September 11, the Weight of the World, and the Goodness of God

“For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened…” 2 Cor. 5:4

Sixteen years ago, I was getting ready for the day, when I heard news of the first plane flying into the twin towers. I watched in disbelief, frozen in front of the television, as the second plane struck. A terrible thought sank into the pit of my stomach. The towers are going to fall. I retreated to my bedroom and cried to God that the towers would not fall. But they did. And with them thousands of people.

I spent part of that afternoon at my neighbors’ house, a couple who had seen the Day of Infamy at Pearl Harbor. And here was their second day of infamy. So, we cried to God together. And in the days to come, our nation mourned under the weight of the shadow of death, under the veil that is cast over all the peoples. Even the stories of sacrifice and brotherhood could not lift the weight of the nation’s tragedy.

And yet, all these years later, we are still a people under oppressive weight. The weight of a fractured nation. Of divided denominations, churches, and families. The weight of natural disasters. The weight of our own pride and strained relationships. The weight of memories and regret. Of condemnation. Of sickness. Of starting over with nothing. Of death.

We carry the weight of the sorrows of our friends and neighbors, even of people in other parts of the world. The past couple weeks alone saw floods in Asia, hurricanes in the U.S., and an earthquake in Mexico, with people crying out under the weight of their devastation.

“We do not lose heart…” 2 Cor. 4:16

This seems almost impossible to say. Under such crushing weight, how can we not lose heart? How is it that we can be afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; struck down, but not destroyed?

Faith in the goodness of God.

The spirit of faith that says with the Psalmist “’I believed, and so I spoke,’ we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us … into his presence.” (2 Cor. 4:13-14)

God spoke and it will come to pass.

More than a triumph of the human spirit, our hope is sure and steady.  It is not of the things seen, but the things unseen… the things that are eternal.

This is a divine assurance that knows that all the weight of these afflictions are preparing a weight of glory. This weight of glory is so great, all our crushing afflictions are light compared to it. Even if our afflictions last a lifetime, they are still momentary compared with this glory that is eternal.

God has spoken and it will come to pass when the veil of death will be lifted forever. No more will we struggle and mourn under the weight of suffering and death.

And he will swallow up on this mountain

the covering that is cast over all peoples,

the veil that is spread over all nations.

He will swallow up death forever;

and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces,

and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,

for the LORD has spoken.

It will be said on that day,

“Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.

This is the LORD; we have waited for him;

let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

Isaiah 25:7-9

Terrorists will not have the final say. Neither will the cancer, nor bitterness, nor brokenness nor demons nor war. Neither will our sense of brotherhood and sacrifice. The LORD has spoken, and so we do not lose heart.

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living!

Wait for the LORD:

be strong and let your heart take courage;

wait for the LORD!

Psalm 27:13-14

Saturday Song: Now I Belong to Jesus

After reading this post from Desiring God, I felt inspired to play some old hymns that I haven’t sung or played for quite a while. I couldn’t help but smile fondly at the hymnal when I pulled it from my piano bag. I remember reading some of my first words out of a hymnal like this… but this one was mine.

Without looking, I can tell this book apart from its hymnal twin in my bag, just by the feel of the cover. I have been playing out of this little book for 20 years now. I know how each page falls open and where each dog-eared hymn is. The margins are full of my notes. It is full of the songs that helped raise me. It’s been my companion at funerals and weddings, at Christmas programs and my grandma’s living room. When I play the old hymns, I hear the voices who used to sing with me harmonizing with the notes – sweet echoes from the past.

As dear as this little hymnal and the memories are to me, the words in it remind me of a deeper affection. A longing that is universal: to belong. Not just to fit in to a temporary group or fragile social structure, but to belong securely, completely, forever.

Tonight the little hymnal reminded me that I belong to one who is more constant than the most faithful companion ever could be.

Jesus my Lord will love me forever, from him no pow’r of evil can sever; He gave his life to ransom my soul- now I belong to him!

Once I was lost in sin’s degradation, Jesus came down to bring me salvation; Lifted me up from sorrow and shame- now I belong to him!

Joy floods my soul, for Jesus has saved me, Freed me from sin that long had enslaved me; His precious blood he gave to redeem- now I belong to him!

Now I belong to Jesus, Jesus belongs to me. Not for the years of time alone, but for eternity.

…You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefather, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 1 Peter 18-19

Psalm 34:19-22

19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous,

but the LORD delivers him out of them all.

20 He keeps all his bones;

not one of them is broken.

21 Affliction will slay the wicked,

and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.

22 The LORD redeems the life of his servants;

none of those who take refuge in him

will be condemned.

Verse 19 is similar to verse 17 in mentioning “the righteous” and the LORD’s deliverance.  The key difference in the verses is number.  In verse 17, the LORD “delivers them” and in verse 19, “the LORD delivers him”.  Verses 19-20 are clearly about one righteous man — the Messiah.  David looked forward to these promises being fulfilled.  I can look back and see that these prophecies were fulfilled in Christ.

“Many are the afflictions of the righteous” — Psalm 34:19

“Sure he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken; smitten by God, and afflicted.” Isaiah 53:4

“… and having scourge Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.” Matthew 27:26

“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice… “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Mark 15:34

But this is not the end, Psalm 34:19 continues,

“but the LORD delivers him out of them all.”

“Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;

he has put him to grief;

when his soul makes an offering for sin,

he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;

the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.

Out of the anguish of his soul he shall

see and be satisfied;

by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,

make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” Isaiah 53:10-11

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead…” 1 Corinthians 15:20

A sign is given in Psalm 34:20

“He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.”

And fulfilled:

“But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.  But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.  He who saw it has borne witness — his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth — that you also may believe.  For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” John 19:34-36

While the Righteous One is delivered from his afflictions, affliction will slay the wicked (Psalm 34:21).  For them, there will be no deliverance, only condemnation.  For the Lord’s servants, however, are not condemned.  Instead, the same deliverance that was granted to the Righteous One is granted to the servants.  The afflictions and deliverance of the Righteous One enable the deliverance of the servants. Their only hope for deliverance, the very reason they can be called “righteous”, is that the Righteous One died, according to Scripture, in the manner described by prophecy, was raised according to Scripture, and grants to the servants his righteousness through faith.  As the Servant was persecuted, so can the servants expect persecution.  And as the Servant was delivered, so to are the servants promised deliverance.  It is no coincidence that this Psalm about fighting fear ends with a proclamation of the Gospel.  In every doubt, the believer turns to the Gospel for reminder of God’s grace and love — and to fuel faith for the fulfillment of every blessing in Christ.  The God who granted salvation in a person’s yesterday, cannot turn from him or her in their today, and will not in any tomorrow.  That is the peace the Gospel brings: sureness of God’s salvation, sureness of God’s faithfulness, sureness of the eternal nature of his love.

What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?  Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?  It is God who Justifies.  Who is to condemn?  Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that, who was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  As it is written, “for your sake we are being killed all the day long;  we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor ruler, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:31-39

Psalm 34:17-18

When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears

and delivers them out of all their troubles.

The LORD is near to the brokenhearted

and saves the crushed in spirit.    Psalm 34:17-18

These verses lead me to ask myself, “Self, when do you cry for help? At night when fears and fatigue start their vicious attack?  In the morning when the start of a new day seems too much to bear?  In the afternoon or mid-morning when the crush of the everyday — the urgency — starts to make its many demands?  Whenever the time, it doesn’t matter, because “when the righteous cry” “the LORD hears and delivers.”  Look back on the last 24 hours.  Have you cried for help?  And were you delivered? Yes, Self, you know you have cried and you have been delivered. ”

To which my Self replies, “But being rid of fear is a reoccurring struggle, and being delivered from a certain fear one night doesn’t mean it won’t rear its ugly head the next night.  Great sorrow happening at once can make a person brokenhearted and crushed in spirit.  But, it does not always take an extreme event to produce that same result.  The daily drip of anxiety, the nagging of a certain fear, the inner voice that constantly condemns, day in and day out all lead to a crushed spirit as well.”

To which Self is answered, “But what does the Word of God say?  The LORD is near to you, O brokenhearted! The LORD is your salvation, O crushed in spirit! Hold that. Cherish that truth.  Use it to fight your fears.  Remember to cry out to the LORD God.  He is your sure salvation.”

Dear Lord,

It’s three in the morning and I’ve been robbed of sleep.  I hear fears and what-ifs come rushing at me. 

I feel my anxiety rise to meet them.

My body is so tired.  I toss and turn; I cover my head, but my wakeful mind is the host to these voices of fear —

and I can’t shut them out.

Oh, give me grace and deliverance from these enemies.

Drive out anxiety and fill me with trust in you!

Drive out my fears and fill me with reminders of your mercy!

I am a child of little faith, so hold me close and fill up my lack.

Remind me of your promises.

Let me rest in your peace,

and let me sleep again.

Blessed be God,

because he has not rejected my prayer

or removed his steadfast love from me!   Psalm 66:20

Saturday Song: Your Name Alone Can Save

This past week was my first week of summer vacation, and the first of a series of road trips.  Last week came to a total of 16 hours of driving and next week will be about 20.  So, I made a 4-disk driving soundtrack.  This Saturday’s Song, Your Name Alone Can Save, by Sovereign Grace, is my favorite one on the soundtrack.  Hope you enjoy!

Click here for a link to the song.