The Journey with Jesus

 Holy Week 2015I’m exhausted this morning. When I crept from my mat before dawn to prepare the family’s first meal, my muscles groaned from waving the heavy palm branches during the hosanna-day just twenty-four hours ago. My voice is a scratchy whisper from all the shouting. When my sandal strap broke while running with the crowd, my foot slipped and now I see dried blood where stones cut the skin. More painful than all this are the maddening thoughts racing through my head: was it worth it? will anything change? was the one riding the donkey really the Messiah? My husband says I’m just another foolish woman, stupidly believing that this dust-covered, itinerant rabbi’s promises will make a difference. The religious leaders are outraged that so many of us pin our hopes on him, but they consider us mere scum anyhow, scorning our penny offerings. Some of my neighbors said Jesus made quite a stir this morning when he cleared the money-hungry vendors out of the temple. My husband heard that Jesus and his followers went back to Bethany last night, out where he could be safe and comfortable with his “rich friends.” What am I to believe? I’m so very tired.

Today begins the last week of Jesus’ life. In our rush to experience the glory of Easter, we’re apt to neglect walking with him through the coming days, thus missing much of what God wants to reveal in us, to us. It was 35 years ago today that we buried our son in Bonn, Germany. Our personal “walk through a last week” had already occurred, but these days were also significant. Daytimes were spent with family who had come from the U.S. so we prepared meals, walked along the Rhine, talked long. But each night when conversations ended and lights dimmed, our aching hearts reflected on the days and hours just past. It was a hard week and good week. A necessary week.

This week is also necessary. Take moments–or longer–each day to read and contemplate what Jesus did, where Jesus went, who Jesus talked with on these final days and nights of his earthly life. Don’t let the familiar words flow through you like a gently flowing brook. Ask God to instead make what you read as powerful as the torrents of Niagara Falls. Use your Holy Spirit-created and directed imagination to put you “in the picture.” Smell the food in Mary and Martha’s kitchen. Feel the water poured over Jesus’ feet by servants. Hear the bleating of the lamb bought for the Passover meal. Wipe the spit that splashes on you at the Sanhedrin’s kangaroo court. How close you will stand at the cross? Don’t miss this journey with Jesus.

While the daily activities of Jesus during this week are difficult to pinpoint in some cases, feel free to use the following thoughts:

Today: Jesus clears the temple (Mark 11:12-19) What needs to be ‘cleared’ from my life so my worship is pure? “Search me, O God, and know my heart. See (reveal) if there is any wicked way in me.

Tuesday: Jesus anointed at Bethany (Matthew 26:6-13) While what the woman does is culturally unheard of, Jesus affirms her and her extravagant expression of love. How am I affirming those who are “outside the bounds” of the accepted evangelical culture? How am I ‘extravagantly’ living for Jesus? How is my life an offering?

Wednesday: (1) No activities are recorded for this day by the gospel writers, many believing it was simply a day of rest, away from the crowds, a day spent with close friends. What does it mean to be a friend of Jesus? What would you do if you had a day alone with him?

(2) Judas Iscariot actively initiates his ultimate betrayal. (Matthew 26:14-16) Imagine Judas as a member of your family and examine your feelings about him in that relationship. Note from John 13 that Judas was included in the foot washing. What reaction does this arouse in you?

Thursday: (1) Jesus’ last meal with his disciples (John 13:1-17) Describe the emotions of those at supper, especially Peter. (If you’re artistic, use colors to express those emotions.) Have you ever had anyone wash your feet? How did you feel? How would you feel about washing someone else’s feet?

(2) Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-42) Read the verses several times. What words begin to stand out to you? How does your heart respond to Jesus’ agony? When was the last time you wept in prayer?

Thursday night and Friday: Jesus’ arrest and trial (John 18:1-19:16) Don’t avoid the reality of these hours. Imagine the darkness, noise, anger, motivations. Look at art depicting these hours at Let your eyes linger on what you see. Write a brief caption for each picture.

Friday: (1) Jesus’ crucifixion and death (Luke 23:26-49) Take time today, perhaps in the hours between 1:00 and 3:00 p.m., to sit silently with the words of Luke. (If you’re at work, escape for a few minutes to a quiet place.) Engage your heart, not just your head. What new things do you discover about Jesus?

(2) Jesus’ burial (Mark 15:42-47 It is often at the burial of a loved one that death’s finality becomes stark and almost unbearable. Allow yourself to feel the despair of those whom Jesus loved. Write three or four words describing their emotion.

Silent Saturday: In Jerusalem and in our personal spaces, life goes on in the midst of death. For those early followers, it was the Sabbath so attention was more naturally turned to the things of God. Here and now we can easily walk through this day just “planning” for Easter services, dinner, etc. Once again, take time to get away and be silent before God. Take time to mourn as those early followers did. What questions do you think they asked each other? What would you have been asking? What are you asking today about Jesus’ presence or absence? Invite God to reach your heart in a new way in preparation for a glorious Resurrection Sunday.

Spring Songs

RobinYesterday, the second official day of spring, I quickly changed from “Sunday clothes” into short-sleeved blouse and sandals, dragged out my small lawn chair from its dusty winter corner, and headed to the grassy area behind our condo building where green tips are just beginning to peek through winter brown. The sun was brilliant, the sky blue with wispy clouds, the temperature toasty. This area is surrounded by grey boulders huddled between lush pine and cedar trees: a perfect hiding place for an hour or so away from people and a busy life. The only barely heard sound was traffic on nearby streets and even that was muted on this beautiful afternoon.

But then I realized that a beloved spring sound was missing: the song of birds. Where were they? Didn’t they know spring had come?! I put down my book and listened more intently. No, the birds were not singing, not a tweet or twitter. Is it possible that these small creatures are acutely tuned to Springtime in the Rockies, a season when days like these come in all their glory, then quickly disappear in a sudden snowstorm that re-covers the landscape in white? Several times in recent years I walked outdoors during one of those storms that banished the exuberance of an early spring and to my amazement, I spied small flocks huddled together on snow-pillowed branches of those same pines.

Our songs, like those of the birds, come and go. In one of the most difficult psalms (137), we read of a captured people who mourn the loss of their beloved city and the life they formerly knew. Their tormentors harshly mock them, demanding that they sing their once triumphant song, but they refuse. They hang their harps on trees, sit down by the river and weep.

In Psalm 77 another musician mourns (here paraphrased in The Living Bible):  I keep thinking of the good old days of the past, long since ended. Then my nights were filled with joyous songs… Has the Lord rejected me forever? Will he never again be favorable?  Is his loving-kindness gone forever? Has his promise failed?

I think translators should have inserted the following: STOP, TAKE A DEEP BREATH AND THINK before what comes next: Then I thought…I (will) recall the many miracles he did for me so long ago. Those wonderful deeds are constantly in my thoughts. I cannot stop thinking about them. O God, your ways are holy…

That’s what keeps the songs coming, maybe only sung in the depths of our hearts, often with the accompaniment of tears, no sound reaching passersby. We remember—the word in Hebrew can mean ‘to be mindful’ as well as ‘to boast or celebrate’—and through our tears and questions, our disappointment, maybe even our anger—we begin to hum a remembered melody of God’s love and faithfulness. Spring is coming, just not quite yet.

Meanwhile Faith

Horse w: BlindersOur lives travel on with boring regularity. No beating heart interruptions. Or we’re being swept away in a maelstrom of doubt or disease. No miracles on the horizon. Or maybe we’re in one of those sweet spots of God’s evident blessing. (I say “evident” because he blesses far more than I recognize!) In all cases, the focus is on us. It is as though blinders are attached to our emotional and spiritual eyes much like those placed on horses. In the case of our equine friends whose eyes are on the sides of their heads, blinders have the positive purpose of keeping them running on course. But our blinders keep us focused on the here and now—on the me-and-my-present-circumstances. Our blinders make us unable (or unwilling) to see what God might be doing on another plane.

The Bible relates how after the martyrdom of Stephen and subsequent persecution, the early Christians scattered to places where they could live in relative safety. While they left Jerusalem for safety and “resettlement,” they also continued the fervent living out of their new lives in Christ: “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went” (Acts 8:4). Philip, especially, sees God’s great blessing as he explains the Christ of Isaiah to an Ethiopian ruler.

Then comes one word that stops us in our tracks at the beginning of Acts chapter 10: Meanwhile… In the middle of great blessing, successful preaching, things on the right track again, here it is: “Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats…” Life is running on two tracks: great blessing and horrendous persecution. They, and we, are forced to view this split screen of life, eyes traveling from one reality to another. Questions hound us. Is God still in control? How can blessing and persecution exist together?

The word meanwhile can be translated but, and, also and now; but another meaning catches my attention: on the other hand. This makes me think that while one scenario is happening—one reality existing—something else that seems in radical opposition is occurring.

Saul, on his path to obliterate this new sect which—in his mind—is committed to destroying his beloved Judaism, when this Saul is confronted by Jesus, when he is blinded by the radiant light of God himself, when he is forced to be led by the hand like a child, when sitting without food or drink for three days, what were people to think? Jesus’ followers could either rejoice in God’s intervention (the attitude of some) or believe this is just another trick of the Enemy (the attitude of others).

Then we read an unwritten meanwhile (it’s in the Marilyn Version!) in Acts 9:10: “(Meanwhile) in Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias…” God is preparing a man to take a courageous—even foolhardy—obedient step. “Go find Saul. I’ve chosen him. Accept him as your brother. Bless him.”

God is working in all the realities. When we plod through our quiet times with no evidence of God’s presence, when we are more aware of his absence than his presence, what might he be doing in the deep holes of our hearts? When unemployment goes on far past our ability to believe God cares, when love seems dormant or dead, when cancer treatment fails, is it possible there’s a meanwhile reality?

News exploded in the media that 21 Egyptian Christian men had been killed in Libya. When that news reached ministry leaders in Cairo, a young woman who works for The Bible Society of Egypt dumbfounded her director when she said she was “very encouraged.” In explaining her response she said, “I am encouraged because now I know that what we have been taught in history books about Egyptian Christians being martyred for their faith is not just history but that there are Christians today who are brave enough to face death rather than deny their Lord! When I saw these young men praying as they were being prepared for execution and then many of them shouting “O Lord Jesus” as their throats were being slit, I realized that the Gospel message can still help us to hold on to the promises of God even when facing death!”

This young sister, with blinders off,  caught the reality of meanwhile faith.

They Made It Happen. Will We?

Int'l Women's DayI’m not sure where to begin as I write these paragraphs after the International Women’s Day commemoration. Each month I meet with women from 10 to 14 countries. In some of their countries, women have the right to work, be educated, choose their careers. In others, women are seen as objects…if they are seen at all.

Two days ago I attended a conference via video where women with wisdom, strength and enthusiasm proclaimed the truth of God, where some wept over deep loss while proclaiming God’s sustaining strength and grace, where others talked together about tough stuff like racism (yes, it’s still alive and well in the United States). Then I listened to Lynne Hybels share her journey from misunderstanding God and his call on her life to the beginning—a re-birth—of understanding who God created her to be and how that call is revolutionizing her life and her world.

I grew up in an area and age with few in-the-flesh models of women in church or public arena leadership. The mantra in my evangelical church setting was get married, have a family, make a home, teach Sunday School, maybe go to the mission field with your husband. (Today I know of the thousands of single women missionaries who planted churches, founded hospitals and orphanages, started schools—even seminaries—with great blessings of God.)

In some parts of the world, women—Christians as well as those with other beliefs or no religious beliefs—enjoy unprecedented freedom to pursue their goals. We rejoice over this. But then this by Lisa Rieck from yesterday’s InterVarsity Christian Fellowship blog:

(Today) is a day to celebrate women, and the strength and beauty they add to the world… But today is also a day to grieve. Because today, about 800 women will die from childbirth complicationsover 1,100 women in the Democratic Republic of Congo alone will be raped, and over 2,000 women will be trafficked as sex slaves.

At the video conference, an interview with Lynne Hybels,* co-founder of Willow Creek Community Church, captured—no, captivated—my attention. I can’t quote everything she said but I found the following on her February 26th blog:*

Twenty years ago, when I was forty-three years old, I gave a talk called “I Died to Self and My Self Almost Died.” I was in the early years of a decade of healing, a decade of reclaiming the bits and pieces of a broken life. Twenty years of adult life—of marriage and ministry, of parenting and people pleasing—had left me exhausted, depressed, and clueless about who I was or what I had to offer to the world (or even to my family and friends). There are probably a thousand reasons why I ended up in such a dark and empty place, but a wise spiritual guide helped me understand how seriously I had misunderstood and misapplied the Biblical call to “die to self.”

Fast forward a couple decades. Two hours ago I lay prostrate, my face on the floor and my arms outstretched in supplication. “Free me, God, from myself. Free me from my fear, from my unwillingness to take up my cross and follow you. Help me, empower me to let go of all that keeps me from greater obedience to you. Help me die to whatever I need to die to today.”

Recently, my thoughts have been jumbled and my feelings intense. Lent. 21 Egyptian martyrs. Repent. An upcoming trip to the Middle East. Excitement. Fear. The crucifixion. 90 Syrian Christians kidnapped. I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The world seems crazy with hate. Is resurrection power real?

And so I found myself prostrate this morning.

Lynne walked through darkness to find the light illuminating the new path God had for her, a path that today takes her to the most broken places in the world, to some of the most broken people of the world.

“They Made It Happen” was the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day. I wonder how you and I are “making it happen”? But another question lies heavy on my heart: how are we as Christian women encouraging, educating our daughters and granddaughters to “make it happen”? Yes, we should be training them—and our sons and grandsons!—how to be good parents, good citizens, good followers of Jesus, good writers, even good cooks and housekeepers! But are we sufficiently cheering them on to aim high? To become a Jim Elliott, Amy Carmichael, Kayla Mueller, Malala Yousafzai, Lynne Hybels? (If you don’t recognize some of those names, “Google” them!) Are we praying that God will use them to change the world?

I’m so proud of my daughter and daughters-in-law who, without waving banners or (often!) even believing that they’re part of changing the world, are doing exactly that. One is using her artistic talents to create spaces of beauty. Another works at a university to help make people and programs as effective as possible. Another translates her own deep insights into thought-provoking fiction while at the same time helping educate immigrant students so they can become productive citizens of the world.

As I read Lynne Hybels’ Nice Girls Don’t Change the World, I thought I was looking into a mirror! Over the past 24 hours, I’ve been asking God to help me glean nuggets of gold from that story, nuggets to be burnished and polished into jewels that I can offer to God and the world. Listen again to Lynne:

At the beginning of this book I said that the opposite of a nice girl is a good woman. But what I really wanted to say—and what I’m going to say now—is that the opposite of a nice girl is not just a good woman, but a downright dangerous woman. A woman who shows up with everything she is and joins the battle against whatever opposes the redeeming work of God in our lives and in our world.

Hybels closes her February 26th blog with this prayer. May it be ours:

God, here I am. What would you have me do? How do you want me to respond to this crazy, hateful world? Today? Next week? On Good Friday? On Easter morning? What do you want to do with this self you’ve given me? Please give me the grace, the wisdom, the strength to die to anything that keeps my self from being wholly yours. Amen.


Listen to HimWith hands clasping my steaming cup of lemon ginger tea, and a cozy afghan tossed over my lap because the furnace hadn’t quite come up to daytime temperatures, I began my quiet moments with God. During these weeks of Lent, I’m reading from Henri Nouwen’s Show Me the Way and because I’m never disappointed with this man’s reflections, I looked forward to how he would direct my thinking on this winter morning. Atop the first page were these words from Matthew 6:

In your prayers do not babble as the (pagans) do, for they think that by using many words they will make themselves heard. Do not be like them; your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

I breathed one of those superiority sighs of relief: I’m not a pagan and I don’t babble. (The King James Version defines babbling as “vain repetitions.”) At least I don’t babble in prayer as the dictionary defines it: talk rapidly and continuously in a foolish, excited, or incomprehensible way; to prattle, rattle on, chatter, jabber, twitter, run on, prate, ramble, blather.

Before reading Nouwen’s next few paragraphs, I just sat there with Jesus’ words, reflecting on how my conversations with God usually go. It’s true that God accepts and delights in even the most child-like praying but it’s equally true that often I “rattle on, ramble or chatter.” Less important than the words I’m using is the fact that I don’t think while praying; my prayer vocabulary rests in the familiar, repeated, within-the-comfort-zone category.

Brennan Manning walked to center stage at Moby Arena in Ft. Collins, Colorado one summer. As the scheduled speaker for the morning session at our Staff Conference, it would not have been unusual for him to open in prayer. But before reaching the microphone, Manning turned his back on the audience, raised his arms toward heaven, and quietly intoned, “We’re here, Daddy.” This was a new way of praying, definitely out of the Dear-Heavenly-Father-in-Jesus’-name-Amen framework. Certainly not babbling.

Now it was time to read more from Nouwen: For many of us prayer means nothing more than speaking with God. And since it usually seems to be a quite one-sided affair, prayer simply means talking to God Praying is first and foremost listening to Jesus, who dwells in the very depths of your heart… The listening must be an active and very attentive listening, for in our restless and noisy world God’s so loving voice is easily drowned out. (Emphases my own.)

It didn’t take me long to recognize that it’s easier to babble than to listen. Nouwen says we need to set aside ten minutes a day to actively, quietly listen to God. So I closed the book and read just a few sentences past Jesus’ words about babbling. Pray, therefore, like this: ‘Our Father…’

And that’s when I started listening. To the Father. No talking, no running on, no rambling, no requesting, no application-seeking (my own weakness), not even any active praising. Just quiet listening.

I didn’t hear his voice. I gained no “spiritual insight.” I wasn’t struck dumb. He and I just sat together, enjoying each other’s presence and friendship. “I’m here, Daddy.”