Steve Macchia Blog

Lenten Choices: Sadness or Joy?

From Palm Sunday’s “Hosanna!” to Good Friday’s “Crucify him!” to Easter Sunday’s “Hallelujah!” this week is filled with powerful emotion. Holy Week takes us from the waving of our palm branches, to the washing of our feet, into the heavy forbearing of the betrayal, denial, arrest, flogging, mockery and crucifixion of Christ, and eventually to the amazement of standing by the open grave in absolute astonishment and wonder. He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

The emotional ups and downs of Holy Week take us from joy to sadness and back to joy once more. The swing of reactions toward all that Jesus is experiencing has us tossed internally from one extreme to the other. What are we to feel when we go from the exuberance of Palm Sunday to the depth of frustration at his beating and crucifixion, all the while knowing “the rest of the story” when he will conquer the grave and rise victoriously back into eternal life?

I find sadness and joy co-residing in my heart on many occasions, but not as poignantly as in Holy Week. The season of Lent prepares us for this eventuality. And yet, year after year, our souls expand and contract with the powerful truths expressed in the final week of earthly life for our Lord Jesus. Like his first disciples, we too are engrossed in the reality of each segment of the journey to the cross, each dramatic moment toward the empty tomb and his post-resurrection appearances.

There are many figures who stand out among the crowd of followers who experience this full range of emotion. Judas: who betrays Jesus for 30 pieces of silver and then ends up hanging himself when it’s too late to return his fatal pocketful of change. Peter: who denies that he would be the one to deny and then denies Jesus three times before the cock crows and who eventually comes to Jesus’ aid with sword in hand. Mary: who is bewildered by the turn of events and follows her son lovingly to the foot of the cross. John: who is the beloved disciple, leaning on the breast of Christ at the Last Supper and who earns the right to care for Jesus’ mother as he dies. The crowd: who usher Jesus into Jerusalem as a celebrity and then kick him out of town to suffer a criminal’s death.

Like those who were there, we too share the same mix of emotions…joy and sadness. Both can co-exist side by side this week. Both are very real. Both are important for us to feel. Both are legitimate emotions for serious Christ followers. Give yourself permission to suffer the anguish of the crucifixion and the delight of the resurrection. To ignore one and ignite the other may in fact steal from your soul the deep work of the Spirit that God Himself invites you to experience fully this week. Let joy and sadness blend together in ways that will deepen your faith and renew your hunger for the Crucified and Resurrected Christ. And, may these emotions help accentuate the power of the Incarnate Word…

“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2: 6-11).



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Lenten Choices: Fear or Love?

When I begin to imagine what it would have been like to travel with Jesus as one of his original disciples, I can hardly fathom what it must have felt like just before that first holy week. Did any of them have an inkling of a clue for what was just around the corner? I suspect not…

Each time I read the gospel accounts of the events that precede the arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ, I’m struck by how rich and vivid are the stories. Beginning with Mary’s anointing of Jesus with pure nard, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem must have been a beautiful and majestic sight to behold. His cursing of the fig tree and cleansing of the temple are dripping with meaning and metaphor. His offering of a few more parables – two sons, wicked tenants, king’s son, ten virgins, and ten talents – are indications of his sharp mind and kingdom focus.

When Jesus repeats the great commandment, his reminder to love with all one’s heart, soul, strength and mind are pointed directly to those who might be fearful in the coming days. Therefore, by the time the Passover meal is served and the foot washing begins, the traitor Judas leans more into his fear than his love for Jesus. The Lord’s parting words to his disciples embody endearing love and affection, and are in direct opposition to the fear that grips the heart of his brittle betrayer Judas and his befuddled denier Peter.

Fear and love so closely linked, and yet so far apart from one another. As the story progresses toward the crucifixion, fear is what guides the high priest, the Sanhedrin, Pilate and Herod. Fear grips the hearts of Peter and Judas, the confused crowds, the mocking Jews, the flogging soldiers, and the angry bystanders. Fear is laced with frustration and confusion, irrational and unholy decisions, and unlimited, unmerited taunting.

As we review the accounts of Jesus’ final week of life and service, we too are drawn into the same basic choice: unholy fear or divine love? Will we be so wrapped up in the ways of the world that our ambitions and anxieties lead us instead to isolation and fear? Or, will we be so enveloped by the love of Jesus that our longings and desires lead us to worship and adoration?

The outstretched arms of love spread out for us on the cross are offered freely and generously so that we can know love that’s deeper than any ocean, higher than any sky, wider than any sunrise, and longer than any horizon known to this world. May the final legs of the journey toward the cross of Christ lead you to love like never before. Let the love of Jesus fill you up so that your deep reservoir is overflowing with gladness and joy. We love because he first loved…that’s the most compelling, life-transforming truth of all.



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Lenten Choices: Doubt or Faith?

Lent is a season of the Church year where our Christian faith reaches its apex…moving from the events of Holy Week, toward the cross, the empty tomb, and to the resurrected Christ at Easter. During this season of the year our local churches are a bit more full, especially as family and friends gather on Easter Sunday. Faith in Jesus Christ is presented from pulpits with more robust vigor. Faith in the public square is a bit more appropriate to mention, if not to debate.

It’s also during this time of year that more faith-related questions are raised. And, where doubts are inevitably surfaced. How we handle such questions and address said doubts is a depiction of how stable we are in our faith and how willing we are to be confronted. How do you handle inquiries about your Christian faith? Can you resonate with the concept of doubt for yourself? Are you able to listen well to the doubts of others without the need to change their mind or fix their opinion, or even to offer a gracious and thoughtful reply?

Thomas the disciple is known more for his doubts than his faith…I’m not so sure that’s fair, but it seems to be his “reality.” He was certainly the one who expressed his doubts most specifically about and directly to Christ. “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it” (John 20: 25). A week later Jesus was in their midst, stood among them, and said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe” (John 20: 27).

I’m amazed each time I read that story. Thomas had specificity to his doubts. Jesus had particularity to his invitation to see, touch, reach, and believe – all in direct response to Thomas’ explicit doubts. As a result, Thomas received profound belief in Jesus with deep certainty, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20: 29) he exclaimed. Doubts removed. Faith restored. A disciple transformed from the inside out.

What I appreciate the most is that doubts exist. Nothing about our doubts is to be hidden or regretted. Doubts are real; we all have them, some more than others. Asking hard questions, verbalizing doubts, and seeking answers is all a part of the journey. Who are we to suppress them or shame them or suspend them? Sometimes our doubts can be answered immediately, other times they simply need to be surrendered and left in abeyance.

Elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus speaks directly into the doubts of his disciples. He asks Peter “Why did you doubt?” when he began to sink in the sea (Matt. 14:31). He addresses the disciples directly in the midst of the storm, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40). And to the two on the way to Emmaus, “How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (Luke 24:25). Always attuned to their doubts, Jesus speaks directly and forthrightly into each of them.

With certainty we know that doubts will in time be addressed by God. We may not receive immediate answers, but we can with faith hold fast to the belief that God will indeed reveal himself in the midst of and/or about our doubts. We need a willing spirit, an open heart, and eyes and ears of faith to anticipate his response. Faith is the antecedent to doubt. Trust is what strengthens our faith, and what equips us to handle all forms of doubt. Today, will you believe in Jesus enough to entrust your doubts into his loving care?

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.” Hebrews 11:1.



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Lenten Choices: Despair or Hope?

One of the greatest gifts we can offer one another is hope. Hope is the seed planted in the heart that springs forth from the soul and blossoms into radiant beauty in the voice, attitude, and lifestyle of the believer. Hope springs eternal when it comes from the depth of our being in Christ.

Hope is often linked to joy and strength, as well as a future which includes eternity. Faith, hope and love are the triangle of the heart, with hope intertwined and integral to the whole experience for the believer. Having our hope in God, rooted in Christ, is anticipatory of the eternal life we are offered to share in forever. Yes, hope is central to the Christian message and is what emanates from the character and more specifically the heart of the Christian.

When the world around us despairs, we are to offer hope. Despair is discouraging and disheartening. Despair is a dead end street, the tip of a cul-de-sac without an address. Despair resides in a troubled, anxious, frustrated heart. When despair hits, it’s accompanied by despondency and ultimately death. However, despair is to be afforded no real estate in the heart of the believer.

When we put our hope in God’s unfailing love, we rejoice and give thanks for the unspeakable riches of the Christian life. As Peter so aptly put it, “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for us.” Hope is for the here and now, but it’s more fully experienced in the life everlasting.

Lent is to be a season filled with hope. As we go through the gospels and experience with Jesus the possibility of despair in his pending arrest, crucifixion and death, we know that’s not the end of the story. We know that what follows is the miraculous rolling away of the stone from in front of his grave, and with the empty tomb comes the risen Christ. His resurrection from the despair of death leads to hope for all eternity.

What will be your attitude this Lenten season? Will you join the world in despairing about your lot in life, or will you stand apart from the world and rejoice in the hope that resides deep within your soul? May you and I be known more for how we press hope and joy into life situations rather than participating in the downcast doom and gloom despair of a world without hope.

Put your hope in God. Be filled to overflowing with hope for today and for eternity. For now, believe with hope in the God who knows your need before you ask, is ahead of you on the trail of life, and is willing to stretch out his hand to offer you a heart attitude of hope no matter what may come your way.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13).



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Lenten Choices: Trust or Mistrust?

At a recent meeting with one of my spiritual mentors, he off-handedly said, “All of life is about trust.” I have been captivated by this statement and have prayed and written extensively in my journal about it. There is so much truth about these six golden words…all of life is about trust.

Consider it for yourself. Trust is adjacent to and expressive of love. We love God because he first loved us. We live for God in an attitude and posture of trust, because he first loved us. To trust God means to surrender our will into his loving hands. To speak of God’s love, we can’t help but to entrust our lives into his love and lordship. No matter what. To pray to the God of love, we listen attentively to his whispers of love, and we respond to those initiatives with a longing and desire to trust him with all matters great and small. Yes, trust is an essential element of our faith in the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

To trust another person is an outcome of love. As we grow in affection for others, we learn to trust them over time. And, in order for us to be loved and trusted, we too need to show by word, heart, and example that we are trustworthy. But, as we all can attest, at some point in our lives we experience a breach of trust in relationships. So, to dig our way out of such conflicts, we rebuild trust and we lean on love as guideposts along the redemptive journey. Love and trust go hand in glove for human relationships as well as in our faith in God.

To trust one’s self is another facet of love. In our walk of faith, we are connecting with the true God and we are called to embrace our true self as a gift from God. He invites us to receive our identity from our beloved status as a child of God, which comes mercifully from Christ, the One who himself knew true love sent from heaven when at his baptismal, the words from the Father in heaven were very simply, “This is my son, who I love, in whom I am well pleased.” Those same words belong to us as well, for you and I are God’s beloved children, in whom God delights. Recalling that true identity is what keeps us from receiving all the wrong messages of shame and guilt that our world seeks to enhance.

So, during this Lenten season, will you choose to build up trust, first with God, then within yourself, and also with others? Without love there is no trust. Would it also be true that without trust there is no love? If all of life is about trust, then what better time to focus on trust than in the season of Lent? In what ways have you been about the purpose of building up trust and in what ways have you been a part of hurting trust or mistrusting God, others or yourself? Repent of whatever sin you have committed that is marring trust, and renew your heart of trusting love for the days ahead.

Into your hands, O Lord, we place our whole selves, trusting that your vision for our lives and the life of the world is far richer than we could ever ask or imagine. Renew in us daily the choice to love and serve you without reservation. Amen. (From Guide to Prayer for All Who Walk with God, p. 124).



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Lenten Choices: Culture or Counter-Culture?

“In a culture of self-realization, the Christian’s call is to renounce self; in the face of noise, silence is the preference; in a world of competition, the Christian’s declaration is that the winners will be the losers and the losers winners; in a culture whose economy is intent on consumption, the Christian insists on simplicity; in a culture structured by possessions, the insistence is upon detachment; in a culture intent on a high standard of living, the Christian insists upon a high standard of life; and at every point, the Christian exposes the emptiness of fullness for the sake of the gospel’s fullness of emptiness.” (From W. Paul Jones, The Art of Spiritual Direction, quoted in A Guide to Prayer for All Who Walk with God, p. 127).

What’s your choice this Lenten season:
Self-realization or self-renouncing humility?
Noise or silence?
Competition or cooperation?
Consumption or simplicity?
Possessions or detachment?
High standard of living or of life?
Emptiness of fullness or fullness of emptiness?

Lent is a great time for deep self-reflection. Be vulnerable before God and those who know you best and love you most. Come to grips with your sinfulness and cry out for God’s gift of forgiveness, mercy and grace. The truth will set you free. Freedom will allow you to worship, pray and serve with gladness and singleness of heart. May it be so.



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New Social Mores – Part Three

As I conclude this mini-series on the new social mores of our age, I continue to have growing concern about how we’re communicating with one another. I’m additionally and profoundly challenged by the ways we are handling relationships through our use of social media.

Regarding Facebook, Twitter, Instagram…just to name a few…are you asking yourself the question “Why?” about each of these before creating your next post? Do you log every minute, every ounce of minutia, every moment of the day? If so, for what purpose? Unless you are a professional blogger, I see little reason for such incessant activity. As I peruse FB and even contribute to it regularly, I get a check in my spirit when I’m bordering on or entering into the realm of self-promotion, show-boating, and the all-about-me mentality. I recognize the value of keeping appropriate people in life informed about our whereabouts, happenings, updates, etc. but have we subtly crossed the line into creating a culture of narcissism that has no apparent limits? Do all of our “friends” need to be informed or would a piece of the story be better preserved if kept a bit more personal, truly private, and shared with fewer people?

And, what about the bullying going on via emails, texts, tweets, and Facebook? Has kindness simply been thrown out the window and instead we can now relate without any restraint? Or, when there’s “nothing new under the sun,” why are we seeing so many TM (trademarks) next to our “friends” use of the English language in particular ways to market their own products, programs, or promotional campaigns? Is the fundamental value of trust being lost? These are just a few questions to ask about social media…with a strong suggestion to ask “Why?” about your involvements in the various social media settings where you reside. This might simply be the best place to begin.

A few reflection questions to prayerfully consider:
How much are you involved in social media? Are you maintaining an appropriate level of engagement and is it manageable and relationally wholesome? Is your engagement in social media edifying to the Lord and offered as a gift to others? This might be a great topic of conversation for you and your closest friends…who knows but you might just lead a revolution from within the system!

May the Lord continue to deepen your love for Him and may your God-honoring affection be what you contagiously share with others within your reach both personally and electronically. May these new social mores create from within us a conviction for social moorings with strong biblical values that can withstand the social morons who are now surrounding us on every side! Being salt and light in our social media world may in fact call us to a distinctly Christlike way of being with one another…you agree? May it be so!



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New Social Mores – Part Two

As I started in the previous blog, I have a growing concern about how we’re communicating with one another in a variety of social settings…offered from my personal observations. I’m curious about how this is affecting our life together as brothers and sisters in Christ, and wonder if you’re sensing the same things.

So, I’d like to offer here a few additional noticings:

Have you paid attention to the abundance of self-referencing going on today? One person shares their heart; the other responds with their own application of the story instead of simply being present to empathetically attend. “Oh yea, that happened to me as well…” or “Looks great, did you know I’ve been there/done that too…” then adding all their own tiresome details. Reality: we have learned a new way of listening that’s more about what I’m hearing from my own personal vantage point rather than focusing exclusively on the speaker’s words and accompanying thoughts, experiences, and/or feelings.

What about one-up-man-ship…always having to be better looking, wiser, wittier or wealthier than another? You know those kind of people who can only be in the presence of others if the spotlight can be appropriately turned on them, and if not, will do whatever it takes to be sure it is. This is evidenced in clothing, automobiles, homes, self-care, story telling, political convictions, educational achievements, etc. Reality: it’s painful to be in the presence of our competitors who will do what it takes to get the attention and seek purposefully or inadvertently to be better than you.

The next two go hand in glove…no restraint and no filters. Those without restraint will say anything that comes to their mind, albeit random, unnecessary, or even hurtful. Having no restraint in relational settings can at times be humorous, but only when it’s self-deprecating. Most of the time, no restraint means no social sense of what’s appropriate for the company or occasion. Add to that no filters, then it’s often without boundaries, with words, feelings, and attitudes expressed whenever and with whomever is present. Reality: gone is acceptable etiquette and appropriately filtered restraint between persons.

May I suggest some additional personal inventory reflection questions:
1. Recall one of the most immediate personal interactions you had with a friend, family member, or work associate. Were you fully present for the other person’s sake alone, or did you need to bring up your own illustration of what was being discussed?
2. Who is your greatest relational competitor? How can you avoid competing with others in your own personal interactions with others today?
3. Having trouble with maintaining appropriate restraint and/or filters in conversations or on social media? If so, seek accountability so as not to be an offense to others and be open to candid feedback when you cross over boundaries which lead to unhealthy relationships.

Relationships within the body of Christ should reflect the tone, style, and posture of Jesus. He was always fully attentive to those with whom He loved and served. His was the way of humility. He spoke with bold and purposeful intentionality, never wasting words or speaking in a vacuum. May it be so for us, even today, as we interact with all who cross our path. May we be salt and light, filled with joy and freedom, peace and love in all our personal interactions.



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New Social Mores – Part One

Some of the new ways we’re communicating with one another – or not – concern me. I’m curious if these impressions and reflections resonate with your experience too. And, I’m wondering if as believers in Jesus there is a higher ground to stand upon…

For example, with our eyes fixed on our smart phones, we simply aren’t fully present with one another. We’re distracted, believing we can multi-task (even though that theory’s been proven false) and still remain focused. Reality: we’re at maximum about 50% present to another when we’re reading and/or responding to texts or social media, talking on the telephone, playing online/video games, or typing url’s into our search engines.

Which leads to inattentive listening, “Oh, I’m sorry, were you saying something?” or selective listening, “Huh? No, I was busy and missed that one (translation: I chose to tune it out!).” Reality: our easily distracted minds can only handle so much input and we are left with receiving only that which we can or choose to absorb. Left alone in our own personal orbits, we miss a lot of both spoken and unspoken meaning in our relational interactions.

May I suggest we all consider a personal inventory, asking ourselves:

Are you fixated on having your smart phone within reach at all times? When do you ever turn it off or leave it behind for the express purpose of being free from the demands of others in order to be fully present to yourself or those around you?

What would your closest friend or family member say about your (in)ability to listen? What words would they use to describe your listening skills?

Lord Jesus, help me to focus today on You, Your people, and Your invitation to be fully aware of Your presence, peace, and power, and to all who will cross my path. May I be free from distraction so that with love and compassion I may be Your vessel of grace each hour of my day. For the honor of Your name and the glory of Your Kingdom. Amen.



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FYI or FYP?

Whenever I’m asked to remember something or someone in my prayers, I want to be sure to follow through faithfully. Whenever I’ve asked someone else to remember me in their prayers, I’m hoping they will do the same.

But, I must admit…unless I pray then and there, I’m likely to forget. Not because I intend to forget, but simply due to the reality of a very full ministry life. And, who among us isn’t in need of prayer in the moment and on point?

I was in a conversation recently with a friend who was “in the know” about some important information about a mutual acquaintance. As the details were being explained to me, I asked how this was known. “I was asked to pray about it” was the reply.

Cynical me wondered if indeed this inside info was something held onto for sharing at opportune moments. Or, if in fact, the need was being remembered in prayer.

Then, almost like a prick of conscience, I was reminded of additional data about this circumstance…something I was going to pray about! But instead I recited it in the conversation as if it was shared with me “Merely FYI.”

There’s a huge difference between FYI (for your information) and FYP (for your prayers). The former can become chatter, gossip, or worse yet, forgotten. The latter is of far greater importance…prayer.

So, the next time you’re “in the know” about the needs of another, be sure to remember it all in prayer. A mere “FYI” doesn’t come close to the fervent, heartfelt, loving prayer of one saint on behalf of another. And, by the way, whenever I’m asking for prayer please treat it with care…pray and then only share if appropriate; not FYI or even for others’ ears, but for your gracious prayers instead. I promise to do the same!

“The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with” (James 5:16, The Message).



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