Saturday, March 26, 2016

When a Friend Dies

I’m grieving the loss of a dear friend. Linda died unexpectedly two weeks ago. In the two and a half years she lived here, our lives became delightfully interwoven. I miss her breathless voice, charged with sweet energy; Linda was interested in people and learning about everything. I find myself looking for her at the gym, at church, in the community. I’ll miss her poems and devotionals in our writer’s group—always reveling in God, nature, and her beloved ocean she waited a lifetime to live near. 
She entered the room with an unhurried gait and expansive smile. She’d cock her head to the side in way that said, “I’m delighted to see you.” She knew what to say to melt away feelings of failure and discouragement. She used her gift of massage and healing arts to bless whenever she could.

Even though I know she’s with our beloved Savior, whom she served with wholehearted devotion, it still hurts that she’s gone. I know we have heaven to look forward to, but I do grieve, especially when I see her husband of 36 years without her by his side.

We weave randomly through the stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance—never knowing when the next wave will hit or for how long. We find comfort in memories, sharing stories, pouring over pictures, and cherish items she gave us. Guilt rears its ugly head, over what should have been said or done, or not said or done. And we wish for just one more cup of coffee, or walk on the beach, or laughter filled moment with her. 

If you have lost a loved one recently, you know what I mean. Death is the unblinking enemy of our souls, intent on shredding our faith with sorrow.

Today, between the cross and the resurrection, I think of Jesus’ disciples. Their grief was raw and inconsolable. Jesus was not just their dearest friend with whom they had shared life and ministry for three years. He was the One they’d hoped for all their lives. But now He was gone. Had they misunderstood? 

They had failed Him at the end. They ran away, denied Him. Paralyzed by fear, they were unable to stop the tide of hatred that turned against Him. So many regrets. Confusion. Despair.

Did they isolate themselves as we have a tendency to do? Did they sob uncontrollably at the sight of the towel He used, or the basket He touched, and remember His boundless love? Some, busied themselves on Friday, wrapping his body with spices and linen for burial in the tomb, but then what? Then the terrible day of enforced rest on the Sabbath when their grief hit full force.

By Sunday, Jesus’ followers were together, attempting to console one another; figure out what to do next. Their hopes of rescue by the Redeemer of Israel were crushed. But He worked miracles, healed lepers, raised the dead, put the religious leaders in their place. His words promised hope, life, a new kingdom where God would reign supreme. And yet He walked right into their trap—He seemed determined to give His life away! They just couldn’t understand it.

If it wasn’t for Easter Sunday, their grief would have taken them under, and there would be no comfort for ours. But Sunday changed everything! When Jesus strode from the tomb and showed up at their gathering, their grief dissolved into gales of astonished laughter.

We weep in the night, but joy comes on Easter morning and can never be snuffed out again. Jesus’ resurrection conquered sin and despair, and gives us a new perspective on death. “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise you forever” (Isa. 30:11-12).

Today may be sad and foreboding, as we remember the Son of God in a dark and silent tomb, while His followers cried in agony. But tomorrow we celebrate—because Jesus is Risen! 

Happy Easter!

#deathanddying #disciplesgrief #beforeJesusresurrection #stagesofgrief #Saturdayofholyweek

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Tree that Loved Me: Part 3 (Easter)

The third person we’re going to hear from in this series did not seek refuge in a tree, instead, the Tree found him. Saul of Tarsus, apparently went to Jerusalem as a boy to be educated. He studied under Gamaliel, the most respected rabbi of the time. We don’t know if Paul saw and heard Jesus in person or witnessed His crucifixion, but as popular as Jesus was, he definitely knew about Him.
Saul was highly educated and strictly religious, but like many of the religious leaders of his day, he didn’t recognize Jesus as the promised Messiah.  After Jesus’ resurrection, the followers of the Way began to grow in number. Saul’s first appearance in scripture is when he was a young man heartily approving the stoning of Stephen--the first Christian martyr (Acts 7:57-58; 8:1). The members of the Sanhedrin piled their coats at his feet while he stood in support of the death sentence. About two years after Jesus’ resurrection, Paul began to vigorously pursue every believer of The Way to put an end to what he saw as a sect (Acts 9:1-2).

He used every ounce of his energy to destroy the Tree and every limb that grew from it. He saw the Tree as a threat to the true religion of God…until the Tree spoke to him personally. On the road to Damascus, Saul encountered a light that left him blind. He heard the unmistakable voice of God saying, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4). 

Jesus used some pretty strong language, and three days of blindness and fear to get His message across. Unlike the first two in this series who climbed a tree desperate for life and comfort, Saul hacked away at the very Tree he loved and needed—because he didn’t know what he was doing. It wasn’t until God rendered him physically blind that Saul gained spiritual sight to see the One he loved, who loved him first. 

Sometimes, that’s what it takes to jolt us from the destructive path we’re on. God has to get our attention in a big way to counteract our pride, legalism, traditions, and the lies we’ve believed. God loves us so much that even when we don’t think we need a tree to climb into for safety, He comes after us. Even when we’re angry and defensive, and hurting God’s people, still, He loves and pursues us for His own.

Saul’s conversion and his rebirth into the Apostle Paul was not a warm and fuzzy transformation. He had to leave behind everything he had known. Paul became the enemy of the privileged group he’d once belonged to. But he never looked back. He said:

“Whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith…I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (Phil. 3:7-12)

What about you? Are you running from the Tree that came to save you, shelter you, comfort you? Has Jesus been calling your name, shaking you to the core with His powerful love? I hope, like Paul, you will turn to Him and see Him as Lord this Easter, perhaps for the first time. He died on the cross to rescue you from the darkness of sin so you could spend eternity with Him.

Or maybe you’re already a believer, but haven’t done much Tree hugging lately. You’ve wandered off, done your own thing; you feel distant and empty. He hasn’t forgotten you. This is your chance to come back. I pray you will do it right now.

#runningfromJesus #hateChristians #JesustheMessiah #crossofcalvary #Godpursuesyou

Thursday, March 17, 2016

St. Patrick’s Day Quiz

photo by Sarah Voigt, in Ireland
I’ve gotten behind in my writing goals this month, since I’ve been down with the flu. Today, we’re going to take a break from my Easter series, “The Tree that Loved Me,” to have a little St. Patrick’s Day fun. He was an amazing man of God, and whether you know a lot about his life, or nothing at all, I thought you would enjoy a little quiz to learn even more.
See how you do on the following ten questions (answers are at the bottom). Send the link to friends to see how well they do. You could even award a prize for the person who gets the most correct answers!

1    1. What country was St. Patrick from?
a.      Ireland
b.      Great Britain   
c.       Poland
d.      Africa
2    2.  Why do we remember him on March 17?
a.      He was born on that day
b.      He was baptized on that day
c.       He encountered a leprechaun on March 17
d.      He died on March 17
3     3. What kind of work did he do?
a.      Cleric
b.      Slave
c.       Shepherd
d.      Missionary
4     4. How old was he when he left home?
a.      16
b.      42
c.       36
d.      5
5     5. What was the main religion of Ireland during his lifetime?
6     6. How did he become a Christian?
7     7.Why did he return to Ireland?
8     8.What is his connection to the shamrock (three leaf clover)?
9     9.Which of these is a quote from St. Patrick:
a.      “He watched over me before I knew Him and before I learned sense or even distinguished between good and evil.”
b.       “Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.”
c.       Thou art the Hope of those who toil. Thou art the Comforter of those in sorrow. Thou art the Way to those who wander. Thou art Master to the nations.
d.       “Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
Be still.
1       10.  How was he able to rid Ireland of snakes?
a.      He prayed and God caused all the snakes to drown themselves in the ocean.
b.      He asked the people to capture all the snakes and throw them in huge bonfires.
c.       He convinced people that snake meat was a delicacy and they eventually vanished.
d.      An angel appeared and turned all the snakes into pillars of salt for biting the people.

1.       B. Great Britain   
2.      D. It is the traditional date of his death, in 461 A.D.
3.      A – D. Patrick did all of these jobs at different times of his life.
4.      A. He was sixteen when he was captured by pirates, taken to Ireland and sold as a slave.
5.      Druidism – a pagan religion
6.      Patrick’s father and grandfather were both believers, but Patrick didn’t give his life to Jesus until realizing his need for forgiveness during his years as a shepherd-slave in Ireland. After 6 years, Patrick heard a voice telling him to board a boat for home. He ran away, made it safely home, and devoted himself to learning more about God.
7.  Patrick heard a voice in a vision of the Irish people saying, “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.” In the year 405, when he was about 30, St. Patrick returned to the land of his captivity as a missionary to Ireland.
8.      The Irish people revered the shamrock as the symbol of new life and spring. Patrick used their love of nature to teach truths about God. The shamrock demonstrated how God can be three in one (the Trinity): Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
9.      A – D. All of these are quotes from his writings.
10.  None of these. There were none there to begin with.

I hope you’ve had some fun with this. I encourage you to do a bit of your own research and use this day to praise God for reaching a young prodigal, far from his homeland, with the hope of salvation. Instead of becoming bitter about his years of slavery and trials, Patrick turned around to bless the very ones who had caused his pain. 

Like Joseph from the Old Testament book of Genesis, he said, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20). What a tremendous lesson of forgiveness, humility, and mercy these men left us! Let’s go and do the same!

#who was St. Patrick #fun quiz for St. Patrick’s Day #what does the shamrock represent #was St. Patrick Irish #why wear green #no more snakes in Ireland