Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Question and A Promise

So, yesterday, I was reading in Genesis (chapter 18:1-15, NLT), where the pre-incarnate Christ, accompanied by two angels decide to visit Abraham's family on their way to check out Sodom and Gomorrah before destroying it. (Sometimes, when I remove my "overexposed" lenses, the words of Scripture just blow me away.)

Anyway, what I realized when reading these verses is that I don't think Jesus and his two angel escorts came just to visit Abraham...I think one of the main reasons they came was to visit Sarah--to give her a promise, to encourage her, to help her faith grow. (Remember, up to this point, Abraham had been the only one to hear directly from God about all the wonderful things He had in store for the two of them.)...Well, here, I'll let you read it for yourself:

"...One day Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent
during the hottest part of the day.
He looked up and noticed three men standing nearby.
When he saw them, he ran to meet them
and welcomed them, bowing low to the ground.
“My lord,” he said, “if it pleases you, stop here for a while.

Rest in the shade of this tree
while water is brought to wash your feet.
And since you’ve honored your servant with this visit,
let me prepare some food to refresh you
before you continue on your journey.”
“All right, as you have said,” they replied.
So Abraham ran back to the tent and said to Sarah,

“Hurry! Get three large measures (seahs) of your best flour,
knead it into dough, and bake some bread.”
(FYI, I recently learned that "three large seahs" is about 50 pounds of flour, enough to feed more than 100 people--a pretty extravagant offering for these three heavenly guests!)
Then Abraham ran out to the herd
and chose a tender calf and gave it to his servant,
who quickly prepared it.
(OK...I can't help myself from pointing out that while Abraham might have said, "let me prepare some food"...notice who actually did the preparing--Sarah and the unnamed servant.)

When the food was ready, Abraham...served it to the men.
As they ate, Abraham waited on them in the shade of the trees.
“Where is Sarah, your wife?” the visitors asked. of those "visitors" was the pre-incarnate, all-knowing Christ, which meant He knew exactly where Sarah was. So, why did he ask where she was? I think it's safe to assume He wanted Sarah to hear Him call her name. After all...who of us doesn't perk up our ears when we hear someone speak our name?

Abraham replied, "She's inside the tent."
Then one of them said,
“I will return to you about this time next year,
and your wife, Sarah, will have a son!”
(Now,) Sarah was listening to this conversation from the tent.

Abraham and Sarah were both very old by this time,
and Sarah was long past the age of having children.
So she laughed silently to herself and said,
“How could a worn-out woman like me enjoy such pleasure,
especially when my master—my husband—is also so old?”
My heart hurt a little for Sarah when I read those words. Remember, in Sarah's ancient culture, barrenness was viewed as something shameful, and many saw it as as sign of being cursed by God.

"Then the Lord said to Abraham,“Why did Sarah laugh?

Why did she say, ‘Can an old woman like me have a baby'?"

If there was any leftover doubt about the identity of One of these visitors, I think the above verses obliterate it--after all, only God could cause a 90-ish-year-old barren woman to conceive a baby and hear silent laughter from inside a tent!

(Then, the Lord said,) "Is anything too hard for the Lord?"

...I think those 7 hope-giving, faith-building words are meant for Sarah's "worn-out" heart...her worn-out faith. He knew He had to rebuild and renew that faith before the conception and birth of His promised child could unfold.
Sarah's answer...her response to Jesus' vital. So, He doesn't leave her with just that question. Instead, he speaks to her a promise. Let's listen:
"I will return about this time next year,
and Sarah will have a son.” many of us (including myself)...when Jesus starts trying to bring us out of hiding, Sarah's initial, knee-jerk reaction is fear, which causes denial and...let's just call it what it herself, to others, to Jesus:
Sarah was afraid, so she denied it, saying, “I didn’t laugh.”
But the Lord said, “No, you did laugh.”
I love those two verses. They perfectly paint a picture of Jesus' consistent "modus operandi"--He has to show us ourselves before He can show us Himself.

In a "perfect world," the next chapter of Genesis would tell us all about Jesus' promise to Sarah being quickly and neatly fulfilled. But, the Divine Author of Genesis knows the world in which we live; so, in the next chapter, He shows us that, even in this fallen, imperfect, often dangerous world, He keeps track of His chosen ones. And, does anything necessary to make sure His promises and purposes are fulfilled in their lives.

Let's look at what happened to Sarah after Jesus left her with a question and a promise (Genesis 20 NLT):
....While living (in Gerar) as a foreigner,
Abraham introduced his wife, Sarah, by saying,
“She's my sister.”
So King Abimelech of Gerar sent for Sarah
and had her brought to him at his palace.
But that (very) night

God came to Abimelech in a dream and told him,
“You are a dead man,
for that woman you have taken is already married!”
But Abimelech had not slept with her yet,

so he said, “Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation?
Didn’t Abraham tell me, ‘She is my sister’?
And she herself said, ‘Yes, he is my brother.’
I acted in complete innocence! My hands are clean.”
In the dream God responded, “Yes, I know you are innocent.

That’s why I kept you from sinning against me,
and why I did not let you touch her.
Now return the woman to her husband,
and he will pray for you, for he is a prophet.
Then you will live.
But if you don’t return her to him,
you can be sure that you and all your people will die.”
....Then Abimelech took some of his sheep and goats,

cattle, and male and female servants,
and he presented them to Abraham.
He also returned his wife, Sarah, to him.
Then Abimelech said, “Look over my land
and choose any place where you would like to live.”
And he said to Sarah,
“Look, I am giving (Abraham) 1,000 pieces of silver
in the presence of all these witnesses.
This is to compensate you for any wrong I may have done to you.
This will settle any claim against me, and your reputation is cleared....”

So...through a "dream" to a pagan king, God protected Sarah, His promise to her, and His still-to-come purpose for her. (And even caused her husband to acquire more sheep, goats, cattle, servants, land and silver!)
Now...don't you imagine that, as Sarah saw God's hand working in the above scary events and circumstances of her life, and delivering her from Abimelech (with sheep and silver to boot), she remembered His question to her that day as she hid in the tent: "Is anything too hard for the Lord?"
...And, as she remembered, her mustard-seed-sized faith began to grow...even before the promised baby began to grow in her 90ish-year old, miraculously rejuvenated womb.

While we know "the rest of the story," just for fun, let's read it as Eugene Peterson records it in The Message (Genesis 21):
"God visited Sarah exactly as he said he would;
God did to Sarah what he promised:
Sarah became pregnant
and gave Abraham a son in his old age,
and at the very time God had set.
Abraham named him Isaac.
When his son was eight days old,
Abraham circumcised him just as God had commanded.
Abraham was 100 years old when his son Isaac was born.
Sarah said, God has blessed me with laughter

and all who get the news will laugh with me!
She also said,
Whoever would have suggested to Abraham
that Sarah would one day nurse a baby!
Yet here I am! I've given the old man a son!"

Over and over again in God's story...both "then" and now...I see a pattern:
God shows us who we are...
Then...He shows us a new revelation of who He is...
Then...He allows a test to see if we're going to have faith in that revelation of who He is.
(In other words, how are we going to answer the question, "Is anything too hard for God?")
Then...when we answer "Yes, God, I'm going to trust You." spite of our feelings, circumstances or consequences...He shows us something new (again) about ourselves and about Himself....
And the same pattern just seems to flow and unfold continually throughout the story of our lives.

Abraham and Sarah's stories tell us there's no such thing as a "retirement plan" when it comes to our journey of always-tested, ever-growing faith through this upside-down Kingdom. With each new revelation from Jesus about who we are and who He is, there's always the test--the moment where we have to answer the question, "Is anything too hard for God?" My Jesus-lovin' friend Marla puts it this way, "New devil." (She says she heard that from Joyce Meyer.) But, Marla and I (and Joyce...and Abraham and Sarah...and millions of others) would be quick to add, "New place. New grace!"

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A Far-Off Battle

It seems just about everything I've read this week deals with the Resurrection and what that history-changing event is supposed to mean in the lives of those who love and follow the Resurrected One.
For most of my life, I thought the Resurrection only affected what happens to me after that last breath, that final heartbeat. But, thanks to those whose words have opened the eyes of my heart, I'm beginning to grasp that God wants me to walk in the power of the Resurrection in the here and this very day.'ll let Paul tell you in his words: "I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms." (Ephesians 2:19-20 NLT)
So, what keeps me from living in that incredible power? Well...for's probably a combination of things. First of all, I don't take the time to fully embrace that truth and what it means in and for my life.
Secondly, I don't want to experience the death that resurrection requires. I don't want to "die to Karen Bowdle"...her wants...her worries...her motives...her plans...her old patterns. I want her to be in charge. In other words, I'm so full of Karen Bowdle that the power of the Resurrection can't even find room.
But, thankfully...the Holy Spirit is teaching me ('s a process) long as Karen Bowdle is in charge...she cannot live in the power of the Resurrection that Jesus longs for her to live in.
So...the call is to die daily to past old patterns. And, in this physical, natural, material world, "death" always sounds like something negative and depressing. this upside-down Kingdom of faith...this daily dying is simply a cross-shaped door that allows me to live this day in the power of the Resurrection--with all of its blessings and brokenness, crashes and chaos, dreams and disasters.
Here's how the Resurrected One said it to those first disciples: “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it." (Matt. 16:24-25, NLT) Eugene Peterson translates the Master's first few words this way: "Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead."
Wow! What would life be like if I fully embraced those words?
I want to share some words by Alister McGrath about the power of the Resurrection. I know they're long, but since I've read them, they've stayed with me. They encourage me. They help explain for me the seeming contradiction between this physical fallen world we live in and this spiritual Kingdom in which those who love Jesus walk by faith:
"The cross spells freedom. It brings liberation from false understandings of God. It shows that God is there--despite all suggestions that he is not. Good Friday seemed to confirm that God was dead....Easter Day showed that God is alive, well and caring. The cross frees us from the idea that human nature is somehow too sinful, or the human dilemma too complex, for God to do anything about it. The surly bonds that tie us to these deeply pessimistic and oppressive views of God are torn apart by the cross. The Creator becomes a creature within his own creation, in order to recreate it. In the aftermath of Gethsemane, we catch the fragrance of Eden. Jesus was betrayed in a undo the disobedience of human nature within the garden of Eden. The resurrection is like the first day of a new creation.
So, how does this image of what God achieved through the cross help us make sense of sin? What does it tell us about our situation apart from Christ? It encourages us to think of sin as enslavement and oppression. It is like the oppression that burdened the Israelites in Egypt...It invites us to imagine the sense of despair and hopelessness that plagued Europe in the darker days of Nazi occupation. It declares, "This is what sin is like." It reminds us that a state of oppression leads to a feeling of oppression. And, no amount of tinkering around with the feeling can ever change the real state (situation), which causes the (feelings) of despair (and oppression) in the first place. Real peace of mind requires a real change in our situation.
Now, think of the cross and resurrection of Jesus as breaking the power of sin (the state of oppression). But, if the power of sin, death and evil has been broken, how can we make sense of the fact that it still continues to plague us?...How can be handle this (seeming contradiction)?
A helpful way was (described) by a group of writers....They noticed important parallels between the New Testament and the situation during the Second World War. The victory won over sin through the death and resurrection of Christ was like the liberation of an occupied country from Nazi rule. We need to allow our imaginations to take in the sinister and menacing idea of an occupying power. Life has to be lived under the shadow of this foreign presence. And, part of the poignancy of the situation is its utter hopelessness. Nothing can be done about it. No one can defeat it.
But...then comes the electrifying news. There has been a far-off battle. And, somehow, it has turned the tide of the war. A new phase has developed, and the (evil) occupying power is in disarray. Its backbone has been broken. In the course of time, the (enemy) will be driven out of every corner of Europe. But...(for now)...they are still present in the occupied country. In one sense, the situation has not changed, but in another more important sense, the situation has changed totally. The scent of victory and liberation is in the air. A total change in the psychological (and spiritual) climate results.
I remember once meeting a man who had been held prisoner in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in Singapore. He told me of the astonishing change in the camp atmosphere that came about when one of the prisoners (who owned a shortwave radio) learned of the collapse of the Japanese war effort in the middle of 1945. Although all in the camp still remained prisoners, they knew their enemy had been beaten. It would only be a matter of time before they were released. And, those prisoners, I was told, began to laugh and cry, as if they were free already.
The end of World War II in Europe came (in 1945),...but an objective change had already taken place...with the establishment of the bridgeheads in Normandy in June 1944--(which caused) a resulting subjective change in the hearts and minds of captive people.
And so with us now. In one sense, victory has not come; in another, it has. The resurrection declares in advance...God's total victory over all evil and oppressive forces--such as death and sin. Their backbone has been broken, and we may begin to live now in the light of that victory. ..." (Alister McGrath, "In the Light of Victory")

"In the resurrection scheme of things, this has to happen:
everything perishable taken off the shelves
and replaced by the imperishable,
this mortal replaced by the immortal.
Then the saying will come true:
Death swallowed by triumphant Life!
Who got the last word, oh, Death?
Oh, Death, who's afraid of you now?
It was sin that made death so frightening
and law-code guilt that gave sin its leverage,
its destructive power.
But now in a single victorious stroke of Life,
all three—sin, guilt, death—are gone,
the gift of our Master, Jesus Christ. Thank God! With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends,
stand your ground.
And don't hold back.
Throw yourselves into the work of the Master,
confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort."
(1 Corinthians 15:54-58, The Message)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Come to Vacation Bible School!

Every summer, the most exciting thing to happen in the little town of Kimberly, Alabama, was Vacation Bible School. I'm not quite sure who was more excited--the kids or the mamas.

Most years, the Baptists and Methodists and Pentecostals would cooperate and spread their VBSes over several weeks--those were the years the mamas were happiest.

On the Saturday before each VBS, all the church folks would gather in the respective church parking lot and decorate their cars and pick-up trucks with balloons, crepe paper streamers and signs made from magic markers and poster board.

Me and my brother were lucky--we had connections at both the Church of God and Kimberly First Baptist, so we got to be in both parades. Most years, our Mimi came out all the way from Birmingham for the Baptist parade. And, our cousin, Donald, always had the coolest vehicle in the parade--some years it was a convertible and other years it was a VW van.

The excitement in those parking lots would build until the Kimberly Volunteer Fire Department's lone firetruck pulled in. (It was typically driven by the pastor of the church hosting the parade, which meant that, for most of my childhood, Brother Thompson was the driver.)

When it pulled in...well....we'd just go crazy. We'd clap and cheer and jump up and down. The boys in their summer buzz-cuts and newly-cut-off jean shorts would start fighting over who was gonna ride on the firetruck. Eventually, they'd sort it out.

Then, with the firetruck leading the way, followed closely by the Kimberly Police Department's cruiser--driven by either Dingler or Bullhead--mamas and daddys would line up their cars with piles of kids packed inside (no seatbelts required).

And...with the sounding of the firetruck siren, that year's Vacation Bible School parade would officially begin.

Because it was an anticipated annual tradition...and because the firetruck and police sirens announced our arrival long before we got there, families would line up all along Stouts Road. They would wave and holler, and we'd holler back, "Come to Vacation Bible School. Come to Vacation Bible School."

We'd parade through Kimberly all the way down Stouts Road...then we'd boldly cross into the town of Morris, shouting our evangelistic VBS message all the way down Cutoff Road, until we'd loop back on Thunder Road and end up at the cemetery. (I always wondered why we kept hollering "Come to Vacation Bible School" even while driving through the cemetery. But...some things you just know you're not supposed to question.)

It was at the cemetery Stop sign that Leah Nail broke her nose. If I remember correctly, she didn't realize the parade had come to a complete stop; she hit the fender of the car in front of her, and her nose couldn't stop before it hit her steering wheel. As far as I can remember, that was the only parade casualty in the entire history of Kimberly VBS parades.

As we made our way back to the church parking lot, the crowds on the sides of Stouts Road would have dwindled, with only a few stragglers returning our waves.

Then...just like that...the parade was over...until the next weekend...when another denomination would take up where we had left off. (Hmmm...maybe, ultimately, that's the purpose for so many denominations.) couldn't stay too sad when you remembered that your upcoming week held the promise of glued-on-macaroni-and-gold-spray-painted-cigar-box crafts, graham-cracker-and-apple-juice snacks, and the hope that you just might get picked to carry the Christian flag up the aisle for pledges, while everyone sang the unofficial VBS anthem: "Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before."

One year, one of my teachers--I think it was Sister Bobbie Stone--went to the extra trouble of buying us ceramics to paint. I picked a pair of praying hands. I thought they were beautiful. I always imagined they were Jesus' hands as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. For years, I kept them hanging on a nail in "my half" of the little room I shared with my brother.

When I think about those summer VBS days, I still feel something...warm and wonderful...down inside. If I had to guess, I'd guess that our pastor, Brother Doug, grew up with his own VBS memories. I'll bet that's why he's so determined to give today's children their own--many of them will even have "salvation memories" as a result of Brother Doug's untiring passion for VBS.
If you stumbled into our church during VBS week, you'd swear you'd found some hidden Disney park tucked away in a parking lot in Farragut, TN. At our church, VBS is HUGE, and Brother Doug is the most excited one in the bunch.

This will be the first year my boys won't be able to go--they'll be on a mission trip with their dad in Honduras. Until this year, we had our own VBS tradition, with nephews and our lone niece often traveling from Alabama and South Carolina to "experience" VBS at First Baptist Concord. To tell the truth, it will be a little sad this year. hope is they'll look back one day with their own "warm and wonderful" memories of VBS week--I just wish I could have offered them a full-fledged parade. I tried a version of it one year. On the way to the first morning, I rolled down the window of my non-ballooned, un-crepe-papered minivan and started hollering, "Come to Vacation Bible School! Come to Vacation Bible School!"

Well...let's just say, they were all appalled.

"In the Messiah, in Christ,
God leads us from place to place
in one perpetual victory parade.
Through us, he brings knowledge of Christ.
Everywhere we go,
people breathe in the exquisite fragrance.
Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God,
which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—
an aroma redolent with life."
(2 Corinthians 2:14-15, The Message)
"We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen.
We look at this Son
and see God's original purpose in everything created.
For everything, absolutely everything, above and below,
visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—
everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him.
He was there before any of it came into existence
and holds it all together right up to this moment.
And when it comes to the church,
he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body.
He was supreme in the beginning and
leading the resurrection parade
he is supreme in the end.
From beginning to end he's there,
towering far above everything, everyone.
So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God
finds its proper place in him without crowding.
Not only that,
but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—
people and things, animals and atoms—
get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies,
all because of his death,
his blood that poured down from the cross."
(Colossians 1:15-20, The Message)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sister Thompson

My friend, Jeff, e-mailed me this morning to let me know that Sister Thompson had passed away. His words made me cry and smile at the same time....Well, here, I'll let you read them for yourselves:

"I just got word that Sister Thompson has passed away. My first inclination was to be sad, but then I decided that, instead, I would rejoice. I know where that lady is! She was the epitome of a Lady of God! I just bet that heaven has heard her sing already."

Sister Thompson was the wife of the first pastor I remember at the Kimberly Church of God. She was beautiful. When I was a little girl, I didn't know what to call the kind of beauty she had. These days, I would say she was elegant and grace-filled. She just had a certain something about her that made little girls want to grow up to be like her, and "big girls" want to be around her. In the words of Jeff, she was indeed a "Lady of God".

Every once in awhile, she would sing a solo. My favorite for her to sing was "The Love of God."

Now, I realize there are those of you who read these little words of mine who've never heard anyone speak in tongues, some of you don't even believe they exist any longer, and some of you have simply been scared to death by a past experience.

But, whichever above category you fit into, I simply wish you could have heard Sister Thompson sing in tongues. It most often happened when she was singing "The Love of God"--maybe that's why it was my favorite for her to sing.

I remember sitting on that pew thinking, "So this is what 'the tongues of men and of angels' sounds like." When it happened, it was stunning and made you want to know this "love of God" she sang about.

I probably wouldn't have felt this way if her life had not mirrored her song. But it did. Consistently. Graciously. Lovingly. Someone once said about Brother and Sister Thompson, "If they can't get you to Jesus any other way, they'll just love you to Him."

When I first heard that famous quote by St. Francis of Assisi--"Preach the Gospel at all times and, when necessary, use words."--Brother and Sister Thompson were some of the first people I thought of. Their lives preached--their sermons and songs simply matched.

I can't wait to hear her sing again!

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.

O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure
The saints’ and angels’ song.

When years of time shall pass away,
And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,
When men, who here refuse to pray,
On rocks and hills and mountains call,
God’s love so sure, shall still endure,
All measureless and strong;
Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—
The saints’ and angels’ song.

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

(FYI, a footnote in the Hymnal reads: "The words of the last verse of this song were found penciled on the wall of a narrow room of an asylum by a man said to have been demented. The profound lines were discovered after his death.")

I love the LORD, because he heard my voice and my pleas for mercy.
Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live.…
Gracious is the LORD, and righteous;
our God is merciful….
Return, O my soul, to your rest;
for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.
For you have delivered my soul from death,
my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling;
I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living….
What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD….
Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.
O LORD, I am your servant;…
You have loosed my bonds.
I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving
and call on the name of the LORD.
(from Psalm 116, ESV)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The original Karen Bowdle

While it's true that my name is Karen Bowdle, and has been for more than 20 years, I am not the original. Forty-plus years ago today (I'll let her tell you the exact number), Karen Lee Bowdle came into the world as the baby girl of Donald and Nancy and the little sister of Keven.

And, if the stories are true, once she started talking, she never really stopped. With the other three members of her household being pretty quiet folks, I guess she figured somebody had to provide the entertainment.

I'll never forget the night I worked up the courage to tell her the story of "my life before her brother." I was visiting her parents' home, and we lay across her grandmother Mom-Mom's bed talking for hours. She listened--without judgment...with grace--to my "broken road" history and how I had finally surrendered to the growing love I felt for her big brother.

Since that night, we've shared each other's weddings, the deaths of parents, the blending of families, the births of five babies, the blues of post-partum, the fun of vacations, the growing-pains of hard times, the joy of celebrations and, more recently, the challenges of the middle-years--weight and wrinkles, insomnia and cellulite, hormones and hot flashes.

Now...we find ourselves sharing the amazing, beautiful, challenging growing-up of those five babies--four into teenagers and a soon-to-be-double-digited Asa. Before we know it, they will be adults...grown-up LaBelles and Bowdles...who will leave us to go follow their own their own loves...hear their own Divine call...create their own memories.

Together, we have shared words that have made us laugh and spoken words that have made us cry. We have hugged; we have glared. We have argued; we have made up.

We have stayed.

At times, we have taken two steps forward and three steps back....But, it has gotten us to where we are. And where we are is a good place, a very good place.

For her birthday, I found a card that contained these words, "For we are God's workmanship." The original language is even more beautiful--we are God's work of art, God's masterpiece, God's poem.

As I thought about the meaning of that word, masterpiece, I realized that, in many ways, it reflects the 25-year history of the two Karen Bowdles. You see, masterpieces--whether music or art or literature--contain highs and lows, darks and lights, falls and redemptions, rifts and reconciliations.

I know the years ahead will hold even more laughter, more tears, more weddings and blendings, more fights and make-ups, more brights and blues, more births and deaths.

We will be stretched and tried. We will be blessed and broken. We will fall and get up again. We will learn. We will grow. We will pray. We sill sing "Happy Birthday" very loudly and VERY BADLY.

Because...we have learned the bountiful, grace-bringing blessing of staying.

So, "Happy Birthday to you"--the original, never-to-be-duplicated Karen Lee Bowdle LaBelle. As I wrote in your card, "Roses are red, the 40s are snotty. But that's OK, 'cause we're both still hotties!" (At least when we squint our eyes in a semi-dark room that contains no mirrors.)'s a birthday surprise for you--a typically-wonderfully-random note written many years ago by your mom to you and Shawn and Punky (a dog whose ears never quit growing) and me and Kev:
Dear Ones, Thank you for the love you gave me. I basked in that love for two weeks. My blinds are a wonder. Asking Dad about painting the inside of the house. He said he would engage the painter later. We will wait for the border until after the painting. Spring is on us. Whiteflowers have raised up in the yard. The grey mockingbird flew to my window sill again. I miss Punky coming in to wake me. I don't miss her "p" accidents. My jonquils are still yellow. Love, Mom

For we are God’s masterpiece.
He has created us anew in Christ Jesus,
so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago....
You are members of God’s family.
Together, we are his house,
built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets.
And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself.
We see it taking shape day after day—
a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it,
a temple in which God is quite at home....
In light of all this, here's what I want you to do....
I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—
on the road God called you to travel....
And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—
not in fits and starts, but steadily,
pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love,
alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.
You were all called to travel on the same road
and in the same direction,
so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly.
You have one Master, one faith, one baptism,
one God and Father of all, who rules over all,
works through all, and is present in all.
Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness.
But that doesn't mean
you should all look and speak and act the same.
Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift.
(Ephesians 2:10, 19-21; 4:1-7, NLT and The Message)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A miraculous empty

One of my favorite Easter moments happened each year during the 14 years of my life that I was a Presbyterian. The congregation would be standing, Pastor John would walk to the pulpit, and he would joyously proclaim, "Christ is risen!" Then we would respond, "He is risen indeed!"....I always got goose bumps.

Over the years of proclaiming those miraculous words back to Pastor John and to each other, at some point, it dawned on me--that's one of our most important purposes--to remind each other of the Truth of those seven words and the infinite ways that Truth impacts our lives.

I think its meaning became most up-close and personal the first Easter after my daddy died. As I stood there in that Presbyterian choir loft, singing "Christ the Lord is Risen today,!," something in my heart nearly burst as I realized that because of what Jesus had "finished" on that cruel, rugged cross...and because his Abba Father had "not abandoned him to the grave" but had raised him up from the dead...because of that...not only would I see Jesus one day (that fact alone defies words)...but I would see my sweet daddy again...and, this time, he would be completely whole! I would see my mother-in-law again, completely healed from the ravaging effects of Lou Gehrig's disease (and probably wearing one of those goofy hats she was famous for). My brother and his wife and their two sweet boys will see the babies they lost before they had even a chance at life in this world.

If Easter means nothing else...and thankfully it means HOPE. And where would any of us be without that?

So, on this Good Friday...while we should absolutely contemplate the beautiful, bloody, brutal Cross and the forgiveness and salvation bought there...we can know that (in the words of Pastor Doug)..."Sunday's comin'!"

And...since I won't be on the computer then, I'll go ahead and leave you with the only words that truly matter: "Christ is risen!" ( you respond:) "He is risen indeed!"

At the crack of dawn on Sunday,

the women came to the tomb carrying the burial spices they had prepared.

They found the entrance stone rolled back from the tomb, so they walked in.

But once inside, they couldn't find the body of the Master Jesus.
They were puzzled, wondering what to make of this.

Then, out of nowhere it seemed, two men, light cascading over them, stood there.

The women were awestruck and bowed down in worship.

The men said,

"Why are you looking for the Living One in a cemetery?

He is not here, but raised up.

Remember how he told you when you were still back in Galilee

that he had to be handed over to sinners,

be killed on a cross, and in three days rise up?"

Then they remembered Jesus' words.
(Luke 24:1-8, The Message)

Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!

Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia!

Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!

Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!

Love's redeeming work is done, Alleluia!

Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids him rise, Alleluia!

Christ has opened paradise, Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!

Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!

Once he died our souls to save, Alleluia!

Where's thy victory, boasting grave? Alleluia!

(Words by Charles Wesley, 1707-1788.
Music by Lyra Davidica, 1708)

An Upside-Down Kingdom Hagaddah

On this day, more than 2000 years ago, a young Jewish rabbi whom his followers called Yeshua sat down to eat the last meal he would share with them; it was their sacred Jewish Passover. Little did they realize that he was about to fulfill that celebration and become their (and our) Passover lamb.

This year, the Jewish Passover lines up with our Christian Holy Week--I love it when that happens. (Many years it doesn't.)

Several years ago, when Garrett was in 4th grade, the missions emphasis for his grade was the nation of Israel. I was asked to be in charge of the "missions party." So, I decided it would be interesting for them to "celebrate" the Passover meal. Little did I realize what I was in for!

As I sat down at the computer to research this meal, I discovered that Christians around the world celebrate what they call a "Christian Passover," which is also known as a "Seder." What blew me away is how every element of the Passover meal--the four cups, the bitter herbs, the vegetables, the bread, the lamb (which Jews no longer even eat during this meal), even the telling of the Passover story (called the Hagaddah, which means the "telling")--is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus.

I even FINALLY made the connection--I'm sure I had read and heard it over and over--that it was during the Passover meal that Jesus "lifted out" part of it to become what we now call "Communion."'ll just walk you through this part of the Seder:

At his "last" Passover, as the host, Jesus would have reached the part of the Hagaddah ("the telling" of the story) where He would reveal and unwrap the afikomen. This afikomen was a piece of matzoh (unleavened bread), which had been wrapped and "hidden" earlier during the meal. For thousands of years, this "hidden matzoh" had represented Israel’s deep longing for their Messiah.

So, it was no small thing when Jesus gave thanks, broke this matzoh (this afikomen), and then handed it to his disciples and uttered these history-changing words, “This is my Body given for you; do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).

Their longed-for hope was no longer hidden! Their promised Messiah...spoken of by prophets and dreamed of by every Jewish boy and girl...had come! He had finally come!

And...He has come to us. He has come to be Living Bread, whose Body was broken for them and for us.

But...the beauty of the Passover meal doesn't stop there.

After Jesus had declared himself to be the fulfillment of this hidden matzoh--their longed-for Messiah--then He would have lifted up the "third cup of the Passover meal." Just guess what this third cup represents?

It is called the "Cup of Redemption." It was traditionally drank after the Passover supper was eaten and represents the third “I will” promise of God where God promises, “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment” (Ex. 6:5-7). Fascinatingly, this is one of the cups Christ did not "drink of" during the Passover (Luke 22:18). Instead, he became this cup and poured out his life for our redemption!

Listen to His words as He passed this third cup of redemption to his young, confused, much-loved disciples: “Take this cup and drink it. This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:20).

Their Yeshua...our Jesus...commanded us to remember His death every time we eat of this bread and drink of this cup...a bread and a cup which, for thousands of years, have been celebrated as part of the Passover Seder. (Isn't that beautiful in upside-down Kingdom sort of way?)

And, as we do, we are called to remember that He took God's cup of wrath...drank it to the dregs...and bought our redemption with outstretched arms on Calvary.

O, Jesus, how can we ever say "Thank You!" enough?

When the time came, Jesus and the apostles sat down together at the table.

Jesus said, “I have been very eager to eat this Passover meal
with you before my suffering begins.

For I tell you now that I won’t eat this meal again

until its meaning is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.”

...He took some bread and gave thanks to God for it.

Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying,

“This is my body, which is given for you.

Do this to remember me.”

After supper he took another cup of wine and said,

“This cup is the new covenant between God and his people

—an agreement confirmed with my blood,

which is poured out as a sacrifice for you.

(Luke 22:14-16, 19-20, NLT)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Page 258 in the green Church Hymnal

Oh how I love Easter!

When I was a little girl, it psychologically signaled the return of Alabama springtime and warm weather. It meant a new, pretty dress, lacy ankle socks, a brand-new pair of patent leather shoes, white gloves and (sometimes) even a new hat. And...of Easter basket, complete with a tall, hollow chocolate bunny. (I always ate the ears first.)

The Friday and Saturday before Easter were a flurry of activity--what with all the cooking and trips to K-Mart in Gardendale to purchase last-minute lacy socks, plastic grass and Paas egg-dyeing kits.

Some years, on Saturday morning, daddy and Kevin and I would go to the local chicken house to buy the several dozen eggs needed for the weekend festivities. (Now that's a smell you never quite forget.) Then, we'd bring them home, and our kitchen would become Easter egg central.

Mama would put two or three huge pots of water on the stove. Then she'd gingerly place about two to three dozen eggs in them.

My responsibility was to configure the egg-dyeing assembly line, using old plastic butter dishes. (I'd use the term "recycled" butter dishes, but I don't think that word existed in the '60s.) I'd fill each empty butter bowl with a Paas tablet, a couple spoons of vinegar and some water. (To this day, the smell of vinegar makes me want to dye Easter eggs.)

My part only took about two minutes, so the rest of the time I'd drive mama crazy asking, "Are they done yet?" After about the fifth or tenth time, she'd yell, "Just go outside and play!"

Even when the eggs were done, I'd have to wait for them to cool off before dyeing could begin. Inevitably, I'd get impatient and burn my fingers on a too-hot egg.

At some point, daddy would mosey in, scoop one up, "shell" it, and then bite into it, sprinkling dashes of salt and pepper as he ate.

Then...FINALLY...the dyeing could begin. Kevin and I would take turns with our "favorite" colors. Usually, he'd grow bored with the whole thing and I'd have to finish up his pile of eggs. One year, Phillip Reno joined us, and he and Phillip decided to use that little wax Paas crayon to draw anatomically correct "stick" men on their eggs before dipping them into the dye. (Yeah... my thoughts exactly.)

I never could get my eggs to stay on those stupid little wire holders. Even if I could have, I always liked to get a little creative, dipping one end of the egg in one color and the other end in another color. One year, I remember using that wax crayon to write "I love Bobby Sherman" and then dipping that egg in red dye, which always turned out pink.

Come Easter morning, my fingers were still stained with all the colors of our Easter eggs. (I'll bet that's why mama always bought me new Easter gloves.)

The Saturday night before Easter was probably the second most exciting night of the year...right behind Christmas Eve. Before bed, mama would put pin curls in my hair so it would be ready for Easter morning. I'd go to sleep thinking about the pretty new dress I'd get to put on the next morning and the basket that bunny would magically leave on my front porch.

Once Sunday morning came, I'd hop out of bed (pin curls barely hanging on), grab that basket and bite off those chocolate ears.

One Easter, mama bought me this dress that had a high waist (to better accommodate my chubby tummy) and a white short-sleeved jacket with pink trim around the sleeves. I loved that dress. I think that was the same year she bought Kevin a little plaid jacket and bow tie with matching shorts. (These days, he claims he looked just like Peewee Herman in that get-up, but mama thought he was adorable.)

After Easter clothes were donned, pin curls brushed out, patent-leather shoes fastened over new lacy socks and the bow tie clipped onto the squirmy little brother's neck, we'd head to the Kimberly Church of God. (Even daddy became a Pentecostal on Easter Sunday!)

Every year, Sister Mary (or some other Harden) would walk up on stage and say something like: "Would everyone in the congregation please stand and turn to number 258 in the hymnal." (For those of you who didn't grow up in the Kimberly Church of God, number 258 in the green Church Hymnal is my all-time Easter favorite, "Christ Arose!") Of course, it was most often preceded and/or followed by numbers 188 and 272 "in the green Church Hymnal."

Funny thing...I don't remember one single Easter sermon from my childhood, but I DO remember every word to those songs. (Thank you, Sister Mary.) If I "listen" real close, I can still "hear" the Dodd brothers and Brother Leonard singing tenor and bass on the choruses.

At some point during the morning, Joy and Pam and I would find each other and would oooh and aaah over each other's new dresses and purses and shiny shoes.

After church, daddy and mama and me and Kevin would head for Mama Kelley's house, along with all the other uncles and aunts and cousins. Her kitchen counter seemed to almost sag under the weight of the Easter ham and all the other traditional delicacies--mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, dressing, green beans, fried corn, Aunt Barbara's coca-cola salad, etc., etc., and, of course, deviled eggs. (I always thought the sister-in-law who brought the deviled eggs got off a little easy--since she had to boil Easter eggs anyway.) For some reason, on Easter, a homemade coconut cake was always the "special" featured dessert.

Before lunch, Mimi would insist on the requisite picture- and movie-taking. We'd all line up--either in the strip of grass between Mama Kelley and Uncle Shirrel's driveways or in front of Mama Kelley's flower beds--with the boy cousins begrudgingly still wearing their Easter Sunday finest, and all of us with baskets in tow, painfully grinning "Cheeeeezzz."

After lunch, all the cousins would, of course, hunt eggs. Some Easters, we'd have two or three egg hunts, up and down any Kelley yard along Stouts Road. My favorite egg-hunting yard was my Uncle Brady and Aunt Snow's house. You see, I knew Bobby Bishop would eventually show up there to hunt eggs--I had such a crush on him.

Eventually, we'd all call it a day and walk back to our individual Kelley houses, where I'd ingest a little more chocolate rabbit and a lot more malted milk eggs while I watched "The Wonderful World of Disney." (I have to be honest--one of my favorite things about childhood Easters was not having to go to church on Sunday night!)

This morning, my brother reminded me about the year that mama worked at K-Mart. The week after Easter, she came home from work with bagfuls of Easter candy--chocolate rabbits, malted milk eggs, marshmallow name it, those bags held it. Needless to say, we were two chocolate-smeared, sugar-rushed, happy kids. And...the envy of our now-empty-basketed cousins.

These days, the new-lacy-sock-and-patent-leather-shoe Easters of my childhood have been replaced with unruffled reflections on the horrible, but beautiful events surrounding Calvary. I realize that even Easter is approached with a certain amount of "gravity."

Don't get me wrong. I realize there is "a time to put away childish things," but I have to ask myself if, in the process, I've lost the child-like excitement that Easter promises for those who believe in its Risen Savior.

I mean...just think about it...not only did Jesus take the punishment for our sin on that horrible cross. But, when He rose up on that Sunday morning, He conquered--overcame, subdued, vanquished--Death itself. We who belong to Him no longer have to fear it--He has transformed it into the door that simply takes us Him.

Maybe that's why the first words He spoke after He walked out of that borrowed tomb were: "Why are you crying?" and "Do not be afraid."

Low in the grave he lay, Jesus my Savior,
waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord!

Vainly they watch his bed, Jesus my Savior,
Vainly they seal the dead, Jesus my Lord!

Death cannot keep its prey, Jesus my Savior;
He tore the bars away, Jesus my Lord!

Up from the grave He arose (He arose);
With a mighty triumph o'er His foes (He arose);
He arose a victor from the dark domain,
and He lives forever, with his saints to reign.
He arose! (He arose.)
He arose! (He arose.)
Hallelujah! Christ arose!

(The above parentheses show where the Dodd brothers and Brother Leonard and the other basses and tenors would echo out "He arose".)

Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah,
his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross,
we're a free people—
free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds.
And not just barely free. Abundantly free!
He thought of everything,
provided for everything we could possibly need….
It's in Christ that we find out who we are
and what we are living for….
It's in Christ that you,
once you heard the truth and believed it…,
found yourselves home free—
signed, sealed and delivered by the Holy Spirit.…
Oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—
endless energy, boundless strength!
All this energy issues from Christ:
God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven,
in charge of running the universe,
everything from galaxies to governments,
no name and no power exempt from his rule.
And not just for the time being, but forever.
He is in charge of it all,
has the final word on everything.
….It wasn't so long ago
that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin.
You let the world,
which doesn't know the first thing about living,
tell you how to live.…We all did it,
all of us doing what we felt like doing,
when we felt like doing it,
all of us in the same boat.
It's a wonder God didn't lose his temper
and do away with the whole lot of us.
Instead, immense in mercy
and with an incredible love, he embraced us.
He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ.
He did all this on his own, with no help from us!
…Now God has us where he wants us,
with all the time in this world and the next
to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus.
Saving is all his idea, and all his work.
All we do is trust him enough to let him do it.
It's God's gift from start to finish!
…Now because of Christ—
dying that death, shedding that blood—
you who were once out of it altogether are in on everything.
….That's plain enough, isn't it?
You're no longer wandering exiles.
This kingdom of faith is now your home country.
You're no longer strangers or outsiders.
You belong here,
with as much right to the name Christian as anyone.
God is building a home. He's using us all—
irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building.
He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation.
Now he's using you,
fitting you in brick by brick,
stone by stone,
with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone
that holds all the parts together.
We see it taking shape day after day—
a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it,
a temple in which God is quite at home.
(From Ephesians 1-2, The Message)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Rugged Love

In yesterday's post, I mentioned our church's Palm Sunday service. It was beautiful, but excruciating. Every aspect of the service was intended to take us right up to the foot of that old, rugged cross. In his prayer, our worship pastor prayed these words: "Father, help us not be those who would play games at the foot of the cross."

(How many times have I done just that?)

And, once again, I was reminded of "Celebrate Life," the musical the Kimberly Church of God Youth Choir performed more than 100 times. One of the most vivid memories I have of those performances is how quickly our joyful, hope-filled cheers of "Hosanna!" turned into hateful, hope-disappointed screams of "Crucify him! Crucify him!"

Wherever we sang, someone would usually walk up after the service and say something like, "Isn't it hard to scream 'crucify Him'? I don't think I could do that."

But, perhaps screaming those hard words all those times in my teenage life helped me in my adult life to finally realize that, in God's reality, I had screamed them. My sin screamed them. My fall demanded that Someone sinless, Someone completely God and completely man, be "lifted up" to take God's punishment for me so that my relationship as a child of Abba-God could be restored.

On Sunday night, Garrett and I watched "The Passion" at our church's high school ministry service. As we left, I asked him, "How did watching that make you feel?" He told me he couldn't put into words. Then, he asked me the same question.

I had to agree with him...trying to put words to such scenes of loving, suffering, obedience in the face of God-forsakenness and brutal violence and...evil...feels clumsy and completely inadequate. (I'm sure I could more easily find words if I could just blame someone else for what happened on that skull-shaped hill.)

As I drove...with both of us still processing the bloody, brutal images we had just seen...I finally offered up these measly words: "It makes me want to love Him more." And...I guess that's the rugged, vulnerable effect contemplating Calvary is supposed to have.

"Oh, Jesus, perfect Lamb of God, help me not be one who would play games at the foot of the cross. Instead, cause me to linger there until I realize the price you paid and everything you "finished" there. May doing so always make me long to love You more. Amen."

On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
the emblem of suffering and shame;
and I love that old cross where the dearest and best
for a world of lost sinners was slain.
In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
a wondrous beauty I see,
for 'twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
to pardon and sanctify me.
So I'll cherish the old rugged cross,
till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
and exchange it some day for a crown.

(More than 600 years before Jesus was even born, the following words were spoken and written by one of God's prophets, Isaiah)
There was nothing beautiful
or majestic about his appearance,
nothing to attract us to him.
He was despised and rejected,
a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
He was despised, and we did not care.
Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;

it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.
He was oppressed and treated harshly,

yet he never said a word.
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,
he did not open his mouth.
Unjustly condemned, he was led away.
....He was struck down for the rebellion of my people.
He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone.
But he was buried like a criminal; put in a rich man’s grave.
But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief.

Yet when his life is made an offering for sin,
he will have many descendants.
....When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish,
he will be satisfied.
And because of his experience,
my righteous servant will make it possible
for many to be counted righteous,
for he will bear all their sins.
....He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.
(from Isaiah 53, NLT)


As I sat in church yesterday--Palm Sunday--my mind went back 30+years to a group of teenagers dressed in bathrobes, wearing towels on their heads, chanting over and over again the much-rehearsed lines, "Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna!...."

This was one of the scenes from a musical the Kimberly Church of God youth choir performed more than 100 times! We literally traveled all over the State of Alabama and into a few other states performing "Celebrate Life!"

Our choir director and youth pastor's wife, Marla, would always sit on the front pew directing us and feeding the four "disciples" any lines they'd forgotten. (I'll bet that, to this day, the four of them could still recite many of those lines!)

One of the songs I particularly remember from this musical was sung by my friend, Joy. It was based on the woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years and had spent all her money trying to find a cure. Here are a few of the song's words:
"There was nowhere else to turn, and nowhere else to go.
My body knew all the pain a body could know.
But then I quietly turned to you. I quietly turned to you.
Help of the helpless, I turned to you...
I saw you standing there. I saw the beauty from you beaming.
I saw the hope and love and joy came shining through You."...

A year or so ago, I learned a little more about that hemorrhaging woman and why her story is even more amazing than I ever realized.

Most likely, she had heard all about the up-and-coming Jewish rabbi known as Yeshua (Jesus). This Yeshua would have faithfully followed all the commands of Torah, including the one found in Numbers 15: "From now on (the people of Israel) are to make tassels on the corners of their garments....When you look at these tassels you'll remember and keep all the commandments of God....The tassels will signal remembrance and observance of all my commandments, to live a holy life to God...." (v. 37-40)

I learned that, in Jewish culture, the prayer shawl, including the fringes on each corner (tzitzit), is often referred to as "wings." So, with that in mind, listen to God's words through one of his prophets, Malachi: "But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture." (4:2)

Now, maybe like me, you've imagined that hemorrhaging woman crawling on the ground and reaching up to touch the bottom hem of Jesus' robe. But, the NIV translation tells us "the crowds almost crushed Jesus" (Luke 8:42). So, it seems the woman would have had to be standing, which implies that she reached out and touched the hem (perhaps even one of the tassels) of his prayer shawl--the one Malachi had prophesied about.

In other words, when this 12-years-long-sick, ceremonially-unclean woman risked pressing through that crushing crowd and reaching out and touching Jesus' prayer shawl, what she was saying by her actions was "I believe you are Messiah. I believe you are the Sun of Righteousness whom the prophet said would come with 'healing in his wings'."

And, when she did...well...let's listen to Dr. Luke's words: "Coming up behind Jesus, she touched the fringe of his robe. Immediately, the bleeding stopped." (8:44, NLT)

Now, I could stop right there, and the story would be one of beautiful healing. But, Jesus is never content to leave us how He finds us. And he knows her wounded soul is also in need of the kind of healing only He can give.

You see, for 12 years, because of her bleeding, she has been "unclean" and, therefore, unable to go to the Temple and offer sacrifices. Besides that, any man who even accidentally touched her was considered "unclean" for the rest of the day.

For 12 years, she has been shut out from religious and social life; she is an outcast. Imagine her shame! No wonder she tried to sneak up from behind to touch this Yeshua!

So, with her newly-healed body, Jesus moves on to her hemorrhaging heart. (Remember, the fact that she had touched him would have caused the religious crowd to view Jesus as "unclean".) Let's listen in on the scene:

Jesus said, "Who touched me?"
When no one stepped forward, Peter said,
"But Master, we've got crowds of people on our hands.
Dozens have touched you."
Jesus insisted, "Someone touched me.
I felt power discharging from me."
When the woman realized she couldn't remain hidden,
she knelt trembling before him.
In front of all the people, she blurted out her story—
why she touched him
and how at that same moment she was healed."
(Luke 8:45-47, The Message)

Jesus would not allow her to go away from His presence still bearing the weight and shame of her secrets. He knew that, in the words of my Jesus-lovin' friend, Marla, "It's our secrets that keep us sick. It's our secrets that keep us stuck."

But, unbelievably, her Yeshua isn't finished with her. Listen to his parting words to this woman who has lived in shame for so long:
"Daughter...." (He calls her daughter!)...."you took a risk trusting me, and now you're healed and whole. Live well, live blessed!" (Luke 8:45-48, The Message)

So, if this scene fulfills Malachi's prophecy, then he paints us a picture of what her trip home would have been like: "And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture." (4:2)

I can't help but wonder if she was there in the swarming crowd on that "Palm Sunday," as Jesus made his way toward Jerusalem for what would be his last Passover. If so, I wonder how many "Hosannas" she sang out that day.

Back when I was shouting "Hosanna!" with all those other bath-robed youth choir members, I thought the word meant the same thing as "praise". But, I've since learned that it's real meaning is "Save us!"

And...ironically, that's just what he was going to Jerusalem to do! They just didn't understand.

Truth be told...I still don't. I don't understand the love of God and why He would go to such painfully costly lengths for me--but He did! And when, like that hemorrhaging woman, I take the risk of trusting in that amazing, saving, healing love, I think I feel a little like that woman...a little like that young calf--"And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture."
(Hmmm....wouldn't that shock a few of my Baptist friends?)
When they neared Jerusalem,...
Jesus sent two disciples with these instructions:
"Go over to the village across from you.
You'll find a donkey tethered there, her colt with her.
Untie her and bring them to me.
If anyone asks what you're doing, say,
'The Master needs them!'
He will send them with you."
This is the full story of what was sketched earlier by the prophet:
Tell Zion's daughter, "Look, your king's on his way,
poised and ready, mounted on a donkey
(a sign that he was coming in peace)...."
The disciples went and did exactly what Jesus told them to do.
They led the donkey and colt out,
laid some of their clothes on them, and Jesus mounted.
Nearly all the people in the crowd
threw their garments down on the road,
giving him a royal welcome.
Others cut branches from the trees
and threw them down as a welcome mat.
Crowds went ahead and crowds followed,
all of them calling out,
"Hosanna to David's son!"
"Blessed is he who comes in God's name!"
"Hosanna in highest heaven!"
As he made his entrance into Jerusalem,
the whole city was shaken.
Unnerved, people were asking,
"What's going on here? Who is this?"
The parade crowd answered, "
This is the prophet Jesus, the one from Nazareth in Galilee."