Those Eight Days

Eight days later the disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them . . . (John 20:26)

Thomas had made himself perfectly clear.

He was resolute in his ‘unless.’ Absent compelling evidence, the kind that he could see and touch, he would not believe. Never mind that he was surrounded by believing friends. Their enthusiastic reports were not enough to pull faith from the clinched jaws of doubt. Thomas would need something more.

And something more appeared. Jesus came and stood among them: “Put your finger here, put your hand here.” The resolute ‘unless’ gave way to worship. “My Lord and my God.” The one who had announced his unbelief was now a believer.

Why Does Jesus Take So Long?

We are hardly surprised that Thomas’ story ends as it does. Standing in the presence of the resurrected Jesus, how could it be otherwise? In John’s narrative, it seems to happen quickly. Thomas refuses to believe. Thomas believes. He insists on evidence. He erupts in worship. The scenes unfold quickly, a seamless transition from here to there, from doubt to faith.

Except for this: Eight days. Between Jesus’ first appearance to his disciples when Thomas was absent, and his appearance that brought Thomas to his knees in humble confession, were those eight days. Thomas’ road to faith was not as fast as it appears. Between the witness of his friends and his own powerful encounter with Jesus, there’s a full week of stubborn resistance to the good news of Jesus’ resurrection.

Jesus does not rush in to rescue Thomas from his questions. Before Jesus appears among his disciples there are eight days . . . of what? We are not told. Most likely those eight days were days of conversation, eight days of questioning, eight days of repeated witness met by stubborn resistance, eight days of frustration.

Why does Jesus linger? Why does he take so long to show up and show off and bring the skeptic to his knees? Such questions are hard for us.

We may not doubt God, but neither do we understand God’s ways.

We may not question God’s love, but we have plenty of questions about God’s timing.

We may not question God’s power, but we have plenty of questions about God’s plan.

Don’t Miss the Story’s End

This we know for certain: For eight days Thomas had friends who were willing to tell him, “We have seen the Lord.” He didn’t believe it – but they told him anyway, probably over and over again. And what’s more they stayed with him. They didn’t give up on him. They didn’t kick him out of the room. They didn’t leave. When Jesus appeared, they were all there.

Perhaps it is there in those eight days that all of us are prone to be doubters. As unlikely as it seems, God is at work in the ‘eight days.’ When it looks as if nothing is happening, more is happening than we know. We may be stuck, but the Spirit moves freely, often in ways unnoticed.

Are you waiting for someone to come to faith? Have you been praying that they’ll make the move from resistance to receiving, from questioning to believing? That can be a long story: it may be eight days . . . it may well be eight years. Maybe longer.

Keep saying what you know to be true. And stay with it. Stay with him or her, lost friend, wayward child, stone-cold spouse. Conduct yourself in such a way that who you are gives credibility to your word of witness. Stay there and live a life that says, “I have seen the Lord.”

Trust Jesus to show up and do the rest. He is at work, even in the eight days. Don’t miss the end of the story.


Few things are harder for us, O God, than waiting. We crave quick results and speedy answers to prayer – eight minutes rather than eight days. Keep us faithful in the waiting seasons, whatever they may be, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

The Doubter in Your Life

Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord” . . . (John 20:25).

You may have some doubts of your own these days. If not doubts, at least questions.

In the pages of scripture, exile was a place and experience that gave rise to plenty of questions from God’s people. Why has this happened? How long will it last? In our Covid-19 exile we’re inclined to ask the same questions.

Some people talk of God in this exile and seek to discern his purposes, trace his steps and spy out evidences of his work in our affliction. Others are convinced that God has had nothing to do with this. If they believe in God at all, they don’t look for his fingerprints in a biological anomaly at work in a fallen world. And others – well, they just don’t know.

Mark Buchanan’s excellent book, The Holy Wild, says that his central concern in writing the book is to ask the question, “is God good?” I think plenty of folks are wondering that these days. Maybe your questions have morphed into genuine doubts. Or maybe not. Maybe your greatest concern these days is a concern you’ve had for a long time, long before Covid-19. And it has little to do with your own doubts.

Perhaps your greatest concern is for the doubter in your life.

Someone you know, maybe even love, who simply will not or cannot believe. The evidence they demand is not something you can provide. The evidence that surrounds them is not something they can see.

The story of Thomas is helpful – not just for the doubts we might carry, but for the doubters we know and care about.

Patience, not Rebuke

Thomas had missed a really important meeting. We have no idea why.

Jesus had already made an appearance to his followers. He found them behind a locked door, cowering, laying low. Jesus stood among them and spoke peace into their anxious gathering. We know it was Sunday – the first day of the week, the evening of the day of resurrection. Were they gathered for prayer and worship? That’s not clear. What we see is that they were all together. All except Thomas.

In his excellent commentary on this text, Professor Dale Bruner calls Thomas’ absence here “lamentable.” He says it was “the single most inopportunely or perhaps even irresponsibly missed meeting in church history.” So where was Thomas? No clue. We’re never told.

What we do know is this: Jesus showed up again. Interestingly this next appearance is also on Sunday to the gathered community. Don’t miss that little detail. It’s a good thing when the doubter in your life can speak their doubts out loud to someone else – preferably a community of believers. While Thomas certainly wrestled alone with doubts, they were not resolved in private. Some friends were around.

And notice the generosity of Jesus. He does not rebuke Thomas for his doubts. He does not lecture him or shame him in any way. He doesn’t call him out on that missed meeting the previous Sunday. He had come to the others in their fear and spoken peace. He now comes to Thomas in his doubt and gives him assurance.

Simple Witness, not Argument  

Along with the absence of rebuke from Jesus, we need to note the absence of argument from the others gathered there.

What we hear from these disciples is a simple word of witness. They give a straightforward report of their experience. They tell what happened. They tell what they saw. “We have seen the Lord.” It is this word of witness that elicits the somewhat demanding expression of doubt from Thomas.

But this doesn’t become a debate. There’s no effort to persuade or convince the doubter that they are right, and he is wrong. Maybe there wasn’t time. Jesus showed up and preempted the brou-hah. Nevertheless, we can’t ignore the truth that an encounter with Jesus will always do more than a debate when it comes to addressing doubts.

In this exile I’ve been reading Grant Wacker’s biography of Billy Graham, One Soul at a Time. Wacker points out that in Graham’s long career he never engaged in a theological debate. He was surely invited, perhaps provoked and prodded. But that wasn’t what he was called to do. He proclaimed. He didn’t argue.

Got a doubter in your life? Give your word of witness, your experience. Do so clearly and boldly. But don’t argue. Debates aren’t the best answer to doubts.

Maybe you have some doubts of your own. But if your deepest concerns are for a doubter you know, you can do no better than the example of Jesus and those friends of Thomas.

Be generous. Skip the lecture. Skip the rebuke. Take their doubts seriously.

And speak a simple witness above an argument. A fight will not be fruitful.

And consider: Who have you found most helpful with your doubts?


Gracious God, we bring our own doubts before you today. And we also bring to you the doubters we love. Give us the grace we need to be patient and generous, to be bold in our own witness. And to trust that you love the doubter even more than we do. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Seven Miles

That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem . . . Jesus himself drew near and went with them (Luke 24:13-15).

By now you’ve probably moved on.

Here on Friday, Easter Sunday seems like a long time ago. Especially this year. Maybe you did the best you could do to preserve something that made your Easter a little more Easter-ish. The worship experience on Sunday was probably nothing like what you’re accustomed to. But perhaps you were able to preserve the traditional Easter lunch, at least the ham part. I saw that some families figured out a way to do an egg hunt. And of course, as we mentioned earlier this week, the Easter message is the Easter message. Jesus walked out of the tomb and lives today, pandemic or not.

But that was then. Chances are you’ve put that behind you. Way behind you.

Most of us are preoccupied with our future. We’re aching for some unnamed and yet to be announced date when we can start planning an end to our exile. No one knows when that will be. This week the politicians are arguing about who gets to say when it will be and the criteria that will signal its arrival. Most us are sitting at home hoping, perhaps praying, and asking “how long?”

How long until the researchers discover what it will take to eradicate this disease?

How long until the curve is truly flattened and cresting the downhill slope?

How long until the ballparks are full, and restaurants are taking reservations again?

And perhaps most importantly, how long will it take before we realize that the living Jesus we heard about and sang about on Sunday is with us right now, on Friday? Right here in our exile?

All the Way Home

For two of Jesus’s followers, this realization took seven miles.

Seven miles is the distance from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus. These two expectant disciples had been in Jerusalem for the Passover; they had gone there with high hopes as to what Jesus would do to liberate their nation; they had followed the events that led to Jesus’s death. And now they were moving on, leaving all of that behind, headed home to Emmaus.

We are not told at exactly what point Jesus joined them in this walk. Did he join them at mile two? Were they almost home? Luke simply says that as they were talking about all that had happened “Jesus himself drew near.” I’d like to think Jesus made most of the journey with them, leisurely talking about all that had happened and connecting those events to the words of scripture. Here’s what we do know: distracted and disappointed, they had no clue who he was. “Their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”

As they got closer to Emmaus, the sun sitting low in the sky, these two disciples persuaded Jesus to stay for dinner. Only when their traveling companion took the bread and blessed it and gave it to them did they realize who had been walking with them.

This took seven miles. Seven miles of talking with Jesus. Seven miles of listening to his words. Seven miles of distance between the noise and activity of Jerusalem, and the table intimacy of Emmaus.

After seven miles their eyes were opened. Sometimes recognizing the living Jesus takes longer.

Keep Walking

Maybe we need a little distance from Easter in order to grasp the truth of Easter.

Jesus is alive and walking with us. Patiently and persistently Jesus reveals himself to us along the way. And in the most ordinary setting, something triggers our recognition. We see what has been right in front of us all along. Our eyes are opened.

This doesn’t always happen quickly. If you ‘Google’ how long it takes to walk seven miles, you’ll discover that a brisk pace you can cover that distance in less than the time it takes to watch a movie. The disciples on the Emmaus road probably were not moving at a brisk pace. Their seven miles took longer. And for some, knowing the truth of Easter – that Jesus is alive and walking with you – can take much longer than seven miles.

The soul’s response to hardship and suffering, to sadness and loss, is not predictable. Do you find that suffering keeps you from seeing or experiencing the living presence of Jesus? Or do you find that somehow your vision is a little bit clearer in your afflictions?

Maybe you’ve discovered that both of those things are true – but it takes time. A very long walk.

As this week draws to a close, Easter Sunday may seem like a long time ago. Maybe you’ve moved on. But when you did, the living Christ moved with you.

Keep walking. And pay attention.


Far too easily and quickly, O God, we put Easter behind us. We move on without fully grasping the reality of your presence moving with us, walking with us. Guard us from walking aimlessly in these days. Reveal yourself as you will and give us eyes to see. We pray in the name of the one who walks with us, Christ our Lord. Amen.

Seeing through Your Tears

Mary went to the disciples with the news, “I have seen the Lord.” (John 20:18)

We’re told that the Lord is close to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18). And yet we know – perhaps from our own painful experiences – that the brokenhearted often struggle to sense or believe that God is close.

Our tears and whatever causes them can make it hard for us to see the one who stands with us, the one who has promised that a day will come when he will wipe every tear from our eyes (Rev. 21:4).

I don’t know what it was like for you, but this year Easter just didn’t feel like Easter. As grateful as I am for the ways congregations all over the world gathered online, I missed the Easters I’ve always known. And yet, in a powerful way, this very unusual Easter served to clarify what the day is truly about. We were still able to proclaim and hear one basic message, the only message there is on Easter morning: Jesus is alive.

We’re not simply asserting that he walked out of the tomb back then. We’re saying that he is alive right now. That’s the Easter message.

I can’t help but wonder, however, how many people heard the message and sang the songs on Sunday but woke up on Monday without the slightest sense that it was true for them. For many, the presence of the risen Christ is eclipsed by some form of heartache or grief or despair. Seems there’s plenty of that to go around this year.

Rushing to Conclusions

In the biblical Easter story, we see this reality at work in the experience of Mary Magdalene. In John’s account of the resurrection, Mary makes her way to the tomb early in the morning while it is still dark. She sees the stone rolled away and immediately leaves the scene to report this to the disciples. John then turns his attention to the footrace between himself (unnamed) and Peter – but once they’ve investigated the empty tomb they return to their homes (John 20:10).

Mary, however, lingers there. She stands at the empty tomb weeping. That’s when Jesus shows up. Jesus still does that. He shows up and stands with us in the middle of whatever heartache we’re dealing with.

And like Mary, we are often unaware.

The moment is interesting in that Mary sees Jesus, she speaks to him, but fails to recognize him. She doesn’t grasp the connection between the empty tomb in front of her and the person speaking behind her. That’s a connection that many of us fail to make, our vision clouded by our tears.

Don’t miss this: Mary Magdalene did not arrive at the truth of the resurrection by evaluating evidence and arriving at the best obvious conclusion. In fact, her assessment of the evidence she saw led her to an entirely erroneous conclusion. Mary came to know the truth of the resurrection and the presence of the living Jesus when he spoke her name.

Jesus spoke her name, and she saw him for who he was. That was the moment of recognition. Nothing flashy. Nothing weird. Jesus revealed himself in a way that was simple and personal. He spoke Mary’s name.

A Few Reminders

I offer this to you today as a reminder. There’s no formula that we can implement to hear Jesus speak our name – but we be confident of these truths.

First, Psalm 34:18 is true. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted. If that happens to be you today, for whatever reason or whatever circumstance, lean in hard on this promise.

Second, don’t rush to faulty conclusions about God or God’s love for you based on what you feel right now or what you’re living through right now. We don’t see well through our tears. We miss the living Christ who stands near us.

Finally, let’s ask for the grace to live as resurrection people. For Mary that meant a new- found joy and courage as she rushed back to announce to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” That’s the testimony of resurrection people. We have good news to share.

And this good news changes us – not because it shields us form any and all future heartaches in this life, not because it means we won’t get sick or lose work – but because it allows us to say with the apostle Paul, “we are sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10).

What difference has the truth of the resurrection made in your life? Maybe what we’re living through these days has made it hard to see the living Christ standing close by. Stay still. Listen closely. He knows your name.


We praise you, O God, for the presence of the living Christ standing close, actively at work by the power of the Holy Spirit. Help us to see this, even in our heartaches and disappointments. Speak our name and give us ears to hear, empowering us to live as resurrection people, we ask in the name of the risen Jesus. Amen.

The Mocker in Me

“Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39).

When read together, the gospels render seven utterances of Jesus from the cross.

These “seven last words” have been the focus of much study and reflection. They have been expounded from pulpits and lecterns; sung from choir lofts and concert halls. Much of what Jesus speaks from the cross is prayer. He asks God to forgive his executioners. He also cries out in his dark moments of God forsaken-ness. Merciful prayers, anguished prayers, and some in between.

But Jesus isn’t the only one praying.

Jesus was crucified with two criminals. One of these criminals is humble and penitent. The other is a mocker. One of them makes a confession. The other makes demands. One of them, at the end of himself, looks to Jesus for salvation. The other wants nothing more than a way out.

One of them trusts. The other taunts.

Two (very) Different Prayers

The penitent and the mocker speak from the cross and their words are also a form of prayer. Both criminals address Jesus directly; both make requests of him. But these two convicts pray very different prayers.

One of those prayers is demanding and angry. Spoken from the place of threat and trouble, this prayer seeks escape and little more. The one praying is not interested in God as much as getting results, getting rescued, getting out, getting away. The caustic words of the petition are tainted with mockery, reflecting the words of the surrounding crowd, the prevailing culture. Let Jesus prove himself. The essence of the prayer is simple: “Get me out of this mess.”

The other prayer comes from a different place, from a different man. This prayer comes from a man who recognizes the truth about himself. What’s more, he recognizes the truth about Jesus. Jesus’ innocence exposes the criminal’s guilt. This prayer isn’t seeking to escape. Rather, it seeks to enter into the reality over which Jesus is King. The essence of this prayer is also simple: “Remember me.”

Drawn to our Desperation?

On any given day we pray from both sides of the cross.

There are days – usually hard days – when we want to say that if God were truly good and truly powerful, then our circumstances would change. God could fix the problem and bring order to the mess of our lives if only he would. We sometimes pray through clenched teeth. Do something God! Make it right! I’ve uttered some prayers like that in recent days.

And sometimes we pray from a far humbler place. We gather the courage to face what is rather than insisting on what we want. We know all too well now, that can be hard to do. We’ve run hard into our limitations. We’ve been humbled. And we ask for grace because we know that in the end only grace can save us.

I know there’s a mocker in me. I’ve had moments when I felt like Jesus wasn’t holding up his end of the “follow me” deal. I’ve tried to instruct him as to what he should do and when he should do it. I’ve harbored questions about his goodness. But in his kindness, Jesus seems to lead me to the other side of the cross where I see my sin and his perfections. The side where I ask him to do what I cannot do for myself.

Jesus doesn’t usually respond to my demands, if ever. But he is always faithful in my desperation.

From which side of the cross are you praying today?


Once again, we ask you, Lord Jesus, teach us to pray. Our prayers flip-flop, moving from one side of your cross to the other. We make demands; we humbly ask for mercy. Help us to pray from the foot of your cross, covered by your grace, placing our concerns and our lives into your hands. Amen.

A Week that Goes From Bad to Worse

As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:41-42).

This is Holy Week.

I write that sentence more for myself than for you. I can hardly believe it’s true. It doesn’t feel like holy Week – whatever that week feels like. I guess I’m still trying to get my head around how this week will be void of all the activities and plans and expectations and rituals that typically get me ready for Easter. None of those things are happening this week, or at least what is happening is happening in very different ways.

And yet, knowing the differences and feeling the sadness that comes with them, it occurs to me that maybe this Holy Week is tapping something in all of us that just might help us walk with Jesus in ways that are more authentic and true to what the week should be.

If you’re feeling a heaviness of spirit, a heartache over what could have been or what’s been lost, then welcome to Holy Week as Jesus experienced it.

Sorrowful from the Start

On the day that Jesus entered Jerusalem – what you and I call Palm Sunday – he was surrounded by elation and expectation. They shout words from a Messianic Psalm, clearly expressing their hope that Jesus had come to do a saving work among them. “Save us we pray, O Lord . . . blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Ps. 118:25-26).

Did the twelve share this excitement? Maybe. But we know from Mark 10:32 that as Jesus made his way to Jerusalem, “those who followed him were afraid.”

And what seems very clear is that Jesus himself didn’t join the celebration. We don’t see him perched on the donkey’s colt, throwing high-fives all around, pumping a fist in the air. In fact, quite the opposite. Luke tells us that as Jesus “drew near and saw the city, he wept over it” (Luke 19:41). Strange how those who waved branches and threw their cloaks on the ground failed to see this.

The one they celebrated wasn’t celebrating. He entered Jerusalem with a heavy heart, sorrowful. That’s how Holy Week started for Jesus.

And maybe that’s how this week is starting for you.

Not the Week We Wanted           

Monday brought dire warnings from the U.S. Surgeon General. The phrase “Pearl Harbor Moment” was used. I don’t have statistics to cite here, and you don’t need them anyway. As the number of deaths climbs, we know what the Surgeon General is telling us. This will be a bad week. Simply put, this will be a week where things go from bad to worse.

In this regard, our Holy Week will track the final days of Jesus’ life.

After entering Jerusalem, Jesus quickly ran into controversy when he expelled vendors and money changers from the temple courts. Jesus was no stranger to controversy – but this week things spiraled downward quickly. Within a matter of a few days, controversy had given birth to conspiracy as one of the twelve agrees to betray Jesus for a price.

The physical sufferings of Jesus didn’t begin until late Thursday night, and through the earliest hours of Friday morning, culminating in his execution Friday. But Jesus had already started the week with sorrow. Sorrow that never abated.

A week that went from bad to worse. Perhaps much like the week we’re being told to get ready for.

The Holy Week ‘Gap’

This year, this week, more than any other tie that I can recall, I’m aware of the gap that exists between my “church preparations” for Easter Sunday and the biblical narrative that gives shape to this week. My confession here isn’t meant to take anything away from what my church or any church does to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. I’m simply recognizing that Holy Week for me usually brings with it a great deal of anticipation. I guess in that regard I’m a bit like the crowds of people that welcomed Jesus as he entered Jerusalem.

The biblical story, however, is about a week that begins in sorrow and ends in the worst imaginable suffering. This year, the anticipation and preparation are largely gone. The sorrow sits heavy on us.

This isn’t the Holy Week I wanted. But I can promise you it’s a Holy Week I’ll never forget. The journey with Jesus has never been more meaningful.

So how should we live these days?

I want to urge you not to treat this week or this Easter like a ‘lost’ holiday. Don’t let yourself lament what you won’t be doing and thus miss what God is allowing us to do in a different way.

Ways to Engage the Week

First, actively engage spiritual practices that will pull you into this week. If you’re a part of the Grace Church family (or anyone else for that matter) be sure to catch Marnie’s short meditations every morning on Facebook live as she walks us through this Holy Week. There will also be a Maundy Thursday worship service online this Thursday evening. And of course, we will celebrate Jesus’ resurrection come Sunday morning.

Second, and perhaps more personally, name your sorrows. Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem, and we might be weeping over our own city or country. Sit quietly in the presence of Jesus and invite him to meet you in whatever heartache you are bearing today. Jesus willingly entered into the suffering that awaited him. He will meet you in yours.

Finally, we know something that those first disciples didn’t fully grasp during the final week of Jesus’ earthly life. We know the reality of resurrection. We need not rush past the sufferings of Holy week, but neither should we lose sight of the resurrection hope that is already ours.

A new day is coming. For that, we yearn. And for that, we wait.


Lord Jesus, grant us grace to walk with you in these days of Holy Week, feeling the weight of sorrow and yet the knowing the promise of resurrection hope. Keep us faithful, all the way to the cross. Make us ready for the empty tomb, we ask in your name. Amen.

Confined, Yes. Captive, No.

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

Years ago, Mel Gibson played the lead role in a Ron Howard action-thriller film titled Ransom. If you’re searching for possible movies to watch while you’re enduring this exile season, maybe you can find this one. It’s a bit intense, so you’ll want to make sure small kids are in bed before you get it started.

Gibson played the role of Tom Mullen – a hard driving businessman who owns an airline and has become very wealthy. Seeking a cut of Mullen’s wealth, criminals kidnap his young son and demand a 2 million-dollar ransom. Mullen agrees to pay, but somehow things go wrong. The plot of the movie takes a twist when a vengeful Tom Mullen goes on national TV and places the 2 million in cash on a table and offers it as a bounty on the heads of the kidnappers. The payment will go to anyone who captures the captors.

Needless to say, that’s a risky move (and keep in mind this isn’t a movie about best parenting styles).

What’s interesting is that this plot twist shifted Gibson’s character from being the guy making a payment to being the guy in pursuit. He wants his son back, but he wants something more. He wants his enemies hunted down and defeated.

Jesus, in giving himself as a ransom for many, did both of things as well. He secured our freedom and he defeated our adversary.

Payment and Pursuit

Jesus’ statement in Mark 10:45 is one of the most concise statements in the New Testament about why Jesus came. It isn’t a verse we typically hear during Advent or at the Christmas Eve service – but it summarizes the incarnation. This is why Jesus came to live among us. He came to serve. He came to give himself as the price for our freedom.

And in doing this he defeated death. Jesus, in one of his own short parables, described it as plundering the strongman’s house (Mark 3:27). In one of his letters the apostle John explained, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8).

Yes, Jesus conquered the captor. But today I’d like to linger with the idea of ransom. Jesus gave himself as a ransom for many. Webster’s dictionary says that ransom is “The redeeming or release of a captive by the payment of money or some other demand.” In going to the cross and rising from the dead, Jesus paid the price to secure our freedom.

The troubling part of this is that many of us who believe this, or think we believe it, don’t truly live as free people.

Living Free

These days all of us are confined. We’re staying home all the time. Those who work are doing so cautiously. Our lives have been reduced to a fraction of what they were. Confined though we may be, we need not live these days as captives.

Jesus has paid the ransom and secured our freedom. Here’s what that looks like in this time of exile.

You need not be captive to fear. Fear is rampant these days. We’re afraid of a virus we can’t see and people we can. Our fears are not baseless. These are serious and dangerous days. But fear will not be our captor, stealing peace and hope. Jesus intends to give us his peace, a peace the word around cannot give. He sets us free from fear.

You need not be captive to a future you can’t control. This is closely related to fear. It’s the kind of bondage that paralyzes us with ‘what next’ and ‘what if.’ Your future can be trusted to his hands – no matter what it brings. Don’t miss the blessings of this day living in a day you have not yet received. Jesus paid a price to set you free from that.

You need not be captive to the world’s comforts. God gives us all good things for our enjoyment, and he intends that receive them with thanksgiving. But now much has been taken – going out to dinner, going to concerts or movies or sporting events, gathering with friends. We won’t place our sense of joy in God’s gifts. Our joy rests with God. What we’ve lost in these days need not make depressed or bitter. We’ve been set free from that.

You need not be captive to your own self – guarded and defensive, grasping and clutching (again, all forms of fear). We can turn outward, toward others, toward our neighbor. Pay attention to what’s happening in the lives of those around you. Jesus lived that way, and he made it possible for us to live that way too.

Don’t allow your confinement to be captivity. Jesus has paid the ransom for your freedom.

Is there something specific today that feels like captivity for you? Name what it is – and hand it over to Jesus Live in the freedom that Jesus intends for you to have.


We give you thanks, O God, for the price you paid for our freedom in the life of your Son. We ask your forgiveness for the ways we live as captives – to fear or the future or the lesser things of this world. By your Spirit, empower us to live in the freedom you offer, greeting each day with gratitude and confidence through Jesus our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.

What Is All This Doing to You?

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” (Mark 10:35).

Been to the grocery store lately?

Most of my trips haven’t been too bad. The things we really need we’ve usually been able to find. But here and there you’ll see evidence that the I’m-gonna-get-mine mentality is alive and well here in Bethlehem, PA. Most notably you’ll likely see it in the aisle that typically holds household paper products. Last I looked, those shelves were absolutely bare, a long metal carcass picked clean by a host of buzzards.

Sadly, I discovered in one place that the peanut butter shelf was likewise bereft of that delicious goodness I deem essential for life on this planet. Luckily, I made one more stop and found what I was looking for, sitting there like manna from heaven straight from the hand of God.

When we see a sign posted on a shelf telling shoppers that there’s a limit on how much of a product they can purchase at one time, we know that it’s there because many of us won’t be content with one or two of this or that. The store is attempting to impose a limit that we won’t impose on ourselves.

These days seem to bring out the grasping, clutching, no-one’s-gonna-stop-me tendencies that sit buried somewhere in all of us. But that’s nothing new. Human beings have long been this way.

The story of James and John bears this out.

Can You Drink the Cup?                              

A couple of days ago we saw James and John bring their brash request to Jesus. They want the best seats when the glory days arrive, right and left of the rock-star Jesus.

They’re not the least bit hesitant about looking out for themselves. They know what they want and they’re going after it. They’ll get theirs. Their buddies can fend for themselves, thank you very much.

There’s a telling moment in this story when the other ten disciples get wind of what James and John have done. Their maneuvering had somehow managed to get back to the rest of the guys, and this didn’t go over so well. Mark’s narrative is understated: “They became indignant” (Mark 10:41).

This might be reading too much into the text, but it seems likely that this indignation is rooted in jealousy or envy. They want the same thing – position and privilege – and they’re bitter that they didn’t make the first move to get it.

What’s especially noteworthy about this moment is the way the story is colored when we turn our eyes to what in fact became of these followers of Jesus. For today, I’m staying focused on James.

Years passed. This self-seeking request became a memory, maybe even an embarrassment to James. Jesus would be crucified, raised from the dead, and ascend to heaven. The community of Jesus-followers would begin to grow dramatically, and a persecution would be leveled against it.

And then in Acts 12:2 we read that King Herod “had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword.” No details. No story. Just the plain fact of his execution.

Jesus had asked James, “Can you drink the cup I drink?”

James had answered that he could. Jesus responded that James would.

And so it was.

What Happened to James?

I cannot help but wonder and marvel at what happened to James.

How did he move from being the glory-grabbing, self-seeking, position-jockeying follower of Jesus, to being one of the first martyrs of the early Christian community?

The man who wanted a seat of privilege next to a celebrity found himself in a jail cell and was eventually executed. Those don’t look like the same man to me. Something happened. Something changed. What was it?

The simple fact is, the Bible doesn’t tell us

All we know, based on what we see in the pages of scripture, is that the man who once came to Jesus to see what he could get became a man who loved Jesus enough to give up everything.

And that leads me to this question today: Who am I becoming? Who are you becoming?

Not long ago I heard John Mark Comer, a pastor in Portland, observe that all people are in the process of being spiritually formed. Whether they are religious or not, all people are becoming something or someone. Some practices such as prayer and scripture and solitude are aimed at intentional spiritual formation. But we are also formed by the culture we live in and the experiences that mark our lives.

In these anxious days, what is all of this doing to you? Who are you becoming?

Always Becoming

For some, these days may serve to drive them deeper into fear and anxiety. They’ll feed their soul and mind with constant cable news and do whatever it takes to secure their own well-being. This strange season will push them to grasp and clutch and guard.

Others will exercise good care of themselves and their neighbors while discovering new depths of prayer, a new level of trust, a peace and surrender to the care of God.

Most of us are probably somewhere between those, sometimes moving in one direction, sometimes the opposite.

A day will come when our exile is over. We’ll get back to life (I hesitate to use the word ‘normal’). But things will be different. Our country may be different. Our cultural habits and practices may be different.

And we may be different too. Changed. But how?

Perhaps that remains to be seen. But I’m praying that those of us who follow Jesus will become – and are becoming even now – people who look more like him.


Gracious God, in these days be at work by your Spirit to make me more like your son Jesus. Help your people to become who you have called us to be, grasping less, giving more, open handed in confident trust, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.