It sounds backward, but it’s the way to go

Years ago, I decided to accept my limitations.

Having had conversations like this with youth, I recognize how defeated that sounds. But the opposite is true. When I made that decision, I didn’t defeat myself. I freed myself.

I relate it to a childhood conversation I had with my mom once. She told me to be the best at whatever I do. If I was a teacher, be the best teacher. “I don’t care if your job is to be a trash man, be the best trash man,” she said.

Now, she wasn’t telling me to be better than everyone else. Be the best over everyone else. She wanted her boy to give all he had to be the best he could be at whatever he set his heart out to do.

I can’t be better than everyone, but I can be my best.

Acknowledging my limitations is always a part of that process. Doing so allows me to recognize what I’ve already learned and what areas I need to further develop skill and knowledge.

Now, I’m not sharing this with you to sound like a life coach or inspirational speaker. I’m doing so to confess to you my inadequacies when it comes to some things of faith.

For example, the command to sacrifice Isaac. Scholars label it the Akedah, the Hebrew word for binding.

It is one of the more difficult readings in scripture. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot that has been said about it. On the contrary! So much thought has been given to this passage that it’s a bit overwhelming. What can I add to what brilliant, faithful and thoughtful people have already said?

Limitations.

That doesn’t make me a bad Bible teacher. It doesn’t make you an inept Bible student if you have nothing new to add either. Knowing our limitations helps us grow. If I thought I had it all figured out, I might not have a need to listen to what others thought about such a passage. I might not even care.

When it comes to our walk with God, surrender is key. I must surrender my vanity. Surrender my ego. Surrender my need to feel as if I need to have all the answers anyway.

Surrender is our armament. As much as embracing our limitations sounds backward, professing a call to surrender seems foolish.

But that is what I see from the binding of Isaac.

I don’t know what God was thinking. Why would this be an okay thing to ask of Abraham. Surely we could have found another way to speak against the practice of human sacrifice.

It helps me to focus on Abraham. He surrendered to God. All he could do was obey what God called him to do. I recognize how foolish that sounds in light of what God asked of Abraham. And I know many people do things they say God told them to do that seem just as outlandish.

Still, what I’m left with is surrender. We can’t become what God has promised us if we aren’t willing to surrender the life we think we want.

Stay blessed…john

A victorious turn

Most of us are familiar with Jesus’ final words from the cross.

Every year, countless Good Friday worship gatherings center around the seven phrases Jesus spoke. Of the seven, Jesus directs his attention to God in three. Father, forgive them. My God, my God. Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.

Jesus speaks to other people with the other four phrases.

Now, the first phrase makes sense. It sounds like Jesus to ask God to forgive his enemies. And before he breathes his final breath, we understand why Jesus would offer his life to God.

It’s that middle phrase that gets us.

Why did Jesus say, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Many sermons have suggested it was a dark moment of humanity for Jesus. I don’t doubt that. The idea is that in the fullness of his humanity he suffered a lapse of faith and trust. It was only one moment, but a real in-the-flesh one.

I can appreciate that.

As a part of humanity myself, I welcome any and all instances Jesus struggled with being a human being. Thank God we do not have a high priest unable to sympathize with our weaknesses.

Still, others question why Jesus would have felt forsaken at all. God had already voiced affirmation of who and what Jesus professed to be. Did Jesus think God was going to spare him after all? Maybe Jesus thought it would turn out to be a last-minute save like it was for young Isaac.

Some people can’t imagine Jesus having doubts or questions. So, they might suggest Jesus quoted the psalms as a way of fulfilling prophecy about himself. That’s an okay response, too.

I tend to affirm another thought.

It coincides with an idea I heard once. That every word we have from Jesus is a callback to some word from his scripture, our Old Testament. In that light, when Jesus recites the first line of Psalm 22, he wants us to remember the entire psalm.

For most of the first half of the psalm, the psalmist is in trouble. People are against him. It’s no wonder Jesus chose that psalm as he looked out at the crowd who chanted for his death.

But the psalm takes a victorious turn.

The psalmist experienced the power of God. The Lord did not hide from him. As a result, praise erupted. And praise would continue for generations.

Jesus understood his suffering would bring God praise. Generations later, you and I are still praising God.

Now, that’s not a cheesy sitcom tie-up. Those help a TV show finish its episode on a high note. Instead, this is a reminder that all of life will be redeemed by God. Jesus didn’t lose faith in God. He knew what was next. 

That helps give us a broader perspective to see our own suffering. Even if we can’t see it now or if it feels as if God has forsaken us, God’s presence is still with us.

A modern psalmist said it this way:
It may be unfulfilled
It may be unrestored
But when anything that’s shattered is laid before the lord
Just watch and see
It will not be unredeemed

And like the psalmist of old, I know all of that and declare, “I shall live for him.”

Stay blessed…john