The Victory of Our God

“All people everywhere have seen the victory of our God.” – Psalm 98:3

Our God – a sovereign lion with the gentleness and peace of a lamb – led to the altar to be killed.

A sacrifice meant for death.

Yet a sacrifice meant for love – for reconciliation.

“Eloi, eloi, lema sabachthani.”

“Some of the people there heard him and said, ‘Listen, he is calling for Elijah!’  One of them ran up with a sponge, soaked it in cheap wine, and put it on the end of a stick.  Then he held it up to Jesus’ lips and said, ‘Wait!  Let us see if Elijah is coming to bring him down from the cross!’

“With a loud cry Jesus died.”

This is the victory of our God, and all people have seen it.

All people everywhere surrounding the altar with the slaughtered lamb laying on it – dead.

Singing, crying, weeping, “You are good.”

“The curtain hanging in the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.  The army officer who was standing there in front of the cross saw how Jesus had died.  ‘This man was really the Son of God!’ he said.”

This is the victory of our God, and all people everywhere have seen it.

“‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he said.  ‘I know you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He is not here – he has been raised!'”

Our God, Jesus Christ – the sovereign lion with the gentleness and peace of a lamb – slaughtered, placed in a tomb, raised to life, victorious over death and the sin that separates his people from him.

A sacrifice of atonement meant for reconciliation.

A sacrifice of atonement meant for victory and life!

“All people everywhere have seen the victory of our God.”

Even you have seen the victory of our God.  What will be your response?

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A Prayer for the Holy Spirit

Holy Spirit –
you came at Pentecost,
and reside with us still.

Make your presence known to us.
Be present in our hearts, minds, souls, spirits, and bodies.

Fill us.
Sanctify us.
Heal us.
Comfort us.

Make us warriors for your kingdom.

Make us apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers –
unashamed, bold, and courageous for who you are.

Fill us with your power, truth, and love.

Holy Spirit, be present.

Entrenched

*Poem and artwork by Eric Verbovszky

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Entrenched in our churches,
walls we’ve built in our searches,
they’ve become our perches.

Not crossing valleys,
stuck in our alleys,
on our way to our rallies.

Afraid of the fog,
drunk from our grog,
aghast at braving the bog,
staggering in our own smog.

Content in our jest,
we call others possessed,
with ourselves most impressed.

Entrenched,
we’re benched,
unable to wrench,
only serving to quench.

Hearts to the Spirit
– a spear right into it –
churches have to submit.
We must commit.
We have to admit.

Though the circus enticed,
the grog and the fog must be sliced.
They simply do not suffice.
They’re not valuably priced.
Our focus must solely be Christ.

God gives us the dove,
with license to love,
a power from above,
to take off the gloves.

Go,
show,
so others can know.

Speak,
seek,
no fear to seem weak.

Share,
care,
words everywhere.

Guide,
beside,
shepherd the countryside.

Teach,
preach,
the Spirit will reach.

 

 

 

A Modern (Really Not So Modern) Christian Rule

“Rule” does not always have be a negative term.  While our first thoughts might associate the word with strict legalism, a rule or discipline can give our spiritual lives the direction we need, so long as Christ’s grace is not forgotten. In fact, with any rule, Christ’s grace must be a priority.

Moreover, within Christian history, a rule can be considered a set of guidelines or precepts.  Consider something along the lines of “The Rule of St. Benedict.”  I’m not advocating for the type of legalism often found in medieval monasteries, but I am saying that seeking to live by a set of rules and exercising discipline in that rule gives purpose and direction, and forms a foundation for our spiritual lives.

With modern Christianity in the United States being all over the theological and ecclesiastic-church-structure map, often finding itself bogged down in bureaucracy, and even acting like quite the circus, seeking to follow a general, simple rule might be something to consider. In the midst of so many distractions, a rule gives focus.  Within the greater Christian Church, the following is a rule that those called by God to do ministry can seek to live by.

1. Seek spiritual formation.

Spiritual formation and cultivating one’s relationship with God come first.  Silence, submission, solitude, and time with the Word – the Word as Christ and Scripture – help us understand our true identity in Jesus Christ and the Spirit working within us.  These aspects are not all encompassing of spiritual formation, but they start a formation for it. Considering Christ’s greatest commandment, this could be considered as loving God with heart and soul.

Exercising a sabbath, committing one’s self to the fruit of the Spirit, showing humility, and ridding one’s self of arrogant attitudes are all examples of spiritual formation.

2. Exercise the mind.

Just as much as Christians are called to love God with heart and soul, we are also called to love God with our minds.  However, learning as much as we can about God must be coupled with spiritual formation.  Knowledge, in and of itself, is a tool, must be paired with wisdom, humility, and good judgment, and by itself is not necessarily the end goal.  James reminds us that even demons know a lot about God; knowing a lot about theology is important, but it is not the singular factor that determines a Christian.  If knowledge is strictly sought for its own end, knowledge can be easily manipulated.

However, we must always seek to challenge ourselves with information, think critically and in a balanced way, stretch and stimulate our minds, evaluate and discern intellectual ideas for what is good and bad, and learn as much as we can about God.  Moreover, learning about an idea does not mean agreeing with an idea.  Finally, Christians can have civilized dialogue with people about various ideas and philosophies, agree or disagree, and still cheerfully love our neighbors.

Exercising the mind means that intellect and heart go together, not against one another.  Intellect and humility show the heart of a Christian.  Intellect and arrogance do not and can become an opportunity for knowledge to be manipulated.

Loving God with our minds and seeking to learn as much as we can about God also involves a commitment to staying on the path and trajectory of historical Christian orthodoxy.  This path is already at work through the Spirit moving in two millennia of Church history and should be studied.

3. Strive for good health.

We must also love God with our bodies.  God created us with physical selves, in goodness, and out of love; therefore we must take care of our bodies.  Physical fitness, eating well, and taking care of the overall wholistic health of our bodies and minds are very important.  Moreover, doing this, and helping others to do this, allows Christians to maximize God’s gift of life for each one of us with our actions each day.  It doesn’t mean maintaining the fitness level of a Navy SEAL or Special Forces Soldier, but it does mean being willing to put in the necessary work to take care of yourself and your body.

 

4. Live in community.

As Paul wrote to the Church in Ephesus, one of the main roles of a church community is to build people in the faith.  Community and the people around us help form, build, disciple, and encourage authentic Christians.  Community keeps us accountable, helps us learn how to love people that we don’t always want to love, and spend time with one another.  Being a Christian is not a solitary activity.

Additionally, community also means understanding the role of the greater catholic, unified Church and the place of all Christians throughout time and space.  Within the greater authority of Jesus Christ and his Church, local churches and denominations are not ultimate authorities, nor infallible.  Tribalism, denominational sectarianism, and myopic, tunnel-visioned views do nothing to help the body of Christ.  We must seek to end these kinds of attitudes and tendencies.  Christians must be willing to see orthodoxy and truth in other churches and denominations, partnering with one another and building one another up.

Community makes us humble.  As individuals, we have to exercise humility in community and put other people before ourselves.  Churches and denominations have to stay humble in the context and authority of God’s greater body – the people of God throughout history, all over the world.

5. Apply simplicity.

Don’t make things more complicated than they have to be.  Making things as simple as they can be accomplishes the mission.  Occam’s Razor, a rule which  generally means that simpler is better, can often be applied to church organizations.  Applying simplicity declutters our minds, declutters churches and denominations, and removes distractions, needless obstacles, and layers of bureaucracy that we have set up which, in the end, only take away from fulfilling the mission of God.

6. Work.

Hundreds of years ago, John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement in England, preached a message on finances that can be summarized as, “Make as much money as you can and as honestly as you can, so that you can give away as much as you can.”

Work gives individuals a sense of dignity and accomplishment, as well as helps us interact with and witness to the people around us.  Moreover, it allows individuals to be in a financial position where they can help others generously when others are in need.  I’m sure many of us are familiar with the proverb, “Give a man a fish, feed him for a meal.  Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.”  Working allows people to be in a position to do both.

The reality is also that work within the church, even in official pastoral ministry, increasingly does not provide necessary finances to take care of one’s family and be as giving as one always wants to be, so it is important to understand that many ministers must look for paid work outside the church.  Also, when ministers work full-time outside of ministry, they can better support their families, give to those who are in need, and empower other church leaders to run, lead, and take ownership in a local church.

Make money honestly.  Be responsible and generous with it.  Know that it belongs to God and you are only a steward of it.  Don’t allow money to become an idol.

To conclude, here is a modern (really not so modern) Christian rule: Seek spiritual formation.  Exercise the mind.  Strive for good health.  Live in community.  Apply simplicity.  Work.

Is this an order you’ll commit to living to?

Leaders Leading Leaders

While many people lead, leaders are also necessarily followers on some level.  In writing from the viewpoint of the Church, many pastors, ministers, and elders follow the leadership of a bishop, superintendent, or similar position.  The hierarchy continues upwards in many denominations and sects of Christianity.

Although superiors have expectations of those who work for them, followers, especially those who are also leading people themselves, have expectations of those who they work for in the hierarchy.  In other words, expectations work both ways.

Recently, I came up with a short list of ideals that leaders would want to see from the people who lead them from the next line in the hierarchy.  It’s definitely not exhaustive and in no particular order, but I hope this list shows some of the main considerations any leader would want as they also follow.  I believe these lessons apply just as much to a church organization as they do to any other organization in the world.

1. Treat people with the same dignity and respect you want to receive.  The measure, judgment, and whatever else that you give will be the same measure, judgment, and whatever else that you will receive.

2. Give people opportunities and chances to take initiative.

3. Give people opportunities to earn your respect.

4. Look at people’s potential.  Consider accomplishments, but also give weight to their potential.

5. Give people opportunities to be a part of the team.

6. Be humble.

7. He honest.  Don’t blow smoke or hot air.

8. Lead, coach, guide, mentor, and invest time in those you are leading.

A Prayer at the Feet of Jesus

In the desert,
on the foundation of Jesus,
bowed before his feet.

His feet in front of me,
my hands on Jesus’ feet.

Jesus, help me to be your feet.
Jesus, help me to go, as your feet go.
Jesus, help me to be humble,
so that I may be a servant of you.

Jesus, help me to trust that as I go,
you will be with me.
Help me to trust that as I go,
you will prepare the way.

Psalm 93 Reflection

“The Lord is king, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed, he is girded with strength.  He has established the world; it shall never be moved; your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting.  The floods have lifted up, O Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring.  More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters, more majestic than the waves of the sea, majestic on high is the Lord!  Your decrees are very sure; holiness befits your house, O Lord, forevermore.” – Psalm 93

A rock in God’s ocean,
a rock shaped, formed, and eroded in God’s power and patience.
A pillar, sculpted by the wind and water of his Spirit.
A pillar, an example pointing to God.

Sitting on Christ’s stone foundation,
a foundation shaped and flattened against the desert sands,
a refuge in the apparent wild.

Will you seek him?
Will you ask to enter into his presence?
Will you be present to meet him?
Will you be humble before him?

Sitting on Christ’s foundation,
silent in solitude with Jesus,
meditating, praying, enjoying the company of Christ.

Yet your arms become heavy,
your legs encased in stone,
your body unable to move,
formed as a statue in the wilderness,
a rock for all eternity to see.
A pillar meditating on Jesus Christ.

Unable to move without Christ’s release,
only able to deeply breathe the peace of Christ’s Spirit,
your muscles are encased in the statue’s stone.
Your heart beats.
Your blood flows.
A subtle anxiety courses in your heart.
A nervousness beats in your body,
trapped by the stone Christ has encased you in.

“What is the meaning of this?”
You ask Jesus.
“If there is a lesson in this, please let me know.”
You say to Jesus.

Jesus smiles.
The Spirit’s presence glows bright.
A moment passes in the desert sand’s silence.
Your anxious heart beats faster.

“All you must do is rest in my presence,
and I will take care of you.”

“Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”

A test of faith.
A lesson in patience.
An exercise in giving up control.

The future uncertain,
but trusting God with everything that will come.

“Help me have faith.”
You say to Jesus.
“Help me learn to wholly rest in you.”
You ask Jesus.
“Help me trust in your sovereignty and love.”
You pray to Jesus.

Slowly, you are released.
Patiently, your cocoon disappears.
Yet with the challenge given to your heart, mind, and soul.
The challenge to rest given to you.

The power of God – his authority and sovereignty greater than the oceans that shape the earth.
The waters that build, erode, destroy, create, and give life.
He is even greater.

You are a rock, shaped by his oceans, eroded by his waves.
The strength of the stone built up,
the weakness sheared off,
weathered away by time spent in his presence,
in the power of his waters.
His ocean is shaping you into the pillar he needs you to be.
Resting in him forms you into the pillar you are to become.
He is the ocean.
You are the rock at his edge,
shaped so that others will see his work.

Others come, seeking God’s ocean,
seeing the meditating, praying individual at the sea’s edge,
powerfully pointing to his work.
Solitary, silent, humble before God.
A servant, yet a marker for who he is.
Unwavering, shaped and moved only by the power of God’s waters.

To be a pillar of God, a rock shaped and weathered by him alone, one who towers, demonstrates, and points to God as one of his saints, one must first learn to rest in silence and stillness before his power and truth, before the raw force of an ocean crashing against the rough and rocky crags, sharpened cliffs, and heavy boulders of the stone formations at the edge his shore.