Posted in Christmas, Easter, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, Holidays, life, love, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful

Long Shadows

Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here but is risen!”  Luke 24:5b-6a

It cast a long shadow.  Can you imagine what it was like that night when Jesus was born?  Can you imagine being nine months pregnant and making a weeklong journey walking or on the back of a donkey?  Can you imagine mile after mile until there were 90 of them in the rearview mirror?  Can you imagine arriving only to discover that there was no room, no space anywhere and the pains of birth begin and become stronger and stronger. No room, no midwife, no doctor, and no hospital.

Finally, someone offers a stable for the night.  It almost certainly was not a wooden affair but rather a cold, damp cave.  Wood would have been very scarce so rather than a cozy manger made of wood there would have been one chiseled from stone.  And there in those difficult circumstances, the King and creator of the universe took on the form of a human baby.  Jesus was born and according to scriptures was wrapped in strips of cloth or swaddling cloths.  And most of it, all of it, cast a long shadow into His future.

Have you ever wondered why Luke made it a point to mention the swaddling cloths?  It is interesting to know that some thirty-three years later, after His death on the cross, this same Jesus would be prepared for burial by being wrapped once again in strips of cloth or swaddling cloths.  You see, those birth cloths cast a long shadow…all the way to His death. The reason for Christmas was Easter.  And that manger, that stone manger, casts a long shadow too. After His death on the cross, it was in a tomb carved from stone that held the body of Jesus.  As a baby He was laid in stone and as the Redeemer of man, they laid Him in a tomb of stone.  How amazing…how wonderful.

But here is the most amazing part.  The baby that first Christmas night would not stay in the stony manger long and soon also cast off those swaddling cloths. The long shadow they cast would tell the same truth.  After Jesus’ death on the cross, after His burial, He refused to stay dead.  On the third day, He cast off the swaddling cloths of death and burst out of the stony tomb, proving He was indeed the Son of God…the Savior of the world.  Christmas was the beginning of His earthly existence, but the end of the story proved His eternal existence.  He was who He claimed to be, and He did do what He was sent to do.

Jesus came to earth that first Christmas on a rescue mission.  Pastor Chuck Swindoll writes, “This is the message of Christmas: On a rescue mission designed by His Father before time began, Jesus silently slipped into our world, breathed our air, felt our pain, became acquainted with our sorrows, suffered and died for our sins . . . to show us the way out of our darkness and into His glorious light.”

As we approach Christmas, let me encourage to look beyond the stable, the manger and the Baby that lies there.  While wondrous for sure, the end of the story is even grander than the beginning.  God became man…that is amazing…but that the God-Man died for man…well that is even more so.  So, when you see the manger, remember an empty grave.  When you think of the swaddling cloths, imagine them neatly folded in an empty tomb. And remember the greatest wonder of all when the angel said to Mary of Magdalene, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here but is risen!”

Merry Christmas friends but may I also say, “Happy Easter” for they are forever linked together. The baby in the manger became the Savior on the cross and the Savior of the cross became the King of Kings.  Hallelujah.  Oh, and that King is the One who waits patiently for us to trust Him.  After all, today and everyday…He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Christmas, Easter, Family, friends, Grace, gratitude, Holidays, life, love, loving others, priorities, Scripture, Southern born, thankful

Remembrance

Do this in Remembrance of Me.” Luke 22:19b

They hang on my wall…365…one above the other.  As I have grown older, I have found that certain memories are just…well…precious.  That seems to be especially true at this time of the year.  My memories growing up of Thanksgiving and Christmas always cause me to smile.  Two memories that I especially cherish involve two simple things that now are two of my most prized possessions.  The first was made possible by the generosity of my oldest brother.  A couple of years ago I wrote a story about a 410 shotgun that had belonged to our Daddy.  It was a family heirloom.  I didn’t who ended up with it, but it turned out it was my brother and he in an incredible act of generosity chose to pass it to me.

It now hangs on the wall in my home office, and it is fired only once a year. You see, Daddy or one of my brothers, used to fire the old 410 on Christmas morning as a sort of wakeup call for my two sisters and me.  So now, starting with last year, on Christmas morning, the old 410 once again comes to life and calls us to leave our beds and celebrate. Every day, I glance up at that old 410, and every day it reminds me of days gone by and I am overcome with gratitude.  I am thankful for a Daddy and Momma who loved me and a family that could gather with one another and celebrate.

The other thing that hangs on my wall…365…is a plastic Santa Claus face.  It has a LED bulb in it that allows it to burn 24 hours a day…and I remember…and I am grateful.  You see, when I was a boy, my family had a Santa face just like this one…just.like.this.one.  It hung up on our roof attached to our small chimney and it announced that Christmas time had come.  I’m sure it came from one of the local stores and probably cost just a few dollars. Well, that old Santa disappeared but I was able to find one on eBay and trust me it didn’t cost $4.50 but do you know what?  It was worth every dollar because every day it too reminds me of a Daddy and Momma who made sure, somehow, that we had a wonderful Christmas. It reminds me of a family that could and would gather with one another and celebrate.

So, those days are gone and all but one of my brothers are gone too, but guess what?  Those days and those loved ones live on in my memories and in my heart and those two things, an old 410 shotgun and a plastic Santa face from my boyhood days remind me to remember and be grateful.  I’ve said more than once if I could remember everything from my childhood, I would have enough Grits’ material to write forever. Smile.  I’ve discovered that things can sometimes help us remember and that is important because while some things probably need to slip away…many…perhaps most…need to live on.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus on the night before He died did something crazy like serve supper?  If you are familiar with that story, you know it was a pretty simple meal…bread and wine but the meaning was anything but simple.  The next day He was going to die on a Roman cross, and He wanted to make sure the guys who followed Him would never forget what it was about. He explained how the bread represented His body broken on that cross and how the wine represented His blood that was shed so that any of us…all of us…who chose to believe could have eternal life.  That’s why He said, “Do this in remembrance of Me.”  It was His way of saying we should always remember and never forget.

So, what is it in your life that helps you remember?  A simple, or elaborate, wedding ring? A watch? Family pictures? Whatever it is, it is there to remind us and cause us to be thankful.  Christmas this year falls on a Sunday and we are going to celebrate the Lord’s supper that day at our church. I know it is almost a month away, but I am already looking forward to it.  It is going to remind us once again what Christmas and Easter are all about—a God, a Father, a Dearest Daddy, who loves us so much He gave His Son to a stable, a broken world and a Roman cross. Be sure in the hustle and bustle of the holidays to take time to remember and reflect.  For me it is an old 410 shotgun, a plastic Santa and an old rugged cross and a heavenly Father who always reminds me, “I’ve got this.” Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Christmas, Easter, Family, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, love, prayer, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful

Paradise Lost and Found

For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” John 3:17

It was paradise lost. I’m not sure why it happened.  And I’m not sure how it happened…but it did.  Over the years, we had accumulated a great collection of large tropical plants to accent our patio during the summer.  Our guests love our garden, and I suppose they loved our plants too.  But then something happened.  You see, to keep them alive through the winter, we would move them into our garage and nurse them during the cold weather.  We would install special lights, water them, and learn to squeeze our car in-between them.  It was a hassle, but we did it…until we didn’t

This year, well, we didn’t. It all started when we had a light frost early in the season and since Judy was gone…I just didn’t mess with it.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is that somehow, they survived. Since it happened on my watch, I breathed a sigh of relief.  Well, apparently that opened a pandora’s box because when the next frost came, and I believe it was on my watch again, I found a reason to throw caution to the wind.  Once again, they survived and so did I.

Fast forward a little while later and we were deeper into fall and nudging winter.  With Judy back, the plants were in safer hands.  When the temperatures threatened to move from frost to freeze, we braved the cold wind and move them inside displacing the car to the fate of the cold.  Well, sure enough, it warmed up again and out they came.  Well, if you are regular Grits reader, you know we recently went on a cruise.  We knew the forecast called for a couple of cold mornings, but we were pressed for time, and we just couldn’t think of anyone to gather the plants in for us…so we left them to their fate.

Sure enough, it froze and so did they…all of them.  At first, it wasn’t too bad but then it was.  Some quickly, some slowly began to show the damage of a freeze on something that was never meant to see it or feel it.  Some leaves wilted and some turned dark brown.  The result was paradise lost.  What was once beautiful how looked like a tropical war zone.  It also meant that there is a lot of whacking and cleaning up to do.  It is sad in a way but wait, there is a silver lining.

You see, first, there is going to be a lot more room in my garage this winter.  Yay.  It also means that come spring there is going to be a fresh start…a new beginning.  Yes, there will be a cost involved…there usually is for new beginning…when something is reborn. But it will be worth it. Several of the plants were showing their age and the new will be fresher than the old. It.Will.Be.Worth.It.

You know God said the same thing about us, don’t you?  You know that God knew we needed a lot more than a time in the “garage,” we needed a fresh start, a new birth and yes, it came at a great price.  It meant there had to be a Christmas and there had to be an Easter.  It meant His Son leaving heaven for a stable and a feeding trough and it meant a rugged Roman cross, a horrible death but gratefully…also a resurrection.  It meant we could go from eternal death to eternal life—that we could go from war to peace—that we could call Him…wait for it…Father. But all that was possible only after the price was paid. Like the song says, “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe.  Sin had left a crimson stain, but He made it white as snow.”

White as snow. From death to life. How amazing is that?  Soon, very soon, I will scour the yard and remove the death…preparing for spring and new life.  I’m going to look past the present and look forward to the new…to spring.  And, if your world looks a little like my backyard with more dead than alive, just remember that God waits to bring new life into your life.  He said in John 3:17 that His Father didn’t send Him to condemn the world but rather through Him we, you, could be saved…rescued…redeemed.”  That is good…that is really good.  So, no matter the mess, write it down…He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Easter, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, love, Scripture, thankful, wisdom

One Ugly Cross

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is the power of God to us who are being saved.” 1 Corinthians 1:18

It’s an Easter tradition. Well, we are waving goodbye to Easter as it disappears in the rearview mirrors of our lives.  Before we let it get too far gone, I want to share something that happens every year at our church. It is the story of a cross.  I know all Christian churches have crosses, in fact, we have several.  But each Easter there is a special cross that sits at the entrance of our church.  And it has a story to tell.

Our church has two services on Sunday morning—one early and one later.  When people come to our early service on Easter morning, they are greeted by what can only be described as one ugly cross.  It is made of weathered 2×4’s and covered with…chicken wire.  I am sure more than one person sees that cross and wonders how the custodian could forget to store it before services started. What they wouldn’t know is something is going to happen to that old rugged cross…something that will make it beautiful.

Long ago, there was another old rugged cross and it too was ugly.  It was “repurposed” as criminal after criminal was hung from it.  Nails were driven through human flesh and blood was spilt.  Rome didn’t take kindly to those who rebelled against their stern and unfair system of “justice.”  Like the cross in our foyer, it didn’t need to be displayed…it needed to be hidden.  Then, one day, something different happened. Something different indeed.

So, what about the ugly cross at our church?  Well, you see during time in-between our two services a wonderful transformation takes place.  The ladies take dozens of beautiful flowers and completely cover the cross and piece by piece, bloom by bloom, that ugly old cross becomes beautiful.  And two thousand years ago, the same thing happened.

I know, the thought of Jesus, the Rose of Sharon, the perfect Lamb of God, nailed to a Roman cross, well, is anything but beautiful…until we remember.  We remember that He was held not by nails of iron but by love.  We remember that He was there not for His own sin but for ours.  He was there so that we could call His Father our Father and suddenly the beauty of His old, rugged cross takes on a new beauty.  It is a beautiful picture of love, sacrifice, and redemption.

Perhaps that is what led the hymn writer to write, “On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross—the emblem of suffering and shame. And I love that old cross where the dearest and best for a world of lost sinners was slain.” Perhaps the author was able to see past the blood and gore to a Savior’s blessed glory. Perhaps he saw what we should see…what we need to see. Paul saw it…that is why he wrote, “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is the power of God to us who are being saved.” No doubt.

Well, at the end of our second service, people stop and pose by the now beautiful cross and its beautiful blooms.  Its beauty reminds us that instead of an instrument of death, it was an instrument of redemption.  Its beauty shouts that He is no longer hanging on a cross, He is no longer tucked away in a borrowed tomb, no, He is alive…He lives.  Hallelujah…what a Savior…what a Redeemer…what a Rescuer.

Monday after Easter, our cross was stripped of its now dying flowers and it was stored away to be rediscovered next year.  But let’s make a point to never forget what the old, rugged cross is all about…redemption, rescue, and love.  Let’s gather each week, whether it is Sunday or another day, and celebrate an old cross and an empty tomb.  Because they are both empty, we have a reason to celebrate.  Need a little help with that? Don’t worry…He’s got that.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Easter, Family, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, Holidays, life, love, prayer, Scripture, Southern born, thankful, wisdom

The Easter Suit

But God demonstrated His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

It’s just another one of those special memories.  It was spring in Jacksonville, Florida—number fifteen or so in my life journey.  Back in those days, Easter was a big deal, and so was what you wore.  We were raised in the tradition that Easter meant a new outfit…it is just what we did.  But just like Christmas beliefs and traditions sometimes change…so did this Easter tradition.  As we got older…the new outfits got fewer and fewer—but then—for some reason, it happened.  One year, when I was in my mid-teens, Momma and Daddy loaded me up in the car, drove across town to a men’s store for the sole purpose of buying me an Easter suit.

I’m not sure what prompted this or a hundred other sacrifices they made for us, but it happened.  The name of the store is lost to time, but it may have been Tatum’s—a store known for quality men’s clothing at a good price.  So, we arrived and went in and soon I was trying on suits.  They say some things never change and that is true.  Today when I shop for just about anything it isn’t the label that matters or even the style—price takes the day.  It is a matter of practicality and budget.  It is true today and it was true even then.  Remember, somethings don’t change.

Soon, with the help of our salesperson, we had settled on a subtle green tweed suit.  It was a very nice suit and it was on sale. I would later realize that might have been because it was a rather heavy wool material and there wasn’t a lot of demand for that in Florida.  Regardless, it was soon mine.  But Momma and Daddy weren’t done yet.  The salesman led us over to the shirt department and together we picked out a creamy yellow shirt that matched the suit perfectly.  But wait…there was more.  Next came a tie.  To this day I can remember this—my first tie—bought just for me.  It was a loosely woven linen striped tie of pastel colors.  Again, a perfect match for the new suit and shirt.

There was some tailoring to the done but by Easter I was set and dressed to the nines.  That morning, I assembled my new outfit and headed off to church.  I was so proud but for a special reason…one you have read in Grits before.  I was proud because of all my parents had done to make sure I had a new Easter suit. Why that year? I don’t know.  Maybe it was because I was stepping into manhood.  All I know is that year, and for several years that followed, the subtle green wool suit, which was too warm for Florida weather, owned a place in my closet. It was special and that was all that mattered. It was a suit of love…a suit of sacrifice.

Looking back their Easter sacrifice became even more special. You see that gift and sacrifice reminded me of the gift and sacrifice that God made for us that first Easter.  He gave His best, His only Son to a Roman cross so we could be forgiven and dressed in His righteousness.  And unlike my suit that was a little too warm for Florida…His gift was perfect…in more ways than one. A perfect sacrifice for an imperfect world filled with imperfect people. And why? Because of love.

Easter, Resurrection Sunday, is in the rearview mirror now but it would serve us well to remember that every time the sun rises, it reminds us of what happened that Sunday morning so long ago. It is no accident that Christians worship on Sunday…by design it is a celebration of the resurrection. I’m not sure how long I held onto that subtle green, too warm, suit but I have never forgotten the love that bought it for me.  And I’m sure I will never forget the love of a God who cared enough to give His very best so that we could call Him “Dearest Daddy.”

Paul, one of the writers of the New Testament wrote a letter to the Christians in Rome.  In it, he gave them an Easter suit of sorts, a reminder of God’s great love.  He wrote, “But God demonstrated His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  Imagine that—broken and unworthy—and yet He loved, and He gave.  As we journey this week, don’t leave the message of Easter behind.  He loves us, He cares for us, and He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Christmas, Easter, Family, fear, forgiveness, friends, Grace, gratitude, life, love, prayer, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, Trials, wisdom

Good Friday but Resurrection Sunday

He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21

One of my favorite holiday songs speaks of Christmas being “the most wonderful time of the year.”  I suppose in the eyes of most folks Christmas has become the ultimate “feel good” holiday.  It is jam packed with great music, great food, fun parties, and beautiful decorations.  Throw the birth of a cute little newborn in the mix and it seems like a slam dunk. All of that leads to idealistic dreams of what Christmas should be but, frankly, too often those dreams don’t measure up to reality.

If we could step back a couple of thousand years, we would see that same baby grown to be a man and it seems that the whole known world isn’t celebrating His birth but shouting for His death. While the song speaks of Christmas being that “wonderful time,” for a significant part of the world, this week—and especially this Sunday—is truly more than wonderful.  It is amazing. For this is the week that we celebrate the death, burial, and resurrection of our beloved Savior, Jesus Christ.

I’ve always thought it ironic that we call the day that Jesus died “Good Friday.”  I mean it is obvious that it wasn’t good day for Him.  A Roman crucifixion was so horrible that it was against the law to crucify a Roman citizen and it was called, “the death of deaths.” So why call it Good Friday? Well, for those of us who believe He is who He said He was, and He did what He said He could do, defeat death, well it’s a very big deal.

For starters, we believe His death that day was the sacrifice for our sins.  The Bible tells us that “without the shedding of blood is no remission {of sins}”—Hebrews 9:22.    We celebrate Good Friday because for each believer in Jesus it means the sin slate is wiped clean. Imagine having every wrong thing you ever did forgiven, blotted out, and you might begin to understand this important day.

Imagine this—it’s the greatest trade ever.  Jesus says I will take the rap for your sin and in exchange you can have my perfection. 2 Corinthians 5:21, one of the letters that make up the New Testament, puts it this way: “He made the One who did not know sin [that’s Jesus] to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” He took our wrongs so we could be made right.  Amazing.

Wait…it gets better. For those who walked with Him on this earth, that Friday appeared anything but good—to them it appeared to be the end.  Every hope of Him being their overcoming King ended with every blow of the hammer.  He died, they buried Him, but then came Resurrection Sunday.  If Friday was good than Sunday must be super.  For on that day Christ physically resurrected from the dead. The most authenticated, sacred writing in the world, the Bible, along with historical evidence, all comes to the same conclusion: He came back to life. He lives.

The physical resurrection of Christ proves His deity.  In other words, the proof of the pudding is in the tasting, and He proved He was and is the Son of God.  And it only gets better!  He defeated death and because He did, we have that same knowing hope.  His victory over death becomes ours.  It is an incredible story…one worth your own personal investigation.

Let me encourage you to check Him out.  There is plenty of bunk on the internet but there is also plenty of truth.  See why such a large chunk of the world population connects Jesus with God.  See what all the excitement is about.  And hey, maybe find a place you trust and experience the resurrection celebration somewhere in person this Easter Sunday. You will discover a God who loves you a ton and just waits to welcome you into His family. And when you’re in His family you can know two things.  First, you are His and He will never change His mind.  Second, well, no matter what you face, “He’s got this.” Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Easter, Family, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, Holidays, life, prayer, priorities, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful

The Awakening

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of His resurrection.” Philippians 3:10

Like it or not…it was time.  Every spring and summer, my wife and I are blessed to have one of the most beautiful yards on our street.  Some people say it is one of the most beautiful yards in town.  When we moved to 217 West Poplar Street, it was a blank canvas.  There were literally no flowers and no flowering trees.  Judy, who has a green thumb, over the years has made our yard into several beautiful gardens.  She plants it and it grows.

Well, every fall, as the temperatures fall, some things go to sleep, and some things just die.  The perennials go to sleep to be awakened the next spring and the annuals die and will have to be replanted or reseeded. Fall and winter leave a carnage of dead stems, leaves, and blooms and before the perennials can be awakened, last year’s carnage needs to go.  There’s where I come in.  She is the “make it happen” person and I am the “cleanup the carnage” person.  So, every later winter or early spring, I have my work cut out for me.

On the weekends or during the week, I would come home from work and select a section of the yard to cleanup.  Using my string trimmer (hey, don’t laugh…it works), my rake, my loppers, and a couple of other tools for good measure, I would whack, cut, trim and rake my way through each flower bed.  When I was done, I would have a clean slate for the coming spring.  If you saw all this when I was done, it would look pretty empty.  You would think, “Nothing is gonna happen there.”  But you would be perfectly wrong.

You see, beneath the soil, all those perennials (plants that come back year after year) that have slept all winter, that for all practical purposes seemed dead, are about to spring (no pun intended) back to life.  Green sprouts will be pushing up everywhere.  Before long what was bare is filled with new life and what is filled with new life will soon be filled with the beautiful blooms of spring and summer.  It really is quite amazing.

Well, let me just tell you.  For several days, I went out and did my carnage removal thing.  And, at least for this guy whose job has him sitting at a desk studying, it was hard work.  My arms were tired, my shoulders ached, and I was thoroughly and completely pooped.  Somewhere along the journey, I lost my vision. All I knew was I was tired and that there seemed to be no end to the carnage of last fall and winter.  But then it hit me, and my focus returned.

It wasn’t just work. It wasn’t just something that had to be done.  I was on a mission.  I was preparing for…resurrection.  My work for those days was work with purpose.  As I cleared away the old, I was making way for the new.  And because of my faithfulness in late winter or early spring—the resurrection could happen.  Already, the yard is being transformed as green sprouts are breaking through the dirt and reminding me that my work was not in vain.  It has a purpose.

In a few days, we will be celebrating another resurrection and this one is the biggie.  We are going to celebrate the fact that two thousand years ago, a man—the God-man—willingly died on a Roman cross to pay the price for the sins of the entire world.  That day the sin for every man, woman, and child was atoned for, making it possible for every person who asks to have forgiveness, hope for this life and the life to come.  Anyone who is willing to believe and choose to follow Him can have the privilege of calling God—Father. But Jesus didn’t just die.

See, anyone can die on a cross and claim anything.  Jesus didn’t stay dead—He physically and completely came back to life.  He resurrected and one of the reasons He did was to prove that He was who He said He was and did what He said He would do. His death shouted, “I love you” and His resurrection shouted, “I am victorious over death.”  Wow.  So, here’s the deal. 

Remember I mentioned in a few days we were going to celebrate the “biggie?”  Well, this is what I was talking about.  And these days are like my time preparing the gardens for their resurrection.  These days are a time for us to prepare our hearts and minds for the big event—Resurrection Sunday.  The more I prepare the gardens for their resurrection, the bigger the celebration of life as they sprout and bloom.  And guess what?  It’s true with Easter.  The more we prepare, the bigger the celebration. Like Paul, said, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know [to celebrate] the power of His resurrection.”

Each time I went to work in the yard I had to make a conscious decision to prepare the gardens for resurrection.  Wanting to, longing to, intending to, just wouldn’t cut the mustard.  It is time for us to prepare to celebrate His resurrection.  Wanting to, longing to, intending to, just won’t get the job done.  There is a reason to celebrate—because He lives—we too can live.  So, start today, get ready for the biggie—the resurrection of Jesus.  Need help in preparing? Not sure how? No problem.  The One who made it all possible is a great party planner.  Just ask Him.  He’s got that, too.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Easter, fear, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, life, loving others, prayer, priorities, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, Trials

Hard Day–Good Friday

Jesus knew that His mission was now finished, and to fulfill Scripture He said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of sour wine was sitting there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put it on a hyssop branch, and held it up to His lips. When Jesus had tasted it, He said, “It is finished!” Then He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.” John 19:28-30

Good Friday.  What an unusual name for such a hard, hard day.  Imagine with me as slowly the light increased over Jerusalem.  It was another early morning in spring and men were going to die.  The Romans regularly crucified criminals–it was business as usual for them.  But this day, well this day, would be different.  Three men would die on crosses–two criminals and one perfect human being.  His name was Jesus.

As the light increased so did the sounds.  If you had been there you would have heard the sounds of a crowd–a mob really.  Some were crying, some shouting, some angry, some broken.  You would have heard the sounds of struggle–anguish as a man carried a cross too big for even the healthiest of men.  At the top of a stark hill the sounds intensified.

You could hear without trying the sound of metal on metal as hammer meets nail.  Cries of humanity suffering as three crosses are lifted skyward.  The message was clear.  You don’t mess with Rome.  Scattered around are the sounds of women crying and men in anguish.  Stares of disbelief filled the eyes of many.  Listen now–there are words.

The Man in the middle–the perfect One–is speaking and what He says is almost beyond belief. “Father, forgive them.  They don’t know what they are doing.”  Forgive them? —Forgive the very ones who passed the judgement–who drove the nails–who lifted the cross? Wait, for there is more.  One of the criminals is mocking Him but the other is begging Him.  “Remember me,” he says.  And Jesus responds “Today, you will be with Me in paradise.”

There are more words.  Lean in–strain to hear. The Man in the middle–the perfect One–is asking His friend John to take care of His mother.  And then there is the cry of brokenness as He cries, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”  He knows why.  The Man in the middle–the perfect One–has become sin and His Father can’t look on sin.  There’s a price being paid, and it involves wrath and death.  And He is willingly paying it.

As His end draws near a silence begins to fall over the hill.  The women are cried out, the soldiers are bored, and the crowd confused.  And then they all hear it.  “Tetelestai.” It’s a common word really.  It means finished.  An artist would say it when the last stroke is applied to a masterpiece.  A carpenter would say it when the last peg is driven in a newly built table. A farmer would say it when the last sheave of wheat is harvested.  But when the Man in the middle–the perfect One–says those words, everything changes.

“It is finished.”  The mission is accomplished. The price for sin has been paid and atoned for.  The wrath of God for sin is satisfied.  What justice demanded He has paid. And what He promised the criminal becomes a reality for any person. My sins, your sins, our sins, can be forgiven and you can be with me in heaven.

So, then He dies.  Actually, He wills himself to die for no one could take the life of the Man in the middle–the perfect One.  He could give it, but they could not take it.  Rocks crack, thunder rolls and then in the distance a tearing, ripping sound is heard as the massive curtain separating man from Holy God is torn from top to bottom and God–God hangs out the welcome sign for the first time ever.  And it’s all because of the Man in the middle–the perfect One.

In any other story that would be the end, but you see it’s only Friday.  The final act is coming on Sunday. Friday ended with His followers discouraged, defeated, and afraid. Maybe like some of us. But if you lean in again…if you listen closely…you can hear the Father saying, “Rest in Me. Wait till Sunday.  I’ve got this.”  And…He does.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Easter, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, Holidays, life, loving others, prayer, priorities, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, Trials

Thursday To-Do List

“As you go into the city,” He told them, “you will see a certain man. Tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My time has come, and I will eat the Passover meal with My disciples at your house.’ ” Matthew 26:18

Well, it is Thursday.  Several years ago, something happened that changed the way I do business—do life.  I’ve done the pastor thing now for almost four decades.  Even as I write that, it seems hard to believe.  Anyway, there were a couple of things that pastors do that I never quite got the hang of.  First, they always carried a little calendar.  You would ask them a question and they would say, “Let me check my calendar.”  You would tell them you were having open heart surgery a week from next Friday and they would say, “Let me put that on my calendar.”  There was a problem.  Try as I may I never could get into the calendar thing.  It wasn’t that I didn’t care, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to remember important dates—I just couldn’t remember to grab the thing when I left the house in the morning.  And honestly, I didn’t like having it stuffed into my pocket.

I hate to admit this, but it was the same deal with a pocket Bible.  Every pastor seemed to always have a little Bible stuck in their pocket. Not me.  It just didn’t work.  I mean I loved the Bible, but it just didn’t work.  Well, the solution for both of these lapses occurred kinda together.  First, along came the smart phone.  The smart phone is a little computer that you can easily carry.  Nice and flat, it can be stuffed to the gills with information, but it never feels bulky.  It wasn’t long after the advent of the smart phone that you could read the Bible on the thing.  Boom!  Just like that I had a Bible when I needed it.  It got better.

A couple of years later a friend introduced me to my new best friend—gmail and their calendar.  All of a sudden, I could pull out my trusty phone and not only check my calendar but quickly add things to my calendar.  It was a big deal.  It was a game changer deal.  Now I am not one of those folks who are “married” to their phone—in other words there are times when I forget it.  If I do, I kindly ask the person to shoot me a text and when I get to my phone there is a reminder to add what I needed to add.

So, being somewhat of an organized person, these tools were a great help.  I like knowing where I am going and when I am supposed to be there.  Somethings I don’t need to put on the calendar…I just know to do them.  They become part of my “to-do” list.  Thursdays are study days for the next week’s message, finalizing the worship event in the YouVersion Bible app, making some visits and a host of other small administrative details.  It is a catchup day.  As days of the week go…Thursday is usually a lighter day but of course as a pastor that can change quickly—very quickly.

I wonder if Jesus kept a “to-do” list.  I know—probably not.  But if He did, I wonder what it would look like.  In one sense it would be short—love God—love people.  But in another sense, it would be long as He was always doing something, and it was always what His Father wanted. Thursdays might have been one of His lighter days too.  But not this Thursday—not the Thursday before He died on a Roman cross on Friday.  That Thursday, the Thursday we celebrate today, was jam packed with incredible things.

His list would include celebrating Passover, His last Passover, with His closest friends in an upper room.  That was a must.  He also designed and planned an event that we call “The Last Supper,” “The Lord’s Supper,” or “Communion.”  He needed to give His followers something to help them understand what was about to happen and then remember it—forever.  Oh, and then He did something kinda unusual—He washed everyone’s feet.  Boy, that was a big one.  He did it to teach them, and us, about humility and service. He wasn’t done yet. In fact, there wasn’t an end to Thursday—it just bled over into Friday.

There was an important prayer meeting in a garden where only a few were invited.  He needed to talk to His Father about Friday.  He invited His friends along to help, but they were tired so He had to go it alone.  That would happen a lot as Thursday became Friday.  His “to-do” list also included healing someone’s whacked off ear and being arrested.  It also included that awful feeling of desertion when all of His friends left Him. And then, somewhere in the darkness, Thursday became Friday.

I know it isn’t possible for us to fully understand what those days were like for Jesus.  We do need to remember, though, that He experienced them as God but also as a man—a man who knew spiritually, emotionally, and physically where it was going.  And, amazingly, He did it willingly and He did it knowing the cost.  So today, as we walk our Thursday, let’s remember His Thursday and be grateful. He was a Man of details—of destiny.  He told them, “As you go into the city, you will see a certain man. Tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My time has come, and I will eat the Passover meal with My disciples at your house.’ ” Yes, a Man of destiny—a Man of details.  A God-Man who had that—and who’s got this—no matter what that may be.  Bro. Dewayne

Posted in Easter, fear, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, Holidays, life, loving others, prayer, Scripture, sovereignty of God, thankful, Trials, wisdom

It’s Wednesday

For the joy that lay before Him, He endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2

It’s Wednesday…not just Wednesday but Wednesday as in two days before you die.  Not just die, but die what the Romans called the death of deaths.  Not just die, but die a death so horrible it was outlawed for Roman citizens.  So, if you knew Friday was coming, what would your Wednesday be like?  What would your attitude be like?

The scriptures don’t actually say, “On Wednesday before Jesus died on Friday Jesus got up and did this or that.”  We do know this.  His actions were not dominated or determined by dread or fear.  His actions were governed by His desire to please His Father and driven by His love for us.  He wanted to please the Father and He wanted to save us.  Let that soak in.  He wanted to save us.

Jesus knew the full awfulness of the cross.  He understood the awfulness of experiencing the wrath of His Father for our sins.  In John 12:27-28, He says, “Now My soul is troubled. What should I say—Father, save Me from this hour? But that is why I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” He understood that if He was rescued there could not be a rescue or redemption for us and without redemption, you and I are burnt toast.

So, what did He do?  The author of Hebrews gives us a glimpse.  He says, “For the joy that lay before Him, He endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Do you see it? “For the joy that lay before Him, He endured the cross…”  Jesus handled the awfulness of the cross by looking beyond the awfulness to a time when He would be returned to His rightful place in heaven right beside His Father. He handled the present by looking to eternity.

That is really good advice for these days—actually, for any day.  We can be shortsighted and only see the craziness around us or we can look toward better days.  Now I want you to track with me. Many of those better days we dreamed about last year are already here.  Last year we mourned that we couldn’t worship together on Palm Sunday and Easter.  Last Sunday we did and this Sunday, Lord willing, we will.   Yay.  Last year we were longing to minister and serve others as a church family. This year we are or at least we can. And just like these things came to pass, so will the others.  We will have jobs again. We will have family parties again. The Cubs will win the series again.  Well, let’s not stretch it.  But you get the idea.

And by the way, one day, if we place our faith in Christ, we will have a reserved seat in the longest, greatest celebration of all–heaven.  None of the earth junk will be there. In fact, according to Revelation 21:4 “He [God] will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away.” Wow–no grief, crying, pain, or death.  No funeral homes, nursing homes, hospitals, prisons, fear or any number of things that give us gray hair or no hair.

So, some of the better days are here and many more are coming–some sooner–some later.  And the same thing that got Jesus through can help us get through–the joy set before us.  We learned in a message recently that Biblical joy can be defined as “a deep sense of well-being based on our faith in God and trust in His sovereign will.”

As we trust Him the fear fades, the sun rises, and we can face today, and tomorrow. In fact, we not only can face it–we can embrace it with the confident assurance He is in control. Knowing that–rest in Him.  He’s got this.  Bro. Dewayne