Word of Need #2

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Matthew 5:6

   Western diamondback rattlesnakes can survive on one meal a year. Can you imagine how much time and money you could save if you only needed to eat once a year? Camels can get by on dinner once a month and wolves do just fine feasting every seven days or so.

   God created people, however, with a need for regular consumption of food and water. Even after eating a huge Thanksgiving meal, everyone is poking around in the kitchen for leftovers by evening. Hunger just keeps coming back.

   Pastor Matt Chandler asks the question, “What stirs your affection for Jesus?” In other words, what makes you hunger and thirst for more of Him? Once we are aware of what spurs us on in our relationship with Jesus, we can arrange our lives to make room for those things. It may be a daily quiet time, regular Bible reading, or study of God’s Word with fellow believers.

  On the flip side, Chandler asks, “What robs your affection for Jesus?” What are the things that pull you away from Him? These things aren’t necessarily sinful activities; they can be neutral or even good things that just become too important or consuming. Does too much social media or exposure to secular worldviews distract you away from Jesus? Do you get so wrapped up in sports or hobbies that they dictate your schedule?

   God provides us with daily bread because He desires daily interaction with us. We cannot survive on one meal a year. God promises a great blessing in craving righteousness, including the fullness that only God can give. He satisfies!

Lord, I am bombarded daily with worldly temptations that pull my attention away from You. Help me to be more aware of the things that draw me nearer to You. Grant to me a thirst for the things that stir my affection for You.

Word of Need #1

Today we enter into the fifth week of Lent
and we consider Jesus’ fifth statement from the cross.

Week 5
Word of Need:
Later, knowing that all was now completed,
and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled,
Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”
John 19:28

Need: a requirement, an urgent want
a lack of something deemed necessary


Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. John 19:28-29

   It’s amazing how thirsty kids get at bedtime. I remember nighttime routines with our children that became long and drawn out, including multiple drinks of water. It was less a genuine need for water than it was an effective stall tactic.

 This word from the cross may seem insignificant. Why would Jesus use His last precious breath to call for a drink of water? We may be tempted to look for some deep symbolism in Jesus’ words. Was He thirsting for God? Was He longing for some kind of “spiritual water”? Surely there must be some hidden message in those simple words.

   Or maybe he was just thirsty. This statement is so precious because it shows us Jesus in all His humanity. Yes, He could walk on water and turn water into wine and command the waters to be still. But on the cross, He set aside His divinity to experience death as a man. When His physical body approached its final moments, His organs began to fail, causing dehydration. Jesus was dying for a drink of water because He was dying.

   Vinegar on a sponge seemed like a cruel offering but Jesus received the sour acid, knowing this would fulfill a prophecy: “I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none. They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.” (Psalm 69:20-21)

  Despite His weakened state, He was aware that the suffering was almost over and that one last prophecy needed to be completed. He left nothing undone.   

Lord Jesus, I shudder when I think of what You went through on the cross. You emptied Yourself of divinity and took on the very nature of a human. You felt the nails, the thorns and the thirst so I wouldn’t have to. Thank You for humbling Yourself and being obedient to death, even death on a cross.

thirsty

 

Word of Lament #6

I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:19-23

  Jeremiah was so good at lamenting that he was nicknamed “The Weeping Prophet”. He wrote a whole book of the Bible entitled “Lamentations”, which expressed his deep sorrow over the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Babylonians, just as Habakkuk predicted. No one had listened to his warnings of coming judgment so God’s people were carried off to exile in Babylon – a very sad time in Israel’s history.

  Like Jeremiah, our thoughts tend to focus on our misery. We go over and over our troubles in our minds. We rehearse our painful pasts and remember them well, until at last, we have depressed our very souls. Although it’s hard to stop the spiral downward, it can be done and Jeremiah shows us how. He interrupted the flow of negative thoughts and changed direction. It’s like he said to himself, “Hey, wait a minute. Come over here, thought. Give me something better to contemplate. I call on you to help me turn this around.”

   What has the power to put our pessimism in its place? First, think about His love, His great love. Second, consider His unfailing compassion, His deep feelings for us and intense desire to come to our aid. Third, ponder His faithfulness that shows up every single morning with a fresh batch of mercies. Here is where our hope lies, even in the most trying of circumstances.

   God is not driven away by our questions of “Why?” and “How long?” He courteously waits for our “Yet…” and helps us summon the thoughts that keep our minds rehearsing His love, compassion and faithfulness.

Lord, thank You for the example of godly people who showed us how to lament. As we bring to You our honest feelings, remind us of Your faithful love.    

Word of Lament #5

How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Habakkuk 1:2-3

   Psalmists weren’t the only ones who could lament. Old Testament prophets did a fair amount of crying out to God as well. Habakkuk asked God question after question. The prophet was allowed to complain, to vent, and to press God on His seeming lack of action.

   Habakkuk had a reason to lament. Everywhere he looked, he saw injustice, evil and tragedy. His own people were in rebellion against God, ignoring the warnings of coming judgment. The prophet foresaw the terrors of being exiled in the intensely evil nation of Babylon.

   Still, Habakkuk held to the literary form of lament. He made the turn.
“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,
 Though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,
 Though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,
 YET I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

   What complaint would you make to the Lord? What difficult situation or frustrating circumstance would you bring before God? Perhaps some practice in the art of lamenting is in order. Bring those questions and those complaints to God in prayer. But complete your lament by pushing through and making a statement of faith like Habakkuk did.

Dear Lord,
Though___________________________________________________
__________________________________________________________,
YET ______________________________________________________
__________________________________________________________.
 

Word of Lament #4

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Psalm 23:4

   When we read the 23rd Psalm, we might picture David, the shepherd boy, sitting on a peaceful hillside, strumming his lyre while the lambs baa-ed under the starry sky. Nothing could be farther from the truth! When King David wrote this famous psalm, he was probably on the run from his son who was trying to depose his father and take over the kingdom. David had left Jerusalem, weeping openly, to avoid conflict with his boy. For the first time in years, the King found himself away from the palace and sleeping under the stars as his enemy pursued him.

   Hiding out in a shadowy valley, David renewed his trust in the Lord who had been with him in the past and who was with him now. David had reason to lament — his life was a stressful mess — yet, he knew he could count on God’s goodness and mercy even in the midst of turmoil.

   We often hear this psalm read at funerals because of the words, “the shadow of death”. Donald Barnhouse tells the story of when he was on his way home from the funeral of his wife, trying to think of some way to comfort his children. Just then a huge moving van passed by their car and its shadow swept over them. He asked them, “Children, would you rather be run over by a truck or by its shadow?” The children replied, “Of course, the shadow.” Barnhouse explained, “Two thousand years ago the truck of death ran over the Lord Jesus. Now, only the shadow of death can run over us.”

  The power of death has been broken. Jesus took the hit and we no longer need to fear. Death has been swallowed up in victory!

Lord, thank You for conquering death and the grave. When I have to walk through dark seasons, help me to remember You are with me to comfort and reassure me that I will dwell in Your house forever.

Word of Lament #3

My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng. Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalm 42:3-5

   The Psalms express the gamut when it comes to emotions. There are psalms of praise and thanksgiving, but there are also starkly honest psalms of lament, or complaint. Psalms of lament usually begin with a desperate cry, a description of a crisis, or a haunting question. Then there is a turning point when the writer stops looking at his sorrow and turns toward God. By the end of the psalm, there is an affirmation of trust in God even though there has been no immediate deliverance from trouble.

    It is important for us to learn to lament well. The Psalms show us that honest expressions of hurt or grief before God are perfectly acceptable. We don’t always have to fake it and convince ourselves and everyone else that we’re “fine”. Unfortunately, we often get stuck in the complaint stage and resist making that turn toward God.

   In today’s passage, the writer did two things to help him snap out of his gloomy mood. First, he recalled back to happier days when God did feel near; he reminisced about times when fellowship was rich and joy was abundant. Second, he preached to himself. After questioning the state of his own heart, he encouraged himself and determined to praise God regardless of his situation.

   The Psalms teach us to acknowledge and name our pain, but to not get stuck there. It is possible to move from hurt to joy, from darkness to light, from desperation to hope.

Lord, it often seems like everyone around me has it all together and I don’t measure up. Thank You for permission to be honest about my struggles. Help me to turn toward You when I’m hurting and put my hope in Your love.

 

Word of Lament #2

At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabahthani?” Mark 15:33-34

   “In some mysterious way that we can never fully comprehend, during those awful hours on the cross, the Father was pouring out the full measure of His wrath against sin. God was punishing Jesus, as if He had personally committed every wicked deed committed by every wicked sinner. It took six hours.” (Greg Laurie)

The night before, Jesus had called out to God in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Abba, Father, take this cup from me.” Abba was a name used to indicate the
close, intimate relationship of a father and his child, as well as the childlike trust that a youngster puts in his “daddy.” On the cross Jesus used the name “Eloi” — a more formal way of speaking to God. Jesus really did feel abandoned by his Abba Father. It’s possible to feel forsaken, even though you never will be forsaken.

The fact that Jesus cried out with this heartbreaking question, shows that he remained in relationship with God, despite his anguish. Although no answer was given to His question, “Why?”, it was not the last prayer Jesus prayed on the cross. He kept talking to His Father.


  When we shut down and stop asking questions or stop communicating at all, we put ourselves at a dangerous distance. We rarely get all the answers to all our questions, but that doesn’t rule out God’s presence. In times of grief or pain, the answer to our “whys” wouldn’t make the hurt go away. More than explanations, we need God’s presence, which will never be taken from us. “Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

Lord, the intensity of what You felt on the cross is unimaginable. Because You were willing take my place and pay for my sin, I never have to wonder about Your faithful presence. Thank You for Your promise to never leave me or forsake me.

Word of Lament #1

Today we enter into the fourth week of Lent
and we consider Jesus’ fourth statement from the cross.

Week 4
Word of Lament:
At about the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a
loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” –
which means, “My God, My God,
why have you forsaken me?”
Matthew 27:46

Lament: to feel and express sorrow, grief, or regret
a formal expression of mourning


My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? Psalm 22:1

   When Jewish boys were six years old, they entered school at the local synagogue. On the first day of school, the rabbi would take a generous amount of honey and put it on each of the boys’ slates. Then the rabbi would tell the boys to lick it off as he quoted from Psalm 119, “May the words of God be sweet to your taste, sweeter than honey to your mouth.”

  The students’ first association with scripture was sweet, helping them understand that nothing was more enjoyable as receiving and tasting the Word of God. By age ten, Jewish boys memorized the entire Torah (the first five books of the Bible). By age 14, they had memorized the rest of the Old Testament.

   It’s not surprising that Jesus quoted a verse from Psalm 22 when He cried out on the cross. Jesus often referenced Old Testament passages that he had memorized as a boy. Among Jewish teachers, it was common to quote part of a scripture passage with the full context in mind since everyone knew the rest by heart. So although it sounded as if Jesus had abandoned hope as He cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, Psalm 22 in its entirety was a song of rescue and victory.

   It should bring us comfort to know that Jesus asked the same question we do when faced with great suffering and grief: why? But it helps to know that Psalm 22 ends differently than it begins. “For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.” (Ps. 22:24)

Lord, in those difficult days when it seems You are far away and we feel abandoned, remind us again that Jesus understands. Help us to turn to the sweet words of scripture for comfort when we are tempted to question Your goodness.

cross-in-the-storm_1717_500x375

Word of Relationship #6

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25

    Spurs are those small spiky wheels that cowboys strap to the heel of their boots. When the horse is plodding along too slowly, the rider gives it a little “encouragement” with his spurs. It doesn’t hurt too much, but just enough to get the steed up to speed.

Sometimes we need a little prodding as well, to stay involved and engaged with our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. Regularly meeting together for worship is a holy habit that helps keep us on track. Paul wrote, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Ephesians 5:25) If church was so important to Jesus that He died for it, why do people think it’s optional for them?   


  There is a story about a little church that was built in the mountains of Switzerland before the days of electric lights. On Sunday evenings, the church bells would ring and worshippers would climb up the mountain, each one bringing a lamp. When they arrived at church they would light their lanterns and hang them around the church on pegs set in the walls, so the light would spread all around. If only a few people came to church the light would be very dim because there would only be a few lanterns. But when lots of people came to church there would be plenty of light. The only time the little church lit up was when people were there. That’s when it truly became a church. That’s when the light shone most brightly.

As this world becomes darker while we await Christ’s return, we need each other’s light all the more.

Lord, I sometimes forget how much You love the church — You even call it Your Bride. Help me to be spurred on by the preaching of the Word, by the singing of praises, and by fellowship with my brothers and sisters.

Word of Relationship #5

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.  Romans 12:10-13

   There are 59 “one anothers” in the New Testament. Evidently, the early church needed lots of instruction about maintaining good relationships. It seems we still require help getting along with each other.

   When our kids were little and there was a tussle brewing between two of them, I would have them stand on opposite ends of the living room and recite Ephesians 4:32 while looking at each other. (“We will be kind and compassionate to each other, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave us.”) There was usually some rolling of the eyes and resistance, but I held firm. After the verse was quoted, I instructed them to take one large step toward each other and say it again. This would be repeated until the two squabblers were nose to nose. Then I would make them end in a hug. It is very hard for two children to stand nose to nose without breaking into giggles. I knew it was an effective method when I overheard one say, “We’d better quit arguing or mom will make us do that thing.”

Living a life of faith would be much easier if we didn’t have to deal with people! But from the beginning, the church was created to be a community representing the very body of Christ in the world. To be effective, we need to get along. We need to be devoted to each other, honor one another, share with each other, have people over for dinner. It takes practice. Let’s get to it.

  Lord, thank You for my place here in the body of Christ. Help me to do my part in the life of the church. Forgive me for isolating when I should be investing in relationships with my brothers and sisters.