On This Good Friday

Is this “Good Friday” different from our usual experience? In the midst of a pandemic, we are unsettled. Actually, nothing seems normal or usual. The turning of the days of the calendar have done us a favor this weekend. We are reminded that whatever else is happening in the world, the Easter weekend, for Christians, is a centering time. Whatever storms are raging in your life (virus related or not), come back to the cross. See what great love was demonstrated in this self-sacrificing gift. But do not hurry. It is in the story of the cross that we have hope – and hope is not in short supply.

It is in the story of the cross that we have hope – and hope is not in short supply.

Do not rush through the sorrow of Good Friday. Good Friday is not to be sprinted through so that we can arrive at the certain ending that brings us all hope. Along with the joy and elation of the resurrection, there is a need to experience the loss. There is a time to weep, a time to mourn (Ecclesiastes 3:4).

He was oppressed and afflicted,  yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.  Isaiah 53:7

Sometime today, linger over the bitterness of His anguish. Weep with him in the garden. Feel the weight of your sin, the burden of your soul. Until you journey through Good Friday, Resurrection Sunday is empty. Before we can celebrate the resurrection we must acknowledge the suffering.

Before the disciples dine with him, he must wash the feet of his betrayer at the last supper.

Before his followers can see his glorified resurrected body, crowds must spit upon his beaten back.

Before the women fall and touch his feet, sodiers must drive nails through them.

Before the angel proclaims He is Not HERE, His mother must weep because he was THERE.

Before Peter can be restored to His faith, the thief must be with Him in paradise.

Before the stone is rolled away, the cross must be raised.

7 Last Words of Christ

Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.

Today you will be with me in paradise.

Woman, behold, thy son! Behold, thy mother!

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

I thirst.

It is finished.

Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.

Beyond the Horizon, Victory is Certain

At the beginning of this new week, the news is as grim as ever. I know you have been watching the spread of COVID-19 and the pandemic that has swept our world into action. You’ve adjusted your lives but it’s harder to adjust your habits. You’ve made decisions about how careful you will be to avoid contact. You’ve wondered about when this might be over, or what things will look like when it is over. We are facing a crisis, and it has not yet come to full effect. My message today is that Beyond the Horizon, Victory is Certain

Our text is Mark 11:1-11 – the Triumphal entry – recorded in all four gospels.

When they approached Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and told them, “Go into the village ahead of you. As soon as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here right away.’” So they went and found a colt outside in the street, tied by a door. They untied it, and some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They answered them just as Jesus had said; so they let them go. They brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes on it, and he sat on it. Many people spread their clothes on the road, and others spread leafy branches cut from the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted: Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest heaven! He went into Jerusalem and into the temple….

Mark 11:1-11a, CSV

This begins the week many refer to as “holy week”. It counts down the events that occurred in the last week of Jesus’ life. Today is Palm Sunday, a day that Jesus triumphantly rode into Jerusalem. Next Sunday is Resurrection or Easter Sunday, a day that Jesus triumphantly rose from the grave. Though many families and churches will have to give up their traditional observations of these days, no Christian gives up the rich meaning of them. There’s a message of hope here that I want to share with you this morning.

VICTORY IS BEYOND THE HORIZON, BUT WE EMBRACE IT TODAY.

Jesus is very aware that this is the last week of His life. He has, several times, indicated to his disciples that the end is near, that he must die, that he will raise from the dead on the third day.  He is about to institute the Lord’s Supper. A remembrance of the body and blood. A reflection on what happened at Calvary. A reminder that He will rise again, and He will come again. Yet he rides into Jerusalem with honor and celebration.

Because we are people of faith, we do not have to wait until the victory arrives to celebrate and appreciate it – to let it define our lives and our outlook. That does not dismiss the hardships along the way. That does not dismiss our fears and anxieties. That simply says that in spite of the troubles ahead, down deep in our hearts we know that nothing can take away the ultimate victory we have in Christ. 

VICTORY IS BEYOND THE HORIZON, BUT WE TRUST GOD’S POWER. (1-7)

As Jesus prepares to ride into Jerusalem, the disciples receive the plan from the Savior.  Jesus is confident that there will be a colt, what to say, and how it’s going to be accomplished. That’s the way it was. Jesus had an amazing ability to know things beyond human knowledge. Jesus could see beyond the horizon.

The horizon in front of us is the end of our vision field. We do not know what lies ahead. We do not know how this will impact all of our lives and our family. One thing we do know is that God knows. It may seem premature to talk about victory, and it is if we are only talking about what we perceive. However, God can see beyond the horizon and victory awaits us there.

VICTORY IS BEYOND THE HORIZON, BUT THE CROSS COMES FIRST.

Jesus accepted the praise of those who shouted out to him as he arrived in Jerusalem. It was an exceptional moment – one that confused the disciples.

His disciples did not understand these things at first. However, when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him.

John 12:16

In spite of this, the tide will quickly turn. The Triumphal Victorious entry into Jerusalem by Friday will turn into Jesus carrying his cross out of the city onto Golgotha. 

Taking the Twelve aside again, he began to tell them the things that would happen to him. “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. The Son of Man will be handed over to the chief  priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death. Then they will hand him over to the Gentiles, and they will mock him, spit on him, flog him, and kill him, and he will rise after three days.”

Mark 9:32-34

He will rise again, he promised and he did. The victory that is coming does not diminish the hardships we may face now. Nothing can take away the promises of God that are ahead for us. One of those promises is that we do not walk alone – He is with us. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the promise we need to hold close to us no matter what the future brings. 

Conclusion

Victory is Beyond the Horizon

  • But we embrace victory today – nothing can take it away from us.
  • But we trust God’s power – He already knows the end of the story.
  • But the cross comes first – hardships do not win the day

The horizon blocks our vision for the future, but while  we move forward…

Continually remind  yourself of the FACT of the victory promised.

Remember that the victory is in Jesus, not in our circumstances or self.

Remember the victory is an ULTIMATE victory – the resurrection promises eternal life and that’s the victory that is just over the horizon of our lives.

This week as we reflect on the last week of Jesus’ life, the darkness of Good Friday, and the joy of Resurrection Day:

Do what you can to live in health today – for yourself and for others.

Look for ways to encourage and bless others from a distance.

Stay informed, but not obsessed with the news.

When you are feeling low, discouraged, worried, or anxious, I encourage two things: 

  • Remember you are human, and don’t beat yourself up over those feelings.
  • Remember you are a victorious child of the King and nothing can take that from you. 

A Season of Uncertainty 5

FAITH LANDS

There is no such thing as perfect faith, only a perfect God. I think a lot of Christians are finding out during this pandemic that their faith is pretty sturdy. And I think a lot of Christians are finding out that there’s a loose leg or two on the chair and it’s hard to sit on it with your full weight. Aside from Jesus, I can’t find anyone in the Bible who had a faith that never wavered. There are stellar examples of faith, but everyone I can locate has that moment when their true humanity showed through. 

In this season of uncertainty, there are so many questions. Am I and my family safe? That’s probably a top question. That question is much more pressing than locating some toilet paper or hand sanitizer. We might be worried about our food supply or whether or not we can pay the house note. But the top of the list is our families’ health. 

That’s why Job has such a striking story.  There are some behind the scenes things going on with God and Satan. There are some good friends who get tired of waiting for Job to snap out of it and become not so good friends. There is an amazing reply from God at the end of the book (and it’s a long book!). But chapter one just leaves us speechless. 

I do not need to recount the entire story, we know it very well. In one nightmare worst-case-scenario day Job loses his wealth, his children, the respect of his wife, and ultimately his health. That might not seem so far fetched. I’m going to guess that there are some people worried about this same fate playing out in their lives as well. With businesses closing, a virus spreading rapidly, and tension in families raising to new levels, Job’s story has become all too real. 

We wrestle with the tension between God’s goodness and man’s plight with illness and pain. Libraries can be filled with the efforts of humans to grapple with this and make some sense of it. Job has 42 chapters, most of which are trying to come to grips with the question we always come back to. Why? Some people blame God for everything bad. Some people blame the Devil for the bad stuff, and give God credit for the good stuff. For some, it’s all being dictated from heaven – every minute detail. For others, God is busy elsewhere and doesn’t even know what’s happening here. Maybe most of us land in between there someplace. I can promise you I’m not going to solve this puzzle today. 

Not that I haven’t done my own share of wrestling. Struggling through the aftermath of Katrina pushed me to my limits. So I thought. The death of my son and my stepfather in the same year really did push me to my limits. Losing my dad last year, after years of estrangement was hard. The last year with him was accommodated by Alzheimer’s disease. He forgot he didn’t want to talk to me. I take a risk in mentioning these storms because I know that you have your own. Mine are not worse, I don’t care to compare losses. Whatever has happened in your life that caused you to wrestle with your faith was significant. What you did to make it through was significant also. 

We are all wrestling with COVID-19. It is impossible to think that we won’t know someone who contracts the virus. It’s entirely possible to believe that someone we know, and love, will die during this outbreak. And it is also possible that we will have to fight for our lives if we catch it.

So, my shaky faith friends, what do we need to remember? I think we need to remember that faith lands. At some point we get to the bottom of our faith – that place where it reaches its conclusion and isn’t going anywhere from there. What’s the bottom line of your faith? I don’t want you to be one of those who loses their faith. Our faith may creak, groan, warp, and even crack, but it doesn’t have to break. Job’s didn’t. In a moment of absolute crisis, the book of Job recounts the most amazing response.

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21 And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Job 1:20, 21

If we follow in Job’s path, we don’t give up on God. We turn to him. That’s where our faith lands. I want to make three observations about what we learn from Job’s response to sudden loss.

Worship God humbly.

From the ground if need be. If you have ever been sent to the ground in grief or sorrow, you know what Job was doing. But on the ground he was reminded that his faith was not in himself, but landed on God’s shoulders. 

Remember the human condition.

We arrived without anything, and we’re going to the ground without anything. All of us. Your suffering hurts, but you are not alone. We are all in that line that ends in eternity. As Mid McKnight used to ask, “are you ready for your journey to eternity?” Thousands are predicted to die with this virus. Also thousands will die from other causes. I will die. Sometime. I’m human. Job remembered this.

Trust.

Yes, Job trusted God. He blessed God’s name as he wept there on the ground. Great trials were yet to come, but faith landed here. It would be tested. He would have to come back to this moment again and again. At the end of your struggles and trials is the foundational belief that God is God. He doesn’t owe us explanations. He cannot even reveal himself fully to us – we couldn’t possibly understand Him. So he sent Jesus, a human being we could love. It was a way for us to understand that God understands. He does.

I’m praying your faith lands on God’s power and strength and stays there. You’re not going to fight this battle perfectly. You’ll lose your temper or you will hoard some item or you’ll wonder if God is singling you out for some purpose. But always come back to trust and let your faith land there. 

I confess I don’t like the ending of Job. (Is it OK for a preacher to say that about the Bible?). Mostly I dislike what we do with it. We suggest that if we are faithful that we will receive so many blessings in return. Job had more children and new wealth. But you know he remembered those children who died on that terrible day. He loved them. He missed them always. Nothing takes that away. 

You might persevere beautifully, but I won’t promise that everything you lose will be restored in this life. I do believe we will be richly rewarded in the next life.

The ending of the book of Job isn’t quite as exciting as it’s contents. Job 42:17 says,
And Job died, an old man, and full of days.” He had quite a run. It is not promised to any of us that we will die old and full of days. But God has promised to always be with us and to strengthen us. He has promised heaven to those who trust him. Faith lands – it has to – someplace solid – on the truth of God. That’s why it’s always true that out here hope remains. 


This short series of posts are exploring the idea of UNCERTAINTY: Faith in the Shadow of a Pandemic. Thanks for sharing if you felt it an encouragement.

A Season of Uncertainty 4

I Was Afraid

There is probably no more common emotion than fear. There is probably no one emotion we are least likely to admit than fear. From the time we are children we are taught not to be afraid. Our parents tell us not to be afraid of the dark. The bullies at school talked us into doing stupid things by taunting us with names like ‘scardie cat’. Fear can be debilitating and can overtake our lives. 

We are living in a fearful time. It doesn’t matter which brand of news you are listening to, it’s fearful. Worst case scenarios are talked about by experts. We know that what we are being asked to do should help the situation, but then we are told that nothing really helps. We are fearful for our health and the health of loved ones. We are frightened by the vanishing supplies and overfilled hospitals. I would imagine that if we have given it much thought, we have all been a bit afraid. 

I think one of the bravest men of the Bible is Moses. We know a lot about Moses because his story takes up a lot of space in Exodus and Jesus talks about him. He boldly marched into Pharaoh’s court and demanded that the Egyptian workforce (children of Israel, slaves) be set free to go and worship in the wilderness. He bravely faced down Pharaoh with ten plagues and then marched out of Egypt with God’s people close behind. The exploits of Moses are familiar and thrilling. But all of that is what Moses became. 

When he was about 40 years old he killed an Egyptian who was mistreating a Hebrew slave. When he found out that it had become known that he killed the Egyptian, he was afraid. In fear, this adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter fled into the wilderness where he met a priest with seven daughters. One of them became his wife and he spent the next forty years a fugitive of Egyptian justice, tending sheep. Then one day he saw it – the bush that was burning but not consumed. When God spoke to him from the bush, the Bible describes the reaction of Moses.

At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. – Exodus 3:6

Out of fear, Moses tried to reject the mission God was giving him. His excuses revealed the terror he felt at walking back into the presence of Pharaoh. He was afraid for his life. We know how the story plays out, but I just think we should stop here for a moment. We need to hear God as Moses faces him in a season of uncertainty.

What fears have you been facing bravely these past few months? If we could appropriate the words that God used to address the fears and excuses and rationalizations of Moses, would they speak to our hearts?

*God has seen your misery (Exodus 3:7). He was very aware of the suffering of the children of Israel, he heard their cries and moved to bring them rescue. I believe God sees our misery as we try to live a life of faith in the shadow of a pandemic. Whatever you  have felt as you considered the consequences of this outbreak, God has seen, heard, moved.

*God continues to remember his promises (Exodus 3:8). These words are reminiscent of the promises he made to Abraham, and rehearsed with Jacob. He says that he has come to rescue them. Our vision is quite limited, but God exists beyond time. It must have seemed like forever for them. Doesn’t it seem like forever to us? Maybe you’ve been waiting for rescue long before the coronavirus outbreak. But try to remember that God keeps his promises and in His time He will rescue.

*God will be with you (Exodus 3:12). Even though God exists beyond time, he is also very near. When the weight of what we are experiencing grows heavy, take a moment to remember that God is with you. He knows where you’ve come from, but he knows where you’re going. This is God’s message to Moses who wouldn’t even look upon the burning bush – and it’s His message to you as well. In your most fearful day, close your eyes, breathe deeply, and remember that God is near.

*God will be your strength (Exodus 3:14). God sees, remembers, and abides with you. Even more, God gives you the strength to face the challenges ahead. What gives us the ability to take next steps and to not give in to fear? “I am who  I am” – you’re not proceeding through your days on your own strength, but His! We rely and trust in One who is so powerful and is the source of his own power. He needs no one else for his own strength, He only wants to help us to be strong.

*God will reward you ultimately (Exodus 3:21-22). As Israel left Egypt, the Egyptians gave them articles of gold and silver and clothing. The slaves walked out of captivity with wealth and hope. Led by a man whose life was driven by fear at significant moments. This life is not all there is, friend. There is much more – more than we can imagine.

I know someone will be thinking what that Scripture says … that perfect love casts out fear. I agree, of course. But while we work on grasping that truth and while we fight back our fears, let us listen to God reaching through Moses’ fears to his heart. Maybe something that God shared with Moses in his fearful moment will help us in our fearful moments. Hang on to your faith through the fear. Out here hope remains.

This short series of posts are exploring the idea of UNCERTAINTY: Faith in the Shadow of a Pandemic. Thanks for sharing if you felt it an encouragement.

A Season of Uncertainty 3

I Didn’t Know It

As I was talking to a friend a few days ago, he used a term to address the pandemic that I hadn’t thought of before. He works for a disaster relief agency, so it was natural for him to use that terminology. We are living through a disaster. It has had disastrous consequences in ending lives, devastating the economy, loss of jobs, and it has disrupted our educational and religious systems. I just had not thought of using that term disaster, but it is. 

I’ve lived through some personal and natural disasters. A few months ago, before life was turned upside down, I was out of town trying to enjoy a hotel breakfast. Not far away were two women who were talking about their experiences after Katrina. I didn’t want to be an eavesdropper, but that certainly caught my attention. If I were an extrovert I would have joined in with the conversation that was being held only about 4 feet away from me (no social distancing). But I didn’t. I listened as they described how things felt and what they had to endure. I could relate. One thing I know, as I look back at those couple of years, is that God was by our side the entire time. 

Speaking of overhearing conversations, Genesis 27 allows us to overhear the development of a conspiracy between Jacob and his mother Rebecca. It was their goal to make sure that Esau didn’t get his father’s blessing. They planned it perfectly. By the time Esau realized he wasn’t going to get a blessing from his father, that it had been given to his brother, Jacob was long gone. Honestly, Jacob’s character left a lot to be desired. 

On his journey to Paddan Aram to find a wife, he stopped for the night. He retrieved a stone for a pillow and fell asleep. Genesis 28:12 tells us, “He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” At the top of the stairwell is the Lord, who repeats the promises he made long ago to Abraham. When Jacob woke up his observation was this: “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”

As I write about UNCERTAINTY and the struggle of faith, I know I’m not addressing everyone. But maybe there is someone who needs to know this: If a scoundrel like Jacob can be given great promises by God and become aware that God is with him, then you should never lose hope either

I wonder if, on the other side of this disaster, we might realize that God is in this pandemic, and we were not aware of it. It is a good thing to count your blessings each day, even on hard days. Keep your eyes open for God to be at work, because He surely is. Never give up praying to Him and seeking Him. Try to be the presence of God in serving and loving others as you are able. Even after all of that, though, I do think we will step out of the foggy mental state that disaster brings and notice some ways that God has been at work and we didn’t know it. 

So if you take a moment and read through this episode of Jacob’s life (Genesis 28:10-19), you could make the following connections to what we are going through today.

*Find time to rest. The journey we’re on is taking a lot out of our spirits.

*Remember the spiritual battle that is going on around you. Jacob dreamed of angels, and God’s angels are ministering to us in unseen and unheard ways. God has not left us alone.

*God is fully aware of your story. He begins with Jacob by recounting his heritage of faith in Abraham and Isaac. God knows your story of faith also – not a perfect one – but one that perfectly continues toward His heart.

*God will never forget his promises. God reminds Jacob of the promises he made to Abraham, and assures Jacob that He intends to fulfill them. We can spend time reading through the promises of God in our Bibles and we can be assured that He intends to keep every one of them. 

*We can be reminded of the kind of relationship we have with our Abba Father. He will use us to bless others. He will always be with us. He will not leave us.

“Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” – Genesis 28:16 

In moments of uncertainty, take a moment to think about the things you know are true. They are true whether you feel them or experience them or sometimes wonder if they really are true. Most of us have walked this path of faith long enough to have had some times when we said, like Jacob, God was with me and I didn’t even know it at the time. Don’t ever give up. Always remember, Out Here Hope Remains.

This short series of posts are exploring the idea of UNCERTAINTY: Faith in the Shadow of a Pandemic. Thanks for sharing if you felt it an encouragement.