Following The Lord’s Will

For the past several days I have been contemplating the time that Jesus spent in the Garden of Gethsemane praying.   I’ve been struck by the words that scripture uses to tell us about the emotions of that evening.  I’ve combed through various Bible translations noting these words.

I’ve read through the same account found in Matthew 26:36-46 (below), Luke 22:39-46, and Mark 14:32-52.  These passages are filled with words and phrases like these:

  • distressed
  • grieved to the point of death
  • fell on His face
  • sorrowful
  • troubled
  • overwhelmed with sorrow
  • very heavy
  • deeply distressed
  • being in anguish
  • His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground

As Christ petitioned His Heavenly Father for this cup, the cross with its weight of sin, to pass from Him, His response in all three portions of scripture is the same:

  • Yet not what I will, but what you will
  • Yet not my will, but yours be done
  • Yet not as I will, but as you will
  • My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.

Soon after, Jesus’ betrayer comes on the scene.  Swords are drawn, but Jesus’ response in Matthew: 26:52-54  is this:

  • 52“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. 53Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”

It seems that as each Easter season comes and goes, the Lord allows me to look at the accounts of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection with new eyes, each time, He meets me where I am, addressing my issues, my struggles, and putting them into perspective.

This year Easter reminds me of my Savior’s ultimate desire for the Lord’s will to be accomplished regardless of the cost.  The cost was great.  Arrest, mockery, physical beating beyond our comprehension, crucifixion, betrayal, abandonment, and death.  Greatest of all was the separation from His Father due to the sin that was placed upon Christ.  He willfully submitted to all of this because the Father’s will was best.

As I contemplate my life and the decisions that I face, I am left today asking myself this one question:

Is there any part of God’s will that I would be hesitant to accept?

Would I be willing to go where He leads?  Would I be willing to stay where I am?  Would I be willing to change course, step out of my comfort zone, and allow His perfect will to unfold?  Am I willing to wait?  Am I willing to accept the Lord’s will for my life?

As I said, the Lord has a way of putting things into their proper perspective.  As I contemplate what my Savior endured, as I allow the pain of His experience to truly penetrate my heart, as I realize that His willingness to submit, to suffer, and to die was for me, I am left realizing that anything, simply anything that I must endure in this life is nothing compared to what Christ voluntarily endured for me.

This Easter I am humbled by my Savior’s submission to His Father’s will.  I am left in awe of His great love for me.  I am moved beyond words as I contemplate the cost involved in bearing the full burden of my sin.  Oh, what a great cost for such an undeserving, yet ever so grateful soul!   And though my words simply cannot suffice, I thank you Lord Jesus for following your Father’s will.

Matthew 26:36-46

The Garden of Gethsemane

36 Then Jesus *came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and *said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. 38 Then He *said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.”

39 And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” 40 And He *came to the disciples and *found them sleeping, and *said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? 41 Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

42 He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.” 43 Again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more. 45 Then He *came to the disciples and *said to them, [a]Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Get up, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Christmas is Hard: Cobwebs and Christmas Trees

Our family has always enjoyed having a real Christmas tree in our home.  There is just something about the fresh smell of pine that draws each of us in.  We typically frequent a local garden center to select our tree.  But one year we ventured out to a tree farm to cut down our own.  Unfortunately, I was unable to go because of a commitment at church, but my husband and boys joined my brother-in-law and his children on a tree-cutting adventure.

I remember the day well; it was very cold and snowy.  My husband and I rushed around to find warm clothes, gloves, and hats for the kids;  I was trying my hardest to get out of the house on time while looking somewhat pulled together.  We went our separate ways, which I must admit made me very sad.  I knew that I was going to miss out on some family fun.

Later that afternoon we all met up back at the house.  The boys were very proud to show me the tree that they had selected and cut down themselves.  It was covered in a blanket of powdery snow and tightly bound in netting.  We placed it into a bucket of water and left it out on the porch to dry for a few days.  In short time we prepared our living room and made room for our tree.  Each of us had waited with great anticipation for tree decorating day.

When we went to bring the tree inside we noticed a number of insects flying about on our porch.  Normally, there aren’t any bugs flying about on a cold December day in New Jersey.   We took a closer peek and found that our tree was housing quite a number of bugs.  After my husband broke the news to the boys that we were not going to decorate the tree that day, he asked me to meet him in the backyard.  He then told me that we needed to unwrap the tree and shake it really hard.  We did.  Then we began to bang the tree up and down on the stump.  Finally, for good measure, we tossed the tree around the yard a few times.  I can only imagine what our neighbors thought.  We live in a neighborhood where all of the homes are within close proximity of each other.  What a show we put on for them!  Regardless, we gave that tree a good shaking and hoped that we had evicted all of the insects.

The next day we set up the tree and enjoyed our decorating time together.  The tree was beautiful.  It was full, lush, and perfectly symmetrical.  It was just about the most perfect tree anyone could hope for.

Soon after our decorating day, I began to notice a few cobwebs beginning to form in various areas of tree.  I swiped them away as best I could.  I hoped that the lights and ornaments and all their sparkle would cover over the cobwebs so they wouldn’t be noticeable.  Christmas is supposed to be full of beauty and happiness and joy, right?  There’s no room for spiders and cobwebs.  However, every few days new cobwebs appeared.  I continued to brush them away.  I finally broke the news to the boys that the tree would need to go out to the curb the day after Christmas.  So, as promised, we undecorated our tree on December 26th.   Once all of the ornaments and lights were removed, we could clearly see the magnitude of the problem.  There were spider webs all throughout the tree, on every side, on the top, on the bottom, on the outside, on the inside.  Everywhere.   Our Christmas tree looked like a twisted scene from a scary horror movie.  We quickly sent the tree to the curb for pick up and promptly began cleaning the living room from top to bottom.

It’s was all rather funny…that is except for the small yellow spiders we found throughout the house for the next year.

Our cobweb filled tree serves as a good reminder to me that sometimes underneath all the glitter and lights of Christmas, something is hiding.   For many, sadness and loneliness are a regular guest at Christmas.  While most are busy laughing, smiling, and being merry, many people are left trying to swat away the cobwebs that keep reappearing.  Relational problems, financial stress, sickness, the absence of a loved one, and loneliness seem to be magnified during the holidays.  What should be a joyous season is often one of the hardest to endure for many.

This Christmas season I would encourage you to be on the lookout for ways to extend love to those who are struggling to swat away cobwebs.  We often know who they are, but in the awkwardness of the situation, we rarely reach out.  Take the time to embrace someone and acknowledge their sadness.  Share their burden.  Cry with them, encourage them, show them the love of Christ.  Open up your home to someone that you know will be spending the holiday alone.  Wrap a simple gift.  Make a homemade treat.  Invite someone to church to hear the good news of Christmas.  Remind someone that you will be praying for them.

I’m reminded that Christ came so that one day the sadness, loneliness, and hardships of this world would be no more.  He came as a babe to be victor over sin and to give us hope.  He came to bind up our wounds, dry our tears, and to save us from the depravity of our sin.  So while we share this life together where happiness and sadness mingle together, let’s be light, let’s offer hope, let’s extend love, let’s share Jesus to the people who need it most.

The Story in the Scars

It was the Saturday before my first day of middle school. I was scheduled to babysit for a family from our church.  When I arrived, the couple was finishing up a few last minute details.  Their youngest son looked up at me and asked, “Do you want to see my dog?”

Without thinking twice, I said, “Sure.  Let’s go.”

Never one to shy away from any animal, I went right up to the dog.  What happened next was a blur.  I remember bending over a bit when all of a sudden the dog lunged at me.  When I picked up my head, I instinctively covered my face with my hands.  The young boy, horrified, yelled, “My dog bit you,”  and ran inside.

I stood there covered in blood.

The boy’s mother, a nurse by trade, ran outside to see what had happened.  She took one look at me and ran back inside to grab clean towels and ice.  I was in no pain, but I could see that everyone around me was visibly upset which made me quite uneasy.  In a few short minutes, the young boy’s dad was driving me to the hospital.

The thirty minute drive seemed like an eternity.  Few words were exchanged.  However, I do remember the father repeatedly stating that he hoped that my nose was not broken.  Not terribly comforting words.

Upon arriving at the emergency room, I was sent directly in to see a doctor.  My mother would arrive shortly after.  She came into the room and asked me to remove the covering from my face.  I did, and she promptly asked me to cover it again.

We waited for quite a while in the emergency room that evening.  A plastic surgeon was called.  I remember his name, Dr. Tuckman, which I thought was a rather funny, yet appropriate name for a plastic surgeon.  He was wonderful.   He was incredibly calm and had a soothing voice.  I remember him looking at me in the face, something that most had evaded doing that evening.  He had an incredible bedside manner.  He spoke very plainly and tenderly to me.  He assured me that he would work carefully and slowly to piece me back together.  He commented that once he had completed his work, there would definitely be some pain and my face would look beat up, but I needed to trust him.  He knew what he was doing and with time the scars would fade.

I would come to find out that my nose was severed in two, punctured, and torn.

I remember going home that evening and heading off to bed in silence.  The following morning I examined myself in the mirror and cried.  My face was discolored and swollen with lines of black stitches all over.  I was a mess.

With time, I began to heal.  The swelling and discoloration subsided, and eventually all of those stitches were removed.  What was left was nothing short of amazing.   Eventually my scars were undetectable to the casual observer.

I imagine that most of our bodies bear a scar or two, and each of them has a story to tell.  Some stories are painful, others humorous.  Some traumatic, others a badge of honor. Scars are evidence of both the pain our bodies have experienced and the healing that has taken place with time.  It is interesting how the two are married, how pain and healing work together hand-in-hand.  While scars typically fade with time, they never completely disappear.  There is always a remaining bit of evidence of past pain.

Not all scars are the same.  While some scars are obvious and out in the open for all the world to see, others are nearly undetectable or completely hidden from view.  Many people bear their scars alone or in secret:  The scars of wrong choices, missteps, and foolishness; at innocence lost, of sickness, of loved ones gone too soon; of harsh, cutting words, of disappointments, rejection, and failure.  Some scars cut down deep into one’s soul and change the very fabric and make up of who we are.  They shake our very core and change the course of life.

Most of us likely bear both types of scars.

There are so many people with a story, so many people whose scars speak.  So many people who have experienced hurt.  So many people who still look for healing from their scars.  For some, healing is elusive.  Many look for ways to soothe the hurt, to cover the pain, to forget it all together.

During this Easter week, I am reminded of how true and lasting healing is possible.  There is one set of scars that heals.

I can’t help but reflect on the ultimate story of pain and healing; the most powerful story found in the scars, the story of my Lord.  The Easter story doesn’t begin with Easter or Christmas, it begins before time.  Our Lord knew our desperate need; He was keenly aware of the separation that sin would cause between our Heavenly Father and His people.  In His infinite love He sent His son to be born a man with the sole purpose of dying to redeem me.  Me…an undeserving, sinful soul, in need of a way to Him.

So Christ bore my sin on the cross.  He was wounded for my transgressions.  He was beaten and scarred and became a vessel for the Lord’s wrath, all to pay the penalty of my sin.   All for me…for you…because of love.   Through His scars we can experience true healing, healing from our sins.  His sacrifice has loosened the chains that bind us, has bridged a great chasm, has restored us, has healed us in the truest sense of the word.  His resurrection defeated sin and Hell.

Would you consider who Christ is this Easter?  Would you contemplate those scars and the story they tell?  Do you search for healing?  You need not look any further than Christ.

 

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

A Tale of Two Christmases

It happened every year.  Two Christmases.  Two days that were as stark a contrast as could be.  Two Christmases  – one meager, one abundant.  One Christmas, simple, sacrificial, full of significance and hope.  The other, extravagant, a balm to soothe the guilty soul, void of meaning.

If growing up in a divorced home had one perk, it would be this:  double holidays and birthdays.  As a young child I quickly made the connection that a double holiday equated to double the number of gifts.  A birthday with mom, a birthday with dad.  Christmas at home, Christmas with dad.

Christmas at home with mom was simple.  We enjoyed decorating together.  The moments we spent hanging our knit stockings on the banister, adorning our tree, and arranging hand painted figurines were cherished family times together.   Evening car rides were highlighted by our traditional Christmas light search. Eight track tapes played Christmas music throughout the house, and I sang along with vigor.  The weeks preceding Christmas focused on Christ, on His birth, and on the hope that it not only brought to a searching world many years ago, but on the hope to which it could bring to men today.  Even at a young age I understood the significance.  Christmas was not about the gifts under the tree but rather the gift of Christ.

When Christmas morning arrived my brother and I would quickly run downstairs to peek at the tree and the unwrapped gifts.  And while the spread of gifts was sparse, there was never a frown, never a complaint, never a dissatisfied twang between us.  We knew.  We simply knew that Christmas was a sacrifice for our mother.  We understood that mingled between the stress of paying the bills and feeding her family was the desire to somehow have a Christmas with gifts under the tree and trinkets filling our stockings.  More times than not there was someone who helped, a secret someone with an envelope to ease mom’s burden.  We knew.  So after we forcibly pried our mother from her slumber, we enjoyed Christmas morning together.  We slowly opened gifts and were thankful.  We read from the Bible and were reminded of Christ’s humble earthly beginning.  Christmas was special and full of meaning despite of, or because of, it’s simplicity.

Christmas at home with mom meant Christmas with Christ; it meant Christmas because of Christ.  He was never given a back seat, was never an after-thought.  He truly was the reason for the season.  He was and still is the grandest gift of all.  No wrapped gift checked off a wish list can compare.  An empty stocking or a solitary present under the tree could not put a damper on Christmas.  We knew…we simply knew what Christmas was all about, and it filled our hearts with great joy, a joy that spilled over even after the last ornament was tucked away.   Despite our needy state abundant joy, happiness, and hope was to be found on Christmas day.

Shortly after Christmas, my brother and I would spend a few days with our dad to celebrate the holiday.   The relationship we shared with him could best be described as strained; he had left when we were quite young.   Typically, we were less than enthusiastic for our normal weekend visits.  But Christmas visits?  Well now, that was another story.  See Christmas with my dad was the epitome of abundance and excess.  We came to know from experience that our dad would shower us with a copious amount of gifts.  Anything we wanted was ours.

When we would arrive at dad’s house, we would immediately run to the living room.  I imagine that our mouths gaped open at the sight of the mountainous pile of gifts.  There were boxes big and small, all brightly wrapped.  There were bikes and play cars, televisions and stereos, even a pinball machine one year (no joke).   There were years of such abundance that we lacked adequate room in the car to transport both children and gifts back home.

Despite the plethora of gifts, Christmas with dad was always lacking.  It was missing something that no earthly, material gift could replace.  There was a void present that no number of gifts could fill.  Had there been no gifts, there would have been no Christmas in my dad’s home.  What was missing from these Christmases was Christ.  Christ’s absence was very obvious to me.  His name was never uttered.  He was never referenced to.  His image never seen.  No nativity, no manger.  No opening of God’s Word.  My father never understood Christmas.  He never experienced its significance.  I would have exchanged every gift ever given to me simply for him to have known who the Jesus of Christmas was and why He came.  Dad never realized that Christ is the true giver of joy, and apart from Him, joy is at best momentary and fleeting.

As I reflect on these two Christmases,  I am thankful that the Lord allowed me to experience both.  They have been etched into my memory and serve as vivid reminders of what Christmas should be, as well as what it must never become.

Maybe Christmas seems to lack significance in your life.  Maybe you find that despite the fact that gifts are in abundance and your stocking is filled to the brim,  your heart feels empty, like something is missing.  I would challenge you to consider Christ this Christmas.  For only Christ will fill that void.  Only Christ will satisfy a hunger, a deep longing for something more.  Only Christ will bring hope, joy, and peace into your life.  I pray that this Christmas you will discover that tiny babe in a manger and see how your life can be changed forevermore.

Maybe you don’t know who this Jesus is.  Why did He come to earth in the first place, and why should it be important to you?  I would encourage you to take the time this Christmas season to listen and discover the Jesus of Christmas.

gift2

 

 

 

 

 

Easter: His Finished Work is My New Beginning

“It is finished.”

With those three small words, our Savior bowed His head and gave up His spirit (John 19:30).   Although this chapter of Jesus’s earthly ministry had concluded, His work was far from done.

His finished work on the cross and His resurrection loosed chains and broke bonds   Separation was no more.  The chasm was bridged.  Sin and death were conquered.    The finished work of Christ was my new beginning.

The work of Christ is a story of a love so great, so selfless, so sacrificial, we may never fathom its depth.  It was that love, His sacrifice, that made a way.  A way to be free of the burdens we carry.    A way out of the muck and mire.  A way to have victory over sin.  A way to be new.  A way to the Father.

All other ways only lead astray.  All other efforts only fall short.  The Lord knew that my best efforts would never be enough; they would be as filthy rags.  Only the work of the cross would be enough.  It would be all that I need…all that you need.

Our Savior still lives today.  He is not on the cross, nor does His body fill the tomb.  He sits at the right hand of the Father, and He is at work.  He is opening hearts and minds.  He is calling people to Himself.  He is making new beginnings.  His finished work can be your new beginning.

Jesus tells us to come.  Come with your burdens; lay them down.  Come with your sins; have them washed clean.  Come just as you are, so you don’t have to remain just as you are.  He offers you a new beginning, a new start, a new life.  It comes only through His cleansing blood, only through the cross.

He’s calling you to come, not to be part of a stringent set of Medieval rules and regulations,  but to come to a haven of rest, hope, and forgiveness.  A place where grace, mercy, and love flow freely.  He’s calling you to come to His open arms, to be embraced and held and comforted in way that no one else can do.

Colorful eggs and adorable bunnies soften the reality of the blood-stained cross and the crown of thorns.   But it is through that cross and because of those thorns that we have freedom…forgiveness….new life in Him.

May you find a new beginning this Easter.  May you find the Savior, Jesus.  May you find the hope and love you have been searching for in the finished work of Christ.

He was handed over to die because of our sins, and He was raised to life to make us right with God.

Romans 4:25