Let me say that again. My immediate thought was, "No bad." How could that be? I've already written that it's spring break right, and Savannah has sinusitus, the pollen is out in full force (therefore I cower at all living plants, take my myriad meds and shower 40 times a day to breathe), and, c'mon, we are regular people - there must be some "bad" right? Wrong.
We are not mere regular people. We are in Christ. And that, my dear friends, means there is truly no "bad." How can this be? Does Jesus give us an easy, smooth, life? No, but He does give us His life, which is the source of true joy and hope and lasting peace (not just the absence of conflict).
In our weekly women's Bible study we've been studying the book of James. I've had the privilege of leading it. Since September. And you know what that means? If you've ever led a Bible study you probably know what I'm about to type - it means that I get to learn the most. Not just because I'm doing the research and preparing the lessons and questions, and not just because I'm checking in with everyone individually (as much as I can) in addition to our weekly group meeting. Those are good things and keep the gospel ever in front of me (as does coordinating childcare!! Sheesh the time and effort that takes!). But the truth is that when you labor to dissect the Word of God and present it to a group of women in whom you desperately desire to see the character of Christ formed, you see the power of scripture. You see the power of prayer. And you know (you KNOW) that you have have mostly nothing to do with the fruit that results.
It's the season of Lent in the church calendar. The 40 days before Easter in which Christians traditionally fast or refrain to draw closer to God. A remembrance of Christ's testing in the wilderness and of our dependence on our Heavenly Father for all things. A reset button, in some ways, for our perceptions. When I was a child I often gave up food, like chocolate - and was SO happy that Sunday was always a celebration of Easter so if I needed to "cheat" it was okay to eat that forbidden dark sugary goodness once a week. But that is not the point. Not deprivation.
One year when I was a child our pastor gave out $10 in envelopes and said we should tend to our "talents" to see the Kingdom of God enlarged during that Lenten season. The point of the fast is to replace the time eating, playing, thinking, etc. about what you've removed with time spent "eating," playing, thinking about God - His character, provision, mercy and love. To see sin exposed and repent - turning away from our idolatry and toward our good God who is actually worthy of our worship. I have no idea what I did with the money, but the idea of something more "holy" for that time stayed with me.
This year we hit Ash Wednesday (the beginning of Lent) right as we finished James, chapter two. It was perfect. After months and months of reshaped thinking on the world and our conduct, James chapter 2, verse 26 summed it up with these words, "For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead." So we set out to see where we live "dead" lives, places we either know that action is called for and we ignore it, or places where the action of belief is called for and we fail to run to Jesus, inviting the Holy Spirit to search us, reveal our unbelief, and begin the work of trust in areas not previously revealed to others, or even ourselves. This process has had its ups and downs, much as you might expect.
So what was mine, you might ask? Getting up early. This might sound trivial (or not), but it turns out it was much more about my expectations of entitlement than I expected. And it culminated a few Sundays ago with the Lord graciously answering my pleadings and, instead of joyfully and thankfully receiving His answers, I palpably felt my great disappointment and bitterness at His Word. And that crushed me. And I cried. My poor husband - he's in the middle of his sermon and I'm weeping like a hungry baby - for no discernable reason to anyone around me. And during the musical worship set afterwards (a time for response) I just kept going. I was a heaping pile of goo, folks, goo. And it was great. The shock of seeing such a massive root of bitterness where I had no idea it existed changed my whole world. My perceived world, that is. How grateful I am to see something that was there all along - at least now it is no longer hidden and I can move into that place, in trust (see John 3:19-21). And so I set my alarm. And get up early. Earlier than my kids? Not always. But I have a whole new attitude that seeps into my day, and all the doubt of "how will that schedule change affect my ability to function, to have quality time with my husband, to allow "light sleeper Savannah" to sleep through the beep just on the other side of the wall, to accomplish x and y, to etc. and etc. and etc." has melted away. Because the Lord knows what He is doing. He has set out my days and my paths for me to walk in, and if He commands it, it is not only better, but WILL come to pass. How silly of me to fight Him. Or to grudgingly obey. I should have run, no skipped, cheerfully and playfully to His revealed will. Maybe next time I'll have learned...
So tomorrow (or, rather, today, as I look at the clock) is the day before Passover, the day before the Last Supper, the day before Jesus washes His disciples feet, tells them one will betray Him, and has all His dearest friends sleep instead of pray with and for Him. He'll sweat blood, and submit - with no bitterness, to His Father in heaven, whose will is good and right. And then He'll be betrayed by the one He called for that purpose, and imprisoned.
The next day He'll be sentenced and put to death ON A CROSS - a bloody, humiliating, "inhuman," we say, way to die. But it's utterly human. No more human thing - than to have our sin split open and displayed.
Then Saturday. The day Jesus was really dead, in a sealed tomb, and the hopes and lives of all His followers were turned upside down and inside out. I wonder if Peter replayed his denials over and over, wondering how life would go on. What were the dark places of his heart that he saw so clearly. And how did his mourning cries sound, knowing he had betrayed the one he loved and with seemingly no way to seek forgiveness.
Sunday I'll meet you back here, and I invite you to visit for a song of praise. For the wonder is that Jesus' life was accepted as full payment for our sins. We know that because He was resurrected - proof of the Father's acceptance. And when we are united to Him (King Jesus!) in faith our life is dead and buried, and Christ's perfect life becomes ours. What a joy it will be, after meditating on my wretchedness, to see Christ's glory in all its splendor - given to me from the inside out.
Please join me and the other women of our study as we have these passages from the events of the Passion week (and some others if you want more), and let's look at all these next five days have to offer us - to reset our perceptions and line them up with the reality of substance - the reality of heaven.
Thursday Luke 22:7-65 (additional: 1 Cor. 11:17-33)
Friday Luke 22:66-23:56 (addt'l: Rom. 1:18-2:8)
Saturday Luke 23:56b, 22:34, 54-62 (addt'l: Psalm 51)
Sunday Luke chapter 24 (addt'l Eph. 2:1-10, also Eph. 1:3-14)