy answers.

So, with those folks in the back of my mind, I have been continuing on with my study of  Isaiah.  When last I blogged, I left off in mid-chapter of Isaiah Chapter 40. I’m going to pick back up right where I left off, at verse 6. To me, this is pretty much “The Bad News” part of one of those old good news/bad news jokes. In the passage you’re about to read, God is the “voice”, and He has a message for Isaiah to communicate to the people:

A voice says, “Cry out, “
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
“All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
because the breath of the Lord blows on them.
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God stands forever.”

To sum up, the bad news is: we’re all gonna die.

In light of that, I think I could use a little good news.

Here’s the next verse:

You who bring good tidings to Zion,
go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem,
lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid;
say to the towns of Judah,
“Here is your God!”

Sometimes, in the midst of our grief, we turn so inward that all we can see is our own loss. Our own pain. Our own navel. But there is a bigger picture. There is a whole world that continues to spin despite our pain, and sometimes, after grieving our loss for however long we need to, we need our eyes lifted from our own navel, by the guy who is standing on the mountaintop, shouting out to us to lift our eyes to see something more, something greater, Someone who is worthy of our attention: our Maker. “Here is your God!” Take a look at Him! In the midst of your loss, and your pain, look up!

See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,
and his arm rules for him.
See, his reward is with him,
and his recompense accompanies him.
He tends his flock like a shepherd;
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.

He is Sovereign of the universe: the all powerful King of kings. And yet, at the same time, He is the  gentle Shepherd who cares for his flock, who gathers the lambs in his arms, and carries them close to his heart. What a contrast! All powerful, yet loving and gentle.

In the 15th chapter of Genesis, just after Abraham had for the sake of his own integrity, declined a substantial financial reward that was offered to him by the king of Sodom, God appeared to Abraham in a dream. God recognized that Abraham had done the right thing, for the right reason, and at some cost to himself. And in the dream, God reassured Abraham that the choice he had made was a wise one: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.”  It is God himself, knowing Him and belonging to Him, that is our very greatest reward.

I don’t understand why we have to die. (Although it would be a little crowded if we didn’t….)
But I do know that when I take time to look up, it helps. In getting to know God, there is reward.  He is the Sovereign of the universe, yet, at the same time, He is our Good Shepherd, who is with us as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

And that’s the good news.


Yum
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