Never Forsaken.

I had this chilling God moment.  The kind when you are slicing potatoes one moment and weeping the next.

It started with a conversation a few days before.  A friend made the comment that she was disappointed in God.  She is hurting after some very tough life circumstances; it is a feeling we can all relate to at one time or another. But the overarching belief for this wounded soul is that God has abandoned her. Forsaken her.

Every time she says this, it causes a spiritual tsunami in my soul.  Her words trigger a flood of memories of desperate times in my own life, times of blatant sin, wrenching heartache, unmet dreams, or even waiting in-the-tension prayers. Yet through them all, God’s faithfulness was truly my only hope. Her unbelief grieves me.

I empathize with her hurt and questions — been there and done that. But what separates our path is I took those same questions and hurt right back to Him.  Where else would I go?  Who else could help me?IMG_2480

How could I run away from the only life and love I have ever known?

So with compassion but with relentless confidence, I continue to declare God’s faithfulness to my friend. I trust He will woo her in time.  I pray for my friend, and for us all, to become more steadfast, more determined to believe in the goodness of God.

Then God invaded my kitchen.

I had been listening to a “classic” song called,  “Arise, My Love.”  This song is so powerful and we sang it often in the church I was saved in.

Fast forward twenty plus years and I hear a line in that familiar song for the first time:

Could it be that His Father had forsaken him?

Suddenly I was overwhelmed by the Spirit.  I heard my friend talk about being forsaken, but then I saw Jesus walk over and lay down in the grave.  The words “Never Forsaken” were pressed into my heart.

And the thought came to me, did Jesus really believe that God had forsaken him?

“Could it be that His Father had forsaken him?
Turned his back on His Son, despising our sin.
All hell seemed to whisper, “Just forget Him, He’s dead.”

My friend sounded like this.  Just forget Him, He’s dead.  What about you? When you are broken and beaten beyond recognition, how do you take the next step? Who do you go to?

The Spirit continued our tutorial. What would prompt a man to die for others except for the hope of something greater to be gained?  In this holy moment, the Spirit showed me that there is only one reason Jesus was able to lay his body down. For me. For you. For all the world’s sin.

He was to willing to suffer and die and lay down because of one thing—He trusted His Father’s Heart. In my download, I saw Jesus laying in the tomb.  WAITING.

Jesus was so confident of the Goodness of God that He was willing to give everything, lose everything, because He knew without a doubt that His Dad, Our Dad, would whisper, “Arise. My Love.”

How then can we ever repeat the enemy’s lie? Forget Him. He’s Dead.

How can we ever say we have been forgotten, or abandoned, or forsaken if we truly see Jesus laying down in the grave, full of faith, confident in the Power of Love.

When Jesus said, “never will I leave you or forsake you,” He meant that with every fiber of His Holy Being.  We are Never Forsaken.  Hallelujah! The grave could not hold the king.

“The Earth trembled
and the tomb began to shake,
and like lightening
from Heaven the stone was rolled away.
And as dead man
the guards they all stood there in fright
As the power of love
displayed its might
Then suddenly a melody
filled the air
Riding wings of wind,
it was everywhere
The words all creation
had been longing to hear
The sweet sound of victory,
so loud and clear.

Arise, my love.
Arise, my love.
The grave no longer has a hold on you.
No more death’s sting
no more suffering
Arise… arise…

Sin, where are your shackles?
Death, where is your sting?
Hell has been defeated.
The grave could not hold the king.”
Arise My Love by Newsong

 Art Source: unknown

When New Life Arises

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I almost pulled up the plant last weekend out of disappointment. I  thought it was dead. After I put it  in the ground last fall, I expected it to be one of the first things to bloom this spring. Forsythias are budding all over town and yet mine was only woody sticks. But yesterday, though still looking “mostly dead” there is one small branch of yellow life.

It prompted me to go look at other plants and trees I thought were dead. Sure enough, tiny buds or slightest shades of green were pushing up from the ground or out of brown bark.  Just like the Lord said last week, “Spring is coming.” Hope indeed is pushing tender buds out of cold winter earth once more.

As I pulled dead stalks of  flowers and scraped away mulch and leaves where buds should be, the Lord prompted me to consider the difference between New Life and Life from the Dead.

We love to say that Easter is about New Life. (Don’t even get me started on the Easter Bunny.) But New Life is looking for growth where I planted bulbs last year, or hoping for a positive pregnancy test. That is, we look for new life to come from seed that we have planted.

But Life from the Dead is altogether different. Death leads to decay.  Dust to dust. No one goes to a cemetery and expects to see a living person. No one goes to ashes or corpses and expects flesh or breath. And here rises a much more powerful hope.

We love, and are loved by, the God of the Resurrection.  He is the One who brought life and breath back into the dear, mangled  body of Jesus.  This is the true miracle of Easter. There was no hope left hanging on the empty cross. But when God called His Son back to life, then True Life began. A life beyond the curse, a life full of  truly living hope became ours through Him.

Life after death. Life instead of death. Life over death.

When Jesus came out of that grave, it wasn’t just about forgiveness of sin. It was about the Life that is now possible to us. In us. Through us.

Jeremy Caris said in church yesterday that God’s principle of “what you sow you will reap” is an eternal spiritual law.  And God in His goodness and mercy, “sowed Jesus” on our behalf so that we might reap a life that  is far more than we dreamed possible.

It is a wondrous thing to consider the meaning of Resurrection Sunday. It is a life-changing thing to consider where does my hope come from? And what do I believe God can do in me? Bring New Life? or Life back from the Dead?

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But for the Joy. . . .

The night before Easter, our family watched the movie “The Gospel of John.”  And as is often the case with God, we saw and heard nuances that we hadn’t seen before in the story.  Jesus was so emphatic about what He was going to do. He wanted His followers to be prepared, to believe, to keep on believing, no matter what happened.  And yet, though He knew the “rest of the story,” still He was in great anguish about what He must go through. What was His motivator? What kept Him going? Just obedience? I don’t think so.

Easter Sunday morning we were reminded about all that Jesus did for us. Suffered, sacrificed, raised from the dead.

It is truly an “unbelievable” story unless the Spirit breathes on a person so that they might see and believe and be saved. But here is the ah-ha moment:

“But for the joy set before him he endured the cross.” Hebrews 12:2.  The pastor passed over this verse but the Spirit connected that verse with scenes from the movie the night before. The joy. What joy? What joy could be so great that it could carry Him through His last hours on this planet?

Paying for the sins of the world? Yes, but there’s more.

Jesus was the only person on planet earth who knew what it was to be filled with the Spirit of God and to walk in complete connection with the Father. And He knew, if He endured the cross, that we would be able to experience what He already enjoyed all the time. Talk about a motivation.

His joy was completely based on the benefit for others. For me and you. He was willing to die purely for the purpose that we might have our true lives back with our Father.  Jesus said, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11 ) But for the joy set before Him… He had a long view of the journey and His goal was the the blessing of others.

I don’t think I suffer very long or very often just so that others might come to fullness of life. How about you? But here is the hope. He did it. He went through it all and now we do have the Spirit. We do have fellowship with the Father, the Son and the Spirit. We are restored. We are children of God with His joy inside us. So let us run truly out of His joy for the benefit of others. Allow me to expand this beautiful passage…

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,
       (People just like you and me who had to walk through hard life circumstances)
 let us throw off everything that hinders
       (So release the counterfeits and coping and quitting)
and the sin that so easily entangles.
       (and silence the enemy’s lies about being unloved and unworthy)
And let us run with perseverance
       (Everyday believe anew, try again without grumbling )
the race marked out for us,
       (the journey of living out His plans)
fixing our eyes on Jesus,
       (allowing Him to adjust our vision to see what He sees)
the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
       (He has done it, He is doing it, He will do it.)
For the joy set before him
       (With a heart full of confidence for our good)
he endured the cross,
       (he made the blood payment that settles every debt)
scorning its shame,
       (shutting up the accuser once and for all)
and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
       (He showed us our rightful inheritance.)
Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners,
       (The Spirit leads you through the maze of living)
so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
       (so you can experience that He is everything you need for life and joy.)

Hebrews 12: 1-3 (expanded)

Now That He Is Risen…

Have you read the Day After story lately? Of just what happened after Jesus rose from the dead. (Do you ever just get startled when you read words like that?  It is really mind blowing…)

The soldiers see an angel. They faint. The women see Jesus. They weep and then run to the other followers. Then Jesus begins a series of appearances. From the Emmaus road download to two lucky listeners to the amazing 500 witnesses, He was out and and about.  Seeing and being seen. And I was pondering something.  Even when Jesus appeared to them, He was instructing and teaching of more to come. What else could there be after the dead being raised to life?

Fasten your seat belts. This could get sticky….

Lent has always nettled me a little. The idea of fasting and “denying” oneself as  a way to prepare for the death of Jesus always has seemed out of whack. I didn’t know why until this week. Of course it is a beautiful tradition. Of course fasting is a beautiful discipline. Of course we prepare our hearts each year to remember the suffering of our Lord.

But. Let’s look at what Jesus said. Even He rebuked the religious leaders of His day who wondered why His followers were not fasting. Jesus replied that you don’t fast when you are at the party. You fast when the party is over.  Or perhaps when the next party is getting ready to come. While we talk a lot about fasting and somberness prior to the Resurrection, it is only AFTER the Resurrection that Jesus instructed His followers to pray, and fast and watch.  What were they told to get ready for?

The Coming of the Holy Spirit.  The Third Person of the Trinity. Father, Son and Spirit.

Makes me wonder why we don’t throw a party celebrating Pentecost like we do Easter and Christmas. The Spirit is worthy of receiving, worthy of a party, worthy of preparing our hearts for. Makes me wonder about fasting now, after Easter, in anticipation of Pentecost. Fasting is, after all, a way to make room for more of God. It is a way to weed out those little affections that crowd out the Real love.

Think about it. There is more to come on Living in Third Person.

“Like it happened to someone you know…”

After I killed the easter bunny in the WGR class, I spent the rest of the evening talking about the pieces and pictures of this incredible rescue story, of Jesus saving the world. Then I asked the women what is something they were asking for this Easter to help them go deeper into the Redemption Story. Some said greater awareness of God. Some said more dependence. Some were just full of joy and gratefulness and wanted to share that more.

But one woman took my breath away.  She said she wanted the crucifixion story to be more real to her. She said she didn’t want to just say that Jesus died on the cross, and suffered all those terrible things, and not care. She didn’t want to be able to roll that off her tongue and have no emotional reaction to it. “I want to feel and believe it like this happened to someone I know.”

I gently said, “But we do know him.”  She said, “I know we do, but I don’t think about Jesus like I think about my boyfriend.  If my boyfriend went through that, I would be devastated, it would kill me, I would feel something.  I want to feel like that about Jesus, but I don’t.”

Jesus loves to answer these kinds of prayers. I so, so applaud this honesty.  And it makes me ask, is He someone we know? Do we really care what happened? What do you feel?  Guilt, obligation? Gratefulness, confusion? Unspeakable joy?

When I first heard her comment, in my spirit I thought, I DO know Him, I do care about what happened to Him.  But then the Holy Spirit showed me, “Now you do, Jana. But when He died for you, you did not.”

This is God’s love in action. That while we were yet sinners — cold hearted, dead in our sins, grieving him not, concerned not one whit for his agony — Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

Oh the beauty of celebrating the Redemption Story. To realize since the beginning of time, He is the ever-pursuing God.  Jesus did do, and is doing whatever it takes that we might experience this Holy relationship; that we would recognize the gift of “knowing Him,” and Him knowing us, up close and personal.

Look for Love this Resurrection Sunday.  May you discover the power and beauty of what happened to Someone you know.