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Sunday grace

According to Webster’s dictionary, normal is defined as:  the usual, average, or typical state or condition.

It certainly does not describe what I’m living now. As I think of it, how often has my “normal” changed?

When I left my parents’ home to marry Sweet William, I learned a new normal. When I became a mother, life was never the same again. That role evolved many times and always into a completely new normal. When life took turns in an unexpected direction and I was faced with impossible uphill climbs,  I stretched and prayed to learn normal once again.

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I am here once more. While my days of confinement have become somewhat predictable, the world outside is morphing almost daily. I’m trying to learn new ways of doing things, adapting to my situation, while trying to keep a positive outlook that this self-distancing, COVID-19, uncommon spring season will eventually become a memory.

One thing we can count on as a constant. There will always be change.

But there is more I count on. In fact, I build my life and future on the truth I read in Scripture. God is in control when the world is spinning unrestrained. He is good even when life is not. He is strong and able to meet every need of every person who calls on Him. He has not forsaken us.

The Father is compassionate and gracious, sending fresh mercies at every sunrise. He has set the universe in order, and time continues according to His plan.

He shares His love with humans and gives them supernatural Holy Spirit power to love when we are wounded, to forgive when we are mistreated, to bend the knee and serve the least to the greatest.

As we enter the weeks before Palm Sunday, Passover, and Resurrection Day, the story that is ancient becomes relevant and contemporary. The gospel message is unchanging. God loved all people and Jesus came to die and pay the debt of sin. Those who believe and accept the gift of salvation inherit eternal life.

It is a changeless message of hope. God is love. Jesus Christ came to earth. He lived. He died. He arose to immortality and offers it to me.

Some things just don’t change.

So it begins

The tradition of faith in which I was raised did not celebrate Lent. I hardly knew anything about it until in my fifties I was employed as pianist at the Methodist church in my home town.

It was a time of transition for me, a hard season when I carried a weight of sorrow. God sent me to that small congregation of loving people who built up my confidence, lavished me with love, and made me feel like a person.

While the traditional services were very different than my upbringing, I determined to enter into their style of worship with a whole heart. It was within this community that I learned about Lent.

The first year I was an observer. The second year I participated and gave up critical words, which I thought wouldn’t be that hard. I learned differently, finding my heart could be very critical even when I didn’t speak the words. It was a soul-searching experience.

I no longer attend that small church, but I carry with me a wealth of learning and love from my time there and the wisdom of the practice of Lent.

On this first day of the Lenten season for 2020, I contemplate how I can focus on Jesus’ journey toward Calvary’s cross. During the weeks leading us to Resurrection Sunday, I want to be intentional in opening my heart to the message that God was willing to pay my debt of sin, all because of love.

At Christmas we celebrate the God-man’s coming to earth with bright decorations, presents, family gatherings, and joy.

At Easter we celebrate life after death, defeat of the grave, miracles and wonders.

Lent is the in-between time, an arrow pointing us to Jesus’ determined journey toward Jerusalem, knowing His death was imminent. He would experience undeserved cruel and unusual punishment. He would be denied, abandoned, misunderstood, falsely accused, arrested, beaten, mocked, sentenced without a just trial, and led to his death.

The gospels give priority to the final weeks of Jesus’ life. There are details of the last meal with his close companions, the disciples. His trial and execution are reported thoroughly.

It would seem we should pay special attention. Can we do that together, pay special attention to what undoubtedly deserves our thoughtful consideration?

Each person will choose how to do that, whether by giving up something, adding to your daily spiritual practice, or simply noticing what is already a present activity. The purpose will be to remind us of the enormous and costly price our Lord paid for us, how His love for the souls of this world is beyond our comprehension, and that His sacrifice calls us to make a decision. The decision is to accept Him or not.

No other religion in the world offers grace like this. No other doctrine provides an eternal sacrifice for the sins of the world, for my sins. No one ever loved me like Jesus.

Will you join me on the journey to the cross?

We will meet here on Sundays and Wednesdays. I hope you will come along side. We can do this together.

In the waiting

Waiting. It’s not what I usually choose. I like a plan and the action that follows.

Yet, we all share time in the waiting room.

Waiting for Christmas as a tender child seemed interminable. 

Waiting my turn to give an oral report in high school was pure torture, wanting to get it over with while dreading it at the same time.

Waiting in the dentists office for the needle and the drill leaves me anxiously wringing my hands.

Waiting for the doctor to see me when I’ve already been there long is frustrating.

Waiting for the red light to change because I’m running late, I endure by counting the minutes.

We all wait for something. A phone call, a visit, a letter, a promotion, or a confirmation. We wait for a biopsy report, a positive on a pregnancy test, a return of strength after surgery, a healing of a broken heart. In the waiting, we wonder why it is taking so long.

After unexpected and unimaginable turn of events, a crucifixion that was mind boggling, Jesus’ disciples, friends and family huddled in fearful waiting, not knowing what they were waiting for.

All they knew for sure was that Jesus was dead. Some saw it happen. Some walked to the tomb where his linen-wrapped body was placed. Some heard the horrific details and could not comprehend how or why it happened.

They waited in their stupor of questions, uncertain of what lay ahead.

They were much like me when things don’t turn out the way I expected or planned or hoped they would. I am left wondering and waiting.

From my perspective I see the tomorrow that will come for Jesus’ followers, the empty tomb, the glory of His resurrection. If I could tell them anything, it would be this: It’s going to be alright. Just you wait and see.

And the message is the same for me. No matter my circumstances, as God’s beloved child, it’s going to be alright. I won’t necessarily understand at the moment. I may not fully know on this earth. But one day, things that hurt me will reveal their purpose. What I couldn’t understand will be made clear. I will see that the trials, the tears, and the pain had an objective and a goal, all in the mind of a sovereign and good Father, and all of it to conform me into the image of His dear Son.

The waiting room may not be the place I voluntarily go, but it is the place I will return to again and again. Perhaps I need to tell myself this right now.

It’s going to be alright. Just you wait and see.

October ending 2018

October is two days gone and I’m already behind. It’s like being on a speeding locomotive, the months of this year moving so quickly. Before I twirl around a couple of times I will have whizzed through Thanksgiving and Christmas, and it will be next year. Stop! Slow down, please.

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Kentucky weather is interesting if nothing else. I had to grab my corduroy coat, complete with scarf, hat, and gloves for my morning walk in October. Maisie wore her purple “Woof” sweater. It was way too soon for both of us.

woof sweaterThe few days that were warm enough for me to sit on the deck with a cup of coffee were especially enjoyable, maybe because they were rare. Isn’t it like us to finally appreciate  what we’ve had a-plenty but now long for? We become satiated and lose the enjoyment of the abundance we possess.

Having dismissed the yard work for the season, I did plant a couple of tiny trees in my cousin’s yard. It’s what I can do for her and her husband after a summer of dealing with illness and recovery. I’m praying those little saplings dig their roots deep into the earth and flourish next spring. New life speaks the language of hope.

Sometimes in our enthusiasm, we want to do great things for God, large and far-reaching. With the wisdom only living gives, I perceive it is in doing the simple and ordinary that we descern the pleasure of God. “Do what is in front of you.” “Do what you can with the gifts you have.” “Do the small things well with love.” Yes, that is the guidance presented to me.

I got to visit my younger friend in an adjoining county. Going alone this time, I was quite confident with my trusty Gypsy (GPS) telling me where to turn. Even at her directions, I passed the drive to my friend’s house, which happens every single time. The trees and telephone poles all look the same along that stretch of highway.

Arriving at her house, she showed me her latest project. She’s always got one in progress. Her home is comfortable and beautifully decorated. We ate and chatted about family, faith and things familiar to us until it was time for me to go. I’m so thankful she reached out to me a couple of years ago, just a message on Facebook that lead to a connection and friendship. God does amazing things when we are open to His leading and then open our hearts.

The book most impacting me this month was Hiding in the Light , autobiography by Rifqa Bary. Her story was in the news in 2009, a Muslim teenager who found Jesus as her Savior, with the resulting conflict in her family. It was a gripping story, a glimpse into a different faith and a young woman’s courage, and a striking contrast of God’s grace. Highly recommended.

Sweet William and I played old hymns at a dinner for the widows at church. It was an elegant and detailed event to bless the women and show them love and support. The songs stirred up memories for all of us, I think.

It was satisfying to be at the keyboard and guitar once again. There were years Sweet William and I joined the band every single Sunday, playing loud, playing long, worshiping God with the gifts He gave us. We reminisce about those good years of serving, how our hearts were tuned in to the worship, how the Lord showed up in our praise and blessed as the Spirit moved among us.

There’s one song I’ve been remembering and singing. My favorite version of “Ain’t No Grave” is by Russ Taff. His excitement is contagious, and I want to celebrate with him. I notice that when I talk of my age I’m speaking in decades now. My years are adding up swiftly, and I’m trying to come to grips with its brevity.

My body feels the affect of living long in a broken world. I move slower. I am concerned about balance and the risk of falling. I pray to stay strong and for my knees to last. I do things I hope will keep my mind sharp. I don’t want to forget what I’ve learned through books and experience.

If Jesus tarries coming for His bride, one day my life here will be over and I will go by way of the grave. There’s no fear or concern in that. I’ve rested my hope in a risen Savior who defeated death and handed that victory to me. It will be glory. And there “ain’t no grave gonna hold my body down!”

Bible study has been a major part of the last two months.  The women who gathered at our table each week, have no idea how they bless me. We are hungry to know God, stretching our faith to Believe Him. I’m coming out of this study richer for the fellowship as we journeyed together. We bond as we open God’s Word and share our hearts with each other.

The month of October has been busier than usual. I’m still trying to figure out why, hoping to plan a quieter, less stressed November. I think it is possible, even in a culture that presses me to believe enough is not really enough.

Time has limits, the same as my body, my finances, my resources, my years.  Autumn reminds me to slow, to observe, to turn loose, to draw upon the blessedness of my existence and believe my Creator has it all in His hands. Contentment continues to call me with an alluring voice. “Come, be filled with joy in the abundance of God’s bountiful gifts.”

He is good. He is strong. He is enough.

 

fall lane

 

 

 

Sunday grace

Very early in the morning while it is yet dark, I rise, remembering the words penned about  Mary. She made her heartbroken way to a garden expecting to offer the spices of death.

Instead, she was first to receive the hallelujah message and went to proclaim it with a glad and believing heart.

“I have seen the Lord!” she said.

When I was a small child, mother bought new clothes for me to wear on Easter morning, from socks and shoes to underwear and slip. Dress, hat and gloves were spanking and sparkling fresh. I was new from the hide out.

Today,  I reach for a skirt and top that’s been hanging in my closet for years. I add a purple sweater since it is a springy Easter-like color. I put on my mother’s vintage wind-up watch and the earrings my eldest granddaughter made for me when she was a child. I reach for two bracelets, gifts from good friends, adding the one that says “forgiven” and another with golden charms attached, words written on circles, “Messiah,” “King,” “Merciful,” “Jesus.”

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I’m not new from the hide out, but I am new from within, a new creation through Jesus.

What other philosophy, religious regulations, treatment plan, or heart surgery can make someone new? In the dark of a hidden meeting Nicodemus faltered at the idea of re-entering his mother’s womb to be reborn.

It was and is what Jesus offers to those who can believe He is who He says He is – Lamb of God, the Promised One, Redeemer, Mediator of a better covenant, intercessory Great High Priest.

No longer called a sinner, I am proclaimed saint, clothed in the righteousness of the One who is worthy of the title of Savior.

I once walked in darkness, but now I am in the light.

I once was lost, but now I am found.

I once wore the stained garments of my own sin, but now I am clean.

And like Mary, I proclaim, “I’ve seen the Lord!” He is alive forevermore.

Alleluia!

Sunday grace.

 

 

 

 

Welcome sweet springtime

The calendar recorded the first day of spring this week, but it seemed Mother Nature didn’t get the memo.

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Sweet William and I bundled in coats and scarves to run errands on Tuesday. Then Wednesday it snowed for hours. Wet and heavy, it continued to pile higher on the deck railing and hung on branches of trees until I wondered if the cedar tree in the back yard would break under the load.

 

 

Daffodils huddled under a blanket of white, and the yellow forsythia blooms peeked through sadly. The shapely Bradford pear looked as if it had already bloomed, the tips of branches coated with white.

It was stunning to look at from the warmth of the house.

In the early dawn of a frigid morning, I heard the birds singing their spring song. They seemed undisturbed with this minor setback. They know what their tiny beating hearts know.

Spring is coming.

Steven Curtis Chapman wrote a song by that title, months after his young daughter was tragically killed in his family’s own driveway. I cannot imagine the pain, the dark depression, the long winter of the soul he endured. He must have grasped for something bigger and stronger than himself during the heaviness of grief to have penned such hopeful words.

“And my heart’s heavy now
But I’m not letting go of this hope I have that tells me
Spring is coming, Spring is coming
And all we’ve been hoping and longing for soon will appear”

I played the song again and again when my own heart sat in the darkness of gloom and despair. Its message of hope sings to me even now and offers something more. Something more than sinking in sorrow, more than allowing fear to swallow me, more than feeling hopeless and alone. No matter the heartbreak, as winter lingers longer than we think we can bear, spring is coming.

It is God’s order and plan, the movement of seasons, the rotating of sun and moon, the earth setting in its perfect orbit for all of us to live and breathe and thrive.

Eventually we all will experience what feels like a long, cold winter, and we become desperate for change, for life to spring forth from hard ground, to see beauty come from ashes.

Hope itself is like a star  –  not to be seen in the sunshine of prosperity, and only to be discovered in the night of adversity.
  —  Charles H. Spurgeon

The season of Lent is a waiting and hoping for redemption. Moving toward Palm Sunday, the passion week, and Resurrection day, I am impressed how nearly half the content of the Gospels is dedicated to the last couple of weeks of Jesus life. It was that important to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. It is that important to me.

Without Jesus, hope is illusive, a mere wish for something better than now. No one else did what He did for me. No one loved me this much. No one paid the full penalty of my sin with His own life. No one else promises me His indwelling presence now and a place in Heaven with Him simply because I believe He is the way, the truth and the life.

My hope is built on nothing less 
than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. 
I dare not trust the sweetest frame, 
but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. 

He is the perfect Lamb of God sacrificed for me, the Mercy Seat of a holy God where I run for forgiveness, compassion, and consolation. He is my Redeemer and my present Helper. This is my living hope.

Snow is still piled on the deck though the sunshine is melting it with a warmth that hints of spring. The trees have shaken off the heaviness of their winter burden and bear buds ready to burst forth. Daffodils and forsythia are recovering beautifully.

Spring is coming and hope is alive in me.

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Sunday grace

Very early in the morning . . .

The night is over and the promise of a new day infringes upon the darkness. Just a glimpse of dawn-breaking at first light, but the sun will have its way.

Mary and the women came expecting death wrapped in linen. They found an empty tomb.

Peter, who denied three times, wondered where he would go from here, but he was found by the Shepherd who seeks out the lost sheep.

Disciples, fearfully hiding behind closed doors, could not believe the reports they were told until He gloriously appeared to them.

Thomas, waiting a full week later, sees, believes and proclaims, “My Lord and my God.”

Evil did not triumph. Death was not the end. A tomb could not contain and hold the majesty of Heaven.

On the first day of the week, a new day dawned, a new covenant completed, the law of love becoming the seal of commitment.

Nothing in history equals it. No other man ever consummated such a magnificent plan. It was conceived in the mind of the God-head, designed before creation, predicted by the prophets, and accomplished through a Savior.

The Suffering Servant became the Victorious Champion, the Great High Priest who invites unto the very presence of a holy God.

 “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” — John 20:31

He lives! Celebrate His victory over death, hell, and the grave. Believe and accept the life He offers to whosoever will.

There is life in Jesus’ name.

Sunday grace.

Sunrise by MaRanda Green[photo by MaRanda Green]