Following Jesus after Camp

Summer is here! And that means students from all over the country will be attending church camp. New friends, crazy games & competitions, times for worship, bible study & prayer – all this combines and intersects with the work of Jesus in students lives and create an incredible experiences. Thousands will make decisions for Christ over the next few weeks, but what does that mean? How will they move forward in their faith when they go back to their ordinary lives? That’s what this post is about.

The decision to follow Christ is not just a decision. It’s a commitment. I would say this decision is like a wedding. (and I believe I can show that Jesus likens it to a wedding too, but that’s another post.)

Before Miranda and I got married we lived separate lives.  We lived in different homes. She had her job and bank account and I had mine. Although there were some who had in common, we had our own sets of friends. Our own habits and routines, our own lives. We were separated. On our wedding day, we stood before almost everyone we knew and proclaimed the decision that we had made – a decision which was a clear reflection our relationship. From that day forward, we were choosing to live differently. . . . . to live “with” each other. . . . . to live together.

This is what the decision for Christ is. It is a reflection of the relationship you have with Him. It is a decision to live “with” Him. . . . . to live together with Jesus.

At our wedding the pastor asked us a few questions. You probably know the questions.

He said, “Steve, will you take Miranda to be your wife, to live together in a holy marriage?  Will you love her, comfort her, honor and keep her for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, and forsaking all others, be faithful only to her, for as long as you both shall live?”

Notice how the questions are worded. “Will you take. . . . .” Will you love. . . . .”  In our pre-marital counseling, the pastor explained that the answer to those questions would simply be, “I will.”

What would have happened if I had said, “I will,  if I feel like it?”

The crowd would have gasped and Miranda probably would have slapped me across the face. “If I feel like it” isn’t a commitment.

The correct answer is simply “I will.” There are no ifs. When we make a commitment, we are saying that we’ll do whatever it takes to make it happen. We’re willing to make sacrifices and do the right thing even when things look bad. I will choose to act in love for Miranda even when she treats me bad –  even when I don’t like her – even when things are tough. Love is not a feeling. It is a choice. Jesus didn’t feel like going to the cross. He chose it in spite of how He felt. (Remember, how He asked God if there was another way, but then committed to God’s will? Check Mt 26:39) “In sickness and health, for richer or poorer,” no matter what, Miranda will receive my love. I will choose to love her. That is commitment. There are no ifs.

Our relationship with Jesus is like this too. If we want a real relationship with Jesus our answer is also, “I will.” Unfortunately, I see people adding many “ifs.”

– I’ll spend time with Jesus if I don’t have to get up early.
– I’ll go to church if my friends are going to be there.
– I’ll do what He asks as longs as it doesn’t cost me something.
– I’ll read the Bible if I have time.
– . . . . if it won’t be awkward.
– . . . . if I can still hang out with my old friends.
– . . . . if I don’t have something else going on.

NO!!! The answer to the question is a simple, “I WILL.” If we’re committed to Jesus, we must make time. We must be willing to put Him first. We must make sacrifices. We must be willing to follow Him even when it’s awkward or uncomfortable.

Church camp is great in many of the same ways as a wedding. Miranda and I had an incredible wedding. The people who surrounded us mean the world to us. That day we hung out with friends. We laughed. We read Scripture. We cried. We worshipped. We prayed. We ate. We danced. And then we left. Our family and friends threw stuff at us as we ran to our cars. Miranda jumped in her car and I got in mine and then we drove off and went our separate directions.

. . . . . . . Hold up.

. . . . . . Wait.

You did what? Separate cars? Separate directions?

NO – of course not. We rode off together in one car and began our life together. There’s sort of a crazy story, but we actually had a friend who drove us. The commitment that we had just made was starting and from that day forward, we have been together. Scripture says that the two of us “became one” that day, and since then, our lives have never looked the same. It’s been 17yrs and our commitment has grown over time. It’s a beautiful relationship.

Unfortunately, I think church camp decisions for Christ often look the other way. Students have incredible experiences at camp and decide to follow Jesus and live differently, but they don’t really understand the commitment side of it. The church camp experience has offered them all the things my wedding did:  Friends. Laughter. Bible Study. Worship. Tears. and incredible joy. Students begin a relationship with Jesus, but on the last day of camp, they leave in separate vehicles.

Charles Spurgeon (Mark 4 Commentary) says, “There are many more, whose religion must be sustained by enthusiastic surroundings. They seem to have been baptized in boiling, water; and unless the temperature around them is kept up to that point, they wither away . . . the religion that is born of mere excitement will die when the excitement is over.”

Friends. Don’t let this be you. Don’t leave camp in your car. Get in Jesus’ car and let Him drive you home. Allow Jesus to be in control. Remember that if you have committed to following Him, then you are “one” with Him. He also gives you the Holy Spirit to empower you to make the right decisions. Recognize that He is always with you. Allow Him to shape your daily schedule and calendar. Find time – be intentional about doing all the things you did at camp. They will deepen your “oneness” with Him.

– Hang out with Christian friends
– Study Scripture
– Worship
– Sing
– Pray
– Laugh
– and find ways to serve others.

I understand that none of these things is probably as easy to find as it is at church camp, but they are all important in deepening your relationship with Jesus. Your relationship with Him IS absolutely worth it. The effort you put into these things is a reflection of your commitment to Him – that means that your effort in making these things happen is actually an act of worship. By working behind the scenes to deepen your relationship with Jesus, you are honoring and valuing Him and that is what worship is all about. The effort alone will draw you closer to Him.

Oh – and by the way. You’re not alone. God has given us the church (His people not the building) to help us. Find someone else to help you with these things or to walk you through the process of starting your relationship with Jesus. It could be a friend or someone more mature in their faith. Youth ministers and youth leaders usually love this sort of thing too so they’re usually easy to ask. There are also some great books that can help. Here’s one from the guys at YM360: New: First Steps for New Christ Followers


PS – I just spent an incredible week of Church Camp with a bunch of really fine people!  Although I spent more than 20yrs in ministry, this was my first time back with them in over 10yrs.  It was great! Everyone was wonderful! Shout out to:

      •  The YM360 staff (rec leaders, bible study leaders, drama team, administrative team, and I’m sure there are others I’m missing)
      • the band (Logan Walter)
      • the speaker (our own pastor, Chad Poe)
      • the Louisiana College staff who housed and fed us
      • the youth leaders and volunteers who brought their students

God used this team to stretch our students in their spiritual lives. He used them to draw them closer to one another and to help them see the bigger picture of the body of Christ outside their own church walls and even into other parts of the world. God used this team to strengthen relationships in people who have attended church together for years, but have never really spoken to one another. God used this team to convict us of sin, to direct us to the forgiveness found in Jesus, and to begin to think about new ways of living in light of the Gospel. Thank you for serving. Thank you for allowing God to use you.

Our students won the volleyball tournament!

 

Broken Cups

Personal Story:
This issue of emptiness was one of the biggest factors that drove me to the place where I gave my life to Christ and eventually chose to follow Him. Up to my years in Jr High, I had lived a pretty normal, suburban, middle-class lifestyle. My parents were married and remained together. I always had food, shelter, etc. I had never really lost anyone in my life. By all accounts, everything looked great from the outside. However, on the inside, I was dying. I felt empty. I felt like I didn’t really matter. During those years, I tried several things to fill the void inside of me. I tried popularity and hanging out with all the “right” people. As much as I could at my age, I tried money and bought cool stuff to fill the emptiness. I tried sports and accomplishments. I got good grades and did well in sports. I did well in all of these things and learned much from those experiences, but none of them satisfied the emptiness that I felt. No matter how I filled myself up, I had a leak. The satisfaction never lasted long.

When I finally came to Christ, all of that changed. No matter what my circumstances were, I could trust in Him to settle my heart. He filled me in places that I didn’t even know were empty. Today, sin still creeps in and I have leaks, but He forgives and makes me whole. Over the years Jesus has mended many of my cracks and the places that I leak have grown smaller. He has not only become my waterfall, but also the potter who repairs me and molds me into His own likeness.

Steve’s Advice:
We are all broken. We are sinful and broken. We are broken in different ways, but still broken. If we were cups, we’d have cracks. Some would even be shattered into splintered pieces. When we realize this, we can have compassion on people. We can love those who may not treat us very well. When we love one another, it’s amazing, but we can never truly fill each other ’cause as we pour ourselves out for others, there’s a crack leaking out the other end. Our only satisfaction is in Jesus Christ. He alone can satisfy and fill us to overflowing. He is the unending “waterfall” whose complete and perfect love was poured out upon the cross.

The song, “Break in the Cup” by David Wilcox describes what I’m trying to say.

Famous Words:

Break in the Cup – David Wilcox lyrics

I try so hard to please you
to be the love that fills you up
I try to pour on sweet affection
but I think you got a broken cup.

Because you can’t believe I love you
I try to tell you that there is no doubt
but as soon as fill you with all I’ve got
that little break will let it run right out

I cannot make you happy
I’m learning love and money never do
but I can pour myself out ’til I’m empty
trying to be just who you’d want me to

I cannot make you happy
even though our love is true
for there’s a break in the cup that holds love
inside of you

Now I begin to understand you
as you explain the fear you feel
It’s when you see me fall into that sorrow
that makes you doubt the love is real

because the lonely wind still blows through me
I turn away so you can’t see
but now how can I still be so empty
with all this love that you pour on me?

I guess you cannot make me happy
and that’s a money-back guarantee
but you can pour yourself out ’til you’re empty
trying to be just who’d I want you to be

You cannot make me happy
It’s just the law of gravity
and that break in the cup that holds love
inside of me

So if you’re tempted to rescue me
drowning in this quicksand up to my neck
before you grab my hand to save me
why don’t you ask me if I’m finished yet?

You cannot make me happy
not when there’s empty inside of me
but you can pull yourself right in here with me
My misery’d love to have your company

We cannot trade empty for empty
We must go to the waterfall
for there’s a break in the cup that holds love
a break in the cup that holds love
inside us all

Song:
Break in the Cup – David WIlcox
I Leak – Mike Briscoe

God’s Word:
Romans 3:23 – “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Ephesians 2:1-3 – “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

Steve’s Advice:
When Scripture says “All have sinned and fallen short,” God means “all.” No one has escaped the pull of sin and the death of sin. We are all sinners (even that person you think is so perfect), and so no one can fill us up or make us feel “full” except for Jesus. There is a classic movie called Jerry MacGuire, where the main character says to his girl, “You complete me.” This is not even possible. No man or woman on earth can complete you. Only Jesus can “complete” you. . . actually, that is exactly the work He continually does in our lives once we choose to follow Him. Just remember that you will not be satisfied in anyone or anything until you are fully satisfied in Jesus. Keep your eyes on Him.

God’s Word:
Ephesians 3:17-19 – “That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth , and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Romans 15:13 – “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

Colossians 2:9-10 – “For in him [Jesus] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.”

Matthew 12:334b – “For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.”

John 16:33 – “In the world you will have tribulation, but take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Famous Words:
“You fill me with all I need, if only I didn’t leak.” – Mike Briscoe, Song – I Leak

 

Be Saved

Steve’s Advice:
The first and foremost piece of advice that I can give to anyone (This series is written for my kids in particular, but this one applies to everyone) is to BE SAVED!! We are all drowning. We are all killing ourselves with our selfish actions, our sin. You can’t “earn” your way to heaven or out of hell, but JESUS has done ALL the work!!!!

 

Personal Story:
My friend Scott Crenshaw used to say, “Can I tell you something that no one else in the church will tell you? It’s sort of like a secret. Ready? Here it is: You don’t need Jesus to go to heaven. It’s true. Everyone always says that you’ve got to have Jesus if you want to go to heaven, but they’re wrong. You can go to heaven without Jesus if you live a ‘perfect’ holy life.” Scott always goes on to explain that if you don’t have any sin, you won’t be separated from Him and so you’ll go to heaven without Jesus.

 

Steve’s Advice:
That’s the problem though. Right? Sin. None of us is sinless. None of us is perfect. We are all guilty. Some sins are practically universal – lying, selfishness, pride, lust, hate, and the list could go on and on and on. The only way we can be in the presence of God is without sin – without even a hint of sin and we carry it everywhere we go. We can’t “change our ways” enough. We can’t willpower our way to holiness. We all fall short of perfection – short of sinlessness – short of holiness. This is why we need Jesus. His blood covers us. He paid for our sin on the cross. His blood covers us.

 

Personal Story:
My friend Scott also tells a story. His young son wanted to take the family out to lunch after church one day. They went and ordered as they normally would and enjoyed their lunch. When the waiter came over and handed them the check, his son reached into his pockets and pulled out everything he had. After all the coins had collected on the table, they counted out less than 3 dollars. It wasn’t enough. Although his heart and intentions were good, it simply wasn’t enough……. But someone had to pay. Right?!?! Someone had to pay. My friend Scott paid the price for his loved one’s meals that day ’cause he was able.

 

Steve’s Advice:
Jesus is the same. The price for sin is death and He paid the bill for us.

 

God’s Word:
Romans 6:23 – For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

Steve’s Advice:
Jesus paid the price for us because He alone is able. We will never be enough. ‘Cause we are sinful. We don’t earn His love by doing “good” things either. It is a gift. My friend “covered” for his son because he was able to give him that gift. Jesus’ blood covers us and he chose to give His life for our benefit.

 

This is the kind of thing I must admit that I lose sight of. I’ve lived as a Christian for many years and continue to forget that I can’t earn His love. I still find myself thinking that because I have done this or that for God, that I will somehow receive His blessings. I catch myself thinking, “Oh my kids will be alright. I’ve raised them to believe in Jesus.” However, my efforts don’t guarantee anything. It’s only by the grace of God that my children will know the Lord and serve Him with their lives. Of course I have an influence, but ultimately, the best thing I can do is pray for God’s intervention in their lives. I can’t earn His favor with my “good works.” As a matter of fact. My “good” works aren’t really that good at all.

 

God’s Word:
Isaiah 64:6b – All our righteous acts are like filthy rags.

 

Steve’s Advice:
Even the things we think are good are still polluted by sin in one way or another. Even with a subtle sinful influence, we bring impure acts to the Lord. Our “good” works are still not “holy” works. God doesn’t owe us anything. ‘Cause we can’t do enough to earn anything.

 

God’s Word:
Ephesians 2:8-9 – For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

 

Famous Words:
“We cannot be so bad Christ might abandon us… because we never did anything good enough to cause Him to love us.” – Chad Poe

 

“Our huffing and puffing to impress God, our scrambling for brownie points, our thrashing about trying to fix ourselves while hiding our pettiness and wallowing in guilt are nauseating to God and are a flat out denial of the Gospel of grace.” – Brennan Manning

 

“Sin does not make us bad. It makes us dead.” – Scott Crenshaw

 

Song:
Saved by Grace – Jadon Lavik

Arrows – Be Brave

Steve’s Word:
I am very blessed to have my children. God has shown immense and undeserved favor to me in bringing my kids into my life. I feel humble and inadequate for the task of raising them to know Him and to bring Him glory, but by His grace, empowered by His Spirit, I will. Notice, I did not say “try.” Yoda says, “Do or do not. There is no try.” And that is very appropriate here. “Trying” is not good enough in this monumental endeavor. It’s not enough to “try” to raise them as God has called. I must “do.”


God’s Word: 

Psalm 127:4 – Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.

Steve’s Word:
According to this verse, my kids are my arrows, but what does that mean? What do arrows do? Answer: They are launched into the world by the archer (the Father) in order to advance His army into enemy territories. It is my prayer that their young lives will be spent “becoming” arrows and that as they grow, they will be launched into the world to “take ground” from the enemy so that God’s army can be advanced. The arrow’s purpose is to help Him with His purposes for His Kingdom and His glory. Arrows also go into dangerous places – enemy territory. They take risks for a greater purpose and penetrate the darkness with light. Arrows are aimed at specific targets, not just thrown out randomly. The archer “plans” his shot. God is a skilled archer, He has a plan and is able to place you in the exact place He needs you to be.

My children are the only arrows I have and I pray that they will be all of these things. It will take bravery, but they are children of God who I pray will be empowered by the Spirit of God when one day they choose to honor Him and give Him their lives.

God’s Word:
Romans 8:31b – If God is for us, who can be against us?

Psalm 45:5 – Your arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies; the peoples fall under you.

Famous Words:
“With God, you are stronger than your struggles and more fierce than your fears. God provides comfort and strength to those who trust in Him. Be encouraged, keep standing, and know that everything’s going to be alright.” – Germany Kent

“Playing it safe is risky. The greatest risk is taking no risks.” – Mark Batterson

“You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.” – Khalil Gibran

“Life is like an arrow. The farther back you are pulled, the farther forward you will end up.” – Unknown

“A single arrow is easily broken; a quiver of ten is not.” – Japanese proverb

“Jesus didn’t die to make us safe, but to make us dangerous.” – Mark Batterson

“You must not only aim right, but draw the bow with all your might.” – Henry David Thoreau

“Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.” – Billy Graham

Personal Story:
I haven’t had the pleasure of launching my children out into the world just yet, so the only story I can tell is about some of my students from when I was in youth ministry. One of my greatest joys is watching my ex-students who have grown up and continued to follow Jesus into their adult lives. I have old students who have done mission work all over the world. Off the top of my head I can think of students who have served in Egypt, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Liberia, Scotland, South Africa, China, and Thailand. I have also been able to download sermon podcasts from some of my old students who are pastors. Others have been involved in youth ministry, music ministry, church planting, and other local church ministries. I can think of at least 15 of my ex-students who have served in ministry in a full-time role. There are countless others who are serving in other ways. I even have connections with a couple of my old students who are living out their faith in Hollywood. One is in the modeling/acting world and another is a musician. Both travel all over the world regularly and share their faith in each of those places.

One of my favorite things is when there is some sort of event that brings these people back together. A couple years ago, we got to attend a retirement party for our friend Jon Godbold and we had the chance to see and catch up with a lot of those students. It’s truly a joy for me to watch how they are serving the Lord and to know that God was working among us during our times together to lead them to those places. If that’s how I feel about ex-students, I can’t imagine how great it will be to watch my own children grow into the people that God has planned for them to be. I’m excited to watch as they are launched into the world and take ground for His kingdom. As the verse says, I am blessed to have some arrows in my quiver.

The Sword of Gratitude

Darkness closes in. The silence is deafening. My vision is clouded. I can’t see a way out. Death marches on, threatening, intimidating, and piercing the very depths of my being. There is nothing I can do but wait. . . with heavy breathing and an anxious spirit, I wait for the inevitable. These are dark times. I shovel the darkness out as fast as I can only to discover that another onslaught of more darkness has already arrived in its’ place. I just keep shoveling, but I don’t seem to be making any progress. I am overcome by the throng pressing in and I can’t seem to find a footing.

What should I do? Or maybe the better question – What did Jesus do?

Luke 22 describes the events right before Judas’ betrayal – right before the crucifixion. When the darkness had amassed its’ hordes and was preparing to destroy  Him. . . when death came knocking, with the cross just ahead of Him, Jesus sat down to a Passover meal with His friends. There, He took bread and gave thanks.  Jesus took the time and gave thanks right before His ultimate battle with darkness.  Think about it. He could have done anything He wanted, but He chose to hang out with friends (disciples), remember all His Father had done (Passover meal), and give thanks. The sword Jesus wielded that night was gratitude. And make no mistake. . . gratitude is a sword. It pierces the darkness with light!

Think about it. Gratitude is worship. It’s a recognition of who God is and what He has done. This is worship. Even when we are grateful for a kindness of another person, those things are ultimately a picture of the Gospel. A “thank you” is the acknowledgement of an undeserved kindness, and that’s the Gospel – an underserved kindness. When we are surrounded by darkness, we can choose to try to shovel out the darkness or we can choose gratitude. When we thank God, we remember who He is and what He has done and we begin to reflect the glory of the Gospel. Jesus’ light pierces that darkness as our gratitude remembers, and praises and talks about His work and His character. Darkness trembles at His name. Darkness flees. There isn’t even a battle between light and darkness. Light wins every time. With even an ounce of light, darkness hides it’s face. Gratitude is the sword that defeats the darkness. Gratitude shines the light of Christ into every circumstance. Since it brings light, gratitude always wins in a battle against the darkness.  (nerdy sidenote: Gratitude is probably more like a “Light Saber” than a sword.)

Here are a few Scriptural examples of God’s people remembering and being grateful before a battle with darkness:

        • 2 Chronicles 20:22 – Jehoshaphat and his men praised God and then the LORD set an ambush against the horde.
        • Daniel 6:10 – When he found out He would be thrown into the lion’s den, Daniel thanked God.
        • Psalm 40; Psalm 69 – David thanks God and praises Him in song over and over again in the book of Psalms.
        • Joshua 5 – Israel’s priests and trumpets lead the army around Jericho before the walls crumble.
        • The Passover meal itself (instituted by God) is a thanksgiving remembrance of what God has done and who He is intended to give His people strength and reassurance in all their circumstances.

Thanksgiving/gratitude are also good for us ‘because they reframe our thoughts about our circumstances. When I spend time reflecting on all my blessings, the things God has done for me, the things He has given me, I enter life with a willingness to give and to be a blessing to others. On the other hand, when I’m not mindful of my blessings, I’m more likely to fall into the trap of comparing myself to others. In those moments I feel inadequate and sometimes even cheated. I enter life looking for what I can get out of the situation or what I can take for myself. Gratitude allows me to see the truth that in Christ I am “more than a conqueror” and He is “all that I need.”

Ann Voskamp has done some studies in conjunction with her book, “1,000 Gifts.” She asked people to write down 3 things they are grateful for each day for a year. In the end, they will have collected a list of over 1,000 gifts. Her theory is that this practice changes our outlook, our attitudes, our choices. . . in short, it changes our lives. Here’s a quote:

“If they wrote down just three things a day they were grateful for, they were less depressed, less suicidal, less apathetic, than those who didn’t practice lifestyle gratitude. . . . Research indicated that recording those blessings was cognitive training, a way of reorganizing your brain to focus on goodness. It increases an individual’s positive focus by 25%. . . . Those who practice this type of lifestyle gratitude have higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, optimism, attentiveness, energy, they were more motivated, likeable, other-oriented, forgiving, generous, helpful, more likely to volunteer, and more likely to give back. Giving thanks and giving back are ‘Siamese twins.’ They move as one.” – Ann Voskamp

Here’s a link to download a sermon I preached on this topic:

Reclaimed Wood – Reclaimed Hearts

Reclaimed Wood Fireplace at my House

I clutch the head tightly with the claw and strain to pry the nail out of the flesh leaving an open wound. Sometimes it splinters even more. The bent nails must be hammered from the opposite side in order to be removed. Reclaimed wood is rough, marred, scarred, scratched, discolored, beaten, and weathered. It’s not very pretty. However, when used in the right context, it can be beautiful. The scars give it character and tell a story. It has rich history. The wood cannot reclaim itself. I must do the work.

My heart is the same. God has been reclaiming my heart piece by piece since the day I chose to follow Him back in 1985. Like the nails that must be hammered from the opposite side, He works from the inside out. It’s a painful process. He is hammering, ripping, tearing, and prying out the damage that I’ve done to myself with my sin. It hurts. It’s not an easy process and sometimes I recognize new splinters in the painful ways that my sin had affected me without my knowledge. The Holy Spirit convicts me and He opens wounds within me, but then Jesus offers healing and has already provided the salve by covering my sin with His own blood.

Like the wood, I am rough, marred, scarred, scratched, discolored, beaten, and weathered. However, when I submit and let God put me in the right context, I become beautiful. I cannot do this on my own, but in His hands, I have character, a story, and a rich history that He can use for His glory. I become His creation as He molds me into His likeness in spite of my sin and in spite of my wounds. I am His and that makes all the difference.

Holy Week – Sunday – Risen – Jesus is Better

Matthew 28:1-20; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-53; John 20:1-21:25

Early Sunday morning a group of women took anointing oil to Jesus’ grave. However, what they found was not what they expected. They would not be anointing His body that day. Instead, an angel rolled away the stone entrance to the grave and told them that Jesus had risen. He said that they should go and tell the disciples. Then, Jesus appeared to them Himself and they attempted to worship, but He told them to tell the disciples to go the Galilee and meet Him there.

Jesus was alive!! He was determined to confront all His enemies that week. He came up against the Pharisees, chief priests, scribes, Samaritans, Herod, Caiaphas, and Pilate. He had been betrayed by one of His own disciples and fought against sin even so far as being separated from His Father in death, BUT Jesus was alive! What does it mean for us if Jesus can do this?!?!?! HE IS GOD!

As we look back at the week, it seems clear that all along, Jesus was walking a very intentional path. He was choosing the cross and death with each decision. Jesus never wavered. In John 10:18, Jesus says, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” It was always about His Father. He asked Him to “take this cup from me” but chose to honor His Father anyway saying, “Not my will, but yours be done.” (Matthew 26:39).  Jesus’ first allegiance was to His Father. This was His Father’s will. Jesus loved His Father so much that He was willing to give His life for Him and for us. God the Father loved us so much that He sent Jesus to be the bridge which would allow us (sinners) to be in His Holy presence. We can be in relationship with God  and are adopted into His family because Jesus’ sacrifice makes it possible. John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave….” He loved so He gave. Jesus chose to live, to do ministry and miracles, to die, and to rise again, because of His great love for His Father and His disciples.

In His resurrection, Jesus proves that He is better. He is better than all His enemies – Pharisees, Herod, Pilate, etc. He is better than the ways of life offered by the world – possessions, money, fame, glory, fun – temporary enjoyments. He is better than the sin that we so often choose. He is better than friends, and family, and popularity. He is better than having a good reputation. No matter where we find ourselves: in sorrow, in sickness, in loneliness, in victory, in joy, in comfort, in riches, in power…. Jesus is always better. Jesus is better than anything and everything. Why? Because He is beyond. He is something other. He is set apart. Jesus is Holy. Jesus is different. He is God.

He is alive! He is Risen!

Jesus is better!


Song: His Heart Beats – Andrew Peterson

Partial Lyrics:
He took one breath
And put death to death
Where is your sting, O grave?
How grave is your defeat
I know, I know His heart beats

Partial Lyrics:
In all my sorrows, Jesus is better
make my heart believe
In all my victories, Jesus is better
make my heart believe
Than any comfort, Jesus is better
make my heart believe
More than all riches, Jesus is better
make my heart believe
Our souls declaring, Jesus is better
make my heart believe
Our song eternal, Jesus is better
make my heart believe

Holy Week – Saturday – Empty

Matthew 27:62-66; Luke 23:54b

There is simply not much written about Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath day which followed Jesus’ death. It’s an empty day. The hearts of His disciples were empty too. They were hurting and mourning. They were fearful for what their own future held and overwhelmingly disappointed as their hopes and dreams had been destroyed. It appeared that Jesus had not been all that they had believed. They were wrong. he was much more than they imagined, but they didn’t see it yet. Saturday was as empty day for them. Rock bottom.

On the other hand, the chief priests were elated. They had accomplished their goal and rid themselves of Jesus. The only thing Scripture tells us about Saturday is that the chief priests went to Pilate to have him secure Jesus’ tomb. They tell Pilate that they remember Jesus saying that he would rise after 3 days  so they wanted a Roman seal and a Roman guard to make sure that the disciples didn’t steal His body and claim resurrection.

There are a few interesting points here:

1) Jesus’ disciples didn’t seem to remember His promise about rising in 3 days, but His enemies were taking his words seriously.

2) The disciples have run away and are fearful of being arrested themselves. Are the chief priests really afraid of the disciples stealing the body or are they afraid that Jesus might actually rise from the dead?

3) David Guzik (in his commentary) makes this point. The power of Jesus’ resurrection overcomes physical obstacles (the stone), human authority (Roman seal), and human strength (Roman guard). Nothing stands in God’s way.

Luke 23:54b tells us that the disciples rested on the Sabbath day. I don’t believe it would have been quite so restful inwardly, but it seems as though they continued in the patterns and rhythms of life they had developed throughout their lives.

Inner monologue: In what ways do I live as though Jesus is dead? How often do I make decisions relying upon human strength or reason rather than on the power of God? Am I broken and empty when I imagine a world without Jesus or is it business as usual? Will the patterns and rhythms of life I’m choosing now be helpful when I go through tough times?

Holy Week – Friday – Good Friday

Matthew 27:1-61; Mark 15:1-47; Luke 23:1-56; John 18:28-19:42

Good? This is the day we remember Jesus’ death on the cross. How can something so terrible be good? Well…. it was the terrible price that God paid so that we (sinners) could be in relationship with Him. We are better off and have been given forgiveness and new life as a result of His great loss. Jesus’ loss was our great gain. It wasn’t so “good” for Jesus, but it was more than “good” for us. Good Friday.

Here’s what happened:

Throughout the night on Thursday, the chief priests arrested Jesus and then rushed Him around to a few places trying to get permission to have Him killed. They see Caiaphas and then Pilate who then sent them to Herod so he wouldn’t have to deal with the situation. However, Herod didn’t have the authority to execute Jesus, so he sent him back to Pilate. In the end, Pilate reluctantly agreed to the demands of the crowd and sentenced Him to death.

The story becomes pretty gruesome at this point. Jesus is beaten with a flagrum (whip) that had shards of glass and bone at the end of several leather straps. He receives 39 lashings which would tear up His body. (often enough to kill someone or make them unconscious) They put a crown of thorns on His head and mock Him and then force Him to carry His own crossbar (easily 100 pounds) to the place of execution. Once there, spikes were driven through His hands and feet and He was hung on the cross. At that point, there was more mocking, and one of the other criminals being crucified defended Him. Jesus told him that he’d be with Him in paradise. Ultimately, Jesus died from suffocation.

A man named Joseph of Arimathea got permission to take Jesus’ body and with the help of some women who prepared spices, he buried Him in a tomb cut in stone.

As they buried Jesus’ body, the disciples and all of His followers were in disbelief. They had believed that He would be their salvation. They had believed that He would be a conquering King and would restore Israel to it’s rightful place among the nations. As Jesus breathed His last breath, their dreams died. All they had hoped for was destroyed. Their friend was gone. Their hearts were broken.

 

Great Good Friday Song: God Rested – Andrew Peterson

Holy Week – Thursday – Last Supper

Matthew 26:17-75; Mark 14:12-72; Luke 22:7-71; John 13:1-18:27

On Thursday of Holy Week, Jesus celebrated a traditional Passover meal with His disciples. (well… maybe not so traditional) He sent John and Peter ahead to get the meal prepared. When they arrived the disciples thought it was just gonna be “business as usual.” They had celebrated the Passover meal every year for as long as they could remember. They knew how it worked, but Jesus was about the change it up.

At the beginning of the meal, the host (usually the father in a home) washed His hands to purify Himself to lead. However, Jesus didn’t need to purify Himself so He started changing things up from the very start of the evening.  Jesus took the basin and towel and used it instead to wash the feet of the disciples telling them that they should serve others as well. At this point, it probably become more clear that Jesus would be doing the Passover differently.

God had instituted the Passover meal to help Israel to remember what He had done during the time of Moses and the Exodus. They remembered the 10 plagues that God sent upon Egypt – including the lamb which each household sacrificed in order to put its blood on their doorways so the angel of death would passover them. The blood of the lamb had saved them. They ate bitter herbs to remember their lives as slaves in Egypt. They ate a sweet mixture of fruit, honey, and nuts, and recognized that God had been present with them even in those bitter times.  He brought a sweetness to their lives even in the midst of slavery. They dipped vegetables in salt water to remember how God had brought them through the Red Sea.

After the meal, they ate unleavened bread to remember how God had miraculously provided “bread from heaven” (manna) for them to eat in the desert. In those moments, they said a blessing over the bread, “Blessed art thou OH LORD, our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.” In this blessing they remembered the manna, but it also pointed forward to the fact that Jesus himself (Bread of Life) was about to come “forth from the earth.” In just a few days, He would be resurrected and come out of the tomb!

Immediately following the bread, the traditional meal required them to drink a cup of wine called the “Cup of Redemption.” This cup and the color of the wine was intended to remind the Jewish people of the blood of the Passover lamb that had been sacrificed for their salvation. Jesus deviated from the usual way of doing this meal when He told them to drink it in remembrance of Him. It had always been in remembrance of the lamb slain in the original Passover. However, this would be something new. The new covenant which Jesus instituted that night would still celebrate the blood of the Lamb, but this lamb was Jesus Himself. There is Jerusalem, just that same week He was in the midst of choosing a path which would lead Him to the cross. There, he would die for the sins of the world, sacrificing Himself so we can be in relationship with God.

(Sidenote: The Cup of Redemption was also used in their culture as part of weddings. When a man chose a bride, He said “Will you marry me?” by offering her the cup. Drinking it was her way of saying, “Yes!!” – When we drink of the cup in communion, we are agreeing to live our lives married to Jesus and His ways. It’s an incredible offer – to become a part of the Family of God)

After the Passover meal, Jesus prays for His disciples (those present with Him and those who will become disciples later on)  and then He the disciples make their way to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus spends some time praying. It’s not long before Jesus is officially betrayed by Judas and then is arrested.

Inner monologue: Am I prepared for a life with Jesus? In what ways do I need to prepare more? Do I recognize the sweetness of the Lord while I’m in the midst of struggle? This meal tells the story of God’s interaction with His people. What are some ways that I can tell the story of God’s interactions with me?

 

Download a Guide I wrote to the  Passover Meal here:  Passover Haggadah

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