Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Unopened Gift (reprise)

Remember the last time you received a gift-wrapped package from someone?  Picture the box, wrapped in iridescent white paper, and tied with a beautiful bow. When you were handed this gift, what did you do?  Did you open it immediately, eager to see what was inside?  Did you want to personally thank the one who gave you such a gift?  I suspect that most would open the gift right away so the giver of the gift could see the pleasure on your face as you received this present. But did you ever take a beautifully gift-wrapped package, put it on a shelf or in the closet, and leave it there unopened?  I can’t imagine doing such a thing, can you?

If you gave a gift to a loved one, would you be offended if that person never opened it?  Would it bother you if you paid a good deal of money to purchase this gift, only to have it sit, unopened, on the shelf?  Or what if you hand-made a gift, and spent countless hours laboring, in love, to create something special?  Would you be upset if the recipient of this gift didn’t even open it?

The one who longs to give us good gifts is God, your heavenly father. We are quickly able to receive His gifts of love and peace. We may at times neglect to use these gifts, but we have opened them and have expressed our gratitude to God for His generosity.
There is one gift from God, however, that we often find difficult to open:  the gift of forgiveness. Psalm 86:5 (NKJ) says, “For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You.”  Unfortunately, many of us believe that our sins are just too terrible, so we cling to them. We know God forgives sins, but He surely won’t forgive this?   We just can’t force ourselves to untie the bow and tear open the paper to receive the gift of forgiveness. Sometimes the problem is that we can’t forgive ourselves. “How could I have ever done that horrible thing?” we might wonder, and the beautifully wrapped package stays on the shelf, untouched.

God paid a great deal to give each of us this gift of forgiveness. He spent a great deal of time laboring on this gift as well, thirty-three years, as a matter of fact. For thirty-three years God’s son lived as a man on this earth, away from His home in heaven. That’s a long time to work on a gift of love. And He paid a high cost for this gift, too: He paid with His life. Don’t you think He would want us to open this gift?
Father God, forgive me Forgive my many sins, both those I have recently committed and those of long ago that I harbor in my heart. Help me accept Your gift, wrapped in love and the sacrifice of Your son. Help me take it off the shelf, unwrap it and accept the forgiveness inside.

I John 1: 8-9 “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Hear the Crying

Imagine if you will, Christmas day, more than 2000 years ago in the village of Bethlehem. Do you feel the crisp early morning air?  Do you smell the animals and the hay?  Listen.  Do you hear the newborn crying?  Can you see Mary, seated on the floor of the stable, holding her tiny son?  Can you see her rock back and forth, back and forth to quiet her tiny babe?
Now let your imagination fast-forward thirty years to a barren land.  Do you hear the voice of John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness?  “Make straight the way for the Lord,” he calls to any who will listen.  Now that the crying baby is grown, his cousin John cries for the repentance of his people.
Think forward again, three more years.  This time it is the mother of Jesus who cries.  She kneels and weeps at the foot of a rugged Roman cross.  High above her is the broken body of her baby boy.  The tiny babe is grown and men have nailed him on this cross.  She cries for her suffering, dying son.
Imagine three days later.  Now those bitter tears and agonizing cries have turned to miraculous cries of joy.  The son who was crucified on a cross is no longer in the tomb.  He is alive!
Once again, let your mind move ahead, many years.  Zoom in your imagination the last few weeks.  Think about your preparations for Christmas.  Did you spend many exhausting hours shopping, wrapping, cooking, cleaning, and baking?  Did you cry in anger, frustration, or fatigue? 
Remember, the babe who cried in the manger is the same Lord who died on the cross.  He died, was resurrected, and is alive.  He is the same Lord who takes away our sins so that we, too, may live with Him forever in heaven. 
Once again, we hear crying, the crying of our hearts.  We cry, remembering our sins.  We cry in repentance, preparing our hearts for His coming in our lives.  We cry in grief, remembering His sacrifice.  We cry in joy, recognizing His resurrected life in us and anticipating eternity.  We cry tears of delight, for we realize that even though all the shopping and wrapping are not yet finished, we are, finally, truly ready for Christmas.
Father, may we never overlook the reason for the celebration.  In all the busyness and scurrying, let us remember and reflect on the miracle of our Lord’s birth in a lowly stable.  May we consider our Lord’s sacrifice.  Let us cry tears of repentance and gratefulness, remembering the greatest Christmas gift.  We have worked hard preparing to celebrate Christmas. May we work just as hard to prepare for His birth and life in our hearts.  May this precious new life within us cry out joyfully for all to hear.










Wednesday, October 30, 2013

First Kiss

Frost has kissed the forest.  Many of the leaves and grasses have succumbed to its deadly touch. Yellow and brown leaves flutter from the trees. The stream is littered with autumn’s golden snowfall. As I wander off the soft, sandy trail, my feet crunch noisily through the leafy debris.  Looking up, I see many of the trees lifting dark, barren branches skyward. Others sport a few green and yellow leaves, but these too are destined to drop to the forest floor.

It’s silent here. No birds call. No animals chatter to their mates. High above in the treetops the wind blows, rustling the remaining leaves. The rustling soon grows to a roar as the wind rushes past barren branches. So much around me seems dead, lifeless. Yet, I know the forest lives.  As I walk I hear rustling in the dead leaves and know small animals run and hide from this human invading their territory. I stop a moment at the stream, listening to the rushing waters bouncing over the rocks. The sound soothes my soul.  I look at the brown grass and the barren trees around the stream and I imagine their roots digging deep into the soil. Above the soil they appear dead, yet their roots continue to draw nourishment into the living plants.

So it is with my soul. At times it becomes brown and looks lifeless. Life is difficult, and I struggle from an unresponsive spirit and lack of enthusiasm. But then I go to a still place and listen. Just like the wind rushes through the trees, God’s voice rushes through my soul, giving me peace. I listen. I learn. I allow the roots of my soul to draw up spiritual nourishment. I rejoice, waiting patiently for that first green blush of spring to sprout in my soul.

Psalm 30:5b NIV “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”

Monday, October 21, 2013

Watching the Lava

Several years ago my husband Scott and I flew to Hawaii for our niece’s wedding.  While there Steve, Blossom, Scott and I spent a couple of days on the big island of Hawaii.  One afternoon we visited an area that had recently been covered by a lava flow.  Since the lava was now cool, we walked on the hardened lava to the newly formed beach, several hundred yards farther into the ocean than the previous beach.  The lava, hard, crusty, and smooth, undulated in small, rolling hills.  When we reached that beach, I was startled to see black sand.  I thought it would take hundreds of years to erode the lava to create this black sand, but one of the local men informed me how the sandy beach actually had been formed.  When the extremely hot, molten lava poured off the land into the much cooler ocean, the extreme difference in temperature caused the lava to explode, instantly creating black sand.

Eager to see a current lava flow, we inquired about the feasibility of viewing the lava.  The breezes blew landward during the day, creating caustic clouds, unsafe to breathe, so we couldn’t go then.  We could, however, view the lava flow at night, when the breezes blew seaward.  That evening, we drove 20 miles on a curving road far from any habitation.  When we reached the barricade, we pulled over and climbed of the car. The soft glow of billions of stars dotting the inky sky provided the only light on this pitch black night.
Flashlights in hand, we walked down the road, and then carefully picked our way along a narrow, rocky path.  Small groups of people, all with flashlights lit, stared in the same direction.  After walking a couple hundred yards, we perched on a large rock, turned off the flashlight, and looked for the lava flow.   Across a small bay, about a quarter of a mile away, we saw it.   Contrasting with the dark water, a red-orange glow illuminated the land behind it.  As the molten lava spilled into the sea, a huge steam-cloud rose into the night sky and drifted slowly over the Pacific Ocean.  By watching carefully, we saw the waves crashing against the flow of the lava.  We sat spellbound for over an hour, staring at the magnificent sight. Then, in the silence of the still, quiet night, Steve began to sing:  Oh Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder, consider all the worlds Thy hands have made….
What a perfect song for the moment, for we beheld our Savior’s creative beauty.  We watched as God created new land in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Only the brilliance of the starlight and the red-orange glow of the lava broke the darkness. I imagined the new black sand beach being formed by His hand.  The beauty and power of our God left us amazed and humbled.  Here we sat on a rock, miles from civilization, watching a tiny sliver of His creative power.  I see the stars; I hear the rolling thunder, Thy power throughout the universe displayed. 

Oh God, keep us ever mindful of how great Thou art!

Deuteronomy 10:21 “He is your praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes.”

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Detour Ahead

It happens when we least expect it. We’re traveling down the highway, making great time, knowing we’ll reach our destination on time. And then, out of nowhere, we see it: the bright orange sign. It has two simple words printed on it, “Detour ahead.” Before we know it, we’re off the highway, traveling some winding two lane road. Our speed slows dramatically, and the traffic resembles a caravan of snails inching toward their destination.

Our typical reaction to the detour? We whine, we gripe, we bemoan our fate.

Jesus experienced a detour too. One minute He was in the fast lane. People crowded around Him, begging to see Him and hear Him speak. They called Him “Savior” and wanted to make Him king. They threw palm branches and their robes at His feet, praising Him as He entered Jerusalem. Surely He was traveling quickly toward fame, riches, and royalty.

But a detour caused an abrupt about face to that trip. Jesus was arrested, beaten, humiliated, and nailed, nearly naked, to a rugged wooden cross. How did He react to this detour? He uttered two sentences that illustrate His attitude. “Father…not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42) and “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Because He willingly traveled the detour, believers receive eternal life.

On our highway of life, we will encounter unexpected detours. How will we react? Will we whine and complain? Or will we submit to the One who knows the final destination?

I Peter 1:6, 7 “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”


Friday, October 4, 2013

Rivers of Peace

In a world torn by conflicts and war, people seek peace.  They question why war exists; hasn’t God has promised peace?  When you listen to the news, it seems peace doesn’t exist.  Even in our homes, it can be elusive.  Couples bicker and divorce, siblings argue and fight.  The book of Isaiah sheds light on peace:  “If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river” (48:18a NIV).  One prerequisite to peace is obeying God’s commands.  But what about peace…like a river?  To fully appreciate this concept of peace like a river, imagine a great river running through the land.

The broad river, a constant presence, flows despite obstacles.  Sometimes the river runs smoothly; at other times it runs headlong into a snag, separating and diverting its water to other paths.  The water flows peacefully on, until downstream it smashes full force against the rocks, shattering spray high in the air.  Flowing to the top of a sharp drop-off, the water rushes forward, falling… falling…rushing over the edge, churning and boiling at the bottom.  After a time the waters collect in a still pool, resting, reveling in the quiet. 

During my mother’s last years, her mind ravaged by dementia, my river of peace constantly ran against snags of her lost memory.  My peace plummeted over the precipice of countless hours watching her mind rapidly losing rational thought and memory.  Constantly swirling and eddying, the waters rushed me from work to my parents’ home to assist Dad in caring for her .  Emotional whirlpools threatened to spin out of control.  The only thing that kept my sanity during this difficult time was God’s peace.

You may ask how I can feel peace when my world was turned upside down.  In Galatians 5:22, we learn that peace is a fruit of the Spirit.  Only the spirit of God can give us peace in the midst of the snags, rocks, waterfalls, and whirlpools of life.  So how do we receive this peace?  We can’t buy it in a store; we can only receive it as a gift from God.  Once again, scripture aids us in our search for peace.  “You [God] will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trust in you” (Isaiah 26:3 NIV).  Our peace comes when we place complete trust in God and obey His commands (Isaiah 48:18). 

When our life’s circumstances shatter against the rocks, placing trust in God’s perfect will keeps us at peace despite trying circumstances.  Jesus tells us he leaves us peace, but “I do not give you [peace] as the world gives” (John 14:22 NIV).  The countries of the world may continue to fight, and we will still experience difficulties and tragedies.  But when we obey God’s commands and trust Him, no matter how difficult our circumstances, we experience His peace, flowing like a river deep within our souls.


Monday, September 23, 2013

The Banquet (reprise)

The Banquet

 You enter a banquet hall; before you is a long, beautifully carved wooden table set with fine china, crystal goblets, polished silverware, and linen napkins.  You may eat whatever you desire.  Perhaps your first choice is a juicy steak, cooked to perfection.  With it you may desire a baked potato, loaded with butter and sour cream, and topped with bacon and green onion.  A tossed salad, chock full of your vegetables and topped with your favorite dressing, rounds out the meal.  Perhaps instead of steak, you prefer a different dish?  A crispy taco, filled with flavorful meat, shredded lettuce, tomato, and two kinds of cheese.  Guacamole, chips, and salsa come with the dinner. Whatever your favorite meal, you may eat to your heart’s content.  Next, of course, is dessert.  Would you care for a chewy brownie, topped with creamy vanilla ice cream and hot fudge?  Or perhaps a bowl of juicy, ripe red strawberries with a dollop of whipped cream?
Would the opportunity to eat your fill of your favorite dishes make you glad?    Just looking at this food and inhaling its wonderful aromas would make most of us quite happy.  Unfortunately for our waistlines and our pocketbooks, we cannot indulge in a feast like this, at least not very often.

It is easy to imagine joy in a feast of delicious food, but “joy and rejoicing of my heart” (Jeremiah 15:16) from eating God’s word?  Do we desire the word of God as much as we desire delicious food?  Is reading God’s word something we eagerly anticipate?  Probably not, but this is a feast in which we can indulge.  We need not fear gaining weight and depleting our wealth; we only fear gaining knowledge of God’s wisdom and love and depleting our sinfulness.

Oh God, creator of the entire universe, I desire delicious food more than I desire Your word.  How infrequently I desire Your words as a sumptuous banquet for my soul.  Forgive me.  Change my heart, O God.  Create in me a create in me a hunger to feast at the banquet of Your word.

Jeremiah 15:16 (NKJ) “Your words were found and I ate them, and Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart;  for I am called by Your name, O Lord God of hosts.”




Friday, May 17, 2013

Glimpses of His Glory

Early in the morning before the phone starts ringing and the demands of the day begin pressing all around, I love to curl up in my favorite glider rocker and just think.  The darkness covers everything, but a soft light gradually steals into the room.  The house is quiet, not yet fully awake.  With my back to the lace-covered bay window, I gaze out the sliding glass window to the south.  The branches of the mulberry trees arch toward earth, heavy with their fruit.  A bright red cardinal hops from one branch to another, calling to his mate.  A small, sky blue birdhouse, its door flanked by two birch twigs, hangs from the mulberry tree.  A tiny wren flits about, and then dives into the miniature house.  The potted plants on the patio steps provide a splash of color:  red, trailing geraniums, brilliant against the white pots.  Arching asparagus ferns reach toward the patio.  Bright yellow moss roses, a hint of red at their centers, peek from beneath the greenery.  My cat Tigger prowls, seeking prey.  The birds chatter and chastise him, but they need not fear.  He is too fat to catch them.

As I sit, still and quiet, contemplating the early morning peace and the beauty of nature, I sense the presence of God.  It is in this setting, when I sit quietly and let my mind wander, that I can hear God’s still, quiet voice speaking to me.  In this calm, contemplative state, I open my heart to hear His voice.  In the quiet, before my mind races with obligations and responsibilities, I watch.  I listen.  He responds.  He makes His presence known.  Some mornings I meditate on His greatness.  Other mornings I listen to worshipful music.  As the beautiful notes wash over my soul, and the words seep into my heart, they speak volumes of God’s power, majesty, and grandeur.  When I open my Bible, God speaks to me through the written word.  Passages I may never have noticed before nearly jump off the page.  “Listen to My words,” God says to my heart.  “These words are my special message, just for you, just for today’s circumstances.”  As I ponder the words, I feel Him in the room, His love washing over my entire being.  I cherish this time with God.

Too soon, it is time to scurry about and prepare for the busy day ahead.  I would love to take these special moments with me and live in this state forever, but I know I cannot.  Even though I wish I could, I am unable to have this lengthy quiet time on a daily basis.  Too often, my quiet time with God is far too short.  But I realize that He does not intend for me to live entirely on the mountaintop experiences of His love; He wants me to spend time in the valleys.  For it is only in the valleys that I can share these experiences with others.  It is only in the valleys that others can see God’s presence in me.  It is only in the valleys that I can learn and grow.  So I go about my everyday tasks, longing for insight into more of God’s grandeur.  Someday I know I will see Him face to face; someday I will behold, in full, His glory; someday I will go to the mountaintop where I will bask in His presence for all eternity.  In the meantime, I obediently walk in the valleys and try to stay content with occasional glimpses of His glory.

Lord of my life, thank you for the mountaintop experiences and for the walks in the valley.  In your wisdom, allow each experience to mold me into your image.
Psalm 46:10 Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.

Monday, May 13, 2013


None of us likes to be interrupted.  From a young age, we tell our children, “Not now. I’m talking. It’s not polite to interrupt.” Children, of course, are persistent, tap, tap, tapping the parent’s shoulder until the child has Mom or Dad’s full attention. These interruptions try the parent’s patience, but eventually the child learns not to interrupt.

When Jesus walked on this earth, He was the master of interruptions. He saw society shunning the poor and the ill. He interrupted with compassion and healing. He saw people burdened by an oppressive Roman government. He interrupted their oppression with hope. He saw religious leaders consumed with the letter of the endless list of laws. He interrupted legalism with grace. He saw His people burdened with sin and hungry for righteousness. He interrupted their burdens by bearing them on the cross.

Even though Jesus, the man, doesn’t walk this earth today, Jesus, our Savior, continues to interrupt. He’s tapping on our shoulders, trying to get our attention. He wants us to see the needs of the poor, the ill, and the oppressed. He wants us to open our eyes to legalism, and the pressing need for grace. Tap, tap, tap. Will we allow our lives to be interrupted? How and when will we respond to His insistent tapping on our shoulders?

Luke 14:13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Reflected Sunlight

A narrow shaft of morning light streams across the table. Right in its path sits a water bottle. As I write in my journal and turn the pages of my Bible, the water in the bottle shakes ever so slightly. The sunlight reflecting off and through that water dances on the table, bright white and fluid. Off the surface of the plastic bottle the light reflects back to me. Tiny water droplets near the bottle’s opening shimmer in the light.

This is how I want to reflect God’s light—bright, white, shimmering and fluid with the Holy Spirit.
II Corinthians 4:6 "For God who said, 'Let light shine out of the darkness,' made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."

Sunday, April 28, 2013

New Growth

I love springtime!  Overnight the world changes from dull, dry, and dead to colorful, vibrant, and alive.  The trees, which stretched their bare arms heavenward all winter, are blessed with a pale green blush.  The Bradford pear tree in the front yard nods its white, blooming head gently in the spring breezes.  Yesterday, the grass was brittle and brown.  Today it is soft and green.  Even the dandelions look beautiful nestled in their greenery.

How exciting it is to examine new growth in the gardens!  The phlox, low to the ground, carpets the yard with purple.  The huge forsythia bushes glow a vivid yellow beside our gray house.  Everywhere signs of new life abound.  The greenery of snapdragons, daisies, hostas, bee balm, and yarrow all promise future blooms.  The clematis vines, recently just dead sticks, sprout new growth at every intersection; some are already three feet long, loaded with buds.  Dozens of purple cone flower plants already climb several inches high, assuring a future of beautiful flowers for us and nectar for bees and butterflies to enjoy.  In Spring excitement grows as the perennials burst forth with new life and a promise for beautiful, fragrant summertime blooms.
Do you feel spiritual new growth and springtime revival?  Deep within our hearts we recognize growth, its green tendrils growing ever closer to God, seeking His face.  The palest green blush of revival is evident as we stretch our arms heavenward.  While we work, pray, and seek God’s guidance, we can almost feel the flower buds forming on the green plants of our spirits.  We eagerly anticipate the new blooms filling our lives with God’s beautiful purpose and the fragrance of His sweet spirit.
Oh God, our master gardener, nurture the growth of our souls.
John 1:1, 4 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener…. Remain in me, and I will remain in you.  No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Ahh, Spring!

Spring is in the air.  The sunshine draws me to the nearby nature trails.  As soon as I enter the park, serenity covers me like a blanket.  The trees, still black and bare of leaves, stretch high above my dirt pathway.  The winds blowing high over my head sway the trees, causing their bare branches to clack against one another.  On either side of my path, green shoots poke tentatively from the ground.  Frogs in the nearby pond sing, “Spring is coming.” 

Soon these trees will wear lush canopies of green, and violets will dot the countryside.  Glancing to my left, I am startled to see a white tailed deer staring at me.  A mere ten yards away, blending into the barren trees, her huge brown eyes watch me pass.  As I continue rambling, I notice two of her friends, also carefully inspecting me.  They, too, must appreciate the coming of Spring.

After forty-five minutes, I step under overarching branches to exit the park.  The city streets loom hard and barren in contrast to the park.  Walking home, I vow to take the beauty and serenity God’s world home, allowing its beauty to awaken Spring in my soul.
John 16:33 "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Ice Storm

On Tuesday, January 4, 2005, the worst ice storm in decades hit Wichita. Over three quarters of an inch of ice coated the area, downing power lines and plunging more than 60,000 homes and businesses into darkness. The icy outdoors created a surreal fantasy world, with homes, grass, trees, streets, and mailboxes painted with a clear, icy glaze. Trees bent over, their limbs dragging the ground under their heavy loads. Many, unable to bear the load, snapped, littering roofs, yards, sidewalks, and streets with their crystal branches. By Saturday, the clouds cleared, and the sun on nature’s ice castles sparkled brilliantly, their prisms of ice flinging crystal colors everywhere.

Saturday afternoon, feeling housebound, I ventured outdoors to watch the sun glisten off the icy trees. In my backyard, everything drooped under the weight of the ice—according to newscasters the ice was four times the weight of the trees it covered. The mulberry trees bent so far over from the weight of the ice, the tips of their branches brushed the snow-covered ground. I stood in the middle of the back yard and gazed at the trees surrounding me. The sun, striking the ice-covered branches, turned my back-yard world brilliant, but what really struck me were all the new sounds. As I stood there watching and listening, a whole chorus sang. The main melody: the constant drip, drip, drip of water falling from thousands of icicles. All around me I heard this constant dripping as the sun melted the ice. With the breeze, the click and clack of ice-covered branches brushing each other added to the tune. Plop!  I turned and looked behind me at trembling tree branches, freed from their weight of ice. Every few seconds I heard another plop as chunks of ice tumbled to the ground. Occasionally a loud crashing resounded as a larger ice fragment hit the branch below and tumbled from branch to branch before landing on the softer earth. Looking at the ash tree by the corner of our vegetable garden, I witnessed hundreds of drops glistening in the late afternoon sun and plopping to the ground; the tree wept. Before long, I noticed the lower branches of the mulberry tree no longer touched the ground. I wondered how long it would take before all the ice melted from the trees and the branches, freed from their burden, and would once more reach heavenward.

How often do our souls become ice-coated?  We are burdened and bent over, not with the weight of ice, but with the weight of our guilt and our sins. Heavy with guilt, we labor to lift our arms heavenward. Some, unable to bear this burden, snap and break. Others merely look down, unable to praise God. Fortunately, we can eliminate the burdens weighing us down. Like the sun shining on the ice-laden trees, God’s grace frees us from our burdens. When in repentance we sincerely beg God’s son to shine his light of forgiveness, the hard shell of guilt begins to crack and stir. Soon, tears of gratitude flow, just like the weeping trees. Before long, the hard shells of ice coating our souls come crashing down. Soon we can once again raise our arms heavenward, look up and praise our maker.

Father, thank you for melting away my heavy burden of guilt.

Psalm 38:4 "My guilt has overwhelmed me like a guilt too heavy to bear." 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Let Spring In!

In my mind’s eye I see the car rolling up the highway. I hear the whine of the tires as they eat up the road. From the outside, all is calm. Inside, turmoil. Inside, parents clinging to their Jesus, seeking His wisdom. Desperately seeking His wisdom. They drive on, heading to the institution far away, a place they pray will keep their daughter alive.

How will she respond? Only God knows. Only God can provide the healing for a tortured young soul. Only God can bring peace to a family in crisis. Only God can bring the help she so desperately desires.

I weep for my friends. And for so many others who quietly, desperately deal with crisis. May they all seek God’s goodness, seek God’s wisdom, seek God’s grace.

Needing a break from my thoughts and prayers, I step outside. Opening the front door and walking onto the front porch, I run right into it. Spring. Hope. It blooms in my front yard, right outside my living room window. Quickly, I capture the Spring on film, allowing the beauty to erase the fear. Smiling now, I feel peace. Peace in my own heart, peace in the car rapidly eating up the miles.
Back in the house, I open the drapes and let Spring inside. Peace enters with it, for I’m now confident that Hope exists in the car as it eats up the miles. Hope exists in the distant city. Hope exists right in my front yard. Hope exists in my heart. I only need to open the windows of my faith to experience its blooms.

Isaiah 61:1b-3a “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, 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 gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”

Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Road to Resurrection: Ten, Resurrection

We know how the story ends. After three days in the grave, Jesus rose and lived again. But that isn’t the end. It’s just the beginning. Because God came to earth as a man, because He died on the cross for our sins, and because He rose from the grave, everything changed.

The resurrection of Jesus’ body wasn’t the only miracle. Because of the resurrection, we will live forever with God. But we don’t have to wait for that resurrection, for more is promised. We can experience resurrection now. I Corinthians 5:15-17 says, So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

When we allow the resurrected Jesus live in us, we become “new creations.”  Just as a caterpillar changes to a beautiful butterfly, so the spirit of Jesus resurrects us to new life.

Father, wrap us in the cocoon of your love and wisdom and make us butterflies.  Work the miracle of change in our lives.  Create us anew as beautiful new creatures flying on the wings of your spirit.

Food for thought: In what ways will others see the evidence of your spiritual resurrection?

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Road to Resurrection: Eight, Arrest and Punishment, a Disciple's Perspective

After I woke up in the garden everything happened so fast it nearly made my head swim. The light from torches bobbed up the hill. Men’s angry voices broke the night’s silence. Judas approached, followed by a crowd of armed men. Judas kissed Jesus, and immediately the mob seized him. Drawn swords glinted in the moonlight. It all happened so fast, and, I’m ashamed to admit, I was so frightened I fled. Through the olive grove, down the hillside and into the crowded city, I ran as fast as my legs could carry me.

I ran into my house and bolted the door, shaking in the darkened room. At any moment I expected a heavy pounding on the door. I was sure Roman soldiers or an angry mob would come to arrest me. The next night some of the others came in the dark. They all had heard rumors of what had happened to Jesus. All we knew for sure was that he’d been arrested.

How could this be happening? I wondered. I was so sure Jesus was our promised Messiah. Surely there had been a mistake. I wept. I prayed. I was afraid to go out on the streets for fear I’d be arrested too. After one of the women came with news that Jesus had been sentenced to death, I conquered my fear and decided I’d have to see for myself.

I donned a cloak with a hood pulled low over my forehead and ventured out to the crowded city streets. Before long I heard loud voices and saw a crowd along the road. Elbowing my way toward the front, I was finally able to see who was on the road ahead. What I saw appalled me. A troop of Roman soldiers escorted three prisoners, each carrying a cross to his own execution.

I hardly recognized Him at first. A crown of thorns encircled his head, and blood dripped down his face. His knees buckled as He struggled to carry the heavy wooden cross. His face was contorted with pain. As He stumbled with His burden, soldiers and people in the crowd spit on Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews.” Others, some of whom I recognized, wept quietly.

As He staggered past, I gasped when I saw His torn back. The Roman whip had ripped the flesh from His back, leaving nothing but raw flesh. I’m not ashamed to admit that tears filled my eyes. It hurt so to see my friend suffer. I pushed away from the crowd in a daze, not knowing what the future might hold. All I knew for sure was that Jesus was headed for the hill of Golgotha and execution. I feared the same for myself.

Matthew 27: 28-30 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again.

Food for thought: Are you able to trust in Jesus even when times are difficult? When circumstances seem insurmountable? Can you accept how Jesus suffered for your sins?


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Road to Resurrection: Seven, In the Garden, a Disciple

If only I had known. If only I had known what would happen next, I would have stayed awake. But the night was dark and cool and the wind blew softly on my face. Before Jesus walked past the nearby olive trees to pray alone, He even said to us, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death….Stay here and keep watch” (Mark 14:34). He walked a few yards away and knelt on the ground to pray. Did I stay awake and pray with Him? Did I keep watch for my good friend? No, I’m ashamed to say, no. I stretched out on the cool, soft grass and laid my head down. I closed my eyes, just for a minute, I said to myself. And I went to sleep. The next thing I knew, Jesus was at my side, looking so sad.

Again He asked us to stay awake, watch, and pray. He walked a short distance away and fell to the ground, praying, beseeching God to take a cup away from Him. I didn’t understand what He meant, but He sounded so distressed that I tried desperately to stay awake for my friend. But my eyes were so heavy that I just couldn’t keep them open. Once again, I failed Him. I slept while Jesus prayed alone.

After He awakened us again, He asked us once more to watch and pray. I tried so hard; I really did. I blinked my heavy eyelids and thought about my Jesus praying nearby. Alone, He struggled with something, praying out loud, calling to God. And what did I do? I deserted Him. I put my head down and once more fell fast asleep.

He again returned to find us sleeping. When I awakened I could hardly believe how Jesus looked. In the moonlight on this cool spring night, I saw his brow beaded with sweat. But when He came closer I realized His brow was not covered in sweat, but instead it was covered in drops of blood. How Jesus must have struggled with His prayers while I slept. I closed my eyes again, this time in shame. Tears of regret ran down my cheeks as I realized I had deserted my Jesus in an hour of great need.

Mark 14:41, 42 Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

Food for thought: Consider how difficult this night must have been for Jesus. Like the disciple, how often have you “slept” when you could have prayed or helped someone with your actions? Jesus forgave his disciples for sleeping through His hour of need. Have you asked Him to forgive you for inactions? Have you forgiven yourself?


Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Road to Resurrection: Six, The Last Supper, a Disciple

On Maundy Thursday you celebrate by eating the bread and drinking the wine, calling it “the Last Supper.” Strange, isn’t it? To us it was just another supper. True, Jesus taught us many things at that table, but we really didn’t understand their significance. We didn’t truly understand who He was until after…but I get ahead of myself. That night Jesus drank from the cup and said He wouldn’t drink again until the “kingdom of God comes.” I caught the looks on some of the other disciples’ faces when he said that. Some looked eager, for they longed for a confrontation with their conquerors. They wanted their king to take His rightful place and overthrow the hated Romans. Others just looked confused.

All of us were confused when he broke the bread and said it was his body. We looked at each other and wondered what he was talking about. Had he been out in the sun too long that day? He really wasn’t making any sense.

But we often didn’t understand the things he told us. We shrugged it off and ate the meal while reclining by the table and talking among ourselves. If we had only listened more carefully, we would have understood, for Jesus had prepared us for the future. Instead of appreciating what we had, we chose to argue among ourselves.

“I’m greater because I followed Him first!”

“No, I’m greater because He spends more time with me!”

“No, me! I’m greater.” We argued with puffed up chests just like adolescent boys trying to impress. If we had only known, we’d have spent that last supper together differently.

I Corinthians 11: 27-29 Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.

Food for thought: How do you approach communion? In your heart, are you comparing yourself to others? Do you hold grudges against your neighbor? Are you listening to His still, small voice? If this would be your last supper, would you have regrets?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Road to Resurrection: Five, the Last Supper: Judas

You may have heard of me: my name is Judas. Yes, I attended the “last supper.” But my mind was elsewhere. Three years before I’d been drawn to Jesus. I was so tired of the Roman rule I was ready to do anything to foster rebellion. How desperately I wanted our land back! Jesus seemed such a great candidate for rebellion. Everywhere He went people followed Him. They listened to His every word, ready to follow wherever He might go.

But He didn’t go where I wanted Him to go. I didn’t hear anti-Rome speeches. I didn’t hear calls to arms and action. I wondered if I had followed the wrong man. But He trusted me, putting me in charge of the groups’ treasure. Dutifully I gathered all the coins donated for His cause. I bought the food and other necessities for the group.

But as I carried the money bags, something changed. With every step I took that money jingled. It called to me. “Jingle…jingle…jingle. Judas, just think what you could do with all this money!” No longer would I waste my time watching Jesus heal the mobs of people who followed him wherever he went. The longer I managed the money, the more it called to me. I began stealing from the group treasury, just a few coins at a time. A few coins here, a few coins there, and suddenly I had acquired a great amount of money.

No longer did I hang on every word Jesus spoke. All I heard was the jingling call of the coins. “Judas, Judas, take me. Take me! Think of all you can do with just a little more money.” Before long I had gone to the high priest and offered to betray Jesus. In exchange, he would give me thirty beautiful, jingly silver coins! I couldn’t wait.

During that “last supper” I had trouble concentrating. My mind kept wandering to the clink of the 30 pieces of silver dropping into my money bag. I knew just the place and time to betray Him, when no crowds would surround and protect him. Oh I could almost hear the clink of that money falling into my hands.

Jesus’ voice pulled me from my reverie. He was saying something about betrayal. All the other men started babbling at once. “Is it me?” “Not me, Lord?”

He looked at me and I quickly said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?”

He answered, “Yes, it is you.”

Clearly, Jesus knew. I gathered my money bag and left the room, hurrying toward my silver and my future.

Matthew 26:21 & 25 And while they were eating he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.”

Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?

Jesus answered, “Yes, it is you.”

Food for thought: In what ways do I betray Jesus by my actions or lack of action?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Road to Resurrection: Four, Washing the Disciples' Feet

It was a job reserved for servants.  Not just any servants, either. Only the lowliest of servants washed the guests’ feet. Any man wealthy enough to have servants could expect to have one wash the dust from his feet on a daily basis.

Imagine this: You come home after a hard day’s work and collapse in your favorite chair. Almost immediately, a man kneels before you, setting a basin of water on the floor next to your tired, dirty feet. You look down, expecting to see your servant. Instead, you see the son of God kneeling before you. The One who created the heavens and the earth loosens your shoes. His strong, pierced hands hold your bare foot—your grimy, smelly foot!

Gently He dips your feet into the warm water and scrubs away all the dirt of the day. Then He takes a towel from around His waist and blots your clean feet dry. You feel ashamed that the God who created you has done a servant’s task. When you protest, He responds, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13: 14 & 15).

Food for thought: Following Jesus example, in what ways can you “wash other’s feet”? How do you humble yourself before God? Before others?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Road to Resurrection: Three, Jesus is Annointed, the Story of the Woman with the Alabaster Jar

I’m not a wealthy woman. I’m not an educated woman. I’m not looked upon favorably by those in upper society. But when a man speaks the truth, I understand. This man Jesus speaks the truth. The first time I heard him teach, I knew he was special. Whenever He opened His mouth, it seemed the words of our Fathers came alive. Surely this man was the fulfillment of the Holy Scriptures. At long last, our Messiah had arrived.

In my heart I longed to bestow a very special gift on Him. But what gift could I give such a man? I was willing to sacrifice anything to give a special gift to the Master. I prayed to the Almighty and waited for an answer. As soon as I had my answer, I gathered all my worldly goods and hurried to market to sell them. Each item I sold brought the top price. Soon my purse held more money than I’d ever seen. Willingly, gladly, I gave the shopkeeper every denarius. In return, he handed me a beautiful alabaster flask. I ran my hands over its curves, knowing I would soon break it open, releasing the oil and fragrance inside. This would be my gift for the Messiah.

Carefully I hid the flask in the folds of my cloak, lest any thief might spy it and take it from me. I rushed down the crowded, dusty streets, hurrying to the house where Jesus and his disciples ate.  It wasn’t my place to interrupt their meal, but the urgency in my heart made me bold. When I entered the house, the men were at the table. Before I could lose my courage, I went straight to Jesus’ side. I broke open the lovely vase and poured the most fragrant oil on his head. Surely, I was most privileged to be allowed to anoint the Master.

Some of the men grumbled, as I knew they would, but God had allowed me to anoint our Messiah. No matter what those men might have said or done, I received such a special gift when I was allowed to anoint my King.

Food for thought: What treasures have you stored in your alabaster jar? Are you willing to break it open as a gift to pour out for Jesus? Would you be willing to sell all you own to honor Jesus?
Matthew 26: 12 "When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial."

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Road to Resurrection: Two, Jesus Clears the Temple: a Disciple's Perspective

That day in the temple I saw a different side of Jesus. Never had I seen such anger flash in His eyes. Oh, I’d seen some of it before, particularly when some of the Pharisees acted pompously, but this anger was intense. I can’t believe how quickly he fashioned a whip out of those cords and how quickly men fled when he strode their way! I have to admit I found it a little humorous, watching those money grubbers grab every coin they could as they fled the sting of the whip.

People and animals scattered in every direction while he thundered at them. He chastised them for making his Father’s house a place of merchandise. As I watched, powerless to stop him, I remembered the scripture, “Zeal for Your house has eaten me up.” All the money-making and cheating in the temple was certainly eating Jesus up with anger. I shuddered to think how the religious authorities would react to this scene of chaos in the temple.

When the Master yelled at the religious leaders about destroying the temple and raising it up again in three days, I was totally mystified. I hoped he would explain what he meant by this later after we left the temple, but he did not. It wasn’t until much later that I realized what he meant.
Later, after witnessing his death and seeing him alive again I finally understood. That’s when it dawned on me. For three days he lay in that tomb. For three days we mourned and worried. We wondered what would become of us. The temple he had referred to was his own body. Only after he was crucified and raised again did we begin to understand. He himself, his body, is God’s temple. Yes, they destroyed it. Yes, he raised it again in three days. I remember that day in the temple so vividly. Even more than that, I remember the day when the truth of it slowly dawned on me.

Food for Thought:  How do you strive to keep God’s house a house of prayer? How have you allowed the truth of Jesus’ resurrection to live in your life?
Mark 11:17 Is it not written,  "My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations?" But you have made it a "den of robbers."

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Road to Resurrection: One, the Triumphal Entry

One sleepless night not too long ago, I lay awake, imagining what it must have been like to watch a king enter the ancient city of Jerusalem.

I can still see it vividly in my mind’s eye.  Before I can even glimpse the king, trumpets herald his arrival.  Soon 40 soldiers enter the crowded city, each proudly straddling a high-stepping stallion.  Eyes staring at the road ahead, the men ride ramrod straight, armor and weapons glinting in the sun.  Between the two groups of mounted soldiers rolls an ornate carriage, resplendent with gold leaf.  Four perfectly matched black stallions, crimson ribbons braided into their manes and tails, pull the carriage effortlessly.  In that carriage sits the perfectly tailored king, his brocade coat trimmed in ermine.  Rubies and emeralds adorn his fingers.  The golden crown, encrusted with precious stones, reflects the bright sunlight.  As he passes, the cheering throng bows low, each man hoping the king will scatter some coins his way.

How different was our King’s triumphal entry!  No trumpets heralded his arrival.  No soldiers or horses came before Him.  Instead of an elaborate entourage, He was accompanied by a few simple men, broad shouldered and tanned from hard, outdoor work. They walked alongside Him, wearing roughly woven clothes.  Jesus sat astride a young donkey.  He wore no gold nor gems, but only a simple cloak and sandals.  Although Jesus had no coins to throw to the people, His intangible gifts were far more costly than gold.  A slight smile played at the corners of His mouth, but the dark brown eyes filled with sorrow.  In spite of His poverty and ordinary appearance, the people sensed something special about this man.  They loudly cheered, “Hosanna, King of Kings!” and lay palm branches at His feet.

How quickly the cries of the crowd changed!  A few short days later the cheers of “Hosanna” changed to jeers and shouts of “Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!”  Many of those who had proclaimed Him king now clamored for his death.  Even his closest friends ran away and denied they even knew him.

How, I wonder, could these people change so quickly?  How could they proclaim him king one day, and not even acknowledge his existence the next?  As I sit quietly and think, I realize, with humility and shame, that I have done the very same thing.  How many times have I gone on my merry way, never acknowledging Christ as the king of my life, never seeking His divine guidance?  How many times do I denying His existence by failing to speak out against injustice or not sharing His good news with another?  If He is truly king of my life, why do I not get down on my knees every day and praise my spiritual king?

Jesus, king of my life, help me to bow in humble obedience and recognition of your lordship in my life.

John 12:14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written, “Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.”


Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Potter

Have you ever watched the potter at work?  He centers a lump of clay on the wheel, creates a small indention in the middle, then pours water over the clay.  As the wheel spins, his hands deftly shape the clay until he has created his pot in the exact shape he wants.

In scripture God is compared to a potter.  Can you see Him at work, creating with clay, molding and shaping each vessel until it is the perfect shape and size?  Each of us is carefully, lovingly, uniquely formed by our Lord’s hands.

Unfortunately, in our human perceptions, we view ourselves, the vessels He is shaping, and wish we were different.  “Perhaps a different shape or size would be better,” we think, or we wish to use this pot for a different purpose.  We constantly resist His hands, molding us to His will.  But God, in His wisdom, knows what He is doing, and our wishes to change illustrate how we doubt His wisdom.  Still, we constantly try to “correct” what God has made.

At times we look at others, too, and wish to change them.  “If this pot were just a little wider,” we mistakenly think, “it could be used for a different purpose.  If this pot had a slightly different shape, it would be beautiful.”  And we try to form that vessel into the image we have for it.  When we do that, we doubt God’s handiwork.  The clay never dictates to the potter what shape it should be; neither does it tell the potter how to shape other pots.

 God created the world in seven days, yet He constantly refines and perfects each of us.  Can you see Him at His wheel?  He pauses a moment at His work, steps back, looks, and says, “It is good.”

Father, make us aware of your hand in our lives, shaping and molding each of us into your image.  Help us to yield to Your hand and to Your judgment of the size, shape, and purpose for each of your precious vessels.

 Isaiah 64:8: (NKJ): “Yet, O Lord, You are our Father; We are the clay, You are the potter we are all the work of are Your hand.”


Monday, March 4, 2013

A Child's Walk with His Father

“Let’s go,” the father called to his four-year-old son.

Jimmy scampered over and reached his small hand up for his dad’s firm grasp.  Eagerly he tugged on the strong arm, “Let’s go, let’s go,” he sang.

Small hand wrapped firmly in the larger hand, out the door they walked, down the sidewalk.  Jimmy hopped and skipped and gleefully noticed everything.  “Wow!  Look at that bird.  Look, look, an airplane.”  He paused momentarily to point and stare skyward.

Soon a large German shepherd barked noisily at them.  Jimmy jumped, edging closer to his dad.  “Daddy, I’m scared, carry me,” he pleaded.

“Don’t worry; I won’t let that dog hurt you.” Dad scooped Jimmy up and swung him onto his broad shoulders.

Soon they came to an intersection.  “Stop!” called Jimmy.  “Look left.  Look right.  Any cars?  No?  Okay, go,” just as his father had taught him.  Together they safely crossed the street.

“Daddy, I want down.”  Once again, strong arms lifted Jimmy off his dad’s shoulders and set him safely on the sidewalk.

Jimmy, like most young children, loves to spend time with his dad.  With childlike faith, he puts his hand in the strong hand of his father, trusting him completely.  Together, they walk wherever the father chooses, knowing their time together is more important than the path they choose.  Even though they utter few words, they communicate.  In times of difficulties or danger, the son instinctively draws closer to his father, who carries him.

In the same way the small child trusts his father on his walk, so we trust our heavenly Father on our life’s walk.  Trustingly, we place our hand in His.  We talk to Him, expressing our delight in what we encounter, and our fears of what lies ahead. No matter what, we confidently walk with Him on whatever path He chooses.  If we listen to His words and follow His advice, we know we will avoid danger, just like the child who learned to look both ways before crossing the street. 

Will our walk always be pleasant?  No.  Will we ever become fatigued or frightened?  Yes.  Will there be times of great difficulties?  Of course.  But like a small child, we confidently look up and say, “Daddy, I need help, carry me.”  Whatever difficulties we face, our Father, who listens to our pleas, picks us up with his strong hands, swings us up on His broad shoulders, and carries us safely though life’s journey.

Father God, teach me to have child-like trust in You.

Psalm 16:11 (NIV) “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”