Search This Blog

Friday, April 30, 2010

4/30/10 Leaving the Father out- The Problem of Panentheism (Mt. 6:16,45,48)

 16In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
44But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. ( Matthew 6:16,45,48)

Panentheism is a belief that is being espoused by some who attend church, as if it were a Christian option.  Panenentheism is the idea that God is in all and above all- but God is not separate from creation.  It is a Hindu concept of God also adopted by some of the transcendentalists (like Emerson and Thoreau). 
It is similar to the eastern orthodox view that God permeates all things, and the Holy Spirit sustains all things (a view I also hold).
But there are two key differences. 
1) It does not talk of God as separate from creation- there is no real separation.  Therefore the goal of faith is union with God through enlightenment- no sacrifice for sins has to be made.  If you go deep enough, saying that anything or any action is wrong or evil is a problem for panentheists because it is all a part of God.
2) It does not talk of God as Father in a true sense.  One of Jesus' key teachings was to speak of God as different and holy- yet also loving and personal.  He taught his disciples to call God "Abba Father."  He taught it in the Lord's Prayer where he said to pray like this- "Our Father. who art in heaven."  For a panentheist God is not only not separate, but God is in a sense father of everyone and not father of anyone.  Jesus talked to the pharisees telling them they were of "their father the devil" not God (John 8:41ff).  Many today have problems with calling God "father" anyway because they have had bad fathers or they don't like speaking of God with male adjectives.  But this is the God Jesus revealed.  Jesus never called God mother (though he did say he would gather his children "like a mother hen"- but certainly wasn't saying he was a chicken- it was a simile). 
The Christian God is a holy God, but also a loving, intimate God.

Prayer: Thank you Lord, that we can call you "Father", knowing you care, provide, and also guide and show us the way to life.  Help me to trust in you this day.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

4/30/20- Luke 22:24-27 Eating or Waiting on Tables?

24Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25Jesus said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

    Jesus said the greatest act like those who are still learning- the youngest.  The least are the ones who act like they've learned it all.  One of the most vivid scenes from the movie "Ghandi" depicts this. His wife rebukes him for cleaning their toilet like an Untouchable.  Ghandi points out he learns while he cleans. It is similar to Jesus' washing the disciples' feet- and doubtless Ghandi learned this principle from our Lord (of whom he read extensively).
    In today's church many talk about going where they can be fed, when they really ought to be asking, can I serve in this place.  In our church we call our worship a "worship service" because it is part of our service to our Lord. We come to worship not to be served, but to give Him honor and glory and his worth ("worship" is derived from the old English "worthyship").  So worship is not entertainment, but focused on God. 

     i have often heard folks say, "I learn a lot more by teaching than by sitting in ...(Bible study/Sunday School)."  Those who wait on the tables learn more than those who are eating at the table. Ironically, God pays special attention to those who serve and calls them "the greatest in his kingdom." A servant of Christ is great because they are more concerned about God's glory than their own.  So today, seek to serve.

Prayer- Today, Lord, bring people to my table that I may serve them.  Give me grace to serve gracefully for  you and your glory. 

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

4/28/10 Was Jesus Crazy?

6Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

     Historically Christians have been called crazy.  The Roman consul said to Paul, "You are out of your mind."  The Romans accused the Christians of atheism since their God was invisible; and cannibalism since they talked about eating the body and drinking the blood in communion.  Some think it crazy when a Christian martyr does not recant the faith in persecution but would rather die.  There was a woman in Sudan during the civil war who was told "convert to Islam or we will not feed your son."  She did not convert.  Having faith in the unseen when most people only see the seen is often perceived as crazy.  Most think to walk by sight and not by faith is the only way to live. 

     In this context, Jesus has sometimes been called "crazy."  John Knox (not the reformer but a theologian of the 60's) said that Jesus was crazy for making claims that he was god.  The Jesus Seminar folk (think Marcus Borg or Vanderbilt and Harvard Divinity Schools) say a similar thing.  They say it would be crazy for Jesus to make claims that he was the way, the truth, and the life, so this must have been made up by his disciples as something he ought to have said.  They say this with no evidence, just wistful thinking.
     But what if, Jesus really was the way, the truth, and the life- and what if he kenw it?  Should he not say it lest people think it crazy? 
     Interestingly, the gospels do not shrink from saying that some thought Jesus was crazy.  Jesus made a claim in Nazareth (Luke 4) that Isaiah's story of anointing was fulfilled in him and their response was to try to throw him off one of the cliffs right outside the town (you can see the cliffs around Nazareth even today).  Jesus' mothers and brothers tried to get him to shut up, or keep him from going to Jerusalem sometimes lest he be hurt (Mk. 3, Lk. 8, 14). Jesus said, "I and the Father are one" and immediately the religious leaders tried to stone him.  John and the other three orthodox/synoptic gospel writers, do not shrink from portraying Jesus as a marked man because of some of the things he said.  In fact, if Jesus did not say anything unusual and only played it safe as a Jewish mystic (as the Jesus Seminar folk openly say), the real question is, "then why did they kill him?"  The image of Jesus is not some glossed over, shiny, perfect painting of a Jewish mystic, but of someone who shook things up.  He shook things up not just with his parables of the prodigal son and the beatitudes, but also- and more radically- with his claims about himself.  Perhaps the parable that we studied in yesterday's blog- the parable of the tenants indicates Jesus' claims.  Surely since it is a claim of Christ in parabolic form (which the Jesus Seminar loves), then it must be authentic- it is even found in their favorite gospel- The Gospel of Thomas.
    Jesus was not another Confuscius, Plato, or Buddha that his followers turned into a god centuries after their deaths.  He accepted the worship of others (a very non-Jewish thing to do) before the resurrection.  I guess the response of the Jesus Seminar folk would be to say that it must have been added later. 
    It is a very convulted and complex theory to say that every claim Jesus made about his messiahship and his divinity was added later.  Each writer would have had to work awfully hard to make up these words of Jesus- for they are radical, unusual, unique and shocking words.
    To say (as some say and imply) that Mark made them up about 25 years after Jesus died while eyewitnesses were still alive and could challenge it would be difficult.  As far as we know, no eye witness has disputed the words of Jesus in his day from Mark, Matthew, Luke or John (while the Infancy Gospel of Thomas was disputed from the beginning amd then some).  Rather, the early church universally accepted these documents as accurate portrayals of Jesus pre and post resurrection. 
     Perhaps, just perhaps- Jesus did make radical and unique claims about himself!  Perhaps he made these claims not just because He thought he could back them up, but because he really can back them up.  Such claims keep us from yawning at some philosophical-Jewish-mystic Jesus- but cause us to fall down and say with Thomas "My Lord and My God!"
     Skeptics will misinterpret the uniqueness of Jesus as craziness every time.  It would be like interpreting the downing of the flights in Europe by volcanic ash as "crazy."  To allow that God would love us enough to come down in human form as only one, unique, one-and-only, only begotten, son seems crazy to us too.  Yet, has not this one person changed the world?  He changed the world not just with his words about love, but with his claims about God and himself. 
     In the old Soviet Union, they called Christians insane because they believed in something they could not see.  But in the end, it was the communists who were proven wrong about their ideas of sanity.  Sanity primarily has to do with truth, not with what others think of you.  Jesus, I believe, was the most sane man there was.  He certainly taught like it.  His disciples staked their life on that.  His sanity was a result of being true to who he was and reality.  God (as Maker and Sustainer) is the source of all reality and truth.

Prayer: Lord, keep me from caring about the world's view of my sanity.  Help me to see the real sanity is based in you.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

4/27/10 Matthew 21:33-46 The Rights of the Owner and the Renters

33"Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. 34When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.
35"The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 37Last of all, he sent his son to them. 'They will respect my son,' he said.
38"But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, 'This is the heir. Come, let's kill him and take his inheritance.' 39So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
40"Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?"
41"He will bring those wretches to a wretched end," they replied, "and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time."
42Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the Scriptures: 'The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes'?
43"Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 44He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed." 45When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus' parables, they knew he was talking about them. 46They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.  (Mt. 21:33-46)

This scripture passage emphasizes the rights of the vineyard owner (adding to Mark- see yesterday's blog).  He planted the vineyard, cultivated it, protected it with a wall and watchtower, then rented it.  When it was abused, he went back and took it away from the bad renters. It is almost like Matthew, the former tax collector, remembered the emphasis on God's right for allegiance. Many times in the Old Testament it asks the rhetorical question- "does not the potter have the right to remake the clay?"  (Isa. 29:16; 41:25; 49:5; 64:8; Jer. 18:6). 
Yet Jesus gives another twist to this image of who is the maker and who has the right to the vineyard.  He says, "The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone."  Going with the parable, it means the renters made the wrong choice about how to run the vineyard.  What they tossed aside has become valuable.  Of course, Jesus is tossed aside- and crucified- but is shown as valuable in the resurrection.  Historically, the most valued person in Jesus' generation was the one who was rejected and crucified.  This teaches us to trust the Maker and not the Renters.  That is, we are called to trust God not those in human power and position of authority.
In our very secular time, many think there is no owner and the renters- those in human authority is all there is.  This passage calls us to think broader and bigger, and to trust in One who is much more powerful.

Prayer: Remake me Lord, into your image.  Help me to be a person who values you above all others. ("Have Thine Own Way Lord")

Monday, April 26, 2010

4/26/10- Mark 12:6-12 Disowning the Heir

6"He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, 'They will respect my son.'
7"But the tenants said to one another, 'This is the heir. Come, let's kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.' 8So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.
9"What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10Haven't you read this scripture: " 'The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone;
11the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes'?"
12Then they looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd; so they left him and went away. (Mark 12:6-12)

(Workers in a vineyard-

 This parable is historical, but it is also very much alive.  This was a prophecy by Jesus that he would be disowned and killed by the people that were given stewardship of the faith.  We do injustice if we talk of the wickedness of the tenants who killed the Son (in false thinking that they could take over the vineyard), but do not apply it to our day.  Of course, this applied to those who were not good stewards of the truth of God in their day.  But it also applies to our day.  The church is not an institution to be owned, manipulated, split, and harmed.  Rather, it is God's church.  Christ is the Head of the Church.  Yet, there are some in the seminaries, in the pulpits and in the pews who act like they own the church.  I have heard some say, "My family paid for this church brick by brick."  I have heard ministers talk about "my" church (probably carelessly).  I have heard writers who sit in offices paid for by the church deny the resurrection and divinity of Christ.  In a way they are killing the heir all over again.  The     decline of the Church in the west is a living out of this parable.  It is a decline in the belief in the heir- the Son.  It is a decline in following his way of love- and splitting the Church so the ones doing the splitting might be in control and "set the church straight."  The church can be restored if we had two things- more faith in the Son and more love for each other.  Without these two things- the church will not exist and the vineyard will not bear fruit.  We must not disown the heir.  Rather, we must proclaim Him and follow Him as Lord!

Prayer: Apart from you, we can do nothing, Lord.  Help me to grow in my faith in and love for you. We pray for faith, faithfulness, and love in your Church, Lord.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

4/25/10- Mark 12:1-6 Killing the Messenger

1He then began to speak to them in parables: "A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. 2At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. 3But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 4Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. 5He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.
6"He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, 'They will respect my son.'

(Rembrandt- Parable of the Vineyard)

We are stewards, God is the owner.  We are renters, if you will, and we have ruined the house (and ourselves) in so many ways.  We are renters who refuse to pay the rent, and acknowledge the landlord.  We are in rebellion against the one who owns it all.  It is an ironic thing how Chrisitans are persecuted with great bitterness, and held to different standards than the criticizers and skeptics hold themselves.  You don't have to look far to see this same message.  Try  and listen to the scorn of "secularists" and those who are left in the church. You hear it in many "bloggers" who think that God doesn't see them or do anything.  There is a lot of evil out there- just sheer destruction of morals.  You hear it in the debate about the National Day of Prayer in America.  People don't want to hear that their is One landlord- one Lord.  They want to say that the landlord doesn't matter.  They want to go their own way.  They want to say it is all a bunch of old, ancient stories, and they persecute the messengers.  This is a very sad, sad parable.  It is a reminder that we do not welcome prophets, and we did not welcome Jesus.  It is a call to turn away from rebellion and listen to the voice of God speaking through the ones He sends to us. 

Prayer: Lord, today, as I go to worship, give me ears to hear your voice.  Give me grace to turn from myself to you.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

4/24/10 Lk. 22:24-27 The Greatest One

24Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25Jesus said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. (Lk. 22:24-27)

When church leaders jockey for position, the world looks on with astonishment.  It is astonishing that when Jesus talks about his dying, the disciples (at least twice) respond by talking about who is greatest.  I guess, they wanted to figure out who is next in line.  Alexander Haig was a great statesman among two administrations, a leader of NATO forces, and secretary of state.  But he will be remembered forever as the guy who presumed too much when President Ronald Reagan was shot.  He held a press conference and basically said, "I'm in control" (until the vice president gets back) when in fact the speaker of the house and the president pro-tempore of the senate were ahead of him in the pecking order.  Haig was supposedly concerned that our enemies not think we were weak, but not following protocal added to confusion instead of taking away from it.  For the church- it is different.  Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church- always.  Humans are only stewards.  God values not those who are in leadership positions simply because they are there.  He values those who serve-whether in leadership positions or not.  Jesus saw the giving of his life as a service and a ransom for us (Mk. 10:45). Jesus was the greatest, and was the greatest servant.  The greatest in the church are those who show sacrificial love for others in the name of God's glory.

Prayer: Give me a servant's heart, O Lord, that I may want to help.  Give me a servant's hands- that I may be willing to lend one.  Give me a servant's back that I may bear the burden of others.  Give me ears to hear the oppressed; eyes to see those who need help; strength to do your will as a servant; and faith to leave my reward in your hands and not my own.

Friday, April 23, 2010

4/23/10 Mark 10:32-35 Jesus Facing His Destiny

32They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. 33"We are going up to Jerusalem," he said, "and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, 34who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise."35Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. "Teacher," they said, "we want you to do for us whatever we ask."  (Mark 10:32-35)

(Macedonian Monastery drawing of this passage)

Three times, in three different places, Jesus predicted his death.  But we can go back and see this in the Old Testament prophecy of Isaiah 53- the suffering servant who died as a sacrifice for many.  Or we can see this in Simeon's prophecy when Jesus was eight days old in the temple- He said Jesus was "destined to cause the rising and falling of many and a sword will pierce Mary's heart also."  Or in John the Baptist's words, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."  This was a reference to a sacrificial lamb given on behalf of the people. The disciples were astonished and those who followed were afraid.  Isaiah 50:7 talks about his setting his "face like flint" toward his destiny, and this was why the disciples were astonished.  He was boldly going into what he knew was a death trap because he knew this was God's will for Him.  This is what faith can do- it can enable us to overcome our fears and reflexes to do what we know we are called to do. 

Prayer: Today, Lord, let me die to self and set my face like flint toward my own death.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

4/22/10- Transfiguration

28 About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, 31 appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, [a] which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. 32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33 As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, "Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." (He did not know what he was saying.)
34 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, "This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him." 36 When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.

The transfiguration was a means of encouraging Jesus (Moses and Elijah spoke to him about his death- and the voice of the Father was heard telling them-and him-that he was chosen).  The transfiguration was a reminder to Jesus and later his disciples of the glory of his resurrection.  Sometimes God gives us glimpses of glory and blessings that keep us going to face the trials and tasks ahead of us. 
Moses and Elijah's deaths were nebulous. Moses grave is unknown overlooking the promised land, and Elijah was taken up by a chariot of fire.  Moses represents the law, Elijah the prophets.  It is an important reminder to Jesus that the Word of God is reliable, and the worst this life has to offer cannot stop the best yet to come.

Prayer: Lord, when I am facing trials, help me to remember the blessings and your presence in the past, and the glory that awaits me in the future.

4/21/10 Mark 9:30-37 Being Great in God's Kingdom

30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be delivered over to human hands. He will be killed, and after three days he will rise." 32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.
33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the road?" 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, "Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all."
36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 "Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me."

(Left- kids from Thornwell Home for Children)

Jesus had said earlier- "The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many" (Mk. 10:45).  Jesus was the ultimate servant- dying as a sacrifice- a ransom to set us free from sin, eternal death, and guilt. Yet still the disciples were jockeying for position, arguing about who is greatest.  The last person is the person who is despised, has given up his or her reputation, has freely given up being at the head of the line, does not seek human reward or recognition, but just seeks to please the Father.  When Jesus took a child as an example of greatness, he was taking a creature who naturally trusts- who knows they have no chance of greatness based on their own merits or strength.  The greatest disciple are the ones who know they are dependent not on their education, their money, their ability, but on God's strength and grace.  There is always a place for children in the Church because children teach us this important lesson- trusting in the Father. 

Prayer: Lord, let me seek my greatness in you.  Apart from you I can do nothing.  But with you, all things are possible. ("Jesus Loves the Little Children"- turn the volume down a bit)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

4/20/10 "Who Do You Say Jesus Is?"

27 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, "Who do people say I am?"
28 They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets."
29 "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?"
Peter answered, "You are the Messiah."
30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.
31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
("Images of Jesus"
This is a pivotal question that Jesus asks each disciple, and each person- "What about you?...Who do you say I am?" 
Most say Jesus was not an ordinary man.  He has certainly changed the world in three short years of ministry.  Today there are over a billion who claim to follow Him or believe in Him as God in the flesh.
Some say, like many in his day that he was a prophet.  The Muslims and many Jews say this about Jesus.  Perhaps the History channel would certainly say this.  Jesus prophesied some important things that came true shortly after his death.  He prophesied that the temple built by Herod would be destroyed (Mark 13:2- Jesus died in 33 A.D. and the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D.).  Many Jews were upset that he foretold this, and this was one reason among many that he was killed (Mk. 14:58; 15:29).  He certainly prophesied his own rejection, crucifixion and resurrection (see above Mk. 13:31).
But the disciples claimed that he was more than an ordinary prophet.  He was the annointed one ("Messiah" or "Christ" means annointed one).  Three kinds of people were annointed- prophets, priests, and kings.  The messiah was to be THE annointed one- embodying all three offices.  He is a priest in that He sacrifices (Himself) for us, prays for us; He is a king who is worthy of our respect and allegiance as He provides for, oversees, and rules us. 
Matthew has Peter saying that "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (16:16).  The title "Son" means "of the essence of."  The gospel of John repeats some sayings that emphasize that Christ is God in the flesh.
C.S. Lewis wisely says, that we cannot just say Jesus was a good man or prophet.  For He spoke and identified himself as God.  We can say he was a liar when he said these things. But most who heard him said he spoke the truth better than any and embodied the truth (Jn. 14:6).  We could say he was a lunatic (but his disciples who stayed with him didn't think so, and his teachings didn't indicate this).  If he was no liar, nor a lunatic, then we should make him our Lord.
Who is Jesus, really, to you today?
Prayer: My life, even my eternal life, revolves around you, O Lord.  Your sacrifice and your resurrection enable me to live.  Help me to live in such a way that people could see my life and see who you are. ("Some Children See Him Lilly White")

Monday, April 19, 2010

4/19/10- Will the Real Jesus Please Stand up? Mark 6:14-16

14 King Herod heard about this, for Jesus' name had become well known. Some were saying, "John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him." 15 Others said, "He is Elijah." And still others claimed, "He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago." 16 But when Herod heard this, he said, "John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!" (Mark 6:14-16)

(Herod's tomb- not far from- and overlooking- Bethlehem)
What does the world say about Jesus?  Some thought he was a religious leader.  This wasn't reincarnation- but resurrection.  They thought John had been raised from the dead.  But John the Baptist was not the messiah- and to his credit, never claimed to be.  Some thought he was Elijah- for Elijah had ascended into heaven in a chariot (we get that song, "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" from that story).  Perhaps, they thought, the chariot has returned?  Moses prophesied that God would raise up "a prophet like me" (Deut. 18:15). 

Some say he was a magician, a miracle worker.  It seems that in the end, that is how Herod saw Jesus.  "Jesus Christ Superstar" has Herod saying, "Walk across my swimming pool" (Lk. 23:8).
(See link below to youtube of this song).

But sin and guilt often guide what we see and how we see.  Some, loving their sin, and refusing to admit their guilt, will not see Jesus as Lord.  Others, know that Jesus is great, and his presence- or even thinking about him- make them feel guilty.  So Herod thought about his evil imprisonment and killing of John the Baptist.  John was arrested because he told Herod the truth- that he was an adulterer, stealing his own brother's wife, who also was closely related to him (a bit incestuous).   Herod's wicked wife had Herod kill John (more about this later this week).  In his guilt, Herod thought Jesus was John the Baptist, raised from the dead in order to haunt him. 
     How do we see Jesus?  It is no secret that we see Jesus partially as one of us.  White folk often paint him as a caucasian, and some blacks paint him as African.  Chinese see Jesus looking like them.  Amer-Indians seem him like them.  I once thought we should try really hard to remove our culture from Jesus (like Albert Schweitzer's vain search for "the true Jesus").  But that is impossible. We see Jesus through the eyes that God has given us in His providence to use.  We cannot (nor should not) escape the eyes and minds God has given us.  We should challenge ourselves to see him in many-faceted, broadened ways, but even that is providential and limited by our information and mind.  Jesus is meant to be seen through the life, mind, and eyes that God has given us.  He is not meant to be only intellectually identified (like reading a biographical credential).  Rather, He is meant to be loved, and followed. 

Prayer: Lord, help me to not just know about you, but to know you, love you, and follow you.  (YouTube of "King Herod's Song")

Sunday, April 18, 2010

4/18/10- Luke 9:21-27 Kingdom Coming

21 Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. 22 And he said, "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life."
23 Then he said to them all: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for you to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit your very self? 26 If any of you are ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
27 "Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God."

Here Jesus predicted his death and resurrection, and reminded the disciples about their own spiritual death and resurrection.
He reminded us of our death and resurrection in three ways:
1) We must die to ourselves, take up our cross daily and follow him into death of selfishness and rise in love.
2) We must be willing to lose our lives (die to self) to save our lives (live for Him).
     He reminds them of the lasting value of eternal rewards- if you gain the whole temporary world and lose your eternal soul, it      
      won't do you much good. 
3) We must not be ashamed of his words now (die to embarrassment) or we will be embarrassed in heaven before the Father and     the heavenly host.

Then he ends with an sense of urgency- saying that some standing there right then will see the kingdom of God coming in.
He could be talking about the transfiguration (which happens next in Luke), or the resurrection (which he has just predicted).  Liberal scholars and skeptics think Jesus was thinking he would come again (second coming) immediately after his resurrection- and that he was mistaken.  I think the third option is too skeptical for believers because 1) it doesn't look at the context (the kingdom was declared in a sense coming at his first coming ("Today this has been fulfilled"; "the kingdom is at hand" Lk. 4:18,19,43). 2) it doesn't take seriously the power of God that began changing the disciples and the world at the resurrection.  But Jesus has always wanted his disciples to take God's breaking into their lives more seriously and urgently.  A belief that Jesus may come at any time (whether by death or by second coming), helps us to "live like we are dying."  That is, live in a way as if we will stand before God the next day- that each prayer may be our last; each action may be our last.  Christians today have lost this sense of urgency.  Yet, I am hearing more and more a sense that something is happening in our world- like the huge number of earthquakes (Jesus predicted earthquakes as a sign of his coming Mt. 24:7); or the secularization and turning away of many (Mt. 24:12), or famine and war (Mt. 24:6,7).   In my mind it doesn't matter if Christ is coming today or 1,000 years from now- it is His timing.  I must live with a sense that each moment is a gift- to use and to enjoy from Him.  Using that gift means denying my selfishness and living for love- for Him.

Prayer- Lord, give me grace to live for you.  Give me strength to live as if you were coming today.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

4/17/10- Jesus Raises Us Up

John 5:21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.

John 5:25 Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.

John 5:28 "Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.
John 6:39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day."
44 "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.
54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.

John 11:23-25 Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." 24 Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." 25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die;

John 14:19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.

(Giotto Bondone 1266-1337)

It is clear John remembers Jesus teaching that He will raise us up at the last day, and that our own resurrection is tied to his resurrection (because I live you will live also).  In the resurrection of Lazarus recorded in John 11, Lazarus's sister, Martha, knew Jesus teaching about the resurrection at the end of history (see Daniel 12- or yesterday's blog).  Lazarus's resurrection was a living testimony that Jesus has the power to raise others from the dead.  The Pharisees tried to kill Lazarus because he was a living, walking testimony to the power of Jesus (John 12:9,10).  Jesus is the resurrection and the life, believing in him gets us over the hump of the grave into life eternal. 
In our day there is a marked increase in suffering.  The number of hungry in the world have spiked with rising gas prices, and the jobless rate still hovers at unacceptable rates (over 10% in S.C.).  But the statistics only draw our attention to human pain.  There will always be human pain on this side of heaven.  This points to our need for hope- hope in our own resurrection through the powre of Christ.

(Lazrus's tomb in Bethany- a holy site even in John 12).

P.S.- I once had a puppy that I thought was dead, but when I came
back the next morning it was very much alive.  I named him Lazarus.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

4/16 Daniel 12:1b-4, 13 Name in the Book of Life

But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. 2 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. 4 But you, Daniel, close up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end. Many will go here and there to increase knowledge." 13 "As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance."

(Daniel 12 Part of the Book of Life)

"At that time" or sealed up "until the time of the end" indicates a belief in the end of history.  At the end of history we are not melted or frozen (Frost said, "Some say fire, some say ice"), but God stands at the end of the tunnel and will raise all- some to everlasting life, and some to everlasting contempt.  These verses were very important to early Christian thinking about heaven, hell, rewards, and punishment.  Daniel (or Michael the archangel) lifts up three things- that their names are written in the book ahead of time; he lifts up the wise; he lifts up those who lead others to righteousness. 

Prayer: When hope is lost, help me to hope in you and that your righteousness will shine in the darkness at the end.

4/15/10 Ezekiel and the Valley of Bones

1 The hand of the LORD was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" I said, "Sovereign LORD, you alone know." 4 Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones and say to them, 'Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! 5 This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.' "

(Valley of Dry

     There is a threefold resurrection indicated here.  To Ezekiel it indicates the resurrection of his country that was as good as dead- to be able to withstand onslaughts of future enemies (like Gog).  For Christians, it is also an indication of what God does with us on earth- to make us alive to God when we were dead in our sins.  It also is an indication of the resurrection of the dead at the end of history.  The point though, is to remember what God is able to do.  He is able to make alive and thriving what was dead and gone.
     Those who have given up on hope for the Church need to remember these verses.  Those who have given up hope for our country and the economy need to hear this.  Those who feel they are sick and without hope, or are poor and without hope (especially on this tax day), need to remember there is always hope with the Lord. 

Music to this:

Prayer:  Thank you for the hope you offer us Lord.  Help me to live in that hope today.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

4/14/10 Isaiah and the resurrection Isaiah 25,26

7 On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations;8 he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people's disgrace from all the earth. The LORD has spoken. (Isaiah 25:7,8)

19 But your dead will live, LORD; their bodies will rise— let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy—
your dew is like the dew of the morning; you will make it fall on the spirits of the dead. (Isaiah 26:19)

(Isaiah and the scroll- by Raphael)

Isaiah prophecied the destruction of the nation for turning away from God.  But he also prophecied hope even after the nation was reduced to ruins.  God will destroy the "shroud that enfolds all peoples"- that is the burial cloth that wraps up the dead.  He will "swallow up death forever"-- like God comes and eats death up.  Paul quotes this as a testimony to the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:54.  Once I had a dog who gave birth to puppies outside in a shed.  A few days later I awoke and found a dead snake right outside her little birthplace.  The mother dog had killed it.  I didn't have time to bury it that morning, but when I came back that afternoon the mother dog had eaten the snake whole.  That is the kind of image Isaiah gives here.  God will eat up death- swallowing it so it will not harm us anymore.  The context indicates that He does this not for everyone, but only for "those who trust in Him."  It is "His dead" that will live.  Just as God allowed Israel- who was as good as dead- come back from exile, captivity, and destruction- He will bring those who are his back to life. 

Prayer- Thank you Lord, that death has lost its sting because of what you have done.  Thank you that when it is my turn to die, I can rest assured that there is more beyond because you have killed my death on the cross. You will raise me up as Christ was raised up.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

4/13/10- Do You Want to Get Well? John 5:1-9

 1 Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda  and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3-4 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.  5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, "Do you want to get well?" 7 "Sir," the invalid replied, "I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me." 8 Then Jesus said to him, "Get up! Pick up your mat and walk." 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

(Pool at Bethesda today- rediscovered c. 1997)

There was a man who had been paralyzed for thirty-eight years.  There was no social security, and begging was usually the way of life for the disabled.  Doubtless, he was used to begging for help.  If Jesus made him well, his whole life would change.  So Jesus asked him what appears to be a silly question- "Do you want to get well?"  The man had been by this healing pool for so long, and had little hope to be healed because he couldn't get to the water quick enough (the legend was that the first in the water after it has been stirred, would be healed).  The man appeared to be looking for a miracle, but in some ways he had given up hope.  Jesus came to this hopeless man and helped him.  Jesus comes to us and asks, "Do you want to get well?"  Many of us make up excuses for not being better people. Many of us are so used to coping with our problems, that we really don't want to get well.  Almost like a fish who has gotten so used to the darkness that it has lost its ability to see light- and doesn't want the light.  Self-help books tell us how to cope, but Jesus enables us to go forward- and be well.  We do not need to know how to be more comfortable on our mat of suffering as much as we need to know how to be forgiven and how to have hope. Jesus tells us to rise up and go forward.  The world needs us to want to be changed by Jesus, and the world needs us to rise up.   More importantly, God needs us to be new creatures and to follow Him.  Perry Tuttle gave us a challenge from this passage last night.

Prayer: Lord, help me to always want you to come into my life, make me well, and give me the grace to rise up.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

4/12/10 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 A New Creation

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

(Butterly- a Christian symbol of someone transformed; worm to cryssalis, to butterfly)

To be a Christian is to be a new creature.  We don't regard people according to what they have or don't have.  In the early church, there were people who hadn't been together- slaves and the rulling class.  Jews, Greeks, Romans, and "barbarians" all met in the same place to worship- whereas before they met separately.  God was able to bring people together- reconciling them to God and to each other.  We have been given the task to bring people together. Perry Tuttle in his book quoted Maya Angelou who said, "We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.” 

Prayer; Thank you Lord, that you make me a new creature.  Make me new today, and put a new song in my mouth- a song of reconciliation to others.

4/11/10 Compelled to Share Love in an Anti-Christian Environment, 2 Cor. 5:11-14

11 Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade people. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. 12 We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. 13 If we are "out of our mind," as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

 (Corinthian Body Models- in Museum in Corinth)- People would bring models of the sick part of their bodies to the pagan temple.  It was in such an environment of rampant sexual immorality and superstition that Paul shared his faith- and we are called to share ours).

Paul says that we are dead to our "old self"- the way the world encourages us to be- proud-of-what-we-have/have-done, selfish, with a look-out-for-number-one attitude.   This is not a bad thing, but a good thing.  "One died for all- therefore all died"- means that Christ died on the cross, and we who believe in Him- die to the world too.  He gave up living for worldly things- and we should too.
But at the same time- the one who died was raised again, and we were spiritually- but really- raised again too.  Once we believe- truly believe (none of this nominal or intellectual stuff), then the love of Christ changes us.  One sign of our change is that the love of Christ makes us want to share that love.  Paul says he "tries to persuade people" or that "the love of Christ compels us." To share the love of Christ in an anti-Christian environment (as I'm convinced we have now in the media), means to sacrifice pride, to believe God ahead of the news media who always blow up the bad news about Christians and share little or nothing of the good news (for example- think of Haiti- tens of millions of dollars were sent there by Christians after the earthquake-- millions of people were helped-- but what will we remember from Christians in Haiti- missionaries trying to "kidnap" children- which in itself was much to do about nothing as the parents gave the kids and the authorities had no means for paper work).  To share Christ in an anti-Christian environment- was exactly what Paul did, and it is exactly what we should do as well.  The only way to change the world's attitude about Christianity is to share Christ and let the Holy Spirit change people- one life at a time.  The risen Christ empowers us- even compels us by his love to not keep the love of Christ entombed in our own hearts.

Prayer: Lord, you know it is hard to speak to those who do not believe.  Yet, use me today, to reach out for you to another. 

P.S.- Pray for Perry Tuttle today as he leads Lake Murray Presbyterian in a spiritual enrichment

Friday, April 9, 2010

4/10/10- 2 Corinthians 5:6-10 Faith in another Home

6 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7 We live by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that everyone may receive what is due them for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

One of the outstanding verses in scriptures is "we walk by faith and not by sight" yet it is sandwiched between two verses having to do with when we are at home with the body we are away from the Lord.  In other words, it is easy to get so comfortable with what we can see, with this world that we experience, that we don't want to be with the Lord.  It takes faith to believe that there is something better than our earthly home.  It takes faith to believe in Christ's resurrection, and it takes faith to believe there is a better home for us.  I saw a bumper sticker today that said simply, "Live for the present."  There are some advantages to such a bumper-sticker philosophy- no worries about the future- especially earthly security.  But if we were consistent with that we wouldn't exercise or even try to control our weight- which could leave us in pain or suffering stroke/heart attack/cancer later.  But if we have another home- that we do not have to worry about losing- there is an elimination of worrying about losing our earthly home or security.  Don't be so comfortable with the present that you feel you have to pack it all in right now.  We can let go of the present a little bit, yet we can also recognize a greater purpose, and that what good we do will be rewarded by God in the future (vs. 10).

Prayer: Help me, O Lord, to walk by faith and not by sight.  Let me be assured where my eternal home and purpose lie.

4/9/10- 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 More Than a Tent

1 For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

     I can remember camping many times.  One of my worst experiences was camping on an island in the middle of Lake Murray with the boy scouts.  We got there in a drizzle, set up our tents, and dug trenches around them so the water would drain away from the tent.  But it poured cats and dogs- and our "waterproof" tent soon became a sieve, and the trenches we dug filled up, overflowed, and we were stuck inside a miserable situation.  A tent is good- much better than nothing- to protect us from rain and sun (just ask the People of Haiti who would love to have a tent).  Yet, a tent is not the best there is.  So it is with our bodies.  Ask anyone who gets old.  Eighty percent of those over 65 in America have some kind of chronic illness that they live with (high blood pressure, cholesterol problems, diabetes, heart disease, joint problems, etc.).  All of those over thirty know they can't run as fast as they used to. Our bodies are like tents, and we "groan" Paul says because we don't wan to "leave" our tents- in the rain of life.  Kind of like a hermit crab doesn't want to leave their shell, even though they have outgrown it. 
     Paul was a tent maker, so he probably thought a lot about tents and our bodies.  The Spirit is a "deposit" he says guaranteeing future payments.  The Holy Spirit "dwells" (or "tents" or "tabernacles") inside of us (1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Cor. 6:19).  The Spirit inside of us indicates that this life is not all there is- but there is more to come.  A deposit or downpayment guarantees more payments to come, and allows ownership.   Calvin said the Spirit is the real source of the assurance of our salvation- allowing us to know (as much as we know anything) that we have eternal life.  Our temporary bodies also point to something more.  Each pain can be a sign pointing to our own resurrection- reminding us this is not our permanent home- but pointing to something more. 

Prayer: Help us, O Lord, understand that this life is not all there is.  Give us grace to live beyond ourselves- for you- because you are the source of more beyond. 

Thursday, April 8, 2010

4/8/10- Resurrection in the Psalms

9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, 10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. (Psalm 16:9,10).

15 As for me, I will be vindicated and will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness. (Psalm 17:15).

15 But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead; he will surely take me to himself. (Psalm 49:15)

(David- Michelangelo)

     There are many who do not or will not see any talk or belief of eternal life in the Old Testament.  The last two blogs I wrote about two prominent passages in Job (which many consider as written in patriarchal times- Abraham or possibly before).  Here are three passages from the Psalms that appear to have hope in eternal life, and they are important for us.  Psalm 49 specifically contrasts the death of animals (sheep-14) and the wicked (17) to the death of those who believe.  Sheep and the wicked are said to decay but God will "take us to himself."  It even speaks of the wise (10-13) and wealthy die (6-9).  One cannot be smart enough to earn our way to eternal life, and cannot pay enough to earn our way there (9). 
     Psalms 16 and 17 claim to be ancient psalms of David.  Some scholars think that the concept of eternal life was not an ancient concept- therefore these psalms cannot be that early. But such thoughts are circular (it can't be ancient because it doesn't fit into what I think the ancients believed).  The idea of eternal life, even in pagan religions or pre-historic customs (Egyptian thought, even neanderthal burial methods) has been around.  Acts 2:27,31 sees Psalm 16:9,10 as a prophecy about the Messiah's resurrection.  But all three passages above could express hope and faith in our own resurrection.
     My point is simply this: for centuries even before Christ people believed in some kind of eternal life.  But there was no secured hope of it until the resurrection of Christ. Christ's resurrection confirmed not only Christ's teachings, but the teachings of others that went along with his.

Prayer:  Thank you Lord, that though I cannot be smart enough to get to heaven, or earn enough to get there, you have provided a way for me.  I join my faith with the ancients who believed that you will not allow your faithful to see decay.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

4/7/10- Job 14:25-27 The Redeemer Lives to Give Hope

25 I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. 26 And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God; 27 I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! (Job 14:25-27) (click here to hear Handel's "I Know that My Redeemer Liveth"- Lynne Dawson)

(Job and wife- Albrecht Durer 1500- 1503)
Job had faith in a living redeemer. God is, in the face of suffering our only hope.  Evil (and suffering) is not just a Christian problem it is a human problem.  Some (Hindu) pretend it isn't there (maya- suffering is an illusion or dream); Some teach us to embrace it but not be absorbed in suffering or love (Buddhism); Some teach us a kind of fatalism- that it is God's will to be submitted to (Islam);  Some teach us to have a stiff upper lip (Stoicism); Some tell us to give up- that it is meaningless and chaotic (existentialism); Some say that evil is pain and we should do everything we can to alleviate it here for we don't know that there is any hope beyond death (secular humanism); Some tell us nothing except that God is not there to redeem us (atheism).  These are human attempts at handling a common problem. 

Christ tells us that we are to do all we can to alleviate suffering, and that there is indeed evil in the world.  We are called to resist evil where we can, to pray against it.  But our faith also tells us there is hope in the midst of suffering.  The resurrection is a living symbol that not only does suffering end, but there is completion and joy on the other side of ultimate suffering.  To know that we have a redeemer, that He is alive (not dead), and that we will see this rescuer with our own eyes is a great comfort to the human predicament. For me, this tells me that God is not only love, but is also powerful enough to help us- to ultimately redeem us from our suffering.
Prayer: Lord, life is so hard sometimes.  Help me not to be blinded by suffering, but to always have hope that we will indeed see you as our Redeemer with our own eyes.

Monday, April 5, 2010

4/5/10- The Resurrection of the Dead Job 14:12-15

12 so they lie down and do not rise; till the heavens are no more, they will not awake or be roused from their sleep. 13 "If only you would hide me in the grave and conceal me till your anger has passed! If only you would set me a time and then remember me!
14 If someone dies, will they live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait for my renewal to come. 15 You will call and I will answer you; you will long for the creature your hands have made. (Job 14:12-15)

Job hints at the resurrection with a bit of uncertainty.  He hopes for eternal life, but has not basis to do so.  The resurrection is not only a doctrine, but a hope.  It is not a hope based on wishes, but based on witnesses- 500+. When people suffer, they want the suffering to end, but they wish their bodies would be renewed too.  Jesus raised several from the dead- but they died again.  But he was raised from the dead into eternal life, and invites those who follow him to have that hope.  This hope does not take away from this life, but adds eternal meaning to what we do, say, and think now.  Without the resurrection, our actions, our best accomplishments are soon forgotten, and we have no hope. 

Prayer: Thank you Lord, that one day you will call- like a trumpet, and I will be raised.  Thank you for this hope that gives me strength in the face of suffering, and meaning in the face of the problems of life.

4/5/10- Easter Egg John 10:10

I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)

(Left- picture of dove eggs laid outside my deck on Good Friday).

Eggs have for centuries been seen as a symbol of the resurrection.  The egg is a symbol of potential life and hope.  But it is also a kind of tomb- inside the egg the bird cannot see, cannot fly, cannot move much.  The bird must hatch out of the egg in order to experience life.  Christ was placed in the tomb, but the tomb could not contain him.  He broke out and is alive forever. 
The egg also symbolizes our own lives.  Without Christ we are alive as a baby bird is inside an egg- with potential life.  But when we experience Christ we are able to fully realize what life is about.  Jesus came that we might have meaning, purpose, and hope in life.  Abundant and eternal life, does not begin after we die, but now.
In Greece eggs are colored crimson to remind the people of the blood of Christ that takes away our sins and allows us to live.  In the Ukraine and Poland, eggs are decorated painstakingly (using the pyanski method).  An egg is a beautiful symbol of new life for us. In the Jewish Passover (seder) tradition, an egg is there to symbolize how persevering through suffering.  The words at the seder meal is "all other things when boild become soft,but the egg become hard."  We are to be like the egg, tougher in the tough times. 
But for Christians, the symbol of the egg is not just to persevere, but that there is an ultimate award- life beyond the tomb.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

4/4/10- Meaning of the resurrection for us

4/4- Easter I Peter 1:3-9

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Thoughts: This is a reflection on what the resurrection means. The resurrection means that God is able to change us- to give us new birth. Even now the resurrection changes our life by giving us a different perspective on the pains and problems of life, and by giving us hope that even death and pain will not triumph in the end. Peter also is a realist, and recognizes that for now we have to “suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” These trials test and refine our faith as gold is refined in the fire. Peter speaks of our trials as part of our salvation, for they are purifying us for the presence of Christ.

Prayer: May your resurrection power give me hope and strength this day, Lord.

Sunrise worship on the lake- 931 Sugarmill Rd. (Wessinger-lft on Old Lexington; lft on Jake Meetze; rt on Old Forge; rt on Sugarmill); Boats welcome!
Worship at Lake Murray Presbyterian 8:00 (dialogue sermon) and 10:00 (sermon, communion and full choir).

4/3- Easter Eve- Bury Our Weakness in God's Power

4/3- Great Vigil of Easter I Corinthians 12:7-10

(Rembrandt, descent from the cross- pictured himself in the picture)

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Thoughts: It is comforting to know that even the great apostle Paul had difficulties that stuck with him. There are different theories about what this thorn was, but I think it had something to do with his eyes, for he appears to have had vision trouble throughout his life. He prayed for relief- over and over, but did not get it. His thorn in the flesh was not removed, but festered, reminding him that this life is temporary, and giving him more cause to long for heaven and the redemption of his body. But Paul recognized that when he was weakest, he was able to see Christ’s strength more clearly. He delighted that God used him despite his weakness. On this day in which we remember Christ’s burial, let us bury our weakness in the power of God, as a seed is buried in the ground in hopes of the resurrection.

Prayer: Take my thorn, O Lord. But if not, take my weakness and show your great strength. May you be glorified through my pain.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

4/2/10- Good Friday

4/2- Good Friday Isaiah 53

1 Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by others, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. 4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the laughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. 9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. 11 After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Thoughts: Isaiah 53 more than any other passage, gives us an image of the spiritual suffering of Christ on the cross. It describes the suffering servant who was sacrificed for us- a lamb given for us. On him was laid the iniquity of us all. By his wounds we are healed. It is this that we should remember when we suffer. Christ came to heal us. By his wounds we obtain the assurance of ultimate healing, the healing of forgiveness. No pain can wipe that healing out- only we can turn away from that hope. God has not forgotten our suffering, but has provided a means for healing for us.

Prayer: Lord, by your wounds, I am healed. Help me to not forget that. In my daily pain, give me hope from your sacrifice.

4/1- Maundy Thursday John 16:20 Grief turns to joy

John 16:20- Very Truly I tell you- you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grive but your grief will turn to joy.

Jesus said this right before his arrest (on Maundy Thursday). There are times when we are grieving, or sick, and sad and we do not understand the laughter and insensitivity of the world.  When we are bearing our cross, some actually make it heavier to bear.  Yet, even in the midst of persecution and grief, there is still hope.  Our grief (our crosses) will turn to joy (our resurrection).  Put your hope in God.

Today- our web page is down.  I suspect some kind of virus attack (on holy week).  Yet the truth of the gospel lives on.  I always say- things must be special if you're having special persecution.

Tonight at our church the Invisible Children of Uganda are coming.  Dinner is at 6:00 with a seder celebration afterwards; then the invisible children will give the program, and we will have a communion and tenebrae service.