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“Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you will not fall into temptation.’ He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed,  ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. ‘Why are you sleeping?’ he asked them. ‘Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation’” (Luke 22:39-46).

On the eve before His crucifixion, Jesus knew each detail of the unprecedented suffering awaiting Him. Jeering pagans would scourge him until near death. The priests who claimed His Father as God would insist they strip and kill Him. He would drag a beam through the dusty streets, as those He suffered to rescue spat upon His battered body. His raw flesh nailed to rough wood, He would hang to suffocate in the blistering sun. And that wasn’t the worst of it. He would also bear the immeasurable weight of every sin from the advent of time until the distant end of all days. Incomparable physical, emotional, and spiritual agony.

Jesus foresaw all this as He poured the Passover wine. Three years of cherished moments with these men culminated in this final message.He ripped the bread and explained its secret meaning to blank stares. In conclusion, He handed the elements to the dear friends who would soon abandon Him.

The scent of roast lamb floated through the streets. Jesus led them beyond the hard-packed roads until the murmurings faded and lush grasses eased their steps. With the steep incline, His legs strained under the added weight of His coming journey. They settled under a favorite cluster of trees in the garden. Gentle breezes lulled His full-bellied companions into repose. Jesus offered a vital exhortation to his too-comfortable students.

“Pray that you will not fall into temptation.”

He surrendered Himself in a crucial prayer. Angels responded to strengthen Him. Christ continued His fervent interaction with the Father. Until—

Every nerve and hair prickled as He recognized this moment. The time had come.

Jesus returned to wake his dozing supporters. Yes, He realized their frailty. But He must impress the concept of crucial prayer. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”

Christ’s insistence upon prayer at this moment renders it a crucial matter. The word ‘crucial’ derives its significance from its parent term, crucifixion. Though comprehension eluded the disciples until after the resurrection, we now benefit from Christ’s magnificent teaching delivered on Maundy Thursday. He

  • Forgiveness. He fulfilled the secret meaning of Passover as the Messiah Lamb Who redeems us from the consequences of sin. Despite impending betrayals and our continued undeserving nature, He demonstrated ultimate grace.
  • Service. He modeled the nature of a servant, explaining an additional impact of His coming sacrifice as providing inspiration for selfless living.
  • Submission. He surrendered Himself in prayer to the Father, Who strengthened Him to face unimaginable agony. During His crucial prayer, the Lord sent angelic support.
  • Crucial Prayer. He exhorted His followers to pray against temptation. He knew the trials awaiting them in the coming season. He knows prayer is our essential resource to fortify and equip us foll all that lies ahead.

This Maundy Thursday, as you reflect upon Jesus’ message to the disciples at the Last Supper and Gethsemane, will you join me in committing to a discipline of crucial prayer?

Snowflakes dove from high clouds, mimicking their northern sisters who had successfully decorated the landscape for Christmas. Tropical breezes dissolved the flurry into tiny droplets. The parched earth embraced the saturated air. Glimmering mist kissed tree trunks, leaves, and noses of all who turned out to receive it. Heaven’s dew returned to bless the pleading world with an affectionate, I mist you…

While setting up Christmas lights today, I squinted to see a silvered version of neighboring homes. Though too fine for my eyes to see, the water’s effect remained undeniable. No matter how I might try to ignore the moisture, it enveloped me. I walked across the glistening lawn to get an extension cord. The yellowed grass squeaked a chorus of praise beneath my soles. Ah, how water revives and transforms our perspective when we feel the need for its quenching power.

The fine mist thickened within an hour. We could no longer ignore the rain’s presence. I prayed over my husband’s footsteps on the slick rooftop and ladder. And marveled at the promises spoken through our tropical flurry. The message of Christmas reigns over the world, despite its attempts to deny the true presence of Living Water.

We could look for Christmas at the mall, on Hollywood screens, or in the platitudes of cheery cards and carols. The marketplace attempts to whet our appetites for celebration, but fails to quench our thirst for life. Many feel estranged and disenchanted from this plasti-perfect requiem to build happy facades with our good fortune. Misfortune seems out of place among ‘the holidays,’ but the Lord crafted Christmas for those with no hope left in the world.

Christ laid aside his royal splendor to take the helpless form of a human infant. Born in a barn. To a homeless and outcast couple. Among people so oppressed and heavily taxed by foreign government that they could barely afford to eat. In a world starved of good news or any word from God. Despair, crippling diseases, and chronic illness ravaged the nation. Corruption infiltrated governments and worship leaders. The parched earth cried out for God’s presence. Jesus poured Himself into the midst of the horror. He starved, endured betrayal, and suffered unfathomable pain. He walked hundreds of country and back-alley miles to offer the quenching presence of God to remain with us forever. He didn’t spare a single drop of His life.

As the world’s thirsty plea for hope rings on today, Jesus still offers the fullness of Himself to slake our deficiencies. He refreshes our dusty flesh-state and revives our souls. Christ descends on us like gentle, yet saturating mist. Even when we fail to notice, His presence envelops us and all our circumstances. Hardships lighten in the silvery mist of eternal hope. Our strength renews, and we no longer feel as if we bear our burdens alone. Unlimited joy seasons the breezes from beyond the horizon, where our destined home holds an eternity free from problems. Heaven awaits as our next step, and the Author of Life promises to walk alongside us on the way there. We can stretch out our arms and sing in the glimmering rain.

As Living Water transforms our vision, we recognize those withering neighbors who need to hear the songs of heaven’s dew. This Christmas, will you join me in reaching out to offer a sip of refreshing hope to those who thirst? Be part of of the flurry. May Christmas pour Christ’s blessings through you until the world shimmers.

 

“The poor and needy search for water,
    but there is none;
    their tongues are parched with thirst.
But I the Lord will answer them;
    I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them” (Isaiah 41:17).

 

“In the time of my favor I will answer you,
    and in the day of salvation I will help you. . .They will neither hunger nor thirst. . .Then you will know that I am the Lord;
    those who hope in me will not be disappointed” (Isaiah 49:8-23).

“Therefore, ‘they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.

‘Never again will they hunger;
    never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
    nor any scorching heat.
 For the Lamb at the center of the throne
    will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
    ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes’” (Revelation 7:15-17).

“He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today. . . a Savior has been born to you. . . This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger’” (Luke 2:5-12).

“whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).

 

“Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty'” (John 6:35).

20140521_164204Bridges draw my eyes up and across their magnificent structures. Age and wear tug at my slumbering imagination, inspiring me to wonder at a bridge’s creation and years of shouldering live burdens toward safety. The builder invested careful engineering before setting the first stone at its foundation. Intense toil erected its magnificent path. The suffering laborer knew his work would provide means to cross a treacherous divide. For those who would follow his work, the bridge offered freedom from grave pitfalls below. The number of bridge goers would continue to increase beyond the end of the worker’s life. How many life stories plodded across this divide? Who paused to gaze into the ravine below and consider the passion required to secure their way?

So it is with our Bridge to Eternal Hope. Our Father, the Great Bridge Builder, engineered our way as soon as its need began. When sin ruptured the earth and triggered an epic collapse, a ravine gaped between the Father and His children. Deadly pitfalls threatened us, and we could not reach Him. The Father placed each stone with precise engineering, His heart empassioned to carry His children home securely. At the perfect moment, He set the Cornerstone which would never falter. Christ toiled and suffered, rending His body as building materials for the cross beams. He crafted a bridge to traverse the impossible divide.

We no more need linger on this forsaken shore. The passage welcomes us, drawing our wondering eyes up and over its secure structure. Let’s cross together with thankful and joyous hearts, pausing to cast a tearful gaze across the ravine. Thank You, Lord, for making the Way for us.

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

 

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. ..But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,  made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christand seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,…For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:1-9

“God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.” 1Timothy 2:3-6

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Have you ever had a “gee” statement hovering over your life? You know, one of those wistful comments that recur in your mind which usually end in a sigh? They tend to come with “if” and “wish” phrases, and weigh more than a sack of wet laundry. To put a finer point on them, gee thoughts bog the mind and heart, discouraging action.  

I’ve had a heavy one looming over me like an energy-zapping thundercloud.

Gee, it’d be nice if I could finally pursue my life’s purpose with confidence. 

I’ve long assured my little “gee” that I only lack self-confidence, but trust God’s faithfulness. What if I pursue the wrong course? After all, I could make a mistake. I’m rather goof-prone, so I can justify distrusting myself. Gee, I wish I were more graceful and less flawed. If I were made perfect, of course, I’d be successful for Jesus.

Gee…that made perfect phrase sounds familiar. 

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Scripture reminds me I don’t have to be perfect. God is perfect when I am flawed. Self-confidence remains a little “gee” issue, which faith renders a non-issue. Not only is God big enough to eclipse my flaws, He will be more glorified through them. 

My problem lay in granting authority to that little “gee” instead of trusting in the sovereignty of my big “G” God. My big “G” God can call down fire of inspiration, energy, and possibility. My big “G” will do His purpose through me if I just step into deeper faith. Come on Holy Spirit, set my life ablaze! 

Bruise hollows deepen my eye sockets. Despite attempts at heat-styling, my locks frazzle. I slouch before the mirror and marvel at the unkempt stranger glaring back at me.

When darkness surrounds the eyes, the body sinks into shadow. Matthew 6:23 piques my interest. Drained strength correlates with grey-shrouded lids the way focus aligns with soul health.

When I immerse myself in others’ suffering for a unrelieved stretch of months, their pain seeps into my heart and flesh. An intense gaze into evil’s poisonous spell upon this world, though studying it to devise a strategy to conquer it, can also burden my thoughts.

Heart, mind, soul, and body need divine rejuvenation. Spiritual retreats call me into the living waterfall of truth. Healthy focus requires adequate light to stave off the inky tide of soul-night. Praise and scripture cleanse me. Music, prayer, and meditation soak my mind with uplifting, scentatstic bubbles. God’s presence heals and renews my spirit and its perspective. 

He calls me to work for His glory, but at times He also calls me to rest in His arms. I cannot do one in exception to the other. 

I love You, O Lord, my strength. Illuminate my eyes and revitalize my soul, O Christ my Redeemer.

What’s your prayer of renewal this Holy Week? 

I glanced at the movie pass offer, displayed on a banner across the bloodmobile.

I just used my last movie pass with my son the other day. Maybe it’s a good day to give blood. I feel healthy, after all, and so much of our community struggles with a cold right now.

I strode into the chapel for worship and prayed for guidance. At the close of the service, I exited the double doors to face the blue bus again. I tilted my head and studied the option.

A whisper descended into my mind’s weak ear. “Not now. Go get a cup of coffee.”

I rounded the corner toward the social hall. I could get some coffee, stand available for a divine encounter, then proceed to the bloodmobile. Halfway down the sidewalk, a boy scout held a posterboard advertisement for a pancake breakfast.

Pancake breakfast? I don’t eat pancakes. I can’t possibly go in there and just get a cup of coffee without getting the scouts’ breakfast. There also won’t be many opportunities to bless or encourage others, since they’ll all be seated at tables with food I won’t be sharing.

I whirled around.

I can get some diet soda while donating blood. That should serve me just as well as coffee.

A nagging uncertainty pricked at my spirit as I marched across the street. I peered inside the bloodmobile at the empty benches.

“I must’ve come at just the right time.” I grinned at the phlebotomist and ascended the steps.

Paperwork and vitals breezed along without issue, but the ease ended there.

“Just a little prick, now,” the technician said.

Familiar with the process, I nodded. “Hope there’s not too much scar tissue. I’ve given blood from that arm many times.”

“Let me get someone to help.” He turned away.

I glanced at the clear tube extending from my arm. “That’s strange.”

The woman who took my paperwork elevated my elbow and jabbed the needle deep into my arm. I winced at the unfamiliar pain level. Needles never bothered me before. The clock ticked past eleven, each passing minute increasing my tardiness to teach the eleventh grade Sunday school class.

“Give the ball a squeeze every few seconds,” he reminded me. “You’re almost done.”

Squeezing sent a jolt through my arm. That’s never happened before. 

When the donation ended, he instructed me to raise my arm for a few seconds. He cleared me to lower it and another technician tried to apply a bandage. Profuse bleeding ensued, so she told me to raise my arm again. That’s never happened before, either.

At quarter past eleven, I hustled to the far building. My sole remaining student waved to me from the classroom across the hall. I joined the other class and apologized. Despite dizziness, I engaged the students with my usual passion for the Word.

I considered running errands after church, but a tug toward home persuaded me to put them off until later in the afternoon. I checked on my son’s cough, worked on some writing, and clipped coupons with no further dizziness.

On my way to the first of my errands, I processed my experience aloud. “I don’t think I’ll give blood again for a long time.”

I considered several shades of thread at the fabric store, but struggled to decide in the poor light. I took two in hand and grabbed a third.

The thought sifted into mind. “Don’t buy a third. Two is sufficient.”

I glanced at the spool. God? My stomach churned. I should go. I replaced the third spool and headed to the check out line.

Customer service hailed me. “I can take you over here.”

As she retrieved my change from the drawer, a tidal wave of nausea overwhelmed me. I knelt and rested my reeling forehead against the counter.

“Do you need a chair?” Three associates rushed from behind the customer service desk.

“Yes, that’d be good. I’m just dizzy all of a sudden…”

“Sit up.”

“Have some chocolate…some Coke…”

I sipped the cola. My gullet resisted the tiny square of candy. “I feel sick…”

A trash can appeared beside the chair. I leaned my head into a dream…things to do…

A crowd of faces hemmed in the fluorescent glare. Linoleum chilled through my tee shirt into my spine and ribs. How did I end up on the floor?

“Are you all right?” A man smiled down at me. “Her color’s looking a bit better now.”

“The ambulance is on its way,” an associate said.

After the EMTs completed their review, my husband arrived from work to support me through the parking lot and drive me home. My son later helped retrieve my car. I spent the unsteady evening in bed.

My failure to tune into the Spirit cost time and energy for countless others. I felt silly and weak, a reminder of my utter dependence on higher strength. Each minor choice carries an  infinite stream of potential contingencies, and God alone foresees them all. When I am tempted to trust my own understanding, I pray His Spirit will bring my public fall to mind. For in my weakness, I must listen.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.” (Proverbs 3:5-8)

May the Lord reward my husband, the anonymous doctor who volunteered his attention, the kind associates at JoAnn’s Fabrics, and Hillsborough County Fire Rescue from His richest treasures of abundant blessings.

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