Forsaken

Psalm 22.1.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? – Psalm 22:1

Those have to be the most painful words ever uttered.

Jesus – who’d know only eternal union with God the Father – wasn’t just being torn from his human life; he was being ripped away from his union with the Father. Jesus was hung on a tree … naked. But this was real nakedness that he felt; he’d been stripped of his union with God.

At the beginning of creation, humanity was naked and not ashamed (Genesis 1 and 2). When sin crept into our world, shame caused Adam and Eve to realize that they were naked (Genesis 3).

They covered their physical nakedness with fig leaves. But they were naked in other ways too. They were psychologically, emotionally, and interpersonally naked, not fully able to trust one another anymore. And rather than hiding themselves behind fig leaves, they began to build walls between themselves and others and not let in even the people closest to them. Suddenly there were secrets, lies, and half-truths – all devised to protect us from the shame in our hearts.

Adam and Eve also realized that they were now naked before God. They hid in the bushes to hide their shame. God can see all, but how many of us still fail to be fully honest before God? We think we’re committing our sins in secret. We justify ourselves and we justify our sins. But the only person we’re deceiving is ourselves.

When Adam and Eve lost their original intimacy with God, they probably felt some of that same “forsakenness” that Jesus felt on the cross. What had always been there – God’s immediacy – was now irreparably severed.

You and I live in an awkward in between place. We’ve only known in life some degree of separation from God. Thus, in many ways, we don’t fully know what we’re missing. We call this “normal.” It’s not normal. It’s broken. Corrupt. But it’s all we know.

And yet, by allowing himself to be “forsaken” – even for those moments two thousand years ago – Jesus began to pave a way for us to come back to God. By taking on our sin and nakedness, he began to clothe us with righteousness – his righteousness, imputed to us. And whenever we repent, we’re doing our part in restoring the relationship that sin has severed. (On the cross, Christ did the heavy lifting, and yet we’re still called to do our part.)

As we repent – and increasingly comprehend the grace of God – we begin to move past the forsakenness that we may not even really know is there (because it’s always been there in this broken world). As we repent – and increasing comprehend God’s amazing grace – we begin to heal! We begin to life more fully! We begin to experience true love, joy, and peace! Hope becomes real. Freedom begins to define our spirits.

Christ’s forsakenness is our path of life. Therefore, we thank God for the cross.

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who loves a

relatively modern song:

I’m forgiven,

because you

were forsaken.

I’m accepted.

You were condemned.

I’m alive and well,

your Spirit is within me,

because you died

and rose again.

 

Amazing Love,

how can it be,

that you my king

have died for me?

Amazing Love,

I know it’s true.

It’s my joy to honor you.

In all I do, I honor you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Second Sacrament that Night?

John 13.5.

Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. – John 13:5

Matthew, Mark, and Luke focus on one sacramental act that occurred on the night in which Christ was betrayed: Communion.

John talked about communion – and Jesus being the bread of life – in the sixth chapter of his Gospel. In the thirteenth chapter – on the night in which Christ was betray – John tells us instead of another act that was nearly sacramental: Footwashing.

It was an act of gentleness, kindness, respect, and most of all, humility. Washing feet that we perpetually dirty from Israel’s dry, dusty roads, was a task for the lowest servant. And that’s what Jesus identified himself as: A Humble Servant.

Today is Maundy Thursday. Maundy is an old word that comes from the same root as the word “mandate.” What is a mandate? It is a command to “do this” – as in, “do this in remembrance of me.” Indeed, with that mandate, Jesus instituted what we call the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

I was taught that our standard for a sacrament is to have 1) an earthly element and 2) a clear command. With communion, the elements are bread and wine, and the command is the Maundy Thursday, “Do this.”

Baptism is our second – and only other – Lutheran sacrament. The element is water, and the command occurs in Jesus’ last words before ascending to heaven – Matthew 28 — “Go and make disciples of all nations …, baptizing them.” Essentially: “Do this.”

Well, by that standard, footwashing is nearly sacramental. It too has an element (again water) and a command. Jesus said, “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (John 13:14-15).

I’m not trying to stir up a sacrament controversy!! But I do want today to suggest a nearly sacramental call for us to be humble servants, to literally stoop to figuratively wash our neighbor’s feet.

How might you stoop today?

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who probably

ought to carry a towel

and a basin with him

more often – always

ready to stoop and wash

 

 

 

 

The Depth of the Table

John 13.26.

Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. – John 13:26

We live in an era of fast food.

The family supper used to be the hallmark of virtually every family. Every night. Now we too often eat on the run and between activities.

Historically, sitting together at the family table was sacred. Fellowship was as important as the food. Relationships were deepened.

I’m not complaining that that’s fragmenting. Rather, if we don’t understand the sacredness of a meal with family – and the disciples were Jesus’ family – then we can’t understand the depth of Judas’ betrayal.

His coming to the table, on Jesus’ final night, was an unspoken testimony that he was part of a family of faith. That he would betray Jesus over a piece of broken bread – and later with a kiss – reflects the utter darkness of Judas’ heart.

We are invited to break bread with Jesus. It is a family meal. In what ways is your approach to the altar – mine too – an act of family and love; and in what ways are we looking for fast food. Hopefully we’re not ever as callous are Judas, but how often do we approach the altar angry at a brother or sister and harboring unforgiveness? (Jesus warned us to first go and reconcile before pretending to be family.)

Communion is a family meal. Do I love the family table? Or take it for granted?

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who loves

my family and

sees church and

communion as

sacred

Atheism Becomes the “Largest” Religion in America(?!)

1 Corinthians 1.22-23.

For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles – 1 Corinthians 1:22-23

Just the other day, one of our staff members shared an online article with me. The headline read:

God Help Us: Atheism Becomes

Largest Religion In U.S.

To many, Christ and his cross seem increasingly foolish in our modern world. Antiquated. Outmoded. Irrelevant. Passé. People are obviously free to believe – or not – as they wish. But there are growing consequences, as the subhead to this article reveals …

As Religiosity has declined,

social ills have abounded.

Michael J. Knowles notes some of the consequences of unbelief, “Social scientists have long since established the link between religiosity and life satisfaction. … [But] as religiosity has declined … nearly one in five American adults suffers from anxiety disorders, which now constitute the most common mental illness in the country. … Depression diagnoses have increased 33% since 2013, [and] that number is up 47% among Millennials and 63% among teenagers. … American life expectancy declined again last year, as Americans continue to drug and kill themselves at record rates.”

Knowles cites social science ills. But we can see the lack of transformative faith eroding every corner of our culture. Divorce rates are high and too many families are disintegrating. Politics is more and more divisive. Free speech is eroding. Ethics in our country are at a crossroads: What are our true standards? We’re more crass in our language, in our music, in our viewing habits.

I even heard a theologian analyze recently why they are growing calls to end capitalism and adopt socialism. Socialism always and inevitably runs a system out of money – taking rather than building. But for many, socialism increasingly seems more just than our current brand of capitalism — which this professor branded as post-modern capitalism which sadly is rather unjust, increasingly more greed than wisdom and compassion. Yet that too is a growing reflection of a culture untethered from God, faith, roots, and ethics.

One-by-one, most individuals still seem ethical – and genuinely try to be – but without a transcendent standard, most individuals are gradually sliding downhill with the rest of culture.

This week – Holy Week – we’re invited to study the cross. If you’re reading this devotion, chances are that you find our culture – rather than the cross – to be foolish. Therefore, when I talk about the need to “study” the cross, I’m not talking about us needing more academic knowledge of the crucifixion. I am instead suggesting that we need to seek to comprehend the spiritual power of love and sacrifice. Our changing culture won’t mend by us whining, lamenting, or critiquing our modern world. It will change – one person at a time – when we learn and demonstrate the power of Jesus’ brand of sacrificial love.

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who wants to

change the world –

which means I need to

love more fully and

sacrificially

 

What Was the Fragrance?

John 12.3.

Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. – John 12:3

What was the fragrance that filled the house that night?

Let’s set the context. Death was in the air. Within a week, the Christ would be dead. And death definitely has a fragrance. In fact, just a few paragraphs earlier, that’s precisely what Mary’s sister Martha told Jesus just that when our Lord approached her brother Lazarus’ tomb: “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days” (John 11:39).

Yes, death definitely has a fragrance. That’s one reason, in fact, that dead Hebrew bodies were anointed. They wanted to cover the stench.

Was that what Mary was doing?

Was she trying to change to atmosphere that night?

Was she figuratively … if not literally … or even prophetically … preparing Jesus for burial?

Indeed, what was the fragrance that filled the house that night?

I think the fragrance was much more than just costly nard. I think the fragrance that night was worship! Mary was worshiping Jesus. I think the fragrance was love – Mary’s love for her Lord and Christ’s love for humanity which was about to unfold. I think the fragrance was peace – a moment to breathe deeply before the events of Holy Week began. I think the house that night was filled with the fragrance of love, joy, peace … and hope that transcended the pain and events that lay ahead.

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who likes to smell

those fragrances on

Sunday mornings and

whenever we worship –

love, joy, peace, and hope

What Do You Fear? (And Why?)

Hebrews 2.15.

… so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. – Hebrews 2:14-15

What do we fear in life?

Ultimately, we fear death. Think about it … Why are some afraid of heights? Because we may fall … die. Why are others afraid of spiders and snakes? Because we might be bit … and die. Why are we afraid of the dark? Because we can’t see the evil that’s coming … and we might die. Why are we afraid of public speaking … because we might be humiliated … which is like dying a small death. We’re afraid of death!

And the book of Hebrews reminds us that fear is a form of slavery. Think of things you avoid … and why … Instead of venturing boldly into life, how often do we hold back, resist, withdraw, miss out, feel helpless and discouraged?

And who helps orchestrate this fearful-withdrawing (instead of bold-venturing)? Satan! That’s what this verse tells us. “The one who has the power of death … is … the devil.” Satan, in one sense, prompts our figurative deaths. Fear is natural. It is human. It is sometimes wise – I don’t step between a mother bear and her cub because of wisdom and a bit of healthy fear. Nevertheless, how many times do we neglect to do good things because of unhealthy fear – because, for example, we might be embarrassed or thought less of. Each time fear keeps us from doing something that we are called to do, our life becomes smaller. And Satan loves to whisper fear and withdrawal into our lives. He likes to make our lives small.

Christ came – in part (a big and wonderful part) – so that “he might destroy [that which] has the power of death.” Or, to put it another way, Christ came focus on the hope of heaven, rather than the fear on earth. If we’re not afraid of death, if we’re confident that the worst that this world can do to us is send us to heaven ten minutes early, then we’ll be bolder and bolder and bolder. Indeed, after Christ’s resurrection, isn’t this what we saw again and again from the disciples? In Philippians 1:21, Paul said for example, “to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

Faith loosens the shackles of fear, empowers us to ignore the lies of Satan, and helps us live the life of freedom God has in store for us.

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who has nothing

to fear but fear itself

 

 

 

If God’s Word Falls Like a Tree in a Forest, Who Will Hear?

Hebrews 2.3.

How can we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? – Hebrews 2:3

“Faith come by hearing.” That’s Romans 10:17. Yet, I don’t think that “hearing” refers just to sound waves reverberating across our ear drums.

Remember the old riddle: If a tree falls in the forest and no one was there to hear it, did it make a sound? Jesus on earth was often like a tree in the forest. The falling tree creates waves (of sound), but no one is there to hear it.  Likewise, after speaking for hours – after emitting lots of sound waves – too many missed what he was saying.

Therefore, our Lord would often end his sermons with “Let he who has ears hear.” What was he was implying? That life’s most important type of “hearing” is spiritual not physical! Physically, the sound waves went out, but spiritually it was as if the words were falling in an empty forest. People would go home unchanged.

“We must pay greater attention,” says the Apostle in Hebrews 2:2. Spiritual attention. “Pay[ing] attention” is, of course, spiritual listening, while “neglect[ing]” is spiritual inattention.

So … what is it that we are to “pay attention to” and not “neglect”? What leads to “so great a salvation”?! Vese 6 reminds us that God is “mindful” of “human beings” (citing Psalm 8). God loves us! Forgives us! Gave his Son to die for us! God “4 testi[fies to us] by signs and wonders.” God works in us by the “gift[] of the Holy Spirit.” God is lovingly “mindful” of you. Have you internalized this glorious truth?

A key word in today’s verse is “escape.” We are in bondage – “15 slavery” – unless and until we embrace this message. And unless and until we have “heard” this message, we have been deaf to the Gospel. “Let he who has ears hear.”

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who needs to

stand more frequently

in the forest of

God’s Word