This tomb, seen along the roadside in Israel, reminds me of another tomb where God testified regarding eternal blessing and renewal.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Catch Up


Admittedly, I have been too busy. After I last wrote, which was a year and a half ago, Come before Winter hosted back-to-back renewals in Africa. We hosted 26 in Rwanda, May 23-27, 2011, then hosted 45 the next week in South Africa. Three renewals in four months was exhausting, but exhilarating. We couldn't help but think how God has blessed and matured the ministry for all of it to have gone so well.

Jeanene Reese and I taught our much loved Psalms curriculum in Rwanda, and Brooke Hollingsworth and Arlene Kasselman teamed up to teach the same material in South Africa. The renewal provided our younger teammates another opportunity to teach together before they opened their own Exodus curriculum in New Zealand this past June.

I arrived home to an announcement of sorts: I would be selling my house. Barry and I had talked for years of selling our two-story home near Pond Springs in Austin. Because all the bedrooms were upstairs and both of us have bad knees, we knew it had to happen at some point. While I was in Africa, he decided the time was now. I was shocked, but summer offers one of the few slower seasons for Come before Winter, so... we began.  I needed to sell and move before the end of the year; if we hadn't sold by then there was no way I could do it, I said. Spring is tooooooooo busy for such (or so I thought).  We returned to our house on New Year's Day, 2012, with firm plans to take the house off the market--but guess what? We had a contract. I won't bore you with the details, but we were out by February 1--without a home to move into. Did you know Come before Winter also offices in my home? What a season!

The next four months were a hurricane, and the whirlwind continues. In March, we hosted the "last" Psalms renewal in Ukraine. We also bought a house--with a projected completion and move-in at the end of March. We returned from Ukraine to publish all new materials before we opened Exodus in New Zealand in June. The event was FANTASTIC! Kudos to Brooke and Arlene who drove the project, and to Heather Hammock, Kelliann Hale, and Mariana Long, who developed major pieces of the curriculum. Somehow we managed the pretreat, other speaking engagements, pretreats, and planning sessions, and moving into my new home in MAY! Yes, (of course), it was late! We returned from New Zealand in June and left for a three-week trip to Brazil in July. I got home two weeks ago and have been celebrating my 40th wedding anniversary ever since (really). I have one more international teaching trip this year--to Panama for the third of four International Development Seminars with Spanish-speaking women's ministers from Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico, and the southern US.

But then.... I am on "furlough." The board has granted me from October 22 until October, 2013, to be still, to pray, to re-imagine my ministry, and realign my spirit.

Thus, I plan to be writing more--and more reflectively. I plan to be still, to be alone, to listen and to wait. I hope you can witness the journey with me through this blog.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Roatan Renewal Marks Transition for CbW Future

Some events mark time better than the rest. High school graduation, marriage, the birth of a child, a grandchild, special birthdays-
-21, 30, 50, 65; our society as a whole marks these particular milestones.

Others you have to identify along the way.

For me one such milestone occurred at a copy machine at Brentwood Christian School in Austin, TX, where I first thought about how it might look to host a "renewal" for women in ministry in various regions all around the world. Jeanene Reese and I had longed for such spiritual renewal in
our younger years of ministry and had often spoken of some kind of retreat, but until that day in October, 1999, I had never considered going somewhere away and honoring women on a worldwide basis. Thus, that day at the copier--strange as it might seem--became one of the turning points in my life and marked the beginning of what is now Come before Winter.

The renewal for Central America at Roatan, Honduras, marked itself as such a milestone--a baton-passing exercise that has forever established a high standard for transition and Come before Winter's future. Arlene Kasselman of Amarillo and Brooke Hollingsworth of Austin led the equipping while Janie Hejl of Austin and Joyce Blake of Indianapolis directed the prayer program and Prayer Reading groups. Batons passed smoothly and with precision, yet invisibly. Not once did I witness a moment in which a receiving runner stood out above the rest; not once did a runner deliver a baton with anything other than joy. We were a team, and that is the miracle of our partnership together. Once again, the victory was not about us--any one of us, but it was supernaturally God's gift to all of us.

One particularly astute young missionary came to me near the end of the week and affirmed this feeling for me. "You know," she said, "I have been watching you while Brooke and Arlene teach." (I had not known.) "I was wondering," she went on, "how you must feel with them up there, teaching when you have done it for so long; I mean, it's your thing. But every time I looked, you were beaming! It was as if you were giving birth." Then, for the first time ever, I praised God for what Barry and my parents have called my transparency--"Honey, everything you think is written all over your face!" I really did feel like something wonderful was being born!

After the renewal, Arlene said to Jeanene and me, "I kept wondering how it all felt. I know you are proud of us, but there must have also been some sadness, wasn't there?" I searched my soul, expecting to find that piece of the puzzle that did seem likely to be there, but I could not: "Not so much," I said honestly, shaking my head in a bit of wonder. "Not so much!" Though I can hardly take credit for Brooke and Arlene's gifts, I was as proud as if they were somehow our babies! I was jubilant!

I wish I could find words to describe what I witnessed; this feeling was not uncommon among us; I think we all knew we were participating in some life-giving process. On the airplane on the way home, Lisa Gould said, " I am wondering if every CbW team is this cohesive or whether this one is unusual." I thought. "No, not unusual," I said; "All our teams have been pretty cohesive. What made this one so special is that we were witnessing something we had waited to see for a very long time, and I think we were all a bit giddy because of it." Without a doubt, we witnessed transformations we have prayed over and worked toward--all without losing the cohesion and balance we have been blessed to receive.

As a result, I continue to ponder the fluidity and celebration that marked this team and its roles. I would like to bottle it and store it in the cellar--to ensure in every way possible that what occurred during the Roatan renewal can become part and parcel of CbW's transitional tradition. Certainly the CbW stance on surrender--giving up yourself to make others look even better--contributed. Yet the excitement and celebration we all felt, seeing Arlene and Brooke at the front, leading with such grace and ease, remains in my mind's eye. It actually brings tears to my eyes now. I could not see one ounce of pride in anyone, no jealously or competition--everyone beamed and applauded and/or gushed like school girls.

At the pre-retreat for the Indonesian and Fijian renewals in 2006, I had said to the teams: "By the time we finish the next curriculum (Psalms), I do not want any member of the Leadership Team to be a required presence on any team. Now five years later with three renewals in Psalms yet to be completed, we have just finished the first renewal totally taught by Come before Winter's next generation. Lord willing, we will wrap up the Psalms curriculum next March. What makes my heart even fuller is the knowledge that CbW's next curriculum in Exodus is well on its way to completion. It is the brainchild of... Brooke and Arlene--and it is wonderful! I can hardly wait to unveil it in June, 2012, in New Zealand.

Though we have long said that our teams are so competent that any member could likely pick up another's role, given half the chance, the Central American renewal required us to live up to that "boast!" In Roatan, Mariana Long was the only one of the 12-member team who was doing a job she has regularly performed. Jeanene Reese led worship; I served as administrator. And might I just brag a little more in regard to what the Lord did? The women who stood at the front and led knocked the ball right out of the park! They were just amazing, and their presentations were balanced, insightful, companionable, personable--just fantastic--polished, in fact! As one half jokingly told the another in our post renewal processing: "You complete me!" It was so true.

Father, you are just too good! Your timing is perfect; every time!

I want to thank Janie Hejl, a behind-the-scenes guru if there ever was one, for studying registration applications long enough to become intimately acquainted with our participants before we even met, matching them with team members who might best bless their lives. I received affirmation after affirmation of her effectiveness in this task. During the renewal, she and Joyce led the prayer reading group, directing participants in lectio divina, the centuries old practice of spiritual reading.

Mariana Long directed the now popular artistic reflection class in pastels, and Sara Holland juggled duties as diverse as leading reflection in motion then video-graphing, and working as assistant worship leader and assistant administrator. New team members Lisa Gould of Coppell, Texas, Missy Gray of Amarillo, and Sandy Ferguson of Austin worked in their roles of Gifts and Celebrations Coordinator (Lisa), counselor (Missy), and director of on-site registration and assistant to art reflection (Sandy). Frankly, it was hard to remember this was their first trip. It felt as if they were not only part of this team, but had been with us a very long time. (This phenomenon is a reason Suzy Jeffrey--who could not make this trip--says that at Come before Winter renewals, we all live in dog years; that is, each day represents several weeks, at least!)

Danita Jackson of Beijing, China, picked up the leadership role of Missionary Ambassador with ease, moving back and forth between the participants and the team, providing a broad perspective of wisdom and companionship for both, and thus blessing the renewal and the ministry at large in ways no one else could.

Participants regularly make note on their evaluations regarding the team's unity; they often write that what they most learned is what it looks like for a group of strong women to submit to one another out of love and a common goal. Come before Winter has taught me that such submission is not only something to hope for, it is a hill to climb, a battle to win in each heart. We cannot measure ourselves by one another; such a practice regularly ends in disappointed hearts that require attention--and serving on a renewal team allows no space for distraction. We have a job to do, and God sends the hearts and gifts he knows we need to complete our task. All we need do is get out of the way and watch him work. And, oh my! He does!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Can it be November? Can it be AFTER the 15th of November? Is Thanksgiving REALLY next week? 2010 has blown by in a whirlwind--exciting but exhausting, it feels. Blessed with the trip to Israel in February, which followed the Paraguay "pretreat" in January and preceded the Paraguay renewal in March, the Thailand "pretreat" in April, Pepperdine Lectures presentations in May, then the Thailand renewal in June, I collapsed into summer. I celebrated my life as a grandmother, making cookies, going to the beach, and making multiple trips to the park and various kids' museums around the state. Come before Winter's fall fund raising campaign follows closely on summer, but so did my vacation with Barry to Alaska (heaven...), and two international development seminars--one for Spanish speakers in Cancun and the other for Portuguese speakers in Recife, Brazil. I managed to arrive in Cancun a few hours before Hurricane Paula announced her upcoming arrival. Thankfully, she must have heard I arrived; she veered off toward the islands, allowing me to sleep through whatever storm there was. The next day dawned clear and beautiful, and life proceded without incident for the many revelers who had gathered at the beach, even in the late month of October.

Cancun normally falls far short of a site choice for a Come before Winter study seminar. We prefer quiet areas out of the way of noise and traffic and crowds. In Cancun, the hotel PA system boomed with DJs by 11 a.m.--with comics and exercise classes by the pool and a different show on stage each night. "All-Inclusive" meant the liquor flowed free from morning to night for the majority of the hotel's guests. More than once an Elvis Presley movie from my childhood came to mind: "Fun in Acapulco." Unfortunately, no Elvis. Security advisors, specialists in moving people in and out of dangerous locations, had recommended Cancun, though. Unfortunately, Mexico has become a dangerous destination. We were told: Do not host along the border (duh!) or "anywhere on the Pacific coast;" really? Tuluca and Puebla were possibilities, but both required flying into and out of Mexico City (and many of us were flying alone). Even though Cancun was recommended, I received email the week before, telling me about a bombing in one of the city's restaurants.

I have never feared traveling for a CbW event before, but Mexico spooked me. We considered (as we had with Thailand a couple months earlier) calling it off or moving it to Florida. However, four women from Chile had already purchased expensive tickets; they could not get visas into the U.S. without a lot of lead time. It would be Mexico or nothing, and we decided not to cancel. Instead, we would fly in, collect our baggage, and immediately meet "authorized transportation" from the airport to the hotel. We would not leave the hotel during the week, then take the same "authorized transport" back to the airport. No touring or siteseeing--just in and out. It worked well.

Arlene Kasselman of Amarillo joined me in Cancun, as did missionary Holly Emery from Santiago, Chile, and Carla Borja Lowe of Fort Worth. Arlene was there to observe the process; I am hoping she will be able to begin teaching some of these seminars. Holly Emery, who had translated exegetical materials using our Mark and Philippian study material, joined me as a co-teacher and translator. Carla Lowe had been the impetus behind hosting the event. She had called 18 months earlier, wondering if there was any way I might be able to help her coach a group that could host something like CbW renewals for Spanish speakers. In preparation, Carla and Holly translated and we published a full-length exegetical notebook for use in the seminar. (You will be able to access that notebook online in the near future at

Our participants included a group from Mexico and the United States (almost all born and reared in various Central American countries). Carla Lowe had been working with this group for several years. In addition to these, Holly Emery brought three protégés from Santiago--"the Chileans." Angelica Martinez,who works with her husband to serve The Hills Church of Christ in its Spanish speaking ministry, joined us, as well. Including Arlene and I, we were twelve.

Come before Winter now budgets for 2-3 International Development Seminars a year. The events represent the ministry's commitment to serve women in ministry around the world, including those who do not speak English. Whereas our renewals are taught in English and so intricately designed so as to prohibit translation, these seminars are simpler: smaller groups, a team of 1-3, and a program limited to study and worship: three full days of study--only study--eight hours a day. Whereas the renewals are designed with American missionaries in mind, these seminars actually cater to national women--women who serve in their own culture and speak a language other than English. At first I taught these seminars in English to ESL speakers, but by now they are translated. I have been amazed at how well they proceed, though every sentence is spoken twice.

These brief, intense studies renew my spirit. No razzle dazzle--just a serious minded group of friends joined around the table, eating a piece of biblical text. In Cancun, we devoured the gospel of Mark, my favorite.

I am humbled by the women who meet me for these days. They don't complain about the hours of study (they have been told in advance what to expect). Rather, gratitude boils over into gestures of love--hugs, notes, gifts, laughter. Before we left, we set the date for "the twelve" to reunite--perhaps with a few others--in 2011 in Costa Rica when we will study Philippians.

After four years of study, the Russians hosted their own Come before Winter renewal in Russian. The Spanish group has that goal in mind, as well. They have completed step one. From the vantage point of the CbW board, that renewal will symbolize a type graduation. We do not have a goal to "syndicate" our program. We desire to equip. Once our students become proficient enough to host a renewal (with all its bells and whistles), they will have the skills to redefine and retool what they have learned to fit another culture, to take what they have learned and reinvent new and better ways to serve. Neither have we closed the door on the idea of Spanish-speaking Come before Winter teams. Instead, we wait. In this, as in all other tasks and missions laid before us, we have only one question: What does God have in mind? When we know that, we will know what to do.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Team celebrates Thailand

I hope you will read the post below that speaks to the significance of this renewal to our ministry and our understanding of our mission. However, I wanted to post a few memories, as well.

We served 36 women from six different Asian countries--Thailand, Japan, the Philippines, Viet Nam, Cambodia, and Singapore. This was our third trip to Asia, and we never serve sweeter women!

Our team of 15 functioned flawlessly. We missed Brooke Hollingsworth who made the hard but appropriate choice to remain home with her family as husband Brent made the transition to retirement. Arlene Kasselman of Amarillo debuted as our theme speaker at our opening session with a stellar lesson on God's

The week became a rising tide of God-filled appointments. Mental snapshots filled the memory banks of our minds and hearts. Pictures of worship and prayer, of sharing...laughing, crying--each one represented another angle from which to view our experiences. We greeted each day, each moment with the understanding that every one was holy, sanctified for the purpose of seeking His voice, experiencing His message.

We declared again our appreciation for the flow and ease of our "new" equipping blocks. In this format, reading groups allow us to fully explore a text in the comfort of a small group discussion. We explore Psalm 103 in regard to its structure and theology, then use its message as a guide that directs us in prayer. Women spend the hour following each of the four reading groups in a variety of reflective periods. In addition to traditional silent reflection, participants also explore the medium of pastels in artistic reflection and spend another in active reflection--walking, taking pictures, swimming, or joining an exercise group that employs stretching techniques.

We loved every moment of our journey in Thailand, every sweet face we served, and every message received. We continue to thank God for His hesed, his everlasting, steadfast love for those who seek Him. May we and all those we love continue to be women whose ears are turned toward His Word and whose faces reflect the delight of the Lord.

Still learning after 20 renewals...

…as we traveled, I pondered how spiritual health impacts more than each person’s personal walk and personal witness in regard to Christ and faith. Each individual influences the will of a group, and indeed, a group’s spiritual health can, has, does, and will impact governments and social societies. Thus, the collective witness of Christ, of believers’ allegiance to God and to one another, have always tinted the pages of history; they always will.

Over the years, I have come to recognize certain moments in Come before Winter’s history as “defining.” In these times, we collide head-on with events, issues, and/or challenges that allow us an opportunity to reexamine our purpose. In short, we get to double check our clarity regarding what God might have in mind. Most often these experiences provide manna that feeds growth, allowing the skeletal phrases of our mission--“to renew, equip, honor and unite women in ministry around the world”—to build enough muscle and tendon to become practical ministry. The recent Thailand renewal, held June 14-18, in Chiang Rai presented such an opportunity. Just three weeks before departure political unrest, demonstrations, and warnings from both the United States State Department and the government in Thailand seemed to indicate that cancellation might be prudent.

By the time the travel warnings were issued, the fifteen-member team was on the “downhill slide.” Team members had already raised the funds needed to welcome and host thirty-eight women from six countries in Asia to the mountains of Northern Thailand. In fact, about 85 percent of the costs for the week had already been paid. Registered participants from Bangkok and the other Asian countries (Japan, China, Cambodia, Vietnam, and the Philippines) had also purchased non-refundable airline tickets. The long process of registration had ended, the tote bags had been monogrammed and delivered, the notebooks were printed with detailed information including home addresses and telephone numbers, room assignments at the host hotel, and small group divisions. Five team members had already taken possession of the “team bags,” those packed out to carry the needed supplies to our June 9 flight; another three were packed and ready to be delivered. For all practical purposes, were ready to go.

But there was this nagging question of safety. Everyone agreed that while we were not “afraid” to make the trip, wisdom had to prevail. As one advisor so aptly stated, “At times like these it is easy to discount one’s own safety, but are you willing to put the families of the participants and team members at risk of losing their wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters? How important is this?” By three weeks before departure I had begun to believe there was “no way” the trip could occur; I would later learn that many on the Board felt the same. Others on the Leadership Team had serious questions—in regard to going and not going. Thank the Lord for having built among us such a strong sense of unity in diversity! To a person, we all agreed that the decision could not be made in terms of lost funding; responsibility, safety, and mostly a keen listening ear had to prevail. Thus, the Leadership Team convened in Abilene to weigh issues and to pray. Never before had we come together to make a decision with such varying opinions. However, each of us also recognized the necessity of listening to the other and going to the Lord together—a united front of prayer. May I say that the time together that day was one of the sweetest days we have shared?

In preparation to meet, we sought the advice of two security advisors. Both Sam Jeffrey, son of Leadership Team member Suzy Jeffrey and Chris Hale, husband of Leadership Team member Kelliann, provided us with invaluable insights. Sam had spent a few years working for the U.S. State Department; even now his work includes ensuring the safe travel of others, often into areas where security is questionable. Chris, who works as a chaplain for firemen in the state of Texas and has often been present as a first-responder to tragedy, also worked with inner-city missions in St. Louis, MO. In addition to these two, we sought on-the-ground reports from Thailand missionaries David Allen and Robert Reagan; both missionaries live and work in the northern regions of Thailand where we would host our event. Finally, we polled a fourth of the participants, at least one woman from each of the six countries who had registered. How were they feeling about attending? What were their husbands saying? In all these communications, we asked for frank responses.

By the time we met in Abilene, less than two weeks before departure, the Thai government had regained control in Bangkok—albeit just two days earlier. No one knew how long the treuce would hold, so in addition to moving forward with last-minute details, we were all reading news reports and listening to television analyses, as well. Our security advisors warned us to be cautious, but well-prepared if we proceeded. The on-the-ground missionaries (apart from discussion with one another) strongly urged us to come—the renewal was needed now more than ever, they wrote. The women themselves assured us they were not afraid: one group told us that if we did not host, they were going to Thailand without us (they already had tickets, after all).

At the end of the day, we decided we would proceed—if we gained Board approval. Even so, we would give every team member and every parrticipant the opportunity to back out. As an extra precaution, we would write a detailed security plan that involved planned exit strategies and renting satellite phones—in case Thailand’s government decided to shut down all common communication, as their state of emergency warned they might. Only once before, when our African hotel cancelled on us just 10 days before departure, had we worked so busily up to the times our flights would take off.

We assured each team member and participant that we trusted them to listen to God and to act on His personal words to them alone. Going would not be considered a greater action of faith that remaining behind; remaining behind would not be considered “wiser” than going. We would recommit each woman, indeed the whole event, to God. In the end, we lost two participants, one whose supporting congregation had already pulled her from Bangkok for safety reason and another who discovered a work conflict that could not be avoided. One team member, after prayer and discussion with her family, remained behind, as well, serving us from stateside in prayer and communication.

You expect to learn from such situations; you are aware that you are setting precedence, writing policy as you go. What I didn’t expect was the way the process would sharpen our senses in regard to our mission. Two communications particularly initiated ripples of thought as we moved forward.

The first was a brief line from board member Donna Willbanks: “Could this possibly be God opening our eyes and hearts to a new way of using CbW? …we know this is no surprise nor glitch to Him.” The second was a comment made by a former missionary to Thailand, Larry Henderson, now a missions professor at Abilene Christian University. Larry commented that he was not as concerned for the future of the country of Thailand as he was for the church in Thailand. The political rifts so totally permeated the country’s social fabric and ran so deep that he feared division in the churches might follow.

As we pondered these questions in relation to our program, we were forced to examine not only how the unrest might affect the renewal, but how the renewal itself could possibly impact the situation. Our rule forbidding controversial discussions and comments had been written to dissuade anyone from focusing on our mutual differences in regard to faith. How would that rule play out during the current political situation? Likewise, every Come before Winter team covenants with the others: not only will she avoid controversial discussion, but she will surrender her personal will for the good of the women we serve. We even agree in advance to trust one another above all—to set aside hurt feelings and/or anger, determining to trust the good in the other, no matter how the incident may appear. We have learned that these commitments speak clearly without a word. Each time we receive a set of evaluations, someone (often many someones) mentions being blessed and instructed by the team’s witness of unity. Some have claimed that it was the most beneficial aspect of the renewal!

Thus, we came to understand that God had prepared us for “such a time as this.” We did not go to Thailand only to walk on the holy ground of confession and spiritual renewal with those who would come. Granted, that mission would never be minimized! However, as we traveled, I pondered how spiritual health impacts more than one person’s personal walk and personal witness in regard to Christ and faith. Each individual influences the will of a group, and indeed, a group’s spiritual health can, has, does, and will impact governments and social societies. Thus, the collective witness of Christ, of believers’ allegiance to God and to one another, have always tinted the pages of history; they always will. Salt seasons the whole.

We better understood this Truth as we greeted the hotel staff that would serve us; we were purposeful in recognizing that we had women from every piece of Thailand’s social cloth. We remembered what God had taught us in our first 19 renewals, and we accepted this new lesson with thanksgiving.

Come before Winter’s 20th renewal in Chiang Rai, Thailand, was one of our sweetest to date. Not once did we feel threatened. Though we overnighted in Bangkok both on the way in and on the way home, we saw nothing but smiling, gracious Thai faces—not a hint of unrest anywhere. We noticed this, and we thanked God for what we might never have seen had it not been for the recent turmoil. Perhaps we were even more thankful for the opportunity to be there.

We cannot thank enough those who invested in these days of peace and tranquility, of meditation and reflection. Your support of our mission, your prayers and your financial investments became the foil for understanding the tragedy of division and war. May God bless all those who serve Him in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. May His Unity, His Peace, and His Pardon be evident to all.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Jesus' Individual Instances of Prayer

In a recent post, I wrote that I counted nine individual instances in which Jesus was seen praying in the gospels. That bothered me. It was so few. Since this is part of one of my topics at Pepperdine next week, I have continued to look and read (you just can't find everything with a search, even if you know most of the words to look for!). Short story? I found a few more. So I thought I would publish them here in case anyone wants to add to them. I know some just came to my mind--some will likely come to you, too. My plan is to keep updating this as I think of more or change my mind about what I have already found and its meaning.

I have separated them into three categories, too--just because I am a sorter. :) You might separate them differently, and that is fine, too.

Times Jesus prays for direction or peace; times that more nearly "match" our "quiet time" prayer expectations:
  1. At his baptism--Luke 3.21
  2. Looking for direction after healing late in the night in Capernaum--Mk 1.35
  3. He was praying in Luke when the disicples ask him to teach them to pray--Lk 11.1. I am not counting the "Lord's Prayer" in Matthew here, but as teaching. I am not arguing that he didn't pray as he taught, but I am looking for personal prayer.
  4. The night before he chose his disicples--Luke 6.12
  5. Looking for direction and peace after he feeds the 5,000. Mk 6.46. At this stressful time, he knew that a) the people were planning to come get him to make him king (John 6.15), b) John the Baptist has just been killed (Matthew 14.13), and c) the disciples have just returned from having healed in His Name; they are so busy they can hardly find time to eat (Mark 6.30-31) .
  6. He is praying alone when his followers come and he asks, "Who do people say that I am?" It is here Peter confesses, "You are the Christ." Luke 9.18.
  7. He is praying on the mountain when his face is changed and Elijah and Moses appear. Luke 9.28.
  8. His longest recorded prayer for the disciples and all that will believe through their name is recorded in John 17.
  9. Matthew, Mark and Luke record the prayers in the Garden (John does not. John's Jesus speaks to the synoptic writers' claims in John 12.28; he will not ask to be spared the cross. This prayer is listed below in the second list. Find the synoptics prayers in the garden in Mt. 26.36f; Mark 14.36f, and Luke 22.40f.
Times Jesus prays as if speaking to a person who is standing nearby: (I am having trouble articulating this one. He is always conversational and personal with God, but in these instances, it is like God is physically beside him, directly involved in the situation. I think you will see what I mean.)
  1. Praises God for revealing the truth to little children, rather than the wise and learned. Matthew 11.25
  2. At Lazarus' tomb, he thanks God in the hearing of the people so they will know that he has invoked God's name in this miracle that is about to occur. John 11.41
  3. In speaking of his coming death in John, Jesus tells the disciples (who have brought Greeks to see him) that he is very troubled about what is coming. But, shall he ask to be saved from that suffering? No! Instead he says to God, "Father, do what will bring you glory!" God responds, I have; and I will again."
  4. I would argue especially that the entire time on the cross, Jesus is praying--though it is not what we would normally term as "prayer." Three times we hear him speak directly to the Father: Luke 23.34; 46; and Matthew 27.46 record these utterances, the last of which is committing himself into God's care before he dies.

Other instances when we know Jesus prayed:

  1. The people brought little children to him to be prayed over: Matthew 19.13
  2. Luke says it was his custom to withdraw and pray: Luke 5.16
  3. He tells Peter that he has prayed for him so Peter's faith will not fail: Luke 22.32
  4. He tells the disciples that he will ask the Father and He will send them an Advocate to be with them--the Holy Spirit. John 14.16
  5. He also blesses God for food at the two feedings and at the meal in the upper room.
One more note: Luke 5.33 records that more "religious sorts" did not think that he his disciples were men of prayer: Luke 5.33.

Oh, my!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Reflections on "Life"

I had intended to write today another piece related to my post yesterday. However, an incident in the lives of my DFW children has prompted other thoughts. My daughter-in-law Jo worked after receiving her Masters in Accounting degree from ACU for one of the largest accounting firms in the world. There, she met and befriended a young woman. Though Jo has changed jobs, she and this young woman remain connected, having daughters about the same age--three-ish. In the past week, this woman's younger brother has been shot and killed during a break-in at home in Fort Worth. His "life" has ended. As one who claimed Christ, his "Life," the one he began on this earth when he chose to follow the Lord, has begun.

Reflections on "Life"

Had it been that the whole purpose of Jesus was to die for our sins, I suppose that would have been enough. But it wasn't enough for God; he had much more in mind and we can see his purpose reflected quite clearly in scripture.

Had it been the whole purpose of Jesus to come and die for our sins, that event could have occurred very early. With the exception of Matthew, who records so much of Jesus' teaching that the story of his life advances advances at a slower pace, every gospel engages the conflict that will lead to Jesus' crucifixion within three chapters of the beginning of his public ministry. (1) As theologically profound as the idea of God paying for the lives of his adopted and fallen children with the blood of his only begotten son is, one must also recognize the reality that Jesus' appearance on earth was not some heavenly shopping errand--running out to purchase the lives of humankind with own blood. He had a bigger purpose in mind. The mystery of Jesus and his presence on earth involved more than buying pardon--even more than displaying resurrection. The incarnation--God among humankind--was required, as well.

Jesus taught us how to live, and I don't mean he showed us how to follow the rules. "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full," he would say. John wrote of Jesus in his introduction: "In him was life and that life was the light of men." More significant than his death was his life--both before and after the cross.

I have often pondered what it meant to God to return to walk on the earth. Had he done so since the days in the garden? I can imagine so, but (I think) we have no record of him walking with humankind after the sin of the garden until Jesus appears. What joy was there for him in his physical presence to walk the hills of Galilee with his bride Israel? What joy and what sadness--to live amidst the fallen-ness of his people in a world created for such a different lifestyle. Here, he too experienced firsthand life, in the lower case.

As the incarnate God, he would meet and fully experience temptation. One is not tempted without desire. How did it feel for the god of the universe to desire to succumb to the wiles of the Evil One? What fellowship with humankind did God gain in the experience? Because he was tempted in every way just as we are and he did suffer when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. What ramifications might this have for judgment? Did, could God's capacity for steadfast love grow during this time? Is it because he was "made perfect" that he is able "by one sacrifice" to make "perfect forever those who are being made holy?"

Oh, the mysteries of Life!--the peeks we might gain from observing the incarnation. I ponder God on earth--the god who did not come in power, but arrived helpless and dependent, a baby born without status, without privilege, homeless. A god who was despised by those who claimed to know him best, challenged by tyrants wishing to claim his possession as their own. Jesus was a god whose chief desire was to be with and to be known by his people--to bring a picture of hope to the blind, the broken, the outcast, and the homeless, to reach out to seekers as well as to marked sinners, even those overtaken by evil.

The world was a wreck, a dump in comparison to his plan, but the creator had returned and he "wasn't done yet." Jesus' presence on earth caused the angels to sing in chorus over the shepherds. A star that rose in the sky beckoned foreign nobles. All creation was to take notice. Thousands of years after the fall in the garden, God's appearance through Jesus' life on earth heralded the godhead's shear and unwavering determination to (re)create humankind in their own image, to have it--all of it--Their Way.

Jesus lived the abundant Life on earth, but that Life didn't end on the cross. It lives on very literally in two ways: in the fullness of Life at the Father's right hand and here on earth in the lives of his people--those who have been gifted with his very nature and Spirit and take seriously his call to walk as He did--in the world for the "sake of the world."

The young man who died in Fort Worth this week had some understanding of what that meant. As a high school athlete, his coaches said he was one who "walked the walk," a young man who recognized the need for "humanitarian achievement." One can receive no higher compliment than to be described with words that match the Master. To live like Jesus is to live Life to the full. Despite His determination to walk among humankind, to do good, and to love His Father with all his heart, mind, and soul, Jesus suffered a death that was unmerited and unjust. As surely as Jesus lives, He will claim the lives of those who love Him.

Jesus' death on the cross represents one more evidence of God's steadfast, unwavering, prideless, self-sacrificing, continually forgiving love for his creation. He has called us to live as He did. Where will that lead us? It could lead anywhere--among the homeless, the poor, or the diseased, to those overwhelmed by life or the habit or sin, around the world or next door. But when the call comes, we like Him, must be ready to go.

According to all who know him, Eric Forrester, in his short life on earth, prepared for and lived as best he could Life. That Life has not ended; neither has it just begun. Every good deed he did on this earth, every testimony he made both verbally and actively, lives on--just as he does. And his life, like Christ's, beckons us to look outward, to see the world Jesus died to save and to Live here in this world for the sake of the world--as we begin to Live Life to the full.

(1) Mark 3.6; Luke 6.11 and Matthew 12.14 all record the beginning of a plot to kill him. In John, Jesus clears the temple in a rage in chapter 2. Recognizing their intentions to kill him, he challenges them to "come on..." with a statement they will use to prove his blasphemy at his trial: "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." Without saying it explicitly, John opens his story with the foreshadowing of Jesus' death.