Tag Archive | Jesus

Waiting and wondering on Easter Saturday

Easter Saturday – or Holy Saturday – is that in-between time. The worst has happened. Jesus has been crucified. The hopes of many have been dasheIMG_6347d. The disciples are confused, disappointed and frightened. They retreat behind closed doors and withdraw into their fear, scared to look ahead, afraid to hope.

The two disciples who walked along the road to Emmaus were walking the long way home from Jerusalem to Emmaus, talking about all that had happened in Jerusalem on Good Friday. They were joined on the road by a Stranger, who wanted to know what they were talking about. Surprised that he didn’t know – wasn’t it the talk of the town? – they told him that Jesus had been crucified. They confessed, ‘But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel’.

The One they had put their trust in had disappointed them. They were confused and disappointed and were retreating – going back home. They didn’t understand what had happened. Things hadn’t turned out as they had hoped. Had they been wrong all along? Confusion and disappointment ate at their broken spirits and their hopes were dashed. They must have wondered what was going to happen next. Some of the women had said they had been to Jesus’ tomb but his body wasn’t there. They couldn’t work out what it all meant.

So the Stranger began to talk to them about the Scriptures. He explained their meaning as they walked that long way home. And – I love this part – when they reached their house, the Stranger ‘acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.”’ He wasn’t going to impose – He never does – but always  waits to be invited.

And so it was that, in the breaking and blessing of the bread, they recognised the Stranger. Was it his hands as he broke the bread? Was it his voice as he blessed it? And just as suddenly as he had appeared, he vanished.broken bread

But it was enough. They knew who he was. They knew what he had been talking about. Now it all began to make sense. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And immediately they set out to return to Jerusalem to share the good news.

We live between the ‘now’ and ‘what is yet to be’. We have put our faith in God but so much of what we read in the Bible belongs to the ‘what is yet to be’. Our lives are often filled with disappointment. Our hopes are dashed. Often we are confused; often we are frightened. Sometimes we don’t dare to look forward. Sometimes we are afraid to hope.

Some of us have hopes that have been dashed. Life hasn’t turned out the way we had hoped it would. We are struggling with broken health or broken relationships or some other loss. Some struggle with the loss of mental health. For them, just to get out of bed in the morning is a huge act of faith – a heroic thing. What they had hoped for hasn’t happened. Can they dare to hope?

Some of us have questions related to our faith that make us afraid to hope. It’s all too good to be true. What if it’s all a lie? Can we really base our lives on it? Does it really work? Does it make sense? Our faith is wavering. Can we dare to hope?

We all live in a broken world, a terribly frightening world. We don’t know what’s going to happen next. It doesn’t make sense. Can we dare to hope?

As we wait and as we wonder, let’s give the Stranger time to draw alongside us. He won’t impose but, if he’s invited, he will come. Things might begin to make some sense. And even if they don’t, the presence of the Stranger will bless us in our brokenness.

The week after Christmas…

It’s the time between Christmas and New Year. The great build-up to Christmas is over. Weeks – maybe even months – of planning have culminated in two or three days of festivities and, like the Christmas dinner which is consumed so quickly after being prepared so carefully, we are left scratching our heads and wondering what it was all about.

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What do you do with this week, this week of anti-climax, of emptiness and nothingness? Some keep on partying: there are still friends to see and things to do; the week is a flurry of visits and coffee reunions and lunch dates and dinner parties. Others get straight back to work and pick up the threads as if Christmas didn’t happen. For the rest of us, we have the week off and it feels…..empty….as if we are in limbo, caught between what was and what will be.

On the one hand, we enjoy the days without deadlines, with no agenda except what we choose to put there, spontaneously if we want to – personally I think one of the things I enjoy most about this week is not to have the alarm clock shrieking in my ear first thing in the morning and rushing out the door to try to beat the traffic. We can get up later and we can stay up later: and in between we can choose what we do – and do nothing if we want to. Many of us catch up on some rest after a frenetic month of December.

But somewhere in the midst of the ‘doing nothing’ of this week, many of us begin to wonder about what we are leaving behind and what we are heading towards as the new year approaches.

My niece Sharon is a gifted writer and has written a piece over on her blog where she encapsulates this sentiment beautifully: ‘In January I pick a ‘word for a year’ and in December I have to make peace with how that’s worked out for me!’.

Ah, the looking back and the looking forward. How did I do this year? How do I lay the year to rest, come to terms with the failures, celebrate the victories? And how will I enter the new year? Should I choose a word for the year? How can I prepare for a new year? Of course some people still make new year resolutions, while many others have long since decided it’s not worth the effort, for they will be broken before the end of January.

This tension of simultaneously  living in the ‘now’ and the ‘not yet’ is not new. The biblical writer to the Hebrews wrote about it like this:

Each one of these people of faith died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believing. How did they do it? They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home. If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted. But they were after a far better country than that—heaven country. You can see why God is so proud of them, and has a City waiting for them. Hebrews 11:13-16.

I find it interesting that the writer talks about homesickness and people who are looking for their true home. I think when we feel this tension between what we have already and we don’t have yet, we are experiencing a kind of homesickness. It is a deep aching in our souls for what we do not yet have. It is a longing for home.

We have so much through Christ already. As we have just celebrated at Christmas, Jesus came to earth as a little baby in order to be able to welcome us to his eternal home. But we aren’t there yet. We live in a messy world where there is fear, sickness, war, brokenness and death.

My daughter Gemma is another gifted writer and she has written a blog about this longing for home which she ends by saying:

And so, my prayer this Christmas:
Immanuel, come.
To the lonely, the scattered, the unknown, the waiting, the afraid, the unprotected, the needy, the longing. To us.
Come.

Paul Tripp has shared these words:

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As a friend recently posted on Facebook: Christmas may be over -but God is still present – Immanuel.

Take him with you into the new year.

Emptiness

I’ve been reading a paper which talks about the concept of ‘the empty self’. Inner emptiness, according to Philip Cushman of the California School of Professional Psychology, can be expressed by low self-esteem, values confusion, eating disorders, drug abuse and chronic consumerism. ‘The empty self has become such a prevalent aspect of our culture that much contemporary psychotherapeutic theory is devoted to its treatment,’ Cushman says. His paper endeavours to put this concept in its historical setting and suggest reasons why the concept of the empty self is so prevalent today.bread
An honest look at our modern culture will verify the hypothesis for many of us. Not only are we empty people, but we try to fill the emptiness with all kinds of things – food, drink, pleasure, entertainment and, Cush would argue, most of all, consumerism. We have to acquire more and more in an effort to fill our emptiness. And if that doesn’t work, we try to change our lifestyles through self-help or psychotherapy.
In the context of reading this paper, today I read these words from the Bible and was struck at the claims of Jesus to fill our emptiness:
‘Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water”.’ John 4.water
‘Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”’ John 6.
Sir, give us this water, for we are empty without it.
Sir, give us this bread, for we are empty without it.
Lord, give us Jesus, for we are empty without him.

What does the resurrection mean right here, right now?

Paul Tripp suggests 5 things we need to remember about the resurrection as we assess our lives right here, right now.DSC_0034_3

No.1 The resurrection of Jesus guarantees your resurrection too. Life is not a constantly repeating cycle of the same old same old. No, under God’s rule this world is marching toward a conclusion. Your life is being carried to a glorious end. There will be a moment when God will raise you out of this broken world and sin and suffering will be no more.

No.2 The resurrection tells you what Jesus is now doing. Jesus now reigns. I Corinthians 15 says that he will continue to reign until the final enemy is under his feet. You see, your world is not out of control, but under the careful control of One who is still doing his sin-defeating work.

No.3 The resurrection promises you all the grace you need between Jesus’s resurrection and yours. If your end has already been guaranteed, then all the grace you need along the way have been guaranteed as well, or you would never make it to your appointed end. Future grace always carries with it the promise of present grace.

No.4 The resurrection of Jesus motivates you to do what is right, no matter what you are facing. The resurrection tells you that God will win. His truth will reign. His plan will be accomplished. Sin will be defeated. Righteousness will overcome evil. This means that everything you do in God’s name is worth it, no matter what the cost.

No.5 The resurrection tells you that you always have reason to give thanks. Quite apart from anything you have earned, you have been welcomed into the most exciting story ever and have been granted a future of joy and peace forever.

Taken from Paul Tripp’s book ‘New Morning Mercies’, available from Amazon.

Good Friday and the darkness we don’t like to talk about

What’s good about Good Friday? There’s so much negative stuff going on – betrayal, denial, lies, deceit, anger, hatred, jealousy, anguish, pain, death.IMG_0961 - Version 2

We remember the fact that Jesus’ disciples forsook him and fled, the fact that Peter denied him and Judas sold him, the fact that the authorities believed the false witness against him, the fact that Pilate washed his hands of him, the fact that he died the most painful, shameful death known at that time.

Many of us sit uncomfortably between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, anxious to get to the glorious hope which the resurrection bring to us. We don’t like the time in between. We run from the negative stuff – the betrayal, denial, lies, deceit, anger, hatred. jealousy, anguish, pain, death. We would much rather rejoice and celebrate in the victory which Sunday brings.

But it’s Friday. And sometimes it’s good for us to linger here for a while among the negative stuff. Why are we so afraid of it when it is so much a part of the biblical story? I see it again and again – I’m sure you do too. Some people like to hear me talk about my depression because it gives them a voice too – but others are uncomfortable with it. Why dwell on the negative stuff? Why look back at the pain? Why talk about the darkness? Because that’s where many are living today.

I see it when people ask how my dad is. Remembered by many as a man who loved God’s Word and preached it round N.Ireland, today he is in a nursing home, struck by a form of dementia which has mostly robbed him of the gift of coherent speech, among other things. When people ask how he is and I tell them, some will quickly say ‘Well, at least he’s content’ and sometimes I tell them no, I don’t think he is. And I want to cry, ‘Would you be content? Would I?’ But I see the look on their faces – the pain at having to process that, the not knowing what to do with it, the not having a category to put it in. This is not how it’s supposed to be.

And they are right – this is not how it’s supposed to be. God never intended us to have a world with depression and dementia and death in it. So we don’t have to pretend he did. We don’t have to pretend it’s alright – because it isn’t.

Good Friday is Good Friday, not because there’s anything good about any of this, but because out of the darkness and shame and pain and death, there actually is a glimmer of hope. Jesus takes on himself all of our pain and shame so that we we know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that he understands it all – there is nowhere we have been that he hasn’t been; and in taking it all on himself, he redeems it and by a miracle of grace transforms it into something good and beautiful and true.

So that on Easter Sunday there is something wonderful to celebrate – Jesus has conquered sin and death forever. The fact that Jesus rose again means that we will rise again too.

Everybody dies in Adam; everybody comes alive in Christ. But we have to wait our turn: Christ is first, then those with him at his Coming, the grand consummation when, after crushing the opposition, he hands over his kingdom to God the Father. He won’t let up until the last enemy is down—and the very last enemy is death!  I Corinthians 15.

We are not there yet – we still live in Good Friday a lot of the time, among the shadows and the darkness and the pain. But Jesus has won the war and, as Paul Tripp says, he is ‘still doing his sin-defeating work’. He is still in control. He is reigning even when it looks like he’s not. And he understands the pain and darkness of Good Friday. Because he’s been there.

Advent – what are we waiting for?

Advent is a time of waiting….advent-wreath

….waiting for what?

Waiting for ……. Christmas. In the western world we are consumed by commercialism, the shops are busy, Christmas markets are thronging and we’re making lists for all kinds of things – shopping lists, gift lists, to do lists. The most pressing thought in many of our minds is ‘Have we forgotten anything?’ and one of the most-often asked questions is ‘Are you ready for Christmas?’.

But the first Christmas what were they waiting for? Advent is a term from the Latin word ‘adventus’ which means“arrival”. They were waiting for the arrival of Jesus. Mary was waiting, the wise men were waiting, the angels were waiting. When would He come? How would He come?

Not everyone was waiting, of course. Most were going about their business, unaware of the momentous event which was about to happen. The shepherds were out looking after their sheep; Herod was on his throne; normal people were going about their normal lives.

When news of the birth of the baby came, they were surprised: ‘An angel of the Lord appeared to (the shepherds), and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified’. (Luke 2:9).  After they had been to Bethlehem and had seen the baby, they told others and they, in turn, ‘were amazed at what the shepherds said to them’. (Luke 2:17 & 18).

But it was no surprise to God – in fact it happened exactly when He said it would – ‘But when the time arrived that was set by God the Father, God sent his Son, born among us of a woman’ (Galatians 4:4, The Message). And it happened exactly how He said it would: ‘The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told’ (Luke 2:20).

What are we waiting for? Christmas is a beautiful time of the year, filled with smells, tastes and memories that we cherish. We rejoice in being together with friends and family. We enjoy good food. We give and receive gifts. God has given us all of these things to enjoy.

But in the midst of our to do lists, let’s remember it’s not just about what we are waiting for – it’s also about who we are waiting for. Let’s make sure He’s in our celebrations.

Let’s not be surprised when He comes.

You’re the end of all my wretchedness

‘Jesus, allow me to grieve the sinfulness of sin – the sinfulness of my sins. Now that I’m no longer guilty or condemned, let me fearlessly see my sins, ruthlessly hate my sins, and relentlessly repent of my sins. Increase my love for holiness and decrease my self-contempt. Only the gospel can bring me such freedom. Only by seeing more of you, Jesus, will I delight in this journey.

Jesus, you’re the end of all my wretchedness. You’re the one who’s rescuing me from this ‘body of death’ – all the effects and residue of the fall, all the trappings of my graveclothes, every semblance of every way I’m not like you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I pray in your most powerful and loving name. Amen.’

For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Romans 7:22-25.

 

Taken from Everyday Prayers by Scotty Smith, January 12th.