Friday, March 18, 2016

Beautiful Hope

1 Corinthians 15: 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

I will be away from my computer next Friday, so here is an early Easter greeting.

Yes, Friday was black. And for Jesus’ followers, the days ahead remained black. But amazing hope came with Resurrection Sunday, and soon they would share this hope with the world.

The women went to the tomb first, heart-broken, confused, but wanting to serve Jesus still. The tomb was empty, and angels told them Jesus was alive again. They were afraid but filled with joy. Then Jesus met them.

Matthew 28:10: Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

He honored Mary Magdalene by appearing to her, to comfort her and give her a message to share with the disciples. John 20:14-17.

Peter—one of my heroes—wept bitterly after denying Jesus. Matthew 16:15-17. He was afraid to hope Jesus was alive again; didn’t know what to believe. But Jesus had a specific message sent to him, to let Peter know he was still included. Mark 16:7.

Jesus appeared to Peter on his own. Luke 24:34. He reassured Peter that he still trusted him to care for those he, Jesus, loved. John 21:15-17.

Cleopas and his friend were dejected as they walked along the road, but Jesus joined them and explained how the Scriptures showed how his death had to happen. Luke 24:13-35.

Thomas—another hero of mine—was not the only one who doubted. All the apostles did. Luke 24:7-9. But Jesus gave a special gift to Thomas, singling him out, asking Thomas to touch him, convincing Thomas that Jesus was really alive. John 20:24-29.

Jesus leaves a special blessing for us today and—what a privilege—we get to share the assignment he gives to his disciples.

John 20: 29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Matthew 28:18-20: Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Like Jesus’ disciples I doubt. I am afraid. I am dejected and need to be reminded again and again of God’s will. Just as Peter denied Jesus, I deny him in so many ways, in my words and actions; like Paul, I persecute him. I, too, feel bitter with despair. But Paul reminds us that though we have failed God, with his unbelievable grace and mercy, he is still able to use us. 1 Corinthians 15:10.

We still struggle with blackness today, just like Black Friday. The blackness is our sin, which leads to death. Praise God, Jesus has saved us from all of this.

1 Corinthians 15:55-57: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Hiding Place

“The Hiding Place,” first published in 1971, an older book but still filled with pictures of hope and grace that can touch us today.

I love rereading books which are special to me. Recently I read again “The Hiding Place” by Corrie ten Boom.

I’m sure some who are reading this today have also read that book. The story of two sisters in their fifties and their father, in his eighties, who turned their home into a safe hiding place for Jews in Holland during World War II. As Christians, though they struggled with lying and breaking the law, they felt it was a service to God to help these people who were unfairly under torment.

Corrie comes across as a joyful, energetic, lover of life and of Jesus and of people. When she is in solitary confinement in prison, she thanks God for the gift he sends her—an ant who comes into her cell to give her company. When she learns that her father died soon after they were put in prison, she thanks Jesus that he is there to comfort her.

Corrie’s story of her time in the concentration camp with her sister Betsie is an intimate look at a Christian who struggles with her faith—with seething anger, shame and selfishness, pride, with drawing away from God. It is also a story of how we can be encouraged, challenged, and held up by the strength and faith of other Christians.

Betsie, who has had bad health all her life, suffers with great sickness and punishment for her slow work in the camp. Yet Corrie sees her sister praying for the Germans who hurt her, that God will forgive and save them. Betsie’s desire is to minister to the needs of the prisoners around her and share God’s love with them. Her joy and hope is her plans for how they can minister to the sufferers of the camps after the war, for the healing of both the victims, and the Germans who suffered because of the torture they gave to other people.

Betsie encourages Corrie to thank God in all circumstances, including for the flees in their sleeping mats. Later, they discover the guards do not come in and bother their worship services in the sleeping room, because the guards do not want to come near the fleas. Corrie says they have a preview of Heaven, because in these worship meetings, they have praising, songs, prayers, and Bible quoting in several different languages.

Corrie tells of terrors in the camp, but also miracles. One miracle was their bottle of vitamins, which didn’t run out, even when they shared it with many others, until the day they were given more vitamins.

Betsie’s dream did come true after the war—the homes to bring healing to the sufferers, Corrie’s sharing God’s overflowing love through horror. Betsie said, “No pit is too deep where he is not deeper. Jesus can turn loss into glory.”

Corrie continues to share her own struggles in her faith and God’s provision for her. At a church where she is sharing their story, she recognizes a guard from the concentration camp. He wants to shake her hand, to thank her for reminding him that Jesus had forgiven him. A war raged inside Corrie, but with God’s power, never her own, she was able to offer true kindness and forgiveness to this man.

So many bits from the story I’d like to share, the sorrows and the miracles. But I’ll stop and recommend to you that you check out this old book with the every-day newness of God’s love and grace.

Psalm 32:7: You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.

Friday, March 4, 2016

My Friend Esther, Fifteen Years And Counting

A couple weeks ago, my cat Esther and I celebrated our fifteenth anniversary.

In 2001, Murray and the kids decided to get me a kitty as a surprise Valentine’s Day present. They went to the animal shelter, filled out all the necessary paperwork, then checked out the cats who wanted a new home. A lady who worked there indicated Esther and said, “She’s the friendliest one.”

So they brought her home, and everyone carefully coached Benjamin, who was four at the time, not to say anything about her when I got home from work. “What are you going to do when Mama gets home, Benjamin?” “Not say anything about the cat.”

Everybody was gathered in the living room when I came in the front door. “Hi, Mommy.” Benjamin greeted me happily. Then he turned and walked the other way, murmuring, “I didn’t say anything about the cat.”

Murray quickly grabbed my hand and said, “What is this Rebecca has?” And he put my hand on Esther, sitting on Rebecca’s lap.

She was calm, and she was friendly, and she didn’t waste any time winning my love.

She was an adult, two years old when we got her, and she kept being a calm, friendly member of our household until about three years later. Then we decided to bring Holly into our family. I was sure Esther would be happier if she had a kitty friend to play with.

Not such good thinking. Once Holly and Esther were both established, we started learning more about the varied personalities and moods of cats. They never got along. They hissed and growled at each other, and chased each other out of whatever space each was claiming for her own at the time.

Esther wasn’t so calm and good-natured any more. Murray said she asked us, “Why’d you bring that other cat? Wasn’t I good enough?”

Time passed. We moved to a different house, and even if they weren’t friends, we loved our cats for their grouchy and annoying selves.

Then we got a dog.

Now the cats were really mad. But did they join forces against the dog? No. Holly retreated to the basement, where the dog never goes. Esther withdrew to Murray’s and my bedroom, which isn’t open to the dog. And that’s where they stayed.

Holly was with us for eleven years, and whenever we could coax her out, she was a joy. When she died last summer, I started getting scared that Esther would die at any time. I’ve pretty much gotten over that.

Esther is seventeen, which is certainly old for a cat. But she’s still going strong, so I’ve decided to enjoy every day I have to spend with this precious gift.

Esther is calmer again as she’s grown older, but she’s still active. She loves to eat, and she yells at us if we haven’t fed her quite as soon as she wants us to. She winds around my feet whenever I go into the bathroom. She carries on long conversations with my daughter Sarah.

One night recently, I must have had food on my face, because when I went to bed, Esther started licking my chin. I told Murray, “It was so sweet, just like a little puppy.” By the way, I don’t let the dog lick my face.

Esther has always hopped on the bed and curled up by me at night, but over the last few years, she’s crawled under the blankets with me in the winter. This year, she snuggles right up against my face. A little hard to breathe comfortably with all that fur, yes. But she plops down close to me, lays her face against mine, and purrs loud and long. How can I push her away?