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Monday, April 10, 2017

From "Hosanna" to "Crucify Him"

2,000 years ago, Jesus was preparing to die. The Passion Week had started with His triumphal entry, and it would end with His brutal death and glorious resurrection. I cannot fathom what He experienced during the days leading up to His trial and crucifixion. He knew exactly what was coming in the next few days, and He was a willing vessel for His Father, despite the pain that the tortuous events would bring.

As I read the stories in the Gospels of the events of the Passion Week (aka the week of the triumphal entry/crucifixion/resurrection), I can’t help but notice how people responded to Jesus’ presence in Jerusalem. As you read the Scriptures below, I think you will see why their actions baffle me.

John 12:12-14 – “The next day, the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.’”

Luke 23:18-23 – “But they all cried out together, ‘Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas,’ a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder. Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, but they kept shouting, ‘Crucify, crucify Him!’ A third time he said to them, ‘Why? What evil has He done? I have found in Him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release Him,’ But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that He should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. So Pilate decided that their demand would be granted.”

Wait, so on Monday they were worshipping Him like a king, and on Friday that were urgently demanding His murder? On Monday, His disciples were proud to be seen by His side, and on Friday, they were hidden and ashamed to be associated with Christ. That doesn’t make much sense! What hypocrites, right???... Baffling behavior, right???...

Not so much. (I think you can see where this is going…)

We can look at a multitude of examples throughout Scripture where God’s people follow Him one minute and disown Him the next. They worship Him wholeheartedly in one season, and then worship the idols and gods of their neighbors with their next breath. It’s easy to read over those stories, especially the stark contrast of behavior in the Passion Week, and become judgmental at those people. But my next thought quickly becomes a humbling confession that I am “those people”. I am the woman in the crowd who laid down her cloak for Jesus’ donkey, and I am the passerby surveying the crucifixion scene and mocking the “King of the Jews” on the cross. I am Mary, who willingly poured out expensive perfume to anoint Jesus and worship Him before His death, and I am the voice in the crowd urging Pilate to give the word that will end Jesus’ life.

I have no right to judge or condemn the actions of many Jews during the last week of Jesus’ life before He was crucified because I find myself many times following in their footsteps. My worship is genuine one day and then routine the next. My obedience is devoted one day and then hypocritical the next. My attitude is pure one day and then prideful the next. My words are kind one day and then stabbing the next. My commitment to Him is strong one day and feeble the next.

When Jesus went to the cross, He knew this about me and you and about every person in the crowd whose behavior had changed so drastically in four short days. He knew this about mankind, and yet He still went to the cross for us because of His great love – His love for His Father, which motivated His obedience, and His love for us. He endured because of love. He endured because He knew the depth and severity of our sins, and He knew we needed a way of redemption. He loved us so much that He didn’t want us to be stuck in our own filth and depravity. And so, He went to the cross knowing our past AND knowing that once we believed in Him, we would still falter and waver as we navigated our walk with Him. Our need for a perfect Savior outweighed the physical and emotional pain He experienced. His love was greater.

Jesus was fully God; thus He was aware of exactly what was going to happen to Him as the week progressed. Jesus was also fully human; thus He experienced the emotions that the upcoming events welled up, as well as every ounce of physical pain throughout the process. He experienced agony as He begged His Father for this cup to be removed from Him. He experienced sorrow for the sins of Jerusalem, God’s beloved people, and the sins of the world. He experienced grief at the betrayal of Judas, the denial of Peter, and the back-stabbing behavior of the people who shouted “Hosanna” on Monday and “Crucify Him” on Friday. He experienced embarrassment at the mockery of the soldiers as they stripped him naked and beat Him to an inch of His life, dressing Him in a purple robe and forcing a crown of thorns through His skull. He experienced weakness as He was forced to carry His own cross to the crucifixion site, the rough woody splinters weighing upon His back that was filled with open wounds. He experienced immense and unimaginable physical pain as the nails pierced His already pulverized body. He experienced deep internal pain in His soul as He felt the consequences and bore the weight of the sins of the world. He experienced acute loneliness as He experienced His Father turning away. He experienced the feeling of physically suffocating, as He hung on the cross gasping for breath. He experienced the most brutal physical death… Why?  Because of God’s great love.

Praise the Lord that His love is not measured by our faithfulness to Him, but rather by His beautiful character of perfect love, faithfulness, mercy, and grace!

So, when we fail in our walk with Him and change our allegiance from Jesus to worldly pleasures as quickly as the Jewish people during the week He was crucified, we need to remember these powerful truths in Romans 6:1-4, 6-7, 11-14.

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in the newness of life…We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin may be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died HAS BEEN SET FREE FROM SIN… So you must also consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourself to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”

What wonderful news! Since we have been bought with a price, and as believers, our old selves have been crucified with Christ, we have been set free from sin! Sin doesn’t have dominion over us anymore! We do not have to live defeated lives; rather we can live lives that are completely devoted to Christ. We can present our entire lives to Him as an empty vessel ready to do His will, following in the humble and powerful footsteps of Christ Jesus our Savior and Redeemer. Yes, we each have a past that is scarred with sin and rejection of God’s truth. Our lives before Christ’s transforming work were completely offensive to the holiness of God, and even after our personal salvation, we still can turn away and temporarily be controlled by sin. BUT that is not the end of the story, and that doesn’t have to be the ongoing pattern of our lives! Just as Romans 6 clearly explains, we can live in freedom from sin, from the wishy washy devotion to Christ that we may find ourselves in at times. We can live our lives as FAITHFUL followers of Christ FREE from the bondage of sin!


APPLICATION
-       READ/STUDY: Read Luke 22-24, which describes the events of the week that Jesus was crucified.
-       EVALUATE: Pay attention to the details of the passage above. As you read, ask the Holy Spirit to teach you new things about what may be a familiar story. Remember, the crucifixion story not just a story. These events actually happened, and they mean EVERYTHING for your life. These events are the reason that your life can have meaning. Don’t let this story become too familiar in the sense that you don’t notice the life-changing power in what Christ did for us. Don’t let this story be far from your mind. Remind yourself every morning of what Christ experienced during the entire Passion Week so that you can begin each day in humble and desperate worship of the Savior who died on your behalf.
-       PRAY: Praise the Lord for His sovereign plan to save a sinful people. Praise Him for His mercy. Praise Jesus for His sacrificial obedience as He endured so much on your behalf. Ask the Lord to reveal to you areas in which you are like the fickle-minded Jews during the Passion Week – yelling “Hosanna” and “Crucify Him” in the same week. Beg the Lord to empower you to live a life free from the slavery of sin as promised in Romans 6. Expect the Lord to work in your life each and every day, and devote your life to Him in prayer.

“O, Praise the One who paid my debt, and raised this life up from the dead! JESUS!”

As we anticipate and remember the details of Jesus’ painful sacrifice and immeasurable love during this Passion Week leading up to Good Friday and Easter Sunday, let us worship Him with a fresh and growing passion for His name. Don’t merely attend the weekend services and move on with life. Saturate your mind and heart in the events of the Passion Week (and not just this week, but every week!). Devote yourself to knowing your Savior as intimately as you possibly can while you still have breath. Thank Him for loving you despite the hypocrisy in which you sometimes live. And praise Him for enduring everything He endured because of His amazing love for you!

Happy Easter!


Always, Jacquelyn

Sunday, March 26, 2017

When a Group of 4-Year-Olds Lead a Game of Musical Chairs

During the day as a preschool teacher, I witness many hilarious moments as preschoolers interact with each other. It’s funny to watch them learn, grow, and solve problems through their four- and five-year old understanding of the world and how it operates. This past Thursday, my kids were playing musical chairs. There were three groups of kids playing their own version of musical chairs.

Group 1 – A group of boys was playing musical chairs together, and they were interested in playing by the rules. Therefore, they asked me to dictate when to stop, so that they could properly eliminate a player each time. Most of the boys had fun, and there weren’t any major fall-outs (minus one boy who was angry that there weren’t even chairs for everyone…he was still learning the point of the game…)

Group 2 – A group of girls decided they wanted to play after watching the boys. However, they didn’t want my involvement in the game. One girl decided she would be in charge. She was deciding when everyone would stop and find a seat, but she was also a player in the game! Therefore, she won the game every time. Her friends didn’t understand how she kept winning… Go figure! (After a few rounds of her winning, I walked over and asked how they were determining when to stop. The girls told me that a certain girl was dictating that. After I asked that question, that girl started letting other girls win the game… J She realized that I caught on to her winning strategy.)

Group 3 – All of the boys, but one decided that they wanted to play something else. So, that one boy asked if he could play musical chairs by himself… I tried to explain to him how that wouldn’t really work because he would always win! He laughingly put the last chair away because he understood that he couldn’t play alone, but he liked the thought of winning every time!

As I was watching their comical attempts to carry out a game of musical chairs, I thought about the issue with Groups 2 and 3. The main issue was… CONTROL. The girls didn’t want my involvement because then the girl in charge wouldn’t be in control anymore. She wouldn’t be able to control when the game stopped and started; thus, she may actually get out during the game (which isn’t what she wanted). Therefore, Group 2 would rather play a rigged, unfair game of musical chairs instead of playing it correctly. Why? Because the leader didn’t want to risk losing. The boy in Group 3 was trying to be funny because He understood that of course he would win every time if he played the game alone, but he saw the lack of competition as an opportunity for him to finally win! In each of these groups, there was a struggle for control.

A struggle for control is my long-time enemy. I think I want control. I make decisions so that I can be in control. I worry over situations when I’m not in control. I try to control things that are completely out of my control, and so then I just stress and worry about those situations even more when I realize that my attempts to control are pointless. I try to control situations in my daughter’s life because I want her to make the right choices and I don’t want her to come into harm’s way. I try to control my marriage. I may try to submit to my husband, but then I nag or worry in ways that can hopefully give me some influence (aka control) in certain situations. I want to control major life decisions our family. I pray about those decisions, but then I try to take back the reins or I just hold onto the worry from the unknown. Can anyone else relate to the struggle for control???

Let’s take a look at Psalm 16. This is one of my all-time favorite Psalms because it reminds me that my focus should be on the Lord.

Psalm 16
            Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
            I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord;
                        I have no good apart from you.
            As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones,
                        in whom is all my delight.
            The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply;
                        their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
                        or take their names on my lips.
            The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup;
                        you hold my lot.
            The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
                        indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
            I bless the LORD who gives me counsel;
                        in the night also my heart instructs me.
            I have set the LORD always before me;
                        because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
            Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
                        my flesh also dwells secure.
            For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
                        or let your holy one see corruption.
            You make known to me the path of life;
                        in your presence there is fullness of joy;
                        at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

When I find myself struggling with wanting to control things that are not mine to control, I am reminded of this Psalm. Let’s see what we can learn from these uplifting verses:
-       God is in control. He is the one who “holds my lot.” That’s much better news that if I controlled my own lot.
-       God is a place of refuge. When I feel anxious are worried about circumstances in my life, I need to remember that God, who is good, holds my lot, and that He is a place of refuge for my weary and anxious soul.
-       God reveals to us what we need to know. The psalmist said that God made known to Him the path of life. He also wrote that the Lord gave Him counsel. Whatever was going on in the psalmist’s life during the time he penned this psalm, he confessed that God made known the paths of life to Him. God will do the same for us, maybe not in our desired timeframe and maybe not the exact answers we hoped for, but He will reveal to us what He desires for us to know. We can trust that He has our good and His glory at heart.
-       There is joy in God’s presence. Even in the midst of uncertainty, we can still have joy. Why? Because if we are close to the Lord and in the midst of His presence, we can find joy in Him, even if our circumstances are not pleasant.
-       The best thing that we can have is a relationship with God. To know God is our greatest treasure. Therefore, even when times are uncertain or difficult, we can still confess with the psalmist that we have no good apart from our God. It is better to dive into knowing God more intimately rather than attempting to control things that are not for us to control.

APPLICATION
-       READ/STUDY: Read through Psalm 16 again. Also, read Proverbs 3:1-8.
-       EVALUATE: What verses in Proverbs 3 stand out to you? How does the Lord challenge us through these two passages to trust Him, rather than trust in ourselves? In what areas of your life do you struggle to relinquish control? What is the root issue of your desire for control?
-       PRAY: Ask the Lord to enable you to trust Him and His control even when your flesh desires to control circumstances in your own life. Ask Him to show you the areas in your life that you need to submit to His lordship. Ask Him to give you peace as you desire to trust Him with the unknowns in your life.

When my students were attempting to control the game of musical chairs, it was quite comical to me. It wasn’t comical to them; the girl who was in charge thought she was pretty smart! But to me, I knew it was silly (and unfair!). When we try to control things in our lives, it must seem pretty silly to the Lord because He knows that we aren’t really in charge and He knows that if we were in charge, we’d most likely make a huge mess of things. Why? Because we aren’t sovereign, we’re not always good, and we are not infinitely wise. We don’t always have the glory of God as our aim. God, however, is sovereign, always good, infinite in wisdom and power, and always His glory as His aim. So, it is much better if He’s in control, not us! Praise Him for his goodness as He leads and guides us. Praise Him that He is patient with us, even when we foolishly grasp for control. Praise Him that we can say with the psalmist that we have no good apart from our God and that we find immense joy in knowing Him! I pray that you are able to trust Him more as you seek to trust His plan for your life instead of your own!


Always, Jacquelyn

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

What Bruises and Facebook Have in Common

Two rather unpleasant things have come to my attention lately. One has to do with bruises, and this revelation came through my husband. The other has to do with Facebook, and this revelation came through my daughter. After explaining, I bet you can relate to one or both of these unpleasant realizations.

Bruises

Recently, I’ve noticed that I always have bruised knees. I kept trying to think what I did to acquire these bruises. Then, I remembered that I am a pre-k teacher and am always on my knees setting up a learning center or reading a story or cleaning up an accident. The latest bruise is from a dump truck that came flying down the hill at me when I was tying someone’s shoe. I used to be proud of my bruises because I thought it meant that I was tough (and I rarely have cool, discolored bruises because I don’t do things that could possibly cause bodily harm because I am a chicken!) I don’t bruise easily, so when I do have a bruise, it must mean something painful happened. Now, I’m not so proud of bruises because I am more aware now that they contrast far to noticeably against my year-round glowing white skin… My sister, Jessica, does bruise easily. She actually has huge bruises most of the time. The funny thing is, she doesn’t know where most of them come from! She thinks maybe from cutting corners to quickly and running into the counter or just chasing around her five kiddos. J (Love you, Jess!)

Physically, I don’t bruise easily. Emotionally, I bruise wayyyyyy too easily. The other night, Patrick and I were talking about something (I don’t even remember the topic), and he said something that put me a little “off.” I honestly have no clue what it was, but whatever it was, it offended me. So from that second, my entire demeanor changed. I stopped contributing to the conversation. I started giving flat, one-word answers. He looked up at me, and said, “So, that offended you??” As soon as he said it, I tried to act like I didn’t have a bad attitude, but truthfully, yes, the minor statement that he said (that obviously wasn’t that important because I can’t even tell you the topic of the conversation!) offended me. This small incident showed me that I am too easily offended. Being easily offended is a sign of pride because it shows that my attitude was along the lines of, “How dare he say that to me in that way? I’m offended now, and I’ll show him. I’ll start pouting! Hmmph!” Wow, how many preschoolers live in my home??? I don’t want to be easily offended by people, but many times, I am. I get my feelings hurt too easily and my body language changes immediately. (I know my parents have seen lots of this in my teen years… Dad, can you testify to this?? J) So this “emotional bruising” was the first unpleasant thing that has resurfaced recently.

Facebook

The second unpleasant realization came when Riley Grace was taking a bath the other night. I was in the bathroom and had picked up my phone to check either Facebook or my email while she was playing the tub. She was talking to me the whole time about the game she was playing with her bath puppets and I was responding to her while still focused on my phone. Finally, she said, “Mama, stop looking at your phone. Look at me!” I was immediately convicted. I do NOT want her memories of her mama to be of me glued to a screen instead of looking her in the face and giving her my attention. I want to give my attention to the important relationships in my life, not my email or my Facebook “friends,” all of which can wait until Riley Grace is in bed. I don’t want her to remember or learn this behavior about me, and I certainly don’t want her to learn this behavior from me. When she’s old enough to have a phone, I know as a mom, I’m not going to want her to be on her phone 24/7, looking at her phone while she’s responding to me about something. I’m going to want her full attention. I don’t want her to be disrespectful. I don’t want her to be distracted. I don’t want her to be rude. But if I am glued to my phone and act those ways toward her because I think, “She’s playing; she won’t notice,” then I’m wrong about that. She will notice. She has noticed. And she will learn that it’s the norm if I don’t guard against an addiction to electronics at the expense of relationships with my family and being “in the moment” with them. Talk about convicting!

Besides the fact that these realizations were not “fun” to have, I am thankful that the Lord uses the ones I love to reveal things about me that need to change so that I can look more like Him and love my family more. I don’t want to be offended every time Patrick and I have a conversation. I don’t want Riley Grace to have to ask me to stop looking at my phone. I want to be present and loving and full of grace and humility in my relationships with them. Even things that seem harmless, like my phone, or things that may seem justifiable, like being offended if Patrick said something that hurt my feelings, are not ok. We need to notice those things about ourselves, and rather than trying to hide them or excuse them, we need to ask God to help us change the things that don’t look like Him, don’t point others to Christ, or don’t make others feel loved. As believers, we don’t want to settle into those bad habits. They aren’t harmless things, even if they seem minor. If the habits/attitudes/actions don’t point others to Christ, then they need to go!

APPLICATION
-       READ/STUDY: I encourage you to read all of Colossians 3. This passage talks about setting your mind on things above, where Christ is seated, not on earthly things. Paul explains things that we should “put off” and things that we should “put on” so that we can be clothed in Christ rather than in clothed in things/attitudes of this world. Also, read and pray through Psalm 139:23-24, asking the Lord to search your heart and reveal these sinful areas to you.
-       EVALUATE: Read these verses closely and carefully. Don’t rush! What worldly things do you need to “put off,” and what godly things do you need to “put on” in order to have more fruitful and loving relationships?  
-       PRAY: Ask the Lord to reveal to you what areas of your life are hindering your relationships with others. These revelations may be painful or embarrassing (I certainly was embarrassed and taken aback when Riley Grace asked me to stop looking at my phone and look at her!), but it will be worth it in the long run for these issues to come into the light so that you can confront them and move forward in more Christ-centered relationships! Ask the Lord to help you make changes in these areas so that you can look more like Christ each day and better love the people that He’s placed in your life.  

So, what do bruises and Facebook have in common?... Well, in my life, they reveal areas of my heart that are sinful and need the Lord to change. They reveal things that hinder meaningful relationships with my family because I'm focusing on myself rather than focusing on my loved ones.

What about you? Do you bruise easily (on the inside)? Do you need to put down your phone? Or is there something else in your life that the Lord is revealing to you that you need to change in order to look more like Christ? Don’t beat yourself up about those things, but don’t ignore them either. Instead of shoving them under the rug, confront them! I know that I will be more blessed by spending time involved in Riley Grace’s bath puppet game rather than scrolling through pictures of people I don’t even know on Facebook. I will be more blessed by continuing on in my conversation with Patrick so that we can grow together instead of becoming immediately offended at something, and thus ending any hope of a productive conversation. Friends, we will be blessed (even if it hurts at first) by confronting these areas with the Lord’s grace and strength! Ask Him to gently reveal these things to you, and help you to be free from them so you can look more like His child!  


Always, Jacquelyn