My Father’s Day Confession

I have a confession to make. 

I watch people I don’t know. I watch them a lot. 

Dads especially catch my eye when they’re with their kids.

I watch them when they’re playing, working, laughing, and even when they’re frustrated.

I watch them and I wonder, “What must that be like?”

It used to make me angry (Ok sometimes it still does) when I read that “Children are a gift from the Lord. They are a reward from Him.” (Psalm 127:3 NLT) I mean, if those who have kids are truly experiencing an actual reward from the Lord, then I naturally assume that I must be a loser of the highest (or lowest) magnitude. 

I’ve absolutely hated Father’s Day because people walk up to me, smile, and practically shout, “Happy Father’s Day!” before they grimace and say “Oh, I’m sorry. I forgot that you’re not a father.” 

One Father’s Day, I was on vacation visiting a church when I was singled out from the pulpit in front of the congregation: “You all know John doesn’t have what it takes to make a baby but let’s pretend that he is by giving him a cheap gift.” Ok, so maybe that wasn’t exactly what they said, but it’s how I felt at the time.

One year, the daughter of a friend approached me on Father’s Day and innocently said, “My daddy is David. Mr. Bob is Ashleigh’s daddy. Whose daddy are you?”

That floored me.

I didn’t know what to say so I slapped her. (Not really)

“They (Children) are a reward from Him.”

I didn’t get a reward. I didn’t place. I wasn’t even allowed to race. I’m not sure what the problem is but I must be doing something wrong.

However, I refuse to allow myself to believe that anymore. 

When I look at my life, I’ve been blessed more than anyone I know. I have a cute wife, a nice home, and a life where I make a difference in the lives of thousands of people, if not more.

And yet, I still watch dads and I wonder, “What must that be like?”

And after all this time, I think I know.

It’s a blessing. With all of the frustrations, from my viewpoint, fatherhood is a reward.

So, I just wanted to say “Congratulations dads!

You have received an amazing gift, a reward from our Heavenly Father.”

And to those of you who are willing to embrace your reward, I honor you this weekend.

You are truly blessed beyond my comprehension! So do your best and make us proud! 

Be men of God willing to raise a generation to love and serve the Lord wholeheartedly! 

I promise to pray for you and try to relate as best I can. Let me know if I can help, seriously. And when we are old and gray(er) and all the children are gone, give me a call, send me a text, or do whatever people are doing then, and we’ll go to lunch or coffee, my treat. 

I’ll tell you how God has blessed me and then…

I’ll sit quietly and listen and you can tell me stories of what it was like.

Happy Father’s Day

*Image courtesy of Shane Rounce

One Minute of Silence

Some of my earliest memories involve cemeteries. I’m not talking about the country cemeteries where many of my relatives are buried. I’m also not talking about the above ground cemeteries of New Orleans surrounded by mausoleums and interstates. I’m talking about the cemeteries on various military bases with seemingly endless rows of whitewashed headstones marking the graves of men and women who had given their all in service to our country, to my country.

For many, Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial beginning of summer. It’s a time for picnics, day trips, Blockbuster movies, or furniture sales. However, it means so much more than that, and it all started in a cemetery. In Charleston, South Carolina, during the Civil War, a few black residents organized a burial of deceased Union prisoners, built a fence around the site, and established a cemetery in their honor. On May 1, 1865, they held an event at the site, complete with a parade, singing, scripture reading, and a picnic.

Over the next several years, groups gathered at cemeteries to honor and “decorate” the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers who had given their lives in the Civil War. It’s been reported that General Ulysses S. Grant led an observance at Arlington National Cemetery on Many 30, 1873. Over 5,000 people attended to show respect as the orphaned children and widows of soldiers and sailors killed during the war placed flowers and small American flags on the graves of the honored deceased.

Originally known as “Decoration Day” because of the decorated graves and tombstones, Memorial is now celebrated on the last Monday of May. In 2000, the U.S. Congress and the President signed into law the National Moment of Remembrance Act. This encourages all Americans to pause at 3pm local time for one minute of silence. 

I’m going to do my best to observe that law this Memorial Day. And during that moment of silence, I’m going to remember the oceans of tombstones of my childhood and thank God for those who gave their lives for our country.

* Photo courtesy of Chad Stembridge

**Thanks, Dad, for serving in the U.S. Marines for 22 years.

I Guess I Really Am What I Eat

It was drilled into me as a child.

At school. At home. At church. On tv. Even in Comic books.

No matter where I went, someone was proclaiming, “You are what you eat” like they were the one who coined the phrase.

I’ll tell you a secret.

I never believed it. 

But you probably already knew that. You can look at me and tell.

So now, decades later, I hear it from my wife, health care professionals, and other mean people. Only now, they often follow the phrase with a question, “So, if you believe that phrase, then what does that make you?”

It drives me crazy when my wife asks me that question. I hold my head high, stick out my chest, and say, “Listen here, woman! I’ll be the one asking the questions around here! Now go and fix me something filled with sugar and gluten.”

I don’t really say that. I’m not stupid.

Instead, I smile sweetly and quote the food pyramid from the 1970’s: “Well Honey, I’m 4 servings of fruits and vegetables, 4 servings of grains, 3 servings of dairy, and 2 servings of meats.”

Ok, that doesn’t happen either.

Honestly, my head immediately hangs in shame, tears well up in my eyes, and I answer, “I’m a large pizza, a half gallon of ice cream, a bag of microwave popcorn, a gallon of soda, and one serving of broccoli.”

She shakes her head, takes a deep breath, and says, “John…”

“I’m sorry,” I interrupt with a smile. “Was that your broccoli?”

She has never laughed at that. 

Never.

So I’m going back to the truth of the lesson I learned as a child. 

I am what I eat.

My body will be made up of the foods I put into it. 

If I consume healthy foods and water, I will see the benefits of eating healthy foods and drinking water.

If I eat a lot of fat, greasy food, I will become a fat, greasy dude.

*Image Courtesy of Justus Menke

Resurrection Day – Our Blessed Day of Hope

Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb. Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint. Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as He said would happen. Come, see where His body was lying. And now, go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead, and He is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see Him there. Remember what I have told you.” The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. And as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they ran to Him, grasped His feet, and worshiped Him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid! Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.” (Matthew 28:1-10).

Hope. We use that word a lot. We use it to express our preferences and dreams about the weather, our favorite sports team, our future vacation destinations, and what we will eat for lunch. Hope, in a typical conversation, expresses a wish or a desire while there is still uncertainty. While hope is a part of our daily vocabulary, it seems to be less often used in its biblical context. It’s been said that “Hope is the one thing that will get us through the darkest of times.”

Today we celebrate Easter, the day when Jesus rose from the dead. His resurrection brings hope to us all. The late Emil Brunner once said, “What oxygen is for the lungs, such is hope for the meaning of human life.” As the human organism is dependent on a supply of oxygen, so humanity is dependent on its supply of hope. Yet today hopelessness and despair are everywhere. Peter, who himself was given to despair following his betrayal of the Lord, writes in a triumphant note, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again into a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1 Peter 1:3)

There is hope that mistakes and sins can be forgiven. There is hope that we can have joy, peace, assurance, and security in the midst of the despair of this age. There is hope that Jesus Christ is coming again soon – this is what is called in Scripture “the blessed hope.” There is hope that there will come a new heaven and a new earth, and that the Kingdom of God will reign and triumph. Our hope is not in our own ability, or in our goodness, or in our physical strength. Our hope is instilled in us by the resurrection of Christ.

Saturdays Are For Waiting

“The next day, on the Sabbath, the leading priests and Pharisees went to see Pilate. They told him, ‘Sir, we remember what that deceiver once said while He was still alive: ‘After three days I will rise from the dead.’ So we request that you seal the tomb until the third day. This will prevent His disciples from coming and stealing His body and then telling everyone He was raised from the dead! If that happens, we’ll be worse off than we were at first.’ Pilate replied, ‘Take guards and secure it the best you can.’ So they sealed the tomb and posted guards to protect it.” (Matthew 27:62-66)

It’s Saturday. Jesus’ body lies silently in Joseph’s tomb. Much was spoken on Friday. Jesus will surprise the world on Sunday. But today is Saturday and Jesus is silent. God the Father is also silent. He made Himself known on Friday. He ripped the curtains of the temple from top to bottom. He opened the graves of dead and brought many back to life. He blocked the sun and allowed the darkness. He watched the sacrifice of His Son. His only Son. Yes, God was heard and known on Friday. And He will certainly act on Sunday. But it’s Saturday. So far, we hear nothing from Jesus. We hear nothing from God. There’s nothing to do but wait in the silence.

Most Easter sermons, devotions, articles and discussions skip Saturday altogether. Good Friday and Easter Sunday get all the attention. The crucifixion and the resurrection command our thoughts, as they should. But we can’t ignore Saturday, even if it is a silent Saturday. Because we all have our own silent Saturdays as well, those days between our own struggles and their solutions. Silent Saturdays are difficult. They torment us. We can’t help but wonder if God is mad at us. Did we somehow disappoint Him? He’s certainly doing a good job of giving us the silent treatment. Why doesn’t He speak? He knows what’s going on? He knows Jesus is in the tomb. He knows the issues we’re facing. He knows all about our failing careers, our disappointing marriages, and our financial disasters. So why is He silent? What are we supposed to do until He speaks?

Ironically, we do what Jesus did. We lie still. We stay silent. We trust God. We remember God’s promises. Jesus died knowing that “You will not abandon Me to the grave, nor will You let Your Holy One see decay.” (Acts 2:27 NIV) Jesus knew God would not leave Him alone in the grave. God will also not leave us alone with our struggles. His silence is not His absence. His inactivity is not His apathy. Silent Saturdays have their purpose. They let us feel the full force of God’s strength. If God had raised Jesus from the dead ten minutes after His death, would we appreciate the act? If God were to solve our problems as soon as they appear, would we be thankful for His strength?

It’s God’s business if He wants to insert a Saturday between our Good Fridays and our Easter Sundays. When we find ourselves in a silent Saturday, not knowing if an Easter Sunday is on the way, we must be strong and courageous. We must trust in Him who is always faithful. We must be patient.

Prayer: Lord, help us to wait on You and trust in You, even on our silent Saturdays, when we don’t know what You are doing next.  

Followup Activity –  Find a quiet place where you can be alone for a few moments. Make a list of issues of which you are waiting for the Lord to move. Pray over each item on your list, telling God you trust Him to work in the situation even if you can’t see Him move.

*Photo courtesy of Nathan Dumlao

It’s Only Friday

At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have You abandoned Me?” Some of the bystanders misunderstood and thought He was calling for the prophet Elijah. One of them ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, holding it up to Him on a reed stick so He could drink. But the rest said, “Wait! Let’s see whether Elijah comes to save Him.” Then Jesus shouted out again, and He released his spirit. At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart, and tombs opened. The bodies of many godly men and women who had died were raised from the dead. They left the cemetery after Jesus’ resurrection, went into the holy city of Jerusalem, and appeared to many people.

The Roman officer and the other soldiers at the crucifixion were terrified by the earthquake and all that had happened. They said, “This man truly was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:45-54)

Good Friday evokes different feelings from different people. Today’s devotional thought is an excerpt from a sermon by S.M. Lockridge, who was a prominent African-American preacher known for his dynamic sermons, including this one titled “It’s Friday.” 

It’s Friday. Jesus is praying. Peter’s a sleeping. Judas is betraying. But Sunday’s coming.

It’s Friday. Pilate’s struggling. The council is conspiring. The crowd is vilifying. They don’t even know that Sunday’s coming.

It’s Friday. The disciples are running like sheep without a shepherd. Mary’s crying. Peter is denying. But they don’t know that Sunday’s coming.

It’s Friday. The Romans beat my Jesus. They robed Him in scarlet. They crowned Him with thorns. But they don’t know that Sunday’s coming.

It’s Friday. See Jesus walking to Calvary. His blood dripping. His body stumbling. And His spirit’s burdened. But you see, it’s only Friday. Sunday’s coming. 

It’s Friday. The world’s winning. People are sinning. And evil’s grinning. 

It’s Friday. The soldiers nail my Savior’s hands to the cross. They nail my Savior’s feet to the cross. And then they raise Him up next to criminals. It’s Friday. But let me tell you something – Sunday’s coming. 

It’s Friday. The disciples are questioning. What has happened to their King. And the Pharisees are celebrating that their scheming has been achieved. But they don’t know it’s only Friday. Sunday’s coming.

It’s Friday. He’s hanging on the cross. Feeling forsaken by His Father. Left alone and dying. Can nobody save Him? Oh, it’s Friday. But Sunday’s coming. 

It’s Friday. The earth trembles. The sky grows dark. My King yields His spirit. It’s Friday. 

Hope is lost. Death has won. Sin has conquered and Satan’s just laughing.

It’s Friday. Jesus is buried. A soldier stands guard. And a rock is rolled into place. But it’s Friday. It is only Friday. Sunday is coming!

Prayer: Lord, don’t let me despair on this Good Friday. Help me remember that Easter Sunday is coming.

*Photo courtesy of Wesley Tingey

Simon of Cyrene

Then they led Him away to be crucified. Along the way, they came across a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. And they went out to a place called Golgotha (which means “Place of the Skull”). (Matthew 27:31-32)

Jesus, weakened from the flogging, cannot make it up Golgotha’s hill. When this becomes obvious to the Roman soldiers, they command Simon of Cyrene to help Jesus. Simon bends to help and lifts the cross, places it on his own back, and looks directly at Jesus with the crown of thorns pressed into His forehead with blood streaming down His swollen face. Simon feels for the man, but can’t help but wonder, “What if they confuse us? What if they think that I’m Jesus since I’m carrying the cross and end up crucifying me?” But this doesn’t stop Simon from serving Jesus. Instead, he takes up the cross and follows Jesus to Golgotha.

But who was Simon of Cyrene? We know he was a real historical person who was there at a real historical moment in time. We know that Simon was from Cyrene, a city in North Africa, in today’s Libya. He was a foreigner, an African, but it’s not certain if he was Jew or Gentile because the name Simon was common for both Jews and Greeks. Finally, we know that Simon helped the Lord in His final moments by carrying His cross. In Luke, Simon is reported to have carried the cross behind Jesus as He walked to Golgotha. Luke is the only one of the Gospels that says Simon carried the cross behind Jesus. All the other Gospels that mention Simon simply say that he carried the cross. Could it be possible that Luke wants us to recall Luke 9:23 where Jesus said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.”? Jesus had challenged His disciples with this scripture, but it was Simon of Cyrene who was available in the moment to serve the Lord. Though far from bearing the weight of our sin, Simon did at least bear the weight of the wooden cross. In that moment, Simon of Cyrene is a portrait of a true disciple of Jesus.

May we all be as true and faithful as Simon of Cyrene, ready to pick up our cross and follow Jesus at a moment’s notice.

Lord, thank You for the example of Simon of Cyrene. Please help me be ready to follow You wherever You may lead.

*Photo courtesy of James and Unsplash.com

The Praetorium

So Pilate released Barabbas to them. He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned Him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified. Some of the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into their headquarters and called out the entire regiment. They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. They wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on His head, and they placed a reed stick in His right hand as a scepter. Then they knelt before Him in mockery and taunted, “Hail! King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and grabbed the stick and struck Him on the head with it. (Matthew 27:26-30)

Some might call it the beginning of the end. Condemned by Pilate, the punishment of Jesus begins. The Roman soldiers take Jesus to the Praetorium where they bind Him to the whipping post, securing His hands over His head, and exposing His back. The soldiers proceed to lash Him with a three pronged, lead tipped whip for 40 lashes. Their intention is to weaken Him physically before His crucifixion so death will come sooner. To further humiliate Him, they fashion a crown of thorns and shove it down onto His head. They spit on Him. They slapped His face. They mocked Him by crying out, “Hail! King of the Jews!”

Interestingly enough, what the Roman soldiers thought was mockery was actually truth. Jesus was King of the Jews, but to the Romans, He was a criminal to be disposed of. Jesus did not respond to their mockery and He absorbed their blows without complaint. In doing so, He was fulfilling Isaiah 53:3-5: “He was despised and rejected- a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on Him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses He carried; it was our sorrows that weighed Him down. And we thought His troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for His own sins! But He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed.”  

Within this physical flogging and mocking, we catch a glimpse of how foul our sins are to God. What was justifiable for us, punishment for our rebelliousness, He, an innocent man, the Son of God, took upon His own body because He loved us. We cannot appreciate how foul our sin must be to the Lord. Reflect for a moment on the punishment Jesus received in the Praetorium. That is how detestable our sin is to God. Jesus, His Son endured the brutality of the Roman soldiers so that we might be made whole. He endured physical, emotional, and spiritual degradation for our healing. 

Prayer: Lord, thank You for Your grace and mercy. Thank You for enduring the lashes, the mockery, and the abuse for me.

*Photo courtesy of Mads Schmidt Rasmussen

Your Choice

This year there was a notorious prisoner, a man named Barabbas. As the crowds gathered before Pilate’s house that morning, he asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you—Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” (He knew very well that the religious leaders had arrested Jesus out of envy.)… Meanwhile, the leading priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be put to death. So the governor asked again, “Which of these two do you want me to release to you?” The crowd shouted back, “Barabbas!” Pilate responded, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” They shouted back, “Crucify Him!” … So Pilate released Barabbas to them. (Matthew 27:16-18, 20-22, 26a) 

All of the gospel writers include Barabbas. It’s not surprising because he was a bloodthirsty murderer. Ironically, his name means “son of the father.” In a dramatic historic coincidence, his name is reported by some to have actually been “Jesus Barabbas” or “Jesus, the son of the father.” If this is true then the crowd was confronted by Pilate with choosing between Jesus, the son of the father, who rules by violence and makes his living by his wits; and Jesus, the Son of the Father, who rules by love and is ready to sacrifice Himself. 

Why did they choose Barabbas? Were they somehow disappointed with Jesus?” This was the same crowd who, just a few days before, had welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem. It’s certain that some of them knew people who had experienced a healing touch from Jesus for the city was filled with people Jesus had healed. The eyes of the blind had been opened, the deaf made to hear, and the lame to walk. Jesus had awakened within people the hope that He was indeed the Messiah, come to deliver them from the yoke of Rome. But all of their thoughts of messiahship centered around the thought that He would set them free from the hated bondage of Rome. Now, when they saw Him standing helpless before the Roman governor, all their loyalty to Him collapsed. In anger and disappointment, they chose Barabbas, the son of the father.

Have you ever been disappointed in the Lord? Have you ever expected Him to act in a certain way because of what you understood about Him-but then He didn’t act as you had anticipated? God’s ways are higher than ours. We cannot figure Him out. He will always be true, faithful, truthful, but He is more than we can handle. And like the angry crowd, when He doesn’t act in accordance with our expectations, there is always a Barabbas waiting in the wings.

Prayer: Lord, Your ways are higher than my ways. Help me to hold fast to You, even when I don’t understand what You are doing.

*Photo courtesy of Javier Allegue Barros

The Political Dance of Pilate and the Jews

Now Jesus was standing before Pilate, the Roman governor. “Are you the king of the Jews?” the governor asked Him. Jesus replied, “You have said it.” But when the leading priests and the elders made their accusations against Him, Jesus remained silent. “Don’t you hear all these charges they are bringing against you?” Pilate demanded. But Jesus made no response to any of the charges, much to the governor’s surprise.” (Matthew 27:11-15)

If the story of the murder of Jesus weren’t so tragic, the scene here would be humorous in a dark sort of way. Pilate, the Roman Governor, and the Jews basically hate each other. However, they are forced to dance a strange dance of hated political bedfellows. Pilate doesn’t want to give them anything they want, however he must still keep the peace at all costs. The Jewish religious leaders don’t want Jesus to slip out of their hands, so they are forced to act like they have respect for Pilate. And then there’s Jesus. He is about to walk through the most tragic time of his entire life in order to bestow grace to the world, but He surprisingly remains silent and in total control. Of those in the scene, Jesus is the only one who does not react out of fear or jealousy. His path was completely determined by God’s will and His love for us. 

In the midst of the chaotic, well balanced, fear laden, hate driven dance between Pilate and the Jewish leaders, Jesus is silent, but still in complete control. He is Lord in His submission to the will of God and in the face of the hateful actions of His enemies. He refuses to be goaded into saving or protecting Himself. What is His plan of response to all that is happening? In spite of all that is happening, He dies for us – for you and for me. 

Prayer: Lord, I am in awe of Your restraint and of Your grace. Thank You for showing me that I too can be self-controlled when I fully submit to Your will.