Good Friday: Easter 2018

Good Friday 2018.jpg

Photograph by Donna Harris

Today is Good Friday when we have the privilege of fixing our gaze on the giver of life, our Redeemer, the one who has rescued us from ourselves. He came, God-incarnate, to save us to the extreme, as man to die our death. Herein is love to the utmost. For God so loved the world he gave. “Herein is love; when I cannot rise to him he draws near on wings of grace, to raise me to himself.”

In a world of created changeable things, only God alone remains unshaken, unchanging. Only God alone remains true to his promise, for what he says, he will do.  He struck the head of evil. He has not left us here without grace. The cross still stands. The grave is still empty.

Where do we begin to offer our gratitude, love, and praise in response to what Jesus did for us on the cross? We refer to today as, Good Friday yet we cannot fully fathom nor comprehend the immense goodness of His love for us.

Good Friday 2018 2

Photograph by Donna Harris

While on the cross, Jesus cried out for God to forgive us as He took all of our sins upon himself. He became sin for us, that in him, we might become the righteousness of God.  (2 Cor. 5:21). The vast goodness of this day is that we are fully forgiven because Christ was fully forsaken. Open your heart to see Him as Savior, to believe quickly…receiving His grace and a living hope just as He promised the robber hanging on a criminal’s cross next to him.

He came to rescue us, to give us life by giving up His. “It is finished,” he cried. The old has passed away and the new has come. There’s nothing more to be done, concerning our salvation, once and for all, perfectly and fully, we have been reconciled to God.

Good Friday 2018 3jpg.jpg

Photograph by Donna Harris

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“It’s Friday — Sunday is near” Watercolor painting by Donna Harris

 

Quotes to think about:

I’ve never understood why people call the day that Jesus died “Good Friday.” What was good about it? It looks like a tragedy to me. You’re right, up to a point: If all we had to celebrate was that final Friday when Jesus was put to death, there certainly wouldn’t be anything good about it. In that case, the term “Good Friday” would be a mockery. Instead, that final Friday would be the greatest tragedy in the history of the human race. Satan would have won, and any hope the human race might have had for the future would be ended.

But that Friday was not the end! Two days later, the tomb was empty, and Jesus was alive! And that’s why we can call it “Good Friday” … because on a day that first seemed tragic, something incredibly good happened … Christ gave his life for our salvation. [1]

Many of us, as we learn to know Christ in his sufferings, can only begin to have the moral imagination, the faith, to truly recognize that it was our sins that caused his death and necessitated the utter and absolute separation from his Father. Those of us who have been brought to the end of ourselves through life’s difficulties, personal failure and providential discipline can appropriate, by faith and repentance, the full measure of Christ’s redeeming grace. [2]

Still & quiet & bow slow & see Him now…
By His love — you are held,
By His mercy — you are washed clean,
By His relentless grace — you are saved.
And by His wounds — you are healed. [3]

[1] Billy Graham | [2] Adrienne Shore | [3] Ann VosKamp

 

Monday of Holy Week: Easter 2018

Near to God

A sculpture displayed at Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens, Gastonia, NC  Photograph by Donna Harris

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. James 4:8

Dear Lord Jesus,

Just yesterday I was waving a palm branch high over my head…melodies we raised. I felt overwhelmed with the reality of your love and my soul was flooded with the bitter sweetness of you giving yourself…an extreme sacrifice for us. You took the judgment we deserve to give us the grace we could never earn.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21

I pray now that we would not forget the yesterday of holding a branch of praise and singing hosanna’s to the King. Please help us to want more of you. Show us what it means to “draw near to you.”

Help us to love you for no other reason but for your own sake.

Still each morning and noon and in evening,
I will trust my Lord and bless his name.
Never seeking the gain but the Giver,
So I love him for nothing but for his own sake.*

Please do not hide your face from us when we forget the yesterday of waving the palm branch, worshipping you with abandon. Our lives can easily becomes an “all-about-me” existence. Help us to draw near to you and to make this day, all-about-you. Please God, constantly reveal the chasm of our separation from our unrepentant heart. Please fill us with hunger pangs to feast on your word. I pray to want nothing more than to draw near to you.

Grant us grace to slow our pace and quiet our hearts, that we might survey the wonders of your cross and greatness of your love.

Amen

Monday Holy Week 2018 1

“Draw Near” — Watercolor painting by Donna Harris Art of a sculpture displayed at Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens, Gastonia, NC

  • “For His on Sake” by Nathan Partain. Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Indianapolis, IN

 

The Art of Journaling

Psalm 19:6

For years I’ve tried to keep up with a habit of writing in a journal. I’ve been successful with a journal in a hit-or-miss sort of way. I have a few journals stacked neatly on my desk and I have yet to finish one. I shouldn’t be too hard on myself as each journal has a specific purpose. But possibly that is the problem. I have too many journals.

For example, one journal is to write thoughts from the day, or comment about a Bible passage, and sometimes I write prayers such as, “A prayer for more grace,” which I posted on this blog.  There is also the creative journal for the times when I am inspired to create … to sketch and paint. I jot a few notes about the sketch or watercolor painting just to keep the memory fresh. I want to remember what inspired me to draw or paint at that moment.  I also use Evernote to save a collection of quotes from authors and favorite bloggers.

In January of this year, I began a quest to read a Psalm or a portion of Psalm every day. To keep me on track and consistent with this daily reading plan, I turned to The Songs of Jesus ~ A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms by Tim and Kathy Keller.

Reading through the Psalms for 26 days has informed consistency of keeping a journal.  Actually, reading the Psalms has transformed the way I journal. The Psalms are not just a matchless primer of teaching but a medicine chest for the heart. [1] Psalms is a prayerbook that has every emotion known to man and gives us the freedom to pray those same words, with those same emotions, back to God.

Reading Psalms is teaching me how to pray. What is essential in prayer is not that we learn to express ourselves, but that we learn to answer God. [2] This is pure grace, that God tells us how we can speak to him and have fellowship with him. [3]

The Psalms fire our imaginations into new realms yet guide them to the God who actually exists. The Psalms have encouraged and inspired the way I make art. There is a reason and purpose to make something beautiful.

I may have discovered the art of journaling by reading through the Psalms. This journal is beginning to resemble a story … my story. I see my story, my life, woven into the words of the Psalmist. I find that amazing and truthfully, frightening. It is a journal of joy, sorrow, worship, repentance, hope, frustration … peace and assurance that God will keep me as the apple of [his] eye and hide me in the shadow of [his] wings. (Psalm 17:8)

What about you? Have you read through the Psalms or do you enjoy keeping a journal?

sunflower

[1] The Songs of Jesus by Tim and Kathy Keller; Introduction, {viii} | [2] | Ibid. page {ix} | [3]  Psalms:The Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

By His Wounds: A Prayer for Good Friday

Good Friday

Dear Lord Jesus,

Where do we begin to offer our gratitude, love, and praise in response to what you did for us on the cross? We refer to today as, Good Friday yet we cannot fully fathom nor comprehend the immense goodness of your love for us.

You cry out for God to forgive us as God forsakes you. The vast goodness of this day is that we are fully forgiven because you were fully forsaken. Open our hearts to see you as Savior, to believe quickly…receiving your grace and a living hope just as you promised the robber hanging on a criminal’s cross next to you.

You came to rescue us, to give us life by giving up yours. “It is finished”, was your cry. The old has passed away and the new has come. In you do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame! In your righteousness, deliver me and rescue me for you are my hope, my trust.

Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the nations. Who will not fear you, Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.

In your holy and powerful name, I praise and pray.

Amen.

I’ve never understood why people call the day that Jesus died “Good Friday.” What was good about it? It looks like a tragedy to me. You’re right, up to a point: If all we had to celebrate was that final Friday when Jesus was put to death, there certainly wouldn’t be anything good about it. In that case, the term “Good Friday” would be a mockery. Instead, that final Friday would be the greatest tragedy in the history of the human race. Satan would have won, and any hope the human race might have had for the future would be ended.

But that Friday was not the end! Two days later, the tomb was empty, and Jesus was alive! And that’s why we can call it “Good Friday” … because on a day that first seemed tragic, something incredibly good happened … Christ gave his life for our salvation. [1]

Many of us, as we learn to know Christ in his sufferings, can only begin to have the moral imagination, the faith, to truly recognize that it was our sins that caused his death and necessitated the utter and absolute separation from his Father. Those of us who have been brought to the end of ourselves through life’s difficulties, personal failure and providential discipline can appropriate, by faith and repentance, the full measure of Christ’s redeeming grace. [2]

Still & quiet & bow slow & see Him now…
By His love — you are held,
By His mercy — you are washed clean,
By His relentless grace — you are saved.
And by His wounds — you are healed. [3]

DSC_0971[1] Billy Graham | [2] Adrienne Shore | [3] Ann VosKamp

Let the Children Come — Dreaming big wonderful things for our kids

children 2 Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away. (Matthew 19:13–15)

This very familiar passage of scripture is a beautiful portrait of a gospel-centered ministry to our youngest generation. The bar is raised high. Let the children come. Let us not hinder them.

The purpose of children’s ministry is to assist families in building a spiritual foundation that will lead a child to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Statistics tell us that a person is most receptive to giving his or her heart to Jesus prior to the age of 14. Suddenly, the hour or so we have each week with our kids becomes more significant. There is no ministry more worthy of huge investment than our ministry to children. [1] From Nursery to fifth grade our desire is to see each child be cared for in an individual way. We want kids to learn about God in a fun, safe, loving and nurturing environment.

There is something just a little exciting at the thought of a new adventure in children’s ministry. Maybe it can be a place that kids love so much that they don’t want to miss a Sunday and maybe it’s an experience they enjoy so much to invite a friend to come with them. [2] Yes, we are dreaming big wonderful things for our kids.

It’s a little scary to think out of the box and to have a prayer list that begins with, “What if…” What if we had a children’s worship for three year olds? What if we had a “buddy” for every child with special needs? What if there was a rotation of teaching teams to give adults more flexibility to serve? What if…

You are invited to participate in the privilege of introducing children to an awesome God that loves them … what if you watch and experience powerful life change in their lives. What if you become the beneficiary of a child’s faith and prayers?

“The congregational prayer has long sent shivers down my spine, and it did so incomparably more when the group of children, with whom I have spent two years, prayed for me. Where a people prays, there is the church, and where the church is, there is never loneliness.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer [3]

The words Jesus spoke in Matthew 19 and the action that followed quickened the hearts of his disciples to value children. The same resounds for us today. Let the children come … for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.  children [1] George Barna | [2] Making Your Children’s Ministry the Best Hour of Every Kid’s Week by Sue Miller. | [3] Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas

Come Away and Rest

Gift 9 Rest

Solitude is very different from a ‘time-out’ from our busy lives. Solitude is the very ground from which community grows. Whenever we pray alone, study, read, write, or simply spend quiet time away from the places where we interact with each other directly, we are potentially opened for a deeper intimacy with each other. — Henri Nouwen

You are in God’s care, no matter what.
He is in control, not us.
He knows what being afraid feels like and tells us not to fear.
He has promised you will know His care and comfort.
He will not abandon you in your time of need.
He will let you rest. [1]

Gift 9

40 Gifts of Lent | Come Away and Rest: Gift 9 | [1] Emily Gibson,  https://briarcroft.wordpress.com/2011/03/24/lenten-meditation-i-will-give-you-rest/

When Children Pray

The Prayer

“Where a people prays, there is the church; and where the church is, there is never loneliness.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

This evening, my four year old granddaughter asked if she could say the prayer before our meal. As we held hands while she prayed, I was grasped by the sweetness and simplicity of Gods love and grace for her and our family. The faith of a child is rich and unencumbered by worries or unbelief. She set the bar high for some tired weary adults.

I’ve been reading the remarkable biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Eric Mataxas. While reading today, I discovered the context of the above, well known quote. I was surprised that Bonhoeffer said this in response to the prayers of children. I was awed by this primarily because I have devoted most of my work life to children’s ministry and can relate to being grasped by God when children pray.

Bonhoeffer was about to leave Berlin and embark on a new mission as a vicar of a German congregation in Barcelona, Spain. He presided over his last children’s service at the Grunewald church and later wrote this account in his journal:

I spoke about the man with palsy and especially about the assertion that your sins are forgiven, and tried once more to disclose to the children the core of our gospel; they were attentive and perhaps a bit moved, for I spoke, I think, with some emotion. Then came the farewell … The congregational prayer has long sent shivers down my spine, and it did so incomparably more when the group of children, with whom I have spent two years, prayed for me. Where a people prays, there is the church, and where the church is, there is never loneliness. [1]

I am encouraged by the gift of prayer from my granddaughter and yes, even the children that I spend time each week in the beautiful place that is church. Where a people prays … there is never loneliness.

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40 Gifts of Lent | When Children Pray: Gift 8 | [1] Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, Eric Mataxas; Chapter 5.