Posted by: pmarkrobb | April 9, 2020

the facet of the last two

The weight of today’s darkness is almost too much for me to bear, and I am only right now sitting on my couch writing about it. His trials and sentencing seem like days ago now. His betrayal and capture … were they just last night?! I was sure the beatings and crowning and cross-carrying would be the worst of it. But then I recoil with every strike of the sledge as the soldiers drive the spikes into His wrists. The sound of metal-on-metal pierces my ears, and I fight back the gag as I hear the pooled blood gurgle in the back of Jesus’ throat as He cries out in pain. This is altogether too much. But then there is the truth of where we find ourselves, standing near the end of the fifth hour after sunrise with those who are gathered on the hill of Golgotha. My dear and beloved Savior has yet to take the last two swallows of the cup the Father has poured.

Storm clouds have been forming all morning. The wind begins to howl, and I’m not sure there’s a name yet for the color the sky is becoming. There are deep-throated rumbles in the distance that are like nothing I’ve heard before. A blinding bolt of lightning awakens the darkening horizon. Its ferocious crack causes me to cower. There’s little option for protection in this clearing on the hill. My fearing for His life is overcome by the fear for my own. As the lightning strikes again so does the sixth hour. The time for the final two swallows has come. Not even a hint is given in scripture as to the timing or detail, but I suspect it is with great immediacy that the first swallow is taken. It is the lesser of the two, but it seems so very wrong to use that word in referring to what’s about to happen.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV)

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
1 Peter 2:24 (ESV)

We most often hear this part of redemption’s work described as Jesus bearing the burden of our sins on the cross. While this is true, I don’t believe it describes the fullness of its truth. Wording it that way can lead one to believe that our sin was an external weight thrust on our Savior, that He somehow carried like His crossbeam or God laid across his shoulders as He hung on the cross. What the Father gave Jesus, sometime soon after the sixth hour, was not simply a weight placed on Him. No, this was Jesus becoming sin and bearing it in His body. I believe this to be the first of the last two swallows Jesus took of the Father’s cup. And, further, was only second most on His mind when Jesus pleaded with the Father to take the cup from Him just hours ago in the Garden.

The moment the Father made his Son to be sin, was the first and only time there was disunion in the Trinity. Does that mean Jesus became only fully human for the time He became sin? In knowing the nature of God, even as incompletely as I do, I could believe that confidently. But I will leave that for theologians to say or not say. One thing I can very clearly understand is the way Creation shuddered and buckled when battered by the most violent conditions imaginable. This was the full force of the Almighty turning His back on His only begotten Son. This was the action that brought the Father’s cup to our dear Savior’s lips for the very last time, demanding the last and most bitter swallow.

Separation.

These were the most significant three hours in all of human history. This was the deepest pain imaginable to Jesus. To give up being one with the Father – the intimate communion He experienced in eternity past and which sustained Him during the entirety of his days as fully man — meant giving up everything. For three excruciating hours, Jesus hung on the cross utterly alone. And in what can only be described as an act of descending into Hell itself (Hell being the place of very real separation from God), God was forced to turn His back on His Son. Can you understand now the droplets of blood in His praying in the Garden? Do you hear His words differently now, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me”? (Matthew 26:39 – ESV). At the ninth hour after sunrise on the morning that changed the world forever, Jesus cried out to his Father and took His last breath. It was finished. Sin’s debt and its penalty had been paid. Death itself was the only thing left to be defeated. He would do that soon, just as He said He would.

We have spent the better part of this week focused on the Friday that must be gone through in order to get to Sunday. Pope John Paul II once said, “Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.” We are at a time and place where it is good and right to hear that. We mostly see backwards through history. We know His death was not only His death. Our focus this week has given words to my belief that it is also good and right to look forward through Christ’s suffering and sacrifice to see Resurrection in its full glory. In this way, the darkness amplifies our praise when we awake to the rapturous beauty of Resurrection morning! In one more sleep (the way we used to mark time when our boys were very young that still makes me smile to this day when it’s said), dawn will break with the most unimaginable hope and Light! Our senses will be overwhelmed once again with wonder as the story is told of His waking and walking out of the tomb!

I have one last facet to share tomorrow, before we turn our eyes to catch a glimpse of the radiant Risen One. Thank you for walking this road with me. Only a few steps left to take.

Posted by: pmarkrobb | April 9, 2020

Passion Friday timeline

This deliberately timed post includes an estimated timeline of Friday in the last week of Jesus.  It is being posted this evening to draw your attention to the very beginning of the timeline that notes the Passover Seder Jesus shared with his disciples.  It’s something to consider as you make your way through your Thursday evening.

I also hope this is helpful as you prepare for bed tonight, wake tomorrow morning and travel purposefully through your Friday.

Thursday (our definition of the day)
6:00-11:30pm
Passover Seder – Jesus and his disciples
11:30-1:30am
Garden of Gethsemane

Friday
1:00-1:30am
Confrontation in the garden; Jesus arrested.
1:30-3:00am
Trial 1: Annas, former Jewish High Priest for 16 years; Jesus receives initial physical abuse.
Trial 2: Current Jewish High Priest, Caiaphas, and the Sanhedrin Court; Jesus bloodied by abuse.
3:00-5:00am
Imprisonment at Caiaphas’ palace.
5:00-6:00am
Trial 3: All the Jewish elders, including the High Priest, scribes and whole Sanhedrin. They decide to ask the Roman government to kill Jesus.
6:00-7:00am
Trial 4: Hearing before Roman governor Pilate, who declares, “I find no guilt in this man.”
7:00-7:30am
Trial 5: Hearing before Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great who had jurisdiction over Galilee; Jesus refused to answer any questions so Herod returned him quickly to Pilate.
7:30-8:30am
Trial 6: Pilate repeatedly tried to release Jesus but the Jewish leaders continued to object. Pilate physically tortured and beat Jesus beyond recognition seeking to satisfy the Jewish leaders. However, the Jews still demanded that Jesus be crucified. Pilate resists but eventually gives the order to execute Jesus.
8:30-9:00am
Pilate’s Roman soldiers take Jesus into the court (“Praetorium”) and continue to mock and torture him, including driving the “crown” of thorns into his skull.
9:00am-12:00pm (the “third” hour)
Jesus forced to carry his own cross to Golgotha
Crucifixion
Jesus and the Criminal
12:00-3:00pm (the “sixth” hour)
Darkness covers the land
Jesus hangs on the cross for 3 hours separated from his Father.
3:00pm (the “ninth” hour)
Jesus dies.
Earthquake, temple veil torn in two
Soldier pierces Jesus’ side
before sundown
Jesus is buried.

Posted by: pmarkrobb | April 8, 2020

the facet of His purposed no

The thing about stories and even accounts of actual events with third-person tellers is that they are extraordinarily heavy on the who, what, when and how but mostly skinny on the why. At least, as it relates to the subject’s own thoughts and intentions. I strongly believe this is where scripture presents both a great challenge and a great opportunity. One must do more than read to know the mind of God. We must invest in relationship with Him to have the eyes to see and ears to hear. We must ask and then listen. This does not mean that it’s too hard and only some can do it. That is one of the great lies our great enemy uses to keep us distant from God and immature in our faith. And it does not put the good Book at great risk of being like any other on the shelf that can be taken as truth in as many ways as there are readers. It doesn’t, because the way to a greater knowing of God through His Word is not dependent on our own abilities to learn or discern. It is only and always about dying to our own trying and asking for His help. God does not ever ask us to be more. He desperately wants us to become less so He can be and do more in and through us. If you belong to Him, you already have everything you need to grow and know Him more through reading the Bible … because you have Him. And what does that practically mean? Pray before you read, “Father, you have given me Your Word, not so I can find someone to teach it to me, but because You yourself want to speak to me through it. I want to know You through it. Please help it make sense to me.”

“Okay, wait a minute” you might be thinking. “Is this a PSA or lecture on me reading my Bible? Is this a big old bait and switch? I’m expecting a facet. Where is the facet?”

So, maybe I crawled a little farther down the rabbit hole than I was intending to, but I’m trusting God for the purpose in it. Here’s where I was headed when I began by mentioning an inherent challenge in stories with third-person tellers. I was drawn to an encounter shortly after Jesus arrived at the place where He would be crucified, when He refused a drink offered to Him. I have come to believe something about it, and specifically about Jesus’ motivation in it. But nothing is noted in scripture as to His own reason(s) for the refusal. This is what we know:

And they brought him to the place called Gol′gotha (which means the place of a skull). And they offered him wine mingled with myrrh; but he did not take it.
Mark 15:22-23 (RSV)

His body was bloody and battered. His face unrecognizable in form and feature.  Stripped of his clothing, our dear, sweet Savior was laid out on his back, arms outstretched, head and hands resting on the old rugged crossbeam. The nails would come next, but just before they do, someone rushes to offer Jesus a drink of wine mingled with myrrh. We don’t know who offered it, but we do know it was a concoction familiar to a soldier. The ingredients created a fairly potent narcotic that soldiers would use to deaden their discomforts during deployments.  Someone is showing empathy for the suffering Savior.

Jesus refuses.

Why?

Noting clearly that the Bible does not say, so we do not know for certain, I would like to suggest what I have come to believe. The offer of drink was made to medicate Jesus’ pain. Whether out of pity or sympathy, the intent was to dull His experience of what had been done and what was yet to come. Jesus sweat blood in the garden, asking God to “take this cup from me.” However, He quickly surrendered His own will, knowing that the Father had our best and His best in that cup.

In paying sin’s price and penalty, Jesus accepted no dulling or debt relief. He drank every drop of the cup the Father prescribed and poured. He rejected none of the dull aches of accusation, mocking or betrayal or sharp pains of the whip, crown, nails or sword. He could not accept mitigation, and He refused medication to bear the full weight of my sins and yours in His own body. Doing anything less would have left some measure of the debt unpaid. It was the Father’s cup filled all the way to the top and his Son drinking to the very last drop.

Jesus paid it all.
All to Him I owe.
Sin had left a crimson stain.
He washed it white as snow.

These words from an old hymn tell the most terrible and terrific truth. Jesus had to die. It was the only way. He refused no amount of suffering in order to pay our debt in full. This is the brilliant facet of His beautiful no.

Posted by: pmarkrobb | April 7, 2020

the facet of the two gardens

As you would expect in moving the looking glass closer to things, one sees things they might otherwise miss. This is day two-in-a-row of that for me. I wonder if it will be that way for you as well. In sitting each day of this Lenten season with a bite-sized piece of the “last several pages” of the greatest chapter in the greatest story ever told, new details have lept from the pages. Things I feel I should have seen before. How in the world could I have missed them?! This is one of the great beauties of scripture: you can run or saunter; you can fly high over or dig down intently; the Word of God takes a lifetime to consume, and every truth has a new layer … and then another. It should be the Book on your shelf you’ve read most often, and it will never fail to feed you, comfort you, convict you or thrill you.

So, here are the two dots I had never connected: both the birth and the death of the great curse of sin began in a garden. As Jesus sweats blood in the most intense prayer session in all of human history, a long train of glowing orange is snaking its way up the hillside. The venomous brood is a surly rabble of priests and pages, Sadducees and soldiers. The betrayer, one of the twelve chosen followers of Jesus, is at the head of the snake. Its hiss is the sound of a sack of silver as it slivers up the hill. It will coil soon and strike with the betrayer’s kiss.

Amid all the significance and substance in the series of events that night, lies a facet that I’ve always missed … the setting. In showing the full extent of His love to His disciples, Jesus kneeled, wrapped a towel around His waist, drew a basin of water near, and washed their feet.  In showing the full extent of His love for us, God purposefully chose a garden from which to launch His great plan of redemption. In choosing the father of lies, Adam and Eve brought the deadly curse of sin into the world. In choosing the father of lies and sealing that choice with a kiss, Judas set in motion God’s grand plan to crush that curse once and for all. The need for our redemption had its beginning in Adam’s betrayal in the midst of God’s perfect garden. Its completion began with the betrayal of the Second Adam in the garden of Gethsemane. The hair on the back of my neck stood straight as the truth of this first came to mind, then sank deep into my soul.

I was instantly reminded of Peter, and my favorite part of the Resurrection after-story. Three times Peter had denied Jesus. Who among us can’t go to the place of the intense loathing and self-hatred that must have beset Peter in the moment the rooster crowed, and his eyes locked with Jesus? How, too, it must have grown as they dragged Jesus away to trial after trial, then to Pilot, and then on to Golgotha. Then what must it have been like on the saddest of all Sabbath’s for the proud pupil of Jesus? But then an angel of God tells those who arrived first at the tomb on Resurrection morning to, “go tell his disciples and Peter (Mark 16:7 – emphasis is mine). And then in seeing Peter later, Jesus lavishly and intentionally restores him by asking the same probing question of him three times.

In the grander story of Jesus’ final week, where does this garden detail rank? Is it a foundational truth upon which our faith rests? The answers are … it might barely even register, and it is not. And yet I clearly see God’s choice of the two gardens as iron-clad evidence of how deliberately and deeply He cares for us. And it is most certainly one of the countless facets that makes redemption’s narrative burst forth with the most brilliant shimmer and shine. How good is our God and how deep is His love for us! Let me count the facets.

Posted by: pmarkrobb | April 6, 2020

the facet of the two who’s

Yesterday’s focus was on a donkey, and its story began with Jesus riding into the city of Jerusalem at the beginning of the Passover festival week. But that is not actually where that story began. In the first three verses of the eleventh chapter of his gospel, Mark writes …

And when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Beth′phage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, and said to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat; untie it and bring it. If any one says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’” (RSV)

Interesting instructions. Wouldn’t you have loved being one of the two He sent? Jump a few days and chapters ahead and we find Jesus sending out two again on another sacred mission with interesting instructions.

And he sent two of his disciples, and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the householder, ‘The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I am to eat the passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.”
Mark 14:13-15 (RSV)

Of course, the disciples went and found everything as Jesus had said and prepared the room. That is where I had left things in all my previous considering of this very specific preamble to the sacred Seder Jesus would eat with His disciples. Then this year, I experienced an invitation to hold the lens a bit closer and found a brilliant facet of the Passion narrative that had completely escaped my notice. The facet of two beautiful who’s.

I am very careful to not “fill in any blanks” when it comes to scripture, so please let me be clear. If it doesn’t say it, they are my thoughts and words not His (and therefore, are not to be taken as truth). From my study of the story, I believe it is safe to assume that sometime during the week, Jesus stole away for a sacred appointment. He wasn’t going to see a man about a horse. He went to him about a house. Jesus needed a safe space to celebrate the Seder with His disciples. It was a deeply intentional meal that would be infinitely more so that year. And its setting must be in proper proximity to the Garden, where the events of His dying would commence. He knew just the right place, because He knew the heart of the householder. I would be very careful to compare the two, but this seems to me to be fundamentally like God knowing that He could suggest Job when Satan came to Him one day with a restless report of having roamed the earth (obviously looking for someone to torment).

The mood in Jerusalem was nothing like Parade Day just a few days earlier. The leadership’s anger with Jesus was reaching a fevered pitch, and their plot to kill Him was brewing and bubbling. While they had not yet been very successful in turning the hearts of the people against Jesus, everyone knew it was terribly dangerous to be near Him let alone be found aiding Him.

Answering the knock at the door in that toxic and tumultuous time was the householder. “Of course, Jesus. Come. I have the perfect place.” the householder says during their sacred sit down. It is likely there was no hesitation in his answer to the Master’s request, but there was caution in their planning. There would need to be a signal. The two that Jesus would send could not be so bold and plain as to walk up to the householder’s front door and knock. But what?

The householder thinks and then suggests (I wonder if it really happened like that. Doesn’t it just seem like Jesus to allow the householder to participate in His work that way?). “Tell them to look for a man carrying a jar of water.” Jesus knows how purposeful the suggestion is. We might wonder, “Okay, how exactly are the disciples supposed to notice a random guy carrying a water jug?! Isn’t that like telling someone to walk to Wall Street and look for a guy carrying a briefcase?” Except, it’s not. In that time and place, women would have been the ones carrying a jar of water. Men carried wine (in wineskins, not jars), so a man carrying a water jar would be unique enough to spot and probably not so much so to draw great attention. “Perfect,” the Master said (I think it would be just like Jesus to use that word).

It’s easily argued that the importance of the Seder far outweighs this clandestine detail of its preparation, but to God (and his Son) no detail is insignificant. As we’ve moved the lens a bit closer to the story, I pray that you now also see the deeply beautiful heart and obedience of the householder. One might consider this householder the most minor among the story’s supporting cast, but like the innkeeper on the occasion of our dear Savior’s birth, Jesus knocked at his door looking for welcome … and that is nothing resembling minor.

Before I am all done with this particular facet, let’s also quickly consider the man carrying the jar. We don’t know who he is, but is he any less important than the householder in this story? Maybe one could argue degrees, but he was used of God in redemption’s narrative. Did he look at the householder cross-eyed when he heard the request? Did he ask any questions, or did he only listen? It’s very likely the householder told him nothing of the reason he was being asked to do this. The less the man knew, the better for him and the success of the mission. In all of this, the man carrying the jar was a nameless man who was asked to do something very specific and unusual without knowing why and was simply obedient to the details of the ask.

O Father, may I equally and glad-heartedly long to be either the householder or the man carrying the jar in the things you have authored for me to do. May I answer the door when You knock and simply obey without needing to know why. And may I do so, caring nothing for my place in Your story and desiring only to bring You glory. Amen and amen.

Posted by: pmarkrobb | April 4, 2020

the facet of His ways and will

For those who have been readers during some or all of the good many years I have written during this sacred week, today’s facet will be quite familiar. It was the subject of my very first Palm Sunday post, and I have revisited it several times since. It has become one of the most powerful images in my personal experience of this week, and I have chosen it once again as the most fitting place to begin. It is how Jesus deliberately chose to begin his walk to and through the cross and the tomb – as the King, riding into town … on the back of a young donkey.

Christ’s two grand entrances were both made with great humility:  Born, not with a herald in the halls of a gilded palace, but in the anonymity and modesty of a feed trough in a common stable; and riding into Jerusalem as King, not on the back of a noble war-horse, but on the foal of a lowly donkey.  In His coming, living, and dying, Jesus maintained a singular posture. He was the servant King. The Most High bent low in becoming one of us in order to save us. Now that our lens has been rightly fixed on the lowly beast of burden, who carried the One who would soon carry ours, let us move it just a bit closer.

Many years ago, I was introduced to a deeper significance in God’s choice of a donkey to carry his Son into “battle.”  Drawing from personal study and great practical knowledge from my father-in-law (having owned a mule — the offspring of a male donkey and female horse — for many years), I have come to know the donkey is a very smart animal.  It is quite true to its description as a beast of burden, but do not be mistaken.  This is no clueless, led-around-by-the-nose farm animal.  It is equal parts fiercely stubborn will and faithful servant … and this is where I found what I am offering as the first facet.

Numbers 22:21-35 tells the story of a prophet (Balaam) and his donkey. Here it is in a nutshell: God is angry with Balaam, who has saddled his donkey and headed out with princes in the direction of Moab. Somewhere along the way, an angel of God stands, with sword drawn, in the middle of the road, who only the donkey can see. The donkey diverts out into the field to not confront the angel, and Balaam strikes his donkey out of ignorance. The angel reappears at a more narrowed patch of the path and the and again the donkey evaded, pressing against a wall on one side to get around, pinning the prophet’s leg against the wall in the process. Balaam strikes her again. One last time the angel appears in a place along the path giving the donkey no option to pass on either side. She chooses to lay down, preserving the prophet from any harm. Balaam has had it and angrily strikes her once more. At this point, God gives the animal the ability to speak, and she asks the prophet what she’s done to deserve being struck three times.

I am so tempted to write more about the ending to this fascinating story, but before I travel past the point of usefulness in what could turn easily into a rabbit hole, let’s bring this back to today’s facet. I believe this story reveals a great truth about the donkey.  Namely, it keenly senses danger and stubbornly refuses to go headlong into it.  A trusty steed?  Sound the bugle, kick your heels against his side, and he goes charging.  But a donkey?  No way, sister.  You can push and prod all you want, but this animal is going only where it determines, step by purposed and powerful step, and not a step more than there is purpose (and certainly not in the direction of danger). In this, I found a compelling parallel when considering the near complete absence of any action on Jesus’ part after His dramatic entrance into Jerusalem.

It was the most opportune moment to charge onward to the seat of power with the full support of an adoring and boisterous crowd, yet Jesus did nothing. The people waved palm branches (a symbol of military victory) and cried “Hosanna!” (which in Hebrew means “Save us!” or “Save us now!”). This was a perfect storm for a conquering king. There had to be some talk or even possibly significant pressure to act. The people expected Jesus to be their deliverer — a man of action, who would bring down the rod and make right all the times they were on the short end of the conquering stick. Yet, rather than rising to the purposes of the people, Jesus stopped and walked off their path. This King was not here to conquer earthly kingdoms. This King knew His time, walked His own path, and refused to move at another’s pace or for another’s purpose.

Can you see that facet? If so, may I suggest another? A donkey’s true nature is very much one of beast of burden, bearing burdens as a wise and faithful servant. Balaam’s donkey knew not to confront, but she also did not run. She submitted herself to the striking of an angry prophet, because the alternative was going against the messenger of God. In what amounts to the first steps of His walk to the cross, Jesus did not confront, nor did he run from the suffering He knew what was coming. He submitted to God’s purpose and became the bearer of the greatest burden — the weight of the sins of every person for all time. In His life, there was never an intent to take an earthly throne. In His death, our King’s throne would be a cross. There He would hang — in His true nature — the full weight of all our sins, faithfully born in His body.

In Jesus’ stubborn and unfailing will, He paid the price so that we might live.  What a perfect choice God made in his plan for Christ’s entrance into the city and for our redemption.  Let us all now go into this week, and the remainder of the days God has for us, walking in His deliberate ways and will.

Posted by: pmarkrobb | April 4, 2020

facets of the second Fall

For several years, I had a rhythm of writing during Holy Week. My pattern was to focus on the events of each individual day in Jesus’ final week of walking the full measure of redemption’s road. It was an intensely observational and experiential activity that has produced much good fruit in my life of faith and caused a tectonic shift in my experience of Easter. This year, however, in returning to writing after a brief absence, I am choosing to pen from a slightly different perspective. You may hear a few familiar echoes along the way, but the focus will most often be on details that were not a part of that particular day.

In my devotional reading during this current season of Lent, I have been drawn to the details. I have come to see them and refer to them as “facets.” Facets of the most rare and precious stone created by the pressure and heat present in the events at the peak of Passion week … the days nearest our dear Savior’s death.

It seems the thing to do, when sitting down at the onset of a “project” of this sort, to name it. The name I settled on was born out of a picture which began to form as I completed each of several daily readings where facets were discovered or experienced anew. I began to see a common thread, and soon after a phrase began repeating over and over in my head … “facets of the second Fall.” To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure at first where that last part came from, and perhaps you are a bit confused or concerned as to what that exactly means. I am grateful for the first whisper of the Spirit, and for the clarity that eventually came. The first Fall was that of the first Adam, who ate the fruit of the only tree in God’s garden which he was instructed not to eat from. In choosing to be like God rather than obey God, Adam brought sin into the world and death’s curse along with it. The second Fall was that of the Second Adam (Jesus) who paid the penalty for all the sins of man for all time and put death to death in rising three days later … just as He said. This second Fall was not a failing (like the first). It was an intentional giving up to pay the penalty and cure the curse of the first.

A diamond would not be as precious a stone absent facets. Those facets would not be of much note absent light. In this way, the facets of the Passion narrative (that burst forth with the brilliance of the most rare and precious diamond) would only be cuts or cracks absent the presence of the Light of the World. Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, humbled himself to enter this world as a child. He lived as we do. He came for a singular purpose – to make a way back to God. That purpose would demand His earthly life as the only worthy sacrifice for the sins of all and would be made whole in His rising again on the third day.

Join me each day of the coming week in slowing down and getting quiet with Him to consider a few facets of the second Fall. The very first one will be quite familiar, but in all my years of writing, it remains the most meaningful place from which to begin as we walk together through this sacred week.

A brief footnote: I wish I could lay claim to the words I used to note the second act of the second Fall (put death to death). They are the most succinct and powerful words I’ve heard to describe the moments of Jesus’ waking and walking out of the tomb. They are best attributed to my favorite artist, Andrew Peterson, and are lyrics in a song he wrote for a Resurrection record. The name of the song is “His Heart Beats,” from the album Resurrection Letters: Volume 1. I strongly encourage you go listen to this song and add it to an Easter playlist. Also, you simply must add “Is He Worthy?” from the very same album. With sincere apologies to some grand old hymns, “Is He Worthy?” is undoubtedly Easter’s anthem. I’d encourage getting up extra early this Easter morning and having both cued up to press play at dawn’s first light.

Posted by: mikenicholsblog | April 1, 2020

living wisely and well

Certainly, this must be the mother of all April fool’s jokes.  Did we all just wake up to the world shut-down? Has our existence changed to the point where church is on a computer screen, fine dining comes in a paper bag, important meetings are on Zoom, exercise is on the long-forgotten treadmill, 65 is elderly and millennials are instructing parents to stop going out so much? Can’t we just wake up? Oops, this may be April 1st, but what we all woke up to this morning is anything but a joke. However, we have been given a window of 30 more days to hopefully slow the virus and re-open our country and our lives. So what should a Christ-follower do?

It is so easy to breathe the words, “What should we do?”  My thoughts for this article were focused on how to navigate the next 30 days in light of Covid-19 when a friend reminded me last night that too much focus on the problem distracts from resting in the Problem Solver.  There is no doubt that everyone’s focus right now is on Covid -19 (and I won’t ignore it) but navigating the problem ought not to distract us from a clear focus on where our help comes from.

I look up to the mountains— does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!
Psalm 121:1-2

So, what should we do? Could it be that this virus is reminding us what we should do and how we should live all the time?

Most Christ followers realize that we are ambassadors of Christ and want to present the gospel message with our lives and words. However, life and our own fears often get in the way of being vocal ministers of reconciliation. We shouldn’t need a virus to be vocal about where our help comes from and how true peace is found.

Is there really any difference in taking life one moment at a time than there was a month ago? Just last week I used words that fit any battle, not just this one.  As soon as this circumstance is behind, life will throw another one. And the words of David Jeremiah in Overcomer will still be true.

“Being an Overcomer isn’t something we accomplish by our own power and wisdom. When we can’t see how our everyday decisions and actions fit into God’s cosmic plan, God essentially says to us, ‘Let Me relieve you of that worry, that fear. Just take this one little step into the light I have placed in front of you, and I will see to it that your faithful action will fit into the overarching plan and accomplish both My goals and your good.’”

In the routine of life, we talk about God’s power, strength and ever-present help. But we often get so focused on the next problem that we lose sight of His ability to move mountains, and our moods are dictated by all that surrounds us. We struggle with what John Ortberg calls a small view of God.  Should you or I have to be in a pandemic to re-focus on the size of our all- sufficient God? Again, review the earlier printed statement from Ortberg in If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat.

“I strongly believe that the way we live is a consequence of the size of our God. The problem many of us have is that our God is too small. We are not convinced that we are absolutely safe in the hands of a fully competent, all-knowing, ever-present God. When we wake up in the morning, what happens if we live with a small God? We live in a constant state of fear and anxiety because everything depends on us. Our mood will be governed by our circumstances.”

Obviously, my intent and even the re-printing of quotes is to challenge our thinking that living wisely and well (Ps-90:12) is not about a crisis, but how we should live daily, moment by moment.  The next 30 days will be a challenge, but life will not stop being difficult when the world re-opens. And if we need this crisis to remind us to be fully devoted followers of Christ, then the joke is on us!

Maybe we all need to pray:

Father, I have let the moment distract me from resting in You. But today, I claim the truth that my help is in You…maker of heaven and earth. I will choose to focus on You during the next 30 days and trust you in each moment.  Use me as the hands and feet of Jesus! Then when it is all over, I commit to still living wisely and well!

Posted by: mikenicholsblog | March 29, 2020

the next seven days

Seven days ago looked much like today.  My hope is that seven days from today will bring the sense of a world that is beginning to reopen.  Several years ago, I wrote about “the next seven days” with normal circumstances in mind (they seem trite now).  Yesterday, I reviewed the article with far more insight. Maybe those words will remind of what was normal and encourage you from Scripture while managing today’s very abnormal circumstances.

Did your life have disconcerting circumstances last week? To give an example, last week my life contained: spilled coffee (3 times), food poisoning from a restaurant, being asked to pray for a client with cancer,  waking up at 4am (wide awake) once or twice, seeing a business opportunity fall through, and praying hard for our daughter’s musical presentation! I suspect you could answer with your own circumstances from last week and I expect this week to be marked by a myriad of small to large life disruptions. There will be circumstances which make us laugh, frustrate us, cause sleeplessness and maybe even internal pain or conflict. So how will you and I approach the next seven days?

I have spent a lot of time recently thinking about a man named Caleb. He was given a promise at age forty. He would inherit the land he and eleven other men had been sent to scout. If you are a student of Scripture, you’ll recall the story of the twelve men who were sent to spy the land of Canaan. Ten returned with a negative report; only Joshua and Caleb were positive about taking the land. The consequences of their disobedience in not entering the land God had promised were devastating to the nation of Israel and they wandered in the wilderness for many long years. At age eighty-five (45 years after the promise) Caleb asked for possession of his promised inheritance and received it. He was a man of faith who remembered God’s promise 45 years earlier. Caleb never stopped believing the promise would one day be his. That is trust! You and I would be wise to simply believe the promises in Scripture even for the next seven days.

Caleb received a promise but had to endure the wilderness. Can you imagine what that would have been like? It would have been easy to see the dying, murmuring, complaining and struggle of those years and lose hope in his promise. There were certainly tough days, but he persevered as a man of great faith. I am sure that most Christ-followers would just like to live the next seven days with a Caleb kind of spirit … and we can!  But will we take possession of the great truths of Scripture with the same vitality that bleeds from Caleb’s example?

Before presenting a verse to lean on for the next seven days, I would like to offer words which, to me, frame the struggle we face while trying to possess the promises of God’s Word. The words are from the book If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat, by John Ortberg.

“I strongly believe that the way we live is a consequence of the size of our God. The problem many of us have is that our God is too small. We are not convinced that we are absolutely safe in the hands of a fully competent, all-knowing, ever-present God. When we wake up in the morning, what happens if we live with a small God? We live in a constant state of fear and anxiety because everything depends on us. Our mood will be governed by our circumstances.”

I don’t believe Caleb lived with a small view of God.  What about our circumstances for the next seven days? Can we live viewing God as bigger than any circumstance and depend on His strength for each day? The answer for all Christ-followers is “Yes, we can!” (Even with Covid-19 dominating our thoughts).

For anyone really willing to live out the promises of Scripture in the next seven days, please let the verse below resonate in your mind and heart daily.

Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.
Psalm 55:22

The word burden in the verse implies “one’s circumstances,” and there will be many in the next seven days. I wonder what this week will look like if we choose to cast each burden on Him and accept the promise that He will sustain us. Sure, most Christ-followers believe the promise, but for the next seven days will we possess it as our reality? Caleb lived a long time trusting the promise of God. Let’s start with the next seven days!

Our circumstances have changed, but God and His Word have not!

Posted by: mikenicholsblog | March 24, 2020

one long moment

It was last Tuesday evening (so long ago) when my wife edited the words long moment from an article I was writing. Wait … What? … But, that’s exactly what I wanted to say.

My wife is a master of grammar and punctuation. A moment is a moment, she explained. There is no “long” moment. I stood corrected and gracefully deferred to her expertise. Today, however, those edited words have greater intention and purpose, and I am choosing to coin a new phrase … one long moment. We might all agree that long and moment may not typically fit together, but don’t you agree that it seems like right now we are all stuck in one long moment? To prove my point, try to remember life before social distancing and endless time confined within the four walls of your home.

When leaders say, “We will get through this,” our first response is “When?” Intellectually, we all agree with those encouraging words of the long moment ending. However, the emotional struggle for everyone is keeping a positive attitude in this seemingly endless “moment.”  We all have ritual patterns to our days and weeks, but for the time being our new pattern is one long moment of isolation, quick grocery visits, take-out meals, church online and an unsettled spirit about when this moment will end.

So how are you doing? Covid-19 is called a global pandemic, but the reality is that we are amid a very personal pandemic. In your realm of influence there are people who may struggle with fear, worry, or family burdens. Others are struggling with the financial effects of not working or the losses they have taken in retirement assets. The personal side of this goes on and on!  So how do we match our faith in Christ and confidence in God’s sovereignty with this one long moment?  Hopefully, I can give a small amount of perspective for at least today’s long moment.

“You can’t see the whole path ahead, but there is usually enough light to take the next step and then to trust God’s guidance in the moment.”
— Henri Nouwen

I heard this quote last Sunday and it resonated. Will Covid-19 end today, tomorrow, or May 1st? No one knows. For Christ-followers, that is not the point. God is in charge of our days, and a focus on simply looking and listening for His guidance in taking the next step is essential.  For me, it can be a battle. I focus on His Word and start well and then those Pandemic updates come, and I have to refocus. But in this one long moment, I can live well … living moment by moment.  A favorite verse of mine helps.

The Lord directs our steps, so why try to understand everything along the way?
Proverbs 20:24 (NLT)

In our personal pandemic adventure, we can rest in the fact that He has ordained each day for us.

As I think of this season, my mind wondered back to some of my heroes. Abraham and Sarah had a long moment waiting for a child. Joseph had an extended time in prison before God raised him to great authority.  Moses lived a long moment on the backside of the desert and then another hard season in the wilderness. I can’t even fathom the moments that Job walked through on his journey. David’s difficult long moment running from Saul had to be tough. What about that 40-day wilderness experience of our Savior doing battle with the devil?

Do you think that Abraham and Sarah and Joseph and David and Moses and Job and Jesus got weary in their long moment?  God was sovereign over those moments, and our lives have been deeply impacted by the faith of these ordinary people who were part of the extraordinary story God recorded in his Word.

Allow me to close with something I read in David Jeremiah’s book, Overcomer. I believe it speaks to this time of personal pandemic.

“Being an Overcomer isn’t something we accomplish by our own power and wisdom. When we can’t see how our everyday decisions and actions fit into God’s cosmic plan, God essentially says to us, ‘Let Me relieve you of that worry, that fear. Just take this one little step into the light I have placed in front of you, and I will see to it that your faithful action will fit into the overarching plan and accomplish both My goals and your good.’”

God has some goals and purposes for you and me in this long moment.  We can live each day just taking the next step into the light He places before us and we will get through this … well!

Signed, A fellow struggler.

 

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