What the crucifiers didn’t understand

There’s a very important concept the crucifiers of Jesus didn’t understand. It never occurred to me until today while we were singing The Power of the Cross (Getty/Townend) near the end of Easter morning worship at Dawson Memorial Baptist Church.

“Tried by sinful men, torn and beaten, then nailed to a cross of wood” we sang in stanza one. The associated visual for me – while acutely sad, as it always is – suddenly presented an entirely new and powerful insight.

What the crucifers didn’t understand was that they were striking, hating, whipping, punishing… sinTheir long-pent-up, senseless, uncontrolled mob and individual violence wasn’t against that man Jesus for himself, in spite of his perplexing claims about having a kingdom not of this world. Their violence spewed forth upon a scapegoat – the holy, blemishless Scapegoat that God conceived and that God required.

In this vein we can see Jesus representing greed, theft, abuse, cruelty, manipulation, wastefulness, selfishness, cowardice, bullying, abduction, murder, gossip, slander, lying, adultery – and people are so rightly incensed against those. We are perfectly justified in hating that these human actions happen, that one person wrongs another in every corner of the earth, daily, hourly, in secret and in public, causing unthinkable pain, sorrow, fear, and despair. And that others sin by not caring until some of it hits home.

The crucifiers did beat, hate, despise and kill Jesus with the same vengeance, the same quest and thirst for justice that God feels toward sin because sin has so devastatingly hurt the people God made and loves.

If this view of the hours leading up to Golgotha is not unsound, then the period of time when Jesus became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21) did not begin when he was hanging on the cross and the sky went dark as God turned away. It began earlier. Is it possible our Lord’s unbearable agony in the Garden of Gethsemane was in part because God’s plan for Jesus to personify your sins and mine was already in motion, and therefore God was inaccessible to Jesus’ plea, “Let this cup pass from me?”

For God’s ear, God’s heart to be inaccessible is not bearable for us, and that is why He made a plan to change the way things were. Do we love Him, thank Him, worship Him for this accordingly?

Unthinkable sin deserves commensurate punishment. Jesus bore that unthinkable punishment. Oh, what a “debt of love”* we owe our Lamb!

*Isaac Watts, Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed, 1907

Not giving up my chocolate, coffee, or knitting for Lent

I told my husband this morning while we were getting ready for work that I have decided what to give up for Lent this year. Last year I tried abstaining from chocolate (which became easier when I read in the fine print of the liturgical calendar that the Sundays of Lent don’t count in the 40 days and therefore you can sneak in your chosen item of abstinence on those days).

Let me pause and say that observing Lent and giving up something I enjoy in order to focus more on God during Lent is something I did not grow up doing in small Southern Baptist churches. It is all pretty new, but something worth investing in. And, if I have misrepresented or sounded irreverent about that “loophole” in the previous paragraph, I sincerely apologize. Trade secret: a little apparent irreverence is sometimes a device to get readers’ interest.

Back to this morning: I told Jeff, “It isn’t a food or drink, which I’m happy about.” I have to give him credit for his good guess. He named something as difficult for me to abstain from as chocolate or coffee. “Knitting?”

“Wow, that would be difficult,” I answered. “No, it’s my music, and in the car is the setting that will be most affected.” I went on to explain that 40 days without TV themes to Airwolf and The Virginian and The Brady Bunch may be long enough for those songs not to run in my head anyway, even though they aren’t playing through the speakers.

Revival: isn’t that sort of what Lent is about?*

Revival has a lot to do with clearing one’s mind. It is coming to a place of such openness (to God’s voice) and obedience that – while not losing one speck of memory or of wisdom gained from life experience – one purposes to know nothing and to expect nothing (expect nothing specific other than to grow in love and in faith, and to see God work). It’s like what happened to me on the way to work this morning: I just felt new and very uninterested in starting the day steeping myself in (or worrying about) whatever I was thinking about yesterday and last night.

Aside: I almost lumped “identity” in with memory and experience as things we can retain while determining to know nothing and to expect nothing specific. But, I reconsidered. Losing or revising our identity is something we must look at if we’re talking about seriously realigning our life and purpose with God’s total plan. There are many references in Scripture** to transforming one’s identity. Something to consider.

What do I hope to gain by losing my music fun for 40 days? Valuable silence. The ability to recognize a “burning bush” if God sets one in front of me. Losing our interest in silence as a virtue and losing our determination to achieve silence as a catalyst for thinking, meditating, praying, and opening our minds to God’s leading is a societal development that has had dire consequences. We need to get silence back.

Later today I will mark my calendar with a reminder about abstaining from my playlists. Is there something special you’re thinking of doing to honor and to proclaim the crucified, risen Christ during Lent this year? Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, March 1.

*”Lent is a season of soul-searching and repentance. It is a season for reflection and taking stock.” Source
**For example: Romans 12:1-2, Luke 17:33, Ephesians 4:22-24, Galatians 2:20-21

That guy has a name. Let’s learn it.


ABC’s Wide World of Sports theme song is second in my alphabetical iTunes songs (between The A-Team and The Adventures of Robin Hood). “Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport,” announcer Jim McKay says over the fanfare music. “The thrill of victory…and the agony of defeat. The human drama of athletic competition. This is ABC’s Wide World of Sports.”

Imagine being immortalized in modern history as the one whose name pops up when somebody searches the internet for “the agony of defeat skier”. On the surface of it, I just cringe and feel for this fellow who lost his balance and “crashed and burned” before ever leaving the ramp on March 7, 1970 at a ski flying event in Oberstdorf, West Germany. Read more about the fall, the resulting injuries, and the contributing weather conditions here.

Even pun jokes have been made from the famous phrase in Jim McKay’s voiceover: “What happens after a long day of standing on the job?” “The agony of de feet.” yuk yuk

But, that’s just the opening chapter as the world views that now-famous failed ski jump. Don’t forget that other setback chapters have been followed by huge accomplishments! Peter’s denial that he knew and followed Jesus; Joseph’s abduction by his brothers; Naaman’s bad attitude about following the instructions of the man of God; Sarai laughing at the holy proclamation that she would give birth to the child of promise – all of these failures and misfortunes could have stayed “the agony of defeat,” but they didn’t.

The Karate Kid is the first movie example that jumped into my head on this topic – one of many. Movie after movie, book after book, has championed the underdog, the weakling, the unlikely, for not giving up but pushing through to success. Not everyone wins trophies as a testimony of success. No big deal. Trophies take up shelf space and collect dust. And, after all, as John Maxwell and others have said, success happens one day at a time, along the journey, not at the end of it. Success is in our habits, not in our recognitions.

Let’s learn the name of Mr. Vinko Bogataj of Slovenia (formerly Yugoslavia) instead of forever calling him “the agony of defeat guy.” Let’s respect him not out of sympathy over his famous fall which, because of the ABC TV show, made him “an American icon of bad luck and misfortune” for a long time before he was even aware of it. Let’s respect him not just because he has a place in athletic history, but mostly because he is a fellow human being who overcame a devastating moment during the pursuit of his goals and went on to become a ski instructor, respected artist, wood carver, forklift operator, husband, and father.

We mustn’t let the agony of our failures, sins, or persecution by evil people define us to others – nor, much more important, to ourselves. Don’t give up. Persevere. Press on toward the mark. Know that even if it takes until heaven, all of the pain is going to go away.

Today is a new day, and not just because we say so as positive thinking. “This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.”—Psalm 118:24 (NKJV)  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”—2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV)

Please share this post today with someone who is hurting or discouraged.


Starting the new year right…with a stolen calendar


That’s right. I stole a 2017 calendar. And there I sat, not feeling guilty in the slightest, not looking worriedly over my shoulder for a security guard, but absolutely delighted with my stolen property and even laughing a little.

Joining in the merriment of my theft were all of my coworkers (which sounds really bad when I add that we’re a church staff!). I hope the one from whom I took the very nice 2017 spiral-bound date book was as merry as the rest. After all, that’s the whole idea of the game Dirty Santa.

I drew an early number and selected from the unopened packages a nice item, some kind of little Sterno-fueled heater, new in its box, and I was prepared to make use of that gismo had it come home with me. However, it was stolen by another player. Just in case that should happen, already I had been eyeing some cookies and other opened gifts. But, when the one resting on my lap went elsewhere, I suddenly decided I had to have that planner.

You can ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you: I am driven to work ahead. If I can do some of Tuesday’s tasks on Monday, and Thursday’s on Wednesday, etc., that is a good week.

It’s December 29 as I write this, and I plan to start three days early on new year’s resolutions. Aside from getting those extra holiday calories worked off, I have three personal goals I’d like to achieve before 1/1/2017:
1. Finish knitting a baby hat
2. Re-organize my closet shelf
3. Get back into writing my second novel

Making any progress on goal #3  between now and January 1 will jumpstart a very large 2017 goal, that of completing the first draft of said novel.

Enough about my personal goals. But here’s another list you may find useful. These are a few important “new year” reminders I plan to keep in front of me for the foreseeable future.  Not only keep them in front of me, but say them out loud every day. Perhaps they will help you, too, while much talk rumbles about a new year, a new you, a new presidential administration, and those greatest of faith-challenging action words, hope and fear. Here the reminders are, and you can see in the photo above that I have written them on the January page of my Dirty Santa spoils.

  • God can do anything.
  • God commands us to ask of Him.
  • No place on earth is out of God’s reach.
  • God loves His children and longs for their good and holy desires, which reflect His desires, to be realized.
  • Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Free Christmas fiction!

Stranded by a winter storm on the way to visit relatives during the holidays, the Wilkins family is forced to seek shelter in a home where grief from a recent tragedy has forever changed the meaning of Christmas.

Dear readers,

I am posting my one and only novella, which is also my one and only work of Christmas fiction thus far. It’s not published except by myself as a free gift to anyone interested in reading it. I wrote this story in 2010 and have since learned that it’s “against the rules” to narrate as the author, telling readers straight out what different characters are thinking, simultaneously. In other words, writing from “third person omniscient” point of view is OUT. (Unless you’re a Jane Austen or anyone else successful enough to make your own rules.)

But, as Hallmark Channel movies frequently suggest, “It’s Christmas! Anything can happen.” So, my “anything” Christmas miracle is to dispense with the “no head-hopping” rule long enough to offer you a work that is a story I believe in, no matter that it was written without the professional enlightenment that writers’ conferences like ACFW have since afforded me. I revised it significantly in recent weeks, except for “correcting” the point of view.

Catch several shout-outs to Grace Livingston Hill if you will. (references to her works, and, I hope, a little mimicry of her style)

For whatever entertainment and inspiration it may bring to you, here is The Carols’ Secret Message.

Merry Christmas!




To the manger-seekers of 2016

The minister prayed just prior to his sermon on the first Sunday of Advent, “Help us get through this season.” I confess I heard little of what he said after that.

How honest and practical to introduce the theme “Simply Christmas” with such a prayer. Honest and practical not only in perhaps the most obvious way (“help us not to get all stressed and partied out, with gifts and decorating…”). Rather, in the plea for God’s help “to get through this” I found the Spirit reminding me that even a Christ-centered Advent celebration can be a test of sorts. It is such a big and necessary celebration that, though it is always a happy event, it demands of true manger-seekers some serious and even exhausting efforts: self-examination, pilgrimage, seeking, remembering, hoping, telling. Worshiping. But for whom and to what purposes should we rather exhaust ourselves? Binge-watching a series on Netflix? (Suddenly we’re back to the word honesty.)

How wonderful that we have such beautiful houses of worship filled with glorious music to honor Christ, where we can be drawn together to celebrate His birth just now and His life, death, resurrection, ascension and promised return during the other 48 weeks of the year. For it is not only in the special seasons of the liturgical calendar, but also in the “ordinary days,” that self-examination, pilgrimage, seeking, remembering, hoping, telling, and worshiping are some of the most stringent requirements set before Christ’s followers. In these actions we not only give our most devoted obedience but also receive our fullest blessings.

The very serious pursuit of non-temporal blessing binds us to our Father and to like-minded Christian brothers and sisters. Is it your desire to be so bound, and to a greater degree than ever? Can Advent 2016 find you being lured irresistibly down the fresh, new road of intentional, serious pilgrimage? It may seem a deserted road, quiet like a country lane with no sign posts and no apparent obstacles, ideal for seeking and worshiping. May God bless you with a pilgrimage road like that! Or, it may look like a busy street at rush hour – loud, confusing, and with many fun and ordinary activities telling you “pilgrimage” is an admirable goal but just not possible unless you’re a minister, a famous ascetic, or someone wealthy enough and unattached enough to “go away” for as long as needed.

Your pilgrimage road may not be a literal “road” at all, and, as a new course of action, attitude, or private spiritual pursuit, it may be unseen and quite possibly ununderstood by those closest to you. So be it. Jesus is there, and the plain truth is a husband, wife, child, parent, best friend or new associate cannot go with you into the holy place where Jesus infuses you with His presence, His power, and His peace. Though none go with you there, they can’t be unaware that you have been. Your light will shine more brightly (or into different corners) so that many – though they have not experienced your pilgrimage with you – will know one way or another that you have been in pursuit of Jesus and cannot be content except when close to His side.

“And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13 (KJV)

The heavens are telling


“The heavens are telling the glory of God.” That line is already taken.

“I will extol thee.” Hmmm. Also taken. And, even if it wasn’t, “extol” isn’t part of my vocabulary. (To be honest,”thee” isn’t, either.)

Being original with the words of praise I offer to God isn’t super important, perhaps, but isn’t there something to be said for not always wanting to be quoting someone else? Far be it from me to express anything other than appreciation and awe for any book of scripture, and least of all for the Psalms, but, as beautiful as that poetry is, I’d like to offer God praises from my own heart, not from King David’s.

Remember movies or TV shows in which someone wrote love notes to another? It seems they often quoted famous poets with or without giving credit for the lines they lifted. Adolescent Peter Brady was tongue-tied, he was so infatuated with Kerry Hathaway. He did write a love note, but he also tried having his older brother Greg cue him with flowery words because he was incapable of voicing his feelings toward the pretty, new girl.

In not praising God for any length of time in my own words could there be diagnosed a similar emotional tongue-tiedness, or is it more to the point that I have not gotten in touch lately with what my deep feelings toward the eternal Alpha and Omega actually are? Perhaps it is that for years I’ve been conditioned to use other people’s words instead of my own.

There is nothing deficient about choosing to quote scripture or hymns or popular praise songs if the words express what I feel and if I don’t happen to be quite that poetic myself. I do think it bears examining by any of us, though, if we claim to be “worshiping through” songs that tell about faith and feelings we don’t have, don’t understand, and are not very interested in.

Is there a point? Yes, at least one. Anyone who isn’t praising Yahweh frequently is missing something much more huge than we might think. Missing. Missing. Going without – and for no good reason. Often, for a lot of basically unimportant reasons.

I feel this “missing” – right now, as I write – as if it is a vitamin deficiency that has been going on for a long time and is finally causing outward symptoms. I’m looking jaundiced. I’m feeling anemic. I crave this missing nutrient as I would be thinking about chocolate halfway through Lent if I were strong enough to give up chocolate for Lent.

Now, what about the pretty, heartfelt words that prove I don’t need to quote the Psalms or Charles Wesley or Getty and Townend in order to praise? Well, they may come or they may not come. Lovesick Greg Brady (in an earlier season) lay on his bed thinking about Linda. He wasn’t sitting at the desk in the boys’ bedroom composing a poem, nor was he chanting, “Linda, you are beautiful; Linda, no one is like you.” We saw in that episode interest and affection that was untrained, spontaneous, and all-consuming. No orations. Just an infatuated teen with a stomach ache.

I want to be the one who takes to my bed sometimes because God is so wonderful that it gives me a stomach ache.