Lent Day 44: Hope beyond Maundy Thursday

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It was just a spot of yellow I saw from a distance. It drew me into the clearing and I paused, admiring it for blooming there all alone, with no crowd to see it, no fellow companions like those I saw earlier planted in huge clusters along the path. But it bloomed anyway and it made me feel like I was witnessing something tragic and brave and heroic. But I saw it. It showed me that it’s never a waste to bloom no matter where you are.

It’s the last day of Lent and I will never forget these posts. When I prayed, and waited, He never failed to supply the words. Every….. single……time.

But now it’s Maundy Thursday and I am empty. And sad. I feel like I am in that dark little room with Jesus and the disciples right after it all went sour. Right after Judas left and Jesus just informed them that they would all leave Him before the night was out.

Sometimes it’s hard to hope in Heaven when it seems so far away. Sometimes there are just days where you’re stuck in the sadness of Maundy Thursday and life seems like a big tangled ball of twine that’s impossible to manage. I ache for everyone I care about and I can do nothing to make all their situations better. And yet I know this too shall pass.

The sun will rise tomorrow and we will be one day closer to Resurrection. And God fixing everyone and everything once and for all. But until then, there are plenty of things to be thankful for.

I hear my Mom’s voice in my head telling me, “The birds are still singing, Lori” and that makes me want to cry.

I remember the old Indian man in the movie, “Little Big Man” who decided that it was a good day to die.He goes up to the mountain, spreads his blanket and lays down and closes his eyes, face to the sky. You think maybe he did die, but then rain starts to fall and his eyes blink.

He rolls up his blanket and goes home. It may not be a good day to die, but somedays, it’s okay to cry for awhile, then roll up your blanket and go home.

I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.” Psalm 62:5

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Lent Day #43: “I have seen the Lord”

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I think it’s a strike of genius for director Franco Zeffirelli to have cast “Mrs. Robinson” as Mary of Magdala in 1977’s “Jesus of Nazareth.” For those of you youngsters, Anne Bancroft played the older (married) woman who Dustin Hoffman had an affair with in “The Graduate.” Later he goes on to date (and then marry) her daughter who was played by the lovely Katherine Ross. As I was praying and pondering what the Lord would have me post today. All I got was one phrase:

“I have seen the Lord.”

Immediately, I saw Anne Bancroft’s beatific expression in my mind, she so brilliantly played the part as only she could. I have often thought of why Jesus picked Mary of Magdala as the first person to see Him after he rose from the grave. I imagine her hurrying up the path with the other women, sorrow still so fresh upon her soul.

When they came to the tomb and found the stone rolled away, Mary immediately ran and found Peter and John and after they saw the empty tomb, they believed but went home. Mary though, stayed at the tomb and wept. Because she stayed, she was rewarded by an angel visitation and then, Jesus Himself.

I wonder how many times we just go home too soon and miss the miracle?

Last night we had a visit with a neighbor and the topic rolled around (as it does so often) to religion. He felt like many people do, that religions are basically all the same and that the three main religions, Muslim, Judaism, and Christianity all worship the same God so the differences are just technicalities. Those weren’t his own words, I am paraphrasing. After identifying that we were Christian we talked about the Bible and he said what so many people say. All those books were imperfect because they were written by a bunch of men who generated their own opinions and bias into it.

I didn’t want to get in a big long debate so I just said, “To me, what makes Christianity stand out from all the rest is that it’s a relationship with a living God who wanted to come down and relate to His people on a personal level. All the others are man trying to find God. And it’s changed lives, transformations in my own life and other lives I have seen.”

I guess what I was trying to say was that like Mary Magdalene at the tomb, “I have seen (and experienced) the Lord!”

I guess that’s what it all comes down to. I have felt the same joy and wonder and excitement Mary did when she came face to face with Jesus and realized her life would never ever be the same. And I have seen it in others too.

That’s our hope, with it we have everything, without it, no matter how much we have in this life, it will never be enough.

Lent Day #42: Inflammatory words

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Jesus has left the desert and started His earthly ministry. He started with His hometown. People were confused, they said, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?” They thought they knew this “hometown” boy whom they saw tag along with his father to the job site. But now, this man was a mystery. He entered the Temple and opened the scroll from Isaiah and began to read about Himself:

And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, “THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED,…”

At first they marveled at the authority with which He read the words, as if the very words became real in the air around them, they heard it as they had never heard it before. In fact, they were all in awe. The Bible says their eyes were “fastened on Him.”

But when He uttered the next few words, it all went sour.

“The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”

Immediately things started to unravel. The crowd was so incensed they rushed him to a nearby cliff and attempted to bodily throw him over. From then on He began to focus His ministry elsewhere.

In addition to the lost sheep of Israel, he focused on the lost and lonely, the sick and the dying, the disenchanted and discouraged, the sinner and the outcast, the women and children. He never turned away anyone with an open heart. He was constantly being misunderstood and questioned by those who should have known better.

You might think this idea of “Redemption” is a one time experience, but how many times since He has redeemed your life have you felt so battered and worn down that you needed it all over again? Every day? Every minute? I have found that the greatest hope that Jesus continues to bring is the power of fresh redemption for each new day.

Take today……..let Him have it. Cup it in your hands like a snow white dove, say a prayer over it and throw it up towards Heaven. Send it to flight and watch it head towards the Son as your heart soars free.

Then do it all over again tomorrow! Watch what happens.

Lent Day 39: “What else can I do?”

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I have just finished the remarkable true life story of Chinese-born Christian Pastor Liu Zhenying or “Brother Yun” as he is more widely known. It’s a story of a life totally surrendered and dedicated to lifting up Jesus no matter what the cost, and the cost was great. It was prison time, it was torture, and days without food, years without his family. But even more than that, it was a story of victory and joy and how God is still very much a God of miracles as displayed by many events in the book.

As I walked back into work after my break, my soul felt buoyant, lighter somehow.  I was remembering a special time in my life when I was a new believer and faith was very simple. I was 14 and I knew my parents couldn’t afford the refrigerator they needed so I told Mom I thought she should tithe her money and we would pray for a new fridge at the same time. She ended up finding one like new for $25.00. I can still see it if I close my eyes, it was big and it was beige and it was a humming miracle.

That refrigerator lasted for years.

There are so many other things to put our trust in here in our modern society. Everything we need is at our fingertips, but when you have great need there is little option but to trust God for your needs. The one thing that impressed me most about Brother Yun was that even under extreme duress and pain, he forgave those even while they were beating him. And he had what I call the “what else can I do” attitude. He was always looking for another opportunity to help those in need, even though his own needs were insurmountable.

Most of us are not under such extreme circumstances and most of us, at least those of us here in America have pretty much all we need and much more. But when we give God our open heart, He will always find plenty of ways we can bless the others around us. 

I’ll use my best friend as an example as I do so many times in this blog. She has one of those “what else can I do” hearts. Always looking to make things better for others. Yesterday, she came home from working and doing errands and I knew she was exhausted. She has been trying to recover from an illness for a month. Even so, she knew that our Canadian neighbors would soon be home and she wanted to do something for them. She went out and trimmed their trees, swept the walk, and drug all their patio furniture out so they could relax in their patio as soon as they got home.

She amazes me.

Now as we come to the 39th day in the desert with Jesus, He is hungry…….and tired……. and at the end of His strength. Satan comes at the very worst time. (Doesn’t he always?) But Jesus is thinking of you and me. And He doesn’t cave in. The angels come to minister to Him. And then He lifts His eyes to the Heavens and asks His Father.

“What else can I do?”

Lent Day #38: The heart opens from the inside

 

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“To the angel of the church inLaodicea write:

The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this:

‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. Revelation 3:15-19

I am just finishing up the book, “Heavenly Man” by Brother Yun and I feel the kind of awe and stillness that comes as a result of seeing a people, a church, fully yielded and committed to their Lord and the miraculous things He does through them as a result. When you finish a book like that there is really nothing you can say, except that I felt like I got a glimpse of the real church in action.

Right now, the world is watching real Christianity as its marched across the global stage in its purest and most self-sacrificing form, by following the example that Jesus Himself set. All my life I have been taught that Jesus is standing at the door knoocking on the heart of the unsaved sinner. Brother Yun reminded me in his book that the door that Jesus is standing in front of is none other than the church door. And hearts, like doors, open from the inside. Sobering thoughts on this 38th day of Lent.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’” Revelation 3:20-22

All I can do is watch in awe as my brothers and sisters all over the world, and many right here on our own soil, are stepping up one by one and saying, “We won’t turn back, no matter how hard it gets, even if we have to pay with our very own lives.”

Sometimes the sacrifices others make seem all but impossible to me, settled as I am in my comfortable corner of life. Other times, the sacrifices are played out in the smaller, more ordinary ways; the everyday choices to do the right thing over and over again, even in extremely challenging circumstances. I guess it’s easy for me to think of Jesus being really impressed with the “Big” ones and chide me for my pithy offerings, but the truth is, He notices things like cold cups of water given in love.

All I can do is peer into my own heart in humble gratitude that He still loves me, regardless of how far too often, my hands still clutch at the world and my eyes are still dazzled by all it has to offer.

Even so, come Lord Jesus.

 

Lent Day 37#: Waiting for our Salvation

 

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I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
    to the one who seeks him;

it is good to wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.

Lamentations 3:24-26

When I started this Lent writing it was with the distinct purpose of not writing anything without first having a quiet time in prayer focused on seeking the Lord with an attitude of expectation of what words He would give me. It has been a richly rewarding experience I won’t soon forget. Many times I struggled and heard nothing until very late in the day, but I always received something. 

I have written before how this blog was birthed when I start having these times alone with God in the mornings out in the little shop. Those times have become an integral part of my life. I guess you could say they’ve become a necessary habit. It’s important though, that it doesn’t become something stale, or just something I do to check off my list. Instead, God has rewarded my small faithfulness with something completely different.

Those times have become treasured moments spent with a Friend who longs to hear from me.

Sometimes, however, there are no quiet times to be had. That makes it all the more cherished when I do get it. When I was in California, there was little quiet time, instead there was lots of noise and activity. But in between all that there were little snatches of quiet time here and there.

There was my Mom asking me to come with her to see some trees she thought were incredible.

There was time spent at the park with my Dad and my niece, swinging on the swings.

There was my niece screaming my name over and over in excitement when she saw me at her swim practice.

There was the joyful expression on my Mom’s face when she saw her clean car.

I find that now that those quiet times have been permanently sewn into the fabric of my being, that they sometimes happen even when I don’t expect them to, even in the times that are anything but quiet.

Today I looked forward to spending a little time outside on my break where I could pray and meditate in the beautiful Arizona weather. But the landscapers had a different idea. In Between the birdsong and soft music I heard the chainsaw trimming the giant Palm trees at the entrance to our building. Thankfully it was sporadic.

It’s Spring-time here in the desert and right now it’s easy to glory in God’s creation. The thorn-yielding cacti are giving way to blooms that scream “notice me!!!” in brilliant prisms of color. The cactus wrens, doves and red-tailed hawks are all courting and building nests. Like the palm waving crowd lining the road when Jesus was coming into Jerusalem, the desert is crying out in praise to its Creator.

Picture yourself as this butterfly resting on the lilac branch. Life, work, family, and the world are all hovering around you but everything you need is right there on that flower.

You won’t go far without it.

Photo taken by my brother: Ron L. Cook

Lent Day #36: Prayer Matters

Christ our Passover.....

“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted……..” 2 Timothy 3:12

In the light of the massive amounts of persecution we see around the world just about every day now, this verse comes vividly to life from our computer screens and TV’s. In fact, all those Bible verses have come to life for me as I am reading the accounts of the beginnings of the Chinese house church movement. In the book, “The Heavenly Man,” the autobiographical story of Liu Zhenying, also known as Brother Yun I read vivid accounts of heartbreaking persecution and unbelievable suffering for the cause of Christ.
What does this mean for me here in America, the land of the free. Despite the fact that I believe our freedoms even here are eroding daily, we can still worship in the public sector without worrying about prison, death, or excommunication from our communities and families. We are extremely blessed to be living in a democracy that allows us to worship just about anywhere freely. I say “just about anywhere” because I feel the landscape is changing just as the Bible says in the last days it will.
I feel saddened when I see all the dusty expensive Bibles on my bookshelf. I have two I use regularly,  but I have others I’ve collected over the years, expensive reference Bibles with leather covers. I think of how precious just one verse or page would be to any of these persecuted groups even today. I think of the accounts of how the Chinese Christians hid and smuggled the Word, placing pages in loaves of bread; tucking pages under their coats and shoes. How they eagerly studied it, cherish it, memorizing whole chapters.
You might ask what one can do over here? There is much……we can financially support, but most of all we can pray. God says prayer matters. He says those mornings I spend out in my shop make a difference, and I believe they do. They change me for one thing. For another, I believe those prayers reach the very Throne of God. Over and over, there are accounts of miracles happening with no other explanation other than someone was praying and those prayers were felt.
I leave you today with one excerpt from the book that touched my heart. It takes place as some of he house churches were meeting after having some disputes over doctrine and teaching. The meeting was almost a failure until this:
The atmosphere deteriorated until it became like a business meeting, with everyone talking at once about different subjects. Many old wounds resurfaced and it became apparent the two groups were as far apart as they’d ever been. It looked as if Brother Zu had missed his chance to wash their feet (which God had spoken to his heart and told him to do) Suddenly Zhang slapped his knee and announced, “All this talk is a waste of time. Let’s pray and then we’ll leave.” Brother Fan pushed Brother Zu in the back and instructed him, “Quick! Get some water and do what the Lord told you to do!”
Zhang was praying with his eyes closed when Xu knelt down in front of him and started gently to take his shoes and socks off. Zhang opened his eyes and was amazed. He couldn’t believe the great Xu Yongze, leader of the largest house church movement in China, would ever kneel down and wash his feet! Zhang cried out and wrapped his arms around Brother Xu in a warm embrace.
Deborah Xu then brought out a bucket of warm water and started to wash the feet of Zhang’s co-worker, Sister Ding. The two of them knelt down on the floor and hugged and wept. “The Heavenly Man,”  Brother Yun with Paul Hattaway