He Knew

My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? And why art Thou so far from helping Me...?

Psalms 22:1, KJV

 

When I was younger I thought that the worst thing about Jesus' crucifixion was the actual dying and the pain associated with His death. Then I began to think of the attempts to humiliate Jesus with everything ranging from wicked men spitting on Hus face, to His hanging on the cross while men more wicked still came by and mocked Him. 

 

But as I have contemplated the situation, I wonder now if the worst part wasn't the part we read about above: Being forsaken by His Father! Think about that for a moment. Jesus, Who was with God at the beginning when all was created. Jesus, Who left heaven to come to this world to rescue sinful men, but Who always had the privilege of praying to Him at any time. Jesus, Who knew that God was always watching and always aware of Him and prepared to render assistance needed through any trial. But at that point of His greatest need, Jesus was forsaken by God and was left all alone.

 

Why?

 

It is a thought so terrible that at least one song that has been in our hymnals from the time before I was born contains the line, "forsaken not by His God". Maybe we sing that to soothe our consciences from the depth of His pain, but we shouldn't. We shouldn't sing it or think that thought because it simply isn't true. Jesus was forsaken by God and He not only spoke the words of this truth, but it was prophesied by the psalmist some thousand years before it happened. In other words, Jesus knew that this moment would eventually come. He knew that God would turn His back upon Him because it was prophesied, and that everything written about Him must be fulfilled. He knew!

 

But why did God forsake Jesus at His time of greatest need?

 

The answer to that, I believe, reveals the depth of Christ's sacrifice. Jesus would have to be forsaken by God because He carried our sins upon Himself on the cross, and sin separates us from God. So for those six terrible hours on the cross, Jesus was alone. And just as the pain and humiliation He was subjected to was a direct result of our sins, so too was the most horrific part of that day: He was forsaken by God because of my sins and yours. And He knew this would happen and He went through it anyway. I wonder now if this was at least part of the reason for His request in the garden that this cup might pass from Him.

 

Before Jesus died He told His disciples, "Greater love has no man than this: That he lay down his life for his friends". And His willingness to go through the forsaking by His Father was perhaps the greatest part of this ultimate display of love. Don't you think that this greatest act of love ever made - and it most certainly is when you realize that it was combined with God's great love for us in allowing His only begotten Son to go through it for us - deserves a life of great love in return? And we owe this debt because God was willing to forsake His dearly loved Son on that day so He wouldn't have to forsake us on the final Day.

 

Perhaps it's something that we should think about more often.

Are We Really All that Devoted to God?

For Who is God save the LORD? Or Who is a rock save our God?

Psalms 18:31, KJV

 

One of our men in Bible class shared what he described as "a rather crude example" that he had heard earlier that day. He was listening to a podcast that was talking about the fervor that a drug addict has as compared to many Christians. In the illustration the point was made that when a drug addict wakes up, he is going to need a "fix". He may not have the financial means to get that fix. Since doing so will be illegal he cannot be certain of the place he will get his drugs. He may have to move heaven and earth to do so, but he is going to make it happen - he is going to be focused and devoted until he fulfils his need. 

 

It got me to thinking. I began to think about those with more socially acceptable and admirable pursuits. Take the health devotee. He is going to get his workout before all other things. Even if it means getting up early to do so, he is going to make it happen. He has determined that his health is of utmost importance and he is going to make sure that it is taken care of above all the other commitments that he may have - he is going to be focused and devoted until he fulfils his need.

 

Over and over in the Bible, we read of God's frustration with the people He created because of their unfaithful behavior. There are numerous examples of idol worshippers who, despite the futility of their purpose, are determined to do whatever it takes to serve their false God. Like the drug addict seeking his fix, it is a mindless pursuit to be sure., Nevertheless, the idol worshipper will make it happen.

 

And there are examples of those with noble pursuits. For example, In Jeremiah 35 we read of a family whose forefather, Jehonadab, commanded them not to live in houses built by men, nor to drink wine, nor to plant vineyards or crops. Furthermore, when told to go ahead and drink wine, they refused. God pointed out to Jeremiah that they were more faithful in keeping the desires of their ancestor than the Israelites were in keeping the commandments of the Lord.

 

So we see in these instances two types of devotion: One that is evil (idol worship), and one that is fine to do but not required (keeping an ancestor's wishes). And in both cases, whether for good or evil, we find men and women who have far more devotion to the object of their desire than people of faith often have to God. As the man raised the question from the rather crude example of the drug addict - "are we going to be outhustled by a crackhead?"

 

And this question hits at the heart of the matter. Do we have the devotion that the world has in their worldly pursuits, good or bad, when it comes to serving our God? Are we ever going to put in the time and effort needed to understand His will, or are we going to be outhustled by a drug addict? Are we ever going to set aside the first day of the week to worship our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, or are we going to be out devoted by a body builder? 

 

The fact is that people of this world are often making things happen, whether good or bad, in a much more serious manner than many who call themselves Christians. And this, my precious brothers and sisters, cannot be! We must develop a "no excuses" devotion in our service to God and Christ if we are to ever have a hope of being pleasing to them. This means that we will pray, we will study the Word, and we will worship on the first day of each and every week - without excuse. Like the noble health devotee and the ignoble drug addict, there will be times when unavoidable circumstances arise and it is not possible to do what we are committed to doing. But, barring those rare occurrences, we must "make it happen". 

 

And if we are truly devoted to God and Christ, we will! 

Pure and Undefiled Religion

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit widows and orphans in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

James 1:27, ESV

 

Have you noticed how unpopular religion is? I have heard people say ridiculous things like, "I don't like religion" or "I love God, but I hate religion". I suppose what they mean is that they do not like what has become of organized religion, but I think like so many other spiritual matters it is because they are sadly uneducated in the Word of God, but they are up to date on the teachings and opinions of man. The solution to this misunderstanding of course is knowledge. And knowing what the Bible says concerning religion - true religion - is vital.

 

So, here are a few questions for those who say they hate religion: Do they hate widows? Do they hate orphans? Or do they just hate the idea of visiting widows and orphans? Do they hate being unstained by the world? Well, with the possible exception of the last question, the answer would have to be "no". Even the most reprobate among us would be hesitant to think that taking care of widows and orphans is something worthy of disdain. So, what is the problem? The problem is that people don't realize that the religion they despise is nearly always a religion of men, because God's religion is something that makes us a better people who are actually a benefit to others.

 

Take the part about visiting widows and orphans in their affliction. This is not talking about dropping by for  chat when they are in the middle of suffering. Rather, God is letting us know that religious people will actually do something about their suffering. It can be taught in simple ways. Our teens have been mowing lawns for our widows for nearly three decades now. It was not an easy "sell" at first, for our teens were the typical youth group that liked having fun whenever they got together and work did not seem all that much fun. Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with having fun (I myself am a huge proponent) but there seemed to be a gap between being entertained and being useful. Now, our teens are looked upon with great appreciation by our older folks who find themselves needing more of a helping hand than they did earlier in their lives.

 

I have noticed a closing of the "generation gap" as now these two age group have something in common. Our older ladies have appreciated the help, and it has been a help for the work is often hard and they would have likely had to spend a lot of money that they didn't have to hire someone to do it. It's not unusual to see them bring in a plate of home baked cookies for these young men and women who have helped them, nor is it unusual to see the teens helping the ladies to their cars after the worship on windy days. Who knows, there might be cookies in their cars!

 

I have also seen the children in the grade school and pre-school Bible classes making cards and writing letters to our older folks. I have also seen their parents encouraged to have these kiddos stop by the pantry and pick something out for the food drives we occasionally take part in for the orphans homes. All of these things, though certainly not at the "apex" of visiting widows and orphans in their distress, have a way of training up our young people to learn what pure and undefiled religion is.

 

And as to keeping oneself unstained by the world, I think we all can see that we may be falling short in this command. Maybe that's why we claim to not like religion at times, because religion is hard to maintain. People don't like having their lifestyles "cramped" and this moral purity business will sometimes do just that. The solution though is not to rail against religion, it is to keep away from things that will corrupt our lives and souls. By keeping unstained from the world, we can actually enjoy life more, not less.

 

I remember on man whose teenage daughter told about a conversation she had with a guy that wanted to take her out. He wanted to take her dancing, but she told him she didn't dance. He told her they could go to a party, but she said she didn't drink. He then asked if she didn't dance and she didn't party, what did she do for fun? She told him that she got up in the mornings and was able to still look herself in the eye because she hadn't done anything to be ashamed of the night before. And that, she told her prospective date, was fun! This type of stand can only be taken by someone who has been trained in pure and undefiled religion... and it is rare!

 

I believe when we look at the subject honestly we will see that true religion is something to be admired, and we need to be training ourselves and our children to learn how to do it. Of course we realize that the passage above goes way beyond just mowing a lawn for a widow or bringing a can of green beans for the orphans. But these things are excellent for training up our children in the way they should go in these areas, and will hopefully lead to bigger and better things.

 

And when you think about it, that's about as true and effective of having a religion that is pure and undefiled as we can get. It is all about our helping others when we see a need that isn't being met. Added to that is our responsibility to maintain our moral purity in such a way as to please God and keep our own self-respect. The result of all these things is the religion that God intended for us to have in the first place. It is not a sense of self-righteousness, nor is it an attempt to appear righteous in the eyes of others just for appearance's sake. It is being useful and productive in our actions and upright in our conduct that will please God and Christ, and it will at the same time draw others to Them as they begin to see the benefits of a good life. For religion, when it is done right, is one of the greatest benefits that mankind will ever know.  

Pleasant Places

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.

Psalms 16:6, NIV

 

This has long been one of my favorite Psalms of King David. Of course he is looking forward to an eternal home, but if I understand it right, he is in part referencing the division of land that the Israelites received when they entered the Promised Land. After hundreds of years of slavery in Egypt, forty years of wandering in the desert, and at least a half a dozen years of the initial conquest of Canaan, they finally got to receive their promised inheritance.

 

I can only imagine what it must have been like for each of the families in each of the clans in each of the twelve tribes when the land was finally divided. Can you imagine the thrill of your turn when you received your specific parcel? You would have likely immediately began a survey of the land, noting each ridge and valley, each pond and stream, each meadow and stand of timber. You would have begun to make plans with your spouse as to where you would build your home, what kind of livestock you would need, and where you would place the pens. 

 

And no matter what happened, this would be yours for as long as you lived, and would then pass down to your children and their children when their time came. It must have been a marvelous thing indeed, to be able to plan and dream. It was a great gift and God was the one who had given it. The righteous ones must have fallen on their knees in thanksgiving and praise to the Lord.

 

 We have similar blessings, you and I. Perhaps our situation is not one of a holder of land and property yet, but isn't it nice to dream? If you have been so blessed as to have a certain amount of physical property, and if you have understanding, then you know that this came from God. And it is a delightful inheritance! I think sometimes we miss this important point. We are so busy dealing with the crisis of the day that we forget to be thankful. We often are so caught up in the struggling and clawing and sweating and toil that we sometimes forget what we have.

 

We may have a home and a car or two. We have all sorts of nice conveniences that are okay for us to enjoy. But we often do not enjoy them - why? I think it is because we are so caught up in our fear of losing what we have or in our lust for getting more that we simply fail to open our eyes and see this delightful inheritance that God had given us. We might not have as much as the next fellow, it's true, but we have so much more than the vast majority of people who have ever lived and it might be appropriate if we were a bit more thankful with what we do have. 

 

Then, once we have learned to have that vital trait of gratitude towards the Lord, then maybe we will begin to be offer our thanks and praise to Him. And maybe, once we have begun to act as children who have been given everything should act - with appreciation, it will be at that point that we can start looking forward to the delightful inheritance that God has reserved for the faithful.

 

There is a Promised Land awaiting us, if we will just see it. It will require a faith in God and a service to Christ that are motivated by love. For so many of us, it will require a change of attitude and a change of lifestyle, but it can be done. And it will be done by those with enough vision to see what is waiting. It is the Promised Land and it is indeed a delightful inheritance. We should look forward to it with eager anticipation and with joy, for this Promised Land is Heaven! And while we certainly do not deserve it, for those who in faithful obedience will accept it, it will someday be ours. Maybe we should be falling to our knees much more often with the thanksgiving and praise due the One who has given us such a delightful inheritance. 

God is Able - A Prayer for Baby Devin

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from Whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith - that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 

Now to Him Who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen

Ephesians 3:14-21, ESV

 

Our son in law has a cousin who is like a sister to him. She and her husband had a baby boy a few weeks ago. His name is Devin, and by all accounts he is a sweet baby indeed. He was born a few weeks early, and has had several health concerns that have kept him in the hospital due to the special attention he has required. In the past two weeks, his breathing difficulties have necessitated one  surgery already, with another one scheduled for tomorrow as of the time I am writing this. It is a scary time for his young parents, as well as for those who love them. They have something very powerful going for them , however, for they are Christians.

 

And Christians have the privilege to present their requests to God. And God, Who loves us dearly, has told us that we can count on Him to do far more abundantly than anything that we can think or ask. In other words, while we can think of some very specific things to ask of Him, He is able to do more. That "more" includes being able to answer our prayers in that perfect way that can only be defined as His will.

 

And God's will is flawless, for He can see the big picture. And while all such times as what Devin and his parents are going through can be frightening beyond words, God is still able to handle the situation in the exact right way. He is able to intervene with His healing power. He is able to give wisdom to those tending to this little one. He is able to protect baby Devin to the breadth and length and height and depth of whatever he may need. 

 

He is able to show Devin's family His great love - a love so vast in His Son, Jesus Christ that it surpasses all knowledge. Those of us who have experienced such uncertain times can attest to this love, for it has been extended to us over and over throughout our lifetimes. And while we have certainly not been able to understand just why we had to go through such difficult times, it is important for us to remember that God understands. And it is important for us to know that He will always do exactly the right thing.

 

So, we all have the privilege of going to our loving Father on behalf of Devin and his Mom and Dad. We have the comfort of knowing that these petitions are being made to the One Who knows exactly what is needed and Who has the power to make things turn our exactly right. I ask that you would be praying for them, if you would be willing to extend that kindness. And we know that we can pray without fear, for God is able to handle this in just the right way. As a matter of fact, He is able to do far more abundantly than we can even think or ask, so think and ask big, for this little one needs the help that only God can provide. 

 

Thank you for your prayers!