Did you ever wonder what Easter is like in the Middle East where Jesus lived? I did. And then one Easter season, I traveled there. Here's what happened:
Worshiping at Easter-time in Egypt:
We walked from our hotel along the Nile to a large church building near downtown Cairo. The place was packed. People crowded the lobby yet parted quickly to allow the fifty blue-robed choir members to march in, waving palm branches. We couldn’t understand the Arabic words, but we read the English version in the guest-bulletin. They sang, “I love you, Lord. Come and be with us.” Tears leaked from my eyelids—this from a woman who rarely cries.
Giving at Easter-time in Egypt:
The inspiring experiences didn’t stop at the end of the worship service. We met with the articulate pastor afterward. He said, “We all have something to give, whether Western or Eastern Christians. If we learn how to share and attempt to understand one another, then people will know that the giver cares and sees the receiver as a fellow human being and brother.” He explained that was why he appreciated the Christian relief and development program I worked with at the time. We partnered to offer food, training, jobs and transportation to deeply disadvantaged parents and children.
Resting at Easter-time in Egypt:
During our conversation, the pastor’s adult daughter said, “As a child I continually wondered when someone would come take my dad away.”
“Yes,” admitted the pastor. “I’ve been in danger of being jailed almost every day of my life.”
I chatted with the daughter (who currently practices medicine in a large city in the U.S.) about topics like over-working, exhaustion, transition and burnout. “You know what it’s like to race inside, don’t you?” I asked.
“Oh, yes,” she admitted. “It’s like a treadmill—if I try to get off without first turning off the machine, I will fall.” Then she recounted stories about how two of her patients did fall off the treadmill during testing, because they didn’t heed the instructions to be careful. We chuckled at the analogy. And yet we both knew the sober reality: over-doing and running around without heeding wise directives and taking time to rest and replenish can lead to a burnout crash.
Worshipping, Giving, and Resting at Easter-time during the Coronavirus Pandemic:
Although this Easter-in-Egypt happened several years ago, I think of it today as I celebrate the current Easter season during this sad and challenging coronavirus pandemic with all the restrictions and uncertainties. We all face an unknown, unfamiliar, and uncomfortable future whether that future means tomorrow or one year from now.
We wish it could be predictable and controllable with results just like we think they should be. But the truth is: things aren’t perfect. Some things aren’t fair. And many things are hurtful and wrong…whether we live in Egypt or in a big city or rural town in the United States…or somewhere else in the world.
Jesus and You at this Easter-time:
It wasn’t perfect for Jesus when He lived here, either. He left His flawlessly supportive surroundings in heaven to live in this fickle, chaotic, disappointing world. One week He was adored, praised and openly honored with parades and palm branches. The next week He was mocked and killed.
Yet, Jesus came for a purpose–the ultimate purpose!–to sacrifice His life so that all of us can be re-united with our loving Creator God. All of us, the burned-out doctor, threatened pastor, penniless parent, caring giver, and each restricted “stay at home” observer.
No matter where you live or what’s happening in your life, Jesus says (to you about himself), “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish [spiritually] but have eternal life.”
It’s a personal invitation to you and me from God. Even amid our "social distancing" challenges, changes and losses, let’s remember that we are loved by the God who will always care about us and be involved with us, regardless of our circumstances. If like I have, you’ve accepted God’s generous offer to believe and follow Jesus and discover a forever-hope, what does this year’s unconventional and imperfect Easter season look like for you? If you’d like to leave a comment, I would love to hear from you.
Note: To protect the people involved, I changed some details of my actual experience, left out names and exact places, and chose not to post actual photos.
She walked toward me at the close of my presentation. As I listened to bits of her story, my heart connected to hers in a unique way. We met for lunch. She talked of her love for writing. Taking an intentional step, she started a blog that went international. To say that Lynne Hartke has the God-given gift of written story is like saying Arizona is hot in the summer! Consequently, it gives me joy to introduce you to her first published book, Under a Desert Sky: Redefining Hope, Beauty, and Faith in the Hardest Places. You will be powerfully impacted by what you read. I promise!
To win a FREE copy of Under a Desert Sky, leave a comment below.
I love these following quotes from Lynne's book. Perhaps they will resonate with you as well.
I need and want to hold this truth close right now: He has not forgotten me! He's not forgotten you, either!
Yes, it is good to be strong in the midst of hardship, pain, and disappointment. But sadly, we can push that strength to extreme when we believe we must do it all alone. Lynne discovered that living this way is "stupid strong." I rather agree. It's not sensible to leave out God and those who love us; we were made for community.
Believing this truth can release you and me from the exhausting "trying too hard to make it all just right" mentality! Ahhhh.
Always striving for more can be exhausting. Yet, accepting our limited reality can be freeing. More will indeed come...
When we spend eternity with our Creator, Savior, and Lord. That is my ultimate hope. How about you?
Leave a comment by May 25, 2017, and you will be entered into a drawing to win a FREE copy of Under a Desert Sky!
Speaking the truth in love. Ephesians 4:15
If you don’t have something nice to say, say nothing at all. I heard this advice at church, school, and home. So I made it my creed.
But it’s a half-truth. For example, Paul writes, “Be kind and loving to each other” (Ephesians 4:32, NCV). When we act on this truth, our relationships flourish. Yet sometimes we need to tell our children or our nieces and nephews what they don’t want to hear. “Don’t play in the street” or “Be home by midnight” or “No, you can’t wear that outfit to school” doesn’t seem nice to them. Speaking the painful truth to a parent or spouse is even harder. “No, I won’t lie to your boss” or “I don’t like it when you yell at me” or “Your driving is endangering lives” may be met with rejection.
In Telling Each Other the Truth, William Backus writes, “We cannot measure love solely by whether or not what we say hurts someone’s feelings. The fact that another person may not like what we have spoken does not automatically mean we have done wrong.”
It may be difficult for those of us who try hard to think, do and say the right thing to speak the truth in love. But God promises us courage. He will help us through the rough spots.
Lord, help me not to merely say what people want to hear or try to
pacify others by telling half-truths. Although it feels uncomfortable,
I do want to be lovingly honest in my relationships.
Make It Personal
What are you tolerating because you’re trying to be nice? Ask God to help you find a way to “speak the truth in love.”
Devotional taken from It's a Wonderful (Imperfect) Life
Safe in God's Arms
Mother's Day was this past weekend. Perhaps it was just what you wanted it to be or maybe you were a little disappointed. Either way, Mom, I'm thinking about you and want to tell you something.
God loves you more than you’ll ever know. It might be hard for you to imagine, but He loves you even more than you love your baby. Just as you delight in your child and long to keep him safe, warm, and happy, God delights in you (read Psalm 18:19).
God designed you with your personality, gifts, and passions. He’s not pushing you to be or do it all perfectly 24/7. At times you may feel a heavy sense of exaggerated responsibility that threatens your joy, yet that doesn’t come from God. He just wants to help you be the best version of who He created you to be. God loves seeing you express your unique personhood in your mommy role.
So when you’re tired and needing nourishment and assurance, come to God through faith in His Son Jesus Christ. When your baby’s crying. When you question who you are. When you’re confused about the decisions you face. When your hormones fluctuate wildly. When you feel disorganized and confused. When you’re stressed out. When you’re trying too hard to make it all just right, God’s invitation stands no matter what the time of day or night. You are not alone.
Jesus says to YOU:
“Are you tired? Worn out?
Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.
I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me--
watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.
I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.
Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Matthew 11:28-30 The Message
My friend and fellow-writer, Lynne Hartke, asked me to guest blog on her website this week on the topic of kindness. I shared how God assured me that it is wise to be kind to myself as well as others.
“What specific quality would you like for God to develop in you this year?” asked the speaker. The question caught my attention and would not let go.
Driving home, I contemplated my response: I’d like to be less obsessive, less intense. I want to balance giving with receiving and then be comfortable with it. I want to be less judgmental of myself and others.
Then a light bulb flashed in my mind: Gentleness! Kindness! That’s what I want. I want to be more gentle. More kind.
Later, I looked up the word “gentle” and read this definition: “Kindly; moderate; a mild breeze, usually one with the velocity of no more than 12 miles per hour.” I smiled as I imagined going through each day at a moderate pace. After all, I had previously run through life like a high-velocity wind, attempting to work, serve, give and do it all “just right.” Now I desired authentic gentleness laced with kindness.
I shared my goal with God, prayed for His Spirit’s guidance and began to picture myself practicing gentleness, tenderness and kindness, first with myself and then reaching out to touch others like a refreshing gentle breeze.
A few weeks later...
For the rest of the story, click here: http://www.lynnehartke.com/living-like-refreshing-breeze-treat-kindness/
Ezra 3:8-11: "When the builders laid the foundation...with thanksgiving they sang to the Lord: '...his love...endures forever'" (vv.10-11).
"I wonder if I've done permanent damage to my mind and body," admitted a friend who had just left a destructive career environment. "As I begin this journey out of workaholism and burnout, sometimes I'm hopeful, other times I'm racked with doubt. I guess I'd better wait before I count my blessings."
At one time I too was frightened that total restoration was not possible. After all, I had "fried" my brain and soul.
Perhaps the Israelites experienced similar feelings. They had been freed from the oppressive chains of the Babylonians. Restoring the temple in Jerusalem was their goal, but many obstacles remained. The destruction was massive. Could they ever recover what they once had?
With such a huge task ahead, one might expect the Israelites to hold their praise until the temple reconstruction was completed. Yet as the foundation was being laid, they shouted, "God is good."
Learning new ways to live is risky. There is much work to be done and many obstacles to overcome. At first glance, it might seem like an unlikely time for Thanksgiving. However, even in our confusion and doubt, we can be grateful for evidence of growth and praise God.
Lord, your love endures forever -- before, during, and after the restorative process.
Can you think of a time when being grateful seemed like a strange or even ridiculous thing to do, but you found ways to thank God, anyway?
WIN A FREE BOOK! The Bible text (in the photo I took of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem) and this blog post remind me of my devotional book, It's a Wonderful (Imperfect) Life. I'd like to give you an autographed copy. Make a comment here and I'll enter your name for a drawing on THANKSGIVING DAY.
I read the following Bible verse and thought I totally understood it. And then God showed me something new. "Whatsoever things are true . . . honest . . . just . . . pure . . . lovely . . . of good report, if there be any virtue, and . . . any praise, think on these things." Philippians 4:8
I believed that to be a loving Christian woman, I must pretend that I didn’t mind being taken advantage of or mistreated. I ignored any painful matters. (Didn’t this verse mean that I should think only about lovely, pure things?) Because I couldn’t allow myself to think about anything uncomfortable, I didn’t acknowledge that change was necessary. Neither could I pray specifically about what concerned or hurt me (see Philippians 4:6).
Then I learned that one of the original meanings of the Greek word for “truth” is the reality clearly lying before your eyes. I blinked in amazement. Indeed I could admit unpleasantness.
I’ve met many women who have remained stuck, unable to live out God’s design for them because they believe they can’t (as godly women) acknowledge or talk about any hurtful reality, whether it’s abuse, addiction, depression, eating disorders, post-partum or menopausal problems, anger or grief.
I’ve also met women—just like me—who’ve courageously confronted their uncomfortable reality, knowing that there is virtue in honestly growing through the pain to dwell on the true, just, pure and lovely things God has for them.
Lord, help me admit the truth, whether delightful or disagreeable.
Make It Personal: List what is good about your life in one column, what concerns or perplexes you in another column and what hurts you in a third column. Bring the three-columned list before God, asking for guidance in dealing with your reality.
Are You Caught in An Over-Helping Trap?
“It’s easy to get confused by the Messiah Trap, a two-sided lie that, on the surface, appears to be noble, godly, and gracious. After all, being a caring and helpful person is something we value,” writes Carmen Renee Berry, author of When Helping You is Hurting Me.
Berry suggests that we believe one of two lies when we get caught in this trap.
1. Messiah Trap Lie Number One: If I don’t do it, it won’t get done. Messiah Trap people are doers, helpers and genuinely nice people. We keep homes and offices running smoothly. But we can become weary and overwhelmed when we believe another person’s happiness, spirituality, health and/or success is our God-given task. Berry says, “The Messiah Trap is an odd combination of feeling grandiose yet worthless, of being needed and yet abandoned, of playing God while groveling.”
Maybe this applies to you. Maybe it doesn’t. But before you write it off, consider this:
2. Messiah Trap Lie Number Two: Everyone else’s needs should take priority over mine. Because we don’t want to be or appear selfish, we often neglect our own spiritual, emotional, medical or social needs. People depend on us for answers and unending support, which makes us feel important and worthwhile. However, when inevitable humanness breaks through our facade, we may find no one to help us. We can then feel isolated, lonely or disillusioned.
It’s a catch-22, because we dislike the imperfect sensation associated with insignificance or disappointment almost as much as we dislike losing control and not making everything just right. These less-than-perfect emotions and experiences feel so miserable that we deduce we must try harder to avoid feeling this way. Or we withdraw, pretending we never experienced the uncomfortable feelings in the first place.
Either way, it is a genuine relief once we realize that God doesn’t expect us to have all the answers in order to be a valuable and compassionate friend, spouse, parent, colleague or Christian. We can break free from the MESSIAH TRAP or the OVER-HELPING TRAP. It's okay with God if we relax and let Him take-over what isn't our job to control anyway.
“Relax, everything’s going to be all right; rest, everything’s coming together; open your hearts, love is on the way!” (Jude 1:1, THE MESSAGE).
I’m amazed by Jesus. His work on the cross makes me right with God, and His life example in the midst of imperfection and disappointment shows me how to live. For instance, many loved Jesus; others loathed Him.* But that didn’t stop Jesus from fulfilling His purpose in life. He seemed unsurprised by it all. Although He cared about others, their opinions didn’t alter his plans.
I’ve discovered a misbelief guaranteed to make me (and you!) miserable: In order to be happy, I must be loved and accepted by everybody--or at least most people. Obviously, this isn’t a belief that Jesus espoused. When adhering to this misconception:
Not everyone loved and agreed with Jesus; not all will love and agree with us. This isn’t surprising. But by living out our God-given dream, purposes, and convictions, we can live satisfying and significant lives, regardless of the reactions of those around us. We don’t have to be loved and appreciated by everyone to be happy, content, and blessed.
Lord, it’s a relief to know that I can be who You made me to be and do what you've asked me to do even though others may disagree with me. Please help me to be courageous and consistent, even in the face of opposition from those I care about.
What do you do when others don't agree with your ideas, dreams, plans, beliefs or convictions?
* Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. Some wanted to seize him. (John 7:43-44)
I love taking photos of the flag of the United States of America. In spite of her faults, I'm grateful for my country, for those who gave their lives to give us freedom, and for God's blessing on this land. I was a child when the words "under God" were added to the Pledge of Allegiance.
It's addition impressed me deeply.
"I Pledge Allegiance to the flag of the United States of America
and to the Republic for which it stands,
one Nation under God,
indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
Lately I've been snapping pictures of our country's flag. Here are a few more. Hope you enjoy. Maybe you'll even want to sing "You're a Grand Old Flag" by George M. Cohan.
You're a grand old flag,
You're a high flying flag
And forever in peace may you wave.
You're the emblem of
The land I love.
The home of the free and the brave.
Ev'ry heart beats true
'neath the Red, White and Blue,
Where there's never a boast or brag.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
Keep your eye on the grand old flag.
Joan C. Webb
Writing, teaching, coaching to empower and set free.