Together We Follow: Genesis 14:17-24

We last saw Abram in a moment of victory. With improbable odds, he took on a rescue mission to save his nephew, Lot, from kings who had conquered and kidnapped the people of Sodom.

Despite the greater number of men, weapons, and experience that his men faced, Abram was victorious in the battle.

We pick up after the victory, when Abram meets Melchizedek – priest of the Most High God, King of Salem (a place later to be called Jerusalem).

 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said:“Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”

And he gave him a tithe of all.

Now the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself.”

 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the Lord, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich’—except only what the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men who went with me: Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their portion.”

As I’ve thought about this moment in time, I tried to put myself in Abram’s shoes. This is not a period of time in which many know the Most High God. Abram came from a family and a place that worshiped idols…. we aren’t told that he encountered anyone else on his journey so far who professed a relationship with the God he had come to know.

What encouragement, then, it must have been for Melchizedek to come to him. What unexpected grace and confirmation of God’s faithfulness it was to have this priest of the Most High minister to him.

We can’t know what Abram was feeling or what, exactly, his heart was in need of after facing such a battle to win back his family.

But even while Abram was still in the fierce fight, God was already moving to spread a table before him…God was already guiding Melchizedek to prepare for Abram’s visit…God was already providing what Abram would need.

Melchizedek gave nourishment for body and soul — bread and wine, blessing, reminder of the One who had given Abram the victory.

And so when the king of Sodom offered Abram the spoils of battle, Abram said no. He knew the One who was making a way for him in this strange new land. He was seeing, day by day, the power and goodness of his God…and he wanted no confusion about the source of his strength.

I believe that our Father takes delight in preparing good things for us, in being the One we look to for what we need. Whether we are in the heat of battle, in a place of peace, in a moment of victory, in the day-to-day paths we walk — God is the One who nourishes us, who knows what we need before we can even realize it ourselves.

God sent Melchizedek to meet Abram, to refresh and encourage him…as I thought about how loving this was, it dawned on me — for you and I, God came Himself. Through the work of Christ on the cross and the coming of the Holy Spirit into our lives, we have an ever-abiding comfort and sustaining power. The Father looked ahead and saw our needs…and for us, He prepared an open invitation to His table, to His Word, to His presence, to the throne of Grace.

This is the love of our God toward us — He Himself became our bread and wine, our living water that satisfies every thirst, our blessing, our portion.

It’s my hope that we will center our trust and our dependence upon Him so that we will understand, more and more, His faithfulness to sustain us…and when anyone looks at our lives, they will know – everything we have and everything we are has come from our Father.

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You Came

It’s not labeled as a Christmas song, but the words of this song are Christmas to me…

He came. Jesus came when I needed Him. He woke up my heart and breathed life into my soul. I couldn’t walk out of the tomb of sin and shame on my own, I couldn’t unbind the fear that kept me from moving, that kept me stuck in the darkness…

He unwound the fear with perfect love, set me free.

He sang over my life and loved me with whole and perfect love until I began to believe what He said about me: that I was wanted. Cherished. A daughter of God, beloved. He loved me into days like this one, days when I can dance through my house with joy, wild and uncaring about awkward limbs because it is my heart that is leaping without worry, without shame….because it is His song that moves my feet and my voice.

The Light, the glory, the holiness of the Father…it’s given to us, revealed through this Savior whose selfless, all-encompassing love led Him into Bethlehem…to the cross where He took my pain, my sin, my death and gave me righteousness, strength, and life  — life overflowing and never — never, ever, ever — ending.

Can we know how deep, how wide, how long, how high His love is?

Didn’t He begin to show us when the virgin glowed with expectation, when a baby leapt in the womb of the old, when the wedding feast was saved, when the net was filled with fish, when the bellies where filled with lunch, when the blind eyes opened clear and full of wonder, when the deaf ears heard music in the wind, when limbs helpless and frail strengthened to running, when demons ran back to where they belonged, when life was called from death, when He carried the cross in our place, when the tomb stood empty and the upper room was filled with Spirit?

He comes to our need, our miracle-working, beyond-expectation, mightiest, nothing-is-too-hard God.

Turn our fear into faith, God — help us to see who You are again – again and again, let our hearts burn within us until we know that we stand in Your presence.

He has life enough, love enough, joy enough, peace enough, grace enough, healing enough, power enough — for me, for you, for every one who will ask for Him to come….for every one who will believe Him.

We begin in rags, we begin broken, we begin alone and orphaned, we begin hiding in shame, dead in our sin, slaves to our fear.

But Jesus came.

And we come out of the grave, blinking in His brilliant light, washed white and purified…we come out of the grave, free and unfettered, wearing beauty for ashes. We come out of the grave, a child of the Most High God. We come out of the grave, made whole. We come out of the grave, loved. We come out of the grave, alive.

And what can separate us now from the love of Christ?

... I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8: 38-39 

the One who sustains

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This is a lesson God has been teaching me for a long time now, one I need to re-learn from time to time: the expectations or approval of people, the labels of ‘success’, the fluctuating waves of my own emotion and opinion…none of these things are where I can find true motivation or real purpose.

Trying to meet the standards of others (for me, that ‘other’ is usually my own self) is draining and leaves me weary. It fills me up with doubt and fear, leaving me vulnerable to defining my value by other people and their lives.

But comparison, inferiority, and insecurity lose their grip on my heart when my sights are set on honoring Him alone. When life becomes about living as the person He created me to be, His words (not mine, not the enemy’s, not anyone else’s) define my worth. His promises inspire and comfort me. His delight in my response to Him becomes more than enough to satisfy my heart.

It is life-infusing and heart-restoring to surrender to Him. He expects no more and no less than my everything…and the pleasure of His Father’s heart when I offer back to Him all He has given to me is the source of strength and perseverance, confidence and peace.

This is what has the power to sustain my soul: His joy in my obedience, His always-abiding presence. This is the grace that upholds my heart, the truth that brings contentment: I am known, fully, and wholly loved.

 

When Faith is Made Sight

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To remember my childhood is to remember church and family. Those two facets of life were intertwined – a natural result of two grandfathers who pastored churches and a father who was called into ministry at a young age. I’ve had the rare and wonderful gift of hearing the Word of God from these three men in their pulpits and then witnessing how they’ve lived out that Word in their lives.

So most of my earliest memories are of churches and all that went along with them…pulling on frilly socks to match lace-trimmed dresses, puppets in children’s church, potluck lunches after service (where the dessert table was always my favorite), prayer around the altar, running around with cousins, playing with flannel boards in the Sunday school rooms, falling asleep in the car after late-running evening services. Always, there was music. Many times, it would be an aunt or a cousin on the piano, uncles on guitars and drums, my dad’s voice leading the song. I liked being able to pick out the voices I knew so well during the services…and when we were at my grandfather’s church, either for a family event or when Dad would be the speaker for a revival, my Papaw’s booming bass voice was a vibrant thread through it all.

I was always thrilled when Papaw would take the bass line during a song like ‘Let Us Have a Little Talk with Jesus’ – ever since I can remember, his ability to sing out those deepest notes has amazed me. I was just as impressed when he would preach. His carefully chosen words, his powerful voice, his unfolding of Scripture – it all added up to convince me that my Papaw was absolutely one of the wisest and greatest men on earth.

My opinion didn’t change once church was over. It seemed to me that ‘Brother Bailey’, as everyone called him, was usually talking about things of great importance. When I came into his office at home, it was always with huge admiration of the big desk and the full book-shelves. While my mamaw let me (with wonderful patience) freely look through her book-shelves and read through her collection whenever I wanted, Papaw had a system. It seemed, to me, that checking out Papaw’s books was just as formal as checking out a library book. I carried those volumes (books like Corrie Ten Boom’s “In My Father’s House”) with utmost care. I felt pleased that he would trust me with one of his books. He was working to complete his Master’s degree in counseling for several years, and I could only wonder about how much knowledge he actually had in his head. It seemed like he knew everything.

I was awed by some little things that have stuck with me all these years – like the way he would drink his beverage after he finished his food  or the way he would send his coffee back if it wasn’t hot enough. For some reason, that act was bold in my shy little-girl eyes. I found the fact that he hadn’t watched TV until he was seventeen a completely fascinating thing. He told me about pretending to be the Lone Ranger when he was a kid and how he used to get in trouble at school (which was pretty hard for me to imagine!). He told me that he hated collard greens, which – on the other hand – was easy to imagine (because I hated them, too). Time spent at Mamaw and Papaw’s house was usually punctuated by Papaw’s voice calling out – “Julia”- when he wanted Mamaw’s attention, which I loved – because I only heard everyone else call her ‘Sister Bailey’.  Every single Christmas eve, he would read out the lovely words from the Gospel of Luke to make sure that we remembered why we were gathered together to celebrate.

And while I did always see him as quite dignified, Papaw was also a cut-up and loved to laugh. I learned, in later years, that Papaw was mischievous. He had many exploits on his resume…and those exploits continued even to shooting unsuspecting great-grandchildren with a rubber band gun.  There was a certain twinkle that would come into those light blue eyes whenever he was about to prove a point or get to a punch line…and the grin that followed made a person grin right back at him.

I never did change my opinion of Papaw as one of the wisest and greatest men on earth.

As I grew older, my respect only grew. I could see how he gave so much of his life to building the Kingdom of God. I could see how he listened to others and how he cared about what was going on in their hearts. Asking him questions meant getting real-to-the-core answers.

With Papaw, it always felt like he could hear deeper than our words – beyond what we were saying to what we actually meant, or those things we might want to hide. Sometimes, especially in my teenaged-years, I would get nervous if Papaw looked into my eyes for too long – because if there was anything less than honorable in my heart, I just knew he could somehow see it. He didn’t mince words and he didn’t budge on what he believed to be true.

He made me want to be the best person I could be.

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When my Papaw was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year, he said his future was in God’s hands.

As a family, we prayed fervently for his healing.

A great friend to my Papaw and to our family, Rev. Matt Gunter, told us this: there are four types of healing in the Scripture. There’s a natural healing, healing through the help of physicians, supernatural healing, and healing through the Lord taking a person into that forever-home of heaven…where they are made completely whole.

On Wednesday, September 16th, Papaw was totally healed when he closed his eyes to this earth and opened them to the glory of Heaven.

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There are moments with my family from these last five months that I will never forget.

My mamaw has always taken care of my papaw. Her love has always been plain in how she gives of herself…she is constantly on the go, ready to do something for someone. The way she has loved so faithfully, even (especially) in this hardest of seasons, is beautiful. I watched her, even as I knew her heart was breaking, support Papaw with a strength that left me amazed. Even though I am, technically, already grown up – I still find myself thinking that I want to be like her when I grow up.

And my dad, my aunt, my uncles (and their spouses)…I watched as they cared for Papaw, speaking for him when he couldn’t, becoming advocates and stepping away from their own lives in order to be there when he needed them. In the way they were there for him, I saw the honor and love they felt…and I saw the Godly character of my papaw and mamaw both shining clear through the lives of their children.

When they led the congregation in worship at the funeral – through the words of one of Papaw’s favorite songs, “Amazing Grace”, I was immeasurably proud of them.

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All along, Papaw held firm to the truth that God is sovereign.

He knew the reality of God’s power to change things. He had seen the sick healed…he had seen the dead given life again.

We can’t fully understand why God’s plan didn’t include healing in the here-and-now and we don’t know why Papaw’s journey on this earth ended in this particular way…because it was such a hard road…

but Papaw trusted his life to God’s purpose and God’s plan, no matter what that meant.

So he continued, even during his illness, to speak truth into the lives of others. He continued to share what he had learned throughout his life…when he attended his church back in July, he said this:

“I look back on my life and I’m thankful. God has been good to me. And along the way, what makes it better is I see people once in a while and they tell me I was a blessing to them. And that makes it all worthwhile. If you’re living for yourself, you’re dead already…in this life, nothing’s worthwhile unless, when you come to where I am, you look back and you can say ‘I helped somebody along the way’…and to know that Jesus is your Lord and Savior. That’s all that matters.”

Papaw lived those words.

As people filed by, shaking our hands at the visitation, I heard countless words about the impact he made on their lives. For over sixty years, Papaw evangelized, counseled, preached, led congregations, and made music for God’s kingdom.

At the funeral service, Rev. Gunter spoke about how Papaw lived as a vessel for God to use – he allowed God to pour into him and then he poured into others. He lived a life of love and service…he lived like the Savior he loved so well, for so long.

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And from here, how do we go on?

I am determined to live out my life in the way Papaw would want – by the Word of God, in service to the Master, loving others, helping somebody.

I have learned – in this hardest of ways – that life is shorter than we think it is. In all of this, the piece of my heart most shattered is the piece that is wishing I’d spent more time with him over my grown-up-with-kids years.  I think he would say that I should learn from that feeling and make the most of my time from here on out.

As usual, he would be right.

We’ve witnessed just some of the effects of Papaw’s life and ministry.  His choices and his willingness to live for the glory of God have made an eternal difference.

This is the legacy he leaves us and it is one we want to honor, one we want to continue.

He still makes me want to be the best person I can be.

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On the night Papaw went before us into our Homeland, the sunset was the most gorgeous I’ve ever seen it. I was driving west toward my family and the sunset was all I could see. My kids were marveling at it from the backseat and, when my sister called me, she had just stepped outside. We couldn’t stop talking about how beautiful the sky was, all lit up in red, pink, and orange. I heard her calling other family members outside with her to look at the glory of it…and I believe we were all feeling the same thing – this heavenly beauty must, somehow, be for him.

It was the first thing I thought of a few days later, when I read this in Psalm 19:

“In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun. It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, like a champion rejoicing to run his course, like a strong man to run its race.

Because, oh – Bernie Roy Bailey ran his course like a champion – he fought the good fight and he kept his faith.

And there is no doubt of the rejoicing that took place when Papaw was greeted as a ‘good and faithful servant’ by the Lord Jesus Christ.

He was absent from his body, but he was present with Christ. (2 Cor. 5:8)

There will come a day when we, all who are the sons and daughters of God, will be together with the Lord…Jesus overcame death and the grave on the cross. He gave us victory and everlasting life through His love.

And this is why, even while our hearts were aching with missing him, Mamaw was able to lead our family into the funeral service with hands raised. This is why we could worship even as we mourned. This is why my dad was able to lead us in a chorus of ‘Have a Little Talk with Jesus’ at the graveside. This is why, even while the pain is present, we have hope.

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It is still hard to believe that my Papaw is no longer here with us. This is a separation that not one of us would have imagined even a year ago.

But death will not separate us forever and it did not – even for one millisecond –  separate him from the love of Jesus – no, it ushered him into that eternal Home given by the One who is the Resurrection and the Life.

There, in that Beulah Land, he no longer sees through a glass darkly but by the beautiful Light of God.  That grin is surely on his face as he walks down the streets of gold…that twinkle is surely sparkling in his brilliant blue eyes as he takes it all in, maybe trades thoughts with those men of old he has read about for so many years.

There, he has fullness of life and joy that we cannot even begin to imagine. There, his faith has been made sight.

All the promises he stood upon during this life have been realized, every hope in Christ Jesus has been fulfilled.

I believe he is with his family, fully known, and worshiping together with them. I believe that bass voice so many loved to hear is now singing ‘holy, holy, holy’ around the throne of God.

This was his purpose all along. He knew that this span of life on earth was not the end of the story, but the beginning. Papaw looked forward ‘to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God’…and it is to that destination we, too, set our course.

One of the wisest and greatest men on this earth – my papaw I’ve loved for my whole life — is now one of the wisest and greatest men in God’s great city…and, one of these days, I will meet him there. I told him that I would see him soon…and, in God’s timetable, I will.

In the meantime, may those of us who knew him in this life and those who know of him now, because of these words, remember what he said… life is worthwhile when we know Jesus as Lord and help somebody along our way.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” –Hebrews 12:1-2

(If you would like to know a little more about my Papaw’s life, here’s a glimpse of our memories…)

(Photo credit/graphic to Babbi Moore, Cami Moore Gunn, and BJ Bailey)

Of Strawberries, Swimming Sprints, & Grace

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Blossoms have appeared in the long-neglected flowerpot by my sidewalk.

I did not expect this to happen.

This strawberry plant, purchased with such good intentions a few seasons ago, has been thoroughly un-tended…through scorching-hot Carolina summers and iced-over winters, it has not been given any care. The soil is the same layer of Miracle-grow bought with the plant itself…and so, when I glanced at the pot at all over the past few spring-sweet weeks, I thought for sure that the weeds were thriving but the actual plant was hopeless.

But – undeserved and unexpected – there it is, a simple white flower reaching out for sunshine.

And with some clearing out of the weeds, some water for its roots, some rejuvenation of the soil…we might even see strawberries.

We have been given a second (third? fourth?) chance to bear fruit.

I look at the flower a little longer, thinking about second chances…thinking about grace.

I think about the words given to the women when they went to anoint the body of their Savior and found an empty tomb – “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.” (Mark 16: 6-7)

Those two little words – ‘and Peter’? To the man who had denied his Lord – those two words meant ‘you are still loved, you are still welcome’…they meant grace.

Peter’s grief over the death of Jesus was compounded by the regret he felt, the shame he carried, the sorrow of that moment when the rooster crowed and his eyes met the eyes of the One he loved…the Lord he had just denied. Luke shows us this moment – no doubt forever burned into Peter’s memory – in his 22nd chapter: 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.”

And he went outside and wept bitterly. (Luke 22:54-62)

Haven’t we all been there? We make our proclamations of faithfulness, we determine to seek and serve our God with all of our hearts…and then – just like Peter did on that night…we fail to follow through on our promises. We make mistakes. We choose sin. We just mess up. And, then, like Peter – we feel heart-broken and undone. Maybe Peter wondered – perhaps, too, we wonder – if there’s hope for us.

Maybe we feel like the damage has been done. Maybe we have wandered away from who God has called us to be for so long that our hearts feel stagnant, overrun with distraction and the debris of our struggles. Maybe we wonder if there’s any life left beneath the surface of it all.  Maybe we look at ourselves and see the grasping weeds of sin and shame where all of our good intentions were once so carefully planted…maybe we find ourselves where Peter was on that day of Resurrection – uncertain of our place in His presence.

If I were Peter, I might have wondered why Jesus would want me anywhere near Him after I was so faithless. Wouldn’t it be better to just go back to my fishing boat? For how could His words to me – you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church – come to pass now, after I had so blatantly betrayed Him not once, not twice – but three times?

But the angels said ‘tell His disciples – and Peter – that He is going before you into Galilee and there you will see Him…’ –and so the hope of another chance kindled and burned brightly in Peter’s heart…isn’t it only the marvel of mercy that would cause a man –too impatient to wait for the boat to travel even a hundred yards — to jump out of a boat at the sight of Jesus on the shore, swimming with all his might to draw nearer to Him? (John 21)

Jesus looked directly at the sin of all mankind – Peter’s, mine, yours – and He shouldered it Himself, bore it on the cross so that we can find forgiveness. He knows that our good intentions – our best efforts, our strength of will – aren’t going to be enough…they never have been. That’s why He came – because He alone is the perfect sacrifice and His blood alone covers our sins.

Undeserved and unexpected, we are given grace.

After his exuberant dash from the boat to the beach, Peter and Jesus had a conversation…and Jesus questioned him three times – Do you love Me? With each answer, Jesus commissioned Peter to feed His sheep. Peter’s mistakes did not prohibit him from fulfilling the work God had called him to do for the church…with pruning and Spirit-life poured into Peter, he bore much fruit for the glory of God.

If you are in a place of neglected soul and wrong turns – can I just offer you the same hope that was offered to Peter (and to every single one of us?) – you are lovedyou are welcomedyou have a place in Him. His grace is stronger than the sun-scorched season that seems to have dried up our lives, His mercy runs deeper than the roots of any sin, and He calls forth life even when we think all is lost.

With the resurrection of Jesus, we are given this chance of new life — because He overturned sin, death, and condemnation on that day. We have hope of fresh beginnings, our sins forgiven, our hearts tended by the One who knows exactly what needs to be cleared away…and He plants His own Spirit within our hearts. With His love, we find grace…and with His grace, new life comes.

May there be a wildly abundant and beautiful harvest among us.

“When we were overwhelmed by sins, You forgave our transgressions.” –Psalm 65:3

“If you remain in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing….this is to My Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be My disciples.” –John 15:5 & 8

Our Story of Grace: Love Leads Us Home {following Christ to Calvary}, Day 26

In my hand, while morning light streams into the sanctuary, I hold the cup and the bread.  I hear the words I have heard so many times before…this is My body given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.  Can a mystery be called familiar? For I know the taste of the bread, the scent of the grapes so well…but every time, it is a new moment of grace. Every time, it is pure wonder to be invited to His table.

It amazes me, too, when I think of how many before me have eaten this bread and tasted of this cup. How many generations have met in remembrance of Jesus? How far back does this story of grace really go?

Did it begin with the disciples gathered around the table with their heart-heavy Friend?

Did it start with the Hebrew people preparing to walk away from their bondage, the blood of a lamb over their doors so that the angel of death would pass over?

Was the beginning with Abraham standing over Isaac, trembling with the relief that God would provide the sacrifice?

Or was it in the garden of Eden, with Adam and Eve leaving behind their inadequate fig leaves when the Lord Himself clothed them?

I believe that from the moment He said “Let there be light,” God’s purpose has been unfolding.

And we have a place in His purpose.

From those first moments we witness, we see how everything that He spoke into existence was good – and He was creating a home for us. He made us so that we could be His people and He could be our God…even as He knew that the Son He loved before Creation (John 17:24) was the Lamb who would be slain so that we would be able to abide with Him always (1 Peter 1:20).  Yes, this story of ours that began so long ago and leads to the cross…it is the story of grace written by the Author of Salvation.

For because of their disobedience, Adam and Eve could no longer walk with God…but because of the Son’s obedience, He came and walked among us – as one of us. He crossed through the separation that sin had created to draw us near to God again.

He came, image of the invisible, to show us the Father.

We see God in Him- in the Word made flesh – and by His light, we see our own hearts, too.

When I open the Gospels,  I see myself in those pages. I see my own reflection in the voices of the lonely, the cynical, the broken. I see my own sin in the hardened hearts, in the quick-to-judge, those wise in their own eyes.

And this is why I am undone by the words of Jesus. This is why I can hardly breathe when I read about His compassion, His mercy – this is why I can hardly believe I am able to take of His cup, to eat of His bread.

On this journey to Calvary – following His footsteps – I see the way He goes after the lost sheep, the broken hearts, the outcasts, the sinners.

And in His presence, they find what they need – healing of body and soul, heart and mind.

He pursued those who needed Him – and this remarkable pursuit did not end within the pages of Scripture.

Through His death on the cross, He made a way for every heart across the ages to be freed from sin – and this sacrifice reaches through time and still makes us new.  He became our way so that we can boldly come before the throne of grace, into the presence of God.

Break and eat, for this is the bread of life given for us.  Take and drink, for His blood is the forgiveness of our sins. This is re-union with the Father through the sacrifice of the Son. This is the miracle of His Spirit, dwelling within us. This is the hope of Heaven, where we shall see Him face to face.

We are brought Home into the love and heart of God through Jesus.

For me, these are not just words – this is not just a pretty thought or a theological truth. In my own life, I felt – for many years – that I did not matter. I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. I felt rootless and afraid.

But His voice called out to me – and He said I could abide in His love. He said I could belong to Him, always. He, Himself, brought me to this place at His table.

And as my life unfolds, day by day, it is by His strength that I stand. Because of His presence – because His Spirit is with me – I am no longer controlled by my fears. I am planted in Him, and nothing can separate me from His love.  On the days when darkness seems to overwhelm the world and anxiety weighs on my heart, I still know that Jesus has overcome – and so I live with the hope of all things being made new, all things made right, all things redeemed and restored.

To anyone who will believe, He is the Open Door to a Home unshakable and eternal.

You, too, have a place at His table. You, too, have a forever-Home in His unfailing love.

 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in Me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.

 Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we don’t know where You are going, so how can we know the way?”

 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you really know Me, you will know My Father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him.” –John 14:1-7

  “…I will ask the Father, and He will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever – the Spirit of truth….you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see Me anymore, but you will see Me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in My Father, and you are in Me, and I am in you.” –John 14:16-20

 “As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Now remain in My love.” John 15:9

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These Days of Dry Bones — Part Two of Nicodemus’ Story (Love Leads Us Home {following Christ to Calvary}, Day 3)

{If you missed the beginning of Nicodemus’ story, I would love for you to catch up and read part one. Today’s narrative is based on the events of the second chapter in the book of John.}_______________________________________________________________

“Nicodemus, what are you still doing here? I thought you were going to the temple this morning.” My wife comes into the house, already back from her trip to the market. She sits her overflowing basket onto the floor.

“Rachel, dear wife – have you left anything in the market for the rest of Jerusalem?”

She laughs and shakes her head. “Who knows how many relatives are going to show up this year to stay with us? The cleaning is nearly done, but I have to start preparing for the meal now before all of Israel fills our streets.”

Pesach. She is right. Time is passing quickly by and the days of Passover are close…once again, we will remember the days of old. We will remember our escape from Egypt. We will remember the miracles of God. We will remember the days of His glory in our midst.

Rachel crosses the room and puts her hands over mine, kneels so that we are face to face. “I know you have felt unwell, but I do think you should take that trip over to the temple. I think a walk will do you a great deal of good. Perhaps the fresh air will help you to finally have a restful night’s sleep.”

“Perhaps,” I say. But I cannot bear the thought of passing the beggars in the streets. I cannot bear the unrest in my soul when I cross into the temple courts. It was not so long ago that I found my greatest satisfaction there where my name is known, where I fulfilled my duty to God – but that day by the Jordan pierced my contentment. And now – the Baptizer sits in jail, taken in by Herod so that he can no longer declare the sin of our Roman ruler’s marriage to the people.

If John no longer calls out the Word of the Lord in the wilderness, where can I hear the voice of God? And will he remain in prison – because our High Priest fears provoking Herod’s anger – while we celebrate our festival of deliverance? We will remember the presence of the Great I Am in the lives of our fathers – but will we pray for Him to be among us now?

Without warning, the cry of Habakkuk springs from my heart – Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.

Yes, it is mercy that I need.

“Besides – you are missing the talk of the town while you are cooped up in this house. “ The tone in Rachel’s voice shifts, gentleness giving way to urgency. “And – I think it is something you need to talk to the others about. Because I couldn’t get many details -”

“News of the Baptizer?” I lean forward, suddenly energized.

“No – not exactly. But there is news of one he baptized before Herod captured him. A Galilean man.” She squeezes my hands. “Perhaps it is just market-gossip, but people are saying that he is a prophet of God. They are saying he is a prophet with the power to heal.”

I stand to my feet, pulling her up with me. “His name?”

She shakes her head. “I don’t know.”

“I’ll go,” I say. “If there is anyone gaining attention like this, Simon and the others will know.”

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The morning sun is warm as I lift my face to the sky. With the Passover comes spring and the first blossoms on the fruit trees. The times of the rain are passed, the time of the songbird has arrived…this is the change of season. How ready I am for new life.

I stop for a few moments, putting alms into the hands of the blind and lame, but I do not linger because this does not feel like enough. How can a few coins help someone who cannot see? How can I give these people any hope?

My wife’s words ring in my ears – a prophet with the power to heal – and I enter into the temple courts in anticipation.

The courts are, indeed, full today. There is a steady sound of conversation and the lowing of cattle waiting to be sold. I overhear a complaint – “the first dove was blemished, and he charged me twice as much for the second!”. Turning, I try to figure out who had been treated so poorly in their attempt to make a sacrifice, but they are lost in the bustle.

I glance around – there is Simon, one who prides himself on knowing everything there is to know. I eagerly beckon to him.

His grin is broad as he bypasses a sheep running from its new owner and comes to my side. “I am glad to see you are better, my friend!”

“Yes, thank you, I am much better today. How did you know I was ill?”

“The same way I hear most things. My wife heard from your wife that you were suffering some ailment.”

The beating of my heart is louder than even the chatter around us, isn’t it?  “Perhaps, then, you will know about this news my Rachel spoke of today. Perhaps she heard it from your wife.”

“The so-called prophet?” Simon’s eyebrows are raised high. “My Rebekah will not stop talking about him. She has never laid eyes on him, but the cousins of our servants sent word from Cana that he can turn water to wine and give sight to the blind. From all the stories they fill her head with, she will soon think the man can raise the dead!”

“Is it true?” I ask, a vision of the Baptizer in my mind – after me comes One who is more powerful than I…could this be the One he spoke of? “Who is he?” I ask, but my words are drowned out by sudden shouts of indignation.

Simon’s eyes are no longer on me. “Who is that?” he asks. “What is He doing?”

I turn to look – there, in the middle of a pack of running cows and sheep, stands a man with a whip in His hands and – even from here I can see it – fire in His eyes. We are shocked into stillness and silence as He drives the animals out of the courts. Their owners, protests pouring out, have no choice but to run after the animals. The man strides to the money-changers, looks at them as they stare up at Him with mouths hanging open. Without a word, in a swift motion, He takes their gold coins and throws them with a clatter onto the floor – He reaches back to the tables and sends them crashing to the ground. The nearby merchants draw back with their doves – He turns to them and speaks. “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!”

At the sound of His voice – at those words – I don’t know how I am so certain, but there is no doubt in my mind that this is the man from Galilee.

The money-changers are on hands and knees, picking up their coins. Those men with the doves are leaving without complaint. The noise of the people has ceased. All eyes are on Him.

And there is one of our own, fury in his eyes, stepping around the overturned tables to approach this man. Simon grabs my elbow and pulls me along as others draw closer – I see Annas, indignation clear on his face, among the crowd.

“What sign can You show us to prove Your authority to do all this?” It is Annas who speaks out – our former High Priest’s voice is still strong, despite his age.

The man is bold; He looks directly at Annas. “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

Despite the tension of the moment, a muted chuckle rises from the crowd.

One of the priests calls out to Him, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and You are going to raise it in three days?”

Simon looks at me and shakes his head. “Does this man not fear the power of our council? Is he threatening our temple?”

“He is not afraid of anyone in this temple,” I say to Simon. That much is clear. “Can’t you see that there is no fear in that man? But I don’t know what He means.” I don’t know what it is He really saying – but I want to find out. He called this temple His Father’s house – and defended this place with authority in His voice. I have never seen – or heard – anything like this before.

But when I turn my head back to the center of the crowd, I no longer see Him standing there. I just see Annas and the rest of our people, with confusion in their expressions. As they begin to point at the mess and criticize the stranger’s words, the confusion becomes anger. Simon joins in the conversation and I slip away. I want to know this Galilean who so boldly cleansed the temple of our unrighteous ways.

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Rachel was right – the streets are quickly become congested with visitors and vendors preparing for the Festival. I stop the first person I see – “Do you know where the man from Galilee is?”

“You mean Jesus?” the old woman smiles. “Follow the crowd. They will find Him.”

Jesus.

Is this what hope feels like?

I press into the throng of people and, yes, they are looking for Him. I am shoulder to shoulder with the poor, with the sick, with the forgotten. I think of the words we will soon say over the Passover meal – Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat; whoever is in need, let him come…

There, there He is. I hang back as all of these men and women, their children, approach Him. He listens to every word that they say. He bends His ear to the bent and lowly. He meets their outstretched arms.

I see a man with a useless leg drag himself closer. Was this the lame man I offered alms such a short time ago?  I had no hope for him – but Jesus touches him and I see the leg straighten and become as it should be. I see the man touch his leg in astonishment and watch as he leaps through the air, landing firmly on both feet. “Glory be to God!” he exclaims.

Glory.  I cannot help myself. I move closer.

I watch a blind child placed at His feet. I see His touch, though I can’t hear His words from here, and I see the child’s unfocused eyes brighten. The child’s jubilant laughter is matched with His own.

Oh, these glad shouts of those who before carried sorrow heavy on their shoulders – isn’t this the sound of deliverance?

This – this is the impossible happening right before my eyes and, indeed, I stand in awe…

Who can this be but One from God? Is this the beginning of a new season for our people? Is this what the Kingdom of God looks like?

I can’t trust my legs to take me any closer, but I watch and I wonder – if He can heal bodies, can He bring new life to my dry and weary heart? Can He change even me?

With my eyes filled with tears, I finish the Passover words and I begin to believe them:

This year we are slaves; next year we will be free people.

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Now while He was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs He was performing and believed in His name. But Jesus would not entrust Himself to them, for He knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for He knew what was in each person. -John 2:23-25

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