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 🙂

 

 

 

That Sweet By and By

Happily ever after used to be my battle cry.

I was sure I would see Jesus in that sweet by and by.

I couldn’t seem to find my dreams no matter how I tried,

So I began to drown inside the ocean I had cried.

 

Jesus never seemed to tire as He caught each falling tear.

I know He wished I’d let go of my paralyzing fear.

He made sure that the way to Him was always crystal clear,

But I put up my obstacles and would not let Him steer.

 

He bid me trust and promised that He’d never told a lie,

His precious love so much more than simply pie in the sky.

I loved Him more than anything and said that I would try,

But wondered if I had been wrong when I began to die.

 

I gave up the steering wheel and prepared myself to veer.

I let go of everything but decided to stay near.

His sweet loving word of comfort was all my heart could hear.

He showed me miles of faces, and I saw those I held dear.

 

Some were here and some in heaven, but all were filled with cheer,

When they saw I realized their love would always be near.

That sweet by and by is not in the sky; it’s always here.

The love I sought, already bought, by Someone very dear.

A Different Darkness

I love sleeping at my sister Linda’s house. I sleep ten hours and wake feeling great every time I visit. Many factors work together to create an environment perfect for sleeping, and my sister’s unconditional love is the biggest one. Another factor that intrigues me is the darkness. The room is void of light when the blinds are closed, and that is exactly what my body and mind need for a great night’s rest. Research shows I need lots of light during the day and darkness at night if I hope to achieve healthy melatonin levels and a circadian rhythm conducive to rest.

When my journey leads to a new path, I find myself in darkness. Fear normally comes as I leave my comfort zone. It’s like entering a tunnel with no end in sight. My heart underwent a big change a few weeks ago, and the path lead to unbearable darkness. I’ve never felt more alone or afraid in my life; I pleaded with God to find another way. He reminded me that He would never leave me alone and knew what was best for my heart.

God’s timing is always perfect, so I wasn’t surprised when the new path came as I was preparing to visit two of my sisters. God knows their love helps me find my balance. No one knows me like my sisters, and no one loves me the way they do. Their love is always great medicine for my body, soul, spirit, and heart. God also knows how much I love Topsail Island and how it affects my heart, so He made sure the weather was picture perfect the entire week I was there with my youngest sister Edie. The rhythm of the water rocked peace into my soul, and my sister loved me in a way that restored and renewed my heart.

I stopped at Linda’s house on the way to Topsail Island and again on the way home. God used the dark nights at Linda’s and the sunny shores at Edie’s to teach an important lesson. Darkness is different when fear is gone. Perfect love casts out fear, and that was so true during the ten days I spent with my sisters and God. I’ve come to the end of paths before, but I’ve never had the peace I had this time. My heart hurt, and I cried a lot of tears during those dark nights; but there was joy each morning, and I never once felt alone. As Lillyann would say, “God is always with us. Right Gigi?”

Right indeed little Lilly! God is always with us, and He knows exactly what we need. New paths are hard to start, but knowing God is there gives my heart the courage to move in a new direction. Living and loving will always require my heart to leave the familiar, but the darkness of a new path need not be fearful. My heart hasn’t adjusted completely to the new lighting, but its focus is upon the One who knows the way and assures me that I do not have to worry about what’s ahead. I only need to know Who I’m following. Christ’s precious love is a beautiful light in a dark tunnel, and it always will be. Sharing it with others makes the light even brighter, and that causes fear to flee and hope to surround in a way that changes the way I love.

Escape or Rescue?

Getting Off the Coaster

I was caught up in the roller coaster rescue last week because I’ve always been afraid of getting stuck on one. God used the image of riders hanging for five hours in a sharp turn far above the ground to help me see my heart was in a very similar predicament.

I can’t scream loudly enough to stop a roller coaster if I want off. I can easily catch the attention of the person controlling the Merry-Go-Round and get off; but the noise and excitement of a roller coaster drown out any pleas for help, so I’m stuck until the ride stops.

Five hours seems like a long time to be suspended in the air on a hot summer day, but God reminded me that it’s much worse for my heart to be left hanging by a thread. My heart broke when I heard Robin Williams committed suicide last night.  I imagine he simply saw it as a way to escape. I’ve been tempted to escape myself rather than allowing God to rescue my heart.

Pain will always come with living and loving, and no one understands that better than God. My heart stopped in a very dangerous curve this weekend, and I found myself screaming for the ride to stop and for someone to get me off the roller coaster. God bid me to take His hand and trust Him to rescue my heart.

What’s great for a carnival ride isn’t necessarily great for a heart. The word carnival gets its meaning from the 1540’s when folks would make merry before Lent. It literally means “flesh, farewell.” Staying on the coaster is staying in the flesh and enjoying the thrill that comes from all those unnatural highs and lows that come with the flesh. Spirit offers a very different high which lasts longer and is much stronger than the flesh. God made it clear that the ride He has in mind for my heart is much better than anything I can imagine on my own, and His rescues are always better than my escape plans.

I know it will take some time for my heart to make the transition God desires, but I also know His transformation will be just what my heart needs. While my heart heals, I plan to keep the promise He makes in Psalm 30:5 very near my heart.

“weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” NIV

 

No Greater Goal

Jesus spoke with authority, and that upsets those who place a lot of faith in their own authority. The Pharisees, Sadducees, religious teachers, political leaders, Zealots, and Essenes disagreed with Jesus differently, but they shared an unwillingness to give up their own authority. I have the same problem. That was not an easy lesson this week, but it was a very freeing one. We all have issues with authority at some level, and that causes us to miss the life God intends for us to live. Mark 1:21-28 says,

“They went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and began to teach. They were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, saying, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!” And Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!”  Throwing him into convulsions, the unclean spirit cried out with a loud voice and came out of him. They were all amazed, so that they debated among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” Immediately the news about Him spread everywhere into all the surrounding district of Galilee.” NASB

It’s easy to talk about God’s love and power as long as I don’t apply the lessons to my own heart. The unclean spirit in the demoniac knew exactly who Jesus was and what He was capable of doing. Shouldn’t I have the same knowledge of His power? I struggle with my issues, but I wouldn’t have to if I would relinquish my authority and believe in His. Why is that so hard to do? It may be because I’m comfortable with my issues. They are mine and define who I am. Letting God define me means I have to change who I am, and I’m not sure I’ll be comfortable with the new me.

God’s timing and ways always amaze me, but this week’s lessons have been so very powerful that I don’t know if I will ever stop shaking my head in amazement. In addition to Mark 1:21-28, I’ve been studying  David’s anointing in 1 Samuel 16:1-13. I would never put those scriptures together on my own, but God connected them in a powerful way. Tony W. Cartledge says in the Smyth & Helwys commentary on 1 Samuel,

‘The surprising truth about the spirit of God is that we do not do something to get it. We do not have to become more attractive or even more worthy. Our openness is enough. Our not knowing is enough. Our willingness is enough. The Bible makes it clear that God delights in surprising the world by doing great things through small people. We may never be anointed with royal oil, as was David, but we can be anointed by the spirit of God. We can look forward to a future that is filled with unknown opportunities for life and service and joy. We can become the persons God wants us to be; there is no greater goal in this life.”

I was struck by his last statement. No greater goal in this life!! Giving up my authority and letting God have authority isn’t easy or we would all be doing it. The demoniac and David had something important in common; they trusted God. They both learned that God saw them in a way they could not imagine on their own. They trusted His authority, and it made an amazing difference in their lives. God will do the same for all of us.

I’m not sure what I had in mind when I thought of unclean spirits, but I think it was the stuff of horror movies that didn’t apply to me. When I realized evil spirits are my need to control, my anger, my insecurity, my lack of trust, my bitterness, etc…I was taken aback. Jesus has authority over all my issues if I will acknowledge and trust His authority and let go of mine. There is a degree of comfort in the known evil. When I let go of my issues, God will redefine me. God’s definitions of the demoniac and David were not the same as the ones they or the people in their lives had. The transformations God has in mind will always be a shock. Perhaps that’s why I hesitate to let go of those old habits and issues.

Whatever the reasons for my hesitating and complicating when it comes to my issues and authority, they pale when compared to Christ’s authority and His precious love. Together, they make for an amazing transformation. I feel the peace, love, joy, gratitude, and grace God has in mind when I surrender my authority and embrace His. Seeing those pesky issues as demons helps me call on Christ to help rid my heart of them. The Wizard of Oz theme continued into this week; God used images of those flying monkeys to make me smile and realize that I can’t handle my issues on my own. Christ already knew that; He was simply waiting for me to ask for help. It is something I must do daily if I am to live the life He desires. There is a place over the rainbow, and it doesn’t have to stay in a lullaby. I can enjoy its peace here and now. The happy ending is knowing God’s transformation will allow me to be who he wants me to be. There truly is no greater goal than that.

From The Wizard of Oz
From The Wizard of Oz

Hearts and Hairdos

The lesson this week was about moving on, but I’ve had a hard time with it. As I listened to an elderly lady fret about her new hair length and how to style it, I smiled and realized I was having the same trepidation about my heart she was having with her hair. Once again, God used a very vivid example to get His point across.

As I pulled in to the beauty salon this morning, I sighed because I saw the car of an elderly lady who fusses continuously and disrupts the peace I prefer when going to the salon. She was irritated by my presence and said, “Is she at ten?” I told her I came early because I love to write while I wait. I quickly settled in the corner of the waiting area and listened as she continued to argue with Greg about which curling iron he should use. She wanted longer hair because it was stylish, but she wanted to style it the same way she did when it was short.

Greg patiently explained the problem with using the old tools and styling with her new hairdo. She was frustrated, frazzled, and determined to convince him to do things her way. I was hidden from view, grinning broadly, and enjoying their exchange until I realized God was showing me how I sounded to Him. That sobered and humbled me. I’m glad God loves me unconditionally, and I’m very happy He uses humor to teach. I want my heart to move on, and I want to go where God wants me; but I want things to stay just as they are while I do.

My heart went out to the feisty little woman who always knows best and insists things be done her way. Greg used the curling iron he knew would work and explained why. Last week’s visit was obviously a fiasco that he didn’t intend to repeat. The resulting style was great, and even she had to concede that he had been right. I knew that wasn’t easy for her, but it enabled her to move on, albeit a tiny step. God showed me that I have to do the same thing, trusting Him to know what He is doing.

I marveled at this little woman as she presumed to know more about styling hair than her hairdresser, but I marvel more at the fact that I presume to know more about my heart that the One Who created it and loves me more than I can imagine. Oh well, lesson learned. This lady isn’t the one in the salon this morning, but her expression is the one I had when I realized the lesson was on me this morning!! My heart needed changing even more than that fiery little woman’s hairdo. We both left with a smile on our face, and I know from teaching that’s the best way for a student to leave the classroom 🙂

Hearts and Hairdos

The Better Gift

In Romans 1:1-7, Paul calls himself “a devoted slave.” While Roman society looked down upon slaves, it was an honor to be called a slave of God in the Old Testament. It was, is, and always will be a gift to serve Him.

I, Paul, am a devoted slave of Jesus Christ on assignment, authorized as an apostle to proclaim God’s words and acts. I write this letter to all the believers in Rome, God’s friends. The sacred writings contain preliminary reports by the prophets on God’s Son. His descent from David roots him in history; his unique identity as Son of God was shown by the Spirit when Jesus was raised from the dead, setting him apart as the Messiah, our Master. Through him we received both the generous gift of his life and the urgent task of passing it on to others who receive it by entering into obedient trust in Jesus. You are who you are through this gift and call of Jesus Christ! And I greet you now with all the generosity of God our Father and our Master Jesus, the Messiah.” (The Message)

Verses three and four are a chorus familiar to Paul’s audience. He has a lot to sing about, and so do I. Paul puts his focus upon God’s glory shown in Jesus Christ. When I do the same, I find the joy he has. The chorus reminds me of the sweet gift of Immanuel. It is “the generous gift of his life and the urgent task of passing it on to others who receive it by entering into obedient trust in Jesus.” The key words are “obedient trust.” I must have it or I cannot pass His gift along. Entering into obedience is what receiving His gift is all about. His life is a very generous gift that I take for granted far too often.

I am who I am through His generous gift and His call. Paul knew we are all called by Christ. Our talents are different, but we can receive and pass along His gift to others. In a season that celebrates His birth, let’s put our attention and energy toward His gift and not worry so much about all the other gifts we get and give in the coming week. It’s easy to get lost in all those brightly colored packages and forget that God has a better gift in mind.

Last week, I had my heart set on something I really wanted and was disappointed when I didn’t get it. I found that God had something much better in mind. Even little Lillyann knows to ask Santa Claus for what he thinks is best. The lessons this week reminded me to do the same with God. I had a little trinket and a special moment in mind, but He gave me a beautiful tapestry that was more than I could have imagined on my own. Spoiled children get just what they want, and I’m sure they always will. I learned this week to thank God for not giving me what I want and to let Him give me what He knows is best for me. There is a reason spoiled children are never happy. They don’t know what they want. I am the same way when I don’t let go of my selfish wants and trust God to give the better gift He has for me.

Christmas Gifts

Wearying God

As I’ve read Isaiah 7:10-17 this week, I’ve wondered how it applies to me.

“Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test. Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? 

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.” NASB

Like Ahaz, I weary God much the same way I weary myself and others when I worry. God tells Ahaz to ask for anything, but he refuses to test God. I can relate. I want God to back me up and give me what I want, but I don’t want to test Him. That tests Him and others in a worse way than asking for the moon would. God can give me the moon and just might if I asked Him for it, but like Ahaz, I could never do that.

Isaiah’s description of Christ hits upon holiness, a state of maturity that trusts without having to have proof. I want a sign and so does Ahaz, but that isn’t the way God works. He must grow weary just as parents do during this time of year when children test their patience. God is perfect, and I know suggesting He can be wearied is unrealistic. He isn’t like us, thank God! He is a patient Father who bears all things because that’s what love does.

Isaiah tells Ahaz that God will give him a sign and goes on to foretell the coming of Christ. God has given me the same sign as I await Christ’s Second Coming. Until then, I pray I will look to Immanuel for the reassurance I need when I worry. If I wait for His return with a heart focused upon the good, I won’t have to worry about getting weary, making other people weary, or wearying God.

Children grow weary waiting out this interminable week before Christmas. Parents grow weary wondering how they will ever finish all they have to do in such a short time. Wouldn’t it be great if we stopped worrying and let our hearts be filled with the sweet knowledge that God has a plan, and it’s working out wonderfully without our worrying.

“God for Good!”

Psalm 146:3-10 is a powerful reminder of where to put my trust. God never fails and is God for Good!

Don’t put your life in the hands of experts
    who know nothing of life, of salvation life.
Mere humans don’t have what it takes;
    when they die, their projects die with them.
Instead, get help from the God of Jacob,
    put your hope in God and know real blessing!
God made sky and soil,
    sea and all the fish in it.
He always does what he says—
    he defends the wronged,
    he feeds the hungry.
God frees prisoners—
    he gives sight to the blind,
    he lifts up the fallen.
God loves good people, protects strangers,
    takes the side of orphans and widows,
    but makes short work of the wicked.

God’s in charge—always.
    Zion’s God is God for good!
    Hallelujah! (The Message)

The things and people of this world are wonderful, but my trust must be in God. He sees what I cannot and knows His creation better than anyone. Psalm 146 allows me to relax and remember that it is God’s world, and I am His daughter. I don’t have to do anything but love Him and those in my path. That’s more than enough to keep me occupied for as long as I’m here. There is sweet peace in knowing that I don’t have to do what only He can do.

Life gets frustrating when I think I have to do all and be all. God doesn’t need for me to be Him or defend Him, just trust Him and know that He is in charge now and always. He “is God for good!” That gives me hope and makes me want to shout Hallelujah! along with the psalmist who penned this beautiful song.