Devotions for Lent–Harrowing of Hell!

That’s why scripture says, When he climbed up to the heights, he captured prisoners, and he gave gifts to people. What does the phrase “he climbed up” mean if it doesn’t mean that he had first gone down into the lower regions, the earth? The one who went down is the same one who climbed up above all the heavens so that he might fill everything. (Eph 4:8-10 CEB)

“When the gatekeepers of hell saw him, they fled; the bronze gates were broken open, and the iron chains were undone” (Cyril of Alexandria, Ancient Commentary on Scripture 11.107).

This is the day referred to by the Orthodox church as the Great Sabbath.  It’s the day when Jesus’ body rested in Joseph’s grave, while Christ descended into the lower regions of the earth to set the captives free.  Many believe that Christ went to preach the ‘Good News,’ while others believe it was more of an announcement, a declaration of victory.

The voice of our Lord sounded into Hell, and He cried aloud and burst the graves one by one. Tremblings took hold on Death; Hell that never of old had been lighted up, into it there flashed splendors, from the Watchers [angels] who entered in and brought out the dead to meet Him, who was dead and gives life to all. (Nisibene Hymns 36.11)

For the religious hierarchy, having crucified Jesus, everything was quite in Palestine.  However, down below there was a whole lot of shaking going on.

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Good Friday!

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Some of those who stood there, when they heard that, said, “This Man is calling for Elijah!” Immediately one of them ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink. 49 The rest said, “Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to save Him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up His spirit. Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many. So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Mat 27:46-54 NKJ)

“It costs God nothing, so far as we know, to create nice things; but to convert rebellious wills cost Him crucifixion.”― C. S. Lewis

Today is the original ‘Black Friday,’ the day they crucified my Lord. Swiss Theologian and Catholic priest Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote, “It is to the Cross that the Christian is challenged to follow his Master: no path of redemption can make a detour around it.” Every Christian enjoys the celebration of Resurrection Sunday, and yet there can be no Sunday until we come face to face with Jesus’ death on that cross.  Isaiah prophesied the full extent of what was to happen. “He was despised and avoided by others; a man who suffered, who knew sickness well. Like someone from whom people hid their faces, he was despised, and we didn’t think about him. It was certainly our sickness that he carried, and our sufferings that he bore, but we thought him afflicted, struck down by God and tormented. He was pierced because of our rebellions and crushed because of our crimes. He bore the punishment that made us whole; by his wounds, we are healed.” (Isa 53:3-5 CEB)

It’s Friday, and I feel like I have lost a friend, but Sundays coming!

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Devotions for Lent–Lament

Let those who plant with tears reap the harvest with joyful shouts. Let those who go out, crying and carrying their seed, come home with joyful shouts, carrying bales of grain! (Psa 126:5-6 CEB)

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Dr. Martin L. King

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Dr. Martin L. King

What do you see on television, news or internet that makes you cry? Crying is a natural response human have to a range of emotions, including sadness, grief, joy, and frustration. I was once told that we should ask God to show us how his heart feels, a prayer that I prayed and have never been the same since.

Yesterday I was responding to their response to my post on Facebook. I posted the following: The Civil War remains the deadliest war the United States has ever waged. The latest estimates show that between 650,000 and 850,000 people died.  We learned nothing! We’re still killing each other whether they be Muslim, immigrant, Gay, poor or just a different opinion.  We can’t accept the greater diversity that has already made America great.

They responded with, “what about Korea, and Afganistan?” To which I responded, “and Yemen, Syria, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Puerto Rico.” I dawned on me that the list goes on; I hadn’t even mentioned the atrocities of slavery, and ‘Jim Crow.’ How must God feel, and what is our response, do we really care? The tears that we shed are not wasted, the psalmist says, “You’ve kept track of all my wandering and my weeping. You’ve stored my many tears in your bottle—not one will be lost. For they are all recorded in your book of remembrance. (Ps 56:8, TPT)

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Devotions for Lent–Revive Us LORD!

Now, Lord, do it again! Restore us to our former glory! May streams of your refreshing flow over us until our dry hearts are drenched again. (Ps 126:4, TPT)

You may or may not know the history of evangelical Christianity in America, but in the past, God has done great things. Two years ago, Ann and I visited the site of the Azusa Street Revival.  The area has been commercialized, and only a plaque remains.  As we stood there and prayed, we felt the power of the Holy Spirit sweep over us.

The First Great Awakening of 1730–1755 brought a fresh call for renewal and purity.  Preachers such as George Whitefield, John Wesley, and Jonathan Edwards brought a message to reach the heart and minds of men, women, and children.

The Second Great Awakening of 1790–1840 brought an increase in numbers to the Methodist and Baptist churches. Preaching with emotion as a response to the dryness of the enlightenment.

The Third Great Awakening of 1855–1910 saw a growing concern for social justice.

Azusa Street revival of 1906 saw an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that swept through America.  Many new denominations formed, Assemblies of God, Church of God, and Church of God in Christ. The Keswick Movement of 1858 in England saw the Welsh Revival and other moves of God that started several new Pentecostal denominations in the UK.

So, it’s 2019; the church seems to be all over the place.  Perhaps our should be the words of the psalmist, “Lord, do it again! Restore us to our former glory! May streams of your refreshing flow over us until our dry hearts are drenched again.”

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Devotions for Lent–So Grateful!

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

The LORD has done great things for us, And we are glad. (Psa 126:3 NKJ)

“Perhaps it takes a purer faith to praise God for unrealized blessings than for those we once enjoyed or those we enjoy now.” ― A.W. Tozer

Sometimes we moan and complain about the most trivial things. Yet there are those who should be complaining, but they chose to be thankful.  Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was a Russian novelist, historian, and short story writer. A critic of the Soviet system, he spent eight years in prison and three years in exile.  He wrote:

“It was granted to me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how good. In the intoxication of youthful successes, I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power, I was a murderer and an oppressor. In my most evil moments, I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts…. That is why I turn back to the years of my imprisonment and say, sometimes to the astonishment of those about me: “Bless you, prison!” I…have served enough time there. I nourished my soul there, and I say without hesitation: “Bless you, prison, for having been in my life!” (The Gulag Archipelago: 1918-1956, Vol. 2, 615-617)

I want to declare today that the LORD has done great things for us, And I am glad.

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Devotions for Lent–Laughter set the captive free!

When the LORD brought back the captivity of Zion, We were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, And our tongue with singing. Then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” (Psa 126:1-2 NKJ)

“My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”

“I have often read in Scripture of the holy laughter of Abraham, when he fell upon his face and laughed; but I do not know that I ever experienced that laughter till a few evenings ago, when this text came home to me with such sacred power as literally to cause me to laugh . . .” Charles Spurgeon

Several years ago phenomena swept through the US, Canada, and the UK called the Toronto blessing. Preachers and congregations would suddenly break out in uncontrollable laughter.  The internet was filled with preachers, theologians, from puritan, reformed and fundamentalist groups refuting this as the work of the Devil, deception in the church. Yet the Psalmist clearly tells us that laughter can be God’s way of freeing us up, release us from our captivity.  Sometimes Christians can be so stiff and starchy that they attract nobody.

Remember this list? #3, give it a try!

  1. Live like heaven is on earth
  2. Love like you’ve never been hurt.
  3. Laugh like no one is listening.
  4. Sing as if no one can hear
  5. Dance as if no one is watching.
  6. Dream like nothing is impossible.
  7. Play like there are no winners.
  8. Give like you have plenty.
  9. Smile till your face hurts.
  10. Cherish your family and friends each day.
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Devotions for Lent–Coming Home

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed.  Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’ (Ps 126:1-2, NIV)

“I used to spend so much time reacting and responding to everyone else that my life had no direction. Other people’s lives, problems, and wants set the course for my life. Once I realized it was okay for me to think about and identify what I wanted, remarkable things began to take place in my life.” ― Melody Beattie, The Language of Letting Go: Daily Meditations on Codependency

Physically, emotionally and/or spiritually lost are sometimes the scariest places to be.  Not knowing where you are or how you got there.  Worst still is not knowing your way back. For David, the Psalmist, he had heard the stories about God bringing the people out of Egypt and into a promised land, but somehow they found themselves captive to the Philistines, but God had brought them out of captivity once again.  There were songs of joy!

Much later, Jesus would tell the parable of the lost prodigal. Lost, desperate and lonely he decides to return home. The story tells us that all the time, the father was looking out for his son.  When he sees him in the distance, he runs to greet him, and immediately welcomes him home, even throws a party.

No matter where you are, or where you’ve been or even done, come on home!

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Devotions for Lent–God’s Love is Real!

Many are the sorrows and frustrations of those who don’t come clean with God. But when you trust in the Lord for forgiveness, his wrap-around love will surround you. So celebrate the goodness of God! He shows this kindness to everyone who is his. Go ahead—shout for joy, all you upright ones who want to please him! (Ps 32:10-11, TPT)

“I have observed, indeed, generally, that while in protestant countries the defections from the Platonic Christianity of the priests is to Deism, in Catholic countries they are to Atheism. Diderot, D’Alembert, D’Holbach, Condorcet, are known to have been among the most virtuous of men. Their virtue, then, must have had some other foundation than the love of God. [Letter to Thomas Law, 13 June 1814]” ― Thomas Jefferson, Letters of Thomas Jefferson

There are countless numbers of people who claim to neither know God nor need God. Many blame the failure of religion or Christianity for their position.  Others claim to be wise in their own understanding. David once wrote, “the fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt; they have done abominable works; there is none who does good. (Psa 14:1 NKJ) Notice that David said that the ‘knowing’ is in the heart. I know God intellectually, but I also know him personally.  I am thankful this morning for the love of God that surrounds me.  Makes you want to shout HALLELUJAH!

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Devotions for Lent–Songs of Deliverance

You are my hiding-place; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance. (Ps 32:7, ESV)

“Deliverance” is one of the giant words of the Scriptures. It is a broadly inclusive term which describes: (1) forgiveness of sin, (2) redemption from eternal death, (3) recovery of physical health, (4) release from spiritual bondage and (5) rescue from difficult situations. As our Savior, Jesus has become our Deliverer. The essence of the meaning of salvation is deliverance. (Jack Hayford)

But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed. (Act 16:25-26 NKJ)

`You will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the LORD, who is with you, O Judah and Jerusalem!’ Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, for the LORD is with you.” …….And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed those who should sing to the LORD, and who should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army and were saying: “Praise the LORD, For His mercy endures forever.” Now when they began to sing and to praise, the LORD set ambushes against the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; and they were defeated.  (2Ch 20:17; 21-22 NKJ)

David sang to the LORD the words of this song when the LORD rescued him from the power of all his enemies, including Saul. (2Sa 22:1 NET)

If God can deliver Paul and Silas from their prison, and Judah from the overwhelming forces that surrounded them, and King David from his enemies, then God can deliver you! We’re told that God inhabits the praises of his people. When you start singing, and your praise goes up, God joins in and comes down to set you free.

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Devotions for Lent–Time to Find Higher Ground

So let all who are devoted to You speak honestly to You now, while You are still listening. For then when the floods come, surely the rushing water will not even reach them. (Ps 32:6, The Voice)

This past Sunday a group of tourists exploring a glacial lake in Iceland was forced to run to safety after chunks of ice broke off a nearby glacier, spurring a massive wave.  Though they were at a safe distance, they soon discover the power of water as some escaped by the skin of their teeth.

David here is talking about prayer, specifically a prayer of confession.  He doesn’t want to be in a place where the tsunami of evil and sin will wash over him.  He knew that a flood has the power to destroy, knock down, and wash away.  Those tourists knew that the pending wave would have the power to drag them out to sea.  They needed to find higher ground, and find it quick.

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