Writings and ramblings about life, God, faith.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Head or Heart?

In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 24, verses 13-35, two disciples are on the road to Emmaus. From the context of the passage we can infer that they are not in the inner circle of Jesus but they are devout followers. They can’t understand why the man they meet on the road does not know what happened in Jerusalem.
They tell this man (Jesus), "We were hoping that he was the one who was going to rescue Israel. And some women of our number astonished us because they went to the tomb and did not find his body, and they had a vision of angels who said that he was alive."
And so when these two men later realized it was Jesus they had been talking with and walking with, they hurried back to Jerusalem and found the eleven gathered and those with them and found that those gathered were saying “it is a fact that the Lord has risen, and he has appeared to Simon." And they told them all that had happened on the road and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
The disciples said, "It was a fact that the Lord has risen. And he has appeared to Simon." Yet in the very next passage, when Jesus stands in the midst of them and says, “Peace to you” they are terrified because they thought they were seeing a ghost or a spirit.
See, intellectually they knew it--it is a fact that he is risen. They knew it in their head. But because they had not experienced the presence of Jesus for themselves they could not wrap their heads around the fact that Jesus was alive. They had seen him die. They had seen him be beaten and tortured. They had seen the centurion thrust his spear into the side of Jesus. They had seen him be put into a tomb and a stone rolled across the opening. How could Jesus be alive after all of that?
Yet, they were told that he was, and he even appeared to Simon.
I think sometimes that is the way it is for many Christians, and for me. I know the facts. I know the Bible very well because I have read it for most of my life. The stories are in my head and many of them I know by heart. Intellectually I know the Bible and I know Jesus. I know God exists…in my head. I know Jesus is alive…in my head.
Sometimes, because I haven’t experienced the physical presence of Jesus for myself, I still find it hard to grasp. I still find it hard to be passionate about my faith.
Sometimes I still think of God as someone I do not want to disappoint. I haven’t experienced his grace for myself.
But I still have to rely on that grace. As much as I accept it intellectually I have to rely on the grace of God for salvation. There is no other way.
And even if I doubt, as long as I accept the grace of God, then God will accept that and accept me, and will welcome me in to his kingdom.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Life and Death

I visited the grave of a dear departed friend today. As I stood by his burial plot, I said to him, "You were a good friend. It was such a joy to know you. I will always remember your smile, and your laugh."

I said a prayer, thanking God for my friend's life and for his presence in my life. My life is so much richer because of our friendship. And I also gave thanks that my friend is now in God's eternal care.

Sometimes we strive so much in this life for fame, or just recognition that we have accomplished something important. But when you're gone, the ones that will remember you and still care that you lived, are the ones with whom you have formed relationships.

I looked at all the tombstones in the cemetery and I thought, the only ones who care about all the people buried here are their family and dear friends, the people who loved them in life and took time to form relationships with them in life. Nobody else knows who they are or what they accomplished in life.

The whole point of life is not recognition, but love.

Jesus said it best: Love God, love neighbor.

That is all that matters.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Simple Pleasures

"Be still, and know that I am God"  - Psalm 46:10

The little things in life always have a way of bringing me joy far out

of proportion to their size. Of course, in order to find these treasures I

must slow down, be observant, and forget about life's complexities. Not always

a simple task in today's hectic lifestyle, but the rewards are worth


Below are some simple pleasures that warm my heart and calm my soul.

They bring peace and stillness to life's chaos, and help keep me close to God.

If you don't have your own list, begin today. Take time to slow down; look and

listen for the simple things in life. You'll find it makes a world of

difference, and you just might see a different world.

* The soothing pulse of a gentle rainfall

* A rainbow's arc of soft color after the rain

* A golden sunset's awesome splendor splashed across the sky

* The graceful, carefree flight of a butterfly

* Bright, shiny stars on a clear summer night

* Songs sung by a chorus of birds

* Curling up in a comfy chair with a good book

* Putting worshipful music on the stereo, slapping headphones on, and    
        shutting out the rest of the world while listening to glorious music praising God

* Taking a walk      

* Taking a walk with my spouse, hand-in-hand

* Taking a walk with a child, rediscovering the joy and wonder of God's

  creation through their eyes

Lord, open our eyes to the simple things in life.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Be Still

Quick—what is the biggest environmental nuisance facing Europe? Air pollution? Global warming? Contaminated rivers and streams? Acid rain?

The World Health Organization, in 2009, declared noise “the biggest environmental nuisance facing Europe, and issued night noise guidelines calling on officials to limit exposure to below 40 decibels.”
Noise Pollution
According to an article from the McClatchy-Tribune, noise is becoming not only a nuisance but a health threat as well. Of course, there is the obvious risk of hearing loss, and estimates are that 15% of Americans between the ages of 20 and 69 have some kind of hearing loss due to noise exposure. Hearing loss begins at continuous decibel levels above 85. Rock concerts reach levels of 110-140. (Pain threshold is about 125.)

But people bombarded by noise also have higher risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, sleeplessness, irritability, and poor work and school performance. Noise pollution is even forcing residents to pack up and move to quieter places to live.

All of this shows the enduring wisdom of God’s Word.

“Be still, and know that I am God.”—Psalm 46:10
“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”—Jesus (Matthew 6:31)

Noise is not just a threat to our physical health, but also to our spiritual health. How can we commune with God when we are surrounded by distractions? How can we hear God’s voice amidst the noise of the world?
If you live in a quiet neighborhood, or in a peaceful rural area, give thanks. If you reside next to a highway, or train tracks, or in a busy metropolitan area, take time each day to close yourself from the noise. You owe it to your spiritual—and physical—health to turn down the noise.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Do Not Fear

Anyone who has endured trials knows that we don't wish for them in our lives but we also know that adversity is what draws us closer to God. It is through suffering that we learn great truths about God and about ourselves. It is through hardship that we learn God is in control. It is through trials that we learn God will supply all our needs. It is when we hit bottom that we find God waiting there for us, for God knows we will not truly search for Him until we have nowhere else to go.

God never promised that we would have no problems. But God promised that He would be with us through the problems that come our way.

When your life is falling apart around you God listens for your cry. God knows your voice and God says to you, "Do not be afraid. I have called you by name. I know you. You are mine. And I am with you."

God does not promise to take away our trials, or even rescue us from the midst of them. Our faith does not shield us from the harsh realities of life. But God has promised that we will not be alone.

When all hell breaks loose around you, God will be there with you, holding your hand, listening to your cries. God will never forget you, will never leave you alone, and will be with you every step of the way.

But now thus says the Lord: "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned; and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior." Isaiah 43:1-3a (NRSV)

Friday, August 8, 2014

Luke's Investigation

Allow me to introduce myself.

My name is Lucas, though most people call me Luke. I am a physician by training, but I have taken a leave from my medical practice to write a book about a man named Jesus. I have heard much about this man—fascinating stories and accounts of amazing feats. I was so intrigued that I had to investigate these tales for myself.

So I set about to wander the countryside to find out all I could about Jesus. What fascinates me most is that almost everybody I talk to mentions the same thing about him: the way he welcomed outsiders—the poor, lepers, women, children, even Gentiles like me.

            Last week I stopped in a little village near Jerusalem called Bethany. I had heard that in this village there lived a family that was very good friends with Jesus. Two sisters named Mary and Martha, and their brother Lazarus.

In fact, I had heard an unbelievable thing about Lazarus. People were saying that Jesus had brought him back to life after he had been dead for four days. Well, this I had to check out for myself.

            Unfortunately, when I arrived Lazarus was not at home. He was away on a trip to Jericho, and would be gone for several days. But Mary and Martha consented to talk with me and answer any questions I had about Jesus.

Of course, the first thing I asked about was Lazarus being raised from the dead. They verified that Jesus had indeed restored their brother to life. They had never seen anything like it. It confirmed for them how powerful yet how loving God is.

I asked them how well they knew Jesus.

Martha said, “Oh, we knew him quite well. In fact we loved him very much, and he loved us. Whenever his travels brought him to this area he made certain to stop and visit us.”

“What do you remember most about Jesus?” I asked.

            Mary replied, “Well, he was quite a man. The thing I remember most about him is his unlimited love and compassion, and his patience.”

I asked them if they remembered any specific incident when he visited; anything they could tell me that might help me understand him better.

Mary said, “Remember that one time, Martha, when you cooked a big feast for Jesus?”

Mary turned to me and said, “Martha is one of the best cooks around. The things she can do in the kitchen amaze me sometimes. I’m not one to do much cooking and housework, but Martha is a dynamo when it comes to those things.”

Martha lowered her head a little and said, “Now, Mary, let’s not bring up that visit. You know that’s a sore subject with me.”

“But Martha,” said Mary, “I think it tells a lot about the character of Jesus, and it is something that will help Luke to know Jesus better. Besides, you learned a lesson from it, didn’t you?”

This sounded intriguing to me so I pressed the matter further. I told them I was planning to write a book about Jesus, and maybe this incident should be included in it.

Mary said, “Oh, I think it would be wonderful if you wrote a book about Jesus. And I hope that everyone in the world will read your book so they can know Jesus, too, and know the way Jesus lived. You know, the way Jesus lived is the way all of us should live. But people won’t know how to live like Jesus if they don’t read your book.”

 “Well,” I said, “it sure would be nice if a copy of my book were in everybody’s home. I just hope it doesn’t end up like other classics—you know, the kind of book everybody owns but nobody reads.

“But tell me more about this dinner you were planning for Jesus.”

Martha said, “Well, when Jesus knocked on the door I was the one to open it. As soon as I saw that it was Jesus I got excited because I so enjoyed having Jesus visit. Then I saw the weariness on Jesus’ face, and the way he hugged me told me he was very tired. He traveled so much talking to people about God and the way God wants us to live. He walked from one end of the countryside to the other and it tired him so.

“He got emotionally exhausted as well. People were always asking him questions and seeking advice from him because he always gave such wise answers.

“Some people, of course, didn’t like the answers he gave because it meant they had to drastically change their lives. Those that believed him, though, and had faith that he knew what he was talking about discovered that his way of living really is the best.

“He was a natural storyteller, too, so the crowds always wanted to hear his stories. Sometimes he kept them enthralled for hours, even days, with his stories.

“And, he was an amazing healer as well. People always begged him to heal them or someone they loved. He loved everybody so much that he never turned anyone away. But all of that wore him out. He was human, after all. He got tired. He got hungry and thirsty. He needed food and rest like anyone else.”

I cut in, “That is very enlightening. It tells me a lot about what Jesus was like, and he sounds like an amazing man. But what about this dinner?”

 “Oh, I’m sorry.” said Martha, “I get so excited telling people about Jesus. Um…you’re sure you still want to hear about that dinner?”

“Yes, I do,” I said.

“Well, all right. Being a wandering rabbi,” Martha continued, “Jesus couldn’t go home whenever he wanted to. He relied on friends like us, or strangers sometimes, to feed him and give him a place to stay. Many times he simply slept in a field or by the side of the road.

“So whenever he was near our home he stopped in to visit and eat with us. When he came this particular time, as I said, I was the first one to welcome him in. Lazarus was away on one of his business trips so I called for Mary to come and join us. Then I started to straighten up the house a little as it was in a bit of disarray.”

At this point Mary chimed in—“Well, as much disarray as it ever gets. Martha is forever cleaning and straightening and doing housework. Whenever something needs to be done around here Martha is the one that rolls up her sleeves and does it.”

“Well,” said Martha, “that’s the way I show my love for other people, by doing things for them. And I wanted to show my love for Jesus by making him comfortable. I could tell he was tired, and I thought he must be famished from walking the hot dusty roads, so I began to prepare a meal for him. I didn’t want to make just a little snack, either. This was Jesus, our best friend, someone we loved. Only the best would do for Jesus, so that’s what I planned to do.

“I got out a bowl of fresh fruit. I got the flour and oil to make bread. I went out back and slaughtered a chicken to roast for the three of us. I planned on making a feast fit for a king.

“I was working very hard, preparing the chicken, baking the bread, and the whole time I’m in the kitchen slaving away Mary is in the other room.”

I interrupted, “You mean Mary wasn’t helping you make dinner?”

“Oh, no,” Martha said, “leave it to Mary to shun her duties as a woman. She was acting more like a man than a woman, sitting at the feet of a rabbi and learning from him. Only men are supposed to do that, according to the rabbinic law. She was neglecting her duties to assist in preparing the meal and Jesus was letting her get away with it.

“But, you know, that’s the way Jesus was. He never did care much about the rules and regulations the religious leaders enforced. He was always breaking down social boundaries. He associated with lepers, for heaven’s sake, and prostitutes and tax collectors. He even talked with women like he cared about them. And that’s what we loved about Jesus. He treated everyone equally, with love.”

“What exactly was Mary doing in the other room?” I asked.

Martha replied, “She was sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to him. I would have enjoyed listening to him, too, but somebody had to get the food ready. Somebody had to do some work, but she left me to do it all by myself. She sat in there listening to Jesus, totally focused on him, unconcerned about anything else. Right then, nothing else in life mattered to her, only Jesus.”

“It’s important to me to listen to Jesus,” Mary said, “because the words of Jesus are more important than anything else in life, even more important to me than food. The words of Jesus give us life. How can I listen to his words, how can I hear what he has to tell me, if I am distracted by other things?”

I asked Mary, “What was Jesus talking about that kept you so interested?”

“He was relating an incident that happened on his way here. A lawyer asked him a question to test him, to see how well Jesus knew the law. Jesus told him a story about a man that was robbed and left for dead. A priest and a Levite just passed him by without even helping. But a Samaritan stopped to help the man. Can you imagine that? A Samaritan helped the man. And Jesus said the point of the story was that everyone is a neighbor and needs our help. When God says to love our neighbor as ourself he means we should love everybody.

I asked Martha, “So, how did you feel about Mary sitting there with Jesus while you were doing all this work?”

“Oh,” Martha said, “I was fuming. I’m sure Mary and Jesus heard me banging pots around and slamming cupboard doors. Finally I couldn’t take it any more. I stormed in there and I said ‘Jesus, don’t you care that I am doing all this work myself? Tell my sister to help me out.’

“As I turned to walk away Jesus called after me ‘Martha’. When I turned around to face him, I almost melted from his gaze because I saw such a look of compassion and pity in his eyes.

“And I still remember his words. He said, ‘Martha, you are worried and distracted by so many things. Only one thing is necessary. Mary knows what it is, and I won’t discourage her from it.’”

“Whoa,” I said, “how did that make you feel?”

“Well, at the time, at that moment, it made me feel a bit ashamed and guilty… and even a little angry. But I realized Jesus was right. I was so concerned about doing what was expected of me that I wasn’t giving my undivided attention to Jesus. That is why Mary is right when she says that I learned a lesson from this encounter.

I tried to tell Jesus what to do, while Mary let Jesus tell her what to do. Too many times I want to tell God what to do instead of listening for what God wants me to do.

“I learned that all these other things that distract me are not important in the eternal scheme of things. The most important thing in life is to listen to the words of Jesus so I can try to live like he lived.

“All the things in life that we chase after, all the things that we think we need, all the things we worry about, none of them matter as much as Jesus. We think we need a good home, a pool in the yard, two camels in the shed, and we’re always trying to keep up with the Jonah’s next door.

“But it is not the things we possess that makes life worth living. No matter how rich we are we’ll always want more because wealth and possessions never satisfy us. Only Jesus gives us true contentment. Jesus is what makes life worth living.

“Now, of course, I am still Martha. I will always be one of those people that likes to do things. That’s just the way I am. I find it difficult sometimes to simply sit and think about what Jesus said.”

Mary said, “Service is important, too, Martha. We need people that serve God by helping others, just like Jesus said with his story of the Samaritan. If everybody just thought about Jesus' words and didn’t act on what he said, nobody would know about his love."

“Yes, I know,” said Martha, “but we can’t only work for God, either. It’s easy for people like me to love God with all our strength. We’ll do all kinds of physical things for Jesus. And we’ll even love God with all our heart. But too often we let our mind go to waste. We don’t take time to listen to God, to pray to God, to sit in silence. Following Jesus requires both doing and listening. And Jesus said the better part is listening. If we don’t listen to Jesus we’ll lose our perspective and forget the reason why we’re serving others.

“So I’ve learned that sometimes I have to come out of the kitchen and get away from the things that distract me and just think about the words of Jesus, because when the words of Jesus enter my heart and mind that is when I truly learn the right way to live.

“In the presence of Jesus I learn to listen, and the more I listen to him the more I love him. While we’re going about our busy lives, Jesus patiently waits for us to come and sit with him. I was so busy doing things for him when what he really wanted was for me to simply be with him.

“So you write that book,” Martha said, “and you make sure it gets to as many people as possible. Because I know there are many people out there, just like me, that are worried and distracted by life. They need to know that only one thing is necessary: to sit at Jesus’ feet listening to him.”

I thanked Mary and Martha for talking with me. They certainly helped me understand Jesus much better.

My book is almost finished. The publisher wants to print it very soon. It would be great if all of you had a copy. I sincerely hope all of you take the advice of Mary and Martha.

Read The Book.

Listen to Jesus.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Created For A Purpose

In The Year of Living Biblically A.J. Jacobs comments that when he thinks about the Earth being 6000 years old it makes him feel more significant than if it were 10 billion years old because he’s been alive for a much larger percentage of the Earth’s existence. And when he thinks about all humanity descending from two people then we are really, literally, one big family.

As much as he doesn’t believe in the whole Creationism ideology, he feels it does give humans a certain “pride” because if we are created by God then we are not inconsequential.

I especially like his quote from Mark Looy, the publicist for the Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY, who says, “Evolution says that we are the product of random processes. That we evolved via pond scum. When we say that, we’re not applying much value to humanity. If we say we’re a product of accidents and random processes, how much purpose and hope does that give to our youth?”

Whether we believe evolution is true or not (and I believe it is true in some respects, though not that we have evolved from pond scum or lower forms of life) I believe Mark is right to say that it devalues human life, which gives people less reason to live because it seems we are not here for any reason.

If we are here only by accident then we are of no more consequence than anything else on this planet. Life has no purpose, no meaning, no real value. And we see this devaluing of human life more and more in our society. Abortion. Euthanasia. Violent video games and movies that desensitize us to death.

Life has lost its sacredness.

Now, in one sense the Bible does state how inconsequential we are when it says, “You have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight. Surely everyone stands as a mere breath.” (Ps. 39:5, NRSV)

And in another Psalm, the Psalmist pens the inconsequential feelings we all feel when he writes, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” (Ps. 8: 3-4, NRSV)

Yet, the Psalmist also swells with pride in affirming that God has “made [mortals] a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.” (Ps. 8:5, NRSV)

As Christians we believe that we are created by God. When we believe that, then we must also believe that we have been created for a purpose. All things are designed with a specific purpose in mind. Chairs are made to sit on. Watches are made to keep time. Cars are made to transport us places.

Everything is created for a reason. And that belief gives us hope that we, too, are here for a reason. God would not have created us if God didn’t think it was worthwhile. Life is not an accident. We have a purpose in life.  
What is my purpose? What is my reason for existence? Why am I here?

Finding those answers is often the challenge. God does not stamp our bellies with “Writer” or “Pastor” or “Athlete” or “Farmer” when we are born so that all the world can know what we are called to be and steer us in that direction. We must pay attention to the way God has created us, the unique combination of our gifts, interests, and personality. Some know from a very young age what God created them to be. For others, it takes much wisdom and discerning, sometimes over many years, before their specific calling is discovered.

In a broad sense, however, God calls everyone to love God and to love each other so we can make a difference in the world as we live out the sacred life God has given us.