My Kind of Man

He was a man of few words.  Until he spoke.  He gave good solid advice.  He made sound decisions.  He spoke with authority.

He was a man among men.  He was a leader.  Oh.  He didn’t seek out leadership positions.  They sought him.  Whether it was the school board.  The church board.  The farm association board.  He always ended up being the leader.  He never said if he was comfortable in that position.  But somehow those positions always found him.  And he led well.  He was respected and loved.

My dad loved to tease people.  He would honk the horn at pretty women.  Flirt with them.  Joke with others.  He had a nickname for most people.

He laughed when a prank caller insisted he was cheating on my mom.  My mom didn’t laugh.  He wasn’t cheating and they both knew it.  He loved my mom with a fierce love.  He was protective and watchful over her.  To her dying day.

Daddy loved pears and hated iced tea.  He always wanted a watermelon with candles for his birthday in July.  Birthday cake was not good enough for this man.

I think back to my childhood years when life was carefree for me.  They were years of hard work for him.   I can picture him in his v-neck t-shirt, worn thin from years of wear.  I can see him leaning against the kitchen door frame.  Head thrown back in a hearty laugh.  Oh.  I can still hear that laugh.


The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.  Proverbs 16:9


After sitting on a hot, noisy tractor all day, my dad liked to walk into a quiet house.  Piano practice had to be over.  The radio turned off.  No noise.  Just peace and quiet.  That’s what he liked after a noise filled day.

Daddy loved his work. He’s the first man I ever knew who loved his job. Oh. It wasn’t a job. It was a lifestyle. It was hard work with few rewards and great sacrifice. It was farming. And it ran in his blood.

His heart attack forced retirement on him in his early 70’s. He never really bounced back from the open heart surgery. It made an old man out of him.

Every night before we went to bed, he would call us kids into the living room.  He would pull out the Bible story book and open it.  There we would sit and listen as he read a story to us.  We read through that book many times over the years, with those stories engrained in our memory.  Then we would kneel and pray as a family.  Each night.  Those prayers are engrained in my heart.

Oh.  He wasn’t a perfect man.  But he was the wisest, smartest and noblest man a girl could ever choose for a father.  No.  He didn’t play ball with us or take us out to eat.  But he taught us a solid work ethic.  He taught us to share what we had with others.  He led by example.

I love the kind of man my dad was.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I chose a husband made from the same cloth.  One who loves God.  Loves his work.  Has a great sense of humor.  Makes solid decisions.  A leader.  An influencer.  Well respected.  Someone I wholeheartedly trust.  That’s my kind of man.

 

Remembering Mother

I remember her.  She passed in her sleep.  She went to bed one night.  She woke up in heaven.  What a way to go.  We didn’t see it coming.  Oh.  She was past her prime.  She walked with a shuffle, at best.  Most often, she held tight to a walker.  Her hair was no longer styled.  Her mind was no longer hers.

She didn’t want to forget.  She didn’t want to end up like her grandma.  That’s what she had said so many times.  She feared that.  She feared losing the one thing that was only hers.  Her mind.  Her memories.  Herself.  Trapped within a body that was growing unfamiliar with age and a mind that betrayed her.

But it happened.  Nothing could stop the disease.  No medicine.  No miracle surgery.  Nothing.

Yet she remained gentle.  Loving.  Kind.  She didn’t lash out at others.  She allowed others to serve her needs when she was no longer able to serve.  You see.  She thrived on serving others.  Whether it was cooking a meal.  Baking a cake or pie.  Taking care of a child.  Giving away extra produce from the garden.  Or a spare roast from the freezer.  Serving was her gift.  Her God-given gift and she did it with grace.  Time after time.

She served her family.  Cooking three meals every day.  Load upon load of laundry each day.  Trips to the grocery store.  Piano lessons.  Summer lunches packed for the field.  She was a busy woman.  She didn’t complain.  She gave what she had.  No expectations of receiving in return.

I don’t think I ever saw her cry.  Unlike me, she didn’t shed a tear at the blink of an eye.  She was a tough cookie. But gentle in spirit.

I don’t think she knew a stranger.  She welcomed anyone into her home.  Humble as it was.  It may not have been stylish or spotless.  It had the lived in look.  She said.

She loved puzzles.  Crossword.  Jigsaw.  You name it.  She tried to figure it out.  No matter how long it took, she would sit and work on putting that piece in its place.  Or find the word to circle.  Spelling it softly to herself before putting the pencil to the page.  She always found her word.


Her children stand and bless her.  Her husband praises her.  Proverbs 31:28


My mom loved God.  She was a prayer warrior. Oh. How she prayed. On her knees. Bowed at the chair. Behind closed doors. She prayed the old-fashioned way.  Out loud and with purpose.  She prayed for me.

She loved her husband.  She supported him.  She honored him.  She served him.  For 59 years.  9 months.  11 days.  Oh.   In the last few years, there were many days when the roles were reversed.  He served her.  He made sure she was taken care of.  Provided for.  Moved to a place where neither wanted to be.  To ensure her care and comfort.  Oh.  He sacrificed his comfort and will for her.  That’s what they both did.  For better or worse.  Richer or poorer.  Sickness or health.  Till death us do part.

And death parted them.  For a brief moment in time.  It was eleven days until they reunited.  But parting is such sweet sorrow.  That’s what they say.  It’s sweet because it’s temporary.  It’s sorrow because it’s loss.

But that morning she awoke in heaven.  I imagine her with a clear mind.  A restored memory.  Looking around in astonishment.  Realizing where she was.  The home she had been preparing for for almost 60 years.  She was finally home.  She saw Randy.  Her firstborn son.  She was at last reunited with him.  Oh.  How good it felt.  As she stood in front of her Maker.  Her God.  I know she heard the words.  Well done.  Good and faithful servant.  Enter in.

Some may think I  should wait until Mother’s Day to honor my mother. I now choose April 27th as my Mother’s Day.  You see.  I lost her on that day.  So it isn’t a day of celebration.  It’s a day of remembrance.  A day of honoring the memory of the woman who gave me life.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mother!  Until we meet again.

The Unpredictable Fight for Survival

It was a cold and somewhat snowy mid-April morning.  Standing outside in my coat and scarf, I held tightly to the leash as the dog sniffed the ground.  Looking over, I noticed the peonies.  They had begun their spring growth with faith and confidence that this season would be their best.  As they had poked their heads out of the ground at their earliest chance, they began to sprout their best red apparel.  I’m sure it didn’t take much time for them to realize this wasn’t a typical spring.

This particular spring has been unpredictable.  Weather colder than usual.  Easter snow.  The seven day weather pattern seemed to include lower temperatures and snow into the middle of April.  These peonies didn’t seem to have a fighting chance.  But they didn’t know it.  They fought for life like their life depended on it.  And it did.

I wondered how strong and deep was the foundation of these peonies.  Oh.  In seasons past, they hadn’t fared so well.  They were planted in a beautiful setting overlooking the wooded ravine.  As they grew in the springtime, they were full of promise and hope. But as the trees bloomed and the leaves spread their wings, the peonies seemed to fade.  They no longer had the ability to reach their full potential.  The leafy trees shaded the peonies so well that their buds failed to open.  At best only one or two buds ever flowered.

In good faith, I had surrounded each of them with the old tomato cages from years past.  Rusty and lopsided, they would do their job for another season.  You see.  This year only three peony plants arose from the soil.  Previous years had four plants.  But not this spring.  Only three plants had survived the winter and decided to brave an unwelcoming spring.

Such disappointment.  Such lost hope.  Such wasted potential.  Sometimes what seems to be an obvious showstopper is sometimes stopped before the show starts.  It seems a total waste.

This spring has sure been a disappointment.


Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord!  I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!  Habakkuk 3:17-18

My spring had started out strong.  I had hope and confidence that this year would be the best ever.  No specific reason for that.  But hope was running high.  Little did I know that before winter had blown over, my confidence in the year would be blown away.  I had to find new reasons for hope.  I had to dig deep to find confidence.  I had to rely upon my stronghold of faith that had grown over the years.  Sometimes it didn’t feel enough.

I will always remember that day.  It started out on an even note.  Actually, though.  If I think about it, it didn’t.  Someone said something to me that morning that really bothered me.  I wanted to talk to someone important about the words, but I hesitated.  Later, as I walked back in the building at lunch time, I saw her heading out the door.  I mentioned that she probably wouldn’t want to come back in.  It was a nice day.  I just have to get out of here for awhile.  She said.  Oh well.  I though.  The day must not be going so well for her.

Little did I know that she held a secret that would change my life.  Two hours later we met in a closed room.  There I learned that I was no longer employed.  My job was done.  Just like that.  In an instant, I went from earning a decent paycheck to the unemployment line.  For no good reason.  I see why her day wasn’t going so well.  She knew that she was about to upset my life.  And apparently, it upset her.  But she did it anyway.

I have been growing roots in my Christian walk for many years.  Sometimes those roots have been tested.  The winds of change and heartache have blown.  The years of tests and trials have stretched those roots until they’ve almost snapped.  But through each test and trial and heartache and loss, I’ve dug deep into the Word to gain strength needed for each day.

The past few years have been good.  Easy.  In fact.  I knew that a new day would come that would produce a new heartache.  A new trial.  I knew that I would be tested again.  I want to say I was ready for it.  But.  Really.

Oh.  Sure.  I had kept myself in God’s Word.  Studying.  Praying.  Staying close to God.  I’ve worked to keep my roots strong and deep and sheltered.  I’ve sat those old tomato cages of faith in place to hold me up when the burdens weigh me down.  But when life is good.  When the flowers are in full bloom.  When the tomato cages are holding me strong.  It’s easy to forget about the tough times.  It’s easy to overlook the daily conversations I should have with my Lord.  It’s easy to take care of myself.  It’s easy to think I don’t need help.

But this time.  I find I’m holding on for dear life.  I find that the old tomato cages aren’t as strong as they once were.  The rusty metal has seen better days.  The uneven legs are wobbly.  Oh.  I had filled my well full of everlasting water.  But I find I’m taking bigger drinks than I have in the past.  I’ve been told that the well never goes dry.  I’m holding onto that promise and looking for the peonies to bloom.

 

 

Discipline the Disciple

Job Title:  Disciple (12 positions available)

Internship:  Each disciple will have the opportunity to spend valuable time with the Master Teacher.  You will be taught the ways of the Master Teacher.  Your interactions with the other interns and strangers will be observed and noted.  You will have one-on-one time with the Master, as well as hear him teach in a group setting.  Your discipline, commitment and humility will be taken into consideration.  This is a rigorous training program.

Job Description: Upon satisfactory completion of the internship, each disciple will be ordained.  You will have authority to cast out evil spirits.  You will also have the power to heal every kind of disease and illness.

Requirements:  Give up your current lifestyle.  Travel up to 100%.  Don’t carry money.  Don’t bring a change of clothes.  Accept hospitality wherever you go, because you won’t be paid otherwise.  In every town you visit, find a trustworthy person to house you and then bless them.  If you don’t feel welcome in a household or town, don’t be afraid to remove your blessing.  But first shake the dust off your feet and then leave town.  Don’t look back.

Experience:  No experience necessary.  Perfect people need not apply.

Other Duties As Assigned:  Be a sheep among wolves.  Be as shrewd as snakes but harmless as doves.  Give as freely as you have received.

Occupational Hazards:  You will be flogged with whips in the house of worship.  You will stand before kings and governors.  No.  Not for honors.  You’ll be on trial.  Oh.  You will be arrested.  One of you will be sent to live in exile for a time and later die of natural causes.  One will betray me and then commit suicide.   The rest of you will be killed in the line of duty.

Additional Information:  This is a tough job.  It isn’t for the faint of heart.  Oh.  You may wonder how hard it could be to follow one man.  You may think it would be easy to travel and explain to strangers that Jesus is the hope of all times.  How tough can that be?  Who would find that message offensive?  This work isn’t for the naïve or cautious person.

Advancement Potential:  Three will be chosen to be the Inner Circle.

Results:  Twelve were chosen.  A motley crew.  Two sets of brothers. Several fishermen.  A tax collector.  A zealot.  Some had hot tempers.  Some were born leaders.  All were called.  Some would later write letters to the churches they started.

These men were chosen.  Handpicked.  On purpose.  For a purpose.  Oh.  There was nothing special about these men.  Nothing extraordinary.  But Jesus saw potential.  He knew the pressures they would face.  He knew they would make mistakes.  He knew they would desert him when he needed them most.  Yet  he called them.  He welcomed them into his life and ministry.  He challenged them to go forth and spread his good news to the ends of the earth.


I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.  Philippians 3:14


I am a disciple of Jesus Christ.  I wonder.  If Jesus was walking this earth today, would he choose me to be one of his twelve?  Would I make the cut to be part of that close-knit group who traveled with him?  Would I be given the power to perform miracles?  Would I be able to heal people?  Would I be willing to forsake all others and follow him?  To the ends of the earth?  Would I?

But then.  Jesus is no longer walking on this earth in person.  But I can still choose to walk with him in spirit.  In thought, word and action.  I have the same power inside me that was given to those twelve disciples.  Right now.  Oh.  I haven’t been called on to heal people.  I’ve never performed a miracle.  But I choose to follow at all cost.

I agree.  This is a daunting role.  A reckless lifestyle.  I’ve made my choice.  I don’t know if I would have been chosen to be part of the twelve.  I dare not think I’m worthy to be part of the Inner Circle.  It doesn’t matter what the role is that I’ve been given, I want to be worthy of the prize.  When my final breath is taken, I want to see Jesus as my King and my Savior.  I choose to be a disciple.

Seeking Truth

Her name was Mary.  Some historians say she was the wife of Cleopas.  The Bible says she was the mother of  two sons, Joseph and James.  She was a friend of Mary Magdalene.  She was a friend of Mary, Jesus’ mother.  She was a disciple of Jesus.

This Mary was at the crucifixion.  She saw Jesus suffer.  She heard him cry out.  It is finished.  She saw him take his last breath.  She went to the tomb early on Sunday morning with burial spices for Jesus’ body.  She and the other women wondered how they would roll the heavy stone away from the tomb.  She saw the angels standing at the tomb with the stone rolled away.  She heard the angel say Jesus was risen.  She saw the empty tomb.   She ran to tell the others that Jesus was gone.  Risen.

He’s risen.  But what does that even mean?  How does a person die and then come back to life?  Where was he if he was suddenly alive again?  Why did he leave behind the clothes in the tomb?  Where did he go?  And angels? How could this even be real?

So Mary and Cleopas packed up and left their friends in Jerusalem.  They left for home.  On the Sabbath.  They had been in town for the Passover celebration.  They were witnesses to the horrible events of the weekend that had claimed the life of the man they were following.  The man they assumed would be their Savior.  Their Messiah.  They and their sons were followers of Jesus.  But this was too much.

Have you ever noticed?  Jesus had a large number of followers who were involved in his life.  No.  They weren’t part of the group of twelve, but they were disciples.   They supported him and his ministry with their own money.  Oh.  They knew he was a great teacher.  They said he was a prophet who performed miracles.  They had hoped he was the Messiah.  But they didn’t yet believe it.

As Mary and Cleopas walked home after the events of Passover week, they were dazed.  Their week of celebrating had ended in tragedy.  In defeat.  The man they knew as a miracle worker was dead.  The man they knew to be a great teacher had been killed.  Oh.  Mary had seen his empty tomb.  She had told Cleopas.  But their hearts didn’t really hear the words the angel had spoken.  He is risen.  He is alive.  It wasn’t possible for one to die and then live again.  Was it?  They heard with their ears, but their hearts didn’t listen.  Until they did.

Jesus was the talk of the town during the Passover weekend.  Rumors were spreading.  Gossipmongers were sharing bits and pieces of the story.  Was it fake news or was it real?  What was the truth?  Was an innocent man put to death?  And for what?  For saying he was king of the Jews?  Oh.  There were those who hoped he was the Messiah.  But he hadn’t been able to save himself.  So how could he be the promised One?

The disciples’ hopes were dashed that weekend.  All they had heard.  All they had seen Jesus do was gone.  Doubt crept in.  Who do we trust?  What should we believe?  Who will now be our Savior?  Our Messiah?  What now?

Should they just set aside all those experiences they had with Jesus? What did that mean? How do they move forward when the one they followed was dead?

Did the people not understand because their hearts weren’t fully open to the truth?  Oh.  They had heard the teachings about the coming Messiah.  They had been taught how he would suffer, be killed and rise from the dead on the third day.  Did they think that would truly happen?  In their lifetime?  Did they realize prophecy was coming to life before their very eyes?   Did they understand that they were part of the resurrection story?


Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.  John 11:25


Jesus appeared to Mary and Cleopas as they walked the Emmaeus road on that Sabbath.  He saw that they were deep in conversation, so he asked to join them.  God kept them from recognizing him as they continued down the road.  They shared the happenings of the week in bewilderment that this man hadn’t heard the news.  But this man shared all the prophesies and teachings about himself as they walked.  Still they didn’t recognize him.  They didn’t know he was talking about himself.  Until they did.

They invited this stranger into their home.  The walk had been long and the day felt even longer.  They were all tired, hungry and dusty.  Stay for a bite.  They said.  And spend the night.  As they sat to eat, the man who had died on the cross just two days earlier broke the bread and gave thanks.  Only then were their hearts and eyes opened to the truth.  This man was Jesus.  The Son of God.  He truly was the Messiah.   He walked with them.  He talked with them.  He broke bread in their home.  He most certainly was alive.

Only then did they see him for who he really was.

What will it take to make us believe that Jesus really is the Christ?  The Son of God?  What will open our hearts?  What will cause us to see Him for who He really is?  Are we so hungry that we’re willing to search for him?  Really search until we find Him as the only Lord of our lives?  Are we drawn to Him so much that we’re willing to read His word?  To seek the truth?

Or.  Do we only seek truth through the eyes and lips of others?  Do we take the words and teachings of others as truth when we haven’t searched for truth ourselves?  Isn’t God’s Word the place of truth?  Do the interpretations of others hold weight when we haven’t tested them against God’s word?  Who can we trust if we don’t trust God to speak the truth?  Why do we tend to believe others over what God’s word says?

What will it take to see the truth?  What will it take to have a heart hungry to know the truth?  Would we believe if Jesus himself were here in person to speak truth to us?  Are our hearts looking for truth?

I have to ask myself.  Am I any different from Mary?  Oh.  I am a believer.  I read my Bible.  I listen to sermons.  I attend a Bible study.  I pray.  I spend time with other believers.  But what truth am I missing?  What is God trying to say to me that I don’t hear or understand?  Is my heart open to the truth?

 

Hope Eternal

I stood there with tears streaming down my face.  The door to the past was closed.  The future uncertain.  Trust was at its lowest.  Fear loomed large.  I cried out to my God.  Please show me hope.  Show me hope today.

Later that morning, as I stood in the rain with my dog, I looked over and saw signs of spring.  Purple hyacinths were popping their heads out of the green.  The yellow of daffodils was opening.  The leaves of the bleeding hearts were rising from the ground.  Peonies were poking through the soil.  I saw hope.  Even in the rain, hope was around me.  Hope of better days.  Hope of new beginnings.  Hope of building trust again.

I saw hope on another day.  Male cardinals vying for the female’s attention.  Loud chirping.  Swooping tails in flight.  Chasing each other through the branches.  I saw hope.  Hope for rebirth.  Hope for renewal.  Hope for dreams fulfilled.

Perhaps there was hope for me.  A phone call.  An encouraging text.  A lunch and movie.  Time with friends.  Renewal.  Rest.  Reset.  Hope.


But forget all that – it is nothing compared to what I am going to do.  For I am about to do something new.  See, I have already begun!  Do you not see it?  Isaiah 43:18-19


The Israelites had been mistreated for far too long.  They were waiting for a savior.  One to rescue them.  One to right their wrongs.  Oh.  Their suffering became worse before it ended.  Perhaps hope did wane.  Discouragement can cloud hope when it seems as if God isn’t listening.

But God was listening.  He heard their cries.  God offered hope when He sent Moses to deliver them.  And God delivered His people in a mighty way.  Miracle after miracle flowed from his fingertips into their lives.  God proved with his mighty hand that he was in control every step of the way.  God destroyed their enemy in front of their very eyes.

Then Moses turned again to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you mistreated this people? Why did you ever send me? Since I first came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has mistreated this people, and you have done nothing at all to deliver your people.” Then the Lord said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh: Indeed, by a mighty hand he will let them go; by a mighty hand he will drive them out of his land.”  Exodus 5:22-61 NRSV

This is Easter Week.  Holy Week.  Just the name implies hope.  But in order to see that hope appear, horrible events took place.  The sentencing of an innocent man.  Sentenced to death on a cross.

When Jesus cried out asking why God had forsaken him, I wonder if God turned to him and said.  Now you shall see what I will do by my mighty hand. 

Did Jesus see hope as he was dying on the cross?  Did he see hope for you?  For me?

Oh.  Two days later as he left the tomb very much alive, hope came in a bright light.  Hope rolled the stone away from his tomb.  Hope breathed life into his torn body. Hope shown through him as he appeared to Mary Magdalene.  Hope appeared as he showed his scarred hands to Thomas.

This was a different hope. This was a new hope.  This was hope eternal. Everlasting hope.

Today the daffodil bloomed.

When It Seems God Is Failing

In Exodus 3, God called Moses to return to Egypt to deliver his people.  The Israelites.  Moses fought the call.  Who am I to do such a thing?  He didn’t think he was good enough.  He didn’t think he was a good speaker.  He didn’t think he could make the Egyptian leaders believe him.  Even when God allowed Aaron to speak so Moses could perform the miracles, Moses resisted.  Even when God gave him clear instructions, Moses still wavered.  God reminded him that his people’s misery and oppression had been seen.  His people’s cries for mercy had been heard.  Moses was to go.  That was God’s clear command.  And God promised to lead Moses and his people to a land that was flowing with milk and honey.

So Moses went to Pharaoh.  Aaron spoke God’s words and Moses performed God’s miracles before Pharaoh.  But Pharaoh refused to give in to God and caused greater suffering for the Israelites.

Even with God’s promise, the Israelite’s suffering worsened before they were delivered.  They had done no wrong, but their workload was increased.  They were beaten.  They were abused.  They were threatened.

Then Moses turned again to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you mistreated this people? Why did you ever send me? Since I first came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has mistreated this people, and you have done nothing at all to deliver your people.”  Exodus 5:22-23 NRSV

Could this have been the same cry that rang out from Jesus’ lips as he hung on that cross?  My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?  Jesus was in agony.  He felt abandoned by his Father.   Had God left him all alone on that cross?  Not only was the physical pain of being nailed to the cross unbearable, but he was bearing the weight of the entire world’s sins on his shoulders.

Death by crucifixion was barbaric.  It brought immense physical suffering.  It was cruel.  It was painful.  Nails were hammered into his hands and feet.  His breathing was ragged.  He had severe blood loss.  Broken ribs.  Collapsed lungs.  Exhausted thighs.  Shoulders pulled from their sockets.  A slow agonizing death.

Yes, there are times when life doesn’t make sense.  When things are going wrong.  Horribly wrong.  Others make decisions that impact innocent lives.  We feel abandoned.  We may feel that we’re in exile with no way of escape.  It would seem that God is failing.


Here on earth, you will have many trials and sorrows.  But take heart, because I have overcome the world.  John 16:33


The thing is.  I’ve said some of those same words.  I’m not good enough.  I can’t do this.  God, why am I going through this situation?  When will it end?  God, where are you?  God, why have you forsaken me?  God, why have you done nothing to deliver me?

When it seems that those you trusted have failed you, there is One who never fails.  God is not slow.  He is patient.  He is working behind the scenes.  Putting everything in place.  Oh.  It may seem as if he hasn’t heard the prayers.  It may seem as if he hasn’t seen our plight.  It may seem as if he doesn’t care.  He has said that we will have trouble in this life.  We will suffer.  We will face trials and deep sorrows.

But God has given us a promise that we must hold to as long as we have breath.  He will right our wrongs.  Oh.  Not necessarily as we would like, but in His all-knowing, all-seeing, all-present way.  God does not fail.  He is in control.

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.”  Jeremiah 29:11-14

God is good all the time.  All the time God is good.

 

Coward

Pilate.  Pilate.  You thought the man innocent.  Not guilty.  But you bowed to peer pressure.  Both you and Herod found him innocent.  Yet you couldn’t let him go.  You valued your life over his.  You even claimed a friend that day.  Herod, the man who was once your enemy became a friend.  For what?  Because you both agreed about this man?  You both found him innocent but couldn’t free him.  What kind of leader are you?

So you listened to the crowd.  You had the opportunity to free a man sentenced to death.  You could have released Jesus.  An innocent man.  Yet you released a murderer.  You released a man charged with insurrection.  A troublemaker.  A rioter.  Were you afraid of a riot if you let Jesus go free?  Do you always lead with double standards?  Were you afraid for your life that day?

Pilate.  You sat on the judgment seat.  The power was in your hands.  Even your wife knew you should free Jesus.  She had a nightmare.  She knew.  She begged you to let him go.  But you didn’t listen.  You were too concerned for yourself.  Coward.  Spineless.  Yourself a troublemaker.  You couldn’t stand up for an innocent man.  So you traded his life for that of a murderer.  Your claim to fame is the trial and crucifixion of Jesus.

How does it feel to sentence an innocent man to death?  Oh.  You came to the right conclusion.  Both you and Herod.  Jesus was innocent.  No crime was committed.  Yet you bowed.  But you were the leader.  The governor.  You were the one with the power.  And you were afraid.  You had a choice.  Do the right thing or do the popular thing.  Yes.  We know what you chose.


Pilate asked them, “Then what should I do with this man you call the king of the Jews?” Mark 15:12


You thought that washing your hands in a bowl of water would cleanse you from guilt.  There is not enough soap to wash away that guilt.  The only thing that would cleanse you was the man you put on that cross.  Sometimes the things we try to run from continue to haunt us long after the deed is done.  Sometimes you can’t run far enough or fast enough.  And it doesn’t matter if someone else says they’ll take the blame.  It was you who freed the wrong man.  You’re the one who has to live with that.

There are stories that tell how you had a history of executing prisoners before their trial.  You were violent.  Greedy.  Stubborn.  Cruel.  Yes.  That’s the way history paints you.  So killing another innocent man wasn’t new to you.  But this prisoner was different.  You knew this man was innocent.

I wonder, Pilate, if Jesus’ words had begun to sink in.  When you asked if he was king of the Jews, did you believe he was?  I can see how his words of truth would prick your heart and create the stirrings of belief.  You were frightened by his words.  I believe you knew that you were dealing with someone not of this world.

You had him flogged with a lead-tipped whip.  Then you ordered your men to put a crown of thorns on his head.  You dressed him in a purple robe.  Perhaps deep down you knew.  He really was King of the Jews.  But you couldn’t say it to the crowd.  Or you might have been the one on the cross.

Here’s the thing.  Pontius Pilate.  You couldn’t change your mind.  Your decision was part of God’s plan for his only Son.  Jesus was born to die on that cross. God knew there would be those warring against him.  You were placed in that role for this very part.  Oh.  Yours wasn’t a starring role.  But it was powerful.  It was shameful.  It was tragic.  But you did the job.  Your decision set Jesus up to be the Savior of the world.  He died for you, Pilate.

 

Slow Fade to Betrayal

Judas.  What were you thinking?  Or maybe you weren’t.

Your reputation is one of a thief.  You steal money.  And now you’ve stolen trust.  When you were given the task to manage the disciples’ money, did you agree because it would be easy access for you?    Did you think no one would notice?  Did you think the money was yours to spend at will?

Have you always been a troublemaker?  Have you always sought the easy way?  When Jesus asked you to join him.  To follow.  What made you say yes?  Did you seriously mean to say yes?  I bet you didn’t know what you were getting yourself into.  If you had known, would you have followed him?  Did you know his reputation?  And you still said yes.  You followed him.  You preached.  You spread the good news right alongside the other eleven.  And alongside Jesus.  You traveled with him.  You ate with him.  You knew him as a close friend.

Do you remember when Jesus gave you and the others the authority to heal every kind of disease and illness?  Do you remember when he gave you the power to cast out evil spirits?  And you did those things.  In His name.  He trusted you.  You had the same power that he had.  And look what you did.

What were you thinking?

Do you think Jesus didn’t know?  Don’t you remember the miracles he performed right in front of you?  He turned water to wine.  He healed the sick.  He brought a dead man back to life.  He paid his taxes with a coin that a fish coughed up.  So don’t you think he knew that you were taking money?  Don’t you think he was aware of your faults?  Oh.  He was aware.  But Jesus kept you around anyway.  Jesus had to know you were taking money.  Jesus had to know that you were looking out for yourself.  Jesus had to know that you weren’t all in. Jesus also knew that you needed him.

Two days before Passover, you had heard Jesus warn that he was going to die.  He probably had told you that the religious leaders were looking for him.  They wanted to kill him.   Again.  If he knew that.  If he knew he was going to die in a few days, don’t you think he knew you were going to betray him?  Don’t you think he knew that Satan was going to take root in you and set him on the path of death?  Don’t you think he knew?  But he invited you to that last supper anyway.  He ate with you that one last night.  He dipped his bread in the same cup that you used.  You were that close to him.


And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your soul?  Mark 8:36


But Judas.  Do you know when the slow fade started?  Do you know what caused you to start doubting?  To start second guessing?  To start thinking that perhaps you could work out a deal with the Pharisees and officers?  To betray Jesus?  When did that start happening?  Oh.  You had two days warning that Jesus was going to die.  He told you himself.  But you didn’t know when he was going to die.  You didn’t know that your act of betrayal would push him down the path of no return.  Did you?  Were you that hungry for money?  What were you really hungry for?  You love money.  Did you love Jesus?  Why did you stay with Jesus if your heart wasn’t in it?  When did you start to turn away?  Were you ever all in?

Did you plan ahead?  That betrayal was epic.  You betrayed Jesus with a kiss?  Really?  Is the kiss supposed to make the hurt all better?  He saw right through it.  He knew what you were doing.

Looking in from the outside, you might appear to have it all.  After all, you are one of the original twelve.  But something somewhere happened along the way.  Your priorities changed. Your allegiance changed. Your heart changed.

Were you not willing to give up everything to follow Christ?  Were you not completely sold out for him?

What was it?  Were the eleven surprised to learn that you were the traitor?  Were you the one they suspected when Jesus said one would betray him?

Oh.  Judas.  Did you know that your sin fulfilled God’s purpose for His only Son?  Did you know that your actions put Jesus’ trial and crucifixion in place?  Did you know that you made history?  Is that what you were hungry for?  Fame?  And fortune?  Did you think that 30 coins was enough to soothe your betrayal?  Obviously, it wasn’t.  You returned the money.  But blood money can’t be returned.   You were filled with guild, remorse, shame.

But look what that betrayal and money did to you.  It ruined you.  Did you not know that sin is a deadly enemy?  Did you not know that sin would ruin your life?  Did you not know that sin always looks prettier and flirtier until it’s done?  And then it’s too late.  There’s no going back.  You betrayed Jesus.  You took the money.  Then you slipped the rope around your neck and let go.  Was that the path you intended to take?  Oh.  It didn’t have to end this way.  Or did it?  Did you not know that Jesus was dying for you?

 

Not My Will

Imagine being Jesus.  Sitting there, eating his final meal with his twelve closest friends.  The men he chose.  The men he handpicked to help spread his story.  His brothers.  His confidants.  His disciples.  And he knew.  He knew that before the night was over, two of those men would turn against him.  Two of his handpicked men would put aside the past three years of hard work.  To save themselves.  Yet he let it happen.  He welcomed them to the table and ate with them.  Oh.  He warned them both.  One of you will betray me and turn me over to be arrested.  The other will deny knowing me.  And still he ate with them.  Still He loved them.  He let them make the decision.  He let them choose their path.

Just hours before Peter denied knowing Christ, he had helped John prepare the Last Supper.  The Passover meal.  Jesus had asked Peter to get the meal ready, knowing that a few hours later Peter would deny  him.  Judas went to that meal having set his betrayal in motion.  He had already turned himself over to Satan.  He had already arranged a deal to hand Jesus over to the authorities.  Jesus knew.  But he welcomed Judas all the same.  When he told Peter what he would do,  Peter vehemently argued that he would never deny knowing Jesus.  He said he would go to prison or die first.

The thing is.  Jesus knew his disciples’ decisions would lead him down a dark path of suffering.  He knew those decisions would help lead him to his death.  But he didn’t stop it.  He could have chosen to stop his suffering.  After all.  He is God’s son.  But he knew his life purpose was to suffer and die for everyone.  Including those two men.


Even my close friend, someone I trusted, one who shared my bread, has turned against me.  Psalm 41:9

Just this week, I felt betrayed.  I felt abandoned.  I felt like I was treated unfairly.  Thrown to the wolves.  That’s how it felt.  And it stings.  It cuts to the core.  It leaves you reeling and wondering where to turn.  When trust is suddenly no longer within reach, what do you do?  But Jesus held steady.  He knew he would suffer.  He knew the path he was on.  He knew the road he was taking was not easy.  Yet he took it willingly.  He even died on that path.

Oh. Jesus prayed.  He asked God to remove the path of suffering from him.  He was in great agony over it.  But there was no other way.  He knew that.  He surrendered to his Father.  Your will.  Not mine.
Sure.  God could have spared me from this hurt.  But he didn’t.  I’ve been asking him to show me if I was where I belonged.  For the past two years, I have prayed that God would remove the people who didn’t belong.  I didn’t realize I was praying that prayer for myself.  That wasn’t my intent.  But God knew.  He allowed the situation to happen.  He’s giving me the opportunity to learn new lessons and gain new experiences from my loss.
Oh.  It hurts.  The path I’ve been given isn’t one of my choosing.  It’s a path I’ve been down before.  More than once.  I survived the journey before, and I will survive again.  But the path is uncertain.  I have no choice but to take this journey.
I’m all in.  No matter what lies ahead..