Your Failures are not Final

As rejection letters go this one wasn’t too bad. I had an idea for a book, had written most of it, and decided to send a proposal to a publisher that was fairly new on the scene.

I imagined them reading the first few lines and shouting, “This is it! Our next bestseller!” Their offices would shut down and celebrate before a contract was even signed. Within two weeks I received a response. “Thanks so much for your proposal. Your topic is certainly a worthy one, and we’re honored you thought of us as a publisher. Unfortunately, we don’t believe this book is the right fit for us at this time. Our niche is in practical church leadership, and we don’t typically publish inspirational works.”

Someone taught me to look for the good things so I did. “Worthy topic.” “O.K.,” I thought. “I’m on the right track.” They were “honored” I thought of them. “Great. I made them feel good about themselves. That’s honorable of me.”

Nothing in there about bad writing. They could have said, “We read your sample chapter and honestly…we don’t really understand what it was we were reading.” It was just not a match for the kind of publishing they do. It wasn’t bad. But it was still a rejection.

It did not matter that Karen kept reminding me I had only sent the proposal to one publisher. It did not matter that she recounted the stories I’ve shared of writers who were turned down numerous times before they found their publisher.

It didn’t matter. I spent exactly 36 hours and twenty-one minutes feeling like a failure.

Maybe you have too. You lost a job. You lost a marriage. Never finished school. Watched your business go under. Planned to improve yourself one year but didn’t change a thing. You described yourself as a failure and thus prescribed your role for life. You’ve lived with the consequences ever since and decided to return to something safe. Instead of pursuing something else and risk failure you retreated to the familiar.

If you can relate to what I’m saying, you can relate to Peter. He’s been fishing all night and hasn’t caught a thing.  After the events of the cross he retreated to what was most familiar to him. Something safe. He went fishing.

After a long night he has nothing to show. It’s not the first time he’s failed either. It’s not the first time shame has been taunting him: “Maybe you’re not really cut out for this business.” “You don’t have what it takes.” “You let yourself down and you’ve let others down.” No one else has to say these things. The tapes are playing in his own mind.

But that’s when Jesus appeared on the shore. Peter jumps in the water and meets him by a charcoal fire. The last time we saw the words “charcoal fire” Peter was warming himself while turning a cold shoulder to Jesus. At that charcoal fire Peter denied Jesus. At this one he will see his shame burn away and his new life appear when Jesus gives him an assignment. “Feed my sheep.”

Failure and the shame that accompanies it can cause us to quit. We go into hiding and don’t take another swing at the ball. We disappear into the bushes like Adam and Eve, afraid to make another move.

I did. For exactly 36 hours and twenty-one minutes I resolved to never write again. “How can God use me if I can’t get a publisher to take a chance?” I thought. I know. It sounds crazy, but you’ve said similar things, haven’t you? The Enemy will take anything we think we’ve failed at and use it to stifle us. He plants the thought in our minds that failure makes us unfit to be used by God.

Whatever your point of failure is, take it before Jesus. That weekend in Cancun when you were younger. That word you spoke to that friend that ended the friendship. Those thoughts you have that no one else knows.

If Peter can take his denial to Jesus, you can take your misdeeds to him too. Jesus does not call the holy. He makes holy the ones he calls. That’s what he does with Peter. He sets him apart for his service.

Peter’s task is to feed the sheep. The one who denied Jesus three times would now be the one who would lead the fledgling church in its infancy. The one who was afraid to die at the first charcoal fire found the courage to die by the second.

Jesus tells Peter how he will die. He tells him that when he grows old “…you will stretch out your hands…” This is a metaphor for crucifixion. He would face death on account of his faith because he faced his failure.

Early Church Fathers wrote about Peter’s history. Clement of Alexandria (c. A.D. 150-215) wrote “They say when the blessed Peter saw his wife led away to death, he rejoiced that her call had come and that she was returning home.” Then, sometime after witnessing his own wife’s martyrdom, he endured his own. Tertullian (A.D. 155-250) wrote that “Peter endured a passion like that of the Lord” and “In Rome Nero was the first to stain with blood the rising faith. Peter was girded about by another when he was made fast to the cross.”

Jesus has a way of using people who have failed. Abraham’s cowardice caused him to lie about his wife being his sister before God made him the father of many nations. Moses’ anger resulted in a dead Egyptian and a 40 year hiding in the wilderness before he led God’s people to the Promised land. David had Uriah killed so he could have Bathsheba before God used him as an example of a man after his own heart.

He used Peter, denials and all, to lead his own bride, the church.

And he has something for you to do too. It may not be leading the church the way Peter did, but it does include loving the church the way Jesus did. Your failures are not final.

Publishers can send nice rejection letters. But Jesus won’t. You’re a part of his story.

And there’s more writing to be done.

Question: What failure is keeping you from moving forward?

 

 

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? 

 

Live Into the Freedom of the Battle Won

Sometimes the battle is won by one person giving his life so the others can live. John R. Fox made such a sacrifice.

Fox was a forward operator for the U.S. military in WWII.  In December of 1944 he found himself stationed in the Italian village of Sommocolonia. By Christmas day enemy soldiers had gradually infiltrated the town in civilian clothes.

A German attack from the outside had begun by 4:00 a.m. on December 26. The enemy soldiers who had infiltrated the town bolstered the attack from within and the two groups quickly overwhelmed the American soldiers. Greatly outnumbered, most of the United States Infantry forces were forced to withdraw from the town.

But Fox volunteered to stay behind with a few Italian soldiers as part of a small observer party. They would be “eyes and ears” in the town. He and the others would direct artillery fire from outside the town against the German troops with the hope that the American unit could make a safe retreat and regroup. Fox and his Italian party positioned themselves on the second floor of a building in a spot that allowed him to see the advancing enemy.

By 8:00 a.m. Fox reported that the Germans were in the streets and attacking in strength. He began calling for defensive artillery fire in an effort to slow the enemy’s advance. It quickly became clear that the Germans were going to overrun the streets and outnumber his small group. And if they overran his group they would eventually get to the rest of the U.S. forces. So Fox held his position and radioed his requests.

When evil advances something has to be done to defeat it. And when a mission is designed to defeat it, that mission must be finished.

John writes of such a mission when he tells the story of Jesus on the cross. “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’” What was finished? A mission that began not in a small Italian town but a gun-free garden. It too had been infiltrated.

From the Garden the battle was on. God had said, “He will strike your head and you will strike his heel.” We see the war raging and evil spreading until we come to a covenant: “Through your offspring all the nations of the world will be blessed.”

We see the battle in Egypt as God frees his people. We see it in Babylon when God brings his people home. And we see it as evil has spread through cosmos and creation when Jesus enters the scene.

He brings God’s kingdom against the “ruler of this world.” He heals the diseased and the demonized. He does battle against anger, lust, swearing oaths, temptation, lying, legalism, false teachings, spiritual blindness and persecution. The battle was against religious legalism and oppression. Against racial and social marginalization. Against sexism. Against cruelty and judgmentalism. All these things were seen as being inspired by the Enemy. Jesus came to “destroy the works of the devil.” And the final blow was found on the cross.

John Fox saw the enemy from his second story perch. They were starting to swarm the city. Evil was advancing. He knew his friends would not stand a chance unless he did something. So he radioed an order to adjust the artillery fire closer and closer to his position. He was warned that the final adjustment would bring the deadly artillery right on top of his position. Fox acknowledged the danger and insisted it be fired as it would be the only way to defeat the enemy.

Jesus ascended not into a second story house but onto a cross. He took the full force of the enemy’s assault on himself—the full force of the consequences of sin we have allowed to reign in this world—and experienced what we would have otherwise experienced.

Satan’s lies were exposed. His “certificate of debt” against us was nullified. Even his greatest weapon—the threat of death—was diffused when Jesus rose from the dead. When you see the ugliness of the cross you see the full force of evil in the world…and the beauty of love.

Next time you hear that voice telling you that you are not worthy or that you did something God could not forgive, remember these words: “It is finished.” Then say, “It is finished. My God forgives. You lied about him all along. You have no power over me.”

Soldiers lived that day because John Fox took the full force of the artillery so others could live. We live today because Jesus took on the full force of evil on the cross. The Enemy bombarded him with his best and most lethal weapon: death itself. And death did not win.

It is finished.

Question: Where do you feel attacked most often? How do you combat those attacks?

 

 

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?

 

Open Your Family to Those Who Need One

Moms and sons have a special relationship.  A national survey of nearly 1,200 adult children over age 40 were posed this question: If asked to make the choice, which parent would they choose to move in with them?

You already know the answer, don’t you?  2/3 of the respondents chose mom because she would be more help with cleaning and cooking, could help with the kids, would be neater and a better listener.  Dad?  Well, Dad would be messier and more of a couch potato than mom.  He’d have worse hygiene and say inappropriate things and want control of the TV.

Dads, don’t get too upset.  70% of the respondents said that they’d rather not have either parent move in with them.  But mom…it’s you if one of you does.

Mothers and their children, especially their sons, have a unique relationship. And whose is more unique than that of Mary and Jesus? It began with an angel. Gabriel shows up, tells her she is “favored by God,” only to find that means she’s going to have a baby before she gets married to Joseph. She’s a bit confused by this: “How can this be, since I have not had sexual relations with a man?” But she gets an answer: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”

She lost him once when he was twelve years old on a trip to Jerusalem. She pushed him as an adult to make wine at a wedding. She even went to get him one time when she thought he was out of his mind.

But the greatest scene for Mary with her son came at the cross. “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple he loved standing there, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.”

A flood of memories from Gabriel through childhood—to now having to watch her son suffer through this gruesome ordeal—cascade over her heart. If there ever were a time she would desire to hear the word “mother” it would be now.

Instead she hears, “woman.” What is clear in the Greek and even in the English translation is the contrast between what Mary may have expected to hear and what she instead received: “Jesus said to his mother, “Woman…”

The word is not impolite. It was a simple, courteous address. But the word was important. With it Jesus redefined family. Jesus is helping his mother see that family ties are not as important as ties between the teacher and his disciples. She needs to be on mission with Jesus’ mission.

As do we. A word from the cross to Mary and John— “the disciple he loved”—is a word to us about finding our identity in Jesus and a new family. We don’t neglect our biological family. But we do gain another one that helps, supports, encourages, and lives on mission together.

So we do what families do. We eat together. We spend time together. We help each other. We give counsel and support. When we do, we follow in the footsteps of the first Christians: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). We bring others in who have no family.

When we do, we do as John did. Eusebius lived in the late 3rd and early 4th century. He was the bishop of Caesarea and was an historian of the early church. He wrote about the traditional belief that Mary lived with John. He took her with him to Ephesus and was present with her when she died. Each year pilgrims travel to a house a few short miles from the center of Ephesus that some believe to be the house where Mary lived until her death. Jesus’ family became John’s family.

The third word from the cross is a word of devotion. Jesus is devoted to us to the point of death on a cross. Even there he is thinking about his family. Mary. John. You and me. It’s a word of devotion we are to have for each other.

The only choice he made was to include all of us.

Question: When have you experienced “family” outside of your biological family?