The Day After Easter

Today is the day after Easter – what used to be known as “Easter Monday.” 

For the first Christ-followers, the day after the first Easter was a day full of wonder and expectancy.  The women at the tomb on Easter Sunday morning had seen the empty tomb, and had even seen the resurrected Jesus.  Some of the disciples had seen Jesus on that first Easter Sunday evening.  For those who had seen Him, there was the excited anticipation of possibly seeing Him again, of wondering when He might show up and what His plan would be.  For those who had not seen Him yet after the resurrection, there was a mixture of excitement, doubt, wondering if it could be true, and much more.

For the Pharisees and other religious leaders, and for Pilate, there was scrambling.  It was time to go into cover-up mode.  Time to start spreading lies about the disciples stealing the body, trying to discredit witnesses, trying to preserve their own positions and authority.

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And for many in Jerusalem and throughout Israel, that first Easter Monday was no different than any other day.  Some hadn’t heard that Jesus had died; many had heard that He had, but didn’t know He had risen.  Some had heard that He had risen, but didn’t believe.

It’s interesting to consider the perspectives of people at the time.  But here’s a more important question – what does the day after Easter mean to you?

As you begin your Monday morning, what difference did Easter make for you?

Was Easter Sunday simply a reason to attend church for the first time in a very great while?  Was it an excuse to dress up for a rare occasion?  Was it an excuse to get the family to come along to church?  Was it a feel-good opportunity for you to ease your conscience in some way?

Or was Easter Sunday more than that?

Was it a reminder of the fact that you were bought with a price?  Was it reminder of your value to God?  Did it emphasize for you the lengths to which God would go to pursue a relationship with you?  Did Easter Sunday remind you of how much have to be grateful for?  Was it reminder of the incredible truth of the empty tomb, and all that the empty tomb means?

As you begin your week today, what difference did yesterday make in your life?

If you examine yourself honestly, the answer could tell you a lot.  Food for thought as we begin a new week.


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  A paperback version will soon be available.

Forsaken? No! Never!

On Monday, I wrote about Jesus’ identification with us when we feel abandoned or forgotten by God.  After all, Jesus experienced the same thing at Calvary:

At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.  And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).  When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”  Someone ran,  filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.  With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.  The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.  (Mark 15:33-38, NIV)

For most of my life, that was the complete story as I understood.  That was how I understood it – Jesus felt abandoned; the Father turned His back on Jesus because Jesus was bearing the sins of the world, and the Father couldn’t bear to look on Him.  And so Jesus cried out in agony and in utter despair, separated from His Father and more alone than He had ever been.

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But then, two summers ago, I heard Dr. Leonard Sweet preach a sermon on the story of the cross that he called “The Greatest Song Ever Sung” about this very passage.  It shifted the ground of my understanding of this passage like a theological earthquake, and re-cast my view of Jesus on the cross.  It transformed my view from one of Jesus suffering abandonment to instead, one of Jesus victoriously enduring the cross and overcoming – overcoming not just when He rose from the dead on Sunday morning, but triumphing in the very moment when all seemed lost, the moment he gave up His spirit and died.

I will do my best to do Dr. Sweet’s teaching justice in a summary – admittedly, longer than a normal blog, but hopefully, one that will fill you with hope and challenge you to walk in joy in the midst of great trials and even suffering.

Dr. Sweet pointed out that there is a deeper context to Jesus’ words on the cross.  In crying out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus was quoting the first sentence of Psalm 22:1 – a Jewish worship hymn that Jesus would have known by heart.  So far, no shock – the Psalms were the Jewish hymnal in Jesus’ day.

But then Dr. Sweet went out to point out some important historical context:  that no male Jew would have spoken a Psalm.  An observant Jew, as Jesus was, would have SUNG the Psalm.  And He would never have stopped with the first line.  In fact, most Bible scholar agree that Jesus sang Psalm 22 while suffering on the cross.  The only real debate is how much of the Psalm He sang.

Does that thought drastically change your image of part of the crucifixion?  It did mine.

Imagine the scene.  Jesus hanging on the cross, suffering, bleeding…dying.  Instead of calling out in anguish over feeling abandoned, though, He begins to sing a song of worship to His Father.

Dr. Sweet calls it the greatest worship song ever sung in the history of the world, but points out that we have missed it because we don’t understand the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day.

Here is the Psalm as it is written.  If you read it carefully, you can see a Psalm of worship, not despair and desolation – a song of hope and triumph.  And you can see some of the familiar scenes around the cross in it:

  (v. 1) My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Why are you so far from saving me,

so far from my cries of anguish?

    (v. 2) My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,

by night, but I find no rest.

  (v. 3) Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;

you are the one Israel praises.

  (v. 4) In you our ancestors put their trust;

they trusted and you delivered them.

    (v. 5) To you they cried out and were saved;

in you they trusted and were not put to shame. 

(Aren’t vv. 3-5 a great declaration of God’s goodness?

    (v. 6) But I am a worm and not a man,

scorned by everyone, despised by the people.

  (Look at the rejection David writes about in these next few verses.  They directly prophesy the way Jesus was treated by people when He was on the cross.  And David wrote these words hundreds of years before Jesus.)

    (v. 7) All who see me mock me;

they hurl insults, shaking their heads.

    (v. 8) “He trusts in the Lord,” they say,

“let the Lord rescue him.

Let him deliver him,

since he delights in him.”

    (v. 9) Yet you brought me out of the womb;

you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.

  (v. 10) From birth I was cast on you;

from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

(As you read these lines about his mother, can you see Jesus pausing and looking at his mother, and then entrusting her to the apostle John’s care?)

  (v. 11) Do not be far from me,

for trouble is near

and there is no one to help.

(v. 12) Many bulls surround me;

strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.

(v. 13) Roaring lions that tear their prey

open their mouths wide against me.

(In reading vv. 11-13, you can picture the people surrounding the cross, hurling accusations and taunts at Jesus.)

(v. 14) I am poured out like water,

and all my bones are out of joint.

My heart has turned to wax;

it has melted within me.

(Remember that once Jesus had died, a soldier pierced his side and blood mingled with water flowed out?  And the reference to bones being out of joint – often, when a cross was dropped into hole in the ground to stand upright, the victims experienced dislocated shoulders among other things.  Roman soldiers were not gentle in carrying out executions.)

(v. 15) My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,

and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;

you lay me in the dust of death.

(Is it possible that the apostle John recorded Jesus’ singing of this part of the psalm with the simple words, “I thirst”?)

(v. 16) Dogs surround me,

a pack of villains encircles me;

they pierce my hands and my feet.

(A couple of notes here.  First, wild dogs would often circle the sites of crucifixions.  They would wait for the bodies to begin to decompose.  Then the bones would fall to the ground, where the dogs could consume them.  In this case, you can see it as a dual reference – the wild dogs, and those people who stood around, waiting to see Jesus die.  The reference to the hands and feet being pierced is obvious.)

(v. 17) All my bones are on display;

people stare and gloat over me.

(v. 18) They divide my clothes among them

and cast lots for my garment.

(Again, these images are self-explanatory when you consider the scene at the cross.  And now, the Psalm turns to intercession – a cry for help:)

(v. 19) But you, Lord, do not be far from me.

You are my strength; come quickly to help me.

(v. 20) Deliver me from the sword,

my precious life from the power of the dogs.

(v. 21) Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;

save me from the horns of the wild oxen.

(Jesus quotes this part of the Psalm, asking for deliverance from those who are taunting and threatening him, and declaring that His Father is His strength.  Now notice the praise that begins to flow in the next few verses, and the declarations of God’s goodness:)

(v. 22) I will declare your name to my people;

in the assembly I will praise you.

(v. 23) You who fear the Lord, praise him!

All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!

Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!

(v. 24) For he has not despised or scorned

the suffering of the afflicted one;

he has not hidden his face from him

but has listened to his cry for help.

(As Jesus would have sung this part of the Psalm, notice that He was declaring that His Father had NOT forsaken Him, had NOT hidden His face from Jesus, but instead, has listened to His cry for help!  And now, some final declarations of God’s goodness and of victory follow:)

(v. 25) From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;

before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows.

(v. 26) The poor will eat and be satisfied;

those who seek the Lord will praise him—

may your hearts live forever!

(v. 27) All the ends of the earth

will remember and turn to the Lord,

and all the families of the nations

will bow down before him,

(v. 28) for dominion belongs to the Lord

and he rules over the nations.

(v. 29) All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;

all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—

those who cannot keep themselves alive.

(v. 30) Posterity will serve him;

future generations will be told about the Lord.

(v. 31) They will proclaim his righteousness,

declaring to a people yet unborn:

He has done it!

Look at that last phrase – “He had done it.”  This is one of the strongest arguments for the case that Jesus sang this Psalm and worshiped His Father while He was on the cross.  Literally, “He has done it” can be translated…”It is finished.”  Those are the very words John records in his gospel as Jesus’ last words.

So what’s the point of all this?

It is that Jesus wasn’t in despair on the cross in the darkest, loneliest hours of His life.  When He could have chosen to surrender to feeling abandoned and forgotten, as appears apparent on the surface, when we understand His culture and what was really happening, we discover that in His pain and suffering, He actually worshiped and pressed in to His Father.  And when death came, it did not come conquering Jesus.  Instead, He triumphantly declared that His Father ruled the nations, that future generations would experience salvation, and that the work of reconciliation was completed!

The lesson for you and me?  In our deepest pain, our greatest suffering our times of loneliness, doubt, fear, feelings of abandonment, we face a choice.  We can surrender to despair and stay in the midst of it.  Or, we can learn from Jesus.  We can choose to sing and to worship our Father for His goodness, refusing to take offense at what life brings us, and trusting that our Father will bring victory and joy out of what was intended by our enemy for our destruction!

What will you choose today?

(Thanks again to Dr. Leonard Sweet for preaching that sermon at Mahaffey Camp two summers ago and helping me to see the crucifixion and Jesus’ actions on that day in an entirely different light.)


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  A paperback version will soon be available.

Why Christmas Matters

Over the millennia, God has appeared in many forms in His ongoing pursuit of intimate relationship with the ones that He created in His own image – people.

To Abraham, He appeared as a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch.

To Joseph, He appeared as an interpreter of dreams.

To Moses, He appeared in a burning bush, and revealed Himself as “I am.”

To Israel, He appeared as the One whom no one could approach except Moses, and later, the High Priest.

To Elijah, He appeared as a the One who sent down fire from heaven, and then later, as a gentle whisper.

To Isaiah, He was the One sitting high and lifted up, exalted on a throne, and the train of His robe filled the temple.  The sight of Him caused Isaiah to repent in terror at his own unworthiness.

To Ezekiel, He appeared as Glory that caused Ezekiel to fall face down in the dust.

To Daniel, He appeared as the Ancient of Days, seated on a fiery throne.

To Mary and Joseph – ah, to Mary and Joseph.  To them, He appeared as a newborn child, crying, still wet with amniotic fluid, umbilical cord needing to be severed, helpless and tiny.

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The One who spoke all things into existence appeared as a baby.  The One Who created Mary and Joseph in His image, Who holds all of creation together, the One Who simply is, existing outside of time, Ancient and yet making all things new, the One who will one day return as King of Kings and Lord of Lords – that One depended upon Mary for sustenance, and upon Joseph for protection.

And in that moment, the One who had appeared in so many forms and in so many glorious personal revelations set aside His rights and privileges and revealed Himself as Immanuel – the One who humbled Himself so that we could have the possibility of relationship with Him.

Wonderful Counselor?  Absolutely.

Mighty God?  The only One.

Everlasting Father?  Yes.

Prince of Peace?  Yes, the only One who will bring lasting peace.

But most wonderful, most amazing, most difficult to understand and accept – He is Immanuel.  God is with us.

His good friend John, who knew Him when He was an adult, wrote this about Him:  “The Word became human and lived here on earth among us.”  (John 1:14, NLT).  Literally, it means that He pitched his tent among us – He moved into our neighborhood and became one of us, so that we could know Him and one day, move into His neighborhood.

Never forget this deepest, truest meaning of Christmas – that the Eternal, Almighty, Omnipotent God loved you and wanted a relationship with you so desperately that He humbled Himself and exchanged the only Throne that matters for a feeding trough in Bethlehem, and later, a cross outside of Jerusalem.

And what gift could you or I possibly give Him this Christmas that would be enough to properly thank Him?

Would it be to give up all we have?  To attend every service we can?  To feed the hungry and clothe the naked and visit those in prison?  To heal the sick and cleanse lepers and even cast out demons?

All those things can be good.  They each have a place.

But all He really wants is you.  Your heart, your love, your faith in Him.

“To all who believed Him and accepted Him, He gave the right to become children of God.  They are reborn!”  (John 1:12-13, NLT)

He wants you to accept His offer of relationship.  It’s why He came.  It’s the whole reason for Bethlehem, for Golgotha, and for the empty tomb.

How do you accept His offer?

Just tell Him.

It’s as simple as that.  Thank Him, tell Him you’re sorry for trying to do this all on your own, and that you believe that He is Who He says He is – the Savior.

Then just trust Him.  He’ll do the rest.

Merry Christmas!


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, or want to try a new devotional for the New Year, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.

Suffering, Christmas, and Hope

Christmas stirs up a ton of emotions.  I’m sitting here at my desk in front of my MacBook screen, trying to write and in the meantime, my mind is being bombarded with stuff that concerns me – stuff I wish I could do something about, or change:

  • A close friend whose teenage daughter is suffering debilitating episodes from a disease that currently has her unable to speak and to move her dominant hand.
  • A parishioner who lost his wife of 60+ years last month and is about to experience his first Christmas alone.
  • Another parishioner who is currently going through chemo treatments and is stuck at home for the duration.
  • Another parishioner who just lost a son.  The week before Christmas.
  • A close friend who is about to experience his first Christmas as a divorced man after being married for over two decades.
  • My in-laws are about to have Christmas alone in North Carolina while we’re in Pennsylvania.
  • My parents and my brother and his family are about to have Christmas together in central PA while we are in Western PA.  (I am very thankful, though, that my immediate family is together and will be able to spend the day together.)
  • My wife is recovering from her second surgery in less than a year, and is experiencing pain that I can’t do anything about.
  • Families that I know that are basically at war with one another.  Their Christmas observance will be marred by their anger with one another.

Those are just a few of the things I think about that I’m aware of personally.  (There are a ton more.)  That doesn’t include stuff like:  ISIS; the economy; our fractured nation; poverty; Aleppo; and a host of other issues that our nation and world are facing.  Or ignoring.

Now, that’s the negative.  I could also list a ton of things that are running through my mind for which I am grateful, including amazing family and friends, wonderful experiences that I’ve had in the last year, newlywed couples that I know get to enjoy their first Christmas together, the blessings of freedom, a wife who loves me no matter what, a daughter whose company is always good for my soul, two friends with whom I can always “take the masks off” with and know I won’t be judged, and so much more.  (And I know that gratitude is a powerful thing – I’m amazed at what a difference it makes in my day to list five things for which I’m grateful every morning.)

But there’s so, so much trouble in this world.  So many suffering, hurting people.  And for many of them, I can’t fix it.

What do we do with that?

Pray for them, for one thing.

Do what you can, for another.  Call someone.  Write someone.  Encourage them.  Stop in for a quick visit and pray for them.  Do what you can; don’t dwell on what you can’t.

And hope.

Christmas is, after all, all about hope.

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us.  The government will rest on his shoulders.  And he will be called:  Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  His government and its peace will never end.  He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity.  The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen! (Isaiah 9:6-7, NLT)

Those words fill me with hope.  The child has been born; the son has been given.  He IS the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.  He knows me.  And I know Him.

These words fill me with longing – the child has been born, the son has been given; but his rule has not yet been fully established.  He has departed to His Father; and someday, He will return, and His rule and eternal reign will be established.  He will finally bring peace, and fulfill our hopes and dreams.  His government will be truly right and righteous, and He will set all things right.

Christmas reminds us, in the midst of sorrow and suffering, that there is hope.  That one day, soon, the babe in the manger will return as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  That one day, soon, Christmas will not just be about hope – one day, Christmas will be about hope and longing fulfilled.  Christmas will no longer be just about what was once accomplished and yet still is to be completed – it will be about celebrating the final coming of our Lord, and the end of sorrow and suffering.

May that thought fill you with hope this Christmas.


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.

Following Jesus

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” Matthew 4:19 (NIV)

Ah, if it were only that easy.

That’s the elephant in the room for Christians.  It’s not that easy.  In fact, sometimes it’s very difficult.

There’s also the “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24) side of it.  That’s the hard side of it.

Life is hard, and it’s not always easy to understand why things happen the way that they happen.  Following Jesus is hard.  Despite what we sometimes hear in Christian circles, following Jesus isn’t an automatic guarantee to a safe, prosperous life.

Following Jesus is a call to dying to ourselves.  It can be a call to walk into some very difficult or dangerous situations.  It can mean letting go of everything that we think is most important to us.

And it can mean living with the tension of some very difficult unanswered questions.

Yesterday, I asked you to email some of the questions you struggle with.  There was a pretty wide variety of questions, and I’m still receiving more.  Here are some of them:

  • How do I get better at hearing and responding to the voice of God?
  • Why are some spiritual gifts more visible than others?  Why do we not have them all equally if we’re empowered by the same Spirit?
  • How do I return to the faith I walked in and the passion I once enjoyed?
  • How do we handle our time to spend with the Lord when there are so many other things and people looking for attention?
  • Why, when I want so badly to know His will, does He not answer?
  • Why are there times when I feel Jesus has left me behind and I feel I am alone, and forgotten?
  • Why is it that in a season of trying or trying to better your future, He seems absent?
  • Is it too much to hope to achieve a continual walk in His presence this side of heaven?

These are great questions!  My plan is that over the next several weeks, we’ll address all of these, and more.  Walking with Jesus feels like it shouldn’t be complicated – “follow me.”  And perhaps it IS simple – uncomplicated – but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is easy.

Before we dive in to these and many other things that impact our lives, let me just encourage you with this thought today:  God is FOR you!

No matter what questions you’re struggling with right now; no matter what doubts you may be wrestling through; no matter how you feel, no matter what season you are walking through in your life, no matter even how you feel about your Father – God is FOR you.

This is an important part of the Good News:  “If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32, NIV)

So as you wonder “why” and “how” and “what if” and all those other questions that seem so big and overwhelming, remember – God is for you.  In fact, God did not even spare His own Son in His efforts for you.

That fact doesn’t answer every question.  But it DOES give us a foundation of assurance that, no matter the answers to our questions, God has good things waiting for us.

In fact, I would suggest this – no matter what, or how much, you are struggling with right now – you and I still have many blessings that we can point to in our lives, including the one that God is for us.

Why don’t you take a minute right now and thank Him that He is for you?  And then in my next email, we’ll start to walk through our questions, together.

Good Friday

Good Friday.

It’s the day that Christians have traditionally honored and remembered as the anniversary of Christ’s crucifixion and death.  Because of that, it is generally a day that is solemn, sober – a day that of remembrance and reflection, not a day of celebration.

Because of that, for many, it is a day of repentance and penance – perhaps a Christianized version of giving thanks, while at the same time trying in some way through activities and remembrances and observation to partially repay a debt that can never be repaid.

To be honest, this Good Friday fills me with conflicting emotions.  There is a part of me that finds Good Friday to be a day of hope, optimism, even joy – because it is, after all, GOOD Friday.  While it was not good for Jesus, it is eternally good for those of us who put our faith in Him.  It is good because it is over and done with, never to be repeated.  It is good because we know the end of the story – the resurrection, ascension, and someday, return of Jesus.

It is Good Friday because it is simple – we owed a debt we could never pay; God paid it for us with the life of His Son.  While volumes of theology have been written about this, it is also a message that can be summarized simply – for example, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  Or theologian Karl Barth’s favorite summary of the simple message – “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so, little ones to Him belong, they are weak but He is strong.  Yes, Jesus loves me; yes, Jesus loves me.  Yes, Jesus loves me – the Bible tells me so.”

So simple.

And yet so profound.

Because while part of me sees the hope and the joy and the “rest of the story”, there is also a part of me that sees the deeply convicting, difficult-to-comprehend, even “heavy” side of Good Friday:

  • I’m not nearly as good as I sometimes fool myself into thinking I am.  Although now I am saved by a grace and have a new nature, I entered this world a sinner.  It was my sin – my sins – that put Jesus on that cross, that caused Him to suffer unimaginable agony.
  • And I’m surrounded by people who are the same as me – whose sins also helped put Jesus on that cross.
  • The events of the first Good Friday remind me of just how horrible and depraved people can be, and how inhumane humans can be towards one another.  Then I check out the latest news online and I find out that people are still capable of great cruelty to one another.

And that leads to the most difficult part of Good Friday, at least for me – that God, who loves so much, and yet hates sin so much, could love me – and you – so much that He gave His Son for us.

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I’ve known that truth for most of my life.  I’ve preached about it, taught about it, written about it, heard about, read about it, seen it dramatized, seen it re-interpreted and updated into contemporary settings, thought about it, talked about it…

And I still don’t completely get it.

It’s an incredible mystery.  God – infinite, perfect, holy, just, powerful – also loving, kind, and merciful.

God the Creator and Sustainer – sacrificing the life of His Son so that I could have eternal life.  So that you could have eternal life.

I guess that’s why Jesus said that we have to become like children to enter the Kingdom.  Because we’ll never completely understand it; never fully comprehend the depths of His love and the price He paid.  And so, we have to simply accept it by faith.

Just trust.

So whatever your observance or activities may look like this Good Friday, leave some space for wonder.

Whether you grieve or celebrate, whether you focus on the events of Good Friday itself or are drawn more towards the “rest of the story” – like a child, accept with wonder and gratitude that which cannot be completely understood.

I am thankful that amazing grace doesn’t have to be completely understood in order to be experienced.

The Earth-Shaking Power of Worship

In Acts 16:25-34, we find the familiar story of Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail.  It’s an important story about the power of worship.  Paul and Silas have been arrested, beaten, and placed in stocks, unable to move their legs.  Depending on the type of stocks that they were placed in, they were either bent over in an extremely uncomfortable position, or they were forced on their backs, causing greater pain to their already wounded backs.

Late that night, in the midst of their suffering, they are praying and singing, worshiping the Lord.  An earthquake hits, destroying the prison where they are held and providing them – and everyone else in the prison – the opportunity to escape.  But they choose not to, and lead the other prisoners in remaining, thus saving the jailer’s life.  (Roman practice was that if a prisoner escaped, the jailer responsible for that person was put to death in exchange for the escaped prisoner’s life, whether the prisoner was re-captured or not.)  Astonished at what had taken place, the jailer asks how to be saved, and he and his family place their faith in Jesus.  The next morning, Paul and Silas are vindicated.

The back story to this whole sequence of events is extremely important in helping us see the big picture of what is going here.  It’s far more than a simple misunderstanding that leads to Paul and Silas being unjustly arrested, and then later released.

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If you read Acts 16, beginning in verse 7, you find a chain of events that lead up to Paul and Silas being imprisoned:

  • Paul and Silas want to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit restrains them.
  • Because of this, they bypass Mysia (where Bithynia is located) and go to Troas instead.
  • Overnight in Troas, Paul has a vision of a man from Macedonia begging him to come help them.
  • As a result of the vision, Paul and Silas leave for Macedonia and travel to Philippi, and leading city in that district of Macedonia.
  • In Philippi, they meet an influential and wealthy woman named Lydia.  She becomes a believer, and invites Paul and Silas to stay in her home.  This gives them a base of operations in Philippi, and they establish a ministry there, meeting with Jews at the place of prayer and proclaiming Jesus to them.
  • One day, on the way to the place of prayer, they encounter a female slave who was demonized.  This slave was a gifted fortune-teller because of the demon.  Her fortune-telling was very lucrative for her owners.  For many days, she followed Paul and his group, disrupting their lives by shouting about who they were and what they were doing.
  • Finally, one day Paul became annoyed with her constant harassment, and he commanded the demon to leave her.  It did – and with its departure, her ability to tell the future left as well.  This meant a serious loss of income for her owners, who, angered at this, seized Paul and Silas, brought them before the local magistrates and incited the crowd agains Paul and Silas.  This resulted in the magistrates sentencing Paul and Silas to a beating, and then imprisonment.

That’s a lot of background, but here’s the bottom line – Paul and Silas responded obediently to Jesus, were having an effective ministry, encountered spiritual resistance from the enemy,  won a victory against the enemy, and then were persecuted because of all of that.

In other words, Paul and Silas weren’t in a struggle against the slave owners, or the magistrates, or the jailer – they were engaged in an ongoing spiritual battle against agents of the enemy – a battle for the souls of the men and women of Philippi.

That’s how they ended up beaten and in jail.

Now here’s the key – their response was not to:

  • Put together a legal defense;
  • Send out a fund-raising plea to ask for help;
  • Ask someone to arrange a rescue mission;
  • Wallow in their pain and misery;
  • Question if they had really heard Jesus correctly;
  • Give up;
  • Renounce their faith or fellowship; or
  • Decide to leave their ministry.

Instead, they chose to worship.

They recognized that they were in a spiritual battle, and so, they chose a spiritual counter-attack – they worshiped.

Now, I am NOT a person who sees a “demon behind every bush.”  I believe that bad things often happen in my life because of the fact that I’ve made poor choices, or because others have made poor choices that have affected me, or because I live in an imperfect world that has been distorted by sin, with people around me who have been distorted by sin.

But I also recognize that there is an enemy whose mission statement is to “steal, kill, and destroy.”  And I, like you, am in the crosshairs of his “scope.”  Especially when I am trying to follow and obey Jesus, and am focused on the mission to which Jesus has called me.

Now I know this post is getting long.  “Stick to 650 words or less” – that’s what the blogging experts say, and I’m well over 800 now.

So let me briefly summarize.

When we contend for healing, when we pray for the sick – we are engaged with an important part of Jesus’ mission for us (destroying the works of the devil).  So we are going to encounter resistance, and we are going to find some cases and areas that call for extended battle.

When that happens, or when our prayers aren’t answered, or when we can’t find breakthrough, sometimes worship is the very thing that will get us beyond whatever is blocking us.

Worship refocuses us onto God’s goodness.  Worship changes the atmosphere.  Worship changes our attitude.  Worship releases the power of God in our lives, because worship calls heaven to earth.

So.

Have you been worshiping every day like I asked you to this past Wednesday?

And what struggle are you facing today?

Perhaps you need to stop struggling, disengage from the problem, and engage with the Father.

Choose to worship Him.  Get your eyes off of the problem and onto the Father.

You may be amazed at what happens.

Who knows what “earthquake” God may unleash that ends up being your deliverance – because you chose worship.

P.S. –

Here is our reading list for this week, as we remember the Passion and prepare our hearts for Easter Sunday.  The first 3 readings are accounts of the resurrection; the last 3 readings are writings by the Apostle Paul on the transformative power of the resurrection for our lives personally:

  • Monday – Matthew 28:1-15
  • Tuesday – John 20:1-18
  • Wednesday – Luke 24:1-12
  • Thursday – Romans 8:9-18
  • Friday – Colossians 3:1-15
  • Saturday – Ephesians 2:1-10

Caol Ait

At roughly the age of 16, Patricus, as he referred to himself, who had been born into a wealthy and influential family in Roman Britain, was kidnapped by Irish Pirates.

Although he was the son of a deacon and the grandson of a priest, Patricus himself was not a believer. But after being kidnapped, he was enslaved and held captive for six years.  During those six years, he rediscovered the faith of his parents and converted to Christianity.  At the end of his captivity, he heard a voice telling him that would soon return home and that his ship was ready.  He acted – he ran away from his master, travelled to the first port he could find, and was able to gain passage on the ship.  After six long years of slavery and a spiritual rebirth, Patricus returned home to Britain.

Once home, he continued to study Christianity, eventually feeling called to full-time ministry.  After completing his training, Patricus felt God’s call to return to Ireland to minister to the very people who had enslaved him.

And the rest, as they say, is history.  (Of course, the whole story is history – approximately 1500 years old!)  Patricus, or Padraig, in Irish, had an incredible ministry in Ireland, and eventually came to be recognized by the Catholic Church as St. Patrick.

Old-Celtic-ChurchAn important part of St. Patrick’s ministry to the Irish was his wisdom in bridging gaps between Christianity and Druidic folk practices of the Irish people.

One of the ideas to come out of his “bridging” was the idea of Caol Ait (pronounced “kweel awtch”).  Caol Ait is a Gaelic term that means “thin places.”  The concept is that there are certain places in this world where the barrier between this physical world and the spiritual world are thin – in other words, places where the supernatural is more easily accessible.

Originally, the concept was one of pagan spirituality – thin places were considered to be places where the dead, and angels and demons, something Other than this world, is easier to access.  But Christianity has come to understand thin places as places that are holy – places where the invisible, transcendent Kingdom of God – the supernatural – is somehow closer and easier to access.

The truth is that God is Omnipresent – He is everywhere.  But He also manifests His Presence more tangibly at some times and places (think of Jacob’s encounter at Bethel; Moses on Mt. Hermon; the disciples at Pentecost; times and places where Jesus ministered when “the power of the Lord was present to heal.”  Consider the Lord’s Supper, where somehow, the bread and cup represent the body and blood of Jesus – a tangible expression of His Presence.  Consider the gathering of the Church – the body of Christ on earth.

And consider worship, which as we looked at on Wednesday, draws heaven’s presence.

Worship is you and me together praising God for Who He is, for what He does – and in doing so, we create a “thin place” – a place where heaven touches earth.

My dream for our fellowship is that together, we would create multiple thin places in our region – in our Sunday gatherings, in our Life Groups, in our own homes, in our own lives, in our workplaces.  Thin places where those around us can easily access the Presence of God and encounter Jesus, the Living Way, Truth, and Life.

As you worship today; as you prepare for celebrating Palm Sunday this weekend – be mindful of Caol Ait.  Together, let’s live and love and serve and worship and by our choices, make thin places all around us where people can encounter Jesus.  And let’s continue on Sunday mornings to seek His face, to make space for Him to speak and to move and to minister and to heal.

Together, let’s seek His Presence.  Together, let’s create a thin place as we gather on Sunday morning.

(Note – I know that YESTERDAY was St. Patrick’s day.  However, last night, in our Worship Team Life Group, we had an important discussion about what God is currently doing in our services, and about making space for God.  We thought it was no coincidence that on St. Patrick’s day, God drew us into a discussion of thin places.  And so, even though I had already written my devotional for today, I decided to write this and share it with you.  I hope God uses it to speak to you this morning.)

The Problem With – and Power of – Worship

Few things seem to stir religious people up to anger and to conflict as much as does worship.

When I think back over my many years in ministry, I can see that by far the one thing that most causes conflict is worship.

Many churches in the past 20 years have gone through the “worship wars” – the battle between staying traditional (choosing a worship style that is more liturgical, formal, hymn-based, and employs pianos, organs, and choirs), and shifting to contemporary (drums, guitars, informal, more based on current worship songs.)

(Personally, although I grew up in the church singing hymns, I’ve always wanted more freedom in worship.  I figured nobody I knew drove around listening to organ music on their car radios, so why do that kind of music in church.  I love drums and screaming guitars and a driving bass line.  And you see – there, I did it.  That comment just offended some of you!)

Over the years, I’ve heard and observed people not just comment, not just complain, but actually become very angry, even sometimes nasty over the issue of worship.  Worship gets characterized as:

  • Too long, or too short;
  • Too loud, or too quiet;
  • Too hard to sing with, or too repetitive;
  • Too old, or too new;
  • Too fast, or too slow;

And the list goes on and on.

Why is that?  I think there are a number of reasons, but I think one reason that we often don’t recognize but that is extremely important is this – there is great power in worship.  And since there is great power in worship, our enemy often attacks the worship ministry, often tries to cause dissension around the worship ministry.

Now, I could write a book on the power of worship.  But I don’t need to – many great books have been written about just that.  But let me point out a few important things about worship:

  • Worship is one way in which we can help answer the prayer “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  What do I mean by that?  Simple.  The atmosphere in heaven is constant worship.  That’s pretty clear in Revelation 4 & 5.  So when we worship here on earth, we draw heaven’s presence.  We imitate what is taking place in heaven.  We participate in what is taking place in heaven.  In heaven, there is joy, peace, health, freedom, and God’s Manifest Presence, among other wonderful things.  So when we worship, we create a similar atmosphere to all of that.  It’s powerful!
  • Worship drives the enemy away.  For example, in 1 Samuel 15, there’s this amazing story of how King Saul was sometimes tormented by evil spirits.  But when David would come and worship in his presence, the evil spirits departed and King Saul found relief!  2 Chronicles 20 shares another story of how King Jehoshaphat defeated an enemy army by sending out the worshipers.  Worship frustrates the enemy and brings freedom for God’s people!
  • Worship gets our eyes off of our circumstances and onto God, thereby changing our attitude and building our faith.  In Acts 16, a story we’re going to look at more closely on Friday and then on Sunday, Paul and Silas were imprisoned, having been beaten and locked into stocks.  But they began to worship despite their circumstances – and God delivered them.  They got their eyes and their focus off of their suffering and onto God, and the very atmosphere were they were shifted because of it.  That’s powerful!

The focus on worship this week comes because of the incredible expressions of worship that were poured out for Jesus on Palm Sunday.  As we celebrate Palm Sunday every year, it’s a reminder of how expressive, how free, how physical, how emotional, how celebratory, how inviting, how sacrificial, and how holistic worship can be.  But as we celebrate this year, in the midst of our series on living Naturally Supernatural, we’re going to focus in on how powerful worship can be.  That’s where we are heading on Sunday morning.

Palm-Sunday

In the meantime, I encourage you to experience the power of worship for yourself over the next few days.  I doubt that there is anyone reading this who doesn’t have some kind of problems in your life.  So I want to suggest that you try this each day from now until Sunday:

Set aside 15 minutes.  Take 2 minutes at the beginning to pray about whatever problem is most consuming to you right now – a relationship issue, a concern for a family member, a problem at work, an illness, an emotional problem, an addiction issue – whatever it may be.  Then once you have prayed about it for 2 quick minutes, spend the next 10 minutes simply worshiping God.  Don’t ask Him for anything; just focus on Who He is and worship Him.  Do whatever you need to do to help you worship – read a couple of Psalms slowly, praying them out loud to Him; listen to some worship music (hymns, if you like!); play or sing some worship music; read Revelation 4 & 5 and imagine yourself in that scene, worshiping with myriads of others; whatever helps you to worship God, declaring His goodness and glory for 10 minutes.  Finally, for the last 3 minutes, give thanks to Him that He is greater than your problems and that He hears your prayers.

If you do that for the next several days, you will be amazed at how your view of God begins to shift and at how your problems, while still important, will seem much smaller compared to the greatness of God.

Will you give it a try?  Will you start today?

Looking Forward to Palm Sunday

This coming Sunday will be Palm Sunday, a familiar celebration and story for most Christians.

Palm Sunday is the most visible, free, public expression of worship for Jesus that we find in the gospels.  It’s an incredible picture of sacrificial worship:

  • People laying down garments on the road for Jesus to ride over on a donkey – garments that were often family heirlooms, passed down from generation to generation;
  • People waving palm branches and shouting “Hosanna” – publicly risking the wrath of the religious leaders by proclaiming their belief that Jesus was Messiah; and
  • People forming an impromptu parade and celebration, publicly risking the wrath of Roman authorities by proclaiming Jesus as a coming King.

What does Palm Sunday have to do with our current theme of Living Naturally Supernatural – of leaning into healing and miracles, of praying for people, taking risks for the Kingdom of God, and of learning to experience the supernatural Kingdom of God in our everyday lives?

Palm Sunday

Actually, quite a bit.  Because the truth is that worship is an integral part of experiencing the Kingdom.

God is Omnipresent – He is present everywhere.  But somehow, there are a few things that we find in Scripture that increase God’s Manifest Presence – that bring a greater sense or awareness of God’s Presence.  For example, Jesus promised that when just a few of us gather in His name, He is present in our midst.  When we share the Lord’s Supper, somehow, we are sharing the body and blood of Jesus, a special measure of His Presence.  When we are together with other believers, we are somehow manifesting the Body of Christ in this world.

And when we worship, God shows up in unique ways.

I’m not completely sure how all this works.  I just know that God inhabits the praises of His people, according to Psalm 22:3; the very atmosphere of heaven, where God dwells, is praise (see Revelation 4 & 5); that Elisha the prophet was able to experience God’s anointing to prophesy in one instance because of worship music (2 Kings 3:15); and that King Saul experienced relief from demonic oppression by having David worship in his presence (1 Samuel 16:15-24).

So this week, as we prepare our hearts for Palm Sunday, and as we continue to think about the Lord’s power and His willingness to heal, we’re going to focus our readings on the story of Palm Sunday, and then end the week with a story from the life of Paul where worship provided a breakthrough moment for him and for those around him.  Here is our reading list for the week:

This week’s readings:

  • Monday – Matthew 21:1-11
  • Tuesday – Mark 11:1-11
  • Wednesday – Luke 19:28-44
  • Thursday – John 12:12-19
  • Friday – Acts 16:16-34

As you read this week, I’d like to suggest that each day, you begin by spending 5 minutes worshiping God for some specific things that He has done in your life; then read the passage; and finally, end by worshiping God for what He has taught you or revealed to you about Himself in each passage.  On Palm Sunday, we’ll come together and celebrate, and examine in greater depth the role that worship plays in healing, strength, and deliverance in our lives.

May the Lord continue to transform us as we seek Him and as we honor Him with our praises!