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 🙂

 

 

 

Entitled or Enlightened

There is a world of difference between entitlement and enlightenment. I hear a great deal about entitlement from miserable people. It seems entitlement is the source of all society’s ills. Some say the poor are entitled while others put the same label on the wealthy. Entitlement is an equal opportunity enabler that attaches itself to anyone looking for what they believe they deserve.

When it comes to getting what I deserve, I thank God each day that I do not. I’ve learned to end my prayers with, “Please don’t give me what I want, Lord. Give me what you want for me and let the desires of your heart become the desires of mine.” That brings balance and peace and takes me out of my little world. It is the first step to enlightenment.

Enlightenment allows me to see my desires in a new light. Christ’s precious love changes the direction of my heart by allowing me to see myself as God sees me, and that opens up a new way of living and loving. Enlightenment looks outside of self to a world larger than I can imagine on my own. God’s enlightenment brings peace in turmoil and joy in troubled times because I know He is always with me.

Entitlement turns my attention inward. I deserve my piece of the pie and my time in the lamplight. That leads to violence and despair because I will never have or be enough. I will begin to want what others have, and I will do what I have to do to get it. The vicious cycle of violence will continue as long as I allow entitlement to have its way. I want my way; we all do, and that is why the world is the way it is. I point fingers at those who have different ideas of entitlement, and that polarizes and perpetuates the never-ending cycle.

Christ breaks the cycle of entitlement and brings a new world of enlightenment to all who allow His precious love to transform them. It isn’t easy to let go of entitlement, and no one knows that better than Christ. He laid aside His crown and became a helpless newborn to bring the light of His Father’s love to a world spinning out of control. He knew where the cycle led, and he knows it still leads there today. Christ will not force His enlightenment on the world because He knows force and enlightenment cannot exist together.

Entitlement forms alliances, and alliances become groups. Groups carry banners and spout venom at those who have a different form of entitlement. Their entitlement becomes a right to believe or do whatever suits the group. Enlightenment fades away when individuals become a faceless mob in a never-ending, hostile takeover. Christ offers a different way to live and relate. It isn’t easy to leave groups because there is a safety in anonymity, but Christ knows the heart and soul is lost in a mob. He stepped away from the mob in a radical move that shook and shifted the very foundation of this world so I could share the enlightening power of His love.

I can have my piece of the pie, or I can have the peace Christ offers. It is, and always will be, my choice. I don’t always make the right choice, but I feel the beautiful difference when I do. When my heart is balanced by Christ’s precious love, the world stops spinning around me. I may not always enjoy or understand God’s spin on things, but I’m a lot less dizzy when I come to the still place of peace His Son’s love offers.

Defining Moments

I am looking prayerfully at the defining moments in my life, and that’s helping me make sense of my journey. I have a penchant for paths that offer safety and allow me to hide. I grew up on a street that led to another right before it ended mysteriously. The dead end was clearly marked with a caution sign, but I couldn’t resist sneaking peaks at the old Victorian house falling apart in the midst of what had once been an impressive yard. Rumors were that the house was haunted, and the woman who lived there was a witch.

Mrs. Norton certainly looked like a witch with her long nails, crazy hair, tattered clothing, strange hat, and heavy make-up. My youngest sister and I loved to go down to look at her house and went inside once when she asked if we wanted a book. The inside of the house was in worse shape than the outside. Holes punctuated a floor completely covered with books, papers, and boxes piled high. Mrs. Norton was hiding from the world, and part of my heart could relate to her plight.

I didn’t know she was a former teacher who decided to retreat from society when her husband died, but I connected to her unhindered spirit and her fear of the world. She talked and sang when she walked up and down the street to get what she needed from the world, but she stayed hidden away the rest of the time. Some of the neighborhood kids made fun of her, but she never seemed to notice. I guess her years in the classroom helped in that regard.

A part of me envied Mrs. Norton’s freedom. She or her house never scared me, but I never went back for another visit. My sister and I endured a harsh scrubbing and a a long lecture when we arrived home, and Mama promised to tell daddy if we ever went back. It was Mama’s fear that kept me from returning to Mrs. Norton’s house. I didn’t want to scare my mama; like me, she was scared enough.

There are defining moments in every life that lead to dead ends, open roads, busy highways, and ditches. I’m learning my heart will only thrive where God’s love intersects with His world. Christ’s precious love abides in the center of a very busy intersection. In the world, intersections are not places to dwell; they are places to rush through or avoid when possible. Walking in God’s kingdom gives intersections and dead ends new meaning.

I am not always comfortable in the intersection, but I know I will become more comfortable as I come nearer the center where there is but one definition of who I am and Who God Is. In that beautiful moment when the journey takes its final turn, there will no longer be any doubts about direction. Until then, I know God wants His children to come together and love as His Son loves. When that happens, the journey will have new meaning and direction will be defined as never before.

The Center

Shall We Dance?

Those who know me, know I love to dance. I’ve always loved dancing and secretly dreamed of being a dancer when I was young. I love my Zumba classes because they satisfy my soul and allow me to be the dancer of my dreams for a few hours each week.

God always surprises me with His teaching methods, but this morning I had to laugh when He used the salsa to get my attention. So often, I take a step forward and immediately take one back. I step toward to the right and fall into the law, then shift to the left and find myself in the midst of license. As I was praying this morning about my frustration in going forward, stepping back, heading left, and then right, I heard salsa music. I was very serious about my situation, but God knew a little levity would lighten the load and get His point across effectively.

Salsa is my favorite dance. The Latin rhythms resonate with my heart, soul, spirit, and body. The side-to-side and front-to-back movements are very natural to me. God used those movements to teach an important lesson. He showed me that dancing is okay as long as I keep coming back to the center.

I have a friend who created an intersection model to describe where “the intervention of God meets the involvement of the person.” (John A. Tagliarini) God used his model to show me how my dance moves were as natural on the journey as they are on the dance floor. I’ve always seen the path God has in mind as a line, a street, a straight and narrow path stretching into the horizon. This morning, I realized the journey is more like dancing in the intersection. God’s intervention and human involvement meet beautifully in the intersection. It is where we find the image of God in our own hearts. Truth is found in the intersection. Christ is the heart of the intersection. The model helped me see that the Way isn’t a road; it is an intersection. I’m not expected to keep trudging along; I’m expected to find my way to the center and keep dancing!

I suppose I will dance around the intersection as long as I’m in this world, but I pray God will help me find and stay in the sweet center where Christ’s precious love enables me see myself and others as He does. The intersection is busy and messy, so it’s safer to find a place to hide in the corners far away from the center; but God knows that will never satisfy my heart. Salsa moves always come back to the center and so will the steps on my journey if I let God lead. God made it clear that He isn’t going to move from the center. If I want to dance with Him and love as Christ loves, I’ll have to get in the center too.

I Love Salsa

Carrying the Wrong Cross

I was brought up believing that carrying my cross was accepting the ailments and heartbreaks in life and drudging forward. I shake my head and sigh when I think of the time between my old and new testaments. Jesus carried His cross, and I must carry mine. He loved and trusted God with all His heart, mind, soul, and strength. Crosses are about obedience and trust, and no one understands that better than Jesus.

A large crowd was following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.

“But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!’

“Or what king would go to war against another king without first sitting down with his counselors to discuss whether his army of 10,000 could defeat the 20,000 soldiers marching against him? And if he can’t, he will send a delegation to discuss terms of peace while the enemy is still far away. So you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own.

“Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again? Flavorless salt is good neither for the soil nor for the manure pile. It is thrown away. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!” (Luke 14:25-35 NLT)

Christ didn’t have to take up His cross and carry it. He chose to. He didn’t have to die. He chose to. Obedience is up to me; it’s my cross. I used to think I had to save others. Again, I’m shaking my head in disbelief. Trying to carry Christ’s cross instead of my own left me depleted and discouraged. Carrying the wrong cross is a common problem among Christ’s followers, and it leads to frustration and violence.

An older gentleman told me last week that Christians were going to have to start fighting. I reminded him that the Crusades didn’t go well. He insisted that we had to do something about muslims in our country. He is a good man at heart, so I was surprised by his words. I was disappointed that he thought I would appreciate his ideas of violence toward muslims. When we try to take up Christ’s cross, frustration leads to anger and violence.

I don’t want to be a flavorless follower, and I don’t want to join an angry mob. Jesus was not on either end of that spectrum. His love was at the center of His cross, and His love must be at the center of mine. It is up to me to obey God, but I cannot do that on my own. Christ’s precious love keeps my heart and my walk centered and focused upon God’s love. I didn’t hear that love in the conversation last week, but I hear it in His words.

The cost of carrying my cross is giving up my need to carry Christ’s cross and obeying when I’m not sure where He is leading me. Discipleship is never easy, but it isn’t as hard as carrying Christ’s cross for Him. He already carried His cross, so I only need to worry about carrying mine, and He will help me with that.

Help

 


Possessing Perfection

Paul pleads with the Philippians to stay focused and not forget the progress they have made. He shares his desire to press on in hopes they will do the same. He knows he won’t reach perfection until he is with Christ, but that doesn’t stop him from reaching for it. Paul wants “to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead.” So do I, but before I can experience a resurrection, I have to die to self.

I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead! I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.  No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. But we must hold on to the progress we have already made. (Philippians 3:10-16 NLT)

Paul sees the progress made by the Philippians slipping away in the midst of arguments. Possessing perfection is not the goal; pressing in the direction of Christ is. Following Jesus is about transformation, and that means becoming spiritually mature. Growing up. Holiness is the goal, and that does not mean perfection. The word  translated as ‘holy’ means maturity, ripeness, or readiness in Greek. Christ wants us to be ripe, not perfect.

Those who follow Christ argue over the inane. I can give myself a different name, adhere to a different doctrine, try a new denomination,  and take pride in my piety or my mess. It doesn’t matter which end of the spectrum I come from, I still must press toward Christ’s love. Perfection is in His precious love. It possesses my heart in a powerful way that makes me want to love as He loves.

Christ is perfect so I don’t have to be. God is a loving Father who loves His children and wants them to grow in His Son’s precious love. That’s as perfect as it gets in this world.

Photo Credit: Anne Bradshaw
Photo Credit: Anne Bradshaw

At Home With Family

Ephesians makes me feel at home with God. I am His own child and joint heir to an inheritance I cannot begin to imagine. I hear powerful words of encouragement in 3:17-21.

“Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. 

Now all glory to God, who is able through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen” (NASB)

Knowing Christ feels at home in my heart changes the way I love and live. If Christ were coming for a visit, I would be in a dither trying to get everything ready for Him. If I see Him as family at home in my heart, I can relax and enjoy the oneness and comfort family affords. With family, I can be myself. It changes the way I see God and myself when I come to the understanding that He is family.

When my roots reach deeply into God’s love, I find a strength and acceptance I cannot describe. I find peace and love and grace opening my heart to embrace that love. I can’t reach the end of His love because there is no end in any direction I go. I know I will not fully understand Christ’s love until I am with Him in heaven, but I will have a deeper fullness of life if I stretch my faith and allow my heart to explore the vastness of His precious love. Nothing strengthens the heart as effectively as a loving family, and Christ makes that possible for everyone who yearns to be loved and embraced as they are.

God accomplishes infinitely more than I can ask, think, or imagine if I allow Him to make His home in my heart. Love gets wider, longer, and deeper in my own heart as Christ tears down the walls and adds on to my heart in a powerful way. He gives me room to relax and remember who I am. I am God’s daughter, and He delights in me! When I think of Christ being at home in my heart, it makes me smile and treat Him like a big Brother. I believe He likes that better than being treated like a visitor or a marble statue.

Nothing is sweeter than the cozy feeling of being at home with my family. My son and his family have been gone for a few days, and I’ve missed my little granddaughters so very much. The house is clean; the laundry is finished, and the refrigerator is full. I even rearranged the girls playroom. As I look around at the quiet, clean house, I long for the joyful noise of play and the mess that goes along with living with those I love. Jesus and I have had a lot of quiet time together, and it’s been wonderful; but we are both ready for the house to fill up with the love that makes this life worth living.

 

Mirage, Oasis, or Fount?

Living WaterMy heart always manages to stumble into the desert despite my best efforts. God woke me this morning with the image of water flowing in the desert because He knew my heart was thirsty and needed filling. I try to quench my heart’s thirst, but my efforts are like chasing mirages.

A mirage promises satisfaction, then quickly disappears when I get close. Mirages sidetrack my heart and keep it from the path God has in mind. Oxford defines a mirage as “something that appears real or possible but is not in fact so.” Even seasoned bedouins fall prey to the illusion of water created by heat in the desert. Heat turns a reflection into an enticing pool that gives false hope to a thirsty heart. Lust, like a mirage in the desert, promises satisfaction even when the facts say otherwise. Mirages give false hope, leaving me thirsty and feeling foolish.

An oasis is real and offers life-giving water to desert travelers. I thank God for the oases He has placed in my path; without them, my heart would never have survived its journey. It’s tempting to cling to an oasis, but I know I can’t. An oasis revives travelers in the desert, but it is not the destination. God knows leaving an oasis is painful and frightening, but He also knows I must move on if I am to get where He wants me to be.

I’ve been fooled by mirages and tempted by oases, but I am learning to have faith and rely upon the living water Christ offered the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:13-14 ”

“Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” (NASB)

Mirages don’t exist, and oases are only temporary. The best wells and springs in the world will eventually run dry, but the living water Christ offers will become in me a well of water springing up to eternal life if I with trust God with my heart. It’s hard to imagine my heart never being thirsty again, but that is exactly what Christ promises. I simply have to believe Him.

Christ’s love is not an illusion or a temporary fix, but I fear I have seen it as both. The image of an ever-flowing fountain of sweet spring water in the desert is a powerful one. Knowing Christ’s precious love can be forever flowing from a fountain in my own heart is more than I can imagine on my own. God will always let me chose where my heart will drink, but His Holy Spirit will hold my heart and help me drink deeply when I am ready to leave the mirages and oases and let His fountain run freely through my heart.

I Am My Father’s Child

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When I took this picture of my son and his daughter, I was thinking of God’s love for me. Lillyann was fussing terribly, so Tyler held her until she settled down. The word translated “repent” at the end of Job is a Hebrew word that describes the sigh of release that comes from a child who has stopped struggling. Christ’s story of the prodigal son reminds me of that sigh. The son is ready to beg his father for a job. He is hoping for a handout but receives an embrace that surprises all. We recently finished a four-part series on Luke 15 that caused me to pause and reflect on my own longing to be embraced.

“We have all of these influences in our lives by whom we long to be embraced, but we will never be fully accepted, fully embraced in this world. Father God says, ‘I want to embrace you for your being, not for your doing. Will you come home? Will you let me embrace you?'” (Jeff Helpman-“Scandalous Grace Part Four” October 12, 2014)

Christ’s vivid image of a father running with abandon toward a son he believed to be lost models God’s love for us. He didn’t care what others thought or whether his reaction was the right one or not. Love caused him to forget and forgive all and run into his son’s arms. I’ve always loved the story and often wished my own father had been able to love me the way the father in this story loves. God reminded me that my father ran down an embankment and jumped into a muddy lake with the same abandon when he kept me from drowning the summer I was five.

Daddy didn’t say, “I love you” or embrace me tenderly; but he loved me the best way he knew how. He did his best to prepare me for the rough hands of this world. He knew I wasn’t going to make it if I couldn’t pay attention, so he had to do something. He chose corporal punishment to get my attention, and it worked. My spirit was broken, but I learned to pay attention. I loved school and ending up teaching for thirty-three years. I had a special place in my heart for those who had a hard time staying focused because I understood their struggle. I wouldn’t recommend his method of teaching, but it did give me the discipline I needed for success.

I am my father’s child in many ways. He had an insatiable curiosity and loved to learn. I am very like him in that regard, and I see a lot of him in my son and his sweet daughters. I love my father, and I’m thankful I was able to tell him that before he died. We had a rocky relationship for many decades, but we became very close before the end of his journey. I was with him when he had his stroke, and my mother insisted that I take him to the hospital. As I watched him losing his grasp on reality, I held his hand and told him what I knew he needed to hear. It is the same thing my heavenly Father wants to hear. I told him that I knew he loved me. He relaxed, and I saw relief settle into his beautiful blue eyes. It was a turning point for both our hearts.

Fall has been a time of beautiful healing in many ways. I’ve looked back in love at how my heart was handled and come to see that it was handled the best way those holding it could handle it. That may not make sense to some, but it has helped me see that we all love differently and imperfectly. Christ’s precious love is perfect, but ours never will be. That doesn’t mean we can’t try to love as Christ loves. I believe it’s what the story of the prodigal son is all about.

I Wonder….

Wonder wakes my heart and directs my wandering mind. I love words, and wonder is a favorite of mine. The dictionary definition for the noun form reads, “a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.” The verb is to, “desire or be curious to know something.” 

God gives each of us the gift of curiosity. It is a thirst which drives us to His love. Jesus tells the woman at the well in John 4:14 that “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” (NASB) The woman was filled with wonder and wanted to understand something inexplicable. She was not satisfied with the  world’s water and knew in her heart there was something better. Christ’s words awoke her wonder.

The desire for something better, newer, bigger, faster, etc., is never-ending. Christ offers another way of living. He offers living water that creates a wellspring in our own hearts. Christ’s precious love doesn’t pass through us like all the other things we put into our bodies and minds in an attempt to quench a thirst only God can quench. We all know about thirst we can’t quench and hunger that will not go away. God knows the source of all yearning is a desire to be loved, and He also knows that satisfaction needs a never-ending source.

God doesn’t take away our thirst, but He  does offer to quench it once and for all. The old saying that you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink comes to mind when I read John 4. This woman’s thirst, like all of ours, comes from a deep need to be filled with something other than what the world has to offer.

No amount of water, food, sex, power, money, or drugs comes close to a drop of the living water Christ offers to the woman at the well. I can refuse or delay, or I can take a little taste and walk away; but if  I drink deeply, His love becomes a beautiful spring in my own heart. The choice is mine, and it always will be. God doesn’t force His love on others, and He doesn’t force others to love Him back. He knows unconditional love is the only thing that will satisfy. The wonder of the woman at the well is in all of us, and I’m thankful for that wonder because it brought me to a fountain of living water that changes the way I live and love.

I wander when I’m distracted or disturbed, but wonder always brings me back to His well. I hope I never lose the wide-eyed wonder that fills me with a desire to embrace His “beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, and inexplicable” love. I believe it’s what Jesus meant in Matthew 18:3 when He said, ““Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (NASB) Children have a natural sense of wonder until we destroy it. It would be a wonderful world indeed if we allowed children to help us find our wonder so we could find our way back to that fountain and drink deeply.