Yesterday’s message …
- Began with a Paul Harvey-esque moment about the origin of the phrase “waiting for the other shoe to drop”;
- Explained that biblical prophets are not so much future predictors as hope givers (and, occasionally, judgment declarers);
- Landed at the bottom line “when there’s no way out, God sends a new way through”;
- Led to some serious notetaking by a Good Shepherd friend:
Way back in the late 19th & early 20th Centuries, NYC was full of what they called tenements (AV): highly cramped, poorly constructed, containment units masquerading as apartment complexes for the city’s poor, immigrants, and downtrodden. They were overcrowded and underventilated and were the home of astonishing amounts of crime and stench. Anyway, in the way contractors built them, bedrooms were right on top of each other, going up, up, up the building. So one time a overworked & underpaid factory worker got home at night, sat on his bed, took his shoe off and dropped it on the floor (sound effect?). Realizing the noise could wake the rest of his family up, he climbed into bed, one shoe on, and got under the covers. Then, just as he was about to drift off to sleep, the neighbor BELOW yells up, “Hey pal! (that’s what they say in NYC) Hurry up, will ya? I can’t sleep while I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop!” And now you know the REST of the story, and the origin of that phrase waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Yet these days we use it less for tenement dwelling – since they have mostly been torn down – and more for that sense of foreboding. The ominous feelkng that something bad has happened and life seems to be on the downslope and so you’re just waiting for the next catastrophe. Or, or, if TWO bad things have happened – a car wreck and the flu, for example – it is inevitable that one more will come because you KNOW that bad stuff happens in threes. It’s like there is an inevitable force working against you & there’s no way out.
It’s when three people around you at work have been laid off and you’re just waiting for your own pink slip. (DROP SHOE). Or when you and your mate have had one more knock down drag out and seems inevitable that you’re going to be served papers. (DROP SHOE). It’s when your partner has a drinking problem and you’re just waiting for the call from the police that she finally got the DUI or she has at long last been arrested or worse. (DROP SHOE) It’s when you’re child is unstable and you’re waiting for that inevitable call from the hospital, come see for the OD. (DROP SHOE). When you’re a preacher, it’s when you find out that one family has decided on the hipper, cooler church (or the more sedate, reverent one) and you have this dread that one will be followed by two more. (DROP SHOE). It’s waiting for the painful, the inevitable, and honestly I’m talking about situations from which there seems to be no way out.
Well, as you know Xmas is a season of waiting. For 12.25, certainly. But as we enter the minds and hearts of some of the OT prophets over this month, we’ll see the incredible pattern of waiting that they embody. And of those OT prophets – who are not really chronological future predictors but more emotional hope givers – Micah has perhaps the toughest job. It’s about 700 BC when he comes on the scene. And his Jewish brothers and sisters in the North – Jewish Yankees! – have been conquered and decimated and turned into what are often called the Lost Tribes Of Israel. And who was it who had done this to the Northern tribes? The Assyrians – mighty, vicious, aggressive. Headquartered in Nineveh for all you Jonah fans. Well, here is Micah, just 20 years or so late, down on the SOUTH side of the Hebrew Mason Dixon line, and who has returned? The Assyrians! What are they doing? Not smoking a peace pipe! Instead, they’re like, “We got the Northerners, let’s get the two Southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin as well!” The storm is threatening Micah’s very life today.
That’s what’s going on in Micah 5:1:
Marshal your troops now, city of troops,
for a siege is laid against us.
They will strike Israel’s ruler
on the cheek with a rod.
Ominous and inescapable. Then check out 5:2, the most famous of Micah’s verses, usually ripped out of context (this I know because I have done so):
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans[b] of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.”
O Little Town Of Bethelehem surrounded by an army of axe murderers. Doesn’t have quite the ring to it, does it? And yet look at the hope embedded in it: there is coming a Ruler / Messiah / Leader / SOMEBODY who is going to deliver us. If you look at the end of 5:1 again – they will strike Israel’s ruler on the cheek with a rod – and then see 5:2 is almost like a Help Wanted ad, it’s fascinating. We’re looking for a leader who we KNOW is gonna get beat up! If you’d like your cheek bashed in, sign up here! So v. 1 has inevitable pain and v. 2 has unstoppable hope. So: is the fulfillment of this hope coming in the near term, like 700 BC? Or the far term, like 700 years later when Jesus is actually born in Bethlehem? YES! God is planting the seed for both! Wait for it! But the waiting gets more layered, more complex, more better.
Look at 5:3:
Therefore Israel will be abandoned
until the time when she who is in labor bears a son,
and the rest of his brothers return
to join the Israelites.
Therefore, Israel will be abandoned. Well, who WOULDN’T want this job?! You’ll get your cheek bashed and then your whole people group will be abandoned by your protector God. It gets more ambiguous in 5:4:
He will stand and shepherd his flock
in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
will reach to the ends of the earth.
OK, sounding better, sounding a bit more like Jesus, a bit more like a job most of us would be willing to apply for. Then 5:5 gets me:
And he will be our peace
when the Assyrians invade our land
and march through our fortresses.
We will raise against them seven shepherds,
even eight commanders,
WILL. WHEN. 5:6 sort of completes the circle:
WHEN. Which is it, Mike? Peace or invasion? YES. Are we waiting with confidence for the future or ware we waiting for the other shoe to drop? YES. Are waiting for a deliverer FROM or a sustainer THROUGH? YES. Ah, real hope in the real world with real dilemmas and even real inevitabilities. It’s the simultaneouns-ness of it all: the certainty of calamity (WHEN THEY INVADE) with the assurance of prosperity (HE WILL BE OUR PEACE). I love it. It’s not faith divorced from reality; it is faith in the middle of reality. It’s recognizing that God does some of his most enduring work in the middle of our most painful circumstances. And it’s all centered on that hope, that person, that promise of 5:2, a promise speaking both near and far. Here’s what I want you to know, all of you who are waiting for the other shoe to drop: When there is no way out, God sends a new way through.
See, most of the time we want to go AROUND stuff. (Or, we want the Assyrians to go AROUND us!) But God is like, “no, I’ve got to protect you through before I deliver you from.” There are apparently things God can teach us as we go through stuff that he never could if we went around it. It’s painful, it’s challenging, it’s not always your best life now, but ultimately it is liberating and beautiful. It’s almost like what happened the time that guy noticed a butterfly struggling to emerge from its cocoon. And he reached down and helped out, the butterfly did escape the cocoon. Yet it was incapable of flight. The helpful man had short circuited the process. That butterfly needed to strengthen its wings against all the resistance of the cocoon for the exact amount of designed time … so that it could fly. It had to go THROUGH the cocoon, not AROUND it, to reach full butterfly-ness. And so do you. When there is no way out, God sends a new way through.
Or it’s even like that saying I heard (AV):
You need your friends to reach your potential.
But you need your enemies to push you beyond it. Gulp.
When there is no way out, God sends a new way through.
Or me, not quite so dramatic but harrowing nonetheless. As a lot of you know, I come from a family who, by the time I was growing up, was not religious. Maybe anti-religious. And yet at 21, 22, I am not only religious myself, but sensing a call to go into PROFESSIONAL RELIGION! Which means I gotta tell them. Can’t I avoid it, Lord? Can’t I just go to seminary and become a pastor but not really tell them what I’m doing? Please please? Nope. You’ve got to come clean – like a CONFESSION! – address directly, assertively, not aggressively, and clarify. So. Helpful. Learning to have painful, awkward conversations that I’d prefer to avoid is at the heart of ministry and it started way back when with mom and dad. When there is no way out, God sends a new way through.
I do love what 5:2 teaches us, even more than how it points to Jesus. Do you know anything about Bethlehem? It was small, barren, overlooked, INSIGNIFICANT. And yet Micah reminds us that the insignificant is the source for the magnificent. Because Jesus himself comes from the least auspicious, most humble beginnings you could think of. The insignificant births the magnificent. So … for you … where do you look for help. For deliverance? In the face of the inevitable, how are you scoping out the God of the impossible? I just want you to keep your eyes open for all the minor characters and subplots that God sends your way. Your own support may come from people you never expect.
I know how it has worked for me. My greatest battle against me is with the this just beneath the surface narcissism. You know you can help people and do it for self interest, right? Oh, look at that Talbot! He was right there with us! Anyway, my thoughts can be so wrapped up in me – living in your head, as some of you call it – that it’s just kind of sick. So what has God done. Introduced me to three different preachers, all at different places of ministry and levels of effectiveness, and told me to pray for them. These aren’t even folks who are part of my regular day. But when, in the course of the day I’m wrapped up in me, it’s the STOP! sign: time to stop obsessing and to start praying. Small things that leads to deep healing because if I couldn’t pray for them, I’d be trapped in that never ending drama of me. When there is no way out, God sends a new way through.
Then through all this is the deep certainty of that promise I WILL. Check 5:4-6 again and circle all the WILLS: READ. Sort of unmistakable, isn’t it? The shoe WILL drop but I WILL get through. Only when we see life from the Kingdom down rather from the ground up, and only when we view it from the END backwards rather than from TODAY forwards do we have the tools for outlook and perseverance. Like that friend I have who removes the mystery from all her reading by reading the last chapter of the book FIRST … then she enjoys the first part only to see how the author arranges everything. Hey – we get to live life like that because we know who WILL win and who WILL be vindicated at the end of all things.
Because Jesus didn’t go AROUND death. He went THROUGH it. And because he went through it, he becomes the new way out of it, the new gift beyond it. Because no dropping shoe has ever had the final word. That belongs to him. A lesson my friend Markelle learned … not by going around but by being sustained through. Take a look:
On January 17th, 2014, life as I knew it came to a screeching halt, and it hasn’t been the same since. A ruptured brain aneurysm threatened my life, and there was not one worldly thing I could do to change it. In that moment of diagnosis, I was eye to eye with God and begging for my life. Not just any life, but a life free of disability and the ability to still be a wife and mother. Since my Dad had suffered the same fate in the 1970s, I knew how much my life could change post-surgery, if I survived. His disability robbed him of his ability to be my father and my mother’s husband as he had planned, and it left us with a legacy of wondering what could have been.
Within a few hours of my diagnosis, my husband asked dozens of people to petition God on my behalf through prayer. There seemed to be no way out. Miraculously, I emerged without a substantial disability and zero physical handicap.
Invisible brain injury is very much like an unwelcome guest; the timing is terrible and inconvenient, but it isn’t going anywhere so I need to make peace with it. In moments of doubt or pain, I remind myself that I didn’t ask God to help me be the best Mom or wife and I didn’t ask to get a free pass on pain or setbacks. My prayer was simple, and so was God’s delivery on that prayer. Whenever I get overwhelmed and feel guilty for not being able to participate in worldly adventures as a parent, a wife, or a friend, I stop where I’m at, look around, and I am right where I asked to be. I practice contentment on a daily basis.. The changes to my brain require that I simmer down and stop to appreciate the now – exactly as it is. There is contentment in simplicity; everything else is extra, even in its imperfect form.
What else has God delivered to me in the form of simplicity that I didn’t recognize before? I’m sure there were many things, but it took a circumstance of this magnitude to acknowledge it. I couldn’t go around it, and I am much stronger for having gone through it.