The story is told of a young strong man pulling a cart filled with cloths. As he travels, he calls out, “Rags! Rags! New rags for old!” On his journey he encounters a number of people with a variety of burdens: a young woman grieving the loss of a child, an old man bent and broken with the weight of the world on his shoulders, a one-armed man unable to find work. At each meeting, the young man trades one of his fresh linen cloths with the tired and worn rags the people are using to dry their own eyes. With each exchange, the Ragman seems to take on the burden or handicap of the people. At the end of the day, the watcher who tells the story realizes that the Ragman is none other than the Christ, exchanging new lives for old. (“The Ragman” in Easter Stories, compiled by Miriam LeBlanc)

And that is Easter—Christ exchanging new lives for old. He died on a cross, taking the place of every sinner; taking on His sinless shoulders the sin of every person, and so conquered sin. Then, on the third day, He rose again and so conquered death. In this sacrificial and merciful act He exchanged His perfect life for my imperfect one, He traded my death for His life.

This is the message of Easter available for anyone who believes. Have you received the exchange today? Listen, He calls to you, “Rags! Rags! New rags for old! New lives for old!”

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come.  — 2 Corinthians 5:17

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Passion Week, Holy Week, or whatever you choose to designate this week, today focuses on the beginning of a most sacred time. Some might qualify that statement with the phrase “for Christians.” However, regardless of what one might believe the week that begins with Palm Sunday and traverses through a Passover celebration from two thousand years ago—one that is marked with jealousy, accusation, tragedy, and triumph—is holy to all of mankind.

As we of the Christian faith begin this week with reminiscent cries of that first Palm Sunday, singing, shouting, or crying out, “Hosanna! Hosanna in the Highest! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” we are proclaiming the news that Jesus has come to conquer sin for all of mankind—for those who accept and for those who do not. This reminds us all that the miracle of Holy Week is the offer of salvation and life

And so, my plea goes out to everyone, regardless of what religious background you have. If you have not chosen to partake of salvation, choose this Holy season. Consider the message of the Christ: The God of all creation made mankind in His own image for the purpose of relationship with Him. Of his own choice, mankind broke that relationship through disobedience earning eternal death. In answer to this travesty, Jesus (the Son of God) was born on earth, lived a sinless life, and died in the place of all mankind, so that anyone who places their trust on Him will live. Make this Holy Week yours today!

Anyone who believes in Him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God.  — Jesus, John 3:18

Late Friday. All day Saturday. Early Sunday. Three days. That time between the last one to see Jesus and the first one to see Jesus. Speculation runs strong about what went on from the time Jesus cried, “It is finished!” and surrendered His earthly body to death and that moment when Mary Magdalene mistook Him for the gardener.

Might I suggest that He was waiting. Waiting can be a holy thing. Why’d He have to wait to prove that He was in control even over death? Partly because of prophecy. In order for Him to fulfill even the last of the prophecies that prove Jesus was and is Messiah, He waited silently for those three days. The prophecy—especially His personal prophecy about Himself—proclaimed that Messiah would be put to death and return to life on the third day. God knows God’s plans. As a matter of form, God knows His plans better than you or I, and we can only be informed insofar as He opens those plans up to us. And in order that all might be able to know that Jesus was and is who He said He was and is and shall be, the plan called for three days.

Perhaps you are in a waiting time. It’s okay to wait on the Lord, but as we wait on Him, let us consider His word and what it is we wait on—the will and plan of God.

Unlike the times we find ourselves in a holding pattern because our plane can’t land, waiting in the presence of God is time well spent.

“For He was teaching His disciples and telling them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of me. They will kill Him, and after He is killed, He will rise three days later.’  — Mark 9:31

One of my favorite songs of faith makes this statement:

The old rugged cross made the difference,/In a life bound for heartache and defeat.    I will praise Him forever and ever,/For the cross made the difference for me.–Bill & Gloria Gaither

As we continue to draw closer to Resurrection Day, It is important to take a closer look at the cross. There Jesus surrendered Himself to the cruel machinations of mankind. There Jesus paid the death penalty that mankind earned though the active disobedience known as sin. The One righteous one, replaced the multitude of unrighteous so that the dead could come to life. There, on the cross, my sin and your sin was obliterated for all of eternity.

What makes the cross so special is not the myriad intricate designs that make it beautiful to hang on the wall or wear as jewelry. It is neither the sentimental journey that we take time and again because understanding His sacrifice on our behalf makes us nostalgic. No, what makes the cross special is that in the middle of cruelty and harsh reality God reached down to cradle His creation back to Himself in a selfless, gracious, and merciful plan—one that only God could think up. One that only God could accomplish.

Thank you, Jesus, for the cross.

“No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends  —Jesus, John 15:13

“I really messed up.” These are some words that we don’t like to utter. We don’t like to admit failure, or even difficulty for that matter. If someone senses that we are struggling and genuinely asks how things are going, our pat answer is to double up on a single word: “Fine. Fine. Everything’s fine.”

For example, when a school child is studying a subject that is giving a bit or difficulty because they haven’t yet understood it, the child doesn’t want to ask for help for fear of looking stupid. So when a parent or teacher asks if the child needs help, they must pass on the offer because they’ve already tried to give the impression that everything was good. And then the grades win out.

Life is like that sometimes. We refuse to request needed assistance early enough for it to help, and then find ourselves trying to swim in deep, torrential, shark-infested waters. But if we face the truth—whether we ever state it out loud or not—from time to time we all mess up. Certainly not always royally, but occasionally we must admit that we have performed less than spectacularly. What do we do when we mess up, when we need help?

Paul W. Powell suggests in a little devotional book from 25 years ago, that the Bible’s advice on burdens is three-fold: Shoulder some, share some, and shift some to the waiting arms of Jesus. I think that the Apostle Peter would remind us that no matter how bad we flub up, Jesus is always there to catch us.

“Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you.  —Psalm 55:22a

I strive to be a man of prayer. Without question, I hold the practice of prayer in high regard and with good reason. The Savior that I serve placed a high premium on prayer. Early in His public life, the Gospels report that Jesus’ disciples knew He spent time in prayer. When they were looking for Jesus one morning, they found Him in a place where they knew he went regularly for prayer (see Mark 1:35-39).

In this modern age in which we live it is sometimes seen as poor form to be a person of prayer. Some people have gone to requesting or offering “positive thoughts” instead of prayer so as not to offend or be offensive. I still offer to pray.  I do this for a couple of reasons: first, I am a person who puts great stock in prayer, and also, I expect God to answer my petitions.

I also remember that Jesus expected answers to His prayers as well. He did not assert that only prayers answered in the way He desired were answered prayers though. Consider His last night in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus’ earnest request was that the cup He faced (namely, paying the penalty for sins He had not committed in order for mankind to find salvation) be accomplished in another manner. He accepted, though, that the Father’s will might overturn Jesus’ own desires.

So, if you have a need that you make known to me I will make it a matter of prayer. I will rejoice with you if the answer matches our desires. I will cry with you when the answer is “no.” And I will persist with you when the answer is “not now.” Prayer is a powerful thing—if we do not get what we want, God can use our communication to change what we want.

“The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much  —James 5:16b

Sometimes I think that we lose sight of what traditions are about. In the classic musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” Tavia—the patriarch of the family of Russian Jews that is the center of the story—argues against all of the new-fangled ideas that are thrown at him by, of all people, his family. He has one, single, solitary argument: “Tradition!” Without fail, he sees his heartfelt traditions crumble before progress until the family is finally forced into exile because of the political progress being made around his faith-filled traditions.

In the church we have a number of traditions and practices that are in danger of losing so much meaning that they will be crowded out by progress. One such tradition (which could do with a little life breathed in) is Lent. Growing up in the Baptist tradition that I did, we had lost our grip on the celebration of the season leading up to Resurrection Sunday. The main reason, as far as I can tell, is that Lent is too closely associated with a more ecumenical and less evangelical side of the Christian faith (i.e. Catholicism, Lutheranism, etc.)

Part of the crumbling of the traditional view is the boiling down of Lent to “giving up something (usually a bad habit or lesser indulgence that we probably wouldn’t miss anyway)” for the season when the purpose of Lent is to prepare the Christ-follower to be of worshipful mind when he arrives at the holy week of Easter. This year let us (yes, even those of us who are Baptist) prepare our hearts and minds to fall before the feet of the Savior as we celebrate His death, burial, resurrection and ascension.

“Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, ‘Go and prepare the Passover meal for us, so we can eat it.’  —Luke 22:8