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Passion Weekend took on new significance for me this year.  An April baby, I’ve always enjoyed the spring season and  all things Easter.  Occasionally my birthday even falls on one of the springtime holidays, which is especially nice.

This year my birthday coincided with Good Friday, and I felt uniquely blessed to be celebrating my life and Christ’s death simultaneously.

But on “Maundy Thursday” as the world geared up to observe the occasion of His crucifixion – the ultimate sacrifice of love – I was being admitted into the hospital for emergency gall bladder surgery.  My plans for a nice family holiday weekend got pushed aside to make way for IV antibiotics and pain meds.

Please don’t assume that I was disappointed.  In fact, quite the contrary!  I had been in pain for months and had endured multiple diagnostic procedures while waiting for someone on my healthcare team to pull the surgery trigger so that I could finally get some relief.  So my Good Friday surgery was a GREAT birthday gift because there was light at the end of a long and tiring tunnel.

As I came awake in the recovery room, a familiar smile from an old church friend I hadn’t seen in a long time welcomed me back into the land of the living.  She was on the surgical nursing team and had been watching for signs of my arousal so that she could greet me and wish me a “Happy Birthday”.  She grasped my hand and led me in our own private, Good Friday prayer to our Lord, thanking Him for a successful surgery AND for His ultimate Easter sacrifice.

It was a beautiful, touching moment… the beginning of an understanding of the deeper significance of this entire experience – including its unique and special “Passion Weekend” timing.

Later that same afternoon, my curiosity won over my squeamishness and I finally took a good, long look at the surgical incisions… four small holes in my abdomen and right side.  A flash of scripture describing Jesus’ wounded side came to mind, and I shuddered with the realization that, while my scars were meant to restore my health, His were inflicted to bring about His death.  Mine were carefully and skillfully placed by caring, trained hands – His were quickly and violently executed by an angry mob of soldiers and sinners.

In fact the only similarity between Jesus’ wounded side and mine was this: We both chose them.  I was more than happy to comply when the doctors recommended surgery, because I knew it was a means to a better end.  And, ironically, Jesus was also more than happy to comply when his Father asked him to accept the cross, because He knew it was also a means to a much better end – for all mankind.

Because He took those wounds willingly, I am born again.  Because He said “Yes” to the violent mob, I am forgiven of all my sins.  Because He died and rose again on that beautiful Easter Sunday, I can walk with Him in this life and also in the life that comes After.

Humble doesn’t even begin to describe my feelings now when I look at my surgical incisions and realize what He did for me.

Many at our church were amazed that I was able to attend the special Easter Sunday service just two days after my surgery.  I got a lot of surprised looks as friends told me how impressed they were that I was up and around so soon.

But honestly, humbly… it was the very least that I could do.  In the shadow of the Cross, knowing what He endured – willingly – I wouldn’t have missed that church service for anything!

And from now on, anytime I look down and see the fading scars of my surgical incisions I will look on them as a gift – a tangible reminder of the best Good Friday ever.

Well, maybe not full…

I have four quarters in my pocket this afternoon. That’s a little unusual for me, not because I spend my allowance too quickly…I just don’t normally carry around change like that. It’s been jingling along with me all day, an added “noise” to a typically quiet walk through my school’s hallways. It’s also been an odd reminder on this Wednesday, sometimes called the Day of Silence within Holy Week. (It’s called such because we don’t have a lot of details in scripture about what happened on this day, therefore many consider scripture “silent” about today’s activities during this week leading up to Easter.)

This added element to my routine has made me think a lot about Judas today. There’s nothing really written about his activities today, per se, but we know that leading up to that last Passover dinner with Christ his “pocket” was making a bit more noise than usual.

“That is when one of the Twelve, the one named Judas Iscariot, went to the cabal of high priests and said, “What will you give me if I hand him over to you?” They settled on thirty silver pieces. He began looking for just the right moment to hand him over.”    Matthew  26:14-16, The Message

I wonder what was running through Judas’ mind with all that extra money. Thirty pieces of silver…thirty days’ wages…the price of a slave.

Whenever I find some extra money, my mind races. What could I get…probably a new book, new music, etc.  “Found” money is exciting in many ways, and extra money in our pocket is music to our ears. I wonder if Judas treated his as such? As he walked through the streets of Jerusalem, this extra amount of coins in his purse would have felt funny, heavier than usual. I wonder what was going through his mind as he listened to the extra noise these 30 silver coins made. What song did his “found” money sing?

You can almost hear the cadence of his footsteps…

You…betrayed…the King.    You…betrayed…the King.

I think sometimes it’s easy for us to judge Judas, not just for his betrayal, but because it was for such a pitiful sum. I know Donald Trump would have looked down his nose at him, and even sneer at his short-sightedness. “If you’re going to sell out the Son of God, at least get a good price for Him.”

But the reality is, I sell out Jesus all the time…

when He asks for my time.

when He asks for my focus.

when He asks for me.

And I’m sure Mr. Trump would consider me quite the rookie at this trading game, because usually my demands aren’t great sums of money. No, the price for turning my back on Christ is often much simpler…

an extra half hour of tv,

one more chapter in the book I’m reading,

a day of getting my to-do list done,

and on the cadence goes.

You…betrayed…the King.   You…betrayed…the King.

It’s a sad song, isn’t it. I think next year during Holy Week, I am going to get 30 quarters…$7.50…and carry them for the week. My own 30 pieces of silver, with their extra weight and extra noise, just as a reminder…

that there’s a little Judas in each of our pockets.

So, one aspect of the Lenten season is for giving ourselves the mental (and maybe physical) space to actually listen. As we talked about last time, the spirit of shema is alive and well in our observance of this time, but we also said that shema is not merely the act of hearing. It carries with it the expectation that the hearer will actually take that message and do something with it.

This is where the Hebrew word lech comes into play. You know lech, it’s the Hebrew word for “get off your rear”. (Well, at least that’s my translation.) We find the word lech in Genesis 12.

By this point in Genesis we’ve dealt with the whole Tower of Babel storyline, and then the writer gives us some family background on this guy named Avram. Genesis 12 begins with God speaking to Avram (who apparently was, ahem, shema-ing) and He tells him to lech l’cha. (You pronounce this as lekh-lekha. It sort of sounds like you’re clearing your throat.) This phrase in Hebrew is translated as “go!”, or “leave!”, or even better “go for you!”  I say better because part of the meaning here is a command with an implied benefit.

This event in Avram’s life is typically referred to as the Call (as told in Bruce Feiler’s wonderful book, Abraham).  Feiler, in describing this passage says, “With these words, God asserts his decision to create the world anew.”  And we know that what begins with God calling Avram to get up and leave his current circumstances, follows through with God promising a new world that would come through Avram’s lineage. Not a new world as in Genesis 1 new world, or even “Noah and the ark” new world, but a world that is washed anew with the prospect of becoming in true communion with her Creator.

And it all begins with the word “Go!”

From the rest of the story, we know that Avram went. He listened, and obeyed. And because of his actions, a new world was “created” through his lineage in the person of Christ. Now, during Lent we find ourselves with the same opportunity. For a short 40 days we shove everything out of the way and concentrate on hearing the voice of God.  Then, He calls us to “Go!”

I find this to be a scary part of Lent, because when we follow this type of calling we don’t typically know the destination God has in mind.  We know what we are headed toward at the end of Lent, that great celebration of new life that embodies Easter. But, the destination of our “Go-ing” is often unclear. I think that this is a main reason most of us don’t truly make the space to listen to God, because we’re afraid what He might say or even where He might send us.

This Lenten season, as we focus our minds and hearts on God’s gift of Christ, on His Passion, and on His new creation that Christ’s sacrifice affords us – I pray that we will not shy away from God’s call of ‘Lech!‘ that just might come our way. I pray that, like Avram before us, this calling from God will shake us to our core and provide a wonderful, dangerous, inspired new path to where only He knows will end.

Grace and peace…

What a day!

Today I get to do something special – something that not many people get to do. Those who take the opportunity to do this always come away blessed, and those who don’t…well, they don’t know what they’re missing.

If you’re like me, you look forward to days like today. Not just because they are special, but because of how it will impact the rest of your week, and maybe even your life. I know it has mine.

When I first got the opportunity to do this many years ago, I didn’t have a clue as to what an incredible path it would lead to. I had no idea how incredible it would make my life.

To use old cliches –  my days are brighter, the dark nights are shorter, and the colors of the world seem more vivid – all because of this day.

So, what is today you ask? Why is today so different from other days. What makes today so incredible that I had to blog about it?

I’ll tell you…

It’s Sharon’s birthday! (Shhh, don’t tell her, it’s a surprise!)Sharon at the Hermitage

And I get to spend the day celebrating who she is and how she has impacted my world.

She is what makes today special, and I plan to let her know how much she has made my world better and brighter.

I hope you’ll take the opportunity and do the same!

(Yes I know I recycled the picture form last year, but it’s my favorite one I have of her!)

REPRINTED in Loving Memory

Jack A. Smith – March 12, 1922 to March 29, 2011

Rest In Peace, My Amazing Pa

85 REASONS I LOVE MY PA

Written by Sharon (Smith) Tankersley for her Pa – Jack Smith
On the occasion of his 85th birthday – March 12, 2007

1. He loves my Father in Heaven.
2. His face never fails to light up when he sees me coming.
3. He would always let me sit on his lap and snuggle as a little girl – even when I was not so little anymore!
4. He knows how to make me feel special.
5. He has smiling eyes that crinkle up in the corners when he laughs.
6. He’s tall and broad and fair-haired.
7. Everyone says I look like him. I think so, too!
8. Everyone says my dad looks like him, too.
9. It feels nice to see the family resemblance – somehow it means that I automatically ‘belong.’
10. Pa helped me feel comfortable in my own skin, even when I was taller than the other girls, and gangly.
11. He made me feel beautiful – on the inside and out.
12. He’s never still for long; always busy doing something worthwhile to serve others.
13. He set an example for me of what it means to be a devoted member of a church family.
14. He loves God’s children and tries to make sure they have what they need in life.
15. He has always taken care of the elderly, including his own aging mother.
16. He told me stories from his childhood.
17. He was a really good storyteller.
18. He spent time with me out in his garden, teaching me about growing vegetables.
19. He’d let me help him pick and shell pecans, even when my little hands could barely do the job.
20. He gave my summertime babysitter – also a student in his college class – money to take me to Baskin Robbins because “I’d been a good girl that day.”

21. Sometimes he took me swimming at the beach and let me be a silly, carefree kid.
22. After swimming at the beach, he’d buy me a rainbow colored snow cone.
23. For years he drove a faded and cranky old pickup truck and I never once heard him complain about it.
24. He wears a wide-brimmed straw hat and looks like a friendly, happy scarecrow.
25. Everyone in town knows my pa and has good things to say about him.
26. He gets along well with people of all ages – small children, on up to college students and the elderly.
27. He visited many interesting places, sharing the gospel around the world.
28. He took lots of great photos of his mission trips and would show us the slides, so that it was like we were there with him on those trips.
29. He is a very brilliant and educated man, but he’s still able to explain and teach me things in a simple, easy to understand way.
30. Even though he obtained several higher degrees and traveled the world, he never forgot his roots.
31. He always remembers my birthday and sends me a card.
32. He helps me to understand my dad better.
33. He has always tried to see the other person’s point of view.
34. He has intentionally continued to learn new things, like the computer.
35. Though most folks his age don’t want anything to do with the internet, he uses email just as easily as I do.
36. It’s always easy to keep in touch with him through email.
37. Though he has strong opinions on religious and political matters, he makes an effort to understand other points of view.
38. He respects quiet, and is perfectly comfortable sitting in a room with me for a long time not saying a word.
39. Whenever we sit in silence together, we are still communicating important things like love and acceptance.

40. He loves spending time with his wife – my grandmommy.
41. He treats my grandmommy with dignity and respect.
42. He takes really good care of my grandmommy.
43. My grandmommy is his best friend, next to Jesus.
44. I love to hear him say prayers out loud.
45. He has a nice singing voice.
46. He enjoys singing praises in church.
47. He is a strong and natural leader.
48. He’s never been too shy or too selfish to share his strengths in service to God’s people.
49. He is well-thought of by those around him.
50. He has never stopped reading books.
51. Learning is a very important part of life to him.
52. He set an example to me about the value of a good education.
53. He was always proud of me when I worked hard in school.
54. He was patient with me whenever I was struggling to understand something in school.
55. He helped me understand difficult concepts I was trying to learn in school.
56. He made me feel like I was smart enough to pursue a college degree.
57. He makes me feel smart when we have intellectual conversations.
58. He always treats me with respect.
59. I know from his actions and his words that he is proud of me.
60. He has supported me through many difficult choices in my adult life.
61. He likes my husband and is respectful of him.
62. He and my grandmommy were ‘there with bells on’ for our wedding many years ago, even though it meant traveling across country.
63. I love to take out our wedding photos and see my Pa’s face there among the guests.
64. He readily accepted my husband into the family and considers him to be his grandson.
65. He has been our champion through the various educational and career choices we’ve made in our marriage.
66. He encourages me to be a strong and supportive wife.
67. He expects me to remain a committed Christian.
68. I know that he prays for us every single day.
69. He likes to hear about the various ways I serve God in my local community.
70. He gives good advice about how to handle difficult situations and people in my life.
71. He allows me to have my own opinions about anything and everything.
72. He reacts to things I say and thoughts I share as though he thinks I am the most brilliant woman in the world.
73. I feel smart when I’m with him.
74. I think he’s a very funny man, and he thinks I’m very funny, too.
75. He laughs at my jokes and teases with me.
76. I feel funny and intelligent and quick-witted when I’m with him.
77. He understands me well, and always has, without me having to do much explaining.
78. We are connected in a way that defies explanation, because we are similar in some important ways.
79. Because we are so similar, we just sort of ‘get’ each other, which somewhat mystifies those around us at times.
80. I owe much of my sense of self, my self confidence and self esteem, to the way that my Pa has always loved and accepted and appreciated me.
81. He loves me for ME, not for what I can do for him.
82. He has never failed to be a reflection to me of the constant and easy way that Christ loves me.
83. Because of his love I feel strong.
84. Because of his love I’ve been able to get a glimpse of God’s love.
85. He is my Pa, and I am his Shari – enough said!

I am somewhat hesitant to admit that at 41 I am already losing some of my hearing. Many times I have to use the closed-captioning or subtitles when I am watching TV or DVDs. I guess you could blame too many high school and college years playing in garage bands with our amps turned up to 11. (If you just laughed, you are probably a Spinal Tap fan.) Or maybe it is attributed to headphones blasting out the sweet melodious tones of 80’s hair bands. Either way, it’s getting to be a pain.

It’s not that I’m going deaf, per se, it’s really a loss of hearing clarity. I know something’s being said or played, but I’m beginning to miss the finer points of what I’m listening to. I find that I have to literally turn towards Sharon to really hear her, and most times I even have to watch her lips to help me know what’s she’s saying.

Which brings us to our word study for this week, shema. You may recognize this word because it the beginning of one of the most pivotal passages in the Old Testament. In Hebrew we see: Shema Israel, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad. The words we know from Deuteronomy 6 are: “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.”  Shema, the Hebrew word for “hear” is the name of this all-important prayer that Jesus would have prayed, and that observant Jews have prayed each morning and evening throughout time.

“Hear.”  What a simple word. But in its Hebrew usage, shema holds more gravitas than what we normally give to the idea of “hearing”. Most of us would agree that there is a serious difference between the ideas of “hearing” and “listening”. The main difference is the idea of action, and that is exactly what shema brings to the table.

When Moses says “Shema Israel!“, he is in essence admonishing the Israelites to “Listen up! This is how you should act!” Any parent out there knows that when the question is asked “Weren’t you listening?”, not only hearing, but action was required!  This idea is also connected with James’ charge to not be “listeners only” but to be “doers” of what the Word says.

But, what does this have to do with Lent?

Ask most anyone (Christian or non-Christian) what they know about Lent, and the answer you’ll get will probably be something like, “It’s the time of year people give up stuff.” That’s what Lent is known for. To be honest, until about two years ago, I would have given the same type of answer if I was asked.  But that’s not the point…

The point is shema. The point is pushing everything out of the way for a period of time in order to hear…

To hear the quiet that focus brings. To hear the needs of those who live in your neighborhood. To hear the suffering of the world around you.  To hear the emptiness that distance from God brings to your life.

To hear His voice calmly calling you back,  and then to do something about it.

The majority of our year is filled with noise that turns our ears away from God. It destroys the clarity with which we pick out the subtlety of His loving voice. Lent blocks out the noise – by blocking the voices of TV, or chocolate, or caffeine, or…whatever we “give up” for this period of time.

So, Lent is about hearing – but it’s also about doing. We’ll hit that next time!

Today is Ash Wednesday, and with it comes a new series of thoughts for the Lenten season. I’ve been wanting to blog this series based on several words found in Hebrew scripture, and Lent is a perfect time to do so. If you are from a faith background that does not observe Lent, then you’re probably wondering what all this fuss has to do with the leftovers in your clothes dryer. (Yes, yes, I hear your groans. I promise no more liturgical humor.) So, a small background is in order.

Lent is the season, according to Christian tradition, of the liturgical calendar that leads from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday, the day before Easter. It is typically observed as a time of sacrifice and preparation for the Christian. This is done through prayer, fasting, repentance, etc. In most traditions it is 40 days in length. Books could be written on the significance and observance of the Lenten season, but that gives you an idea of what your liturgical brothers and sisters are talking about. On to our study.

Today’s word is kavanah. In Hebrew it means “intention” or “direction” – I think you could also use a buzzword of today’s culture “focus”. As we begin the Lenten season today, it is with a sense of kavanah that we enter this time. Like so many aspects of our Christian life, Lent is seen by many observers as just the period of time that we have to get through. Once we deal with the 40 days of Lent, we can celebrate Easter. To me, this sounds like when I had to eat my broccoli in order to have my dessert. However, Lent is so much more, and the idea of kavanah helps us to see the beauty of this time of self-denial.

One of the things I’ve never understood about the liturgical branches of Christianity is the constant repetition of defined prayers, sometimes even at prescribed times of day. (Think the Our Father, Hail Mary, etc. If you don’t know what these are, then shame on you – go look them up after we’re done here!) I can even remember teachings against these types of prayers, because “it wasn’t really from the heart if we pray the same thing over and over again”. And specific times of day? Where is that craziness in the New Testament? But as I began to take a closer look at these practices, I learned a few things.

First, I learned that these practices of specific prayers and specific times of prayer were Christian translations of Jewish practices. The Jews who became the first Christians had been praying liturgically for centuries. Just because they became Christians doesn’t mean they just threw out their Jewish practices. Sadly, I think most Christians today think that they did. We’ve been so pumped full of “New Testament good, Old Testament bad” that we act and sound like anti-Semitic cavemen (cave-people?). The book of Acts mentions in several locations the Apostles going into the synagogues. We’ve been led to believe all along that they just went there to help the Jews change their evil ways – but they went there to pray. Because it was the time of day to do so, and they prayed prayers that had been said countless times over countless years. “Pray without ceasing” sound familiar?

Second, I learned that, as opposed to what I’ve always been taught, liturgical Christians pray spontaneously also! What a revelation. We evangelicals love our spontaneous prayer! We don’t like anyone, anywhere to tell us when and what to pray. It would mean it’s not really from our heart, right? Well, maybe. The faith community I was a part of growing up had a “tradition” of saying the 23rd Psalm together during worship every Sunday night. Same prayer, same words, same place in the worship service – every week. But don’t dare tell them it’s “liturgy”. Over the past couple of years I’ve dipped my toe into the waters of daily prayer, using a variety of prayer books. Surprisingly my house hasn’t fallen down around me, and what’s more, I’ve come to enjoy and even look forward to that time. I like it when I come back across a passage of prayer that I prayed some days or weeks ago. It’s reassuring, comforting and I even miss it when I skip it. (Shh, don’t tell anyone I said that.)

So, if you’re still with me, you’re probably wondering what all this has to do with kavanah.  Easy. How do we keep from prayer (or any other Christian practice) becoming merely “habitual”. The answer is kavanah – focus. The ancient rabbis said “A prayer without kavanah is like a body without a soul.” Coming before God in prayer easily becomes rote (especially if you use prescribed prayers) if you do not approach Him with focus, with intentionality. Those of you who are married, ask yourself how many times have you told your spouse that you loved them? How does that keep from becoming empty words? Kavanah. You focus yourself, and you mean to mean it!

The Lenten season is not about what we are doing without, just so we can check it off our Holy Christian To-Do list. The Lenten season is about kavanah, about focusing our thoughts and energy towards this incredible gift of grace we celebrate as Easter. It is about once again preparing to see ourselves in God’s eyes, and seeing the love we find there. It is doing without some distractions, so that the one voice we hear at the end of the dark tunnel of Lent is His. We sacrifice, so that we can more clearly see His sacrifice.

As we begin this season, I pray that you will use the next 40 days (and beyond!) to re-establish your intentionality and attentiveness to God and His gift. Grace and peace.