Friday, May 14, 2010

A Glimpse of the Cross

"...'Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit.' When He had said this, He breathed His last." Luke 23:46b (NIV)

This story is a little different than the others that I have already written but it is no less praiseworthy. Any time that God teaches us something in the midst of great trial and heartache, it is nothing short of miraculous.

I had never watched someone die. Sure, I had seen it on TV but I had never seen it face to face. The two are very different. It can be very difficult work to help someone die - even someone who knows and loves the LORD. I have had that experience.

From the first moment that my Dad was diagnosed with cancer, I was by his side. Through surgery, appointments, chemotherapy, radiation... everything that I could possibly be there for, I was. It was important to me and it meant a lot to my Dad. The diagnosis of cancer initiated a whirlwind of investigation and planning that plunged us into a road trip to the Mayo clinic for surgery. I was five months pregnant and working a new job. It didn't look like I could go. I was torn. When my husband and I decided it was more important to be there, we drove through the night and got to my Dad's side just before they wheeled him into the operating room. My Dad looked at me and said, "I knew you would come." I needed to be there and Dad needed me.

Over time, as Dad's condition worsened, I began to look to the day when Dad would leave us - when he would die. It became ever so important to me that I would be there to hold Dad's hand as he breathed his last. When Dad was confined to a hospital bed in their house and time was so valuable, I spent my days and nights in a big easy chair beside his bed. Every word that came from his mouth was so precious to me. I didn't want to miss a look, a squeeze of the hand, a kiss... I was there.

I don't know what I expected of death. I think I expected it to be peaceful. That's how it's usually portrayed. The dying person just closes their eyes and goes to sleep, right? That's not how it was for my Dad. His body was riddled with cancer yet his heart was strong. Dad was covered by a blanket up to his waise yet I watched as his feet then his legs grew mottled. I labored to keep his arm and then his hand warm. For what seemed an eternity, Dad fought for every single breath. It really was a fight. His whole body worked in desperation for air. It was agony for him and for us. Each breath took so much work. He looked gaunt. The battle had taken its toll. I begged the LORD to take him home, yet it took time. With those short, ragged final breaths when there was lengthening pause in between, you wondered if each was the last - and finally it was. I had been there - holding his hand.

There was one last thing to do for my Dad. One last act that I could do to say "I love you." I helped was him and dress him to be taken away. It was important to me. I won't tell you about the events of those next few days right now. That's another tale and a tale of God's wondrous mercy and blessing but I want to tell you that God never wastes a heartache. He always works for us, in us and through us in our times of greatest trial.

I gained invaluable insight that day. As I watched my Dad die, my thoughts were drawn to the cross where Jesus lay down His life for me. It wasn't pretty or easy. It was a desperately hard work. No man before or since ever suffered so much. No one has ever bore so much in death. Jesus bore our sins so that we wouldn't have to. He hung on that cross, laboring to breathe, body broken - alone. I had been able to be by Dad's side - Mary watched from a distance and Peter had disowned Him. I held Dad's hand and worked to ease all possible discomfort. Jesus was offered vinegar for His thirst. He felt abandoned. His cry... "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Mark 15:34b) Dad was surrounded by those that loved him. Mark tells us that those who passed by hurled insults at him, others mocked him, and those that crucified him also heaped insults on him. My LORD paid the ultimate price... for me.

I have a new appreciation of the cost of my salvation. True, it is just a glimpse. I can never know how much my redemption from sin cost but I am thankful for the glimpse. May I remember it often and proclaim it boldly.

"But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him..." Isaiah 53:5a (NIV)
"He himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by His wounds you have been healed." 1 Peter 2:24 (NIV)

Those Who've Gone Before Me and Those Who Will Come After...

I love the rich lessons in the Old Testament as we watch the children of Israel make their way to the Promised Land. I love how the lessons are stated and restated chapter after chapter. Obviously, the Lord recognized that there would be ones like me that need repeated reminders. One of the themes that He has been bringing forward for me is that my actions do not just effect myself.

Deuteronomy 30:19 says, "This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you; that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses - now choose life that you and your children may live."

Deuteronomy 4:37 & 40 says, "The LORD loved your ancestors and decided that you would be His people. So the LORD used His great power to bring you out of Egypt... Today I am explaining His laws and teachings. And if you always obey them, you and your descendants will live long and be successful in the land the LORD is giving you." And in Deuteronomy 5:9-10 "... If you reject me and worship idols, I will punish your families for three or four generations. But if you love me and obey my laws, I will be kind to your families for thousands of generations." Now before we get all puffed up and say that's not fair, take note of the fact that though our idolatry can effect 3 or 4 generations, our obedience passes blessings for thousands!

Deuteronomy 5:28 says, "The LORD heard you and said: Moses, I heard what the people said to you, and I approve. I wish they would always worship me with fear and trembling and be this willing to obey me! Then they and their children would always enjoy a successful life."

So, I guess I see 3 main challenges for me. The first question I need to ask is what am I TEACHING my children? Am I teaching them what it means to love the LORD? Am I teaching them how crucial it is that we have no other gods before Him? Am I teaching them what idolatry looks like in our culture and how to spot it in their own lives? Am I teaching them how to truly worship? Am I teaching them Who God is?

Next, what am I MODELING for my children? Do my actions show that I love the LORD will all my heart, soul, mind and strength? (Mark 12:30) Is it obvious to my children? Is my love for Christ so evident that my children know how precious and vital He is to me or is He my "Sunday" friend? Is God's Word so important to me and the way I live my life that it bears memorizing? Is the LORD so much a part of my moment by moment existence that I talk about Him whether I'm at home or walking along the road or going to bed at night, or getting up in the morning? (Deuteronomy 6:5-7)

Then, the question becomes not only what am I teaching my children but what are my life choices CHOOSING for my children? Hebrews 11:8 remembers Abraham this way. "By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going." Deuteronomy 6:10-11 says, "The LORD promised your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that He would give you this land. Now He will take you there and give you large towns, with good buildings that you didn't build, and houses full of good things that you didn't put there. The LORD will give you wells that you didn't have to dig, and vineyards and olive orchards that you didn't have to plant..." Am I living a life of faith that God is going to bless? Abraham dwelt in the land but the LORD set his descendants free from slavery and brought them out of Egypt to inherit buildings that they didn't have to build and orchards that they didn't have to plant! Oh, LORD, I desire inheritances of freedom and blessing for my children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and beyond - and You just invite me to exercise a little faith!

The LORD my God will help me take the land where the enemy of my soul has erected strongholds! Pride, gluttony, insecurity, unbelief... He just asks that I cooperate with Him and don't settle for the heavy yoke of these things to be lifted when He desires for me to be completely free. He doesn't want me to make peace treaties with these enemies and He doesn't want me to stand by idle and allow my children to embrace them! (see Deuteronomy 7:1-3) Does the LORD ask me for perfection? No. Psalm 103:13-14 says, "As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust." The LORD just asks us to trust Him. I am so grateful for those in my family, who have gone before me, that have walked not perfectly but faithfully with the LORD. I am reaping harvests that I didn't plant.

So what about you? What kind of choices lay before you today? Will you endeavor to trust the LORD and exercise a little faith? Will you sow seeds of blessing for a future generation to harvest? With God's wisdom and in His power, you CAN! I leave you to listen to the LORD Himself and allow Him to remind you...