Tag Archives: hope

Marked for Life

In 1990, 20th Century Fox released a Steven Seagal movie called “Marked for Death.” It is typical of the action genre that has become the norm for decades. Good versus Bad, white hat versus black hat, or in this case, fear versus greater fear. That’s right. A burned-out CIA agent retires and goes back home only to learn that a gang of ruthless Jamaicans has taken over the drug trade in his home town. As with most of these movies, the law is unable to deal with such a situation because it is inept or because it “has to play by the rules” when criminals don’t.

The leader of this gang is Screwface, a Jamaican drug lord who rules and accomplishes what he wants through fear. Now I have laid out this background so 1.) you don’t have to watch the movie, and 2.) to present a quote by Screwface who at one point says, “Everybody want go heaven. Nobody want dead.” Out of the mouth of evil comes an interesting statement that is an interesting thought, especially as we currently live in a society that has virtually shut down out of the fear of death.

Fear is a powerful motivator. Fear is an emotional response, not a reasonable one. Fear has a positive use. For example, I have a healthy fear of rattlesnakes. I have had a number of encounters with them growing up in Southern California. That fear makes me cautious when I do encounter one. However, to allow the fear to become my emotional response in an encounter is most certainly going to end in disaster. Remaining calm and allowing the snake to go on its way is generally going to result in a short delay and nothing more.

Throughout history, fear has been used as a means of controlling others. A recent article about such a use of fear was written by Gary DeMar and can be found here. I believe that the greatest fear many people have is the fear of death. This, to me, is interesting because as Screwface says in another place, “Look upon this madman! Him dead and him don’t even know it!” Can it be that we fear death because we all know instinctively we are already dead and refuse to acknowledge it?

My question goes to the heart of the Gospel.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Ephesians 2:1–3, ESV)

The human problem is we are all born dead in sin. You may want to try to get philosophical and want to define death at this point, but I suggest that you just reflect on what death might mean to you. Non-existence? Sleep? Pain? Heaven? Hell? “Everybody want go heaven.” I do! So why fear death? I suggest a couple of reasons. First, we were created and given life which is essential to our purpose. It is natural for me to want to live and not want to die. Second, because we are touched by the ramifications of death every day. We know death and we don’t have to admit it for it to be true. Third, most of us believe in a heaven of some kind, and most of us know that it is our deeds that may keep us out of heaven. How many times have you heard about someone who dies and was a good person? How good does one have to be to go to heaven?

Now I present to you a solution to the human problem. The solution to the human problem.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:4–9, ESV)

Screwface was right! To go to heaven you must die. Or someone must die. And someone has died making us alive, Jesus Christ. There are no works that can take us to heaven. There are no deeds that can give us eternal life. But there is Christ Jesus and God’s grace. This truth defeats the fear of death. Why?

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” (Romans 8:31–35, ESV)

While the world turns itself inside out and upside down because of COVID-19, fear not but believe that the one who is greater than the virus loves you. In Christ, we can be marked for life.

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Essential

From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, both State and Federal governments have designated some people as essential to the recovery due to their job functions. The rest of us are evidently non-essential because we were told to stay home. If your in the same situation as I am, how does it feel to be a non-essential person? I ask this because some stores remain open and others not. If you are a market you must stay open. If you are a liquor store you should be closed.

Some have pointed out that allowing the government at any level to segregate the population into essential and not essential can have serious consequences for the future (see here). It may become an issue or it may not. It does make any student of history think of Hitler, Stalin, and others.

Instead, I want to suggest that we are all essential to God. It started at the beginning:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”” (Genesis 1:26, ESV)

We, human beings, male and female were the pinnacle of God’s creation. Nothing else was made in his image. Nothing else was given dominion over all of creation. That seems to me to be pretty important. When we look at each other, God wanted us to see him. And, he wanted all the rest of creation to see him too.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” (Romans 1:19–20, ESV)

I am not really interested in what the government says about us. We are all essential. And while many of us are told to stay home, I think there has been too little concern for the things that make us human. We have friends and family who we love but cannot touch them or even see them unless it is done electronically. We have work that gives us purpose and provides for our needs. We have Spiritual needs as well. After all, God started this whole thing in the beginning.

I believe these needs are as essential as caring for patients with COVID-19. No one wants to spread the virus. Everyone wants to stop the disease. People created with reasoning minds can and will take steps necessary for protection. So is this “quarantine” really as necessary as has been made of it? I don’t know and I don’t claim to know. However, there are some things I do know.

First, there are always more options than the one taken. The one chosen after careful thought and study may be the best one. But there are many smart people in this world and they don’t all agree on the path to take. There may also be things that were not considered when making decisions. This brings me back to the importance of community.

It also is a reminder that we all need enough humility to say, “Maybe I’m wrong.” In the state where I live, the governor put a ban on fishing among other things. It took a lot of pressure from the public to finally get him to lift the ban even though the numbers haven’t really changed as much as he originally claimed they needed to.

Second, about other options, take a look at this YouTube video by John Stossel.  I’m not saying Sweden has it right and we don’t. Time will tell. Maybe. Maybe the U.S. and Sweden are both right.

So, here is the essential idea to take from this blog. God is bigger than COVID-19. Yes, many people have gotten sick, some have died. And I don’t want to make light of any of this. However, none of us have been invited to the counsel of God to know what he is about. But I know he is about something. And I am sure in faith to know that God did not permit this virus to completely destroy those who bear his image.

And remember, we are essential, even if we are restaurant servers, teachers, pastors, or retired. We are essential to God, and just maybe that should be enough.

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Filed under Faith, World View

Unprecedented

Thursday night, the NFL Draft began with comments on COVID-19 from the Commissioner.  One of his comments included the oft-heard phrase that we are in unprecedented times.

It may seem that way. None of us have lived through a pandemic before. However, in my lifetime there have been a number of declared pandemics including the Asian Flu, Hong Kong Flu, HIV/AIDS, and the Swine Flu [1]. In the last century, we can also add the Spanish Flu.

Maybe what is unprecedented is the way we are experiencing this particular pandemic. The Federal and State governments have tried to enforce emergency orders restricting movement and association with the laudable intention of minimizing risk. Some of these attempts have been helpful, some maybe not so. All of them, though, rely upon fear. Some of them sound hollow like Washington State’s attempt to prevent fishing.

Even though well-intentioned, some of the moves ordered by the government have a hidden cost of the reduction of liberty [2]. But my question is this, is any of this unprecedented?

What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has been already in the ages before us. There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9–11, ESV)

It appears that we have not only forgotten history, but we have forgotten the significance of history too. And this also is not unprecedented as the preacher in Ecclesiastes says.

I believe that the remembrance of history is not the significant thing, though. I believe that what the preacher is saying has been forgotten is much more serious than getting the facts straight. What is most often forgotten is the authority and power of the Most High God. This is the God who went to war against Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt. Have we forgotten how that ended? This is the God who went to war against sin and death. Have we forgotten how that began a new era with a new covenant of life?

Easter is one step in a chain of historical events that together reconcile us to God, establish his kingdom, and enthrone Jesus Christ as the King of kings and Lord of lords. Even over Covid-19. Even over the human efforts to gain control over the sickness and deaths. Let us not forget that our suffering is our joy as we share in the sufferings of our Savior. And if you are reading this and don’t know the truth of it all, pick up your Bible and start reading about the amazing God of the world, bend your knees and bow your back to the ruler of all things, and pray for the faith to believe and live without fear in love.

 

[1]:https://www.visualcapitalist.com/history-of-pandemics-deadliest/

[2]:DeMar, Gary

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The Paschal Vigil

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5–11, ESV)

What is it like to experience the transition from darkness to light? What is it like to go from chaos to creation, or in this case re-creation? What is it like to go from death to life? What is it to find hope in the midst of hopelessness?

The journey of Holy Week through the Paschal Triduum is a reenactment of this historical reality. The Great Paschal Vigil draws the Church together in darkness. Then through worship, we reach the pinnacle of Christian experience. The services celebrate God’s recreation.

The ancient church recognized the central event of Christianity is not the birth of Christ even though the Incarnation is important. However, the Resurrection is the focal point. Easter is the beginning of all things made new. Easter is the mark when we may be born again. Ancient celebrations of Easter included the lighting of the Paschal Candle which would remain lit throughout the year (until it is extinguished on Good Friday.) Easter was when new converts were finally baptized following a year or more of discipleship and learning. And Easter was the first celebration of the Eucharist following its institution.

Darkness to Light; chaos to re-creation; death to life; eternal hope. These are the things of Easter.

Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern
(O Morning-Star, how fair and bright)

PHILIPP NICOLAI

1599 FREUDENSPIEGEL (SEE USE BY BACH BMV 1)

Translation by Catherine Winkworth

O Morning-Star, how fair and bright
Thou beamest forth in truth and light!
O Sovereign meek and lowly!
Sweet Root of Jesse, David’s Son,
My King and Bridegroom, Thou hast won
My heart to love Thee solely!
Lovely art Thou, fair and glorious,
All victorious,
Rich in blessing,
Rule and might o’er all possessing.

O King high-born, Pearl hardly won,
True Son of God and Mary’s Son,
Crown of exceeding glory!
My heart calls Thee a Lily, Lord,
Pure milk and honey is Thy Word,
Thy sweetest Gospel-story.
Rose of Sharon, hail! Hosanna!
Heavenly Manna,
Feed us ever;
Lord, I can forget Thee never!

Clear Jasper, Ruby fervent red,
Deep deep within my heart now shed
The glow of love’s pure fire;
Fill me with joy, grant me to be
Thy member closely joined to Thee,
Whom all my thoughts desire;
Toward Thee longing doth possess me,
Turn and bless me,
For Thy gladness
Eye and heart here pine in sadness.

But if Thou look on me in love,
There straightway falls from God above
A ray of purest pleasure;
Thy Word and Spirit, flesh and blood,
Refresh my soul with heavenly food,
Thou art my hidden treasure.
Let Thy grace, Lord, warm and cheer me,
O draw near me;
Thou hast taught us
Thee to seek, since Thou hast sought us.

Lord God, my Father, mighty Shield,
Thou in Thy Son art all revealed
As Thou hast loved and known me;
Thy Son hath me with Him betrothed,
In His own whitest raiment clothed,
He for His bride will own me.
Hallelujah! Life in heaven
Hath He given,
With Him dwelling,
Still shall I His praise be telling.

Then touch the chords of harp and lute,
Let no sweet music now be mute,
But joyously resounding,
Tell of the Marriage-feast, the Bride,
The heavenly Bridegroom at her side,
’Mid love and joy abounding;
Shout for triumph, loudly sing ye,
Praises bring ye,
Fall before Him,
King of kings, let all adore Him!

Here my heart rests, and holds it fast,
The Lord I love is First and Last,
The End as the Beginning;
Here I can die, for I shall rise
Through Him, to His own Paradise
Above all tears and sinning.
Amen! Amen! Come, Lord Jesus,
Soon release us,
With deep yearning,
Lord, we look for Thy returning.

Eric Lund and Bernard McGinn, Eds., Seventeenth-Century Lutheran Meditations and Hymns, The Classics of Western Spirituality, (New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2011), 278–280.

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Filed under Gospel, Light, Poetry

Good Friday

When I was a child, schools closed at noon on Good Friday, and the following week was called Easter Vacation. Not so anymore. However, Good Friday services are still held in many churches. Those services remember Jesus on the cross and his burial.

In 2004, Mel Gibson released his film The Passion of the Christ. Some people loved it, some were repulsed by it, some just hated it. The film was based upon the Roman Catholic “Stations of the Cross.” I only mention it here because this is the content of Good Friday.

Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” So he delivered him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus,” (John 19:14–16, ESV)

The sixth hour was noon.

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. 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. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”” (Matthew 27:50–54, ESV)

There are many more aspects to the crucifixion. However, when Jesus cried out, “It is finished,” the work of the Lamb was done, the sacrifice for sin had been made. He was laid in the tomb as a sacrificed Lamb of God. He will be raised a Lion of a King.

There is an office in the church called the Tenebrae, meaning a service of darkness. The Tenebrae has been done on Holy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, or Good Friday, depending on the tradition. It consists of 15 candles in a triangular stand. During the service, there were originally 14 Psalms read and after each reading, one of the candles was to be extinguished. The fifteenth Psalm is Psalm 53. It was not read, though, and the fifteenth candle was not put out.

The last caudle, according to Benedict XIV., is hidden, not extinguished, to signify that death could not really obtain dominion over Christ, though it appeared to do. (William E. Addis and Thomas Arnold, A Catholic Dictionary, 1887, 404.)

This, therefore, reminds us of the hope we have, for nothing can conquer Christ. Even in the midst of the crucifixion, we cannot lose sight of the love of God which, even though necessitating the death of his Son, could not leave him in the grave.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4–5, ESV)

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Our Shepherd

A Psalm of David.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Ps 23.

Almost everyone knows this psalm. The beauty of its poetry and imagery encompasses the heart like a blanket on a cold evening.  It is used by those who believe and those who hope. It is also used by many who are hoping for hope.

Because Psalm 23 is used so often, I have tended to avoid using it. I didn’t want to become cliché. Yet there is no other work in which I find such expression of the Lord’s daily watch and care for his sheep.

The psalm speaks for itself. That is why it is so popular. Unlike other passages of Scripture, even without deep theological analysis, you can still be comforted by its lines. So, I will not try to explain all of the images and cross-references and details. I present it that you may be reminded to use it. Meditate on it. Pray it. Let it become a song of hope in your heart.

May the Lord bless you.

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