Just today I was helping a group of students with getting started on their literature circle work for the day. From behind me, I hear the high pitched prepubescent voice of one of my male… More
What if Jesus had told his disciples everything even if they could not bear it at the time? It certainly would have been much quicker and far less confusing on the part of the disciples after Jesus was taken into heaven. However, they would have had it all and there would have been no need for the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth.
Jesus said to his disciples: “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming. He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you. Everything that the Father has is mine; for this reason I told you that he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.”
What if the Spirit of truth, rather than slowly guiding us to the knowledge of God, poured out the truth in its entirety? He would not have been speaking for God. He would have been speaking for himself alone. Furthermore, God would have been divided, for the infinite and perfect love found in the unity of the Trinity would have been broken. In addition, we would have been destroyed.
What if we, who seek the truth, who seek to know God, were in union with God as the Holy Spirit is in union with God? We would be able to bear the knowledge of God. We would be able to receive everything that Jesus has for us and everything that the Spirit of truth has been ordained by God to reveal to us.
What if we truly listened to God? What if we truly sought his face? What if, bound by the grace and love of God, we allowed ourselves to hear God and follow after him? What if we humbled ourselves before God and turned from our wickedness?
His promises are true. He will forgive us our sins and heal our land if we heed his voice, humble ourselves, and pray (2 Chronicles 7:14).
You may also like “Drop the Labels and Love” which is my reflection on Trinity Sunday in 2015
May 15, 2016 Pentecost Sunday
Christ’s perpetual prayer for us is that we are made one with each other and we are made one with the Father as Christ is one with the Father. This happens through the Holy Spirit, the advocate, through whom and in whom we are able to cry out “Abba, Father!” The defining mark of those who cry, “Abba, Father!” Is the willingness to suffer with he who first told us to call God, Father.
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba, Father!” The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
This suffering is not arbitrary. It is not something that we go through simply because suffering is a part of life. Rather, this suffering is a result of sharing in the life of Christ. It is a result of love. We endure suffering and we suffer with Christ because we have learned to love in the way that he has loved us. He gave himself up for us not because he had to, but because he first loved us and called us his very own. We are his own. He chose us and he adopted us so that we can become children of God. We are children of God. We are expected to give up of ourselves so that another person might have his or her needs met.
However, most of us will never experience the suffering that Christ endured. Most of us will never even experience the suffering endured by many who are persecuted across this globe. The most suffering many of us will ever have to endure will be in the form of some slight discomfort, or maybe the loss of a job or wages, or maybe the loss of a friendship. While that is suffering and that suffering can happen to everyone, it is still extreme.
We don’t live in the extreme. Not really. Rather, we live in the ordinary with the understanding that our eternity is anything but ordinary. While we live in the ordinary, I believe that Jesus calls us to do ordinary every day acts of love. If we are truly God’s children then we have to be willing to make the small sacrifices that are found within these ordinary acts of love. To do that, we must give up our time and our comfort.
Though we may be inconvenienced when we put ourselves out for another person, we have to remember that we are all God’s children. We are all brothers and sisters and all of us belong to the same family. We should not baulk when our brother or sister is in need ands asks for our help. Jesus would have helped because of his love for humanity. So we should do the same.
But the running boy is inside every man, no matter how old he gets.
~Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven
A boy ran along the pier. His outstretched arms suggested flying and soaring with the seagulls. Or maybe they suggested swimming with the dolphins miles out in the ocean away from the beach. Whatever the outstretched arms implied about the boy’s imagination, one thing was clear: the boy running along the pier was an old man and not a young boy.
At least, that is what appearances would suggest. We cannot escape what time does to the body or even to the mind, for both are subject to age and deterioration. However, we can escape what time does to the imagination and the sense of play that is inherent within us all. Being “too old” to do something is an irrelevant idea. It should not keep us from participating in the joy of life that is seasoned with imagination, wonder, and play.
We spent the entirety of our childhood being told that we are “too young”. You are too young to ride the roller coaster. You are too young to play with the bigger kids. Too young to stay up late. Maybe next year. Maybe next summer you can participate, but not right now. Despite this incredible limitation on what we can or cannot do, as children we are given complete and free license to imagine being just about anything even though we are truly too young to be those things.
Yet, for some reason, when we are old the license to imagine, wonder, and play seems to be revoked by age. Have we forgotten that we can always play pretend? Have we forgotten that we can always dream? Why is it that when we get old, we suddenly stop pretending? Why is it that when we get old, we suddenly stopping dreaming and playing? We spent the first 20 years of our lives being told that we are too young. We should be spending our adult lives never growing old and never ceasing to imagine, wonder, and play. Old age should give us greater opportunities to realize the dreams and the playfulness that have been stymied by those who told us we were once too young.
Are you still looking up to the heavens? Are you still looking for Jesus who has ascended? Has this become your Christianity? Your way of life?
When Jesus ascended into heaven, two angels appeared to the disciples who continued to look up as if he were to suddenly come back down. The angels said to them, “Why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” That, of course, was not meant to be in the immediate. Jesus wasn’t going to suddenly change his mind, come back down, and say to his disciples, “Whoops. I forgot something.” No! Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he told his disciples the following.
Thus it is written that Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:46-49).
Of course, just as Jesus didn’t want us to continue to look up into the heaven awaiting his returned, he also didn’t want us to continue to stay cloistered in our own little communities. Likewise, he didn’t want us to bar the gates of our churches and homes as though we belonged to some select organization who’s members must meet a certain criteria before become a part of “the club”. Yet, that is how we treat those who belong to the our churches and those who are on the outside looking in. We judge them. We have misconstrued Jesus’s words when he charged us to be his witnesses throughout the world.
I believe that so many of us are so “heaven focused” that when we preach the name of Jesus and preach repentance, we forget that it is for the forgiveness of sins. We further forget the way Jesus did it. He was incredibly tough on the religious leaders who claimed some monopoly on the truth. He condemned them and called them serpents and white-washed tombs. Yet when the people of his day came to him, he saw their wounds upon their flesh and their wounds hidden within their hearts. He saw that they were seeking physical healing, but also needed spiritual healing. So he first met their physical needs, but did not turn a blind eye toward their spiritual needs. Rather, he charged them to go and sin no more.
We, the church, are too much like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. Yes, we teach and preach the gospel, but we do in such a way that those who would come are turned away because we are so quick to condemn and so quick to fail to meet their physical needs. We all need to be fed. We all need to be loved. We all need shelter. We all need to be clothed. Providing others with these essential needs should not come with the condition that others believe in the words of Jesus Christ. Rather, we should meet their needs because by doing so, we are showing them Jesus.
Love without action is not love, but merely hollow words. Jesus’ love was with action to the point that he first sacrificed his reputation by going to those who were in most need. Though his eyes were on heaven, his mission was here on earth to bring people to heaven. He saw the needs of those around him and responded according to each person’s need. His disciples in the early church did the same and they, in imitation of Christ, did it with love.
Let us, therefore, not be so heaven focused that we fail to see and respond to the earthly needs of those around us. For when we do this, we are neither focused on heaven nor are we being witnesses of the work of Jesus Christ. His work began here in this world and continues through we who are his witnesses and who live in this world.
Reflection on the Seventh Sunday of Easter – The Ascension of the Lord
Some of the final words that Jesus spoke to his disciples were words of love. He gave us a new commandment: to love one another as he has loved us. This commandant further reinforces what He said are the two greatest commandments: to love the Lord your God and to love your neighbor as yourself, for upon these commandments rest all other commandments.
We are a people born of the spirit of God and, it would seem, one of God’s primary attributes is love. Everything God does and gives us is out of this love. When we sin and suffer the consequences of the sin, it is God’s love that allows us to learn from the mistake we willingly or unwillingly made. However, an unrepentant heart cannot possibly know the love of God because an unrepentant heart cannot come to God except by allowing his grace to penetrate and draw the heart back to God. Furthermore, an unrepentant heart that continues in sin is a heart that neither loves nor desires God or a relationship with him. The consequences of am unrepentant heart is death, for though God’s love us always available to us, God will not force his love upon us. When we reject God’s love, we submit ourselves to his justice which results in an eternity without God.
Even God’s justice is out of love. A person who does not keep his commandments certainly does not love God. And a person who does not love God is a person who would not love an eternity with God. Though Heaven and Hell are both real places, a person who does not love God but is forced into an eternity in Heaven will only experience an indescribably amount of suffering and that would be Hell because the Holy Spirit has never been allowed to make his dwelling within that person.
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Whoever loves me will keep my word,
and my Father will love him,
and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.
Whoever does not love me does not keep my words;
yet the word you hear is not mine
but that of the Father who sent me.
“I have told you this while I am with you.
The Advocate, the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you everything
and remind you of all that I told you.”
From John 14
If you love the Holy Trinity, the you will keep Jesus’ words and the Holy Trinity will dwell within you. Your life will be a life of love. You will become a conduit of God’s grace by which others will be drawn to you and follow you. In following you, they will become imitators of you just as you imitate Christ. Through your life, they will come to know God’s love and will learn to keep his commandments. For the life you will live will no longer be your own, but it will be the life of Christ and the life of the one who sent him and poured out his grace upon you that his life may dwell in you and make every part of your life a life of love.
Reflection on the readings from the 6th Sunday of Easter 2016
The etiquette of the men’s bathroom is unwritten. It is a social norm that men don’t talk to each other while they are in the bathroom. Actually, I think it is a social norm that no one talks to each other when they are in the bathroom. Two people can enter. They can be friends, enemies, or complete strangers and they will not talk to each other. The same, I hear, is the case for women in the bathroom. Somehow the parties involved simultaneously recognize that they have come to the sacred moment, the moment in which all conversation ceases and one’s private business is done in uncomfortable silence. This occurs everywhere and under every circumstance except for the boys’ bathroom during gym class.
I had the unfortunate pleasure of walking into the boys’ bathroom one day and was greeted by the echoing voices of two adolescent boys whose conversation ranged from school dances, who’s going with whom, who’s doing whom, and the less raunchy topic of sports. I’ll spare you the details of the conversation because they are not worth repeating here and I do not want to imagine a creative and appropriate way to convey their conversation, but I’ll give you an image.
In the dimly bathroom, two pairs of legs, pants down to the ankles occupied the gap between the door and floor of two separate stalls. Two adolescent male voices, still in the throes of developing their masculinity, echoed off linoleum flooring and walls, and snippets of coherent conversation occasionally caught my ear. I was the hapless bystander who paused in amused silence, compelled by the idea that the apparent anonymity of conversing between stall walls was actually occurring. Their conversation was complimented by the rustling of cheap toilet paper crumpled, folded, then wiped upon bare bottoms. Behind those stalls each boy did his private business and confessed the most intimate secrets that they would likely not dare to share in the presence of their peers outside of the intimacy of their private privies.
Before he ascended into heaven, before he charged us to go into all the world, Jesus gave us a new commandment. He told us to love one another just as he loved us (John 13:34-35).
I don’t think the disciples fully understood this commandment. As they went about preaching the gospel, they first went to the Jews. Of course, some Gentiles came to know Christ as well, but it was Paul who truly brought the Gospel to the Gentiles, which opened the furthest reaches of the earth to the knowledge of Jesus Christ. But even as this occurred, even as non-Jews came to know the Lord, the Jewish Christians still held on to their old traditions which divided the church. It wasn’t until Peter had a vision that the Jews come to recognize that God’s will is that all would be saved.
And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:16-18).
Despite this, the Gentiles still were not fully accepted into the community of the faithful. Not in practice anyway. Not surprisingly, we Christians are still guilty of this. We believe that we are one in Christ, yet in practice we still discriminate. Why are we surprised that more people do not come to know Christ? We claim to love, yet in practice we have not come even close to loving our fellow believers as Christ has loved us. If we cannot lay our lives down for each other, how could we possibly lay down our lives for those who have not yet entered by way of the only door into Heaven? They are not going to see this door if they do not see Christ present in spirit and in practice among us.
We are the holy city. We are those through whom Christ will wipe away every tear. We are those through whom Christ will renew the face of the earth. But if we have not love, if we have not the ability to lay down our lives for each other and for the world, then we will continue to be a hindrance to the gospel and those who would believe will continue to be barred from heaven.
Let us then be about God’s business. We are to love without condemning. We are to associate with the unbeliever and love the unbeliever into the kingdom of God. We are to love our brothers and sisters in Christ and spur them on to holiness and wholeness. In doing these things, we are to lay down ourselves, our possessions, our aspirations, and our reputations so that the love of Christ might be clearly visible to those who are seeking hope and salvation within the Church.
I sat behind the techies running the sound and light booth as the show progressed. It had been a long night and I had returned with my cup recently filled with water. I took a sip.
“What is that?” One of the girls asked as she pointed at the cup in my hand.
“My water cup,” I replied as I looked at where he finger now pressed against my cup.
“Yes,” she said with disdain, “but it has a Husky on it. You’re in mustang territory.”
“Well. This one was free. If you’d like to get me a Mustangs cup, I’d be glad to drink from it.”
“Don’t you have ANY school pride,” she asked, then turned back to her work. Briefly she looked up and stated, “Traitor.”
The stage manager laughed. I shrugged and took a sip.
Later, the same girl remarked that she has run out of water and would have to leave the sound booth to buy another water bottle.
I held up my cup and took a sip. “I’m sure glad I don’t have to worry about that.”
She looked at me, then at my cup. Her eyes narrowed. “I’d rather die than drink from a traitor cup.”
The others in the sound booth laughed.
The next day we came to a compromise. I covered the traitorous logo with black gaffers tape. Then, with a silver sharpie, I sketched out a stick-horse and wrote Hustangs. It was received with moderate approval.
There was a time when Christians rejoiced when they suffered for Christ. Though entire towns, entire cities, and even entire nations were dead-set against the gospel of Jesus Christ, Christians rejoiced. They rejoiced because despite the rejection and persecution received, those destined for eternal life still came to believe. On top of that, the gospel still spread and spread rapidly under the persecution.
There was a time when greater persecution of Christians resulted in Christians being even more filled with joy and the Holy Spirit. Though rejected, they went out of the cities shaking the dust from their feet in protest and determined to go on to the next city. They went knowing that the people were hungry for the gospel and hungry to know the Lord.
There was a time when good shepherd called his sheep and they came. The good shepherd knew his sheep and though they were out of the sheepfold, his sheep knew his voice and came running. Those incapable of running to him cried out in desperation until he came. When he came, he found his lost sheep with broken bones and their wool filled with dirt. Then he picked them up and carried them back to the sheepfold where he cleaned them off and tended to their wounds.
Even today, people rejoice at the suffering they endure for the sake of the gospel. Even today, people are hungry to know the Lord. They are crying from some dark corner of the wilderness waiting for the shepherd to come and rescue them. He still comes. He still answers prayers. He still heals the sick and gives sight to the blind. His own blood still washes anew those sin-sick souls who come to him because these people have heard his voice. They have responded to his invitation and they have told him to prepare a place for them in his kingdom and at his table.
Today, here in America, though the Lamb still sits on the throne ready to shepherd his people, we still act as sheep without a shepherd. We mourn for loss of material things, but do not shed a tear when the poorest among us are undernourished, undervalued, and thrown out like trash. We have forgotten the voice of the shepherd and we certainly do not respond to his invitation to come.
Here in America persecution is coming. Will we be ready? Or will our lukewarm Christianity cause us to balk the moment our faith is tested? This will only be the beginning. As it is in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, so it will be here in America. It’s happening even now, yet we tend to say, “It’ll never happen to me. Not here. Not now.” That’s because we are not ready and if we are not ready now, we certainly won’t be ready when the true persecution comes.
There was a time when Christians rejoiced when they experienced persecution. As they suffered they even continued to preach the gospel until their final breath. They continued to offer the invitation to come to the shepherd, the Lamb who sits on the throne, who is ready to lead his people to springs of life giving water.
I wonder, is that time still now? Will the invitation to follow Christ still be heard when persecution heavy and hard to America?
Based on the scripture readings for the 4th Sunday of Easter 2016
I feel like a lamppost.
Mounted on some shady street corner,
I stand tall and upright,
a radiant light,
in a pitch-black night.
Some take notice of me.
As the night engulfs the day,
my light is sought and found,
by those with the eyes to see
and appreciate my illumination.
Though sometimes it’s blinding,
leaving those wanderers blinking,
until with adjusted eyes peering,
they see with my radiance
through the darkness.
Other times my light is pale,
a soft comfort
to those wandering night souls
in search of some sense
in an otherwise dark world.
I am a lamppost,
spotted with rust and chipped paint,
covered by yellowed, tattered flyers –
pictures of lost pets,
posters of garage sales,
and alluring announcements.
Though weathered by years
and holding onto memories,
my light does not wane,
but casts out night’s fears.
I have seen so much,
I have been used
by so many.
Yet I am here,
giving light to any
who would draw near,
seeking solace and comfort
in the light
amidst the dark hours
of life’s expedition.