Good Friday . . . What’s So “Good” About It?

The water was perfectly still as we passed the lake yesterday afternoon–reflecting the heavy layers of dark and foreboding clouds that filled the sky.  The scene struck me as being very appropriate on this day of remembrance–Good Friday–when Jesus was crucified:

“From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land.  About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lemasabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”

Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink.  The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, He gave up His spirit.”
                                                                                                     Matthew 27:46-50

Picture taken by Heidi Viars~~

During the candlelit Good Friday service at my church, there was a wooden cross draped in black erected in the center of the Sanctuary.  Many Scriptures were read and hymns sung, as candles were snuffed out one by one.  It was as if we had entered into the events of that awful day . . . events that were the fulfillment of a prophecy written hundreds of years before:

But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on Him,
and by His wounds we are healed.

Isaiah 53:5

 Good Friday . . . what’s so “good” about it?

Sunday is coming!

True Freedom

What do you think of when you hear the word freedom?

On a recent trip, my husband and I saw numerous signs along highways and on large and small businesses proclaiming this simple message: Freedom Is Not Free.”  As a military family (my husband and brother are retired Air Force and my dad served as a Marine in the Korean War) it was touching to see so many reminders not to take freedom for granted. 

Since returning home, I have continued to think and pray about the costliness of freedom.   It has been disheartening to watch the nightly news reports of political upheaval around the globe–lives shattered by the greed, hatred and arrogance of others–but I have come to see an ironic twist: 

While it is true that freedom is not free,
it is also true that freedom cannot be bought, legislated or bartered for.
Diplomacy is not the answer to securing True Freedom. 

Manmade freedom on this earth will remain costly and will continue to be (at best) tenuous because of sinful hearts.  We find affirmation of this in the wisdom of Scripture:

What causes fights and quarrels among you?  
Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?  
You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. 
James 4:1-3

By nature, our motives are impure because of the sinful war that wages within our hearts–so a manmade freedom can never last.  Yet we find hope in the words of Christ Jesus:

“If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine;
and you will know the truth,
and the truth will make you free.”
John 8:31,32
 
 “I am the way, the truth and the life. 
No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
John 14:6

As I have thought and prayed about the costliness of freedom I have come to the following conclusions:

  1. True Freedom is a God-thing.  God sent His Son to be a living sacrifice–holy and pleasing to Himself–to free us from sins bondage so that we may worship Him into Eternity.
  2. True Freedom is an impossibility apart from Christ.  Man’s arrogance in parting himself from God as his Creator resulted in the twentieth-century being recorded as the bloodiest of all time.
  3. True Freedom has no room for fear or doubt.  We cannot retain True Freedom when fear or doubt rule our hearts.
  4. True Freedom has little to do with our circumstances and everything to do with faith in the Gospel of Christ.  
  5. True Freedom is manifested when we love God above all (surrendering ourselves to His Sovereign Goodness) and prayerfully remember our brothers and sisters around the globe

Did you know that over one-hundred million followers of Christ suffer persecution and even death?  Watch this and be blessed by their example:

Now . . . what do you think of when you hear the word freedom?

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. 
Stand firm then and do not let yourselves be burdened by a yoke of slavery.”
Galatians 5:1

All to His Glory!

 
 
 
 
 

Hiding in Plain Sight . . . .

 When it comes to finding something that has been lost, my husband is far better than I am at staying on-task.  Yet for years, he has insisted that there is a conspiracy against him when it comes to finding something he is looking for.  On countless occasions, he has called me into a room (after he has torn everything apart) to help him find something he knows is there but it’s hiding and he just can’t see it.  There are times when it has been hard to resist a giggle, as I casually reach over and hand the lost item to him.  More often however, I join him in the hunt and we both end up frustrated.  In recent years we have learned to actually ask God for help in those situations and the outcome has been far better!

Sometimes people hide in plain sight–knowingly or unknowingly.  Clark Kent comes to mind– living a very ordinary life outwardly (thanks to a pair of glasses and a suit) but who whizzes around saving the world as Superman.  I love the cartoon that depicts him on a crowded bus sitting between a dozing Superman-want-to-be and a young boy trying to alert his mom to Clark/Superman’s presence–but she doesn’t want to hear it.  It makes me wonder how much of “life” I miss just trying to focus on my “to do list”  like that boy’s mom?

Superman–hiding in plain sight!

Do you ever hide in plain sight?  Until recently convicted, I never realized that I have that tendency.  What does hiding in plain sight look like?

We hide in plain sight 
when we go through the motions of what is expected, 
but our hearts and minds are not really engaged.
There are times when we hide in plain sight,
as we await God’s answer to our prayers.
We hide in plain sight,
when we distance ourselves from people we ordinarily trust– 
because we are afraid our tears will betray us.
We hide in plain sight,
when we throw ourselves into an activity–
to create a buffer between ourselves and the pain of loss or change.
We hide in plain sight,
when we stop doing what we believe we should do,
because it is too painful to continue.

 The common denominator of hiding in plain sight in these instances?  Fear . . . worry . . . the avoidance of pain and . . . the hardest of all to have to admit to . . . PRIDE.

Hiding in plain sight in the short term, can be helpful, as it gives time to process whatever weighs heavy on the heart.  For me, hiding in plain sight in recent weeks has given me time to sort out my thoughts and emotions when I think about my dad.  Three thousand mile separate us so I have always been grateful for our phone connection.  Recently though, I have ended up in tears as some days he seems to fade away, has put the phone down and forgotten to pick it up again.  Oh how I would love to be Superman and rescue my dad . . . but it just is not that easy.

There is a danger in hiding in plain sight for too long– becoming self-absorbed.  Many times hiding in plain sight for an extended length of time can deepen depression, increase anxiety and rob us of the hope God has for us as we learn to trust Him more.

This past week I found comfort in the words the Apostle Paul wrote to his friends in Corinth.  II Corinthians 2:4 helped me come to terms with my fears and concerns for my dad and the family I hold dear.  Referring to a previous letter expressing deep concern for them Paul wrote:

“For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears,
not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.” 
(ESV)

As I read Paul’s letter the words affliction, anguish of heart and tears jumped off the page before me as they captured the essence of my emotions as I think of my dad.  Such emotions are painful . . . no one wants to endure such suffering!  Yet, I found encouragement as the words, abundant love flew at me like a banner of hope!  What do affliction, anguish of heart and tears have in common with abundant love?

Without the tension of the first three ingredients, there is no way of realizing our capacity to love as God has loved us.   
It is always the love of God that will ultimately reveal what is hidden, to bind and strengthen our relationships with Him and with others.

When it comes to finding what has been lost, God is the Primo Expert of all.  Have you been hiding in plain sight, perhaps struggling with disappointment or loss?  Be encouraged in knowing that God sent His Son to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10) . . . even when they don’t know they need to be found.  Pray about all that is on your heart . . . dig into His Word . . . and give thanks for His abundant love!

For thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. 
As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep,
so I will care for My sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day.” 
Ezekiel 34: 11, 12

 All to His Glory!

FOUND!

I hate when I wake up in the middle of a dream, feeling lost and confused, not knowing where I am or where I have been.  A few mornings ago I experienced just such an awakening.  I dreamed that I was lost for what seemed hours and then, finally, found myself driving home to visit my parents.   It was then that I felt my body heave an involuntary shudder as I remembered that Mom is gone, Dad’s days on this earth are probably short and the home I grew up in was sold three years ago.  It was at that moment that the cold shudder of feeling lost and alone gripped my heart.

Trusting in God’s Goodness has kept me steady even as:

I have fought tears back when I have seen something Mom would have liked . . .
when thinking of Dad alone and confused in a strange place . . . 
realizing that what was . . . has been lost forever.

The temptation to separate myself from the festivities of Christmas–knowing that Christmas will never be the same–has been especially difficult.   Yet it is in those moments of suffering profound loss, that God has faithfully shepherded my heart with these verses:

” . . . the people living in darkness have seen a great Light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death a Light has dawned.” 
Matthew 4:16
 
“The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
John 1:5
 

Even as despair has threatened I have been greatly comforted in remembering that,

No matter how dark life may appear, Christ’s Light dispels darkness like nothing else can.

Daily, He has drawn me into the Light of His Love, filling my heart to overflowing . . . not with a Christmas carol, but with the comfort of God’s boundless Grace in saving the lost:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
 
T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.  
How precious did that Grace appear  
The hour I first believed.  
 
Through many dangers, toils and snares  
I have already come;’
Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far  
and Grace will lead me home.
 

As the Celebration of Christ’s Coming draws ever closer, God has faithfully spared me further heartache with the wondrous truth that God came down to seek and save the lost–you and me!  Jesus taught in parables about God’s pursuit of lost things in Luke 15.  I especially love the picture He painted as the love of a father was poured out when his son returned home:

” Bring the fatted calf and kill it.  Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.‘  So they began to celebrate.”  (verses 23-24)

If you find yourself struggling this Christmas . . . give thanks that you are not alone and lean into to the Light of His Love–He is so very worthy of our trust!

Yesterday I was able to talk to my dad on the phone for the first time since having to leave him in early November.  He is still very sick but there was Joy in his voice, so very grateful to be back in his apartment for Christmas.  Many thanks to those of you who have asked about and prayed for my dad.  Merry Christmas!

Rejoicing in Him Always!

The Mysterious Love of God

For weeks I had struggled . . . my heart and mind still hearing Dad’s labored breathing as he whispered, “I love you” three thousand miles away.  Wanting to be with him, yet having to wait until the time was right (God’s mysterious love working good things out), it was painful to finally see him face-to-face: changed yet still offering that gentle smile that said, “I love you.”

I left him in the late afternoon, looking like he was feeling better after a breathing treatment had been applied. Yet hours later, we received a call telling us that Dad was being taken to the Emergency Room–struggling to stay alive.  What we saw when we arrived was a Dad we never wanted to see–our Dad silently experiencing a nightmare of unbelievable proportions written all over his face.  We wondered, “Is this the end?” for our gentle Dad who so faithfully tended to his family all of his life?  We waited . . . we prayed and we wondered . . . what would God have us do as death loomed larger than life over this man we are privileged to call “Dad”?  At eighty-six Dad has lived a good life . . . was it to end like this?

I thought of Jeremiah’s hope expressed in Lamentations 3:22-24,

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
   for His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
   great is Your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
  therefore I will wait for Him.” 

It was a long journey through that night . . . Dad hung on and we continued to wait for God’s direction.  When morning arrived we continued to wait, dreading the thought of having to “pull the plug” on the life we held so dear.

Finally, it was as if the heavens opened up when we were told there was an option–to treat the pneumonia that had gotten really bad.  It was only a shot but we decided to try to treat the pneumonia and trust God for the outcome.  Right now I am in ICU with Dad, grateful for the quiet shelter provided us.  As nurses, technicians and doctors come and go, I wait and trust as I listen to his quiet breathing.  What God has in store for us I do not know, but I trust in His mysterious love being worked out in Dad’s life for our good and to His Glory.

Are you in a place where the Journey is rough and you do not know how much more you can take?  Be encouraged as I am, by the wisdom and hope given us by Jeremiah:

“The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him.” 

All to His Glory!

The Problem With Running . . .

Countless times I have witnessed miracles in my office as God’s Spirit and His Word have worked in a hardened heart.  Last week, a young woman walked into my office angry . . . and rightfully so.  Married with two small children she felt:

Taken advantage of . . .

Unappreciated . . .

Disrespected . . .

Worn out.

Rather than argue I empathized . . . I confessed the times when I have wanted to run away too.  We talked about how the decisions made today will impact our lives and the lives of those we are tempted to leave behind.   She was at a crossroads and ready to run.  How did I know?  As I have told many a client, there is little that comes through my office door that I have not had at least a taste of in my own life experience.  I well remember those times when I have been DONE with life .  . . ready to escape the burdens that seemed impossible to bear.  How about you?

The challenge in counseling this angry young woman was to convict rather than condemn; to help her to realize the grave danger she was in. That is where the beautiful working of God’s Spirit and the Scriptures come in.   I shared a bit of my testimony, how to this day my  children (now grown and with families of their own) are grateful for how God stepped into my life, sparing our family from the tragic consequences of my abandoning them.  When God wakened me to my anger He helped me to see the dangerous possibilities my sin could cause.  The problem with running is that the consequences eventually will catch up with us.

We turned to the Scriptures for the perspective we lacked.  Considered to be the last letter written by Paul, the apostle poured out everything he had left in him because he knew his time was short.  Writing to a young man named Timothy (who Paul thought of as a son) it is a letter that speaks to the very soul of an individual.  I listened as she read:

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

She stopped reading and looked at me wide-eyed saying, “How could God know so well the depth of our depravity?”  She shook her head and continued on:

“They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.  Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.”  (II Timothy 3:1-9)

She spoke quietly as she shared her first impressions ;  “‘Lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God . . .’ that is surely me.”  She shuddered as she then whispered, “I don’t want that ‘weak-willed woman’ to be me!”  I watched as the hardness left her countenance and she grabbed a tissue, grateful for a God who saves us from ourselves.

Life experience has taught me that it is far better to run to God with problems than to run away from them (and Him.)   Next Session we will probably turn to God’s Counsel in Isaiah 30:

“This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
but you would have none of it.
You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses.’
Therefore you will flee!
You said, ‘We will ride off on swift horses.’
Therefore your pursuers will be swift!
A thousand will flee
at the threat of one;
at the threat of five
you will all flee away,
till you are left
like a flagstaff on a mountaintop,
like a banner on a hill.”
Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
therefore He will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for Him!
People of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you.  Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them.  Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”  Then you will desecrate your idols overlaid with silver and your images covered with gold; you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth and say to them, “Away with you!”  (Verses 15-22)

No matter what difficulty you may be facing, give thanks to God for the clean slate of today.  Run to Him in repentance and faith as you trust Him to help you stay the course you are on.  Give thanks to Him for His love and mercy; give thanks that He has not abandoned you.  Then watch, wait and listen for the direction you need . . . in the confidence that He is worthy of your trust.

All to His Glory!