Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Living a Larger Life


Romans 8:1  There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2  For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3  For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4  so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5  For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6  To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7  For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law--indeed it cannot, 8  and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9  But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10  But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11  If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

The Christian church in Rome insisted that adopting the Jewish religious laws were a pre-condition for following the way of Jesus. Paul disagreed: “the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.[1]  The life of a Jesus-follower is larger than the limits set by the observance of the Jewish religious rules: ” you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit” .[2] This life begins not when a person has learned the rules, but when the Divine Spirit touches our lives: “he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you”.[3]

So then why do so many people who follow Jesus today pay more attention to the rules of faith than to the life of faith? Why do we think that keeping religious rules equates to living a spiritual life? Paul’s teaching is clear – surrender our lives to the direction of the Spirit of God, and the Christ-like life will follow. I suspect we are afraid of this radical freedom, and choose instead to find safety behind our religious rules and regulations.

Here is the challenge: Pentecost is on its way! The Divine Spirit is already at work within you. Surrender to the work God, and worry less about keeping the rules.

"dilige et quod vis fac." : Love and then what you will, do.[4]
Augustine of Hippo  In epistulam Ioannis ad Parthos

Breathe, O breathe Thy loving Spirit,
Into every troubled breast!
Let us all in Thee inherit;
Let us find that second rest.
Take away our bent to sinning;
Alpha and Omega be;
End of faith, as its Beginning,
Set our hearts at liberty.
Words: Charles Wes­ley, Hymns for Those that Seek and Those That Have Re­demp­tion in the Blood of Je­sus Christ, 1747.

Third Sunday of Easter
24 The Lord is with us
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Rueben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 154.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day

[1] Romans 8:2
[2] Romans 8:9
[3] Romans 8:11
[4] Translation by Professor Joseph Fletcher

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Moving in Next Door


Acts 18:5  When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with proclaiming the word, testifying to the Jews that the Messiah was Jesus. 6  When they opposed and reviled him, in protest he shook the dust from his clothes and said to them, "Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles." 7  Then he left the synagogue and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God; his house was next door to the synagogue. 8  Crispus, the official of the synagogue, became a believer in the Lord, together with all his household; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul became believers and were baptized. 9  One night the Lord said to Paul in a vision, "Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; 10  for I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to harm you, for there are many in this city who are my people." 11  He stayed there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

Yesterday, while I was paying for fuel for my car, the petrol pump attendant discovered that I was a Methodist Minister. He then commented – “Oh, the Methodist umfundisi (ministers) that I know are rich, because they always drive new cars”. Although my vehicle is nearly 20 years old, I was left feeling uncomfortable by association, asking myself “Ought our image as ministers of the Gospel to be one of prosperous well-being?”  I am all too aware of how ‘purveyors of snake oil and other preachers’ have used religion for their personal profit. This has made many people sceptical of those who ask for the generosity of donors so that they can remain in the Christian ministry.

Acts chapter 18 marks the moment when Paul’s ministry changed from a ‘part-time’ self supporting work, to a full time work. Silas and Timothy arrived with financial support from the people of the Christian church in Philippi.[1] This enabled Paul to focus all his time on establishing a Christian church in Corinth.   I am suggesting that the actions of Paul in the above passage reveal a helpful principle that can guide anyone who relies on the generosity of donors to sustain a Christian ministry:

Acts 18:7 tells us that Paul left the Synagogue, and moved in next door. In case we miss the significance of this, Paul gives up the Synagogue: this is the place where he has his status as a well-connected, highly educated, and greatly senior rabbi – a status that would have earned him respect, and given him clients in his tent making business. Paul gives up his access to wealth and status to migrate down the social scale into the home of the “sinner” next door – a non-Jewish, Roman speaking Gentile who would have not been welcome in the Synagogue. Paul gained nothing in his personal capacity by moving, and lost much. I believe this becomes the touch stone for authentic ministry: that those of us who are privileged to be able to serve Jesus through the generosity of others ought to show two signs – sacrifice of personal ambition, and a ministry that is grounded amongst the ‘next door people’, those people who are not readily welcome through the front door of our religious establishments.

Come, and He will give you rest;
Trust Him for His word is plain;
He will take the sinfulest;
Christ receiveth sinful men.
Lyrics: Erdmann Neumeister (1671-1756), Translated by Frances Bevan

Third Sunday of Easter
24 The Lord is with us
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Rueben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 154.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day

[1] see Philippians 4: 15-19 / 2 Corinthians 11:8-9

Monday, April 28, 2014

Cracking open the Religious Club.


Acts 13:44  The next sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45  But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy; and blaspheming, they contradicted what was spoken by Paul. 46  Then both Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, "It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles. 47  For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, 'I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'" 48  When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and praised the word of the Lord; and as many as had been destined for eternal life became believers. 49  Thus the word of the Lord spread throughout the region. 50  But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, and stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their region. 51  So they shook the dust off their feet in protest against them, and went to Iconium. 52  And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

Paul and Barnabas are men who grew up thinking that their Jewish roots entitled them to claim an exclusive relationship with God. The teaching of Jesus helped them discover that the love of God was larger than their particular Jewish beliefs, and that they were called to share this love outside of their Jewish identity. The passage for today describes them explaining this to other Jewish people – and drawing on the authority of the prophet Isaiah to do so. Acts 13:47 shows them quoting Isaiah 49:6 to explain that Jesus did not bring a new message. Rather, he came to remind the Jewish people of something that the prophets had been saying through the generations: that the love of God is “to the ends of the earth”, and those who know God ought to be a light to this truth.

Let me invite us as Christian not to fall into the same kind of thinking that Paul and Barnabas opposed: let us not become a closed circle of Jesus-followers who thank God that ‘we are in’. Jesus calls us to turn outwards and be a light that includes even people who live on the margins of life.  

Jesus, I believe in You
And I would go to the ends of the earth
To the ends of the earth
For You alone are the Son of God
And all the world will see
That You are God
You are God

Third Sunday of Easter
24 The Lord is with us
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Rueben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 154.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Skip for Joy

John 15:1  "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2  He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3  You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4  Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5  I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6  Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7  If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8  My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. 9  As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10  If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. 11  I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

 image : Richard van As
Look at this figure:
What emotion do you see?
When last did you feel like this?
These are not just irritating questions – they are the deepest questions of life. Today my daughter and I were watching little children skipping down the road outside her home, and we both exclaimed “How cute”. My next comment to her was “Why is it that while children can express such unfettered joy, we as adults lose this ability?” 

Jesus promises that “your joy may be complete”. Surely this cannot remain as an intellectual concept, or as a fleeting feeling swiftly suppressed? Why has the religious impulse to joy been so effectively crushed out of us – and when did we agree to become so “respectable”? This is not a joy that ignores the difficulties of life. On the contrary, it is a joy that helps us cope with the toughest times. Like a branch that is connected to the vine, we can draw on God's strength to get though each day. This strength is sufficient that when we reach the end of the day - we will find enough left over for some joy as well.

In the interests of my soul, I resolve to skip for joy more often.

And you?

Second Sunday of Easter
23 Partakers of Eternal Life
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Rueben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 148.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day

[1] This image is made by Richard van As

Friday, April 25, 2014

Love is not a Creed but an Activity

1John 3:11  For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12  We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother's righteous. 13  Do not be astonished, brothers and sisters, that the world hates you. 14  We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15  All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. 16  We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us--and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17  How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? 18  Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19  And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20  whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21  Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22  and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. 23  And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24  All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

This letter is written in a context of church division. There are some who have broken away from the church led by John, and they are suggesting that John was misguided and they alone had the truth. John replies by using the illustration of Cane and Able: both are brothers from the same family, but one became a murderer because his “deeds were evil and his brother's righteous “.  John suggests that the only way of testing which brother was righteous is to look for “love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action”.

 Like John, we too live in a world where we divide ourselves against each other on the basis of claiming sole access to the truth. Even worse, we (who ‘have the truth’) are then tempted to think angry, murderous thoughts of those who hold a different religious point of view to us. I have heard some Christian people make deeply insulting remarks about Muslim people; similarly I have been dismayed to hear Christian people speak with contempt about those who hold to their traditional cultural beliefs and practices. To use the metaphor of John’s letter, let us not become like ‘Cane’ who was unable to love ‘Abel’.

Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white,
All are precious in His sight,
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

Second Sunday of Easter
23 Partakers of Eternal Life
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Rueben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 148.

This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Stepping Back.

2Corinthians 4:1  Therefore, since it is by God's mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2  We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God's word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God. 3  And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4  In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5  For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus' sake. 6  For it is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7  But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.

My thoughts for today are drawn to the following verse from the reading:
For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus' sake. (2Co 4:5) The word slave is translated from the Greek word  δολος – “devoted to another to the disregard of one's own interests”.[1] I believe that Paul chose this word because he wants to make a point: that those who follow the way of Jesus must get used to being second. Jesus gets the spotlight and we step back into the shadows. We are at the command of Jesus, who gets to be the one in charge.

I saw an illustration of this last year when I caught the express train from Hiroshima to Osaka. The ticket examiner entered the carriage, took off his hat, and bowed to all the passengers. He welcomed us to the coach, and wished us a pleasant journey. Then he replaced his hat and proceeded to collect our tickets. This action on the part of the ticket examiner clarified our relationship: while he was wearing a smart uniform, with white gloves, and braided hat, he was not important. The passengers were important, and he was offering to assist our journey. So too with those who follow the way of Jesus: we exist for the sake of those who want to live life more fully. We are “your slaves – for Jesus sake”. 

The reality is that this is easier in ideal that in practice. The human ego is so hungry for affirmation that we mistake people’s respect and admiration for Jesus, as admiration given to us. Before we know it, we think that we are capable of running the Jesus-project: we specify the way people can follow Jesus; we control who is part of the family of Jesus; and we even go so far as to decide who Jesus might hate!  We have stopped being the “slaves”, and have become the “masters”.

Paul urges us to become the slaves – for Jesus sake. Let us return to slave status.

“People who don't like the idea of slavery think there's some middle ground — not being a slave to sin or Jesus — but there's no middle ground.” — J. Miles


Brother, Sister, let me serve you
Let me be as Christ to you;
Pray that I may have the grace
To let you be my servant, too.
Richard Gillard
Copyright © 1977 Scripture in Song

Second Sunday of Easter
Partakers of Eternal Life
Scripture reading taken from A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants p.148

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

We are not naked

2Corinthians 5:1  For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2  For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling-- 3  if indeed, when we have taken it off we will not be found naked. 4  For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5  He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. 6  So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord-- 7  for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8  Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9  So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10  For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.

Greek culture in the first Century admired two things: athletic prowess and philosophical oratory.[1] Paul/Saul, the teacher of Jesus’ way, had neither of these. He was considered to be both a poor speaker, and a small, ugly man. In 2 Corinthians Chapter 4, we see Paul beginning to respond to this perceived disadvantage by asserting that his message was larger than the “clay jar” that preached it.

Now in Chapter 5 Paul insists that his weak appearance does not discredit his ministry. He states his confidence that the temporary, fragile body he currently used will be replaced by a future resurrected body. This hope enables him to continue with his ministry. Therefore although some of his Greek audience might think that his battered and bruised body is something to be ashamed of, he knows that this is only temporary and will exchange this for a future body that will clothe him for eternity.

Here is a useful challenge in our image obsessed culture. It is a sad reality that advertising makes us feel insecure about the way we look. This has led many into illness like bulimia or anorexia in an attempt to modify their bodies; it has led others to use plastic surgery in order to improve their image; and has left many,  many people feeling inadequate and ugly.
We who are followers of Jesus need not feel ashamed of the way we look. These bodies are only temporary. Of course we need to care for our bodies, and feed our bodies, and keep our bodies fit, so that we are able to give our best service to God. But we do not need to be seduced by the lie of our culture that questions whether we are beautiful enough, or thin enough, or young enough. These are a waste of our God-given energy. Let us rather worry about the way we offer love and compassion; let us obsess about using our bodies to build God’s values of justice, and righteousness, and peace. 

For Thought
All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change at all
All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground at all

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found in You

GUNGOR "Beautiful Things"

Second Sunday of Easter
23 Partakers of Eternal Life
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Rueben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 148.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day

[1] Of course they admired many more things – but these two are important here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Good Shepherd

John 10:1  "Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2  The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3  The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4  When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5  They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers." 6  Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 7  So again Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8  All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9  I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. 11  "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

A shepherd who loves his sheep. A shepherd who knows each sheep by name. A shepherd who will risk his life so that his sheep can be safe. This is an arresting image that has brought great comfort to those of us who follow Jesus. We immediately feel safe, and cared for, and treasured. And so we should.

But this is only half the image. The other half of the image lies in the post-Easter story of Jesus on the beach telling Peter that he is to take over the task of being the shepherd. We who inherit the faith of Peter cannot escape this injunction for ourselves: “Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17). We are to be shepherds like Jesus: knowing, loving, and serving God’s sheep.

The love I have received – I pass on.


You found me at my nadir
When despair attained new heights
I was cold to you
You drew me out
Made me feel
Nourished my soul
Made me love again
Japanese poet  Daichi Matsui

Second Sunday of Easter
23 Partakers of Eternal Life
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Rueben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 148.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day

Monday, April 21, 2014

“Us” and “Them”

Easter Monday

Acts 11:19 Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that took place over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, and they spoke the word to no one except Jews. 20  But among them were some men of Cyprus and Cyrene who, on coming to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists also, proclaiming the Lord Jesus. 21  The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number became believers and turned to the Lord. 22  News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23  When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion; 24  for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were brought to the Lord. 25  Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26  and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for an entire year they met with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called "Christians."

Jesus was not a Christian.
When I make this statement either in my history class, or from the pulpit, I get looks of bewilderment from many who hear this. I can almost hear them thinking “What? Of course Jesus was a Christian.”.

Well here it is folks: Acts 11 v 26 tells us that the first time that the followers of Jesus were called ‘Christian’ was in Antioch. Mostly they would have called themselves “Jesus-followers”, or “followers of the way” or more likely “students of רַבִּי שׁוּעַ   (Rabbi Jesus)”.  Jesus was not a Christian - Jesus was a Jew!

I suspect that the reason we want to think of Jesus as a Christian, is that he will then be ‘like me’. This attempt to make Jesus ‘in my own image’ has been a recurring temptation of every generation over that past 2000 years. It is only when I recognise that Jesus is unlike me, that I am able to love other people who are unlike me too. This was the example set by Barnabas, and then by Saul. These two good Jewish believers were able to embrace the Greek Gentiles with acceptance and joy,

The challenge for us is to show the love of Jesus to people who are not like us. I found this to be my challenge when I visited Japan – a country where I did not understand the language, the culture, or the climate. It was frustrating to walk into a bookstore and not be able to read a single book; it was even more frustrating to be finding my way through bus tops and train stations in a part of this country where English is not spoken. I was tempted to ask: “Why can they not speak a language I understand?”  These actions of Barnabas and Saul challenged me to stop trying to understand the Japanese people on my terms, and instead embrace them unconditionally with the love of Jesus.

Can your relationship with Jesus help you learn to accept ‘other’ people on their terms, and not yours?

For Thought
What shall our greeting be:
sign of our unity?
‘Jesus is Lord!’
May we no more defend
barriers he died to end:
give me your hand, my friend –
one church, one Lord.
Frederick Pratt Green  1903-  © Stainer & Bell Ltd

Second Sunday of Easter
23 Partakers of Eternal Life
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Rueben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 148.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Song of Praise

A Responsive reading for the day: to be read aloud in alternating voices with others.

Psalm 22:22  I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
Psa 22:23  You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
Psa 22:24  For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.
Psa 22:25  From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
Psa 22:26  The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD. May your hearts live forever!
Psa 22:27  All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.
Psa 22:28  For dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.
Psa 22:29  To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him.
Psa 22:30  Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord,
Psa 22:31  proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen

Easter Sunday is a mystery. Despite the millions of words that are said about today, the most appropriate response can only be silence. We of many words run out of words – and thus admit our arrogance in our human attempts at speaking of God. The only adequate response can be praise. So we pray a Psalm.    

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Secret Believers

John 19:23  When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. 24  So they said to one another, "Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it." .......
John 19:31  Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. 32  Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33  But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34  Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. 35  (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) 36  These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, "None of his bones shall be broken." 37  And again another passage of scripture says, "They will look on the one whom they have pierced." 38  After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. 39  Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. 40  They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. 41  Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. 42  And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

It is Friday: the “day of Preparation” for the Sabbath.[1] The bodies of criminals nailed to a wooden cross would desecrate the Sabbath,[2] and so plans are made to remove them before sunset on Friday. John tells us that two “secret disciples” of Jesus - Joseph  of Arimathea  and Nicodemus – wrapped the body of Jesus and buried him in a nearby tomb.

This is fascinating glimpse into the lives of these two men. Men who found it difficult to publically support Jesus, now risk ritual uncleanness by wrapping a dead body on the eve of the Sabbath.  Perhaps we are all a mixture of fear and heroism. There are moments when even the best of us struggle to stand firm for the things we believe – and then there are the moments of great celebration when the most frightened amongst us exhibits great risks of faith.

Instead of judging people for their failures of faith – let us rather give courage to those who walk a shaky, unsure path towards faith.

For Thought:
I believe, Lord, help my unbelief
Give the vision that I may see
That I am safe in your care
I believe, Lord, help my unbelief
Won't You take every part of me
Heal my cry
Help my unbelief

Easter Sunday
Christ Lives
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Rueben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 142.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day

[1] Abundant evidence indicates that John’s expression "the day of Preparation of the Passover" (John 19:14), simply means "the Friday of the Passover week." For further reading see

Friday, April 18, 2014

Where are you God?

Psa 22:1  To the leader: according to The Deer of the Dawn. A Psalm of David.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?  O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.  Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.  In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.  To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.  But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people.  All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;  "Commit your cause to the LORD; let him deliver--let him rescue the one in whom he delights!"  Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother's breast.  On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God.  Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.  Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me;  they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.  I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;  my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.  For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled;  I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me;  they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.  But you, O LORD, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid!   Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog!  Save me from the mouth of the lion! From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me. 

This Psalm is ascribed to David. Many suggest that David’s suffering at the hands of Saul (1 Sam 20; 21:1–15 & 1 Sam 23:25–26) or the time of his flight from Absalom (2 Sam 15–17) would have produced such words. Christians recognise these as the words said by Jesus on the cross. However, this must not be thought of as “the words of Jesus”. It entirely possible that Jesus used this Psalm to encourage himself as he faced the toughest moments of his life. It is equally possible that the New Testament writers used this Psalm when they came to describe the suffering of Jesus on Good Friday,

This is a prayer that has been helpful to generations of people who are struggling with problems. The reality is that God’s presence is not always experienced. There are moments when God feels far away, and our prayers dry up and blow away. The contemplative writers refer to the ‘desolation’ that is experienced when we feel like God has withdrawn from us. Good Friday reminds us that we can bring our tears and disappointments to God – literally crying out the words.....
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?

Those who teach the ways of silence in prayer do not see ‘desolation’ as a lack of spirituality. Rather it is seen as a gift given to deepen the spiritual journey. St Ignatius teaches that desolation can be God’s gift to help us become more aware of our dependence on God for everything in life. We are encouraged not to rush past the emptiness – but rather to wait in this desert place for the Grace of God.

The desire for instant gratification in our lives prevents us from pausing in the discomfort. I am reminded of those who patiently create bonsai trees as works of art. These trees are beautifully crafted, each individually shaped according to the texture of the wood, and the way the weathering of the years has exposed the uniqueness of its design. The gardeners have patiently cultivated these works of art over many years, content to wait for a long-term result – one that cannot be rushed.

I invite us not to rush through the pain in search of results. Stay with the pruning, and the shaping, and the bending to God’s will.  Live with the tears of Good Friday a little longer – for it is in this discomfort that we will find our comfort.

For Thought
Then let us sit beneath His cross,
And gladly catch the healing stream:
All things for Him account but loss,
And give up all our hearts to Him:
Of nothing think or speak beside,
My Lord, my Love, is crucified!
Words: Charles Wes­ley, Hymns and Sac­red Po­ems, 1742.

Easter Sunday
Christ Lives
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Rueben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 142.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day