Dark Caves

Several decades ago I worked as a Resident Advisor in a dormitory at my alma mater. It was a wonderful job that actually prepared me for being a pastor. Resident Advisors were required to do an impressive amount of training that focused on peer counseling, active listening, leadership skills, personnel management, and personal skills development. The training was intended to make us better at assisting the students who were in our care.

All of the RAs in my all-female dorm were teamed with RAs in an all-male dorm under the supervision of a graduate student who was our Coordinator. One year the residence hall leadership decided it would be good to send us to a nearby camp on the weekend prior to the opening of school for some team-building. We hiked, cooked, discussed, listened, and it was all going swimmingly well…right up to the point when they announced that our final activity would be spelunking.

Having grown up eleven miles from Philadelphia in a thriving suburb, this girl didn’t know what spelunking was. But the area in central Pennsylvania where my university is located is well-known for its vast mountains, hills, valleys, and caves. Yes, we were going to explore a deep underground cave together.

This was when I learned for the first time in my young adult life that I have a pretty significant case of claustrophobia. It was not a good time to learn that.

It was in the final passage to the last underground chamber when the darkness overcame me and I froze. Inching along on my belly in a cold passage (where the space was so tight I could not lift my head up without the Pom Pom of my knit cap touching the ceiling) was my undoing. Fortunately, the only person behind me was the coordinator, and she knew what to do. The two of us backed up until we were in a space large enough to sit up and trade places. Then she passed me to catch up to the others and complete the trek. I sat in the darkness alone and had to wait for them to come back out before we could all make our way up to the surface.

I probably wasn’t alone in the ink for more than 5 minutes, and I could hear them exploring the final chamber. But the isolation and fear that I felt seemed to last more than 5 days.

1 John 1:1 (Common English Bible)

1 We announce to you what existed from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have seen and our hands handled, about the word of life. The life was revealed, and we have seen, and we testify and announce to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us. What we have seen and heard, we also announce it to you so that you can have fellowship with us. Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy can be complete.

The message: God is light

This is the message that we have heard from him and announce to you: “God is light and there is no darkness in him at all.” 

Sometimes on Sundays after worship, someone will ask me where I learned how to pray. I am sure it was in that cave as a frightened nineteen-year old. I had enough “church“ in me to know that I needed the light to come right away to take away the darkness. Jesus sat beside me in the cold and comforted me until it was time to climb back up toward the light.

If we claim, “We have fellowship with him,” and live in the darkness, we are lying and do not act truthfully. But if we live in the light in the same way as he is in the light, we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin. 

There are many seasons of life that come at us with the threat of darkness. Losing a child, losing a home, losing a job, losing a marriage…any loss is a dark place to be. But when we turn our faces heavenward and seek out the Light of the World, eventually our eyes will adjust to the dawn of redemption and hope.

So keep climbing, my friends. Set your face toward the light of the Son. God is light and there is no darkness in him at all.

And There is No Darkness in Him by Cheryl Smith

The Easter Effect

I have a clergy friend who used to dread the week after Easter. He works primarily in music and drama ministries and has coined the phrase P.E.D. He feels that the worst part of Easter is the Post Easter Depression that falls on church folks. All the preparation and excitement of musicals, dramas, Easter egg hunts, special children’s sermons, the rush of Holy Week activities, etc. amp us up into a high frenzy of spiritual energy. When it is finally all over, a kind of confetti-scattered, chocolate-smeared, post-party-clean-up lethargy comes over us and we just want to sit still for a moment.

But when we catch our breath, we realize that Easter isn’t just a day. Indeed, Easter is a state of mind. It is an attitude. It is a lifestyle.

How interesting it is, then, to look back at the people who were present at the Resurrection. What effect did the Resurrection have on the culture of their time? How did Jesus’ followers react? What happened to them?

In the 4th chapter of Acts, Luke describes a radical, new Easter People:

Acts 4 (The Message)

32-33 The whole congregation of believers was united as one—one heart, one mind! They didn’t even claim ownership of their own possessions. No one said, “That’s mine; you can’t have it.” They shared everything. The apostles gave powerful witness to the resurrection of the Master Jesus, and grace was on all of them.

If Easter is meant to do one thing, it is to unite believers. Easter calls us to be of one heart and one mind. Even more challenging, Easter calls us to share what we have with those who have not. That is our witness to the power of the resurrection. Easter People realize that it’s not about them, but rather it is about grace poured out unconditionally to everyone.

34-35 And so it turned out that not a person among them was needy. Those who owned fields or houses sold them and brought the price of the sale to the apostles and made an offering of it. The apostles then distributed it according to each person’s need.

Are you one of the Easter People? Where is God calling you to sacrifice and share with someone who is needy? What exactly does the resurrection mean to you? Are there needy people in your community who could experience grace through your generosity?

Let us strive to celebrate Easter all year by being the one-heart, one-mind kind of believers. Maybe this year we can turn our Post Easter Depression into People Eastering Deliberately.

Spring Renewal by Michelle Robertson

Read It and Weep

There is no need for commentary today. Just read this scripture and let it resonate in your soul. Read it all the way through. Don’t skim or stop because it’s long. Take your place with the others in the crowd. Warm yourself by the fire. Stand at the foot of the cross and see what happens.

See you on the other side.

John 18 (New Revised Standard Version)

18 When Jesus had finished praying, he and his disciples crossed the Kidron Valley and went into a garden. Jesus had often met there with his disciples, and Judas knew where the place was.

3-5 Judas had promised to betray Jesus. So he went to the garden with some Roman soldiers and temple police, who had been sent by the chief priests and the Pharisees. They carried torches, lanterns, and weapons. Jesus already knew everything that was going to happen, but he asked, “Who are you looking for?”

They answered, “We are looking for Jesus from Nazareth!”

Jesus told them, “I am Jesus!”At once they all backed away and fell to the ground.

Jesus again asked, “Who are you looking for?”

“We are looking for Jesus from Nazareth,” they answered.

This time Jesus replied, “I have already told you that I am Jesus. If I am the one you are looking for, let these others go. Then everything will happen, just as I said, ‘I did not lose anyone you gave me.’”

10 Simon Peter had brought along a sword. He now pulled it out and struck at the servant of the high priest. The servant’s name was Malchus, and Peter cut off his right ear. 11 Jesus told Peter, “Put your sword away. I must drink from the cup that the Father has given me.”

Jesus Is Brought to Annas

12 The Roman officer and his men, together with the temple police, arrested Jesus and tied him up. 13 They took him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14 This was the same Caiaphas who had told the Jewish leaders, “It is better if one person dies for the people.”

Peter Says He Doesn’t Know Jesus

15 Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. That disciple knew the high priest, and he followed Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest’s house. 16 Peter stayed outside near the gate. But the other disciple came back out and spoke to the girl at the gate. She let Peter go in, 17 but asked him, “Aren’t you one of that man’s followers?”

“No, I am not!” Peter answered.

18 It was cold, and the servants and temple police had made a charcoal fire. They were warming themselves around it, when Peter went over and stood near the fire to warm himself.

Jesus Is Questioned by the High Priest

19 The high priest questioned Jesus about his followers and his teaching. 20 But Jesus told him, “I have spoken freely in front of everyone. And I have always taught in our meeting places and in the temple, where all of our people come together. I have not said anything in secret. 21 Why are you questioning me? Why don’t you ask the people who heard me? They know what I have said.”

22 As soon as Jesus said this, one of the temple police hit him and said, “That’s no way to talk to the high priest!”

23 Jesus answered, “If I have done something wrong, say so. But if not, why did you hit me?” 24 Jesus was still tied up, and Annas sent him to Caiaphas the high priest.

Peter Again Denies that He Knows Jesus

25 While Simon Peter was standing there warming himself, someone asked him, “Aren’t you one of Jesus’ followers?”

Again Peter denied it and said, “No, I am not!”

26 One of the high priest’s servants was there. He was a relative of the servant whose ear Peter had cut off, and he asked, “Didn’t I see you in the garden with that man?”

27 Once more Peter denied it, and right then a rooster crowed.

Jesus Is Tried by Pilate

28 It was early in the morning when Jesus was taken from Caiaphas to the building where the Roman governor stayed. But the crowd waited outside. Any of them who had gone inside would have become unclean and would not be allowed to eat the Passover meal.

29 Pilate came out and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”

30 They answered, “He is a criminal! That’s why we brought him to you.”

31 Pilate told them, “Take him and judge him by your own laws.”

The crowd replied, “We are not allowed to put anyone to death.” 32 And so what Jesus said about his death  would soon come true.

33 Pilate then went back inside. He called Jesus over and asked, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

34 Jesus answered, “Are you asking this on your own or did someone tell you about me?”

35 “You know I’m not a Jew!” Pilate said. “Your own people and the chief priests brought you to me. What have you done?”

36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom doesn’t belong to this world. If it did, my followers would have fought to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. No, my kingdom doesn’t belong to this world.”

37 “So you are a king,” Pilate replied.

“You are saying that I am a king,” Jesus told him. “I was born into this world to tell about the truth. And everyone who belongs to the truth knows my voice.”

38 Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?”

Jesus Is Sentenced to Death

Pilate went back out and said, “I don’t find this man guilty of anything! 39 And since I usually set a prisoner free for you at Passover, would you like for me to set free the king of the Jews?”

40 They shouted, “No, not him! We want Barabbas.” Now Barabbas was a terrorist.

19 Pilate gave orders for Jesus to be beaten with a whip. The soldiers made a crown out of thorn branches and put it on Jesus. Then they put a purple robe on him. They came up to him and said, “Hey, you king of the Jews!” They also hit him with their fists.

Once again Pilate went out. This time he said, “I will have Jesus brought out to you again. Then you can see for yourselves that I have not found him guilty.”

Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said, “Here is the man!”

When the chief priests and the temple police saw him, they yelled, “Nail him to a cross! Nail him to a cross!”

Pilate told them, “You take him and nail him to a cross! I don’t find him guilty of anything.”

The crowd replied, “He claimed to be the Son of God! Our Jewish Law says that he must be put to death.”

When Pilate heard this, he was terrified. He went back inside and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus did not answer.

10 “Why won’t you answer my question?” Pilate asked. “Don’t you know that I have the power to let you go free or to nail you to a cross?”

11 Jesus replied, “If God had not given you the power, you couldn’t do anything at all to me. But the one who handed me over to you did something even worse.”

12 Then Pilate wanted to set Jesus free. But the crowd again yelled, “If you set this man free, you are no friend of the Emperor! Anyone who claims to be a king is an enemy of the Emperor.”

13 When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out. Then he sat down on the judge’s bench at the place known as “The Stone Pavement.” In Aramaic this pavement is called “Gabbatha.” 14 It was about noon on the day before Passover, and Pilate said to the crowd, “Look at your king!”

15 “Kill him! Kill him!” they yelled. “Nail him to a cross!”

“So you want me to nail your king to a cross?” Pilate asked.

The chief priests replied, “The Emperor is our king!” 16 Then Pilate handed Jesus over to be nailed to a cross.

Jesus Is Nailed to a Cross

Jesus was taken away, 17 and he carried his cross to a place known as “The Skull.” In Aramaic this place is called “Golgotha.” 18 There Jesus was nailed to the cross, and on each side of him a man was also nailed to a cross.

19 Pilate ordered the charge against Jesus to be written on a board and put above the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” 20 The words were written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek.

The place where Jesus was taken wasn’t far from the city, and many of the Jewish people read the charge against him. 21 So the chief priests went to Pilate and said, “Why did you write that he is King of the Jews? You should have written, ‘He claimed to be King of the Jews.’”

22 But Pilate told them, “What is written will not be changed!”

23 After the soldiers had nailed Jesus to the cross, they divided up his clothes into four parts, one for each of them. But his outer garment was made from a single piece of cloth, and it did not have any seams. 24 The soldiers said to each other, “Let’s not rip it apart. We will gamble to see who gets it.” This happened so that the Scriptures would come true, which say,

“They divided up my clothes
and gambled
    for my garments.”

The soldiers then did what they had decided.

25 Jesus’ mother stood beside his cross with her sister and Mary the wife of Clopas. Mary Magdalene was standing there too. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and his favorite disciple with her, he said to his mother, “This man is now your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “She is now your mother.” From then on, that disciple took her into his own home.

The Death of Jesus

28 Jesus knew that he had now finished his work. And in order to make the Scriptures come true, he said, “I am thirsty!” 29 A jar of cheap wine was there. Someone then soaked a sponge with the wine and held it up to Jesus’ mouth on the stem of a hyssop plant. 30 After Jesus drank the wine, he said, “Everything is done!” He bowed his head and died.

A Spear Is Stuck in Jesus’ Side

31 The next day would be both a Sabbath and the Passover. It was a special day for the Jewish people, and they did not want the bodies to stay on the crosses during that day. So they asked Pilate to break the men’s legs and take their bodies down. 32 The soldiers first broke the legs of the other two men who were nailed there. 33 But when they came to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead, and they did not break his legs.

34 One of the soldiers stuck his spear into Jesus’ side, and blood and water came out. 35 We know this is true, because it was told by someone who saw it happen. Now you can have faith too. 36 All this happened so that the Scriptures would come true, which say, “No bone of his body will be broken” 37 and, “They will see the one in whose side they stuck a spear.”

Jesus Is Buried

38 Joseph from Arimathea was one of Jesus’ disciples. He had kept it secret though, because he was afraid of the Jewish leaders. But now he asked Pilate to let him have Jesus’ body. Pilate gave him permission, and Joseph took it down from the cross.

39 Nicodemus also came with about seventy-five pounds of spices made from myrrh and aloes. This was the same Nicodemus who had visited Jesus one night. 40 The two men wrapped the body in a linen cloth, together with the spices, which was how the Jewish people buried their dead. 41 In the place where Jesus had been nailed to a cross, there was a garden with a tomb that had never been used. 42 The tomb was nearby, and since it was the time to prepare for the Sabbath, they were in a hurry to put Jesus’ body there.

In the Garden of Gethsemane by Nancy Snyder

All In

There was a time in the late 1990’s when the World Series of Poker took over people’s imagination. It was a clever production on ESPN, with under-the-table cameras revealing people’s cards, overhead cameras showing the entire table and chip count, flashy graphics, and lively play-by-play commentary. It was where viewers learned the phrase “all in.” All in refers to when a player with a great hand pushes all of his or her chips across the table at once, betting their entire winnings on one single hand in a go-for-broke moment.

We continue our study of John 13 today as we dive deeper into the Last Supper. The moment has arrived when Jesus decides to wash the feet of his disciples. It was a shocking moment for them. Foot washing was a common practice of hospitality in that time. Hosts would often offer this service with a basin and towel to travelers who had walked long, dusty roads. But for Jesus, their teacher, rabbi, and master to perform such an act was startling, to say the least.

What exactly was Jesus doing?

John 13 (The Message)

13 1-2 Just before the Passover Feast, Jesus knew that the time had come to leave this world to go to the Father. Having loved his dear companions, he continued to love them right to the end. It was suppertime. The Devil by now had Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, firmly in his grip, all set for the betrayal.

3-6 Jesus knew that the Father had put him in complete charge of everything, that he came from God and was on his way back to God. So he got up from the supper table, set aside his robe, and put on an apron. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the feet of the disciples, drying them with his apron. When he got to Simon Peter, Peter said, “Master, you wash my feet?”

It was a lesson in both humility and leadership. Jesus was setting the example of servant leadership by kneeling before his followers and performing this act of grace. He was teaching them that their role in the kingdom would be to do likewise…to love his followers, to care for their needs, and to never let their position overshadow the mission.

Jesus answered, “You don’t understand now what I’m doing, but it will be clear enough to you later.”

Peter persisted, “You’re not going to wash my feet—ever!”

Jesus said, “If I don’t wash you, you can’t be part of what I’m doing.”

“Master!” said Peter. “Not only my feet, then. Wash my hands! Wash my head!”

Peter comes out of his initial confusion with a proclamation of wanting to be all in for Jesus. Once he figures out what is happening, he pushes his chips across the table and wagers his entire being on that single act of grace.

How about you? Are you all in for Jesus? Or are you withholding something?

Many of us want to live lives that are sold out to his mission, but truth be told, there is some withholding going on. We hold back our resources, ignoring the call to tithe. We hold back our service, busying ourselves with pleasure pursuits. We hold back our openness to the marginalized. We hold back our unconditional love and judge others who offend or frighten us. In the end, very few of us are truly all in.

Today is a day to change that. When you figure out what it is that you are withholding from God, let go of it in the name of Jesus. It is never too late to push it all across the table and give it up for the kingdom.

Jesus calls us to be part of everything he is doing.

A Gift From My Mother

Who is It?

Have you ever been betrayed by someone you loved? There are few things in life that can crush us the way that betrayal does. When you love someone deeply and have come to trust them with all of your intimate thoughts, your faults, your hopes, your insecurities, your future, etc. and then they turn on you like a rabid dog, it hurts deeply. I have known this pain. I’m sure you have, too.

So did Jesus.

As we make our way closer to the crucifixion, our text today drops us directly into the moment at the Last Supper when things came to a head. Jesus told his disciples to remember him in the future whenever they took the bread and shared the cup. As he distributed these things that would become the elements of Communion for believers, he looked around the table at his friends.

Imagine how close they all were at that point. They had worked together with Jesus for three long, hard years. They had gone without the necessities of life. They had left their homes, families, and vocations. They had suffered hunger and ridicule. They had bonded like brothers.

And then, betrayal happened.

John 13 (Common English Bible)

21 After he said these things, Jesus was deeply disturbed and testified, “I assure you, one of you will betray me.”

22 His disciples looked at each other, confused about which of them he was talking about.23 One of the disciples, the one whom Jesus loved, was at Jesus’ side. 24 Simon Peter nodded at him to get him to ask Jesus who he was talking about. 25 Leaning back toward Jesus, this disciple asked, “Lord, who is it?”

We have to ask ourselves the same thing today. Lord, who is it….is it I? Have I betrayed you?

We betray our Lord when we dismiss the sacrifice that he made on our behalf and pursue worldly things. When we neglect worship, forget to pray, leave our Bibles to gather dust on the shelf, fail to teach our children how to be disciples, ignore his commandments, and fall short in serving the poor and the hungry in his name, we betray him. When we turn away from these things, we are just like the one who sold him out that night.

The good news is, God is always a God of second chances. It is never too late to start again. Where is God calling you back? It’s time to come home to him.

Coming Home by Vic Miles

Sheer Silliness

If you have ever raised a teenager, you may have gone through a period when said teenager decided that you know absolutely nothing. When we parent our toddlers and elementary-age children, we are the authority on everything. Then something strange happens when they enter Middle School…suddenly our parental brains empty of every last bit of knowledge as theirs fill up with all kinds of wisdom. Things we say to them at this point come off as sheer silliness and we are downright stupid in their eyes.

Luckily they grow out of that somewhere around the first year of college, when we miraculously become smart again.

Such is the case today in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. He writes to them about the way the truth of Jesus Christ is perceived by its critics:

1 Corinthians 1 (The Message)

18-21 The Message that points to Christ on the Cross seems like sheer silliness to those hellbent on destruction, but for those on the way of salvation it makes perfect sense. This is the way God works, and most powerfully as it turns out. It’s written,

I’ll turn conventional wisdom on its head,
I’ll expose so-called experts as shams.

So where can you find someone truly wise, truly educated, truly intelligent in this day and age? Hasn’t God exposed it all as pretentious nonsense? Since the world in all its fancy wisdom never had a clue when it came to knowing God, God in his wisdom took delight in using what the world considered stupid—preaching, of all things!—to bring those who trust him into the way of salvation.

He was addressing the culture of his time over 2,000 years ago, but the same teaching applies to today. The cross indeed is foolishness to those who have not received it. Knowing Jesus, it turns out, is a spiritual knowledge born of experience rather than a scholarly, intellectual pursuit. You can read all you want to about Christ, but until you accept him as Savior and Lord, you will never really know him.

22-25 While Jews clamor for miraculous demonstrations and Greeks go in for philosophical wisdom, we go right on proclaiming Christ, the Crucified. Jews treat this like an anti-miracle—and Greeks pass it off as absurd. But to us who are personally called by God himself—both Jews and Greeks—Christ is God’s ultimate miracle and wisdom all wrapped up in one. Human wisdom is so cheap, so impotent, next to the seeming absurdity of God. Human strength can’t begin to compete with God’s “weakness.”

Is today the day when you will accept Christ as your Lord and Savior? Are you being called to humble yourself in his sight and receive him as your personal redeemer? If you’ve been thinking about this for awhile but haven’t experienced it yet, today is your day. You are one prayer away from salvation.

Each one of us who has already made this commitment is personally called by God himself to tell others about Christ, God’s “ultimate miracle and wisdom all wrapped up in one.” The way to do that is to tell your personal story. How do you know Jesus? Go and tell. You never know what seeds you will sow.

Go and Tell by Kathy Schumacher

All Things New

As we start this Monday of Holy Week, let us consider why the crucifixion happened. Today we will look back to Isaiah, who never met Jesus and never knew the son of God who taught, healed, performed miracles, and attracted followers. Isaiah could not have imagined Jesus’ birth in a manger, the twelve men who joined him to do his work, and women like Mary Magdalene, Martha, and Salome, who attended to our Lord. Isaiah didn’t know anything about Jesus, but he knew everything about the WHY of Jesus.

Isaiah 42 (Common English Bible)

But here is my servant, the one I uphold;
    my chosen, who brings me delight.
I’ve put my spirit upon him;
    he will bring justice to the nations.
He won’t cry out or shout aloud
    or make his voice heard in public.
He won’t break a bruised reed;
    he won’t extinguish a faint wick,
    but he will surely bring justice.
He won’t be extinguished or broken
    until he has established justice in the land.
The coastlands await his teaching.

God told Isaiah that his chosen one would bring justice to the nations. He taught Isaiah that his servant would be challenged, but would prevail. God instructed Isaiah to tell the nations about the savior who would come to open blind eyes, lead prisoners to freedom, and offer a covenant of blood and atonement for their sins.

God the Lord says—
    the one who created the heavens,
    the one who stretched them out,
    the one who spread out the earth and its offspring,
    the one who gave breath to its people
    and life to those who walk on it—
I, the Lord, have called you for a good reason.
    I will grasp your hand and guard you,
    and give you as a covenant to the people,
    as a light to the nations,
    to open blind eyes, to lead the prisoners from prison,
    and those who sit in darkness from the dungeon.
I am the Lord;
    that is my name;
    I don’t hand out my glory to others
        or my praise to idols.

So while Isaiah never knew Jesus, he knew that Jesus would usher in a new world order where sin and death would be vanquished. Behold! God makes all things new.

The things announced in the past—look—they’ve already happened,
    but I’m declaring new things.
    Before they even appear,
    I tell you about them.

When Jesus walked that lonely journey to the cross, he carried the words of Isaiah in his heart. Isaiah gave him strength for the task. But for today, let us rejoice in knowing that just as Isaiah foretold it, the old things no longer exist. God is declaring all things new.

Where in your life is God declaring new things for you? Have you put the past in the past? Have you left it all behind? What changes do you have to make to receive the new life God is offering?

The God who created the heavens, gave breath to his people, and offers eternal life calls you to close the door on the past and claim the new things that Jesus purchased for you on the cross.

Its time to move forward.

Holy Monday by Debby Fox

Finish What You Started

Do you ever struggle to finish a task? Now granted, some tasks are unfinishable. Things that can’t be finished are laundry, house cleaning, the value of pi, explaining things to a toddler, and worrying about your children. Try as you might, you will never come to a place with any of those things and say, “Yay! Glad that’s over.”

We have made it to the last week of Lent. Palm Sunday is on the horizon. Next week is Holy Week, when we will take a journey with Jesus to the cross. Everything in his life has led up to this moment and the hour is almost upon him to finish what he started. I often wonder where the world would be if he had given up and walked away at any point in these last days of his life. Even his moment of hesitation in Gethsemane ended with him continuing his work until the end.

In today’s passage, we see the beginning of the end. We join Jesus and the disciples as they make their entrance into Jerusalem.

Mark 11 (Common English Bible)

When Jesus and his followers approached Jerusalem, they came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives. Jesus gave two disciples a task, saying to them, “Go into the village over there. As soon as you enter it, you will find tied up there a colt that no one has ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘Its master needs it, and he will send it back right away.’”

The city was crowded with Jews from all over who had come to observe Passover. Mind you, Jesus and his friends had walked all the way there from Galilee, so it is interesting that he chooses to go the last two miles on a donkey. Do you suppose it had anything to do with the optics of that moment?

They went and found a colt tied to a gate outside on the street, and they untied it. Some people standing around said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them just what Jesus said, and they left them alone. They brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes upon it, and he sat on it. 

And so our King of Kings, the Lord of Lords chooses to ride in on the colt of a donkey. The visuals of that moment are profound. He probably had to hold his feet off the ground, given the smallness of the animal. And he deliberately chose a lowly beast of burden. Does this scene suggest that within a week’s time, he himself would become a beast of burden as he takes on the weight of the sins of the world?

Many people spread out their clothes on the road while others spread branches cut from the fields. Those in front of him and those following were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessings on the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest!”

It is likely that some of the voices who hailed him as king, messiah, son of David, and healer were the same that shouted “CRUCIFY HIM” just a few days later. How fickle humanity is.

11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. After he looked around at everything, because it was already late in the evening, he returned to Bethany with the Twelve.

Today I invite you to contemplate the joy of this moment as the parade through Jerusalem began. This joy would eventually find its way to the empty cross and the empty tomb, praise be to God. But we all have to make our way through Good Friday before we arrive. May God grant us the same commitment that Jesus had on our behalf.

New Life by Kathy Schumacher

Set Your Face Like Flint

There are times when we find ourselves facing opposition for our beliefs. It happens in the best of families and friendships. Sooner or later you are going to be challenged for something you have said. With the political and religious divisiveness that seems to permeate every other conversation, two people who actually like each other may find they are falling out over ideology, theology, or intolerance.

What can you do when that happens? How can you manage the sting of someone’s rebuke and not retreat into a corner?

In our scripture today, we see what the famed prophet Isaiah wrote when his position was challenged. He took strength from his relationship with God and only focused his attention there. When you speak for God, you will be challenged….but look at how he handled it:

Isaiah 7 (The Message)

The Master, God, has given me
    a well-taught tongue,
So I know how to encourage tired people.
    He wakes me up in the morning,
Wakes me up, opens my ears
    to listen as one ready to take orders.
The Master, God, opened my ears,
    and I didn’t go back to sleep,
    didn’t pull the covers back over my head.
I followed orders,
    stood there and took it while they beat me,
    held steady while they pulled out my beard,
Didn’t dodge their insults,
    faced them as they spit in my face.

In the middle of his battle he stood steady and took a beating. He followed orders. He said what God had told him to say and didn’t waver.

And the Master, God, stays right there and helps me,
    so I’m not disgraced.
Therefore I set my face like flint,
    confident that I’ll never regret this.
My champion is right here.
    Let’s take our stand together!
Who dares bring suit against me?
    Let him try!

I love his resolve to continue to stand there and take it! This resolve came from a keen awareness of God’s presence in his situation. “God stays right there and helps me. I’m not disgraced.”

Can you say this in your situation was well? God has promised never to leave you or forsake you. So when your belief in his kingdom puts you on the outs with someone, cling to that. Your Champion is right by your side, taking your stand with you. Set your face like flint and keep on keeping on.

Anybody want to take on God? Let them try!

Look! the Master, God, is right here.
    Who would dare call me guilty?
Look! My accusers are a clothes bin of threadbare
    socks and shirts, fodder for moths!

Just remember that you are not alone. Thanks be to God.

Growing Through Opposition by Becca Ziegler

Down But Not Out

Learning American idioms must be incredibly difficult for people who speak other languages. Things that flow naturally from the tongue for English-speakers surely create a lot of confusion for others. Idioms are a piece of cake if you were born here. Otherwise it’s like cutting corners and beating around the bush rather than just coming straight to the point. These obscure phrases are hard to wrap your head around. But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. (See what I did there?)

The idiom “down but not out” comes to mind as we read the 31st psalm. This phrase is from the boxing world and refers to when a boxer is knocked down, but not knocked out. A count is started, and if the boxer can stand up before the referee gets to ten, the fight resumes.

Somehow I doubt that David was a boxer, but he was definitely sprawled out on the mat with the count at about seven when he wrote this:

Psalm 31 (New Revised Standard Version)

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
    my eye wastes away from grief,
    my soul and body also.
10 For my life is spent with sorrow,
    and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my misery,
    and my bones waste away.

11 I am the scorn of all my adversaries,
    a horror to my neighbors,
an object of dread to my acquaintances;
    those who see me in the street flee from me.
12 I have passed out of mind like one who is dead;
    I have become like a broken vessel.
13 For I hear the whispering of many—
    terror all around!—
as they scheme together against me,
    as they plot to take my life.

Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever been knocked down so hard by life and its challenges that you thought you couldn’t even lift your head up? So many things can do that to us. Sickness, job loss, betrayal, infidelity, the death of a loved one, abuse, bankruptcy, sin…there are times when we are overpowered and we go down.

But with God, we’re never out.

14 But I trust in you, O Lord;
    I say, “You are my God.”
15 My times are in your hand;
    deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.
16 Let your face shine upon your servant;
    save me in your steadfast love.

If you are having an incredibly difficult day/week/year and you feel like you’ve just gone five rounds with Mike Tyson and your ear is bleeding, take heart. God is YOUR God. Your times are in his hands and he will deliver you from your trials. You can always count on his steadfast love.

As they say, it ain’t over till the fat lady sings! Good things come to those who wait.

But I Trust in You by Michelle Robertson