One of the most profound moments on my trip to Israel was standing inside the pit where Jesus stood after arrested. These little details aren't in Scripture. You have to stand in the actual place to know that He would have been hauled underground in Caiphas' house and chained in a holding cell until ready to be questioned.
Then, because of the High Priest readying Himself to go to the temple, Caiaphas couldn't risk being around a murderer with blood on His hands. that would make Him unclean.
That is where the pit comes in. On the bottom floor, the prisoners were placed in a small room (about 20 of us fit in it at once). In the middle of the room is a tunnel that connects the bottom floor with the top floor (the middle floor with the holding cells is enclosed so they cannot hear what is being said). The priest would stand at the top and shout down, questioning the criminals.
So, there Jesus stood, in the cold dark room that had no light except from the small opening door floors up (in the picture you will see there are windows cut out. Those are new and didn't exist then). He had just been betrayed by one closest to Him and another was in the courtyard upstairs denying Him. he knew what lie ahead of Him and He was utterly alone, faced with the reality that soon His Father would, too, have to turn His face away as not to look upon the sin He would take upon Himself.
We focus so much on the cross on Friday and it was a brutal, inhumane was for anyone to die, especially the sinless Son of God. But standing there in that pit what struck me was how utterly abandoned Jesus must have felt and how we cannot even begin to comprehend what being separated from the Father on the cross meant to Him. He was completely one with the Father from the beginning of time in a way we cannot understand until eternity. And He knew that darkness was coming and separation. The striking thing is, because He was abandoned and separated from the Father, we never have to be....
After a day of rest, Thursday of Holy Week was a full, pivotal day in the life and death of Jesus. The Gospel of John summarizes the beginning of Holy Week in one chapter (John 12) but devotes five and a half chapters to Thursday. Jesus shared the Passover (the Last Supper) with His Disciples, taught a lesson on servanthood by washing their feet, predicted His betrayal and denial, and teaches on the way to the Father, the Holy Spirit, abiding, trials and perseverance. After teaching, He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, was betrayed and arrested, and was denied by Peter.
Today on the side of the Mount of Olives lies a church and a beautiful garden in the place where Jesus prayed right before His arrest. The word Gethsemane literally means "olive press" and was literally a place where the olives were harvested. The olives were pressed into oil by being crushed under the great weight of a stone press. It was in this place where the Lord was crushed under the weight of the sins of the world He would have to bear hours later.
Hours before this Jesus had told His disciples, "I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn over what is going to happen to me, but the world will rejoice. You will grieve, but your grief will suddenly turn to wonderful joy." (John 16:20, NLT) Though there was agony for Jesus that night and for the disciples in the coming days, grief would be turned to joy. And there may be crushing weight of our own Gethsemanes but we will, with the rest of the world, rejoice. It took the garden to get to the cross and it took the cross to give us the empty tomb....
After another packed day Tuesday in Jerusalem in which Jesus confronted religious leaders, taught about the End times , spoke of his death and His return at the second coming, we hear nothing from Scripture about Wednesday. We can only guess what Jesus and His disciples did that day. Did they prepare for the Passover? Did Jesus continue to teach? My thought is that after the exhaustion of the previous days and before the trying days ahead, they retreated to Bethany to rest. To pray. To spend time at the feet of the One who would soon wash their feet.
Today the temple where Jesus spent much of His last week no longer exists. Pieces of it remain and when you visit Jerusalem no matter the time of day or year, you will see Jews and Christians alike crowded around the wall that remains of the temple. Some are silent, some celebrating the coming of age of young men, some weeping and rocking back and forth in prayer. If you look closely in every crack of the stones and littered across the base of the wall, like the delicate wings of birds flapping in the wind, you will see thousands of pieces of paper. They are names and prayers, placed into the wall, in hopes that God will hear and answer. This wall is the closest the Jewish people of today can get to the Holy of Holies to pray as they are no longer allowed to pray on the temple mount where the Presence of God once resided. People from all over the world venture to this place to speak to God. Sometimes songs rise from the side of the Mount and sometimes the sound of actual cries to God can be heard. Though the temple does not remain, God is not silent. In His Word, in the heart of those who seek Him, He speaks...
On Monday, Jesus had cleared out the temple and the anger of the Jewish leaders of Jerusalem grew. Jesus enlisted so many emotions in people that week - adoration, awe, confusion, anger, fear. Tensions ran high and on Tuesday as Jesus continued to evade the traps of the authorities and look forward to the End in his teachings, one of His own began his descent into betrayal. Judas negotiated with the Sanhedrin to turn Jesus over for 30 pieces of silver and looked for the right time to make his move. In just a couple short days, more of His disciples would deny Him and flee.
I have to wonder what was going on in Judas' head and heart that week as he remained with Jesus but knew what he was planning to do. Was he already regretting his decision but unable to turn back? Was he full of pride and blinded to the truth? As one who knew the Lord and walked away in my past (thank God for His loving pursuit of us and endless forgiveness), I know that He was always with me. Even when I tried to run from Him, I couldn't. Any of us could be Judas or Peter, betraying, denying. I'm so thankful for a love that can overcome even the darkest of hearts. His love is relentless and will never let us go, will always be waiting for us...
I couldn't help but love Jerusalem when I visited it. Israel is so much smaller than you imagine when reading the Scriptures, most places an easy drive from another. But then you enter the Holy City and first glimpse it from the Mount of Olives. The city is sprawling with people in every corner and the giant Temple Mount dominating the skyline. The voices rise from her streets in several languages, mixing in a beautiful symphony, and the smells bombard your senses like sweet perfume. It is simply breathtaking.
On Monday of Jesus' last week on earth He looked over the city that God had chosen so many years before and He wept. In the city where God's Presence had rested, Kings had reigned and battles had been waged, the people were like a sheep without a shepherd. Their King stood before them and they missed Him. They would look Him right in the eye and spit upon Him. Jesus wept because He did not want one of His children to perish and it broke His heart that some would choose to deny Him, others betray Him and most miss Him altogether.
Remember this Holy Week how deep His love is for His children, like the shepherd for His flock that He lovingly tends each day...
With Spring comes an expectation, the promise of new life just around the corner. Flowers push through the ground that has been hard and cold. Birds stretch their wings, ready to fly again into the warm April air. I love the way the promise of new life each Spring echoes the season of expectation we feel every Lent, as we contemplate anew the coming of Christ, our King.
As the days have been marching on towards Holy Week, I have found myself thinking back to the moments I spent last Spring in the Holy Land, walking in the very places Jesus walked during the last week of His life. I haven't felt anything quite as powerful as standing on the Mount of Olives overlooking the city that God chose and loved so dearly.
This Holy Week, I wanted to share some of the images that have been rolling around in my mind and the words on my heart as we contemplate the journey Christ took towards the cross and ready our hearts to celebrate our resurrected King.
On Sunday Jesus entered Jerusalem, coming from the Mount of Olives into the Holy City. He entered to the praise of the people, celebrated as a coming King. In a few short days, very different cries would ring through the city, calling for his crucifixtion. Today the side of the mountain overlooking Jerusalem is covered with over 150,000 graves. Jews have been buried on the mountainside for over 3,000 years, believing that when the Messiah comes He will come from the Mount of Olives and the resurrection of the dead will begin there.
Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the coming King of Zion. He came humble and riding on a donkey. One week later, He would return....victorious over sin and death!
The daughters of Zion rejoice
at the sight of You, O King,
coming to us humble and low
within our very reach.
You aren’t like other rulers
who sit on thrones far removed.
You keep company with our children
and sit at our tables.
You speak peace to the nations
and you set the prisoners free.
The daughters of Jerusalem shout
at the sight of You, O King,
Coming to us high and lifted up,
appearing over us.
There are none like you
whose arrows go forth like lightning.
You sound the trumpet
and march forth into battle.
You speak salvation to the nations.
and you set Your people free.
My stomach has been a little topsy-turvy this week and I keep telling myself it is allergies from the Spring that is just starting to peek through the rare Georgia cold of the past few weeks. I know, deep down, that it is more than that. It is my old familiar anxiety trying to rear it's head as I sit up well past the time everyone else has gone to bed and go over my packing list. So, I open my journal and read what I wrote just yesterday morning when God spoke to me so clearly. "Save your best striving for seeking My Face." Sarah Young penned those words in Jesus Calling, words she felt God said to her. I felt God say them to me yesterday as well. Stop striving. Be still and know. Why is that always the hardest thing for me to do? Oh, I am so good at striving, working hard to make things happen. I don't want to do that this time. I want His will above all else.
I have celebrated God in the back of a truck, rushing past lush rice fields in Northern Thailand. I have worshiped to the drums of South Asian believers sitting cross-legged on the floor, dusty, colorful and full of life in one of the poorest slums on earth. I have praised Him as I watched the sun rise over the same mountain where He spoke to Moses face to face, huddled under blankets but feeling His warmth permeate my soul. I have marveled with thousands at His beauty in one of the largest Middle Eastern churches, hewn from the rock of a mountain that He is said to have literally moved to show His might. I have seen the lame get up and walk and the oppressed received freedom in His Presence. I have prayed from the very ground where some of the darkest evil of terrorism was born and threatens this world, but cannot overcome it. I have walked the very steps of my Lord, looked out over the valley of His childhood and looked out over the still waters on which He walked. I saw Him in the ancient rocks of the temple built to worship Him and have been amazed at His power as I dipped my feet into the very sea He parted.
Oh, that I could revel in Him that way this day as I look out over the same street I travel each day. I long to be as amazed with Him in the mundane tasks of my day as when I walked where He did. For He walks here in my life, in my going out and coming. He makes the sun rise over my home, just as He brings it up over the holiest of mountains. He frees my very heart from oppression and heals the sickness of my heart. He walks the same path I do, day in and day out. Evil will not overcome in my life because of Jesus' victory. My body now is His temple. He parts the sea for me to walk through on dry ground, right here, if I will just ask. If I will just open my eyes to see it, I will glimpse the extraordinary works of my Jesus. Every day in the ordinary life He calls me to lead, I can see the miraculous. I can see His face and revel in Him, if only I slow down long enough to see Him right where He has placed me.
I sat in the back of my sixth grade English class, not working on the assignment. I could half pay attention in school and still do well. No, my hand was flying across the pages of a green three-prong notebook that contained my first (and to this date, only) book. I don't remember the story, only that it was a love story called "Rush."
I just always had this need to write, either borne out of my love for the written word or maybe I was just born with it. All through high school poetry was my therapy. Never was teen angst more thoroughly, though definitely more adequately, expressed.
Simply, as a child I wrote for myself. I loved the way it transported me to another world and let me express things I would never have the courage to say out loud. If I had a hard thing to express to someone, they knew well that they would receive a hand-written note spelling it out, because I never could find the words in person.
Then, I grew up...and as happens with many artists, reality set in. I never followed my art as a career and I tried to keep writing, but it took a back burner to the things that seemed to matter. We had bills to pay and two real job that expected me to show up 50 hours a week. We had a baby on the way and I couldn't find the time to write. My talent sat on a shelf next to a book of poetry my husband compiled of the dozens I had written in my early years.
I have had friends prodding me to blog and God nudging me toward pursuing my writing for a while now. But I have been resistant to lay bare my soul online in a way that is vulnerable, risky.
Well, God's nudges have become shoves and how can I say "no" to Him?
So, here I go, trying to carve out a space for my words in this infinite world online. As I thought about what I wanted to write, what this space would feel like, the same words kept coming back to me...
Not all my friends would believe this, but I am such an introvert. It's not that I don't like to be around people or find joy in my friends. But I need some quiet in all the noise of life. When I curl up with the written word, I find that the world just disappears.
Often when I am reading, a voice breaks through the world that has been created in my head by what I am reading. I will realize someone was actually trying to carry on a conversation with me. I can find such quiet spaces as I enter into the world an author weaves with his words.
The noise of the world just fades away...
I have always loved the Word of God. How amazing is it that God has given us a written record of His words to us throughout the generations, has spoken to us in such a way that He still speaks to us today?
In seminary and since, one of my favorite things to do was study the archeological and sociological aspects of the Bible, to see how understanding the cultural context brings to life, in a new way, what God is saying to us today.
I could sit for hours and study the Bible and when I was young and single, I had opportunities to do just that. I remember sitting on the edge of a dock looking out over the Mississippi bayou reflecting on the things God was teaching me in a sweet time of my life when I was in seminary.
I can still taste the salt of the red sea as I sat next to it and read God's word on a retreat when we lived in the Middle East. These were beautiful times of unbroken devotion...
The world seems like a simple place when you are young, doesn't it?
It is so easy to see life in black and white. When I started traveling overseas, God started to open my eyes up to a noisy, messy world of cultures and religions that lived together beautifully in some places and clashed with a vengeance in others. I saw traditions so beautiful I could cry and political corruption so horrible I did weep. I met people with beautiful stories that could inspire and tragic ones that could break your heart. I saw how God weaves all of our stories together in His Great Story.
Then, I came home from living in the Middle East and my world was turned upside down. Seven months after returning to the states and still trying to reconcile the life lived from two suitcases to a life again full of all the "stuff" in America, we added to the mix a new layer of life.
Our first child was on the way...
Life continued to get louder and louder. Contrasting the call to a simple life and a yearning to grasp the great big world I had experienced overseas, was the longing for security in a world that was spinning. The American economy tanked right when we returned home and found ourselves expecting a child. I worked 50 hours a week between two jobs until we had our daughter, just trying to make ends meet.
I now found myself torn as I wanted to stay home with her but couldn't afford to. We also lived between the dichotomies of building a stable life in the U.S. and missing an international life every day.
God's voice got dimmer and dimmer to me. Those sweet times of devotion I had previously known became gasps of prayers and little glances at His word when I could make the time.
The noise in my head got louder and His voice become smaller...
A new noise was rising all the time as social media and blogging got bigger in the world and in my life. Added to all of the layers of voices vying for our attention daily was an endless stream of friends and strangers speaking into every possible area of our lives. Spend too much time online and you can drive yourself crazy!
Not only did I feel like I wasn't a good mom because I had to work full time, I also now felt pressure to have do and be all that every pinterest or facebook post said I should do and be - to live up to the expectations of a good mom, Christian, person.
I thought I could find ideas and help on how to balance it all, but instead all I found was a load of unrealistic expectations my perfectionist self just heaped on top of an already drowning spirit.
I couldn't even find who I was anymore underneath all of the anxiety I felt. Life felt like chaos and I couldn't hear a single voice in the noise...
Remember those friends who would never believe I was an introvert?
They'd probably also never know I had become an anxious, drowning mess underneath the smile I plastered on. I literally felt like I couldn't breathe some days, but I didn't have time to stop and deal with it. I had a husband and two kids, by this point, to take care of. I had a job to do, a home to run, leadership in ministries to attend to.
It wasn't that I was unhappy. I was ridiculously blessed, so how could I even complain?
But in the middle of a time when I needed help the most, I had never felt so alone. Thousands of voices swirled around me daily, but I couldn't hear one except my own self-doubt convicting me: "You are a failure. You are not enough."
There was only one voice I wanted to hear, that of my sweet Jesus. I knew it was only God's view of me that mattered. I knew the truth forwards and backward, had never stopped believing in His mercy that is new every morning. I believed God was good all the time and that He was in control. But I couldn't get the truth I knew in my head to take root again in my heart and make a difference in my life.
In all the noise around me, I had lost the sound of my Savior's voice and I needed to learn to hear it again...
Finally came New Year's Day 2015. I sat in the quiet of a monastery I love, this beautiful church where I can just feel the presence of God as warm as the sunlight streaming in colored rays through the stained glass. In this quiet, stolen moment I could hear Him like the thunder from the mountain of Moses, clear and real. My pen flew over my journal and I felt so certain of the things He was saying to me and the steps He was asking me to take.
A few days later I tried to steal away a few more quiet moments with Him, a sweet three-year-old curled up in my lap, startled by a dream and wanting to find mommy in the early morning hours. I couldn't hear the thunder anymore, but over the breath of a little boy, I heard a whisper.
And God was in that, too...
So, I started to write - to quiet the noise and focus in on His voice again, to make sense of the noise inside and outside, and to tell others the lessons I am ever so slowly learning every day at the feet of the Master.
As I thought of what I would write, all I could think of was how I wanted to hear His voice in all the noise, how I wanted find a way in the midst of life to learn to hear my Shepherd's voice and go towards it. I won't always have time to steal away and be quiet. We need to learn to hear His voice so clearly I can hear it in the midst of the chaos and craziness.
I wanted to share what I have learned and what God is teaching me daily in this journey to hear and follow His voice.
And I thought of this world that He loves so dearly in all its beauty and brokenness, its mess and color. He's allowed me to see such wonderful things and some beautiful people who don't have a voice to raise. They have stories to tell with their lives and no one to listen to them.
I want to be their voice.
I want to tell their stories so they don't get lost in the noise.