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About that Crown of Thorns  

As carefully as I could, I maneuvered backward a bit…then a bit more.  Just a t-e-e-n-y bit more.  (I was peering through a camera monitor).

The idea was to capture a video clip of my friend, Dr. Charlie Dyer, promoting an upcoming trip to Israel.  Standing on the Mount of Olives, the view of the Old City of Jerusalem offered the quintessential backdrop.

Framing the shot, I needed to step back to make sure enough of the fabulous city walls were in view.  Easier said than done, because of all the tourists.

And then it happened.  Something very sharp and very painful jabbed at my elbow.  It was a thorn.  But not like the thorns I knew as a kid. 

In the backyard of our home grew a rose bush which seemed to me far more adept at snatching our baseballs then sprouting blooms. The length of a rose bush thorn is about a quarter of an inch, not much more. And for years, that’s how I envisioned Christ’s crown.

But the thorn that I backed into on the Mount of Olives was easily two inches long.  It was tough—like a nail.  I know, because I nearly stabbed myself trying to pluck it off the stem and take it home as a souvenir.

When the Bible speaks of a crown of thorns, it almost certainly refers to the thing that jabbed me. Meaning, that crown would have felt more like nails than thorns. 

Archaeological finds at ancient Roman crucifixion sites now prove the point. Recovered skulls show extensive fractures from the very type of thorns that jabbed my elbow. 

My purpose here is not to disgust you, but to engage you. Because the Easter story is so familiar to many of us, it can feel more like a faded postcard than a real-life drama.

But it was real.  The chains, the whip, the nails, the cross—and that hideous crown—all real.   The only question is whether or not our gratitude is real. 

It's easy to let the Easter story remain a flat and faded relic of history.  But we must not.  We dare not.   God forbid our sense of gratitude be one whit less than the pain Christ felt at the point of the thorns and nails!

 
This Could Take A While  

Does your church offer theatre seating, big screens and lighting effects? Sam’s does.  He’s eight. 

What is not typical for Sam is the Presbyterian church where his grandfather, Toby, serves as pastor. No fog machines or strobes. What Sam saw and heard there was more muted and less produced. Call it high liturgy.

Pastor Toby recalls, “Twenty minutes into the service, the congregation fell silent. Sam did not understand the ritual called Confession of Sins.”

Sam wondered. Was he supposed to be doing something? And how was he even supposed to know? Sam was definitely out of his element. As a worship leader in front led this part of the service, Pastor Toby nestled up against young Sam, who whispered, “Papa, what’s happening?”

Toby recalls, “I said to Sam, ‘This is the time we confess our sins, silently.’” His eyes suggested he was trying to comprehend the enormity of this task. He thought for a moment, then finally whispered, “Hmm, this could take a while.” With that, he bowed his head to get started on the grocery list of his sins.

There’s something refreshing about Sam’s response, “This could take a while.”  Hear his humility?

A footnote on forgiveness: we should not judge young Sam or anyone else if their list seems longer than ours. If we could see the whole of our sin as God does, we would finally know how dark the darkness inside us really is.

But I wonder if some of us are resistant to the discipline of confession because we presume that our admission of guilt will invite the Almighty to unleash a tongue lashing. Criticism, condemnation, anger. That’s what we, in our warped thinking, perhaps expect.

Not so. Not at all. The Bible says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Notice the absence of any condemnation! On the contrary, as the prophet Micah says, He delights “to show mercy” (7:18).

Is it possible that you and I have been listening for years or even decades to a lie? Could it be we’ve labored under a load of guilt we’ve created in our minds? This idea that God is angry with us or disappointed in us or running out of patience with us as we confess sin—it’s not true! This is the whisper of an ancient serpent.

It’s time to tell the serpent, “It is written . . .”

It’s time to tell Jesus “the list.” All of it. Every fault. Every failing. Even if it “takes a while!”

 

 
One Cool Dude  

Morning. Early morning. Everyone else was still politely snoring in the cabin nestled in the north woods of Wisconsin. Not Emmalyn.  She had just turned two. And two-year-olds have an amazing capacity for getting up at the crack of dawn—or before.

Emmy’s mom, though, was also up that morning.  She’d just made a cup of hazelnut-chocolate coffee and was sitting on the deck overlooking West Spider Lake. The fragrance of pine trees and the freshly ground flavored beverage hung heavy on the scene.

Emmalyn helped herself up into her mother’s lap. Cocooned in blankets, the two pondered the sounds of chatty birds busy in the thick spread of trees. After a few moments of silence, Emmy had a question. “Mamma, did God make these trees?” Her mom, Rachel, replied, “He sure did!” Silence. A pause.

Then Emmy looked down at the blue waters of West Spider Lake. “Did God make that lake down there?” Again came Rachel’s reply. “He sure did!” More silence. Another sip of hazelnut-chocolate coffee for Rachel. At this point, Emmalyn looked down at the ground, mostly a mix of sand and grass--the "sandbox" she plays with by the hour.

“Mamma, the sand here is so fun to play with. Did God make the sandbox for me?”

“He sure did!” There followed still another pause, then came a look on Emmalyn’s face that suggested she was in the middle of deep thought. Snuggling tighter, she finally commented, “Wow, Mom, God sure is one cool dude!”

“He sure is!” agreed Rachel. For refreshing candor and honesty, you can’t do much better than a two-year-old!  But her story triggers a caution for us grown-ups.

Some of us never truly learn to see the grandeur of God.  We’ll occasionally notice an unusual sunrise or sunset.  But most of the wonder of our awesome God is simply left unseen, unnoticed.

  • We call a dandelion a weed and fail to find wonder at the way its cottony seeds are blown and scattered.
  • We plant daylilies for ground cover and rarely pause to look deep inside their richly hued blooms or consider the architecture of these magnificent flowers.
  • We can hear a woodpecker and never bother to wonder why, with all that beak blasting, its brain doesn’t get addled.

See what I mean?  We need to learn to see the grandeur of God. Many of us limit our definition of God’s grandeur to the “big” things: seashores, deserts, full moons. But the majesty and glory of God are as evident on the back of a ladybug, or a helicopter maple seed as they are in a climb up Mount Everest, a hike through the Redwoods, or a dive into the Great Barrier Reef.

Notice one of the places where Emmalyn found it: something as common as sand. Could it be that you—like me—need to learn to see the glory of God in common things?

May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works, who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke!   -Psalm 104:31–32

 

This is just one of the 26 stories featured in the book, Kids Say the Wisest Things. Would be honored to have you check it out here: http://kidssaythewisestthings.com/

 
No More Chances  

Four-year-old Caleb charmingly engaged his three-year-old sister Lucy in a knock-knock joke:

Caleb: Knock-knock!  Lucy: Who’s there?

Caleb: Knock-knock!  Lucy: Who’s there?

Caleb: Knock-knock!  Lucy: Who’s there?

Caleb’s mother, Lynnette, informed us that this repetition went on approximately twenty-five times. At the twenty-sixth iteration of Caleb’s knock-knock, Lucy stared him in the eye and declared, “No more chances!” With that, she spun on her heel and left Caleb sputtering.

Have you ever done that? I’m not talking about the knock-knock joke that goes on forever. I’m asking if you’ve ever told someone else, “No more chances!”

Maybe she failed you too many times. Maybe he forgot you too many times. Whatever it is, you feel that a reasonable limit was “offered” and now you have decided to pull the plug.

Hear me carefully. I’m not suggesting that if you’re in an emotionally or physically abusive relationship you should continue being a punching bag. I’m talking here about the more routine issues of offense that we all encounter (and cause ourselves).

Do we go down the path that Lucy took and declare, “No more chances”?

Remember when Peter approached Jesus and said, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” He may have been startled at Jesus’ response. “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matt. 18:21, 22). Some versions translate the phrase as “seventy times seven.” Clearly, Jesus is driving us to the truth that there is no limit, no statute of limitations on forgiveness.

So when it comes to forgiveness, are you generous or stingy? Do you prefer Peter’s limited number of seven “forgivenesses”? Or do you easily migrate toward Jesus’ generous idea of unlimited forgiveness?

You never run out of chances with Jesus. He’s asked us to forgive the way He forgives. Do we?

Notice the language of the familiar1 John 1:9 (esv) promise: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Please observe that there are no exceptions, no exemptions in this verse. There is no fine print. No statute of limitations. Nothing there at all about “no more chances.”

Knock-knock.

Who’s there?

Jesus.

Jesus who?

Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He who assures us, “I—yes, I alone—will blot out your sins for my own sake and will never think of them again” (see Heb. 13:8; Isa. 43:25 nlt).

Behold, I stand at the door and knock.

 

 

 

If you enjoyed this story, check out Jon’s new book, Kids Say the Wisest Things. It’s filled with great stories of kids who have something to teach us adults. Preorder now at Amazon, Moody Publishers, CBD, Barnes and Noble, etc.

 

 

 

 
Critter Killers  

Now that Spring has sprung, prepare ye for the onslaught of insects, critters and other pests.  Which calls to mind a recent visit to the hardware store.  For no reason in particular, I waddled down an aisle featuring products promising a virtual assault on every creeping thing in the yard. 

My favorite is the prize-winning spider killer known as Miss Mufffet’s Revenge (I’m not kidding).  This arachnid antagonist promises to kill spiders inside and keep spiders outside. 

If your pest problem is of the bunny business, consider stocking up on Critter Ridder, a rabbit repellant that Mr. MacGregor would surely endorse. The Ortho company offers Deer B Gon, as well as Dog and Cat B Gon.  Weary of fighting moles and gophers?  Bring home, The Giant Destroyer—garlic tunnel tubes that last 10-12 months.

Now let’s say you’re dealing with a larger animal issue—like deer eating your garden.  Then, by all means, get your hands on Shake Away brand “Coyote Urine Granules.”   Or, grab a supply of Booneeez B-Gone.  This real fox red scent promises to “put nature’s own invisible stop sign to work for you.”

But if you’re serious about getting rid of snakes, the choice for you might be either Snake Stopper or Dr. T’s Snake-a-Way.  Use with confidence, as these ready-to-use granules have been university tested.

I can’t speak for any of these products’ effectiveness.  But my tour down the aisle of Death-to-Critters got me to wishing there was something like a repellant we could buy that would keep us from sin itself.  Nothing is more persistent, pervasive and potentially destructive than sin.  So wouldn’t it be great if we could simply sprinkle a little powder—or give our souls a light dusting of something that would keep sin away?

Come to think of it, we have such a resource!  It’s not a spray or a scent or a bucket of granules.  It’s a lifestyle adjustment. Galatians 5:6 tell us how to “apply” this sin killer:

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.

Don't know about you, but I need to watch my walk!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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