The heartfelt counsel of a friend is as sweet as perfume and incense. Never abandon a friend—either yours or your father’s. When disaster strikes, you won’t have to ask your brother for assistance. It’s better to go to a neighbor than to a brother who lives far away. [Proverbs 27:9-10 (NLT)]

Novelist Salman Rushdie said, “In the cookie of life, friends are the chocolate chips.” I agree. Granted, life can be as pleasant as a plain sugar cookie but, when you add chocolate chips to the batter or friends to the mix, it becomes something extra special.

Today happens to be National Chocolate Chip Day. (We can celebrate again on August 4—the official National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day.) Although she didn’t invent friendship, Ruth Wakefield invented both chocolate chips and chocolate chip cookies when she added pieces of a Nestlé chocolate bar to her “Butter Do Drop” cookie recipe in 1930. It wasn’t until 1939, however, that Nestlé actually started manufacturing those beautiful teardrop-shaped morsels.

Fortunately, God didn’t wait until 1939 to invent friends! Knowing it wasn’t good for “man to be alone,” He created us for connection and gave us friends. He blessed Adam with Eve, Lot with Abraham, Moses with Aaron, and Joshua with Caleb.

When Satan took away Job’s family, wealth, and health, Job’s friends remained. Even though their theology was flawed, they kept Job company and tried to comfort him in his pain and sorrow. When Joseph was imprisoned, he was blessed by friendships with the warden and Pharaoh’s cup-bearer and baker. David was blessed by good friends like Jonathon, Nathan, and even the loyal Philistine Ittai. Naomi was blessed by Ruth’s friendship as was Elijah by Elisha’s. During the Babylonian exile, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were united in their friendship and faith. Matthew invited his friends for dinner with Jesus and Martha, Mary, and Lazarus welcomed their friend Jesus into their home. Even though they didn’t always agree, Paul’s good friends included Barnabas, John Mark, Silas, Epaphroditus, Timothy, Priscilla, and Aquila.

“Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, the other is gold,” goes the old song. Indeed, old friends are as precious as gold and, next week, we hope to spend a little time with some golden ones. We met 45 years ago while skiing in Michigan and continued our friendship on the mountains of Colorado. Although 2,000 miles separate us and we no longer ski, our friendship remains. Love, laughter, faith, and a heap of great memories connect us. We’ll treasure our brief reunion as we thank God for the chocolate chips He scattered through our lives.

Heavenly Father, thank you for the people who befriended us—the ones who taught and inspired us, encouraged and challenged us, laughed and cried with us, and taught us how to laugh at ourselves and life’s uncertainties. Thank you for the friends who daily provide examples of how life should be lived and for the friends who answer our questions and question our answers. Thank you for those who sought us when we were lost, provided directions, and welcomed us back when we finally returned. Thank you for those who recognized what was wrong in our lives (even when we didn’t) and gently opened our eyes to what we needed to see. Thank you for blessing us with friends who have openly shared their lives and who, in turn, have listened and loved and prayed for us. Thank you for the friends who continue to walk with us, steady us when we stumble, lift us when we fall, and carry us when we think we can go no further. Thank you, Lord, for the best friend you have given each and every one of us: your son Jesus Christ.

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom. [Marcel Proust]

This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. [John 15:12-14 (NLT)]

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When a woman is about to give birth, she is in great pain. But after it is all over, she forgets the pain and is happy, because she has brought a child into the world. [John 16:21 (CEV)]

My Mother’s Day prayers will include thanks for the mother and mother-in-law God put in my life, the blessings of motherhood and family, the privilege of seeing my children become adults, and the immeasurable joy of being a grandmother! Because those grands wouldn’t be here were it not for the three beautiful daughters (one by birth and two through marriage) with which He blessed me, I’ll thank God for them, as well.

Years ago, when my girls were mothers of littles, I overheard them recalling the time BC (before children) when they’d been carefree princesses and enjoyed things like spa days, dining out, shopping sprees, weekend jaunts, undisturbed sleep, and free time. Motherhood, however, changed them from princesses to queens and queendom, with its soiled diapers, sleepless nights, spills, tantrums, and never-ending laundry, was hard work. The girls couldn’t remember when last they’d donned their princess tiaras or skinny jeans and realized their last manicure was done by a four-year old. Designer purses had been traded for diaper bags and five minutes alone in the bathroom was more precious than a massage. Date nights had given way to play dates, a child’s scribbles were more valuable than fine art, and the name of a reliable baby sitter was better protected than a pin number. Queendom required an entirely new skill set and they now could fix ouchies with a Disney Band-Aid and a kiss, had developed a third eye on the back of their heads, and could sing “The Wheels on the Bus” endlessly without going crazy. The young women weren’t complaining; they knew how blessed they were by God’s gift of children. Nevertheless, the enormity of their responsibilities weighed heavy on their shoulders.

When motherhood turned my daughters from princesses into queens, their hearts expanded and they put aside their desires for the needs of their children. They learned about patience, compassion, and love. They carried the burden of living by example (which involved far more than eating their veggies and always saying “please” and “thank you”). They knew that little eyes were watching as they offered courtesy for rudeness, forgiveness for wrongs, and love to even the most unlovable. Queendom required them to be calm when they were anxious, strong when they felt weak, and brave when their knees were shaking. Princesses can cry and get flustered but queens wipe tears and offer reassurance. Like any good monarch, my girls learned about sacrifice and what it means to live for others. They learned that being a queen has nothing to do with crowns, thrones, robes, power, or wealth; it’s all about love.

In the years since that conversation, my girls have come up with last-minute science projects and become proficient in constructing anything from the White House to the Great Sphinx with popsicle sticks and Elmer’s glue. They’ve weathered adolescent rebellion, emergency room visits, prom drama, teen angst, home-schooling, and the college application process. Along the line, they developed an uncanny ability to detect a child’s malarky, wiped more tears than can be counted, and logged more hours behind the wheel than a cross-country trucker. As some of the grands start flying off, my girls are discovering that a mama’s love and responsibility doesn’t end when her babies leave the nest! Motherhood is a tough job and one that never really ends. They also know that motherhood is a beautiful gift from God.

I recalled my girls’ conversation this morning because, while walking in the park, I encountered several young mothers and mothers-to-be—a new set of young women who are trading in their princess tiaras for a queen’s crown made of construction paper, tape, stickers, glitter, and glue. Let’s not forget to pray for the next generation of queens. Don’t limit your prayers to the mothers you know and love; pray for them all—including the frazzled mom whose child is having a melt down at Target, the one with the noisy kids at church, and even the one with the crying baby sitting behind you on the plane.

In today’s increasingly divisive, violent, self-absorbed, and self-indulgent world—a world that’s beginning to resemble the godless future of Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, and Nineteen Eighty-Four—today’s mothers desperately need our prayers (as well as our patience, grace, and kindness). When the Apostle Paul said to pray for everyone, he specifically mentioned praying for kings. Let’s remember to pray for the queens, as well!

There is more power in a mother’s hand than in a king’s scepter. [Billy Sunday]

First of all, I ask you to pray for everyone. Ask God to help and bless them all, and tell God how thankful you are for each of them. Pray for kings and others in power, so we may live quiet and peaceful lives as we worship and honor God. This kind of prayer is good, and it pleases God our Savior. [1 Timothy 2:1-3 (CEV)]

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Praise the Lord, all nations! Extol him, all peoples! For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord! [Psalm 117 (ESV)]

giant swallowtail vbutterflyAs a way of emphasizing the penitential nature of Lent, hymns with alleluia or hallelujah were not sung at our church during Lent’s forty days.  With the exception of Palm Sunday’s All Glory, Laud, and Honor, the hymns for the last six weeks were rather slow, somber, and introspective and I missed the more joyful upbeat hymns I enjoy. Easter service, however, opened with Christ the Lord is Risen Today and the twenty “Alleluias” we sang in five verses made up for their long absence.

If you’re not familiar with this beautiful hymn, check it out. YouTube has an outstanding rendition done by the Tabernacle Choir accompanied by full orchestra, a trumpet ensemble, and bell choir. This hymn’s alleluias are Easter’s version of the cascading of glorias in Christmas’ Angels We Have Heard on High. Regardless of your musical talent (or lack of it), you can’t help but join in singing them! Without benefit of choir, bells, or orchestra, our congregation’s joyful alleluias (some of which were off key) weren’t on a par with those of the Tabernacle. Nevertheless, because they were heartfelt, they were welcome music to God’s ears!

Having enjoyed singing those alleluias, I wondered what exactly was meant by the word. “Alleluia” comes from an ancient Hebrew word combining hālal, which means to praise or glorify, and yâ, a contraction for God’s name of Yahweh. When the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek, ”hallelujah” was derived from the Hebrew spelling of the word; ”alleluia” simply is the Latin transliteration of the Greek. In Scripture, we usually find the original Hebrew of hālal yâ translated as “Praise the Lord,” which isn’t entirely accurate. In Hebrew, hālal  is an imperative command (rather than a suggestion) and the more accurate translation would be “You must praise the Lord!”

Since we are commanded to praise the Lord, what exactly is praise? While praise and thanks are closely linked, they are not quite the same thing. Thanks is gratitude for what has been done or given while praise exalts the doer or giver. Thanks is when it finally rains after weeks of drought and praise is for a God who holds the incredible power of wind, rain, thunder, and lightning in His almighty hands. Thanks is for the newborn baby and praise is for the God who miraculously packed all the makings of a human being (including a soul) into two small cells! I’m thankful when I see a beautiful sunrise but praise is when I silently sing the old hymn’s words, “When morning gilds the skies, My heart awaking cries: May Jesus Christ be praised!” Praise is an acknowledgement of the excellence, goodness, capability, power, authority, and perfection of God’s character, traits, and works. It is thanking, honoring, exalting, magnifying, applauding, proclaiming, and celebrating Him. We praise God not just by singing alleluias, but in our everyday words, actions, and thoughts.

While praise usually comes from a grateful heart, there are no qualifiers in Scripture’s “hallelujahs.” The call to praise is not dependent upon circumstances. We must praise the Lord, not because He is good to us (or those we love); we are to praise the Lord because He is a good God!

Perhaps, because there isn’t a better word encompassing the meaning of hallelujah in any other language, people from all over the world have borrowed hallelujah/alleluia from the original Hebrew. While it may be spelled differently, “hallelujah” sounds very much the same in almost every language.

“Hallelujah” appears twenty-four times in Psalms and four in Revelation. In Psalms, those hallelujahs come from earth but, in Revelation, they come from heaven. Someday, we will join a heavenly chorus of believers from every nation and the unified sound of our heavenly hallelujahs will be even louder and more beautiful than those of the Tabernacle Choir!

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. [Revelation 19:6 (ESV)]

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Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. [Matthew 27:3-5 (ESV)]

Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song. [Pope John Paul II]

rabbitJudas wasn’t the only one who betrayed Jesus that Thursday night. With his three denials, Peter also betrayed our Lord. Both men were filled with remorse but neither man could undo what had been done. One never lost faith and hung in there; the other lost faith and hung himself. One stayed around for the resurrection to see the living Christ and to experience Jesus’ forgiveness; the other missed his opportunity for redemption when he gave up all hope. One became the humble willing servant of the Lord and the rock of the church; the other one’s name lives on in ignominy and is synonymous with betrayal and treason.

Judas betrayed the Lord for thirty pieces of silver (the same amount paid to compensate the master of a slave who was gored to death by an ox). Did Judas think that by returning the money he could undo what was done? By no longer profiting from his treachery, did Judas think he’d be free from guilt? I often wonder what would have happened had Judas waited a few more days. Jesus forgave Peter. If Judas had waited and truly repented, would Jesus have forgiven him as He did Peter? While Judas’ sin was great, it was not unforgivable! But Judas missed Easter by killing himself in despair and disgrace.

As for the leading priests and elders—they didn’t care about Jesus’ innocence. Giving no thought to the wrong they committed, they debated what to do with this blood money. By Jesus’ day, Deuteronomy’s law that a temple offering earned from prostitution was detestable to the Lord was applied to any money gained illicitly. Although these “holy” men had no problem orchestrating an innocent man’s murder with money from the Temple treasury, as sticklers for the law, they wouldn’t return the now tainted money to the treasury. Did they think using the silver to purchase a defiled piece of property in the Hinnom Valley would diminish their guilt? Referred to as a garbage dump in Jeremiah 19, this land had been desecrated by idol worship. The field became known as Aceldama (meaning “field of blood”) and was used to bury strangers who died while visiting Jerusalem.

Like Judas, the leading priests and elders missed Easter. Although they were the ones most qualified to recognize Jesus’ fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies, they refused to see what was right before them—both before and after Golgotha. When the tomb was found empty, rather than consider the meaning of such a miracle, they denied its truth and bribed the guards to say the disciples stole Jesus’ body.

Did you miss Easter yesterday? I don’t mean the Easter Bunny or the brightly decorated baskets, colored eggs, chocolate rabbits, elaborate brunch, jelly beans, lilies, ham dinner, or Peeps. Did you miss the significance of Easter—the message of love, forgiveness, hope, and salvation? Judas and Jerusalem’s religious leaders certainly did. They missed the first Easter and all of the possibilities it brought.

If you missed the resurrection message of Easter, there’s still hope. While it’s too late for Judas and Jerusalem’s leaders, it’s not too late for you. There’s no need to wallow in guilt or remorse. Today can be your Easter! Today, the Holy Spirit can bring about your very own resurrection. The redemption of Easter can be experienced any day of the year!

Our old history ends with the cross; our new history begins with the resurrection. [Watchman Nee]

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. [John 11:25-26 (ESV)]

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Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly? But if I did, how would the Scriptures be fulfilled that describe what must happen now? [Matthew 26:52-54 (NLT)]

stations of the cross - loretto - santa feThere is a fancy term for how God the Son, Jesus, took on human form and yet remained God: hypostatic union. Sounding like why my socks cling to my t-shirts in the dryer, knowing the term doesn’t help us understand it. I’m not sure anyone can wholly comprehend how Jesus always existed and yet was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of Mary, and became man. When pondering Christ’s incarnation, I can’t help but think of an old ad for Certs Mints. Since they were both a breath mint and a candy mint, their commercials ended with the catch phrase: “Certs is two, two, two mints in one!”  Fully man and fully God at the same time, Jesus, like Certs, had two distinct natures in one.

When Jesus walked the earth, He was not a human who once had been God; He was God in a human body. When He put on skin and became a living breathing man, Jesus didn’t cease being God or lose His godly attributes. For the most part, however, He voluntarily limited himself to the restrictions of humanity. As God, He could be everywhere at once but, as a man, Jesus only could be one place at a time. God is eternal and transcends time but the man Jesus had both a beginning and an end and was confined to a twenty-four-hour day. Nevertheless, there were moments when Jesus exercised His omniscience, omnipotence, and authority. For example, He knew the scandalous history of the woman at the well, the thoughts of the Pharisees, and who would betray Him. He used His divine power and authority to cast out demons, walk on water, give sight to the blind, and forgive sins.

Jesus, however, never resorted to His godly attributes to make life easier for Himself. As God, He never experienced weariness, hunger, or thirst but, when living in a man’s body, He grew tired, hungry, and thirsty. When fasting in the wilderness, the man who fed thousands with a few fish easily could have turned stones into loaves of bread, but He deliberately chose not to do so. God doesn’t feel pain, bruise, bleed, or die but, as a man, Jesus chose to do just that. The man who could still storms, change water into wine, and cast demons into swine could have stopped the flogging, mockery, and beating he endured that dark Friday. The man who cured lepers, healed a bleeding woman, and raised the dead certainly had the power to endure crucifixion without agony or to survive it unscathed. But, He didn’t!

After tempting Jesus in the wilderness, Luke tells us Satan left Him “until the next opportunity came.” Without a doubt, an opportunity came at Golgotha when the enemy made a last-ditch effort to stop God’s plan of redemption. He may have tempted Jesus with words like these: “Smite them; they dared to spit on you!” or “They’re beating you cruelly—show no mercy, strike the mortals down!” As Jesus suffered on that cross, Satan may have whispered, “You’re God, you don’t have to suffer like this. Break free and step down!” Being divine, Jesus easily could have come down from the cross unmarked by His ordeal. Instead, our all-powerful God deliberately chose to limit Himself to the indignities, pain, and weaknesses of a mortal human body. Submitting Himself to God the Father, He chose to endure torture, suffer, and die a miserable death as a man. Why? Because He loved us.

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. [Philippians 2:6-8 (NLT)]

For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. [John 3:16 (NLT)]

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For seven days the bread you eat must be made without yeast, as when you escaped from Egypt in such a hurry. Eat this bread—the bread of suffering—so that as long as you live you will remember the day you departed from Egypt. Let no yeast be found in any house throughout your land for those seven days. Deuteronomy 16: 3-4 (NLT)]


In Exodus 12 and Deuteronomy 16, God ordained a seven-day festival commemorating both the day death’s angel passed over Jewish homes when striking down Egypt’s firstborn sons and Israel’s emancipation from slavery. Prior to the innovation of a fixed mathematical calendar determining the full moon’s date, Jews living outside of Israel celebrated for eight days. Today, in spite of knowing the exact date of the full moon, Orthodox and Conservative Jews outside of Israel continue to celebrate eight days while Jews living in Israel and Reform Jews (no matter where they live) celebrate seven. Whether observed for seven or eight days, Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread begin at sunset this Wednesday when our Jewish sisters and brothers will celebrate with a Seder supper.

A Seder plate holds at least six ritual items to help retell the story of Israel’s exodus from Egypt. Along with a lamb shank representing the paschal (lamb) sacrifice, bitter herbs representing the bitterness of slavery, and saltwater representing the peoples’ tears and sweat will be an unleavened bread called matzah. Called the bread of affliction or suffering, the unleavened bread was to remind Israel of the day they left Egypt.

Although there is written evidence that Egyptians used yeast to bake bread some five thousand years ago, archeologists suspect it was used long before that and leavened bread was a regular part of ancient Israel’s diet when the people fled Egypt. But, because they left in haste, there was no time for dough to rise so the bread they brought with them was unleavened. When God ordained this commemoration, He prohibited eating anything with leavening the entire seven days. Along with refraining from leavened food, He instructed Israel to rid their homes from all leavening agents or products containing leaven.

More than 3,400 years later, preparing for this holiday involves more than eliminating bread, cookies, pastries, yeast, and cake mixes from the pantry. In preparation for Passover, any traces of those items are completely eradicated. The house is meticulously cleaned so that no crumbs remain in the toaster, oven, refrigerator, under cushions, or in pockets. The night preceding Passover, families do one last search for chametz (anything with leavening) and any found is removed from the house and burned outside. In actuality, cleaning one’s house of all yeast is just about impossible because yeast is a fungus. Existing in the air, soil, and on plants, it will find a way to enter even the cleanest house.

While yeast and leavening are what makes baked goods rise, when yeast or leavening are mentioned in the Bible, they sometimes represent sin. Jesus used yeast to describe corruption, false teaching and hypocrisy. Sin, like yeast, is all around us and can enter our lives through the tiniest cracks. Like yeast, sin can grow, multiply, and take on a life of its own. Just as a little yeast can go a long way and spread through dough, a little sin can spread right through a person and spread into those around him.

For Christians, thinking of yeast as symbolic of sin gives additional meaning to the Passover celebration. Because Jesus freed us from the laws and rituals of the Old Testament, we don’t need to search for cookie and bagel crumbs in our pantry nor do we have to forego French toast and toasted cheese sandwiches for the next week. Nevertheless, just as there are crumbs hiding in the bottom of the toaster and under the sofa’s cushions, there is sin hidden in our lives. Rather than hunt through the house for crumbs with leavening, let us search through our hearts for concealed and unacknowledged sin. In preparation for Resurrection Sunday this week, we should look deep into the nooks and crannies of our thoughts and actions and remove all that doesn’t belong.

For Jews, this week celebrates their deliverance from Egypt. As Christians, may this Holy Week prepare us for the celebration of our deliverance from sin!

Don’t you realize that this sin is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old “yeast” by removing this wicked person from among you. Then you will be like a fresh batch of dough made without yeast, which is what you really are. Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed for us. So let us celebrate the festival, not with the old bread of wickedness and evil, but with the new bread of sincerity and truth. [1 Corinthians 5:6-8 (NLT)]

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