Happy Independence Day!

I absolutely love this holiday… And we should never take lightly what our Founding Fathers — and those men and women since — fought and died for… No, as history shows, we’re not perfect. But we’re still growing… As long as we don’t grow away from what our founders intended, we’ll get stronger. I still have hope!

Here’s a quote you might like to consider:

“Now more than ever before, the people are responsible for the character of their Congress.

If that body be ignorant, reckless, and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness, and corruption.

If it be intelligent, brave, and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities to represent them in the national legislature…

If the next centennial does not find us a great nation…it will be because those who represent the enterprise, the culture, and the morality of the nation do not aid in controlling the political forces.”

Congressman (later, President) James Garfield
July 4, 1876

Have a beautiful Fourth of July, everyone!

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Only One…

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I just read an article that sickened me… I had forgotten about some cultures that actually perform their own crucifixions on Good Friday… Good Lord, help them…

“Devotees undergo the crucifixions in the belief that such extreme sacrifices are a way to atone for their sins, attain miracle cures for illnesses or give thanks to God.”

They just don’t understand. Absolutely nothing they could ever do would cause atonement or cures.

How do humans, throughout the centuries, always manage to twist and mangle the Truth of Jesus’ sacrifice? One death, His death, was enough for all. For every person on the planet. For every culture. For every religion. Jesus was and is for everyone. The Son of God who chose to enter our world, with all its ugly, twisted, horrible conditions. He entered our world because He couldn’t stand to leave us in it, to leave us even in our present circumstances…of grief…of isolation…of failed marriages…of financial ruin…of starvation…of modern-day slavery…of bullying…of violence…of low self-worth…of emptiness…of shame…of abandonment…of anything and everything that has ever caused you pain… Jesus entered our world just for you.

Somehow, on that cross, alone, dying, feeling abandoned, feeling pain, He saw and felt each one of us in His heart and in His mind and in His soul and in His Spirit. And so He stayed right where He was. The Son of God. He could’ve called on His angels to rescue Him, as He said, but He didn’t. His Love for us kept Him right there in His place…in our place…where we should’ve been…

It’s said that the only way to offer people hope is go through hopeless situations yourself. Because if you don’t, your words will ring hollow. They’ll fall flat. They won’t be believed. Sure, your niceness and gestures of kindness will probably be appreciated. But the person on the receiving end could justifiably say, “You just don’t know… You could never truly understand…”

And so it is with Jesus. He knew we’d think that. Some high, lofty god trying to tell us he understands when we hurt. Yeah, right. Someone who owns the whole universe cares about your little corner of Earth, where the bills are due and the doctor just gave a bad report and the appliances died and family members are in trouble again and people are dying from not having clean water and not having food to eat on the other side of this planet, and on another side the drugs are so thick that the people can’t see through the lies. A god who cares? Where is he?

He is there. On that cross. A cross that transcends time. He sees you, He sees me. And He chooses to stay in His place. Not above us. Not yet. But right there with us. Hear Him shout, “IT IS FINISHED!” In Greek, in means, “Paid in full!” His shout to the Father that He accomplished His mission — and now all His babes were free of the mess — that all they had to do was accept His gift, His dying…just for them… That’s all…

Gracious Love.

Miraculous Love.

Lavish Love.

Love is a gift.

Those who would actually nail themselves to crosses on this holy day, saying they’re remembering the sacrifice of Jesus, saying that they’re trying to atone for their sins or hoping for miracles or giving thanks have absolutely no idea how insulting and tragic and utterly sad their displays are.

“And to love Him out of and with all the heart and with all the understanding [with the faculty of quick apprehension and intelligence and keenness of discernment] and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Mark 12:33)

Yet still He loves us. Loves us to death and back. This wonderful Savior. The One who knows…and understands…from firsthand experience… He knows us…and loves us all the same…

“Now before the Passover Feast began, Jesus knew, was fully aware, that the time had come for Him to leave this world and return to the Father. And as He had loved those who were His own in the world, He loved them to the last and the highest degree.” (John 13:1)

“He loved them to the last and the highest degree.”

That’s the Savior I know. That’s the Savior each one of us can know. No need for our own crucifixions. He stayed in His place for us on Earth, and made a place for us in His Kingdom.

“God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more, neither shall there be anguish (sorrow and mourning) nor grief nor pain any more, for the old conditions and the former order of things have passed away. And He Who is seated on the throne said, See! I make all things new. Also He said, Record this, for these sayings are faithful (accurate, incorruptible, and trustworthy) and true (genuine). And He [further] said to me, It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I [Myself] will give water without price from the fountain (springs) of the water of Life.” (Revelation 21:4-6)

An offer of abundant living from a lavish God, who’s desperately in love with us…

An offer from One who knows what it’s like to walk in our shoes…

An offer from Jesus, the only One whose sacrifice made all the difference, and who never intended for us to pay Him back… He just wanted our love in return…and for us to love others as He has loved us…

How could such a pure, simple, dynamic Love be so misconstrued by human beings?

A Brand-New Year to Stay Full of Hope!

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Happy New Year!

I love the first day of a brand-new year. There’s something very hopeful about it. Sure, by the end of an old year, you might feel a little ragged, a little tired and worn out from all the challenges that old year brought. But the first day of a new year is like wiping the slate clean — like stepping into a big wading pool of hope, full of light that’s bright enough to lead you fearlessly into what lies ahead.

And what lies ahead could be more wonderful than you could ever imagine… So…never give up! And if you need a reminder, some encouragement, here’s a scene from “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” that’s perfect for the start of this brand-new year:

Choose to make 2014 your best year yet!

XOXOXO

Anticipation…

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Every day, I check the sunflowers. Since I planted them late in the season, I wonder if they’ll be as spectacular as the ones from last year. And today, August 24, their petals were just started to unfurl. It’s so exciting to see them wake up and grow! Every new day in the garden is filled with anticipation, similar to that magical feeling on Christmas Eve, which is only four months away…

I wonder if that’s how God feels when He looks at us… I bet sometimes He’s just waiting for us to “wake up” and grow as much as possible. I bet He smiles when we do. But when we don’t, when we have those seasons of frustration or delay or self-sabotage, maybe He just unfurls His big arms and gives us warm sun hugs…waiting for us to keep going…’til we blossom into all He made us to be.

Yeah. That would be just like Him. 🙂

Holy Week, Easter, and “The Bible” Series

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The Easter season was special in many ways this year… On Palm Sunday, after praying that God would save my mom a palm and a bulletin (since I couldn’t to her church on time), there in my path was one big, fat palm, while one bulletin was partially hidden under a clipboard. No others were in sight anywhere. I checked. God’s so sweet…

Then, during Holy Week, passages in Scripture seemed to leap off the page. Yes, every day the Word is alive, but during Holy Week, some days felt like God was using a custom-made never-before-seen neon color to point out certain passages. One of those was Psalm 28, verse 7, from the Amplified Bible: “The Lord is my Strength and my [impenetrable] Shield; my heart trusts in, relies on, and confidently leans on Him, and I am helped; therefore my heart greatly rejoices, and with my song will I praise Him.” Perfect assurance.

Or sometimes it was catching the right song at the right time, or walking into a room to hear the right words from someone on television. Everything was perfect this past week, in that regard. I believe life can be perfect all the time in that sense, when you’re walking with Him. Even if everything else seems to be falling apart or seems unsteady, when He’s beside you, everything is perfect. If the God of the Universe is holding your hand, you know everything is working together for good somehow…

And, finally, yes…I did watch the last three parts of the “The Bible” series on the History Channel. My mom and I and a family friend watched it together. (I wrote about the first two weeks, then got sidetracked again by life. ; ) Here’s my review, the short version: I LOVED IT! : ) As mentioned earlier, I felt the heart of God radiated throughout this series. Sure, artistic license was taken, but that was fine; there were no major issues changed, and if something was left out, give the producers credit for working their way all the way through to Revelation in just 10 hours…

The casting directors should be applauded. As an actor, I found no false notes in any of the acting. I absolutely loved everyone. Along with the solid directing, this entire creative team caused me to feel and consider what the people from the Bible went through. Sometimes, as humans, if we know a story well enough, we glide right through it. But each story told in this series brought newness; I loved that most of all.

The third week introduced Diogo Morgado as “Jesus.” Fantastic! He played the role of The Messiah with such grace and love and strength. Just the right amount of every attribute you can imagine about Jesus. And playing off him, Darwin Shaw was excellent as Peter. I thought their first exchange was artistically brilliant. And the meeting of Paul and Ananias had so many layers… Oh I could go on and on about spot-on, beautiful acting moments in this series… And all those honest performances caught my heart greatly… Tears flowed…

But so did reassurance… His reassurance…that He’ll never leave us nor forsake us…that, like Psalm 28:7 states, He will be our strength — and we do have a reason to be joyful: He’s left us His Holy Spirit, and He will be back again… At our Father’s appointed time, Jesus will return. It’s not over… And how beautiful is that…

I hope you all had a very blessed Easter also!

A Smile Like Lightning…

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“Make ready for the Christ, whose smile—like lightning—sets free the song of everlasting glory that now sleeps, in your paper flesh—like dynamite,” wrote Thomas Merton. My friend Susan shared this quote. I love the descriptions. And the truth of Christ. Can you imagine a smile like lightning? A powerful smile, a smile you’d be drawn to and would want to sit down to dinner with. A smile that could reassure and reaffirm and reawaken your soul. A smile you’d want to memorize. Such a perfect quote for this season. Or anytime of year. Such a perfect, powerful smile…

(I’ve shared this before, but this quote is so perfect for Holy Week…)