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Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Gethsemane Request

Dearest Treasured One,


In this week when we commemorate Christ’s passion for us, I’m spending some time contemplating and examining Matthew’s eyewitness account of the last hours before Jesus was arrested, tried, convicted, and crucified.


In particular, I’m drawn anew to the moments He spent praying in Gethsemane. Here, in its context, is the line that finds special significance for me this Easter season:



Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me” (Matthew 26:36-38 NASB).



The grieved and distressed, these I understand. As my pastor pointed out this morning—this grief, this distress that Jesus experienced in that hour and the much greater suffering in the hours that followed—those He experienced on my behalf, and yours. No one on this planet or in all of creation could take His place or do what He was called on to do in that hour. Only He could carry our sins, our grief, our sorrows, our pain. There was no other alternative. If we were to be rescued from the curse of Eden’s sin, only Christ could enter into death itself to buy us back at the cost of His precious lifeblood.


But this simple request of our Master as He faced the hour that would culminate in the reason He entered space and time in human form, is so telling. “I’m in distress, my friends, and I need you to just be here with me in this moment.” There was nothing the disciples could do to lessen Christ’s load. He would never permit it. (Remember the conversation, probably just weeks before, when Peter blurted out the claim that he never would let his Master be put to death? Jesus had a quick and strong rebuke for His friend—“Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's” [Matthew 16:23 NASB]).


No, there was no way anyone could lessen the Messiah’s suffering—except simply by being with Him in this hour. Much like Mary who had anointed Jesus’ feet with costly perfume days earlier in Bethany, these three inner-circle friends (Peter included) had the opportunity to sit with Jesus as He poured out His grief and distress to the Father.


If you know the rest of the story, you know the disciples weren’t up to the task, for exhaustion (and perhaps grief) overtook them. But the significance here is that even Christ, in this moment of high drama and overwhelming intensity, called on trusted loved ones to sit beside Him.


Which brings us to the significance of this passage to us as caregivers: The beauty of being members of Christ’s family is that in compassion, camaraderie, and comfort, we can just be with each other in our most challenging and grievous moments. No one can be the daughter to my parents except me. No one can perform your role in your loved one’s life, either. But we can stand together (or sit together) to pour out our hearts and share our stories and remind each other that we’re not alone. We are a family, and when one hurts we all close ranks to offer hearts of compassion and ears to listen and arms to hug and eyes to share tears.


I have the privilege of being part of a prayer team—a team of caregivers across several states—all of whom read The Overwhelmed Woman’s Guide to … Caring for Aging Parents and decided they needed each other’s prayer support as they went about the challenging tasks of honoring their aging parents. When I heard about the group, I asked if I could be a part of it. I can’t tell you what a blessing these women are to me. We have the opportunity, via cyberspace, to just be with each other in these deeply grievous times.


But there is even better news yet … the God/Man Christ experienced in that hour in the Garden of Gethsemane my grief—and yours. He knows how it feels. He knew what it meant to be overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of distress and exhaustion. He experienced it all for us—and He will sit with us in our moments today, if we will but carry them to Him in prayer and heartfelt pleas. We don’t even need Internet access to get to Him—and He won’t ever fall asleep as He watches and prays with us.


A blessed Palm Sunday and Holy Week to you, my friend!


Julie

© 2010, Julie-Allyson Ieron. All rights reserved. For reprint permission, email: orders@joymediaservices.com

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Christ's Passion for Our Griefs

Treasured friends,

With Good Friday (and then Easter) soon approaching, I've been turning my attention to the way God revealed Christ's passion to the prophet Isaiah hundreds of years before Jesus' birth. It's a familiar passage in Isaiah 53, but one I believe has special devotional relevance to us as caregivers -- who daily work to assuage another's pains, all the while battling our own griefs, sorrows, disappointments, agonies, and illnesses.

Listen, weary caregiver, to how closely Jesus identified with your circumstances while His body was being torn to shreads by the stripes, while His life-blood was spattering down, while He gasped for each fleeting breath. I'll use the HCSB translation, which may sound a little different from the one you've heard or read for years. (I do this intentionally, because sometimes reading the same truth with a different cadence arrests our attention and envelopes us in old truth from a new perspective.)

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of suffering who knew what sickness was. He was like someone people turned away from; He was despised, and we didn’t value Him.
Yet He Himself bore our sicknesses, and He carried our pains; but we in turn regarded Him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted.
But He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds.
We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way; and the LORD has punished Him for the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:3-6, HCSB)

When my pastor preached on this passage recently, he keyed in on the fact that as Isaiah prophecied this event, he mentioned our sicknesses and pains early on. This is significant, he said, letting us see how closely Jesus identified with us at our weakest points of human suffering. He knew what sickness was!

As He took the stripes and felt the nails tear into His flesh, Jesus felt the exhaustion of every home-tied caregiver whose back aches from lifting her parent from bed to wheelchair. He felt the shreading sorrow of the long goodbye dementia patients and their loved ones endure. He felt the grief of death's separation. He felt the uncertainty you're experiencing as you're doing your best for your parent but you fear your best may not be nearly enough.

He felt it, He bore it for us, and He offers hope through His resurrection that in His bearing these griefs and sorrows, there will be a day when we will know what is already known in the realms of Eternity ... sorrow, sighing, tears, and pain have all been swept away by the flow of His precious blood down that awful cross and into the desert sands outside Jerusalem that day.

Yes, have all been swept away. What we're experiencing here, though it feels so permanent, so real, so absolutely endless, is more like an evaporating vapor than a concrete reality, at least from Heaven's perspective. Through the prophet God speaks what will be as if it already had been--by His stripes, we are healed.

So, as we go about our caregiving this day, my prayer is that each of us will try on this Heavenly reality for size--not only is Christ side-by-side with us in our most grievous tasks, but He has already conquered them for every believer who trusts in Him for ultimate and complete salvation.

May these truths comfort and strengthen you for the day's tasks.

Easter Blessings,

Julie

© 2010, Julie-Allyson Ieron. All rights reserved. For reprint permission, email: orders@joymediaservices.com

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Overwhelmed!

Dear, treasured friend,

This week I've been in special prayer for two dear fellow-caregivers who are making the agonizing decisions about the best facilities where their ailing parents will get the care they desperately need. To make these choices in their parents' best interests, these loving caregivers need more wisdom, insight, calm, compassion, strength, tenacity, and assistance than they can get in human terms. But, as both are also long-time followers of Christ, they have the assurance that they are not alone, that through prayer and listening for God's direction they will find the resources they need so desperately.

The best news is that you, too, can have that same assurance.

(If you'd like more information about becoming a Christ-follower, click on this link http://joymediaservices.com/694/index.html that will take you to an article I wrote that explains how and why this can be the greatest decision of your life.)

Listen to the words Paul penned to bolster fellow sufferers in their times of most stringent battle:

Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or anguish or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: Because of You we are being put to death all day long; we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered.
No, in all these things we are more than victorious through Him who loved us.
For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, ⌊hostile⌋ powers, height or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord! Romans 8:35-39 (HCSB)

Not even death--not even people or circumstances--not even illness or pain or grief--none of these things and nothing anywhere can separate us from the love of God. Drink in that awesome truth.

I've often wondered why Paul keyed in on the love attribute of God here. Why not, nothing can separate us from the power of God? or the wisdom of God? or the deliverance of God? While those are all true, there is something special about the agape love of God -- the love that gives itself away for the betterment of the beloved. The love that puts the needs of another ahead of its own comfort. That's the perfect and complete love from which nothing--not even the darkest day of caregiving--can ever separate us.

God the victor. God the destroyer of death, hell, and the grave. God the wise. God the all-powerful. Not only does He hold all these titles. But He holds them for our lives--all wrapped up in the package of His love. How much more comforting is it that the One Who is so mighty chooses to use that might on our behalf, in love, with our best interests (and those of our honored parents) in His heart of hearts?

So, fatigued and overwhelmed friend, draw courage and strength from the amazing love of God for you.

Yes, life is tragically difficult. But the One Who loves you perfectly is connected to you, next to you, yoked to you inseparably. He is pulling with you, and no one can change that.

Maybe your definition of "victorious through Him who loves you" doesn't look exactly like you thought it would today. But you can come through stronger and closer to Him and more convinced of His love for you today than you were yesterday.

Bask in the glory of this promise ...

With my love and prayers for you today,
Julie

© 2010, Julie-Allyson Ieron. All rights reserved. For reprint permission, email: orders@joymediaservices.com

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Praying Like Jesus

Dear and treasured friend,

This week, I am writing a study guide to go along with my book, Praying Like Jesus. My mind and my heart are immersed in the beauty of the Scripture in John 17, where Jesus lets us overhear His prayers on our behalf. For caregivers, in particular, knowing that the very Son of God and Holy Spirit of God are standing with us in prayer can be a source of immeasurable strength.

There is much here in this passage that is consistent with the Romans 8 passage we've been considering in this blog over the last several weeks. So, as this week's devotional thought, I hope you'll indulge me ... rather than write something brand new, I'm going to excerpt a portion of chapter 51 (the second to the last) from Praying Like Jesus. I do this in hopes that it will encourage your heart to catch this glimpse of how very much the Son of God, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit truly love you.

Oh, and if you love what you read and are interested in the rest of the story (the whole book, currently available in print; soon to be available with study guide in electronic and audio MP3 formats), zap me an email and my office will let you know how to order your own copy in your preferred format.

So, here 'tis:

When Jesus took on human form, He limited Himself to time and space. He could appear in only one place at a time. He could only be with one group of followers at a time. But once He ascended to the Father and His glory was reinstated, He again assumed the characteristics of the Godhead, which include omniscience (all knowledge), omnipotence (all power), and omnipresence (presence in all places). So Jesus can be in me, here in suburban Chicagoland, at the same time that He is in you, no matter where in this universe you are. The Holy Spirit, too, has this inherent ability. Without omniscience and omnipresence Their continuous intercession for every believer could not take place.


Let’s look at two passages in Romans 8 that enlighten us to this promise. First, we encounter the fact that the Holy Spirit gains God’s ear on our behalf and mediates for us in words superior to ours, making requests that are more suited for us than anything we could ask for ourselves. “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will” (26–27). Marvin Vincent, in his study of words in the Epistles, writes that the Spirit “throws Himself into our case; takes part in it.”1 If we want to pray in God’s will, we can trust God’s Spirit to do that for us—as He groans with us, as He grieves for our trials, as He shares our pains, as He exposes our sins. I can’t imagine a more loving picture than that of a God who searches our hearts—an intimate knowledge no human could share—then speaks on our behalf in emotive heavenly sounds that are superior to human language.

A few verses later, Paul says Jesus, too, intercedes for believers. “Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:34). The context adds a rich layer to the intercession. Because Jesus is strategically placed at God’s right hand interceding for us, no one can charge us falsely before God, no one can place a wedge of separation between God and us. Jesus sees to that. When the accuser (Satan) wags his finger at me before God, Jesus tells the Father, “This one is covered by My blood. No one can condemn her; she belongs to Me.” That’s a fact even the accuser can’t rebut.

In Hebrews, the writer pictures Jesus as the new and eternal High Priest who comes before God the Father to present petitions for His people. I love the phrase in Hebrews 7:25: “He always lives to intercede for them.” Jesus lives to intercede for you and me. This is what He always does. Every moment He approaches the Father on our behalf. Marvin Vincent elaborates that Jesus “is eternally meeting us at every point and intervening in all our affairs for our benefit.”2

Being a curious sort, I’ve wondered what the Spirit and Jesus say to the Father about me. The answer to that question is what this study has sought to uncover. What does God say to God; or, to put it another way, what do members of the Trinity say to each other? We have listened in on the communication between the Son and the Father as we have studied John 17. Another part of the answer can be found in something Jesus said to Peter on the night of the high priestly prayer. The disciples were in the Upper Room where they had shared the Passover meal. The eleven faithful men had pledged their allegiance to the Master. Then Christ said to Simon Peter, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:31–32a). I tend to believe that Jesus continues to pray for us that despite all worldly temptations our faith may not fail.

For our own prayers, the end result of the fact of our two highly placed heavenly Intercessors is stated in Hebrews 4:16: “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

1. Marvin R. Vincent, Vincent’s Word Studies Vol. 4: Epistles, electronic ed. (Hiawatha, Ia.: Parsons Technology, Inc.), s.v. “Intercessions.”



2. Ibid.

Excerpted by permission from Praying Like Jesus, (c) 2001, 2010 Julie-Allyson Ieron. All rights reserved. For reprint information, write to Joy at orders@joymediaservices.com

Blessings to you today, my friends,

Julie

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