The Plumb-Line

When I was a college student, my Mom introduced to me to Kay Arthur’s Precept Bible Studies.  Precept Ministries is founded on a simple truth – that the Word of God is the plumb-line for the Christian life.

I had to learn what a plumb-line is.  It’s a construction thing – a plumb-line is a cord, weighted with lead, that is used in building to check that vertical structures are straight and true.  A plumb-line hangs free, and gravity draws it to the earth, creating a straight line that can help ensure that walls are built straight.  A plumb-line is a standard.  In the Bible, a plumb-line is mentioned in a couple of different places as God’s divine standard by which He tests, judges, and rebuilds His people.  (That’s a simplified explanation, but this is a blog, not a theology textbook!)

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As I have grown in my walk with the Lord over the years, I have come to realize that the Bible is indeed the plumb-line for our lives.  It also contains a number of important plumb-lines.  They include facts like this:  God is good; Jesus is the complete revelation of the Father; the Holy Spirit seals us as God’s own when we believe on Jesus; there is absolute truth, and God is the source of all truth; Jesus Himself is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; and many other plumb-line truths that help us to build lives that pleasing to the Lord and well-grounded.

Over the past several weeks, as I have processed some of the things that I and my family have been dealing with, I have been reminded of one of the most important plumb-lines in my life: the belief that no matter what I experience, no matter what my eyes tell me, no matter what anyone else may say or believe or try to convince me of, God is good.

This truth has come to inform and to form every part of my life:  my relationships, especially with God; my approach to ministry; my preaching and teaching; my writing; my leadership; my view of God, of people, of this world, of what happens to me and around me and in me and to those I know and love.

God is good.

It’s not the only plumb-line in my life, but it has become one of the most important ones to me.  And it has become one of the primary filters through which I see life.

For me, that’s huge.  There were times in my life when I couldn’t see His goodness; times when I doubted His goodness.  Times I yelled at Him and wondered what the h*** He was doing to me and to my family.  (I’m just being real, folks.)

But He is good.  He is always good.

And I learned that, in part, through those dark times.

God is good.

What are some of your plumb-lines?  Which ones mean the most to you?


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  A paperback version will soon be available.

The Elephant in the Room

Today is the memorial service for my Uncle Tim.

Every time I attend a memorial service or a funeral, and every time I officiate at one, I am faced with the fact that there is an elephant in the room, a fact that nobody wants to talk about.  Here it is:  Unless Jesus returns first, every one of us in attendance at the service will someday arrive at the day when the memorial service is for me.  Or you.  One day, it will be your or me in the casket; or it will be my ashes or your ashes in the urn.  People will be talking about our lives, remembering the good and bad.

It’s unavoidable, it’s uncomfortable to talk about, and yet it’s absolutely vital that we face that fact.

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Ignoring the fact that every one of us is terminal won’t change it at all.

Some people do try to ignore it, though.  Some people do everything they can to avoid the subject, to keep from thinking about it.

Some people throw themselves into every possible thing that they can to improve their health and to try to stave off the advance of age and the inevitable deterioration of their bodies. 

Some people invest in wild schemes to try to conquer death – cryogenics, looking for ways to transfer their consciousness, and other things that sound more like the stuff of science fiction than of reality.

Some people fall prey to deep fear and end up consumed by the reality of their own mortality.  These people let fear keep them from truly living and enjoying life.

There’s a better way.

Every time I’m confronted with death, I’m also reminded of Jesus standing outside of his friend Lazarus’ grave and declaring, I am the resurrection and the life.  Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.  Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die.” (John 11:25-26, NLT)

This is the good news – for those of us who follow Jesus, death is not an end.  It’s a doorway leading from one part of our journey to the next part of our journey.

When Jesus died on the cross and then rose from the dead, He didn’t just purchase our salvation.  He didn’t just provide a way for us to escape hell or enter heaven.

He defeated death.  Destroyed it, actually.

Death’s days are numbered.  Death is living on borrowed time, so to speak!

One day soon – we don’t know when, but we know that every day that passes, we are one day closer to that day – Jesus will return.  On that day, those who have died trusting in Him will rise from their graves and be given new, glorified bodies.  Those of us who are still alive at the time will experience our bodies being transformed.

Death’s reign will be ended.  The greatest unknown, the greatest fear?  Reduced to nothing.

Here is how the Apostle Paul explained it:

But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed!  It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed.  For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.  Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:  “Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”  For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power.  But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.  So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.”  (1 Corinthians 15:51-58, NLT)

So while I’m at the memorial service, I will be remembering, and I will be honoring my Uncle.

I will be sobered by the thought that one day, someone will be having a service for me.

But I will also be rejoicing.  Because I know that even though it looks like death has won, it hasn’t.  Death is already defeated – and one day soon, Jesus will return and enforce His victory.

No more elephant in the room!

And what a day that will be!


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  A paperback version will soon be available.

Moving On

I’ve spent most of the month of March blogging about issues surrounding questions like these:

  • Why are there times that God feels far away, and it feels like He doesn’t care?
  • Why is there suffering in the world?
  • Why are there times when I feel Jesus has left me behind and I feel I am alone, and forgotten?
  • Why is it in a season of trial or trying to better your future He seems absent?

I don’t know the answers to all of these questions, although we’ve explored some different aspects of these questions.  We’ve talked about the foundational truths that God loves each of us, and God is always good.

And now, it’s time to move on.

Not because we have all the answers; not because I have all the answers to the questions in my personal life; but because I need to keep my eyes on my Father.

It’s been good for me to explore these issues.  (I hope it’s been helpful and thought-provoking for you too.)  Some of them are things that I’m still dealing with and working through in my personal life.  But I also need to guard my heart and make sure my focus isn’t consistently on problems.  And it’s important for me to help you guard your hearts.  At the beginning of this month, I wrote about the importance of keeping our eyes on God, on His goodness, and on focusing on gratitude for what He is doing rather than finding offense at what He has not done.  And so, for the time being, I’m going to move on in my blogging to some different issues.

For reference, here are the links to this past month’s blogs should you wish to go back and re-visit any of them:

On Wednesday, we’ll move on to new subject matter.  By the way, if you have a question you’d like to see me blog about or an issue you’d like to see me address, please shoot me an email at don@donwhunter.com or by filling in the form at the bottom of this post.

In the meantime, may God meet you wherever you are, in whatever questions you have, whatever challenges you are facing.


 

Good-Bye For Now

I feel like over the last month, writing this blog has been a difficult and delicate balance between trying to be real and vulnerable about my own struggles while dealing with some of life’s difficult questions, while at the same time, avoiding making this all about me and just using it as a place to vent and to process my private stuff.  That has complicated even more by the things that my family and I have been going through during this time.

One of the things that has been going on with us is that my Uncle Tim, who is just a few years older than me, had to have heart surgery a week and a half ago.  He thought he had pneumonia; instead, they discovered he had 100% blockage in 2 vessels and 90% in a third vessel.  Everything was complicated by a couple of other serious medical issues.

He came through the surgery okay, but there were ups and downs.  At one point, it looked like he wouldn’t make it through the night – he was filling up fluid from congestive heart failure.  The next day, he was doing well and sitting up.  But then things got more complicated at the beginning of this week with a blood clot.

We still had hope, though.  On Wednesday, the doctors said that they were quite hopeful and that, although he had been unconscious for a day and a half, there was still brain activity.

Yesterday, they did a brain stem scan and discovered no brain activity.  Today, life support will be turned off.

Just like that.

To say that I’m shocked would be an understatement.  Beyond that, as with any loss, there are a ton of conflicting emotions.  My relationship with Tim was complicated.  Because of our closeness in age, there were times he was like an older brother to me; which in turn meant that at times, we were close, and at times, he seemed more like a bully than a friend.  He certainly had his ups and downs in life, his challenges, good and poor choices.  But he was a loving father to his boys, a caring uncle to us nephews, and a man who knew Jesus, even if their walk together was bumpy at times.  With all of that, Tim was my uncle, and I love him.

I will never forget him taking me on my first mini-bike ride, first motorcycle ride, our “green apple wars” in the old ballfield, or our G.I Joe and Matchbox marathons when we were kids.

Times of loss like this and times of personal struggle like my medical issues always tend to remind me to see the forest, not just the trees.  The trees – the problems, losses, struggles, and pain – those things seem huge when you are standing in the middle of them.  But it’s important to remember that there is a much larger story.

There is a King who loves us so much that He took the longest, most painful journey to give us the opportunity to have relationship with Him.  And one day, the King will return.  When He does, sorrow and suffering and death will end.  The King will set everything right again.

Here is my hope – the larger story:

And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.  We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died.  For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves.  Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever.  So encourage each other with these words.  1 These. 4:13-18 (NLT)

Good-bye for now, Uncle Tim.  I will miss you, but I’ll see you again.  I love you.


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  A paperback version will soon be available.

Curse God or Bless God?

Yesterday, I came across a Facebook post from one of my friends that said this:  Why are people so scared to curse God when something tragic happens, yet praise him when something wonderful happens?”  That’s a question that a lot of people have been asking, in similar or different words, for a very long time.  In fact, I think it’s a great question, because it’s so real and raw and honest.

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For me, the answer is that I’m NOT scared to curse God.  I know He’s big enough to handle that.  I know that on the cross, Jesus took on the curses of sin, sickness, and death for me.  So I’m not scared to curse God – it’s not that I would curse Him except I’m terrified of a lightning bolt from the sky or the ground opening up to swallow me if I did curse Him.  The issue for me is that I don’t WANT to curse Him.

You see, I know that all the problems, tragedies, and terrible stuff in my life is NOT from God.  So why would I curse Him, when He isn’t the source?  He is good, and every thing comes only from Him.  He is not the source of tragedies and problems and diseases and horrific events.  He is good; He is the very definition of love.  He cannot be the source of, or give, something that He does not have.

There are actually 3 very simple sources of all the problems, tragedies, and horrific things in this world:

  1. We live in a world that has been broken by sin.  Therefore, we live in an environment that is broken.  Because of this, there will always be tragedies and horrific events and diseases until Jesus returns and “re-sets” everything by making all things new.  There will be accidents with no one at fault and there will be natural disasters and we will age and our bodies will deteriorate and we will become diseased and broken, because that is the nature of the world we live in right now.
  2. We live in a world that is populated by people who have been broken by sin.  We are all born with a sinful nature.  We all make poor choices at times, we all sin at times.  And our sins and poor choices have consequences – sometimes for us, sometimes for others, sometimes both.  Murder, rape, genocide, wars, terrorist attacks – these are not because of God, but because people have chosen to indulge their own hatred, selfishness, and evil desires.
  3. We live in a world that is experiencing an ongoing, full-out, devastating war.  We miss that fact because it is a spiritual battle.  But there is an enemy whose sole purpose is to steal, kill, and destroy.  He is a powerful spiritual enemy that we cannot see, but that makes him no less real.  He is the voice that whispers “go ahead and do it” when the behavior is destructive.  He is the one who tells us “this is God’s fault” when, in fact, God gives only good things.  He is the one who stirs nations to battle and conquest, who lies about the very nature of our world and of God, and who knows that if you are a follower of Jesus, he cannot take you to hell and so he will do everything he can right now to make your life a living hell.  He is the one who wants to get your eyes off of Jesus and onto yourself and your problems.

So…I’m not scared to curse God.  But there is no need to curse Him.  He is not the source of my problems.  He is love, and He loves me no matter what, and He loves you no matter what. 

Can I just be raw for a moment?  My family and I are in a season where we feel like the hits keep coming.  My wife hasn’t worked in a year and a half because she has had to have 2 surgeries on her neck, and the recovery process has been long and tedious and interrupted by setbacks.  My daughter has experienced having to deal with loss and moving home and starting over.  I have something very wrong with my body.  Some days, I don’t even want to get up, or feel like I can do what I have on my schedule.  I expected answers last week, and all I got were more questions.  There’s a problem in my body somewhere, but I don’t know where it is or what it is, and that’s pretty scary.  I’m stuck waiting for test results, for next steps, for future tests.  In the midst of this, my uncle, who is just a few years older than me, is on life support in Pittsburgh with a very poor prognosis.  He may never regain consciousness.  Uncertainty and waiting is our life right now.

But I’m not complaining, and I’m not angry with God.  I know people who are going through far more than me, and have been dealing with things for far longer than me.  I look at what I’m dealing with, and then I look at what I still have – God loves me, God is with me, and God is for me.  My family loves me, and we’re in this together.  I have amazing friends who love me and check on me and pray for me.  My church family is patient with me, prays for me, and loves my family and I.  So I look at all that, and I don’t have any desire to curse God.  He’s not my problem, and He’s not the source of my problems.  I will continue to bless Him, and I will continue to press in to Him.  Because I need Him more than ever.


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  A paperback version will soon be available.

The Potter and the Clay

I grew up in churches that sang hymns, with an occasional “chorus” sprinkled in.  One of the old hymns that we often sang, usually as an “invitation hymn” at the end of the service, was “Have Thine Own Way”:

Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!

Thou art the Potter, I am the clay.

Mold me and make me after Thy will,

While I am waiting, yielded and still.

It comes from a passage in Isaiah 64 – “We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

The hymn and the verse clearly carry the message that God is sovereign and that we cannot tell Him what to do or even what He should do for us.  Like the clay, we can do nothing but allow Him to shape us.

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Throughout my life, that verse and the hymn have both comforted me and discomforted me.  The comfort was in the fact that God had a plan and a unique destiny for me, and that He was shaping and forming me for His purposes.  The discomfort?  While I knew that God loved me, it just sounded…cold.  Like God would have His will and His way with me, no matter what I wanted.  Like what I wanted didn’t really matter.  I knew that wasn’t true, but that was the message I received.

But today, I actually read the verse.  It turns out that there is more to the verse than the potter and clay scenario.  Here’s what the verse actually says:  “Yet you, LORD, are our Father.  We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

Wow!  What a difference a few words make.  “Yet you, Lord, are our Father.”  What a compelling image that is.  How different a picture it presents – as opposed to a (perhaps) cold and calculating potter, one whose only aim is to shape the clay to his will; instead, a loving Father, gently and compassionately molding each one of us into the person He created us to be.  As opposed to a craftsman trying to get the best out of the material which he has at hand, instead, a loving Father who shapes us into the image of His Son, but who loves us completely despite any imperfections that we have.

It’s all about how we view God.  In times of testing and trials, problems and pain, separation and silence, if we see Him as distant and aloof, it’s easy to take offense at Him.  It’s easy to let offense grow into anger, which can become bitterness and can motivate us to cut ourselves off from the One who is our Strength and our Hope.

But if we view God as our Abba – our Father – our Daddy – then in times of testing and trials, problems and pain, separation and silence, we will choose to trust Him for what we cannot understand.  We will choose to lean into Him rather than run away from Him.

If we view the Potter as the Father Potter, then we understand that He doesn’t cause the evil that enters our lives, but instead, He takes what was intended for evil and works it out for our good.

Each of us are facing different challenges today – different problems; different struggles; different disappointments; different pain.  That’s part of life, and we cannot change it. 

One thing we can change, however, is how we view God as we go through difficulties.  And how we view Him will determine whether we trust Him.

So…how do you see God today?  Is He the Potter?  Or is He the Father and Potter?


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  A paperback version will soon be available.

In the Waiting

When it comes to feeling forgotten by God, to dealing with painful situations, to seeking answers to nagging questions and doubts, to suffering, and to other difficult life issues, waiting is no fun.  In fact, it can often feel like waiting increases the anxiety, the stress, and the pain of the situation.  Our minds tend to go places when we have to wait – worst-case scenarios, imaginary conversations, the most scary of “what-if’s.”  But there is a better way.

As I’ve dealt with my current physical issues, I’ve tried to walk a line in this blog between being vulnerable about some of the things I’m going through while avoiding either making it all about me or turning this into a “woe is me” kind of emotional purge.  (Hopefully I’ve been somewhat successful in that.  It’s a little hard sometimes to be objective about your own stuff!)

Yesterday, I underwent some procedures/testing that I had been waiting on for a couple of weeks, hoping for some simple, obvious answers to my problems.  But it didn’t work out that way.  Instead, some fairly serious things were ruled out; some new possibilities were introduced; and some other potential serious issues were left unanswered, pending biopsy results.  So here I am – a little further on the journey, but still waiting.

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What do you do when you’re in a place like that?  There’s nothing you can do to control it; nothing you can do to change it.  You just have to wait.

Here’s the thing about waiting – it’s not optional.  It’s a part of life.  Sometimes it’s harder than at other times, but it is unavoidable.

We often cannot choose whether or not we have to wait.  But we can always choose HOW we wait.  No matter the circumstances.

My perspective on waiting has changed as I’ve observed friends who have had to wait for some very hard things.  Friends who have waited for medical diagnosis after attempted solution after trips to the ER after more diagnoses after more attempted solutions after more trips to the ER in what has seemed like an endless cycle.  Friends who have waited for God’s direct healing intervention.  Other friends who have endured most of their family battling debilitating illnesses over a period of several years.  Friends who have cried out to God for healing in their marriages, done everything they could to fight for reconciliation, only to see their lifelong partner walk away without a backwards glance.  Friends who have suffered great financial losses, who have lost jobs, who have had their worlds turned upside down in one way or another.  All of them people who were asking God to change their circumstances; all of them people who waited and waited and waited.  And as I prayed with them and prayed for them, I watched almost every single one of them wait with grace, with gratitude for what they DID have rather than bitterness over what they did NOT have.  And I learned from their example.

As I am forced to wait, I remember my friends and they spur me on to wait with gratitude, to trust God no matter what.

I’ve also learned from the psalms.  I love the example of David as a person who faced many disappointments and challenges in life.  Here was a man who was anointed king of Israel and then spent fifteen years running for his life before he was recognized as king by his own tribe.  It was another seven years – twenty-two years total – before he was actually crowned king of all Israel.  Talk about waiting!  And not just waiting, but waiting while on the run.  Waiting and choosing to honor the man who wanted him dead, the man whose position he had been promised by God.  Waiting for years and years and years with unfulfilled promises from God – and in all that time, he never took offense at God. 

When you read the psalms that David wrote during that time, you find that David cried out to God; he prayed for deliverance; he prayed for vengeance on his enemies; he asked God “why”; he was honest – even brutally honest – with God.  But he never took offense at God.  He never turned away from God.  He kept trusting God and believing the best of God.  He kept finding his rest, his strength, his security, and his hope in God.

That’s the choice we face.  You’ve no doubt heard it said that suffering can make us better or it can make us bitter.  In David’s case, it prepared him to become king.  That’s because of the way in which David waited on the Lord through all of his trials.

I don’t know about you, but that’s how I want to learn to wait. 

The good news is that it’s never too late to start.  Whatever we may be enduring, however difficult, however uncertain, however long we’ve had to wait – God is always waiting on us to turn to Him, to trust in Him.

And so this morning, as I wait, I pray words that David wrote somewhere around 3000 years ago.  If you are waiting today, I encourage you to join me:  “I stand silently to listen for the One I love, waiting as long as it takes for the Lord to rescue me.  For God alone has become my Savior.  He alone is my Safe Place; His wrap-around presence always protects me.  For he is my Champion Defender; there’s no risk of failure with God.  So why would I let worry paralyze me, even when troubles multiply around me?   Psalms 62:1-2 (Psalms:The Passion Translation)


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  A paperback version will soon be available.

Forsaken? No! Never!

On Monday, I wrote about Jesus’ identification with us when we feel abandoned or forgotten by God.  After all, Jesus experienced the same thing at Calvary:

At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.  And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).  When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”  Someone ran,  filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.  With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.  The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.  (Mark 15:33-38, NIV)

For most of my life, that was the complete story as I understood.  That was how I understood it – Jesus felt abandoned; the Father turned His back on Jesus because Jesus was bearing the sins of the world, and the Father couldn’t bear to look on Him.  And so Jesus cried out in agony and in utter despair, separated from His Father and more alone than He had ever been.

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But then, two summers ago, I heard Dr. Leonard Sweet preach a sermon on the story of the cross that he called “The Greatest Song Ever Sung” about this very passage.  It shifted the ground of my understanding of this passage like a theological earthquake, and re-cast my view of Jesus on the cross.  It transformed my view from one of Jesus suffering abandonment to instead, one of Jesus victoriously enduring the cross and overcoming – overcoming not just when He rose from the dead on Sunday morning, but triumphing in the very moment when all seemed lost, the moment he gave up His spirit and died.

I will do my best to do Dr. Sweet’s teaching justice in a summary – admittedly, longer than a normal blog, but hopefully, one that will fill you with hope and challenge you to walk in joy in the midst of great trials and even suffering.

Dr. Sweet pointed out that there is a deeper context to Jesus’ words on the cross.  In crying out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus was quoting the first sentence of Psalm 22:1 – a Jewish worship hymn that Jesus would have known by heart.  So far, no shock – the Psalms were the Jewish hymnal in Jesus’ day.

But then Dr. Sweet went out to point out some important historical context:  that no male Jew would have spoken a Psalm.  An observant Jew, as Jesus was, would have SUNG the Psalm.  And He would never have stopped with the first line.  In fact, most Bible scholar agree that Jesus sang Psalm 22 while suffering on the cross.  The only real debate is how much of the Psalm He sang.

Does that thought drastically change your image of part of the crucifixion?  It did mine.

Imagine the scene.  Jesus hanging on the cross, suffering, bleeding…dying.  Instead of calling out in anguish over feeling abandoned, though, He begins to sing a song of worship to His Father.

Dr. Sweet calls it the greatest worship song ever sung in the history of the world, but points out that we have missed it because we don’t understand the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day.

Here is the Psalm as it is written.  If you read it carefully, you can see a Psalm of worship, not despair and desolation – a song of hope and triumph.  And you can see some of the familiar scenes around the cross in it:

  (v. 1) My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Why are you so far from saving me,

so far from my cries of anguish?

    (v. 2) My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,

by night, but I find no rest.

  (v. 3) Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;

you are the one Israel praises.

  (v. 4) In you our ancestors put their trust;

they trusted and you delivered them.

    (v. 5) To you they cried out and were saved;

in you they trusted and were not put to shame. 

(Aren’t vv. 3-5 a great declaration of God’s goodness?

    (v. 6) But I am a worm and not a man,

scorned by everyone, despised by the people.

  (Look at the rejection David writes about in these next few verses.  They directly prophesy the way Jesus was treated by people when He was on the cross.  And David wrote these words hundreds of years before Jesus.)

    (v. 7) All who see me mock me;

they hurl insults, shaking their heads.

    (v. 8) “He trusts in the Lord,” they say,

“let the Lord rescue him.

Let him deliver him,

since he delights in him.”

    (v. 9) Yet you brought me out of the womb;

you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.

  (v. 10) From birth I was cast on you;

from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

(As you read these lines about his mother, can you see Jesus pausing and looking at his mother, and then entrusting her to the apostle John’s care?)

  (v. 11) Do not be far from me,

for trouble is near

and there is no one to help.

(v. 12) Many bulls surround me;

strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.

(v. 13) Roaring lions that tear their prey

open their mouths wide against me.

(In reading vv. 11-13, you can picture the people surrounding the cross, hurling accusations and taunts at Jesus.)

(v. 14) I am poured out like water,

and all my bones are out of joint.

My heart has turned to wax;

it has melted within me.

(Remember that once Jesus had died, a soldier pierced his side and blood mingled with water flowed out?  And the reference to bones being out of joint – often, when a cross was dropped into hole in the ground to stand upright, the victims experienced dislocated shoulders among other things.  Roman soldiers were not gentle in carrying out executions.)

(v. 15) My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,

and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;

you lay me in the dust of death.

(Is it possible that the apostle John recorded Jesus’ singing of this part of the psalm with the simple words, “I thirst”?)

(v. 16) Dogs surround me,

a pack of villains encircles me;

they pierce my hands and my feet.

(A couple of notes here.  First, wild dogs would often circle the sites of crucifixions.  They would wait for the bodies to begin to decompose.  Then the bones would fall to the ground, where the dogs could consume them.  In this case, you can see it as a dual reference – the wild dogs, and those people who stood around, waiting to see Jesus die.  The reference to the hands and feet being pierced is obvious.)

(v. 17) All my bones are on display;

people stare and gloat over me.

(v. 18) They divide my clothes among them

and cast lots for my garment.

(Again, these images are self-explanatory when you consider the scene at the cross.  And now, the Psalm turns to intercession – a cry for help:)

(v. 19) But you, Lord, do not be far from me.

You are my strength; come quickly to help me.

(v. 20) Deliver me from the sword,

my precious life from the power of the dogs.

(v. 21) Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;

save me from the horns of the wild oxen.

(Jesus quotes this part of the Psalm, asking for deliverance from those who are taunting and threatening him, and declaring that His Father is His strength.  Now notice the praise that begins to flow in the next few verses, and the declarations of God’s goodness:)

(v. 22) I will declare your name to my people;

in the assembly I will praise you.

(v. 23) You who fear the Lord, praise him!

All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!

Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!

(v. 24) 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.

(As Jesus would have sung this part of the Psalm, notice that He was declaring that His Father had NOT forsaken Him, had NOT hidden His face from Jesus, but instead, has listened to His cry for help!  And now, some final declarations of God’s goodness and of victory follow:)

(v. 25) From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;

before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows.

(v. 26) The poor will eat and be satisfied;

those who seek the Lord will praise him—

may your hearts live forever!

(v. 27) All the ends of the earth

will remember and turn to the Lord,

and all the families of the nations

will bow down before him,

(v. 28) for dominion belongs to the Lord

and he rules over the nations.

(v. 29) All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;

all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—

those who cannot keep themselves alive.

(v. 30) Posterity will serve him;

future generations will be told about the Lord.

(v. 31) They will proclaim his righteousness,

declaring to a people yet unborn:

He has done it!

Look at that last phrase – “He had done it.”  This is one of the strongest arguments for the case that Jesus sang this Psalm and worshiped His Father while He was on the cross.  Literally, “He has done it” can be translated…”It is finished.”  Those are the very words John records in his gospel as Jesus’ last words.

So what’s the point of all this?

It is that Jesus wasn’t in despair on the cross in the darkest, loneliest hours of His life.  When He could have chosen to surrender to feeling abandoned and forgotten, as appears apparent on the surface, when we understand His culture and what was really happening, we discover that in His pain and suffering, He actually worshiped and pressed in to His Father.  And when death came, it did not come conquering Jesus.  Instead, He triumphantly declared that His Father ruled the nations, that future generations would experience salvation, and that the work of reconciliation was completed!

The lesson for you and me?  In our deepest pain, our greatest suffering our times of loneliness, doubt, fear, feelings of abandonment, we face a choice.  We can surrender to despair and stay in the midst of it.  Or, we can learn from Jesus.  We can choose to sing and to worship our Father for His goodness, refusing to take offense at what life brings us, and trusting that our Father will bring victory and joy out of what was intended by our enemy for our destruction!

What will you choose today?

(Thanks again to Dr. Leonard Sweet for preaching that sermon at Mahaffey Camp two summers ago and helping me to see the crucifixion and Jesus’ actions on that day in an entirely different light.)


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  A paperback version will soon be available.

God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?

Whenever we feel like God has abandoned us, it is good to remember that while on the cross, Jesus Himself cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34, NIV)

Jesus was actually quoting from the writings of David, and we’re going to delve into that a little more deeply this week.  But today, let’s just sit with Jesus’ cry in its context in Mark:

At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.  And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).  When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”  Someone ran,  filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.  With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.  The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.  (Mark 15:33-38, NIV)

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So what’s obvious with a simple, cursory reading of this passage is that Jesus, the Son of God, is crying out from the cross to his Father in heaven, asking why His Father has abandoned him.

Go back and re-read that last sentence.  Go ahead, do it now.  I’ll wait here for you.

Have you ever felt forgotten by God?  Abandoned by Him?  Wondered where He was?

You’re not the only one.

I know this is difficult to understand, but…God knows exactly how you feel.

On that first Good Friday, the Son turned His head towards the heavens and cried out to His Father, asking why His Father had forsaken Him.

That’s why the author of Hebrews could write, This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.”  (Hebrews 4:15, NLT)

Jesus has faced the same issues you have faced and are facing.

He knows what it is to be tempted.  He knows what it is to be falsely accused.  He knows what it is to suffer.  He knows what it is to experience pain.  He knows what it is to experience unfulfilled longing.  He knows what it is to ask for deliverance and yet not be set free.  (Remember Him asking, “My father, if it is possible, let this cup be taken from me…”)  He knows what it is face the consequences of someone else’s choices, to be abused, to be beaten, to be mocked and taunted, to be treated unjustly, to be tempted, to be tested, to be wounded.

He knows what it is to cry out to God and to feel God’s silence in return.

And through all of that, He did not sin.  He did not take offense at His Father.  He did not rebel.

He guarded His heart, as we talked about a few weeks ago.

So as this week begins, if you are in a place of pain, discouragement, loneliness, even feeling abandoned by God or unheard by God…if you are wondering where God, why He hasn’t delivered you, or how much more you can take – remember:  Jesus understands.

Am I saying Jesus feels sorry for you?  Or that if you are struggling, you should just suck it up and deal with it because you’re not the only one?  Or that, hey, just keep telling yourself that it’s ok because Jesus understands?

NO!

I am saying this – Jesus understand exactly how you feel.  He went through the same, and much worse, on the cross for you because He loves you.  And He cares deeply for you.  He loves you.  He is with you in your pain, and He will never leave you.

If you feel alone, abandoned, forgotten by God – it’s a lie.

He will NEVER leave you.  He is WITH you.  Right now.  In the midst of everything.

And not only is He with you, He understands what you are going through, He has felt what you feel, and He WILL redeem this.  He will use what was intended to harm you to bring you good.

The separation that you are feeling?  The loneliness?  The pain?  The distance?

He can – and will – use it to bring you closer to Him than you’ve ever been before.

Just keep trusting Him.  Keep pressing in to Him.

He hasn’t left you.  He’s right with you.

And He understands.


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  A paperback version will soon be available.

Blessed Are The Broken

Nobody really wants to be described as broken.  It just sounds…well, bad.  To be broken sounds like you are ready to be discarded like an old toy, in need of being repaired, shattered to pieces, even useless.

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But the Bible actually places a high value on brokenness.  Consider these verses:

  • The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves  those who are crushed in spirit.   (Psalm 34:18, NIV)
  • You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.  My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.  (Psalm 51:16-17)
  • He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.  (Psalm 147:3, NIV)

And then you have the fact that Jesus came to minister healing to the broken-hearted:

  • The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners… (Isaiah 61:1, NIV)

So God views the broken as fertile ground for His Spirit to began deep work.  In fact, in the New Testament, Jesus actually points out the importance of brokenness on a couple of occasions, both modeling it and teaching it:

  • Whenever Jesus feeds His disciples or a group of people (the 5000, the 4000, the two disciples he met on the road to Emmaus), He always both blesses the bread and breaks it.  There seems to be an important principle at work there – if we desire to be used by God, to nourish others in their walk with Jesus, we need both the blessing of God’s Presence and a sense of brokenness in ourselves – the knowledge that without Him, we can do nothing.
  • Jesus Himself in instituting the Lord’s Supper as a memorial to Himself and to His work on the cross refers to His body as “broken for you.”  Without the broken body of Christ, we have no sacrifice on our behalf, and no hope of salvation.
  • On another occasion, Jesus taught something intriguing to His disciples:  Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  (John 12:24-24, NIV)

Unless a seed falls to the ground and dies, it remains a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  Here’s the truth about brokenness – while it appears painful, harmful, weak, distasteful, repugnant, to be avoided at all costs, the truth is that in the Kingdom, brokenness sets you up to receive the life of Jesus within yourself, the healing hand of Jesus upon yourself, and the power of the Holy Spirit flowing through you to others.

As counter-intuitive as it seems, brokenness is the key to entering the Kingdom (the poor in spirit, remember Matthew 5:3?), brokenness is the key to living in the Kingdom, and brokenness is the key to bearing fruit in the Kingdom.

The point?  Feeling broken sucks.  But the truth is that brokenness opens the door for God to do the miraculous – both IN you and THROUGH you.  The very thing that you are wishing away and praying away may be the very thing that God is about to use to prepare you for your destiny.

Remember – if we belong to God, then He is in the business of causing all things – even the things that may break us – to work together for our good.

He truly is a good, good Father.


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  A paperback version will soon be available.