Holy Week: part 2 (Blood)

crossOne of the creepiest concepts to me when I was exploring Christianity was all the talk (and all the songs) about the “Blood of the Lamb”.  Ewww!  Of course I had no problem watching movies about serial killers, or tv programs that showed autopsies and mangled corpses– but this death on the cross was too much.  (Our culture has trained us well, hmm?)

When we really look at the blood in context, however, we actually see more of this Great Love Story, and how all of this blood points to the heart of God.

When Adam and Eve made the choice to disobey God in the Garden of Eden, blood was shed for the first time.  Notice that God still loves His children, (He doesn’t slay them) but He clothes them in animal skins to cover their nakedness, and sends them away.  God’s standard was made clear from the beginning: The penalty for sin is death.

Animal sacrifices to appease the gods were common to nearly every culture in the ancient world.  The Jewish people also offered sacrifices to God for their sins.  Yet one death, one sacrifice was never enough.  Each year the ritual had to be repeated to atone for all of the wrongs committed in the previous year.  No matter how “good” a person could be,  there was no way to live a life free of sinful thoughts, behaviors, and resulting destruction.

In case you’re thinking God’s ways are cruel, history shows us human beings are much worse.  Hammurabi’s Code, generally recognized as the earliest form of written laws, seeks an eye for an eye, and a life for a life.  Today, even our entertainment shows how we have grown numb to senseless violence, and though our culture values “tolerance” as a cherished virtue, we still have a death penalty in the U.S.

From the ancient world to the present, blood is generally recognized as a life force.  When it’s donated at blood banks we are “giving life”, and when it’s poured out, it signals death.  However, our Heavenly Father who is Holy ( & can’t be around sin)  wants each of us to join Him for Eternal Life, and so He came up with a rescue plan!  Again, while we may think of it as weird, who are we to judge?  We’re not God; we didn’t create the universe.  I can tell you since I began walking with Him, I’ve been so grateful that He is the one in control and calling the shots!! 🙂

At what Christians call, “The Last Supper”, Jesus and His disciples were celebrating the Passover feast–commemorating when the Israelite slaves in Egypt were passed over by the angel of death, after they painted the blood of lambs over their doors.  Later Jesus would be arrested, tortured, and ultimately nailed to a cross.  Communion–the eating of bread (Christ’s body), and drinking from the cup (Christ’s blood)– is all about remembering the death WE deserve for our sin, and that Jesus paid the price for us with His life!

Now for me, reflecting on the crucifixion at Easter isn’t a gory exercise, nor is it about beating myself up about my failures.  Our Father knows we are forgetful, and has simply given us a powerful reminder that HE LOVES US THAT MUCH!!

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Expecting Light: Love

four_candlesA few years ago my family had the incredible opportunity to ride bicycles down the side of a dormant volcano in Maui.  In order to join the tour who arranged this sunrise adventure, we had to drive from our hotel on the other side of the island to the base of the volcano– where we were to catch the van that would take us and our gear to the peak.  So, off we went at about 4:30 am, heading out into the inky blackness.  At one point I was so amused by a sign which pointed off the highway with a recommended “view/ photo location” because literally, you could see nothing out there— not sea, or sky, or mountain… we could have been anywhere!  Then someone turned on their porchlight.  I’ll never forget it.  From miles away we could see one little lightbulb, and whenever I think of it, I remember one of my favorite verses from God’s Word– “perfect love chases away fear”.  See, though there was far more blackness than there was light– it was the light that captured my attention with the comfort that all would be well.

Love–such a little word; such a life-transforming concept. How many of us get it so wrong!!  With evidence all around us of misuses and abuses, envy and self-loathing, prejudice and neglect, is it any wonder when fear/darkness seems to win?  And then, God sent His Son… The sad thing of course is when those who (claim to) follow Jesus are also so broken that they too misrepresent God’s love to a desperate world.  Love one another– it’s that simple, and that difficult.

Perfect love, the kind that chases away fear, is only possible with Christ.  This is the love for those who’ve hurt us or our family members.  This is the love for those whose lifestyle we don’t agree with, or who hold different beliefs.  This is the love for those who are sick, in prison, or in some way seem to inconvenience our “safe little lives”.  This is also the love for the enemies of our nation, for God’s love is for ALL His children!

When we know this kind of love, the world changes.  Fear dissipates and we can see the light shining out of evil and darkness.  This is my Christmas wish for all of you!!

With Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love–

Heart Matters

This has been a really “interesting” weekend with too many examples of heartache and the woundedness found in our world not to notice.

As I don’t believe in coincidences, &  seeing these incidents close together–each one pointing to one of the most life-changing lessons I’ve learned, I am all the more certain that “Yes”, I’m supposed to address this topic today in my first real blog post.   SO, whether or not writing about Love so close to Valentine’s Day is going to seem Cheesy to you, I’ve decided to go for it, without apology.

LOVE has nothing to do with the candy-flower-red hearts day that so saturates our western culture.  Nor is it particularly about romance or marriage– although they can certainly be an aspect of it.   See, our world gets this all wrong, and truly, until we learn what Love is, and that we are loved to the very core of our being, JUST AS WE ARE, there is no way we will ever be able to love others the way we are designed to do.

Since the Garden of Eden, God’s greatest gifts have been counterfeited and corrupted to the point we barely recognize them anymore.  Think about it: even the word, “Love” has become so overused that it’s meaning has been sadly lost.  Surely, “I Love your shoes”, or “I Love ice cream” doesn’t compare with “I Love my wife “! Too many of us never knew the unconditional love of our parents– in my case I grew up with so many mixed messages and a lot of shame about being “different”.   This isn’t to condemn my folks, they simply passed along what they had been taught.  But tragically, those who have been hurt, go on to hurt others.  Five+ years ago I spent over a year in counseling and recovery groups and thankfully have grown and healed a lot in the process.  But now I recognize the deep root of rejection wherever I see it, and I ached for my college friend who felt she had to offer some sort of “release from friendship” for any of her friends who so desired, when for the first time (and after 30 years of silence), she came out this weekend.

I had an opportunity to perform for a Valentine’s Dessert Theatre last night and on the way we heard of Whitney Houston’s passing.  What a tragedy… It made the message of our evening all the more relevant.  No amount of money or fame is beyond the reach of pain and woundedness, and if we cannot get to the root of our pain and see it for the lie that it is (that somehow we’re not enough), disaster will follow.  The truth is that God loves every one of us, just as we are.  He created us, He delights in us, and He wants nothing more than for us to be in relationship with Him.  I have AMAZING stories about how He showed up again and again in tangible ways, years before I ever knew Him- and I can promise, He feels the same way about YOU!!

Another thing that I’m recognizing is that once I did finally receive God’s Love in my truest self / inmost being /soul / spirit / whatever-vocabulary-you- choose, He began the work of expanding my heart towards others.  I had closed myself off in many ways for years– preferring not take the risk of further rejection. But can you see how that in itself became a self-fulfilling act?  If I wasn’t open, how could others get to know me or like me?   This was so surprising when it started… I didn’t just become more empathetic with the women we meet in shelters and prisons, I began to see them through the lens of Love.  My whole prayer life changed.  In the past year I’ve wept (yeah- me- weeping!!) after the tsunami in Japan, over the killing of Osama Bin Laden, and about the heaviness I felt in Vegas where so many people had no life in their eyes.  And it doesn’t stop there!  Sometimes frankly, it’s easy to love strangers.  This weekend God showed me where I need to love those who have hurt people close to me, and how just maybe, they need my love most of all.

Now I’m not saying I want to be in relationship with all of these people, or that I even need to like them.  There are many people who are unsafe, and healthy boundaries dictate caution around other broken people.  But unconditional love isn’t always a feeling, it’s a choice-our intentional response to God and others.  For those of us who follow Christ, Love is the first fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22) and the foundation for all of the rest.  For until we allow God to pour His love into us, we have nothing of value to give the world.  For me the bottom line comes from Jesus himself when He said that He didn’t come to judge the world, but to bring life, life to the fullest- and THAT my friends, is what Love is all about.