Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Don't Turn Away

About the ninth hour, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" - which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46)

There are few words that break my heart the way these do.  Much of the time, when I think about Jesus, when I talk to Him, I see Him as my strong protector, my teacher, my friend.  He is wise and wonderful, loving and forgiving.  To consider the anguish He endured on my behalf is heart-wrenching, intolerable.  I don't want to picture Him grieved to the point of sweating blood.  I don't want to imagine the sound of His voice asking for mercy, pleading for His daddy.  Not Him.  Not this.

But consider it I must.  Without the anguish of Gethsemane and Golgotha, the joy of the empty tomb is meaningless.  And so I turn toward what every ounce of my being wants to run from.

In his book, The Case for the Real Jesus, author Lee Strobel speaks to the extreme brutality of Roman scourging and crucifixion:  "Witnesses in the ancient world reported victims being so severely whipped that their intestines and veins were laid bare.  Tacitus referred to it as 'the extreme penalty.'  Cicero called it 'cruel and disgusting' - so horrendous that he said 'the very word cross should be far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen but from his thoughts, his eyes, and his ears.'"  He continues, "...death by crucifixion was basically a slow and agonizing demise by asphyxiation, because of the difficulty in breathing created by the victim's position on the cross."

Many people were beaten senseless and died by crucifixion in ancient Rome.  Not only was it a potent punishment, but it was also a potent deterrent for defying the laws and powers-that-be of the time.  What could convince someone to obey more than seeing mangled, blood-soaked bodies gasping for air for hours preceding their death?

Jesus experienced that.  All of it.  But not just that.  Unlike everyone else who has ever been crucified, Jesus suffered something wholly unique and beyond the comprehension of any of us - the full measure of God's wrath for the sinfulness and wickedness of humanity, of which I am a contributor.  Not only did Jesus experience the fullness of the wrath of God - His own father - but God left Him there in the midst of it.  Jesus was sent to earth to suffer unimaginable pain and die on a cross, separated from His father.  No mercy.  No sympathy.  No rescue.

Why would God do such a thing, allow such a thing, not intervene to stop such a thing? 

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).  God so loved you, He so loved me, that much.  Somehow, some way, God cares for us so much that He sent His Son to die for us.  Somehow, some way, Jesus cares for us so much that He obediently fulfilled the horror of His destiny.

The very least I can do is not turn away.


 


Monday, April 7, 2014

Planting the Seeds

"Then will all your people be righteous and they will possess the land forever.  They are the shoot I have planted, the work of my hands, for the display of my splendor." (Isaiah 60:21)

We have gathered the ashes, we have turned the soil, and we have fed the soil.  It is now time to plant the bulbs and seedlings that will become our garden.  There are so many flowering plants and shrubs in this world that are so beautiful, they make my heart ache and sing at the same time.  Isn't Creation amazing?  I don't know the names of most of those plants, but what I do know is that most of them do not grow in the soil of Southwest Ohio.  I've learned over the years that if I want to enjoy beautiful, thriving plants around my house, I must plant what is able to grow (not what I wish could grow).

The same is true for the garden of our souls.  We were created with talents and gifts that God instilled in us on purpose.  Each of us possesses a unique mixture of such talents and gifts, and our job is to nurture and use these for His glory.  I would love to be able to paint breathtaking pictures or compose music on a whim, but those are talents I simply don't possess.  Others do, and I enjoy their creations immensely.  The same goes for all of us - we each have our own talents, which if used for the glory of God, enrich the lives of those around us.

Do you believe that you possess no useful talents at all, or that the talents you have aren't good enough to pursue?  I hope not - these are lies sowed by satan - don't believe them.  You are a shoot God has planted for the display of His splendor.  Notice that the verse does not say you are an award-winning, fully-blooming, heavenly-scented plant.  You are a shoot - a bud, a seedling of God's masterful hand.  Your unique talents and gifts are meant to bloom thoughtfully, carefully, and deliberately in His time and for His splendor.

The soil of faith in Christ is the richest soil in which to nurture who God wants you to become.  Don't try to plant someone else's seeds in that soil, trapped in the lie that another's talents are more desirable or meaningful than your own.  Instead, plant the seeds God has given you to grow - and watch in wonder as they develop into the masterpiece He has given us in you.

What is a talent you appreciate in a brother or sister in Christ whom you know?  What is a talent that you possess for the display of His splendor?  Please share!


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Feeding the Soil

"I am the bread of life.  Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died.  But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.  This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." (John 6:48-51)

We have gathered our ashes and we've turned the soil.  There's one thing left to do before we start planting: feed the soil (also known as fertilizing).  When planting flowers, or other living things, you want the soil to be as rich and healthy as possible, so it can fully receive and immediately begin to nurture those precious, vulnerable little plants.  There are lots of fancy products you can buy to promote the health of your soil and many of them do work to an extent.  But have you ever noticed that nothing human beings engineer can quite surpass the quality and efficacy of nature's perfect ingredients?  If your garden has ever experienced a particularly dry summer, then you know exactly what I'm talking about.  You can put the sprinkler on your garden for days on end and manage to keep your plants alive, but after just one night of good rainfall, those plants start to thrive.

And so it goes with the garden of the soul.  If we want to be true disciples, we must feed our souls with the greatest nourishment known to mankind - the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ, given for us on the cross, sprinkled with the transformative ashes of our repentance.  This doesn't come from any product we produce and sell in a store or a church building.  It comes from knowing Jesus personally, through surrendering ourselves to Him, through reading the Word, through regular prayer, through service, and through fellowship.  Everything else is like the sprinkler on the garden - it may feed us for a while, but unless we submit ourselves to heaven's rain/reign, we will perish.

One of the greatest tools we have in feeding our souls is the Word of God.  The Word teaches us the Truth in various ways over time and in different seasons of our lives, but often there are a few verses that speak to us so deeply that they transcend every moment and season of life.  Do you have such a verse?  Would you be willing to share it?  Part of making disciples for Christ is sharing His powerful and transformative Word, and you never know when someone might happen upon a verse that will finally turn their hearts to Christ.  Please consider sharing a favorite verse of yours, either here or on Facebook.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Preparing the Soil

And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.  The night is far spent, the day is at hand.  Therefore, let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. (Romans 13:11-12 NKJV)

Before planting a garden - even before spreading ashes for their nutritive benefits - it's important to turn the soil.  That is, open up the surface so that the layers of soil underneath may be exposed to fresh air.  It's best to do this when the soil has been softened.  Not only does softened soil make it easier for the gardener to turn, but it allows for the greatest balance of air, sunlight, and moisture.  After a long, hard winter, you can almost hear the soil sing a joyous chorus - it can finally breathe, finally soak in warmth and light, waiting expectantly to receive and nurture the glorious bulbs that will soon be planted within it.

Oh, how we are so like the soil!  After a difficult season of sin and suffering, we have repented unto the Lord, and as a result, we are softened just enough that our hearts and souls may be stirred.  Like the soil, our inner stirring does two things: it allows the toxins of anger, bitterness, pride, regret, and many other ills to be more easily released.  And in their place, the freshness, light, and love of God is more easily absorbed.  This is a delicate, but critical time for the garden of the soul.  We are always more vulnerable when we are softened, but if we trust the expertise of the Master Gardener, then we can trust that our soul will be made richer and better prepared.

Turning soil can be hard work.  Even though it's softened, it still requires effort to break through that first layer.  After all, it has been exposed to the harshest of the elements.  It does no good to simply rake the surface.  You have to dig deep, finding and exposing those long-hidden layers.  When all the layers have been turned and exposed, what's left is a clumpy, unattractive mess.  Can such a raw, unkempt environment really be ideal for planting?  Indeed, it's the only kind of environment that is.

It's a wondrous blessing to behold a Christ-follower on fire for the Lord and using all his or her gifts for His glory.  But for me at least, nothing on earth is more beautiful than the person whose inner soil is being stirred by the Lord.  The heart humbled by repentance is like a newborn baby - stunning, vulnerable, dependant on God for sustaining life, for feeding, for learning, for growing.  But unlike a newborn baby, we can return to this softened state as often as is needed - and it's beautiful each and every time.

How do you know when God is stirring the soil of your soul?  What do you feel?  What do you see?  How do you feel or see things differently?  Please consider sharing your reflections here or on Facebook.  It's challenging to put words to things that are felt, but such are the yummy ingredients of faith.  As the body of Christ, only good can come from sharing and uplifting the raw, unkempt environment of the humble and expectant heart.



Sunday, March 9, 2014

Gathering the Ashes

"Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord" (Acts 3:19)

My husband and I have lived in two houses in our 14 years of marriage, and at both houses, we dug a space for a flower bed all the way around three sides of each house.  There were weeds, old, dry shrubs, and dead grass that needed to be removed and burned in order to make way for healthy, colorful blooms.  It was hard work.  Every muscle in our bodies ached and we had calluses on our hands, not to mention dirt.  More than once, we each questioned whether or not such back-breaking work was worth it - but we kept going until we were finished.

Such is the path we must take when dealing with sin in our lives.  It's not easy, neat, or clean.  On the contrary, it's hard work and it requires us to get our hands dirty, to get sweaty, and to put our backs into it.  There is pain, and we often question if the pain and weariness we experience is worth facing at all.  We rationalize our sin, convince ourselves that it's not that bad, or vow to do something about it tomorrow.  The problem of course is that sin is always bad, there's no way to rationalize it, and tomorrow may never come.  Sin always causes pain, and confessing it is in itself painful.  When we choose to face our sin, we are called not only to repent unto God, but also to endeavor to repair that which has been damaged in our lives as a result of our sin.  Often this involves confessing to others, leaving behind people or places that need to be left, or abandoning a pattern of behavior that is familiar and even comfortable.  It hurts, plain and simple.  Your humble blogger knows this all too well.

But we're not alone.  We have God, who is eager to lovingly hear our confessions.  We have Jesus, who took our sins upon His very flesh so that we could be forgiven.  And we have each other.

In the previous blog post, I noted that spreading ashes on garden soil greatly enriches that soil.  Ashes are not come by in an easy, painless way.  They come from the death of something.  So, too, does authentic life in Christ.  We must be willing to cut out and burn the sin in our lives that keep us from God.  It might hurt, but He will not let us be consumed.  He stands ready to forgive, and He will lovingly create something extraordinarily beautiful of our lives as a result.

Friends, part of being in a community of believers is that we have the privilege of praying for each other and holding each other accountable.  If you are struggling with sin right now, or if you are praying for someone who is, let your church family help.  Allow us to lift you up in prayer.  Together we will gather the ashes with love and watch expectantly as God creates beauty from them.

If you would like your church family to pray for you during this Lenten season, please leave a comment here or on Facebook and we will be honored to pray for you.  You don't need to say what the prayer is for (unless you want to); we are pleased to lift you up in prayer to our Father, who knows what you need.  As Christ-followers, there is immeasurable power in our prayers!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ashes

All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. (Ecclesiastes 3:20)

Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent, a period of prayer, fasting, and giving for Christ-followers.  During Lent, we are called to contemplate our need for Christ and His sacrifice on our behalf.  The placing of ashes on the skin signifies our mortality as human beings, mourning for our sinfulness, and repentence unto God.

Ashes really are the perfect substance to associate with Lent, for three reasons (at least):
1.  They represent death, the charred remains of what once lived.  No matter how vital we may be right now, eventually our mortal bodies will be dust. 
2.  They also symbolize the death of the things within us that need to die, namely sin.
3.  They are the perfect incubator for new life.  Want to know the best way to grow a glorious garden?  Spread ashes in the soil.  Only by dying to sin and adhering to Christ do we find new and glorious life.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenheated, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion - to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.  They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.  (Isaiah 61:1-3)

We shall wear a crown of beauty and become oaks of righteousness - but only by first acknowledging our ashes and repenting to the Lord who loves us so.  Stayed tuned for an opportunity to share your Lenten journey here!




Saturday, February 22, 2014

Our Young Disciples

Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity.  (1 Timothy 4:12)

I was sitting in an office on Thursday afternoon and overheard a conversation between two women who had just returned from giving a presentation at a high school.  Both were lamenting about the sad state of our youth.  This is a conversation that's been had many times in various places, and it goes something like this: The youth today are more disrespectful, less disciplined, and not the critical thinkers that their preceeding generations were.  If all we do is watch the news, then this certainly would ring true.  In reality, I think the youth of every generation are not given nearly enough credit for being the thoughtful, intelligent, passionate, and resilient masterpieces they are.

Just look at the youth at Christ Church: could there be a more promising, more amazing group of young people?

It's useful to have a conversation about how we, the body of Christ, can do more to reach the youth in our midst.  But for today, let's celebrate the youth who are already impacting the community for Christ.  Let's give a much-deserved shout out to the amazing young people at Christ Church and beyond.  These wonderful young people are not just the future of our church and our society; they are also shining examples of the Gospel of Christ in action!

Please consider leaving a comment here or on Facebook celebrating our wonderful youth!