Lay Your Lumber Down

It was so hot that, when our truck broke down and I had to walk about a mile for help, the bottoms of my feet blistered through the soles of my tennis shoes and socks.  Malawi in the 1980s had one paved road, almost completed, from the very north to the south of the country.  Breaking down, and having to leave my wife and two small kids stranded in the truck on the side of the road while I went for help, was not my idea of a good day.  Yet we found the assistance needed in order to get our vehicle moving again.  It was well over 100°F and I had allowed myself to engage in one big pity-party, bemoaning my sacrifice and sufferings to God.

 I spent much of my devotional time later that day in listing before the Lord all the burdens and troubles that we had humbly (with some sarcasm) placed upon our frail shoulders for Him and the kingdom of God.

Two weeks later we were driving down the same road, in the same un-air-conditioned heat, and passed a man walking barefoot on the blistering tar road.  Sweat was pouring down his face as he walked with about eight pieces of lumber, 10 feet in length, weighing well over 100 pounds, balanced on top of his head.  We immediately stopped the truck and helped him and his lumber climb into the bed of the truck.  He told me where he was going and we were thrilled to carry him to his village about 5 miles away.

After driving about a mile I looked into my rearview mirror and was astonished to see the man, legs spread far apart, swaying, attempting to balance himself in the back of the truck with the lumber on top of his head!  I quickly stopped and insisted that our new-found friend lay his lumber down into the bed of the truck.  He looked at me in astonishment and said,

“Sir, it is enough to ask you to carry me in the back of your truck.  How can I ask you to carry my lumber also?”

I was astonished and then broken.  As I convinced this brother to lay his burden down in the back of the truck and rest for the next 4 miles, I recalled my whining before the Lord.  How many times had I recently recounted to heaven all the burdens I was carrying for the sake of the kingdom of God, while the entire time I was being carried?  I was so much like this man, swaying in the back of the truck, legs spread far apart, and carrying with great difficulty what God had already taken upon Himself.

Jesus said it best, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  Matthew 11:28. Or it could be said this way.

“Lay your lumber down.  I’m already carrying you.”

The Dirt of Compromise

“If you will not,” said Naaman, “please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the LORD. But may the LORD forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I bow there also-when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the LORD forgive your servant for this.”  “Go in peace,” Elisha said.

2 Kings 5:17-19 NIV

Imagine that you are the first believer in your family, your people group, or your country?  Additionally you are Naaman, the General of the Army, the strong right arm of the king of Rimmon.  It is a thrilling story as recorded in 2 Kings 5 denoting how the leper Naaman was eventually healed through heeding the advice of a young Israelite girl taken into slavery and placed within his household.  Because of her testimony, Naaman traveled a long distance to seek advice from the prophet Elisha who commanded him to bathe seven times in the small and insignificant Jordan River.  After some heated discussions with Elisha and his servants, Naaman obeyed Elisha, bathed seven times in the Jordan River and was healed.  In expression of his thanks, and his new faith, he offered expensive gifts to Elisha, which Elisha refused.

Naaman prepared to return to the service of the King of Rimmon. He knew his brand new faith in the God of Israel and his service to the kingdom of Rimmon, with its idol worship, would result in an acute conflict for his new, one-person faith.  Therefore he suggested, recalled in the verses above, an ingenious compromise that would allow him to honor his newborn faith while apparently worshiping in the Temple of a false god.  Understandably he tried to get Elisha to approve this creative compromise.  Yet Elisha neither said “yes this is okay” nor did he say “this is a terrible idea.”  He simply said, “Go in peace.”

In environments of persecution exercising one’s new faith is tough.  It is hard to be a brand-new, flickering light from God in an overwhelming, Old Testament darkness.  Many workers from the West encountering new believers who are the first to accept Christ within their family, city, religion or country rush to solve all of the new believer’s problems.  After hundreds of years of believing in Jesus we think that we have all the answers for problems that we have never encountered.  I wonder what advice we would have given Naaman if we would have been Elisha?  With years of religious experience; churches, Bible colleges, seminaries and field savvy, we might be tempted to tell Naaman exactly what to do? We would solve his problem from our vast experience of being from “Christian” countries which entitles us, we think, to know all the answers to the Old Testament problems which we have never encountered, nor lived in.

Naaman knew not bowing with his King in the pagan temple could result in his no longer being the General of the Army and could result in the death of himself and his entire family.  What was the prophet’s advice to Naaman? “You are the one living there brother and you need to live with the tension of new-born faith within a pagan environment.  Work out your own salvation.  Trust God and his Holy Spirit to lead you to embrace faith and the possible persecution that often accompanies new faith in God.”  Elisha did not have all the answers for every new set of problems.  He left the decision in this potentially life-threatening situation up to the free will of the one who had to live out his faith as the only known believer within his culture. “Go in peace,” said Elisha, neither agreeing with Naaman’s solution nor condemning him for being a coward.  The prophet allowed Naaman to live within the tension of his new faith while standing beside the king. What advice might you give Naaman? What advice would you have willingly received?

But let’s not forget the believing ,Israeli slave girl whom God had planted inside of Naaman’s household!

Creating a Space for God

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Genesis 1:1 NIV

One of the most gripping and mysterious passages in the Bible is found in Genesis 1:1.  How is it that God can take a dark, empty nothing and create something from it?  He could separate the light from the darkness, dry land from the water and finally, with the dirt He had created from nothing, He molds Adam with His own hands.

Believers who thrive, not just survive, within environments of persecution grasp what it means to believe in a God who can create something from nothing.  Persecution is generally perceived as being overt acts by the persecutors upon the flesh of the persecuted.  When you ask westerners what comes to their minds when you say the word “persecution” they will quickly talk about beatings, torture, imprisonment and even death.

But persecution is more sinister and evil than overt acts upon one’s body.  Often persecution leaves scars that can never be seen.  Often the persecutors use tools which are more psychological than a physical assault on the bodies of believers. Often the worst persecution is to put the believer in a cell, alone, surrounded by an ocean of non-believers.  There you remain one small, flickering light in an ocean of lostness, totally alone.

Three brothers were put in prison in China.  They were thrilled because they were arrested and thrown into prison together.  They were thankful that they were not jailed by themselves.  Their tormentors used their entire arsenal of physical, psychological and emotional abuse to force the three brothers to deny their faith in Jesus.  One of the more dehumanizing tools that the bad guys used was taking the three brothers to the squatty potty.  These are commodes which are flush with the floor and it does not take too much imagination to visualize the condition of squatty potties in a Chinese prison.  These three brothers would be marched to the squatty potty, forced to bend at the waist with their faces virtually inside of the toilet.  Their arms would be twisted behind their backs, with the persecutors “adjusting” the believers arms painfully as if they were TV antennas with the squatty potty being the TV.

While the brothers related the story to me they spontaneously began to reenact what the persecutors had done to them over the last three years.  As they demonstrated this inhumane treatment, they took turns being the persecutor or the persecuted.  As they twisted each other’s arms above an imaginary squatty potty they would ask the one playing the role of the persecuted, “Oh, you are unlucky today because your television is only in black and white.”  Or the persecutors would say, when there was a particularly foul toilet, “You are so lucky today because you have color TV!”

What amazed me the most was how these three brothers laughed with joy as they role-played their persecution which had ended a few weeks before I met them.  What astounded me was how they created a holy space, a place where they could laugh at their persecution and a space where God could create joy in their hearts….in an environment of utter darkness.

They understood that they belonged to the God who could create anything He wanted to, out of nothing. Today you might find yourself in what seems to be a hopeless, a totally dark situation. Bind yourself to the One, Who can help you create something beautiful, hopeful and holy out of nothing.