An Encounter in Darkness

A few years ago a friend was spending a few days with me, and one night while we were watching Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, she became visible upset at the excruciatingly bloody portrayal of the crucifixion. Understandably, it’s a hard to watch gut-wrenching movie, but so was the actual event. As the movie ended, my friend concluded, “No father would have allowed his son to endure such torture.” It was then I learned that her spiritual views include a range of spiritual beliefs and practices including male and female deities. She also do not believe Jesus is God’s son, but simply a prophet. However, we should not be surprised because this is the argument of many intellects. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, and the Pharisee were a group of educated, religious leaders whom Jesus called hypocrites. But Nicodemus recognized he may not have all the answers, so he went to Jesus in the dark of night to be enlightened, and he received the absolute purpose of the Gospel. That day, an encounter and this one short verse that even a child would be able to remember: “For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NLT) positioned Nicodemus in the Light. He was not changed because of an intellectual debate or physical proof, but an open mind and heart to understand who God is and to receive Him.

I wonder now what the effect or consequence would be, should the total humiliation and wondrous majesty of the cross were to headline every newspaper around the world one Easter Sunday. I wonder if it would give us cause to examine ourselves to discover the alarming darkness and shocking evil that lies within us. I wonder if we would allow ourselves time and thought to discover the heart of God and how full of love it is for us, and have always been. Would we see ourselves in the crowd crying, crucify him! Would we, individually and collectively, concede we are no better than those who nailed Christ to the cross that day? But more importantly, would we come to understand and accept that nothing in all of creation reveals to us more about the heart of God and the heart of man than the unimaginable suffering, humiliation and death of Jesus. Not even King David’s disturbingly prophetic and graphic account could not fully describe what Christ would endure hundreds of years later.

Now, consider for a moment the day you invited God into your life. Perhaps you were so broken that you felt trapped and hopeless with no one or nowhere to turn. Maybe you were traveling down a self-destructive path thinking there was no outlet, no release from the pain and suffering. I have often looked back on that significant day as a young child, and I remember how alone I felt and how I anxious I was about the Christian journey. I remember the legalism that robbed me of the joy of getting to know the heart of God. Today, I imagine what the world, but especially the church would be like if the humiliation, the compassion and the grandeur of Calvary were truly understood as more than an historical event or merely a day of remembrance. The crucifixion is not a mystery to deliberate or a tragedy to grieve. It is not something that was done to a beaten, weak and helpless Christ. The cross is a declaration of love unimaginable. It is the ultimate self-sacrifice to cleanse the wickedness of man’s sinful heart, and if we understand and appreciate the difference Calvary made, Christianity cannot be empty and love cannot be restricted.

Yet sadly, much of the continue to feel excluded from God’s compassion and love, and not willing to believe “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9 NIV). But what a difference a day makes! One day in the darkest hour of human history, the purpose and the power and the glory of Christ could not be denied! One day, God’s amazing love penetrated our hearts and deposited a seed of faith and hope and a deep desire to honor Him by living a life that reveals love and gratitude for the One who gave His life that we might live. Three women did:

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, and Salome brought spices so they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they say that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away (Mark 16:1-4).

On resurrection morning, driven by love and gratitude, three women without the physical strength or social rights and privileges assigned to men in biblical days, did what they could. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, and Salome were motivated to honor their Lord by anointing Jesus’ body with spices. These women could have run and hide as most of the disciples did. Instead they followed His body to the tomb and they prepared spices, believing they would have the opportunity to anoint the body that was broken for them. These women did not worry about the huge boulder that could hinder them from achieving their goal. They did not hesitate because of the Roman guards they would encounter. They were clearly not deterred by any foreseeable difficulties, but with love they pushed forward, and because they ceased the moment and used the opportunity they had, they were the first to see Jesus after He was rose from the dead. The songwriter put it perfectly when he asked:

Amazing love, how can it be?

That you, my King, would die for me

Amazing love, I know it’s true

It’s my joy to honor you.

Easter Sunday should be personal, because looking down from the cross, Jesus did not see a crowd; He saw you and He saw me, all worthy of redemption. Recently I went to see the movie “The Shack.” I had read the book a few years ago and was excited to see the characters come alive on screen. However, I did not expect to be so affected by the message of personal pain, love, renewal and hope. A poignant point in the movie was when the main character accused “God” of forsaking His own son on the cross, when Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Matt. 27:46 NIV)? It was then God showed his own nailed pierced hands, affirming He was right there with His Son on the cross, just as He is with each of us in our pain and suffering. One day makes the difference! Allow it to make the difference in your life.

 

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The Wonders of Silence

I admit I am country at heart. Always have and always will. Growing up on an island has tremendous advantages. Neighbors were cooperative and hospitable, but it was the more rural areas where I first came to appreciate the magnificence of God’s craftsmanship and the simplicity of things such as silence. Some of my fondest memories are the summers I spent in the country with relatives. It was during those times I would lay in bed at nights and not only listened to the silence, but also wondered about the God I learned about in Sunday school, and who knew we needed silence to hear His voice. Scriptures tells us that God reveals Himself through nature, and King David affirms, “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word.” Psalm 19:1-3 (NLT).

So much of life is about acquisition. We collect things and even people, and we dispose of them when they no longer bring us pleasure or serve our purpose and agenda. As humans, we were made for relationships, but prone to pride and self-interest. We love to be loved or we conquer and isolate to control. But sometimes the things we value least or fail to appreciate are the very things that should amaze us, such as a brilliant sunset, peace, contentment, laughter, family, the company of good friends, good health, a personal space that reflects who we are, and the freedom to worship the one true and living God. But we are so busy collecting and conquering that even while we are searching for Him, we miss His power, and loving care displayed through nature. So creation dictates that there is more to life than acquiring and there are also benefits to letting go of people, places and things.

Nothing offers me a fresh view of life like communion with nature. In that setting I feel a compelling freedom to tell God exactly how I feel about things, knowing He will not judge or forsake me because He knows my heart. Talking with Him during those times and understanding that seeds must first die to produce fruits or beauty never fails to renew my injured soul and give me hope for tomorrow. It is also in the presence of God’s creation that I have come to understand that living a life that constantly feeds my spirit need not take much.

Our culture seems to dictate that we keep moving and doing, and worrying about things we have no control over. But only when we embrace silence we begin to make room to hear God’s voice as he whispers in our heart, “Be still, and know that I am God! (Psalm 46:10) because regardless of all the uncertainty in the world, God’s victory is certain, and all will stand in silence before Him one day. It is when we connect with nature we come to understand order, balance and the immeasurable power of the wise Creator. We know then, that God doesn’t only speak to us through preachers, prophets, signs and wonders, and if we look for Him only in answered prayers, we miss all the avenues in which He expresses himself and what the universe is trying to tells us by declaring his glory.

So if you need to hear God’s voice in your circumstance, step back from the noise and listen. Find a quiet space that offers intimacy to be with Him. Create a special nook in your home or backyard that beckons you to come, sit and dine with Him. Step outside on a starry night and think about all the people in the world displaced without a home or a country and give thanks for the comfort of silence. I like Sidney Lovett’s advice: “Accept life daily not as a cup of tea to be drained but as a chalice to be filled with whatsoever things are honest, pure, lovely, and of good report.”

The prophet Habakkuk reminds us that God speaks through His Word as well as His silence. Tarry a while with Him. Listen…. can you hear Him?

 

MOVE FORWARD IN THE STRENGTH YOU HAVE

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It is human nature to question and doubt God in the midst of our storms and challenges. We perceived what we believe to be His abandonment. We forget all the times He showed up in the nick of time and helped us with the problems we created through haste or disobedience. We blame others because it easier, and perhaps justified our unwillingness to change, or to take action to create the life we desire. However, accountability is answerability. It allows us to assume responsibility for creating the life we want. It makes us move to action. We are all worthy of love, joy and peace. My prayer for you is that you take the road less travel and discover who are and you who were meant to be.

Blessings

Amazed by Grace

Perhaps this is a time when you are trying to sort out the voices in your head, struggling to decide what is true and what is not, or what is misleading. Perhaps your spirit has been deflated because of what is happening in the world, what others may be saying about you, and it is becoming more difficult to “worship the Lord with gladness, come before Him, singing with joy. Acknowledge that the Lord is God” (Psalm 100:1-3). After all, you may be asking yourself, what have you got to be thankful for?

There’s so much happening all around us, in the world and on the political scene that some of us have forgotten the truth of who we are in Christ, and in so doing we have exchanged the truth for a lie. There’s sickness, violence, loss, sorrow, disappointment, and financial concerns, and none of us is exempt. But if we are not firmly grounded in the Word, it’s easy to get thrown off the course God has set for us. And that is exactly what the enemy wants, and why he is setting up roadblocks in our path, dispersing doubts in our mind, and messing with our confidence. He desires to keep us so busy worrying, distracted, frustrated and defeated that we will forget who loves us, whom we serve, and who we are in Christ. But lets not forget that every day is a new beginning, a fresh start to rev up our engine with prayer and the Word. Remember that God is holding on to us, so we must lean into Him by remembering where He has brought us from, because the truth is that although we may not be where we want to be, we’re not where we used to be, and that should be enough to be thankful for. Think about it this way, regardless of how our day ends, morning offers us a clean slate to start over, and not every one will get that opportunity.

The truth is, sometimes we forget that God’s peace, which is the only true and lasting peace, is different from what the world would have us believe. We forget that our peace is not in the absence of war or conflict, and it does not depend on who is in the White House or what others think of us. We forget that joy does not depend on what is going on in our life at any given moment, and it is not found in how much money we have in the bank, neither is it as simple as positive thinking. Our joy is not subject to people who do not know us but judge us, but in the truth that God loves us consistently and in spite of our humanness. Joy is found in knowing who God is, so look to Him to see your reflection and strengthen your resolve.

He is concerned about you and me! When He was in the Garden of Gethsemane with His face bowed to ground, His soul crushed with grief to the point of death, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine”, it was all for you and me! So, give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares for you. Remember, regardless of what is happening in the world, God is always in control. Stay focus!

Be blessed!

BREAKING FREE OF A CLUTTERED LIFE

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Perhaps it’s getting older or more spiritually matured, or maybe it’s finally been able to appreciate where I am in life, or it could be because I recognize God working in every corner of my life. I don’t know for sure what the reason is, but lately I have been doing some serious heart and house cleaning. In the last few years I have gotten to not only know myself, but also embrace who I am—finally! Consequently I have lubricated the once squeaky door to my heart and opened it wider to receive the people who may have had limited access. I have dusted each shelf and examined the contents of the vessels that have been obstructing the entrance. My kids believe I am sort of an introvert. I am fine with that. I need solitude and cannot thrive without quiet time to collaborate with nature. However, I am making an effort to be more accessible and outgoing.

So to clear any hidden clutter and residue of negativity and worry that may be lingering in our hearts, and will never serve us well, I invite you to throw out the disappointments and release the should-haves of yesteryears. Examine old dreams and allow room for new ones. Yes. It’s never too late to dream. We are never too old to reach for the imaginable. And finally, open the windows of your soul to allow healing, refreshing, restorative and rejuvenating light to circulate through your being. Breathe deeply, exhale, and feel the muck fall away. It is said that we are spiritual beings here on earth for a human experience. I don’t know if there is anything sadder than journeying through this life without the peace of God. I have been there and I am not going back, because the truth is, we have everything we need and will ever need. We always have, and the wants will come in God’s timing. David encourages us to commit everything to God. He says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). It is not about regular church attendance, although that is important. It is not dressing our wounds with the Band-Aid of laughter or indifference. It is not a trade off, meaning God will give us riches if we love Him. Rather, I think the verse is telling us that when we learn to praise and worship Him through whatever we are going through, we are aligning our desires with His purpose for us, and we will never be empty, lacking or unfulfilled. And you can begin by clearing the clutter to see clearly with spiritual eyes.

So I continue to clear the clutter and work on dividing my time proportionately and wisely to make first thing first to stay connected to my Source. Quite often we allow our cluttered lifestyle to keep us away from savoring the undeserved favors we received from the only One that is able to shape, refine, fill and sustain us. Or we are so busy trying to survive that we forget to live; we forget that we were all blessed with gifts and we are not here by accident or some blunder of nature. And if we are not careful our cluttered life can cause our worship to be a drive-through affair with an outdated program.

CUT THE DEAD BRANCHES AND PULL THE WEEDS: Think about this: from time to time most of us go through our house and collect clothes and household stuff we have not used in years. We go through drawers and cabinets, and make note of what we need. We clean and reorganize the garage. And if you are like me, you also prune trees and shrubs, pull weeds and freshen up the gardens with new plants, colorful flowers and mulch to enjoy the bounty and beauty of nature. And so it should be with our physical and spiritual life. We should be continually examining our relationship with God so it becomes, or remains a sweet smelling aroma to His nostrils. Our hearts should be so filled with gratitude that last year’s thank you is never sufficient for today’s blessings, and our praise and worship should be new every day to thwart the enemy’s plan. To stay fresh and fruitful, it is also vital to remove the dead branches of our life, and cut off the people who insist on distracting us, and weighing us down with negativity. We must shake ourselves loose of those who continually criticize us to keep us stuck where we are.

CHAOS EXHAUSTS OUR JOY: A cluttered home creates disorder and confusion that keeps us busy, anxious, and unavailable for family and friends, and worst, leaves us with little time for God and self. Not only does clutter robs us of the beauty around us, it drains our energy and strips us of our creativity. Constant chaos prevents us from fully enjoying life, and distracts us from becoming who we were meant to be. The same applies to the heart and mind. Regrets, disappointments, unforgiveness, grudges, resentments are all obstructions the enemy use to keep us from living a joyful life of service to God. In the end, clutter signifies fear. It is failure to be decisive and productive. Let’s not wait for another new year to clear the clutter in our life. Do it now. You have nothing to loose but clutter.

Blessings.