The God of Saturday

It’s Good Friday as I write this.  The last few days have been filled with all sorts of special observances and activities, from neighborhood Easter Egg hunts to special Holy Week midday church services – days have seen both secular and sacred activities, observances that have in some cases had pagan origins, and others that form the foundational truth of Christianity.

Facebook is flooded these days with all sorts of memes, featuring pictures of a cross, an empty tomb, and more, and lots of Bible quotations.  People keep repeating lots of bumper sticker theology, but I wonder how many of us are actually thinking about the truth we say we are professing.

Now, please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying.  Yes, we NEED to talk about Jesus’ suffering.  We must teach and understand the atoning work of Christ on the cross.  And by all means, we should exult – and exalt – the resurrection.  The historical fact of Jesus’ bodily resurrection is the founding principle on which Christianity is based.

But what about those who are still waiting for God to come through for them?  They want to believe in God, but they’re not seeing the victories and the good times that others are talking about.  Maybe you can relate to:

  • A loved one who died, even in the face of many, many prayers.
  • A marriage that shattered, in spite of your best efforts.
  • A job that didn’t materialize.
  • A situation that you were sure was God’s will, that has now fallen apart.

The awful moment has passed.  You’ve left the hospital, the police station, the cemetery.  Now you’re left with shattered hopes, broken dreams, and wounded faith.  You want to believe that God will come through and make it all okay, but you are afraid to hope too much.  Well-meaning friends tell you that God will not put more on you than you can bear, and to just keep praying for the victory.  The Friday of your crisis is over, but you haven’t seen the Sunday morning of your renewed hopes yet.

You’re stuck in Saturday.

Saturday is a terrible place to be.  It was the attitude of Saturday that left the disciples hiding behind locked doors out of fear (John 20:19).  It was the same attitude of despair you can hear in the words of Cleopas, even as they encountered the Stranger on the road to Emmaus – “But we had hoped…” (Luke 24:21).

Surely you have experienced a Saturday.  God hasn’t done things in a way that makes sense.  Your expectations have been turned completely upside-down.  So now what?

Even on Saturday, we must hold on.  Keep on trusting.  Keep on hoping.  This is the truth King David understood when he wrote, “Weeping lasts through the night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)  Or the psalmist in Psalm 42 & 43 – “Why are you so downcast, O my soul?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him.”

This is the meaning behind the scripture that Jesus quoted from the cross – Psalm 22.  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Like any good Jewish boy, Jesus knew He didn’t have to quote an entire passage, in order to reference an entire passage.  And Psalm 22, the crucifixion psalm, also contains some of the most confident outpouring of hope in the entire Old Testament.

Psalm 22 may be the most – human – of any psalm ever written.  Who has not felt abandoned by God?  Who has not felt forsaken?  But I reject the theology that says that God “turned his back” on Jesus here.  I think Jesus was experiencing the very human emotion of feeling distant from God.  Haven’t you ever felt that way?  When you felt alone and abandoned, had God really turned His back on you?  Of course not.  And I don’t think He did here, either.

Jesus is quoting Psalm 22 to remind Himself of its glorious truth – that God is still God, even when I can’t figure out what’s going on.  God is still God, even when I can’t feel Him.  In Psalm 22, David pours out his heart to remind himself that even though it’s bad right now, God has always come through before, and He will again.  Psalm 22 begins in despair, but ends in triumph.

Faith is hard when you’re in a Saturday.  It’s easy to feel offended by what God has – or has not – done.  Unmet hopes gnaw at us, and unfulfilled dreams mock.  The enemy is constantly in your ear, telling you that God is not to be trusted, to cut your losses and move on.  Or maybe just lower your expectations, go through the motion of going to church, but don’t risk too much.

But the truth of the Bible, and the word of our testimony both say, HOLD ON.  God will come through.  Maybe not in the way you expect.  Maybe not with the timing you think best.  But He will not forsake you.  He will not abandon you.  He will bring ultimate victory, and He will make all things new again.

God is still God, even when I don’t understand.  He is still God of my life and God of my hopes.  And He is still God, even of my Saturdays.

Saturdays are long and painful, but there IS hope.  Don’t give up on God, and don’t give in to despair.  Keep on trusting.  Keep on hoping.  Keep on praying.

Sunday’s coming.

(Originally posted in 2013.)

No Fear

I will not give in to fear. I refuse to give in to hate.

Do I like the direction in which the country is heading? I do not. Do I believe the current occupant of the White House shares my values? I do not.

But I will not give in to hate. I will not give in to fear.

For many though, this election was far from an easy decision. Yes, the positions of the Democratic party on abortion, on gay marriage, and on other issues, are not in line with what I believe. On the other hand, I reject the extreme greed, selfishness and materialism that seem to drive many of the Republican policies. I’m not sure Abraham Lincoln or Teddy Roosevelt would recognize what has become of the party they once proudly championed.  But John “ask not what your country can do for you” Kennedy probably wouldn’t recognize some of the Democratic positions, either.

For once, I actually found myself agreeing with Bill Clinton when he said that he preferred a national attitude that says, we need to help one another, because we’re all in this together, rather than one that says, “I’ve got mine, you’re on your own.”

The scripture says, “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak.” Might that not include economic failures as well? In Bible times, landowners were required to make provision for the poor, the alien, the widows and orphans. What should that provision look like for today? I don’t know the answer, but I do believe that the fact that some people abuse the system, shouldn’t mean that we refuse to help others.

Granted, we should not reward laziness, and simply throwing money at a problem – whether it’s taxpayer funds, or private donations – rarely solves anything. And yes, Jesus did say that the poor will always be with us. But I don’t think He meant that we should be content with that, or that He meant to let us off the hook from trying to help.

So I will not give in to fear. I choose to live in hope. I will “make every effort” to reach out to the poor, the lonely, the disenfranchised. What does that mean? It means knocking on some doors, offering a hug, delivering a meal or a sack of groceries. It means opening my door for some people to come eat with our family, and opening my heart to others, to build friendships with people who aren’t like me.

It DOESN’T mean just volunteering on Thanksgiving morning at some soup kitchen, or giving a few dollars for a Sunday School Christmas project, so we can have a warm fuzzy. That’s sacrificing to the LORD my God that which cost me nothing.

But I will not harbor resentment, or hate, or despair in my heart. I will not look to Washington for answers, nor wait for the election of 2016, nor put my hope in princes, of either party. The weapons that I fight with are not the weapons of this world, and my struggle is not against flesh and blood.

I will pray for the President and for Congress, because the scripture commands me to do so, and because it’s the right thing to do. I will submit to lawful authority, so long as it does not require me to disobey God, because every civil authority is established by God and answerable to Him. I will render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto to God what is God’s.

The same Roman government that Paul urged his readers to pray for and submit to, was the same government that executed him. When Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego refused to bow to the king’s statue, they didn’t question his right to exercise authority over them.

God establishes seats of power, and brings down nations, to accomplish His purposes, and He doesn’t ask my opinion. Do I like the fact that some states have legalized gay marriage? Of course not. Do I approve of the way my taxes are being spent? Certainly not, at least not in every case. Do I approve of laws making assisted suicide legal? No. (More on that later.)

But these are all symptoms of a larger problem. The human race is fallen. We need a Savior. Relationships are broken – between people and God, and among us as humans and neighbors.  Unless and until we deal with that brokenness, nothing will really change.

(By the way, legalizing marijuana is just one more symptom of that brokenness. It just shows people looking for some peace – they’re just using something that cannot satisfy.)

But I will live in hope. Not some pie-in-the-sky kind of mindlessness that refuses to recognize the seriousness of the situation, but the kind of hope that knows that God is still in charge, even when I don’t understand. The hope that comes from knowing that greater is He Who is in me, than he who is in the world.  Knowing that my God will one day wipe every tear from our eyes, and there will be no more pain, or crying, or death, for the old order of things will pass away.

And there will be no more hungry children. Or crack-head welfare mothers. Or economic oppression. Or injustice against the weakest among us. Or abuse of power. Or corporate greed. Or bloated government. Or environmental disasters.  Or any of the other things that plague us because of our brokenness.

Until Jesus returns to bring the Kingdom in its fullness, I will work to make it real in my life, and in the lives of those around me. I will share my food with the hungry, and not turn away from the stranger in our midst. I will declare good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, and proclaim release from captivity for those who sit in darkness. I will work to bring justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with my God.

I will live in hope. And I will not give in to fear.