Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Recognizing the Voice of Jesus

With the advent of cell phones and caller ID, we usually know who’s trying to get in touch with us.  If they are on our list of contacts, their name pops up where the device rings.  In the olden days, when I was a kid, you had to listen carefully to the person on the other end of the wire.  In some cases you knew the identity immediately, because it was someone whose voice you knew very well, others needed to announce themselves.  
The reading in the gospel of John proves that point clearly.   Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in.  She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her. “Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”  She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him.  “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”  She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.” 
 “Mary!” Jesus said.  She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).
The resurrection story isn’t new, and sometimes hearing it for the umpteenth time can dull us to its significance.  Not so this year, God desired to show me a subtle, but life altering portion in this tale.  In the verses that preceded these, Mary had found the tomb empty, returned to the frightened disciples and told them what she had seen, or in this case, not seen.  A few ran to the garden to confirm her story, but hastily headed home.  Mary stayed, weeping and mourning, until someone she was unfamiliar with appeared.  In her grief, she explained to him what had happened, but she still didn’t recognize him until he spoke her name. “Mary!” Jesus said.  At that moment, she knew exactly who it was.  It would be difficult to imagine a more tender, and joyful scene, in all literature. The friend she knew and loved was alive, and had spoken her name. 
In an attempt to modernize this account, imagine that Jesus is trying to reach you on your phone.  Does his name/picture appear?  Is he one of your close contacts, or a friend on Facebook?  If the number doesn’t register with you, do you ignore it, or assign it one of the responses that your device provides?  Responses like: I’m on the other line; I’m driving; I’m in a meeting or any of the other built in options.  The question to be answered is, do you, like Mary, know his voice so intimately that he needs no introduction?  I believe that throughout our lives, Jesus is calling our name, but do we recognize him, or do we let it go to voicemail?  Give it some serious thought, and prayer.  He is calling, listen, know him and respond!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Window Shopping

When we were kids, my mom used to give us an imaginary $100, and tell us to go window-shopping.  I must have been an easy-to-please kid, because I always thought that was a fun activity.  I still like to browse, it’s a harmless, free pastime, and I come home with a full wallet.  

There is another kind of window-shopping that is not so innocuous, and can wind up costing a hefty price.  I’m talking about looking into areas outside of what is good for us as Christians.  Let’s be honest, we all have peeked into those “shops” at one time or another.  Perhaps as a married person it was a playful flirtation.  Maybe you were lured into gambling your rent money away.  How about watching TV programs which grab our attention by flaunting immorality, or movies that use profane or vulgar language?  Addictions to pornography, heroin and other drugs have reached epidemic levels, and it all starts with a quick, harmless look in the window. 

Just because you call yourself a Christian doesn’t mean you’re immune, in fact many  “window shoppers” are believers.  They justify their actions by saying it’s only looking, and then they put the blame on God for giving them free will.  Paul understood this dilemma, and spoke from a personal perspective when he said this.  “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”  Romans 7:15.  Yes, the fact remains that we, along with the great evangelist, are easily tempted creatures.  Do the names Adam and Eve ring a bell?  Why did God make us like that?  It would have been a whole lot easier if he had just programmed us to stay away from sin, without any effort on our parts.  “For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.” Galatians 5:17.  Verse after verse warns us to,  “Stay away from every kind of evil (even the appearance of evil).” 1 Thessalonians 5:22. 

Wow, even the appearance of evil is to be avoided.  So what is a weak-willed human being to do?  First, and foremost, be sure of what God considers evil.  Second, stay away from it!  Easy-peasy, right?  Well, we all know it’s anything but easy. I suggest pairing yourself up with another believer who will act as an accountability partner.  Just make sure it’s someone who isn’t afraid to call you out if he/she catches you at the shop window, and be prepared to do the same for them.  Other than that keep yourself from tempting situations by studying, praying, and keeping in fellowship!  Remember, the only one God ever “led into temptation” was Jesus, and he assures us that he will provide an escape if we happen to cave in.  Keep your eyes on Jesus, and not the junk the shops of the world offer. “We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.”  Hebrews 12:2

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good (?) Friday

You’ve all heard the word oxymoron before.  By definition it means two words that seem to be in direct opposition to each other.  Jumbo Shrimp or Military Intelligence are a couple of examples.  How about Good Friday?  I don’t know about you, but as a Christian those two are the most oxymoronic pairing I can think of. In fact not every Christian society calls this day “good”.  The Germans, among others, refer to it as Dark Friday instead.

 I’m aware of all the good that came out of that horrific day, but those 24 hours were anything but good.  Imagine that you are there, following Jesus through the mockery of his trial, flinching as each merciless lash of the whip flays his flesh.  Close at his heels, you can feel the spittle on your own face, as the King of Kings is spat upon.  The endless road to the cross is filled with hurled abuses, both physical and verbal until you arrive at Golgotha, the place of the skull. Grief and fear tighten your throat muscles, as hot tears begin to flow.  Jesus lays down the rough wooden cross, readying himself for the crucifixion, the cruelest form of torture the Romans could devise.  At this point, most mortal men would have already been dead, but Jesus is no mere mortal. Worst of all, he carries upon him the accumulated sins of the centuries.  Sins of the past, the present and the future, yes, yours and mine, he willingly takes the punishment for.  The excruciating physical pain that he must have felt is horrible to even think about, but the emotional torment brought on by that load of sin was unbearable.  Soon he is tied unto the splintery beams, his feet and wrists pierced with heavy spikes, then the cross is raised into position.  In agony he calls out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  For 3 long hours he hangs there, alone, or so it seems.  

For many unbelievers this is the crux (no pun intended) of their unbelief.  How could a loving God do that to his own son, they rightly ask.  What kind of parent would willingly inflict this heinous act on their own precious child?  Lest we forget, this is God on the cross, suffering, and bleeding, for you and me, as our perfect lamb of sacrifice. He wasn’t dragged to the cross against his will, no, he went freely. It is theorized that over 2.5 million Jews were in Jerusalem for the Passover that year, and over 250,000 lambs were sacrificed, but only one, the Lamb of God’s death fulfilled the righteous requirement.  No other sacrifice would ever be necessary; the debt we owed was paid in full, by his shed blood.

 Yes, it was a dark day indeed, when you look at it from the human perspective, but our salvation could not have been secured in any other way. Now that is good, even if the day itself is Bad. So I guess you can say, the end justified the means.  I don’t pretend to understand it all, but one day I will.  Today I am content, and awe struck, once again, as I recall the passion of Good Friday, and the unmerited grace that God offers to all who believe.  

 “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”  Isaiah 53:5

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Suffering Servant

Today is Maundy Thursday, the commemoration of the last supper Jesus shared with his apostles.  In addition, he revealed his true servant nature by washing all those dirty feet.  Today, re-read this amazing passage written at least 400 years earlier by the prophet Isaiah.  It is one of the Servant Songs contained in the book of Isaiah, and is a spot on description of Jesus, the suffering servant, not the victorious King that people were looking for. Have no fear, that King is coming, but today be blessed as you reflect on the humble, man who came to  serve and save.

Who has believed what he has heard from us?a
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

2For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
3He was despised and rejectedb by men;
a man of sorrows,c and acquainted withd grief;e

and as one from whom men hide their facesf

he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the 
LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
7He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
8By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
9And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes
h an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the 
LORD shall prosper in his hand.
11Out of the anguish of his soul he shall seei and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
12Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,j
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.

 Isaiah 54

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The One, and Only, God

“Gods “R” Us”, might be the name of this shop I peeked into recently.  Obviously the owners weren’t atheists, and since they couldn’t decide on just one god, why not worship them all!   It reminded me of Paul’s visit to Athens.  Don your togas and travel back with me, to that large, metropolitan city, in the year 40 AD or so.  

The entire ancient world agreed that the Athenians were an intelligent, hip, “in the know” society.  Even judging them by today’s standards they were all that, and a bag of chips.  The goddess Artemis was a particular favorite, but it is my guess that there were stores, similar to this one, on every corner.  In fact, the city as a whole had built a memorial wall where they placed, in individual niches, images of silver, gold and stone, representing all the known gods of the day. In addition they left one shelf vacant reserved for the “Unknown god”.  Not wanting to offend any freelance gods that they might have overlooked. This action, they felt assured, covered all their spiritual bases. 

Enter Paul.  The wise apostle knew that people could never be won to Christ by insulting the religions they were already practicing, so he addressed them respectfully.  “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ “.  At this point Paul has their attention, and he goes in deeper to reveal who this hither to unknown god is. “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”  Acts 17:22-25.  As he continued I’m sure he was treading on some toes, but on he went bringing home his case. 

Fast forward 2000 + years, and as foolish as multi-god or pantheism may seem, believe me it still exists, even within Christianity! I personally know people who claim to be Christians, but put stock in necromancy (talking to the dead),  reincarnation and other non-Christian practices and beliefs.  Why?  I think that many modern day folks aren’t much different than those ancient Athenians.  Some facet of other religions appeals to them, and they don’t want to miss anything, just in case Jesus doesn’t pan out. Perhaps it’s because they belong to a church, but have never made a personal connection with Christ.  Christ came to fill all our needs and niches, and for those who truly, intimately know him, he does.

If you feel the need to supplement God, do so through studying his word, prayer, fasting and meditation.  Don’t be tempted to let foreign doctrines diminish who He is, and MUST be in your life.

“But we know that there is only one God, the Father, who created everything, and we live for him. And there is only one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom God made everything and through whom we have been given life.” 1 Corinthians 8:6

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Spiritual Disconnect

I’d like to share a particularly frustrating experience I had the other day.  After editing and uploading some photos to Walgreen’s site, I pushed the submit order button, but instead of a confirmation from the store, I was told that the operation had failed.  Ugh.  It seems that the internet had chosen that moment to take a break, or so my computer informed me.  My trained eyes went immediately to the lower right hand corner of my old Dell, where the internet connection icon was still on, I clicked it and was told that said connection was Very Good.  Very Good my foot!!  Thinking it was perhaps due to the advanced age of my computer, I tried reconnecting only to come face to face with this horrible, fierce-looking tyrannosaurus creature.  Said prehistoric carnivore gloated as he devoured my hopes and photos. 

 How is it possible to show that you are connected, and still not have the power? Since I now had time to think about this, it got me wondering about other similar disconnect situations. We’ve all heard the phrase, “the lights are on, but no one’s home”.  In essence it relates to a person who, from the outside, looks like they’re fully capable, representing a certain position, or even a belief, but when you knock on their door no, one answers.  I’ll use myself as an example.  Years ago, before I came to a personal decision, and accepted Christ, I thought I was a Christian. After all, didn’t I have the exterior icons to “prove” it?  I had been baptized as a child, went to Sunday school, was confirmed and completed other religious requirements, what more could there be?  For many years I was actually content with that arrangement.  I never seriously considered getting “online” with God, unless it was something urgent like a test, or forgotten homework. And after all, no one ever came knocking on my door.  Myself, and the rest of the world believed that my Christian icon was on, but over the years it became very clear that it wasn’t connecting to the source.  Thankfully, I allowed God to repair the problem, and now, having full access to his power is more awesome than the internet any day!

It is my contention that the church, as a whole, and I’m referring to the people not a denomination, is suffering from spiritual disconnect.  Yeah, sure the icon may be visible in the right hand corner, but the terrible lizard has eaten up the power.  When is the last time you truly fell on your face in prayer, or worshiped Him with complete abandon?  Have you fallen in love with his word, or experienced the gifts of the Holy Spirit?  Just because you, and others, think you are connected, doesn’t mean you are, take it from one who knows.  You may display the outward signs, but if there’s no internal connection, there’s no power, no blessing.  If you’ve been frustrated by a weak or broken connection, ask God to hook you up, then let the ultimate web surfing begin! “….Their sinful minds have made them proud, and they are not connected to Christ, the head of the body. For he holds the whole body together with its joints and ligaments, and it grows as God nourishes it.”  Colossians 2:18-19.

Friday, April 11, 2014


Each time I return from a jaunt to Europe, people invariably ask me what my favorite part of the trip was.  That’s a difficult question for me to answer, because I, and especially the photographer in me, absolutely adore everything.  You only have to take a look at my camera’s full SD card to confirm that!! But, this time I gave it some serious thought, and there was one thing that really impressed me, the fruitfulness of Italy

Many years ago I had visited Italy, but had never been to the southern section, and had always longed to go.  Flying into Naples, a big city, we traveled by bus to the much smaller city of Sorrento.  Along the way, with Mt. Vesuvius in the background, we climbed up into the rugged hill country that rose vertically from the Mediterranean coast.  For centuries, hearty Italians have built their homes into this beautiful, but inhospitable landscape. Why, I wondered?  It became clear as we passed by grove after grove of lemon and orange trees.  Even the tiniest parcel of ground was sufficient enough to allow the heavy, fruit laden trees to flourish.  Perhaps it was the rich volcanic soil, the mild Mediterranean climate, or the industrious nature of the farmers, but the whole area reminded me of an overflowing cornucopia.  As if that wasn’t remarkable in itself, I looked closer and saw that the soil beneath the trees had been tilled, and planted with onions and other vegetables.  Olive and grapes were squeezed in too. Every square inch was producing fruit, nothing went to waste.

  Living in the Midwest, with its vast, seemingly endless acreage, the vision of those fruit-filled, postage-stamp sized plots had quite an impact on me.  As you might expect, God set my mind on meditation mode, and started filling me up. Scripture, both old and new testaments, encourage us all to be fruitful. Beginning with Adam and Eve in the garden, who were told to be fruitful and multiply. I’d always thought of that fruitful as strictly applying to bearing children, and while that is part of it, there is so much more.  God has designed us, not unlike that rocky Italian ground, to be fruitful, as well.  We are fertile gardens, untilled ground able to produce much fruit, but do we?  We, too, are rocky and resist God’s plow.  Another similarity is the debris of past personal, volcanic eruptions. We justify our barrenness, arguing that we have no talents, or anything useful.  No talent, no fruit.  

God knows the potential within us, and our debris only adds to the richness, but our enemy, Satan, keeps reminding us of what we lack.  It seems illogical that anything, other than weeds could survive in our dinky plots, and so we miss out on the bountiful harvest God intends.  I’m here to tell you, that if such amazing fruit can be picked from trees on those cramped lots, then every one of us should be producing bumper crops!! Is it easy?  No! Any farmer will tell you that.  Is all that nurturing, cultivation, weeding, bird and pest control worth it? If you had seen, and eaten, the luscious results that I saw, there would be no doubt. 

Are you willing to let God’s Holy Spirit start turning the soil in your personal garden?  Relax, he has green thumbs, and the results he gets will astound you, and all those who can see your bounty, as well!!  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,…” Galatians 5:22

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Seeing Only Jesus

  While we were in England I had the opportunity to attend church in the town where my sister lives.  I have to admit, ashamedly, that I wasn't expecting much from the service, but God had something to reveal to me.  The gospel reading, from the book of Mark, recounted the Transfiguration.  

As you may recall, the quality time that Jesus had to spend with his disciples was decreasing rapidly.  The cross loomed ominously before him. He had to be certain that these men, the ones who would carry his word to the world, truly knew who he was. "Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up a high mountain to be alone. As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed, and his clothes became dazzling white, far whiter than any earthly bleach could ever make them. Then Elijah and Moses appeared and began talking with Jesus." Mark 9:2-4. 

The men were awe-struck as you might well imagine, and hustled around to set up memorial tents to honor these two old testament superstars.  "Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, 'This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to him.' Suddenly, when they looked around, Moses and Elijah were gone, and they saw only Jesus with them. " Mark 9:7-8.  God, in his Shekinah glory, spoke to those humble followers, just as he did to those at Jesus' baptism, proclaiming who Jesus truly was, his Son. 

 I can relate to how the disciples first reacted, they were doing what they had been taught when they set up the memorials.  Sometimes doing a good or ritual-religious thing can seem so right, but it may take our eyes off of the one God wants us to see alone, Jesus.  Moses represented the Law and Elijah was the great prophet, and while what they accomplished for the kingdom was marvelous, it fades in comparison to the saving work of Christ on the cross.   

The purpose of the transfiguration  was to confirm the divine identity of Christ, to those men, and ultimately to all of us.  The verse that literally jumped out of that scripture were the words, "Suddenly, when they looked around, Moses and Elijah were gone, and they saw only Jesus with them." Mark 9:8.  They saw only Jesus, how awesome is that?  Can we say the same?  There are so many man-made facets to Christianity, and while they are not wrong, they tend to take our focus off of Jesus.  Today, re-read this eye-opening story, and when you look up I pray that you see only Jesus.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Longing to serve God in the worst way.

We’ve all used, or heard others include the phrase, “in the worst way” numerous times in conversation. For example, “I need a vacation in the worst way”, or “I could use a drink  in the worst way”, etc.  It has always struck me as an odd combination of words.  If  I’m planning a trip, or fancy a libation, I’d sincerely hope it was going to be in the best way, not the worst!  But, somehow or another it has wormed its way into our language, and we use it without giving it much thought.  It got me thinking about Christianity and, ultimately, my life as a Christian. 

Over the centuries, the church set out to follow Christ, but sadly, often in the worst way.  The Inquisition and the Crusades come to mind immediately.  In what was intended as a noble attempt to uphold and defend the faith, Christians tortured, murdered and forcibly “persuaded” unbelievers into “salvation”.  Believe or Die!! How strange that the same heinous methods that had been used to persecute the early church,  now became acceptable to use on others.  If anyone had taken time to read the Bible, before setting out to win converts, it would have become very clear that Jesus never employed this system.

Although we don’t go about presenting the gospel in exactly that way any more, isn’t it true that the fear element is still in use?  “If you don’t join a church, or believe in God you’ll burn in Hell for eternity” is still used as a motivational tool.  Or perhaps you’ve noticed the intolerance that some Christians have for anyone living outside of their personal belief system. Instead of lovingly presenting a better way of life through Christ to them, they badger, belittle and in some cases attack the “offenders”. My guess is that these Christians probably say that they want to follow Jesus in the worst way, and they are succeeding.  

Jesus himself came face to face with many folks who lived apart from God, and correct me if I’m wrong, but I can’t recall a single time that he forced any one into the Kingdom.  If people weren’t drawn to the way of life that he lived, then that was their loss.  In fact Jesus told his apostles to shake the dust from their feet and move on, never to use force.  The life of Christ should speak for itself.  The church should still be adding believers not by the force, but by personally, lovingly representing Christ in such a delightful way that people are drawn in, not dragged.  

Think about it, do you long to serve Jesus in the “worst way”, or the Best, Christ-like Way? “ Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” 1 John 4:7-12