A Lesson in Gethsemane

I am reading about a scene in the garden of Gethsemane.  The disciples are sad, confused, and feeling threatened.  Nothing is going as they would choose.  When the soldiers come to arrest Jesus they don’t know how to handle things, “Lord, shall we strike with our swords?” they ask.  Peter doesn’t wait for Jesus to answer, but instead lashes out and cuts off a soldier’s ear.

Maybe you can relate to Peter.  Something is going to pieces around you and you don’t like it.  You feel threatened and anxious.  An injustice is happening and you’re used to drawing your sword.  You don’t know what else to do but cut off an ear.  Aren’t battles fought with aggressive action?  Piercing words?  If cutting off an ear isn’t the right response in these moments, what is?

We don’t have to wonder.  If we listen in on what Jesus said to Peter, we will hear what he may be telling us.  Jesus said, “Put your sword back in its place… Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?  But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”  Matthew 26:52-54 NIV

Jesus is giving Peter three truths here.  First, Peter is to put his sword back in its place.  Reacting in his usual and natural way will not work in this situation.  Secondly, no matter how things appear Jesus is in authority.  John’s gospel reports that when the Roman soldiers arrived on this scene, Jesus did not hide or hang back, but went straight to them and asked, “Who is it you want?”  When Jesus told the soldiers who he was, the entire detachment fell to the ground.  A strong indication of who was in charge of the moment.  Yes, Jesus could call on the angels.  But it wouldn’t be right.  Why?  That brings us to truth three.  Jesus came to fulfill the scriptures.  He came to prove God’s word true, to fulfill each promise and prophecy God had made through the generations.  He was here to bring salvation to people, exactly the way God said it would come.  Through the cross.

I don’t know about you, but when I feel threatened and anxious I tend to lash out.  I can see now that’s the wrong response.  It hurts others and it does not fulfill God’s plan.  I love this scene in the garden, because it gives me a blueprint for walking through things.  I want to learn to handle hard moments like Jesus did, honoring God and his word.  Next time I face a threat and cry, “Lord, shall I strike with my sword?”, I want to remember this scene, listen, and pray.  I want to hear Jesus say, “I’m in control.”  I want to put away the sword of my flesh, take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, and ask a new question.  “Lord, what scripture do you want to see fulfilled in me?”  (After all, this is why I read the Bible, to know when and how to apply what is written in it, to find myself and my answers there.)  I want to learn to kneel in that garden and like Jesus pray this prayer, “Show me Lord, how to act in a way that proves your word true, your love deep, your redemption real.  Show me how to live in a way that brings salvation.”

The character and nature of Jesus is amazing in this scene.  Jesus was going through a horrendous trial, more awful than anything we could face.  And he could have been gratified that it appeared someone was standing up for him, that they cared enough to cut off an ear.  But Jesus wasn’t at all gratified by that.  He wasn’t looking for someone to cut off an ear for him.  And he doesn’t want us looking for that either.  When we are living to make people pay, we have a problem.  We’re missing the greater sacrifice.  Jesus sacrifice.  Jesus came to get us out of the eye for eye and ear for ear system.  Jesus didn’t cut off an ear as a badge of his love for us, he suffered in his own self.  He did not strike.  He was stricken.  He did not make another person pay.  He paid.  His life’s blood is on the purchase agreement of our souls.  So let’s not be looking for ears.  Jesus alone is worthy of our constant gaze.  And highest praise.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.    Isaiah 53:4-5 NIV

 

 

Thanksgiving Table

Colorful maple leaves on wooden  table.Falling leaves natural ba

It had been a rough couple of days.  I was assaulted by thoughts, enemy thoughts that kept coming against me.  I was battle weary.  I felt confused and lost.  And got down on my knees to pray.  As I began confessing all my oppressive thoughts, I felt a strong command to my heart, “Remember the great table of the Lord.”  Oh yes, I thought, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies” Psalm 23.  What is at this table of the Lord?  Truths.  Truths that when taken up and taken in, fortify us for the fight within.  These are not “visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads,” but correct thoughts of who God is.

I remember my grandmother’s table and a special meal served at her house.  It was a feast worthy of exclamation.  Fruit was fizzling in purple goblets and mere pats of butter had been shaped like roses.  As each dish was carried out of the kitchen and placed on the table, everyone seated exclaimed things like, “Oh my…” “Wow!”  “This looks wonderful!”  And it was.

But there is a greater table.  There is a table for weary and storm-battered souls.  Sit down in the presence of your enemies and eat there.  Feast on the richness of who God is.  Take in, and savor, what is true of Him and what is true of you:

God is fighting for you.  And he will win. (Exodus 14:14)

He loves you even when you feel terrible and unlovable. (Romans 5:8)

He knows right where you are, even if you feel lost. (Job 23:8-10)

He will never, ever, ever leave you, even if others do. (Hebrews 13:5)

Nothing will stop his persistent goodness and grace to you, nothing. (Psalm 23:6)

These truths give clarity.  They wipe away confusion about God’s nature and what he is able to do.  He’s deeply compassionate and all powerful.  These truths wipe away confusion about where you are and who you are to him.  You are under his watchful eye.  You are deeply loved, and never to be forsaken.  Exclaim over each of these revelations.  Thank God for each truth.  This is comfort food.  Sit.  Eat it until you are fat.  Then give thanks.  Give thanks that this food can and will, change your life!  Give thanks that in the light of these truths, you see the enemy’s lies for what they are, pesky flies at the Father’s table.

Romans 1:21 says, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God, nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened…”  What keeps our thoughts from becoming futile?  What stops our hearts from being dark?  Glorifying God (gladly exclaiming over who he is) and giving thanks to him.  This floods our hearts with light, which means peace, calmness, truth, and Jesus, because Jesus is light.  Do these things and your toughest battles are won.  Amen?  Amen.  Let’s eat.

 

 

Wounds You Can Trust

 

Proof Reading

“Wounds from a friend can be trusted.”  Proverbs 27:6 NIV

When I was in college, a writing professor returned one of my papers with some remarks that were critical and upsetting.  I was living with my parents at the time and couldn’t wait to show the paper to my father, certain he would join me in my outrage.  When I returned home my father was working the night shift, so I left my paper on the kitchen table with a note that went something like this, “Dad, can you believe how this professor has criticized my work?”

The next morning I saw that my father had read my note and left a reply.  There in his bold handwriting were the words “Dana, I have read your paper, and I think your professor has made some valuable comments.”

“Valuable comments!”

I was mad.  And crushed.  I fumed around the kitchen muttering things like, “I thought you loved me!” and “Whose side are you on anyway?”

My tantrum lasted most of the morning.  And then it began to fizzle.  How could I argue against my father’s love?  How could I question whose side he was on?  On many occasions my father had sacrificed his own time to sit and help me write papers for school.  Often he had spent time talking with me about my future.  He helped me choose a college and was paying part of my expenses.  He was my academic cheerleader.  Why would he hurt me?

Love demanded it.  My father knew if I went to school with a hard and arrogant heart I would never become the person I could be.  He knew if he hurt me for a moment he could help me for a lifetime.

Our Heavenly Father loves us dearly.  Sometimes he will tell us tough things.  We should accept those things with a humble and teachable spirit, trusting that he is working for our good, even when it hurts.

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, 

and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,

because the Lord disciplines those he loves…”

Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best;

but God disciplines us for our good,

that we may share in his holiness.

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.

Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace

for those who have been trained by it.  Hebrews 12:5, 10-11 NIV   

 

 

 

 

 

Learning to Serve Humble Pie

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On my writer’s Facebook page I once compared myself to a cook and my writing pieces to simmering stews.  Stews that I taste and test, as I try to understand what should be added, or altered, in order to make each one… perfect.  Months have passed since I shared that.  And now my so called kitchen is full of writing pieces that have never been served up.  What each piece needs to make it just right is a mystery to me.  Imagine if this were physical food, and I had a family or group of friends to feed?  Imagine if I stopped putting meals on the table in my home, because I couldn’t get each dish to turn out just great.  That would be ridiculous.  And sad.  And that is where I have been.  I am sorry readers.  I have missed serving those of you who have pulled up to my corner of God’s table.

So now I am thinking…. wouldn’t it be better to serve something instead of nothing?  Does a dish need to be perfect in order to nourish or comfort?  Have I been prideful– afraid to give and serve with my weakness showing?

Today, I remember Jesus perfect sacrifice on the cross, and how it came through his vulnerability, humility and nakedness.  I remember how Jesus told the apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).  I think there is something for me to learn about serving weak and trusting God to show Himself strong.

I want to learn to serve this way, to dish up this humble pie, and give what I have to offer even if eggs shells are in the mix.  And I want to encourage you to do the same.  Let’s not aim for our own perfection, but trust God’s.  Let’s count on God to add what we lack– that missing ingredient, that special sauce, His amazing grace that redeems every dish, and day.

Dear Lord,  We are small.  And weak.  We often don’t know exactly what to say.  And we hardly ever know perfectly what to do.  But here we are.  We want to get out of our kitchens, and our homes, and ourselves, and serve others what you have given us to share.  We are not amazing.  But you are amazing.  You have reached out and rescued us.  Thank you.  Please rescue what we dish up and do today, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

Sowing in Tears

Old farmer woman sowing seeds mixed with fertilizer from a bucket

“Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.”   Psalm 126:5 NIV

What breaks your heart?  And brings you to tears?  It’s a deeply personal question, but I ask it because God’s word tells us that right there, right at that point of sorrow, there’s an amazing field of opportunity.  An opportunity to sow in tears, and reap joy.

So how do we go from heartbroken to happy harvest?  How do we plant, and grow, this rare and wonderful crop?  We start by understanding that tears alone produce nothing.  So, as much as we’d like to sit around with our tissue boxes, we can’t.  There must come a day when we get up from our bed of sorrow, walk into that field of opportunity, and take God at His word– turn our faces heavenward, and find out what God wants us to do in light of (or in spite of) what we’re going through.  Sowing in tears means just that, we can’t wait until we feel positively sunny before we start.  That’s key to farming a field of joy.  And, you can begin today.

What’s your pain?  Pour it out to the Lord.  And ask Him what to do.  Then, take His seed of instruction and sow it by acting on what He says.  Is God telling you to wait?  Then wait, don’t push.  Is God telling you to trust?  Then trust, don’t manipulate or strategize.  Is God telling you to go somewhere and do something?  Then go.  Do it.  Don’t wait for a prettier day.  Don’t wait until you are in a better mood.  Do what God says, no matter how strange, or impossible, it seems.

God’s kingdom is made up of many glorious fields planted in this way.  His mercy pours down like rain upon them.  His face shines radiantly on the people who work in them.  So take heart little farmer.  Take that step of faith.  And plow ahead.

Several years ago I quit my teaching job to write a novel.  I worked on a manuscript, took it to a writer’s conference and was told that no one would be interested in a story like mine.  I was heartbroken.  I came home and cried.  Now what, I wondered?  For days I sat around on a bed of tears.  Then I prayed and asked God what to do.  I started writing devotionals for the local paper and bible studies for a jail ministry and a Sunday school class.  I even wrote a few speeches for our church women’s events.  I did my best to sow seeds of God’s love and encouragement into the lives of the people around me.  I never dreamed I could be truly happy working in those little fields, but I was.  I gained some dear friends.  And reaped joy.  Joy I never would have known, if I hadn’t cried and sown.  Looking back now I see that God was teaching me something very important.  He was teaching me to love His story, more than my own.  And I do.

Don’t let your tears fall to the ground without a seed.  Weep if you must, but sow as you weep.  The harvest will come when the time is just right.  Don’t worry, you will reap joy.  It’s a promise.

        He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.    Psalm 126:6 NIV

I Do

Hands Of A Bride And Groom

Jake was wooing me. Over meals, on walks and through talks Jake shared with me who he was, what he believed in, and where he felt he was headed in this life. He told me he loved me. Then he asked me to marry him. Would I be joined with him forever in love, life and purpose? I have to admit his proposal was a little scary. I knew that Jake was a man who would think nothing of living without electricity in the African bush. If I said “yes” where would he take me? What would I end up doing?

I couldn’t know that. I could only believe and trust. Believe that he loved me and trust his love to blanket each decision he made about us. When I stood at the altar and said “yes” to Jake I wasn’t placing my trust in a wedding ring, a special ceremony or even in the “institute of marriage.” I was trusting in him.

Jesus came into our world. He has shown us who he is. We see that he is brave and kind, that he saves people from horrible things, that he always forgives, and that he loves to the death. Jesus has invited us to accept his love and join him in his purpose. We can’t know ahead of time all the places he will lead us, but we can know that his plans for us will be covered in his love. When we say “yes” to Jesus, we’re not trusting in a cross around our necks, a special prayer or ceremony, or even in the “institute of religion.” We are trusting in Him.

Jesus has said, “I love you. I will never leave you.” He’s made his promises. He said, “I do.” Will you?

                           “…we know and rely on the love God has for us.” 1 John 4:16

The “Streams in the Desert” Sisterhood

 

Arms That Are Strong

“Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard…”
          Malachi 3:16 NIV

Recently I was asked to think back on a hard season of my life and recall a good or funny memory from it. I thought about when I quit my teaching job some years back, about the loneliness and confusion I felt as I set out to become a writer. Soon I began to smile and even laugh in my heart as I remembered three friends God gave me during that time. Two of them were going through some very hard and heartbreaking things; the other was our upbeat and wise cheerleader.

Our foursome kicked off when one of the heartbroken friends began raving to the rest of us about a devotional book she was reading. She would get so excited saying that it always had the perfect word for her discouraged heart. She even quoted to us from it. The book was “Streams in the Desert” and it wasn’t long before we all had a copy.

So began what I call “The Streams in the Desert Club.” Oh it wasn’t an official club. In fact it was very unofficial. But a meeting came to order anytime one might see another and say, “Did you read ‘Streams’ today?” (Our upbeat friend called it “Storms” since she thought the topics were always about something so stormy.)

In our club of four I knew I could count on four things: confidentiality, sympathy, prayers, and laughter. It was a sweet sisterhood. And though it’s been years since that time, I still smile when I think about us.

Here is a truth: In every trial there will be a blessing. In sorrow or hardship, you will find something sweet. Watch for it. Count on it. It is God’s way.

I’ll leave you with this passage from “Streams” today.

“The burden of suffering seems a tombstone hung about our necks, while in reality it is only the weight which is necessary to keep down the diver while he is hunting for pearls.”
-Richter