in Life

How can it be good?

Good Friday
What a name
For a day when
Darkness seemed to reign.

Good Friday
Daring hope
In a God who
Took our shame and pain.

Good Friday
Yes it is.
For our God did
Not stay dead.

Good Friday
For we know
That our Savior
Reigns. He rose instead.

If there were ever a phrase that reminds us how hard and necessary it is to hold two contrary ideas at the same time, it is the words: Good. Friday.

How can a day filled with violence toward the innocent be rendered good? How can a day that left Jesus’ followers scattered, lonely and confused be good? For those who lived through it, it wasn’t yet good. And it is good for us to sit for a while in that reality with them. “Step into the shoes of the disciples,” my little liturgy book encourages today, “who did not know Jesus would rise from the dead. Imagine your world without the resurrection.”

Read through John 18 and 19 — and read no further. Stop, abruptly, at the words, “they laid Jesus there.”

We were reading the familiar story to our children this morning as they ate their eggs. They asked why I wept at the “crown of thorns” and “purple robe.” Because, dear ones, he is our King, and the people did not see it. They tried to mock him with these trappings of Lordship, but he was their Lord all along. A servant king who washed feet the night before. An all-powerful God who permitted a crown and robe of pain. He wore those things for us. He was humbled and shamed before he was exalted. In the ultimate irony of an upside-down kingdom, he turned the cross into a coronation.

I remember feeling the weight of Good Friday as if for the first time on an April day in 2010. I was a reporter at a small newspaper in Anacortes, Washington, where tragedy had struck the night before. Across a little bay from our house, a heat exchanger at a local oil refinery exploded, killing three people that night and another four in the coming weeks, seven in all. I woke to the rush of reporting on it, and also to the weight of it.

I lived closest to the scene, so I reported from a nearby coffee shop, talking to others who had felt the ground shake in the middle of the night. I remember sending in my contribution to the breaking news story and then sitting in my car for a while, weeping. It was Good Friday, the day that we remember Jesus’ death on the cross, and it felt like it. The rain was coming down heavier than usual. Gray smoke from the explosion lingered in the midday sky. And I asked God, “How can you call this day good?”

Many might be asking that today, a decade later, as the coronavirus seems to take over more and more lives. Where I live near Washington, D.C., no one is unaffected. We’re all homebound but for grocery runs and essential work. The fortunate ones, like us, still have work they can do, even if it feels impossible with kids at home, too.

Outside, most days are sunny and spring-like lately. Sometimes, on a long enough walk, taking in the tulips and dogwoods and redbuds, you can almost forget the tragedy that’s taking hold of the world. Your soul sinks into the rhythms of God’s creation, remembering, without a word, that he is still making all things new. That he brings life — surprises us with it — where, a day or two ago, there was only death.

Last night, we tuned into our church’s online Maundy Thursday service. We served ourselves grape juice and Tam Tam crackers and ached for the communal part of communion. We heard again just how off-key we can be when our singing isn’t drowned out by the rest of the saints. We took in the pastor’s reminder, once again, that this is not how it will always be. As Sandra McCracken sings:

“We will feast in the house of Zion
We will sing with our hearts restored
He has done great things, we will say together
We will feast and weep no more.”

It’s OK that we weep today. In fact, it’s good. As Andrew Peterson sings, “This is the dark before the dawn.”

And I believe it will be brighter for it.

in Life

Good Words for Encouragement

We are living in a crazy and unpredictable time right with the coronavirus. Many of us, to include me, are tempted towards fear and anxiety. Proverbs 12:25 says, "Anxiety in a man's heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad." With that in mind, I put together a list of short passages and longer passages that I hope will be good words for encouragement in this season (and all such like it).

Short Passages

  • Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you. – Deut. 31:6
  • In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. – Psalm 4:8
  • God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. – Psalm 46:1-3
  • Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; He will never permit the righteous to be moved. – Psalm 55:22
  • Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; -- Psalm 146:5-6
  • You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD God is an everlasting rock. – Isa. 26:3-4
  • …fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. – Isa. 41:10
  • Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.
    – Jer. 17:7-8
  • Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. – Matt. 10:29-30
  • Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. – Matt. 11:28-30
  • Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

    “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

    No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Rom. 8:35-39
  • …we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. – Heb. 4:15-16
  • Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. – 1 Pet. 5:6-7

Longer Passages

Psalm 23
1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3 He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name's sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD

Psalm 33:18-22
18 Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him,
    on those who hope in his steadfast love,
19 that he may deliver their soul from death
    and keep them alive in famine.
20 Our soul waits for the LORD;
    he is our help and our shield.
21 For our heart is glad in him,
    because we trust in his holy name.
22 Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us,
    even as we hope in you.

Isaiah 40:28-31
28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
    his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
    and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30 Even youths shall faint and be weary,
    and young men shall fall exhausted;
31 but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
    they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 43:1-7
1 But now thus says the LORD,
he who created you, O Jacob,
    he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you.
3 For I am the LORD your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
    Cush and Seba in exchange for you.
4 Because you are precious in my eyes,
    and honored, and I love you,
I give men in return for you,
    peoples in exchange for your life.
5 Fear not, for I am with you;
    I will bring your offspring from the east,
    and from the west I will gather you.
6 I will say to the north, Give up,
    and to the south, Do not withhold;
bring my sons from afar
    and my daughters from the end of the earth,
7 everyone who is called by my name,
    whom I created for my glory,
    whom I formed and made.”

Matthew 6:24-34
24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Matthew 14:22-33
22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Philippians 4:5b-9
5b The Lord is at hand;6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Posted by Stuart McCray