When Does It End?

In the last couple of weeks…

  • Two family members have undergone surgery.
  • A couple of close friends have learned that they are facing medical tests which could lead to life-changing or life-threatening diagnoses.
  • A family member has been harassed to the point of requiring police involvement.
  • Another family member has been defrauded by someone close to them and is facing difficult decisions about how to handle it.
  • Another family member is dealing with physical pain that cannot be helped medically.
  • A couple of close friends are dealing with adult children who are making unhealthy and unsafe relationship choices.
  • A couple of friends are dealing with the possibility of imploding marriages.

And those are just the tip of the iceberg.  Those are just some of the issues in my immediate circles of family and friends.  There are a ton more.  And that doesn’t even touch on things like the deepening divisions in our nation, the threat of war with North Korea, and a hundred other disturbing news items that I could highlight.

Where does it all end?  When does it end?  It feels like one one thing right after another, like one thing gets dealt with and before it’s even completely dealt with, another thing is popping up.  It’s like life has become a giant, losing game of Whack-A-Mole.

How do you deal with all of that without becoming cynical, fearful, anxious, depressed – without just throwing up your hands and giving up?

Hope.  We have to have hope, despite all that is happening around us.

And what reason could there be for hope?

Jesus.  And…Jesus’ promise:

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.  And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.”  Matthew 19:28-29 (NIV)

Did you catch that?  At the renewal of all things.

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The way things are now is NOT the way that they will always be.

The way your life is now is NOT the way that it will always be.

One day, all things will be renewed.  Re-made.  Re-created, as some Bible translations put it.

All things restored, put back as they were originally created and intended.

I know, it sounds too good to be true.

And there’s so much more there – so much deeper that we could dig into this.  But that’s beyond the scope of one short blog entry.

For today, it is enough to remember that there is hope.  That a day is coming – a day that Jesus called the “renewal of all things.”  On that day, He will fulfill what God promised in Revelation 21:3-5 (NIV):  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”  Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Still No “Lite and Fluffy”

I really really really really really wanted and planned on writing a “lite and fluffy” blog.  Sun is shining, flowers blooming, happy people, all is right with the worlds, unicorns and rainbows.  Really.

But life just doesn’t cooperate.

Life is hard right now.  Last week, in my sermon, I said that I felt like every day was like walking through chest-deep mud.  This week?  It feels like the mud’s 3 feet above my head and I’m using a snorkel just to breathe while I try to push through it.

It’s not just about me.  I’m doing all right, slogging along.  Further along than I was last week.  But my family is hurting.  I have friends that are hurting.  I learned things Saturday, yesterday, last night that tear at me.  There are people close to me, intimate friends, acquaintances, even people who aren’t as close but who are still very important to me who are just dealing with a lot of pain and loss in life right now.  And the more you know about the pain of others, the more you tend to carry.

I’m in this season in my life that is not fun but in which God is working.  In the midst of it all, I’m re-visiting and re-learning some important lessons.  I’ll just share a couple with you this morning as food for thought.

  • I can’t control anything and I can’t fix anything.  As Danny Silk says, on a good day, I can control myself.  But beyond that?  Nothing.  I can’t control how others respond, I can’t control what people do with sound, biblical advice, I can’t control the choices other make with their lives, I can’t control the circumstances or the suffering of other people, I can’t control the level of anyone’s pain, I can’t control the hard times that some people are facing, I can’t control debilitating illnesses that people are facing.  None of it.  I want to.  I want to take their pain away, remove their obstacles, fix things, heal illnesses.  But I can’t do any of that.  Only Jesus can.  All I can do is trust Him and pray for them.
  • “You will never rise above your level of self-awareness.  It is the lid on your life.”  Dr. Rob Reimer taught me this in one of the first Soul Care conferences I ever attended.  The older I get, the more I realize it is true.  There is stuff in my life with which I will never deal, address, or change until I am aware of it.  I am thankful for a loving family and close, intimate allies (as John Eldredge calls them) who are courageous enough to point out my blind spots.  I am thankful for the voice of the Father and for journaling as tools of self-discovery.  But this truth affects us in other ways.  You see, the people in my life will never rise above their level of self-awareness.  And when you’re in a situation where you’re dealing with someone and trying to help them but they either can’t or aren’t willing to see, you can’t help them.  They will never rise above their level of self-awareness, and they will never receive help or encouragement or strengthening because they won’t see their need for it.  (That was exactly what Jesus experienced with the Pharisees – they were blind to their own hypocrisy and sinfulness and couldn’t hear or receive what He tried to speak into them.)
  • This is a season.  It may not be the best season or the worst season.  It may be a season that I hate.  But it’s a season.  It won’t last forever.  And I can choose to let God refine me through, or I can fight Him.  I can recognize I can’t control anything and do everything I can to love and care for people in this season, or I can withdraw and hide.  But it’s only a season.
  • And finally, I will continue to rest on God’s promises, like Psalm 46:1 – 5 (NIV) God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.  There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.  God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. 

No Pain, No Gain

“No pain, no gain” is something I’ve heard repeated by gym teachers, coaches, fitness trainers, and leaders (and all manner of sadists!) throughout my life.

As trite as it sounds, there is truth to it.  In physical exercise and activity, and in sports training, there is a breaking down that has to occur before growth and building up takes place.  In life, we often have to learn from painful experiences and failures before we experience growth and then success.

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And the same often holds true in our spiritual lives.  Dying to self daily is not a pleasant experience.  The journey to soul health, sanctification, and deep intimacy with God and with others is a difficult journey.  It involves the pain of exposing our wounds, our hearts, our failures and shortcomings; it means being vulnerable and exposing ourselves to the pain of rejection and judgment by others; and it involves the pain of losing false identities and excuses and other things that we use to cover our true selves…all so that we can experience the transformation of stepping into the freedom of walking in the light as our true selves, with God and with others.

As with so many things in life, our attitude in approaching this can make a huge difference.  Many – perhaps most – approach these opportunities for growth and transformation and allow fear to turn them back.  As a pastor and a leader, I have watched countless times as people have processed truth, a spark in their eyes lights as they get a glimpse of the freedom that’s available to them – and then the realization of what it will cost them sinks in.  Vulnerability.  Honesty.  Letting down the walls that they have erected so carefully over their lifetimes.  Repentance.  Change.  Fear then takes hold.  And then, sadly, like the rich young ruler, they turn away.

I know.  I’ve done the same thing, many times.

But I’ve had to realize that my attitude is my choice.

I can choose to face hard things that I don’t want to face with fear, and back away, and lose the opportunity for transformation.

Or I can choose trust in God’s love and belief in the love of my family and friends, and push ahead through the pain to the long-term gain.

I’ve had this lesson reinforced over the past several months.

As many of you know, I’ve been dealing with anemia and other related physical problems during this time.  I’ve been through a battery of tests, procedures, IV’s and blood draws that have left me just tired of the whole thing.  I’m ready to be done.  (I know, I know.  I’ve dealt with this for 6 months.  Some of you reading this have been dealing with far more painful and debilitating issues for far longer than I have.  But I can’t speak to your journey or your thoughts – just my own.)

I gained some ground for a couple of months, but over the last month, my hemoglobin has been dropping and my symptoms have been getting worse.  I was feeling worse and worse and getting more and more tired trying to hide it from everyone.  And I ran out of simple options.

This Wednesday, I met with a surgeon.  First time for me.  Oh, I had tubes in my ears 5 times as a kid, but that hardly counts.  This was a real-life, honest-to-goodness surgeon.  He talked about what he needed to do, and then used words like “staples” and “stitches” that my wife Jewel has had to deal with but that I’ve never had to deal with myself.  A part of me was glad – hopefully, my issue will be corrected and I can begin the slow process of getting my blood counts back up to where they should be.  But a part of me was filled with fear.  After all, surgery = pain.  And I’m not really that into pain of any kind.

But no pain, no gain.  And I had to have a conversation with myself about my attitude. 

I can face this with fear, or I can face it with trust and positivity.  It’s my choice.

But really, there’s no choice.  I need to deal with the pain so I can experience the gain.  And I can’t afford to live in fear.

Neither can you.

What opportunities for growth are you avoiding because of fear?

To quote my buddy Bernie, “think about it.”


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.  The paperback version is NOW AVAILABLE for $6.99 plus postage!  For ordering information, contact me at don@donwhunter.com

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.

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.

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.

Pushing Through, or Pushing Away

As I work through what I want to write about these issues of pain and feelings of abandonment and distance from God and feeling forgotten by God, I am also trying to work through some of my own “stuff” on this.  And the more time I spend thinking about it, reading about it, and praying about it, the more I am seeing that this is more about what is happening in me than what is happening to me.

Last night, we began a Soul Care class with part of our church leadership.  In one of the sessions, Dr. Martin Sanders talked about the fact that many people miss out on intimacy with God because once they begin the journey, they encounter obstacles.  Instead of pressing in to God and pressing through the obstacles, instead, they back away, or even push God away.

That thought resonated with me.  When we encounter obstacles, or in the areas that we are considering, pain and suffering and hard questions, we face a choice.  We can push on towards God and push through the pain, suffering, and questions towards deeper intimacy with God.  Or, we can become frustrated and angry with God, end up bitter, and push Him away.

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Pushing on towards God and pushing through means we press in to Him no matter what.  It means that we keep pursuing Him, keep doing what is right, keep doing what we know, even when it seems there’s no answer.  It means we keep worshiping, keep giving thanks, keep waiting expectantly, keep trusting, keep reading His Word, keep praying, keep listening, keep making space for silence and solitude, keep journaling, keep investing in community, keep being vulnerable, keep serving others, and keep trusting God, even when it looks like He isn’t responding to our trust.

I have a friend in our church body who is doing that.  She has suffered with pain and unanswered questions and multiple diagnoses and surgeries and she has kept on trusting, kept on pursuing God, kept on walking in integrity in her faith while we have tried to help and support her on this journey.  Recently, God showed her something new, and she began taking communion every day with her husband.  She is running towards God in her pain, determined to grow closer to Him rather than further from Him.

But I’ve also known people who have pushed God away in their pain.  They’ve searched for answers and prayed and received prayer, but then given up.  They’ve allowed offense to come between them and God, and rather than pressing in to Him, have turned away from Him.  When He has gently tried to help them, they have rejected that help because it wasn’t the answer they wanted, and they have pushed Him away.  Sadly, in doing so, they’ve run straight into anger and bitterness.

I went through a season like that when we lived in Roswell, Georgia.  I became very angry at God because, from my perspective, He had made promises He hadn’t kept, had let us down, and had abandoned us.  Instead of pressing in, I ran from Him, and when He spoke to me, I pushed Him away.  Oh, I didn’t rebel outwardly, didn’t even visibly walk away from Him.  But in my heart?  I ran away, for awhile.  Until He gently, patiently pulled me back.  That’s a story for another time.

I am determined that in this season of my life, that whatever this looks like, I am going to keep pushing towards Him and keep pushing through the uncertainty and the anxiety.  I am better equipped this time – I have a family that loves me and is walking this journey with me; I have couple of close friends who are encouraging me and also asking me probing questions about what this journey is surfacing in my spirit; and I have a congregation and an amazing church leadership team that loves me and my family and are praying for us and supporting us.  I don’t know what this will look like – it could be nothing much, it could be a simple fix, it could be a much longer struggle, it could even mean some kind of surgery or more than that.  But whatever it is, I am going to keep pushing towards Him and keep pushing through whatever comes.

For today?  I don’t know where you are, or what pain you might be dealing with.  But I do know this – if you are in pain, you are facing a choice.  You can push on towards our Father, or you can take offense and push Him away.  Most often, neither provides an immediate solution, or immediate deliverance from your problem.  However, pushing towards Him will position you to grow closer in intimacy with Him, to experience all the good that He can bring from difficult situations and from suffering, and to find peace and rest in the middle of whatever storm you are enduring.  Pushing Him away results in fear, frustration, bitterness, and lost opportunities to see and experience the good He can bring from your pain.

So…in which direction are you pushing?


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.  Paperback copies will soon be available for purchase.

Why, God?

That’s the question most of us go to when trials come in our lives.  Why, God?  Why is this happening?  Why is this happening to me?  Why aren’t you rescuing me?  Why is this taking so long?

It seems like a natural question to ask.  When we are in pain, we want to know that there’s a reason for it, we want to know that there’s an end in sight, and we want to know that God hasn’t forgotten us.

{To address those questions briefly: 

  • There is always a reason for it, but not always a good reason.  Sometimes the reasons can include things like:  we live in a sin-broken world; we’ve made poor or even dumb choices; other people have made stupid choices; or our bodies are affected in ways we don’t understand by all the chemicals we ingest in eating preservatives in our foods.
  • There is always an end in sight.  Until we reach heaven, everything we live through – good or bad – is for a season.  Things will not always be what they are.  They may be better or worse, but change is a constant in life.
  • God has never forgotten us.  He promises that He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), that He will never forget us (Isaiah 49:15), and that He has engraved us on the palms of His hands (Isaiah 49:16).}

But there’s a problem:  God rarely – and by rarely, I mean almost NEVER – tells us why.

why

As I’m preparing for a Soul Care class that we’re putting on at our church, I’m reviewing some DVD teaching on the subject by Dr. Rob Reimer and Dr. Martin Sanders.  In one of the sessions, Dr. Reimer spends some time talking about this – that God rarely tells us why.  And then he goes on to share that in his life, he has stopped asking why.  Instead, he now asks God “how” – “how are you going to use this in my life?”

That’s really the issue.  How will God use this to surface inner issues that I need to deal with?  How will God use this to make me more like Jesus?  How will God use this to grow me, to transform me, to equip me for His Kingdom’s work?

So that’s one of the questions I’m trying to journal through and process now myself.  Not “why, God?”  But “how, God?”  Because I know that He didn’t cause this, but He WILL use it, and He WILL bring about good through it.

I want to encourage you to do the same.  If you’re suffering; if you’re feeling alone; if you’re feeling abandoned by God; if you’re wondering where God is; if you’re dealing with questions and feel God is silent – consider asking God “how” instead of “why.”

Last night, I had my monthly opportunity to hang out with two of my best friends, guys that feed me and bless me and can ask me any question that they think I need to work through.  One of them reminded me that God is at work, and that I need to press in to Him right now.  And he reminded me of these important words, which I will close with for your consideration:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  (James 1:2-4, NIV)


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.  Paperback copies will soon be available for purchase.

Guard Your Heart

Let’s begin the journey of dealing with pain, suffering, and unanswered questions – for those are the things with which we are dealing when we consider feeling abandoned by God, feeling He has forgotten us or is absent from us.

Before I deal with the questions, I want to point us to an important concept that Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit:  Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. (Proverbs 4:23, NIV)

Above all else, guard your heart.

Why is that so important when it comes to these particular issues of feeling abandoned or forgotten by God, questioning why, suffering, etc.?

Precisely because these are all issues of our heart.  In fact, Solomon would say that everything in life is about your heart.

Your heart is the source of everything you do – everything you do flows from it.  If you are a follower of Jesus, you have been given a new, regenerated heart.  The problem is that you and I have an enemy who desires to “steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10).  He cannot keep us from heaven; but his desire in the meantime is to make our lives on earth feel like hell.

It’s what he has always done, even in the beginning.  In the garden of Eden.  “Did God really say that you were not to eat from any trees in the garden?”

What’s implied in that question is that God isn’t good – that He is holding out, that He doesn’t want the best for us, that He is keeping some very good things from us.  And it’s a lie.

So guard your heart.  Because here’s what happens when we suffer, or when we feel God is distant or even absent, or feel God isn’t answering us, or we can’t understand all the suffering in this world – our hearts are attacked by the enemy.  We begin to question God’s goodness.  We begin to think things like this:

  • Why is God allowing this to happen?
  • Doesn’t God care about what I am going through?
  • Isn’t God hearing me?
  • If God really loves me, why would He let this happen?
  • If God really loves me, why won’t He take this away/answer my prayer/get me out of this/take care of my kid?
  • If God is really sovereign or all powerful, then why won’t He take this away/answer my prayer/get me out of this/take care of my kid?

I don’t know why.  In fact, one thing I’ve learned over my years of walking with Jesus is that He rarely tells us why.  He tells us He loves us, and He expects us to trust Him.

So begin here.  Guard your heart.  You will be tempted to doubt God’s goodness; to become angry with God; to distance yourself from Him rather than to press into Him; even to allow disappointment and anger grow into bitterness.

Guard your heart.

Bill Johnson puts it this way – feed your heart on what God IS doing, not on what He isn’t doing.

Worship.  Pray – not for answers, but just to be with God and to talk with Him.  Soak in His presence.  Thank Him for what He is doing.  Be grateful for the community God has given you.  Thank Him for His presence, even if you don’t feel it.  Continue to claim His promises.  Feed yourself on the Psalms.

Guard your heart.  Do this, above all else.

I know it’s hard.  It’s hard for me in some ways right now.  But it’s what I’ve got to do.  And so do you.

Guard your heart.  Do this, above all else.


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.  Paperback copies will soon be available for purchase.