I told them.
It started as a simple Thanksgiving sermon. Straightforward.
Ephesians 5:20: “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
I look up from my Bible. “So, that’s it, right? Just give thanks to God for everything. Amen? All right. Shortest sermon ever.” I turn away, as if to move on to the next part of the worship service. The congregation chuckles. I turn back. “All right, we should probably go a little deeper, huh?”
I’m glad they chuckled. When you start with that lightness, it opens people up. It builds trust in a weird way.
I ask, “What are some things you thank God for?”
People in the congregation answer. Family. Nature. Food. Our senses. All great answers. I spend a few sentences on each answer, encouraging and confirming that it’s great to thank God for such things. And it is.
“But did you notice… it doesn’t say, ‘Give thanks to God for the stuff you like.’ It doesn’t say, ‘Give thanks to God for the things you think are good.’ It says, ‘For everything.’”
And that’s not easy, is it?
How do you give thanks for things that cause pain? (more…)
Esther puts her hand against the wood paneling of the door to the throne room. She whispers to herself, “If I perish… I perish.” She pushes the door open.
The king’s guards turn and draw their blades. The king has summoned no one. The only reason anyone would have to come in here without being summoned is to assassinate the king. The law is clear: Kill any uninvited guest.
Esther holds her hands out, showing she is unarmed. Her only chance is the mercy of the king. The guards tense to strike.
And Xerxes extends the golden scepter. The only thing that would keep any uninvited guest safe. “What do you want, my queen? Ask it, and it’s yours.” Xerxes smiles. His queen. The one he chose. His queen.
Esther tries not to faint. She heaves a deep breath before answering, “Come to a banquet I have prepared for you today. You. And Haman.” She gestures to the man sitting at her husband’s right hand. She gestures to the man who wants her murdered. “Come to my banquet. That’s all I want.”
Haman. The man who had masterminded a new law: On a certain day in the twelfth month, it will be legal to kill any Jew and take their possessions. He doesn’t know the queen is Jewish.
But neither does the king. (more…)
“My queen!” one of the eunuchs rushes to Esther. “My queen! Your friend. The one out in the gate. Mordecai? He’s going to be punished!”
Esther sits up. “What? What’s happened?”
“He’s wearing sackcloth, your majesty. Anyone who’s mourning isn’t allowed in the king’s gate. I tried warning him, but he’s still just sitting there in the gate crying out!”
What could be wrong? Why would Mordecai do this? Esther looks at the eunuch. “Go to the market. Purchase him some appropriate clothes. Bring them to him. He won’t refuse a gift.”
“Yes, your majesty.” He rushes out. Esther paces the harem. What’s wrong with Uncle Mordecai? What’s happened that he’s mourning, and so loudly, and in a place that will kill him? (more…)
Hadassah’s parents’ voices were filled with longing. “Someone is coming to save us. The Savior will be born back home in Israel, from our people. He is coming to redeem us from our sins. And our God will not forget his promises.” They told her of God’s faithfulness to sinners like Adam and Eve and Noah and Abraham. They filled her with wonder that God wold love sinners like her no matter how bad she was. They told her, “And we have a promised land, Hadassah. So many of our people already went home. And someday we will go, too. We’ll leave Persia and go to the land our God promised us.”
And then… her parents died.
Hadassah went to live with her older cousin Mordecai. He told her those same promises over and over again.
And then the king exiled his queen. And then he got lonely. And then there was a contest. And Hadassah was taken. She was pried out of her home by the king’s guards, stolen from the man who had raised her, kidnapped by the government from Mordecai. As the guards marched toward their home, Mordecai grabbed Hadassah. “Don’t tell them who you are. Go by your Persian name!” He knew how dangerous it would be to be a minority, especially if the king’s eyes were on you. And so she was known as Esther.
And then Esther won the contest. She pleased the king so much, he threw a week-long party to celebrate. (more…)
Hadassah lugs the clay jar back home. Susa’s dust swirls around her ankles. The capital city of the Persian empire is relatively quiet at this hour; the women gossip at the well, and over at the market the men grumble as they set up their stalls. The sun peaks over the roofs of the buildings around her, sending golden light everywhere. She breaths a morning prayer of thanks to Yahweh. “Creator, you make the sun to shine on us. Bless this day and bless this water. Give us life. Move us to be thankful. We look for the One you promised would come. Watch over those Jews who have gone home. Bring us home to Israel someday. And help me have a good birthday.”
She comes to the orange clay wall that hides her home. As she rounds the gate to the front garden shadowed by two date trees, she sets down the jar and wipes the sweat from her forehead. Today she is fifteen. Maybe Uncle Mordecai will finally tell her who she’s going to marry. Most of her friends are already married. Chava’s going to have her first baby soon! She hoists the jar to carry into their little home.
Somewhere in the distance, someone screams, breaking the quiet morning air. And then another person screams. There’s weeping far away, carried over the clay roofs of the city. (more…)
How could I show up fifteen minutes late for worship? I’m the freaking pastor! My family scuttles in to a row of seats as I rush back to get my robe on. The guest pastor is sort of hopping from leg to leg – his granddaughter is being baptized today, and he asked permission to step in and do that. So not only am I late, showing disrespect to my congregation, but I’m looking bad in front of a brother in the ministry.
Not just any brother in the ministry.
The freaking president of the seminary. A man who taught me.
He leans over and whispers to me, “You good to go?”
He stands to start the service. And as he does, he sort of quirks his head like I remember him doing so often in class. “You know, this sort of reminds me…” And he launches into an incredible devotion, just off the top of his head, like always did in class. Just taking something that just happened and using it as an example of Law or Gospel, marrying it to a biblical text, and just making the sacred an everyday thing in the best way.
And he’s doing it here in my congregation, where I just showed up fifteen minutes late for worship. And then I glance at the bulletin.
I don’t remember what I’m preaching on. (more…)
From the beginning of brokenness, the Father and the Prince made a plan. The Prince would enter the world. He would rescue it, by offering himself up. And part of that plan was telling people about what was coming. Through centuries the Prince whispered that he would come. That he would crush the head of the serpent. That he would be crushed for our iniquities. Through prophets he spoke, so that the people would be ready. And some… they listened. They valued the message. They held on to it. They held it close. And they waited. They ached to see the Prince come and keep all his promises. But when he finally came… he was rejected.
The Fall of Christ, Chapter Two: Rejected.
The man named Caiaphas awaits in the Sanhedrin chambers.
The Sanhedrin: The ruling council of the Jews, made up of seventy-one elders. And this is where they ruled. This is the chamber that his father-in-law, Annas, had made great. And though Annas’s term was up, he still controlled much power through Caiaphas. But he and his father-in-law had a glorious goal: Preach the Law that God had given them. Wait for the one that was promised, wait for the one who would bring them freedom, and teach the Law.
The oil lamps have been lit, and their flickering light fills the open-air gathering place. Caiaphas prowls the chamber, waiting for the soldiers to return. They were supposed to go and arrest Jesus.
It was time to end this. (more…)
Christmas worship should be epic.
Wednesday I watched a concert livestreamed. The main artist was Andrew Peterson, singing his Behold the Lamb of God album. I highly recommend it. During the first half of the concert, he debuted a new song. It’ll be on the album Resurrection Letters Vol. 1 coming out at Easter. I wish I could link you to the song. It is… powerful. It asks some very difficult questions:
“Do you feel the world is broken?”
“Do you feel the shadows deepen?”
“But do you know that all the dark won’t stop the light from shining through?”
“Do you wish you could see it all made new?”
Those are the opening lines of this incredible song. And as Andrew leaned into the song, speaking about how Jesus answers these longings, how he is worthy of praise and glory and honor… he begins to weep.
He is responding to my Jesus. (more…)
God’s Word is amazing. Have you ever just sat back and absorbed it? Just opened it up and read? Just a sentence. Just two. And just… just reveled?
Has the weight of the Law ever just pressed down on you? It’s so simple. It seems so easy. And then you look at that Law, and that single statement begins a pushing down on your chest, because you see how very, very heavy it is. You see how far you have fallen from what God demands. You see how good, how very good his command is, and how good this world would be if we just did it, but I can’t do it, no I can’t, I have failed, and so it is my fault, so much my fault.
And the Law, oh, it is so good, and I am not. And as that sentence grows in my heart, I see it in so many ways. It blossoms there, this flower of such beauty that I weep that I cannot even touch its petals, I cannot even pretend to care for a bloom of such excellence, that my black thumb slays not the Law but myself. (more…)
Do you know what it is to have to lie to your son… because you’re afraid to let him see who you really are?
We went to Jerusalem for Passover. You should have seen it. Sarah kept telling me to calm down. But I couldn’t help it. It was the first time going since she gave birth to Levi. Our son. He was only a few months old. I know, I know, we didn’t have to take him yet. She kept telling me he was too little. “Benjamin, calm down!” But I didn’t listen. This was my son, and I got to show him Passover! I insisted on carrying him most of the way. My arms would carry my son to Jerusalem! We got to Jerusalem and visited my uncle’s home, where we’d be staying. Uncle David.
I took little Levi out to pick out the lamb. The one we’d sacrifice and remember the first Passover. So we’d remember the lamb that was sacrificed so that our ancestors could live. The lamb that died instead of them. And little Levi… you should have seen his smiles. He loved all those lambs. The priests frowned that I brought a son so young, but I was so excited. I held Levi and took his little hand and placed it on the lamb’s head.
And Passover night – the first Passover, you know, those of us from the country celebrated a few days before everyone in the city just so there was room for everyone! – we ate the meal, just like my father did, and his father. And now I got to teach my son. Sarah told me he wouldn’t understand, but I didn’t care. And just like always, we opened the door to see if Elijah was there. We opened the door to find out if this year, if maybe this year, the one God promised was here, if the Christ was here to free us from slavery again. And that Passover night… it was golden.
But the next day. The next day… there was some sort of uproar in the city. I left Levi with Sarah and went with David to find out what was going on. My arms felt empty without him. I found myself outside the Roman governor’s palace. He presented a man – a man already badly beaten – and shouted. I couldn’t hear over the roar of the crowd. But a man next to me – a priest – he told me what was going on. This beaten man was Jesus from Nazareth. I’d heard of him, of course – who hadn’t? They said he did miracles, like Elijah did long ago. But then my neighbor said: “He says he’s equal with God.” (more…)