Archive for the ‘Spirituality’ Category

Active Grief

February 18, 2018 Leave a comment

Every other month it is my responsibility to produce the bulletin of information for my church. I collect the announcements and produce a booklet that tells the members and visitors what’s happening. It’s a fun job for someone like me who likes administrative tasks. I choose a cover first then get busy printing the rest of the bulletin.

One day I selected a cover that features a picture of Jesus hugging a young girl. His large, strong hands hold her firmly and her face hints that the troubles that afflicted her now melting into his robe. She seems to be clinging to him for her very existence. It’s a beautiful illustration.

I thought I had chosen it because the supply of that particular design was ample enough to complete the job. But that was Thursday, the day after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14, 2018.

While sitting in church, I looked at the picture again. I thought about a social media post I had seen written by a mother in the wake of the shooting. Her children’s school had held an active shooter/intruder drill.

A wave of rage and disbelief hit home at that moment. This is the world my young nieces and nephews are growing up in. This is their reality—that at any time a stranger or a former student, maybe someone they know, could enter the school with malicious, deadly intent. They have to know how to hide at the sound of gunshots, keep quiet at a time of extreme terror, and follow directions with military precision. And they had to practice running for their lives.

The shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was a former student. How long will it be before these “active shooters” can outwit the procedures because they’ve also done the drills?

As parents, we cannot protect our children from every dangerous situation.  We don’t always know from where the threat comes. Who can calm a student’s fears of a potential threat in an environment that is supposed to be safe? Who can console their broken, grieving hearts? Whose ‘fear not’ can resonate even deeper than the most loving parent’s?

“She was my best friend. My sister,” I imagine the little girl in the picture saying.

“I love her too,” perhaps was Jesus’ reply.

Perhaps she had told Jesus all about the way her sister had helped her with a science project. Or maybe her sister had taught her how to French braid her hair. Her view of the world changed on that day in a way she can’t understand. She’d cried until her chest hurt. Perhaps Jesus had wiped away her tears. While he feels her grief.

Tell Me the Story (Conclusion)

Just as the women returned to the garden on the first day of the week, we gathered in the darkness. The women discovered the stone had been rolled way from the sepulcher; we gathered in celebration of our risen Lord.

Christ the Lord is risen to day, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!

With hymns and Bible readings, the sunrise service focused our minds on the resurrection of Jesus. An angel had rolled the stone away. Jesus had been called forth from the grave, the napkin that had been around his head in one place and the linen clothes in another. Mary Magdalene stood at the mouth of the sepulcher weeping, assuming someone had removed the body. Jesus appeared and spoke to her, asking why she was crying. At first she answers Him as she would a gardener, but when Jesus called her name, she recognized His voice. She wanted to embrace Him, but he prevented her.

Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God (John 20:17).

Mary experienced two blessings that morning. She had the privilege of being the first person to see Jesus before He ascended to heaven to present Himself to His Father. She had the privilege of bringing the message of Jesus’ resurrection to the disciples.

Yet the resurrection story is a blessing to all who believe and confess the name of Jesus.

In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also (John 14:2-3).

We watched the brilliance of the sunrise in the distance and after the closing prayer, we filtered away from the park where we had enjoyed the sweet spirit of the Easter service. Let’s not forget the sacrifice that was made for our salvation or the promise of eternal life that Jesus offers.

Categories: Faith, Spirituality

Tell Me the Story (Part Four)

Why is there a break in the crucifixion story? We observe Good Friday and celebrate the triumph over the grave on Easter Sunday. What happened in the middle?

The fierce drama of the religious leaders’ pursuit of Jesus and their desire to silence Him moves at a steady tempo. Arrested at Gethsemane, accused before Pilate, questioned by Herod before being sent back to Pilate. When Pilate announced to the crowd that he had found no fault in him and gave them the choice between Jesus and the criminal Barabbas, they chose to free Barabbas over Jesus. They led Him to Calvary and there, between two thieves, nailed Him to the cross for Him to die.

Dying by crucifixion was a slow, agonizing death, taking hours or possibly days for the person to succumb to asphyxia, cardiac rupture, or other factors. But as the start of the Sabbath was drawing near, the priests were anxious to finish the crucifixion. One way to hasten the death of the victims was to break their legs.

The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the Sabbath day, (for that Sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and they might be taken away.

Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and to the other which was crucified with him.

But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs. (John 19:31-33)

The Matthew account records that Joseph of Arimathaea was given permission to take the body of Jesus which he moved to a new tomb in a garden, wrapped it in a linen cloth, rolled a stone across the sepulcher (tomb), and departed. Outside the tomb a guard was set at the entrance to ensure the disciples did not sneak back to the tomb and remove the body of Jesus and claim He is risen from the dead, as the chief priests feared.

Luke provided other details. In the midst of their grief, the women came also to see where Jesus would be laid. They prepared spices and ointments for the immediate care of the body of their Lord. They would return, after the Sabbath, to finish the burial ritual of the body. The women rested on the Sabbath day according to the commandment. Jesus “rested” in the tomb over the Sabbath. The break in the Easter story is not so much of a break as it is a holy Sabbath rest.

Categories: Faith, Spirituality

Tell Me the Story (Part Three)

In countless locations around the world, reenactments of the last hours of Christ’s life will be performed today. Mock trials, journeys by actors carrying prop crosses and then a crucifixion scene. Viewing such reenactments—seeing a depiction of the suffering and sacrifice that Jesus endured—draws crowds, each observer’s faith being challenged or strengthened. Good Friday services are common in churches where believers gather to read the account of the crucifixion in the Bible or to listen to readings of the last sayings of Christ:

Station 5 in Jerusalem - Simon of Cyrene carries the cross

Station 5 in Jerusalem – Simon of Cyrene carries the cross

1. Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. (Luke 23:34) – Even on the cross, Jesus acted as mediator between creation and the Creator.

Statue of Jesus

Statue of Jesus

2. I tell you the truth today, you will be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:43) – When the thief on the cross confessed his sin to Jesus, the loving Savior assured him that salvation was available, even as he repented in his last hour.

3. Woman, behold your son. Behold your mother. (John 19:26-27) – Jesus cares for his mother’s earthly needs.

4. Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? (Matthew 27:46) – Jesus cries out to his Father, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” It is believed this is the point when Jesus felt the separation from His Father as he bore the full weight of our sins upon Him.

5. I thirst. (John 19:28) – They offered him vinegar, gall and myrrh which Jesus refused.

6. It is finished. (John 19:30) – At these words, Jesus completed His earthly mission, and with his next words, His life ended. DSC_6790

7. Father, into Thy hands I commend My Spirit. (Luke 23:46). Jesus gave up His life. The veil in the temple was split from top to the bottom marking the end of the need to sacrifice lambs for the remission of sins. Jesus was the Lamb, the perfect, spotless Lamb of God.

Crucifixion scene

Crucifixion scene

For you.

For me.

Jesus paid the penalty of sin, so that we, through Him, might be saved.

Many men have died, so what was so different about Jesus’ crucifixion from the others that the Roman conducted so many times before and since? How can we be saved through His death? Hold on—the resurrection on the first day of the week is coming.

But first, we rest for the Sabbath, just as Jesus did as He lay in the grave.

Categories: Faith, Spirituality

Tell Me the Story (Part Two)

This year, the Passover and Easter coincide. In Matthew chapter 26, Jesus and his disciples prepare for the Passover (Matthew 26: 17-19). Christians refer to this meal as the Last Supper. During this meal, Jesus tells the disciples that one of them will betray him (Matthew 26:21). This declaration stirs an uproar of questions among the disciples, “Is it I, Lord? Is it I?” Even Judas asks the question.

Overlooking Jerusalem (2012)

Overlooking Jerusalem (2012)

During this meal, Jesus lays the foundation for the communion service, a time when Christians participate in they symbolic representation of what happened on that night. Jesus took the bread, broke it and distributed it among the disciples. The bread represents His body. Jesus took the cup, gave thanks and gave it to them, representing His own blood which was shed for the remission of sins. They ate and sang before going to the Mount of Olives, to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed.

In the Garden

Alone in the garden, except for the slumbering disciples, and away from the crowd, Jesus prayed.

“If it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matthew 26:39)

In Jesus’ darkest hour, the disciples slept.

Could you not watch with me one hour?

Could you not watch with me one hour?

It had been foretold that the Savior would be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.

“For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40).

After willingly surrendering his will to the Father and knowing that he had been “betrayed into the hands of sinners”, the heart of the earth—His suffering for our redemption—opened up and Jesus was cast into the grip of the Enemy, an enemy of death He would defeat three days later.

The Returning Crowd DSC_6644 (800x531)

The prayerful stillness and agony of the garden transformed into the scene of Jesus’ arrest when Judas arrived with the crowd—a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and elders of the people. This time, the crowd is not shouting “Hosanna!” They are not worshipping Jesus. They are not laying palm leaves before him. This is the scene of betrayal, of scripture being fulfilled, and of desertion as the disciples fled. This is also a scene of authority. Only Jesus, Son of God, has the power to save us from our sins.

“Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12)

Our salvation, indeed, came at a great price.

Categories: Faith, Spirituality

Tell Me the Story (Part One)

March 29, 2015 Leave a comment

Tell me the story of Jesus. Write on my heart every word. So begins the familiar hymn, “Tell Me the Story of Jesus”. Easter is a wonderful time to read and share the story of Jesus’ love and sacrifice. Palm Sunday falls on March 29 this year. It serves as the first part of the Easter story. It’s important to start there, one week before Easter, because of the incredulous turn of the crowd of the day.

A Praising Crowd

Jerusalem (2012)

Jerusalem (2012)

In Matthew 21, Jesus and his disciples are about to enter Jerusalem. Jesus instructs two disciples to go into a village and fetch a donkey and her colt that they will find tied. If they are asked what they are doing, the disciples are told to answer, “The Lord hath need of them,” and they would be free to remove the animals. All of this was done as Jesus instructed. The donkey was prepared and Jesus, sitting on it, was led into the city of Jerusalem as a king entering the city. After over three years of ministry, Jesus was well known among the people. He had healed the sick, raised the dead, touched the untouchable, and preached with power in the synagogue. He had followers and he also had enemies. I imagine both follower and enemy were present at Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem that day. The followers, those who loved him and cheered his entrance, spread their garments and branches from the trees before him as he made his way through the crowd on the donkey. It’s a noisy, frenetic scene of people lining the streets of Jerusalem. People—multitudes—went before him and followed after Jesus crying out, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!”

“Who is this?” some asked.

“Jesus, of Nazareth of Galilee,” came the answer.

The account in Matthew 21 gives us a picture of Jesus as temple cleanser and compassionate healer. After Jesus entered Jerusalem he went into the temple and cast out the moneychangers and merchants who were doing business in the house of God. Remember, this was occurring in the temple. But Jesus also healed the blind and the lame who came to him for help and restoration. All of this Jesus had the perfect right to do, but when the chief priest heard about the wonderful things Jesus was doing, they became angry. Were they angered by the praises of the people? About his healing the sick? Or were they angered by Jesus’ stopping business from taking place in God’s house? Jesus had long been pursued and criticized by the chief priests and Pharisees.

The chapter ends by telling us that the chief priests and Pharisees wanted to ‘lay hands on him’ after hearing Jesus’ parables, but they hesitated because the multitude looked to Jesus as a prophet. The chief priests and Pharisees would have to wait until another time, a time when they could arrest him in private, away from the eyes of the people. A few days later, the church leaders take their chance and the people’s praises become chants of “Crucify him!

Categories: Faith, Spirituality

What a Miracle Looks Like

October 24, 2013 Leave a comment

What is a miracle? I really wanted to know.

1 : an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs

This week I have been thinking about miracles. When I think of miracles, I always think of Jesus first. Jesus performed many miracles when He walked the earth in physical form. He healed the sick, raised the dead. He touched people and they were made whole. He created a banquet with loaves of bread and a couple of fish, and all were satisfied.

That was then; this is now, you say.

Are miracles events that only religious people subscribe to? Merriam-Webster provides a second definition for the word miracle: 2 : an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment.

How does this story stand up to either dictionary definition?

A young boy is knocked off his bike by a driver who was driving too fast. The paramedics who attended to the boy on the side of the road worked feverishly to treat his injuries and stabilize his condition for transport to the hospital. Because of the serious head trauma he suffered, the doctors put the boy into an induced coma while they treated the swelling to his brain. His parents stayed at the hospital by day and night, hoping the boy would recover, but it didn’t look good.

When I heard about the accident in June, I put the boy’s name on my prayer list even though I did not know him personally. Countless others prayed, too, I imagine. By August, not only had the boy had been released from the hospital but he had also resumed many of his former activities. The grateful parents thanked the doctors, hospital staff and all who supported them during this grave crisis. They had almost lost their precious son.

Later, as the boy’s father related the story of this dark, frightening experience, he commented, “If I believed in miracles, this might have been one.”

Was it luck or coincidence? Was it the skill of the medical staff that saved the boy? Or was it a miracle?