By Christie Goodman
What would it be like to hear the story of the original Holy Week without knowing what comes next? Here, in that first part of the week, we might be still chattering about seeing Jesus arrive a few days earlier in crowd of excitement. After learning about that angry scene in the temple, we might be worrying about the reactions of officials. And we might be crossing our fingers that Jesus doesn’t stir up any more trouble.
Even if we could foresee that Jesus would be punished or even killed by the local leadership, we could never have imagined the darkness that would follow for three days. And we certainly would not have expected the light of the Resurrection. Even those closest to him could not predict such a thing.
Generations before Jesus, the Psalmist sang, “But I, I will always have hope” (71: 14). He surely hadn’t skipped to the end of the Jesus chapter to sneak a peek at the last few lines. But reflecting on his own life, with its ups and downs, cruelty and beauty, fears and assurances, he asserts the hope in God that is in his heart.
Given our post-Resurrection vantage point, is it easier for us to be hopeful? Jim Wallis of Sojourners said: “Hope is not a feeling or a mood or a personality type. Hope is a choice.” Our understanding of the Resurrection and our resulting experiences lead us to be a people of hope. We choose hope for the world, even when war, abuse and disease seem to have a life of their own. Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” Years ago, I had the privilege of meeting Archbishop Tutu. Apartheid was still in place, and yet he exuded hope. It was contagious. He did not mince words about what was happening to his people. But he knew where the source of hope lies. It was through that hope that he and others led a nation to reconciliation. Hope is not passive optimism. It is active, alive. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1: 5). Yes. We choose hope.
By Daniel Zamora
During our lifetime, we are confronted with the question “do you love me?” either initiated by ourselves or someone else. This is a way to affirm and reassure anyone our deep feelings and thoughts about that person. When asked it to children, after their first positive answer, it is followed by another question, how much? “I love you so much” is the short and simple answer but, especially with little kids, they like to measure how much is much.
Thinking of God’s love, King David expressed in Psalm 36: 5-7 the following thoughts,
Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains
your justice like the great deep.
O Lord, you preserve both man and beast.
How priceless is your unfailing love!
Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings.
These thoughts resemble so much to the answers given by many children but written in adult-like vocabulary. From it, it is clear how great the love of the Lord is. However, have we considered how much God loves us? How much do you love your parents? How much do you love your children? Our Heavenly Father loved his own son, Jesus. As we remember the historic events that gave the name of Holy to this week, let us be reminded that God loved us so much, that he planned and allowed his own Son to give his life for us.
By Diana Bridges
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
This week I heard the story of a woman who became alienated from the faith of her childhood. She realized she no longer believed and shared that information with a trusted friend. That friend listened sympathetically and pointed her toward a book she’d never before seen. She found it online because no hard copies were available. As she read, she came to a passage that took her breath away. She told her friend that she had always hoped such words were true: “Blessed are the peacemakers… Blessed are the merciful… Blessed are the pure in heart… Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…” She knew she wanted to follow the One who had spoken these words.
On Palm Sunday many in Jerusalem greeted Jesus with enthusiasm, but few with understanding. They believed he had come to deliver them from their political adversaries (who were powerful), religious rivals (who were stubborn—and wrong), or their troubles (which were many). Most never dreamed that he came to deliver them from themselves—from their own addictions to power and religiosity, among other things. They didn’t realize that they needed to be rescued not just from the cruelty of others, but from the many self-inflicted wounds that are in some quarters known as sin.
The woman who encountered the story of Jesus for the first time was overcome by eucatastrophe. Tolkien, who invented this word, defined it as “the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears.” What she wished most to be true actually, miraculously was. She had been dreaming of Truth much deeper than that offered by the systems of our world, one that changed the world as it changed people
When we utter the word Hosanna today, let’s be thankful for the saving work accomplished up until now in our lives and mindful of the work that remains to be done.
By Ed Twedt
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
What a beautiful psalm. It divides easily into three parts. Verses 1 through 4 are about community, verses 5 through 21 are about the individual, and verses 22 through 29 are about the worshipping community. The psalm also uses the personal name of God (YHWH) 28 times within its brief 29 verses, a strong reminder of who is the central focus in this psalm. In each of the first four verses we are reminded that God’s “steadfast love endures forever.” As if that isn’t enough reminding, the psalm ends with that same reminder. God’s “steadfast love endures forever.” Could any words more powerfully point us to the culmination of the season of Lent? Perhaps the most powerful message of all is found in verse 22 in the beginning of the worshipping community section. There we read of the stone which the builders rejected becoming the chief cornerstone. This passage is frequently repeated in the New Testament, for example, Matthew 21:42, Acts 4:11, and 1 Peter 2:7, all references to the Lord Jesus Christ. No wonder this beautiful psalm fits so beautifully into the Lenten season.
As I read this psalm I can’t help but think of how similar Advent and Lent are. They are both anticipatory, they are both filled with sorrow and joy, and they both point us to our Lord and Savior. Now we look back at them with the eyes of hindsight, but we still can feel the enormous strength and encouragement they bring to us. Just as we looked forward to the coming of our Lord into human history as a little baby, now we look forward to His coming to us, our risen Lord. So with all the darkness that one might suppose is found in the season of Lent, we know there is light, God’s light. Thus it is that the psalmist tells us, “O give thanks to YHWH for he is good.”
By Barbara Higdon
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Many years ago, I cross-stitched verse 24 of Psalm 118; it still hangs in our bedroom. Even as a young wife with no children yet and few responsibilities, I knew I needed to be reminded daily that every day is a day that God has created. Some of us seem hard-wired to always look for the positive side of things; some of us– not so much.
This reminder that I can choose to rejoice and be glad often comes as I’m dreading a day filled with odious chores or fretting about a problem. My sampler hangs above my comfy chair in my reading corner, so I see it as I’m going to sit down. It makes me pause and express gratitude.
Psalm 118 is such a joyful hymn of praise and thanksgiving to God, that it was sung frequently—even by Christ and the disciples as they went to the Mount of Olives. It’s often quoted in the New Testament as well. The repetitive phrase, “his love endures forever” hammers home the fact that God actively loves without ceasing and He’s the one who’s watching over me.
Life’s tough, but “The stone the builders rejected, has become the cornerstone.” If Christ could sing this hymn before he faced what he had to face, then so can I.
Bob Morrison, my Sunday School teacher, loves to quote Tony Campolo, who said in one of his more famous sermons, “Remember, it’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.” As we go through the final week of remembrance before Easter Sunday, may we face each day with the knowledge that God made this day for us—let us rejoice and be glad in it.
By Garrett Vickrey
Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29
The cord is coming out of the ground. Or, maybe it was never really in the ground.
I had to call AT&T this week to get them to come bury our internet line. The soil is too rocky for it to stay buried. They could never get the cord deep enough, so it keeps coming back up to the surface. Didn’t Jesus have a parable about this? Now the orange cord is sticking out of our back yard as if the ground is setting a trap for a child or dog to catch them and pull them under to its rocky innards.
The cords and wires beneath us right now connect the world in ways we once never thought would be possible. Only sometimes they don’t. And those times are extremely frustrating.
Is there anything more frustrating in the 21st Century than connectivity issues? Our internet went out in the church office recently. We might as well have shut the place down. There is so little “office work” these days that can be accomplished without our precious wifi. We need this connection to sustain our work and to sustain our connection to others. When our connection fails our productivity fails with it, and we might even find ourselves wondering what to do with this “lost” time.
Except that the times when the power goes out are memorable times. No T.V. No internet to distract us from the people in the room. No speakers to play music to cover up the quiet. There’s something sacred about the way a few candles can light up a dark house. There’s something surprising when your eyes adjust to the dim light. Almost as if our eyes have a way of storing up the light we need to make it through moments of darkness in our lives.
If you had to pick one passage from scripture to read when the lights go out, Psalm 118 would be a good choice. It has a plethora of recognizable lines bookended by the phrase: “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his chesed endures forever.” Chesed is a Hebrew often translated as steadfast love. One scholar offered a translation that he thinks better suits what the Hebrew word was getting at: “unbreakable connection”.
Beneath the cords and wires and infrastructure that wires this world together is the one who sculpted it in the beginning. The one who separated the waters; who put those sacred hands into clay and brought us out. Deep within creation there is an unbreakable connection between us and God.
There’s no distinction between spirit and breath in Hebrew; there’s one word for both. Maybe we can learn something from that. The spirit God breathed into Adam in the beginning is the same breath we breathe now. Which makes every breath a reminder of the unbreakable connection between us and our Creator.
Breathe in these verses as we prepare for Sunday’s palms and Friday’s cross. Breathe in the God these verses describe. God’s unbreakable connection endures forever. It can’t be dug up. It can’t be stamped out. It breaks through rocky soil. The cross threatens to break this unbreakable connection. But, in the cross we find that love is even stronger than breath.
By Lori Tyler
I’ve always loved the changing of seasons, and spring is my favorite time of the year. We took on a huge gardening project this winter hoping to transform our front yard. We decided to put in four or five new flower beds.
Now it’s March, and as I look out across our beds, I am surprised to see only a few weeds. Had it not been for all of our hard work and preparation in February of laying mulch, digging holes, and protecting the plants, undoubtedly there would be weeds throughout.
It is the same spiritually. There are days when I don’t feel like praying or studying the Bible. Maybe I can do it on my own today without God’s help. But I’ve learned that this is never true.
Just as the seasons change, so do circumstances in life. Without the preparation of study and meditating on God’s Word, weeds will easily grow and choke the life right out of me and those around me.
We have the assurance that what we do today will help us tomorrow. As we carried heavy bags of mulch and fertilizer, I thought, “Is it worth all this work?” But sitting on my porch swing enjoying the vibrant colors of the flowers, I know it was.
When we treasure God’s Word in our heart, we are equipped to handle temptations and trials that come our way. As His Word takes root in our hearts, we will be fruitful for Him in every area of our life.
Some days we may appreciate the treasure of God’s Word more than others. It’s good to be reminded every once in a while that the time spent nurturing our relationship with God today will be worth it in the circumstances of tomorrow.
By Ellen Di Giosia
Like many Baptist children of my era, I was devoted to Bible Drill. While living in Mississippi, I studied each week and reveled in the opportunity to show my stuff. “Attention!” (Standing straight, Bible by my left side.) “Present swords!” (Bring Bible front and center, flat in my left hand, right hand on top of the Bible.) “Find — the Good Samaritan. Begin.” (Fingers scrambling, flipping to the New Testament – Matthew? No, Luke – page found, finger pointing to chapter 10, verse 25, stepping forward. Was I first? Yes!)
The competitive nature of Bible Drill (called “Sword Drill” in an earlier era) fit perfectly with my goody-two-shoes, perfectionist persona. (And yes, I did win the church drill, pass through the district drill, and compete at the state level.) Psalm 119:11 was one of the first verses we memorized: “Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee.” This, of course, was the real reason for Bible Drill. The competitions were just motivation to memorize the words of scripture, so that we could remember them as we grew and matured, as we faced new challenges and made hard decisions. Hiding God’s word in our hearts meant that in times of trouble, we could recall wisdom and act accordingly.
This was a beautiful beginning, but only that. For it would be many more years before I could say that “I delight in the way of [God’s] decrees as much as in all riches.” To be honest, on many days I still don’t feel delighted by the call of God on my life. Humbled, committed, passionate – but delighted? It can be hard to feel that way when I’m in the trenches. But maybe this psalm is not a command, but a promise. Because I have hidden God’s word in my heart, the delight will be an outgrowth of that early discipline. Like any practice, early hard work leads to freedom to enjoy later. I will claim Psalm 119:9-16 for my life this Lent. Maybe you can, too.
By David Goree
My cousin Brian is a judge on the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals, which is one step below the Oklahoma Supreme Court. (Please pardon the bragging in my blogging.)
Last week, Brian gave me a tour of the appellate courtroom and offices and explained the process by which the judges research, debate and decide appeals. The process is thorough and thoughtful and left me feeling confident in the legal system. Moreover, I could begin to see what draws people to Law. It’s an amazing attribute of our species that we have the capacity to live together in relative harmony by tacit agreement to be governed by a set of written precepts.
The downside of the Law, of course, is the danger of getting bogged down in the “letter of the law.” Though we complain about red tape, the fine print, and the detailed policies and procedures of modern life, there is something in us that likes following the letter of the law and thus fulfilling our duties. It feels good to complete our requirements, check off our boxes, and say “I’m done with that!”
I do admire Psalm 119 as a meditation on the power of God’s Law and as an evocative reflection on the role of the Law for the people of the Old Testament. For people of the New Testament, however, the psalm is anchored much too deeply in legalism. The vocabulary of precepts, laws, testimonies, statutes, commandments, and ordinances paints a picture of compliance–to my mind, anyway.
Jesus, on the other hand, strikes an amazing balance between Law and Love when he answers the question “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” in Matthew 22. He says,
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”
His words are at once simple and profound. He captures the intent of God’s laws in two commandments which we people of the New Testament would be wise to hide in our hearts.
By Lance Mayes
If you grew up going to church, you probably memorized several Bible verses or passages. I know several people who have memorized the book of James. It seems we’ve lost this discipline in most churches. I wonder why? Scripture that is memorized is a precious treasure that does not remain hidden away, but makes itself known at just the right time.
It is good to have Scripture treasured in your heart. It is always there waiting for the right time to appear. It is always there ready for meditation and application.
God brings a couple of verses to my mind fairly often. One is James 5:17-18. Elijah was just like us; sometimes I forget that. The people in the Bible are just like us; they were not superheros. They had flaws. They sinned. They succeeded. They prayed. They loved God and people. Just like us.
Another verse I think on often is Hebrews 4:16. It helps me remember that God is ready to give me his mercy and grace when I need it most. This truth brings incredible peace and hope to my heart.
Take a moment and think about a few verses or passages you have memorized. The Lord’s Prayer? Psalm 23? John 3:16? Others?
Are you satisfied about your recall of Scripture? Frustrated by how little you remember?
Why don’t we all brush up on a few verses. Need some help? Use these to get started: Isaiah 40:28, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Romans 8:38-39, Lamentations 3:22-23, Galatians 5:22-23, 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Psalm 19:14, Philippians 4:6,7, Hebrews 4:16, Micah 6:8, Isaiah 53, Psalm 23, 1 Corinthians 13, John 15, Psalm 139.