What is Maundy Thursday?

The first time I was invited to attend a Maundy Thursday service over 25 years ago, I had no clue what it was. They tried valiantly to explain the significance.

But I had to experience it first-hand to understand the true meaning.

HOLY THURSDAY

Maundy Thursday, also called Holy Thursday, recalls the events that took place the night Jesus was betrayed in the upper room.

The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke reveal how Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper for the first time. That life-altering table of forgiveness laid out for us.

JOHN’S GOSPEL FOCUSES ON SOMETHING DIFFERENT

The gospel of John hones in on Jesus’ final teachings to His disciples — this band of men who had followed Him, served Him, and witnessed three years of His ministry.

John realized that those who know their remaining time is short choose words carefully to ensure only the essential gets conveyed.

The word maundy is derived from the Latin phrase mandatum novum, meaning “new commandment.” So, what were Jesus’ instructions that night? 

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” John 13:34

SERVING JESUS REQUIRES LOVE

John doesn’t simply end his account with men enjoying a meal and hearing Jesus speak. He tells how Jesus dramatically punctuated His words with action.

In a shocking turn of events that almost sent Peter over the edge, Jesus — God in the flesh — stooped to wash the disciples’ feet. Including Judas. (A good point to keep in mind the next time we have trouble extending forgiveness.)

SERVING JESUS REQUIRES SERVING OTHERS

We can opt to serve others from a safe distance by sending money or supplies. However, serving to make a kingdom impact as His hands and feet requires us to get in close.

Get our hands dirty.

Get on our knees and pray.

Do the lowliest job.

That’s what foot washing represented in Biblical times. Only the lowest servant was relegated to the task of washing feet encased in sandals and thick desert dust. The job stunk. Literally.

That’s where Jesus meets us on Maundy Thursday — in the middle of our smelly lives.

He washes our feet in love and welcomes us to His table of forgiveness. And as we draw close, we hear Him remind us of His mandatum novum: “Love one another, just as I have loved you.”

The heart of Maundy Thursday reflects the heart of God: love.

Love instituted in a meal of forgiveness and redemption.

Love demonstrated by a foot washing, life-giving love.

If you have the opportunity to attend a Maundy Thursday service tonight, don’t miss out. It provides a beautiful glimpse into God’s everlasting love for us.

Be the Donkey

Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt (donkey) tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?” tell him, “The Lord needs it.” (Luke 19:30-31).

That donkey did not do anything special. He was simply chosen. Then he obeyed a very simple instruction: follow where the master led.

They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it” (Luke 19:35).

Scripture does not say anything else about that particular donkey. We do not see where the donkey felt that his time in the spotlight was long overdue. Or that he deserved the pomp and circumstance of that occasion. No donkey selfies.

The donkey realized that it was not about him.

It was about the Messiah that he carried: the Word who became flesh to dwell among us.

It was about the message that the Messiah came to tell: the Light of the world who came to shine hope into our darkness.

In a world obsessed with fame we need to be the donkey.

When we grab after our own glory or fifteen minutes of fame, it is helpful to remember that we are just message-carriers. The picture frame and spotlight belong only on the One who gave us the message to share: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall no perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

As we enter Holy Week today with Palm Sunday, it is vital to remember our place in the story: to hold the spotlight on Jesus. To shine the light on what He accomplished for us on the cross.

We need God-given willingness to let Him untie us from the mundane to carry His extraordinary message wherever He leads us.

The story of Easter is not about us.

We did not do anything special.

By God’s grace, we are simply chosen.

And He asks us to obey a very simple instruction: Follow Me.

We are conduits of the message – not seekers of the spotlight.

Only Jesus deserves the accolades.

Code Blue and Ash Wednesday

Once again, the darkened wee hours are startled awake as “Code Blue!” rings loud over the hospital’s ICU intercom. The staff rushes as one to battle the emergency.

I selfishly thank God that they are not rushing into mom’s room.

It’s 3am as I hear them working to save a life. As my prayers ascend each time Code Blue rings out, I know that God is already in each room.

God was in mom’s room before we were, as well. And He will be there after we are gone, whether the inhabitants acknowledge Him or not.

Prayer moves the heart of God, but faith reminds us that God is already moving.

The season of Lent begins this week with Ash Wednesday. Isaiah 53:5 tells us, “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.”

Jesus was crushed for our sin. And the most amazing thing? He did it willingly. He deliberately put Himself in harm’s way to save our lives – literally.

God positioned Jesus in a certain place and time to be the Savior of the world. Before Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we were in a spiritually life-threatening situation.

We weren’t going to make it out alive.

We were bleeding to death in our sin.

We were going to lose the fight for life.

But because our Savior stepped in to take God’s wrath on our behalf, we have been extended the extraordinary promise to have eternal life.

If you would like to ponder more deeply the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made for you and me, you can download my 4-lesson Bible study on Isaiah 53:5.

DOWNLOAD HERE.

Jesus loves us more than we can possibly imagine. God’s blessings as you travel toward Calvary during Lent.

Tidbit Thursday: The Sycamine Tree and Forgiveness

As Jesus was walking with His disciples in Luke 17, He paused by a sycamine tree to make a specific point about forgiveness. Why should we care about this tree and what does it have to do with forgiveness?

And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you. (Luke 17:6 KJV)

The sycamine tree had a robust root structure that plunged deep into the desert soil to tap into underground water sources. Because of its deep roots, drought or sheering it off at the base posed little threat. It was incredibly difficult to eradicate once established. It would inevitably resurface.

Scripture talks about not allowing any bitterness to take root in our heart because eradicating unforgiveness is incredibly difficult. It grows deep, watered by any offense that lies hidden in the soil of our heart. Left alone, unforgiveness will establish deep roots and produce bitter fruit that surfaces through angry thoughts, words, and deeds.

But there is more.

The spiritual parallels between unforgiveness and the properties of the sycamine tree are chilling.

Wood from the sycamine tree was the preferred material for building coffins and caskets. It grew quickly and was readily available in many places. In fact, Egyptian archaeologists have discovered small boxes made from sycamine wood at the base of mummified sarcophagi. These sycamine boxes remained uncorrupted for at least 3,000 years. Unforgiveness remains in us, corrupting our heart and mind until we allow God access to eradicate it.

Also, the sycamine tree was only pollinated by wasps. The wasp stuck its stinger into the heart of the fruit to initiate the pollination process. The tree had to be “stung” in order to reproduce. Think of how many times you have heard someone say, “I’ve been stung by that person once, but I’m not going to be stung like that again!” You can almost see the poison of unforgiveness pollinate every bitter word they utter. Can you hear the pounding of the casket maker’s hammers?

Finally, the sycamine tree was planted where two paths met. Its large trunk and stout branches offered shade to travelers as they paused to decide which path to take. When you and I get hurt – emotionally, mentally, or spiritually – we stand at a crossroads.

We have the choice between the dark, burdensome path of unforgiveness or the Son-drenched, freeing path of forgiveness. The choice really is ours.

As children of the living God, we must believe that the process of eradicating bitter roots is never a hopeless endeavor. Jesus told His disciples in Luke 17:6 that uprooting unforgiveness is possible if a person has the faith of a grain of mustard seed.

In Him is our only hope of freedom from destructive bitterness. Since that gift of hope comes from God (Ephesians 2:8), we have access to an abundant, unlimited supply of the poison’s antidote.

Regardless of how deep the hurt or how long we have let it reside, it is never too late to surrender our unforgiveness to God for permanent eradication.

In God’s hands, the casket maker’s career is short lived.

Bible study on Forgiveness.

Tidbit Thursday: Epiphany Around the World

People around the world are celebrating Epiphany today, January 6th. Meaning “manifestation” in Greek, Epiphany has been celebrated since around 361 A.D.

To Western Christianity, it marks the arrival of the Magi (or Three Kings) to the toddler Jesus in Bethlehem. In Eastern Orthodoxy, Epiphany commemorates Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River.

Since Epiphany arrives twelve days after Christmas, it is also known as Twelfth Night. People across the globe celebrate it in many interesting ways:

  • In the United States and the United Kingdom, Epiphany marks the day to take down Christmas decorations since many believe that it is bad luck to do so before January 6th.
  • In some Eastern Orthodox countries, Greece, and Bulgaria, priests bless crosses and throw them into frigid waters. Young men dive in after them believing that the first to find the cross will be blessed with good luck for the new year.
  • In Spain, the Philippines, and some Latin American countries, Epiphany is known as “Dia de los Reyes Magos” where Three Kings bring gifts to good boys and girls who leave out their straw-filled shoes the night before. It is traditional to bake a Rosa de Reyes cake and hide a small doll inside that represents the baby Jesus.
  • In Italy, children eagerly await the arrival of a kind, wise witch named “La Befana”, who leaves gifts for them.
  • In Belgium and the Netherlands, Epiphany is called “Drie Koningen.” Children dress as the Three Kings then visit neighbors’ homes to sing songs and receive treats and coins.
  • In Ethiopia, Epiphany is called “Timkat“, where tradition holds that Three Kings brought the Ark of the Covenant to their country. A miniature Ark is placed on the church altar, and they re-enact Jesus’ baptism. Since Ethiopians do not follow the Gregorian calendar, they celebrate two weeks after January 6th.

For Christians, Epiphany – also called the “Thirteenth Day” of Christmas – centers on the visit of the Magi from the East. Epiphany emphasizes the manifestation of God in the flesh of Jesus Christ. Jesus has entered our darkness and shines His true Light (Isaiah 60:1–2).

There is beautiful symbolism in the Magi’s three gifts to Jesus: With gold they confess His royalty; with incense, His deity; and with myrrh, His priestly sacrifice (Matthew 2:11).

As the Magi were guided by the star find and worship the newborn King (Matthew 2:5–11), so God calls us to look to Him to find and worship the Lord (Isaiah 60:3–6).

I pray that we diligently seek Him in 2022, full of His hope, His love, and His light.

Tidbit Thursday: Beekeeping at Notre-Dame

Visiting cathedrals around the world is a passion. I love their centuries-old architecture, Bible stories captured in stained glass, and their stunning beauty. As I work on a special 2022 ministry project involving cathedrals, my favorite one came to mind: Notre-Dame in Paris, France.

The first time I visited Notre-Dame was in October 2008. While my friend headed to the Louvre, I spent an entire day absorbing every inch of that magnificent cathedral, inside and out. I could have easily spent a week.

When Notre-Dame was engulfed in a devastating fire on April 15, 2019, I watched the television coverage with tears streaming down my face. The original stone had been laid on December 12, 1163. The world was witnessing almost 900 years of history going up in smoke.

But like a phoenix rising out of the ashes, so is Notre-Dame. Over $1 billion in worldwide contributions sparked one of the most famous and expensive restorations in history.

During my research process about Notre-Dame, I discovered a delightful tidbit. Since 2013, 35,000-40,000 honeybees have called Notre-Dame Cathedral home. The bees are of the Brother Adam Buckfast variety, and they live in three hives on the sacristy roof. The bees miraculously escaped the fire and are thriving.

The beautiful connection between God and honey appears throughout Scripture.

  • The Promised Land was described to the Israelites as a land flowing with milk and honey – a sign of abundance, ease, and prosperity (Exodus 3:6-8).
  • Honey was often given as a special gift between friends (Genesis 43:11).
  • Two places describe God’s Word as sweeter than honey (Ezekiel 3:3 and Revelation 10:9-10).

Notre-Dame is a stunning house of worship. God’s praises have been sung there for nearly nine centuries. That is what makes any cathedral truly beautiful: God’s people lifting their voices in prayer and praise to our triune God.

If you enjoy Advent calendars, Notre-Dame Cathedral is offering a free Advent calendar online that reveals interesting facts about the cathedral each day through December 25th. You can find it here.

This Christmas, as we enter our beautiful houses of worship to celebrate the birth of our Savior, I pray that God’s light shines bright in your soul as you hear His sweetest words:

For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

Tidbit Thursday: Bible Reading Checklists

As 2022 approaches, many people resolve to read the Bible daily – or at least more often. Recently, I have been asked repeatedly what guide I use for reading through the Bible.

Reading, studying, and memorizing God’s Word is vital to how we love, forgive, and serve as Christ followers. Hebrews 4:12 tells us: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

Scripture is not just a Christian checklist – it is hope on the page. “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

Encouragement and hope.

Who doesn’t need more of both? Especially nowadays.

Whether we need the grace in Romans or the love in John’s Gospel, we need God’s Word to take root in our heart. I don’t know about you, but as I read the Bible, it often reads me. Convicts me. Transforms me. That is precisely what it is supposed to do through the Holy Spirit’s power.

God faithfully guides us to the precise verse we need each day – often before we realize just how much we needed it. Sometimes He equips us with a verse that someone around us needs to hear that day.

God always knows our needs.

Years ago, I created four Bible study checklists that I still use interchangeably to this day. I have already printed fresh copies for when the calendar turns to 2022.

The four choices are: (1) a general Bible Reading Checklist to read at your own pace; (2) a 90-Day Bible Reading Plan to hear Scripture’s overarching story; (3) an Historical Overview Bible Reading Plan that is lined out a bit differently; and (4) a One Year Bible Reading Plan.

Download one or all four here.

If you have resolved to read the Bible more in 2022, I pray that these tools are useful along your journey. Share them with a friend or two. They just might want to walk the journey with you.

Advent blessings!

Tidbit Thursday: The Sling and the Stone

David vs. Goliath is one of the most iconic stories in the Old Testament. Our culture has latched onto this story to describe any time we root for an underdog. But the original story is much more dramatic considering the weapon used.

As the Philistines square off against Israel, Goliath steps out to engage the Israelites in a battle technique known as “representative combat.” Each side picks one man to represent their army and whichever man triumphs gains victory for the entire army. There is a lot at stake.

Goliath taunts Israel twice a day for forty days, but King Saul only cowers. Then a small shepherd boy shows up on a cheese run to bring refreshment to his brothers and check on them at the battlefront. David was like an old school Uber Eats.

David shows up as a courier, not a warrior.

As he talked with them, behold, the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, came up out of the ranks of the Philistines and spoke the same words as before. And David heard him” (1 Samuel 17:23).

David had probably never heard anyone curse God. I mean who would have the nerve? As David demands to know what will be done to the one who insulted God, Saul overhears the fuss and summons David.

And David said to Saul, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God” (1 Samuel 17:32, 36). 

Saul knows the stakes are high. If he sends David into representative combat and David meets defeat, they all lose. And even though Saul is the tallest Israelite and looks most capable, God looks at the heart. Saul finally agrees to send David to face Goliath. I wonder if he started dictating his last will and testament as soon as David stepped onto the battlefield. And can you imagine the Israelite army’s reaction at their representative? Wait…what?

Years ago I watched a documentary describing weapons used in ancient times. The demonstration regarding the sling and stone was riveting. The scientists set up a watermelon on a pole to represent someone’s head. Then they picked up a sling and stone similar to what David would have used. The stone would have been anywhere from a golf ball to baseball in size.

The scientists placed the stone in the sling, backed away to a good distance, wound it up, and let it fly. The cameras clocked the stone at over 100 mph. The watermelon exploded on impact.

Goliath literally never saw it coming.

Goliath relied on his size. David relied on the size of his God.

The next time you face a battle of any kind, remember that God has gifted you with special tools that the enemy severely underestimates. Love, compassion, forgiveness, and His mighty power within you that provides the strength you need to be victorious.

The enemy may see you as a courier, not a warrior.

But God looks at your heart.

Stand strong, mighty warrior!

Ministry Update

I’m excited to share with you very soon about amazing new developments at Artesian Ministries. As I have transitioned into full time ministry, God has opened many wonderful opportunities, including ways we can partner together. I’ll be reaching out soon. In the meantime, please meet my new Board of Directors here. I am so honored to serve with them and you. God’s blessings!

Sunrise on the Sea of Galilee

Today was simply incredible! My morning began by watching the sun rise over the Sea of Galilee as its cool breezes and lapping waves provides the soundtrack to my prayers. As I looked out over the calm waters, the realization hit home hard: Jesus walked on THIS water. Jesus performed miracles on and around THIS water. Jesus preached by THIS water. JOY!!

We enjoyed another incredible breakfast at the hotel, then it was “All Aboard!” in a replica wooden “Jesus boat” to set sail across the Sea of Galilee. The captain welcomed us by turning the boat into an American vessel for our journey by playing the Star Spangled Banner. The American and Jerusalem flags waved majestically side-by-side in the morning sun as we sang our national anthem.

I read the account from Matthew 14 of Jesus (and Peter) walking on the very waters on which we sailed. The captain played several familiar worship songs as we sang, visited, sat in silent awe, or let emotions roll down our cheeks. Meanwhile, these words rang fresh in our minds: And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” Matthew 14:32-33

We disembarked to tour through the Jesus boat museum where we saw a beautifully preserved fishing boat that had been discovered and excavated in the 1980s that dated back to Jesus’ day. The archaeologists identified 12 different types of wood used on that boat, indicating its constant fishing use over a long period of time. There is a good chance that Jesus knew or came in contact with the owners of this very boat!

By 10:30 am, we were back on the bus headed to the Mount of Beatitudes. It was a busy, bustling place. Wayne gathered us on the steps facing the front of the church and led a powerful devotion while reading the beatitudes from Matthew 5.

As we drove away from the Mount of Beatitudes toward Capernaum, the panoramic view of the rolling hills and mountains around the Sea of Galilee was simply stunning.

Capernaum is the seaside location where Jesus spent much time with Peter and teaching in the synagogue. Built over the original black stone synagogue of Jesus’ day, the remains of a white stone synagogue stood dramatically. A boat-shaped church has been built over the site of Peter’s home to help preserve it.

We had worked up quite an appetite, so we stopped at a local establishment and ordered the famous “Peter’s Fish.” Yes, they serve it head and all! I’m not accustomed to my food staring back at me, but this was a special exception.

All gone! 😂

Our next stop was Tabgha, a Byzantine church dating from 350 AD, commemorating the place where Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes to feed the 5,000. We walked on intricate mosaic tiles that were over 1,500 years old!

Our final stop for the day was at the Jordan River where John the Baptist baptized Jesus. We remembered our baptisms in a special ceremony in the Jordan River. God’s gift of baptism was celebrated with joy, tears, and raw, beautiful emotion. How very appropriate that the Jordan River ends at the Dead Sea — the lowest place on Earth. “Our sins are carried to the depths of the sea to be remembered no more.” Micah 7:18-20

We are back at the hotel on the Sea of Galilee for the night, my mind still whirling at what we experienced today. It is sobering and surreal to walk the very same places as Jesus and His disciples walked over 2,000 years ago. Sweet dreams, fellow disciples.

Suicide’s Silent Cry

This past Tuesday was World Suicide Prevention Day.

That very same day, a well-loved young pastor, mental health advocate, husband and father of two, Jarrid Wilson, committed suicide. He had been open with his struggle both through preaching and social media. Only hours before his death, Jarrid tweeted this:

His death sent shock waves throughout the Church at large. His young widowed wife and fatherless sons now face a very different future.

People who struggle with thoughts of suicide don’t want to die, they just want to stop hurting. And it’s a moment-by-moment struggle. For professional counselors and mental health professionals, every day is suicide prevention day.

Many people have asked how to respond if someone is brave enough to tell you that they’re struggling with suicide — or have actually attempted it. Let me share a first-hand account.

Six years ago, five minutes into a lunchtime conversation with a former co-worker, she looked at me with haunted eyes and said: “In November, I tried to kill myself.”

Stunned, I could only stare at my friend, tears welling up and spilling over. She had emailed the day before asking to meet for lunch. Just to chat and talk about a new venture in her life. We hadn’t seen each other in months. 

“I didn’t believe anyone cared if I was gone,” she said. “My family dynamics, my health struggles, financial stress – it just became too much. I was just so very tired.”

Her attempt wasn’t a spur of the moment decision. She had researched on the internet an over-the-counter drug that would be a lethal combination with her prescribed medication. She drove to the store, made the purchase, took the pills, and went to bed. 

She silently assumed her husband, family and friends didn’t care. That they wouldn’t miss her. She never expected to wake up again. But God had other plans.

When she awoke the next morning and realized her suicide attempt had failed, she confessed to her husband. He was beside himself and rushed her to the emergency room. The doctors informed her she had miscalculated the lethal dose by a mere 200mg. 

Looking back on that dark time, she realized that God gifted her with a new perspective. She sought counseling and shared hard, honest feelings with her family. She opened up to her church’s small group, who inundated her with love and support.

After years of struggling silently, she had reached her breaking point. Perhaps you can relate to breaking points.

Her story served as wake-up call for me.  I felt as if I had let my friend down. That I wasn’t there when she most needed me.

That experience made me realize that I need to have more conversations with friends about stuff that matters instead of the weather or latest TV program. To ask how they’re doing – really doing – and listen without interruption. 

It is easy for busyness to take the front seat, allowing those around us to slip through the cracks under a façade of “Everything’s fine.” 

If you know someone who is enduring a difficult season, call them. Send an email. Drop by. SOMETHING. Let them know you care. It may provide a 200mg difference.

We need to keep talking about mental health issues. People are suffering and we cannot be silent simply because it makes us uncomfortable.

I love you and do not tread lightly into this subject. It’s a privilege to pray for you and wrestle through the Scriptures together to find certain hope and strength. 

If you are reading this today and find yourself at a breaking point, please reach out to someone. A family member. Pastor. Friend. Trusted co-worker. SOMEONE. Because you are not alone.

You matter.
You are worth fighting for.
Jesus gave His life so you could live.
You are cherished.
You are loved.
Reaching out for help is BRAVE.

The comments are open. Let’s talk. 

NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE: (800) 273-TALK (8255)


Donna’s brand new individual and small group Bible study: “Perseverance: Praying Through Life’s Challenges” (based on the book of Nehemiah) is now available through Concordia Publishing House and currently on sale at Amazon.