Is Your God “Small and Weak” or “Close and Powerful”?

Jesus teaches us to pray to “our Father in heaven.” The phrase “in heaven” guards against us seeing God as our friend, our buddy, our sidekick. Some have allowed themselves to think too small about God.

The idea of the “heavens” in the first century was that area right around us and also all the way out into the expanse of the stars and moon and sun. The Father is close to us. But he is not small.

He is unlike our fathers. He is the one “in heaven.” There is no one like him. “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and no one is like me” God says through the prophet Isaiah.

We don’t need a small God, do we? We find soon enough that our earthly fathers aren’t as big as we thought they were when we were little. They can’t fix everything. They can’t be with us everywhere. They are limited.

My father stands 5’7” on a good day. As a preteen I remember hoping I’d be as tall as my dad. Around the seventh grade I started hoping I’d keep growing. Our fathers, as much as they may want to be everything for us, can fail us at times.

I did. Kris was in Cub Scouts and it was time for the pinewood derby. He had a willing father but not a woodworking father. We were given our kit that contained a block of wood, four wheels, and four nails. I didn’t have a large set of tools at the time so we borrowed what we needed and I helped guide the creation of the car.

I really did just help. When we got to the Derby it was evident other fathers did more than help. “Took over” would be more accurate. Our crudely crafted car could not stand up against the ones with modified wheels, axles, and blocks. One showed up all blue with the number 43 and I fully expected to see a miniature Richard Petty sitting behind the wheel. Kris needed a father that knew more about how the Derby really operated.

That’s why we need to remember “Our Father in heaven…” We teach preschoolers a song that says, “My God is so big, so strong and so mighty there’s nothing my God cannot do.” We put into simple words for a preschooler to sing what the scriptures proclaim:

“The Lord reigns! He is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed, enveloped in strength. The world is firmly established; it cannot be shaken.”

“Our Lord is great, vast in power; his understanding is infinite.”

“For nothing will be impossible with God.”

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of his nature, sustaining all things by his powerful word.”

He is not only powerful, he is good. That’s important to remember. Can you imagine someone with bad character being given all power? We’ve seen it in earthly rulers and we’ve seen what corrupt power can do. This Father in the heavens is a good, good father. The Psalmists proclaim: “You are good, Lord.” “The Lord is good and upright.” “You, Lord, are forgiving and good.”

It makes a difference when you know your father is good. During college I spent a summer in Miami, Florida in an internship program. One assignment was to work with some young boys in Little Havana.  Can you picture that?  Several 20-year-old, Caucasian, mostly Texan kids trying to teach some Cuban kids about God?!

We did the best we could.  One day we talked to them about God and how he was a good father.  Before long we could see they weren’t interested.  So I asked them, “why doesn’t this idea of God as father connect with you?”  One of the boys, Carlos, said, “we don’t ever see our fathers.  Some of us don’t even know our fathers.  They go out a lot, sometimes with other women.  They don’t care about our mothers. They don’t really care about us.”

That was this group’s experience. We had to help them get a new idea of God as a good, good Father. You might need that too. Listen to the repeated cadence in Scripture that God is good, kind, and a Father of steadfast love. The word “hesed” is used 246 times in the Old Testament when speaking of God. His love for you never fails. It never ends. He is kind. He is loving. He is a good, good Father.

Do you need a father like that? Jesus wants you to know his Father in the same way he knows him. Close enough that you can intimately call him “Abba.” Powerful enough that he can hold sustain the world.

If he can do that, he can certainly help you through your day. Why not go to him now and tell him about it?

Question: When do you most need a “close” but “powerful” Father?

 

 

Use a Word of Intimacy When Addressing Your Father

When our two boys were young they could change my day in an instant. They would come home from school and have a couple of hours or so with their mother. She’d have homemade cookies ready for them, they’d sit down and talk about the day, and then go off to play or do homework. (She really would have homemade cookies for them. But no, she did not wear June Cleaver pearls.)

 

I always felt like I was missing a little something by not being able to be home for the after-school routine. But that feeling faded away as soon as I walked in the door. “Daddy!” I’d hear. Sometimes in unison. “Let’s play!”

That’s all I needed. One word. “Daddy!” “Daddy, can you help?” “Of course I can!” “Daddy, can we ride bikes.” “Only if I get to come too.” “Daddy, why are you so funny?” “Looks aren’t everything.”

You used it as a child yourself. And, if you have children and are a father, you’ve heard it too. It’s the word children use for their father that they don’t use for anyone else: “Daddy.”

It’s the word Jesus used to teach us to pray. “Our Father…” This word is given to us in Greek, the word pater for the Greek speaking audiences for whom it was originally written. But most likely Jesus would have spoken in his native language of Aramaic and used the word “Abba.”

Statements in the Talmud and other Jewish documents tell us this is the word infants learn to say when they are weaned, like “dada” or “mama.” But by the time of Jesus “Abba” was a word even adults would use to refer to their father. It includes ideas of “simplicity and intimacy and security.”

It was common to refer to your father in this way, but it was not common to refer to God with this word. And yet, Jesus did. There are seventeen unique prayers of Jesus’ in the Gospels and each begin with “Father.” “Abba.” Jesus had a special relationship with God.

So can you. John, the one closest to Jesus, writes: “But to all who did receive him, he gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born, not of natural descent, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God.”

Do you believe that Jesus is the son of God? Then you are a child of God too. Have you received Jesus? Then you have been given the right to be a child of God.

Paul is very clear about this in his writings. “For all those led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons. You did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear. Instead, you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father!”

Notice what he says. First, if you are led by God’s Spirit you are his child. Simply put, a child  resembles their Father. Are you taking on his traits more and more? Do you follow the guidance he has given?

I see traits of my father in me. When we were young Dad instilled in us a desire to conserve electricity. He was like the “electricity Meter Man.” If you left your room and did not plan on coming right back, you turned out your light. If you went out the back door in the summer, you made sure you shut it well so the cool air would not escape. I’m sure he had some sort of secret timer on the refrigerator door that would alert him if my brother and I kept it open too long looking for a snack.

Guess who turns lights off in the house and watches the thermostat at our house? If the Father’s Spirit is leading you, you are his child.

Second, a child should not fear their father. Paul said we did not “receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear.” You have been adopted as one of his children. What a difference that makes! Because you are adopted, guess what you can call him? “Abba, Father!”

Simple words. Loving words. Words the Father wants to hear. Notice we do not have to approach prayer with high vocabulary. No, “Oh Great Avenger. Oh Master of the Universe. Oh Guardian of the Galaxy.” You wouldn’t hear my family addressing me with such pious words. Although when I obtained a Master’s degree I thought Karen might start addressing me as “Master.” (It didn’t happen).

No, we address the Father with the same tone we would our own good fathers. “Abba.” “Dad.”

He’s waiting right now to hear you utter that special word.

Question: What traits of the Father are showing up in your life?

 

How to Pray When You Don’t Know How

It sounded like an easy assignment. “You’ll start the day by finding a room in the building by yourself. Then pray for an hour.” “No problem,” I thought. “Sit quietly and pray? No sweat.”

Turns out I did sweat. I had gone with other college students to Miami, Florida to be part of a Spiritual Life Internship conducted by a church located in Little Havana. The church wisely did not run their air conditioning in typically unused parts of the building. A number of us unwisely chose typically unused parts of the church building for our personal prayer spots.

The rooms were warm. The air was heavy. So were my eyelids. My mind was wandering. My head was bobbing. When a bell rang to signal the time to regroup in the meeting area I realized that I had snoozed more than supplicated.

In a moment of honesty, I reported how my time went. To my relief I was not alone. It was a common experience for our group. Blame it on muggy Miami or chalk it up to our inexperience. We discovered what we were expected to discover: we needed to learn to pray.

Might you feel that need too? We pray… at times.  When we need help we pray. When we get bad news we pray. When the doctor calls us in we pray. We may offer a prayer when we come over a rise in the road and see the Rockies. We may remember to say thanks when something good comes our way: a promotion, a birth, a new love.

We pray … at times. But wouldn’t you like to pray more? More often? More powerfully? More selflessly? For all the reasons we don’t pray more often, more often it is simply because we’re not sure how.

We aren’t alone. The first followers of Jesus needed help too. Before you think you can’t pray like Peter or Andrew, James or John, think again. Luke records that on one occasion “one of his disciples said to him ‘Lord, teach us to pray.’” What he doesn’t record is any of the other disciples piping up and saying, “Yeah, he needs help. We’ve got this one. You teach him while we grab some figs and dates.” You won’t find any of the other disciples opting out of the lessons.

That is because prayer is a learned language. Go to Italy and it helps if you know some Italian. In the same way there is a language found in God’s kingdom: prayer. The disciples had watched Jesus’ prayer life and wanted theirs to match what they had seen in his. They had seen him pray before meals and powerful acts and important decisions. They had learned prayer was so vital to him he would disappear to pray.

It seemed Jesus did nothing without prayer. His disciples took notice. So when they asked for training he did not embark on a five-part webinar on “How to Pray.” When the disciples asked him to teach them to pray he simply gave them a simple prayer.

You may know it as The Lord’s Prayer. It is a skeleton of sorts that over time can hold more muscle and heart and lungs.

Our Father in heaven, your name be honored as holy.

Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And do not bring us into temptation,

but deliver us from the evil one.

For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

That’s how Jesus said to pray. If you are a prayer novice, you can master this prayer. If you are a prayer warrior, you should not venture too far from this prayer. Prayer is the only thing we find the disciples specifically asking Jesus to teach them. And this is the prayer he gave.

It’s been a long time since that assignment in Miami. I still struggle with prayer at times. But I’ve gotten better. When I get distracted now I use this prayer. When I get sleepy now this one can be uttered quickly.

When you don’t know how to pray this one will help. Your Father wants to talk with you.

Let him teach you how.

Question: What keeps you from prayer?

Live First and Speak When Necessary

Picture the following scene on the movie screen of your mind. The camera pans across a field, moves up the side of a mountain, and settles on a leader with a small band of hand-picked, trained and tested followers surrounding him.

The leader gives them their final assignment and the details of their mission.  They are something like a Special Ops troop being deployed into enemy territory. They are being asked to leave their places of comfort and do hard work for the mission.

Their orders come not on a tape that will self-destruct but in person, straight from the lips of the commander himself.  “As you are going, make disciples of all people groups.”

“All people groups?” you wonder. You take a mental note of those in the scene. None have traveled outside their own people—the Jewish people—and avoid Gentiles like the plague. They have no degrees. If anything they are underqualified. You don’t think this sounds anything like a Special Ops scene. You mumble “this mission is going to be a disaster.”

The reason being that what we see on the outside is different than what Jesus sees on the inside. We see Peter. He’s hard-headed and fish-focused. He popped off when he should have kept quiet. He kept quiet when he should have confessed. We see a failure. Jesus sees his leader.

We see James and John. Hot-blooded. Ready to wipe out unbelieving cities with one stream of fire from heaven. We see reactionaries. Jesus sees revolutionaries who will replace their calling of fire down from heaven with calling heaven’s love down to earth.

If we look closely enough we see ourselves. Common. Afraid of venturing out into a world on a mission of change. Fearful of the change it will bring to our own worlds. That’s what we see on the outside. Jesus sees his Special Ops troops.

It may sound like a daunting task. And it is. But look closely at the directives. “As you are going…” It means “as you continue on your journey.”  Jesus wants us to reclaim territory where we are every day. That’s why your Wednesdays matter as much to Jesus as your Sundays.  The truck you drive is his truck.  The computer station you work at is his computer station. The dentist office you visit, the gym you work out at, the people you meet for dinner, are all people he cares about.  And because you are in those places due to your skills or where you live or your interests you are his Special Ops agent there.

What would happen if you saw yourself in this way?  I imagine we might have ongoing conversations with our Missions Director throughout the day: “What do you want me to do for that co-worker over there?” “How would you help my employer have a better day if you were me?” “Help me know what decision to make on this deal that’s fair to all.”

More than merely getting the job done, you want to accomplish your mission.  You start seeing the people around you as potential learners of the way of Jesus. Jesus says “as you are going.” Be present with people wherever you are.

The gathered church is more like a training camp. When we are serious about making disciples of other people groups we will need some help and instruction. That happens with the church gathered. Then we are deployed on mission between Sundays. Francis of Assisi had it right when he said, “Preach the gospel at all times. And, if necessary, use words.”

The best way to make disciples is to be a disciple. The life of a disciple will cause others to notice.  And once they are noticed, words will help. The life comes first. Words follow.

“As you go make disciples of all people groups.” The first disciples did then and they changed the world. If we do now, the story will not be a disaster. It will be epic.

Question: Where does your “going” take you weekly and who are the people you encounter as you go?

How to Make Peace with your Doubts

A Texas rancher bought 10 ranches and put them together to form one giant spread. His friend asked him the name of his new mega-ranch. He replied, “It’s called The Circle Q, Rambling Brook, Double Bar, Broken Circle, Crooked Creek, Golden Horseshoe, Lazy B, Bent Arrow, Sleepy T, Triple O Ranch.”

“Wow,” said his friend, “I bet you have a lot of cattle.”

“Not really,” explained the rancher. “Not many survive the branding.”

Neither did Thomas. The Bible calls him “Thomas Didymus” or “Thomas the Twin.” Some believe he may have looked like Jesus, thus the nickname. Regardless, you know him as “doubting Thomas.”

You know him by that name because he had missed a meeting with the other disciples where the resurrected Jesus appeared. When they found Thomas they shared their good news with him: “We have seen the Lord!”

Thomas’ reaction was less than enthusiastic. He said the line for which he has been remembered for ages: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

Some see this as a doubt caused by weariness. Thomas has traveled a long road with Jesus. If he were to travel any further he wanted to make sure this really was his Jesus.

Maybe you’ve found yourself in seasons of doubt too. Your weariness that opened you up to doubts was from the world, from over-commitment, from your past or past sin. Life has not turned out the way you planned it to and the door opened for doubt.

Thomas could relate. But a week later Jesus showed up and gave him just what he had asked for: “Put your finger here and look at my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Don’t be faithless, but believe.” Jesus does not chastise Thomas. He gives him what he needs. In fact, the original Greek hints that Jesus was being playful with him: “Bring your finger over here.”

Thomas needed peace and Jesus gave it to him. Peace in biblical terms is not when life is going as I have planned things. Peace is when life is going as God has planned things. And part of God’s plan is that doubt is part of the life of faith.

If you’re in a season of doubt, here’s what you need to know from Thomas’ story.

First, be honest with your doubts. Thomas was. He knew that the Jesus he followed would carry the marks of the crucifixion. So when Thomas stepped into a place of honesty about his doubts Jesus stepped into the room. Being honest with your doubts is a necessary part of faith.

Second, be with people who aren’t afraid of your doubts. Find a faith culture that allows for doubts and where leaders themselves are free to express their doubts. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be with people who are not afraid of questions? They let you ask yours. They share stories of doubts they’ve had. When you’re in a period of uncertainty they carry you along until you regain your faith equilibrium. They don’t get anxious. They just love you the way Jesus loved Thomas.

Finally, a third lesson from Thomas is that a culture that allows questions can help you be aware of what God is doing with your doubts. Jesus allowed Thomas time to “doubt his doubts” a bit. Jesus knew what he was doing with Thomas. He was allowing him time to think through what it was he believed. And then, when the time was right, he appeared to him. After that moment what Thomas believed was his own belief. Not his parents’ belief. Not his friends’ belief. It was his: “My Lord and my God!”

What Jesus did for Thomas he does for you. He gives you time to doubt and ask questions. If you’re honest, he’ll come to you.

And that kind of experience will give you peace.

Question: When you have faith doubts where do you go with them?

 

 

 

 

Let Go of the Hurt to Take Hold of Hope

The year was 1820.  Ten-year-old Phineas was up before the sun.  This was the day his father was taking him to the island.  His island.  On the day he was born, his grandfather presented Phineas with a deed to a portion of Connecticut land called Ivy Island.  This day he was to see it for the first time.

They climbed into the buggy with a hired-hand.  Phineas could barely sit still.  At the top of each hill he’d ask, “Are we there yet?  Can I see it from here?”  His father would encourage him to be patient and would tell him they were getting close.

Finally, his dad pointed and said, “There, there is Ivy Island.” What he saw caused his heart to sink.  Ivy Island was a snake-infested marshland. It was a joke.  A stunned Phineas stared as the father and the hired hand roared with laughter.

Phineas didn’t laugh.  He didn’t forget either.  That disappointment shaped his life. The little boy who was fooled made a career out of fooling people. You don’t recognize him as Phineas or a landowner.  You know him as a promoter.  He coined the phrase, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”  He spent his life proving it.  You know him as P.T. Barnum.

You’ve known some disappointment too, haven’t you?  Struggles in marriage. Letdown by friends. Let loose from a job. Disillusioned with church. What do you do with your disappointments?

There’s a story about two men on the road to Emmaus. They were disappointed in a big way. They had hoped Jesus was the one who “would free Israel.” But the events of Jerusalem led them to believe he was dead.

The ironic twist in the story is that the Savior they thought was not present was walking right beside them. Jesus had come up to them on the road. They didn’t recognize him. No matter. He listened to their crushed hopes.

Then he told them a story. He told them the story of God and God’s hopes for them. When he was done, he acted as if he were going to walk on after they stopped but they invited him in for a meal. When he broke bread with them they recognized him. Their hope returned and they went back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples that Jesus was alive.

This account can help us today. Jesus cares about your heartaches. When life disappoints you—maybe even when God disappoints you—take a cue from the Emmaus walkers and do what they did.

Tell Jesus your hopes. They told him all that had happened in Jerusalem and how they were feeling about their crushed dreams. Jesus listened to their hopes then and he will listen to your hopes now.

Then listen to Jesus’ hopes for you. Jesus’ cure for the broken heart is the story of God.  What they heard was what we need to hear when we are disappointed. We need to hear that life is a series of chapters in God’s story and when we come to a chapter of disappointment the story is not over. There are more pages to be written.

Finally, share a meal with him. Did you notice it was in the “breaking of the bread” that their eyes were open? My guess is that when Jesus took the bread and broke it and handed it to the disciples, they saw his nail-scarred hands. When Jesus followers take the bread and cup, they remember a story. A story that is still being written through our lives.

Where is your disappointment today? Take a walk with Jesus. You might let go of the hurt and take hold of a new hope.

Question: Where can you use some hope today?

 

What to Do With Your Guilt

One anonymous person had his conscience weigh on himself enough to send this note and money to the U.S. Government: “Back in 1966 I worked for the Government and retired that year. My conscience hurts! Because I stole Government property: two metal panel office dividers with plastic upper portion. I ask your forgiveness and say I am extremely sorry for this rotten act. Enclosed $50 bill to cover cost. (This material was second hand.) May God and you forgive me.”

He’s not alone in his guilt.  The U.S. government began collecting and storing these letters in 1811 and have since seen literally tons of them.  Since that time $6,500,000 has been deposited in what is called the Conscience Fund.

One donor’s conscience was apparently not fully developed. He wrote: “Dear Internal Revenue Service, I have not been able to sleep at night because I cheated on last year’s income tax. Enclosed find a cashier’s check for $1,000. If I still can’t sleep, I’ll send you the balance.”

The weight of guilt and fear of being found out is real.  The disciples felt it. Denying Jesus. Deserting Jesus. The fear they felt sent them into hiding like their ancestors Adam and Eve.

It’s no wonder then that when the women bumped into the angel at the tomb the first word they heard from him was, “Do not be afraid.”  That’s the typical saying from angels.  Angels weren’t the sweet little cherub faced beings you see on greeting cards.  Something about them struck fear in the people they encountered.  This one appeared after an earthquake and his presence made the women quake.

They were afraid.  He calmed them a bit with his news of Jesus’ resurrection and then gives them a task.  “Go, quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee.  There you will see him.’”

Jesus gives his followers then and now a prescription for fear. They were afraid of the authorities. They were afraid of the future. They were afraid of their failures. They had not kept promises made.

You and I have done the same.  In my years of working with people, I’ve seen plenty: Failure to keep promises made to God. Failure to get along with others. Failure to live with integrity. Failure to control your tongue or turn the other cheek. Failure to finish what you started. Those are just my failures that have caused fear. And whatever yours are, the words of Jesus can help.

First, believe Jesus. When he says you do not have to be afraid, don’t be afraid. The disciple John understood that fear has to do with punishment so he wrote, “perfect love casts out fear.” He had known that perfect love. You can too. Believe Jesus.

Then see Jesus. “…there you will see me.” Fear frustrates our focus. It keeps our eyes on the issue and not on Jesus. Refocus. When you face fear, face Jesus.

You may be thinking, “So where will I see Jesus?” He tells us the answer: in Galilee. He tells the disciples then to go to Galilee, back to the place of their daily lives. He doesn’t send them back to a mountaintop but back into the middle of the mundane.

And that’s where he sends us too. When you see Jesus in your familiar moments you will see him in your fearful moments.

So don’t be afraid. Believe Jesus. See Jesus. And get on with the business of living.

Question: What fear(s) are you facing today?

 

 

 

Know Who It Is You’re Looking For

The other day I heard a great knock-knock joke. It goes like this: “Knock, knock.” “Who’s there?” “Control freak. Now you say, ‘Control freak who?’”

You know someone who likes to be in control, don’t you? Like the husband who entered the kitchen to find his wife just beginning to fry two eggs. He says to her, “You can’t fry two eggs in the same pan, there’s not enough room!”

He looks in the pan and says, “Did you put butter in the pan? I told you to put butter in the pan when you cook the eggs!”

The wife starts to flip the eggs and the husband says “You can’t flip with that spatula, use the other one.”

Frustrated, the wife turns to the husband and says, “I’m 46 years old. Don’t you think I know how to fry an egg?” The husband says, “Well, yeah. I just wanted you to know how I feel when I’m driving.”

Know the feeling? There are some things we can control in life and there are some things outside our control. Sometimes we have to trust. Jesus did. There’s not much you can control when you’re nailed to a cross. So when death was about to overtake him he knew he had to relinquish control to his Father. “And Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit.’”

Jesus entrusted his dying moments to God. Three days later Mary entrusted her daily moments to God. Let me explain. Mary came looking for Jesus only to find the tomb empty. Even though Jesus had told his followers he would be raised on the third day, she wasn’t expecting an Easter celebration. When she looks into the empty tomb she only sees two angels. They don’t seem to bother her too much. (Maybe like me she lives with an angel every day.) What bothers her is that there is no body. She wants to know where it is so she can go get it.

You’ve got to like her spunk. Somehow she is going to find the body and carry it by herself and get it back to where she can anoint it. That’s when she hears these words: “Woman,” Jesus said to her, “why are you crying? Who is it that you’re seeking?” She thinks it’s the gardener. But it’s the risen Christ. And his first words to her include a question that is a question for a resurrection life. “Who is it that you’re seeking?”

Many look for a Jesus who isn’t there. A Jesus who died and was not raised from the dead. A Jesus who will conform to our ideas of what the Messiah should be. A Jesus who will give us our “fill of loaves,” one that is here to make our lives safe and secure.

Mary found that the dead body of Jesus was gone. In its place was the resurrected Christ. But when she heard him call her name she responded with these words: “‘Rabboni!’  ​— ​which means ‘Teacher.’” Mary sees the risen Jesus as the one who is worthy of “Teacher” status. One she can give her Monday through Saturday to, not just her first Easter Sunday.

There’s something you’re trying to control in your life today and it’s not working out. You’ve tried to control your spouse. Or your children. Or your co-worker. Whatever it is, you’ve found that there are some things you can’t control. There are some things you can’t fix. Your marriage. Your work. Your neighbor. Your debt. And you’ve come to the point you’re saying, “I can’t do this anymore.”

Then maybe today is the day you let Jesus become your Teacher and you give it to God. You are either looking for a Jesus you can control or a Jesus you give control to.  Resurrection life is life lived under God’s control. Someone who can come back from the dead is someone I want to tell me how to live life.

And if that’s what you want too you can begin by looking for the risen Christ, the Lord. Then say, “into your hands I entrust…my spirit…my life…my family…my finances…”

If you’ll trust him with your dying moments you’ll trust him with your daily moments.

Question: What Jesus are you looking for? 

 

It’s Human to be Thirsty

It’s a human thing to be thirsty. And it’s not unusual to hear the words, “Can I have a drink?”

We did from a small Haitian boy. He had been watching our group of West Texans at work digging a well in his impoverished country. Haiti is a nation surrounded on three sides by water. And yet, 70% of its population does not have access to safe, drinkable water.

Our small Haitian friend wanted something cool and clean to relieve his parched throat. So he came to our well. He came thirsty. And he asked, “Can I have a drink?”

You’ve known thirst too. Maybe during an athletic outing or even as a couch potato watching an athletic event. Maybe you’ve even said, “I’m dying of thirst” when you really weren’t. It’s a human thing to be thirsty.

Jesus knew about thirst. He asked for a drink by a Samaritan well in John 4. He needed a physical drink. But the woman he met needed a spiritual drink. He told her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would ask him, and he would give you living water.”

Later in John Jesus takes the mystery out of his teaching by the well. A religious crowd had packed the streets of Jerusalem for the Feast of the Tabernacles. The people would live in makeshift homes in honor of their wandering ancestors. They would reenact the miracle of Moses striking the rock and getting water. Every morning the priest would fill a golden pitcher with water from the pool of Siloam. He would pass through the people, enter the temple, and pour water around the altar. On the seventh day of the Feast he would circle the altar in the same way seven times.

There was a lot of water being poured.

But there were a lot of thirsty souls present.

It could have been at this very moment that Jesus stood up and cried out: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. The one who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within him.”

Jesus knew about physical thirst and spiritual thirst. So John alone gives us this cry from the cross, “I’m thirsty.” Jesus, like us, knew what it meant to need a drink. And whether it is difficult to believe or not, what John is telling us is that Jesus experienced the human things that we experience. And when he was thirsty he asked for a drink for himself.

But he uttered the words “I’m thirsty” for us too so we would know he understands what it is we are going through in this life. When we endure suffering we wonder if God “gets it.” The answer from the cross is “he does.”

And Jesus uttered the words “I’m thirsty” for us. He had a physical thirst for water and a spiritual thirst for us to thirst for him. Our souls thirst and we seek hydration. Often we look in the wrong places. We thirst for other drinks that promise relief: another lover, another drug, another book, another song, another church. When we do, Jesus’ thirst for us goes unquenched. Unless we hear his words and answer his invitation: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.”

If you are part of the “anyone” you can drink. You don’t have to be rich or famous or together or beautiful. Just do what he says. Stop going to your other watering holes. Jesus tells you where the well is found. “Come to me” he says.

And drink. The word is present tense which means, “Don’t just take one sip. Don’t just stop with one round. Drink and keep on drinking.”

Too many of us are like my little Haitian friend. Surrounded by water that isn’t fit to drink and searching for one that is. Your search for a soul quencher may end by beginning with the very words of my friend which were also the words of Jesus: “I’m thirsty.”

Your thirst for him will quench his thirst for you.

Question: What is your soul thirsty for?

 

For When You Feel Abandoned by God

May 21, 2008 was one of those “before & after” days for the Chapmans. The kind that you mark time by “before” the event happened and “after” the event happened. (You can read the moving story in the book found here.)

The event happened when one of the Chapman sons, Will, was coming up the driveway to their house. He had been to an audition at his school for a musical. His little 5-year-old sister Maria saw him coming. She had been playing on the playground and wanted him to help her get up on the monkey bars so she ran towards him.

Sitting up high in the SUV he was driving he did not see her. The car struck Maria. Paramedics came quickly and she was airlifted to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital. The paramedics were unable to revive Maria. She was pronounced dead on arrival.

Steven Curtis Chapman said that the accident made the family question their faith in God. In one interview about the day he said: “My son said the other day that, you know, ‘Yeah, we are family.’… But we’re a family with a lot of questions…But that’s what faith is. It’s living with the questions. That doesn’t mean you have the answers. That’s exactly what faith is.”

Maybe you’ve had questions too. And maybe you’ve had a “before & after” day where you wondered where God was. You’re not alone. Count in that company Jesus. On the cross he was experiencing a day like that. And since he knew the Psalms, he pulled one out to help him give words to his experience: “From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over the whole land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Elí, Elí, lemá sabachtháni ?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

The words come from Psalm 22. Unless you have a habit of reading the Psalms you may not be familiar with Psalm 22. But we need to be familiar with it if for no other reason than that Jesus was. Jesus knew the Psalm. And he knew the experience. And so he pulled himself up on the nails and took as much of a breath as he was able and he spoke the first line of the Psalm.

It was the custom of the Hebrew people to memorize entire parts of Scripture, in this case entire psalms. Then, the way they referenced a passage was to quote it, especially the first verse. So when Jesus says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he expects the hearers to think of the entire psalm. And as they did, these words would come to mind: “I am … scorned by everyone, despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads…”

Sound familiar? Psalm 22 is a fairly detailed account of what has been happening to Jesus on the cross. Does he feel abandoned? Surely he does. Haven’t you? Haven’t you had those “before and after” days you questioned where God was and felt alone?

  • The doctor calls you in to discuss the test results.
  • The company decides to downsize and you are a casualty.
  • The elderly woman sits alone in her room at the nursing home.
  • A young wife watches as her husband walks out the door for another woman.

You’ve lived long enough to have had a “before & after” day where you wondered where God went. And that’s why you need to become familiar with Psalm 22. Because if you know the first line you will learn these lines: “For he has not despised or abhorred the torment of the oppressed. He did not hide his face from him but listened when he cried to him for help.”

Jesus cites the first verse of the psalm to bring to mind all of the psalm. It is a psalm that teaches us one can cry out the feeling and the experience of abandonment within the hope of a God who will never abandon us. Even on the cross Jesus is our “Rabbi” or teacher. Teaching us that when our lives are the darkest to have faith that God will hear our cry.

I have days I need Psalm 22. It reminds me that in this life of faith there is hope of a dawn after the darkness. Of a God from whom nothing can separate us. Of a Shepherd who walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death.

If you haven’t already, get familiar with Psalm 22 today. Let it sink deep into your being. There will be a “before & after” day where you’ll need it.

Question: When have you felt abandoned by God? How did you deal with that experience?