Friday, March 12, 2010

Comparing Scars: Easter

It doesn’t take long in any group before people start telling scar stories. One person mentions a broken arm or leg, a concussion, and pretty soon everyone is rolling up their sleeves or pant legs to tell another “I can top that” story. Getting older doesn’t make us immune to showing off either. My sister caught sight of Grandpa doing just that with her neighbor across the street. She witnessed two old men in coveralls unzipped to the waist comparing their scars from open heart surgery.

Their scars saved their lives, but most of our scars are from childhood injuries or stupid stunts we pulled. My oldest daughter has a perfect two-inch circle on each leg from leaning against a motorcycle exhaust pipe when she was young. The horrible burns weren’t enough for her though; she picked at the scabs until they became infected. Then she would really have something to show off.

Although you have to dig through her hair to find it, my younger daughter has a scar on her head from stitches she got at age three. She and her friends played in the back while we moms visited inside. My girlfriend didn’t know her boy had dragged his father’s pick axe into the sandbox. Suddenly the whole tribe came running in the house with my daughter screaming wildly. Crimson blood streamed through her white-blonde hair. One of the children had picked up the axe and fell backward under its weight cutting her head.

Imagine what the boasting might sound like in heaven if a group of top name Christians started comparing their scars.

“These stripes on my back,” Paul might say, pulling back his robe, “are from the time I was lashed 39 times for preaching about Jesus. I got these rope burns when the believers in Damascus snuck me out of the city.” He gives a sideways glance. “They lowered me in a basket through a hole in the wall.” The men around him laugh. “And these scars are from the shipwreck off the coast of Malta, and here’s where the viper bit me...”

When one of the men is distracted by the obvious deformity of another, Apostle John explains. “My skin just hasn’t been the same they boiled me in oil. They thought they could get me to denounce my faith. When I survived that, they exiled me to the Island of Patmos rather than risk any further embarrassment.”

Elijah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, everybody gets in on the act. For days on end, Christians persecuted throughout the ages show bullet wounds, saw marks, seared flesh, spear marks, and tell how they were hunted like wild animals. Everybody tries to top the last guy…until Jesus walks into the room. Suddenly everyone is silent.

I see myself in the crowd. Jesus approaches me and points to the scar on my knee and asks, “How did this happen child?

I am embarrassed. I don't have any grand stories of persecution, escape, or endurance. My scars are small in comparison. But He persists, so I answer. “You already know, Lord. You were there. You know all about me.”

His eyes are warm as He smiles and nods. “Tell me anyway. I want to hear it from you.”

“I got that from rollerblading. I skinned my knee, cut my thumb, and wrenched my shoulder when I fell. My daughters’ laughter hurt more though. They thought it was pretty funny, their forty-two year old mom on roller blades.”

“Yes,” replies Jesus. He touches the scar at His temples. “I know how it feels to be made fun of. They put a crown of thorns on me and laughed at the thought of my being a king.” He takes my hand and we begin to walk. He notices the scar on my finger. “How about this one?”

“That’s from high school wood shop. The person before me took the safety arm off the table saw and forgot to put it back. I didn’t notice until my board started to kick back. I panicked and let go. The board sliced through my finger, hit me in the stomach, and bounced off the wall in front of me.”

“Hmm,” Jesus sympathizes. “People don’t realize what they’re doing sometimes. See these scars on my hands and feet? The men who nailed me to the cross didn't know what they were doing. They had no idea.”

I feel so insignificant compared to my Savior, and yet here He is identifying with my pain. He leads me to a grassy spot and we sit. “What about this dent in your leg; what caused that?”

“Oh,” I laugh, “that’s kind of embarrassing. I got pinned to the ground by my yard debris bin.” Jesus laughs a kind hearted chuckle. “It had a lot of dirt and rocks mixed with the weeds and branches. When I tipped it to roll down the driveway it fell back on me and smashed my leg.” He looks sympathetic, so I continue. “I couldn’t lift it off or squirm out from under it and was afraid I had broken my leg. It was dark and cold, and no one around. I screamed until my voice almost gave out before my neighbors heard me. It took three men to lift it off. I felt scared and so alone.”

I see a tear coursing down Jesus’ face. “I remember how it is to feel alone. I had never felt that before. Even though there’s no scar to show you, that was my deepest wound of all. When the weight of the world’s sin was heavy on me, my Father had to look away. It is the only time we have ever been separated. That was the worst part of my death. I have never felt so forsaken.”

Seeing Jesus’ grief gives me courage to lean against His chest and wrap my arms around Him. “I am sorry, Lord. I know how it feels when the one you love the most turns away from you.” My heart hurts in remembering and He reaches out His hand to soothe my pain.

He nods. “Yes, Judas betrayed me, all the disciples except John ran away in fear, and even my Father had to turn away. I gave up my spirit after that and a soldier thrust his sword in here to make sure I was dead,” Jesus opens his robe and shows me the crimson scar. I touch it gingerly and melt into His chest weeping. I am embarrassed of my small scars. They are so insignificant compared to His. Yet this whole time Jesus has shown only compassion.

I look up at His face and Jesus is smiling! I pull back in surprise and He laughs - a glorious, head-back, joy-filled laugh. “All the pain is over now, child. None of your scars can hurt you anymore, because I wear these scars for you. I suffered shame, cursing, abandonment, cruelty, and uttermost darkness for you – I have conquered sin and death! I am alive to give you life. Your scars will all disappear when you receive your new heavenly body.”

“But what about yours?” I ask. “Why do you still have scars?”

“Because I am the perfect Lamb, slain for you. I will always wear these scars to remind people of what I have done. Everyone who comes to me for forgiveness will have all their scars healed.”

I didn’t want to leave, but the vision ended. I discovered myself back in my chair reading Revelation, “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne… (5:6)” The Lion of Judah, the King of Kings, the sacrificed Lamb; my Savior. He is the only One who has scars worth bragging about. He didn’t get them by doing something stupid, or even to save His own life. He earned His scars by loving us to death, and back to life again.

© Beth Vice, March 2010

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Fleas, Yeast, and Easter Housecleaning: Preparing for Easter

We went to a fancy beach house recently to spend the weekend with our kids and first grandbaby. We had reserved an elegant two story home with a back deck that leads right onto the sand of a long, semi-private beach. But the trip was ruined by fleas. At first we started finding them on our eight month old granddaughter’s head. That took away her freedom to sit on her blanket or roll around on the floor. Next we felt them chewing on our ankles. Despite the lovely setting and our excitement to be together, the fleas were a constant annoyance. We felt guilty every night as our kids said goodnight, knowing they were sleeping in flea infested bedrooms. Despite constant cleaning, washing clothes, and setting off flea bombs, we still found them everywhere.

Going home was no relief. My husband and I were itchy and freaked out for days. Every time we saw a black spot we were sure it was a flea. I washed everything we took on our trip, dirty or not. So much for a relaxing weekend. Even after every precaution, I woke up with new bites on my legs the next morning. Did we all take home fleas from vacation?

The sad thing is that none of this was our fault. Someone else brought in the first flea weeks ago and they went undetected until we entered the beach house. But we certainly felt the effects.

My husband did some research and found out that it takes only one flea to infest a home. Here are some itchy flea facts:

• Each flea can lay up to 2,000 eggs

• The eggs hatch into pupa in two weeks (during which time they go undetected)

• At three to four weeks the fleas are full grown

• Fleas can live on skin, blood, and fecal matter in a house for three to four weeks without a live host

• Bombing only kills fleas in the adult stage, not the eggs or pupa

• Fleas lay eggs in out of the way places that are not regularly cleaned, such as the carpet edge by the wall

Since it is less than a month until Easter, I have been thinking about ways to prepare my heart and truly focus on Jesus. This flea episode has given me some ideas. In Jewish homes, yeast is hunted down and destroyed for the celebration of Passover, which comes just prior to Easter. Bread without yeast commemorates the haste in which the Israelites had to leave Egypt and is symbolic of ridding their lives of sin before leaving for the Promised Land. Yeast is as unwanted during the holiday as our vacation fleas were.

In the New Testament, yeast is a symbol for sin which starts small but spreads at an alarming rate. Jesus warned His disciples about the yeast of the Pharisees, meaning their hypocrisy (Matthew 16, Mark 8, and Luke 12). Paul wrote, “Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?” (1 Corinthians 5:6-7 and Galatians 5:9-10). He used yeast as an example of wrong teaching and selfish attitudes that can infect an entire body of believers. Just like fleas.

So how can I get rid of this yeast (sin) in my heart before it spreads to the rest of my family, my church, and beyond? My newly acquired knowledge in flea eradication turns out to be good spiritual advice as well. And just happens to match the verses I have been memorizing:

Be on the alert for incoming

It only takes one flea to infect a home and one sin to infect a group of believers. We have to be on guard! Sin can wear many disguises. The psalmist expresses my thoughts perfectly: “Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults” (Psalm 19:12). I invite the Lord to search my heart for quiet intruders before they reproduce.

Set off occasional bombs

This sounds drastic, and it is. We had to set off several bombs in the beach house to kill the full grown fleas that were feasting on us and making us miserable. Psalm 19:13 says, “Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression.” The full grown fleas are the obvious, premeditated sins in my life. They ruin relationships, suck the lifeblood of my faith, and will lead to other sins if not dealt with.

Practice regular house cleaning

It’s not my favorite thing to do, but occasionally I vacuum the edges of each room, clean the window coverings, de-crumb the furniture, and wipe down the woodwork of our home. It is tedious and time consuming, but it feels good to get everything sparkling. Easter is a good time to do spiritual spring cleaning. Two areas that need regular maintenance in my life are my words and my thoughts. The psalmist said, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

I want to be ready to celebrate Easter with a pure heart. Like fleas, like yeast, like sin – there always seems to be little beasties creeping in and trying to take over. I do hate fleas! Hopefully our experience with them will be a good reminder to hate sin in my life even more.

© Beth Vice, 2010