Tag Archives: Cross

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 – 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 – 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 6 – Good Friday – His Trial, Crucifixion, & Burial

Blog - Holy Week - Good FridayPhoto Credit: GoodFridayQuotes2015.com

[Adapted from the Archives]

It was a day like no other day in history. For years we lived in countries where Christianity was a minority religion. While the few of us passed this week in reflection and wonder, it was, of course, just another week for most of our friends and colleagues. Easter had its name – Eid Al-Qiyama (“Feast of Resurrection”) – but Good Friday was shrouded in the ordinary. For Jesus and all who have experienced life through his teaching and example, this day was and is wholly extraordinary.

Jesus’ mockery of a trial, crucifixion, death, and burial are all recorded with great detail in the four Gospels. They are riveting accounts of this terrible and triumphant day – Matthew 26:57-27:61, Mark 15Luke 22:66-23:56, John 18:28-19:42.

Jesus had no opportunity to sleep in the hours of night before this dawn. From the garden where he prayed, he was forcibly taken into the custody of the high priests. Through the early morning hours, he was bounced brutally between the Sanhedrin, the high court of Israel, and the Roman authorities (Pilate and Herod Antipas). While in their custody, Jesus endured hostile interrogation, false accusations, trumped-up charges, relentless attempts at public humiliation, and repeated beatings. Yet, he somehow retained his full faculties, responding to the authorities, when necessary with great wisdom and understanding of both the proceedings and the people. In the midst of all this trauma, he even made eye contact with one of his dearest friends and followers, Peter, hiding himself nearby…in his own painful moment.

The outcome of all the wrangling between the Jewish and Roman officials was an unwarranted, undeserved death sentence. Execution by crucifixion. Pilate even washed his hands of the matter, literally, declaring Jesus innocent but still consenting to the death sentence. He didn’t know then but the “blood” he tried to wash of his hands was truly innocent. Still, it wasn’t Pilate who put Jesus on that cross, nor was it Caiaphas, head of the Sanhedrin. Not a Roman, nor a Jew.

Jesus’ death, that day, was an outworking of a divine plan. We cannot begin to understand the holiness of the Father, the resolve of His Son, or the steadfastness of the Spirit. This three-in-one God orchestrated a path for us, His fallen and broken people, to be restored to Him. That we, though wrecked by sin, can be whole again and one in Him, in that unity of Father, Son, Holy Spirit (John 17:21) is a miracle of grace.

Jesus gave his life for us that day. It was not taken from him. He laid it down. For us. Though completely undeserving, we are ransomed and redeemed. At such a great cost. This Jesus. This life. This cross.

It Was My Sin That Held Him There – Greg Morse

Jesus spoke seven times during the three hours he hung on that cross.  Each time he spoke, as in all the other times his words are recorded, there was something for all of us. If you don’t know what he said, in those seven brief cries from the cross, read them and discover more about him…and about us.

Just before he died, he cried out, “It. Is. Finished.” What? What was finished? His life…oh no…not at all…that story comes later. His work? Not completely…for he continues interceding for us (Romans 8:34). What was finished? The perfect sacrifice – the lamb without spot or blemish – his life for ours. “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Hallelujah!

There is so much more to say about this day and the people present. Pilate’s wife who warned Pilate about ruling against this innocent man. Judas Iscariot, Jesus’ betrayer, who tried to return the money and killed himself in remorse that same day. Simon of Cyrene, a pilgrim, who was drawn into the dreadful drama of that day to carry Jesus’ cross when he could not. Barabbas, a notorious criminal, who gained his freedom, through a strange twist of the day. The nameless thief on the cross who cried out in repentance to Jesus. The Roman centurion who in his witness of Jesus all those hours professed faith in him.  John, Jesus’ closest disciple, and Jesus’ mother to whom Jesus gave each other. The women, lives changed by their faith in Jesus, who stayed at the foot of the cross through all the horror of his crucifixion. Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a Christ-follower, who tried to appeal for Jesus with the Sanhedrin. Joseph of Arimathea, another believing Pharisee, who went to Pilate to receive Jesus’ body for burial, to place in his own tomb.

So many stories of lives changed. Good Friday. This marked the day of Jesus’ trial, his death, and his burial, but it does not mark the end of the story. It’s Friday…but Sunday’s coming.*

Good Friday from popgodblogPhoto Credit: popgodblog.com

[Postscript: In the links are several beautiful songs of worship. Tributes to the Lord on this day. Don’t miss the articles and the great sermon “It’s Friday But Sunday’s a Coming” by S. M. Lockridge.]

Holy Week – Day 6: Good Friday’s Trial, Crucifixion, Death, Burial – Mary Fairchild

YouTube Video – It is Finished – Matt Papa

YouTube Video – Forever – Kari Jobe

YouTube Video with Lyrics – The Wonderful Cross by Chris Tomlin & Keith Getty

YouTube Video with lyrics – The Power of the Cross – Kristyn Getty

YouTube Video with lyrics – Lead Me to the Cross – Hillsong

*YouTube Video – It’s Friday but Sunday’s a Coming – S. M. Lockridge

YouTube Video – Skit Guys – Good Friday

It Wasn’t Nails that Held Him to the Cross – Blog by Michele Perry

Good Friday – Bible StudyPhoto Credit: Wikimedia

Palm Sunday – Day 1 of Holy Week – Jesus’ Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem on the Way to the Cross

[Adapted from the Archives]

For anyone who considers herself a critical thinker, this week in the life of Jesus of Nazareth is one worthy of analysis. No matter our religion or non-religion, this Jesus, in these days, warrants examination, related to anything we may think of God. The core beliefs of a Christ-follower, not just a person known as Christian, are illuminated here. For in the study of Jesus’ life and his followers, in just this one week, we can see a deep distinction between “the religious” and “the redeemed”.

{Sidebar: I taught a World Religions course some time ago in a Moroccan high school. In that course, we studied all the major religions. The students were challenged to think critically of each religion. I encouraged them to study each one, 1) trying to put themselves in the perspective of one who believes (i.e., a true follower, using eye witness/historical accounts and Scriptures when available), and then 2) to break down each belief/tenet of faith critically. We all benefit thinking through Holy Week this way; none will not come away the same by examining the life of Jesus.]

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

Palm Sunday is celebrated as the “triumphal entry” of Jesus into Jerusalem, just days before he would endure a mock trial and then be crucified. He and his closest followers (disciples) came to Jerusalem for the celebration of Passover. Passover was an annual remembrance of God’s protection and deliverance of Israel during a time of slavery (Exodus 12:26-28). Jesus would celebrate Passover on Thursday of that coming week, but he did not come to Jerusalem for that reason alone.

Jesus knew from his Father God why he came to Jerusalem, and he tried to prepare his disciples for what was coming.

From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day.Matthew 16:21

And while they were gathering together in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men; and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day.” And they were deeply grieved. – Matthew 17:22-23

As Jesus was about to go up to Jerusalem, He took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and on the way He said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death,  and will hand Him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up.”Matthew 20:17-19

I can’t even imagine what those disciples must have felt as Jesus predicted his own death. They loved him and all pledged their lives to him, even to death. They believed him to be the conquering king, sent by God, to deliver the Jews from Roman rule and to restore the nation of Israel. Although they had soaked up three years of his teaching, this “end of the story” was more than they could bear. Just a week later, they would gloriously understand that it would not be the end of the story of Jesus’ life…but the emotions of this Sunday, this week, must have been disorienting.

On this Sunday, before the Passover, Jesus would enter the great city of Jerusalem, teeming with crowds there to celebrate. He entered, riding a donkey*, as was foretold by the Jewish prophet Zechariah:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Zechariah 9:9

Imagine the scene as Jesus entered Jerusalem. Some in the crowds did recognize him, and then the word spread of the arrival of this great teacher, this healer, this man whose teaching was like none before him. Palm branches were pulled to wave in tribute to him, as others flung their cloaks on the dust before him welcoming him:

Most of the crowd spread their coats in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in the road. The crowds going ahead of Him, and those who followed, were shouting, “Hosanna** to the Son of David; BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; Hosanna in the highest!” When He had entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?”Matthew 21:8-10

“Who is this?” For those who did not know him, the wild welcome for him must have been confusing and captivating. For the religious authorities in Jerusalem, who knew him and were unwilling to welcome this “king of the Jews”, his popularity was infuriating.

The clock began ticking as they plotted against this man Jesus.

Over that bright hopeful day of palms hung the shadow of the Cross – the Cross that would bring even greater hope to all people. The “Hosanna” of Palm Sunday would change to cries to “Crucify!” just five days later. Jesus had no ambition to please the crowds; he was resolutely on task to redeem those who could not redeem themselves – the whole world.

[Each day in this week, the posts will mark the journey of Jesus of Nazareth through the last week of his earthly life. Join me please.]

*Matthew 21:1-11 & Commentary

**”Hosanna” means “God saves”.  YouTube lyric video of Hosanna – Hillsong

Holy Week Timeline: Walk the Week of Passion with Jesus – Mary Fairchild

Look, the World Has Gone After Him: Prelude to Palm Sunday – Jon Bloom

The Significance of Palm Sunday in Relation to Passover

Kings Riding on Donkeys? What?

Photo Gallery: Egypt’s Coptic Christians Celebrate Palm Sunday – When our children were young, we lived in Cairo, and bought palm fronds to make some of these crafts along with our Egyptian friends.

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

Photo Credit: John Ragai, Flickr

Guest Blogger: Carrie McKean

[The image described in the post below appears to have been taken down by the Associated Press. This Facebook posting below was so beautiful, I reached out to the writer and she gave permission to post it here. McKean begins by talking about this lovely visibly distraught mother comforting another mother. My hope is that she did not lose a child yesterday. She is wearing a silver heart (for Valentine’s Day) around her neck and the ashen cross on her forehead from a visit to her parish church that Ash Wednesday morning. The rest of the post is easily understood given the school shooting yesterday in Florida, leaving 17 dead and a dozen or more injured. News outlets and social media today are slammed with public outcry and political jockeying. McKean, the writer of the post below, eloquently speaks her response to this devastating loss.]

I can’t get her face out of my mind. Sobs wracking her body as she stands outside her child’s school, clutching a friend as though they have discovered the only truth there is to know: The only way through this war zone is if we carry one another. Her head is smeared with ashes. From dust you came, to dust you return.

I saw the picture when the ashes were still fresh on my own skin. And I thought about the moment my pastor drew his thumb across my head – reminding me of my mortality and my security in the no-matter-whatness of God. Despite the somber words I certainly didn’t consider, as little specks of ash fluttered down and brushed my eyelashes, that I might leave the church and end up in the ER or in an accident or getting a phone call that takes me to my knees. And this mama, with her pretty white-flowered shirt and silver heart necklace, certainly didn’t consider that she might leave the church and end up on the front lawn of her child’s school with her heart broken apart, begging God for one more day with her baby… for more life out of this dust.

We need a savior, and as we start the long march of Lent that leads us to the cross, we know Jesus is coming to break the shackles and the bonds and restore all that’s broken. But you don’t need a savior if nothing is shackled, bound or broken. So Lent starts in repentance. Did the shooter know the day he chose? Did he choose Valentine’s Day for a reason? Was his heart so broken that he felt like the only way through the war zone was to take others out? Oh God, we need to repent… for not recognizing our own part in this tragedy.

Talking heads are already starting to argue. Is it mental health or gun control? Hurry, pick your side. We retreat into corners and start pointing fingers. Thoughts and prayers sound hollow when these shootings have become so commonplace that they are just another blip on a relentless cycle of terrible news. We wring our hands and sigh and then we forget. It doesn’t even come up at dinner. Ashes. It’s all ashes. We’re going down in flames. Screaming louder and louder at one another as if we think the only way through this war zone is to pull someone else down so we can climb on top. Oh God, we need to repent… for being so afraid that we won’t be heard that we can’t even listen.

As bullets ricocheted off classroom doors and lockers in Florida yesterday, I walked down the locker-lined halls of my daughter’s school. A first grade Valentine’s Party is pure sweetness and light and sugar. We had the kids do an activity where they each drew the name of a classmate and listed out some of their favorite things about that child. As they exchanged cards, I saw eyes light up and broad smiles spread across frosting-smeared faces. One little girl said reading the card she was given made her feel happy and bubbly inside. I looked around the room and wanted to freeze time. To keep these little kids little – tender and eager and open-hearted and bubbly. In 10 years, which one will be the loner? The misfit? The outcast? The popular one who uses his or her platform to push someone else down? Oh God, we need to repent… for letting kids fall through the cracks.

I returned from the party to our church which is positioned across the street from one of our city’s high schools. The day before, the same high school was on lockdown because someone brought a gun to school. A trigger away from a tragedy. Each day after school, hundreds of students – maybe even the one who brought a weapon to school – traipse through our building to the free soda fountains. A ministry of carbonated beverages. I sat down at a table and played UNO with some kids whose stories brim with sadness and mistakes and bad choices and loss, covered in a veneer of bravado and toughness. How close have I been to a kid who is screaming to be seen and known and loved and valued and is a hair-trigger away from exploding their grief outwards and propelling us to the national headlines? For all their toughness, I can’t help but wonder if anyone gave them a card when they were seven that listed out all the best things about them? Oh God, we need to repent… for being too busy to engage the hurting and the lonely.

We may be mere dust, but we are each dust formed into the image of a living, breathing God. We may be returning to dust, but we each know this life is precious and deserves protection. God forgive us for forgetting our own worth. Forgive us for forgetting the worth of those around us. Forgive us for failing to see your reflection in the eyes of the stiff-shouldered, clouded-eye high school kid whose hoodie is pulled up, guarding him from the world but not containing the pain metastasizing-into-anger that is seeping out of his soul. Forgive us for giving into polarization and assuming that since “they” aren’t doing anything to solve the problem, we can’t do anything either.

Father, forgive us.

And help us remember: The only way through this war zone is to carry one another.

Carrie McKean

These Are the Victims of the Florida High School Shooting – Alexandra Ma

At Least 17 Dead After Troubled Former Student Allegedly Opens Fire on Florida High School – Nina Golgowski, Sebastian Murdock, and Carla Herreria

Worship Wednesday – On the Holiness of God – I See the Lord – Chris Falson

Photo Credit: Max Pixel

[The account of King David returning the Ark of God to Jerusalem]

They placed the Ark of God on a new cart and brought it from Abinadab’s house, which was on a hill. Uzzah and Ahio, Abinadab’s sons, were guiding the cart  that carried the Ark of God. Ahio walked in front of the Ark.  David and all the people of Israel were celebrating before the Lord, singing songs and playing all kinds of musical instruments—lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets, and cymbals.

But when they arrived at the threshing floor of Nacon, the oxen stumbled, and Uzzah reached out his hand and steadied the Ark of God.  Then the Lord’s anger was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him dead because of this. So Uzzah died right there beside the Ark of God.2 Samuel 6:3-7

What a story! For the casual Bible reader, this story can spark one’s sense of “rightness”. Even David who loved God supremely was angry briefly with Him…but that anger quickly turned to fear (2 Samuel 6:8-9). It took David seconds to remember the holiness of God and can happen when we treat the presence of God casually.

Cliff Jordan preached on this passage at Movement Church recently, and I finally understood the significance of Uzzah’s seemingly well-intended action. [Sermon podcast here.]

Throughout the Old Testament accounts of history, we see the justice of God play out in ways we might consider harsh in our grace-filled experience of Him today. We need to remember, though, that God has NOT changed. His holiness is as real and remarkable as ever.

Pastor Cliff reminded us that Uzzah was of the priestly tribe of the  Levites, a Kohathite. These were the ones who cared for and carried the holy instruments of worship. The Art of the Covenant housed the very presence of God in those days. It was never to be touched by human hands. Never. God had given detailed instructions on this, and Uzzah knew them.

In a moment, Uzzah, thinking he was acting, I’m sure, in reverence to God, reached out to steady the ark, laying his hands on it. The consequence of that disobedience was death.

The consequence of our disobedience is death.

We forget that sometimes, because our own lives are so bathed in the grace of God through Christ Jesus.

What was so bad about what Uzzah did? We are tempted to raise our tiny fists to a holy God and question His actions. Our own daily acts of disobedience seem trivial to us as well…until we look at the cost of our disobedience. The cross.Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

We must not forget this tension: “God is graciously relational and unrelentingly and unyieldingly holy.” – Cliff Jordan

Creator God sets the terms for our relating to Him. He prescribes and He provides. In ancient days, He made Himself available to a sinful people – once a year, in the Holy of Holies of the tabernacle (and later in the Jerusalem temple), behind a thick curtain – to the high priest who would make atonement for the people (Hebrews 9:7). A holy and loving God protected the people from death in distancing Himself from them in this way.

When Jesus died for our sins, the curtain was torn apart, from top to bottom.

Just as in Old Testament history, God made Him home with us in the ark, Jesus made us home with us, in human form (John 1:14).

“The ark points to Jesus. Our point of contact to Holy God is through Jesus. He fulfilled every prescription, every obligation, every law. He passed the test, secured the A, and gave it to us – graciously. He made Him who knew no sin become sin for us.” – Cliff Jordan

When you’re studying the Word, you come on these hard passages like Uzzah’s death, remember the holiness of God. Remember also His incredible grace toward us through Christ.

I grew up singing Holy, Holy, Holy – my young life was transformed by a burgeoning understanding of the wretched nature of my sin and the glorious nature of God, holy and loving, just and merciful. As our culture has changed over the years, my sense of God’s holiness has grown reckless…dulled by the world’s pull for both self-serving and self-rule. What audacity to think we know better than God, to think we are good enough for God, to think we don’t need God!

Holy God, have mercy on us. Lord, continue to have mercy on us…because of what Christ did for us. In His name…

Worship with me, please, with Chris Falson‘s song “I See the Lord”.

I see the Lord
Seated on the throne exalted,
And the train of His robe
Fills the temple with glory
And the whole earth is filled
And the whole earth is filled
And the whole earth is filled
With His glory

I see the Lord
Seated on the throne
Exalted, and the train of His robe fills the temple
With glory
And the whole earth is filled
And the whole earth is filled
And the whole earth is filled with His glory

Holy (x4)
Holy is the Lord

Holy (x4)
Holy is the Lord of lords

I see the Lord
Seated on the throne
Exalted, the train of His robe fills the temple
With glory
It fills it with glory
And the whole earth is filled
And the whole earth is filled
And the whole earth is filled
And the whole earth is filled
And the whole earth is filled with His glory
With His glory

Holy (x4)
Holy is the Lord of Lords

Holy (x4)
Holy is the Lord

I sing
Holy (x4)
Holy is the Lord

Holy (x4)
Holy is the Lord of Lords

I see the Lord
Seated on the throne
Exalted, the train of His robe fills the temple
With glory
And the whole earth is filled
And the whole earth is filled
And the whole earth is filled with His glory.

Photo Credit: Slideshare

YouTube Video – I See the Lord – Chris Falson (with lyrics)

Lyrics – I See the Lord – Writer: Chris Falson

2 Samuel 6, Part 1 – Sermon Podcast – Cliff Jordan, Movement Church

YouTube Video – Holy, Holy, Holy – Jeremy Riddle

Holiness and Justice – R. C. Sproul

Why Did God Strike Uzzah Dead For Touching the Ark of the Covenant? – Got Questions?

Jesus and Holy Week – Day 6 – Good Friday – His Trial, Crucifixion, & Burial

Blog - Holy Week - Good FridayPhoto Credit: GoodFridayQuotes2015.com

[Adapted from the Archives]

It was a day like no other day in history. For years we lived in countries where Christianity was a minority religion. While the few of us passed this week in reflection and wonder, it was, of course, just another week for most of our friends and colleagues. Easter had its name – Eid Al-Qiyama (“Feast of Resurrection”) – but Good Friday was shrouded in the ordinary. For Jesus and all who have experienced life through his teaching and example, this day was and is wholly extraordinary.

Jesus’ mockery of a trial, crucifixion, death, and burial are all recorded with great detail in the four Gospels. They are riveting accounts of this terrible and triumphant day – Matthew 26:57-27:61, Mark 15Luke 22:66-23:56, John 18:28-19:42.

Jesus had no opportunity to sleep in the hours of night before this dawn. From the garden where he prayed, he was forcibly taken into the custody of the high priests. Through the early morning hours, he was bounced brutally between the Sanhedrin, the high court of Israel, and the Roman authorities (Pilate and Herod Antipas). While in their custody, Jesus endured hostile interrogation, false accusations, trumped-up charges, relentless attempts at public humiliation, and repeated beatings. Yet, he somehow retained his full faculties, responding to the authorities, when necessary with great wisdom and understanding of both the proceedings and the people. In the midst of all this trauma, he even made eye contact with one of his dearest friends and followers, Peter, hiding himself nearby…in his own painful moment.

The outcome of all the rangling between the Jewish and Roman officials was an unwarranted, undeserved death sentence. Execution by crucifixion. Pilate even washed his hands of the matter, literally, declaring Jesus innocent but still consenting to the death sentence. He didn’t know then but the “blood” he tried to wash of his hands was truly innocent. Still, it wasn’t Pilate who put Jesus on that cross, nor was it Caiaiphas, head of the Sanhedrin. Not a Roman, nor a Jew.

Jesus’ death, that day, was an outworking of a divine plan. We cannot begin to understand the holiness of the Father, the resolve of His Son, or the steadfastness of the Spirit. This three-in-one God orchestrated a path for us, His fallen and broken people, to be restored to Him. That we, though wrecked by sin, can be whole again and one in Him, in that unity of Father, Son, Holy Spirit (John 17:21) is a miracle of grace.

Jesus gave his life for us that day. It was not taken from him. He laid it down. For us. Though completely undeserving, we are ransomed and redeemed. At such a great cost. This Jesus. This life. This cross.

Jesus spoke seven times during the three hours he hung on that cross.  Each time he spoke, as in all the other times his words are recorded, there was something for all of us. If you don’t know what he said, in those seven brief cries from the cross, read them and discover more about him…and about us.

Just before he died, he cried out, “It. Is. Finished.” What? What was finished? His life…oh no…not at all…that story comes later. His work? Not completely…for he continues interceding for us (Romans 8:34). What was finished? The perfect sacrifice – the lamb without spot or blemish – his life for ours. “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Hallelujah!

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

There is so much more to say about this day and the people present. Pilate’s wife who warned Pilate about ruling against this innocent man. Judas Iscariot, Jesus’ betrayer, who tried to return the money and killed himself in remorse that same day. Simon of Cyrene, a pilgrim, who was drawn into the dreadful drama of that day to carry Jesus’ cross when he could not. Barabbas, a notorious criminal, who gained his freedom, through a strange twist of the day. The nameless thief on the cross who cried out in repentance to Jesus. The Roman centurion who in his witness of Jesus all those hours professed faith in him.  John, Jesus’ closest disciple, and Jesus’ mother to whom Jesus gave each other. The women, lives changed by their faith in Jesus, who stayed at the foot of the cross through all the horror of his crucifixion. Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a Christ-follower, who tried to appeal for Jesus with the Sanhedrin. Joseph of Arimathea, another believing Pharisee, who went to Pilate to receive Jesus’ body for burial, to place in his own tomb.

So many stories of lives changed. Good Friday. This marked the day of Jesus’ trial, his death, and his burial, but it does not mark the end of the story. It’s Friday…but Sunday’s coming.*

Good Friday from popgodblogPhoto Credit: popgodblog.com

Holy Week – Day 6: Good Friday’s Trial, Crucifixion, Death, Burial

YouTube Video – It is Finished – Matt Papa

YouTube Video – Forever – Kari Jobe

YouTube Video with Lyrics – The Wonderful Cross by Chris Tomlin & Keith Getty

YouTube Video with lyrics – The Power of the Cross – Kristyn Getty

YouTube Video with lyrics – Lead Me to the Cross – Hillsong

*YouTube Video – It’s Friday but Sunday’s a Coming – S. M. Lockridge

YouTube Video – Skit Guys – Good Friday

It Wasn’t Nails that Held Him to the Cross – Blog by Michele Perry

Good Friday – Bible Study

Palm Sunday – Jesus’ Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem on the Way to the Cross – Day 1 of Holy Week

Blog - Palm Sunday & CrossPhoto Credit – inexplores.com

[Adapted from the Archives]

For anyone who considers herself a critical thinker, this week in the life of Jesus of Nazareth is one worthy of analysis. No matter your religion or non-religion, this Jesus, in these days, warrants examination, related to anything you may think of God. You will better understand the core beliefs of a Christ-follower, not just a person known to you as Christian. For in the study of Jesus’ life and his followers, in just this one week, you will see a deep distinction between “the religious” and “the redeemed”.

{Sidebar: I taught a World Religions course some time ago in a Moroccan high school. In that course, we studied all the major religions. The students were challenged to think critically of each religion. I encouraged them to study each one, 1) trying to put themselves in the perspective of one who believes (i.e., a true follower, using eye witness/historical accounts and Scriptures when available), and then 2) to break down each belief/tenet of faith critically. We all benefit thinking through Holy Week this way; none will not come away the same by examining the life of Jesus.]

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

Palm Sunday is celebrated as the “triumphal entry” of Jesus into Jerusalem, just days before he would endure a mock trial and then be crucified. He and his closest followers (disciples) came to Jerusalem for the celebration of Passover. Passover was an annual remembrance of God’s protection and deliverance of Israel during a time of slavery (Exodus 12:26-28). Jesus would celebrate Passover on Thursday of that coming week, but he did not come to Jerusalem for that reason alone.

He knew from his Father God why he came to Jerusalem, and he tried to prepare his disciples for what was coming.

From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day.Matthew 16:21

And while they were gathering together in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men; and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day.” And they were deeply grieved. – Matthew 17:22-23

As Jesus was about to go up to Jerusalem, He took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and on the way He said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death,  and will hand Him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up.”Matthew 20:17-19

I can’t even imagine what those disciples must have felt as Jesus predicted his own death. They loved him and all pledged their lives to him, even to death. They believed him to be the conquering king, sent by God, to deliver the Jews from Roman rule and to restore the nation of Israel. Although they had soaked up three years of his teaching, this “end of the story” was more than they could bear. Just a week later, they would gloriously understand that it would not be the end of the story of Jesus’ life.

On this Sunday, before the Passover, Jesus would enter the great city of Jerusalem, teeming with crowds there to celebrate. He entered, riding a donkey*, as was foretold by the Jewish prophet Zechariah:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Zechariah 9:9

Imagine the scene as Jesus entered Jerusalem. Some in the crowds did recognize him, and then the word spread of the arrival of this great teacher, this healer, this man whose teaching was like none before him. Palm branches were pulled to wave in tribute to him, as others flung their cloaks on the dust before him welcoming him:

Most of the crowd spread their coats in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in the road. The crowds going ahead of Him, and those who followed, were shouting, “Hosanna** to the Son of David; BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; Hosanna in the highest!” When He had entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?”Matthew 21:8-10

“Who is this?” For those who did not know him, the wild welcome for him must have been confusing and captivating. For the religious authorities in Jerusalem, who knew him and were unwilling to welcome this “king of the Jews”, his popularity was infuriating.

The clock began ticking as they plotted against this man Jesus.

Over that bright hopeful day of palms hung the shadow of the Cross – the Cross that would bring even greater hope to all people. The “Hosanna” of Palm Sunday would change to cries to “Crucify!” just five days later. Jesus had no ambition to please the crowds; he was resolutely on task to redeem those who could not redeem themselves – the whole world.

[Each day in this week, the posts will mark the journey of Jesus of Nazareth through the last week of his earthly life. Join me please.]

*Matthew 21:1-11 & Commentary

**”Hosanna” means “God saves”.  YouTube lyric video of Hosanna – Hillsong

Holy Week Timeline

Look, the World Has Gone After Him: Prelude to Palm Sunday – Jon Bloom

The Significance of Palm Sunday in Relation to Passover

Kings Riding on Donkeys? What?

Photo Gallery: Egypt’s Coptic Christians Celebrate Palm Sunday – When our children were young, we lived in Cairo, and bought palm fronds to make some of these crafts, as well as buying them ready-made.

Worship Wednesday – Forever He Is Glorified – Kari Jobe

blog-fix-our-eyes-on-godPhoto Credit: GodsWordImages

Last night, I watched all 90 minutes of the vice-presidential debate. If these two public servants were running for president instead of being the vice-president candidates, my voting choice for this Fall’s election would be much simpler. Watching them actually gave me another window to see into the convoluted soul of politics. As is their job on debate night, they sparred relentlessly over issues and, both of them, successfully  continued to expose the weaknesses of the other’s running mate. Nothing new there.blog-election-vicepresident-debatePhoto Credit: ABC News

What was different last night was the obvious discomfort each had with some of the issues that, because of the nature of their jobs, they had to legally support even when, in doing so, required them to go against their faith. The death penalty, for one, and partial-birth abortion for the other. I couldn’t imagine. Something else that stood out was their respect and regard for each other which had to be put aside for the sake of the required rancor of the evening’s spectacle. They both hammered away at the other’s presidential running mate…knowing the attacks had to be personal to them as well. Such is the nature of political debate.

Both the presidential and vice-presidential debates zoomed in on some of the terrible brokenness of our nation and the world. The racial and cultural divides in our country. Syria. Political unrest around the world. Corruption. National debt. Syria. Abortion. Displaced and marginalized peoples. Syria. Nuclear armament. Wars. Poverty. Energy. Immigration. Syria. Our Supreme Court.

Like those who chose not to watch the debate or turned it off early to use their time differently, I can’t bear to watch too much cataloging of the world’s woes when it “seems” there is so little we can do. My tendency is to go to fear…for our nation and for all nations.

Then I’m reminded:

God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.2 Timothy 1:7blog-worship-wednesday-spirit-of-fear-achristianpilgrimPhoto Credit: AChristianPilgrim

In watching the whole debate, I saw two men, not just posturing politically…they were two men of faith trying to make sense of brokenness and with the hope that a political party in power can make a difference against it.

That, however, is not what I take hope in…especially this year.

Will there ever be an American President for all the peoples anymore? If there ever was. However, there is a God who sees and who loves us all…every single one of us. 2 Corinthians 4:18 (in image at top of page) comes into focus for me.

Fixing our eyes on God doesn’t mean we close our eyes to the realities around us. The mandate is to do whatever we can to apply a counter-pressure against the warp of sin in this world. The Scripture is clear.

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners. – Isaiah 61:1

He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? – Micah 6:8

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’  And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ – JesusMatthew 25:34-40

This election year, more than any other, I cling to a God who is not finished with us yet. A God who from forever has set a course to be in relationship with as many of us as will turn to him. A God, who through Jesus, came after us….and continues to do so. Today, I don’t cling to a political party or a world power to right the wrongs…I cling to the cross of Christ.

Fixed on Him (moment by moment, sometimes, wrestling myself out of the grip of fear), I am confident that whatever happens in this election, God will be forever glorified…as we see His story (history) completed and our lives redeemed.

Worship with me. Also if you would take the time, watch the YouTube video linked below of Kari Jobe singing the song Forever with a short spoken word message by Isaac Wimberley. Powerful.

The moon and stars they wept
The morning sun was dead
The Savior of the world was fallen
His body on the cross
His blood poured out for us
The weight of every curse upon Him

One final breath He gave
As Heaven looked away
The Son of God was laid in darkness
A battle in the grave
The war on death was waged
The power of hell forever broken

The ground began to shake
The stone was rolled away
His perfect love could not be overcome
Now death where is your sting
Our resurrected King has rendered you defeatedblog-empty-tomb-lionlambbowmanvillePhoto Credit: LionLamb-Bowmanville

Forever, He is glorified
Forever, He is lifted high
Forever, He is risen
He is alive
He is alive

We Sing Hallelujah
We Sing Hallelujah
We Sing Hallelujah
The Lamb has overcome

Forever, He is glorified
Forever, He is lifted high
Forever, He is risen
He is alive
He is alive*

*Lyrics to Forever written by Kari Jobe, Brian Johnson, Jennifer Johnson, Gabriel Wilson, Joel Taylor, and Christa Black Gifford

YouTube Video -Kari Jobe Forever (Live) – with spoken word by Isaac Wimberley

Explore God – Is Christianity Too Narrow? – Podcast, Cliff Jordan, Movement Church