It’s a Matter of Perspective

these 40 days.docxMar. 22, 2014

John 19:1

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged.

This week, Rick and I got the dreaded spring cold. We are both stuffy, achy and blowing our noses constantly. The beginning of the week, my back, neck and shoulders were so stiff. I really wanted to treat myself to a massage but didn’t. Being stiff made me feel rather miserable.

Today, I was with three teenaged Confirmation students. We watched The Passion of the Christ. Personally, I feel the most graphic part of the movie is when Jesus is flogged by the Roman soldiers. Flogged is a fancy word that is the act of methodically beating the human body with special implements such as whips, lashes, rods and the like. It’s as severe form of punishment as I can imagine.

After watching the perceived beating that Jesus took, my stiff back is very minor.  What do I have to complain about? My cold will be gone in a few days. Jesus’ withstood unimaginable beating and whipping. Why? So that I can experience eternal life.

When things are awful for us, we can be melodramatic. We say something is a nightmare or the worst thing ever. But really? Yes, our situations may be difficult and painful. But anything in comparison to Jesus’ flogging? Not a chance.

After seeing this movie again, I will complain much less about the obtrusive things in my life. They really just are not that big of a deal. It’s a matter of perspective.

Lord God, why is it that everything seems much more difficult when we are personally experiencing something? Others may be walking a difficult lot in their lives. But when it affects us, we have a new perspective. Yes, we do have certain challenges and difficulties in our lives. And thank you for walking with us through trying times. Challenge us not to lose perspective. Amen.

Blessings –

Dianne

If you have enjoyed this blog, please pass it along to someone else who might also enjoy it.

A Simple Pretzel

pretzel girl prayingMar. 21, 2014

John 18:1

When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was a garden, and he and his disciples went into it.

 A long-standing discipline of Lent is prayer. But there’s a little story about the pretzel and Lent you may not be familiar with.

Tradition says there was a monk who was in the kitchen one day during Lent. The monks only ate very simple foods during Lent. There were leftover scraps from making bread. The monk began to work with the scraps and formed what we know today as a pretzel. He baked the little pieces of bread and shared them with the other monks at the monastery to encourage their prayer lives during Lent.

Hold a tiny twist pretzel upside down. When the monks prayer, they crossed their arms in front of them and put their hands towards their shoulders. Try this. Now look at the pretzel. Does the shape look familiar?

There are also three holes in a pretzel. These are to remind us of the Trinity of God, the three persons of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

We think of a pretzel as something to dip into mustard or snack on. But originally, pretzels were a way to encourage people to uphold prayer during Lent. Maybe you can use pretzels as an encouragement of your prayer life this Lent.

It’s just a pretzel, but it was formed and created with a specific purpose. May we be reminded of the constant need to pray daily in our lives. May our prayers be lifted up in the name of the Trinity. Lord God, I pray that the hardness of the pretzel will remind us of the hardness of your sacrifice.  Amen.

Blessings –

Dianne

If you have enjoyed this blog, please pass it along to someone else who might also enjoy it.

Not a Normal Crown

DSC01591 DSC01592Mar. 19, 2014

Mark 15:16-18

The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” 

When we think of a crown, we imagine something that Napoleon, Queen Elizabeth or Elsa the Snow Queen from Frozen would wear. To us, a crown of thorns means thorns from a rose bush with short, pudgy thorns.

I’m convinced the crown Jesus wore wasn’t none of these. While in the Garden of Gethsemane, we saw thorns recently pruned from bushes. The pictured thorns were in a refuse pile when I rescued them. Look closely. The thorns are 4-5 inches long. Imagine these thorns woven into a crown and pushed down over the top of a person’s head to make sure the crown would stay on. Are you getting a different picture?

To secure a crown on Jesus’ head required some thorns be pushed into the skull. These thorns are spiky. Not a pleasant feeling. Jesus’ crown is not a beautiful crown. It’s a crown of jest. Imagine the thorns causing blood to drip down Jesus’ face. Why would a person allow the soldiers to make fun of him, with a crown, a purple robe and mocking? Because he had to.

I recently saw the movie 12 Years a Slave. It tells the true story of how a free African-American man from Washington D.C. was sold into slavery. In the mid-1800’s, he spent 12 years working for white masters. While traveling to a master’s farm, another slave tells him to say as little as possible and not let the master know he can read and write. This is necessary for survival.

For many American people, we feel it is important to stand up for ourselves, defend our position, make sure justice is fair. Contrarily, this man follows the advice most of the time. Near the movie’s end, he takes a risk hoping it will lead to freedom.

Jesus never tries to barter, beg or negotiate with Pilate, the soldiers or the religious leaders. He just accepts his lot. He’s the King of the Jews, the Son of God, crown of thorns and all. Why did he allow the mocking, the beating, the humiliation? Simple. Because he loves you.

Lord God, it is hard to understand how nasty and awful your death was. We prefer it to not be so horrendous. When confronted with the real side of your death, it’s more than we can stomach. Thank you for accepting this lot. Thank you for being willing. Thank you for dying. Amen.

Blessings –

Dianne

If you have enjoyed this blog, please pass it along to someone else who might also enjoy it.

King Who?

DSC01588Mar. 18, 2014

Matthew 27:37

Above his head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS.

At church on Sunday, people received a second symbol of Lent to add to their small wooden cross. They received a small purple robe to put around the cross.

In Matthew’s Gospel, we discover early on that the Son of God, Jesus Christ, came as the King of the Jews. When the magi are looking for Jesus after his birth, the magi inquire where the King of the Jews was to be born. In his death, a sign is hung above his head on the cross, which labels him as the King of the Jews.

Many Jewish people just could not recognize Jesus as their King. Nothing of his life resembled the traditional roles of a King. Jesus was born in a smelly barn, not a royal palace. His earthly father was a simple carpenter, not a man presiding on a throne. He never owned his home and certainly never lived in a fancy palace. So why should have the Jews, who expected their Messiah to be a descendant of King’s David family to not live like King David?

Often, God does things upside down. This King would model being a king for everyone and not just certain people. This King would open-up God’s kingdom for all people. This King would not rule with power but with mercy and grace.

As the purple robe resides on the cross, may it be a reminder of the robe placed on Jesus’ shoulders by the mocking soldiers. May it remind us that Jesus wants to be the King of your life. He doesn’t want to be a King in name only, but a King whose simple commands to love God and love our neighbors are ones we aspire to follow. He is a King we can trust. He is a King who yearns for our praise. He’s a King we should not mistake because he’s simply not the kind of King we expect.

O King of the Jews, forgive me when I have not recognized you as the King of my life and mocked you instead. Overlook the times when I yearned for an earthly King rather than a heavenly King. May a simple purple robe renew within me the desire to make you King of my life. Amen.

Blessings –

Dianne

If you have enjoyed this blog, please pass it along to someone else who might also enjoy it.

Not an Easy Mission to Continue

these 40 days.docxMar. 16, 2014

Luke 19:9-10

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”  Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”  

Jesus knew his days were getting numbered. He traveled to the city of Jericho. While there, he didn’t look up the local synagogue leaders or rabbis. The one person he chose to visit was Zacchaeus, one of Jericho’s biggest sinners. A tax collector, he had made himself very rich. When he heard this Jesus guy was coming to his hometown, even he decided it was worth checking out. Crowds must have lined the streets. He climbed a tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus.

When Jesus found Zacchaeus, he told him he was coming to dinner at his house. Zacchaeus organized a wonderful party, inviting all of his friends. Who were his friends? Fellow big-time sinners: cheats, prostitutes, ill-repute people.

Jesus wasn’t uncomfortable dining with Zacchaeus’ friends. This was the kind of people he usually chose to dine with. While maybe Zacchaeus didn’t quite understand Jesus and his mission, he was convicted of his wayward ways and publically announced that he would make right all of his previous wrongs. He saw that his cheating of others wasn’t the way he wanted to be remembered and wanted to correct it. For his change of heart, Jesus rewards him with salvation AND reiterates his life mission: to reach out to the lost.

As a Christian, it should be my mission to continue Jesus’ work. I am to reach out to the lost. Unfortunately, I have a hard time doing this. As much as I want to be unjudgmental, I just always can’t stop myself. I want to place conditions on helping others. Sometimes, I even want others to know when I help someone rather than just doing it humbly. How do I choose which lost people to help, knowing I can’t help everyone?

I often help the “easiest” ones and leave the difficult ones for someone else. I congratulate myself when I do a little, hoping that something is better than nothing. I justify caring for my loved ones and choose to neglect someone else.

What I’m saying is this: helping the least and the lost is serious business. It’s hard business. It’s not for the faint-hearted. It was Jesus’ mission. Will I honestly make it my mission?

Lord God, forgive me when I have not been very caring to the least and the lost. Thanks for patience when I looked the other way rather than dealing with a prime opportunity in front of me. Thanks for overlooking my selfishness when I could have assisted someone else. Broaden my “least and lost” box this Lent. Bring someone into my life that I have the opportunity to help. Amen.

Blessings –

Dianne

If you have enjoyed this blog, please pass it along to someone else who might also enjoy it.

The Payment for Our Temptations

these 40 days.docxMar. 15, 2014

Luke 23:34

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  

A couple months ago, our niece shared about her five-year-old son. He attends parochial school. One day after school, he told his Mom that he wished one girl in his class would stop leading him into temptation.

Has temptation been your friend? Have you knowingly done hurtful things to other people? Or has temptation lured you away from doing something you know you could and should do and instead do something else?

As Jesus hung on the cross dying, he looked down and saw all kinds of people gathered at the foot of the cross. He saw the religious leaders who worked diligently to get him crucified because they felt threatened by him. There were the Roman soldiers conducting their jobs, probably numb to the process. I imagine a few merchants Jesus had thrown out of the Temple earlier in the week that changed money within his Father’s house. They were still mad at him for causing them to lose money during a significantly profitable week. Then he saw his Mom, her closest friends, his disciple John.  People he loved and cared for. People he knew didn’t understand what was happening. People led into temptation because of their job, beliefs or views. People who were loved him and couldn’t imagine life without him.

During crucifixion, it is nearly impossible for a person to speak. As fluid builds up around the heart and lungs, it becomes increasingly more difficult for the person to breathe. We know of at least seven times Jesus hoisted himself up just enough to get air into his lungs to speak. For our benefit, he spoke loud enough for those on the ground to hear him. Amazingly, his first words are a prayer: “Father, forgive them.”

In this prayer, he prays for those he can see who have been tempted and given in. He’s praying for all those people who have already lived and committed sin. Interestingly, he also prays for us, for all of humanity and the temptations we will succumb to. With a few words in a prayer, he covers the temptations of all humanity.

What to know how much Jesus loves you? Substitute your name for the “them” in his prayer. Listen. “Father, forgive Dianne, for she knows not what she does.” This is amazing love. It’s amazing grace. Will you be changed this Lent by the One who prayed for you?

Lord God, thank you for praying for me while hanging on the cross. Thank you for paying for my sins even before I enacted them. When we remember the temptations we have allowed into our lives, let us see the payment of those temptations. Allow the Holy Spirit to change our hearts this Lent. Amen.

Blessings –

Dianne

If you have enjoyed this blog, please pass it along to someone else who might also enjoy it.

Getting Up When It’s Still Dark

Mar. 12, 2014

Mark 1:35

these 40 days.docxIn the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.

On Wednesday evenings, I teach a Confirmation class for teenagers. Tonight’s subject was being a disciple of Jesus. What do it mean and the choices we make in how we live our lives For God?

One way is by devotion. To help us understand what devotion looks like, we looked at Jesus’ example. That’s when we ran across this verse from Mark’s Gospel, which tells us that while it was still dark, Jesus got up and prayed.

We talked about when we’ve gotten up when it has still been dark and the circumstances surrounding this. The kids talked about getting up early when they go hunting, fishing and for sporting events. But to pray? Not so much. One boy thought he deserved credit for getting up early when he stays overnight at a friend’s house and still making it to church.

How about you? What causes you to get up when it is still dark? When you roll out of bed in the morning, do you hit the day running or do you spend a few quiet minutes with God?

The last few years, I have discovered that praying in bed before my feet hit the ground helps me focus and reflect on where I want to get energy from the day. Maybe it’s only praying for two or three minutes in my head, but it’s a choice to dedicate the day to God first. It’s remembering whose I am before I have a chance to screw something up.

I’m not sure the teens were convinced of the need to get up before dawn and pray. Most importantly, they heard about Jesus’ devotion to God and his desire for us to strive for this also. Whether it’s when it is dark or when it is light, at the end of the day, Jesus simply yearns for devotion. Doesn’t the King deserve this?

Almighty God, being devoted to you should be relatively easy. But sometimes, we just do not make those choices. Thank you for the model that Jesus gives us. Help us to see that choosing to follow you is worth the extra effort. Amen.

Blessings –

Dianne

If you have enjoyed this blog, please pass it along to someone else who might also enjoy it.

Fasting without Food

these 40 days.docxMar. 11, 2014

Joel 2:12-13

Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your hearts, with fasting, with weeping and with sorrow; tear your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, very patient, full of faithful love, and ready to forgive.

I am seven days into fasting from sugar during Lent. No, the scale hasn’t moved. But this was not the purpose from restraining from sugar. It’s about being more dependent upon God and less dependent upon things I put into my mouth.

Today was the first day since the beginning of Lent I struggled with eating. When I got home this afternoon, I just wanted to eat. I choose a couple healthy and acceptable options. But the desire continued. I knew it was something between my ears and not something my tummy wanted. Finally, I convinced myself that a cup of coffee was sufficient.

While we often think of fasting as refraining from food, here are some other “fasting” options for us to ponder this Lent:

  • Fast from anger and hatred. Instead, dole out extra doses of love to those closest to you.
  • Fast from judging others. Thank goodness Jesus generously overlooks our faults.
  • Fast from discouragement. Some days I wonder if I am anywhere near what God would desire me to be doing with my life. God can take anything in my life and create meaningful purpose if I choose to let it happen.
  • Fast from complaining. Instead, recall the most recent moment of joy you experienced.
  • Fast from resentment and bitterness. Be generous with forgiveness, even when someone does not deserve it. Thank goodness God does not make forgiveness to us dependent upon whether we deserve it.
  • Fast from unnecessary spending this Lent. Find extra ways to give to others these 40 days.

Once again, fasts are most often about what is between our ears. If all these options are too overwhelming, pick one area and concentrate on this for the rest of Lent. Or challenge yourself to intentionally include one fast each week. Imagine what type of society we could live in if many people fasted from these things the rest of Lent. Wow. We can only imagine.

Lord God, change our hearts. Make them more like Jesus’ heart. May we be encouraged to fast and refrain from those things that tear us down rather than build your kingdom. Amen.

Blessings –

Dianne

If you have enjoyed this blog, please pass it along to someone else who might also enjoy it.

Just a Little Cross

Mar. 10, 2014

John 19:18-20

That’s where they crucified him—and two others with him, one on each side and Jesus in the middle. Pilate had a public notice written and posted on the cross. It read “Jesus the Nazarene, the king of the Jews.”  Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city and it was written in Aramaic,DSC01527 Latin, and Greek.

I am a visual person. It is easier for me to learn something when I see it. Armed with a mental picture, I am more likely to remember. This is why I like tangible things to help people understand the Gospel. I respond to daily reminders I see and think others might also.

This is why I asked Rick to make some little crosses for the churches I serve. On the first Sunday of Lent, every family received a cross. On subsequent Sundays, another little item will be weekly added to the cross. Each symbol represents a part of the crucifixion story.

Last weekend, Rick finished making the crosses. I’d gone to bed as he finished assembling them. When I got up the next morning, they were neatly

DSC01525

arranged on the living floor. Rick knew the first place I’d go is to look at the crosses. They stood so proud, neatly lined up.

Each cross is unique and different. There are various kinds of wood. Rick used scrap lumber, so some pieces have writing, scratches or a little paint on them. While Rick used the same pattern for each cross, he intended for them to be unique and allowed little differences to exist.

For me, the cross is such an important part of the Christian faith. It’s where the rubber hits the road; where God represents the best of a divine God with the worst of  humanity. While we often think of just Jesus dying on the cross, all three persons of the Trinity were present. Father, Son and Holy Spirit experienced the agony and heartache of the most gruesome form of death imaginable.

For some people, the cross is just too hard to believe. How could a person die and come back to life? How does Jesus’ blood truly replace and represent our blood? For these answers, I must stutter. I cannot completely answer these questions. I simply choose to believe or not believe.

DSC01530

We have our little cross sitting on the coffee table. While it’s just a little cross, for me it is a daily reminder of what Lent signifies. I pray you can find a small symbol that represents Lent for you.

How can I ever express my complete gratitude for your willingness to take my place at the cross, Lord Jesus. It is nearly impossible for me to fathom what this really means. I pray that we can find symbolic items this Lent to help us broaden our understanding just a bit. Amen.Lent’s purpose for you. Put it in a visible place. Pause before it daily. Run your fingers over it and remember the entire Trinity dying on the cross for you.

Blessings –

Dianne

If you have enjoyed this blog, please pass it along to someone else who might also enjoy it.

Sprayed with Grace

DSC01533DSC01531Mar. 8, 2014

Luke 11

While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee invited him to share a meal with him, so Jesus went and took his place at the table. When the Pharisee saw that Jesus didn’t ritually purify his hands by washing before the meal, he was astonished. The Lord said to him, “Now, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and platter, but your insides are stuffed with greed and wickedness. Foolish people! Didn’t the one who made the outside also make the inside? Therefore, give to those in need from the core of who you are and you will be clean all over.”

My husband is convinced he is an artist. His choice of materials is not the normal things artists choose, like wood or clay or paint. His newest material: water. That’s right; water.

Like many Wisconsin towns this winter, Mazomanie has suggested people constantly run a small, steady stream of water in their homes. The recommendation came after a very cold weekend in which 13 homes had frozen water pipes.

A steady stream of water trickling in a bathroom would be to boring for our house. Rick ran a hose into the backyard with a fitted end on it in which had small holes for the water to squirt out. He angled the hose’s end so water sprayed into the air, freezing and forming ice sculptures. To provide a backdrop, he positioned used Christmas trees with woven wire so the ice sculptures would freeze up and not flat. The pictures give an idea of the sculptures. Can you tell Rick recovered at home for six weeks and needed a project?

With a beautiful sunny day, today, the ice glistened. The surrounding snow is perfectly white and untouched.  I thought of cleansing.

When Jesus was alive, Jews were required to do ritual cleansing and washing many times a day. One time, Jesus is dining with the local religious leaders. They can’t believe Jesus skipped the ritual washing before the meal and call him on it. Jesus used this teachable moment to explain that our outsides can be clean as the untouched snow in our back yard. But if our insides remain soiled with greed, hatred, wickedness and a host of other sins, it doesn’t matter what our outsides look like. Dirty sin on the inside is still dirty sin.

But Jesus is like the hose, wanting to spray forgiveness and cleansing into our lives. Sometimes we’re open to this. Other times, the water gets a frozen reception from us. It looks pretty but less we let our hearts thaw to our need for forgiveness, we’re still dirty on the inside. Thank goodness Jesus provides a way to heal our dirtiness. It’s called grace.

For some reason, Lord God, it is often much easier to identify everyone else’s sin except our own. Bring to mind those dirty sins that we have a hard time admitting to ourselves. You want to cleanse us. May we see our need to be cleansed. Amen.

Blessings –

Dianne

If you have enjoyed this blog, please pass it along to someone else who might also enjoy it.