I will confess that each year as Easter comes into view on the horizon, and Holy Week is celebrated, I often struggle.
This is my 71st Easter and sometimes, as cosmic and tragic and victorious as the whole Gospel Weekend is, I don’t feel that thrill that I remember I once felt.
I often ask the Lord, “Do it again. Make my heart stop one more time. Take my breath away.”
Please don’t let me get drowned in baby chicks and chocolate Easter bunnies. It’s hard to keep my head on straight in Walmart.
This year, He showed up big time. I’m not even sure who I was talking with about kids and parents’ unconditional love, but it led us to talking about the movie “Sophie’s Choice.” It has been a long time (1982) since I saw it, and I am NOT recommending it. But I can never forget Meryl Streep, rushing from the prison camp and being told she could only take one of her two small children on the train. Sophie had to pick one and the other would die. Horror! How can you choose!
And then I saw it, another parent had to choose between his Son and me. One of us had to die so that the other could live. The son; perfect in every way. Me; a mess.
And my Father in Heaven chose me – and his Son died.
Hosanna, this is something every child of God can say. One by one; all over the world.
Easter 2021 has taken my breath away.
And HE IS RISEN!
I was having a conversation with my husband, Mark, a few days ago about the John 5 story of the paralyzed man at the Pool called Bethesda near the Sheep Gate going into Jerusalem.
Now, in general this was not very attractive real estate. First of all, the sheep gate was where the sheep went in – but never came out. Slaughtering went on just inside that gate, so the respectable people of the city would never use that gate. It was unclean. Unclean in the dead animal, slaughterhouse sort of way.
On top of that, the Bethesda Pool nearby, was where the invalids, diseased, crippled, outcasts and rejects – all unclean --gathered, hoping for a handout, or maybe a miracle.
Jesus came by that gate – and like everything he did – he had a purpose and a lesson. He saw a paralyzed guy who had been lying on his mat for 38 years. I can’t even imagine how filthy that mat must have been. Did it have bugs and fleas?
Do you think that man might have felt sorry for himself? Just a little?
So, Jesus looked at the guy and said, “Do you WANT to be healed?”
This is where our conversation got interesting. Mark suggested that the reason Jesus asked that question was because he knew that the man possibly enjoyed the comfort of his “memory foam” mat, and he kind of reveled in his misery. Sometimes we ask God for things, but we’d actually prefer the comfort of our own habitual sins and sadness, because it’s so familiar. We’re used to things that way; it’s just the way we are.
Well our guy came up with an excuse – in all of his 38 years, he had never been able to get one person to help him to the pool in time to be healed. Not one person gave him a hand. Sounds a little defeatist.
Jesus abruptly said, “Get up, take up your bed and walk.”
The story isn’t over. Jesus and the guy saw each other again.
Later that day when the guy was confronted with questions about what happened since it was the Sabbath, he said, “I didn’t do it, that man told me to get up and walk.” Really!! Blame your healer for the miracle?
So when Jesus bumped into him even later, Jesus said, “I see you’re well.” (maybe a little sarcasm?)
And then Jesus said, “Sin no more that nothing worse may happen to you.”
So, how comfortable is my mat by the pool, anyway?
I have enjoyed having a “word for the year” for the last several years. This is different than making resolutions, and goals and building up my expectations for what I am going to do. This January or even late December habit has been an asking of the Lord, “show me a WORD from your word for me this coming year.“
2020 was the year for TRUST and the verse Proverbs 3:5 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” was the one for me this past year!
As we went through transition from Zambia to Seattle to our home here at 832 Olive Drive in Yorktown, I found many places to say, “I must trust the Lord”! I often thought I need to do this or that so we will be in the right place at the right time. I’m sure I need to remind and nag or cajole my husband, David, or family, so this thing really happens.
We traveled in an “older van” from Seattle to Newport News on the cusp of the wave of COVID as it hit the USA! At every stop we were loved on by supporters, friends and family – if I had underlying fears about getting or spreading the virus the Lord reminded me to Trust Him.
As we found out our travels to Zambia were not going to happen in April the Lord whispered to me “I know you would love to go…but TRUST me I have rest, time for grieving, and place for you to meet me in Albuquerque! Slow down and look at me, Sally. My decrees are very trustworthy! (Ps 93:5a)
God is so gracious to me, his daughter! I need lots of reminding about who He is! Ps. 37:5 reminded me… “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and He will act.” So too is his promise for the future, “Whoever gives thought to the word will discover good and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.” (Proverbs 16:20)
As the days of 2020 turned into 2021 the Lord revealed that in these times of waiting to get back to “normal” He has blessed me with more time to pray, read the Word, and enjoy being around the house! He has given me a discovery of delights to read and look pictures to look at from long ago. More recently (below) I have enjoyed poems like this one from Alexander McCall Smith (a favorite Author). This poem puts into words much of my experience over these recent months of COVID.
God has mercifully given me HOPE as my focus for 2021!
Ps. 131:3 “O Israel (Sally) HOPE in the Lord from NOW and forevermore.
In a time of distance
By Alex McCall Smith
The unexpected always happens in the way
The unexpected has always occurred:
While we are doing something else,
While we are thinking of altogether
Different things — matters that events
Then show to be every bit as unimportant
As our human concerns so often are;
And then, with the unexpected upon us,
We look at one another with a sort of surprise;
How could things possibly turn out this way
When we are so competent, so pleased
With the elaborate systems we’ve created --
Networks and satellites, intelligent machines,
Pills for every eventuality — except this one?
And so we turn again to face one another
And discover those things
We had almost forgotten,
But that, mercifully, are still there:
Love and friendship, not just for those
To whom we are closest, but also for those
Whom we do not know and of whom
Perhaps we have in the past been frightened;
The words brother and sister, powerful still,
Are brought out, dusted down,
Found to be still capable of expressing
What we feel for others, that precise concern;
Joined together in adversity
We discover things we had put aside:
Old board games with obscure rules,
Books we had been meaning to read,
Letters we had intended to write,
Things we had thought we might say
But for which we never found the time;
And from these discoveries of self, of time,
There comes a new realisation
That we have been in too much of hurry,
That we have misused our fragile world,
That we have forgotten the claims of others
Who have been left behind;
We find that out in our seclusion,
In our silence; we commit ourselves afresh,
We look for a few bars of song
That we used to sing together,
A long time ago; we give what we can,
We wait, knowing that when this is over
A lot of us — not all perhaps — but most,
Will be slightly different people,
And our world, s, its beauty revealed afresh.
Has anyone ever asked if you were more of a mountain or a beach person? I expect that the answer to that question for many people has a lot to do with where they were raised. Hailing from the hills of Western New York, my spirit is most at rest when I’m roaming through a forest dappled in sunlight (or, more likely, a forest blanketed in snow!). In “The Lay of the Last Minstrel,” Sir Walter Scott penned the famous lines:
Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burn’d,
As home his footsteps he hath turn’d
From wandering on a foreign strand!
At this point, you may be wondering what all of this has to do with hymns! Well, in the same way that people often resonate with a landscape from their youth, I believe many are also drawn to a worship style that is familiar to them. For me, this means hymns.
I spent the first 20 years of my life attending a Wesleyan church. Wesleyan churches are named in honor of an Anglican priest, John Wesley, who is considered the founder of Methodism. John’s brother, Charles, composed over 6,500 hymns, so, as you can imagine, most Wesleyans love hymns! Our son, Wesley, is named in recognition of the legacy of these two men.
While I have matured enough to recognize the beauty in other forms of music, hymns will always have the greatest spiritual impact on me. So often they have fascinating (and usually heart-wrenching) stories behind why they were composed (i.e., “It is Well with My Soul,” “Stand up, Stand up for Jesus,” “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” etc.).
In closing, I’d like to share the lyrics to a hymn written by Isaac Watts (the father of English hymnody) in the 1700s and titled, “O God our Help in Ages Past.” He patterned this song after Psalm 90 which scholars believe was composed in the midst of tremendous political upheaval (sound familiar?) due to the death of King Josiah. Similarly, Watts’ England was facing a national crisis (nothing new under the sun?) over the Protestant/Catholic divide when he wrote these confident words:
O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.
Under the shadow of your throne
Your saints have dwelt secure.
Sufficient is your arm alone,
And our defense is sure.
Before the hills in order stand,
Or earth received its frame,
From everlasting you are God,
To endless years the same.
A thousand ages in your sight
Are like an evening gone,
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.
Time, like an ever-rolling stream.
Soon bears us all away
We fly forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the op’ning day.
O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Still be our guard while troubles last,
And our eternal home.
May we cling to Him who has been and ever shall be our Hope, our Help, and our Shelter from the storm!
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear…Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:25, 27)
Whether you have been a Christian for one day or your entire life, it’s likely that you have heard some version of Matthew 6 quoted. It is part of a passage referred to as The Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus plainly lays out many of the teachings He will spend His next few years proclaiming. Contained in this chapter are countless Gospel truths to encourage us in our pursuit of Christ.
Before last week, though, I often viewed these words about anxiety and worry as a little bit of a reprimand. We all know that worry should not take over our thoughts…yet it often does. We all understand that our God in heaven can take care of our every need…but knowing this fact often does not calm our anxieties. No matter how many times I have heard these verses, I still struggle at various times with worrying about the past, present, and future, and I can’t help but feel chastised when I am reminded again that I am doing the very thing Jesus warned against.
Last week, as I opened my Bible to this familiar passage, though, I saw these words in a whole new light.
The beautiful truth hidden in the verses here is that Jesus took the time to show His deep care for our worry. Rather than simply saying “do not worry” and moving on, He gave us reason after reason why we can trust our heavenly Father in the midst of these worries. His words are not dismissive and unkind. In this passage, we can understand that:
In the final verse, Jesus acknowledges that we experience difficult days and seasons; in fact, He chose to live like us so that He could sympathize with our struggles, (Hebrews 4:15), not stand at a distance and tell us that our worries are not real enough or big enough to matter.
Knowing the truth of this passage does not erase our worries, nor does it make every day easier. But understanding that Jesus spoke with deep compassion towards us should be an immense comfort.
In the next few days and weeks, I would encourage you to re-read these familiar words from a new light, understanding that the One who spoke them was filled with so much love that He would lay down His life to bring us peace in this life and the next (John 15:13).
(This blog is a follow-up to the blog “Who’s Your Oikos?“ and “Can I pray for you?” If you haven’t read those blogs, you may want to go back and do so.)
In my previous blogs about evangelism, I suggested a couple of ways to offer to pray for someone who God brings into your path (see the blog post posted on December 7). After praying for someone out loud while you are with them, you can easily segue into your “30 second testimony.” In Mark 5:19, we see Jesus send out a formerly demon-possessed man to “go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you.” We can all have a short testimony ready to share about how the Lord has worked in our lives.
To construct a short testimony:
First, describe two things about you before Jesus.
Second, talk briefly about when/how you came to know Jesus.
Finally, tell how those two things changed after you knew Jesus.
Each part should be just a few sentences long. For example:
I used to be very materialistic. I grew up in a place where people cared a lot of about what jeans you wore or purse you had. And there was a lot of pressure to perform well in school and other places. In college, I felt anxious about my life. But I met some Christians, and they had a peace and joy that I wanted to experience. So I started to read the Bible and decided to follow Jesus. I no longer make material things the center of my life because He is the center of my life. And I know I serve a God that loves me no matter what I accomplish according to the world’s standards. I’m free of that burden and feeling that peace and joy I saw in others.
The next time you pray for someone while you are with them, you could say, “I’d like to share a really short story with you. It will take about a minute.” Just maybe the person listening will want to know more.
Mary David is the pseudonym for a global worker from PCC. She enjoys spending time with her family, sharing the Gospel, and watching God work.
While driving home from church recently, I heard a radio conversation that powerfully impacted my thinking, which I hope will change me this coming year.
I am praying that I will extend “Intentional Invitations.” Let me tell you what I mean. The thing is, a lot of the casual welcoming I do (Covid aside), just happens. Good friends just get together for all the usual reasons. Traditions with family and friends assume that birthdays and graduations will be celebrated together. We have people over because, well, they’re our neighbors, we like them, or they had us over.
But as I listened to the conversation, things started to change in my mind. The discussion was about the transformative, life-affirming power of an invitation. Pastor Bill Golderer the founder of the Broad Street Ministry in Philadelphia described a very unusual, ongoing series of events the ministry has developed over the years, called “Philadelphia’s most Dangerous Dinner Party” Unlike many soup kitchens, where people line up and wait for food, (humbling in itself) special invitations were given to the homeless and the lonely to come to a sit down, table-clothed and thoughtfully served dinner.
Invitations also went out to banks, government buildings and parks. Everyone arrived with a handwritten invitation. The volunteers served the guests with dignity and respect. Guests felt more than served, they felt honored. The radio conversation went on about people meeting at the dinner party, and even the story of a wedding. Pastor Golderer shared how a couple came to him one evening at the “Dinner Party” and asked if he would perform their wedding. He said he was getting his phone out to check his schedule and they said, “Oh that won’t be necessary. We want to be married right here during a dinner. We met here, fell in love here and served here. This is our family.” The Pastor went on to share that an older gentleman who attended that wedding came to him with tears in his eyes and said, “This is the first wedding I have ever attended in my life.” He told how he was such a drunk and derelict that his only daughter, for reasons he understood, forbade him to come to her wedding because he would ruin it. He had made such a mess of his life. He went on to say to the bride and groom, “You can’t know how much it meant to me to be included and invited.”
Don’t we all long to be included and invited. The conversation challenged me to think how I might develop an invitational lifestyle. I’m not sure what that will look like, exactly, but I’m thinking. Matthew 22 and Luke 14 give us a glimpse into what Jesus thought about the power of invitation. It is an active, compelling exercise that impacts the person doing the inviting as well as those who are sought out.
My African friends often told me that it was when I finally sat in their homes and drank their tea that they knew I was truly their friend. What a joy it was for me to feel included.
I’ve noticed the Christmas lights are more, bigger and brighter this year. Houses that usually have Christmas light decorations seem to have more than in years past and homes that are usually more subdued in their displays have lights strung from every corner. Perhaps after such a metaphorically dark year, people are looking for ways to bring in the light.
Growing up, one of my favorite Christmas TV specials was How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966) by Dr. Seuss. Back in my day, we couldn’t stream or even record. It came on once a year and you either set aside the time to watch it when it was on, or you missed it. In any case, I’ve been thinking about that Grinch lately. He hated Christmas with all its celebrations. He hated the noise of ringing bells. He hated the feasting on the roast beast. But more than anything, he hated the singing! And because he couldn’t take the thought of it one more year, he decided he must stop the whole thing!
The plot thickens as the Grinch goes about stealing Christmas, absconding with all the Christmas decorations and presents and food. Then it’s with relish that the Grinch waits on Christmas morning for the Whos down in Who-Ville to discover the theft and mourn the loss of Christmas. Of course, we know what happens. Despite all accoutrements of Christmas having been taken, the Grinch, instead of hearing the Whos wailing their despair, hears them singing their joy at the coming of Christmas morning. It turns out, the Grinch couldn’t steal Christmas.
That’s what I’ve seen as I’ve driven through neighborhoods after dark. Despite pandemics and shutdowns, fear and death, a deep national divide, and a million other struggles and trials suffered on the individual level, Christmas will come and we – especially those of us in Christ - will rejoice.
We’ll rejoice that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)
With every Christmas light I see, I’m reminded of this Truth.
In July, our family received the news that David was being sent overseas for a year…quite a surprise to us, and definitely something that was not on our radar. He was gone by the beginning of August.
Those first 24 hours after receiving the news were filled with such a range of emotions and thoughts. As a family, separation and deployments aren’t foreign to us, but this was definitely not our preference. Yet, after we received the news, the Peace that God concluded the first long night with was steady, mysterious, solid. “This is of Me.”
As the next four weeks of preparation unfolded, one fear stood out above the others: I was so afraid that I wouldn’t have the Lord’s joy this year. So much of God’s daily gift of joy to me comes from living life with David. I was afraid of a prevailing sadness and heaviness, which not only would have affected me, but our three kids as well. I told the Lord, “You are just going to have to give me MORE of Yourself.” I so wanted to still be able to be joyful; to be able to worship.
The first six weeks certainly had ups and downs as we adjusted to our new normal for this year. Friends here at PCC prayed compassionately and faithfully. And God answered my fear with joy - a steady undercurrent of joy -these last four months, not just for myself, but also for the kids. And it’s not because I am so neat, but because my God is so faithful.
He is Faithful. Much is unknown, unpredictable, this year. But God is Faithful. I have Hope, not because I can see how everything is going to work out, but because I know His Name is Faithful and True.
Anna Staton serves in KidzMin and on the Greeting Team. She and her husband David have three children and have moved 13 times in the last 17 years.
Now that you have been praying over your oikos (if you don’t know what an oikos is, check out the blog below) consider the person that comes to your mind a lot or you’ve had contact with recently. Who is God putting on your heart or in your path? The next time you talk to this person, find out what they are struggling with. What is causing them to be anxious, stressed, or tired? After you find out, utter this sentence, “Can I pray for you?“ Hopefully, they will tell you yes. Many people do. But you could also suggest something like “Can I pray for your family’s health?” Then pray for them right away, in front of them, out loud. Relax and let the Holy Spirit give you the good words that the person needs to hear.
I’ve seen the most hardened hearts open to earnest prayer for their concerns. Once, after a friend and I asked someone if we could pray for them, they angrily replied that we could pray for a political controversy. My friend misunderstood the person’s request and prayed for the wrong thing! I just watched the whole situation and wasn’t sure what to do. After my friend finished the prayer, I was so surprised to see the person’s face softened and thankful for the attempt at prayer. Although it was the “wrong” prayer, he heard love and care expressed.
So please don’t be afraid to pray at the moment, out loud, for someone else. We know God works through prayer. Next time I’ll share something with which to follow up your prayer.
Mary David is the pseudonym for a global worker from PCC. She enjoys spending time with her family, sharing the Gospel, and watching God work.