Saturday, March 30, 2013


Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, "Sit here, while I go over there and pray." And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, "My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me." 

And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will." And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, "So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."

Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done." And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 
Matthew 26:36-43

     This may be the first Resurrection Sunday ever that I am  not excited, save those handful that occurred during the time I was an unbelieving waitress. I don't know why I am so glum, honestly.  Maybe the chaos of this first quarter of our year has dampened my spirits. Possibly the relentless fatigue that has stalked me so ruthlessly has something to do with it. Almost certainly the return of another headache cycle, and one less responsive than ever to treatment, is a contributing factor. These and countless other components have left me feeling frayed, limp, and unenthusiastic this year.

     As I have contemplated the reason for my apathy this year, I have carried on a conversation with my Lord begging His pardon for not feeling my usual zeal for this event. His own experience at Gethsemane came to mind during the day, and I can't quite shake it.
     The more I have reflected, the more I doubt that Jesus, Himself, was particularly excited about that first Easter. Perhaps He was, to some extent, looking forward to the completion of the thin; the finale of His work on earth and the end of the business at His Resurrection. But before that victory came tribulation, heartache, suffering, and pain.
     I know that I, too, have pain, difficulty, toil, and heartache in my future. I am not being pessimistic. This is the human condition. We all will endure travail; we cannot escape it. The only thing that keeps me from utter despair is the certainty that none of it is in vain. There is more to the story than right now or even future anguish.  

     Even in the midst of the torturous fog that my chronic, complicated migraines deliver, I know that there is an end one day.  I know that even if the darkness seems to close in and all around me I find reason to weep, there will be joy in the morning--if not tomorrow morning then some future morning when I wake finally to peace, to bliss, to life everlasting in the presence of my King. That is reason enough to go on though I may be weary and at the end of my strength. His power is made perfect in my weakness. He is my strength and my song. Because of my Jesus, I will drink the cup I am given to drink. I, too, will say, "Not as I will, but as You will." 

     Father, You are good. Your will be done.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." 
John 16:33

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


John 13:1-26

     In this passage, we find Jesus eating a meal with His disciples, sometime before the Passover feast. Satan had already placed the idea of turning the Lord in to the authorities into the mind of Judas Iscariot. Jesus knew His hour had come and He loved His disciples. He knew all things had been given to Him by the Father, and He took off his cloak, tied a towel around himself, poured water into a bowl, and knelt to begin washing the feet of the twelve. 
     When he came to Peter, that man asked Him with an air of incredulity if He was truly going to wash his feet. When Jesus replied affirmatively, Simon declared he wouldn't allow it. Jesus told him that to have any part with Him, Peter must be washed by Him, to which Simon exlaimed, "Then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well!" 
     Jesus indicated that if a person has bathed, they are already clean but need only wash their feet (it is critical to remember this culture wore sandals and walked on very dusty paths), but that not all of them were clean.
     When He had finished, He put the towel aside and donned His cloak once more, taking His place at the table. He asked His disciples if they understood what He had done. He told them, "You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, 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." He went on to say that they were blessed if they not only understood these things, but did them. He mentioned that He did not say this to all of them, for one among them must fulfill the Scripture, "He who has eaten my bread has lifted up his heel against me," and informed them that He was telling them these things now so that when the events occurred, the disciples would believe that He was who He said He was. He also let them know that the one who receives Him also receives the One who sent Him.  
     After He had spoken thus, He became troubled and told the men that one of them would betray Him. The disciples were confused and looked around, wondering. Peter indicated to John that he should ask the Lord who it was since John was beside Jesus. John leaned against his Teacher and asked, "Who is it, Lord?"
     Jesus replied that it was the one to whom He would give a bit of bread after He had dipped it in the common dish. He then dipped the bread and gave it to Judas Iscariot. 

     There is so much here that both makes me love my Lord all the more and humbles me as I see how far removed I am from giving His undiluted, unreasonable love. The part that has stood out to me the most in the past few days is this: That He knew all things were given to Him before He stooped to fulfill the role of a menial servant, washing the grime and sweat from the feet of twelve men. So far was He from yielding to His flesh that the knowledge of His authority and ownership of all things--all things!--did not puff Him with pride and an inflated sense of dignity. He did not preside over the meal with the air of a ruler or emperor. He did not even assert His authority, calling for a servant to do the required hospitable washing. No, instead He recognized His absolute authority and power and then knelt in the dust, putting aside His outer garment and taking up the attire of a slave, doing a slave's humble and degrading work. Here is the perfect example of strength contained, of incredible potential and dominion submitted utterly to the will of the Father. 
     Here, too, is unmitigated love; an active love of deeds done not to those who are worthy and lovely nor to those who related to Him, but to twelve men who had only a paltry grasp of Who it was they followed. Not only that, but a labor of love performed on the one who would soon betray Him to a brutal, excruciating torture and death. He knew all this, and yet He did not skip over that one man but washed his feet along with the rest. He did not love Judas less for the suffering he would cause Jesus; rather He was very likely for the endless suffering Judas would cause himself by his betrayal.
     Jesus puts here a picture of what I am not, but of what I would like to be for His sake. Given all authority, would I deign to serve others? Given the knowledge of my enemies, would I love them the same as I love my friends? The answer is simply and shamefully no. In my own nature and my own little strength, I would fail. However, I have something greater than myself to fall back on. I have Jesus. In Him, I can do all things including loving my enemies. Apart from Him, I can do nothing. He is the Vine, the source of all things good, perfect and pure that are found in me. In Him, in His life flowing through me, deeds of love and surrender are accomplished. Apart from Him, I am withered, dry, useless--full of decay and rot. And so my greatest and most intense desire is to never dwell apart from Him.
     There is also a challenge for us here. He has set us an example that we should do just as He did for these men. We do not need to save our love for those who understand us and love us back. Love is for giving, and we are called to give to the extreme, even to those who hate and revile us. We love them anyway, not because we are so wonderful, but because our King is worthy of these small acts of obedient love. He tells us that once we understand these things, we are blessed if we do them. Let us not do them for the sake of the blessing, however, but because we so adore and admire our Lord that we long to identify ourselves with Him--even if it means stooping below our station and laying aside our fine clothes to kneel in the muck and actively love others, even when they do not love us back. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


"Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you." He also told them a parable: "Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye. For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great." Luke 6:37-49

     Today, for the moment at least, I am going to dispense with the retelling. There is a lot we could explore in this passage, and it may be that I will get into some of it later in the week. Maybe... maybe not. I am not at home, so it's hard to say how the week will go. Instead, I want to look mainly at the last part of this passage. Jesus really lays it out here, asking why we would call Him "Lord" but not do what He says. It is an extremely good question, for it seems that we sometimes call Him, "Lord" in the same way we may call each other "Buddy." However, I will not explore that at the moment but merely leave it as food for further thought. The end of this passage is the bit that really has been showing up in my life lately--both personally and in what I have been reading outside of the Word. It really is a powerful, profound truth that is found in the comparison between the wise and foolish builders, as they are called in Matthew's gospel.

    I was awakened Sunday morning sometime between 5:0 and 6:00 a.m. by a horrific migraine and a fun little addition known as occipital neuralgia. That is not an abnormal situation for me, but this particular incident was poorly timed. The whole trip was an opportunity for my three children and myself to visit family, including my dad whose new house in Florida we had not yet seen. Sunday was the day of a 10-hour drive, and kicking it off being roused by pain was not ideal. Had my faith been built on a pain-free life or on obedience with no resistance, days like that would erode it until there was nothing left. 

     As a matter of fact, the return of the somewhat vicious cycle of migraines and related headaches has raged against the structure of my faith, slamming into the walls only to withdraw to crash again more violently.  Weak spots have been discovered and shored up against further attacks, and yet more and more elements have been added to the fray. My husband's job has been a nightmare and he is emotionally and physically drained. My children have been combative in school. My very desire to homeschool has been nearly dissolved by the cumulative toll of this many-layered tempest. In fact, everything surrounding the foundation of my faith seems to either be broken up and washed away or in imminent danger of crumbling. The return of yet another headache/migraine cycle has merely been the tipping point. That is, it would be if I did not know God has some plan in it. 

     I drove to Florida Sunday. I was still shaky when I packed up our things. The nausea was safely settled, or at least mostly so, but my head was still a mess, yet I started the journey. Late, but not too late. We made it safely and I enjoyed hours of uninterrupted praise and prayer to my Father despite the pain. During this time the lingering headache faded. I have to be honest, though--if I had not already experienced God's mercy and grace in the midst of my chronic head issues, I probably would have been in no mood to praise Him that morning. If I had not experienced the goodness of Him through obedience in smaller ways in the past, the increasing frequency and severity of migraine pain would leave my faith decimated. But I have, and I was grateful for the full abating of my affliction. However, I would have praised Him anyway. I do have moments of doubt and fear, of course, but because I have experienced that God is good despite my anguish, I am now able to echo David's words in those times, "Why are you cast down, oh my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God, for I will again praise Him..."

    Steve Saint is surely another who has experienced the faithfulness of the Lord through not only hearing what He says, but living it out. As a young boy, he suffered a tremendous emotional agony when his father met death gruesomely at the spears of the Waodani, a tribe of natives in the Ecuadorean jungle. These people were caught in a cycle of fear, hate, and revenge slayings. Steve could have grown up hating these men and longing to avenge his father, but instead he grew up loving them. He went to live with his aunt Rachel, his father's sister, who lived in the midst of the people who had speared her brother a couple of years after the incident. 

     Young Steve was somewhat adopted by what he calls his "tribal grandfather," a man who encouraged the other Waodani young people to teach him and help him. The young Steve ached for the loss of his father, but even as a boy he obeyed the Lord's words to "love your enemies, do good to those who hate you..." He was merciful, just as his Father was merciful. And because of his obedience, he experienced a joy he never could have known had he merely pursued a vendetta against the Waodani. Had he not obeyed and seen God's goodness worked out in the midst of his own woe, he would have been ill-prepared to remember God's goodness when his own daughter died years later while she was a young woman. Though his faith surely suffered wracking blows by this new storm, it held. It stood true because it was built not on the gifts that God gives, but on the Giver Himself. 

     It is only trust in the supreme goodness of God that will survive the myriad, crushing torrents of suffering that life can bring. It is only in obedience to what He says--in not merely hearing the Word, but doing what it says--that we can find that faith tried, refined, and made pure enough to stand in the next onslaught. My precious friends, this life will send a deluge of bad news, pain, and suffering. Be sure that you have built on the only solid Rock--our God who is greatly to be praised, whose ways are higher than our ways, who gives joy in the midst of the dark valleys of life. Be sure that it is Him you love, Him you trust, and Him you obey. Only there, grounded and centered in His perfect will, can we find respite in the onslaught. Trust in Him and not in your circumstances. He is worthy and He is worth it all. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Read Luke 6:27-36

     In this passage, Jesus is teaching His disciples and a crowd of people who were following Him. He tells them--and us--some pretty intense things. He instructs us to love our enemies, to do good to them, to bless those who curse us, and to pray for those who mistreat us. We are told that if someone strikes us on one side of the face, we should turn the other to them, and if someone takes our coat, we should give them our shirt (or at least that is what it would be in today's fashion). He says to give to everyone who asks and to give without expecting anything in return. We are admonished that to treat people the way we want to be treated. He goes on to say that it is a simple thing to love those who love us back and to give to those who repay us, but that is not what He calls us to. We are to give, love, and lend not expecting anything in return just as God the Father is merciful to the ungrateful and evil. He concludes this section by telling us to be merciful just as God is merciful

     Here we see the complete opposite of the societal rule of "look out for number one," at least where "number one" is oneself. I particularly see this insidious little lie at work in my role as a wife and mother. There is so much clamor for the woman to have some "me time," to pursue hobbies or a career so that she feels fulfilled, and yet I see so few women who actually seem to feel fulfilled today. The pressure of a woman to be more than a wife and mother is intense, and frankly so is the pressure to think of herself first to the detriment of others. It does sound good and even reasonable. However, it positively flies in the face of the words of Jesus in this passage.
     Now I am by no means knocking some good, old-fashioned alone time. In the last two passages, Jesus Himself sought some alone time. It is not the taking of the time that I object to; it is more about what you do with it. I have even heard the passage about Jesus going away to a solitary place to pray as a justification of "me time." This is true, I suppose, if your version of "me time" is more like "God and me time." Jesus did not go off to play games or read a book. He went off to spend some time seeking God in prayer and communing with His Father. That is precisely the kind of alone time that I need--the kind that draws me closer to the Father and enables me to understand what His will is--and to do it. This is not to say we should never indulge in recreation, but that recreation should not be our goal. Honoring God should be at the forefront of our minds in all times, both busy and leisurely. As Paul exhorts in his letter to the Ephesians, "Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil." So then, my thoughts should not properly be directed at what pleases me, but at what pleases God. Then, and only in Him, will I find fulfillment.

    I must say that I find this passage extremely challenging and more than a little convicting. It was not long ago that God dealt with me on the very topic of giving without expecting anything in return. I had allowed myself to become a little bitter towards certain folks who were more willing to take than to give. I had given enough that I had begun to feel a little used and more than a little resentful. It was this same passage that God brought my attention to, for He reminded me that I am not called to give so that I may receive in kind, but to give because He has given. It is for His glory and not my own, and by these words I was humbled.

     More recently, I have been challenged by this. There have been a tremendous amount of needs around me lately, and just this past weekend I was feeling rather overwhelmed with them all. I have said in the past that if I am used up to the uttermost in service to my God, it will not be too much. That has most certainly been tried in the past few weeks. During this time, I have had several small service projects and much to do in my own family plus a rather unpleasant number of headaches and migraines. It has been a heavy load to bear and I have found myself challenged far beyond what I am personally capable of doing. I have been challenged both in my home and outside it, both by the needs of my family and the needs of others. It is almost ironic that much of these things have occurred at the very time our small group was studying this passage--ironic, that is, if I did not know that my God had a purpose in it.

     So through this time of trying to meet needs and help others even through my own pain, I found that God is reminding me that I am not to help in hopes of being helped someday in return, but merely to help because help is needed--out of my love and gratitude for Him. It is an act of trust, really. I have had to choose to trust Him to meet my needs when I feel overextended. In my small acts of service, I can sense Him asking, "Do you trust Me? Do you believe that whatever you give willingly in My name will not go unnoticed by Me, even if it is completely disregarded by mankind? Is the motive of your heart pure, and do you give without the expectation of return?" He has convicted me when I did harbor some hope of receiving, and once again I am humbled. I am reminded that it is never too much. I can never give more than He has already given me.

     I can, however, believe Him because He is faithful and He will never, ever call me to do something that He will not be glorified in. He will call me to extend myself more and more in my service, to give my little so that His magnificent power can make it much. And you know what? Despite my weakness and my occasional unwillingness, He has never let me fall, not once. Oh, I have stumbled and have had to repent about my attitude. I have had to ask Him for the grace to be a truly humble servant when my heart was feeling sullen and selfish. But He has never failed to bless my repentance, grant the grace I need, and often even turns my service into an unexpectedly joyful event. There is truly nothing too much for this great God to ask, and it is my honest joy to serve Him. He is so good, so merciful to such a weak believer as me!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


 Read Luke 6:12-23
     This passage starts with the Lord seeking the Father's will in an all-night prayer vigil on a mountain.  When He had finished, he went to select twelve from the mass of His disciples to set aside for special teaching and service. These He called apostles, and among them were Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew -the four we met earlier. Additionally He called another James, Matthew, Thomas, Simon the Zealot, and two Judases, one of whom later proved to be a traitor.
     He came down with them and stood in a level area surrounded by a great number of His disciples and people from all over Judea, Jerusalem, Tyre, and Sidon. Many came to hear Him teach and to be healed of their diseases, and many who were plagued by evil spirits were cured. People surrounded Him, trying to touch Him because power was going out from Him and healing them.
     He looked on His disciples and began to teach. He called the poor, the hungry, and those who weep blessed; for the poor will inherit the Kingdom of God, the hungry will be satisfied, and those who weep will laugh. He called those who are reviled and hated because of His name blessed, for He said that those who are called evil because of Him would receive a great reward in heaven.

     There are, of course, many other things He said after this. He spoke saying the wealthy, the well-fed, and the jovial have received their consolation in full. This is a hard teaching, but from the full counsel of the Word of God, it can be discerned that it is not the riches themselves which prove to be the spiritual downfall of man, but the love of them; the idolatrous serving of wealth in the place of serving God. It is the man whose identity is wrapped up in his wealth that will find it an unstable support. The man who trusts in God in prosperity as much as in adversity; who does not stake his being on the riches but on the God in whom he trusts implicitly--this is the man who is not doomed by the very weight of gold that makes his temporal life easier.

     But aside from those speculations, the thing that truly stands out to me here is the incredible example of my Lord here. He spent an entire night in prayer before choosing the twelve men to whom He would shortly entrust the beginnings of His Church--and the one who would betray Him to his gruesome and shameful death. Jesus understood the weight of importance of the task in choosing His apostles, and He did not neglect diligence in seeking guidance for it. The task was great, for He chose the eleven who would learn from Him and go on to become leaders, evangelists and in most cases, martyrs for the sake of the Good News of salvation through Christ. He also chose the one man who would follow Him, become intimately acquainted with Him and His ways, take meals with Him, and eventually would turn Him over to those who wanted His death for a mere 30 pieces of silver. Knowing that God's plan involved the giving up of His own life in a bloody and tremendously painful way, He chose this man, Judas, who would be the catalyst for His crucifixion. He knowingly and willingly chose His own betrayer. There is no act of surrender greater, perhaps, except for Gethsemane.
     I wonder if it is a small thing that Luke chose to write immediately after the introduction of these men the words of Jesus that indicated an imperishable, spiritual blessing for those who were willing to undergo persecution, hatred, defamation, and even death for the sake of the name of Jesus the Christ. Eleven of the twelve would receive this blessing someday. One of them would, in a fit of shame and guilt, throw the blood money back at those who gave it to him and hang himself--forever separating himself from the forgiveness that could have been his with a heart of genuine repentance. Judas did not have to die. He, like Peter, could have repented and been saved, but he allowed his shame to drive him, not to the Lord, but further from Him.

     I wonder, too, if it is a small thing to us. Are we, the Church in America, willing to undergo inconvenience and discomfort for the sake of our Lord and our God if He should call us to it? Are we willing to turn away from wealth, from our abundance of food, and even from our consuming love of pleasure for His name's sake? Are we willing to be called intolerant, narrow-minded, and even evil? Will we focus only on the love and forgiveness of Christ without acknowledging the reason we need forgiveness? Will we polish up the cross until it shines, scouring out the stains of gore that serve as a painful reminder of what our own disobedience and pride cost? Are we willing to become fools for Christ? When it finally comes to a choice, will we choose the ways of the world or the ways of God? Will we prove faithful, or will we, too, turn traitor and forever cut ourselves off from the grace and mercy of God that is freely given to the truthfully penitent?