April 4, 2021

Happy Independence Day!: an Easter Reflection

Friends and strangers who might read this,

These words are my Easter gift to you.

With affection for you
and all praise to God: Father Son and Holy Spirit,
Heather 💛



Jesus ushered in a new kind of kingdom. He proclaimed the good news that included the language of freedom from bondage.  The more He talked about it, the more curious it became and the less His hearers, even the twelve, seemed to understand the purpose of the newly-arrived/coming kingdom.  Many Jews thought of freedom from Rome and expected Jesus to set Jerusalem free from their tyrannical reign.  In the present day, here in the United States, we too can misunderstand, despite not being under the thumb of a foreign power.

Our origin story is one of shaking off the rule of a monarchy.  Since it's in our DNA, we are always looking to wrap our arms around freedom and liberty - values as precious to us as friends and family.  Unfortunately, that orientation can influence our reading of Scripture as we filter Christ's words about freedom through our specific way of looking at the world - similar to the Jews of Jesus' time.  Indeed Jesus Christ sets free from sin each one who He fills with faith to call on His name.  But it's a dependent freedom, a liberty that binds us to a new master - the all-powerful One who is also the Good Shepherd - and a call to live for His purposes according to His values.  We are set free from a tyrannical ruler into the kingdom of our good Creator, under His authority.  But that rushes us ahead too quickly.  Let's start by taking a look at how it all began.

Holy Week has had me thinking about Eden, that most lovely of gardens, and its connection to Christ on the cross and Christ the risen one.  There, as the world was spoken into being, humankind was created to worship and submit to a leader; their Creator King was in charge of setting the rules and boundaries of His creation.  From then till when Adam and Eve ate the fruit, they worshiped and submitted to their Creator King as He intended it to be.  But He gave them agency as His image-bearers in His creation, to choose to follow Him or not.  In the end, deceived into believing that perhaps their Creator King didn't really have their best interest at heart, our fore-parents looked at and desired the one thing they could not have, and had it.  Thus death became a player in the drama.  We've all been born into it since.

Their Creator King had told them that if they ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they would die (Genesis 2:15-17).  Well, we're all here today, so they obviously didn't die-die, but a separation opened between them and their Creator King.  They could no longer serve Him in purity, because they had decided to be rulers of their own lives.  Sin (the condition into which we are born as sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, not individual peccadillos) was the new ruler of human hearts.  According to the Bible, no one has the choice of not being in its service (Romans 3:9-20).  If we are honest in our assessment of humanity throughout history, we see the ramifications of this reality everywhere: from wars, injustice, and abuse around the world to our own inability to control our thoughts and actions enough to consistently be "good people."

Let's go back to Jesus' talk about freedom from bondage then.  One Sabbath day, (recorded in Luke 4:16-21) when He stood up in the synagogue (think church) to be a reader from the Hebrew Scriptures during the service, they gave Him a scroll from Isaiah.  After reading, he told the worshippers that the words were fulfilled in their hearing, that very day.  What did he read?

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because He has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives,
and recovery of sight to the blind,
and to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.

 

In the garden of Eden, they were free, abiding in the Lord's favor.  What did that freedom look like?  It certainly did not look like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the way we perceive freedom.  It was a Creator-King-oriented freedom, set within His boundaries, full of sensual delights and shameless intimacy: God to human, human to human, even human to nature.  No shame.  No fear.  No barriers in relationships.  No bondage caused by physical, relational, emotional, or even spiritual baggage or brokenness.

Jesus came so we could get back to that with our Creator King and to ultimately restore all things to their former glory!  The only way was for Him to bridge the gap of the separation caused by sin and death.  God had to enter into our plight, become one of us, die in our place, and rise victoriously in triumph over death.  AND HE DID!

In the Easter devotional Suffering and Glory, Anthony Carter says, "For [Patrick] Henry it was liberty or death.  For Jesus it was liberty by death. ... The death and resurrection of Jesus set us free." p 17   I just love that so much.  The freedom (and joy!) we seek are found through the ugliness Jesus suffered and the power that raised Him from the dead!

All those longings and desires you and I have for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness*?  The Bible tells us those are simply our attempts to escape death, trying to shake off the bonds of sin in our life.  Yet every attempt we make, while we may have some success here and there, never truly set us free.  We continue to encounter the effects of sin and death in our lives, within and without.  There seems to be no escape.


That's because, apart from a Creator-King intervention, there is no escape.


BUT HE INTERVENED: the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ - fulfilling the prophecies of the Old Testament and the will of the Creator King for His beloved image-bearers - came, lived sinlessly, died unjustly, and rose victoriously so that we too might live, now and forevermore!  In surrender to Him, by taking Him at His word, our hearts are satisfied.


If Easter teaches us anything, it is that death doesn't get the final say; Jesus does.  Christ rose from the dead!  Today the invitation is to, as Matt Maher says in the song below, COME AWAKE!  Every Sunday is a celebration of our Risen King who came:
  • to give life for the walking dead,
  • to atone for the sin,
  • to sucker punch shame and guilt and damn them to hell,
  • to rise to restore us and return us to our Creator King.
Taking Him at His word, we can live now and forever WITH Him, under His trustworthy and benevolent rule.  He makes all things new!  He can make YOU new.  Will you turn to Him today?  His righteousness is yours through faith that He is who He claimed to be: the resurrection and the life.

If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.  The scripture says, "No one who believes in Him will be put to shame."
Romans 10:9-11

Let those verses encourage you if you already belong to God through Christ; death is no longer your master, what a work God has done in your life!  And if you have yet to confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord, I pray today will be the beginning of your journey with Him in newness of life and freedom from death, sin, and shame!  As Matt Maher says in the song below, "Let no one caught in sin remain."  Today is a great day to let Christ declare over you "This one is mine!  This one is free indeed!"

So, good news! Not only today can we say Happy Easter!
We can also declare to one another, Happy Independence from Death Day!

Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  Christ will come again!






*You may not be from the United States, but I do think that phrase from our founding documents summarizes our human longings so well!

January 10, 2021

A Prayer of Repentance Based on Matthew 5

Source


Almighty God,

We come to you today as Christians in the United States after a week of turmoil and we repent.  We repent of misrepresenting you to the world, to our neighbors.  We repent of not embodying the beatitudes Jesus spoke.  We have not humbled ourselves before you to be poor in spirit, to mourn, to be meek, to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to be merciful, to be pure in heart, to be peacemakers.  Rather we have been afraid, defensive, and proud, unbecoming of your people. We have cried “persecution” when we were not being persecuted for proclaiming Jesus Christ, but rather for promoting your morality before proclaiming the good news that Jesus saves sinners, of whom we are the uttermost.  We are sorry.  Forgive us.


Restore us.  You are our only hope.


We have failed to be salt and light as we have fought amongst ourselves: gossiping, slandering, and hating our brothers and sisters.  We’ve all done it and we’ve tolerated it from others, even retweeting, posting, or speaking others’ gossip, slander, and hate.  We are sorry.  Forgive us.

Restore us. You are our only hope.


Lord, we are lawbreakers, maybe not civil laws, but Your law - the law Christ came and fulfilled.  We fool ourselves into believing we are good.  We clean the outside of the cup and we receive your grace in vain.  You have set us free and we use our liberty to promote worldly power, position, and privilege rather than to proclaim your salvation in humble awe.  We are sorry.  Forgive us.


Restore us.  You are our only hope.


We have been angry, in public and private, murdering one another, most often in the interest of self-preservation or self-interest.  We believe the lie that our anger is “righteous” and gives us a free pass to perpetuate untruths, which damages our ability to share the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  We are sorry.  Forgive us.


Restore us.  You are our only hope.


We are quick to point out the sins of others, or simply how their behavior doesn’t suit our preferences.  We are slow to see our own sin as the Holy Spirit reveals it, because we are too busy trying to play His role in other peoples’ lives.  How we have offended you!  How we have wronged our brothers and sisters!  We are sorry.  Forgive us.


Restore us.  You are our only hope.


We have misapplied, misquoted, and misunderstood your Word, twisting it to fit our agendas.  We have used your Word to harm others, quoting Scripture and Christian platitudes when people needed us to stand up for them or be quiet and sit with them.  We are sorry.  Forgive us.

Restore us.  You are our only hope.


We have not followed the example of Christ by loving or ministering to our enemies. And we have wrongly labeled people as enemies who are not.  We have not cared for the vulnerable, too lost in our own concerns and causes.  We are sorry.  Forgive us.


Restore us.  You are our only hope.


We have tried to “be perfect” in our own strength.  We have listened to lies even in our own Christian circles about what it means to be a “good Christian” rather than listening to the Spirit. We have burdened others with those chains or tried to force them into our mold, rather than pointing them to Jesus, who is our righteousness.  We are sorry.  Forgive us.

Restore us.  You are our only hope.


Lord, have mercy on us.  We are sinners.


Restore to us the joy of your salvation, that we be moved to acts of justice and righteousness for the vulnerable and proclaimers of the good news of Christ to all.  Help us never forget our utter dependence on You.  You are our only hope.


Amen

January 3, 2021

Why I Go to Church*

One early-December Sunday morning, my 2020 devotional of choice had me read Mark 7:14-23.  It goes like this:

And he [Jesus] called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”





Jesus is telling the religious leaders and anyone else listening that their primary problem doesn't exist outside of them, but rather inside.  Following the rituals that God ordained for them was important, but they were designed to point to and instruct them about something much larger than mere obedience to a handful of ceremonial laws.  The law was given to point to their very inability to obey the law and achieve God's standard of holiness.  Paul talks about how once we know the law it's like, "Man, I can't do this!  I need help!" And on the other side of those exclamations, we find a Redeemer, a Savior, Jesus, who came to fulfill the law and set His people free.

Of course, a fulfilled law does not mean we're free to do whatever we want (check out Romans 6-8 today if you have time).  But what it does mean, is that the rescue we're looking for from these troubles which beset us - evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness - won't come from simply trying harder, removing people from our lives, or getting ourselves out of circumstances.  Those things can help a little, but darn it if I don't have evil thoughts even in the most holy of spaces with the kindest of people!  Or even when it's just me, alone.

Gathering weekly in a space with people who I know need exactly what I need (even if they are dressed up and looking fine) to be pointed to our Great God, reminded of the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf, and reenergized by the presence of the Holy Spirit, is like a weekly treatment.  The cancer of sin is still present with me, but its power has been overcome by the death and resurrection of Jesus!  Praising, praying, confessing, and learning together with a bunch of sinners like me reminds me even more of the grandeur of God, the effectiveness of the blood of Jesus (ALL those people taking communion on a Sunday around the world!  C'mon now!), and the glorious hope that is to come that one day the war within us will end and we will see Him and be like Him.  I. Cannot. Even. Imagine.

In summary, (isn't that a classic high-school-term-paper way of beginning a concluding paragraph? ha!), I go to church because in myself I find only that which defiles, but in God - through the death and resurrection of Christ and the power and presence of the Holy Spirit - I find that which makes me righteous and a new heart, new way of living, new hope.  I go to church because of who God is and His worthiness as both Creator and Redeemer.  I go to church because the sick need a doctor, and until the Lord returns, I've got a chronic bent toward sinfulness that finds its treatment at the throne of my Creator.

I go to church because, to borrow from Peter the disciple, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God." (John 6:68)  I go to church because I've tried myself out as lord of my life and that's more of a dumpster fire than 2020.



*by "go to church" I pretty much mean "why I am a Christian", but wanted to emphasize the importance of corporate worship - even if, at the moment, that is happening from the comfort and safety of my home with my family.



October 23, 2020

Why "This Doesn't Surprise God" is so Dissatisfying

Unless you've been living under a rock, you're aware that living has been hard for much of 2020.  We've got a pandemic, economic and social effects of that pandemic, an intense election season, and each of us has our own personal difficulties that are part and parcel of this life.  As a result, we're all searching for meaning and drive to keep going.  Some days are just fine, others not so much.  From the beginning, I have heard said and prayed, "None of this is a surprise to God," spoken as a word of faith in prayer or encouragement to the hearer - a reminder that everything seems out of control, but it's not.

Every time I hear this phrase, I cringe.

Not because it's untrue or that the spirit behind it is wrong, of course - if you believe God is sovereign, the statement is accurate - but because it isn't comforting.


Knowledge that a king, sitting on his throne, untouched by a hardship besetting his people, who knows their pain and knew it was going to happen, does little to uplift the downtrodden.  He may be powerful and he may have seen it coming, but the real question of the subjects' hearts is, "Does he care?"  If he does not, he's under no compulsion to move from his throne.  However, if he does care, then he may just intervene to alleviate their suffering. 

As uncertainty continues to have the day, a few specific verses keep coming to mind that encourage me and fuel hope in my spirit.  One of them I shared with a friend this week as we strolled a pumpkin patch and our kids chose, abandoned, rechose, abandoned, rechose and so on until finding their perfect pumpkins.  The verse popped up again today in my morning devotional New Morning Mercies by Paul David Trip  (five stars, would recommend):

And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.  ~ Philippians 4:19

Reading Tripp's accompanying words reminded me of none of this is a surprise to God.  Whatever the trial in which we find ourselves, whether brought on by circumstances beyond our control or our own stupidity, God is not taken aback.  True.  But God never stops there! The Word reminds His people not only that He knows our needs and is powerful to meet them, but that He does indeed care.

The Christian builds his or her life on the Good News that while we were still sinners, alienated from the holy One who made us by our sin, He entered in and offered reconciliation and restoration through His Son, Jesus.  He defeated death so that we could have life abundant enterally and right now.  The Good News communicates that though things were dark-dark, the Creator God is light-light and has a deep affection for His creation and especially for those who, according to the Bible, bear His image in the world.  So God's children fall back every time into the arms of a loving Father who is not surprised and truly does want to meet our every need according to His riches in the glory of Christ Jesus.

So yes, Covid-19 did not take God by surprise.  But let's not speak that phrase without also reminding ourselves and others of how high, wide, deep, and long is the love of Christ.  The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end.  That's good news of great joy, and such a comfort.

These words of David (Psalm 62:11-12a) are another refrain that keep following me through my days:

Once God has spoken;
twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
and that to you, O LORD, belongs steadfast love.

Remembering God's power and His love is the one-two punch out of helplessness and despair into real hope!

I'd love to hear what scriptures God has been using to remind you of His power and His love in 2020.  Feel free to share.


💛,
Heather

April 22, 2020

COVID-19 Meditations & an Eastertide Walk through I Peter

Hey all!

I haven't been active here in a while and, though I'm not going to start writing blog posts, I did want to alert you of two things I having going on on social media right now.


One is posting a video meditation on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays for at least as long as this social distancing lasts.  I wanted to do this for my church family, but thought I'd share more broadly.  Certainly we can all use some encouragement.  You can find me on Instagram @heather.ashe and on Facebook as Heather Ashe or on my Life in the Valley Facebook page.


In addition, I thought it would be encouraging to walk through a book of the Bible during Eastertide, which in the church calendar is the period between Easter and Pentecost.  I Peter seemed like a good option because it's written to the scattered people of God and we are certainly all feeling scattered right now.  Check out the links above to follow along with that, too!

I pray this finds you well and aware that you are secure in the palm of God's hand.  If not, please join in these meditations and studies - as we seek God we will find Him, and discover more of His faithfulness.


For Christ and His Church,
Heather 💛

December 21, 2019

Wondering How to Celebrate Christmas?

Ooooh, guys, I noticed something this morning that I want to share with you!  I have been reading though this wonderful little book (again) to keep my head and heart focused through Advent.  This morning was a reading about the wise men, and something clicked.  I noticed there is one common thread in all of the usual Christmas stories from Matthew and Luke.  Are you ready for it?


WORSHIP!

  • Mary visits Elizabeth and they worship in word and song (Luke 2:39-56)!
  • Zechariah's tongue is loosed when John is named and he worships in prophesy (Luke 1:67-79)!
  • The heavenly host bursts into creation out in the fields and they worship (Luke 2:13-14)!
  • The shepherds hasten to Bethlehem and they worship by telling the good news and praising and glorifying God (Luke 2:15-20)!
  • Jesus is presented at the temple and Simeon, knowing He is "the One," worships in blessing Jesus and his parents (Luke 2:22-35)!
  • The prophetess Anna , also in the temple, worshiped in thanksgiving and testimony (Luke 2:36-38)!
  • The wise men, after their long search following the prophesies and signs, rejoice exceedingly with great joy and fall down in worship before a child (Matthew 2:1-12)


In these examples we discover the proper and ultimate way to celebrate Christmas - worshiping the King of kings, Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world sent by Almighty God to save His people from their sins.

You want more good news?  Take a look at the cast of characters: some of those folks were looking for the Savior, some were not; some were quite noteworthy and important, some were not; some were quite religious, some were not; some were quite young, some were not.  Yet all had their hearts touched by the news of and encounter with this child, and the only natural response was worship.

Where do you find yourself this Christmas?  Stressed, grieving, depressed, hopeless?  Excited, joyful, expectant, hopeful?  Perhaps swinging back and forth between the ends of the emotional spectrum this time of year provides?  Well, here's were we can all stop - before the babe in a manger of whom it was said:

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save His people from their sins. Matthew 1:21 
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High.  And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end. Luke 1:32-33

We're all equal before this child, now King of kings.  Not one of us is worthy; He is most excellent and praiseworthy. Always.  And Jesus knows our experience; He walked this earth with all of its delights and griefs.  What might happen in our lives if we surrender to Him before the manger?

Worship looks different at different times in our lives. Sometimes it is loud, exuberant, and full.  Other times it's fall on your face and be silent.  In a single hour it can be both!  Let's not miss a good and proper celebration of Christmas this year.  Let's allow the news to move our hearts.  Follow the Spirit's lead and worship Christ, the newborn King, who you know goes on to indeed save His people from their sins and will come again!

Merry Christmas!
Heather


PS  This hymn seems like the perfect thing for further meditation on this theme: Angels from the Realm of Glory.  The full lyrics are just perfect and remind us that God issues the ultimate invitation to Come! when we remember Christmas.





March 5, 2019

You're Invited: Resources for Lent

(This is reposted from February 2015)

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday.  Depending on your Christian tradition, you may have left a solemn service with a cross of ashes on you head or the day slipped by without a thought about it.  Many denominations join the church from throughout the ages to observe this holy day and kick-start forty days of self-examination and repentance in preparation for joyous celebration on Easter morning.

I don't remember attending services in my youth or hearing many folks talk about Lent, except for my Catholic friends who mostly gave up chocolate for the duration.  I was glad I didn't have to do that!

As I have learned more about Lent in my grown-er-up years, the more I love when the season arrives.  Such an invitation is offered to us!  We are beckoned in to be brave, look at our characteristic sins, take seriously the depth of the damage they cause, confess them, and move toward God through His healing and transformation.  His healing and transformation!



Last night at our service, there was an insert in the bulletin that began with these words:

Ash Wednesday and Lent offer us an opportunity to 'go subterranean.'  That is, these times in the Church Calendar bring to our attention the monstrous things that often lurk in the dark basements of our lives -- things we'd rather bury than confess.
Ash Wednesday and Lent help us to excavate these crippling sources of harm and then bring them into the light of God's mercy and healing.  I invite you to accept the rather heavy Lenten invitation to 'go subterranean' with us. ... (emphasis mine)

I want to pass on to you the invitation to 'go subterranean,' too!  Scriptures says that when we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If you are in Christ, already your place is secure before the throne of God.  You are His kid!  (John 1:12-13)  But Lent offers us the opportunity to GROW!  As our pastor outlined in his sermon last night, we remember, we return, we obey, and we draw near to God.

Strange, isn't it, that examining the darkest places of our hearts can strengthen our relationship with the God we offend?  And yet, only doing so in His presence and with His Spirit at work in us, can we find any freedom or hope!

Here are some resources you might find helpful in this season:

  • Your Bible  I think this is your first and best option for drawing near to God! Each of the Gospels is around 20 chapters.  You can read a chapter every two days during lent, or read through the Gospel twice during lent.  The Word of God is living and active, it is one huge way we get to know God.  Perhaps rather than giving up, you can add daily Scripture reading to your days this Lent.
  • On Keeping a Holy Lent  This is a pamphlet by a fellow named Craig R. Higgins.  You can find it here, and you will not be disappointed.  Learn more about the history of Lent and a series of questions to challenge you in the exercise of repentance in this season.  I also wrote about the pamphlet once, and you can read that here.
  • Respectable Sins  That is the title of a book by Jerry Bridges that will rock your world.  If you like books and you feel like you're not that big a sinner, this is a book for you!  (And me!!)  I might dust it off and give it a re-read this Lent.  The subtitle is Confronting the Sins We Tolerate.  Perfect for Lent, right?  I think so to.   You can pick it up from amazon.  Looks like there's also a small group companion for it.  Hey, you could start a small group during Lent, too!  Just sayin'.

I know some of you probably have other Lenten resources to suggest; many local churches offer daily devotions.  Feel free to suggest your favorites them in the comments.

Lent is not a season to become a "better Christian," to give up a vice for its own sake or to prove the strength of your will power, or to completely ignore because it's just some old ritual.  Lent, as Higgins says, "isn't about giving up chocolate, it's about giving up sin!"  And it "is the spiritual equivalent of an annual physical exam; it's a time to take stock of our lives, our hearts."

I pray that these days leading up to Easter, that glorious day, will be a time of God's blessing you in new and wonderful ways as you draw away from sin and near to Him!  He is the one who heals and transforms!!


PS  Sundays in Lent are days of feasting, not of fasting; they are not included in the 40 count.  So if you are fasting from something for Lent, remember that Sundays are not included.  Sundays are always the Lord's day, for celebration and feasting!