Lenten Devotional

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life

 “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”  ~ John 11.25-26

The best way to feel the impact of Jesus’ declaration, “I am the resurrection and the life,” is to place it within the broader context of John 11. The chapter begins as follows: 

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So, the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it. Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.” (11.1-6)

Sometimes Jesus does things we do not understand. Sometimes He will do the unexpected and treat His friends in ways that appear unloving or unkind. One reason Jesus does the unexpected is because He came not to do our will, but to do the will of His Father in heaven. And so, in obedience to the will of His Father, Jesus, instead of leaving immediately to visit His sick friend Lazarus, “stayed two days longer in the place where He was.” And as the reason for His delay He says, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”  When Jesus did leave for Bethany, He told His disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples, including John, take Jesus’ words literally. “Lord,” they reply, “if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 

Only in looking back does John reveal what Jesus meant; “Jesus had spoken of his (i.e., Lazarus’) death, but they thought that He meant taking rest in sleep.” However, it’s what Jesus says next that must have really confused them, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe.” Two days earlier Jesus said: “This illness does not lead to death.”  Now Lazarus is dead. Did Jesus make a mistake? Did He underestimate the severity of Lazarus’ illness? Did He misread the situation? Not all. Remember the second part of what He said, “This illness is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Something is going on here; something we cannot see but will soon be revealed. 

When Jesus arrived in Bethany, “He found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.” That Lazarus had been in the tomb four days is significant for this reason: according to rabbinic teaching, the spirit of a dead person hovered over their body for three days intending to re-enter it, but as soon as decomposition begins, the spirit departs, and the person is considered to be truly dead—beyond all hope of resuscitation. 

So, after four days Lazarus is dead. No pulse. No heartbeat. No brain activity. No breath. Lazarus is really, really, really, really dead.  The funeral is over.  His body has been wrapped in burial cloths and placed in the tomb. The tomb has been sealed. When Jesus arrives Martha and Mary are four days into their grief.  There is no indication they expected Jesus to do anything except to grieve with them and offer words of comfort and consolation over the death of their brother. John writes,

So, when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met Him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask from God, God will give You.” (11.20-22)

We are mistaken if we think Martha’s words are delivered with an edge. On the contrary, her words are more a mixture of grief and faith than of frustration and anger. Lazarus is dead. Nothing will change that. But if Jesus had been there, Martha is confident her brother would not have died. Despite not knowing why Jesus waited until Lazarus was dead before coming to Bethany, Martha believed that if Jesus had been there her brother would have lived. Martha was afflicted by grief but not crushed. She was perplexed but not driven to despair. She was persecuted but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed. Her heart was troubled, yet she trusted Jesus to be her Refuge and Strength, a very present help in time of trouble. 

How do we know this? We know this because immediately after Martha says, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died,” she says, “But even now I know that whatever You ask from God, God will give you.”

The bedrock of our faith is to keep trusting God even when He disappoints us. The foundation of our faith is to keep relying on God when He does not do as we expect, want, or think. The cornerstone of our faith is learning what God means when He says, in Isaiah 55.8-9:

For My thoughts are not your thoughts, 

neither are your ways My ways, declares the LORD.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, 

so are My ways higher than your ways and

My thoughts than your thoughts. 

For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the LORD 

Sometimes faith means waiting for God to make known what from our perspective appears inscrutable, incredible, and inexplicable. Sometimes faith means learning what Jesus meant when, after washing the disciples’ feet, said, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” (John 13.7) Sometimes we have to wait to the end of a season of grief, confusion, and pain before we understand. And sometimes, like here in John 11, we don’t have to wait very long at all. 

Martha is standing face-to-face before the Lord of Life in the presence of death (cf., John 1.3-4). Despite her soul being in the grip of grief, Martha reached out for the hand of Christ, trusting God to give Jesus whatever He asked. Yearning for comfort, Martha opened her heart to Jesus, hoping He would offer her comfort. He did, but not in the way Martha expected. “Your brother will rise again,” Jesus told her.

We need to reframe Jesus’ statement because what He’s just said is the first century equivalent of what we so often hear from politicians after a great tragedy, 

“Martha, I want you to know how sorry I am for your loss. Please know that my thoughts and prayers are with you and Mary, and everyone in your extended family during this difficult time. And I want you also to know that someday your brother will rise again.”

Nevertheless, Jesus’ offer of condolence is sincere. Martha accepts the sincerity of Jesus’ offer by affirming her belief in the resurrection of the dead: “I know that my brother will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Martha is thinking of some future event yet to come. But when Jesus said, “Your brother will rise again,” He has something more immediate in mind. I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.” 

Martha believed in the resurrection yet to come. She believed there would be life after this life. When Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life,” He is telling Martha that the resurrection and the life she looked for in the future is right in front of her! Jesus came to resurrect the spiritually dead by dying in their place. He came to raise the spiritually dead by laying down His life for their sin, their salvation, and their resurrection. He is the resurrection and the life because He is the Bread of life. He is the Light of the world. He is the Door. He is the Good Shepherd. In Him is life because in Him was life and the life was (and is) the light of men (John 1.4). 

Jesus is the light of men because He is the resurrection and the life. Because Christ is risen from the dead, we can know the power of His resurrection now as well as in the future. We don’t have to wait to go to heaven when we die to experience the new life, the everlasting life Jesus brings us. We can, by trust in Christ, experience resurrection by being born again by faith in Christ. We can have new life by undergoing a new birth—a second birth that raises us from spiritual death to everlasting life. 

  • Jesus is the resurrection because from eternity He is the life. 
  • Jesus is the resurrection because it is the Father’s will to give life to all who trust in Christ the Son. 
  • Jesus is the resurrection because by laying down His life of His own free will, then rising from the grave, He is now the firstborn from the dead. 
  • Jesus is the life because everyone who believes in Him will live forever. 
  • Jesus is the life because God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 
  • Jesus is the life because everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life that starts today and guarantees that He will raise them up on the last day. 

Jesus is the resurrection and the life because by raising the dead He also gives them eternal life. By declaring Himself to be the resurrection and the life Jesus connects His identity with His mission.

Just as Lazarus was brought back from physical death to life by the word of Christ, so are we brought back from spiritual death to everlasting life by that same word of Christ. Because Jesus is the resurrection and the life, and because He Himself rose from the dead, we have every assurance that Christ, having brought us back from spiritual death into everlasting life, will carry us into eternity to enjoy life after this life. 

At the same time, the Christian life is more than “Believe in Jesus and you’ll go to heaven when you die.” The Christian life is about participating in Jesus’ mission as the resurrection and the life. It’s about lives being changed, marriages saved, sick people made well, helping the poor to get on their feet and face life with real hope. It’s about bringing the power of Christ’s resurrection where it is needed most. It’s about bringing the life of Christ to persons in need of hope, mercy, and forgiveness. It’s about serving others in Jesus’ name so that He can raise them from the dead through the power of the gospel. 

Lazarus was physically dead. He needed a physical resurrection. But, if viewed from another angle, Lazarus represents our spiritual condition before we come to faith in Christ. Apart from faith in Christ, we are spiritually dead. We need spiritual resurrection. The spiritually dead cannot resurrect themselves. The Holy Spirit must breathe life into them through the word of Christ. He does this through the preaching and the hearing of the Gospel. Why the gospel? Because the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. 

Much has been said about Jesus calling Lazarus by name. It’s believed that if Jesus simply said, “Come forth!” all the dead would have been raised that day. So, knowing His voice is powerful enough to raise all the dead, Jesus “cried out with a loud voice,” “Lazarus, come forth.”

What John describes in verse 44 illustrates the life-giving power of Jesus’ word, “The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” 

When Jesus calls us to follow Him, the Holy Spirit uses His word to raise us from the dead. His word unbinds us. His truth sets us free from the fear of death. And as we walk out of the tomb of our old way of life, the Spirit removes the grave clothes of our old way of life and dresses us in the righteousness of Jesus Christ so we can follow Him from here into eternity.  

Immediately after declaring Himself to be “the resurrection and the life,” Jesus asked Martha, “Do you believe this?” And just as immediately Martha answered Him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God who is coming into the world.”

Flesh and blood did not reveal this to Martha. God the Father working through God the Holy Spirit revealed this truth to her. What Jesus said to Martha was true then. And it is true now. 

“I am the resurrection and the life,” says Jesus “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

On this journey through Lent to Easter Sunday, may our answer to Jesus’s question be the same as Martha’s: “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

You think about that.

“I Am the Good Shepherd”

11I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. ~ John 10.11-6

On the second Sunday after Easter 1523, Martin Luther began his sermon on this text by saying—

This is a comforting Gospel, which so beautifully portrays the Lord Jesus and teaches us what manner of person he is, what kind of works he does, and how he is disposed toward men. And there is no better way to understand it than to contrast light and darkness and day and night; that is, the good shepherd with the wicked one, as the Lord himself does.

The contrast Luther refers to is this: that unlike the Pharisees and other Jewish religious leaders, whom Jesus compares to thieves and robbers, He is the good shepherd because He will lay down His life for the sheep. He is both the door of the sheep (10.7) and the good shepherd come to seek and to save all whom the Father has given to Him.

There is another contrast revealed by Jesus declaring Himself to be the good shepherd. In the culture of the day, the Jewish religious elite considered shepherds to be men of questionable character. Shepherds were denied civil rights. They were prohibited from holding legal office. They were not accepted as witnesses in court. Knowing this, Jesus deliberately identified Himself with a despised class of people. He chose an occupation considered by those at the top of the socio-economic ladder to be at the very bottom of that ladder. He did this because He came to exalt the humble and humble the proud.

Such was the disdain of the religious elites toward shepherds that they considered them to be sub-human. However, shepherding required several very important human qualities such as character, intelligence, integrity, courage, compassion, and commitment. Good shepherds were highly responsible. They loved their sheep, and while it was rare for a shepherd to die for his flock, if the circumstance arose, a shepherd would lay down his life for the life of his sheep. Now as far as we know, teachers of the law were not required to die to save the lives of their students. Shepherds were. And did. This is what Jesus meant when He said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

The language of sacrifice punctuates Jesus’ declaration. For example, He says He will lay down His life for the sheep five times in John 10.11-18 (11, 15, 17, and twice in 18). The language of sacrifice describes how much Jesus loves His sheep. He will lay down His life for them because He loves them. And because He willingly lays down His life, Jesus saysHe will take it up again. This is the charge He received from God the Father (10.18).

Sheep is a metaphor for people. Jesus must lay down His life for us because, like sheep, we have gone astray. Rather than follow the LORD as our Shepherd, we have each turned to follow our own path. We have sinned by pursuing our own version of the truth. However, there is no such thing as your truth and my truth. There is only God’s truth and we have rebelled against Him and His truth.

Having declared our independence from God we have now become His enemy. To make matters worse, as is always the case, sin over-promises and under-delivers. So rather than create a utopia, our sin has created chaos, ruin, and further alienation from God and neighbor.

Here is the truth. All have sinned and fell short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23). Since we are powerless to save ourselves, Someone must come and lead us back to God. Someone else must satisfy the just judgment of God against us for our sin. Someone else must lay down their life as the atoning sacrifice—the propitiation for our sins. This Someone is the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the good shepherd because He will lay down His life for the sheep.

Jesus says He willsave the sheep by dying for them. He will safeguard their lives by giving up His own. He will perish so the sheep may be saved. This is the paradox and the irony of the gospel. Jesus dies. We live. Noting the irony of what Jesus says, Scottish Puritan John Brown wrote this in his commentary on this passage:

The thought naturally rises: But if Jesus (sic) lay down his life for the sheep, how can he subsequently take care of them? It is to meet this thought that Jesus says: “I lay down my life that I may take it up again,” that is, I lay down my life to secure these blessings; I take my life again that I may bestow them. Because I die, they are saved from death by my dying; because I live, they live also by my life.

Because He is the good shepherd Jesus will lay down His life for the sheep and He will take it up again. His death saves us from death. His life gives us life and life abundantly. His death for the good of the sheep proves Jesus is the good shepherd. His resurrection gives life to the sheep proving He is the resurrection and the life. His death opens the door to the sheepfold. His resurrection guarantees we will go in and go out and find pasture; that we will experience life now as well as the life after this life. Jesus is the good shepherd because He will lay down His life for the sheep.

Seven hundred years before Jesus came as the Good Shepherd, the prophet Isaiah foretod His arrival and His ministry. Listen to Isaiah 40.10-11, where the prophet says:

            Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might,

                        and his arm rules for him;

             behold, his reward is with him,

                        and his recompense before him.

            He will tend his flock like a shepherd;

                        he will gather the lambs in his arms;

             he will carry them in his bosom,

                        and gently lead those that are with young.

Jesus protects His people by giving us everything we need for life and godliness. Whereas shepherds in the West drive their sheep, shepherds in the Middle East lead their sheep. In the same way, and because He is the good shepherd Jesus leads His sheep. He never drives them. He doesn’t have to. He knows His sheep and calls them by name. His sheep know His voice. They follow Him because He knows the way. They follow Him because He is the Way.

As the good shepherd Jesus knows the safest path through the valley of the shadow of death. And because He knows the way, Jesus knows that sometimes the safest path is the longest path. Where we prefer the shortest path, Jesus knows the shortest path is not always the best path. He knows this because Satan thrice offered Him the shortest path—tempting Him to by-pass the cross in order to claim the crown. But Christ refused. Sometimes the safest path leads through the valley of the shadow of death. Even so, Jesus knows the way. The same Jesus who said, “Let not your hearts be troubled,” also said, “Believe in God; believe also in Me.” And the same Jesus who said, “In the world you will have tribulation,” who said, “But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Sometimes Jesus will lead us, like Peter, through places and circumstances we do not want to go but He knows we must go if we are to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him. The path may frighten us, but as the old hymn says, “I may not know the way I go but oh, I know my Guide. His love will never fail.” Jesus is our Guide. Jesus knows the way because Jesus is the Way.

  • His love will never fail.
  • He will not mislead us.
  • He will never leave us.
  • He will never forsake us.
  • He will never leave us in the dark.
  • He will not lead us to the door then deny us access.
  • He will be us in death as He is with us in life.
  • He will lead us to everlasting life because He is the one, true, and only Good Shepherd.

Our path may be long, our journey arduous, and the route difficult, but Christ is leading the way. He will make us lie down in green pastures. He will lead us beside still waters. He will restore our soul. He will lead us in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. He has prepared and is preparing a table for us in the presence of our enemies—and His. We will enjoy a feast in the presence of enemies He has already defeated: sin and death.

Christ the Good Shepherd forfeited His life to free us from the fortress of our sin and to save us from the wrath of God. Christ the Good Shepherd has taken up His life again to guarantee our resurrection from the dust of the earth. The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God’s grace is eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd.

You think about that.

“I Am the Door of the Sheep”

John 10.7 | “I am the Door of the Sheep”

As with His other “I am” statements, Jesus’ declaration, “I am the door of the sheep,” connects His identity and His mission. He is the door. There is no other door, no other access, and no other port of entry into the kingdom of God. He is the only way to salvation and eternal life.

It is said that every text has a context and what Jesus says in John 10 is no exception. His statement “I am the door,” may have been born in John 10, but it was conceived in John 9 when He healed a man blind from birth (cf. John 9). The healing-miracle proved the truthfulness of Jesus’ earlier declaration, “I am the light of the world.” (cf., John 8.12; 9.5).

The healing of the blind man also stirred up a hornet’s nest of controversy among the religious leaders of the Jews. Apparently, Jesus had the chutzpah to heal the man on the Sabbath! Immediately after being healed the blind man is subjected to rigorous cross-examination by the Pharisees. Frustrated by not hearing the answers they wanted, they cast him out of the synagogue.

There is great irony here. By healing the blind man Jesus returned a lost sheep to the sheepfold of Israel. Yet rather than welcome the return of this lost sheep, the Pharisees rejected him. Good shepherds don’t do that. But thieves and robbers do and by their actions the Pharisees showed themselves to be just that. Conversely, Jesus is revealed as the True Shepherd of Israel. This contrast creates the context for what Jesus says in John 10.1-6. Recognizing the Pharisees failed to “understand what He was saying to them,” Jesus tried a different approach.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10.7-10)

By prefacing His statement with “Truly, truly, I say to you,” Jesus is telling the Pharisees that what He’s about to say is both important and true. “I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door.” Jesus repeats Himself for emphasis. As the door of the sheep, Jesus is the only way into the kingdom of God. Jesus is the door to the life beyond this life.

Jesus is the door to a life where grace pays the toll.

Jill and I have friends serving the Lord as missionaries in Latin America. There have been several occasions when, as they traveled by car, they’ve been stopped by bandits who’ve set up unofficial “toll booths” on local highways. The bandits want money, but they’ll take clothing, food, or anything they consider to be valuable—cameras, cell phones, laptop computers, even people. 

Long before Jesus came into the world, the Pharisees set up their own toll booths at the border between the City of Man and the City of God. In their desire to maintain the spiritual purity of Israel, they would not let anyone cross this border unless they obeyed the Law to their satisfaction. 

When the blind man arrived at the border seeking entry into the City of God, the Pharisees refused to let him in. Rather than rejoice with him on receiving his sight they refused to believe that he’d been blind at all! Their denial regarding the miraculous return of his sight is a denial of the work of God revealed in him. And when the healed man defended Jesus by declaring, “If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing,” the Pharisees proved they were thieves and robbers by casting him out of the synagogue. Instead of welcoming a lost sheep back to the fold, they threw him back to the wolves. What they didn’t realize was that by rejecting the healed man, they also rejected Jesus. 

The Pharisees considered themselves to be the shepherds of Israel. Yet when Jesus brought them a lost sheep who’d been healed and restored to health, all they saw was an obvious sinner claiming to be healed by another sinner who had the audacity to perform a miracle on the Sabbath! So then, seeing isn’t believingafter all.

The Pharisees loved the Law so much that it blinded them to the Light of the world. They failed to see how the Law which led them to the border between the City of Man and the City of God, couldn’t help them enter it. The heart of the gospel is that what the Law couldn’t do, Jesus did by fulfilling the Law perfectly. This is why He said, “I am the door.” Jesus is the door to a life where grace pays the toll.

There is no law we can keep, no set of rules we can follow, and no personal code of conduct we can live by that will be enough to pay the toll required to enter the City of God. There is no checklist of good works long enough and no number of charitable deeds great enough to earn us entry into the City of God. The only law-keeper to whom God will grant entry into His presence is His Only begotten Son. The only good works He will honor are those performed by Jesus. The only currency He will accept is the blood of Christ shed at the cross. And to some people that’s offensive. It’s meant to be.

Grace is offensive only to those who refuse to accept it. But for those who do accept it, to those who trust Him, Jesus is the door to a life where grace pays the toll. He is the Door that leads to a new way of life now while also promising to be the Door to the life beyond this life!

Jesus is the door to a life only He can give.

If we look at this text through what Jesus said in John 6.37 and 44, then what happened here makes sense. In John 6.37, Jesus said, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me, I will never cast out,” and in John 6.44, Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.”

The reason the Pharisees rejected Jesus and refused to follow Him is because they were neither given by the Father nor drawn by Him to Jesus. Only people whom the Father gives to Jesus and draws to Jesus—people like the blind man—will trust Jesus and be granted access into the City of God. This being so, it raises some important questions:

How do we know God is drawing us to Jesus?  

  1. When we find ourselves starting to believe Jesus really is who He says He is.
  2. When we find the teaching of Jesus more and more appealing, so that we are irresistibly drawn to trusting what He says is true.
  3. When the reasons for following Jesus outnumber the reasons for resisting Him.
  4. When the life Jesus promises fills us with a more satisfying joy, hope, and peace than anything this world dangles before us.

How do we enter the City of God through Jesus the Door?  

  1. The Father must draw us to Jesus. This He does through the ministry of the Holy Spirit who opens our heart to pay attention to the words of Jesus.
  2. Those whom the Father gives to Jesus, Jesus will welcome into the City of God, which is another way of saying the sheepfold.
  3. We enter the City of God through trusting in Jesus as the Door to life beyond this life. (See John 6.35-38) Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10.10) The abundant life does not consist in having perfect health or material prosperity.

The abundant life is learning to abide in Christ; trusting in Him as our Refuge and Strength.

The abundant life is experiencing the peace of Christ which surpasses all understanding.

The abundant life is the joy of knowing we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.

The abundant life is the soul-satisfying, heart-inspiring, mind-calming, faith-building truth that Christ is our Light and our Salvation; whom shall we fear?

The abundant life is the peace that comes from knowing our Father knows what we need before we ask Him, and still having the privilege of praying, “Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name; it’s having the confidence to draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4.15)


Jesus is the only door to the life beyond this life. There is no other Door.

In The Silver Chair (the fourth volume in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia), a young girl named Jill has entered Narnia for the first time. She is very thirsty. She notices a stream of crystalline clear cold water, perfect for quenching her thirst. But there is a problem. Between her and the stream is the great lion Aslan and he is standing between her and the water (in the series Aslan is a Christ-figure.)

Thirsty but afraid, Jill says to Aslan,

“May I—could I—would you mind going away while I get a drink of water?” The lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience. The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.

“Will you promise not to—do anything to me, if I do come?” asked Jill.

“I make no such promise,” said the Lion.

Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.

“Do you eat girls?” she said.

“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.

“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.

“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.

“Oh, dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer.

“I don’t suppose I might go and look for another stream then.”

“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.

Jesus is the door to the life beyond this life.

You might go and look for another door.

But there is no other door.

You think about that.


“I am the Bread of Life”

17 February 2021

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst.” ~ John 6.35

Salted throughout John’s Gospel are seven “I am” statements made by Jesus. Each statement is a bold declaration of His identity and mission. Additionally, each “I am” saying is an invitation/challenge to worship Jesus as the Son of God who is the Lord and Savior of all who trust in Him. In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis expressed the dilemma posed by the things Jesus said as follows:

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman, or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.  But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us.  He did not intend to.” (Mere Christianity, 52)

Despite the logical force of Lewis’ argument, many continue to regard Jesus as a great moral teacher; the very thing He claimed not to be. In truth, Jesus claimed to be Lord and God; and God in human flesh at that. And a man who claims to be God in human flesh leaves no room for any patronizing nonsense about Him being a great human teacher. On the contrary, He dares us to believe in Him according to His word, and if not according to His word, then by examining His work.

Since today is Ash Wednesday, and the traditional start of the Lenten season, we’ll spend the next seven weeks focusing on each of the “I am” sayings uttered by Jesus in the Gospel of John. They are –

“I am the bread of life.”(6.35, 48)       

“I am the light of the world.” (8.12)                             

“I am the door.” (10.7, 9)          

“I am the good shepherd.” (10.11, 14)

“I am the resurrection and the life.” (11.25)

“I am the way, the truth and the life.” (14.6)

“I am the true vine.” (15.1, 5)

In some parts of the world, bread is so highly regarded it is considered a gift from God. In the Middle East, for example, if a man sees a piece of bread lying in the street, he will pick it up and give it to a dog or place it where a bird may eat it. As a gift from God, bread is not something to be wasted.

If bread is a gift from God, then Jesus is God’s gift to the world. Whoever believes Jesus is the bread of life will live forever. He is the Word of God who became flesh and lived among us. He is the Son of Man inviting us to believe in Him as the living bread who gives life to all who trust in Him. The specific text I want us to look at this morning is John 6.51.

I am the living bread that came down from heaven.

If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.

And the bread that I give for the life of the world is My flesh.

Jesus is living bread who came down from heaven offer his life as the atoning sacrifice for sins.  By inviting us to eat His flesh and drink His blood, Jesus is not inviting us to a cannibalistic feast. He does not intend for us to eat His flesh and drink His blood in the literal sense. We eat and drink by faith. He invites us to trust in Him to be our sole and permanent source of salvation. This is the work of faith to which Jesus refers in 6.27; we are “to labor for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” The labor of which Jesus speaks is the work of faith. It sounds strange to think of faith being a work but as John Calvin explains—

“Faith is called the only work of God, because by means of it we possess

Christ, and thus become the sons of God, so that he governs us by his Spirit.”

The manna Israel ate in the wilderness was not living bread because it only lasted a day. As the Bread of Life, Jesus invites us to feed on Him so we will have everlasting life. The manna Israel ate was inanimate and impersonal. Jesus is God in human flesh. Only manna collected on the day before the Sabbath lasted more than twenty-four hours. The bread Jesus gives lasts forever because Jesus lives forever. He is the Word predicted by Moses in Deuteronomy 8.3. There Moses tells the people of Israel how the LORD, despite their wandering in the desert for 40-years due to the disobedience of their fathers,

…fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

Jesus is the Bread of life. He is the Word of God come to feed us with His Word. He is the Son of God who dwells within us by the presence and work of God the Holy Spirit. Quoting Deuteronomy 30.14, Paul describes how this is possible when he writes in Romans 10.8-9:

“The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

When Jesus entered into Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday, He did so as all seven of the “I am” sayings: the Bread of Life, the Light of the world, the Door, the Good Shepherd, the Resurrection and the Life, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and the True Vine.

His fellow Jews yearned for a king who would restore the dignity of Israel.

They hungered for a warrior who would vanquish their enemies starting with Rome.

They thirsted for a Messiah who would reign and rule as David once did.

But Jesus came to fulfill a different yearning.

He came to satisfy a different hunger.

He came to different a thirst.

Even though we are living in the midst of unanticipated times, God has promised and God has given us exactly what we need for the living of these days. He has given us Jesus, the Living Bread who came down from heaven. If we feed on Him by faith, trusting in His word, relying on His promise, we will find that through Him, God has given us everything we need for life and godliness, not only in the age of COVID19, but for any time and forever.

In biblical times, whenever people set out on a journey they took bread with them. In the same manner, Jesus invites us on a journey in which He promises to provide with everything we need for the journey. Think of what bread represents to us on that journey.  

It means an end of hunger.

It means peace.

It means hope.

It means comfort.

It means assurance.

It means encouragement.

It means Someone who loves us, cares for us, and protects us.

It means life.

It means Jesus.

You think about that.

“I am the Light of the World”

24 February 2021

12Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” 13So the Pharisees said to him, “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.” 14Jesus answered, “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. 15You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. 16 Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. 17 In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. 18I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.” ~ John 8.12-12

Throughout the history of  Israel, the glory of God was both a comfort and a danger. During their 40-year trek through the wilderness God’s glory was visible during the day in the pillar of cloud and at night in the pillar of fire. The pillar and cloud were visible and comforting reminders of God’s presence, provision, and protection. However, the glory of God would kill anyone who entered His presence without His invitation.

When Moses ascended Mt. Sinai to receive the 10 commandments, God’s glory descended in a thick cloud accompanied by thunder and lightning. The descent of God’s glory was a transcendent reminder that He dwells in unapproachable light and none but a chosen few were permitted to enter His presence.  Then Jesus the Word became flesh and everything changed.

John says it this way in John 1.14; “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” As the glory of God in human flesh, Jesus came not to kill us, but to die for us. Jesus came not to condemn us, but to redeem us.  Jesus came not to judge us, but to bring us the Good News that whoever follows Him will not walk in darkness, but have the light of life. 

As the light of the world Jesus is the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in human flesh.

Jesus Christ is the human face of God’s glory. He is the glory of God in real life and real time. He humbled Himself, taking the form of a servant, yet not even the drab colors of our humanity could diminish the tera-watt brilliance of His multi-colored glory. The writer of Hebrews, himself a Jew, describes Jesus this way in Hebrews 1.3,

“He (i.e., Jesus) is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power.”

The apostle Paul adds his own description with an eloquent turn of phrase in 2 Corinthians 4.6,

“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Christ.” (NET)

When Jesus said, “I am the light of the world,” He declared Himself to be God because light is the DNA of divinity. In 1 John 1.5b, the Bible says, “God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all.” What does this look like? Think about what light does/provides.

  • Light exposes and reveals. Jesus exposes who we are without Him and reveals what we can become by following Him.
  • Light helps things grow and mature. Jesus helps us grow and mature.
  • Light provides comfort and security. Think of children who cannot sleep unless they have a nightlight. Jesus gives us comfort and security.
  • Light gives light and guidance. Jesus gives us light and guidance.
  • Light gives us courage and hope. Jesus gives us courage and hope.

As the Light of the world Jesus is the human face of God’s glory. He creates a fusion between reality and grace. Jesus makes it possible for us to match His face with the voice of God. He also makes it possible for us to follow Him out of the darkness.

Jesus is the life of all who trust in Him.

In John 1.4-5, the Bible says, “In Him (i.e., Jesus) was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” The it John refers to is the light shining in the darkness. He is Jesus, the Light of the world. The  darkness has not overcome Him because He possesses all the authority necessary to dispel the darkness shrouding our heart, mind and soul. The darkness will never overcome the light because it is the nature of the Light  to shine. Whenever and wherever light it shines it scatters the darkness. There is a sense of inevitability to light. Once it starts to shine it cannot be stopped. Think about the sunrise. Once the fingers of the sun’s rays grab the horizon, nothing can stop it from pulling itself over the horizon and rising into the sky.

For people living in darkness the light is their enemy. The light is also their salvation but when you live in the dark any amount of light feels like lemon juice in a paper cut, or salt in a wound. It hurts. The light exposes our faults, shows our flaws and reveals our past. Darkness hides the pain of our past, the emptiness of our present, and the hopelessness of our future. But it cannot remove the pain, fill the emptiness, or impart hope. Even in the darkness these things remain.

Light reveals problems that the darkness allows us to ignore, escape and forget. What we can’t see we don’t have to deal with.  What we don’t have to deal with can’t cause us any pain. Or so we think. In our darkened state of mind we trust the darkness to hide us from the searching eyes of a gracious God. Somehow we deceive ourselves into believing we can cover ourselves with the darkness like a blanket. But the blanket is too thin to block out the light and too short to cover our sin and shame. We may fear the darkness, but in our sin we fear the light even more.

Then Jesus comes and asks us, “Do you really want to live this way? Is this the life you really want?” As the light of the world Jesus is the life we’ve been looking for. He is the wellspring of joy we’ve been thirsting for. He is the satisfaction we’ve been hungering for.

We may not know where Jesus will lead us, but of this we can be certain: He is leading us into the light. He is the Light. He is trustworthy. He will never lead us astray. He will never abandon us. He will never forsake us. 

His Love Can Never Fail is an old hymn written by E.S. Hall. The hymn describes the trustworthiness of Christ as He leads us through this life into the life beyond this life. It says,

I do not ask to see the way
My feet will have to tread;
But only that my soul may feed
Upon the living bread.
‘Tis better far that I should walk
By faith close to His side,
I may not know the way I go,
But oh, I know my Guide.

And if my feet would go astray,
They cannot, for I know
That Jesus guides my falt’ring steps,
As joyfully I go.
And tho’ I may not see His face,
My faith is strong and clear
That in each hour of sore distress,
My Savior will be near.

I will not fear, tho’ darkness come
Abroad o’er all the land,
If I may only feel the touch
Of His own loving hand.
And tho’ I tremble when I think
How weak I am, how frail,
My soul is satisfied to know
His love can never fail.

Be strong and courageous. Our Guide is Jesus, the Light of the world. And His love can never fail.

You think about that.

Resolve to Live Wisely and Press On

This is the first of a five part series on Resolve

But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. –Philippians 3.13-14

During an extremely stressful time in my life and ministry, I discovered some old files I’d saved for future sermons. I must have done some research into Jonathan Edwards because my notes included a list of resolutions he had written as a teenager. Here’s what I’d written:

Between ages 19 and 20, Edwards wrote down seventy resolutions which he read every week for the rest of his life. The preface and the first of Edwards’ resolutions reveal him to be a very serious man from his youth:

“Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly ask Him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to His will, for Christ’s sake.”

“Resolved, that I will do whatever I think to be best for God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my lifetime, without any consideration of the time.

“Resolved that I will do this, whatever difficulties I meet with no matter how many and how great.”

Inspired by Edwards and given my circumstances at the time, I composed my own list of resolutions. I borrowed the preface from Edwards and wrote down the following resolutions:

“Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly ask him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.”

  1. I resolve to live wisely (Proverbs 3.5-6; Philippians 3.12-16)
  2. I resolve to live humbly (Romans 12.1-2; Philippians 2.3, 7-11)
  3. I resolve to live repentantly (Philippians 2.1-16; 4-9)
  4. I resolve to live faithfully (Matthew 6.25-34; Philippians 2.19-29)
  5. I resolve to live fearlessly (Proverbs 1.7; 29.25; Philippians 1.27-28)

You don’t need seventy resolutions to follow Jesus. You don’t even need five. According to Paul, you just need one: press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (cf., Philippians 3.14). Let’s look at the resolution to live wisely.

Living wisely starts by reconciling our past with knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection.

Like Paul, we all have a past. And like Paul, living wisely means grounding our identity in Jesus Christ not in our past. We must fix our confidence on the Son of God who humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even the death of a cross (Philippians 2.8).

Although Paul’s past did much to shape him, he refused to let his past to define him. He secured his identity in Christ by …

  1. Knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection
  2. Gaining Christ by being found righteous through faith Christ
  3. Sharing in the sufferings of Christ becoming like Him in His death

 Rather than boast about his solid gold religious resume; or in his outstanding Curriculum Vitae as a superbly religious Jew, Paul says, “I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”

Rubbish is a polite translation. In Greek the word is skubala and refers to useless or undesirable material that is subject to disposal. Skubala is the stuff you scrape off the bottom of your shoe after you’ve stepped in it.

Thus to know Christ and the power of His resurrection is to receive the ability to willingly suffer the loss of all things. It is to receive the power to consider them skubala compared to knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection.

  • It’s the power to walk away from your past by trusting Jesus for your future.
  • It’s the power to go wherever Jesus leads you and do whatever Jesus commands you.
  • It’s the power to live wisely in the midst of a culture that lives foolishly.
  • It’s the power to face the worst life can throw at you and follow Jesus nevertheless.
  • It’s the power to press on and persevere.
  • It’s the power to say, “Not my will but Your will be done.”

Living wisely means fixing your eyes on Christ by practicing a long obedience in the same direction.

Paul practiced a wise forgetfulness. He refused to let his past define him. Wise forgetfulness  is the fruit of finding our identity in Jesus Christ.  It is the glorious freedom that accompanies trusting in the promise of future grace. Wise forgetfulness presses on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Paul is straining forward like a runner leaning forward; stretching out to break the tape at the finish line. His goal is to run in such a way as to receive the prize. Paul pressed on for the same reason Jesus pressed on and endured the cross scorning its shame: for the joy that was set before Him. Press on for the joy of hearing the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Press on for the complete, overwhelming, soul-captivating, heart-motivating, breath-taking moment when God looks at us and says, “Well done you good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of Your Master.” Press on by resolving to live wisely.

Press on because living wisely means learning the art of recovery.

It’s been said that golf is a game of recovery. An honest golfer who’s hit a bad shot accepts that he’s hit a bad shot. He must play the ball where it lies. He must recover. By the grace of God, life can also be a game of recovery. We can neither change nor undo the events of our past. We must resolve to play the ball where it lies. We can recover by resolving to live wisely. We must resolve to forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead. We must resolve to press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

You think about that.



Pastor, Read Your Bible — Preferably One with Paper Pages

First, a disclaimer. I am not opposed to i-Tech. I own an iPhone, an iPad, and a MacBook. I am not put off by the current myriad of newfangled, whizz-bang gadgets and apps – except perhaps the plethora of Bible apps.

A second disclaimer. I have and do make frequent use of several Bible apps on my phone and laptop. So what is my problem? What ought do I have against such a wonderfully helpful, perfectly convenient, and marvelously handy tool as a Bible  app?

Simply this: it lacks the sense of immanence communicated by the feel of holding a leather-bound Bible. There is something visceral about the aroma of paper imprinted with ink. The sterile stare of digitally created words cannot match the feel of paper in my hand as I turn from one page to the next. I like being able to underline meaningful words and verses. I like scribbling personal insights in the margin of my Bible. I smile when I consider the possibility that my children, or perhaps my grandchildren will one day read my Bible and my semi-legible notes. Those notes measure the growth of my faith the way the pencil marks on our kitchen threshold measured the growth of our children.

When I read the Bible on an electronic device the experience is one of rush and hurry, coolness and distance. The experience has no depth. The encounter with the Word leaves my soul as flat as the digitalized, pixelated text on my handheld screen. Paper has texture. It has dimension. It is tactile. I like tactile. It’s the difference between watching a baseball game and the pop of the baseball hitting your glove or the sting of the bat in your hands. It just feels real.

When I pick up my worn, leather-bound translation of the Bible, it’s like I’m visiting with an old friend. Indeed I am. And like a visit with an old friend, there is no rush. There is no hurry. There is a proper pace to the experience. The Bible read on an electronic device may create a connection but it does not create intimacy. How could it when the same device with which I read the Bible is also used to check email, surf the internet or play Spider Solataire (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

In comparison with most forms of i-Technology, the Bible has a single-purpose: to be read. It is in the reading we experience the Presence of The Author. It is by design that Scripture printed on pages made of paper is to be read slowly. References can be sought for without fear of losing battery life. Time can be taken to mull and to meditate, to ponder and to pray. And if necessary to underline a significant passage or write a note in the margin.

When I read the Bible I am definitely old school. However, it is not nostalgia that prompts me to read the Bible on paper. It is the expectation of encountering on every page the God who wrote it. When I read the Bible on a handheld device it is a matter of convenience. When I read the Bible on paper it is a moment for worship. The elaborate nature of that last statement notwithstanding, the point remains. When I read the Bible I am definitely old school. How about you?

To open a Bible that has a frayed front and back cover, its pages grayed, worn and loose, one with margins filled with penciled notes and underlined passages; to open a Bible like that establishes the intimacy reading Scripture is supposed to create.

Here is a faithful friend. Here is the eternally true word from the Word who is both Eternal and True. Here is wisdom this world can neither match nor fathom. Here is Life offered by the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Here is God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit now present, now teaching, now correcting, now encouraging, now exhorting, now comforting, and always, always, always welcoming and inviting us further up and further in!

So my fellow pastors, read your Bible – preferably one with paper pages and be blessed.

You think about that.


Jesus Wept

Tragedy creates its own kind of pain. It carves deep into the soul – sometimes with the skill of a surgeon’s scalpel, but far too often it seems to slash with the serrated edge of a madman’s inexplicable violence. As anguish alternates between agony and anger, we search for a vocabulary to describe what no thesaurus can provide.

As we absorb the images of shock and dismay etched on the faces of high school students, their parents and teachers, the well-intentioned among us will often rush in to soften hard pain with kind words, sprinkling in passages of Scripture and encouragements to pray and lean on Jesus. Others of us will attempt to justify God, defend Him against accusations of being impotent, unloving, or of not existing at all. In the end the would-be comforters among us can be more like Job’s comforters than we intend. We forget, do we not, that one of the most powerful things ever written about Jesus Christ is this: Jesus wept.

Students of the Bible know this text is from the gospel of John, chapter 11, verse 35. Bible trivia types are quick to point it out as the shortest verse in the English Bible. This makes trivial what is a very profound truth. Jesus wept.

When Jesus came to the home of his deceased friend, Lazarus, he was met by Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary. Martha accosted Jesus reproving him by saying that if he had been at Lazarus’ bedside, her brother, his dear friend would still be alive.

Jesus’ response to Martha is noteworthy for being one of His more famous (and quotable) “I Am” sayings in John’s gospel: “I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus tells Martha. “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet he shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” We might think Jesus’ response more stoic than comforting, more aloof than loving, but then Mary comes out to greet him. She repeats Martha’s reproof. Yet unlike her sister, Mary falls weeping at Jesus’ feet. John tells us that at the sight of Mary weeping Jesus “was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” He was indignant and agitated in the face of such intense grief. But Mary is not the cause of his indignation. Jesus is made indignant by the way death breaks the human heart. He is agitated by the pain grief inflicts upon the grieving. This is Jesus saying without words that death is unnatural. Death was never meant to join the circle of life. Death was never God’s intention for his creation. We invented death. And this is what it does.

Jesus then asked to see the place where they had interred his friend. Upon seeing the tomb containing the body of Lazarus, John says simply, “Jesus wept.” He cried real tears the result of genuine grief and sincere sorrow. Indignation and agitation give way to tears of mourning.

And so, if we would comfort those tormented by inexplicable tragedy, if we would tender solace to souls in sorrow, if we would console with those who weep bitter tears, let us learn to weep as well. Let us not be afraid to be deeply moved in our spirit and greatly troubled. There is death and evil in this world. It is as real as it is pernicious. It is as painful as it is incoherent in its action.

And yet, there is also faith, hope, and love. Just as real. Just as pervasive. Just as inexplicable in its capacity to mend, restore, and renew what death and evil try so wickedly to destroy. There is and will be a time to act. Now is not that time. Now is the time to weep, to mourn, to grieve. Yet let us weep and mourn and grieve as those with hope that as Jesus wept, then went on to raise Lazarus from the dead so, too, he will raise new life out of the tragic death of so many.

What Tony the Tiger© Taught Me About Hope

As a little boy I once ate several boxes of Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes (not all at once) just so I could have enough box tops to send away for my “free” Tony the Tiger© cereal bowl and spoon. When I had accumulated the appropriate number of box tops which, coincidentally meant that I had also consumed several thousand sugar-frosted calories, I  mailed in my order.

My mother told me the instructions on the cereal box said to allow four to six weeks for delivery of my prize. What did she know. She was a mother. She was not a kid. Mailman Tony, the neighborhood postman, and no relation to the Tiger, would see to it that my Tony the Tiger© cereal bowl and spoon would reach me in shorter time than that. After all, if neither snow, nor sleet, nor hail nor rain, could keep Tony from his appointed rounds, surely he and his erstwhile compatriots at the United States Postal Service could find a way to conquer time. Four to six weeks?! Who was Mom kidding? Four to six days was more like it! I pinned my hope on Tony and I waited. I waited with the confidence of a gambler at the blackjack table when he knows the next card will give him twenty-one.

I did not know it at the time, but I would soon learn what Solomon meant when he wrote, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life,”—Proverbs 13.12.

Hope deferred makes us heartsick when what we are waiting for takes longer than we had prepared to wait for it. Hope deferred makes time crawl. When time crawls today cannot be over too quickly and tomorrow cannot get here soon enough. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, hope deferred means it is always Winter but never Christmas. Hope deferred can be dangerous because the longer we wait, the greater the temptation to doubt God’s sovereignty and faithfulness.

Even so, not everything we hope for is necessarily good for us. Solomon’s words are true in a general sense, but they are not necessarily true in an absolute sense. Sometimes God defers our hope in the knowledge that the longer we wait the more time we will devote to thinking and praying about what we are hoping for.

As a child I hoped for many things. Mostly, I hoped for things that would make me happy. I hoped for things that would elevate me above my friends (like a Tony the Tiger© cereal bowl and spoon). Now that I am older, I have learned that not everything I hope for is necessarily what I need. I have learned that while God knows what I want, His wisdom is such that He gives me what I need.

I have also learned there is a difference between waiting and waiting in hope–even hope that is deferred. Hope deferred may make the heart sick, but rather than cause me to question God’s sovereignty and faithfulness, heartsickness is cause to seek God more earnestly for patience and lean on Him heavily in faith.

By the end of the sixth week, I still had not received my Tony the Tiger© cereal bowl and spoon. I was no longer on speaking terms with Tony the mailman. He failed me. Kellogg’s failed me. And worst of all,Tony the Tiger© failed me. After ten weeks I had converted to eating Cheerios. I forgot to check the mail. I forgot about Kellogg’s. I forgot about TTony the Tiger©.

But God had not forgotten.

Three full months after sending in my order, my beloved, and long-awaited, Tony the Tiger© cereal bowl and spoon arrived. “A longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Inside the box was a brilliant orange bowl decorated with black tiger stripes and an orange spoon with Tony the Tiger’s head at the end of the handle.

Among the treasured possessions of my childhood, none was as valuable to me as that silly bowl and spoon. And I suppose the thing that increased its value was the time I waited for it to arrive. An old gospel song says, “God may not come at the right time, but He’s right on time when He comes.”

Amen. And Amen.

You think about that.

Evil Exists Because Worship Does Not

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.

The Gospel of Luke 13.1-15

Since September our nation, including Puerto Rico, has  weathered three hurricanes (Harvey, Irene, and Maria) each wreaking havoc with high winds, floods, and mud slides. Hundreds of thousands are homeless, without electricity, food, medicine, and water. Relief efforts are ongoing and it will likely be months, perhaps years before there is full recovery.

We have barely begun to respond to the devastation caused by these natural disasters, only to be jolted by the news coming out of Las Vegas. On Sunday, October 1, Stephen Paddock aimed a rifle from the 32nd floor of his hotel room and fired at a crowd of 22,000 people as they attended an outdoor music concert. In a barrage lasting nine minutes Paddock killed 58 people. An additional 500 and more were wounded and/or injured. Stephen Paddock is now among the dead. Sadly, his death cannot erase the five-hundred and forty seconds of cruel, calculated, and cold-hearted evil he inflicted. There is an evil worse than natural catastrophe. There is an evil so real, so ugly, and so heartless we are left breathless in its aftermath.

Adjectives prove insufficient to describe such evil. Simply put: evil is real. Evil is ugly. Evil is vile and despicable. There are evil people in this world: Stephen Paddock is one of them. We do not know his heart. We can only judge his actions. And his actions merit this judgment: evil. Evil people are not evil because of their environment, their social status, education, or income. Evil has no gender bias. Evil is not attached to race, ethnicity, or nationality. Evil is an equal-opportunity employer. Evil exists because, as the prophet Jeremiah reminds us, “the (human) heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Evil exists because worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob does not.

As devastating and life-wrecking as can be a hurricane, flood, or earthquake, we tend not to be affected by such things on a visceral level. The bowels of our mercy tend not to be stirred by a Category 5 hurricane. A hurricane does not post to a Facebook page. A flood does not have an Instagram account. An earthquake espouses no ideology on Twitter, and no vengeance drives its destructive power. Natural disasters possess no native intelligence. Their paths do not bear the mark of premeditation. Their destruction is done without malice. They simply happen and we must deal with the flotsam and jetsam left by their mayhem.

What happened in Las Vegas is not the result of a natural disaster. Nor was it a natural disaster that took the lives of those in Orlando. No earthquake caused the shooting deaths in San Bernandino. No tornado killed 20 school children in Connecticut. No gale force winds took the lives of students at Virginia Tech. The list of evil acts is as long as recorded human history: Oklahoma City, the Unabomber, 9/11. Sadly, the list of evil acts will likely grow longer not because laws are insufficient to prevent it, but simply because “the (human) heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.” Laws, even God’s Law cannot change the human heart. Only the Spirit of God can do that.

So then, what to do? Give up? Never! The truth is there is no easy way through this. Evil hurts and the pain and grief it metes out is real. If the first step toward healing requires acknowledging reality, then perhaps the first step toward healing is to acknowledge the reality of evil and the existence of evil people. The next step is to lament the pain evil causes. Lamentation is a normal response to grievous pain caused by grievous evil. Rather than a sign of weakness, lamentation is an indication of our humanity.

To lament is to grieve. And grief in the wake of evil is not only normal, but necessary. To lament is to mourn. It is to weep. As Jesus wept at the tomb of His friend Lazarus, so let us weep with those so tragically and personally damaged by the evil act of an evil man. To lament is to let the pain pour forth. In time, the agony of unspeakable tragedy will exhaust itself in attempting to siphon dry the wellspring of our hope. It will fail because we have access to an inexhaustible wellspring of living water. We know the One who is Hope incarnate. Let us pray for those who weep. Pray they will find Him who is the Living Water.

In Luke 13.1-5, Jesus reminds us that when evil happens rather than explain why or attempt to defend God, we would be wise to consider how short life is compared to eternity. Life is fragile. If life is fragile then we are fragile. If we are fragile then death is real. And if death is real, then our struggle is not with “flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,” (Ephesians 6.12). And if our struggle is “against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,” then “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds,” (2 Corinthians 10.4).

Those who do not believe the Gospel scoff at any offer of condolence which includes the thoughts and prayers of Christ-minded people. How would they prefer we comfort those who mourn? Shall we offer the victims’ families a petition to sign? How shall we help the wounded recover? Will the promise of stricter legislation heal their physical and emotional wounds? Would it not be more helpful simply to weep with those who weep? Would it not be more comforting simply to sit with them in silence and pray?

Fools mock at the comfort promised by the Gospel. Let them mock. Let them scorn those who offer thoughts and prayers. Scorn will not bring back the dead. Sarcasm will not stop the spread of evil. Mockery never stopped a bullet. Mockery never defused a bomb. Derision never deterred a killer. Jesus commanded us to “bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you,” (Luke 6.28). Bless those who scorn our prayers for the victims and families. Pray for them. They do not know what they do. Pray for the families of the deceased. Pray for the wounded. Pray for the helpers. Pray! Pray! Pray! And as God opens doors to offer tangible help take full advantage of such opportunities.

A mentor once told me, “Faith is what’s left after pain has erased all the platitudes.” Platitudes will not help us work through this, or any other tragedy. Yes. “For those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose,” (Romans 8.28). Yes. What others intend for evil God can use to accomplish good (cf., Genesis 50.20). However, neither of these truths are painless in the application or in the experience of those whom God has shepherded through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. The apostle Paul, who joyfully proclaimed “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose,” suffered countless beatings, was thrice shipwrecked and beaten with rods, stoned, robbed, endured privation, and more. And before Joseph told his brothers, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good,” he was betrayed by them, thrown into a well. They later sold him into slavery, eventually landing him in Egypt where he was wrongly accused of sexual assault, wrongfully imprisoned, spending years in jail. God does bring good out of tragedy, but that does not mean we make light of the tragedy from which the good eventually springs forth.

Amid the chaotic tragedy of Sunday’s shooting in Las Vegas stories emerged of heroism, bravery, selflessness, and compassion. Such acts shine as rays of hope in the midst of evil’s darkness. Evil is real. Yet so is truth. So is love. So is faith and hope. Evil exists because worship of the Almighty does not. Let us then pray that in the midst of this present darkness, our nation might turn to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and find life, hope, faith, and love.

You think about that.