Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Alphabet of the Cross

I am partial to the alphabet for many reasons, but mainly because it is basic to reading and learning just like the cross of Jesus Christ is basic to my faith. Somehow it seemed natural to combine the two. I hope someday to publish an illustrated version of this as an alphabet book. Until then I am thrilled to display the alphabet quilt shown above that was made for me by a mother of a couple of my students. My word for each letter of "Alphabet of the Cross" is stitched into each letter block of the quilt. I hope that you are blessed as you read this.

Alphabet of the Cross
by Sharlyn Guthrie

A is for atonement.
According to Mosaic law, only an unblemished lamb could atone for sin. Jesus, the holy Lamb of God became our atonement.

B is for blood.
Just as the blood of the lamb was poured onto an altar, Jesus’ blood poured from His hands, feet, and side as He hung on the cross.

C is for crucifixion.
Crucifixion was a cruel, slow, and humiliating punishment that ended in death on a cross, hours or even days after it began. Jesus was crucified.

D is for disciples.
Jesus ate supper with His twelve disciples the night before He was betrayed. He asked them to remember His death by breaking and eating bread (a symbol of His body), and drinking wine (a symbol of His blood). Believers in Jesus continue to observe the Lord’s table or communion to remember His death.

E is for Eli.
Eli is the Hebrew name for God. From the cross “…Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) God could not look upon His own son because of the sin -mine and yours- that He took with Him to the cross.

F is for forgiveness.
“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing,” Jesus cried from the cross. He even forgave the sins of the thief hanging next to Him.

G is for Golgotha.
Golgotha, “the place of the skull,” was the hill outside of Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified.

H is for the Holy of Holies.

A heavy veil in the temple separated God’s people from the Holy of Holies…God’s dwelling place. As Jesus died, the veil of the temple was torn from the top to the bottom, ending forever our separation from the presence of God.

I is for “It is finished.”
Jesus spoke these words just before he died.

J is for Judas.
Judas, one of the twelve disciples, betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.

K is for King of the Jews.
Jesus’ accusers crowned Him with thorns and hung a plaque over His head that read, “King of the Jews”.

L is for lots.
The soldiers stripped Jesus, and then cast lots, gambling to see who would win His clothing.

M is for mocking.

“The soldiers also mocked Him, coming up to Him, offering Him sour wine, and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!’” (Luke 23:36-37)

N is for the ninth hour.

It was the ninth hour when Jesus died crying, “…Father, unto Your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)

O is for offering.
Jesus became the offering for our sins, making the many offerings required of people and priests before His death unnecessary to continue.

P is for pierce.
After Jesus died, the soldiers pierced his side with a sword. Water and blood gushed out, fulfilling Old Testament prophecy, and proving that Jesus was dead.

Q is for quake.
As Jesus died the earth quaked, rocks split, and tombs were opened.

R is for resurrection.
Many saints were resurrected. Their tombs were opened by the earthquake.

S is for sin.
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (II Corinthians 5:21 )

T is for tomb.
The tomb where Jesus was laid was sealed and guarded. But He arose! Death lost its power!

U is for Undeserved Love.
Jesus shed His blood so that sinners like me could live. That is undeserved love -incredible grace!

V is for Via Dolorosa.

The Via Dolorosa is “the painful way” that Jesus took to Golgotha. Although His death was agonizing, there was no other way.

W is for weeping women.
Women who loved Jesus wept as they watched His crucifixion.
Later, after His resurrection, He appeared to them first. Their weeping turned to jubilation.

X is for example.
Jesus lived a perfect life. Although He was tempted, He never sinned. He is our perfect example.

Y is for yield.
Jesus yielded to His Father’s will. He asks you and I to do the same. He will put our old, sinful selves to death and raise us into a new life.

Z is for Zion.
Zion is Jerusalem, the city near Golgotha. Some day soon Jesus, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, will return to Zion’s Hill to establish His kingdom. We watch, hope, and yearn for that day.

Friday, March 19, 2010

In the Light of the Cross

For Fiction Friday this week I have decided to share a story written from a cricket's point of view. It isn't one of my favorites, but it's fun. While you're here, I hope you will scroll on down the page and read my previous (more thoughtful) post on the cross which includes a recently penned poem.

In the Light of the Cross
by Sharlyn Guthrie

Yes! It’s the band! Chirp chirp. I can make my own marvelous music without attracting attention. Chirp chirp. Seats are filling up and the volume is increasing –all the better for a covert cricket like me. Chirp chirp.

How, you might ask, did a cacophonous field cricket make his home in the pulpit of Christ Community church? Truth is, I was hatched in the flower garden outside. Chirp chirp. I found my way here in search of food. There’s a lifetime supply of peanuts in front of this dusty hymnal, plus half a cherry-flavored cough drop for my sweet tooth. Chirp chirp.

Light streams in through the cut-out cross, which also provides me with a grand view of the congregation. Chirp chirp. The cross is a common sight here, although I’m not sure why. The old hymnal has a cross on its cover; a humongous gold cross stretches from the rafters to the platform behind the pulpit; and a red cross gleams from each stained glass window. Many of the congregants wear a cross on their lapel or necklace. Chirp chirp. Even so, I have never once heard mention of it from the pulpit.

It seems to me that people come here to feel good. Chirp chirp. They shake hands, sing happy songs, and listen to The Reverend speak of their goodness. Smiles grace their faces –whether heartfelt or simply what’s expected, I can’t tell. Chirp chirp.

The Reverend speaks in soothing tones. Chirp chirp. He speaks of human kindness, saving the planet, and performing good works. The men nod off. Their wives elbow them. Chirp chirp. Obediently they straighten, and a placid smile quickly returns to their faces.

Okay, no more chirping. The music has stopped. A feeble old preacher in a pin-striped makes his way to the platform. Where’s The Reverend?

“Good morning. I’ll be filling in for your minister today. Please take the Bible that’s in front of you and turn to Hebrews chapter twelve.” Curious glances are exchanged as the preacher awaits a response. “Verses two and three say, ‘Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.’”*

“Today, my friends, let us fix our eyes on Jesus. Let us look at the cross as we have never seen it before –not the gleaming crosses that adorn our sanctuary, but the cross we find here, in God’s holy Word...”

Whoa! The pounding on the pulpit nearly sends me sailing through my peek-hole. I’ll be safer up here on the hymnal. This is great! Nobody’s dozing this morning. Their eyes are wide open. They’re not exactly smiling, either. This is getting interesting.

“…That cross is hard. It is ugly and offensive. It endures through the ages to remind us of the awful price that was paid for our sins. Jesus laid down his life on that cross for you and for me.”


Did I hear something?


There it is again. Now that’s a new word around here!

“…Maybe you need to make your way to this altar and kneel at the foot of the cross. Confess your sins. Claim the power that is yours in Jesus Christ. Then take up your cross and follow Him. Praise God! Hallelujah!”

Hey! Careful! I nearly lost my balance. What’s happening? People are on their feet. They’re moving toward the front. Tears have replaced their peaceful smiles. Yikes! That Bible thumping preacher just dumped me off the hymnal.

“When I survey the wondrous cross…” his ancient voice quivers with emotion. “…on which the Prince of glory died,” several others join in. Band members leaf through song sheets, looking mighty confused. “My richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.”**

Amazing! It makes me wonder, though. How could everyone sit here surrounded by crosses week after week and forget a story like that? Then again, why would a common field cricket hide himself inside a pulpit, denying himself fresh air, plump grain, and starry skies? How could I have settled for stale peanuts and a half-eaten cough drop?

Basking in the light of the cross I make a decision. Chirp chirp.

*Hebrews 12:2-3 (NIV)
**”When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” hymn by Isaac Watts

For links to more Friday fiction, please visit Christina at her blog, With Pen in Hand

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Uncompromising Cross

“The cross effects its ends by destroying one established pattern, the victim’s, and creating another pattern, its own. Thus it always has its way. It wins by defeating its opponent and imposing its will upon him. It always dominates. It never compromises, never dickers nor confers, never surrenders a point for the sake of peace. It cares not for peace; it cares only to end its opposition as fast as possible.” ~ A.W. Tozer, The Radical Cross

Jesus Christ knew all these things about the cross when He pleaded, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Luke 22:42 (NIV).

As Jesus looked toward the cross He knew the cost. He rightly anticipated the pain involved in dying a cruel death normally reserved for criminals. For this reason He begged his father to allow Him to escape the cross, although He quickly added His willingness to conform to God’s will. Two verses later Luke says that Jesus was earnestly praying in anguish, so much so that great drops of sweat fell like blood to the ground.

I am comforted by these portrayals of Jesus as He faced crucifixion. I am comforted knowing that He experienced a full range of human emotions. I am comforted knowing that the matter of the cross wasn’t easy, even for Him. I am comforted in realizing that He does not ask of me anything that He himself hasn’t already experienced.

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23 (NIV).

What of This Cross?

What of this cross that lies across my way,
imploring that myself I should betray?
It reeks of putrid death; foreshadows pain.
Is that my name engraved across its grain?

What of this cross? I find it interferes
with plans, belongings, all that I hold dear.
Must every precious treasure be laid down?
Is there indeed no other way around?

What of this cross that emulates my Lord’s,
yet sparks among my loved ones such discord?
Fighting, dissension, arguments, and hate
-this cross does not bring peace, but separates.

What of this cross that makes my footsteps halt?
I must decide to die or to default;
Every allegiance I must now disown;
take up this cross, and carry it alone.

This cross I’ll bear and boast of only He
who leads the way and spilled His blood for me.
I shall not hesitate nor breathe a sigh;
but gain my life when Self commits to die.

~Sharlyn Guthrie

Today I am "preparing for Easter" along with Ann Voskamp and her friends at Holy Experience. I hope you will take time to visit her and check out some other posts on this topic.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Merging Roads and Alternate Routes

I am pleased to be hosting Fiction Friday today. If you write fiction and would like to share a short story or poem with other fiction writers, feel free to leave a link to your story and place the Fiction Friday button in your post.

The story I am sharing today is just for fun. It stems from a favorite activity of mine -people watching.

Merging Roads and Alternate Routes
by Sharlyn Guthrie

I plug in my laptop under the booth at Jimmy’s Café as I do every Wednesday, my Sunday column begging to be written. Jimmy’s morning business is light and predictable, an aid to the writing process.

The regulars have pulled two tables together near the kitchen. Nine men and Shirley sit at awkward angles, clutching newspapers and reaching in to set their coffee down. Their lively banter bounces from today’s headlines, to the price of gasoline, to Harold’s nephew, Scott, who is running for mayor.

Shirley, the saucy waitress, pauses in her ribbing and railing to deliver my customary cinnamon roll. I pay her, so as not to disturb her again. This is the finest part of her day, nine men vying shamelessly for her attention like a passel of schoolboys with one puppy.

Another patron, Earl, enters flipping his cell phone shut and slipping it into his knapsack. We exchange pleasantries at the coffee bar.

“Have you seen any wonderful plays lately?” It’s our singular topic of conversation.

“No. Have you?”

Earl elaborates on Wicked, which he saw last week, then slides into the booth directly across from mine. Up close his soft blue eyes were warm and engaging; now, from across the room, they seem to peer down a long and winding road. I cannot tell if the road leads to or away from the place occupying his thoughts. His unruly gray curls seem tamer today, and his sweater with the ragged elbows is missing. He fidgets with his collar and glances often toward the door.

As I rework my introductory paragraph for the third time, the door opens and Earl leaps to his feet. A tall, slender woman charges the stale air inside Jimmy’s as she and Earl embrace beneath the ceiling fan. “You’re gorgeous,” he declares, and she is. Suddenly conscious of my own appearance, I finger my bangs and tuck straying strands into my pony tail.

Perfectly matched in height, the pair regards each other for several moments. Blonde hair brushes the shoulders of her crisp white blouse. Her dark floral skirt flares, ending at the knee. Slender tanned legs stretch elegantly into leather sandals. She flicks a corkscrew curl on Earl’s forehead and they laugh like old friends. “You didn’t tell me about these,” she coos, and continues springing his buoyant curls on all sides.

Try as I might to get back to work, I am too preoccupied with Earl and his lovely companion. Even the regulars have quieted themselves, glancing curiously in Earl’s direction now and then. The couple leans forward across the table chatting, ignoring their cooling coffee cups. Earl has temporarily forgotten that other place and the long road. The two are present here, perhaps seeking a path they might take together. Now I abandon my column altogether, choosing instead to document a romance.

An hour and a half later, Earl draws a small black book -a Bible, from his knapsack. Turning it sideways, he points as he reads. She smiles and nods and they bow their heads, holding hands across the table. The walls of Jimmy’s Café have never been so hallowed. I strain to make out the words Jimmy prays, but even if I could I would not repeat them. They flutter upwards like butterfly wings too delicate to grasp. Finally, they rise and he walks her to the door, releasing her hand only when she is at arm’s length.

Unable to help myself, I promptly join Earl at the coffee bar. “Did you meet your friend at a play?” I ask.

“Sophia? No. Today was our first meeting.” Earl chuckles as I attempt to conceal my surprise and confusion. “My sister gave me Sophia’s phone number. It took me a month to drum up the courage to call her.”

“So that’s it? You called her up and asked her to meet you here?”

“Not exactly. We’ve spent another month getting acquainted over the phone. We talk nearly every day, sometimes for hours. I think I can truly say we’ve grown to love each other, but I never knew until today that she’s so beautiful.”

“Will you marry her?” I chide myself even as I blurt the invasive question.

“No, but I do hope to accompany her down the aisle someday.” Earl grins at my stunned expression. “You see, Sophia’s my daughter.”

My curiosity is satisfied, but I am still blushing. Reigning in my imagination, I return to my booth, determined to get back on track with Sunday's column.

Across the room Earl sips his coffee, peering with pleasure down a much shorter road.

Friday, March 5, 2010

It's All About Bob

by Sharlyn Guthrie

“Do you mind filing today while I watch the desk, Lauren? I’m expecting someone, and I don’t want to miss him.” Christy, Lauren’s co-worker, had that ask me more look about her.

“No problem. Is he a friend of yours?”

“Sort of. I mean, Yes! I met him online, and he’s such a cool guy; a little older than most of the guys I date, but the things he says to me…oooh, I just can’t wait to be alone with him. We’re staying at the resort. That’s one of the perks of working here, you know.”

Lauren gulped. Christy often talked too much, revealing startling naïveté. Lauren was hesitant to interfere, but besides being thoroughly disgusted, she feared for her friend. “Do you really think it’s wise to spend the weekend with someone you’ve never met?”

“I’ll meet him soon, and so will you. You’ll see. Bobby’s wonderful!”

“God, I don’t know what to do. Give me wisdom,” Lauren prayed as she filed. But she was soon interrupted.

“You’ve got to be Christy. Wow! Your picture doesn’t do you justice.”

Filled with dread Lauren turned, and her dread immediately turned to horror. “Bob?!”

“Lauren? I certainly didn’t expect to see you here.”

I’ll bet you didn’t, Lauren thought. Instead she managed, “What brings you to Lake Geneva?”

“Just a little R and R,” Bob replied, winking at Christy. “Ready to go?”

“You two know each other?” Poor, gullible Christy looked delighted as she glanced from Bob to Lauren and back to Bob again.

“Not very well.” Lauren’s eyes narrowed as she considered the irony of her reply. She thought she knew Bob. In fact, she had once admired him. Now she felt like throwing up.

Christy grabbed her purse and was chattering away about the resort’s amenities. Lauren watched in stunned silence as Christy walked out the door hanging on the arm of her former youth pastor.

Lauren was tormented all weekend; both by Bob’s sleazy charade, and by her unwitting involvement in it. She knew she should do something, yet she had never been particularly courageous. “God, make Bob and Christy miserable this weekend,” she prayed, hoping that the problem of Bob would simply go away.

It had been through Bob’s youth group that Lauren first accepted Christ. She had grown to love Bob and his wife, Carol. In fact, the whole congregation loved and respected him. They would never suspect the double life he was leading. As Lauren continued to pray and consider her dilemma, she knew what she had to do first. It would require extraordinary courage; she would just have to trust the Lord to provide it.

Christy was somewhat subdued on Monday, but she accepted Lauren’s invitation to dinner that evening. “There’s something you need to know about Bob,” Lauren began hesitantly, and from there the whole ugly truth was gradually revealed.

“Bobby, or uh…Bob said he was divorced, but I noticed that quite a few things he told me didn’t add up. I had already decided I didn’t want to see him again. It was really stupid of me to spend the weekend with him. It’s not like you didn’t warn me.” Tears coursed down Christy’s cheeks as she asked, “Do you think God can ever forgive me?”

It was just the opening Lauren had prayed for. She confidently shared the truth of God’s grace and forgiveness with Christy. Christy listened with interest and humility as Lauren read Scriptures on repentance and reconciliation. With a sense of awe, Lauren witnessed Christy’s transformation from friend to sister in Christ. The two held hands and prayed together, tears streaming down their cheeks.

Much later their conversation returned to Bob. “It’s all so wrong, Christy. Bob not only deceived you, but he is also living a lie before God, his family, and the church. Will you help me expose the truth?”

Following a carefully devised plan, Lauren and Christy left early the following Sunday morning and drove two hours to Chicago. They slipped into a back row after the church service began. Bob was easy to spot, sitting near the front with his wife and their four children. “Courage, Lord. I need courage. Make me strong for Your sake, and for Christy’s,” Lauren prayed.

After the service Bob and Carol proceeded to the youth room for high school Sunday school. Lauren made her entrance as class was about to start.

“Great to see you, Lauren!” Bob’s plastic smile looked a little off-kilter. “I hear you’re living and working up north these days. You all know Lauren, right?”

“Hello everyone. Bob’s right. Most of you know me,” Lauren replied, as she pulled Christy through the doorway, “but I’m certain he will want to introduce all of you to his friend.”

The story I’ve shared for Fiction Friday today is based on a true story. Sexual misconduct by church leaders is something most of us would rather not think about, and if we do think about it we often deny that it could happen in our midst. If you are a long time reader of my blog you will understand why this topic is important to me. I hope you will understand, however, that exposing this kind of behavior is not about getting even. God’s grace and forgiveness is sufficient even for the “Bobs” in the body of Christ. For more on this topic, you may be interested in reading two of my past posts: Can God Use Me If I Fail? and Thanksgiving For Dreadful Deeds.

Fiction Friday is hosted today by Karlene at Homespun Expressions.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

What's For Dinner?

“What’s for dinner? I’m hungry.” This is one of John’s most frequent conversation starters.

“What are you hungry for?” comes my predictable response.

“I don’t know. I’m just hungry.”

One would think that after thirty five years of evasiveness I would learn not to ask. And yet I persist, still anticipating a day when he will answer. For all of his fine qualities, my husband is not decisive, especially when it comes to what’s for dinner. In fact, he often avoids selecting from a restaurant menu by telling the incredulous waiter, “Surprise me.”

Occasionally I can coax him into choosing by the process of elimination:

“Do you mind waiting an hour, or do you want to eat right away?”
“Do you prefer something warm or cold?”
“Which sounds better, stir fry or Mexican food?”

Fortunately, pleasing John’s palate isn’t difficult. After snarfing down whatever was placed before him, he usually remarks, “That was really good. I wouldn’t have thought to ask for that.”

His most endearing line, however, and one he uses often is, “Anything tastes good as long as I’m sharing it with you.”

I recently experienced several weeks of what I can only describe as a bad case of the blahs, a feeling of emptiness. A vague sense of yearning settled over me. Since it occurred in the middle of a long cold winter, I misidentified this yearning as cabin fever and changed my schedule a bit, thinking that a little variety might be what I craved. I read some fiction, spent more time playing games, and even began watching more television (something that normally doesn’t appeal to me). I stayed up later at night and soon found that I had a harder time waking up in the morning. I got out of the habit of my regular quiet time, but reasoned that the Scriptures John and I were reading together was a suitable replacement. I lost my focus when I tried to pray. I lost my motivation and inspiration, too. My creative juices were quelled, and my craving increased. But like my dear husband, I couldn’t identify what it was that I was hungry for.

I have no doubt given my readers many clues here, but in the midst of my dearth I missed them all -or perhaps I simply ignored them. It was when the season of Lent began that I realized that I had crowded God out of my daily activity. As I read Ann’s post, and the posts of many other participants in the first “Walk With Me Wednesday” of the Lenten season (February 17th), God showed me that I had been trying all the wrong things to satisfy my hunger. I began once again to salivate, but this time I knew exactly what I craved, so I sought God’s forgiveness and determined once again to make some changes, this time seeking His help.

Two days later, as I was praying for direction, John suggested that we spend some time in Barnes and Noble. Over the past several years I have read something during the Lenten season to focus my attention on Jesus and the cross. This year I had yet to pick something out. As I browsed the religious book section The Faces of Jesus, by Fredrich Buechner, caught my attention. Coincidently, (ha!), a student had given me a gift certificate that just covered the cost of the book.

I am not snarfing down this delicacy; I am drinking it in slowly, thoughtfully; and it has created even more of a hunger within me, one that is easily identifiable. Each day I read a few pages of Buechner’s book as an appetizer, a prelude to the main course. Then I savor the morsels God shares with me in His Word and I tarry long in precious conversation with the only One who can create hunger in a way that also satisfies my deepest longing.

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” Revelation 3:20 (NIV)

Now I realize that John has it right. It’s not so much the content of the meal as it is the company.

The topic for today's "Walk With Him Wednesday" is "Hungering for God." Ann VosKamp hosts this weekly meme at Holy Experience.

Monday, March 1, 2010

To Lead, or to Follow?

Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" Mark 11:9 (NIV)

As Jesus entered Jerusalem seated on the donkey colt that his disciples had procured for him, people along the way assumed their position. This verse states that some went ahead, and some followed. They were all shouting the same thing, however. “Hosanna!” Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

This verse from Mark identifies two distinct groups in the crowd: those who went ahead, and those who followed. The Merriam online dictionary describes a leader as “one who directs the action,” while a follower is, “one in the service of another, or one who imitates another.”

As I thought about this, I began to wonder what determined the position of each individual on that day in Jerusalem. I also wondered if there were differences between the two groups; for instance, I wondered which group would most likely be more loyal, the leaders or the followers. I know that I’m speculating here, but it seems likely to me that those directing the action may have been attention seekers caught up in the drama of the situation, while the followers may have been the true servants of Christ.

You see, everywhere Jesus went in the days leading up to his entry into Jerusalem, He repeated the same invitation. “Follow me.” This is what he said to each of his disciples, to Levi the tax collector, to the rich young ruler, and to those that he healed. In fact, the same invitation was later extended to any and all, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23 (NIV)

A week after Jesus’ triumphal entry, a large crowd once again surrounded Jesus in Jerusalem. This time those directing the action of the crowd shouted, “Crucify Him!” and “Give us Barabbas!” Were these the same leaders who directed the action the week before? Where were Jesus’ followers on this day? Were they part of the crowd, too?

These questions make me wonder about those who went ahead, and those who followed Jesus during his entry into Jerusalem. I also wonder which group I would have been a part of. Would I have been caught up in directing the excitement and drama of one or both days? Or would I have simply followed my Lord, regardless of where He might have taken me?

Better yet, what is my position today? I may be shouting, “Hosanna,” like the crowd ahead of and following Jesus, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Jesus says that I must deny myself and take up my cross daily,and follow…

I'm participating in Monday Manna today, hosted by Joanne at An Open Book. Please stop by and pay her a visit.