Holy Land Reflections on Easter Sunday

An empty tomb (not Jesus’) … this one was just by the side of the road! But it shows you what they generally looked like, and how the stone would be rolled into place to seal it.

One of the questions I’ve been asked the most since our return from our Holy Land trip is, “Did you feel closer to God there?” (Implication: after all, weren’t you walking the very land our great heroes and heroines of the Bible walked on, seeing the places where they lived and experienced God so powerfully?).

There’s an easy answer to that question (for me, anyway), and it’s, “Not really.” At least, not in the sense that I thought, Wow, the Presence of God is really in this place. In fact, I found it almost harder to find Him—partly because there’s the expectation that it might be so (which can be a set-up for disappointment right there), and partly because, well, I found Israel to be crowded, somewhat chaotic, overrun with tourist buses and droves of “pilgrims” from around the world, and, in some places, harsh and dirty. It was a little hard to get past all that at times.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Ironically, one of the times I did sense God speaking to me was when I was in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the church built over the presumed location of Jesus’ empty tomb. (I say “presumed” because there is another contender for that distinction as well).

I sensed Him say to me, I’m not in this.

Interior of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and presumed location of Jesus’ empty tomb

Church interior. I really don’t know what all the trappings were for. Incense, candles, altars, icons, etc.

You may think this is weird, but I often have a running dialog in my mind between me and God. So, this is how our “conversation” went:

Him:    I’m not in this.

Me:      (Looking around the insanely crowded cathedral full of icons, incense, and two-hour lines of people waiting to file past the tomb for a glimpse or touch a relic, etc.) Yeah, I know. That tomb is empty.

Him:    No, I mean I’m REALLY not in all this hoopla. You’re not going to find me in this. In fact, I want to be everywhere else BUT in a place like this!

Me:      Ah yes. I remember. Jesus kicked over tables in places like this. Yep, I can see why You wouldn’t want to be here either.

Then I realized I was possibly physically standing on the very spot where the angels greeted the women who came to the tomb that Resurrection morning, saying to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen!” (Luke 24:5) For sure, definitely not there.

I was able to feel the wonder of Jesus’ Resurrection a little more distinctly when we visited the other possible location of Jesus’ tomb, located a bit further away and with considerably less hoopla. There we experienced more of the ambience of what it might have been like for Jesus’ disciples as they encountered the empty tomb for the first time.

After we visited the Garden Tomb itself, we had the opportunity in the garden to sing some worship songs, reflect, and take communion together . . . and some passers-by, strangers from different places around the world, even joined in with us! It was a moment of truly experiencing the sense that, Yes, He is Risen! And His Spirit now lives in each of us wherever we are! The very Presence of God EXPLODED out of the tomb that Resurrection Day, and the message of new life, available to all, went out around the world.

Doug exiting the empty tomb … when I saw this I remembered how John wrote, in his gospel account, that Peter had to “bend over to look inside” (John 20:5).

Don’t get me wrong about not feeling close to God in Israel. I did feel close to Him. I just didn’t feel CLOSER because I was in a particular location. In fact, that’s part of the mystery and amazement of what Jesus’ death and resurrection did for us, and what we celebrate on Easter.

  • The separation, the veil, between God and mankind has been ripped away (see my Good Friday post).
  • By faith in what Jesus did for us, we can have a restored, personal relationship with our Heavenly Father.
  • He dwells with us! We can experience Him personally, lovingly, and joyfully in so many ways, right where we are, wherever we are.

I’m so thankful we know and serve a Risen Jesus!  He is with us everywhere always, unrestricted by a physical location. Reflecting on all that today, Easter Sunday, is what really makes me feel closer to God. Visiting the sites of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection was moving, and it’s great to have a visual for where those events actually happened. But whether I’m here, there, or anywhere, Jesus is alive and with me!

If you haven’t experienced that wonder for awhile–or ever (and you don’t need a trip to the Holy Land to experience it), I hope you won’t wait for another Easter to pass. After all, it can be Easter EVERY DAY!

(c) 2019 Arlyn J. Lawrence. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Holy Land Reflections on Good Friday

Our first glimpse of Jerusalem, March 31st, a gray, drizzly day. I wonder if these skies looked the same for Jesus on the same calendar day, nearly 2,000 years earlier, the day before His Last Supper?

It’s hard to believe that just two weeks ago, Doug and I were in the Holy Land—in person. Since I’ve been home, I discovered something interesting: that we were in Jerusalem, following the paths where Jesus walked, likely on the every same calendar days He did during His Passion Week (April 1-3)! That’s simply mind boggling to me!

I’m still processing my take-aways from the journey. It was definitely moving and thought-provoking on a number of levels, to experience the Holy Land of today with all its historical, spiritual, cultural, and even political facets. In real time, all of that information and emotion comes flying at you at once, and it’s a bit overwhelming to process it there. So, you try to absorb everything you can, take lots of pictures, and then attempt to sort and process it all when you get home, which is what we’re doing!

Today, as I write this, it’s Good Friday, the day we remember Jesus’ crucifixion. I wanted to share a few more of my pictures and impressions (than I originally did on Facebook) from those days we spent visiting the sites of His last days: where He was betrayed, tried, tortured, and executed to be the ultimate sacrificial lamb for mankind. I hope I’m able to pass along the poignant feelings of wonder and personal connection to the events surrounding Jesus’ resurrection and life that I’ve been able to feel in a fresh way because of this trip.

The view from Bethlehem over the Shepherds’ Fields, looking in the direction of Jerusalem, less than five miles away.

It was in these fields that the angels appeared to the shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus. This was not just any baby, and these were not just any shepherds. The shepherds who raised sheep on these hills would have been descended from the tribe of Levi, the genealogical line of priests who would offer the sacrifices in the temple to atone for the people’s sin. The perfect, unblemished lambs that could be purchased for sacrifice at the temple could only be those born within a five-mile radius of Jerusalem, and cared for by Levitical shepherds. How like God to think of every detail . . . that the perfect lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world, once and for all, would fulfill even this intricate criteria to be the Perfect Sacrifice!

The Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives, where Jesus retreated with His disciples to spend time with the Father before He would be arrested and taken away.

The Church of All Nations is built adjacent to the Garden of Gethsemane and directly over top of the stone on which Jesus agonized the night He was arrested.

At the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus “knelt down and began to pray, saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:41-42). Ultimately, the Father’s will meant that Jesus would be betrayed by one of His own, and led away to Caiaphas, the High Priest, at night (which was illegal), where He was unjustly accused and tried.

The stone itself. You can reach right over and touch it.

The steps leading down from the house of Caiaphas, the high priest. Jesus walked down these very steps (yes, they are the originals) after His “trial,” on the short walk to Pontius Pilate’s residence for sentencing.

This is the location where Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate; in those days it would have been open air. The stones on the floor, though, are original. Looking down, this was Jesus’ perspective on that day.

Then it was back to Caiaphas’ house, where he was imprisoned in a pit, then brought out to this location for flogging. It was a terrible thing: 39 lashes with a multi-tailed leather whip, studded with sharp stones and bits of glass. He stood on this very floor, where the “Church of the Flagellation” now stands. These stones would have been covered in His blood, shed for us.

The original floor stones at the site of Jesus’ scourging.

 

The engravings are by the Roman soldiers, called “The King’s Game,” which they played with dice to amuse themselves during the proceedings.

Finally, the long procession through the streets of Jerusalem to Golgotha, the site of the crucifixion. There He was nailed and hung and mocked until He surrendered His spirit to God, crying out, “Tetelestai, it is finished!” (John 19:30).

One of the proposed sites of Golgotha, the “Place of the Skull,” where Jesus was crucified outside the city. A recent storm has eroded it further, but if you look carefully from the right vantage point, it really does look like a skull face in the rock!

Then, ” . . . darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, because the sun was obscured; and the veil of the temple was torn in two” (Luke 23:44-45).

The temple in Jerusalem was the center of Jewish religious life, the place where those perfect lambs I mentioned earlier were sacrificed for the sins of the people. A huge, heavy curtain separated the Holy of Holies—the earthly dwelling place of God’s Presence—from the rest of the temple. This signified that man was separated from God by sin. Only the high priest was permitted to pass beyond this veil once each year to enter into God’s Presence for all of Israel and make atonement for their sins. It was nearly 60 feet high and about four inches thick, fashioned from blue, purple, and scarlet material and fine twisted linen.

The size and thickness of the veil make the events occurring at the moment of Jesus’ death even more momentous. This was no human act! It was the very hand of God.

By the shedding of His blood and the surrender of His own life, Jesus, the perfect sacrificial lamb, provided a sufficient atonement for the sins of all of us. The tearing of the veil let us all know that now the way into the Holy of Holies was open for all people, for all time, both Jew and Gentile. Through Jesus, we can enter into the Holy of Holies every day: “We have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body” (Hebrews 10:19-20).

Now, back home, after all I’ve seen, I’m more convinced than ever of the great gift that has been given to us through Jesus’ death: that we can draw near to God, ourselves, simply by receiving in faith what He did for us.

Today, Good Friday, we remember that sacrifice.  Thank You, Jesus. Thank You, thank You, thank You.

(c) 2019 Arlyn J. Lawrence. All Rights Reserved.

If you would like to read about all this yourself, the biblical account can be found in the New Testament of the Bible in Luke 23-24.

Perspective from the Second Season

I love this quote from the Bible study I’m currently in, on Gideon: “Today’s tasks—even the most mundane of them—are often preparation for tomorrow’s calling. They can carry clues to what He is leading us to learn and accomplish as we faithfully serve Him.” (Priscilla Shirer)[1]

From this vantage point in my life (50-something), it’s much easier to see this principle in place in my life than when I was in my 20s and 30s. In those years, I struggled with getting and staying organized in managing my life and household (which included a husband, five children, and assorted pets along the way). Besides the regular household tasks, there was homeschooling, kids’ activities, and ministry in our church and community. Sometimes, in my mind’s eye, I would see myself perched atop of a towering list of responsibilities and commitments, teetering at the top, fully expecting the whole thing to come crashing down!

I remember one day in particular, sitting in the driveway of our home with the five kids in the back of the minivan. I think I must have been feeling particularly overwhelmed at the (seemingly) mundane nature of my life and activities, and the sense of never-ending tasks beckoning me that, come the next day, would simply need to be done again. And again. And again. As I looked in the rear-view mirror at my brood, ready to leave the driveway for yet another chauffeuring trip to kids’ activities, I remember thinking, Will there ever be time for me? What about what I want to do?

There wasn’t a flash of revelation. I don’t remember a shift of perspective or a booming voice from heaven with a new calling for me, like Gideon experienced (Hail, mighty warrior!). But it’s interesting to me that I remember the feeling. I’m glad I do, because it gives me a benchmark to measure what happened in the years after that.

I’d always had an interest in writing and teaching, and in the midst of the flurry of the rest of my life, I was putting those interests to work where I could. I found I loved organizing people and tasks and ideas (much better than I liked organizing three-dimensional objects!), and learned to build teams in the ministries and community organizations I served as a volunteer. Teaching found its place in my life in homeschooling my children for 14 years, and teaching Sunday school and Bible studies in our church. Writing found expression in creating curriculum for our church’s children’s and small group ministries, and writing articles for newsletters, magazines, and the local newspaper.

Eventually, and much more quickly than I ever anticipated, the children grew up, went to college, moved out, and started establishing lives, homes, and families of their own. Through those years, the activities in which I was developing all those skills morphed organically into greater and greater opportunities and spheres of influence. In this “second season” of life, I have a career I love, working as a developmental book editor and owning my own company that employs a team of talented writers, editors, and designers to help authors write and publish beautiful and impactful books. I’ve had the joy of writing and publishing books of my own, and teaching at conferences, churches, and schools in many different places and settings. (Plus, I get to be Nana to five beautiful grandchildren who fill our lives with much joy!)

In retrospect, I can see how God used those years when my children and world were much smaller to teach me the skills I am using in this season of my life. Getting organized and keeping an orderly schedule and environment (that comes more with effort and experience than with natural skill, I’ve learned). Establishing systems for responsibilities and activities. Coordinating multiple people and tasks for common goals. Polishing my writing, teaching, and speaking skills. Teaching me patience and perseverance and punctuality (still working on that one). And more!

I guess that’s why that phrase in my Bible study jumped out at me. It was like a little wink from God. Remember that day in your minivan when you wondered if there would ever be time for you? Even back then, I was planning for this season in your life, even when you thought it would never come. And I had bigger plans for you than you ever imagined, didn’t I?

If I could pass something along to other women in that season in life, the same season I was in that day in my minivan in the driveway, it would be the gift of perspective. Remember that she who can be found faithful in small things can be entrusted with much (Luke 16:10). Remember that God has plans for you so amazing, you couldn’t handle them right now if He told you. Remember that even if an angel doesn’t show up in person, calling you “Mighty Warrior,” the Lord still thinks that way about you. And He will use the seemingly mundane tasks you are doing right this very minute to build in you the skills, maturity, and wisdom you’ll need for the calling He has on your life.

Stick with the small stuff joyfully and faithfully. Enjoy the moments, crazy as they are. Don’t rush through this season to get to the next thing, or try to make greater accomplishments happen for yourself. God doesn’t do things the way the world does things. Follow His lead, trust His judgment and timing, and let Him bring it in His way. It will be better than you would ever think to ask for.

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).

(c) 2018 Arlyn J. Lawrence. All Rights Reserved.

[1] Shirer, Priscilla, Gideon, Lifeway Publishing, Nashville, TN:2013, p. 47.)

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The Joy of Living Generously

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(This post originally appeared on www.dennistrittin.com)

The value of a (person) resides in what he gives
and not in what he is capable of receiving.
~Albert Einstein

Really, life’s greatest joys come not in the getting, but in the giving. Don’t you agree?

People who live generously—not just with their money, but with their whole person—deserve special admiration. They’re not motivated by fame or fortune, but rather by joyful service. Their qualities of generosity, empathy, compassion, and kindness make them inspiring treasures to us all. And although those values tend to get more press at Christmastime, they are values we should all aspire to live by all year long.

Generosity is a paradox. The culture around us screams materialism and commercialism – Buy, buy, buy. Accumulate. Indulge. On the other hand, there is a whole world out there that desperately needs what we have to offer. It invites us to give, serve, help, and empower. The paradox of generosity is this: the more we give, the more we get! It’s counter-intuitive, but it’s true. We find our life by losing it. We win by losing. We gain by giving away. And, our greatest memories are of the gifts we gave rather than the ones we received.

This kind of generosity requires sacrifice—not just financial, but personal. Yes, it can be stretching and uncomfortable. But slowly, we begin to realize there’s more to life than what we own and can hold onto.

Have you ever wanted to change the world? This is where it starts. In fact, how you eventually impact the world will be driven not merely by what you have to offer but what you choose to offer. It’s the ultimate generosity test, isn’t it?

What do you uniquely have to offer the world? There are many different avenues that can allow you to allocate your personal resources to serve others. To decide how best to give what you have to benefit others, there are three main questions to consider:

  • What talents, skills, and resources do I have to offer?
  • What groups or community segments (e.g., youth, elderly, homeless) do I feel most called to help?
  • What organizations will allow me to use my time, talents, and treasure to help those I feel most passionately about?

Could your answers to these questions be a New Year’s resolution in the making?
What would happen in our communities if we all cultivated and demonstrated this heart of generosity, of “other-centeredness” as a way of life, embodying the qualities of generosity and compassion in our everyday dealings with people? I think the world would be a more welcoming place!

With that in mind, here are some ideas for living generously this holiday season—and throughout the year:

  • Make a donation to an organization serving people and causes you are passionate about.
  • Look for ways to be creatively generous if you are on a limited budget. How can you give time? Attention? Acts of service? Material possessions? You could sell something you own and give away the proceeds.
  • Volunteer at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter in your city.
  • Visit a nursing home or hospital. Listen to their stories, or tell some of your own. Just sit with them if that’s what brings comfort.
  • Allow yourself to be interrupted without being irritated—this is a mark of a generous spirit. (Or, put down your mobile device and give the people around you your undivided attention.)
  • Make yourself available to people or organizations, free of charge, for consulting on an area or topic in which you have expertise.

This short list of ideas just scratches the surface—you may even come up with better ones! The bottom line is this: Living generously will bring help and hope to others and immense joy to you in return. You’ll receive far more than what you give. Nothing compares with using all of you to serve and improve the world around you. This is the true spirit of Christmas!

Photo credit: Maggie Smith, freedigitalphotos.net

 

Reflecting: The London Launch of SophisTEAcation

(This post first appeared on www.inspiralit.com)

SophisTEAcation, by Desiree Sitompoel, was a delightful project on which I served as editor and content developer.

SophisTEAcation, by Desiree Sitompoel, was a delightful project on which I served as editor and content developer.

It was pretty much a dream come true to attend the London Book Fair in April for the launch of SophisTEAcation: An Anthology of Porcelain Teacup Collecting. When publisher Laura Prinsloo of KeSaint Blanc Publishing in Jakarta, Indonesia asked me to develop the content for a unique coffee table book on the art and collecting of porcelain teacups, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.  Really?  You’re going to PAY me for this?

Not really. But close.

You see, I’ve loved teacups since I was a little girl and observed my grandmother’s and great grandmother’s collections, loving the way they clinked the tiny silver spoons against the china cups as they and my mother stirred their tea.  And when I got to drink from my own cup …. oh, bliss!  There was a teacup shower for me when I was a young bride, and then over the years I accumulated my own collection, and my china cabinet is now blessed to be home to some of the very cups, creamers, and sugar bowls that once belonged earlier generations of women in my family.

All that to say, this was a fun project.  So it was icing on the cake when I was invited to fly to London, along with the publishing team from Jakarta, to participate in the launch of SophisTEAcation at the London Book Fair!

 

Highlights of the book launch

Highlights of the book launch

It was great fun to meet Laura and byline author, artist, and teacup collector Desiree Sitompoel as they are both delightful and SO talented. Desiree owns an impressive porcelain teacup collection and a teacup shop in Jakarta (“Mamitoko”), which were the basis of the book.

I very much enjoyed being a part of the Indonesian exhibit at the book fair. (I did receive quite a few interested stares and quizzical looks when other conference attendees saw my name badge indicating that I was from Indonesia.  I was the only blonde on the team!)

With Laura, Desiree, and our moderator, Sari

With Laura, Desiree, and our moderator, Sari

 

The Indonesian Ambassador to the UK attended and gave a speech at our launch, and took the whole team out to dinner at a lovely Chinese restaurant in Kensington afterwards.  What a treat.

Right now SophisTEAcation is only available through the Indonesian publisher, KeSaint Blanc in Jakarta, although they are actively selling international rights and they hope to have it soon in the US, Canada, and elsewhere. (Last I heard it had been picked up in England, the Philippines and Poland). You really have to see it to appreciate the stunning photography, exquisite typesetting, vellum pages, and just overall ooh-and-ah factor! It covers the history of the teacup and favorite brands, how to start your own collection, proper tea etiquette, how to care for and display your teacups, and so much more.

Just for fun, you can see the Indonesian TV coverage of the launch of SophisTEACation here. I hope you get the chance to obtain a copy someday!

Available March 24th – “Facing the Blitz” by Jeff Kemp

It was a joy and a privilege for me to serve as developmental editor with Jeff Kemp (Family Life Vice President and former NFL Quarterback) in the writing of his book, Facing the Blitz: Three Strategies for Turning Trials into Triumphs, which will be released March 24th by Bethany House Publishers. It is available at your local bookstore, bethanyhouse.com or by calling 1-800-877-2665. Click the link below the book image to go to my InspiraLit site to read more!

Facing the Blitz by Jeff Kemp

Available March 24th – “Facing the Blitz” by Jeff Kemp.

What’s Happening in My Garden – February

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I’m pretty excited that, despite what’s going on in the rest of country weather-wise, spring is already in the air in the NW and I can think about my garden. We are in a new house this year with a little over an acre to start filling with color and nummy edibles.

It’s hard not to be overwhelmed … this property is pretty much a blank canvas and there are SO MANY blackberry bushes to contend with! Basically the previous owner sculpted out a lawn (thank you very much on that part at least), but did very little in the way of thinning out the perimeter bushes and brambles or planting anything with color.

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks pouring over gardening books, making plans, thinking about what plants and flowers I want, where to put the veggies, where to put the roses, etc. That’s a great way to pass the final grey, rainy, dreary days of NW winter and hurry on the arrival of spring. But the past several days of sunny weather (hooray!) have enabled me to get out there and get my hands dirty and really start figuring out what I want to do. My regular daily work often tends to be kind of cerebral and I’m behind a computer a lot, so gardening is my therapy … it gets me into the fresh air, working with my hands, and thinking about color and flower and plants instead of words and ideas and books. I really need that.

I think if I create a series of small gardens instead of thinking about the whole yard at once, it will be less overwhelming. So at this point I’m going to focus on three areas and go from there. Below is a BEFORE pic of the one I’m starting on first; it will be exciting to see how it looks come summer!

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Oh, and here’s something cool (at least I thought it was). I just learned you can test your soil ph with a simple home test.  Scoop out soil from several spots around the yard and put a few tablespoons of it in bowls (test one section at a time because you may have different ph levels in different parts of your yard). To one bowl of dirt, add 1/2 cup of vinegar.  If it foams, your soil is alkaline. If nothing happens, add a little water to the second bowl, then add 1/2 cup of baking soda.  If it foams, your soil is acidic.  If nothing happens to either, your soil is neutral!  Of course this doesn’t give you a specific number, but for my purposes this was good enough to tell me what I need to add to the soil or what plants will do well in that spot (or not).

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Here’s the promise of things to come … really looking forward to spring. I am thankful the previous owners at least planted one daffodil and some pink hyacinths to greet me this month! 🙂

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