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.
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)
Many of us long to be accepted unconditionally, to be free of "shoulds", "oughts", and "have-tos". We hunger for good news to feed our souls. We are tired of striving, yet always falling short. When we stop trying so hard, and let ourselves feel, we may realize our fear of rejection is overwhelming.
Jesus did not come to give us more to-do's. He does not stand over us ready to chide when we fail. He gives no dirty looks when we are tired and cannot go on. God sent Jesus not to condemn us, but to save, deliver, protect and make us whole (John 3:17).
Some of us have felt shameful criticism from family or fellow church members. We work strenuously to avoid further rejection. We may believe that if we surrender to Jesus we will experience additional religious condemnation. However, it is not God's plan to heap condemnation on us. He sent Jesus to release us to freedom. This is the on-going good news of Easter.
How are you celebrating the lasting freedom of Easter this week, even after the family gathering/egg hunt/church-going holiday has passed?
Awe-titude (Where Awe and Gratitude Merge!)
I'm going to seminary! The word "excited" doesn't even begin to explain what I think about this. All words seem inadequate. While journaling recently, the coined word "Awe-titude" popped into my mind. It's where AWE and GRATITUDE merge. That's how I feel.
Classes at Phoenix Seminary start next week. My life-long dream is coming true! Am I exaggerating about that "life-long dream" thing? Well, only a little bit. I didn't come out of the womb longing to go to seminary. Yet the dream has been hiding in my heart for many decades.
Here's how it happened--My Journey to Seminary in Bullet Points:
At the end of 2012, I sensed God by His Spirit whispering to me words that I found shocking. "Joan, ENOUGH! It is enough. You've done enough. I'm not asking for more." (For a continuing-to-recover perfectionist and workaholic, this was nearly unbelievable news! Actually, it still causes a tug of war within me.)
Then to assure me that I wasn't going to spend the rest of my days in a rocking chair knitting scarves, God encouraged me with this message: "Joan, the rest will be icing, so sweet. If you go to seminary, it will take a miracle."
And here I am at the beginning of 2014: living out the miracle. I'm going to seminary! My life-long dream. 54 years after that 12 year-old YES prayer to God. And Richard is part of my dream come true. He's delighted for me. See why I'm feeling such "awe-titude"?
Please join me in the celebration. When have you experienced a kind of "AWE-TITUDE" in your life? I'd love to hear. Leave me a comment and tell me what you're thinking.
FROSTY THE SNOWMAN
"How can a snowman be 'parse and brown'?" I asked myself after singing Frosty the Snowman as a little girl. I didn't get it, but I didn't have the nerve to ask what it meant. (Years later I learned that the words really are "We'll pretend that he is Parson Brown!")
A more disturbing question that little Joanie Pressler had was: "Did they actually 'conceive' by the fire? (Hmmmm. Again years later I discovered the the word "conspire" isn't the same as "conceive.")
The words of the often-sung Christmas songs DO have meaning. I also remember the day the words to HARK, THE HERALD ANGELS SANG went from head-memory to my heart. I cried, smiled, prayed, and smiled all at once. It became my favorite Christmas carol.
HARK THE HERALD ANGELS SING
Jesus Christ, God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, willingly left His perfect surroundings with God the Father to be born into this messy, judgmental, chaotic, abusive world. To live with the same limitations of time, space, and to have the same hunger and sleep needs that you and I have.
He did this to reconnect imperfect me--and you--to all-perfect God. To demonstrate the character and attributes of God, so I can understand who He is. To give me a second change at life. And to give me hope that I'll live with Him forever.
This blows my mind. And thrills me deep inside, every time I hear or sing this Christmas carol.
What is your favorite Christmas carol? Why?
WIN A FREE BOOK THIS CHRISTMAS
(Comment below and I'll choose 3 names (yes, 3 people will win one) out of the hat and send you an autographed copy of my devotional book, "It's a Wonderful (Imperfect) Life" BEFORE Christmas. (My book reminds me of the classic Christmas movie with Jimmy Stewart, It's a Wonderful Life! Maybe you'd like to give a copy of the book and the movie as a Christmas gift.)
Yesterday was "Fight Procrastination Day" and I procrastinated in posting this blog to my site. Does that mean I put the "PRO" in procrastination?
The dictionary indicates that to procrastinate means to defer action, to delay until an opportunity is lost. Dr. Ellis, a counselor who specializes in the issue of procrastination, defines procrastination as deciding to do something and then not doing it.
Now, I want to clarify something. Delay and procrastination are not the same thing. There may be a legitimate reason for a delay. Procrastination is "to delay until it is too late."
For example, say you received the brochure for a conference related to your field of interest. You read it, the workshops looked beneficial to you and you made the decision to go. But then you set the info aside and put off following through by calling to ask your questions, checking your calendar and registering...until it was too late. Then the day of the conference arrived and the opportunity was gone. You missed it.
If this is your modus operandi and you really want to do it differently, there is hope. You can change.
And here are 10 practical tips for ceasing to put the "PRO" in procrastination. (Not in order of importance)
Which tip will you try this week?
It's the weekend! Maybe this means you're taking a break from work. Maybe not.
In my experience as a life coach, speaker/teacher/trainer, and mentor, I've noticed that many people struggle with issues related to work and service. It matters not if they're an executive, nurse, homeschooler, ministry volunteer or a young parent. Even medical exerts agree that there's an "action-addiction" epidemic.
In her book Working Ourselves to Death, author Diane Fassel maintains that though action-addicts (another name for workaholics) work, serve, or rush a great deal, they aren't always working.
Yet, even Jesus--who came to earth to do the most important work of all--said "no" sometimes. (Check out Luke 8:26-38 & Mark 5:18-20)
The truth is: Your work & service (whether it's in the office, in the home, on the field or at church) don't have to be relentless or perfect to be significant, meaningful and productive. :-)
I find that such a relief. What about you?
What kind of a worker are you?
Recently we’ve been surrounded with news of death, explosions, and terror perpetrated on innocent men, women and children. Pain is deep; grief inevitable. Like others, I’ve struggled to find words of comfort and hope. Then I remembered something God showed me through an experience that His Son Jesus had while He lived here on earth.
When one of His best friends died, Jesus arrived in town several days after the burial. At the grave Jesus wept tears of sorrow and anger — sorrow at the death of His friend and anger at the unbelief and wrong so prevalent in an imperfect and decaying world.*
Like Jesus, we feel angry and sad when we see the devastating effects of sin and unfaith. Death, abuse, injustice, and pain are the natural results of living in a world that ignores its Creator and doesn’t value others.
Both anger and grief are normal responses to death, evil, and injustice. As long as we live on this damaged planet, we will experience these and other disturbing emotions. I believe that one day we who have chosen to follow Jesus, will join Him in a sorrow free place. Until then, like Jesus, we can allow ourselves to grieve, to care, to pray and to help wherever we can.
So I’m praying, “Lord, teach me to be honest with my own human emotions, to accept people when they hurt, and to reach out – all while dreaming of a better day to come.” Want to join me?
* Jesus’ story from John 11:33-38.
There is a gap between who God is and who you and I are. He cannot say, “Well, I realize you’re inherently flawed and disbelieving, but it doesn’t matter. I’ll just pretend you’re perfect and ignore that you are often self-preoccupied, untruthful, controlling and emotionally abusive to those you’ve promised to love.” If He did that, He would be untrue to Himself—and then He would not be God.
Personally, I would have great difficulty honoring or worshiping a wishy-washy Deity who changes the rules on me and then expects me to figure out when and why. The Lord God that I revere is the same all the time and in every situation. He is always fair, right, good, reliable and loving. I deeply respect the spotless character and unchanging personality of God.
I think that’s why I’m amazed that God—perfect in every possible way and knowing all things at any given moment—is even interested in me. But He is. He is interested in you, too. In His loving sovereignty (seems like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?), He designed an innovative (and frankly, miraculous) way for me to communicate and live peacefully with Him. We celebrate this way at Easter-time. “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Cor. 5:21, NLT).
God sent his flawless Son Jesus as His exact representative into my imperfect surroundings in order to reconnect me to Himself, the omnipotent Creator and Heavenly Father. Such a costly solution to the gapproblem between God and me! God might have gotten very pushy about it, yet He treats you and me—His human creations—with such incredible respect that instead He allows us to decide whether we want to accept His reconciliation proposal. God shows such compassionate understanding of our bottom-line dilemma: He is perfect and we are not. He provides our solution, and yet our refusal to believe and trust His provision is our deepest and basic problem. We need Him—and the good news is that He wants us and created a way for us to connect.
The key to connecting with God? We simply stop refusing Jesus, the True Easter Story. So what does God want from you and me this Easter? Not merely that we go to church–or try harder to be good–or give money to an important cause, although these are worthwhile endeavors. God longs for me–and you–to pray, admit our inability to be 100% sinless, believe that Jesus bridges the gap between us and Him and commit to trust Him with our lives. I’ve discovered that doing this brings me relief right now and ultimate hope for my eternal future.
Where were you when you first talked to God about all this?
I’m feeling pretty imperfect right now. Fallible. Flawed. Tired. Small. Tonight I read the following words from the chapter titled “Doesn’t God Want Me to Be Perfect?” in my book, The Relief of Imperfection and I sighed with relief. So I thought I’d share it with you. What’s your response?
It is God’s plan to partner with sinful, flawed, limited human beings who choose to follow His Son Jesus Christ. During His 33 years on earth, Jesus surrounded Himself with perfectly imperfect people who decided to admit their needs, take risks, make mistakes and grow.
These are the kind of people who formed His ministry team. Actually, He didn’t spend much time with those who feigned perfection, appeared on-top-of-it-all, made unreasonable religious rules, blamed others for their dilemmas and remained preoccupied with appearances.
Instead He preferred working, playing and living with people just like you and me. He enjoyed imperfect partnerships back then, just as He does today.
What a relief!
P.S. The words on the rock in the photo are “Grace is the face love wears when it meets imperfection.” Reminds me that although I’m feeling quite flawed right now, I’m still loved. Okay, now I’m smiling!
Joan C. Webb
Writing, teaching, coaching to empower and set free.