The Pain He Endured

On Good Friday, we commemorate the day that our Savior Jesus was crucified. In the ultimate sign of love, Jesus laid his life down so that we may be saved. He suffered more than I can fully comprehend. Still, I’ve heard some people say that Jesus’ death was not anything really special or unique. Lots of people have been killed for various causes. Lots of people have been crucified. Heck, even when Jesus was crucified, two other men were crucified with him! Death by crucifixion could last from several hours to even several days, but Jesus was only on the cross for a few hours. At times I’ve even caught myself thinking that Jesus’ death was not anything spectacular. But in reality, several things differentiate his death from the deaths of other martyrs and victims of crucifixion.

The most obvious difference is of course the fact that Jesus was innocent of all crimes. He was perfect and sinless. Even one of the men crucified with Jesus recognized this fact. None of us can say the same. Romans 3:23 says “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Even the saints and the people we honor for their contributions to society have fallen short. We all deserve to die. Romans 6:23 states “ For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Jesus was sinless and yet he paid the price that we should have had to pay.

Obviously the physical suffering of Jesus was extreme. He was brutally whipped, forced to carry a rugged (and heavy) cross through the streets, had thorns pushed into his head and finally nailed and lifted up on a cross. Crucifixion is one of the most excruciating means of execution. Still, others have been whipped and crucified throughout history. While we remember the physical suffering that Jesus experienced, we must also remember the emotional pain he experienced before and during his crucifixion.

While Jesus was human and experienced physical torture, he was also God and knew things that others did not. While Jesus physical torture was perhaps not exceptionally long in duration, the emotional pain he experienced before the day he was crucified was long and excruciating. Imagine knowing the exact way you will die. Imagine having to continue to work despite knowing the pain you will be inflicted with in the near future. Imagine walking into the city knowing that later that week you will be betrayed by your friend, beaten, crucified, and abandoned by many of those you love. If these thoughts don’t churn your stomach, I’m not sure what will. If I knew these things, I’d probably be crippled with fear and unable to continue doing anything. Yet Jesus continued to teach, serve, and love people, even the one he knew would betray him. As the hour of his crucifixion drew nearer, we see that Jesus was distraught by what was coming. In Mark 14:34, Jesus says to his disciples, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” Luke 22:44 says “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like drops of blood, falling down to the ground.” Even though Jesus knew what must be done and that he would live again, he was still very troubled. He even asked that this awful cup of suffering awaiting him would be taken away.

While on the cross, as life slowly left his human body, Jesus was thinking of each of us. He knew that many would reject him even after he paid the price of our sins. He knew that sin would still fill the world for years, centuries, and beyond. He knew things far beyond our comprehension. If you watch the news, you hear of horrible things going on all over the world. There are bombings, shootings, stabbings…the list goes on and on. It can make us feel sick. Even with the technology we have now and all the media, we still only know a small fraction of the pain and suffering in this world. God knows all that has happened, all that is happening, all that will happen. I can’t even imagine the pain that God must feel seeing the suffering that people, his own creation, has inflicted on themselves and each other.

Despite all the physical and emotional pain, Jesus still laid down his life for us. His love is beyond human comprehension. So as we mark another Good Friday today, let us remember how much our savior loved us and how much he went through so that we could have a relationship with God. Let us also remember that the cross is not the ending though. The cross is nothing without the resurrection but that is another blog post.

The Cost of Following Jesus

“Are you willing to pay the cost?”

I roll the words over in my head.

What cost? Jesus paid the price of my sin. I am free. The price was paid.

Still I hear “Are you willing to pay the cost?”

What cost? I’ve heard the stories. I’ve prayed some prayers. I’ve gone to church. I’ve abstained from sex and drugs. I’ve tried to not curse. I’ve given my 10%. I’ve read the Bible. I’ve done these things that Christians should do.

“Are you willing to pay the cost of following me? Yes, outwardly, you have appeared eager. You’ve honored me with your lips saying you desire to follow me. But have you truly considered the cost of discipleship? What builder would start building without first counting up the costs? If he simply starts building without considering the costs, he may only lay the foundation before running out of funds.”

But still I ask, what is there left to pay? My sins were washed away.

He answers, “Yes, you sins are paid for but there is still the cost of following me. The cost is great, my child. Discipleship will cost your pride, your will, your worry, your worldly desires, and your life. And in addition to that, you will face rejection, snide remarks, sometimes loneliness, even possibly persecution. There will be trouble in this world. The road will not be easy and you will face trials. You will feel discouraged sometimes. You will have to place your trust solely in me and not in this world. You don’t have to fear because I have overcome the world but you have to trust me. I will guide you but you have to let me. You have to let me be God over your entire life; its duration and all that is in it.”

Before I even know what I am saying, my lips blurt out “But Lord, I know you are better than all things I could desire in this world. I’m never alone when I have You. Surely everything will be fine. I just want to follow You. You alone offer me eternal life.” It’s almost as if I had rehearsed this line over and over again just for this moment. I’m so quick to say it. I’ve been conditioned to say it.

He replies “You say these things with your lips. But remember you can’t fool me. I see your heart. You still cling to your reputation, your pride, and your desires. You want to fit in when I made you to stand out for me. Your knuckles are white from holding on so tightly to things that are fading away faster than you realize. You can talk, but in order to follow me, you also have to work. This is not a one time decision. It is a process that will last the rest of your life. I love you, dear one. I am with you and want you to draw nearer to me. I will not force you to though.”

A tear starts to roll down my cheek.

Am I ready to pay the cost? My lips say yes quickly. But talk is cheap. My heart however, wants to ponder the cost a while longer. And time is running out.

Giving to God

Some men come to Jesus trying to trick him into saying something they can use against him. They ask about whether or not it is right to pay taxes to Caesar. Jesus knew their intent and replied in a way that shocked them all.

““Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”” (Matthew 22: 19-21)

I want to point out one particular sentence of Jesus’ response. “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” What is God’s? All of creation is His. That includes us. We are His. Further, Genesis 1:27 reads “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” So we also bear the image of our Father in Heaven. Jesus used this moment, this discussion about ordinary worldly matters of paying taxes, to illustrate a very important point. If we are to give back to God what is God’s, then we are to live every moment for Him. Since we bear the image of God, we should give back to Him and follow His will for our lives. This means that we should live for Him at all times, not only at church or when other followers of Christ are watching. We were made in God’s image and we are not our own. We should live our lives everyday for Him, so that in everything we do, we give back to our Creator.

What does this look like? Well it will be slightly different for each of us. Whether you’re working in an office, studying in school, doing laundry at home, doing missionary work, playing music…remember that it all matters. God’s got a plan for each of us and we just have to be willing to answer the call.

 

Satan’s Lies and God’s Truth

Satan tells a lot of lies. He tells us that we are worthless and not good enough. He tells us that our mistakes define us. He tells us that no one could really love us. He tells us that we are forever filthy, forever stained by our selfishness, lust, jealousy, pride and hate. It is easy to believe Satan’s lies because they make sense to our human minds whereas God’s grace does not. We do mess up. We have all sinned. We can never attain perfection on our own no matter how hard we try. We will never be “good enough” on our own accord. We deserve hell. God’s grace however, is beyond human comprehension. To think that God would send His son to save us mere sinners. To think that Jesus would leave his place in heaven, his home, to come down to mankind knowing that he would be slandered, rejected, mocked, tortured, and killed. To think that God would want a relationship with each of us and call us His children. All of this is so beyond what we humans can comprehend. His love for us is greater than we can see or understand. His grace is not what we deserve and yet He gives it to us and calls us His own. Yes, we are all sinners. Yes, we have all fallen short. Yes, we have all been covered by our own evil deeds. Satan twists these facts however and tells us that our sins define us and that God could never accept us. Truth is, we are not defined by our mistakes and shortcomings. We are defined by what Christ did on that cross. No longer are we covered by our crimson stains. We are God’s and He is ours. We no longer live but rather Christ lives within each of us who are called His children. And someday soon, Satan’s lies will never again torment us. But for now, we must strive to listen to God’s voice and not Satan’s. We must draw closer to God and His Truth.

Break apart and break His heart?

As a dog returns to its vomit, we too often return to the things that lead us astray.

God is right there with open arms and yet we return to the filth that shines like those cheap pieces of jewelry we sometimes wore as children.

God is better than real diamonds and gemstones yet we return to the cheap plastic.

It doesn’t matter to society if we are real. It only matters if we can look how they want and play the part.

Even in our youth we try hard to fit in however we can.

We paint pretty masks on our faces and build walls around us so that no one can see the real person inside. We pursue matters of this world in attempts to satisfy our heart’s longings.

By the time we step into adulthood, our walls are so tall and sturdy that almost no one can see within.

But God sees. He sees right past our “clever” disguises and fortified walls. He beckons us to come to Him.

He knows our needs. He knows we need Him.

Yet we turn away, slapping the face of our Savior again.

We’re too messed up and flawed for society, so we assume we are too messed up for God.

We crumble inside our fortified walls and cling to all our flaws and the temporary pleasures of this world that will never satisfy.

We are the prodigal children who have left the Father to chase after what this world has to offer us.

Yet…God is still calling us. God is still standing there with open arms. Will we finally turn to Him for help? Or will we continue to break apart and break His heart?

Being Thankful for the Blessings in Disguise

I believe in being thankful for the blessings masked as curses. I believe in searching for the blessings behind the difficult, stressful and mundane things in life. I am thankful for the warm shower I take at some way too early hour of a chilly morning. I might be exhausted and want to do nothing but sleep but I have the access to what some consider a luxury. I am thankful for the chaos that I recently survived (finals and the end of the semester). At least I have the opportunity to go to school and get an education. Now I have a much needed break and can enjoy the Christmas season. I am thankful for the chaos in my life that keeps me from being bored and makes the moments of fun even more enjoyable. In the midst of a hectic schedule, I am thankful for those short and rare meetings with friends that perhaps mean so much more than if I saw my friends all the time. I enjoy their company and their support. I am also thankful for my family. Perhaps that seems lame but it is true. Despite the stressful circumstances that my family has been going through, we always have each other’s backs.

Life is not always peaceful and enjoyable. There are thorns among the roses everyday. If those thorns did not exist, neither would the rose. Both the thorns and the roses are a part of the bush. Both the good and bad are a part of life. But I believe in being thankful for the good and the bad, for both come from God and are a part of His master plan. Sometimes the things we perceive as bad are actually simple blessings in disguise.

Greed

Greed.

It is the never satisfied black hole of wanting.

It devours people like a lion devours prey.

Most of the time we do not give much thought to our greed. Our society so often portrays the idea that more is better. The media is littered with advertisements and messages about how you, the viewer, need some specific product to be happy or healthy. People are always striving for more. We go on a shopping trip to satisfy our momentary longing and in the end, our closets burst at the seams and our cupboards are filled to the brim. Yet soon after, we find ourselves longing for that new outfit, new snack item and that new smart phone. More. More. More.

Meanwhile…

Someone looks into their almost empty closest looking for a coat or sweater to keep them warm…but to no avail. Children somewhere own only the clothes on their backs. Someone is worrying about how they will afford food to feed themselves and their family. The cupboards, if they even exist, are bare.

It’s an uncomfortable thought. It’s especially uncomfortable when you remember how in the Bible, Jesus tells us to give to the poor. (And He isn’t talking about a few cans of food or a few bucks here and there although those cans and dollars sure can add up and help).

I’ve always struggled with greed and selfishness. I suppose it’s a part of being human. Still, it’s one of the things I hate most about myself.

More than likely, if you are reading this, you live in a house, have a computer, have Internet access, and probably much more. Heat? Food in the fridge and cupboards? Phone? Books? Extra clothes in your closet? Shoes? Toiletries?

Thought so. And yet, if you are like me, you still have a list of wants a mile long.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this Thanksgiving, let’s keep the thankfulness going. We shouldn’t just be thankful for one Thursday a year. We are blessed with many more things than we need. With the Christmas shopping season already underway and Black Friday right around the corner, let’s remember those that have less. Our shopping trip may satisfy our temporary longings but the only One that can truly satisfy the wants of our hearts is God. I’m not saying it’s bad to have nice things but selfishly focusing getting more of those things all the time is. Greed and a good relationship with God aren’t compatible. Which one will you pick?

Train of Toast

Train of toast. Or so that’s what my friend calls it. It’s more commonly referred to as “Train of thought.” Ever noticed the crazy track that our minds travel sometimes? I never thought about it too much until my junior year of high school. It was second semester and I was enrolled in an English course. We had a student teacher (who was quite awesome and fun). Anyways, we were reading Catcher in the Rye. If you’ve ever read the book, you know that Holden’s thoughts easily went from one thing to another. The student teacher had us do a train of thought exercise. He would say one noun and we would all write what we thought of next. We would continue to write what came to mind next until he called time. For example:

Word given:

Penguin

Train of thought:

Penguin

Cold

Snow

Ice

Ice-cream

Dad (that’s another story)

Airplanes

Sky

Blue

Jeans

Yeah. You get the idea. Anyways, we would all go around and share our lists with the class. I noticed some frequent trends among my classmates including food, homework, and significant others.  I don’t know why but the other day I was chatting with a friend online and this exercise came to mind. (Not the friend that says train of toast) I told her about it and we did it together over the internet. Quite fun. I must admit that Doctor Who came up frequently in hers.

Have you ever noticed how our minds take reckless turns however? It can happen any day and everyday. Our minds wander to things that distract us. We may even find ourselves thinking of evil or creepy things. I think we’ve all had these thoughts. To be honest, I’m not always sure how I end up there. It’s not always easy to stop them either. These thoughts hold on tight. These thoughts also lead to similar thoughts and many times I feel like my mind in traveling in a circle.

Sometimes my mind simply wanders to uncomfortable things such as worrying about what could happen. I may try to think of something else but my mind ends up traveling in a circle. Worry is stressful. Worry is uncomfortable. Worry distracts us from the tasks at hand. Worry is going to happen at some point or other. But it shouldn’t take control of us. Nor should evil thoughts. We have an amazing and merciful God watching over us and every little thing in life. Think about it.

“So why do I worry?
Why do I freak out?
God knows what I need.

        ~ “Your Love is Strong” by Jon Foreman

We need to remember this whenever worry creeps up on us. That same God can help us fight the evil thoughts that our train of thought encounters as well. All too often however, we forget to think of Him and all that He has done. I admit that I am guilty of this quite frequently. Since God made all things though, shouldn’t we think of Him, His love, His mercy, His promises more often? I don’t mean the little passing thoughts about God that go as quickly as they came. If we think of Him more we may simply find ourselves happier, less stressed, more loved and less worried. I’m not saying that you have to focus on Him every second of your life. That’s not realistic in this life. Thinking of Him more often could do us all some good though. Your relationship with Him will grow. That relationship needs to be the basis of all you do. He already knows your thoughts. Even the creepy ones you don’t want to admit. He knows your worries. He knows every secret. He loves you despite your darkest moments. He wants your relationship with him to grow. You have to be apart of that growth however.  Just remember that He is one thought away. Help and comfort is a few whispered words away as well.

The Tulip Tree

God is with us every moment and always takes care of us. For some reason however, we often seem to forget this. He does not hide but rather He reminds of us his presence through everything that he has done. Too often though, we do not recognize Him or appreciate what He has done. Instead, we often take advantage of what we have. We get caught up is hustle and bustle of everyday life. We let stress, worries, and fear gnaw at us. For some reason, we lose sight of the One who always takes care of us and who wants to comfort us. We are all guilty of this at some point. I know that I fall in this trap more than I would like to admit.

Lately I have been freaking out about the fact that I am now a high school graduate. Seriously, I have no idea where senior year, or high school for that matter, went. I worry about starting college in the fall. My friends are all going to different schools. College costs a lot of money. The campus is huge. My worries seem endless. And then there are other concerns that lurk in my mind. Worries about my grandma (who has a multitude of health concerns), my mom (who is very stressed out with various situations), my cat (who could possible have cancer). Amidst all this, sometimes I simply do not feel good about myself. I’m sure that everyone feels this way at some point or other. The list does not end there of course, but you get the idea.

The other day, I noticed something that made me stop my worrying and think for a moment. Out of the jagged edges of a tree limb stump, new shoots of stems and leaves had sprung up. This plant, a tulip tree, had taken a severe beating during the freak October snow storm of 2011. During the storm, a large portion of its branches cracked and broke under the weight of the heavy wet snow. Once we removed the broken limbs and some of the snow, the full extent of the damage became clear.

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The tree appeared thin, uneven, and misshapen. It had always burst with gorgeous flowers in the spring but now it appeared bare and sullen. Most people would have just cut it down thinking that it would never recover its former beauty. It may have been considered a lost cause. For some reason though, we decided to keep it, at least for a couple years to see what would happen. If no improvement was apparent by then, we would consider cutting it down. Come spring 2012, the remaining branches produced flowers but the tree still looked bare. Though the broken branches were long gone, the jagged stumps from which they were ripped from remained as a reminder of the stormy year prior. A late spring frost quickly turned the flowers brown and limp. The tree was far from a sight of beauty. Soon the dead flowers fell and green leaves took their place like all the years before. Then, a few days ago, my family noticed the new green shoots coming from the branch bases left behind. It will still be a while before the tree is restored to its former wonder but the tree is definitely on its way. It was broken but is on the road to recovery.

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These little shoots gave me a sense of comfort and hope. No matter how broken and battered our situations are, we can recover with the help of God. We can grow even when broken. There is no problem that God cannot fix. We are not lost causes even though we may occasionally feel that way. Good can come from the roughest and most stressful part of our lives. It may take time but anything is possible. We all need second chances just like this tree. The good news is that God does NOT give up on us after one fall or mistake. Instead, God gives us these second (and third, forth, fifth and so in) chances. He has a plan. He helps us rise from the grime of everyday life and stress. We can live knowing that our heavenly Father does not give up on us. Even when our path seems unclear and our lives appear to be messed up, there is hope. God cared enough to help these little green shoots grow from a broken tree. He cares many more times for you.