I Often Don’t Like Easter Services

I often don’t like Easter services.

I don’t. I like parts of the service—usually. But I often come away less than satisfied.

The Easter story is packed with lessons:

The prophecies of Passover fulfilled
“Not my will but Yours”
Peter denying Christ
Christ bearing the punishment for our sins
By Christ’s stripes we are healed
The crushing of Satan’s head
Light in our deepest darkness
The defeat of death and the grave
Eternal hope
And so on, and so on, and …

It must be rather difficult for preachers to decide what to focus on. Most usually choose a topic that will speak to those who rarely attend church. (I think that’s a great idea.) And for those who want to break the story into meditation-size pieces, many churches offer several services the week preceding Easter Sunday. (Another great idea.)

But if I was the one planning the Resurrection Sunday service …

Continue reading “I Often Don’t Like Easter Services”

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What if Darkness is All You See?

His wife simply disappeared. Vanished. No trace of where she went. Waking in the middle of the night he found her side of the bed empty. Not unusual—middle age often stirred her from the comforts of bed to the porch chair of prayer. He waited for her to return but she never did. Finally he went in search of her. Twenty-one months later, he’s still searching.

How in the world does he celebrate the hope of Easter resurrection when his everyday reality speaks confusion, abandonment, and failure? Every Sunday he bears his heart on the Find Lynn Messer Facebook page. As I glanced at his post yesterday I thought of other friends. One tragically lost her only child this past year; another received a less than six months diagnosis; one may lose her job; and another lives in a country crippled by civil war.

I began to consider: how do you celebrate light when all you see is darkness?

I’ve experienced that darkness. When God seemed so far away I questioned if He even existed. If he did, why had He hid Himself from me?

So what do you do when you just can’t see the light? I’ve four thoughts.

1. My Resurrection Sunday’s Facebook post encouraged: “An empty tomb might look eerily dark, but that’s simply because the light has been released to live among us. If you don’t feel like rejoicing today, maybe you simply need to turn around.

2. Darkness may just mean you need to rest. Night does have a vital role in our health and well-being. Sometimes the best thing you can do in the darkness is simply close your eyes and breathe deep. Quit trying to drive the dark away. Quit looking for answers. Quit trying to control your world.

Be still and know that I am God.
Psalm 46:10 NIV

3. Sometimes darkness is a choice, but often it is not. What then? Remember the promise of Psalm 139:12. Darkness is as light to God. He doesn’t even see it. Hmm. Ponder that idea for a moment. For God the night shines like the day. You may not be able to see God but He sees you and He sees the way ahead for you. Remember, God knows what’s it’s like to be sealed in a tomb. That darkness didn’t threaten Him; it didn’t overwhelm Him; it didn’t stop Him.

4. The light God has for you may be waiting in a doctor’s office or a therapist’s chair or an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety drug. If you feel you are drowning or suffocating or sinking beyond reach call someone who can help. TODAY!

Whether your Easter Monday finds your world dark, light, or grey, stand firm on Jesus’ declaration …

I AM the resurrection and the life.
John 11:25 NIV

Easter Monday

If darkness has engulfed you in this season, feel free to reach out in the comments below. I’d love to pray for you.

If you’ve light to share with the discouraged, please post your words as well.

Copyright March 2016 by Cheri Johnson

 

When Palm Leaves Wave

The crowd cheered with hysterical anticipation as the “King of the Jews” entered their capital city. Waving palm branches, they saluted Messiah, shouting “Hosanna—God save us!” Yet they had no idea what they were welcoming. Within a handful of days they would wave angry fists and shout “Crucify” to the very same man. What they expected of Jesus was the exact opposite of what played out before them in a mere five days.

So what did you envision when you welcomed your SAFE (Step/Adoptive/Foster/Etc.) child into your home? Hopefully, you were more prepared than I was, but I’m sure you’ve encountered a few surprises along the way—many of which have left you heartbroken and despondent, even angry.

And what kind of mom did you imagine you’d be? I’m sure at times you’ve exceeded your expectations, but I have a suspicion you have let yourself down far more than you’ve impressed yourself.

Did you enter this parenting venture cheerfully, waving your frond in motherly pride? Or maybe you thought God would lay those branches like a red carpet before your feet—a beautiful, comfortable, easy path to traverse. But once you got inside the walls of reality, things turned less than cheerful, didn’t they? Celebrating turned to wailing, and dancing to tantrums as you realized this new role actually called for . . . death.

Death to your strengths. Death to pride. Death to a dream.

And what happened to your palm leaves then? Were they used as fuel in the fires of disillusionment during the cold and fearful night of judgment? Were they used as rods to whip the back of your god as it seemed to turn on you?

I promise you, if it’s Thursday, Friday, or Saturday in your life, Sunday is coming! Resurrection is just around the corner! And once you’ve experienced the defeat of disappointment, agony, and death, you will understand God’s purposes are much broader than your expectations, more beautiful than your dreams, and more encompassing than your hopes.

Sunday is coming!

So let your presumptions be crucified! Raise that palm branch as a flag of victory! Grasp it in faith that God’s story is not yet finished. Cry “Hosanna!”—not as one expecting deliverance from your oppression but as one full of hope in the Infinite One will accomplish . . .

. . . exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think . . . (Ephesians 3:20 NKVJ).

 

copyright March 2016 by Cheri Johnson

Why So Downcast?

I don’t know why I felt downcast; I just remember frequently feeling so as a young adult. Maybe I didn’t feel strong enough, smart enough, or pretty enough to navigate independent living. Maybe I cowered at the challenges that lie before me. Maybe I feared I’d never find a husband. I don’t know.

I remember frequently seeking comfort in the Psalms. The first time I ran across Psalm 42:5 …

Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me?

… I thought Oh! I’m not alone in these feelings. Then to my surprise, I read those exact same words again in verse 11 and in the following psalm. Wow! Someone was really discouraged.

Many scholars believe David wrote these psalms during the time he had fled from his son Absalom. That would certainly depress a person. Not only was David at extreme odds with his son, he was also driven from his happy place—the tabernacle of God—the place he loved to worship and relish God’s presence.

How many of you have been there? Run off, one way or another, by your children … or spouse, coworkers, church members … You even felt driven from the Lord’s presence. You are not alone. Even David, the man after God’s own heart, experienced this isolation. Maybe it was the isolation that drove Him to search for God’s heart.

Isolation (1)

 

 

In the very next phrase of Psalm 42:5, David exhorts his soul,

Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him.

Hope! Nothing lifts a downcast soul like hope.

When you think of hope what do you envision? In what do you place your hope? In whom do you place your hope? There’s only One that guarantees to never disappoint. God.

The book of Psalms (NKJV) uses the word hope 28 times; 8 of those instances occurring in chapter 119 (the chapter praising the importance of God’s word). Wondering what the word hope means in Psalms, I dug out my old Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance. First of all, the object of hope is always either God or His word.

  • At times hope means a refuge, safety, security and surety. When you feel surrounded with insurmountable schemes of the enemy, God is your refuge and surety.
  • At other times hope insinuates a confident trust and assurance, even to the point of appearing foolish. Blind faith in God, though, is not blind even when it appears so to those around you.
  • Once in Psalm 119, verse 116, the psalmist uses the word hope as a confidence grown from scrutiny. Hope grows as you study scripture.
  • One time the word used for hope is very visual—the image of an unbreakable cord attached to an expectation of the fulfillment of a longing— a hope for which one lives. Are you that confident God will come through for you? Is He the fulfillment of your every longing? Is your attachment to Him as strong as a fetus’s umbilical cord?

Most of the time in Psalms, however, hope means to wait patiently, to hang out and trust, to sit down in confidence that in time God will accomplish His purposes. This is quite a different scene than scrambling around trying to fix things yourself as you constantly fail and get batted back and forth. This is the hope David had in God when fleeing from Absalom. Though he had been rejected by his own son, though he was far from home, and though he couldn’t even feel the presence of God, He knew God would come through. He had no question that some day he would have reason to praise God and celebrate in His presence.

Hope means to sit down and wait

In fact, if you read these psalms you will see how David describes his difficulties and his feelings about them, then turns and worships God while the problems are still active around him. Check out the following chapters: 16, 31, 33, 38, 39, 42, 43, 71, 78, 119, 130, 131, 146, and 147.

The antidote to discouragement, anxiety, loneliness, and emptiness is God. The best way to get to know God is by reading His word. Sounds too simple, I know. There are no guarantees than any of your problems will ever get fixed. The promise, however, is a strong heart regardless.

Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart, All you who hope in the Lord. (Psalm 31:24)

copyright March 2016 by Cheri Johnson

When Doubt Darkens your Hope

I remember having a difficult season in college. The Lord was allowing me to battle serious doubt: doubt in myself and doubt in Him. I felt like I was falling into a bottomless dark pit. One day as I cried for the Lord’s help, He simply said, “Quit struggling. Relax and float.”

Fearfully I replied, “Okay, Lord. But please don’t let me fall too far.”

Quit struggling and float

Months later as I emerged out of that dark time, I recall thinking no matter how dark it was, there was always a light with me. It was small, like a tiny flicker of flame, but it was present nonetheless. That tiny flame was the Lord. He had been with me through all the darkness. He had never left me alone.

As moms—as women—as humans, we struggle with doubt. Some times for moments in a day, other times for months or years. We doubt our ability to rise to the occasion before us. We doubt God’s desire to walk with us. We doubt His intention to see us through. I remember at times putting my hands on my hips, looking at God (or where I envisioned Him to be hovering in my room), and asking, “What were You thinking?”

Doubt plunges us into hopelessness. Hopelessness to resignation. Resignation to sitting down and feeling sorry for ourselves. Giving up and sulking.

So how, then, do we restore our hope? How do we silence out doubts?

We don’t. Truth does.

Jesus said, “I am the truth” (John 14:6). Whenever I battled any kind of doubt, I found that I had to quit looking for answers and simply looked to Truth. I studied various attributes of God, names of Jesus, or meditated on the stories of Jesus.

I held onto scriptural promises. Whether they appeared to be manifesting in my life or not, I held to them anyway. In fact, sometimes I quoted them back to God and said, “This is what You promised and I’m holding you to it.”

I recalled stories I’d heard where God proved His faithfulness. Stories of grandparents, friends, and heroes of the faith like Corrie Ten Boom. I reminded myself my situation was nothing new in the world. Others had walked through worse and God had brought them through—purified and shining like gold (Job 23:10).

Paul encourages us, “… we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:3-5 NIV).

Hope is the biproduct of our tribulations and it’s founded in God’s love.

Hope is the biproduct

 

I think no matter what topic I ponder, I always come back to the foundation of God’s love. Without God’s love we have no hope. Without continuously bathing in God’s love, doubt will take charge.

copyright March 2016 by Cheri Johnson