1815) “Is It I, Lord?” (part two of three)


The Last Supper by Danish painter Carl Bloch (1834-1890), depicting Judas leaving early (John 13:21-30)


            (…continued)  There is also a second, deeper way to understand this question of the disciples.  And this part that we can readily apply to ourselves.

            The proud and foolish person looks at the mistakes and troubles of another and says to himself, “What a mess they have made of their lives; I have been able to do so much better, now haven’t I?”  The humble and wise person looks at the failures of others and says, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”  The second response is more like that of the disciples in the text; not accusing and not judging, but each one wondering if they themselves could be the one capable of such evil as to betray Jesus.

          The hideous evil of the Nazi concentration camps in World War II is well known, but still difficult to comprehend.  Millions were starved, raped, worked to death, experimented on, tortured, shot, gassed, cremated or buried alive.  And who was responsible?  Hitler, yes, but also the tens of thousands of people who carried out his orders.  And who were these thousands?  Devils from the depths of hell?  No, they were the German people, many of them right off the farm and out of small towns—ordinary people like ourselves.  Some of the officers lived close enough to the concentration camps that they could go home in the evening and be with their families; eating together, saying their prayers, and tucking their children in at night.  Then, the next day they would get up and go back to work for another day of mass murder.  These were people like you and me.

            We all have our prejudices.  We see news from other parts of the world and we say, “Life must be cheap over there.”  Or we say, “They have been fighting over there for centuries. That is all they know how to do.”  It is easy to stereotype and accuse and judge other groups of people.

            But the behavior of the German people in World War II is deeply disturbing to me, causing me to take a hard and painful look at myself.  I am of 100% German descent, only the third generation born in this country.  I am proud of my German heritage, but it was the Germans who perpetrated all that evil and destruction.  I am a baptized Lutheran, and so were many of them.  I am from a small town, and so were many of them.  What would I do if I had everything to gain by doing the wrong thing and everything to lose by doing what was right?  What would you do?  The horror that many felt at the Nuremberg trials of the war criminals was that the terrible devils there on trial looked and acted so much like ordinary people.

            I recently finished reading a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor who stood up against the Nazis beginning already in 1933.  As the Nazis took control of the churches, many pastors resisted, but most did not.  Most of those who went along with the Nazis survived the war.  Most of those who resisted Hitler died during the war years.  Bonhoeffer was arrested, spent two years in prison, and then was executed in April of 1945, just before Germany surrendered.  He was 39 years old.  I am, just like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor.  What would I have done in that situation?  I don’t know.

        We are all sinners.  We have not much reason for self-righteous pride.  If tested in such a way as the Germans were under Hitler, would we be strong or weak?  The disciples’ response in Matthew 26 portrays a profound insight into their own hearts.  They are saddened by what Jesus said.  How could anyone ever do such a thing and betray Jesus?  But they are uncertain.  “Is it I, Lord?”  Could I ever do such a thing?  Maybe so.  That was what troubled them, and that is why they wondered about themselves.  They knew what sinners they were, and they responded to Jesus not with arrogant pride, but with heart-broken humility.

            The response of Judas, the actual betrayer, is pathetic.  He too asks, “Is it I?”, or in some translations, “Surely you don’t mean me?”  But Judas doesn’t refer to Jesus as Lord like the others, but simply ‘Rabbi’ (teacher).  And his question is not a noble or humble act; it is a lie.  By now Judas should have known better.  Judas should have known that Jesus would know.  He had seen Jesus read people’s hearts and minds.  Perhaps it was all he could think of to say, being as nervous as he probably was.  But it was a pathetic response, and Jesus simply replies, “You have said so.”  John 13:27 adds that Jesus also said to him, “What you are about to do, do quickly,” and then Judas went out into the night.

            Jesus had still another bombshell to drop into the now, not so happy anymore, gathering.  “This very night,” he tells them, “you will all fall away on account of me.”  One would betray him, Jesus had said, and now he adds that everyone would soon desert him.  This was too much for Peter, and he replied this time not with humility, but with boldness and confidence and fearlessness.  “Not me,” he said, “I won’t desert you.  Not tonight, and not ever.  All the others might, but not me, I won’t.  I’ll go to prison with you and I will even die for you.”

            Jesus looked at him with sad eyes and said, “Peter, before the rooster crows tomorrow morning you will three times deny that you even know me.”

            But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die, I will not disown you,” and all the others said the same.  Well, you know the story, and it all unfolds just as Jesus said it would.  (continued…)

1814) “Is It I, Lord?” (part one of three)

Maundy Thursday sermon, March 29, 2018.

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Matthew 26:20-28  —  When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve.  And while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.”  They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?”  Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me.  The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him.  But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man!  It would be better for him if he had not been born.”  Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely you don’t mean me, Teacher?”  Jesus answered, “You have said so.”  While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”  Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you.  This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”


            There are many stories and verses in the Bible that do not, at first anyway, seem to make much sense, do not fit in with the rest of the story, or appear to contradict other parts of the Bible.  In fact, when one reads the Bible for the first time, one may even be overwhelmed by the many problems encountered.  When this happens, we must have a bit of humility in our approach, realizing that the Bible is a big book, written a long time ago, into a very different culture; and, it is about the Almighty God of the universe.  So it shouldn’t surprise us that there are things we are not going to understand the first time through.  If parts of the Bible seem strange or unreasonable, we should not then right away call God’s Word into question, setting ourselves up as judge and jury over it.  Rather, we should realize that the problem might be in us, and in our own lack of knowledge, insight, or perspective.  There have been dozens of verses like that for me—verses that at first seemed just plain wrong, until I learned more and my understanding deepened.  What often happens then is that I learn something from a verse I first thought to be incomprehensible.

            There is such a passage in this in Matthew 26:21-22.  Jesus is enjoying a peaceful Passover supper with his disciples.  It was the meal that turned out to be known as ‘The Last Supper,’ but the disciples did not know that yet.  It was the calm before the storm.  Within the next 24 hours Jesus would be arrested, tried, convicted, sentenced, tortured, and then crucified and buried.  But all was quiet now.

            Into the pleasant and friendly conversation, Jesus drops a bombshell.  Out of nowhere Jesus says to his twelve disciples, his closest friends on earth, “One of you will betray me” (verse 21).  The next verse describes the disciples reaction: “They were all very sad and began to say to Jesus one after the other, “Is it I, Lord?’”

            That is the difficult verse.  What do they mean, “Is it I, Lord?”  The deed has been done, the evil plan is already unfolding, the soldiers are on their way; and each one can’t remember whether or not he was the one who did it.  Why not?  I have at times been accused of being absent-minded, but I am sure I would remember if I had betrayed my good friend.  Why the uncertainty?  We would much more expect a response like, “Okay, who is the dirty rat?  Let me at him.”  We might expect that Peter for sure would have been rolling up his sleeves and putting up his fists for a fight with someone.  But why in the world would they all sit there looking dumbfounded and saying, “Is it I, Lord?” Certainly a person would remember doing something like that.

            Well, there are two answers that come from further reflection on this text—one, fairly simple, and the other, deeper and more significant.

          First, the simple explanation.  At this point in the evening, only Judas and Jesus knew what was coming next.  All the disciples knew that things were getting a little tense in Jerusalem, but only Judas and Jesus knew that the soldiers were at that very moment getting ready to go to arrest Jesus at the Garden of Gethsemane (the place Judas revealed to the authorities in his betrayal).  Therefore, when Jesus said, “One of you will betray me,” the other eleven had no idea that the deed had already been done.  For all they knew, Jesus was talking about one of them falling away and betraying Jesus next year, or in five years.

            This perspective sheds new light on the disciples’ question, “Is it I, Lord?”  Actually, this is a rather noble and humble response.  The disciples do not right away begin to accuse each other.  They do not even assume that it will be one of the others.  Rather, their first thought is, “I hope it is not me.”

            Let’s imagine what might be behind that response.  Perhaps they all have had their times of doubt, perhaps they have been confused by Jesus, perhaps their faith has, at times, wavered.  Perhaps by now, after three years with Jesus, they know the depth of their sin and weakness.   They have already made so many mistakes and misunderstood so much.  Jesus had always warned them to watch, to be prepared, to stay on the narrow path, to not be deceived by pride, and to not give into temptation and fall away.  They knew by now that faith was not a casual matter to be taken lightly, but much was at stake, and it wasn’t easy.  They had everything to gain by remaining faithful, and everything to lose by falling away.  Not only that, but they had seen the fickleness of the crowds who came and went, who believed in Jesus one day, and turn their backs on him the next.  They perhaps wondered if that might one day happen to them too.  If they had learned anything from following Jesus, they learned to be humble, and not self-righteous. 

            Therefore, they did not say in anger, “Who’s the dirty rat?”  Rather, they were sad and anxious and said, “Is it I, Lord?”  It was not an absent-minded response as I had first thought.  Instead, it was a mature and humble response.  (continued…)

1813) Sophie the Scrubwoman

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By Patty McGarvey posted at www.alliance.org


     “I vas called to scrub und preach.  I vas a borned preacher, und as I vas poor, I learned to vork.  I do good vork, so people vants me; but if they haf me, they must haf the preaching also.  I scrub as unto the Lord, und preach to all in the house.”

–Sophie Lichtenfels  (1843-1919)

     A rare character of German descent, Sophie Lichtenfels lived in a one-room apartment only a block away from her beloved church, the Gospel Tabernacle in New York City.  Born four days apart from her pastor, the then famous A. B. Simpson, she loved and prayed for her pastor and gave of her meager income to support the missionary outreach he initiated.  Although she was uneducated, she wanted desperately to be a missionary herself.

     “For 12 years I prayed, ‘Oh, Father, make me a foreign mishener.  I vant to go to foreign lands and preach.’  Und Father say, ‘Sophie, stop.  Where were you borned?’  ‘Germany, Father.’ ‘ Where are you now?’  ‘In America.’  ‘Well, ain’t you a foreign mishener already?  And who lives on the floor above you?’  ‘A family of Svedes.’  ‘Und on the floor above them?’  ‘Why, some Svitzers.’  ‘Und in the rear house are Italians, und in a block away some Chinese.  Do you think I will send you a thousand miles away to the foreigner heathen, when you got them all around, und you nefer care enough about them to speak vit them about their soul?’

     “I had some money saved up; und I learnt if I give a few dollars, I could send a boy to school in Japan.  I do it, and now he is mishener among his own people.  One day I hear about the people down South.  ‘Vell,’ Father said, ‘Sophie, you can give to that sure’; but I vas stingy-like.  I felt bad, und Father seemed to say, ‘All you haf I gif you, und you won’t gif a little back.’  I feel worser until I gif enough to send a woman to teach.  Und now I haf a woman teaching for me down South.  So I was in Japan, down South, und here in New York—preaching in three places, like as though I vas triplets!”

     When Sophie died almost every mission of New York and a number from Philadelphia were represented at her memorial service.  Many told of the great blessing she had been and of the number of souls she had won to Christ.


Colossians 3:23  —  Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.

Matthew 28:18-19a  —  Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.”

Acts 20:24  —   I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.


Merciful Father, your kindness caused the light of the Gospel to shine among us.  Extend your mercy now, we pray to all the people of the world who do not have hope in Jesus Christ, that your salvation may be made known to them also and that all hearts would turn to you.  

Lutheran Book of Worship, Prayer #191, Augsburg, 1978.

1812) “You Christians Are Crazy”

From Standing Strong Through the Storm daily devotions, posted at:  http://www.opendoorsusa.org


     Satan uses and plays on one of the basic elements and instincts of our nature— fear.  It is natural for finite man to fear— especially the fear of the unknown, the fear of being hurt and the fear of death. There is nothing more Satan would like than to see us paralyzed with fear.

     Why do we allow fear to be so controlling?  On the one hand, we have past experiences that we don’t want to relive and on the other hand, we are very hesitant about what might lay ahead.  But often the events and situations creating most fear in people have no basis in reality.

     All fear is based on perception.  Thus fear has been described in the English language as an acronym for “False Evidence Appearing Real.”  If we could consciously remember this, it would help us to allay many fears.  But that false evidence sometimes is so convincing!  However, we must always realize that dread and fear— like other tactics of the enemy—are based on a lie.  This is why throughout the Scriptures we are repeatedly commanded—366 times—to “fear not.”  It is intensely liberating for our witness when we personally overcome the fear of death.  This allows us to focus on Christ and His kingdom.

     Living as a Christian under Romania’s dictatorship posed extreme difficulties and dangers.  Even though Rev. Joseph Tson had counted the cost and served the Lord and His flock faithfully, he feared the day that he would be called in by security.  He knew the possibility of facing death was inevitable.

     The day that Joseph feared arrived in 1989.  Security officers arrived at his home one day and took him to their headquarters.  He was instructed to sit on a chair and a gun was put to his head.  “The choice is easy,” came the commander’s voice.  “Deny Jesus or we pull the trigger.”

     This was indeed the moment that Joseph feared all through his ministry.  But suddenly the Spirit of the Lord filled his whole being.  Joseph replied fearlessly:  “If you kill me today you will do me a great favor.  All my sermons that were recorded will be in great demand because I will be a martyr for Christ.  You will help me greatly to share my messages.  You will also help me to go to my Lord quickly!” 

     The officer dropped the gun.  “You Christians are crazy,” he shouted and then commanded the officers to take Joseph back home.

     Joseph’s life was spared but in a sense he lost it that day.  “Never again did I fear what man can do to me.  Never again did I fear to lose my life,” Joseph concluded.


“Christianity in our country is like a nail:  The harder you strike it, the deeper it goes.”

–Romanian Christian


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Luke 12:4-5  —  (Jesus said), “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more.  But I will show you whom you should fear:  Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell.  Yes, I tell you, fear him.”

Luke 9:23-26  —  Then Jesus said to them all:  “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.   What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?  Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”

Luke 2:10a  —  The angel said to them, “Fear not. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” 


Our Father in heaven, as we are forgiven by you, may we forgive all who wrong and offend us.  Help us remember that no one can harm us without doing himself a far greater injury in your sight, so that we may be moved to compassion for them instead of anger, moved to pity rather than a desire for revenge.  May we not be tempted to rejoice when they are troubled, nor be grieved when they prosper.  We will not benefit from the downfall of our enemies, so we pray that you have mercy on them, and then also give us the grace to forgive them from our heart.   AMEN.     –Martin Luther

1811) “The Poor You Will Always Have With You”

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From “The Life of Christ” series, by James Tissot (1836-1902)


Matthew 26:6-13  —  While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.  When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked.  “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”   Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me.  The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.  When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.  Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”


From a sermon by Sheldon Tostengard (1935-2012), former Professor of Preaching at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota.

     Holy Week is about facts.  Scarcely anybody denies the facts of Jesus’ arrest, trial, suffering and crucifixion.  Jesus’ death was and is an historical fact, an ordinary event exploded into timelessness by the reality of the resurrection.

     This passage about the woman who anointed Jesus with oil is full of facts, too.  There are at least three.

     For one thing, Jesus predicted that we would always have the poor with us.  And so we do.  One certainly may grieve the presence of the poor, and Christians are called to fight poverty, but even a believer can scarcely imagine a world, on this side of heaven, where there are no poor.

     Second, it is a fact that Jesus is no longer with us in the flesh.  To be sure, we now know him as our present, risen Lord, but the days when we could touch his wounds, as Thomas insisted on doing, are gone.

     Finally, it is a fact that this unknown woman with her alabaster jar is remembered wherever the gospel is preached.  During Holy Week, when the passion story is read in churches throughout the world, people who have never heard of Genghis Khan, or Napoleon Bonaparte, or Abraham Lincoln will remember this extravagant woman who prepared Jesus for his death.

     The central agenda in our gospel passage is the conflict between Jesus and the disciples.  They were confused about the facts.  Jesus knew that he was heading toward Jerusalem and death.  Furthermore, he knew that his death would become a main ingredient in the gospel that would be preached to the world.  It is not surprising to us that Jesus knew what the facts of his future were, but what is surprising is that the extravagant woman seemed to know them as well.  Somehow this woman knew the central fact– that Jesus was soon to die and that in his death the foundations of our world would be shaken.

     The disciples saw the facts differently.  They just could not get it through their heads that Jesus had to die.  Maybe it was because he was their leader and friend, or because they did not want to be a part of what seemed to be a losing enterprise, or because they assumed that they might have to suffer and die too.  For whatever reason, they did not see the death of Jesus yawning before them, but only the fact of that oil dripping down on the floor, like so much money that should have gone for the poor.  The disciples were practical people who compared the worth of the woman’s lotion with the needs of the poor which they saw all around.

     We hear much about the poor in our world, enough so that we cannot doubt that they are factors in our lives.  There are grown men and women in all our cities and towns who do not have much to eat or a warm place to sleep.  There are the chronic poor in the countryside, living in squalid houses, fighting the cold with threadbare clothes. To know of poor children is the worst; pictures of emaciated little ones staring out at us from saucer eyes, begging for even a shadow of our daily blessings.

     We often learn of the poor these days, poor that mock our plenty with their rags, poor that cannot help but tug on our conscience and remind us of what Jesus said about the “least of these.”  The poor are a fact in our lives, and we cannot help but suspect that the disciples were right to call the extravagant woman into question.  It is not hard to imagine the Christian wisdom of selling her ointment and giving the money to the poor.

     Yet, Jesus rebuked his disciples and let all that costly ointment flow down over his head like so many dollars and cents, like so many meals-on-wheels going to waste.  Jesus rebuked his practical disciples and made this unknown woman a heroine of Holy Week forever-after.  How can this be?

     We don’t know much about the extravagant woman, but we can be quite sure that she understood that there are facts.

     That is, she must have understood that while there are plenty of poor in the world, and that it is the obligation of all God-fearing people to reach out to them in the bitterness of their poverty, the primary fact just then, at the beginning of the first Holy Week, was the death of Jesus.  Somehow she knew that the atoning power of the death of Jesus is the fact beyond all others, the sad and joyful reality which draws all other sadness to itself, the fact in which we have our hope.  She must have known that Jesus was heading toward death on behalf of all people, especially on behalf of the poor, in order to give the bread of life even to those who have no bread.

     The extravagant woman must have known that Jesus was about to die, not only for her, but for starving children everywhere, so that even their last wrenching thought could be brightened by the hope of the heavenly banquet.  She must even have known that Jesus was about to die for me and for you…

     “Why this waste?” cried the disciples.  But for one crystal moment this extravagant woman knew that Jesus’ way of sorrows would not be a waste at all, but the guarantee of the world’s salvation.

1810) Holy Week


     On a Thursday evening, in March or April, around the year 30 A.D., Jesus had a very special supper with his disciples.  It was already a special meal, being the annual celebration of the Jewish Passover.  But Jesus made it even more special, by predicting at that meal his imminent death.  While doing so, he said some unforgettable words as he was passing around the wine and the bread of the meal.  Later that evening he was arrested and tried by the Jewish leaders.  Early the next morning he was brought before the Roman governor Pilate who condemned him to death.  Within a few hours, he was nailed to a cross for a slow and painful death.  He was then buried.  Saturday he was dead in the grave.  Early Sunday morning, by a miracle of God, Jesus rose from the dead, and throughout that day and the weeks to come, made several appearances to many people.

     From the beginning of what we now call the Last Supper, until the Easter evening risen-from-the-dead appearance of Jesus to his disciples, it was not more than three days; probably less than 72 hours.  And yet, our entire Christian faith depends on those hours.  The littlest Sunday school children learn early in their lessons that Jesus loves them and died for them.  Paul, that most brilliant theologian and preacher of the Christian faith, said that if Christ has not been raised from the dead then our faith is in vain.  All the great words and stories of the Old Testament lead up to these three days; and all the history of the Christian church over the last two thousand years are in response to the events of those three days.  Of all the great religious leaders of world history, only Jesus claimed to be God, and then validated that claim by coming back from the dead, thus defeating death and the grave.

     Present in this Holy Week story are all the great themes and truths of the Christian faith. 

     Jesus taught much about prayer, and in the garden of Gethsemane and from the cross itself we see him praying the most intense and powerful prayers of his life. 

     Jesus taught us to forgive, and from the cross we see him forgiving even those who had just pounded large spikes into his hands and feet.  Throughout the Bible, we see even the greatest heroes of faith fail and fall into sin. 

     In the passion story we see all of Jesus closest friends fail him; Judas, certainly by his betrayal; but also Peter by denying Jesus, and all the disciples by deserting Jesus.  Yet after the resurrection, Jesus seeks them out to forgive them and give them a new beginning.

    In the ministry of Jesus, we read of him always talking to people about repenting, being converted, turning their lives around, and coming to him in faith.  In the passion story we see two very unlikely conversions; first of all by one of the thieves crucified with Jesus, and then by the Roman soldier in charge of the execution who, after seeing how Jesus died with courage, said, “Truly, this man was the Son of God.” 

     Jesus saw not only many conversions, he also saw stubborn unbelief and rejection.  That too is in the passion story.  There is the insistence by the Jewish leaders on Jesus crucifixion, and by the mocking and jeering of the crowd at the foot of the cross. 

     Every believer of every age has struggled at one time or another with God’s will, wondering why God doesn’t answer prayer or come through with the needed miracle.  Jesus also faced this disappointment, praying in the Garden of Gethsemane that he not have to endure the suffering to come; but then adding, “Not my will, Oh Lord, but thine be done.”  In this we are given a model for enduring life’s afflictions and disappointments.

     During the days of Jesus’ ministry he performed many great and wonderful miracles.  When he was arrested Jesus performed a miracle, healing a man whose ear was cut off by Peter’s attempt to fight off the soldiers.  Then, even in death, the miracles continued; the sky darkened, there was an earthquake, and the temple curtain was torn in two.   

     In the Last Supper, Jesus began the Sacrament of Holy Communion by which we would remember him and in which we would receive the forgiveness of sins. 

     On the cross, Jesus showed us how one can die with faith and courage and with a prayer of confidence to God, praying, “Into thy hands I commit my spirit.”  Then on Easter morning came the central event of the Christian faith and all human history, when Christ rose from the dead proclaiming the word and promise that all who believed in him would also be raised to live with him and the Father in heaven forever. 

     All of those truths from throughout the Gospels and the rest of the Bible, all are present in this central, all important passion story. 

     One can learn almost all one needs to know for life and salvation from just this story.


I Corinthians 15:1-4  —  Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.  By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you.  Otherwise, you have believed in vain.  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.


Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits thou hast given me,
for all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother,
may I know thee more clearly,
love thee more dearly,
and follow thee more nearly, day by day.  Amen.

–St. Richard of Chichester  (1197-1253)

1809) The Divine Designer

By Lee Strobel and Mark Mittelberg

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     In his 1802 book, Natural Theology, William Paley said that if you were walking along a path and found a watch, you would immediately know that someone must have made it.  A watch, which shows clear evidence of complexity and design, requires a watchmaker.

     This was compelling rationale that pointed to an intuitive truth: wherever we find design, there must be a designer.  This is commonly referred to as the teleological argument.

     Two centuries later it’s still true.  As Mark Mittelberg says, even today nobody picks up a watch on the beach and says, “Praise the cosmos!  Just look at this wonderful creation that the forces of chance have tossed together.”  Our friend Cliffe Knechtle adds, “If you think the watch needs a designer, just glance from the watch to your hand.  It is far more complex, has far more moving parts, displays much more intricate design, and therefore demands a designer that much more.”

     What many people don’t realize, however, is that this argument from design was presented long before the age of science.  In fact, three thousand years ago, King David wrote in Psalm 19:1, “The heavens declare the glory of God.”  Haven’t you felt that?  Haven’t you stood outside in the dark of night gazing at the amazing array of stars lighting up the sky—which are beyond counting and whose distance from us is unfathomable—and felt an overwhelming sense of the grandeur of creation and the greatness of the Creator?  I certainly have.

     It was this awareness, combined with the incredible complexity of the universe and the growing body of evidence related to its origins, that led prominent astronomer Robert Jastrow—who had long been an agnostic—to admit there must be a Creator.

     He later wrote the book God and the Astronomers, in which he pointed to five lines of evidence that supported his conclusion: “the motions of the galaxies, the discovery of the primordial fireball, the laws of thermodynamics, the abundance of helium in the Universe, and the life story of the stars.”  These, he said, point us back to “a Biblical view of the origin of the world.”

     No wonder the apostle Paul felt compelled to explain in Romans 1:20, “Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

     The heavens declare, yet are we listening?  More than that, are we helping others hear what God is saying?  We’re not here just to know God, but also to make him known.


Psalm 19:1  —  The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Romans 1:20  —  Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

Isaiah 40:26  —  Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these?  He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name.  Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.


Psalm 139:13-14:

You created my inmost being, O Lord.  You knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.


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1808) Is Easter for Fools?

   Easter is on April Fool’s Day this year.  “That is perfect,” some will say, thinking that only a fool could believe such a story.  Lee Strobel (1952- ) would have thought as much when he was a young man, working as an investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune.  He was an outspoken atheist, and when his wife became a Christian, he put his investigative skills to work to show her that she was a fool.  All he had to do, he thought, was to prove that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was not a true story and the whole Christian faith would come tumbling down.  He was right about that.  Paul said that very same thing in I Corinthians 15:14:  “If Christ has not been raised our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” 

     “But Christ has indeed been raised,” Paul went on to say in verse 20. 

     Lee Strobel didn’t think so and set out to prove that the whole Christian faith was based on a fraud.  He thought it would take about a weekend for someone with his skills to do that.  He was wrong about that.  Strobel did what few people take the time and effort to do.  He started to look into the evidence, though at first it was in an effort to prove that the resurrection did not happen.  But he found that the more evidence he found, the more difficult it became to prove his case.  For a long time he remained firm in his conviction that the story was false, and focused on his goal to disprove it.  But he was honest enough to keep looking even when the evidence challenged his convictions and put many obstacles in the way of his goal.  Finally he started to reconsider his original beliefs.  He began to be convinced, against his will, of the truth of his resurrection.  After two years of searching and studying, Lee Strobel changed his mind and put his faith in Jesus Christ as his resurrected Lord and Savior.  He has since written several books making the case for the truth of the Christian faith.  

     In the following video, Lee Strobel very briefly summarizes the main points of the historical evidence that changed his mind (three minutes):

(If video link does not work view at:)



II Peter 1:16  —  We did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

Romans 10:9  —  If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 

Luke 24:1-8  —  On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.  They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.  While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them.  In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here; He has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words.


Lord, I do believe.  Help me overcome my unbelief.

–Mark 9:24

1807) “I’m Not Going Anywhere”

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Posted by Joshua Rogers, March 14, 2018 athttp://www.joshuarogers.com

     I sat on a park bench visiting with the woman who would be my wife and tried to ignore my sad, racing heart.  Our relationship was about to end — not because I wanted it to — because she was about to learn the awful truth.

     “There’s something I need to tell you,” I said.

     Actually, there were quite a lot of things I needed to tell her.  She needed to know whom she was really dealing with, that the man she admired had actually been making a series of very poor choices just before she met him.  So with a deep breath, I blurted out the truth as quickly as I could, just to get it over with.

     “Look,” I stammered, “I totally understand if you want to take a break from our relationship.  I would want to if I were you, so no hard feelings about that at all.”

     Then I cringed, waiting for the inevitable rejection, but instead, Raquel looked at me and said four words I’ll never forget: “I’m not going anywhere.”

     I was dumbfounded.

     “Joshua,” she said, “I want you to know how much I respect you for being honest with me about what’s been going on, and I think you’re a godly man for taking the risk of telling me the truth.”

     I got choked up as the weight of her words sunk in.  She knew the worst about me, and yet she was somehow choosing to see the best in me anyway.

     In that moment, everything between us changed.  She wasn’t just a woman I was dating — she was a woman who loved me as I was.  I couldn’t experience that kind of love and just think of Raquel as my girlfriend.

     This week Raquel and I celebrate 10 years of marriage.  She still hasn’t gone anywhere and neither have I.  We’ve been there in better times and worst, during each other’s sicknesses and health, and we’re going to stick this thing out until death parts us.  Following through on these vows we made at the altar is the most important thing we’ll ever do, because our marriage is bigger than us.

     Our marriage is a love story we tell our children as they watch us dancing in the kitchen or making up after we’ve had a big argument.  It’s the love story that we tell those around us who know what our marriage has survived.  And the moral of that story is not that we will necessarily live happily ever after — the moral of the story is that love is real and it sticks around even when a couple sees the worst in each other.

     Every married couple has an opportunity to tell a good love story that’s bigger than their relationship, and when they do, they actually retell the ultimate love story that is found in the pages of Scripture.  It’s the story of a Savior who came, knowing everything broken about us, and still says, “I’m with you for better or worse, in sickness and health, and nothing — not even death — can part us.”  He’s the one we can tell our darkest secrets, and then look into His eyes, and hear him say the words we’re all longing for: “Don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere.”


Hebrews 13:5b  —  God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

I John 1:8  —  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

John 10:27-30  —  (Jesus said), My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will take them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can take them out of my Father’s hand.  I and the Father are one.”

Psalm 23:6  —  Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.


 O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

Heavenly Father, I thank you for always being there.  Send to me your Holy Spirit so that I may have the faith to not ever go anywhere else but to you.  Amen.

1806) Watching Your Children Watch You

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By Randy Alcorn, posted March 21, 2018 athttp://www.epm.org


     If I could give parents one piece of advice, it would be this: When it comes to your children’s lives, no one can take your place.  So, don’t wait for someone else to talk to your kids about Jesus.  Do it yourself.  Read Scripture with them.  Memorize it together.  Pray with them.  Go help the needy together.  Give together and serve together.  Show them what it means to be a disciple of Christ.

     I love what the parent writing in Proverbs 23:26 says to his child: “My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways.”  Children don’t just get their spiritual guidance from Scripture; they get it as their eyes observe the ways of their parents.  When your children trust you enough to give you their hearts, they will follow your example.

     Deuteronomy 6:6-7 says, “And these words, which I command you today shall be in your heart; you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

     To “teach” is a formal term.  It implies a certain time set aside for instruction.  This is to be done diligently.  It might involve reading to our children, memorizing with them, and discussing relevant issues.  Family devotional times can be a great way of providing spiritual reference points which will lead to conversations throughout the week.

     The passage also speaks of the informal.  We are to “talk” to our children when we sit at home, as we walk, when we go to bed.  In our family, many of the greatest learning opportunities arose as we worked together, went out to eat or had fun together, or traveled on vacation.

     Above all, the heart of discipleship must always be to take our children back to the cross, to the Gospel of Christ.  This should be the center of everything in family life.  Our children must see their deep need not merely to be outwardly obedient, but to be delivered from the power of sin, to be transformed on the inside, to become new creations in Christ.  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (II Corinthians 5:17).


And then, Let Kids Be Kids, as this video suggests:



Deuteronomy 4:9  —  Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live.  Teach them to your children and to their children after them.

Matthew 5:16  —  (Jesus said), “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

I Timothy 4:12b  —  Set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.


A PRAYER FOR THE FAMILY by Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918) ( God’s Minute, 1916, alt.): 

Our Father, we thank you for binding this family together by the sacred tie of common blood.  We remember with how much sacrificial love its life has been created and sustained.  We thank you for a mother’s travail and tenderness, for a father’s faithful toil.  Knit us together by our common joys and sorrows, so that even if we are far removed from one another, nothing may estrange our hearts.  When the youngest of us is old and gray-headed, may the memories of our home still be sweet and dear.  May the children’s children of this family still have the vigor and virtues of our best forefathers, and may the faith, too, of our fathers and mothers burn brightly in their hearts.  Deal graciously with our loved ones.  Give us our daily bread and strength for our daily tasks.  To you we commit the life and destiny of each; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.