Friday, March 29, 2013

What's so good about it?

He had just had an intimate Passover celebration with His 12 closest friends. After demonstrating to them what true servanthood was meant to be by washing their feet, He sent one of them out to finish what he had already set in his heart to do...betray Him.

Leaving the quiet communion of that upper room, He and his remaining friends walked through the city and nearby vineyards. As they went, Jesus gave His final message to them..."if you remain in Me & I in you, you will bear much fruit. Apart from Me you can't do anything."  The disciples couldn't grasp it all but they knew something was about to happen. Jesus had told them He was leaving, going to prepare a place for them but would return and come back for them. They walked along with many questions but still contentedly, tired from long days and their recent dinner.

When they arrived, Jesus went off to pray by Himself, as was His custom. He asked the disciples to pray as well but they soon found themselves overcome by weariness. When He returned to them, they were asleep. They could not have known His agony. He was looking ahead to unspeakable horrors which would end in death, but to them it was just another night. And then it began...torch lights blazed through the garden and the sounds of shouting disrupted the peacefulness of the night.  Soldiers & Pharisees, all led by one of their own?  What was happening?  In their panic and confusion, one of them actually wielded a sword but Jesus quickly intervened.  Betrayal by the one & desertion by the rest was His friends' reaction as He was led away. 

Trial after trial He held His ground, refusing to submit to their questioning. Beatings, ridicule, flogging, & mockery were intertwined with more interrogation. A crown of thorns & a purple robe were put on Him in answer to His "crimes" & although He was not judged as guilty, the determined crowd would allow no punishment other than crucifixion.

Beaten mercilessly, to where He was unrecognizable by His own mother, Jesus was made to carry His own cross through the streets where the crowds continued to cheer & mock Him. The nails, the slamming of the cross into the ground, the continual taunting...none of this was yet the worst. Knowing all the while He could have stopped it with a single word, He pressed on. "For the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross.."

Finally, the culminating horror occurred. With the sins of the world on Him, separation from the Father brought the ultimate sorrow. He had endured a night of extreme humiliation and unbearable physical pain but this last was the worst. To be torn apart from the Father as He suffered under the weight of our sins was the final & ultimate anguish. It was now finished. He looked toward heaven, having accomplished what He set out to do, & relinquished His spirit to the only one worthy of receiving it...His Father.

What was so good about all that? Friday was horrific... but He knew Sunday was yet to come!

In the time of creation, when God would finished one more days' work, He would say, "It is good." Likewise, I am confident that as Jesus completed His task & provided our reconciliation the Father looked down and said, "It is good."  He took our punishment so that we could be free. "It is good."  Satan has been defeated although he thinks he has won. "It is good."  My creation has been redeemed. "It is good."

On that glorious Sunday, the tomb was empty and Jesus was alive. The new beginning was now in motion. Believe, confess, receive...a new way to God. "It is good."  A new commandment to go into the world and tell others..."It is good." A new future, a new relationship, a new way of life..."It is good." 

Jesus did His part & when He finished the plan it was all good. Our choice is to accept what He did on our behalf...then it will be good for us as well.

What's so good about it?  Everything!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Talk about a "practical" illustration!

We are pet people.  Throughout our marriage we have had dogs, usually at least 2! Then one day I was lamenting about not having had a sweet little kitty since childhood (and if you knew my mom you'd  know how brief a span that was!) and the next thing I knew we were standing in a friend's living room where a tiny little black furball had just adopted my husband. Right away, our 75 pound dog found out who was in charge. It is often quoted that cats were once worshipped as gods in Egypt & they have never relinquished that title. One barely audible hiss followed by a hit-but-miss swipe and from that day on the kitty got a wide berth! This tiny little creature ruled the house & continues to rule to this day, although he is a bit more formidable now that he's over 20 pounds! No matter what other creatures may come and go, human or otherwise, his singular focus never changes...he makes sure he has total access to all things & can be comfortable! Closed doors are out of the question and if you want it "kitty safe" you'd better put it behind cupboard doors or high up without climbable access.

Our Golden Retriever, however, is just the opposite. He could easily scale the baby gates we secure him behind but never tries. He is content just to be where you are, lay at your feet (or in your lap if you'll let him) & follow you around. He isn't a bit possessive, letting the cat eat from his dish at will, and welcoming "intruders" with frantic tail wagging & not so much as a bark (which makes him a miserable excuse for a watchdog!). He loves attention but isn't intrusive about it, & even other dogs are ok if they don't cause a fuss. His enthusiasm in greeting other creatures has at times caused him a few problems, like when he thought a skunk was another "cat friend", and we had to introduce him gently to the folks' wolf but these setbacks were quickly forgotten & he has always remained an easy-going, good natured member of the family!

Now don't go all religious and get offended, but as I was watching our pets yesterday I was struck by how much their behaviors mirror that of many Christians...(note that I said Many and not ALL)! Some Christians are very exclusive and prideful about their "position" thinking that somehow they have earned God's affection & favor. They stay watchful but aloof until they have a need or want to be center of attention and then they are right there. They can be very affectionate, "purring" loudly & allowing you to give them attention, but when they're over it, they're gone. God is akin to their personal assistant - meeting needs, answering prayers, opening & closing doors - but He is noticed more for His doings than His Being! New attendees are immediately taken note of and are ok as long as they don't disrupt the status quo or demand a change or realignment of position. Then the "fur" flies...toes get stepped on and claws come out, literally! Most of the time, these are the Christians who have been saved since childhood or come from "Christian" homes. They know the drill, have the language down, & often have attained position through longevity rather than gifting. You all know who I'm talking about! Don't dare sit in "their" pew or try to insert yourself into one of their domains, even if all you want to do is help!! Some refer to them as pillars, which they can be if their hearts are right, but often they are just rigid signposts, intent on directing & controlling the actions of everyone else in the church, including the pastors!

On the opposite side of the coin is a person who has "Retriever-like" qualities! They are loyal, always right there to support or encourage, and never try to weigh out your intentions. They wait eagerly for assignments & are content to sit for hours just to listen and to be taught. Their agenda is simply to show love to others & be part of the family. They gladly share anything they have or any talent they possesses without hesitation and don't fight for position, even though they may have more training or education than the one in the position. After a brief introduction, they welcome others into "their" church home and easily adapt to changes in routine or environment, including the addition of others to "their" ministry. Exuberance sometimes gets them in trouble...they don't always think things through in their haste to get things done and often make messes that the more mature person would never make, but they are sincerely sorry afterwards & quickly try to make amends, if to do nothing more than apologize. Newer Christians are often like this - excited, always trying to serve and learn, always waiting and wanting to do more! They can make mistakes, in judgment and in execution, & are often criticized by the "seasoned" believers, but their hearts are usually right & more often than not they quickly repent. Their foremost desire is just to sit at their Master's feet and do His bidding. They're just happy to be there!

Well, there you have it. Although I see the good and bad of both our pets, I love them both & our household would not be the same without each of them. As far as the analogy goes, I want to be focused, mature, and unswerving in my intentions to use my gifts & talents regardless of others' criticisms or challenges. I want to be mindful of my position in Christ, never using it as a club but as a beacon. I want to open closed doors and not allow obstacles to derail my calling. I want to be faithful as a pillar, so that others can count on me to complete tasks and fulfill assignments with excellence & efficiency. And I want to always go to God  with my needs, desires, & challenges. On the other hand, I want to always keep a singular focus, not on my comfort, but on my purpose of service to God and worship of God.  I want to easily and graciously accept others into the family, and adjust my position and attitudes accordingly. I don't want to be territorial or possessive - none of it is really mine anyway! I want others to overlook my mistakes and mix mentoring with praise for effort, rather than criticize!  I want to have the good characteristics of each, while minimizing the faults!!!

So there you have it - the practical illustration provided by our family pets with the thought-provoking look at ourselves in their mirror. Take what applies and just smile over the rest. It was just a momentary & personal insight, and you'd have to know our pets to see how really valid the analogy is!!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

There & Back Again!

      This weekend Dan & I went to Seattle. Well, I should say, we were in the general vicinity of Seattle. When asked what we saw while we were there, I had to respond that I saw a coffee shop, a Starbucks, and a hotel room.  The purpose of our trip was that Dan had appointments and a seminar  so we drove up there, he did his business, I read and rested, and then we drove home. Although I am quite sure there are many wonderful things to see and do there we missed all of them because we were just there to do a job...What a shame.
      As I was thinking about it this morning, I was reminded of how many of us live our lives that way. We are constantly "doing our jobs" with single-minded focus. Now there's nothing wrong with being serious and working hard, but we often miss out on lots of wonderful and amazing things that God has provided for us along the way, just because we never take time to put our heads up from the grindstone and breathe! We trudge along, being efficient & getting things done, & never enjoy the journey! I am quite sure this is not how God created us to live.
      I can already hear some of you saying, "But time is short and we have so much to do..." And while that is true, we function a lot better if we take some time to relax, regroup, refresh, & play. A little break from routine and business actually makes us more productive during work time.
A friend that I was visiting was actually talking about this very thing. She and her husband are starting a Sunday night potluck and game night. When she was considering it, she had the typical "no way" reaction first - I won't start my week with everything done...I will have to work harder the rest of the time...etc. But in the final analysis, they decided to go ahead with it anyway. If all we ever do is work, life is boring and we soon feel resentful, not to mention tired!  Ok, so we have to work a little more efficiently and perhaps harder when we are working, but at least we will have something to look forward to - building relationships and just plain having fun! Sounds like a good trade-off to me.
      Another friend was lamenting that the last time she really laughed was so long ago that she can't even recall it! Whoa! I can easily see how we get caught in that kind of rut, but is it God's way? It bring to mind the old song "Is that all there is?"  If work & responsibilities are truly all there is, we are surely a bunch of miserable creatures. God says in His presence is fullness of what is that saying & how does our witness look if we never experience it? He has surely given us lots of opportunities for fellowship & fun along with the ministry He has chosen for each of us to do. We just have to look around, be a little creative perhaps, & take the time to enjoy each experience. Honestly, He won't be mad at you for a few hours here and there to stop working and take a breather...He knows how badly we all need them!
      Thankfully, we are going to make another trip to Seattle in a month. I know that the work will still require time and effort. But I also intend to make sure that we are there long enough to at least do one special thing while we're up there. It may be a simple thing that doesn't consume lots of time or extra travel, but it will be one fun thing that we get to do together to build those memories & share some fun! 
      So what's the next fun thing on your agenda? If there isn't anything, get busy & find something to add to your schedule. You will be so glad you did, and so will everyone around you!!