Do You Know the Most Dangerous Prayer?

“And so, dear brothers, I plead with you to give your bodies to God. Let them be a living sacrifice, holy—the kind he can accept. When you think of what he has done for you, is this too much to ask? Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but be a new and different person with a fresh newness in all you do and think. Then you will learn from your own experience how his ways will really satisfy you”—Romans 12:1-2(TLB).

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In May 2002, I began to pray what some call the most dangerous prayer of all: “Lord, use me.”

Each day that month, I walked down to the lake where I had been living since my 28-year marriage had ended the previous August. Sitting on a concrete picnic table overlooking the lake, I sought God’s will for the rest of my life. Each prayer ended with asking God to use me for His purposes. While I was still three years away from retirement, God was working in my heart to prepare me for the next chapter of my life.

Fast forward to April 2005 when—after nine months of arguing with God about that direction—He made it clear to me I was to leave the area where I had lived since I was 16-years-old and move to a larger community where I knew very few people. May 2005 marked the end of my 30-year teaching career and the new adventure He had planned.

What happens when we surrender our plans to Him? You can bet He will use us, as well as bless us as a result.

Born in 1870, author Lettie B. Cowman, along with her husband, left the United States in 1901 to work as missionaries in Japan. Along with other friends, they co-founded the Oriental Missionary Society as well as several Bible Training Institutes.

What is Your Life But a Mist?

“How do you know what is going to happen tomorrow? For the length of your lives is as uncertain as the morning fog—now you see it; soon it is gone. What you ought to say is, ‘If the Lord wants us to, we shall live and do this or that.’ Otherwise you will be bragging about your own plans, and such self-confidence never pleases God”—James 4:14-16 (TLB).

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Flowers began to bloom around town—and in my yard—before the first official day of spring on March 20. Three weeks later, some of those early blooming flowers are already beginning to fade. Those early bloomers are often some of the most spectacular, but they don’t stick around very long.

Like flowers that bloom for a short period of time, we often forget just how precious and fleeting our lives are—no matter how long it lasts. One recent afternoon, I was walking my dog through the neighborhood. As I passed a friend’s house, I greeted him and another neighbor with a wave and a hello.

James is right about life—it is but a wisp of fog.

As I continued my one-mile walk through our neighborhood, I was startled by the screaming sirens of police cars and other first responders flying past me. I began to run. I didn’t know what was going on or where they were headed. Rounding a corner, I saw the neighbor, whom I had greeted not more than 20 minutes before, lying on his driveway where the EMTs were performing CPR.

Woman pens her own obituary: “I was born; I blinked; and it was over”

emily-cropped-internalA 69-year-old Florida grandmother knew she didn’t have long to live when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in February. So, she decided to write her own obituary–her farewell to the world in her own words. Emily Phillips’ self-penned obituary has gone viral on the Internet since she passed away last week, and according to The Florida Times-Union, it has garnered more than 5,100 likes as of last Tuesday.

In the obituary opening, Phillips wrote, “It pains me to admit it, but apparently, I have passed away. Everyone told me it would happen one day, but that’s simply not something I wanted to hear, much less experience.”

A longtime public school teacher who loved in Orange Park, Florida, Phillips recounts her journey through life, beginning with her elementary years in North Carolina. She talks about here memories of her father calling square dances, her 4-H club skits in fifth grade, being a beauty pageant competitor and leading her high school band down King Street in the New Orleans Mardi Gras parade as a head majorette.

“I was born; I blinked; and it was over”

Shifting between humorous and sentimental, Phillips’ obituary not only reflects on those little moments of her life, but she also tries to answer some of life’s more existential questions.

“The grandmother of five grandchildren, Phillips began writing the obituary soon after she was diagnosed with the terminal illness in February, according to her daughter, Bonnie Upright. “At first,” Upright says, “the family was resistant, but listened when she insisted they hear her read it.”

Uptight added, “We laughed where we were supposed to laugh, cried where we were supposed to cry, and looking back at it now … it really was one of the most special moments in my entire life,”  adding that the warm response to the obituary has helped soothe the family’s heartbreak.

“Being able to smile through the tears on my face has been an incredible experience, and an incredible gift that mom left us,” she said.

Phillips penned the following as she wrapped up her self-written obit:

 

The Story Hasn’t Ended

“Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead”—(John 20:8-9 NRSV).

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Just as Jesus predicted, it happened. The story wasn’t over. In fact, it was just beginning. On that first Easter Sunday, “while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb” (John 20:1).

I don’t know about you, but like Mary Magdalene, I would have assumed someone had stolen the body. John tells us she immediately ran to Simon Peter and the other disciple—the one whom Jesus loved—and told them Jesus’ body was missing.

While Peter and the other disciple raced toward the tomb together, I wonder what they were thinking. Were they ready to begin a massive hunt for the body? Were they ready to fight whoever had removed Jesus’ remains? While we don’t know these answers, we know the other disciple—whom we believe is John—outran Peter, arriving at the tomb first. When he bent down to look in the tomb, he saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in.

I often wonder why this disciple didn’t enter the tomb. Was he afraid? Was he waiting on Peter?

The beauty of the Easter story is a symbol of hope, renewal and new life—and we’re invited to be a part of it.

When Simon Peter arrived, he went into the tomb. He, too, saw the linen wrappings and the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. I wonder what Peter thought upon entering the tomb. Was he as perplexed as Mary and the other disciple?

Lent: A Time for Reflection

40 daysLENT REFLECTIONS: Day 40

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Often the victims of crucifixion were left hanging on their crosses for days. Why? To be an example to others of what happened if you disobeyed Roman authority. But one bold man dared to ask for permission to bury Jesus, who had taken his last breath at 3:00 p.m. on Good Friday.

Who was this man? Scripture tells us his name was Joseph, a respected leader in Jerusalem. After Pilate agreed to his request, Joseph laid Jesus to rest in his own tomb—a freshly hewn tomb from the soft Jerusalem limestone located in a garden.

In Day 40 of Adam Hamilton’s book, 40 Days of Reflection, the author says, “The burial and subsequent resurrection of Jesus points to yet another way of understanding the mission of Jesus as he died on the cross. On the cross, Jesus took all the evil that human beings could muster. He was persecuted the righteous. He was tortured by the powerful. He was crucified unjustly. And finally, he died.”

Did it appear on that Friday afternoon that evil, sin and death had won? Would Jesus be just one more innocent and good man who had been unfairly put to death by the Romans?

Hamilton adds, “The cross was a sign of injustice, jealousy, hatred, bigotry, abuse of power, and every other kind of sin. And on that day, the forces of evil and sin defeated God and goodness and righteousness and life. Death, the great enemy that had reigned since Adam and Eve first turned away from God, had once more proven the victor. All that was left for Jesus’ followers was grief, disillusionment, and despair.”

BUT we know it wasn’t the end of the story. Not by a long shot. “On the third day, He rose from the dead!” What amazing words to hear!

When we look at Good Friday through the lens of the Resurrection, we can exclaim, “He has risen! He has risen indeed!”

On that third day, victory would come. We must remember this when the forces of darkness in our own lives threaten to have the upper hand. Because of that third day, Christ has defeated evil and even death.

Today, let the Lord know how grateful you are that His death and burial were not the end of the story.

Read the following scripture today as you come to the end of this 40-day lent journey: John 19:38-41.

 Note to my readers: Thank you for joining me on this 40-day Lent journey. It has been a challenge for me to write a post each day and get it out to you. However, I am grateful the Holy Spirit nudged me in this direction. I’ve heard positive responses from some of you who have shared it with others. Let HIS name be glorified as we celebrate the beautiful message of Easter. Shalom!

Lent: A Time for Reflection

40 daysLENT REFLECTIONS: Day 39

Friday, April 3, 2015

In Day 39 of Adam Hamilton’s book, 40 Days of Reflection, the author reflects on the torn curtain. He says, “When Matthew, Mark and Luke describe the curtain of the Temple being torn in two, they mean for us to understand that Jesus has gone before the mercy seat of God, has made atonement for the sins of the human race, and has reconciled us to God.”

As Jesus drew His last breath, He gave out a loud cry. It was at that moment that the curtain of the temple was torn in two—from top to bottom. Most of those standing by Jesus when this happened still didn’t understand. However, Mark’s Gospel tells us this: “Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was God’s son!’”

God knew the Israelites would sin. Even before Jesus’ birth, He had made provision in the law for their restoration and healing through atoning sacrifices. As an expression of their remorse and to make amends for their sins, the people were to bring a sacrificial offering to God. Hamilton says, “The sacrifice was the worshiper’s way of saying, ‘Lord, I am sorry for what I have done. This gift is a small token of my desire to be restored to right relationship with you.’”

However, Jesus came, lived, ministered, taught, healed and sacrificed for us. Hamilton adds, “He offered to God not the blood of a goat, but his own blood on behalf of the people. He said, in essence, ‘God, I give myself for these sinful, confused and broken people. By the giving of my life, I ransom them. And by this sacrifice I mean for them to understand that their sins are forgiven.’”

We all fall short of God’s glory. Join me in asking God

  1. to create in each of us a clean heart
  2. to renew within each of us a right spirit
  3. and to live our lives in a grateful response to the gift of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.

Read the following scripture today as you continue on this 40-day lent journey: Mark 15:37-39.

Lent: A Time for Reflection

40 daysLENT REFLECTIONS: Day 38

Thursday, April 2, 2015

“It is finished.” Only three words—three powerful words from Jesus before His life ended. We could equate them with “The End.”

While it was the end of His life as it had been on earth, it was a beginning in other ways. Jesus had accomplished His goal. It was complete.

In Day 38 of Adam Hamilton’s book, 40 Days of Reflection, the author says, “Jesus’ dying words tell us that he did not understand himself simply to be the victim of a tragic miscarriage of justice. Instead, in his death, he had accomplished the mission for which God had sent him.”

Hamilton reflects on this fulfilled mission. “Theologians have devoted volumes to answering the question—what was the mission Jesus fulfilled by his death?”

The answers, says Hamilton, take three distinct but broad directions which are not mutually exclusive—more likely, adds Hamilton, they are complimentary.

  1.  According to the first view, the suffering and death of Jesus were meant to affect the human race deeply. “Recall that John began his Gospel by saying that Jesus was God’s Word become  flesh. Jesus revealed God, and God’s will for humanity, to us.”
  2. Jesus’ suffering and death was a mirror to the human race, revealing our own brokenness and sin.
  3. But these events also revealed God’s love—a God who willingly suffered on our behalf in order to save us from ourselves and to win our hearts to him.

Hamilton adds, “Jesus’ death changed how we see ourselves, God, and the world around us.”

As Good Friday approaches, imagine Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross. How does the story affect you?  Ask God to help you love sacrificially and faithfully as His disciple.

Read the following scripture today as you continue on this 40-day lent journey: John 19:30a.