Friday, May 21, 2010

Look at the Cross

"I can't believe God loves me." Although some people say this apparently thinking they're too good for God (that is, they regard Him with if-You-really-cared-You'd-do-what-I-wanted whining), probably an equal number are all too aware that God is too good for them. "How could a perfect God ever love someone who's done what I did?" is the lament of the tormented soul longing for forgiveness but afraid to ask for it. Whether the specific matter of concern is a single heinous act, a lifetime of habitual immorality, or a despairing awareness of ingrained selfishness, these people consider themselves the worst of sinners and are sure God must hate them as much as they hate themselves.

If you're in this situation and the parable of the prodigal son isn't enough to convince you that God still wants you back, consider the true account of Christ's Crucifixion. Just as the story of the prodigal has lost its emotional impact in frequent retellings (in first-century Palestine, demanding one's inheritance from a living parent was tantamount to a capital crime and the idea of welcoming such a son home without a reprimand was inconceivable), so has the story of the Cross. Crucifixion was not simply painful; it was overwhelmingly so. Try to imagine how it would feel to be whipped with metal-tipped cords that tore the skin; hung by your wrists from two sharp spikes rammed through blood vessel and nerve; provided with no physical support for your weight (and that only to prolong the agony) beyond an equally painful spike through the ankles and perhaps a tiny "seat"; and left dangling, every breath an agony of effort, until your muscles finally gave out and you died choking. Ask yourself: would anything make you go through all that voluntarily, solely for the purpose of sparing another the supreme pain?

That's exactly what Christ did to save us from being punished for the very sins we are ashamed to approach Him with. How can there be any doubt He loves us despite those sins?

You who see only the guilt of your sin,
You who are tortured by all that has been,
Doubting forgiveness could ever be given—
Look at the Cross for a message from Heaven.

You who doubt God still could love the impure,
Who live in fear condemnation is sure,
Certain God’s grace is too good to be true—
Look at the Cross, and see all He went through.

Not for the righteous who boast of their deeds,
Not for the soul that on human praise feeds,
But for the ones who their hopelessness feel,
There on the Cross, He did God’s love reveal.

Look at the Cross and see God’s deepest pain;
Look at the One Whose great loss was our gain;
Look at His love, and set all doubt aside:
It was for you that He willingly died.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Have You Grown Weary?

I woke up tired the last couple of mornings, and today I have a queasy stomach on top of that. I'd be inclined to suspect impending illness, except I've learned from experience that such symptoms are more likely than not to be stress-induced fatigue. It must be stress-induced, because it occurs with significantly less correlation to the number of hours I spend in bed each night than to my emotional investment in long To Do lists. It's hard to be confident that God will complete His good work in you (Phil. 1:6) when you're constantly obsessed with fear that you won't complete something or other.

I can imagine Jesus looking at the crowds in first-century Galilee and seeing similar anxious thoughts in their hearts, as He issued His famous invitation: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Mt. 11:28-30). Sounds like a decision that hardly needs making, but for most of us it isn't. Especially not for the long term. Habits, fear of losing things that matter to us, and pride that wants to find its own solutions all stand in the way.

To be honest, I find God's disinclination to clearly state His specific solutions (as they apply to me and my situations) to be more than a little annoying. Although I can't agree with the "antisupernaturalist Christians" who claim God's direct revelations ended with the New Testament and that everyone (however dedicated a believer) who believes God has said something specific to her (however brief and simple) must be imagining things, I can sympathize with the frustration that probably drives some people to this conclusion. Some Christians seem to receive a word of encouragement or guidance from God at every quiet time; myself, no matter how much I pray, I never even seem to get a wordless sense of His Presence. Not even anything that gives me some idea whether I'm right to worry that my cluttered mind or some unconfessed sin is causing the problem.

When one gets to this point, there's only one thing to do. Follow God's advice in Psalm 46:10 to "be still"--which, translated literally, means something like "let go." Let go of your frustrations, let go of the "musts" and "shoulds" that torture your mind, let go of your plans and fears for the future.

Above all, let go of your attempts to figure out how God "should" work. Just relax and let Him do it.

Have you grown weary with earth and its ways?
Do you find scarcely a reason for praise?
Lift up your heart to the Lord of all joy;
That which He gives, no despair can destroy.

Have you grown weary of life’s endless tasks?
Does it seem nothing you do ever lasts?
Offer your hands to the cause of the Lord;
Only His work brings enduring reward.

Have you grown weary of playing life’s game?
Does every day seem just more of the same?
Call on the Lord; ask to see with His view;
Each day with Him is exciting and new.

Have you grown weary with life as a whole?
Do you just crave lasting rest for your soul?
Patience, have patience; in time, God will bring
Life that endures, where He rules as the King.