Oh How He Loves

November 29, 2020 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Family Focus

By Makenzie Allen –

When I was little, I didn’t really get the concept of Jesus dying for me. He’s God right? That means He should be able to beat the bad guys, He’s indestructible. What I didn’t realize is that it was a choice. Jesus chose to die for us so we could be clean in the sight of God.

Can you imagine waking up in the morning and knowing you were going to die that day? That your closest friends were going to turn their backs on you and trade you for money? They would deny that they ever knew you and watch as you breathed your last. This was Jesus’ reality. He gave his friends unconditional love, and they turned away from Him. What amazes me about this is that we expect our friends to take our hand and be with us every step of the way, when the God of the universe did not even find that kind of companionship.

Jesus chose to go through complete abandonment, and death, for us. Now I’m sure your thinking, this is just the classic story of Jesus. Not quite. When you think of one of your closest friends, do you think of someone with redeeming qualities? A friend is someone who’s got your back, someone who cares about what’s going on in your life. So what about Judas, or Peter? One handed Him over for crucifixion, the other denied Him. I’ve had friends I look up to, friends that encourage me, friends that I encourage, and friends who aren’t really who I thought they were. But if my friends turned against me I would be devastated. So why is it that Jesus gave in to men He could easily overpower? I wouldn’t want to give up my life for people who did not appreciate me.

Another childhood misconception I had about God was that my parents could protect me better than He could. One night I was in my room, scared from a nightmare. Walking quickly to my parent’s room, I tapped my dad on the shoulder and told him I was afraid.

My mom rolled over to face me and said, “It’s ok, Jesus will protect you.”

My response had been to put my hand on my hip and say, “What’s he gonna do? He’s just a baby away in a manger!”

Since then I’ve come to see Jesus as my protector. I can walk through my faith knowing that God will be the friend who gives me what everyone longs for; love that isn’t contingent on what they’ve done or who they are.

So that’s not the end of the story.

After Jesus’ friends left Him to face crucifixion alone, He conquered death itself and did another remarkable thing. He forgave. Instead of leaving earth immediately to go home to His Father, Jesus went and saw His disciples. These men who rejected Jesus were shown the kind of love everyone talks about and longs for. If only everyone knew that the love they crave is easily given. There are no requirements you have to reach in order to gain the love and support of God.

So yes, I once questioned why Jesus died for us, I once pondered why He protected better than my parents, but I think I’ve found the answer. He loves us enough to die for our sins, and protects us through our greatest fears.

Oh how He loves.

Follower

November 21, 2020 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Family Focus

By Heather Allen-

I was resting on a floral couch, swirling the ice and water in my cup. Focused on the cubes, I smiled thinking how preferable sitting in my friend’s sun porch was to the lengthy to do list waiting at my doorstep. We swapped kid stories, shared laughs, grimaced over concerns, and then she mentioned something her husband shared at church. My head came up. ‘Being uncomfortable in our situations is not a bad thing”, she went on. “It can mean that God is bringing necessary change”.

I nodded my head as this flowed off her tongue. Not even eighteen hours before I flipped on the radio as the host said, “The solution to your problem lies outside your comfort zone.” The little orange notebook, in my purse, holds these words.

There was a misunderstanding after breakfast. I like the kitchen cleaning to begin when the meal finishes. This morning my timeline caused a bit of conflict. And there were discussions and elevated voices as we tried clarifying and compromising. We found it was not working.

So we sat at the table, the surface still slick with halfhearted washing, me soundlessly praying for the ability to pole-vault out of my pride, her seething red from the injustice of being misunderstood.

I hand over pen and paper, explaining that we will clarify the expectations and what it means to clean the kitchen. The writing pauses and steely eyes look me square in the face “I will write what you say, but it doesn’t change what I think”. I think over my prepared response, breathe and say it lightly. Neither of us is comfortable.

I flip open my Bible to a long loved passage. Philippians 4:6 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (NIV).

I am gripped with this thought, lie out your petition, and present your request. There is nothing here instructing me to figure out solutions and then pray God will use them. I tighten my hand into a fist, watchful, turn my hand up and uncurl my fingers. These hands, this mind, this body, they are frail and finite. I pause thinking how peaceful life is when I do not fight for my way. I carry the thought further wondering if the root of my striving is anxiety. My plan is a well-worn rug. His seems a bit foreign, a bit scarier. But why fight for a path without knowing its destination? Why would I do this? I ask aloud. Why would I pay so much attention to my own directions?

The beginning and the end, Alpha and Omega, is Immanuel, God with us. He knows where each path leads. Sow to flesh, reap flesh. Sow to the Spirit; reap Spirit. The fruit of His Spirit turns self-absorption and striving into self-control and peace.

A willful girl can willfully hold her life up as a sacrifice. And though her arms shake under the strain and pressure, they will grow stronger. Time and new habits do that. Fortifying a heart that resolutely yearns to beat for another. Humility is a tether, reminding me, I do not know how to lead. My petition, my prayer is that I will learn to follow.

Dark Tunnels

November 6, 2020 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Family Focus

By Marty Norman –

Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and
compassionate and righteous man. —Psalm 112:4

I love Holy Week. The visual and daily readings of the Passion of Christ place the believer in the thick of the crucifixion experience, reminding us of Jesus’s amazing sacrifice.

I thought I’d seen everything, but when Jim and I attended our first musical Tenebrae on Good Friday at a Bible Church I was stunned. What a powerful experience!

The Anglican Church always had a service on Maundy Thursday. It was very moving but I never knew why I left with such a sense of hopelessness, especially at the end of the service when the altar is stripped. Everything that related to Christ—light, candles, Scripture, and crosses—was taken out of the room, one by one, to be replaced by emptiness. I didn’t realize it but this was a Tenebrae service.

Tenebrae is a Latin word meaning shadows or darkness. A Christian service in the Western Church, it is celebrated in many ways by Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, and Protestants. The common denominator involves a gradual extinguishing of candles while readings and psalms are chanted or sung.

If you haven’t attended a musical Tenebrae, you must. At the climax of the performance, with the choir sounding like angels from heaven, Jesus moves toward the crucifixion. As the candles are extinguished the auditorium is left in total darkness. The significance of the extinguished light is not lost on the audience.

What a visual picture of a spiritual truth. Without the light of Christ to permeate the dark, all truth and hope are blotted from view—total darkness.

I don’t know how many of you have ever been in total darkness. I have, and it’s scary.
There is a train in Europe that runs between Austria and Italy. For a fee, a car can make a reservation that takes a shortcut through the mountains, on the back of a flatbed train. In the convenience of one’s car, a train carrying its load winds through a dark tunnel. Much like a ferry on water, the winding mountain drive is shortened by hours.

I knew that tunnels were dark. But inside the car, on top of that flatbed train, I wasn’t prepared for such darkness. At one point, I insisted we turn on the light inside the car just so I could get my bearings. The whole experience was disorienting.

Isn’t that how we are in the middle of a spiritual crisis? When we are in a dark place, it’s darker than we anticipated. Yet God is the engineer of our train. He can navigate us through any tunnel. We just have to trust, knowing that we are in good hands, for he has promised light at the end of the tunnel.

While in the tunnel, disorientation often takes over. In that case, there is only one thing to do. Turn the light on, reorient ourselves, and look for the light at the end of the tunnel. Only by turning on the power are we able to find our way.

What a good word for the twenty-first century, especially for mothers and grandmothers. Keeping dark tunnels and trains front and center in the mind go a long way in keeping us focused.

Passing Over

October 15, 2020 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Family Focus

By Heather Allen –

Spring is coming. Trees are already budding as we experience an unseasonably warm winter. Passover is approaching and with it my anticipation of celebrating God’s divine protection. A few years ago my family was invited to celebrate our first Passover Seder. The experience was rich as we recalled how Moses and Aaron were called to be spokesman, plagues came on a stubborn ruler, and then thousands of years later Christ became the Passover lamb.

After the Seder, I began studying the Passover and other feasts in scripture. A beautiful painting took form as I traced God’s preservation of His people throughout history.

Several Passover truths stood out as I studied. Under King Josiah & Hezekiah, Israel celebrated the Passover, renewing their covenant to follow God’s law and repenting for their sin. While under Persian rule the Jewish people were handed a death sentence also known as Haman’s edict. This edict would have come as they prepared for Passover. And just as God spared His people in Egypt, he again spared them in Persia. Both times they were integrated into another culture. As deliverance came, perhaps the realization that they were a separate people followed. There was a covenant in place. And then Christ’s death fell on Passover, His last breath coming as the Passover lamb would have been slaughtered – A man should have taken much longer to die, but Christ gave up His spirit at that exact hour.

There is a pattern I am noticing the more I study the Jewish feasts, a divine calendar. These dates were not merely historical dates with significance for the Jewish people; they are significant today. I believe we will continue to see prophecy linked with these dates. God still distinguishes between His own and those who are not. This is a covenant relationship. Do I believe we may see God pass over us again on Passover? Perhaps. Blood on our doorposts will not separate us. Rather Christ’s shed blood covers our sin.

An identity shift should take place as we embrace the reality that we are His people. We belong to the God who called forth water from a rock. He will be enough for us in any circumstance. He is a covenant God, faithful to all generations.

“Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until His wrath has passed by. See the LORD is coming out of His dwelling to punish the people of the earth for their sins” (Isaiah 26:20-21 NIV).

(The cross reference on this is the first Passover is Exodus 12:23)

Good Grief

October 2, 2020 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Family Focus

By Jane Thornton –

Respectful whispers brush across the church lobby. Hugs cling a little tighter than the norm. Sunday Best is slightly more prevalent than on a typical modern Sunday, even if the predominant color is not black like it would have been fifty years ago.

Family and friends have gathered to celebrate the life of my father, David Hines. A few moments before the official assembly, a disturbed murmur of horrified gasps ripples across the room.

“David Hines fell in the baptistery!”

A moment of stunned silence follows.

“I thought they didn’t bring the casket here.” A friend’s undertone reflects her shocked disbelief.

Stifled laughter flutters through the family. Not dead David, grandkid David. Where else would a ten-year-old boy who arrived thirty minutes early for a funeral be but playing near the baptistery?

I go to see for myself. Sure enough, there stands my nephew, khaki pants and plaid shirt darkened and plastered to his wiry frame, a puddle forming around his loafers. My embarrassed but resigned sister-in-law hustles him off on a frantic Wal-Mart trip for dry clothes.

Ten years later, that story highlights our reminiscing. Everyone enjoys a hearty laugh over the spectacle, including a semi-sheepish David.

Last week, our church laid another David to rest, a brother we all agreed was a “mighty man of God.” Sunday morning after the funeral, we took several moments to share memories. Numerous memorable hospital visits brought appreciative tears. Reflections on Dave’s unique eccentricities brought poignant chuckles. We sang his silly song. We wept and laughed at his love for kids.

At the funeral of Lazarus, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35 NIV). Even knowing he would conquer death, Jesus shared his friends’ sorrow. I wonder if laughter shuffled through the crowd when Martha protested the stink of opening the grave. I wouldn’t be surprised. Several stories show Jesus’ sense of humor and comic timing. I love knowing He participates in all our emotions—the joys and tears found in the everyday vagaries of life.

When teaching English, I offer “good grief” as a prime example of an oxymoron. But as I reflect on funerals, silly songs, and sopping wet boys, I see that through our faith, God makes good grief a reality. “‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be o God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 15:55-57 NIV).

Comment Prompt: Any funereal yet funny moments you can share?

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