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What Next?

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It had been such a whirlwind for the followers of Jesus and closest disciples from the day He rode into Jerusalem and palm branches were waving, to the shocking trial and pronouncement He would be crucified. He had talked about so many things, but it had never really connected. Even as the events began to unfold, it seemed surreal. Those days when He was in the tomb, they could barely hope they would see Him again and certainly they wondered if they would be hunted down and crucified now as well.

When they heard the news, He was alive and the tomb was empty, they were stunned and overjoyed. Little by little over 40 days many gained glimpses of Him and marveled at his appearance. Then He was gone with a promise to return and of all things He was leaving them to continue on without his day-to-day teaching.

What next?

They were to be his witnesses, to carry on spreading the words He taught them. Who would believe them? How could they begin to do all He asked of them? Had what they heard finally been ingrafted into their hearts?

What would happen to them if they told the truth? But telling the truth would never be enough. They would need to live it, live life as He had done if they were to be believed as authentic.

Hardest of all, they would need to love the way He loved.

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How could they possibly do that? He demonstrated it every moment in how He touched others, listened to them so that He heard what was beyond the words they said. He looked into their very being no matter how many hours He had been up or teaching. He loved the weak, the children, the aged, and those who were from different tribes than his own family.

And who could forget that last meal in the upper room when He had taken off his garments, wrapped a towel around his waist, picked up a basin and began to wash their feet with the most tender care? He had served them more humbly than all the other times they had been together over these months since He called them.

And He had told them the truth up to the very end though it cost Him everything.

To witness now and tell the truth could get them killed, but how could they not tell the truth of this One who had given them everything including life eternal despite their flawed character and lackluster efforts so far?

Now all these centuries later as the excitement of Easter fades each of us who believes is faced with the same question, the same task. How will we live in the midst of a broken world as He calls us? What will our witness look like? Will others recognize Him in us because of what we say or because of how we live?

“The chief difficulty in maintaining Christian witness is timidity. The life of the world is gaudy, noisy, and assertive. The life of faith is modest, quiet, and unassuming. What can ordinary Christians say that will stand a chance in the brash shouting of money and pleasure and ambition? Or in the wailing laments of boredom and depression and self-pity? In a society in which the thesaurus of metaphor and symbol has been ransacked by cynical advertisers, faithless artists, and indulgent entertainers to condition us to maniacal but brainless devotion to me and now, how can the imagination be renewed so that we can say, honestly and personally, without necessarily raising our voices, who God is and what eternity means?”

Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder

I wonder if we do it best in the ordinary moments of our day when we don’t look for how to share the message of Christ and instead become the message. It can be taking time to smile at the person serving us food or taking our payment and noticing their name, looking him or her in the eye and thanking that person. It can mean listening to that person tells us one more time a story we have already heard without impatience or frustration. It can mean slowing our steps and the pace of our life to notice those on a path of their own.

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The possibilities are endless. Truth will not always mean confronting someone with it. Sometimes it will be living it out so they see it when they have never seen it before. Truth telling may not result in death on a cross, but it will still cost you something because it will require death to our own self-absorption so we can hear the Lord pointing out this or that next little assignment that will show Him to someone else. And that is where we often get stuck. We are far more self-absorbed than we would want to admit and for as much as we want to receive love from others and all that means to us, we are less enthusiastic about the cost we will pay by loving someone else with the same care we desire.

We often say we feel inadequate to live that way, share that way and guess what? We may well be but Paul answers that dilemma for us:

“Not that we are adequate in ourselves so as to consider anything as having come from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God,”

2 Cor. 3:5 (NASB)

What’s next?

Maybe we need to ask Him.

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God’s Darkest Hour

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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. He tried to reach their hearts to the very end.

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. It was the day He triumphed over evil and gave us the gift of Himself.

He gave us life with Him.

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Are We Asleep?

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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?

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Would They Recognize Him Now? Would We?

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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”!

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.

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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!

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More That is True

God’s listening heart is like no other, but we are being made and shaped into his image. What is the path to developing a listening heart like his?

It can be easy for any of us to say that He is perfect so of course He has a listening heart as described in my previous post (https://pamecrement.com/2021/03/22/not-too-good-to-be-true/). Perhaps that heart stems first of all from being the only one who loves perfectly. There is not one smidgeon of love in Him that is tainted with sin or self. He simply is love. He is omnipresent and yet is never too busy to listen to the heart of any of his creation that calls out to Him.

If He calls us to love, to be like Him, then how do we finite humankind fixed in time and space develop a listening heart? How do we begin since it is evident that we cannot say we are simply born this way or not?

There are many ingredients and no true recipe since He likely adapts the path according to the design of each one of us and his purposes.

One thing on the list would surely be acquainted with suffering. Isaiah 53:3 (ESV) says in part, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief…” God gave us a graphic image of his willingness to suffer when He came as Christ and endured a cruel tortuous cross alone. He gave up Himself for us while knowing those disciples then (and now) would often let Him down, stumble, walk away, and not model that perfect love and listening heart He modeled. It was the cross that was the test of obedience.

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He chose to be poured out and broken for any and all who would receive Him based on who He is, not who or what they were. He already knew He would pay the price for many more who would betray and reject Him. He learned obedience by first listening and then suffering.

“Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered.”

Hebrews 5:8 (NLT)

Christ’s listening heart was shaped through suffering, but first and above all, He listened.

To be like Him, the path for us starts there as well.

Learning to listen to Him moves beyond listening to the preached Word or trying to be obedient to the commands we see there.

We get to know someone best by listening carefully to them. We are not distracted by our environment, our own thoughts, how we want to respond, what we hope to get from the other person, or what we want that other person to think of us. That requires a good bit of practice and dying to self on every level. It means we aren’t first listening so he or she will then listen to what we want to share, but rather selflessly listening to come to know the heart of the other person.

And it starts with our vertical relationship with God. It goes beyond “hearing” the preached Word or reading the Bible. It goes beyond praying to Him and moves us to make the time in prayer a time of relationship development where we don’t do all the talking. We pause and take time to really listen and practice it, so we come to learn to know his voice within our own hearts, minds, and spirits as if He were right there enjoying a conversation with us.

How much do we want to really know Him and his heart? We “hear” Him in multiple ways, but as we speak and pause to listen for that “still small voice” we will come to know Him best. We will know more about the depth of his love and affection for us and that will shape us more into his image and hone obedience.

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How precious is the sound of the voice of a child to a parent! How reassuring and comforting the voice of a parent whispering into the ear of a child!

In my little corner of the world those words whispered as I wait are so precious that I do not want to forget them or later be tempted by the enemy to believe He never speaks to me, so my journal contains the conversation between us as a testimony of the vertical relationship we share, and I seek to know Him better.

And the enemy of our souls hates that because he knows how much deeper it will forge the bond of love between us. He knows it will allow me (us) to develop more of a listening heart.

That will allow me to be used on assignment by Him to listen to others, to come to hear his nudge about needs they may not be able to express or feel safe enough to share as well as any they do. Then my heart will look more like his because the time in his Word and listening to his voice will adjust my self focus to HIS focus. That also comes from reading the whole book about Him not just bits and pieces that I find easy. He wants us to know Him on every page from Genesis to Revelation.

A great illustration of that is found in Revelation 10:9 where John is told to take an open book from the angel and eat it. Beyond the rest of that passage, have you considered what God is saying there?

“St John is told not only to take the open book but to eat it. Eating a book takes it all in, assimilating it into the tissues of your life.”

Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder

When we have assimilated Him into the tissues of our life, our words and actions will leak in consistent congruent patterns that convey HIS listening heart because we have first listened to Him.