Chapter OneYou're Fired!
Have you ever had a bad day? You might have even had a bad week! Perhaps a bad month! Or heaven help us, a bad year!
Some of those turbulent seasons of life begin with phrases such as:
"I want a divorce."
"With your record, no one is going to hire you."
"We've done all we can do . . . there is no hope . . ."
"If you can't make your payment, we will foreclose on your house."
"I hate you. I never want to talk to you again!"
Statements like these can unleash your worst fears at the very moment when you need your best faith! Ironically, it's when things are most hopeless that you most need hope. It's hard to summon up courage to face the future when you feel like a plant pulled up by the roots and laid out to dry.
If you are alive and breathing, at one time or another you will suffer loss or face a crushing crisis. Loss is a part of life, and it happens to all of us in some way or another.
Unjustified loss is even harder to handle! What do you do when life feels unfair? How can you respond and hope for restoration when dreams and aspirations have been ripped from your grasp? Without getting into a lot of theology, let me assure you that bad news can knock on your door even when you are righteous before God. I'll give you just one name-Job.
What do you do when bad news has to wait in line just to talk to you?
Bad news literally seemed to arrive so fast to Job that the messengers of doom had to wait in line at his door. Yet, through it all, Job handled himself in such a way that God praised and blessed him for it.
The biblical book named for him describes Job's long list of trouble, tragedy, and calamity and how he survived it all. Yet it begins with the simple announcement that Job "was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil."
That must mean that all of the calamities and sad events in Job's life weren't necessarily his fault-even if it looks that way. He was sailing through life as the world's richest man. He was blessed with a happy wife, a large family, and thriving livestock, land, and agricultural businesses. Things just seemed to be getting better and better every day. Then the bottom fell out of his life, and for no explainable reason.
Somehow, it would be easier to comprehend if we could pinpoint some secret sin or inherent character flaw in Job-then we'd know he deserved what he got.
Imagine that you were hired to lead a Fortune 500 company, earning a high six-figure salary with full benefits. Within twelve months business income was up 400 percent over the previous year, your company dominated its market, new products were being successfully launched, and even the unions loved you!
Your picture appears on the front covers of Time, USA Today, Fortune magazine, and Christianity Today (remember, you are a godly leader). All of the major TV talk shows want you to appear, and so do the leading late-night programs. The president is calling you weekly for advice on his upcoming national budget proposal.
You're Fired-No Reason Given
One moment you are at your desk on the ninetieth floor, then suddenly you are fired! No reason is given, but in only five minutes two security goons have thrown you onto a dirt pile on the sidewalk outside headquarters. All you have left is a torn yellow trash bag filled with a few broken family photo albums. Then things get really bad. A courier walks over and looks down at your trash bag. Then, in disgust, he tosses a priority delivery package in your lap and walks away with an attitude.
The package holds a mixture of certified letters-all of them bringing more bad news: the IRS has impounded all of your vehicles, seized your house, and frozen all of your bank accounts and assets. The country club has canceled your charter membership, and is even billing you for the year's dues after your former company canceled its check for your membership.
While you are reading the contents of the tax indictment, an urgent messenger from the sheriff's department waits to talk to you. "We went to your residence to serve federal, state, and local subpoenas and criminal indictments," the deputy says. "And Mr. Job, we found all of your children dead. They were suddenly killed in a freak tornado while having dinner together."
Greeted by a Tearstained Face and a Menacing Glare
Dazed and dismayed, you drag your tattered trash bag to what used to be your home (remember, you lost the limo service, driver, and all your credit cards). There you find your wife waiting with a tearstained face and a menacing glare at the street curb outside your house, which is now enveloped in bright yellow police tape and bearing an IRS "Seized Property" sign.
"This is all your fault!" she snaps. "Why don't you just drop this religious stuff-what good has it done you? Just curse God and die . . . that's all you and your God are good for. And by the way- we're through, loser!"
Talk about a bad day! Job had to deal with his Mount Everest-like problems, and he somehow managed to trust God in faith, even when he didn't know why so many terrible things were happening to him.
How do you survive on those days when bad news has to wait in line just to talk to you? What do you do when your child says, "I hate you"? How do you get back on your feet after your spouse announces, "I just can't live with you any longer"? How do you resurrect hope when your doctor says, "I'm sorry, but there's no hope"?
Do you feel like Job? Does it seem as if it is always raining on your parade? There are answers to these situations.
Jesus remarked on circumstances like this when He said, "Rain falls on the just and the unjust." He was not just talking about "showers of blessings" that make springtime flowers bloom and the world smell good. I think He was also referring to disastrous floods that threaten to sweep away the very foundations of our lives, not leaving the fragrance of flowers, but the stench of mold.
If bad news has clogged your in-box, you are obviously not alone. The grace of the Bible is buttressed by the restoration of many people who have failed or suffered unjustly. But you may find it hard to imagine the incredible and virtually unbelievable biblical story of restoration that you are about to discover.
Imagine a president or prime minister hiring someone to be an intimate adviser, one who has direct access to him. Now imagine you've learned that this person's past crimes include a felony conviction for embezzlement, for illicitly siphoning off funds, for soliciting and receiving an under-the-table kickback? What if he had been wearing the uniform of his seven-year sentence as recently as the morning before he was hired?
How well rehabilitated would such a candidate have to be in order to be considered for employment in this age of political correctness?
To further darken the potential for this unlikely political comeback, what if this perpetrator had not merely embezzled from a government entity or corporation, but from a charitable organization-one known for significantly assisting needy families and entire nations in famine?
Even worse, what if this man took his under-the-table money while entrusted with the title of administrative officer, personal assistant to the president, and chief of staff for an internationally respected ministry?
This man didn't merely embezzle funds; he was found guilty of gross errors in judgment and breach of ethics. He boldly executed an embezzlement scheme in public and in broad daylight. He took so much that others had to help him carry away the fortune he embezzled- a historic gift to the charitable organization from a grateful high government official from a foreign nation!
Who could possibly believe there was a future for this convicted felon? Much less in any trusted high political or ministerial position?
In the heart of this book is just such a story. While you may not have made such highly publicized mistakes as these, none of us would want our private shortcomings made public. All of us need restoration from our mistakes and missteps in life, whether they are great or small, public or private.
When reaching for your restoration, your "declaration" should be, "If God has done it for them, He can do it for me!"
How Do You Come Back from This?
Virtually every hero and heroine in literature and the Bible had to persevere through tough times. We often encounter the same type of situations each of them faced. The question haunts our minds: Will I survive, much less thrive?
I know at least one man who probably felt like you do. Lazarus, a man known as the friend of Jesus, died prematurely before Jesus could reach him. How do you "come back" from death? Perhaps that is how you feel. All hope is lost, the door is closed, locked, and they threw away the key. What happens next? His story can be your story too! Can hopelessness be turned into hope?
All hope seemed lost until Jesus called Lazarus out of the grave. Friends and loved ones shouted, "He is alive!" But something is still wrong with the picture.
Lazarus had "survived" his trial by death-somehow he found himself standing outside the tomb. The tomb of death had become the womb of life, but he was still bound in his grave clothes as if his destination were still in doubt. Would he merely survive, or would he thrive?
Sometimes you can survive a crisis only to live forever in the "limbo land" of the unrestored. Perhaps a mistake you made or an unjust decision someone else made put your dreams, plans, and hopes in the grave. How do you not only survive the crisis but truly come back?
Everyone there knew those outer trappings of death and darkness had to go. One eyewitness testified that the previously deceased man "came out bound hand and foot." (Most of us do.)
He may have been breathing again, and we may assume Lazarus could see a dim glow of daylight and hear the muffled tones of human voices once again through his macabre bindings, but he was still separated from life by the remnants of death. Freedom of movement, communication, and any opportunity to feel the comforting touch of others were out of the question.
I wonder, Did Lazarus fear he might slip back into death's darkness if someone didn't set him totally free? Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!"
Turn Around and Come Out!
He is still saying that. He's standing outside the dead-end doorway of loss and He's saying, "Turn around and come out! Come back! Come back to life!"
Even after Lazarus "came back," even after he turned around and came out of the door of death, the door no one exits-the door of a tomb-he was still bound.
Sometimes, even after salvation has visited your life, frustration still binds you. Things are not "back" like they used to be. You feel as if your hands are tied and your feet are bound.
Are you ready to do more than merely exist? Lazarus was alive, but he wasn't really living. He was existing! Jesus said, "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly."
Notice the placement of the comma: "I have come that they may have life-COMMA-and that they may have it more abundantly."
Perhaps you are living on the wrong side of the comma. Life before the comma-that's mere existence. The abundant life exists on the other side of the comma. The life where not only are you breathing, but loosed, unbound, set free, and back in your living room visiting with your sisters, Mary and Martha. Restored!
Have you noticed that Jesus looked at the circle of friends who gathered around the tomb of Lazarus that day and said, "You loose him, and let him go."
Don't let your past hold your future hostage.
One of the most beautiful acts of restoration is when others realize what God has done, and they take the last remnants of the grave clothes off you. You are then not just forgiven by God, but forgiven by your friends. It is at this point you realize that your past no longer holds your future hostage.
They unwrapped Lazarus. Blessed be the "Unwrappers"! Purpose in your life that you will be one of those who unwrap the grave clothes of past failures from people.
When Lazarus was finally freed from the trappings and remnants of death by his friends, he left the rags of failure at the opening of the tomb and returned to his house to find it filled with food and gifts left for his grieving family. The food at home for a mourning family was turned into a feast for celebration! Now that's a picture of restoration!
Lazarus should be your hero, your "poster boy"! If he can "come out" of the tomb, then you can "come back" from your failures.
Can you imagine how Lazarus felt as he struggled to sit up in the tomb? He wriggles his feet to the floor, and attempts to maintain his balance for a moment before tottering and wobbling through the door of the tomb with his feet and hands still bound!
It was probably difficult to accomplish. But Lazarus purposed in his mind, "I'm coming out!" You must do the same!
We recognize and revere heroes because they did not quit, they clawed their way back. That's why they are our "heroes." Tough times are the womb of heroes, and failure is often the womb of success.
Even if their own mistakes precipitated their personal disaster, somehow they found a way to "come back," to initiate a magnificent "turnaround"!
I'm old enough now to know that my view of heroes is not just those who conquered and never failed, but also those who "came back" from the abyss of failure. A recent reading of heaven's hall of heroes in Hebrews 11 emphasized that fact to me.
And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions . . .
It is amazing that among the names of those who are called heroes of faith, Samson's name is included. It is also inspiring!
This listing is not just of those who never fell and never failed, but the purposeful inclusion of one of the Bible's great failures and incredible comebacks appears here. Heaven made sure Samson's name was included to give all of us hope. Despite his moral failure with Delilah, he made "the list"!
Why else would such a "failure" show up in the Bible's "Faith Hall of Fame"? It seems there is hope for us "normal" people who often seem to fail as much as succeed.
Sometimes bad things happen to you "just because"-you do nothing to cause them or deserve them. But often our suffering can be traced directly to our own wrong decisions, wrong motives, selfish desires, or foolish choices. That is the natural outcome.
One of the "laws of physics" states that "for every action there's an equal and opposite reaction." One could restate this in the light of the biblical law of sowing and reaping as, "Whatever a man sows, that he will also reap." Your fall may not be as spectacular as Samson's, but we can agree that everybody makes mistakes and has failures. Ergo, everybody needs restoration. It doesn't matter whether the need is physical, spiritual, relational, mental, or financial.
If it's broken, it needs to be fixed. If it's missing, lost, or stolen, it needs to be replaced. If it is tainted, scattered, or battered, it needs to be restored.
Perhaps what you need is a restoration road map. At some point, hope must be restored and inspiration renewed-whether from a decade-long sentence as in Samson's case, or from a days-long detour from the path of righteousness and purpose.
How long did Samson wait to make the one good decision that reversed his course in blindness? The one that caused his name to be dusted off, shined back up, and stuck on the display shelf with the rest of the Hall of Famers?
As you read these words, perhaps you are experiencing a reverie of memories. Life's road takes a lot of twists and turns. It is fast one moment, and slow the next; complete with unexpected hairpin curves and exhilarating acceleration down straightaway stretches.
Then there are those times when life comes to a complete standstill, a dead halt. You reach a "dead" end.
A bad decision at a previous fork in the road forces you to put your life in reverse. Then begins the inch-by-inch retreat in backward motion, the grinding revisit to a place where you can make your course correction and return to the proper path. God does allow U-turns.