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Death had wrapped its ropes around me, and I was almost swallowed by its flooding waters. Psalm 18:4 (CEV)

Recently we went to a local museum to see a display on the ‘Real Pirates of the Caribbean’. It was an interesting display of artifacts from history and from the bottom of the sea.

There was one display that caught my mind and Psalm 18:4 reminds me of it. Hanging in one display was a metal cage approximately 8 feet long and in the shape of a human body. The corresponding sign told that this cage was used to execute pirates.

The man (or woman) was placed in the cage and the cage was subsequently staked in the sandy beach. As the tide came in, the cage would remain in place, the water would inch up the bodies of the victim and eventually submerge them. Death by drowning.

Imagine being in that cage as a pirate. You knew how unforgiving the sea was. You knew the tide and how it worked. You stood there in your cage and watched the tide grow closer. You felt the cold water inch up your body. You knew death was imminent and that there was nothing you could do about it. The cold ocean water reached your knees, your waist, your neck and finally, painfully you breathe your last.

History tells us that those living close to the shore would often hear the screams of the condemned begging for help, begging for someone to rescue them. Of course, even if some compassionate soul would try to rescue them, there was no hope, no way to stop the tide; no way to unlock the cage; no hope to bring them safely ashore. The very thing that brought them riches (the sea) was their ultimate demise.

Horrific as that scenario may be, we are surrounded by people who, like the executed pirates, are living in cages of their own. Some are cages they have built themselves on lie, on rebellious choice, one broken promise at a time. Others are victims of the brutality imposed on them. The reason for their cage is unimportant. The result is what is important.

For the pirate, there was no hope; no one with a key to open the cage and offer them freedom. For us we have someone who not only has a key to unlock the door, but will bring us safely ashore.

If you feel like the pirate; if you feel the cold waters of the ocean rising up your body; if you feel your own destruction is at hand and there is no hope, know that Jesus Christ offers you the escape you need to break free of your prison. His forgiveness is all you need to find new life.

The key to unlocking the door is simply asking him to forgive you of your sin and to empower you to live a life free of the despair and pain of your past.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, I thank you for rescuing me from the destruction and despair of my past. Forgive me of the sins of my past. Empower me by your Holy Spirit to live life in the freedom only you can offer. Amen.

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But we are citizens of heaven and are eagerly waiting for our Savior to come from there. Our Lord Jesus Christ has power over everything, and he will make these poor bodies of ours like his own glorious body. Philippians 3:20-21(CEV)

The last time I saw Gus (not his real name) he was 104 years old. An old Norwegian Presbyterian he grew up farming in the fertile fields of Northern Iowa. He’d done well for himself and his sons had built on his legacy with sound farming and reliance on their faith. Gus was as generous with the money the ‘Good Lord’ had given him as he was his big smile and firm handshake.

I visited Gus that last time since I was back in town for the funeral of a mutual friend. She’d spent her last years in a room just down the hall from Gus and his wife in the local rest home. Gus shared his room with his wife of 75 years who, due to Alzheimer’s disease, rarely acknowledged his existence.

I unknowingly arrived just in time for the afternoon hymn sing and sat in the back of the room to listen. Midway through the singing the leader turned to Gus and said “Gus, would you sing your favorite song for us?” He smiled and nodded. She began to play “He the Pearly Gates will Open.” 104 years hadn’t weakened the beautiful Norwegian brogue as he sang all four verses from memory and didn’t miss a word (I don’t think).

Afterwards, I went up to greet Gus. His smile told me he recognized me long before I got to his wheelchair. We sat together and shared a cup of strong coffee. We talked of old times. Gus always talked about old times, the time on the farm, the way life had changed. How some of his most lucrative deals had been done with nothing more than a handshake. That’s all that was needed in those days.

Then Gus began to weep as we talked of the passing of our friend. I asked if he was okay and after he gained his composure he said, “All my friends are gone. I just want to go home.” I knew right away that home wasn’t the few blocks to the comfortable bungalow he and his bride had retired to. Home was to see his Jesus. It was at that point that I realized that home is where your family is, home is where your loved ones are and you feel completely accepted. Home is where Jesus is.

Three years later I heard that the Pearly Gates had swung wide open for Gus. He was home at last. Each of us long to live to be old, but as we grow older our bodies fail, our mind doesn’t work the way we’d like, those we love go on before us. But on the other side, when we go through those gates to see Jesus we’ll be transformed, made new. The physical and emotional pain we are going through now is nothing compared to the glory we’ll share when we enter “The Pearly Gates.”

PRAYER: Lord Jesus. We continue to struggle with life on this side. Thank you for the hope we have of a better life after this. Empower me to live fully for you here in anxious anticipation for lies ahead. Amen.


Many of those whose bodies lie dead and buried will rise up, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting disgrace. Daniel 12:2 (NLT)

On a lonely hill just outside of town stand three crosses. As the sky grew dark a crowd gathered. Some gathered in disgust. The Roman form of execution was too painful, too degrading, to harsh.

Others gathered in mockery. They threw profanity at the trio. It was about time they got what they deserved. The world would be a better place if more criminals were treated this way. Great deterrent, that death penalty.

Some gathered in curiosity-A sort of Bible time gawkers. They had no opinion either way on crucifixion or the trio hanging naked as the darkness descended.

A few gathered in somber silence. Right or wrong, good or bad, these were their friends, their siblings, their children. The crowd gathered at the middle cross seemed somewhat larger, more emotional. In fact, it seems the form hanging in the middle was drawing most of the attention that day. Rumor has it that he was completely innocent of the trumped up charges the Jews leveled against him.

One of the trio began to mock this counterpart in the middle. Even in his dying moments he remained arrogant, loud and angry. Ignoring his own guilt he yelled obscenities at this stranger in the middle.

The other person hung silent for a moment. Watching. Listening. Replaying the episodes of his life that brought him to this point. Finally, he spoke. “Jesus, have mercy on me.” The figure in the middle raised his head and looked with compassion at him. Painstakingly he spoke, “Today you will be with me…” and grace was born.

How could a God of love allow Jesus, the man in the middle to die such a horrific death for crimes he didn’t commit? Rewind the story a few thousand years. A man and woman listen to the deceptive words of Satan. Their decision to disobey God destroyed the balance of divine nature as well as a relationship with the Creator God.

Hell was never created for men and women. Hell was never created for innocent children of abuse, catastrophe or illness. Hell was created as the home for Satan and all his demonic followers. But the sin of Adam and Eve made it impossible for mankind to enter heaven. A sacrifice had to be made and that sacrifice was made complete when Jesus died and rose again.

Our Heavenly Father has no choice when it comes to dealing with sin. He can’t, by his own nature overlook anything that isn’t perfect. God is fair and just. Grace is neither.

What can be fair about a prisoner going to heaven because his last words were begging forgiveness? What can be fair about someone struggling with addictions and constantly receiving forgiveness for the same sin, over and over again? Nothing. It’s not fair. But it wasn’t fair that Jesus died for me either. There was nothing I could do to deserve forgiveness, yet he forgave me anyway. That’s grace.

God would give everything he has to keep you from living eternity in the shame and disgrace of hell. In fact, he already did that day on the cross.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father I thank and praise you for the reminder that I am completely and freely forgiven of my sin because of Jesus. I deserve nothing that you’ve given me and yet you did it all so lovingly. Empower me to live for you and to show others the way to life in eternity with you. In Jesus name, Amen.


We believe that Jesus died and that he rose again. So, because of him, God will raise with Jesus those who have died. 1 Thessalonians 4:14 (NCV)

“It’s not so important what you believe. The important thing is that you believe something.” Ever heard someone say something similar to that? To think that belief is more important than the validity of the object believed in is ludicrous at best and dangerous in most cases.

I could say I believe I can fly. I could believe is with all my heart. But one jump from the roof will prove me dreadfully wrong. I don’t need to go to that extreme. I know from what I’ve heard and learned and seen in life that jumping from the roof will bring me quickly to the ground and  may cause injury or even death. My decision NOT to jump off the roof is based on quantifiable fact.

Faith works in me the same way. There are many religions that speak of some sort of life after death. Many systems of belief encourage morality and philanthropy. But the question that has to be asked of each of these belief systems is, “Where’s the proof? What evidence can you provide that insures I will live forever?” When it really comes down to it, that’s what each of us wants. In life we’d like money and health and vibrant, passionate relationships. But what happens after life can haunt us. It’s not knowing what happens after we die that puts the fear of death in the number one place of terror in our hearts.

That’s what sets us apart as Christ-followers. Jesus rose from the dead. There is a plethora of evidence, scientific and historic, that proves that point. Jesus is the only religious leader that not only stated he would rise from the dead, but actually did it. Not only did he say he would rise from the dead, he promised us that some day he would return for us.

If Jesus did what he said he would do by rising from the dead, we can be assured that his other promises will come true as well. Promises to always be with us. Promises to forgive us, show mercy to us and love us. Most of all, the promise that he will return one day and bring us to himself. We will rise again! How do we know? First of all our leader, Jesus Christ, did. Secondly, he told us we would rise from the dead. If it was true of him, it will be true of us. We will live forever. Death will have no victory over us because Jesus defeated death once and for all.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, Thank you for offering me forgiveness for my sin. Thank you for fulfilling every promise you have ever made to me. Thank you for rising from the dead so that I can be assured I will live forever. In you I put my trust because no one else can do for me what you do. In your name I pray, Amen.


He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, Luke 22:41

I can’t imagine the emotion of that night. The disciples were confused about some of Jesus’ words in the upper room. There seemed to be some sort of secret dialogue going on between Jesus and Judas. After living with the guy 24/7 for three years the men must have sensed something was wrong, something very heavy on Jesus’ heart.

Then went out from the upper room to a small garden, named Gethsemane, on the Mount of Olives. Jesus took his three very closest friends to apart from the rest to pray. How much did he know? He was God, but he was also man. He knew as a man the horrendous nature of crucifixion. He’d no doubt passed by as someone was being hung on a tree. Did he get a strange feeling every time he saw that? Did he think, “Some day that will be me”?

For whatever reason, tonight Jesus knew that he was going to die. Over the next few hours he would experience pain beyond belief, the rejection of his closest friends, and worst of all, the inability to sense the presence of his father. All through his ministry he was rejected, hungry at times and mistreated and misunderstood. But he’d always had his daddy to go to. Soon, even that would be gone.

In the midst of his agony he went to talk to Dad one more time. He didn’t talk about himself. He asked once for God to reconsider, but the rest of his time was spent praying. Praying for you. Praying for me. Praying that in the midst of our darkest hours we would remain strong. Praying that love and unity would always be the defining characteristic of our families and churches. Even when death stared him in the face his main thoughts and concerns were for us.

Maybe that’s something to think about when it seems all of life has collapsed around you. Maybe it’s something to remember when the future seems hopeless, when the things you are forced to endure are insurmountable. When you don’t think you can go on.

Jesus, in his darkest hour never stopped thinking of you. I’ve seen artist renderings of Jesus praying alone in the garden. At best they have the disciples a long distance away. ‘A stone’s throw’ means ‘very near’, not far away. When the pain of living seems to be too much, remember he is just a stone’s throw away and it always thinking of you.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, it’s amazing to me to think about how hard that night in the garden must have been for you. I can’t imagine how hard it was to stare death, rejection and separation in the face. Yet you loved me so much your last thoughts were for me, not yourself. Thank you for loving me so much. Empower me with your Spirit to remember, when life seems too hard, that you love me and are just a ‘stone’s throw away’. In your name, Amen.

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