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Archive for April, 2019

Shared Grief

Death and taxes … the two guarantees of life. The two things that bond us, as humans.

I heard a beautiful story the other day, and just have to share it here.

Often, in our world, we are grouped together by our age, political views, religious philosophies, etc. It is not common for connections beyond such as these.

Then there is the story of grief that brought two very unlikely men together … one (Richard) an eighty-three year old widower, the other (Louis) a twenty-seven year old man whose mother died (at forty-three) around the same time.

Be prepared to feel good!

Here is the original music video, by Louis Tomlinson :

“We all come into this world the same way
and we go out the same way.
When you leave this little plot
you ain’t coming back,
so you might as well make the best of what you’ve got.”
Richard

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I think it was Oreos that said the best was in the middle (or maybe it was a middle school …).

Not long ago I heard the perfect story about the middle, at the perfect time.

The story goes like this …

  • the middle of the Bible is the Psalms
  • the middle of the book of the Psalms is chapter 118
  • Psalms 117 has the smallest number of verses (2)
  • Psalms 119 has the largest number of verses (176)
  • There are 594 chapters before Psalm 118, and 594 after it
  • 594X2=1188
  • Psalm 118:8 is the middle of the Bible
  • Psalm 118:8 tells us”

“It is better to take refuge in the Lord
   than to trust in man.”

So cool, right? What a beautiful story of God ensuring that the the very middle of his Word be such a significant verse.

Except that it may not actually be the center of the Bible, as there is the Catholic canon and the Protestant canon, some versions end up with a different middle and, well … the numbering of verses is not necessarily original.

So, it’s a cool story, but maybe not one to put too much stock into … except …

Except that I was introduced to this story when I was was struggling with the issue of trust.

So, Psalm 118:8 may not be the center of the Bible, but it is definitely the central message that God had waiting for me.

We (when I say ‘we’ I really mean ‘I’) often and so easily put our trust in all the wrong things … all the temporary things. We put our trust in our wealth, our health, our friendships, our family, our spouses, our jobs, our abilities our (name it … it’s right there on the tip of your tongue).

The thing is that there is only one solid, unwavering, always loving us, trustable one, and that is God.

After being reminded of this verse, I found myself asking of myself:

“can I trust in God alone?
can I trust in God if the ‘ifs’ of life happen?
can I trust in God if he is all I have?”

He is my middle, my center … I might need to say this on repeat for the rest of my days, but the best really is in the middle.

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Just a regular day, with not an exceptional occurrence, yet something was rising within me, and a smile grew across my face … as I watched him walking just ahead of me.

In just hours he would be doing something he has not for so many months, after being lain flat, too weak to participate in so much of life and living. Now, though, was the eve of a return to a regular living activity.

And I was bursting with pride, with joy for all that he has accomplished, for his making it to this point in healing. Thankful to God that he has made it and that he was beginning to thrive.

It made me think of him when I first met him, when he was full to overflowing with the vim and vigor of life, of youth. When his energy, his time and his desire to do, to go, to experience was endless. When he invited me in to look ahead, to dream.

And here he was, about to start something new …

So much loss, so much grief in that season. Over a year of struggles that encapsulated every part of life and living for him … and for those of us closest to him. Struggles to move, to think, to communicate, to focus, to worship … to stay awake.

The hows and whys faded as the pride rose within me. He persevered, he fought (every day) … he overcame.

And here we were, on the threshold of a new challenge … because he can do it.

So many days, months, years really, of fighting to keep your head afloat, and now you have something to look forward to. I am so proud of how far you have come, and that you persevered through this dark night … may there be joy in the morning.

Psalm 30

I will extol You, O Lord, for You have lifted me up,
And have not let my foes rejoice over me.
O Lord my God, I cried out to You,
And You healed me.
O Lord, You brought my soul up from the grave;
You have kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit.

Sing praise to the Lord, you saints of His,
And give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name.
For His anger is but for a moment,
His favor is for life;
Weeping may endure for a night,
But joy comes in the morning.

Now in my prosperity I said,
“I shall never be moved.”
Lord, by Your favor You have made my mountain stand strong;
You hid Your face, and I was troubled.

I cried out to You, O Lord;
And to the Lord I made supplication:
“What profit is there in my blood,
When I go down to the pit?
Will the dust praise You?
Will it declare Your truth?
Hear, O Lord, and have mercy on me;
Lord, be my helper!”

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness,
To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.

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It was a bad day (days, weeks) when I felt a sadness that was so … profound. It filled all of me, right down to my soul, darkening even the light of life within me.

The reason for this profound sadness is far less important than the salve, the comfort that was given in response to it’s presence.

My hubby is a great guy, who is always eager to help myself or our kids. He will always drop what he is doing to help us out.

Here’s the thing … he does not like or know what to do with tears. This has, at times been a problem, for a wife and two daughters with enough estrogen to produce oceans of tears. So, I simply do not (generally) allow tears to fall in his presence (not that I am a frequent crier).

On this particular day, when the sadness was so heavy, so profound, I flopped onto the bed, hoping to catch a Sunday nap beside hubby.

The thing was that I could no longer keep the sadness in, and it began pouring from my eyes, unstoppable sobs rattling my entire body. The grief of my sadness emanating from the sorrow within me.

All of a sudden strong and loving arms reached out and around me, surrounding me in comfort and care. He kissed the top of my head, holding me tight.

I lay there, wrapped in loving arms and wet from my tears, for unknown minutes.

No wordy solutions to fix my unfixable, no platitudes … just the comfort from one, giving out of weakness, to one who felt weak.

His actions were like bandages for my broken heart. He didn’t try to make it all better, he just reminded me that I was worth it. He was Jesus, with skin on, to me that day.

He heals the brokenhearted,
and bandages their wounds.

Psalm 147:3

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Today followers of Jesus greet one another with the words,

“He is risen”

and the response is:

“He is risen indeed”

So, what does that traditional greeting mean?

It is in Luke 24:34 where the pair who had met the risen Jesus, announced to the other disciples:

“It is true! The Lord has risen”

In this statement is announced the miracle of Jesus overcoming death and rising from the grave … but, there is more to this.

Jesus rising from the dead, overcoming death … death, the major tool of Satan himself … means that Jesus has defeated death, Satan, evil … sin itself.

He is risen means that we know how this story ultimately ends.

In the rising of Jesus from his death bed, we can have confidence that in the end everyone who follows Jesus lives happily every after, for EVER! We can have confidence of life without death, disease, heartbreak, pollution, floods, cruelty to animals, environmental disasters, evil human leaders, starvation, homelessness etc., etc., etc.

He wins! Jesus is our living hope! Death and Satan are defeated!

He is risen!

He is risen indeed!

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Betrayed by friends and followers, who were like family.

In the Easter week, Maundy Thursday is the day that we remember the events of the last supper, of Gethsemane. It is within those events of Jesus sharing the Passover meal with his disciples, then praying in the garden, also with his disciples, that Jesus experiences what we have all experienced …

betrayal by someone loved

It is here that we can most understand and relate to the suffering of Jesus.

Being arrested, accusations made against him, put on trial, sentenced to death, flogged, crucified. We cannot relate to such experiences of the passion of the Christ.

Betrayal, though … by someone who we loved and who loved us …

we have all felt the life-stealing sting of betrayal by one we love(d).

We have all felt the moment of awareness that we were betrayed by one we love … can betrayal come from any source other than one we love?

Were the relationship not one of trust, one of investment, one of love … there would be no betrayal.

If Jesus can be betrayed, why would we expect less of ourselves? of those closest to us?

Jesus had poured his life, his all into his twelve disciples. When he needed (lets face it, when he wanted) them most, they were sleeping, disowning, abandoning and betraying him.

I find it a fascinating thing that all of these heart-wrenching betrayals occurred around the time that Jesus delivered his final message to the disciples.

It was as though his final message, last teaching, great finale was being slapped back across his face.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

He told them to love,
as he loved.

Would Jesus sell any one of them for silver?

Would Jesus sleep while any of them prayed?

Would Jesus disown, deny any one of them?

Would Jesus go into hiding if any of them were in trouble?

Of course not. This day and the night to follow were the moments when Jesus anguish began … with something worse than flogging, worse than death on a cross.

His worst moments were the betrayals by those who he loved, those who he died for.

Christ knew, even as he entered Jerusalem, that those who knew him the most … then and now, would be the ones who would turn their … turn our backs on him.

we sleep … when we should be praying,

we disown … when asked who we are,

we abandon Christ … when we might be mocked, challenged in our faith,

we betray him … every single day, when we choose to sell our souls to the things of this world.

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The way they looked at each other made others blush, envying the affection between them.

This couple had a love that showed in how they worked together, talked to and about each other, the sparkle in their eyes … that gateway to their souls, proclaiming that what others saw was real, authentic love.

I remember the shock that I felt in every fibre of my body, mind and soul when I heard that he had left her, left their family for the arms of another woman.

How could we, who believed in the love they were exhibiting, be so wrong? How could a love that seemed so real be such a sham?

This memory from the past came to my mind as I participated in communion, last weekend.

There is a reckoning, a getting real that happens when one is being invited to participate in communion.

Often there is a moment of opportunity to privately deal with our sin-stuff prior to participating. This opportunity always tugs at my heart, for I know I do not come to the communion table EVER with clean hands and heart.

You see we can shower and dress carefully, shave and ensure our make-up is applied expertly. We can shake hands and smile warmly, with seemingly abundant joy emanating from us. We can sign up to help with an outreach event, a dinner for the homeless, childcare during church. We can place our tithe in the basket, or direct deposit our giving. We can offer to pray to our social media friends. We can dine with the pastor …

But, when we come to take communion, to share in communion, share in the taking of his body, his blood …

None of what we do matters. None of how we look to others matters …

Like the seemingly perfect couple, it is who we are when we stand with the one we are linked to, in a convenant relationship.

It is who we are when stand before our God. How we pray, speak to him … when no one else is around. How we represent him, when no one is looking.

He knows our hearts. He knows we come to the table dirty.

We simply have to recognize that it is only he who can make us clean enough to come to his table.

“But the Lord said to Samuel,
“Do not consider his appearance or his height,
for I have rejected him.
The Lord does not look at the things people look at.
People look at the outward appearance,
but the Lord looks at the heart.”

1 Samuel 16:7

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Easter is a story of contrasts. The sinless sacrificed for the sinners, the triumphal entry and shouts of Hosanna to be followed by the parade of the condemned and shouts of crucify him. The choice of the crowd to put the innocent to death, set the criminal free. Spilt blood being the cure for sin that runs in our veins. Resurrection from death, the cure for death.

Jesus descends the Mount of Olives toward Jerusalem, with the crowds to cheer him through the city.

Jerusalem … the city that means the foundation of peace … more contrasts.

“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19:41-42)

The city, as a people, which was named the foundation of peace, would be blind to the one bringing peace.

The crowds were so hyped up on this man-king … the one who would bring them peace … peace from war, peace through a war that would end the control of Rome on their lives.

They didn’t know what peace was, didn’t understand the peace this Messiah brought … the peace that is not absent of war and conflict, but unexplainable peace, in the midst of war and conflict (and sorrow).

Peace in the midst of the storm, the peace that flowed from his eyes to Peter’s on the Sea of Galilee when Jesus invited him to “come” to him, to walk on the water. When our eyes are on him during the storm, we stay afloat, we receive this peace that passes understanding.

Where was Jesus headed? To the banquet, to celebrate the Passover feast.

more contrasts …

The passover celebration of that time when death swept through Egypt saving only the lives of those who celebrated the Passover with the feasting of the spotless lambs, then they applied the blood to the door frames of their homes. The sacrifice of the lambs that led to the saving of their children.

The sacrifice of the lamb of God, that led to the saving of all children born since the firstborn who sinned.

This triumphal entry began with tears, followed by cheers … contrasted only days later with cheers of “crucify him” and tears of blood.



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Spoiler alert! It didn’t happen.

As I sat in a church service, I heard the invitation that has become a regular phrase in churches,

“invite your friends and family to our event at the church …”

All of a sudden I found myself wondering where this model of evangelism originated, because I was pretty certain I had never read of Jesus inviting people to church/synagog.

Jesus invited people to come, but not once did he say, “come to church.”

Jesus invitation to come was come to me.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” John 6:44

“All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” John 6:37

“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

Jesus made it abundantly clear that it was not through an institution that salvation be attained, but through a relationship with him alone. He spoke this to his disciples and followers, to the crowds as he shared his sermon on the mount.

He also shared the (his) salvation message while simply living life. He chatted with the Samaritan woman (one who his cultural group would not be talking to), while taking a drink and a rest at a well. He was speaking to people when a paralysed man (therefore, a sinner) was lowered through the roof, for him to meet and heal. Of his disciples, there were fishermen, a tax collector and a political zealot.

It would seem that when Jesus came into a new town, he dined, socialized and stayed with whoever would invite him to stay.

In response to Jesus having dinner at Levi’s house (along with other tax collectors and sinners), the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked his disciples, (Mark 2:16-17):

“Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

He came to call people to follow him, but one had to admit they were sinners in order for a conversion to occur. Those who were already religious may have forgotten their own sin (don’t we all?).

Such was the case when the woman, caught in adultery, was brought to Jesus. He was challenged by the scribes and Pharisees with the Law of Moses which said that such a sin was to be punished by stoning. He responded by inviting the one without sin to throw the first stone … they all walked away.

This story was not just for, or about the scribes and Pharisees, though. It concluded with a question and a directive for life. Jesus asked the woman who condemns her, to which she replied, “no one.” Then Jesus says that he doesn’t either and to go, and sin no more.

Jesus spent time with the religious, but he also spent time with those who did not darken the doors of the church/synagog. He spent time in the synagog/church, but he also spent time where the non-church goers would have been.

Jesus said, “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19)

For we have to go to them to know them. We have to know them to make disciples of them.

So, what about church? Who is the church?

We are. We, who have been filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1) are the church of Christ. We bring the church to the sinners, not the sinners to the church. It is we who are the ministers, the disciples. It is through relationship that the Spirit, who lives in us, speaks … in whispers and shouts … to the lost.

 And Jesus said to him, 
“Today salvation has come to this house …
For the Son of Man came
to seek and to save the lost.”
Luke 19:9-10

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Have you ever seen a dog that spends it’s days tethered to a post or pole? It might be aggressive and mean or it might pace nervously, but it also might just lay there in acceptance of it’s confinement situation.

I am not so excited to see such an animal, tethered alone. Certainly we have tethered our beasts, but it was while working outside ourselves (we tend to pick out the beasts that are flight risks), so that they can be with us, rather than alone inside.

But tethered, alone … that seems a recipe for fear

There are animals that, having been tethered for much of their lives, when untethered, remain in the confines that they have been left in. It is as though their physical chains have converted into mental ones, staying tied up, even when they have been set free.

To experience real freedom is to move beyond the confinements, the chains of the past … to move freely, into new places.

Sometimes, as individuals (but even as larger communities) who have accepted the freedom given to us through the work and blood of Jesus, we, like a tethered dog, remain in our original place of confinement … even if that is only in our minds.

We sit at the gate that is opened up wide for us to walk through, yet our minds remain tethered to the stake of our past.

There is one thing can move one so tethered to the past … trust.

Trust in others around us, who wrap their arms around our shoulders and whisper, “you can do it, take the first step,” or the call of all that is in front of us … freedom in Christ.

Galatians 5:1 reminds us that “freedom is what we have–Christ has set us free! Stand, then, as free people, and do not allow yourselves to become slaves again.”

We need to keep reminding ourselves that God is trustworthy … now lift that head and run free.

“Fear can keep us tethered,
terror can clip our wings,
but trust eases pain.
Hope can lighten the sky.
Love makes us courageous.”

Call the Midwife

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