April 30, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 151: Lamb of God

Lamb of God

"The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, 'Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!'"
(John 1:29 NKJV)

In the 
intricate, masterfully woven tapestry that is the Bible, Jesus is the best and most beautiful thread.

He is the One Who ties up all the loose ends...the One Who never unravels.

Almost from the very beginning, the thread of a lamb runs through.

In Genesis, we see the provisional lamb: "'The fire and wood are here,' Isaac said, 'but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?' Abraham answered, 'God himself will provide the lamb'" (22:8). 

In Exodus, we see the Passover lamb: "Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the door-frame....When the LORD goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the door-frame and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down" (12:21-23).

In 1 Samuel, we see the pleading lamb: "Samuel took a young lamb and offered it to the LORD as a whole burnt offering. He pleaded with the LORD to help Israel, and the LORD answered him" (7:9).

And in John, we see the Perfect Lamb: "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (1:29).

God the Father loves His Son. Let us not think that just because God knew the ultimate victory Jesus would achieve that He did not ache with sorrow over the suffering His Beloved had to endure on the way to glory. 

If any earthly lamb had been enough to save us—enough to complete the tapestry of redemption—God surely would have woven it in instead. But every other thread that might have saved us had unraveled: every sacrifice, every king, every law. 

And so, in the most perfect of all fulfillments of the words spoken by an earthly father—"God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son"—God the Father provided the Lamb, His Son.

This is stunning in its completion. But perfect as it is, there is more to come. God's eternal tapestry is still being woven. The greatest beholding of the Lamb is still ahead.

"Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals....Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders....Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang: 'Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!'" (Revelation 5)

Then...then, we will behold Him. 

April 29, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 150: God of the Yet

God of the Yet

"I remember my affliction and my wandering...I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." (Lamentations 3:19a, 20-23 NIV).

My husband, God bless him, is a die-hard college sports fan. His blood runs the colors of his alma mater, and he loves and believes in his team whether they’re winning or losing. He’s an all-weather fan.

I didn’t grow up in a sport-centric household. Out of love for my husband, I’ve learned what downs are in football and where three-point range is in basketball. I root for my husband’s team, and when they’re doing well, I’m an enthusiastic supporter. But if they’ve just given away a big game or are on a losing streak, I leave my NCAA-approved college-logo sweatshirt in the closet. I’m a fair-weather fan.

But here’s the sticking point: this is often how it is in my relationship with God. I regularly practice fair-weather faith. I enthusiastically worship God when everything is going the way I want it to. I testify to His goodness when I feel His presence and His blessings. When I’m not sure what He’s doing, though, or when I think I can tell what He’s doing but don’t like it, I pull away from Him and hold back my praise.

And this is a problem, because we are not called to love God “when” or “if.” We are called to love God. Period.

The Psalmist knew the formula for all-weather faith, and it hinges on a single word: yet. He describes his soul as “downcast” and “disturbed” (Psalm 42:11) but does not stop there: “I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.” In the midst of a struggle—not when it is over or improved or resolved, but while it is still going on—the saved soul decides to praise God.

In his book of laments, the prophet Jeremiah shows this same “yet” kind of faith. I love that the consistency and connection of Scripture are on full display here: we are told that in his own “yet” moment, Jeremiah too, finds his soul to be downcast. “Yet this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope…” (Lamentations 3:21). Same state of soul, same hinge word, same decision to extol God and affirm who He is.

As a naturally melancholy personality, my soul often dwells in the land of the downcast. When I am there, praise and hope are not my default reactions: withdrawal and wallowing are. But I can learn a new way. When storm clouds of worry, uncertainty, sickness, hardship, or sorrow roll in, I can make the choice to make a habit of defaulting to yet.

Yet, I can choose to praise God. Yet, I can choose to “call to mind” truth about who God is. Yet, I can choose to worship in the waiting, in the meantime, in the midst. 

I. Will. Yet. Praise. Him.

April 28, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 149: God of Hard Places

God of Hard Places

“I am the LORD, the God of all the peoples of the world. Is anything too hard for me? 
(Jeremiah 32:27 NLT)

This is too hard, God.

I have friends who are in such hard places right now. Hard places like cancer and grief and loss and depression. You probably have friends in these places, too. You probably are in some of these places, too.

These hard places are part of a world that is not as God wants it to be, but that doesn't mean He has checked out of them.

If God is not God of these hard places, then He is not Lord of all. But He is, and He is.

In the hard place of trials, God is a way through: "When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze" (Isaiah 43:2).

In the hard place of opposition, God is a way around: "On the seventh day, they got up at daybreak and marched around the city seven times in the same manner, except that on that day they circled the city seven times. The seventh time around, when the priests sounded the trumpet blast, Joshua commanded the army, 'Shout! For the LORD has given you the city!'" (Joshua 6:15,16).

In the hard place of destruction, God is a way over: "When the LORD goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down" (Exodus 12:23).

In the hard place of temptation, God is a way out: "When you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it" (1 Corinthians 10:13).

A few years ago, well into my 40s, I listened to a recording my mom
 had made of a mini concert I did at my church when I was just barely a twenty-something. I sang while my dear friend and brilliant pianist played, to raise money for the church's beautiful new grand piano. I listened to myself introduce those songs and share what they told me about God and, true though the words I spoke were, I thought, "You didn't even know Him then! You didn't even know Him." Thanks be to God, I did know Him then, but looking back, I could see how the hard places He'd taken me through in the intervening years had brought me closer to Himself...and, oh the joy of it, I wouldn't have traded those hard lessons in hard places for anything.

"This is too hard, God," we tell Him. But then He helps us in the hard and helps us through the hard, and the next time He asks, "Is anything too hard for me?" our voice is a little bit stronger when we answer, "No, God...nothing."

April 27, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 148: The Stone of Israel

The Stone of Israel

"The arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the Mighty God of Jacob (from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel)." (Genesis 49:24 NKJV)

"Careful! I've put a huge stone on the road to Mount Zion, a stone you can't get around. But the stone is me! If you're looking for me, you'll find me on the way, not in the way." (Romans 9:33 MSG)

I had a stone stuck in the treads of one of my walking shoes the other morning. It was only a tiny thing, but every time I took a step, I felt its presence. It distracted me and made me feel as though my stride was off. My walk was a lot more productive once I dislodged what turned out to be just a little pebble.

Maybe you're dealing with a distracting stone just now, and maybe it's a lot bigger than a pebble. And maybe it's not just stuck, symbolically, in your shoe but is actually blocking the road ahead of you so it's all you can see, with no way around it. 

In her heart-wrenching but hope-filled book, "When I Lay My Isaac Down," author Carol Kent tells the story of having to surrender her "Isaac"—her son—to a future she would never have dreamed for him in her worst nightmares. 

This is a story of choosing to pursue God in the middle of a journey that might never arrive at a happy ending this side of heaven. This is a story of even-though faith. This is a story that Carol continued to write about in two subsequent books, including "Between a Rock and a Grace Place," which begins, in part, with this perspective-shifting revelation:

"It has now been more than a decade ago, right in the middle of my life, that I ran into a huge boulder—the likes of which I had never encountered on my lifelong walk with God. It could have been my stopping place—the point at which I lost not only some of my most cherished dreams but also my faith, my joy, my purpose, and my passion to go on. Instead, I found out that the Rock in my path represented not an obstacle but an opportunity to encounter the living God in surprising, sometimes astonishing ways. As I have learned to press into the Rock in the middle of my hard places, I have discovered that I am actually in a position of safety, refuge, and grace. On the road that is your life right now, you can find a new way of thinking about your circumstances, as well as an astonishing experience of grace tailor-made just for you."

Oh, my friends, if you're staring down a stone in your path today, how I pray you'll hear the voice of God speaking to your mind and heart:

"Dear one, I am the Stone. I am not in the way; I am the Way. Don't look past Me; look at Me. I will get you where I want you to go, but for today, I am Grace for where you are."

April 26, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 147: Friend


"But when the Son of Man came, he ate and drank as you do. And you say, 'This fellow is always eating and drinking far too much. He's a friend of tax collectors and 'sinners.''" (Luke 7:34 NIRV)

My daughters spent Easter weekend this year in Florida with their grandparents. It was a quick trip, but it was worth it. They'd both wanted to go down over their spring breaks, but now that my older daughter is in college, those breaks no longer line up. I kept suggesting other lovely friends they could take along, but they both kept saying the same thing: "I just want Sissy." 

There's nothing quite like a friend who is also your sister, because you know that no matter how annoyed you might get with each other or how much "too much togetherness" you might have, your relationship with them is written in blood or, sometimes, in the ink of adoption papers that declare you to be family forever.

Once upon a time, God looked at us and said, "I want them." And so He asked His Son, "Will you go down and get them for me?" And Jesus said, "Yes." He came as Emmanuel and King and Redeemer but also as Friend...a
 Friend whose relationship to us is written in His blood.

"Friendship," wrote C.S. Lewis, "is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.'"

Jesus can be and is this kind of Friend because He walked Earth's streets as a man, feeling what men and women feel, hurting the way we hurt, needing what we need, wanting what we want.

And so when we tell this Friend, "I'm lonely," He says to us, "I know. I was, too. I understand."

When we tell this Friend, "I've been betrayed," He says to us, "I know. I was, too. I understand."

When we tell this Friend, "I've been hurt," He says to us, "I know. I was, too. I understand."

Sometimes, friends wear split-heart necklaces to show their connection, each of them with an incomplete half made whole by the other. This is how our hearts are, too: incomplete without Jesus...a Friend who allowed His heart to be split so that ours could be made whole.

"Jesus! What a Friend for sinners!
Jesus! Lover of my soul!
Friends may fail me, foes assail me,
He, my Savior, makes me whole.

Hallelujah! What a Savior!
Hallelujah! What a Friend!
Saving, helping, keeping, loving,
He is with me to the end."

(From "Our Great Savior;" words by J. Wilbur Chapman, music by Rowland H. Prichard, arranged by Robert Harkness; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kiv1FozVY-s.)

April 25, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 146: All in All

All in All

"Christ is all, and is in all." (Colossians 3:11 NIV)

I have a bad habit I need to break. 

Okay, I have several habits I could stand to kick to the curb, but the one I'm thinking of at the moment is my tendency toward an "if I just/then" mindset.

My mental repeat loop goes like this: "if I can *just* get past that thing I'm dreading or don't want to do or am stressed about, *then* I will have peace." Or, "if I can *just* hit that mark/achieve that goal/get to that particular point, *then* I will be satisfied." 

Of course, you see my folly here. I never do get to "then," or if I do, I never stay there very long. I'm settling for part instead of pursuing all.

A pauper instead of the Prince of Peace.
A pebble instead of the Rock.
A maybe instead of the Yes of God.
A bandage instead of the Healer.

Jesus—the All in All—offers us the whole, not just part. He offers us completion, not just a start. 

I need to ask God to overhaul my "just/then" default setting. Instead of thinking, "If I can just get past...then..." I need to pray, "God, help me to do the next thing You're calling me to do today with excellence and gratitude."

And instead of always trying to hit some mark or win some prize I think will bring me contentment, I need to unclench my fists and offer that longing to God as a sacrifice. 

"Here, God, take my desire for this thing I want. I give it to you as an offering. Make me want the whole of You more than I want a sliver of what You can give me. Move my mind and heart to know that You are not just some means to a treasure; You are the treasure. Help me to surrender my some and to find in You my all."

*   *   *   *   *   *
Song suggestion: this absolutely gorgeous version of "You Are My All in All;" Keith Lancaster & The Acappella Company; from "Awesome God: A Capella Worship;" 

April 24, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 145: Life


"I have come in order that you might have life—life in all its fullness." (John 10:10b GNT)

"This is the life."

Maybe you've made this comment while you were on vacation or in some other relaxed setting. (It usually comes with a contented sigh.) I can pretty much count on hearing it from my daughters when we're at a family lake cottage we all love. They'll be out on the water in tubes they've tethered to a raft so they don't drift away, floating lazily without worry and basking in the summer sun with the special kind of freedom that comes from being a student on summer vacation. (Did I just sigh out loud?)

"This is the life." 

Jesus was big on life, having given His so we could gain ours. 

He came and gave so that we could have "life in all its fullness" (John 10:10b). 

Life full of power (2 Timothy 1:7).
Life full of hope (Hebrews 6:19).
Life full of faith (Hebrews 10:22).
Life full of joy (John 15:11).
Life full of purpose (Romans 8:28).

You may have heard the question, "Is your glass half-full or half-empty?" Whichever way you look at it, I know I tend to settle for half where the benefits of life in Christ are concerned: partly-charged power; fingers-crossed hope; fair-weather faith; as-long-as joy; good-enough purpose. All of which the enemy likes, because as long we're settling, he counts us as safe.

But Jesus is not a "half" kind of a Savior. He is bubbling up, spilling over the top, running down the sides. And the full life He's talking about isn't just for someday in the future; it's for this day in the present. This powerful, hopeful, faithful, joyful, purposeful life is the life He holds out to us now while He leads us by the hand to the fullest of full.

"It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life" (Revelation 21:6).

April 23, 2019

My Children Aren't Going Into Math or Science, But They're the Future, Too


I have two children, and both of them are good students who work hard at their studies. My husband and I do not take this for granted. 

Both have been able, with diligence, to achieve solid academic records in their classes, including math and science. But neither of them likes math or science enough to even take the entrance exam for our area's math and science center, much less pursue either field as a career.

My older daughter wants to teach preschool or early elementary students. Three- and four- and five-year-olds are her people.

My younger daughter wants to teach dance. Budding ballerinas are her people.

I've seen all the lists about "20 most promising careers for the future" and "30 college majors that will pay off" and "grads with these 40 degrees will be in demand in 2040." 

I know that "preschool teacher" and "dance studio owner and teacher" are not on these lists.

I know that math and science and students who are skilled at them and careers based on them and employees trained in them are essential to our sustainability as a society. I'm so thankful there are kids who are passionate about these subjects. They are the future.

But my children are the future, too.

I tell them this, because others don't. Teachers, counselors, relatives... a few of all of these have told my students they're wasting their potential or won't make any money or are just plain crazy to be pursuing their chosen career paths. I know these people truly have good intentions. They care about my daughters' futures and want the best for them...and maybe they know things we don't.

But someday, there might be a preschooler who could grow up to solve some unsolvable equation or cure some incurable disease but who, as a beginning learner, does not feel loved or valued at home and who acts up in class because of it. Maybe this child will need a teacher who sees past that behavior and gets to the root of it and shows this child he or she is loved and valued. Maybe my daughter will be that teacher.

Or maybe there will be a future leader in business or government who starts out as a student who doesn't fit in with all the usual teams and clubs at school and needs another way to create and express. Maybe they will need a dance teacher who can show them the power of music and movement with the passion of someone who knows that power firsthand. Maybe my daughter will be that teacher.

wrote Kate Douglas Wiggin in Virtue magazine, "there is the child who will paint the greatest picture or carve the greatest statue of the age; who will deliver his country in an hour of peril; give his life for a great principle; another born more of the spirit than of the flesh who will live continually on the heights of moral being and in dying will draw other to morality. It may be that I shall preserve one of these children to the race. It is a peg big enough on which to hang a hope." 

The race forward is being run by future doctors and chemists and engineers and teachers and musicians and dancers and electricians and mechanics and cooks and ministers and lawyers and managers. Together, they are a peg big enough to hang our hopes on.

So I'll drive my daughter to another dance class and delicate-cycle wash another leotard. I'll proofread another emailed paper on the importance of multicultural education. I'll preserve my children to the race they're running. And I'll be cheering the loudest when they pass every mile marker along the way to the future.

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 144: Promise Keeper

Promise Keeper

"The angel said to the women, 'Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.'"(Matthew 28:5, 6a NIV)

"He is not here; He has risen, just as he said."

These eleven words are God's great "yes."

Yes to the once-for-all sacrifice of His son.
Yes to victory over death.
Yes to a future for us.
Yes to a relationship with us.

"He is not here."

Because Jesus was not there, He is here with us now. Because Jesus was not in the grave, He can be in our hearts. Because He did what He said He would do and does what He says He will do, we can be who He says we are:

Reborn, remade, renewed.
Loved with a love that died to save us and lives to save us.

"He has risen, just as he said."

Jesus rose from the dead "just" as He said He would. I love the way the Yes of God puts the "full" in fulfillment. He is not a just-barely Promise Keeper; He keeps every promise of His Father completely and lavishly. 

Sometimes, we make cheap promises that don't cost us anything to keep, but Jesus made the most expensive promise ever...a promise that cost Him everything to keep. 

It reminds me of a scene from one of my favorite movies: in it, a couple from vastly different families is engaged to be married, and in order to be accepted into his beloved's family, the groom-to-be agrees to take part in a particular ceremony as his bride-to-be looks on with her family at her side. 

"See," her brother says to her comfortingly. "It's not so bad."

"Are you kidding?" she answers him incredulously. "Any minute, he's going to look at me and say, "You're so not worth it."

"Yes, you are," her brother tells her, without missing a beat.

We look at what Jesus had to go through to bring us—with all our baggage and our shortcomings—into His family, and we say to Him, "I'm so not worth it."

Without missing a beat, our sweet Savior tells us, "Yes, beloved, you are."

April 22, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 143: God Who Wins

God Who Wins

"'Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?' The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Corinthians 15:55-57 NIV)

On Election Day 1948, the Chicago Tribune ran the headline, "Dewey Defeats Truman." Owing to a printers' strike, the newspaper had gone to press earlier than usual and so declared Thomas Dewey the victor in the Presidential race over Harry S. Truman. 

The headline seemed logical: Dewey was the victor everyone expected...the victor all apparent evidence pointed toward. Except that the headline was wrong. When the final votes were tallied, Truman had won one of the biggest upsets in U.S. Presidential history.

Even absent a printers' strike, morning newspapers always go to press ahead of the morning, so if there had been a headline for that first Easter Sunday, it would surely have read "Death Defeats Jesus" or  "Death Wins." Death would have been the victor everyone expected...the victor all apparent evidence pointed toward.

Except that the Easter Sunday headline, written in Saturday's dark, would have been wrong. When the final votes were tallied, the God Who Wins had won the biggest upset in human history. 

In the nights of our own Saturdays, we might also be tempted to write our own headlines:

"Despair Wins."
"Heartbreak Wins."
"Unforgiveness Wins."
"Hopelessness Wins."

But God is still writing our stories. And when morning comes, it doesn't matter how many ballots are cast against us: our past, others' opinions, our own natures, our circumstances, the outcome that seems obvious. On that first Easter weekend, Jesus cast the deciding vote...for us.

Read the headlines today, my friends. Repeat the good news to yourself. Then tell it to someone else.

Jesus is alive.
Love won.
Love wins.

April 21, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 142: The Resurrection

The Resurrection

"Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.'" (John 11:25 NIV)

Hallelujah, He is risen.

He is risen indeed.

"What sets the Christian faith apart from all other beliefs and religious systems really comes down to this: if you visit the tombs of any of the religious leaders in history, you will find them occupied. But if you visit the tomb of Jesus Christ, you will find it empty, because He is alive. We serve a living Savior. Jesus Christ was not a man who became God; He was God who became a man" (Greg Laurie).

Hallelujah, He is risen!
He is risen indeed.

"In the resurrection of Jesus, God rejected our rejection. In the crucifixion we said no to God, but in the resurrection God said yes to us" (Philip Gulley, "Home to Harmony).

Hallelujah, He is risen!
He is risen indeed!

"The head that once was crowned with thorns
Is crowned with glory now.
The Savior knelt to wash our feet,
Now at His feet we bow.
The One who wore our sin and shame,
Now robed in majesty.
The radiance of perfect love
Now shines for all to see.

Your name, Your name
Is victory.
All praise, will rise

To Christ, our king.

By Your spirit I will rise
From the ashes of defeat.
The resurrected King, is resurrecting me.
In Your name I come alive
To declare Your victory.
The resurrected king, is resurrecting me."

(From "Resurrecting;" Elevation Worship; songwriters Christopher Brown, Wade Joye, Steven Furtick, Matthews Thabo Ntele , Mack Brock; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHGFNUlEZ8M.)


April 20, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 141: God of the Wait

God of the Wait

"In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly." (Psalm 53:3 NIV)

The day in between Good Friday and Easter is known as Holy Saturday, but I always think of it as Waiting Saturday...a day when it feels as though we're on hold between the agony of Good Friday and the celebration of Easter.

Yet it's a hovering, expectant kind of on-hold. We know what we're waiting for. We know we're waiting to rejoice, "He is risen!" We know what we're hoping for, and we know those hopes will be realized.

Jesus' first followers, though, did not have this assurance on that in-between day when all hope seemed dead. They did not know they were waiting for anything. They thought they'd reached the end. "They still did not understand from the Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead" (John 20:9). And it was not just that they did not understand; they forgot the promise of Jesus' resurrection altogether. "'Why do you look for the living among the dead?'" two angels asked the women who had come to the tomb to tend a body they fully expected to find. "'He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you while he was still with you...'" It was only after this angelic inquiry that "then they remembered" (Luke 24:5-8).

I wonder why God did not cause Jesus' friends to understand. Why did He not move their minds to grasp the truth of what was coming on the third day? Why did He allow them to wait until "then" to remember? I do not presume to know the mind of the Lord, but perhaps their example gives us hope during our own waiting, when we don't know what we're waiting for or even if we're waiting for anything at all.

On that first Holy Saturday, the greatest day in human history was just on the other side of their waiting, but those early Christ-followers didn't know it. And neither do we know what kind of new life, victory, or indescribable joy lies just on the other side of our waiting.

But we can know this: God is working while we're waiting.

"I know of no more steadying hope on which to focus my mind when circumstances tempt me to wonder why God doesn't 'do something.' He is always doing something—the very best thing, the thing we ourselves would certainly choose if we knew the end from the beginning" (Elisabeth Elliot, "A Lamp for My Feet").

April 19, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 140: The Salvation of the Lord

The Salvation of the Lord

"Sovereign LORD, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people." 
(Luke 2:29-31 NIV)

Every year, I start thinking about this particular day of the week leading up to Easter way back in November—specifically, on "Black Friday," the day after Thanksgiving when retailers hope to get "in the black," profit-wise. 

You probably know that this phrase goes back to the days when a positive balance in a company's account would be written in black ink, whereas a negative balance would be written in red.

Black Friday always brings to my mind another Friday that was also very black. A day when the Light of the World told darkness it could have its hour of reign. A day so ultimately lightened by the Morning Star, we now call it Good Friday.

What was bad about Good Friday was so very bad, it breaks our hearts: Jesus, tortured beyond human recognition. Our sin piercing His sinless head. God the Father turning His face away—because His holiness could not look on all that depravity, but also, we can almost imagine, because He knew if He looked on the suffering of His Beloved, He'd swoop in to save Him. (Of course, I know Jesus, being fully God, could have saved Himself. Of course I know God never loses control. Yet oh, the grief of His Father heart.)

But what was good about Good Friday was so very good, it saves our souls. 

Sweet friends, maybe today is a day so dark for you, you can't imagine how you'll ever see the light of a good day again. But maybe what God is allowing to darken your life right now is saving your soul, too.

Do you see it? We were all in the red. Our debt of sin was beyond repayment. But on that day called Good, The Salvation of the Lord asked that our deficit be transferred to His account. With the red of His blood, He wrote a new balance for each of us. 

And this accounting showed the greatest gain of all: the profit of our eternal lives.

April 18, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 139: Servant


"In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness." (Philippians 2:5-7 NIV)

The week leading up to Easter is sometimes called Passion Week, and no wonder: the fervor of God is on full display.

His fervor against evil and for good.
His fervor against sin and for righteousness.
His fervor against hate and for love.

Three days before Easter, we come to Maundy Thursday. "Maundy" comes from the Latin word "mandatum," meaning command, order, or commission. (And do you see our English word "mandate" as well?)

What is being commissioned here is the "new commandment" Jesus gave His disciples after He washed their feet:

"Just before the Passover Feast, Jesus knew that the time had come to leave this world to go to the Father. Having loved his dear companions, he continued to love them right to the end. So he got up from the supper table, set aside his robe, and put on an apron. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the feet of the disciples, drying them with his apron. 'You address me as 'Teacher' and 'Master,' and rightly so. That is what I am. So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other's feet. I've laid down a pattern for you. What I've done, you do. I'm only pointing out the obvious. A servant is not ranked above his master; an employee doesn't give orders to the employer. Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other'" (from John 13 MSG).

The Latin word "mandatum" that gives us "Maundy Thursday" reminds me of another Latin word: "manus," meaning "hand." (Think of our English words manipulate, manual, and manicure.) "Mandatum" and "manus" are not related, but I'm fascinated by the connection I see between them as it pertains to Jesus the Servant: His command (His "mandatum") was to love as He loved, to do as He did, to serve as He served—and so often, Jesus loved and did and served with His hands.

With His hands, He healed: "Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly" (Mark 8:25 NIV).

With His hands, He blessed: "And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them" (Mark 10:16 NIV).

With His hands, He confirmed: "He said to them, 'Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.' When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet" (Luke 24:38-40 NIV).

And with His hands, He holds: "I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand" (John 10:28 NIV).

Today, on this Maundy Thursday, we see the Servant's hands, washing His disciples' feet. May we also hear His voice, giving us a new command:

"Be my feet, and go. Be my hands, and serve."

April 17, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 138: Man of Sorrows

Man of Sorrows

"He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care." (Isaiah 53:3 NLT)

Sometimes our culture that so highly values cheerfulness and optimism does not know what to do with the Man of Sorrows. 

But if Jesus is to be everything else He is, He must also be this.

How could Jesus be our Shepherd if His heart never broke with sorrow for the lost sheep? How could He be our Healer if His heart never broke with sorrow for the sick? How could He be our Redeemer if His heart never broke with sorrow for the imprisoned? How could He be our Friend if His heart never broke with sorrow for the lonely?

But He was and is, because His heart did and does.

Finally, Jesus took the ultimate source of our sorrow—our sin and the separation from God it causes—upon Himself. He had never known what the weight of sin felt like. He had never known anything but perfect fellowship with Abba. Yet He allowed the heavy sin of the whole world to pierce His head, and he chose to endure the terrible moment when His own Father turned away. The Man of Sorrows had to do this, because there was no other way.

But because He did do it, this glorious promise from Isaiah 35:10 is not just wishful thinking but an absolute certainty: "The ransomed of the LORD will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away."

April 16, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 137: Desired of all Nations

Desired of all Nations

"This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come and I will fill this house with glory,' says the LORD Almighty." 
(Haggai 2:6,7 NIV)

"You alone are my heart's desire, and I long to worship you" ("As the Deer").

"Jesu, joy of man's desiring, holy wisdom, love most bright" ("Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring").

"Dear Desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart" ("Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus").

I didn't realize how many songs of worship portray Jesus as our "desire" until I started looking into this name.

"Desire" is not a neutral word. It conveys passion, intensity, and longing. Our secular culture has perverted it, perhaps, but here again, we see that Jesus is able to take every twisted thing and straighten it out into a line that leads us to truth.

"A desire fulfilled is sweet to the soul" (Proverbs 13:19 ESV). Jesus is both the desire of every longing heart and the Fulfillment of that desire. 

Yet even as I type those words, I think of the story of the little boy who was afraid of the dark. His mother told him he didn't need to be scared because "Jesus is here with you." To which her son replied, "Yes, I know, but I need someone with skin on." 

I'm wondering: how does the Desired of all Nations want us to be Him "with skin on" today? How might He want to use us—skin and all—to fulfill someone's longing for comfort, encouragement, friendship, or hope?

I'm still working out the answers to these questions for myself, but one thing I know for certain is that when Jesus uses us to fulfill the desires of others' hearts, that fulfillment is sweet to their souls...and sweet to ours, too.

April 15, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 136: Prophet


"Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him...They were all filled with awe and praised God. 'A great prophet has appeared among us,' they said. 'God has come to help his people.'" 
(Luke 7:11,16 NIV)

A few weeks ago, our daughter texted her dad and me from college and asked, "Can I call you guys later? I have some good news to tell you." 

After thinking about it for approximately 0.00 seconds, we said yes and waited for her call. 

This is the kind of message we like to get, because we like it when our children have good news to tell us (even if wondering what her news was just about killed me, and in case you're wondering yourself, she shared with us a direction she thinks God might be taking her once she gets her degree in early childhood education).

God's prophets under the Old Covenant had news to tell, too, but it wasn't always all that good. Sometimes, God sent them to warn His people to get their act together or to let them know about some entirely deserved punishment He was justly going to hand down. 

This was definitely a case of "don't shoot the messenger," because God's Old Testament prophets were essentially His mailmen. They just delivered the letters; they didn't write them. They just communicated the messages; they didn't come up with them.

But Jesus was not only a prophet, He was THE Prophet. He not only brought good news, He was—and is—the Good News. He not only declared God's words, He was—and is—the Word.

What God used His earlier prophets to do, Jesus did once and for all. Literally, "for all"...because His message is for everyone. Now, God uses us to deliver His good news. We do this when we invite a co-worker to church or teach a Sunday School class or tell someone we're praying for them (and do it) or send a friend an encouraging Bible verse or share a song. And there are so many other ways.

When God's ancient prophets had good news to deliver, it was often about something in the future its recipients were going to have to wait a long while to see materialize, if they saw it at all. But you and I do not have to wait a single moment to both hear and share the news that filled the crowd that day with awe, because in the person of Jesus, "God has come to help His people." 

April 14, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 135: King of kings

King of kings

On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. (Revelation 19:16 NIV)

(Friends, I know this is a little unusual, but you might want to click on this song link, start it at the 11:18 mark, and let it play in the background just while you read today's entry on our Names of God journey...I think the music augments this particular name

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I may share a name with a queen, but I don't know much about royalty or monarchies. I do know, though, that the kings of the Old Testament (the "little-k" kings) were essentially allowed to rule until they died. Sometimes, their demise was hastened by those who wanted them dethroned prematurely, but the basic provision was there: lifetime reign. 

These earthly kings ruled until their reign was ended by death; Jesus the King of kings reigns because He rules over death. These earthly kings were on the throne while they were living; Jesus the King of kings is on the throne because He lives.

The New Living Translation (NLT) of today's verse reads, "On his robe at his thigh was written this title: King of all kings and Lord of all lords (Revelation 19:16 NLT).

I love the way this translation demonstrates that Jesus is the "of all." 

Whatever good thing there might be in our lives, Jesus is the best of it. Whatever partial blessing there might be, Jesus is the whole of it.

Jesus is the Joy of all joys.
He is the Hope of all hopes.
He is the Song of all songs.

And, truly, He is the King of all kings.

April 13, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 134: Rising Sun

Rising Sun

"The rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace." 
(Luke 1:78b,79 NIV)

I've always liked the adage, "The darkest hour is just before dawn," which I first came across in the "Little House on the Prairie" books. I know some people find this saying trite or even depressing, but to me, it's hopeful: often, when we're in a dark "hour," the light of a new day is just getting ready to break...even though we might not be able to see it.

The "hours" just before Jesus the Rising Sun heralded a new day were arguably the darkest of any age. God had by most accounts been silent for 400 years. He had not sent new prophets to deliver His messages. No godly king from the line of David was on the throne. Messianic prophecy that a righteous, redeeming Branch would spring from the root of Jesse seemed stalled in unfulfillment.

But then: "the people walking in darkness" saw "a great light" (Isaiah 9:2), and from that new day forward, this Rising Sun has never set. Not even when He hung on a cross and darkness was given its hour of reign (Luke 22:53). Not even when His earthly body was shrouded in the tomb's blackness. 

Not even...not ever.

Sweet friends, if you're in a black night yourself just now, how I pray you'll soon start to see the glimmer of a new day.

In the dark night of mourning, the Rising Sun is the light of joy.
In the dark night of weakness, the Rising Sun is the light of strength.
In the dark night of turmoil, the Rising Sun is the light of peace.
In the dark night of despair, the Rising Sun is the light of hope.

Dear Jesus, thank you for being fully present with us in our dark hours. Thank you for being the Rising Sun that heralds the dawn. Help us see You with eyes of faith in the darkness and then to turn our faces to the east to watch You break a new day.

April 12, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 133: Chosen One

Chosen One

"The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, 'He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.'" 
(Luke 23:35 NIV)

When I was in elementary school, I had a friend who had some sort of hidden medical condition that gave her a permanent pass from gym class. I was sorry for whatever her issue was but deeply envious of her gym excuse. 

Except for when we did the gymnastics and running units, I hated and dreaded gym class. I had (and have) no hand-eye coordination, so any sport that required my hand or an extension thereof (racket, stick, bat) to make contact with a ball was a source of humiliation. Worst of all was when teams were chosen. (And someone please tell me this relic of childhood emotional trauma has been done away with in modern gym classes?) My classmates and I stood in our lines, all of us thinking, "Pick me! Pick me!" I was always one of the last to be chosen. 

Jesus, on the other hand, was the first to be chosen. 

God the Father chose His best to do His most important work: save the world.

But in this job, the Chosen One still had a choice. Wearing His robe of human skin, Jesus was given the same free will as the rest of humanity, the same choice: to do Abba's bidding or not.

He could have chosen to serve Himself. He could have chosen to save Himself. He could have chosen to speak for Himself. 

But instead, Jesus chose to serve and save and remain silent amid the taunts of His tormentors. And in that choosing, He chose us: our salvation, our freedom, our eternity, our hope, our joy.

We are all standing on a line with the rest of humanity, pleading, "Pick me! Pick me!" Jesus is team captain, but He knows His is already the winning team. He wants us on it. He doesn't care what other people think of us. He doesn't care if we're any good at the game. He looks at us with tenderness and love and says, "I choose you."

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Song suggestion: "Who You Say I Am;" Hillsong Worship; songwriters Ben Fielding, Reuben Morgan; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKw6uqtGFfo.

April 11, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 132: Son of God

Son of God

"These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31 NIV)

"Who do people say I am?" Jesus asked His disciples this question one day (Mark 8), and they answered, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." Then He posed another question, a Big Question: "But what about you? Who do you say I am?"

And Peter answered, "You are the Messiah."

A little further along the timeline of Jesus' last days on earth, He himself is essentially asked this question: "Who do you say you are?" 

"At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and the teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them. 'If you are the Messiah,' they said, 'tell us.' Jesus answered, 'If I tell you, you will not believe me, and if I asked you, you would not answer. But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.' They all asked, 'Are you then the Son of God?' He replied,'You are right in saying I am'" (Luke 22:66-70).

It was one thing for Jesus to say He was the Son of Man; Jesus' inquisitors could have dismissed this as Him simply confirming the obvious fact of His humanity ...a fact they could see for themselves. But for Jesus to confirm Himself as the Son of God was another matter entirely, requiring that He be dealt with once and for all.

Thus was Jesus sentenced to the cruelest and most humiliating death possible...a method of execution normally reserved for the worst of criminals. Unholy fear and pride put Jesus on the cross, but He was held there by holy love for those He wanted to call His own.

"Who do people say I am?" This is a question we might ask with ourselves as the subject. Who do people say I am? Who do people say you are? Maybe they say we are someone's son or daughter. Maybe they say we are someone's mother or father. Maybe they say we are what we do...our profession. Or maybe they say we are something from our past we wish we could escape in the present.

But imagine if we ask the Son of God this question about ourselves: "What about you, Jesus? Who do You say I am?" 

And then we hear His answer: "You are a child of the Most High God."

"You came down, from heaven's throne,
This earth You formed, was not your home.
A love like this, the world had never known,
A crown of thorns, to mock your name.
Forgiveness fell upon Your face
A love like this, the world had never known.

On the altar of our praise
Let there be no higher name,
Jesus Son of God.
You laid down your perfect life,
You are the sacrifice,
Jesus Son of God.
You are Jesus Son of God."

(From "Jesus Son of God;" Chris Tomlin and Christy Nockels; songwriters Chris Tomlin, Jason Ingram, Matt Maher; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yj_s9_45QpI.)