Friday

cross wooden scuptureIt’s Friday afternoon. Jesus’ body hangs limply upon a Roman cross which stands center-stage in a gruesome scene. Jesus has been beaten and scourged and spat upon. His nail-punctured wrists and feet still hold him securely to the cruel device of the cross. A crown of thorns impales his bloodied brow, and a just-for-good-measure side-piercing spear sits idly by.

Things are quiet now, with the exception of the thunder that rumbles in the distance and the sobs of those who have stuck around. As an angry sky spits upon the scene, the small drops of rainfall mix with the tears of on-lookers. The themes for today are darkness and despair, defined by the crucifixion of an innocent man. Make no mistake. Jesus is dead.

Jesus’ body is hurriedly taken from the cross due to the impending Sabbath Day of rest. Preparations of the body must be made quickly as sundown approaches. Jesus’ body is placed in a borrowed tomb sealed with a huge boulder. Roman soldiers are stationed at the entrance assigned with the task of guarding a lifeless corpse.

For the men and women who followed Jesus, this has been an all-too-real nightmare. Their Lord, their leader, their hope for a meaningful tomorrow, their friend lay silently in a grave. Even Jesus could not defeat death. Apparently, they had misunderstood him in a major way. He couldn’t save himself. So, how was he supposed to save them?

Heaven – Part 2 of 2

butterfly blue black yellow“ ‘My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am’ ” (John 14:2-3, NIV).

These are some of the words Jesus used to describe Heaven. Referring to his “Father’s house”, one with “many rooms”, Heaven is the place Jesus himself went ahead of us to prepare.

Likely, as Jesus spoke about Heaven, he was thinking about the Jewish practice of marriage. According to custom, the newly married husband and wife would move into the family home. This required the addition of a room to accommodate the couple. Depending upon the size of the family, several rooms would be added to the house over the years. Jesus, elsewhere, used the metaphor of marriage as he described himself as a groom and the Church as his bride. So, it’s no surprise that Jesus would extend this matrimonial symbolism to his description of Heaven.

I once had a student reason that God’s creative work on Earth was completed in six days, and that God has spent all the days since creating Heaven. While I’m not completely certain about the accuracy of this theological statement, I love this thought. Just imagine, the one who created all the intricate wonders of Earth – rainbows and butterflies, stars and planets, sunsets and waterfalls – intimately and purposefully preparing a room in Paradise for you and for me. I can hardly wait to see what Jesus, the carpenter and Savior, has in store for us!

Heaven – Part 1 of 2

butterfly yellow on purple flowers“…I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’ ” (Revelation 21:3-4, NIV).

The Bible Book of Revelation can be difficult to understand. Its writer, John shares visions and images that are often foreign to the reader and at times downright scary – seals and scrolls and trumpets, a dragon and a beast, the abyss and the apocalypse, just to name a few. Still, in Revelation we find beautiful images of Heaven. And, whether taken literally or figuratively as metaphors of truth, these visions can provide comfort and peace to troubled and hurting souls.

That we would be the people of God and that the Deity would be our God makes me think back to stories from the Old Testament. Time and again, God made covenant promises with his chosen Israelite people. God looked over them. He protected them from harm. He made his presence known among them. Yet, time and again, God’s people failed to live up to their side of the deal. They rebelled. They sought after false gods. They sinned.

In the New Testament, God chose an even grander strategy and actually became one of us. He came in the flesh, in bodily and infant form, as Jesus, who lived among us and died for us. Still, we struggle with temptation and sin, with unbelief and lackluster faith. Eventually, our flesh simply fails.

But in Heaven, all is made new and right. There is no death, no crying or mourning, no disease, no sin. And God dwells with his people once again. Really, I think that’s the best description of Heaven, the place where God is with his people. In the meantime, we live and die, knowing that Heaven awaits us.

Fearless

flowers pink and blue“In God, whose word I praise— in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Psalm 56:4, NIV).

I’m amazed when I hear of Christians who, for at least a moment in time, seem to be fearless. The Bible is full of such heroes, individuals whose faith was stronger than their fear. Daniel stood toe to toe with lions. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego kept their cool, and their faith, even while inside a fiery furnace. A stammering Moses found his voice as he faced Pharaoh. And the boy David took down one giant of a man.

Then, there are the Christian martyrs who made the ultimate sacrifice for their faith. The author of Hebrews speaks of those who “…were put to death by stoning… sawed in two.. (and) killed by the sword…” (Hebrews 11:37, NIV). Each of these individuals exchanged the worldly comforts of this life for an eternal reward in Heaven.

Even today, there are Christians who put their lives on the line for their beliefs. Some worship in secret places, because the Word they share is forbidden in public. Missionaries are called to remote regions with no guarantee that they or their message will be received kindly. All over the world, preachers preach and teachers teach the good news Gospel message of what Jesus has done.

Christians throughout the ages have had the courage to stand-up for their faith. May God make each of us fearless as well.

God Cried

flowers white and yellow

“Jesus wept” (John 11:35, NIV).

I used to think as a kid that real men didn’t cry. But then I saw my Dad, tears falling from his eyes, mourning the loss of a friend, and I knew that it was okay to show emotion.

Years later, I watched a sports icon, basketball coach Jim Valvano, losing not a game, but a fight against cancer. In a speech at the 1993 ESPY sports awards, Valvano said, “To me there are three things everyone should do every day. Number one is laugh. Number two is think… Number three, you should have your emotions move you to tears. If you laugh, think and cry, that’s a heck of a day.”

Jesus, too, cried, at least once, as recorded in Scripture. In the shortest verse of the Bible we read, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35, NIV). One might wonder what sort of things God would cry about. It’s important for us to remember that while Jesus was completely divine, he was somehow, at the same time, completely human. Jesus had lost a dear friend, Lazarus, and it moved him to tears.

I’m glad these two words are included in the Bible, because they tell me that God understands and cares about the difficult things that we all go through. The author of Hebrews states, “For we do not have a high priest (Jesus) who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15, NIV).

God in tears. Because he understands. I find that amazing!

Known

flowers white sunset

“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11, NIV).

Much of the New Testament of the Bible is written either about or by the Apostle Paul. Formerly known as Saul of Tarsus, Paul received a name change following his encounter with the risen Jesus on a road to the city of Damascus. Paul’s life as one who persecuted the fledgling Christian Church took a complete one-hundred-and-eighty degree turn as he placed his faith in Jesus as the one who would save him.

Under Paul’s leadership and laser-like focus on ministry, the Church exploded in number. Paul preached and taught the Word of God with Spirit-filled passion and conviction. He made several missionary journeys during his time as an apostle and penned at least thirteen letters to individuals and churches. These letters, also known as epistles, appear in our Bible’s New Testament. Even today, Paul’s influence radically exceeds his limited lifespan and martyred death.

With such ministry success, we might think that Paul knew the character and love of God better than anyone. He had, after all, come face to face with Jesus. Still, Paul expressed his burning desire to “…know Christ…” (Philippians 3:10, NIV). This was his ultimate hope.

I, too, want to “…know Christ…” (Philippians 3:10, NIV). This is the desire of my heart and the longing of my soul, to know Jesus intimately, just as he knows me. I want to worship him wrecklessly and serve him with unrestrained passion, to love him as he loves me, to speak to him boldly and follow him obediently. I desire to live my life for him, because he died for me.

May God bless our journey together as we strive to know Jesus better.

Crowded Out

flowers violet

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2, NIV).

Lately I’ve been praying a simple prayer that goes something like this: “Lord, please fill me with your __________ and crowd out my __________.” Depending on the day, or even the time of day, those two blanks can reveal different things. The first blank is always something positive and the second something negative. “Lord, please fill me with your Spirit and crowd out my fear.” “Lord, please fill me with your joy and crowd out my anxiety.” “Lord, please fill me with your peace and crowd out my anger.” Regardless of what I pray, I know that God hears me and accepts my prayer invitation.

This short prayer, and God’s response to it, has done some amazing things for me. It centers my attention and recalibrates my sense of direction. It helps me focus and calms my anxious thoughts, for I know that where God’s goodness is, there is no longer any room for the negative things of life. Satan cannot reside where God’s Spirit takes up residence. Fear and anger cannot exist within a culture of love. Darkness cannot prevail against the light of God’s peace.

So, entertain my request here. Please respond with the two words or phrases (one positive and one negative) to complete this prayer: “Lord, please fill me with your __________ and crowd out my __________.” And then, of course, pray it! You’ll be amazed at how God answers!

Thorns and Nails

thorns and green leaves

“…‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’…” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV).

Pastor George Matheson once prayed, “My God… I have thanked you a thousand times for roses, but not once for my thorn.” Matheson’s point was that sometimes God allows us to suffer the prickly and painful things in life. Still, God can use these very things to bring us closer to and make us more reliant on him. God has a way of twisting the tragic into the triumphant. This, I think, is why God doesn’t remove every thorn or calm every storm of life.

The Apostle Paul speaks of a thorn in his flesh. While we aren’t certain what Paul’s particular thorn was, we do know that it did what thorns do. It irritated him. It nagged him. It hurt him in some way. And Paul wanted it gone. “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me” (2 Corinthians 12:8, NIV), Paul states. Still, God did not remove Paul’s thorn. But here’s what God did do and say, “…‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’…” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV). God was giving Paul something greater than relief from his thorn. God was offering Paul grace. It’s as if God was saying, “Paul, you have to take this thorn in your flesh, but I took the nails in mine. And because of that I can give you grace.”

The grace of God, purchased by Jesus at the cross, is sufficient for each of us. It covers our sins completely. And while we may fall victim to the thorns that hurt us in this life, we have a certain victory in the next life through the wounds of Jesus. We have eternity in Heaven that awaits us. So, I thank God for the thorns in my flesh, but even more so, I thank God for the nails in his.

Repentance

mountains sunset

“If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you” (Psalm 139:8-12, NIV).

“Repentance” is such a good word to describe Lent, the season leading up to Easter. For some it might sound a little too churchy or conjure up images of a robed, bearded guy on a street corner holding up a sign and yelling, “The end is near!” The meaning of “repentance” is simply this: a turning away from sin and a turning toward God. That’s a pretty easy explanation and a reasonable expectation on the part of God. Right?

Well, for years I feared the concept of repentance, mostly because I didn’t really understand it. In my mind, repentance was one of the many things that I had to do to somehow earn favor with God. And no matter how much I tried, the idea of repentance proved to be a constant sticking point. Turning from my sin was one thing. But turning toward God and just imagining what he thought of me was downright frightening.

Here’s what I didn’t understand back then. God never leaves us. Let me say that again. God never leaves us. Instead, he pursues us, not in a creepy sort of way, but out of love and the heartfelt concern of a Father. Before, I thought that, even if I turned from my sin, I would have to find my way back to God and that this would be quite difficult, because sometimes I had strayed pretty far.

Now, I understand that God is always with me. He is not afraid of the dark places my disobedience and sheer stupidity can take me. God is right there, even in these places. And here’s the really cool thing. When I turn from my sin toward God, I don’t have to somehow find my way back to him. Rather, I practically bump into him. I come face to face with the God of all creation, and he is not ashamed of me. He is not disappointed in me. God doesn’t say, “I told you so,” or “You should have done it this way.” He is simply happy to see me. He greets me with open arms and nail-scarred hands.

I now think of repentance as more of a gift than a command. God loves me, and he loves you, too. He just wants us to come home.

Worship

flowers blue sunlit

“For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed” (Revelation 15:4, NIV).

I frequently pray for opportunities to worship God. I know that this phrase may seem a little peculiar as God is always available to receive our worship. The issue for me is that I don’t always make myself available to bring my worship to God.

I want to worship my Savior with all that I am, but I am distracted by so many things. A knock at my office door interrupts the prayer I needed to pray or the Bible passage I meant to read. During Sunday service, I find myself more concerned about the impressions of those around me than the desires of the One to whom I am attempting to direct my praise. Then there are the nagging enemies of indifference, laziness, complacency, and pride that so often derail my best attempts to worship the One who created me. The seemingly simple act of worshipping God often proves difficult for me.

The Gospel writer Luke tells a story of Jesus as he visits the house of Mary and Martha. The irony conveyed in this story is that Martha is so concerned about working out all the details of entertaining guests that she fails to worship the very Son of God who is in her presence. By contrast, Mary sits at the feet of Jesus and simply worships.

This is the kind of worship that I believe God desires. This is the type of worship I pray for: to fall at the feet of the Savior, to sit with him and listen to his words, to love and to be loved, to be broken and to be healed by his touch. My heart continues to crave such moments. May God bless each of us with ever-increasing opportunities to worship.