Lenten Reflections: Letting Go of Bitterness, Embracing Servanthood

I’ll be honest-it’s not that often that after three plus decades of in-depth Bible study that I hear or read a unique insight into familiar passages.

But today’s devotion and reflection helped me think of Jesus’ service to His disciples in a new way.

Jesus washed the feet of a betrayer, a denier, and ten deserters….Think of someone who has betrayed you, denied your love, or run away in your time of need. What would it take, what would it mean, for you to wash their feet?

Alicia Britt Chole

Chole’s words made me think back to moments where I’ve made an intentional choice to serve someone who had wounded or disappointed me.

Inevitably, loving action led to loving feelings.

One of the things that has become abundantly evident to me in the years since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven is this: carrying unforgiveness and bitterness is simply too hard a task.

If Jesus could (and did!) forgive His betrayer, His disciples for abandoning Him and even those who ultimately crucified Him, then I can (and should!) forgive those who have disappointed, abandoned or somehow been “less than” I needed them to be.

So for today, let’s fast “Armchair Jesus”-the Jesus who is all God and not very human. Jesus felt it all.

He experienced it all.

And He is more than capable and willing to strengthen me to stand up under any temptation, assault of the evil one or tendency of my flesh.

**As promised, I am sharing thoughts on 40 DAYS OF DECREASE (a Lenten journal/devotional). If you choose to get and use the book yourself, I’ll be a day behind in sharing so as not to influence anyone else’s experience.**

Lenten Reflections: Making Space For REAL Light

Today’s fast is artificial light.

Without reading ahead I kind of stepped on today’s reflection. Chole describes John’s prison questions this way: “the distance between what John thought Jesus would do and what Jesus actually did was straining John’s certainty of who Jesus was.”

Oh, my! How well I can identify with this feeling!

I’ve told anyone who will listen that when Dominic was killed I dragged a lifetime of what I thought I knew and understood about God into the light of child loss. It absolutely strained my certainty of who Jesus is.

And my questions made some folks uncomfortable just as John’s question makes some Bible teachers uncomfortable.

Too often we want to shush or shout down the hearts that are simply trying to make some sense of things that neither make sense nor seem (on the surface) to reflect the loving heart of a Faithful Father.

A key invitation of our spiritual journeys is to be emotionally honest about our uncertainties. Questions such as the one asked by John are signs of a living, growing, active faith, not evidence of a dying one. Jesus’ calm response to John echoes to us today: ‘Recall what I have done in the past. Accept me as the Great I Am of your future.’

Alicia Britt Chole

Hebrews chapter 11 is known as the “Hall of Faith”.

For today’s Lenten exercise, Chole suggests laying aside screens and electric lights to read that chapter by candlelight this evening.

I highly recommend it! Do it aloud if you are able.

Speaking the names, the circumstances, the journeys of those whose hearts trusted the heart of the Lord who made them and who led them but who also allowed hardship, disappointment and even death, is breathtaking and heartbreaking.

But it puts my life in context of His bigger story.

Redemption, restoration, re-creation and the ultimate Sabbath rest of eternal glory and perfect relationship.

God needs nothing, asks nothing and demands nothing, like the stars. It is life with God which demands these things…. You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however you want to look at the stars, you will find that the darkness is necessary. But the stars neither require it nor demand it.

Annie Dillard

**As promised, I am sharing thoughts on 40 DAYS OF DECREASE (a Lenten journal/devotional). If you choose to get and use the book yourself, I’ll be a day behind in sharing so as not to influence anyone else’s experience.**

Bitterness: A Terrible Legacy

Oh, how easy it would be to become bitter!  

If I’m honest, part of me just wants to tell the world to “Get lost!”. 

But the wiser part of me knows that’s neither a helpful nor healthy response to even this most awful burden of child loss.  

Lament is how we bring our sorrow to God. Without lament, we won’t know how to process pain. Silence, bitterness, and even anger can dominate our spiritual lives instead.

~Mark Vroegop – Dark Clouds Deep Mercy

Because my bitter spirit wouldn’t stop with me.

Read the rest here: Bitterness Is A Terrible Legacy

Anchored In Christ: Enduring Faith

I don’t wish storms on anyone.

They are frightening, often life-shattering and terrible.

But nearly every heart will be battered by the waves of life eventually.

Illuminated Splash

And if a heart isn’t anchored firmly in the promises and Person of Jesus Christ, there’s no telling where the waves might toss them.

Read the rest here: Anchoring Our Hearts In Christ: Faith That Endures

Anchoring Our Hearts In Christ: Faith That Endures

I don’t wish storms on anyone.

They are frightening, often life-shattering and terrible.

But nearly every heart will be battered by the waves of life eventually.

Illuminated Splash

And if a heart isn’t anchored firmly in the promises and Person of Jesus Christ, there’s no telling where the waves might toss them.

Even anchored, I’m battered and bruised, worn and weary, struggling to endure.

The book of Hebrews can be challenging.  It’s full of imagery intended to help early Jewish Christians understand that they no longer needed to cling to the old sacrificial system in addition to believing in Messiah.

But it’s also beautiful-because it weaves a tapestry that helps a heart see how God was working His plan of salvation all the way from Adam through Christ to us.

I love these verses:

16-20 Among men it is customary to swear by something greater than themselves. And if a statement is confirmed by an oath, that is the end of all quibbling. So in this matter, God, wishing to show beyond doubt that his plan was unchangeable, confirmed it with an oath. So that by two utterly immutable things, the word of God and the oath of God, who cannot lie, we who are refugees from this dying world might have a source of strength, and might grasp the hope that he holds out to us. This hope we hold as the utterly reliable anchor for our souls, fixed in the very certainty of God himself in Heaven, where Jesus has already entered on our behalf, having become, as we have seen, “High Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek”.

Hebrews 6:18-20 PHILLIPS

The hope I have in Christ is an “utterly reliable anchor” for my soul!

Let the waves come! 

Let the winds blow! 

I am assured that nothing and no one can rip me from the ultimate safety of my Savior’s arms!

hope the anchor for your soul

We Are Not Home Yet

So often.

SO. OFTEN.

I feel out of place, out of sorts, out of time on this earth. But you know what? I’m meant to be uncomfortable here.

This is not my really, truly home.

Nope. I’m like Abraham, wandering through this place looking for a city whose Architect and Builder is God.

When I remember that, it’s pure freedom-all the way down to my bones.

Trust After Loss: Appropriate God’s Strength

My friend and fellow bereaved mom, Margaret Franklin, Ryan’s mom, shared a beautiful Dutch word with me “Sterkte” (pronounced STAIRK-tah).

It literally translates “strength” or “power” but culturally means much more.  It means bravery, strength, fortitude and endurance in the face of fear and insumountable odds through the empowering strength of God in me.

Not MY strength, but HIS.

It’s the strength Isaiah meant when he wrote:

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

Isaiah 40:31 KJV

This is what it means to appropriate God’s strength:  

I have to exhale my doubts, inhale His truth and then allow His Spirit to weave that truth into armor so that I am strong for battle.

armor-of-god

There were twelve spies that scouted out the Promised Land.

All twelve had experienced the parting of the Red Sea, all twelve had seen the pillar of fire by night and cloud by day,  all twelve saw God conquer the Egyptians.  But ten of them never allowed that experience to go further than head knowledge.

Only Caleb and Joshua embraced that truth and allowed God to use it to change their hearts.  Those two were willing to fight the giants because they knew it would be God fighting for them and through them and they did not have to depend on their own strength for victory.

That’s what “sterkte” is-it’s inviting God’s power to dwell inside me so that I am strong for battle in HIS strength.   It’s letting His Spirit speak courage to my heart so I have the endurance to live this life NONE of us chose.

In my own strength I am doomed.  In His strength I am guaranteed enduring to the end.

When I was searching for a verse to help explain sterkte-because it is such a lovely and succinct expression of how hearts can and do endure this awful pain, the dark nights of doubt and yet remain strong in this journey-I found it in Habakkuk.

It’s a tiny book tucked into the back of the Old Testament and begins with the prophet asking God questions:

“Do You know what Your priests and leaders are doing?  Are You going to DO something?”

And God says, “Yep.  Going to use the Babylonians to wipe them out.”

Habakkuk answers, THAT’S Your plan???”

God responds, “Yes-but see, I’m going to be sending a Messiah to make all this right.  I’m doing something you can’t understand.  I’m working my plan for history and eternity.”

Habakkuk ends his book with these verses:

16 I heard and my [whole inner self] trembled; my lips quivered at the sound. Rottenness enters into my bones and under me [down to my feet]; I tremble. I will wait quietly for the day of trouble and distress when there shall come up against [my] people him who is about to invade and oppress them.

17 Though the fig tree does not blossom and there is no fruit on the vines, [though] the product of the olive fails and the fields yield no food, though the flock is cut off from the fold and there are no cattle in the stalls,

18 Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the [victorious] God of my salvation!

19 The Lord God is my Strength, my personal bravery, and my invincible army; He makes my feet like hinds’ feet and will make me to walk [not to stand still in terror, but to walk] and make [spiritual] progress upon my high places [of trouble, suffering, or responsibility]!

Habakkuk 3:16-19

Nothing changed!

Bad stuff was coming!

But Habakkuk appropriated God’s strength for himself and knew that would be enough to see him through. 

He was broken but trusting.

There is no shame in being broken.

Here’s the deal:  God loves the broken.  Christ came for the broken.  It’s the broken and breathless who long for the Spirit to blow llife across their wounded hearts.

It’s the hopeless and fearful that run faster to the safety of their Shepherd.

It’s the worried and weary who are thankful for a Burden-bearer.

Hallelu-Yah!

This is NOT a once and done kind of thing- I m here to testify that it is most certainly NOT.  I am assaulted repeatedly by pain and doubt.  I circle back around and revisit places I thought had healed over and over and over.  A sound, a sight or a memory can bring me back to Day One in a heartbeat.

So what does faith really look like?

Is it always a never-ending, wild “Hallalujah!”?

I don’t think so.

I think faith is essentially this:  turning my face toward the God I love even when (especially when!) I’ve stopped expecting an answer and maybe even when my heart has despaired of help.

I would argue that faith is precisely that step forward into the dark unknown, onto the broken road, lifting the unbearable heaviness as an offering and trusting that

God sees,

that He hears

and that He will not abandon me.

Each time I doubt I am quicker to acknowledge the pain and admit my doubt– I take my questions to God.  My mind is more likely to access TRUTH and my heart is more inclined to appropriate God’s strength, my personal bravery, my invincible army.

hebrews-11_1.jpg

I used to think that Hebrews 11:1 was essentially a personal verse-my faith confirmed to ME that God was working.  But now I see it in a different light.  I think it is a corporate verse leading my heart to emulate lives that exemplified enduring faith-that “great cloud of witnesses” cheering us on from Heaven.

I did not choose this life but it is the one I’ve been given.  My prayer in this Valley for myself and all of us who are broken is this:

“God to mold me and make me into the masterpiece You designed me to be as a testimony to the fact that You are who You say You are.”

I long for my faith to be evidence to a doubting world that there is MORE than the eye can see.  I want my endurance to be an invitation for others to join me in pursuing what lasts for eternity and not just for this short mortal life.

Full redemption will have to wait for Heaven, but God is working even now to bring some redemption from my pain. 

He [Christ] said not, ‘Thou shalt not be tempested, thou shalt not be trevailed, thou shalt not be dis-eased,’ but He said, ‘Thou shalt not be overcome.’

Julian of Norwich

courage and perseverance

 

Faith in “Faith” or in a Faithful Father?

For it is by grace [God’s remarkable compassion and favor drawing you to Christ] that you have been saved [actually delivered from judgment and given eternal life] through faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [not through your own effort], but it is the [undeserved, gracious] gift of God;

Ephesians 2:8 AMP

This is one of my favorite verses because it summarizes the Gospel-God calls, God saves, God keeps.  

It’s ALL God.

Sadly, my human heart can forget this so easily.  I can begin to lean on my “good works” or “holy habits” or the testimony of my “faith journey” instead of resting solely in the enduring love of my Faithful Father.

So when hard times come (and they do) and my faith falters (and it will) I become insecure and frightened and concerned that I will ultimately be lost.  Because I have shifted the responsibility from God to me.  

And I know I’m not strong enough to hold on.

When Dominic ran ahead to heaven my mind was riddled with unanswered questions. “Why?”  “Where were You?”  “What are You doing in this?”

Those questions ate holes in my faith.  

But it’s not ME holding onto God-it’s GOD holding onto me.

The strength of my faith doesn’t determine whether or not His promise is fulfilled, because if it did, there would be no hope. 

So, I refuse to have faith in “faith”.

Instead I have faith in an unchanging, everlasting Faithful Father.

faith does not eliminate questions but faith knows wehre to take them.png

Eternal Atonement: Hallelu Yah!

The Fall Feasts of Israel are a beautiful reminder of Who God is and what Christ has done for us.

Beginning this evening and continuing until sunset tomorrow, Jews around the world are observing Yom Kippur  or The Day of Atonement.

According to Scripture (Leviticus 16),  The Day of Atonement was commanded by God for Israel to remember the terrible debt of sin and the only acceptable payment–blood.

The high priest would enter the Holy of Holies and apply blood to the horns of the mercy seat, thus covering over for another year the individual and corporate sin of Israel.

holyholies

According to Jewish tradition, God inscribes each person’s fate for the coming year into a book, the Book of Life, on Rosh Hashanah, and waits until Yom Kippur to “seal” the verdict. During the Days of Awe, a Jew tries to amend his or her behavior and seek forgiveness for wrongs done against God and against other human beings. The evening and day of Yom Kippur are set aside for public and private petitions and confessions of guilt.  At the end of Yom Kippur, one hopes that they have been forgiven by God.

Yet year after year, this sacrifice was not enough. 

The blood of animals is insufficient to pay the debt owed by men to a perfect and holy God.

But the blood of the Perfect Lamb, Jesus Christ, has completely paid the debt I owe-I no longer cower in the shadow of my sin.

When I chose to apply that blood to my heart by faith, I was made right with the LORD.

As a believer in Jesus the Christ, I have a High Priest that has offered His own blood as the Perfect Sacrifice once for all (Hebrews 9).

I can rest assured that I’m  not sealed only for a day, or even a year, but for all eternity!

Because Jesus is the eternal and sufficient propitiation for my sins, I need not fear death.

It is sin which gives death its power, and it is the Law which gives sin its strength. All thanks to God, then, who gives us the victory over these things through our Lord Jesus Christ!

I Corinthians 15:55-57 PHILLIPS

We do not have to bring a sacrifice to the altar and hope that our sins are forgiven.  The Law holds no power over us who believe-Jesus fulfilled its every obligation.

But it is a good thing to take a day to reflect on the cost and the gift

Too often we grasp the gift and forget its cost. 

Today, remember what the LORD has done for you.  Remember the burden He lifted by His sacrifice.  Remember His claim on your life–the life He purchased with His blood.

revelation-5_9

Remember.

If you are withholding grace and forgivenessremember, and repentgive to others what God has graciously given to you.

If you are walking outside the will of God for your liferemember and repent-fall back in step behind the Lord Jesus and let Him guide you.

If you are dabbling in sinremember and repent-turn from your wickedness and back to holiness.

Remember and be thankful.  

“Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.”  

~Psalm 32:1

 

 

 

Broken, But Not Beyond Repair

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men

Couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again.

~children’s rhyme

Shattered beyond repair-that certainly describes my broken heart in the first days, weeks and months after Dominic’s leaving.

I felt like Humpty Dumpty.

bag-of-fragments

The pieces were too small to find, much less glue back together in anything resembling wholeness.

And the essence of the “old me”-the person that existed before loss-was spilled onto the ground, leaking strength and life and joy into the dry earth.

Humpty Dumpty had no hope-the king’s men and horses were powerless to breathe life into the lifeless bits and pieces that were left.

But I don’t have to depend on the king’s men or the king’s horses.  

I have access to the King Himself.

I am not separated by a veil from the Mercy Seat.

I can come boldly before the Throne of Grace and pile my broken life on the Altar of Hope.

Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.

Hebrews 4:16 MSG

The One Who made me can remake me.

He IS remaking me.

I have no illusions that the cracks won’t show.

But I am trusting that my new fragility will make me both more grace-filled and more grace dependent.   

grace-sufficient

 

 

 

 

 

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