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A week after

After last weekend’s celebration of a risen Lord, a joyful afternoon spent with extended family, and counting multiplied gifts from the bounty of God’s blessings, the week after is fraught with things difficult. My mind whirls and tilts like an amusement park ride. But I am not amused.

I hear of an untimely death and sorrowing parents. Sweet William underwent a minor surgery, but nothing is minor when one has been in too many hospitals to bother counting. News about a dear one’s jarring diagnoses leaves us in shock and questions. Yet another one close to our hearts battles dreaded disease and the pain that accompanies.

And we pray. What else is there to do?

We ask in faith, believing God already knows and nothing takes Him by surprise. We trust in His goodness and His strength because He is a good and strong Savior. We know we are His children and will not be given a stone when we ask for bread and fish. We petition a Mighty Warrior who fights our battles with a powerful arm.

We pray and wait to see what will be His answer.

“And we know with great confidence that God, who is deeply concerned about us, causes all things to work together as a plan for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His plan and purpose.” — Romans 8:28 Amp.

I have recognized this week that trials bring people together. Texts and phone calls run to and fro through space, keeping us updated, friends and family expressing their love and offering help in some way. As a result, prayer is our connection to those we care about and to the Father who loves us with an everlasting love.

If trials bring people together, then prayer binds us to one another, brothers and sisters reaching heavenward as the family of God and the body of Christ. One one hurts, we all feel the pain.

Jesus offered reassuring words just before He disappeared into the sky as astonished followers watched:

” . . .  and lo, I am with you always, remaining with you perpetually—regardless of circumstance, and on every occasion, even to the end of the age.” — Matthew 28:20 Amp.

In all of our trouble, trials, testing, there is only one consideration:  Jesus.

Jesus with us, in pain, in uncertainty, even in death.

Jesus, the man of sorrows who is familiar with suffering and runs to our cry.

Jesus, the One and only who came from the Father’s loving hand to open the way into His presence.

Jesus, dying for us so that we might live free and abundant.

Jesus, showing us how to love one another by His own extreme love and servant hood.

Jesus, holding onto us when the rope we cling to frays at the end and we lose our grip.

Jesus with us at all times, “regardless of circumstance and on every occasion,” giving us His strength and comfort and answers we cannot even imagine.

Pain and suffering draws people together. Sometimes we sing the song of heartbreak, disappointment and confusion in the minor key. As God’s family, we sing united.

Prayer binds us as brothers and sisters. And our chorus, ascending upward, is heard and is answered. We sing the song of the redeemed. And the world will hear the melody.

Perhaps that is part of the plan.

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And it was dark

It was a dark night.

For Judas who walked away from the Passover, into his own passion for something other than he’d been offered, who left the Light of the world at the table of communion, it was dark.

For Pilate who came face to face with Truth and didn’t recognize Him, who asked the questions but could not grasp the answers, who washed his hands of the only One who could cleanse his heart, it was dark.

For the Jewish leaders and authorities who refused to believe and accept the one sent from God the Father, who were determined to go their own way, work their own agenda, it was dark.

For the eleven disciples and others who loved Him, who saw Jesus arrested, convicted and crucified, who did not understand the plan of God, it was the darkest of nights.

Jesus came to bring light, but for a while it seemed the light had been extinguished forever. Those who hoped He was their promised Messiah were left in their own prison of darkness.

Judgment must come.  Sentence would be passed and punishment meted out.  The prince of the world would be cast out.  Darkness veiled the earth for a time.

Those who will not believe, who choose to worship something other than the Christ,  remain in the darkness still.

Resurrection day will come at break of dawn.  The Light of the world will arise and shine once again. His glory will be revealed throughout the world.

 

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Those who accept the Son and the Father who sent Him, will walk in the light of day.

And we will never be afraid of the dark again.

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Revised and reposted from March 2016

The Friday of Passover week

We call it Good Friday. Two days before Easter Sunday. It seems an odd description for the original day.

Researchers differ about the origin of the term Good Friday. The one that seems most reasonable is that “good” related to “holy.”

It was a Holy Friday.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, would not have thought it a good day as she watched her son suffer an agonizing death, this son proclaimed by an angel to be called the Son of God, an heir to the throne of David.

The disciples would not have called it good since by this time they had scattered like scared rabbits. They were disillusioned, disappointed, fearful, and confused.

How could the people of Jerusalem have thought the events of the day were good? The city was in an uproar. Barabbas, a proclaimed dangerous criminal had been turned loose. Pilate was under pressure from the Jewish leaders and was concerned about his political position.

There was a crucifixion occurring during the week of Passover, the festival of freedom. And the prince of darkness appeared to be on the winning side.

But there was something holy happening.

The plan of redemption was at work on a hill called Calvary.  A perfect spotless Lamb offered Himself as the once-and-for-all sacrifice. The sins of the world were being carried to the cross.

Trespasses were forgiven.  The debt we owed was paid in full. Spiritual dark rulers were disarmed.

Christ on the cross brought great anguish to those who watched Him suffer, knew Him intimately, had learned to loved Him, and hoped He was their Deliverer.

They could not see any good on a Friday when the sun was darkened.

But there was something holy happening that day, something that would change everything.

It was a good Friday for me.

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The hidden things

Jesus unceasingly taught the disciples during their three years together. At every opportunity, He was teaching, sometimes in plain language and sometimes in parables. Whether they were listening, and more importantly whether they were understanding, is something altogether different.

It seemed there were some lessons that needed to be repeated. Like loving one another and the first shall be last and the one who leads shall be servant to all.

Sometimes they seemed to grasp the message and sometimes not. Perhaps they didn’t always want to. Perhaps they wished Jesus to be who they wanted Him to be,  made in their image, to accomplish their goals and desires.

I’ve been there.

Toward the end of the Gospels, I read how Jesus told them what was ahead, how His earthly life was coming to a close, that He would be lifted up on a cross. They didn’t get it.

Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.”

The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about. — Luke 18:31-34

Sometimes the messages in life are hidden from us.

I think of people I care about who are dealing with such hard things, disease, brokenness, troubled marriages, wayward children, death. And we don’t understand. I wonder what good can come from trials that crush us. I have walked in those uncomfortable, even painful shoes myself, where there are more questions than answers.

The reasons are hidden from us for a season.

I would like to know why two pregnancies ended too early. I would like to know why my mother died when I was in my 30’s. I would like to know why many health issues have wrecked havoc on us. I would like to know why my heart has ached from longing that felt physically disabling. I would like to know why some of my prayers seem to go unanswered.

I would like to know why. But I don’t. And so my faith reaches for the unseen, reaches beyond the veil of this life into the spiritual realm. It stretches me to strain for what is invisible, the substance of what I hope for, the evidence of things not seen.

After Jesus’ death and then His resurrection, God’s heavenly purpose finally begin to be clear. But the disciples suffered agonizing despair for the days of mock trials, crucifixion, and a dead body in the tomb.

On the other side of resurrection day, the Son rose and light shined and the minds that had been shrouded by darkness began to comprehend. The disciples lives were changed forever. In fact, the world was changed forever.

One day my faith will be sight. All things will be clear. The face of my Savior will be glory like I cannot even imagine. And it will all be worth it

The uncertainty will be certain. All sickness will be healed. Every broken heart will be mended. Strained relationships will vanish in the beauty of God’s presence.

And I will understand that the tapestry of life includes dark threads as well as golden ones.

I may not get all the answers I hunger for here while I trod this earth, but there are reasons and there is a purpose. It is God who sovereignly rules and reigns and will cause all things to work together for good, according to His divine plan.

One day I will know as I am known. When I see Christ, it will be worth it. In the meantime, I will trust Him who knows all the hidden things now and forever.

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Sunday grace

These day I observe the Passover moon grow full and circular. This year’s Passover celebration begins tomorrow.

The Gospel writers, all four, pen their description of what we call The Triumphal Entry, Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey just days before their Passover began.  The event is weighty with significance.

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Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.  — Zechariah 9:9

The Jewish community would be picking out a lamb for their own Passover festivities, a lamb for a household, to set it aside from the flock and examine it for imperfections. For only a perfect lamb was suitable.

And on this day, a day triumphant, Jesus rode into the city as the Lamb of God chosen and marked for sacrifice. From the foundation of the world He is the One.

A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”

The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”  — Matthew 21:9-11

This is Jesus, the Word made flesh, the One who showed us the Father’s love. He came with intention and for a purpose, to take up our pain and bear our suffering, to receive the punishment for our sins. And through His wounds we are healed.

Rejoice daughters and sons of God, your King has come and He has been victorious over death, hell, and the grave. He revealed the strong arm of our God who saves.

Shout Hosanna in the highest heaven. Blessed is He who has come in the name of the Lord!

Sunday grace.

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Those Pharisees

As I read the Gospels, I am perplexed by the Pharisees.

They are the learned men, the ones who study the law and the prophets. They are held in high esteem for their pious lifestyle, working hard to keep themselves from becoming contaminated by worldly things.

Their response to Jesus, His words and His actions, disturb and trouble me. Why didn’t they recognized the One prophesied in the Scriptures they proposed to know so well?

The name Pharisee has come to mean hypocrite, self-righteous. I’m pretty sure I have been one.

As Jesus gets closer to His final week of life on this earth, those men in their dignified robes become more angry with Him. They hate what He is doing and saying. They lash out with their words and try to trick Jesus with questions. They feel threatened by Jesus’ popularity and condemned by His pointed critique. He sees right through their strict adherence to the traditions while they ignore the intent of the law. The law that is love.

Several places the writers say the Pharisees feared Jesus. They feared His popularity with the people, feared their position of power was threatened, feared the Romans would take away their temple.

They lived in fear rather than living in love.

Jesus perceived their thoughts and what they hid from the rest of society – their hearts.

Jesus always see into the heart of the matter, past the forms of godliness, the pretense of having it all together.  He does not put up with facades and deceptions. He calls it out.

And so I confess to having been a Pharisee, a rule-keeper, trying hard to be good, getting it all right, keeping up the image. It was exhausting.

In love Jesus called me out on it. The gentle nudge of the Holy Spirit was convicting and convincing. I was living in fear, the fear of not measuring up, of not being good enough.

Change started when I saw my sin and confessed. I am a work in progress, the ongoing process of pruning and nurturing and staying connected to the Vine. Jesus talked with His disciples about that on their walk to Gethsemane.

The more I understand the riches of God’s grace toward me, the more easily I am able to extend it to others.

It is freedom to live free. Recognizing that God loves me just as I am, not for all the rules I try to keep or all the things I refuse to do. His love is higher than the heavens and nothing I ever did or ever will do changes that fact.

I live in a robe righteousness these days, but it is not my own. It is the righteousness purchased for me by Jesus Christ.

It’s no fun being a Pharisee, living in a state of criticism and fear instead of love. Christ came to give abundant life to those who choose Him. And I have chosen Him and want to live my every moment with Him.

If only the Pharisees could have understood.

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March ending 2017

March roared in like a lion that came to stay for a while as frigid temperatures made me rethink an early spring.

One pair of geese at the lake across the street nested this month in spite of the cold. Maisie and I walked to the edge of the bank where we could check on her without disturbing her. There she sat, statue still, keeping her eggs warm while she must have shivered through many a night’s frost. I admire her faithfulness. The other pairs still frolic unencumbered.

It makes me think of a parent’s job in nurturing and discipling their children. It feels like such a daunting task, which it is. But that time is limited. We only have our children under foot for a few years, and then they are gone. If we could faithfully “sit on our nests,” tend to who is most important for what is really a short season, perhaps our children would be the better for it.

The cold snap and frozen ground gave me the opportunity to use the pooper-scooper in Maisie’s fenced yard. It’s a task I put off. While I was out there searching and scooping, I realized I am a woman of many talents. Many and varied.

During that no-nonsense duty (ahem), the oldest granddaughter called, and we chatted long and sweetly. She had lots of news and I was all ears to get a glimpse into her life those miles away. Our hearts are close no matter the distance, and her voice was melody to this Grammy’s soul.

Sweet William and I were asked to play music with our former pastor at a church we used to attended together. When we were all members of that particular family of believers, we were in our prime musically. Sweet William and I practiced hard to prepare, pulling from the recesses of past experience to recall the songs and the way we played them. What a thrill it was as my fingers found familiar chords and patterns. My memory bank provided pleasant flashbacks on a Sunday morning, and the renewing of fellowship with friends from years ago was sweet.

We spent time around the table with friends, as we do often. One couple is dealing with life and death issues. She talked about going through her stuff and letting go of things gathered through the years. I see her lightening her earthly load and looking heavenward. Her faith is strong even when tears fill the eyes and the voice tightens as she speaks through the emotion. Only God knows her future, as only He knows mine. Our times are in His hands.

I appreciate her honesty and vulnerability in what could be a frightening future. She is facing the unknown, living each day as if it might be the last, and trusting confidently in her God and Savior who is in control and holds her life in His loving hand.

I almost finished my second quilt, really the size of a lap throw. It needs to be quilted by my quilting friend/teacher who has a marvelous quilting machine and will make light work of it. Then I will attach the binding, requiring hand sewing. I wanted a small project I could complete before garden season was upon me. I most likely will have more mornings to cuddle with my lap quilt in the rocking chair before summer gets here.

I’ve been in the garden just a few days trimming branches and cleaning up winter wear. Cold and rain have kept me indoors where I certainly have plenty of other tasks. There is some unique hue in the green of spring. Perhaps it is because it is new and fresh and feast for my winter weary eyes.

Three of my piano students participated in a music festival where their performances were adjudicated. It was a first time event for them. I recalled doing that as a young piano student and feeling the pressure and nerves of perfecting my songs and performing as well as possible. My students were rewarded for their dedication and following careful instructions. They all walked away with superior ratings and another musical experience under their belts. I was quite proud of them.

Spring Forward left me feeling draggy for days. I had to nap three times in one week. I finally feel like my body is adjusting to the time change. And once again, I wonder why we still do this? Looking up the history of daylight savings time brought more information than I expected, how a very small percentage of electricity is saved because of it, and that a survey was conducted showing Americans like daylight savings time. And where was I when that survey was distributed?

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I got to speak to a handful of people on a Wednesday evening about investing in the younger generation, us older ones making ourselves available to be mentors and to disciple. As I thought of what I would say, I realized how blessed I am that God has brought a myriad of people into my life. A few years after my family moved from the house next door, I began to pray for older people, where they lived, to love on them the way I had. In the same breath, I hoped for young people in my life, the ages of my grandchildren. The Lord graciously and abundantly answered that prayer.

The relationships I treasure are all ages, from toddlers to piano students to a nonagenarian former pastor’s wife. This older friend’s life experiences enrich me as much as interacting with little ones and teenagers. Then there are the friends I have near my age who share similar backgrounds, memories of days gone by, and the wisdom we have gained in the school of hard knocks. I hold dear all of the precious people with whom I spend time and who bring rich blessings to my days.

I finished a few books this month, those various ones I was in the middle of reading last month. I stopped myself more than once from picking up a new book until I completed the ones already bearing bookmarks.

I discovered some new-to-me authors. Tim Tibow, the Heisman trophy winner in 2007, wrote Shaken, a revealing look into the life of a man whose faith starred on the football field. People either loved him for it or hated him for it.

Dawn’s Light‘s author is Diane Ackerman. While she and I are as different as east and west in our views of God, creation vs evolution, and the way of the world, she is a gifted wordsmith, and has the eye of a microscopic artist as she describes the details of nature in all its glory.

And then there is Phyllis Tickle, whose name alone intrigued me. She was a seasoned author and poet I only just met. The small book Wisdom in the Waiting is a description of the Lenten season on the farm where she and her family lived.  She is a natural storyteller, and I found myself looking through the windows of her family’s lives. I hope to search out more of her books as I wander through thrift and used book stores.

I began reading the Gospels during March, getting to the place of Jesus’ last week on the earth. Each writer gives chapters to the events leading up to the crucifixion. I planned to enter April with time to sit and ponder the final days of Jesus’ earthly life, the days for which He came, to give Himself in complete surrender for my sake, for my sins. I want to consider it and wonder at it anew.

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As April beckons me, I anticipate Passover, Palm Sunday and Resurrection Day. Sometime soon I will make myself watch The Passion of the Christ. It is not an enjoyable pass time. No popcorn in readiness for an evening of entertainment. But I must watch it – again – to picture what my life is worth to God. The portrayal is a Hollywood version, and I understand that. Still, who would suffer willingly for those who hated, cursed, mocked, beat, betrayed, and ran away? I see myself in them.

Only a Savior whose love is unfathomable, as high as the heavens are above the earth.

April calls for new life in the first full month of spring. The trees and flowers testify in my own back yard. New life in Christ is ever an invitation, in spring and all year long.