Archive for April, 2019

easter-sunday-social-media-promoOver the past 6 weeks, we have been talking about spiritual disciplines; what they are and how we can infuse them in our lives. We talked about prayer, study, simplicity, solitude, meditation, confession, and now, celebration.

Let me keep this one really simple. Celebration is a gift to us so that we may laugh, sing, shout, and have a great time. There is nothing wrong with Christians having a good time, in fact, because of this day, and our relationship with Jesus Christ, we should be the group of people with the most to celebrate. So, when we join together on Easter morning and sing these familiar hymns, my spirit is lifted, and I hope yours is too. But some of us today may be wondering, how can this be true? This is such an unbelievable story. How can it all be true? Did this really happen?

Thomas Jefferson, a great man, nevertheless could not accept the miraculous elements to scripture. He actually edited his own special version of the Bible in which all references to the supernatural were deleted. He actually cut them out of his book! When he was done editing the Gospels, he confined himself solely to the moral teachings of Jesus. The closing words of Jefferson’s Bible are these; “There they laid Jesus and rolled a great stone at the mouth of the sepulcher and departed.” That’s it! Thank God that is not the way the story truly ends!

I wonder if there are some of you, who like Thomas Jefferson, find it hard to believe in the miracles of Jesus, the resurrection, or maybe even the existence of this man from so long ago. I guess I could understand this if we only had the Bible to reference. I mean, if all we had was this book, how could we be so sure of the validity of what is found inside?

Flavius Josephus was a Jewish historian from the first century, who was also known to defend the Romans, wrote “Antiquities,” a multi-volume collection which mentions Jesus Christ’s existence.

Tacitus, a senator and historian from the Roman Empire also wrote that Jesus existed and that he was crucified under Pontius Pilate. He also wrote something else about the followers of Jesus. He said that this group of believers would rather die than recant their claims. There were the early Christian martyrs. Why, if they had not seen with their own eyes, would they want to lay down their life, endure the torture, humiliation, and ultimately death, if this wasn’t true?

Other first century writers, called the Apostolic Fathers, attested to Jesus’ presence. In fact, as far as I’m aware, there is no archaeological evidence that disputes the gospel accounts. Not just in speaking of Jesus’ existence, but more so by the stories that are told, science can depend on locations, artifacts, and happenings that are named in the gospels.

Lee Strobel, during his research for evidence of Jesus Christ, interviewed Edwin Yamauchi from Miami University, one of the country’s leading experts in ancient history. This is what he told Strobel about the evidence that we have, even without scripture.

“We would know that first, Jesus was a Jewish teacher; second, many people believed that he performed healings and exorcisms; third, some people believed he was the Messiah; fourth, he was rejected by the Jewish leaders; fifth, he was crucified under Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius; sixth, despite this shameful death, his followers, who believed that he was still alive, spread beyond Palestine so that there were multitudes of them in Rome by A.D. 64; and seventh, all kinds of people from the cities and countryside – men and women, slave – and free, worshiped him as God.”

All of this without the Bible! The evidence is overwhelming!

So, what does this mean for you? I know what it means to me…it’s true! It’s all true! He is risen, He’s alive!

I said at the beginning, that this could be an unbelievable story. It’s a story that some would only say could come out of Hollywood or a bestselling author. But it is the story told by the Author of life, the creator of the cosmos. Paul writes that the cross is foolishness to those who don’t believe. It doesn’t make sense to them, but it does to us. To us it is the power of God, the salvation of God, and the promise of the everlasting.

Be Still: Confession

Be-Still-ConfessionWe have been traveling this journey through Lent while studying some spiritual disciplines so that we can “Be still and know God.” Today we come to confession and then the result, which is forgiveness. Let me first say that at the very heart of God is a strong desire to give, as well as forgive. How can we not see this through the life, death, and resurrection of God’s Son, Jesus Christ?

Let me tell you today; God wants to forgive you. Whatever you’ve done, whatever you’ve said, wherever you’ve been, God wants to tell you this morning that it doesn’t matter. Confess all of that stuff to God and let him take care of it. Let the forgiveness of God wash over you and give you the new life that is promised to you.

Now, there are three things needed when we begin talking about confession.

We need to have an examination of conscience. We need to reflect on our lives and our actions, allowing not only ourselves to examine them, but also God. We need to allow God into all areas of our lives, all those dark places, all those hidden spots that we don’t want anyone else to see. Know that God sees all, but we still must confess in order to be forgiven.

There needs to be sorrow. We need to have a contrite heart, a heart that has a desire to do and say the right things. We need to feel sorrow for the times when we don’t. This is how we know that we are really repentant. This is how we know that we truly desire forgiveness. Peter, after denying Jesus three times, weeps and runs away. Sorrow grabbed a hold of him and he knew that he had done something terribly wrong.

And finally, there needs to be a determination to avoid sin. John Wesley once said; “Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God…such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven on earth.”

We need to have in our hearts, a disgust for sin. We need to fear it so much that when we are in the very presence of it, we do all we can to avoid it. We need to speak out against it. Whether it is in our own lives or of those around us. Identify it, fear it, run from it, confess and eliminate it from your life.

Confession is naming all of those places in our lives when we have fallen short of the glory of God; all those times when we have sinned against God. We hear the prodigal son proclaim that to his father as he tells him; “Father, I have sinned against God and against you, I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”

The son confesses, face to face, with his father. He tells him all that he has done, and that he no longer feels worthy. He no longer feels worthy to be called a son, a relative, or a friend. The son now wants to be treated like a servant. But the father does something amazing. He tells the other to put a ring on his son’s finger, get a nice robe for him, and killed the fatted calf because they were going to celebrate that night. For this son who was lost is now found, he has returned, and the father sacrifices everything for him. He sacrifices his reputation, more of his estate, and risks relationships with other members of the family.

As the son returns home, the father sees him far off and runs to him, grabbing him and wrapping his arms around him. This is the sign of Agape love, an unconditional, extravagant, and maybe even reckless love. And this is a story about how God loves us! He loves us so much, that he sacrifices everything in order to regain the relationship he once had with humanity. To reconcile each one of us back to him. God puts everything on the line to make it possible for us to confess and be forgiven. God spared no expense, no reputation, set no limits on welcoming us back to that relationship. God sent his only son, to die. God sacrificed Jesus Christ, for our sake. Jesus died on the cross so that you and I could be forgiven. It’s already been done. Why would we want to push that aside, thinking that we can handle this life on our own, when we don’t have to.

Jesus willingly gave up his life so that we can approach, confess, and be forgiven of all that we’ve done wrong. This isn’t a guilt trip, because we’re all in the same boat. Paul tells us that we’ve all fallen short of the glory of God, we’ve all sinned. But we don’t have to live in our sin. We have a loving God that desires to forgive us, that desires to reconcile us to him, that desires to welcome us home, put a family ring on our hand, a robe on our back, and throw a huge party in our honor. All this because of the forgiveness that is offered on the cross by the spotless lamb of God, Jesus Christ.

Be-Still-SolitudeWe are a week closer to Easter, but still in the midst of our Lenten journey. As we focus on spiritual disciplines during this time, we want to look at the discipline of solitude. What do you think about when you hear about a discipline called ‘solitude?’ Does it sound good, enjoyable, or maybe for you it’s painful? Maybe for those who have young kids, solitude might sound like a really good idea at times. I know that as our girls were growing up, having birthday sleepovers, fighting with each other, or just talking non-stop, I would welcome moments that I could spend in complete silence. While those who have an ‘empty nest’ where the kids have moved out, or maybe those of you who have lost a spouse and are now living alone, it may seem like you spend most of your days in solitude and silence, and it’s not very appealing. You want more noise in your world. The silence can be deafening. In our interconnected, noisy, and distracting world, solitude might seem a bit scary. The first time I heard about this, the only thing I could think of was solitary confinement, and that doesn’t sound very attractive. But maybe it’s getting more appealing in our society. Have you heard about one of the latest trends, sensory deprivation tanks?

There are storefronts popping up in many places with the purpose of selling you some time in one of these tanks that will deprive you of all your senses. It is an enclosed tank, filled with about a foot of salt water in which you climb in and float, in complete silence and darkness. I admit, this sounds pretty interesting. It was first though of by a scientist in the 1950’s but only recently has taken off for the general public. They say there are benefits like increasing cardio-vascular health, lowering anxiety levels, improving your creativity, and overall making you happier. The sessions are about an hour long and allows you to completely center yourself by eliminating all of your other senses. Some of you may be thinking that this sounds like torture, not very relaxing at all. While others are probably looking on their phones right now to find the closest place. FYI, it’s in Madison, Wisconsin.

Although sensory deprivation tanks may be a bit too extreme, I think it points to a necessary need that we all have. We desire to spend a little time in solitude. It has benefits. Jesus knew this. It is described so many times in scripture when Jesus took some time away from the business of ministry. In the gospel of Mark, chapter 6 verse 30-34, we find Jesus feeding the five thousand. But just before this passage, we hear about John the Baptist being killed and the disciples returning from their mission to preach the gospel and heal all over the area.

Knowing that they had just returned, and that John the Baptist was just killed, Jesus tells them to get in the boat and go away with him to a place of solitude. Get away from the crowds that were gathering around them. There were so many, they couldn’t even eat in peace. It is said that this desolate place was where they were headed, but the time they spent on the boat, was a time of rest. When they got to the place, the crowd had followed and gathered there. But notice that when they got off the boat, Jesus had compassion on them. Would he have been able to have as much compassion before they into the boat? Well, maybe Jesus would have, but how about the disciples, how about you? Would you have been as compassionate with the people?

Time away, spent in solitude, helps us to achieve this state of mind. It helps us in our relationship with God. Solitude is good for our souls. Solitude will help to give us clarity is decision making. When we spend this time away, we center ourselves on hearing the voice of God. It is incredibly important when you are in the process of making big decisions.

There was a time when I was at my parent’s camping trailer in Whitewater while I was discerning a call into ministry. It was after a day of silence, reading, meditating, and listening that I felt this presence come over me. It was a chill the washed over me as I was looking out over the lake, even though it was pretty warm that day. I will never forget that feeling. That chill.

Solitude helps us find our inner peace, lower our anxiety levels, and put us in a right frame of mind. Jesus loved being in boats and so do I. When I am able to be alone in a boat, fishing, I feel the stresses of this world melt away. The repetitive nature of casting the line in the water and retrieving it again, soothes my soul. Many times, while coming in from the water, people will ask how the fishing went, did you catch anything? My response really is; “it doesn’t matter, it is always good. Fish or no fish.” I come back relaxed, refocused on life.

My advice for today is to get away, it will do you good. And know this, the person that will emerge from this time alone will be different than the one going in.

Be Still: Meditation

Be-Still-MeditationCarl Jung once said; “Hurry is not of the Devil, it IS the Devil.” Slowing down in this hurry up life is not only useful, it is essential. So, how do we slow down? How do we slow the pace of life? Do we want to slow down?

For the many ways our society has “advanced,” I see a deeper need to find the quiet places, those spaces where we can truly reflect on God wonderful design for us and this world. We have so many technological devices to make our lives easier, faster, more efficient, more productive, but we still seem to be lacking something foundational. We are missing a deep understanding of our creator. Our relationship with God is stagnant, or worse yet, possibly fading away. With all the information around us and the ease of access, we may begin to feel that we have no need for God. Nothing can be further from the truth. But how do we get it back?

I think we can do this by an intentional focus on spiritual disciplines. This is one of the reasons for this Lenten worship series about being still. I hope that through this series, you are able to find one or more that resonate with you, and that you can implement them into your faith journey.

Today I want to look at Christian meditation. Like some of the other spiritual disciplines, meditation includes some of the others. We can see this in the examples Jesus gives us. In his short years of ministry, Jesus was a busy man. He was sought out by many for healing and teaching. He was desired for appearances everywhere. Jesus couldn’t get away from the people as they followed him everywhere.

But that didn’t stop Jesus from taking time to be with God the Father. We hear about the times when Jesus would take time to go up the mountain to pray. He would spend a little quiet time in a garden having a conversation with God. And of course, my favorite, he got out into a boat to be alone. Certainly, this involved the spiritual discipline of prayer, but it could also have included meditation.

Christian meditation is all about hearing God’s voice! It’s about taking the time to listen for the voice of God in your life. Jesus tells us that in order to do this, we need to abide in God. Jesus tells us; “Abide in me, and I in you.” When we abide in Jesus, he in turn abides in us. When we abide in God, God abides in us. So, when we abide in God, we are more apt to hear God’s voice. Jesus tells us that if we abide in him and in his words, we can ask for anything, and it will be done for us. But we must abide in him.

Christian meditation os one way of abiding in God. Now, let me be clear, Christian meditation is not the practice of emptying of the mind as we hear from some of the eastern religions with the focus of this meditation on clearing of a person’s mind, attempting to find absolute peace, bliss, or nirvana. Christian meditation is the practice of filling the mind with God, an intentional focus on the glory of God.

Some say that it is too difficult. I guess I can understand this as there are many times that I have tried this and the pace of life around me interferes with my focus. I begin to think about what is on my to do list, all those things that I forgot to do last week, or what might be coming up next week. Truly, this discipline is not difficult, it just takes practice.

Some will even say that this kind of discipline is out of touch with today’s world. In a space where time is a commodity and one that we should not waste, we feel that if we pause for just a moment, we are a failure. Society tells us that we should be constantly moving, even if we are on vacation. But I would say this is just the reason to practice this discipline. It is counter-cultural, but that just what Jesus taught. We are to be in the world, not of the world.

Finally, Christian meditation is not psychological manipulation. It’s not something you do with the intent to have physical or psychological benefits. That’s not the goal. The goal is to find the space where you can encounter the living God and hear the still small voice.

Christian meditation is not about exploring our subconscious but entering into a divine-human encounter. It is about coming face to face with the living God. It is a desire to hear God’s voice. Frederick Faber once wrote: “Only to sit and think of God, Oh, what a joy it is! To think the thought, to breathe the Name, earth has no higher bliss.”

Be still and know that I am God.