John reflects on the normalcy of having conflicting emotions while walking an unhindered life with Christ.View Transcript
Come, everyone. Come, and enjoy the word of the Lord today from Ezra 3 and Acts 28.
Hello, Alliance family. I’m in the home of one of our staff members here in Columbus, Ohio, as we’re continuing our relocation efforts, and today I have a word that I trust will bring genuine encouragement to our souls.
Jeremiah had prophesied it. King Cyrus of Persia had commissioned it. Zerubbabel and other leaders had led the way. The people had brought generous offerings for it, and now the moment has come when the temple is to be rebuilt, the foundation is to be laid.
The destruction had just been a few decades earlier, and some had remembered the beautiful temple that Solomon had built. It’s fascinating history, but a foreign army had come in as God had warned, and with axes and hatchets, torches, had stolen everything of value and burned the rest of the ground.
And one of the songs of the day was Psalm 74, which declared, “Why have you rejected us forever, oh God?” as the Psalmist helps them grieve the great loss of their beautiful temple and the center of their worship.
But now, in Ezra 3, we have this gathering; and with great joy, they come together, “When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments and with their trumpets, and the Levites with cymbals, took their places to praise the Lord, as prescribed by David king of Israel.
With praise and thanksgiving, they sang a song to the Lord: ‘He is good; his love to Israel endures forever.’ And all of the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of the temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.”
This co-mingling of emotion, these conflicting experiences, and this contrasting event where they’re at the same moment, they’re seeing the same things, but they’re having a different experience. Some, this elicits all the emotion of the past of what they had experienced as children or young adults of coming into that temple and all its glory, and now the whole thought of rebuilding, maybe it seems overwhelming. Maybe it feels like they’ll never be able to do what Solomon had done. Maybe they’re full of fear and anxiety. Maybe they didn’t process the grief from the past.
I don’t know all that’s in their heart, but I know that at this moment, they weep. They weep while others have these songs and shouts of joy, and this is a new moment for them. This is excitement for them. They don’t have such of a contrast of past in their own experience, they’re just entering into the moment right now, and so, they shout, and they sing, and they celebrate.
The co-mingled emotions, the conflicting experience of the same people at the same event but having a different response—that text in Ezra 3 suddenly became a text for me without plan or preparation.
When I was at a church’s 50th anniversary some time ago, it was a joyful event. In fact, they had a “five-zero” on the platform, a very large styrofoam, lighted-up “five-zero,” and I got so excited in my preaching that I knocked the “five” over, and now we were celebrating the zero anniversary of that church. Seriously—they had planned well. They had decorated. They had a wonderful banquet meal. They had a whole Saturday event of a Deeper Life seminar and then other celebrations throughout the weekend.
But the district superintendent that Sunday morning, at the pinnacle of their celebration, had to stand before the congregation and say, with sadness, that their much-loved pastor, not for any disciplinary reasons, but for deeply personal reasons, had resigned and would not be returning to the congregation. And simultaneously, in that room, there was great joy and celebration for 50 years of great ministry and great sadness that their much-loved pastor would not continue. And this became the text of the day—the sound of weeping and the sound of rejoicing sometimes co-mingles in a single heart. It’s not from two different groups, it’s from two different places within our soul that the complex exchanges of emotion and experience come together within us.
Obviously, I’m addressing it at a moment of time when we have gone through a world pandemic. We have had huge changes and upheavals in many of our churches and ministries. We’ve had a huge learning curve, and I celebrated with you at council that I was so impressed of how the Alliance family pivoted on a dime and suddenly entered into new areas of ministry and new expressions, learning new technologies and responding to COVID in wonderful and excellent ways.
But now, on this side of that whole historical moment and personal experience, and now that I’m able to be out traveling somewhat again, I’m with you as pastors and church leaders and Alliance family members, and I’m trying to listen and hear stories and understand hearts. And I see it again, this contrasting experience, these conflicting emotions, the competing we sometimes experiences within our own hearts.
For one church, the church of my childhood, Riverside Church in Big Lake, Minnesota, this summer, they celebrated their 90th anniversary with 90 baptisms—a joyful celebration, amazing moments, while another brother looks at me with deep pain in his eye and says, “Do you have any word of encouragement for us?” One brother submits his resignation while another says to me, “This has been exhilarating. I have just enjoyed so much the need for us to shift how we were going about things in ministry and to take on this new challenge.”
This moment has led many of us to a different place, just like those people in Israel. Some, stirring up emotion of grief and loss and hardship and sadness and others, joyful, faith-filled expectancy. And for some of us, it’s been a co-mingling of both. This, my friend, is the reality of ministry. And this, while in a rare moment, is actually a common experience for us because some of us, as pastors, had those days when we rejoiced at a wedding ceremony for a few hours and got a call on the way home that someone is in a car accident and we need to get over to the hospital. Mourning with those who mourn and rejoicing with those who rejoice sometimes happens so fast in the pastoral and ministry experience that it’s hard for us to even recalibrate our own emotions and to know how to respond.
This is one reason the Sabbath is so important for us, for us just to let it all still and be settled. Interestingly, I want to bring in Acts 28 at this moment because while it’s a completely different context, I find something similar happening. I find in Paul’s story this longing to get to Rome. As I studied for the book, A Stained Beauty, I was intrigued by his passion to get there but his inability to do so, until finally, he is delivered to Rome by courtesy of the Roman government on their tax dollar, as he is a prisoner, and for two years, is under house arrest.
And Luke, in his telling of this story, says that Paul was able to receive all those who came to him, welcoming them, preaching to them the Kingdom of God, and teaching them about Jesus Christ without hindrance—unhindered. And that is the last word from author Luke, who has given us the book of Luke and the book of Acts. And the very last word that he gives us is the word “unhindered.” I find that fascinating because as we’ve said, Paul is 24/7 under guard. He’s not free to come and go, but the message that he has is unhindered, unstoppable—a contrasting experience, a conflicting kind of encounter that Paul has of not being able to come and go but be able to preach and teach boldly and without hindrance.
Whether it’s the emotion inside of us that can be a confluence or whether it is the circumstances around us that can be varied, I say this all to say, simply this to you, Alliance family—we’ve had different experiences through and coming through COVID, in our churches and in our souls.
If some of you are weary right now, grieving right now, no shame; we grieve with you. We walk alongside you; we pray. If some of you are celebrating right now, some of you are rejoicing and excited, no guilt; we rejoice and celebrate with you.
See, the trajectory of our mission must not change. We know what God has raised us up to be and do. In The Alliance, we call that “All of Jesus for All the World,” and in your local church expression, you have some way of articulating that. That trajectory of our ministry has not changed, but the pace of that does, and the personal experience of that does.
There is this rhythm of ministry and leadership and emotion that I want to just acknowledge and do some permission-granting today. God is writing a good story in our churches at this time, but it’s not a singular story. There’s contrasting experiences and conflicting emotions that are taking place. Walk your journey, walk it with Christ—a new belief that the Word of God is unhindered.