Passion Week: Celebrate the Cruelty

1 John 4

This week my church hosted an event called the Passion Week Experience. It’s a fresh look at an ancient practice. People experience eight stations of the cross and interact with the elements and events that led to Jesus’ crucifixion. The experience is deeply personal, emotional and meaningful.

As a Believer it’s a story with which I’m very familiar. But that’s not the case for everyone. Wednesday night we have a group of English Language Learners classes for people who want to learn to better speak, read and understand English. In the class are people of about 8 different nationalities. A few of them are Chinese. This past Wednesday night our ELL leaders took their students through the Passion Week Experience. Their reaction was interesting.

As they walked through each station they said, “I thought Easter was about the bunny. I thought it was a celebration of spring.” Our leaders were able to explain that Easter is a time when we remember the betrayal, torture, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They were shocked. Their next question was significant.

“But why would you celebrate such cruelty?”

It does seem strange to honor instruments of torture, to reflect on the last meal of a man doomed to death, to approach with reverence and wonder the oils and spices used to embalm a decaying corpse. But it’s only strange if you consider one side of the story. It’s the rest of the Passion Week story that gives us cause to celebrate. These were the tools God used to provide for your salvation and mine. This was the method he chose to deliver you from your sin. This was the act that would allow someone else to receive in our place the punishment we deserved. That punishment was poured out on God’s son, Jesus.

And that’s where the Passion Story gets even better. Jesus died, but he rose again. He lives today and offers forgiveness to all who believe. He wants to forgive you. Will you receive it?

There’s another passion station. It’s a representation of the Holy of Holies with a replica of the Ark of the Covenant. I’m grateful for the artist who built this Ark. It’s so well done we told people we found it in a crate in a government warehouse somewhere in Nevada! (lame movie reference).

In the Old Testament the Ark of the Covenant was in the Temple and separated from the people. It sat in the Holy of Holies and represented the place that was filled with the holy presence of God. No on could enter but the High Priest and he could only enter once per year after making atonement for his sins so that he could make atonement for the sins of a nation. Because sin can’t live in the presence of the holiness of God there are stories in the Old Testament of people who died simply because they touched the Ark of the Covenant!

It’s led to lots of speculation about what might happen if someone touched our replica. But that answer is simple. Nothing. Not because it’s a replica, but because the veil is torn. Jesus paid the price for your sin and mine. On the day he died on the cross the veil that separated man from God was torn in half from top to bottom. God opened the Holy of Holies and said, “Come in, you’re welcome here because of Jesus work on the cross.” There’s even a verse that tells us, “And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter the Holy of Holies because of the blood of Jesus.” That’s the real meaning of Passion Week.

Passion Week is a celebration of cruelty. The worst form of capital punishment ever conceived was used on Jesus, the blameless son of God. He willingly received it and gave up his life so that we might be forgiven of our sin. Jesus proved his passion for us. Today, through Jesus, we can have peace with God and a deep and intimate relationship with him. We can boldly enter his presence and experience his grace, love, peace, kindness and favor.

How will you celebrate this Passion Week? Will you celebrate the cruelty? Will you reflect on the sacrifice? Will you remember the end of the story? Jesus is alive! He is risen! Will you place your faith in him and trust Jesus for the forgiveness of sin?

1 John 4:9-10 say, “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.”

Celebrate the cruelty that brought grace. Experience his passion for you. Give your life to Jesus.


Heavenly Father,

Thank you for going through the cruelty of the betrayal, torture and cross for me. Thank you that you loved me even before I loved you. Thank you for the life you have given me through your son, Jesus. Thank you that today I can boldly enter your presence, not because of my goodness, but because of your righteousness in me. I want to walk with you today. Don’t let me run ahead of your will or lag behind. But help me stay right with you where you are. Give me boldness and courage to share your story with others and allow me the privilege of seeing people come to faith in you. This Easter, let people remember, let them experience this story in a way that is deep, intimate, meaningful, personal and powerful. Thank you, Father.

I love you, in Jesus name –

What the Pain Says

1 John 3

I don’t like pain. Who does? It hurts. It’s inconvenient. It puts in me in a bad mood. It slows me down. Pain changes the way I interact with others. It causes me to focus on myself rather than see the needs of the people around me.

People in pain don’t react the same as healthy people.

But there are different kinds of pain. Are you listening? Pain speaks. What does it tell you?

Some pain is good. When I workout, the next day I feel the effects. My muscles are tighter. My endurance is stronger. My strength, greater. And I can feel it. The pain speaks. It tells me I’ve accomplished something. It motivates me to try again. It shows me the limits of my abilities and reminds me I’m capable of more than I imagine.

There’s also the pain that tells you the pot is hot, don’t touch, the pain that reminds you that your body wasn’t designed to do that, and the pain that warns you not to trust that person. Pain speaks. What it says is worth listening to.

You’ve experienced unhealthy pain too. The pain of sickness that indicates your body is failing. The pain of guilt that brings condemnation. The pain inflicted on you because of someone else’s bad decisions. The pain you cause others. The pain that is the consequence of your sinful choices.

The say elephant’s never forget. You’ve heard the story about the baby elephant with the chain around his leg. As a young calf he struggles against the chain. He rubs his leg raw trying to break free. The shackle cuts deep. Eventually he stops fighting. The pain is too great. As the elephant becomes an adult he grows strong enough to break the chain, yet he never tries. Eventually his keeper removes the chain altogether, not to free him, but because the memory of the pain is enough to control him. The elephant doesn’t move. He remains submissive. The shadow of the pain keeps him locked in the prison of his own memory.

God uses pain in our lives to motivate and to move. People use pain to restrict and control.

1 John 3:20-21 says, “Even if we feel guilty, God is greater than our feelings, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if we don’t feel guilty, we can come to God with bold confidence.”

The pain of guilt deceives us into believe God doesn’t care. The pain of circumstances tricks us into choosing the easy way rather than the right way. The pain caused by people convinces us to withdraw, mistrust, manipulate and leave love behind.

But we don’t have to feel this way. God is greater than our feelings. He’s bigger than the guilt, greater than the pain. Because he has forgiven, because he has saved, we can come to God with bold confidence.

Are you listening? Your pain speaks and so does the pain of others. What truth does your pain motive and move you to live? What lies do you believe because of the pain of your past? Is there someone in your life you need to give an extra measure of grace to today because of the pain they’ve been through?

Pain speaks – and God is greater.


Heavenly Father,

Thank you for the pain that leads to repentance. Thank you for the pain that shows me the limits of my abilities and that reminds me that I’m capable of more than I imagine. Overcome the pain of guilt in my life. Because of the forgiveness I’ve received through your son I can approach you with confidence, confidence that you love me, want the best for me and that you are greater than my feelings. Today, help me listen. Give me an ear for the pain of others. Show me how I can relieve that pain. Help me give grace to those who need it. Allow me to demonstrate your loving-kindness. As you are greater than the pain of guilt help my love for others be greater than the offenses they can throw my way. Help me love them and serve them in spite of insults or injury. Help me love people the way you do.

I love you, in Jesus name –

The Lies We Tell Ourselves

1 John 2

I have a topic that’s heavy on my heart and related to 1 John 2, but I’m not ready to address it directly. It’s not enough to speak the truth. You should speak it well. The way you deliver the truth is as important as the truth being delivered. So here are a few related thoughts.

I don’t like to be told I’m wrong. I try hard to make good choices and do the right thing. There are times I stumble into sin. Other times I pursue sin with a passion. It’s comforting to know that either way I’m forgiven. And then I read 1 John 2:4-6, “If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.”

I think God just called me a liar.

Sometimes I sin out of ignorance, not because I’m stupid, but because sometimes I simply don’t know any better. Sometimes I sin because of hasty judgements and snap decisions. I wrongly react to the bad choices of others.

But let’s be honest.

Most of the time I sin because I like it. I do what I want to do and convince myself I did it because I had to. That’s where 1 John 2 comes into play. It’s a wake up call, really, to be honest with yourself. Stop trying to call your sin something other than what it is. You may want it with all your heart. You may believe it’s the best choice for you to make.  You may think that living this way defines you and that to live any other way would be a denial of who you are, your rights, your happiness and your joy. You may think people who tell you otherwise are mean, small-minded or crazy. You may believe the words of the Bible to be antiquated, irrelevant and insignificant. But no matter how many people you can find to agree with you if God says it’s sin, it’s sin. At least have the guts to admit that you’ve chosen something that displeases God, and you’re okay with that. Stop trying to put words in His mouth. Stop trying to make yourself feel better by claiming he’s okay with it.

Be honest.

Today, you have a choice to make. You can be honest, confess your sin and by his power become something more than you ever imagined. Or keep deceiving yourself.  You can call yourself a child of God and deliberately ignore the instructions of your Father. You can convince yourself you’re okay because so many people will stand with you. God gives you that choice. Choose one way and find life today and life everlasting. Choose another – God calls you a liar.

It’s not cruel. It’s accurate. It’s not about assigning blame or passing judgement. It’s about God trying to break through the greatest deception of all – the lies we tell ourselves.


Heavenly Father,

Thank you for speaking the truth and for speaking it well. Convict me of the sin in my life. I want to make right choices. I want to live in a way that pleases you. Don’t let me deceive myself into believing my sin is okay. Instead, help me confess it. Give me the strength and courage to overcome it. Transform my appetite for sin into a hunger and thirst for righteousness. Help me communicate your truth to others in ways that are clear, creative, concise and compelling. Above all let me represent you well, honor you and love and serve others as I do.

I love you, in Jesus name –

For Goodness Sake, What Good Are You?

1 John has 5 chapters. Let’s read one chapter each day. In 5 days you will have read an entire book of the Bible!

What good are you?1 John 1

I like good people. The world is full of good people. The problem is that good is not the standard.

Jesus is the standard.

Following him isn’t about being good. It’s about becoming godly. It’s not about being better than most. It’s about trusting Jesus to forgive our sin.

Jesus will forgive the worst thing you’ve ever done. More than that, he will forgive the worst thing you haven’t done yet.

Does God like good people? Sure. But goodness isn’t enough to give you a right relationship with him or anyone else.

Good people get divorced.
Good people fight with their kids.
Good people lose their jobs.
Good people make mistakes.

Jesus can save them all.

1 John 1:5-6 say, ‘This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth.”

You may think those verses are talking about the good things you do. ‘Walk in the light’ surely means, “Go be good.” But read the rest of the context. ‘Walk in the light’ means confess your sin. Recognize your lack of genuine goodness. Realize that good is not enough. Understand that you desperately need the forgiveness that only comes from God. To believe anything less is to settle for living a lie. The promise is clear. “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9.

Stop parading your goodness around like it means something. Instead, place your faith in Jesus and discover the exponential power of your goodness replaced by his holiness.

Good is good. Jesus is better.


Heavenly Father,

Kids are often afraid of the dark, and for good reason. Scary things often live in the dark. Thank you for shining your light into the darkness. Thank you for using that light to show us the limits of own abilities. Thank you for helping us see that life is so much more than we can imagine on our own. Today, help me walk in the light of your forgiveness. I want to live a good life, but I don’t want to stop there. Help me become godly. Forgive my sin and fill me with your righteousness, peace, joy and your Holy Spirit. I want to walk in the light of your forgiveness and help others do the same.

I love you, in Jesus name –