DAY 40: THE STORY OF MY LIFE

And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

ISAIAH 25:7-9 (ESV)

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

COLOSSIANS 1:13-14 (ESV)

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.

ROMANS 6:8-11 (ESV)

You know, we’ve spent centuries trying to find the perfect words to describe exactly what happened, and nothing seems to fit.

We’ve tried using sports analogies to summarize it. Maybe it’s a comeback narrative, we think. But could it really be a comeback win when God called his shot way back in the Old Testament, generations before the Spirit came to Mary?

We’ve tried seeing if dramatic narratives could work. Maybe it’s really like a twist ending, the kind M. Night Shyamalan or Jordan Peele might create. But that isn’t quite right either. After all, God kept spoiling the ending with promises made long before that night it all started in a Bethlehem barn.

War analogies are another favorite of ours. The victorious hero wages battle against a foe and triumphs in bloody victory when defeat seemed assured. Maybe that’s a little closer. But what kind of war has ever been won by dying on a battlefield?

When it comes down to it, when we’re confronted with the awesome creativity and power of God’s salvation, our words seem as empty as the tomb Jesus left behind. How could we begin to describe what happened? Nothing really seems to fit because there is nothing really like it. Resurrection stands alone.

The more Easters I celebrate, the more I think that’s kind of the point. It’s the grandest tale ever told, but it really floats on the simplest of terms. Darkness. Light. Despair. Hope. Death. Life. Sorrow. Joy. We could color these with vivid pictures and creative analogies. And there’s certainly a place for this in the Church and its art. But we can’t truly add anything to these words. Men, women, adults, children – we can all see what was at stake before and after Jesus. In the clearest understanding, we know that this darkness, this sorrow, this hopelessness was ours. It covered us. It filled us. Before Jesus.

We’ve come to the end of these forty days together, and we’ve spent mornings of prayer and devotion reflecting on how often we turn to fading lights, false hopes, and fleeting joys to treat this pervasive death. Temptations abound, threatening to steal our trust and deviate our paths. But we know these things cannot sustain, though they promise much. Eventually, we are confronted with the reality of resurrection. What can’t be explained away or discarded, what breaks the limits of our understanding, comes to us straight for the heart, cuts deep, and speaks with clarity to command our attention. Though the words to describe all of this might elude us, the choice we have in it is clear. It’s simple. We have either darkness or light. Despair or hope. Death or life. Sorrow or joy.

Everything before the glorious Gospel must bend or break. Either it bows down, or it blows away. In this, the Gospel is totally unlike any other story or any other narrative. Maybe this is why it’s so difficult to wrap our heads around it all. It isn’t so much that we describe the Gospel, but that it describes us.

From the humility of his birth to the scandal of grace borne on the cross, Jesus wrote what no other author could, paid the debt that no other deposit could, and spoke the life that no other voice could. The story we are living is Jesus’ to tell. And told it, he did.

This is the Good News. More than a tale told of a comeback win or a surprising twist or a battle scene, the Gospel tells us that we are Jesus’ prize, the goal of his work, and the joy of his victory. We are not forgotten or cast aside or left to die but are given life and joy and hope in abundance. What God promised, He fulfilled, and the savior has come that we might be set free forever.

There has never been a story like the one Jesus wrote for you. And what he has written, none can take away. “The Lord has spoken.” It is finished. The tomb is empty. The grave is overcome. Rejoice!

PRAYER:
Jesus thank you for the gift of new life that I could never have earned or secured on my own. You heard my cry. You knew my despair. And you met every need and mended every wound in my heart. You carried every tear and every pain on your cross, and on the other side of resurrection, I know you carried my joy there too. Thank you that your love for me never wavered, that it pressed on unto death. I’m here because of you. You are my joy and my strength. Help me to proclaim that loudly today. AMEN.

WALK:
You who were once dead to sin are now alive in Jesus. He knows every tear you’ve shed and came that you might have his joy in abundance. So celebrate that life today. Find a place, find a people, find a song. You are whom God spoke about in Isaiah 25. Make the words of that passage your own: “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him… let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

DAY 39: SUNDAY IS COMING

For the last week of our forty days together, we’ll be hearing from some other voices in our church. Today’s entry comes from Senior Pastor Kevin Flowers.


For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

ROMANS 15:4, 13 (NIV)

If you and I had been at the cross the day Jesus was crucified we would have sworn what stood before us was the worst thing that could have possibly ever happened. An innocent man, betrayed by one of his own, sentenced by a biased jury of peers, and executed in the cruelest of fashions. We would have thought this was the day that hope died.

In fact, hope did die. On this day a little more than 2,000 years ago the very embodiment of hope laid lifeless in a tomb. When the stone sealed the entrance, everyone who believed stopped believing. We have no evidence of anyone crossing their fingers hoping for a reunion tour. The disciples had scattered with no indication of a plan to come back together and somehow keep the dream alive. The dead, lifeless body of Jesus seemed to say it all. He wasn’t who he claimed to be. Surely “The Resurrection and The Life” couldn’t die. When the Gospel writer Luke said that “darkness covered the earth” he meant it in every sense of the word. It was both literal and figurative all at the same time because when Jesus died, the hopes and dreams of everyone who had followed him died right alongside him. And what stood in his place was an overwhelming sense of uncertainty.

Life in the 21st century has given us the advantage of time and with it an updated perspective of the cross, but isn’t it true that life still has a way of dragging us through some very similar emotions? Unexpected endings, unforeseeable exits, circumstances that evolve much differently than we had imagined – we all have stories with details to fill. In the middle of our confusion or fear or despair, we find that what we often lack is the very same thing that evaded the disciples, too: hope.

The unexpected and the uncertain have a way of extinguishing hope like torrential spring rains on a flickering outdoor camp fire, yet as those who live on this side of the empty tomb, we know that hope is essential. CS Lewis calls hope “one of the theological virtues.” Hope, he writes, is “a continual looking forward to the eternal world… not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do.”

We look forward with the hope of knowing this chapter in life is not our final chapter. We look forward believing that God will have the last word. We turn our eyes towards heaven trusting that even in the darkest of days He is knitting our life together for our good and His glory. It isn’t always easy. In fact at times it feels impossible. But on a Saturday that for the disciples meant hopes dashed and dreams lost, we can look ahead with perspective and hope. We can see what they could not and find comfort in knowing that Sunday is coming.

PRAYER:
God you know the weariness in my waiting, how hope can seem to drag and my heart can feel like its failing. In these moments of weakness, give me the strength to cast my eyes on You, to hear once again that the work is finished and that the darkness that covered all things has been wiped away by the glory of the resurrected King. In all my uncertainties today, let Your truth and Your hope be my solid ground. AMEN.

WALK:
It is tempting in our modern rush to numb the pain of unexpected circumstances or unforeseeable problems with activity or busyness. Instead, spend time today with God in the middle of your uncertainty. Let your questions and fears drive you to His perfect love. Instead of distractions, cultivate dependence.

DAY 38: LASTING WORDS

For the last week of our forty days together, we’ll be hearing from some other voices in our church. Today’s entry comes from Senior Pastor Kevin Flowers.


Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

JOHN 19:28-30 (NIV)

If you have ever been in the presence of someone you love as they drew their final breath on this earth, you know that it is a moment you will never forget.  There is something about the experience that heightens our senses to the point that we become keenly aware of everything that is happening in us and around us. Even the smallest of details have a way of making a permanent impression. In such a setting last words easily become lasting words. 

Can you imagine the impact of such a moment for those that had gathered on a hill called Golgotha the day Jesus hung dying on a cross, struggling for his every breath? John, one of Jesus’ closest disciples who was there, who took in all the sights and sounds, along with the stench of death, recorded Jesus’ last words from the cross. 

With his dying breath Jesus spoke the words, “It is finished.” Three words for us, but in the Greek language of the New Testament, a language geared to say a lot in as little as possible, only one word was used.

Tetelestai.

The word may seem a bit complicated, but the meaning is clear. “It is finished” signified that the work of Christ on our behalf was now complete. “It is finished” meant that the sacrifice for sin had been paid once for all. “It is finished” shouted that a path to God was now available; last words that will forever resonate throughout the halls of history as lasting words. The implication being, if you are looking for God you no longer have to try to find him in rules and laws. You can lay aside your efforts to be good enough, or right enough. He was here. He lived. He died. Our sin debt has been paid.

Today we bow before our Savior in humility, and with thanksgiving celebrate what makes this Friday so good. “It is finished!"

PRAYER:
Jesus, thank you that your words are true and final, that they can never be unsaid and will never be taken back. Show me today the power of your finality. Send your Spirit to remind me in my struggle and my pain that you have carried all this for me into victory, that because you bore the cross and rose again, death has no power over me. Thank you for freedom and for joy. Thank you that yoru life is mine and that now my life can be yours. AMEN.

WALK:
Let Jesus’ final words echo in your heart today. Where frustrations rise or fears grow, remind yourself that “It is finished.” Rest in the completed work of the cross and the Savior who died and rose for you.

DAY 37: YOUR WILL BE DONE

For the last week of our forty days together, we’ll be hearing from some other voices in our church. Today’s entry comes from Israel Mendez, Director of the Baptist Student Ministry at UTSA and the most tenured drummer on the Alamo Community Church worship team.


Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”

MATTHEW 26:36-46 (ESV)

If you have been following Jesus for any amount of time, you know that it is not for the faint of heart. Following Jesus is difficult for a myriad of reasons, but if we are honest with ourselves, most of the time what makes following Jesus so difficult is us. Culture has conditioned us to look out for our best interests, to do what advances personal agendas, whatever sets us to fulfill our goals and our dreams. For most of us, seeking after these things is typically not a problem until we realize that many times what we want is not what God wants for us. In those moments we are faced with a difficult choice: My will or God’s will?

We do not need to read far into the scriptures to see that submitting to God’s will has been an issue for humanity since the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were placed in the perfect environment, everything was right in the world, yet they chose their own will and their own desires. Through their sin, they brought death into the world. 

I have come to realize that the narrative of Scripture can be defined as a story of two gardens: Eden and Gethsemane. In many ways, Gethsemane was the antithesis to Eden.

Where Eden was a place that brought death into the world through the sin of Adam, Gethsemane was a place where Jesus would submit to the will of the Father and bringing forth eternal life for those who would believe. 

At Gethsemane Jesus understands the difficulty that awaits him, retreats to pray, and asks Peter and John to join him so that they would watch and pray. Jesus in his divinity knows what awaits him, but in his humanity, he is wrestling in prayer with the Father about what is going to be required of him. In his humanity, he is experiencing terrible distress and misery, and he is crushed with anguish. Spiritually, Jesus recognizes that the greatest agony he will face is not the torture of the cross, but the sins of the world he will bear. The agony is so great that Jesus sweats blood, falls to his face, and asks the Father three times to remove the cup of wrath – the suffering that he would endure for the sins of the world – if it is at all possible. In the very same breath that he asks the Father to remove the cup, Jesus says, “Nevertheless, not my will, but Yours be done.”

Jesus, with you and I in mind, places himself at the mercy of the Father’s will knowing very well what was to come. Jesus grieves in his humanity but does not sin in doing so. Jesus dreads what is to come, yet trusts the Father so much that three times he utters the words, “Your will be done.” Oh to have that kind of trust in the Father’s will! In the middle of his incredible difficulty, the Lord Jesus showed us a beautiful example of surrender. But what about you and me? In the middle of our greatest difficulty, will we submit to the will of the Father?

The account at Gethsemane gives us the confidence to know that we can honestly present our deep anguish, concerns, and fears before the Father because Jesus did for us. We can approach Him with great humility, with the weight that we carry from the burdens of life. We can bring our questions to His attention, yet submit our lives into His hands and trust whatever His plan may be. Gethsemane is a reminder of redemption, a reminder that the Father’s will is greater than our own. It’s a reminder that our will, like that of Adam in Eden, may lead to death, but like Jesus, submission to God’s will leads to life.

It is imperative that we remember that the victory that Jesus gives at Calvary began with Jesus’ submission at Gethsemane. Before Jesus ever uttered the words, “It is finished”, He first uttered a prayer. “Not my will, Yours be done.

PRAYER:
Father, conform me to the image of your Son.  Help me to trust that your plan for my own “Gethsemane moments” is for my good and ultimately for your glory. In moments of deep anguish and despair, help me to remember that you have a plan and purpose for it that I cannot see.

Jesus, make me more like you. Help me to endure and remain faithful as you were faithful to the Father’s will in Gethsemane. In moments of deep pain and in moments of great joy, may my words echo yours, “Your will be done.”

Holy Spirit, remind me of instances in my own life where I could clearly see that your will for me was better than that of my own.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One God, now and forever. AMEN.

WALK:
Identify the areas in your life where you struggle to relinquish control. Bring those before the Lord and ask for His guidance to help you submit those areas to the Father’s will.

DAY 36: EARNESTLY DESIRED

For the last week of our forty days together, we’ll be hearing from some other voices in our church. Today’s entry comes from Young Adults Director Zach Chronley.


And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

LUKE 22:14-20 (ESV)

I remember when I was planning on proposing to my wife. Early on in our relationship, I had attempted to casually ask her how she envisioned herself being proposed to. She hesitated, but after a moment had told me, “I think what matters most to me is that my three best friends from college are there.” I tucked that information away because as early as it was, I had already decided that this was the girl that I was going to ask to marry me. 

In the months that followed, I found myself second guessing what it was exactly she meant when she said she wanted her friends to be there. Did she mean that she wanted an engagement party to follow my proposal? Or was she hoping her best friends to be literally present in that moment that I asked her? I decided to play it safe and chose the latter. I set into motion the task of inviting her three friends to secretly travel to San Antonio on the fateful day.

It was wonderful to see how her friends rose to the occasion, and we quickly conspired to find a day that worked for us. When the day was selected, I went to work, planning how it would all go down. I knew Leslie suspected this day was coming, so I decided to try and amaze her rather than completely surprise her. In the end I designed a little “scavenger hunt” that walked her through the places where we had shared key moments in our relationship. One of her friends would surprise her and pick her up and help her get ready. Her friend gave her a letter I had written that, unbeknownst to her, would lead her to another friend with another letter. This would repeat and then lead her straight to me.

I remember my heart beating fast when the hour came, with me proposing to her by a private pond at sunset just a few steps away from the place where we first met. Her three friends stood there, and when it was over we left the pond for a celebration with more of our friends and family. My heart was full as we were surrounded by so many people we loved. I’ll always treasure those moments.

In Luke 22, the disciples were amazed upon their entrance into Jerusalem. Jesus had been given nothing short of a king's welcome, and tensions could not have been higher. Jesus had spent most of the last several months at a distance from the holy city because the officials and the chief priests had made it very clear that they would do everything in their power to put him to death. An electricity was in the air. Everybody knew something important was about to happen. He had inspired such passionate responses throughout their travels, and the disciples knew they just as easily could be arrested upon reaching the city gates.

But after that ostentatious entrance, they felt at ease. The priests would never dare try anything against Jesus in public with the amount of support he received. While there was always the chance they could try to arrest him privately, even that seemed unlikely. After all, nobody knew where they were staying. Jesus had miraculously foreseen the place and had told them where to go and who to talk to about lodging. This is where we come to Luke 22:14, where we’re told the disciples all reclined with Jesus at the table.

Now as his disciples go to eat in celebration of Passover, a tradition they would have done their entire lives, Jesus – who as rabbi no doubt would have led the ceremony – suddenly does something very unusual. Jesus holds out what scholars believe to be the third cup, or the cup of salvation, which traditionally is set aside. But Jesus takes the cup and offers it to them all to drink of it, saying “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Now there are many reasons why his disciples might have been astonished at this, but probably none more so than to drink a cup of a new covenant in that day was essentially nothing short of a marriage proposal. 

The Bible is very clear that the church is the bride of Christ. In his letter to the Ephesians Paul teaches of marriage and the mystery of two becoming one flesh and in verse 32 reveals that he’s really speaking of Jesus and his church. This Passover moment was when Jesus made these intentions clear.

I think back to my own marriage proposal when I see Jesus here declaring “I have earnestly desired…” Jesus desired this moment of union and offered it to his disciples. In Jewish tradition, a betrothed woman was called “one who was bought with a price.” Jesus was telling them here of the price he would pay, of the breaking of his body and the shedding of his blood that was to come. We know that there is no greater act of love than this. His sacrifice is the grandest gesture.

In Jesus’ day when a proposal was complete the people would celebrate, and then a time of separation would occur, in which the groom would return to his father's house to prepare a place for him and his new wife to live. When the father deemed the time ready, he would send his son on a day and an hour that the bride did not know to take her to their new home. It’s no wonder then that John after recounting this same night, immediately follows this story with Jesus saying:

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.

As the bride of Christ we too are called to wait for him. When we celebrate communion, we “declare His death until He comes.” As we wait for our beloved Savior we celebrate that God has chosen us and that we are loved. In the words of Song of Solomon 7:10, we can say, “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me.”

PRAYER:
The most important thing we can do in prayer is listen. Today, I encourage you to hear God speaking to you in this passage from Song of Solomon 2:10-14 and meditate on its truth.

My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away, for behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree ripens its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away. O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the crannies of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.

WALK:
Despite knowing that that we’re loved, it’s so easy to let our hearts “be troubled.” Jesus’ answer is as simple as it is difficult. Believe in me. As silly as it might sound, say this aloud today “Jesus, if I can trust that You love me enough to die for me, I can trust you with ______________ .” And fill in that blank with your troubles and your struggles. Your beloved hears you and cares for you today.

DAY 35: WEEPING WITH JESUS

For the last week of our forty days together, we’ll be hearing from some other voices in our church. Today’s entry comes from Young Adults Leader Hannah Adkison.


When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

JOHN 11:33-36 (ESV)

Lazarus was very dead, and Jesus showed up very late.  

If you’ve been around church long enough, you probably know this story from the felt board in some weird smelling Sunday school classroom. You probably read it jumping up and down, yelling for Martha and Mary that there’s no need for tears, probably telling Jesus not to cry. Lazarus will live! Don’t worry, Jesus! You actually heal him!

We see the ending written in black and white. Lazarus walks out of the grave, proving that God has all authority and power, even over death. Why do we rush past the entirety of the story? Why do we read verses 1-42 in hyper speed and suddenly take a deep breath at verse 43?

The fact is we just don’t like pain. We don’t want to sit in the tension of a dead friend who hasn’t been healed. We don’t want to linger near the suffering of questions unanswered and tears flowing like rivers and hearts torn right open.

Somehow, we think that if we know the happy ending, it should save us and those involved from the pain. But what if that’s not the point? What if the point was never to just avoid the pain and fast-forward to the miracle? What if Jesus teaches us, verse by painfully slow verse, that there’s something of his character to be found in the suffering?

Just to give us some context, Jesus 100% knew what was going to happen. After receiving Martha’s message to come quickly, he told his disciples that Lazarus had merely fallen asleep and that he was going to wake him up. And then he said it was for their benefit that he waited to go to him so that they may believe! Jesus stays away far longer than anyone is comfortable with, and then finally he begins making his way to Bethany. To where Lazarus lay stone cold dead and where the rest of the family, of Jesus’ dearly loved friends, are reeling in grief and heartache.

Martha runs to him as soon as she hears he is close, and here’s where we see the glory of his intimate love for us first. Martha does not mince her words as she straight up calls Jesus out on the fact that he could have healed her brother had he come sooner. Jesus had a lot of options here. He could have rebuked Martha or simply dismissed her sorrow and kept on his way towards the task at hand. But he does neither.

Instead, Jesus patiently tells her his plans for her brother’s healing; He even seems to stop and just be with her in her suffering in that moment. He is kind enough to remind her that he is the resurrection life, and that even death submits to him. She need not fear.

Maybe, like Martha, you need to know today that Jesus hears you and cares very specifically for you, even when you are upset with Him and confused at His timing.

From here we encounter Mary, who chapters earlier was doting upon Jesus at His feet. Now we find her upset and hurt and not even wanting to go see Him. But the moment Jesus calls her name she runs to him and falls again at his feet, unashamed, this time of her pain.

Maybe, like Mary, you need to hear Jesus calling you his friend, by name.

Mary repeats the cry of her sister, and the passage says that when Jesus saw her weeping, he was deeply moved.

Do you hear that? Jesus saw Mary weeping, and he was deeply moved.

It doesn’t say that Jesus saw her weeping and told her to get over it.  It doesn’t say that he saw her weeping, and he told her to stop her crying because he was going to fix it all. Scripture does not imply that Jesus is distant or emotionless or above the heartache. Both women approach Him in their pain, and he cares for them. He hears them and comforts them and makes it known that their pain is not silly or for lack of faith.

Maybe, like Martha and Mary, you need to hear that Jesus knows your pain is not silly or with you for lack of faith. 

Scripture says Jesus walks forward, knowing the Father’s will, knowing the joyful, triumphant ending, and yet he is deeply moved by the ones he loves. He weeps.

This is a truth we must hold tightly to, even if we never understand it on this side of Heaven: Jesus is perfect peace, and yet he weeps.  

I often think God looks at my heartache and thinks it’s inconsequential. I often think that if I just focus on the happy ending, on the heavenly reward, on His ways being far above mine, if I try hard enough not to feel the pain, somehow I’m more holy. Somehow that means I trust Him more.

Focusing on God’s character and His power and His divine providence is so absolutely important. But God, being far above us in all ways, can be two things at once. He can be the Lion and the Lamb. He can be both Wrath and Grace. He can be Justice and Mercy.

He can be at Peace and still find value in the pain.

He is a God who is attentive and close. He put on skin to walk this earth and die a death, felt pain and suffering, took on what He didn’t deserve – all this so we could live. He is a God who didn’t use His godliness to lessen the pain of the cross, but instead took on the full brunt of it for our benefit and for His glory.

God is intimately aware of every aspect of my life. He knows the number of hairs on my head, and He knows each thought before I think it. Like a friend who hurts to see me hurting, I am His beloved, and what I feel, where I am at, and where I am going matter deeply to Him. The pain, and allowing Him to be with you in it – confusing as it is – is just as much a part of the story to Him as the healing.

John spends forty-two verses on how Jesus walked and wept with his friends through the pains of this life, and just two on the miracle. I don’t know, but it seems there might be something to that.

PRAYER:
Take a listen to Hillsong’s “As You Find Me” and make its lyrics your prayer today:

I've been strong
And I've been broken within a moment
I've been faithful
And I've been reckless at every bend
I've held everything together
And watched it shatter
I've stood tall and I have crumbled
In the same breath

I have wrestled
And I have trembled toward surrender
Chased my heart adrift
And drifted home again
Plundered blessing
Till I've been desperate to find redemption
And every time I turn around
Lord You're still there

I was found
Before I was lost
I was Yours
Before I was not
Grace to spare
For all my mistakes
And that part just wrecks me

And I know I don't deserve this kind of love
Somehow this kind of love is who You are
It's a grace I could never add up
To be somebody You still want
But somehow
You love me as You find me 

WALK:
Do you rush past your pain? Do you jot it down in a journal to sit on another day? Do you trust God with your pain? Do you believe that He actually wants to weep with you? Do you believe He loves you right where He finds you — in the middle of the death or the chaos or the uncertainty or the failure or the waiting? Slow down today. Fall at God’s feet, and let your pain be known to Him.

DAY 34: LET LOVE SPEAK

For the last week of our forty days together, we’ll be hearing from some other voices in our church. Today’s entry comes from Associate Pastor Ryan Proudfoot.


“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

MATTHEW 22:36-40 (ESV)

You have heard it said before, and I’ll say it again, “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”

You know, I’ll be honest. I struggle with that idea at times. You see, I am a talker. I talk a lot, and honestly I talk pretty loudly. Typically I enjoy chatting folks up, telling people about Jesus,  and engaging in Kingdom Conversations, even though I’m not always as bold as I should be if I’m honest. But - and this a big but – sometimes loving people doesn’t involve talking, or at least as much as I can imply it does.

I have recently been convicted about my relationships with my actual neighbors, like the ones who live on my street. Granted, when Jesus speaks of neighbors, he is referring to everyone with a pulse. God is calling us to love everyone, no matter their race, background, faith, social status, or how much money they make. Jesus commands all of his followers to literally lay down their lives for their neighbors. But today I’m talking about our neighbor-neighbors.

You know what I’ve found? They’re not impressed with a sermon. My immediate neighbors do not care that I can quote scripture faster than Caleb Saenz (though I’m still proud of it). One of my neighbors a few years back, Greg, actually came to faith in Christ. I got to baptize him, which was cool, but for the most part, folks like Greg don’t really ask me about church stuff, faith, or Jesus. Yet it’s my job to love them. It’s a commandment!

I’m not saying words don’t matter, because they absolutely do. I mean, that’s why I preach. I want to speak every time God gives me a chance, but there’s something about how close proximity with people really intensifies the need to see Christ in action, not just hear about it. Sometime you have to let your love speak. I think this is why Jesus said "A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” For some reason, people who are really close to you are less likely to hear what you say and more likely to see what you do. 

So with that in mind, how do I love my neighbors?

First, I need to start praying for them more. The fact that I don’t pray for my neighbors enough is a direct revelation that I am not loving them enough. I’m just not caring for them enough. I am being selfish, not intentional or believing God to open doors for relationship. Maybe here prayers starts with just asking him that he would give me a heart to have a deeper relationship with my neighbors. 

Second, I need to serve them. I need to step out of my selfishness, go to their houses more often, strike up conversations, mow their lawns, invite them over for dinner, bake them cookies (I’m a stud with pre-made cookie dough), and buy them some dang Christmas gifts. I think if Jesus had lived on my block he would know everyone, and everyone would know him. His presence would be felt, and his love would be experienced. And if he moved away everyone would mourn the loss of his involvement in the community. Can I even name all the neighbors on my block?

Third, I need to look for ways to speak love to them. As you build relationships you get opportunities to share with people, and I want to look for ways to really love them with my words. I have found that rarely do people really love others with their words. Most people make every conversation about themselves, looking for ways to highlight, encourage, or boast about themselves. When I get the chance to converse with my neighbors, I want them to feel like they are loved. I want to genuinely shower them with encouragement and grace. I want every conversation we have to be so seasoned with salt that they are left wondering where in the world this person came from. Maybe they would wonder what would prompt me to want to speak so much life and love over them? I never want to shy away from sharing the gospel with people. I’m always ready for that, but I also want to just show people I love them with my words. That matters too.

But there’s a catch to all this. The only way I’m going to get that chance is if I start being more intentional with my neighbors. When I’m exhausted from a long day, I have to stop closing my garage door as quick as I do. I have to start staying outside and engaging with them more frequently. I have to start looking for ways to just bless them, speak love over them, and be generous towards them with my life and time.

Why is it that it’s often easier to love a stranger than a neighbor? Help me, Lord.

PRAYER:
Jesus, give me the strength to step out of my comfort zone and selfishness and to pour my life and love into my neighbors. To pray for them, serve them, and speak love over them. I pray that when they engage with me, they see Christ in me, the only thing I ultimately have to offer them. AMEN.

WALK:
Pray for your neighbors today. Go learn their names, as many as possible, and write them down. Then go back and pray for them again.

DAY 33: FALSE EXPECTATIONS

The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey's colt!” His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign.

JOHN 12:12-18 (ESV)

It isn’t difficult to see why Jews would gather to celebrate Jesus’ arrival. Just as the Israelites did in the Old Testament, the people coming to greet their rescuer in this moment in John were homeless and powerless. The Jews of the New Testament were living mostly within the oppressive Roman Empire, and they were held captive within it, subjected to Roman leaders and constantly reminded of Israel’s defeat. Still, while the situation was overwhelmingly bleak, they held out hope for the national restoration and salvation prophesied in the Old Testament. God certainly seemed pretty clear in Amos 9, for example, when He said, “I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant them on their land, and they shall never again be uprooted out of the land that I have given them.” Though they were surrounded by evil, they continued to trust that God always keeps His promise.

But even within that common faith, there was confusion about the nature of the coming savior. In their book The Drama of Scripture, Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen identify some factions among the Jewish people, each with specific ideas for what the Messiah would do. The Pharisees wanted separatism. They held strictly to the Law and very clearly valued God’s transcendence above His immanence. To them, the Jewish people needed to be totally separate, and though holiness is certainly God’s desire, the Pharisees let outward requirements overtake inward motivations in the priorities of worship. They lost sight of the outsider and the widow and the orphan, and in their legalism they ultimately lost sight of their own foreignness. The Messiah for them would simply come to take them away from all this mess, so they lived ready to leave it all behind.

The Sadducees and priests had no desire to change the status quo. They valued above all status and inclusion. There was provision and privilege to be enjoyed even under Roman occupation. In tasting this earthly power, the Sadducees lost sight of their homelessness. They certainly desired and wanted a Messiah, but their picture of life under him might not have been such a drastic change from their present reality. 

The final group was known at the time as Zealots, though they were not necessarily organized like the first two groups. These Jews craved revenge against their captors. The Zealots sought after a future of triumphant conflict, and they were known for their violence, both against Romans and “traitorous” Jews. The Zealots lost sight of their powerlessness, and in their physical acts of rebellion, they betrayed a view of Messiah-as-war-hero.

There were nuances to the beliefs of these groups, of course, but for the most part these were the prevailing influences on the common people caught between these factions. All Jews – including Samaritans, as evidenced by the words of the woman at the well – held out hope for a coming Messiah. The prevailing question became What would he be like?

That question surely filled the minds of the crowd that day, even as they stared at the person they called savior. Convinced from his miracles that he was the one, they cast their ideas upon him and expected him to follow. The problem is hope that lasts must be open to the possibilities we can’t see. If your rescue is just your exact vision of events, you’re really only hoping in yourself. Until you can let go of control, you will never have a savior.

Though he welcomed the crowd’s adoration (Luke 19:40), Jesus would not be boxed in by their expectations. Immediately after this celebration welcoming him to Jerusalem, Jesus moves to calling out false piety and cleansing the temple. The savior had come, and there was work to be done. With each hour between his arrival to the city and his death on the cross, that work would continue to break apart the boxes set aside for Israel’s future Messiah.

Jesus was not the king the Jews expected, just the one they needed. He came to show us holiness and draw us close in fulfilling the Law and walking us to the Father (Matthew 5). He came to ordain a royal priesthood and welcome foreigners to its ranks, as Isaiah 56 prophesied. He came to be made powerless that we might be lifted up (Philippians 2). He came to lose his life so that he might win our war (John 16:33). Every faction among the Jews would be turned over when the dust settled and the savior was risen.

No doubt some of the same people who proclaimed Jesus’ coming this day in the temple would come later to mock him as he carried his cross to Calvary. Their hope was never in a transcendent God. It was in a domesticated Messiah, a savior bound by human imagination. I am sure this grieved Jesus immensely. How could it not? He came to give them everything they needed, and though so many drew to Jerusalem for a king’s welcome, few would let him rule in their hearts.

PRAYER:
For today’s prayer, I’ve adapted another one of Malcolm Guite’s sonnets.

”Palm Sunday” 

Now to the gate of my Jerusalem,
The seething holy city of my heart,
The savior comes. But will I welcome you?
Oh crowds of easy feelings make a start;
They raise their hands, get caught up in the singing,
And think the battle won. Too soon they’ll find
The challenge, the reversal you are bringing
Changes their tune. I know what lies behind
The surface flourish that so quickly fades;
Self-interest, and fearful guardedness,
The hardness of the heart, its barricades,
And at the core, the dreadful emptiness
Of a perverted temple. Jesus come
Break my resistance and make me your home.

AMEN.

WALK:
Is your Jesus “easy?” Does he seem to fit every compartment and category you set for him? Think about the ways Jesus unsettles you or conflicts with your presuppositions. Knowing that he is the way and the truth should lead us to reconsider our way and our truth when we experience friction with holiness. We cannot welcome Jesus in our hearts and expect him to be silent and still in our lives.