Saturday, March 26, 2016

In the Darkness, Believe in the Light

At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour.  And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Mark 15:33-34

Jesus spoke these words while He was on the Cross. Perhaps your darkest times have left you with the same feelings of despair, abandonment, and doubt. Doubt in God's presence and doubt in His love. Jesus was God, but He was also fully human. He had a human body, a human mind, human limitations, and human emotions. The Gospels tell the story of Jesus’ life and ministry, and they reveal many of these emotions. Emotions that we too have, like joy, love, and compassion, along with anger, frustration, sorrow, and loneliness.

In the middle of a crisis, have you ever thought, ‘God, where are you? Why have you let this happen to me? Why have you left me all alone in this?’ Jesus did. And He didn’t just think it; He shouted it for all to hear! 

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 

He said this, but had God really abandoned Him? I don’t think so. Jesus felt alone, but He wasn’t. And He knew that. He knew the truth. Jesus was quoting words from Psalm 22, but if you read further, you know what He would have said eventually, if He would have had the strength. He obviously didn't, but He would have remembered...

All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment. But you, LORD, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me...I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you...For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help. (Psalm 22:17-19,22,24)

And in another prophetic Psalm we read these words Jesus would have known well: I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be body will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. (Psalm 16:8-10)

In the middle of great trials, confusing circumstances, and everyday life, my thoughts can become overcome with feelings of abandonment and aloneness. I feel like no one can possibly understand what I'm going through, and God is nowhere to be found. His promises seem false. He has failed me.

But just because I think that, doesn’t make it true. God does not forsake us. He does not forget. He does not leave! How did Jesus overcome such a time of feeling abandoned? He believed the truth. He trusted God. In the middle of the darkness, He believed in the light; He believed He would still be heard. Mark 15:37 tells us: With a loud cry he breathed his last. Whom do you think He was crying out to?

God will sometimes take us to that point where He is all we have left and crying out to Him is our only hope. But the key is: He is our hope. He is there. He is over it. And we are never alone.

Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe. I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.  Psalm 61:1-4

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Beauty of His Kingdom

Does life always turn out like you planned? Are you facing things today you never imagined or tried your best to avoid? Are there things you would do anything to have or change but you simply can't? If this is your reality, read the words of Jesus below, as interpreted by Eugene Peterson in The Message. The words may sound familiar but a little different than you've heard before.

In more traditional Bible translations, the words go something like this: "Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow…" These are some of my favorite words of Jesus, and I like this particular version because it defines His Kingdom in some specific ways that I can measure and monitor in myself. Let's take a look at each one.

1. Steep your life in God-reality… When I think of that word "steep", a cup of tea comes to mind. Placing a teabag in hot water draws the flavor and aroma of the tea leaves into the surrounding liquid. How long the tea leaves are left in the water determines how strong the cup of tea becomes. Whether you prefer your tea strong, weak, or somewhere in between is a matter of preference, as is what you add to it. Personally I prefer honey, but you might like sugar or milk or to leave it alone. But when it comes to steeping your life in God-reality, the more you do this, the better. You can never get too much of the reality of God: His love for you, His ways, His strength, and the hope He brings.

God is real and He is relevant to our lives, but too often we don't live like it. We think and act as if He doesn't exist, or if He does, that He doesn't really care about us. I only have to read one verse into the Bible to know that's not true. Genesis 1:1 tells us, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  Whom did He make it for? People. He gave us air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat, friends, family, work, rest…everything we need. Hmm, that sounds a lot like Jesus' words here…You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.  But I'm getting ahead of myself. How else is God real and relevant? What has He done for you? What does He still want for you? What do you need from Him, besides your next breath and your next meal? Help with your relationships? Guidance in your decisions? Strength in your challenges? Believing He is real and relevant will go a long way to receiving all He has for you.

2. Steep your life in God-initiative… Have you ever thought about that? Going back to Genesis 1:1, the first words of the Bible say, In the beginning God… How can you fill in the rest of the sentence? What has God started in you or for you? What new things might be on the horizon? He knows the plans He has for you. Do you? How has He led you in the past, and how is He leading you now? If you don't know, that's okay, but steeping your life in God-initiative instead of your own plans, thinking, and ideas will take you places you've never dreamed (or maybe you have, but what you want seems impossible). But if He wants it for you, it's not. Trust Him. Follow Him. Ask Him to show you the way.

3. Steep your life in God-provisions… This is related to the first two. The truth is that God will always provide for you. He never leaves you on your own. Have you heard the saying, 'God helps those who help themselves'? It's NOT in the Bible! God never said that, so forget about it. God helps those who ask. God helps those who trust Him. God helps those He loves.

4. Don't worry about missing out… In addition to this referring to your basic needs being provided, it can also be applied to what you want out of life. Proverbs 19:21 says, Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails.  I have wanted and aspired to many things. Many of my wishes have come true, others have not (at least not yet), but I live a very happy and satisfied life because I believe God always gives me what I need; what is best; what He has planned for me. And really, what's better than that?

So don't worry about tomorrow, or today for that matter. God's got it covered. He knows. He cares. He will lead you if you choose to follow. That's the beauty of His Kingdom. He will give you exactly what you need today, tomorrow, and always.