"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 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. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood."
--Hebrews 12:1-4 (NIV, 1984)

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Afterword: A Redemption Story by Jasmine Eye

This is a reminder and ode to the gifts God has personally blessed me with. Without God I was homeless and familyless. I thought the bums and punx on the street were my family, but now that I have kids, responsibilities, and love, I'm starting to realize it wasn't the same. The new friends God has given me are also hard to accept as friends because my old life and friends/family weren't the same, not as loyal and loving...It's a lot to take in. In fact, a lot of the time, I feel like a toddler must feel at Disneyland for the first time: it's a lot to take in! Must be overwhelming and exhausting. The Lord has done way too much for this old street bandit. A lot of the time I fear that I'll go back to where I'm used to, penniless and filthy on the streets, scabbies, lice, coming up with scams with the junky bunch.

God has loosed my shackles. Now, I say shackles because I have eight batteries on police officers, attempted escape (I think I have two of those), smuggling drugs into a facility...now, now, I can explain my side of these stories, and it looks a lot worse on paper. In fact, I look horrible on paper all around; it has discouraged many potential employers and landlords. So, when I say shackles, I mean I generally get my own cage on the bus and chains from wrist to ankles. I've been in and out at least yearly sense I was nineteen (I'm thirty-six now), and before then I have a 3"-thick juvenile rap sheet. So let's say I've done a lot of street studies; I used to stomp the streets of LA and Riverside and did a little freight train hopping, hobo style.

This last time I was incarcerated, God spoke to me and gave me a choice: follow or not. I said yes. I was looking at 3-15 years for assault with a deadly weapon and was planning to take it to trial pro bono, which generally takes about a year. And the victim was there to testify; he was incarcerated on some separate charge. Anyway, the Lord released me after only six months! That's unheard of. God told me after I surrendered and told Him I gave up in my cell to "get to know my Son." I was like, what's that supposed to mean!? So I went to the library religious section. All religions are there. So I closed my eyes, moved my finger all around, and opened them to the Holy Bible. I smirked to the sky like really!? Jesus? That little skinny pale hippy gag all those weirdos never shut up about? I told God, "Alright, I'll read it, but only to find all the contradictions to give the jail preachers a hard time."

It took me 6 months to read cover to cover. I found no contradictions and I fell in love. The book came to life in my hands like a creature in its own. I still have two Bibles from my incarceration. One has sandwich sticker tabs separating the books and passages I loved. The other is unmarked except my booking number. As soon as I was done God released me, July 5th. I learned a lot while in, enough to fill a book, and that's just jail recipes (spreads, hair dyes, mascara, etc...). The Lord has kept giving, and I haven't had cuffs on since, about 4 years now. That's a lot for me.

I got the honor of taking care of my grandpa until he passed, and I got to pray him out—meaning, have him accept Jesus before he passed. My eyes were opened to my family and their lack of love. I got to forgive and love before my grandma's mind got taken away (dementia). He gave me a home—not just a home, a two-story town house near Huntington Beach pier. My kids have awesome schools; I have three awesome, smart boys who love me. I have a black F150 truck. I love it, named it Grace. All these things for a gal who did nothing but pray and surrender. I have a man who loves my kids and me, and listens. I'm learning love and congregation. I get to learn about having a family, and it all started by getting to know God's Son, Jesus, who made setting me free in mind, body and spirit possible. Now the trick is not crawling into a box or alley where I'm comfortable, continuing to ask the Father, and continuing to learn from the best teacher, the Son. I wonder if after Barabbas was released he turned to God too, because like him, Jesus took my place. He took my rap sheet, crumpled it, and threw it behind His back and said, "Go free." By God's grace, through Jesus Christ, I am free, and He continues to free me and teach me. I will forever be grateful and in awe.

Breathing Again: Remembering our Larger Theme | "Lead Me to the Cross" - by Amber Ross

Your cross is more than the Mexican sunflower
It is more than the Icelandic poppy
It is more than the French lavender
It extends past the parts of this world I choose to admire to keep my soul at ease
Your cross is more than beautiful

It lends itself to me
It covers me
It changes me
It fulfills me and claims my salvation
Your cross has set me free

It pushes past the admiration I would deem appropriate
On a single Sunday morning as the sun rises
It surpasses my life—it encompasses my life.
It takes the blood of you and cleanses the blood in me
Your cross fills the divide that is unfillable

It was 6:30 p.m. when I saw your cross on a Wednesday night
I saw your cross on the 73 North
As my car went over itself to go under itself to go around itself
You claimed my life with your cross

And as I look to your cross, it calls out to me, "Trust me"
Your arms for me are open wide
And I can't help but notice that your cross means more than a sunrise on a Sunday morning
It was more than the three days it stood in the Middle Eastern sky
Your cross touches every sunrise before then
And it claims every sunset after that

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Station 7: Jesus is placed in the tomb | Reflection by Serenity Moore

I am a follower of Jesus. I would like to see Jesus but I will be a secret follower of God and Jesus because I am afraid of the Jews. I thought Jesus would not be able to die on the terrible cross, but he did. I love Jesus with all of my heart because he is my Savior. I would visit the tomb if I could but I could not because there were guards. Jesus is the best person in the world and he is dead. I am very sad. Jesus made me want to be like him. Jesus is holy because he is Lord of all lords.

Joseph also was a secret follower of Jesus because of the Jews I think. He and Nicodemus bought the myrrh and the cloth and put Jesus in the tomb. I wish I could have helped them.

I will be a good follower of Jesus because he is Lord.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Station 7: Jesus is placed in the tomb | Reflection by Krysta Moore

Mark 15:46-47 (TNIV): So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed the body in the tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone across the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.

Joseph, who was a secret follower of Jesus, asked Pilate for Jesus’s body. With Nicodemus, Joseph took Jesus down from the cross (John 19:39-40). The two of them put myrrh and aloes on the body, and wrapped linen cloth around him. Then they laid him in the tomb.

Joseph and Nicodemus laid him so neatly in the tomb, with great care as I would have done if I were there. With love and care they placed him in the tomb, honoring him. Their hard work was done when Jesus’s body was protected. Our LORD Jesus lay in the tomb, a rock closing it to keep him safe.

Station 7: Jesus is placed in the tomb

Mark 15:46-47 (ESV)

And Joseph brought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Station 6: Jesus is taken down from the cross | Reflection by Francis Dennis

"Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." (Galatians 6:2, ESV)

I've learned to live powerfully and grown stronger by “carrying another’s burden” in my life with Jesus. However, there was a time when I was not so strong. I look back wondering why I didn’t say something when I had a chance to declare my faith in God, especially when this could have helped someone to draw closer to Jesus. I found there to be different layers to increasing relationship with Christ. One of them is changing my thinking, a process that includes every minute of every day. For me, it started with forgiving others and not being resentful. This began to unlock and increase my capacity to believe and help others!
Throughout life’s journey, I have found myself lacking  minimum resources. 2 Corinthians 5:7 calls us “to walk by faith, not by sight” (ESV). At times, I have been jobless and homeless, with the occasional motel room, not knowing if I would have the rent by 12 noon or where my next meal would come from. I know, when I was faithful and humbly serving the Lord, no matter what the circumstances, HE ALWAYS PROVIDED WHAT WAS NEEDED, IN HIS PERFECT TIMING!  Sometimes it was at the eleventh hour. While walking through that trial, my relationship grew with Jesus, and my faith was strengthened!

In 2001, I met a woman named Bonni through the church. With the support of my dad and oldest brother, she stepped up and selflessly helped me get away from an abusive situation. I’m reminded of Colossians 2:2-3: “My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (NIV). Bonni boosted me up and was patient, kind, and gentle with me. She inspired me because she was a good example of Christ’s love. She also shared God’s wisdom and knowledge with me. This was a pivotal time in my life because she showed me ways of seeking God that I never knew.

At just the right time, God sent Bonni, my dad, and oldest brother to help lead the way. They showed me what it means to bear one another’s burdens and Jesus and his leading by the Holy Spirit; I was strengthened so that I can in turn carry and help others in times of need. Through my friend’s and family’s  faith, I am encouraged and prepared to plant seeds, humbly ministering to those who want it. I am blessed that people gave to me when I needed it most, and now I get to give to others.

Jesus is so right:
"For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Luke 12:34, NIV). 
I am grateful for everything and hope you too get to experience the blessing of increased giving in this season.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Station 6: Jesus is taken down from the cross | Hymn Reflection

O Sacred Head, Now Wounded
Written by Paul Gerhardt, Composite Translation (date unknown)
Source: lutheran-hymnal.com (referenced 03.27.18)

O sacred Head, now wounded,
With grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded
With thorns, Thine only crown.
O sacred Head, what glory,
What bliss, till now was Thine!
Yet, though despised and gory,
I joy to call Thee mine.

Men mock and taunt and jeer Thee,
Thou noble countenance,
Though mighty worlds shall fear Thee
And flee before Thy glance.
How art thou pale with anguish,
With sore abuse and scorn!
How doth Thy visage languish
That once was bright as morn!

Now from Thy cheeks has vanished
Their color, once so fair;
From Thy red lips is banished
The splendor that was there.
Grim Death, with cruel rigor,
Hath robbed Thee of Thy life;
Thus Thou has lost Thy vigor,
Thy strength, in this sad strife.

My burden in Thy Passion,
Lord, Thou hast borne for me,
For it was my transgression
Which brought this woe on thee.
I cast me down before Thee,
Wrath were my rightful lot;
Have mercy, I implore Thee;
Redeemer, spurn me not!

My Shepherd, now receive me;
My Guardian, own me Thine.
Great blessings Thou didst give me,
O Source of gifts divine!
Thy lips have often fed me
With words of truth and love,
Thy Spirit oft hath led me
To heavenly joys above.

Here I will stand beside Thee,
From Thee I will not part;
O Savior, do not chide me!
When breaks Thy loving heart,
When soul and body languish
In death's cold, cruel grasp,
Then, in Thy deepest anguish,
Thee in mine arms I'll clasp.

The joy can ne'er be spoken,
Above all joys beside,
When in Thy body broken
I thus with safety hide.
O Lord of life, desiring
Thy glory now to see,
Beside Thy cross expiring,
I'd breathe my soul to Thee.

What language shall I borrow
To thank Thee, dearest Friend,
For this, Thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
Oh, make me thine forever!
And should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never,
Outlive my love for Thee.

My Savior, be Thou near me
When death is at my door;
Then let Thy presence cheer me,
Forsake me nevermore!
When soul and body languish,
Oh, leave me not alone,
But take away mine anguish
By virtue of Thine own!

Be Thou my Consolation,
My Shield when I must die;
Remind me of Thy Passion
When my last hour draws nigh.
Mine eyes shall then behold Thee,
Upon Thy cross shall dwell,
My heart by faith enfold Thee.
Who dieth thus dies well!