New Year, New You

my-hope

Christmas seemed especially joyful this year, at least to me. I think after the past year or so of nasty politics—and I’m going to blame both sides for that… and no fair saying “they” started it (if you think that, you weren’t on the same Facebook I was on)—all the joy was kind of sucked out of our country.

All the biased news stories, both sides waiting and wishing for the other candidate to implode—and that looked like a distinct possibility for either one of them—hateful responses on social media from supporters of both parties…

…I don’t know about you, but I really needed a little Christmas, as the song goes—and I got it:

  • The Christmas music seemed a little more joyful (I’m digging on the new Pentatonix Christmas album)
  • The glitter seemed a little more sparkly (and if past experience holds true, that same glitter will still be making an appearance in and around the house next July)
  • The lights seemed a little brighter this year, even in Florida where they DO NOT know how to tastefully put up Christmas lights outside (sorry Florida peeps—all those blinking, chasing, half-colored, half-white Christmas light displays with a bunch of inflatable “Despicable Me” minions in Santa hats in the front yard… To quote Nancy Reagan, “Just say ‘no’”…)
  • Even the Hallmark Channel movies seemed a little more fun. (Although I still don’t know what happened to the princess who ran away from her hotel room in New York City and took up with the contractor guy whose girlfriend dumped him. If you saw that one, leave a comment—I need to know how it ended.)

And now for the rest of the story…

The *squish* wasn’t the end

From “The Lizard Lounge” Series on Clay

Below is the final installment in “The Lizard Lounge Series on Clay,” at least for this season. Quite a summer… Here is a link to the whole series, if you’re just tuning in. (And here’s a link that explains the whole “Lizard Lounge” bit.)

Who knew my earthly home could teach me so much about the journey toward my heavenly one…?

• • •

I love summer in Florida. Sunshine and beaches and the smell of orange blossoms. (And tourists who need to stay out of the sun and off the beaches.) This past summer I had planned to while away the days watering my bell peppers and tomatoes, lazing on the front porch reading, and collecting rocks for my dry creek bed. However, in Jeremiah 29:11 the Lord says:

I know the plans I have for you…

…and none of those plans included tomatoes, lazing, or collecting rocks.

And now for the rest of the story…

Without the cross

Tonight is the Good Friday service at my church, probably my favorite church event of the year. Although I love Christmas music (and our annual Christmas Celebration is always spectacular), the Good Friday service speaks to me in a unique and powerful way.

While the music tonight will range from subdued to soaring, the atmosphere of the service will remain somber. As the audience enters the sanctuary, a message on the large screens flanking the stage will ask that there be no talking for the rest of the evening until everyone has left the building and is back in their cars. In his welcome and opening announcements the pastor will ask that, even though some of the music will crescendo to an exciting climax, there be no applause.

The lights on stage will be dim except for a light on the huge, stark cross erected center stage for Easter weekend. Everyone involved in the presentation – singers, players, technicians – will be dressed in black: long sleeves, collars buttoned up to the neck, pants or floor-length skirts. All attention will be on the cross and nothing else.

We will perform beautiful, haunting – sometimes stirring – arrangements of classic hymns and songs like “Near the Cross,” “Were You There?” and “O Sacred Head Now Wounded.” In between songs, a deep voice will recite key passages from the Bible detailing events that occurred the day of Jesus’ death on the cross. The pastor will deliver a message that is powerful in the truth it tells about the full measure of what Jesus did for all of mankind almost 2000 years ago.

I will be sitting at the piano playing music that is a pianist’s dream – piano scores with a classical feel that are more challenging than the hymns and praise choruses we typically sing on Sunday morning. Although I will certainly be caught up in the beauty and artistry involved, I will also be reflecting on exactly what the service means to me tonight that it wouldn’t have meant to me three years ago.

Three years ago I was not even a churchgoer, much less a Christian. A torrent of hurt and loss in the weeks and months prior had filled my life with such grief and stress that I ended up in the emergency room with an anxiety attack so severe I was afraid it was something much worse. I felt so alone and lonely I considered packing up my broken life here and moving back to my childhood home just to be near family who I knew cared about me. I even wasted time in therapy searching for answers and relief that never came…

…at least until God began piecing together a string of seemingly disparate events that gently (sometimes not so gently) drove me to the realization that there was only one answer; an answer that didn’t depend on any of the empty pleasures I was medicating my life with.

That answer was the cross the choir will be singing about tonight.

If you are not a follower of Jesus, maybe you aren’t aware of the implications His death had for us – any of us, all of us. Because of our sin nature inherited from Adam after his rebellion in the Garden of Eden, we owe a tremendous debt to our Creator. None of us is good enough to satisfy that debt on our own; none of us is good enough to have that payment ignored.

Jesus was good enough, though. By giving His life willingly in our place, He satisfied that debt for us; by giving His life He offered us the chance to have that payment ignored.

Although the substitution of His life for ours through His death could have taken place through any number of methods of execution, a common method of dealing with criminals in His day was death by hanging on a cross. As a result, He was nailed to a wooden cross and left to hang there, slowly and excruciatingly bleeding out and suffocating to death.

That’s why Christians sing songs about the cross. Without it our future would still be hopeless; our lives empty, with no promise of eternal life with God.

One of the songs we will perform tonight is called “Without the Cross” by Rebecca Peck and Jeffrey Ferguson. In addition to concentrating on what I’m playing, I will also be reflecting on what my life would be like if I had continued on in the condition I was in three years ago. Even though it’s only been two-and-a-half years since I became a follower of Jesus, I can no longer imagine my life without the cross.

  • Without the cross I would have never become an integral part of a body of believers – believers who have become my adopted family while my biological family is so far away; believers who’ve given me the opportunity to discover the joy of giving and serving.
  • Without the cross I would have never had the chance to use the gifts and talents God has given me – talents I joyfully give back to Him in service at every opportunity.
  • Without the cross I wouldn’t have an army of Godly men and women in my life – men and women who have taught me to pray in public, to study God’s word, to listen to the Holy Spirit, and to devote heart, mind, soul, and strength to my relationship with my Heavenly Father.
  • Without the cross I wouldn’t have a cherished fellowship with a few select Christian men; men who have brought me tremendous strength and accountability; men who have taught me to enjoy basketball, loaned me books, and laughed at my jokes – men who I call brothers.

But even more than the previously unimaginable life God has given me and the people to share it with, as the choir sings the chorus to “Without the Cross” tonight I will be thanking God that the lyrics are more than just words:

Without the cross I would not know

redeeming love that floods my soul.

Without the blood where would I be?

Do you know where I would be? The same place any of us would be…

I would be lost without the cross.