I read a very interesting article by Father Augustine Thompson professor of religious studies at St. Albert’s Priory. The article talks about the origins of Halloween as a Christian rather than pagan celebration, as often supposed.
And how to best use these special days of Oct 31st, Nov 1st and 2nd, to recover the original meaning of the feasts of All Saints and All Souls day, allowing them to remind us that ALL are called to the heights of holiness and that life in this world will some day come to an end for each of us
And that death is a door, not the end of the story.
Let me say again, that God’s Sense of Timing never ceases to amaze me. Often I don’t understand, but by now I really do know that He has this. All of it.
I have been wanting to write. I’ve been too busy to write. I’ve been struggling to find the exact thing I wanted to say to express the way that I am feeling.
The husband of a teacher at the child development center where I am the director died unexpectedly last week. He was young. He should have seen his kids grow up and one day play with his grandchildren and great-grand children. Now our friend is a widow and their three young children are left without their dad.
A local boy who has been fighting a brutal cancer for an extended amount of time died yesterday morning. He was supposed to be enjoying his last couple of years of high school, preparing for his future college days and sweethearts and marriage and his own children one day. He was supposed to be learning to drive and playing basketball and hanging out with his friends. He left his precious parents and his siblings and friends to grieve his departure. His mother’s message yesterday to those who have been praying for this boy and his family said, “Today around 7:24 am Sid won his race and is in Heaven celebrating !!! We are so proud of our son for not getting bitter living life trusting Jesus until the end . please pray for us as we learn to live without him .”
There are some weighty things going on in the microcosm world around me right now.
“Microcosm” is the word that popped into my head…and it is actually the perfect word . My world is made up of family, close friends, people who I work with, people who I work for, the families that I serve, my church, and my community. Like my sentence structure…and my thought process, it is messy and jumbled and chaotic.
Within this microcosm world that I know, I have friends who are struggling. I have friends who are celebrating. I know people who are going through growing pains and grappling with significant questions. I know people who are at the beginning of a fabulous life adventure and people who are nearing the end. I know people who are at important crossroads. Which way is the right way to go? How do we know?
I looked up what “microcosm” means :
Macrocosm and microcosm is an ancient Greek Neo-Platonic schema of seeing the same patterns reproduced in all levels of the cosmos, from the largest scale (macrocosm or universe-level) all the way down to the smallest scale (microcosm or sub-sub-atomic or even metaphysical-level).
A representation of something on a much smaller scale.Microcosm means “small world,” and in the thought of the Renaissance, it was applied specifically to human beings, who were considered to be small-scale models of the universe, with all its variety and contradiction.
MICROCOSM. 1. : a little world; especially : the human race or human nature seen as an epitome of the world or the universe. 2. : a community or other unity that is an epitome of a larger unity.
Yesterday morning, I opened up my Sunday School class book and read about how the Christian church has a history that is littered with oppression and violence. Author, Lee Strobel, is trying to find out if Christianity is corrupt to the core or if our sordid history can be attributed to something other than an intrinsic flaw in the system.
“Christians” Strobel says, “tend to see the instances of church abuse and violence through the centuries as anomalies in an otherwise positive institution. Critics, however, are more apt to see travesties like the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Salem witch trials as illustrative of a deeper problem: that Christianity itself is tainted to its core by a power-hungry desire to impose its will on others…”
Famous atheist, Bertrand Russell made a statement that I tend to think is a correct observation: “As soon as absolute truth is supposed to be contained in the sayings of a certain man, there is a body of experts to interpret his sayings and those experts infallibly acquire power…they use their power for their own advantage…”
My response to Bertrand Russell, and to the critics who say that Christianity is tainted to the core can best be explained by understanding that there is a big difference between “cultural Christians” and “authentic Christians.” John D. Woodbridge says, “…Jesus talked about the distinction two millenia ago. And certainly through the centuries much has been done in the name of Christianity that does not reflect his (Jesus) teaching.”
People, leaders and pastors in the church do things all of the time that are contrary to the teachings of Jesus. They act in the name of Christ, but their actions look nothing like Jesus’ life or teachings. They use Bible verses to support their belief or their agenda without thinking about the greater context of the message. This contradiction and conflict of “Followers of Christ” not following Christ, is in my opinion, the primary reason that people are repelled by Christianity. I am repelled by this brand of “Christianity” too. And it is everywhere.
Woodbridge reminds us, “At the same time, we should recognize that there have often been a minority voice that has spoken out against abuses that some institutional churches have perpetrated.”
We know that the first followers of Jesus were servants to the poor and the oppressed and the needy and downtrodden. They took care of widow and orphans. Their generosity and kindness was attractive – not repellent. There are still those people working quietly, not seeking recognition. They just want their lives to give glory to God. They are out there.
Authentic followers of Jesus are more concerned with what good can be done… concerned with what help can be given to others… than concerned with what others have or have not done. They are not spending valuable time pointing fingers…Authentic followers of Jesus would never say, “do as I say, not as I do.” They would say, “Imitate us as we imitate Christ.” Woodbridge says, “Unfortunately, in contemporary evangelicalism sometimes people say, ‘Don’t look at us, look at Christ,’ because we are worried what people will find if our own lives are scrutinized. That wasn’t true of many of these early Christians – there was consistency between their beliefs and behavior.”
Consistency between beliefs and behavior. Wow. How many of us could honestly say that we have consistency between our beliefs and our behavior? Sometimes…Rarely…Most of the time…Never…Always?
Early Christians and authentic Christians were not and are not like the Pharisees. They don’t say…”Look how well I can follow the rules!” or “Look what a pathetic failure you are because you cannot!” Authentic Christianity knows that all of us are capable of following rules…but why would we unless it is to show our immeasurable gratitude and love for God and our love and care for each other?
All of us are also capable of being pathetic failures…and more often than not there will be times when we will be!
And when we do fail, what happens next?
Are we close enough to God to hear the Holy Spirit speak to us…or do we have too many years of ignoring the voice? Has it gotten easier and easier to ignore the voice…or pretend that we did not hear it? Do we make excuses why we continue to do the things that we do even when we know that they are wrong?
Does God try to reach us through the intervention of other people who speak truth to us? Do people avoid telling us truth because they don’t want to get involved? They feel it isn’t their place or their business? Do we feel like we are not qualified or equipped to tell someone else something difficult to hear?
Are there people who are close enough to us to tell us in love and not in condemnation that we have messed up…and that we matter to them enough that they want to help us make things right.
What does remorse and repentance look like? What is the measuring tool? The criteria to determine if the remorse is felt deeply enough or the repentance is complete and thorough? Is there a “check” list? Who establishes the list? the measuring tool? Who knows the sincerity of another person? Will we know that the person’s time of remorse and repentance is sufficient when the right words have been said or the right actions have been done? Is it their a posture that will indicate complete surrender? Will the person grovel? Crawl? Lie prostrate on the floor?
Or is it a matter of the heart?
It is a position and a condition and a change of heart that no man can measure and no man can accurately judge because no man can see…only God can know.
The microcosm story, just as the macrocosm story does not end with our failure. It is not a story of Man’s sin, but of God’s Redemption, Mercy and Grace. The story always begins with and always ends with God’s Love. The story always begins with and always ends with the lengths that God will go in His desire to be with us even though we are not worthy to be with Him.
The story is not a “Circle of Life” …one in which we keep going around and around. We are not on a one dimensional track…like a track around an extra large football field or an extra large cross-country race course.
The story is not a circle, it is a Helix. If our lives were without any obstructions or emotions or life events it would be a straight line forever reaching from our eternal beginning to our everlasting end.
But life goes around and around. There are blind spots at every turn. We don’t know for certain if the next place we will be is up or down.
We do not have to travel alone.
We are constantly coming along-side of others and their Helix story. Sometimes we collide. Sometimes we intertwine…it can be barely. It can be deeply. We can travel together side by side for short stretches or for long stretches. We can go our own way and then come back together. We are the only person on our own individual winding pathway, but one person is always willing to go with us the entire journey…to travel with us through the winding ways and the ups and downs. We can invite Jesus to go with us. If we invite him to come along, he will.
We may feel like we have no control over what is around the next turn…whether it will be an obstruction or a hardship. That can cause us to be afraid to move. But at those times we can ask God to give us strength and courage and to let us know that He is with us so that we will not be afraid.
He will give us peace that passes all understanding. He will hold us up. He will give us Faith that He is in control and that He is our Guide. We are in His shelter. We are protected. We may still get sick, lose our job, our body might die. But there is nothing to fear. This life is temporary anyway. He has this…whether it is a long time at this particular place, or not.
The Holy Spirit is also with us. We just need to ask to be able to hear and obey. We can be confident in where the Spirit leads us.
But… we have to ask for God to be with us. He will give us strength and courage and peace and guidance… if we ask. And then trust.
God wants to be with us. He wants us to be with Him. He will not impose His will or His wants…He wants us to agree with Him. He wants us to know that we are so much better with him than without Him. He wants us to see that we are made to travel our life with Him. He wants us to understand that we are here so that when we come upon other people who may not know Him yet, that those people will see Him through us.
As we travel, sometimes we have the perspective that we are above other people. Sometimes our perspective is that others are farther along than we are…
Paying attention to where we are in comparison to where others are in our journey is arrogance.
What motivates us? People’s opinion of us or God’s opinion of us?
Are we motivated to do what we should by fear of the “stick”…or hope for the “carrot”…or because we love God so much?
Do we need to be coerced or beaten…
Do we need to be bribed or promised a reward…
Or do we just respond because it is what we know makes God happy?
That is what love is, by the way. Doing things without any fear of rejection and without expecting anything in return.
Only God knows the motivation of a man’s heart. And it is God alone that can work in that realm to change the condition.
Even evil people often do the right thing because it is the behavior that gains them acceptance. For them, doing right is a learned response not to get a stick…or to get a carrot.
For all of us, behavior that looks good is often externally motivated.
God is the only one that can create am embedded response and change behavior that is not motivated by man’s acceptance or man’s fear of rejection…but is motivated by Love and respect for God.
“What is wrong with this world?” That is a question that I literally asked myself out loud as I was riding in my car a couple of days ago. I had turned on my radio to listen to the news for the first time in a long time.
In less than ten minutes I heard about the same things on a world-wide level that I see each day around me. In frustration in the few minute that the radio was on, I began to cry from frustration. I am weary of sickness, corruption, pollution, power-struggles, and killing or hurting others in the name of God. The toll that the things of this world takes on the people of God is heart-breaking and crazy-making.
I want to scream.
I want to stamp my foot and pound my chest and pull my hair and scream at the top of my voice, “Stop! Look at what you are doing! Stop! Is this who you are? Is this who you are made to be? Who are you? Stop! Don’t do anything else until you look carefully at your motives! Do you want the carrot? Do you want man’s approval? Are you afraid of the stick? Do you fear man’s disapproval?”
Are we motivated by God’s Love?
Do we recognize that God loves every one of us equally?
We live in a world where imperfect people are allowed to be accuser, judge, jury, determiner of the sentence and enforcer of the verdict over other imperfect people. We can hope that the imperfect people who are allowed to make decisions are objective…but no imperfect person is objective. Everyone goes into decision making with their own history of hurts and misunderstandings.
Worst-case scenario, the person who has power over a situation has a personal connection to the actual event in question.
While reading yesterday, Lee Strobel discusses an account that occurred in the time of the Salem witch trials. “One of the judges, a prominent Puritan named Samuel Sewall of Boston, became terribly distressed over the role he had played in the debacle. His Christian conscience was finally moved to action when he heard his son recite a familiar Bible passage: ‘But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.’ The words broke Sewall’s heart.
“At church services on January 14, 1697, he gave his pastor a statement to read as a contrite Sewall stood ashamed before the congregation. The statement confessed Sewall’s guilt for much of what had happened, saying that he ‘desires to take the Blame and shame of it, Asking pardon of men, and especially desiring prayers that God, who has an Unlimited Authority, would pardon that sin and all other sins.’ His humble act of sorrow and repentance prompted several other jurors to confess their failures too.”
The “witches” had there trial. There was nothing to be done for them…but it wasn’t over because there was more that God wanted to reveal.
Through God’s Word, Sewall recognized that his reaction had been motivated by fear. His actions had not been a reflection of Faith that God is in control…and that God can use things that seem bad and turn them into good…and that God allows difficult situations to expose us and show us where we are blind in our pride or impotent in our brokenness. God allows painful situations to forge our character.
God’s offers Grace and Mercy. Sewell had not offered the same options that God offers. The accused were destroyed before God had the opportunity to save them. But who later was saved? How many other witch hunts and witch trials were stopped before they could begin because of the light that was shed on the injustice in Salem…and the courage of Sewall’s confession of culpability?
Strobel finishes the chapter by saying…” That, I thought to myself, is perhaps one of Christianity’s most amazing legacies – the willingness of the mighty to bend the knee of repentance when wrongs have been committed. It was yet another reminder of the power of faith to change lives- and history – for the good.”
Thank you, God…that you are perfect. And that you are the ultimate Judge and Jury and that the Sentence has been paid for all people who believe and accept your gift of Life.
We all have things to repent for…what are the things that God wants to show to you? What dark places need to be lit up and looked at and dealt with?
I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”
He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.
God’s Chosen Servant
Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. He warned them not to tell others about him. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
“Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
In his name the nations will put their hope.”
How much more valuable is a person than a sheep?
None of us are innocent. But God does not hold our guilt against us.
Jesus restores. Jesus heals. It is the name of Jesus that we can put our hope. Only God will bend our knee in repentance. Only God will heal our heart. Authentic Christians, be a help. Do not hold anyone down. Be ready to put out your hand and lift up the down-trodden. Be willing to stand beside as if a splint to a broken bone. Lend support as the mighty work of God makes broken places whole. Know that the healed broken place will be strong. Be God’s Image-bearer for this sick, corrupt and hurting world. Be Light in darkness. Be Hope in hopelessness. Be Courage in fear. Be a link to Life. In all things let us be motivated by Love.
“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
Jesus the Great High Priest
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
Amen and so be it. Every second of every day we are in our time of need. Help us, God.