The Weeks Leading Up to Easter: Fear or Faith?

Let’s be honest: Who knew how to spell “Coronavirus (COVID 19)” six months ago?  We all heard reports in December that a new virus was emerging in Wuhan, China (I had to look at Google maps to find Wuhan). More, how many of us foresaw the global crisis this invisible invader would initiate?  I had never imagined how quickly nations would close schools, churches, government offices, playgrounds, sporting events, and civic life to prevent the spread of this disease. And, I never dreamed there would be a run on supplies like toilet paper.

Yes. I had watched the science-fiction movies about outbreaks, pandemics, disasters, and global diseases. But these were all “entertainment.” It never crossed my mind these science-fiction fantasies would become reality-tv! Deeper down, I was really hoping this would never happen in my life-time!

As we stay connected to the internet updates, news flashes, tweets, Facebook posts, announcements, and public health orders   – there is one thing that is clear: We are all afraid!  Who among us is not scared for a loved one, a neighbor, a vulnerable person, our children and grandchildren, and our nation? Yet, while we isolate ourselves and practice social-distancing in our homes, we cannot forget: Jesus’s first disciples were afraid for their lives during the weeks leading up to Easter, too! The Gospel of Matthew tells us: “from that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (Matthew 16:21).  Although they were told bad things were going to happen, which of them could have imagined the Passion of the Christ?

We can’t blame them!  Who among us could have imagined the week which began with a Triumphal Entry parade (now called, “Palm Sunday”) would end with Jesus’ arrest, death, crucifixion, and burial in a borrowed grave? Within one week (Holy Week), Jesus would go from public miracle-worker surrounded by thousands of fans to isolated and alone (socially-distanced from everyone because of his arrest). The disciples would go from boldly leading public gatherings to “locked in the Upper Room” because “they were afraid” (John 20:19). The city of Jerusalem would go from accolades and parades to anxiety, fear, and panic. Everyone was wondering: What was going to happen next?

Thankfully, that was not the end of the story…Easter happened!  God raised Jesus Christ from the dead! And Jesus—now ALIVE again — appeared to his disciples for forty-days (the season Christians call “Eastertide”), reassuring them of his victory, his promises, his Spirit, his presence, and God’s continued work in the world! He was reminding his people: We are not alone even when we are isolated from others! A theme repeated in Paul’s letters from prison.

My brothers and sisters, I know there are a lot of people who are afraid. I do not know if this crisis will be over by Easter. I hope! But one thing I do know: we have nothing to fear! Christ HAS died! Christ IS risen!  Christ WILL come again!  The Church will gather together again someday, on earth or in heaven.  Until then, we are called to: Keep the faith!  Practice love and hospitality.  Wait for the Lord!  As the Apostle John wrote: ”There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18 NIV).

Resurrection hope!

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The Heart Already Knows

He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” (John 20:15)

The mind cannot understand
what the heart already knows.
Our intellect searches for explanations,
Evidence, and reasons to dismiss
The miraculous and the mysterious
Ways of God.

Someone must have taken him,
We are certain because we
placed him here, and now
Returning to pay homage to our
Revolutionary leader. Gone
He is not here, lying in the grave.
Someone must have moved him.

Was it you, Mr. Gardner?
Did you move our Savior?
Was it you, Mr. Gardner?
Who tends the vines and
The branches.
Was it you, Mr. Gardner?
Have you cut him off,
Have you thrown him
Into the fire?

Simply tell me the truth,
No harm, no foul, no retaliation.
No one will blame you,
No one will be angry with you.
Tell the truth, and all will be
Forgiven. I will go get him.

We can dry the tears,
But the loss still lengers.
Long after the procession
Is over, and the grave sealed.
We return to the scene
hoping for new news,
Expecting things to be the same.

Why do I cry? I promised God
there would be no whimpering, no tears.
I promised myself, not this time.
I will visit the grave silently,
Reverently, and stoically.
I will pay my proper respects, hoping
Things would be different, this time.

Overwhelmed with emotion,
Tears form. Distraught,
Oceans of emotions flood my
Eyes. Dropping to the floor.
Mixing with the tears of the Apostles,
women, and saints. Overjoyed,
he is not here. He is Risen!

Realizing that everything has changed.
There is no explanation or reasoning,
Someone has taken Him: God.
The mind cannot understand
what the heart already knows.

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Annie in Thailand

John 12:30-33 – Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

Devotion: “Who cares about Annie in Thailand?” a local pastor asked me as I interviewed him about the rapid growth of his suburban church. “Is she any more important than Bob at the business across the street?” “No,” I thought to myself.  “But I care about Annie.”  It was apparent that he did not know her, nor did he want to know her either. His church focuses on people in Quincy, nowhere else. The church receives thousands of dollars which they spend on staff, buildings, and programs for their members. Little or no money is shared with the broader work of God in the world. This anti-missionary attitude is unBiblical!  God is working around the world to draw all people to himself in the cross of Christ – locally and globally.

Who cares about Annie in Thailand? I do!!! Our partners at International Ministries tells us Annie Dieselberg serves as our American Baptist Missionary in Bangkok, Thailand, a bustling metropolis of more than 10 million people. She is the founder and CEO of NightLight – an international organization committed to addressing the complex issues surrounding trafficking and prostitution by catalyzing individual and community transformation. NightLight’s vision is to offer intervention to sexually exploited women and children, to enable them to discover their dignity, and to provide a program of holistic transformation, empowering them to live and work in their community.

Missionaries and volunteers build relationships and provide hope, intervention, rescue and assistance to women and children exploited in the sex industry by offering alternative employment through the registered jewelry business NightLight Design, Co. Ltd., as well as vocational opportunities, life-skills training and physical, emotional and spiritual development to women seeking freedom from sexual exploitation. NightLight builds support networks internationally to intervene and assist women, men and children whose lives are negatively impacted by the sex industry. Your gifts to the World Mission Offering tells Annie and the World that God’s global workers matter to you and Central Baptist Church!

Find more information about NightLight at

Prayer: God our Father of all people, we praise you in the name of Jesus Christ for your creative power working in the world by the Holy Spirit. We confess that You made all things and You are making all things new in Jesus.  Accept our humble confession that we do not see the world as You see it.  We are narrow-sighted when You take the long view.  We are worried about ourselves while You are mindful of all people on the earth.  We want to take care of our wants, needs, and wishes while You are taking care of building the Kingdom of God.  We are sorry for these shortcomings.  Lift our eyes to see the people and places where Your Spirit is working to draw all people to You in Jesus Christ.  Make it our mission to join Your mission in the world, for the glory of your Name.  Amen.

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Don’t Spend God’s Money on Yourself

2 Corinthians 9:6-7 – Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Devotion: My first experience with tithing was not a positive experience  My Church Parents – a Christian couple assigned to nurture me in the faith because my parents where not believers – decided to teach me the practice of tithing. Marge asked me to bring my first paychecks to the church, after I cashed them, so I could learn to “tithe.” Joyfully, I brought a small wad of cash on a Sunday morning. She counted and stacked three piles of money: one for tithing, savings, and spending. “You need to put this ten-percent in the offering plate for the Lord,” she said. It looked huge but the Bible told me this was the right thing to do as a believer. “This ten-percent is for your savings account,” she continued. “And this stack you can buy clothes for school.”

Two weeks later, I decided to out-smart her. I cashed my paycheck and spent the money. “Where is your paycheck?” Marge asked. “I spent it,” I replied with a smile. “So, there is no money for God this week.” “Oh, is that right?” Marge asked. “Show me the things you bought with God’s money.” She drove me home where I showed her the toys I had purchased with the money. “Thank you for buying these for the Lord,” she said as she took the items from me. “You don’t get to spend God’s money on yourself. God will give these to kids who need them.” I was shocked and amazed! I learned the lesson. It was the last time I kept God’s money for myself.

The Old Testament command to tithe is no longer a legal requirement for believers in Christ. It is a Christian practice that helps us to learn to give, but it is not a requirement for church membership. Jesus’ command to Love God and Love Others exceeds strict limitations (only giving 10%) to the greater act of “generous.” Giving is a spiritual discipline: things Christian people do together over time in response to and in light of God’s active presence for the life of the world. Give, and you will learn gratitude.

Prayer:  Gracious God, you have given your creation everything – life, breathe, healing, help, sustenance, a Savior, and the Spirit.   You have opened your heart and hands to us in Jesus Christ.  Help us to give as you give – graciously, generously, and with gratitude.  We pray in the name of Jesus.  Amen.

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The Reverend Ivan E. Greuter at Central Baptist Church is organizing a four-day Spiritual  Retreat – “Conversations with the Trinity” – to our denominational Christian Conference Center at Green Lake, Wisconsin, Thursday, October 18 thru Sunday, October 21, 2012.  We will stay in the historic Roger Williams Inn.  Meals will be served buffet style in Bauer Dining Room in Kraft Centre including all-you-can-eat ice cream!  Participants will be encouraged to take the Guided Tram Tour, play golf on the championship courses Lawsonia, shop at the World Wide Gift story, and explore the many acres while learning about the Trinity’s promise for the renewal of prayer. Contact Reverend Greuter to register for this spiritual adventure to the American Baptist Assembly grounds. Cost: $250.00 per person,  double occupancy (single occupancy add $50.00), meals included. Visit: to learn more about Green Lake Conference Center.

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Day 58 – Lift Up Holy Hands in Prayer

1 Timothy 2:1-8 – I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people — for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles. Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.

Devotion:  Prayer is the first act of evangelism.  Long before the person of God should speak to someone far away from the Kingdom of God, they must first meet with the Father, Savior, and Sanctifier – who is One – on behalf of the lost soul. Before we knock on the door, we must kneel on our floors.  Before we reach out to the lost, we must reach up to the Lord.  This “coming together” of Christ and the Church is right and is acceptable in the sight of God (v. 3), for it is God who evangelizes the nations using believers as witnesses to Jesus Christ.  Only after we have received our instructions we can obediently follow them.

When the Christian prematurely attempts to evangelize their neighbors without conferencing with the Evangelizer of the nations, the experience can end in frustration that “no one is responding.”  When the church uses business growth strategies or marketing tools to entice large crowds, one must wonder if this is God’s will that only a few become fully devoted followers.  When the church refuses to speak to the Lord on behalf of our lost ones, we must wonder if we are fully devoted followers of Christ.  Then, there are other churches who do not evangelize the nations at all because they, too, have not conference with the One who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (v. 4).  Christians must first convene a meeting in prayer with the One who was “lifted up from the earth,” in preparation to “draw all people to himself.”[1]

The Apostle Paul urged his young apprentice to know the truth: God evangelizes the nations. It is the Holy Spirit who calls, convicts, and converts the sinner’s heart.  There is no one more powerful or skilled for the task of drawing people to Christ than the Spirit of the Resurrected One.  Yet, God has determined to use men and women who are willing to lift up their hands to heaven – not in a jealous outrage like Cain when he killed his brother Abel[2] – to save their brother and sister.  This is a partnership between heaven and the church for those on the earth.

Paul instructed Timothy that “petitions, prayers, pleadings, and praises” be offered to God on behalf of every class of people.  This four-fold intercessory act was not to exhort God to evangelize the lost, for God already desires all people to be saved.  Instead, it was to serve as a meeting of the minds between the church and Christ – between men and their Mediator – in an effort to orchestrate evangelize.

Dear souls, if your spouse is lost, pray.  If your son or daughter is lost, pray.  If your neighbor is lost, pray.  If your co worker, prayer.  If you best friend in school is lost, pray.  Hear God’s invitation to “coming together” on your knees in ardent prayer on behalf of the one you love.  Conference with the Lord who longs to forgive, love, reconcile, and transform all people – high and low – into kingdom citizens.  Then, when you rise from the floor, you will be better prepared to witness to your loved one in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Prayer:  Father, who do you want me to speak with about your Son, today?  My spouse? My neighbor? The homeless man?  The mayor?  The king?  I humble wait here on my knees for you to give me the word, and then I will go in unison with your Spirit, in Jesus’ name.  Amen. 

Prayer Exercise:  “Novenas,” page 85, in Patricia D. Brown, “Paths to Prayer: Finding Your Own Way to the Presence of God,” (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003). ISBN: 0-779-6565-0. Copyright © 2003 by Patricia D. Brown.  All rights reserved.  

[1] John 12:32

[2] Genesis 4

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Day 57 – Fan the Flames

1 Thessalonians 5:19 – Do not quench the Spirit.

Devotion: The spring breeze stirs within my kids the desire to fly kites.  My children start singing the popular musical song, Lets Go Fly a Kite, as they frantically search for last year’s racer or beg for a new box kite.  We run across the street to the open field where we launch our light frames of plastic and paper aerials into the sunny sky with the tails whipping in the wind.   The joyfulness continues until lines tangle, tails tear, or the wind stops blowing.  It is the informal start to our summer fun.  Nothing ends the amazement of loftiness like malice and mischief, like the time my brother shot my kite out of the sky with his bow and arrow.

In the church, nothing squashes a good idea like immediate criticism by someone called to love.  How many lofty ideas have started to spread their wings in the springtime of life only to be shot down by the flaming arrows of “friendly fire”?  How many people’s passion for the church have been snuffed out by those called to fan the flames of faith? [1]   Or how many youth have their spiritual excitement extinguished by the deluge of ridicule or unwelcome comments by older generations?  Too often the spark of the Spirit is quenched by the drop of fire retardant ridicule from super-tankers in the sky attempting to prevent a forest fire.  Once the Spirit is suddenly cooled, the faithful lose heart and heat for the cause of Christ.  It is difficult – but not impossible – for God to fan into flames the passions and desires of the Spirit after they have been suppressed.

Paul wrote the Thessalonians: Do not quench the Spirit.  Do not stomp out the creative spark and contagious energy in the congregation by disrespect, criticism, and complaining.  The Spirit is the giver of life[2] which enflames believers to greater devotion, dedication, and service for Christ in the world.  Paul appealed to the church to exercise fifteen virtuous acts that give lift to other people’s faith, passions and ideas. The lifting up of one another will fill the sky with the banners of faith for the entire world to see.  Then, we will be more like Jesus who was careful to fulfill Isaiah 42:1-4: A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.[3]

Prayer:  Father, I confess that I’m more likely to shoot people’s ideas down than lift them higher.  Forgive your church for its unwarranted criticism and cynicism by the sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ.  Send your Spirit to sweep through your congregations with fresh wind that lifts us higher and higher, until the entire world sees your glory in the heavens.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen. 

Prayer Exercise:  “Anointing for Healing,” page 150, in Patricia D. Brown, “Paths to Prayer: Finding Your Own Way to the Presence of God,” (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003). ISBN: 0-779-6565-0. Copyright © 2003 by Patricia D. Brown.  All rights reserved.  

[1] 2 Timothy 1:6

[2] Nicene Creed

[3] Matthew 12:20

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Day 56 – You Are Not Alone

1 Peter 1:1-3: To the exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia,  Asia, and Bithynia, who have been chosen an destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood:  May grace and pace be yours in abundance.

Devotion:  My aunt loves to travel.  She talks of vacations in Paris, Rome, Ireland, Athens, Bangkok, Rio de Janeiro, or Duran, if she had the money.   My uncle, on the other hand, is a homebody.  She says, “His idea of a vacation is taking his soda to the back yard.” She dreams of adventures in far off lands.  He dreams of comfortable chairs, quiet neighborhoods, and cool breezes.  Like most Americans, they take the family on an annual vacation in the United States.

Exile is not a vacation, a sabbatical rest, or a time of renewal.  Exiles are persons who were physically forced to depart the comfort, familiarity, and safety of their homeland for a time of detention in strange, new lands.  Their involuntary relocation felt like a death march to a territory filled with disbelief, discontinuity, and a loss of dignity.  Exile was an experience the people of God knew too well.[1] 

In his letter, Peter was writing to encourage God’s children scattered to the four corners of the earth as aliens in a frightening world.[2] He reminded them that heaven is the believer’s true home.  Therefore, sanctifying souls must endure the hardship of exile until God gathers them together in the everlasting Kingdom.  Exile is not permanent, nor should we grow accustomed to the new world.  We are not on vacation, nor are we trying to escaping the daily demands of life.  Rather, we are to wait in our captive deportation for the anticipated arrival of our Liberating King. 

Dear soul, do not be disheartened by the world even if you find yourself surrounded by the impassible interior mountains of Pontus, the ethical dilemmas of Galatia, the shifting political terrain of Cappadocia, the unscrupulous and greedy leaders of ancient Asia, and the scholarly philosophers of Bithynia.  You are not alone!  Our triune God is with us.  God chose us, the Spirit is sanctifying us, and the blood of Christ is forgiving us because of Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection.  You are not alone! You are surrounded by a host of other sojourners, known as the Church, who are experiencing the same discontinuity of community and chaos in the dispersion.  Obedience to Christ will give us the abundant blesses of grace and peace needed until you reach your true, final home.

Prayer: God our Father, the world is a strange place filled with disjointed messages, disheartening ideas, disturbance experiences, and disagreeable people.  Grant to your Church the ability to obey Jesus Christ by the work of your Holy Spirit, that we might experience the abundance of grace and peace until we reach our final home with you.  We pray in the name of Jesus, who reigns with you, Father, and the Holy Spirit, as One God forever and ever.  Amen. 

Prayer Exercise:  “Praying with Mandalas,” page 293, in Patricia D. Brown, “Paths to Prayer: Finding Your Own Way to the Presence of God,” (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003). ISBN: 0-779-6565-0. Copyright © 2003 by Patricia D. Brown.  All rights reserved.  

[1] Isa. 45:14, 52:2; Ps. 149, Lam. 3:7, Jer. 32:2, Zech 9:11

[2] Gal. 4:21-31; Phil. 3;20, Jam. 1:1

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Day 55 – Enduring Ashen Grey

John 8:12: Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’.


O, ashen, barren tree,
Split with summer’s heat,
Wounded by rapid growth,
Drought, wind, and winter freeze.

Branches broken high above,
Hanging barely by the bark.
Dangling, lifeless leaves,
Providing sustenance no more.

Birds abandoned your canopy,
Head for warmer winters south.
Anticipating spring’s return,
The song silence drowns out.

What will you do to endure,
The grey clouded skies above?
Dormant and decaying inside,
Like the soul filled with doubts.

Do not fret, O friend of mine,
Thou the darkness linger on.
Brighter days will come again,
In the joyful array of Light.

Prayer: God our Father, thank you for coming in the dark days of winter as the Light of Life in Jesus Christ.  Shine, Holy Spirit, upon all who dwell in darkness of sin, sadness, and the shadow of death, in the name of Jesus.  Amen. 

Prayer Exercise:  “Prayer Walk,” page 209, in Patricia D. Brown, “Paths to Prayer: Finding Your Own Way to the Presence of God,” (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003). ISBN: 0-779-6565-0. Copyright © 2003 by Patricia D. Brown.  All rights reserved.  

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Day 54 – I Don’t Like You; I Love You!

John 13:34: Jesus said, “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.”

Devotion:  My kindergarten son wrote his first complete sentence: “I like dad.”  I was very proud of him, and astonished at his maturity.  He has struggled to learn his alphabet, numbers, and articulate his thoughts.  So, a deep sense of pride welled up within me for my son when I saw his first sentence, notwithstanding the fact that he wrote it across his sister’s bedroom wall.

Too many Christians in the local church are stuck on this elementary spiritual state: they like each other but they do not love one another.  How many churches do you know that are filled with “friendly” people but the members are not friends?  Friendly people keep a protective distance from others while friends authentically enter into the lives of one another.  Friends care for each other in holistic ways (i.e., compassion for hurts and pains, common courtesy, respect, willingness to sacrifice for the betterment of others, time spent listening and sharing, building up each other, giving generous space for opposing views, etc.).  Friends do not find people “just like them” (how boring!) but they find people who will love them for who they are and who they are becoming in Christ.

Jesus Christ commanded that his disciples love one another (Greek agape, self-sacrificing love).  The apostles were vastly different from one another with a hodgepodge of working class fishermen, financial experts, Publicans, a traitor, and zealots. Yet, Jesus’ new command summarizes the old commands into a single call to universal service.  The command came from Jesus’ Trinitarian experience! Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”[1]  Christ’s followers display the Trinity’s reciprocating love as Christ’s a witness to the world.  God chose to display this witness in the local church!

What message would the world recognize about God if local Christians stopped liking one another but started loving each other?

Prayer:  Our Father in Heaven, thank you for becoming our friend in Jesus Christ. Now, make us friends with believers in the world by the work of your Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Prayer Exercise:  “Emmaus Prayer Walk,” page 214, in Patricia D. Brown, “Paths to Prayer: Finding Your Own Way to the Presence of God,” (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003). ISBN: 0-779-6565-0. Copyright © 2003 by Patricia D. Brown.  All rights reserved.  

[1] John 15:9-10

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