Shifting Shadows

Shifting Shadows, © 2016 Lynn Abbott Studios. Used with Permission.

“Shifting Shadows,” © 2016 Lynn Abbott Studios. Used with Permission.

© 2016 Lynn Abbott

Moving meant a quiet, country neighborhood, a place where my 7 year old could safely play outside.  And I could not have been more delighted.

Business had taken us far from our former urban environment.  And we drove across the bridge, past the beaver lodge, and down the hill to our new, cul-de-sac home that backed up to a nature preserve.

I had high hopes for the idyllic setting.

And there were plenty of potential buddies for my son.  In fact, my son brought the total count to 14 boys on our block.  It seemed a boy’s paradise: the great outdoors and plenty of other mischief makers with whom to plan adventures.

I imagined a “Hardy Boys” childhood for my son.  Soon, we exchanged numbers with all the neighbors, and our home became a hang-out place for my son and his new friends.

Indeed, he had no shortage of “followers.”  A born leader, my son hatched some amazing schemes so much so that boys considerably older sought his friendship.   He was in such demand that sometimes he longed for a day without buddies knocking on the door.

It’s funny how suddenly life can shift. You ride the tide one day; you fight the undertow Entering the Village, copyright 2016, Lynn Abbott Studioson the next. On the road, you encounter a hairpin turn.

For my son, change followed the arrival of new neighbors.  The family moved into a house half-way up the block.    A sour-faced and scrappy boy, the new kid had little to initially recommend him.  He said little to any adult, and his manners lacked a great deal.

But what most concerned me was that he appeared to dislike my son.  It seemed the new boy wished to claim several of the other boys for his best mates, and viewed Matt as a threat.  If you know kids, you can guess what happened next.

The bullying began within a matter of weeks after the boy arrived.  One of the fathers in the neighborhood rescued my son one late afternoon just before dinner.  In the beginning, the neighborhood parents were very supportive.

I spoke with the scrappy boy’s parents and we determined that the two boys would not play at one another’s homes.  But despite our attempts to keep the boys apart, the bully continued his unapologetic attempts to sideline our seven-year-old.

Clear attempts to intimidate and belittle became regular events.  Our once popular and happy elementary school student no longer wished to spend much time playing in the great outdoors.  The bully had impacted the neighborhood dynamic.

In fact, over time, many of my son’s friends drifted away, and neighborhood parents were less supportive.  One even said the bullying boy had seemed to improve.

Yet, my husband and I knew better.  Nothing had changed as far as essentials.  Our son remained kind and imaginative; the bully continued to demonstrate cunning and deceit.

Entering the Village, copyright 2016, Lynn Abbott StudiosThe tide had simply turned against our boy, and the bully had won his persistent campaign.

My heart broke.

What began with joy ended with tremendous sorrow and disappointment. My hopes and dreams for our young son crashed.  The situation appeared hopeless.

I questioned our original decision to move to that neighborhood.  My faith ran low.  I had difficult envisioning how God could “work all things together for good to those who love God,” (Romans 8:28).

In particular, I asked, “How can God work good in this situation for a boy who loves Him?”

Without a doubt, crowds can be fickle…

The workplace?  Fragile.

Friendships? Variable.

Relationships?  Tenuous.

Popularity?  Fleeting.

We learn early.  Yet, betrayal nevertheless blindsides us again and again throughout our lives.

There is always that one: the gossip, the slanderer, the jealous, the back-stabber, and yes, the bully…one who wishes to tear down rather than build up…

Sometimes, the pain comes from places we least expect.  We bleed emotionally from unanticipated blows.

Maybe, you’ve been there.  Perhaps, you walk this road today.  You began with high hopes; your dreams dash in the face of injustice.

There is One who understands.  Scripture tells us that our Great High Priest Entering the Village, copyright 2016, Lynn Abbott Studiossympathizes with our pain.  Yes, God-incarnate walked such a road.

It’s shocking, actually.

Jesus exemplified unselfish love, mercy and grace.  He loved the unlovable and healed their diseases and their brokenness.

The resulting three years of extraordinary popularity certainly seemed unassailable. And despite the jealous venom of many of the religious leaders, Jesus had countered each of the false accusations and eluded the Pharisee’s traps.  He even walked away unscathed from an angry mob that sought to stone Him.

In the midst of this, His popularity grew.  Thousands sought Him out.  He could no longer enter cities because of the crowds that came to meet Him.

Once, He taught from a fishing boat because the mass of people pressed forward and left Him no room to stand on shore.

He fed the five thousand.  He healed the blind and lepers.  He cast out demons.  He raised the dead.

His popularity was undeniable.

If there were any doubt of it, His entry into Jerusalem prior to Passover demonstrated the enormity of His influence.

More than that, Christ unquestionably announced both His deity and His identity as Israel’s Messiah.  He sent his disciples to find a donkey colt, and He rode the colt into Jerusalem.  Thus, He fulfilled the Zechariah’s prophecy, “Fear no, daughter of Zion’ Behold you King comes sitting on a Donkey’s colt,” (Zechariah 9:9).

His entry undeniable declared His kingship.  Messiah had entered the capital city.

The crowds recognized His claim and met Him with palm branches.  Expectations soared.  The people worshiped and cried, “Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9).

Their words echoed the prophecy of Zechariah; Their actions reflected the Messianic passage in Psalm 118:22-26.

Entering the Village, copyright 2016, Lynn Abbott StudiosBut on that Sunday road lined with palm branches, Christ did more than claim His identity as Messiah.

He boldly repeated His claim to be God.  Of course, Christ had previously claimed His deity in no uncertain terms.  When He said that Abraham had rejoiced to see His day, the Jews questioned His claim:  “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” (John 8:57).

His response rocked the Jewish community.

“Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I AM'” (John 8:58).

The people understood what many today do not.  You see, “I AM” was the name that God told Moses to use for God when Moses presented himself to the children of Israel as their leader.

“And God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you,'” (Exodus 3:14).

The name “I AM” was rendered YHWH or Yahweh.  In other words, Christ called Himself “Yahweh.”

And the people tried to stone Him for blasphemy.

“Once burned, twice as careful,” most of us say. The disciples had failed in their attempts to dissuade Jesus from going to Jerusalem.

I’m sure the twelve would have preferred it if Jesus had not ruffled the feathers of the jealous leadership.

But prior to His mock trial on Thursday, Jesus would not remain silent.  He boldly proclaimed the Truth: “He who believes in Me does not believe in Me, but in Him who sent Me.  And he who behold Me beholds the One who sent Me. I have come as light into the world, that everyone who believes in Me may not remain in darkness,” (John 12:44-46).Entering the Village, copyright 2016, Lynn Abbott Studios

What a difference a week makes.

During Passover, a week that symbolically pointed to Christ, the Passover Lamb whose blood marked the doorposts of homes saved  from  God’s judgment, Jesus spoke of His sacrificial and substitutionary death, (John 13: 27-33).

His words, however, did not match the people’s expectations.  And their grumbling began.  Those who opposed Christ seized every opportunity to undermine His claims.

Continual criticism took its toll.

John writes that although Jesus “had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him,” (John 12:37).

Judas, one of the twelve Jesus entrusted with His teaching and heart, turned against the Savior.  Yeah, that’s right. Judas embodied the fickle nature of the people.  Disappointed that Christ had not overthrown Rome, a disillusioned Judas led the Roman guard and Jewish officers to Christ in Gethsemane.

There, in that quiet sanctuary after hours of prayer, Christ was betrayed.

Entering the Village, copyright 2016, Lynn Abbott StudiosAnd the turn in the road was complete.

Jesus had predicted the shift that loomed on the horizon: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends,” (John 15:13).

During a sham of a trial, the people demanded the release of Barabbas, a criminal, in Christ’s stead.  Despite Pilate’s best efforts to offer a palatable alternative, the people’s “hosannas” had been replaced by a repeated and vociferous chant: “Crucify Him!”

Thus, our Savior carried the instrument of torture and death–the cross–down the streets of Jerusalem.  Ironically, just five days had passed since His triumphal Palm Sunday entry.

All seemed dark that Friday afternoon before the Passover Seder.

Christ, the lamb of God, sacrificed His life on the cross.   It seemed a hopeless business.

And I can’t help but recall… God Incarnate had given again and again.  He demonstrated His love, compassion and mercy toward all who encountered Him.  He healed, forgave and loved beyond measure.  He performed miracle after miracle.

Even so, humanity’s rejection of Him was greater than any rejection that you or I will ever know.

And He prayed, “Father, forgive them for they do know not what they are doing…” (Luke 23:34a).

He even died in order to make possible the redemption the very people who rejected Him.

Does He understand the pain of rejection?  Does He know how you or I feel when someone back-stabs or betrays us?

Yes.  A thousand times over.Entering the Village, copyright 2016, Lynn Abbott Studios

As the writer of the book of Hebrews says, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin…” (Hebrews 4:15).

Unquestionably, Friday was dark.  But Yahweh had a plan bigger than you or I could ever conceive.

Sunday was coming.

The Lamb of God’s sacrifice on that Passover Friday enabled our salvation.  In addition, Paul tells us that God the Father exalted Christ and that every knee will bow, acknowledging Christ as Lord (Philippians 2:9-11).

Yup. The Gospel is absolute evidence of “all things working together for the good of those who love God…” (Romans 8:28).

If God brings such good out of history’s darkest Friday, He certainly can bring good out of the shadows that you and I face.

He can.

He will.

He has promised, (Romans 8:28).

On the cross, He accomplished our eternal salvation. Our daily concerns and heartbreak are small potatoes by comparison.

“Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need,” (Hebrews 4:16).

In this world, you and I face disappointment, heartbreak, rejection, and betrayal.  That is undeniable.

But of even greater certainty is Yahweh’s love for His children.

Entering the Village, copyright 2016, Lynn Abbott StudiosWhen we face seemingly hopeless circumstances, you and I can confidently say, “God has a bigger plan than any I can ever conceive.”

And it is good.

His grace is always good.

As James writes, “Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, of shifting shadow,” (James 1:17).

When others shift their loyalties, when our popularity with people fails,  our God stands firm, (Jeremiah 31:3).

He never fails, (Zephaniah 3:5).

“‘…I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with loving kindness,” ~Jeremiah 31:3

“We love, because He first loved us,” ~1 John 4:19

“…and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus,” ~1 Timothy 1:14