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Lenten Meditations 2010
End of Carnival by Carl Spitzweg
I did not grow up observing Ash Wednesday. Even as a child in a
mainline Protestant denomination, I had only a fleeting awareness of the
significance of the days leading up to Resurrection Sunday. When my new
middle school friend, a Catholic, wore the cross of ashes on her
forehead to remind her of her mortality and her need for repentance, it
marked me as well:
I will be ashes someday. That is a given. There is no drawing of
the first breath without knowing there will be a last breath. That
awareness changes everything in between.
Salvation from the ash heap is only through the sacrifice and
gracious gift of the Risen Savior. I cannot save myself.
The party may be over, but there is plenty left to celebrate. This
is only the beginning.
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
I’m not sure what it would be like to be “unfailing” as I fail
regularly, in large and small ways, daily. The promise of mercy for my
failings and flaws, because of the Lord’s love that never fails is of
immeasurable comfort. No matter how I may mess up, there is His
merciful and healing balm offered up freely to restore me. It is
certain, it can be trusted, it will always be there. When I fail, He
Grace Be With You
Our pastor has just finished a very illuminating evening study of Paul’s
Epistle to the Colossians, which ends with a few concise words in 4:18,
the final verse.
I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my
chains. Grace be with you.
The Apostle shares remarkable humanity with his Christian brothers
and sisters in these words that deserve deeper exploration over the next
several days. What initially caught my attention was the interesting
contrast between the last line of the letter compared to the opening
line in verse at the very beginning of the letter:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father.
What is the difference here in the greeting “Grace and peace
to you” at the beginning and “Grace be with
you” at the end?
The following explanation is proposed by Dr. John Piper (www.desiringgod.org)
in his book Future Grace:
“Paul has in mind that the letter itself is a channel of
God’s grace to the readers. Grace is about to flow ‘from God’
through Paul’s writing to the Christians. So he says, ‘Grace
to you.’ That is, grace is now active and is about to flow from
God through my inspired writing to you as you read – ‘grace
[be] to you.’ But as the end of the letter approaches, Paul
realizes that the reading is almost finished and the question rises,
‘What becomes of the grace that has been flowing to the readers through
the reading of the inspired letter?’ He answers with a blessing at the
end of every letter: ‘Grace [be] with you.’ With you
as you put the letter away and leave the church. With you as
you go home to deal with a sick child and an unaffectionate spouse.
With you as you go to work and face the temptations of anger and
dishonesty and lust. With you as you muster courage to speak up
for Christ over lunch. . . . [Thus] we learn that grace is ready to flow
to us every time we take up the inspired Scriptures to read
them. And we learn that grace will abide with us when we lay
the Bible down and go about our daily living” (Future Grace,
This is what it is like each Sunday, as I enter Wiser Lake Chapel,
and am filled with the Word from Pastor Bert’s inspired teaching. The
spirit flows from our Pastor’s study of the Word, to accompany each of
us as we go about our week. Grace to, and
then with us.
Just as Paul intended for his brothers and sisters. We are deeply
Remember My Chains
I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains.
Paul reminds us in his letter that he is still a prisoner, shackled to a
guard, limited in his ability to write in his own hand but certainly not
helpless. Despite such hardship, he remains faithful and encouraging.
He really is asking that we remember our own chains, ones that are invisible
but just as restrictive to our freedom. We are bound to sin as if by chains,
locked with the key thrown away, pitiful in our imprisonment. The gospel is
now the only key that will spring the lock, unclasp the chains, unbind our hands
and feet, free our souls.
Remember my chains? We have just been handed the key.
Blot Out My Transgressions
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Every day, as the sun goes down, I’m reminded how often I messed up
that day, in big and small ways. My mistakes seem illuminated, weighing
down my heart, and impossible to forget. Yet, as I pray like the
Psalmist for mercy, there follows a peacefulness at the end of the day,
as my errors are blotted out, covered over by the descent of the night.
The slate, one more time, is wiped clean.
I remember, once again, as the morning dawns, there is renewal, there
is cleansing brightness, a promise provided within each new day. I am
given another chance to get it right.
My Sin Is Always Before Me
2 Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Sometimes I wish I could just be tipped upside down and washed when
I’ve gotten myself completely covered with muck–muddy hands, dirty feet,
smudged face, soiled soul. I look in the mirror and can see everything
that desperately needs spiritual soap–now. It is right there for me to
see but I act helpless to do anything about it.
Usually people are pretty effective at hiding the problems in their
lives, even from themselves. In the work I do, it isn’t so easy to
conceal. Patients come to detox because they have hit bottom in every
way, so they are forced to confront the troubles that brought them
there. I’ve cared for people who have sold themselves, sold others,
abandoned spouses as well as their own children, murdered others and
have tried to murder themselves. They come in so grimy, it is hard to
see their skin. They cry out for cleansing, for forgiveness, for
healing. Sometimes they submit to that wash cycle, and sometimes the
scrubbing that is the detox process is just too physically hard and
painful despite all my effort to ease it. They can’t handle it and leave
before they are clean.
Maybe tomorrow. I grieve when that happens.
Not once must I forget that their sin, ever so much more obvious, is
no greater than mine–we are all tainted goods. Our only hope is the
Lord holding onto us tightly, tipping us upside down in the holy waters
and making sure we’re scrubbed until we shine.
Against You, You Only
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight
Sin is not a subject of polite conversation in modern society. After
all, we are an open minded, tolerant, nonjudgmental people…aren’t we?
One person’s sin is another person’s “God-given” right to experience
pleasure, right? What is right and wrong becomes relative, diluted,
and rendered meaningless. What really matters is that we have forgotten
that sin is not about others, it is about breaking our covenant with
John Piper of www.desiringgod.org says it this way:
“Sin, by definition in the Bible, is not wronging another
person. It is assaulting the glory of God, rebelling against God. Sin,
by definition, is a vertical phenomenon. What makes sin sin is its
Godwardness. That’s why the world doesn’t understand how serious hell
is, because they don’t understand how serious sin is. And they don’t
understand how serious sin is because the only way the world thinks
about sin is in terms of “You hurt me and I hurt you, and that shouldn’t
be.” And that’s true: we shouldn’t hurt each other. But they don’t even
bring God into the picture, and that’s where sin becomes sin.”
The bite of the forbidden apple was not the sin. The sin was the
rebellion against God, dismissing His command to obedience; man and
woman wanting to be God when only God can be God.
He is God, and we are not.
Non Posse Non Peccare
Psalm 51: 5
Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
I had a hard time accepting this notion of Total Depravity when I
first started attending Reformed Churches with my husband-to-be thirty
years ago. After all, I grew up Methodist, which is a nice comfortable
squishy denomination that truly believes the best of people, that people
have great intentions even if they are imperfect in execution, that
sweet little babies are…well… sweet little babies. But the Calvinists
were clear: we are born in sin, it is and always has been part of our
nature since we chose to not live in harmony in obedience to God.
Non posse non peccare says Augustine — not
able to not sin. I really wasn’t buying it.
Then I became a mother.
Now, our children are truly stellar on the well-behaved scale, and
compared to what some parents deal with, very easy to raise. But it was
clear to me very early on that at a very young age, babies have agendas
that are completely self-centered over anyone else’s interest and they
expect the world to change to adapt to their whims and wants, not the
other way around. It takes hard consistent guidance as a parent to help
a child grow to become a compassionate adult who acknowledges their sin,
rather than reveling in it.
We owe it to our children to address the sin that is part of every
fiber of their being. Only then can they truly understand the meaning
of being set free of that dark prison, through a debt graciously
selflessly paid on our behalf.
Create In Me A Clean Heart
So much of Psalm 51 is about being cleansed and transformed. This is
understandable given the nature of King David’s heinous acts of
infidelity and murder. It must have felt like the blood would never
leave his hands and that he would be marked with sin forever.
But part of penitence is expressing deep regret, overwhelmed with the
guilty sorrow of having done wrong, very wrong, and wanting to do
whatever it takes to feel right with God again. So this verse resonates
with anyone who has erred in both large and small ways, having laid
awake at night thinking about it, weeping in remorse, crying out with
Lent is the reminder that we have renewal at hand. It is coming.
Our hearts will be light again, loving and full of joy.
With Friends Like These...
- Denial of St. Peter–Gerrit van
Lent is a time to contemplate who Christ’s enemies really are. It is
tempting to read the story of his trial, crucifixion and suffering and
point the finger at Romans and Jews. To the Pharisees, He was perceived
as heretical to their rigid orderly obsession with the law. To the
Romans He was an inconvenient itinerant rabbi who tended to attract
crowds of the common people–an undesirable thing in the law and order
The reality is Jesus’ enemies were those that professed to love Him
the most but then turned away when loving Jesus meant suffering with
Him. The betrayals that take place, resulting in His arrest and death,
are not by those who hated Jesus. Jesus told His betrayers the truth
about who they were, what was in their hearts, shining His light on
their weakness, illuminating their sin even before they committed it.
He does the same with us. We cannot hide from His light illuminating
the dark corners of our heart.
We must face the fact that we continue to betray Him to this day,
usually in small ways that we hope are insignificant or hidden because,
after all, we are Christians, we pray, we go to church.
We do no less than what Peter did, three times. We deny knowing Him
when it is inconvenient to admit it.
We are no less selfish than Judas, selling out for silver when what
is being asked of us is to give up the material things of this world we
We are no less cowardly than the throngs crying “Crucify Him!” when
only days before we were lauding him as the King of Kings and Lord of
Lords, going along with the crowd as it feels risky to stand out, stand
apart, be utterly alone in our devotion to Him rather than live out our
love affair with the world.
So with friends like us…
We have some serious explaining to do. Amazing that He knows our
hearts even before we try.
From The Confessions of Saint Augustine:
“The Maker of man was made man, that the Ruler of the stars might
suck at the breast; that the Bread might be hungered; the Fountain,
thirst; the Light, sleep; the Way, be wearied by the journey; the Truth,
be accused by false witnesses; the Judge of the living and the dead, be
judged by a mortal judge; the Chastener, be chastised with whips; the
Vine, be crowned with thorns; the Foundation, be hung upon the tree;
Strength, be made weak; Health, be wounded; life, die. To suffer these
and suchlike things, undeserved things, that He might free the
undeserving, for neither did He deserve any evil, who for our sakes
endured so many evils, nor were we deserving of anything good, we who
through Him received such good.”
Suffering Produces Perseverance
And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of
God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know
that suffering produces perseverance;
At seventeen years old, I thought I had things figured out. I had
graduated at the top of my class, was heading off to a “big name”
college, and felt confident about who I was becoming. I had attended
church all my life but my commitment to my faith was actually waning
rather than strengthening.
In anticipation of college tuition bills, I took a summer job at a
local nursing home for $1.25 an hour as a nurses’ aide. My training was
two days following a more experienced aide on her rounds of feeding,
pottying, dressing and undressing, and bathing her elderly patients.
Then I was assigned patients of my own and during a typical shift I
carried a load of 13 patients. It didn’t take long for me to learn the
rhythm of caretaking, and I enjoyed the work and my patients.
One woman in particular remains vivid in my memory 38 years later.
Betty was in her 80’s, bedridden with a painful bone disease that had
crippled her for a decade or more. She was unable to do any of her own
self care but her mind remained sharp and her eyes bright. Her hearty
greeting cheered me when I’d come in her room several times a shift to
turn her in her bed to prevent pressure sores on her hips and
shoulders. The simple act of turning her in her bed was an ordeal
beyond imagining. I would prepare her for the turn by cushioning her
little body with pads and pillows, but no matter how careful I was, her
bones would crackle and crunch like Rice Crispies cereal with every
movement. Tears would flow from her eyes and she’d always call out “Oh
Oh Oh Oh” during the process but then once settled in her new position,
she’d look up at me and say “thank you, dear, for making that so much
easier for me.” I would nearly weep in gratitude at her graciousness in
Before I’d leave the room, Betty would grab my hand and ask when I
would be returning. Then she’d say “I rejoice in the hope of the glory
of the Lord” and she would murmur a prayer to herself.
As difficult as each “turning” was for both of us, I started to look
forward to it. I knew she prayed not only for herself, but I knew she
prayed for me as well. I felt her blessing each time I walked into her
room knowing she was waiting for me.
One evening I came to work and was told Betty was running a high
fever, and struggling to breathe. She was being given oxygen and was
having difficulty taking fluids. The nurse I worked under thought she
was likely to pass away on my shift and asked that I check her more
frequently than my usual routine.
As I approached her bed, Betty reached out and held my hand. She was
still alert but very weak. She looked me in the eye and said “Do you
know our Lord? He is coming for me today.” I could think of nothing
more to say than “I know He is coming. You have waited for Him a long
time.” I returned to her room as often as I could and found her
becoming less responsive, yet still breathing, sometimes short shallow
breaths and sometimes long and deep. Near the end of my shift, as
morning was dawning, when I entered the room, I knew He had come.
She lay silent and relaxed for the first time since I had met her.
Her little body, so tight with pain only hours before, seemed at ease.
It was my job to prepare her for the mortuary workers who would come for
her shortly. Her body still warm to touch, I washed and dried her skin
and brushed her hair and wrapped her in a fresh sheet, wondering at how
I could now turn her with no pain and no tears. I could see a trace of
a smile at the corners of her mouth. I knew then the Lord had lifted
her soul from her imprisonment and He had rewarded her perseverance.
I rejoice in the hope of the glory of the Lord, thanks to Betty. She
showed me what it means to watch for the morning when He will come.
Immobile in bed, crippled and wracked with pain, her perseverance led to
loving a young teenager uncertain in her faith. Betty had brought the
Lord home to me and she went home to Him.
Truth from the Inside Out
Psalm 51: 6–various translations
Surely you desire truth in the inner parts;
you teach me wisdom in the inmost place. (NIV)
What you’re after is truth from the inside out.
Enter me, then; conceive a new, true life. (The Message)
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.” (ESV)
This is clearly a challenging passage to translate–the NIV
translation includes footnotes that admit “the Hebrew meaning is uncertain”. So
in the context of this psalm of repentance, there is something appealing about
God seeking the “truth from the inside out” within us. We cannot hide the
truth from Him, nor should we even try.
He draws us out of our hidden-ness; we spiral forth in His knowledge
of us. We will never be the same again.
Perseverance Produces Character
Romans 5: 3b-4
We know that
suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character;
When I first wrote this story and published it on my blog, I
heard from members of Minnie’s family and learned that her youngest
daughter was still living, now over 100 years old. It was a joy to
receive copies of newspaper articles from the time of the Coloma
shipwreck, outlining Minnie’s brave trek to notify rescuers. I hope to
expand this story in the future, now that I have more information about
the character of this remarkable woman, wife and mother. EPG
Minnie Paterson rocked, nursing her infant son. She sat near the
south window of the lighthouse living quarters, and studied the rain
streaming down in rivulets. Wind gusts rattled the window. A lighthouse
keeper’s home was constantly buffeted by wind, but this early winter
storm picked up urgency throughout the night. Now with first light,
Minnie looked out at driving rain blowing sideways, barely able to make
out the rugged rocks below. The Pacific Ocean was anything but; the mist
hung gray, melding horizon into sea, with flashes of white foam in
crashing waves against the rocky cliffs of Cape Beale.
Whenever storms came, it seemed the Paterson family lived at the edge
of civilization. Yet these storms were the reason she and Tom and their
five children lived on the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island, in
isolation at the southern edge of Barkley Sound. Tom’s job was to keep
the foghorn blaring and the light glowing above the treacherous rocks,
to guide sea vessels away from certain peril. The storms sometimes were
too powerful even with the lighthouse as a beacon of warning. In January
1906, the ship Valencia had wrecked off the coast and only a few
survivors had managed to make their way to shore, staggering up the
rocky trail to the lighthouse where she warmed them by the stove and fed
them until rescuers could come.
Eleven months later, Minnie was setting about getting breakfast ready
when her husband came down the stairs in a rush from the upper room
where he tended the light.
“Mother, it’s a ship! I just now see it. It is battered by the waves,
its sails in tatters! I can see a man waving a distress signal from the
deck. It will surely run aground against the rocks—I must telegraph the
village to send out rescuers.”
Minnie went to the window again but could see nothing in the mist.
Surely this could not be another Valencia disaster! Tom went to the
telegraph in the corner of the room and tapped out the urgent message to
the fishing village of Bamfield, five miles away inside Barkley Sound.
He sat impatiently waiting for a reply, drumming his fingers on the
desk. After ten minutes, he sent the message again with no response.
“The lines are down. I’m certain of it. The fallen trees pull them
down in this wind. We’ll be unable to summon the rescuers. This ship is
doomed, just like the Valencia. There is no way we can reach them in
this weather and they can’t come ashore here in lifeboats. They’ll crash
on the rocks…”
Seeing the helplessness Tom felt, Minnie knew immediately what she
must do. He could not leave his post—it was a condition of his job. She
would have to run the five miles for help, through the forest. She
kissed Tom and the children goodbye, donned a cap and sweater, and as
her feet did not fit in her boots, she put on her husband’s slippers.
She ran down the long stairway down the hill taking their dog as a
precaution to help warn her of bears on the trails.
Minnie first had to cross through a tideland inlet with water waist
deep. She quickly stripped from the waist down, held her pants and
slippers over her head and crossed through the icy water, her dog
swimming alongside. Shivering on the other side, she quickly dressed,
and started down the narrow winding forest trail, scrambling over large
fallen trees blocking the way. She waded through deep mud, and crossed
rocky beaches where wild waves drenched her. At times the tide was so
high she crawled on her hands and knees through underbrush so as not to
be swept away by the storm.
After four hours, she reached a home along the trail and with a
friend, launched a rowboat to go on to Bamfield. The two women notified
the anchored ship Quadra, which set out immediately for Cape Beale.
Within an hour, the Quadra had reached the Coloma which was taking on
water fast, and drifting close to the rocks on shore.
Minnie walked the long way back home that night, clothing tattered,
muscles cramping, exhausted and chilled. Her breasts overflowing, she
gratefully fed her baby, unaware for days that her efforts rescued the
crew of the Coloma. Tragically, her health compromised, she died in 1911
of tuberculosis, forever a heroine to remember.
Source material: Bruce Scott’s Barkley Sound and oral history from
I wrote this for a writing challenge on the theme of “Canada”. This is a
story Dan and I were told while staying in Bamfield on our honeymoon,
and on a bright September day we walked the trail to the Cape Beale
lighthouse, a most challenging and beautiful part of the world. The
trail was so difficult, I was sure I was not going to make it, so how
Minnie persevered in a December storm, in the dark, is beyond imagining.
Her bravery captured me and I honor her sacrifice with this rendering of
her story. EPG
Character Produces Hope
Romans 5:3-4: “we also rejoice in our sufferings, because
we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character;
and character, hope.”
I was eight years old in June 1963 when the Readers’ Digest arrived
in the mail inside its little brown paper wrapper. As usual, I sat down
in my favorite overstuffed chair with my skinny legs dangling over the
side arm and started at the beginning, reading the jokes, the short
articles and stories on harrowing adventures and rescues, pets that had
been lost and found their way home, and then toward the back came to the
book excerpt: “The Triumph of Janis Babson” by Lawrence Elliott.
Something about the little girl’s picture at the start of the story
captured me right away–she had such friendly eyes with a sunny smile
that partially hid buck teeth. This Canadian child, Janis Babson, was
diagnosed with leukemia when she was only ten, and despite all efforts
to stop the illness, she died in 1961. The story was written about her
determination to donate her eyes after her death, and her courage facing
death was astounding. Being nearly the same age, I was captivated and
petrified at the story, amazed at Janis’ straight forward approach to
her death, her family’s incredible support of her wishes, and especially
her final moments, when (as I recall 47 years later) she sat upright in
her hospital bed and exclaimed “Mama, Papa, I see the angels coming!”
And then she was gone. I cried buckets of tears, reading and rereading
that death scene. My mom finally had to take the magazine away from me
and shooed me outside to go run off my grief. How could I run and play
when Janis no longer could? It was a devastating realization that a
child my age could get sick and die, and that God allowed it to happen.
Yet this story was more than just a tear jerker for the readers.
Janis’ final wish was granted –those eyes that had seen the angels were
donated after her death so that they would help another person see.
Janis had hoped never to be forgotten. Amazingly, she influenced
thousands of people who read her story to consider and commit to organ
donation, most of whom remember her vividly through that book excerpt in
Readers’ Digest. I know I could not sleep the night after I read her
story and determined to do something significant with my life, no matter
how long or short it was. Her story influenced my eventual decision to
become a physician. She made me think about death at a very young age
as that little girl’s tragic story could have been mine and I was
certain I could never have been so brave and so confident in my dying
She did suffer with her disease, and despite that, she persevered
with a unique sense of purpose and mission for one so young. As a ten
year old, she developed character that some people never develop in a
much longer lifetime. Her faith and her deep respect for the gift she
was capable of giving through her death brought hope and light to scores
of people who still remember her to this day.
Out of the recesses of my memory, I recalled Janis’ story a few
months ago when I learned of a local child who had been diagnosed with a
serious cancer. I could not recall Janis’ name, but in googling
“Readers’ Digest girl cancer story”, by the miracle of the internet I
rediscovered her name, the name of the book and a discussion forum that
included posts of people in their mid-fifties, like me, who had been
incredibly inspired by Janis when they read this same story as a child.
A number were inspired to become health care providers like myself and
some became professionals in working with organ donation.
Janis and family, may you know the gift you gave so many people
through your courage in suffering, your perseverance, your character and
the resulting hope in the glory of the Lord–the angels are coming!
We do remember you!
Redeeming the Time
“Therefore look carefully how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise;
redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5: 15-16
Tonight was a celebration of Wiser Lake Chapel’s history with some of the
folks who have attended this little church for over 50 years. It was a joy to
review how the original Methodist-Episcopal church built for $600 in 1916 was
subsequently disbanded by the Methodists and then leased for $25/month by the
Christian Reformed Churches in our area to become an outreach mission Sunday
School and Daily Vacation Bible School for hundreds of migrant and Native
American children in our county. From that outreach ministry came worship
services that brought in a diverse congregation from the rural neighborhoods,
and most recently, over the last 20 years, it is a thriving non-denominational
church with a strong reformed Presbyterian perspective. Scores of children
learned about the Lord inside our humble sanctuary, and how to sing from their
hearts to His glory.
I’m blessed to be a part of this incredible church family, not a mega-church,
but vibrant all the same. We need to remember what we came from and why.
For all you Wiser Lake Chapel alums out there in all different walks of life
in the faith: we will celebrate a centennial in 2016 and we will have a great
picnic, so plan on it! Watch www.wiserlakechapel.org for details.
“Everything you do today, or I do, affects not only what is going to
happen but what has already happened, years and centuries ago. Maybe you can’t
change what has passed, but you can change all the meaning of what has passed.
You can even take all the meaning away.” –words of an old preacher, quoted by
Martin Wright, a friend of Herbert Butterfield (British historian)
1 Corinthians 6: 19b-20a
You are not your own; you were bought at a price.
There is a well known story with a number of variations, all involving a
scorpion that stings a good-souled frog/turtle/crocodile/person who tries to
rescue it from drowning. Since the sting dooms the rescuer and as a result
the scorpion as well, the scorpion explains “to sting is in my nature”. In
one version, the rescuer tries again and again to help the scorpion, repeatedly
getting stung, only to explain before he dies “it may be in your nature to
sting but it is in my nature to save.”
This is actually a story originating from Eastern religion and thought, the
purpose of which is to illustrate the “dharma”, or orderly nature of things.
The story ends perfectly for the Eastern religions believer even though both
scorpion and the rescuer die in the end, as the dharma of the scorpion and of
the rescuer is realized, no matter what the outcome. Things are what they are,
without judgment, and actualization of that nature is the whole point.
However, this story only resonates for the Christian if the nature of the
scorpion is forever transformed by the sacrifice of the rescuer on its behalf.
The scorpion is no longer its own so no longer slave to its “nature”. It is no
longer just a scorpion with a need and desire to sting whatever it sees. It has
been “bought” through the sacrifice of the rescuer.
So we too are no longer our own, no longer who we used to be before we were
rescued. We are bought at a price beyond imagining. And our nature to hurt, to
punish, to sting shall be no more.
1 Corinthians 15: 55
Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?
My Soul Thirsts
Psalm 42: 1-2
As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
On any given day, at some point, I start thirsting. Not for water,
which, living in the northwest, I’m fortunate to have close by at
almost any moment. Not for alcohol, which puts me to sleep and makes me
too fuzzy to function after a couple of swallows. Not for milk which
was all I ever drank growing up on a farm with three Guernsey cows that
produced more than a family of five could possible consume in a day.
No, I’m ashamed to admit I thirst for a Starbucks mocha. With
whip. With little hesitation, I will indulge my thirst. No, I didn’t
give it up for Lent. I acknowledge it is not truly thirst I am feeling
but only a desire. I’m not panting and dehydrated. This is a want
rather than a need. I will not die without my mocha.
It just feels as if I might.
If only I could thirst daily for God with the same visceral fervor
and singlemindedness! If I could dive into His word daily and savor it
like I do my mocha, I would be much less fluffy in stature, and much
more solid in faith.
This psalm reminds me of my constant thirstiness and how no mocha, no
glass of water, indeed nothing of this earth will truly slake it. I
must wait to meet the Lord to know what it feels like to no longer want,
and then all needs are fulfilled.
“You have made us for Yourself, and we cannot find rest until
we find it in You.” St. Augustine
Naked Before God
Peter Paul Rubens 1597
And (God) said: ‘who told you that you were naked?”
Those fig leaves really don’t cover up much. It must have felt pretty
ridiculous to be hiding in the bushes while God walked in the cool of
the day in the Garden looking for Adam and Eve.
Hide our nakedness from the Creator who formed and designed the body
parts we are trying futilely to cover? Hide our thoughts and deeds from
the God who knows our hearts and minds better than we ourselves do? We
are still naked in every aspect of our beings, completely and utterly
uncovered and transparent, especially when it comes to our sin.
So who told us we were naked? Who instilled shame in our bodies,
when we are designed in the image, in the likeness of God who loved us
enough to walk with us in the Garden?
It was not God who did this. He was not ashamed of what He had made.
In our fall, in our terrible disobedience, we could no longer bear
(or bare) to stand naked before God. So in our place, God, in His
ultimate love for us, became our Savior hanging naked, exposed, and
“The essence of sin is man substituting himself for God,
while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man. Man
asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to
be; God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man
deserves to be. Man claims prerogatives that belong to God alone; God
accepts penalties which belong to man alone.” John Stott
Whiter Than Snow
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
It was a bright December day, she remembered, a great day for a snow
shoeing trek near Artist’s Point, eat lunch, then head home. All three
college students wound their way slowly around the base of Table
Mountain, enjoying a final day together before parting for the long
The avalanche came without warning; a sudden low rumble, then
building to a roar, and the ground was moving beneath them, rolling them
over and over helplessly in a wave of white that carried them down the
slope. It swooshed over top of them, everything awash in white. There
was no way to know up from down, and when finally coming to rest, the
white became black, still, and suffocating.
Remembering her avalanche survival course, she waved her arms in
front of her as hard as she could, creating a small open pocket beneath
her face as she found herself bent forward, hunched into a folded
crouched position. There was a sense of light coming through the snow
above her, but nothing but black below. She tried to force her way up
through the snow, to push her way out but it weighted her down like
concrete blocks. There was no moving from the small space that
She realized she was trapped and began to panic. She tried to shout
but her voice too was entombed in snow.
So she began to pray. She prayed for her safety, for calmness, for
a rescue, she prayed for her two friends, she prayed for her parents.
She remembered relaxing as she spoke to God, sensing Him in the darkness
with her, knowing He was the only one to know where she was at that
moment. He had found her.
Growing colder, she was unable to feel her feet or hands any longer.
She was fading; she tried to stay awake by praying harder, but it was no
Sometime later she felt herself being pulled into the light, heard
excited voices shouting, and then she was being carried on a stretcher.
In the ambulance, on the way to the hospital, she began to talk to her
rescuers as they warmed her with blankets, and once her skin softened,
they put warm intravenous fluids in her veins. By the time she arrived
in the emergency room, her face had some color, though her feet were
blue, her toes white and completely numb.
It wasn’t until later that she was clear enough to ask about her
friends. One was the reason she had been rescued. He had fought his
way through his snow covering and thereby freeing himself, had gone for
help. With the help of dogs, she had been found. Her third friend was
As she mentioned to a nurse what a close call she had, being buried
under two feet of heavy snow for several minutes, and surviving
relatively unscathed, the nurse stopped what she was doing and looked
at her oddly.
“Don’t you know? You were buried for almost 24 hours before they
found you! It’s amazing you are alive at all and look at you, barely a
mark on you, only a little frostbite!”
A miracle whiter than snow.
based on a true story of avalanche survival near Mount
Baker by two WWU students. The third student perished.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
I’ve worked in many medical settings, and have seen lots of illnesses
and injuries over 30+ years of doctoring. Despite all that experience,
I really don’t do well with badly broken bones. Basic wrists and
fingers and ankles are no problem but open compound and comminuted
fractures (i.e. “crushed bones”) are downright terrifying. It appears
to me they can never be pieced back together. Even looking at the
xrays makes me cringe. I avoided doing a surgical orthopedic rotation
during my training because I knew I’d have issues with the saws and the
smells involved in fixing bad fractures. And witnessing the pain is
Crush injuries hurt– there are few things that hurt more. It is very
difficult to imagine those injured bones (or their owner) rejoicing
about anything. This psalm makes explicit the extreme pain David was
experiencing in his guilt and separation from God. To realize such
profound relief from that pain must have been miraculous, and well worth
Two years ago on April 1, my 87 year old mother shattered her lower
femur trying to stand up after getting down on her hands and knees to
retrieve a pill that had dropped to the floor and rolled under her
desk. The pain was overwhelming until the paramedics managed to
immobilize her leg in an air cast for transport to the ER. As long as
her leg wasn’t moved, she was quite comfortable– in fact overjoyed to
see me in the middle of a workday when I arrived at the hospital. She
was so chatty that when she was asked by the ER doctor “how did this
happen?” she launched into a long description of just how she had
dropped the pill, where it had rolled, and what pill it was, what color
it was, why she was taking it, etc etc. I started to get antsy, knowing
how busy he was and said, with just a *wee bit* of irritation, “Mom, he
doesn’t need to know all that. Just tell him what happened when you
tried to stand up.” That did it. Now it wasn’t just her leg that
hurt, it was her feelings too, including her own sense of responsibility
for what had happened, and the tears started to flow. The ER doc shot
me a sideways glance that clearly said “now look what you’ve done” and
then took my Mom’s hand tenderly, looking her straight in the eye and
said, “That’s all right, these things happen despite our best
intentions—you go right ahead and tell me the whole story, right from
So she did, completely reaffirmed and feeling absolved of her guilt
that she had somehow done this to herself. Having been shown
compassion and a healing grace from a total stranger, she never really
complained about the pain in her leg again. Then it was my turn to feel
Although her leg was fixed and she did eventually take a few steps
with assistance, she never again lived independently, and as happens so
often with older people with fractures, she died only eight months
later. The bones heal but the spirit doesn’t. That day really was the
beginning of the end for her, and in my heart, I knew that was likely to
be the case. My irritation was for what I suspected was coming, and for
what I knew it meant for her, but mostly for me.
What I had forgotten in that moment of selfishness and what I will
not forget again:
Even the most horrendous pain can be relieved by grace. And the
crushed will stand, and walk, and smile again.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Usually tucked away in one of my pockets of my lab coat at work, or
in my jean pocket at home, or in a pocket of my purse is one of several
small smooth stones that I keep. I prefer them a bit flat, with a nice
depression that is perfect for my thumb to nestle in as I hold the stone
in my pocket. It is a reassuring feeling to hold onto something that is
so solid, so ancient and which traveled many miles, bumped and ground
to a silky smoothness just to end up in my pocket. These are stones
that I spend time harvesting at my favorite southwestern Vancouver
Island shore, where the newly named “Salish Sea” pours out from Puget
Sound through the Straits of Juan de Fuca to the Pacific. I probably
should be declaring them at the border when we return home, but I’m
never sure how to put a value on a ziplock bag of perfect “holding”
stones. I think the border guard would likely confiscate them and I’d
have a lot of explaining to do.
Ostensibly I’m picking up these rocks to try my hand at skipping them
on the surface of the water. That is only my excuse. But I’m a
miserable skipper, yielding rarely more than four skips per stone. I
guess I might be more aptly called a “stoner”. I actually can’t bear
to let the best ones go, perhaps never to be heard from again. They
would truly be lost forever. To cast them away, to actually feel them
leave my hand, is a painful act.
I suspect God feels that same anguish at letting go of one of His
children. We are not flung away for His entertainment (how many skips
can this one make?), nor are we thrown away in anger. We are cast away
from God’s hand when we could have chosen to cling to Him when we needed
Him most. We too often let go when He urges us to stay. He wants us
firm and solid in His hand, having been sanded and ground to a fine
sheen by the bumps and bruises of life. He snugly holds us, His thumb
nestled in the depression of our soul.
Tucked away in God’s pocket forever.
Christ Washing Peter's Feet by Ford Madox Brown
Psalm 51: 7
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me.
It had to have been mortifying. The Master, with a towel wrapped
around His waist like a slave, kneeling to wash His disciples’ dirty
smelly feet covered with the dust of Jerusalem. Though Peter protested,
he was rebuked to submit, to comprehend the symbolism of the act.
It was this reversal that carried Him to the cross, the ultimate
cleansing coming not just from His hands, but from His wounds, from His
suffering, from His blood.
So He continues to wash off our everyday grime and gently, tenderly
wipes us clean, knowing, realizing we will only get soiled again.
What wondrous love is this?
Watch With Me
You could not watch one hour with me--James Tissot
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Could
you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter.
Every time I read of this scene in Gethsemane, I am convicted yet again of my
own drowsing faith and how inadequate it is when the pressure is on.
“Gethsemane” means “oil press” so it becomes an appropriate setting among the
olive trees for the pressure to be turned up high, on the disciples, as well as
The disciples are expected, indeed commanded, to keep watch by the Master, to
be filled with prayer, to avoid the temptation thrown at them at every turn.
But they fail pressure testing and fall apart. And so too, we are lulled by the
complacency of our modern times, by an over-indulged satiety for material
comforts that do not truly fill hunger or quench thirst, by an expectation
that being called a disciple of Jesus is enough.
It is not enough.
We sleep through His anguish. We dream, oblivious, while He sweats blood.
We deny we know Him when the pressure is turned up, yet incredibly He loves us
So, like the disciples who walked alongside Him, we must pray: to remain
watchful, to be faithful under stress, to be forgiven for falling asleep when He
needs us most.
All We Like Sheep
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the
iniquity of us all.
I am privileged to be learning Handel’s Messiah with a group of
really wonderful folks in my small town, readying ourselves for our
twice yearly performances. The “All We Like Sheep” chorus is one of
the most challenging of all, simply because the melody lines intertwine
in seemingly random fashion, as if our choir were sixty some individual
sheep running amok, each in a different direction. Sheep are skilled
at ignoring boundaries, running over anything in their way, doubling
back and retracing their steps and giving in to whim rather than doing
what is right and orderly.
It is brilliantly organized musical chaos, as only Handel can create,
until the final Adagio, like a shepherd of sorts, brings all the voices
together in one powerful final lament: the Lord lifts from us the
burden of our depravity and takes it upon Himself in the ultimate
sacrifice. We are absolved, sheared of our heavy burden, though
unworthy as only a herd of dumb sheep can be.
We are sheep in desperate need of a Shepherd who knows what it is to
be the Paschal Lamb. Worthy is that Lamb.
The Eye of God
Prayer of St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)
Let nothing disturb you, nothing frighten
you, all things are passing. God never changes. Patience obtains all
things. Whoever has God lacks nothing. God is enough.
These words were sung last night to a packed church by the Dordt
College Choir (my husband and son’s alma mater) now on their spring
tour. It was a touching and beautiful evening of wonderful choral music
by a group of students who clearly care deeply about sharing their
faith, led by a talented and dedicated conductor who grew up in our town
of Lynden, Dr. Ben Kornelis.
As the University where I work winds down to the end of a tough and
wearing winter quarter this week, it struck me how hazardous being a
college student is these days. This quarter we had one completed
suicide and five additional serious attempts. A disturbing New York
Times article today highlights the cluster of suicides of students at
Cornell University in upstate New York.
This is a generation with seemingly little grounding in the
preciousness of life, with less spiritual foundation for hope and inner
peace, with broken and fragmented family support when the inevitable
rough days happen. These young adults give themselves up to their
desperation and some tell me the pain of living is simply not worth
sustaining, no matter how temporary the misery it may be.
The words of St. Teresa are a reminder of God’s constancy always,
through all things. Like the helix nebula dubbed “The Eye of God”, He
patiently watches over us, never changing, lacking nothing, being
sufficient for all our needs. Do not be afraid. Do not despair. He is
Resting in the Yoke
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give
you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle
and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my
yoke is easy and my burden is light.
There doesn’t appear to be anything remotely restful about a yoke. It
represents hard sweaty pulling work no matter what. Why would taking on a yoke
be “easy”, and the “burden light”?
It is the shared load that makes the work easier. Although single yokes can
be used, the efficiency is far greater when two pull together under the same
yoke. Jesus is clearly saying, “come walk alongside me, share my yoke and I’ll
pull you through whatever you need to go through.” Together, it will be
easier, the load less heavy, the relief profound.
I can actually imagine happiness in wearing such a harness when the pulling
partner is not only gentle and humble in heart, but encouraging and reassuring
every step of the way.
I will never cast off this yoke. I am bound in joy.
A Broken Spirit
Psalm 51: 17
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart…
When we are at our most tender and vulnerable, hurting and barely
able to breathe–that is when we gift ourselves to God, and He welcomes
us with open arms, knowing the sacrifice we make. He was once just
No longer burnt offerings, nor money, but He asks for a sacrifice of
us, broken and yielding, ready for healing, begging for wholeness. He
becomes our glue to shore up our shattered pieces.
An old Shaker hymn says it better than I:
I will bow and be simple,
I will bow and be free,
I will bow and be humble,
Yea, bow like the willow tree.
I will bow, this is the token,
I will wear the easy yoke,
I will bow and will be broken,
Yea, I'll fall upon the rock.
Lost and Now is Found
Return of the Prodigal Son --Bartolome Esteban Murillo
Luke 32: 15
this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was
lost and is found.
There is a unique aspect to the “Prodigal” story that is not always
apparent on first reading/hearing. It is, on the surface, a warm and
tender story of a loving father welcoming his wayward son back to the
fold after squandering all, and realizing his life would be better
working as one of his father’s servants than literally wallowing in a
pig sty. Instead, his father greets him home with utter joy, bringing
him the best of all he possesses to celebrate. It is the ultimate
story of grace and forgiveness.
It is told by Jesus in the context of a warning to the Pharisees and
keepers of the Jewish law. It is actually a parable far more about the
older brother–the obedient “nose to the grindstone” guy– who is
resentful and angry that his father lavishes such special attention on
the younger brother returned home from a life of sin. The father
“pleads” with his older son to participate in the celebration, reminding
him: “You are always with me and everything I have is yours, but we had
to celebrate and be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is
alive again; he was lost and is found.” We don’t know what the older
brother decided to do, and whether he could ever get over his resentment
of his brother and his anger at his father. Jesus leaves that part of
the story open-ended, just as our own decisions are open-ended.
It is clear what we must do. We cannot have expectations for what
we feel is owed us because of our “good” behavior, our hard work, or our
obedient nature. We deserve nothing.
Yet our Father hears our righteous anger, sees our self-absorbed
resentment and instead entreats us, with all the power of His love,
“You are always with me; everything I have is yours.”
What can be greater than that? As we are lost in our selfish
judgment, He reminds us how firmly He holds us. We are meant to be
found resting, living, breathing in Him.
And so, it is not only the prodigal who is lives again.
Spread Under Foot
Entry into Jerusalem by by Giotto di Bondone. It is the image of a
fresco, created between 1304-06, from Scenes from the Life of Christ
at the Arena Chapel (Cappella Scrovegni) in Padua, Italy.
“So it is ourselves that we must spread under Christ’s
feet, not coats or lifeless branches or shoots of trees, matter which
wastes away and delights the eye only for a few brief hours. But we
have clothed ourselves with Christ’s grace, with the whole Christ–’for
as many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with
Christ’—so let us spread ourselves like coats under his feet.” –8th
century bishop Andrew of Crete
It would have been a spectacle of waving branches stripped from trees
and coats being spread in the dirt of the road to Jerusalem. But it was
only spectacle. Within a few days, it was all forgotten as another
reversal takes place: the King of Glory himself was stripped of His
clothing and hung upon a tree.
Andrew of Crete points us to the words of Apostle Paul in Galatians:
we must spread ourselves, clothed in His grace, over the dust, under His
feet. We become indistinguishable from the dust, indistinguishable from
one from another, as His soles leave permanent footprints on our souls.
…all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed
yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free,
male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
grinding power of the plain words of the Gospel story is like the power
of millstones; and those who read them…will feel as if rocks had been
rolled upon them.”
G.K. Chesterton in
The Everlasting Man
The observance of Lent is a downward trajectory, heavy laden. The
betrayal and denial by His closest friends during that final week in
Jerusalem only amplifies His suffering and the sacrifice He was prepared
to offer, even when forsaken. Lent is a disconsolate descent into
sadness, sliding into the overwhelming reality of the stone being rolled
in place to seal a tomb. That moment effectively cuts man off from God,
and it is as if we too are crushed, our breath and life forced from us,
by that very stone. There is nothing darker than a sealed tomb, other
than the knowledge of eternal separation from God.
From the vantage point under the stone, there is no way to comprehend
the eventual lifting of the impossible weight of sin, the ascent into an
unbearable lightness of new life. As hard shelled kernels ground to
remove our useless hull, we will never be the same again.
Nor should we ever wish to be.
The Hem of His Mother's Robe
“Looking at Stars” by Jane Kenyon from
Let Evening Come
The God of curved space, the dry
God, is not going to help us, but the son
whose blood splattered
the hem of his mother’s robe.
Jane Kenyon, whose work I’ve only recently discovered, wrote much of
her spiritual poetry in her forties while dying of leukemia. This
brief poem illustrates her (and humanity’s) need for a bleeding God who
lived and died among us, splattering beyond his mother’s robe. Our
help, our only comfort, our desperate need is for God who understands
our suffering by dwelling on earth, not just in the heavens.
His blood, shed and shared so graciously and willingly, is on our
hands, and pumps everlasting within our hearts.
The Piet by Giovanni Battista Gaulli (Called Baccicio)
If They Keep Quiet
“I tell you,” he replied, “if they
keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
The songs from the swamp were faintly detectable in the distance
about six weeks ago. In the middle of winter, due to unduly mild
temperatures, the frog chorus had begun in the wetlands surrounding our
farm. It was almost disorienting, along with the daffodils budding in
late January and lawns needing mowing in February. An early March cold
snap sent the frogs back into the mud and the evening concerts ceased
briefly. Then suddenly today, along with the sun, they are back, this
time closing in right next to our bedroom window, populating the small
fish pond in our front yard. With voices so numerous, strong and
insistent, it feels as though a New York City of Pacific Chorus Frogs
moved in next door, and our family is seated in the balcony of Carnegie
Hall. They seem to be directed by an unseen conductor, as their voices
rise and fall together and then cut off suddenly with a slice of the
baton, plunging into uncomfortable silence at the slightest provocation,
as if holding an extended resting fermata for minutes on end.
The frogs’ repertoire is limited but their wind power, stamina and
ability to project their voices impressive. They are most tenacious at
making their presence known to any other peeper within a mile radius.
Then when the coyotes are chorusing in the field out back, just a
hundred yards away from our other bedroom window, yip-yip-yelping their
song at the moon, we are serenaded by the sopranos and altos of the
farm’s wild fauna. There is an occasional percussive beat of a barn
owl’s click as he flies overhead, and the intermittent tenor hoohooooo’s
back and forth between mates perched in trees around the house. Add in
the deep bass huh-huh-huh-huh of our stallion’s nicker as he talks with
our mares through the barn wall, and it makes for a fine evening concert
Everyone’s welcome to attend the next performance at our farm.
Admission is free as long as you are willing to help clean barn the next
As a relatively new member of a small town choral society, I am
discovering choirs of all sorts are joyous groups, a collection of
individuals perhaps as disparate as the creatures on our farm, joining
together to create a woven musical tapestry. The Lenten portion of
Handel’s Messiah is a challenging work that our group will perform later
this week, prior to the beginning of Holy Week, as our faith community
prepares for Easter. As a novice singer, I am learning to find the
right notes, stay on key, pronounce the words correctly, turn the pages
at the right time, watch the conductor, know when to start and when to
be silent, when to stand up and sit down in unison, and most natural to
me, how to actually show the emotion of the words.
If there would be a command to silence, if we are told to keep quiet,
if we are somehow prevented from singing this amazing choral work, or
even if there is not a cacophony of sounds out our bedroom window every
spring evening, I have no doubt the stones themselves would cry out.
It is that important to sing praises loud and clearly, whether it be a
choral society, a peeper chorus, a coyote concert or the hosannas
shouted during His ride into Jerusalem.
Everyone’s welcome to attend. Admission is free. No barn cleaning
necessary. Instead be prepared for washing of your feet and cleansing
of the heart.
Lynden Choral Society
Before Darkness Overtakes You
Then Jesus told them: You are going to
have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the
light, before darkness overtakes you. The man who walks in the dark does
not know where he is going.
Many older people when stressed with
illness, while hospitalized or disrupted from their routine, will become
disoriented, even confused in the evening, unable to sleep, or be at
ease. It is referred to as “sundowning” by the care providers who must
try to keep an older patient safe, calm and oriented to time and place.
It isn’t at all clear what is happening in the brain as the sun goes
down, but over the years of watching this happen in my patients, I think
it is a very primal fear response to loss of light. We don’t know where
we are in the dark and feel lost. We don’t know what is out there that
may hurt us.
Jesus knew the dangers of the night, both
as God and as man. As the Light of the World, soon to hang from the
cross as the sky blackened and the sun was covered over, His
illumination will dim and die. At that moment, man is plunged into
darkness like none ever known before. This is extreme “sundowning”
where all hope is lost, and we can so easily lose our way.
Yet if we stay rooted to the spot, and not leave the cross, we may
find comfort in our troubled state, and can put down our heavy burden
and rest. We can celebrate the arrival of brilliant light in our lives.
Instead of darkness overcoming us, our lives are covered in the glory
and grace of Resurrection Day.
The Son settled among us. Darkness can no longer overtake us, even
at death. The Light will illuminate the path we are meant to take.
“No matter how deep our darkness, He is deeper still.”
Corrie ten Boom in The Hiding
The God For Me
The Crucified Christ by Rubens
“I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for
the cross… In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who
was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different
Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of Buddha, his
legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing
round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of
But each time after a while I have to turn away. And in
imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured
figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs
wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably
thirsty, plunged in Godforsaken darkness.
That is the God for me! He laid aside His immunity to
pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He
suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in light of His.”
—John Stott, The Cross of Christ
It is interesting to read of Pastor Stott’s turning toward the image
of the crucified Christ, away from the smiling but detached Buddha. As
I did not grow up with images of the crucified Christ, I find it very
difficult to see paintings, statues, or watch movies depicting the
Crucifixion. I want to turn away in discomfort at the agony portrayed.
It is too overwhelming to behold.
But I must turn back and face Him. I cannot look away in horror.
He is not detached. He is completely and unutterably attached to
me–by His grace–by His will–by His giving of Himself–indeed by the nails
themselves. That is my God hanging there.
Meal of Our Lord and the Apostles --James Tissot
Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of
the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.
After Resurrection Day, Jesus appeared to His followers on several
occasions, but was not always immediately recognizable. The trigger for
discerning who He is seems sometimes to be connected to sharing a meal.
This makes entire sense after His Last Supper with the disciples
before His death. He makes it clear how He wants to be remembered,
through a symbolic meal of bread and wine. So when He returns, when He
eats together with others, they know they are in the presence of the
In one instance, when the disciples have had a night of no success
catching fish, He directs them to drop their nets yet again and suddenly
there are more fish than they can handle. This is capped by His
invitation: “Come and have breakfast”. He then feeds them, both
figuratively and literally.
Accepting the invitation is all that is asked of us. Who doesn’t
want to have breakfast cooked for them?
So come and eat. Be filled. And never be hungry again.
Supper at Emmaus by Rembrandt
She Did What She Could
She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body
beforehand to prepare for my burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the
gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be
told, in memory of her.
We wonder if our actions on this earth are pleasing to God, though we
believe our faith, rather than good works, is the key to salvation.
Jesus’ response to Mary’s anointing of His feet the day before He enters
Jerusalem is provocative. However, this story parallels the passion of
the coming week:
Mary acts out of faith even when she confronts a painful reality–she
acknowledges Jesus’ predictions of His death and burial–she believes
what His disciples refused to hear.
Jesus prays a few days later to have the reality of suffering
lifted from Him, but in obedience, He perseveres out of faith and love
for the Father.
Mary acts out of her steadfast love for the Master–she is showing
single-minded devotion in the face of criticism from the disciples.
Jesus, on the cross, shows forgiveness and love even to the men
who deride and execute Him.
Mary acts out of significant personal sacrifice–pouring costly
perfume worth a full year’s wages–showing her commitment to Christ.
Jesus willingly gives the ultimate sacrifice of Himself–there is
no higher price to pay.
Mary responds to His need–she recognizes that this moment is her
opportunity to anoint the living Christ, and His response clearly shows
He is deeply moved by her action.
Jesus, as man Himself, recognizes humanity’s need to be saved,
and places Himself in our place. We must respond, incredulous, with
Jesus tells Mary (and us), in response to the disciples’ rebukes,
that it is her action that will be told and remembered. She did what
she could at that moment to ease His distress at what He would soon
confront. She did what she could for Him–humbly, beautifully, simply,
sacrificially–and He is so grateful that He Himself washes the feet of
His disciples a few days later in an act of devotion and servanthood.
And today we remember her as the harbinger of His passion, just as He
said we would.
Weeping Over Jerusalem--Tissot
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and
said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you
peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.
Jesus is reported to have wept only twice in the gospels. When informed His
friend Lazarus was dead, He weeps in response to the grief and lack of faith
demonstrated by friends and family even though they knew Jesus’ power to heal
and restore. The second time was on Palm Sunday, as triumphantly He approached
Jerusalem and stopping, looked down upon the city, knowing what lay ahead.
This time the stakes were not the loss of one life, but the loss of an entire
city due to the unbelief and lack of faith of its people.
Indeed, Jerusalem, still torn between factions, faiths and fanatics, has not
really known peace ever since.
I am struck by the compassion shown in those tears. These are not tears of
self-pity, nor anticipation of His own imminent personal suffering, but tears
shed over the continued blindness of mankind. They expected the militant
entrance of a victorious king, so were unaware their salvation rode into their
midst on a donkey’s colt.
Those sacred tears were never for Himself, but for us. Human tears rolling
down the face of God–Divine tears washing the face of man.
Peace no longer is hidden from us. Now we know.
From the Lips of Children
“Do you hear what these children are saying?” [the chief priests
and teachers of the law] asked him. “Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read,
‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’?”
Children have a gift of getting to the heart of the matter. The children in
the temple during Holy Week continued to shout and praise Jesus’ name, shouting
“Hosanna!” just as they had done on the road to Jerusalem on Sunday. For them,
the triumph was not over. The children continued to celebrate when the adults
around them were losing momentum in their faith.
The grumbling of the chief priests and teachers of the law about the noisy
children is met with a response from Jesus that is a reminder of what they know
all too well themselves from reading the Psalms–praise from the children is
actually prescribed by God and is therefore made holy.
I’m reminded of this every Sunday when I play piano for the Sunday School
singing time for about thirty children in our small church. For over twenty
years now I’ve watched a generation of Wiser Lake Chapel children, including my
own three, grow up in that church basement, singing the same praise and worship
songs from the time they sit as toddlers on a bigger sibling’s lap, to the point
when they “graduate” to the high school class. Some of those children have
become the Sunday School teachers, with their own children sitting in the very
chairs they sat in such a short time ago. There is nothing more invigorating
than hearing children singing energetically with joy, knowing that God Himself
has ordained their voices should be lifted up in praise.
So on this sad and lonely week that marches inexorably to Friday, to
Golgotha, to suffering and death, the unwelcome shouts and songs of the children
must have been soothing balm to Jesus’ soul. The children knew His heart when
the adults around Him were too blind to see and too deaf to hear.
Come and Have Breakfast