Category: Be Still – A Lenten Journey of Spiritual Disciplines

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-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.

Prayer BackgroundBut God. Those two words that are so powerful in our lives. I especially think about these words when it comes to prayer.

Abram was worried that he would not have any children that could carry on the family bloodline. He wanted heirs, sons. I hear in Genesis chapter 15 a conversation with God. Here is a beautiful view into a prayer from Abram. I can hear the pain in his voice as Abram cries out to God; “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house in Eliezer of Damascus?”

Abram is asking God for a miracle. You see, Abram is quite old at this time and his wife Sarai is past her childbearing years. But the voice of God comes; “This man shall not be your heir, your very own son shall be your heir.” Great news, but how is this going to happen given the fact of the age of Abram and Sarai? It seems impossible.

But God.

Where have you been in your prayer life lately? Have you been asking God for something that seems impossible, something so outside the box, that you might not believe God will answer? Is it something that because of everything you know about your circumstance, you just know that it can’t possible come? If you think about it, all that Abram knew about his situation told him that having a child was impossible. He was pretty old, Sarai was too old to have kids anymore, and he wasn’t going to find another wife. It was impossible. But God.

I had this vision and dream of a marriage retreat, one that I believe God placed on my heart. But every time I thought about it, I thought that it would be impossible. I could never pull this off, so I kept putting on the ‘back burner’ waiting but thinking that it would never happen. But God.

God had other plans. Through the help of the leadership team at Lanark UMC and long hours and always encouraging words of my wife, Sherry, we were able to bring this prayer to life. Because God had the original plan. As I prayed for couples and marriage relationships all over, God spoke about giving them some help. This prayer was the catalyst for the Thrive Marriage Enrichment retreat.

Abram prayed, actually had a conversation with God, about having children. And even in both his and wife’s old age, God blessed them with Isaac. When every thing seemed impossible, God entered. Where in your prayer life to you need to see that with God, all things are possible?