Remember the Garden

Two years ago, I started this post and left it in draft form. But as we approach Easter in less than three weeks, it seems a good time to revisit it and perhaps begin to reflect more on those events and the One, Jesus, the Savior who brought our salvation.

Recently, I listened to a podcast describing Jesus and His emotions in the Garden of Gethsemane. As I listened, I found myself teary thinking of Jesus as He faced the cross (Luke 22:39-46). Imagine His anguish (He was fully human after all) that literally caused him to sweat blood — and yet His willingness to stay and do the will of His Father. As God, He knew what was to happen. His suffering brought salvation for whoever believes in Him. It was costly for Him to die in our place, and it demonstrated His great love (Romans 5:8)!

The next morning, as I was getting coffee, still reflecting on this, these words went through my mind: “You have not resisted to the point of shedding blood.” I wondered where that verse was and whether it really talks about shedding blood! I looked it up and found it:

“In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (ESV).

Hebrews 12:4

Hebrews 12:4 would most certainly seem to be referring to the martyrs, to those who have suffered persecution for their faith. It follows Hebrews 11, that great hall of faith that concludes with martyrs who did shed their blood. And because Hebrews 12:1-3 (immediately before verse 4) urges us to fix our eyes on Jesus, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, it no doubt also points to Jesus’ death on the cross where he suffered, bled, and died.

But I think we can also gain encouragement by remembering Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:39-46).

There in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was resisting the great forces of evil, as he had done when tempted earlier by the devil in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11), both times during which an angel or angels ministered to Him. In His obedience, in doing His Father’s will, in withstanding temptation, not only did He save us, but He gave us an example to follow. If He could endure, we can endure, and His Word assures us He gives us the strength to do so (1 Corinthians 10:13).

This section of Scripture (Luke 22:39-46, Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane) is bookended with Jesus telling His disciples to go and pray that they would not enter into temptation. As He faced the cross, He didn’t ask them to pray for Himself, but twice told them to pray that they would not enter into temptation. Prayer is that necessary to defeating temptation. They instead fell asleep.

(As an aside, it’s made me wonder what might have happened if Peter had prayed that he wouldn’t enter into temptation–would he still have denied Jesus three times? Of course, this was part of a larger, sovereign plan. But what would happen if we pray, as Jesus told us in the Lord’s prayer, that we might not enter into temptation but be delivered from evil. Are we sleeping more than praying?)

In between these commands to the disciples to pray that they would not enter temptation, Jesus Himself prays the anguishing prayer that His Father might remove this cup from Him, but says, “Not my will, but yours, be done.” “Being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44).

Returning to Hebrews 12:4, Barnes, in his “Notes on the Bible,” writes:

[T]he fact to which the apostle alludes, it seems to me, is the struggling of the Saviour in the garden of Gethsemane, when his conflict was so severe that, great drops of blood fell down to the ground . . . It is, indeed, commonly understood to mean that they had not yet been called to shed their blood as martyrs in the cause of religion; see Stuart Bloomfield, Doddridge, Clarke, Whitby, Kuinoel, etc. Indeed, I find in none of the commentators what seems to me to be the true sense of this passage, and what gives an exquisite beauty to it, the allusion to the sufferings of the Saviour in the garden. 

Barnes goes on to give three reasons why he has this view, which you can read here by scrolling way down to the Hebrews 12:4 commentary and seeing his 3-part list. It is quite moving.

The question that strikes me as I read and studied this: In our struggling against sin, have we resisted to the point of shedding our blood? The answer most certainly and always will be no, we haven’t. (In fact, sometimes, I wonder if I put up much resistance at all!) If not, we must keep praying! This is so central to the victory He wants to give us! And we can then, in His power, keep enduring as He did, we can follow His example, we can receive His strength to resist. The Bible also tells us that endurance builds character and character, hope (Romans 5:3-5). It also gives us a promise that those who endure will reign with Him (2 Timothy 2:12).

So Remember the Garden of Gethsemane. It tells us of Jesus’ love and faithfulness, His determination to do the Father’s will, no matter the cost.

Remember the Garden. It reminds us He entered into humanity for us. Nothing we experience should tell us He’s disinterested or unloving. He died to rescue us. He loves us.

Remember the Garden. Pray that we would not enter into temptation.

Remember the Garden. If He could endure, there’s nothing we face (sin, temptation, etc.) that He can’t enable us to endure and resist, too.

Remember the Garden. Thank Him for making a way for us to be saved and to be victorious over sin and temptation in Jesus’ name.

*Garden of Gethsemane Photo by Stacey Franco on Unsplash

The Threads of Our Lives

Last night, I finished reading Beth Moore’s new beautiful memoir All My Knotted-Up Life. Having completed so many Beth Moore Bible studies through the years, beginning in 2005, and having known her for so long, many stories were familiar, but it gave a fuller look into her life. I have appreciated so much her passionate desire to know Christ, to know His Word, to be committed to the local church, to disciple women, and to express in such memorable and beautiful ways His truth. She is more creative than I think most know, with a great sense of humor, and a gifted communicator and giver of words that bring life and hope. Beth has a way of making the Bible come alive and sharing its profound truth in ways easy to understand and remember. Seeing her passion caused me to want to read and know my Bible and the Lord better. I can remember so many events in my life paralleling with her studies. At times, she has been misunderstood and misrepresented, but she has faithfully continued to walk with the Lord. I am grateful for her ministry and thankful for her influence in my life.

As I think about her book’s title, All My Knotted Up Life, and these knots of our lives that seem confusing and difficult, yet can become so redemptive, I am reminded of my favorite childhood author, Corrie Ten Boom. She had a book called Tramp for the Lord which mesmerized me, as a 9 or 10-year old girl, with the stories of God’s miracles. Corrie’s family lived in the Netherlands which was invaded in 1940 in World War 2. Her family provided a safe haven in their home for persecuted Jews. They were captured and ended up in a concentration camp where Corrie’s father and sister died. Through a clerical error, Corrie was released and went around the world telling people about Jesus and all He had done.

Corrie writes: “Although the threads of my life have often seemed knotted, I know, by faith, that on the other side of the embroidery there is a crown. As I have walked the worlda tramp for the LordI have learned a few lessons in God’s great classroom.” These lessons she shares in her book.

Corrie also shared a poem called “The Weaving.” I’m not sure if she wrote it or simply popularized it, but it reads:

My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He weaveth steadily.

Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.

Not ’til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And reveal the reason why.

The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned

He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him.

I have thought of this poem often through my life. When things look knotted and messed up from our view, we will at some point be able to flip it over to see a beautiful masterpiece that God was weaving.

In August 2014, I was able to visit Corrie’s home in Haarlem, Netherlands. These two photos of a weaving hang in her family’s home there, along with one other reminding us that Jesus is Victorious!

One other meaningful thing to me is that in my office where I worked for 12 years, which was decorated before I arrived in it, over the desk hangs this same poem, which has been a regular reminder to me:

In Beth Moore’s book, she takes the meanings of these knots in our lives further and gives a greater view to God’s personal care for us through it. I encourage you to read it.

As I searched to find the meaning of “Jesus is Overwinnaar” in Dutch (“Jesus is Victorious!”), I came across this song by Selah which I’ll close with. I praise Him again today for the beautiful weaving He is making out of your life and mine.

What Missy Means to Me

I wrote the following post one year ago, on February 11, 2022, when we thought our beloved dog Missy was nearing death. In God’s kindness to answer our pleading, He brought her out of that near-death experience and gave us another full year with her — one in which we made a big move across country, and she was with us as we settled and as I work remotely. Now, in His perfect timing, Missy was laid to rest this week with great peace while we saw God’s hand in every detail. I had not published this a year ago because she lived. But I return to it today, and it’s all as true now as it was then.

Missy is our pandemic dog. It wasn’t planned by us that way; it’s just how it worked out.

I’ve written here about the way in which she came to us. It was November 2019, when my son got her. It was March 2020 after Covid sent college students back home that she arrived in our home and never left. My son’s college was not able to resume in-person classes in Fall 2020, so they both remained with us while he finished his last semester. My daughter took a semester off in Spring 2021, so she also spent a 9 month stretch of time at home unexpectedly. Together, as a family during Covid, this little dog united us, brought us joy, and served as a focal point. We surely enjoyed Missy collectively, but she also meant something to us individually.

For me, I am the one who spent the most time in the house during Covid, working from home. The kids came and went, be it college or work, and were in and out. My husband worked from home the first year, but had various job transitions and writing projects that brought change and new challenges, and he traveled off and on during Covid to get away from the feeling of being shut in the house! My life remained most unchanged, sitting alone in the den on the sofa with my laptop open, working throughout the day, with Missy snuggled in close beside me. If I didn’t have the computer on my lap, she would be there. In the quietness of the house, it was Missy and me.

I had dogs growing up. Every time we lost one, the grief was great. I had vowed never to have another one. It wouldn’t be worth it to feel that pain of losing them. And yet, Missy was basically placed into our hearts and home, and we all loved her. She became part of the family. I liked to say we used to have a house where a dog could live, but over time, it became like a dog house where people could live! We had adapted so much to her and whatever she faced as she aged.

Yes, the pain is great, but the love is greater. I would do it again in a heartbeat because the love she brought, the comfort and joy, the unity of our family around this little dog. It was unequaled.

I think grief over a dog is a shadow grief of larger griefs over loved ones in life. It gives us a small taste of what that will be like to lose someone. And death is perhaps the greatest reminder this earth is not what it should be. We weren’t meant to die. And yet it’s an inescapable part of life. We’ve never seen that more clearly these last two years with Covid. Death, in one way or another, comes for all of us. But not without hope for those in Christ.

It’s just as the Bible tells us. There is sin, pain, and suffering in this world. We both experience this and contribute to it! But we have a Savior who identifies with our suffering and weakness, who humbly served us and gave his very life for us, to reconcile us to Himself. He is in the process of making all things new, whereby one day, there will be no more pain and suffering. So we feel the pain and remember it is not the end of our story. Through it, God is ushering in new things. I’m so thankful to be part of His story and the grand unfolding of life with the hope of eternal life ahead. Death is but an entry way back to life for those who are in Christ.

Now animals are different. They are not made in the image of God like humans. But they are a very significant and important part of His creation. Who knows what the new heavens and new earth will be like one day? I like to hope our beloved pets might be there. Maybe that is sentimental, but there are enough hints in Scripture to let us know it’s possible, and either way, it will be good! (See Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven and his chapters about “Animals.” You’ll be surprised that there’s a lot more in Scripture about them than we might know.)

Though it seemed Missy arrived unexpectedly on the scene of our lives, I know there was nothing accidental about it. She was brought to us by God, on purpose and with purpose, and meant something special and different to each one in our family, while we collectively were blessed. She was a gift from God during a season of need, given out of love by a good God who can fully be trusted. Missy was planned in His heart for us, and we rejoice over every moment spent with her.


A Word for the Year

People feel strongly one way or another about having a word for the year. One friend says, “It’s Jesus!” noting it’s all about Him, no need for another word. Someone else has said we should focus on the whole Bible, not a word. I get their thinking and fully support following Jesus wholeheartedly and being a student of His Word!

I used to be against the whole “word for a year” simply because others looked down on it. I didn’t want to launch out into something controversial. But once I started having one, I realized it can be something really special.

A word (or theme) for the year is not intended to take away from focusing on Jesus or the Bible. It’s intended to magnify Him, to give an extra focus as you study the Bible throughout the year. For example, in prior years, I’ve had words with themes around prayer, Bible reading, “firstfruits,” the Lord being our Shepherd, “whiter than snow,” “God is Light,” the fear of the Lord, being steadfast, being still before the Lord, and others. I so often think back to that in-depth study of the fear of the Lord or what it looks like to be steadfast rather than anxious and unstable. When I consider tithing or not tithing, I remember what I learned when I studied giving our firstfruits, not our leftovers.

To me, it’s like doing a Bible study. You might spend several months reading about the Divided Kingdom (as I have been with Bible Study Fellowship this year) or researching something theological. Looking in-depth at a slice of theology or a book of the Bible doesn’t take away from your overall devotion to God and His Word. In fact, it strengthens it as we grow and learn. Bible studies, sermon series, personal devotional times and more have the potential to deepen and expand our love for God as we think biblically about all things.

Having given this brief apologetic for a “word of the year,” 🙂 I will share with you what mine is: Awake!

Wake Up!

Several times over the last few months, as I would listen to a powerful sermon, I wanted to express “Amen!” or leap to my feet and raise my hands and rejoice, or even burst into tears with the beauty and accuracy of the message! Yet appropriately, we as a congregation sit so still, listening, surely each person absorbing it in personal ways, with God working in each heart. But I have wanted to shout at moments, first to myself, “Wake up! Don’t you hear it? Don’t you see it?” This warning, or this exhortation, or this needy world, or any number of other things. What am I to do with this that I’m hearing?! And then I walk away into my week, forgetting what was preached, seemingly unchanged by it.

End Times

Then, we have been visiting many churches this fall in our new community. Some have different theology on “non-essential” issues, like end times. These can be confusing things to study because we don’t know the day or the time of the Lord’s return. We have his Word to tell us about it, but people can interpret it differently. I take encouragement that even the disciples who walked with Jesus couldn’t always understand what He was saying directly to them until it later happened! For us reading it now in the Bible, it can seem pretty straightforward: “He was telling you… how did you not get it?” But we in our day are faced with the same sort of thing reading about future events; it can be hard to understand. So I’ve wanted to read and study more about these issues. I don’t expect I’ll figure it out perfectly or any better than the trustworthy people around me have, but it’s worth reading the Bible and giving it some thought, even while we trust Him and rest in all He has promised for those who know and love Him.

With all this as the background, I arrived at church on January 1, with two thoughts for words for the year: 1) Wake up! or 2) something along the lines of love, serve, give — if you’ve read my last blog post, you’ll understand why!

The service opened with this prelude:

Wake, awake for night is flying,
the watchmen on the heights are crying:
Awake, Jerusalem, at last!
Midnight hears the welcome voices and at the thrilling cry rejoices:
Come forth, ye virgins; night is past!
The Bridegroom comes, awake! Your lamps with gladness take, Alleluia!
And for His marriage feast prepare, for ye must go to meet Him there.”

“Wake, Awake for Night is Flying”

This echoes Matthew 25:1-13 with the parable of the 10 virgins. It tells us the kingdom of heaven will be like 10 virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five were foolish, not taking any oil with their lamps; five were wise, taking oil. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, so they fell asleep. When he finally came, they awoke and trimmed their lamps, but the foolish ones did not have oil. While they went to buy oil, those who were ready went with the bridegroom to the wedding banquet, while the door was closed to the foolish ones. They said, “Lord, open the door for us.” And He replied, “Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.” The passage concludes with, “Keep watch [be alert, awake], because you do not know the day or the hour.”

It’s interesting to me that they ALL fell asleep waiting, but five were prepared when Jesus came, and five were not. The commentary isn’t on the fact they were found sleeping (similar to the disciples who slept instead of prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night Jesus was betrayed, Matthew 26:36-46, Luke 22:39-46). It’s on the fact they weren’t ready. The stories in Matthew 25 reflect that there were people who thought they would be safe and saved and that they knew the Master, but He did not know them. That’s a sobering thought.

The New Year’s Day church service also quoted Isaiah 60:1, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.” How do we arise and shine if we do not awake?

As I came home and reflected on the church service, Bach’s prelude, Isaiah 60:1, and looked up Matthew 25:1-13 (the parable of the virgins), it brought to mind my desire to read the Bible and study more about what it says regarding end times, and these things all converged back to the thought in my head every so often last year of “Wake Up!” Awake!

Awake to the Things of God

Be awake to the things of God. Be awake to the things He wants to do in my life as I follow Him, how He wants me to spend my life and my time and my days, prayerfully filled by His Spirit to love and serve Him and others. Will I quench the Spirit or walk in the Spirit, allowing Him to awaken my heart to the needs of the world and how He might use me, being ready for the day I meet Him and for the day of His return.

Here’s how a word for the year works. I wrote this post above earlier this week. As I sat down this afternoon to read Joel for my Bible study that starts back this week, in Joel 1:5, it says, “Wake up…” He’s speaking to drunkards, while also talking about a locust invasion of the land, a judgment, and the Day of the Lord (a theme of this short book) being near. In Joel, God is calling His people to repentance, to “return to the LORD your God. For He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, rich in faithful love, and He relents from sending disaster” (Joel 2:13). As I study the Day of the Lord and what it is, as I think of God’s judgment but also His mercy, as I see the call to repent, I also see this admonition to “wake up” in light of these things!

Having a word for the year should not cause us to neglect God or His Word for some fanciful idea, but it should hopefully help us learn, to connect dots, to see a bigger picture and be deepened by a bigger vision. Do you have a word for the year? (No pressure now! 🙂 I respect all those who don’t like to choose one for many other reasons! But I also want to fortify those who like me once felt I couldn’t because others didn’t.) If you do have one, I’d love to hear in the comments! Blessings to you all this new year!

Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.

Ephesians 5:14

Happy New Year 2023!

2022 will be a year to remember. Leaving our home and moving after 20 years! Getting settled in a new community. Having my mom join us. All good things, yet change can bring stress and joy, challenge and expectation, and it impacted everyone in the family, even the dog!

Yet, here we are at the end of the year, recognizing again the faithfulness of God, His intimate care for us through these changes, and soaking in the wonder of all He has done in every detail.

I try to read an Advent devotional each year. This year, it was Love Came Down at Christmas by Sinclair Ferguson. He walks through 1 Corinthians 13, the chapter on love. It was not what you would at first expect for an Advent book, but as I worked through each chapter, I began to see how appropriate it was. The love we are to have and demonstrate can only be had by knowing Christ’s love, demonstrated to us in His incarnation, life, death, and resurrection.

My husband and I memorized 1 Corinthians 13 when we were in high school. Something can become familiar, so you set it aside and forget to reference it, despite it being framed in our bathroom! But walking through its truth again was convicting. Consider the first three verses:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

I Corinthians 13:1-3

The person described might have a powerful faith, a faith that moves mountains! Speaking in the tongues of angels perhaps! Giving all to the poor! But the passage notes, if there is no love, it is nothing. He gains nothing. He is nothing. Sobering truth.

It then gives us a description of love:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 

1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

Considering each of those phrases as to how Jesus loved us and how I love, I could see the massive gaps and the many, many ways I fall short.

Further, whereas prophecies may cease, tongues will be stilled, and knowledge passes away, love never fails, does not end, and does not pass away (13:8). In fact, the greatest of faith, hope, and love is love (13:13). How can we know and receive this love? How can we humbly give this love?

On December 23, around 9 a.m., we lost our power due to the storm that hit the entire country, it seemed. In the grand scheme of things, ours was a relative inconvenience, nothing like what many people faced. Our house dropped into the 40s, and it was cold and dark. By the second day, when the power did not come back at 5 p.m. as had been projected, we realized we needed food and a hotel. It was now Christmas Eve. It had gotten dark outside, restaurants were closing early. We arrived to the first hotel, and after probably 30 minutes of working to find us a room, we heard the verdict: no room.

I drove to another hotel, and thankfully, they had space for us and the dog. We found one fast food open until 11 p.m. (thank you, Cook Out!) and got some food. As I tried to sleep, I lay there at 3 a.m. wondering about this whole experience. Though I knew the Lord wasn’t absent and that He was near, I didn’t feel His presence. I thanked Him for the provision of a warm place and food, but I wanted to sense His nearness. So I prayed and asked him about this.

I began to think about Mary and Joseph not finding any room in the inn. This experience could make you ponder that a little longer! Mary leaving her home to have a baby, finding no place to go, no room, ending up in a stable to give birth to Jesus. Wow.

And then I began to think about how, though our Christmas had been so much fun so far, we hadn’t yet worshiped. We were longing for the power at that point so we could cook and open gifts, but we hadn’t been able to ponder the true Gift.

And 1 Corinthians came back to mind… “If I speak in the tongues… If I have the gift of prophecy… If I give all I possess to the poor… but have not love, I am nothing.”

And I realized the comparison. If I have all the decorations and a warm and beautiful home, if I have all the gifts and the wonderful family, if we eat and enjoy each other and have a special celebration, but Christ is left outside the door of either our home or our hearts, we really have nothing. Yes, fun; yes, much to enjoy. But without Christ, there is no true Christmas. Without His love and loving sacrifice, we would be without hope. That is Christmas.

And as I lay in that hotel room thinking, I realized God wants to have our hearts. He wants us to know Him. And He’s made a way and given us truth so that we can. Our hearts are like the inn — will we make room for this baby who is our Creator and King? Or will we leave Him outside our hearts, outside the door, content to have what seems like much, but lacking the most important thing, Love Himself.

We awoke on Christmas Day to hear the power was now projected to return December 27 at 11:30 p.m. We watched our home church’s Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services by livestream. After our noon checkout, we found one restaurant open on Christmas Day, Applebees. As we waited for a table, my husband, who stayed home with the dog, called: we got power!! I turned around to my family: “We got power!” We ran to the car, raced to the house, started cooking our meals again and enjoyed opening our gifts. And I rejoiced in the fact that there is a reason for this celebration, Jesus, this baby born in the manger, our Savior and King. Without Him, life would be nothing, though it could seem we have everything. With Him, we truly have an eternal hope, a life beyond the grave, a purpose and peace and joy for today.

This was a Christmas to remember, a year to remember! I look forward with expectation and hope for the coming year, 2023, to see all God has in store, as we live each day before Him, trusting in Him.

Happy New Year! May you know the deep Love of our Savior, Jesus, who came to save us from our sins.