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.”
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
Less than a week ago, my newest single, “Austin”, made it’s debut in the digital markets (check out the Music section to give it a listen or purchase).
And since we have a little space here on my blog, I thought I’d tell you a bit about this newest confessional single of mine.
I wrote “Austin” over a year ago, at a time when I was madly in love with the guy I was dating.
I was madly in love, and he hadn’t told me he loved me yet, but I was bursting to say the words to him. I never thought I would be the first person to say “I love you” in a relationship, but it couldn’t be helped. It felt like the words were suffocating me not to say them, so I finally told him “the words one at a time”.
In the end, the relationship didn’t work out (don’t worry though, he didn’t bolt because I told him I loved him, he’s made of sterner stuff than that), and I considered “never singing ‘Austin’ again” since I had written it about this person. But I realized 2 very important things…
#1) I felt like “Austin” was just way too good a song to throw out the window.
#2) More importantly, even though I had written this song about someone who I could no longer be with, I ultimately didn’t write it for him. I wrote it for myself, to work through my struggle to gather up my courage and for the first time ever confess to someone “I’m in love with you.” This is no small feat, saying something so risky and scary, don’t you think?
So, I survived the breakup, and thankfully, so did “Austin”. Hope you enjoy it! 😉
…I am currently going through a break-up (WAH WAH! :() . A few thoughts below on going through this time of pain in my life, written March 22nd:
Just watched a clip of a seminarian talking about how when we suffer, Jesus suffers with us. And I get what he’s saying, Jesus has compassion on us and is with us in our suffering and pain, comforting us. Afterall, he is the “God of all comfort” (as stated somewhere in Corinthians). But I guess I just don’t relate to the sentiment that Jesus suffers because we suffer. In the same way that I believe pain confirms, rather than denies, the presence of God in my life, I believe that when I/we suffer, Jesus does not suffer with me, but I am suffering with him. When I suffer, I gain small pieces of understanding into the immense suffering Jesus endured for his Father’s glory and for each of us. And THAT is what comforts me and breaks my heart all at the same time. I have Jesus, a high priest who empathizes with me, and yet also, by my sin and previous rejection of God, I caused him the suffering he endured in order to be able to empathize with me. So even though it sincerely and deeply SUCKS when I suffer, it also shows me more of the immense love my Father, his Son and The Holy Spirit have for me to go through Jesus coming to earth, living, suffering, dying and rising again to reconcile us to God. It’s worth it, suffering is worth it to know Jesus more. It really, really is. I would not trade it in or rewind the clocks and erase the events that led up to this.