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Chocolate Chip cookies, Muddy Cakes, Hamburgers and Hotdogs, chili, chicken soup and beef stews, bacon twists and grilled cheese – and tomatoes and lettuces: Kale, Spinach and Chard, even chocolate mint leaves! Turkey, stuffing, oyster dressing, mashed potatoes with sour cream, cream cheese, parmesan cheese, butter and garlic, homemade salad dressings – Feast Day and Everyday kind of food – mostly the everyday kind of food.

I love cooking for people, making sure they’re filled up, that they don’t leave my house hungry – but I have no efficiency for keeping a pristine kitchen. If you came to my house, you’d find me behind the kitchen counter. I’d ask you to pull up  a stool while I poured you a cup  of coffee or a glass of sweet tea, offered you some honey or creamer, maybe a smackeral of something if I had it – and we’d talk while I tidied up my kitchen. Most likely, my sons who are students and sons who work might pop in, might even pull up a stool for a small bit, weave themselves into the conversation and out again.

A homey diner with one short-order cook? Sometimes it feels like that. By the time you’d leave, you just might notice the kitchen still needed cleaning and organizing, and you might wonder how it wasn’t with the time I was behind that counter – and at the same time understand why it wasn’t.

When you left, I hope you would have found yourself filled up, found comfort and understanding of brokenness in challenges, maybe like you’d found a place to belong – a place that had a stool just for you, an outpost on your journey where you can re-store your soul supplies and that you’d leave a bit merrier, a bit steadier, more ready for the challenges outside the door.

We all have our little soul re-storing “outposts” – the places where we feed the sheep and lambs. But the kitchen isn’t my only outpost. My outpost – your outpost – is wherever we walk in the daily – and by whom our souls pause in the daily.

Our outpost is where the lambs and sheep are that Jesus asks us to feed.

 “When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’

He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’

He said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.'”  ~ John 21:15

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about these sheep and lambs. Just who are these sheep and lambs he tells us to feed? Aren’t they the ones I was born to? The ones I gave life to? Am I to feed more than these . . . MORE? 

When my youngest was baptized, I wrote, “Joining a bigger brotherhood,” saying the following:

“Today, precious son, you publicly receive a mighty inheritance. You become a Son of the King. You were born into a remarkable brotherhood, the youngest of 5 brothers. Today, you publicly join a bigger family, a bigger brotherhood that includes Peter, James and John, an amazing, miraculous brotherhood. I am so proud of you!”

The day we said, “I do” to Jesus, we joined a bigger family, not blood relatives, but soul relatives with God as the Father of this big, ever-growing family – the lost and found relatives.

Jesus tells Peter, you and me to feed his sheep and lambs – the lost and found relatives of our family, but who are they? How can I recognize them? Do they come with ear tags? Are they good sheep? Easy sheep? Spotless sheep?

All 2,000+ students at my son’s high school? The thousands at our local college? Plus every single person in the borders of my county?

Sometimes we make it so much harder than it really easy. We are to feed those God gave us in our daily. It’s that simple. I sat down to make a list of those God gave me and where I find them in my daily.

  1. My husband
  2. My sons, their wives and my grandchildren
  3. My parents, aunts and uncles, cousins
  4. My husband’s family who became my family, too, when we married – my mother-in-law and father-in-law, my husband’s sisters and brother, my nephews, their wives and children.
  5. My friends, my knitting group, my bible study group
  6. Those to whom I say, “Good morning!”
  7. Maybe even the fellow driver on the road who irritates me (you don’t have to have a conversation to pray for someone).
  8. The grocery store greeter and checker, the product stocker, the deli lady slicing my country ham, the bookstore clerk, the school’s attendance office volunteers and employees, the receptionist at the doctor’s office – where have you been today?
  9. Anyone my boys bring through the door.
  10. The person sitting next to me at church, the soccer fields, at a play, or the ballet.
  11. The disagreeable person in a check-out line. God doesn’t always give us the easy to love. Sometimes he wants us to pursue for him the challenging, the rebels, the ones who think they don’t want him.

“He said to him a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ 

He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’

He said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.'” ~ John 21:16

isheeponecWho are your lambs and sheep to feed? Look through your FaceBook Friend list. If we accepted Friend requests as if accepting them as someone God gave us, a sheep of his to be fed, a soul in which we are to plant seed and water – would our Friend list be smaller? Are you willing to feed all those sheep you are friends with in Facebook? To love them? To make room for them at your table? At your kitchen counter? In your prayer time are you willing to pray something deeper, more interceding than a “bless his/her heart” kind of prayer – but a warrior prayer sent out to save? Are you willing to lay down your life for every friend on your Facebook Friend list? Shouldn’t you be willing – in a feed-my-sheep kind of way?

 “He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ 

Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ 

and he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’

Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.'” ~ John 21: 17

Maybe you are praying the prayer of Jabez, asking God, “Oh, that you would bless me indeed and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me,” (1 Chronicles 4:10a). Maybe you have a heart for missions, a heart for feeding the lambs and sheep in Uganda? Haiti? China? Romania? If you aren’t seed planting and watering seeds either you planted or others have planted in those God gives you in the daily – how can you do it across the world in another country? God will not enlarge our borders to take care of sheep in other places if we neglect the sheep God gives us where we walk every day.

“Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them.  And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’  His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’” (Matthew 19-30).

Has God given you lambs and sheep that you need to make room for at your table? Love is a choice – and love invites both the easy and the hard to our kitchen counters, our tables to share a cup of coffee or a glass of sweet tea – grilled cheese or a feast. As we lay out our plates this week and set the table, think about who is coming, who isn’t – and who your lambs and sheep are?

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You might be thinking, “How can I feed more when I have trouble feeding the ones I have? Stop by Monday for how God prepares and provides for us to feed his sheep.

Feed My Sheep Part I: When Kitchen Living Becomes God-Radical
Feed My Sheep Part II: Living a Lifestyle of Making Room at the Table for One More
Feed My Sheep Part III: Which Sheep are Mine to Feed
Feed My Sheep Part IV: How do I Feed All these Sheep? – Monday, December 12

Linking up at Journeysingrace

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Mornings are easier now. I don’t load up a mini-van full of 5, 4, 3, 2 . . . 1 boys for a mad drop-off dash to 1, 2, 3 different schools. Half the mornings, I make a skillet full of sausage and eggs with either toast or biscuits for the ones heading off to work, college or high school. Other mornings, well, there’s chocolate chip granola bars in one of three cookie jars (One has granola bars, another chocolate chips, and the robust, yellow chef cookie jar is full of dog biscuits: know your cookie jar before grabbing and going – LOL).

“Have an exciting day,” a voice says over the phone.

“Exciting is over-rated,” I reply. With five boys, excitement conjures words like commotion (wrestling at the drop of a hat), instigation (“Mom, he touched me), drama (“If I don’t eat now, I’m going to die” drama), adventure (owls, snakes and turtles tales), passions (heart passions, emotional passions, hobby passions, temper passions), humor (note: the chances of five people in a car being in the mood for any kind of humor at the same time? Not often!), goal-tending (and I don’t mean soccer goals), dropping off, picking up and arriving fully equipped (which includes water bottles that often get left behind), finding the car keys, and general hullabaloo.

Excitement overload leaves little time for savoring the good stuff – with family, my husband or God. Surviving is not savoring. Morning grab-and-go-God-moments were standard fare for, well, ever, it seems like. The excitement is thinning out as my nest empties out.

After 32 years of mothering 5 boys, the daily is changing. The idea of getting up at 5 a.m. for an extra hour just about makes me shudder. I’d rather stay up until 1 a.m. to find the good stuff with God. But there’s been a change. One of those changes is an extra hour dropped into my daily. The grab and go is becoming sit and savor.

Not always, but more and more, I am learning how to fit into this more roomy morning hour.

This new, seemingly still hour has been refreshing to my soul.

Whether on my porch, or in a chair by the window, I settle into this quiet that feels like plain woven muslin. One of my sons recently finished the chronological bible in a year – and I thought I’d try it.

. . . . and the chaos of the daily seems held off, if just for 15, 30 or 60 minutes.

The chaos that’s held off? It’s held off by the one I invite into this space – who draws near to me because I draw near to him.

This still space in my daily has become a place of peace where I have room not to just realize contentment, but to allow this contentment to unfurl without it being crowded out.

He wraps this peace that feels like plain woven muslin close about me and gives me time . . . time to vintage the blessings he gives me daily, to sort out what he says to me in those blessings, to let the things of Him redeem my day before I’m in the midst of it, to thank him for all he’s done.

Sitting on the porch as the morning comes along – or by the window where I can see the garden, he wraps me in this peace and offers me a long, refreshing drink of his living water. This peace isn’t binding or restricting. It’s liberating yet protective, comforting yet stretching – like a plain woven muslin blanket.

When I invite him, he brings that peace with him that calms the seas,

that makes me think I can walk on water if he’s beside me,

he brings me the peace that withstands the I-don’t-have-enoughness-to-do-what-needs-doing:

like the wedding host who didn’t have enough wine,

the apostles who had nothing to eat but needed enough to feed 5,000,

or the widow who had only one jar of oil and no means for more –

He generously brings his peace, so much of it, that though I don’t have enough within me to be enough for the day  on my own – He does.  He doesn’t just provide more than enough, either. He has such an ever-lasting supply, that he overfills my soul – overfills it so much that it spills over into the space around me, into the people around me, and the chaos and excitement trying to creep upon me.

Sometimes the only thing separating us from the Spring of Living Water are those doors either we have constructed or doors others have constructed. Either way, we find ourselves separated from what our souls need to survive. The only way to take down those doors separating us from those living waters Christ offers us is to ask him to remove those doors – and he will. Once we have drunk deeply of what he offers so freely, we need to make sure we neither rebuild walls to separate us from him again and that we, ourselves, don’t use doors to God’s Spring House to keep others out ~ Blue Cotton Memory

Oh, yes! There are changes at the blue cotton house, sweet, supposed-to-be changes. It’s a part of my boys growing up. It’s a part of my growing up, too, though I’ve been at it longer than my boys. They would say I was being silly. That I was already grown up. But you and I, we know we are still children to what God knows. Yet, when I invite God into the changes, He brings grace into them and redeems the change.

What changes are you experiencing? How are you sharing those changes with God?

“But whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a fount of water springing up to eternal life.”  ~ John 4: 14

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“Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary” ~ Galatians 6:9

I was in the garden with my half-hearted tomato plants, the whole-hearted cucumbers, gracefully quiet chard sitting quietly between the two, admiring the turtle-paced eggplant slowly but surely contributing enough – and coming to terms that one may be enough.

The chocolate mint is sneaking its way back in, but, then, it is a good place to be – this back yard garden. The bees and butterflies agree, but they don’t notice the chocolate mint. They’re much more interesting in the zinnias.

The zinnias at each end of the raised beds sway in the breeze, smile up at the sun, burst into yellows, pinks, reds, oranges – and a lot of whites his year. The zinnias despite their raucous petals, rays, discs and stigmas and, seemingly, breezy behavior – they always teach me something. Or maybe it’s really God teaching me through the zinnias.

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I’ve been thinking about this circle of life, this growing older, roles changing as needs change of both my children and older family members. In the process, I’ve been thinking about what 75, 85, 95 will look like on me. Not the petal part of aging, but the seed-planting part and harvest part – how the condition of the soul shows itself – either in waspish and testy ways, cheery and good-humored, bitterness or sweet savory, lost or found.

When my petals have fallen away, and all that remains of me as I sit on my front porch wrapped in a blue sweater are a few soul seeds left to be brushed or blown off, I want those soul seeds to be
joy-of-the-lord seeds
faith-is-the-substance-of-things-hope-for-the-evidence-of-things-not-seen kind of seeds
gentle seeds of God’s amazing love that go
soul deep
encouraging, spirit-lifting,
hands-raised high seeds
helping my neighbor seeds
holistic generosity of spirit seeds
delivered with hands and heart wide-open
so that when all is said and done,
all has been spent that could be spent
but for the crown no one noticed
in the days of petals and youth
the crown of whose I am.

Cultivating a cheerful heart given to smiling and laughing, a hope-and-faith heart, a daughter-of-the-king heart – I need to diligently cultivate that now. So, if you see me driving down the road with a crazy smile on my face, I’m practicing for 90!

“Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, Shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him” ~ Psalm 126:5-6

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When the words don’t come, it puts me at a loss. That the words don’t come doesn’t necessarily herald a hard season. Sometimes it heralds a season to be savored. A season to just pause and take it all it – the sweet and the sour, the high and low,  the tough and the tender.

It’s been a year! Not a 2017 kind of year. Just a 365 days kind of year. This time last year, walking was terribly painful – after pneumonia and surgery – my muscles thought it was time to curl up and stop. Thanks to yoga, muscle stretching and time, I am myself again – which means I am still not an Olympian, but I can get the job done and then some!

These 365 days have been full of loss, birth and the in-between stuff.  I haven’t known how to write about it. God stayed my hand from writing, so I just watched and soaked. . . soaked up family during the loss of my aunt – the oldest of the sisters –  in September and my mother-in-law in early November . . . soaked up my 4th son’s final soccer season and graduation . . . soaked up a crazy-wonderful holiday full of laughter and adventure . . . still soaking up my first grandson that came over a week ago.

Soaking meant an lot of watching, a lot of listening and a lot of quiet, like watching one son face challenges to gain something more than he imagined – not what he wanted to gain – but something more valuable in the long run.

The daily living in between the mourning and the celebrations was the mortar that bound the bricks and stones of my soul house together during this year of extreme highs and lows.

No, I didn’t journal the tender or write through the tough. I took a lot of photos that helped me process – and I cooked through – and shared the fruits of both with family and friends.

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There were stews, and soups, pasta and chicken, fried chicken and gravy, grilled cheeses, bacon and cheese pastries, and garlic butter biscuits.

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There were scones, chocolate chip cookies, garlic buttered biscuit, and all types of Muddy Cakes: Muddy Cakes for birthdays – friends and family. Muddy Cakes for celebrations. Muddy  Cakes just to love others when I wasn’t sure what else God wanted me to do (Muddy is my grandma name – so I started calling them Muddy Cakes).

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Someone said, “You need to open a bakery.”

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No – they’re not for sale. They’re for love and friendship.

Toward the end of the school year, the boys had had enough cake.  I detected a potential revolution ahead.

The  youngest, he said to me, “You’re slipping, Mom. You used to cook the most amazing breakfasts. Remember those granola bars you used to make with the stuff with the man with the white hair?”

“You mean Quaker Oats?”

“You only have two more years, Mom. You need to push through.”

I pushed through, finishing the school year with granola bars made with the oatmeal that has the man with the white hair. I made eggs and bacon on toast with ketchup. I did it all – and then bought some Lucky Charms to give me a brief rest.

Maybe this pushing through made me remember other recipes from other times – tasty memories. This Spring, in the middle of soccer season, I remembered the Thousand Island dressing I’d made in high school for school lunches. It was a tasty memory that started a craving. Timing was somehow right, too. I found myself rummaging through Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook that I received when I married. It had the recipe for a salad dressing from my grandmother’s Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook (not so new I guess) that I’d used in high school. About 35+ years later, I wanted to see if it was good now as it was then.

I modified mine a bit, probably just like I did all those years ago – the spices, pantry items and fridge contents aren’t all that different. I am my grandmother’s granddaughter after all. I mixed and stirred – and tasted.

Thousand Island

I cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup relish and 1/4 cup ketchup (not chili sauce)
2 finely choppped hard-boiled eggs
2 tablespoons each finely chopped: green peppers, celery, and onion (I spun mine in a food processor)
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp salt
If  you think it’s too thick, add 1 tablespoon buttermilk

It was – as good now as it was then.

Then, during our family holiday in France, yes –  France! I’ve always wanted to do a bicycle tour through the Loire Valley! And we didn’t because, well, I said I wasn’t an Olympian. ! We drove – through the Loire Valley, up past William the Conquerors place over to Normandy’s Utah and Omaha beaches and on to Paris. There was still miles and miles of walking a day.  I got the job done and then some!

Three of our sons went with us to France. After 48 hours, they missed my cooking.

“Mom,” they each said.” You could open a restaurant here, and it would be packed every day.” To them, I was the best cook in France. I tried to explain that the French would be just as miserable with my cooking. McDonald’s was greeted by these guys as a long lost friend after three to four days.

The most gorgeous art work was in the patisseries – Delectable! Divine! Delicous! Besides the patisserie offerings – one cafe’s buttermilk dressing on a salad made me want to make a Mason jar of it when I got home.

This newly discovered appreciation of my cooking increased my value in their estimation. When we walked – and we walked a lot, I found myself hedged in before and behind me. Losing me seemed a real possibility. Of course, the time in Chambord Chateau their dad offered them 5 Euros to whoever could find me first might have had something to do with it. They weren’t taking any chances of losing me again.

I found unlooked for treasures in France. Maybe these young men did, too.

I’d tried one of the buttermilk dressing packets months ago, but it just didn’t dazzle me like the recipe at the little French Cafe. I decided to try Martha Stewart’s Buttermilk Dressing. I didn’t veer much from her recipe.

Buttermilk Dressing

3/4 C. Buttermilk (I used whole Buttermilk)
1/2 C. mayonnaise
1/4 cup finely chopped shallot (about 1 shallot)(I used a garlic press)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt (I used sea salt)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon celery salt (I used celery seed)

I made it when I got home – and it was a good thing! Martha’s tasted like the little French cafe’s buttermilk dressing that was so very delightful. I will admit that I just might have possibly fell in love with shallots!

My youngest, he tasted my Buttermilk Dressing – and liked it. “Not for salads,” he said. “Great for dipping. It needs to be thicker or salads – so just pick that up at the grocery story”

However, he’s keeping me busy keeping the mason jar full. I have trouble keeping this one for more than 3 days. It goes fast.

There’s a bit of chard in my little patch of garden. The cucumbers are ready. The tomatoes are taking their time. The grocery provides the broccoli – my youngest’s favorite. Carrots, onions and other items Peter Rabbit would appreciate come from the Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings. I wouldn’t want to grow everything, I enjoy my Farmer’s Market Saturday mornings too much.

Then there’s Aunt Joyce’s Salad Dressing. I make it year round (you can find the recipe here). Aunt Joyce started making it my freshman year of college.  It reminds me of all those nightly dinners with Grandmother, Mom and Aunt Joyce. I miss a kitchen filled with these women. I guess that’s the price you pay when your husband says “You’re a pioneer woman” when his company wanted him to move to Detroit and he found a different job in this little town in Tennessee about 26 years ago. We both left our families, packed up our red Ford truck, our first little boy and set up house in this sweet town. It’s our boys’ hometown now. All 5 of them. Except they’re not boys anymore. Not really even boys to men. They’re men – even the 16 year old. If you treat them like men, instead of boys, they tend to act like how you treat them.

Good recipes, like these salad dressing recipes, are reminders of the good things from where I came from and where I’ve been.

Someone messaged me wondering how I managed to do everything I do. To be honest, there’s a lot I don’t do – or do well. The dishes get stacked up, the socks left unmatched, this and that piles us. I plan for a Monday stew to last through Wednesday (Is that cheating?). There are dayswhen I feel like I’m being whirled in a lettuce spinner.  It takes me 3 hours to create a spotless kitchen that takes someone else 30 minutes. There are days when I need either to have taken more seriously conversations with my sons – and other days when I need to have been less serious.

“Mom, do I need a sign on my head that says, ‘Sarcasm?” the 4th one, the one with the humor so dry it is self-combustible asked.

“Ummmmm, Yes! Can you take care of that?” I say, really hoping that one day he will have one for me. It isn’t encouraging when your mom laughs at the wrong time or takes jokes seriously resulting in unwanted lectures.

This has been a year where doing what I love for the ones I love has also meant doing something things I love rarely, like writing.

In a soaking year, when the words don’t come, and loved stories ended, other stories wove themselves while all I could do was watch, love, and cheer – cooking was one of the few things I could do.

It feels like a new season is beginning. Something different is in the air. The words finally came. I knew God would send them when He was ready for me to have them.

If you’ve read this far, you deserve a Muddy Cake! It has been an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink kind of post – but it felt right to do it this way.

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JTcross15152“And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me’” (Luke 22:19).

A college speech instructor asked my son’s class to name three people who have influenced him. He listed Jesus, Peter and David.  I would have listed my grandmother, who taught me to stand up for what I believe, St. Therese of Lisieux, from whom I learned about an alive relationship with God, and Pastor Eddie Turner, who taught about the power of the holy spirit, speaking faith, who I am to God,  Jesus pursuing and saving the broken sinner.

Who would you have listed?

I bet it wouldn’t have been Judas Iscariot. I doubt he would be found on any list. Yet, possibly, from him we can learn the powerful difference of grace over law – of exactly what Jesus’s crucifixion did for you and me and every broken person between and around us.

I don’t know if I can ever fully understand the sacrifice of God-made-man – the son of the king who gave up his power to save me from a graceless life. I don’t know if I can ever fully understand the burden of the sin he carried on the cross – and the willpower to stay on that cross.

Yet, when I study the story of Judas and Peter, I understand more what Jesus saved me from. I need that understanding to better give thanks as I remember what Jesus did for me. The difference between the two is the difference between how we survive our sin, how we are resurrected with Christ and restored to the Father. About 2000 years ago, two men betrayed the Messiah. One ended up crushed, broken and dead. The other preached the gospel the rest of his life, dying a martyr’s death for his faith, never failing his Savior again.

Let’s lay out the facts first:

  • One night, two betrayals.
  • Both betrayals were foretold by the one they betrayed.
  • One man betrayed for greed; the other fear for self-preservation.
  • Both betrayals happened in the shadows – and both saw the face of the one they betrayed afterwards.
  • Each man repented, recognizing his wrong.
  • One repented to church leaders. The other out alone and wept bitterly.

Both had heard the word. Both had walked with the Lord. Both regretted and repented. One died, and one lived.

What really is the difference between Judas and Peter at the point where they recognized their betrayal? Why does history forgive Peter and condemn Judas? Is it really as simple the difference between grace and law? A veil’s separation of two man’s redemption?

The first difference is what each did about their sin – their weakness – whether it was pride, fear or greed.

Two men. Two Betrayals. Two choices.

One sought absolution from church leaders. The other sought Christ.

Judas represents the hopelessness of the law, while Peter represents the grace of Christ’s redeeming sacrifice.

Judas sought absolution through the church leaders. Judas sought repentance, but he sought a go-between. The veil was still between him and Jesus. Judas sought forgiveness, but from the church leaders. He regretted his actions. I don’t doubt that he wept bitterly. I would think a man about to hurl himself to his death would weep.  Under the law, the weight of his sin was unbearable, irredeemable. The church leaders didn’t grant Judas the forgiveness he desired. When absolution was denied him by church leaders, the unbearable burden of his sin led him to suicide.

Two men. Two Betrayals. Two choices.

The record of Peter’s story line pauses after his betrayal, weeping and repentance. There is no written record of where he was between the time he wept and resurrection morning. I imagine the grief of his sin equaled Judas’s grief. I imagine he beat himself up for his major fail moment. Haven’t we all had those fail moments? Moments where we betray our hearts, our values, our faith? How can we condemn others when we, too, have failed and sinned?

Peter seemed to not only understand that he was a sinful man, but he understood the need to repent. Peter didn’t seek go-betweens.  The night before the crucifixion, the veil was firmly in place; the law still ruled. No priest interceded for him, and without a priest to intercede for him, there was no absolution.

Peter repented by faith. Just him and Jesus.  By faith, just like Abraham, Noah, Sarah, Moses, Rahab – and the heroes of the bible – by His faith and hope that Christ was the Messiah, before the temple veil was rent from top to bottom when Jesus died and man was no longer separated from God, Peter held on in the darkness of the crucifixion before the resurrection. The burden of his sin must have been overwhelming. After all, the same burden caused Judas to end his life. Yet, the power of faith always proves stronger than the burden of sin.

Have you ever wondered how Peter could have returned to the other ten? How he could take his place – how he could be a rock for Christ’s church? Are you willing to weigh another’s sin? To judge whether one betrayal is worse than another? After all, a betrayer was needed – just as Samson’s sinful behavior was needed to bring down the Philistines (Judges 14:4).

Yet, we find Peter restored to the ten – not meek, not unworthy, not out-cast for his betrayal.

There’s a story I know, of a man who went into basic training in WWII. His sergeant constantly rebuked him as he was trained for  war-time responsibilities. There wasn’t a day, it seems, he wasn’t called into the sergeant’s office for some infraction. Those rebukes stung, yet they had a lasting impact. He told me, “He grew me up. He taught me to be a man. He was a father to me.”

Peter was that way with Jesus.  Peter pushed away Jesus initially, before he was called to be one of the twelve: “”Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8)

Jesus rebuked him over and over, “. . . he rebuked Peter and said, Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man (Mark 8:31-33).

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.  And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God” (Matt 14:28-33).

“Simon, stay on your toes. Satan has tried his best to separate all of you from me, like chaff from wheat. Simon, I’ve prayed for you in particular that you not give in or give out. When you have come through the time of testing, turn to your companions and give them a fresh start (Luke 22: 31-32, The Message).

Peter, so like the World War II soldier, took those rebukes, remembered and learned from them, and held on to them in the darkest of moments.

Two men. Two Betrayals. Two Choices. Both pursued by Christ.

One man looked to his fellow men for redemption and didn’t find it. Who he looked to led him to death.

The other looked to Jesus, the man who had rebuked him, and in the rebuking, taught him. Who he looked to led him to the resurrection and redemption.

How did one survive the burden of sin and another didn’t? Could it be Peter kept his eyes on Christ, kept his focus, his hope in him, though he yet didn’t see, didn’t understand about crucifixion tearing away the veil (the law) separating us from God?

It was a “Faith-is-the-substance-of-things-hoped-for;-the-evidence-of-things-not-seen”  (Hebrews 11: 1) moment.

One was overwhelmed by the burden of the law; one was redeemed through faith by grace, the burden lifted and born by Christ.

That we sin doesn’t surprise God. We are fallible, and in our fallibility, we are only complete and whole through God.

To truly understand the power and grace of Christ’s crucifixion, we need to understand man’s hopelessness and separation from God by the law.

It isn’t enough to say that Judas betrayed Christ. To most, he is a man defined only as the betrayer – and whose death was a fitting judgement against him.

Yet, God saved killers. God saved thieves. God redeemed selfish men. The stories say so. If we leave Judas in the potter’s field, dismissing him, we fail to truly see the power and depth of what exactly Jesus did for you and me. It might only be a veil’s difference, but when the veil separates us from God – it’s the difference between life and death.

Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserable is a story of two similar characters – one who represents the law (Judas/Javert) and another who represents Grace (Peter/Jean ValJean). Javert sought salvation through the law. Law breakers were irredeemable, unworthy of God’s grace, of man’s kindness, benevolence and second chances. In the end, Javert realizes he had it all wrong. In a life-changing moment, Javert recognized that God redeems the sinner. The revelation into God’s grace also revealed the wrong he had done to so many people. The realization of the weight of his sin overwhelmed him. He could only feel the soul-killing burden of sin’s weight. Having kept is eyes so long on the law, Javert is unable to set his eyes on his Savior and the forgiveness he so readily offers. Through forgiveness the burden would be released through redemption, all because of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. Javert didn’t believe it could be for him – and so he threw himself into the river.

Judas repented without salvation hope; the law was his hope and the men who kept the law denied him forgiveness. He is a living example of sinner’s hopelessness under the law. His hopelessness is even foretold:

“For I must die just as was prophesied, but woe to the man by whom I am betrayed. Far better for that one if he had never been born” (Matthew 26:24).

Judas betrayed Jesus, yet Paul killed thousands of Christs (for if Christ is in each believer, then each person is Christ). If God redeemed Paul, would he have not redeemed a repentant Judas? Would he have not lifted the burden of sin off Judas, just like he lifted the burden off Paul? Off Peter?

Under the law, aren’t we all like the Cain crying out:

Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden” (Genesis 4:13).

Two men. Two Betrayals. Two Choices.

What we do know is that Peter pressed forward towards Christ. Peter held on to this truth:

 “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6)

Despite Peter’s betrayal, he was welcomed back in to the group. We don’t know what he did during those hours after his betrayal and resurrection morning, but whatever he did led him back to Christ, to the embrace and acceptance of the fellow apostles.

Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection gives us a grace over law culture, a redeeming of the soul out of sin culture, a salvation infused with God’s grace culture.

Two men. Two Betrayals. Two Choices. Two Endings.

 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is not here—he has been raised! Look, here is the place where he was placed.  Now go and give this message to his disciples, including Peter” (Mark 14: 6-7).

Peter passed the test. He came through – and Jesus was letting him know that he knew, that he was forgiven, that he was part of this new life under grace. “Including Peter”– including you, including me – including all those broken sinners repenting but not believing they are good enough, worthy enough.

There would have been no crucifixion with betrayal, and, without crucifixion there is no resurrection. Without resurrection, there is no grace.

. . . . and that is what we are doing this Easter season: remembering just exactly what Jesus did for us, remembering exactly what the crucifixion was all about.

A tale of two betrayers – and all the difference a veil makes.

Are you looking to Jesus in your fail moments? Do you you believe God’s grace is for you, too – no matter the weight of your sin?

You have two choices – grace or the law. What do  you choose?

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16)

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“What greater thing is there for two human souls, than to feel that they are joined for life–to strengthen each other in all labor, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent unspeakable memories at the moment of the last parting?” ~ George Eliot, Adam Bede.

The oldest son walked in first, into the hospital room that Saturday in late February. I’d been admitted just long enough to have IVs placed. The antibiotics hadn’t even been started yet. I was septic with double pneumonia. My husband had gone home to bring back what I’d need for a stay. The second son and his wife came with my two youngest about 30 minutes later, followed by the 3rd son. I couldn’t talk; it wasn’t worth the effort, but, like any time all the boys gather, there is more entertainment to be found in the listening than by trying to add my 2 cents worth. It was an unanticipated gathering where love doesn’t need to invite, love just comes.

2016 was a year of unanticipated gatherings. I call them grace gatherings.

Gatherings: fellowship, belonging, inside the circle, storytelling, listening, laughter, tears, highs and lows, memory-making, engaging authentic caring, maybe just a just-holding-hands, sharing, quiet or loud, praying, believing, forgiving, hoping, choosing love, a just-being-there kind of gathering.

You see, there are the on-the-calendar gatherings with cakes and candles and a year added to someone’s count. There are holiday gatherings with feasting, thanksgiving, sparklers and fireworks. There are Soli Deo Gloria gatherings reminding us of God’s love and faithfulness in the birth, crucifixion and resurrection of His son. There are back porch gatherings, kitchen counter gatherings, breaking bread or sharing a cup of tea gatherings. People arrive either through formal invites or the casual, southern-styled, the-door’s-always-open invitation to stop by, sit long and talk much over a glass of sweet tea or lemonade.

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Ben and Katrina’s June, 2015 Wedding

Then there are the big-moment, still-planned gatherings like weddings and graduations with suits, ties and starched shirts. Or planned family gatherings in flip-flops, sand with a dab of beach soccer. Last summer,  35+ members of my husband’s family gathered at the beach. We’ve done this since 2009. This was the first year all my boys (with their family) have been together like this since 2008. It was a memory-making gathering.

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Family, June 2016

. . . and then there are the unwanted gatherings where grace just brings you to stand with others in the hard moments when illness threatens or death comes . . . . unwanted gatherings redeemed by grace.

Grace:
1. 
Favor; good will; kindness; disposition to oblige another; as a grant made as an act of grace
2. Appropriately, the free unmerited love and favor of God, the spring and source of all the benefits men receive from him. ~ 1828 Noah Webster Dictionary

Twice this year, Grace gathered and lined up, gave hugs, shared stories that touched our hearts and brought smiles.

Grace always makes time to love.

Those memories we’d all gathered?  Memory stories overflowed with more than enough grace to pour on aching, loss-sore hearts. Nanny had sowed enough love to bring grace to every one of our hearts when she went home to heaven in November. Those memories we’d gathered? Whether 6 or 66, we each had within us a lifetime of memories gathered to pull out when we miss her, to pull out to comfort in her absence.

It’s hard when a beloved character in your story leaves your story. It’s like when Beth dies in Little Women. The gatherings are never the same kind of sweet as when she was there, and it leaves the reader poignantly homesick for earlier chapters, even though the story continues on, fulfilling the designed hope for each character remaining in the story.

Yes, I would have preferred only the birthday sparkle and back-porch kind of gatherings in 2016. Who wouldn’t? But I find myself humbled by a loving God who instills in the hard gatherings grace that redeems through His unfailing love, a love so big that not only does he seek a one-on-one gathering with each of us, but manages to give each of us what we need in the table-packed, porch-packed, house-packed, beach-packed easy or hard gatherings.

2016 was a Grace-in-the-Gatherings kind of year. I don’t know God’s design for 2017. I do know there will be birthday gatherings with cakes and sparkle. When Spring comes, the back porch will open up again and sweet tea and lemonade will taste mighty fine with those who come to sit long and talk much. My 4th son graduates in May, a new grandchild will come in July. The one thing I can rely on is my reliable  Father-God who always shows up, whether I’m alone or in an easy or hard gathering – and brings His abundant grace to share with all who come.

Praying grace in your gatherings in 2017!

“Remember: He WANTS your fellowship, and He has done everything possible to make it a reality. He has forgiven your sins, at the cost of His own dear Son. He has given you His Word, and the priceless privilege of prayer and worship” ~Billy Graham, Hope for Each Day: Words of Wisdom and Faith.

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IMG_8028Thoughts on the day before my birthday (note: It is a dangerous thing – giving a mom time to string thoughts together – much like green beans climbing a pole):

“What’s on your bucket list to do before you die,” the dj said over the radio.
I don’t put much store in bucket lists. If I can’t satisfy my spirit within the daily – bucket list activities won’t touch the deep in me.

A bicycle trip through the Loire Valley?
Sit on the field where the Battle of Hastings changed the course of history?
Live in a cabin in Vermont through a snowy winter?

I imagine those who didn’t survive the Holocaust, soldiers who didn’t come home from war, children who didn’t survive childhood diseases – I imagine bucket list activities would be what fructose is to honey – the honey being the potential of the daily.

. . . before I die. . . I want. . .
 ~ my heart to still have that forever love for my husband, to still be holding hands, still seeing the reason we said yes 30 years ago Tuesday – still smiling and not giving up on each other
 ~ both my husband and I to have shown our sons how to grow old loving the Lord – in the refreshing times and in the challenging times.
 ~ to see each of them showing others the love of Jesus Christ – intentionally
 ~ forgiveness for shrugged-off hugs and imperfect mothering
 ~ to have encouraged those the Father sends across my path – whole-hearted, hands reaching – and not to have missed a one He sent my way
 ~not only my porch door always opening for friends and family – but I want home to welcome, refresh and comfort – and I want them to come – always.
 ~ always have granola bars in the cookie jar, cupcakes on the counter, or ice cream in the freezer with a cup of coffee, ginger tea or lemonade with lemons and orange slices – ready to share
 ~ daily remember how long ago I wondered how I could be faithful to Yahweh for a lifetime – and today I marvel at how I can’t let go He has so grafted me into Him.

Living in the daily can be a soul-deep experience, a priceless experience.

The literalist in me struggles with things like bucket lists – and faith sleeves. Literalists make poor cheer-leaders but wonderful encouragers.

butterflybush3ccWhen I turned from the radio, I read an article where one of my very favorite Lord of the Rings actors talked about his faith and how he doesn’t wear it on his sleeve – which left me wondering – Well? Where do you wear it?

Jesus wore his faith on his sleeve – all the way to the cross.

Not in a religious way – and by religious I  mean a Pharisee-and- Sadducee-way of following God – the old testament way – a by-the-rules way – where the rules are more important than anything else.

I’ve thought about this  because one time, one of my teens told me I was too religious. If all you see is religion, then you are not seeing the relationship.

Jesus wore his faith on his sleeve in a relationship way.

He didn’t use church language like Brother Peter and Sister Martha or vocabulary that shows you are an insider. I doubt he talked in a cadence that identified Him as a preacher. He didn’t confine his out-reach to the temple. He took it to the streets – the hillsides and town squares, to leaders and outcasts.

He came to us as an Everyman – the Son of God born an Everyman – who spoke with an Everyman vocabulary of penny and nickle words. Did you realize the classics were written in penny and nickle words? With His Everyman vocabulary, he told us about a loving Father who hadn’t forgotten us.

He told us that He was our brother come to pull us into the family of God – that He wanted us to help Him pull others into that family – and that meant wearing our faith on our sleeve

Faith wearing doesn’t win popularity contests with the world, though.

If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.” (John 15: 19-20)

Living the gospel, living Christ’s message isn’t religious. It is relationship – with Him, with the one who sent Him, with the Holy Spirit

Wear it on your feet, in your eyes, on your hands. Wear it in your actions, your words – even wear it on your sleeve.

Beware – Faith on Sleeves isn’t safe.

Matthew wore his faith so openly, he was killed by a sword wound.
Mark was dragged by horses through the streets until he died
Luke was hanged
Peter died upside on a cross
James was thrown over a hundred feet from a temple because he wore his faith on his sleeve.
Stephen was stoned
Paul was beaten, flogged, stoned and then beheaded
Bartholomew was whipped to death
Thomas was stabbed with a spear
Matthias was stoned and beheaded

“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong”
—2 Corinthians 12:10

butterfly62I don’t want to wear religion on my sleeve. I want to wear Christ-faith on my sleeve – relationship with Him on my sleeve – regardless of the consequences.

The Father one day long ago invited me on a journey, a journey that took me away from religion and into relationship with Him. He let me come at my own pace, didn’t grow impatient with my literal and graceless ways. Some days He walked with me. Some days He stood with me. Other times, we just sit and talk about things like bucket lists and faith sleeves.

It is a journey in the daily that needs faith sleeves.

– a literalists thoughts that meandered and climbed the day before my birthday.

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