Ash Wednesday & Resurrection

by Elizabeth

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I went to Ash Wednesday service this week expecting to meet God. I always do — in unexpected ways. I can never predict the moment God will show up and the tears will fall. The part of the liturgy that touched me the year before inevitably feels dry to me a year later.

But I’ve done this enough that I know God will show up. Even if we are more than halfway through the service and I haven’t encountered Him yet, I know He will draw near to me.

That night I experienced several of these moments. The imposition of ashes, of course, when we remembered that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. When we sang “Lord Have Mercy.” When we begged God repeatedly, “Holy Lord, hear our prayer.”

And when we sang the first verse of “Jesus Paid It All”: I hear the Savior say, “Thy strength indeed is small. Child of weakness, watch and pray, find in me thine all in all.” Because I know my strength is small, and I am weak without Him.

But most of all for me that night, was the moment in the middle of a worship song whose name I can’t remember, that God reminded me of Galatians 5:7-8. On Tuesday and Wednesday I had a deep, dark flare of anxiety and OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). I had been doing so well, and the intensity of this relapse surprised and frightened me.

So I turned to the text. Here it is in the New Living Translation:

“You were running the race so well. Who has held you back from following the truth? It certainly isn’t God, for he is the one who called you to freedom.”

And here are verses 1-3 in The Message:

“Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you. I am emphatic about this. The moment any one of you submits to circumcision or any other rule-keeping system, at that same moment Christ’s hard-won gift of freedom is squandered. I repeat my warning: The person who accepts the ways of circumcision trades all the advantages of the free life in Christ for the obligations of the slave life of the law.”

[I love Paul. The way I love Paul borders on the ridiculous.]

I was discouraged because I had been running the race so well. The days had been good, and I was full of joy. And then what happened? It was like all of that goodness and grace just disappeared, poured right down the drain.

In case you don’t know what anxiety or OCD feels like, it certainly feels like a harness of slavery. And OCD is a definite rule-keeping system. I don’t want to trade my free life in Christ for the obligations of the slave life of the law.

So what is holding me back when I relapse? Maybe it’s the brokenness of my own brain, or the forces of evil in the spiritual realms. Maybe it’s living in a fallen and unpredictable world. Maybe it’s some aspect of soul care or body care that I’ve neglected. Maybe it’s all of it together. Maybe I’ll never know.

But this one thing I know: it’s not God. God is the One calling me to freedom. He’s not the One holding me back or “hindering” me, as the ESV puts it. The Message tells us: “This detour doesn’t come from the One who called you into the race in the first place.”  No, the God who called me didn’t design that detour. What He wants to give is life full and free, satisfying and abundant.

And that freedom was what I had on Thursday — because I went to Church the night before. That’s not all I did, of course. Before that I had gone back to bed to cry extra hard. That wore me out so much I needed a nap. Then in an effort to manage the anxiety, I exercised as hard as I could. After that I went to church, where I smiled and made sweet small talk with people, because I knew the good stuff was coming when I entered that sanctuary.

I wasn’t ok, and I knew it, and I needed God to sit with me in the mess. And meet me He did, through the words of Paul and the words of the hymns and the words of the liturgy.

Because a relapse is not the end of the story. That’s what I tell girls struggling through eating disorders, and it’s what I needed to be reminded of last night. A relapse doesn’t mean that no healing has happened. It doesn’t mean that recovery is over. It actually means lots of progress has been made; a relapse wouldn’t feel so awful if you hadn’t been making forward movement.

So I relapsed. But I didn’t have to stay in that relapse, spiraling downward and feeling sorry for myself. I could start making good choices again, and I could listen to God when He spoke, and I could let Him encourage my heart.

I am a person in need of deep mercy from God, and so are you. So are we all, for we are all formed from dust. Our Maker knows we are dust, for He is the one who made us and breathed His life into us.

But dust, like relapse, is not the end of the story: for we are a Resurrection people, both now and forevermore. Amen.

 

photo credit

What an Open Sewer Taught Me About Resurrection {Velvet Ashes}

Elizabeth is at Velvet Ashes today . . .

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A river runs through my city. And on the main riverfront there’s a tree. Actually, there are many trees along the riverfront, and they’re mostly palm trees. Palm trees grow everywhere in the tropics. And while they are stunningly beautiful, palm trees don’t grow very large.

But there’s a tree on the riverfront that dwarfs all the palm trees. It’s the biggest and greenest tree around, and it’s planted on the banks of the river right where raw sewage is discharged. My city’s waste rushes thick, black, and odorous right into the river where the tourists walk by.

The first time I noticed this, I was struck by the sight. How could two such unlikely things come together like this? An enormous, thriving tree and an ugly, smelly, polluting flow of refuse? I couldn’t stop looking at it. I couldn’t stop gazing and pondering: a tree full of life next to a stream of death.

This riverside tree became, to me, a symbol for Resurrection. For the ability and tendency of God to take garbage, to take death, and to make new life out of it, to make beauty out of it.

Finish reading here.

Finding Christ in Leviticus

by Elizabeth

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This image. It captured my attention last weekend, and I couldn’t look away. I was supposed to be listening to Sherry Lile speak on Leviticus 14, but by the time she got to this part of the story, I heard no more words. I saw only this picture.

Leviticus 14 might seem like a strange place to begin a ladies conference entitled “My Heart, Christ’s Home.” The event theme sounds warm and cuddly, but the Levitical chapter is anything but. It begins with the proper way to diagnose and treat skin diseases (yuck) and ends with the instructions for identifying and treating houses with mold (also yuck).

First we talked about how sin is like leprosy — how it can start small and then spread to a much larger area of our lives. And if it’s like the traditionally understood form of leprosy (Hansen’s disease), it causes us not to feel pain.

The problem then, is that we can get hurt even worse. I know for myself, most of the time when I sin, it’s a feeble attempt to protect my heart from further pain. But I only harden it harder and sin ever greater and pull farther and farther away from the Great Physician — even if I can’t, temporarily, feel the pain.

In Leviticus the sufferer of the skin disease must go to the Priest for healing. He can’t do it on his own. He needs help. There’s a parallel here, of course.

Then we moved into the second half of the chapter, the part about the houses. Again the priest must be called in. He is given very specific instructions about removing the contents of the house and checking for spreading mold. Contaminated stones must be removed, too, and taken to a designated place outside town. Sometimes the entire house must be torn down.

Other times the house may be saved from destruction, but it must still be purified. This is where the picture comes in. The priest takes two birds, some cedar wood, scarlet yarn, and some hyssop. One of the birds he kills over fresh water in a clay pot (strange, I know).

He takes the cedar wood, the hyssop, the yarn, and the live bird, dips them in the blood/water mixture, and sprinkles the house seven times. Almost like he’s sweeping away the impurities with a broom.

And then — oh then — he releases the live bird in the fields outside the town, and the house is finally cleansed from its defilement. That’s when this picture popped up on the screen and when I couldn’t take my eyes off it. You know when that happens, right? When words are no longer the best language, when art communicates truth more clearly?

So I went home and told my husband all about it, but without the context of the entire lesson, it’s hard to explain to someone why you’re so excited about a picture of a bloody bird. You just sound like a crazy person.

But here’s the reason I love this picture: these two birds represent the work of Christ for us. Both the sacrificed bird AND the free bird find their fulfillment in Him — in the Cross and in the Resurrection. Because of Christ, we get to go free. Like the bird in the picture, we’re released from the grip of death and given the gift of life.

But that gift did not come without a sacrifice.

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Originally shared on Facebook.

Image used with permission.

Anyway

by Jonathan

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They were unclean and unwell, with oozing sores and wounded hearts.
He touched them anyway.

They were dirty and uncouth, sinners all.
He ate with them anyway.

They disbelieved, decried, and occasionally denied.
He loved them anyway.

He knew that nine out of ten wouldn’t say thanks for his regenerative gift.
He healed them anyway.

The tax man and fisherman weren’t looking for a revolution, or a teacher.
He called them anyway.

The rebel man was looking for revolution and a leader, but the wrong kind.
He called him anyway.

They were religious and in charge, with Abraham their father and Law their protector.
He challenged them anyway.

They were cruel and foreign, warrior oppressors gambling for his last shred of dignity.
He forgave them anyway.

They locked his corpse behind stone and guard and seal, ensuring that death and darkness held their catch.

He rose anyway.

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Christ is Risen.
He is Risen Indeed!