I Do Not Come with Empty Hands

I do not come with empty hands
No,
My hands were never empty
I’ve filled them with the best of me
My skill, my love, my everything
These are the things I gladly give to prove to you my worth

I do not come with empty hands
No,
My hands were never empty
I see my glory in the distance
My penance and my salvation
These are the things for which I strive to prove I am enough

I do not come with empty hands
No,
My hands were never empty
The King of Life requires payment
In gifts, in labor, in piety
These are the things I gladly bring to prove that I belong

This King deserves the best of me
my skills and gifts
my offering
I take upon myself the noble task to fashion him the best
I labor long, pouring all of me into my solemn work
By the skill of my hand, I create things of surpassing beauty:
A crown that shines for all to see – the envy of the world
Rings fit only for a king – unrivaled in shape or form
A throne from which to govern the land – exalted above all others


I do not come with empty hands
No,
My hands were never empty
I bring my gifts before the king
With pretension and self-satisfaction
These are the things I proudly offer to prove that I am good

And then I see His face.
His eyes remove all doubt.
These things my vanity has made are not what He requires.

“Child, move close to me.”

He beckons me to come.

“Child, I will accept your gifts though they are not what you need or understand.
You have fashioned them for your own glory, to curry favor, yet the cost is so much more.”

He beckons me closer still.

“Dear one, come, place your crown upon my head, your rings upon my hands.
Take me to the throne you have made and I will use it for a while.”

I move towards Him, knowing my gifts are woefully insufficient.
I take the crown, which had filled me with such pride, and I place it on His glorious head.
Confusion settles as I see the blood trickle down his noble face.
Yet I push it down even more, forcing each thorn deeper still.
The blood shines out for all to see, the scarlet price exacted.

I take His hands with my own and move to place the rings.
Instead of rings, I find only nails, long and sharp and formed with malice.
Shaking my head, I lie to myself that this had not been my purpose.
I place the nails upon His wrists and drive them through His flesh.
The vile accoutrements created with selfish pride decorate His pure and guiltless hands.

The nails now pierce His holy flesh and pin Him to the wood.
I lift Him up for all to see, enthroned on high.
It is clear the throne is crudely made, a sign my skills were less than I imagined, so I place a sign to indicate His noble and kingly position.
I back away to admire my work and to see all that my great toiling has accomplished.
I see my Lord nailed to a cross, a cross of my own making.

My efforts and my righteousness are nothing more than filth.
I’ve poured the very heart of me into my work, and empty it has returned.


I do not come with empty hands
No,
My hands were never empty
They are full of rage and lust, greed and pride
They are all of me and all that I can offer to prove I am deserving

I do not come with empty hands
No,
My hands were never empty
They cling to hell and defiant sin
They’re filled with guilt and eternal death for that is what they crave

I do not come with empty hands
No,
My hands were never empty
I bring nothing of worth to the Lord of All
I am destitute and ruined


DEATH

The King is Dead!

THE GRAVE

God made flesh – alone and entombed.

HE IS RISEN!

“Oh death and grave, you have had your hour
But now your time is done
I tarried here a little while
For my WORD is always true
Yet you’re much too weak and impotent
To hold me in your grasp
Your rule has ended and your power is gone
For I have swallowed you in victory
And now I make all things new!”


I see Him now, ascended and mighty
the crown, the nails, and cross are broken and defeated
He has conquered them and so much more
He faced down death and won the war
He is the Lord of life and the Lord of all and all of creation rests in His hands.

“Child, move closer to me.”

He beckons me to come.

“Dear child, move closer still.”

He looks at me with eyes of love, a look that in my shame and brokenness I cannot return.

“My dear child, look and see the works of your hands
all the things your skills have wrought.
Are they enough?
Have you proven your worth with all your vain grasping?”

I have no reply.

“Oh dear one, can you not see? Will you not accept the truth?
I do not come with empty hands
No,
My hands were never empty
I’ve filled them with my everything
My love and forgiveness, redemption and grace
These are the things I gladly offer to any who believe.”

My legs give out; I fall to my knees,
overwhelmed in the presence of such grace and mercy.
I humbly reach and He takes my hands, and fills them with His great love.

I do not come with empty hands
No,
My hands were never empty
My hands, which had been filled with nothing good
Cling only to my Lord. The very Way, the Truth, the Life
I cling to Christ alone





A Panamanian Perspective on Holy Week

Since I spent nearly 30 years in Panama as a missionary, I have a perspective on Easter that I trust has taught me some valuable lessons.

First off, Holy Week in the early years (1970s-1980s) tended to be influenced by Roman Catholicism, the predominant religion in Panama. The entire week was somewhat subdued, with less emphasis on the commercial aspects of life. Good Friday was somber and solemn; television and radio stations could only play, funeral-like music, dirges, and the like. Churches had mass to commemorate the passion. There were no sports or entertainment. (After those early years, Good Friday became more “secular,” and has remained so. It is possible that some radio stations may have special solemn programming, but not the TV stations, by and large. Some of the older people, staunchly Catholic, complained, but basically the day has become a “holiday,” not a “holy day.”)

Strangely enough, Easter Sunday was pretty much business as usual. Though it was called “Domingo de Gloria,” (Sunday of Glory), there didn’t seem to be a lot of celebration of Christ’s resurrection, and folks went to the beach, had picnics, visited family, etc., pretty much like any other time when they were off work. But neither the solemnity or the frivolity seemed to touch people very deeply. The solemnity didn’t cause people to come to Christ for forgiveness of sin, and receive a Savior who would change their lives. The frivolity wasn’t Christian joy, based on the the certainty of the Risen Lord who had conquered death.

What a difference I discovered in the evangelical church! For one thing, many churches had a special Good Friday service which featured the seven last words of Christ he uttered from the cross. I took part in many of those over the years, sometimes preaching just one of the seven words, as in a joint service, and sometimes all seven. It could make for a very long service, but focusing from a theological as well as a practical perspective was helpful and challenging.

We sang songs (in Spanish) like “There is a Fountain,” and “Nothing But the Blood.” We also sang songs about the passion such as “Oh Qué Amor,” (Oh What Love), and “¿Sabes qué Murió Jesús?” (Do you Know that Jesus Died?”) this last one sung to the tune of the 1960s pop song “Sealed With a Kiss.” Beautiful, melodic songs about our Savior’s death on the cross that really touched my heart, but unknown to English-only speaking people.

Easter Sunday was always a special day in Panama. We’d sing, in Spanish of course, songs like “Low in the Grave He Lay” with volume and emotion, and hear the resurrection message delivered on that day of days.

We introduced to the church in Bethania, where we served for about 15 years, the “Sunrise Service” concept. I think some other churches already were doing it, but it was new to many of the people we’d seen come to Christ, and over time came to be one of the most popular and inspiring things we did each year. An early service, often around 5:30 or 6:00 a.m., followed by a breakfast fellowship meal, and then Sunday School, made for a glorious day in the Lord, and with His people.

I remember our first Easter in Panama, in 1978, when we met at the church on a Sunday night. It would have been March 26. Our main service was held on Sunday night at the beginning of the church plant. We sang. We prayed. I preached. At the end of the service a young man in his early 20s came forward to receive Christ. His words to me were these: “I knew there had to be more in life than what I had found, and tonight I found it in Jesus Christ.” Christ arose! He lives! He is risen. He is risen indeed!




Easter Poll: What Is Your Favorite Easter Food?

Eating is fun. Food is good. Is there anyone out there that is going to argue with those two statements? As Americans, we love to eat. We will use any event as an excuse to eat. Here at REO, we respect and honor that tradition. So, in light of our shared love of food and eating, we have prepared a poll to determine the most important part of the Easter dinner. Every family will have its own unique spin on what you eat at Easter, so in an attempt to keep this as simple as possible, we have decided to use the most common dishes found in Easter dinners all over the country. You only get one vote. Vote for your favorite. Some of the options are as general as possible to include the most possible responses. See “potatoes” for instance. If you have a specific potato dish that is your favorite, vote for “potatoes” and then post your dish in the comment section. If you can’t find any option that works for you, select “other” and explain your selection in the comment section. If that is too difficult for you, then you are very lazy.

Let’s hear it people! What is your favorite part of the Easter dinner?

 

Favorite Easter Dinner Food

View Results

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Resurrection Dawning: An Easter Portrait

Happy Easter!

That does not seem good enough to express how Easter should make us feel though, does it? Happy is good, but it fails to capture everything Easter means. How can we ever say enough? How can we articulate everything the Resurrection is and everything it represents, not only for us as believers, but for the entire world? The simple answer is, we can’t. We simply do not have the words. We do not have it in us to tell the story better than it has already been told. Scripture tells the story with words and images and power. It tells us of the bruised heel and the crushed head. The sinless lamb slain for the sins of the world. Powerful imagery that we cannot hope to top.

So, instead of trying to do the impossible, we have chosen to simply add our voices to the throngs of past and present believers who have proudly proclaimed the joy of Easter. We hope what little we have to contribute will be a blessing to you on this truly blessed Easter morning.

Ethan - age 11
Ethan – age 11

I am astounded just as much by the incredibly long working of God’s plan of salvation as by the final culmination of the saving acts of Jesus. I have already talked in The Moral Essential of Being how there was a whole lot of time involved in the road to salvation before the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. In fact, God said he was making plans before the world’s timeline even started. And when time did begin, Jesus was there and involved in that act of world creation. John 1:1-3 says the Word (Jesus Christ) was with God and was God in the beginning. And it wasn’t just Jesus who worked the centuries-long plan. The other two members of the trinity—God the Father and God the Holy Spirit—were also there and were equally as pivotal in the long work of salvation.

Although it may be the most important piece, the role the incarnate Son of God played between His human birth and His final ascension into heaven wasn’t His final piece of the puzzle. And the Holy Spirit’s role certainly did not end with helping conceive Jesus in the womb of the virgin Mary. Nor did the hand of God the Father withdraw after the work of Christ on earth was done. The three persons of the godhead are still completing the Easter story today and forevermore.

It is true that right now there are still burrs and bellyaching and holy outrage in this earthly life even for Christians. But on Easter day we are celebrating the beginning of a redemption and renewal of all things toward a time when all the imperfections of life will be no more. Revelation 21:4 tells us that in that glorious, final day God will wipe away our tears. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. All the burrs and bellyaching and holy outrage will ever after be a thing of the past. I long for that day.

– Ben Plunkett

Aidan - age 13
Aidan – age 13

The thing about Easter is that it was so empirical. We talk about faith all the time in Christianity, but that word must be quantified by history and evidence and transmission. Make no mistake, the fact that the early apostles saw the resurrected Jesus is crucial to the story.

Over and over and over in the book of Acts you find the disciples emphasizing the word “witness” to describe resurrection (Acts 2:32, 3:15, 5:31-33, 10:39-41, 13:29-31, 26:16).  It mattered to picking Judas’ replacement, evangelism and so much more. Jesus and Ananias in Acts used the word “witness” to refer to how Christians would share Christ with others. (And while we witness based on what we believe today, they witnessed based on what they saw.) In 2 Peter 1:16, Peter uses the word “witness” to attest to his words being fact. And Luke begins and ends with eyewitnesses being the source of his Gospel, book-ending the story of Jesus by emphasizing empirical proof. Additionally, the Apostles creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 says four times that Jesus “appeared.” The focus on this fact is vitally important to our faith.

But Jesus said something to Thomas that I think we need to remember lest we bemoan the fact we were not so “Blessed” to see Jesus just as they did. In John 20, He told Thomas that “You believe because you see. But blessed are those who do not see yet still believe.” Our belief is not blind, but neither is it without testimony that was verified by sight, sound, smell and touch. I believe Jesus walked the earth, died and rose because of my faith. But not without evidence.

And this and every Easter I don’t want to try to bring God down to my level, but neither do I want to check my mind at the door as I worship. What I know effects what I feel. I have broken down and cried numerous times thinking about those 11 men and countless others giving their lives for what they saw.  And that is why Easter is so special.

– Gowdy Cannon

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Wesley – age 6

Humans were never created for death.

When my Aunt Lisa was tragically killed in a car accident leaving a husband and two young boys, I couldn’t believe it. I was in college away from home, and my grandma told me the news over the phone. “No!” I replied. “This isn’t real,” I thought. I’ll never forget seeing my precious grandma who had lost her daughter saying to the casket, “I’ll see you later.”

The next Sunday at church, my grandma requested the hymn “Because He Lives.”

My sister-in-law died from breast cancer in 2015, less than two weeks after a confirmed diagnosis.  She left a husband and three very young children. I still responded, “No. This can’t be real.” Her memorial service was simple. Songs. Poetry. Scripture. A beautiful tribute by her best friend. It still seems unreal that Bethany is not here.

The speaker at her service used Truth and reminded us mourners, “Things are not always as they seem.”

Humans were never created for death, and maybe this is why it doesn’t seem real when it happens.

Humanity chose death. To sin is to choose death, but God became man to die in our place, to redeem all of us. Because of His sinlessness, death could not stick. Death is the payment for sin, and He had never purchased it. We get to choose Jesus’ death for our sins and Jesus’ perfect, righteous, sinless life for our own lives. We get to choose eternal life.

This sacred holiday reminds us HE LIVES!  Screams to us that death is not the end! Proclaims hope when tragedy attempts to suck it away.

Because HE LIVES, we can face tomorrow.

We were never created for death.  And though humanity chose it, God made certain through His own sacrifice and resurrection that we have another choice.  A choice at life.

Happy Easter!

– Amy Lytle

Wesley - age 6
Wesley – age 6

I want to be an Easter person.

I love Easter, but I do not love it enough. I am a Christmas person. I love that time of year. I love the lights, the decorations, the music, the food. I love the reason behind it all even more. The story of the Nativity is miraculous in its depth and power. For whatever reason, I have never felt that same pull for Easter. And that bothers me.

My wife has been a big proponent of making Easter a much bigger deal in our home. We are even planning to scale back on Christmas so we can do more for Easter each year. I want my children to recognize the singular importance of the Easter story. Without it, we have nothing. Without the death, burial and resurrection, we are without hope. Perhaps by focusing on it more and talking about it more and celebrating it more we will show our kids its great importance. I hope it works for me as well. I want to be an Easter person.                    

– Phill Lytle

Denkie - age 17
Denkie – age 17

I recently heard that Christmas points to Easter. Jesus was born to die so that he could defeat death. I don’t normally like thinking about Christmas songs outside the month of December but here I make an exception. This is a watercolor painting inspired by a few lines from Joy to the World. “No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground, He comes to make his blessings flow, Far as the curse is found.”  This is an abstract that flashed in my mind as I pondered “Far as the curse is found.”  However far the ever-reverberating echoes of the fall can branch out, the resurrection overcomes–as far as the curse can be found!

Brandon AtwoodFullSizeRender-1
Have a wonderful and happy Easter!
The Rambling Ever On staff




The Revolutionary Jesus: A History Teacher’s Perspective (Part Two)

Part 2: Why Romans Isn’t Really the Greatest Book of the Bible After All, or Why We Should Read the Gospels More Than We Do.

It happened again. I was listening to a great sermon from a godly man and then he did it—-he started talking about how Romans is the greatest book in the Bible. He got really excited and started telling us how Calvin read it every morning before doing P90X. Luther’s beer mug was in the shape of a giant “R.” Theodore Beza even had Romans 9 tattooed down his arm as a sleeve. (Let the reader understand–those were jokes.) The audience was with him; I was not. I’m always a little uneasy when people elevate one book of Scripture over another, but I do understand that some books hold more value for Christians than others. What bothers me is that I only ever hear this done with the epistles of Paul. Luke spent years researching and interviewing all the eyewitnesses who saw the actions and heard the teachings of the Son of God. He carefully compiled them into a thematically crafted and chronologically driven narrative. So why is it that I’ve never heard a preacher sing such high praises about Luke’s gospel? Why is it that the first-hand accounts of Matthew and John are also such second-class citizens? My guess is because they are about the life of Jesus and not about how one can get saved. Christianity, after all, is more about me getting saved than it is about Jesus, isn’t it?

To a large degree, this emphasis on salvation (or more specifically, justification) is a product of our Reformation heritage. For all its good, the Reformation tended to boil the Christian faith and the New Testament down to the issue of justification: How can a person be right with God? The reasons for this are understandable, but it is important for us to know that this was a reaction to very bad theology, not simply a recovery of biblical Christianity. It was indeed more biblical, but Luther and company did not by any means reproduce the first century church in the sixteenth century. A good illustration of how the reformers emphasized the doctrine of justification to the neglect of other aspects of Christianity is Luther’s attitude toward the book of James. Anyone who studies James can see that James is ripe with references to the teachings of Jesus. It is a book packed with practical advice on how to live as a Christian by applying Jesus’ teachings to daily life. Because James talks about the importance of works to go along with faith and makes no references about the saving power of Jesus’s death, Luther called this brilliant letter “an epistle of straw.” In my best Gimli the dwarf impersonation, I read James and I say, “They call it an epistle of straw!”

While the reformers tended to overemphasize justification at the expense of other doctrines, 500 years later we find ourselves in churches that have distilled the teachings of the reformers even further. The reformers produced catechisms; we generate little more than bumper stickers. “Jesus died for your sin so that you can go to heaven when you die.” This is what we are left with. We may believe it strongly, but it does little to help us understand all those parts of the New Testament that don’t fit this reductionist narrative.

What we have effectively done is create a canon within a canon. At the top of this list are the books of Romans and Galatians. Because they deal with the subject of justification, they are considered the greatest of all New Testament books. A close second behind these are the books of Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. These books also make amazingly strong statements about the power of the cross of Christ. When our church is having problems, we turn to Corinthian letters to see how Paul handled these issues and to make ourselves feel better for not being so screwed up. So far we haven’t got past the writings of Paul. Does this sound like your Church? Where do the Gospels rank in this list? Somewhere in the middle of the New Testament, I would say. What about Revelation? My guess is that unless your pastor thinks he can interpret Revelation by reading the global events section of the newspaper, he probably doesn’t talk about it. What about the Old Testament Scriptures that Jesus loved so much?

It is not my intention to argue that the Gospels are more important than the Pauline epistles, but rather my purpose is to assert that a strong historically rooted grasp of the life and ministry of Jesus is an essential part of being a follower of Christ. It is also essential to understanding the Jesus whom Paul spills so much ink over. In other words, we cannot understand the Gospel without understanding the Gospels and we cannot understand the Gospels if we force their story into our theological framework. When we do this we blind ourselves to the radically subversive story of God’s Kingdom their authors were telling first century people.

Perhaps the clearest example of ignoring the story of Jesus that is found in the Gospels is the theological model of dispensationalism. This method of interpretation sees God revealing himself and saving people through different “dispensations,” or periods of time. For example, God worked differently under the Mosaic Covenant than under New Covenant instituted by Jesus’ death. There is some truth to be found in this system, but this framework also creates a host of problems. My main problem with dispensationalism is that it dispenses with the teachings of Jesus. Dispensationalist commentaries, preachers, and Internet bloggers will quickly throw out the teachings of Jesus as being “under the law” because they don’t jive with their reading of Romans or Galatians. While most of us are not as willing to openly dismiss Jesus’s words, many of us are left with a general feeling that maybe we can put Jesus teachings to the side. Yet, relegating Jesus’ teachings as peripheral to Christianity doesn’t quite sit well.

It’s hard to be a follower of Jesus if we are deaf to his voice. We don’t want to be deaf! We want a faith that celebrates everything about Jesus. We want to stand mesmerized by his miracles and sit at his feet hanging on every word from his lips. We long to put ourselves in every conversation and witness every encounter. Our heart stops at the terrible cross, not just because of what it does for us, but because of who it was that endured it. We revel in the empty tomb, not only because it’s our hope of resurrection, but also because the man whose words transformed our life in Matthew 5 is with us in chapter 28. We want, no, we need a better understanding of Jesus’s whole life. We find this by better understanding the Gospels.

How can we do this? How can we better understand these primary source accounts of Jesus? How can we better understand his teachings and his actions? In the future, I hope to lay out some more specific approaches but for now, I will focus on these two questions: What is the Gospel? And what are the Gospels?

Just about everyone with some church background has been taught that “gospel” means good news. Most of them have been further taught that by “good news” the Bible means the good news that Jesus died for our sins. In this understanding of Gospel, the story of the Cross, it is only what we learn from reading the last few chapters of the Gospels and what we learn better by reading Paul’s epistles.

Is this what the Bible means by “the Gospel?” If so, why does Mark call his entire account of Jesus’ life “the Gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1)? Why does Jesus preach in the same chapter that, “the Kingdom of God is near, that we should repent and believe the Gospel?” Why does Jesus say that he is preaching the Gospel to the poor in Luke 4? Was Jesus telling them about his plan to die on the cross? We have no indication that was his gospel message. What we do see is that Jesus’ life, his ministry, his words, his presence is one that is bringing the Kingdom of God to the earthly scene. As the king (also known as Messiah or Christ) he is bringing his Kingdom. His teaching shows us how the kingdom works through love rather than force. His healing touch shows us how his rule will put all things right. His presence brings us in direct contact with God. His life is the gospel! Jesus is the gospel.

Understanding this reality makes the cross even greater! Everything he was about in his ministry (humility, sacrificial love, faithfulness) culminates at the cross. What’s more is that everything that is to come (end of sickness, death, and pain) is on display in his resurrection. The Gospel is much better news than getting to go to heaven and escaping hell. The Gospel is the amazing news of the invasion of heaven’s king into our world. It is the story of his victory through divine love and sacrifice. It is the story of his life, his death, and the surprise of his return to life. As his followers, it becomes the story of our life in him. It’s not just the story of our death, but of every aspect of our life.

If this is the Gospel, then the Gospels make more sense. They are the written accounts of the story of Jesus. Scholars debate whether or not they are ancient biographies and debate the definition of what that even means, but we can all safely say that people in the first century were familiar with telling the story of a person’s life. The key thing to remember is that they didn’t do it the same way modern people do. The Gospels are carefully crafted accounts of Jesus’ life arranged thematically and semi-chronologically for specific purposes. The authors sometimes even tell us the purpose. Luke’s purpose is to have the most accurate account around. John’s is so that his audience would believe that Jesus is the Son of God. The key is to remember that the content of the gospels did not get in there by random chance. The stories in each gospel complement each other thematically. The miracles often help us understand the teaching. One parable helps us understand the one before. The characters often complement or contrast each other.

The writers of the Gospels thought long and hard when they crafted their stories. They did it so that we would know the good news of Jesus deeply. Their narratives are rich. The collected teachings and sayings are deep. In them we encounter the actual Jesus of Nazareth. In them we truly find the Gospel.

Read Part 3 here.