There are times in our lives when things become crystal clear. We are able to recall events from years gone by, understand how they have brought us to where we are right now, and peer into the distance like an archer down the shaft of his arrow toward a far off target. We stand and say, “I get it now…I understand” and then sit back down and bask in the wonder of connected events. As the first light of a new morning lifts the fog from the hills we begin to see the panoramic expanse that has been our life and we are humbled, grateful, and hopeful. We want to remain where we can see the bigger picture and understand the beginning from the end. But there is a part of us that knows a bitter truth that before too long we must entertain; we cannot live on the mountain – we must return to the valleys.
When you boil it all down, the mountain top only serves to show us how to get to the next peak – the next point from which to get a further glimpse. It reveals the distance and the darkness of the valleys between. We can see which ridges and ravines to skirt, the walls and barriers we’ll need to go around, and the rivers we’ll need to bridge. This is where we must go and this is where most of our time is spent – here, in this life, we are valley dwellers.
We live our lives in the daily ups and downs of humanity and its man-made environments. We strive through emotions and tragedies and struggles and fears as we try to hold to our path. If we were wise we would have drawn a map while on the mountain and kept is safe in our hearts so we would not stray when events buffet our determination. If we are wise we will join hands with others along the way so we could all weather the inevitable storms. If we are wise we will guard our hearts and minds from the temptations in the valleys that would draw us away. But we are not as wise as we’d like to believe. We were given a map, but it is rarely opened. We build barricades to keep others out and walls without windows. Our eyes and ears lead us to linger far from the road that would lead us out of the valley. We are frail and fallen and frightened…
But we are not forgotten…and we have not been left alone.
His eye is always on us. He know exactly where we are and how far we’ve strayed and most importantly, he know the way out. He knows who to bring alongside us and who to lead us away from. He knows which walls to bring down and what bridges to build. He drew the map we were given on the mountain top…and it hasn’t changed. He is the author and finisher of our faith – what he revealed on the mountain he will complete through the valley. He knows the only place to learn these truths is in the valley where experience becomes the teacher and theory is tested. Faith is formed on the valley floor.
These are lessons we must learn to live a life of faith because every valley wall is a mountain side and every mountain side tumbles into a valley. The higher the mountain, the deeper and wider the valley.
I’ve been honing my handyman skills over the years. I’ve built many things from trivets to headboards to boxes for jewels. I’ve built walls and fences, decks and benches, desks and shelves. Some projects filled a need while others were just a whim…some were just a poor attempt at something beautiful. Through each I learned what works and what works better, what needs to be done first and why then how to plan it all out. Shortcuts result in shoddy work and often there is only one right way to do something.
This most recent project has been brewing for quite a while. I’d looked at many examples of what I wanted, trying to figure out how they were built and watched many videos looking for ideas. A table is a very important piece of furniture and I wanted to build something that would last. I figured out the proper height for my family and how many we wanted to seat comfortably. I wanted something substantial yet not bulky, practical but not plain. I wanted someplace to gather and linger. After all, that is what tables are for. A table is a meeting place. It is a place where people look each other in the eye and share ideas and memories and plans. It is not a desk where the one behind is in charge. It is not a counter where one comes to be served. It is not a buffet to pick and choose and then walk away.
A table holds a moment in time, meant to be shared…meant to be remembered.
I have argued at a table and then found common ground. I have belly-laughed to tears and then through those tears laughed even more. Other tears around a table have not been so pleasant but brought on by pain and heartache, fear and regret. I have made grand plans around a table and then wondered at mediocre success. I have joined hands in prayer, watched as Bibles were opened, then been amazed by a gracious God as he opens each one’s eyes to truth we had not seen before.
This particular table was all the more important to me because my 15 year old son helped to build it. We cut, sawed, sanded, and stained. We learned about how to build a proper table, when to walk away and why to come back, made some mistakes and then made corrections. We did what should be done around a table. I’m not sure if he had any thoughts about the significance of a table…of this table…but I did. A family needs a place to gather – this is our table…this is our home…
Scars we bear on our physical bodies can be used as great object lessons – ways to begin conversations about larger issues. There are also scars that we do not wear so proudly – scars that are hidden from view and revealed only in the words we say and the choices we make. I call these “heartscars” and they are created by wrongs done to us or experiences that caused confusion, fear, and regret. The only way to find healing for these kinds of wounds and release the blessings that they hold is through forgiveness. Much like in the physical, our wounded hearts can heal provided we don’t remove the protective covering. Too often, though, we are like scab-pickers always wanting to know why something happened and who did it and who else knew. We rehearse over and over again in our minds the events, each time removing a layer here or lifting an edge there to see if there are any answers. Each time we pick at the hurt a new covering must be formed and the wound becomes bigger and deeper and takes longer to heal. Forgiveness is this covering and the only thing that will bring healing to heartscars. When allowed to complete its work, forgiveness will reveal a scar and a testimony meant to be shared instead of a bitter root that continues to burrow deeper.
Some wounds are very deep and may take a long time to heal but we must remind ourselves that forgiveness is choice and not a feeling. As we allow forgiveness to do its work, the healing will come and will reveal a heartscar worth sharing. Jesus did no less as he was hanging on the cross. Not only did he endure physical pain which left scars in his flesh, but he bore wounds of the heart as well. The actions of his disciples leading up to that moment, the weight of all of our sins, and then to have his own Father forsake him, I’m sure left wounds deeper and more lasting than any of us could survive. But…among his last words were those asking God to forgive those who did not know what they were doing. He chose to forgive – which lead to a miraculous healing three days later. He then had scars in his flesh to prove where he had been healed, and scars on his heart to show how much he had forgiven. Those scars have echo through time, rending hearts and saving souls. The scars we have to share may not have that profound an effect on the course of history, but they do have the potential to sway a struggling, weary, wandering soul and give them hope. Scars are meant to be shared…not hidden.
Often when we hear people talk of peace, we think in terms of not fighting. We think that if there are no wars or struggles or arguments between people then we would have peace. The idea of peace that Jesus is talking about in John 14:27 has more to do with an inner calmness and security even in the midst of struggle and pain and turmoil. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
The Good Lord never once promised that we would not experience pain. He never guaranteed that our journey with him would be free from struggle or heartache or confusion. Nowhere does He say that the world we live in will not have battles, skirmishes, or raging wars. The battles we face daily take on many forms from financial burdens, marital strife, raising children, health issues. Violence in our streets and fighting on battlefields in foreign lands do not paint a picture of peace in our time. There is no benefit, however, in denying these consequences of our fallen world and sinful nature. The only way to find the peace that was given to us is to lay down our arms and take hold of His hand. This is not a surrender to mightier foes that we cannot defeat, but an alliance with the mightiest friend who has already won the battle. Don’t give up…give in!
He promises that we will have peace…in Him. Throughout the Bible he promises to be our refuge, our shelter, our strong tower. He says he will hide us in the cleft of the rock and protect us under the shadow of his wings. He did not promise that there would be no stones on our path, but that he would command His angels to keep us from striking our feet on them. He promises that He will see us through…not keep us from. We will have pain and struggle, and the world will have wars; but Jesus came that we may have peace in and through all these things.
Those that know me well know that I would much prefer a rainy day to a sunny day any day. I know this is a bit strange but there are some reasons behind it.
First and foremost, I was saved on a rainy day. Well, it didn’t start out raining but after I said the words “Lord, come into my heart” and came out of the most profound experience of my life, I stepped out into a spring downpour that seemed to flood my soul as it washed away all the muck and mire within. I have never smelled the air so clean or felt so fresh and free in my entire life! I know my emotions had much more to do with the experience that I had just gone through, but the rain on my face is the first thing I remember afterward, and has stayed with me since. There has been nothing in this world that has come close to what I felt when those raindrops hit my face that day.
Another memory that is embedded in my mind are the many camping trips our family took when I was young. We would usually be gone for a week at a time and camped in one of those big old canvas tents that always has that packed, musty smell…no matter how long you let it air out. That aroma was especially strong after a rain. Camping trips are some of my fondest memories of childhood. I loved riding in the car…I got to sit in the front and my 3 sisters always had to sit in the back. The view from the front seat was amazing – all the new and interesting places and never really knowing what was around the next bend in the road. We’d finally arrive at a packed campground, (my dad never made reservations so we rarely got to choose a site…we got what was left over), and all kinds of different people milling about and the smells of campfires and hot dogs and hamburgers being burned…and the packed, musty smell of our old canvas tent that had been rained on the night before but hadn’t dried out yet. Love that smell…
Driving home from work the other day I caught a quick glimpse of a rainbow. A brief spring storm had just blown over and the evening sun’s rays shot across the skies toward the east revealing the promise….that is what rainbows are – promises. It got me feeling a bit nostalgic about people and places I’ve been and how my most precious memories often involve rain…and how much I love the rain. I think we all have these kinds of signposts on our journeys. For you it may be butterflies or bugs, breezes or beaches. That thing that reminds you that you are on a path and that path is leading somewhere. You may not feel any different and your circumstances may not have changed but there is that marker that reminds you where you have been and how far you really have come…and then encourages you to take one more step…and then another…
I hope there’s a special place in heaven where it rains…that would be a beautiful place.
It began with the sound of gentle rain on the roof. At about one in the morning I stirred in my slumber and then woke as the soft pitter-patter became a drenching downpour. I listened as it washed away the winter grime and gave hope to dormant roots still sleeping in their garden beds. Perhaps it was a waking dream or just my imagination painting a picture, but I could see the water as it flowed through the soil caressing every root and tuber and bulb waiting in their beds for that first sign of spring. That is all they really need; just a taste of fresh water filtering through once frozen soils. That is all any of us really need.
As I laid in bed and listened I heard another sound. It was distant and deep like the sound of gravity, if gravity has a sound, causing you to quiet your soul, humble your heart, and bend your knees. Announced by bursts of brilliant light, the thunder rolled and rumbled, low and long and louder with each flash. The rain intensified, the lightening lit up the sky, and the clapping and crashing thunder neared. The storm was approaching and I lay in my bed quietly listening as the first storm of the season rolled in. I have been waiting for this for a very long and cold winter.
What began as a gentle sound that stirred my sleep soon became a cacophony of light, roaring thunder, whistling wind, and pouring rain. Gentle rumbles soon became bone shaking bellows in low tones, thudding and thumping through the walls, rattling the roof and windows as the waves of sound moved through the air. I imagine the ground shook as well, loosening the soil for the falling rain to seep in and nourish the thirsty roots. Each flash of light showed the way, each gust of wind a breath of fresh air, and every rumble breaking up the ground a little more as the water filled the empty spaces.
Soon the storm moved on to wake and water other waiting lands. I turned on my side and pulled the covers up under my chin and drifted back to sleep thinking…maybe dreaming…what it would be like to be in one of those garden beds that the storm had just rolled over. I can only imagine…
For years there had been a solid piece of stone embedded in the chest of this man just left of center. A cold, dark, and hardened piece of flesh with no signs of life, love, or liberty. A child of 13 should not have had to harden his heart so much – but I did, and mine was. I do not need to go into the reasons why it happened, that is not the point of this writing; but understand, this now grown man of 46 once had a heart of stone rolled away at the age of 13.
When Christ came in the very first thing he did was shatter the stone cold center of my being. What was once hardened, calloused, dead thing became a fresh, new, and moldable piece of clay. Joy moved in, and peace began to paint the walls. Hope opened the windows and the freshness of a rainy-day breeze blew through removing the cloudiness of doubt, fear, and despair. I’m still a work in progress but there was a moment in time when the stone in my chest was rolled away and I became new.
What happened in that garden centuries ago is still happening today. That tomb that was cold and dark and filled with night, in three days’ time became a light filled room of hope and joy spanning the globe and the years, and may possibly be touching your heart right now, this very day. We all have a stone cold darkness in our chest just left of center. It is called the human heart. If he can move that giant stone in the garden, he can most certainly handle the one inside of us. In fact, he could reach in, pick it up and hold it in the palm of his hand, gently bringing light and life back into it. That is why he came in the first place: to remove our hearts of stone.
A King with Scars
They had all heard the news by now. Some had even seen the grave cloths and the empty cellar. And they had all heard Mary tell her story over and over again. Then they had been there that first night when he had walked right through a locked door and visited with them. They were surprised and overjoyed at the sight of him and in order to dismiss any doubt he revealed the scars that remained in his hands and feet and side – healed now but still visible and touchable. There could be no mistaking that this was indeed their savior.
After he had calmed their excitement he told them that just as he had been about the work of his Father that he was sending them out to do the same work and with one breath he gave them all a portion of the same power that he had to heal and forgive. They were now to be his representatives to the world. Of course, most had really no idea what that all meant at that moment but they did know that they had been changed and that the one that they had been following was alive and still their leader…and their Lord.
I was not there when all this had happened. I had been one of the first of his followers to scatter that fateful night in the garden when the soldiers came and took him. That whole night had been very strange. The lot of us had dinner together and he had told us many things about what was going to happen very soon. He had said that one of us would betray him and that Peter…even Peter…would deny him before the night was over. I was frightened and confused. How could any of these things be? He was our Lord and the Savior of our people. After supper we had gone out to the garden and waited while he and the others went further on to watch and pray. When I saw the soldiers coming and Judas among them I knew that the words he had spoken at the table that night were true. I confess, I was overcome with fear that I might be caught too…so I fled. The next day I watched from a distance as the radical, as they called him, climbed onto the tree and the words, “it…is…finished!” rang loudly in my ears. And again, I fled.
A couple of days later, I heard people talking about how the women had found the cellar empty and that Mary had actually spoken to him in the garden. He had told us to wait for him and that he would see us all soon. I could not believe it…it could not possibly be true. Wanting to go to where all the brothers were waiting but still fearful of being caught, I stayed hiding – how I wish I had had the courage to go. I could hear the commotion in the house but had seen no one enter. Later I heard that he had shown up right in the midst of them. The next day I went to the house where he had been and found the brothers and women still enamored and still talking. They told me all that had happened and the mission that the Lord had given them. I wanted to believe but just could not wrap my mind around all that had happened. No, it could not be true. I had seen him die in the tree. I watched as they wrapped his body and brought him to the cellar and sealed it. Dead men do not roll stones away.
Many days went by and while the brothers were still talking about him and their new mission, I was still in doubt. Had I missed it all – too afraid for my own life to be concerned with His? After dinner one night we were all just sitting around and talking when there, seemingly out of thin air, he appeared. The others immediately jumped up, excited to see him again and have their conviction once again strengthened. He calmed them down and made his way to where I was sitting and then, as if he had come that night just to see me, he bid me touch his hands and the scar in his side. I did as he asked touching first his hands, palm and backside, and then the deep scar in his side. I was undone…it was him…he was alive! Then he penetrated my eyes with his and said with a smile, “stop doubting…and believe!”
“My Lord and my God!” I said…and never doubted him again.
A Savior in a Cellar:
Where he went no one was quite sure. Some said his final words were just the mutterings of a man who had finally given up. Others, citing the earthquake and the darkness, had a suspicion that there was far more to the cry, “it…is…finished!” Those who followed him knew it was much more and believed he had come to save them but could not understand how what they had just witnessed became salvation…it looked much more like defeat with the one they believed to be their savior now buried in a cellar.
The fact is that salvation had just been purchased and his life had been the price. For three days he had been about the business of providing a way for all to find the Kingdom. The keys were now in his hands and the prison doors were opened to those who had been held captive for so long. Now, through him, all had been given the opportunity to approach the throne of Grace and find salvation for their souls and spend eternity in his Father’s Kingdom. Those who had followed him would understand very soon and would be charged with carrying this good news to the world that they knew. That good news would eventually reach across time to every soul, offering forgiveness and granting salvation to all who would believe.
What he had just accomplished in three short days was no small feat but there were a few things he had left to do before he went to his Father’s house. Strolling along the path that lead to where his body had been laid he came upon a woman who was very much in a hurry and weeping as she ran. He asked her what was going on and, thinking he was a gardener, she begged him to tell if he knew where the body of their Lord had been taken. She was distraught beyond words but managed to tell him all that had happened over the last week – about the man who had died in the tree and how the tomb they had sealed him in was now open and empty. When he could bear no more of her sorrow, he stooped to look into the woman’s eyes and said, “Mary…”
Immediately, in amazement and overwhelming joy, she leaped up with arms outstretched, rushing to embrace him. He stepped back and pleaded with her not to touch him since he had not been to his Father’s house yet. She was quick to believe and understand what had just happened and was filled with a joy mixed with peace that could not be described. He asked her to hurry along and tell his followers all she had seen and heard – that he was alive and well and would see them all very soon. Taking one last look at his loving eyes, she sped on as if the very wind were carrying her with her feet barely touching the ground. He watched her as she ran knowing that she was the first messenger of the good news that their Savior was no longer in the cellar…she had seen him and spoken to him…he was ALIVE!
A Radical In A Tree
From his vantage point perched high upon the tree he could see the world. He could see the sun being covered by thick dark clouds casting shadows and gloom over the land. He could see the animals in the fields huddling in crevices or thickets seeking shelter from the darkness. He could see the city seeming to slide down the hillside as the buildings clung to the stony ground. There in the midst of the city on the hill he could see the king’s palace where just a few hours before he had been in a meeting with the city officials wondering what they ought to do about the radicals stirring up trouble in the streets.
From that tree, which was itself on a hill a bit above the city, he could see people on their way here or there. Some were headed away having completed their work for the day or their business in the city. Others were coming nearer, curious about the commotion that had just taken place along the streets and upon the hill where his tree stood. Still others were very close, nearly at the roots of his old tree, peering up at him trying to see but unable understand why this radical was up a tree. Then there were those who were on their knees weeping, wrapped in each other’s arms that brought no comfort, unable to look up, knowing what and who they’d see – not some radical but one of their own…their very own. If he could have he would have reached down from where he was and wiped their tears away and calmed their fears but he loved them all too much to do that. He knew why he was up a tree and that he would not be there long so he steeled his heart against the sights and sounds and endured the pain.
He was not alone on the mount, there were two other men in two other trees on either side of him, one just sneered but the other was pleading. He had watched as these two fought and struggled against their captors. They had screamed and bellowed and hurled insults and begged for mercy to no avail. They had been treed and he knew he was soon facing the same fate. He resolved not to fight, instead climbing the tree himself. This had left many of the people both bewildered and amazed but none so much as the man on his right pleading, “Remember me”. He would not forget.
As the sky grew darker and the people scattered fearing the foulness in the air, he found there was nothing else he could do upon the tree. He had gotten himself into a position from which there was no turning back and he would not have done anything differently anyway. He knew the pain would be worth the reward. Though many could not understand at that moment what was happening he knew that one day they would. There was a war raging that none of them could see and this was the only way to win. So with his last ounce of courage and his last bit of strength he stood out on a branch and stretched his arms our as far as they could reach. He looked out over the people and the city and across all times and screamed, “It…is…finished!” and let himself go.
(This is part one of a series of 3 that I posted a little over a year ago. I had fewer followers then so I thought I’d repost them over this weekend as we are nearing Easter. Parts 2 and 3 will follow over the next two days. Thank you so much for following along…we all have so little to doubt and so much to believe…)