Category Archives: Crucifixion

Worship Wednesday – Ash Wednesday – the 40-day Lenten Road to Easter

Blog - Lent - Ash Wednesday - from article by Jim DenisonPhoto Credit: Jennifer Balaska via en.wikipedia.org

[Adapted from the Archives]

“How often have I lived through these weeks without paying much attention to penance, fasting, and prayer? How often have I missed the spiritual fruits of the season without even being aware of it? But how can I ever really celebrate Easter without observing Lent? How can I rejoice fully in your Resurrection when I have avoided participating in your death? Yes, Lord, I have to die—with you, through you, and in you—and thus become ready to recognize you when you appear to me in your Resurrection. There is so much in me that needs to die: false attachments, greed and anger, impatience and stinginess…. I see clearly now how little I have died with you, really gone your way and been faithful to it. O Lord, make this Lenten season different from the other ones. Let me find you again. Amen.”Henri Nouwen  (From A Cry for Mercy: Prayers from the Genesee, Orbis)

It wasn’t until I was six years old that church even came on my radar as a thing. My mom worked all the time in those days, and finally, after a last-resort divorce, she settled us into a different life of meager means and lavish love. It was in those days that we responded to an invitation to church from neighbors. A weary single mom and four eager children met the welcome care of a loving church. Our experience was small town Bible-Belt Baptist, and that set the foundation for my understanding of God. In fact, years later, when I signed up for a World Religions course as a college freshman, I thought it would be a survey course on Christianity.

[Even within the context of Christianity, I knew very little of its practice outside the realm of Southern evangelicalism.]

My first experience with Lent, for instance, was through a college friendship. One Wednesday long ago, I caught up with my best friend after she had disappeared from our usual daily routine. We met for lunch and she had this mysterious, ashen cross smudged on her forehead. I resisted the urge of just lovingly wiping it off for her, thinking she was unaware of it. Pointing it out instead, she taught me my first lessons on Lent – on repentance, fasting (sacrifice), the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ. All of that was gloriously real for me already, except for setting aside 40 days of resolve prior to the celebration of Easter.

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust – Preparing for Ash Wednesday – Pastor Kirk Thorson

For years, I still didn’t take Lent very seriously and still don’t know quite how to (or if I should) incorporate it into my life…except that my thinking has changed. In this world gone mad, I am more convinced than ever that we as the Church need to stand together for the sake of the nations and for the glory of God. If in Lent, I can find elements that help me see God, and our corporate and personal need for Him, more clearly, then I want to integrate some measure of Lenten practice into my life.

Month-long fasting (one part of Lent) has never been a draw for me, as I was always completely sure it would be a fail. While we lived in North Africa, and especially in Egypt, fasting was very much a part of our Muslim and Christian neighbors’ lives. Even those Christians who were evangelical (from Coptic backgrounds) saw the importance of fasting. Their awareness of the evil of sin in the world and the need for drastic measures lined up solidly with Jesus’ own life and teaching on this.

As I write this, my penitent friend with the ash smeared on her forehead comes to mind again. Decades later, on this day, I’m sure, wherever she is, she has a new ashen cross applied. Reminding her of the sin in her own life that Christ paid for Himself with His death on the Cross.

[We like our foreheads clean, don’t we? Being reminded of the dark and dirty smudge of sin in our lives is not something we want to carry around with us publicly. Especially in this post-Christian world of ours. Even with the message of the Cross as the only response to that sin…it’s just too public, too culturally “in your face” so to speak.]

Many may see Lent as extra-Biblical and therefore unnecessary to add to our countdown to commemorating the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For me, at least, it gives a bit narrower road to walk for forty days – examining our own frailty, our sin, and the brevity of life alongside the magnificent perfection of the life and love of a wholly surrendered Christ.

Ash Wednesday and Lent as Means of Grace – Ryan J. Pelton

Bible Gateway extends a free invitation to receive devotionals daily until Lent from A 40 Day Journey with Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I’ll be going through that as part of my reading these 40 days until Easter.

Also for the past several years, during Lent, I have read Adrian Plass’ book The Unlocking – God’s Escape Plan for Frightened People. It was a gift from a good friend during our years living overseas. There’s a lot in this world that’s frightening these days. Yet God is still God and is at work in the midst of so much crazy. I believe Him at His word. Full stop. We have a role in dealing with what we see in the world. As Jesus told His disciples (Matthew 17:21), there is evil that we can only battle with prayer and fasting. This is a power unleashed in a true observance of Lent.Blog - Lent - Easter (3)

As we grieve so much death around us in these days, and as we look to Easter, I would like to close with a prayer from Adrian Plass’ book:

“Loving heavenly Father, I want to try to tackle this business of loving enemies. First of all I’m going to sit quietly here and go through a mental list of the folk who I would call my enemies. Help me to be really honest…I don’t want to leave anyone out….I’ve done it, Lord. There are rather a lot, and some of them I really hate. But You made it quite clear that You can’t forgive me if I don’t forgive them, so I’ll start the process, even if it takes a long time to mean it. Love them for me, Lord, and please accept my prayers for their welfare and safety. Soften my hard heart as the days go by, until I begin to see them through Your eyes. Thank You for forgiving me. Amen.”

For these forty-plus days before Easter, I will be reading A 40 Day Journey with Dietrich Bonhoeffer; referring back to the book-marked portions of The Unlocking; reflecting on God and the goodness and wisdom He displays through Jesus’ life and teachingresisting (fasting from) those money- and time-stealers that distract me from larger issues; repenting of the sins of neglect and indifference; and remembering to pray and reach out to God and those around me as His vessel for His purposes among the nations.

May the days of Lent roll on naturally into the rest of our days…

Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day Forever Marred by School Shooting – One Mom Reaches Out to Comfort – Deb Mills Writer

Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day Forever Marred by School Shooting – One Mom Reaches Out to Comfort

Lent Resource Guide – Calvin Institute for Christian Worship

Evangelicals Embracing (and Rejecting) Lent by Trevin Wax

Monday Morning Moment – Christmas Eve – Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery – Matt Papa

[Adapted from the Archives]

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.Philippians 2:5-8

There are words, it seems, we can’t use any more in polite company – words that have changed as culture changes and have been altered, perverted, in the common language. I have happened on such words by using them and then being gently corrected by my 20-something-young friends. “That word doesn’t mean what you think anymore.”

Condescension seems to be one of those words. In today’s usage, it  has come to mean “an attitude of patronizing superiority; disdain”. Merriam-Webster has retained some of the fuller meaning of the word: voluntary descent from one’s rank or dignity in relations with an inferior.

At Movement Church, Pastor Cliff has spoken on it and our worship team led us in singing Matt Papa‘s Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery (lyrics follow below). Afterward, we had this lively conversation on whether referring to God as condescending was correct or not.

Oh yes…in the fullest sense of that word!

Hang in there with me as I take you through a quick study of the word…with the help of others much smarter than I am.

“God is condescending. It’s true. However, the problem is not that God is condescending, but that most people have no idea what condescending really means, nor why it should be a good thing that God has such an attitude.

If you were paying attention during high school English class, you know that there are actually two definitions for every word. One is the denotation, which is what the word actually means. The other is the connotation, which is the way the word is usually used in popular conversation. Condescension has a pretty bad connotation; it’s usually used to refer to someone who thinks they’re better than you are, and talks down to you as if coming down to your level is a major chore for them.

The denotation, however, is quite different. The word itself merely means “to come down [descend] together.” The prefix “con-” means “together with.”

If you split the word up and look at its parts, “to descend with,” you actually get a pretty good idea of what God’s interaction with humanity is all about. While it might be offensive for me to act as if I was in any way superior to my fellow humans, it would be silly for God to pretend that he was not superior to us in every single way.

Descending to our level is the only way he could possibly have a relationship with us at all. There is certainly no way that we humans, imperfect as we are, could otherwise ascend to his level. Unless God comes down to our level, we’re stuck with this gigantic gap between God’s holy perfection and our miserable imperfection.” – Jim Barringer

“Christ did not receive us because we were perfect, because he could see no fault in us, or because he hoped to gain somewhat at our hands. Ah, no! But, in loving condescension covering our faults, and seeking our good, he welcomed us to his heart; so, in the same way, and with the same purpose, let us receive one another.” – Charles Spurgeon

“There do meet in Jesus Christ, infinite highness, and infinite condescension.”Jonathan Edwards

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9

Condescension, when applied to Redeemer God, is a word that must be reclaimed from the common vernacular of this culture. God, in sending His son, did not just descend. He condescended…He came down to be with us. He came as close as it was possible for a holy God to come to His people…bridging the great gap we could not bridge in our own helpless estate. He came down to be with us.

Thank You, God, for your glorious transcendent condescension. We are forever changed.

Worship with me to Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery“.

Come behold the wondrous mystery in the dawning of the King,
He, the theme of heaven’s praises, robed in frail humanity.
In our longing, in our darkness, now the light of life has come;
Look to Christ, who condescended, took on flesh to ransom us.

Come behold the wondrous mystery: He the perfect Son of Man,
In His living, in His suffering, never trace nor stain of sin
See the true and better Adam come to save the hell-bound man,
Christ, the great and sure fulfillment of the law, in Him we stand.

Come behold the wondrous mystery: Christ the Lord upon the tree;
In the stead of ruined sinners hangs the Lamb in victory.
See the price of our redemption; see the Father’s plan unfold,
Bringing many sons to glory, grace unmeasured, love untold!

Come behold the wondrous mystery: slain by death, the God of life;
But no grave could e’er restrain Him, praise the Lord, He is alive!
What a foretaste of deliverance; how unwavering our hope:
Christ in power resurrected, as we will be when he comes.*

Explore God – Is Jesus really God?

Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery by Matt Boswell, Michael Bleecker, and Matt Papa

God Condescends – Charles Spurgeon

Jonathan Edwards: The Infinite Highness and Condescension of Christ

God Is Condescending by Jim Barringer

Messiah, the Condescension of God Transcendent

The Condescension of our Transcendent God by Lee Tankersley

The Condescending God?

Does Condescend-Condescension Always Have a Negative Connotation?

Lady Catherine’s Condescension

*Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery: Hymn Wednesday

“In our longing, in our darkness
Now the light of life has come
Look to Christ, who condescended
Took on flesh to ransom us”*

Worship Wednesday – How Many Kings? – Marc Martel with Downhere

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[From the Archives]

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16

Two out of so many favorite December experiences are Christmas songs on the radio and Christmas cards in my mailbox. For some maybe, all that Christmas music on various stations gets old…but for me, it’s a continual feast. Then those old-fashioned cards in red or green envelopes transform our mailbox from bill and junk mail holders to a wonder of news from friends and family.

[Most of the images you see on this blog are from treasured old Christmas cards.]

As to Christmas songs…there are so many beautiful ones – both standards and newer ones. Songwriter Marc Martel‘s How Many Kings, out since 2009, performed by the Canadian Christian band Downhere is one such song. My favorite radio station pops this one up often during the Christmas season. The lyrics allude to a visitation of some number of wise men from the Far East. Through their knowledge of both the ancient Scriptures (Micah 5:2)and the stars of Heaven, they were able to chart a course right to the baby Jesus, in his home in Bethlehem. How Many Kings speaks of their amazement and wonder…and ours…at the coming of the Christ Child. It is the story of such love as God had…has…for us in that even His own son He would not withhold from us…to make a path for us back to Him.IMG_0048

God sent His son to us. Our triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – perfectly One in unity through the ages – would somehow include 33 years of life on earth to bring Himself close to us. God with skin on – that we might understand better what love looks like and how we can live because of that love… Glory! Blog - Worship Wednesday - What KingsPhoto Credit: Quotesgram.com

Worship with me:

Follow the star to a place unexpected
Would you believe, after all we’ve projected, A child in a manger?
Lowly and small, the weakest of all
Unlikeliest hero, wrapped in his mother’s shawl – Just a child – Is this who we’ve waited for? ’cause…

How many kings step down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
And how many gods have poured out their hearts to romance a world that is torn all apart – how many fathers gave up their sons for me?

Bringing our gifts for the newborn Savior All that we have, whether costly or meek because we believe.
Gold for his honor, and frankincense for his pleasure and myrrh for the cross he will suffer Do you believe?
Is this who we’ve waited for?

Only one did that for me
All, all for me…
All for you…

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I am not sure Downhere is even performing together currently, but thank you, Brothers, for this song…and thank You, God, for giving Your Son…for us all.Blog - How Many Kings - DownherePhoto Credit: Downhere.com

Lyrics to How Many Kings – Songwriters – Marc A. Martel and Jason Germain

Story Behind the Song How Many Kings

Downhere Band Website

Bethlehem Skyline – album including How Many Kings

Worship Wednesday – Jesus, Thank You – Sovereign Grace Music, Pat Sczebel

Photo Credit: The Apologetics Group, Eric Holmberg

Thank You, Jesus, for the creche, the cross, and the crown.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were created through him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness, and yet the darkness did not overcome it…The Word became flesh and dwelt among us [creche]. We observed his glory, the glory as the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! [cross] the Son of God; the King of Israel! [crown]John 1:1-5, 14, 29, 49

A middle school in Virginia won’t subject its students, staff, or families this year with any holiday songs having the name Jesus in them. Some students reportedly were uncomfortable singing the songs in a school program, so instead of giving them the freedom not to sing those particular songs, the songs themselves are banned. The school officials felt it appropriate given the increasingly diverse nature of the student body. So what if most religions of the world recognize Jesus in some capacity or another?! I don’t understand removing such a world-impactful historical figure from a school curriculum or extra-curriculum.

The movement of our culture and its sensibilities toward the secular is obvious in so many arenas. Whatever one ends up believing at the end of their lives, to miss the person of Jesus altogether is a terrible thing, a brutal consequence of living in a post-Christian world.

Today, I wanted to highlight a simple song with a glorious message. As I write, it’s Christmas time and images of a Christ child in a manger are everywhere (even in a town where a middle school won’t allow such a thing as part of its programming).

A child in a manger…such an extraordinary birth. One part of the triune God, separated for a time into humanity. Thinking about that in front of the fire this morning, it hit me again what that birth must have meant to God the Father…and for all of Creation.

Jesus was born to give us a closer look at the God of the universe – the beauty of a sinless life, the mystery of justice perfectly balanced by mercy, the love that never turns from His own.

In celebrating the birth of Christ, we have the creche, the cross, and the crown [to which the Scripture above points]. The creche demonstrating a God-life made small so we could even begin to fathom a God who loves us His frail ones. The cross displaying a God-love that withholds nothing – “the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world” – that we may have everything – forgiveness and life forever with Him. Lastly of the three, the crown signifies the risen King, who is seated triumphantly by the Father, interceding for us, until the day we all enter His Kingdom.

Thank You, Jesus is a song by Pat Sczebel, of Sovereign Grace Music. Its focus is Jesus and what He did for us on the cross. Still, the first time I heard it was a couple of weeks ago as part of a worship service in a small downtown church in Tennessee. It was the beginning of Christmas time, and the merging of the creche and the cross touched our hearts so deeply.

Worship with me:

VERSE 1
The mystery of the cross I cannot comprehend
The agonies of Calvary
You the perfect Holy One, crushed Your Son
Who drank the bitter cup reserved for me

CHORUS
Your blood has washed away my sin
Jesus, thank You
The Father’s wrath completely satisfied
Jesus, thank You
Once Your enemy, now seated at Your table
Jesus, thank You

VERSE 2
By Your perfect sacrifice I’ve been brought near
Your enemy You’ve made Your friend
Pouring out the riches of Your glorious grace
Your mercy and Your kindness know no end

BRIDGE
Lover of my soul

I want to live for You*

This Christmas time, don’t let our culture silence our rejoicing. Jesus did not come just for Christians (as some would like to argue)…He came to the whole world to point to a loving and holy God. Jesus, thank You.Photo Credit: AZ Quotes

*Lyrics to Jesus, Thank You – Songwriter: Pat Sczebel

Who Is Jesus, According to Other Religions? – J. Warner Wallace

Creche, Cross, and Crown – Eric Holmberg

Cradle, Cross, Crown – Liz Giertz

Worship Wednesday – Is He Worthy? He Is – Andrew Peterson

Photo Credit: The Henry Luke Journey

“Then I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides, sealed with seven seals. I also saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or even to look in it. I wept and wept because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or even to look in it. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. Look, the Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered so that he is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Then I saw one like a slaughtered lamb standing in the midst of the throne… He went and took the scroll out of the right hand of the one seated on the throne.

When he took the scroll…they sang a new song:

You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slaughtered,
and you purchased people
for God by your blood
from every tribe and language
and people and nation.” – Revelation 5:1-9

So much of Scripture is plain and clear in its teaching such that any of us could follow it and apply it to our lives. The last book of the Bible, Revelation, written by the Apostle John under the direction of the Holy Spirit…is not like any other text. It is full of the mystery of God and yet can yield great truth to the least theological of us.

The passage above from Revelation 5 is derived from a God-infused vision that John experienced and then transcribed for us to learn from it.  We don’t know for sure what the scroll represents – is it the purposes of God? Is it the finale of world history? Is it the judgment for the sins of all humankind? We don’t know for sure, but what we do know, is the scroll could not be opened…except by One worthy. Not just able to open it, but worthy to open it.

Jesus, the sinless Savior, was worthy. He is given many names in Scripture. The spotless Lamb of God is one. The perfect sacrifice. He alone could give His life for ours. He alone could pay our debt to a holy God. He, without sin, gave Himself in our place for us to be reconciled to God. Jesus is also called the Lion of Judah. One day He will come for us in the might and majesty of a conquering king – this lion of God, unmatched by any foe, wholly able to deliver us to the Father.

Earlier this year, we were in Tennessee visiting our home church in Kingsport. Indian Springs Baptist Church (ISBC) has two campuses. The Hill Rd. campus is the larger of the two. It is our home church. Our family grew to five in that church. We love the people there. The Glenwood Church campus is new to us. It is now under the ISBC umbrella, although originally it was the mother church.  We worshiped happily at both campuses that weekend. It was at Glenwood that we heard and sang the song, “Is He Worthy?” for the first time.

In this beautiful old church building, being led by a praise team (and a Baptist Hymnal sweetly propped up in a window), Dave and I worshiped God as intimately as we would have in our own church. God was present…and this small congregation sang this song as, I’m sure it will when we are in His presence in Heaven..

When I came home, I looked up this song and its writer, Andrew Peterson. He wrote this song for a congregation to participate as deeply as the worship leader would. The responsive reading or singing of this song is liturgical in form…something I’m not used to.

“One of the things I like best about liturgy is the more or less constant involvement of the congregation. The word “liturgy” means “the work of the people.” It’s not so much about us coming to sit while the pastor and the elders do everything, but about all of us together rehearsing the story of redemption, edifying each other by reading Scripture aloud, reaffirming what we believe, embodying worship by kneeling or singing together—all of it culminating, of course, in the Lord’s Supper. I can’t overstate how much I crave the moment at the end of the service when I kneel at the front and a friend of mine places the unleavened bread in my open hands, looks me in the eye and says, ‘Andrew, this is the body of Christ, broken for you.’

Every week my wayward, hungry soul is confronted by the love of Jesus. Like clockwork.” – Andrew Peterson

Photo Credit: GodTube, Andrew Peterson

Let’s worship together with this glorious anthem by Andrew Peterson.

[Verse 1]
Do you feel the world is broken? (We do)
Do you feel the shadows deepen? (We do)
But do you know that all the dark won’t stop the light from getting through? (We do)
Do you wish that you could see it all made new? (We do)

[Verse 2]
Is all creation groaning? (It is)
Is a new creation coming? (It is)
Is the glory of the Lord to be the light within our midst? (It is)
Is it good that we remind ourselves of this? (It is)

[Chorus]
Is anyone worthy? Is anyone whole?
Is anyone able to break the seal and open the scroll?
The Lion of Judah who conquered the grave
He is David’s root and the Lamb who died to ransom the slave

[Refrain 1]
Is He worthy? Is He worthy?
Of all blessing and honor and glory
Is He worthy of this?
He is

[Verse 3]
Does the Father truly love us? (He does)
Does the Spirit move among us? (He does)
And does Jesus, our Messiah hold forever those He loves? (He does)
Does our God intend to dwell again with us? (He does)

[Chorus]
Is anyone worthy? Is anyone whole?
Is anyone able to break the seal and open the scroll?
The Lion of Judah who conquered the grave
He is David’s root and the Lamb who died to ransom the slave

[Bridge]
From every people and tribe
Every nation and tongue
He has made us a kingdom and priests to God
To reign with the Son

[Refrain 2]
Is He worthy? Is He worthy?
Of all blessing and honor and glory
Is He worthy? Is He worthy?
Is He worthy of this?
He is!
Is He worthy? Is He worthy?
He is!
He is!*

[Sidebar: If you worshiped God with the help of this video, you saw a sea of white faces as the singers. Andrew Peterson wrote an apology worthy of your time. Let’s none of us falter from what he calls a misstep and miss the larger message of this beautiful song.]

Jesus…You are worthy.

“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slaughtered,
and you purchased people
for God by your blood
from every tribe and language
and people and nation.”Revelation 5:9Photo Credit: The Rabbit Room

*Lyrics to Is He Worthy? by Andrew Peterson

Story Behind the Song Is He Worthy? by Andrew Peterson – Kevin Davis

Waking Up to Is He Worthy?: an Apology – Andrew Peterson

Andrew Peterson’s New Song for the People – The Gospel Coalition – Andrew Peterson

Revelation 5 – The Lion, the Lamb, and the Scroll – Commentary – David Guzik

Worship Wednesday – I Am Broken at Your Feet – Alabaster – Rend Collective

Photo Credit: The River Walk

Within two days of Jesus’ crucifixion, just hours before, a woman would anoint his body for burial… Here is the strange and glorious account of that event:

 It was two days before the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a cunning way to arrest Jesus and kill him.  “Not during the festival,” they said, “so that there won’t be a riot among the people.”

While he was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured it on his head. But some were expressing indignation to one another: “Why has this perfume been wasted? For this perfume might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they began to scold her.

Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a noble thing for me.  You always have the poor with you, and you can do what is good for them whenever you want, but you do not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body in advance for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” – Mark 14:1-9

Our pastor Cliff Jordan’s sermon on Mark 14:1-11 brought this account alive again to us. [Listen to the podcast linked above.]

The woman who poured out her treasure – possibly all she had in the world – in worshiping the Lord – was no stranger to him. She was Mary, sister to Lazarus and Martha – friend and follower of Jesus.

Surrounded by the disciples at his host’s table, Jesus was enjoying the company of these men so close to him. Mary entered the room without ceremony and straightaway broke open an alabaster jar containing this expensive perfume. [That jar was like her security – equivalent to a year’s wages in that day – “compared to her love for Jesus, it was nothing”, Cliff preached.]

She would pour that extravagant oil over his head. She then took the dripping oil into her hands and rubbed it on his feet. Drying off the excess with her own hair. The men in the room took loud exception at what they considered her frivolous act…but not Jesus.

Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a noble thing for me.  You always have the poor with you, and you can do what is good for them whenever you want, but you do not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body in advance for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”

Two days later, Jesus would give his all on a cross. Beaten and bloody he would die…for us…holding nothing back. It was a Friday, and Passover. By the time his body was released to be buried, his followers had to rush, because of the late hour, laying his body in the tomb, wrapped but without anointing oils.

No worries. In the quiet of that Passover evening, Jesus’ body, caked with blood mixed with his sweat, the fragrance of Mary’s love offering must have remained…must have sweetened the stench of his death. He gave his all for us…she gave her all for him.

“Love is a laid-down life.” (Elisabeth Elliot) – We experience that in Jesus, those of us who know him. We see that in Mary.

Pastor Cliff asked the questions: “What is my alabaster jar? Where do we place our security? What can’t we imagine life without?”

I can’t imagine life without Jesus and knowing his love and his great gift of salvation. Everything else pales.

___________________________________________________________________________

From our years living in Egypt, we have kept two small alabaster votives. The light they emit is both enthralling and beautiful…so like the act of Mary’s giving all she had to her beloved Jesus.

Worship with me to Rend Collective‘s Alabaster.

I am broken at Your feet
Like an alabaster jar
Every piece of who I am
Laid before Your majesty

I will bow my life
At Your feet, at Your feet
My lips, so lost for words
Will kiss Your feet, kiss Your feet
Yeah

Oh, the gravity of You
Draws my soul unto its knees
I will never be the same, no
I am lost and found in You

And I will bow my life
At Your feet, at Your feet
My lips, so lost for words
Will kiss Your feet, kiss Your feet

Oh, I will bow my life
At Your feet, at Your feet
My lips, so lost for words
Will kiss Your feet, kiss Your feet.*

* Lyrics to Alabaster by Rend Collective

The AlabasterJar – The River Walk

YouTube Video – Alabaster Box – Cece Winans

Worship Wednesday – O Praise the Name of the Lord Our God – Hillsong

Photo Credit: Church Front

“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8

“Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name.” Psalm 30:4

“Give thanks to the LORD for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever.” – Psalm 136:1

Lost in the moment, it was as if the Heavens opened. We were in a Christian conference surrounded by medical and nursing personnel who want to serve those least served around the world. They would go out as volunteers, leaving their lucrative practices and their comfortable specialties. They would spend several long days in sticky hot makeshift clinics…in obscurity. Tending grateful patients and family members who would never post their experiences to social media. Deep in another world, very different from the US. These will go to serve a needy people and a God who loves that people…and who loves those going.

We were at the mid-point of the conference, reconvening after the supper meal, and a praise team took the stage to gather us together in worship. Maybe this small group of singers and instrumentalists were regulars in a local church. [I missed the introduction.] They did not draw our attention to them (may have been intentional)…and God used them to draw us to Himself.

The “cool factor” of this praise team…and this whole conference actually…was beautifully not the focus.  As we sang, we forgot about those on stage. Just a quiet pointing to God, and the Holy Spirit settled all over the rooms, and especially on our hearts.

Maybe you experience this on a regular basis. It was a sweet reminder of how, even in our best efforts, we can avoid our culture’s trappings of “cool” which add nothing to what God is already about.

Jon Bloom explores this in his article The Cool God Is a Puny God. He warns against bowing to the idol of cool in our worship of God. God just doesn’t do “cool”.

That’s because, in the apt words of the Incredible Hulk in The Avengers, Cool is a “puny god.” Just because Cool is culturally pervasive doesn’t mean it’s big. It just has good marketing.

The true, big God is after our biggest, deepest, widest, longest-lasting joy. That’s why he commands us to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind… [and] love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37–39). He designed us not to find happiness in how others think of us, but in our loving others; not pursuing others’ admiration but in pursuing others’ good. That’s the joy that God has for us in commands like this:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his interests, but also to the interests of others.  (Philippians 2:3–4)*

[Sidebar: I mean no offense. Some of you may be completely cool without seeking it – trendsetters, generally just winsome to those around you. If you’re just being yourself…but if you’re trying to be “cool”, that’s a bondage none of us need. Our dilemma is when people measure themselves and each other by the culture’s “coolness” gauge. Jesus just doesn’t fit anywhere on this scale. He is so far beyond anything we might think is cool. Right?]

Worship with me to the Hillsong‘s O Praise the Name of Jesus. That little praise team led us in singing this song…and we forgot them, forgot ourselves, and gathered together around the throne of God:

I cast my mind to Calvary
Where Jesus bled and died for me
I see His wounds, His hands, His feet
My Saviour on that cursed tree

His body bound and drenched in tears
They laid Him down in Joseph’s tomb
The entrance sealed by heavy stone
Messiah still and all alone

O praise the name of the Lord our God
O praise His name forevermore
For endless days we will sing Your praise
Oh Lord, oh Lord our God

And then on the third at break of dawn
The Son of heaven rose again
O trampled death where is your sting?
The angels roar for Christ the King

O praise the name of the Lord our God
O praise His name forevermore
For endless days we will sing Your praise
Oh Lord, oh Lord our God

He shall return in robes of white
The blazing sun shall pierce the night
And I will rise among the saints
My gaze transfixed on Jesus’ face

O praise the name of the Lord our God
O praise His name forever more
For endless days we will sing Your praise
Oh Lord, oh Lord our God
Oh Lord, oh Lord our God
Oh Lord, oh Lord our God**

Postscript: This world lost a man this week who definitely gave no thought to whether he was cool or not. His name is Robert Wink, and he was welcomed Home by His Savior – the One he made much of his whole life. Bob understood that whatever cool was added nothing to the Person of Jesus. Bob was also moved to action by our need for God’s enduring love. A love that is steadfast despite the changing whims of a self-seeking culture.

Bob loved people and he loved Jesus, and he took every opportunity to bring people to the saving knowledge of Jesus.

Obituary – Robert E. “Bob” Wink

The world is diminished without this dear man. May it be true of us that at the end of our days, we chose Jesus over self, in our every endeavor…no matter how uncool that might make us. It doesn’t matter.

Hallelujah!

Song Story – O Praise the Name – Marty Sampson

*The Cool God Is a Puny GodJon Bloom

**Lyrics to O Praise the Name – Songwriters: Dean Ussher, Benjamin Hastings, Marty Sampson

YouTube Video – Hulk vs. Loki – Puny God – The Avengers

Worship Wednesday – Forgiven – Crowder Music

Photo Credit: Crowder Music, YouTube

“Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; breaking up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the LORD, that He may come and rain righteousness upon you.”Hosea 10:12

“You have plowed iniquity; you have reaped injustice; you have eaten the fruit of lies. Because you have trusted in your own way and in the multitude of your warriors.”Hosea 10:13

“So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.”Hosea 12:6

“You are forgiven.” What a powerful statement…and even more transforming experience! How thankful I am for that forgiveness. Forgiveness from a God who persists in loving us no matter how undeserving we are.

I just finished reading the book of Hosea in the Scripture and marvel at the lessons we have in this prophet’s life and his obedience to God. How strange that God instructed him to marry a woman known for her immorality. God would use Hosea’s love for Gomer as a picture of the Lord’s love for his own wayward people.

Hosea did love Gomer. Even as she continued a destructive and dishonoring lifestyle. Even as she bore children who were not his own. He loved her and forgave her…over and over again.

Forgiveness cost Hosea. He suffered in his love for Gomer. Forgiveness cost God his son…it continues to cost as we, His people, turn to “other lovers”, forgetting the great love we already have in Him. However, God doesn’t forget us. He draws us back to Himself.

Sometimes it is hard for us to to do the same…to forgive those who hurt us…who betray our love. Yet, because we have known God’s forgiveness, we have a way through. We have been forgiven. We can also forgive.

“God can use that forgiving love to melt hardened hearts and change callused lives quicker than anything else in this whole wide world. That is the lesson of Hosea and Gomer, the lesson of forgiveness. God’s love and forgiveness pervade Hosea’s entire prophecy. Please do not misunderstand it. God hates sin; it grieves His heart; He cannot condone it; His perfect righteousness and justice demand that He deal with it. But He still loves sinners and diligently seeks them out and offers them His loving forgiveness.”Richard L. Strauss

“Forgiven”, a worship song written by David Crowder and Ed Cash, reminds us of our part in the crucifixion of Christ. It was for our sin that He gave His life. In the official YouTube video, we see a man and his young son crafting a guitar together. Then the scene shifts to that same man, aging in a prison cell…with pictures of this boy grown into manhood. There is a Bible on his cot. He writes to his son…but his son refuses to read his letters. You must watch the video to see the story to the end.

Maybe what we have done with our lives doesn’t merit a prison sentence. We still desperately need forgiveness. God is ready to receive us and restore us to Himself…in complete forgiveness…as we reckon with and repent of our sin.

Worship with me, please…through this song picturing the love and acceptance we have through the forgiveness of Christ.Photo Credit: PxHere

I’m the one who held the nail
It was cold between my fingertips
I’ve hidden in the garden
I’ve denied You with my very lips

God, I fall down to my knees
with a hammer in my hand
You look at me, arms open

Forgiven, Forgiven
Child, there is freedom
From all of it
Say goodbye to every sin
You are forgiven

I’ve done things I wish I hadn’t done
I’ve seen things I wish I hadn’t seen
Just the thought of Your amazing grace
And I cry, “Jesus, forgive me”

God, I fall down to my knees
With a hammer in my hand
You look at me, arms open

I could’ve been six feet under
I could’ve been lost forever
Yeah, I should be in that fire
But now there’s fire inside of me
Here I am a dead man walking
No grave gonna hold God’s people
All the weight of all our evil
Lifted away, forever free
Who could believe, who could believe?

Forgiven, Forgiven
You love me even when I don’t deserve it
Forgiven, I’m forgiven
Jesus, Your blood makes me innocent
So I will say goodbye to every sin
I am forgiven, I am forgiven*

Praise God for His forgiveness. His call to us is not unlike his call to Hosea. To live in forgiveness a life of forgiveness. If we are honest with ourselves and God, we know the wretched and wandering nature of our own hearts. To withhold forgiveness from those who have sinned against us goes completely contrary to the calling of God. Because we have been so loved and so forgiven, we can also love and forgive in like measure. Not from our own righteousness, but from His.

“Have you offered ‘redemption’ or forgiveness to those in your life who were once under your judgment? Not only does the book of Hosea provide an example of God’s love to a people who have left God behind, but it also shows us what forgiveness and restoration look like in a close relationship. The book of Hosea illustrates that no one is beyond the offer of our forgiveness because no one sits outside God’s offer of forgiveness. Certainly, God brings judgment on those who turn from Him, but Hosea’s powerful act of restoration within his own marriage set the bar high for those of us seeking godliness in our lives.” Chuck Swindoll

*Lyrics to “Forgiven” written by David Crowder and Ed Cash

YouTube Video – Crowder – Official Music Video – Forgiven

YouTube Video – Story Behind the Song “Forgiven”

Soul Crescendo – Forgiven – Carolyn Majoran

Undying Love – the Story of Hosea and Gomer – Richard L. Strauss

Hosea – Chuck Swindoll

Song Devotional – Forgiven by Crowder – Devotional by Lindsay Williams

Worship Wednesday – Forgiveness by Matthew West – Deb Mills Writer

Jesus & Holy Week – Day 8 – He is Risen! Resurrection Sunday

Blog - Easter - Empty TombPhoto Credit: TurnbacktoGod.com

[Adapted from the Archives]

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. – John 20:1 

Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”. John 20:18

On this Sunday, this most glorious day in all of history, death gave way to life. The grave could not hold Jesus. Those who loved Jesus most came to the tomb, guarded and sealed, and found it empty. Then ones, twos, small groups, and a crowd of 500 saw him alive. Jesus himself, bearing the wounds of the cross, walked with them, ate with them, taught them again…as he promised.

“He is alive! This man from Nazareth, the Messiah of Israel, the Lord of the world.

With the breath of creation, He speaks of peace, faith, and mission.

With lungs full of air, He breathes on His disciples and grants His Spirit. My Jesus – alive!

The eyes that saw the darkness of death now drink in the sunlight of Easter. My Jesus – alive!”* – Trevin Wax

[Read the rest of Wax’s poem here.]

Oh the joy…the indescribable joy of that reality. He died and yet he lives. We were dead in our sins, and because of him, we have life.

Take the time to read this amazing story yourself. The Gospel writers all have given detailed accounts of the risen Christ ( Matthew 28:1-13, Mark 16:1-14, Luke 24:1-49, and John 20:1-29). The Apostle Paul also wrote about Jesus’ resurrection in his letter to the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 15).

Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive…

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
  O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Cor. 15:20-22, 55-57

Sadly, there are those who think the resurrection of Jesus a myth, or a fairy tale. Even his life is treated casually. Yet, for sure, anyone who does a careful examination of the life and teachings of Jesus would be radically changed.  This certainly was my experience. I know too well how wicked my heart can be…my thoughts and actions. God draws us to Himself, and in the drawing we recognize our desperate need for a savior, a strong arm to pull us out of the muck and mire of our own making. Jesus did that for me.

I know Jesus is alive from the historical accounts and the writing of eye witnesses, and because of his own word. I also know he is alive because of how he has transformed lives through the ages. He has changed my life, and he continues to do so.

For the past 20 years, during Lent, I have read Adrian Plass’ book The Unlocking. I would like to close with a portion out of his Easter reading.

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”John 20:19

“On that dark Sunday morning, Mary could never have guessed the cosmic significance of the empty tomb. When Jesus rose from the dead the ancient engines of order were fired once more and, in his body on earth, chaos was defeated. And what a wonderful moment for Jesus and his disciples. Neither locks nor fears could withstand the peace and security that the risen Saviour brought, and still brings to his people. It is the peace of knowing that, however rough the road may need to be (and it often is), we shall indeed, in the most real sense, live happily ever after.” – Adrian Plass**

Christ is risen! — He is risen indeed!

Holy Week – Day 8: Resurrection Sunday! – Thank you, Mary Fairfield for writing so well, so thoughtfully, and so thoroughly for Christianity.About.com.

Evidence for the Resurrection of Christ by Sean Davis

5 Reasons to Believe That Jesus Rose From the Dead – Adam4d

*My Jesus – Alive! by Trevin Wax

**The Unlocking – God’s Escape Plan for Frightened People (1994) by Adrian Plass

YouTube Video – Doxology – David Crowder

YouTube Video – Because He Lives – Matt Maher

YouTube video with lyrics – I Can Only Imagine – MercyMe

YouTube video with lyrics – Before the Throne of God Above – sung by Selah

Story Behind the Song Before the Throne of God Above

YouTube Video – Easter Song (Live) – Keith Green – (song starts 2 minutes in)

The Bridge Gospel Presentation

عيد القيامة يسوع المسيح مبارك وكلّ عام وانت واعئلتك بالف خير! المسيح فام! حقّاً قام!

Jesus and Holy Week – Saturday, Day 7 – Black Saturday – the Silent Tomb

Blog - Holy Week - Black SaturdayPhoto Credit: Catholiclane.com – Garden Tomb, Jerusalem

[Adapted from the Archives]

As I write this morning, it is quiet outside. Very quiet. Lonely quiet. This is the morning of exhausted grief. Jesus, the Messiah, God’s Sent One; His Only One lay dead in a tomb. Dead. How is this possible? The disciples, his family…those followers whose lives were transformed must have been numb with the stark reality that he was not with them…not on that Saturday. What would they do without him? What would happen to them? What? What? What?

There is only one scriptural reference to this day and it related to the threat of Jesus’ power and influence, even in death:

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. – Matthew 27:62-66

For the Jews, days begin and end at sundown. Most probably this visit with Pilate occurred Friday night. At his command, guards were placed. The tomb was sealed. Jesus would be no more trouble….

“He is dead: this man from Nazareth, the Messiah of Israel, the Lord of the world.

With His dying breaths, He spoke words of forgiveness, finality, and faith.

But now the breathing has ceased, and the lungs that exhaled forgiveness are deflated. My Jesus – dead.”* – Trevin Wax

Read the rest of his poem here.

We today have the great knowledge of the risen Christ, but his followers, on that Saturday, only had dim recollection of his words of promise. Shrouded in grief, they found themselves quite “in between” – in between the death of their Savior and the life of his glorious promises.

“Saturday is the “in between” day: in between despair and joy; brokenness and healing; confusion and understanding; death and life.” – John Ortberg

A dear friend of ours, Beth Wayland, shared with us this message by John Ortberg (quote above and passage below) from a conference where he spoke on Black Saturday, well, “Saturdays” in general. He describes so well this day in between.

“Saturday – the day between the crucifixion and the resurrection. What do you think the disciples were doing on Saturday? Here they have seen their friend and their Master killed the day before but also have this vague promise, which probably seemed ludicrous at the time that he would rise again. So what do you think they were doing on Saturday between the tragedy and the promise?

Most of life is Saturday. We`re in a terrible position, but we have a promise from God that we only half believe. It`s after the doctor tells us we have cancer, but before we`re cured or find a new depth of faith to cope with it. It`s after the marriage breaks up, but before God heals the grief. It`s after we`ve been laid off, but before God uses our gifts in a new place. Most of life is Saturday. It`s waiting in faith and hanging onto the promise that God is going to come through for us in spite of how bad things look. Most of life is Saturday. — I don`t know where you are this Holy Week. Maybe you`re in a Palm Sunday kind of mood wanting God to get on board with an agenda and maybe he will, but if he doesn’t, know that his plans are always good. Maybe you`re feeling a little unlovable because of something you`ve done or haven`t done. Maundy Thursday means that God loves us no matter how dirty our uniform gets from the game of life. Maybe you`re in a Saturday kind of place – between a hard time and a promise you only half believe. Know this for sure that God`s Easter irony is still at work, and he can use even the worst tragedies for good, and he always has at least one more move left. No matter how bleak and dark Saturday gets, Sunday`s coming, and it`s coming sooner than you think. “John Ortberg

Blog - Garden Tomb from imb.org - Holy Week - Black SaturdayPhoto Credit: IMB Resources

Holy Week – Day 7: Saturday in the Tomb – Mary Fairchild

Question: What is Holy Saturday?

YouTube Video of John Ortberg on “Saturdays” – American Association of Christian Counselors Conference, October 2011 (starting 5 minutes in)

*My Jesus – Dead by Trevin Wax

YouTube Video – How Deep the Father’s Love For Us written by Stuart Townend – with David Wesley

Story Behind the Song How Deep the Father’s Love For Us by Stuart Townend

YouTube Video with lyrics – In Christ Alone  written by Stuart Townend & Keith Getty