Friday, March 30, 2012

Intensity of that Morning... (early Easter message)

Art by Eugene Burnand. Shorter version of title is, "Peter and John Running to the Tomb".

This piece of art gets me every time. Every time. I saw it in passing once, while working at the Christian bookstore near my home those many years ago. I saw it and wondered and awed. To capture such... grieving disbelief? urgency? panic? intensity? It is remarkable. And, before I even knew the title, I knew what it would be regarding.

They were friends, Jesus and these. They left their previous livestyles knowing that something life-changing would occur. Somehow they sensed that, I believe. This Man who had asked them to leave their work to follow Him, there was something deep and wide and sure about this simple, not-much-to-look-at Man.

They could not have known on that day of leaving that they would actually be finding the true reason for living. They could not have understood then, in that moment, how they would never be the same again- in the most dramatic way of exclaiming that, in every way. They could never know how their lives and souls and minds would become so entwined in Him that they would grow to die to their own selves, so they could be better. Not because they did anything to cause that, but because HE caused that.

It was a good better. The kind that reaches to all those twisted, knotted places in the heart, and brings them back to wholeness and life. The kind that challenges them to see not just with their physical eyes but with their souls and hearts. The kind that encourages one to believe even without seeing- by faith. The kind that hopes and desires and reaches, wanting more, the good more, because it is fulfilling and relieving and inspiring and right.

Even with their faults, in their times of weakness and pride... His gentleness was known. Even as they walked and talked and listened to His sharings; His patience was expressed, was what extended out in long reaching strides to fill in voids and missings and longings they never even knew they had.

It was unsurety and shock that caused them to stand still in humbled and flesh-and-pride filled horror. He... this pure, good, wise Master. How could He extend out the same hope that touched their hearts to the worst of sinners, the lost, the impure, the dejected, rejected nothings? How could He touch the one obviously born imperfect, the one who chose a lifestyle so wrong, the one who chose to hurt others for his own gain? How could He?

His love. His love exploded out to any and all that wanted to bask in it. He literally made it available to whomever came to Him in faith- wanting, accepting. He widely planted seeds of hope and love and acceptance and unconditional care. Because He is the Father of fathers, the most loving of all because He IS LOVE. Because even if He came as a Man, He came with spiritual, soul-saving purpose. To SAVE that which was lost. To PROVE His love for all people in the earth. To rescue His created ones who did not even realize that they were lost.

He sacrificed then so that Prodigal-son waitings might encourage intercedings and build hope that one day a grieving parent might see the bringing back of lost children. He sacrificed then so that with all of our differences, we might find ONE who understands ALL sufferings. He sacrificed then so we could understand that there is always room to turn around and find the right way. He sacrificed then so we could know His strength to get back up when we have fallen. He sacrificed then so we could have the hope of new beginnings. He did this for US! So that WE might be offered an escape from the dark, weighing death of sin, of things we do that are wrong.

He offered freedom when He came. Freedom from chains that bind; from oppression that suffocates; from all things that wrap themselves around us to keep us bogged down and sinking in cesspools along our journeying. He offered that before we even knew we needed Him to do that. He offered that because He, in His infinite wisdom, could SEE that we were in danger. The Creator, Healer, Master... He surrendered to His evil creation so He could die at their hand, FOR them. To save them!!! How ironic! How mind boggling!

So... His journey of living led Him to the cross. He knew it. He accepted it, and He followed through.

Every fresh ripping of His flesh and surging moment of pain caused all of creation to tremble. Every weakening moment from blood lost, every thorn pressing against nerves and veins and bone, every clawlike-striped beating, every embarrassing and disrespectful act completed... He suffered it all. He knew that it served a purpose. A good purpose. To save the ones He loves.

Even to the end, with His last breath, He was working for our good. He allowed Himself to become OUR sin so that we might have the hope to find true peace, true hope, true joy, true love. He asked for our sins to be forgiven us, even while He hung with labored breath, while life flowed in blood and water down splintered tree. He completed His rescue mission, and died.

But, that is not all. That is not why this piece of art was created. NO! It was not at His death that Peter and John rushed so. It was after the preparations for burial, after the stone rolling and sealing. It was when they heard words from devoted, emotion-filled women who had loved their Master. In their grieving they had gone again to where He was buried and were presented with a stone that was not in place, but rolled away.. And, they heard and saw what would make their hearts burst in wonder, what would make them truly see and hear and understand the words that He had spoken in life when He walked with and taught and shared with them. An angel declared to them, "He is not here; for He is risen, as He said." (Matthew 28:7)

The women rushed back to the disciples to tell them what had happened. Then we see it... We read it... "Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb. So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first." (John 20)

The fear that must have surged through them! The doubts. The concern. The broken-hearted love and devotion and feelings of desperation for lack of control.

But that was not the end. For all of that, what did they find??? A risen, victorious, saving Jesus risen from the dead!!!! Not only did the angel say so. Not only did Mary Magdeline witness it. But He revealed Himself to His disciples and others. He IS alive!

This image is the moment before the climax, the just-about-to-peak-sunrise-of-hope-exploding. This image reminds me in my moments of stress, insecurity, and hopelessness, to remember Peter and John as they raced to understand, to see for themselves, to battle with fear and doubt, to deal with what might be a bad situation. But Jesus surprised them all- with a revelation of His glory, power, might, and hope. He took their weighted brokenness and rescued them again by filling them with peace, and a clear understanding of His truth, of who He was and still is today. He is King of kings, Lord of lords, Prince of peace, and Mighty Warrior Saviour! He is the innocent, sacrificed Lamb who has taken away the sins of the world.

But that is not enough to know with our minds... Do you know that? We must repent of our sins and turn away from our wicked ways. DAILY! So as to honor His sacrifice. We must recognize what He has done to die for our sins, and then to rise again. We must recognize who He is and give Him due praise and glorify Him. We must lay our pride and wills and past, present and future at His feet. For He does not want anything else. He wants that. Not because He is desiring to take it controllingly, to hold it against you as a dictator, and destroy you. But because He wants to cleanse you, restore you, and renew you in your spirit, soul, and mind. Because He is Doctor, Abba Father (Daddy), who loves you intensely and profusely, enough to stretch out His arms as far and wide as humanly possible and give His life away for nothing He ever did. He did it as a gift to you and I... A gift! A gift with no puppet-strings attached, but with a desire that we would willingly accept and trust Him.

I will trust Him. I have seen how good and faithful and wonderful He is to me. I have felt His patience, known His healing, and wept at the sacrifice I do not deserve. But I accept because that gift is what He died for. He loved us so much, He knew He had to cross the ocean of space between heaven and hell to get it for us. He knew that sacrifice would mean that by letting you and I go, there would be a chance of saving you back into His achingly loving arms.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Perspective Without Peer Pressure…

Art by Brian Jekels. Called "Mary's Worship".

(Rambling and sorting through these words and thoughts, I hope you can still see what matters most. I am a clinger of hope, battling to trust and surrender even when it sometimes seems so nearly impossible. I only share when I MUST, when I cannot stand the silence of hoarding hurts or pleasant things any more. When I am so insecure that I just must lay out words like a hand of UNO cards to peruse before continuing on in a game… Here is a little of both, joyous and not so, but… I hope you can see what I see even through what seems like negative… That hope is not mine just because it is there, it is a gift that must just be received by the very Creator and Giver of it… Will you join me? I hope so… )

I have sat these months with weight smothering my heart… for my ideas which reflect what others near me feel only lofty thoughts, idealized in candy-coated la-la land mentalities, offering a path leading not to reality but, to what they think is a tangent off of the “right path”. (???) At least, that is what they think. What do I mean? Ugh… If you could only hear that groan…

I have seen for myself… I have seen what I am without Him. I have seen my potential for grieving, hurting, destroying, discouraging. I have seen it, and I pity… I have compassion on… the one who has not seen yet his or her need for Him. For, I am nothing good without Him. NOTHING good. I draw comfort from these verses, recently.

“And when the men of that place recognized Him, they sent out into all that surrounding region, brought to Him all who were sick, and begged Him that they might only to TOUCH THE HEM OF HIS GARMENT. AND A MANY AS TOUCHED IT WERE MADE PERFECTLY WELL.” (Matthew 14:35-36)

I am stuck in a bubble… a utopian land where even the religious ones have some odd ideas that crawl up my spine like ants on picnic day. Where, oh, wherever have we gone so wrong? Could it be possible that the ones who claim to know the Christ, that they are actually doing the opposite of what He actually desired? I see things that others near me feel I am overexaggerating and misconstruing, they feel I am just not from here, so I cannot understand. But… how is it that a place to be body, which should represent what is holy, can be on similar grounds of Hitler and his command to destroy the “unhealthy”. Is that really one’s calling when authority is placed in open hands? Is it possible that those four walls and two levels are only meant for the healthy and not for the sick? Huh… here I thought that it was MEANT for the sick, a hospital for the soul. Is it possible that I am just confused and insubordinate, disrespectful for disrespectfulness’ sake? I am stunned.

Sometimes I feel as in a dream, where emotions are scattered and floating, and I must grasp them and thrust them back in my heart before they are lost. I feel like there are those trying to steal them, who are trying to engulf me in a foggy mist so I can get lost in it. Now that IS confusing, distorting, and makes me feel most vulnerable. Yet… I cling to what I know, and try not to cling to what I don’t understand. What might that be?

I KNOW that the Lord sent us here to this place. While I do not understand the reasonings, which most just assume have all to do with relatives and grown child responsibities, I assure you that there is more to it… I just don’t know what it all is yet. I know that my current responsibility is highly involving encouraging and pouring into my husband and kids, and those few who actually don’t mind hearing what I may have to say. My many words are not often… considered. For lack of a kinder way to put it. And… well, I certainly have many failings days; and, boy, does that hurt. While others have only used my talents and sucked the life out of me, the Lord has redirected me to let go of those high expectations of others and live fully where I am. Not that easy, actually, and constantly battling my own feelings of letting others down, but… I am MUCH more content and relaxed… Most of the time. How misunderstood am I at this time where most around me are so works oriented? Grrrr…

I may be warring to understand and maintain some semblance of peace from all sorts of obstacles, deterents, and barriers, but I can trust in Jesus. He knows it all. He knows me. He knows them. He knows it all. He has asked me to “cast my cares on Him for He cares” for me.

I know that my kids get all kinds of messages all the days long, and I cry out often to the Lord for His touch on their lives. They are brilliant, creative, intelligent, sweet and strong characters, that need me near. Present. I KNOW that.

I know that my dogs trust me and have confidence that I will give them affection when they need it, even though I am sure they have come to realize that I have a different sort of liking for them than that of cats. Oh, cats… so sweet, purring, and uncomplicated. Hahahahah…

I know that sometimes I feel so isolated and lost in this small, and yet, great big world, but… He actually knows exactly where I am, all the time, and is always near, unless I step away from Him, distracted, self-pitying, and willing to let go… sigh…

I know that those mountains just outside my windows were formed by mighty big hands. Capable hands. Nothing is bigger than the Owner of those hands… no challenge, trial, or hurt. And, I remember that the Creator of those climbing hills and peaks creased the earth “just so” to remind me of who He is, what He is… ALL powerful. ALL knowing. EVERY where.

I know that I can count on exactly ONE. ONE. That is it. I cannot tell you the grief in that lesson, for me. To know that my trust cannot be lent out, whipped out, handed out, because… well, my heart needs a break from the poundings… well, it is time to remember that there is ONLY ONE who is “sufficient” for all my needs, and He is spirit and truth. He lives in my heart, and loves me anyway, beyond and in spite of my numerous failings and incapacities.

I know that that sky above me, above all of us, truly DOES “declare the glory of the Lord”, and that those winged creatures swooping, soaring, buzzing, singing, twittering, and joying… well, they are reminders that if He takes care of them, He will surely take care of little ole me. Us.

I know that I MUST “trust in, cling to, rely on, and believe in” Jesus. There is NOONE like Him- Friend, Defender, Confidant, Counselor, Mediator, Rock, Help, Savior, Light, Refuge, Shield, Protector… on and on and on I could go. All that in One very loving and giving and just and right and merciful and faithful God. Thank You, Jesus!

I know a lot of things, though I have to be reminded of them so many times. I keep forgetting His promises, (why and how is that?!?!) and that He is not just a “promise maker” but a “promise keeper”, too. I keep forgetting the power He gives us to live a Christian life. After all, “the same spirit that raised Christ from the dead lives in you”. WOW!! Not to mention the verses declaring that He has already the victory!! He has overcome!! Why do we so often live in defeat if that is so? It surely is not because He has condemned us to live so. It has everything to do with our weaknesses and tendencies to get distracted away from what matters most in this world. Not money, not family, not church, not work, not success, not anything else, but Christ Alone!!! He IS the most important “Person, Place or Thing” in this whole world. Go to the dictionary and look up the word “noun”, write in Jesus, Jesus, Jesus… He is the most important noun EVER.

So how does this all connect with my ranting and verbal showering? Where do I actually fit in all the mess that is life? How should I behave, act, proceed with the challenges that have knocked at my door or have crept into our quiet existence in this chestnut-mountain strewn land? Where does ministry fit into this exhausting journey of “survival of the fittest"- whether off or on “holy” soil?

I was touched by this somehow… I am letting it work itself into me so bear with me as I chew a bit more. I will share it anyway, in hopes that it will touch you as well.

“but go rather to the lost sheep of Israel, and as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. FREELY you have received, FREELY give.”

I am not worthy of all that Jesus has done for me. I still get overwhelmed knowing that He saw ME while He hung on that cross and suffered all He did. I am not worthy of it. I am literally just “a sinner saved by grace.” It isn’t that I have done all kinds of horrible things in my lifetime. No. Actually, whoever may have known me in my lifetime would probably say that I have always been a pretty “good girl.”

But… that is not the point. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans) ALL. I have lied; I have let fear govern me instead of trusting; I have coveted; I have envied; I have held to bitterness and resentment; I have lusted; I have said curses and sworn and thought things I shouldn’t. I have. I have my own mountains to pass over, my own valleys to pass through, my own oceans into which I cast repented sins at Jesus in confidence knowing that He will throw them into that “sea of forgetfulness”. I cannot survive well without Him. I could strive to attain this world’s version of success and still fail. I could have all the money in the world and still be entirely poor. I could. But… I don’t want it without Jesus, my Joy, my Peace, my Help, my All.

I don’t know lots of things. But… I know that I know that I know that I will leave all of those mind blowing, daily nagging and always-strewn-across-my-brain question marks of life at the feet of Jesus. I will sit there and soak up whatever I can. Like Martha’s Mary. She did "choose the better way", you know. It can, and will, only do me good, even if I have to suffer awhile in the lesson going, in the storminess that so often shakes me to my core and gets me fearing instead of trusting and surrendering. I will go on. I have to go on. I wonder sometimes if I even CAN persevere on, but then the other half of my brain... the part that has been untouched by years of strain, doubt, and adult grievings, that childlike side of me; well, it takes over in spurts. In courage it stands up to all the fogginess and insecurities and discouragements, and… takes a deep breath and says, “ Come like a child before the Storm Calmer. Remember… Be still and know that He is God.”

Help me to “touch the hem of Your garment”, Lord. Amen.