Faith 7…

We are still in the time of year when we annually celebrate space accomplishments by the early American astronauts. As you already know, the seven Mercury astronauts were the first astronauts chosen for the U.S. space program after extensive physical, emotional and psychological tests. It was on this date, in 1963, that L. Gordon Cooper, better known as Gordo, was the last Mercury astronaut to be launched into space. He ended up making 22 orbits around the earth during a flight that lasted about 34 hours – the longest time in space for any American to date. Each of his predecessors had chosen the names for their spacecraft; and each had added the number 7, signifying the size of their group, to the end of the name of each capsule.

Gordo chose “Faith 7” as the moniker for his craft and I admit that every time I see the word “faith”, I immediately connect it with God and religion and all things good. One of my dear friends used to say that faith is an active verb – that we should pray for more faith and that faith is a gift from God. As humans, we can’t increase our own faith – we need God to instill more faith in us. And let’s face it – how many times have your heard about “brothers and sisters in the faith?”

But faith in God wasn’t what Gordo was talking about. He didn’t have faith in God – he had faith in the Atlas rocket and the Mercury capsule that would launch him into space. How wrong! Yes, he had a successful flight, but it wasn’t without its issues. During the flight, he lost power but was able to communicate with earth as his radio was connected directly to a battery. Without that, he may not have been able to return to earth. As it was, he had to manually calculate the angle of reentry and how he needed to fly the spacecraft to safely return to our world. In fact, he landed less than four miles from the USS Kearsarge, the ship that picked him up. He actually was hoisted onto the ship while still inside his capsule – finally blowing the hatch on the deck of the ship.

There had been all kinds of fears about losing the capsule. NASA wasn’t thrilled at all about the prospect of newspapers picking up any tragedy under the banner, “NASA loses Faith!” But it’s a shame that Cooper didn’t have more faith in God. In Gordo’s later years, he was involved in all sorts of “deals” – building racing boats, spinning yarns of his days in space, trying to raise money for all sorts of odd causes and having several companies go bankrupt in the process. Gordon never took the blame for these failures – he always assigned the blame to his partners or people who lacked “faith” in him.

Fellow astronauts even went so far, in Gordo’s later years, to refer to him as mentally unstable and it was revealed that even back in his days flying for the Mercury and Gemini programs, he was difficult to deal with – it was even thought that he should be replaced on several scheduled flights due to chronic complaints about pay and other issues. Cooper finally died in 2004 – and it is safe to say that he didn’t do as well in his later years as he did when he flew into space the first time as a young astronaut.

Our verse for tonight highlights thoughts on faith. We are told by Paul, in his first letter to young Timothy, in 1 Timothy 3:13, “Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.” Yes, God loves to give us assurance in our faith. That is my encouragement this evening. My prayer is that we will finish well and not reduce our faith, but that God will increase it during our later years. Because, in this way, we can continue to become more like Jesus as we age and no matter how successful we were in our younger years, the best is yet to come. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…

Behold Your Mother…

By now, everyone in the country knows that today is Mother’s Day. There have been all kinds of celebrations – from the giving of cards to gifts to meals to family gatherings. On Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms, there have been many thousands of photos of moms and their children of all ages.

In our family, we celebrated by having our local children and grandchildren here for the first barbecue of the season. The weather outside was rainy and somewhat cold, but inside things were terrific. The men cooked the meal, did the dishes and generally took care of the event.

There are many ways of taking care of our mothers. Sometimes, as in our case, it is as simple as cooking a meal and doing the dishes. Other times, it is helping to assist with their care or doing the yard work – or taking them shopping. There are all kinds or ways that we care for or help our mothers.

It should come as no surprise that Jesus was concerned about His mother and it was one of the themes we find discussed at the foot of the cross during the crucifixion of Jesus. As Jesus hung from the cross, in front of witnesses including Mary, His mother, Jesus engaged in a short dialogue with His disciple, John, and His mother. Jesus, in a very tender moment, turned over the care of His mother to John, who would later become the pastor at the church at Ephesus. In fact, John would take Mary with him to Ephesus and it is presumed that she lived out her days a short walk from the church that was built in this area that is now part of Turkey.

Janet and I have actually been to Ephesus and have seen the ruins of the church, the baptismal and the home that was supposedly occupied by Mary. It is presumed that Joseph had died years before the crucifixion and, therefore, for Jesus as Mary’s firstborn Son, it was His responsibility to provide for her care after His death – death on a cross. And even though He would return at the resurrection, it was also clear that Jesus would ascend to the Father and no longer reside on the earth – rather, in heaven.

Our verse for this evening is the short comment made at the cross as Jesus was turning over the care of His mother to John. The disciple who Jesus loved tells us, in John 19:26-27, “When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.”

My encouragement tonight is that mothers are a special gift – even more so, in most cases, than fathers. Jesus showed us how important it is to take care of those who brought us into the world. My prayer is that we will all be aware of taking care of those special women who gave us life, nurtured us as we grew and have provided us with unconditional love. To those of you who bring so much joy to our lives, Happy Mother’s Day – have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…

Old Friends…

With my inevitable move toward retirement, I find that I have more time to do the things that I enjoy rather than having to dedicate so much of the day to work. But don’t get me wrong – I don’t want to sit idly in a rocking chair and watch the world pass me by. The last several weeks, in particular, have been filled with appointments, primarily with people I have met through ministry, for breakfast, coffee or lunch.

Last week, I taught a group of folks who are in the midst of career transition and it was a joy to help them. It reminded me of how much I love to engage folks and help them get from where they are to where God created them to be. I can’t think of a more noble purpose for my life than that initiative. The leader of the group, Dale, is a fine man who has been a friend of mine for more than thirty years – and we started out as competitors! Yet, God, in His infinite wisdom, leveraged our combined skill sets to help people in need. Whenever he calls me for help, I leap at the chance to get engaged; and each time I am better for having had the experience.

Then, this week, I have spoken with folks that I have not heard from in years. For starters, I was referred to help a man who sat in one of the entrepreneurship classes I taught almost twenty years ago. I had pretty much forgotten the details of our association but Rick quickly reminded me of the impact that my class had on his life. Suddenly, it all came back to me. And to think that he picked up the phone and called me for help was something that I welcomed but never expected. We spoke for nearly an hour and by the time that we hung up, I had given him several ideas on things he could do as he looks at the next chapter of his life. I pray that his transition to the next season of his career will go smoothly. Once again, I was blessed by the renewal of a relationship from long ago.

I also spoke with Gene, a seminary classmate of mine who graduated with his Th.D. (Doctor of Theology) on the same day I received mine. While my field of expertise was in career transition, he is a pastor/teacher who is a subject matter expert, assuming there is such a thing, in endtimes theology – otherwise known as Eschatology. This is the study of the return of Christ, the thousand year reign and our entry into eternity. Needless to say, it is an incredibly dense subject to study.

For years, we taught at a Bible college together – but Gene still teaches and I went back into the corporate consulting world close to fifteen years ago. I am a Guest Lecturer in his classes periodically and it is always a blessing to engage with him in deep theological conversations. I never fail to learn something from Gene and our conversations are always filled with rich dialogue.

During our most recent conversation this afternoon, he asked about another friend who worked with us years ago. After we completed our call, I picked up the phone and called our friend in Dallas, a man I have not spoken to in many years. Erv immediately answered the phone and, after a warm greeting, we had a terrific conversation – the years were erased as we engaged in catching up. I heard about his wife, their grandchildren, retirement, selling their home, moving to another neighborhood and all the other important things, health and otherwise, that have been important chapters in their lives, and the lives of their family members, since we last spoke. It’s amazing to me how old friends are able to bridge the gap of time that has elapsed and pick up where we left off – even if it was years ago.

There have been other conversations from the past that have recently come to the forefront as well. But by now, I am sure that you get the idea. My life is rich with longstanding friendships but sometimes I forget to continue to invest in them. That’s on me…

The verse for tonight is particularly appropriate in light of all the remarkable communications and conversations I have had, from all over the country, the past several weeks. The apostle John, in his third epistle, tell us in 3 John 14, “I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face. Peace to you. The friends here send their greetings. Greet the friends there by name.”

God is thrilled when we keep up our relationships and rekindle those friendships that may have lapsed over the years. That’s because we are all part of God’s family and we are stronger when we combine our gifts for the advancement of the Kingdom of God here on earth. My prayer is that we may all keep up our old friendships and that we may be blessed by those experiences. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…

Freedom 7…

In was on this day, May 5th, back in 1961 that the United States successfully launched its first manned space mission with Alan Shepherd at the controls. It had been a long time coming. After all, Russia had jumped out in front during the early years of the space race by launching Sputnik, a small orbiting satellite, back in 1957, and the powers that be in the U.S. didn’t like that one bit. Their response was to formulate a plan to gain technological control of space for our country – proving once and for all that we were superior to the Russians.

Then, in April, 1961, Russia once again showed its superiority in space by launching cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin successfully into orbit for 108 minutes – the first human to circle the earth in space. While Gagarin didn’t have the ability to control his spacecraft, the feat was still remarkable. Less than a month later, Shepherd flew a sub-orbital flight of not much more than 15 minutes. Unlike Gagarin, he had some control over the capsule and while he technically entered space, the U.S. was still behind the Russian effort. Shepherd, in a nod to the 7 original Mercury astronauts, named his capsule “Freedom 7” – and following his flight, he became a national hero.

The testing to become a Mercury astronaut was rigorous to say the least. Many people applied and the competition was so strong that test pilots were the overwhelming majority of those who were considered for the six prime spots. However, when all the testing and evaluations were completed, even those in charge couldn’t limit the selection to six. Instead, they ended up with a total of seven Mercury astronauts, the best of the best, to lead the charge into space.

Shepherd, the first, was followed by Gus Grissom, who flew another suborbital flight and then John Glenn, who successfully completed three orbits of the earth before returning home. Grissom named his capsule “Liberty Bell 7” and Glenn’s capsule was named, appropriately, “Friendship 7.” These brave men were followed by three other Mercury flights; Scott Carpenter (Aurora 7), Wally Schirra (Sigma 7) and Gordon Cooper (Faith 7). Deke Slayton, the seventh Mercury astronaut, developed a heart murmur and didn’t fly in the Mercury program at all. Eventually, Deke became head of the astronaut office and finally flew in a joint Russian-U.S. program years later.

Although it took 8-1/2 years to do, we landed men on the moon in July, 1969 – a feat the Russians have yet to accomplish fifty years later. Many of our heroic astronauts flew multiple times and some were certainly more recognizable that others – John Glenn, for instance, who also holds the honor as the oldest person to travel in space.

Our verse for tonight is from the prophet Isaiah. He was the first to point out that the earth was round and it is said that Columbus referenced this Bible verse as evidence that he would not sail off the end of the world on his travels, during which he is was given credit for discovering America. Isaiah tells us, in Isaiah 40:21-22, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told to you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.”

The part of the verse about the circle (or sphere) of the earth is the reference that Columbus used for his “evidence” that the earth was round. And while this was later proven by many people, Alan Shepherd was the first American to actually see the curvature of the earth from space and lead the way to eventually landing on the moon. In fact, Shepherd also flew another mission into space ten years later and became the fifth man to walk on the moon as the lunar module pilot during Apollo 14, which completed its lunar landing on February 15, 1971.

My encouragement this evening is that God created the earth as a perfect “nest” for mankind. From the beginning in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, God desired to walk with us in community. My prayer is that we will all grow closer to our Creator and enjoy the communion with the One who created us! Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…

Fear on May 2nd…

Forty years ago today, I had my tonsils out under a local anesthetic at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, IL. I had been suffering from severe throat infections and had been treated with penicillin for many months. Finally, it was determined that having my tonsils out was the answer. I was all too familiar with the hospital. Our family had many occasions to go there and, among other visits, my father had died in this very facility 11 months earlier, to the day. To say I was scared was an understatement.

I was so opposed to surgery that the doctor agreed to do the procedure under a local anesthetic. It wasn’t fun, but at least I was awake. Being put under was my worst fear. Fifty three minutes after the operation began, my tonsils were gone – small nodules of tremendously scarred tissue that were no longer going to be a problem. But the surgery had been brutal. The needles and numbing injections hurt, the scalpel was worse and when they cauterized my throat, I thought I would jump off the table. On hindsight, it may not have been the best choice for me but it has made for some great storytelling in the years since.

Five years later, in 1984, I needed to have my gall bladder removed. Being awake for that one wasn’t an option and so, for the first time, I was put under and had surgery during one of the worst storm days we have ever had in Indiana – when the power went out and the generators in the hospital kicked on to provide electricity. That was also a horrendous experience. I tend to scar excessively and the recovery was brutal. I was basically out of commission from Memorial Day until Labor Day of that year. I finally recovered and all has been good since then – until last year.

Last spring, I ruptured my right quad tendon and a surgical repair was the only option. It was another serious situation and although the accident happened on April 23rd, guess what day they scheduled surgery for? Yep… May 2nd – one year ago today. Who would have thought that two surgeries in my life both happened on the same day of the year.

To be perfectly transparent about it, I am a little leery today. I would like to get through the day successfully without getting injured or needing surgery. Rehab after my knee surgery was about a year and now I have another year or so to build up strength as much as I can before I will be considered totally back to normal – whatever that new normal may be. It certainly won’t be where I was before this whole incident.

I will say that the knee surgery brought a new perspective to me about medical care. It had been 34 years since my gallbladder surgery and things have improved since then. The doctors were great and although I was somewhat fearful, things turned out alright. Recovery was slow but I was through the surgery. And I dealt better with the anesthetic than I had the last time I had that experience.

As I sit here writing today, I am once again in a doctor’s waiting room – but not for me. Janet is seeing a specialist about her eyes and whether it is time for them to do some corrective work to improve her sight. She is much better than I am with surgical procedures but, nonetheless, I would prefer that nobody in our family had to go through these types of procedures. On the other hand, 100 years ago, I would have probably choked to death with my tonsils, or died with the gall bladder issue, or they would have amputated my useless right leg.

So when it comes right down to it, I am grateful for the medical advances we have seen and the ability for medical science and very skilled doctors to fix the things we have had to deal with. And while I am less scared than earlier in my life, I still worry about doctors and surgeries – especially on May 2nd…

Our verse for this evening tells us that when we are afraid, we can trust God to take care of us. Admittedly, there have been times in my life when that has been very difficult to do – but I am still healthy and I have tried to trust God when I didn’t think I could do it. How’s that for an admission? We are told by the psalmist, in Psalm 56:3, “When I am afraid, I will trust in you.” Simple words with a much deeper implication. Because when we have God in our lives, we should be able to cast our fears and our doubts on Him. So I have never fully understood why we, in our humanness, sometimes have so much trouble trusting Him with the outcome. I suppose that is because we aren’t sure that the outcome we wish for is the same one that God is orchestrating. And how many times have I said that I want to be aligned with the will of God as long as His will is aligned with what I want!

My encouragement tonight is that God welcomes us to put our troubles on Him. Because He’s got this. It may not even be the outcome that we are looking for, but God has access to the full plan for our lives – and we don’t. My prayer is that each of us can trust God more completely than we have in the past. It’s a rare individual who can trust completely, but it is something that I, and every Christian, should aspire to. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…

Sym – Pathos

When I was in seminary Greek classes, I learned more about theology than in almost any other courses that I took. That’s because the words are so much more meaningful than what we consider in the English translations – in fact, it is almost like seeing the Bible in color rather than black and white.

Almost every day, we would be exposed to something in the language that made so much sense that I kind of wondered why we weren’t taught these things in church or Vacation Bible School when we were younger. Anyway, one of my favorite verses to translate was from the book of 1 Peter and had to do with how we treat one another. The book was written by Peter and had to do with the subject of suffering. It was written around 64 A.D. during the reign of Nero, who hated Christians. Nero was known for impaling Christians on large stakes, dipping them in tar and igniting them to light his gardens at night. Clearly, it was a horrible way to die but that didn’t make any difference to Nero.

Peter wrote his letter to Christians letting them know that some of the brothers and sisters in Christ would be killed, while others had the responsibility to pray for and take care of those who were being persecuted by the Romans. Nobody knew what role each person would be called to but the idea was that they were of one mind and pledged to help one another as if they were of the same DNA.

I was reminded of this verse because of the current political situation in this country. So many people running for president in the 2020 election and nothing but animosity among the candidates. The Republicans hate the Democrats and the Democrats hate the Republicans. Nobody wants to take a step toward civility and the country is being torn apart from within.

When the US is attacked from outside, we stand together as one and fight any enemy – anywhere in the world. But this most recent threat is from within and we are only hurting ourselves. We don’t trust each other, we want our way or the highway; and I have never seen such hatred in all my life. Honestly, it is disgusting and I am tired of it – from both sides. Someone will need to take the first step and I have no idea who will be big enough to do that and stop this insanity. Hatred is running rampant.

So I have been thinking about Paul’s words and how he coalesced Christians to care for one another, support one another and even die for one another if necessary. Our verse for this evening is from Peter’s first epistle, where he admonishes the followers of Jesus, and reminds them, in 1 Peter 3:8, “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.” Now this verse, while certainly understandable in the English, is really much deeper than it sounds. A humble attitude means to “see others greater than you see yourself” and to live in harmony means to get along in everything – as when you think of a group singing and how everything blends together.

But for me, the most significant word in this verse is “sympathetic” because it has a much different connotation than in the English. It is really the combination of two words. The first is “sym,” meaning “the same” – and we see it used in words such as symphony which means that the instruments blend together to produce the same sound or same voice. And the second word is “pathos” which is where we get our English word pathology. Some scholars even go so far as to think of the word as meaning “tissue” as when we think of living tissue.

If you combine these words, you get our English word “sympathy” – or, to have the same tissue, or DNA. So when one of us is suffering, Peter wants us to know that we should care enough that we hurt as much as the person being persecuted. And when they celebrate, we should celebrate as if some great thing has happened to us! Regardless of the circumstances, we should grieve, mourn, hurt, share and celebrate with our Christian brothers and sisters as if we were experiencing all of these possible things ourselves. As if we are all of the same DNA – when something happens to one of us, it happens to all of us. Isn’t that a great way to think about our unity as Christ followers? And do you see how different the Greek meaning is from our English definition of the word “sympathy?” I hope you will consider using the Greek definition know that you know what it really means!

My encouragement this evening is that God wants us to live as brothers and sisters. After all, we are all in the adopted family of God and brothers of Christ. That makes us family with God Himself. My prayer is that we will all consider how important it is that we try to get along and realize that we are all created in God’s image and that we are all important to Him. And we should all be important to each other as well! Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…

A Thorn in My Flesh…

Earlier this week, on Tuesday, April 23rd, I celebrated my first anniversary since I ruptured my right quad tendon while I was on a business trip southwest of Chicago. My brother, Doug, and I were helping our youngest brother, Ken, move into a new apartment and as a part of the process, we bought Ken a new bed, including the box spring and mattress. After we tore off the protective plastic cover and assembled the bed, I dragged the trash out to the dumpster. Somewhere along the line, I must have slipped on the plastic, or missed the curb at the dumpster site, but the next thing I knew I was flat on the ground looking up at a beautiful blue sky.

To be sure, my knee was sore but I didn’t feel any broken bones or see anything that would indicate that I had cut myself, so I just laid there and tried to gather my thoughts while I considered my next move. My watch wasn’t broken, my shirt wasn’t torn and, at worst, I figured that maybe I had sprained my knee. A kind neighbor came out and asked if I was okay – he went and got Doug to come and help me up. That was a much longer process than I thought it would be. Still, I was pleased that I was sure I hadn’t broken a bone or done anything serious.

I finally got into Doug’s car, with his help, and returned to his office where I had parked my car. Eventually, I got back in my own vehicle, drove thirty miles back to Doug’s house and spent the night on the couch while Doug (he’s a doctor) contacted his friends in the emergency room and got instructions for me to get through the night. The next morning, quite sore, I taught a class at the hospital where I coach several teams and one of the orthopedic docs suggested that I get an x-ray to see what we were dealing with. Later in the day, I had to go back and get an MRI after the radiologist, the ortho doc and Doug looked at the initial images from the x-ray.

It wasn’t good news. When I slipped, I tore my tendon from the top edge of my knee cap and I won’t say much more about it except that it was a serious injury. I was given the choice of having surgery there, at that hospital, or returning to Indy where the post op care and physical therapy would be easier with the local surgeon’s team. So… they put a splint on me, our son, Andrew, drove up with a friend to pick up my car – and I returned home – waiting to see the surgeon the next day.

It was an injury that would require surgery, physical therapy and a very long recovery – a year or more. I was diligent about following instructions, went through the surgery nine days later and started PT several weeks after that. It was a long journey and although I can now walk 2-1/2 miles, I’m not back where I was before the accident. It is difficult to walk down an incline, or stairs, and it is clear to me that there is a new normal that I must get used to.

This realization didn’t come to me instantly. But it was a slow process of coming to the conclusion that I don’t heal as fast as I did when I was younger and my stamina isn’t what it used to be. This was probably the most dramatic illustration of aging that I have personally experienced. To be sure, I couldn’t have gone through all the rehab and incapacitation without Janet by my side. In the end, it is what it is – and while some of my movement is limited, I can get by just fine and I am by no means incapacitated.

Paul experienced an issue with his health as well. I really never understood the verse until I walked down this path the past year. And I’m not complaining. I am grateful that it wasn’t worse and that I live in a period of time that this sort of injury could be treated successfully. In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he tells us about his own infirmity. Paul says, in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9, “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness…”

My encouragement this evening is that things usually happen for a reason and with God, there is usually a lesson involved. My prayer is that we will embrace those things that have occurred in our lives and will try to see the positive aspects of the cards that we have been dealt. In my case, I am much more appreciative of the mobility that I still have and don’t take my health for granted anymore. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…

Easter is the Difference!

Today we celebrate Easter, the resurrection of Jesus and the Good News that He died for all our sins – and then rose again. We have all heard the story of the final week of His life. The triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper with the apostles in the Upper Room, the betrayal by Judas, death on a cross – and then, the greatest miracle of all time, the resurrection itself.

And we have all heard of Pontius Pilate, the criminals on the crosses on either side of Jesus, the casting of lots for His clothes, the agony of the crucifixion and the burial in a tomb that had been secured by Joseph of Arimathea. We have also heard the stories of the empty tomb, the sightings of Jesus, the reunion with the disciples and His eventual ascension into Heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father.

While many religions dedicate themselves to their founders, or gods (small g), Christianity is the only religion that boasts a Savior who was dead – and is now alive. That’s right – we worship a LIVING God. So the question for tonight is simply, “Who raised Jesus from the dead?” After all, no created being on the earth, or below the earth, or even above the earth had the power raise Jesus back to life. And while there has been great debate on the topic, the Scripture clearly indicates that each member of the Godhead raised Jesus from the dead – that’s right, He was raised by God the Father, He was raised by the Holy Spirit and He raised Himself! Yes, I know that this sounds confusing but it’s true. So tonight, we have several verses to look at.

Paul, in the opening verse of Galatians, tells us in no uncertain terms that God the Father raised Jesus. Paul tells us, in Galatians 1:1, “Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead…” Notice, that Paul points out, in the first verse of his letter to the church at Galatia, this important truth. It’s right there – we can’t deny that, can we?

But then we can look at other parts of the Bible and find that Paul mentions that the Holy Spirit was responsible for the raising of Jesus. Paul tells us, in Romans 8:11, “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” So here we have confirmation that the Holy Spirit raised our Savior. How can that also be true?

And then, in what appears to add even more confusion to the question, In what seems to be an impossible situation, the Bible tells us that Jesus resurrected Himself! John, one of the disciples closest to Jesus, in the gospel that bears his name, tells us in John 10:17-18, “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” John tells us that Jesus had the authority to lay down His life and to take it up again! In fact, the Greek language makes it clear that Jesus did the action to Himself – it’s called middle voice – something that you cause to happen and also receive the result of the action. In fact, the language surrounding the resurrection is all in the middle voice. Jesus raised Himself from the dead. After all, He decided when He would die on the cross. We are told, in Matthew 27:50, “And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.” That’s right – Jesus breathed his last when He was ready to “give up His spirit.” And He would bring Himself back from the dead as well.

So what’s the correct answer here? Well, it’s YES! God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit all raised Jesus from the dead. Because it’s important to know that while the Godhead is comprised of three different parts – they are all God – three in One. One God in three different manifestations – the Trinity! Clearly, since they are all God, if one is involved, they all have to be involved – because God isn’t divisible.

My encouragement is that Jesus died on the cross and rose again to give us a way to commune with God throughout eternity and avoid eternal separation from Him. My prayer is that we will all take the offer of salvation seriously and that as we progress through our lives, we will become more like Jesus in the way we act in our earthly lives. Happy Easter, and have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…

Fire!

You may have already guessed that tonight’s post is about the horrific fire that almost destroyed Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris earlier this week. This iconic building was constructed over a period of approximately two hundred years and parts of it date back more than 850 years. Throughout its history, this Catholic church has undergone a number of renovations and upgrades to keep it up to standard throughout the ages. And it is suspected that it was due to an accident connected with the most recent $6.8 million renovation that a fire broke out in the cathedral several minutes after closing time this past Monday.

Millions of people visit this church each year, from all over the world, and it hosts more people per annum than the Eiffel Tower, arguably one of the most famous structures in the world. When I was 17 years old, in 1970, I was one of those visitors to Notre Dame. Earlier that summer, I traveled to London on July 1st aboard the Pan Am Clipper Intrepid on its second flight from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. That in itself was quite an experience but that’s not where the story ends.

After spending several days in London, I flew to Munich, by way of Stuggart, Germany on the 4th of July and spent the next six weeks or so working in a factory, living with a family, in a small town named Pfronten in the middle of the Bavarian Alps. I was able to spend the the summer working and taking side trips around the countryside, including a rail trip to Zurich. I would return each Sunday so that I could work the following day.

As I was nearing the end of my time in Germany, I returned to Munich, caught a flight to Paris and stayed across the street from the Louvre Museum. I walked the streets taking in the sites and eventually found myself in front of Notre Dame. Of course, I went in and toured this magnificent place. I still have photos that I took including the stained glass windows and other notable relics inside the cathedral.

In 2011, Janet and I took a cruise around France and the British Isles. We actually traveled to Paris and had lunch along the Seine River across from Notre Dame. We didn’t have time to go in, but the cathedral looked timeless, the same way that I remembered it from my youth. And while I know world travelers who have been in Paris many times, I have only been there on several occasions.

During the fire earlier this week, groups of people were singing hymns, 400 firefighters fought the blaze and French officials were already vowing to rebuild the structure. Thankfully, parts of the church were saved from total destruction. This included the huge pipe organ, a large stained glass window, priceless works of art and a crown of thorns supposedly worn by Jesus on the cross during His crucifixion.

But one of the most striking things was to notice how Notre Dame has been a part of the Paris skyline and major historical events for the better part of a millenium. Napoleon had his coronation there, French President DeGaulle attended mass there at the conclusion of WWII and years later his funeral was also held there. Kings ordered restorations and held their ascension to the throne there. Countless acts in history were permanently woven into the fabric of the church.

But in fact, many people don’t know the history of Notre Dame. They take for granted that the church always has been there and will always be there. Yet, in a flash, it was, for the most part, gone. People grieved the loss of this structure that had graced the Parisian skyline for hundreds of years. Now, several days later, more than $1 billion has been pledged to take on the rebuilding project. Money has been flowing from almost every imaginable source.

That is all well and good, but why does it take a tragedy to bring people together? Remember 911? It brought the country together. But why couldn’t we get along before or after the memory of this incident started to fade into the background? And that’s the whole point of this post. Something so important as Notre Dame has been taken for granted for more than 800 years and the outpouring of love and giving is occurring after the fire.

That’s not so different from our own lives. The people we love and care for are a part of our lives but sometimes we take them for granted until tragedy strikes and it is possible that they could be gone. Paul, the apostle, knew better than most of us how important people are. There are multiple verses that let us know how Paul continually prayed for and interacted with many people. Our verse for tonight confirms that Paul didn’t take people for granted. We are told, in 1 Thessalonians 3:9, “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?”

Paul was a man who knew about joy in the Lord and how people in his life played into that joy. My encouragement this evening is that God wants us to appreciate one another and take time to engage one another before it’s too late. My prayer is that we will all learn a lesson from the disaster at Notre Dame and not forget or take for granted those folks who have been woven into the fabric of our lives for so long, even if they have be hidden in plain sight. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…

Crowned on the Cross…

We celebrated Palm Sunday today – which begins the final week of the earthly life of Jesus as He entered Jerusalem on a donkey. The palm branches were laid down in His path and people waved as He passed by. Of course, as we know, virtually every event in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecy.

But the life of Jesus had also been counter-intuitive. The Jews expected a king on a white horse, leading them into battle and vanquishing their enemies for all time. Instead, they got a human baby, in a manger, seemingly helpless and unable to fend for Himself. However, the yet to be born John the Baptist leapt with joy when Mary, the mother of Jesus, announced His impending birth to Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John at the time.

From the earliest of ages, Jesus impressed the rabbis and religious leaders with His knowledge of God and often referred to God as “my Father…” Jesus even taught in the temple and performed His first miracle at a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee, at which time He announced that “my time had not yet come.”

Clearly, Jesus was on a mission – one He was sent to do on behalf of His Father. And Jesus was misunderstood… even the apostles and crowds that followed Him did not really understand who He was. In seminary, it is customary to study what is referred to as the “upside down kingdom.” This means that however we expect things to happen, Jesus generally expects us to do something very different from our human default setting.

In the story of the restoration of Peter, Jesus, in the Greek, admonishes us in His illustration to feed our young people the word of God, to hold accountable our older people (parents and elders) and then teach that same generation only after everything else has been accomplished. This is far different from our earthly tendency to take care of ourselves first, not worry so much about holding ourselves accountable and then teaching our young with whatever time and resources are left over. Get it? It’s the upside down kingdom.

Or how about the arrival of the the baby Jesus instead of the king on a white horse vanquishing all enemies – once again, the upside down kingdom at work. Loving your enemies, feeding the poor and caring for the marginalized before ourselves, these are all expectations of Jesus and are counter intuitive to us – especially in the times we are witnessing today.

The ultimate illustration of the upside kingdom was when Jesus was given a crown of thorns as He was led to the cross. Because that crown, in conjunction with the message nailed to the top of the cross proclaiming Him as “King of the Jews” was the coronation of Jesus as He prepared to die for the sins of everyone. How different from our human interpretation of what a king would encounter on His coronation day! A most humiliating death, on a cross, when Jesus “breathed His last” even leads us to believe, in the original Greek, that Jesus picked the time of His death and later resurrected Himself – but that’s food for another post…

The life of Jesus, his death and resurrection were all unexpected. The miracles He performed were beyond understanding except for the fact that He was, and is, God. His entire life was a study in contradictions – the unexpected becoming the norm and the last who became first – all illustrations of the upside down kingdom. And now, Jesus sits on the throne in heaven with His Father – still an advocate for each of us.

Our verse for this evening is the one that we studied in church this weekend, as part of a wonderful message on the coming of the Messiah, the “anointed One.” The apostle John, in John 12:17-19, tells us, referring to when Jesus entered Jerusalem marking of the start of what we celebrate as Holy Week, “Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him. So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”

My encouragement tonight is that Jesus sacrificed His life for the sins of the world – that means all of us… My prayer is that as we ponder the events of the last week of the life of Jesus before His resurrection, we will be thankful for all the things that Jesus did in His upside down kingdom – clearing the way for us to spend eternity with Him. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…