Faithfully Forsaken

Mark 15

“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  Those were the last words of Jesus. At that moment, he was alone.  He could feel it in his soul.  It was empty and hollow.  The pain was too much to bear.  The physical torture had taken its toll, not to mention the mental anguish.  Just yesterday, his best friends betrayed him.  Not only did they hand him over, but they also denied knowing him.  Even the political system didn’t go in his favor.  Pilate took the simple and self-serving route.  He could have set him free.  He didn’t.  No help.  No people, no angels, no God.

Maybe you have been there?  The circumstances of life have stacked against you and they just keep coming.  Perhaps your friends have betrayed you, just like Jesus.  Maybe it’s illness or financial pressure that keeps you from living a joy-filled life.  It could be death.  For many, it’s more than one at the same time.   That is when we cry, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

Do those words signal the end of our faith?  Are they the suggestion that we have found such ongoing despair that we no longer believe God is good?  Maybe not.  According to John Calvin, these are words of strong faith.  It is only the faithful, in fact, that are able to question God in this manner.  It stems from the foundation of promises that God made to us.  We cry out because we know them to be true.  We want them to be true, we need them to be true.  They are true.

Today, we know that Jesus’ death was temporary (1 Corinthians 15:4).  We know that He now sits at the right hand of God (acts 7:55).  Because of this, we also know that God’s delay was temporary.  It was perfect.  Just enough that Christ would facilitate our redemption.  Today, it is this redemption that we build our lives upon.  While it may not relieve us from the troubles of this world, it does assure that we can have peace, hope, and love, today, forever, and always.

Disheartened

Mark 10,11

Several years ago, the state of Illinois changed the title printed on real estate licenses.  Way back when I earned my license, it was titled “Real Estate Salesperson.”  Today, we get the more prestigious title of “Real Estate Broker.”   For some, this is a setup for heartache.  It happens in the first couple of trainings where newly minted licensees learn how to sell.  “Wait a minute.  I’m NOT a salesperson,” is the decree.  A shocking 50% of real estate agents drop out within the first year.  Why?  They become disheartened when they learn what it takes to be a successful salesperson.

The same is true of Christ-followers.  Today, in Mark 10:16-22, we read about the rich young ruler.  He came to Jesus excited.  So excited that he ran up to him.  He even knelt down in front of Jesus so that he could learn the secrets of eternal life.  Unfortunately, he got an answer that he didn’t like.  Jesus told him, simply and lovingly, go and sell all your possessions.  This, sadly, was not something the rich young ruler was willing to do.  The Bible says that upon hearing Jesus’ words, he went away disheartened and sorrowful.

Before you begin thinking that this does not apply to you, take a minute to reflect.  What, exactly, are you willing to endure to follow Christ? In today’s world, it is not unfathomable that you could lose your job for declaring Christ as king.  Is that why you keep quiet?  What about prison, or death?  I took a trip to Morrocco once where there was a real possibility for sharing my faith in Jesus.  It definitely gave me pause!

This was not the case for the disciples.  Instead, their amazement (Mark 10:32) of Christ led them to push through their fears and successfully live Christ-following lives.

As He Said

I am afraid of many things.  So many, in fact, I don’t know how to start.  Some are dumb, some are very real.  The real estate market is one.  It’s crazy! We all know it.  When is it going to crash?  That’s what I am afraid of.  How about cancer?  The Doctor said she got it all, but what if it comes back?  I am afraid of that too!  Every day, I think about what I am afraid of.  Not until I read Matthew 28 today, did I realize the root of my fear.  It is not what I am afraid of that is the problem, it is why I am afraid.

From today’s reading in Matthew 28, we join the two Marys visiting Jesus’ grave.  Upon their arrival, they are greeted by the angel that is now in charge of the tomb.  Knowing the terror that he could trigger, the angel quickly interceded saying, “do not be afraid.”  Then comes the reminder.  “He is not here, for He has risen.  As he said.”

Look a little closer at that last sentence.  “As he said.”  It is easy to miss.  The angel was not telling them something they didn’t already know.  In fact, Jesus had been telling them all along.  Remember in Matthew 16?  Jesus tells the disciples that he will go away and suffer many things.  But, he assures him, “I will rise again on the 3rd day” (Matt 16:21).  So, what were the Mary’s afraid of?  A scary angel, for sure.  But don’t you think they were also afraid of an empty grave?  Those are the whats.  But, remember, the better question is why.

Why were the Marys afraid?  The root of their anxiety is belief.  Or, more accurately, they were afraid because of their unbelief.  Their gut reaction is that Jesus was a lie.  He died and now he is gone.  Not just the man, but their hope was gone.  It makes sense, of course.  There were no witnesses to see Jesus leave the grave and we humans must make sense of it so we do what we do best.  Make up a story that makes sense to us.

Thankfully, the angel quickly led them back to Jesus’ promises. “As he said.”

He said…. that he would die, and rise again (Matt 16:21).

He said…. That he will never leave or forsake you (Deut 31:6-8)

He said… He will work all things for our good (Romans 8:28)

He said…. That he will complete us (2 Tim 3:17)

He said…. That we shall inherit the land (Psalm 37:9)

He said…. That he will always be with us (Matt 28:20)

It does my soul well to remember the things God says. Now, I am not afraid.

 

Who Inspires You?

Matthew 14

I watched a video last week of Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger.  It has over 135,000 views on YouTube in five days.    This HBO documentary about Buffet boasts nearly 3.5 million views on YouTube.  Why are people flocking to this?  Why did I watch it?  Simple.  To get well.

A quick review of my YouTube history suggests that I don’t just want to get well financially.  Mentally, I need some help too.  John Maxwell, Tim Ferris, and David Goggins also appear.   They are experts at imparting worldly knowledge and confidence.

How about you?  Where do you get the inspiration that you need?  If you don’t watch YouTube, look a little harder.  Maybe you are into TED talks.  What about podcasts?  Books?  All of these are legitimate and useful resources for us, and yet, not quite enough.  They just aren’t working.

Today, in Matthew 14, we see countless examples of the same thing.  Simply put, it’s people’s quest to be well.  Maybe they suffer a physical disability or sickness.  It could be depression or oppression.   It could be that their lives were just train wrecks!  Whatever the cause, they heard about someone that was helping,  healing, and restoring.  His name was Jesus.

They gathered in mass to see him, hear him and touch him.  They followed him everywhere, even to places that had no food.  It was worth it.  He fed them.  He made them well.  All of them.  No exceptions.

Who will make you well?

 

You Do Amazing Work

This morning, I awoke to the sound of birds singing.  They were enjoying the first morning light and the calm air.  As I listen to their song and the stillness surrounding me, I find awe.  It comes from knowing that God has done this.  He set the sun to come up, every day.  He made the trees and created the air that we breathe.  He set us all in motion around his creation so that we can know him.  As I listened, I said, “you do amazing work, God.”

This is what Psalm 148 is all about.  When we are finally still enough to see and experience God, what do we do?  When we are awed by creation and realize at that moment that God is right here among us, how do we respond?  We praise him!

When I think of how we praise, I am reminded of a man that I knew a long time ago, Dan Olsen.  We were standing on a beach, overlooking a gorgeous bay.  He said simply, “you do amazing work, God.”  I was caught off guard by his audible comment, yet the intentionality of the remark was profound.   You see, he clearly understood the beauty of that place, at that moment, was the good work of God. He knew there was only one appropriate response to the awe.  Praise!

Today, I pray that you will see the beauty around you.  It has been carefully crafted for each one of us so that we can experience God.  When you do, remember to praise Him.

 

Testimony

Today’s Reading : Psalms 141

Throughout our lives we have experience many different emotions and situations. I have experienced joy, sadness, despair, comfort, healing, jubilation and awe. These different emotions have been a part of me these last several weeks.

It stared with a little time away with my wife. We had a great time reconnecting and celebrating us as a partnership. Over the last several years we have been able to grow together and understand each other on a deeper level than when our relationship started (eighteen years ago) and even more since we were married (thirteen years ago).

Almost immediately after we returned, I received a call that one of my closest aunts passed away unexpectedly. I have many aunts and uncles, but this one was one of my main prayer partners and warriors. She and I had a relationship that was so connected when either one of us hurt, the other could sense it. We would call each other and say “God placed you on my heart” and we would prayer for each other. I had the honor of being a pallbearer for her to her final resting place.

Upon returning home from the funeral on Memorial Day, Oliver had one of the most terrifying seizures I and Jillian has witnessed. This happened in the middle of the night and we had to go to the emergency room and then to Lurie in Chicago to the neurology department for more observations. He was released on Thursday.

The following Sunday, my mother had to go to the hospital for observation and monitoring for heat exhaustion and cardiac monitoring. Then this past Thursday, Ollie had another major seizure that was a result of sodium depletion and new active brain tumor. We spent three days at Lurie Children’s hospital in Chicago getting him stable again. This has been a rough couple of weeks.

As I was sitting with Ollie and reading my devotions and my scriptures, Psalms 141 rings true: 1-2; 8-10

O Lord, I call upon you; hasten to me!
Give ear to my voice when I call to you!
2 Let my prayer be counted as incense before you,
and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!

8 But my eyes are toward you, O God, my Lord;
in you I seek refuge; leave me not defenseless![c]
9 Keep me from the trap that they have laid for me
and from the snares of evildoers!
10 Let the wicked fall into their own nets,
while I pass by safely.

In my devotion I have been going through the books written by Luke: The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. One of the most profound parts that I was reintroduced to was when Paul was overwhelmed and didn’t want to continue, Paul had been through so many trail and tribulations that he wanted to give up everything, but God spoke to him and gave him courage.

Acts 18:9-10.

And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent,10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” 11 And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent,10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” 11 And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

 Here is a few of the trials that Paul had endured before Corith.  2 Corinthians 11:22-28.

23 Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food,[a] in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.

These weeks make me “Cry out to God, Give ear to my voice”  for his protection and grace. And I have the assurance that he has been with me, is with me, and will be with me in times like these and beyond because of his love and promise. I pray that this will be a testimony that would encourage and enrich you in whatever you will, currently experiencing, or will experience in the future.

Lynden McGriff

Pure Worship

I’m admiring Psalm 136 for its pure worship.  One of the things that strikes me is that there is no “I” in it.  I mean, the Psalmist never once mentions himself, or what God has done for him personally.  I think that’s what makes it so pure.  These are things that God has done for everyone, because he is God.  Today, for your worship, consider looking at God, the way the Psalmist has.

First, let’s remember who God is like the Psalmist did.  God is good.  He is the God of gods and the Lord of Lords!

Next, consider that he has done great wonders.  He made the heavens, spread out the waters, and made the great lights.  He is the creator of the sun, the moon, and stars.

Now, recall that he has fought and cared for us. He struck down Egypt’s first born, divided the red sea, an doverthrew Pharoh.  God struck down great and mighty kings, giving us their land as a heritage.

Don’t forget that he does all of this full of grace and love.  He remembered us in our low estate, and rescued us from our foes.  He provides nurisment for all of us.

OK, there is one more.  You see it in every line of thus Psalm.  It’s God’s steadfast Love, forever.  That means it didn’t stop with the Israelites and it doesn’t end with Jesus.  No, HIs love is forever.

It’s Not About Luck

I’d rather be lucky than good, is the popular phrase.  While it is not true, it does acknowledge the fact that many things in this life are simply out of our control.  We try.  We try hard.  We learn, we practice and we push harder to become more.  It will never be enough.

This was certainly true for the Israelites.  Today, in Psalms 124, we witness the Israelites realization that God had been protecting them.  First, they realized that they were outnumbered.  Then came the sinking reality that they were outmatched.  Finally, they were overcome with fear.  I get the sense that they were ready to give up.  Thankfully, that is not how the story ends.  Instead of disaster, the Israelites are victorious.  It turns out that God was on their side.  He saved them from all of the horrible things that could befall them.

Of course, as I read these words,  I am struck that this is about us.  Just like the Israelites, are easily overwhelmed.  We are surrounded by accidents and assaults, illness and addiction.  Any of these can destroy our lives in an instant and there is nothing we can do about it.  It does not matter how good we are,  how hard we try, or how much we learn.  In the end, it is not about being lucky or good.  It is about claiming the victory that Jesus Christ has already ensured each of us.  He is the proof that God is on our side.   We would do well to praise him for that, right now.

Romans 8:31-34 (NLT) What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? 33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.

 

 

 

 

 

Praise and Blessings

Psalm 112

What causes you to praise God?  Alternatively, what causes you to doubt or question him?  Most of us will gladly give praise when good things occur.  The traits he provides mark a blessed life, indeed.

Great offspring

Wealth and riches

Light amidst the darkness

Wellness

Unmovable and steadfast

No fear

Steady hearted

Generosity

As I read the list, I find myself measuring my blessing.  Actually, I find myself questioning why I am not getting more.  With that mindset, true blessing will never come.  The problem is in the focus.  Reading that list causes me to focus on what I should praise God for, rather than why.

The Psalmist gets it right in verse 1.  It is the man that fears the Lord and delights in his commandments that finds blessing. In fact, he will find each of those traits present in his life, even if they be in seemingly small measure.

Celebrate

Psalm 100

Sometimes I read the Bible for instruction.  Do “x” to get “y.”  I want to know the steps, the right actions to take, and the methods that make for a happy and God-pleasing life.  Psalm 100 is not written for instruction.  It’s a celebration.  One that provokes shouting, singing, and gladness.

It occurs to me that when I am instructed to do things, I don’t shout for joy or sing out loud so that everyone can hear.  Provoking those actions and emotions requires something more.  It has to come from the heart.  So, what did this Psalmist have in his heart that was so exciting?

First, he is excited about who God is.  Verse 3 says it clearly, “Acknowledge that the Lord is God!”  What does that mean to you?  For me, it’s about His being in control.  I don’t have to have all the answers or solutions to every problem.  Those are all his to deal with!

Second, there is something about who we are in relation to him.  The Psalmist gratefully remembers that He is our creator and we are his.  He even uses the imagery of being his sheep in the pasture.  I picture a lush green field and the full comfort of knowing that I am protected from everything.

Do those thoughts stir your soul with emotion?  If yes, take a moment to shout your praise.  Sing hallelujah!  Of course, not everyone will experience God’s joy in this very moment.  If that’s you, look no further than verse 5.  It may take more than glancing at the words for a moment, so find a quiet spot.  Think for a moment as this Psalmist did.

    • The Lord is good
    • His love is unfailing
    • His love is forever
    • He is faithful
    • This is true for all generations

Now, in my reflection, I experience a very different kind of joy.  Instead of shouting from the rooftops, I get a tear in my eye and warmth in my heart.  It’s joy, just the same.  All for Him and all from Him.

AMEN!