Out of the Darkness and into Life

 

crying-eyes-wallpapers-31“I will exalt You, O Lord, for You lifted me out of the depths . . . O Lord my God, I called to You for help and You healed me. O Lord, You brought me up from the grave; You spared me from going down into the pit” Psalm 30:1-3

Memory is a powerful thing. It can bring us delight in the thoughts of a loved one, or joy in the remembrance of a special day. It can take me back to the innocent days of childhood or allow you to recall again the arms of your daddy carrying you up to bed. Memories can also cause grief and pain to resurface, people whose absence haunts us, or situations that come rushing back from dark times we’ve tried to forget. I experience one of those painful memories in, of all things, a computer game. It was a game I played for mind-numbing hours when sleep escaped me and anxiety overwhelmed me. It was one of the deepest, darkest seasons of my life.

Like most of us, I’ve had “blue days” when my heart and mind were in a low place, but they usually came and went in a day or so. Many times they were connected to disappointments, frustrations and hormones (every woman reading this just nodded her head).   But they didn’t prove to be debilitating so I just rode them out like waves at the beach. Until a tsunami of anxiety and depression hit me and knocked me off my feet with a force I’ve never felt before. There was no riding this one out. There was no jumping back to my feet. There was no shaking it off, no bootstraps to pull myself up by, this was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. Night after night I lay in the bed trying to sleep, racked with body aches and mental anguish. When I did manage to drift off, as soon as my body relaxed, my muscles would jerk me awake from the tension I held all day. The cycle repeated itself hour after hour, night after night. I drudged through my days in a sleep-deprived stupor.

As bad as the nights were, the days were even worse. The constant bombardment of hopelessness, anxiety, and despair never left me. I cannot describe in words the mental torment I experienced, but anyone who has endured that kind of hell knows exactly what I mean. While I don’t condone it, I came to understand how people suffering from severe depression might welcome the relief of death. At one point I stood in my kitchen contemplating which knife would do the job the quickest when my son came in for a drink, and I realized I couldn’t do that to him. I never thought about suicide again.

I had been writing in notebooks for years, before blogs were ever the thing to do, thinking someday there might be something to my words. But in the midst of this season, I believed I would never get my mind back, never be able to write anything that made sense, and I threw years of writings in the fireplace and watched my words curl up in the flames and turn to ashes. I couldn’t bear to be constantly reminded of what I had lost and would never get back. Besides, I reasoned, I won’t be able to take them with me into the mental institution I saw as my future.

So how is it that I am here, ten years later, writing these words to you now, pursuing my dream to study as a seminary student and finding joy in my life again? How did I go from the deepest pit to standing here with the sun shining on my face? In a word – God.  Even from the beginning, I sensed that if I had even the smallest chance of survival, it would only be if I clung to God like a drowning man clings to a life preserver. Somehow – no, not somehow, I know how – deep in my spirit I knew that God could rescue me. I knew that if I grabbed onto whatever I could of Him, I had a sliver of hope. The truth is, I wasn’t clinging to God because all along God had been holding on to me. The only solace I found was in my Bible, in the pages of the Psalms. They speak to every emotion man experiences, and they were the words I couldn’t find at three o’clock in the morning. I read the Psalms constantly, wrote them in my prayer journal, prayed them aloud and wrote my own. They were my lifeline to God. They were God’s gift to me.

And one more thing – one early morning as I was reading Psalm 19, I noticed how David called God “my strength, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer, my shield and the horn of my salvation” (vs. 1-2). I sensed God speak to my heart, “Child, who am I?” “You’re God,” I said, “Who else could you be?” Again in my heart I heard “There’s so much more to me than you realize. Know me.” Those two words rang through my mind the entire day – “Know me.” I remembered a small book I had picked up several months earlier at a conference, Time Out: Planning a Personal Prayer Retreat, by Mary Kassian. It was published just for the retreat – I bought it for $5 – but it had listings of the names of God in Hebrew with scripture references. This book became my personal study manual as I poured over each of those names, looking up the Scriptures and writing each one out. I began to see God as I had never seen Him before. God was Yahweh Magen – the Lord my Shield, Yahweh Rophe – the Lord my Healer, El Emunah – the Faithful God, and the name that became most precious to me, El Hayyay – God of my life. Every name gave me renewed strength and hope and peace. In studying the names of God I felt like a parched, cracked desert suddenly graced with spring showers, drinking in liquid life.  That study continued for six years as I found more resources with more information. I began to study the original word terminologies in the Hebrew, a passion that has carried over in my studies and writing today. The God of the Bible literally saved my life. I will be sharing some of these names in a series of blog posts in the coming weeks. I pray you will find new facets of who God is and come to appreciate His multi-dimensional nature. I hope you will find a special name that becomes your personal, intimate connection to your Creator.

It was two very long years before I could sense a return to “normal” (whatever that is), and I still have bouts with depression from time-to-time. I learned later that I was experiencing a serious chemical imbalance that triggered the depressive episode. Medication is part of my self-care routine, but I always turn back to the Psalms and my studies of God’s names when I feel myself heading down into the pit again. I’ve learned through study and by experience that whatever I need – whether a Rescuer, Helper, Redeemer, Rock, Shield, Defender, Healer, or Comforter, God is always and forever El Shaddai – the Almighty Sufficient God. He is whatever I need.

El Hayyay – You are the God of my life, You saved me from my sins and you saved me from despair. You are Yahweh Shalom – the God of Peace, for only You could bring peace to my misery and pain. You will forever be Eli Maelekhi – God my King, and I will forever serve You. Amen.

Christians vs. America?

bible-american-flag“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” 2 Corinthians 10:3-6.

There is a war raging against Christians throughout the world, as it has been for more than two thousand years. From the moment of Jesus Christ’s resurrection, Christians have been in the bulls-eye of unbelieving sharpshooters. The history of the church flows with the blood of the martyrs of the faith. From Stephen and James, the first to die because of the name of Jesus to today’s faithful believers around the world, being a Christian is at the very least “unpopular” and at its worst, deadly. The writer of Hebrews outlined some of the persecution that believers in Christ endured in the first century: torture, jeers, flogging, chains and prison, stoning, dismemberment, and destitution (Hebrews 11:35-37). The techniques may have changed, but the end result is the same. Terrorism and oppressive atheistic world leaders have murdered thousands of believers around the world. Christians can expect oppression, persecution and trouble in this world.

There is a war against Christians in America – though some would deny it. It is far more subtle than the battles that are being faced by believers in the Middle East, but it is there nonetheless. In the United States it is not persecution by terrorists, but by the legal system that is being swayed by society.   Christians are facing legal repercussions for taking a moral stand. And though recent events seem to have taken the church by surprise, the crumbling of morality in America began long before. Here are just two of many reasons.

The Scopes Trial in 1925 served as the hinge on which the United States began to turn from being a godly nation to a secular nation.   The trial centered on a law passed in Tennessee forbidding the teaching of any theory that denies the biblical account of creation – of course the theory in question was evolution. Scopes was the teacher who dared (upon the urging of the ACLU) to teach Darwin’s theory. Scopes was found guilty, but from that pivotal case, many of the moral standards of this country began to fall like dominoes.

Take the issue of school prayer. “School Prayer was removed from the U.S. public education system by slowly changing the meaning of the First Amendment through a number of court cases over several decades.” First in 1962 in the case of Engel v. Vitale, then in the 1963 case of Murray v. Curlett brought by militant left wing atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair. This case was heard around the same time as Abington Township School District v. Schempp. It is interesting to note that in the Murry v. Curlett caseNot a single Christian organization filed a brief in support of school prayer. The Supreme Court ruled 8 to 1 in favor of abolishing school prayer and Bible reading in the public schools.” In the Abington Township School District v. Schempp “the court’s ruling stated that School Prayer and Bible reading were violations of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”[1]

By the way, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no laws respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise of” was written for 2 purposes: to prevent the establishment of a government sanctioned church (as England had done) and to ensure the right of every American to freely hold to whatever religious beliefs they chose and to freely practice those beliefs.   The first portion provides for the “separation of church and state” – not to demand that religion be stricken from all areas of government and public life, but to prevent the state’s restriction and control of religious practice.

In the ensuing years, America has taken its moral cues from a culture and society largely dominated by non-Christians and deeply influenced by the entertainment and finance industries. Challenges to every moral stance have been mounted and have sent traditional moral values crumbling to the ground. Many churches, in an effort to not lose footing in the modern culture began to turn away from solid biblical teaching and turn to immoral tolerance of every sort.

In recent years challenges have been brought on two fronts; the approval and legalizing of immorality and the criminalizing of moral conviction.   Business are being forced to close because their owners refused to offer services for certain activities that compromise their moral convictions. Laws are literally being passed to punish business owners who place their moral values ahead of profit-making.

So what are Christians to do? How do we fight in such an unfair battle? Does this spell the end of Christianity in America? Before we push the panic button, let’s see what God’s Word has to say.

We are not the first generation to face legal and political oppression for our faith. One excellent example is Daniel, a Hebrew brought by captivity to Babylon when he was only a teenager. If you know any of the Bible stories, you probably know the story of Daniel in the Lion’s Den – but there is so much more to the story than we learned in Sunday School. Daniel was put in the Lion’s Den for disobeying a law of the land, a law that was intended to trap him. The full story is in Daniel 6. Daniel is a well-respected, high-ranking government official in what was then Median controlled Babylon, he is a man of integrity which is a direct result of his devotion to his Hebrew faith. Some of the other officials are very jealous and want to get rid of Daniel, but can find no fault in his work or character. However, they think if they put Daniel in a position of having to choose between his faith and his life, he will either abandon the one or lose the other. So they coerce the foolish King Darius to pass a law that if anyone prays to any god or man other than himself, they will be thrown into the lion’s den. Daniel knows the law and the consequences, but he continues to follow his habit of praying to God three times a day. He was thrown into the lion’s den, but, as you probably know, survived the night unscathed. Daniel placed the commands of God ahead of the law of the king, and God protected him. A similar scenario plays out for Daniel’s three friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who refused to bow down before Nebuchadnezzar’s image and were thrown into a fiery furnace, where Jesus came to protect them and bring them through with “no smell of fire on them” (Dan. 3:27). The whole account is in Daniel 3.

The Apostles of Jesus Christ are perfect models for us as well. Peter and John were arrested and jailed by the Jewish religious leaders for proclaiming the name of Jesus Christ. They were commanded not to speak in Jesus’ name any longer, by they answered by saying, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God” (Acts 4:19). Arrested again they replied “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29). They were beaten for their “crimes” and rejoiced in sharing in Christ’s suffering.’

In these examples we see men of God standing strong in their convictions regardless of the mandates of the law. Don’t misunderstand me, we are told in the Bible to obey the law of our nation – however when the law is evil, God’s people must stand up against it. Daniel, his friends, Peter and John and the Apostles didn’t launch huge protests, circulate petitions or gather a legal team to defend them. They simply went about the business of being faithful to God. They obeyed the law until the law directed them to disobey God.   They knew that obeying God has far greater and more lasting benefits than eschewing God’s moral laws for man’s laws.

Again, I reiterate, I’m not advocating a Christian revolution against the government – but I am suggesting that when God’s people are confronted with laws that counter the Word of God, they are first subjects of Christ before they are subjects of a nation or ruler.

Is Christianity dying? Is the Christian church going to survive? Christianity is by no means dying and the church will survive because her Head is Jesus Christ, the ultimate and eternal Victor. But the church and her children will take some difficult blows. God protected Daniel and his friends, but the first generation of believers suffered great persecution and the centuries that followed were not kind to Christians for the most part. Jesus warned His followers that the world would hate those who love Him, He said, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you” (John 15:20). But He also said “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” (Matthew 5:11). When we become Christians, and live like Christians, we become offensive to the world, for no other reason than our identification with Christ.

So how do we fight the culture in which we live? By simply being faithful to God, walking in His Truth, refusing to compromise our faith and our message, and trusting Him to stand in our defense or stand to receive us into heaven.

Lord Jesus, You understand how deeply the world hates Your people, we offend them just because we are yours. Lord, help us to stop fighting and to simply live faithful lives trusting you with the outcome. You are our Victor, the Head of Your church, and You rule and reign over the affairs of man. May we be found faithful. Amen.

[1] “School Prayer” from All About History, http://www.allabouthistory.org/school-prayer.htm, (Accessed May 14, 2015)

A Mom Like Me

mother-and-child_1681173c“I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of Him” (1 Samuel 1:27).

I think it’s very important to see the men and women of the Bible and the greats of the Christian faith as real flesh-and-blood people, not just bigger-than-life heroes. They endured many of the same difficulties we do in the 21st century and they have much to teach us from their lives so long ago. Human nature hasn’t changed and the human struggle will continue until Jesus comes back to set everything right. Through their stories we learn to stand strong against our enemies when all we have is a slingshot and a few stones. We learn to resist temptation when it beckons us day-after-day like Potiphar’s wife. We learn to trust God through the story of Abraham, and we can draw strength to endure persecution from the great martyrs of the faith.

I’ve found a real connection in some of the mothers in the Bible and in Christian history. In honor of Mother’s Day, I’d like to share my Mother-Heroines with you. Maybe you will find a connection of your own with them.

I’ve long had a special place in my heart for Hannah, the mother of Samuel. Hannah’s story is found in 1 Samuel 1-2; she endured many years of barrenness – what I called infertility for seven years. Hannah prayed fervently for a child – and God granted her prayer and she gave birth to Samuel, who became a great leader of the Israelite nation. I, too prayed for many years for a child and God granted my desire as well. Hannah and I kept praying until God said yes – we both had sons after many years of waiting. Our key verse is her words to the priest Eli, when she and her husband presented baby Samuel at the Temple.

Bathsheba is an example to me of a mom who sinned greatly, yet God forgave her, blessed her and used her in His plan. Her story is told in 2 Samuel 11-12. Bathsheba was another’s man’s wife when King David initiated an affair with her, then murdered her husband to cover up his sin when she discovered she was pregnant. Though her child died, God forgave her and blessed Bathsheba with another son, Solomon, who followed his father on the throne of Israel and ruled with godly wisdom. I am a mom who messed up more than once, and, just as God forgave Bathsheba and redeemed her life, He has done the same for me.

There is a mom and grandmother I truly aspire to be like: Eunice and Lois, whose godly lives and teaching shaped young Timothy, who became the Apostle Paul’s “right-hand man” in ministry. Paul said of them: “I have been reminded of your [Timothy’s] sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5). What a legacy! That’s the kind of mom I want to be, one who models a “sincere faith” that influences my child and someday, my grandchildren.

At this stage in my “parenting career” I most identify with a mother named Monica who lived in a.d. 300-400. Monica was a woman who loved God passionately and also loved her son deeply. Monica’s son was a young man with a – shall we say – “zest” for all the world had to offer. He pursued his own pleasures and made choices that broke his mother’s heart. He loved his mother, but he was determined to live his life on his terms. Monica prayed fervently and faithfully for her son. She wept and pleaded with God to bring her son out of the world and into His Kingdom. She sacrificed for her son and endured his misbehavior and the consequences that followed him around everywhere he went.   Her son later wrote these words about her, “I cannot adequately tell of the love she had for me, or how she continued to travail for me in the spirit with far more anguish than when she bore me in the flesh.”[1] Monica sought the help of a bishop to pray for and counsel with her son and try to lead him to Christ. He did, though her son refused his counsel, but his mother continued to cry and plead with him to keep trying. “Finally the bishop, a little vexed at her persistence, exclaimed, ‘Go your way; as you live, it cannot be that the son of these tears should perish.’”[2] Monica and God won the battle for her son’s soul and he came to salvation at the age of 32. Perhaps you’ve heard of him – Saint Augustine of Hippo – one of the greatest fathers of the Christian faith.

I love my son with all my heart, I pray continually for him to have an encounter with Jesus Christ that will change the course of his life and bring him into a deep and passionate relationship with the Lord. I have no doubt “pestered” God so that if He were a human, He would have lost patience with me long ago. But I am taking my cues from Monica and I will not let up – God knows my heart, He hears my prayers and He will turn my child from the world to the light of Christ. He loves my son more than I ever will, it is His desire as well as mine to bring him into the joy and light of his Kingdom.

Motherhood is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It is also the most rewarding and most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done. My son is not “the perfect kid” – he’s way too much like his mother, but he is worth every prayer and every tear. Maybe this Mother’s Day the sun dawns on a broken heart, a longing unfulfilled, an unimaginable loss, a strained relationship, or a struggling child. If you are a mom like me – I want to encourage you to take a look at the mothers of the Bible and the Church. The one common denominator in every one of their stories is a mother on her knees for her child. Come join me in the Mother’s prayer room – we’re all in this together and best of all – God is in it with us too.

Dear Father, I think the heart of a mother comes closest to Your own heart than any other on earth. I pray for my son to know You and to love You with all his heart, mind, soul and strength. I pray for my fellow moms – give us endurance to stay on our knees and let us rejoice together when our children say “I belong to the Lord” (Isaiah 44:5). Amen.

[1] Saint Augustine, Confessions of Saint Augustine, Edited by Tom Gill. (Alachua, Bridge-Logos,2003),117.

[2] Augustine, 72.

Finding My Way Back

“In their distress they turned to the Lord and sought Him and He was found by them” 2 Chronicles 15:4.

Wrong wayI am notorious for getting lost on the road. Well, the truth is, I can get lost in the mall too and I’ve wandered the halls of many of hospital in bewilderment. So, I’m not very good at finding my way around. I was so thankful when my husband got me a GPS. Even if I don’t exactly know where I’m at, I just tell it where I want to go and my little friend sets a route right from where I am and leads me by the hand all the way.

I remember getting lost as I was coming home from a meeting at a church in a part of town I rarely go to. I had been to this same church when a friend drove who knew the area well and she had taken a backroad that bypassed all the heavy traffic. So I thought I would give it a try. Big mistake. I got out of the parking lot okay and onto the exit road, but from there – did she turn left or right? I decided she went left and so I did the same.   I knew there was a turn ahead, but I thought it was sooner than this. Still I kept on driving, looking for the turn and beginning to question myself. Ah, this must be it – blinker on and I turned and drove for a few blocks to find a dead end. Well that couldn’t be the right road so I turned back and kept driving. Eventually, I realized I was lost. I had no clue where I was or what to do – and now it was dark. Mind you, this was before I had a cell phone so I couldn’t call my husband who always knew his way around. Tears started falling as I drove and prayed. “God I’m scared. I made a wrong turn and now I’m lost and it’s dark and I don’t know where I am or how to get home. Please help me.” And as I continued to drive, I followed this sense of “Turn here” and I began to see familiar things – I remember that house, I remember seeing that big oak tree and there’s the church again! Relief and thankfulness flooded my heart as the lights of the main road came into view and I knew I was safely on my way home.

Getting lost doesn’t just happen on the road – or in the mall. We can get lost spiritually too. We set off on our way and everything seems fine. Then we decide to turn left when we should have turned right. We think we know which way to go, but the truth is we’re headed in the wrong direction and we don’t even realize it. We keep getting farther and farther away from where we need to be, taking more wrong turns and going deeper into unknown territory. We hit one dead end after another, trying to turn ourselves around and get back where we belong, but nothing looks familiar, in fact it looks more and more foreboding as the light begins to wane and the night sets in around us. Darkness distorts everything, and fear begins to grip our hearts. We realize we have gone too far and have no idea how to get back to the safety of home.

At this point we have one of two choices – we can either keep going in our stubbornness and pride heading deeper and deeper into darkness, or we can cry out to God from wherever we are and He will come to us and lead us back home. Our God is the rescuer of the lost. His heart is attuned to His children as He strains His ears to hear even the faintest cry and searches us out with tenderness and love. That is the beautiful image we have as Jesus declared Himself “the good shepherd” (John 10:11) – He is the one who “leaves the ninety-nine [sheep] in the open country and goes after the lost sheep until he finds it” (Luke 15:4). And He doesn’t stop looking until “he finds it and joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home” (Luke 15:5-6). That is His mission, “The Son of Man came to seek and save [the] lost” (Luke 19:10).

Do you find yourself today far from the safety of home?

You may be a believer in Christ who has wandered away from your Shepherd and far from His good pasture. You may not be able to even see the Shepherd, but be assured, His eye has never left you. Stop where you are and call out to Him – “God, I am sorry, I made a wrong turn and now I’m lost and it’s dark and I don’t know where I am or how to get home. Please help me.” Jesus will come to you and lead you back to safety.

Perhaps you have never placed yourself under the Shepherd’s care, but you realize that where you are is dark and lonely and foreboding. You want to be in the warmth and joy of God’s light and under the loving care of Jesus. Stop going the wrong way and tell Jesus, “I know that I am lost without You. I cannot find my way. You are the only one who can help me. I am turning to You Jesus, please come and save me.” He will seek you and find you. Luke 15: 6-7 says that He will rejoice over you and all of heaven will celebrate your coming to Jesus.

Today can be the day you go from wandering in the wilderness to the safety of home. Today can be the day you go from lost to found. Today can be a new beginning with a new life and a glorious new future. Please don’t wait another day, another moment. Come to Jesus. Come home.

Jesus, Savior, Good Shepherd, Finder of the lost and weary, we have wandered far from you and the way is hidden in darkness. We are helpless to find our way home without You. Please do what You came to do: seek us and find us and bring us safely home. Amen.

The King and I

for-a-moment-they-stood-looking-at-each-other-the-barefoot-beggar-girl-in-her-rags-and-the-king-in-his-jewelled-crown-king-cophetua-and-the-beggar-maid“Let us the approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

There have been several reports in the news lately of people scaling the fence or flying small aircraft into the restricted area of the White House in Washington D.C. sending security scrambling to apprehend the “visitor” and keep him from getting to the President of the United States. He is the most powerful person in the U.S., and one doesn’t just saunter across the White House lawn and step into the President’s kitchen for a cup of joe. Likewise the palace in London and the homes and offices of leaders around the world are equally secured.   For the everyday person with a problem, it is nearly impossible to go to the president or the king and ask for help, even if he or she is the only one who can offer aid. It seems the more powerful a person becomes, the less accessible they are to the ones who most need their help.

There is a great Old Testament account in the book of Esther that illustrates this point well. Esther was a Jewish girl living with her uncle in Susa, a province of Persia. The king of Susa had fallen in love with Esther and taken her to be his queen, but she hid her Jewish identity, as her people were not very popular in the region. In fact they were so disliked that one of the king’s aide’s decided all the Jews in Susa should be killed in a mass extermination. The king was not very bright and put his “stamp of approval” on this heinous plan. Esther’s uncle begged with her to go to the king and plead for the lives of her people. Esther’s reply is startling: Any person who approaches the king in his inner court will be put to death unless the king extends his scepter as a sign of acceptance. Even his wife.

Esther swallowed her fear and, dressed in her finest, she walked across the palace’s marble floors and stepped into the king’s line of vision as her heart hammered under her silk gown. Her life and the lives of her people hung on every breath she drew. Would it be death for Esther or would his love for his queen overrule the royal law and spare her life, and ultimately, the lives of the Jews in Susa? If you want to know how this ends, take a half-hour and read the short book of Esther. It’s an incredible story.

I’ve often envisioned myself standing outside the doors of God’s throne room, my heart hammering in my chest, not dressed in royal silk and robes, but in the torn, tattered clothes of the sinful woman I am. I come with a heavy burden, a desperate need that only the King of the universe can help me with, but I am so afraid of what His response to one such as me might be. My need is almost always the result of my own sin and foolishness and I have the bruised and bloodied knees to prove it. Do I dare push open that door and approach the holy and pure God of heaven and earth?

According to today’s key verse, that is exactly what I am invited to do, and that acceptance comes because of the blood of Jesus. I see myself clothes in dirty rags, but God sees me clothed in the righteousness of Christ. I see the mud of the world clinging to my hands, God sees the “clean hands and pure heart” of one who has been redeemed by His Son and cleansed from all my sin. I see myself as a stumbling, sinful woman, but He sees me as a beloved daughter, His princess. I came across a saying by Timothy Keller that expresses this thought beautifully: “The only person that dares wake up the king at 3:00 a.m. for a glass of water is his child. We have that kind of access.”

As children of God, we approach our heavenly Father, not with hesitation and fear, but “with confidence, and boldness,” knowing we will receive the help – the “mercy and grace” – we need. Such confidence is ours not by our own merit or goodness or the list of things we have done, but only through our faith in Jesus Christ, who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). If you are in Christ, you are not only welcomed in the presence of God, but you are wanted. God delights to have you come to Him. He is never annoyed with you, never wishes you would take your woes elsewhere, and never tires of hearing from you. You will never come to him at “a bad time.” He is always ready to receive you.

Dear friend, whatever you need is today, lift your head up and step into your Father’s presence, He will not only “hold out the scepter to you,” but He will throw open His arms wide to you. Your Father will gladly receive the one He loves.

Holy Father, I come to you because You are the one I need. You receive me because I am the one You love. Thank you for answering my prayers, even if it’s only for a glass of water at 3 o’clock in the morning. Amen.

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother

Sam Carries Frodo

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” Galatians 6:2.

I love the Lord of the Rings movies. I read the books by J.R.R. Tolkien when I was much younger, but the Peter Jackson directed movies left a deep impression on me. One of my favorite scenes is in the third installment, The Return of the King. Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee have made their way to Mordor and are climbing up the side of Mount Doom to destroy the ring and free Middle Earth from Sauron’s control. Frodo is worn and weary, battered and beaten and falls nearly dead from the oppressive weight of this small ring with such evil power. His faithful friend comes to his side and tries to encourage Frodo by reminding him of how good and right life in the Shire will be when the ring is gone. But Frodo is completely spent and can no longer go on. Knowing that only his friend can destroy the ring, Samwise, with tears streaking his grimy face says, “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you.” With that he lifts Frodo across his shoulders and continues to climb the side of the mountain, carrying his friend while his friend carries his burden.

I’ve always thought that was the perfect picture of Christian friendship and beautifully fits our key verse. One of the sweetest blessings of being part of the Body of Christ is the relationships we share in the church. The best friendships I’ve ever had – and still have – were born in the church. There is a bond between brothers and sisters in Christ that is unique and special. It is the Spirit of Christ that dwells in us as believers and, like David and Jonathan “knits our souls together” (1 Samuel 18:1). I have laughed with my Christian friends and cried with them. I have studied the Word of God with fellow believers and mingled my voice with theirs in songs of praise and worship. I have shared the bread and wine of communion, then shared bread and a bowl of soup together after the service.

But the blessing of having someone help you carry your burden is the most precious of all. Like most people, my life has been a series of “ups and downs” – and some of those downs can swing pretty low. My Christian friends have come through for me time after time. There has been food when we faced illness or surgery, funds when the transmission went out on my car, notes and calls and cards of encouragement, even a roof over our heads for a season. There have been gallons of coffee and hundreds of prayers that have kept me going when, like Frodo I thought I could not take another step. I only pray I am as faithful to my precious friends as they have been to me.

Notice Paul said that helping carry one another’s burdens, “fulfills the law of Christ.” What does that mean? It is the command Jesus gave His disciples before His death on the cross when he said “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). In fact, He said that our love for one another would be the distinguishing mark of a believer, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13:35). And He showed His love for you and me and all of humanity by carrying our burden – our sin – all the way to Calvary. That love and devotion and caring for one another was the one of the hallmarks of the church in the first century.

There is an Old Testament story that I think also displays this idea of carrying one another’s burdens. It is found in Exodus 17:8-16. The Israelites have just escaped from Egypt and are making their way toward the Promised Land with two million plus people when they are attacked by the Amalekites. Moses tells Joshua to pull an army together and engage the battle, meanwhile he will stand atop the mountain and hold “the staff of God” high above his head as a sign to the Israelite army that God is on their side. Now if you’ve ever tried to hold anything over your head for very long you understand how tiring that can be, and Moses was no exception. When he dropped his weary arms, the tide of the battle turned and the Amalekites got the upper hand.   No one else could hold that staff up – it was Moses’ God-given responsibility. But others could help him bear his burden, and a rock was placed behind him so he could sit down and “Aaron and Hur held his hands up – one on one side, one on the other – so that his arms remained steady till sunset” (v. 12). The result? “So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword” (v. 13). Joshua fought the battle, Moses held the staff and Aaron and Hur held Moses’ arms till the enemy was defeated. That is how the church works when it is at its best. Holding one another up till the battle is over and Christ has claimed the victory.

Do you know someone who is carrying a heavy burden? You can come to their side and – while they bear the weight of their burden – you can bear the weight of love.

Holy Father, love means bearing one another’s burdens, even if it means carrying one another. Thank you for the many times my Christian friends have carried me through difficult times. Help me be a friend that loves like Christ loved me. Amen.

Beautiful Feet

jesus_feet2“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation” (Isaiah 52:7).

On Holy Thursday I wrote about washing the feet of Jesus and I have not been able to shake that thought nor the image of Jesus’ feet since. I’ve thought of those feet carrying Him away from a quiet life in Nazareth and into a mission that would change the world for all time. I’ve envisioned His dusty feet on the streets of Jerusalem or wet from standing at the edge of the Sea of Galilee. In my mind’s eye I see Him with children gathered all around him, sitting on the grass beside His feet. I think of John the Baptist who said he was not worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals, and Mary of Bethany who anointed his feet with perfume and wiped them with her hair, later sitting at His feet to hear Him teach.

Those feet carried Him into the lives of sick children, and broken, sinful women, demon-possessed men, and to the grave of his dear friend Lazarus. At least seven times the gospels record people falling before the feet of Jesus to plead for healing for themselves or someone they loved. Matthew 15:30 says that crowds of people came to Jesus, “bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at His feet; and He healed them.” In every instance, Jesus responded with compassion and love. He never walked away from those who needed him.

His feet carried him to dine in fine homes and to break bread for thousands of hungry people. Countless times He walked the streets of Jerusalem to the temple that was built for his glory. His feet walked through the home of the high priest where He stood trial and through the halls of the palace of Pilate who sentenced Him to death. His feet carried Him up to Golgotha where Roman soldiers nailed them to a cruel, wooden cross. His nail-scarred hands and feet were the proof of His resurrected body before His disciples.

All His glory was bound up in that human body, those human feet carrying Him to souls in need of mercy, freedom, grace and life. He walked into my life with those beautiful feet bringing good news, peace and salvation to this weary sinful woman.

There is one more place in Scripture where the feet of Jesus are seen. Zechariah 14:4 says “On that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives will be spit in two from east to west.” When Jesus Christ returns to earth in all His glory, His feet will touch down on the Mount of Olives – the place where He surrendered His will to the will of the Father – and His glory will be so great that the mountain will split in two. Those beautiful feet will stand atop the mountain, and those scars that spoke of the humble servant of God will now shout of the mighty King of kings. “The Lord will be king over the whole earth” (Zechariah 14:9).

The feet of Jesus bring us healing, wholeness, freedom and life. The feet of Jesus bear the marks of His great love for you and me. His feet that once bore nails will one day bear power – earth shaking, mountain breaking power.  And at His feet all of humanity will fall in worship and proclaim that He is Lord.

Have you invited Him to walk into your life?

Lord Jesus, Yours are the beautiful feet bringing good news of peace and salvation. You walked into my life and left Your footprints on my heart and I have never been the same. Amen.

Two Hearts at Calvary

good-friday-hd-pictuer“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Luke 2:19

In the midst of the crowd of people at Golgotha that day stood a mother with a broken heart. In the halls of heaven, amid the angels and the saints, the Father’s heart surely broke as well. As the soldier’s sword pierced the side of Jesus, a sword of grief and pain pierced the heart of Mary as she watched her son die. Though the face of God the Father turned away from Jesus, I suspect the same sword that pierced Mary’s heart likely pierced the great heart of God. A mortal woman and an immortal and eternal God, bound by the love only a mother and Father shared over their son. A life’s journey that began before time, in the heart of God. A life’s journey that began in a stable in the heart of a young woman.

Jesus the son of Mary. Jesus, the Son of God.

In the Gospel of Luke, within the familiar Christmas story of angels and wise men and shepherds, we learn something about the mother of Jesus. Luke 2:19 tells us that “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Every mother understands, to a degree, how we treasure the sight and sound and smell of our newborn baby. But for Mary, this was so much more than just the birth of her son. This was wonder. This was awe. For she had been told that her baby was to be the long-awaited Messiah, the Son of God. Angles proclaimed His birth. Shepherds left their flocks and came to see this newborn King, then joyfully spread the news to everyone they met.

We find Mary again, tucking away treasures about her son in her heart, in the account of the boy Jesus in the temple. Frantic worry and fear about His absence from their group gave way to that same awe and wonder at the wisdom of her child, and His passion to be in the house of His Father. Luke repeats the phrase, “His mother treasured all these things in her heart.”   I imagine that, through the years, Mary added more and more to the treasury in her heart.   She knew her son was more than a flesh-and-blood man-child. The Son of God. The Messiah. The Deliverer of God’s people.

And what can we say about the heart of His Father? Can anyone describe the heart of God? A mother’s heart I can understand. Even the heart of a human father is not unique to us. But the heart of the God of Heaven and Earth? Vast. Eternal. Unyielding. Yet still, this was His Son. Surely we can say that the love God held for Jesus must have been beyond the scope of human comprehension. If the love God has for us, His creation is more than we can fathom, how much greater His love for His Son? He did not have to tuck treasures away in His heart, for He had perfect knowledge and remembrance; yet I image – just me thinking mind you – that He rejoiced over every moment of Jesus’ earthly life.

Until now. Until the cross. Until His mother and His Father witnessed the gruesome and cruel death of the son they both loved.

I wonder if Mary, watching her son’s life ebb away, took out those precious treasured memories of angels and shepherds and wonder and awe and tried to understand how this infant she bore could now be the hated, dying criminal hanging before her.   Was this really her child? Did she look at his hair, matted with blood from the thorns and recall pushing that same hair from His eyes? Did she remember how those hands held tightly to hers as they went to the market together?   The hands that were now nailed to the wood? Did she wonder, “How will he save anyone now?” The Son of God, the Messiah – battered, broken and bleeding. The light in His eyes dimmed as He surrendered His Spirit and died.

How much more was the Father’s heart in heaven breaking? If the love God had for His Son was multiplied to the nth degree, how much more His grief? And then, the Father did the hardest thing imaginable. He turned away from the sight of His Son, for in that moment, all the sin and shame and filth of mankind was cast upon Jesus. Adam’s sin. Eve’s sin. David’s sin. Peter’s sin. Your sin. My sin. The sin of the generations yet to come. The sin of all humanity for all time was heaped upon Jesus, and the Father turned away. Matthew 27: 46 records Jesus’ mournful cry: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? Which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Yet Jesus knew why. It was the plan of the ages to redeem mankind from sin and death. They had prepared for this from before time began. Prepared, but still shattered by grief.

Mary grieved for her son. Surely God grieved as He turned away from the sin His beloved Son bore.

Two broken hearts, forever entwined by love for the God-man who died at Calvary that day.

To Wash my Savior’s Feet

Jesus-washing-feet-12“Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” John 13:1 NKJV

Jesus gathered with His disciples in the Upper Room to observe the Passover Feast, as other Jewish families were doing. It was to be His last meal with those He had supped with for more than three years. He knew this, and He knew the fate that awaited Him in the next twenty-four hours. Surely His heart was already heavy with the weight of the coming cross, but our key verse says He bore something more than grief. He bore a heart of love for these men who followed Him. He had laughed with them, taught them, chastened them, worked miracles with and through them, and opened their minds to amazing things of the Kingdom. And now it was the end, and He had one last expression of Himself to show them.

This passage in John 13 is where Jesus washes His disciples’ feet before the meal, a job usually done by a servant or other “lesser” person. It was not a pleasant chore, but a necessary one and a traditional sign of welcome. Yet there was no servant to wash the men’s feet, and clearly all of the disciples thought themselves above such a menial and distasteful task. No doubt they all looked at the others and thought, “You should be the one to wash our feet.” They never imagined who would.

Their Lord rose from his place, removed his outer garments and took the towel and basin to the pitcher of water and poured. Imagine the shocked silence that filled the room at the sight of their beloved Teacher, kneeling before the first man, removing his dusty sandals and touching the filthy feet before Him. Surely all that could be heard was the splashing of water as He moved around the room. Peter wanted to spare His Lord such humiliation, and drew back his feet, but Jesus refused to pass him by.   When the task was done, Jesus told them to take His example and live by this expression of humility and service.

I have pondered this scene in my mind the past several days, and something strikes me about it. John (who was the only gospel writer to record this scene) never says that anyone washed the feet of Jesus that day. Perhaps one of them did, but surely John would not leave out such an important detail.

There will come a day – sooner or perhaps later – when I will see Him face to glorious face. When I bow before Him in grateful adoration, I want to wash my Jesus’ feet.  I want to hold those beautiful feet in my hands. I want to splash water from the River of Life (Rev. 22:1) on His feet.

The gospels record two occasions when women washed and anointed Jesus’ feet. But the feet they caressed did not bear the scars from the cross. Those precious marks would come after their acts of love.   They washed the feet of Jesus their Teacher; I want to wash the feet of Jesus my Savior. I want to touch the imprints left by the nails and kiss the scars that bought my redemption. He bears the marks of His love for me on His body, on His hands, His feet, His side and His brow. I want to show Him “the full extent of my love” (Jn 13:1 NIV), that I will love Him forever – “to the end” (NKJV).

I want to wash my Savior’s feet. The feet that kicked against the swaddling clothes in the manger. The feet that carried the Teacher to the shores of Galilee. The feet that walked the dusty road of the Via Dolorosa. The feet that bore the weight of His body and the weight of my sin on the cross. Those beautiful, glorious nail-scarred feet that speak of this sinner who has been set free.

My Savior, my Jesus, on your perfect body remain the scars of my redemption. I pray for the privilege of washing Your feet to show you my love – to the end. Amen.

Hosanna!

PalmSundayLoop_03Palm Sunday

 

Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19: 28-44; John 12:12-19

“Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!” John 12:13

 The scene is just outside the city of Jerusalem, and the season is the “Passover Festival” – a week-long celebration commemorating the “passing over of the Death-Angel” prior to the Israelite’s exodus out of Egypt.

As was the tradition, thousands of Jews flocked to the city, and one major topic of conversation was on everybody’s lips: “Would Jesus come into the city for the Passover Feast?” The people were all abuzz with reports of His miraculous deeds – in particular, raising Lazarus from the dead. The Religious Leaders had given orders that anyone knowing His whereabouts should report it to them, for they planned to arrest Him on sight.

Jesus’ previous entries into the city were quiet, without any show of publicity. Now, however, with deliberate purpose, He publically presented Himself as Israel’s Messiah and King. To announce that He was indeed the Messiah, Jesus chose a time when all Israel would be gathered in Jerusalem, a place where huge crowds could see Him, and a way of proclamation that was unmistakable.

The people lined the road, praising God, waving palm branches and throwing their cloaks in front of the colt. They shouted “Hosanna” because they recognized Jesus was fulfilling the long-awaited prophecy from Zechariah 9:9. They began to spread their clothes in the colt’s path to provide a “royal carpet” and they cut branches from palm trees, adding them to their garments on the ground and waving them before the Lord.

 

The word “Hosanna: is made up of two Hebrew terms, “hosa” meaning “save” or “help” and “na,” which is a plea based on the urgency of the need. In the original setting of the word, which would have been familiar to the Jewish people, “Hosanna” meant “Help us, please, Lord!”

 

Interestingly, on the road outside the city, the people proclaim Him Messiah as they recall the prophet’s promise (Matthew 21:9). Once inside the city gates, as strangers gathering for the Passover asked: “Who is this?” the answer was different. “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” From Messiah to Prophet. First One who “comes in the Name of the Lord” – now one who comes from Nazareth-a city despised and disregarded by the Jews. (John 1:46)

Don’t we still do the same? In the Sanctuary on Sunday morning Jesus is Lord and we sing His praises with fine voice. But what happens we the crowd changes? Do we tuck Him inside the cover of a dusty Bible? How do we respond to the question? “Who is this?” Is He just a “good teacher, a man of peace”, or maybe even a fool?

He cannot not be Lord on Sunday and disregarded on Monday.

 

This week has, for centuries, been called “Holy Week” and “Passion Week.”

The church holds the remembrance of Christ’s death in highest esteem. Next Sunday is Easter, and we will celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection-our hope for eternal life.

The world looks to Easter as an excuse to shop for new clothes and to pay homage to a bunny who gives us baskets filled with decadence. No my friend, Jesus is the reason for the season!

 

Will you and I regard this week as truly Holy? Will we remind the world that this season is about a gift far richer than chocolate – the gift of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ the Messiah King? Will we lift high the Cross of Christ for all to see? We will proclaim that He is Alive!? “Christ the Lord is Risen!”

 

Lord, Jesus, our Savior and our King, on this Palm Sunday we raise our voices with the multitudes and cry out “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”