authority, called, crowds, death, decision, hatred, lordship, Pharisee, truth

What is Truth?, #101

 “Pilate said, “So you are a king!”

“Jesus answered, “You are the one saying I am a king. This is why I was born and came into the world: to tell people the truth. And everyone who belongs to the truth listens to me.””

“Pilate said, “What is truth?” After he said this, he went out to the crowd again and said to them, “I find nothing against this man.”

John 18:37-38, NCV

Not only was Jesus on trial, but it seems the truth was too. “Truth” is mention three times in just two verses (again, for emphasis). Pontius Pilate who was the Roman governor of Judea, meets with Jesus to make the determination if Jesus would be executed.

Truth seems to be a focus here. Jesus understands that he was sent to declare the truth to the people. He also states that those were called would be listeners, and these would respond positively to all the Jesus had been saying. Jesus clearly understood what he must do, it was the reason he was born.

Pilate is cynical, “What is truth.” He asks the question that even today is being considered. He thinks that truth has many variations, and none of them could be understood.

But Jesus pronounces that he is the King of truth, and to Pilate that was foolish. No one person, in his mind anyway, could be the sole source. He dismisses Jesus’ statements with a philosophical idea that things are relative, nothing can be understood with any degree of certainity.

Pilate very obviously believes in unbelief.

He seems to want to set Jesus free–from his balcony he points out Jesus’ innocence. He finds no reason that Jesus should die for these statements. We see him negotiating with the Jewish people. But the Pharisees have decided that Jesus must die, we see them stirring up the crowd.

To Pilate’s credit he tells them that Jesus is no revolutionary. He presents no danger to either Rome’s empire or Judea. Being pressured, he orders Jesus to be whipped. It was also the place where a crown of thorns was put on Jesus’ head (John 19:1-5).

He tries to negotiate once more.

But the people won’t listen. It was Passover, and there would be pilgrims in the city. Scripture tells us that they’re on the verge of rioting. They declare that anyone who supports Jesus must be an enemy of Caesar (John 19:12-16). Pilate finally acquiesces and orders Jesus to be executed. C.H. Spurgeon makes the following observation about Pilate:

“Oh, the daring of Pilate thus in the sight of God to commit murder and disclaim it. There is a strange mingling of cowardliness and courage about many men; they are afraid of a man, but not afraid of the eternal God who can destroy both body and soul in hell.”

Pilate ceremoniously washes his hands over the whole thing. He seems disturbed by the whole incident (Matthew 27:24).

“Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

This is our calling–and this verse exhorts us to do this in order to learn holiness, and to follow him with a complete heart.

Tradition has it that Pilate does become a believer in Jesus some years later. He is martyred for his faith by being beheaded on orders by the emperor Caligula.

A Member of Faithful Bloggers

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Speaking His Language, #99

Peter Warms Himself

“The girl asked Peter, “Aren’t you one of Jesus’ disciples?”

“No,” he said, “I am not!”

“The police and the household servants were standing around a fire they had made, for it was cold. And Peter stood there with them, warming himself.”

John 18:17-18, Living Bible

The Galileans had a distinct accent. Just as we easily identify someone from Boston just by the tone and cadence of their speech, Peter had that distinct drawl that told everyone that he came from that same province as Jesus. It was something he couldn’t hide.

Peter was a very different man in his three years of being with Jesus. And you might say that had transformed him–you might even say that he was now a marked man, the enemy was now quite aware of him. He was no longer a captain of a small fishing boat looking for a catch. He was now the leader of Jesus’ disciples.

The entire text (18:15-18) reveals a confrontation that Peter had with a servant girl, and we hear him making a bold-faced lie. At this very moment Peter was fulfilling the “promise” that Jesus had predicted (Matthew 26:31-32).

What was going through Peter’s head at that moment? She was a simple servant girl, perhaps one who ministered at the gate of the high priest’s home. It’s interesting that she is the first one to question Peter’s duplicity. Most likely she was just doing her job, watching and listening. She was probably quite alert.

It’s easy to point our finger at Peter. He was a coward, and when he was put on the spot he bailed. People hate cowards–we extol those who take a definite stand against evil. But he was frightened, scared of being connected with Jesus–the man on trial. There was much at stake here.

We also speak with an accent. I know it might be a stretch–but being with Jesus has fundamentally changed us. Our lives now have a specific dialect that others hear, we’re not the same people that we once were.

We open our mouths and others hear the Kingdom of God.

Sometimes I try to pretend that I haven’t been with Jesus, and I’m very ashamed of that. Like Peter, I stand with the others and choose to warm myself by their fire, and I try very hard to make myself inconspicuous. But all I have to do is open my mouth, and I betray who I really am.

It’s really funny, but even servant girls know that I belong to him.

“To stand before the Holy One of eternity is to change.”

Richard Foster

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The Gospel According to Judas Iscariot, #97

Matthew 27:3-10

My name is Judas Iscariot, and I betrayed my Lord. It really had nothing to do with avarice or greed. The money was fine, don’t get me wrong, but that isn’t why I turned him in to the authorities. I simply did what they couldn’t. I wanted to force Jesus’ hand, so he had to drive the Romans out of our country. I was mistaken, I see that now.

Jesus loved each of us, including me. But I didn’t see it at the time.

When he knelt to wash my feet, I was deeply disturbed. When he stripped down to his underwear, I admit I had some serious doubts. Behaving like a common slave wasn’t really in my thinking. It would take extra work to shape him, and to deaden such strange behavior. But it would be worth it in the end, if only Jesus would cooperate.

In my mind I knew that Jesus only needed the right moment to become the next ruler of Israel. That was his destiny, and I was going to help him bring it to pass. I knew that God had called me–this was my purpose. I would be the kingmaker, and Jesus would certainly reward me.

Some have said that Satan was inside me.

But I hardly noticed. Instead, I was filled with excitement. Finally, the other disciples would come to my side, and together we could make it happen. Enough kneeling, no more groveling–we were going to rule Israel and end the wicked Roman occupation. I truly believed this. He was our Messiah, our deliverer.

The tricky part was to convince Jesus, to manipulate him if necessary, to take control.

He had to see the opportunity that was waiting for him. He was already immensely popular among the people. We could quite easily turn all of this enthusiasm into a full-blown insurrection. But we obviously needed him to lead us, and I could help him find his way. I knew we could do it. This was God’s will for me.

My plan was simple–after I met with the Pharisees, I’d lead them to the garden where Jesus was staying. They insisted on an armed escort, just in case there was trouble among the disciples. I suppose that was prudent, my part in all of this was simply to give Jesus a kiss on the cheek, to signify that he was the one to the soldiers.

I assumed he would resist and fight. I was very wrong.

Nothing went as planned. Jesus didn’t take charge, and he certainly didn’t overthrow the government. As a matter of fact, you could say that the opposite happened; he was silent and refused to answer most of their questions. I did hear him say, “My kingdom is not of this world.” I should have listened.

I realized way too late, that I shed innocent blood. I went back to the priests who hired me, and I insisted they take back the silver. They refused. I threw the bag at their feet and left the temple. Ugly thoughts now filled my mind, and I knew without a doubt that I was completely lost.

Please excuse me, but I have a date with a rope.

_____________________

This is a chapter from a book I considered writing a long time ago, “They Saw Jesus.” This was to be chapter 27. (I doubt it will ever happen though. Oh well.)

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The Rooster of God, #94

 “Lord,” Peter asked, “Why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.

38 Jesus replied, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly I tell you, a rooster will not crow until you have denied me three times.”

John 13:37-38, CSV

He knew. And he still loved him anyway. Can you really quantify the depth of this? Verse 37 claimed Peter’s willingness to follow, and even die if he had to. I believe with all my heart that Peter was sincere. He would follow, and Peter was willing to die.

But Jesus bought none of it, he knew. He poses a question to Peter–the type of question that penetrated Peter’s interior bravado. It’s said that “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Perhaps this is true here. Maybe Jesus knew?

What about you? And me? Does he really know us to this degree and depth? When he looks at us, I believe he knows the weakness and faltering steps we take, and yet his love for us is unconditional. It doesn’t hinge on our misplaced zeal or faltering commitment. His love for us overrides our weakness. That comforts and disturbs me, and I don’t really understand how he does it.

Have you heard the rooster? Maybe that’s his way to teach us the depths of his love.

“God has paid us the intolerable compliment of loving us, in the deepest, most tragic, most inexorable sense.”

    C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

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Disheartened, #83

“And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”

Mark 10:21-22, ESV

Let’s be clear–Jesus really did love him, and that explains a whole lot. In verse 17, we see this man running to Jesus, and he kneels right in front of him. I suppose that this man desperately wanted the Lord’s full attention. He had to know–he must understand. He was a driven man with some very deep questions.

To be wealthy was the clear evidence that God really did love you. If you were rich, you must have God’s approval, and if you happened to be richer than rich–he must love you even more than that. That big bank account was the proof that you were set apart, and completely accepted by God. (Not a whole lot has changed, has it?)

All of this must be understood before we can go any further.

The rich young ruler was suddenly jolted by Jesus’ words–he simply had to give away all his money–and then, to start to follow him. I don’t think anyone had ever dared to confront him like this. Jesus spoke so clearly–and so concisely. The things that came out of Jesus’ mouth cut him like a knife, and then, smashed him like a hammer–they wallopped him hard, and quite honestly, nothing had ever hurt so much.

But dear one, remember this; Jesus always uses a rubber hammer.

The passage told us earlier that Jesus, “loved him” (10:21). Jesus lists five of the 10 commandments, but interestingly enough, the ones that Jesus spoke were the ones written on the second tablet–the ones that dealt with how we treat each other.

Did this man really keep them? Perhaps he may have–maybe yes, maybe no. But knowing human nature, and looking through the lens of God’s word, it was clearly impossible. He may have been seriously conscientious, and maybe he really tried his best to live righteously, but scripture is clear, “all have sinned, all have fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

The text tells us that when Jesus spoke to this man, he issued an invitation, but it also doubled as a command, “come, follow me.” I don’t think that following was as simple as it sounds–and it seems it was the one thing that the rich young ruler couldn’t, or wouldn’t do.

He’d certainly made a valiant effort to be holy, no one could dispute that. But he had to know he was really saved, and he was desperately afraid he wasn’t. This man had a questions that weighed him down–but he must know for sure–he was tied by a golden rope to a heavy treasure chest, and that was something he couldn’t leave behind.

“The fellow that has no money is poor. The fellow that has nothing but money is poorer still.”

Billy Sunday

This man seems to have been ruled by fear. And that is something wealth will do to people. The richest people seem to be the most afraid, and although I admit that seems strange, and perhaps even a bit judgmental, scripture tells us that having possessions often leads one into mortal danger–it’s just the cheese in the mousetrap, (Psalm 49:5).

He ended up “disheartened.” A simple definition of that word means “having lost determination or confidence; dispirited and afraid.” That pretty much describes this man’s state of mind. Jesus had issued a command, and the rich young ruler couldn’t, or wouldn’t, ever meet the terms of Christian discipleship.

Money can be a useful servant, but it’s really a terrible master. That false god–Mammon is an idol, and a deadly one. And that evil god intends to destroy you, if you can’t release your wealth to God. and to others.

“He also did not choose to love God more than his wealth, even though Jesus specifically promised him treasure in heaven. The man was more interested in the earthly treasure of men than in God’s heavenly treasures. This man was essentially an idolater. Wealth was his god instead of the true God of the Bible. He put money first.”

David Guzak

“Most people fail to realize that money is both a test and a trust from God.”

Rick Warren

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The Father, #76

“If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”

John 10:37-38

The Father is in me.” This is one of the clearest passages Jesus uses to explain his ministry. His listeners are doubters. They have decided that he must be executed for blasphemy. In verse 31 we read of their deep, deep anger–“The Jews picked up stones again to stone him.”

It’s crazy how “bad religion” affects people. The Pharisees thought for certain that they were defending God’s honor. They really believed that they were doing exactly what they needed to do. Their religion demanded it.

“I and the Father are one” (v. 30), really disturbed them. Leviticus 24:16 delineated their duty. They must defend God from blasphemers, it was their duty as religious leaders. And Jesus was one of the most egregious offenders that they had ever seen.

This confrontation between them and Jesus was quite intense, and yet Jesus, (instead of backing off) presses the issue. The Father has sent him–Jesus must speak the truth, and there is absolutely no sugarcoating his message. He very clearly states what is real. It has to be believed.

“Believe” is mentioned three times. “Know and understand” are thrown out there for good measure. All explain the necessary components that must be present in a saving faith. And yet, all it did was make them angrier.

I believe that Jesus speaks softly, and with wisdom and compassion–but what is real and true, must be spoken. I really don’t think he “returned” their anger. That would’ve been wrong. And John doesn’t mention it.

“A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but one slow to anger calms strife.”

(Prov. 15:8)

“The Father is in me and I am in the Father” explains his ministry, and Jesus can’t, or won’t, compromise his message, or the truth. It is a fact. It’s something you can hang your hat on.

“He is not ‘making himself God’; he is not ‘making himself’ anything, but in word and work he is showing himself to be what he truly is – the Son sent by the Father to bring life and light to mankind.”

Bruce’s Commentary

When they looked at Jesus–they saw the face of God. The Father was living in him–and he resided in the Father. This is the truth, and it blew out their religious circuits. It was something they simply couldn’t accept.

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Mary Knows Best, #73

“The Lord answered, “Martha, Martha! You are worried and upset about so many things, 42 but only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen what is best, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:41-42, (context vv. 38-42)

I grew up in America’s rural dairyland–the great state of Wisconsin, with its cheese and bratwurst. Our high-school classes included Agronomy and Animal husbandry. We were taught how to judge cows, pigs, sheep and chickens. I know the differences between a holstein and a brown swiss. To this day, I know what to look for if you need to buy or breed farm animals. Amazing, huh?

I remember our field trips to visit the different farms. I remember once seeing a cow who had a plexiglass “window” that you could see into a cow’s four stomachs, and watch hay as it was being digested. Useful stuff.

The sisters both loved Jesus, of that, I have no doubt. But Martha did the work, and Mary only sat and listened. It was Jesus who understood what was going on. He discerned the frustration of Martha, and knew the eagerness of Mary. Jesus saw inside. He understood them both completely.

He understands your heart, and mine. His sees us as clearly as one would look through a window pane, and he knows everything there is to know. And yet–he will never condemn you. His love for you is limitless, and forever; it won’t ever change, even on your worst days.

One thing means one thing. Not two things, or three. One thing.

One thing have I desired of the LORD, that I will seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in His temple.”

Psalm 27:4

“When Jesus heard these things, he said to him, “You still lack one thing…come, follow Me.” 

Luke 18:22

“Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” 

Philippians 3:13-14

We must discern what is best. We must look, decide, and judge what needs to take precedence over other things. How and what we decide determines everything. We each get to pick, and to choose, and then we get to live with the consequences. The repercussions of our decision reverberate throughout our whole life, and into the lives of others.

“The one thing needful evidently is that which Mary chose — that good part which should not be taken away from her. Very clearly this was to sit at Jesus’ feet, and hear his word.”

CH Spurgeon

Our decisions determine our destiny. You and I will make a choice. Will you work, or will you sit? You must decide what you should do. I strongly suggest that you decide wisely.

Will you decide to sit at his feet today?

“The way to get the revival is to begin at the Master’s feet; you must go there with Mary, and afterwards you may work with Martha.”

CH Spurgeon

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The Parable of the Good Mormon, #72

“”But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.”

Luke 10:33-34

As I write this, I’m waiting for my plane in Salt Lake City, Utah. I just passed by the Mormon Temple, and that’s always disturbing to me. I guess as a teacher to the body of Christ, to see this much deception concentrated in a place like this is evil. The LDS church has a staggering 16.5 million scattered worldwide. And it’s growing fast.

Back in 1982, two Mormon security guards ushered me off of the temple grounds. But as I was escorted off their temple mount, Christian believers outside the gate gave me tracts to read, and they were praying that I would find the Lord Jesus. Their ministry is hard, but effective,

It’s strange how things work out sometimes.

The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was treacherous, well-known by the people as a haven for robbers and muggers. Think the south-side of Chicago; it was dangerous, and typically when you did have to make the trip, you traveled in a group for safety.

Samaritans were the unholy and the godless. Jews never dreamed of fellowshipping with them–both regarded each other with contempt and scorn. To the Jew, the Samaritan was apostate, and there was a deep distaste for them. And the worse part of it all, they believed that God agreed.

They did respect each others turf though, at least, to a limited degree. At best, they simply didn’t acknowledge the others existence–at worst, they did the jihad thing, and went to outright war with each other. It’s all very complicated. It almost always is.

We must modernize this parable in order to really understand its implications. Let’s make sure we understand a few things though:

  • The Jews and the Samaritan detested each other. Each declared that they were the true nation of Israel.
  • The priest and the Levite both had religious reasons for avoiding situations like this. They quite easily justified themselves, as their interpretation of the Law forbid them from touching a corpse.
  • The Samaritan was doing the will of God, the religious leaders were not. Plain and simple. Jesus’ parable has ruined our conceptions forever of a religion that costs us nothing, and somehow gives us everything.
  • Jesus schools the Jewish leaders with the responsibility of loving each other–no matter what the other person believes is true.

This is a present day parable. It’s lost none of its zing-and we can’t rationalize away any of its authority. It speaks to us today, as powerfully as when Jesus first spoke it. This particular passage has never lost its punch, and we dare not minimize the message. If we do, typically, it’s for carnal reasons, and we do so, it’s at extreme peril to our very souls.

Who is your neighbor? We needn’t look far for understanding–each parable that Jesus spoke was simple, and it could be understood by a child–and yet it carried the full authority, and weight of heaven. If we minimize it, we risk our discipleship. We’ll suddenly cease to be real and authentic.

Is this a Sunday school flannelgraph, or is it a real truth for real believers?

I easily could go on, and on, ad nauseam–pummeling you with insignificant details, but I won’t. The critical message is one of an active, aggressive love for each one who is made in God’s image–for the Catholic and the Mormon, the black and the white, gay and straight, republican or democrat, the homeless and the mansion-dweller–everyone who the Lord God has created. Everyone. (Even illegal aliens–egads. Not them!)

No exceptions can be made. When we serve others–sacrificially, if we have to–we’re really serving the Lord Jesus. And if a Mormon happens along, and if they do what the Samaritan did, they’re doing the will of God. And that disturbs us, and it should.

Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

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Sin Always Means Death, #68

“I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”

John 8:24, (context, vv. 21-30)

Death is defined in a very basic sense, as the cessation of life. You’ll simply stop breathing, and your heart will no longer beat. You’ll be brain dead in a matter of minutes. And perhaps it’s then you’ll suddenly realize that you really do have an expiration date. (Will it be a burial, or a cremation?)

I don’t want to sound morbid. That really isn’t my intention. I know I can be blunt–but please, don’t dismiss this ghoulishness as the prattlings of a really weird person. I sometimes think we really need a jolt; it teaches us to take life a wee bit carefully. Our days are numbered–whether we like it or not.

“Teach us how short our lives are
    so that we can become wise.”

Psalm 90:12

The words of Jesus can be somewhat stark and terribly pointed— It’s silly I know, but there’s something here that feels like you’ve got a pebble in your shoe. It annoys you, but you’ll try pretend its not a real problem, you’ll survive, you’ll do just about anything but sit down and shake it out, or else you’ll learn to walk funny. But he’s now speaking truth to us, and his words are crystal clear, they cut us like a scalpel.

There’s a militancy in verse 24, something that’s granite hard, and it doesn’t flex like we want it to. Spiritual honesty has never come easy to humans, and to be honest, we’ll choose varying intoxicants over what is real. “Truth. You can’t handle the truth”, is a line from a movie that somehow got stuck in my brain.

Experience has taught me that truth is almost always negative when it’s first encountered.

“Unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” can be chilling, and if we’re really, really honest it might feel like a steel-toed boot in our solar plexus. It somehow takes the breath right out of us. When Jesus rebukes the Pharisees, they begin to suffocate. They can’t handle what he’s saying, so of course they fall back, they resort to their carnal specialties–accusation and slander.

Believing–that seems like it’s the critical component. I think that Jesus spoke this truth with real compassion. He’s not like us. He’s not fighting back. He simply declares what’s true–and believe it or not, he desperately wants them to believe him. He loves each one of these religious rascals, and because of that–truth has to be plainly spoken–he wants to save their souls.

“If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.”

C.S. Lewis

   

 

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Looking Squarely at Death, #67

“Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”

John 8:51, (context, vv. 48-51)

R.I.P. “Requiescat in pace”, was discovered etched on the walls of catacombs that dated 150 AD. It was done by  early Christians and indicated that “they died in the peace of the Church, that is, united in Christ.” The abbreviation R.I.P., is now used today–“Rest in Peace.”

Death is inevitable, none of us are going to escape it. Exactly 100% of us will step out into this unknown, and as far as I know no one except Jesus has returned to tell us what to expect. But he completely understands our fear, and he will guide us through this moment. He will not let you face death frightened.

“Every man must do two things alone; he must do his own believing and his own dying.”

Martin Luther

Jesus promises eternal life to all those who keep His word. Our obedience is like a long (sometimes happy, sometimes dreary) hallway that we walk through. At the end of it there is a golden door–for the believer it immediately opens up, but for the non-believer it’s locked tight.

For the unforgiven and the unfaithful, death means doom. For those who want to follow Jesus, death isn’t any different than a graduation, or your wedding day. Rather than listen to the wickedness of the devil, we must grasp truth and not let go. And we really must encourage our frightened brothers. They need to know this.

“How strange this fear of death is! We are never frightened at a sunset.”

George Macdonald

When I was a young boy, I used to lie at night on my bed, crossing my arms, and pretend I was dead. I also went through an awful fear of being buried alive. I read about caskets that had a bell that could ring if I somehow was trapped inside. Somewhere I read they when they had to exhume a body they sometimes found scratch marks on the inside lid. Pretty heady stuff, for a ten year old.

Until I became a believer, I was haunted by this awful fear of death–I now realize that Satan was trying his best to ensnare me. Fear is his awesome tactic, and it destroys the human heart–but I also know that these moments the Holy Spirit always visits me, and along with him he brings his joy, comfort and calming peace.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

Psalm 23:4

“Death may be the King of terrors… but Jesus is the King of kings!”

D.L. Moody

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