Prose

Rest for Your Soul

The suffering Christ experienced on the cross is incomprehensible to the human mind. No one can begin to imagine the burden and pain our Savior experienced by bearing our sin on the cross.  The burden was so heavy Jesus asked God the Father to spare him.

"Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done."   The Gospel According to Luke, Chapter 22, Verse 42

We try to imagine the burden, pain, and suffering endured by Christ. We read about it in the Scriptures, we write about it, some even make films to dramatize the sacrifice. As powerful and moving as these attempts may be, they still fall short. Similarly, we are unable to completely grasp the glory of His resurrection from death and the power of the risen Savior to free us from the grip of sin and thereby grant us eternal life.  

And this is the promise which He Himself [Christ Jesus] made to us: eternal life.  Book of 1st John, Chapter 2, Verse 25

What is eternal life? And why would anyone, especially the Son of God, suffer to obtain it for us if it’s no different from the life we have now?  

Eternal life gives us a family and a future.

"The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.  For I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us."    Book of Romans, Chapter 8, Verses 16-18   

We will be with Christ and we will be like Christ.

In his letter to the Philippians the apostle Paul explains:

“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself." 

God views our suffering in a different light.

“Blessed is the person who perseveres under trial; for once he has passed the test he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” Book of James, Chapter 1, Verse 12

Most people experience personal struggles that cause great pain and loss. And yet, for most of us, our suffering doesn’t begin to compare to the persecution hundreds of thousands of Christ-followers have experienced in many parts of the world.

If you are suffering intense persecution because of your faith in Christ, I can only offer my prayers and share God’s abundant promises. God will give you the strength you need to endure when you need it.

“No trial has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tested beyond what you are able, but with the trial will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”    Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 10, Verse 13

If you are suffering, cling to these words:

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, Chapter 4, Verse 13.
Christ Jesus says: "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS."   The Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter 11, Verses 28-29

Pondering Mary

“But she was greatly troubled at this statement, and

kept pondering what kind of salutation this might be.” (Luke 1:29)

Mary, the mother of Jesus, would be labeled a child-bride by today’s standards in many parts of the world; however, her response to motherhood shows maturity and wisdom beyond her years. Her life changes dramatically starting with a visit from the angel Gabriel, who proclaims she has found favor with God. Her first response is alarm. Gabriel reassures her, then explains her role in the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah. The favor bestowed on her is undeserved, an act of grace by God. How does Mary respond? She submits herself completely to the words of the angel and the will of the Lord.

Soon after Gabriel’s visit, Mary receives a blessing from her cousin Elizabeth, a blessing prompted by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:41-45). Elizabeth proclaims Mary blessed among women for being chosen by God and blessed to be carrying the Christ-child (Luke 1:42). The Greek word eulogeo, translated in verse 42 as blessed, means to speak well of or praise. Mary will be praised by others who will recognize she is chosen by God to be the mother of the Messiah.

“And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.” (Luke 1:45) In verse 45, Elizabeth again declares Mary blessed, but blessed in a different way. In this verse the Greek word translated as blessed is makarios. It implies to be indwelt by God. Two witnesses, the angel Gabriel and the Holy Spirit speaking through Elizabeth, have now proclaimed that Mary is chosen by God and indwelt by God. How does Mary respond? She composes a song, filled with praise for what God has done for her and for the nation of Israel (Luke 1:46-55). As unique as the call of the Lord God on her life, is her response to His calling.

Mary delivers her first-born in Bethlehem and they name him Jesus. Shortly after the birth, she and her husband Joseph are visited by a group of shepherds. The shepherds describe an appearance of angels earlier that night and share the angel’s message about the birth of the Savior, Christ the Lord; then they return to their flock, “. . . glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen . . .” (Luke 2:20).

The similarities between the angelic visits to Mary and to the shepherds are noteworthy (compare Luke 1:26-38 and Luke 2:8-16). In both situations, the angelic appearance is alarming and the angels offer reassurance; i.e., “do not be afraid.” The message is personal and encouraging. Mary is told she is favored and the Lord is with her. The shepherds are told the angels bring “good news of great joy.” David, former king of Israel, is spoken of in both accounts: (1) David, an ancestor of Joseph, (2) the throne of David which will be given to Jesus, and (3) Bethlehem, the city of David.

The response to the angelic visits is also remarkable. Both Mary and the group of shepherds believe the messages and receive them with joy. In each account they learn of the fulfillment of prophecies regarding the Jewish Messiah. How do the shepherds respond? They go directly to Bethlehem to see the Christ child. No hesitation, no discussion, no doubt. Then after seeing him, they declare (certify) the message to those whom they meet. Their words have impact. Those who hear it wonder or marvel at the message, with a sense of admiration (Luke 2:17-20).

How does Mary respond to the visit from the shepherds and the message they bring? “But Mary treasured  all  these  things , pondering  them in her heart .” (Luke 2:19) What is meant by the words treasured and pondering? The Greek word suntereo, translated in verse 19 as treasured, occurs three times in the New Testament. Jesus used it in a parable in the context of preserving something valuable (Mat 9:17; Luke 5:38{KJV}). Mark tells us how Herod protected John the Baptist, using the same word translated as “kept him safe” (Mark 6:20). The word suntereo implies to keep something close and/or to keep something in mind, so that it is not forgotten.

What were “all these things” that Mary treasured and pondered? Was it only the message brought by the shepherds? Perhaps she pondered the circumstances of her pregnancy. Instead of being shamed and shunned by Joseph, her family, and her community for being with child before her marriage to Joseph was consummated, she was praised. To Mary the angel reveals the deity of her son and the fulfillment of prophecy both current and future. The angel states that her son Jesus will be great, Son of the most High, the Son of God, who will reign over the house of David forever, and will have a kingdom without end. The angelic visit to the shepherds reveals the mission of her son. He is a savior, born for them; his birth is “good news of a great joy for all the people.” He is the Messiah, Christ the Lord. The surreal visit by the Angel Gabriel was now confirmed by a living, breathing child held to her breast, and the angel’s message expanded by the witness of the shepherds. Mary treasured and pondered and praised “all these things.”

Jesus: Perfect Humanity

There was nothing ordinary about the conception and birth of Jesus. Was his childhood also extraordinary? The Scriptures offer limited insight. After dedicating Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem when he was eight days old, Joseph and Mary returned to their hometown of Nazareth (Luke 2: 21-38). Luke summarizes his early years by stating “And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom. And the grace of God was on Him” (Luke 2:40, MKJV). Luke describes John the Baptist in a similar way (Luke 1:80, NASB). Could Luke’s statement be a general description that applies to all children, or was his intent to show that Jesus was unique?

What effect did this manifestation of God, cloaked in the child Jesus, have on his parents and siblings? Were they mesmerized by his presence, or frightened by his power? What if your son or your brother could predict the weather? Or change it? Explain the transition of egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly? Would you wonder why you couldn’t do the same? Like any other child Jesus got hungry and ate, grew tired and rested. Did Jesus ever catch a cold or fall and break a bone?

After recording the miracles and prophecies surrounding the birth of Jesus, Luke describes an event in Jesus’s childhood that hints at his deity. Jesus, at age 12, attends the Feast of the Passover in Jerusalem with his parents. After the celebration his family heads home. Jesus stays, unknown to His parents. They find him three days later in the temple, listening to the teachers and asking questions. “And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.” (Luke 2:47) This episode foreshadows many future occasions when those who hear Jesus react in a similar way. For example, “When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7:28-29 NASB) and “He came to His hometown and began teaching them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers? (Matthew 13:54 NASB).

When Joseph and Mary find Jesus in the temple, Jesus appears to challenge them about their anxiety, asking why they were looking for him. Didn’t they understand that he had to be in His Father’s house? (Luke 2:49-50 NASB) Jesus returns to Nazareth with his earthly parents and “continued in subjection” to them. “And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52). How can the Son of God, the creator of heaven and earth and all living creatures, increase in wisdom and stature? As the Son of God he was already perfect and complete in every way; however, by living as Jesus of Nazareth he experienced the human condition from birth to death — the process of maturing not only physically, but also intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. He came to earth as a baby, lived first as a child, and then grew into a man; presenting us with a perfect role model. The Son of God did not give up any of His power when he lived on earth as Jesus of Nazareth, he simply restrained it.

The words of A.W. Tozer, from his book “The Knowledge of the Holy”, provide a fitting summary. “The truth is that the Man who walked among us was a demonstration, not of unveiled deity but of perfect humanity. The awful majesty of the Godhead was mercifully sheathed in the soft envelope of human nature to protect mankind.”

A Life of Purpose

“Why was I born? What’s my PURPOSE?” Have you searched for meaning, as a youth or later in life? Or do you occupy your mind with rituals in a crowd of many so that you don’t have time to even wonder why you exist?

Perhaps you view purpose as your vocation. Did you follow your parents’ example and become a teacher, welder, doctor, carpenter, nurse, or fill-in-the-blank? Or did you find your own path? Perhaps you think purpose is found in religion. Did you follow your families’ beliefs? Or explore different worldviews? Maybe you found one religion you liked, or created your own – a custom blend of ideas from the minds of many.

“For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, . . .”

A bold statement. The one who made this claim never followed the crowd. The crowds followed him. He never doubted, never wondered, never took a wrong path. From the beginning, Jesus of Nazareth knew his purpose.

“. . . for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth . . . .”

Jesus came to fulfill a specific mission, assigned by God the Father. What is the mission? Part of it is to bring the message of truth – not any truth, but THE TRUTH.

“What is truth?” Many have pondered this question, in days past and present. Truth is not relative, truth is based on reality. I could share my understanding based on the Word of God, but you should learn it from the one who came to testify. Jesus declared, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6 NASB). The perfect man has the perfect answer – read him, study him, follow him. His ways are perfect. His mind is perfect. His life is perfect.

God’s word is truth. If you understand the mission of Jesus, and believe in him and in God’s word, then your life on this earth has meaning and purpose as a child of God. Are you a musician? Your music can reflect God’s glory. Writer? Your words can bring hope and healing. Builder? You can provide shelter for many. Teacher? You can show others how to recognize truth. Whatever your gift or talent or passion, your vocation or calling, if you first humble yourself to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, then your purpose is fulfilled daily by loving and honoring God and loving and serving others.

Words of Jesus:  . . . “For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” (John 18:37c-d NASB)

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To learn more about the mission of Jesus, and to understand the context of his words as quoted in this post, please read the Book of John.

In the next 5 posts I’ll share a few reflections on the birth, life, death, resurrection, and future return of Jesus, The Son of God, Messiah.  I hope you’ll join me.

Dance with Christ

LORD OF THE DANCE. Image by Julie Anne. ©2019 Anne Monroe Designs. All rights reserved.

Life is a dance with Christ as partner,

          Start the music, step out on the floor.

You may get dizzy changing directions,

          He’ll lead you through it, no exceptions.

 

Life is a dance with Christ as partner,

          Sometimes fast and sometimes slow.

With dips and stops and pivots and turns,

          And always many new steps to learn.

 

Life is a dance with Christ as partner,

          Feel the rhythm, feel the joy.

You know the peace, the love, the Spirit,

          Dance the dance, the world to see it.

 

STOP the music, you’ve slipped and fallen.

          You leave the floor, hurt and sullen.

Is life not a dance? You’ll find a new partner,

          One you can trust to not let go.

Steps planned and simple — no surprises!

          The price you’ll pay will be your soul.

 

Life is a dance with Christ as partner,

          He’s waiting patiently at your side.

He’ll pick you up, he’s all you need,

          So take His hand and let Him lead.

 

Life is a dance with Christ as partner,

          Sometimes easy, sometimes hard.

So dance His dance as He intended,

          Dance His dance, the world to see it,

For life is a dance with Christ as partner.

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Note: Written Sunday, April 23rd, 1995 by Julie Anne.

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Psa 150:4 (NASB):  Praise Him with timbrel and dancing; Praise Him with stringed instruments and pipe.

 

 

 

 

The Great BIBLE Bird Count

Since 1998 the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society have sponsored the Great Backyard Bird Count, a citizen science project to collect data about the distribution of wild birds across the globe. For four days in mid-February volunteers count birds and then record their sightings online. In 2018, citizens in over 100 countries reported more than 6,400 bird species.

This February I participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count for the first time. Watching a suet feeder, hung on a juniper tree outside my study, I identified 10 species – Pinyon Jay, Stellar Jay, Scrub Jay, Pine Siskin, White-breasted Nuthatch, Plain Titmouse, Black-billed Magpie, American Crow, and Mountain Chickadee – all common visitors. One of the species, a Gray Vireo (Rocky Mountain race), I had not seen here before.

Recalling passages of Scripture that speak of birds both literally and figuratively, I ventured to begin a Bible Bird Count (my list is at the end of the blog). Many Scriptures that mention birds remind me of the greatness of God.

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Genesis 2:19a:  And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky;

The supernatural intelligence, imagination, and artistry of the LORD God is evident throughout His creation. The diversity, complexity, interdependence, and order of the natural world cannot be explained sufficiently by a theory of random chance and successive mutations.

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Psalm 124:7-8:  Our soul  has   escaped   as a bird  out of the   snare  of the trapper ; The snare  is broken  and we have escaped . Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.         

These words are lyrics to a musical composition by King David; a song of praise to the LORD who rescued the king and his people from their enemies. David shows us a personal God who cares about us; one who can and does intervene on our behalf.

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Matthew 6:26, Words of Jesus:“Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?”

Jesus spoke these words to His disciples to reassure them that their heavenly Father knows their needs and will take care of them. We need not worry or be anxious, but rather we should continually seek the kingdom of God.

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NOTE: At this writing my Bible count totals 19 types of birds found in 26 Old Testament books and 9 New Testament books.  The list is not comprehensive.

BIBLE BIRD LIST (19) – Common names translated from Hebrew and Greek words (NASB):     bird of prey, carrion vulture, cormorant, crane, dove, eagle, falcon, gull, hawk, ostrich, owl, pelican, pigeon, raven, rooster, sea gull, stork, swallow, turtledove, white owl.

 

God – The Author of Hope

The hope of the LORD pulled the prophet Jeremiah out of the pit of depression.

What is the hope that Jeremiah experienced? It wasn’t wishful thinking or blind optimism. It didn’t come from Jeremiah’s strength of character or personal willpower. This hope was based on the promises and absolute trustworthiness of the one true God – compassionate and faithful, all-knowing and all-powerful.  Jeremiah wrote:

            The Lord’s mercies indeed never cease,

            For His compassions never fail.

            They are new every morning;

            Great is Thy faithfulness.   (Lamentations 3: 20-23)

The Hebrew noun that Jeremiah used in verse 22 (chesed), translated here as mercies, also means loving-kindness, goodness, devotion, and steadfast love. Chesed is an aspect of God, a central feature of His character.

Hope is born of the LORD’S mercies.

The LORD’S mercies are available to His people who need redemption from troubles, enemies, and sin. Jeremiah needed redemption from all three.

            “The LORD is my portion, says my soul,

            Therefore I have hope in Him.” (Lamentations 3: 24)

Jeremiah’s hope (a patient, expectant waiting) rested on the LORD’S promise of rescue to those who seek and worship the Lord and wait patiently for the LORD (Lamentations 3: 25-26) and shows us how the hope of God can transcend circumstances, tragedies, suffering, and evil.

Jeremiah was humbled by God and strengthened by God.

No one could experience the suffering that Jeremiah endured and not be devastated. Yet Jeremiah believed the LORD would rescue his soul. He didn’t know when or how. His relationship with the LORD was the lifeline that restored Jeremiah’s mind to sanity. His primary focus wasn’t on physical rescue for himself, but rather on worshiping the one true God. Jeremiah understood what many people deny – the LORD is holy and deserves our worship regardless of our circumstances or suffering.

The next time you’re faced with overwhelming troubles or deep sorrow, remember God, the source of hope.

NOTE: Only a brief glimpse of Jeremiah’s deep and complex relationship with the LORD is explored in this post. The Book of Jeremiah and the Lamentations of Jeremiah are filled with history and spiritual lessons for all those who seek to know and worship the one true God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of Hope

The tragedies seem endless – lives ruined and stolen in a split-second by natural disasters, civil unrest, brutal dictators, consuming diseases, war, aborted babies, cyber crimes, drug abuse, false accusations, sex trafficking, terror attacks, plane crashes, road rage, and suicide. The burden is overwhelming, the trauma soul crushing.

How do survivors cope with their emotions and grief? Each response is as varied and unique as the tragedy and the victim. Some react with fear and helplessness; others anger and hate. Many resolve to rebuild their damaged lives, focus on their blessings and work hard to forge a better future. Healing takes time and effort.

Some wonder where is God in all this chaos? Jeremiah knew. As a prophet who served God in the sixth century B.C., he experienced a broad spectrum of pain and suffering. When he pleaded to the people to stop their rebellion against God, he was rejected, labeled a traitor, imprisoned and had his life threatened. Then matters got worse. His beloved city, his home, was devastated by war; the people wounded, taken captive, murdered, or starved to death.

Jeremiah shared his broken heart in poetry, revealing a deep depression and sense of hopelessness.

       “My soul has been rejected from peace;

       I have forgotten happiness.

       My strength has perished,

       And so has my expectation from the Lord.”   (Lamentations 3:17-18).

Jeremiah had hit rock bottom. In his misery, his mind searched the past; then in a moment of clarity recalled God.

       The Lord’s mercies indeed never cease,

       For His compassions never fail.

       They are new every morning.

       Great is Thy faithfulness.

       “The Lord is my portion, says my soul,

       Therefore I have hope in Him.”   (Lamentations 3:20-24)

From rock bottom despair to eloquent words of praise and worship? What changed? Jeremiah’s circumstances hadn’t – utter destruction surrounded him. His people were still cold and hungry and wounded and his heart ached with remorse. But when he changed focus from his own suffering to God’s faithfulness, he remembered hope.

NEXT WEEK’S BLOG:  God – The Author of Hope.

A Shared Cup

A Shared Cup. Image staged by Julie Anne. ©2019. Anne Monroe Designs. All rights reserved.

I filled my new cup three-quarters full; so I could see the blue butterfly that graces the inside rim. Three days ago I mailed my sister a cup just like mine.

On the outside of the white cup are more blue butterflies, poised around stems of blue larkspur. I chose this cup because my sister likes blue. Her cup arrived yesterday.

I took a sip of freshly-brewed coffee, then read the words on the cup.

The Lord’s mercies are new every morning.

A promise from God. I bought these two cups to remind my sister and me of our love for each other, and our shared faith in Christ Jesus, the Lord.

The Lord’s mercies . . .

My sister is blessed, and she knows this with certainty, even though like most of us she has some personal struggles. Others might question why she thinks God is so good.

. . . are new . . .

She is hopeful, always looking for the blessings that God brings to every situation. Some might think she is putting on an act. She isn’t.

. . . every morning.

My sister is faithful, every day, to trust in God and His mercies.  I know that her faith is genuine. I see the outcome – the strength and joy God gives her because of her faithfulness.

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Hope is just one of the Lord’s mercies.  And God gives it freely to those who seek Him.

Do you want to know more about God’s mercies? And how you can find hope for your life and your circumstances? Do you want to know how to seek God? Please reach out using the CONTACT menu at the top of the page and let’s have a conversation, starting with your questions.

NOTE: “The Lord’s mercies are new every morning” is a paraphrase from the Lamentations of Jeremiah, Chapter 3, verses 22-23.

If Voices Were Colors

Phaleanopsis Orchid ©2012. Anne Monroe Designs. All rights reserved.

 

On a Sunday evening in 2011, I sat in church waiting for the offering; not the usual pass-the-plate offering of money, but the pure offering of a young girl who loves the Lord and sings from her heart. As she sang, ideas and phrases popped into my mind. I quickly jotted them down on a piece of scrap paper. After a bit of editing I had a simple poem to give Natalie as a thank you for her offering of music.

If Voices Were Colors

If voices were colors yours would be pink,

            so soft and gentle and pretty I think.

You sing each note so clear and bright,

            and phrase each word with care and delight.

Your voice is a gift from our Savior above,

            and singing for Jesus shows Him your love.

For each time you sing of His infinite grace,

            your voice reaches heaven that wonderful place,

Where Jesus is waiting to welcome you home,

            Imagine the colors that sing at His throne.

A few months later, Natalie’s mother told me that the poem encouraged her daughter. I was touched and thankful that I had acted on the prompting of the Holy Spirit to write what came to mind and share the words with the one who inspired them. Natalie still sings in church – her voice now mature – a rich magenta.