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Wailing Unto God

wail

A while back there was a video clip making the rounds. It is footage of a man who is being confronted by friends and family on the A&E show “Intervention”. After one member of the family reaffirms his love, the addict lets out a wail from the very depths of his soul. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ee925OTFBCA (Kleenex alert)

Some people shared this video as a joke; finding humor in the rawness of his emotional response. I saw something different. I saw a lesson on how we should respond to God’s unimaginable love and forgiveness. Consider what is heard as the man cries out:

It is a wail of shame and regret for past sins, hurts, and disappointments.

It is a wail of disbelief that one who has been so injured by his selfishness could offer forgiveness and love instead of bitterness and anger.

It is a wail of gratitude at being given a second chance to make up for past mistakes.

It is a wail of joy over the power of stubborn love and reconciliation.

His cry is our cry to God over our sin, of our repentance, of our relief, of our reconciliation, of our joy, of our long-sought-after peace.

This video shows the power of love which intervenes when we are unwilling or unable to do so.

The cross was our intervention; God’s refusal to hate us or let us continue to be dead to Him. It was God doing for us what we never had the strength or will to do for ourselves.

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 NKJV).

Let us cry out to God from deep in our soul and show our gratitude for his stubborn and healing love.

Enough Rope to Blind Oneself

In Jeremiah 34:2-5, God makes a covenant with Zedekiah, the king of Judea. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had surrounded and would soon conquer the city of Jerusalem. God promises Zedekiah that if he commands all Hebrew slaves to be released, then the king will not be killed in the battle but would instead die peacefully and be honored by his people. Zedekiah issues this command and the slaves are freed before the city falls. All the Jews would become slaves to Babylon anyway, and this would put everyone in the same position during the captivity.

Jeremiah 34:11-16 reveals that although the Jews initially released their indentured brethren, they changed their minds and forced the released slaves to return to their former masters’ households. They did the right thing at first, but then went back and did the wrong thing. Peter gives a sickening illustration in 2nd Peter 2:21-22 of those who start to do well but fail to follow through. “For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: ‘A dog returns to his own vomit,’ and, ‘a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.’ ” They failed God’s test of obedience and mercy, therefore God withdrew His GameHangmanmercy.

Since Zedekiah had not demanded the people keep their covenant by releasing the slaves, the Lord “released” Zedekiah from His covenant. The king’s promised “peaceful” death became anything but peaceful. “So they took the king and brought him up to the king of Babylon at Riblah, and they pronounced judgment on him. Then they killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, put out the eyes of Zedekiah, bound him with bronze fetters, and took him to Babylon” (2 Kings 25:6-7). There was even a bitter pun foretold in the promise of God that “your eyes will see the eyes of the king of Babylon” (Jeremiah 34:3). Indeed, seeing Nebuchadnezzar kill his sons would be the last thing Zedekiah ever saw.

God gives us just enough freedom and blessing to see how we handle it. If we blow it, He may take it away (Matthew 25:29). Those who see God as cruel for His actions here fail to understand that He promised mercy to Zedekiah and Judah. God gave an “inch” and they took a mile. He gave them an opportunity to be kind and receive kindness, but they were selfish and short-sighted instead. Let us not be guilty of the same selfishness or short-sightedness in using His blessings. Let us make our best effort to use those “talents” wisely so that we might hear our Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” May the Lord shine upon you.

Is It For Me?

Songs touch us in a way other words simply cannot. Supposedly, music activates a different part of our brains than regular conversation does. That would explain why certain songs affect us so strongly. In my case, one of these is the hymn “Is It For Me?” I rarely make it through this song without my voice catching at least once. The lyrics sink deeply within me as I ask the same questions.

“Is it for me, dear Savior, Thy glory and Thy rest? prayer

For me so weak and lowly? Oh, shall I be so blessed?”

It can’t be. Maybe for that fellow over there, but not for me. Do I dare to hope? Shall I (even I) be so blessed? It almost seems too good to be true. Salvation is certainly for those other more deserving people, but even for me? Can it truly be? How could God be talking about me? Doesn’t He know how weak I am? Doesn’t He know how many times I fail Him and fall short in a day? Oh yes, He knows. That is precisely why He makes the offer. He knows how tiring the battle against sin is, so He offers us rest. He offers us a place in His glorious presence where there will be no sin and struggle. But how can this be possible for one such as I?

“Is it for me, Thy welcome, Thy gracious ‘enter in’

For me, Thy ‘Come, ye blessed,’ for me so full of sin?”

The Lord does not make a grudging allowance to permit our entry into heaven’s glory. Instead, He holds the door wide open and eagerly welcomes us into His home. Who would open His door to such a grubby houseguest? He does not stand with arms crossed in disapproval looking down His nose at our filthiness. Instead, he beckons us to come enjoy His hospitality. How could we respond to such kindness?

“My heart is at Thy feet”

We have nothing to give that would adequately show our gratitude. We bring no gift to impress our Host. All we have is what lies within us, weak and flawed as it is, and that is what we place before Him. The good news is that our heart is exactly the thing which melts His own. It’s all He wanted anyway.

“O, Savior, my Redeemer. What can I but adore?

And magnify and praise Thee and love Thee evermore?”

We are left with no way to repay such kindness and mercy. What else can we say but “Thank you. I love You.” Jesus did not come to make servants who would bow before Him throughout eternity. He came to save God’s precious children. He came to bring back those lost sheep who had strayed. Jesus prepared a heavenly home just for us (John 14:2-3). When we are tempted to ask in disbelief, “Is it for me? Really and truly?” the answer is a resounding “Yes!” It is for you, and for me, and for all who will come in loving obedience to Jesus. May the Lord shine upon you.

Uh, Lord? Little Help Here?

In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus had been teaching His disciples about how to deal with people when there is a conflict. Right after this, Peter chimes in with a question, sort of. Peter asks in verse 20, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” (NASB). Peter probably thought he was being pretty generous. Wow, seven times! Peter, you’re much too kind. How shocked he and the others must have been when Jesus answered, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” Now, Jesus did not mean that we should keep a tally sheet and when/if we reach 490 we can then say, “That’s it! I don’t have to forgive you anymore!” He was using a ridiculously large number to indicate that we should not be in the accounting business, but in the forgiving business.jesus hand

Jesus expands on this in the parallel passage in Luke’s gospel which is found in chapter 17. As if the words in Matthew 18 were not hard enough to live out, Jesus ups the ante on forgiveness. “If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” (Luke 17:3-4). Well, now You are just asking too much, Jesus. Seven times in the same day? That means this person is not showing true repentance and does not deserve forgiveness.

AH-AH-AH! Not so fast. That would require us to know and judge a person’s heart and ONLY God is qualified to do that.

Jesus makes this painfully simple: He repents, you forgive. Period.

But Jesus, You don’t know how many times he has—NO! He repents, you forgive. This is the command.

But Jesus, wouldn’t it be better to teach this person the lesson that—NO! He repents, you forgive. Just do it.

But Jesus, what if he doesn’t ask for forgiveness? Does that get me off the hook?

This is the part where Jesus would facepalm and shake His head. Don’t miss the point.

The disciples surely didn’t miss the point. Their perfect understanding was proven by what they said next. Jesus had just commanded them (and us) to forgive as many times as someone repents. Their immediate response was, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5). They knew that they (and we) were going to need some divine assistance to carry out that command. The Lord’s answer is astounding. He essentially says in verse 6, “Use what you’ve got—it’s enough.” Their faith seemed as small as a mustard seed compared to the gigantic task ahead of them. Jesus told them that if their faith was sincere, then it was big enough. Well, OK Jesus. But if I manage to pull this off, I deserve a medal and a parade! The Lord predicts this attitude in verses 9-10 and preemptively strikes down any prideful feelings which may arise. “[The master] does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’ ” We don’t deserve a round of applause for merely doing what we were commanded. We are not worthy of a spot in Hebrews chapter 11 with the superstars of the faithful. We haven’t elevated ourselves to some lofty position of Christianity. We haven’t gained anything extraordinary. We are still sitting at zero. All we have done is prevented ourselves from falling below the line of obedience and into a deficit.

Is forgiving hard? Yes! It may be the one of the hardest commands to obey. What it is not, however, is optional; it is required. So let’s you and I stop treating it like it is optional. Let us not require people to grovel, beg, and crawl for our forgiveness after we think they’ve suffered enough and shown “proper” repentance. God did not require that of us. We may sin seven times a day against Him but He offers mercy every time we ask. His grace is eager, available, and immediate. So should ours be.

Rising to My Knees

I am on the floor.

Again.

I laid facedown on the cold, hard floor because I could not lift my eyes to You. How could I have failed You again? My kneecaps shifted painfully and my chest hurt as my ribcage flattened under my weight. My arms were drawn inward so my hands could hide my eyes from seeing or being seen. My forehead and nose lay pressed against the unforgiving wood laminate.guilt

Unforgiving.

Perfect.

I didn’t deserve Your forgiveness. I laid there wallowing in the words of David from the fifty-first Psalm: “My sin is ever before me…I was born in iniquity; conceived in sin” (ESV). I became the apostle Paul when he wrote in Romans chapter seven that “no good thing dwells in me…For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing…wretched man that I am!” Far too wretched to fight any longer. What’s the use? I am too spiritually exhausted to even weep over my failure anymore. I am dry. I am done. I have nothing. I am nothing.

And yet…

I feel You continually reach out to me. You speak through the words of the Bible, of course, but even through other books and articles I read. Sharp, convicting statements which surely were not so intended by the author. Scanning through the radio stations and being reminded that stubbornly following my own will and desires has me on a “Highway to Hell.” A glorious sunrise which appears every morning without fail to show Your power and glory and to remind me there is hope with each new day. These happen far too often to be mere coincidence. The hounds of heaven persist in their hunt.

Still, I am on the floor.

Unable and unwilling to rise any higher by my own strength. It is only then that my feeble hand crawls away from my face and reaches out to find Your hand waiting.

Then the tears do come. How can You love me at all, let alone so much? It is not because of my worthiness, but because of Yours. Because You are Who You are. What You are. Paul made this same realization in 2nd Corinthians chapter twelve. God’s strength is (and can only be) revealed in our weakness and need. When I am weak, then I am strong. I am certainly weak at this point. So weak that I cannot rise above the floor. Above my sin. Above myself. The hand which brushed Yours now grasps it firmly, clutching with desperation. Warm love radiates through my fingers and up my arm. It builds into throbbing power which gives life to my body dead in sin.Return of the Prodigal_Rembrandt

At last, I find the strength to rise, but only to my knees. I must remain there for now. Eyes still clamped shut, closing out the world which threatens to distract me from You. There, in the quiet darkness behind my eyes, I  praise You for not giving up on me even when I quit on myself. I praise You for the thousands of reminders and whispers which have brought me to this point of epiphany. I still dare not rise off my knees. The floor remains just as hard and unforgiving but not You, oh Lord, not You.  I must remain here to praise You still longer.

But wait.

Haven’t I been here before? In this same, exact place? Promising to do better and try harder only to fail again and again. My shoulders slump. The floor beckons me to return.

NO! Today is different!

I hear a malevolent chuckle. “Fool, child. You’ve said that before, too,” the serpent hisses. You shut up! It doesn’t matter! I may fail again but I WILL try. No, I won’t “try,” I will succeed! I will make it today because there is no greater power in the universe than the God who loves me and walks with me.

Now, I can get off my knees and prepare for battle. It will be a battle, no doubt. I reach for the only weapon suitable for this warfare—my sword. I quickly turn to Romans chapter seven and read the words of Paul’s despair because I know how it turned out. That miserable state of futile agony gives way to victory in chapter eight. Though I am often tempted to condemn myself for repeated failure I read: “THERE—IS—NOW—NO—CONDEMNATION—TO—THOSE—WHO—ARE—IN—CHRIST—JESUS!” (Romans 8:1).

I jab each word with a stiffened finger, as if into the eye of my enemy to prove how wrong he is. How wrong I am. Paul is invigorated, full of God’s victorious Spirit, and asks five rhetorical questions: If God is for us, who can be against us? No one! If God did not withhold His own Son, what gifts will He fail to give us? None! Who shall bring charges against God’s chosen? Nobody! Who is he who condemns? No one! Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Nobody!

But wait.

My face sags as I realize that somebody can. I can. Only I can. That’s what I’ve been doing. Lord, I beg you to give me the strength to stop doing that. I cannot find this strength in myself, You know that. I beg You to be my strength where I have none. Squeeze my hand when I begin to let go. Otherwise, I will be right back on the cold, hard floor again tomorrow. And when I fail You again tomorrow, Lord, I pray You grant me the strength to rise to my knees to praise You once more and try again.Gethsemane

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