Death vs. Love

“In all these things, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” Romans 8:37.

It was the rallying cry of the martyr in the early church, the prayer of the saint drawing his last breath. It is the hope and promise for God’s people. “We are more than conquerors.” But what does that mean? And what are “all these things,? Trouble. Hardship. Persecution. Famine. Nakedness. Danger. Sword. Death. Where does your life fall on this list? Do you have trouble? Do not despair – God will help you. Are you under hardship? Do not faint – God will bring you through. Are you being persecuted? Do not shrink back – God will give you strength. Not many of us are experiencing famine or nakedness – most of us live in plenty to one degree or another. Nor do we face danger or threats to our lives, though that day seems not far off.

But all of us – sooner or later – will meet death. And here is where our Conquering Hero leads the way. Jesus made an astounding promise: “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). The greatest threat we face is death – but not the end of our mortal lives. No, our enemy is eternal death – separation from God forever.

Jesus drew a final breath. His heart stopped beating. He was placed in a tomb. But He rose from death to complete life. And in doing so, He conquered our chief enemy. Because of His resurrection, we too have the promise of eternal life. Oh, most of us will likely draw a final breath, and our mortal heart will cease its beating. But another life is coming for those who believe in Jesus – a life that cannot end. A life that will never be taken away. A life that cannot be touched by trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword. Not even by death.

What is the power that overcomes? Love. Holy love. Love that went to the cross. Love that succumbed to death. Love that lay in the tomb. And love that rose again. Paul said that “Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:8). The empty tomb proves it. In Christ, dear one you are more than a conqueror – you are the Beloved. What could possibly be greater than this?

Do You Believe?

No other event on the stage of world history is as important as the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Skeptics have long sought to discredit Christianity’s claims with attacks on the foundational veracity of the gospel.  So is it really true? Let’s take a look at the facts that are recorded in the secular history of the time.

The Jewish and Roman historical records note that a man named Jesus from Nazareth was crucified at Golgotha and buried in a garden tomb.  The grave was sealed and Roman guards were posted to prevent the theft of the body.  History records that the condemned man’s tomb was found empty three days later, despite the extreme measures the Romans took to secure the grave.  Jewish records note the claims of Jesus’ followers that their Lord had been resurrected.  Historical writers of the time frequently mention eyewitnesses to the risen Jesus, just as Paul spoke of Peter, the Apostles, more than five hundred brothers, James (Jesus’ own doubting brother), and finally Paul himself (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).  In these verses, Paul reminds the believers of the gospel message “that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, and he was raised on the third day according to the Scripture” (v. 3-4).  These verses are almost certainly a creed that was well established in the ancient church and based on the testimonies of the very ones who firmly and emphatically believed they saw the literal resurrected Lord.  These are men who had been transformed from terrified, despondent fellows cowering behind locked doors (John 20:19) to bold witnesses willing to die for their faith, confident in what they saw (Acts 4:1-20).

The gospel message – the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus – is strongly supported by men and women who had an encounter that transformed their lives and the landscape of world history.  The evidence is clearly shown in their testimonies and the traditions that are built on the foundation of their testimonies.  The eyewitness accounts of Peter, James, John and Paul, and hundreds of others, combined with the early creedal statements of the church provide good support for the claims of the resurrection of Jesus. 

Still, facts alone cannot convince anyone of the reality of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Generations of believers who have also experienced this life-changing Jesus provide the greatest proof that the claims of Christianity are true. People like me. I was a sinner, lost and bound for hell, but I heard the good news that God loves me and send His Son to die for my sins and rose to life three days later. I believed in Jesus. His Spirit lives in me and I have been changed. Forever.

Beloved, this same Jesus died for you too. He can change your life and your eternal destiny. Will you believe today?

Heaven Wept

“It was preparation day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how His body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.” Luke 23:54-56

It was the darkest day of their lives – the day after Jesus had been crucified on the cross. They’d heard the hammers pound the nails into His hands and feet. They listened to Him cry out to His Father in anguish and surrender. They saw His body slump as He give up His Spirit. They watched the soldiers pierce His side and witnessed blood and water drain from His battered body. They held their breath as Joseph and Nicodemus took His lifeless body down from the cross. They followed in a sad processional to the garden where their Lord was entombed.

In our modern understanding of these days, we hold solemn vigils on Good Friday, remembering the death of Jesus, and we come together for joyful celebrations on Easter Sunday to celebrate His resurrection. But Saturday is the day for egg hunts, travel, shopping, and preparing our Easter Sunday finery.

More and more the Holy Spirit is teaching me to sit in the moment with the Bible characters. To put myself in their sandals and their experience and not rush on to the end of a familiar story. He is teaching me to take a holy pause.

What must this day have been like for these devoted women? Were they numb with grief? Or was it the kind of sorrow that aches deep in the bones? This day – the day after darkness filled the noon-day sky and the curtain was torn in two – must have left them empty inside – confused, in anguish, and filled with disbelief. How could this be? Their Jesus was dead.

Looking back from this side of the Cross, we want to take their faces in our hands and tell them, “Just hold on! Don’t grieve. Everything is going to change tomorrow!” As Paul Harvey says, we know “the rest of the story.” We know death cannot keep its grip on Jesus. We know they will soon find the tomb empty. We know this is only the day between death and life. But they didn’t. In their world, death was final. It was all over.

They didn’t know they were only waiting. . .

Foot-washing

He rose from his place, removed his outer garments and took the towel and basin to the pitcher of water, and poured. Imagine the shocked silence that filled the room at the sight of Jesus, their beloved Teacher, kneeling before the first man, removing his dusty sandals and touching the filthy feet before Him. Surely all that could be heard was the splashing of water as He moved around the room. Peter wanted to spare His Lord such humiliation and drew back his feet, but Jesus refused to pass him by. When the task was done, Jesus told them to take His example and live by this expression of humility and service.

Something strikes me about it this scene. John (who was the only gospel writer to record this scene) never says that anyone washed the feet of Jesus that day. Perhaps one of them did, but surely John would not leave out such an important detail.

There will come a day – sooner or perhaps later – when I will see Him face to glorious face. When I bow before Him in grateful adoration, I want to wash my Jesus’ feet. I want to hold those beautiful feet in my hands. I want to splash water from the River of Life (Rev. 22:1) on His feet. Yes, Mary washed Jesus’ feet. But the feet she washed did not bear the scars from the cross. Those precious marks would come after His act of holy love. I want to touch the imprints left by the nails and kiss the scars that bought my redemption. I want to show Him “the full extent of my love” (Jn 13:1 NIV). I want to wash my Savior’s feet. The feet that kicked against the swaddling clothes in the manger. The feet that carried the Teacher to the shores of Galilee. The feet that walked the dusty road of the Via Dolorosa. The feet that bore the weight of His body and the weight of my sin on the cross. I want to wash those beautiful, glorious nail-scarred feet that speak of this sinner who has been set free.

The King on a Colt

As was the tradition, thousands of Jews flocked to the city, and one question was on everybody’s lips: “Would Jesus come into the city for the Passover Feast?” The people were all abuzz with reports of His miraculous deeds – in particular, raising Lazarus from the dead. The religious leaders had given orders that anyone knowing His whereabouts should report it to them, for they planned to arrest Him on sight. His previous entries into the city were quiet, without any show of publicity. Now, however, with deliberate purpose, Jesus publically presented Himself as Israel’s Messiah and King. He chose a time when all Israel would be gathered in Jerusalem, a place where huge crowds could see Him, and a way of proclamation that was unmistakable.

He made his way into the city, seated on a young colt, to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah: “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your King comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zec 9:9/John 12:15).  The people lined the road praising God, waving palm branches and throwing their cloaks in front of him to provide a “royal carpet.” They shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Matt 21:9) – which meant “save now!” – because they recognized the fulfillment of the long-awaited prophecy. Praises rang out loudly and joyfully: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel! (John 12:13).

Yet once inside the city gates, as strangers asked: “Who is this?” the answer was different. “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” From Messiah to Prophet. First, One who “comes in the Name of the Lord” – now one who comes from Nazareth-a city despised and disregarded by the Jews (John 1:46).

Don’t we still do the same? In the Sanctuary on Sunday morning Jesus is Lord and we sing His praises with voices raised. But what happens we the crowd changes? Do we tuck Him inside the cover of a dusty Bible? How do we respond to the question, “Who is this?” Is He just a “good teacher, a man of peace”, or maybe even a fool? He can not be Lord on Sunday and disregarded on Monday. To which crowd do you belong, Beloved? Who is this Man to you?

I Want to See Jesus

She called out my name – not the name “Beth” that folks in Tallahassee called me, but “Dorcas,” a name I hadn’t used since we left home a dozen years before. I was surprised that I would hear my “real” name. She said, “You haven’t seen me since I was a kid,” and then she told me who she was and everything clicked. Her family had lived next door to us for a few years and I had watched her and her brother a few times for her mother to run errands. I asked “How did you recognize me? It’s been so long and you were so young when we moved away.”  She hugged me and said, “I’d know that smile anywhere!”

People change so much – ask anyone who’s gone to their high-school reunion. I was so glad the reunion committee put our senior yearbook pictures on our name badges or I would have been completely lost. We all walked around with puzzled faces until we glanced down at the badge and – “Oh, it’s you!”

Heaven will be filled with faces both strange and familiar. I know I will be scanning the multitude, looking for my mom and dad and brother Jim and my friends Judy, Joey, Dorothy, Virginia, Mavis, Bob, and so many more. But there’s one Face I want most to see. One person who changed everything for me. I want to see Jesus. But how will I recognize Him?

The Bible gives no physical description other than “He had no beauty or majesty” (Isaiah 53:2). Nobody really knows what Jesus looked like and the paintings we have are not true representations of the Lord. I highly doubt he was a light-skinned, auburn-haired man with a chiseled, European face. True, we can make assumptions based on His nationality. But how many people will have the same olive complexion and middle-eastern features in heaven? Yet the Bible does say that we will recognize Him when we see Him. How? I imagine the crown on His head and His throne at the right hand of the Father and the glory that will emanate from Him will be big clues.  But there’s one other way. When He appeared to the disciples John said, “He showed them His hands and side [and] the disciples were overjoyed” (John 20:20). There be no doubt about which one is Jesus – we’ll know Him the same way they did – by His scars.

In the Shadow of the Cross

Time and eternity intersect at the Cross

My granddaughter loves crosses. She knows the cross has something to do with God and Jesus, and at almost three, that’s a good foundation. But in the first century, the cross was a symbol of shame. So why would the church adopt it as our standard? We get a clue from Peter who said, “[Jesus] bore our sins in His body on the tree [cross], so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24, emphasis added). Pete packed a lot into that short sentence.

First, the cross is for sinners. It is for people who make mistakes, for the ones who are weak, for those of us who do foolish things, who fall into a pit of sin and walk in the wilderness of the consequences. The cross is the place where Jesus took on all our sin and shame, our profane mouths and promiscuous acts, our greed, and selfishness, our lies, our addictions, our lustful thoughts, our rebellion, and disobedience.  Jesus didn’t die for those who have it all together. He died for those of us who are falling apart in our own human sinfulness. The cross is for me.

Second, the cross helps us in our weaknesses. By holding fast to the cross of Jesus, we draw strength to enable us to overcome our un-Christ-like habits and attractions. When I look to the cross, I am reminded again of what Jesus did for me, and I find the strength to fight against the enemy and flee from temptation.   I’m not implying that the cross is some magic talisman; but it is a symbol of the transforming power of Christ – a power we are encouraged to call on every day and every moment. You and I can’t control the sinful desires of our flesh, but Christ can help us stand strong in godliness. Through the cross, Christ empowers us to live for righteousness.

Many criminals before and after Him died on a cross, but the cross of Jesus is the hope for all mankind. It is the place from which love dripped down Christ’s body and bought us our freedom. Paul said, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Beloved, have you come to the cross of Jesus?

This is My Story

Mom, me, brothers Jimmy and Michael, Easter Sunday, mid-sixties, Okinawa, Japan

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” 1 Timothy 1:15

Several years ago a Sunday School teacher said: “The only reason I’m a Christian is that Jesus had the best offer.  If someone had presented something better I would’ve taken it.”  I left that class and never returned, But I also examined my own heart and asked myself why I am a Christian.

I grew up in a good, Baptist home. Mom took us to Sunday School, church, Sunbeams, Vacation Bible School, and so on.  I knew about the God who created the whole world and the sun, moon, and stars.  I knew about Jesus and the cross and the empty tomb. I knew that I wanted to go to heaven, so I asked Jesus into my heart when I was nine years old and was baptized. I rarely missed a Sunday or Wednesday night as a kid.  But as I grew up church and faith went on the back burner.  I became less concerned with heaven and more focused on the things of earth.  I married, and then my world came crashing down when my marriage failed.  I went back home a broken woman and returned to the church of my childhood.  And I got deeper into the Bible than I had ever been and saw God and Jesus with new eyes. I realized that what I had was “faith” in sweet Bible stories, not saving faith in the Son of God. He moved my heart to believe the gospel and receive His gift of salvation. 

I am a Christian because God saved me through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ.  I have eternal life in heaven because of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.  I am not bound as a slave to my sins any longer, I am now bound up in the freedom of Christ.  Every day I remember both who I was as a slave to sin, and who I am now, a freed daughter of God.

Can you say the same?  Do you know the freedom that only comes through Jesus Christ?  Do not remain in the chains of sin for one more minute Beloved. Right now tell God you want to be set free.  The chains will fall and you can walk away as His child. That’s my story. I pray it is yours too.

The Rescue Plan

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Some themes have become so familiar in the Christian world that we speak them and receive them without a second thought. Things like: “God helps those who help themselves.” Now, I’ve read the Bible from cover to cover many times over and I tell you for certain, it’s not in there. Or how about, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” Again, I’ve never found that in the Bible and  I can tell you from my own life, it ain’t so.  I heard another one recently that always comes around at Christmas and Easter, this human idea that God looked down from heaven and saw mankind in bondage to sin and death and sent His son in response. While it certainly expresses God’s heart of mercy for His creation, it’s not exactly the truth.

How do I know that? Because the Bible says that Jesus is “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). Before man could ever cry out for redemption, the Redeemer had already paid the price. What in the world does that mean? Well, it’s not a worldly concept at all, it’s the divine plan created in heaven before God scooped up a handful of dust – even before He said, “Let there be light.” Jesus was always meant to come to earth as a tiny baby and live a perfect, sinless life, and die an undeserved and cruel death.  He was always meant to lie in a tomb for three days and heaven never doubted that He would rise again, because that was the plan all along. Christmas and Easter were not God’s knee-jerk reaction to our predicament.

We also need to understand that time in the heavenly realm is not like time here on earth. God sees the end and the beginning all at the same time because He is the sovereign Lord of Heaven and Earth – and time. His plan wasn’t something that had to unfold from heaven’s perspective, though it took thousands of years to accomplish on earth. It was already a done deal. When the Father gazed at the Baby in the manger he saw the man on the cross. And so should we.

Aren’t you glad that He didn’t wait for you to cry out from the pit before He set a rescue plan in place? He planned it long before you needed it. That should give you great hope, Beloved. God had you in mind all along.

Pigs and Kings at the Manger

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Like all little kids, my granddaughter loves to talk and she has a pretty extensive vocabulary for a 2 ½-year-old. With a few malapropisms which I love. She will say “Will you pick my up?” “I want your cup (meaning her cup).” And she calls Sunday School “Honey” School which it will forevermore be. She will get them right eventually, but for now, I think they are adorable and I have no intention of correcting her.  Sometimes it’s okay to not get things right. But the Bible is something we always want to get right.

Take the Christmas story for instance. Every nativity scene comes with a stable with Mary and Joseph and the Baby in the manger. There are shepherds and angels and some animals. My best friend, a Bible nerd like me, once saw a Fisher-Price Little People nativity set and noticed a pig among the animals. She wrote to the company and explained that a Jewish family would not have a pig among their animals because pigs, according to the Jewish Law, are unclean. Want to hear a Christmas miracle? They took the pig out. The scenes also have three kings bearing gifts. This comes straight from Matthew 2 which reports the visit of the Magi. Only Matthew never said how many wise men there were, only that they presented three gifts: gold, incense, and myrrh.” John Henry Hopkins said there were three kings[1] and we just took his word for it. And they didn’t come to see Jesus at his birth. Jesus was about 2 years old when they made their way from the east after seeing the star (see Matthew 2:16).

Now pigs in a kid’s nativity set and three wise men at the manger don’t seem like such a big deal. But they are the small, seemingly insignificant ways that the culture has altered the truth and the church has accepted it as fact. Which makes it easier to accept other changes, more important changes like Jesus was a great teacher and humanitarian but He really wasn’t God. Mary wasn’t really a virgin. Jesus fell into a coma-like trance but He wasn’t really dead when they buried Him in the tomb. Which leads to God really doesn’t forbid certain sins because He wants us all to be happy. Even Madonna (the singer) said that Jesus would approve of abortion. Do you see what a slippery slope that becomes?

So should you move your Magi away from the stable, maybe put them on a table on the far side of the room? I’ll leave the decorating to you, but I will say that you and I need to be certain we are hearing and believing the truth from the Word of God. There is more at stake than pigs and kings.


[1] “We Three Kings” written by John Henry Hopkins Ó 1857.