Troubles Come and Go, But God Remains

At the core of modern life, we find trouble. Trouble finds us during bad decisions, but trouble also waits for us when we do everything right. Often we can’t connect any rhyme or reason for our troubles, although we often strive to point at something as the cause of our issues. Doing such will take us in different directions that simply distract us from the benefit that God provides during our trials.

The Psalmist exemplifies that all trials must be wrapped in a firm knowledge that The Almighty God surrounds any calamity. Our trust in God must be our central focus during trouble, as it focuses the follower of God on their purpose. The 93rd Psalm uses the flood example to remind us that God is always greater no matter what problems arise.

Psalm 93 

1 The Lord reigns; he is robed in majesty; 

the Lord is robed; he has put on strength as his belt. 

Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved. 

2  Your throne is established from of old; 

you are from everlasting. 

3  The floods have lifted up, O Lord, 

the floods have lifted up their voice; 

the floods lift up their roaring. 

4  Mightier than the thunders of many waters, 

mightier than the waves of the sea, 

the Lord on high is mighty! 

5  Your decrees are very trustworthy; 

holiness befits your house, 

O Lord, forevermore.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ps 93:1–5.

Every person that has ever lived has experienced trouble. Trouble wants us to focus on it, obsess over it, and allow it to dictate every decision. That’s precisely what makes it trouble. The inconvenience and distress that each circumstance brings up can derail any plans we have because if we fixate upon them, they will become the steering wheel of our lives. However, we all must understand that no matter what path we take, whether perfect or problematic, troubles will find their way into our lives. The Psalm begins with a focus on God and finishes with how God is greater than any problem, but right in the middle, the flood waters come. Therefore, problems are a part of life, and it has nothing to do with how we live.

As trouble arises, we lose sight of our purpose because our vision gets distorted when we focus on problems and troubles. When we think more about our problems than our purpose with God, we start thinking about how to gain retributive justice because someone must’ve done this to us. However, trying to obtain revenge for our troubles is sinful and something we must steer clear of doing. The Psalmist guides us through this because even when trouble arises in the midst of our praise, while it may guide us away from worship, prayer and praise will lead us back to the source of our worship and toward the solution to our problems.

Trust in God is our only route toward fulfillment and grace-filled living. Troubles will continually arise around us, striving to distract us from the goodness God has for us. They constantly say, “Look at me!” They are often looked at and focused upon to divide humanity through blaming and hatred. However, God reminds us that none of these problems are enough to break us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, and instead of dividing, Jesus calls us to the foot of the cross and unity in faith.

Now What

Approaching Pentecost, a festival day that celebrates God by setting aside the first fruits and the beginning of the harvest, and commemorating the giving of the Torah, or Law, to the World, finds us in a particular circumstance where we as the church also celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. Throughout time, God has prepared the people of God for a beneficial life by granting us people and gifts of blessing to walk through the world and carry out the mission of God. However, too often, we want more.

Jesus was preparing to leave the disciples but wouldn’t physically leave them alone. Like many of us with a loved one that passed, or a friend that we lost touch with, even those of us with children, we often want more time with them, just as the disciples wanted more time with Jesus. Without Jesus, many of them felt rudderless and without direction. However, in preparation for one of the three festivals that required travel to Jerusalem, and just as God showed up to give the Torah, God showed up with the triune presence in the form of the Holy Spirit. Below we look at the narrative as delivered in Acts.

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ac 2:1–4.

The significance of this event reminds us that God does not idly sit back and watch creation but actively participates in believers’ lives. We often don’t feel as if God is present; however, the problem with our feelings is that they deceive us and can lead us to act in a way that does not bring glory to God. The presence that the disciples experienced at Pentecost was not a feeling but rather an experience that completely overwhelmed their understanding of the Holy Spirit. While we can get overwhelmed that our experience was not the same as the Apostles, the same promise exists for us that existed for them, that God walks with us through life. Any doubts or concerns that arise in us necessitate our examination of how, even when they wanted more of Jesus, God granted a presence that never fades or goes away. No longer would the disciples or us need to worry the refrain from the Fifty-first Psalm because God would no longer take the Holy Spirit away or cast us away from the Presence.

With confidence that God was by their side, the disciples boldly spoke the truth to the many sojourners that had made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The power that the Holy Spirit gave them enabled people from diverse backgrounds to hear the Gospel, which was packaged for their ears and understanding. In the same way, we need to allow the Holy Spirit to package the Gospel as it comes out of our mouths and exudes from our bodies so that the people around us can understand and draw near to God without first needing to become more like us. God calls us to help people follow the Triune God, not people to follow us; therefore, as we deliver the message of the Gospel, we need to ensure that the Holy Spirit guides and directs people to Jesus and the Father, and may our words simply fade into the background.

This must necessarily bring comfort. We do not need to worry about saying the wrong thing if we lean into the Holy Spirit to guide our words, thoughts, and actions. We don’t save people, nor do we cause people to have a transformed life, because that is purely the action of the Holy Spirit. However, even though we do not save people, God invites us in mission as the Church. The early church learned to heed this call and allowed the Holy Spirit to guide and direct them through the synagogues teaching the Gospel. Thousands came to know the saving work of Jesus as the Holy Spirit spoke, and Paul continued this mission through the Gentile world. Everywhere they turned, they faced persecution and opposition, yet they persisted because of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, as God’s church, we must persist through whatever excuses we come up with and share the Gospel with the world.

The early church was empowered to go out and do more than this relatively small group of people could have imagined doing, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, the number of people joining the church could not be counted. However, we sit back in comfort and complain about the coffee served at fellowship hour. Let us rise out of our comfort this Pentecost and celebrate this day as the time we, as a church, remember the gift God gave us and allow the Holy Spirit to use us unencumbered. Let this not just be a day where we wear red or orange to church but a day where we all share the Gospel with the world. God loves the world and asks the Church to go out and tell them.

The Promise

A promise represents the sacred bond that we have in our various relationships. Broken promises are tantamount to broken relationships and deteriorate our connection. The Scriptures look at promises in various forms, such as oaths and covenants, made between leaders and their community and between leaders and other leaders. These serve to maintain order in society and build trust between partners. 

Oaths, covenants, and vows connect us. They are used in contracts, and they ensure that we keep our word. However, Jesus promises us, and because of the trust built up with His disciples and, by proxy, us, we are assured that the promise of the Holy Spirit is not just idle talk but a living presence of God that watches over us individually and corporately as the Church. Jesus addresses the disciples about the change that is coming and how they need to prepare in John chapter 14.

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. 18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jn 14:15–21.

The open bookend of the promise begins with a connection between love and obedience. Jesus preempts the promise by imploring the followers of God to remain obedient to God’s law. This reminder is that any promise, oath, covenant, or contract is made among multiple participants and that there is a responsibility to carry out the contract by all parties. We might be tempted to skip to the part where Jesus promises us Holy Spirit, but Jesus reminds us that we can’t passively receive, but God requires our participation. Love and obedience don’t come easy for us, but if we look at what we receive, it seems very little in comparison. When we look at any relationships that don’t have a promise or oath connecting them, we can see love and trust; therefore, how much more love, trust, and honor can we give our Heavenly Father? 

While the covenant begins with our trust, the bulk of the promise details God’s part in caring for us. Just as Jesus walked with the disciples, gave them teachings, and cared for them by providing them with a better way to live, even when Jesus no longer walks with them, there is a promise of another helper in the presence of the Holy Spirit. The promise that those who trust in God will receive the Holy Spirit and not be left alone speaks to us poignantly today as a loneliness epidemic has arisen. 

Even in a world that has more opportunities to connect than any previous generation, people spend less time connecting with one another. The trend started with the advent of social media and got increasingly worse as we became people that increasingly moved our lives online. Even the biggest outdoor advocates also ensure that they have a dynamic online presence. However, the online presence ensures we see only in part, not the whole, of a person. Therefore, people are often broken into pieces and oversimplified to the point that they lose humanity and become only a topic or issue. We think we are connecting, but in reality, we ensure that fewer people get access to our true selves. We disconnect from reality and exchange for a false reality.

God calls us back from disconnection through the promise. This promise has nothing to do with introverts or extroverts because we all need connection. The Holy Spirit provides a connection to the Almighty God while at the same time connecting each of Jesus’ followers to each other. This promise provides opportunity and access to the cure for loneliness, a deep connection to one another. Jesus welcomes the whole person, inviting us into a relationship with God and the church. 

The promise also extends to cure us of sin, which causes the disease of loneliness and brokenness. Ultimately, our sin broke our connection to God, which created the need for Jesus to save us. Therefore, Jesus reminds us that through His resurrection, our sin no longer keeps us away from a relationship with God; therefore, we cannot allow our sin to prevent us from connecting with one another. How many relationships have left our lives because of unresolved conflicts where we have not sought reconciliation? Jesus came to die for those irreconcilable differences. Thus, we cannot harbor bitterness and anger for each other because God has called us to do something more. For bitterness leads to suffering and loneliness, but God’s promise leads to connection and joy.

Jesus closes the bookend of the promise by reminding us that God’s love is available to everyone. We are called to obedience and to love God, but that obedience and love are met with an abundance of love that comes to us through a connection with the Almighty God that is embedded with us through the presence of the Holy Spirit. As the Holy Spirit dwells with us, we must remain at peace with all people and strive for connection and reconciliation with people, just as Jesus brought us to hope through His death and resurrection.

Becoming Building Blocks

The church can be a mighty fortress, or it can be a crumbling ruin. Too often in the current climate, we think that the church’s physical structure must be paramount and luxurious for the world to come and see the beauty and purpose of God. However, God builds the church with the people of God. All of it depends on the people that make up the structure. Upon the people of the church, a building is built to shine for the people of the community. People will look upon the church community and determine whether this collection of people will give life or take energy from its neighbors. Christ intends for the church to be a lighthouse, and we must allow God to build us into that mighty fortress. However, if we take our direction and power from anything outside of God, we become a ruinous shack that breaks down and pulls our community down with us. 

As we look at Peter’s instructions to the church, we find guidance on how we can be made into the fortress of God as a church and church members.

So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. 4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” 7 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” 8 and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Pe 2:1–11.

Everything begins with purification. The Kingdom of God has no room for deceit, hypocrisy, envy, or slander. These items introduce cracks into the bricks that prevent the building from establishing a solid connection with one another and the community. We cannot accept a little bit to promote growth or to achieve a better result. This negotiation introduces impurities, leading to broken trust and hurt within our communities. As Peter states that we must be a church that “longs for the pure spiritual milk.”  Pure scripture reading without all the filler our society brings into the Word of God. Both conservative and liberal readings of Scripture, used to bring an agenda forward, have no place in the community of God. Still, instead, we must get back to the core of becoming pure and focusing on loving God and our neighbor. With our focus on God’s purpose for the church, we allow ourselves to eliminate the impurities and build up the Kingdom of God.

Once purified, the church readies itself to approach Jesus. Jesus is the cornerstone that the church builds upon and grows. For the blocks of the church to become useful, they must first approach the building process as followers of Jesus, making ourselves emulate how Jesus lived and ready ourselves for the same type of refinement that following Jesus brings. This continual refining process ensures that cracks do not form and that the building may guide the community to Jesus.  Occasionally, the blocks may begin to think they are foundational and that the other blocks should look more like themselves. Nobody comes before Jesus, the church must remember that we need to look at everything we do, and if anything is not pointing to the love of Christ, then it must be tossed into the refining fire. Fissures and breaks will form and taint the entire building if we neglect this task. The blocks must constantly guide people to becoming more like Jesus.

As we engage with the work of the Kingdom of God, guiding people to Jesus, we understand that we have been picked to do this work by God. Like any good builder, God looked through the materials and ensured that the proper materials were selected among many. We can make excuses about not participating or sharing the Gospel. Still, Peter reminds us that God selected us to carry out this task and that no one should think of themselves as “not up to the task” because God does not make mistakes when selecting the building materials for the church. God wants us to bring light to the world, and as God’s selected block to build the church, we must ensure that we keep the block sturdy and ready for God’s tasks and purposes. 

Peter concludes this section by reminding us that God calls us to remain focused on the task and glorify God in all circumstances. People may look at the church and its building, but God needs the heart of the people of God to remain focused on doing good and sharing the goodness of God, for God chooses to build the church with the building blocks that were hand selected for the task of building the church of God. This task is for you and me to become holy, share God’s message, and guide the world to the light as God’s chosen people. Let us remind ourselves daily that a disciple’s task is building the church for the glory of God. Let us make ourselves into a robust structure free from defects and bring light into the darkness.

Where Is Our Trust?

Looking at the current discourse environment, a constant vacillating force is guiding us about how we should live in the world. A danger exists that we get swept up in anger and frustration, and our actions and words create havoc and distress. Ultimately, as we look at the teachings from Scripture, we would not be swayed to give into bitterness and violent behavior. Our hearts would remain focused on striving after peace, even if our lives are not peaceful. Our behavior must align with righteousness, goodness, and grace to remain focused on living in peace. In turbulent times we are most prone to slipping off this ideal, but if we place our trust in Christ Jesus and the results of His suffering, we have an anchor leading us to a transformed understanding and living. 

Peter reminds us where our minds should be focused during these times in 1 Peter 2:19-25.

19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Pe 2:19–25.

We are surrounded by injustice. Some of the injustices we encounter have existed as long as there have been humans, while others are brand new; however, all originate with sin, a separation from God’s ideal. It is far too familiar for Christians to claim injustice when it might be confused with inconvenience. Still, we must carefully approach this allegation, understanding that God calls us to be aware of the various areas in our world where justice is denied to the poor and powerless. When we focus only on how injustice affects us personally, we participate further in the chaotic nature of injustice. God seeks to root out the negative ways that injustice affects those genuinely powerless. Trusting in God allows God to transform our thinking to fight against the actual oppression of sin in our world.

As our minds are transformed to seeking justice and peace, God will guide our hearts toward living in righteousness. Many of our misplaced accusations of injustice come from the consequences of ungodly living. This is not injustice, nor is the suffering we experience building character. During these periods, we need to seek repentance. Our hearts must focus on doing good, and anything that pulls us away from God’s goodness must be cast aside. Doing this guides us back to righteousness, which allows our eyes to see God’s holiness and helps lead us. When we find ourselves in an unenviable position because of the sin in our hearts, we might cry out, asking for salvation from our predicament. Jesus Christ did come to save us from our sins and established peace and justice, which had previously been absent.

God is the primary actor in bringing peace and justice through the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. Our minds and eyes will stray; however, Jesus brings us back after He pursues our hearts endlessly. This pursuit of our salvation comes because Jesus seeks to restore us and restore peace and justice in the world. Therefore, at times, life is going to be difficult and seem unfair, but during these moments, we must focus on the sacrifice of Jesus and trust that God is carrying us through the most challenging junctures. While Jesus calls us to pursue justice and righteousness, we also understand that none of this is possible without the sacrifice of the Holy Son.

If we trust that Jesus came to do what He said, then our hearts will be moved to honor God with all of our heart, mind, strength, and soul. We don’t wallow in our circumstances; instead, we look for opportunities to help others and bring justice to those trapped in chaotic cycles. In all things, we work to maintain or restore the righteousness in our living, which is the best and most wholesome act of worship. This worship is not because we need to act for God, but God acts because the all-powerful Creator of the universe loves us and acts on our behalf. Therefore, we should trust in Jesus because He already showed Himself trustworthy.

Go And Tell

Friday feels a long way off but still has a fresh sting. The people at the cross don’t want to believe it happened, but they cannot reconcile with their eyes the vision of a lifeless Jesus pulled from the cross and carried to the tomb. Since daylight was already receding, they couldn’t finish the process of a proper burial. Many of us have lost someone or something in the past year, and we have a heaviness in our hearts today. When we look at the meaning of the day, we know that we are supposed to celebrate, but it isn’t always easy to celebrate when we are hurting. Jesus knows we are hurt, and sin leads to hurt and pain. The suffering Jesus experienced on the cross doesn’t mean that hurt and pain are gone; rather, sin, hurt, and pain doesn’t have the final word. Something is different today. Today is a day that we can rejoice, even in pain and sadness, because we know that pain and sadness are temporary. After all, even though we live in the hurt of Friday, Jesus promised us Sunday, and He has risen!

Matthew writes of the women approaching the tomb below:

28 Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” 8 So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 28:1–10.

The Marys were eager to finish the work of burying, which was their way of dealing with the death’s trauma; thus, they wasted no time and wanted to get to work as soon as it was permissible. When we face losses, we may go straight to finishing the ritual, but God often has to wake us up from our stupor. An Earthquake and an Angel proclaim that the tomb before them is empty. We know that the stone was not rolled away to let Jesus out but to allow the women to witness what was before them. Similarly, Jesus did not need the women to finish the ritual, and Jesus didn’t need help from the grave. Rituals and Actions can bring us closer to God, but we cannot let them distract us from what God is doing right in front of our eyes. The tomb was empty because Jesus was not dead. The powerful act of grace had been accomplished. The ritual was finished by God and not by the Marys. The Marys had a more important task ahead of them. They were called to go and tell the others of God’s miraculous grace.

They saw the evidence in the tomb, and with faith, joy, and fear, they ran to answer the call of going to the disciples and telling them the good news. As the women follow the instructions of the Angel to proclaim that Jesus has been raised from the dead, they encounter the risen Jesus. Many of us in the Western world approach any news skeptically, as we are not a trusting society. As we encounter Jesus, we must cast out all doubt that what the Angel says about Jesus is true. However, we have something to learn from the Marys, our encounter with Jesus comes once we move with faith, joy, and fear. Faith that when we hear the Gospel, we act on the news, Joy that God has done the heavy lifting carrying our sins to the cross, and fear-filled respect that the God that raised Jesus from the grave wants a relationship with us. The women cling to Jesus’ feet when they are met by Jesus uttering the first-century equivalent of “What’s up?” They show Jesus the honor of the Risen King. Today, as we celebrate and recognize that Jesus has risen, how do we honor the reason for our salvation?

Bowing down and clinging to Jesus’ feet lets go of all inhibition and trepidation, and gives oneself fully to worship of Jesus. To hear the words of Jesus to go and tell others of the Good News, we must let go of all trepidation and fear and allow our joy to guide us in worship. This isn’t just singing loudly and raising our hands, something many of us in the mainline denominations struggle with. Giving ourselves fully to worship forces us to set everything aside to worship God literally. Hand over our worries, thoughts, families, friends, and the impression we give others over to Jesus and fall at the feet of the Risen Lord. In response to worship, the women were told to go and tell what they had seen. Share the Good News with Jesus’ disciples. If we let go and fall at Jesus’ feet, we will also hear GO and TELL that Jesus is alive and death has been defeated.

Jesus’ resurrection is not a private matter. By nature, it must be shared with our friends, family, and acquaintances. We cannot hold onto grace for our small community; God tells us to stop clinging to His feet; instead, GO and TELL others of God’s mighty act! Jesus Christ has defeated death; the story did not end on the cross; Jesus rose from the grave. When the women encountered Jesus, they wanted to cling to Him, but their mission was to GO and TELL the disciples what they had seen. Christ moves in our lives, and while we might want to dwell and stay at His feet, Jesus also calls us to GO and TELL the world of His mighty act of GRACE!

Prepare For The King

We often prepare ourselves for something, gathering supplies and preparing ourselves for what we anticipate, only to be disappointed or frustrated when it doesn’t happen. This is exemplified by our expectations of the weather based on forecasts we hear or see on our phones, which can often be incorrect. It leads us to question what we are truly prepared for and how we have planned for the future. Are we responsible and save for a proverbial rainy day, or do we live with a “you only live once” mentality? While we should make many practical preparations, it’s important to consider how these translate to our spiritual lives.

Matthew’s description of Jesus’ arrival in the holy city shows truth and irony. He is welcomed as the Son of David, the Messiah of Israel, who he truly is; however, when Jesus reveals what this means, the people will reject him. Jesus will reveal himself as a different kind of Messiah than what was popularly expected, and the people will withdraw their support.

Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” 4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, 5  “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’ ” 6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. 8 Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” 10 And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 21:1–11.

When the people of Israel anticipate something, they tend to act in accordance with their expectations when they see them being fulfilled. This anticipation often leads to a narrow focus on what they expect, such as the Israelites anticipating a king to remove the Romans. However, the resulting letdown and frustration can be severe when unexpected things happen. The people of Jerusalem, for example, waited for their Messiah to act in accordance with their desires, leading to disappointment when those actions did not materialize. Ultimately, our disappointment when anticipated events do not come to fruition can leave us feeling more sad and angry than if we had never anticipated them in the first place.

The antidote to the disappointment of our anticipations is waiting on God to bring things to pass. While we might grow impatient waiting, the growth we gain in waiting will prevent us from allowing our hearts to be broken because our anticipated act did not come to fruition. Patience helps us to endure trials and hardships, develop perseverance, cultivate hope and faith, and gain wisdom. God builds strength in us when we patiently wait on God’s will to come to fruition. The first step in preparing our hearts for God’s coming Kingdom is building up patience. The people of Jerusalem lost their patience when Jesus stopped performing according to their plans, and the shouts of “Hosanna” quickly turned to “Crucify Him!”

While it doesn’t require any work to anticipate, to truly prepare our hearts for Jesus coming as king, not to rule by might, but by grace requires the work on our hearts. We cannot do this work alone but allow ourselves to become obedient to God’s dominion over our lives. Jesus calls the disciples to prepare for His entry into the Holy City. These instructions were specific and called on the disciples to do something that may have been odd, but they followed through and carried out Christ’s instruction exactly and precisely. Grace doesn’t always make sense, but it always gives life. Therefore, to properly prepare for the King, we must be led by grace, which leads to hope and peace in our world.

The people of Jerusalem didn’t understand what they were hailing into the city. Jesus’ humble entry fulfilled the messianic prophecy, but the takeover wasn’t going to be through military might but through humble obedience on a cross. With the actions during Holy Week, Jesus opens the door to salvation, and the victorious king defeats sin and death. This week’s worldview shift forces us all to set down our visions of might and allow our hearts to be prepared for God’s coming reign.


How do you typically approach problems? Do you tend to ignore them until they become unmanageable, or do you immediately dive in and attempt to resolve them? For many of us, our approach falls somewhere in the middle.

When faced with a problem, we often try to draw upon past experiences and find a solution in a way that is familiar to us. At times, we may even distance ourselves from the problem, thinking that it is someone else’s responsibility to address. In other instances, we may look to someone else to take charge and solve the problem for us.

In the story of Lazarus, we see how his illness and subsequent death had left his siblings and Jesus’ disciples feeling helpless and powerless to do anything about the situation. However, Jesus arrives and invites them all to participate in something greater that God is working out in their midst. This serves as a powerful reminder that even when faced with seemingly insurmountable problems, there is always a way to be a part of the solution.

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 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.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

28 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 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.”

45 Many of the Jews, therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him.

John 11:1-45 (ESV)

As Jesus converses with his disciples, they hang on to His every word. While this is a powerful example of the need to heed Jesus’ teachings, the disciples’ minds often lead them to jump to conclusions. Like many of us, the center of their first thoughts is on self-preservation: What might happen if we do this? Is it safe? These are the same thoughts that often consume us.

The disciples, like us, then make assumptions about what Jesus meant. When we rush to conclusions, we fail to surrender to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and instead rely solely on our own understanding. Although Jesus often speaks in parables and veiled messages, it is crucial that we allow the Holy Spirit to lead us as we interpret the scriptures. This involves breaking free from our preconceived notions and allowing God to reveal something new to us.

When faced with the death of a loved one, the toll on our emotions can be overwhelming. Similar situations can also arise that cause us to act out of our emotions rather than reason. In the case of Lazarus’ sister Martha, she approached Jesus in a state of emotional distress. Her feelings ranged from sadness and anger to disappointment, resentment, and confusion. In this emotional state, she accused Jesus, finding some relief in doing so.

However, Jesus invites us to bring our emotions to Him, even in grief. Mary and Martha were able to bring their true selves to Jesus in their mourning, and He did not rebuke them but instead offered them hope. We may have many emotions that we need to surrender to God to be freed from their hold on us. It requires us to love God and offer our emotions to Him, and in return, God offers us hope because He loves us.

Our physical condition often limits us from doing things for the glory of God. We tend to complain about various physical ailments and disabilities, but as demonstrated by Jesus, God’s glory can still shine through even in death. Instead of focusing on what we cannot do, God wants us to concentrate on how we can bring Him glory through our abilities.

When Martha hesitated to open Lazarus’ grave due to the potential stench, Jesus reminded her that physical limitations do not hinder God’s glory. Although not everyone can run a marathon, we are not called to dwell on that. Rather, we are urged to use our physical abilities to glorify God however we can. What we can do is what God calls us to do. So, let us not be hindered by our physical limitations but focus on using what we have to bring glory to God.

Physically, emotionally, and intellectually, we are most commonly bound to do what we have been doing. However, Christ calls us out of the tombs we built by holding ourselves down because we cannot rise above and beyond our previous limitations. We have been given the power of the Holy Spirit to empower us to rise above the various things in our life that hold us to embrace the status quo. This frees us from being hostage to solutions without power, but to plug into the Holy Spirit and God’s grace. Jesus invites us to strip off the linens and burial shroud, to move forward as God’s living church, bringing hope and peace to our communities and world.

Recovering From Spiritual Blindness

In our current environment, it is far too common to hear complaining about issues in the world. We seek to assign blame to politicians, or people’s choices. However, our blame game is nothing more than being blind to the mission of the Gospel in our world. Jesus calls us to have compassion, address the issue first, then seek to make a lasting change. The world has enough people complaining about problems without helping resolve them.

Without compassion and comprehension of a problem, we get trapped in repetitive cycles, unable to break free from our preconceptions. We continue to do the same things repeatedly, hoping for a different outcome. Our past experiences often hinder our ability to recognize God’s plans for our future, and the fear of reprisal from those in power can prevent us from speaking up, and we too often shift blame. Jesus orients us to an understanding that we are repeatedly blinded to the truth, but once we approach Him, our eyes are opened, enabling us to see clearly finally.

Turning to John 9, we see how Jesus treats a man’s blindness and then speaks to the Pharisees’ blindness in their response to witnessing this grace-filled act.

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud 7 and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. 8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some said, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 So they said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” 13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 So the Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.” 18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. 21 But how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22 (His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.) 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” 24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28 And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out. 35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jn 9:1–41.

When Jesus’ disciples first saw the blind man, their first instinct was to try and determine who was responsible for the man’s blindness. This showed their blindness to Jesus’ purpose in the world. We often blame sin for the afflictions we find in others but remain blind to our own sin when afflicted. The trials faced by many in the world, while a result of sin, cannot be pinpointed to a specific sin but the problem of all sin in general. The danger of casting blame indiscriminately is that it prevents us from considering solutions that do not align with our preconceived notions and further confines us to darkness as we fail to recognize the positive in alternative views. To solve problems, we must first confess to our blindness and our sin and approach with humility.

Jesus’ solution for the recovery of sight was unconventional. Making mud, applying it to the man’s eyes on the Sabbath. He got in the dirt, literally and figuratively challenging the perception of the religious elite. When the problem was solved, the Pharisees did not rejoice. Rather, they looked at the man with questions and rejection. The solution was improper in their eyes because it was done at the wrong time. Sometimes we can question solutions because we should raise a flag if it solves one problem by creating three more problems. However, if the problem is solved, we should rejoice that the problem is gone. Solving problems is hard and often takes sacrifice, hard work, getting uncomfortable, and sometimes literally getting dirty. We need to rejoice that Jesus trusts the church with this work. Dirty work transforms our community and builds trust in the church’s commitment.

The Pharisees responded to the man’s recovered sight with cynicism and mistrust. This reaction put the man and his family on the defensive for accepting such a blessing. When questioned by the man for their inquisitiveness, they rejected and expelled the healed man. When approached by Jesus again after his rejection by the Pharisees, the man saw Jesus for who he was, the Son of God and the redeemer of the world. Jesus gave him sight, and with that sight, he proclaimed Christ. Our community will often look at our actions and may even be skeptical of our intentions; however, if we are consistent, truthful, and humble, they will see the work of the Holy Spirit in us. Jesus has given us sight and the Holy Spirit; if we embrace the power given to us, we can bring people to embrace God’s kingdom.

Sin blinds us and makes us incapable of following Christ, but Christ cured us by getting dirty and dealing with our sins through death and resurrection. God calls us to follow Christ, which means we must also get dirty and walk in faith. We often must set aside our skepticism and work with people and agencies we have previously shunned. If we act out of our faith in Christ, we will allow Jesus to heal our blindness and help us to do the saving work of the Kingdom of God. The Holy Spirit heals, and may the church rise and embrace our mission to bring sight to the blind.

Open Doors To Mercy

From time to time, we all find ourselves in places and with people that make us uneasy and feel like we are out of place. As Jesus ministered to the people, He encountered many who felt this way, and those that did have social belonging, Jesus challenged. In John 3, Jesus encounters Nicodemus, a Pharisee who had full standing within the community, and Jesus makes him question his previous understandings and put Nicodemus unease. Therefore, someone that had always belonged suddenly had to question their belonging.

How many of us have walked into a room and questioned whether we belonged in that place? We might feel as if the people all know each other, or they all dress differently than us, or we might not have the qualifications to be present in this group. Churches and other organizations must muster feelings of belonging to help retain people. However, the belonging must be authentic, just as Jesus shows to people throughout the Gospels.

The transition to John 4 shows Jesus traveling into Samaria, where the observant Jews would not want to speak with any locals because history has dictated the separation of these two related peoples. We allow history and propaganda to be a rationale for separating and breaking down the idea that we or others belong. If we hold tight to Jesus, we belong; if we hold tight to Jesus, we will recognize that others also belong, no matter their background. 

Jesus opens belonging to a Samaritan woman and all of us as He speaks to her at Jacob’s well. Jesus opens the door to mercy to this woman and shares freedom from our sin and everlasting life.

So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. 7 A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” 27 Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the town and were coming to him. 31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. 36 Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” 39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” 43 After the two days he departed for Galilee. 44 (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.) 45 So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast. 

John 4:5-42 (ESV)

Many of us come from backgrounds that don’t fit perfectly into the image of an ideal Christian. There are things we have said or done that, in the eyes of God, would preclude us from joining the Kingdom of God. We are sinners and do not deserve any of the blessings of God. Our sin should prevent us from the glory of God, and standing next to Jesus in even our best behavior, we would look as if we do not belong, and thus because of our sin, we deserve death. Due to our sin, we identify with the woman in Samaria. Her sin and her nationality would have kept her away from Jesus. She did not belong, and we do not belong.

In Jesus’ exhausted state, He offers the woman mercy and grace. He approaches the woman and speaks with her in His first act of mercy. She was astonished and shocked because for years, she had been treated as subhuman due to the place she was born and then her sinful lifestyle, but Jesus addressed her humanity. The woman did not know how to respond, but Jesus reveals His divinity to her regardless of societal position. Similarly, Jesus showed us grace and mercy by coming to save us while we were still caught in the trappings of sin. The woman doesn’t immediately understand Jesus’ requests or statements, but Jesus doesn’t retract the benefit due to her misunderstanding. He offers her mercy and invites her into the Kingdom. Mercy opens the door to the Kingdom of God to us.

Just as the door to the Kingdom of God was opened to us through the mercy of Jesus, we need to be merciful with the people that surround us, even those that have harmed us in the past. We are not called to be gatekeepers but rather to help people find their way to the mercy seat of God. Jesus reminds the disciples that they have a task even in their lack of understanding. They are called to bring people before God, sharing with the world the Gospel message. A harvest is waiting, even though they did not plant the crops. God calls His people to answer the message by sharing merciful Grace with everyone, even those that have rejected them. We are both the harvest and the harvesters, and God desires to use us to spread the Gospel to all. Mercy is the invitation, and we must be willing to share mercy indiscriminately.

Jesus providing a merciful offering of grace to the people of Samaria led to a transformation in the community. People that were once shut off from access to God in Jerusalem find freedom and favor in Jesus as they receive life everlasting. We were once shut off from life with God because of sin. However, Jesus’ death and resurrection opened access to the Gospel and transformed life in God’s Kingdom. Those who have received mercy must now share that same mercy with those around us, even if it doesn’t seem like they belong. Through Christ, we now belong and have access to a new life in the Holy Spirit.