A Redeemed Life!

During last night’s Easter Vigil I listend to the reading from Genesis 3 and I cringed…

…God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. … And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?”…

I hear God ask that question of the woman and my spirit shrinks in shame. I, too, am a woman who was once as easily deceived as Eve, rejecting God in favor of choosing my own way. If you are a woman reading this, perhaps you feel that same stinging conviction whenever you hear God saying, “What is this that you have done?”

But then, later on in the worship service, I read aloud the words of Matthew…

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”

Do you see it? Jesus–the one who redeemed the first man’s sin (as well as the sins of all who followed, men and women alike)–redeemed Eve’s careless decision in what feels to me to be a very personal way. Eve was the first to take a bite of that apple, the first to reject God. Similarly, the women were the first to see the resurrected Jesus, the first to declare the Good News that he is alive!

(At this point I feel the need to clarify that, while my comments are obviously gender-based, they are not to be interpreted as any sort of statement on feminism!)

As I read from Matthew’s gospel last night, my spirit soared with renewed freedom! I felt a kinship with Eve that no longer made me cringe, and a deep gratitude that God hates nothing that he has made…including Eve and me. I can look forward to the day when I will literally hear God say, “You are my daughter with whom I am well pleased!”

All this because Jesus was born and lived a perfectly blameless life, free of any careless choices…a life which he willingly laid down so that he could be raised up again to a new life…an eternal life, in which I am invited to share as though I, too, am blameless…his life which redeems mine.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

 

Grace, Gift, and Generosity

This week is about grace, gift, and generosity…

Those words spoken by Rev. Peter Matthews during his Palm Sunday sermon settled into my heart yesterday with an intensity that surprised me! For the past few days I have been pondering the irony of Palm Sunday: Jesus riding on a colt, nearing Jerusalem amidst cheers of “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”, all the while knowing that he was riding towards a gruesome death, called for by the very people who were now singing his praises. I have imagined the anguish he must have felt as he tried to reconcile this praise that was rightly his with the coming crucifixion that was certainly not.

Holy Week of 1988 forever changed my experience of Easter. My life commitment to Christ was still relatively new. We had just moved far from our Kentucky roots, settling in a little town in southern Alabama. In our search for a new church home, we were led to an Episcopal church which was a far cry from what I was used to. I decided to participate in all the events of Holy Week, curious to experience fully the traditions of this new denomination. As I journeyed from the palm-waving praise of Palm Sunday to the somber reflection of Maundy Thursday–kneeling in the dimly-lit sanctuary, listening to the haunting words and melody of “Were You There When They Crucified my Lord” softly sung acapella which provided an apt backdrop for the stripping of the altar and the draping of the cross–I wept with an awareness of Christ’s suffering that I had never before experienced.

As painful as the anticipation I felt in that Maundy Thursday service was, returning to the darkened sanctuary with the black-draped cross for Good Friday itself was heart-wrenching. By this time, I had so entered into Christ’s passion that I was simply wrecked…or so I thought. I grieved and wept, and for the first time I could understood that ancient Jewish practice of putting on sackcloth and pouring ashes over one’s head in an expression of unbearable grief. Saturday’s Easter Vigil brought little relief. That black-draped cross and bare altar overshadowed the baptism of a young woman that evening.

Finally, Easter morning dawned! We headed to church with an anticipation the likes of which I had never before felt for Easter Sunday! I was not disappointed… We entered into a sanctuary resplendent with beautiful flowers and freshly polished brass, the black drape happily missing and the altar covered in starched white linen, the candles lit in welcome. The choir sang a beautiful anthem as the little children in their Easter finery (and I do mean finery–no one does this like southern mommas!) processed into the sanctuary, each with a flower to place on a styrofoam cross wrapped in chicken wire–something quite ugly to start with and absolutely beautiful when the children were finshed with it! The joyful praise, so much richer than those Palm Sunday hosannas, reverberated as we worshiped our Risen Lord. It was then that I was totally wrecked!

Long story, I know. But I needed to relive it in order to see clearly why those words spoken by Fr. Peter yesterday captured my heart. For the past 30 years I have experienced Easter in much the same way as in 1988. Each year I recall the memory of that particular Easter and how it changed my perception of that final agonizing week of Jesus’ earthly life…how it changed me. I’ve entered into the darkness of it in order to fully experience the unsurpassing joy of Easter.

But this year I want to embrace Holy Week differently. I’ve pondered and lamented my sin and the world’s sin and the darkness that Jesus came to illuminate, as any Christian must! But today I want to lay all that aside to remember what this week is really about: God’s incredibly generous gift of absolutely amazing grace! I want to experience all week that unsurpassing joy I typically save for Easter morning!

My prayer for you is that you will open wide your arms, unclench your hands from whatever you are holding so tight, and simply receive the deeper truth that this week–of all weeks–is about grace, gift, and generosity. Amen and amen!

Who do you say that you are?

I’m not generally one to procrastinate, but occasionally I fall victim to that little voice of temptation. As I scrubbed the day-old stain–chiding myself for letting it sit so long that the stain had worked its way into the fibers of my shirt, spreading like some sort of disease–I couldn’t help but think that sin works in much the same way. The longer it goes without being confessed, the more it works its stain-disease into the fiber of my being, corrupting my identity.

I hate to be called a sinner. While the simple definition of a sinner is “one who sins,” the connotation in my mind is “one who habitually sins.” In other words, that’s their primary identity in God’s judgement. Yes, of course, I was once a sinner. I willingly chose to do what was wrong in God’s eyes, in the interest of self-gratification. But I am not that person anymore, thanks be to God!

Half my lifetime ago, the Spirit of God spoke quite plainly to me and I repented of my wrongful choices, allowing the blood of Jesus to wash me clean. As a result, self-gratification became wanting to choose the right and the good and the God-pleasing (admittedly not perfectly or instantaneously). I am no longer a sinner in God’s judgement. Rather, I am his beloved child, saved by his amazing grace!

Clearly and honestly, I do still sin. I live in a corrupted body and in a fallen world. Sometimes I willfully sin, but more often it is unintentional. And when the Spirit pricks me with stinging conviction, I turn to Jesus to confess, repent, and receive his cleansing forgiveness. And I do it quickly, lest the stain spread; this is no time for procrastination!

I know that, for some folks, referring to themselves as a “sinner-saved-by-grace” is what best helps them remember who they are in Christ, and aids them in choosing the right over the wrong. Certainly there is nothing wrong in that! However, for me, calling myself a sinner lowers the bar of expectation. It tempts me to feel helpless, and somehow still under condemnation (which is, of course, the enemy’s lie!). But when I claim my identity as a child of God, saved and cleansed by a price I was unable to pay, the bar is set higher…high enough that I have to reach for it. It prompts me to stretch myself by asking, in the words of St. Ignatius of Loyola, “What return of love can I make?

How we think of ourselves often determines our behavior. Who do you say that you are? Which way of identifying yourself best helps you make a return of the love that saves you? Questions worth pondering…

 

Which way do you live?

In her book, A Circle of Quiet, Madeleine L’Engle tells of her student who wanted to know if she believed in God. Madeleine replied…

There are three ways you can live life… You can live life as though it’s all a cosmic accident; we’re nothing but an irritating skin disease on the face of the earth. Maybe you can live your life as though everything’s a bad joke. I can’t.

Or you can go out at night and look at the stars and think, yes, they were created by a prime mover, and so were you, but he’s aloof perfection, impassible, indifferent to his creation. He doesn’t care, or, if he cares, he only cares about the ultimate end of his creation, and so what happens to any part of it on the way is really a matter of indifference. You don’t matter to him, I don’t matter to him, except possibly as a means to an end. I can’t live that way, either.”

Then there’s a third way: to live as though you believe that the power behind the universe is a power of love, a personal power of love, a love so great that all of us really do matter to him. He loves us so much that every single one of our lives has meaning; he really does know about the fall of every sparrow and the hairs of our head are really counted. That’s the only way I can live.

I want to believe that I’m living the third way. But it’s only true if others–family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, the cashier who checks me out, the drivers with whom I share the road–can testify to it. I am only living in L’Engle’s third way when I affirm that every single one of their lives has meaning to God, and therefore has meaning to me because God has created us to share in his love.

Perhaps you might find some time today to sit in the quiet and ponder these three ways of living. Can you ask God to help you see which way you truly live?

Is there more to the story?

How many times I’ve read Luke’s version of the feeding of the five-thousand (Luke 9:10-17). It is a great story, isn’t it? Imagine feeding five-thousand men–more when we consider the women and children who were likely present, too–with only five loaves and two fish! It’s a BIG miracle, for sure!

And that’s what catches our attention, isn’t it? The magnitude of that miracle. We are prone to look for the big stuff, the flashy show of power, the grandiosity of the moment. This story doesn’t disappoint, either–an incredible feat to feed thousands of people with what would barely feed a family.

But there is more, much more, waiting to be discovered in this story…

Consider this: How did Jesus make himself heard? He spoke to them about the kingdom of God. In other words, he preached…to over 5000 people, more than likely outdoors. How could all those people hear him without a sound system? Did he walk among them as he spoke? Or did he stand still and those closest to him turned to the ones behind them, repeating Jesus’ words to create a sort of echo?

And then there’s the healing… Did Jesus individually heal those in need, one by one? That alone would have taken more than a day! Or did he simply speak a word and all were healed at once? Certainly that would be more efficient, but isn’t the personal attention from Jesus a significant aspect of healing? Did the disciples, having just returned from their own ministry adventure, jump in and help with the healing to expedite the process?

How in the world did the Twelve feed all those people? If we simply consider the 5000 that Luke mentions, sitting in groups of fifty would have meant that there were 100 groups. That’s approximately eight and one-third groups per disciple, or 416 individuals for each disciple to serve. I occasionally help serve a meal to the homeless at a local non-profit. It takes about thirty minutes for eight of us to serve 100 people seated around tables. I can’t imagine serving 416 by myself!

In all, this would have taken hours and hours…teaching, healing, feeding, collecting leftovers. So, did time simply stand still for a while?

Can you see the potential for all sorts of miracles in these seven verses? When we slow down and engage our imagination, we can glimpse all sorts of wonders in these familiar stories, little treasures that we have previously overlooked. And doing so trains us to look for life’s little treasures available to us each day, the ones we might otherwise overlook in our quest for the big stuff.

 

What kind of miracle do you need today?

     Are you hungry for spiritual food?

          Do you long to hear Jesus over the noise in and around you?

               Are you in need of healing? Or is Jesus inviting you to be an agent of his healing?

                    Are you feeling overwhelmed by the needs or tasks before you today?

                         Do you need time to stand still for a bit, that you might have a personal encounter with Jesus today?

Ask…seek…knock…your Savior longs to answer. Just remember that the answer may not come in the big stuff, but in the small treasures awaiting you today.

Do you hear what I hear?

I closed my eyes in the struggle to quiet my thoughts and settle my heart. I was having trouble this morning finding the stillness within to ponder a bit of scripture, to make space for the Spirit to illumine the words before me. My old antique clock–the one that hung in my childhood home and now keeps time in my grownup home–tick-tocked loudly from its place on the wall just above my head, reminding me that I was losing precious time…

When I was younger, I measured time in years. As I grew older, months became the unit of measure. Growing older still, it was measured in weeks, then days. Now sometimes it feels like I measure time by the hour, if not by the minute

A few more minutes passed as I tried to tame my mind, and I gradually became aware that the steady rhythm of the clock’s pendulum had quieted. With a sigh, I realized that I had forgotten once again to fetch the old key and wind her up–a must for antique clocks!

For a moment or two, the silence seemed deafening.

But in the absence of that noisy tick-tocking reminder of time marching by, I became aware of other sounds, the sweeter sounds of a new day…

…a mourning dove’s gentle coo

…the sweet song of the windchimes outside my window

…a cardinal’s joyful trill.

My mind quieted and my heart settled as I simply listened. The Spirit was indeed illumining me, tuning my heart to the heart of Creator God. I was being invited to let time stand still while I communed with God, sharing his delight in his beloved creation. In those quiet moments I also sensed his whispered reminder that I, too, am his beloved creation.

My prayer for you today is that you would allow time to stand still for a bit, inviting the Holy Spirit to quiet your noisy world…and in that silence and solitude you would experience God’s joy in all his creation…especially in you.

A New Thing

It’s been such a long time since I’ve written a post. You may be confused by the name…the blog you were used to seeing was An Equipper’s Perspective. Don’t worry, I’m still an equipper! But God has been doing a new thing in my life over the past couple of years. (He’s known for doing that upon occasion, just to keep life interesting!)

After years of writing about volunteer ministry, I found that I was running out of things to say. I don’t think everything has been said that needs to be said or could be said about the subject. It’s just that I didn’t have anything more to say! I continue to believe that equipping the saints for the work of ministry is vital to God’s Church and the coming kingdom, and I cheer on those who labor faithfully in this particular area of ministry.

But God has been shifting my focus–my heart’s desire–to helping those who know him to know him better. I believe that God is continually stirring up a hunger in his children for more of him. I believe he is inviting us to plumb the depths of his never-ending, unfailing love. That’s not really anything new, of course. God has always wanted his people to know him, Jesus being the prime example of just how deep that desire is!

But our world is so noisy, isn’t it? And we are a people consumed with busyness, whether we want to be or not. It’s hard to find time to chase after a God we can’t see or hear or touch. At least, that’s been my experience.

More than a decade ago, I met a spiritual director who, when asked what that meant, said that she thought of herself as a “doorknob polisher.” Heaven knows, she did polish the doorknob to the throne room of God for me again and again as we met over the years. In 2015 I followed her footsteps and began training to become a spiritual director. Since completing that program, I have been blessed to come alongside a few people in their pursuit of a more intimate experience of God’s love. What I’ve found is that the joy in the journey comes through sharing it.

So, I hope we can journey together for awhile, and that I will be able to polish the doorknob of God’s throne room for you from time to time. If that sounds good to you, then look for me to show up in your email inbox again…with my usual irregularity! (Some things don’t change!)

However, if you tuned in over the years primarily for encouragement for your volunteer equipping ministry, I’ll understand if you unfollow this blog. Go with my blessing and my deep appreciation for the privilege of speaking into your ministry.

Here’s to a new adventure!

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? -Isaiah 43:19