Helping those in need

Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse. —Proverbs 28:27*

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on US and global economies. Hundreds of thousands of businesses have closed for varying pandemic-related reasons. The food service industry here at home has been hit particularly hard.  Thousands of restaurants have closed, with most having no hope of reopening. The middle class is shrinking, leaving a fractured nation that is increasingly becoming a land of haves and have nots. History has demonstrated that as the middle class shrinks and the lower class grows, civil unrest often increases.

To survive, many American families have had to dip into retirement savings, placing the future in question.  When savings are exhausted, losing a job can mean losing nearly everything.  The ability to pay a big mortgage, something common for young working couples today, often depends on the salaries of both spouses.  If even one of them loses their job, foreclosure becomes a distinct possibility! To stay afloat they must negotiate with lenders, which in the long run usually means increasing the size of their mortgages and/or tapping into short term savings and retirement accounts. Early retirement withdrawals are usually accompanied by additional fees.

On top of pandemic problems, even before COVID-19 economic globalization had given rise to thousands of large companies that are loyal to neither to their country of origin nor to their employees.   Workers, especially blue collar ones, are increasingly being treated like disposable commodities that are brushed into the trash bin like rubbish on a picnic table. Highly educated and skilled working professionals who lose their jobs and end up turning to the government for assistance are common today.  In my job working with the unemployed, I heard many lament, “I never imagined that I could end up in this situation.”  This can and must change.

Churches, especially those in large urban areas, are often unaware of the financial struggles of individuals and families in their area—even when those affected are members of the church. Many churches have lost touch with early traditions. The scriptures speak frequently about caring for those who share the faith.  This is an essential part of discipleship that helps the church set its own house in order.  In Acts chapter 6, the Apostles appointed seven deacons to assist in the distribution of food to local widows, who were followers of Christ.  James 1:27 tell us, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

Even clearer instruction comes straight from the mouth of our Lord in John 13:34-35: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Building a healthy church family is essential to serving those in need outside the church.  Brett Eastman has served as the small groups champion in several of the largest mega churches in the country including Pastor Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church.  Eastman writes:

“If you want to create a church community that really cares for one another, the best way to do it is through small groups. When small groups become the vehicle for care-giving, the whole church gets involved in sharing one another’s burdens—a much more personal approach than relegating the task to a committee.  The whole congregation should be making hospital visits, taking meals to people when they’re sick or something’s happened, doing childcare when someone’s in crisis and giving money when somebody’s lost a job.”

Small groups in churches set the conditions for encouraging personal intimacy and trust building—essential elements of loving Christian relationships.  Only by sharing our hopes, fears, cares and concerns do we really get to know other believers well.

Small groups also enable churches to develop outreach ministries. One way for small groups to quickly make a difference is by reaching out to Christian charities in their church’s local area.  Charities are always in need of volunteers, financial supporters, prayer warriors and other resources.  The possibilities are endless. You can’t take care of everybody, but you can take care of somebody.  The closest ministry filed for any church is the one inside its doors. The largest ministry field for every church is the one just outside the church doors.   

Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed. —Proverbs 19:17

*All Bible quotes are ESV.

Do not fear!

I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. —Isaiah 41:13 (ESV)

Note: I periodically turn to previous blog entries for content that is relevant today. This entry is based upon an article I wrote in 2015.

Many people today are scared. Constant fear is slowly become part of the human condition. It’s running rampant right here in America. The majority of Americans now believe that their children’s lives will be harder than their own. They worry about unemployment and the economy. Many fear illegal immigrants. Others are afraid to gather in public places for fear of violence. Why wouldn’t people be afraid? Many media outlets and politicians survive by instilling fear in the public.

On a cosmic scale we hear about giant solar flares that could destroy technology, pushing humankind back into the Stone Age. A large meteor or asteroid collisions could destroy the Earth.

In the natural world, super volcanoes threaten to cause destruction on a planetary scale. Earthquakes like the recent one in Haiti and tsunamis in diverse places threaten thousands of lives. Many fear that global warming will cause killer storms, droughts, melting polar ice, coastal flooding and forest fires.

On the human plane, we have just just witnessed the rapid collapse of the US-backed government in Afghanistan and the ensuing chaos and death. Many fear the threat of terrorism in the homeland as a result of Afghanistan’s demise. Others fear home grown terrorists. Yet others worry about flesh eating bacteria, brain eating amoebas, the CORONA-virus Delta variant, and a growing list of drug resistant bacteria and viruses. Some hunker down in their homes, worried about wearing masks, riots, violence by/against the police, and mass murders making public places unsafe. Some fear that computer hackers will steal their identities and wealth.  Others fear hackers will disrupt our critical national infrastructure, as we recently saw with the hack on the Colonial pipeline.  There are wars and rumors of wars. Religious persecution is increasing around the globe. It can all be paralyzing.

Do not fear.

There are two types of fear mentioned in the Bible. The first is fear of the Lord. This fear is not associated with being frightened. It is a reverential awe of God and is to be encouraged. According to Psalm 111, fear of the Lord is the “beginning of wisdom” and leads to rest and peace.

The second type of fear is detrimental. In the first chapter of 2 Timothy it is described as a “spirit of fear.” A person can be completely overcome by a spirit of fear, virtually frozen and unable to function. Such fear weighs a person down physically, emotionally and mentally.

Unfortunately, many Christians have succumbed to a spirit of fear. Some fear those of other religions and are reluctant to reach out to them in Christian love. Some fear those who are different from them culturally or racially. Some of us are hesitant to invite those in need into their lives for fear they might lose something or it might cost something. Some are afraid to leave the comfort of their homes and familiar surroundings in order to reach out to the needy. Others are hesitant to give of their wealth for fear they might later find themselves in need. A few are afraid of just about everything.

Christian fears often boils down to a fear of losing something—possessions, comfort, safety, security. In Philippians chapter 3, verses 7-8 (ESV), St. Paul describes how he has let go of the things of this world in order to focus on what is truly important: ” But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

It is impossible to grasp the outstretched hand of Christ as long as we tightly cling to things of this world. David tells us in Psalm 34 verses 4-7 (ESV):

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.”

Take the fears before you today and give them to the Lord. You may paralyzed by a fearful nature, facing a health crisis, unemployment, divorce, a call to missionary service, or other difficult challenges. The best first step in any situation is to cast aside your fears—let go and let God!

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6: 10-12 (ESV)

“The remarkable thing about God is that when you fear God, you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God, you fear everything else.”    —Oswald Chambers

Guard your heart

Sacred Heart of Jesus

“When a man’s heart is right with God the mysterious utterances of the Bible are spirit and life to him. Spiritual truth is discernible only to a pure heart, not to a keen intellect. It is not a question of profundity of intellect, but of purity of heart.”  Oswald Chambers

The word “heart”, as used in the Old Testament, is frequently translated from the Hebrew “לב (sounds like “leb”). It describes a person’s inner being—specifically their will, mind, consciousness, emotions and understanding. It can also refer to moral character and determination. The Hebrew people of Biblical times believed the heart was a body’s place of knowledge, memory and thought. From a holistic viewpoint, the Hebrews saw the heart as the predominant force behind a person’s character, decisions, words and deeds.

The word “heart” as used in the Greek New Testament is καρδία” (sounds like “cardia”). It is the root of the modern English “cardiac.” Like the Hebrew word for “heart,” καρδία has multiple interpretations. It represents the origin of one’s spiritual life and includes emotions. thoughts and one’s personal will. It also describes the center of one’s longings, desires and feelings.

In Roman Catholicism, the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus devotion recalls Jesus’ infinite love for all mankind. Saint Matthew reminds us that we are to return Jesus’ love for us.  In Matthew 22:37-38(a), Jesus tells us, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” Christian writer Witness Lee was born to a Christian family in North China in 1905. In his book The Economy of God, which was published in 1968, Lee examines the role of the heart in a Christian’s life. He says:

“Our relationship with the Lord is always begun and maintained by the heart. Of course, to contact the Lord is a matter of the spirit, but this must be initiated and maintained by the heart, for our heart is the gateway of our whole being.” He continues, “In other words, the heart becomes both the entrance and the exit of our being. Whatever enters into us must enter through the heart. Whatever comes out from us must proceed through the heart.”

There are many worldly forces competing for our hearts. The Bible is full of examples and warnings about idols, false prophets and false teachers.  We find these deceivers all around us today. Idols manifest themselves in the forms of power, wealth, fame, celebrity, self-indulgence and the like—things we choose to worship in place of God. False prophets sometimes appear in the form of politicians, governments, religious leaders and, more recently, some social media outlets. They plant seeds of fears and confusion with words running contrary to the teaching of Christ. 18th century Welsh theologian Matthew Henry’s comprehensive Bible commentary has much to say on false prophets and teachers. For example:

“Our Saviour cautions his disciples to stand on their guard against false teachers. And he foretells wars and great commotions among nations. From the time that the Jews rejected Christ, and he left their house desolate, the sword never departed from them. See what comes of refusing the gospel. Those who will not hear the messengers of peace, shall be made to hear the messengers of war. But where the heart is fixed, trusting in God, it is kept in peace, and is not afraid. It is against the mind of Christ, that his people should have troubled hearts, even in troublous times.”  Commentary on Matthew 24

Psalm 1 tells us to meditate on the Law (instruction) of the Lord. If your heart is fixed on the Word of God, you are not likely to go astray. The Word of God is “at work” in believers who hear and meditate on it (1 Thessalonians 2:13). The Word of God helps us to work out our own salvation (Philippians 2:12). The working of the Word of God is evident in true believers.  My mom spent the last few months of her life in a dementia facility.  One of the residents was a believer who was probably close to 90 years old. This blessed man, overcome by Alzheimer’s Disease, daily recited the Roman Catholic Missal for hours on end. Even in his diminished state, the Word of God was at work in this old Saint’s heart.

The Word of God helps us avoid the temptations of idolatry and false prophets.  As Corinthians 10:13 tells us. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (ESV)

So how can Christians respond to temptations that tear at their hearts? Naturally, Jesus provides the answer.  In Matthew 4:1-11, we find the story of Jesus’s temptation by Satan. In this passage, Jesus is tempted (tested) in the wilderness and responds with the Word of God, reciting scripture to Satan:

            Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

            You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.

            You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.

Ephesians 6:17 calls the Word of God “the sword of the Spirit.” Like a sword, the Word can be used for both defensive and offensive purposes—defensive as when Jesus responds to the temptations of Satan in the wilderness, and offensive as when we see the triumphant Jesus, the Alpha and Omega, in Revelation 1:17-18, where he proclaims, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”  Study the Holy Scriptures and receive the Word of God!

Today, Jesus calls to each of us, “Come, leave behind your life of sin and sorrow. Come to the cross, find forgiveness for your sins, and join me in resurrection victory. Come, be My disciple. Come and know the joy of a loving Father. Come, before it is too late.” –Rev. Dr. Ken Klaus, Speaker emeritus of the Lutheran Hour.

…I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. –1 Timothy 1:12(b)-14

The joy of the Lord

The Joy of the Lord

If you’re a user of Facebook or YouTube, you’ve probably seen videos of military service members who have been on deployments reuniting with family members.  These are moments of pure joy and happiness.  They seem to say, “everything is going to be OK now.” This type of joy is a wonderful mountaintop experience, but it is fleeting.  It’s simply not possible to sustain such temporal joy, but there is another type of joy that’s eternal.  

Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.  Karl Barth

Did you ever meet somebody you just knew was a Christian without being told?  There are some people whose face and disposition simply can’t hide the joy of Christ that dwells inside them. Often, this kind of person will invite you to visit their church. Christians want to share their joy with others. They are thankful for the joy that dwells within.  In Galatians 5:22, the Apostle Paul calls joy a fruit of the Holy Spirit. In 2 Corinthians 2:3, Paul describes how he wants to share his joy with the people of the young church in Corinth.

Describing Christian joy to a non-believer can be difficult. When I was a young captain serving in the Army, I had a battalion commander who assigned me a special project.  I listened to his instructions, but they weren’t clear to me.  I asked specifically what sort of product he expected me to give him when I had completed the project. His surprising response was, “I’m not sure, but I’ll know it when I see it.” Christian joy is like that, you’ll never fully understand it until you’ve experienced it.

Joy may include happiness, but happiness is not a precondition for Christian joy.  The Apostle Peter describes joy as gladness not based on circumstances (1Peter 1:8-9). Paul says in 2 Corinthians 7:4, “In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy.”  Clearly, Christian joy does not depend on being happy.  It is founded in the assurance that:

  • Jesus has paid for all your sins, past, present, and future.
  • You have been freed from the power of sin and can choose to obey.
  • You live under God’s grace and mercy.
  • You are an adopted child of God.
  • You have eternal life.
  • God knows you by name and hears your prayers.
  • You are part of God’s church family and joined by the Holy Spirit to fellow Christians.

In Romans 15:13 Paul says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Joy and peace are yours for the taking if you will put your trust in God today.

Doxology: To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.  –Jude 1:24-25

Enduring Truths for Recent Graduates

Eight years ago I wrote an article  for my newspaper column with some advice for recent grads.  It has become one of the most popular pieces I ever wrote. I’ve received hundreds of emails thanking me for writing it.  Therefore, I decided to  republish it annually around graduation time.  I hope some of you might find it useful.  You can view the original article in the Tribune-Democrat news at this link: http://goo.gl/LtN72

For those who are graduating high school this year and beginning the long transition into adulthood, I’d like to offer you a gift. Here are five enduring truths I have learned. They will help you through life’s journey.

Choices

“If you decide to just go with the flow, you’ll end up where the flow goes, which is usually downhill, often leading to a big pile of sludge and a life of unhappiness. You’ll end up doing what everyone else is doing.” ― Sean Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens

 Life will deal you an endless string of choices along the way.  Some will be trivial, like deciding what to wear today.  Others will be weighty and their outcomes will affect you forever.  Weighty decisions should always be preceded by much thought and soul searching.  This includes decisions about who you date or marry, what you put into your body, bringing children into the world, what you do for a living, how much debt you incur and who you associate with.

All of these decisions will have a lasting effect on your life. Therefore, make them slowly and deliberately. Often you’ll discover that the right choice is not the easiest one.  A habit of making poor choices will, as the Sean Covey quote suggests, drag your life downhill.

I was recently contacted by a young man who had just received a bad conduct discharge from the Navy.  He asked me how the discharge would impact his future employability.  His mistake was choosing to drive a car while intoxicated and hitting a pedestrian. Fortunately, the victim wasn’t seriously injured. Had it been otherwise, the young sailor would probably be in prison.  It was my sad responsibility to inform him that with some employers the discharge would be a black mark for life. Choices matter!

Learning

“Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards.”    ―Vernon Saunders Law, former professional baseball pitcher and Cy Young Award winner

Some of you will go on to college or technical school.  Others will enter the workforce.  Even if your formal education is over, don’t quit learning. Make learning a lifelong adventure.  I did my undergraduate work at the University of Kentucky.  The school offers a fellowship program for individuals aged 65 and older to attend classes tuition free. Every year numerous senior citizens walk the stage to receive degrees ranging from Associate of Arts to Doctor of Philosophy.  It’s never too late to learn.

Even if you don’t choose to continue formal learning, make it point to learn from life. Observe others; note their successes and failures; then learn from their experiences.  More importantly, learn from your own mistakes.

Some of the greatest lessons I’ve learned, particularly those while serving in uniform, were the result of having made a terrible mistake.  This sort of lesson sticks, like the first time you grab the handle of a hot iron skillet with your bare hand.  The key to learning from mistakes is owning them.  Admit your mistakes and then move on, having learned something from the experience.  Don’t let, “It wasn’t my fault,” be part of your vocabulary.

Work

“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.”  ―Colin Powell, retired U.S. Army four-star general and former U.S. Secretary of State

Work isn’t always fun. If it were, they’d call it play.  Work can be downright unpleasant, but it’s an essential element of life! Along the way you’re going to have jobs you won’t like. Note what you don’t like and make it a point to improve yourself, so you’ll never again have to work at such a job.

Accepting a job means submitting to the authority of those placed over you.  Learn to work within this system.   You’ll inevitably have bosses you don’t like.  Learn to respect the position, if not the individual.

Fairness

“Life is not fair; get used to it.” ―Bill Gates, founder and former CEO, Microsoft Corporation

You will hear much discussion about fairness in this life. It’s all hot air.  Life isn’t fair.  Some good people die young, while some bad people live a long life.   Disease sometimes strikes arbitrarily, for no apparent reason.  Some people prosper while others suffer failure. A death or accident can change your life forever.

There is randomness to life that can’t be avoided.  Don’t expect kindness to be returned with kindness.  Don’t expect generosity to be returned with generosity.  The best choice is to be fair and kind to others and learn to accept what they return to you.

A wise man named Harry Browne ran for president of the United States on the Libertarian Party ticket. On Christmas day in 1966, Browne wrote his young daughter a letter aptly titled, “A Gift for My Daughter.”  I encourage every graduating senior to read it and digest it. In the letter, he explains to his daughter that, “Nobody owes you anything.”  Understanding what Browne meant can truly bless you. You can find it at: https://tenthamendmentcenter.com/2009/12/22/a-gift-for-my-daughter/ 

Faith

“A faith is a necessity to a man. Woe to him who believes in nothing.”  ―Victor Hugo

I once had a senior Army officer tell me he preferred to work with men who possessed spiritual values, regardless of their religion.  He explained that having faith in a power higher than one’s self was an indicator of how one will perform under pressure; in this instance, the pressure meant combat.

Too many people place their faith in all the wrong places.  It might be in wealth, celebrity, good looks, talent, or even government.  Whatever the case, misplaced faith leads to disappointment after disappointment.

To avoid these disappointments, put your faith in God alone.  You, your loved ones and your friends will all inevitably let you down, but God will never fail you.

A perpetual communion with God

Do you love God?  Do you know God’s son, Jesus Christ?  Do you spend time with him daily? Revelation 22:4-5 shows us a picture of the saints in heaven enjoying a “perpetual communion” with God, “They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign for ever and ever.”  While this passage in Revelation paints a picture of the future, the perpetual communion it describes is available to Christ followers today. But how do we get there?

In the hustle and bustle of today’s busy, fast-moving life it can be easy to pass an entire day without having even a single thought of God. At least this is true for me and I suspect many others will recognize it as true.  So how does one achieve perpetual communion with God today?  Here’s a clue.  One of the things I admire about Muslims is their commitment to the daily prayers. Practicing Muslims pause to pray five times a day. The pause for prayer is a chance to center one’s self and refocus on their god.  The prayers go like this:  

  • First: This prayer starts off the day with the recognition of God; it takes place before sunrise.
  • Second: After the day’s work has begun, one breaks shortly after noon to again remember God and seek His guidance.
  • Third: In the late afternoon, the faithful take a few minutes to remember God and the greater meaning of their lives.
  • Fourth: Just after the sun goes down, one remembers God again as the day begins to come to a close.
  • Fifth: Before retiring for the night, the Muslim faithful pause to remember God’s presence, guidance, mercy, and forgiveness.

Whether or not you’re a Muslim, such a daily prayer schedule that keeps one focused on God is a wonderful idea. Abraham was the father of both Islam and Judaism.  In Genesis 17, God appeared to Abraham and “spoke with him,” announcing the Covenant of Circumcision. Genesis chapter 5 list Adam’s descendants down to Noah. Speaking of one descendant who was named Enoch, verse 24 says, “Enoch walked with God, and he was not for God took him.”  

The meaning of this cryptic passage has been heavily debated by Bible scholars. Did Enoch physically walk with God?  Was he taken up to heaven without dying?  The New Testament holds a clue. Hebrews 11:5 says, “By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken, he was commended as having pleased God.” 

It appears that both Abraham and Enoch literally met God—stood in His presence while they lived on this Earth—pretty special to say the least.  Even so, they could not have seen him face to face. Moses too had a literal meeting with God. God spoke to him in Exodus 33:20, saying, “…you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”  Exodus 33:23 goes on to recount how God physically passed by Moses, showing him his back.

Like Adam and Eve before them, Abraham, Enoch and Moses were blessed to have physically communed with God.  I can’t help but think how easy it would be for me to live in perpetual communion with God if I could physically meet him. God doesn’t make it that easy, however.  As Jesus tells the Apostle Thomas in John 20:29, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

What moves someone to believe without seeing. From Jesus’ own words spoken to “doubting Thomas,” we can extrapolate that developing a perpetual communion with God requires faith. The renowned Scottish theologian Oswald Chambers said, “The mystery of God is not in what is going to be, it is now…Realize that the Lord is here now, and the freedom you receive is immediate.”  Communion with God leads to liberation—being set free from the cares and worries of the day. How can one achieve this liberation? As Chambers suggests, we must first recognize that God is here now! 

How is such a close communion developed?  Unlike justification, which Luther explained is achieved “through faith alone” (sole fide), developing a perpetual communion with God requires more than faith.  It requires hard work. This work takes two forms: studying the Scriptures and praying without ceasing, as Paul describes in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. We cannot truly come to know and understand God without committing ourselves to studying the scriptures, for they are the revealed word of God. Prayer is also essential.  Psalm 143 suggests we should begin each day with prayer: “Let me hear of your loving-kindness in the morning, for I put my trust in you.”

With respect to praying, one often overlooked aspect of prayer is extremely important to developing a perpetual communion with God—praying requires listening!  We need to take time to be silent and listen for the voice of God. God is with us.  His name is Emmanuel. Start getting to know Him today and begin the hard work of developing a perpetual communion with Him.  

Amazingly, the Creator and Ruler of the universe wants to spend time with you so that you can know Him better. It’s as if He is saying, “I want you all to Myself for a little while.” Take Him up on the invitation to get away to a quiet place and learn about Him.  –Dr. Charles Stanley

Easter 2021 – He is risen!

Jesus at His tomb with Mary Magdalene

Matthew 28 (ESV) – He Is Risen

Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men.

But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.”

So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word.

The Women Worship the Risen Lord

And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, “Rejoice!” So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him. 10

Welcome to the new Divine Simplicity blog

Thanks to all the followers of my Divine Simplicity blog. For nearly 10 years I’ve used the free version of WordPress to host this blog. To make things a bit simpler, I recently converted to WordPress Premium hosting. This means you will no longer see those pesky ads on my blog pages.

Also, you can now access the blog at this URL: www.divine-simplicity.com.

I hope you enjoy the changes. There are more to come!

The Simplicity that is in Christ

 

Simplify: (transitive verb) to make something easier to do or understand

It has been nearly a decade since I started this blog.  It owes its existence to Smicksburg, a small, quaint village in the Amish country of rural Indiana County, Pennsylvania. My wife and I visited there one day in the summer of 2011. While rummaging through a tiny gift shop on the village’s main street, I discovered a small, heart-shaped wooden Christmas ornament decorated in tole painting bearing the word, “Simplify.”  

The ornament got me thinking about the simplicity of the Amish lifestyle compared to my own. Despite their lack of cars, electricity, television, the internet and many other modern conveniences, I find the Amish lifestyle attractive in many ways. I long for a simpler life myself, one devoid of planning committees, investment portfolios, tax returns, oil changes, tire rotations, weed killing, student loans, long term care insurance, social media, Netflix and the like. Researcher, author and Cato Institute Fellow, Brink Lindsey has written extensively on human capital. He has noted about Western societies, “…as we get richer, the personal choices we face keep multiplying from the most trivial to the most profound and life-altering.” The mental capacity to deal with an ever-increasing onslaught of important information and decisions differs from person to person, but everyone has a tipping point where mental overload leads to some degree of cognitive incapacitation.

I purchased the ornament and placed it in a prominent position in my home office, to serve as a constant reminder of life’s simpler possibilities.  I started this blog a few months afterwards. At first my topics focused on simplifying one’s lifestyle. However, the discussion gradually drifted towards Christian topics associated with simplicity, where it remains today. As a wannabe theologian, I know I miss the mark on many things when composing my blog entries.  But there is one thing I’ve learned about Christianity over the years and I’m certain of it—the Gospel message of Jesus Christ is really quite simple!

 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. –John 3:16

Everything in Jesus life, death, and resurrection points towards one thing—the cross.  This is spelled out clearly in the first chapter of Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 1:18 Paul said, “…the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

From the outside looking in, the cross is nonsense. The Romans of the time could not have imagined that Jesus’ crucifixion would be the defining moment in human history and lead to a social and religious revolution in the Empire. The Jewish leaders, on the other hand, were seeking a powerful Messiah who would lead a military overthrow of Roman rule in the area that was once the Kingdom of Israel. Jesus didn’t fit their job description. Of His agonizing death on the cross, Jesus says in John 12:27, “…it was for this very reason I came to this hour.”

We are nearing the end of the Church season of Lent, where we commemorate Christ’s final journey to Jerusalem to suffer torture and death on the cross. Tomorrow we will celebrate Palm Sunday, the commemoration of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem—not as a powerful military warrior, but as humble, unlikely Savior-servant riding on a donkey.  Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week. On Good Friday we will commemorate Christ’s crucifixion. And on the following Sunday we will celebrate Easter, when all Christendom rejoices over Jesus’ glorious resurrection from the dead. 

Jesus’ crucifixion and death on Good Friday was the defining moment when He defeated death and opened the doorway leading to eternal life for all who confess their sins to God and accept Jesus as Savior. As he breathed his last breath, Jesus said “It is finished.” His reason for being—to bear the burden of our sins—was accomplished on the Cross of Calvary. Acts 10:43 tells us, “To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”  Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, which we celebrate on Easter, reminds His followers of the promise of their own resurrection, when they will see their Lord face-to-face. That’s the Gospel story in a nutshell. It’s really simple! 

“Simple Gifts, a traditional Shaker tune by Elder Joseph Brackett, Jr., 1848) as performed by Yo Yo Ma on cello, with vocals by Alison Kraus.

Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free

’tis the gift to come down where you ought to be

And when we find ourselves in the place just right

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained

To bow and to bend we will not be ashamed

To turn, turn will be our delight

‘Till by turning, turning we come round right.

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free

’tis the gift to come down where you ought to be

And when we find ourselves in the place just right

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

Dust in the wind: a Lenten reflection

“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

As I began writing this post it was the first Sunday in the church season of Lent, a 40-day period of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends at sundown on Holy Thursday. Lent is a time of preparation to celebrate Christ’s resurrection on Easter day. The blessing priests pronounce at the Ash Wednesday service is a solemn reminder of our mortality—the priest draws the sign of the cross with ashes on one’s forehead while saying, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

On the surface, this seems like an odd sort of blessing—a reminder that you’re going to die someday.  Death is an inevitable part of life, but it’s a contradiction because it wasn’t part of God’s plan for us. The Lenten ashes on one’s forehead reminds us that we are dead in our sinfulness and that our only hope is God’s saving grace, a gift offered freely through Christ’s death and resurrection.   

Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, where he bore the sins of the world, revealed God’s limitless love for each of us. Death has a way of revealing love. Over the past 100 days I’ve lost three dear friends and Army pals. For me, their deaths are also a reminder of my own mortality. I miss them all and will miss them always.  It’s easy to take someone for granted while they’re alive, but their death provides a stark reminder of how much they meant in one’s life. Though I miss them all, I take comfort in the knowledge that they were all Christ followers and they will see the Lord face to face on Resurrection Day.  

Lent is a somber season. The focus on penance, fasting, and one’s mortality is like living Christ’s final journey to Jerusalem and His crucifixion. The beauty of the crucifixion is that it isn’t the end of the story. It is the chapter in Jesus’ life leading to the season of Easter and the celebration of His glorious resurrection, which brings a gift of eternal life to those who accept him as Savior.  Lent is my favorite church season.

“(Lent) is a period of spiritual ‘combat’ which we must experience alongside Jesus, not with pride and presumption, but using the arms of faith: prayer, listening to the word of God and penance. In this way we will be able to celebrate Easter in truth, ready to renew the promises of our Baptism.”  -Pope Benedict XVI

If you come from a church tradition that doesn’t celebrate Lent, I encourage you to learn more about it. There are many free resources available online from the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). Please visit the “Gift of Lent” link below. 

Lent
by Christina Georgina Rossetti

It is good to be last not first,
Pending the present distress;
It is good to hunger and thirst,
So it be for righteousness.
It is good to spend and be spent,
It is good to watch and to pray:
Life and Death make a goodly Lent,
So it leads us to Easter Day.