Don’t Forget Good Friday Too Quickly

We’d rather go to a party than a funeral. But according to the Bible, we’re missing something if we move from Good Friday to Easter too quickly.

Photo by Luana Azevedo on Unsplash

You’ve done it, and I have too. You go to a Good Friday service, but as soon as you leave, you start talking with family and friends. Maybe you go home and watch a movie. Before you know it, it’s Sunday!

But enduring Good Friday as little as possible is indicative of a culture that ignores the reality of death.

Better to Go to the House of Mourning

On Monday, I heard the news that my boss’ closest mentor had passed away unexpectedly. Losing someone close leaves a hollow, throbbing ache felt only by those who have lost someone themselves.

It’s right for us to feel this way about death. According to the Bible, death was never part of God’s good design. We were made for eternity, but now a dark shadow saps our strength and robs us of life.

And into this dark reality, the Bible speaks—but maybe not as we expect.

Ecclesiastes 7:1-4
A good name is better than precious ointment,
and the day of death than the day of birth.
It is better to go to the house of mourning
than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind,
and the living will lay it to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter,
for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.

We expect the Bible to give us a message of hope (which it surely does). But sometimes we need to remember our own brokenness to truly live a life of significance. Death does a lot to put one’s priorities in order.

Psalm 90:12
Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Ecclesiastes and the Cross

Last Sunday I attended our Sunday School on the topic of the crucifixion. During the segment, scenes were shown from the Son of God movie, including part of the crucifixion.

It’s no surprise some people said they couldn’t look long at the screen while the crucifixion was being shown. But what should our response be? To cry at the brutality of it? To weep for Jesus?

Yes…and no. We should mourn the reality of death and stop pretending any makeup, diet, or surgery could prevent death.

Sometimes we need to remember our brokenness to truly live a life of significance.

But we shouldn’t weep for Jesus.

In a moving article, Greg Morse writes how Jesus told those with Him not to weep for Him but to weep for themselves. We should weep in recognition of the death brought by sin in each of us.

All of us have sentenced ourselves to death by choosing our own way over God’s way. And that should lead us to weep. But not to despair.

Not Without Hope

Because we live on this side of the curtain, we can look at Good Friday through the lens of the resurrection. Our tears can fall—not out of despair but out of faith.

  • Faith that Jesus knew what He was doing when He went to the cross.
  • Faith that He went willingly, and that we too can willingly come to receive His grace.
  • Faith that His blood has covered our sins, buried our iniquities, and banished our transgressions.

Christians, of all people, should be able to stare down the reality of death with both realism and hope. When we encounter death, we ache—but not as those without hope. We look to the crucified Savior, crying tears of faith, knowing in Him we have hope beyond death.

1 Peter 2:24
“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”

[callout]This Good Friday, I hope you’ll take time to attend a Good Friday service, and either way to pause and reflect on the death of Jesus. Much can be gained by way of humility, wisdom, and faith when we come at the foot of the cross.[/callout]

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Happy Old Year’s Day

For one more night, we get to look back on 2017 and thank God for all He’s done.

Photo by Brigitte Tohm on Unsplash

Today in church, a man named Don shared a memory from his childhood. His father never had more than a sixth grade education, but Don remembers his wisdom.

While we celebrate New Year’s Eve, Don’s father always reminded him today is also “Old Year’s Day.” That is, it’s the last day you’ll be able to experience 2017; it will never happen again. So as we look to welcome in a New Year, we should also be intentional about saying goodbye to the old.

Hellos and Goodbyes

For some of us, the goodbyes are painful, and maybe 2017 was a year of loss. For others, I know 2017 was an incredible year we look back on with joy. But I would guess for most of us, it’s a blend of the two.

As Don shared, life is a series of Hellos and Goodbyes. Even at 80, Don said, he still gets chances to say Hello, even in the middle of his many Goodbyes.

And for us, we have one more chance—one more night—to look back on 2017. We can celebrate the Hellos; we can mourn the Goodbyes; and we can thank God for His faithfulness in it all.

I don’t know how you welcome in the New Year, but my favorite ways are to either spend it with friends or journal it in—to write down thanksgiving for the year gone by and to turn my eyes on the stroke of midnight toward what lies ahead.

Life is a series of Hellos and Goodbyes.

Whether you journal or not, I hope you take just a moment on this Old Year’s Day to remember God’s faithfulness to you in 2017. As I’ve often found, it’s God’s faithfulness that fuels our faith for the days ahead.

As we sang today as a church family:

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

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Nabeel Qureshi and the Song of God

As I reflected this week on what it meant to “live between the songs,” I saw Sunday morning that Nabeel Qureshi had passed away. If you don’t know who Nabeel is, he was a wonderful apologist, a medical doctor, a New York Times bestselling author, a husband, and a father.

And he was 34 when he died after a yearlong battle with cancer.

Photo Credit:  Marina Khrapova

I remember hearing Nabeel last year when the ministry I work for hosted Together 2016. Nabeel spoke to more than a hundred thousand people that day on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

A few weeks after Nabeel spoke at our event, he learned he had stage 4 stomach cancer. Yet I don’t think he would have changed the words he spoke that day:

If you are a Christian, it means you are going to live for eternity. It means you are taken care of. If you trust in what Jesus did on the cross for you, you will be fine forever. But your neighbor who does not know Christ, his needs or her needs are infinitely greater than yours.

Thousands prayed for his healing. Yet in the last video he published, he wanted everyone to know his motivation for his life was the love of God. His heart was set on loving and serving others until the end.

When the Song Ends

How are Christians supposed to take Nabeel’s death? As a cosmic misstep? As the result of too little faith? No, but instead as a confirmation of two realities: God has delivered us from sin and death, and God has not yet fully delivered us from sin and death.

On one hand, we have limitless rejoicing, knowing God has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus, who “abolished death and brought life and immortality through the Gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10).

But death is the enemy that hasn’t yet been fully destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:26), and we groan with creation as we wait for fulfillment of all of God’s promises (Romans 8:19-23).

This is what it means to live between the songs.

  • We’ve been adopted by God, but we haven’t been brought home yet.
  • We’ve been promised a heavenly inheritance, but we haven’t received it yet.
  • We’ve been sealed with the Holy Spirit, but we haven’t been perfected yet.

[bluebox]So we hope. As Paul said, “If we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:25).

We wait patiently, knowing, “When He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2-3)

And in the meantime, we’re called to live. We’re called to embrace each moment as a note in the song God is singing through our lives—“For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).[/bluebox]

We live between the songs, a song of earthly deliverance and a song of heavenly deliverance. And here we are—caught between songs, caught between worlds. We hear the far off, distant, already-not-yet melodies of heaven. We see in a mirror dimly. We know in part, but then we shall know fully, even as we are fully known.

And so we sing. We hope. We live. And we love.

I don’t have that much time to talk, but this is what I want us to take home: God loves us that much—to die on the cross for our sins. But then He also says to us, ‘As I have loved You, so love one another.’

Thank you for pointing us back to our hope and call to live in Jesus, Nabeel. May we live lives worthy of the name we carry.

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Living Between the Songs

Before I reveal it, I wonder if you know: Where can you find the first song in the Bible?

Photo credit: Oscar Keys

First hint: It’s in the book of Exodus.

Second hint: It commemorates one of God’s greatest deeds.

Answer: Exodus 15:1-18

Exodus 15:1
I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.

The First Song

Imagine the triumph of this moment.

For 430 years, the Israelites lived in Egypt under severe oppression and slavery. After centuries of despair, God sent them deliverance. We read of Moses, the plagues, and the first passover. The people of Israel escaped out of Egypt—but they weren’t safe yet.

Pharaoh sends his chariots after the Israelites. In an incredible miracle, God parts the Red Sea, and the Israelites cross over on dry ground. God closes the sea in on the Egyptians, and everything dark about the Israelites’ past is literally washed away.

In celebration, the Israelites stand by the sea and sing a song of triumph.

Read the final third of the song and take in the elation of this moment:

You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed;
you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode.
The peoples have heard; they tremble;
pangs have seized the inhabitants of Philistia.
Now are the chiefs of Edom dismayed;
trembling seizes the leaders of Moab;
mall the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away.
Terror and dread fall upon them;
because of the greatness of your arm, they are still as a stone,
till your people, O LORD, pass by,
till the people pass by whom you have purchased.
You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain,
the place, O LORD, which you have made for your abode,
the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established.
The LORD will reign forever and ever.

God’s people are referred to as “redeemed” and “purchased.” The nations tremble with fear because they see the amazing power of God. You see this promise—God has guided them by His strength to His holy abode, and God will plant them on His mountain, His sanctuary. And it ends with “The LORD will reign forever and ever.”

Exodus 15 is the first song of the Bible—and what a song!

The Final Song

If Exodus 15 is the first celebration, Revelation 15 is the true culmination.

Now, tracing the “final song” in the Bible is harder, but when I search the ESV for the last time the Bible directly mentions singing, it points to Revelation 15.

The scene is set in heaven. A large group of saints who have overcome the evil one are standing by the sea of glass. And in this picture from the future, it says these saints “sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb.” When I check my study Bible notes, the cross reference to “the song of Moses” cites Exodus 15.

Look at these words from Revelation 15:

Great and amazing are your deeds,
O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
O King of the nations!
Who will not fear, O Lord,
and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.

Although the lyrics aren’t the same, the concepts are strikingly similar.

  1. God’s people have overcome an enemy and are standing by a sea.
  2. Both declare the awesome deeds of God.
  3. Both declare a holy fear of God upon every nation.
  4. Both present a people, the first with the promise of being in God’s sanctuary, and the final with the promise realized.

In Exodus 15, the people of God rejoiced because God delivered them from centuries of slavery to the Egyptians. But one day, the people of God will gather with Him and sing because He has delivered us from millennia of slavery to sin and death.

And for you and me, we live between the songs. These songs show us a picture of God’s salvation stretching far back into history and forward into all eternity. Every day, with our highs and lows, we get the chance to remember our place in the arc of history.

God has worked salvation for His people, and one day will bring salvation to culmination. And “the LORD will reign, forever and ever.”

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What Labor Day Teaches us about Encountering God

Our spiritual lives reflect the shape of our natural lives.

Photo Credit:  Tim Wright

We anticipate holidays like Labor Day for weeks on end. Then it passes, and we step into our daily fall routine. We switch between the extraordinary and the ordinary, and our spiritual lives follow suit.

As a kid I went to a youth conference that changed my life. After the conference, I couldn’t wait to go back. When I learned I couldn’t go to the next one, I was devastated. I wanted God in a specific time and place. I was living the ordinary but longing for the extraordinary.

Breaking God out of Sunday

Whether it’s a conference or Sunday morning, we live our lives often looking to encounter God at a specific time and place. In many ways, this habit is right—these times set up a healthy rhythm and “spiritual highs” can lead to breakthrough.

But our weekly rhythms can create an unhealthy mindset. We begin to believe God belongs on Sunday and special occasions, and we miss the everyday supernatural.

Now, when I say, “everyday supernatural,” I promise I’m not trying to sound super spiritual. In fact, just the opposite.

The miracle of the Christian faith is how ordinary it is. Every religion prescribes practices and mindsets to reach God; Christianity tells how God reached us and wants to invade every part of our natural, ordinary lives.

Because of Jesus, the transcendent has become immanent.

The Natural, the Supernatural, and You

Think about it. Before Jesus, the supernatural was strictly supernatural.

  • If you want to be right with God, you offer sacrifices for sin.
  • If you want to hear God’s Word, you read the scroll God gave by fire.
  • If you want to access God’s presence—good luck! You can go only as close as the temple courts.

But in Jesus, everything changes. The supernatural becomes natural.

  • God becomes man.
  • Reconciliation to God becomes available to every person.
  • God tears the temple veil, and the Spirit is accessible to every person.
  • God gives us His Word in full, everything we need to know Him.

God is no longer hidden behind the temple curtain. He’s no longer consigned to Sunday morning. Why do we live like He is?

God doesn’t want 1/7th of your week; He wants all of it. He wants to be over it and under it and in it and through it. He wants to be the cause, the motivation, and the outcome of your life—the starting point, the end goal, and every step in-between.

And if that’s true—if that’s what God wants from us—then we need to learn to see the supernatural in the natural.

  • Our everyday Bible reading becomes a chance to listen to God.
  • Our everyday prayers reach the ears of heaven, and God moves in, through, for, and with us.
  • Our everyday work becomes the chance to glorify God.
  • Our everyday encounters opportunities to exude the love of Jesus.
  • Our everyday Sunday becomes a chance to encourage one another with gifts given by God.

Because of Jesus, the natural becomes supernatural. We may look forward to holidays for weeks on end, but today you can meet the living God in your ordinary, everyday life.

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