Today, I read the account of Jesus showing himself to Thomas for the first time after his resurrection. Initially, I began reading it the way I normally do, thinking of Thomas’ doubt only as a negative quality we should avoid. But not far into the reading, a switch flipped in my brain and I began to think of Thomas differently. I began to put myself in Thomas’ shoes.
After all, Thomas had just lost someone he loved to a horrible and violent death. He was, no doubt, in the throes of fresh and wild grief.
What if Thomas didn’t have a heart that was simply hardened by doubt? What if Thomas’ heart was simply so broken, that he couldn’t bear to hope that Jesus was alive unless he saw it for himself? What if Thomas’ heart was so broken, that hope was simply too painful an option? What if Jesus’ words that he would rise again in three days were bumping around the walls of Thomas’ mind, but he kept pushing them away thinking, “If I don’t hope for it, it can’t hurt me when it doesn’t happen.”
And Jesus, being the loving and compassionate God that he is, gave Thomas exactly what he needed, a personal encounter with his ALIVE Messiah. “Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and observe My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Don’t be an unbeliever, but a believer.'” Jesus loved Thomas so much and knew that “by believing you may have life in His name,” so he met Thomas right where he was in his doubt and heartbreak and helped him believe.
I have been where Thomas was many times. After losing relationships with people I loved, or seeing dreams deferred over and over again – it has been so easy to want to hold my broken heart, safe in my own two hands, where even God cannot get to it and say, “I’ll believe God has good things for me when I see it. But until then, I won’t give him access to my heart or emotions – I’ll just pretend like I don’t have any. I won’t ask God for the things my heart desires, because then he can’t say no, and I can’t be disappointed.” All the while, my heart is slowly suffocating in the vice grip I have on it.
But then Jesus shows up for my doubting, sick heart, and gives me exactly what I need, a personal encounter with him. He reminds me that he created in me the desires and dreams I have for a purpose, for the good works he wants me to do. And even if I don’t understand the practical implications of those desires, I can still ask him for them like a kid making a Christmas list. I should still look up at him with starry eyes and dream big, believing that he will lead me and guide me to places where those desires are not only fulfilled but are doing the work he always planned for them to do.
Now, I don’t mean I believe that, because God gave me certain desires the only way he could still be good is if he fulfills those desires the way I think he should. Here’s what I think I mean, what I’m realizing about my dreams and desires. They are like arrows on road signs, trying to point me somewhere, to lead me to something good. But I get all messed up because I try to figure out the final destination of the arrows, and then place my hope in that destination. What I’m realizing is that I think my God-given desires and dreams actually have two purposes:
- They are arrows pointing me to Jesus – at the bottom of all of my desires, is the hope for wholeness. No one and nothing can make me whole except Jesus. So a relationship with him is what I need FIRST and the MOST. If I don’t have that, everything else will be all wonky.
- They are seeds that have to be grown by Jesus – I know that Jesus has specific things for me to do here on earth, but I just don’t know exactly what they are. I think the dreams and desires I have are mere seeds that will eventually grow into something beautiful. But just like seeds cannot decide what kind of plant they will become, and they cannot grow by themselves (they have to be tended by a gardener or, if they’re wild, by the water and soil and the wind and the sun), I cannot grow my own dreams and desires into the results I think they should yield, only Jesus can do that, because only Jesus knows exactly what the results should be.
So, while I let the arrows of my “hopes and dreams” point me to Jesus – even point me in a general direction for my life – ultimately, Jesus is the only one who knows the intended destination. Jesus is the one carving out the road ahead of me, and I must simply follow him.
And when my heart gets broken because my hope gets all twisted around and lands on something other than Jesus, it is not the moment to drop hope on the floor and leave it there. It is the moment to fiercely pick it back up and throw my hope onto the person of Jesus, onto my ALIVE Messiah, knowing that he will bind up my broken heart. It is the moment to believe that he is working, that he is tending those buried seeds and has beautiful LIFE in store for me if I believe him, “my Lord and my God!”
“Jesus said, ‘Because you have seen Me, you have believed. Those who believe without seeing are blessed.'” John 21:31
I had the great privilege and honor this past weekend of joining my cousin, Andrew, and his congregation for their Palm Sunday services. It was beautiful to worship with them, and Andrew’s sermon was so stunning that I wanted to share it with you all. I hope it can draw your focus to the reality and beauty of what Jesus did during Holy Week, and what his resurrection on Easter does for us.
Rev. Andrew J. Abraham
(Based on the Lord’s Passion from the Holy Gospel of Matthew)
Most of us here have been Christian for many years, and so we are not unfamiliar with the account of all that our Lord went through on the first Good Friday. Of course, we could never probe the mystery of His passion enough. There are many layers and subplots that add immensely to the story of that day, including betrayal and abandonment, sudden outbreaks of chaos, the lopping off of an ear, suicide, political assassination and fierce clashes of Roman and Jewish cultures. In the midst of all the fray, even Pontius Pilate’s wife, of all people, had a dream that terrorized her enough to speak of it to her stressed-out husband: “Have nothing to do with that righteous man!” (27:19).
Near to Crossville Christian School where my sons attend, there is a Baptist church that presently has this on their outdoor sign: “The devil has a plot, but God has a plan.” The day of Jesus’ death, I guess, is where the two come crashing together. It was truly a perfect storm of high drama, sin, evil plotting, intrigue, natural phenomena, violence and a spiraling into passionate intensity representing all that is wrong and unsettled about this troubled and unstable world. But beneath it all, something holy was beginning to rumble- something new.
But let’s be clear, no one who was there would have called any part of this day “good.” It certainly was not good. It was a nasty stream of horrors once foreseen by the Prophet Isaiah: “He shall be high and lifted up… His appearance so marred, beyond human semblance… despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows; as one from whom men hide their faces” (Isaiah 52 & 53).
When Jesus was arrested, there was some half-hearted protest, but He quickly explained that at any moment twelve legions of angels could swoop down from heaven and remove this abysmal situation from Him, but “How then should the Scripture be fulfilled?” (26:54), He asks.
And thus began the violence.
I have to believe that even those who were His antagonists had to have come away from the experience of Christ’s crucifixion somewhat sickened by the meanness and brutality of it all, and that their thoughts tormented them deep into the night, even several hours after Jesus’ body was rendered colorless and cold. Like Pontius Pilate, many eyewitnesses who had come to Jerusalem that week would have had an impulse to wash their hands and their memories of the carnage that had taken place, which no doubt troubled their cogitations as they homeward trod listless and near to vomiting. Many, I think, would have liked to have unseen what they earlier saw concerning the mysterious Galilean who had done no wrong. And it is interesting that even the Roman centurion and his companions, having seen for themselves the spectacle of perfect innocence tortured and murdered, outwardly marveled and exclaimed, “Truly this was the Son of God” (27:54).
Yes- God’s Son who suffered the “bath of Satan” at the hands of sinful men.
And now dead was this Son of God- this “Anointed One-” who had healed so many, who had delivered countless sufferers of demons, who had fed hungry multitudes and had looked on vast crowds with immense compassion because He viewed them as “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (9:36). Dead now was the One who had peered deeply into the eyes of the haggard and the tired and the broken and the wounded and the despairing, and with love unsurpassable, offered the soothing ointment of His gracious promise, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (11:28-29). Yet, there had been no rest for Him- this snuffed-out Messiah, for our need of Him was always too great.
A heavy blanket of thick darkness, like a funeral pall, had fallen over all the land, and by some ancient accounts, the darkness was so dense that even those with lamps were unable to keep from tripping. It hadn’t been that long before that Jesus called His captive audience the light of the world, but now there was no light. Now the world, sinful and lost, pressed down by Satan, who choreographed perfectly the murder of God’s Son by masterful application of man’s addiction to sin, was at its lowest, darkest, coldest nadir of hopelessness and wrenching despair. The last vestige of anything for man to look to for hope was completely gone. It had fled far hence from the scene with the Son of Man’s dying breath. And though they came in throngs to sing largely of His holy birth, not so much as a single angel was present for His death, nor was there among their choirs in heaven even the slightest sound- their faces all turned from the children of Adam who had killed their beloved Prince.
So much drama. So many plots and subplots. So many factions. So many crying out for blood. So much violence. So much that is broken in a world where perfect innocence is made to bleed and to die.
Yet- underneath it all- rumblings of something different…
In the oracle of the Prophet Isaiah, God says to His people, “Behold, I am doing a new thing” (43:19). What was God doing? And what are we to make of this broken Messiah hanging lifeless on the cross?
The earth shook, the rocks split, the tombs of the dead rumbled as though something was happening- something in the world, but not of the world… the universe itself was somehow… changing.
The devil has a plot, but God has a plan.
My friends, I think we can all agree that it’s incredibly hard to be human. It is trying and difficult in a multitude of ways and on a multitude of levels. So much of our daily living is vainly labored toiling, unpredictably dangerous, characteristically uncertain, frustratingly different from what we had intended and weighted down with inexplicable sorrows that could never have been anticipated.
Our appetites trouble and torment us. Our transgressions sadden us. Our remorse sickens us. Our expectations disappoint us. Our pride wounds us. Our coveting defiles us. Our desperate need for love and affirmation often misleads us. Our fascination with things demeans us. Our overthinking compounds confusion within us and gives us headaches. The persistence of our loneliness discourages us. Our mortality both frightens and annoys us. Our interior aches drive us into manifold doubts concerning the inherent value of our lives and individuality. Though there are so many wonderful, beautiful aspects to any number of our experiences as sojourners in this world, we cannot deny our hopes for a deeper and more profound encounter that settles in our thoughts, once and for all, the rich value of our own personal existence and verification of the purpose that sustains it.
I am here today to tell you that for Christians, this much-longed-for encounter comes in the faith that binds us to the mysterious and magnificently kind-hearted, loving and compassionate Healer from Nazareth, whom we worshipfully call JESUS CHRIST. He is the definitive and enduring expression of God’s undying, unyielding, unwavering love for sinners, and as such, taught us the true meaning of our humanity on earth, which is not to escape suffering or to be obsessed with the acquisition of constant comfort, but rather to be in communion with Him who shares fully in the suffering of our earthly plight, and by doing so, draws us into the everlasting nature of His own perfect and sinless, infinite and radiant, all-consuming joy which lasts forever in His heavenly homeland. There in that place of endless splendors, there is no devil and there is no sin, nor is there death or sorrow of any kind. To demonstrate the boundless nature of His personal love and divine desire to be one with undeserving sinners, He endured agonizing torture and death, and just when the devil began to dance and to celebrate the demise of God’s only-begotten Son, he learned the hard lesson that death was powerless to withhold from sinners the love that brought Jesus to us in the flesh.
As the great English poet and pastor, John Donne, wrote so succinctly, “Death, thou shalt die.”
“Kairos. Real time. God’s time. That time which breaks through chronos with a shock of joy, that time we do not recognize while we are experiencing it, but only afterwards, because kairos has nothing to do with chronological time. In kairos we are completely unselfconscious, and yet paradoxically far more real than we can ever be when we are constantly checking our watches for chronological time…In kairos we become what we are called to be as human beings, co-creators with God, touching on the wonder of creation.” -Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water
There are some realizations that come upon you suddenly, but looking back you realize they’ve been dancing around the edges of your consciousness for quite some time.
For me, the realization that I wanted to focus on the word kairos in 2017 was just such a realization. I’m not sure exactly when it was, maybe while sitting on the dock in South Carolina watching the dolphins, but I suddenly knew that so much of what I had been learning in 2016 culminated in one word – kairos.
2016 was a year of painful change and working with God to wrestle my heart to new places of freedom…over and over and over again.
And in the midst of the wrestling, the agonizing over my identity, the pain of rejection, the wondering what my life was really all about, God re-introduced me to the word kairos (for which you’ve just read my favorite definition at the top of this post).
On an unsuspecting Saturday in September, with a “shock of joy,” I stumbled upon an album called Kairos by the artist Jae Jin. Listening through it, I felt like I was outside of time, in another dimension, a holy place where God could touch the deepest parts of my heart and start to stir up healing. The definition of kairos and the title of the album didn’t click in my mind for awhile, but when I finally realized that I was experiencing kairos while to listening to an album entitled Kairos, I couldn’t help but laugh.
Then I started reading the book “I Don’t Wait Anymore” by Grace Thornton, and I suddenly had words to put to the subconscious frustrations I’d been having with feeling like my life was “stuck” in chronos, chronological time. Grace talked about how living life as a single person (whose life has not gone the way she thought it would – in her case not married yet and no kids) often does not have the same markers of chronological time as, perhaps, the life of a married person with a family (who has anniversaries, children’s birthdays, and the like to act as markers).
Once Grace’s words helped me to diagnose exactly what I was feeling, I was able to start processing my perceived “stuckness” with God. What he helped me to realize is that I was NOT stuck in chronos but rather living in kairos, in God’s time. It doesn’t matter if chronological time seems to be stopped for me, because God’s plans for my life exist in kairos.
Viewing my life through the lens of chronos brings disappointment, because that perspective fires questions at me with machine gun speed, “Shouldn’t you be married by now?” “Shouldn’t you have recorded another album and be touring by now?” “Shouldn’t you own a house by now?” “Shouldn’t you have more money by now?” “Shouldn’t you know what you’re doing by now?” The questions of chronos cause only second guessing, anxiety, and fear, diverting my attention and affection away from Jesus.
But when I silence the questions, and simply focus my mind on Jesus, asking to know more of who he is, and who I am because of him, it’s easy to slip into kairos. When I take the time to listen and discover that I have barely begun to understand who my Creator is and the depth of his outrageous love for me, I’m completely oblivious to second hands and minutes and months – I AM FREE. In kairos, God reminds me that HE is the one who is writing the story of my life, and IT IS GOOD. The questions don’t matter, because it is in HIM that I live and move and have my being, not chronos. As long as I am following him, living in kairos, everything will be as it should be. Everything will be alright.
So, here I am at the start of another chronological year, still feeling the reasonable and seductive pull of all of chronos’ questions, tempting me to believe I am solely in control. But I choose kairos instead, choose to free fall into living and moving and having my being in my Creator, where I can breathe easy and walk freely in his love. And I am so excited.
After watching the sunrise on the beach this morning and then getting coffee with my sisters, I headed out to the dock at our rented vacation home to sit and watch for dolphins.
There was no wind this morning, and the water was smooth and glassy and perfect, as you can see in the picture.
As I settled in to wait and hope for the dolphins’ arrival, I said half-heartedly to the sky, “God, I really want to see dolphins, and I really want them to come up to the dock.” All the while thinking, “It’s a little petty of me to ask the God of the universe to interrupt the course of nature just to make me happy. But whatever. I know it’s just a dumb request so I won’t expect it.”
And dropping my one sided conversation, I spent the next twenty or thirty minutes just soaking in the view. I marveled at the way the water rippled and changed with the breeze, or when a water bird landed, or a boat passed. The patterns and movement were incredible, intricate. I watched as a duck flew past and listened to the solid thrush, thrush, thrush of its wings. I listened to the clarinet voice of another duck as it swam out to join its pal. My eyes and heart hungrily ate up the changing reds and golds of the water grasses as the sun rose higher. A seagull landed on one of the posts of our dock and just sat there looking around, looking at me, taking in the view the whole time. Each of these sights and sounds served to nourish my heart and refresh me in ways that only the act of being still out in creation can accomplish.
And then, the dolphins came. I heard them before I saw them, the sound of air and water clearing from their blow holes. And when I turned my head to identify the sound, there they were. For an hour and a half I watched them surfacing and diving, surfacing and diving. Playing in the estuary back and forth, back and forth. My family saw them from the house and came to join me. We all sat in total wonder, ecstatic at seeing the dolphins for so long. And finally, one decided to head out to open water and swam about ten feet away from the dock on its way.
During the hour or so while I was watching the dolphins, a thought struck me. I had asked God for one gift – to see dolphins, and close up. But while I was waiting for that gift, trying to soak in every moment, he gave me so many more gifts – the seagull who kept me company, the light on the water grass, the sound of the duck’s call, the ripples on the water, the thrush of the bird’s wings. I only wanted one gift, but God had so many to give me.
It makes me not want to miss out on any of the gifts God has for me in the rest of my life. I want to truly SEE what is around me every moment, so that I can accept all of the gifts he places in my path, not just the ones I THINK I want.
Today also reminded me that he has much better things in store for me than I can even ask for myself.
Later in the day, we all went to dinner and drove and hiked out to one of the island light houses. And what do you know, but there were MORE dolphins, and SO CLOSE to shore. Close enough that I got to run alongside them, laughing and yelling “Hi!” to them over and over. I think they must have liked my high pitched giggling, because once we reached a place along the beach where the water was deeper and the shoreline abruptly dropped away like a shelf, two of the dolphins swam carefully straight towards me. They bumped their noses out of the water toward me as if to say hello, before turning tail and heading back along the shoreline (they must have been only six feet away!). It was THE BEST MOMENT of my entire year. I could hardly believe it! Not only did I get to see dolphins, like I half-heartedly requested of my Heavenly Father, but they came up and said “Hi!” right back to me.
If the God of the universe cares enough to direct my steps into the path of friendly dolphins to give me such a beautiful, miraculous moment, I cannot help but believe that as I ask him for the larger desires of my heart, of my life, that he has even better gifts in store for me than I can ask for.
I think I spent a lot of time this year fearfully wondering if I will be disappointed with what God has in store for me. And I think he proved to me today that my fear is unfounded. Every moment holds gifts from God if I will only look around and see them. And even the desires that I specifically ask for, God will fulfill them in an even more spectacular fashion than I could imagine as I surrender my heart and life to him (whether that means he gives me what I ask for or gently turns my heart to something else that he has for me).
“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4
How is it possible for a person’s heart to be so completely divided? When I see pictures of New York City, I want with all of my heart to drop everything and go live & love there for the rest of my days. And when I see pictures of a ranch in Colorado, I want with all of my heart to drop everything and live as a ranch hand for the rest of my days. And yet somehow, I don’t picture my life panning out in either of those directions. Life is weird.
What’s your take on this divided heart phenomenon?
“Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.” -C.S. Lewis
I hope C.S. Lewis is right. Because, I had the realization last night that I care more about being authentic than I do about being creative. Although I would love to be a “brilliant” artist, whose work is original, groundbreaking, and influential, I just don’t know that it’s going to happen. I’m not Debussy (whose teacher told him he couldn’t use chords with the ninth interval in them for his compositions – which Debussy did – that only geniuses could accomplish that), or G-Dragon (who writes a song and has the entire performance/stage design/music video concept already in his head), or Ryan Tedder (who’s written and produced for practically everyone on the planet; ok, the list might not be quite that long, but still). I don’t think the most outside the box of anyone I know, and am constantly astounded by artists who do things I would never think to do.
On one hand, that can be discouraging, because I think, “Man, I probably won’t leave a serious artistic mark the way these people do.” I mean, it’s sort of a bummer, as an artist, to think that you might not have quite as much artistic greatness in you as you hope.
On the other hand, it throws into sharp relief that which really matters. Madeleine L’Engle gets right to the heart of what I believe about being an artist in her book, Walking on Water, and it guides me as I think about creativity. She says this about artists, “For an artist is not a consumer, as our commercials urge us to be. An artist is a nourisher and a creator who knows that during the act of creation there is collaboration. We do not create alone…We are to be in this world as healers, as listeners, and as servants.” And again, “ Art is communication, and if there is no communication it is as though the work had been still-born…So there is no evading the fact that the artist yearns for ‘success,’ because that means that there has been a communication of the vision: that all the struggle has not been invalid.”
And I realize. At the end of the day, what I really care about is that my art communicates, and serves its listeners, aids their healing and growth and nourishment, the way so many other artists’ work has done for me. What I really care about is putting something out there that is, at its core, true and real.
Now, that’s not to say that I don’t try to get out of my normal creative confines, and expand myself as an artist. Try things I normally wouldn’t try. Look for ways to be different than what’s already out there, different than what I’ve done in the past. But the bottom line is this, I don’t want to create art that is “out of the box” or “creative” (but that doesn’t resonate within my own heart) simply because I want to be considered innovative – I believe this would inevitably produce art that may look creative at the outset, but would fall flat with anyone who interacts with it. What a dreadful thought.
So, without copping out in my pursuit of growth and excellence in my own art, I find myself coming to terms with my strengths and weaknesses as an artist, surrendering to the fact that major artistic impact won’t, perhaps, be in my future, but feeling wholly compelled by the fact that impact of a different sort may very well be beckoning.
Side note: It occurs to me that some of the artists I listed have whole TEAMS of people around them, helping to shape them, collaborating with them, and pushing forward a decided upon vision. So maybe I shouldn’t be too discouraged by my own perceived lack of creativity as a sole person. Maybe the brilliance of G-Dragon and Ryan Tedder are a testament to collaboration and the sum of the parts? Or maybe they really are prodigies; somebody’s got to be. Maybe I’ll get to meet these guys someday and ask them. *keep dreaming Jenn*
I was walking down the hallway at church with an enormous bouquet of roses when Pete Radke stopped me and said excitedly, “Who gave you those?” I cheerfully informed him that I was simply the delivery girl; the roses were from my parents for someone else, and I was on my way to the recipient. He promptly said, jokingly, “Oh you shouldn’t tell people that, you look so impressive carrying them,” like it was a huge let down that someone had not just madly confessed their love for me with a huge wad of flowers. We both laughed and went on our ways, and I’ll never forget that funny moment and those “impressive” roses.
I was acquainted with Pete through his wife, Michelle (she and I sing on worship team together at church). Whenever I saw him at church on the weekends, his demeanor was always just like his picture (over there on the right), a warm smile and a genuine interest in how your life was going.
Pete gave his life last weekend, helping to rescue someone at Lake Erie (read the full story), and yesterday, I went to his funeral. And it was huge. Some 1500 people came to the calling hours, and probably around 600-700 attended the funeral. I had the privilege of singing as part of the vocal choir for his funeral, and standing on stage looking out at the jam-packed auditorium was stunning. I was floored at the impact Pete had on his world with only 43 short years of life.
After the funeral, I was talking to a couple guys who played in the worship band for the funeral, and we all agreed that other people’s funerals make us wonder about our own. Who will come? What will they say about us? What will be the measure of our life when it’s all said and done?
Pete measured his life and success by whether it was significant or not, and seeing a room jam-packed with people who had been personally impacted by him made me realize what I want my own funeral to be like someday.
As an artist, as a singer, as someone hoping for a career in music, in performing, it is natural to dream about singing for stadiums filled with people, and to get really excited when someone says they love watching you on stage, or they really connected to a song you wrote, and so on. Of course my pipe dream is to “hit it big” and sing for stadiums filled with people around the world, and win awards, and be considered an influential artist for my time. I DO hope people will hear my songs and connect to them and be served by them (because in my mind, my art is not fully alive if it doesn’t communicate with and nourish people).
And while I’m not saying that fame and personal impact are mutually exclusive, I hope I’m not famous – or at least not only famous. I hope that at the end of my life, on the day after I take my last breath, and they do with my body whatever they must, that people don’t come to my funeral because they heard my songs or saw me on a stage or admired me from a distance. I hope my funeral is like Pete’s funeral, and people come because I had a personal impact on their life, because they knew me and I knew them, and they felt loved by me, and loved by Jesus because of me.
And lest I do Pete’s life a grave disservice, I simply must mention his faith. Pete loved & followed Jesus, was loved by Jesus, and was able to have the impact he did because every day, he gave away the love that Jesus had given him– to his family, friends, co-workers, church family and eventually the stranger he helped to rescue on Lake Erie.
That is what I want my life to be about and my funeral to measure up to – the full and wonderful significance of being loved by Jesus and giving that love away.