Would They Recognize Him Now? Would We?

Jesus had been in their midst for three years. They had watched Him heal the sick. They had watched Him feed the 5,000 and the 4,000. They had seen Him send the moneychangers fleeing from the temple, but was He the king they had been looking for?

There were doubts here and there because He did not appear as royalty. He had no kingly trappings. He had not gathered an army to stop Roman domination. Could this truly be the Messiah?

God had used many things to confirm the Old Testament prophecies about Jesus. Somehow doubt lingered, but then on Palm Sunday He gave them another image unlike the others and they quickly responded in their behavior even though days later their hearts would be far from Him.

The ride into Jerusalem on a donkey fulfilled one more prophecy from Zechariah. He came on a lowly donkey, not in a chariot with runners ahead clearing the way and bidding people to bow.

He had always walked among them so this scene (so modest in many ways) still became a triumphal entry which abruptly caused those watching to cut palm fronds and throw them on the path before Him and wave them in the air, saluting Him with shouts of “Hosanna”!

It was a day of great joy and celebration at the outset of what would be a dark and tragic week.

It was also a day that points to the changeableness of the human mind and heart. It paradoxically points to the very reason He would be put to death later in the week and why His death would be necessary to pay for the sinful condition of humanity.

How could they have forgotten so easily what they had witnessed with their own eyes, heard with their own ears?

This pivotal week in the Christian faith stirs many emotions and thoughts. We look back and consider, but do we also take note of the now and the not yet?

Do we now recognize how tepid our own responses to Him can be and where He fits into the priorities of our life?

Do less committed brothers and sisters around us cause us to pursue a more casual relationship with Him and easily sway us?

Are we tempted to lay aside His principles, and truths for a more popular path?

Would we prefer an easy stroll behind Him rather than walking with Him?

I don’t think that most of us ever plan to do any of those things.

But ANY relationship left unattended falls into disrepair and distance.

The crowd saluting Him would be influenced by their priests to deny what they had seen for themselves. It is an important reminder of personal accountability for our relationship with Him and the need not to allow others to deter us from what our hearts have responded to and confirmed.

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What about Palm Sunday reminds us of the “not yet”?

As we look back and take note and learn, we also should remember to look forward to the next time He will arrive in Jerusalem in triumph. He will come as risen Lord and King. Will we be ready to ride with Him? Will He find us steadfast and unwavering?

Many places in scripture point to that “not yet” in the future. One that speaks to me as I close this is from Phil. 2:9-11:

“Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Phil. 2:9-11 (ESV)

Let us look back and celebrate, take stock of our hearts now, and prepare for the greater celebration yet to come when our voices join in Hosanna to the King!

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What Channel Are You Tuning In?

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Not so many years ago, life used to be quieter. That was before screens offered us countless numbers of channels, podcasts were created, and music and data came at us endlessly throughout the day and night (if we chose). We were increasingly drawn to more and more information bombarding us, often without an awareness of its source or the subtle messages in the content.

When life was quieter less than 100 years ago, news came to us from newspapers delivered to our homes and largely written by reporters and editors from our own hometown who reflected our community’s interests and values. Radios were the other source of shows and news that kept us in touch several times a day. Even when television entered the scene, many of us only had three channels we could receive through the antenna that sat on our roof. The signal came on in the morning about 7AM and went off later that evening about 11:30PM. After that only a white fuzzy image was visible. News still came only at certain times of the day and newspapers were still common.

Beyond that we were doing life. Those things were not overtaking our thoughts, emotions, and ideas. Our values were largely still those of our family and community. But technology and our thirst for more and more knowledge nudged us faster and faster into what we all consider commonplace today.

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Maybe because it happened over time, we missed the power of all this information and entertainment bombarding us. All of it began to mix with the noise we already had in our head such as things we were taught by parents and teachers, things we learned from spiritual leaders and friends, wonderings about nearly anything and everything, beliefs we developed about ourselves and others, and more.

Now we had information sources of all that whom we didn’t know but began to accept almost as much as the local sources of persons we knew and trusted. We sometimes wondered about something that sounded “weird” but usually it was just a blip on the stream of information and we didn’t check on its accuracy or validity. We also didn’t notice that it was gradually beginning to influence us in small ways, reshaping some of our ideas, imaginings, and values.

Our thirst for knowledge became nearly insatiable and news cycles were available 24 hours a day heaping story upon story that slowly became more opinion laden than fact reported. And here we were all these centuries later showing the evidence of our relatives, Adam and Eve, who were tempted by the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and succumbed to the temptation to become wise in their own eyes.

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Yes, knowledge was and is important for so many obvious reasons but as we sought it more and more. Did it satisfy us or settle our hearts and minds? Or did it only increase our appetite, so we were gorging on it without much thought to how it tasted or what it was doing to us? Were we now in a fog where we were randomly listening to and watching nearly anything and everything?

Did we notice when our focus began to diminish, and we had difficulty focusing to read a book? Did we recognize we were now questioning things we had been so certain of before? Had our emotions been stirred to more pessimism, frustration, or dissatisfaction? Were we like that old story about the frog in the kettle on the stove who jumped in when the water was cool and failed to notice the temperature was rising until it overtook him, and he could not jump out again?

What would happen to how we are impacted daily if we remembered that whatever we take in (no matter how benign it may seem) impacts us?

That makes the truth of the sources important to know and often hard to find out, but perhaps it means we are not wise to digest things from a smorgasbord of sources for the sake of knowledge. It may be wiser as it is with the diets we eat to choose carefully and “eat” less than we might be tempted in order to be healthier and reduce the noise of our external world as well as internal world. That might allow us to get more in touch with who we really are beyond those who would try to define us, or stereotype us.

There have always been those nudging us to go this way or that, but never have so many voices and sources been pushing us to go left or right, down side trails that lead us on paths we do not know. The confusion and doubt they can create are snares we ought to guard against. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth wise words for us:

“The world is unprincipled. It’s dog-eat-dog out there! The world doesn’t fight fair. But we don’t live or fight our battles that way—never have and never will. The tools of our trade aren’t for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture. We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity.”

2 Corinthians 10:3-6 (MSG)
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All The Shiny Things

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Have you ever noticed how captivated we can be by all the shiny things? No matter what age we may be, we are drawn to sparkling, flickering, glittering lights. Whether it is evident in the decorations we adorn our homes and lawns with at Christmas or the fireworks we enjoy for special times of celebration, every sense attunes itself to observe the wonders of such things.

Our imaginations have been piqued by stars, sunrises, sunsets, light causing the streams, rills, and waterfalls to glisten, and moonlight shimmering on a smooth surface of a lake creating a mirror effect. These things can quiet the noise inside us, calm us, creating an awe-filled delight. Those coming from nature remind us of the One who created light and everything it touches.

But it doesn’t stop there. We are drawn to the light emanating from the screens we carry with us or use for work as well as entertainment and pleasure, shiny trinkets of assorted sizes, shapes, and materials. We are caught up with all that shines in theme parts, county fairs, bazaars, and store windows.

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We like having shiny things around us of one kind or another. They can make us smile and lift our mood on cloudy dark days and we work to earn money to buy those things we most enjoy and appreciate. None of that is bad so long as we take heed to the level of distraction that they can also create that take us from the beauty of those other things like stars, sunshine, and moonlight that remind us of God. If we are captivated too long by manmade shiny things we start missing the most important things, like relationships, reading old-fashioned books that do not require screen time, sitting on the front porch sharing bits and pieces of our day with someone or alone reflecting on those same things.

We never plan on these shiny things becoming our preoccupation, but they can little by little develop into that, sometimes approaching addiction or even idol level attention causing us to pursue them above the things that matter for eternity.

These things not only can cost us some things in our preoccupation but also in the care and upkeep of them if they are to retain their value. They keep us in motion, always doing, sometimes to the point of twirling in one circle after another with no pause and little awareness of the life we are called to live no matter what age or season.

“The world has been upside down for so long, it is almost impossible to believe anymore that the meaning of life is not about doing. The notions that it is about being – being caring, being interested, being honest, being truthful, being available, being spiritual, being involved with the important things of life, of living – is so rare, so unspoken of, as to be obtuse. We don’t even know what the meaning means anymore.”

Joan Chittister
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Once and a while in a punctuated moment we wonder where time has gone, how we got to be this old already, and when we last had savored life beyond the few times we did on vacation last year. It never seems to dawn on us that we were caught up with all the shiny things more often than we realized.

If life has been kind and our health has been good, we approach midlife with a goal of finishing strong and then savoring the fruit of our labor, the successes we achieved. We have more of the shiny things we wanted by then while still hoping for a few more perhaps. Our children (if we had them) are building their own lives without much information about the stories of us. We didn’t take time to share them as once was common on front porches and around radios of just a few decades ago.

“Life, it seems, follows a relentless cycle: in our early years we accumulate, but in our later years we divest. Both of them are liberating.”

Joan Chittister
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What once drew our attention and became a goal and then reality has had meaning attached to it. To divest that thing might not be easy and yet not impossible, but we have discovered that what matters most is the story behind it, how we saved for years to buy it, why it was important to us, and what it cost us along the way. All this makes up not only its history but ours as well.

All the shiny things can bless us but should not own us.

One day we will leave them behind and they should not be what we are most remembered for.

“We leave behind our attitude toward the world. We are remembered for whether or not we inspired in others a love for life and an openness to all those who lived it with us. We will be remembered for our smiles and our frowns, for our laughter and our complaints, for our kindness and our selfishness

We leave behind for all the world to see the value system that marks everything we do.”

Joan Chittister
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The Committed Climbed

The Sea of Galilee – Image by dozemode from Pixabay

I love to read and the stacks of books on our shelves, beside my favorite chair, and on my nightstand attest to that. I often have friends ask me about what I have read lately as well because they seem to think I likely have found some goodie they might enjoy.

I have many favorite books and I do have a Kindle and iBooks, but I confess to preferring the feel of a book in my hand (especially if the paper used to print it is nice). Even so, no book has the capacity to bring new discoveries each time I read it like the Bible does.

I am not sure how many times I have read through all of it, but even in my favorite or most familiar passages I often spy a new gem of discovery or recognition when I visit it again.

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Today I was reading in Matthew 5. I have read it dozens upon dozens of times and still recall memorizing the beatitudes in Vacation Bible School as a child. In this chapter we find likely the most well known sermon ever preached anywhere. It is most commonly called “The Sermon on the Mount”.

I had never considered what “mount” this was and the Bible doesn’t say in this case.

In my research, I found that it is thought to be Mt. Eremos that is located on Galilee’s northwest shore between the cities of Gennesaret and Capernaum. Some also refer to this mount as the Horns of Hattin, a ridge running east and west not far from Capernaum. The exact spot is not clear, but for more than 1,500 years this area has been historically pointed to. If you were going to see this area today, it would be about three hours from Jerusalem by bus and once you arrived you would discover The Church of the Beatitudes there and have a wonderful view of the Sea of Galilee.

The descriptions suggest a broad plateau area that would have been well suited for those 5,000+ who came to hear Jesus to spread out over the hills.

Prior to this pivotal message, Jesus had spent the night praying at its highest point and then chose from those who had been following Him, his twelve disciples. History says He moved a bit lower to a broad open area where the multitudes had gathered. From there, He began to teach.

Ken Gire points out in Moments with the Savior who this large group would have been comprised of.

The crowds were comprised largely of the outsiders. From Galilee came a lot of racially mixed, unorthodox Jews. From the Decapolis and settlements east of the Jordan River came a lot of Gentiles. Many in the crowds were those whom Jesus had healed. The diseased and infirm. The demonized and insane. The disabled and impoverished.”

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These would not have been the pillars of their community or the honored in the temple. These were ones who had heard about a miracle-working man known as Jesus and they had come with hope and faith, however feeble.

They would not have come with provisions because they would not have had them. These were the discounted, the poor, and those unwanted by many.

But what is most significant perhaps was that these were the committed climbers who walked or limped to the bottom of the mount and then climbed to where they saw Jesus. There they sat, eager to hear, eyes fixed on Him. Nothing else mattered.

Here they heard the essentials of Christianity, a character sketch of those who had entered the Kingdom or would do so.

They must have sat for hours in the sun without thought to anything save the words from Jesus, their food and drink, their hope and sustenance.

These were the committed climbers.

That gave me pause.

Am I a committed climber?

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Photo of forest, Walland, TN, by Pam Ecrement

We Can Change History

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Can we really change history?

Yes, of course.

You may be thinking of ways that can happen by participating in governmental processes, voting, and a list of other things and those are true and have happened many times in the course of history in places around the world. But there is something more than that and it can defeat evil as none of these can in and of themselves.

It requires more of us. It will involve time, trust, and faith in each action, but it is what will help us stand in the face of evil. It is prayer that is the effective weapon we often leave gathering dust on the shelf.

“The real power of prayer in history is not a fusillade of praying units of whom Christ is the chief, but it is the corporate action of a Saviour-Intercessor and His community, a volume and energy of prayer organized in a Holy Spirit and in the Church the Spirit creates.”

P.T. Forsyth

Throughout history you hear the stories of prayer operating and moving in ways to sustain people and change history’s course. We know it and scripture tells us to do it, but often our prayers focus on the life we are living and asking for smaller things or urgent things of a crisis nature related to health or provisions versus the wider battle against evil operating.

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“While conflicts raged between good and evil, prayers went up from devout bands of first century Christians all over the Roman empire. Massive engines of persecution and scorn were ranged against them. They had neither weapons nor votes. They had little money and no prestige. Why didn’t they have mental breakdowns? Why didn’t they cut and run? They prayed.”

Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder

History tells us much about what they suffered and endured during that time, but because of their faithfulness and testimony carved out of the hardships they endured, Christianity was not stamped out and we enjoy the legacy of that today. It can be easy to not recognize had they not been so committed in this way that all of what we take for granted might have never been birthed.

Can we do any less now whether we live in a place where our faith can operate and be expressed freely or not? Are we willing to walk in their footsteps and change the course of the future?

We see that power played out in Revelation 8 as well as prayers appear to flow upward, and heaven is silent and then an angel appears with a golden censer and what happens?

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“Out of the silence, action developed: an angel came before the altar of God with a censer. He mixed the prayers of the Christians with incense (which cleansed them from impurities) and combined them with fire (God’s spirit) from the altar. Then he put it all in a censer and threw it over heaven’s ramparts. The censer, plummeting through the air, landed on earth. On impact there were “peals of thunder, voices, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake” (Rev. 8:5). The prayers which had ascended, unremarked by the journalists of the day, returned with immense force – in George Herbert’s phrase, as “reversed thunder.” Prayer reenters history with incalculable effects. Our earth is shaken daily by it.”

Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder

Can you imagine?

It can be far easier to talk about what it is wrong in the world than to acknowledge we are caught up in a war between good and evil and as believers are called to play a part. Our absence of using the weapons Christ has afforded of us can change the present as well as the future for those who will come after us.

“Prayer is access to an environment in which God is the pivotal center of action. All other persons, events, or circumstances are third parties. Existence is illuminated in direct relationship to God himself. Neither bane nor blessing distracts from this center. Persons who pray are not misled by demons of size, influence, importance or power. They turn their backs on the gaudy pantheons of Canaan and Assyria, Greece and Rome, and give themselves to the personal intensities that become awe before God and in intimacy with God. And they change the world.”

Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder
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