I Like Big Buts…

 

Psalm 13
O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?

    How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
    with sorrow in my heart every day?
    How long will my enemy have the upper hand?

Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!
    Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.
Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!”
    Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall.

But I trust in your unfailing love.
    I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
I will sing to the Lord
    because he is good to me.

The words of this Psalm seem so tender to me.  I can think of months… years… when my prayers sounded just like this.  Hard times find us all.  And when we are in the midst of them, it seems as if God is so very far away, that he has forgotten us.  Psalms of Lament (like Psalm 13) make up almost 1/3 of the Psalms in the Bible.  Clearly, God wants us to know that it is ok to come to Him with our pain.  To cry out in the midst of the situation, to bemoan the hard place you have found yourself in.

I love that we serve a God that gives us permission to be in pain. I love that we serve a God big enough to handle our heartbreak, our fears, even our selfish concerns.  I love that in the Psalms, He models for us what it looks like to lay yourself out before God, exactly how you are.  No artifice, no pretending.

However, in the times I have spent in this place, I have noticed that I can become myopic.  We get so stuck on our story and our situation that we lose the greater picture.  Our prayers become smaller, and, eventually, lose focus on God and become completely focused on ourselves.

It is in this, too, that the Psalms of Lament can be our example.  Because, in their formula, there is always a common thread…

a big BUT.

But I will trust in your unfailing love.  I will rejoice because you have rescued me.  I will sing to the Lord because he is good to me.  

Remember.  The Psalmist is still in the midst of the pain.  There is no rescue in sight.  And still, the ‘but’ remains.  In the midst of the darkness, he is affirming what he knows to be true.  That we serve a powerful God.  One who loves us with unfailing love.  He celebrates a rescue that seems far away and still incomplete.  He chooses to sing of the Lord’s goodness in the midst of the darkness.

That’s one pretty big but.

What is the difference between a lament and a complaint?

That is a question that was posed in my Sunday School class a few weeks ago.  And, truly, I think that the primary difference is the presence of a but.  We can lament, while still affirming God’s sovereignty.  We can mourn, while still acknowledging a Plan that is at work.

When we complain, we forget to remind ourselves of God’s faithfulness, and we get lost in our own pain.  We are limited by our own perspective. Our story ceases to be The Story, but becomes our own story, smaller, diminished.  We don’t choose to believe in the redemption that is coming, both for us as individuals, but also us as a People of God.

Buts are important.  Crucial even.

 

 I like big buts.  And I cannot lie.

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Two Men, Three Crosses

 There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Luke 23:38-42

The car is not a happy place for me.  Four times my car has been totaled.  Four times the wreck was not my fault.  For me, when I am driving, I am fully aware each second that I am not in control of what anyone else on the road may do.  When something unexpected happens in the car, I can’t seem to stop my mind from playing the scenario through to it’s gory, fiery end.  Therefore, I am frequently on edge, white knuckling the steering wheel.

It is in the car that I most often ponder my demise.  It’s the closest I can imagine to what the thieves on the cross must have experienced, starting into the certainty of their mortality.  Two men, two completely different reactions.  One looking into the void with bitterness and arrogance, the other chastened, humbled.  And between them, a savior.

When I was young, I was afraid of dying,  afraid that I would die without asking forgiveness for each individual sin. I thought Jesus was capable of forgiving all, but that I had to recite each one.

To the thief on the cross, forgiveness was granted with open hands.  There was no complicated or detailed acts of contrition required, no game of cat and mouse.  Simply grace, offered openly.   Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise. 

How do you encounter Jesus?  Do you allow grace to be this easy?  Or do you muddy the waters with your own dance of atonement?  I know that I do, feeling that I must fully wallow in my guilt and seek to fix things before I allow Jesus to lift away my sin.  Grace is a free gift.

But grace, though freely given, was purchased at a costly price.  On the cross, in between those two thieves, was one innocent man.  Who suffered.  Groaned.  Bled.  For your sake, and mine.  On this Good Friday, I challenge you to take some time to reflect on the price paid for your sin, and offer up thanks to your Savior.

three-crosses-kelly-nowak