Easter Morning

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” ~Mark 16:1-3

In the quiet of the weekend, the wondering and weeping must have been so great. The counting down of hours until she could run to His tomb and finish preparing His body correctly for final burial weighed heavily on her heart. She owed Him so much, for He had freed her from the bondage of demons hell-bent on destroying her mind. As she neared the tomb with her friend Mary, her arms were full of what she needed to finish loving her Teacher, and her spirit lagged with the weight of grief and loss.

Glancing up towards her goal, Mary Magdalene’s heart thudded and her breath stopped. Terror mixed with anger coursed through her body at that moment. The stone was moved! The grave had already been opened! Seemingly dead guards littered the entrance. Running now with desperation towards the tomb, the women entered, frantic to find His body and ensure that it hadn’t been desecrated.

As she ran into the tomb, her eyes darted around taking in the sight of empty linen cloths, the folded face cloth, the empty tomb. Nothing made sense, and grief mixed with bile as she turned quickly to go tell the Simon Peter and John.

She returned to the tomb later, drawn to the last place Jesus had been. Desperate for answers, perhaps looking around for clues, her heart was clinging to hope that the body would reappear so that she could finish honoring Him. She peered in once more. Two men in white now occupied the tomb, sitting one at the head and one at the foot of where He had lain. Imagine her terror and outrage!

But what came next is the beauty of God’s grace and pursuit of us!

“He is not here, for He has risen, as He said.” The pronouncement catches her breath. Processing this truth, quietly weeping and turning to go home, she spies the gardener. He asks her why she is so full of grief. Perhaps wondering whether he knew the secret to where His body had been stowed, she poured out her heart, promising to care for the body if someone would just let her have it.  She was frantic, almost hysterical, sobbing the cries that catch in your throat and make it hard to breathe.

“Mary.”  What must that word have sounded like to her ears?  She knew immediately at that moment who this man was. Not only did she know Him, but she also began to worship Him. The understanding of all that had happened flashed through her mind, like pieces of a puzzle falling into place. She was given the great privilege of being the first witness of our risen Lord and the first messenger of the Good News.

“I have seen the Lord.”

She had followed him throughout His ministry, listening and gleaning truth from Him. No doubt she yearned to understand all He taught, and she accompanied Him all the way to the cross. We see her at the foot of His cross, grieving as she stayed with Him, refusing to run or hide, clearly aligning herself with this King of the Jews. By all her actions, we see a woman who knew Jesus was more than just a man, more than just a righteous teacher, yet not until the garden does the complete picture of Jesus become clear.

But He knew her. He knew her heart, how she would be processing all that had happened, and He pursues her. He walks straight up to Mary Magdalene and tends to her heart. And He pursues you and me as well. He knows our needs, the cries of our hearts, and seeks to show us the truth of walking with Him. He has conquered every heartache, every dark sin, every place of bondage and ache, and He calls your name in love.

Broad places

He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me. For it is you who light my lamp; the Lord God lightens my darkness. For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall. This God — his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. ~Psalm 18:19, 28-30

 

Truth: God delights in me and in you. He brings us out to places for His glory. The actual experience may feel opposite. It may feel as if I have been brought into a narrow ravine with a slippery, pebble filled ledge upon which to walk. I stand terrified, constantly worried I will wedge myself or slip off into a chasm below. I confess that many moments in motherhood can terrify me. I can worry about anything if I allow my mind to roam undisciplined.

Truth: He lights my lamp. He lightens my darkness. The joy of this truth is great – He lights up the dark, the confusion, the unknown. Why? for HIS NAME. He will work for His glory. What are my questions? what are my concerns? where are my areas of darkness, of wondering?

For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me; you take me out of the the net they have hidden for me, for you are my refuge. I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul, and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy; you have set my feet in a broad place. ~Psalm 31:3-4,7-8

What are broad places? Both passages refer to it. If they are places easily traversed with safety assured and no threat of attack, if that is what I am waiting for, then I will be disappointed. I will be discouraged when my life doesn’t take that magical turn towards ease and comfort. No, the broad place is not in the physical realm. I need to lay that desire down. In the Hebrew, the word used for broad place means pasture, figurative of freedom from distress or anxiety.

Stand in Me. Abide in me. I AM your broad place. My love is a secure place. Plant your feet in me. Stop waiting for me to move you to some moment or place. Stand in who I AM. 

I am the Light of the World. Stop trying to find light anywhere else, they are merely weak imitations with shadows at the edges. There are no shadows with Me.

I delight in you. His delight is gospel driven, sourced in His unending grace and mercy. He delights in you and me, not because of what we do or have done. He settled His choice of delight at the cross, when Jesus Christ died in your place and mine that we might be saved and set free from all the sin that entangles our hearts. He delights in us because He wants to redeem and restore us. He loves us with His steadfast, unending love.

I am your Strength. I will be all you need for battle. I am your shield of salvation. I give you divine power for all the strongholds that threaten to narrow your path and create anxiety.  In Psalm 18:33-36 David rejoices in the ways God has been his Rock ~ made his feet secure, trained his hands, given him the shield of salvation, and supported him. Your gentleness made me great. (v.35)

There is a difference between what I have been believing and the truth. I have been waiting for God to move me to a broad place, to push away all the worries, busyness, confusion that constricts my ground and litters my walk. I complain about the darkness, but the Light of the world illuminates me right where I stand, showing me His sustaining power. He is my broad place; the sacred, holy invitation is to stand in Him, to find refuge in Him, and to renew my mind in Him. He gently makes us great in Him.

I will even dare to say that the narrow chasms and terrifying passages are places He allows, not because He desires any terror but because He knows the depth of growth, the maturing of faith that these places will cause when I hide myself in Him. And He is committed to me for His Glory, for His name’s sake. Never forget, He will bring glory to His name.

12 Bright Morning Star

I Jesus have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star. ~Revelation 22:18

There is a “star” that precedes the sun in rising in the morning sky. The planet Venus has long been called morning star because it can be seen brightly shining in the sky hours before the sunrise. Fifteen times brighter than the brightest star Sirius, Venus can even cast shadows.  I love to wake before sunrise to have some quiet time, and my chair faces the window with eastern exposure. I love watching how one tiny spot of light begins to break over the horizon. Suddenly the sky is no longer black as night but instead a glimmer of light gives way to beautiful sunrise.

We have the Bright Morning Star who lights up our darkness, our night. He rises higher than any other light and earlier than all other lights.

He comes earlier than the dawn, hope rising in the night, bursting forth light. His light qualifies us to share in the inheritance of the saints. We have been walking in darkness without Christ, a world filled with hopelessness and doubt. He rescues us from darkness and brings us into His kingdom with redemption and forgiveness of sin (Colossians 1:12-14).  For in the abject darkness of sin and death, in the hopelessness of a world lost and dying, He is the first spark of light. He catches the eye starving for light, restlessly seeking across the horizon for a glimmer of hope. We have hope for salvation and joy in our days because despite the darkness that surrounds, Jesus shines brightly. He becomes our focal point because His glory, the sun of righteousness, pushes back the hopelessness and confusion of the dark.

Triumphantly He returns for His bride. He will burst forth with a shout and a trumpet blast, and He will be the only light needed in the new Jerusalem. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever (Revelation 22:3). 

the back porch – God’s work

As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. ~Galatians 1:9

Over the next few weeks and hopefully as a filter for a lifetime, we will walk together looking for the truths of the Gospel in scripture and asking questions to deepen our understanding of different parts of His truth. You can find the introduction to the Back Porch here and four portions or areas to look for in your time in God’s Word here

“One of the tasks of the church is to reexamine the gospel we preach and believe, alert to ways it has been reshaped by the idols of our culture” ~Bill Hull.  The gospel we believe leads to the disciples we make.  As we walk out the next few times, we are going to stay on a gospel hunt.

Hopefully by now you have a few pages with the beginnings of a collection looking at the different portions of the Gospel. You may be excited to see how God’s Word consistently points to one or more of these areas or perhaps you fell in love with a passage that spoke to your heart this week about who Jesus is, who God is, or what has been given to you as a result of Christ. One other concept you may want to add as you study is what I call road mapping. Simply described ~ as you note portions of scripture that point to God’s holiness or your sinfulness for example, tag the last place you saw this concept beside this passage (remember you have been writing them down in your journal). So perhaps Ephesians 2:1 which talks about who we are before Christ gets tagged with Romans 3:23 in the margin. You will slowly create “roads” in your Word that can lead you through as you study. You will begin to understand or remember where concepts sit in different books, see themes emerge, and see the consistency of God’s truth. When you run to the Word for hope or comfort, you will find it more easily.

As we walk together, one of the first conversations we must have is understanding the work in our relationship with God. Who contributes and how? God is holy, just, powerful, sovereign, maker of all things, all knowing and eternal. Many more attributes comprise Him. Mankind is not any of these. Colossians says we are alienated, hostile in our minds, doing evil deeds, living in a domain of darkness. Ephesians 2 says we are dead in sin, Galatians declares we are held captive and enslaved, 1 Peter calls us unrighteous, and Romans 1-3 clearly lays out the unrighteousness and depravity of all man. No one is without sin and thus separated from God. These are foundation truths of the Gospel.

How then is the gap between holiness and slavery/alienation bridged? God sent His son Jesus Christ as the payment for the debt of sin that traps mankind (Romans 3, Galatians 3, Ephesians 2) . While this may seem basic, it is imperative to understand the important concept that God does all the work of salvation. We do nothing to earn the payment for sin that Jesus paid. We do nothing to deserve it; there is no way to merit the grace and mercy given.

Works and performance are worthless foundations, but many people carry a concept of being good or doing good as necessary for God’s forgiveness. Do you? Do you take the portions of scripture such as in Ephesians 4, Colossians 3 or 1 Thessalonians 4 that speak to our response to God’s unmerited grace (way our life will look as we respond to the life we have been given) and place them ahead of your salvation? Do you struggle with thoughts that God may be mad at you or disappointed in you? Do you fear messing up or not walking well? Do you hear thoughts that say you aren’t good enough for God to help you or listen to your prayers? We will talk in following weeks about the lies of shame, fear, and guilt, but I want you to know today that while you were a sinner, Christ died for you (Rom. 5:8). He saved you, not because of works done by you in righteousness, but according to his own mercy (Titus 3:5). He has given Himself and all the blessings of being redeemed to you from the start – you have life abundantly (John 10:10), you have the fullness of Him (Col. 2:9-10), you have the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13), you have been given His divine power (2 Peter 1:4-5) – You are His child (Rom. 8:16), secure in His love (1 John 4:9-10), and nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39).

We will talk next week about our response to Jesus Christ and the lies we believe. But for this week, begin to respond to some of these or other scriptures that speak to what God has given you in salvation. If you are unsure of your salvation, please message me and I would be happy to share with you how you can be certain. Make a running list of these truths and allow Him to sink His blessings and His truth deep within your heart.

You are beloved, not because of you but because of Jesus.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the prophets bear witness to it — the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. ~ Romans 3:21-25a

Weighed Down

Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad. ~ Proverbs 12:25

Anxiety – Merriam Webster defines it as a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. Biblically the word in Hebrew has heaviness, fear, sorrow, or carefulness associated with it. Until a few years ago, I would not have said that anxiety characterized my life or was a big struggle for me. Now I may have been wrong or unaware, but certainly God has been faithful to reveal what I feel is a new struggle with anxiety to me in these last few years.

Several years ago we made a move, following steps the Lord made clear to us but still painful in the leaving of friends, familiarity, comfort, and ease. Following that move I would say that our lives entered a 3 year period where anything that could go wrong did. Medical crises, difficulty with a pregnancy and new birth, upheaval with work, uncertainty with income walked hand in hand with a new city, new friends, new routine for school. We began to hurtle from one major event to another, putting out the fires or seeking to moderate the issue, and I began to feel like the ball in a pinball machine bouncing back and forth between high stress issues without any respite. My friends who know me will probably agree that I tend to be more dramatic or animated than some, but I began to retreat into a place where I watched myself handle everything without actually engaging a whole lot emotionally. In my mind racing thoughts of what’s next, what should I do to prevent that, how can I set this up to not have repercussions seesawed along with thoughts of retreat, panic, and anger. My family was “treated” to either a high task manager or emotional mine field.

Proverbs warns that anxiety weighs a man down. To weigh down in this verse means to bow down, as in worship, to stoop. Anxiety will cause me to worship at the altar of fear, worry, control/organization, self reliance or inactivity. I will bow down, and it will not be to the only One who can help me in my need.  So how do I release or walk away from anxiety?

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand. Do not be anxious about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Reasonableness in Philippians 4 is gentleness. When I am anxious, often gentleness is the first thing to go. Anxious people aren’t often gentle or patient.  They are protective, grabby, impatient, and irritable. The posture of rejoicing despite the circumstances, pleading before the throne with thanksgiving, is hard. But as we look to the Word and worship Him, His peace is our guard, a military term for keeping watch and engaging all offensive and defensive actions necessary as a military sentinel would.

1 Peter 5:6-7 – Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. As much as I don’t want to see it, anxiety links up with pride. Pride is the root cause of so many symptoms of sin, and it is the base of this one as well for me. Since the garden we have been seeking to be like God, and I am no exception. My anxiety was wrapped in the complete lack of ability to control anything going on and the deep pride within me that screamed that I should be able to handle this, that I should be able to walk this out calmly, that if I could just organize better or return to some way that had worked in the past, that I could turn this around and be the savior in these circumstances. I could not control the way my life was spinning, and it was an affront to me.  There is One who has conquered all, and He desires for me to choose the good portion as he told Martha in Luke 10. Inherent in this scripture is the link that humbling myself requires giving all my anxieties to Him, acknowledging His care for me, and allowing His timing for my life. And He will exalt, at the proper time. He will carve ways out of rock, make rough places smooth, comfort your fears, heal, lead, organize, and guide.

Many times I have quoted or heard someone quote Matthew 6:34, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” And it seems like a pull up your bootstraps kind of verse, meant to exhort and make you just put all your worries down and walk well. But it’s so important to have context of what Jesus is saying when he exhorts us with this verse. Yes, this is the passage where Jesus is referencing the birds and flowers that don’t worry about their food or clothes, and he then says how much more does your Father love and care for you, the ones who are in His image. But verse 33 should be the emphasis, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” When my thinking is aligned with kingdom work, anxiety can be nailed to the cross. The ability to peel off the anxiety that envelopes is related to my pursuit of Him. He will increase my understanding of what occurred at the cross, that Jesus’ death crucified my body of sin so that I would not be enslaved to it but set free from it.

I want to worship Christ, the One who has made me alive and will make me more and more in His image until the day I stand before Him. No more bowing to what I fear or what I cannot control.

 

Who do I know?

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” ~Phil. 3:8

If I seek to know Him and follow Him, I must immediately realize that the intimacy He offers is for RIGHT where I am. So my 8 children and my husband are the areas where God will grow my intimacy with Him the most. He doesn’t want me just “surviving” even 1 hour. He wants me intimately and fully dependent on Him. How practically does this play out for me?

~when my children are fussing, He wants me depending on His patience

~when my teen wants to be disrespectful, I am to seek His face before I respond

~when I don’t understand the little one’s potty choices, He has the wisdom for the crisis

~when the infant won’t sleep, He has the answers for sleep and the strength to walk the day out completely exhausted

~when I have more laundry, cooking, cleaning, errands than I can imagine, I am to rest in Him and set my my eyes on Him

~when my husband hurts my feelings or exasperates me, I am to run to the One who always meets my expectations

He alone knows all things, He alone has dealt with all sin, He alone commands respect. So either I survive doing my “best,” or I grasp hold of His righteousness and consider all my efforts loss and rubbish. Paul said it so clearly in Philippians 3:4-11- His Lordship, knowing Him is so great, gaining Him as a mother is true power, true righteousness, and therefore true faith. Can faith really grow apart from this decision that all I do must be nothing?
verse 7- “whatever was to my profit” — what do I attribute to my profit? my intelligence, my skills, my personality, my wallet, my husband, my children — all which I very easily can declare as pointing to my pedigree of goodness or worthiness just like Paul references in verses 4-6. But all of this is loss for Jesus. In fact everything about me is a loss compared to the greatness of knowing Christ Jesus. Either I spend my day seeking to summon up whatever skill set is needed, or I remember the cross. For at the cross all expectations for my behavior and all that I have to offer was proven insufficient and worthy of destruction. Jesus alone offers everything I need for life and so therefore He alone offers all I need for today.

The surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord – Do I get how far above everything else it is to know you, Jesus? Do I stop just on the other side of the cross, knowing you for salvation and knowing me for the day to day challenges? For you, Lord, I want to lose all things. Lord, show me how to do this, how to change my perspective that I may gain more of You. I so want to know You more intimately, to follow you and be your light here.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/the-cross-has-the-final-word/id1207122501?i=1207122505

A Foundation

As I begin this blog, I must confess this has been a battle raging in me for years. I opened this blog in january 2010 – 7 years ago! and yet never typed a single letter. To such a point of ignoring that I had forgotten the title of the blog itself! I wanted to walk, no, run away from this entire idea as if that would be ok with the One who had consistently and steadily been calling me to this. What could I possibly write? what about? why would anyone need to see it, let alone want to see it? why not ask someone else, someone who enjoys writing and who actually has time and spends time on a computer? For 6 years I have tried to write in other places, and the Lord keeps returning me to this idea. So here we are — The great Almighty LORD God, the great I AM who calls us forth, and me, the wanderer who thinks she can come up with a better plan that will keep her a little more secure, a little less exposed. All I really want is to be His, supremely sold out, useable as He sees fit, abiding in the One who will make the fruit that abides, daily walking with Him.

This verse has resonated with me now for months as I grapple with this: I Cor. 3:11 “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” This daily walk of faith for all of us must be with a foundation of Jesus Christ. It is when I think somehow I am responsible for the foundation, whether through eloquent words, great ideas, things I choose to do or not to do, that is when I stumble or freeze in fear or walk in the wrong direction. But if Jesus Christ is my foundation, the platform of my life on which all else builds then there will not be poorly aligned walls of belief, floors of understanding that slant towards the world, or poorly hung windows reflecting wrong images. The foundation is critical to the advancement of any building.

Never before has that been made more clear in our lives than a few years ago. Our home literally was not built on a foundation that was stable. The support poles on which the entire house was set were not actually connected to the house in some places and in others were not at the correct height. Outwardly the house seemed beautiful, yet to the ones who lived in the house, the slight rise in the floor, the way a ball would roll across the entire living room to one corner, and the slight slant of the crown molding in one corner all pointed to some severe structural problems that one day would be of great cause of concern if not fixed. So, many thousands of dollars and many loud days of construction later, the repairs were completed. Now the house must settle again, cracks in sheetrock must be repaired, crown molding redone, roof support completed. All because the foundation was not correctly laid.

How often does that occur in our own lives? we miss out on the truth that He alone must be our foundation – that at the moment of our salvation we were given the Holy Spirit, the indwelling power who raised Christ from the dead. Often we try to make something else, actions, thoughts, good things the foundation of our lives instead of Christ Himself. I have certainly been guilty of this here. I have sought to make writing in my journals or in the notes section of my iPad foundation enough, proof of my obedience. Instead of relying on the One who lives within me to lead the writing and trusting Him for the results, I have been trying to hang pictures on walls slightly slanted (lack of trust in His power), paint walls not fully plumb (based in disobedience), and walk on floors that aren’t level (because I’m not giving Him the opportunity to make my paths straight Proverbs 3:5-6) Now I choose to step out with Him, and allow His hand to shape my foundation in this area, trusting that His way of doing things far surpasses my own and will result in praise, glory and honor to Him forever!

and so a few foundation verses:
Rev. 4:11 “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
Col. 1:16-17 “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”