Music plays such a fascinating role in the human experience. Music has the power to express thought and emotion in ways more potent than the mere words themselves. Music has a unique ability to bring people together in unity, even complete strangers. It happens in sporting events, in religious events, civic ceremonies, and virtually every birthday party you’ll go to or happen upon. Music is typically a part of every funeral service. I personally can’t hear Taps without it stirring emotion in me.
Last week I mentioned in these chapter-a-day posts that Psalms 113-118 make up series of songs known at the Hallel in Hebrew. They are the songs sung throughout the Hebrew feast of Passover. Today’s chapter, Psalm 118, is the final song. The lyrics were originally written to be a song of Thanksgiving that the king would sing with the people after a great victory. The “king” does most of the singing the way this song was structured, singing verses 5-21. In verses 22-27 the people rejoice over what God has done. The king then sings the final two verses.
What I found interesting as I read through and mulled over the song in the quiet this morning, is that it’s traditionally believed that Jesus and His followers were eating the Passover meal together the night He would be betrayed and arrested. If this is true, it is very possible that when Matthew records “When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” it was Psalm 118 they were singing.
With that in mind, I went back and read the lyrics again, this time I imagined Jesus singing the part of the king and His followers the part of the people. Jesus knew what was about to happen. He predicted it on multiple occasions and he pushed the buttons that put into motion the political mechanism that would seal His earthly fate. I read the lyrics, placing myself in Jesus’ sandals, knowing what was about to happen the next day and on the third day.
It gives the lyrics a whole new layer of meaning as He sings:
The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?
I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done.
Open for me the gates of the righteous; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter.
And as his disciples sing:
The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.
When, after the resurrection, Peter is brought to trial before the very same religious leaders who put Jesus to death, it is this lyric that Peter quotes back to his accusers (Acts 4:11). Could it be that Peter was, at that moment, remembering singing those lyrics that fateful night just weeks earlier when he himself rejected and denied knowing Jesus?
And then I thought of Jesus, knowing that He is about to be betrayed, arrested, beaten, flogged, mocked, and crucified, singing the final words of Psalm 118 and it being the last song He would sing on His earthly journey:
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.
In the quiet this morning, I once again find the irony (perhaps divine appointment?) of reading these songs during the season of Lent when followers of Jesus focus our thoughts and spirits on Jesus’ final days, His crucifixion, and His resurrection. Music plays a part in the remembrance, just as Psalm 118 likely played a part in Jesus’ remembrance of God’s breaking the bonds of Hebrew slaves and delivering them out of Egypt. Music, ritual, and meaning are threads that connect the three human events. The Exodus, the Passion, and my celebration of the Great Story in this season.
The last time I shared an update of what the family has been up to, it was March. Wendy and I had just completed the longest stretch of travel in the shortest amount of time in our lives. Our sojourns included but were not limited to Madison’s wedding in Columbia, SC, Suzanna’s wedding in Mazatlan, Mexico, Christmas in London, New Year’s in Dublin, and our vacation and cruise in Florida and the Caribbean. That doesn’t include all of my work travel between those trips. Basically, between October and March, I was at home less than 50% of the time. So my last update on this blog happened after Wendy and I had just returned from a cruise with our friends and there was rising concern about this pesky little virus from China.
That seems like it was another lifetime. From non-stop travel to staying at home all the time. What a contrast.
So, I guess I should start off by letting everyone know that everyone in our family is healthy and safe. Living in a small town in rural Iowa has its advantages. For Wendy and me, that means a total of only 73 cases of COVID-19 in our county with zero deaths. A few of Wendy’s family members had the virus but quarantined and were fine.
So let’s go back in time…
(Love that meme!)
Right before our cruise and right before COVID lockdown, Wendy and I had been asked if we would allow our home to be the location for a special birthday blow-out for our friend, Sarah. Of course, we said “yes,” and we loved that our home could be used for the event. It was a great night of meeting lots of new people, serving as hosts to our friends and their guests, and celebrating Sarah’s big day.
Of course, right after we returned from our cruise the world stopped. All of my business travel was canceled. The lockdown also happened right before St. Patrick’s Day, which happens to be one of our favorite holidays. Thankfully, the Vander Well Pub right down the stairs in our basement. Wendy and I celebrated in a private affair.
For a couple of months, Wendy and I barely got out of the house. In some ways, it was a nice change from the plethora of travel we’d just finished. Like most people, we took the opportunity to accomplish tasks that had been on the to-do list for years. This included stringing up a shade-sail and lights over our patio. We were so excited to use the grill for the first time this spring.
Our kids, Madison and Garrett, made a brief weekend visit (they were the only passengers on the plane) to Iowa in early April. Because my parents (who had never met Garrett in person) were unable to attend the wedding in South Carolina and Garrett had never been to Pella, they wanted to make the trip and it was awesome to have them. Of course, they couldn’t actually meet my parents in lockdown, but they stood on the sidewalk and spoke to them through the folks’ second-story window. C’est la vie.
About that time, I was playing a little driveway basketball with m’man, Nathan, and took a tumble while chasing the basketball into the yard. In one swift move, age met with athletically-challenged coordination. I chipped an ankle bone, strained my Achilles tendon, and tore my calf. Ugh. Welcome to weeks of crutches and sleeping in a recliner followed by several weeks on hobbling in a bionic-boot.
I continue to teach on occasion among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers and volunteer in leading the teaching team, but even that has been weird. Like most churches, we went to live-streaming the service from an empty sanctuary to those watching on YouTube at home. This year, Wendy made a lovely Easter breakfast and we ate as we attended Sunday services on the couch in our living room.
On a couple of occasions, I also got the chance to join our friend, Jenny, in hosting the eerily Today-like pre-and-post-service on-air chat.
Wendy and I made good use of the patio on my birthday. Of course, COVID meant that the celebration was limited, so we invited the VLs (who moved into the neighborhood! Woot! Woot!) over to cookout and celebrate one more orbit around the sun.
Of course, celebrating May fourth is always important.
Spring is when Wendy and I are usually busy portraying our town’s founding couple at the annual Pella Tulip Festival. The festival was canceled along with every other event in the known world, but by May things were starting to begin a scaled opening and we were desperately ready to get out of the house. Our friends Kev and Beck brought their kids to Pella for a day of enjoying the tulips, even if there was no festival.
While our business has been, understandably, slow, Wendy has kept busy this year working as the studio manager of a new yoga here in Pella: Selah Studio. The studio is owned by our friends the VLs and it has been holding classes in various rented spaces while they got the studio space uptown ready for prime time. Wendy and I were so excited when we got the opportunity to join them to pray over and bless the space.
In the world of COVID-correctness we tried very hard to balance being safe and wise with continuing to live life. While we stayed away from most social situations, we considered our inner-circle of friends the “family” with whom we do life. So it was, that Wendy and her girlfriends decided to have an old-fashioned girls’ sleepover at our house and I was politely asked to vacate the premises for a night and a day. So, my friend Kev and I took his son, Harry, to the lake for a little male rite-of-passage weekend before the young man headed off to forge his own path in life. This dudes weekend with father and son had been discussed for years. I was so glad we finally got to make it happen!
Our “family” normally spends Memorial Day at the lake together, so we kept up our tradition. Always a fun time with the crew.
My folks continue to hang in there through the COVID craziness. Their retirement community locked down pretty tight, but they were given a special dispensation to go to the lake for a long weekend with me and my sister. We tried to remember the last time we spent a weekend together, just the four of us, which we figured was probably sometime in the late 1980s. It was a great weekend reliving memories and spending time together at the Playhouse. Dad and I fixed the dock light together. Jody and I helped dad alter his Memoji so that it actually looked like him. We went for boat rides, spent the mornings on the deck and the afternoons on the dock. It was a great time of making memories.
As June continued we realized a years-long dream of getting the friends together for a Godfather night. The JPs and VLs came to VW Manor for a really amazing Italian dinner. Wendy made Chicken Parmesan (so good) and fresh-baked Italian bread (so, so good). Dinner was followed by a showing of the original Godfather. After the movie, we enjoyed Cannoli (yes, we left the gun) as we talked about the movie. It was awesome.
As for the rest of our crew: Tay, Clay, and Milo are still living in Edinburgh, Scotland (way too far away for Papa and Ya-Ya’s liking). A HUGE congratulations are in order for Clayton for finishing his doctorate from the University of Edinburgh while navigating life with a new and unexpected wee-one. Clay has been hired to participate in a three-year research project, and we’re really proud of him. Milo is two-and-a-half years old and is totally into dinosaurs and fire trucks. Taylor continues to work for storii.com and loves advancing the cause of care for Alzheimer’s and Dementia in our world. They recently got out of lockdown and celebrated Taylor’s 30th birthday with their favorite team of Iowa ex-pats in Scotland.
Meanwhile, Madison and Garrett purchased their first house in Columbia, South Carolina and they adopted our first-ever granddog, Bertha. Garrett continues in medical device sales and Madison continues to work in development for the Governor’s STEM high school in South Carolina.
So, that’s the skinny on February through June 2020. Cheers!
Earlier this week I was with friends in our family room, and we were discussing the spiritual season of Lent that we entered into this past Wednesday. For those not familiar with the practice, Lent (from the Anglo-Saxon word for “length” which is also associated with “Spring”) is a period of roughly 40 days (there are multiple traditions who figure the days differently) leading up to the celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection at Easter.
The 40 days traditionally relate back to the 40 days Jesus spent alone in the desert (Matthew 4) before he was tempted by the enemy. That 40 days of solitude, introspection, prayer, fasting, and temptation effectively launched Jesus’ three years of ministry. It was the spiritual boot camp that prepared Him for the determined purpose of fulfilling His earthly mission on the cross, through death, and out of the tomb. In the same way, Lent is intended to be a period of personal introspection, confession, denial, repentance, and preparation leading up to Good Friday (observance of Jesus’ death) and Easter (celebration of Jesus’ resurrection).
As my friends and I discussed our diverse religious backgrounds and personal experiences with Lent, we discussed the practice of self-denial and fasting that commonly occurs during the season. One member of our group alluded to a conversation he and his wife had about self-denial within generosity: You know a person who needs a special outfit for an event and they can’t afford it. It’s easy to say, “Here is an outfit from my spare closet that I haven’t worn for years. Take it. It’s yours.” It’s harder to say, “Here is my favorite outfit. It’s the best thing I own, and it cost me a pretty penny. Take it. It’s yours.” Which is true generosity and self-denial?
I thought of that discussion as I read today’s chapter and came across a verse that I, long ago, memorized. It’s today’s verse, pasted at the top of this post.
In the introspection spirit of Lent, I have a confession to make. Generosity has been a life-long struggle of mine. The struggle is two-sided. The obvious side is simply learning to be generous. Things were economically tight in my family growing up. As the youngest of four, I enjoyed a lot of hand-me-downs. The idea of being generous and giving things away was an honest struggle for me because when I had something new that was “just mine” I wanted to cling to it for dear life. It took me a long time to develop a heart of generosity, and even as I write these words I have specific, shameful memories of not being generous and being called out for it.
The other side of my generosity struggle comes from my core pain, which I long ago identified and labeled: not enough. So, even though I have come to embrace, en-joy, and practice generosity in greater measure than any time in my entire life, my Censor (that ugly whisperer inside my head and heart) ceaselessly tells me that it’s not enough.
Welcome to my Lenten introspection.
In the quiet this morning I find myself meditating on, and thinking about, my generosity. Jesus was constantly urging His followers towards the virtues of love, kindness, forgiveness, gentleness, humility, and generosity. Is it even possible to reach a point in my earthly life where I can say that I have arrived at having “enough” of these virtues in my life?
Does that mean I’m an irredeemable failure?
It means that I am on a spiritual journey and a Life journey. I am not where I once was (thank you God) and I can be encouraged by that fact. At the same time, I have not arrived (Lord, have mercy) and I can be humbled by that fact.
So where, does that leave me?
Time to lace ’em up for another day. I’m pressing on. Hope you are, too.
Oh, and if you wear men’s size 9 and you need a pair of shoes for the trek, I have a brand new pair. I think I’ve worn them only once. If you need them, they’re yours.
Easter with the Hall family last week got me thinking about family Easter celebrations when I was a kid. The day would always begin with mom having hid a bunch of small, bright, foil-wrapped milk chocolate Easter eggs around the house. My sister Jody and I would take our baskets and scour the house. When I was younger there were what looked like bunny tracks the folks made with flour and their fingers across the counters and tables of the house. We usually took in a pretty good haul of candy. Mom always had a sweet tooth. I remember her giving us warnings about not eating too much, but she never really policed it. Our older brothers, Tim and Terry, were seven years older than me, so by the time I can remember the easter egg hunt, they’d already kind of outgrown it.
More often than not, I remember going to my Grandpa Spec and Grandma Golly’s house for Easter dinner. They lived on the east side of Des Moines on Hull Avenue. After church services at Immanuel United Methodist Church, where my family attended until I was in high school, we would make the cross town trek in our Mercury Marquis station wagon (complete with wood paneling on the sides!).
The “Merc” (as dad called it) was stylin’ transportation in those days. There was a rumble seat that flipped up in the “way back” so that two children (that would be Jody and me) could sit and look out the back window as you drove along. Tim and Terry are always in the back seat together. Mom and Dad were, of course, in the front. Tim and Terry would make sure they had their favorite 8-track tapes in the car and would encourage mom and dad to play their requests on the 15-20 minute drive across town. We might have listened to the best of Simon & Garfunkel, the Beatles, or the Guess Who.
When you got to Grandpa Spec and Grandma Golly’s the first stop would always be a hug and kiss from grandma and grandpa. They were both smokers. I can still smell the smoke from grandma’s cigarettes and grandpa’s pipe as you hugged them. The next stop was the candy dish that sat on the end table next to the living room couch. Jody always beat me there. It was always filled with Brach’s hard candies or maybe some mint patties.
I loved my grandma, but cooking was never her strong suit. So, when a lot of family came over she often let “the Colonel” do the cooking. There would be a big bucket of chicken with all the “fixin’s” and sides. I always wanted the drumstick. On big holidays, we would occasionally get grandma’s sister, Aunt Ardie, joining us. I remember inexpensive red wine being served. Grandpa might enjoy a beer with his meal, though he often saved that for later in the afternoon when he’d have a “beer and a bump” which was a can of beer (e.g. Schmitz, Pabst, or Old Style) with a shot of Old Crow whiskey. Some people’s motto is “Go big or go home,” but Grandpa Spec’s motto would’ve been “Go cheap and go home.”
We would sit as a family around the dining room table and enjoy conversation while we ate. Grandpa liked to tuck his napkin in the top of his shirt and let it drape over his tie like a poor man’s bib. Dessert would usually be homemade pie (Grandma Daisy’s chocolate pie recipe or Graham Cracker Cream which was basically vanilla pudding in a graham cracker crust) along with ice cream. Grandma also kept a steady supply of ice cream cookies and fig newtons on hand. When dinner was over, grandpa would push back from the table and light a Dutch Masters cigar.
The adults would continue to visit while we kids would go off to find things to do. We often would hit practice golf balls with grandpa’s clubs in the backyard or play croquet. There was a park right across the street, so we also loved playing on the swings and jungle gym if the weather was nice. If we were confined indoors, then the fun was in the unfinished basement exploring through grandpa’s huge desk or all of the junk piled on the shelves. The basement was one giant room and you could kind of make an oval track out of it and chase each other around in circles or have races if you had a mind.
It’s funny the things you remember. Some things change, but it’s nice to know that there is still family, good food, good conversation and good times spent together.
It’s been a busy week. I’ve been working on a couple of big client projects on top of on-going rehearsals for Almost, Maine. Earlier this week I did, however, get a chance for a coffee date with my mom in Des Moines. Dad VW has a nasty case of bronchitis, so we left him to rest and mom joined me on a few errands for work. We then took a leisurely drive through the old neighborhood and reminisced before ending up at Grounds for Celebration in Beaverdale. Mom had a chocolate shake and I had coffee and a cinnamon roll. When we got back to their apartment dad was sound asleep on the couch getting much needed rest.
We are two and a half weeks away from opening night for Almost, Maine. YOU MUST SEE THIS PLAY! It is really a fun production that is all about LOVE in all of its hilarity, poignancy, tragedy, and mystery. Show dates are April 14-17. Tickets are available on-line by clicking here. For all my friends in Des Moines, this is a wonderful date night opportunity, or a unique night out for a small group. Plan to come to Pella. Have dinner at Monarch’s or Kaldera. Enjoy the show. Have a local craft beer at the Cellar Peanut Pub after the show. I guarantee you’ll have a wonderful night!
On Thursday night after rehearsal the cast (& Lighting Director, Arvin) went out for drinks and bites at Kaldera thanks to Director Kevin and his lovely Costumer wife, Linda. It was a wonderful evening!
Our offices were closed on Good Friday. Wendy diligently cleaned in preparation for Easter guests. I took the opportunity to aerate and over-seed our fledgling yard. We were both tuckered out and enjoyed a quiet night at home.
On Saturday morning we worked with the Almost, Maine cast and crew to clean-up the back stage areas, green room, and dressing rooms in preparation for our upcoming Tech and Production weeks. Wendy and I headed to Des Moines in the afternoon. We spent a few hours with mom and dad hanging out and enjoying some conversation before heading to Kev and Beck’s for dinner.
This morning we went to worship then picked grandma VH up on our way home. Wendy’s folks and Suzanna arrived shortly thereafter. It was a quiet, laid-back Easter feast of sandwiches and some goodies Wendy prepared. It was an enjoyable afternoon of conversation. When our guests left we relaxed to watch the Cubs lose a spring training game to the Mariners while chatting with Madison in South Carolina and leaving Easter greetings with Taylor (she was working today).
Here in the heartland of America, in the great state of Iowa, we have been experiencing an early spring. It’s March Madness, which is usually a time when we receive the final blast of winter’s fury. The state high school girl’s basketball tournament is mythically synonymous with “blizzard.” But not this year.
The temperatures have been unseasonably warm. The tulips are already shooting up from the earth. We’ve already used the grill on the patio multiple times. The sounds of Cubs baseball is becoming daily ambient audio here at Vander Well Manor, even if it is just spring training.
There is something exciting about spring. The death of winter gives way to new life in spring. We celebrate the journey from gave to empty tomb. Shivering in the cold yields to basking in the sun’s warmth. Resurrection, hope, and joy are kindled in our souls, reminding us that old things pass away and new things are coming.
How apt, I thought, that in this morning’s chapter we find Zephaniah’s predictions of doom and gloom giving way to hope and salvation. And, amidst the hopeful promises God gives through the ancient prophet is the simple phrase “I will bring you home.” That phrase has so much meaning for me in so many layers:
As I care for aging parents and grieve the “home” that I once knew.
As I watch our girls spread their wings and scatter to their respective paths and realize the “home” that I have so recently known and loved has suddenly gone the way of winter in an early spring.
As I come home from three long days working with clients to find Wendy waiting at the door for me with a cold beer, hot meatloaf, and a warm kiss; realizing in that moment the home that I am so blessed to experience each day, right now.
As I wax poetic in my annual giddiness for baseball season and ponder anew the game in which the goal is to arrive safely home.
“I will bring you home,” God says through Zephaniah.
Jesus said to [Thomas], “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” John 20:29 (NRSV)
It is the most startling claim of all of the startling claims that were made about Jesus. The One who cured lepers, cast out demons, made the lame walk and the blind to see. The One who raised a little girl from her deathbed and called Lazarus out of his tomb. This Jesus, whose beaten, tortured, and crucified body had lain dead and lifeless in the grave since Friday afternoon, is resurrected on Sunday morning and appears numerous times to different followers, including a sudden appearance behind locked doors to show his wounds as proof to a doubting Thomas.
There are many over the centuries who appreciate Jesus’ teachings and example, but fall short of believing the miraculous claims about Him. Yet it was the surety of the resurrected Jesus that led His followers to burst out from their hiding behind locked doors to boldly proclaim the most audacious claim of all. Each one of Jesus’ inner circle who saw Jesus present Himself to a doubting Thomas behind those locked doors would later prove willing to travel to the ends of the known world, to suffer terribly at the hands of unbelievers, and to die horrific deaths in proclaiming that which they had heard with their own ears, seen with their own eyes, and touched with their own hands.
It is one thing to nod acknowledgement and appreciation toward Jesus’ Pinterest worthy sayings. It is another thing to truly believe that Jesus is who He claimed to be and who His closest followers proclaimed Him to be though it cost them their own lives. If you believe the audacious claim, then it requires something of you. It requires everything of you.
This year Easter came crammed between production weekend of Ham Buns and Potato Salad and three scheduled business trips. To be honest, we were desiring a quiet celebration. It was the first time in many years that Wendy and I were not scheduled for tech at church, so that helped tremendously.
Wendy, Suzanna and I headed to the 11:00 service at church. Taylor travelled down to Pella with her friend Emily and joined us at church. Worship was great. Music was awesome and there was an amazing dance featuring Ridge McGinley. It was about 12:30 before we got back home.
8 oz. cuts of filet mignon on the grill were our Easter dinner. While eating Emily showed up with another friend for a few minutes and joined us for a glass of wine and a chat. We simply hung out in the afternoon after dinner. Taylor headed back to Des Moines with Emily and Ann Wilkinson dropped by to pick up her Director’s gifts from Ham Buns. She also joined us for some wine and conversation. It was a lovely afternoon.
A week-long business trip meant that I had a lot of packing to do which I accomplished in the early evening. Still feeling the effects of our Easter steak, Wendy and I opted for a light dinner of popcorn on the couch while we watched a little television.
Not exactly what I would call a rip-roaring Easter celebration. I didn’t even take any pictures (which I realize is rare for me), but for us it was restful and that’s just what the Great Physician ordered.
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”Revelation 21:5 (NIV)
A decade ago, this verse from Revelation was about to take on tremendous meaning for me. Upon hearing and digesting my story, I’ll never forget the word picture my therapist gave for my troubled, seventeen year marriage:
“It seems to me that you and your wife have been standing over the casket of your dead marriage for many years, but neither of you have been willing to acknowledge its death.”
Ugh. Divorce was not a snap decision. It was not what I had intended. Yet, there I was standing at a place on life’s road I had never intended on ending up. It was painful. It was hard. It is never pleasant walking through valley of death’s shadow no matter what it is that has died.
In those days I learned to cling to hope that at the other end of the valley of the shadow of death lies the house of the Lord. God redeems broken things. Easter, after all, is about resurrection. New life emerges from that which is dead. Behold, God makes all things new. I even had the Rev 21:5 referenced in the crux of the Celtic cross tattooed on my back during that particular stretch of my journey (it was my first tat).
I am glad to look back across a decade. I have experienced much, learned much, grown much, and I see things with greater clarity than when I was in the chaos of those stressful moments. This Sunday, as Wendy, Taylor, Suzanna and I celebrate Easter together, I have a deeper and more profound understanding of resurrection. I have experienced a kind of death and resurrection which at once provides me evidence of Easter Sunday and foreshadowing of today’s chapter.
And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. Revelation 20:12 (NIV)
This morning as I read through this verse I had a bit of a panic attack. It’s the end. I’m standing before God. The books are opened, and everything I’ve done is recorded in those books. I’m going to be judged according to what’s in the books. Yikes. This is bad news.
All of a sudden the memories of all the shameful things I’ve done come flooding into my mind. Every heinous thought. Every secretive deed. Every self-centered act. Every errant and angry word. I’ve thought, said, and done so many shameful things. There’s no way I’ll make the cut. I’m doomed.
Then I remember all that we’ve read and learned in this story that’s unfolded as we’ve gone through God’s Message a chapter a day. This is the good news and the core theme of the story:
Everyone is doomed. Everyone falls short. Once the books are opened and the truth is revealed there isn’t a person living or dead (Billy Graham, Mother Theresa, and the Pope included) who is “good enough” to earn salvation.
There is another book. If you read the chapter then you know that, along with the book that reveals all we’ve said and done, there is a second book mentioned: The Book of Life. This is the book of those who have “received Jesus, who have believed in His name.”
Grace. Jesus promised that any who seek after him and seek forgiveness for all the crap they’ve every done will be forgiven. This is the crux of the story: Jesus suffering and dying on the cross was, in essence, Him choosing to pay the just penalty for all the shameful thoughts, words, and actions recorded under my name (and yours too) in those books John was describing. Jesus paid the penalty for all I’ve done, so that I don’t have to. I don’t deserve what He did for me. That’s called grace: unmerited favor.
Covered. In the ancient sacrificial system we’ve read about, the people would bring their sins and sacrifice to the priest. The word picture of the sacrifice was that their sins were place beneath the altar. As the lamb was slain and the blood ran across the altar and fell to the ground it was covering the sin underneath the altar. That is why in John’s vision of heaven Jesus is referred to as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” He was the sacrificial Lamb who made atonement to cover all our sins.
Gratitude. So I need not be worried about what is written in those first books John described. My sins are covered by His blood. I have received Him. I have believed in His name and my name is written in the Book of Life. This fact does not give me a sense of pride or arrogance. I am better than no one. I am simply forgiven. I have been given a priceless gift which I do not deserve. I am both eternally humbled and forever grateful.
I find it ironic that we reach this waypoint in our journey the week leading to Easter. This Friday is Good Friday, commemorating the good that Jesus did on the cross for anyone who would seek His grace and forgiveness. It is a good week to think on these things.