Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Part of the Crowd

Crowds aren't my favorite thing. I'd rather visit with you one on one, but I've found in a big group of people it is pretty easy to blend in. In a crowd, it's tempting to go with the flow and simple to lose yourself in the masses. Friend, this holy week I'd like to encourage you to think about something that's been on my mind - Are you part of the crowd?

Jesus dealt with crowds as well and he was never wrongly influenced by them. Let's make sure we aren't either.

Mass groups of people played a role in Christianity back then and they still do today. Let's take some time and get a closer look. Matthew 21:6-11 paints the picture for us. Here we read -

The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”
The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” 

Did you notice a mention of crowds? What's your takeaway?

To me it seems Jesus' triumphant entry was met by many. They were welcoming him, cutting branches and announcing his coming. The whole city was stirred. That's a lot of people and activity and excitement.

In our world, Easter and Christmas morning might look a bit like this. We have more people than usual attending church services. Though Christianity is under attack, the world still recognizes these days and celebrates them as well. There is an excitement in the air and joy fills our hearts as we think of the newborn King and our risen Savior.

Let's fast forward in the story just a bit. Join me in reading Matthew 27:55-56 -

There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, 56 among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

Let's also look at John 19:25 -  

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.

Do you notice a difference? What has happened? Where's the crowd?

Friend, this may be a simple thing to overlook in the story of Jesus' last days, but I think it holds a lesson for us. The number of people at Jesus' side has surely changed and so have his circumstances.

What happens when our circumstances change? When the excitement of Christmas prep and Easter fun fades does our zeal for faith do the same? When trials come do we run from God or cling to Christ? When life is busy do we go with the flow and put our faith to the side? Are we content to be part of the crowd and praise Christ when it's convenient?

You don't have to tell me your answers, but I hope you take time to think about these questions. This holy week let's spend time reflecting on the Word and preparing our hearts for Resurrection Sunday, but may we also commit to following Christ wherever the road leads. Let's celebrate His coming and stay by His side always!

Monday, April 15, 2019

Holy Week - The Passover Lamb

Holy week has begun and as I reflected this morning, this post came back to mind. I pray it touches your heart like it did mine. May this week be one we don't rush through, but truly take time to remember what Jesus did for us.

"Do you want to try and sell those lambs?" My husband's words in the early morning had my attention. He had mentioned this briefly earlier in the week, but this time instead of going to my head his words went to my heart.

Our kids have been raising 4 orphan lambs and they will eventually grow up and be sent to market, but my reaction to putting them up for sale now, while they are still young and kind of like a pet, hit me. The thought of someone using them - Skittle, Beefy, Oreo and the lamb with a changing name, for a passover meal made me sad.

The conversation didn't go any further, but my thoughts continued to run and they led me to the Word. Friend, we are in the midst of holy week and for the first time in 41 years, I find myself thinking about the Passover lamb in a real personal way. I encourage you to do the same in the days to come.

Did you know during the original Passover, the lamb played a significant role? First of all in Egypt, a lamb was sacred, it was considered to be a god of sorts and was worshipped by the Egyptians. Clearly, the Lord had their attention when He commanded the Israelites to "take a lamb for their family" (Exodus 12:3). The Israelites exercised their faith and courage by obeying this command.

They didn't just take any lamb...it had to be a year old male without defect. (Exodus 12:5) These animals were in their prime and were the best of the flock.

The lambs weren't simply selected and quickly sacrificed...they were chosen on the 10th day and slaughtered on day 14. (Exodus 12:6) In between they were cared for...typically in the home. Think about what took place in that time. I'm sure there were messes and noise. There was also time to grow attached and hours set aside to inspect. The people were surrendering normalcy and eventually something they loved.

This story mirrors what took place years later in Jerusalem - Jesus rode into the city and was welcomed as the One who would save. For the next 4 days, He too was set apart and inspected. Just like the lamb, He was found to be spotless and without defect. (1 Peter 1:19) During that time, the people saw him work, learned from His teachings and grew to know Him more.

Friend, chances are you celebrated Palm Sunday yesterday and like the people of years gone by said, "Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!" You may have plans to attend a Maundy Thursday service or a Last Supper Remembrance meal later this week. Countless services are scheduled for Friday and Sunday of this coming week as well. These events are important and powerful, but I challenge, and encourage, you to treasure the days to come.

We will not be bringing a lamb into our home, but I've invited thee Lamb into my heart. In the days to come I long to learn from Him and grow closer to Him as I prepare to reflect on His sacrifice and praise my Savior. I hope you will consider doing the same.

Heavenly Father, 
Lord, thank you for continually speaking into my heart and revealing more of yourself. I'm humbled to know you care and know me in such a personal way. As this Holy Week unfolds, may it be a time of reflection and relationship building. Draw me closer to Yourself as I sit with you, study your Word and experience your presence. Thank you for being my passover Lamb - your sinless life saved me from the sin in mine. Increase my understanding of this and gratitude for it. Today I struggled with the thought of giving up one of our lambs for a meal, but Father God you gave up your Son for me - thank you. May I give up my life for you. In Jesus' Name, Amen

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Calm is Contagious

The title of this post is a quote I've been thinking about for a week. As my regular readers and local friends know, I'm a fan of basketball so I've been enjoying March Madness. Last week after a very intense and exciting game that put Virginia in this year's Final Four their coach said these words. To most fans it seemed winning was impossible and most fellow coaches knew it wasn't very likely, but they found a way and down the stretch the coach made a difference. You could say it was for various reasons, but his words say a lot.

I've played in a quite a few games and over the years have coached in many more...basketball is intense, nerves are involved and fear can set in. When a competitor (athlete or coach), feels like hope is gone they can let up, when fear overtakes they might be overwhelmed and when emotion takes over their role is affected. Tony Bennett is a coach, from what I can tell, who doesn't let this happen. He is calm on the sidelines and it makes a difference. It mattered again last night, when Virginia was again in a tight game...his guys held on to win and advance. Calm clearly was contagious.

So, that's great right? It played a part in their win and might help me as I coach the game I enjoy, but what does this mean for you? Well friend, I've thought about that and I believe it means a lot. Life really is a lot like basketball. Whether you are a wife or mom, co-worker or ministry partner life is intense. There are moments of frustration and fear. There are days when hope seems gone and anxiety is high. We struggle to press on and may be tempted to wrongly impact others.

So whether you face an emergency situation, the daily demands of life or the frustration of things not going your way, would you like to remain calm? Or to say it differently, experience peace? I know my answer is yes! This not only helps me walk through life, but like Tony's demeanor and attitude impacts his team, I know my reaction affects the players in my life as well.

We can try to be calm, hope to be more patience and try to prepare for peace, but this doesn't happen on its own. Especially in the moments of chaos, fear and struggle. This my friend is a gift...one only God can give.

Before Jesus departed He told His disciples, "And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper to be with you forever..." He is referring to the Holy Spirit, who not only lives in us, but bears gifts. Galatians 5:22-23 states, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control."

I believe all of these fruits are part of the calmness Tony Bennett displays. I want them to be part of my life as well. Do you?

It starts with accepting Christ and allowing Him to fill me with the Holy Spirit, but friend, it doesn't end there. We must surrender and let this Spirit live in us. We have to die to flesh and walk in the Spirit. This doesn't necessarily come natural.

When a game is tight and the time is ticking, nerves can take over, old habits and ways of thinking return. Stress is felt and the flesh wants to react. The same can happen when our toddler has a tantrum, the phone rings with bad news or a relationship falls apart. When this happens we need to make a choice.

Colossians 3:15 says, "And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful." In the original language the word for rule takes on an umpire or referee type meaning. Like our pastor likes to say, we need to let the Holy Spirit blow His whistle and then rightly react to the call. When you feel like calmness is fading and fear is growing, redirect your thinking, remind yourself of Truth and allow peace to replace the worry.

This is easier said than done, but it is possible. Peace is a fruit that will grow, but we must water and weed the garden of our heart and mind!

Along with this, we must choose to practice the words Paul shares in Philippians 4:6 - "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God." 

When the Holy Spirit has your attention and you realize your thoughts are going out of bounds take a moment and pray. We don't have to be in a church building to talk to the Lord nor do we always need to bow our heads to pray. In the final seconds of his team's game, I don't know if Tony Bennett was praying, but I know I've cried out (in a whispering, personal sort of way) to the Lord from the bench.

These prayers haven't always led to victory, but they bring perspective and that's more valuable than a win any day!!

I don't know if Virginia will find themselves in another tight game tomorrow as they strive for the championship, but I know their coach's approach will make a difference, win or lose. You and I won't find ourselves competing in front of millions, but we're living in front of others and our approach will have a ripple effect as well. Do you want your attitude and mindset to be caught by others? Remember "Calm is Contagious!"