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

Adopt the Attitude

Some days, attitude is everything.

When you are feeling low, taking on an attitude of hope can help you move forward.

When you’re feeling accomplished, remembering where your blessings come from can shift your attitude from pride to gratitude.

When you’re feeling joy, adopting an attitude of generosity can spread that joy outward.

When you’re feeling despair, remembering that you are NEVER alone can change your attitude toward your situation.

Paul talks a lot about attitude in the book of Philippians. In the fourth chapter, he encourages us to rejoice.

“Rejoice! Again, I say, rejoice!” (Verse 4)

That sounds like a lot of fluff until you remember that he was writing from prison. If his attitude can be one of happiness as he sits behind bars, we can take heart that our attitudes can rise above our circumstances as well.

In today’s passage, Paul lays out a tremendous challenge for us: adopt the attitude of Christ.

Philippians 2 (Common English Bible)

Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:

Though he was in the form of God,
        he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
But he emptied himself
        by taking the form of a slave
        and by becoming like human beings.
When he found himself in the form of a human,
        he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
        even death on a cross.

We have talked a lot about obedience during this Lent season: obedience to the call to pray; obedience to the call to give; obedience to the call to study scripture, meditate, confess our sins, and repent; and obedience to whatever it is God is calling us to do.

Paul’s challenge is simple. If the Son of God can be obedient to the point of emptying himself and taking on the form of a slave, we can change our attitudes. Jesus humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death. Where is God calling you to humble yourself?

Therefore, God highly honored him
        and gave him a name above all names,
10     so that at the name of Jesus everyone
        in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow
11         and every tongue confess
            that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Soon the day will come when we will all be humbled. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess Christ as Lord. Until then, adopt the attitude of Christ as you wait. This is the way the kingdom is built.

Every Knee Shall Bow by Bonnie Bennett

Do Something Good

Recently the entire East Coast was under a Severe Storm warning. A large system that brought copious amounts of rain, lightning, high winds, and the threat of tornadoes made its way across several states. As it approached North Carolina, all the weather outlets started posting warnings, maps, forecasts, projections, and color-coded resources that gave predictions about the strength of the storm and possible damage to one’s immediate area.

In my immediate area, the storm shifted, wobbled, and weakened to the point that the projections from 24 hours earlier were happily way off the mark. I say happily because that is how we should have received the change of course. But instead, many people took to social media to denounce and decry the efforts of meteorologists who were using their best science to keep people safe. They were complaining that the storm they had prepared for DIDN’T hit them.

Honestly, people will complain about EVERYTHING!

This well-known passage in the book of Mark tells a story of a woman who made a beautiful and fragrant offering to our Lord. It was just before the crucifixion, and Jesus received it as an anointing of his body.

Mark 14 (Common English Bible)

 It was two days before Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and legal experts through cunning tricks were searching for a way to arrest Jesus and kill him. But they agreed that it shouldn’t happen during the festival; otherwise, there would be an uproar among the people.

Jesus was at Bethany visiting the house of Simon, who had a skin disease. During dinner, a woman came in with a vase made of alabaster and containing very expensive perfume of pure nard. She broke open the vase and poured the perfume on his head. Some grew angry. They said to each other, “Why waste the perfume? This perfume could have been sold for almost a year’s pay and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her.

The gift was very expensive. Contained in a jar of alabaster, the perfume was so pungent that its aroma filled the entire house. It was pure nard, and it was hers to give.

And of course, someone complained.

Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you make trouble for her? She has done a good thing for me. You always have the poor with you; and whenever you want, you can do something good for them. But you won’t always have me. She has done what she could. She has anointed my body ahead of time for burial. I tell you the truth that, wherever in the whole world the good news is announced, what she’s done will also be told in memory of her.”

I love Jesus’s response. Leave her alone! SHE has done a good thing.

The take-away here is that if you find yourself complaining, get up and go do a good thing. Complaining doesn’t bring anything but misery to those around you. Going out and doing something in the name of Jesus is the best antidote to your complaints.

Find someone today who needs to breathe in the blessing of your generosity. And when you give as this woman gave, the good news is announced everywhere, leaving behind only its sweet fragrance.

Spring Smells by Becca Ziegler

Create in Me

I want to start this devotional with a disclaimer. When it comes to prayer, you can learn different techniques, read lots of books, attend seminars, etc. yet in the end prayer is simply talking to God. You already know how to do that. So as valuable as those teachings are, talking is at the center of what prayer is all about.

But using a disciplined approach to prayer can enhance that conversation, especially during Lent. I recently met with my church’s youth group and suggested that we think of prayer like protective TARPS…so we should include Thanksgiving, Adoration, Repentance (confession), Petition, and Supplication.

Our study of Psalm 51 continues as we move through David’s confession of his sins to the petition part of his prayer. This is a wonderful reminder of the parts of prayer. Today we land in the repentance>petition place of David’s prayer:

Psalm 51 (Common English Bible)

Purify me with hyssop and I will be clean;
    wash me and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and celebration again;
    let the bones you crushed rejoice once more.
Hide your face from my sins;
    wipe away all my guilty deeds!
10 Create a clean heart for me, God;
    put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me!

David’s pleas reflect how heartbroken he is over his sins. The reality of what he has done before God has resulted in feeling as though his bones are crushed. He begs God to remain in him and not remove the Holy Spirit from him. Can you relate?

11 Please don’t throw me out of your presence;
    please don’t take your holy spirit away from me.
12 Return the joy of your salvation to me
    and sustain me with a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach wrongdoers your ways,
    and sinners will come back to you.

Confession and repentance always lead to pardon.

Where is God calling you to plead for a new, clean heart? Is there any hidden or unconfessed sin that you should be dealing with right now?

Don’t carry that burden anymore. God is ready to return the joy of your salvation back to you and will sustain you with a willing spirit.

Create in us clean hearts, oh God.

The Joy of Salvation by Karen Warlitner

According to the Order

The book of Hebrews is an exercise in teaching Jewish Christians about the priestly function of Christ. It takes great care to focus on the aspect of Jesus being the greatest of all priests. The writer contends that Jesus is better than any of the rest because of his relationship to the Father.

Jewish Christians understood priestliness. They understood the rarity of the “order of Melchizedek” that combined the office of priest AND king. The writer states that Jesus is the best of all of those orders put together…he is better than Melchizedek and far superior to Aaron.

Interestingly, he then points to Christ’s humanity as a point of superiority:

Hebrews 5 (Common English Bible)

In the same way Christ also didn’t promote himself to become high priest. Instead, it was the one who said to him,

You are my Son.
        Today I have become your Father,

as he also says in another place,

You are a priest forever,
        according to the order of Melchizedek.

During his days on earth, Christ offered prayers and requests with loud cries and tears as his sacrifices to the one who was able to save him from death. He was heard because of his godly devotion. 

Imagine being a first-century Jewish convert to the Way and learning that it is through loud cries, tears, and suffering that Jesus takes his throne of honor at the right hand of God.

Although he was a Son, he learned obedience from what he suffered.

Can we take heart in this? Jesus learned obedience from what he suffered and God elevated him to the high priesthood. So too may we become part of a “royal priesthood” through our suffering and obedience. Eternal salvation comes to all who obey the Son.

After he had been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for everyone who obeys him. 10 He was appointed by God to be a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Jesus is indeed better than all the rest. In today’s marketplace of beliefs, Jesus stands alone as the one who can truly deliver you. He is our priest forever. Thanks be to God!

Jesus Stands Alone by Kathy Schumacher