worship Posts

A Holy Separation Anxiety

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Matthew 27:46

We call it “Good Friday”. But like everything else on the day of His death, it was good for us, but terrible for our Lord Jesus. As you go about your day today, consider these facts: Early on that Friday morning, after no sleep the night before, Jesus was taken to Pilate’s prison. He was beaten by professional torturers who knew their craft all too well. He was then presented to the crowd who chose a notorious prisoner over the very Son of God. Throughout the night Jesus was silent, ironically, directing the entire process that led to His death. He was taken into the courtyard (called the Praetorium) and the entire company of soldiers surrounded Him. They stripped Him, put a crown of thorns on His head, a staff in His hand, and knelt down before Him in mockery. They spat on Him and blind-folded Him, punching Him many times, as hard as they could. Later that morning, exhausted and famished, He carried His own cross, most of the way to Golgotha. At 9:00 am, the executioners impaled Him through His wrists and His feet, with long spikes, and fastened Him to the cross. Darkness came over the earth from noon until 3:00 pm.

At 3:00 pm, in anguish, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In that moment, Jesus was experiencing the wrath of the Father (His holy reaction to sin), as He “became sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21). He was abandoned by the Father, so that you and I would never be. Then Jesus cried out, “It is finished!”, and He died. At this final cry of victory, God’s inflexible holiness and His unconditional love collided as our redemption was made possible. Around 5:00 pm the women came to prepare His body for burial and at 6:00 pm they placed Him in the tomb. A massive stone was rolled into place as the sun set on the saddest day in history. And the angels were silent as all creation watched to see what would happen next.

As you go throughout this day, be in a constant state of remembrance, meditating on what happened to our Lord Jesus. Think about each event as if it was happening today. Consider the horrific emotional strain Jesus faced, knowing He was about to endure a slow, painful death, and greater still, the anticipation of the very wrath of God upon sin that would come upon Him. And remember, He did all of this for you and me. Remember also that it’s Friday, the saddest day in history, but Sunday’s coming. Praise Him.

Pray:  Lord, today I will walk with You through Your sufferings. I will meditate on every phase of Your sacrifice for me and give thanks to You/ My heart breaks over my sin that put You on the cross. May I always remember what You have accomplished for me. And may Your love for me lead me to love You, to obey You, and bring glory to You Name.

The Life of a Servant

Thursday night before His death

“After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him.”  John 13:5

On the night before His death, Jesus would teach one of the greatest lessons of His ministry to His disciples. The Master-Teacher would use object lessons, symbols, and hands-on teaching to make His point. The first lesson was on servanthood; the second was on sacrifice. The first involved the washing of His disciples’ dirty feet – an act performed only by a servant, not a master. When He finished, He didn’t say, “Now that I’ve washed your feet, you wash mine”, (as we would have done). Instead He said, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14). You see, the way we express love to Jesus is by expressing love to one another. The way we serve Him is by serving others.

The second lesson was around the table as He took the well-known elements of the Passover Meal and re-interpreted them as fulfilled by Him. The matzo bread – the “bread of affliction” – (which was always pierced and always striped), represented His body. The cup of redemption represented His blood shed for them. How unusual it must have been as Jesus brought new meaning to these ancient symbols; how amazing it must have been after His death and resurrection to understand with crystal clarity what He meant. And now we know as well.

“The Master will dress himself to serve and tell the servants to sit at the table, and He will serve them.”  Luke 12:37

Pray:  Lord, thank You for Your amazing act of servanthood and Your example of sacrifice for me. I want to live the life of a servant. I will love someone for free today and, in so doing, I will be expressing my love to You. Tonight, as I lay down my head for a night of peaceful sleep, I will remember the sleepless night You had as You were arrested, tried, and beaten on my behalf. Thank you, for the soulful rest you bring because of the peace you have brought to those who trust in You.

Jesus, the Incomparable Substitute

As Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism was dying, his devoted followers asked how they should keep his memory alive, propagate his greatness. He said, “Don’t bother. Tell them not to remember me, but adhere to my teachings. They can forget me, but let my teachings be propagated around the world.” This sounds like a very self-less, humble response. But Jesus would have never said anything like this. If He had it would validate what many people think: that Jesus was yet another religious leader whose primary message was, “work harder, get better”. It would confirm what a lot of Christians seem to believe today – that Jesus came to initiate a new and improved behavior modification project. As if Jesus came to help us get better. Clearly Jesus taught us much, but think about it, what was at the heart of His teaching?

The central focus of Jesus’ teaching was His identity, who He was and is. He would have never said, “Forget me, just follow my teachings.” He said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” It may sound self-evident but at the heart of the Christian faith is Christ Himself, Who He is and what He has done. So, it’s paramount that we get our Christology right (who He is) above all else and then put everything else at it’s service. Here’s why:  Your view of Christ determines your response to Him. The Person of Jesus – His character, His identity, and the essence of His nature is clearly revealed in the Gospel accounts and is brought into undeniable focus and clarity the final week of His life.

Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem begins with a counter-procession, presenting a contrary way, a rival king, a contrasting social order, and an opposing theology, ushering in an alternative kingdom – the kingdom of God.

Jesus said His kingdom is “not of this world,” and it contrasts the kingdom of the world in every possible way. This is not a simple contrast between good and evil, but rather two fundamentally different ways of doing life, two fundamentally different belief systems- two fundamentally different loyalties. This King is ushering in a different kind of kingdom and it’s embodied in the King Himself.

This is why the angry pursuit of the religious leaders ramped up the final week of His life. In the end, He was not crucified because He talked about loving others or caring for the poor. He was crucified because of who He claimed to be. In the end, He lived the perfect life for us, suffered and died, taking on our shame and punishment, and He rose again, conquering death and hell- this is the Gospel, the Good News that has rescued us from death and hell. He is the King we worship, the One we proclaim, and the One we follow every day.

This Holy Week, let’s tell others who Jesus really is. Tell them He is not another good example, but our incomparable Substitute.

 

“Who is the LORD that I should obey Him?”

The question Pharaoh asked Moses is the modern question of our day. As we read the Old Testament, we often think that these people are primitive, uneducated, even barbaric. We have a general idea that we are progressively getting smarter and better. We have better medicine, technology, faster transportation; we’re enlightened, educated, modern. But at the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart.

The Pharaoh was a highly educated, affluent man. He is the modern man and his question is the question of our day. The entire story of the plagues, and the Exodus, hinges on his question: “Who is the LORD and why should I obey Him?” Exodus 5:2 Our entire story hinges on this question as well. The Pharaoh was not an atheist, but a polytheist. He had no trouble believing in gods, as long as they served him. But to believe in a god that would actually tell him what to do was preposterous. Not unlike most of us today.

Some struggle with God, thinking He is too harsh, judgmental and wrathful. Instead, we fail to see that in His mercy He rescues you from our gods, that will otherwise crush us. It is His mercy, not His wrath that saves us. In His wrath is His mercy. His judgement is mercy. “O LORD, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O LORD, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.” Habakkuk 3:2

God’s judgment comes upon those who disregard Him. But even in His warnings of judgment there is mercy. Like the Pharaoh, we need a renewed vision of who God is.

By His grace, through warnings and judgment, God lovingly draws us to Himself. Every plague has a corresponding Egyptian god and what the LORD (Yahweh) is doing is answering Pharaoh’s question with each subsequent plague: “Who is LORD? I am the one, true God and I am greater than your false gods. I will crush them for your good and for my glory.”

Consider: what are the gods we serve in our day? And what corresponding plagues might God bring into our lives so that we would turn to Him and worship Him alone? What plagues might God unleash on us in order to show His supremacy, His place as the LORD, so that He might satisfy our soul’s desire? Just a few examples:

Our gods and the plagues that confront us

Comfort – the plague of inconvenience God will bring discomfort, perhaps Illness, relational struggles that confront us. Like gnats or flies, they may seem small at first, but they destroy our peace and comfort. All of this, so we will turn to Him and find that He alone is our Comfort and Peace.

Control – the plague of chaos The god of control says, “I will control how I live, how I look, how my life goes. I will cover every possible contingency, I will prepare, build an impenetrable wall around me. I will build an emotional wall around me. I will not let anyone in. I will control my environment.” In his famous poem, Invictus, William Henley (an atheist), writes (from a hospital bed), these last two stanzas: “Beyond this place of wrath and tears. Looms but the Horror of the shade, and yet the menace of the years finds, and shall find me, unafraid. It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” Henley echoes the Pharaoh’s question: “Who is the LORD, that I should obey Him?” Instead, our desire to control our lives results in impotence, disorganization, mismanagement, addictions. It’s why all alcoholics know that the first of the 12 steps to recovery is, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” We must admit that you are NOT in control.

Success – the plague of dissatisfaction Success is never up and to the right always. And even if it is, we are left empty if success has become our functional god. This week, Tom Brady will start in his eighth Super Bowl. He’s won five. Surely, he is the GOAT, the greatest of all time. Brady is handsome, married to a model wife, and worth millions (billions?) of dollars. In a moment of rare vulnerability, on 60 Minutes, in an interview with Steve Kroft, Brady said, “This is what it is- this guy (himself) has it all. But I think, “there has to be more than this.” Kroft asked, “What’s the answer?” Brady responded, “I wish I knew, I wish I knew.” At the pinnacle of success he is plagued with dissatisfaction.

Approval – the plague of rejection Our desire for approval is met with the plague of disapproval, even self-condemnation. For the person who worships the god of approval, rejection is devastating. In a world of social media, the need for approval escalates to devastating results.

How can we discern our idols? Your deepest emotions will point you to your idols, to the gods you worship. Look at your anger, anxiety; what do you think about that makes you worry? What makes you really sad? Most often our anxiety is caused by the thought of losing something we love, something we worship- a god.

But what if God, by His mercy, is drawing us to Him? Paul asks: What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath- prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory.” Romans 9:22-23

At the cross, God’s unending grace and His inflexible holiness collided and our salvation was made possible. On the Cross He brought mercy for sinners and judgment on sin that came upon Jesus. You and I were spared the ultimate plague of sin’s shame and death.

We find purpose and ultimate satisfaction in GOD alone, through Christ alone. The process that comes as God strips us of our idols is painful. But He does this so that you will turn to Him and rejoice in His presence and praise Him as you discover that He is enough.

 “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21

In His wrath, He has remembered mercy.

When Bike Meets Car

There’s an old adage among cyclists: “There are two types of riders; those who’ve crashed and those who are going to.” The longer you ride, the more likely this is realized. I’ve been in a few crashes. While in a large peloton, I went down hard at mile 48 (in the “Hotter than Hell 100”, in Wichita Falls). Miraculously, I didn’t break any bones, though I ended up with the worst road rash I’ve ever had. I finished the race, but later discovered my bike was totaled with a cracked frame. My helmet was cracked as well.

I had never been hit by a car, until a few weeks ago. And when bike meets car, there is no contest. Thankfully, I was not going fast nor was the car, but it was enough to take me down quick and the result was a fractured fibula and three broken bones in my ankle. I’m in week three of a long recovery. Six to eight weeks of no weight-bearing activity and ten weeks before I can drive. I will then be in therapy to strengthen the atrophied muscles, then six months to a year before I’m 100 percent.

But enough with “lesser things”. There’s a much bigger story here, and it’s the story we all find ourselves in. When bike meets car happens on a daily basis for all of us. When expectations meet reality is a daily challenge. When our hopes and dreams are shattered like my right ankle, what do you do? When joy and sorrow collide, how do you worship God? I’ve been holding on to and revisiting Romans 8:28-29. Read it again carefully:

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Romans 8:28-29

Here’s what I’m learning:

  1. God has a bigger plan than ours and it is great and glorious. We often read verse 28 without verse 29 and the two are inseparable. All things work together and it seems most of “all things” are bad But God works bad things into good things. Only He can do that, showing Himself sovereign, all-powerful, and loving. The key is to notice His purpose toward which He’s working all things. His purpose is for us to be “conformed into the image of His Son”. If we have joined Him in that purpose, then we have given our lives over to whatever He deems necessary to see that purpose fulfilled. We are not our own. We have truly become the clay in the Potter’s hands. We are liquid; He is the Cast. We are soft and pliable; He is the Mold. In short, we are the created and He is the Creator. He is God and we are not.
  2. God is big enough for our questions and bigger than our disbelief. When we initially face the trauma of a life disrupted, we are shocked and surprised that things will no longer go along the track we had laid out for ourselves. We need time to adjust to the new plan, regardless of how dark or hopeless it seems initially. In the early phase of a life interrupted, all we have are questions. God is big enough for all of our questions, even if they come to Him out of anger and disbelief. Sometimes we want to crawl into His lap other times we want to beat His chest. He’s big enough for both and our angst does not phase Him for a moment.
  3. Sometimes you can only hold on to what you already know. Even in our shock and change of plans we can trust the God of our experience – the God of the Bible. He is faithful and true and does not change. Clearly, if you have walked with Him closely prior to this sudden change of direction, you are quicker to trust that He is in control and has your best intentions in mind. You’ve seen it before. You know that He is true. If you have not, this phase can be brutal and will set the course of which way you will go from here. This is when you must turn to Scripture and to those who will speak the truth about God to you. Knowing who He is, we know that when you can’t see His hand we can trust His heart. He is at work. Almost always we see, looking back, how He was at work during hard times. The goal of the disciple is to see this gap between moments of suffering and complete trust condensed into real time. We really can trust Him in the moment of suffering and pain. This is worship.
  4. We cannot dictate to God what we want as conditions for our obedience. Our role is to trust and obey. His job is to place us in situations and circumstances by which we are conformed into the image of Jesus. This is His great and glorious plan for us. And the more we trust that it is best to be like Jesus, the more we are ready to embrace whatever comes our way in life. In the end (if you live long enough), you realize you do not control what comes at you in life anyway. You only control your response to it all. And it is comforting to know that “all things” come to us first, through the loving hands of our Father.
  5. Our role is worship, through obedience; His role is to conform us into the image of His Son. I’ve learned it really is possible to worship Him, even through writhing pain and severe suffering. Job, who serves as the constant example of worship through suffering, taught us that there is something better than getting all of your answers. He got something better than answers. He got God. Through worship we get God Himself and discover that He really is enough. As we worship Him through obedience (trusting that He is good, loving and kind), we become more and more like His Son.
  6. The Spirit speaks to us when we quiet all of our intellectual questions and get alone with Him and listen. When we are debilitated (physically, mentally, or emotionally) we find ourselves quiet and sometimes alone. Pain is humbling and sets us on our backs before God. It forces us to “be still” (literally, to “let our hands hang down”) and know that He is God (Psalm 48:10). At some point we must stop asking questions and choose to listen to His Spirit speak. He does so through His Word, so we must stop listening to our souls and start speaking to our souls. And what we speak must be the truth. His Word is truth. When we slow down to listen to Him, He speaks. When we don’t, He doesn’t. Pain forces us to stop working and to stop talking and He speaks to us in quiet solitude.
  7. God uses loving people as instruments of hope and healing. We cannot make it through pain and suffering alone. I do not know where I would be right now without the loving care and patient presence of my wife. Stacy has been by me to serve me in every way. In the midst of so much in her own life, she has shown me what unconditional love looks like. Apart from the Spirit’s presence in my life, she has been the single greatest gift in this time of suffering. Indeed, the Spirit has done His work in larger part through her. I’m not used to being on the receiving end of care and it is difficult and humbling. It is also a glory to God to see my loving wife as the tangible hands and feet of Jesus. Miraculous really. I have also been blessed by the outpouring of love from my amazing church family. From our preschoolers to the eldest among us, the love of Jesus expressed, has given me hope and kept me going. There is nothing like the local church. Do not neglect the power and purpose of being devoted to the Body of Christ. Love one another. Serve each other in love. This is the church at its best.

So when bike meets car life is turned upside down, at least for a while. I’m told I will be back to normal some day. I know others who do not have that hope. The true heroes are those (mostly older friends) who have gone through much worse than me and have no hope to improve, but continue to worship God fervently. These are the ones who have learned what I’m seeking to embrace with all my heart. Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is ours in Christ and we know that “in all these things” He is at work to conform us into the image of His Son – all for our good and all to the praise of His glorious grace.

What a good God He is to us.