Marked

I thought it was morbidly weird- ashen crosses on foreheads. My thought process was something like: Must we? That is what makes the world think the Christian religion is a bit freaky; so many outwards signs, symbols and rituals. And this… it’s just so sad looking.

We all wear scars, marks if you will. Some are visible, some invisible.

Maybe it’s a scar from a surgery or the marks from birthing children. Perhaps our mark is an intentional one like a tattoo with meaning behind it. Or the scar could have a darker purpose, like an attempted suicide or cutting.

Whatever the case, these are reminders, either for good or bad.

Likewise, the ashen cross marks us, reminds us, prepares us. The symbol of the cross reminds us that we are in need of saving and Someone has already done that. It reminds us that we are still carrying that mark invisibly in our souls everyday because we belong to Another. It prepares us for one of the greatest events in human history- the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The 40 days of going without serve a somber purpose, but with the happiest of all endings- the reason we rejoice in our present salvation and have a future hope.

The cross is the beginning, but the empty grave is the end!

As we embark on the journey of Lent, it is with purpose and deliberation; a time of reflection and ardent pursuit of the greatest love ever given.

I am a soul forever marked.

Mud Pies

Contentment is one of those virtues that we often talk about and hardly truly attain. It’s generally the idea: “ok, I’ll just live with  fill in the blank .” This is more of a spirit of acquiescence than anything.

Contentment is often sought after in want. What if, we would not be content with mediocrity?  What if, we are not satisfied until we ask for more of God’s grace and goodness, instead of a lukewarm, paltry request? What if we are discontent with the status quo faith when we have the power of the true and living God of the universe accessible to us? Or perhaps we don’t know Him yet and we are living life seeking total fulfillment from all this world has to offer.

We often relegate ourselves to far less than is within our grasp.

CS Lewis says it best in his book, Weight of Glory:

 “Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. “

We are content with making mud pies when we could go to the magnificent ocean and play in the infinite sands! We are content with being clothed in rags, instead of wearing the royal robes as child of the King.

A prayer I read this morning sums it up beautifully:

I go into a far country,

And come home a prodigal, saying “Father, forgive me”.

And yet, God is always bringing forth the best robe.

Every morning let me wear it,

Every evening let me return in it.

Let me go out to a day’s work in it,

Be married in it,

Be wound in death in it,

Enter heaven in it shining as the sun.

Grant me to never lose sight of the:

Exceeding righteousness of salvation,

Exceeding glory of Christ,

Exceeding beauty of holiness,

Exceeding wonder of grace.

Let us not be far too easily pleased!

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The Day Between

My heart wrenches with a sadness so heavy, it is difficult to breathe. Yesterday, I had to witness the death of my firstborn Son at the hands of evil men; something a mother should never have to endure. His was no ordinary death. This was murder- execution by crucifixion.

Thirty-three years ago, my divine journey began. Engaged to be married to a wonderful man, I looked forward to my future with delighted anticipation. Then just before it unfolded according to plan, my life was transformed forever. An angel appeared to me. He called me, “you who are highly favored” and told me that I, an insignificant Jewish girl, had found favor with God. His words still ring in my ears, especially today as grief overtakes me. I was to bear a Son, while still a virgin, and He would be the Messiah- the One the Jews had waited for so many, many years. As strange and impossible as it sounded, my faith was made stronger to accept this God-sent message with humble honor.

Normally, this is the day of the week I look forward to most- the Sabbath- our day of worshipful rest, a solace from the work and toil of other days. Today is different though. Physically, I am resting but inside my heart and soul, I am in a state of great unrest. The events that took place yesterday replay over and over again in my mind. My tear stained, dusty cheeks remain unwashed. My hands still emanate the fragrance of the burial spices I’d prepared. What seemed to be an incredulous event so many years ago- the birth of my firstborn- had ended in the most violent, cruel death. I could never have imagined this intense grief would be mine to bear.

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As I stood at a distance with the other women, I could scarcely look up at the cross. My son hung there so seemingly helpless. He, who had always obeyed, always helped, always loved, was exposed, naked. Bloody, beaten and mocked He was. I can still hear them shouting jeers at Him: “So you call yourself the King of the Jews! He can save others, but He can’t save Himself! Come down off the cross if you are who you say you are!”

Jesus had told us this day was coming. In my heart, I knew He was right. I understood from the Old Testament teachings that just as a Messiah would come, He would also suffer and die. But this Messiah was also my Son and nothing prepared me for this motherly pain. My heart felt near the point of breaking. I wept in anguish.

John and I stood together, his arm draped around my waist for support. Jesus looked down on us with compassion. In His own suffering, He saw mine. “Dear woman,” He said, “here is your son.” Then he said likewise to John, giving him the responsibility to care for me as his own mother.

Dying a very human death, writhing in agony for each breath drawn, he was thirsty. Even this request was fulfilled with hatred and mockery. Instead of a refreshing drink of water, sour vinegar was offered to Him and he received the gall. When His body could stand no more, “It is finished,” were His final words.

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So, I wait grieved. Rest eludes my soul today. Although I feel a sense of anticipation, I cannot go to the place they have laid His body. Tomorrow, I will awaken before the first rays of sunlight and see if what He said will come to pass. I believe, yet my heart is weak, for I am not like my Son. I am a just a mother who has tasted the bitterness of her child’s death.

This Sabbath day will be forever in my memory as I reflect on the life Jesus lived; first as a baby at my breast and finally as a Man rejected, condemned to the death any common criminal might die. My hope is not quelled by my sadness though, for I hang onto the words He spoke about His resurrection on the third day. My heart wants so badly to believe that I will see my Son alive again! Had Jesus ever given me reason to doubt His words?

As evening draws to a close, John and I eat supper together along with a few others. The silence is deafening. Our grief hangs heavy in the air. Yet, each of us hold fast to eager expectation. Tomorrow will bring fulfillment to those prophetic words spoken ages ago. He will rise again and in doing so, complete the work of redemption, not only for my people but for the whole world. My Son, Jesus, and my Savior will do what He said.

Broken, Not Crushed

For weeks now, something I read in the gospel of Matthew, has been washing over me time and time again. It says (and I paraphrase):

If you fall on Jesus, you will be broken; but if Jesus falls on you, you’ll be crushed.

Sounds weird and harsh and demeaning; so contra to the world’s philosophy  that we gotta be loving ourselves and continually becoming more fulfilled, complete and privileged, certainly never broken and especially not by some God.

Sometimes life breaks us: people we trusted betray or hurt us, children we love shun us, money vanishes and we are destitute, we lose a job we love or have to do a job we hate, death takes someone away and a hole is left, illness pervades our body or our spirit is crushed by a series of “bad luck”. It is real, painful, heart rending, gut wrenching stuff.

But this is different. This brokenness is actually a GOOD thing- good because, once broken, God tends our wounds. The God of the universe comes to us with balm, bandages, gentle, loving hands, comforting, empathetic words and the perfect healing formula- Jesus Himself, who was broken unto death, so that ours might be a temporary wound. 

A broken, humble, transparent heart and spirit can be mended, a crushed heart cannot. Our pieces will be sewn together with Jesus’s ever flowing love; a heart hardened and crushed is beyond repair, the pieces scattered far and wide, destined for a scrap heap.

The great truth is: we must choose to remain broken, malleable, mendable, trusting not in ourselves to heal and bind the wound, but in the true Life Giver and Heart Healer to do it for us.

You can run, but you can’t hide!

Forgive me for saying so, but it seems that we have ostensibly wrecked the point of the book of Jonah. Our poor Sunday school children walk away with little more than the coolness of being swallowed alive by a whale then spit out three days later. I mean, what kid doesn’t like a fantastical story about being in the stinky, rotten belly of a fish, then getting spit back out onto land- alive!

Perhaps we grown-ups have held on a little too tightly to our old “Jonah and the Whale” story ideas- and we’ve missed the lessons as well.

Reading through the book this week, these lessons struck me right between the eyes. {Yes, the miracle of God keeping Jonah alive in the digestive system of a great fish is well, amazing (gross, but amazing, none the less).}

BUT here is the MORE AMAZING part: God takes a rebel like Jonah and teaches him about His sovereignty and saving grace. Jonah is the perfect legalist- he has all the right answers, but not the right motives.  He knows what obedience looks like, but willfully chooses to disobey instead.

This is so me at moments! Is this you? Do we run and hide from God, hoping to get out of doing what He wants us to? Thinking that just maybe, He is okay with our “secret” sins or perhaps a little willful assertion of  “I am master of my life” from time to time? Run we can. Hide we can’t.

God loves us and will relentlessly pursue us to come back to Him. Jonah recognizes and admits this while praying inside the fish: “Salvation comes from the LORD.”  Maybe the stench had got to him, but he humbles himself, recognizes that he was saved from certain death and that he better get serious about obeying. You know the story: he is projectile vomited out onto land. Whew!

Out of the fish and into the city:

Legalist Jonah, all high and mighty with his word from God, does finally obey and goes to do what he was supposed to in the first place. He tells the people of Nineveh to repent and would you believe it, they do, all of them from greatest to least?! Jonah is so happy and thankful to the Lord- NOT! He gets angry about that. Like, why would God save THOSE PEOPLE?! Again, he knows the right answers: “You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love…”, but he balks against the justice and sovereignty of God.

But that isn’t the last of it.

In the final chapter, Jonah goes out with a rather inconclusive bang. He sits down to pout about things. (Do you ever pout about God’s doings? Nah. Me neither!) It’s hot as heck. God brings a vine for refreshing shade. I can just see Jonah’s smug smile and hear his self-congratulatory, “ahhhh, finally things are going my way!”. Then a worm eats the vine and not only that, a scorching hot wind comes a-blowin’! Jonah wishes death on himself, he is so boiling with anger. In his final act of disobedience, we hear Jonah still trying to make himself master of his destiny and complaining against the justice of God in saving the city of Nineveh.

Not every story has a neat and tidy, moral ending. (And we don’t tend to like those stories.) But I love the book of Jonah because I am so like him- a struggler in my own right, continually needing to come to God, be forgiven by Him, be chided by Him, be reminded of His sovereign rule in my life, that He alone saves us by His GRACE, that He gives and takes away for a purpose, and that I can run but I will never hide from God. He knows me, He loves me, and He wants me to love him passionately and do His will, not my own.

I am just so glad that I didn’t have to float around in the dark, stinking, half-digested stomach bile of a fish to figure that out!!!

Resisting the Gift

Imagine this:

I sat and admired it. The gift. The paper was patterned with stripes, elegant but not frilly; neat as a pin, not a crinkle or pucker to be found. For what the paper lacked in pomp, the bow was over the top, blue and gold and glittery. Nothing about it was modest. The voluminous loops were just begging to be untied, for if the outside was this extraordinary, surely the contents were more.

But I just stared at it with a combination of timidity and fear. My resistance was not calculated. I just felt unworthy, fearful that the present was SO lavish, I did not deserve something like it or perhaps once opened, it would change my life in ways I could not fathom.

Maybe this is you. This was me (and still is at moments).

We may have accepted and embraced the gift of gifts, salvation, but we have a hard time receiving the others, particularly the gift of GRACE- which 2 Corinthians 9:15 says is THE INDESCRIBABLE GIFT! Grace is so amazing that it is hard to find the adjectives for it!

Staring at the gift instead of opening it is the perfect set-up for legalism. Yep. That was me too. I like to follow rules {most of the time}. It makes me feel all comfy, cozy inside. It is easy on the brain, but hard on the heart because in the end, it breeds resentment. When you look around to see everyone else who tore into their package subsequently basking in the delight of its contents, you feel short changed, gipped or unloved. At some point, the resistance became a self-imposed spurning of the gift of grace.

Conversely, some of us just sit there and say, “Oh, no, I couldn’t open that. I am so undeserving and unworthy of it.” Maybe we feel like we have not earned it and frankly, we haven’t. Quite the opposite- it by grace we are saved (and kept), not something we do ourselves- it is a GIFT from God- and He keeps on giving it over and over and over again.

Imagine your child on his birthday, just looking longingly at the package in front of him. We  wait with joyful anticipation, knowing how the wonderful present will delight him. It is just what he wanted and has been dreaming about. Suddenly, he slides it away and declares himself unfit for such a thing. In the history of children and birthdays, I doubt this has happened even once! Matthew 7 tells us that even we who are sinful know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more lavish, decadent and over-the-top will our gifts be from our FATHER WHO IS IN HEAVEN!

For far too many years I spent waiting to unwrap the gift of grace. Maybe this is you, unwilling or unable to bask in the goodness of the Father who knows and loves you. Whatever the reason for resisting, we are missing out. For as beautiful as the packaging is, the gift within is more grandiose, awe-inspiring and life changing than imaginable.

Opening it was for me the pivotal point of my spiritual journey. It set me on the path of freedom. It changed my view of God Himself. It has continued to work thankfulness and repentance in my heart. It gives me hope to carry on through the valleys of life. It allows me to lavish others with it.

So what are you waiting on? Go ahead and tear into the gift! It is more amazing than anything else you’ve ever received and it comes from the perfect extravagant Giver.

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Deliverance

Deliverance comes in a variety of ways.  It is most always associated with difficulty and usually comes with a price.  Often, it comes unexpectedly and by a seeming act of what may be considered “divine intervention”.

As I read again through the story of the nation of Israel going through the Red Sea in Exodus- all several million of them- I was awed by the significance of their liberation.

After countless generations had endured the cruel bondage under Egypt’s tyrannical ruler, they were finally released. Although God could have sent them on their merry way, down “easy street”, they faced an obstacle of momentous proportions instead: the Egyptian Army on one side, the sprawling Red Sea on the other.

But God had His plan.  Down blew the wind, the millions of tons of water blowing back into what appeared to be massive walls of water.  On both sides stood the piled water with a wide DRY path in between. Yes, it was dry, not sticky mud that would have made it impossible to get all those men, women, children and animals through safely. In hard pursuit of the Israelites was the Egyptian army- Pharaoh, and 600 or so of Egypt’s finest charioteers; capable warriors ready to kill. Hotly and with vengeance in their hearts they came after them, realizing that they just lost their most prized slaves.

With the last Israelite was safely on the shore, they turned to see their dreaded enemy closing in. Just when they thought they had escaped their wicked taskmasters, they were about to be overtaken again. But God, in His perfect wisdom, unleashed the walls of water He had been holding back with the might of His power. Down on the heads of all the Egyptians it went, crashing around and burying them all in a watery grave.

My own personal deliverances have not looked like the split waters of the Red Sea, but they have been many, miraculous and come at moments I was sure that peril would engulf me. Most precious is the deliverance of my soul that came at the price of a life.  This, not only has the greatest value but is also seemingly the most unwarranted. My soul was purchased with the blood of Jesus, while I stood in direct rebellion to Him.

Two other times in life, I’ve been rescued from things that totally gripped me, shackled me and had left me feeling defeated and worthless. No power inside or outside me was great enough to undo these chains. The freedom was wrought slowly, painfully, through hardships, heartbreaks and humility. I had to be broken, and broken I was.

But God had a plan to lift me out of the despair and set me safely on the other shore. If I had attributed the success to self or a program or positive thinking, I would have missed the miracles God did – the times the enemy was defeated though I never even saw it; the times the water was held firmly back and I was safe. If I thought I had rescued myself, I would have sought after the glory that only God deserved.

There are many other problems that can keep us locked prisoner: disease, financial ruin, loss of friends or family, grief over a rebellious child, addictions. After they are each overcome, we can look back and see God’s hand of deliverance. Recognizing WHO freed us, we are emptied of self-reliance, self-aggrandizement, self-love and ultimately, self-worship. It becomes clear that without divine intervention, the Enemy would have certainly overtaken us.

Deliverance looks different in each of our lives. I know beyond a doubt that I have many more circumstances to be set free from before my life comes to an end. It will most likely not come easily and is sure to come with a price.  But in the end, the outcome will be true satisfying freedom; liberation from oppression that I was never meant to bear all on my own.

My Bloody Day

Blood. It’s one of those unpleasantries in life.

As a mom or dad you probably see more than your fair share. As a woman, you see more than most doctors in your earthly existence.

Some people want to toss their cookies when they see it. Others may pass out cold. To odd balls (like me), it is kind of fascinating. Like you don’t really want to see it but you do at the same time.

Today I had a bloody day. No, I am not getting too personal with you. Geez. Who do you take me for? And no, I am not trying to sound like a Briton or Aussie either. 🙂

I began my day with a not-so-lovely reading from the book of Leviticus (part of my through the bible in a year thing). So NOT what to read before breakfast. Blood, blood, and more blood. Words like: slaughter, sacrifice, scapegoat. Then there are the “to do/don’t dos”: sprinkle it, wipe it, burn it, (don’t) drink it.

The highlight of my day was giving blood. No, really- I LOVE giving. It makes me happy to know that my bag o’ red stuff cold save someone’s life. It did mine, once, after a surgery required two units for me to survive the night. I marvel watching the pencil lead sized needle go into my arm and take just a tiny piece of me. Call me crazy.

As I sat there, I thought about blood, what I had read that morning in all its grotesqueness. The Israelites were instructed not to drink the blood of any animal ever because it is the life of the creature. Without it, we cannot live. People all over the world die for lack of what we are so blessed to have readily available here in the U.S.

I thought about the blood of Jesus that makes us clean. The sticky, thick, smelly substance coming from me into that plastic bag, might give someone else life. God gave us life through the murder of His Son. His red human blood came out of his side and ran down His forehead from where they beat the thorns down into his skin.It came out the piercings of both His hands and feet after they drove spikes through. He died, so I could live: the perfect sacrificial, life giver.

So, keeping true to the theme of my day, I ended it with… you guessed it-  more BLOOD.

My youngest lost a molar tonight and the blood flowed freely into the bathroom sink.  Poor boy is “a lot” a bit squeamish (like his dad). I rubbed his back and told him to breathe (like a good mom).

I end today thankful for my bloody day, reminded that without it, I’d be LOST; not just physically, but spiritually as well.