Posted in The Way, Uncategorized

Signs of Wonder

It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” Luke 23:44‭-‬47

Every time I read this short passage, I am amazed by the extraordinary things that happened. Let’s look at each one.

First, “the sixth hour.” Jewish hours at that time reckoned from sunrise to sunset, from about 6am to 6 pm. So the sixth hour would have been around noon. Imagine the alarm a sudden darkness at the height of day might have caused. The people in Jerusalem, going to the market, the temple, their daily routine. Suddenly, they are plunged into darkness! What emotions did they feel? Terror, panic, confusion I’m sure. Then on top of that, it lasted for THREE HOURS! And what about the people not in Jerusalem? Those in the city might be aware of the scene at Golgotha and the events leading up to this hour, but the rest of the country would have had no clue. After all, there were no cellphones or internet to disseminate the news.

Next, let’s talk about the curtain of the temple. This was a massive piece of woven fabric. According to some sources, it was probably at least an inch thick. “The size and thickness of the curtain ensured that no one would accidentally fall into the Holy of Holies as the veil was 60 feet long, 30 feet wide, and was about one inch thick and was so massive and heavy that it took 300 priests to manipulate it so there was no way that someone could inadvertently trip and stumble into the Holy of Holies and subsequently die as a result.” If you have ever tried to rip a piece of fabric, you know that it is hard to do this without assistance. And most fabric is not an inch thick! Plus it was 30 feet wide (or high). What human being could get up 30 feet in the air, in the inner room of the temple, and rip an inch-thick piece of cloth from the top to the bottom? Not anyone I know!

Yet another extraordinary event occurred: In Matthew 27, we read “The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.” Dead men walking around?! Can you imagine the confusion, maybe fear, that was felt by those who saw these who were dead wandering around the city? For myself, I probably would have been frozen in place,especially if I saw someone I had loved and who had died. Remember, Jesus had not risen from the grave – that is three days away – he had only died. Yet His power over death was such that the dead were raised back to life.

Lastly, the centurion. A Roman centurion was “A centurion was a professional officer of the Roman army after the Marian reforms of 107 BC. Most centurions commanded groups of centuries of around 100 legionaries, but senior centurions commanded cohorts or took senior staff roles in their legion. Centurions were also found in the Roman navy. Wikipedia” They were professional, experienced and valiant. (Ancient History Encyclopedia) They were responsible for overseeing such executions as this one. Battle-hardened men. But now this man, this professional soldier, is moved beyond his own experience, and praises God. He even declares that this man he just executed is the Son of God. Not what you would expect from a pagan warrior!

But what does this all mean for us? First, they should make us stop and think. These are not naturally occurring incidents. Heavy tapestries do not rip by from the top by themselves. The sun does not darken for three hours by itself. Dead people do not come to life by themselves. Unbelieving, war-hardened men do not call someone God by themselves. By themselves. That is the key phrase here. No, they don’t happen on their own, BUT they happened in response to something. You see, even nature knows the identity of the one who died: “…I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (Luke 19:40 ESV) The dead do not come to life on their own, but the power of Jesus can raise them. After all, He called Lazarus, the widow’s son, and Jairus’ daughter back to life. And, since the temple curtain was a symbol of the separation between sinful men and a holy God, only God could remove that barrier, and opening the way for us to come to God, THROUGH Jesus’ death on the cross.

So ultimately, from each one of us, a response is required. We need to consider these things, and ask ourselves how we will choose to view these events. Do we choose to ignore or dismiss them? We are free to do so, but then we choose to lose the gift that Jesus will offer three days hence – eternal life. Or do we, like the centurion, stand in awe of the power, mercy, and grace of God, and say “Surely, this is the Son of God.”

The tomb is empty!

Posted in Blogger's World, The Way, Thoughts & Musings

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas! Yay!

While I cannot stand it when retailers start putting up Christmas decor the day after Labor Day, I’m always ready and anticipating Christmas. And since Santa Claus came to town at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, it’s okay to start decorating!

This year it’s a Coca-Cola Christmas in my house. (I wasn’t ready to use the Coca-Cola theme the last 2 Christmases, but it’s time this year!) So, this one’s for you, Steve! Merry Christmas in heaven.

Christmas 2018

So, as I sit here knitting by my tree, I’ve been thinking about Pastor Scott’s sermon the other week, how, without Good Friday and Easter, Christmas loses its meaning. If we forget that the reason the King of Kings humbled himself to become a mere mortal like us was so that he could be humiliated, die, and then blow death and sin to smithereens by rising again, immortal and glorious, then Christmas has no meaning. After all, if God did not have a plan to bring salvation and restoration to His creation and execute that plan, then what reason would He have to become like us? Why go through all the pain and trials of being a human unless there was something bigger, more important to Him at stake?

So, as you celebrate the birth of Jesus, remember His death and resurrection, and give thanks!

Posted in The Way

And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.

Luke 5:28

As I was reading this morning, this simple passage struck me powerfully, Here was a Jew, Levi, who worked as a tax collector for the very people, the Romans, who were holding the Jews in oppressive circumstances. Levi was viewed by his own people as a traitor and one of the oppressors. He might have been demanding more in payment than the Romans required, thereby enriching himself. He was not esteemed by the Romans, either, as he was still a Jew and not considered their equal. But he was most likely wealthy because of the habit of extortion by the tax collectors and obviously quite liberal with that wealth, at least among the ‘lowest of the low,’ as seen in the next paragraph when he threw a great feast for them.

BUT GOD, in the person of Jesus, met up with him in his “office,” a booth in the marketplace, and simply said “Follow me.” That is amazing enough in and of itself, that God would call an outcast among his own people, a man who was probably dishonest and robbed these people. But what I find even more amazing is that Levi heard Jesus and merely (merely?!) got up from his desk, left everything behind and followed after Jesus! Imagine the scene if you will:

Here is the despised tax collector, Levi, sitting there in the market as one by one his neighbors and relatives reluctantly come up with their hard earned coins to pay those horrid Romans their required taxes which are used to support the troops that keep the people in line! As the Jews come to Levi’s booth, they give him their money, but he asks for more. They both probably know that Levi is keeping the extra. But then the next person comes up WITHOUT a coin for the Romans (or Levi!) and Levi looks up. This man he may have never seen before says “Come. Follow me!” Outrageous! Incredible! But what does Levi do? He actually gets up, leaves his possessions, the money for the taxes and his own pockets, EVERYTHING, and follows! The people still in line would have been confused, puzzled. But there’s all this money sitting there – what did they do? Did they rush the table and take it back? Did the Romans intervene? We don’t know, but we do know it would have been chaos at the very least.

Why? Why would what our standards would have considered a successful businessman get up and abandon it all? Because he heard the voice of God in Jesus. Levi may have heard about this preacher from Galilee before, may even have heard him speak, who knows? But in that place, at that moment, Levi knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus was all that he, Levi, needed. And he did the only reasonable thing – he left behind the encumbrances of his former life and went after the most precious thing!

How about any one of us? Do we seek out the most precious, important thing, or do we run after things of this world that do not last, that rust away and decay? Do I seek out Jesus each and everyday, to sit at His feet and learn what He has to teach me, or do I busy myself with busywork that leads no where? These are things we need to consider daily and decide how we chose to live. The choice we make has eternal repercussions, so choose wisely!

Oh, how did Levi’s story turn out, you ask? Well, he never went back to being a tax collector. Instead, he continued to follow Jesus for three years, becoming one of his inner circle of 12. He was one of the men Jesus chose to be his ambassadors and to tell the world about Himself. And just how, do you ask, did Levi fulfill this mission? Well, Jesus changed his name to Matthew. Matthew then went on to write down everything he had learned from Jesus so that others could come to know, as he Matthew did, that Jesus was the promised Messiah to the Jews, the one foretold by the prophets and promised to Levi’s ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob!

Posted in Monday Matters, The Way

The long and the short of it…

I think I have mentioned that I began helping out with our high school youth group last summer.  It has been an amazing year getting to know these boys and girls, but summer is here and it’s been planning time.  Our youth pastor had all of the youth leaders meet recently, and challenged each one of us to write down how they came to accept from the heart the gift of salvation that Jesus gives those who recognize their sin and ask him to forgive them.  That was a huge challenge for me.  You hear all these stories from Christians about how quickly they accepted the Truth as soon as they heard it.  Well that wasn’t me.  Sort of.  Well maybe.

Actually, my acceptance and faith in Jesus wasn’t a decision as much as a journey.  Maybe you can relate.  Here is my story:

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“I grew up in the Roman Catholic church. Unlike most Catholics, I grew up reading the Bible, mainly because my mother had converted from the Lutheran church when she and my father married. My Bible that I received in 1966 is underlined and written in a lot.  I was probably a junior or senior in high school when I really saw the verse in John that stated “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  (That memory is so strong that, while writing this, I could almost see it on the page.  Right hand page, second column, near the top.  I pulled out that Bible and there it was, just where I remembered it).  While I truly knew and believed that Jesus was who he said he was, and had died on the cross for the sins of the world, and rose to live forever, I didn’t know how to use that knowledge.

Part of the problem was that I knew what I was taught in the Catholic church didn’t match what I read in the bible.  Part of the problem was that I can often be very skeptical.  While I continued to attend the Catholic church through college, I visited other churches, including the local synagogue, and still wasn’t able to see how to use that knowledge about Jesus.  I stopped going to church altogether after returning from college, when I encountered the new parish priest in my Catholic church who was all about the money.  I just knew that wasn’t right.

While I never considered myself a terrible person, I knew that I wasn’t really doing the right things all the time.  So, I and a friend began “trying to find ourselves” in some of the New Age philosophies floating around –reincarnation, mysticism, so-called tribal and mystic paths.  But something always kept pulling me back, so I didn’t go in too far.

By the time I was in my mid-thirties, my mom died from cancer, and it was just me and dad in the house.  I continued my day to day existence without any real purpose.  Things began to change when I was about 45. My dad was starting to act differently – getting forgetful, and sometimes belligerent.  We started fighting a lot, which was out of character for both of us.

In December of 1998, my ‘other dad’, my best friend in England’s father, died on my birthday. In February 1999, my dad was diagnosed with dementia, and we had to get him into a nursing home for the last two years of his life.

Several months later, a friend invited me to church one Sunday with her, an Assembly of God church.  I felt immediately “home.”  It took a little while for me to become a regular attendee at church, but as I continued to go, I began to learn more and more about what God had been trying to show me all these years.  I realized just how much my poor decisions, my tendency over the years to pooh-pooh talk about God and to go my own way, my anger and lashing out hurt God, and hurt Jesus.  I remember going and crying at the altar and asking God to forgive me several times.  However, I still struggled with that early training from the Catholic church.

The way I came to finally fully accept Christ from my heart came from the struggle I had with baptism. I had been taught you only do some things, like baptism, once, or else it was a sin.  It took a lot of wrestling to finally put that aside and say to God, ‘your word says to repent and be baptized.”  I was finally able to surrender from my heart and said to God that I repent, know who Jesus is and would be baptized in obedience to what His Word said.  I was finally able to accept from the heart the gift of salvation that Jesus died to bring to me.

The old skeptic was still there in some ways.  My mind continued to ask “Did he ever really do miracles? Was he really a tangible presence and power?” Remember, I was in a church where people spoke in tongues, and had many other visible gifts that I didn’t have, so I doubted.  But God had an answer for that as well.  As a matter of fact, he had two.

The first one was at a healing service. I didn’t intend to go, but a co-worker had heard me talk about it, and asked me if I would go to pray for a relative of hers.  Now, I had been going to a chiropractor –also a member of that church – on and off for months because of a shoulder injury.  At the end of the service, the man conducting the program began to circulate through the people, praying as they asked him to.  He passed by me, but then came back and said “Your shoulder is really sore,” and held my shoulder and prayed.  I found that surprising enough but since it was still sore, didn’t think much beyond the fact that this man must have been very observant or something.  The next morning, I got up to go to work and stretched, and realized that I had raised my arm straight up without pain!  I couldn’t stop saying Thank you. Jesus!

The second answer came later at a prayer service when a woman I didn’t really know came and said she wanted to pray for me.  She prayed and asked God to release me from the spirit of rage that filled me.  I was immediately and absolutely sure that had a hold of me for a long time.  I was equally sure that God had taken it away.  I right away recognized that rage had been consuming my life for a long time, and that God wanted to free me from that emotion once and for all, and he did.

So my story has come about in stages – some very long – but I know who my Lord is.  Once I got out of his way, God began to work out his plans for me.  He has brought about changes that only God could have designed – meeting that special someone at age 45 (of all things!), a new larger family through the addition of my in-laws and church family, and mostly, getting to know Jesus more all the time.”

Maybe you are like me and searching for a way to fit the pieces together, to finally be absolutely sure that you have made the most important decision of your life.  If you are, then I urge you to write down your story and to share it with your pastor or an elder that you know and trust.  Writing it down will help you connect the dots and know in your heart that you are a Child of the King.

If you don’t know Jesus as your Redeemer and Lord and haven’t accepted his precious gift of salvation from your heart, seek out someone who does know Him.  Talk to them, find out about Jesus, find out who he is and just how much he loves you.  Then share your story with others!  I challenge you!  You won’t regret it.

 

Posted in Monday Matters, The Way

A Prayer for this week

Pray for All People:  First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. – 1 Timothy 2:1 – 2 http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1Timothy2:1-2&version=ESV

We pray as our Christian calling, seeking the Lord’s direction, because it is our duty as citizens of the Kingdom.

We vote as our civic duty, for someone to fulfill a job, but only as a secondary concern.

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33.