A Stoning

imagesOh, Lord…I don’t like myself very much right now. I’ve been to a stoning. It wasn’t pretty. You know what I’m talking about because You were there.

Why is it so hard to live by the truth of Your words in Hebrews 12, “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy?” 

I know that in this stiff-necked, hard-hearted fleshly body of mine I am weak. As much as I want to love all people, I admit I don’t always feel it in my heart. When I see things that I know aren’t pleasing to You…when I hear things that I know make You sad…when I just can’t stand it anymore, I pick up the stone of judgment and hurl words that aim to hurt. But I know I’ve hurt myself, too. Because I know that what’s in my own heart right now isn’t pleasing to You. I know I’ve made You sad. And the only way I know to make it right is to tell You….Sweet Jesus, I’m so very sorry.

When the scribes and Pharisees brought the woman to You caught in the act of adultery, You stooped down and wrote on the ground with Your finger. I wonder how many minutes went by before You spoke…quiet, calm, waiting…”The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her.” 

I so want to know what You wrote in the dirt, but You didn’t tell us. I’m pretty sure You wrote words of truth from the pages of Scripture. I only know it was enough to convict the accusers. They dropped their stones and walked away, leaving You alone with the woman who nearly died because she made a choice that made You sad. She allowed her weak and imperfect self to lead her into sin yet she stood before You, looking into eyes filled with the love and compassion of a merciful Father and heard You say, “Woman, where are Your accusers? Has no one condemned You? Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” 

When sin gets the best of me I feel like something in me dies. You remind me I am a sinner, too. Weak. Imperfect. Flawed. Forgiven. Free. You encourage me, too…”Go, and sin no more.”  

Oh, God…You are forever writing words in the dirt of my heart…telling me to guard it because it’s the wellspring of life. You’re forever reminding me that You want to write love and faithfulness on the tablet of my heart. You’re forever speaking peace over me in the midst of conflict, convicting me when I stand alone with You, cleansing me and washing me in the power of Your mighty love that covers a multitude of wrongs. You’re forever forgiving me, loving me, bringing me back to life. 

So, Lord…show me how to make every effort to live in peace with those in my path who are difficult to reason with, difficult to understand. Show me how to make every effort to live in peace with all people because I wear Your name. You’ve written Your seal on my heart. I want to bear a heart that reflects Your compassion and kindness and above all….Your love. I want to learn how to speak Your truth in love, not anger. I want to be holy as You are holy. I don’t ever want to be part of a stoning ever again…

I don’t.


Narrative: Simon of Cyrene

imagesI was in Jerusalem with my family for the Passover. Although I’m from the north coast of Africa in Cyrene I’m a Greek-speaking Jew. When I woke up on that Crucifixion Morning, I had no idea what the day held in store for me. But, that’s life, isn’t it? Our lives can change in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. In fact, It was His eyes I’ll never forget.

I had heard of Jesus. I knew His teaching was considered radical by many. I knew the religious leaders weren’t happy with all of His talk of love and redemption. He had referred to Himself as Messiah. He was the One the prophets had told us would come. Tensions had mounted in religious circles and there was talk that something had to be done with Jesus. Yet, He had such a loyal following. I heard He was kind and gentle. He was knowledgeable in the Scriptures and He taught with authority. People flocked to hear Him teach and many lives had been transformed. I had heard rumors of miraculous things happening in His presence–physical healings, expulsion of demons, people being raised from the dead. It sounded so far out, but it didn’t sound like such a bad thing.

On Passover Friday I was astounded by the number of people on the streets. My sons, Alexander and Rufus, accompanied me into the city. I hung onto them for dear life so I wouldn’t lose them in the crowd. There was something about the atmosphere that day. Everyone was talking about Jesus. Condemned to die, He was to be crucified on Golgotha. I soon learned that we stood within the path of His death walk to the hill.

Before long, there was great murmur among the people. I could hear shouts in the distance, “Crucify Him! Hail Caesar!” As the shouts grew in volume I realized Jesus would be passing our way. I didn’t know whether to run and risk being trampled on in the crowd or stay where I was and hope that my sons would be able to bear the sight of a man being led to His death.

As He drew closer I caught a glimpse of Him. So badly beaten He no longer looked human. So weak and drained of all physical strength, He stumbled and fell, stumbled and fell. Every time He fell the guards would whip His already broken body. I couldn’t see how much longer He would be able to stay on His feet. His frail body was no match for the weight of the timbers He carried on His back. Every time His body plunged to the ground, it took Him longer to get back up.

Suddenly I felt strong arms pull me into the narrow street. A Roman guard spoke harshly to me, “You–carry His cross.” Fearful that if I disobeyed I, too, would be beaten with the strips of leather he held in I looked at my sons and said, “It’s okay. I’ll be alright. Just stay close.”

I got down on my hands and knees beside this man called Jesus. Cautiously and with great apprehension I turned to look at Him. We were face-to-face and His eyes bore into my very soul. I felt as if He knew me. What did I see there? Pity? Love? Compassion? It wasn’t so much the pain of physical torture but something else. The pain of rejection. The pain of love lost. The pain of death. It only took a moment for Him to look into my eyes and I knew that what I was about to do would change my life forever. I didn’t know how. I just knew it would.

I lifted the cross upon my back and groaned with the weight of it. Behind me I heard women sobbing and wailing. On both sides of the street rang cries of hatred. My face was pelted with the spit of angry men. I felt the sting of rocks hurled in contempt. I glanced at my sons, walking alongside me in great distress, anguish written all over their faces. They couldn’t possibly understand why I had been pulled at random from a crowd of thousands to carry a cross meant for another man.

I grew tired. My legs were giving way. I wanted to be strong. I didn’t want my children to see me fail. I didn’t want to felt the whip upon my back, but no matter how hard I willed myself, my knees gave way and eventually I fell to the ground. I heard Rufus cry out, “Father, get up! Carry the cross! Follow Him!”

At the sound of his words something began to stir in my soul. The crowd became a distant roar as I remembered what the prophet Isaiah had foretold. There would be a Redeemer. He would be despised and rejected by men. A man of sorrows and familiar with suffering. He would carry our sorrows. He would be pierced for our transgressions. He would be crushed for our iniquities. He would be oppressed and afflicted, led like a lamb to the slaughter. We were expecting a king to relieve us from the oppression of Roman rule, but this didn’t sound like the kind of king we were expecting. We weren’t expecting a simple man like this Jesus. Could He really be the One the prophets foretold?

I looked over again at my sons. With great conviction they encouraged me, “You can do it, Father! Be strong! Carry the cross! Follow Him!” I looked hard at Jesus. He was definitely fully man. Just like me in physical form, but there was something different about Him. I remembered the look in His eyes. It wasn’t the look of man dying in vain. It was the look of a man dying in love. Isaiah had written, “…they are my people…and so He became their Savior…in His love and mercy He redeemed them; He lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.”

With renewed strength and the sound of Rufus’ cries ringing in my ears I carried the cross of Jesus until we reached the place of the skull. The guards took the cross from my bruised back and I felt blessed relief. Rufus and Alexander ran to me and wrapped their arms around me. “Oh, Father. You were so strong and brave.” I let them cling to me, but I didn’t feel strong. I felt weak. I didn’t feel brave. I felt fearful. I watched them drive the spikes into Jesus’ battered body. There may have been relief for me, but there was no relief for Him. I saw them lift the cross to the sky and looked one more time at a man I had never known until that moment on the ground when our eyes met.

My sons and I turned back to the city and hand-in-hand we walked away. In silence, we put one foot in front of the other, but we walked in a daze. Heading somewhere but going nowhere. I couldn’t seem to get myself together. Finally, Alexander asked me “Father, who was that man?”

I replied, “I’m not sure, my son. I’m just not sure.” From somewhere deep within me, though, I knew. From somewhere deep inside I heard a voice speak ever so softly to me, “I poured my soul unto death for you.” How could I be sure? I wanted to be sure. For my sons’ sakes, I wanted to know for sure.

It wasn’t long before the sky grew dark. It wasn’t the darkness of a storm brewing, though. The sun literally stopped shining. It was an eery darkness. Nothing like anything I’d ever witnessed before. There was also an unsettling silence surrounding the city. For three hours the land was cover in this disturbing blackness. Then, without warning, the ground began to shake and rocks split in tow. The tombs opened up and I saw bodies raised to life walking the streets. In fear and trembling, I stood transfixed. Unable to move, I clung to Alexander and Rufus. They were crying out in fear, “Father, protect us! Father, what’s happening?!” Within moments, the darkness ceased and the earth stood still once again. There was no longer any doubt. I knew who Jesus was. Redeemer. Restorer. The Lamb led to the slaughter. Slaughtered for me. Slaughtered for my sons. He was the Messiah.

“Let’s go home, boys,” I said. “There’s something I need to tell you.”

That day, I carried the cross of Jesus. Later, I sat under the teaching of His apostles and they talked about taking up our crossed to follow Him. Rufus’ words still ring in my ears today, “Carry the cross, Father! Follow Him!” He couldn’t have known then just how prophetic his words would be. It was on that dark day that I led my family in a new faith. Three days after the Crucifixion Jesus was resurrected. He lives. It’s true. My family would later be baptized into the faith of born again believers in Jesus Christ. My sons would become pillars of faith in the new church, It wasn’t easy. There were many who still didn’t believe. Many Jews who refused to believe. There was persecution and hatred towards those who chose to follow Jesus. I believe I was chosen to carry His cross for a reason. Bent over with the weight of sacrificial wood on my back is a memory forever imbedded in the hearts and minds of my children. I’ve heard Alexander and Rufus say in encouragement to other believers,

“Carry the Cross! Follow Him!”

And I know they mean it.

~based on Mark 15:21 & Romans 16:13



From Trash To Treasure

imagesI hate to see the roadsides littered with trash. It’s been driving me crazy since I was a little girl.

I’ll never forget the time my family was traveling to the beach for sumer vacation. The side door of the Chevy van creeping along in front of us suddenly flew open and someone shoved a large garbage bag full of trash onto the road. I was so upset that my Dad recorded the license plate number for me and I wrote a letter to the VDOT in my own words and in my own handwriting. Several weeks later I received a reply telling me how much they appreciated my concern, but there was nothing they could do.

Nothing they could do!!! What about a fine?!? What about a letter of reprimand?!? What about sending the police to their house and issuing a warning of some kind, a ticket, a mark on their record?!? Heaven help us…

Wait a minute…heaven has helped us.

A year ago, on the day before Resurrection Sunday, I donned my sturdy rain boots, my old flannel shirt and some thick rubber gloves and trekked a few hundred yards down the street from my house with a dozen trash bags. The edge of the fields were lined with trash on both sides of the road. It was making me sick to my stomach. How can I complain about it if I don’t do something about it?

I don’t litter. When I was a little girl, my Dad took me to visit a family in our church. I loved going to the Masons. They lived on a farm, complete with chickens and cows. My Dad was–still is–a Baptist minister and I enjoyed going on visitation with him, but the Masons were really special. They lived in an old farm house and there was just something wonderful about the way they loved on me.

On the way to the Masons I rode in the front seat of the car. With my right arm hanging out the window, I held a tissue in my hand because it was so thrilling to me to see that tissue blowing in the wind and feeling it flap back and forth. (It’s a kid-thing.)

My father said to me, “Nina, if that tissue blows away I will not let you get out of the car when we get to the Masons.”

“It won’t, Daddy. I’m holding it very tightly.”

I had no thought that tissue would blow away. How could it possibly blow out of my hand when I was gripping it with all my might? But fly away, it did. I cried because I had to sit in the car while my daddy visited some of my favorite people. To me, that car became a tomb because I was missing the fun. I’ve never littered since.

As I picked up trash along the roadside that Saturday morning a year ago I felt God speak to my spirit, “Behold, I make all things new.”

What an unusual thing to hear from God while picking up trash, but as I pondered I realized that God was giving me this beautiful picture of new life. As I filled bag after bag with broken bottles, crumbled paper and fast food bags I began to see more of the green earth and less of the garbage. Not only did I see fresh new grass, but I saw beautiful dainty, lavender flowers covering the ground and pale yellow flowers growing from wild cress. I also found a few old bottles I cleaned up and turned into flower vases. When I had removed all the trash I stood back and beamed with pride. It looked like a new highway. All that trash distracted me from the real beauty of God’s creation. I wonder if anyone else noticed. How could they not?

I wonder why people litter. I wonder why they can’t wait until they get home to unload their trash. I wonder why they’re more concerned with a clean car than a clean roadside. Do you think it’s because if they keep trash in their car it makes them feel dirty? I wonder…

I love that Jesus came to clean me up. I love that God loved me so much He sent Jesus to wash me white as snow. He did it without leaving a single mark on my record at all, no fine, no letter of reprimand. When I look at the world’s trash and think, “There’s nothing anyone can do,” God reminds me, “Yes, there is. My Son has already done it.”

All of the world’s trash was dumped on Jesus. All my sin, all your sin, all humanity’s sin. In one giant heap. Like a garbage dump. There was nothing beautiful about the Cross. Before Christ was even nailed to those beams He was chained, beaten, whipped, scourged, spat upon and cursed. With every crack of the whip I wonder if He was thinking, “Behold, I’m making all things new.” If I had seen His body I probably wouldn’t have believed it could ever be healed. I wouldn’t have believed He could ever have been made whole again. I wouldn’t have believed something wonderful, something beautiful, something new could’ve come from the Cross.

But it did. I know because to Him I’m something wonderful, something beautiful, something new. He came to me in all His resurrected glory and showed me how to pick up the broken pieces of my life. He came and freed me from sin and released me from the tomb of death. He came to bring me life and I don’t want to hang onto my trash so tightly that I miss the abundant life He offers me.

Who would’ve ever thought the trash of the Cross could be turned to treasure? The treasure of knowing Jesus paid it all with His very life. The treasure of knowing He lives and He lives in me. The treasure of knowing one day this world and all its trash will pass away and there will be a new earth; one where God will dwell among us and wipe every tear from our eyes; one where there will be no more death, no mourning, no crying or pain; one where even now Christ is seated on the throne saying,

“Behold, I make all things new…”

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. (Revelation 21 & 22)


The Tree

Unknown“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” Isaiah 55:12

A tree once stood on a hill not far from the city. It was strong, big and beautiful. Its branches stretched upward toward heaven.

The tree continued to grow lifting its branches wide for its Creator to see. This tree knew Who had created the world and all things great and small and he was a part of God’s beautiful world.

When the sun shone this strong beautiful tree would stand tall and sing with joy. When the rains came and the winds blew he would sway and clap his leaves giving thanks for living water. This was his calling. He knew this was why he was created.

One day he heard much activity in his part of the forest. He heard men talking loudly, shouting to one another. What were these men shouting about? The next thing he heard was unthinkable. The men were cutting down the biggest, strongest and most beautiful trees with their axes. He was not prepared when the ax began to strike against his own trunk. Before he knew it, he fell to the ground with a great thud.

Along with the other strong beautiful trees he was carried off to the city and cut up into long and short blocks of wood. He thought, “What has happened to me? I can’t sing for joy anymore. I can’t clap my hands. I can’t spread out my branches to my Creator!”

The tree lay in a pile for a long time and then one day he heard different voices coming to pick him up. He wondered, “What good am I in this crude shape? I’m not smooth for a chest or a door post. I’m covered with fine splinters all over my blocks of wood. I’m not good for anything. I’m not fine at all and I’m no longer strong and beautiful.”

He felt himself taken up to a hill side outside the city. It wasn’t a pretty hill at all. It was really just a garbage dump. “Oh, why am I here,” he thought. “I don’t understand what’s happening at all. I can’t live again, never praise my Creator, never clap my hands. Was I destroyed for this?”

Off in the distance he heard a mob. Angry voices. Closer and closer they came. The voices were shouting, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him! We have no king but Caesar!”

Soldiers took a long block of my tree and put it in the ground. Another block was used as a cross beam. Then, a man was nailed to me! Me…the one who was once strong and beautiful had now become an instrument of ugliness and death. I thought I was created to be strong and beautiful, but look at me now…I’m covered in blood. “Oh, my Creator, please help me understand.”

In the darkness that covered the earth and in the quietness that followed, I heard the still small voice of my Creator saying, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. He has obeyed me to die for the sins of mankind. You were chosen to hold my Son in His death, high in the air. You, who were strong and beautiful, were chosen to hold a beautiful Savior. The Redeemer. The King of kings and Lord of lords. You were created for this moment. Yes, you once stood tall in the forest. Yes, you were strong and beautiful, but you stand taller now and even more beautiful to Me because you now hold my Son.

I make a promise to you now. Your ancestors, in a different way, will live again. They, too, will be beautiful. A different kind of beauty. In the spring time they will bloom with beautiful flowers to remind the world that my Son lives. He will die, but I will raise Him from the tomb. Those who believe in Him will also live. Well done, my good and faithful creation. You have made me proud that I made you to grow on a hill, strong and beautiful. You praised me, gave thanks to me and I’ll remember you as long as the earth stands…especially in the spring time.”

~Written by my mother, Vivia S. Mattox. I love you, Mom.