Tag Archives: God

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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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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Arrogance

As I write this my wife sits next to me in bed wondering why I expend the effort in writing when a sum total of about 4 people will end up reading it. I’m not sure either, but I’ve got to get it out. And Mozart plays in my ears, as it turns out it helps me focus by listening to music, but no words. The thoughts turned to words are the chorus.

Which ends up revealing an awful tendency of us humans. To quote Agent Smith from the movie The Matrix “me, me, me, me, me.” He is busily making replicas of himself in the computer world to take it over. The world turns progressively more dark as he fills the world with more of himself.

Since the movie series is intended as a tour de force of philosophical and existential thought, it only makes sense that this imagery is there. But, it perfectly describes the world in which we live. The devil/Satan/Lucifer is loose, busy making a wreck of things. Why? Well, the bible is not exactly brimming with answers as to his exact thinking. It’s brimming with descriptions of God’s faithfulness in the face of constant and unrelenting human unfaithfulness.

And let’s be honest, we aren’t very good at running this place. Part of the problem is our inherent selfishness. We are worried about ourselves. What do I want? Physical pleasure, more food, better food, sweeter food, saltier food, meatier food, money, power, fame, knowledge, authority, cool stuff, etc., etc.

Like I opened in the beginning, I was thinking about myself. I was interested in telling interesting facts about myself. Partly out of a desire to be known, but because I like myself. But that’s not the point of this blog. My intention when I started this blog was to help describe my own growth as a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, but with an eye towards helping disciple others. Too bold? Probably, who am I really? In the grand scheme of things I’m nobody.

But I serve an infinite God, the self existent one, the Living God. The perfect being in whom all goodness rests. So, for Him to think on himself is to think on perfection. If I desire any good thing, it is to gaze upon His perfection. When I wonder why something is happening to me, what I’m really saying is God doesn’t know what He is doing.

And let’s examine that. He who made all things, knows all things and sees the end from the beginning isn’t surprised by anything. He knew my parents before I was born, he knows my life better than I do, he knows the events surrounding my life with perfection, the events in the lives around me, their thoughts, their wants, desires. He knows what the weather will be, what is was like, what it is right now. Everywhere, in everything and above everything.

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Sunday, first day of the week, the Lord’s Day

Happy top of the week to you!

Today is not the Sabbath. Saturday is, or more precisely, Shabbat is, which was yesterday. If you grew up thinking, or understanding or being taught, that Sunday is Sabbath, it’s easy to understand why. Because the religious leaders said it was. Now, it can be taken as a Shabbat, but it isn’t The Shabbat, a literal day in the calendar week. It’s a rest, a break, the cessation of work activity. The Command in Leviticus requires also that your animals take a rest too. Rather all encompassing, isn’t it?

Paul teaches that any day can be a Shabbat. Shabbat was made for man, not man for the Shabbat, as Jesus states it. Meaning, a man ( and a woman) needs a day of rest. It’s necessary, it’s needed, it’s a design requirement. Take a rest! The LORD is telling you. It’s not good to work too much. So, yes this blog is short today. Because I’m resting. And encouraging you to do the same.

Love in Christ Jesus to my sisters and brothers.

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Wicked Desire

A few weeks ago we had a guest speaker at church, Dr. Mitch Kim from Living Waters Alliance on Colossians 3:5-11. “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On the account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator, Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.”

I have no intent here to even try to sum up his sermon. In fact this blog started out on the topic of sexual sins, but I got sidetracked and now have had to edit the whole thing because I realized that clarity on another topic was way more urgent than another call to control one’s sexual ignition switch. Editing is a skill I’m still working on, so please forgive me if I missed something and a part seems a little stilted (read: poorly edited for clarity.)

Which brings me to the real topic. The heart. Not the one that beats in your chest. The Greek word from which we derive the English word cardiac is kardia. The center. You must remember that Greek was an immensely philosophical language. And Hebrew was built by an intensely theocratic and religious people. Neither of these peoples had our modern view of a brain in our heads for thinking and a heart in the chest for emotions. In both languages, the heart, was the center of a person, the woman or the man, the desires and will of the individual.

I do not hold to the notion of head and heart. That emotions are somehow seated in the heart and the thoughts are seated in your head and that the two can somehow be “divided”. Both the OT and NT refer to the heart in a “center of my being” concept. Emotions and Thoughts emanate from the same place, my center of consciousness. Emotions are just me, they are mine and I am responsible for their management and care in the exact same way as I am for my thoughts. Fingers are not toes and my kidneys are not my eyes, my stomach is not my brain but I need all these to work for me to live. The image given us by God includes complexities of emotion and thought. The quiet will is in my opinion a far bigger player than we give it credit for. That we focus so much on emotions and thoughts and leave the will aside is a testament to its diminished status in our times.

Reviewing the thoughts and meditations of one’s own heart can be scary stuff. We carefully hide things, hoping not to upset the applecart of personal piety.  Our own image of self is a hard thing to get to. It shifts under observation, never quite the same each time we take an internal snapshot and attempt to analyze it. At least mine is. Why is that? I think it is because they are mere tools, tentacles of our own will, not separate and unique but subjugated to a master will that wishes to remain hidden behind its fig leaf.

Proverbs 27:19-20 As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects the man. Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, and never satisfied are the eyes of a man.

When I first quoted this verse for my original version, I saw it as a reference to the wandering eye of men. And now I see a much, much deeper reference. While the wandering eye of men is still true, it’s only a small truth in face of a much, much bigger one. We are separated from our creator, the Omniscient, Omnipresent, Omnipotent self existent One who Lives outside time and space as He created them as well. We desire what we lost. Which makes our desire infinite. And doesn’t our will chases our desires?

God’s will is pure, undefiled by sin. Jesus said “I have come to do the will of the one who sent me”. All of Jesus’s faculties were set to one task: to do the will of God the Father. So, to have Christ Jesus in you means our entire being, out hearts must turn to that task for which He was sent: to do the will of the Father. Is then the will of your heart to do His will or your own wicked desire?

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Jesus, the one man wrecking crew

Repeatedly we are told in scripture that “Pride comes before a fall”. Well, let me tell you, that ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie!

Jesus performed one heck of a rear assault on my personality (my sense of self, my perception of self) these last few weeks. If you grew up around the ocean, you learned never to turn your back on it. Well, same principle here. Jesus snuck up and knocked me to the ground. I was so sure of my own self-control, I was so sure I had finally mastered my own internal pressures and triggers that I had convinced myself that those old problems no longer existed. Ha!

So I lost my cool at work. I mean lost it, big time. I was sputtering mad at my boss. I was fuming, I was self-righteously mad. And then it turns out I was wrong about the thing I was so mad about. I was so sure I was right, I hadn’t even doubled checked myself. The specifics aren’t important, just that the explosion trigger is what I thought I had “controlled.”

And as the waves of shock poured over me as I pondered the situation I heard a voice. It kept asking me: “What are you angry about?”

Another wave of guilt and frustration and embarrassment. “What are you angry about?”

A wave of self-pity and self-derision and self-loathing. “What are you angry about?”

A wave of confusion and doubt and denial. “What are you angry about?” 

“What are you angry about?” “What are you angry about?” “What are you angry about?” This voice, this thought hounded me.

What was I angry about? Was I angry about work? Was I angry about some perceived slight from growing up? For the other troubles and trials of my life? 

Then The Lord, in His infinite grace and mercy, gave me wisdom. And I finally saw it.

A seed.

A seed of anger.

I was always carrying it. Ready to plant it into whatever situation I was in. Anger was my personality’s T-cell, as it were. The immune system response to a breach of the outer defenses. And for any of you who know me personally since I was young can attest to this. Blind sputtering rage. Now, I had calmed it some myself, but it was still there. A rabid dog hiding in the doghouse. The leash was shorter, but the leash was still weak. And boy did it snap that day.

Proverbs 22:8 “Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of his fury will fail.”

Now, I am not so foolish as to think I am now free of all anger. I am still a man of flesh and blood, saved by a gracious and loving saviour. There exists the distinct possibility that I can stumble again.

I was talking to a good friend a few days ago about this whole incident and the aftermath. Oddly enough he had moved through a similar period, just dealing with his own seed problem. His comment was when God heals you, he does so at the root level. While I agree with my friend, I also think of Jacob. He wrestled with God and was left with a limp. Like a scar, it’s a reminder of a battle that was fought. Here, for me, it was a huge spiritual lesson and a permanent limp:

If you didn’t learn it from The Living God, you haven’t learned it yet.

Ephesians 4:29-32 “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

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What to do

I’m over 40 now. You’d think I’d feel “grow-up” at this point.
I remember asking my mother about this, this “when will I feel grown up?”, about 10 years ago. She is dead now about seven years. The uterine and colon cancer she had beaten about five years before this conversation would resurge two years after this talk. It metastasized to her lungs and she slowly withered away. My sister, the brave soul that she is, was the one to be with her to the end. I was 1000 miles away. My poor dad was forced to watch his true love and intellectual counterpart slowly drift away.
Thus, the context in my head. She said “you never really do feel grown up.”
One of my favorite theologians, Ravi Zacharias, refers to that feeling as the imprint of the immortal/infinite. Something inside us seems to think that we can’t really be getting older. It’s odd because all we know is time. It’s like a fish in water, all it knows is water and yet is constantly surprised that it is wet.
All about us the world frets about getting older: anti-aging creams, plastic surgery, spinning classes, fad diets, make up, hair dyes, hormone replacement, Viagra, and on and on.
We can’t stop time. We keep trying to think of ways to make the water feel less wet. Some hope in science, that we will somehow find a way to “shut off” the aging process once we are “grown”. But what is grown? If we shut off this process, will it stop us from growing intellectually as well? Imagine a world full of 20 year olds. Think they know everything and yet have a lot to learn. Not that they are bad people, just immature. And the ever elusive question of wisdom. The world is already seriously lacking in that area, I can’t imagine a world where it is in even shorter supply.
The Christ follower should know his days are numbered. But we also should know not to fear it. Our savior has saved us from the true death, eternal separation from God.
So, what are we to do with our time?
I think the answer is not “grow up” but “grow fruit”. Grow eternal fruit. To the unbeliever this sounds like foolishness.
I think the world’s view could be summed up in that trite saying “look out for number one”.
Am I a theologian, some great intellectual that you should listen to? Nope. Just a guy whose life was utterly revamped by this first century Jewish carpenter that says he is the son of God, died on a cross and then rose from the dead three days later. Then he told me:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
So I encourage you, read a respected translation of the bible. Read for yourself the New Testament accounts of this life, of this Life of Christ. The result of this life is fruit.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
My life must be in Him who saved me:
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”
What to do? Die to self, live in Christ, let His life live out through you as you go and make other followers (disciples) of Christ Jesus. Go grow some fruit.

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Interesting Reaction

Well, my little community page on FB had a little item reach a lot more people than all previous posts combined. That page is here:A Disciple of Jesus
Now, here is the part that worries me a bit. My past was really a critique of the image I posted. But the way this get shared, I think more people were seeing the image rather than the comment I made.
Imagery is powerful stuff and words can struggle to match them in the immediacy of the moment. Words and ideas are far more powerful in the long run because they teach us how we react to the images placed before us.
And for those who are interested, I am attaching some images for impact. Wink, wink.

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