Five Minute Friday: Fear

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Gentle Reader,

I want to go play tomorrow in celebration of my ninth wedding anniversary, so housework instead of the chat was the game Thursday evening. Linking up with Kate and the people even though I missed the party. This week we: fear.

Go.

There are many places that this prompt could take me. Fear is part of my daily life. I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t there. This is a running theme here and so I don’t want to focus on that today.

Instead, I want to talk about the fear of others.

The fear those nine people must have felt.

I can’t fully grasp the horror and terror of the final moments of the victims of the Charleston shooting. I won’t pretend to. The world must have slowed to a complete stop as they shifted from fellowship and study to realizing that the end had come.

I don’t understand Dylan Roof. How can anyone be so twisted as to enter a house of worship and gun down people who were gathered in peace to study Scripture? What sort of twists and turns did he take in his mind to arrive at that place?

All I know is that we now have a young man in the national spotlight who clearly confirms the truth about sin and our need for a Savior. We now have families who will never be the same again. We now have yet another reason to examine our attitudes toward and ideas about both gun safety and violence.

Perhaps most importantly, we, the Body of Christ, have an opportunity to step up and say that racism is wrong. To say that we stand with our brothers and sisters of all skin tones. To refuse to let casual prejudices, the ones we grew up with, go unchecked. We have a chance to exhibit both the love and justice of God as we encourage forgiveness – as much as that word lodges in my throat in regard to this situation – along with supporting Roof’s prosecution to the fullest extent of the law.

The Gospel doesn’t promote hatred. I’ll say it louder: THE GOSPEL DOESN’T PROMOTE HATRED. Neither does the Gospel support hatred. To have a Biblical worldview means to understand and accept the complete equality of every person in the eyes of God, for He made each one. Skin tone and ethnicity are gifts, not curses. They are expressions of His delightful creativity, of His penchant for drawing disparate people into His family so that

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:28 (NKJV)

If kids can grasp this, so can we.

Stop.

My journey to faith. (15)

P.S. – Extra bonus video.

The Cross and Mary Magdalene

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Gentle Reader,

What might have been going through her mind.

Darkness reigned within my soul for years. My head was constantly filled with evil shouts, driving me to do terrible things. I don’t know why they wanted me. Maybe I never will. All I know is that my heart was cold. I had no life. My lungs ached for a taste of pure oxygen, but all I ever got was the putrid stench of Hell itself.

Seven demons.

Seven.

People tried to help me. My family hated to see me in such a state, I know, but they feared me as well. I would lash out at them. I would throw things. Sickness rose up and flowed out of me. I wanted to hurt them. I wanted to hurt myself. I couldn’t understand why. In the few moments of clarity I did have, I would try to apologize. I would try to make it better, let them know that I loved them. But those moments were few and never lasted. Always, always the darkness came rushing back in, more powerful than before.

I was adrift. Lost. Helpless.

Alone.

The prayers of the righteous did nothing for me. The demons laughed in my head. They weren’t coming out any time soon. I wanted so badly to wage war against them, but they were too strong. I just couldn’t. I was too small, too feeble. I was a slave to them. They compromised me. I couldn’t choose.

I was defiled. Unclean. Ugly.

Unlovable.

They told me all sorts of twisted lies. I know they wanted me dead. I do not know why I did not end up that way, save for the grace of God. Why would He be keeping me back from such a fate, though? Hadn’t He abandoned me over to this clinging evil?

Didn’t He think I was worthless?

And then…

One day…. It dawned just as any other day. I slept little then. In a perpetual state of exhaustion, I wandered. My mouth spit nasty curses at those I passed. My clothes were ragged, my hair uncombed. I felt the vacancy of myself screaming out at the world. Did no one see? Was there nothing to be done?

Then… He came.

Jesus.

He looked right into my eyes, and, oh!, how I could hardly bear it! The demons within instantly fell silent. I fell to my knees, powerless before this Man. This Lord. I wanted desperately to look away, to crawl into a hole and hide from that everlasting light. But I remained, riveted.

“Mary.”

He said my name!

He commanded the demons to come out of me. They battled Him, throwing me to the ground, thrashing my body. It was no use. They were no match for Him. One by one, they detached themselves from me, leaving me a battered mess on the ground at His feet. I was too stunned to think or even breathe. Then… Jesus, He knelt down. He lifted me to my feet, that same intense gaze boring into my own.

I knew in an instant that I could never leave His side. This was it. Jesus was all that mattered. I would do everything within my power to be with Him, to support Him, to learn from Him. I wanted to sit forever at His feet.

Was it years that followed? I don’t know. I lost track of time with Him. Time didn’t matter to me. I know now that it should have. I knew that He was the King, come to set us free! Any day He would reveal Himself, march on Jerusalem and overthrow the conquering Romans. The whole earth trembled with the excitement of it!

I wanted to be part of it, to be part of Him. It didn’t matter to me what sort of position I had, as long as it was in His house. That’s all I knew. I didn’t want to go back to the dark place of yesterday. I wanted to live in His warmth and His truth. I knew that I was special and worthy to Him. I don’t know why. He simply declared it to be so, and how could I say anything less?

Then…

Passover came. It was terribly significant, this meal, to us, the Jews. This night, however, there was something…more. Something dreadful hung in the air. I recognized the presence of evil, but I hoped that Jesus could stop it. He ate the meal with the 12, while we women served. I heard Him say strange things about being betrayed and this being the last time He would eat the Passover. I didn’t want to entertain those thoughts.

I knew that the religious leaders hated Him. I knew that they loathed how He struck at the heart of their lies and legalism. How they envied His crowds. I even knew how they had threatened Him before. I was simply confident that Jesus would accomplish His mission, and put everyone and everything in its rightful palace.

He and the 12 – well, no Judas had left earlier – left to pray. We women cleaned up, enjoying each other’s company, discussing Jesus’ teachings. It grew very late, and we soon drifted off into sleep. Suddenly, John burst through the door, sobbing intelligibly. The older women coaxed him to sit, offering him something to drink. Finally, through his wrenching tears, he shouted –

I already knew, somehow.

Jesus had been arrested.

It was a nightmare, worse than anything I had ever experienced. I had to be there, though. I had to be at His side. A few of us women and John followed the proceedings as best we could. It was a sham, a mockery of justice. This was not the worst of it, though. All the disciples had abandoned Him. I found out later that Peter had even denied knowing Him.

They beat my Lord! They stripped the skin off his body! His blood ran red everywhere! They slammed thorns into His skull! He was twisted, mutilated, unrecognizable. Teeth were missing, His beard patchy from where they ripped it out, His gentle, beautiful hands broken.

Those same hands that raised me up.

And His eyes. Oh, His eyes! The depth of pain, of loss, and the deepest, tenderest love.

He looked at me, our gazes locking as the first time we met. Again, I wanted to run. All I could do was sob.

They hung Him on a cross. The crowd mocked him, hurling obscenities and insults at this Man who had never done them wrong. I watched Him die, breath by agonizing breath. Incomprehensibly, He cried out that God should forgive them. Why? Why forgive them this wretched act?

Finally, He was gone.

This was yesterday. Today I am stripped bare once more. Bereft of an anchor, drowning in a cold, endless sea. The taunting voices of evil swirl around me once more, though they have not yet gotten in. I don’t know what’s stopping them. I am without hope.

Why, Jesus, why? I know You could have stopped them. I know You could have ended it. Yet now You lay in a tomb, silent and still. Do You somehow still see my pain, my questioning? Do You know that I am nothing without You?

Why?

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He Is Risen Indeed

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Gentle Reader,

This morning I had the privilege of engaging in spirited discussion with a group of lovely women over tea, orange rolls and fresh fruit. Our conversational foundation was the book “The Centurion’s Wife” by Davis Bunn and Janette Oke. Taking the account of the healing of the centurion’s servant (found in Matthew 8 and Luke 7) as their starting point, the authors pieced together a narrative dealing with a quest for truth, Roman and Herodian court intrigue and the infant Church in Jerusalem. While not appearing to be a “deep” book at first glance, the authors’ central focus, the reality of the Resurrection, gives the reader pause.

Jesus is familiar to us. We “get” Him. Born of a Virgin, started preaching and healing about the age of 30, religious leaders hated Him, crucified three years later under Pilate’s purview, an earthquake, a veil torn, a body in the ground for three days, Jesus rises. This is a comparatively “boring” piece of theology for most of us. We’ve heard it a thousand times. Let’s talk about the use of tongues or the end times. Something fun and controversial!

I don’t mean to imply that we don’t love Jesus. It’s just that He doesn’t blow our minds. We are comfortable with Him. In a way, this is a really good thing. Jesus should be a best friend to us. We should know His story backward and forward. We should feel safe talking with Him and being with Him.

Think about it for a moment, though. This Jesus, of Whom we so casually sing, in Whose name we purport to live ROSE FROM THE DEAD. As in, He was dead, and now He’s not. His body, cold, lifeless, stiff, scabbed over from the horror of His torture, bruised, out of joint… quite  simply sat up and walked out of that tomb.

Can you imagine what that must have been like for the first disciples? Their eyes took in this reality. Joseph of Arimathea wrapped Him up and laid Him down. Mary Magdalene and some other women came back to finish the embalming process. In the meantime, the stench of death pervaded the tomb. The bandages were soaked with His blood. The stench of death hung around the disciples, too. They had utterly failed Him. They had fled.

Those three days that Jesus was in the tomb? They were all about death.

We know what that’s like. Loss is part of daily living here on earth. We know what it is to bear the excruciating pain of a loved one’s death. We come up with fancy terms for it, but, all the while, we know that nothing can erase the horror. The sense that this just isn’t right, somehow. Death hurts, pure and simple. It hurts all involved.

That’s the wages of sin. We die a little every day until that moment when the last breath escapes our lips. Our bodies are left a shell, an empty version of what once was. No matter how “life-like” anyone claims the appearance of corpses to be, it’s a lie. There is nothing life-like about being dead.

Death is real. It is, perhaps, the most real thing we face in this life. There’s no way to sugar-coat or avoid it.

That’s what the followers of Christ were dealing with. Their eyes were swollen from tears and lack of sleep. Their bodies were weary with waves of grief. In one moment, they thought that there were past it. The next, the reality of it all came crashing in like a falling ceiling in the midst of a hurricane. Jesus was dead. He was gone. Someone must have punched a wall. Refused to eat. Picked a fight with another. All the things we do when we grieve.

Jesus. Mutilated, torn, an anguishing sight. Jesus.  Lovely, loving, dead.

Dead.

The third day dawns. Mary Magdalene and the women go to do their work. Do you ever wonder how they planned to roll the stone away? Or what they were going to do about the guards? Maybe, in their agony, they just needed to do SOMETHING. Maybe a fight with a Roman guard would have been a decent way to let some of the pain out.

Then…an angel. An empty tomb.

He is not there.

HE IS NOT THERE.

Imagine if someone told you that the person you loved most in this whole world died. Your spouse, a grandparent, maybe a child. Imagine all the emotions that you would feel, all the pain that you would wrestle with. Then – what if, a few days later, this person got up again? Came to you with a smile and a hug?

What would you do?

The Resurrection should sweep us off our feet every single time we hear about it, read about it, sing of it or think on it. This Man was DEAD. He wasn’t sleeping, wasn’t in a coma and it wasn’t some kind of an elaborate hoax. The Romans were good at making sure people died. There is no doubt about it, though some might purport there to be. Jesus was dead in every way we think of the word. Now, He is ALIVE.

This is the glory of Christian faith. Death could not claim Him. The grave couldn’t hold Him.

Isn’t that worth celebrating? Worth being blown away by? Worth being reduced to tears over, no matter how familiar the story?

HE IS RISEN!

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