Happy Easter, beloved readers! I am breaking my sabbath practice of not posting on Sunday to share this beautiful Outer Banks Easter sunrise picture. May your Easter celebration be holy, happy, and draw you closer to one another and our Savior. He is risen, indeed!
We have finally arrived. Today is Good Friday, the last weekday of our journey through Lent. As a child, I used to wonder why we called it “Good.” It seemed to me the day Jesus died on the cross was anything but good. Easter Sunday? Good. Birthdays? Good. Last day of school? Very good. But the crucifixion? Not so good.
Some believe that it is a variation of “God’s Friday.” In Germany, it is called Karfreitag, or “Sorrowful Friday.” Of course what remains good about today is that God’s plan to save humanity could only come through Jesus’ willing sacrifice, which brought eternal life to everyone. Even though it was horrific by any measure, God indeed used Jesus’ death for the “good of those who love him.” (Romans 8:28)
John 19 (The Message)
28 Jesus, seeing that everything had been completed so that the Scripture record might also be complete, then said, “I’m thirsty.”
29-30 A jug of sour wine was standing by. Someone put a sponge soaked with the wine on a javelin and lifted it to his mouth. After he took the wine, Jesus said, “It’s done . . . complete.” Bowing his head, he offered up his spirit.
Note that the scripture reads that he offered up his spirit. It wasn’t taken or forced from him, but he offered it. Can you imagine? He did that for you.
38 After all this, Joseph of Arimathea (he was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, because he was intimidated by the Jews) petitioned Pilate to take the body of Jesus. Pilate gave permission. So Joseph came and took the body.
Take a look at the detail in the descriptions of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus (below). Joseph was a “secret” disciple, because he was intimidated by the Jews. Nicodemus, however, has made the leap from first coming to Jesus in the dark of night to now being able to come in the broad daylight. What are we meant to learn?
Be Nicodemus. Stand in the light and proclaim Christ as Lord. Don’t be intimidated by the secular world or the scorn of non-believers. Share your faith openly and boldly. You have a story to tell….because it doesn’t end with Good Friday.
39-42 Nicodemus, who had first come to Jesus at night, came now in broad daylight carrying a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. They took Jesus’ body and, following the Jewish burial custom, wrapped it in linen with the spices. There was a garden near the place he was crucified, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been placed. So, because it was Sabbath preparation for the Jews and the tomb was convenient, they placed Jesus in it.
But for today, we leave Jesus in the tomb. You have to go through Good Friday to get to Easter Sunday.
On this day of sorrows, be mindful of everything it cost our Lord to purchase your salvation. He loves you that much.
It is finished.
Ever wonder what your last thoughts will be just before you die? (A dark subject, I know…) I imagine our thoughts will be about our lives and our loves. We may have sadness over unfinished business, memories of happy times, or recall words we wished we had said, or not said…
They say that in the moments just before dying, your “life flashes before your eyes,” like a video stuck in rewind. How we live today will determine the content. Will it be a movie filled with joy, laughter, shared love, and warm memories? Or will it be filled with regret?
More importantly, what can you do today to change how the video will play?
It is interesting to see what thoughts Jesus had in the hours before his death. He knew that he was at the very end of his life on that last night as he sat among friends having supper:
John 13 (The Message)
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.
“Having loved his dear companions, he continued to love them right to the end.” His last hours were filled with active love. It was this love that would see its greatest manifestation the next day on the cross. Jesus’ entire life was love in action.
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?”
Jesus’ love was manifested that night in a beautiful act of servanthood. It did not feel right to the disciples that the Master was going to get on his knees and wash their dirty feet. It almost felt like groveling.
7 Jesus answered, “You don’t understand now what I’m doing, but it will be clear enough to you later.”
8 Peter persisted, “You’re not going to wash my feet—ever!”
Peter’s objection was in part his way of acknowledging Jesus’ authority over them. Looking at the filth on his bare feet, he cringed at the thought of his teacher, rabbi, master, and friend even touching them. But Jesus was trying to leave them with a very important message: “when you serve one another, that is when you have served me.”
Jesus said, “If I don’t wash you, you can’t be part of what I’m doing.”
9 “Master!” said Peter. “Not only my feet, then. Wash my hands! Wash my head!”
We need to be like Peter and take the full immersion of Jesus’ washing. Only the blood of Jesus that flowed from the cross can truly make us clean. From our head to our toes, we need to allow him to cleanse us from the inside out.
Imagine if you were ask for complete cleansing, and commit to living a life of servanthood in his example. How different would your end-of-life video look?
It’s not too late. Jesus is waiting, with his basin and towel. On the night before he died, he thought not of himself, but of YOU.
Come to the water. Jesus is ready.
Think of a time when you were betrayed. It happens to everyone sooner or later. It might be as simple as a confidence that was shared inadvertently, or as devastating as a spouse cheating on you and destroying your marriage. Maybe it happened in your family, with siblings or parents. Perhaps it was a co-worker who stabbed you in the back in order to further their career. Whatever the circumstance, betrayal is a gut-wrenching experience. You suddenly feel like the floor has dropped out from under your feet and you are riding one of those centrifugal-force carnival rides that presses you up against the wall. All you can do is wait for it to stop spinning.
Imagine being Jesus, sharing a last meal with his buds, and realizing that one of the cherished twelve was about to do that very thing:
John 12 (The Message)
21 After he said these things, Jesus became visibly upset, and then he told them why. “One of you is going to betray me.”
This tight-knit group was confused and somewhat horrified. Who, among them, could do such a thing? You probably felt the same way about your betrayer.
Note the tender care John takes to describe his own relationship with Jesus here. I love the image of him reclining next to Jesus with his head on his shoulder:
22-25 The disciples looked around at one another, wondering who on earth he was talking about. One of the disciples, the one Jesus loved dearly, was reclining against him, his head on his shoulder. Peter motioned to him to ask who Jesus might be talking about. So, being the closest, he said, “Master, who?”
Now watch what happens with the bread. In our understanding of Jesus as the Bread of Life, and realizing that this meal is the institution of Holy Communion, it is fascinating to see how bread is used here:
26-27 Jesus said, “The one to whom I give this crust of bread after I’ve dipped it.” Then he dipped the crust and gave it to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot. As soon as the bread was in his hand, Satan entered him.
“What you must do,” said Jesus, “do. Do it and get it over with.”
28-29 No one around the supper table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that since Judas was their treasurer, Jesus was telling him to buy what they needed for the Feast, or that he should give something to the poor.
30 Judas, with the piece of bread, left. It was night.
Jesus broke the bread (his body,) dipped it in oil (an anointing,) and offered it to his betrayer. The betrayer took it, but did not consume it. Satan took that opportunity to fill the void.
Then Judas left, bread in hand.
This is what happens to us when we are offered the Word of God but fail to internalize it. It opens us up to all kinds of influences. Jesus is the Bread of Life, but in order for that take hold, you have to consume him by taking in EVERYTHING he taught, and by following the example of his life. Otherwise, you are simply getting up from the table and walking away unchanged, with the bread in your hand.
Jesus said, “Take. EAT. This is my body which is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
So eat the bread, people. Let him fully enter in to your mind, your heart and your life. He died for it, so that you might live.
The first time I heard Reckless Love by Cory Asbury was at a Youth Sunday worship service several years ago. Three teenage girls sang it, and I thought it was one of the most wonderful things I had heard in a long time. Those sincere young voices are in my heart today, as we have realized that we most likely will not have our annual Youth Sunday as a live worship experience this year.
Here are the lyrics to the chorus:
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine
I couldn’t earn it, and I don’t deserve it, still, You give Yourself away
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God.
Our scripture today describes Jesus’ act of reckless love as he faced his final days on earth. He was speaking to a crowd of people as his death was drawing near, and explained reckless love like a grain of wheat, which must be buried in order for it to bring forth life and multiply:
John 12 (The Message)
24-25 “Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.
Truly his love for us is reckless. It is never-ending and overwhelming. Here he was in his final week, feeling storm-tossed about what was about to happen. But did he think of himself? No, he thought of you. He would not ask his father to get him out of it. Instead, he invited God to use his death to display his glory.
27-28 “Right now I am storm-tossed. And what am I going to say? ‘Father, get me out of this’? No, this is why I came in the first place. I’ll say, ‘Father, put your glory on display.’”
”Father, put your glory on display.”
Jesus is committing to following through. He, who was present at the creation of the world, was willing to be falsely tried, spit upon, ridiculed, beaten, scorned, pierced, and nailed to a tree for us.
How can we possibly respond to this kind of reckless love? This is a love that you can’t earn or deserve. This is a love that chases you down. This is a love that brings the gift of eternal life.
Are you ready to stop running?
26 “If any of you wants to serve me, then follow me. Then you’ll be where I am, ready to serve at a moment’s notice. The Father will honor and reward anyone who serves me.”
Then follow him.
Losing a pet is an excruciating thing. Pet owners will tell you that their pet has become part of their family, and so their death creates an incredible void that cannot be filled. My father struggled with that. He would often talk about his first dog, Tilley, and vowed to ask God when he got to heaven why pets were given much shorter life spans than humans.
Dad is in heaven now, and so he knows the answer to his query. Often when a pet dies, pastors are asked if they go to heaven. I always quote verse 6 of the 36th Psalm, which is today’s reading:
Psalm 36 (Contemporary English Version)
But your loyal love, Lord, extends to the skies;
your faithfulness reaches the clouds.
6 Your righteousness is like the strongest mountains;
your justice is like the deepest sea.
Lord, you save both humans and animals.
It always seems like a simple question to me. As far as I’m concerned, it wouldn’t be heaven without them! Pepe, Annie, Sam the guinea pig, Muffin the cat…I am looking forward to seeing them again.
God’s saving grace is that big. God’s saving grace is that inclusive. God’s saving grace is eternal, and all encompassing.
7 Your faithful love is priceless, God!
Humanity finds refuge in the shadow of your wings.
8 They feast on the bounty of your house;
you let them drink from your river of pure joy.
9 Within you is the spring of life.
In your light, we see light.
Look again at verse 7. It could not be more appropriate for Holy Week during a pandemic: “Humanity finds refuge in the shadow of your wings.” Under his wings, we experience the spring of life and God’s light. We need that now more than ever.
10 Extend your faithful love to those who know you;
extend your righteousness to those whose heart is right.
11 Don’t let the feet of arrogant people walk all over me;
don’t let the hands of the wicked drive me off.
Even with our global crisis, the arrogant and the wicked ones are still trying to walk all over us. God answers our cry for protection by saying, “Turn off your device.” Figure out where you are experiencing a feeling of being trampled to death, and turn it off.
I haven’t watched the news in over three weeks. I know some people who turn it on in the morning and don’t turn it off until bedtime. Not me. Watching the daily misery and back-biting that has become “news” today was pulling me down into a pit. No more.
So turn it off, and turn to God. He is the only thing that will save us. His faithful love is there for the taking. His righteousness overrides the latest poll numbers, pandemic projections, and the constant barrage of misinformation. His justice is like the deepest sea, and we are invited to drink from his river of pure joy.
You want to know what IS true? We are one day closer to the end of this thing. Thanks be to God.
In an attempt to keep my content “evergreen,” I try not to reference dates. However, as a public service, I need to inform you that this Sunday is Palm Sunday. I am breaking my evergreen rule because I realize many of us have lost track of what day it is as this pandemic continues. The struggle is real, folks. Somebody mentioned that everyday feels like Saturday, with the entire household at home looking for something to do.
So let’s get ready for our virtual Palm Sunday parade. It saddens me DEEPLY that we will not gather in our sanctuaries and watch the little children process down the center aisle, waving palm branches as we sing “Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna to the King!” So please, if you will, get up after you read this and parade around your house in your jammies, waving your palms.
What? You don’t have any palm branches? Look at your hands. Yep. Two palms, right there. God provides!
John 21 (The Message)
1-3 When they neared Jerusalem, having arrived at Bethphage on Mount Olives, Jesus sent two disciples with these instructions: “Go over to the village across from you. You’ll find a donkey tethered there, her colt with her. Untie her and bring them to me. If anyone asks what you’re doing, say, ‘The Master needs them!’ He will send them with you.”
4-5 This is the full story of what was sketched earlier by the prophet:
Tell Zion’s daughter,
“Look, your king’s on his way,
poised and ready, mounted
On a donkey, on a colt,
foal of a pack animal.”
Try to imagine this scene. Jesus is at the height of his popularity, albeit fleeting. He is making a triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The crowd is going wild….think Super Bowl Parade wild. Some understand the prophecy that is being fulfilled. Some have seen his miracles. Some remember the lunch he served on the hillside to the 5,000. Others have just come to see what the ruckus is about.
Here comes our king, riding on a donkey so small that he probably has to hold his feet up or they would drag on the road. Something is wrong with this picture.
6-9 The disciples went and did exactly what Jesus told them to do. They led the donkey and colt out, laid some of their clothes on them, and Jesus mounted. Nearly all the people in the crowd threw their garments down on the road, giving him a royal welcome. Others cut branches from the trees and threw them down as a welcome mat. Crowds went ahead and crowds followed, all of them calling out, “Hosanna to David’s son!” “Blessed is he who comes in God’s name!” “Hosanna in highest heaven!”
As the parade goes on, people begin to feel discomforted. The optics in front of them are not jiving with their idea of “kingship.”
10 As he made his entrance into Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken. Unnerved, people were asking, “What’s going on here? Who is this?”
11 The parade crowd answered, “This is the prophet Jesus, the one from Nazareth in Galilee.”
But does anything good ever come from Nazareth?
Palm Sunday is the beginning of the downhill slide to the crucifixion, which is less than a week away. It didn’t take long for the crowd to turn from yelling his name in praise to yelling his name as their choice over Barabbas for the death penalty. Because his crown was not bejeweled and his mode of transportation was not a great white charger, their enthusiasm for this “king” began to wane.
Instead, he rode a humble donkey to receive a crown of thorns.
We can be guilty of this as well. At the moment of our enthusiastic conversion, or after a stirring retreat, or in the passion of a high and holy experience, it is easy to wave our palms and sing Hosannas. But when illness, disaster, betrayal, or pandemics come, we can easily begin to think, “What’s going on here? Who is this?”
Resist that. Change your idea of what your king should look like. You won’t always get the answer to prayer that you are hoping for…and that is often a good thing. Worshipping the king requires trusting that he works for the good of those who love him.
What you will get is a humble savior, a crucified and risen Lord, and the king of kings. See him for what he is!
This king is the one who went from hero to zero for the sake of the world, ensuring your eternal life. God SO loved the world he sent us this only son, who took on beatings, scorn, and shame for the salvation of his people.
I apologize in advance, but today’s devotional begins with a tragic and bizarre story.
My sister-in-law once owned a rental home in the town where I lived. She had a faithful older gentleman renter who was always on time with his rent, and liked to do small repairs to her property. So when months went by with no rent check, and calls to his home went unanswered, she contacted her brother (my husband) and asked him to meet her at the house so she could check on her renter.
The rest reads like a Twilight Zone episode.
As they approached the house, one remarked to the other that if they saw a convergence of black flies on the inside of the windows, they would know the worst had happened.
Cue the black flies.
However, the lawn was mowed and there were no newspapers on the lawn, giving them hope. But a quick trip around the back revealed that the nice lawn guy had been stacking the papers up on the back porch as he mowed every week.
Cue the unnoticed, over-stuffed mailbox.
Beginning to put two and two together, they called the non-emergency line for the local police station and asked for assistance.
Cue the young officer in a full Hazmat suit.
You can probably guess the rest of the story. The gentleman had perished inside the house two months earlier. When the officers opened the front door, it was obvious.
Cue the horrific smell.
The retelling of this sad story is offered to put into context what you are about to read. In the book of John, the story is told of the death of Lazarus. Jesus had been informed of his illness, but elected not to go in time to heal him. (Which, being Jesus, he could have easily done.)
Ever wonder why?
John 11 (The Message)
5-7 Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, but oddly, when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed on where he was for two more days. After the two days, he said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.”
11 He said these things, and then announced, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep. I’m going to wake him up.”
12-13 The disciples said, “Master, if he’s gone to sleep, he’ll get a good rest and wake up feeling fine.” Jesus was talking about death, while his disciples thought he was talking about taking a nap.
14-15 Then Jesus became explicit: “Lazarus died. And I am glad for your sakes that I wasn’t there. You’re about to be given new grounds for believing. Now let’s go to him.”
You see, up to this point, Jesus had performed many miracles of illness-healing, lunch-multiplying, demon-casting, storm-calming, and water-walking. The disciples had witnessed all of it. But they didn’t know the one thing that was the most profound of all of Jesus’ miraculous powers: he had power over death.
37 Others among them said, “Well, if Jesus loved him so much, why didn’t he do something to keep him from dying? After all, he opened the eyes of a blind man.”
38-39 Then Jesus, the anger again welling up within him, arrived at the tomb. It was a simple cave in the hillside with a slab of stone laid against it. Jesus said, “Remove the stone.”
The sister of the dead man, Martha, said, “Master, by this time there’s a stench. He’s been dead four days!”
40 Jesus looked her in the eye. “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
And with that, the stone was removed and Jesus called Lazarus to walk out of the tomb.
The power of the resurrection is the greatest miracle of all. Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. The glory of life after death was on display for all to see, and all who saw were invited to believe.
Do you believe? What needs to die in you so that you can see the glory of God in your life? Where is God inviting you to walk out of the stench of your decay and shed your grave clothes?
When Lazarus walked out, Jesus instructed his friends to “let loose” the burial strips of cloth that had bound up his body.
The invitation is the same for you. Let loose everything that is constricting your faith, confining your life, and walk free.
Child of God, COME FORTH.
The upswing this week in the number of virus cases and the subsequent death toll increases have taken hold, and we are now riding a steep, upward curve. An image of George Clooney’s fishing boat riding up a treacherous wave in the movie “The Perfect Storm” keeps flashing through my mind as I see the projections. The idea of the ocean’s power has always TERRIFIED me. What’s happening now also terrifies me.
This wave is not under our control, and it will result in dry bones. We will have these bones scattered all around us for a very long time: a dry-bones economy, a dry-bones social life, a dry-bones educational system, a dry-bones health care industry, and tragically, so many dry bones in hospital morgues all over the country. Dry bones everywhere.
Let’s take a dive into Ezekiel and remember a time when he encountered dry bones:
Ezekiel 37 (The Message)
1-2 God grabbed me. God’s Spirit took me up and set me down in the middle of an open plain strewn with bones. He led me around and among them—a lot of bones! There were bones all over the plain—dry bones, bleached by the sun.
3 He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Master God, only you know that.”
4 He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones: ‘Dry bones, listen to the Message of God!’”
5-6 God, the Master, told the dry bones, “Watch this: I’m bringing the breath of life to you and you’ll come to life. I’ll attach sinews to you, put meat on your bones, cover you with skin, and breathe life into you. You’ll come alive and you’ll realize that I am God!”
Oh, the HOPE! God says to the dry bones, “I’m bringing the breath of life to you and YOU’LL COME ALIVE.”
I believe with all my heart that we will come out of this with more flexible sinews, meat on our bones, and the breath of life in our lungs. These dry-bone days are a unique opportunity to really internalize the Word of God and become the people that we were designed to be.
God himself will breathe life into us. When the season of dry bones is over, we’ll come alive in a new and completely altered way. We will hope more fervently. We will love more deeply. We will APPRECIATE more fully. And we will serve more gladly.
There are two important things to do in the meantime.
- LISTEN. “Dry bones, LISTEN to the Message of God!”
- REALIZE. “You’ll come alive and you’ll REALIZE that I am God!”
Get ready. God promises we will come alive.
And guess what? We are one day closer to the end of this thing.
Toddlers are such unique creatures! Somewhere around age two to four, children move from being dependent babies to becoming individuals who are separate from their parents. This transition comes with independent thinking, resulting in children wanting to do things their way. Toddlerhood is all about trying to do life on their own terms…and it’s exhausting.
Our twin toddlers are in this stage right now, and the challenge is REAL. On any given day they refuse naps, are very particular about their clothing choices, insist on carrying their alligators all day, and will or won’t cooperate depending on their moods. Each day brings a new expression of stubborn independence.
I wonder if God ever looks at us doing the same thing and thinks to himself, “What a group of toddlers I created!” Thank God HE never gets exhausted.
Part of the challenge to “flatten the curve” of the pandemic is that some people refuse to give up freedoms they feel entitled to as part of living life on their own terms. This week a friend described watching a large group of teenagers doing “chicken fights” on the beach. It’s hard to practice social distancing on each other’s backs.
Doing life on God’s terms is always the better way. It involves asking God to move in and set up permanent residence. It requires us to give over our terms to receive the life he has promised:
Romans 8 (The Message)
9-11 But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him.
Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won’t know what we’re talking about. But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God’s terms.
It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself?
When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!
I love how this passage points out that if God has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him. This is an important reminder to us in this moment. The call to obedience we experience as followers of God should have prepared us for this season of doing hard things for the greater good.
God is calling us to think more of each other than we think of ourselves. That means following all the social distancing guidelines and demanding that our kids do so as well.
These are hard days. This season will be long, and requires a lot of sacrifice. But we know that when we live life on God’s terms, we will not only experience God living and breathing in us, but we will be delivered from that dead life of living only for ourselves. God’s spirit dwelling in us guarantees it, and blesses it.