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Holy Land Reflections #3 – Easter: The Aftermath

Retelling the Resurrection story on Easter Sunday.

We had a terrific family Easter celebration last weekend. After church, our kids and grandkids and several extra families gathered at our house for a delicious meal of ham and smoked brisket and all kinds of delectable goodies to go along with it. The sun came out to cheer us on in our all-ages Easter egg hunt. The grass was green, the sky was blue, and the flowers were blooming. We lazed around the rest of the day and played games and enjoyed each other’s company. It was idyllic.

Reflecting on it afterwards, it struck me, by contrast, that our Easter experience was the opposite of the first Easter, which was idyllic by no means. “Traumatic” would be a better description! Jesus’ followers had watched their Teacher and Friend be cruelly tortured and killed in one of the most horrific ways possible. Their hopes and dreams dashed. Their faith shaken. Their confidence demoralized. Now He had apparently risen from the dead … but what would be the implications of that?  I’m sure their imaginations and emotions were reeling.

Of Jesus’ disciples, I’d consider Simon Peter the poster child for Easter: The Aftermath. He had been the one so confident in Jesus’ identity and mission. “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” he had once bravely (and astutely) announced (Matt. 16:16). In the Garden of Gethsemane, at Jesus’ arrest, he’d brashly lashed out and cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant to try and protect His Lord (John 18:10). Yet, his boldness dissipated after he saw Jesus dead and buried, so much so that he denied Him three times when asked if he knew Him . . . though he swore he never would (Matt. 26:75).

We visited this cave near Galilee, at the mouth of Jordan River (in foreground) was known as the “Gates of Hell” in Jesus’ time. It was at this site that Peter made his proclamation that Jesus was the Christ … and that Jesus made His own proclamation that He would build His Church and “the gates of hell would not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16)

When Doug and I were in the Holy Land a few weeks ago, I thought about this scenario— though oddly not when we were in Jerusalem visiting the Easter-related sites of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. I thought about it most, rather, when we were in the idyllic setting of the Sea of Galilee, on a scenic beach with the waves lapping up on shore.

The beach on the Sea of Galilee where Jesus greeted Peter with breakfast and a full catch of fish.

It was here, on this beach, in the aftermath the first Easter, that Jesus met His friends. In this idyllic setting, He met Peter face to face, not with recrimination for his faithlessness, but with restoration and a reminder of his God-given identity and purpose.

I love this story. Admittedly, Peter had been through a lot. In the aftermath of the tragedy, horror, and then astonishment of the death and resurrection of Jesus, he’d probably reached his emotional limit. He announced, “I’m going fishing!” and headed back home to Galilee. Now that I’ve been there, I can see why. Jerusalem and Galilee are about as opposite as they could be.

Jerusalem is crowded and chaotic (and would have been especially so at that time, as it would swell to about three million when Passover pilgrims spilled into it each year for sacrifices and festivities). Galilee is green, lush, quiet, and pastoral. Even today, the contrast is striking.

Peter and his friends fished all night and didn’t catch anything. In the early morning hours of the dawn, a mysterious figure called out to them from shore, “Try casting your nets on the other side of the boat!” Huh? Kind of an odd suggestion; they’d likely tried back and forth all night long! But, oh well, it couldn’t hurt, right? Surprise! Their nets came up LOADED with fish!

Peter likely remembered immediately that Jesus had said He’d meet them back in Galilee in the aftermath of His death and resurrection (Matt. 26:32). It was the Lord! Always the impetuous one, Peter jumped overboard and waded to shore, where Jesus had breakfast and a heart-to-heart talk waiting for him (John 21).

“Church of the Primacy of Peter,” the church built over the rock where Jesus served up breakfast to Peter and some of the other disciples after His Resurrection.

I’m grateful for the “aftermath” of Easter, for all of us. Like this special reunion that Jesus planned for His friends, it’s rooted in the shock and awe of the crucifixion and resurrection, but celebrated in restoration and joy because of it. Like Peter, I’ve certainly had my seasons of over-confidence, disappointment, disillusionment, and failure. How grateful I am that Jesus meets me in the aftermath of these, picks me up, dusts me off, and restores me with love and relational connection!

We enjoyed a traditional “St. Peter’s Lunch”  . . . tilapia from the Sea of Galilee. I doubt Jesus included french fries. 🙂

I love it, too, that Jesus included breakfast in this scenario. Perhaps He was mindful that good food and fellowship warm both the heart and the tummy at the same time (smile). And I love it that He picked a beautiful place that was scenic and dear to His friends’ hearts. Idyllic. What a striking picture of the message of the Resurrection—restoration, life, relationship and hope.

May we always live in the beautiful, restorative aftermath of Easter!

The “Jerusalem Cross,” this one on a door at the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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.

Journey to the Cross — A Lenten Devotional

StainedGlassWindow You can follow this link below to the first installment of a daily Lenten Devotional from my friend Cynthia Bezek. It’s poignant, inspirational, and timely. I definitely think giving up being served is much more impactful (to myself and others) than giving up coffee or chocolate! I am looking forward to following along with Cynthia’s devotionals this Lent. Maybe you will want to, too. Journey to the Cross–February 18. Photo courtesy of digidreamgrafix and FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I Woke up in Woking

Back in the UK and so happy to be here!

 

We arrived at 6:30 a.m. to a bit of a soggy, muggy day. I grabbed a quick nap and then went on a run into town to meet a couple of friends for coffee.  Was I really in Gig Harbor only yesterday?

 

Lots of construction going on in the town square in Woking these days. It’s looking beautiful and oh-so-modern … then right around the corner I run into a street of row shops that looks like a scene from a Dickens novel. I love that about England.

 

Running past lovely manor homes and laurel hedges, holly with morning glory pouring out of it, a house called “Pooh Corner” (all the houses have names here)… past the football (soccer) field and the neighborhood pub (can’t wait for fish and chips and STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING) … have I mentioned how much I love England?

 

This is my sixth trip to the U.K., so it’s kind of becoming a home away from home, of sorts.  We absolutely love it here: the people, the sights. The culture and history. The heart and spirit.

 

It’s hard to say if that’s just coincidence and personal affinity, or because we both have roots here.  Doug’s grandfather was born in Devon, my great-grandparents in Hampshire and Scotland. I find it kind of a surreal (but very nice feeling) to go back to where our “people” came from.

 

That’s why I love it that God would bring Doug and me around full circle, back to the area our own grandparents and great-grandparents left almost a hundred years ago. Not just to vacation, but to serve. Not just to teach, but to learn.  Not just to work, but to enjoy authentic friendships and Kingdom community.

 

We’re really looking forward to being part of the Prayer-Saturated Life conference at ChristChurch Woking next weekend, June 29-30 in Woking, Surrey.  UK friends, if you’re around and available, please join us!

 

It’s going to be a full ten days. I’ll post some pics and blog entries and share some of our experiences, observations, and reflections.  Glad to share the journey and keep you posted! 🙂