What’s in a Name?

When Mary Magdalene went to the tomb to anoint Christ’s body, she was filled with grief and frustration. She arrived at the tomb at first light, but it was empty. Jesus was gone. The others went home disappointed, but Mary lingered, longing to know what had happened to the body of her beloved Lord.

But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb;  and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”  When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.”  Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher). John 20:11-17 NASB

This passage has always tugged at my heart, but it touched me even more deeply this Lenten Season as I witnessed the power of love in a new light. Mary didn’t recognize Jesus, but that isn’t surprising. None of us see what is right before our eyes, especially if it is something we are not expecting to see.

Henry Cavil, the actor who plays Superman in the new movie, stood in Times Square under a giant advertisement for Superman vs Batman wearing a tee shirt with the Superman logo on the front. His face was in lights above him, but no one recognized him. He was responding to criticism about Superman’s trademark disguise. Critics pointed out that glasses would never be enough to hide Superman’s identity from those around him. The experiment proved superman didn’t even need glasses; he could easily hide in plain sight because people do not see what they are not expecting to see.

Mary asked the man she thought to be a gardener what he had done with the body. He simply said, “Mary!,” and suddenly her world was changed forever.  One of the most powerful moments in the Bible, for me, is when she utters, “Rabboni.” She wanted to embrace Jesus, but He bid her not to come near because He had not yet ascended to His Father. Like Mary, I am beautifully changed when someone speaks my name in love. Being known heals and makes my heart whole. No one knows that better than God, and Mary learned its power that morning at the empty tomb.

The first time my son uttered the syllables “ma ma,” my heart melted into a puddle. The first time my granddaughters called me “Gigi,” my heart went to a new level of love. The children in my granddaughter’s kindergarten class call me “Gigi” when I visit or volunteer, and that fills my heart with joy. They squeal with delight each time they see me at school or out in the community. They act as though it’s been years since they’ve seen me. That delight is what love is all about, and it never gets old.

God delights when He hears His children say His name with love, but His heart is broken when His name is used to justify violence or spread hatred. His greatest desire is to be with us, and to know that we know how much He loves us. When we say His name and the names of those around us in love, His kingdom comes, and His will is done.

A name spoken in love brings joy into the world, and that is what Easter is all about What’s in a name? Everything!!

Happy Easter 🙂

 

 

 

A Special Kind of Love

God is love, but He is a special kind of love. He isn’t the hearts and flowers love found in romance novels or Valentine’s Day cards, but He does understand our need for such love. He is covenant love, and that is unlike any other love. I can miss experiencing covenant love if I allow myself to get tangled in my own desires, but I can know the depth of its beauty when I trust God with all of my heart. He will never force His love upon me because that would destroy His very nature, but He does give the perfect example of covenant love in His Son, Jesus Christ.

No one loved Jesus more than the apostle John, so a great place to get an idea of covenant love is by looking at what he says about it in John 3:16-17

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” (NLT)

The two verses together give a beautiful definition of covenant love that even my little third-grade Sunday School class could understand. When I ask if their parents would die trying to save them, they gave a resounding “YES!!” in unison. They also agreed that their parents would risk their lives for others. Several had fathers who were law enforcement officers or soldiers, so the idea of putting your life on the line for someone else was familiar to them. My next question was no less confusing. When I asked if their parents would offer up the lives of their children to save someone else. Their “NO!!” was even louder than their earlier “YES!”

I told them I, too, would risk my life to save others; my son was at the top of my list of those I would die for, and they were on it, as well. I made it very clear that there was nothing for which I cared enough to give my son’s life. They completely understood and marveled that God could love them enough to give up His Son’s life to save them.

Verse sixteen is the most familiar in the Bible, but verse seventeen is just as powerful. God not only loves us more than we are capable of understanding, His Son didn’t come to judge us. He came to save us. That’s covenant love in a nutshell. There is a special Hebrew word for such love-hesed. It is the word used beautifully in Isaiah 54:10.

“For the mountains may move
    and the hills disappear,
but even then my faithful love for you will remain.
    My covenant of blessing will never be broken,”
    says the Lord, who has mercy on you.” (NLT)

To love with God’s loyalty is not possible for a mere human being, but Jesus did it beautifully. His precious love encourages me to try, and that trying is what walking in God’s kingdom is all about. Christ’s love reflects His Father’s love and puts all other love into perspective. Romance is great, and brotherly love is powerful. Our hearts need all kinds of love to grow as God desires, but covenant love is necessary if I want to walk in His kingdom now.

Covenant love isn’t in all our relationships. It is very special and should be cherished and nurtured when found because it is a sweet taste of heaven. I thank God for allowing me to experience such love; it changes everything. Covenant love isn’t an easy love to embrace and can easily be lost. God knew how difficult it would be for us, so He sent His Son and His Holy Spirit to help us experience its wonder.

Christ’s precious love comes from God, the Father, and the seeds He planted over two thousand years ago in His Son’s heart still flourish in those willing to let them take root in their own hearts.

A Different Kind of Lent

The Lenten Season has always been a challenge, but the past three years have been particularly difficult ones for me.  God’s call to leave a familiar church family came as the Lenten Season began three years ago. I was confused, but I obeyed. I was confounded by His call to leave corporate worship altogether eight months ago, but I was spent and didn’t question His motives. I wasn’t the only one confused or confounded by His call. One man told me last month that I should stop using God as my excuse for not going to church. Others bid me to go somewhere, anywhere!!

I was tempted to give in to their bidding because I have the need to make others happy, but God and I share a sweet connection that’s stronger than any other relationship I have. I’ve lost a few friends over the past three years, but I’ve gained many more. I would not give up one moment of the special time God and I have shared over the past eight months, but I would gladly give up all of the guilt I felt for not being in church even though I was told by someone who cared not to feel bad about not being anywhere.

My frustrations reached a breaking point last month, and I found myself faced with fork in the road. I could give in to the pressures of well-meaning friends or go where God wanted me to go. I know God well enough to know that He will let me go wherever I want to go, but I also know myself well enough to know that usually doesn’t end well. I decided to break away, trust God, and take the unknown fork.

There is a part of me that has a hard time accepting the level of love God offers, and that confounds me more than anything else. There’s no doubt in my mind that God loves me more than I can begin to imagine, but a nagging little voice continually pipes up to remind me that I don’t deserve His love. There’s a seed of truth in that naysayer’s pitch, but thankfully, Christ’s precious love and God’s amazing grace put that seed in the proper place.

I had my own timeline in regard to corporate worship. I was taking a year off no matter what, but last week, a friend asked me to visit her church. It is across the street from my new apartment, another big change in my life within the past year. I wanted to wait until June to reenter a church community. I was determined to stick to my plan, but her warm invitation felt so right. I longed for community, so I accepted her invitation. It ended up being a beautiful blessing, and I could imagine God grinning as my plans came unglued in the midst of His.

I wasn’t surprised by God’s timing, but I was surprised by His theme. He made it clear on this Ash Wednesday that He wanted me to forget about giving something up and start thinking about getting something new. That sounds like the beginning of a beautiful time of reflection to me.

 

 

Back on Track

Running with a heavy overcoat isn’t the best way to travel; but I have a hard time laying aside encumbrances and staying untangled. Holy Week is always difficult, but the pain has been overwhelming this week. Christ’s passion is more than I can comprehend, and it breaks my heart to think of His suffering. Hebrews 12:1-3 helped me change my focus and get my heart back on track.

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (NASB)

I was lost in the weariness of the world this week, but God put these scriptures in the path to remind me to lighten my load and run the race He has set before me. Christ saw the joy set before Him, and knowing that joy allowed Him to endure the cross, despise the shame, endure the hostility, and end up at the right hand of His Father. He did it all so I could share that joy with Him.

I cannot run the race Christ ran, and thinking I have to is what makes Holy Week weigh me down each year. I can, however, run the race specifically designed for my heart by One who knows me better than I know myself. No one is able to run my race for me, but sharing the joy and pain found on my journey humbles and fills my heart with wonder. That was a powerful part of the learning this week. If I try to run Christ’s race, carry His load, or carry my burdens alone, I will quickly become entangled and encumbered. I came to a place of quitting this week, but God bid me to get up, keep going, and trust Him.

Good Friday is the perfect day to fix my eyes on Jesus. He is, and always will be the author and perfecter of faith. If I keep my focus upon Him, I will find the love, joy, and peace I was missing this week. Encumbrances will continue to entangle as long as I am in this world, but I can keep my balance and run the race with endurance if I remember I am never alone.

Walking Together

Sorted Past

The most difficult part of downsizing is sorting and deciding what to keep and what to do with what I don’t. The process has been a painful one in many ways, but it has also been a very freeing one. Starting is the most difficult part of any process, so God gave me a three-week window in which to work. While the girls were away, I had the freedom to work through my past as I packed. I needed time to remember, sort, and let God help me pack for my move.

As I’ve packed, the smallest objects have triggered my biggest memories and led me down the path to my past. I’ve downsized several times in the last thirteen years, but I’ve never had a move like this before. I’ve gotten rid of things I didn’t want or need before, but I’m giving away things I love and didn’t imagine I could ever leave behind this time. My heart grew along with the piles that formed as I sorted my past with my present and future in mind.

Technology helps immensely, and that’s been a big lesson in my moving forward. Simplifying became my mantra, so I made the decision to move into the 21st century in regard  to music, movies, books, and photos. That was not an easy decision for me, but it was one that opened up a great deal of space. While the kids were away, I uploaded over six hundred photos so I didn’t have to decide which ones to hang on the walls of my new apartment. I plan to display them all on my television screen. I gave my CD’s, DVD’s, and both players to the girls because I don’t plan to use them anymore.

The most beautiful side effect of sorting is seeing the joy others find in my treasures. That has been especially true with my books. The museum in town was happy to get my old books, and several wonderful young teachers are treasuring my old classroom treasures. I was deeply touched when I listened to one of them telling me how much she loved going through the student writing I gave her. My students loved to read each other’s work and the writing of their parents. Now, her students will be able to read the work of their parents and their grandparents. That makes my heart happy!!

I don’t have a sordid past, but with God’s help, I do have a sorted past. That has been the beautiful blessing of the Lenten season this year. I go into Lent with an agenda, but God always has a different plan in mind for my heart. I usually go with mine and suffer through the season; but occasionally, I let go of my plans, go with God’s, and find the transformation He has in mind for me.

Sorting my past has made this move amazing. I finally understand that purging must come before packing, and that’s lightened my load in an amazing way. There’s nothing sweeter than the peace that comes from knowing I am moving in the right direction without my old baggage, and knowing my treasures are in good hands. I know that with all of my heart this morning 🙂

Baggage

 

Compasses or Covenants?

The road to God is clearly marked; the directions are charted in His covenants. I have been misdirected and rejected more times than I can count, and I continue to veer off the path. Daddy scolded me for taking a round about path to a neighbor’s house. I was very little and told him, in a serious tone, “I went way wound.” He laughed out loud and shook his head. I’m sure God can relate to daddy’s frustration because He’s been watching me take the long way around for a very long time!

God knows I prefer a circuitous path have a penchant for dead ends, but He never fails to correct my misdirection. He’s there with His loving hand held out when I find myself lost or at a dead end. His love has never failed to point me in the right direction, but I have failed, on many occasions, to follow His directions.

“God is fair and just;
He corrects the misdirected,
Sends them in the right direction.

He gives the rejects his hand,
And leads them step-by-step.

From now on every road you travel
Will take you to God.
Follow the Covenant signs;
Read the charted directions.” (Psalm 25:8-10 NLT)

Lent is a time to check my direction to make sure the road I’m on is a road that will take me to God. Even though He will always be there to lead and correct, there comes a time when I need to follow the Covenant signs and read the charted directions. I can’t do that as long as I continue to go my own way.

Covenant signs chart the course for life. If I use anything else for direction, I will be lost. I’m very good at finding my way, but my way isn’t where I want to go anymore. Realizing my way isn’t the way is the first step in finding His way. It’s scary to let go of my compass, but I will never get on the road that takes me to God until I do. Only God’s Covenants are able to do that. I plan to look at each one more carefully in the coming weeks and see where they point my heart.

Photo Credit: psta Travel Directions

Photo Credit: psta Travel Directions

Shattered Heart

Going through the motions doesn’t please you,
    a flawless performance is nothing to you.
I learned God-worship
    when my pride was shattered.
Heart-shattered lives ready for love
    don’t for a moment escape God’s notice. (Psalm 51:16-17 MSG)

I love Eugene Peterson’s translation of verse seventeen because I truly believe that a heart must be shattered before a life is ready for love. A heart-shattered life can no longer go through the motions, and God’s notice is captured in such a life.

A shattered heart cannot simply be pulled together. Appearance doesn’t matter to one looking at a heart in pieces. My heart has been shattered and scattered many times, and I’ve vainly tried to put together that which only God can repair. He knows that going through the motions won’t help a shattered heart, and that’s why He isn’t pleased. He wants whole hearts for His children, and He knows pride must also be shattered before He can begin the work only He can do.

Psalm 51 has long been a favorite of mine, and I turn to it when I am hurting. David’s heart was shattered, and his pride was in pieces on the ground when he wrote this beautiful song. God heard his plea, and he hears mine when I come to a place of repentance and confession. The world provides easy answers for shattered hearts and provides many ways to go through the motions, but God will not give even a flawless performance His attention.

God is struck by a heart-shattered life that is ready to love. His repairs that which is irreparable, and that changes everything. The world says sweep the pieces under the rug and don’t make that mistake again. It also says to get even. God says give me those precious pieces to Me and let My Son’s perfect love give you a fresh start and a new heart.

Photo Credit: Hive Resources

Photo Credit: Hive Resources