in the cross, be my glory ever

When my love to Christ grows weak,
When for deeper faith I seek,
Then in thought I go to thee,
Garden of Gethsemane.

“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.”  What advantage does man have in all his work which he does under the sun?  A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.  Also, the sun rises and the sun sets; and hastening to its place it rises there again.  Blowing toward the south, then turning toward the north, the wind continues swirling along; and on its circular courses the wind returns.  All the rivers flow into the sea, yet the sea is not full.  To the place where the rivers flow, there they flow again.  All things are wearisome; man is not able to tell it.  The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor is the ear filled with hearing.  That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done.  So there is nothing new under the sun.  (Ecclesiastes 1:1-11)

The sun does hasten, and the days are a vapor.  Many days feel full of drudgery.  “This floor already needs cleaning again?”  “I wonder how many diapers I’ll change today?”  “My child, how many times will you cause me to discipline you for the exact same misdemeanor?”  “I have two 1,000 word papers and three midterms due next week.”  “I have several reports to finish at work and I’ll have to stay late today.”  “This week I have 3 doctor appointments.”  Etc. Etc.

And yet those are not the things that rend our hearts.
It is the daily anguish over the soul of a lost brother or sister, and many other dear brethren who are struggling and giving up and giving in and falling sway to false doctrines and to the prince of this world.
It is the concern for the lost state of a broken world.  For the degradation of society and the innumerable souls who need the gospel, and the hopelessness we feel in how to reach them all.
It is the injustice and pain and hurt we see all around us and try our best to make sense of.
It is the sudden and unexpected loss of those we love and do not feel that we can live without.
It is the slow decline of our aging parents and the pain of taking care of them when it seems that they should still be so capably taking care of us.
It is the loss of the baby we prayed and hoped for.
It is the perpetual pain of seeing our child or husband or family member suffer from this disease or disability.
It is the seemingly unanswered prayers for help and wisdom in guiding our hearts desires.
It is the decline of the health that we once enjoyed; the sudden change in our abilities that frustrates us and leaves us powerless.
It is the struggle to be the wife, the mother, the sister, the daughter, the friend, the woman that God desires us to be.
It is that familiar feeling of failure; failure to be and to do all that our Lord has asked us to be and to do. 

And at the moment when we least realize or expect it, whatever strength we had in ourselves crumbles and we become painfully aware of our brokenness.  We realize that the cares and struggles of this vain world have managed, yet again, to stifle our love for our Lord.  Our faith falters.

When we find our faithfulness to the One we committed our lives to not as fervent and steadfast as it should be, then to the garden we can and we must go.

Our Lord is there.  He had walked to the garden, as was His custom, discoursing with His disciples. They had come from the upper room where they had broken bread together.  “…before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” (John 13:1)  He had loved them by kneeling down and washing their filthy feet, by patiently and tenderly reminding them yet again of the truths He had taught them these three years, by painstakingly warning them of what was to come, by reaffirming His love for them, and by praying for them.  He had loved them by putting aside His own anguish over betrayal by His friend and of what He knew He was soon to suffer in order to comfort those that would soon flee from Him in His hour of greatest need.

Here it is that we will find our Lord walking through the olive groves to the garden.  Let us walk with Him.

There I walk amid the shades
While the lingering twilight fades
See that suffering, friendless One,
Weeping, praying there alone.

When He arrived at the place, He said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”  He began to be very distressed and troubled, and He said to Peter, James, and John, “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch. He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw.  He knelt down and began to pray, saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.”  “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.”  “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.”  Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him.  And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.  Three times He prays.

His disciples know that something is amiss, but they cannot possibly comprehend what.  They are exhausted, overwhelmed with sorrow, and they are asleep.  He longs for them to be fervent in prayer.  These are dark and perilous times, and He is concerned for the welfare of their souls.  “Why are you sleeping?  Get up and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” He says to them twice.  Their eyes are heavy, and they do not know what to answer Him.  He came to them a third time, and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting?  It is enough; the hour has come; behold the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.  Get up, let us be going; behold the one who betrays Me is at hand!”  (Luke 22:39-44; Mark 14:32-42; Matthew 26:36-46)

There He sees him along with many others.  It had been just a few hours since He had washed his feet and broken bread with him.  For three years He had discipled Judas, walked with Judas, prayed for Judas, and loved Judas, but even He, the Son of God, could not make Judas’ heart loyal as Judas betrayed Him with the most tender sign of affection, a kiss.  “Friend, do what you have come for.” 

So Jesus, knowing all the things that were coming upon Him, went forth and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” They answered Him, “Jesus the Nazarene.”  He said to them, “I am He.”

He would not allow his disciples to fight for Him.  He knew this was His purpose.  “[Peter], put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?”

When my love for man grows weak,
When for stronger faith I seek,
Hill of Calvary, I go
To thy scenes of fear and woe.

He is taken to the house of the High priest late at night.  Those who held Him in custody were mocking Him, beating Him, and blaspheming (Luke 22:63-65).  His friends had all fled and He had been denied three times by one of the men He had closely walked with for the past three years.  In the morning they took Him before Pilate making false accusations against Him.  He was sent to Herod, but He answered him not a word, and was then sent back to Pilate dressed facetiously in a gorgeous robe (Luke 23:11).  The more Pilate tried to release Him for His innocence, the more the Jews pushed for Him to be punished.  Pilate scourged him to try to appease the crowd, but it was not enough.  They cried out for a murderer to be released rather than Him.  Then the incessant cries of, “Crucify, crucify Him!” began.  Pilate caved to the pressure, washed his hands of the blood of Jesus, and sent Him to be crucified.

The soldiers took Him away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium), and they called together the whole Roman cohort.  They dressed Him up in purple, and after twisting a crown of thorns, they put it on Him; and they began to acclaim Him, “Hail, King of the Jews!”  They kept beating His head with a reed, and spitting on Him, and kneeling and bowing before Him.  After they had mocked Him, they took the purple robe off Him and put His own garments on Him.  And they led Him out to crucify Him.  They pressed into service a passer-by coming from the country, Simon of Cyrene (the father of Alexander and Rufus) to bear His cross.  Then they brought Him to the place of Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull.  They tried to give Him wine mixed with myrrh; but He did not take it.  And they crucified Him, and divided His garments among themselves, casting lots for them to decide what each man should take.  It was the third hour when they crucified Him.  The inscription of the charge against Him read, “THE KING OF THE JEWS.”  They crucified two robbers with Him, one on His right and one on His left. [And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And He was numbered with the transgressors.”]  Those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads and saying, “Ha! You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross!”  In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes, were mocking Him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself.  Let this Christ, the King of Israel, now come down from the cross, so that we may see and believe!”  Those who were crucified with Him were also insulting Him.  (Mark 15:22-32)

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails…  (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a)

But yet my love for my fellow man fails daily.

How can I love the person who continually tries my patience?  How can I love someone who, no matter how many times I try to explain, still doesn’t understand, perhaps because of petty ignorance or because they are blinded by their own selfish desire?  I feel empty; what more can I possibly give to this person to help them?  How much longer should I have to bear having my counsel, instruction, and advice neglected or misunderstood?
I can strive to love them the way Jesus loved His apostles to the very end.  He spent the last hours of His free life washing their feet, warning them, instructing them, kindly bearing with their continued misunderstandings, comforting them, praying with them and for them.  Everything He did in those hours was for their good.  He knew the misery that was soon coming in His own life, yet He poured His heart out to help those men who fell asleep as He prayed in the garden.  What love.

How can I love the person who has turned their back on me?  How can I love someone who was my close friend, someone who I ate and drank with, someone who I trusted, someone who I gave myself freely to, who has betrayed me?  How can I love someone who has slandered my name, and who has hurt not only myself but also those that I love?  I cannot let go of my anger.  What have I done to deserve this?  How can I possibly forgive this person?
I can strive to love them the way Jesus loved Judas when He washed his feet even though He knew He would soon be betrayed, and who in the very moment of being betrayed did not call him “enemy” but “friend.”  Jesus was troubled in spirit when He testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, that one of you will betray Me.”  But was His concern for Himself, or was it for the soul of His companion?  “While I was with them,” He prayed to God, “I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.”  I wonder how much His heart ached over Judas’ lost soul?
I can strive to love them the way Jesus loved Peter even when He looked at him in the courtyard after the rooster crowed.  “I will lay down my life for you,” Peter had told Jesus, but Jesus knew that He would be denied three times.  Still, in the hours before His arrest, knowing what Peter would soon do, Jesus was praying for His friend.  “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”  What love.

How can I adequately give love to those to whom I owe love when I am suffering myself?  How can I give of myself to others when I am emotionally, physically, or mentally distressed and overwhelmed?  How can I work through my own pain to be what I need to be for others, when their burdens do not seem as immense as mine?
I can strive to love them the way Jesus loved His mother as He was hanging on the cross.  As He hung on the tree in pain unimaginable, He used His labored breaths to ask his friend John to make sure that she was taken care of.  What love.

How can I love those who are my enemies?  How can I love people who whisper about me as I turn my back, who laugh at my efforts, who wish me ill and would rejoice when I fail?  How can I love people who look at me with disdain even though I have done them no wrong and who seek to trap me in lies or set me up for failure?
I can strive to love them the way Jesus loved those who mocked Him, scourged Him, cursed Him, spit on Him, beat Him, drove nails through His hands and feet, when He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  What love.

How can I love those who I do not know?  How can I love my neighbors and acquaintances enough to share the gospel with them?  How can I give of my time, my energy, my resources, and myself to people for whom I feel no particular attachment, for people who look and live differently than me and who may not even be worthy or appreciative of what I would give to them?
I can strive to love them the way Jesus loved the entire world as He suffered, bled, and died to atone for the sins of every person who ever has and ever will live.  I can make sacrifices for them the way Jesus went to the cross “while we were yet sinners”, without a thought of man’s worthiness of His gift.  What love.

Yes, when my love for man grows weak, may I go to the hill of Calvary.

There behold His agony,
Suffered on the bitter tree;
See His anguish, see His faith,
Love triumphant still in death.

“My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?”  Our Lord did not utter many words as He was being wrongfully accused and tried, as he was blasphemed against, or as He hung on the cross, but His reference to this Psalm may give us insight into the very thoughts of His heart.  Job said, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.”  (Job 13:15)  Is this not the picture we see in our suffering Savior, who despite the pain He bore, trusted with an unwavering faith in His Father.  “O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer; and by night, but I have no rest.  Yet You are holy, O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel. In You our fathers trusted; they trusted and You delivered them.  To You they cried out and were delivered; in You they trusted and were not disappointed.”  (Psalm 22:2-5)

And so He cried with a loud voice, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” (Luke 23:46)  “It is finished!”  And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.  (John 19:30)   

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who despised the shame of the cross, but for the joy set before Him, He endured.  (Hebrews 12:2) 

He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.  Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.  But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.  (Isaiah 53:3-5)

The three days after the death of Jesus must have seemed the most hopeless of all human history.  But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.  (Acts 2:24)  ”Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  (1 Corinthians 15:54b-57)

Upon that cross of Jesus mine eye at times can see the very dying form of One who suffered there for me; and from my smitten heart with tears two wonders I confess: the wonders of His glorious love and my unworthiness.  (From Beneath the Cross of Jesus by Elizabeth Clephane)

Then to life I turn again,
Learning all the worth of pain,
Learning all the might that lies
In a full self sacrifice.

And now, as we turn back to life, how clearly we can see how insignificant are our light afflictions in comparison with the sufferings of our Lord and the eternal weight of glory that He has promised us if we are faithful to Him. 

Lord, help us to bear patiently through the trials and to arm ourselves with the purpose of suffering for You. (1 Peter 4:1-2) Help us to count it all joy when we suffer.  (James 1:2)   Help us to see Your chastening as Your love. (Heb. 12:6) Help us to love You more and more each day, with all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind, and all of our strength.  Help us to consider You, who have endured such hostility, that we may not grow weary and lose heart. (Heb. 12:3)  Let the discomforts of this world make us seek our heavenly home.

And, ultimately, help us to lay down our lives, to deny ourselves, to take up our cross, and to follow You. (Luke 9:23)

(Thoughts based on the hymn “When My Love to Christ Grows Weak” by John Wreford)

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to such as these

It hit me a few years ago that if I were to be a supervillain I would doubtlessly be called “The Eraser.”  It would be a title well earned as evidenced by the piles of eraser dust that can be swept up from my classroom floor each Friday afternoon.  I used to dread Fridays for this reason, but I’ve come to realize they’re some of my favorite days.

A week’s worth of hard work has been put in, and now it’s time to see what they’ve learned.  They often bring their tests or work with them.  Sometimes they arrive with a smile on their face, sometimes they’re grumpy, sometimes they have tears in their eyes, sometimes they’re careless.   They extend their arm, paper in hand, and cautiously release it to “the beast”, more commonly known as yours truly, The Eraser.

I look over their work, white Staedtler ready for action, and it’s not long before the rubber meets the paper.  Six words spelled wrong, you missed eight out of ten questions, you misunderstood the directions, you added instead of subtracting on all 20 of these problems so I’m going to have to erase them all.  And patiently they sit, watching their hard work disappear with barely a trace of what once was on the page, the eraser fragments being swept to the floor with a brush of my hand. Most of the time they had tried their best, but their best didn’t cut it.

And so we begin again.

I reteach, reexplain, show them another strategy, give them a different tool or method, and they try again.  Sometimes there’s an understandable huff or a puff, a grumble, or an eye roll.  Sometimes they are angry with me, although it never lasts long.  More often than not, though, the response is quiet acceptance and a full willingness to begin anew.  And I love them for it.

I love that they don’t quit.  I love their humble compliance with my correction, redirection, and instruction.  I love their trust.  I love that they so often end up doing double the work and still show up to school with a smile on their face.  I love that they love me, despite the truly countless number of times I have told them they are wrong or have made a mistake.  The only reason that I am not actually perceived as a supervillain is because my students have hearts that are ready and willing to accept my admonition, no matter what the cost to them. I love that they teach me how to be.

My heavenly Father knows best what I need and loves me better than I can love those who I love most dearly.  May I trust in Him and accept His correction as humbly and lovingly as my students have accepted mine.  Whom He loves, He chastens. (Hebrews 12:6)

 

Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”  Matthew 19:14

 

James 1:17

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  He made the fruit trees with seeds inside.  He made the ground with nutrient rich soil.  He made man and woman.  He gave them children.  He gave man and woman the intellect and ability to plant seeds in the ground, which would make more fruit and more seeds.  And so we see the cycle of life.  It is a simple concept to grasp, but the intricacies and complexities of these reproductions are nearly incredible and certainly wonderful.

Throughout the span of time, fruit trees have borne fruit through the seeds of previous fruits.  Man has produced man.  This is all accomplished through the design of God and through His abundant provision for life.

On my Grandparents’ farm I found an apple tree ripe with apples.  I picked them in the heat of the summer day with sweat on my brow (and elsewhere, for that matter).  I would not allow my heart to grumble at this minor discomfort (it took a valiant effort) for the thought of how little I did to bring about or deserve those apples.

There I was, I who exist because God allowed my mother and father to bring me into this world and because God had preserved my life up to that very moment, picking apples.  I placed my hands on the apples with the visual/perceptual ability God has given me to reach an object, with the motor control God has designed my brain with to move my extremities with ease, and with the fine motor ability to grab the apple and place it in my sack.

There I was, standing by a tree planted by my grandfather on the land that was once owned by my great-grandparents, picking apples.  It is a peaceful and quiet land, and God has given it rich soil.  My granddaddy planted that apple seed, but he never could have made it himself even if he tried.

There I was, in a world that is spinning on its axis with so many perfect preserving balances that I can’t begin to understand, picking apples.  I was in a world that still exists because a patient and tender God is waiting and desiring for all men to come to repentance.

There I was picking an apple, because of these reasons and countless more.

And all of this makes me wonder if we can even begin to fathom “every good and perfect gift” that comes down from our Father each moment of each day.  How little we have to do with anything we’ve been given!  How often we try to take credit for or find some sense of pride in things that we play the most minor, trivial, unimportant, insignificant, trifling, inconsequential, infinitesimal role in.

An apple, a perfected piano piece, a well built home, a good grade, a breath of fresh air, a good deed, and more importantly, God’s grace: do we really understand how little we have to do with any of these things?

Picking an apple was hardly any feat at all, but I did have to do it.  One bite let me know it was well worth any meager effort I was able to put forward.

God, show us how helpless and powerless we are without You.  Help us rightly relate ourselves to Your glory.  Give us hearts that are open to every lesson this life teaches us about You.  As we realize how insignificant we are, help us to put ourselves in Your hands and use whatever talents, possessions, or abilities You have given us for Your glory.  There is nothing we can give You that is not already Yours!  Help us, God, to put forth whatever effort it takes to humbly receive and to live worthily of Your great blessings.  Help our hearts not to grumble for whatever momentary affliction we may face, but help us to understand the pleasure and privilege of serving and living for the great God who has given us every good and perfect gift.