Mary always knew this day would come, but she was still unprepared for it. How could anyone prepare for this? This is insanity. The vacillating crowd, followed him with cheers of acclamation one day, and the next they cursed him with the riotous shouts of the damned. She remembered standing at the edge of the crowd staring in disbelief at the three bodies. This was senseless! Why did it happen? Surely, the two on the outside deserved this. After all, they were thieves; but Jesus did nothing to warrant this punishment.
In the darkness, Mary laid her weary frame on her mat as her mind traveled back over the past six months without him. So much has changed. His followers are in hiding most of the time. They come out boldly, preaching his message during the day, but at night, they hide among the new converts. Jesus made many enemies while he was here. In death, he had attracted more. The stories and the lies they concocted to explain his being seen by the multitudes afterwards were just the beginning. A slight smile tugged at the corner of her mouth as she remembered her little boy running across the square to tell her of his latest revelation. So young and yet so much wisdom. God revealed many secrets to this child He had entrusted into her care. Ruffling his curls Mary studied the dark eyes that danced with such merriment. His smile never changed. She could see that same smile the last time they were together. He still looked to her like the little boy who was so eager to share God's truth with her. As Mary lay on her mat, her mind was pulled in many directions. Part of her struggled with inexpressible grief. Losing Jesus was the most difficult thing she had experienced since losing her beloved Joseph years before. Another part of her rejoiced in the knowledge that Jesus would never be hurt again. Through his death, he had won his battle, both for himself and for all who followed him. The hardest part of all of this was accepting that he was no longer her son; he was now her Savior. He was no longer that little boy with curls. Nor was he that young man who came to her so often for counsel. He had fulfilled His Father's plan for his life and now sits at His right hand. Mary lay in the darkness remembering her long battle. She thought on the day that an angel told her that she would bear God's child. He entrusted His plans into her care. She was so overwhelmed that God would choose her for such responsibility and honor. She had loved Jesus, protected him, taught him, and guided him for most of her life. She had to remind herself often that he was not really hers. He belongs to humanity. He came with a purpose and death was part of the plan. Now she understood the price God paid when He placed Jesus into her womb. How it must have broken His heart to let him go. Their relationship changed, too. He no longer belonged to His Father alone. He now belonged to the world.
Every once in a while, I’ll ask my mother in law, Margot, if I can look through her collection of songs. “Sure,” she says. She clutches that typewritten packet close to her chest as she lovingly recalls how she came to write them. “They said I had no rhythm. I must learn something else. But I prayed and prayed, and God gave me the gift of music.” One of my favorites is titled, “What Kind of Music Does a Rainbow Make?” She tells of how she heard of a teacher working with autistic children. There was a boy in particular that the teacher had trouble reaching. One day as she was putting her things away in class, the boy pointed to the picture of a rainbow and asked, “What kind of music does a rainbow make”? It touched the teacher for sure and led Margot to pen the beautiful words to that children’s song.
What kind of music does your life make? In my blended household, across fault-lines of language and culture, amid the cacophony of two sometimes three languages, endless schedules and deadlines, I hear the sweetness of Sunday worship, the excitement of living history camps and national pride, the loving kindness of calling upon the sick or the earnest prayers for someone in need. Does your life resound with such music?
The holidays are upon us, and like in many families, we will have an empty chair or two. This year my family lost its patriarch. Papa, my father-in-law, left a legacy of love and service, and shoes no one is ready to fill. His presence has been sorely missed. Other empty chairs are those of estranged family members. It’s in this season when we feel these absences the most. As long evenings give way to reflections on our relationships, loneliness, and regret can set in. My own parents and siblings have not reconciled themselves to me following the Christian path. My biggest struggle this year has been to accept their absence and opposition, still attempt to bridge broken relationship and continue the call to live my Christian testimony. I have come to accept, as one author writes, that while our earthly parents make many mistakes, our heavenly Father does not when He places His love in our heart.
When I consider Your heavens,
The work of Your fingers,
The moon and stars, which You have ordained
What is man that You are mindful of him? Psalm 8
Because He loved us, he gave us Jesus. His signature is on our souls. Psalm 23 says,
Surely Goodness and Mercy will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Frances Thompson, in his poem, The Hound of Heaven, tells of our God who pursues us through the nights and through the days, through the years and through the tears. His love for us is patient yet relentless. Let us then pursue those who’ve left us hurting. Let Jesus do the healing because most assuredly He is looking to heal and seal our hearts. Let our lives ring the melody of the new song He has put in our hearts.
An interesting story develops beginning in Genesis 37 and comes to its predictable conclusion in Genesis 45. The young 17-year-old Joseph is a dreamer. I mean by that he was constantly listening to God when God would give him information. Chapter 37: verse seven and following relates the dream Joseph interpreted and told his ten brothers. Joseph stated that “his sheaf of wheat stood in the field and the sheaves of his brothers gathered around him and bowed down to him. Considering the fact the brothers hated Joseph because of the devotion his father, Jacob awarded him; this story was not welcomed by the brothers. Later on Joseph had a second dream. In this dream, the sun, the moon, and 11 stars were bowing to him. This inflamed the brothers even more. A few days later the ten brothers are sent with the flocks to Shechem, and Joseph is instructed by his father to go and check on the brother's circumstances. As events developed the brothers saw Joseph coming and began to plan ways to free themselves from this troublesome brother. They first decided to kill him, but brother Reuben counseled “shed no blood. Throw him into this pit in the wilderness, but do not lay hands on him.” Rueben’s counsel was heeded, and the brothers placed the 17-year-old Joseph into a pit. They conspired then to take his multicolored coat given to him by his father, rip it up and spread lambs blood as evidence of a tragic mishap. Later on that evening the brothers decided why not sell him to a caravan of Ishmaelites passing by. They carried out their plans, and Joseph was sold into slavery carried and away into Egypt. Jacob, the father, was devastated by the loss of his son Joseph. Joseph is sold to the house of Potiphar in Egypt. He served well but was constantly confronted with enticing temptations from Potiphar’s wife. After being falsely accused Joseph is placed in the prison. He serves honorably and in his service interprets a dream by the Baker and the cupbearer. He requests after interpreting those dreams they relay to the Pharaoh’s faithfulness and that he has been falsely imprisoned. The two servants do not relay the information and Joseph continues his faithful work for the Pharaoh. Later on the Pharaoh has a dream and finds that there is one in the prison who can interpret that dream. He calls for Joseph and tells Joseph his dream. The dream was seven fat slick cows came forward in the dream followed by seven f ugly cows. The ugly cows devoured the fat cows. Joseph interpreted the dream to the Pharaoh. A few nights later the Pharaoh had a second dream. In this dream seven ears of corn, full and good are consumed by seven ears of corn that is thin and scorched. Joseph said to Pharaoh, “God has told to Pharaoh what he is about to do. Then he explains the dreams. There is to be seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine. Pharaoh immediately places Joseph in position to control the cattle industry and the corn industry. The revelation of these dreams placed Joseph in a high position in the country. While many miles away in the land of Israel signs of famine are beginning. Jacob sends his sons to Egypt to buy food. The brothers are successful in purchasing food, and Joseph does not reveal himself to them. Sometime later it is necessary for Jacob to send his sons back to Egypt to purchase food. Genesis 45 reveals the discovery of the brothers and their benefactor. In this chapter, Joseph reveals to the brothers who he is, and then he reveals the sovereignty of God in the whole episode. “Joseph says, and now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; God sent me before you to preserve life. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. The amazing part of this story is the fact that after 20 years of captivity Joseph did not hold hatred in his heart toward his brothers. He pointed out to them, they were only following their inner will to solve their problem without thought of how it would affect Joseph. Joseph forgave his brothers and was reunited with his father. The Pharaoh invited Joseph’s entire family to come and live in Egypt. Thus we see the sovereignty of God and the free will of mankind at work.
Many people don't want to hear about gender differences in our politically correct culture, especially where it concerns marital roles. However, God developed the concept of the family for a reason. He expects us to shine in the darkness around us. The husband and wife are two nouns describing two uniquely different individuals. Each one has unique characteristics, needs, reactions, and patterns of coping with his or her environment. Although both are different, they represent two elements that complete one entity or whole. Men are often the logical thinking part of the family. As a rule, he must figure things out and develop plans to achieve his goals. He needs to know that his wife understands his needs and knows the plan and how to work it. The woman is often the emotional thinker. She must believe that she can reach her goals while maintaining the peace and security all women need. She needs to know that her husband understands her feelings and that she can express them as needed. Having to change his plans due to outside circumstance doesn’t suggest that it was a bad plan. Nor does a wife’s emotional response to the changes indicate she opposes her husband. She is simply expressing emotionally. This will often be her first reaction. A man’s reasoning process is much like driving a car. You can't just lock the steering wheel in the direction you want to go and expect to get there. You must continue making minor adjustments until you arrive at your destination. The goal is the destination; it is not just a straight line. He often becomes angry when he thinks he might not get where he wants to go. Women tend to express their ideas with emotional energy. These emotions are inside and must come out one way or another. If they can’t talk with their husband, they will often find a trusted friend with whom they can share these feelings, causing the marriage to suffer. The more the pressures build without a release valve, the bigger the explosion. A man responds to what he thinks is happening, while his wife reacts to what she feels is happening. There is a difference. They can both get control of their reactions by recognizing one another's strengths and by allowing these strengths to blend as they learn to draw from one another. Understanding our mate brings a couple closer, and it makes it easier to cope with life’s unexpected interruptions. Your family can conform to its surroundings and become what the world wants it to be, or you can choose to create your own environment and fulfill God’s design for your family. The family is like a cake. The husband adds the staples, flour, eggs, and oil, and the wife adds the sugar, spice, and flavoring. As the heat comes and goes, it results in something tasty and delightful that everyone can enjoy.
2 Timothy 3.1. In the year about 65 A.D. Paul the apostle wrote these words. “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come:” At the time he was writing from a Roman jail cell. Paul describes in this chapter 19 different characteristics that were identifiable in the Roman culture of his day. It seems we have inherited many of these characteristics in modern-day America. “Men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy; 3:2. I spend considerable time on the Internet reading the news of the day. As a parent and a grandparent, I am distressed when I read the accounts of siblings killing their own siblings over some minor infraction. Or when parents put a very young child out of the house in the evening because he or she would not eat what they were told. Fathers killing their own children because the child acted out and was disobedient is beyond all reason. This type of behavior does not seem to be normal human behavior. Something must really be out of focus to a parent who will destroy their own child. I raised two sons who were almost a constant aggravation. As they got older, I became less inclined to practice corporal punishment because I felt worse about it afterward than they did. So I tried to find ways to express disappointment and anger in less aggressive ways. Although we had numerous confrontations, I managed to make it through the high school years with most of my sanity. Now I’m proud to say both of my boys are fine young men, and both have raised two grown boys who are making fine young men. I can’t take credit for any of this but I’m so thankful they made it through the tough years and will make fine parents one day. One factor that was a constant through the growing years was a strong Christian environment in the home. We had our differences on occasion, but the conclusion to most of them were agreements that the behavior was not acceptable. Notice Paul writes, “disobedience to parents “as one of the factors which
ceases away from the home. Such behavior is passed on to our hard working schoolteachers and educators. Unfortunately, they have less influence and restrictions than the parents. Just this past week I read where a teenage boy killed his two siblings because he did not like their behaviors. Not only did those parents lose the two children deceased, but they also will lose the remaining son to the penal system. Paul writes, “unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good.” These characteristics yield themselves to a destructive social lifestyle. Paul continues his writing by saying, “traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” I am no longer in the circles where I witness a great deal of youth activity, and there are numerous examples of young people who are setting standards for their generation which are quite acceptable. But I often wonder if those who are acting out so openly are enlisting by default young people who have no solid ground upon which to stand and will follow the poor behavior that is so often evident in many of our sports leaders and movie stars. The Bible is not silent about poor behavior. Warnings are frequently given to remind us that others are watching what we’re doing. Paul is now out of the main loop and facing in a short time his own mortality. But Paul is not alone in the Bible regarding poor behavior. The Psalms and Proverbs are filled with statements and warnings about such behavior. Paul wrote, “Be not deceived God is not mocked; whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap.”
Love bears all things, trusts all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:7 In my world, love was a concept actualized only in the movies. It was a product of “western idealism.” Talk of love was always followed with an eye-roll and a snicker. As a child, love translated to approval or disapproval. My arranged marriage at 18 only solidified the idea that love was a sentiment that stemmed from a well-earned approval. In other words, if I didn’t do well, love was NOT in the air. Scripture calls our bodies vessels. What we fill these vessels with, is all that we can pour out. After I left my Muslim faith, not only was I physically isolated, but I was spiritually homeless. I drove endless, empty miles in my head looking for a place to call home. Acceptance was my greatest longing, and rejection my greatest fear. As I moved on, I met a new breed of people-Christians. What struck me most about them was their joy and abounding love. When I was with them, smiles were easy and their extended hands of friendship genuine. Old habits, however, die hard. I struggled to reconcile my hurt with Jesus’s command to love one another. Although I could not understand it then, God broke me down so completely, only to build me up new again. Through Jason, my new husband, he poured in lessons of unconditional love. On the days when I was most unlovable, my husband’s firm faith in God’s promises got us through. He became the presence of Jesus in my life. The bond shared between him, and his parents were gospel lessons of commitment to be regardless of the circumstances. They loved like Jesus. I began to accept that the Living God loves unconditionally, and through Him, so could I. If we have Jesus as our point of reference for love, we can stand steadfast and be strong enough to overcome emotional burdens that are meant to cripple us. In time, I was able to go back and face my abuser and forgive him. I was able to forgive family who had left my children and me when we most needed them. Forgiveness was not enough though. God wanted me to go back and be the face of Jesus to them. It was one thing to forgive my tormentors. It was an entirely different thing to bring them back into my life. While I struggled with the thought of being kind, I struggled even more with the idea of sharing the gift of Jesus with them. Surely their mocking hearts did not deserve the gift of such eternal grace. But God does not waste a single tear. How would they change if they didn’t hear? How would they hear if someone didn’t tell them? God took my broken life and healed it. Then He sent me back to them so they could see firsthand that only Jesus can make an everlasting change, that His love is real, that the Living God is not petty or whimsical, and that His rock never moves. I wish I could say it has been an easy road. Most certainly not. It is hard not to do all the talking and instead, let Jesus be the face they see and allow Jesus to work in their hearts. Has God laid a burden on your heart for someone? What can you say that can disarm that guarded person? Sometimes it is just a quiet prayer and the sincere love of Jesus on your face.