Dark Miles

mEceSQMEaster Weekend. Jerusalem.  A.D. 0

Reflect for a moment how crushing a defeat the supporting cast suffered as part of the Easter narrative. Two-thirds of this story could never have been painted in the pastels I wrap it in today.

I mean really….GOOD Friday?

I can only call it that because I know the end of the story. I’m pretty sure Jesus’ followers would have called it the worst Friday ever.

Their King, their Teacher, their friend, was wrongly, and publicly, accused, tried and found guilty by self-righteous religious leaders.

Over the course of the day he was tortured, mocked and killed on a cross. Then an earthquake struck and sudden darkness descended upon them.

This isn’t a story or a movie. It actually happened.

Slow down and imagine being there that day.

It must have seemed like the end of the world.

Passover was to the Jewish people what Christmas is to the western world. The holiday had been destroyed by this course of events. Could there have been a worse Passover for Jesus’ followers?

It’s hard to imagine they even slept that night except from sheer exhaustion.

As Saturday dawned, they awoke, fearing for life, fearing for what was next, and the Bible tells us that many of them were huddled together in hiding. They were probably too shocked to even feel grief.

Think about what following Jesus had cost them! They had left their homes, their paychecks, their families and friends. They had turned their backs on the promise of everything they’d ever dreamed of and abandoned themselves to Jesus’ leadership. Now He was dead.

That Saturday it must have seemed like a terrible mistake.

That Saturday must have felt like the longest day ever.

That Saturday has a lot to teach us.

That Saturday, they only had a veiled promise of His return and it hadn’t happened yet. It wasn’t much to cling to in His absence. From the Biblical account, it’s not entirely clear what the disciples were expecting.  He spoke in a lot of parables. It would have been very easy to think He had been speaking metaphorically when He said He would rise again.  However, it’s clear from every gospel account that NO ONE expected to find an empty tomb on Sunday morning.

THIS Saturday, I know what they didn’t.  He was coming back. He actually did the things He said He was going to do.

That makes it a celebration. That makes it Easter.

There’s an art to celebration. Sometimes it takes seeing through to the end of the story. I’m praying you’ll be able to see through to end of yours, especially if your life, like mine, is painted in dark and stormy colors today.

If you are stuck on a Saturday right now, take heart.

He’s not done yet.

The beauty of time is that one day always follows another. Sunday came then.

Sunday will always come.

When it arrived 2,000 years ago, it changed everything.  Forever.  Jesus shed His burial clothes.  He proved He was who He said He was and kept the promise He had made.

He killed death. 

The weekend wasn’t the end of it. Eight long days passed before Jesus’ friend and disciple Thomas knew any comfort or encouragement from His resurrection because he just couldn’t bring himself to believe the crazy story his closest friends were espousing. Experiential accounts of others were not enough. He had to see for himself.

I can relate.

This part of the Easter story is deeply meaningful to me because Thomas was not left to himself. He could have been.  Some would argue he should have been.  But no. Jesus sought Him out.  Peter too! Jesus wasn’t going to leave Thomas in doubt, or Peter in shame and remorse.

God met them where they were and answered their doubts and fears.

He does that.  All the time.

I was once an atheist, and it was a circuitous path the landed me as a  follower of Jesus. It began with one simple but earnest prayer to a higher power I didn’t even believe in –

“God, if you’re real, you need to prove yourself to me.”

He did.  He will.

I was Thomas.  Some days, I’m STILL Thomas.  So I can say the following with conviction…

Wherever you are on your spiritual journey, don’t be afraid to ask Him to prove Himself to you.  It’s ok.  God would have left Thomas and lot of the Psalms out of the Bible if He was afraid of us asking challenging questions.

Just keep talking to Him wherever you are, and Sunday will come.

“And grace was in the tension of everything we’ve lost. Standing empty handed, shattered by the cross.  All we have, all we had was a promise like a thread. Holding us, keeping us, oh from fraying at the edge.”  

“Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed. ”  –  John 20:29

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CryingeyesSo when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him but Mary remained seated in the house.  Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.”  And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him.  Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there.  Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.

And Jesus wept.

John 11:20-21, John 11:28-33, John 11:35

Who would have ever guessed Martha would be the first to greet Jesus?  

In an unexpected turn of events, Mary sat unmoved in the opening scene of Jesus’ arrival. That is until Martha returned with the message that Jesus was asking to see her.  Hearing THAT changed something.  

She didn’t just move off his direction, she ran out of the house so quickly that the Jews who were with her followed in curiosity. 

I can’t help but wonder what kept her from running to Him in the first place?

This was Mary. The one who was so enraptured by Jesus that she could not be distracted by or worried about the commotion of guests and the preparation of food. She simply sat at His feet and did the ONE thing that mattered most. And He praised her for it.

This was Mary. The one who later anointed Jesus’ head with a vile of perfume so costly that it likely represented her family’s entire fortune. She had no thought but to worship and glorify the One she loved most in this world.

She was always so wholehearted in her devotion to Him. Here we would hardly recognize her.

This was Mary.  So bound up at home in her ________ that the announcement of Jesus’ arrival didn’t move her outwardly.

She just sat there.

Certainly, in the days leading up to this, she had prayed and longed for Jesus’ arrival and been keen to know the comfort of her Savior. Yet we don’t see her move until she knew that He desired her audience. 

It was only in the moment of hearing that He was asking for HER that we sense the resurrection of her shattered heart.

And in that moment – when her heart turned back to Him – the Mary we had come to know so well returned to us. And she RAN to Jesus.  She ran so fast, that she got to Him before he’d even had time to set forth from where he had met with her sister Martha. She saw Him and fell at His feet.

Then she wept.

I know this is conjecture, but I have the distinct impression that both of Lazarus’ sisters had mixed feelings in seeing Jesus on this side of their loss. Grappling inwardly with His not being there when they needed Him most must have been excruciating. Martha and Mary’s first words to Jesus were the SAME – “Lord, if you had been here, our brother would not have died.”  

And what they said had a note of truth in it. 

I’ve been there. Haven’t you?  Disappointed with God’s choice in a matter, I’d rather avoid him until the feeling passes than face Him down with what I’m really wanting to say.

But I can’t ever let this keep me from going to Him.

Whatever it was that held Mary (and I’ll never know her thoughts this side of heaven) the undeniable truth of this passage stands as a beacon to me today in my pain and wrestling.

It wasn’t enough to know He was present. Mary needed in this moment of raw humanity to know He was still calling out to her to join Him. And if I were to gain nothing else from this account, I must not miss this –

It was the GOING to Him that healed both the breach between her and Jesus and the brokenness in Mary herself. 

She was restored through the great gift of Jesus giving her what she needed most in her despair – Himself. 

“I am the resurrection and the Life…”

As Mary’s tears wet his feet this time, Jesus was overwhelmed with the enormity of what His friends were suffering so that God’s power might be made more broadly known. It actually moved HIM to tears.

He wept. 

Is there something that holds you fast today and keeps you from running to Him even though you sense He is near?

There is nothing you or I can ever think, feel, or wrestle with that can separate us from His love. He is not fearful of what we may say now that He has shown Himself!

If you will quiet your heart and listen carefully, I suspect you will hear Him calling out for you.

Run to Him.  Do not wait.  

Jesus stands ready not only to comfort us, but to enter into our grief and to weep with us as He prepares to move in miraculous ways.

Of two things I am sure:

  • He is working at something bigger than we can see or understand for He would never have us suffer without cause.
  • He is not done yet.

I would rather meet Him on the road, to receive the gift of His presence and be present for the miracle He has come to perform, than to only hear of it later from others who had the privilege of witnessing it firsthand.

Let’s not just sit there when the time comes.

He calls every one of us by name. My prayer is that we will always have ears to hear it.

Faith comes from hearing and hearing from the Word of God. – Romans 10:17

 

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Beauty_for_Ashes

“And God chose me to be a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of this Good News. THAT IS WHY I am suffering here in prison.” – Paul in  2 Timothy 1 (Emphasis mine)

Wait. What?

I thought Paul was in prison because he got in trouble for preaching the Good News, not IN ORDER TO preach the Good News!

If we read this too quickly it’s easy to miss how incredible it is that Paul actually made the connection between the ministry God had called him to and the impossibly difficult circumstances he was writing from.

Seriously.  Prison isn’t the first place anyone would expect to find themselves if God had just specifically called them to be preaching and teaching the Good News. I bet it wasn’t what Paul was expecting either.

But he embraced where He was and pursued his assignment undaunted by what must have seemed like a terrible detour.

It would be easy to think that this prison phase was just a season to be endured and then his ministry could be resumed on the other side of his release.

That’s how we think. Well, that’s how I think.

We see interruptions.  Paul saw opportunity.  

His perspective was transformed because he never lost sight of what he was called to do.  We can’t either.  He knew wherever he was, he had the awesome opportunity to talk about Jesus, and that ministry could not be put on pause just because of difficulty or trial.

What if our suffering is actually intended by God to amplify the power of our testimony?  

How many times have I thought to myself, “I’d give anything to be able to share just one moment of the tangible experience of knowing Jesus” with my friends?

When life comes crashing down around us, and the supernatural peace and joy that only Jesus can provide is seen where grief, despair and anxiety should dwell, well…

What preaching is more persuasive than that?

Paul’s suffering was made infinitely easier by the fact that he trusted his trial to be an “assignment” that God had prepared for him in advance.  The sovereignty of the Lord was never questioned by him, so his heart was able to rest in promise.

This gift is meant to be ours as well. God promises not an end to our suffering but rather the redemption of it.

As followers of Jesus, we do not suffer hardship without reason.  We do not suffer without hope.  And most importantly, we do not suffer without gain.

God uses trial to bring beauty from ashes.  Let us not forget that ashes only exist where something has been devoured and destroyed by the ferocity of fire.  It may have been something precious to us before, but here on the other side of our loss, we have a choice to make. Be swallowed up by the pain, or focus on the beauty He will bring through the sacrifice.  We can choose to remember our position in Him, having not been given a spirit of fear but of power and a sound mind, and suddenly the ashes become the mark of where He met us to turn the course of our lives again towards His glory!

Never get caught up in the question “Why me…?” before you have set real time and prayer to the question, “Why are You, God, allowing this?”

The first question has its focus on self, the second on Him.  Be assured, the answer to “why” will always come more easily through an acceptance of the plans He has for you.  They are plans to prosper you, never to harm you, to give you hope and a good future.

As a loving Father, He will not ask us to suffer anything apart from Him and His promise to bless us and others through it.  He works together in ALL things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.

Oh that I would learn  to consider it pure joy whenever I face trials of many kinds!  God is wanting to reveal something to me, and through me to others, that can only be discovered in the ashes of what has been burned up.

May I seek my answers in light of that promise.

When I “feel” as though I’ve been unexpectedly sidelined, or I lose sight of the path before me, I pray that God would help me to see the ways that I can stay in the race.  I was meant to RUN.  Even in the dark.  I don’t want to be undone with the “why” of an unexpected turn, for it has come by God’s design, and the finish line can only be found if I keep on running through.  I just need to continue to follow with focus the course the Lord has marked out for me.

As I run through these night watches. I know that these miles are all gain.  For this is where the nearness of my God can be most keenly felt.

Yeah.  THAT’S why I’m suffering.

images_night_time_running_-_Google_Search

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.  So never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord. And don’t be ashamed of me, either, even though I’m in prison for him. With the strength God gives you, be ready to suffer with me for the sake of the Good News. For God saved us and called us to live a holy life.  He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time – to show us his grace through Christ Jesus.  And now he has made all this plain to us by the appearing of Christ Jesus, our Savior. He broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the Good News. And God chose me to be a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of this Good News. 

THAT IS WHY I am suffering here in prison. But I am not ashamed of it, for I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until the day of his return. 

2 Timothy 1:7-12 (Emphasis mine)

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GIDLacesLast year I bought a pair of sneakers with glow in the dark laces.  I liked the idea of knowing where I stood, even if I couldn’t see anything else.  That pretty much sums up where I am in life today. And the reality is, I’ve been running in the dark since this blog began.  The sun went down in December and I haven’t known anything of the path in front of me for the past four months. The only thing I’m hearing from up ahead is,

“Come, follow Me.”

You may be tempted to think I’m waxing poetic here.  No. I’m speaking practically.  We are in the midst of preparing our house and farm for sale, plus the better portion of all we own, and moving into the next phase of whatever ministry God has marked out for our family.  We don’t know what that is yet.

We are Abram’s clan readying the caravan in Haran. 

It’s awesome.  And it’s not.   Just like any good roller coaster ride, your hands are in the air and you’re screaming for joy and the next minute you feel like you’re going to hurl, and then comes another hill and you let go and scream holy moly again and its thrills and its chills and its awesome and then, well,  its just not.

Honestly, I’ve been doing pretty well.  I can’t see a step ahead or beside and there isn’t a ton of time to reflect where you’ve been when you’re running blind, so I just keep pressing on and  pressing in close to make sure I don’t miss what God has to say at any given moment.  The nearness of Him is my STRENGTH.

And the nearness of Him is my JOY.

So yeah. It’s been alright.  It’s been more than that.  It’s been GOOD.

Still, there are those moments.   I’m finding that the hardest part of having no illumination beyond a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path (which is what, a step or two?) is the loss of direction.

It’s just plain hard to keep forward momentum when you’re not sure where you’re going.   I know in my head that I don’t need a map, or a little blue line on GPS to follow, I’ve got something so much more valuable to guide me.

I’ve got Him.  The voice behind me, whenever I turn to the right or to the left saying, “This is the way, my child, walk in it.”

So I’m going to keep logging miles.  I’m absolutely convinced that the miles I cover in the dark count for something more than the ones I run in the light.  Why?

Because without faith, it’s impossible to please God.

Don’t just skim that.  Please.  Park on it a minute.

Without faith….IMPOSSIBLE…

Once, I asked my husband what he thought the opposite of faith was.  I was thinking unbelief, doubt, etc.  He quickly, and correctly, answered, “Sight.” This is according to Hebrews 11:1 – Faith is the substance of things not seen but hoped for.

I can run in the light all day long without faith.  I can see after all! But let’s be real, in the dark, I might be able to shuffle along a little way, but it takes an active trust – one that would cost me something if it failed – to actually run in the dark.

SO this past week, while I was actively, faithfully, blindly running my race, I started hitting some walls. Literally, not figuratively. One after another.

BAM.  Stop.  Recover.  Turn around.  Re-route.

After about three hard stops, I faced my first real fear since all this began.  It came in moments, and by taking big deep breaths of God’s grace, and specifically of God’s word, my racing heart was stilled.

It reminded me of the day I discovered that previously undiscovered phobias can emerge when pressed just the right way.

Years ago, at a pumpkin patch somewhere in Missouri,  my husband, who I like to call Superman, had just emerged from a straw bale maze/fortress with our two oldest children in tow.  He was a little wild-eyed and he laughed uncomfortably on approach.  “How was it?” I asked.  “Wow,” he said, “that actually made me feel just a twinge claustrophobic….you should take them through!”

So in I went.

The girls showed no signs of any trauma from their first trip in.  They were eager to return for round two!  After all, they had been lovingly guided through the dark by the hand of their father, Superman.  We all see him that way.

As we got about 15 feet in, every glimmer of light completely disappeared, and with it, my sense of direction.  I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face, couldn’t see my children whose hands I was clutching a little more seriously and I certainly couldn’t see what was in front of me.

If I had known in that moment what was before me, I probably wouldn’t have proceeded.  But the girls were tugging on me to forge ahead, and how hard of a maze could it be?  It was built for kids after all.  This was going to be fun!

It wasn’t long before I started running into dead ends.  As I shuffled down one 2-foot wide, pitch black hallway after another, each would end in a wall.  At about the third dead end, I could feel the panic starting to rise up in me like some sort of tsunami.  I was trapped and I was about to lose it.  I mean really lose it.  I could feel my little girls clutching my hands, still okay so far as I could tell, having no idea that they were only moments away from being scarred by life, because some madman decided to imprison their mommy in a house of straw where she lost her mind because of darkness and dead ends and no one to lead her!

A “twinge” of claustrophobia Superman had said?  You’re kidding me, right?

I was praying hard when the light came round the corner and moments later the little kid attached to the flashlight showed up behind it.  I nearly leveled my own girls as I lurched forward and grabbed the poor child by the arm, “DO YOU KNOW THE WAY OUT??”

“Yeah, sure,” says the 7 year old.  It’s not hard when you’ve got a torch.  I wonder if he knows what a hero he is?  Knows that he saved three lives that day???

Superman later confessed he was ready bring it all down around him by throwing his back into it should he have found no other way out.  That’s what got him through it when HE broke out in a cold sweat.  Thankfully that contingency was not required.  Having escaped, he showed no hesitation in cheerfully sending me in.  To what end?

Well our kiddos were dying to do it again!  For them, it was fun!  And he didn’t want to go through it again.  It was my turn to pay the parental dues.

So here’s the thing.

Darkness, loss of direction and hard, unplanned stops can be overwhelming  if you’re the one in charge.  

If, however, you’re following

Holding the hand of Someone you can trust completely, well…

The experience is completely transformed. You come out of it, begging to go back in and do it again straight away.  You come away counting it all joy.

Listen up.

Just close your eyes.  It’s dark anyway.  Sometimes looking into the darkness is a lot harder than closing your eyes to the pitch black and looking into the light of His word and His presence.

Trust the One who is leading you.  Because really, there’s not a navigational system on planet earth with better wherewithal to get you where you need to be than your Heavenly Father.

Listen to what He says and don’t hesitate to do it.  When you’ve got someone leading you blind, taking time to decide whether you will or won’t follow His directions, is high risk.  If you’re a Jesus follower, the issue of whether or not you’ll do what He asks should already be settled.  Do it when He says it.

If I had a choice (which honestly I don’t) I’d wait in line for this ride I’m on, over and over again.

It’s just that good.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”    John 1:5 (ESV)

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