Blog

God’s Darkest Hours

IMG_1536 (1)
Photo by Elise Finch

As the sun began to set, those who had followed the Lord could not let go of the events of the day. He had clearly told them, but what they had witnessed was beyond their imagination despite His words.

 

What would it have been like to be one of His disciples on that long, wrenching day at the end of such an incredible week?

 

I wonder.

 

Would I have steeled myself against the horror unfolding and clung to His words while still standing at the foot of the cross or would I have been one of those who were not present?

 

Would I have been overcome by grief and fear of what would happen next or would I have fallen prey to doubt?

 

So much had happened during this week…

 

The triumph of Palm Sunday had filled so many with hope and celebration! Then on Monday Jesus had entered the temple courts zealously overturning the tables of the moneychangers who were buying and selling. He was reminding them this place was to be a place of prayer and not one of robbers. A noisy melee broke out in the chaos of doves and money flying everywhere, people scrambling, and reeling at the scene. They had never seen Jesus this way.

 

Then on Tuesday as the disciples were walking along with Him, He had cursed the fig tree that was not producing fruit. How puzzled they seemed to be at how quickly the tree had withered before their very eyes! Once more He exhorted them if they had faith and believed as they prayed, what they prayed would be done.

 

How astonishing were those things the disciples witnessed, but now to think He was saying they could do such things was more than they could take in.

 

From there they went on to the temple courts that He had just cleared the day before and He was confronted by the chief priests and elders about where He had received authority to do what He had done. It was a trap they were setting for Him and He knew it. His wise answer rebuffed them and left them stymied as Jesus then refused to answer them and expose their unbelief.

 

Then came the Olivet Discourse where He warned the disciples through another story. This time He spoke of the foolish and wise virgins charging them to keep watch. To think this admonition came prior to that long night in the Garden of Gethsemane and yet they had not taken in the meaning for either the future or the present.

 

How Jesus loved them and longed for His disciples to hear and understand!

 

I think He does for us as well. How can I possibly judge their behavior when I am not always listening and hesitating to follow if I don’t understand what He has asked of me?

 

It was on Wednesday that Judas slipped away from the others and made his bargain with the chief priests to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Did his fellow disciples have any clue he might be tempted to do such a thing?

 

It reminds me that in the “now” those I share the journey of faith with are also tempted even as I can be. How deeply and openly I share my doubts, fears, and temptations may well determine my ability or their ability to withstand it and make all the difference in this walk with Him. That means that I need to be purposeful in my times with those closest to me to help guard their hearts and allow them to guard mine as well.

 

Thursday was a feast day, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and Jesus directed His disciples where to go in the city and whom to speak with about preparing a place at his house for Jesus and His disciples to celebrate the feast.

 

When they were gathered there, Jesus broke bread and served wine giving thanks and once more giving them information few could likely grasp. He plainly told them they would not share this meal with Him again until they were together again in His Father’s kingdom.

 

They sang a hymn and then left for the Mount of Olives to the garden in Gethsemane. As they walked along in the moonlight, what was their conversation? Did they wonder at the interaction between Jesus and Judas? Did they question Judas abruptly leaving them?

 

Jesus wanted them to be with Him, to watch with Him, and to pray.

 

He knew and understood what lay before Him and despite His willingness to be obedient to His Father, His heart was in anguish and He asked His Father if there was any other way while still being willing to endure what lay ahead.

 

As the disciples looked back on that last sweet time with Jesus in the upper room and then their failure to watch with Him as he asked, were their own hearts burdened with guilt and shame for their failure?

 

The ugly scene of Judas arriving with soldiers to arrest Him angered them. How could he have done such a thing? Yet their own fear caused them to flee the scene. Peter’s curiosity brought him to the courtyard where early in the morning the prophecy Jesus had spoken about his betrayal would come to pass.

 

It was 6 AM on that Friday that Jesus would stand before Pilate. It had been a long night. He had already suffered much, but within an hour He was sent on to Herod for a decision on what to do with Him. Pilate must have hoped Herod would handle things, but instead he was returned to Pilate where Pilate looked for a way out and offered to release one of the prisoners. The priests had spurred on the crowd and elders who had arranged the betrayal by Judas to choose Barabbas rather than Jesus.

 

So in the end, as Old Testament prophets had foretold, Jesus was sentenced to death and by 8AM had been led away to Calvary. An hour later the grisly crucifixion had begun with only a handful of those He loved standing nearby to testify to the events. They were the ones who watched the soldiers casting lots for his clothing and heard the insults and mocking railed at Him.

 

These few would bear witness to the exchange Jesus had with the criminal crucified to one side of Him who was promised paradise. They also heard His words to His mother and the admonition to John to care for her as a son.

 

By noon that day, darkness covered the scene and at 1PM Jesus cried out to His Father and spoke of His thirst. By 2PM they would hear His final words “It is finished”. At the end of the ninth hour, the soldiers would thrust a spear in His side to assure He was dead. An earthquake would occur and then as sunset approached He was taken from the cross and Joseph of Arimathea offered his own tomb as a burial place.

 

The sun sank further and further and I might think the disciples’ hearts weighed heavy as it dipped below the horizon.

 

Was it all over?

 

What would become of them?

 

It was God’s darkest hour as He set aside His Son’s life for me, for you, for any who believe in Him.

 

Good Friday?

 

Perhaps we for whom He died can say it was good because He gave us the best gift we could have ever received.

 

 He gave us life with Him.

 

IMG_1535
Photo by Elise Finch

 

 

 

 

Are We Asleep?

garden_of_gethsemane_pictures_free_9171_1536_1024
The Garden of Gethsemane

 

The Garden of Gethsemane at the base of the Mt. of Olives gives us poignant images of Jesus as He seeks his Father in anguish and travail as what we know of Holy Week nears the climax at the cross on Good Friday.

 

The place itself carries so much symbolism. The name of the garden represents an olive mill or olive press. Here, surrounded by olive trees harvested and pressed into oil, the passion of Jesus would begin.

 

He too would be crushed.

 

On this night, He would feel the crushing agony He was about to face and would plead with His Father to consider if there was no other way that His will might be accomplished. It was a deep crushing of His heart and spirit that would precede the crushing of His body as He would be beaten and then crucified.

 

Jesus and his disciples would have walked here after the Passover meal they have shared together. Passover was always at the time of the full moon so the moonlight would have illuminated the path they took. He had already spoken of what was to happen to Him when He had broken bread and poured out the wine, but what did the disciples really understand?

 

He had invited them to share this night with Him, this elite group who had walked with Him during His three years of ministry. They had heard His teaching, seen His miracles, and enjoyed the intimacy of His company that was theirs alone.

 

And of course there were the three closest to Him (Peter, James, and John) who even on this night were singled out to go farther with Him into the garden where He would fall on His knees. These three had been chosen to be with Him and observed His transfiguration. They were perhaps His closest companions and now they had been invited into another very sacred moment.

 

As I read the passage and how the disciples responded to His need and how Peter, James, and John fell asleep, I can feel anguish for Jesus in His loneliness. I confess to feeling very judgmental of the disciples for their failure to watch with Him, pray with Him, be truly with Him.

 

Jesus had told them He would lay down His life and be taken from them and asked them to watch and pray. We have a similar image when Elijah tells Elisha he will be taken, but Elisha does not depart nor take his eyes from Elijah.

 

Peter, James, and John, however, have fallen asleep despite the Lord’s attempt to awaken them more than once. Even though He has shared with them that His soul was exceedingly sorrowful even to the point of death, their concern for Him does not keep them alert to minister to Him.

 

What about this troubles me so much?

 

I think there is something inside of me that wonders if I too fail to be concerned about His heart, His desire for my companionship. How often do I think about or even consider it?

 

Perhaps we are more like those disciples than we would desire to admit.

 

They were tired. They had been with Him ministering day after day doing the business of ministry and caring for the people. Now they fail to care for Him, for His heart, in this dark hour.

 

Have they been so busy doing the work of ministry they were insensitive to His desire for a relationship with them above all else?

 

Am I? Are you?

 

Can we be caught up in doing so many good things for Him that we have little energy to simply be with Him?

 

Ultimately, He offered them grace even as He does us, but I am drawn back to the reality that He left off praying and had gone to them. What was He seeking from them, hoping for?

 

We will never know.

 

What I am reminded of as I read the passage out of Matthew 26 is this:

 

I don’t want to be too tired, too weary, too involved with the busyness of life or ministry that when He comes and simply wants to spend time with me that I fall asleep and miss that time He has carved out for me.

 

This passage isn’t the only passage in scripture that speaks to being available and ready for being with Him. We see it when Mary chooses the best part. We see it in the parable of the foolish virgins when they have no oil and miss the Lord’s appearing.

 

Lord, help me, help us, to be available to you, to be alert, and to be ready and make time to be with you the priority. You gave us all you had, sparing nothing. Awaken my heart, our hearts, to what you most desire of me, of us.

 

 Are we asleep?

 

 

 

 

The Prayer Box

978-1-4143-8688-1

 

Reading is and always has been a great love of mine. Variety is my preference and I invariably have several books of different types going along with my daily Bible time. One book in the mix tends to be something that stretches me and helps me go deeper. Another book will often focus on history or historical content as the theme. Whatever the mix turns out to include, a novel will be there as well.

 

It can be easy to shortchange how powerfully a novel can speak to our hearts, but over time I have discovered good novels, good fiction, often speak volumes that help me grow, inspire me, and touch my heart.

 

Reading Lisa Wingate’s book, The Prayer Box, was my first introduction to this author. As her words began to weave together the story, I was caught up with not only the characters but the underlying themes as well.

 

The setting for the book is the Outer Banks of North Carolina and tells the story of Tandi Reese and her children who have recently moved from Texas. Her life has been upended in more than one way, but she is hoping to find enough work to afford the cottage she is renting from 91-year-old Iola Anne Poole.

 

Tandi has no idea how she will be able to stay in this cottage. She arrived in North Carolina on fumes and barely has enough money to get started.  She’s hoping something will turn up for at least a chance to stay there for a short time, hoping that Iola Anne Poole will somehow let her stay even if she discovers she only has pennies in her pockets.

 

But Tandi has no idea what this 91-year-old woman’s influence will become or how it will change her life and ultimately the lives of her children who are living with the consequences of Tandi’s poor choices.

 

A cast of other characters will enter the scene including a group of special ladies from Sandy’s Seashell Shop, a current boyfriend named, Ross, who has shown her the party life of a surfer, Rowdy, her daughter’s boyfriend, and a few others. But it will be Iola Anne Poole whose life and character will unfold alongside Tandi’s story in this significant narrative that will inspire and confound you (just as it does Tandi).

 

The Prayer Box invites the reader to experience the faith and life of Iola along with  Tandi as she discovers the prayers Iola has written for many years and tucked away in various prayer boxes. These prayers will reveal the untold stories of Iola’s life, how she came to own the Victorian style house where she lives and also the cottage Tandi is renting.

 

Iola’s prayers are laced with not only her untold story, but also powerful words that lead Tandi to a life she never believed possible.

 

In one prayer letter to God (or “Father” as the letter begins) Iola writes, “…the most difficult battles are not the ones fought outside the armor, but the ones within it.”

 

In another prayer letter that begins “Dearest Father”, Iola reflects on her relationship with God in these words, How strange that when the hours are long with misery, when needs are many and my heart aches, I seek the solace of conversation with you. Yet when the day is sun-drenched and calm, as peaceful as a milk-full foal splayed on the grass, I am silent, my needs quiet in their slumber.”

 

It would be easy for me to tell you more about this story, but I would encourage you to discover these two stories, Tandi’s and Iola’s, for yourself. You won’t be disappointed. Tears filled my eyes as I read the final pages. My heart embraced the story of the young broken woman, Tandi, and the 91-year-old, Iola, whose own life had been broken and then went on to impact more people than anyone ever guessed until Tandi discovered The Prayer Box.

 

Tyndale House publishes the book, but they did not provide me with a copy for my review nor ask me to review it. This link will take you to Tyndale for an additional synopsis of the book: The Prayer Box.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Would They Recognize Him Now? Would We?

IMG_3401

Jesus had been in their midst for three years. They had watched Him heal the sick. They had watched Him feed the 5,000 and the 4,000. They had seen Him send the moneychangers fleeing from the temple, but was He the king they had been looking for?

 

There were doubts here and there because He did not appear as royalty. He had no kingly trappings. He had not gathered an army to stop Roman domination. Could this truly be the Messiah?

 

God had used many things to confirm the Old Testament prophecies about Jesus. Somehow doubt lingered, but then on Palm Sunday He gave them another image unlike the others and they quickly responded in their behavior even though days later their hearts would be far from Him.

 

The ride into Jerusalem on a donkey fulfilled one more prophecy from Zechariah. He came on a lowly donkey, not in a chariot with runners ahead clearing the way and bidding people to bow.

 

He had always walked among them so this scene (so modest in many ways) still became a triumphal entry which abruptly caused those watching to cut palm fronds and throw them on the path before Him and wave them in the air, saluting Him with shouts of “Hosanna”!

blur-close-up-concrete-212944

It was a day of great joy and celebration at the outset of what would be a dark and tragic week.

 

It was also a day that points to the changeableness of the human mind and heart. It paradoxically points to the very reason He would be put to death later in the week and why His death would be necessary to pay for the sinful condition of humanity.

 

How could they have forgotten so easily what they had witnessed with their own eyes, heard with their own ears?

 

 This pivotal week in the Christian faith stirs many emotions and thoughts. We look back and consider, but do we also take note of the now and the not yet?

 

Do we now recognize how tepid our own responses to Him can be and where He fits into the priorities of our life?

 

 Do less committed brothers and sisters around us cause us to pursue a more casual relationship with Him and easily sway us?

 

Are we tempted to lay aside His principles, and truths for a more popular path?

 

Would we prefer an easy stroll behind Him rather than walking with Him?

 

I don’t think that most of us ever plan to do any of those things.

 

But ANY relationship left unattended falls into disrepair and distance.

 

 The crowd saluting Him would be influenced by their priests to deny what they had seen for themselves. It is an important reminder of personal accountability for our relationship with Him and the need not to allow others to deter us from what our hearts have responded to and confirmed.

 

What about Palm Sunday reminds us of the “not yet”?

 

As we look back and take note and learn, we also should remember to look forward to the next time He will arrive in Jerusalem in triumph. He will come as risen Lord and King. Will we be ready to ride with Him? Will He find us steadfast and unwavering?

 

Many places in scripture point to that “not yet” in the future. One that speaks to me as I close this is from Phil. 2:9-11

 

“Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Phil. 2:9-11 ESV

 

 Let us look back and celebrate, take stock of our hearts now, and prepare for the greater celebration yet to come when our voices join in Hosanna to the King!

IMG_1580

 

How to Defeat Doubt

 

IMG_1533

Doubt.

 

What a pesky thing it can be for any and all of us! It would be lovely if we could say we never experienced doubt, but if we are totally honest none of us really can say that.

 

Doubts are those uncertainties that can send us spinning. They also can become snares that lead us astray.

 

When we are very young, doubt does not seem to be quite as much of an enemy. Unless something has occurred to create a question, we tend not to wonder whether or not to jump into daddy’s arms when he invites us to do so. We know he will catch us if he told us to jump.

 

Little by little doubts seem to grow unnoticed like weeds hidden in the grass at first. It can happen all at once, but often it is a gradual thing. It starts when something we believed in or trusted lets us down. It also happens, as we get a little bit older when we are tempted and the enemy whispers as he did to Eve that we will be okay if we yield.

 

bloom-blooming-blossom-414367Like some of you, I somehow grew up with what seemed to be a fair number of uncertainties. They seemed to crop up in all kinds of places.

 

Much of it came from nagging doubts about whether or not I was loved, accepted, and valued if I was less than perfect (and I was). As these questions evolved into a belief that I wasn’t or might not be, questions and doubts seemed to multiply.

 

Despite my efforts to defeat these enemies, they clung to me into adulthood even though I had first accepted Jesus when I was 12.

 

A common little example was when I would plan to meet someone for coffee or lunch. If they were late, I would start to question if they were really coming or if they had someone they preferred to spend time with. I wondered if I mattered to them and if left unchecked, my insecurity grew.

 

When we don’t understand something, it can be easier to doubt. If we don’t really know someone, it can be easier to doubt.

 

Add to that our own filters about ourselves and soon we are slipping down a rabbit hole we cannot seem to get out of.

 

The truth is that the more I know and understand about myself or another person, 4k-wallpaper-beautiful-bloom-1413010the easier it is to defeat doubt and uncertainty about the relationship.

 

If I am waiting on a friend that I know well, I will know if they are late there is a good reason because it is unlike them; or I will know if they are late that it is common for them to be late because they are late for nearly everything and everyone! In both cases, I accept it is not about me.

 

These things can help us experience relationships that are not hampered by needless doubting.

 

The biggest challenges come in our relationship with the Lord. If our prayers don’t seem to be answered, or answered as we desire, it can be easier to doubt, lose faith, and question. When bad things happen despite all our efforts to be good, do the right thing, or be the right person, we can fall prey to questions in our heart even if our head knows that bad things can happen to anyone.

 

I am not sure that in this life we can totally escape all doubts, but I do believe we can do much to defeat them by growing in our understanding and knowledge of others. It helps us to make wiser choices about relationships and which ones are healthy and trustworthy.

 

Most important of all is to grow in our understanding and knowledge of the Lord.

 

At 12, I accepted Jesus into my heart, but I didn’t really know Him very well and didn’t expend time to grow in my knowledge and understanding so my footing was unsure and doubts could more easily assail my mind and heart.

 

Getting to know someone, getting to know the Lord, takes intentional time spent with them observing what they do, how they do it, what motivates them, and what they care about.

 

 I can hear a lot about someone, which can give me a sense of the person, but unless or until I spend time with him or her myself, I will never really know him or her nor trust and understand him or her at a significant level. That will make me vulnerable to doubt.

 

It’s also true I can hear a lot about the Lord from great preaching and teaching or hearing others share their testimony, but if I don’t spend time with Him coming to know His heart I will fall prey to doubt.

 

Because I am finite and He is infinite there are things I will never be able to fully understand about Him. But if I spend time seeking to know Him, know His heart, and not just learn more about Him, doubt will be defeated more easily as I rest in the certainty of His love and care, His goodness and grace.

beach-dark-dawn-39853