Jehovah was not in the wind. And after the wind, an earthquake: Jehovah was not in the earthquake.
And after the earthquake, a fire: Jehovah was not in the fire. And after the fire, a soft gentle voice. (1Kings 19:11-12)

Friday, April 28, 2017

Hard Pressed Between Living and Dying

Doctors dropped the dreaded C word on my parent’s ears the month I turned three. A diagnosis like that . . . well, it’s life changing.

As a child I couldn’t comprehend how vastly it had changed my life. Before I could grasp what living meant, I faced my death. But, I didn’t really know it. I simply succumbed to the consequences of the ugly disease and then the horrific treatment and finally to the life-altering side effects. None of this was pretty. It mangled my body, my childhood, my adolescence, my family, my future. Nothing remained untouched.

Childhood cancer is an ugly cancer. You don’t ever get over childhood cancer. It changes you before you can even define who you are. But, you learn to fight, to persevere, to adapt, and to look at life through realistic lenses. If you, as they say “beat the disease” after it has thrashed you and busted you up, you live your life knowing that death is certain, yet confused because no one can tell you how much longer you have to live.

You become intimately acquainted with pain and suffering. You know what it is to be seen with curious and hurtful stares and hear insensitive and unkind words. You know what it is to ride on IV poles and scream at thumb pricks and cry out from a desperately lonely hospital bed in the middle of the night for your mom and dad who were kicked out of your room when visiting hours were over.

When the side effects of the treatment send you back to the operating table time and time again, you lay yourself down to keep on fighting to live.

When you run out of all options but one, you take that one fighting chance and you hold on to it tightly.

When the surgeon unzips you and peels back all the layers down to your failing heart and digs around all the cemented scar tissue from thirty-five years before and uses everything he knows to rebuild your heart and you barely make it off the table alive, you wake up not knowing how to go on any longer.

For my whole life I had been trying to figure out how to actively live. When my cardiologist told me to stop doing everything so I could keep on living, I faced my own mortality. Being a good doctor he didn’t give me statistics or tell me exactly how long my heart would keep on pumping because he didn’t have any statistics and he didn’t really know.

When my heart surgeon told me he would do everything he could to help me get back home to my family, I knew he wasn’t making any promises. Being a wise surgeon he didn’t give me statistics or false hope.

Being told your heart is failing and living through open-heart surgery is life-changing. Many times I was a hairbreadth away from my last exhale. I wasn’t afraid of dying. But, for the months I lived in ICU, I became terrified of living.

This world is a cruel place when you are teetering between life and death. It is hard work to live when a machine is keeping you alive. This world has nothing to offer when you are longing to be with Christ. Our living at this point is only for the benefit of those we love.

Facing mortality helps you to live more fully. Fighting to live when life is so frail entices you to welcome death. When you don’t know how to go on, there is one thing to do, keep going on.

Being healthy is prized in our society. Sickness is repulsive and for the weak. It makes people uncomfortable. I know how awkward it is for people to come sit with you in a hospital room when foul odors linger with pungent antiseptic. It is terrifying and confusing because we all know death is certain for anyone living. It is offensive and out of place when you should still have years of living.

It is even more uncomfortable to visit with someone who is broken in mind and spirit. We get frantic when left with the mere shell of the person.

We are all looking for purpose. Trying to figure out what our living is all about. Some of us are afraid of dying; some of us are terrified of living. The thing is none of us are very honest with each other or with ourselves.

I want neatly packaged answers and I keep unpacking hard to understand problems.

As joy is God’s grace recognized, living with joy is possible even in our suffering. I only see it that way if I believe in God’s sovereignty, and that His providential hand will bring all things to pass to complete the work in me that He has begun.

It appears to many as though I have recovered. I am back to my family, back to a full schedule and actively living. The reality is, you don’t ‘get over’ a diagnosis and disease—you may live through it, but you come out changed. So changed you don’t even know who you are anymore. And once you think you have it figured out, you discover you don’t, so you keep on looking to recognize God’s grace even in the pit of confusion and valleys bleak with shadows.

I strap on a breathing machine every night and power up the ventilation treatment for whenever I sleep. My body is still frail, my breath still short. The sobering thing is, this is as good as it is going to get for me on this earth.

Many days I wake up and wonder how I will go on. But, I will. I will keep on searching what living really means until one day, the day God has planned for me, when I won’t. For now, to live is Christ. That day, to die will be gain.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Hope Rings Crystal Clear from the Empty Tomb

There is something we all need more than the breath of life that fills our lungs.

Even today, as war ravages nations and families, and bombs tear apart lands and lives, as some sit in comfortable safety and others flee from war-scarred countries, as disease disfigures and disables; there is a glorious message of hope, but it is not found in the absence of battles.

It is not a popular message, it is not a political message, it is not a prosperity message, but it has the power to change. It is a message of hope that rings crystal clear from the empty tomb that Christ is risen and reigns.

We are to proclaim this message of hope to those who are perishing in war and to those who are lost in their safety and everyone caught in between.

And we have good work to do. It will wear us right out, leave us weary to the bone. It will even cost us our lives. It is fitting that we should die, that there be a new and beautiful harvest.

There’s this paradox that unless we are made alive, we will be forever dead in our sins, and unless we die, we will not be made alive.

There is nothing we could gain in this world, and there is nothing that we could lose in this world that will compare to the hope of what we have for eternity.

Because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, we have “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading”.

Death has lost its sting. Sin has lost its power. Death was swallowed up in victory on the cross of Christ. The grave could not hold him because Christ had taken out the sting of death on the cross.

I can tell you how much I need this hope as I fight through all my battles. It is the glorious message this world needs—the same message it needed on the third day after Jesus died.

Early, on the first day of the week, women went to his tomb and found the large stone, which had been placed at the entrance of the tomb, rolled away. They entered, but did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. They were perplexed and did not know what to do. They had prepared spices and had come to anoint his body. But, they could not find his body.

Suddenly, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. They said to the women: “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”

At that, the women remembered that Jesus had said those words. They fled from the tomb with fear and yet were filled with great joy and ran to tell his disciples the news. But, the women’s words sounded like nonsense and silly talk to them and they didn’t believe them.

Jesus had been raised from the dead. The tomb was empty. Only the linen cloths that he had been wrapped in were still lying there.

Jesus had taught many times during his ministry that he would die and on the third day be raised again. Now it has happened, and they still did not understand that He must rise from the dead.

All of Jesus’s life was a prelude to his death, His cross was the victorious climax and His resurrection was the resounding “yes” to the perfect plan of God.

For the forty days following his resurrection, Jesus presented Himself to His disciples and apostles to prove He was alive. He opened their eyes in understanding and many believed.

To Thomas he said, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

If Christ was not raised then Christians are the biggest fools of all. For we have believed a message of foolishness. Instead of a “hall of faith”, it has been said, we would end up with a “hall of fools”.

You can find many proofs of the resurrection of Jesus from history. But, it requires faith to believe that God raised Jesus from the dead.

The resurrection was essential to confirm that the work Christ accomplished on the cross satisfied God, as the incarnation was essential to make it possible.

The resurrection:

proclaims with power that Jesus is the Son of God 
publicly declares that his substitutionary sacrifice for sins satisfied the wrath of God.
provides forgiven sinners with a living hope
produces in us life-giving power
proves there is victory over death

In laying out the truth that the gospel includes the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the apostle Paul zooms in on practical application. He exhorts the believers in Corinth to “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

As we abide in Christ, we will bear this fruit in our lives as well. Since Christ has been raised, we are to be steadfast. We are to be ‘well-seated’, firm in the faith of the gospel. The gospel of Christ that we have received and believed, we hold on to it, study it, preach it to ourselves, it is our firm foundation—rest on it. There is much opinion today and little conviction. Be fixed firmly in your own conviction.

We are to be immovable — without movement or change of status. Because of the hope we have we will be firmly persistent and not swayed by others from without. Whatever trials may come upon us, though we will be tested and tried by fire we are to stand firm. We will not be shaken when we stand secure on the foundation of our faith--Jesus Christ.

Because of the living hope of the resurrection, we are to be always going above and beyond, engaged in promoting the glory of God to further the gospel. Always abounding, increasing in excellence in our work for the Lord. This labour involves weariness, toil and deep fatigue, but it will not be in vain or worthless.

To many it sounds like utter nonsense, as the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. It is strange and extraordinary, but we should, like the women, with fear and filled with great joy, proclaim what we have heard: That Jesus Christ has died for our sins, was buried and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.

The steadfast love of God transforms lives and the surpassing greatness of his power raises the dead unto newness of life.

The empty grave proves the living Christ is the bright hope this world needs today.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Standing Near the Cross of Jesus {Mary's Soliloquy ~ A Good Friday Monologue}

This blackness . . . it’s frightening. I can’t see. It’s midday. What’s happening? What was that thunderous roar? The ground shook.

I was watching him. My son bowed his head and breathed his last, when the sunlight had failed and the mid-day sky has been swallowed up and the land has been veiled in this dreadful darkness. There is something horrendous happening. I can’t explain it.

Standing at the cross, I cannot recognize him by his appearance. At every lash that shredded his flesh, my heart frayed. But, as they stripped him down and twisted together a crown of thorns for his head, and mocked him and spit on him, in His eyes I recognized him by his love. As he called to his beloved disciple to take care of me now in his stead, I treasured his faithful obedience.

My heart aches like the soldiers have taken the spear that they pierced into his side and plunged it into my soul.

Righteous and devout Simeon told me it would come to this. I am shrouded in darkness in the middle of the day and my mind recalls the night when a dazzling light broke through the midnight darkness.

That night I gave birth to my firstborn son, and the glory of the Lord shone brightly. And the heavenly host praised God and sang: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” {Luke 2:14}

Forty days later, we came to Jerusalem for our purification with my firstborn son. We had named him “Jesus”--as the angel told us to for he would save his people from their sins. And we came to present him to the Lord--as was written in the law of the Lord--with our two turtledoves.

That was when old Simeon took my baby up in his arms and blessed God and said:

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.” {Luke 2:29-32}

Joseph and I marveled that day at what Simeon said about Jesus. Then his words pricked my heart as he told me that a sword would pierce my soul.

I didn’t grasp what he was saying, but I tucked it away in my heart. I have pondered many of these mysteries. As the shadow of this cross has fallen on Jesus, so too has the promise of life.

How many times have reminded my soul that with God nothing is impossible? When I’ve been prone to flee in fear, my prayer has been: “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” {Luke 1:38}

It’s been over thirty years and my grief-stricken heart is again yielding and as I do, I am seeing.

This is why he came. This cross. He knew all along. When he was twelve we were in Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover and we left him behind without realizing and we lost him. How could I lose my son? After three frantic days we found him and he said to us, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” I did not understand, but I stored it in my heart. He submitted to us, and he “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.

As he worked with Joseph in the shop, his hands sawing, sanding, shaping, smoothing, crafting wood into useful and beautiful creations, he knew this was the work he was living for. All of his living was for dying. He came to serve. He came to save.

I have lost my son again. His hands now nailed on a crude crossbeam of wood, his blood is pouring out as a sacrifice. He came to die. There is a mystery here. Greater than I can comprehend right now.

My heart is wrenched at his suffering. The inner turmoil in my mother’s heart is too great to bear. As the soldiers cast lots for his garments, leaving him exposed and humiliated in his nakedness, I cast down my eyes.

I wonder if my breath is being extinguished from me even as my son, my Lord, my Saviour hangs now, cursed, in this wretched darkness.

As Jesus cried out with a loud voice and yielded his spirit, a centurion close by exclaimed, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”

Yes! Yes, this is the Son of God. Like Zechariah’s and Elizabeth’s John said in the wilderness, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”John testified, “And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

When he turned water into good wine at the wedding in Cana and his glory was displayed, was that not to prove that he is the Son of God?

I am not to lower the power of God to the level of my senses. Once again, as I fail to see all that God is doing, I sing:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.”{Luke 1:46-50}

Oh, that people would turn their eyes to fear my Lord.

In a week, the fickle crowd has changed their tune. Days ago, they sang: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

Then, they urgently raised their voices and demanded Pilate to “Crucify Him!” and yelled in unison, “His blood be on us and on our children!”

And now astonishment and dread fills this darkness and the crowd has run home beating their breasts--themselves filled with confusion, sorrow, and fear. Their dancing has turned to mourning.

This penetrating darkness is blinding.

Can it be that many are blinded to the Light of the world and this darkness is for us to consider that there is something astonishing to behold? When we have lost our way in the dark, can anything but the light bring us home?

Jesus declared, after he had been anointed and rode into Jerusalem on the donkey’s colt, “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.”

In my grief, I see him hanging there – becoming a curse on this cross. A cross! The most shameful and humiliating way to die. It is too much! He has been betrayed by Judas, falsely accused by the chief priests, delivered over by Pilate, denied and deserted by his disciples, mocked and crucified by the soldiers, scorned by sinners.

Yet, I watched him willingly, silently, carrying his cross out of Jerusalem, outside the city like the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement bearing the sin of the people.

My heart is pierced. The Son of God is the only one worthy to take this sin upon Himself and become sin to appease the righteous wrath of our holy God.

Yes, he called me his mother, but truly He is the Messiah, my Lord and Savior.

He was conceived in my womb by the power of the Most High, and I bore a Son, but He has born my sin and delivered me from the wrath of God.

I will not rush away from the cross of Jesus. God’s mercies never cease. I stand astonished at the steadfast love of God, mourning my Son, magnifying my Lord, and rejoicing in my Saviour. My Lord turns my mourning into joy.

He cried out in victory: “It is finished!” I believe as he said, he has come to give us life. He said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

Did not the prophet Isaiah say:

“ . . . he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all . . .
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.” {Isaiah 53:5-7}

I stand at the foot of the cross of Jesus, flooded with crushing sorrow. But, in his victorious cry there is a whisper of hope. I will anchor my soul to the God of Hope.

He has poured out his soul to death according to the will of His Father. I saw how he gave up His life. His glory shines in this darkness. His death is leading to life, bringing me back to my God.

This darkness will not last. As the prophet Malachi spoke, “for you who fear his name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings.”

My soul will wait in silence for God alone, for nothing will be impossible with God.

Friday, April 7, 2017

What Motherhood Has Taught Me: Joy, Peace and Hope in the Journey

April 13, 2001 I woke in the murky darkness of a new day hours before the sun rose like a beacon of hope. I was alone the moment I saw the first sign that the baby I had carried in my womb for 38 weeks would soon be in my arms.

I had done nearly everything I could do to prepare for this new life, but, in that moment, I sat in stunned uncertainty and curious expectation.

I was still sitting dumbstruck when I heard the front door creak open and Jon, getting home from a long day of work, found me wide-eyed with anticipation. I told him that I was possibly going to have our baby on that very day.

You know what he did?

He decided since I was still early I was probably in false labour and we should get some rest. The instant he flopped in to bed sleep stole him far away from the raging storm of emotions and escalating groans beside him.

So, you know what I did?

I called my mom at two in the morning to see if I really was about to have a baby.

Still not sure if this was the real deal, I shuffled my way upstairs, turned the computer on, waited as the old fashioned dial-up screeched in the silence and lazily connected to the world wide web so Google could confirm that I was absolutely for sure, going to have a baby.

I became a mother on Good Friday.

There are times when it looks like hope has been tucked away in a tomb only to rise again and bring forth joy and peace.

At 7:02 pm after 18 hours of intense laboring, my firstborn sucked in her first breath of air and let out a lusty shriek that took my breath away.

I held new life in my arms, completely unsure of what to do next.

My body had split open and life slipped out and love burst forth from my wildly beating heart. Cries of anguish turned to tears of joy as I recognized God’s abounding grace in that moment.

A mother’s heart holds these cherished memories. From the moment of those first butterfly flutters, first suckle, first smiles, first steps, to the sleepless nights, scraped knees, shattered dreams, relentless sorrow.

We cultivate and nourish deep roots so our children will mount up with wings and soar.

A mother’s heart knows hope.

A mother’s heart can break over a thousand sorrows and by God’s steady stream of grace, pulse with joy and peace.

On August 28, 2014 I watched my children bravely walk out of a hospital, leaving their mother behind fully aware a doctor was going to do his best to help fix my broken heart.

What they didn’t know was how my wildly beating heart shattered to a million pieces as they walked out that door. No doctor could fix this heartache. My husband couldn’t fix this. Calling my mom or dad couldn’t fix this. Google couldn’t help me at all.

For fourteen years I had been a mother.

Once again I sat in uncertainty and again I had to let go and surrender them entirely to the Lord.

I had one thing I could do. One thing.

Trust the God of hope.

I didn’t know what would happen when the surgeon held my stilled heart in his hands, but I trusted the God who holds all things.

The God of hope picks up all the shattered pieces and makes us whole and causes joy and peace to overflow as we trust in Him.

So even as we daily lay ourselves down in the crucible, we are filled with all joy and peace and hope rises to overflowing.

Even in the shattering you shall go out with joy and be led forth with peace.

Consider Paul’s prayer in Romans 15:13:
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
First we will ask:

How do we get this surest joy and truest peace?

We are filled with all joy and peace by trusting in the God of Hope. God is the source of joy and peace. The faith that God plants in us reaps joy and peace.

God will fill us with all joy and peace as we trust in Him.

This faith comes from God.

As we take our eyes off of ourselves and trust Jesus Christ, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, we are filled with all joy and peace.

The next thing we should ask is:

What exactly is joy and peace?

Joy is God’s grace recognized.

Faith looks to Jesus Christ and sees all of God’s promises in Him. He is our eternal hope of glory.

When we see all of God’s grace poured out in Christ to us we are filled with an inner delight in God. Our soul will find complete satisfaction in Him – this is joy!

Peace is God’s gift of joining together into wholeness. He takes our sinful brokenness and makes us right with God. Christ came to bring us back to God. He heals the brokenhearted.

Charles Spurgeon said, “Peace is joy resting and joy is peace dancing.”

Finally, we will ask:

What is the result of being filled with joy and peace?

Notice the “so that”. There is an end goal of this joy and peace. “so that you may overflow with hope”

We start with the God of hope. Everything starts with God. God is the author and object of hope. God produces hope.

He works faith in us and in believing in Christ Jesus and his atoning work on the cross we are filled with all joy and peace.

And this leads to us overflowing in hope -- a lively expectation of what is certain.

Hope leads to joy and peace with leads to more hope! An eternal hope.

Christ is our anchor of hope. He holds us steadfast and strong and in Him we abound in hope.

This is not willing ourselves to grasp passing pleasures or pin down illusive peace, but a prayer that the joy and peace that come from faith in God will fill the heart that keeps on trusting the God of hope.

Now we come to the end of the prayer: “by the power of the Holy Spirit.” We are not alone in this journey.

Whatever we face, by God’s grace we can be sure that we can be filled with all joy and peace in believing by the power of the Holy Spirit.

As we cling to this promise, let us give thanks for this triad of graces God tenderly cultivates in the soil of our souls – full joy and peace, and abounding with hope.
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