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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But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. [Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)]

great blue heronAs we continued our brief study on prayer, one person shared that his prayer frequently is for patience. Agreeing, I admitted often praying, “Lord, please give me patience…and give it to me now!” While patience is a fruit of the Spirit, I have a problem getting it to grow in the garden of my life.

Without a doubt, we live in a fast-paced world and perhaps we’ve grown more impatient because of that. For example, a good download speed is 100 Mbps which allows for the receipt of 12.5 MB per second. A byte is the equivalent of one typed character so that’s like 12.5 million letters in one second (or four complete King James Bibles)! Nevertheless, we complain when we see that download circle spin for even a few seconds!

We no longer need to visit the library or bookstore for a book, the encyclopedia for an answer, or Blockbuster for a movie. Our apps mean we skip the checkout lines and our DVRs allow us to skip the commercials! Grocery shopping takes only a few minutes thanks to Instacart and DoorDash allows us to skip the groceries altogether! We pay bills, do our banking, plan travel, and shop with a few clicks of a mouse and what we order today appears on our doorstep tomorrow! We literally live in a world of instant pots, grams, chargers, coffee, rice, carts, and gratification. Patience may be a virtue but it seems as rare as handwritten letters and phone booths. Its rarity, however, doesn’t mean it’s unnecessary!

I thought about patience this morning while walking in a nearby park. We were mesmerized while watching a beautiful Great Blue Heron ((Ardea herodias) hunt for breakfast. With a height of four feet and a wingspan of nearly seven feet, the Great Blue is an impressive bird. When foraging, it stands still for long periods of time with only his head moving while patiently scanning the water for prey. When a heron wades through the water, it seems to glide. Its long legs move so deliberately and gracefully there’s not even a ripple in the water. At the Great Blue stalks its food in the wetlands, this statuesque bird is a model of focus, diligence, and purpose. Watching a heron hunt is like seeing something in ultra-slow-motion. But, when its next meal comes swimming past, the heron moves with lightning speed, uncoils its long neck, and plunges its sizable beak and head into the water. On occasion it comes up empty-beaked but, more often than not, its patience pays off and the bird emerges with a fish, frog, snake or other unlucky critter. While I’ve gotten plenty of photos of a heron hunting and several of one enjoying its catch, I’ve never gotten one of the bird actually getting its meal. You see, the heron’s patience exceeds my own. No matter how long I stalk the bird for the perfect shot, I give up before it does! Were I a heron, I surely would go hungry!

Watching the heron today was a beautiful reminder to slow down and exercise patience as we move through life. It’s easy to lose faith when things don’t move along at the pace we want them to go but life isn’t meant to be measured at megabits per second. Unlike Siri, God isn’t at our beck and call with answers to every question. Moreover, unlike UPS, He doesn’t give us a tracking link to check on a prayer’s progress and know its delivery date. God works in His time and way and what seems like a delay on His part is just our unrealistic expectations concerning God’s perfect plan.

God speaks to us through his creation and nature (like God) takes its own sweet time to accomplish its purpose. Indeed, “For everything there is a season.” It takes time for seeds to germinate, seedlings to flower, and flowers to bear fruit. It takes time for nests to be built, eggs to hatch, and eaglets to fly. It takes time for bees to pollinate, seasons to change, caterpillars to become butterflies, saplings to become tall oaks, tadpoles to become frogs, and for the heron to stalk its meal! May God’s beautiful world remind us to slow down and savor the moments and people with whom we are blessed.

Lord, please give us patience—for other people’s sentences to be completed, for projects to be finished, for questions to be answered, and for problems to be solved. Give us patience to let our children mature, for friendships to grow, and for skills to develop. May we have patience for tempers to cool and relationships to mend, patience with our own shortcomings and those of others, patience for healing to occur, and patience for prayers to be answered. Teach us how to wait!

Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience. [Ralph Waldo Emerson]

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. [Colossians 3:12 (NLT)]

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… AND GOING (Part 2)

Then I heard the Lord asking, “Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?” I said, “Here I am. Send me.” [Isaiah 6:8 (NLT)]

I, the Lord of sea and sky, I have heard my people cry
All who dwell in dark and sin My hand will save.
I, who made the stars of night, I will make their darkness bright.
Who will bear my light to them? Whom shall I send?
Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.
[Dan Schutte]

elephantLast week, after singing we’d come in the opening hymn, we promised to go in the closing one: I the Lord of Sea and Sky. Originally written for a Roman Catholic ordination mass in 1981, it has found its way into many Protestant hymnals. As I sang the refrain, “Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?” I thought of Samuel and Isaiah, both of whom were called by God and both of whom responded by saying, “Here I am.” I wonder if I would have responded as positively as did they. Like Moses, would I have protested or, like Jeremiah, say my age disqualified me? Would I simply have run away as did Jonah? Although Moses, Jeremiah, and even Jonah eventually answered God’s call, I’m not so sure I would have (although three days in the belly of a fish might have convinced me)!

Being a prophet was a little like being God’s press secretary. Acting as His spokesperson, the prophet conveyed God’s words and message to the people. Unlike a press conference, however, negative news didn’t get a positive spin and there was no quibbling about the meaning of words. Prophets didn’t speak off-the-record, dissemble, beat around the bush, or use alternative facts and half-truths. With no need to be re-elected, God never worried about approval ratings and His prophets spoke only the unadulterated and often unpopular truth.

While a bearer of glad tidings is popular and welcome, indicting people for their sins  or bringing a message of judgment and destruction was no way to win a popularity contest in Judah, Israel, and the surrounding nations. As the frequent bearers of reproach, dire warnings, and sad tidings, prophets often were ignored and persecuted. Nevertheless, Isaiah and the others reported for duty and took on a task that few would want.

God’s prophets answered His call because they trusted and loved Him. They knew He didn’t bring the Israelites to the edge of the Red Sea only to have them drown in the waters or be captured by the Egyptian soldiers nor did He send them through the wilderness only to have them die from starvation or lack of water before arriving in Canaan. God didn’t put Noah and the animals on that Ark without bringing them to dry land, He didn’t have Joshua march around Jericho without giving him victory, and He didn’t send David out to meet Goliath without those five smooth stones for his sling! Confident that God would provide all they needed, those prophets answered His call.

The pastor’s choice of opening and closing hymns had us both coming and going that day. The hymns were a vivid reminder that it’s not enough just to come to Jesus; He also expects us to go out into the world for Him. He calls us to service—to be His messengers and spread His word, light, and love to the world around us. When He calls, do we answer or do we pretend we don’t hear? Do we trust God to provide whatever we need or do we doubt and reject Him? Even though God warned his prophets that most people wouldn’t listen to them, let alone heed their words, they heeded His call by saying, “Here I am. Send me.”  Will we do the same?

We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum. A.W. Tozer]

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. [Acts 1:8 (NLT)]

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“I am the resurrection and the life,” replied Jesus. “Anyone who believes in me will live, even if they die. And anyone who lives and believes in me will never, ever die.” [John 11: 25-26 (NTE)]

Matterhorn Memorial - Zermatt

Courtesy of technology, we recently attended an Illinois church service while sitting at our computers in Florida. The choir, accompanied by pipe organ and trumpet, began with Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring and ended with Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee. The trumpet’s bright piercing sound and the organ’s lilting accompaniment in the first song and the uplifting words in the final one makes them popular choices for joyful occasions like weddings, Christmas, and Easter. Although we were rejoicing, we weren’t celebrating nuptials, Christ’s birth, or His resurrection. Instead, we were rejoicing in a life well lived and celebrating the life of a friend who recently went home to God.

During the service, several people spoke of this Christian man’s faith, character, modesty, generosity, humility, compassion, honesty, reliability, thoughtfulness, wisdom, and curiosity. A leader both in his community and church, he built consensus rather than caused discord, bore the fruit of the Spirit, and truly lived his life as a follower of Christ. Although he played the trumpet in college, he never blew his own horn or called attention to himself. Nevertheless, he was a shining light in a world filled with darkness. Our lives were blessed by his presence and he will be deeply missed by all who knew him.

As much as his family and friends mourn his absence, the service was one of unparalleled joy because, while here on earth, he followed Jesus with his heart, soul, body, and mind. We could be joyful because we know death is not the end of our lives—just of our lives in these perishable bodies. As Christians, we have hope of something greater that goes far beyond life and death.

In contrast, I can’t feel joy at any funeral or memorial service for a non-believer. While songs may be sung, they’re more likely to be My Way or Over the Rainbow than Abide with Me or It is Well with My Soul. After sharing memories and listing accomplishments, the person giving the eulogy will say reassuring things about the deceased being in a better place, with the angels, or watching over us—none of which are based in reality. Unbelievers are not going home or into the arms of God, they won’t be “looking down” at their loved ones, and there won’t be a happy reunion in heaven with friends and family. The only way an unbeliever lives on is in photographs and people’s memories; sadly, even those will fade and be lost over time. There is little comfort in the passing of a non-believer.

While there are different opinions in Christ’s church about what happens immediately after death, there is unanimity in His church about what eventually happens—we will come face to face with God and our entire lives will be examined. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection mean that His followers aren’t afraid of God’s judgment on the day. Regardless of our failures and sins, we are recipients of God’s grace and forgiven for our wrongs. Because of God’s mercy and grace, all of His adopted children have a confirmed reservation waiting for them in heaven.

Because the only way to heaven is faith in Jesus and there is no return from the depths of hell, there is no comfort or joy in the passing of a non-believer. On the other hand, in spite of our sorrow, we can rejoice when Christ’s followers depart this world because we know their destination, that our separation is only temporary, and that we will meet again in God’s good time. That’s why, at their passing, we can raise our voices and joyfully sing, “Joyful, joyful, we adore You, God of glory, Lord of love; Hearts unfold like flowers before You, Opening to the sun above.”

Morality may keep you out of jail, but it takes the blood of Jesus Christ to keep you out of hell. [Charles Spurgeon]

I’m telling you the solemn truth: anyone who hears my word, and believes in the one who sent me, has the life of God’s coming age. Such a person won’t come into judgment; they will have passed out of death into life. [John 5:24 (NTE)]

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Then Jesus turned to the crowd and said, “When you see clouds beginning to form in the west, you say, ‘Here comes a shower.’ And you are right. When the south wind blows, you say, ‘Today will be a scorcher.’ And it is. You fools! You know how to interpret the weather signs of the earth and sky, but you don’t know how to interpret the present times.” [Luke 12:54-59 (NLT)]

After admonishing the crowd surrounding Him for being able to predict the weather but being oblivious to the signs of the arrival of God’s Kingdom, Jesus told a parable about getting right with God before judgment. As He was speaking, he was told about a recent incident in which Pontius Pilate ordered his soldiers to murder some Galileans while they offered their Temple sacrifices. On Monday, in “The Man from Galilee,” I wrote about the stereotypes Judeans had of Galileans; along with thinking them to be uneducated peasants, many Judeans regarded Galileans as trouble-making rebels against Rome. Indeed, Galileans had revolted after Herod the Great was named King, and, in 6 AD, another rebellion was led by Judas of Galilee. Indicating Rome’s expectation of armed resistance from Jesus and his Galilean disciples, a contingent (around 500) of heavily armed soldiers were sent to arrest Him in Gethsemane. Jesus even asked if they thought him a dangerous revolutionary. While turning the other cheek and loving one’s enemies was a revolutionary concept, that was not the kind of revolution people expected from a Galilean.

Understanding the crowd’s bias makes it likely that their specific mention of the murdered men being Galilean indicates their suspicion that the men may have been trouble-makers who deserved their deaths. Perceiving the crowd’s smug viewpoint, Jesus asked whether those Galileans deserved their brutal deaths more than any other Galilean and immediately answered His own question with a firm, “Not at all!” Turning the tables on his questioners, He mentioned a recent disaster that had horrified the nation when eighteen men were crushed to death after a tower they’d been building collapsed on them. He then asked, “Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem?” before repeating His caution to repent lest His listeners perish as well.

As long as life goes smoothly for us, it’s easy to self-righteously think that those who suffer deserve God’s judgment. After all, that’s what Job’s friends mistakenly thought about his afflictions. When life takes a turn for the worse and we’re on the receiving end of tragedy as it did for Job, that reasoning flies out the window. None of those laborers were any more deserving of their deaths than were the “Galileans.” By the same token, none of them were less deserving of their suffering, even if they all were truly evil people.

Whether the devastation and loss of life from events like Hurricane Ian or the unbearable horror of a school shooting like Uvalde, experiencing tragedy has nothing to do with one’s righteousness. The Book of Job makes it clear that even the most righteous among us have no right to question God. Suffering, disease, and death originate from God’s curse because of that first sin. Even terms like “innocent child” and “good person” are relative terms since we all are sinners and deserving of God’s righteous judgment.

Tragedies show us that life is fragile and that we must get right with God before we die and face judgment. If nothing else, catastrophe and misfortune should drive us to repentance and Jesus warned the crowd to do just that: “Repent of your sins and turn to God.” It is repentance that keeps us from perishing—not from suffering and certainly not from dying—but from perishing!

“Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?” Jesus asked. “Is that why they suffered? Not at all! And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God. And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too.” [Luke 13:2-5 (NLT)]

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Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. [James 4:13-14 (NLT)]

Hibiscus trionum - Flower-of-an-Hour
Several years ago, a young woman with Parkinson’s told me, “Every day I wake up, I realize that I’m the best I ever will be and it’s only downhill from here.” Rather than complaining, she was explaining how that knowledge made her determined to seize and delight in each day. Unlike her, I’m not suffering from a degenerative disease (other than age); nevertheless, her words continue to haunt me. No matter how healthy or happy we may (or may not) be today, we have no guarantee that tomorrow will be any better. Life is precarious and our tomorrows are uncertain. Yet, we so often squander the hours and days we’re given.

We regularly called a friend whose remaining time was counted in weeks. Having exhausted all treatment options, he was painfully aware of being on a steep downhill run. Like the woman with Parkinson’s, however, he refused to let that knowledge steal his joy in the present. In fact, his awareness of life’s fragility seemed to give him more appreciation of every moment with which God blessed him. Thankful for every morning he saw, he was determined to make that day his best one by rejoicing in its simplest gifts. Of course, being a man of faith, he knew that death does not have the final word and had no fear of what lay ahead of him. Nevertheless, until that time came (as it did last week), he continued to seize the day with all the joy and gusto he could muster.

A new year is fast approaching and, as I started making plans for 2023, I thought about the uncertainty of our tomorrows, not just for my friend, but for all of us. Why do we waste a single breath with anger, regret, resentment, or complaint? Why do we fritter away even five seconds in self-pity or worry when they should be spent in thankfulness and joy? Why do we see the day’s imperfections with twenty/twenty vision when we’re blind to the day’s blessings? The old saying, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life!” is only partially true. We all have expiration dates and today well could be the last day of our lives here on earth. Shouldn’t we make it the best one we’ll have?

Perhaps we can learn from the Hibiscus trionum. Called “Flower-of-an-Hour,” each flower blooms during a single sunny day and remains open only a few hours. Nevertheless, the flower makes the most of its brief time by turning to the sun, getting pollinated, providing pollen and nectar for bees and butterflies, and sharing its leaves with caterpillars and rabbits. Why don’t we make the most of our time in the sun? It shouldn’t take cancer or Parkinson’s to make us realize that today is the best day of our lives! It is the day the Lord has made—the precious day the Lord has given us in this precarious world—and we should rejoice in each and every moment of it!

Father, forgive us when we fail to make the most of the days with which you have generously blessed us. Help us to seize today with joy and thanksgiving and be glad in it. No matter what the future may bring, may each day be our best one ever!

The past, the present and the future are really one: they are today. [Harriet Beecher Stowe]

This is the Lord’s doing, and it is wonderful to see. This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it. [Psalm 118:23-24 (NLT)]

Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered—how fleeting my life is. [Psalm 39:4 (NLT)]

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