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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.

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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.

Time for a Time Out

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When my kids were little, when I felt overwhelmed and pressured I would go into the bathroom and lock the door, just to be alone. As they pounded on the door, demanding to know why I was taking SO LONG, I would offer the excuse, “Mommy just has an upset tummy …” (small totally understandable white lie, right?).

It’s been a lot of years since then but the need to be alone once in a while persists. But the bathroom as a location for a personal retreat just doesn’t cut it anymore. 🙂

Even though I am legitimately a people person, “alone” is where I do my best thinking, praying, reflecting, producing, and reprogramming. And boy, did I need it this month! So earlier this week I took myself on a little personal retreat (thank you to my husband and daughter who were so gracious to get along just fine without me for a few days!).

We have access to a condo at Mt. Hood, Oregon, a three-hour drive from our home. It was me, my computer, a few books and magazines, and a knitting project for my soon-to-be-born granddaughter. Long walks in the woods. A trip to the snow. Three days with no appointments with anyone other than God. It was glorious.

This was the path to the river, right outside my doorstep:

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I sure don’t have these moments on a daily basis! The refreshment to the soul is priceless. I took smooth stones from the river, wrote my kids’ names on them with Sharpie marker, and brought them home to keep in a dish on my desk for little prayer reminders and a memento of my retreat.

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I drove a half-hour to the Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood where I parked myself at what was obviously an anointed desk near the window (See top picture above; I can’t believe I caught this image with just my phone!) to work and look out at the snow. I took work with me because part of my purpose was to FOCUS … and to get some traction on a few editing projects I was struggling to stay on top of at home. It was SO MUCH MORE PLEASANT in this inspiring environment!

 

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It was surprising to me, how productive I was, and yet how refreshed and re-invigorated, on my little “working personal retreat.” I did the things “I” wanted to do. Not having the TV on (as it often is in my house when the family is around) was peace to my nerves. Spending some time in prayer, talking with God about my family, my work, and some friends who are going through hard times. Listening to classical music and working on a knitting project or perusing cooking magazines and planning my holiday baking and menus. Swimming laps in the cold air at the end of each day, in a heated pool with steam rising into the dark autumn sky. Wow, I actually liked spending time with … me!

The last day of my retreat I received an email in my inbox from a friend whose blog that day just happened to be why we need personal retreats from time to time!  It’s well-worth a read. And, if prayer is what you want to focus on, on your own retreat, my friend Cynthia Bezek has written a book called Come Away with Me that will help you do it. She has certainly been an inspiration to me in that department.

I am home again and back to reality, feeling on top of things and much refreshed. I think I’m much better for my little “time out,” and I hope my family agrees!