Friday, March 30, 2012

Of Easter festivities - children, chocolate and pageantry, with insight from C.S.Lewis and an observation

SCRIPTURE: Matthew 19:14
But Jesus intervened: "Let the children alone, don't prevent them from coming to me. God's kingdom is made up of people like these."

STORY from C. S. Lewis:
There is a stage in a child's life at which it cannot separate the religious from the merely festal character of Christmas or Easter. I have been told of a very small and very devout boy who was heard murmuring to himself on Easter morning a poem of his own composition which began 'Chocolate eggs and Jesus risen.' This seems to me, for his age, both admirable poetry and admirable piety. But of course the time will soon come when such a child can no longer effortlessly and spontaneously enjoy that unity. He will become able to distinguish the spiritual from the ritual and festal aspect of Easter; chocolate eggs will no longer seem sacramental. And once he has distinguished he must put one or the other first. If he puts the spiritual first he can still taste something of Easter in the chocolate eggs; if he puts the eggs first they will soon be no more than any other sweetmeat. They will have taken on an independent, and therefore a soon withering, life.

There is something special about Easter. There is something special about Children. When the two are combined … watch out because anything can happen. Metaphors get mixed up. Priorities are turned upside down. The “awe” factor takes over. But, somewhere in the mix, Easter still gets celebrated even with a little face smeared with the remnants of a chocolate egg hastily eaten before mommy could take it away.

Palm Sunday has arrived. We are preparing to hear the little children sing their hosannas and wave their palm branches. Many times I wish I could get inside of their little minds to discover what they are really thinking as they parade down the aisle of the church. Do they understand? Do they comprehend? Do they know what is really happening?

And then it dawns on me … Do any of us really understand, comprehend, or know what is happening?

Oh, we can retell the story. We know the facts. We can share the list of characters. But understand? Comprehend? Know?

It is a God event and at many levels, more than we will ever fully appreciate, it belongs to the children … and to the child in all of us. We should simply let the awe factor embrace us. Wonder with the best of them. Eyes wide open. Heads turning. Taking it all in. Marching down an aisle. Waving a palm branch. Shouting Hosanna.

God is in charge. It is his event ... and we, a participant. The wonder of it all over takes us. Are we looking for some chocolate in the shape of Palm Branches? Would that help?

Help us, O God, not to get so caught up in the trappings of the pageantry that the child in us gets lost. We really do want more than just chocolate Easter eggs this year.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Dealing with status: Jesus became our slave and thus became our master with a story from the life of Lawrence of Arabia, an observation and a prayer.

SCRIPTURE: Philippians 2:6, 7
He had equal status with God but didn't think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human!

Lawrence of Arabia, one of the most colorful characters in World War I, wrote of the Arabs: “No man could be their leader except he ate the ranks’ food and wore their clothes, lived on a level with them, and yet appeared better in himself.”

An so it was with Jesus. He lived out the reality of Sir Lawrence’s words except in one aspect and that made all the difference … he never felt nor saw himself better than anyone else. His desire was be everyone’s servant … or even better, their slave. It was only in the role of slave that he could fully serve the needs of human beings.

We are rank and file type people. We base our thoughts and decisions on things that are seen only on the outside. What they wear, what they drive and where they live. We normally ask first, “What do you do?” and then develop our opinion and organize our relationship based on the answer. Doctors get better treatment than a garbage collector ... but status means nothing to Jesus. In his eyes everyone is seen as an equal with him. He considers himself to be the least of them all.

He is everyone’s slave or he is no ones slave. He is everyone’s savior or he saves no one. He became one of us so that he could elevate us to be one with him … joint heirs of the kingdom … God’s kingdom.

He who was unbreakable became breakable. He who was all powerful became powerless. He who owned the universe became one of poverty. He who was divine became limited in every aspect as we. He who was bigger than life became the smallest of all … so that we could become like him in every way.

I love this quote from the writings of C. S. Lewis on equality: “Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.”

He who would be the master must first be the slave. So said Jesus … so lived Jesus … he illustrated it with his own life and death ... and thus, sends forth a beacon for us to move onward to a greater good.

Holy Father, your son, your only son Jesus became like one of us so that we could become like him. Sometimes we get it … sometimes we don’t. Forgive us when that happens and work with us until it is always true. For Christ’s sake!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Jesus' life span is remembered because of the events of his last days, especially the third day!

SCRIPTURE: Mark 15:34; Luke 23:46
Jesus cried out in a loud voice… “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?...” “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.

QUOTE: Max Lucado
Final acts. Final hours. Final words. They reflect a life well-lived. So do the last words of our Master. When on the edge of death, Jesus, too, got his house in order: A question of suffering. A call of deliverance. (No Wonder They Call Him the Savior, page 20)

STORY: (This list was published in 1979)
Experts estimate that if a normal cassette tape is played about 100 times a year, sound quality will deteriorate somewhat after about 10 years. But the tape itself will play on.

A lightening bolt lasts 45 to 55 microseconds.

The average running shoe worn by the average runner on an average surface will last 350 to 500 miles.

A hard pencil can write up to 30,000 words or draw a line more than 30 miles long. 

Most ball-point pens will draw a line 4,000 to 7,500 feet long.

Leather combat boots have a wartime life-span of six months, a peacetime life-span of eight months (The army walks during war and peace.)

The projected life-span of a baby born in the U.S. today is about 71 years, nearly double what it was at the end of the 18th century. 

The longest authenticated life-span of a human being is 113 years, 214 days. Studies show married people live longer than those who remain single.

A group of subatomic particles known as unstable hadrons exists for only one one-hundred-sextillionth of a second (10 to the negative 23 second)--less time than it takes light to travel a single inch.

A 100-watt incandescent bulb will last about 750 hours; a 25-watt bulb, 2,500 hours. 

The number of times a light bulb is turned on and off has little to do with its life-span.

A one-dollar bill lasts approximately 18 months in circulation.

Practice footballs used by professionals last two to three days--a playing life of perhaps five hours. 

Home teams are required to provide 24 new balls each game and these last only about six minutes of playing time.

Jesus’ life lasted just 30 years. We remember those 30 years because of the last few days of his life.

A triumphant entry into Jerusalem to the shouts of the people … the cleansing of the Temple … the trial before Pilate … the shouts of the people to kill him … the walk along a street carrying his cross … nails driven into flesh … two others killed with him … a place called Calvary … some words spoken … a borrowed tomb … grave cloths hastily improvised because of the late hour … a large stone rolled into place … guards posted … But all of these events would have been forgotten rather quickly if it wasn’t for the events of the third day.

“He breathed his last” would have been the last words about his life if it hadn’t been for the third day. He would have been just another Messiah figure if it hadn’t been for the third day. The follower’s hopes would have been crushed if it hadn’t been for the third day. And our world would have been a lot different if it hadn’t been for the third day.

Life spans leave different impressions on us. Some things, as listed above, come along, do what they are designed to do and exit rather quickly. 30-years is not a long life span, at least not the way we live our lives today. 3-days or 7-days out of 10,950 days of Jesus’ entire life span doesn’t seem like much, but the impact, oh the impact … all because of what transpired that third day.

Resurrection. Empty Tomb. Grave cloths left behind. Life returned to a dead Messiah. And the world took notice of his life span because of that third day! And people still take notice, even those who do not believe remember because of that third day!

O God, how can we express our gratitude for the unbelievable life, death and resurrection of Jesus? How can we share this great news with others? Thank you for his life, but more than that thank you for our life because of his. Amen.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Finishing our journey with our torch still lit - John 19:28, 30 with a story from the Greek's Olympic games, an observation and a prayer.

SCRIPTURE: John 19:28, 30
Jesus said, “I am thirsty….” When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

The Greeks had a race in their Olympic games that was unique. The winner was not the runner who finished first. It was the runner who finished with his torch still lit. I want to run all the way with the flame of my torch still lit for Him.

This little statement about the Greeks unique race got me thinking …

First, were the words from Max Lucado: “Final acts. Final hours. Final words. They reflect a life well-lived. So do the last words of our Master. When the edge of death, Jesus, too, got his house in order. A confession of humanity. A cry of completion.” (No Wonder They Call Him the Savior, page 20).

Second … Help me to live as long as I am alive and then help me to die as someone who is ready to live.

Third, I believe it was Mark Twain who said something like this … I’ve met people who died at the age of 40, but who just hung around to until they were 70.

Keeping the torch lit can be difficult, a little challenging.

The question that keeps popping up in my mind is “am I coasting or living?” It is easy to slip into a mind set of taking the path of least resistance, to coast, to do the minimum, to just get by, to cut corners, to take the easy way … but boy, it sure causes the light of our torch to flicker and threaten to go out.

I’m reminded of a statement of a secretary who said, while handing me her letter of resignation, “This is too much like work!” … and she was dead serious.

Life is like work in that we each of a task to do. God has us here on assignment and as long as that assignment hasn’t been completed we should continue to work so that, like Jesus on the cross, we can declare, at the end of our journey, “It is finished” and know that it is!

Lord, help us to keep our torch lit as long as we are running this race so that when we come to the end of our days we can say with confidence, “It is finished.”

Friday, March 23, 2012

An example of extravagant love - Mary's towards Jesus and Jesus' toward her - Mark 14:3 with a story, an observation and a prayer

SCRIPTURE: Mark 14:3 (TM)
Jesus was at Bethany, a guest of Simon the Leper. While he was eating dinner, a woman came up carrying a bottle of very expensive perfume. Opening the bottle, she poured it on his head.

William Gladstone, in announcing the death of Princess Alice to the House of Commons, told a touching story. The little daughter of the Princess was seriously ill with diphtheria. The doctors told the princess not to kiss her little daughter and endanger her life by breathing the child's breath. Once when the child was struggling to breathe, the mother, forgetting herself entirely, took the little one into her arms to keep her from choking to death. Rasping and struggling for her life, the child said, "Momma, kiss me!" Without thinking of herself the mother tenderly kissed her daughter. She got diphtheria and some days thereafter she went to be forever with the Lord. Real love forgets self. Real love knows no danger. Real love doesn't count the cost. The Bible says, "Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it."

Mary didn’t count the cost. She couldn’t do enough for Jesus. What was the cost of the perfume in comparison to what he had done for her? Jesus had loved her unlike any man that she had ever allowed to enter her life. His love was free and non-judgmental. His love lifted her up and made her whole. His love was extravagant and so now was hers toward him.

Too many of us go through life feeling that we are unlovable. Maybe we haven’t measured up to others expectations. Maybe they have judged us without knowing all the facts. Maybe they have pushed us aside thinking little of their actions. Maybe they expressed a strong opinion with little regard for our feelings. Just little things, but over time they have mounted up and we end up seeing ourselves a little less than God sees us. It is at these times that we should remember Mary and what Jesus did for her simply by loving her for herself … not for what she could do for him, but simply because she was deserving of genuine love.

Mary poured the expensive perfume … over his head … over his shoulder … down his back … the fragrance filled the room. Whatever was laid out on the table for the meal that evening was soon forgotten. Such love, such extravagant love. The people looked on in wonder. Didn’t he know the type of woman who was touching him … washing his feet with her hair … kneeling in his presence? Oh, he knew her. He knew her heart. He felt her rejection. He experienced her pain. He knew her heart … and that is all he needed to know. His love for this precious creation of his father was extravagant.

And it is the very same love that he shows to the likes of you and me!

Thank you for your extravagant love shown towards us, eternal Lord. We are not worthy, but that is the point of extravagant love and we are healed of our inner turmoil. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Jesus' life, death, burial and resurrection was all according to scripture (1 Corinthians 15:3,4 - A reflection with a story of a Russian Jew who held unto scripture against great odds.

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 15:3,4
What I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.

Anatoli Shcharansky, a dissident Soviet Jew, kissed his wife goodbye as she left Russia for freedom in Israel. His parting words to her were, "I'll see you soon in Jerusalem." But Anatoli was detained and finally imprisoned. Their reunion in Jerusalem would not only be postponed, it might never occur. During long years in Russian prisons and work camps Anatoli was stripped of his personal belongings. His only possession was a miniature copy of the Psalms. Once during his imprisonment, his refusal to release the book to the authorities cost him 130 days in solitary confinement. Finally, twelve years after parting with his wife, he was offered freedom. In February 1986, as the world watched, Shcharansky was allowed to walk away from Russian guards toward those who would take him to Jerusalem. But in the final moments of captivity, the guards tried again to confiscate the Psalms book. Anatoli threw himself face down in the snow and refused to walk on to freedom without it. Those words had kept him alive during imprisonment. He would not go on to freedom without them.

“According to the Scriptures” lingers in the spirit of any believer. The story of Mr. Shcharansky illustrates the power that scripture can have on a person. For in the pages of Scripture is all that is necessary for living and salvation. We need not words or deeds, although God would like to see some deeds to along with what we say we believe, as long as we have the scriptures … the faith of which they speak.

I’m just wondering if faced with the same situation as Mr. Shcharansky if we would have acted in a similar fashion. If it came down between holding on to the scriptures, please note that he only had the Psalms, or freedom and a return to a loved one would we hold on to the scriptures, refusing to move forward without them. I’m just wondering.

You have given us a holy word. May we cherish it mightily. Hold on to it dearly. Live by it daily. Read it often. Carry it in our hearts always. Share it whenever possible. Thank you for the revelation found in those holy words.

Quote by Max Lucado from "No Wonder They Call Him The Savior" page 115:
Spices. Linen. Tomb. Fear. Waiting. Despair. Stone. Mary. Running. Maybe? Peter. John. Belief. Enlightenment. Truth. Mankind. Alive. Alive. Alive!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A real passion and obsession for righteousness - a reflection on 1 Peter 2:24 with a story from Sir Ernest Shackleton's attempt to travel to the South Pole, an observation and a prayer.

SCRIPTURE: 1 Peter 2:24
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.

In the Antarctic summer of 1908-9, Sir Ernest Shackleton and three companions attempted to travel to the South Pole from their winter quarters. They set off with four ponies to help carry the load. Weeks later, their ponies dead, rations all but exhausted, they turned back toward their base, their goal not accomplished.

Altogether, they trekked 127 days. On the return journey, as Shackleton records in The Heart of the Antarctic, the time was spent talking about food -- elaborate feasts, gourmet delights, sumptuous menus. As they staggered along, suffering from dysentery, not knowing whether they would survive, every waking hour was occupied with thoughts of eating. Jesus, who also knew the ravages of food deprivation, said,

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for RIGHTEOUSNESS." We can understand Shackleton's obsession with food, which offers a glimpse of the passion Jesus intends for our quest for righteousness.

And our Lenten journey continues … this dying to sin and living for righteousness is a lot easier to state than it is to realize. Combined with this living for righteousness comes the promise that we are healed.

Heal means for me – to be made whole. When our bodies hurt and we are less than originally created to be. When disease takes hold and we have difficulty seeing tomorrow. When the seams of our existence are coming unraveled. When our desires cannot matchup with reality. We begin to pray for healing … never realizing that just possibly what we are praying for is directly linked to righteousness. We want the cake without the calories.

It is also helpful, at least for this old preacher, to realize that healing, when it comes, arrives in various and a wide range of packages. Sometimes it is physical, but sometimes it is spiritual, emotional or relational. All healing is not physical. God brings healing in the way that truly benefits us the most … if we would but open ourselves to what God is offering instead of trying to limit him to just one particular area of our lives.

And so the question for our Lenten journey is do we desire righteousness with the same passion that we think of food? Therein lies the power of healing … at least that is how I see it.

Create in us a desire for righteousness. May it consume us. May it possess us. May it be our only goal on our journey.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Our hope in this world and the next - Reflections on Colossians 1:27 with a story from the end of life of Leonid Brezhnev with an observation and a prayer as well as a quote from Max Lucado

SCRIPTURE: Colossians 1:27
Christ in you, the hope of glory.

STORY as told by Gary Thomas:
As Vice President, George Bush represented the U.S. at the funeral of former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. Bush was deeply moved by a silent protest carried out by Brezhnev's widow. She stood motionless by the coffin until seconds before it was closed. Then, just as the soldiers touched the lid, Brezhnev's wife performed an act of great courage and hope, a gesture that must surely rank as one of the most profound acts of civil disobedience ever committed: She reached down and made the sign of the cross on her husband's chest.

There in the citadel of secular, atheistic power, the wife of the man who had run it all hoped that her husband was wrong. She hoped that there was another life, and that that life was best represented by Jesus who died on the cross, and that the same Jesus might yet have mercy on her husband.

What is it that we hope for? A better life? An easier life? Healthy children and grandchildren? Security and happiness? Peace? Fulfillment? A better tomorrow? Freedom from illness and pain? What is it that we hope for … in the deepest recesses of our spirit?

Isn’t it the same thing that caused Mrs. Brezhnev to make the sign of the cross on the chest of her dead husband? “The hope of glory” for me is more than eternal life for if Christ only means something that is to come after living then living becomes one of the worst practical jokes ever played upon humanity. But, if “the hope of glory” is a better today – a fuller and more complete life here on plant earth that will eventually find its true wings in the eternal … then that is a hope worth embracing and believing in … that is an abundant life … that is a joy-filled life.

Who knows what Mrs. Brezhnev was thinking as she made the sign of the cross upon her dead husband’s chest. Wouldn’t you have liked to have overheard the conversations in their home, behind locked doors, when the lights were turned off? Surely her husband knew of her faith? Surely her faith-filled journey included a copy of the Bible? And just possibly Leonid Brezhnev picked it up on certain occasions and turned to the stories within its pages. One never knows, but one could only imagine. Maybe this simple act of making the sign of the cross was a “death-pack” that husband and wife worked out ahead of time. Who knows?

But it is the sign of the cross and the one who owns that cross as his very own wherein lays any hope that we might and can have in this life and beyond. That I know for sure … and that will be glory for me!

In the sign of the cross and in a relationship with one who hung there that we hope in this life and the next. Thank you for the mercy which delivers your grace. Thank you for giving an abundant life worth living in the here and now. In the name of the only one who can and does change our life’s journey, Jesus Christ himself. Amen.

QUOTE from Max Lucado from “God Came Near,” page 25:
Jesus left the carpentry shop because of you. He laid his security down with his hammer. He hung tranquility on the peg with his nail apron. He closed the window shutters on the sunshine of his youth and locked the door on the comfort and ease of anonymity. Since he could bear your sins more easily than he could bear the thought of your hopelessness, he chose to leave.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Having received mercy so now we show mercy to others - Hebrews 4:16 with a story from President Calvin Coolidge's life

SCRIPTURE: Hebrews 4:16
Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Years after the death of President Calvin Coolidge, this story came to light. In the early days of his presidency, Coolidge awoke one morning in his hotel room to find a cat burglar going through his pockets. Coolidge spoke up, asking the burglar not to take his watch chain because it contained an engraved charm he wanted to keep. Coolidge then engaged the thief in quiet conversation and discovered he was a college student who had no money to pay his hotel bill or buy a ticket back to campus. Coolidge counted $32 out of his wallet -- which he had also persuaded the dazed young man to give back! -- declared it to be a loan, and advised the young man to leave the way he had come so as to avoid the Secret Service! (Yes, the loan was paid back.)

The reception of an undeserved act of compassion and forgiveness … mercy ... the giving of the unexpected in a situation that clearly warrants something totally different … mercy. We all have received God’s mercy throughout our lives. There have been those moments when we have shown another mercy.

And so our Lenten journey continues as we embrace the mercy of God and search for opportunities to show mercy to others.

It is easier to pass judgment, demand retribution, and to attempt to get even … you know, the old “eye-for-an-eye and tooth-for-a-tooth” approach to life … the old, “my way or the highway” approach to life. And yet, God shows us mercy and expects us to show mercy to others.

The challenge for the day is to look for ways and situations where unmerited mercy can be shown. Who knows a life might be saved, turned around, changed … just like the young man in President Coolidge’s room that evening. The loan was repaid, but oh what an impact it probably had on that young man’s life … all for $32.

The key, as illustrated in the Coolidge story, is to take the time to learn the circumstances that has caused an individual to be acting in a certain way. As their story unravels it becomes easier to show them mercy. God understands our circumstances and thus, his mercy is unveiled for us. May we do like wise to others.

You have shown us nothing but mercy, Gracious Lord, help us to do likewise to those who surround us.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Trying to reflect on the "why" of the crucifixion is the foundation of the world - Revelation 13:8 with a story, an observation and a prayer

SCRIPTURE: Revelation 13:8 (KJV)
…the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

On February 15, 1947 Glenn Chambers boarded a plane bound for Quito, Ecuador to begin his ministry in missionary broadcasting. But he never arrived. In a horrible moment, the plane carrying Chambers crashed into a mountain peak and spiraled downward. Later it was learned that before leaving the Miami airport, Chambers wanted to write his mother a letter. All he could find for stationery was a page of advertising on which was written the single word "WHY?" Around that word he hastily scribbled a final note. After Chambers's mother learned of her son's death, his letter arrived. She opened the envelope, took out the paper, and unfolded it. Staring her in the face was the question "WHY?"

No doubt this was the questions Jesus' disciples asked when He was arrested, tried, and crucified. And it was probably the questions Joseph of Arimathea asked himself as he approached Pilate and requested the Lord's body (v.58). It must have nagged at him as he wrapped the body in a linen cloth, carried it to his own freshly hewn tomb, and rolled the massive stone into its groove over the tomb's mouth. In the face of his grief, Joseph carried on. He did what he knew he had to do. None of Jesus' relatives were in a position to claim His body for burial, for they were all Galileans and none of them possessed a tomb in Jerusalem. The disciples weren't around to help either.

But there was another reason for Joseph's act of love. In Isaiah 53:9, God directed the prophet to record an important detail about the death of His Messiah. The One who had no place to lay his head would be buried in a rich man's tomb. Joseph probably didn't realize that his act fulfilled prophecy. The full answer to the why of Jesus' death was also several days away for Joseph and the others. All he knew was that he was now a disciple of Jesus -- and that was enough to motivate his gift of love.

To that nagging question of Why … why did Jesus have to die? Why was it necessary to have a death on the horrific cross at the hands of the Romans? Why that death in that method? Max Lucado states in his book, God Came Near (page 39) – “Jesus was born crucified. Whenever he became conscious of who he was, he also became conscious of what he had to do. The cross-shaped shadow could always be seen. And the screams of hell’s imprisoned could always be heard.”

Why? When one’s view of the world sees nothing but suffering and aguish, individuals confused and lost within their own lives, people staggering under the weight of trying to make sense out of life with little positive possibilities … then we begin to ask the deeper question of “Why not?”

To say simply, “Well, it is God’s will” and leave at that is to fail to embrace the full force of the event of Calvary. Simplistic answers to complicated questions don’t cut it at this point in our Lenten journey … and yet, I keep coming back to the statement in our scripture for today: “…from the foundation of the world.”

Jesus crucifixion is the solid rock on which this world is built. This world … all of life and everything in it finds its foundation on the crucifixion. This single event is the keystone that holds it together. Removing it only causes the blocks to begin to tumble into rubble. Many have tried over the years to make light of the cross and the crucifixion. They have tried to construct theological reasoning that places the cross somewhere on the side of urban legend and biblical mythology. And, yet there it stands. It cannot be denied or explained away. Truly it is the foundation.

Never let us take your sacrifice on the cross for granted nor seek to live our lives as if it doesn’t matter. Bring us to a deeper appreciation and heartfelt gratitude for building our lives on the solid rock foundation. Amen

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Living a real life - Reflections on John 6:53 with a Carl Sagan story, an observation and a prayer

SCRIPTURE: John 6:53
I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.

STORY told by Carl Sagan:
A story making the rounds concerns a Biology I examination in which the students were asked: "Suppose you could take to Mars any of the laboratory equipment used in this course. How would you determine if there was life on Mars?" One student responded: "Ask the inhabitants. Even a negative answer would be significant." The student got an A.

How does one determine life? What does it mean to live? What brings quality, definition, fulfillment, and/or purpose to life?

In the Gospel of John, Jesus shares that life … real life … is found only in a direct relationship with the Son of Man. Reading further in the text it is mentioned, “eternal life”. Therefore, can we conclude that life is meaningful and full only if it is eternal? Better still would to think that life through Jesus is a package deal – full here and eternal later.

The psychologists tell us that life has meaning only when it is lived for a purpose or cause greater than oneself. I believe that therein lays the meaning behind Jesus’ words. Oh, I have heard preachers share that what is meant in these words of Jesus that apart from Jesus there is no life and there is truth in that thinking, but at a deeper level is the giving of oneself to something greater. If we eat his flesh and drink his blood we a participating in the life of discipleship – a life lived for others and for Christ.

It is possible to try to bring about meaning and purpose by concentrating on oneself and what brings joy to that life, but eventually it will be found that is only shallow and soon fades away. Blood might flow through our veins, memories can be established, children could be produced, 70-years might be realized, friends accumulated, vacations taken and a stately funeral in our memory held … but life … well, that is a totally another matter. Existence yes, but life … probably not.

As one author stated sometime ago: “Just make sure that you live as long as your are alive.” He knew that to live requires a deeper commitment and a presence not generated from within, but from above.

Help, O Lord, to go forth to live as one prepared and ready to die. Help us, O Lord, to live as along as we are alive. Help us, O Lord, to give ourselves to the greater cause of Christ and his kingdom. Help us, O Lord, to eat his flesh and to drink his blood. Amen

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"Is your faith more like guessing the number of beans in a jar or choosing your favorite song?" A Lenten lesson on handling the truth that gives the keys to the Kingdom to a thief.

I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.

STORY as shared by Tim Stafford:
A pastor I know, Stephey Belynskyj, starts each confirmation class with a jar full of beans. He asks his students to guess how many beans are in the jar, and on a big pad of paper writes down their estimates. Then, next to those estimates, he helps them make another list: their favorite songs. When the lists are complete, he reveals the actual number of beans in the jar. The whole class looks over their guesses, to see which estimate was closest to being right. Belynskyj then turns to the list of favorite songs. "And which one of these is closest to being right?" he asks. The students protest that there is no "right answer"; a person's favorite song is purely a matter of taste.

Belynskyj, who holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from Notre Dame asks, "When you decide what to believe in terms of your faith, is that more like guessing the number of beans, or more like choosing your favorite song?" Always, Belynskyj says, from old as well as young, he gets the same answer: Choosing one's faith is more like choosing a favorite song.

When Belynskyj told me this, it took my breath away. "After they say that, do you confirm them?" I asked him.

"Well," smiled Belynskyj, "First I try to argue them out of it."

“You cannot handle the truth!” a line from “A Few Good Men” delivered by Jack Nicholson’s character, Colonel Nathan R. Jessup. It is a good line and it is a reality that invades the walls of every church in the world.

George Barna in his book, “What America Believes,” discovered that the people that fall within any very defined lines of a beliefs very greatly in what they perceive the truth to be on any subject of faith and/or the Bible. Dr. Barna discovered that the "truth" is all over the place ... cannot "handle" the truth if one doesn't understand just what the "truth" is.

Overheard recently, “I don’t wish to know your opinion I just want for us to study the Bible.” The thought did cross my mind … “You cannot handle the truth,” but I’m glad that my “filter” did kick in … for once. Maybe most of us can’t handle the truth if we fully understood what God was trying to convey to us through any particular scriptural lesson. If we did it would mean forgiving the individual who we just know is unforgivable. If we did it would mean going that second mile, giving the coat or shirt off our back, feeding the hungry, caring for the sick and dying and visiting those in jail. It would mean welcoming with open arms those who smell and sleep in the streets. It would mean following the call to show radical hospitality to those who speak a different language and follow a different religious or sexual lifestyle. It would mean taking in those who think differently than we do. It would mean change … a lot of change.

“You cannot handle the truth” … maybe we can’t, but we should … especially when the truth of which Jesus spoke gave the keys to the Kingdom to a thief or murderer who hung there on the cross with Jesus.

This Lenten journey can take you down some interesting paths.

Reveal your truth to us. We say we can handle it, but in reality we can’t … but we can with your help. In the name of Truth himself. Amen.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Being remembered by God even when we forget him in our daily walk - Luke 23:42 with a little guidance and insight by F. E. Marsh

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Sometimes we as Christians need to stop along life's road and look back. Although it might have been winding and steep, we can see how God directed us by His faithfulness. Here's how F.E. Marsh described what the Christian can see when he looks back:

The deliverances the Lord has wrought (Deut. 5:15).
The way He has led (Deut. 8:2)
The blessings He has bestowed (Deut. 32:7-12).
The victories He has won (Deut. ll:2-7).
The encouragements He has given (Josh. 23:14).

When we face difficulties, we sometimes forget God's past faithfulness. We see only the detours and the dangerous path. But look back and you will also see the joy of victory, the challenge of the climb, and the presence of your traveling Companion who has promised never to leave you nor forsake you.

Remembering is a gift, but being remembered is a blessing … divine in nature and powerful at the very core of our being.

To be truthful, I have a difficult time remembering people’s names. I work at it, follow all the “mental” tricks-of-the-trade for remembering a persons name, but alas this special gift has been lost on me. Now my spouse is another story. She remembers people because she is truly a people person.

Over the years I’ve known preachers who could remember a persons name, who they are married to, the names of their children and their dog … even if they had met that person only once and that was over 30-years ago. These few pastors are truly the exception not the rule. They truly had a special gift … and in the long run proved to a blessing to a great number of churches.

While on our Lenten journey it is good to be reminded that regardless of who we are or what we have done God remembers us … by name … no matter how long it has been since last we spoke with or to him. God remembers and holds out the promise of his kingdom. Therein lies the assurance of our relationship with him … he remembers us at all times and in all circumstances … regardless.

Thank you God for remembering us even when we deny any relationship with you. Thank you for making a promise of your kingdom even to the likes of us. Thank you!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Living as people prepared to die, Luke 23:43 with a story of a 5-year-old African-American who could hear the bells of heaven, along with an observation and a prayer

SCRIPTURE: Luke 23:43
Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

STORY from “Focus on the Family”:
In my first film series, "Focus on the Family," I shared a story about a 5-year-old African-American boy who will never be forgotten by those who knew him. A nurse with whom I worked, Gracie Schaeffler, took care of this lad during the latter days of his life. He was dying of lung cancer, which is a terrifying disease in its final stages. The lungs fill with fluid, and the patient is unable to breathe. It is terribly claustrophobic, especially for a small child.

This little boy had a Christian mother who loved him and stayed by his side through the long ordeal. She cradled him on her lap and talked softly about the Lord. Instinctively, the woman was preparing her son for the final hours to come. Gracie told me that she entered his room one day as death approached, and she heard this lad talking about hearing bells. "The bells are ringing, Mommie," he said. "I can hear them."

Gracie thought he was hallucinating because he was already slipping away. She left and returned a few minutes later and again heard him talking about hearing bells ringing. The nurse said to his mother, 'I'm sure you know your baby is hearing things that aren't there. He is hallucinating because of the sickness."

The mother pulled her son closer to her chest, smiled and said, "No, Miss Schaeffler. He is not hallucinating. I told him when he was frightened -- when he couldn't breathe -- if he would listen carefully, he could hear the bells of heaven ringing for him. That is what he's been talking about all day."

That precious child died on his mother's lap later that evening, and he was still talking about the bells of heaven when the angels came to take him. What a brave little trooper he was!

Dr. Wallace Chappell tells the story of standing in the hospital room of a young child was dying of cancer. The boy was holding the hand of his daddy. The family had all gathered in that room. The doctors said it wasn’t going to be long. The boy was frightened. You could hear it in his voice when he turned to the pastor and asked what death was like. The pastor simply said, “Timmy, you are holding the hand of your daddy. When you die that hand will change and it will be hand of Jesus.” Timmy smiled, closed his eyes and the hand changed.

The question that every pastor is asked too many times is, “Preacher, will I go to heaven when I die?” Or, it is overheard on too many occasions, “Well, I hope I will go to heaven when I die” … emphasis on “hope” with a huge question mark laced with some concern and doubt. My response has always been, “Why are you worrying about such matters. If Jesus can say to the thief on the cross that he would be with Jesus in paradise don’t you think that you can receive the same promise?”

Max Lucado responds to the above mentioned scripture in his book, “No Wonder They Call Him the Savior,” page 31, by writing: “Just trying to picture the scene is enough to short-circuit the most fanciful of imaginations; a flatnosed ex-con asking God’s son for eternal life? But trying to imagine the appeal being honored, well, that steps beyond the realm of reality and enters absurdity. But as absurd as it may appear, that’s exactly what happened. He who deserved hell got heaven.”

And so it is with us – we deserve the worse that could be offered in the afterlife, but we receive the best. The conclusion that this old preacher can arrive at is this: We should go forth and live as individual prepared to die. Living with victory in our heart doesn’t take strength it only takes belief. It does not take a Ph. D. knowledge it only takes a trusting faith. It does not take a miracle in only takes the grace of God.

That saving grace was offered to the thief on the cross with Jesus. That same saving grace is offered to each of us. If we listen carefully enough we too will hear the bells of heaven.

Help us gracious Lord to be people who go forth to live as people are a prepared to die. Amen

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Trying to keep the main thing the main thing amidst those who would rather continue to major in minor issues - Matthew 23:23 with a story and an observation

SCRIPTURE: Matthew 23:23
Jesus said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness.

A real head-turning, mind-boggling, spirit-disturbing twist on this scripture is from The Message: "You're hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but on the meat of God's Law, things like fairness and compassion and commitment - the absolute basics! - you carelessly take it or leave it. Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required.

When Irving S. Olds was chairman of the U.S. Steel Corporation, he arrived for a stockholders' meeting and was confronted by a woman who asked, "Exactly who are you and what do you do?" Without batting an eye, Olds replied, "I am your chairman. Of course, you know the duties of a chairman--that's someone who is roughly the equivalent of parsley on a platter of fish."

Never caught the named of the first church to come up with the catchy purpose statement: “The Main Thing is to keep the Main Thing the Main Thing!” As the news spread concerning this clever purpose statement multiple churches adopted it as their purpose … and rightly so.

As an old preacher who has rode many “horses” over the years I’ve discovered how easy it is to sell the sole of the church for whatever or whoever makes the most noise, talks the loudest, speaks the longest, throws the biggest hissy fit, gives the most while threatening to take their money elsewhere, rattles the most cages and simply acts most like a spoiled child that is use to getting their own way … and all the while, quoting the Bible and/or tradition, as well as experience and background as a means to justify their position … but failing always to “keep the main thing the main thing.”

Pharisees and teachers of the law did it during Jesus’ life and the church leaders ever since have found it easier to major in the minor things of being the church instead of the hard work of actually being the Church which was designed by God, a Church for which Jesus gave his life to bring together. We can here the cries of “sacrilegious” when all it is simply the “parsley on a fish platter.”

Congregations have split over the length of fringe on the altar paraments, the time worship begins, where the pastor stood to preach, if the pastor used the pulpit or not, how the ushers took up the offering, who could and couldn’t use the fellowship hall, which Sunday school class used which rooms, where the altar is placed, if the preacher wore a robe or not, the types of hymns used, how the ushers and acolytes were dressed, the way holy communion was served, the color the sanctuary was painted, adding air conditioning to the historical old sanctuary, because there was a pledge campaign in the fall … and so the list goes on. This partial list, from my files, is an actual list of some of the reasons particular churches have split into two or three separate congregations or voted to “go out of business” … and, you probably could add your own unbelievable stories to this ever-growing list.

Our energy and creativity is misplaced. Our loyalty is squarely placed on man-created and generated things … and while several of these “things” may have had a spiritual influence, maybe even a deep spiritual influence in our lives in the past, we have to remember that they are only man-created and generated things. God is every moving forward. Things changed. I’ve been told it took about 150 years for the church to accept the organ as a worthy instrument to be used during worship. Now hear the cries over the use of guitars, drums, video feeds, power point presentations, inclusive language, more modern biblical translations and/or paraphrases, etc.

All of this discussion begs the deeper question: Does it have anything to do with justice, mercy and faithfulness? Is it a Kingdom issue? There was an old New Testament professor who, whenever confronted with an issue that really wasn’t a Kingdom issue, always responded with: “Well, I agree with St. Paul on that” and left it at there. Most people would walk away satisfied, but those of us who had studied the letters of Paul knew in our hearts that St. Paul never addressed the issue in question … which was precisely the point.

Oh, how we have neglected the important matters to argue about the “fly” on the wall! Here’s hoping that we all could move away from simply “keeping the books” to the more important basics of being God’s people!

Help us, Gracious Lord, to keep the main thing the main thing!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Road to the Peace of Christ in John 20:21 with the insights of the 8-point findings from Duke University's study on "peace of mind"

SCRIPTURE: John 20:21
Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.

Duke University did a study on "peace of mind." Factors found to contribute greatly to emotional and mental stability are:
1) the absence of suspicion and resentment. Nursing a grudge was a major factor in unhappiness.
2) Not living in the past. An unwholesome preoccupation with old mistakes and failures leads to depression.
3) Not wasting time and energy fighting conditions you cannot change. Cooperate with life, instead of trying to run away from it.
4) Force yourself to stay involved with the living world. Resist the temptation to withdraw and become reclusive during periods of emotional stress.
5) Refuse to indulge in self-pity when life hands you a raw deal. Accept the fact that nobody gets through life without some sorrow and misfortune.
6) Cultivate the old-fashioned virtues--love, humor, compassion and loyalty.
7) Do not expect too much of yourself. When there is too wide a gap between self-expectation and your ability to meet the goals you have set, feelings of inadequacy are inevitable.
8) Find something bigger than yourself to believe in. Self-centered egotistical people score lowest in any test for measuring happiness.

I believe that Duke’s “peace of mind” study actually proved the truthfulness of scripture. Jesus promised peace as he sent his disciples out into the world. He knew that we would not experience peace until we gave ourselves to something larger and more meaningful than ourselves.

Picking up on the insight of a great marriage counselor I followed his teachings as couples would seek their pastor out for marriage counselor. I would listen carefully to their list of troubles and areas of conflict. We would prayer together and then I would give them their homework that had to be completed before the next session could be scheduled. The homework was that they were both to complete at least 15 hours of community service. Guess what? Most of them came back with the same response … problem solved and the marriage was healed. When we give ourselves to something greater than ourselves the miracle of God takes place in our hearts and minds and peace is achieved.

Read again the eight contributing factors to emotional and mental stability in the Duke study and see if you don’t agree.

Gracious Lord, we seek peace, we long for peace, we pray for peace, we hope for peace … guide us beyond ourselves so that we might make the discovery of your peace. Amen.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Amazing forgiveness, amazing love ... The Divine Father forgives and pardons those who killed his son by adopting them as his children!

SCRIPTURE: Micah 7:18
Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives…transgression?

When the first missionaries came to Alberta, Canada, they were savagely opposed by a young chief of the Cree Indians named Maskepetoon. But he responded to the gospel and accepted Christ. Shortly afterward, a member of the Blackfoot tribe killed his father. Maskepetoon rode into the village where the murderer lived and demanded that he be brought before him. Confronting the guilty man, he said, "You have killed my father, so now you must be my father. You shall ride my best horse and wear my best clothes." In utter amazement and remorse his enemy exclaimed, "My son, now you have killed me!" He meant, of course, that the hate in his own heart had been completely erased by the forgiveness and kindness of the Indian chief.

Forgiveness comes in various ways. Lent is a time when we begin to understand the full extent of God’s forgiveness for us the transgressors.

The story about the young Indian chief, Maskepetoon has for me a strong parallel in the story between God and us. We kill his son, Jesus, and what does God do? He adopts us to be his sons and daughters. He “kills” our hate and anger with his forgiveness. Everything that was Jesus’ is now ours. We hear God say, “You have killed my son, so now you must be my child.” By God’s forgiveness we have been brought in … pardoned … washed clean … dressed in new clothes … given the keys to the Kingdom.

Charles Wesley wrote: “And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Savior’s blood!/Died he for me? who caused his pain! For me? who him to death pursued?/Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?/Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?”

We don’t understand it, but we accept it. We cannot comprehend the power, but we experience it. We try to figure out a different approach by adding layers of requirements, but faith and acceptance never change. We have been pardoned. We have been forgiven by the Father of the Son we killed and now live the Son’s life. Truly it is amazing love!

We do not understand the love, the pardon, and the forgiveness that you show to us, Heavenly Father. We are glad for such forgiveness. We know that we don’t deserve it. Thank you for your divine acceptance and forgiveness. In the name of him we kill. Amen.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Living as Kingdom People in a world filled with guilt - Nahum 1:3 with a wise story from the life of Mahatma Gandi

SCRIPTURE: Nahum 1:3
The Lord … will not leave the guilty unpunished.

Mahatma Gandhi is fasting to protest the riot killings that followed the partition that created Hindu India and Moslem Pakistan in 1947. A fellow Hindu approaches to confess a great wrong. "I killed a child," says the distraught man. "I smashed his head against a wall." "Why?" asks the Mahatma (Hindu for "Great Soul"). "They killed my boy. The Moslems killed my son." "I know a way out of hell," says Gandhi. "Find a child, a little boy whose mother and father have been killed, and raise him as your own. Only be sure he is a Moslem--and that you raise him as one."

Guilt is a horrible feeling. It will tear an individual up inside. Maybe that is a part of the punishment that comes from God. The wisdom of Mr. Gandhi offered to this individual is wise indeed … kind of like the idea of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes.

We would do well as individuals and as a nation to try to see life from the other person’s perspective. Maybe we would begin to change our way of thinking instead of looking for witches under every rock or around every corner … or believing everything that comes to our in box via an email … or everything that we read on the internet via Google.

We need to start living as Kingdom people and in the process change the world! And then maybe the guilty feelings that we are covering up with our superior attitudes and/or fears will begin to breakdown the walls that divide us.

Help us Lord because boy do we need your help! Amen

Thursday, March 1, 2012

When did "liberal" become a dirty word?

Over the last several months I’ve listened, or at least tried to listen, to the political discourse. I’m getting a little sick at hearing about who or who isn’t the “true conservative”. To be truthful, this discussion does not excite me because what this country needs in our political leaders (and this is just my opinion) are elected individuals who are true Americans.

One candidate has recently stated that he doesn’t believe in the separation of church and state. That’s a little more than scary. What I think we need are individuals who will put aside their political idealism and reach out their hands to those who differ with them and start working together.

John Wesley, the founder of my beloved United Methodist Church, had deep theological issues with some of the other reformers. They approached the biblical understanding from a wide range of differing positions, but through it all Mr. Wesley said, “If your heart belongs to Christ give me your hand and we will walk together.” Maybe what we need are politicians who are willing to say, “If you are committed to making America a place for all people, a place where everyone gets a chance to advance themselves socially, educationally, and emotionally then give me your hand and we will work together to make it happen.”

This is the third posting of this particular blog. The first time was on May 1, 2010 and the second time was on June 29, 2010. After listening to the recent news reports concerning the political unrest between candidates in one particular political party with their constant claim to be “the true conservative” which has stopped meaning anything other than a catch phrase to get the attention of a small group with a particular political viewpoint in their parties base, I’ve decided to share it again.

In sharing this blog for the 3rd time I pray that someone will join me in doing what is right for all Americans and not just a few Americans. We had a recent past president who declared that he was a “uniter” and then moved forward dividing the nation even worse than it was already divided. I pray for the day that the lobbists do not rule Washington, D.C. and the Super-Pacs do not rule the airwaves. I pray for the day that we can start “doing it unto the least of these …” Does anyone care to join me?

And now for my June 29th blog …

Watching the political disfunctioning of our elected leaders presently taking place in Washington, D.C. I thought back to a blog that I wrote on May 1, 2010 and have been prompted to re-post it today. There are a lot of words and accusations being leveled at the various members of congress with little effect other than to turn our government into somewhat of the laughing stock of the world. Our elected political leaders do not understand that they were elected to lead … not to work for the next election, not to “protect” their political territory, not to advance their cause, not to do the Democratic or Republican thing, but to do the right thing, and definitely not to shut-down our government with their refusal to compromise … which has become the next bad, vulgar word along with liberal.

And now for my May 1, 2010 blog …

Listening to the present political discussion airing itself in the mass media I only have one question. When did the term “liberal” become a bad, vulgar word?

I can remember when someone called you a liberal they meant that you spoke up for decency, equality, human rights, fairness, high ethics or morals in the market place, liberty, justice and the pursuit of all that is right and correct in a democratic society. For me it meant everything that was found in the Good News of Jesus Christ. It meant that you worked for those who were disenfranchised by society. As you have done it unto the least of these …

As a liberal one would take up the cause of the homeless, the sick, the widowed and orphaned, the hungry, those in prison, the shut-in, the lame, injured, hurting, the refugees, the immigrants and equal pay for equal work … As you have done it unto the least of these …

As a liberal you sought to follow the teachings, instructions and example of Jesus Christ … which meant willing to go to your personal cross in order to make a lasting change in society for those who didn’t have the power to do it for themselves. As you have done it unto the least of these …

But now it a vulgar, dirty slur that is usually pulled out when someone needs to win a political argument by stating, with anger, “Oh, you are just a liberal!” It has become the standard 2010 political putdown … as if we should only look after our needs, our future, our desires, ourselves … as you have done it unto the least of these?

In a recent small share group a gentleman, who I have come to highly respect for his out spoken faith declarations and commitment, upon hearing that someone was leaving the United Methodist Church because it was just filled with liberals, declared, “What is wrong with being a liberal? I’m a liberal and proud of it.” And I would strongly agree!!!

I am of the belief that we need to take back the term and take it off the table as the present day “four-letter” word - even if it has 6-letters it is used as someone had said the F, S, H or D word. Next time someone points their finger at me and state that I am a liberal I am simply going to say, “Thank you for the compliment. I appreciate that you seem to understand that I love my Savior and seek to follow him by looking after the least of these!” I’m not really sure what their reaction will be, but I have decided to take back a good and great political word that has a long, distinguished history in our society.

Did God call America into existence so that we could only become richer, bigger, or more powerful? Or, did God bless us so that we could become a blessing to others? Failure to understand what God had intended in our formation is a failure to comprehend what it means to be Kingdom People – servant people … as you have done it unto the least of these …

I will grant you this is a dangerous position to take after all it did take the revolutionist Jesus to a hill called Calvary and a cross of pain and death. The conservative religious leaders of his day couldn’t allow his message of love, grace, mercy, forgiveness and … doing it unto the least of these … to continue. So they sought to eliminate that message, but God had the last word with the resurrection. Now, again, that message is under attack and those, in the name of the Gospel, are trying to silent those who are seeking to favorably respond to God by doing it unto the least of these …

Liberal? You betcha’ because there isn’t anything wrong with being a liberal! Right? Right!

Quote for today: “No man in this world attains to freedom from any slavery except by entrance into some higher servitude. There is no such thing as an entirely free man conceivable.” Phillips Brooks