There Will Be Blood

I used to cringe at the song, “Nothing but the blood of Jesus,” or if I heard someone refer to being covered by his blood; it sounded so, well, gory.

Why blood for goodness’ sake? Why is God so punitive? Why couldn’t He just clear the board and forgive our sins without blood?

Blood is at the very heart of Jesus’ story and thus our salvation story. Rather than continue to avoid it, I began to pray for greater understanding, and slowly I’m growing to a deeper understanding, although I still have a long way to go.

(I offer my learnings here with the caveat that this is a cornerstone of faith, and there are far better sources than me on this topic. I hope my post will serve simply as a starting off point to your own exploration.)

God is love. God is life.

The wages of sin is death.

Romans 6:23

Sin is death. Sin by its nature is a separation from — and if uninterrupted by repentance, a severing of — our connection to our life source. I believe that those wages the Bible speaks of are not so much “collected” by God as they are the inherent, inevitable cost of sin.

God is holy and just.

I’m watching the Netflix docuseries,”The Keepers,” and I am sickened by the sadistic acts of one man who abused and exploited many innocent girls at a Baltimore High School. If he had been brought to trial and simply given a slap on the wrist, those whom he harmed, and all people of goodwill, would be legitimately outraged.

We yearn for justice to confront evil and set the world right. We desire and expect God to be just in his response to sin, especially toward those who injure us.

“Vengeance is mine says the Lord.”

Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:19

Counting the Cost

When we are in need of forgiveness, justice also must be served. Here is where our misunderstanding of sin leads us to say, “But what if I’m a basically good person?” “And what about little sins like telling a white lie; surely that doesn’t lead to death?”

When we consider ourselves or others to be “good” we are deceived about our true sin natures. In response to being called “good Teacher” Jesus said:

“Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”

Mark 10:18

When we acknowledge the darkness that lurks in all our hearts, the dastardly things we have done or know we are capable of doing when we are not fully surrendered to God, then we begin to see that there is no such thing as “a little sin.”

Sin is not an act so much as a state of mind. It is just a manifestation, a symptom of inward decay, a cancerous rebellion that attacks and eventually kills its host if unchecked.

There is no stasis in life; we are either moving toward God and dying to our sin natures daily, or we are turning from God, moving deeper into sin, indulging our flesh, which leads to death.

Once for All

So…if all sin leads to death, then the only remedy for sin is death, which requires the shedding of blood…blood symbolizing the essence of life.

God proclaims this truth from the very beginning. In Genesis, after Adam and Eve fall, God sacrifices animals as a covering for their sin.

In God’s covenant with Abraham He followed the social convention for sealing a contract. Animals would be sacrificed and the carcasses split in two, laid facing each other. Each party would pass through as a physical sign that proclaimed: “If I break this covenant, may the blood be on my head.”

Abraham prepared the sacrifices for his covenant with the Lord; however; he “fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.”

“When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking fire pot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces.”

Do you see what is happening here? God passes through twice, symbolically taking the consequence not just for himself but on Abraham’s behalf as well. By passing through for each of them God was saying: “If I fail to keep the covenant I will die, and if you fail to keep it I will die for you.” (Read more about this amazing moment.)

Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up….

“You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.”

John 11:50

Caiaphas unwittingly prophesied the rationale for Jesus’ substitutionary death in advocating for his execution to the Sanhedrin.

Yet in order to be a just sacrifice for the sin of humanity, Jesus himself had to be without sin…otherwise he’d simply be dying for his own sins. The message of the Gospel is clear:

Jesus came and led a perfect life; he suffered and died in our place, for our sins, so that we could be forgiven and reconciled to God.

That is why Jesus’ shed blood and his resurrection — his victory over the death that sin brings to the world — is the only hope for us all.

 

Keep Discovering

Genesis 15: God confirms the covenant with Abram: http://bit.ly/2s9q7uD

Learn the Bible: Blood Sacrifices: http://bit.ly/2s9xQIX

The Blood of the Lamb, by Timothy Keller:  http://bit.ly/2s9r0TT

Lamb of God, by Jill Carattini: http://bit.ly/2s9qRzU

A Graduate’s Guide to the Bible

My second son graduated high school last Sunday. While re-experiencing some degree of the grief I first wrote about when my eldest son graduated (Secrets Mothers Keep: On Roots & Wings), I’m also more focused on the practical this time around, hoping to equip my big-hearted #2 boy to survive and thrive in what can be a heart-breaking world.

I gave him a Bible because it is the ultimate how-to guide for life. In its pages I have found hope and inspiration when things seemed hopeless, wisdom and understanding when I didn’t know what to do; and purpose when I was feeling lost.

As I gift wrapped it for him I wondered if he would ever read it, not because he doesn’t value it, but because he wouldn’t know where to start.

If he began at the beginning–Genesis–he’d likely get derailed by the time he reached Leviticus or Numbers; the complicated rules and details are tough sledding to a generation weaned on Twitter and Youtube.

And so I prepared a brief how-to guide based on my own experience. It’s nothing more official than that, but perhaps it will help you or a graduate you love discover the life-giving joy and truth of God’s Word for the first time, or again…as if for the first time.

 

 

  1. Want to know Jesus? Read John. If you only were going to read one book of the Bible ever, read John. He has such a heart for Jesus and wrote with the goal of convincing you that Jesus is the son of God and that his mission on earth was to ransom us for our sins.

 

  1. Want to understand sin and the reason we need Jesus to save us? Read Genesis and then Romans. The story of the beginning of humanity is the story of all humanity. In the Jesus Bible you’ll see how Jesus himself is present from the very beginning of creation. And why Romans? Paul wrote half the New Testament. He was brilliant and gifted by God for the task. In Romans he walks the reader through the problem of sin, why we can’t save ourselves and why we need Jesus.

 

  1. Facing a dilemma? Need some wisdom? Use Proverbs. Proverbs isn’t a sit-down and read end-to-end book. It is more like life’s little instruction book. It speaks wisdom on just about every topic you can imagine in the human condition.

 

  1. Have a problem, issue or other life decision about which you need insight? I use Google as a starting point and enter: “Bible verses about ________.” Or “What does the Bible say about _______.” Then break out your Bible and read the verses you find.

 

  1. Wondering how to live the life God called you to? Read Acts. Acts details the post-resurrection life of the apostles and the conversion of Paul. Put yourself in the shoes of the disciples and consider how they surrendered their fears, their will and ultimately their lives to follow Jesus and to ensure the good news was spread across the earth. We all share in this mission, and understanding how the first tribe got things done has value and relevance today.

 

  1. Interested in learning leadership? Read about Joseph (Genesis 37), Moses (Exodus), David (1 Samuel) and Daniel (Daniel 1).

 

  1. Pray. Open. Read. Sometimes, when I have nothing else in mind, I just say a prayer, open the Bible and start reading where the pages fall.

 

  1. Memorize God’s word. As you find verses that speak to your heart, underline or highlight them in your Bible and then memorize them. (You can use the app Bible Minded to help). When you do this God is faithful to speak to you in times of need by bringing just the right verses back to mind.

Get more help leaning in to God’s word with Summer Bible Study Tools.


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childhood sexual abuse

 

Summer Bible Study Tools

I am writing this post specifically to support my summer Bible study small group, but the resources here can benefit everyone who seeks to explore God’s Word more deeply.

My hope is that you also will share the resources you have found helpful so that we can build a more complete and rich reference here.

 

Bibles

I am a logophile, a lover of words, so the specificity of words and language matter greatly to me; they can reveal and sometimes completely change the meaning. That’s why I love to read myriad translations of Biblical texts when I really want to get to the heart of it.

I own an NIV study bible, The Message paraphrase and I just got my copy of the Jesus Bible. The New International Version (NIV) was a revolutionary translation created in the 1970s to make the Bible more accessible and easily understood to modern English speakers for whom the Old English of the King James Version became a stumbling block. For me it is a great starting point that I then love to compare and contrast with Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase known as The Message. Here is a quick example from John 1: 1-5:

NIV Excerpt

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.

The Message for Comparison

The Word was first,
the Word present to God,
God present to the Word.
The Word was God,
in readiness for God from day one.
3-5 Everything was created through him;
nothing—not one thing!—
came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life,
and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
the darkness couldn’t put it out.

Other translations I like include the CEV, NASB and NRSV. The online Bibles, profiled below, make it easy for you to change and compare versions to discover what versions you prefer.

The Jesus Bible, a new NIV-based Bible, was pioneered by some of my favorite Christian voices, Louis Giglio, Ravi Zacharias, Max Lucado, John Piper Randy Alcorn and others,  to help readers understand how the entire Bible, all 66 books, is one story…about Jesus. I’m reading it now, beginning in Genesis, and am excited for the perspective it will offer.

Online Bibles

As much as I love holding a Bible in my hands–and aspire to take notes that can make it a keepsake for future generations–I cannot deny my love for the convenience and ubiquity of online Bibles. There are several out there, but my go-to app is Biblegateway.com.

Here’s why I love it: Looking up passages, choosing translations and reviewing commentary requires just a couple clicks. I’ve also done reading plans on Bible Gateway, like the chronological Bible.

Finally, Bible Gateway is on my phone, so sitting in car line at school I can read. And there is an audio version that supports at least three or four translations, so I listen to the Bible on my walks.

Tools

Blue Letter Bible

Both a phone app and a website, Blue Letter Bible is a great resource for understanding Biblical text. Look up a passage and choose “Tools” to see the root form of the word in Hebrew or Greek, hear it pronounced and get a link to the Strong’s reference, which then takes you to the definition, pronunciation, part of speech, etc.

In my opinion, the most helpful tool here is the “interlinear Concordance,”  which shows where else in the Bible that exact word is used. I’ve gained valuable insights in my own study time using this tool, and you’ll see its findings reflected in many of my blog posts.

Bible Minded

Memorizing scripture is a valuable discipline that weaves God’s word into our hearts and minds. But memorizing is a lot easier when you’re six than sixty, right?

Well, I’ve been using Bible Minded to help me do this successfully. You add the verses you want to memorize, and then you can study them in virtual flashcards (like Quizlet), practice with fill in the blanks or do “choose the next word” quizzes. You can even record audio and play it back for yourself as you rehearse. And then when you think you’ve got the verse committed to memory you can test yourself.

With all of the worldly content online today it’s encouraging to know that technology resources can also serve the Kingdom.

I look forward to expanding this list with apps, websites or other online resources you like!

 

 

 

Foolish Hearts

My nephew is the ultimate Daddy’s boy; in his three-year-old way he makes it clear that he is only interested in his father’s time, attention and opinion. It sounds and looks something like this:

“Son, would you like to have special ‘Mommy Time’ today?”lukey

“No thanks, I’ll wait for Daddy to get home.” 

Or:

“Mommy loves you so much. Do you love Mommy?”

“Nah, I just love Daddy.”

You’re laughing; I know you are. I am too; I can’t help giggling every time I hear these stories, mostly because the little guy has no idea what he’s talking about!

He only has the luxury of his perspective because he has such an amazing momma. What he fails to see through his toddler eyes (maybe it’s his gorgeous long eyelashes getting in the way) is that she makes his world go round: She makes his bedroom cozy, prepares his meals, gets him to and from school, takes him to the doctor, and shapes his experience of the world on a daily basis…not to mention that she loves him to the moon and back.

Excruciating

At the risk of sounding like a “Jesus Juke” the analogy of my nephew came to mind  as I was contemplating Jesus’ suffering on the cross and how we as humans have no idea what true separation from God would look and feel like.

But we can glimpse it through the work Jesus did on the cross. For the longest time I only saw his physical suffering because it was so excruciating. (In fact, the word excruciating is derived from two Latin words: ex cruciatus, or out of the cross. Crucifixion was the defining word for pain. (Ravi Zacharias))

But that’s not the full story. Jesus took on the sins of the world (1 John 2:2). Having existed eternally in perfect union with God, Jesus experienced total separation from God in our place. Because it was spiritual in nature–exiting outside of time and space–he experienced it eternally with infinite pain. And he did so once for all of us. (Hebrews 10, 1 Peter 3:18, Romans 6:10)

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Matthew 27:46 (NRSV)

It is by Jesus’ example that we can come to understand that true separation from God renders all other suffering trivial and irrelevant by comparison. Paul grasped at this:

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

Romans 8:18-31

Easter People

The fullness of this truth is still remote to me, just barely perceptible, and yet it is changing me.

It provokes me to consider how many people, myself included some days, go about life as if we are of this world, in control, and God is simply a useful and occasional accessory.

When we do so we display the same naïveté as my young nephew–but on a spiritual scale. Like fish who don’t know they are wet we often seem blissfully ignorant to the God who created the world and all that is in it, the one who shapes our experience of the cosmos and gives life to each breath we take.

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man.

Romans 1:20-22

We only have the luxury of our delusion because of Jesus. Thanks to him we never have to experience true separation.

Evangelism

I worry that an insidious passivity is creeping into our culture when it comes to God. Similar to baseball, God is being rendered as a sweet, nostalgic idea that belongs to generations past, yet enjoys some lingering support out of sentimentality for an innocence that has long since passed away.

But just as my nephew’s momma loves him too much to cajole him with all the good things she does for him, how much she loves him and how lost he would be without her, God expresses His love for us with similar patience.

Each day He allows us to choose anew whom or what to worship. But one day we will make our choice for a final time; one day we will choose  life and love or separation from God–the source of those things–for eternity.

If I am aware that people are fooling themselves into living as if there is no God, what am I willing to do about it?

Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”

Psalm 14:1 (NRSV)

 

The bottom line is if I really grasped Christ’s suffering on the cross I would make a fool of myself if it meant ensuring that even my worst enemies got every opportunity to see and experience the good news.

We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ.

1 Corinthians 1:10

Finding Eternal Life in the Trees

Still blogging about the many things God showed me during my half-day Silence and Solitude retreat…definitely think I need more of both in my life as I continue distilling all of this.

As I opened my Bible I was drawn to John 5:39-40 where Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for missing the forest for the trees.

“You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you’ll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees.

These Scriptures are all about me!

here I am, standing right before you, and you aren_t willing to receive from me the life you say you want. (2)

Lesson #3: Receiving

That passage got me thinking. I love God’s Word; my passion for it is what fuels this blog. My heart’s desire is to lead others to discover and revel in the Truth that I have found in its pages.

Yet Jesus is not just speaking to the Pharisees here…whether I like it or not He also is speaking to me. Jesus has been revealed in fullness on this side–our side–of the cross, but do we fully receive the life that the resurrected Jesus offers?

I turned back to scripture to explore how others received Jesus. The litany of people the Spirit brought to my mind was wide ranging: the woman at the well, the man blind from birth, Nicodemus, the apostles, Zaccheus, the woman who bled for 12 years, the adulteress about to be stoned, the people standing at the foot of the cross.

What did they have in common in how they approached and were changed by their encounter with Jesus?

  • It came at a cost. Each was asked (or seeking) to leave something behind; an area of habitual sin, spiritual and/or physical blindness, even a comfortable, sustainable physical existence in the case of the apostles.
  • They found their worth in His eyes. The world either did not see them as significant or condemned them as unworthy, but Jesus saw something more.
  • The encounter led to new, radically changed lives. Knowing Jesus gave them all a fresh start, a new life, shifting their perspective and purpose from this physical world to God’s eternal one.

What is Eternal Life?

A common criticism of Christians by the world is that we are trading in futures, ignoring the calamities and the tangible pleasures of this life for some intangible future promise of heaven.

But that’s not consistent with what Jesus taught or His prayer for us:

And this is the real and eternal life:
That they know you,
The one and only true God,
And Jesus Christ, whom you sent.

John 17:3 (MSG)

What then is Jesus inviting us to receive and how do we know when have it? In a word:

Joy

Joy comes as we are released from fear and anxiety; it’s the byproduct of a deep and abiding trust in God. This is what Jesus modeled for us, even as He approached the suffering and death of the cross:

…Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 

Hebrews 12:2

The Message powerfully paraphrases this teaching to shed more light:

Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in.

Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—He could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever.

And now He’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God.

When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

Do You Live Like You’re Saved?

So what does it look like to live eternal life now?

This new life in the world wipes out memory of the pain….When I see you again, you’ll be full of joy, and it will be a joy no one can rob from you. You’ll no longer be so full of questions.

Wow. “When I see YOU again.” The way I heard that on this reading was the Lord saying, “As you embrace more fully who I created you to be I will see that YOU again. And this is what it will look like: you will be full of joy, the lasting kind. And as a result all those questions you wrestle with will dissolve because you will be living in the only answer you need: Me. JESUS. I am the answer to your heart’s desire.”

Living eternal life looks like Emil Farag, a grocery store employee in the town where I live, who for the joy set before him braves the suffering and pain of pancreatic cancer, the burden of funding his treatment and an uncertain future by abiding in Jesus. (Read Emil’s inspiring story in the News & Observer.)

What can we do today to move closer to Jesus, closer to Emil’s example, and closer to eternal life?

“This is what I want you to do:

  1. Ask the Father for whatever is in keeping with the things I’ve revealed to you.
  2. Ask in my name, according to my will, and he’ll most certainly give it to you.

Your joy will be a river overflowing its banks! (John 16:22-24)

This is my focus, my homework as I departed the retreat. I was reluctant to leave the silence and solitude with Jesus to re-enter a world full of chaos, brokenness, pain, and distraction.

But thanks to some great time walking with God, I do so with joy, cresting if not quite overflowing its banks!

You never saw Him, yet you love Him. You still don’t see Him, yet you trust Him—with laughter and singing. Because you kept on believing, you’ll get what you’re looking forward to: total salvation.

1 Peter 1:8-9

4 Secrets to a Happy Marriage

Saturday my husband and I renewed the wedding vows we made a little more than 25 years ago. The service was scheduled to be outdoors at 4 p.m.

But then life happened. My hubby was still getting gussied up in his cute new outfit at the time I had hoped to arrive, so we skidded in on two wheels at 3:55 p.m. My daughter forgot her scripture reading at home, and my son thought it started at 4:30. When he finally showed up, about 4:20, he brought the rain with him.

I’d like to tell you this was an aberration, but it is so much a part of the fabric of our family life that it even has a name: “Getting Kirsched.”

In the midst of our messes, however, God is always faithful…He showed up even as we were getting our collective act together, and we gave Him the glory for creating our marriage and carrying us this far, and sought His guidance for the road ahead.

As part of the service my husband and I each offered reflections for our children and the handful of others who stood with and for our marriage. Mine is excerpted below for posterity and in hopes that what we have learned may help others seeking to “do marriage God’s way.”

Kirsch Fam 0422 2017

During our wedding, our friend and officiant, Father John Skirtich, delivered a message that “Love is a decision.” Somewhere inside I might have known it to be true, but it was in the same way I knew dessert or a favorite glass of wine was a decision…it didn’t come at a cost.

We were young and in love, and we believed our marriage would be a great example to our community of friends and fellow believers, and to our children.

But then Life Happened.

My husband always tells young couples that you never know what God will call you to walk through together or how much you will have to lean on one another. That certainly has been our experience.

Last fall, as our silver milestone approached the bumps in the road had all but obscured the path we had traveled together, and the love and joy that had kept us growing and changing together. Throughout this season the Lord kept bringing this verse to my mind:

See, I am doing a new thing!

Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?

I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

Isaiah 43:19

I did not perceive it…

at least not right away. But looking back now I can see God’s faithfulness as He began to clear out the death and decay that had crept into the dark corners of our marriage and restored new life.

I want to share the four secrets that breathed new life into our marriage; the ones we are working to live out together each day.

1. Change Yourself.

To change your marriage you must change yourself…because that is the only person you can change. Once I stopped looking at what I wanted my husband to do differently and focused only on what I needed to change — and then he began to do the same — our marriage got healthier quickly. (Wives, accept that you will likely be called to make the first move here, but as you see how your husband responds you’ll know it is well worth it.)

Marriage is the only place where you reveal your true (bad) self, so God uses that space to refine us and teach us how to love more like Jesus—unconditionally.

2. Love is indeed a decision.

Sure, it begins with googly eyes and butterflies, but as Scripture teaches:

  • The heart is deceitful above all things. (Jeremiah 17:9)
  • Out of the abundance of the heart our mouthes speak. (Luke 6:45)
  • For as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. (Proverbs 23:7)

What I am about to share is true in all relationships, but it’s most visible and important thoughts-1in marriage: It is our thoughts that create our feelings, which lead to our actions.

Changing how I feel about my husband begins by examining my thoughts about him. As I replace any negative thoughts with what I love most about him– and how God sees him–my feelings warm and I act out of love. (Read Love is a Decision)

Once I understood this cycle, Paul’s instruction took on new relevance and importance:

Take every thought captive to Christ

2 Corinthians 10:5

3. The Power of Neutrality

There is no excuse for an angry outburst. While we inevitably experience anger, it is possible to diffuse it without hurting your spouse or relationship by following two simple rules:

  1. If you can’t say it neutrally you can’t say it. (That has created a lot more quiet in our marriage to be sure!) We are learning to voice our complaints, after the anger subsides, in ways that build up our marriage. It sounds corny at first, but it works:

State the complaint neutrally: Honey, when you don’t call me when you’re running late…

Name your feelings: I feel worried for your safety and disrespected regarding the value of my time.

Make a simple, forward-looking change request: In the future I’d like to ask that you call me if you are going to be more than 15 minutes late. Can you do this?

If your spouse consents, great; if he/she declines you can calmly discuss alternatives or drop the topic and try again later.

2. Our need as human beings is to be heard; it far exceeds our need to be right. That seemed shocking at first, but it is an incredible truth in practice. As we learn to listen to each other well, even if the issue doesn’t get resolved right away, we are learning how to love one another even in our differences.

4. The Healing Power of Forgiveness

Perhaps the most valuable secret of all is the tremendous, healing power of forgiveness. (Unforgiven) The turning point in the marriage retreat we attended last winter came when we were asked to write apologies that would speak to our spouse’s heart. It was a powerful, healing experience. James 1:19-21 (MSG) says:

Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger.

So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage.

In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.

Now I Perceive It!

I wish I had learned these secrets sooner and put them into practice in my life and marriage. But as my husband and I strive to “do marriage God’s way” in our imperfect humanity, we hope to become a better example of Christian marriage and a testament to how awesome and faithful our Father is.

Baptism of the Stars.jpg

This beautiful painting was created by our friend and artist, Corey Mason. He calls it “Baptism of the Stars.” It is a gift of remembrance of the journey we have shared. The light and promise that dominate the darkness are from God, who is ever faithful to make a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

“What is Truth?”

As a recovering people-pleaser I can relate to Pontius Pilate. This Holy Week, as we revisit the story of Jesus’ Passion, I’m discovering his story anew. And as I look at him, I see myself and my own weaknesses reflected back.

Outside the Governor’s palace, Peter, one of Jesus’ closest followers, denies three times that he knows Jesus. Meanwhile inside the palace Pontius Pilate, who had never met Jesus, three times proclaims His innocence and three times proclaims his kingship.

Yet, ultimately, Pilate fails to act on the truth he has been given…and that decision comes at a cost.

The Cost of Others’ Approval

Most of my failures in life have resulted from my desire to gain others’ approval, so I totally get why Pilate squirms under the crowd’s pressure to make a decision about Jesus.

At first he tries to duck the issue altogether. When the opposition forces his hand Pilate has a personal encounter with Jesus, who delivers a heavy dose of truth:

“My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”

Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?”

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18: 36-38)

 

What an invitation Jesus has just offered Pilate: to hear and follow the voice of the Good Shepherd.

You can sense Pilate’s yearning as he leaves Jesus and darts out to appeal to the Jews again, this time suggesting that he free Jesus as part of the Passover custom–a creative, but futile attempt. Next, he has Jesus flogged thinking this will satisfy them. But they sense his weakness and his need to appease them, so they refuse to compromise.

I know from personal experience, and perhaps you do too, that pleasing others is an elusive goal. Pilate is so desperate for this approval that he forsakes his own conscience, his judgment, his wife’s warning and the truth he has been given by God Himself.

When God reveals truth in our lives, He calls us to act on it.

Truth: How often have I been so desperate to be liked, to be recognized for my effort, to have my good intentions acknowledged that I’ve made an idol of others’ approval? 

Am I now seeking human approval or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Galatians 1:10 (NRSV)

The Cost of Self-Protection

Pilate might have risked the wrath of the crowd if he could have done so without such a high personal cost. Jesus’ claim to be the King of the Jews was one thing, that was manageable, it wasn’t really Pilate’s issue, after all.

But then the crowd told Pilate that the man standing before him had claimed to be the Son of God, the title given to Tiberius, son of Caesar and Pilate’s direct superior.

And worse yet they now threatened Pilate directly by saying, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.” (John 19:12)

If word got back to Tiberius that Pilate had released a man who posed a direct threat to his authority there was no telling what the cost might be: his social standing, his governorship, quite possibly, his life. Pilate convinced himself he had no choice.

Truth: I am tempted to approach the hard places God calls me to half-heartedly(The Rock and the Hard Places) , tip-toeing into such assignments in hopes that I can “do the right thing” without risking my reputation in the world…even in small things (“If I offer to pray with a stranger will she dismiss me as a ‘Jesus freak’?”) Is it possible to serve God without personal cost? 

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Luke 12:34, Matthew 6:21

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.

Romans 8:18

The Cost of Compromising Truth

The bottom line for Pilate that fateful day–and the bottom line for us today–is that there is a choice to be made about Jesus and it is a choice with significant consequences on either side.

When Jesus told Pilate, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice,” Pilate’s next words betray the condition of his heart, “What is truth?” (John 18:38)

After that Jesus does not speak to Pilate again except to make a final assertion regarding the folly of his choice:

You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above.

John 19: 11

Truth: Like Pilate I find myself tempted to take the easy way out. But my prayer as I approach the cross of Jesus this Holy Week is to invite more of Him to overtake me so that I can be faithful to the Truth, fearless in my obedience and relentless in love to the end.

When Jesus knew that all was now finished, He said (in order to fulfill the scripture), ‘I am thirsty’….When Jesus had received the wine, He said,

“It is finished.”

John 19:28-30

Nutty Like a Squirrel

This is Lesson #2 from the Silence and Solitude retreat in which I took part last weekend. If you missed Lesson #1 you can begin with A Spa Day for the Soul.

I continued sitting in the wooded backyard with my eyes closed. I could hear two sounds clearly and consistently: the rustling of leaves by squirrels scampering about and the songs of the birds.

Lesson #2: Fear Not

God drew my attention to the nature of each of these creatures as the topic of fear percolated to the top of my senses.

Listen to the squirrels, He breathed over my soul; they scurry about endlessly trying to gather enough, yet losing much of what they store in their frenzy. (Luke 12:20) They live believing they are in control, and yet their little lives are defined mostly by this inefficient, futile focus on self-sufficiency. 

Sound familiar?

Compare them now to the birds. Every bird begins its day in praise, singing a unique song that joins with the others to create a glorious cacophony celebrating the gift of today. Their songs continue for as long as the sun shines, yet most of creation fails to hear them once their own nut-gathering has begun.

For birds the song is primary.

You know the scripture from Matthew: 

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?

Matthew 6:26-27

  • Do you live like a squirrel or a bird?
  • Do you perceive yourself to be in control of your life, solely responsible for your existence and sustenance?
  • Or, do you focus on singing praise first and foremost, and lean on the Lord to provide all that you need?

It is written:

But those who wait upon God get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles.

Isaiah 40:31

Storm Warnings

The retreat had begun with 25 of us gathered together, listening and centering on various meditations, including Mark’s account of Jesus and the apostles in the storm at sea. This is the story where Jesus sleeps on a pillow as the apostles struggle to prevent the boat from capsizing. We were shown Rembrandt’s depiction of the scene:

The-Storm-on-the-Sea-of-Galilee-Rembrandts-painting

On that day, when evening had come, he [Jesus] said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”

And leaving the crowd they took Him with them in the boat, just as He was. And other boats were with Him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.

But He was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

And He awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!”

And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.

He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”

And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4: 35-41)

Riding Out the Storms

The topic of storms has been popping up a lot recently in my quiet time. Unlike the storms that take shape on the forces of a fallen world, these are storms of a different sort, the ones the Lord creates as He moves us to a new place and equips us to do a new thing.

It’s an integral part of such passages, beginning with the Red Sea (Read The Red Sea and the Linemen for more on this.) Jesus sent the apostles into two storms, in this story, and then again in Mark 6:45-51 where Peter applies what he has learned and steps out onto the waves with Jesus.

Here is what God has been teaching me about these storms.

God uses place and equips us on the journey.

In this case Jesus was sending his apostles to a new place, on the other side of where they had been serving. If it is true He sent them, then it is true He led them into this storm as well.

If you look for context at the gospel of Mark, Jesus had been teaching His newly called followers in parables. But as soon they get to the other side of the storm it’s “go-time,” time to put those teachings into practice:

And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit.

Mark 5:1

This is among the most fantastic healings in the New Testament, unclean spirits squealing in protest and proclaiming Jesus’ deity, while begging for divine mercy until He discharges them into a herd of pigs, which immediately drowns in the sea (interesting outcome given what we’re learning, isn’t it?)

Imagine how this supernatural scene might have derailed the apostles had Jesus not first offered them some powerful context clues of His sovereignty over their natural world?

  • Where is Jesus calling you to go next?
  • Rather than being fatigued by the obstacles in your path, focus on what the Lord is showing you and developing in you.

Jesus is at the helm.

The passage says that the apostles took Jesus in the boat “just as he was.” In English that sounds like they had caught Him in His jammies and fuzzy slippers and said, “No time to change, you’re fine as you are.”

But that’s not what’s going on here. The Greek word means “to be,” similar to God’s proclamation of His nature to Moses in Exodus 3:14: I AM that I AM. Jesus was fully present. While the apostles became distracted with striving and doing, His presence was sufficient to meet all their needs in the calm as well as later in the storm.

As storm waters flooded over the bow the apostles, facing forward, feared for their lives. Yet in their frenzy they forgot who had their back. Jesus was in the stern, the place from which a boat is steered…He was in control, not just of the boat, but of the storm itself.

  • Do you trust Jesus in your storms, whether you see Him moving or not?
  • Before you act will you adopt the discipline to first be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:1)?

An encounter with the Lord produces fear.

Once Jesus rebukes the wind and waves, scripture tells us, “It was completely calm.”

Imagine that juxtaposition: one second it seems as though the forces that oppose you are about to overcome you; a moment later Jesus brings complete calm, a peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:6-7). Such a rapid shift can often feel surreal, difficult to trust or lean into with assurance.

Perhaps that is what moved the apostles from fear to downright terror. Mark reports they were terrified after Jesus quelled the waves, not in the storm.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 1:7

To know God is to fear Him. This is not a small god who can be contained, manipulated or cajoled into doing our will (In the Name of God). To move out into the deep waters of knowing and relying on Him is to move toward awe. The Greek word for awe is yare’, which means “to fear, to revere”; they are close cousins.

Fear can occur as we become aware of our own sinfulness, as Adam experienced in the garden, “I was afraid (yare’) because I was naked and so I hid.”

Or it can be a source of joy from knowing the majesty and power of God, as the psalmist writes:

You who fear (yare’) the LORD, praise him!

Psalm 22:23

As you step out in faith and obedience to where the Lord is sending you, keep these lessons in mind:

  1. Don’t exhaust your resources in nut gathering; rather seek calm in songs of praise.

  2. Expect storms along the way, but remember that the One who created them is the One who commands them and He is in the stern, your rock in times of trouble.

  3. Keep your eyes peeled for the new horizon. God has great things in store for you.

A Spa Day for the Soul

I attended a half-day silence and solitude retreat today. I had never done anything like it before, and I recruited my chattiest girlfriend to come along with me, secretly hoping we’d get kicked out early.

I was intrigued by the idea of spending that much time in silence, but as the day approached I found myself growing anxious, inventing excuses not to go, or at least to leave early; after all, I am a busy girl.

What I learned in those few hours of quiet could literally fill my blog posts for the remainder of the year; I am certain it will inspire my writing for some time. But let me offer you a few snapshots as encouragement of the importance of creating space to:

Be still and know that I am God.

Psalm 46:10

Lesson #1: Be

I decided the best way to share my experience is to write what I heard in my time with the Lord conversationally, not because I heard him auditorily, but because this is the closest I can come to characterizing how I hear Him speak to my heart.

The opening verse for the day was this:

My heart heard you say, “Come and be with me.”

My heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”

Psalm 27:8

 

See how quickly and easily you respond to my invitation to come, yet skip right over the be? It is easy as humans to do, but in your activity you are more likely to fall into the trap of control, independence and ultimately separation from Me.

Before the universe existed I/We were, in perfect relational unity. I experience complete fulfillment in simply being. My name exemplifies the complexity and beauty of this truth:

I am who I am.

Exodus 3:14

The good news is that Jesus opened the door for you to experience this too. He prayed this for you before his passion cleared the Way:

“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you.”

John 17:20-21

Receive

I was sitting outdoors in the lightly wooded backyard of the host’s home, near a shack that caught my eye because it reminded me of the movie, “The Shack,” and I hoped for a similarly tangible experience with God. As I settled into the quiet my awareness of my surroundings heightened, and I took note of how all of nature proclaims God’s presence… and how often I am oblivious to it.

There is no need for you to move or act or do anything to be with Me. All I ask is that you open your hands and your heart to receive the good gifts I have for you; the gifts I desire to give you; gifts that, like breadcrumbs, draw you to The Giver. 

When you are on the move you pass by many of My gifts in the same way you stop hearing the birds after the quiet hours of the morning. Taking time with Me will help you remember how to abide in Me not just today but every day.

I became increasingly aware of how God uses anything–and everything–to reveal Himself and His heart for us. What I thought was going to be difficult was the opposite; I discovered God speaking easily and readily, like my girlfriend; I just hadn’t been listening well.

Notice

Suddenly my attention was drawn to the sun and the breeze. I had forgotten my sweater and I was shivering, resisting the urge to move indoors on this beautiful morning by turning my attention to the sun’s warmth on my back rather than the lingering chill wisping across my skin.

Do you notice, God whispered, how the breeze does not change the warmth of the sun, it simply makes it harder to feel its warmth? It obscures it only temporarily because the sun is true and constant. The more you focus on its warmth the less cold you will feel when the breeze blows.

The same is true of us. The more you focus your attention on Me, the less likely you are to be shaken when world blows cold, attempting to obscure my constant and reliable presence.

Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you’re there!
If I go underground, you’re there!
If I flew on morning’s wings
to the far western horizon,
You’d find me in a minute—
you’re already there waiting!

Psalm 139:7-12

In the Name of God

Myinfant of prague Grandmother kept a pocket-sized baby Jesus mounted to the dashboard of her car. Despite this talisman she maintained a high, reverent view of God.

I, on the other hand, catch myself relegating Jesus to a pocket-sized version in my own life.

Pocket Jesus receives my petitions in the same way a rabbit’s foot receives my wishes.

Pocket Jesus doesn’t knock on the door of my heart or shine the light of truth in the dark places where sin has hardened my heart.

Pocket Jesus enjoys the view from the dash and is content to be my copilot, leaving me firmly in the driver’s seat.

Fortunately, the one, true, living God is nowhere close to pocket-sized, and He rides shotgun to no one. The proof is in His name.

 El Echad, The One, True God

A big part of the Old Testament involves God teaching (and then reminding) His chosen people who He is and what it means that He is completely other, holy, set apart from the manmade, pocket-sized gods they’re used to.

He [Man] takes a part of [a cedar] and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it.

Isaiah 44:15

One of my favorite moments in Chronicles of Narnia comes when the children ask Mr. Beaver if Aslan, the lion, is safe. “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver…”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he is good. He’s the King, I tell you.” 

 

Therefore you are great, O Lord God. For there is none like you, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears.

2 Samuel 7:22

El HaGadolGreat God 

Pocket Jesus pops up from a small, sinful and selfish view of God, one that perceives God as existing to serve my needs and evaluates His performance against my narrow, limited view of the world. God reminds us, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8), expanding on this in explicit detail for Job–and for you and me–if we open our ears to hear and our eyes to see:

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
“Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb,
when I made clouds its garment
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
and prescribed limits for it
and set bars and doors,
and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?
“Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
and caused the dawn to know its place,
that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth…

Job 38: 4-13

This is the great I AM, the self-existent one. He imagined the universe and spoke it into being. It is mind-blowing in size and scope; casting earth as a mere speck of dust. In our lifetimes most of us are unlikely to see all of the lands on earth, let alone experience the 75 percent under water.

EarthOur little blue marble is just a speck in the Milky Way galaxy and there are 100 billion other galaxies, many of which dwarf our own. Such vastness is beyond comprehension. The God who made it is bigger still.

Not only is the universe immense, it is old; an estimated 13.772 billion years. If we live to be 100, pretty old by mortal standards, our existence amounts to nothing more than a blink in time….not very significant. The God of creation is infinite; He was before the world began, is today and will be when the story concludes.

YHVH Yireh, God Who Sees

And yet…the Maker of this mind-blowing wonder, overflowing in creativity, diversity and perilous beauty, that God cares to know YOU by name.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?

Psalm 8: 3-4

El Yeshuati, The God who Saves

And so it is from this perspective that we turn our eyes upon Jesus.

He was there in the beginning; God made all that is through Him (John 1: 1-3). Yet Jesus gave it all to seek and to save us (Luke 19:10).

And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

John 17:3

So while we indeed have a friend in Jesus; He is not our peer. And while we are invited and encouraged to call on Him, we would do well to call Him by name.

Calling on Yeshua (Jesus) as Lord is the same as calling Him YHVH, because Yeshua (Jesus) is YHVH (LORD). (All About…The Names of God)

Whoever will call upon the name of the LORD (YHVH) will be saved.

Joel 2:32

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Romans 10:9