Tag Archives: cross

The Real Breakout King


There is a new TV show on this year called Breakout Kings.  The premise of this  show is that a small group of inmates are given temporary leave from prison in order to put their unique skills into finding and catching escaped prisoners.  Yesterday at our communion service our minister spoke on the theme of breaking out and even as he was doing the children’s story I was sneaking out my note pad and writing down, “Jesus: The Real Breakout King.”

 

As people have stated for ages, there are two things that are inevitable; death and taxes.  From the day we are born, we are moving towards our death.  A chalenge with helping children to understand death is letting them know that it is permanent, the goldfish, other pet, or loved one will not be coming back.  We all know this.  That is why it was so amazing when Jesus was able to call a young man being carried to his grave, a young girl who had died, and finally Lazarus who had been in the tomb four days back from death.  This was amazing enough but Jesus actually broke out of his own death.  He was dead, he was layed out in the tomb and sealed in, and he broke out on his own!  

 

Jesus is truly the breakout king, and through his resurrection we not only see his power over death for himself but for us as well!   Through his death for our sins, we are forgiven, we have not yet died physical death, but we are already living our eternal life.

Santa Claus, Christ, And The Easter Bunny


Bonnets and Baskets Tea

What events do your family celebrate?  Many families celebrate birthdays and  anniversaries as important family milestones.  For Christian families we celebrate Christmas and Easter, Muslim families Ramadan and Eid, Jewish families Passover, Chanukkah, etc.  For the purpose of this post we are going to focus, as I usually do, on the Christian traditions.

 

What is the first image that comes to mind when you hear the word Christmas?  I’m willing to bet that for a number of you it was either a tree or Santa.  Sure, lots of people would have pictured a manger scene, a star, an angel, or maybe an Advent wreath, but for every one of those I bet there are two people out there wishing they could have a do-over.  How about Easter?  Images like crosses, palms, nails, empty tombs, mix in with brightly decorated baskets filled with chocolate and candies, bunnies, and chicks.

 

Both of these celebrations have, at their hearts, the life of Jesus Christ.  Christmas celebrates Jesus taking on human life in the unlikely form of a helpless infant who was almost immediately the focus of a plot to kill him.  Easter celebrates Christ’s rising from the dead, but not without the pain and sacrifice of his arrest, and crucifixion.

 

The other day I was surprised to hear students in my class discussing Easter gift giving.  I don’t mean asking what their family puts in the Easter basket/ what the Easter Bunny brings, but actually discussing the exchange of Easter gifts like we do Christmas gifts.  It seems silly that the idea bothered me a bit, after-all I really enjoy buying Christmas gifts for people, and of course opening mine.  It just doesn’t seem to be a part of Easter. 

 

My husband and I have drawn some odd lines with our family traditions. We told the kids all about Santa Claus and even now read The Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve, after getting home from the midnight communion service.  We decorate extensively (well, I do), have stockings, and exchange gifts.  Somehow this doesn’t seem to lessen the event as a celebration of the birth of Christ.  Easter on the other hand is all about church.  I put up a few decorations like spring flowers to brighten things up after the long winter, but we have never pretended even for a moment that there was an Easter Bunny.  We coined the term Easter Parents to explain who put out the tiny pile of treats on Easter morning (not to be touched until after church). 

 

It seems hypocritical to “lie” to our kids and tell them about Santa Claus, the spirit of Christmas who enters into people and makes them more giving, and then not follow along and tell them about a bunny who delivers treats to children on Easter.  I’m sure no real harm would be done.  It is just that while at Christmas we are celebrating an entirely happy event, the birth of a child, Easter is much more complicated.  Jesus was a gift from God.  Like the birth of any child this is a joyous event.  Theoretically, our gift giving is inspired by this gift. 

 

Easter is about a huge sacrifice made by an innocent man to take away the sins of others.  Jesus bled, was ridiculed, and died a shameful death.  That is the most amazing gift anyone could give to another, but it is not easy to deal with.  We celebrate Christ’s defeat of death when he rises on the third day, but the celebration is necessarily coloured by the events of the previous week.  I see no role for a bunny carrying a basket of eggs here.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I think bunnies are adorable.  I have a couple little ceramic bunnies on my mantle along with a jug of artificial spring flowers and palm branches.  My kids will get a few chocolates, a book, and new socks or something on Sunday morning.  I love Cadbury Easter cream eggs, and think the ads with the bunny clucking like a chicken are brilliant.  But Easter is about church, services like Good Friday complete with the somber reminder of the cross, as well as Easter worship with communion. 

 

 

Targeting Intimacy with God


http://www.flickr.com/photos/storem/133599246/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Today in Family Living class we were looking at the filter theory on relationships.  The idea is that the intimacy level of a relationship can be judged, or improved, by rating degrees of seven filter areas.  The people closest to the bulls-eye of our target are those with whom we have the most intimate relationships.  If you want to improve your intimacy level then working on any of the filters further in will help. 

  

If we apply this filter to our relationship with God how would we fare?

 

#1 Physical and Emotional Closeness – On the physical side of this scale we run into the same snag as people for centuries because since the ascension of Christ there has been no solid tangible presence of God on earth.  We can not reach out and touch God, but the emotional attachment to God is probably the earliest that most of us remember.  God is love, how can we not be emotionally attached? (We will leave the issue of anger at God for another day)
 

#2 Sharing Values – As Christians our very understanding of values comes to us from the word of God.  While it may be true that people who are not Christian share many values like honesty and loyalty with us, the Bible provides with a clear moral outline which is not provided in the secular world.


 
#3 Reward Expected – If we were looking for reciprocity in the relationship I’m afraid God would be left the loser on reward expected.  From God we expect much and have his promise to count on.  If we believe, we can expect forgiveness and everlasting life.  Rewards don’t get much better than those!  What do we give to God?  We do well to give God thanks and praise.  If you have done the catechism you will recognize this as the chief end of man.
 

#4 Time Spent Together – Here is one area where most of us could stand to improve.  God is with us 24/7 through the presence of the Holy Spirit, but how often are we truly with him?  One hour/week in church?  Are we with God when we are at committee meetings at the church?  Some part of every day as we study the Bible or pray?  Moments of crisis only?  I think it is safe to say that we can all stand to increase our time spent together with God.
 

#5 Level of Exclusivity – We know that God loves every person in the world just as much as the others.  God is the only God and expects us to remember that.  This is the first commandment, ” I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery;  you shall have no other gods before me.” (Deut. 5:6-7)  This exclusivity is also the core of the shema, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One” (Deut. 6:4).   Jesus taught that, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.” (Matt 6:24)

 

#6 Level of Commitment – We will never live up to God’s level of commitment shown in the sacrifice of his son, himself, on the cross for our sins.  On the other hand, we can rely on both his help in standing firm and his welcome back after our failures.


#7 Degree of Disclosure – Whether or not we choose to share with God, he already knows everything about us, but he wants us to share with him.  He desires that intimacy with us.   Admitting our sins and weaknesses can be very daunting for us, even when we know it won’t be new news to God.  If we share it with God, that means that we have to admit it to ourselves. 

 

So, do you see some areas in which you can work to increase your intimacy with God?  I know I do.  Let’s aim for that bull’s eye! 

The Cross Around Your Neck


Last night, the entry in the Lenten devotional book I have been following  started with the author referring to the cross his wife wears around her neck all the time.  Many people wear this symbol of Christianity on a regular basis.  Some have even had it tattooed on their bodies.


To some it may seem that people wear crosses to let everyone know they are Christian, in the same way that they might carry a Dior bag to be sure people know that they have money and status.  At this time, with the increasingly secular society in which we live, it might be considered that wearing a symbol of Christianity might actually lower one’s standing.


While this may be true for a few people, I believe most people wear the cross for themselves.  Wearing a cross is a constant reminder of the source of our strength.  It was to this reminder of strength that the reading referred.  There is significant irony in our choice of the cross, upon which our God died a human death in weakness, as a symbol of the strength of our God.


Think about some of the things around people’s necks historically.  Chains (jewelery and bindings both), neck shackles to keep slaves from running away, yokes to carry heavy loads.  On the end of our chains we wear a cross, the symbol of weakness which led to the final breaking of our chains of bondage to sin.


So, especially in the final run-up to Easter, wear your symbols of weakness with pride.  There has never been greater strength in the world than that which showed itself in the weakness of Christ on the cross.  With this reminder ever present, may we have the strength to be weak and sacrifice a little part of ourselves to make the world better for others!


Path To The Cross: Hard Decisions


Jesus chose to follow a path that would certainly lead to his death. Others, like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi have also made those hard choices. It is popular these days to tell people if they just accept Jesus as their personal lord and saviour, they will then have it easy.  They neglect to mention the weight of that cross that we are then to carry on our shoulders.  So, in a world looking for the easy way, why would we choose a path that might lead to danger or death?  Why would people go into Haiti, Indonesia, India etc. to help the people there recover and rebuild, knowing that there was a chance that they would not be living in comfy hotel suites, might not have all they were used to eating, or might be killed in an aftershock, or a building collapse? It is one thing to put ourselves at risk to save the lives of friends or family members, but total strangers?  Don’t we have enough to worry about on our own?

These examples may be too extreme for us.  After all, how many of us are likely to be assassinated or executed for our work in the name of God?  We live pretty simple lives.  But even within these simple lives we face tough decisions that take courage;

  • Moving to be closer to family members or away from family members

  • Choosing between personally taking care of a family member with Alzheimer’s, or AIDS(with all the sacrifices involved in such a decision) or seeking the best long-term care situation for them

  • Accepting employment in another city, province, or country

  • Quitting a job that pays well, perhaps for a job that is less certain or less lucrative in order to fulfill a calling

  • Confronting local injustices

  • Crossing the “racial divide”

  • Volunteering for military service

When we, “believe that [we] shall see the goodness of the Lord…”,  “Wait for the Lord; [are] strong, and let our heart take courage;” we face our challenges under the protective wings of God. When we hope, pray and listen we will be able to discern and choose to follow the will of God.  Let us follow in the steps and words of Abram and David as we, “offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; [and] sing and make melody to the Lord.”

Genesis 5:1-12, 17-18
Psalm 27
Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 13:31-35

Choose Now Part 2


Think about the images of Jesus that we in Canada have seen most.  Jesus holding a lamb, Jesus welcoming the little children, Jesus the kind, the gentle, the welcoming.  Did you know that this is not how Jesus is pictured elsewhere in the world?  Images of suffering, of pain, these are the images of Jesus most common in Central and South America and other cultures which have had to deal with great suffering.  The gentle, mild Jesus is easy to follow.  But the bloody Jesus, the suffering Jesus, the abuse and ridicule and physical pain Jesus went through, this is not so easy for us.  Jesus tells the disciples that to choose Him is to choose this  far more difficult road. The road to the cross.


 

I have never imagined disciples leaving Jesus.  In my mind they followed and they all stayed with him until the end.  I don’t know why I didn’t recognize the all too human tendency to lose interest, to quit when things get tough.  Still, with Jesus’ real, human and immediate presence, how could you walk away and go back to your old life?  Well, that is exactly what many people did in this story.  The disciples said that what he was presenting to them was too difficult and many left him at that time.  After being part of such a radical, exciting and successful ministry, being busy every moment of the day and never really knowing where you were headed next or what the next miracle you witness might be, imagine returning to your work-a-day life.  As they walked away they must have felt a great let-down, and yet they knew that they were not ready for what Jesus required of them.   How sad!


 

Jesus challenged those who stayed with him, wanting to be sure that they really understood what they were getting into. “Do you also want to go away?”  How discouraging it must have been for him to see so few remain faithful.  Even though he knew that not all would believe and that one would even betray him. These people had been following him, listening and learning, how could they fail to understand?


 

As I said earlier, it is very hard for me to imagine walking out on Jesus.  Simon Peter wraps it all up for us I believe, when he says, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”  There is no better place to be, no better one to follow, than God in Jesus Christ.  So we have chosen.  We choose the one true God!


 

The Ephesians reading addresses the nitty-gritty of the question.  I would paraphrase this one as, if you choose God then you need to be prepared to stand firm.  God provides us with all we need to stand firm in the “armor of God”.  What is our armor to be? “Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness.   As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.  With all of these, take the shield of faith…Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (14-17)  In Canada these days I believe talking in terms of putting on armour for the fight is a bit of a touchy subject.  As citizens we see our troops deployed in far off lands, in harm’s way.  Many questions arise which challenge the faithful.  Is this a “just war”?  What justification can there be for war when Jesus taught peace and turning the other cheek?  This is not an easy area and not really the point of our readings today, however it needs to be noted that the question of fidelity to either God or worldly rulers is not clear-cut.  We are indeed subjects of human government.  It is in questions like this that we most need our armor.  The truth that Jesus was God, doing our best to do what is right, reliance on the sacrifice of Jesus for our salvation, believing when it is not easy, and allowing the spirit of God to open His holy word to us in our time are the tools that we need to make our way through this tricky world.


 

I would like to close with a simple song that we taught the children at our Vacation Bible School at St. James.

 

I will follow Jesus Christ

I will serve Him with my life

I have courage I have strength

I will choose Him every day

 

I am ready for the call of Jesus, ready for the call

Ready for the call of Jesus Christ

I am ready for the call of Jesus, ready for the call

Ready for the call of Jesus Christ!


 

Are we ready for the call?  Do we have the courage and the strength?  At the beginning of  every new day, whom will you choose?

Aug 27, 2006 Stanley

 

 

Old Testament-   Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18

Responsive Reading-   Psalm 84

 

New Testament-  Ephesians 6:10-20

Gospel Mark – John 6:56-69

Choose Now Part 1


Choose Now!

How many times in books, movies, Broadway musicals, and television shows have we seen this story?  A young attractive girl or guy has been dating for a while.  They are very popular and have more than one person vying for their affection.  One day the two, or more, either discover that they are not alone or get tired of it and demand that the young person choose now.  They are unwilling to share, they want all of the person’s love and devotion.  Torn, most of the movie will be about the agonizing decision. There are two possible endings to these stories, either the person chooses, or they try to keep both and in so doing lose both.  This is our story today.


In our story from Joshua (24:1-2a, 14-18) God comes right out and says “Choose now!”  Either follow the gods of the local people or follow the God of your ancestors who has done so much for you in the past.  Making the choice to follow God today is a commitment to last a lifetime.  This may be easy today, but all sorts of challenges will arise: “losses, betrayals, promises of success from other gods of wealth and position and power.”  How do we make good on our commitment?  How do we keep ourselves in line and avoid falling back in with those other “gods”?


How many of you have tried to change a habit?  Quitting smoking, getting rid of the credit cards, eating a more healthy diet, and exercising more are all examples of common habit changes.  Was it easy?  For the first few days many of these things probably go pretty well.  We have committed to a plan, we are keen.  As time goes on we run into the other challenges of life and these new patterns can very easily fall by the wayside. Without even thinking about it we reach for a chocolate bar or a cigarette after a stressful day at work.  One leads to another and we are right back where we started.


What do we have to do to be successful in these efforts?  Many people join support groups where they go each week for encouragement, a reminder of the benefits of the change, a reminder of the goal.  With this sort of support people can often make major changes in their lives.


Making the choice for God involves a life change as well.  In a way the message we get from the reading in Joshua is that we need to remember our goal.  For our support we need to read our Bibles, need to hear it read in worship and discussed in classes. If we want to remain faithful we need to put ourselves in a place where we will be reminded daily of all that God has done and has promised us in His son Jesus Christ.  This is what led us to our choice in the first place.  To quote a sports phrase, we need the Bible to help us keep our eye on the prize.


In the Gospel lesson we have basically the same challenge put to us.  Jesus completes his explanation of His purpose here as the bread of life and then we hear the reaction of the disciples.  To paraphrase, “are you kidding?  That is way too hard!”  Like the disciples, we are keen to sign on for the salvation, but not so keen on following Jesus path of persecution and suffering and death.  We are frightened by the idea of carrying our own cross.

Aug 27, 2006 Stanley

Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18

Psalm 84

Ephesians 6:10-20

John 6:56-69

Am I Judas? : Our Role In The Passion Story


Am I Judas?

 

Tell me Lord,

What is my role in this?

Am I just an innocent

observer on the scene?

Am I needed

to help show others how

events occurred within the life

of the resurrected Lord?

 

Am I Judas?

Have I betrayed you?

Do I share your bread and wine

then turn away and sin?

Will I gladly

give up your name for those

wanting to bring down your church

in turn for some reward?

 

Am I Mary,

Crying beside the cross

and come early to the tomb

to find the stone is gone?

Do I wonder

why your grave’s empty?

Do I run and tell my friends

he’s risen from the dead?

 

Am I Thomas?

Do I fail to believe

until I put my hands inside

and feel the wounds myself?

Give me faith Lord,

help me to conquer this,

to know that Jesus lives again

and He waits for me.

 

Jesus gave up

his very life for me

to buy forgiveness for my sins

as long as I believe.

This bright message

is the best I’ve ever heard.

Jesus died that we may live,

Glory to the Lord!

words and music by Cathy Scott

audio file to follow

A Bookmark In Your Bible Or A Nail In Your Pocket


People handle the period of Lent in different ways.  First, I realize of course that many people are not Christians and wouldn’t even know what Lent and Easter are all about. 

 

My husband and I were talking about Lenten sacrifice at lunch today.  He was saying that he always figured that Lent was a Roman Catholic thing and that the Presbyterians weren’t into that sort of thing.  He said he didn’t understand the point of giving something up.

 

When we were growing up we didn’t hear much about the liturgical year.  This has been shifting in the last ten years or so, and I think it is a good change.  My response about the point was that it was about giving up the distraction that took my attention off of spiritual matters.

 

We usually get a booklet from the church with devotions for each day of Lent, or a bookmark with the lectionary readings for the season.  This is a great way of focusing on the scriptural story of the life and mission of Christ.  One year we were each given a horseshoe nail to carry in our pockets throughout the season.  Every time you reached into your pocket or purse you were reminded of the great sacrifice that Jesus made for you,  for all of us.