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.