The Cross to the Grave, Part II

“Mother’s Day.” Photo Capture by Julie Anne. ©️Anne Monroe Designs. All rights reserved.

Mary, surrounded by family, stood near the cross of Jesus. If only she could rescue him, or at least ease his pain. How could it be that her son would suffer in this manner, sentenced to death by the people he came to redeem? She uttered no words. Was she mute by the horror of her son’s condition or silent in reverence for the Son of God? Did the words of Simeon, spoken shortly after she gave birth to Jesus, come to mind?

“. . . a sword will pierce even your own soul — to the end that the thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” Luke 2:35

Jesus looked at his mother as she watched his execution. He understood her pain and grief. In his third selfless act from the cross Jesus showed his love for her, his words prompting John to take Mary away from the horror of watching her son suffer and die. 

When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold thy son!” Then Jesus spoke to John and bestowed the honor of caring for Mary. “. . . Behold thy mother!” And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home. John 19:26-27

As Simeon had prophesied, the condition of many hearts were revealed that day, from the most evil to the most pure. Jesus revealed His heart of empathy and perfect love. Out of love for God the Father Jesus restrained his own deity and surrendered to physical death. His act of submission vanquished the power of sin over humanity, and secured a way for all those who believe in His death and resurrection to be reconciled with the Father. 

“. . . God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their sins unto them; and has committed unto us the word of reconciliation.” 2 Corinthians 5:19

NEXT: The Cross to the Grave, Part III – Forsaken

The Cross to the Grave, Part I – Forgiven

In His first few hours on earth Jesus rested in a manger. In His last few He agonized on a cross. From humble birth to humiliating death. His birth was private and His arrival met with awe and wonder by a chosen few. The angels and the shepherds praised God for the Savior, Christ the Lord. His death by crucifixion was public and His execution at Calvary met with ridicule and scorn by many people whom Jesus came to save. “He came to His own {people} and those who were His own did not receive Him.” John 1:11

How did Jesus respond? He SPOKE.

First, to God the Father: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34a
Jesus asked forgiveness for the Roman soldiers who where carrying out His death sentence. Hours later they recognized Jesus as the Son of God (Matthew 27:54; Mark 15:39; Luke 23:47).

Next, Jesus spoke to a criminal who was being crucified next to him. Jesus assured him: “. . . Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” Luke 23:43 While suffering excruciating pain, this man asked Jesus to remember him. He admitted his guilt and recognized Jesus as the Messiah, and the one who could grant him entrance into the kingdom of God. “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:12-13

Neither the soldiers or the thief asked for forgiveness but Jesus offered it, a gift none of them deserved. For the soldiers it meant forgiveness for their actions (sins) against God. For the thief it meant a new sentence after his death; his soul would be with Jesus.

These two events aid in our understanding of reconciliation with God through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus.

First, we all need forgiveness for our sins, even if we are not aware of our need. “For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23

Second, understand that forgiveness is a gift. “Being justified freely {as a gift} by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God displayed publicly as a propitiatory sacrifice in His blood through faith.” Romans 3: 24-25a

Third, believe in Jesus – He is the Son of God. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.Romans 10:9-10

Fourth, admit your sins against God (committed by your inherent sin nature and also by sinful thoughts and actions) and ask God for forgiveness. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:8-9

NEXT: The Cross to the Grave, Part II

Fundamental Trust

In today’s world it’s difficult to trust. We are bombarded daily with media bias, opinions proclaimed as facts, conflicting science, cover-ups, and fraud. While public trust is eroding most of us still know people we can count on.

Who do you trust? A spouse or parent; sibling or close friend; physician or religious leader? Are you confident they will keep their promises? Does your trust come from experiences showing these people to be who they say, living true to their character? Trust in others is relative – based on past experiences, current situations, and hopes for the future. And yet, the most trustworthy people fail us at times.

THERE IS ONE WHO WON’T FAIL US.

God, creator of heaven and earth, is worthy of our trust. Scripture abounds with historical accounts of God fulfilling His promises – doing exactly what He said He would do. His actions show Him to be who He says – true to His character. In the Scriptures He has revealed, in part, the future and we can trust He will accomplish what He has declared.

Consider the miracles surrounding the birth of Jesus. Joseph trusted an angel of the Lord who appeared to him in dreams. Mary trusted the angel Gabriel, sent by God. Elizabeth and Zacharias believed the promises given through God’s prophets. On the night of Jesus’s birth shepherds believed angels, sent by God, and acted on their belief.

If you want a reminder that God is trustworthy, read the accounts of fulfilled promises, angelic interventions, and miraculous events recorded in the first two chapters of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Then consider those whom God found trustworthy.

Proverb 3:5-6 says it well. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.”

That’s what Joseph and Mary did. And Elizabeth and Zacharias. So did the shepherds. Will you do the same?

It’s A Good Day

“It’s a good day.” Image Capture by Lon M Helmick. ©Anne Monroe Designs. All rights reserved.

Several years ago I read the book “Same Kind of Different As Me” by Ron Hall and Denver Moore. This true story is rich with lessons in service, humility, love, and thanksgiving learned in the fires of intense suffering and loss. A thought from their book stuck with me. Ron and Deborah Hall meet a homeless man at the shelter where they serve. He always arrives with a smile. They ask why. He responds, “It’s a good day, I woke up.” When faced with her terminal illness, Ron and Debbie remember his words and grasp the truth that every day is a gift from God.

How would our lives change if we started every day with the same thought and really believed it? Would the sunrise seem remarkable? Could we be thankful for the cold, the heat, the wind, the rain, the ice, and the snow? Would a cloudy day be as welcome as a sun-filled day? Could the first person we spoke to that day, whether family or friend or stranger, be greeted with the realization God placed them in our lives or path for a reason? For our families, a life-long commitment. For our friends, perhaps a season. And for the stranger, perhaps only a single encounter.  It might be for their good, or ours, or both.

Jesus is our role model. Remember the times he fed the hungry, calmed the frightened, healed the sick, led the lost, forgave the sinner, and prayed for those around him. Our job as a Christ-follower is to watch and act and pray. Watch for signs someone near you has a need. Then act. Perhaps with a word of encouragement, or compassion, or loving confrontation. Perhaps with a physical gesture – a simple touch or embrace. Investing time can be meaningful – a coffee date, a shopping trip, a hospital visit – or providing for a physical need. Pray for the person to seek God for comfort and strength.

I am struck by the lives we live on this earth, the human condition – so much joy alongside so much heartache. I don’t know how anyone survives the heartache if they can’t find the joy. Within each heartache is an opportunity – to meet God, to know God, and to praise God – and experience true joy. And the opportunity isn’t for us alone. It’s an opportunity to draw others closer to God.

“It’s a good day.”

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.

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.

Pay It Forward

“How much?” you ask as the barista sets your latte on the counter.

“Nothing. It’s been paid by the customer before you.”

“Then pass this on for me,” you reply, smiling, handing him a ten-dollar bill. “I’ll pay it forward.”

Paying it forward is popular in our culture – showing good will, usually to a stranger, with an act of kindness or grace. The recipient expresses gratitude by giving to someone else. Have you received grace from another? Did you respond?

A man named Paul experienced a different kind of grace; divine grace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. In an act of unmerited grace, Christ exerted His holy influence upon Paul’s soul and in a dramatic way turned Paul’s heart and mind to God. Instead of being condemned by Christ for persecuting Christ-followers, Paul was redeemed and forgiven. Rather than living in regret for past actions, Paul served Christ in a ministry of hope and healing.

After encountering the living God, Paul traveled extensively sharing the truth about Christ. When he found others who believed Jesus was the Son of God and long-awaited Messiah and Savior, Paul often remained with these men and women for months or years, to teach and mentor them in the faith. If he couldn’t teach in person he appointed someone to instruct them, mentoring through his letters. Paul paid it forward.

Have you been touched by God’s grace? Are you faithful in sharing the blessings received? Are you paying it forward?

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“But to each  one  of us grace was given  according  to the measure  of Christ’s gift.”         

Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, Chapter 4, Verse 7

NOTE:  To learn more about Paul’s first encounter with Christ, read The Book of Acts, Chapter 9, Verses 1-31.