Saturday, April 4, 2015

Silent Saturday

And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the entrance of the tomb and went away. And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the grave. 

Now on the next day, the day after the preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together with Pilate, and said, "Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, 'After three days I am to rise again.' Therefore, give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day, otherwise His disciples may come and steal Him away and say to the people, 'He has risen from the dead,' and the last deception will be worse than the first." Pilate said to them, "You have a guard; go, make it as secure as you know how." And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone. (Matthew 27:59-66 NASB)

Despite all Jesus had told them ahead of time, His followers were shocked and heart-broken when He was crucified. They were devastated when they realized that He wasn't going to do a miracle and get Himself off that cross. He was dead and their world was shattered. The two women followed the body to the tomb, saw Him laid in the grave, saw the stone rolled over the entrance. 

He was gone. All hope of the Messiah, the new Kingdom was over. It was the end.

It was also the beginning, but no one knew that yet. 

It was the chief priests and Pharisees who expected something to happen, not his followers. The unbelievers remembered that Jesus had said He would rise after three days and they knew He did what He said He would. There was something in those unbelievers that believed He might rise, but there was also something more that believed a grand deception might be under way. They were taking no chances. The stone was already there, but they secured a seal on the stone and put guards before the stone. Jesus wasn't getting out of the grave if they could help it.

For the disciples, it was a terrible time. God was silent. They didn't know what to think, what to believe, much less what to do. They grieved. They wailed. They gnashed their teeth. They wept. Everything they had staked their lives for on the last few years was gone.

Most believers commemorate Good Friday and celebrate Easter, but we don't always take note of Silent Saturday. It is a deeply profound moment in time, however, because we so often experience those frightening days when our hope is shattered and God is silent. It is in those silent times that we are easily overwhelmed with desperation, thinking God has abandoned us, terrified that we will not survive our trial. 

It is in the silence, however, that God does some of His best work. It is in the silence that we learn to walk by faith and not by sight, that we learn the value of hope, the importance of perseverance. It is in the silent times that we stake our claim and learn to hold firm. It is in persevering through the silence that we learn to "own our faith" and become rock solid. We change from a Simon to a Peter.

Silence is a precious rarity but is a good way to acknowledge that God is still in charge, even when He is silent. He is still working out His plan, even when we can't see His hand. He is still on His throne, even when we feel He is gone. 

Today, spend some time in absolute silence. Let the phone ring unanswered. Let the emails wait. Take some time to be completely alone, totally silent, and meditate on the One who bring joy and light on the other side of the dark and the quiet. 

Be still and know that He is God.

Sunday is coming, with all the joy it brings, but don't forget to acknowledge Saturday. It's the beginning that makes Sunday so much sweeter.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Teach us to pray, part 40: The Price of Forgiveness

And He said to them, "When you pray, say: 'Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. 'Give us each day our daily bread. 'And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.'" (Luke 11:2-4 NASB)

There is no better topic for Good Friday than the issue of "forgive us our sins" and the price that was paid for that forgiveness. Understanding the price paid for forgiveness requires that we understand the need for forgiveness. On this early morning, the birds are filling the air with song, light is just beginning to fill the sky, and peace reigns, or so it appears. The stain of sin seems far removed, but the vision from which I shrink is the dark blot of sin in me. 

My preference is to think of myself as the daughter of the King of heaven, but that relationship was made possible only by the unbounded mercy that covered my sin. When God created this world and placed man (and woman) in it, He pronounced it good. There was nothing evil or wrong or bad in it. No sin. 

This is hard for me to comprehend, but there was no sin in Adam or Eve, either. There was choice, though, and it was that choice that ushered sin right in the door to its happy home in the hearts of humankind. It wasn't the serpent that brought sin into the world. He wrapped it in an attractive package, but it was mankind who unwrapped that package and embraced sin with open arms.

In their defense, Adam and Eve did not believe the consequences of sin would be so great, so far reaching. When Eve reached out for the fruit that would, she believed, make her wise, she was not yet a mother. She never once considered that her decision would result in one of her sons murdering the other, nor that the murdering son would be lost to her, as well. Would she or Adam have done something that would result in the loss of their two sons? Maybe not, if they had realized the price. 

That's one of the problems with sin. All we see is the enticing option. We never see the long-term cost. If we did, it might stop us in our tracks. It is the nature of sin, however, that the price is great and the payday is, many times, long in coming. If I am honest about my own sin, I have to admit that my bad choices, my sin, though long repented and forgiven, still reap a price years later. Sin is far more attractive than it should be. 

If we only knew the price, I think, and then I remember. We do know the price. God gave us the law, and we kept right on sinning. He allowed discipline and we responded by cleaning up our acts for a time, then, like a dog returning to its vomit, we went right back to the sin we loved. 

I had a horse that could not be broken once. I tried everything to gentle him, without success, then finally, reluctantly sold him. He did not have a good end, but, by the time of our parting, I had endured enough of him. He was welcome to whatever came his way. God, however, did not respond to our sin by giving up on us. He did not abandon us to our own wickedness. God, in His infinite mercy, said, "There is a price that must be paid for all of Leanna's sin, for all mankind's sin, and it is so high that I will have to pay it Myself." And He did. 

Scripture tells us about the cross. We know with our mind what it cost Christ to pay our debt, but our hearts cannot take it in. He endured terror and pain, death and shame, and He did it for me. For you.  

It is customary to spend some time considering the cross on Good Friday, but our time might be well spent in considering our compulsion to sin that made the cross necessary. For today, I'm asking God to show me my sin the way He sees it, to show me the ways in which my sin made the cross necessary. I know my sin. What I need to see, all over again, is how God sees my sin, for it is only when I see myself as I am that I can truly understand the enormity of what Jesus did for me, the horrific price He paid. We aren't meant to stay in this difficult place, but it is important to visit it long enough to appreciate the light that Christ bought for us. Join me today on this journey of self-enlightenment, this journey of darkness, as we see ourselves in the light of God and recognize our own unworthiness. 

Teach us to pray, part 39: Forgiving and Forgetting

And He said to them, "When you pray, say: ' Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. 'Give us each day our daily bread. 'And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.'" (Luke 11:2-4 NASB)

In the previous post, we learned that God forgives promptly, completely, and permanently. This is the way we are supposed to forgive, as well, but we have more difficulty than is necessary with forgiving, and it is frequently because we choose not to forget. 

I do not mean to be sexist with this next comment at all, but I'm pretty sure it's true. Men, in general, don't have much of a problem with forgiving and forgetting. Brooding on a slight, rehearsing it over and over, is something women do, and not uncommonly. I have seen women keep a hurt as fresh as the day it happened for decades.

I am not immune to this tendency. The last time someone deeply wounded me, I brooded for days over the slight. Finally, I had to accept the fact that neither understanding the motivation behind the wound nor understanding why the events unfolded as they did were necessary for me to forgive. Forgiveness was not optional, nor was forgetting. It turns out that forgetting is impossible as long as I rehash the event repeatedly every day. I had to take every thought captive. 

Of course, Satan wanted to bring thoughts of the event to mind. I could have easily continued to wallow in those thoughts, but I chose to quote scripture instead and, every time thoughts of the person and the wound arose, I combatted my tendency to anger and hurt by praying blessings for the person who had wounded me. As you can well imagine, the enemy fled in the face of that battle tactic. The Sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, is far more effective than we realize, and considerably underused.

Pride is often the root of my refusal to forgive and forget. As we know, God does not bless pride. Sometimes my unforgiveness reveals the pride I have hidden. This is an ongoing source of surprise for me, but a slight often results in considerable repentance on my part because my reaction to the slight reveals unrecognized sin in me!

Henry Ward Beecher  wrote "'I can forgive, but I cannot forget' is only another way of saying, 'I will not forgive.' Forgiveness ought to be like a cancelled note - torn in two and burned up so that it never can be shown against one." Those days I spent brooding, "trying" to forgive, were exactly the attitude Beecher was addressing. Not forgetting was not forgiving. 

If God has forgiven the enormity of my sin (and He has), it is the height of arrogance when I refuse to forgive a slight that someone has caused me. If I am to ask God to forgive me as I forgive others, I cannot reasonably expect Him to forgive me when I refuse to forgive someone else.

There is something enormous that I have learned about forgiving and forgetting. It turns enemies into friends. There is greater power than we realize in choosing to forgive completely and to pray for our enemies. It frees us from the power of our hurts and it also frees us to love as Christ, who loved us while we were yet sinners, loves. 

Sue Freeman commented to an earlier post on forgiveness and her words carried such truth that they bear repeating. "Hatred can do more damage to the vessel in which it is stored than to the object on which it is poured." Unforgiveness damages us far more than it does the person we are refusing to forgive. 

If there is something you have failed to completely and permanently forgive, why not join me and choose to let it go today? The freedom to be found in forgiveness is worth the relinquishing of pride it requires. Let's stop pouring out unforgiveness and hatred and start pouring out forgiveness and the love of Christ instead. If we are to love as Christ loved, we must first forgive as Christ forgave.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Teach us to pray, part 38: Forgiving like God Forgives

And He said to them, "When you pray, say: ' Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. 'Give us each day our daily bread. 'And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.'" (Luke 11:2-4 NASB)

The issue of forgiveness is so vitally important to the life of a disciple that we are going to look at this subject in a bit more depth. In the Model Prayer recorded in Matthew's gospel, Jesus prayed, "forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors." In both accounts, the importance of forgiving others in order to have our own sins forgiven is clear. The problem is that I, of course, want my own sins forgiven promptly. The sins of others toward me, however, tend to loom larger than my own, and I am not as quick to forgiveness as I want God to be toward me. This should not be.

If I want the forgiveness of God, I need to forgive like He forgives. A brief look at the way God forgives draws a sharp contrast between my own tendency toward a form of forgiveness and His utterly complete forgiveness.

1) God forgives promptly. If we confess our sins, He forgives us. He doesn't make us wallow in shame or beg repeatedly to wear Him down for forgiveness. When we confess, He forgives. We should offer that same promptness in forgiveness. (1 John 1:9)
2) God forgives completely. He removes our sin "as far as the east is from the west". (Psalm 103:12) and sweeps them away like a cloud. "Isaiah 44:22)
3) God forgives permanently. God forgives and forgets. He blots out our sins and remembers them no more, rather than bringing them back up over and over again. He does not continued to rehearse our sin to keep them memory fresh. (Isaiah 43:25)

If God forgives promptly, completely, and permanently, then I, too, should forgive promptly, completely, and permanently. We will look at "forgiving and forgetting" in more detail tomorrow, but Scripture makes it clear that I cannot hold on to the hurts of others if I want to have forgiveness myself. 

Corrie ten Boom said that forgiveness is an act of the will. Martin Luther King described forgiveness as an attitude. "Forgiveness is not an occasional act. It is a permanent attitude." When there is something to forgive, I must choose to forgive it. I must also choose not to rehearse it over and over again, which requires that I take every thought captive. If thoughts of the offense recur, my job is to recall that offense only as forgiven and move on.

Forgiveness is a choice. God chooses to forgive us, and so should we forgive others. This Holy Week, we celebrate the forgiveness purchased for us on the cross by Christ. As we thank Him for the price He paid, let us also forgive those who have offended us, and do it just as thoroughly, just as promptly, and just as permanently as God has forgiven us. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Teach us to pray, part 37: Forgive as we forgive

And He said to them, "When you pray, say: ' Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. 'Give us each day our daily bread. 'And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.'" (Luke 11:2-4 NASB)

We come now to the section of the Model Prayer that may be the most difficult for many of us to pray. "And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us." This business of having our own sins forgiven is one we can all embrace. The task of forgiving others is one we are not quite so eager to accomplish, and I am not immune to this difficulty. 

When someone wrongs me in some way or, even worse, wrongs someone I love, my natural tendency is to respond with anger that easily translates to unforgiveness. Unforgiveness, however, leads to bitterness that does far more damage to me than to the one who wounded me. Not only does bitterness tend to seep out into every relationship and every situation in my life, but it taints my relationship with God, as well. If I want God to forgive me, I must be willing to forgive others. 

Jesus knew this was a difficult area for us, which is probably why He spoke so much about dealing with our enemies. "Be reconciled with your brother first." (Matt. 5:24) "Make friends quickly with your opponent." (Matt. 5:25) "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." Nothing of loving our enemy comes easily to us, but it is not optional.
Jesus said for us to love our enemies and He meant it. It wasn't just a helpful suggestion.

I've learned a little about forgiveness over the years. Having seen the results of unforgiveness and bitterness, I do not want what those easily-embraced decisions offer. When hard times come my way, I have learned to take those burdens to our Lord first. Praying for the one who has injured me in some way does not mean that I like what has happened or that I feel "warm and fuzzy" toward the one who has hurt me. It simply means that I begin in obedience and, in doing that, I usually act my way into feeling like Jesus intended. 

Even when I haven't yet acted my way into feeling like Jesus intended, I still have to obey. That's the task that is definitely difficult. Obedience is a choice and, when I choose obedience in praying for the one who is (at least temporarily) my enemy, it helps me to move toward loving them. Unforgiveness is much easier, but it is in no way better. 

Corrie Ten Boom, who suffered in a Nazi prison camp, knew quite a bit about forgiving her enemies. She said, "Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart." Do you "feel" like forgiving? Do it anyway.

What about loving our enemies is optional? Nothing at all. If we want to be in right relationship with God, we must be in right relationship with our fellow man. The burden of unforgiveness is one we were never meant to carry. Why not join with me in taking those burdens of hurt and those difficulties of forgiving to our Lord? Offer a sacrifice of forgiveness, of blessing toward our enemies, and allow the Father to cleanse and heal the wound that unforgiveness has caused.                                                                

Monday, March 30, 2015

Teach us to pray, part 36: Daily Bread

And He said to them, "When you pray, say: ' Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. 'Give us each day our daily bread. 'And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.'" (Luke 11:2-4 NASB)

We come now to the phrase "give us each day our daily bread". The word here for daily is epiousios, and Strong's explains it to mean "for this day and the next". The idea here is that God will provide enough for today and tomorrow, so that we will not be fearful today about what we will need tomorrow. For one who has a tendency toward concern for tomorrow before I've begun today, this is the kind of provision that gives me great comfort. It's provision that allows me to enjoy the gifts of today, knowing that tomorrow is also secure.

This kind of prayer for "daily bread" is not a prayer for champagne and caviar. This is a prayer for what is necessary, not what is extravagant. It is not a request for wants, but for needs. I have a sad history of many wants (and of obtaining those wants), most of which have nothing to do with needs. When I rein in my requests to that which is necessary, it allows me to leave the extras to my Heavenly Father, who is far more generous than I could ever deserve. 

When I truly ask for my "daily bread", I begin to focus on my needs rather than my wants. I've found that the things I have accumulated take on a different light, as well. Not everything I've accumulated is something I still need, and many of these things could better serve someone else. There is great freedom in passing items that are still serviceable to someone who can use it. 

There is something very interesting about the word translated here as bread. According to Thayer's, this is the word for bread made from flour and water. It is the thickness of a thumb and baked in a round cake about the size of a plate. This bread is to be broken, not sliced, and is the same word used to describe the bread eaten at the Last Supper, the bread about which Jesus said, "This is my body, broken for you." It is also the same word Jesus used when He said, "I am the bread of life." (John 6:35)   In a way, when I pray "Give us this day our daily bread," I am also asking that I have all the spiritual sustenance I need. It is a request for as much of Christ as I will require, as well.

May God give us each day the spiritual and physical sustenance we need. This week, let's make a conscious effort to focus on both our spiritual and physical needs, remembering that the provision for both come from God alone. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Teach us to pray, part 35: The Kingdom of God to Come

And He said to them, "When you pray, say: ' Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. 'Give us each day our daily bread. 'And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.'" (Luke 11:2-4 NASB)

Our topic today is the future Kingdom of God that is ushered in by the second coming of Christ. John describes the great white throne judgment, at which everyone (great and small) will go before the great white throne of God and be judged on the basis of the things written in the book of life, "according to their deeds". 

"According to their deeds." That four-word phrase gives me such pause. One day, I will answer for everything I have ever done, and for those things I should have done, but did not. I dread that day, and it is only because of the blood of Jesus that I can even stand considering it. There is no excuse for my failures in the areas of caring for the poor, the imprisoned, the persecuted of this world. There is no excuse for my failure to feed the hungry or clothe the naked. I console myself with what I have done, but the truth of the matter is that I could do so much more. One day, I will answer for what I have done and have not done, and it drives me to greater service, as that knowledge should drive us all.

John tells us that the first heaven and earth will pass away and there will be a new heaven and a new earth. (Rev. 21:1) There will be a new Jerusalem and it will come down from heaven. (Rev.21:2). Here's where things really get exciting. God Himself will live among us. When He dwells with us, He will wipe away every tear, and there will be no death, no mourning, no crying, no pain. He will make all things new. 

The new Jerusalem will be wrapped in the glory of God. There will be a great and high wall with twelve gates, and an angel standing at every gate. Each gate will be a single pearl. The city wall will be made of jasper and the city will be made of pure gold, like clear glass. The foundation stones of the city will will be adorned with every kind of precious stone. (Jasper, sapphire, chalcedony, emerald, sardonyx, sardius, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, chrysoprases, jacinth, and amethyst. The streets will be pure gold.

Those things that we have treasured here on earth (gold, gemstones, pearls) will be nothing more than paving stones and asphalt in heaven. We won't need the light of the sun because the glory of God will be our light. There will be no night. 

A river of the water of life will run down the middle of the street and fruit trees will grow on either side of it. God Himself will give living water to the thirsty from the spring of the water of life. Not only will there be fruit, but even the leaves will be for healing. 

How do we enter this beautiful new heaven, this beautiful new earth? This is what Jesus says:
"Behold, I am coming quickly and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done... Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city....And the Spirit and the bride say, "Come." And let the one who hears say, "Come." And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost." 
                                                                                                              Rev. 21:12,14,17 NASB

How do we gain access to this new heaven and new earth? We choose now to let the blood of Jesus cleanse us, for it is the only way to make our sin-stained hearts white as snow. We come to Jesus, just as we are, and allow Him to transform us and make us fit for His kingdom by His righteousness. He is coming quickly and we must be prepared to join Him. Will you be ready when He calls?