[Holy Week] Saturday: Waiting

For the past six days, I’ve been recognizing the holy, historic events of this week by revisiting a series of podcasts I first listened to at The Rabbit Room a few years ago. The presentation is a selection of messages from a series by Russ Ramsey entitled “No One Takes My Life From Me,” which focus on the last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry—Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday—examining the validity of Jesus’ claim that no one would take His life from Him, but that He’d lay it down of His own accord, and take it up again on the third day.

This year I decided to listen with a bit more intention and actively engage with the messages during Holy Week by journaling my thoughts and prayers here, to prepare my heart for the Easter celebration. On Wednesday, my desire to dig deeper sent me in pursuit of the entire 26-week series on the Oak Hills Presbyterian Church’s website, which I hope to mine for more theological gold at some point.

And today (!) I discovered each audio upload is also accompanied by a PDF file of sermon notes. Gah! That would have been so helpful as I searched different Bible translations looking for the version Ramsey teaches from. (It’s ESV, in case you’re wondering.) I believe there are videos, as well.

This Holy Week exercise has turned out to be much more profound than I anticipated, in a very good way. My hope was that it would help me to be mindful, each day, of the eternal significance of this week as we approach another Easter. I expected to get to know Jesus better and understand the events of His last week more clearly, but I gained so much more. The scope of the impact on my mind and heart and life is deep and wide.

Ramsey’s dedication to building a cumulative narrative built on all the material spread across the gospels has been very helpful and meaningful for me. The process has been more complex and involved–mentally, spiritually, logistically–than I intended, but I am so glad. Because I’ve been trying to experience these scriptures in real-time, my daily post has usually not been ready until the end of each day. But today my reflection is not in response to a particular message from Ramsey’s teaching, so it’s published as the day begins!

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The truth that has struck me as each day’s events build on the story, is the common thread of people choosing to distance themselves from Christ for silly, silly reasons. We see it over and over, from Peter’s denial and Judas’s betrayal to the dismissal of the Chief Priests and the hidden loyalty of Joseph and Nicodemus. And why? Because we are ashamed or greedy or arrogant or fearful? The disturbing part is how easy it is to relate to these momentary motives, if we are truly honest.

The past two days‘ study have been long and exhausting because they combined three messages each–and we didn’t even cover all that happened in those two days! But today, Saturday, all is quiet. The controversy and high-action that filled the week have died down and everyone…waits. His followers, filled with grief, watch expectantly to see if He will rise from the grave as promised. And his accusers bide the time nervously hoping He was a crazy as they alleged.

During His earthly ministry, Jesus said many times that He would die in Jerusalem at the hands of the Chief Priests, but rise again on the third day. Of course, the religious leaders scoffed at this, but Jesus’ claim preoccupied their thoughts on the day following His death, and they couldn’t simply dismiss it. Matthew tells how the Pharisees requested that Pilate secure the tomb–perhaps they entertained the possibility that Jesus knew something they didn’t?

I am so grateful that I do not have to anxiously await Sunday to find out if my Savior can conquer Death. We know without any doubt that He is alive!

If you’ve been listening and reflecting along with me, I hope this series has been instrumental in cultivating a grateful heart for the sacrifice of our Risen Savior, as it has for me. I’d love to hear your impressions, opinions, and insight if you care to share. Even if you have to come back to this when you have more time to dig into the teaching or expound on your thoughts. I write for my own benefit, but dare to put it out there to contribute to the conversation.

[Holy Week] Good Friday: Death

During Holy Week 2014, I am revisiting a series of podcasts first published at The Rabbit Room in 2009. I listened to these ten episodes during the days leading up to Easter a few years ago, and was impressed by contributor Russ Ramsey and his engaging insight into scripture.

The messages focus on the last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry—Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday—examining the validity of Jesus’ claim that no one would take His life from Him, but that He’d lay it down of His own accord, and take it up again on the third day (John 10:18, Mark 10:34).

I’ve been journaling my thoughts here as I study and pray my way through this week, preparing my heart for the Easter celebration. My comments are not necessarily a summary of the teaching, so they will make more sense if you’ve listened to the original podcast. Please feel free to join in and respond along with me.

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Just as The Rabbit Room chose a selection of ten messages* for the sake of space and timing, I have combined several messages into one response both yesterday and today. Today I am responding to these messages: “Verdict,”  (John 19:16-27), “Death,” (Matthew 27:45-54), and “Burial,” (John 19:31-42).

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The most astounding part of “Verdict” for me was not the discussion about why Pilate wanted to free Jesus (fear and duplicity), nor contemplation on why Pilate didn’t free Jesus (political manipulation), nor the conclusion of why Pilate couldn’t free Him (lack of authority). Even though the last point, in particular, highlights our main point that Jesus intentionally and authoritatively gave His life, my mind keeps returning to the part of the teaching that explores the Chief Priests’ dark and twisted motivations.

We have no king but Caesar.”

LIARS. These men, who had spent their lives anticipating the coming of the Messiah from the only kingly line they would ever honor—the line of David–disregarded their entire history as the people of God as if they were now nothing more than subjects of Rome. And for what? To manipulate Pilate to kill the man that their only True Sovereign had sent to save them!

Their spineless behavior has always gotten me a little edgy–it’s just so messed up–but Ramsey has a way of really putting the moment in perspective with the help of scriptural back story. These religious leaders didn’t just abandon their own convictions on a whim, they contradicted everything that God had ever said about who they were, and Whose they were.

Ramsey closes this message imploring Christians to take the name of Christ with everything we have. If you claim to be His follower, it is a lie to put off that name to achieve a temporary goal.

The podcast entitled “Death” is a painstaking, explicit account of the physical and spiritual torture that Jesus endured before and during His crucifixion. I think comprehending the reality of His experience is important, and I willingly explored those hours again with Ramsey, who drew on the knowledge of Biblical and historical scholars to create an accurate account. His is one of the more thorough and perceptive descriptions that I have heard. And of course our attention is continually brought back to our main thesis, the crucial assertion that Jesus chose this. The transaction of the Cross was between God the Father and God the Son, in which Jesus absorbed God’s wrath in my place. It was not the wrath of His accusers that placed Him on the cross–He planned to die. He spoke the words, “It is finished” because He had completed what He came to do.

4 Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53

In “Burial,” Ramsey spends some time referring back to the events of the previous days. He does this to outline the Pharisees’ refusal to acknowledge who Jesus was, so that he can contrast their deliberate blindness with the recognition of two among them who saw Jesus as the Messiah. Even though Jesus perfectly embodied Scripture’s descriptions of the Messiah, all the religious leaders failed to see Him.

All, that is, except for two members of the Sanhedrin: Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. Both men were waiting for the Messiah and attempted to defend Jesus on different occasions, yet remained secret disciples, afraid to confess their faith in Jesus because they did not want to be put out of the synagogue and lose the praise of men. As much as I’d like to distance myself from this type of cowardice, I have to say that I can relate to their reluctance.

These two men took charge of Jesus’ body after he died. Joseph boldly asked Pilate for Jesus’ body, and Nicodemus helped him prepare and bury Jesus. They used their wealth to provide a tomb and spices for his burial, and this act is the first time we see them making their belief in Jesus public. The death of Jesus drew them out, because this expression of love–offering His life–required them to answer the question of Jesus’ identity based on more than intellectual analysis of His teachings.

On Palm Sunday, Jesus declared that His death and resurrection would draw men to Himself. Joseph and Nicodemus are the first example of that being fulfilled. And He is still drawing people to Himself through His saving work on the Cross. I pray that decisions concerning my devotion to Jesus would be more than ideological and academic; I want to engage the Man who embodies those concepts.

*If you’re listening along, then you might have noticed that some messages seem to be missing from this series of ten Rabbit Room podcasts. In one of today’s messages, Ramsey comments on teaching the series for several months. I was able to locate the entire 26-week series on the Oak Hills Presbyterian Church’s website, and plan to listen to the remaining messages as I can. Maybe I will even fill in the gaps in these Holy Week response posts in another year.

*original image by epm.org

[Holy Week] Thursday: Betrayal

During Holy Week 2014, I am revisiting a series of podcasts first published at The Rabbit Room in 2009. I listened to these ten episodes during the days leading up to Easter a few years ago, and was impressed by contributor Russ Ramsey and his engaging insight into scripture.

The messages focus on the last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry—Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday—examining the validity of Jesus’ claim that no one would take His life from Him, but that He’d lay it down of His own accord, and take it up again on the third day (John 10:18, Mark 10:34).

I plan to journal my thoughts here as I study and pray my way through this week, preparing my heart for this year’s Easter celebration. I don’t intend for this to be a summary of the teaching, so my comments will make more sense if you have listened to the original podcast. Please feel free to join in and respond along with me.

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Just as The Rabbit Room chose a selection of ten messages* for the sake of space and timing, I am combining several messages into one response both today and tomorrow. Today I am responding to these messages on Thursday’s events: “Betrayal,” which covers interactions during the Last Supper in the Upper Room (John 13:21-30); “Doxology,” exploring the time immediately following the Last Supper when the disciples accompanied Jesus to the garden. (Matthew 26:30-35); and “Reckoning,” which compares the denial by Peter and the demise of Judas (Matthew 26:69-27:10).

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There are many nuggets to be gleaned from passage studied in “Betrayal,” but not much that I hadn’t considered before. I do enjoy Ramsey’s storytelling ability to set a scene and bind all the pieces together, and that framing is what I benefited most from in this message. Being able to connect dots and notice obscure details has really enhanced my reading.

Ramsey teaches about the events in the Upper Room from John’s Gospel for a specific reason–John offers information that is not available to the other disciples. (I really appreciate how Ramsey constantly helps us pull the thread together from all the Gospels.) John’s perspective is important because he was sitting right beside Jesus at the table. While the others were asking who the betrayer was that Jesus spoke of, John was close enough for Jesus to share that He would identify the traitor by offering the man a piece of bread.

And when Judas left, it seems that only Jesus and John and Judas understood what he was going to do. John saw the moment unfold, and writes about it with poetic flourish. As a writer, I love that Ramsey highlights how John paints a word picture with lots of texture.

“Judas went out and it was night.” I had always read this in a direct manner, thinking that it only referred to the time of day. But John is the one who writes with the metaphor of light and dark throughout his gospel, and he uses it again, here. His description portrays a man who was abandoning the Light of the World to step irreversibly out into Darkness.

Judas was under the influence of Satan, and the disturbing thing is that no one, not even those closest to him, suspected a thing. When Jesus told his disciples that one among them would betray Him, nobody pointed a finger at Judas. From every outward appearance, he was someone who had an intimate relationship with Jesus. An analysis of the why behind his actions would be complex (and Ramsey dips a toe in), but the simple truth is that none of us is above the worst transgressions against Christ.

The next message, “Doxology,” is my favorite in the series so far. Ramsey centers his teaching around just a few words at the beginning of this passage in Matthew, and the acuity he draws out of that phrase completely arrested my heart. “And when they had sung a hymn…” How had I never paused to notice these remarkable words before? This detail appears in Mark’s gospel as well, and had never once lingered long enough on the opening clause to even remember it as a part of the story.

What must that have been like? The room tense with echo of bickering disciples and predictions of betrayal, Jesus feeling the pressure of the conflict that has been building all week and the pain He knows He will have to endure, and then He leads them in singing. John tells us that Jesus was troubled when he sat down to the Last Supper and by the time He gets to the garden, Luke shares that he is sweating blood. Yet in the middle of His obvious distress, He does not let His mood determine His actions. Like I do. All the time. When life is hard, it’s tempting to give in and say, “I don’t feel like it.”

But Jesus is relentlessly faithful, unfaltering in His strength, and unflinching in His resolve to complete His mission. All week long, He never missteps or loses control of the situation. And when it comes time to sing a hymn at the end of the meal, He does not shy away because He is upset. He draws near to His loving Father and sings.

Apparently, historians and scholars think that this song was most likely Psalm 118. The refrain of this doxology is repeated throughout: “His steadfast love endures forever.”

Ramsey asks us to imagine Jesus singing these words just before heading out to be arrested.

22The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
23the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24The Lord has done it this very day;
let us rejoice today and be glad.
25Lord, save us!
Lord, grant us success!
26Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
29Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.

I just can’t even.

I feel like I could, and perhaps should, stop there and let that simmer for awhile. But the verses that follow are profound, as well. As the disciples walk with Jesus the couple of miles to the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives, they have a short conversation that demonstrates the heart of the Gospel.

A straightforward reading of the text appears to be a simple prediction: the disciples will all fall away from Jesus, He will die, and then when He is risen He will meet them again. And then we see their expected protests in loyalty. But Ramsey points out that Jesus is doing more than accusing them of stumbling. He caring for and preparing His followers for what will come. Instilling in them the promise that though they will fail, their failure will not be enough to overrule His call on their life. He will be waiting for them with loving open arms on the other side of their mistakes.

This is the Gospel message: our need for Him and His unconditional love.

Ramsey’s teaching includes a thought-provoking discussion on the heart behind the protests of the disciples, particularly Peter’s tacky response that reveals his conceit. The concept he introduces of “the sin of exceptionalism” is one that is too big for my thoughts to fit here, but it boils down to this: “When we imagine ourselves to be stronger than God’s Word says we are, we put ourselves in a position to reject the counsel of His Word because we expect from ourselves something that is different than what His Word says we should expect.” I may write a whole post on how that Truth has affected my approach to God, my life, and my walk with Him.

The comparison of Peter’s denial and Judas’s betrayal in “Reckoning” is an interesting discussion, and one that prompted a sincere reflection on the state of my own heart–but one that will probably remain in my handwritten journal. I think each of us might find some familiarity and conviction in the lessons found there.

Ramsey has done an excellent job, in my opinion, of connecting each message to his main thesis–that Jesus laid down His life of His own accord; it was not taken from Him–while also pulling out hard-hitting personal application that compels you to consider your own attitudes toward your relationship with Christ.

* If you’re listening along, then you might have noticed that some messages seem to be missing from this ten-podcast series. He often refers to previous passages that are not included in the Rabbit Room presentation, and from his comments about the timing and intentions for the series I deduced that the total count should be somewhere around 28 messages–meaning I was missing out on the majority of the teaching. There is so much gold in these ten episodes, and I really enjoy his storytelling and reverence for scripture, so I decided to do some sleuthing. I was able to locate the entire 26-week series on the Oak Hills Presbyterian Church’s website, and plan to listen to the remaining messages as I can. Maybe I will even fill in the gaps in these Holy Week response posts in another year.

*original image by bp.blogspot.com

[Holy Week] Wednesday: Preparation

During Holy Week 2014, I am revisiting a series of podcasts first published at The Rabbit Room in 2009. I listened to these ten episodes during the days leading up to Easter a few years ago, and was impressed by contributor Russ Ramsey and his engaging insight into scripture.

The messages focus on the last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry—Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday—examining the validity of Jesus’ claim that no one would take His life from Him, but that He’d lay it down of His own accord, and take it up again on the third day (John 10:18, Mark 10:34).

I plan to journal my thoughts here as I study and pray my way through this week, preparing my heart for this year’s Easter celebration. I don’t intend for this to be a summary of the teaching, so my comments will make more sense if you have listened to the original podcast. Please feel free to join in and respond along with me.

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Today I am responding to the message, “Preparation,” which breaks down the scriptures that tell of the woman anointing Jesus with oil and Judas’s bargain of betrayal.  (Matthew 26:6-16)

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Jesus didn’t go into Jerusalem on this day, but instead stayed in Bethany, and in this passage He is at the home of Simon the leper. He has been very active for a days, “spending piles of words” while teaching and ministering on both sides of the Kidron Valley, but in this scene He is finally still–relaxing a bit, maybe. But the tension that has been building is still there.

When Mary (Martha and Lazarus’s sister) breaks her alabaster flask and pours the expensive perfume over Jesus’s head, controversy erupts. (Matthew does not mention who the woman is, but Ramsey draws on details from all of the Gospels to help us create a more complete picture.) Was it a waste, or worship?

I love this point: Jesus’ response to the protest of the disciples speaks to more than His appreciation and approval of her sacrifice. It is also a commentary on the merit of a thing not being based on the price it could fetch at the market. The men offer up a sensible use for the expensive commodity, but really, what is perfume for but the pleasure of our senses? The liquid is meant to be evaporated drop by drop, filling the air with a fragrant bliss for the delight of anyone nearby.

God made (impressively) functional things, but we do not serve a solely utilitarian God. While much of creation is both useful and beautiful, there are plenty of examples of beauty in His universe that serves no practical purpose. Every time I am reminded of this facet of our God, I am thrilled to be made in His image and flex my creativity to make life more beautiful.

The thing that has really resonated with me from this message comes around nineteen minutes into the recording, when Ramsey blows my mind by adding another layer onto the storyline that follows this encounter. He suggests that the effects of Mary’s anointing carried into the following days. (Listen to that part, even if you skip the rest!) Of course, I realize that perfume, by it’s very nature, has a strong aroma, but I had never held that thought in my mind as considered the events on Thursday and Friday.

The heavy dose of the potent oil-based perfume surely lingered with Jesus throughout the events of the Passion, adding a startling and discordant aspect to each scene. The fragrance was likely still present even as he was laid in the tomb. When Jesus said that the woman was preparing Him for burial, He meant it literally! Also, the high price of the perfume would indicate that it was probably an uncommon scent, typically reserved for the rich or royal. Jesus left His followers (and accusers) with something to serve as a reminder of his sacrifice every time they were in the company of kings. How cool is that?

The teaching ends with a look at the last few verses in this passage that tell of Judas’s bargain with the chief priests. Ramsey speculates on his motive and rationale for choosing to betray Jesus, then contrasts his view of Jesus with Mary’s. The stark juxtaposition really stuck with me. Mary considered Jesus more valuable than an oil worth more than a year’s wage. Judas deemed his relationship with Jesus as less valuable than a few month’s earnings. And yet they both had the privilege of spending considerable time with Him. Hmmm.

*original image by thebaidunshop.com

[Holy Week] Tell Me a Story

Today I’m taking a break from my Holy Week response to the series of teachings on Jesus’ last week of earthly ministry. Partly because Russ Ramsey’s next message covers events that likely occurred on Ash Wednesday, and I want to maintain a reflection that is close to real-time. And partly because I want to take a moment to discuss why looking at the story of this historic week is so important to me.
tell me a story

“Stories are necessary–just as necessary as food and love. It’s how we make meaning of our lives. Stories matter…stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.”   ~ Chimamanda Adiche, writer

As a child, I would finish most chapter books in one sitting, because I was too impatient to wait and see how the plot resolved. In college, I achieved remarkable results at one of my first jobs, thanks to–without question–my relentless and genuine desire to dig deeper in dialogue with new contacts. Personal histories are just so interesting!

In conversation with a new friend, I am embarrassingly obsessed with details and timeline when listening to their back-story. (“So, did you move to Maine before or after you started selling your prints online?”) Not because it’s any of my business, but because it matters.

I have always been driven by story. I think on some level all humans are. But for me it’s more than an affinity for narrative, more than the tugging curiosity for the next turn of plot or the engaging aspect of a well-told tale. When I think of story, I think of life. THE story of everything, and how all the pieces are connected. Your story to my story to all of history. To HIS story.

Which is why I don’t want to look at individual anecdotes of Jesus’ ministry in isolation. Especially this week, His final days on earth–when all of His actions are deliberately building to a purposeful climax and conclusion of His mission on earth (and the beginning of the story for all His followers). 

The significance of any part of a story hinges on its relationship with all the other bits. If I don’t know where everything fits, how can I really appreciate the path or know the person? And that is the main goal of this Holy Week exercise: to know Jesus better and to deeply comprehend the meaning of His sacrifice for me.

*original image by protonsforbreakfast.wordpress.com

[Holy Week] Monday: Parenthesis

During Holy Week 2014, I am revisiting a series of podcasts first published at The Rabbit Room in 2009. I listened to these ten episodes during the days leading up to Easter a few years ago, and was impressed by contributor Russ Ramsey and his engaging insight into scripture.

The focus of the messages is on the last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry—Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday—examining the validity of Jesus’ claim that no one would take His life from Him, but that He’d lay it down of His own accord, and take it up again on the third day (John 10:18, Mark 10:34).

I plan to journal my thoughts here as I study and pray my way through this week, preparing my heart for this year’s Easter celebration. I don’t intend for this to be a summary of the teaching, so my comments will make more sense if you have listened to the original podcast. Please feel free to join in and respond along with me.

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Today I am responding to the message, “Parenthesis,” which considers Jesus’ perfection in the three offices of authority in God’s temple, and looks at how his actions at the beginning of the week demonstrate these roles. (Matthew 21:12-25:46)

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Jesus is already rocking the boat just by coming to Jerusalem, but He doesn’t try to lay low. He boldly acts independent of the authority of the religious leaders, ministering without consulting them. They are understandably upset, because through Jesus’ actions, he claims all three of the offices that the people recognize as being God-ordained positions of authority: prophet, priest, and king. The role of a prophet was to speak the word of God to the people of God. A priest’s job was to speak the offerings and the prayers of the people to God. And kings stand as representatives of their people before God.

Jesus is recognized as all of these throughout the Bible. I have read and heard these references both casually and intentionally throughout my Christian life. But I love the way Ramsey draws attention to the fact that it is more than that Jesus fulfilled these offices better than anyone else had before, it’s that He did it in a completely new and different way.

He didn’t just bring the word of God to the people, He was the Word of God.

He didn’t just bring the sacrifice to God on behalf of the people, but He was the sacrifice.

He didn’t just accomplish peace for His people, but He was the agent of peace by personally absorbing all conflict.

He presented Himself in these roles in such a way that it was clear there would be no need for any other prophet, priest, or king after Him. Ramsey outlines how this is shown during His final week on earth:

Jesus confirms Himself as the superior prophet as He repeatedly asserts that the old testament prophecies refer to Him, and accepts the worship of the people.We see Him act as the superior Priest when, after rebuking the money-changers in the temple, He sticks around and ministers to the people. I love the picture Ramsey paints of Jesus confidently presiding as Priest as the unscrupulous men gather their scattered coins and overturned tables. The image of the children excited to come to church to see the miracles, gleefully singing the chorus they heard on Sunday during His triumphant entry into the city. Hosanna! Jesus also establishes Himself as the superior King by serving his people in the supreme act of justice, mercy, and peace.

And of course, through His death He ultimately proves Himself as the final Prophet who accomplishes the salvation foretold, and the final Priest who presented the only perfect sacrifice, and the final King who wholly served and protected His people.

For me, this revelation about who Jesus is significant to the implication of His death and resurrection. Jesus purposefully laid down His life to immaculately fulfill these roles–no earthly authority could take it from Him. And that makes all the difference.

*original image by disciplemagazine.com

[Holy Week] Palm Sunday: Hosanna

During Holy Week 2014, I am revisiting a series of podcasts first published at The Rabbit Room in 2009. I listened to these ten episodes during the days leading up to Easter a few years ago, and was impressed by contributor Russ Ramsey and his engaging insight into scripture.

The messages focus on the last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry—Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday—examining the validity of Jesus’ claim that no one would take His life from Him, but that He’d lay it down of His own accord, and take it up again on the third day (John 10:18, Mark 10:34).

I plan to journal my thoughts here as I study and pray my way through this week, preparing my heart for this year’s Easter celebration. I don’t intend for this to be a summary of the teaching, so my comments will make more sense if you have listened to the original podcast. Please feel free to join in and respond along with me.

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Today I am responding to the first message, “Hosanna,” which covers the triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. (Luke 19:28-44)

As a Christian, it is my confession that I have life and eternal salvation only because Jesus died in my place. The climax of this Holy Week is the most important thing that will ever happen to and for me. I want to understand, as clearly as possible, the events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection of so that I may live confidently and enthusiastically in that salvation. The story of the week leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus is full of significant details that affect not only what we know about what occurred in those eight days, but also what we know about Jesus himself.

Ramsey points out that as followers of Christ, we are devoted to “a leader who is stronger, more authoritative, and more fearless than we can know. His death was not perpetrated against him, but rather something that he meant to endure for our sake.” Ramsey paints a vivid picture of the political tension that was building as Jesus entered Jerusalem on this Sunday.

Jesus knew that His return to Jerusalem would cause a stir. His reputation preceded Him–people had heard of His miracles and signs. The last time He was in the area, He raised Lazarus from the dead. But He doesn’t shy away from the controversy. Instead, He dives headlong into friction, choreographing His lively entrance to the cheers of the hopeful people, refusing to quiet their praise, and visiting the home of Lazarus. In the days leading up to his arrest, he does not shy away from the tension, but instead puts himself directly in the path of His accusers.

He was not concerned about upsetting the delicate political balance that was in place between the Israelite people and the Roman occupiers–the compromise that had divided the religious leaders’ loyalties and oppressed Israel into thinking that their privilege of worship was granted to them by Caesar. And apparently, for a moment anyway, the people abandoned their caution as well, promoting their candidate for change and calling Him “king.”

It is this atmosphere that encompassed the arrival of Jesus on the scene. A scene that I have often looked at with the adjacent circumstances cropped out. A scene that takes on a whole new dimension when viewed through the lens of Jesus’ deliberate escalation of the power struggle. The scene set so that He could fulfill the Father’s plan and save humanity.

*original image by visualphotos.com

graham at eighteen months – mister independent

walking collage

folks, we officially have a toddler!

soon after he turned fifteen months old, graham finally started standing without assistance. of course, it wasn’t long until he worked up the courage and motivation to take his first steps. 

with his new-found walking freedom came a strong sense of independence. he has never really been inhibited by new people or situations, but now he can and will charge down the sidewalk or across the park or into the crowd at church if given the opportunity. although he is a boy of few words (plenty of jabbering, but almost no actual words), he certainly knows how to make himself understood. from playtime to mealtime, he would much prefer to handle it on his own.

friends and strangers alike continue to comment on his laid-back personality, and if he weren’t getting so heavy (26 pounds!), i would take him with me everywhere. he is truly happy and smiley almost all the time, but if we ever do get an attack of the crankies, we have three sure-fire cure-alls: food (obviously), sunshine (or just stepping outdoors in any weather), and music.

music is his most favorite thing in his world. he asks for it when he wakes up (signs for it), and all day any time he can. he often chooses to carry around our small bluetooth speaker rather than any other well-loved toy. he seems to favor rap and rock, but has been known to bliss-out to classical compositions, sway to acoustic songs, stomp his feet to 80s jams, and pump his fist to pop tunes. as music-lovers ourselves, lee and i couldn’t be happier.

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we are still nursing first thing in the morning and right before bed, and while i thought eighteen months would be the longest we would last, neither of us seems ready to end that part of our relationship, yet. it feels like the last bit of baby i have left. because the rest is all toddler.

love, love, love this kid!

the finish line – the third time is charmed

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when i shared my personal half-marathon anti-training program last week, i was truly uncertain of how sunday’s event would turn out for me. i’m sure i wasn’t alone in my skepticism, although i knew maintaining a positive mental state was crucial to my success. my goal was to at least match my previous two finish times of around 2:05. knowing that many have achieved a personal best on this course, i set a stretch goal of shaving a minute or two off this year. here’s the blow-by-blow.

i absolutely could not sleep the night before. i headed to bed at 10pm, planning to get up at 5am to eat breakfast so i’d have plenty of time to digest, and then maybe lay back down for awhile before getting up and dressed. in the end i was so nervous and excited that i laid there awake until 2am then dozed for a couple of hours, waking on my own a few minutes before my alarm. lee sweetly pep-talked and check-listed me, then went back to bed to wait for graham to wake. i left with a good luck kiss and the promise of seeing my favorite boys at the finish line.

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grateful for the 7 minute drive to the stadium rather than the 47 minute drive across the metro i had for my previous races, i arrived in plenty of time, but the parking lot was already packed. i boarded the race buses (the only way to the starting line) at 6:30 and waited while the other runners trickled on. i killed the time eavesdropping on others’ loud and giddy conversations while making sure my running app was set up to the right distance goal, the right music, and connected to my bluetooth headphones. we pulled out at 7:00 and were at the top of the course by 7:15. the full marathon was well under way, but the half didn’t start for another 45 minutes, so after a visit to the water station and the porta-john, i still had half an hour to kill. (a far cry from last year’s hectic start!)

the chilly wind chased everyone back onto the shelter of the buses until the last minute, so i chatted with the other runners and played around with the nike app. i decided to use the facebook linking feature to get “cheers” from my friends. i didn’t know what to expect from this function, but this seemed like a good time to try it out. i also made the mistake of browsing my running log while i waited. i was astonished to see that i had overestimated my training runs by more than 50% (both in number of runs and in distance)! not a good time to realize that i was less conditioned than i thought! i shook it off, turned on some motivating music, and headed outside to warm up.

nike+ running app

i still had not seen any familiar faces by the time the gun went off, but i positioned myself in the middle of the pack and tried to get into a groove. the cheers from facebook started coming in almost immediately, and it was the most delightful surprise. every so often the music would fade slightly and give way to applause and whistles and hoorays. what a great idea for real-time support! the social aspect of the nike app is the reason i chose it over the myriad of other fitness apps or a separate gps device, so i was happy to find another fun feature executed well.

the first four miles flew by, my pace half a minute faster than my norm. i cautioned myself to take it easy, but i didn’t feel as if i was running any faster than usual. around mile 5 i came up on two girls from church, and ran with them for a bit before one outpaced me and the other dropped behind me. it can certainly be motivating to have a running partner, but i actually prefer the solitude and my music when racing. it’s enough to be surrounded by fellow runners without feeling tied to any one person.

the reported 531 ft elevation drop in the first three quarters of the course had me studying up on downhill running and worrying about my quads, but the grade was not nearly as steep as i imagined. in fact, it seemed more like rolling terrain with a few easy uphill sections as well. i carried on, glad i had injected some great new songs into my trusty playlist, and diligently sucking down energy gels at my predetermined intervals whether i felt like i was slumping or not.

course map

seven miles were gone before i knew it. i was still maintaining an 8:40 mile, and was amazed that neither my lungs nor legs felt overtaxed. they don’t call it the “fast half” for nothing! if i continued at this pace, i would finish in under two hours!! i tried not to get sucked into chasing the sparkly goal of a sub 2:00 time, but my secret ambition had been stirred up. i wanted it.

at mile 8 i got a surprise hug as an old family friend fell into step beside me. i had been hoping to see mike, and so i was thrilled to run a mile or so with him before he steadily moved ahead of me (the big hill at mile 9 got me). i was running a nine-minute mile by then, and every mile after that was 10-15 seconds slower than the previous one. but tenacity was on my side, and i knew i could still make my secret goal as long as i didn’t “bonk” horribly.

by the time i reached mile 11, i was tired enough that two more miles may as well have been twenty in my mind. i felt my phone buzz and looked down to see an encouraging text from my friend candice, who had estimated that i would be in the home stretch by now. it was just what i needed to rally. i fortified my mental resolve, chanted “mind over body” to myself a few times, and mustered all my remaining determination and grit.

mid racethis is the point in each race that i find my thoughts focused on my mom. she was the one with the most optimism, the most confidence, the most belief in the final mile. we were all in the race together, from the minute she was diagnosed, but it’s a lot easier to be positive and hopeful and energetic and ready to fight at the start of a battle. it’s when you’ve been beaten down repeatedly and your body and soul are weary that your bravery and perseverance are tested. she led the way with faith and a clear sense of purpose even when her troops were feeling worn out and discouraged.

i carried this motivation with me for the last two miles, even though i ran them at a pitiful pace compared to the first eleven. as i ran into the stadium i heard “triiiish!” and my childhood friend (and now neighbor), amy, ran up and gave me a quick hug as i passed. perfect. i picked it up for the final lap around the track, not about to let my far-fetched wish slip through my fingers. as i crossed the finish line at 119 minutes, i saw mike standing on the other side, arms outstretched toward me in a victorious whoop! i did it!

i found my boys, who had a series of mishaps on the way to the race, but made it just in time to see me run in the last quarter mile. (lee recounted his adventures with, “i nearly pulled a hamstring trying to hurry into the stadium with graham. it would be pretty bad if i injured myself walking from the parking lot.”)

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on facebook i reported that i came in at 1:58 because i thought my chip time might match my app time of 1:58:55, but my official time was 1:59:05. either way, i cut six minutes off my previous times and beat the two-hour mark! we celebrated by driving directly to our church down the street, just in time for the service, and going out to eat afterward with my dad and micky. i recouped with a long shower and good nap that afternoon, and felt fantastic the next day. (although the first few trips up the stairs took longer than usual. ;) )

i’m not sure if my triumphant race results can be attributed to good luck, willpower, genetics, prayer, or just a healthy lifestyle and daily cross-training with an energetic toddler in a two-story house, but i’ll take it! i’d like to say that i’ll actually train next year and try to see if i can attain another PR, but ya know, it’s not really my style.

a half-marathon anti-training program

on sunday, i’ll run my third half-marathon to celebrate my mom’s birthday (st. patti’s day ;) ). for the past two years, i have participated in the strides of march around lake stanley draper in okc, and this year i finally get to do the A2A race in my childhood hometown. my dad and i have twice run the A2A 5k in honor of my mom, but i’ve always wanted to try the longer distance that winds down through the arbuckle foothills. with our relocation to ardmore, the timing seemed perfect. i’m ready for another installment in this particular thread of my story.

my first half-marathon went splendidly. in fact, it went so well in spite of my minimal preparation, early pregnancy, and little rest the day/night before, that i fear it made me a bit dismissive of my physical limitations. my second half-marathon fell five months after my son’s birth, and even though i knew i had not properly trained, i made the mistake of blindly trusting my body’s resilience without considering the science behind athletic performance. let’s just say that i didn’t finish strong.

i have been blessed with consistent health and energy for most of my life, and i naively underestimated aging and hormones in my expectations. i’ve also had a hard time considering myself a “real runner,” and so it didn’t occur to me to to learn about fueling strategy or sport-specific gear. i was so uninformed as a runner that i didn’t even know there is a term for what happened to me at the end of last year’s race. what i described as my body giving up is what seasoned runners call “bonking.” even most rookie racers know about the dreaded bonk.

it is quite uncharacteristic of me to neglect extensive research on anything i do, so i decided to remedy that by preparing for this year’s physical event with a very trisha-istic training plan: READ! i looked at articles on everything from when to eat before and during a race and what it really means to carbo-load, to why a woman’s hormones affect energy expenditure and how breastfeeding impacts glycogen stores. i listened to podcasts from experts and watched videos by professionals. i ordered anti-blister socks and a high-tech running top after reading tons of amazon reviews.

what i haven’t done is run a lot.

now, before you scold me for continuing to foolishly register for races without conditioning with an intentional running schedule, let me defend myself with the lamest excuse ever — i hate long runs. i know, it seems silly. but i can hardly tolerate the prolonged jog when all i can think about is my growing to-do list and how i’m bored and burning up time. race-day atmosphere is completely different with the excitement and adrenaline and companionship of other runners to keep me interested. i also hate running several days a week. my personality craves variety, and i rarely want to run more than once per week. (i have more excuses that involve baby and busyness and barometric pressure, but i’ll spare you those.)

so, no judging. i’m the one that’s putting my burning lungs and legs on the line ;). and for those who’d like to reassure me that it’s okay to walk for a bit if needed, let me introduce you to my competitive side. my brain will undoubtedly equate walking with quitting. (for me, for ME! all you half-marathon walk-run warriors are champs, seriously–13.1 is no joke.)

but the challenge of this new march tradition is something that is an essential component for me. yes, i appreciate the motivation to be active and the sense of accomplishment and the camaraderie of other racers, but the real reason i stretch myself is to pay tribute to the heroic courage and perseverance of my mother throughout her battle with cancer. maybe that is partially why i commit to long-distance running even though i know it will be a bit of a struggle. an event that inspires me to push through the discomfort and dig deep for more strength and endurance is the most fitting way i can think of to honor my mother’s enormous stamina and fortitude through her own exhausting challenge.

so that brings us to this year’s half-marathon. i wanted to preface 2014′s race with some relevant context and reflect on how my approach toward half-marathoning has evolved, because my one word for this year is all about revealing the story that connects the pieces of my life.