Holy Week Reflections: Sorrow Lifted as Sacrifice

In some liturgical Christian traditions, today is the day the church remembers and honors Mary anointing the feet of Jesus with expensive and rare perfume.  

It was a beautiful act of great sacrifice as the perfume would ordinarily be a family treasure broken and used only at death for anointing a beloved body.

It’s also an expression of deep sorrow because somehow Mary knew.

Mary.  Knew.  

So she poured out her precious gift on the One Who loves her most.  

Tears are my sacrifice. 

I am pouring them at the feet of Jesus, trusting He will receive them and bless them as He did those of Mary even if others don’t understand.

Christians sometimes have a funny idea about sorrow being unspiritual. We often expect grieving hearts to heal quickly without allowing for the many stages of the grief process. Pam writes, ‘Our Savior was ‘a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief’ (Isaiah 53:3). I wonder if He came to one of our churches now like that, if someone wouldn’t try and cheer Him up and tell Him to ‘let it go and open himself to the joy of the Lord,’ then give him a book and tape series to that effect?’ “I am in deep distress. Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for His mercy is great, but do not let me fall into the hands of men.” 2 Samuel 24:14

~ Jennifer Saake, Hannah’s Hope

Would I have chosen this broken path?

Absolutely not.

Will I embrace it as something God can use to make me more like Jesus?

I hope so-I’m certainly trying.

We are told our tears are so very precious to God that He keeps track of them in a bottle. I often wonder if when we get to Heaven, or when God remakes the earth into its beautiful and perfect form, the bottles will be opened and every tear counted and redeemed.

you keep track of all my tears

I do know that God has made many precious promises to those who love Him and suffer sorrow in this life.

Psalm 84 has always been a favorite and since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven it is doubly so.  Verse six speaks hope to my heart:

“Passing through the Valley of Weeping (Baca), they make it a place of springs; The early rain also covers it with blessings.”  AMP

This version is beautiful:

And how blessed all those in whom you live,
    whose lives become roads you travel;
They wind through lonesome valleys, come upon brooks,
    discover cool springs and pools brimming with rain!
God-traveled, these roads curve up the mountain, and
    at the last turn—Zion! God in full view!

~ Psalm 84:5-7 MSG

No matter how difficult the passage, God promises to be with me on the journey and to bless my endurance with His very Self.

It’s hard to receive sorrow as a gift and even harder to lift it as a sacrifice of praise.  

But when I do, I find God meets me there.  

The pain doesn’t disappear, but He gives me strength to bear up under it.

And this great sorrow that weighs on my heart also opens my eyes.  I am not the only one weeping.

Look at Jesus. He is always weeping, a man of sorrows. Do you know why? Because He is perfect. When you are not absorbed in yourself, you can feel the sadness of the world. ~Tim Keller

jesus weeping sad on hillside

The Prayer of the Average and Broken

I am so thankful for my children.

While I was the teacher for their early years, they are now teaching me.

fiona and cash at home (2)

From my daughter, Fiona:

It’s tempting to look at someone doing a hard thing (like foster care) or living out a hard truth (like child loss) and label them as “special”, “brave”, “extraordinary”, or “chosen by God for a big purpose”.

I get it.

Those things ARE hard and downright terrifying… and a lot of days the sacrifice weighs heavier than the reward (in this life).

But as long as we relegate Christ-like love and endurance to the “chosen few”, we excuse ourselves from walking the hard (and often lonely) sacrificial path God has called each of His children to.

“On earth as it is in Heaven” is not the prayer of the brave, it’s the prayer of the average & broken who know that they are not extraordinary but dependent; who know that there is no formula for this life that will keep you & your loved ones safe this side of Heaven; who have decided that they are not content to simply get their own selves or families safely to shore.

Only you know in your heart what your kingdom work is on this earth and only you can decide if you will do it.

Every single one of us is weak and tired and ordinary and lacking “ideal” circumstances and timing and resources.

God doesn’t ask us to be “special”, He asks us to be obedient with no guarantee of earthly rewards or success.

You are one of the ordinary people loved by an extraordinary God.

“Brave, special, extraordinary, sacrificial, & compassionate” are not the calling.

They are characteristics of regular folks forged in the fire of immense challenges who start by saying a scared “yes” to our broken world’s screams for help. 

used everything up

Have You Seen His Glory?

If I had been around in the intertestamental years of Israel’s history,  I think I’d have been tired of waiting for that promised Messiah the prophets kept crowing about.

I mean, really-how long was it going to take?

What was God waiting on?

What was the plan anyway?

And then, when this young woman shows up claiming to have been overcome by the power of the Holy Ghost-well, that’s a nice fairy tale but hardly how I think God would work this whole thing out.

Except that was EXACTLY how He worked it out-God Himself sent His Son to be born of a virgin and to live as a perfect man and to offer Himself as the perfect and sufficient sacrifice for sin.

Jesus the Messiah, the Christ, revealed Himself to His disciples.  He gave them a glimpse of His glory-the glory of the one and only Son of the Living God.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

John 1;14 NIV

We no longer have to wonder what God is like or what He is up to.

He is full of grace and truth and He is up to reconciling the world to Himself through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus.

THAT is glorious.

word became flesh

God Doesn’t Grade on a Curve

When I was in school it was popular to ask a teacher after a test:  “Will you grade on a curve?” The hope was always that since it was unlikely anyone would get a perfect score, the brackets would be moved downward.

cartoon grade on a curve

Very few of us like absolutes.  We prefer to be judged one against another instead of against an unbendable standard.

It’s no different with morality.

If you asked me to judge myself on a scale from Hitler to Mother Teresa, I would definitely put myself closer to her rather to him.

As long I measure myself against other humans, I am comfortable saying I fall in the top 50 percent.

Trouble is, that’s not the standard.

The standard against which my actions and heart attitudes are measured is unchangeable and inflexible.

It is perfection itself-the holiness of a holy God.

And when I place myself next to that measuring rod, I am woefully short.

Jesus shocked His followers by telling them that unless their righteousness exceeded that of the Pharisees (considered the most upstanding and holy in that day) they would never enter the kingdom of God.  He expounded on every aspect of the Ten Commandments by addressing not only outward conformity (which, in truth, was impossible) but also motive and intention.

By that standard, even my “good deeds” are inadequate because they are often done with a wrong heart attitude.

I give because I want someone to think I’m generous.

I volunteer because I am a people pleaser.

I work hard because I want a raise.

Paul wrote in Romans “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” (Romans 3:23)

I can never “measure up” to the perfect standard of a perfect God.  And while my flesh may be happy with “good enough” the holiness of God demands absolute perfection.

Truth is, I am a sinner-I miss the mark, I step outside the boundaries, I do what I shouldn’t do and don’t do what I should do.

Just like our first parents, I listen to my flesh and the evil one and question God’s goodness and His wisdom.  I want to plot my own course, captain my own ship.

And also like our first parents, I find that I cannot do it.  

I fall woefully short.

I am naked and ashamed, exposed in my sin and without hope for redemption by my own efforts .

In any other story, this would be the end-no hope, no second chances.

But God….

Two of the most beautiful words in the world!  

God has not left me without hope.

He has not left me in my sin.

He has not abandoned me in my desperate state of alienation from my Creator.

He Himself has provided the Sacrifice,

the Perfect Lamb,

the propitiation for my sin.  

lamb of god with crosses

 

 

Repost: Remember: Why Good Friday Matters as Much as Resurrection Sunday

“On the one hand Death is the triumph of Satan, the punishment of the Fall, and the last enemy. Christ shed tears at the grave of Lazarus and sweated blood in Gethsemane: the Life of Lives that was in Him detested this penal obscenity not less than we do, but more.
On the other hand, only he who loses his life will save it. We are baptized into the death of Christ, and it is the remedy for the Fall. Death is, in fact, what some modern people call “ambivalent.” It is Satan’s great weapon and also God’s great weapon: it is holy and unholy; our supreme disgrace and our only hope; the thing Christ came to conquer and the means by which He conquered.”  C.S. Lewis,  Miracles

Bury a child and suddenly the death of Christ becomes oh, so personal. The image of Mary at the foot of the cross is too hard to bear.

Read the rest here:  Remember: Why Good Friday Matters as Much as Resurrection Sunday

Repost: Maundy Thursday

Today is the day on the church calendar when we pause and reflect on the Last Supper, and the last words of Jesus to His disciples.

A year’s worth of sermons is contained in John 13-17 but this week I have been drawn to just one verse:

[Jesus said] “Now I am giving you a new command—love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you must love one another. This is how all men will know that you are my disciples, because you have such love for one another.”  John 13:34 PHILLIPS
Read the rest here:  Maundy Thursday

Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday: A Study in Contrasts

Twenty-four hours separate one of the most outlandish global parties and one of the most somber religious observances on the Christian calendar.

Many of the same folks show up for both.

Mardi Gras, “Fat Tuesday”, is the last hurrah for those who observe Lent-a time of reflection, self-denial and preparation before Resurrection Sunday.

It’s a giant party-food, fellowship and fun-a wonderful way to celebrate the blessings of this life.

Ash Wednesday, by contrast,  is an invitation to remember that “from dust you came and to dust you will return”.  None of us get out of here alive.

ashwednesday

Even where the Gospel is preached every Sunday there are those who forget this life is hard and often full of pain and suffering.

If your experience so far has looked more like Mardi Gras and less like ashes, well, then-be thankful.

But don’t be deceived.

“From dust you came and to dust you will return.”

For some of us it was a similar twenty-four hour turnaround that upset our world, tossed us headfirst into the waves of sorrow and burned that truth into our hearts, not just dabbed it on our foreheads.

Sometimes I feel excluded from fellowship with the saints because I can’t join in the celebratory spirit of a worship service.

When the hymns only focus on our “victory in Jesus”  my heart cries, “Yes-but perhaps I won’t see the victory this side of heaven.”

When the congregation claps and dances to feel-good songs that celebrate the sunshine but ignore the rain, my eyes swim with tears because I know the reality of a downpour of sorrow.

Because sometimes praise is a sacrifice.

offerings

Church needs to be a place where we can share the pain as well as the promise that Christ will redeem it.

Jesus Himself said,“in this world you will have trouble”.

So I can’t claim allegience to the Church of the Perpetually Cheerful.

I want to create space for the hurting and broken and limping and scared.

How about a new demonination that acknowledges the truth that life is hard.  Instead of the Overcoming Apostolic Praise-filled Ministers of Eternal Optimism I would name it the Trudging But Not Fainting Faithful.

By all means enjoy the “Fat Tuesdays” in life.

Drink them in, dance, celebrate!  But remember that it can change in a heartbeat.  And that it HAS changed for many of us.

There is hope.

All is not lost.

But in the meantime, it’s hard.

will-have-trouble-but-i-have-overcome