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Archive for Easter

Jesus’ third post resurrection statement was made during his interaction with two pilgrims on the road to Emmaus. You can find the story in Luke 24:13-35. The narrative describes two disciples who had observed all of the events in Jerusalem during the first passion week. While on the journey home, they were joined by a traveller who asked them, “What are you so concerned about?” They didn’t recognize their new traveling companion and began to describe all of the events that had occurred in Jerusalem that weekend. A careful reading of the story will reveal the ambiguity they felt. You could sum up the conversation like this:

Who was Jesus?
Well, he was a prophet.
Why did he come?
We hoped he would be the one to redeem Israel from Roman rule.
What did he accomplish?
We don’t really know. We heard his body was gone, and we heard he had risen.

How did Jesus help Cleopas and his wife transition from ambiguity to faith? How does Jesus help us move from ambiguity and uncertainty to faith?

Jesus first began with what faith they already possessed. Luke 24:25-27 reads as follows, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory? Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”

It sounds counter-intuitive, but the road to faith actually begins with faith. Three times during the last six months of his public ministry Jesus foretold his passion. The point is that faith is a building that is constructed on what God has said in Scripture. The Scriptures serve as a foundation and we build on that foundation one story at a time. The two on the road to Emmaus weren’t challenged at the point of the circumstances of their immediate weekend. They were challenged at the point of the writings of the prophets over the course of several hundred years.

When we take the first step of faith, faith will next open the door to reveal more light. Think about driving your car at night. Your car has headlights that reveal what is before you. Your vision is not unlimited, for the headlights reveal what lies before you for only a few yards. But as your car travels the light continues to illuminate your path. Even with limited vision, you as a driver are more than willing to drive 60 or even 70 MPH.

As the travel companions neared Emmaus, Jesus was invited to dine and stay with them. His words had taken root in their hearts and their faith was emerging. It was during dinner that the couple recognized Jesus through the breaking of bread. Then He was gone.

Rather than bask in the afterglow of the experience, the couple set out for the return trip to Jerusalem to share their discovery with the disciples. Jesus’ self disclosure made their faith personal. At the beginning of the story, the two pilgrims were wrestling with what others had said. But now their faith was personal because they had seen Christ for themselves. No longer did they need to live on borrowed faith. They learned that they could have their own faith and be free from ambiguity. So can we if we begin with the light we already possess.

Apr
18

NEXT: Don’t Be Afraid

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The second post resurrection saying of Jesus cuts straight to the heart of where many of us live regularly. Check this out:

Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb. Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint. Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you.” The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. And as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid! Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there” (Matthew 28:1-10, NLT)

Jesus second saying? “Don’t be afraid!” It’s interesting how somethings never change. What are you afraid of? Some of our fears are common place, such as snakes, spiders and mice. But many of us are gripped by fears that lie beneath the surface of our skin. What do we know about these phobias? For one, most of our fears are false. In the late 1980’s I attended a conference and heard motivational speaker Zig Ziglar say that fear was an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real. Not only are our fears usually false, our fears are usually negative. No one says, “I’m afraid I’m going to earn too much money” or “I’m afraid all my dreams will come true.” Fear establishes the limits in our lives. If I’m afraid of water, I stay dry. If I’m afraid of heights, I stay low. If I’m afraid of change, I stay the same.

How does the risen Lord help us deal with fear? There are three things from the text that are helpful to us. The first is worship. Worship is beneficial in that it increases and magnifies the greatness of God. One lesson we learn from the story of David and Goliath is that the size of your giant in life depends upon the size of your God. When we regularly engage in the spiritual discipline of worship, God becomes literally larger than life and all that life throws at us.

Not only does the practice of worship help us deal with fear, faith helps us as well. Did you notice the simple phrase, “just as He said” in the passage quoted above? Three times in the last six months of his ministry Jesus predicted that he would be killed and rise from the dead on the third day. Unfortunately the disciples forgot what Jesus had said as his claims became swallowed up in the sea of circumstances that surrounded the first Easter weekend. Until God’s voice becomes the prevailing voice in your life you will face fear after fear. In reality, we don’t overcome our fears. We replace our fears with faith in what God has said.

The final piece of the story is obedience. Jesus summonsed his followers to meet in Galilee. Why Galilee? If the disciples wouldn’t go to Galilee to see the risen Lord, they wouldn’t go to the ends of the earth on behalf of the risen Lord.

Worship, faith, and obedience. That’s how Jesus’ followers overcame their fear. After the giving of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, fear evaporated. While the gospels record numerous times the disciples huddled in fear, fear is virtually absent from the Acts of the Apostles. Have you ever noticed that? Do you wonder why? I think its because Jesus’ followers had such a high view of the risen Lord that no other voice mattered. Proverbs 1:7 states that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. When the fear of the Lord is absent from our lives we become enslaved to lesser fears. If you’re struggling with fear, don’t focus on the fear. Focus on the God who created and sustains the universe. He’s the same God that knows you by name.

Apr
11

The 7 NEXT Sayings of Jesus

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Last week we celebrated Easter, and I wanted to follow its observance with a series of posts titled, The 7 NEXT Sayings of Jesus. Many are familiar with the seven last sayings of Jesus uttered on the cross. But I wanted to focus on the first post resurrection comments from Christ because I felt they were timely and appropriate for where we are in culture today.

While I take credit for the content of these posts, I cannot take credit for the concept. I came across a book by the same title several years ago written by a pastor named Shane Stanford. I liked his approach and immediately thought it had the potential to be an important post Easter series that would help people make the bridge from Easter up to the upcoming summer months.

It’s hard to get a clear read on the disciple’s reaction to the crucifixion. Three times during the last six months of his ministry, Jesus plainly said that he would be delivered up by wicked men who would crucify him, but that on the third day he would rise again. He didn’t make this prediction is veiled terms. He said it plain and simple.

The image that the gospel record seems to convey, however, is that the disciples and those closest to Christ were either hiding in fear or waiting for the Sabbath to pass so they could resume their ordinary existences. John chapter 20 is no exception. The chapter begins with the exciting account of the resurrection, then sharpens the focus on Mary Magdalene who had gone to the garden to finish the burial preparations for the body of Jesus.

Mary is an important character whose story is interwoven through the story of Christ. Some scholars believe that she is the woman famously “caught in adultery” in John 7:53-8:11 (look it up!). Luke reports that Jesus had at one time cast seven demons from her. She had a sketchy past, and her life of loyal devotion is evidence that she had experienced an uncommon transformation. She certainly knew Christ and was as familiar with him as anyone could have been.

The reader is surprised by her surprise that the stone has been rolled away and that the body is missing. She is confronted by a man she assumes is a gardener and inquires where the body of Jesus had been taken. It wasn’t until Jesus spoke her name that she recognized the risen Lord. Sometimes the tears in our eyes can distort the images of reality right in front of us. That is the setting of he first post resurrection saying of Jesus, found in John 20:15, which reads, “‘Dear woman, why are you crying?’, Jesus asked. ‘Who are you looking for?'”

The relevance of the questions are obvious. Like Mary, many of us have spent time, money and energy looking for something or someone who can fill the empty void of life. We find ourselves desperate, having climbed the ladder of life’s meaning only to discover we’ve put the ladder against the wrong wall. In my opinion, Mary’s tears are not just tears of grief. They are also tears of frustration, maybe even tears of anger and disappointment. Disappointments, I’m reminded often, are nothing more than failed expectations.

But with one word Mary experienced a complete reversal. Who are you looking for? The good news of Easter is that Jesus remains beside the tomb, challenging us to look inside and discover the power of a new beginning. And when we think we’ve lost hope we discover that the same hope exists in a way that we could have never imagined.

Apr
08

Prayer for the Week

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Father, I abandon myself into your hands.

Do with me what you will.

Whatever you may do, I thank you, I am ready for all, I accept all.

Let only your will be done in me and in all your creatures.

I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul.

I offer it to you with all the love of my heart, for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands without reserve and with boundless confidence, for you are my Father.

Amen

–by Charles De Foucauld

Categories : Easter, Prayer
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Apr
05

Looking for Life (Luke 24:1-12)

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From time to time, my wife and I like to rise before dawn on Easter morning and watch the sun rise. It gives great meaning to the story of the day as we read the Scriptures and pray, reflecting on the new life made possible through the resurrection.

On the first day of the week, the women rose early and walked to the tomb. Heaviness was in their hearts, sorrow was in their steps, and mourning was on their minds. With spices in hand, they went to the tomb expecting to complete the burial rituals that were left undone late Friday afternoon.

Often in the Bible, dawn or early morning is the time God uses to make new revelations. That’s when the Lord often surprises his people. The women that morning were surprised with three startling things.

They found the stone had been rolled away. They expected the stone barrier to be in place. In fact, in Mark’s gospel they anticipated that the stone would still be there. (Mark 16:3)

They also expected to find a body but instead discovered the tomb was empty. They knew Jesus was dead, but now nothing is the way it was supposed to be. The stone is moved and the tomb is empty. Fear? Anger? Confusion?
They suspected grave robbers, not the grave robbed.

Finally, they discovered two men from another world. The women were now frightened by this majestic visitation.
Of all of the possible questions that raced through their minds, one rose to the top: “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive?” (24:5) That question reorients and redirects everything.

This direct question brings a revolution in the way we view and think of life and all existence in four ways:

1. It Redirects us from Death to Life

All life apart from the resurrection is really a slow death. So many people live to die, while some are dying to live. But the resurrection means you live to live. We don’t visit tombs to meet God. Life is not found among the dead!

2. It Redirects us from the Cross to the Resurrection

We love the cross. But there’s something beyond the cross that gives the cross its glory. While we love the cross, it is incomplete without the resurrection. The resurrection adds triumph to tragedy.

3. It Redirects us from Feelings to Facts (24:6-7)

There is a lot of emotion expressed by the women, yet the angelic beings point them to the truth of Scripture with one powerful word: remember!

4. It Redirects us from Imitations to Invitation (John 10:10)

In Ecclesiastes, Solomon describes all of the avenues he explored to find meaning in life, including education, pleasure, career, political power, wealth, and relationships. Through all of those pursuits he, in the words of U2, “still couldn’t find what he was looking for.” Each avenue overpromised and under delivered.

Jesus said, “The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy. But I have come that you may have life and have it more abundantly!” (John 10:10) Jesus’ promise of life is still extended today. He invites you to come to him to find life, hope and rest.

Categories : Easter
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Mar
28

Untied (Luke 19:28-35)

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After telling this story, Jesus went on toward Jerusalem, walking ahead of his disciples. As he came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives, he sent two disciples ahead. “Go into that village over there,” he told them. “As you enter it, you will see a young donkey tied there that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks, ‘Why are you untying that colt?’ just say, ‘The Lord needs it.’” So they went and found the colt, just as Jesus had said. And sure enough, as they were untying it, the owners asked them, “Why are you untying that colt?” And the disciples simply replied, “The Lord needs it.” So they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their garments over it for him to ride on (Luke 19:28-35, NLT).

I’ve owned four pickup trucks. Not that I have ever really needed one, I just enjoy having one. And every now and then, they’re handy. The first one I purchased was a used Chevy Silverado. I had only owned it a few weeks when a friend asked if he could borrow it for a few days to do a landscaping project at his home. I said, “sure!” He offered his wife’s car for me to drive while he used my truck. To make a long story short, two or three days turned into 11, and by the time he was finished with his project I was frustrated to say the least. As I drove to make the vehicle exchange, I uttered promises and oaths that I would never lend my truck to anyone again! When I arrived, I was totally embarrassed, because my friend had taken the truck and had the oil changed and professionally detailed. He even topped off the gas! He actually returned it in far better condition than he received it.

In Jesus’ day the most common form of transportation was the donkey. Donkey’s were ridden by people of every socio-economic class. Like a pickup, donkey’s were utilitarian animals that could be ridden or used to haul heavy items. Some were even used in the fields of agriculture for plowing or for grinding grain into meal. Because they were gentle in spirit, the donkey was viewed as a symbol of peace.

The donkey in the Palm Sunday narrative is usually overlooked. But if you read the passage carefully, the text mentions that the donkey was tied and must be untied five times! That much repetition calls for the reader to pay attention to what is going on.

Let me make four quick observations about the exchange in the aforementioned text. First, the owners gave out of their poverty. In Bible times some people were too poor to own their own individual donkeys, so they would pool their resources and own one jointly. Jesus didn’t send for a donkey from a man that had a stable full of them. His opportunity was extended to those who would have recognized the cost and potential risk of allowing it to be untied and entrusted to the disciples.

Second, the owners exercised faith. Some scholars believe that Jesus prearranged this exchange, but I like the story more as a blind invitation. The only thing they knew was “the Lord needs it.” Faith is nothing more than our positive response to the word(s) of God. They untied the donkey because the Lord had a need that they could fulfill. While we assume the donkey is returned, it is important to note that the Scripture never gives us that answer.

Next, the owners didn’t fully understand the purposes of Jesus. Were they well versed in the Old Testament prophesies of Psalm 118 or Zechariah 9:9? Even if the disciples would have explained that Jesus needed the donkey to ride into Jerusalem to symbolically proclaim his Messiahship, they may not have comprehended the coming events headed into Good Friday and Easter morning. Sometimes God extends opportunities and invitations to us that we may not fully grasp or understand.

Finally, their contribution made a difference. A kingdom sized difference. When we are willing to untie our blessings and gifts for the Lord’s needs we make a lasting impact. The kind that allows people like me to blog and preach their story 2,000 years later!

What does the Lord need that you need to untie?

Categories : Easter, Stewardship
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Apr
16

Easter Changes Everything!

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Most of you can think of days that have changed your life forever. A graduation, your first car, that big promotion to suggest a few. Some days are related to family events such as a wedding or the birth of a child. We mark and recall those days because in their own way they changed the trajectory of life and helped us re-imagine life in a way we had never imagined before.

I think about the events recorded in the gospels about that first Easter. I appreciate the vulnerability and authenticity of how the characters are portrayed. As we follow them through the thickened plot we come to see how Easter truly does change everything.

Think about the thief on the cross beside Jesus. He was guilty of a crime and hung there as a result of his behavior. But in a moment of vulnerability he opened his heart to Jesus and asked to be remembered. Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” His guilt was transformed to forgiveness. Easter changes everything.

What about the women surrounding the story. While the men had gone into hiding on Good Friday, the women remained, dutifully attending to the needs of Jesus. On the first day of the week they were the first to arrive at the tomb hoping to finalize the burial preparations that remained undone due to the setting sun on Friday. When they encountered Christ their duty turned to devotion as they worshiped. Yes, Easter changes everything.

Mary Magdalene is one of the characters called out by name. There at the garden tomb, with eyes blurred by tears, she mistook Jesus for a gardener and asked where the body of Jesus had been taken. All it took was for Jesus to call her name, “Mary,” and her sorrow evaporated into joy. Easter changes everything.

The disciples had abandoned Jesus by and large during the his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. We later find them together in a room behind locked doors, bound by fear. When Jesus appeared to them his first word to them was, “Peace.” Their fear became peace in the presence of Jesus, because Easter changes everything.

Thomas was not in the room with those disciples, but when they reported their experience to him he doubted and demanded proof of his existence. When Jesus appeared to Thomas later he provided the proof Thomas claimed he needed to which he exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” Doubt turns to faith because Easter changes everything.

Finally there is Peter. Peter had strutted into passion week making bold claims about his willingness to die for Jesus, making bold assertions that he would never deny him. He impulsively cut the ear off of a soldier in the garden as a show of strength. Peter was strong, perhaps too strong, and often acted in self serving ways. But when Jesus restored him on the shore of the sea, his command was, “Feed my sheep.” Peter changed from a strong, self serving person to a servant. Easter changes everything.

Good Fridays are characterized by people who are bound by guilt, duty, sorrow, fear, doubt and self centeredness. That was true then and is true today. But Easter changes everything. Easter opens the door for us to change the trajectory of life and find forgiveness, devotion, joy, peace, faith and service. Only then can we re-imagine the life that God has intended for us all along.

Easter changes everything!

Categories : Easter
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Apr
13

Maundy Thursday, 2017

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A year ago today I was in my office when the phone rang. It was Cassie, one of the nurses from Scotland County Care Center. My dad had been under hospice care for some time and had developed pneumonia. Cassie shared that my dad had taken a downward turn and that we should begin to prepare ourselves for his passing.

“Should I come now?” I asked.
She said, “Not yet. The doctor is on his way and he’ll do an evaluation and I’ll call you back in a few minutes and give you a status update.”
“Ok,” I replied.

Within the hour Cassie called me back. I was expecting her to give me a status report accompanied by some form of time line. She simply said, “Your dad just passed. I’m so sorry.” She felt badly that she had created an expectation that she could not deliver. I told her it was ok, but instantly was deeply saddened that like Jesus, my dad died alone.

After I hung up I called my sister and my mother and began to make preparations to travel to Missouri, where arrangements would need to be finalized and a funeral sermon prepared.

I find it strange that even though I knew my dad’s death was imminent I was still largely surprised that he passed. I knew it was coming, but it still hit me in an unexpected way, like a driver that violates a traffic signal and plows into the side of a car in the middle of an intersection.

I also find it strange that I seem to think about and talk about my father more in this past year than ever before. I try to be careful about referencing him in conversations and even my sermons, but I can’t seem to help it. His words and actions that previously resided in the back of my mind are now in the forefront of my thoughts.

When I think about the death of my father it makes me wonder if the disciples had the same kind of feeling regarding the death of Jesus. They knew he was going to die. The Old Testament prophets had predicted it for centuries. Jesus himself told them of his pending death on three separate occasions. They knew that it was coming, but I can’t help but think that his actual death must have hit them a little by surprise.

When I think about the disciples and the death of Christ, I also can’t help but consider the fact that they talked far more about him after his death that before. They often retell his life story and quote him frequently. I’m sure there were moments of reflection where memories were shared and stories retold. Some of those stories were humorous that brought smiles and even laughter. Others were told with deep meaning and conviction, as though those stories transformed their lives.

Before Jesus died, you get the idea that the disciples heard it, but didn’t quite get it. But when the reality of Jesus’ death sank in, they got it. And when they got it, they couldn’t stop talking about it either.

Death is a reality like no other. There are no approximations or misgivings about it. It’s frank and honest, and offers no consideration of our own thoughts and feelings. As believers in the 21st century we are blessed to have Holy Scripture to help us process Jesus death. We are not in the same position as the disciples who seemingly had to figure it out on their own. We can read and talk about the story in ways the disciples could not.

But that does not mean that we should speak of Jesus’ death any less than they did. It’s good for us to speak of Jesus in our day-to-day conversations as well as in our sermons and lessons. We can speak of him today as though he is still alive. Because he is!

Categories : Easter
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Mar
27

Questions in the Garden

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Each of us have experienced the pain that comes into our hearts when someone we love passes from this life. We are too familiar with the experience of mourning: black clothes and black cars; hushed voices that whisper in solemn tones; flowers whose brilliant colors are drained as we view them through an endless flow of tears. It is hard to let go and hard to say goodbye.

The school bus drives down the street but no longer stops in front of the house.
Rush hour traffic dwindles into twilight, yet no car arrives in the driveway.
Busy feet rush through the back door, yet there is no kiss of welcome.
And worst of all, there’s an empty place at the table.

Death brings questions. We should not be surprised that there were questions raised surrounding the death of Jesus. Three such questions were offered at the dawn of the first Easter.

The first question was “Who will roll away the stone?” (Mark 16:3)

In rural areas of the country, many country folk have a simple tradition. One the calendar its called Memorial Day. But for an older, more agrarian culture its called Decoration Day. It’s a time when people got to modest cemeteries and place flowers on the headstones of friends and family. Those marble monuments, tombstones we call them, stand on bright green grass, freshly awakened from winter’s sleep. To the right, there is a stone that marks the separation of a husband and wife. To the left, a stone that marks the separation of a parent and child. Across the well measured row stands another that marks the separation of a friend who took the time to share the joys and sorrows of life.

When the body of Jesus was taken down, it was laid in a borrowed tomb. A stone was rolled across the entrance, symbolizing the separation of our Savior from his family and followers. As the women prepared to make their way to the garden tomb, they were well aware that a stone of separation would block the way. “Who will roll away the stone,” they asked?
And it’s a fair question for us even today. Who will roll away the stone, and end this great enemy of life? Is there anyone who can roll away the stone?

The second question offered was “Why seek the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:6)

Imagine that! The body of Jesus was missing! He had told them he would rise again, yet in their grief they are not thinking of the promises of God. They’re thinking of their present problem. A graveyard seems like an illogical place to look for life. It is a place representing the mortality of our lives. But if you pause and think for a moment, isn’t that exactly what so many are doing today?

Some seek meaning in life through relationships or in other people. Some seek purpose from obtaining a promotion or a position of prominence. Others seek life by obtaining possessions or acquiring enough wealth to secure their futures. For others still, life is best found through pleasure or some new experience.

Trying to find the meaning and purpose of life among these things is like seeking the living among the dead. It’s like sticking a plug into a dead outlet. It looks good, but there is no power. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these things. The problem is, they never were intended to deliver what we hope they will. We find ourselves bored and disappointed when they don’t deliver, and then it’s on to the next thing.

The final question was “Why are you weeping?” (John 20:11-13)

It’s interesting that this question was not asked on Friday.

On Good Friday, Jesus was
Arrested,
Accused,
Judged,
Beaten,
Mocked,
Insulted,
Crucified,
and Buried.

On Friday, it appeared as though all was lost. On Friday, there was bad news. There was suffering, death, sorrow and fear. Friday was the day for tears.

But the good news of Easter is that Jesus only needed the tomb for the weekend!
On the first day of the week, the one who laid his life down willingly took it back up again and rose victorious over sin, death and the grave! Jesus died our death so we could live his life forevermore!

Who will roll away the stone? God rolled away the stone, not so that Jesus could get out, but that the world could see in. That stone of separation was moved so that we would come to understand that our earthly separations are not final. They’re only temporary.

But what about the other questions? Are you seeking life among things that were never designed to deliver it? It’s always easier to see it in someone else that in ourselves.
Why are you weeping? We may weep in this life, but we do not weep as those who have no hope.

Categories : Easter
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Apr
05

Sunday People in a Friday World

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Some time ago I was reflecting on the ironic nature of the day “Good Friday.” When I think about it, nothing was good about Good Friday. Good Friday was a day devoted to betrayal, denial, false accusations, beatings, condemnation and death.

I understand theologically that God used all of those things for our good. We are beneficiaries to all that Christ suffered in his passion. But for Jesus it was not so good.

2,000 years later we still live in a world filled with Good Friday experiences. Not a lot has changed, really. We still witness and perhaps have even experienced betrayal, denial, false accusation, physical and emotional abuse, and condemnation. Death is still among us. Everyday we are surrounded by people plagued by the very things Jesus came to overcome.

Yet we, the people of faith, are not governed by Good Friday. We are people of the resurrection. We are Sunday people in a Friday world. May our lives reflect the victory that Christ gained through the cross and resurrection, and may our lives shine forth like a beacon, pointing the way to hope.

Happy Easter!

Categories : Easter
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