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Doodling the Word

You do WHAT in your Bible?!

That’s what someone exclaimed when I was trying to explain my new pastime to them.  I had to explain the whole thing to them twice and they still had that look of disbelief, with a dash of disapproval thrown in there too just for good measure.

So what do I do in my Bible?  I journal.

Bible journaling was a foreign concept to me until just a few months ago when I saw a few pictures on Pinterest (anyone else spend hours on there without realizing it?!).  I was intrigued, and when a saw a free workshop advertised at my local Christian bookstore, I figured ‘Why not?’.  I went along to the drop-in workshop with only my trusty old Bible and a pen; and boy did I fall in love.

Bible journaling is a new approach to getting creative in your quiet time.  It’s growing in popularity and now I have tried it for myself I can absolutely see why: I’m hooked!

The simple explanation of Bible journaling is that you journal your thoughts right onto the page of the Good Book.  You can draw, write, date: whatever you choose.  No two people will journal the same way and so no two journaling Bibles will look the same.  But that’s the beauty of it: it’s a way for us to be creative for, and with, God.

I’ve always been a creative soul – I crochet, sew, make jewelry, write and I’ve always loved doodling.  So when I found a way I could do that for the Lord I thought I had hit the jackpot!  I truly love it, and from having never done anything like it before just a few months ago, I now journal in my Bible most nights.  Sometimes for hours.

So if you, too, are echoing the exclamation ‘You do WHAT in your Bible?’ read on and see for yourselves.  You might just get hooked on it too…

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You are: more than a name

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I’ve been continuing my study into real beauty this week.  I made a promise to myself last time to repeat God’s truth every day: that I am beautiful.  Even though some days it hasn’t quite rung true, I’ve still said it.  I’ve even adorned my mirror with it – really, in big spotty washi tape!  Now, every day I see God’s truth:  I am beautiful.

This week I have been thinking about names. My study led me to the story of Rahab told in the book of Joshua.

Joshua son of Nun secretly sent out from Shittim two men as spies: “Go. Look over the land. Check out Jericho.” They left and arrived at the house of a harlot named Rahab and stayed there. – Joshua 2:1

Rahab is introduced as a harlot, or a prostitute depending on which Biblical translation you’re reading.  Not the best of introductions, is it?!  It would be easy to hear that label and make assumptions; I’m sure the two men who went to her did.  Notice that the ‘harlot’ part comes first, even before her name.  In fact, it almost serves as her name.  That is what she is known as first: the harlot.

As a teacher, I am more often called ‘Miss’ than anything else!  Names have power.  They can come to define us, and sometimes unhelpfully so.  When I was at secondary school (middle/high school for my American friends) I was bullied.  It was, not to put too fine a point on it, horrible.  I really just wanted school to be done with so I could escape the constant torment.  A name they called me often was ‘Eliza-boff’, because I was smart and did my work and answered questions in class.  That name became a taunt through all five years at that school.  It’s effect?  I thought maybe I shouldn’t speak up quite so much, thought that maybe being pretty was more important than having a good brain.

Later on, when I moved onto sixth form for my last two years of school, I didn’t get called Eliza-boff anymore.  People didn’t mind when you spoke up in class because everyone did it.  Being smart wasn’t a problem: we were all there because we wanted to learn and go to university and get the most out of life.  I lost the unwanted name that had followed me for so long.

But I got another nickname:  Bumblebee.  A friend in an RE class started it off.  She said I reminded her of a bumblebee because I was cute and round and fluffy.  What she really meant was that I was short and fat and frizzy-haired.  Not the most flattering of nicknames, is it?  She was not a mean girl, and I know she meant in her own unique way as a term of endearment, but still…

Names are like labels:  hear them often enough and we believe them.  They even come to define us.  Just like whenever people thought of Rahab they thought, ‘oh yeah, the harlot’.  I’m sure that after a while, Rahab thought that’s all she was too.

Did you know that Rahab the harlot features in the Hebrews ‘hall of faith fame’?  In Hebrews 11 she’s up there with the likes of Noah and Abraham, Jacob, Joseph and Moses.   Why?  Because of her faith.  Not bad for a harlot, eh?!

To God, Rahab was so much more than her name of ‘Rahab the harlot’.  To God, you are so much more than your name, or any other labels that define you.  You are not the smart one, the fat one, the blond one, the grumpy one; you are simply you.

God called Rahab by a new name, no longer the Rahab the Harlot, but now Rahab the Faithful.   If I think about the new name He might call me, I wonder… Will he replace ‘Eliza-boff’ with ‘Lizzie the thoughtful one’ or ‘Lizzie who studied my word’?  Will He replace ‘Bumblebee’ with ‘Kind-hearted and colorful’?  I don’t know, but I do know that when I feel less-than or unknown, He simply whispers my name because He knows it.  But even better still are those times when I am longing or lonely or lost, those times when He simply whispers, ‘Hey you, I got you’.

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On a side note, my study directed me to the Urban Dictionary online to find a different definition of my name.  It was a pleasant surprise!  According to that, I am a bubbly person who puts out an amazing vibe, has an amazing personality and is always there for my friends.  I think I’ll take that over ‘bumblebee’!!  If you’ve never found the new definition of your name thanks to UD, give it a go: it might just make you smile today!

You are: beautiful

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I don’t know about you, but when I look in the mirror in the morning my first thought isn’t, “Wow.  You’re really beautiful”!

For many years, I have struggled with self-image.  When I look in the mirror my head fills with thoughts that are not pleasant, positive or particularly kind.  Perhaps because of these thoughts, my weight has changed from overweight to underweight to right back round to overweight again during the changing circumstances of my life.  Really, the number on the scales has been insignificant; whatever it has been, I have still looked at myself and thought the same things.  It’s not easy to admit, but here are the things I have said – and since I am being honest, still say – to myself…

I’m so ugly.

Look at those fat thighs.

I can’t go out like this, people will just see a fat girl.

Why can’t I just have a nicer face?

No wonder I’m still single: look at me.

I hate my broad shoulders.

What am I going to do in summer?  I can’t wear shorts with my legs and belly.

I’ll never be beautiful.

Pardon the pun, but it’s not pretty is it?  Still, those thoughts are there every time I see myself.  It’s a daily struggle and a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts.  I feel ugly, so I eat, then I feel uglier, so I eat some more.  I feel under-confident in my clothes, so I don’t go out with friends.  I convince myself I’ll never be pretty, so what’s the use in trying?  I laugh it off, call myself a Plain Jane and convince everyone of my nonchalance and pretend I don’t care.

But I do care.

Despite all those ugly thoughts, I love beautiful things.  I love art and music and writing and making things of goodness and color.  I love my God even more.  So much more.  I love His creation and His grace and His everlasting and unfailing love.  I tell the girls I know – younger, older, same age – that they are beautiful.  I believe they are beautiful.  So why do I have such a tough time believing it about myself?

Believe me, the irony is not lost on me.  I believe that God makes all things beautiful, I believe I am His daughter and creation, and yet I do not believe I am beautiful.  Crazy, I know.  But still…

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Last time I wrote, I wrote about God’s love being unfailing and everlasting.  That love is not earned or given because we reach a given standard.  We are loved because of Him, not because of us.  This has been the focus of my devotions and meditations this week.  I began a new study about beauty and the first session took me right back to the beginning, to Genesis, to Eve.

Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

The man said,

‘This is now bone of my bones
    and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called “woman”,
    for she was taken out of man.’

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. – Genesis 2:22-25

When God made Eve, her companion’s reaction was not, ‘Wait a minute, God, couldn’t you give her thinner thighs, and maybe a straighter nose’.  Eve did not shop around for clothes a size bigger to hide her tummy.  Eve was naked and unashamed.

Just think on that: there was no shame.  No.  Shame.  Whatsoever.  Eve was close to God, close enough that all she saw was His – and therefore her own – beauty.  Who knows, maybe she sat each day looking into the water and admiring the beauty of God’s creation, manifest in every curve and line of her own perfect form.

He saw it, and it was good.  He saw Eve, and she was good.  Eve saw herself, and she was good.

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When did all that change?  When everything changed, when sin entered the world.  The first time Eve felt ashamed of her body, felt less than beautiful, was when she sinned and moved away from God.  It is the distance that made the ugliness.  Did Eve’s body change?  No.  Did Adam’s?  No.  All that changed was their sin.  If we think of that logically, then, it is not Eve’s body that is ugly, it is her sin.

Just like Eve, I am God’s creation.  I am His daughter, His precious child, the one for whom He gave up His only son because He cannot bear our separation and because He loves me.  God does not look at me first thing in a morning, after too many chocolate Easter eggs or after a long stressful day and think ‘She’s ugly.  Gosh, she’s just so fat.’  He looks at me and sees His beautiful and good creation.

When I prayed on this verse, I listened for God’s voice.  What was God saying to me, His daughter, as I cried about my image and my inability, right now, to see myself as anything other than ugly?

“My precious daughter, don’t call yourself ugly.  I made you beautiful and you are.  Can’t you see how much I love you, how beautiful and unique you are?  You are mine.  You are beautiful, just as I intended.”

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God made me.  I would never dream of insulting Him by saying He could have done a better job, or that maybe He might have made a few mistakes.  He didn’t.  So this week, I have made a promise to myself that every day I will look in the mirror.  Instead of saying ‘I’m fat, I’m ugly, I’ll never be enough for anyone to love’, I will instead speak God’s truth:

You are God’s work of art.  

You are enough.  

You are ridiculously beautiful.  

Will saying this truth to myself magically make me feel beautiful overnight?  Probably not.  But I will say it every day, and maybe, as I say it more, I will start to believe it too.

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Love and Shells

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Last week I went to the beach.  It’s been a little while since I dipped my toes in the ocean and boy did it feel good after all this time!  I spent a few years living at the coast and ever since then, I’ve longed for the sound of the waves and the feel of sand between my toes.

Whenever I am at the beach I love to collect shells.  I have collected so many over the years.  I usually collect them with some great creative project in mind, but inevitably a lot of them end up in jars or bowls somewhere – pretty enough as they are without the need to add, alter or improve.  A conversation today reminded me about the shells I had collected just last week.  Most of them have already found a home on my windowsill, bookshelf or over such surface.  But when I read my devotional today – all about love – I was reminded of one shell in particular.

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Nothing special about this particular shell, really.  Not shiny or large or remarkable in any way.  Except that it is practically a perfect half.  While my friend searched for perfect, whole, shiny shells, I found this one.

It’s a phrase we hear – or use – a lot: other half.  Meet my other half, people say of their spouses.  I’m still searching for my other half, people in search of love might say.

I’m still searching for my ‘other half’.  Most days, the fact that I am single doesn’t bother me and I certainly don’t feel like I am only one half.  Honestly, I don’t even think about it six days out of seven.  But sometimes, that singleness is like an ache.  When you see your friends and peers getting married, having babies, buying houses with their life partner; that’s when the ache kicks in.  When all others around you are making plans, settling down, finding comfort in the arms of someone who they know loves them and honors them and treasures them, it can be easy to feel less than complete, to feel like just one half.  And when times are difficult, and you want to cry, it’s hard without someone to lend a shoulder as only a ‘other half’ could.  Sometimes, being the only one to make decisions, go on adventures or laugh at joyful moments, can be more than hard.

My devotional today was all about love.  The kind of love only God can give.  The kind of love that comes without judgement, without the need to meet any standard; the kind of love that never ends.

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That’s some promise, isn’t it?!  An everlasting love, and unfailing kindness.  But that’s what we get.  We don’t have to meet a particular standard, we don’t have to merit or deserve that love.  God’s everlasting love was with us before we were born and will go with us into everlasting life.  It is not based on what we do, say, or think.  He loves us on our best days, and on those days we barely scrape through to dark.  He loves us when we’re tired, grumpy, impatient, overwhelmed and overjoyed.  Because his love is not about us, it’s about Him.

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I’m blessed to have many people in my life who love me, and who let me love them.  I am not alone.  But sometimes, I do feel lonely.  Does this promise of God’s everlasting love ease that loneliness?  Sometimes.  And sometimes it doesn’t.

I have not found my ‘other half’ yet.  I believe that in God’s unfailing kindness to me, I will find him, just at the perfect time and perfect place that God wills it.  Yes, sometimes I get impatient.  Sometimes I get frustrated that it hasn’t happened yet and wonder – pointlessly – if it has anything to do with my somewhat larger waistline of late, or my tendency to talk too much, or if I am just inadequate.  Sometimes I sigh at the thought that each move to a new place has always felt like a step closer to finding that person, only to not find that person after all.  I’m not perfect: I still think these things, even when I know of God’s loving provision and plan for me.

But what I think, too, is that I do not have to find ‘another half’ to be made whole.  I am made whole in the everlasting love of God.  I take a step closer to that wholeness every time I love like he loved, with each patient moment with my students, each joyful memory with my nephew and niece, each listening ear and shared smile with my friends: they are all steps with – and in – God’s love.  And when I do find my other half, we will continue those steps together.

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From heartbroken cry to joyous exclamation

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Some sounds are just happy sounds.  The ping of the oven to let you know that cake you’ve poured love into is all done baking; the sound of a baby giggling; the sound of the school bell on the last day before summer (I’m a teacher, what can I say!); the sound of your friend’s voice on the phone when you haven’t seen them in too long; the sound of feet crunching on fresh snow; the sound of insects and birds on a summer’s walk.  Some sounds are just happy sounds.  One of the happiest sounds I can think of is the tuneful sound of a gospel choir singing ‘Happy Day’.  Is there anyone who doesn’t smile at that?!

But there is one sound that is happier, and it is in my most favorite exchange in the Bible.

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying.  As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

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.”  At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize it was Jesus.

He asked her, “Woman, 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.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

– John 20:11-16

Is there any reaction to Jesus death and resurrection that is more beautiful and heartbreaking and real than that of Mary Magdalene?

First, see verse 11.  Mary is the picture of grief.  She feels the loss of Jesus so much that she sits outside his tomb weeping.  She is weeping.  Not feeling sad, or crying just a little, not bowing her head with mere wet eyes, she is full out weeping.  You don’t weep for someone who is an impersonal leader, a wise speaker or just a kind man.  You weep for someone you love with your whole heart.  Mary loved Jesus with her whole heart.  The grief she felt was so great that she went there, to his tomb, to weep for him.

Then, verse 13.  When Mary is asked by the angels why she is crying, she answers honestly, and her words make me cry every time.  ‘They have taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they have put him’.  Can you hear the pain in those words?  Friday has happened.  She, along with more of Jesus’ friends and even his mother, have watched their Lord crucified.  They have witnessed his unbearable pain.  They have watched him die.  They cried then.  Mary has already cried for Jesus’ death, and now, there at his tomb she sits, there she weeps.  In her heartbrokenness she simply wants to be where he is, even if it is at a tomb.  But she cannot even have that – they have taken him away.  Can you hear her pain?  They have taken him away.  I don’t know where he is.  As if she was not heartbroken enough, now they’ve taken Jesus’ body.

Mary’s grief is so great she does not recognize Jesus at first.  Is this unbelief?  I don’t think so.  I think this is pain.  She is so distraught she cannot see straight.  Through her raw tears, everything is blurred, even the man standing before her.  Sometimes pain is like that: it blinds you.

If you’ve taken him away, tell me where you’ve put him and I’ll go get him, Mary says to the man she thinks is a gardener.  There is commitment.  There is dedication to her Lord.  She will find him.  She will go to him, she will carry his body back.  Think about that: she will find his body, dead since Friday, and carry him back.  Not a pleasant task, but in her love she will do it.

It is not a blinding light that makes Mary see Jesus resurrected.  She does not need to see his wounds like others did.  She does not need proof or revelational word of power. Actually, a word of power is exactly what she receives.  Because there is a word of power in verse 16, a word powerful enough to bring the joy of her Lord risen from the dead.  What is the word?  Just one: her name.

Mary.

Jesus simply says her name and there it is, there he is, her Lord and Master and Savior.  Alive.  She knows him then, because he calls her by name.

The response from Mary is a joyous exclamation.  Teacher!  she cries. What happier sound is there than this, Mary responding to her Lord in the simple way he responded to her, with just one word.  Teacher!  Can you hear the joy in that one word?  It’s you!  You’re alive!  You’re here!  You didn’t leave me!

Teacher!

Where moments ago Mary’s pain was so great, now her joy is even greater.  How great?  Verse 17 paints the picture.  Don’t cling to me, Jesus says to Mary.  How powerful a word can be.  She clung to him in joy.  You’re here, Lord, she says in her reaching, grasping hands, and I won’t ever let you go again.  

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From heartbroken weeping, to joyous exclamations, Mary sees her Lord is risen.

Here is the power of the cross, of Easter Sunday, in this one beautiful exchange.  However great the pain, however heartbroken we feel, whatever holds death over us, Jesus takes those cries – that distraught, grief-full weeping, blinding pain – and turns them into into shouts of joy.  Because he is here, he is risen, he is alive.

And, the best part?  He calls us by name.

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We all have a part to play

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Easter is a wondrous time.  It’s the time in the Christian calendar, the central point of the Christian faith and of God’s story.  It has its key players: Jesus, Pilate, the disciples.  We know those characters.  But this Easter, I’m looking at things through the eyes of some other players in this great story.


After sunset, he and the Twelve were sitting around the table. During the meal, he said, “I have something hard but important to say to you: One of you is going to hand me over to the conspirators.”

They were stunned, and then began to ask, one after another, “It isn’t me, is it, Master?”

– Matthew 26:20-22

Judas.  Not the most popular character, is he?!  He is the one who betrayed Jesus.  As if that betrayal wasn’t enough, it was a betrayal with a kiss.  Somehow, that seems to make it all the worse.

Judas has become the hated character.  True, he was the betrayer.  But Jesus knew that, didn’t He?  At that last meal together, Jesus knew He was to be betrayed, and knew – even if Judas wouldn’t admit it – that it would be him.  And yet He still ate with him, still shared that significant meal with him, still, even as he sealed Jesus’ fate with a kiss, called Judas friend.

A few years ago, there was a television program in England about Judas.  It was shown at Easter time and presented by a well-known vicar who traveled to the Holy Land to explore the life and fate of Judas.  That program made me think of Judas in a different way.  Yes, Judas was the betrayer.  But that was all part of God’s plan.  Judas’ kiss in the Garden of Gethsemane was written in his book, written in God’s hand, before he ever took payment of the silver.  His betrayal was one act in God’s story: it was necessary and it was planned.

Some characters get the best lines, the best scenes, while others, like Judas, get those scenes that leave the audience booing and shaking their heads in disgust.  But as a writer I know that a story isn’t a story without some villain or flawed character.  There’s no Snow White without the Evil Queen, and there’s no complete story of the crucifixion without Judas.  You don’t have to like him, but he played his part.

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There was a man walking by, coming from work, Simon from Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus.  They made him carry Jesus’ cross.

– Mark 15:21

I’m a big Harry Potter fan.  The books gave me a lot of company and comfort when I was growing up, bullied in school.  Of course, as a girl who liked school I identified with Hermione’s character.  And who doesn’t love Ron Weasley?!  But one of the characters I loved the most was Neville.  J.K Rowling is a skilled writer and throughout the books you see how small characters actually become those of big importance.  Harry Potter is the chosen one, but that is only possible because of Neville and small – yet significant – moments in their stories.  There’s a reason they have Oscars for Supporting Actors: there’s not story without them.

Simon of Cyrene is one of those such characters.  He is not there for long, his actions are few and small, yet he is a huge part of the story of Easter.  Who he is?  He is nobody.  He is just a passerby, on his way from the country.  But he happens to pass by at just the moment when Jesus struggles to carry the cross on his back.  ‘Hey, you!’ the soldiers shout.  ‘Carry it for him.’  Why Simon?  Did he look strong?  Did he say something out of turn to draw the soldier’s attention?  Nope.  He was just there.  Just an ordinary man, tasked, for a few small moments, with an extraordinary task: to follow the cross when  Jesus couldn’t.

Maybe he tried to weasel his way out of it, maybe he tried to run off before he could be forced to do it; maybe he had already reached out to help Jesus and that was why the soldiers gave him the job.  We don’t know.  The gospels don’t tell us.  Maybe if he had not done it, someone else would have.  But someone else didn’t do it: he did.

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One of the criminals hanging alongside cursed him: “Some Messiah you are! Save yourself! Save us!”

But the other one made him shut up: “Have you no fear of God? You’re getting the same as him. We deserve this, but not him—he did nothing to deserve this.”

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom.”

He said, “Don’t worry, I will. Today you will join me in paradise.”

– Luke 23: 39-43

I’ve always been struck by the criminals alongside Jesus at the hill.  One, hating, mocking, defiant to the end.  The other, repentant, humbled before Jesus.

Which one am I?  Which one are you?

The first criminal does perhaps what many people would.  He has heard of this Jesus, the Jesus who proclaims to be powerful, to be God.  Okay then, he thinks.  Prove it.  He mocks him, perhaps to veil his fear.  He demands of Jesus: Save me.  He wants proof, but I wonder if even that would have been enough for his belief.

The second criminal takes a different tact.  He is gentler, kinder.  He recognizes who Jesus is.  But instead of demanding He show his miraculous saving power, he asks humbly, in repentance.  He doesn’t require proof.  Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom.

Remember me.

Every time, this verse makes me stop  It’s such a simple request from a dying man.  A man who could be angry, who could be resentful, who could be cruel.  Not from this man, though.  From this man not a demand but a simple request.

Remember me.

No wonder Jesus responds as He only knows to do, from His very nature and being: Yes, I will remember you.  Yes, I love you.  Yes, I will give you paradise.  Yes, I will be there with you.

Yes, Jesus says, to a criminal on a cross as they die together.

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The captain of the guard and those with him, when they saw the earthquake and everything else that was happening, were scared to death. They said, “This has to be the Son of God!”

– Matthew 27:54

Soldiers.  More villains in the piece.  Spitting, mocking, torturing soldiers.  And yet…

These soldiers have mocked Jesus.  They have inflicted pain on him that was not necessary, not part of the crucifixion: extra violence for the sake of violence.  They have caused Jesus pain.  They have laughed at him.  And yet…

Moments earlier they were joking, hurling insults at Jesus, goading him.  But then He dies.  Then, the curtain splits in two.  Then, the earth shakes.  The sky has darkened, unnaturally.  Then, these soldiers see.

Surely this man is the Son of God!

Even the soldiers, even after everything they have done, see Jesus for who He is.  They are in awe of Him, in that moment of His death.  They know.

Maybe they felt bad, then.  Maybe they repented.  Maybe they tore themselves apart knowing that the man they had tortured was exactly who He said He was.  Maybe.  But what is certain is that they acknowledged who He was.

It’s never too late.  The soldiers, the criminal who Jesus remembered in heaven, teach us that.


All of us have a part to play in God’s story.  Some of us may seem to have bigger, more glorious roles to play.  Others of us may worry that our roles are small.  It doesn’t matter, because in God’s story every part is significant, all that’s left for us to do is go ahead and play it.

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Good Friday: The Greatest Love Story

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One question I get asked more often than any other question as a Christian is this:  Why is it called ‘Good’ Friday?  What’s so good about Jesus dying?  Anyone else get asked that a lot?!

It’s hard to understand, I suppose, why anyone would call a death – and especially a death as horrific and painful as a crucifixion – a good thing.  And if all you see when you look at the cross is a picture of pain, then it stands to reason that it isn’t good.

But what if you see the cross as a picture of love?

Good Friday church services tend to be solemn, quiet, contemplative affairs.  Acoustic, prayer-focused, they give us time to think on that picture of a cross on a hill and of the man on that cross.  Often, people are brought to tears by their thoughts.

Sometimes, there are no words when we think on the cross.  No words that seem adequate, anyway.  When I think and pray on the cross, I don’t think and pray with words; often, I think and pray with pictures.

I imagine how Jesus felt.  The pain in his hands, in his back, in his legs, in his chest as he tried in vain to stay alive through it, to keep himself upright.  As he strained against the weight of his body on a cross, the nails the only thing keeping him there.  I can only imagine that pain because I cannot feel it – I have never known pain like that.

I imagine Jesus’ loneliness.   I hear him cry out in a hoarse, raw voice to his Father.  I imagine the cold, dark, heavy loneliness of being separated from a father who had always been there by his side.  I can only imagine that loneliness because I cannot feel it – however lonely I have been, I have always been just a phonecall away from someone I love.

I imagine what Jesus saw.  Darkness, blood, mocking eyes, tears of his loved ones.  I imagine what Jesus heard.  His blood pumping through his broken body, strangers calling him names, people who loved him crying for him.  I imagine how time felt for him: too slow.  When will it end?

But that pain is not all there is.

You see, on the cross there is love.  Love so overwhelming, so true, so sincere and real and powerful that it changed the world.  That it changes the world.  Why did Jesus die on the cross?  Love, that’s why.

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I often joke with some of my friends, You only love me for my baking skills.  One of our previous vicars always told the same sermon at weddings, and he talked about ‘because love’: I love you because you’re handsome, I love you because you’re a good cook, I love you because you know how to load the dishwasher properly, etc etc.  If we ask Jesus the ‘why’ of the cross, this is his reply…

Because I love you.

Because you are mine.

Because I want to give you everything.

Because I don’t want you to hurt like this.

Because I want you to be with me and I want to be with you.

Jesus does not want heaven without us.  He bears the pain because he cannot bear for us to have to bear it.  The cross is about the pain he felt, and it’s about the pain we don’t have to feel because of it.  The cross is about death, and it’s about life.

The cross is about a man who loved so fiercely that he stretched out his arms and said, ‘Look, this is how much I love you.  This is because to me, you are worth it all.’

It is not a pretty picture, but how good for us that it was painted.

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Maundy Thursday: Jesus’ humanity

 

The Maundy Thursday service at my home church was always one of my favorite services of the year.  We held it, every year, in the Chapel, a space at the back of the building, behind the communion table, big enough for only a few dozen.  We would lay out cushions on the floor, light candles along a plain and simple wooden cross; no microphones were necessary.  It was quiet, contemplative, meaningful.  We would sing, read, and pray.

This year, being away from home means I am missing that service.  But instead, when the start time came around today (7pm in England, 2pm here in North Carolina), I retreated to my room, to my Bible and to a time of prayer with my Father.

Maundy Thursday is often the day of Easter that non-Christians don’t know much about when I speak to them.  They know of Good Friday, and of course of Easter Sunday.  Maundy Thursday is not as well-known.  But to me, it is the day of Holy Week that makes me think the most.

This afternoon, as I prayed over the scripture that tells the story of that night in Jesus’ journey to the cross, I prayed – and journaled – through four points of Jesus’ humanity.


Jesus was afraid.  

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When Jesus goes to Gethsemane to pray, He is not skipping there with a joyful heart.  He walks there slowly, His feat heavy, His shoulders heavy, His heart heavy with the task ahead of him.  I can’t know what Jesus was thinking, but if I had to guess, I don’t think it was “Wa-hey, I’m off to the cross.  I can’t wait!”  He is afraid.  He is struggling.

…he began to de deeply distressed and troubled.  “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death…”  – Mark 14:33-34

In each of the four Gospels, we see that Jesus is feeling troubled, distressed, sorrowful, overwhelmed.  He was in anguish.

Throughout the year, people often focus on Jesus’ divinity, on His being the Son of God.  But on Maundy Thursday, I see instead His humanity.  Jesus, Son of God, completely human, was afraid.

We all have our own experiences with fear.  Mine are many!  I am fearful – and made fearful – by the darkness of depression and the stranglehold of anxiety that has been with me for many years.  I am fearful of the dreams I have never being fulfilled.  I am fearful of being inadequate, of being rejected because I am not enough.  I am fearful of failing God.  It’s a fundamentally human thing, isn’t it, to be afraid?  We all feel it, and so did Jesus.

But when Jesus was afraid he turned to prayer.  There is a challenge there.  What do you turn to when you are afraid?  Do you turn inwards, to your own thoughts?  Do you turn outward, to food or the comfort of others?  Or do you turn your head upwards, like Jesus did?  Do you lift your spirit up and bow your head down in prayer?

Jesus was afraid.  So Jesus prayed.

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Jesus wanted his friends with him.

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We have seen Jesus afraid.  Now we see him lonely, in need of comfort.  And Jesus does that most human of things: He asks His friends to be with Him.

“Stay here and keep vigil with me.” – Mark 14:34

I have some amazing friends.  Friends who have been with me through dark times and through celebrations.  Friends who have cried with me, and who have been happy for me.  Through all of the ups and downs, they have stayed with me.  And that’s all we can ask for in a friend: to be there.

Jesus’ friends were His disciples.  His disciples were His friends.  In His fear and His struggle that night, Jesus simply wanted them to be with Him.  He didn’t want to be alone.  Just an hour, He asked them, just stay here with me for an hour.  Stay awake, for me, be present while I pray.  It’s not much to ask, is it?  Just one hour.

Sometimes friends ask a lot of us, and we ask a lot of them.  But it isn’t always the grand gestures that make the most difference.  I have a great friend.  She is younger than me, and we fondly call her my little sister.  As a ‘big sister’ I take seriously the responsibility to watch out for her.  Several years ago, when depression hit me with a blow so strong it knocked me to the ground, to a place of tears and isolation that I did not escape from for several months, I was no longer the strong one.  I didn’t see many of my friends or church family for several weeks, and I remember vividly the Sunday I went back to church after that long time away.  I spoke to the teenagers whose youth group I had led, my little sister among them.  I told them that I had depression.  It was not an easy conversation.  They asked what they could do to help.  I told them they could smile, say hello, be kind and patient with me.  Because that is what makes a friendship – kindness, patience, a smile.

Those amazing teenagers did just what I asked.  They were kind.  They smiled.  They did not treat me like there was something wrong with me.  They were patient with me.  That same Sunday, a little later as I stood in the back room of church where people were laughing and drinking coffee and where I felt nervous of the hustle and bustle, I felt an arm around me.  My little sister had snuck up behind me and stayed there.  She put her arm around me, silently.  She knew I was nervous, and she came to stand with me.  I felt protected and no longer alone.  That is what a friend is: a solid, comforting presence letting you know that you are not on your own.  That’s the biggest, and most important, thing a friend can do for you.  And that is what Jesus wanted – needed, even: for His friends to be there, present with Him.  They didn’t need to say anything.  Sometimes the presence of a friend is more of a comfort than any words they can say.

Jesus, human like us, just needed His friends.


Jesus’ friends failed Him.

He came back and found them sound asleep.  He said to Peter, “Simon, you went to sleep on me?  Can’t you stick it out with me a single hour?” – Mark 14:37

Jesus needed his friends.  He asked them for a simple thing: to stay awake with Him.

But they couldn’t do it.

He had asked them once to leave everything behind and follow Him.  They did that.  He had asked them to believe in Him, to recognize Him as the Son of God.  They did that.  But stay awake for an hour?  They did not do that.

I’m sure we’ve all been there, when we’ve asked a friend to do something and they fail and you’re left saying to them, ‘All I asked is that one little thing, and you couldn’t do it?!’

Imagine how Jesus feels here.  He is afraid, perhaps the most afraid He had ever been, and He desperately needs His friends.  He asks them to stay awake with Him for just an hour, while He attempts to pray to His father and come to terms with the task ahead of Him.  He returns, and the friends He was relying on are asleep.   Do they not realize how much He needs them?  Do they not see how much He is struggling?  Do they not see how much He has done for them and how little He now asks of them?

They don’t.

We all know what it is like to be disappointed.  It’s easy to think, as we read of the disciples falling asleep in these verses, at this crucial time, how they could do it, how they could be so weak? 

In that moment, Jesus’ disciples fell short.  They failed Jesus, their friend, their master.  But how often do I do that too?

When I think of all the things I have asked my Lord for – health, miracles of healing, fulfillment of dreams, impossible actions, comfort and peace and strength and power – I am embarrassed that sometimes I, like the disciples, fail to give Him just one hour.  Jesus asks only of me to stay with Him, to be present and alert and not fall asleep while God is at work.  But I am not always successful in this.  Sometimes, I fall asleep.  Sometimes, I fall short.

Sometimes, I fail too.

And oh how sorry I am.


Jesus, though He prayed for another direction, ultimately trusted God to lead the way for Him.  

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When Jesus prays that night, He asks His father to take the weight of expectation from Him.  May this cup be taken from me, He prays.  In that last part of the journey, Jesus begs His dad to change His mind, to make it so that He does not have to suffer.

Going a little ahead, he fell on his face, praying, “My Father, if there is any way, get me out of this.” – Matthew 26:39

I’ve been there.  When I was making the move to the States last year, I was so excited.  It had been my dream for so long, and I was about to make it happen.  But that didn’t stop me, as I went to sleep that last night in England, being afraid.  What have I got myself into? I thought.  This is too scary.  Maybe I could just stay here.  

Jesus knows what His task is.  He will do it.  But that doesn’t stop that moment of humanity, where He pleads with His father, Please do make me do this Dad.  In fact, He pleads twice.  I can almost hear His voice.  Please Dad, you don’t really need me to do this, do you?  Yes I do, His father answers.  But really?  Are you sure?  I mean, it’s okay if you want to change your mind.  I can picture His father giving Him that look that parents do, the look that says ‘stop trying to get out of it, you’ve got a job to do so do it’.

In the end, after that pleading and that pain, Jesus accepts His father’s direction.  There is no other way.

“My Father, if there is no other way than this, drinking this cup to the dregs, I’m ready.  Do it your way.” – Matthew 26: 42

God gives us hard things to do, things that we get excited about and embrace with open arms, but then right at the last minute think Wait a minute.  This might be too hard for me, God.  Can you just ask someone else?  I’m actually not sure anymore. 

God asked Jesus to go to the cross.  That was the cup he gave Him.  The cup he gives me is small in comparison.  If Jesus can take His cup, than I can take mine.  It’s a small act, really, for the one who loved me enough to die.

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Delight in each day

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I continued reading Ecclesiastes this week, and pondered on a verse from chapter eleven.  The NIV translation reads like this: ‘However many years anyone may live, let them enjoy them all.‘ (11:8).

I like to read different translations of the Bible, comparing the nuanced differences in words, phrasing, emphasis.  Sometimes when I am struggling with a verse, finding that something just doesn’t ring real enough for me or the picture is cloudy, a different translation makes it all the more clearer.  Or if I find a verse that sings to me, a verse that feels important to me on the page of my story, different translations help me pray on it and praise God all the more for His speaking to me through His word.

Ecclesiastes 11:8 reads beautifully in every translation.  Many translations substitute ‘enjoy’ for ‘rejoice’, like the ESV which reads, ‘So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all‘.  The Good News translation speaks of gratitude: ‘Be grateful for every year you live‘.  The NLT reminded me that sometimes it is only as we grow older that we learn to be thankful for our days. It reads: ‘When people live to be very old, let them rejoice in every day of life‘.  But The Message, a translation I read daily, really made this verse sing for me.

Even if you live a long time, don’t take a single day for granted.

Take delight in each light-filled hour…

At the moment, I’m tired.  It’s been a long semester at school and, if I’m honest, I’m counting down the days to Spring Break.  Sometimes, each day feels like just another day less to go until I can rest.  But that is not a praise-worthy attitude.

God blesses us.  Sometimes it’s in the big things – in dreams realized, in miracles of healing, in new families.  But not all days are like that.  Some days the only achievement is to get through it.  But that is a blessing too.

The biggest blessing God gives us is life.  Every day we wake up, the sun rises, we rise, and our praise should rise too.  Does that mean we have to sing worship songs every day, belt them out at the top of our lungs with hands raised and eyes closed in praise?  I don’t think so.  Take delight in each light-filled hour… 

I think that enjoying each day we are given is an act of worship.  Maybe the most honest act of worship there is.  Because, after all, our Father God loves us and takes delight in us.  I know that seeing my nephew and niece having fun, or watching my students laugh and smile, makes me smile too.  It’s infectious – when people I love smile, I simple have to smile too.  That’s what love is.  So if God loves us, don’t you think that each time we laugh, or smile, or feel glad, that He shares in that joy?

A Father watching his daughter smile, smiles too.  That’s what love is.

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On my recent trip to the mountains, I bought a selection of cards with sayings, quotes, words of wisdom on.  One of those cards seemed to fit alongside this verse well.  I stuck it in my Bible as a reminder that each day is a blessing from God, a blessing to embrace with open arms and a willing, hopeful smile.  There’s no author on the card, so I don’t know who’s words I’m borrowing, but they are a good reminder for me to live each day as it is: an opportunity to make my Heavenly Father smile.

This is the beginning of a new day.

You have been given this day to use as you will.

You can waste it or use it for good.

What you do today is important because you are exchanging a day of your life for it.

When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever;

in its place is something that you have left behind…

Let it be something good.

Let it be something that makes me smile.  Let it be something that makes my Father smile.

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Broken into Beautiful

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So, Spring has sprung.  This week Spring officially began and here in North Carolina it definitely feels like it – the sun is out, the temperature is up and Spring Break is almost here.

This week I have been re-reading Ecclesiastes and have lingered on this verse:  ‘He has made everything beautiful in its time.’ (3:11).  It is probably the verse of Ecclesiastes that is quoted the most, but it hasn’t lost its power.  Overused or not, it has a message we no doubt all need to hear.

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“He…”

Our God is a creator God, but he is also a creative God.  He makes thing beautiful not because they need to be, but because He takes delight in them.  Here in North Carolina I have been walking a lot and have spotted the state bird, the cardinal, often.  It is a beautiful,vibrant red colored bird and every time I see it I’m struck by how beautifully striking it is.  God didn’t need to make it that way – it would fly just fine if it were a dull brownish color.  But it isn’t.  God chose to make it striking and beautiful.

That isn’t to say that God makes things beautiful just because.  Each thing He makes is made with purpose.  And that includes us: we are beautiful and we have a purpose in Him.

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“…has made…”

This is perhaps the part of this verse I love most.  It doesn’t say He will make everything beautiful in it’s time, it says He already has.

I have a tendency to be quite hard on myself.  I don’t always look at myself and see something beautiful.  Often I think, ‘One  day I might be beautiful’.  It’s easy to think that, and yes, we are unfinished.  We have more to do and more to give and are always becoming more the disciple God wants us to be.  But it’s a comfort to know that I don’t have to jump through a particular hoop or break a record in anything to be beautiful in God’s eyes.  The truth is that He has already made me beautiful.  He’s just waiting for me to believe that too.

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“…everything beautiful…”

Yes, everything.  And yes, beautiful.  My waist size has grown substantially since I moved to the States.  Still beautiful.  I make mistakes frequently, lose my temper or say or think something less than positive.  Still beautiful.  I don’t always forgive easily.  Still beautiful.  And all this, because our beauty is not the world’s beauty.  We are not beautiful because we meet a certain standard, but because we are made by a beautiful and loving God.  Even in our brokenness, God makes us beautiful.

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“…in its time.”

God’s timing is perfect, it’s just hard to understand sometimes.   We want everything immediately, but God works to His time-frame, not ours.  And a good thing that He does, too.  His perfect timing is on show all around us, in the seasons, in the flowers budding and blooming at just the right time.  I’d be lying if I said I have never been frustrated with God’s timing.  But there have been more times that I have been thankful, that I have recognized how God works for our good at just the right time.

Spring is my reminder of that truth.

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