Three Hours of Darkness – Grace Appeared

I have read the Easter story since I was a child and I am still awe struck with the way it can never be too familiar. Matthew 27:45 says, Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. Having the knowledge that darkness fell, I have not really thought about the reason why darkness fell. I read the following in the Matthew Henry Commentary: How this was signified–by an extraordinary and miraculous eclipse of the sun, which continued for three hours, Matthew 27:45. There was darkness epi pasan ten gen–over all the earth so most interpreters understand it, though our translation confines it to that land. Some of the ancients appealed to the annals of the nation concerning this extraordinary eclipse at the death of Christ, as a thing well known, and which gave notice to those parts of the world of something great then in doing as the sun’s going back in Hezekiah’s time did. It is reported that Dionysius, at Heliopolis in Egypt, took notice of this darkness, and said, Aut Deus naturæ patitur, aut mundi machina dissolvitur–Either the God of nature is suffering, or the machine of the world is tumbling into ruin. An extraordinary light gave intelligence of the birth of Christ (Matthew 2:2), and therefore it was proper that an extraordinary darkness should notify his death, for he is the Light of the world. The indignities done to our Lord Jesus, made the heavens astonished, and horribly afraid, and even put them into disorder and confusion such wickedness as this the sun never saw before, and therefore withdrew, and would not see this. This surprising, amazing, darkness was designed to stop the mouths of those blasphemers, who were reviling Christ as he hung on the cross and it should seem that, for the present, it struck such a terror upon them, that though their hearts were not changed, yet they were silent, and stood doubting what this should mean, till after three hours the darkness scattered, and then (as appears by Matthew 27:47), like Pharaoh when the plague was over, they hardened their hearts. But that which was principally intended in this darkness, was, (1.) Christ’s present conflict with the powers of darkness. Now the prince of this world, and his forces, therulers of the darkness of this world, were to be cast out, to be spoiled and vanquished and to make his victory the more illustrious, he fights them on their own ground gives them all the advantage they could have against him by this darkness, lets them take the wind and sun, and yet baffles them, and so becomes more than a conqueror. (2.) His present want of heavenly comforts. This darkness signified that dark cloud which the human soul of our Lord Jesus was now under. God makes his sun to shine upon the just and upon the unjust but even the light of the sun was withheld from our Saviour, when he was made sin for us. A pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun but because now his soul was exceeding sorrowful, and the cup of divine displeasure was filled to him without mixture, even the light of the sun was suspended. When earth denied him a drop of cold water, heaven denied him a beam of light having to deliver us from utter darkness, he did himself, in the depth of his sufferings, walk in darkness, and had no light, Isaiah 50:10. During the three hours that this darkness continued, we do not find that he said one word, but passed this time in a silent retirement into his own soul, which was now in agony, wrestling with the powers of darkness, and taking in the impressions of his Father’s displeasure, not against himself, but the sin of man, which he was now making his soul an offering for. Never were there three such hours since the day that God created man upon the earth, never such a dark and awful scene the crisis of that great affair of man’s redemption and salvation.

As I have been pondering this particular verse in Matthew’s telling of all that transpired on that day. I can’t help but ask one other thought provoking question.

What if it was so dark because grace was so thick?

Grace descended on earth with such a presence that silenced mankind. Grace overwhelms!  Centuries later and we sing lyrics such as “Grace Greater Than Our Sin”

Marvelous grace or our loving Lord

grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!

Yonder on Calvary’s Mount outpoured,

There where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.

Grace Grace God’s Grace,

Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;

Grace, grace, God’s grace,

Grace that is greater than all our sin!

Have you, like me, ever really taken it in that the grace God shed on us through His son is greater than all of our sin: individually and collectively? As I have thought about this over the last several days, I just had to ask about those three hours 2000 years ago. Did it take the thick darkness of grace to expose the broken lives sin destroys?

During my college years, I spent two summers working for a group of Orthopedic doctors. While I mostly worked in the file room, I did get the opportunity to learn how to work in the dark room.  This is where the x-ray film was developed before being handed over to the physician. Believe me, it was literally a dark room – absolutely no light.  So there I would sit with one lone radio for company and wait for film to be dropped and then when ready I would transfer it to be picked up for viewing.  Only the complete darkness of that Dark Room could expose what needed to be healed. So I sit writing my thoughts on this blog wondering the same thing.  Was the darkness that fell on the earth that day needed to expose what needed to be healed?  Was it grace laying on the world so heavy that when it lifted man’s heart was exposed?  When the curtain in the temple tore from top to bottom, was that the power of marvelous grace inviting us to come boldly to the throne of God?

Jesus hung on the cross, shedding His blood for my sin and at the same time pouring out grace’s invitation, beckoning the world to trust Him through faith. When love so powerful comes from the One who created time and is not constrained by time takes the time to shed grace; it could come with a powerful earthquake, tearing of the Temple curtain and darkness.  When grace met sin in a collision of holiness and evil; grace came in with a fury. Satan could not win that day and he could not keep Christ in the grave.  Death could not hold Him! The grave could not keep Him! Grace had been shed and mercy had been poured out freely.

Let us not romanticize grace and think it always comes in softly.  Sometimes grace says “enough!” and you hear “It is Finished”.  Then the earth shakes.  Grace has a power that will not only overwhelm the heart of man,it takes over the atmosphere.  Never underestimate the power of that marvelous grace… “grace that is greater than all my sin and guilt”.

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The Hospitable Heart

Several days ago, I was given the opportunity to set up a booth at a Minister’s Wives Retreat. When I arrived, I made my way to registration and was greeted with warm welcomes. There was laughter, a lot of chatter, and women embracing one another. A few had settled in by the fire, enjoying delightful conversations. I set up my booth, found my room, and then made my way to the dining hall.  What I experienced for the next 24 hours deeply touched my soul and has forever changed how I desire to BE in women’s ministry.

For me, there is nothing worse than walking into a room full of women that are there with one another and I do not know a soul.  As I made my way through the buffet line, I looked around and it suddenly felt like high school all over again.  You know the feeling… (well, maybe you do… if not just humor me)  I looked at each table and realized that everyone there already had a place and I felt like the misfit. So I prayed quietly as I prepared my salad asking the Lord to lead me to a table where I could sit and possibly make a few new friends. I made my way passed the first few tables and finally stopped and asked, “May I sit here?”  I was greeted with five spontaneous smiles and “Yes, please do”.  The introductions began and the lady next to me immediately began talking to me. Then a lady walked toward the table and all the ladies at the table asked her if she had eaten.  They quickly introduced me to her and I realized this was the lady who was overseeing the retreat and had been so gracious and open to my setting up my booth.  As we all talked, time passed and it was time to go into the first large group session. I was invited to sit with them and as we all interacted I realized that when the love of Christ is the bond there is no stranger.  However, there was more to it than just that one principle of the body of Christ. How do I know this?  I have had other experiences, where the particular ingredients of a similar experience were completely missing.

As I walked to my room at one o’clock in the morning after spending more time with this fabulous group of ladies huddled all together in one hotel room, I wondered what was so different. The next day did not disappoint! As I interacted with this particular group of women that all serve together at the same church, I watched them interact with many others.  They served one another with the same love and with such grace.  I drove home later that evening and knew that my soul had been touched and my heart had been challenged.  Over these past few days, I have pondered what I experienced.  I cannot say it better than Peter wrote it in I Peter 4:9-10.

Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”

These women were more than welcoming, they were hospitable. They were not just being nice to the new gal.  They wanted to know the new gal. They were not just being polite to the other women attending the retreat, they served the women.  I heard a quote years ago that the way to the top is through the towel. In other words, you want to influence others and affect people with the love of Jesus then you must serve them. This is what I saw and experienced with this group of women.

As I have reflected on my experience, I have found myself desiring to live out what the beautiful ladies of Georgia graciously displayed. What would our women’s ministries be if we each were hospitable to one another without grumbling?  How effective would we be if we ministered to one another as good stewards of grace?  Talk about amazing! If we think that hospitality is merely an act of being friendly then we water down the Gospel.  Hospitality is an overflow of the heart.  These women touched my heart and my soul has been refreshed.

Hospitality is connected to our attitude and the way we minister to one another can only be as deep as the grace we swim in. Hats off to the fabulous ladies of the GA Baptist Convention! A particular thank you to some of the most beautiful souls I have ever met, the minister wives of North Metro FBC in Atlanta, GA are one of a kind.  You have an attitude that reflects the heart of God and you swim deep in grace.

There will be a drawing for a beautiful print.  Here’s the catch! Please comment on the blog post and nominate a minister’s wife or a women’s ministry leader.  A name will be drawn on Sunday.  Please check back on Sunday to see if your nominee won and arrangements will be made to contact you.

Divorce: Balancing Truth with Grace

I was asked the following questions: “Without “bashing” the other parent, how do you answer those hard questions that children ask during/after a divorce?” and “How do you break the news to your kids that divorce is imminent?” I can identify with both of these women’s concerns. When someone is seeking the Lord with all of their heart in the midst of circumstances that they have no control one of the best options is to walk through that fire balancing truth with grace. It is one of the most beautiful gifts you can give to your children in the midst of such an ugly situation.

When you seek truth and you walk in the truth and you speak truth then you will not be “bashing” the other parent. Children only ask what they want to know. However, they do need to be given direct and truthful answers. What we are called to do is to show grace.  The hard truth will need to be spoken. It is in truth that the way is made for overwhelming grace to wash over us and begin to heal us. If we sugarcoat the truth to make ourselves comfortable and to avoid the difficult conversations then we shortchange the power of grace.

How do you know know if you are “bashing” or speaking truth? What is your motive behind why you are giving the information you are giving? It is not your responsibility to prove the pain that exists in the hearts of those under your roof. They know the pain because they feel the pain. Nor is it your obligation to prove your own pain to your children as a way to win their devotion to you. You can and must walk them through the brokenness with validation of their pain and their own experiences.

The more direct you can be when breaking the news of the divorce to your children is best.  Direct does not mean there will not be emotion.  What it does mean is you are setting a standard within your own home to not ignore the elephant in the room. You are willing and available to be fully present for the tough stuff. That conversation will be very difficult, but the focus is their pain. Depending on the ages of the children the conversations will be different and the emotional responses will vary.

Ultimately, you will need to take care of your soul and guard your heart.  No one is able to balance truth with grace unless you walk in the truth of God’s Word and allow the loving-kindness of the all knowing God to bring into the light what has been hidden in the dark. To lead your children with openness and honesty, you must first and foremost be open and honest with others that are godly and trustworthy.

As you walk in truth and experience grace, your children will begin to have the confidence to do what they see you living. In the darkest times and the ugly circumstances the greatest gift you can give your children is truth and grace. The truth of the reality you all are living and the grace to allow their emotions and the pain of their heart to be validated. Then the great opportunity is to walk with joy knowing that His grace is sufficient and He has you all in His grip. Allowing for every tear to fall understanding the Lord sees each of you and your pain is not invisible. Leading your children with understanding that only God can give purpose to the pain. Give them truth. Give them grace. Give them purpose.

A winner will be chosen from the comment section below for the next giveaway!

all things through Christ

For years, Philippians 4:13 has been the one verse that has been universal in my life.  When I was asked recently what my favorite bible verse is, this immediately came to mind.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”

I can’t think of one life circumstance or any situation that this verse cannot give wisdom and direction.  However, it is important that I keep this verse in context.  So often, we are tempted to use God’s Word like a fortune cookie. This is not a good luck charm. Why did Paul write this short but ever powerful sentence? Philippians 4:13 is the wrapping paper on the gift of contentment.

 “But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

For years I did not understand the context that Paul wrote Philippians 4:13.  I have to admit I did use it as a motivator, my personal good luck charm. Then life was slammed by a crisis called divorce and single motherhood and I really wondered if I could do all things through Christ and if He would strengthen my very weak and wounded soul. As the days turned into months and the months into year 1 and so on; I did learn that I could do whatever the “all things” were for that day and His strength is perfect.  I did not experience Philippians 4:13 fully until I understood and began to “learn that whatever state I am, to be content”.

The verse that I discovered in my early teens became my most challenging truth. We like the motivational feel of Paul’s words but dare we really experience the depth of these words with the blood, sweat and tears of really being content in WHATEVER state we find ourselves. Can we really live everyday, “in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need”. If we only choose to quote Philippians 4:13 as a way to pump ourselves up for selfish gain and personal motivations then we cheapen the truth and we miss the perfection of His strength and the sufficiency of His grace.

We cannot have one without the other.  When I choose to be content in whatever state I am in then I fully experience that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I did find contentment in abandonment and rejection.  I did find contentment in my singleness and parenting alone. I learned that when one chooses contentment, Jesus is there. When Jesus is your resting place,you stop wanting and you begin to be satisfied in Him – the one who sustains you and the one who keeps you.

It is only THROUGH CHRIST that we can do whatever our “all things” are.  However it is only in choosing contentment in those “all things” that we experience a strength that cannot let go.

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when the unseen cannot be hidden

Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. (Proverbs 11:14)

As the months have gone by I have struggled in walking in obedience to telling my story. Why? It is painful. It is personal. I fear the scars I have will be judged. However, the Lord will not let it go and in obedience I step out trusting the One who led me through the pain the first time will give the grace I need to open up about the pain this time.

I have discovered over the last five years that it is only God that gives purpose to our pain. The pain Jesus suffered on the cross not only has purpose, it has great significance too. We glory in His suffering on the cross because it benefits our soul. Yet, we struggle to see His glory in our suffering because we desperately desire to be comfortable.

It is our desire to be comfortable or pretending to be comfortable that can lead to dangerous places. During these next several weeks or months, however long it takes me, I want to be transparent, using wisdom to address what should be addressed, and challenging the “lifeboat syndrome” among Christians today. (Lifeboat Syndrome is my personal made up term.) what do I mean?

Maybe you have been on a cruise ship and one of the first things you do is know where the lifeboats are located, how to get to the lifeboats quickly and effectively and how to wear the life jacket. It has been years since I have been on a cruise and so I am not sure if they continue that same safety speech or not. Nevertheless, if you are on a ship, you are all the wiser if you know how and where to get on the lifeboat. How crazy and irrational would it be if the ship you were on began to sink and you ran for the lifeboat and as you climbed in you immediately felt judged, ridiculed, misunderstood, and embarrassed. You realized there were only a few of you that had chosen the lifeboat option and the ones that remained on the ship seemed confident that the choice you were making was wrong. You heard the ones outside the lifeboat saying, “Have more faith”, “Read your Bible more”, “Pretend that everything is alright”, “We don’t see the problem so you must be over-reacting”. The confidence in the decision you are making to abandon the sinking ship for your own safety is now turning into confusion.

This is the struggle of the church. How do I know? As a counselor and one that has gone to counseling – I have sat in both chairs. I see it from the counseling side and I see if from the perspective of one seeking guidance. Just as Proverbs 11:14 states, “there is safety in a multitude of counselors”. Why do we shame those that seek it out. Why isn’t the church removing the stigma that the world has placed on mental health care? More importantly, why is the church helping place that stigma on those that seek help and desire to be “normal” and “better”.

You see, in 2008, I began to pray desperately for truth to be revealed in my own situation. My pain became greater than my fear and I no longer asked for relief, I begged for revelation. I knew things were not “normal” in my marriage. I had known it for several years. I too lived a long time refusing to get on the lifeboat because I thought if I pretended well and protected my image then the gaping hole in my marriage would never be noticed. In other words, I knew deep down that the lifeboat was there but to climb into that lifeboat meant I no longer participated in the games of denial, avoidance, pretending, and an unhealthy system. The hypocrisy I have to admit is I represented the lifeboat to many people by my own profession: counselor. However, I had to face the ugly truth that I believed the lifeboat was for “those other people”. I was afraid to enter the lifeboat myself.

Chronic pain of the soul will do one of two things: drive you to get in the lifeboat or jump ship in a reckless manner. Either way, your pain will become greater than your fear. The choice is what that pain drives you to do. I remember the day, I chose to climb into the lifeboat. What I didn’t expect is all that happened when I was in the lifeboat and on my way to safety.