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The Hour of Darkness

The hour of darkness is upon us…

Three times Jesus awakened them—three times. His heart was breaking, his fears were mounting, and his knees were covered in the dirt of the garden floor. Three times he went to pray and pour out his soul in anguish to his Father… They went to sleep. God forgive us, are we not also unfocused and distracted.

The hour of darkness is upon us…

Peter stood at the fires in the courtyard of the high priest and three times denied his Lord, Jesus—three times. Submitting to a false court in a sham trial that was an outright mockery of justice, Jesus was saving the world. And in an outright mockery of faithfulness, Peter was saving his own tail. God forgive us, are we not also cowards and liars.

The hour of darkness is upon us…

Judas betrayed the hope of the world for 30 silver pieces. Only too late did he realize that he did for 30 silver pieces that for which they would have paid 3000. He betrayed his master and friend… with a kiss. Trusting God’s promise, Jesus hung on a cross forgiving the world its sins that put him there. Doubting God’s grace, Judas hung himself in a tree haunted by his demons. God forgive us, are we not also haunted by our demons and do we not also kiss you with our lips then betray you for our own gain.

The hour of darkness is upon us…

It was religious people who struck Jesus first. Driven by fear, they raised their hands in violence. Driven by love, my Jesus knelt in humility. Honoring falsehood as testimony, they condemned the truth itself. Making sure not to wander too far into the home of a Gentile, they kept ritual purity as they handed over an innocent man to be executed. Their voices shouted first for the release of a man who took life, as they demanded the death of the giver of life. God forgive us, are we not also violent and full of compromise when we should be full of the Spirit.

The hour of darkness is upon us…

Pilate has washed his hands. The magistrate found no guilt in him, but did not pardon him. Pilate chose to play politics, and in so doing he handed over the true King to die. God forgive us, are we not also addicted to popularity and often look no further than our own reputation.

The hour of darkness is upon us…

The soldiers have mocked my Lord, and beaten my Lord, and spit on my Lord. They placed a crown of thorns on his head and paraded him through the streets. They were just doing their jobs—it wasn’t personal. They were just following orders as they walked the King of Glory through the streets of shame and beat him down under the weight of his cross. God forgive us, are we not also often an unwitting part of so much systemic injustice and evil that we can’t tell the difference between doing our job and insulting our Lord.

The hour of darkness is upon us…

They played dice at the foot of the cross—gambling for his clothes. Jesus, the Savior of the world, is dying for them right above them, yet they are too busy playing games to notice. God forgive us, are we not guilty—some of us—of still playing games at the cross of Jesus.

The hour of darkness is upon us…

Even the criminals beside him have turned on him—as if some how they are better than him. They heap insults upon him and shame him. It is better to die a scoundrel with my own guilt than to bear the shame of this innocent man I helped kill. God forgive us, are we not also blind to our own culpability and sin.

The hour of darkness is upon us…

The apostles are hiding. His closest friends and his devoted followers—all of them save one were missing. Fearing for their lives, they hid. Saving their own skin, they hid. Not understanding what their teacher had told them over and over again, they were bewildered, confused, and afraid. God forgive us, are we not also guilty of letting our fear and confusion drive us away from where we belong.

The hour of darkness is upon us…

The sun has gone black. The light of the world has been extinguished and all that is left is night. The earth itself is shaking in furious upheaval. For nothing has come into existence that was not made by him—the author of all living things has been killed, and all living things shudder in revolt. The temple curtain is torn and the graves of the saints are empty because even in darkness the light will bear its witness. So we take heart even as…

The hour of darkness is upon us…

In the stillness and silence we hear no serpent in the grass for his head lay crushed beneath the foot of the one who would not want anything. Listen and hear nothing, for the great and terrible Accuser is silent. He is defeated. His tongue finds no words, his lies have no more power, his accusations find no purchase on the perfect life and wholehearted devotion of my Jesus. The great evil dragon who would conquer the world and overthrow God himself is humiliated and vanquished by the love and peace of a slaughtered lamb. Satan did his worst, but God’s best was even greater.

Here we gather at the cross, where the dearest and blest for a world of lost sinners was slain. Here we gather at the cross where in blessed backwardness the immeasurable one was held but did not resist. Here we gather at the cross and surrender ourselves to the great cost and greater joy of Good Friday. Here we gather at the cross and find that we are forgiven… that we are loved… that we are chosen… that we are victorious.

The hour of darkness is upon us… thank God.

rrrRedeemed. Restored. Reconciled.

How I love those three words.
Each is different.
But each is fundamentally intertwined.

And when it comes to navigating change… honestly, I wonder how much heat the whole idea of changing anything would generate if we recognized the changes those three words spark in our walk with God (and his people too)…

For the greater part of my life, all three words have been important to me theologically and doctrinally. After all, they are Bible terms. They express great truths. They explain, define, describe, and declare what God has been and continues to do.

Each of those words will preach. You can be soft-spoken and gentle and use those words to convey with great emotion the wonders of our God. You can be loud, passionate, and demonstrative thrilling the listener with this amazing God we serve.

Whatever preaching or teaching style you employ (or listening preferences you enjoy), redemption, restoration, and reconciliation soar above, beyond, and through a world desperately needing hope, mercy, and grace.

I am glad we serve a God willing to self-sacrifice in order to secure our redemption from sin and self—to restore us to Him—to offer reconciliation to the lonely and broken.

Heaven knows we need it.

Because sin destroys.
Not only does it break our relationship with God, it also destroys our self-image, our reputation, and so many of our most intimate relationships.

Because sin destroys.
It robs us of our innocence, honor, and respect. It takes what is vibrant and leaves it in tatters.

Because sin destroys.
It leaves us devoid of value and seeking meaning in things that only further erode our sense of self-worth and value.

Because sin destroys.
And sadly enough, it does so before most of us recognize the truly shattered life we live…

Is it any wonder then that we need a Savior?
Is it any wonder we need one who will redeem us and restore our value—not in our eyes, but in the eyes of the Only One Who Really Counts?
Is it any wonder we need reconciliation not only with God but with the people we love?

Colossians 1:13-14, He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son He loves. We have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, in Him.

That’s Jesus.
My Savior.
My redeemer.

And in the best TV pitchman voice I can muster… But wait, there’s more…

Theology and doctrine aside, redemption is so much more than just the forgiveness of sins.

On the one hand, as long as sin is just a legal issue between you and God, redemption will just be a theological, doctrinal, and legal term bound up in a contract. Salvation will just be a plan you follow to uphold your end of the contractual bargain.

But on the other hand, people who have been broken by their own self-inflicted sin… people who have seen their lives shattered by other broken people… people who have come to understand just how broken they truly are…

These people long for and rejoice when God also redeems their story!

I love these words:

You traded riches to run to my rescue

Oh, my redeemer

You take the pieces and turn them to praises

Oh, my Redeemer

Oh, my Redeemer

(Chris Tomlin, Jesus, My Redeemer)

Broken, shattered pieces?
Pieces turned to praises?
That’s redemption.

When the long dark night is over and the light shines again?
That’s redemption.

When you find yourself using your own pain to help another?
That’s redemption.

I love the story of Joseph.
Reviled by his brothers, they sold him into slavery. Other difficulties would follow. There would be pain and prison. There would be heartache with all the potential of despair.

But then one day it changed.
In short order, Joseph accrued power and honor.
Eventually, he would meet his brothers again and be in a position to save them from the ravages of an unyielding famine.

Remember Joseph’s words to his brothers? You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. (Genesis 50:20 NLT)

This story is often told from the perspective of God’s providence. But to me and I suspect Joseph as well, it is a story of redemption.

The Bible is full of redemption stories.
When God rescued Israel from Egyptian bondage, He was redeeming their story.
When Jesus told the women at the well to go and sin no more, He was redeeming her story.
When Paul urged Philemon to accept Onesismus as a brother, he was actively participating in the redemption of both.

Redemption: the forgiveness of sins and the rewriting of our story.

I thank God for redeeming my story, for giving new meaning to broken things.

Redeem me, O Lord.
Redeem me again…
And in the redemption, may my story be the one You want to tell!

Les Ferguson, Jr.
Madison/ Ridgeland, MS

You, God, who made the heavens and the earth and have promised to remake them, hear my voice.

I plead for a hearing because you often seem so distant to me, and sometimes I fear that you do not listen. Awake, O God, and hear my prayer for I struggle once again with death. Death has again invaded my world.

God, I hate death. I trust that you hate it, too. Death is my enemy; it is your enemy as well. It rips apart the very fabric of peace, hope and trust. Where are you in the midst of death, O God? Why, O Lord, do you stand so far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

How, God, does death bring any meaning to your world? Would it not be better…would it not be to your glory…that you would rescue us from death so that we might praise you in the land of the living? Where is your praise in the grave? Is your steadfast love declared in the grave?

Lord God, every death raises questions about you, about the meaning of life, and your purposes. I confess that I cannot answer them, and “every death is a question mark”*. Death is like a fog that blinds me.

How Long, O Lord? Will you forget us forever? How long must we have sorrow in our hearts every day? How long must we live with these questions, doubts and tears? When will you rid us of this shroud?

God, take your hands out of your pockets and do something! Arise, O Lord, and destroy this enemy. Redeem us, O God, according to your unfailing love!

God, you are my God, and I entrust my life, including my eventual death, to you.

  • I confess that you, Father, are the maker of heaven and earth.
  • I confess that you, Jesus, were born of woman, lived among us, died with us, rose again for us, and now reign at the right hand of the Father interceding for us.
  • I confess that you, Spirit, are present to transform us and comfort us.

I confess the story is not yet over, and that you, God, will yet rise up and destroy the enemy, and you will give birth to a new world without death and without tears.

Rise up, O God, and give birth to your new world. Create your new world, Father. Comfort us, O Spirit, and come back soon, Lord Jesus.


Given in the Gathering (Lipscomb University Chapel) on October 1, 2013 in Nashville, TN in mourning over the death of Isaac Phillips.

*From the song “Come Back Soon” by Andrew Peterson on his “Lost Boys” album.

You may view the prayer and accompanying chapel speech that was delivered to the whole Lipscomb student body after the loss of Isaac Philips, who was found dead in his dorm room in late September 2013. You may view the chapel speech at this link.

I was asked recently where I thought the churches of Christ were headed. I started thinking about the issues that plague the Kingdom. We all have an opinion on gender equality, instrumental music, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (or not) and the general apathy that resides within our auditoriums but none of those came to mind first.

I sat at a stop light in Nashville a few weeks ago and watched the woman on the curb.  Her long black hair was in dreads and her cardboard sign was held at such an angle that I couldn’t read it.

I reached for my purse and started looking for cash, pretty sure that there wasn’t any but hoping I might be wrong. I pushed back the inner thought that wanted to instruct me on my next move and proceeded to search anyway. Before I could ask my teenage daughter if she had any money, the light changed and the car behind me took that as their queue to start honking.

We rode in silence for several miles before my daughter began telling me that she had been told that we shouldn’t give money to people like that because they could use it for something they shouldn’t. We should give them food instead. I nodded. That was the same advice I had been given growing up, as well. But it never sat right with me.  I silently reconsidered that popular, although I now believe false way of thinking before I shared my new view with my daughter.

Why have we become so arrogant that we label every beggar an alcoholic or drug addict? Is it because we have spent so much time serving the poor and have witnessed people taking our money and heading straight for the liquor store? Perhaps, but I’m beginning to think that it’s so much easier to label, judge and move on.  It’s easy to tell myself that money given would be used unwisely. I’m not sure about you but I seldom carry a warm meal around with me. That argument, although well intended by good hearts, lets me off the hook. Every. Single. Time.

I’m tired of the belief that the poor need only to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and start managing their money better. I’m weary of Christians who follow the Jesus who turned up his nose at the poor and who preached a sermon of only helping those who help themselves. That’s not the Jesus I read about in Bible. That’s not the Jesus who came to save us. That’s certainly not the Jesus who saved me.

I remember the nights of wondering where food would come from. I remember the lights being turned off and the water stopping. I’ve been there and I wasn’t strung out on drugs and didn’t look for comfort in a wine bottle either. So what gives me the right to judge what every beggar does when I was that beggar myself?

What would happen if every act of benevolence was between us and God and not us and the world? What if our first thought was what God would do with our offering instead of what others will do with it?

I have watched the church do great things for the poor but I still believe that we have a long way to go. Where are the churches of Christ headed? I hope it is to the place where the hungry aren’t judged but are fed. I hope that we learn and accept the fact that the government system we criticize for helping the poor would not even exist had we cared for our neighbors the way we should. I hope we open our buildings to those in need of shelter and serve our communities. I pray that we will spend our lives washing the feet of those who live around us so that no one is in need. I want us to be Jesus to those living in the darkness; to stop our busyness long enough to listen to the broken stories and build relationships. Money lasts for a moment. Relationships can carry people throughout eternity.

Like Peter in the beginning of Luke 5, we love the Father and we follow with all of our hearts the God who created the Heavens and Earth. We know and love Scripture but we aren’t always ready to follow his son. The one who calls us into the broken places. God, in the form of Jesus, taught love, grace and mercy. He took his followers into the hard situations and surrounded them with people who didn’t look like, live like, love like or sin like they did. And if we’re willing, he’ll do the same with us today. Getting our hands dirty with the world while showing them Christ is the reason we’re here. Our mission isn’t to congregate into nice buildings on Sundays. It’s not to show up on Wednesday nights. It’s not about attendance. It’s not about a pulpit. That’s not our purpose.

Drop your nets of fear. Drop your nets of selfishness. Drop your nets of pride, arrogance and greed. Drop your nets of routine and tradition. Church, drop your nets and follow Jesus. Serve the poor and change someone’s world.





We are dust.

We know the weaknesses of our broken lives.

We express our deepest hurts through painful sighs and tears.

This is the human condition in the creation that seems so empty, futile, and useless. Our present lives are an enigma, and they are often absurd. Sometimes there are no words, and often there are not enough tears. And it rarely makes any “sense.”

The creation groans. Embroiled in a process of decay and enslaved to futility, the earth is burdened with weakness.

We groan. Engulfed in suffering, ranging from famines and nakedness to violence and persecution, the present offers little evidence that hope is near. We know our weaknesses; we know how little strength, power, and endurance we have.

So, groanings fill the cosmos….and those groans enter the heavenlies, too!

The creation groans. We groan. And the Holy Spirit groans.

The Spirit, Paul says, “helps us in our weaknesses,” especially in the moment when our own groans reach their limit. When we have no words, the Spirit uses words that are unutterable. The Spirits says what we cannot. The Spirit steps into our brokenness, sympathizes with our pain, and intercedes—speaks—for us in ways that are beyond our capacity.

The intimacy of the Father and the Spirit—their mutual indwelling of each other—means that the Father knows the Spirit’s groans in their deepest sense and meaning. What we are incapable of knowing about ourselves, the indwelling Spirit knows. What we are incapable of communicating, the Spirit shares with the Father.

The Spirit does not simply know our suffering in some mere cognitive sense. Rather, the Spirit is present within us and experiences our suffering as a sympathetic friend, and thus the Spirit groans as well. The Spirit groans with us and for us, and this groaning becomes part of the experience of the Triune God. God is for us not only in the intercession of the Son, but also in the intercession of the Spirit.

Our groaning—yes, even the groaning of the whole creation—becomes part of the life of God as the Spirit groans with us. God experiences our groaning, and God is able to transform our groaning into hope.

Through the presence of the Spirit, our groaning returns to us as hope. We wait, enduring the present sufferings, for the redemption that will liberate us (and the creation itself!) from our weaknesses and fully adopt us into God’s new creation, the new heaven and new earth.

Hope changes everything. Hope empowers waiting. Hope strengthens our endurance. Hope saves us. Hope turns mourning into dancing.

We groan, and as a result the Spirit sympathetically experiences our struggles and shares its depth with the Father and the Son.

The Spirit bathes us in comfort and imparts peace, and consequently we hope.

We groan over the weaknesses, but we hope in the future God has for the creation.

We groan, but we hope.

So, we wait.

Lord, come quickly!

Texts for meditation: Psalm 103:13-18; Ecclesiastes 2:18-23; 3:18-20; Romans 8:18-27; 15:13.

There are a few things we wanted to make you all aware of looking ahead. First is the site. Our current site is a magazine style platform that allows us compile articles and issues together in some really great ways. The downside of the way it is structured is that RSS doesn’t recognize new articles. An additional issue has been that email subscriptions only work with posts, not articles. That is why, if you have subscribed to the site, you haven’t gotten notifications of new posts.

We are working on a new layout and new post types that will allow us to keep the magazine functionality while also getting the articles to you via email/RSS. I am sorry for any inconvenience that has caused you and I am happy to say that we are aware of this and are making the necessary changes to address it in the near future with a complete site re-design that will highlight more than just the articles but also the other features we have built and continue to build for the site. Some of the things we have included in the site are:

Job board – a place for churches to post ministry openings
Forums – a place to discuss a variety of issues
Monthly issues – just like in the past, we continue to host monthly themes that we write toward.
Archive of past issues – go and read any article from past issues of Wineskins all the way back to the beginning!

And something brand new – Commentary from our writers. We are building a scripture index of all of the posts so that if you want to see what any of our writers past or present have written on a given verse you can easily look it up.
Old Testament “commentary”
New Testament “commentary”

Thank you for reading Wineskins! Let us know if you have any feedback!

Thanks for visiting the new! The last few weeks have taught us a lot about what has worked so far… and what needs improvement. We’re working hard to implement some changes that make this site more user friendly. Until we get it all ironed out, you can access the current issue from the navigation at the top.

Please use the comments section for this post to give us ideas and feedback that on your experience.

Thanks for your patience and support!

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