What’s different about Easter this year?

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This year, Easter feels very different.

When I was a little girl, it was about fancy dresses and how much a of twirl they could spin. It was about The Bunny, coloring eggs and photographs my mom used to make us take in front of the best flowering bush in our yard.

It was about Jesus in a white robe, an empty tomb and angels on a flannel board.

It was about going to church, beautiful old-school corsages for Mom and Grandma, a huge ham dinner and the adults napping in the afternoon. I remember being bored out of my mind having to play “quietly” by myself so my mom (a hard-working, single parent) could take a much needed rest at our grandparents’ home.

Fast forward and I’m a young, married adult. Easter was still about a new dress, going to church, a huge ham dinner and a lazy afternoon basking in the fullness of the meal.

Over the next six years our three children were born and Easter reverted back to childhood traditions of colored eggs, Easter baskets, The Bunny, the huge ham dinner, a fancy dress with a twirly skirt for our baby girl and matching outfits for our boys.

It was the only day, apart from Christmas, that we could convince our oldest son to wear formal clothes.

Easter was about photographs taken in the prettiest spot in our yard, new recipes to try out for the big meal, and of course a backyard egg hunt.

We added more traditions to an already full plate: Resurrection Eggs, several picture books about the real meaning of Easter, making Resurrection cookies, and letting the kids have a ball decorating an Easter cake, which varied every year from an empty tomb to a head bust of The Bunny, Jello eggs, watching Passion of the Christ as a family and attending the Tenebrae service at our church on Good Friday.

As a mom, I confess, Easter became a scrap-booking event.

I was more caught up in the hoopla, bells and whistles of Easter than why we were really celebrating it.

One year, it happened…the worst thing EVER! It rained! The yard was too wet for photos and egg hunts. The house was dark from looming, full clouds. I remember thinking, “No! It can’t rain on Easter. You know, the empty tomb on a glorious morning. What about the pastel dresses and flowers posed for pictures? Easter is ruined.”

Wow.

I get it. As a mom who loves squeezing out every possible moment of holiday fun, I was devastated that so many plans had to change and I. Couldn’t. Control. It.

This year, however, the advent of Easter has been radically different for me. Why? We still can’t wait for our family to come visit. We still plan to color eggs and have an egg hunt and enjoy a huge ham dinner. New yearly devotionals will be discovered in baskets for our teens.

Today, my girl and me will go buy her an Easter dress, even as an older teenager.

So what’s different?

The work God has done in my heart.

A heart that has lived through the highest of highs and lowest of lows in the past year. A heart that has been both tenderly held and drop-kicked to the ground. Love has been both celebrated and tested. Hope has shown up and has hid in the shadows. Joy has met us in the most unexpected places, but seemed nowhere to be found when I was searching desperately for it.

This past year, my faith has been put in a blender and what has poured out is one single thing that makes this Easter different than any other Easter I’ve lived –

Grace.

Grace has been the underdog that wins the battle for me.

Grace advocated for lost causes.

Grace believed in the impossible.

Grace strengthened the weak.

Grace fought for the voiceless.

Grace tended to wounds no one else can see.

Grace spoke sweet dreams over a restless body.

Grace talked a weary soul off the ledge.

Grace cared enough to speak the truth…in love.

Grace buffered my heart in the decisions and circumstances I didn’t want.

Grace held my hand in the decisions and circumstances that I wanted, but couldn’t have.

Grace has been the only thing to make sense in times when nothing else did.

Grace. Beautiful. Eternal. Grace.

When I have literally fought for loved ones to the gates of hell and back. When I have mourned and wept over loss. When I have felt like dying to myself in Christ was going to kill me. When I couldn’t come up with one stinkin’ reason to get out of bed. When I’ve been pummeled by anxiety over situations out of my control. When I’ve been so furious I could spit nails…

Grace reminded me the nails have already been used – on the cross.

Jesus, grace personified, willingly took everything life could throw at me, and everything I could throw back, and diffused the bomb of my ticking heart. He replaced all the ash of this past year with mercy and hope and love that this world cannot take away.

I continually stay in an attitude of awe at the daily miracles He is doing to redeem this life. He is making a way in the wilderness one step at a time. He is providing streams in the desert one drop at a time.

I am grateful.

Grace has become my oxygen, my sustenance, my hope for the future and my reality for the day.

I am also happy to let Costco help cook Easter dinner and to put down the camera and enjoy the thrill of the day that came by way of grace because of Jesus.

These days I burst into spontaneous tears of joy because of grace and the Creator of it. I say to myself, “EEK! I’m becoming more like my mom who cried so easily and my mother-in-law who still does.” But, smiling through the tears, I get it.

When a heart truly, fully understands the need for grace, and accepts this free gift wholly into itself, the overflow of tears are of gratitude and thankfulness and joy. Unspeakable joy.

This Easter, Kristi has put down the plans. Let go of the expectations. And disbarred the bar that must be reached and exceeded over last Easter.

Instead, I’m lifting up hands to He who has the whole world in His hands – the beautiful and the ugly and every single moment in between.

Only when we really know that it is by grace we live, move and have our being can we really live. Only when we begin to accept how deep and wide Christ’s love for us is can we embrace it.

This Easter, join me in a new tradition – grace. Receive it and give it. Enjoy the beauty of it and behold the power of it.

It’s a free gift with purchase – our salvation purchased with the payment of Jesus’ own blood.

Pretty eggs, baskets full of surprises, and delectable side dishes all sound good, but they don’t make or break Easter. Rain or shine, warm or cold, celebrating Easter is celebrating Jesus, God’s grace, and forgiveness that comes through salvation.

More than the momentary delight of matching outfits, finding the last egg, or colorful jelly beans, love, joy, peace, and grace are the sweetest gifts we get to experience on Easter and every day of the year.

God has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. ~ 2 Timothy 1:9-10

 

 

 

 

Culinary Quest #17 – Bacon & tomato pasta salad

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Recently I visited Fresh Market, a high-end grocery store. They are known for their fresh products, including a delicious deli.

I purchased a small cup of their bacon & tomato pasta salad and liked it. However, I found it needed a few tweaks, so below is my version of their pasta salad.

The tweaks: Store-bought salads are mostly pasta (because it’s cheaper and goes farther). I prefer to increase the other ingredients to reduce bad carbs, increase good cards and increase protein. I also added a couple of ingredients that bring natural sweetness (peas) and a warm, nutty flavor (pine nuts) to this light dish. I also substituted white wine vinegar for balsamic vinegar because it gives just an extra spark of fruity bite that regular wine vinegar doesn’t offer.

We rarely use mayonnaise in our home and most times the jar expires before we can finish it. But, inching closer to summer, sometimes mayo adds a creamy texture to pasta salads that oils simply can’t do.

This dish is served up just in time for Easter brunch, a lazy Saturday (as in our family’s case today :)), lunchboxes for work or school, parties, or a savory snack. Enjoy!

Bacon & Tomato Pasta Salad

Ingredients:

1# boxed pasta; cooked al dente, drained (any kind will work, we had rigatoni on hand)

2 pkgs thick-cut bacon; cooked & chopped

2c green onions; chopped (1 bunch)

1 1/2c celery (approx 4 stalks); chopped

2 pints grape tomatoes; cut in halves

1c pine nuts

2c frozen peas (use them straight out of the freezer)

1t salt

1/2t pepper

1T + 1t white balsamic vinegar

3/4c – 1c mayo (for this recipe I used Duke’s regular mayo); measure to preference

Directions:

Bake bacon in oven at 375 for about 30-45 minutes until done.

While bacon is baking, boil pasta (add salt to pot) for 12-14 minutes.

While both of those are rockin’ & rollin’ prepare remaining ingredients and put them in a large bowl.

Add cooked bacon.

While pasta is still slightly warm, mix into bowl.

Store in fridge. That’s it! 🙂

 

What salvation looks like

As we walk through this Holy Week and approach Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, my thoughts stay on Christ and His sacrifice for us. Recently, I saw two videos I cannot get out of my heart. I watched them a few times, but couldn’t wrap my head around why I was so drawn to them.

One night, out of nowhere, I had an epiphany. These two videos are a visual picture of what Christ has done in my life.

Click here and select “Fiona’s story” (top right video in the library) and “Miley’s story” (top left video in the library – also the cover story) and watch these two short, 3.5 & 4 minute videos – warning, they are not what you may expect.

When they found Fiona, she was living in a pile of garbage in an abandoned building. Blind. Terrified. Helpless. Voiceless. Paralyzed in her circumstance. Miley was also living in garbage – literally, a garbage dump. Sick. Hurting. Weak. Dazed.

The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears. Psalm 18:4-6

In each story, the rescuers were gentle and approached with care. They understood these dogs were in crisis and what they needed was immediate help. For one dog, it was food. For the other, it was being shaved and bathed to escape the unrelenting flea infestation. Both needed medical help.

Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me. Psalm 31:2 

In both cases, the rescuer went to where they were. These rescuers didn’t wait for Miley and Fiona to find them, they went looking for these precious dogs. They weren’t afraid or disgusted at where they found them. Their hearts were moved to help.

The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The LORD protects the simplehearted; when I was in great need, he saved me. Psalm 116:5-6

One thing about Miley’s story that reminds me so much of God, our Redeemer, is that when Miley knew nothing else but to return to the filthy pillow among the heap of garbage, her rescuer, realizing what she was doing, kindly said, “No, no, no, no we’re not sitting down again.” He cared enough about her to know that the life she had known was not good for her. In fact, it was dangerous and led to imminent death. He knew that if she sat back down, returning to her life, it may be the last time she would ever get up.

Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. Psalm 103:2-5

His compassion for Miley was heard in his expressions about her condition.

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

He offered her food from his hand. He wasn’t afraid to touch her and let her touch him.

 My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me. Psalm 63:8

This rescuer personally led her out of her circumstance. He walked her out of one life and into another, better one, waiting – a life that she didn’t even know existed.

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul. Psalm 23:1-3

He didn’t mind getting messy – not him or his nice, clean car. He welcomed her into his car, and watching her circle and settle, my heart skipped a beat as it had been so long since she felt something so soft. Clean. Safe.

He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. Psalm 91:4

 He got her the help she needed.

Lord, you know the hopes of the helpless. Surely you will hear their cries and comfort them. Psalm 10;17

He understood Miley was exhausted in every way, and needed time to heal and rest. She could do so knowing she was finally safe. She could let her guard down and heal.

My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He who watches over you will not slumber nor sleep; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore. Psalm 121:2-3,8

He continued to feed her and care for her while she healed.

The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Psalm 9:9

The rescuer had earned her trust and forever gratitude and Miley came to a place where she could show him just how much he came to mean to her.

My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you— I whom you have delivered. Psalm 71:23

As her strength grew and wounds mended, the trust she gained from the relationship with her rescuer gave her confidence to comfort another dog in crisis. These two became quick friends – finding comfort and friendship birthed out of two dogs who were once alone, now bonded forever.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

For Fiona, when they realized she was blind, they let her smell them. They, also, were not too clean or too proud to go to the hard places to rescue her. Fiona sat speechless, helpless, as they reassured her by gently petting her head.

I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. Psalm 27:13-14

She was terrified. Panicked. She wanted to run away, but had nowhere to go and no sight to lead her there. The only solution was to scoop her up in their arms and carry her – away from her sightless prison of garbage and a malnutrition-ravaged world. The only world she knew.

…I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. Isaiah 46:4

 They took her into their space, not caring about the fleas and whatever else could soil their clean bathroom.

Praise the Lord; praise God our savior! For each day he carries us in his arms. Our God is a God who saves! The Sovereign Lord rescues us from death. Psalm 68:19-20

They carefully shaved her matted, dirty, flea-ridden fur coat and gave her a bath that she visibly enjoyed. She was clean. So clean that who knew this grey dog was actually white!

He gives a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. Isaiah 64:3 

They got her the medical help she needed and she received sight back in one eye!  Just imagine seeing again. And, seeing a world she didn’t know existed. Beautiful. Loving. Safe.

The LORD gives sight to the blind. Psalm 146:8

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:12

The footage of her riding home from the vet’s looking out the window makes my heart overflow. A car ride with her rescuer. The sunlight shining on her skin and in her eyes.  Imagine what she must have been thinking. Feeling.

Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the LORD has been good to you. For you, O LORD, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the LORD in the land of the living. Psalm 116:7-9

Her rescuer fed her by hand. Not afraid or too good to touch and be touched by Fiona. They gave her a safe place to sleep. Heal. Rest.

I lie down and sleep; I awake again, because the LORD sustains me. Psalm 3:5 

Watching her run, pounce and play was so cool. Moreover, watching her rest in her rescuer’s arms, leaning against his chest in total peace and contentment, there’s nothing else like it.

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. Psalm 62:5-6

She was adopted! Never again homeless. Never again alone. Never again hungry or thirsty.

(Jesus said) Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:28

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. Psalm 107:8-9

Combine these two stories and you’ve just watched my story of Christ’s salvation and God’s grace. As images of these dogs’ stories flash through my mind, I am reminded of where God found me and how He rescued me. I feel His mercy, love and compassion all over again. I feel His strong arms and determined heart to not abandon me. I feel His desire to call me His daughter.

All of this was only made possible through the sacrifice Christ gave for us and our sins on the cross. These dogs were victims for sure and endured terrible circumstances under life’s plight. I can relate. If your story looks like mine, where God found me was at the cost of other people’s decisions and choices, as well as being caught in the middle of circumstances beyond anyone’s control.

However, all people are guilty of sin and I came to a place where I had to own mine. Even one sin is enough for eternal separation from God. Not because God is an angry, invisible entity that sits and waits to smite us in our wrong-doing with lightning bolts and curses – getting some sick and sadistic pleasure out of watching us toil and suffer, but because He is holy. Holiness cannot share space with sin. There is a great divide between God and us, and that divide is our sin. We need a Savior.

If you can relate to Miley or Fiona, and you want to be rescued, God is looking for you. In fact, He already knows exactly where you are. He is there with you and His hand is reaching out to you. Will you take it?

Through accepting Christ as your Lord and Savior, you can be reconciled to God once and for all. Talk to God – right where you are. Whatever your life looks like. He’s not afraid to get messy. We don’t need to clean up before approaching Him. His arms are strong enough to carry you. He knows the way to life. He is life. He will never abandon you. He loves you forever and always.

Talk to God. Tell Him what’s going on. Tell Him who you believe (if you truly believe) Christ is – Savior and Lord, God’s only Son who died on a cross and rose again so we can live forever with God. Tell Him you’re sorry for the sins you’ve done. Make intentional effort to stop doing them. However, try as we might, we will all continue to sin because we’re not perfect. But God’s grace and forgiveness is a never-ending well from which we can draw from for the rest of our lives when we seek Him. His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23). Commit your life to God and accept Christ’s free gift of salvation. Tell Him in your own words. He’s listening.

This Easter, Miley and Fiona are beautiful visual reminders of the lengths God will go to rescue us. Christ went so far as to take on our sin for us, suffer unspeakable torture, and be heartbroken over feeling forsaken by God – all so we won’t ever have to.

Easter is so much richer than chocolate bunnies. It is so much more beautiful than colored eggs or tulips or dainty little dresses with skirts that twirl freely in circles. Easter is so much deeper than the celebration of Spring as our culture has embraced.

It is the celebration that Christ, in fact, suffered and died for us, and then rose again to prove every single last word, deed and prophecy is 100% true. He lives today and is preparing rooms in His Father’s house for all who believe.

I hope to see you there.

Questions? Feel free to ask. Questions are good. God isn’t afraid, intimidated, angered or annoyed by them. After all, He IS the answer.

“…But while (his son) was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Luke 15:20

 

 

 

Holy Week, Sunday

Wow.  We’ve waited all week for this day!  Hallelujah, Christ has risen!  I’m glad you are back.  Yesterday’s blog was a rough read, but we made it through some tough questions and the gruesome reality of Christ’s death.  Today, we get to celebrate our Risen Savior!  Read the Good News with me below…

Matthew 28: 1-6

1After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. 2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. 5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.
1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” 3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes, 11 but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”  “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 15 “Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”  Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”  16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”  She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

Jesus fulfilled every prophecy about Himself in the Old Testament.  He came.  He saw.  He conquered!  We now have the privilege of eternal life with Jesus -the Rock who totally rocks!!

Enjoy this day!  If you have accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, rest in the blessed assurance, the promise, of all of the good things to come in heaven where thieves cannot steal and rust and moths cannot destroy.  Both now and forever we will never again experience separation from God.  Our sins have been pardoned, and the debt we owed has been paid.  We are free to enjoy an abundant life!  More than what I could write today, I want to offer Jesus’ own prayer for you.  A prayer He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane right before He was arrested.  Sit back.  Breathe deeply.  Breathe in the words of our living, risen Christ.  His prayer for you and for me…

John 17: 20-26 – Jesus prayers for all believers

20 “My prayer is not for (the disciples) alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.   24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.   25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

Jesus – our King, Savior, Brother, Friend.  He is awesome, mighty and loving.  Commune with Him today.  Thank Him for His sacrifice.  Praise Him for His works.  Worship Him for who He is.  Remember your roots today.  As a believer, our lives are not our own.  We have been bought with a price; ransomed from death; saved from our sins.  As Paul wrote in Galatians…

Galatians 2:20 – I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

As we move about our day today and for all of our days to come, we need to think, speak and behave as those who really are citizens of another Kingdom; not of this world.  We should be different from the world, so others look at us and wonder what it is that we have – indeed it is Christ’s salvation that we should share.  I recall something Priscilla Shirer once said in a Bible study.  She quoted her father’s words, which are so fitting for today.  Remember who you are – and Whose you are.  

We carry the cross in our hearts and it should remain on our minds.  We have also been given the freedom to radically enjoy this life that God has planned for us.  Let’s thank our Lord Jesus for all He suffered through and for keeping His promise and rising from the dead.  He is the real deal.  He is King of kings and Lord of lords.  Praise Him!  Happy Easter! 🙂

<<Check out the companion songs to this blog on my Tunes page!>>

Holy Week, Saturday

Yesterday we reflected on the brutal murder of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Despite what the people thought they were accomplishing, let’s not forget Jesus offered Himself as a sacrifice.

John 10: 17-18, The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.

Today, Holy Week Saturday, there is a strange air stirring around us.  Like watching for a tornado or hurricane, the sense of impending doom is thick.  Eerie.  Deafeningly silent.  Because this time two thousand years ago, Christ was dead.

Before the clock ticks forward, I have to back up for a second.  People like to talk about who they would like to meet in Heaven.  I have a few people for sure.  One of them is lesser known than the other high-profile Bible names.  Enter Joseph of Arimathea.  He was rich.  He was a Jew and a member of the Sanhedrin; and he had become a disciple of Christ – a scandalous thing for a Jewish priest to do.

After Jesus died, Joseph approached Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body to give Him a proper burial on Friday night so as to avoid having His lifeless body hang there on the Sabbath.  Pilate granted his request.

Matthew 27: 59-60 – Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away.

When I get to Heaven, I would really like to talk to Joseph.  Think about it, he had accepted Christ as His Savior.  The same Savior whom He was about to bury.  How must it have felt to bury one’s Savior?  The cross was a gruesome scene.  Joseph himself took Jesus down off of it.  That must have been a horrific task.  After the 39 lashes, chunks of skin and meat must have fallen off of Jesus as Joseph navigated His body down from the cross.  How did Joseph release Jesus’ hands and feet from the nails driven through them that sealed them to the cross?  Did he drive the nails back through Jesus’ flesh?  Joseph surely was a bloody mess from handling Jesus’ body.  Did he wash his clothes and wear them again, or did He never wash or wear them again out of respect and as a reminder of what Jesus endured?  Hmm.

When Joseph wrapped Jesus’ body in the linen, his hands surely dug into the insides of Jesus that were exposed from the flogging.  Recall that Jesus was unrecognizable – His face deformed from the swelling of His beard being plucked out, flesh missing, His body covered in dirt and blood.  What was it like for Joseph to remove the crown of thorns that had been gouged into Jesus’ head?  There must have been some small sense of satisfaction to undo the ridicule that the people had done to Jesus.  A feeling of justice for a dead man.  Did some of the thorns stick in His head and need to be hand-plucked like a mother removes a splinter from her child – careful, tenderly, in love?  Are you  still reading?  Can we stomach it?  I don’t think I can find words to understand what Joseph was feeling.  Every drop of blood shed, every point of agony Jesus suffered was for Joseph – and for you and me.  Joseph must have felt like an accomplice to the crime, since it was his sin, like everyone else’s, that cost Jesus His innocent life.  I know I do.

Jesus was wrapped and placed in Joseph’s personal tomb.  A boulder was rolled in front of it, symbolizing the finality of it all.  Joseph went away.  Did he go home?  Did he go pray in the temple?  Did he take a long, sobering walk lamenting over the day’s events?  So many, many questions.

I’m not the only one with questions.  Think about the disciples.  Could they be more confused?  Bewildered?  They thought Jesus was going to rebuild Jerusalem and they would be right there as His biggest campaign supporters.  Jesus was gone and so was their hope, dreams, and both their religious and political vision.  The disciples were gone, too.  All of them dispersed in utter confusion and fear.  Were they next?  Would they be hunted down and killed for following Jesus?  Not now.  Not yet.

One person stands out among the fleeing disciples.  Peter.  Always full of words and a dose of emotion, Peter was zealous, impulsive and at times he didn’t know when to stop talking.  Such was not the case at this point.  In fact, he tried hard to blend in and not say a word.  This, the same man who cut off a solider’s ear in haste in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Now, Peter wasn’t doing the talking – unless it was to deny Christ, his Savior – just as Christ had told him he would do.

Luke 22:54-62

54 Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. 55 But when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. 56A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.” 57 But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said. 58 A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.”   “Man, I am not!” Peter replied. 59 About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.” 60 Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times. 62 And he went outside and wept bitterly.
Peter catches a lot of flack for his impulsive actions and chatty tongue.  However, are we much different?  How quick are we to disown Jesus when pushed into a corner?  Peer pressure at work, school, and in the neighborhood can tempt us to blend in like Peter tried to do.  Tough moral choices seep into the private parts of our hearts and whisper to us to follow the road more widely traveled.  Sometimes our faith is called out in front of many people when we are the only person against whatever everyone else is doing that we know is wrong.  Sometimes we are all alone, thinking no one knows but us what we are  contemplating.  Oh, but we are not alone.  God is watching.  He is not sitting on His throne with bulging bloodshot eyes, lightening bolt in hand – ready to strike us down.  He is cheering for us to make the right decision.  He sent His Holy Spirit to guide and direct us down the right path.  Jesus, our High Priest, always intercedes on our behalf.  We have all of Heaven watching and waiting and supporting us in the right thing!  So why do we feel so alone?  Like Peter.

The disciples didn’t understand Jesus’ teaching on raising the temple in three days.  They were looking with their physical eyes at physical structures.  No.  The temple was standing right in front of them – talking to them.  They knew not, and their hopes were dashed.

Have you ever felt that way?  Your world just fell apart, yet you are stuck living in it like being trapped in a house of mirrors.  I have.  What do we do?  When things are at their very worst, do we accept or deny Christ?  If we look deeper at Peter, later, when Jesus had risen and was reinstating Peter back into the fellowship, Peter said he loved Jesus.  I believed he loved Him all along.  In the moment when Peter was warming himself by the fire, he was scared half to death.  He was in shock, confused, angry, frustrated, and probably sick to his stomach after watching his beloved Savior be snatched in the night like a common criminal.  Still, Peter denied Christ.

Today, let us inventory our hearts and expose the areas that we have denied Christ.  For some, you have never accepted Him.  Will you today?  In the figurative hour of Christ’s death – His body lying in the tomb, do you believe?  After all, we know the ending of the book – Christ indeed rises from the dead.  And we will celebrate that tomorrow with thankful, joyful hearts!  But, if you have never accepted Him as your personal Savior, you will not be at the party.  Easter dinner may be enjoyed, perhaps the Easter Bunny will have hopped to your house, and there may be family to share the day with, but this is your time to make it personal – to make Jesus Christ personal to you and become your Savior.

Jesus says in Revelation 3:20Here I am!  I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

How?  Romans 10:9-13, That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Perhaps you need to be reinstated?  Once saved, we never lose our salvation.  Nothing and no one can take it away from us, but perhaps you have made decisions that have denied Christ and led your life away from Him.  Christ wants you back.  He misses you.  God and Jesus have never ever stopped loving you.  There is nothing we have done that is beyond their reach.  Today, right now, listen to the One who calls you by name.  Are you wondering if the choices you’ve made have been even too much for God to love you, want you?  Read below the words of Jesus Himself…

Luke 15: 17-24  (Read the entire parable in Luke 15: 11-32)

17 “When (the lost son) came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

Did you know that in their day, a rich father would have never ran like that?  It was undignified!  When we understand the context of the parable, we are even more amazed at God’s love for us.  God and Jesus are not concerned with human standards – they love you and want you to come back to the family.  Will you?  As a believer, you’ve never stopped being part of the family…but you’ve been terribly missed.  How can you be brought back?

1 John 1:9, If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Today, we wait in eager anticipation for tomorrow’s celebration.  It’s not too late to join the party.  I pray you will.

Let’s put ourselves in the disciples’ shoes throughout today, feeling the despair they felt.  But, let’s also set our hearts up for a massive celebration that tomorrow will bring – and in fact, already brought two thousand years ago.  I’m smiling already.  But for now, as we lay out church clothes and look over the Easter menu’s shopping list, let’s not overlook what this day was for the disciples and those who believed.  It is bittersweet indeed.

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Holy Week, Friday

Today is Good Friday. It’s hard to believe we are already at this point in 2012. This day signifies the darkest hour in Christ’s ministry on earth. Can we truly comprehend what He went through for us? I don’t think so.

Throughout the ages, Christ’s crucifixion has been painted, sketched, and sculpted. It has been expressed in a variety of artistic expressions such as Broadway plays, reenactments, movies, etc. Even in the most graphic of depictions, we still cannot grasp the true measure of horror He sustained out of love for us.

His beard was plucked out. He received 39 lashes (40 was considered a legal death) with tortuous whips and the like. He was humiliated, called names and spat upon. He was lied about, falsely testified against, denied by His people and abandoned by His friends. His hands and feet were nailed to wood. A crown of thorns was gouged into his head. He was stripped naked. He was laughed at, beaten, and beaten some more. He was plotted against, sold for 30 pieces of silver and traded for a murderous madman who won Christ’s innocent freedom. He was given an unfair trial, used as a political pawn, and His holy Kingship was made a public spectacle. He was offered bitter gall instead of water. He was forced to carry His own death contraption. He was denied food, sleep and fair representation. His clothes were gambled for, and He was sarcastically dared to save Himself. He was speared in His side. He was disrespected, despised, and dishonored. He neither fought back nor said a word in His own defense. He was mission-minded, solely focused on this purpose…obeying His Father and ransoming us with His blood.

These are only some of the agonies and sufferings Christ endured for us – you and me. How bad was it? So horrible that Jesus even asked God to allow Him to not to have to endure it. How loving and perfect is Jesus? He finished His request by submitting to God’s will despite knowing all that was about to take place.

Imagine what it must have looked like in the unseen realm. Picture the heavenly angels’ jaws agape as they watched helplessly on the sideline – just waiting for Jesus to give them the call to action. Picture the accuser and his minions cheering and jeering and mocking and taunting. Oh how silent Heaven must have been. How God must have agonized over watching His one and only perfect Son be the final blood sacrifice. He who didn’t deserve it in the least. Finally, God turns away – from Jesus. They have been in communion together since before time began, and now Jesus hangs alone on the cross – and He knows it. He was utterly, entirely, completely alone. Left to die. Yes, a few stood at a distance, but no one was beside Him holding His hand, stroking His cheek, kissing His brow. He hung alone. He, who is innocent, died a criminal’s death.

As He hung in the open air, carnivorous, scavenging birds circling His above His head, the world went about its business, feeling quite satisfied at the conclusion of His life. I think one thing that kept Him there, instead of calling the whole thing off in an instant (which He could’ve easily done!), was the thought of each of us. Did our faces pass through His mind? As He felt the weight of all of humankind’s sins press upon his shoulders, physically pushing down on the skin of His hands and feet, He knew every sin of every person throughout existence would commit. Did it all flash before His blood and sweat-stained eyes? Oh, the shame of it all.

But, did our faces also flash before Him? Did He feel a tug in His heart for us? I think so. He did not die quickly. He hung for hours. In those hours, did He remember our names? The Bible speaks of God remembering His children, having our names written on the palms of His hands (Isaiah 49:16), and keeping us as the apple of His eye (Psalm 17:8). Jesus, who is 100% God and 100% man, perhaps whispered our names under His breath This is for you, ________. Oh, the love of it all.

Scripture tells us that He didn’t even look human by the time it was finished. He was, indeed, unrecognizable. It hurts my head to try to comprehend it.

Today, wherever you are and whatever you are doing – hold Christ close to your heart knowing He went through everything so you wouldn’t have to. Yes, He loves you and me that much. Focus on what He did and why He did it. There is no skirting this dark day. As uncomfortable as it may be to go there in our minds, may our hearts receive the Truth that He would have done it all – even if each of us were the only person ever created.

Walk through Good Friday remembering Christ’s walk to the cross.

Scripture to meditate on…

Matthew 26 – 28

Mark 14 – 16

Luke 22 – 24

John 17 – 21

Isaiah 53:1-9 

Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

4 Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
And who can speak of his descendants?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was stricken.
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.

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Holy Week, Thursday

Today is Thursday of Holy Week.  Have you felt God stirring in your heart?  I have.  I am filled with a swelling of anticipation for what we will celebrate on Sunday, otherwise known as Resurrection Day!  Why does this day excite me?  I am a sinner saved by grace.  I have done nothing to earn my salvation; rather I received the gift of eternal life freely by believing who Jesus is and what He did for me – and for everyone.

Christ chose to make Himself the final blood sacrifice and stood in the place for each of us. I am overwhelmed with love and gratitude.  God, in His infinite wisdom, holiness, and righteousness, spared His wrath from us because He allowed His Son to bear it instead.  This awesome thought draws us to today’s focus…mercy.

God is mercy.  He created it and defines it.

How tender His heart must be!  He looks upon the earth and, despite its condition, still feels mercy toward it.  His children call Him by name, and He cannot forget them.  When we accepted Christ, He made a covenant with us, and since God is holy and sinless, He cannot go back on His covenant – even if/when we do.

I recall times over the years when each of my children have come to me crying over something they had done.  With sobs and crocodile tears, they fell into my arms with regret and seeking forgiveness.  I, too clearly, remember times as a child (and as an adult) when I have been the one upset to tears over bad choices.

As a child, I wanted forgiveness from my mom more than anything.  I absolutely needed to have it to sleep, to have peace and to have a re-do with her.  As a parent, my heart melts when one of my children earnestly come seeking resolution through confession and a sincere heart.  I am moved and cannot withhold my forgiveness – nor can I hold a grudge.  I look at them (discipline aside) and think, They have so much to learn.  May they learn from this and let it be a strength for them to make a better decision the next time they are in this situation.  I think God looks at us much the same way.

We are made in His image.  We, His children, are part of His family.  He wants us. He wants things to be right between Him and us.  He defines compassion, and pours it over our souls like a warm bath.  His mercy is the big hug a parent gives, the hand that wipes away the tears, and the words that say, I forgive you.

God is holy.  Accountability is a must if we want to grow in Christ.  But, we are spared the eternal penalty for our sins because Jesus paid our debt on the cross. God’s mercy allows us to approach His throne room, seek His face, talk with Him, and be with Him forever – never to be eternally separated again.

We don’t deserve His mercy, but in His love and holiness He bestows it on us anyhow because He forgives, forgets, and doesn’t hold a grudge.  What a good and mighty God we serve.

Scriptures to meditate on…

* Lamentations 3:23, Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

* Psalm 103:14

11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.

* Deuteronomy 4:31, For the LORD your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them by oath.

* Nehemiah 9:30-31, For many years you were patient with them. By your Spirit you admonished them through your prophets. Yet they paid no attention, so you handed them over to the neighboring peoples.  But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.

<<Check out the companion song to this blog on my Tunes page!>>