Rumination: Take Example from Cows and Chew Your Cud!

Do you know where the word ruminate comes from? Based on the title of this little blurb, you might guess it.  It means “to chew again something that has already been chewed slightly and swallowed.” When a cow is chewing her cud, she is ruminating on the grass she ate an hour ago. Gross, right?  Sorry about that.  Still, rumination is something God tells us to do.

Often, in the counseling field, rumination indicates a negative behavior:  people who ruminate on negative expectations tend to be depressed, for  example.  However, ruminating, if done properly, is something that causes us to become the people God desires us to be. In Philippians 4.8, we are    instructed to “think upon these things.”  With this instruction, we are being told to consider deeply those things that are noble, righteous, lovely and pure. That is, “chew on this a little bit, then come back to it and chew on it some more. And while you’re at it, chew on it a little more.” When we        ruminate on God’s word, and on the things that are glorifying to God, we are considering deeply the things that God wants us to think about.

I would offer a challenge to you this week: pick a single verse to ruminate on this week. (If you need some help, Philippians 4.8 is a great one!!)  Pick it out, read it aloud, repeat it silently a few times and think about its implications. Pray that the Lord will use it to teach you something this week. The next day, read the entire chapter around that verse, then chew on the verse a little more, with new insights and perspective. The next day, read the     entire book that the verse comes from, chewing on how that verse fits into the book and thinking about what that means. For the rest of the week, chew on that verse each day, seeking God’s wisdom and insight about it. I promise that you will find that ruminating on God’s words will never be a waste of time. Invest some of your precious time in pursuit of God – your efforts will not go unrewarded.

 

Easter: He is Risen – so have YOU.

Out of the dumpster, the man pulled a chair. It had been through a lot; he could tell by looking at it. He turned it over and around in his hands, examining it from all angles. Its varnish was dull and scratched, its wood had gouges and one of its legs was cracked along the grain. The cross beam between the back legs hung down from the left leg, pulled out by strain at some point. The cushion of the seat was stained and ripped in a few places; its previously rich color now faded and drab. It was utterly broken and useless as a chair in its sad, abused, discarded condition. Still, the man took it and carried it with him to his home.

In the shed behind his house was his shop. There he gently began to do his work on the chair. He started by pulling out the old, faded and torn chair cushion. Once that was out of the way, he turned the chair upside down on his workbench and worked the broken leg out of its socket. He replaced it with a new one, perfectly smooth and strong. Then he carefully joined the cross beam to the back leg, gluing it securely in place. From there, he took a long time stripping the old, dull varnish from the chair until the  beauty of the original wood grain could be seen.  He filled the gashes and sanded the scratches in the wood until he could run his hand along any part of the old chair and it was perfectly smooth.

So beautiful was the wood of the chair that he opted for only the slightest stain to protect the newly restored chair and enhance its natural lines and grain. He then turned to the seat, still separated from the wood frame. He carefully and slowly removed the fabric pins from the underside of the seat, freeing the old, ratty fabric from the seat. He exposed the rotted, lumpy and stained stuffing and decided to take that out as well. He put a wonderfully soft cushion on the seat base and covered it over with the most beautiful fabric in his possession. Finally, he secured the seat in its rightful place on the chair.

At this point, he stepped back, crossing his arms, to admire his handiwork. He felt confident that he had restored to its original beauty. He knew this was true because he was the one who created the chair. Years ago, in this very shop, he had turned a lifelong desire of being a craftsman into reality when he made chairs by hand. Each one he made unique. Some were delicate and ornate, others were strong and made for heavy use. All of them he made with love and simply for the joy it gave him to create them one by one. Others in the world might abuse, misuse and toss aside his creation, leaving them broken and battered. But he was always on the lookout for one of his own. Sometimes he found them in dumpsters like this one. Other times he might find one in a yard sale, or by the side of the road. When any one of his chairs came home, he always lovingly and methodically stripped away the years of wear and tear, and lovingly restored it to its original beauty. So does our Creator restore us when we return home to Him.

Hallelujah! He is risen, and because of His resurrection, I am raised with Him!

 

Good Friday Observance

Good Friday is the Church’s observance of  the day Jesus was tried, tortured, convicted, crucified and buried. “Good” seems to be a misnomer when you know what the day represents in the physical life of our Savior. However, without his death, there would be no resurrection. Without his death and resurrection, we would not experience salvation. In that way, Good Friday is truly good—it is a day that profoundly humbles us, but it is a day that leaves us hanging on to the hope we hold for Sunday, when that dreaded stone is rolled away!

We take time out to observe the horrors Jesus experienced for us on Good Friday, maintaining a somber attitude of repentance. This service is most the similar to a funeral of any service in the Church year. We cover the symbols of our faith in black shrouds of mourning. The music is music of repentance and awareness of the levity of Christ’s sacrifice for us. The tone is mournful as we recount the humiliation, torture, mocking, scorn, and death of the Lamb of God. The One who was wholly without sin bore the weight of the sins of each sinner. The weight was excruciatingly painful, but it was borne willingly out of love.

Christ suffered and died for you. For you. He knows your name. He knows your heart. He knows your sins. He knows your failures. He knows every fear you have. He counts every tear. He hears you when you call out to him.  He loves you.  His suffering was because of his love for you. He suffered in your stead. He took the weight of your sins on himself, and paid the price you owed to God. In return, he only asks that you love him back, giving your life to him because of that love. Paul writes that we are all slaves to Christ because Christ bought us at a very high price. And so he did.  But your Savior leaves you free to choose to love him fully or to mock and spit on his love, much like the soldiers mocked and spit on him physically.  In  observance of Christ’s suffering for you, will you come before him fully  and humbly embracing his gift in a new, fresh way?

Holy Week

At certain times of the year, I think those attending ‘high church’ liturgical services get the best experience of the life, ministry, suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord. Holy Week (between Palm Sunday and Easter) is one of those times. In the liturgy of the Church, we acknowledge those important and meaningful parts of Jesus’ last week before his death and resurrection. Acknowledging those significant events as we lead up to the celebration of his resurrection on Easter morning can add a depth and weightiness to the miracle of the empty tomb.

I think it’s worth spending daily reflection on the events in Christ’s life and death this week in preparation for Easter Sunday.

Palm Sunday— known also as the Triumphal Entry, Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, knowing that he is entering the city for the final time; this time to sacrifice his life to save the world.  He looks at the city with sorrow, wishing that they would have received him as they should have, but knowing that he would endure incredible suffering there within the week. As he enters Jerusalem, the crowds are rallying around him, hailing him as the Messiah. But fickle as we often are, those same crowds retreated into the shadows or turned on him as soon as he was arrested. They were the same ones who cried out, “Crucify!” just a few days later.   Readings: Matthew 21.1-11; Psalm 118.19-29

Maundy Thursday—(1st Day of Christ’s Passion) this was the day that Jesus shared the Passover meal with his 12 disciples. During this Passover feast in the upper room, Jesus gave us the commandment “do this in remembrance of me” when speaking of the bread and the wine that has become Communion in the Church. He would provide the bread and the wine with his own body and blood, he was to become the final Passover Lamb within a few hours of that meal, the last supper.

Later that same night, Jesus was betrayed by his disciple Judas. It was on this night that Jesus went with his disciples to the garden of Gethsemane to pray. This garden was one of Jesus’ favorite places to spend time. It was at the foot of the Mount of Olives, and was place where olives were pressed to get the oil.  Jesus sought out a place that he loved to be for the last hours of prayer before his arrest, trial, and crucifixion. It was a time of great trial for Jesus. He recognized the time was nearly at hand for him to be handed over to the authorities. He spent it praying to the Father, and asking his sleepy friends to stay awake and intercede for him in his time of need. Readings: John 13-17: the Upper Room Discourse (the account of Jesus’ final hours of ministry and instruction to his disciples), and John 18-19.16: Jesus’ arrest and trial.

Good Friday—(2nd day of Christ’s Passion) we call it “good” because it was through the horror of Christ’s torture and death that we are reconciled to God. However, the events of this day are gruesome and terrible. We often observe the day of Jesus’ death and burial with the cross shrouded in black as a symbol of mourning. Readings: John 18.1-19.37, Psalm 22, Hebrews 10.1-25

Holy Saturday— (3rd day of Christ’s Passion, final day of Lent) during the time Jesus was in the tomb, dead and buried, his disciples must have been distraught, confused, and in deep mourning. Their Messiah was dead and all hope seemed to be lost. As they hid away in fear and shock, God’s mysterious plan was coming to fruition. While Christ was dead, humanity was in the process of being restored to life. Readings: Matthew 27.57-66, Psalm 130, Psalm 31.1-5, Job 14.1-14

Come Out of Your Tomb!

I’m thinking a lot about Lazarus this week. As Andrew prepares his message, I am left to reflect on the wondrous, mysterious miracle of Lazarus’ resurrection, and his response to Christ’s call, “Lazarus, come forth!” (John 11. 43).

When Jesus arrived on scene at his friends’ home, Lazarus was certainly dead. Jesus arrived “late” and missed Lazarus’ illness, death and burial. The funeral procession had occurred 4 days earlier. When he saw the sorrow of Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, Jesus wept at death’s impact on humanity, and specifically on these people he loved. Once he had people roll away the tomb stone to expose the mouth of the cave that held Lazarus’ lifeless body, Jesus called Lazarus out into the light. John describes Lazarus’ appearance as he emerged from the darkness into the light of day, still wrapped in the strips of cloth that were his grave clothes. Jesus restored this brother to their joyful, and certainly astonished, sisters

As I reflected on Lazarus’ resurrection, I am left to examine my own life since Jesus called me out of my tomb. Am I living as a person who was rescued from death—freed from the tomb? Sometimes, I think I retreat into my tomb again. Sometimes, I think there are things that I left in that place of death and decay that I want back for some reason. There are things that call after me, as if I am still wrapped in my grave clothes, rotting in the dark. Lazarus reminds me that I have been called out of death into the light by the very Light of the World.

My desire is to live every day in the acknowledgment that Christ has said to me, “Day, come out!” How ludicrous is it to hang around the mouth of my tomb, peeking in to see what’s in there, wondering if there is still something of value to me in there? My proper response is to tell everyone I know what    Jesus did for me, to live every moment to the fullest, seeking after the One who called me out of death into life.  When I think like that, I recognize that every breath I have is His. Each day belongs to Him. My life is a proclamation of who He is, and I want to embrace every moment in order to bring glory to His name.

Lenten Thoughts – Why 40 Days of Sacrifice?

If you’re like me, you’ve wondered why we have 40 days to observe Lent.  Once we begin to examine the significance of 40 days of sacrifice, we are immediately swept into the many times 40 days comes into play within Scripture. For example:  when God flooded the earth, it rained 40 days and 40 nights  (Genesis 7.4).  When the Israelites came up out of Egypt, they wandered 40 years in the desert (Deuteronomy 8.2) and during that time, Moses spent 40 days in the Lord’s presence on Mt. Sinai when he received the 10 Commandments (Exodus 34.28) and again as he pleaded with God not to destroy these disobedient people (Deuteronomy 10.10). When the Israelites went to spy out the Promised Land, they were there 40 days (Number 13.25). Of course, we talked last week about Jesus’ 40 days and nights fasting in the wilderness (Matthew 4.2), but additionally, Jesus remained on earth for 40 days after his resurrection, continuing to minister to and teach people (Acts 1.3).  These are merely sampling of the times the number 40 is used in the Bible.

What is particularly meaningful about these examples of 40 days or 40 years is that they all represent significant changes in God’s work among his people.  For Noah, it was the rebirth of a sinful world that was cleansed by God’s cleaning water. For Moses, it was the birth of God’s covenant with his people.  For the Israelites in the desert, it was new life in the Promised Land. For Jesus, the wilderness began his earthly ministry, the 40 days after his resurrection was the interlude between the God-Man’s transition from earth to heaven. Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio suggests that these accounts of 40s are always a  “necessary and not-so-comfortable prelude to something new.” It is notable that the wisdom of the Lord dictated that a normal human pregnancy is 40 weeks. Perhaps it is yet again God’s way of demonstrating how new life, both marvelous and frightening, is delivered to us after we endure the challenges of birth, whether that birth be physical, or spiritual.

As you continue your 40 days of sacrifice before the Lord, consider this as one of God’s 40s! Seek a rebirth in your spiritual life with God. As you fast before him, ask him to bless this time by making you new, restoring your faith, building your hope.

Lenten Thoughts – Who Are We Imitating?

As adults, we often experience great joy and amusement when observing a son imitating his father.  Personally, this phenomena is particularly funny when I see Andrew standing next to his dad looking off in the distance with the same furrowed brow, squinty eyes and pulled up top lip. It’s something I tease Andrew about because it makes me laugh. Andrew unwittingly imitates his dad in this instance—not even aware that he’s doing it until I call his attention to the fact.

However, there are a number of things that Andrew does in imitation of his dad that have developed more intentionally.  For example, his devotion to ministry, and his passion for unity in the church are almost identical to his dad’s. His habit of weaving faith and servitude into all of his attitudes and choices, and even his desire to be a pastor is a reflection of Andrew’s imitation of his dad. Fortunately, Andrew had a great example of what it means to be a godly man who pursues Christ and His heart for the lost. Not all of us have had such great examples of a father who chases after God. Still, we are given a perfect example in Christ, our brother, who chooses to perfectly follow the perfect will of the Father.

If we are imitating Christ in our lives, we are doing exactly what our Heavenly     Father desires of us. This, however, means that we cannot be sucked into believing that what the world has for us is somehow better than what the Father wants for us. If we are honest, we will admit that very often, the cares of this world are what draw our attention, dictate our behaviors, and shape our decisions. I see it in story after story of Christians who embrace sins because they have become cultural norms even though God explicitly told us they are sinful behaviors. These sins    become the pattern of the Christian’s lifestyle instead of a lifestyle of obedience to God.  Taking example from media, virtually all TV programming and movies    embrace deceit, back stabbing, pursuit of wealth and possessions, verbal altercations that are insulting and vulgar, and sex outside of marriage. It would be one thing if these fictional depictions of sinful behavior were reserved only for the    entertainment industry or the lives of the unsaved, unrepentant sinner. However, these behaviors and attitudes are reflected in the lives of Christians every day. Sadly, for many Christians, life imitates our culture rather than it imitates Christ. Obviously this is a far cry from the life that God intends for us.

During the season of Lent, I encourage you to reflect on what is God’s best for you. If you don’t know, ask Him to show you. Seek to imitate your Father. He has only good for you, and He loves you perfectly. Imitate Him and you can’t go wrong.

 

Love is Sacrifice

“If what we call love doesn’t take us beyond ourselves, it is not really love. If we have the idea that love is characterized as cautious, wise, sensible, shrewd, and never taken to extremes, we have missed the true meaning. This may describe affection, and it may bring us a warm feeling, but it is not a true and accurate description of love.”

                                                                                                     My Utmost for His Highest—Oswald Chambers

 There have been so many accounts of great, sacrificial love in mythology, timeless novels, poems, and songs. They depict the love of one person for another in such a way that our hearts are drawn to it, broken by it, inspired by it. Nothing compares, though, to the Love that hung the stars, and the Love that breathed life into each of us, the Love that hung on a tree to reconcile us to Righteousness. It is that Love that inspires us to sacrifice ourselves—our selfish desires, our faithless fears, our loveless hearts. It is that Love that draws us out of ourselves and makes us better than we can be on our own, it causes us to love dangerously, to love fully, to love sacrificially. To give ourselves away.

A few of my favorite song lyrics on love:

If it doesn’t break your heart it isn’t love, no if it doesn’t break your heart, it’s not enough. It’s when you’re breaking down with your insides coming out; that’s when you find out what your heart is made of.   Yet—Switchfoot

This foolishness can leave the heart black and blue. Only love, only love, can leave such a mark. But only love, only Love, can heal such a scar.  Magnificent—U2.

Love that will not betray you, dismay or enslave you, it will set you free to be more like the man you were made to be.  Sigh No More – Mumford & Sons.

Loving God—Insights from Bernard of Clairvaux

In the 10th century, Bernard of Clairvaux wrote on the love of God. When asked to explain why and how God should be loved, Bernard wrote, “The reason for loving God is God Himself: the way is to love Him beyond measure.”  If you spend a few moments reflecting on that, you will begin to sense how profound a statement that is.  “I see no other worthy reason for loving Him except Himself,”  continued the monk. In all good things about being human, our dignity, knowledge, virtue, we must look to God as the source. For example, our dignity exists only because the Creator of the Universe gave us free will in order that we might have dominion over the Creation.  Our knowledge is something that dwells within us, but that is certainly not from ourselves. Finally, our virtue is that which clings to the God in a manner that prevents us from being separated from Him once we are found. “And so dignity without knowledge is of no avail; it is even a hindrance if virtue is lacking, as the following reasoning makes clear. What glory can one have in possessing what he does not know that he possesses? Furthermore, to know what you have while not knowing that it does not come from yourself begets glory but not in the sight of God.” Said in more accessible terms, having free will without recognizing that it comes from God, and failing to use that free will to desperately cling to God, results in  self-glorification— and certainly wrong focus. It results in our sinful selves, in our narcissistic  self centeredness, in our desire to gain the glory that God alone deserves.

Quotes from On the Love of God and Other Selected Writings—St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Hurricanes and Compression Starts

Gratefully, Hurricane Irene essentially missed my little part of Massachusetts. We got some high winds, but nothing really noteworthy. We definitely experienced much heavier wind and rain in Northwest storms. Still, the impact was heavier in some parts, and we are so sad that many people lost loved ones as well as homes or businesses in the wake of her wind and rain.

The hint of hurricane outside our little church building Sunday morning was present, and it provided an eloquent image of our life in the midst of storms. As we prayed and sang with the small group of faithful who joined us Sunday despite the threat of Irene, we were all moved by the image the storm provided as the life we experience. In it we will have trials of all kinds, we are promised that. But the anchor that we chose to cling to is what makes or breaks our experience.

The news showed pictures of individuals in the middle of the hurricane force winds who were desperately clinging to trees, or signposts – anything, really, that would keep them from being blown away. But as we’ve seen time and again, trees are uprooted in hurricanes. Signposts are nothing more than toothpicks in the right circumstances. No, nothing on this earth is worth our complete trust except the Strong Tower that is our God. In Him alone can we rest, knowing that no matter how strong the hurricane’s winds and no matter how high the flood waters rise, in Him is our security.

On a less spiritual note – we went out to deposit Andrew’s check today. The bank was closed because they didn’t have electricity. We went to Home Depot to get a few things. They had one check out lane. We stood in line for close to 45 minutes. When we tried to pay with the gift card we had, we were told they could not accept it because the database was not on the emergency backup generator. So we left the whole cart. Then we got to the car, the battery was dead. So we had to compression start the car in the Home Depot parking lot. Andrew pushed and I popped the clutch. Boy that was fun!