Darkness Falls. But Sunday’s Coming

Encore-Black-Drapery-Fabric-by-Drape-Kings-FinalToday is the wrongly named Good Friday. Today, our Lord breathed His last.  Today, He suffered the penalty for the sins of the world; for my sins, for your sins.  For all of us.  Today, the world was reconciled to God through the suffering and death of our sweet Jesus.

Sometimes we get in such a hurry to get to Easter and empty grave that we do not stop and ponder.  We do not stop and marvel.  We do not stop and bow our heads.

We do not stop and cry at the fact that the babe born at Bethlehem today suffered not for His own mistakes, or His own misdeeds, but for our stuff.  Our sin.  Our rebellion.  Our turning from God.

As we said last night in 2 Corinthians 5:21:

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Today, darkness falls.  Today, the devil has his moment in the sun.  Today, evil has it’s moment.  Today, the entire creation cries out.

Today was a bad day.  And we need to remember that.

But there’s one more thing we need to remember.

Sunday’s coming.

Don’t forget, you can click here to download Asbury’s mobile app and read these devotionals, as well as listen to my sermons on your smart phones, and you thought our app, you can now watch our worship services from Asbury too!

The Calm Before the Storm

This week we’ve been walking through what Jesus did each day of Holy Week.  From the triumphal entry of Palm Sunday, Cleansing the Temple on Monday, and then teaching on Tuesday, it’s been a dramatic week.  And so with that, we’d think that Wednesday would be much along the same lines, right?

But, strangely, it’s not.

What happens today?  Silence.

calmb4stormIt’s the calm before the storm.  Some Biblical scholars think that Jesus spent the day with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.  It is also thought that today is the day that Judas agrees to betray Jesus.  So, things are happening. Life continues.  But, there is silence.

There is calm.

Because the storm is coming.

The next few days, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter, these days are the most important days in the history of the world.  That’s not hyperbole. That’s not just a preacher talking.  That’s truth. What happened the rest of Holy Week changes forever this world, this life, and eternity.  It all changes, starting tomorrow.

But today, silence.  Calm.  The storm is coming.

So, what do we do today, then?  We rest.  We pray.  We reflect.  In a world that is so busy.  So busy with work and play and kids and school and family and responsibility and everything spinning, always spinning, today, we stop.

And reflect.  We remember what He has taught us.  Love.  Pray.  Seek out the lost.  Serve the needy.  Repent.  Follow.  Be salt and light.

And look ahead to what He has done for our sake.

Sometimes, being busy is easy.  We don’t have to think.  Today, take some time to still yourself.  To remember.  To look ahead.  To walk with our God.  And realize, starting tomorrow, everything changes.

Don’t forget, you can click here to download Asbury’s mobile app and read these devotionals, as well as listen to my sermons on your smart phones, and you thought our app, you can now watch our worship services from Asbury too!

Cleansing the Temple and Being Welcome

Yesterday started the week that in the church we call Holy Week.  This week starts with Palm Sunday, when Jesus enters Jerusalem and for one of the few times in His life, receives the praise that He is due.  It starts off on such a high note.  Even in many of our churches, we see children entering in with palms, singing and praising.  But

But as the week passes we see things begin to lead to the cross, as was God’s plan all along.  Several things happen on this Monday of Holy Week, but I wanted us to read one of the things that you are probably most familiar with.  The cleansing of the temple.  Listen to what it says in Matthew 21: 12-13:

And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”

Picture 022People in Jesus day (and before, and since) had grown to use the temple not just for a place of prayer, but as a place for gain and for profit.  Folks were selling the animals used for the sacrifices (with a markup, you know) because of that people were feeling further and further from God.

So, Jesus drove out those that were keeping folks away from being able to worship and pray.

Because He knew that nothing must stand between people and God.  Nothing.  Not their sin.  Not their failings.  And not other people.

So, this Holy Week, what should this verse mean to you?  Well, that’s between you and the Holy Spirit.  But, perhaps, it may mean this.  Who is that person that you know that has never felt welcome or invited in church?  Who is that person that you know that has always struggled to connect with God?  Who is that person that just needs to know that God loves them?

Maybe this week you should pray for them, and invite them to join you this Sunday for Easter.  And when we invite them to join us for worship on Easter, that’s not the end of our job, but it’s just the beginning.  Because then, we need to do all within our power to make sure that they feel welcome.  That they feel a part.  That they feel home.

There are folks all around us, every day, that Jesus died to save.  As believers, as the church, it’s our job, it’s our calling, to love them, to seek them, and be there.  In this Holy Week, love.  Pray.  Invite.  And make folks feel welcome.

And let’s see what God does with that.

Don’t forget, you can click here to download Asbury’s mobile app and read these devotionals, as well as listen to my sermons on your smart phones, and you thought our app, you can now watch our worship services from Asbury too!

What is Maundy Thursday?

Today is a day that is called Maundy Thursday. This is a day set aside to remember the betrayal of Jesus and to remember the night when He gave us the gift of Holy Communion. It begins the darkness that is Good Friday.

Before the dawn and light of Easter Sunday, we must go through the darkness of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

And, if you happen to be in the Petal, MS area tonight, and you’ve never experienced a Maundy Thursday service, I hope you’ll be able to come out and be with us tonight at Asbury.

Before Jesus is betrayed, He left this disciples, and us, with some words to remember. Before He was handed over, He wanted them, and us, to know what was most important.  Listen to what He tells them, and us, in John today:

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

They will know you are my disciples not by your theology.  Or by your denomination.  Or by your beliefs.  Or by what you wear.  Or by what you listen to.  Or any of these things.

We try to make Christianity about so many different things that is not about.

Before Jesus was handed over, He told us what was most important.  He told us what mattered the most.  He told us what we must do to prove to the world that we are His disciples.

They will know you are my disciples by your love.

Today, do “they” – your friends, your family, your co workers, your neighbors, the people in your life – do they know you are His disciple?

Are you living a life of love in front of them?

Before He was handed over, he told us what is most important.  He told us what matters most.  Love.

They will know you are my disciples by your love. Today, may all the world know that we are His disciples.

Don’t forget, you can click here to download Asbury’s mobile app and read these devotionals, as well as listen to my sermons on your smart phones.

Life Ain’t Always Fair. And That’s Ok

One of things that happened as Asbury has grown, and as I have made new friends across the state, and strangely, across the nation, some of you know about my story, some don’t.  I usually write about it, every April 16.  I guess it’s become my way of paying honor to my mother.

993817_10153623109145043_1781008694_nAs you my know, my mother “Mama Sarah” was murdered on this day in 1978 by my biological father.  He struggled with addiction and in a rage, shot and killed her, as she was leaving the house with me in her arms. She was killed on April 16 and buried on April 18.

At that point, I was adopted and raised by my grandparents, Maxine and Connie Stoddard, who I call mama and daddy. So, my mama is actually my maternal grandmother, and my daddy is actually my maternal step-grandfather.  See you need a flow chart to understand my family!

The reason I share those dates with you is this.  April 16 is my Mama’s birthday.  April 18 is my birthday.

So, my Mama Sarah was murdered on her mother’s birthday and was buried on my birthday.

Needless to say, there’s a reason why we aren’t really big birthday people in our house.

On this day, I always take time to think about and reflect upon the sacrifice of my Mama Sarah, but in that, I think I have missed something very important.  I want to honor my mom and my dad.

Mama is from Pike County, MS, close to McComb, and when she was younger, as young ladies of the day were wont to do, she went to New Orleans to look for work. There she met a man, fell in love, married him, and moved to his home.

In Ecuador.

Yep, Ecuador.  There she had her two children, Sarah Louisa Leon, and Robert Edgar Leon.  But, the marriage fell on very rocky times, with adultery and addiction, and so there was a divorce, and she returned home to Pike County.  She still needed to work, though, so she left Sarah and Robert with her mother and father, returned to New Orleans, where she worked during the week, and then returned home during the weekend.

There, she met a handsome street car driver, Connie Stoddard, and they eventually married.

As her kids grew, Sarah become a Special Education teacher in McComb, and Robert entered the military.

Eventually Sarah married, had a child (me) and at first, things seemed just fine.

But, as addictions tend to, the addiction of my biological father pushed him over the edge, to the point where he shot and killed my mother.  At that point, mama and daddy moved back home from New Orleans, built a house, raised me, and remain there to this day.

Today is her birthday.  She is 84.  On this day she was born, and on this day she saw her first-born die.  She and daddy adopted me when she was in her late 40s, he in his late 30s.  They had raised their kids, and were in the time of their life when they could enjoy life.

And here I fall into their life.

Life ain’t always fair. That’s ok.  Life is good.  Think about all that my mama has been through.  Moved to a foreign country.  Divorced. 1461074_10153517375085043_1298232873_n With two kids that were half white/half hispanic.  In the 1950s.  Worked to support them.  Separated from them because of the need to support them.  Saw one of them killed.  Raised her son.

I think sometimes we have a false impression of what life should be.  That things should come easy, and disappointment should never occur.

And if something has gone wrong, then we should just pack up on go home.  It’s not worth it.

No.  That is not the case.  This is Holy Week.  This week was hard for our savior.  He sweat, He suffered, He died. For our sake. And for the sake of the world.  He did what was right.  The bible said He set his face like a flint towards Jerusalem.  He choose to do the right, hard thing.

And so must we.  Life is going to be hard.  I know it.  It is.  Bad stuff is going to happen for no good reason. I know.  It is.

But if my life should tell you anything, anything at all, it’s this.  God has a plan.

Though Him, you can do it.  You can.  Keep going.  Keep fighting, don’t give up.  God has more power available to you, then you’ll ever know. And God is at work in ways you’d never even see.

And my mama, though she lost a daughter named Sarah, has gained a granddaughter (great-granddaughter, technically) named Sarah.

God restored.  God redeems.  God is at work.  He is, trust me.  He is.

You can do it.  You can.  No matter how hard the task may be, you can do it.  You can. It says in Genesis 50:20:

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.

God is at work in your life, even when you don’t feel it, or believe it.  He is.  Trust.  Do the right thing. Remember.  Pray.  Trust. God is at work.

I asked Mama one day if she hated my biological father, the man who killed her daughter.  She paused and said, “No.  If I hate him, he wins.”

That’s not easy, that’s not fair.  But it is ok.  Through God’s strength, you can do what is right.  You can, and you must.

For the sake of the Gospel.

Life ain’t always fair.  And that’s ok.  Because God is always good, no matter what.

Don’t forget, you can click here to download Asbury’s mobile app and read these devotionals, as well as listen to my sermons on your smart phones.

Monday of Holy Week – Are We Thankful?

Holy Week is the week that stretches from Palm Sunday to Easter. There are several “highlights” if that’s the right word to use. Maundy Thursday is the time when we stop, and remember the betrayal of Christ, and remember His giving to us the great gift of Holy Communion.  On Good Friday, we take time to remember the cross, and the penalty that Jesus Christ paid for our sins.

And while are the really significant times of this week, there are other moments that are important. And through this week, we will take time to look at what happens each day of Holy Week, and see what we can learn, as we move towards the cross and the empty grave.

Today we read from John 12:1-8:

Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.  Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial.  For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

6a00d8345254ac69e20133ec49dbda970bThere’s a lot that we can unpack in this passage, but I want to focus on Mary’s devotion to Jesus.  He has raised her brother Lazarus from the dead, and now He has come to their home.  And what is Mary’s response?  Pure thankfulness.

She takes this perfume and anoints Jesus, then she wipes His feet with her hair.  It is an act of pure, humble, devotion and love.  You could argue it’s nearly humiliating to do this.  But she doesn’t care.  She is so thankful to Jesus for what He has done for her, for your family.  Her heart overflows with thanksgiving for the work of Jesus in her life.

And contrast that with the grumbling of the disciples.  Judas speaks here, but the other gospels allude that he is merely speaking up for everyone.  (Though John does give us a little insight in Judas’ character.  His motives weren’t pure.  Neither are ours, all the time.)  They all thought that this was a waste of resources. They could have done something with it.

And Jesus says this – you won’t always have me with you.  Be thankful.  Be thankful.  That’s our first job today.  To be thankful.

Your first job today is to be thankful. Before you go. Before you serve. Your first just to merely be thankful for what God has done for you.

Then, with thankful hearts, go and serve.  But, first, we must give thanks.  We must.  For true service comes from there.  From a thankful heart.

Today, are we thankful?  That’s our first job.

Don’t forget, you can click here to download Asbury’s mobile app and read these devotionals, as well as listen to my sermons on your smart phones.

Maundy Thursday 2013

Today is a day that is called Maundy Thursday. This is a day set aside to remember the betrayal of Jesus and to remember the night when He gave us the gift of Holy Communion. It begins the darkness that is Good Friday.

Before the dawn and light of Easter Sunday, we must go through the darkness of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

And, if you happen to be in the Petal, MS area tonight, and you’ve never experienced a Maundy Thursday service, I hope you’ll be able to come out and be with us tonight at Asbury.

Before Jesus is betrayed, He left this disciples, and us, with some words to remember. Before He was handed over, He wanted them, and us, to know what was most important.  Listen to what He tells them, and us, in John today:

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

They will know you are my disciples not by your theology.  Or by your denomination.  Or by your beliefs.  Or by what you wear.  Or by what you listen to.  Or any of these things.

We try to make Christianity about so many different things that is not about.

Before Jesus was handed over, He told us what was most important.  He told us what mattered the most.  He told us what we must do to prove to the world that we are His disciples.

They will know you are my disciples by your love.

Today, do “they” – your friends, your family, your co workers, your neighbors, the people in your life – do they know you are His disciple?

Are you living a life of love in front of them?

Before He was handed over, he told us what is most important.  He told us what matters most.  Love.

They will know you are my disciples by your love. Today, may all the world know that we are His disciples.

Don’t forget, you can click here to download Asbury’s mobile app and read these devotionals, as well as listen to my sermons on your smart phones.

Wednesday of Holy Week 2013

The closer we get to Thursday and Friday during Holy Week, the more the reality of what is come starts setting in. We have seen Jesus teaching His disciples, we have seen Him teaching the crowds.

Today, on Wednesday, we see something happen, that isn’t about His teaching.

It’s about what is going to happen.

Listen to what happens in Matthew 26:14-16 today:

Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.

urlWe see that Judas is moving towards betraying Jesus. We see that the this horrible event (which buys our redemption) is coming closer.

And of all the things that are painful about cross, this may be the one that heart Him the most, that we don’t think about. He was betrayed. By a close friend. One of His disciples. One that He has trusted. One that He has taught.

He knew betrayal. He knew hurt. He knew what it was like to have someone who He loves hurt Him in a painful, painful way.

He knew betrayal.

So, remember, He can sympathize with whatever it is that we are going through. No matter what pain, hurt, or disappointment we are facing, He faced it.

For our sake.

In this Holy Week, let us not forget what Jesus went through.

Don’t forget, you can click here to download Asbury’s mobile app and read these devotionals, as well as listen to my sermons on your smart phones.