The Quietness of Saturday

iStock Photo by Vitanovski
iStock Photo by Vitanovski

Sandwiched between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday is the stillness of soundless Saturday. There was nothing. No remarkable event. No cataclysm from the fingers of heavens, nothing like the Force that slashed the temple veil or turned high noon into midnight. God closed the curtains of heaven.

The tension was unmistakable. The atmosphere among Jesus’ followers was one of amazement. The One who cast out demons, raised the dead, and restored sight to blind eyes is now dead. It looked like Jesus’ enemies had won. Herod, the synagogue leaders, Pilate, the soldiers, and even the angry crowd that chose Barabbas…all appeared victorious. The ministry of the disciples seems to have ended on Calvary. No longer fishing for men, His disciples were not just absent. They frantically ran away. The crucifixion changed everything.

Don’t be surprised. We have all been there or will get there. When life hits “pause” and when our personal silent Saturdays come, there are no instructions for your next move. On Monday you have a job; on Wednesday it is gone. On Tuesday, you have a home, a car, a hefty retirement account, a stable income. On silent Saturday, you stand perplexed and ask, “What just happened?” The comfortable, familiar patterns of life suddenly evaporate.

Beyond today is tomorrow. After Saturday comes Sunday. Silent Saturday is only an interlude. In the performance of a significant piece of music, the “interlude” is the instrumental connecting passage. It gives harmony and melody to the composition. And so, in life, during the interlude, we wait for God’s connection.

The women who came to the grave, expecting to find a corpse, but they found an angelic messenger. A messenger awaited with words of hope and instruction.

Today is Saturday. I plan to just wait. Wait right here and see what God has to say about all of my tomorrows.

Oh, How He Loves Us!

iStock Photo by B-C Designs
iStock Photo by B-C Designs

What was the awesome power that kept Jesus, the Son of God, nailed to a weathered piece of wood, with spikes piercing his hands and his feet?

How was it possible for angry human hands to lay hold of Jesus, the Christ? How were they able to capture Him? What strength was available to those mocking soldiers with their furious faces? Even the sun was stunned, so traumatized by spitting scorners, cruel taunters, and the sight of a wounded Savior that it turned off the brightness of the afternoon and summoned midnight.

When He was captured in the garden, Jesus reminded Peter that He could have asked the Father for thousands of fighting angels to come to His defense. But we know why He did not. He who is King of Kings and worshipped by angels allowed those gritty human hands to subject Him to the cross. He did it because that was God’s plan. In their classic 1993 album, The Mississippi Mass Choir put the answer to our questions to music when they sang: “It wasn’t the nails that nailed Him to the cross. He could have come down, but my soul would still be lost. The ransom was so high, only He could pay the cost.”

Love held Him there. Christ volunteered to pay the ultimate sacrifice.

Yet, His great love for us does not grant us immunity from life’s tragedies or disappointments. I encounter people every day who ask relevant, real-world question–even in the light of the victory of the cross. “If Christ loves me, why did He allow my spouse to die?” “If He loves me, why is my financial situation so hopeless?” “If He loves me, why did I lose my home?” Why did I lose my job? Why didn’t He save my child?

I sat in a chair in the kitchen today chatting with my daughter as she shared the story of the sudden loss of a colleague’s wife. Inexplicably, someone who was there is suddenly gone. And this is a family of believers. “What do you say?” she asked me. These are questions that confront us, even on Resurrection weekend when we celebrate the deep love we embrace as Christians. How do we understand the cross; how do we understand a life of victory in a world where unfathomable pain is possible? How could hundreds of Christians be murdered in Kenya? Why are there one hundred individual stories of mistreated children, innocent people incarcerated for decades, the working poor robbed by unscrupulous predators…why?

Jesus chose the wood, the nails, and the thorns. He did it for our victory. He did it because, no matter what we encounter in life, He assures us that we win. We win over sin and death. We win over pain and grief. This victory replaces any darkness that threatens. We can stare it down. We have undefeatable joy and an anointing that prevails. After the crucifixion comes Resurrection Sunday. Amen, and Thank God!

Let us look only to Jesus, the One who began our faith and who makes it perfect. He suffered death on the cross. But he accepted the shame as if it were nothing because of the joy that God put before him. And now he is sitting at the right side of God’s throne.–Hebrews 12:2 NCV

Dear Jesus, Do You Still Heal Like You Used To?

At times we need a reminder that the Lord’s promises to heal and to help us are just as relevant today as they have always been. Whenever we are facing a health challenge, this question may come to mind–does Jesus still do that?  Indeed, I want you to know for certain that there is definitely a spiritual side of healing. And it is as relevant today as it was two thousand years ago.

For far too many people, there is skepticism about the healing power of God. We know that it used to happen, but can we still believe in it–trust in it–expect to receive it?

The assurances that you have are found abundantly in the Word, including these:

“Beloved, I pray that you  may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.”  3 John 2

“And the whole multitude sought to touch Him, for power went out from Him and healed them all.”  Luke 6:19

“Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever.”  Hebrews 13:8

” ‘For I will restore health to you and heal you of your wounds,’ says the Lord.” Jeremiah 30;17a

“And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up…” James 5:15a

If you know someone who is struggling with a health challenge, please remind them that Jesus Christ still does the hard stuff. And that includes healing, no matter what the diagnosis.  Because the Lord is your shepherd, you shall not want for anything (Psalm 23:1)…and that includes your health and healing.

A comprehensive list of the Lord’s promises for healing will be published in my new book…coming soon…of healing scriptures and stories.

 

Is This What Jesus Said to Do?

We each go through life looking for the meaning of our calling, the purpose of being alive, the reason for taking up space in the universe. We look for connectedness to a greater purpose. I know I do. I believe that, as long as I’m alive, I have a purpose. There is a work still to be done.

There are people we haven’t met, places we need to go, tasks that yet need the unique touch of our hands.  We squint to see the rich cord connecting people, circumstances, places and events—to find out the “Why?” of it all.

Above the door in his pastoral office, my husband had affixed the words of the great commission:  “Go ye therefore…”  Followed by the promise:  “Lo, I am with you always…”

In the last few months, I have reconnected with a pivotal part of my history. Before moving to Wisconsin, we spent four years living on the campus of American Baptist Theological Seminary, now American Baptist College. Those were years of awakening, of bonding with those who became lifelong friends—all as dedicated to sacrificial ministry as we were.

Now, I am back on the Holy Hill, strolling across paths that span these marvelous fifty-three acres on the edge of the Cumberland River. Views of the city from here are breathtaking. Sometimes I stay until dusk just to watch the diamond of Music City come alive, as lights come on.

One of the people I needed to meet is Professor Janet Wolf. I am astounded by her vision of Christian leadership and of our responsibilities for community building and social justice. Every conversation with Janet has caused me to consider what Jesus told us to do. Our individual “go” and “lo.” Dr. Wolf teaches classes in the Tennessee prison—but not just in the prison, one class is on death row. As part of her Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, she teaches “Transformative Justice” and “Community Building and Conflict Resolution.”

God’s timing is so precise. He knows what we need to experience. When I took my seat at ABC’s commencement ceremony last week, I chose a spot near the rear so that I could be a quiet observer. Dr. Wolf delivered the prayer.  Her words were so Holy Spirit-filled that they were like a mighty wind blowing across everyone present on the Library lawn.  I asked her to share them with me…so that they could bless you.

This prayer is for every graduate in the class of 2012, everyone who watched a child reach a milestone, and everyone who wonders if God still calls us to touch lives—in prisons or in palaces. You be the change agent God requires today.

Gracious, life-giving and holy God,

we come this day with joy and with thanksgiving.

Thank You for the gift of this day

and for all who gather here,

for the power of your presence, the wideness of your mercy

the enoughness of your grace.

Surely you are good and we are thankful.

 

Thank you for ABC and all who have labored here.

For almost 88 years, on this holy hill, you, O God,

Have been calling forth and raising up

Prophets, pastors, and protestors;

teachers, transformers and truth tellers,

nonviolent but militant warriors and saints.

 

Over and over again, on this holy hill, you, O God,

have made a way where we saw none;

you have opened doors when others slammed them shut.

You have propped us up on every leaning side

when things got hard;

and we thank you.

 

Thank You for those who graduate today,

each one a miracle, a sign of your steadfast love.

Thank You for their courage and creativity,

Their passion and persistence, their fierce determination

and defiant trust in your promises.

Thank You for all who accompanied them,

those who loved them and fed them,

those who supported them and encouraged them,

those who challenged and prodded them,

those who refused to let them give up or in

or settle for less.

 

Pour down your Holy Spirit upon us this day and always,

that we might be all you have created us to be—

Channels of healing and hope,

agents of change and challenge,

instruments of justice, generosity and joy.

In Jesus’ name.

                                                Dr. Janet Wolf

 

Note: the above prayer is abbreviated. Please check back here tomorrow; I will post the prayer in its entirety.

The Miracle of Forgiveness

Jason R. Warren

Suddenly, it’s Easter week! A time of triumph and renewal…gently lifting our spirits, ushering us closer to the warmth of summer. These are days of brightness and new beginnings.  We passed thru winter (such as it was); we’re coming out green, vibrant, alive. Easter: a time of hope, healing, restoration, rebirth.

Stores fill with ribboned, bejeweled creations. Sunday bonnets of every style imaginable burst with blossoms. Mothers slap slightly-tilted hats on the heads of recalcitrant little girls and put crisply pressed trousers and bow ties on little boys.

Jesus’ resurrection is central to our songs of praise and worship. At Easter we’re reminded of the certainty of love and the power of forgiveness. Even extreme forgiveness.

My spiritual daughter, Kim, introduced me to a living example of forgiveness on steroids when she met women who forgave those who meticulously, brutally murdered their husbands, sons, fathers and brothers. Battered and bruised—the women of Rwanda were left to pick up the pieces of devastated lives and communities. To bind up ragged remnants of their families and country. Hearing their stories, many ask: “How is this possible?”

Stunningly beautiful, Rwanda is “the land of a thousand hills;” it resembles Switzerland.  What we remember, however, is the 100 days of slaughter in 1994 and the loss of over 800,000 lives.

Kim participated in a conference for women from Rwanda and the Congo. One group lived so far into the bush and were so impoverished they actually lived naked. The ministry provided clothing; the women walked two hours to the nearest road to be picked up and driven to the gathering. Others walked for hours, babies strapped to their backs. After eight or nine hours of teaching, they still hungered for spiritual strength.

One woman, in particular, stood out. In one single day, she had lost seventeen members of her family—her husband, parents, in-laws, brothers, sisters, and all of her children. Three months later, she gave birth to a child who also died. As she spoke, she thanked God for all He had done in her life and for sparing her live.

To live in joy at that level, despite such dire circumstances is remarkable. The first thing many do is blame God.

Kim said: “We went to Rwanda to help.  Instead, we were the ones who were transformed. By their example, the Rwandan women were our teachers.”

Forgiveness is a choice. To do otherwise is to live in bondage to anger and bitterness.  The thrilling discovery of the power of forgiveness sets us free.