August 22, 2013

Thank God for the Women!

Some words shared at a community Good Friday Service.  My assignment was to consider the Word of Affection (John 19:25-27).

Thank God for the women! 

The women never betrayed Him.  The women never spoke a word against Him.  The women never raised a hand in opposition to Him.  And, here we see, the women never deserted Him.

Thank God for the women!

His first missionary was a woman He met at a well.  She went and told everyone to "come and see!"

Thank God for the women!

His first miracle was for a bride.  The wine had run out and, so she would not be shamed, He turned water into wine.  Let the celebration continue!

Thank God for the women!

His first words after His resurrection were to some women who showed up to take care of the body.  (Brothers, I'm not sure where the men were.  The women were even discussing among themselves who they would get to roll the stone away.  Seems as if the men folk were busy that morning.  Discussing matters of grave importance I am sure.)

Thank God for the women!

Born of a virgin.  Nursed at her breast.  Showered with her praise.  Cared for by her hand.  Fed at her table.  Taught by her word.  Comforted by her presence.  Yes, now, at the last, again, comforted by her presense.  "Jesus...saw his mother standing nearby."

Thank God for the women!

We struggle to conceive of the anguish dear Mary must have felt on that Friday afternoon.  There hangs her dear son, naked, mocked, humiliated, and she does not cry out.  She hears His cry of thirst and is unable to meet His need.  She sees Him struggle for breath and is unable to offer Him aid.  She sees, all too clearly, the wounds and is unable to tend them.  She looks upon that blessed brow, now pierced, and is unable to soothe its hurt.  Certainly she thinks again of Simeon's words to her that day in the temple when they dedicated Him, "and a sword will peirce your soul..."

Thank God for the women!

Here we find a son speaking to his mother.  That is respect.
Here we find a son providing for his mother.  That is responsibility.
Here we find a son caring for his mother.  That is love.

Thank God for the women!

But look, standing there with her is another. One simply described as "the disciple whom He loved."  This one had deserted Jesus a few short, dark hours ago.  This one had made bold professions of loyalty and courage, "Never will I desert you!"  The pride and machismo ran naked into the darkness when the soldiers came.  The bravado and bluff disappeared like the smoke from the torches in the mob's hands and all he carried with hm was his shame.

Yet, now we find him, "the disciple whom He loved," standing near the cross.

Would he find rebuke?
Would he be greeted with a sneer?
Would he simply be ignored?

"To err is human; to forgive, divine." (Alexander Pope)

Here we see them together.  The erring human standing before the crucified and forgiving divine.

"And he took her into his own home from that hour."

Rather than a rebuke he was given a responsibility.
Rather than a snub he was given salvation.
Rather distrust he was given a life-long trust.
Rather than hearing a grievance he was given a grace; a mother.

Thank God for the women.

April 7, 2012

Good Friday

Some thoughts I shared with the extended faith family in town during our noon Holy Week services on Friday.

I wrestle with Good Friday.  It was not always this way.  It used to be a day out of school and a day to eat chocolate rabbits.  I used to make plans for some fanciful diversion; a fishing trip, a romp in the deep woods, a movie with some friends.  But no longer.  I find myself brooding and moody.  I've even taken to wearing dark colored clothing. 

I used to blow right by Good Friday with hardly a thought.  Now Good Friday comes and I can hardly think of anything else.  For instance, when I stepped out of our sanctuary doors Thursday evening and saw the full moon hanging there in the sky I was struck by the thought that it was under just this sort of moon that Christ and His disciples walked to Gethsemane; Passover is always celebrated on the full moon.  It was under just this sort of moon that Judas gave that fateful and fatal kill.  It was under this sort of moon that Peter betrayed Jesus with a curse only to hear a rooster crow.  And roosters...I have some.  Their usually joyous celebration of the new day was clouded with notes of condemnation this morning. You see, I too have betrayed the one I claim to devotedly love.

A bit of study tells me that I am not the 1st to be slow in embracing Good Friday.  Just over 100 years ago it would have been unheard of for Baptist's of any stripe to make much of Easter, let alone Good Friday, and certainly not a Thursday evening service!  After all, Easter was just a thinly veiled pagan celebration.

There were slow adopters before my stodgy Baptist fathers though.  C.S. Lewis cogently points out that the crucifixtion did not become common in art until all who had seen a real crucifixtion died off.  Perhaps there is good reason to want to hide our eyes and shield our emotions from such inhumanity.

Others join this parade also.  I am fascinated that the early church fathers forbade the depiction of the cross in art until the time of Emperor Constantine.  You will remember it was Constantine who had the vision of the cross and was told to conquer in that sign.  You may not be aware that it was Constantine who banned the use of the cross as a form of execution.

Even so, in my personal quest to embrace Good Friday I cannot fathom the indignity, the shame endured on my behalf.  No matter how many times I watch the graphic depiction of the cross in film or how often I comb over the accounts given in Scripture, I know I'm still not getting it.

For a time I focused on the physical side of the cross.  Certainly horrific in its own right; stripped naked, flogged, spat on, struck in the face, crowned with thorns, flesh and nerves impaled with spikes, the jolt of the cross being dropped into its hole, the suffocating effort and agony of each breath.  There is enough physical torment to cause the most stout among us to quail.

However, in recent years I've looked a bit further, past the bruises and blood, past the panting and pain, and have discovered, much to my dismay, that there is even greater suffering here.  Jesus' words from the cross give us the clue.  There is only one mention from His lips concerning physical matters.  Two simple words, "I thirst."  That's it.  After all He has endured physically it's not the welts and open sores on His back, it's not the spikes in His hands and feet, it's not the thorns pressing into His scalp, He is thirsty.

The other things He says from the cross tell us more..."Father, forgive them,"  "Take care of my mother," "Today you will be with me in paradise."  But there is one that grips me, that has already this day brought tears to my eyes and causes turmoil in my soul.  "Eloi, Eloi.  Lama Sabachthani!"  "My God, My God.  Why have You forsaken me?"  I fear that I know, all too well the dread answer.

"For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Cor. 5:21)

"4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:4-6)

That which pains Him the most, that which causes Him such unimaginable agony is my sin.  There, I've said it.  Surely now you can understand why I would prefer to forget Friday's gloomy darkness and move on to Sunday's lovely light. 

However, I must linger.

I've been instructed to remember and, lest I EVER forget, I am mindful that even in His perfected resurrection body He bears the scars.  Thomas' doubt was put to flight by the invitation to touch those scars for himself.  John's vision was made clear when the figure among the lamp stands in the opening chapter of Revelation was revealed to be " a lamb, looking as if it had been slain."

We who know the outcome in advance struggle ineffectually to recapture the dire-end-of-the-world feeling that fell upon Jesus' followers that 1st Good Friday.  Over the intervening centuries the story has grown familiar.  As best as you can, grasp the grief, hold the horror, feel the failure and descend into the darkness.  It make the Easter announcement all the more shocking and glorious!

Lord Jesus, I need to be drawn to your cross.  Help me to watch and wait there though I fear it may well break my heart.  If it requires my heart be broken to have You, then take my heart and break it, lest I miss having You and am never made whole. Amen.

February 10, 2012

A needed reminder from Thomas Helwys

"That the magistrate is not by virtue of his office to meddle with religion, or matters of conscience, to force or compel men to this or that form of religion, or doctrine: but to handle only civil transgressions (Rom 13), injuries and wrongs of man against man, in murder, adultery, theft, etc., for Christ only is the king, and lawgiver of the church and conscience. James 4:12)." 

Article 84 of Helwys' confession of faith.

"the King is but an earthly King, and he hath no authority as a King but in earthly causes, and if the Kings people be obedient & true subjects, obeying all humane lawes made by the King, our lord the King can require no more:  for mens religion to God, is betwixt God and themselves;  the King shall not answere for it, neither may the King be judgd (i.e., judge) betwene God and man.  Let them be heretikes, Turks, Jewes, or whatsoever it apperteynes not to the earthly power to punish them in the least measure."
No words in the book are more forceful than the preface.

"Heare, 0 King, and dispise not ye counsell of ye poore, and let their complaints come before thee.  The King is a mortall man, and not God[:]  therefore hath no power over ye immortall soulles of his subjects, to make lawes and ordinances for them, and to set spirituall Lords over them.  If the King have authority to make spirituall Lords and Lawes, then he is an immortall God, and not a mortall man.  0 King, be not seduced by deceivers to sin so against God whom thou oughtest to obey, nor against thy poore subjects who ought and will obey thee in all things with body[,] and goods, or els[e] let their lives be taken from ye earth.  God save ye King."

From The Mistery of Iniquity, Thomas Helwys 

December 23, 2011

"Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, that by patience, and comfort of Thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which Thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.  Amen."  -Collect printed in the front matter of Commentary written by Rev. J.R. Drummelow, 1957.

December 14, 2011

The Second Coming - W.B. Yeats

A bit of unusual Advent reading.  "The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity./ Surely some revelation is at hand;/ Surely the Second Coming is at hand."     

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
  The darkness drops again but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

 William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

December 13, 2011

The Martyr's Oath

The Martyr's Oath is a pledge that many Pioneer Missionaries take before launching out into the mission field, to not only live for the Lord, but to die for Him.  This concept is completely alien to our westernized Christianity.  We would do well to call to mind Bonhoeffer's words, "When Christ calls a man he bids him to come and die." (The Cost of Discipleship).  This oath can be found in various forms but its content is largely the same.  Following is one version which speaks clearly to the commitment to which we are called.
  • Today, I stand as a dead man. I declare that in Jesus Christ, I am saved by his blood, and thus I am dead to sin, and no longer dead in my sin. 
  • Today, I stand and declare that I surrender my will and my life to His will and His life. 
  • I shall go where He sends me, without asking questions. 
  • I shall go to whomever He sends me, without seeking fame. 
  • I shall preach to everyone, even if they hate me. 
  • I am an Ambassador of the cross, and must deliver the message. 
  • I shall pour my life out to reach my family, my friends, my neighbors and my city. 
  • I embrace the shame of the cross, and I fear nothing but God. 
  • I welcome suffering, shame, persecution, beatings, imprisonments and death, but I will not be silenced.
  • If I am killed, I pray that my blood should be a harvest for souls.
  • This is my calling, I dare not do less.
While we remember the gift given during this season may we consider the cost of receiving so great a salvation.

November 14, 2011

Some Thoughts on Luke 8:1-11

This is a "re-posting" from about a year ago.  Partly to re-boot the blog.  Partly to invite additional conversation on this.  Currently working through some studies on reconciliation/forgiveness with our collegians.  This may be among the most riveting stories of forgiveness in the NT.

"This is the scandal of the gospel: that what in your life is most cursed and hateful, the trash of your soul, can become your greatest instrument for redemption and healing and blessing."  Leonard Sweet,

There she stands, guilty, condemned by her own actions and condemned by an altogether too eager crowd.  I almost imagine her with clothing a bit dishelveled (after all she was "caught in the act" v. 4) and certainly with eyes firmly fixed on the ground.  The evident weight of shame crushing her already wounded spirit. 

There they stand, wild-eyed and breathless.  Rocks already in hand to exact judgment.  Righteous (self-righteous maybe?) rage boiling through their bodies.  They have a question to ask, a question sure to expose the heart of the troubling teacher who has appeared yet again at their temple, "The Law commands us to stone such women.  So what do you say?" (v. 5). 

There He stands, a healer in the presence of desperate wounds.  Pressed for an answer He rises from doodling on the ground, "If you're not guilty too, go ahead, stone her." He then returns to His impromptu dirt drawing.

One by one the stones fall from their hands only to be carried away in their own stony hearts.  The condemning crowd is now nothing more than a memory leaving the guilty woman and the deliberately doodling doctor of souls alone.  I find it fascinating that she stayed and watched Him draw.  Her accusers were nowhere to be found.  She was a free woman, but not really.  Her guilt still bound her and the only remedy was to be found in the man drawing in the dirt.

He stands, looks around, and then looks in her eyes and asks, "Where are they?  Has no one accused you?"  (Oh, they had certainly accused her; all the way to the temple.  Through every street and alley they had accused her.  The sinuous tendrils of the grapevine had reported the sensational news.  She had been accused and would continue to be accused by whispers and pointed fingers for the rest of her days, "She's the one.  I hear they caught her in the act.")  Her only answer is, "No one, Lord."

Let us pause and remember, she is without doubt guilty.  She beyond question deserves punishment.  She, no doubt, expects the worst.  After all, it is what she has earned.  But it is not what she will get.

To her utter astonishment He says, "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more."  She turns and walks away forgiven.

But what of the man?  She was caught in the act which, unavoidably, means there was a man equally guilty if not equally condemned.  I wonder about their lives from that day forward.  She publicly condemned and permanently branded a "sinner" yet privately and potently forgiven.  He, on the other hand, never facing public scrutiny, but living with the festering ulcer of unacknowledged and unforgiven sin.

Which would you choose;  the public humiliation of having your sin put on display and the life-changing experience of mercy and forgiveness or the temporary satisfaction of looking good while missing the grace of God extended to you?  Far too many of us, like the un-named and unidentified man, choose the latter and great is our loss.

I imagine that guilty woman a few years later walking down those same streets through which she was unceremoniously dragged.  I see her walking into that same part of the temple and running her fingers through that dirt where He drew things.  She has difficulty remembering just what it was that He drew that day, while a passerby whispers behind her back, "I remember the day they brought her here to be stoned."  It brings a smile to her face because she knows that, much like that ephemeral work of art, He no longer calls to mind her sin.  Rising and dusting her hands she hums a joyful tune on her way out, for she is forgiven; far and away among His greatest and most enduring works of art.