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

Being and Becoming

The phrase “Becoming is better than being” has been around for a while.

I love what it means. It reminds me life is best lived in the discovery of what it means to be human. A mountain doesn’t worry about its purpose. Clouds have no ambition. But you and I are different.

We seek meaning and purpose in life. As followers of Jesus, we found those in Jesus. He shows us the best way to live our lives in pursuit of holiness and righteousness.

Now, you’re used to hearing someone like me, a pastor, encourage you to spend time in worship and prayer, reading the Bible and serving God’s people. We have learned those activities, what we call spiritual disciplines, help us become. It wouldn’t be too wrong to say become “like Jesus.”

Now, we could be someone who says they are a Christian. But labels can conceal more than they reveal. Many have adopted the Christian label without embracing the Christ-like way.

That’s where our spiritual disciplines help us. We learn to become.

In all that talk, you could get the impression that our faith is about doing more. To be sure, for God so loved the world he did something. Anytime you need forgiveness or mercy, God gives. God does. As we experience the everlasting love of God, the grace of God compels us to care for the needs of others. To stand for justice. To actually walk with God in humility.

Those are all things we do.

And yet, it’s okay to sometimes be. Becoming is better, we’ve said. But we never agreed by how much. What if it’s only a morsel better? Then that means being is okay, too. Maybe stopping to be helps us appreciate what we are becoming.

I say all that because I don’t want you to think all your Bible reading or praying makes God love you more. To go down that road is to believe you’re earning God’s favor. I wish you no luck with such an endeavor because it is impossible. In fact, you’ll struggle with feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness.

In Genesis 15, God appears to Abram in a vision. It’s best to remember what has happened in Genesis 14. Abram defeated a group of kings. It was a miraculous victory. It appears Abram worried this miracle was his reward. He had done something great and that would be God’s fulfillment to him.

God’s first words to Abram were, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” Abram wasn’t quite convinced about the reward part because he expected a legitimate heir. So, God told him to count the stars–there are your descendants.

Abram wasn’t just to be victorious. God’s promise was that Abram would become a father to many nations. Which one was better?

I try not to struggle with those feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness. I don’t fight them as much as I accept them. Afterall, we’re talking about our place before God. So, I’m fine being inadequate and unworthy before God because I know the Lord is completing the good work begun in me. I don’t have to work for it. And I for certain can’t earn it.

I get to keep becoming and being. And that gives my life purpose.

Stay blessed…john