Tag Archives: Jesus

XMAS, Improved

My friend, Rick Martinez, with whom I’ve shared wonderful intellectual and philosophical conversations—as well as my writing efforts throughout the years—comments on some of my blogs. This is in response to my last blog, and is a beautiful thought for the season. I formatted it as a blog, but the thoughts and words are Rick’s, unchanged.

Thank you, Steve, for writing about Christmas—the Birth of Christ. No matter of all the “scientific” facts surrounding when Jesus was born and who believes what–there’s at least two general things we all acknowledge and accept as true. At the time and in the area of Christ’s birth, what was true 2000 years ago continues to be true today–some 2000 years later: There were believers and non-believers and warring factions back then as there are now. And–for Christians all over the world, the most tragic words ever written of our Lord are those set down by the Apostle John in the beginning of his Gospel:

He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

Bethlehem had no room for Him when He was born;

Nazareth, no room for Him when He lived; and

Jerusalem, no room for Him when He died.

As Silent as a Tomb

tombHoly Saturday, Jesus’ body has been laid in the tomb. I don’t usually think much about Holy Saturday—it’s kind of the runt of the litter—the unappreciated day of Holy Week.

On Holy Saturday, was Christ aware of His body lying there? I’ve always felt that at death I will discard my body like the first stage of a rocket and launch the next stage. But Jesus wasn’t moving on just yet. When the Risen Christ revealed himself to Mary Magdalene the next day, He told her not to hold onto Him because He had not yet ascended to the Father. If He was aware of his body in the tomb, was he glad for the quiet after the screams of the crowd, first praising him then demanding His death? Was the cool comforting after hours on the cross in the scorching heat?

On Holy Saturday, the Apostles, as far as we know, were busily doing the only logical things—running and hiding from the authorities, frightened, confused, and bewildered.

And what about the Jews who had demanded His death? Did they go home to a pleasant celebration of the Passover Feast as if this was just a normal event? What about the Roman officials and soldiers who knew the whole event was bogus with an illegal overnight kangaroo court? One of the soldiers had been shown the truth and had proclaimed that, “Surely this was the Son of God.” Did Pilate resent being played for a patsy by the Jews, forced to do their bidding even though as governor he was supposed to be the one in charge.

How many had second thoughts and regrets once the mob mentality had passed? How many asked, “What have I done?”

How many didn’t.

And one last thought. I am amazed at places where I unexpectedly find God, one of which seems at least semi-appropriate for today. In the Harry Potter series, Harry and Hermione find Harry’s parents’ gravesite. Included on the stone is the inscription:

 “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.”

which plays in integral part in the plot. It is also a quote from 1 Corinthian 15:26 recounting how Jesus conquered death.

Greater Love

Greater love has no man, but to lay down his life for a friend.

Regardless of your faith, religion, or decision against, we all can appreciate this statement.

To Christians, Jesus took on all of our imperfections and died in compensation for all of us.

But there are others to whom this applies. Many have laid down their lives.

God knows, over the past twelve years there have been ample opportunities for young men and women to fall on a grenade or take a bullet for a comrade.

Yet, it does not always require death. Then there are the parents, especially many single parents, who put their own lives aside to provide for their children; not to merely provide essentials, but to prioritized a school event when they’re dead tired or to have more modest meals to allow for a school ring or a yearbook.

How many adults juggle both care of their children and care of their parents?

And what does this mean?

All of these things are heroic, and yet none of them are. We are merely following the example set by Jesus, our Savior. We are called to express our love for others above our love for ourselves.

So, on this Good Friday evening when Jesus was laid in the tomb, in earthly terms to rest; in celestial terms to prepare for the next phase. In any case, to be “put away” in one form, yet to return in another that is more, beautiful, more powerful, more wonderful, with the promise that His next return will be beyond comprehension.

With all that in mind, share a greater love, to someone, in some way. Call someone you loved, with whom you haven’t spoken in a while. Tell a family member what wonderful attributes they have.

You know what to do.

And, as you do, prepare for the stone to be rolled back from the empty tomb and share in the joy.

May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord let His face shine upon you. May the Lord look upon you and be gracious unto you. May the Lord bless you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

Slavery & Murder in Religion

The Islamists are telling us infidels that their religion includes slavery and murder.

At first this infuriated me.

But somehow the Holy Spirit always manages to put things in perspective for me.

My religion also includes slavery and murder, but there’s one huge difference.

Instead of being encouraged to inflict these things on others, it was our savior, Jesus, the only Son of God, who was murdered—crucified—the execution reserved for slaves.

 

 

 

Misnamed Religious Days?

Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane  1746   Pinacoteca, Vatican City, Vatican

Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane 1746
Pinacoteca, Vatican City, Vatican

It seems odd that we call this Holy Week. After all, it’s a week when everything seems to have fallen apart.

“Holy Thursday” – Jesus asks for Peter, James and John to pray with him, but they fall asleep. He’s betrayed by one of his closest followers. Those charged with representing His Father are the ones orchestrating His demise. His trusted right-hand man denies Him.

“Good Friday” – Jesus is tortured, humiliated, abandoned and condemned to a death reserved for slaves who threaten the emperor. His own people don’t so much choose Barabbas to live as condemn Jesus to die.

“Holy Saturday” – The hope for the world lays cold and dead in a sepulchure.

But, as God told Samuel as he looked at each of Jesse’s sons, and as Jesus told Peter – God sees things differently than we do and His thoughts are not like ours. The week is Holy because it unfolded according to God’s plan – not ours.

Jesus’ Timing

Superstar

If you have followed my blog for a while, you may remember that during Lent I listen to “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Although it’s an artistic musing, it does cause me to think of my scripture reading from a different perspective. In the recording, Judas asks why Jesus came, “in such a backward time in such a strange land.” He goes on to say, “If you’d come today, you’d have reached a whole nation. Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication.”

It’s a fair question, and I pondered it for a while and arrived at an answer that at least makes sense to me.

I think that Jesus’ aim was to inspire, teach, challenge, and demand that we take things into our own hands and do God’s work. It is up to us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, and perform such works in His name and to give glory to the Father.

But what if He had chosen today? I suspect for a while He would be the top story on the news and a meme on the internet. But would we take Him any more seriously? Personally I doubt it. Besides, in a few days some other story would have pushed him out of the limelight.

It was within His power to solve all our problems – disease; poverty; everything. Instead, He solved the biggest problem – our separation from God.

The rest is up to us, but don’t worry. He taught us how.

Writing In the Dust

Jewsus

I picked up a copy of National Geographic’s special publication about Jesus. I’m always trying to learn just a little bit more about Him.

I learned something that I didn’t expect.

They pointed out how He left behind no writings or other historical evidence. We know He wrote, but it was in the dust.

He may not have left anything tangible behind, but what He did leave behind was powerful.

Salvation. The fact that God loves us. A new relationship with God.

Jesus wasn’t about Himself – He was about the message.

Christmas Night

What more can be said about Christmas that hasn’t already been said?

Among the gifts, one that many overlook –

A gift whose value is beyond measure.

A gift that need not, and indeed cannot be returned.

A gift that surely elicits the response, “It’s just what I wanted and just what I needed.”

A gift that doesn’t need the label to say, “From:”

A Savior.

So What Is Christmas?

SONY DSC

Isn’t that the question? What is Christmas?

Whatever you want it to be.

When you look at Christmas, it reflects your thoughts, your wants, your needs.

To a child, it’s a day that will never come. A day of wonderment and, of course, TOYS!

To a merchant, it may be the time of year when he gets his reward for keeping his doors open and his shelves stocked.

To some, it may be the time of year they can count on getting a job – even if only for a few months.

To a Christian, it may be a time of great joy – or even a time in which you wonder why you aren’t feeling great joy.

To a non-Christian, it may just be puzzling.

When Christ was on earth, He did the things only He could do. In other things, he expected His followers to take action – “Give her something to eat.” “Go out and take neither staff nor purse.”

He was trying to teach us to see things the way He did.

Not a leper. Not a despised tax collector or a prostitute. Each a person, loved by God.

This Christmas, look at it and try to see the best you can. A time of caring. A time to demonstrate what Christianity is about. Listen to others. Appreciate the fact that each of us is unique. O not judge.

Then take Christmas as a starting point and carry it with you as we head into the new year.

Trust me. Christmas will be what you want it to be.

Joseph’s Death

We don’t know anything about the death of Joseph the carpenter. We know Joseph was there for Mary when by the power of the Holy Spirit she became pregnant with Jesus; he was willing to quietly divorce her to save her from shame, but the Holy Spirit instead told him to marry her.

We believe he helped raise Jesus and then taught Him to be a carpenter. He cared for Jesus; but then Jesus taught us to call no one Father but God.

Does this dismiss Joseph and all the earthly fathers?

When Joseph died, was Jesus there?

I can only express my personal views, but here are my thoughts.

Earthly fathers, and mothers, are given the opportunity to minister to their children as the very representative of God. We do not replace Him; instead we are appointed stewards of the children that He has brought into the world.

So, just as Joseph cared for Jesus, our parents cared for us and so we care for our children.

I believe that Jesus was there for Joseph when he died. I believe that when the time came, Jesus comforted him as only Jesus could, and even knowing what awaited Joseph in paradise, I believe Jesus wept, just as we do for our own parents.

It only makes sense if you believe we’re travelers, passing through this life on our way to where we belong.

Good Enough

There’s a saying that the enemy of “Good” is “Better.”

Some things should be done as well as we can. Our relationship with God and family, for example.

Other things only need to be “good enough.” Painting the closet is a perfect example.

It’s both easy to confuse the two, and very difficult to figure out which things really need to be perfect. Does Thanksgiving need to be on par with the Norman Rockwell painting? Does the homemade Halloween costume need to be of Broadway quality?

Jesus said that we should be perfect as the Father is perfect. I used to be confused about this, thinking that it meant I had to be perfect in all things. Now I think it means that we should focus on the things that God focuses on – perfecting love, forgiveness and patience.

Virtues

But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13

"Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." (Great flick)

“Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”
(Great flick)

Virtues are funny things. On the one hand, they’re gifts to help us through life. On the other hand, they’re not quite what we expect.

Faith gives us the ability to believe what we cannot prove. However, it’s easy to have faith when things are going well. It’s so easy that when things are going well, we ascribe the success to us, so who needs faith? When things go badly, it’s just as easy to look to God accusingly and ask Him why He didn’t give us more faith.

Hope is like faith in that it lets us see things as they could be. Again, it’s easier to have hope when things are going well. Less so when the economy is bad or there are medical problems or we wake up in the middle of the night due to worry.

Finally, there’s love. It’s easy to love those who look like us, sound like us and share our values. It’s damned difficult to love those who are different, especially if we don’t understand them. How can God expect me to love those kids with their pants hanging down? Or the girl wearing the hijab? Or the star of David, or the cross?

But think about it. The virtues are there for exactly those reasons. Especially, love, the greatest of them.

We’re called upon to love those most different from ourselves; most difficult to understand.

Like the way that Jesus loved the Roman soldiers even as they drove the nails through His hands and His feet.

I Don’t Know About Your God

god

 

I see all the hate and discontent in the world today and despair at how many people go to war in the name of their god.

I don’t know about your god, but my God expects me to love my neighbor as myself.

I don’t know about your god, but my God demands mercy, not sacrifice.

I don’t know about your god, but my God does not cast the first stone; He does not condemn.

Although you and I may have different roads to our God, I suspect it’s the same one. Let’s do what we can to act in accordance with His direction.

How Much Faith Do You Need?

prayIf you had faith the size of the proverbial mustard seed; if your faith could in fact move mountains, would you be better off?

As I go through life enjoying its blessings and facing its challenges, I frequently remind myself that God has always taken better care of me than I could ever do myself. His plans have truly prospered me.

However, I wonder what it would be like if I went through life without any worries because of complete faith in God. Somehow it just doesn’t seem real.

On the other hand, as each challenge or crisis arises before me my first reaction is very human. Maybe I feel fear. Maybe anxiety. Maybe just openmouthed shock.

Then I catch my breath and turn to God, and profess my love for Him and my faith in His will and proceed to live life, face the challenge and listen for God’s guidance.

In my case, I believe that it is a profession of faith to turn to God each time. To be aware of the challenge, and consciously place this crisis, this time in God’s hands.

There may be some who have such powerful faith in God that nothing bothers them. I’m not one of them.

But then I think of Jesus – who had no lack of faith – praying alone in the Garden of Gethsemane.

I think He taught us exactly how to turn to God when we’re troubled.

How Sharper than a Serpent’s Tooth

"Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz" written by singer Janis Joplin with the poets Michael McClure and Bob Neuwirth, and originally recorded by Joplin

“Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz”
written by singer Janis Joplin with the poets Michael McClure and Bob Neuwirth, and originally recorded by Joplin

While waiting for my daughter to finish practice, I bumped into another soccer dad who commented how it frustrated him that his children felt they were entitled to just about everything. They never seemed to be grateful.

I confess that I thoroughly understood his feelings. Maybe it’s the fixation on “self-esteem.” Maybe it’s television. It doesn’t really matter.

However, I began to wonder how many of us treat God that way.

Dear God, I want a bigger, better, newer [whatever]. Amen.

Do we see God like an omnipotent Amazon.com and heaven as the ultimate “fulfillment center” with delivery promised by tomorrow if we pray today before close of business?

Maybe it would be better if we asked God what He wants for us. Trust in Him and then be grateful.

Behold the Lilies of the Field

SONY DSC

In the spring I planted flowers around our mailbox – just some wildflower kind of seeds that one of the kids had to sell as a fundraiser. They grew extremely well – so well, in fact, that they were in the way of the mail truck and blocking part of the sidewalk, so I had to trim them back.

As the pile of trimmings grew, I thought that they might make a nice bouquet in the house, so I carried them in.

I don’t arrange flowers, but I know enough to cut the stems at an angle and remove the extraneous leaves – from that point on it’s Barb and Katie’s responsibility.

As I was working on the flowers, I couldn’t help but think of how God’s beauty shows up everywhere. The variety of beautiful flowers, birds, landscapes and other marvels of nature that we see every day.

      25“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26“Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? 27“And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? 28“And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, 29yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. 30“But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! 31“Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ 32“For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6

Thank you, God, for this morning’s flowers

Profit or Loss?

My education is in business, an interesting field, but not necessarily for good reasons.

Simple business is when you find something that people want, build or buy it, add in your other costs (rent for your store, salaries, etc.), and determine a selling price. In an ideal world, both you and the customer leave a transaction reasonably satisfied.

Today, many people are in the business of cooking the books. By using creative accounting, tax loopholes or other corporate they make a significant profit without actually providing anything of value.

When you read history, you may see Spain, Great Britain, and the Netherlands as great explorers opening new sea routes and discovering new (at least new to them) places. What happened to their power and prestige?

Generally they became banking and finance experts. In other words, they became experts at moving money and making a profit without providing anything of value.

Profit is not a dirty word – it encourages us to succeed. To invent. To build. But profit should actually be earned.

When Jesus sent out the 72 disciples, He told them that the worker was due his wages.

His parables often utilized the rich master as a metaphor for the Father. The good steward invested the master’s money and made a profit.

He also taught that we should build up our wealth where moth or decay won’t destroy it.

That’s the kind of business advice that we can live by.

You Can’t Hide from God

Michelangelo Cistine Chapel

Michelangelo
Cistine Chapel

Genesis 3

“(8) They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

(9) Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”

(10) He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.”

The Bible is a marvelous teaching tool written to make us think.

When I read this passage, I don’t see it as God not knowing where Adam was, but instead as His way of saying, “You can’t hide from Me.”

We can deny His existence. We can pretend He can’t see what we’re doing. We can fool ourselves, but we can’t fool Him.

In other words, God is always near us.

When we’re tired, or lonely, or discouraged, God is near. He’s always close enough to hear the smallest, quietest prayer.

It’s Legal

Supreme-Court

There has been a lot of angst about recent court decisions and legislative actions. Mainly these address things that some people do not approve of being legalized.

Same sex marriage.

Marijuana.

Abortion.

Whatever.

There’s a huge difference between legal and right.

It’s legal to create phony offshore corporations in order to avoid paying taxes. It’s legal to sell clothing made in prison-like sweatshops in Bangladesh. It’s legal to sell iPods made in Chinese factories in which the workers must work 18 hour days and live in company dormitories so they can be awakened at any hour of the day or night when Apple wants to try something new.

God gave us a free will to choose what is right and pleasing to Him. He didn’t restrict our ability to decide; He told us what He wants and then lets us decide on our own. We don’t always decide wisely (remember the apple thing in the Garden of Eden?)

I suspect that He won’t be impressed with our legal loopholes or our skillful splitting of hairs. He’s going to expect us to have done what was right.

It may be legal to ignore the poor, but we do so at our peril. It may be legal to seek revenge for our enemies, but Jesus instructed us to pray for them instead.

Jesus challenged us to be perfect, just as the Father is perfect.

We (starting with me) area long way from perfect, but we can try to do what is right.

Truth

I often “write in my head,” developing an idea so that when I sit down at the keyboard I at least have a conceptual idea as to what I’m going to write. This is one of those blogs. Unfortunately, I may have done such a thorough job of thinking it through that I actually believed I did write it. I looked through the recent archives and didn’t see it.

So, if this is, in fact a repeat, I apologize.

thinker

In the first “Indiana Jones” movie, Indy advised his archeology students that they will be seeking fact. If they wish to seek truth, they should be in a philosophy class.

I often accept the two terms as similar, if not identical, but I’d like to propose that they are quite different in several aspects. Initially I looked at truth as being subjective; like beauty it is in the eye of the beholder. On the other hand, I accepted fact as an objective, provable, absolute datum that actually exists.

But then I got thinking. Facts are objective, but being objective only means that there is a finite measurement. Such measurements may be precise without being accurate. Saying someone is six foot tall really means that they are somewhere near that height. The measurement of their height is dependent upon the accuracy of the measurement and of the measuring device. To further complicate things, height can vary slightly throughout the day – did you ever have to adjust your rearview mirrors on the drive home after a particularly challenging day at work?

Our most precise measuring tools are not necessarily accurate. The meter (the metric measurement, not some type of gauge) was initially thought to be one ten millionth the distance from the equator to the North Pole, but it has been redefined several times. Currently it is defined as “the length of the path travelled by light in vacuum during a time interval of 1/299,792,458 of a second.” I don’t know about you, but I have trouble picturing that.

We’ve been measuring time in hours and minutes for centuries. However, we’ve had to adjust the calendar by weeks, and of course with leap years. Even so, as our measurements become more precise, we have to add leap seconds every few years.

So facts aren’t what they are cracked up to be.

On the other hand, truth is something we know to be true without the ability to prove it. We know it’s true that there is a God. We can’t prove it as a fact, but we accept it as the truth.

It’s probably why Jesus called himself “the Way, the Truth and the Light.”