Tag Archives: Christ

Between Two Criminals 

Last Sunday our church had a dramatic reading of Luke’s account of the trial and crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ (see scripture below). 

Maybe I’m a bit dull, but I never saw the simple choice that is presented in that recounting of the death of our Lord. Jesus, the God-man without stain or blemish, is raised on a cross between two criminals meeting their just end. 

One hurls insults and derision on Yeshua, (Jesus’s name in Hebrew.) He mocks him, in the same manner that the religious elite do, “save yourself”. Jesus is essentially mocked for claiming to be the person that He is. The Truth is mocked for claiming to be Truth. 

The other sees his own sin. He makes no excuses, no rationalizing of his actions. He sees his own inability to save himself. He sees the stark Truth, that Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ, is being killed unjustly. And he asks Jesus to remember him, to look with pity upon him. 

So the choice stands before us all. Will we acknowledge our sin, our crimes against a Holy and Righteous GOD or hurl insults at the Chosen One of God? There is none righteous, no not one. 

God have mercy on us. 

________________________

Luke 23: 32-43 (ESV) 
Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him.  And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.  And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!”  The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine  and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”  There was also an inscription over him,“This is the King of the Jews.”

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”  But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”  And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

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The Mysterious

I’m in the middle of a book on Eastern Orthodoxy. It’s a rather odd experience. It’s a lot like going to a new destination, a new place, a far off place. Rather like my first trip to visit Guatemala, my wife’s native country. I flew a red eye flight from LA to Guatemala city. It was 1992 and I deboarded the airplane down one of those stairways out of a 1950’s movie. Right onto the tarmac and then walked inside the building. It was still rather dark. When I arrived at the office to purchase a tourist visa, it was closed. We all had to stand around waiting for this little Guatemalan man to show up at 6 am. After paying my $10 he issued me what looked like a telephone message 4×4 inch piece of paper. It was almost comical if it weren’t for how exhausted I was. The airport itself felt tired. One part gritty, one part age and two parts just small. Leaving the airport I was hit with the scene of many small children asking for money. They were a pitiful sight: small, unwashed and obviously poor. The smell was of unwashed bodies and a tinge of smoke (I would learn later that all poor families use wood stoves to cook). The car ride to my, soon to be, wife’s parents house was full of sights, smells and sounds I was very unfamiliar with. It’s barely a 30 minute drive. Seemed much longer at the time. My wife has told me she wasn’t sure if I was about to just turn around and get on the next flight back to the states. I didn’t, in fact about 5 years later we would move there and make a home for 5 years. I learned a great deal about my wife and her culture and all its attendant facets. And I’m the richer for it.

The book (my apologies for no book name, it’s sitting on my nightstand at home whilst I type away here in a coffee shop) on Eastern Orthodoxy is written by a fellow who spent a number of years in Russia. He went over when it was still the Soviet state, but it collapsed about a year into his stay. He was there as the Russian Orthodox Church made its roaring comeback. I can nearly taste his experience. They not only speak another language, they think about things in a completely distinct way. The ways of Eastern Orthodoxy is also similarly distinct, odd and strange to the Western trained mind.

It’s a little like getting to know a long lost relative. They talk about some similar things, but with a very different twist. Those of the Eastern Orthodox faith have an amazing reverence for both the Mystery of GOD and the spiritual life, a looking to the Holy Spirit that makes Pentecostals look like babbling kindergarteners. The theological debates they engage in are related to this desire to be united to the Holy Spirit and the merging with the Divine. They are much more comfortable with the Transcendent nature of God. An infinite God is only understandable as He reveals Himself to us. All we know about Him is what He has chosen to reveal, leaving an Infinite amount of knowledge yet unknown to us, a mystery then. That our very frame and structure lack the wherewithal to grasp Him, that language and human thought are insufficient to the task of describing His magnificence. And, they are not very big fans of Logic. He recounted his students rather dismissive treatment of C.S. Lewis. He was “too logical” they said. The reliance on logic is an argument against it’s use for things of GOD.

Now, I will admit I find the western church’s  obsession with logic a tad frustrating at times. As if we could logically argue someone into Faith. God’s Love for us is so intense that He would send His only Begotten Son to live among us puny creations and then Die as a propitiation for our sins, our wrongs against a perfectly Holy and Righteous God is not logical. It’s an intense, burning love for us that defies clear explanation, seeming completely out of proportion. And yet He did. Because we bear His image.

He made us, women and men, in His image. Women, have men ever seemed mysterious (odd, strange, not right in the head) to you? Men, have women ever seemed mysterious to you? We are each made in the image of a mysterious, glorious and living GOD. Our Eastern Orthodox cousins tend to swim in the mysterious nature of God, not wanting or trying to understand it but to experience it. I humbly submit that our “Western Church” could use a healthy dose of this transcendent Truth.

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The Long Game

I’ve been using this phrase for a couple weeks now, maybe longer. The Long Game is this idea of strategic thinking, considering the “down the road” aspect of events. It’s used in American football, it’s used in politics.

I started using the phrase “long game” because I needed to describe life as a parent with teenage/early 20’s children. My wife and I are starting to see some of the payoffs of how we chose to raise our children. We are also seeing some points where, ya know, maybe we didn’t quite get it right. We had played the long game, instilling in our children certain virtues and habits. We had a particular way we wanted to parent. Discipline was short lived and direct to the problem. Sacrificial love was shown as often as possible. We apologized for our mistakes and expected them to do the same. Imperfectly of course, but we knew what our intention was. We wanted children who could control themselves and think about things for themselves and be who God made them to be.

God, in a sense, plays the long game. OT Scripture uses this term “longsuffering” and “lovingkindness”. It’s also where the word Grace comes from in the New Testament. He is willing to wait it out with us. He is merciful, not wanting any to perish (2 Peter 3:9).

But, there is another thing. Our children are also children of Adam and Eve. They have sin, just as assuredly as my wife and I do. We have this tendency to think of children as these innocent little things until the world manages to crush that innocence. As every parent of a toddler knows, things can be too quiet and that’s when you worry. Those sweet innocent children will lie straight to your face when they think that lie might get them a cookie.

Nowadays it’s a lot more difficult to know exactly what is going on in my children’s lives. School and sports and girlfriends take up time away from home. Soon my oldest will being moving out. It will be a sad, sad day. His mother will cry, sob more like. But, it is the way things go. I remember leaving home. My mother cried, my father looked a touch concerned. I understand that look know. The world cares not a whit about little old you. You’d like to think it does, but if one is naive to the depths of human depravity, it will be a very rude awakening indeed.

I pray that my wife and I have properly prepared our children to go out into the world. Interestingly, that is the phrasing used by Jesus as He sends the disciples: “out into the world”. That they “may be in it, but not of it.” (John 17) Mind you, He has them stay in Jerusalem until God the Father send the Holy Spirit upon them.

The entirety of creation points towards the creator. He made the sun and the moon, the galaxies, stars that are billions of light years away. The possessor of unimaginable power decided to use the word “father”, in what we refer to as The Lord’s Prayer (more accurately the prayer the Lord Jesus taught the disciples when they asked Him how to pray), as the way to address Him. Not “Our God, master of light and all power”or “Supreme God, guarded by Cherubim and Seraphim who cover their faces and feet because of your Glory” or “Indescribable Entity which exists outside time and space who made all that is” or “Holy, Holy, Holy, God of ineffable power and might”.

As a father myself now for two decades, I’m starting to truly understand why. He is “raising us” like a human father raises his children. He instructs, He corrects, He disciplines and He rejoices over successes. Our God dearly loves us, intimately. He extends grace to us. He cares for those who rebel against Him. He pours out blessings on those who curse Him.

He chases down the wayward. He knows our predispositions, our weaknesses and pitfalls. He wishes to make us whole again. We are broken and battered creatures. Crawling from lust to lust, from unkindness to unkindness and depravity to depravity. He is never surprised by any of it, always knowing exactly what to do, unlike us poor, damaged mortal fathers.

Thank God He sent the Son to be our sacrifice on the cross, to take away our sins and give to all who believe on Him the right to become children of God (John 1:12).

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Discipline

Discipline. We Americans have a love/hate relationship with the word. We like it in certain settings. “She is very disciplined”, referring to someone who exercises regularly or keeps a healthy diet. “He is a disciplined investor”, and we are in awe of the person’s ability to accumulate wealth.

However, if I say “Spiritual Disciplines” I will be met with mostly blank stares. Even in church this seems to be a lost art. And truth be told, I am a fairly recent “convert”, as it were, to this most ancient of practices. Our current American culture generally dislikes serious thought. It is obsessed with the “easy answer”, how many times have you heard the phrase “just google it”? Now, there are a multitude of things for which that is a reasonable solution. “How to change the oil in my car?” “What is the nearest Fast Food place?” “Who is the lead singer of ‘Toad the wet sprocket’?” But for serious questions, it is insufficient: “Who should I marry?” “Why does the universe exist?” “What is the best way for a society to organize itself?”. But for spiritual matters it is even seriously more unsuited: “Is there a God?” “Why does God care what I do?”

Even more than serious thought, our culture disdains serious application of Faith. And that is capital F Faith. If one is a modern spiritualist and dabble in Eastern Mysticism and combine it with Environmental Worship, then hey, you are an enlightened human being. But if your religion claims to have the ultimate Truth that are not malleable to the current “hey if it floats your boat” mentality and you base your life on those truths, then you are a closed minded bigot. The modern equivalent of shunning.

Which is why this post follows hot on the heels of my post Catechism: Lessons in Truth. In the book Grounded in the Gospel the authors make a very clear point: one of the greatest arguments for catechism is that the world is ALWAYS catechizing us. It screams: “Buy our car”, “buy our food” “use our services” “greed is good” “make your own heaven on earth” “our product will make you feel better about yourself” “people will like you if you buy our clothes” “whatever happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” “look at naked women, it doesn’t hurt anyone” and it only gets more sordid from there. We are pounded constantly with this chatter.

God knew this would happen. In Deuteronomy He commands “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”  Here of course He is referring to the Law as given to Moses. We have someone even greater to teach us, Yeshua Messiah, Jesus the Christ himself. Deuteronomy is the second most quoted book by Jesus, with Psalms being the first (which if you want to understand the power of His prayer life, this is a primary indicator of its source).

God knows we need instruction. Through the Apostle Paul He commands us to “put on the mind of Christ” and “Put on the full armor of God.” And by the Apostle Peter He warns us “Satan goes about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he should devour.” Spiritual discipline is necessary because an enemy seeks to harm us. Satan prefers to find us unarmed and unready.

Jesus shows us the primary method of being disciplined: prayer and scripture. He prays in the morning before anyone else is up. He prays all night at Gethsemane. Hand in hand with this is knowledge of scripture. He can quote it. Just as God is both Three and One, I am sure that Prayer and Scripture is also a both/and combo. One feeds the other which feeds the other, which feeds the other. Pick one and the other will follow. It takes discipline. It means cutting out the time needed to engage in the practice.

It’s why it’s called Spiritual Discipline.

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Catechism: Lessons in Truth

So, like I said in my Tinker Bell post, I am reading a lot.
The current book is titled “Grounded in the Gospel” a book on teaching the basics of the Gospel. “Building Believers the old fashioned way” is the subtitle of the book,.
I really, really like this book. So much I bought my best friend a copy. And, since I had bought it on kindle, I bought myself a paperback copy too. I plan on using it, marking it up and otherwise.
The book also includes a short chapter on church history. Specifically the first four centuries of the church. I thought I knew some of it. I was wrong. Very, very wrong. It was a needed assault on my worldview. I, like many of my peers, have a truncated view of the world. Not just physically, but chronologically speaking. In a way we do this: creation, Adam, Abraham, David, Jesus, Fall of Rome, Reformation, Enlightenment, American founding, steam engine, world war, and then everything that matters like computers and internet and smartphones.
Four hundred years is a very long time. It seems absurd to even say that, but we have a tendency to treat antiquity with something on the level of polite disdain. As though they were uneducated yokels. I will venture to say that we “modern, western Christians” are more the uneducated yokels than they were.
We say insipid things like “the wrong side of history.” Is history a vinyl record with a B side? We stand on the shoulders of giants, Sir Isaac Newton is reported to have said. He was referring to the massive contribution of science by all those who had gone before him. We have this silly view that things MUST “progress”, or improve. Star Trek and all it’s attendant spin-offs are examples of this thinking. Arthur C Clarke and his “the future is better than anything we have imagined” silly talk is yet another example. Of course, it’s all a result of the theory of evolution. That we came from primordial ooze and now have conscientiousness. All by random chance. And the world came from a big bang, also a something from nothing scenario. An event that violates every known law of physics created the laws of physics after it was established to keep itself running in an orderly fashion after a rather disorderly entrance. But really I digress from my point.
Our church fathers (and mothers, but fathers in the all encompassing sense) endured the kind of persecution we modern westerners routinely ignore on the nightly news in Syria and Iraq (another blog for another time). They were teaching Christ in a time when it could really cost you. If it might cost you your life, would you believe on Christ Jesus? What was necessary to be saved? What were the central tenets of the faith? What does our Lord require of us? How do you live in this world while you wait for release to the next?
Our ancestors thought long and hard about these questions. They endured trials and tortures. They developed methods to teach the new comers. And the new comers learned. And then the new comers became the teachers to the next new comers. And it was serious stuff. Again, because you could suffer for being a follower of Christ.

They developed methods of teaching to aid in building believers, they were called catechisms. We might prefer a more modern word: lessons. The things of faith were taught, repeated and then taught again. Because we need them. God is Holy. The world screams that He is not. God seeks and saves the lost. The world screams he is a kill-joy and mean taskmaster. God the Son humbled himself to come to earth to die in our place on a cross. The world screams Jesus was just a good teacher. We must be taught and retaught Truth. Because the world needs to hear it and we need to believe it, because our lives depend on Him.

What are they you ask. Well, some are simple and some are more in depth. But I’d venture to wager that you know some of them already. The Nicene Creed and Apostles Creed are probably the two easiest examples.

The Nicene Creed:

We believe in one God the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. Of all that is, seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;  he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

There is a lot of truth in there. It’s also nothing but truth. Distilled, undiluted capital T truth. Now, I’m not saying there isn’t more to be taught but this is essential stuff here. Jesus as misunderstood teacher doesn’t fit in here. Jesus’s miraculous birth is in here. This creed is a great starting point for analyzing the things the world is telling you. If what you are being told doesn’t fit with this creed, then it isn’t truth you are being told. Respond in love however. We are a joyful people because of the great hope that resides within us. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come!

The Roman Catholic Church has developed many catechisms. The Reformation brought us the Westminster Confession of Faith , The Westminster Shorter Catechism , other Church Documents and the 39 Articles of Faith . The whole New Testament is instruction as well. So pick up your bible and be taught by God.

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Three books in one! – a review of “Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus” by Nabeel Qureshi

I will start of by saying this: it’s a must read, five stars. You will delve into the mind of a convert. It will help you remember your own story of the discovery the hope that we have in Christ Jesus. And if it doesn’t do that, then maybe, just maybe, it will be a glimpse into The Life you do not yet know.

The book itself has ten parts. To me it’s part apologetics, part autobiography and partly an insight into the Muslim worldview. Reading this book was both exhilarating and gave me a headache. I will start with the headache part first, since I know that sounds contradictory.

I’m white. I mean, I’m as white as white Americans get. I’m fair skinned, and was blonde as a kid. I swam on the swim team, I was in boy scouts and I was the emcee for most of my elementary school events. Both my parents were born and raised here, whose parents were born and raised here, and their parents were. My dad was a political philosophy professor and my mother was a high school English teacher. We went to church at an Episcopal Church (my mother’s father was an ordained deacon). We had the priest over for meals sometimes. As I would learn later, it wasn’t every house where politics and religion were frequently discussed around the dinner table. My parents were very conservative and many of their friends were. You can click on the “about” link if you really want to read more of my narcissistic babblings.

So, reading about Nabeel’s youth in a devout Muslim family was pretty jarring. Both his parents emigrated from Pakistan. They spoke Urdu in the house. Muslim tradition permeated every facet of their lives. My wife is Guatemalan and we lived there for a while and that was pretty eye opening for me. But prayer mats and Adhan (The Muslim call to prayer)? Prayer five times a day? Memorizing whole sections of the Qur’an and studying Hadith? And I thought my parents were strict, ha! No sleepovers and never any alcohol around. And did I mention the women wore burqas? There were times when I felt I was drinking from a fire hose!

Another aspect of his life that was hard to fathom was this concept of honor and shame. It’s not that I wasn’t familiar with the concepts: my high school had an “honor code” and my mother was not afraid to use a little shame to correct her wayward son. But that it would be ABOVE innocence and guilt was a mind bender. I grew up in a house where reason was supreme. Authority was important, but reason ruled. Thus, it was difficult to try to grasp the honor-shame paradigm of his culture compared to the Judeo-Christian concept of innocence and guilt I knew. But, understand it you must if you wish to understand the Muslim worldview.

But what an education. And quite different from the impression I was left with after reading a book called “The Religions Next Door” by Marvin Olasky. I had expected a much more rule based life, one filled with the minutiae of legalism. But his family life was warm and orderly and secure in its faith in Allah and his prophet Muhammad. And there really is a Religion of Peace that can be built from Islam, but it takes blinders. Which isn’t unusual for us as humans. How many ignore the Lord’s command to “not worry”? We conveniently forget that command when the cares of this world close in, not to mention the other commands we ignore when the culture around us pushes back.

What is most exhilarating is the unrelenting apologetics battle that rages in his life for years. Unlike most Americans (probably westerners in general), he knows exactly what he believes. He isn’t half steeped in materialism, Christianity-ism, and secular humanism. And, there are real risks to him calling on the name of Jesus. His family will consider him to have dishonored them and Islam. His grandparents were Muslim missionaries, making any “betrayal” all the more painful.

You know from the beginning that he will accept Jesus. But, that doesn’t diminish the ride. I found myself almost cheering for him, urging him on in his quest. At the same time, it seemed to validate my own struggles, of turning from Godless capitalism and pseudo Aristotelian thought to a GOD of mercy and Love and Grace and truth.

At the end of the book, he realizes the urgency of the message. This Gospel is one of hope for ALL people. Let us therefore Go and Make Disciples, teaching them to do all our Lord commanded.

Coincidentally it is on sale today as an eBook on RZIM’s Website

Soli Deo Gloria. Grace and Peace to you all!

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Religion is the Opiate of the Masses

It’s rather hard to summarize the faith belief of a Christ follower. Google search Nicene Creed or Apostle’s Creed for a better written one than I am about to attempt here:

Christ Jesus (Messiah Yeshua) is the Only Son of the Living GOD and the Only Way to Heaven, the Way, the Truth and the Life.

This post is written in response to any statement which doesn’t line up with the above. Among which I will sample list here:

There is no such thing as truth. Whose “truth”? How is it possible to know there is a “god”? Hasn’t science disproved god? Isn’t is all a bunch of fairy tales for small children or people of lesser minds? Religion is what’s wrong with this world. You religious people are a bunch of haters. God is the ultimate cosmic killjoy. Aren’t all religions the same?

So, let me ask you a few questions:

Are you serious about your own question or statement? Do you apply the same logic (way of thinking) to all other areas of your life?

Have you ever read the bible? Do you read other books? Do you use the same method to read both?

Are my questions upsetting you? Why? Why do thoughts of an All Powerful God bother you?

If you think the bible is a pack of lies, then please provide me the name of the book that does a thorough job of “debunking” the lies but also doesn’t create its own list of problems that you claim the bible has. Many a great mind have set out to disprove the bible and become converts to the faith because they realized they were the ones who were wrong. I invite you to try to disprove the bible.

This is a great book to cut your teeth on. The author started this project to disprove the bible.  

 

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I’m not going to write

I’d rather you all read this article:
what media isn’t reporting
And this one even more so:
does Islam lead to violence?
Grace to you all.

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End Times?

I’ve seen some speculation that we are entering the End of Days. Before I start, let me say this: I sincerely hope not. Yes, I do want the Lord to return. But at the same time I want as many to be saved as possible. Plus, I’m slightly apprehensive about losing my head. I would take death over renouncing my Lord, but let’s not kid ourselves, it’s scary.
So, ISIS. Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse, they go and do this.
Burning people alive and organ harvesting. Now they are one upping the Chinese, who have been busy harvesting from their dissidents for years. Again, this is EVIL. I’m amazed I have to say it. They behead men. They crucify children. They kill Christians and Jews with equal fervor. And any Muslim that stands in their way. It very much looks like the fulfillment of Revelation to John. The world powers seem relatively disinterested in doing anything serious about these atrocities.
What is a Christ follower to do? Same as yesterday my brothers and sisters. Pray. Watch. Wait. Love your Neighbor. Love Justice and Mercy. Obey the Lord. Be strong in Christ my friends.

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Jews. Etc.

A Jewish Journalist walked the streets of Paris and got a whole lot of hate thrown his way.
I wish I could say I was surprised. It has been growing, but now it is full throttle. Satan hates Jews. They have been singled out time and again in history. Now ISIS is targeting Christians as well. Arab nations have long repressed Christians too.
I am typing this up at lunch, so this will be short.
The lines have been drawn. It appears as though Satan has taken off his mask and is roaming freely.
It reminds me of the world pre-WW2. Hitler is busy gobbling up Europe. The German intelligentsia have been reeducated to think Jews are less than human.
Our intelligentsia believe there are no moral absolutes. Our leaders think a carrot and stick will work with these barbarians.
The days are dark my friends. Stay in the light while there is light. Lean on Him in whom light lives. We may lose our heads, but our salvation is Secure in Christ Jesus.

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