The Second Day

So much is written about the Last Supper of Maundy Thursday, the horrors of Good Friday, and the victorious joy of Easter Sunday… Yet Scripture tells us so little about the Saturday of that momentous weekend, when the Son of God Himself was illegally tried, brutally tortured and executed, only to rise gloriously from His tomb on the third day, fulfilling the messianic promises of the Scriptures.

I try to imagine what Jesus’ disciples were doing that day. What was going through their minds?

The second day was the Sabbath, but I cannot imagine these guys went to temple that day.  They were no doubt in fear of the Jewish leaders.  Fear for their very lives.  And, besides, the temple was in need of some repairs that particular Sabbath.

I wonder if the words of Jesus, the lessons of three years of following the Lord, were ringing in their ears.  I wonder if Peter could get the sound of that rooster crowing out of his head.  Maybe he heard the Lord’s voice saying, “Get thee behind me, Satan”.

Things had happened so fast.  It hadn’t even been 48 hours since they had sat down for one last meal with Jesus (and a very significant Passover meal at that).  He had taught them so much over the years.  But the conversation this night was different.  More pointed.  More direct.  In a sense surreal.  Jesus was here to overthrow the status quo in Israel and set up a new kingdom.  Right?

And now, here He was. 

Dead.The King of Kings and Lord of Lords seemingly defeated.

The One Who had turned water into wine.  

Healed the sick.  

Regenerated the lame.  

Gave sight to the blind.  

Fed tens of thousands with one child’s small meal.  

Calmed the raging storm.  

Walked on water.  

Escaped the authorities time and again.  

Raised Lazarus from the dead after his body had begun to decompose.  

And, just the night before, put a guy’s ear back on.  Not just any guy, but the servant of one of the Roman soldiers sent to arrest Him in the garden.  This after Peter, in one his impetuous and well meaning yet – let’s call it what it was, dumb – acts, drew his sword and lobbed off this slave’s ear in an attempt to save Jesus from a fate He Himself had willingly chosen.

So many miracles.  So much promise.  And yet, here they were.

The Lord was gone.  

They couldn’t see the glory that was a few short hours away.  They couldn’t fathom the open tomb, the folded grave cloth, the retuning Jesus, the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

The disciples had experienced so much unbelievable horror in less than 24 hours.  We know Thomas temporarily lost his faith.  What about the others?  How could all of this have happened?  Had Jesus been a fraud?  Had He been out of his mind?  

 Faith is a curious thing.  “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, ESV).  As humans, we base reality on the sensible, the tangible.  We want evidence.  We need proof.  

But the truth of the matter is that God defines reality.  He is the author of Truth.  We believe because the Lord said to.  We trust because God, in His infinite grace and love, mercy and power, shows us enough to see He is real and trustworthy, if only we would look with eyes of faith.

On the second day, everything looked hopeless to the disciples.  Especially for Judas Iscariot, who came to the realization of what he had done, Who he had done it to, and the impact of his greedy actions.  (When the New Testament mentions another Judas, the words “not Iscariot” follow his name, so deep was the disgust associated with the name of Christ’s betrayer).

Without faith, the third day is stripped of all significance.  The hope for the risen Christ is the only hope the disciples had on the second day.
Perhaps that hope still lingered deep within them.  

The second day was history’s most apparently hopeless yet actually hopeful day.  All the disciples could see was the unbelievable horror.  But that isn’t where the story ended.  Jesus overcame the unimaginable.  

He overcame death.  

He came back.

And He will again.  Just as He promised.

There is no dark too dark for the Lord.  There is no circumstance that is insurmountable for God.  What our limited minds perceive is not ultimate reality.  

God foretold all of this in the Old Testament.  Jesus told the disciples what was going to happen. But they couldn’t understand it.  They were blinded by their preconceived notions.  Despite all they had seen Jesus do and heard Him proclaim, they still struggled with the truth of the situation.

The ways of the Lord are so far above us that we have to take Him on faith.  We couldn’t accept His fullness if we tried.  We are simply incapable of fully understanding God and His ways.

So have faith in the Lord.  Trust in His Word.  He has given us evidence aplenty that He is Who He is, and He will do what He says He will do, and we are His beloved children.

Accept that.

Bask in that.

Let it soak into your soul.

Praise God!

And have a blessed Easter.

Small Dumplings

China 20080626 (96)For who is God, but the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God? – Psalms 18:31 (ESV)

On the scale of natural disasters, this was extremely small potatoes.  Well… not potatoes.  This happened somewhere along a highway between Dongguan and Guangzhou in southeast China, so we’ll say it was small dumplings.

We had just visited Austin’s orphanage and were heading back to our hotel in Guangzhou.  It had been rainy, steamy… the kind of humidity that makes people in Georgia in the middle of summer say, “Now that’s humid!”

There were eleven of us in the van.  We had just discovered what life had been like for our children.

We had just discovered that a Big Mac in China tastes exactly like a Big Mac in America.

And now, as we sat on a bridge overlooking the Pearl River Delta opening into the Pacific Ocean (or what we could see of it through the thick, murky haze), we were discovering the nuisance of a mudslide flowing over a busy highway.

When we finally made it to the spot where the hillside had slipped into the right lane of the road, it didn’t look like much.  But it sure slowed things down and, no doubt, was a hassle for people trying to get back to Guangzhou.

Mudslides occur when unsettled earth is eroded away by water, causing the resulting mud to shift.  Small mudslides can be a pain.  Large ones can be catastrophic.  (Yes, I’m sure I picked this information up in third grade science.)

Especially if your home is built atop the hill that just crumbled beneath it.

This week, I found some sand under my foundation – a stress trigger that I didn’t expect.  In the grand scheme of things, it is small dumplings: a non-problem that kicked my anxiety into low gear.  Not fun, but not catastrophic.  Just a spot that needs to be shored up.

The Lord is using this incident to remind me of sitting in that muggy van in China, wanting to get back to the White Swan Hotel but stuck in traffic brought to a stand-still by circumstances beyond my control.

Anytime I build my hopes, or beliefs, or plans on anything other than God, I risk the danger of a faulty foundation build on crumbling sand.  I set myself up for a mudslide.

But, when I build my hopes and beliefs on God through Jesus Christ, my Rock, I can stand firm knowing that He is the One Who controls the outcomes.

Who upholds me and guides me.

Who calls the shots.

Who knows far better than I what I need.

I do not have to be perfect.  I don’t even have to be right.  I just have to be His.

I have to yield to God.

I have to rest faithfully in Him, because when I trust in the Lord, I put down my preconceived notions and schemes and fully rely on God.

I am firmly in God’s hands.  You are, too.  And, because of that, all our problems are small dumplings.



Risk Assessment


23 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” – Matthew 8:23-27 (ESV)

It’s probably a good thing that I’m not an insurance risk assesor.  I would be paranoid of everything.  I’d never want to leave the house unless I knew I was driving the safest car on the safest roadways, going to safest places to shop, making sure my son plays only safe sports (I wonder what the chances are of injury in the school stamp club… I supposed he could get a nasty paper cut or something…)…

I would want to weigh out the possibilities of getting hurt before doing anything.  I would never step out and risk anything.  I play it too safe the way it is!

The problem is this: life isn’t safe.  Things happen.  The unexpected strikes.  Life isn’t always predictable.

Or controllable.

Or safe.

At least not by our standards.

Consider the disciples.  There were some fishermen among the twelve.  These men knew the Galilean Sea.  They had surely been caught in storms before, so this one must have been a whopper.

They looked at the storm.  They saw the raging seas, the white caps and waves, the lightning streaking across the skies.  

Everyone is freaked out.

Well… almost everyone.

Jesus is there.  Asleep.  The boat is taking on water, and the Lord is grabbing forty winks.

“Save us!” The disciples are beyond freaked out.  Even though they are perfectly safe in the midst of the maelstrom, they only see peril.

Remember, Jesus led them into the boat.  He knew a big storm was brewing.  And He led His followers straight into it.

And, because of a lack of faith – because they were terrified of a situation that was beyond their control and threatened their very lives – they seem to have forgotten just exactly Who was sleeping through it, peacefully.

And Jesus rebuked the storm.  And all was calm.

Sometimes we need to set aside trying to be a risk assesor.  Following Jesus isn’t always “safe” or comfortable.  In fact, God seems to have a way of keeping us out of our comfort zones and making us rely on Him – and realize that He is always faithful.

Despite storms.

Despite circumstances.

No matter how hard the winds howl or the storm pummels us, Jesusis always right there in the boat with those who follow Him.  Embrace His peace.  Rest faithfully in the Lord.  Cast off your cares and worries and know that the storm won’t last forever.  And when the sun breaks through the clouds, you may just see a rainbow.

May I See Your ID Please?

1  Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3  So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. 4 Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, 7 and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. – John 20:1-9 (ESV)

There is a quality about John’s writings that are unique.  Not that the other New Testament writers churned out cookie cutter letters and testimonies.  Each is unique and special in it’s own way.

But John…

There is a humility about John, a quality of identity that comes through loud and clear in his gospel.  When John penned his gospel, he was most likely an old man.  He had been traveling his path for decades.  And the road of a first century Christian was not easy.

This was a time of political instability.  During John’s lifetime, there reigned no less than eleven (and perhaps as many as thirteen) Roman emperors, each with his own view of how to deal with Christians and Jews.  Some were indifferent, considering Christians to be some crazy little sect of Judaism.  Others were downright hostile (such as Nero, who used Christians as scapegoats for the burning of Rome, having their heads stuck on poles and lit as lanterns to illuminate the streets).  It was toward the end of Nero’s reign that Peter and Paul were both put to death.

During John’s time, walking around proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ was a punishable offense in the eye of the Roman authorities.  They did not take kindly to anyone proclaiming the message of anyone about the current Caesar, revering their emperors as gods themselves.

Despite the odds, despite the hardships and the harshness of life, despite all the pain and difficulties John faced in his walk of faith, here he is: an old man of great humility.  He’s not bitter.  He’s not angry about how things have turned out.  He’s loving.

He’s humble.

John is so humble that he refuses to refer to himself in the first person.  When you see a reference to anyone named John in the fourth gospel, it is John the Baptist being mentioned, not John the Apostle.  In fact, John identifies himself as “the other disciple” and, most importantly, “the one whom Jesus loved.”

This is not a statement of superiority over the other apostles.  One can read John 20:1-10 and believe John is gloating a bit, as if he is saying, “I am the one Jesus loved.  And I beat Peter in the foot race to the tomb and got the first peak inside.”

Actually, John is merely recording the facts, correctly and honestly.  He is giving detailed testimony to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the most important event in all human history.  He was an eyewitness.  And he is telling us in detail what happened.

Humility is vital on many levels.  For one, humility begets honesty.  John makes sure we understand that, although he arrived first to the tomb, it was Peter who was bold enough to go into the tomb.  This from the man who mere hours ago was cowering in fear, trying to blend into the crowd and disavowing any association with Jesus Christ.  John, through his humble honesty, helps us see Peter’s humanity during a time of great stress and confusion.  We get to see the hope that propelled this broken fisherman to run into the tomb and see that Jesus had done the impossible: raised from the dead.

Humility also brings strength.  When we are humble, we are more able to understand our identity in Christ.  John knew his.  He was the one whom Jesus loved.  He was no longer John the Fisherman, or John the Apostle.  His identity was fully formed in the statement “the one who Jesus loved.”  John recognizes that he has lived this long life because it was the Lord’s will:

20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who had been reclining at table close to him and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” 21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” 23 So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” 24 This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true. John 21:20-24 (ESV)

Humility boldly sets the record straight.  It frames our view of reality because, when we take our eyes off of ourselves, we can better see the reality of God.  Humility opens our eyes and hearts to the fact that “(we) are not (our) own, for (we) were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19b-20, ESV).  If we recline at a feast next to Jesus Christ, it is not because any of us is any great shakes.  We did not – cannot – earn such honor, for without Christ, we have no honor.  We are sinful.  We are lost. We cannot save ourselves.

But Jesus saves us.  He changes us.  He makes us righteous.  He prepares a place for us in heaven, even though we don’t deserve us.  He loves us.  He cares for us.  He makes us His own.

And John so humbly knew it.

But, here is the thing.  The apostle John does not own the sole right to be “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  If that were true, his gospel would be nothing more than an opportunity to brag.  John is giving his testimony that we may see the Truth, that each of us is the one whom Jesus loves.  John is shining a bright light on our Hope, our Peace.  He shows us that Jesus is God, and God loves us – always has, always will.  We are His.

When we get tied up in self – whether through worry or doubt or self-delusion or exaltation – we can’t see the Truth.  We can’t identify who we really are.  But when we realize our identity is not based on our performance or how others view us or anything we may think about ourselves… when we see our identity is in The One Who created us, Who loves us and provides for us a way out of our predicament… then we can humbly set our “self” aside and see that we are who Christ says we are.  We are His.

We are His.

Soak in that for awhile.



Tough Jobs. I Mean Really Tough Jobs…

4  Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5  Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. – 2 Corinthians 3:4-6 (ESV)

There are some tough, grueling, dangerous jobs out there.  Underground miners.  Seafaring commercial fishermen.  Space-bound astronauts who sit atop a huge seething rocket waiting to be blasted out of the atmosphere, only to return through the fiery blaze of re-entry. Police officers and firemen, who face danger every day.  Construction workers perched on an I-beam far above the not-so-soft concrete below.  Utility linemen, strapped to a wooden pole, dealing with high voltage electricity.  (I can still remember, as a child, seeing my Uncle Larry – a telephone lineman – at the top of a utility pole, waving down at us, not fearing the fact that he was about 40 feet above us with no net underneath). Democratic presidential candidates on Fox News.

In Old Testament times, it would not have been unreasonable to place “prophet” on this list.  Many died for what they believed and proclaimed.  According to tradition, Isaiah was sawn in half.  Jeremiah faced stoning.  Ezekiel, Micah and Amos were martyred.

And work was no easier for the apostles of Jesus Christ.  In fact, their mortality was amazingly high.  The probability of being killed in the line of work for these men was at least 8 out of 11 (not counting Judas Iscariot for obvious reasons).  That’s roughly a 73% probability that you would not live to retire and draw on your 401(k).

James (the brother of John) was put to death by Herod Agrippa.

Tradition holds that Thomas was stabbed in India, Matthew was martyred (as was Thaddeus) and  Andrew was crucified.

Peter was also crucified – upside-down.

Paul was beheaded by the Romans around the same time as Peter.

James of Alpheus was either crucified or stoned and clubbed to death (his brains coming out of his skull) after being physically thrown from the temple by Pharisees.

The fates of Philip, Bartholomew and Simon the Zealot are unknown, even to tradition.

I think of these men.  And I look at myself, and the things that make me anxious or bring me down.  There is no comparison.

No comparison.

How did these men do it?  How did the apostles face certain hardship and probable death by methods most painful and gruesome and humiliating?

Simple: there hope was in Christ.  Paul said it quite succinctly: I have no hope in self.  I know that, on my own, I cannot do it.  But Jesus Christ did it.  He was perfect, flawless, sinless, and He died a horrific death on the cross.  He came to die and rise again and bring me hope.  And because of that hope I have confidence in God through Jesus Christ.

12 Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, 13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. 14 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 3:12-18 (ESV)

Boldness comes from reliance in God through Jesus Christ.  Not circumstances.  Not our own abilities.  But God’s grace.

Boldness comes in trusting the Lord.  He has each of us in His grip.  Our past, present and future are in His more than capable hands.  Our part is to seek Him, our only fear being the fear of the Lord.  Our part is to follow God.

Our part is to love God first, and love our neighbors.

Today, stand boldly on God’s Word.  Know that He is with you no matter what you face.  Know that the very Power (the Holy Spirit) Who enabled Paul and the apostles to face the most difficult of situations – great dangers, perhaps even death – lives within you.

Knowing God Himself lives within you, what could you possibly have to fear?


Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. – Philippians 4:1 (ESV)

The books of the Bible weren’t written with chapter and verse notations.  Those were inserted much later by Biblical scholars and translators.  (The chapters we use today were developed in the 13th century, with the further division into verses appearing roughly 200 years after that).

While the division of Scripture into chapters and verses is vital for Biblical study (can you imagine trying to reference a portion of Scripture otherwise?), it can detract from the flow of the message.  It invites us to study God’s Word in bits and pieces instead of as a whole.  (This is why it is much better to read the Bible a book at a time.)

Sometimes – not often, but occasionally – the chapter and verse splits are in odd places.  Philippians 4:1 is one of those places.  Thematically it fits better at the end of chapter 3, summing up the reason for our standing firm in the Lord.

What gives this away?  The word “therefore”.  Paul is telling us that, because of the message he has just shared, we have every reason to stand firm in the Lord.

And just what is that reason?

17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19  Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.  1 Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. – Philippians 3:17-4:1 (ESV)

Our reason to stand firm in Christ is because of the promise of salvation, of heavenly citizenship, of transformation, by His power “that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself.”  In other words, God is in control.  God is reality.  The Lord is our firm foundation.  We have nothing but hope in Him, and every reason to stand firm.

When our minds are set on the junk of this world, we are led away from God.  We are tempted with desires and lusts and anger and worry and fear and doubt… We get so wrapped up in our little worlds that we forget God created this place to be beautiful, to be with Him.  (Adam and Eve spoiled that for all generations since.)

We forget Who is important.

We forget Who is control.

We forget God.

And that’s a problem.

Remember always that God is our firm foundation, never changing, ever faithful (even when we are not), ever steadfast, ever true.  Nothing in this material world has any worth when compared to our Creator.  Despite the troubles, despite the storms, despite our worries and fears, God is in control.  He says what is and isn’t.

In that we can all find great comfort, knowing our lives are in the hands of a loving God, Who has a plan for us – even in our deepest need or pain or loss.

Therefore, rest in the Lord.  Stand firm in Him always. You have every reason to trust Him with every aspect of your life.