Where Are You, God!

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I was recently asked to give a sermon on these words of Yeshua, spoken shortly before his death on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In the original Greek New Testament, both Matthew and Mark, the only two Gospel writers to report this, provide not only the translation of what Yeshua said, but also a transliteration. A transliteration is when the sounds of one language are written with the letters of another. That’s what is happening every time we write, “hallelujah,” which is an attempt to write the actual Hebrew using English letters. Translated into English, hallelujah would be “Praise the Lord.” Very few times in the New Testament the writers provide transliterations as they do in the case of “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew’s rendering (slightly different from Mark’s) is “Eli eli lama sabachtani (the “ch” is pronounced as in “Bach”).

To the Greek or English reader, it is clear that Yeshua is quoting the opening words of Psalm 22. This should not be surprising as this is only one of several examples of references to that Psalm. But what is not immediately clear to the Greek or English reader is that “Eli eli lama sabachtani” is not a direct quote of the original Hebrew text. Instead it is a mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic, which was most likely the common Jewish way of speaking in those days (scholars debate the exact nature of the Jewish language of that time, but that doesn’t affect our discussion). Not directly quoting the Hebrew may be one of the reasons why those nearby didn’t realize what Yeshua was saying (see Matthew 27:47), and one of the reasons why Matthew and Mark went out of their way to report exactly what was said.

By not quoting the scriptural text, but using the common language of his day, we see how very personal these words were to Yeshua at the time. Nothing wrong with quoting Scripture, but Yeshua owned these words in a very intimate way. But what did they mean to him?

Some have taken “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” to mean that at that moment, God the Father abandoned God the Son due to his taking upon himself the sin of the world. That might very well be, but such a theological conclusion may miss the point, especially when we recognize the connection between the crucifixion and Psalm 22. For certainly in David’s case the Psalm is not about the actual abandonment of God, but rather the apparent abandonment of God. But actual or apparent, makes little difference to the one expressing such anguish. There is no cry more desperate than “Where are you, God?”

Only the one who truly knows God personally can utter such a cry. Atheists can’t, since they are settled in their minds about God’s existence: “I feel alone, because I am alone.” The agnostics, as they aren’t sure whether or not God exists, live with uncertainty: “I feel alone, because I might just be alone.” They may be confused about God and life perhaps, but not desperate. Even a so-called believer may not ever experience such desperation, because they can claim to believe in God, but not be convinced that he is personally interested in them or able to help: “I feel alone; it would be nice if God could or would help me, but, oh well, I’ll get by somehow.” But when you know that God is able and normally willing to help, but for reasons you don’t understand, has left you to fend for yourself, when you have tasted intimacy with God, knowing him as your loving father and best friend, but the forces of darkness have borne down on you and there’s no letting up in sight, then to cry “Where are you God?” is the most bitter cry of all.

What David went through in Psalm 22 and what you might be going through right now, is something with which Yeshua can completely identify. Yeshua experienced complete abandonment as he faced the full brunt of the effects of human rebellion against God: betrayed by a close associate, misunderstood by family, and abandoned by his close friends, even denied by one of them. In court, he was falsely accused, the victim of false testimony as he faced a corrupt and misguided justice system. He endured excruciating, unending pain as, all the while, his body was shamefully exposed. He was mocked and derided as a fraud as his faith was shoved in his face and his identity was completely undermined. And through it all, there was no one to protect him or help him with no relief in sight. But what made it way worse was that, all the while, he knew, better than anyone who has ever lived, that his help was right there – watching – able to do something, but doing nothing.

When we see this in the context of Psalm 22, we see that that Yeshua is identifying with the godly of the ages. For it is those who truly follow God who tend to experience this profound sense of abandonment – that the God whom we love and serve has abandoned us, when he hasn’t really. For whether or not Yeshua was truly abandoned in the particular moments in which he uttered these words, we know that in the end, God vindicated him by raising him again to life: the same expectation for all who entrust themselves to God in Yeshua’ name.

The experiences of Yeshua on the cross and of David in Psalm 22 remind us that those who truly love God will feel abandoned at times. In fact, it’s when we do God’s will that the likelihood of feeling abandoned increases. Both Psalm 22 and the crucifixion remind us that however difficult life may get, God will never truly abandons his people.

I wonder how many people who love God, but feel abandoned by him hesitate to cry out “Where are you, God?” out of a fear of being disloyal to him. You might be surprised at how God might answer you should you allow yourself to be honest with him and yourself.

I also wonder how many of us are afraid to stand up for God as did David and Yeshua out of an intense fear that we might have to stand alone. Because, and this might surprise you: it is when we allow ourselves to stand alone for God that we discover that we are not alone in God.

Why Go to Israel?

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As you may already be aware, this October, my wife, Robin, and I are leading a tour to Israel. But why? Visiting Israel at least once is a desire of many Bible believers. Who would not want to go and see the places where so many events of the Bible transpired? After hearing and reading about Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives, the Jordan River, the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea, and so on, and then to stand in these places, touch them, listen to the sounds, and smell the smells, how couldn’t the ancient past come alive, impacting the Bible with fresh meaning? Sounds like enough reason to go to me. But there’s even more to it than that, especially in how we have designed this particular tour experience.

 

Seeing the sites does indeed make the Bible come alive, but it seems to me that something more needs to happen. Maybe I am wrong, but even though most of us accept that the Bible is true – that its stories really happened – in our minds Israel and the Bible tend to live in the realm of myth. Touring Israel can easily become an overly romanticized, sentimental journey to a spiritual Disneyland, instead of an immersion into God’s practical and enduring reality.

 

The reestablishment of Israel after 2000 years of exile testifies to God’s ongoing faithfulness to his word and to his people. That is why a key component of this tour is connecting with some of what God is doing in the Land of Israel today as we get to know believers and various ministries there. Our hope is that we will come home not only knowing God and the Bible better, but also with a sense of connection to God’s work in Israel that will be with us for the rest of our lives.

 

Biblical truth is not a collection of abstract concepts, but a living, practical, on-the-ground reality. This tour, “God’s Faithfulness Then & Now,” will thrust us into the fullness of the Big Picture of God’s Epic Story.

We have just completed a promotional video, which you can see here. Please share it with friends by email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Special thanks to Dan Woods of Blue Mansion Media for producing this.

 

For more information about the tour, including a printable brochure and reservation forms, click here.

To make a reservation, contact Glenda by phone (toll-Free): 1-800-667-5559 (outside North America: 1-604-853-0751), ext: 365; or by email: glenda@mennotvl.com.

4 Reasons Not To Miss Ballet Magnificat’s Hiding Place

Ballet Magnificat is coming to Ontario, Canada, next week (March 16: Welland, March 19: Ottawa, March 20: Pembroke). You want to be there for several reasons:

  1. The Story. Hiding Place is one of the most powerful stories of the past hundred years. It recounts the Ten Boom family’s hiding of Jewish people during the Holocaust in Holland and the price they paid for doing so.
  1. The production. The medium of dance communicates the message of this extraordinary story in a way you will never forget. Ballet Magnificat is a professional Christian ballet company that combines excellence and passion in a most unusual way. You have to see it to believe it!
  1. Hannah Gilman (Disclaimer! very personal and biased reason). This is the first time our daughter will be performing with Ballet Magnificat in Canada, not to mention her hometown of Ottawa! She recently has been promoted to full company member. It would mean so much to her to see as many friends (old and new) and family members there.

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  1. It’s a fund raiser. Proceeds of the Welland performance go to “Elisha House,” a local pregnancy and family support center. The Ottawa and Pembroke performances are fund raisers for “Ottawa Inner City Ministries,” an organization that works among the homeless in Ottawa.

Get your tickets now!

Welland: http://www.arts.brocku.ca/performances/viewperformance.php?scode=2014&ecode=14R16

Ottawa or Pembroke: http://www.ottawainnercityministries.ca/events/5412-2/

Purim starts tonight! – Are You an Esther?

Happy Purim!

The Festival of Purim begins this evening, Wednesday, March 4, 2015. The story of Purim is found in the biblical book of Esther, where we read how Haman, the highest level official of the King of Persia, plotted the destruction of all Jewish people out of his resentment towards one prominent Jewish man, named Mordecai.

As dark as was Haman’s insane hatred, so bright was the virtue of Esther, Mordecai’s cousin. Through divine providence the King of Persia married this young Jewish girl. At first she hid her Jewish identity, until Haman’s plot became known. At the urging of Mordecai, Esther revealed her true identity to the King, who then allowed the Jews to defend themselves against Haman’s threat.

At first Esther hesitated to approach the King. For it was the King’s custom that if anyone appeared before him without first being summoned, they could be executed. The only exception to this rule, which could not be known beforehand, was if he extended his scepter to that person.

Esther could have reasoned that while the rest of her people were in danger, due to her special relationship to the King, she herself might be preserved. Not so according to Mordecai, who sent the following message to her:

“Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. 14 For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14)

Mordecai understood how dangerous Haman’s plot was. He knew that just because Esther was married to the King her protection was not guaranteed. While he was confident that God would deliver his people, it would most likely be at the cost of many lives including that of Esther and her own family (which would have included Mordecai as well). Yet Mordecai thought that God may have placed Esther in the royal household for the purpose of saving her people.

So Esther was willing to approach the King in the face of the possibility of execution. As it turned out the King was favorable toward Esther and granted her request, resulting in yet another time in history when the Jewish people escaped annihilation.

What about you? Are you an Esther? I wonder how many of us are in situations right now in which we are called to make a significant difference. We are living in a very critical time in history. Perhaps you think your life is just fine. But do you realize that the world is spinning out of control? Economic instability and the threat of terrorism engulf the globe. The moral consciousness of many, if not most, societies, have become corrupt beyond reason. Family life is broken, and almost everyone is obsessed with self and materialism.

How many of us may be in positions where we can make a positive difference by standing against the assault of wickedness before us? And if we do nothing? Will that ensure that we will escape the coming destruction?

Like Esther we may be intimidated by what it might mean to speak up. We know that to go against the flow of evil is risky. Yet, as Mordecai said, to do nothing is actually the greater risk.

We comfort ourselves with the thought that God will accomplish his purposes in spite of us. But is that really what we want? If we don’t take a stand, we will be swept away. And who knows but that we have come to our position, whatever that may be, for such a time as this?