Friday, March 29, 2013

My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) Why have you forsaken me? These are words I would expect from the most broken, lost and hurting among us. Words fit for those losing a battle with addition, those facing the horrors and destruction of war, the extremely poor, those dying from hunger and thirst or some incurable illness, those battling severe depression and loneliness. But this is Jesus. I find His question here to be the most distressing of all the words spoken from the cross. In this sentence the One who earlier declared, "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30) now speaks of utter abandonment. The same One who was with the Father and the Spirit in the beginning; the one who knows an un-comprehendible unity from eternity past in this moment cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" The words seem out of place for the Son of God.

If I were an editor or a redactor of the biblical text, I would be tempted to leave these words out. They show Jesus and the Trinity as a whole in a light that many of us struggle to understand on the surface, but as we allow Christ’s words to penetrate our hearts we find in this God/man/Messiah someone that intimately knows us in our moments of deepest fears and struggles. As the writer of Hebrews proclaims, “We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.”

Tradition explains that Jesus’ cry was a calling out in prayer the whole of Psalm 22. If we follow the psalmist David’s words we find a remarkably detailed description of a trial and struggle that could be given as a report of the events on this Friday. David tells of an eventual triumph as the one who cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" believes that His cries will be heard and He will once again, in the midst of the assembly, give praise to the Father. Verse 29 tells that even the dead will once again worship Him. The events of Friday must always be understood in the light of the events of resurrection Sunday.

Henri Nouwen in his book Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life wrote, “When Jesus spoke these words on the cross, total aloneness and full acceptance touched each other. In that moment of complete emptiness all was fulfilled. In that hour of darkness new light was seen. While death was witnessed, life was affirmed. When God’s absence was most loudly expressed, his presence was most profoundly revealed. When God himself in his humanity became part of our most painful experience of God’s absence, he became most present to us.”

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Rather than being unfit and obscure words of Christ, these words culminate a lifestyle of the One who emptied Himself for the sake of being present to God and others. And as much as we need to be reminded to understand the events of Friday in light of Sunday, we are reminded that Jesus did not bypass the moment of the very real sense of abandonment. Many today still cry out, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” As Christians, the living body of Christ on earth, who have experienced Sunday’s resurrection, may we empty ourselves and be present for those still experiencing Friday’s sorrows.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Why Am I Here? Reflections from Liberia

“I want you to discover something this week. Why does God have you on this mission trip?” That was the question Sam (a Hope 2 Liberia Leader) wanted us to answer during our time in Liberia. I could have given a dozen reasons right then and there. Near the top of the list was my brother invited me. I treasure the relationship we have and the opportunities to minister with him. There was also the opportunity to preach and teach the Word of God and influence hundreds of people. The distribution of water filtration systems and projects that took place will change the lives of thousands upon thousands of people for generations. Those items alone were enough for me to say yes.
When Sam asked the question I had already been there a week. I had seen things that would make anyone with any sense of compassion both weep and rejoice. I had spent time with some of the most amazing leaders I had ever met. Their stories of the hurt, turmoil, and redemption from the past and the hope and vision for the future are the things which make for epic books and movies. Just what I saw in a week’s time would take a lifetime to process. How do I explain children smiling because for the first in their lives they no longer needed to hike a quarter of a mile down and then back up a steep hill to get a bucket of contaminated water? What about the mother who hugged me and said “thank you” with tears in her eyes? The truth is all that took place could have taken place with or without me. Why does God have me on this trip? Could I really answer that question in only a week? Furthermore could I possibly narrow it down or summarize it? No, but God can and did in unexpected ways.
During the Sunday morning message a fellow pastor (Tom) told about a time when he climbed a mountain and was asked why he did it. Tom said the answer was obvious. It was the same reason everyone climbs a mountain. It was for the view. Really? I thought. That was not the answer I was going to give. If I were to climb the mountain I would have done it simply because it was there. I would do it on a cloudy day. I would have seen the mountain as a challenge to conquer and the view as a bonus. Maybe I should let Tom know it isn’t really about the view. None of this was critical to the point of the sermon but an illustration I continued to ponder nevertheless.
A couple nights later Sam gave each of us an envelope with letters from friends and family back home. Each letter brought great joy, laughter, and encouragement. Then I opened a letter from my ten-year-old daughter Melinda and the emotions and tears flowed as I read the words midway through her letter, “I like that you are helping people in Liberia. When I grow up I’m going to help people in other countries just like you. I love you very much daddy!” As I welcomed her words deep into my heart, pictures of events in my life flashed through my mind. I saw images from the destruction of the 2004 Asian Tsunami that opened my eyes to the needs of the poor and the orphans throughout the world. That was followed by a picture of me visiting with Russian orphans and my mother-in-law, Janice, speaking these words, “You and Barb should adopt one of these children.” Her words confirmed what my wife and I had been praying about and told no one. Shortly after that we began the long process of bringing Melinda home. This same daughter was reminding me that this is all bigger than me. God is working and unfolding this great story of hope, redemption, and restoration. He has invited us to see His mighty hand at work as we join Him where He is working. He was at work in Asia, Africa, Central America, Russia, and America long before I even knew of such places. We serve a big God.
Tom’s words repeated themselves in my head. “It is about the view.” It was in that moment I felt God saying to me, “I want you to see the big picture. I want you to see my hand and my heart.” I am reminded of Jesus’ words to Martha "Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?" (John 11:40) “Don, do you see the view? I want you to see what breaks My heart. I want you to see what gives Me pleasure. Do you see me in the brokenness of the least of these? I am mourning with those who mourn. I am celebrating with those who have fresh clean drinking water. I am the Living Water that quenches thirst. I am the Hope of the nations. I am the One that causes the people to hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, so that never again will they learn war.” (Is 2:4)
What a privilege to see God. "Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.' For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.' "Then the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 'And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 'When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' "The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.' (Matthew 25:34-40)
It is the view. Thank you God for letting me to see your hand and your heart.