What’s so Good about Good Friday?

Good Friday. The day that the sky turned dark in the middle of the afternoon (Matt 27:45). The day the Father turned away from His Son (v. 46). The day Jesus gave up his spirit (v. 50). The day the temple curtain was torn in two from top to bottom and the earth shook violently (v. 51). The day the tombs broke open and dead people walked the streets of Jerusalem (v. 52). The day an innocent man died for crimes He did not commit. Why then, do we call it “Good?”

Because this is the day that bought freedom for condemned men and women. This is the day that love bled and died so that you and I might live eternally. It is a good day. It is a holy day. But we need to know the back story to understand why.

The Jewish religion was centered around sacrifice and atonement. Blood was necessary to atone for sin and make the people clean – “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb 9:22),  because “The life of a creature [human or animal] is in the blood (Lev 17:11). In God’s holy covenant, only “blood makes atonement for one’s life” (Lev. 17:14). Blood is synonymous with life – any physician will tell you that when the body runs out of blood the life is drained with it. Life is the price of our sins.

God in His mercy allowed animals’ blood to stand in for men’s blood, but its effect was short-lived and only partially cleansing. It had to be repeated year after year after year. But He had planned a better way; a way that would atone for sin “once for all” (Heb. 9:12), but it required perfect blood that was only available through a divine and holy being. But there’s a problem.  God can’t die. So His one and only Son became a man – a man with divine blood – that He might atone for humanity’s sin. He hung on a cross and dripped that perfect blood from His broken human body. No other sacrifice would be needed. Jesus had done it all.

That is why we call this dark day “Good Friday.” Beloved if you repent of your sins and receive Jesus’ cleansing, you will understand how good this day is. It is the day that good overcame evil (Rom 12:21).

The Greatest Story Ever Told

Did you know that the original Scriptures didn’t have chapter and verse numbers? When your pastor tells you to turn to a Bible book, chapter, and verse you can thank Stephen Langton (1150-1228), the Archbishop of Canterbury and French scholar, Robert Estienne (1503-59) for making it easier to find your way around. Langton divided the biblical books into chapters and Estienne added to the earlier work of Italian Dominican scholar Santi Pagnini (1470–1541) who started the numbering of the verses. The first English Bible to use chapters and verses as we have them today was the Geneva Bible in 1560.

But the original authors didn’t write with the intent of dividing up the Scriptures and sometimes we lose the continuity and context of their message. Take the Gospel of Mark, for example. Four accounts of Jesus’ miraculous works are divided into different chapters. They are often taught in separate sound bites but the events worked together to prove one theme.

Mark tells of Jesus calming a storm on a lake. As “a furious squall came up,” Jesus stood in the boat and “rebuked the wind and waves, [saying], “Quiet! Be still!” (vs. 37, 39). Of course, the wind and waves obeyed the One who called them into being. He displayed His power and authority over nature and creation (4:35-41).

After crossing the lake, Jesus was approached by a man with a legion of evil spirits, meaning between 3,000-6,000 demonic forces lived in him. The man was in constant torment. Jesus cast out the evil spirits (in the first mention of deviled ham). He proved his power and authority over the demons of hell (5:1-20).

Mark then recorded Jesus healing a woman who had suffered for twelve years of physical misery and social heartache. He commended her faith and displayed his power and authority over disease and human suffering of every kind (5:21-34). Finally, Jesus was brought into a home where a little girl lay dead. He walked into her room with His power and authority over death and brought the girl back to life (5:21-34).

Remarkably, Jesus returned to his hometown where “He could not do any miracles” because of the people’s lack of faith (6:1-6). In the one who proved His divine power over nature, demons, disease, and death. From creation to the impending return of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Bible is one story with one theme: the glory of God. It is the Greatest Story ever told. What better proof could there be?

For the Brokenhearted

This one is going to be a little different. My heart is heavy for some people who are grieving today. I want so much to offer a word of comfort, but what do you say to someone who has lost their whole world? We all face sorrow. In the past two years, my brother and my father passed away. I’m sure you also understand the pain of death. I’ve never lost a child – I understand from some of you that it is a crushing kind of grief that never ever goes away.

So, what kind of hope is there for our broken hearts? All have are words – but they are words from the Source of life. They are soft pillows on which to rest your head. They are balm for the aching hole in your heart. They are promises you can lean on when you cannot stand a minute longer.

Like, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted” (Ps. 34:18). When my granddaughter hurts, I hurt. When she cries I run to her and scoop her up in my arms and hold her close. God does much the same for us when our hearts are broken. He draws near to His hurting child so that you can rest your weary head on His big chest and feel His breath ruffle your hair. You might even hear Him singing over you (Zep. 3:17).

When you can’t stop crying, remember that your tears are precious to the Lord. He catches every one and stores them in a bottle like a treasure (Ps 56:8). He promises that one day those tears will turn into songs of Joy (Ps 126:5). And mourning will turn into gladness (Jer. 31:13). The memories that sting your eyes now will bring you sweet delight.

Your heart feels like it’s in a thousand pieces. God will put them all back together and every piece will refract His glory in new and beautiful ways – like the sun shining through a stained-glass window. The world will be in awe of how God glistens through you.

And the sweetest promise of all is that you and I will one day be reunited with our loved ones, never to be apart again. My Mom, Dad, and brother. My dear friend’s husband. Another friend’s sister. Your coworker’s fiancé. My cousin’s son. The neighbor’s wife. Your little girl. They will squeal with delight when they see you at the gate. They will take you by the hand and give you the grand tour of heaven. And you’ll have coffee together every morning and ice cream every night. Forever and ever and ever.

Grief is long and hard, but it isn’t eternal. God will come near to you. He will quiet you with His love (Zeph 3:17). He will put your broken heart back together. He will give you back what you lost. Not just for a moment, but forever. My prayers are with you, Beloved.

Advent 2022: How to Save the World

“For to us a child is born . . .”

Ask a general how to save the world and he will tell you to use military force and control.  Ask a humanitarian and she’ll probably suggest programs to eradicate poverty and hunger.  Pose the same question to politicians and they’ll tell you they need money, money, and more money to appoint a committee with sub-committees to study the matter.  Teachers will tell us that education is the answer and The Beatles said that “All You Need is Love.” If I were going to save the world I would round up the criminals and terrorists and rioters and child abusers and abortionists and drug lords and put them all on a one-way trip to the moon.  But God had a different plan – He determined to save the world through a baby. But not just any baby.

It seems strange to me that a helpless infant would be the answer to the woes of the world.  He couldn’t feed himself or change himself or get from place to place by himself.  He slept all the time like any other baby.  But He wasn’t any other baby.  He who could not feed Himself would feed multitudes. The little one that couldn’t change Himself would change the fate of the human race on a cross.  The babe who had to be carried from place to place will carry all who believe to heaven.  This sleeping child would rise from the sleep of death to awaken the souls of men.

This baby left the glory of heaven to save the entire human race.  He brought peace between God and man.  He broke the chains of sin.  He erased the curse of death.  This baby took on your sin and mine; He bore the punishment that you and I rightly deserved.  He surrendered His body to the cross and the grave. And He did it all out of love. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Yes, God used a Baby to do what generals, humanitarians, politicians, teachers, and pop stars could never do.  Jesus brought peace with God to all who will believe on Him. And that, Beloved, is how to save the world.

Advent 2022: Do You Really Understand Christmas?

Our granddaughter was born with syndactyly, the malformation of the fingers on her right hand. To us, she is still “practically perfect in every way.” We believe God is going to use that little hand as a powerful testimony to His glory. Still, she is starting to notice that it – and she – is different. Not less than anyone else, just different. She asked me yesterday, “Nana, why is my hand like this?” I told her that is just how God made her. “God didn’t make me,” she said. “Joy,” I asked, “what is your memory verse from Honey (Sunday) School?” She said, “God made everything!” complete with hands spread wide. “So if God made everything He made you, too, and your hand” I answered. “Oh!” she said, “God made me!” “That’s right, sweet girl!” Joy knew the facts, but she didn’t understand what they meant.

It’s Christmas time and that means it’s time to think about the Baby in the manger and about shepherds, angels, and wise men. But just like Joy, if all we know are facts then we don’t understand why He came at all. If we don’t recognize that this Baby is about us and for us then we don’t know the whole story of Christmas. This Baby came for more than parties and pretty paper and ribbons and lights all aglow. He came with a mission. When the Lord sent a dream to Joseph to tell him about the Baby in Mary’s womb, He said, “He will save His people from their sins” (Matt 1:21). Luke records Jesus’ words: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). That’s you and me. The Christmas story is about God sending His Son to find us who are lost and bring us back home.

And the Christmas story is as much about the death of Jesus as it is about His birth. If God only sent His Son to be born then we are still lost. If He does not grow up then you and I have no real hope. The Baby in the manger must become the Man on the cross if we are to be saved. He must become the resurrected Lord if we are to have eternal life. This innocent and precious boy must bear the weight and punishment of all of our sins or Christmas means nothing.

I wish you a very Merry Christmas, Beloved. But more than that I wish you the heart of Christmas: “that you may grasp how wide and long and high and deep” is God’s love for you (Eph 3:18).

A Matter of Life and Death

Since I was a little girl, I have known and loved the story of Dorcas in Acts 9:36-42 – for obvious reasons. This was “my story” because, in my childish mind, she was me. I loved to tell about Dorcas, a kind and generous woman who loved the Lord and loved people.

Dorcas’ story has become mine for more reasons than just a shared name. Dorcas was a seamstress and I have also done a good deal of sewing. She used her talent to benefit her neighbors, and I have also sewed to bless others. And Dorcas died and was restored to life through the prayers of Peter. “Now, wait a minute,” you may be saying, “you have never died.” Well, I haven’t in the literal sense of the word, but I have in other hard ways. Dorcas died a physical death – I died emotionally and my very spirit became lifeless and gray. She was laid on a bed in an upstairs room. I have laid before the Lord in deepest pain and soul-rending anguish. When she died, Dorcas’ heart stopped beating and her breath ceased. I have had seasons of brokenness where my heart lay in shards and splinters around my feet and the simple act of drawing a breath was more than I could manage. Dorcas entered the darkness of death. I have been in the darkness of depression and despair – surrounded by the deepest hues of black.

But God restored Dorcas to life – and He graciously restored me too. He heard my prayers and my cries and sat with me in the dark and gloom. His Spirit spoke life to my spirit. His tender mercies restored the pieces of my heart and He breathed hope and peace into my lungs. He restored my soul. He brought light and He brought Joy.

This is for the one who feels dead in your soul today. You have cried an ocean of tears and you have given up on ever feeling alive again. Beloved, please hear my words and my heart: God will restore you back to life. That is His specialty. Bringing life from death. Making broken hearts whole. Bringing light into the darkness. Breathing hope and peace and Joy into your soul.

Please do not give up, Beloved. I died. God restored my life. He will restore you too. I am living proof.

I [Don’t] Got This!

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“You hang in there, girl. God will never give you more than you can handle.” I never wanted to call someone a liar as much as I did the woman who made that statement to me.  But I’m southern and we don’t call our elders liars, so I thanked her and hugged her, and flushed her counsel from my brain. While that may sound full of warm fuzzy faith, there’s not a shred of support for it in Scripture. The Bible is clear that God often gives us more than we can handle.  Paul said, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia.  We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.  Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death” (2 Cor 1:8-9a). Not so warm and fuzzy, is it? Friend, if you’re hanging onto that opening statement as a rock for your life, you are going to be very disappointed.

If you’ve walked with Him for very long you know that God indeed allows situations and hardships that are more than we can handle. He does it so that we will turn to the only One who can. Paul continued, “This happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (v. 9b). I almost stopped that verse after the comma but I realized that those last four words are pivotal to the passage. What is harder to handle than death? And who is it that overcame death? If you’ve got a problem that’s bigger than raising a dead man to life, then you may have reason to worry.

Paul goes on to say, “He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us. On Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us” (v. 10). He has. He is. He will continue. He has been faithful. He is still faithful. He will continue to be faithful.  Your circumstances do not define Him. He defines your circumstances. I can’t stress this enough – God WILL give you more than you can handle. But He will never give you more than HE can handle. Stop trying to carry it all yourself, Beloved. Hold tightly to God and He will carry it – and you through. That’s why it’s called FAITH.

All In

A hen and a pig were looking at the farmer’s breakfast plate, with toast, grits, eggs, and bacon. The hen strutted around saying, “Look at the hen’s contribution to this fine breakfast – see those eggs there on the plate!” The pig looked at the hen and said, “You hens make a contribution, but for us pigs, it’s an all-or-nothing commitment.”

“Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). Jesus has very high expectations for His followers. He doesn’t just want contributors, he wants people who will surrender it all to Him. People who will Joyfully “lose their life” for the Kingdom.

What does that really mean? When I study His Word – and look at the world – I realize that Jesus meant exactly what he said. I researched the words Matthew recorded and He said that those who deny Him are more concerned with keeping their earthly lives safe and sound and free from suffering and danger than they are with His Kingdom. (Have you noticed a “suffering” theme in my devotionals lately? That’s not my choice. I believe that God is preparing us for something.) And the life we lose – or destroy according to the Greek – is our souls. When we chose our lives over the Kingdom of God we throw away eternal life with Christ in heaven.

I’ve always heard to lose your life for Christ’s sake means letting go of everything that the world tells us life is all about. Certainly, it’s recognizing that whatever reward this temporal life offers – pleasure, fame, wealth, power, status, or intellect – cannot compare with all Christ offers. But losing our life literally means being willing to die for His Kingdom. We have the examples of the apostles and the martyrs of the faith who died with the name of Jesus on their lips. It’s not only about denying worldly attractions, but it’s being ready to face lions and swords and all manner of suffering – even death. It is trading the small sphere of this world for the much bigger eternal Kingdom of God. So I ask you, Beloved, are you making a contribution to the Kingdom of God or are you all in?

The God of the Bible

We’re New Testament Christians – why should we read the Old Testament? What good does it do me to study old laws and rituals? Why should I learn about people so far removed from my own life? Because we don’t study the Bible to learn about laws and rituals and long-dead people – we study the Bible to learn about and draw hope from God. I am in a group that is writing through the Bible, we’ve been mired in Job for months. Lots of misery and grumbling and arguing. But by slowing down the pace and paying attention to the text, we’ve come to understand Job – and God – from a whole new perspective.

Paul said, “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). He’s talking about the Old Testament. When I am discouraged, I go to the stories of God’s deliverance in Exodus. When my life has fallen apart I turn to Nehemiah where God enabled His people to rebuild the broken-down walls. When I face a frightening situation Esther is my go-to book as I remember how God rescued His people. And when the world looms dark and evil, I turn to Daniel and witness God’s sovereign control over human events.

The Old Testament is filled with evidence of God’s power, purpose, love, and faithfulness. The same power, purpose, love, and faithfulness is found in the New Testament and in my life two-thousand plus years later. In the Old Testament, I find the God who delivered Israel, rebuilt Jerusalem, and rescued the Jews. In the New Testament, I see the same God who delivered mankind, broke the bonds of sin and death, and changed the world. He is the same God I call to in this present season of struggle. I know He is able to do for me today all that He did then. I put my name in those verses of rescue and promise and the God of the Hebrew people, of Nehemiah, Esther, and Daniel becomes the God of Dorcas Elizabeth. He hasn’t forgotten how to rescue and restore. His power hasn’t diminished one bit. This God is your God too if you have trusted in Jesus. Beloved, get to know the God of the whole Bible. Get to know the God of your life.

The Valley

This morning I was thinking about something I needed to do, something I didn’t really want to do because it often raised up a temptation I’ve been trying to put down for a long time. I prayed for help and a verse came to mind. It comes out of Psalm 23 – The Shepherd’s Psalm. Verse 4 says “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Now, what does that have to do with temptation?

This valley is not a pastoral scene of gentle slopes between the hills but a steep, narrow gorge where the sun never reaches. The valley most attributed to this passage was the Valley of Hinnom outside the walls of Jerusalem. It was a horrible place of death as bodies of criminals and animals and the town’s rubbish were thrown there and fires burned continually to consume them. The ”shadow of death” is a place of extreme danger and thick darkness – an apt description of the valley. It was also a place where kings and priest sent their own children to be burned alive to appease the gods – a horrible sin.

Death and sin go hand in hand. From the very beginning, God told the first humans that when they sin (disobey God) they “will surely die” (Gen 2:17). Paul said that “The wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). The valley was a terrifying place of sin and death. But it was also a place people had to pass to get to the gates of the city. Here’s where this all comes together. You and I will be faced with sin and its consequences as long as we are on this earth. We can’t escape it. But we don’t have to fear it. God is with us. If we walk closely with Him we can traverse the sin and death of this world without falling into it. That’s what God was saying to me this morning. “Don’t be afraid of what you need to do. I am with you. I will not let you fall.” And He didn’t.

Beloved, the world is filled with sin and death, but if you belong to Christ you can face it with faith in your Shepherd. Your very Good Shepherd who died to save you – His precious little lamb.