Sunday, March 31, 2013

Luke 24:1-9

Today my professor from Preaching class last semester, Dr. Barnette, preached his Resurrection sermon at Brookwood Baptist Church. However, a few days ago he texted me and asked me if I could send him my sermon from last semester. I haven't thought about that sermon in a long time, but I gladly sent it to him. He then proceeded to tell me that  he wanted to use it in his sermon on Easter Sunday this year. So this morning, my dad and I went to Brookwood Baptist Church to hear Dr. Barnette preach. It was an incredible sermon, and service, and I was so humbled to hear the story of my precious Ella Grace shared in front of a congregation of Christ following brothers and sisters! Thank you Dr. Barnette!

ANyway, I had never really thought about posting my sermon on my blog, but after hearing him preach about it today, I thought well, that's true! I bet other people would like to hear my interpretation of sitting in front of the tomb [supposedly] Jesus walked out of. So here it is! It was about a 20 minute sermon, FYI!

Every one of us has made and assumption of what Jesus' tomb looks like. All of us who grew up in the church looked at our storybook Bible, colored pictures on Easter morning sitting close to our mom or dad in the pew, and most likely dressed our very best on Easter morning only to be squeezed on the cheek by the older members of our southern baptist church. The tradition continues, child after child after child wakes up Easter morning and fights mom and dad about what they have to wear for Easter. We hear the expected sermon from one of the Gospels, and we leave knowing the same thing we knew last year, "Jesus rose!" We envision the empty tomb and then we move on.
We see paintings of the tomb. We have thought often about it, and as we grow older the image of the tomb has grown dry, boring, and lifeless.

And then one day you decide you are going to spend the summer studying Arabic in Jordan. Suddenly Jerusalem is much closer then you ever dreamed it would be. In fact, it is close enough to make a weekend trip to see the beautiful city.
So that is just what I did. All of my dreams of seeing the Holy City, walking the land that my Savior walked in, were becoming reality. The city I had seen pictures of for years but had never had the opportunity to see in person was about to be in front of me. Driving miles across the desert many of my forefathers had walked across, and there it was the Holy City of Jerusalem. After spending hours walking around the old city we made our way to our hotel. The next morning was the morning I had planned to go see the tomb. I had built the moment in my mind, created an expectation to have my faith "completed".

I walked to the tomb early the next morning as the old city of Jerusalem was waking up. As I was walking taking in the city air, I was pondering what it would have looked like back then when the women walked to the tomb early in the morning. The Greek words are "orthrou batheos" meaning early dawn, while it is still dark. With the rich scent of their spices rising they walked disheartened, knowing what was awaiting them at the tomb, but I walked overjoyed knowing without a doubt my faith would be completed in seeing this empty tomb. Both the women and I had an expectation we had created in our minds apart from the grace of the Lord. The gate creaked as I made my way into the garden. Passing the few people who had awakened early to experience it I made my way quickly to the tomb. Finding a seat across from the tomb, I took in all of the sweet sounds gazed at the tomb, read the scripture from Matthew, and felt moved.

But was I truly moved? Had it affected me the way I expected it to? Was I on the mountain top, as I dreamed I would be? Or had I replaced a sweet moment with the Lord with a false expectation of soon to be completion? I failed to comprehend the faith which had already been given to me apart from seeing the tomb in real life. I was moved to believe, but then again had I not already believed?

The women were also perplexed. Their expectations had been crushed. They were prepared to anoint the body with the spices, and yet there was no body. When they least expected it, two supernatural beings dressed in dazzling clothing appeared before them. The women, bowing their heads quickly, revered the beings. The angels informed them of their forgetful hearts, reminding them Jesus had foreshadowed His coming death and resurrection three days after he would die. And they remembered His words.

I can imagine how the women felt when they remembered they had been warned of this coming resurrection. The conviction came upon them as they became ashamed they had forgotten the words of their Jesus. The remembrance was not just a remembrance to returning to the disappointment but a remembrance to move forward knowing what they had been told was good. In their conviction and repentance they ran to tell the disciples all they had seen.

They were moved, moved in a way they had not expected. They were moved to experience the True saving knowledge of the empty tomb. And as I sat there wondering why seeing the tomb was not fulfilling my expectations the Lord spoke the same sweet message to me, reminding me my faith was already alive. I didn't have to experience the tomb in order to believe the truthfulness of Christ rising from the grave. My faith was not real to me until a little over 9 months later, when I was sitting in front of a different tomb, and brought into an understanding of death so unimaginably real that I could feel it throughout my entire body, heart, mind, and soul. This death is what formed my understanding of the faithfulness of the resurrection. I had to see death and experience death before I could know what it meant to live.

Do you think that is why the women did not get it when Jesus first told them and the disciples that this was going to happen? Do you think they could not believe Jesus because they had not seen His dying body on a cross? Do you think they could not believe because they had preconceived notions of what would happen? Is death real if we haven't experienced death? In verse 10-11, when the women came to them and told the words to the apostles, they seemed to them an idle tale.

It was a warm summer day in Haiti, March 5, 2012, and a precious little girl name Wilna came to the orphanage. Little did I know this little girl would soon steal my heart. I spent six grueling and blessed weeks with her, feeding her when she needed to be fed, bathing her, laying her down for nap after nap after nap. Inspired to pray endlessly for her, whisper the Gospel in her ear, and to be that Gospel to her. I was completely and fully incapable of sharing the Gospel with her, but the Lord's grace was fully able to be the Gospel through me. Inspired by the Lord, we changed her name to Ella Grace. Sunday, April 15, 2012, exactly one week after Easter Sunday, exactly one week after that beloved story of Jesus rising from the grave had been shared in that orphanage, I woke up with a burdened heart, willing and inspired to fast. Picking up Ella Grace I held her with my burdened heart prayed fiercely over her cold body. A few minutes into the church service and my friend Rhyan turned around, grabbed Ella Grace and ran into the kitchen. I knew it was an emergency but I didn't know the extent of the emergency. Ella Grace had lost a lot of oxygen to her brain, she was breathing quietly, and softly, with her precious eyelids resting peacefully on her eyes. She was leaving but she wasn't gone. Before I knew it we were in a hospital room, where numerous doctors and nurses were surrounding baby Ella all attempting to save her precious life. They finally got an IV in her and made us leave the ER. My mind couldn't fathom what was going on, my heart couldn't possibly understand, but Rhyan tried without end to help prepare my heart for the worst. It was in vain. How could my heart be prepared to let this precious little girl go? How could my mind comprehend such an evil notion? How could I rest upon the knowledge of knowing Jesus CHrist as my Lord and Savior, when the person I loved most in this world was fading away. With a mother's cry I fought my way back into the emergency room to be by her side. She was still alive, and I still had not given up hope. I held her precious hand, continued to whisper the Gospel in her ear, while I was fighting to understand if that very Gospel was even true. If it was true, then my hope was not lost. If it was not true, then all my hope was lost if this precious baby passed away.

Moving her into the children's room, I was preparing for a long night with her sitting next to her on the bed. As I sat their all alone with Ella Grace's sweet self as close to me as they would let her be, I gazed around the room, noticing many Haitian mothers and fathers endlessly pacing the room for their children's lives were at risk as well. I may have been the only person in that room with light colored skin, but I would fight as hard if not harder then anybody else in that room for my child's life. I looked down at Ella Grace and noticed her chest had stopped rising. Her pulse was gone, she was no longer breathing, and I couldn't help but scream out. I yelled at the nurses, in desperation, with a hope that I still had. It was hopeless, the nurses had already decided there was nothing left they could do. Ella Grace's precious soul had left this world. She had entered into another place. Grabbing her with so much life inside of me, I thought maybe if I held her tight enough I could give her my life. That is all I wanted to do. SO many thoughts raced through my mind, I cried out to the Lord as Christ cried out on the cross, "eli eli lema sabachthani?" I felt far from grace, as if I could not yell loud enough, "MY GOD MY GOD WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?" It was all in vain, for her spirit would not return, she had entered into eternity, into a place I longed to be but I couldn't go yet. More then any other moment of my life I needed to know the Truth of that Gospel. I needed to know that Jesus rose from the grave. I needed to know that Ella Grace was with our Heavenly Father. I needed to know she had been given the ability to be with Him because He rose from the grave.   Like Peter, I wanted to run to the tomb, stoop and look in to see the linen clothes by themselves so that I could go home with marvelous hope that it was true Christ had risen from the grave. 

The question of the grave never felt more real. 1 Corinthians 15:14 says, "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, and your faith is in vain." If Christ had not been raised from the grave then my hope would be in vain. If Christ had not been raised from the grave then the disciples lives were in vain.

I had no choice but to run to the tomb and see for myself. I had come to a different tomb, and had been taken to an understanding of the hope that rests within the Gospel. The Savior's face bore a different light, a light that had to shine upon Ella Grace's precious body, so that I could know that through Ella Grace's and my suffering, Jesus Christ was alive! 1 Corinthians 15:22 says, "For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive." Ella Grace had risen a healed child of God, and I knew that someday the truth of this Gospel would raise me from the grave as well. Death could reign no more. Jesus Christ had walked out of the tomb, overcome the grave, and in the midst overcame sin and death. He had destroyed expectations, slaughtered false hope, and beat doubt, so that in believing this word from Luke 24, we could reign with Him forever. The suffering Servant had become the Risen Lamb.

The sinful nature of my heart continued to war against my faith, despite this clear revelation of the resurrection. At times the enemy will remind us of our suffering, causing us to doubt, leaving us staring at the grave, but do not lose hope, for in the midst of your suffering, Christ is walking out of the tomb, leaving you an escape, a current hope, and a future hope that this suffering has already been overcome. Christ walked out of the grave a conquering warrior, beating the enemy's schemes and proclaiming life hope and victory to all who choose to believe in the resurrection. Ephesians 2:4-6 says, "But God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ-by grace you have been saved- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…" (Ephesians 2:4-6). Jesus Christ's tomb is empty, Ella Grace's tomb is empty, and someday our tombs will be empty too.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

March 5, 2012: Jesus Dared Me

Scratching the surface of the faintest of memories, I find myself in the depths of my soul remembering that beloved day when my precious Ella Grace came into my arms. Her perfect little body fit so perfectly on my chest as I wrapped her with all the love I had to give. At that moment on March 5, 2012 I had no idea how much time I would have with her, I just knew I wanted to give her all the love I could. Her mother brought her to us desperately seeking anybody to help her sick baby girl 'Wilna'.

I remember that day like it was yesterday. Carrying her around all evening, letting her rest her sweet head on my chest, and knowing I could do it forever. IT seems as though that time was not too long ago. It was a cool evening, Ayla had gone to sleep early and it was my first night to be in charge of a baby. She was mine but fully His. "How could this be," I thought to myself.

How could I love someone so much and know that she isn't even mine? How could I surrender my own thoughts and ideas to the King of Kings, in order to understand the irrevocable Love that Jesus Christ pours through us.

Jesus dared me. He dared me to love more fiercely one who was forgotten. Jesus Christ dared me to surrender and hold out my hands to welcome my first daughter to a New Life. He dared me to step out of my comfort zone and hold His precious Princess and Heir. He dared me to embrace her so closely that I may even give much of myself to love her. He dared me to relinquish my 'rights, boundaries, and safety.' He dared me to relinquish those things in order to taste of the heavenly spring of water which runs from Heaven to earth offering itself to those who desire to no longer thirst. And there on that blessed little cot, in the middle of the night where Ella Grace rested perfectly on my chest, there Heaven showed itself to a baby girl. There the healing power of the Name of Jesus began it's work on that Princess. There the redeeming grace of a Father called His daughter into freedom. There she was led to the spring of living water by her Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. There the Holy Spirit entered and poured living water onto Ella Grace's perfect little lips.

"For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes" (Revelation 7:17).

Remembering when I held her in my arms all night long...