Lenten Meditation–The Lamb

Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
John 1:29

John the Baptist is the only one who actually calls Jesus a Lamb to His Face.  It seems a curious label to put on the Messiah expected to bring the Kingdom of God to His people with great power, might and fanfare.
A lamb?
A defenseless helpless lamb?
How could God send a mere lamb?

The label is particularly apt for this Messiah.  This mere lamb is marked for slaughter, destined for sacrifice.  The Jewish people well understood the age-old directive to find a “year old male lamb without defect”, the perfect lamb, as only that blood would demarcate their Passover rescue in Egypt.  There would be no mistaking what “Lamb of God” implied to the Jews who knew their Passover history.

But John is even more revolutionary than simply calling Jesus a Lamb of God.  He is not talking about a sacrifice meant only for his own people.  He is talking about a sacrifice on behalf of the world.    For the Jews, for the Gentiles, for the enemies of the Jews, for the millions of people as yet unborn.  His words cannot be clearer, ringing through to the unsettled times and people of today.

The perfect lamb is sacrificed, his blood marking the hands of the slaughterers, and washing them clean.
No mere lamb would forgive the holder of the knife.  Only so for the Lamb of God.

Lenten Meditation–Humble in Heart

photo by Josh Scholten http://www.cascadecompass.com

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
Matthew 11:29

Over twenty years ago, our first two Haflinger horses were a brother and sister team we sent for training together to learn to pull farm implements like a plow and manure spreader.  They were learning, in essence,  to be “yoked” together in their efforts to do their job.  Hans, the older brother, had previously been trained in harness, so understood what was expected and was always ready to go, usually taking on more than his share of the load.  Greta was new to this work, younger and more slightly built, so needed to be taught how to lean into the collar, how to take her fair share of the pull, and how to work in tandem with her team partner.

As it turned out, Hans became the primary work horse wanting to push on to the end of the row and Greta learned that she could be a slacker, hang back and let her brother do the brunt of the pulling.   Hans would be exhausted (and if a horse can be resentful, he probably was) and Greta was happily watching the scenery go by.  It was an uneven relationship that never quite gelled.

We can’t be slackers in faith, letting others do our job.  We are to take on the work of this world by throwing ourselves into the harness without holding back.  Our teacher walks alongside as we learn, handing us what we can manage of the load to share,  reassuring and encouraging every step of the way, being an example in gentleness and humility.   There is no contest to win here, no pride in accomplishment or trophy upon crossing the finish line.

The reward is the relationship itself and,  eventually,  the promise of rest when the work is done.





Lenten Meditation: I Will Give You Rest

photo by Josh Scholten http://www.cascadecompass.com

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Matthew 11:28

Our oldest son contacted me online today around 12:30 AM his time from a rural location in Thailand about 50 miles from the 7.0 epicenter of yesterday’s Myanmar earthquake.  He and other teachers had been spending the past 5 days supervising a group of high school seniors from their international school in Tokyo on a mission service project.   They now wondered, somewhat ironically, if they had brought seismic instability with them to a part of the world that has not had an earthquake in decades.  As he talked to me, his computer camera began to waver and shake again as he sat through another one of several aftershock tremors.

It was unnerving, to say the least.  He couldn’t relax enough to sleep.  The long planned week in Thailand so far had been a welcome relief from the constant tremors over the previous ten days in Japan, and seemed like an opportunity to forget the uncertainty of that evolving disaster.  Instead, uncertainty followed this dedicated group of teachers and students and found them tucked away on a mountainside, building a foundation for a rural Thai school, almost a stone’s throw from Myanmar.

He was weary, I could tell.  He was burdened and troubled by all he and the others had experienced over the last two weeks, it was obvious.   He was worried about his students and how they were coping, at such a young age, with another powerful reminder that human control of events on this earth is illusory.  As his mother, sitting helplessly at my kitchen computer over 8000 miles away where he could see through the window behind me how our farm was starting to bloom with spring, the only thing I could say was something he knew and had already shared with his students.

You are in God’s care, no matter what.
He is in control, not us.
He knows what being afraid feels like and tells us not to fear.
He has promised you will know His care and comfort.
He will not abandon you in your time of need.
He will let you rest.

Despite the earth trembling as he lay down his head, he fell asleep.




Lenten Meditation: Lead Those With Young

And gently lead those that are with young.
Isaiah 40:11

Parents of young children deserve special compassion from the rest of us.  I remember what it was like to juggle two crying children under the age of three at a grocery store.   One particularly stressful afternoon, I left a full cart in the middle of an aisle, picked up both overly tired screaming boys in my arms and headed to the car, too exasperated and embarrassed to continue shopping.   I was badly in need of a dose of gentleness that day.  When I see a mom in that predicament at the grocery store now, I offer whatever help she may need at the moment, because I remember what it was like.   It is my responsibility to help those who are responsible for children.

Instead of it taking a village to raise a child, it is my experience that a church family is a safer bet.  As we hunted for a church home with our two young boys, it was important to see which church made them feel just as welcome as their parents.  Some worship services discouraged the inclusion of young children in the sanctuary, shuttling them to nursery or classes instead.  I loved what I saw at the little church we eventually joined:  young children were part of the regular worship, learning to sit quietly, sometimes with surrogate grandparents equipped with colored pencils and paper to draw pictures.  There was a collaborative sense of devotion to the nurturing of each child in the church, through support of their parents, even if that meant being tolerant of the occasional rowdy toddler.

Now that my children are grown, I can be part of the lives of the dozens of younger children who are coming behind them.  I love knowing these children trust me enough to come to my arms when they need comforting, and will sit with me during worship, or draw me a special picture.   I enjoy playing piano for their Sunday School singing time, hearing them sing the same songs my children learned twenty years ago and that I learned over fifty years ago.

In gratitude to the shepherds who lead those who raise children,  the continuity of your gentle nurture is deeply appreciated~~

Lenten Meditation: Carried Close to the Heart

Homeward Bound sculpture by Allan Houser commissioned by Heifer International, Arkansas

He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart
Isaiah 40:11

I was blessed with three cuddly babies.  Each settled right into the crook of my arm, snuggling into my breast, sleeping soundly with my heartbeat echoing in their ear.  In fact, they were so comfortable it rarely worked to easily separate from them,  trying to slowly, carefully, imperceptibly lower them into their crib without their awakening.  Many quiet hours were spent rocking with them gathered close, comforting me as I comforted them.

Not every baby cuddles so contentedly.  When picked up, they become all arms and legs and arching back, grimacing and howling as they try to wiggle away, with no goal other than seeking perceived freedom.   Struggling their way out of snuggling.   Instead of comfort, it is perceived as confinement, restraint instead of respite.

There was a time, years ago, when I too was restless and uneasy about being gathered up and held close.  I wanted to go my own way, pursue a different path,  independent and rebellious.  I’m astonished to this day that I was missed,  sought out, picked up and gently carried back home.

Now I know there is no greater freedom than what is found within those arms, next to that heart.

Lenten Meditation: Feed His Flock

A Shepherd and His Flock --Julien Dupre

He shall feed his flock like a shepherd
Isaiah 40:11

Lonely business, shepherding.  Unless you happen to like the company of dozens of sheep and their doggy guards.  Then it becomes just the right kind of fellowship–though a bit vocal, maybe somewhat wayward, with a tendency to decide their own path unless constantly supervised and guided.   It really is a labor of love.

There is one truth about sheep:  if there is meadow to graze and they sense safety in numbers with their protectors near, they are pretty content.

I’m definitely more sheep than shepherd, hungry to be fed and happy to keep my nose down in the pasture, very glad to be part of a larger body, though at times still skittish enough to make a run for it on my own if I lose my bearings.   Then the shepherd has to haul me back into the flock again, reminding me where I belong, and from where my sustenance comes.  Alone, on my own, I’m coyote fodder.

Might I gradually become more shepherd than sheep someday?   Becoming more caretaker than cared over, to feed others rather than be fed?

I won’t think of it as labor, but rather it would be a gift of love.

Lenten Meditation: Open Unstop Leap Shout

photo by Josh Scholten http://www.cascadecompass.com

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Isaiah 35:5-6

The miracles are documented for those of us who were not there to witness them.  A touch of saliva to eyes and tongue, fingers placed in ears, words that gave new life to paralyzed limbs.   As a physician who has worked with many tools in healing over thirty years, I know the power of spoken words, or the comforting touch.  But there is nothing I can do with those simple means that can reverse the irreversible.  Of course many medical “miracles” happen every day in the 21st century,  but it takes far more than the spit and words of the 1st century to make them happen.   Far far more.

These ancient miracles took place when an open heart met mercy head on.   No surgery required, no expensive medications, no magnetic imaging.   In comparison to the skills of the ultimate Physician, I’m humbled by my obvious limitations.  I myself am a blind, deaf, dumb and lame healer, completely immobilized until I undergo a open heart procedure myself.

Only then can I be unstoppable, as I leap and shout for joy.