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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Jehovah Reigns

As we consider the significance and impact of the death of Jesus on a cross, awaiting the resurrection that Sunday will bring, may the words of Charles Wesley be an encouragement and reminder to us of who God is.

This Easter weekend, may God bless you and encourage you by his Spirit and by his Son Jesus Christ.

Jehovah reigns on high
In peerless majesty;
Boundless power his royal robe,
Purest light his garment is;
Rules his word the spacious globe,
Established it in floating seas.

Ancient of days!
Thy name And essence is I AM;
Thou, O Lord, and thou alone,
Gav’st whatever is to be;
Stood thine everlasting throne,
Stands to all eternity.

The floods, with angry noise,
Have lifted up their voice,
Lifted up their voice on high;
Fiends and men exclaim aloud;
Rage the waves and dash the sky,
Hell assails the throne of God.

Their fury cannot move
The Lord who reigns above;
Him the mighty waves obey,
Sinking at his awful will,
Ocean owns his sovereign sway;
Hell at his command is still.

Thy statutes, Lord, are sure,
And as thyself endure;
Thine eternal house above
Holy souls alone can see,
Fitted here by perfect love,
There to reign enthroned with thee.

Thoughts on Easter: “Spiritual but not Religious”

A large number of people label themselves as “spiritual but not religious.”   I can understand this viewpoint; for some it is because of bad experiences with a major world religion, such as Christianity, Judaism, or Islam.   For others, it is not necessarily because of a previous experience, but just that they are skeptical of the idea of “organized religion.”   Still, some may want to explore different religions before jumping into one; it is dipping one’s feet into the water before fully diving in.   In any case, and no matter what category a person falls under, the individuals who consider themselves “spiritual but not religious” recognize that there is something more to life than simply going after common and vain pursuits such as money and power.

However, the label “spiritual but not religious” is misleading; it implies that there is also a group of people who are “not spiritual and not religious.”   To be honest, I do not think it is even possible to be “not spiritual.”   The idea that one could not have a spiritual self at all, or that one could completely destroy or kill one’s spiritual self, does not make any sense.

The spirit is a characteristic of the physical body.   It’s like saying one is one; it simply is.   If you’ve read my previous post, “He’s living on the inside, roaring like a lion,” you’ll get a better idea of where I am coming from in stating this.   God created us; God breathed life into us, giving us a spirit.   In this life, the body and the spirit are inseparable.   They are intertwined into one existence – the human being.   What happens to the spirit after death, we do not know exactly (check out N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope); we have many ideas though.   Although, as a minister in Christianity, I believe that at the end of this sinful age there will be a resurrection of the dead and our spirit will return to our body through God’s power; we will live as one existence of the intertwined and inseparable physical and spiritual human being – the way God designed us to be – in a new eternal creation free from the bondage of death.   This is what is supported by Christian scripture and thousands of years of tradition.

There is no one who is “not spiritual.”   It is impossible.   We are all spiritual beings.   Granted, different people may deny or accept the reality of their spirituality on different levels, in effect, respectively, either suffocating or cultivating who they are.   But we are all spiritual on some level.   And as we become more in tune with ourselves, we realize that there is much more to life than simply the pursuit of vain items and materialism.   We begin to realize the importance of the connections that exist within this world.

Jesus summarized it as he echoed the Jewish Shema of Deuteronomy 6: “Jesus answered, ‘The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these'” (Mark 12:29-31).

A few weeks ago in one of my classes at the U.S. Army Chaplain Basic Officer Leadership Course, one of my Chaplain instructors gave us his thoughts on a definition of spirituality: it is a person connecting with the four c’s – the creator, the community, the conscience, and the creation.   Even if it is at a very basic level, we are all making these connections; we are becoming more in tune to the bigger picture of life.   And as a Christian, I believe God made each one of us to have a role in this bigger picture; God created us to be people who are not selfish individuals, but selfless people who are always recognizing the connections we have.

Religion is a vital tool in developing this spirituality.   Through religion, we cultivate and grow these connections and relationships.   And perhaps most importantly, we learn to first develop our connection with God so that we can better develop our connections with the community, the conscience, and the creation.   On our own, it is impossible to cultivate these connections.   But through a connection with God, and with God working in us and changing our hearts, our other connections will grow into something we never believed was possible.

Christianity is based on the person of Jesus Christ; this religion is centered on Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.   Through Christ, we can experience the amazing love of God in his grace, forgiveness, and mercy, despite all that we have done wrong in life.   Through Christ, we can become connected with God.   And through that connection with God, we can learn to truly love one another.   We can begin to understand ourselves, how we fit into the bigger picture of life, and be free from vain pursuits.

During this Easter season, I pray that no matter where we are on our spiritual journeys, whether we are struggling to take the very first step or have already been traveling for a thousand miles, we will begin to see the ultimate form of spirituality as a relationship with Christ.   I pray that we will use the tools that thousands of years of the Christian tradition have given us to develop our connections with the creator, the community, the conscience, and the creation.   I pray that we will explore and reflect on different aspects of what it means to be a Christian in whatever context we find ourselves in today.   I pray that we will begin to learn how to worship God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.   And I pray that we learn to love our neighbors in the same way that we love ourselves.

This week is Holy Week in western Christianity. Soon our brothers and sisters in eastern Christiany will also be celebrating these Holy days of the Christian calendar.  Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday – this week is the pinnacle event of Christianity.   The significance of these days for our lives is the culmination of what it means to know ourselves and recognize our spirituality.   The life, death, and resurrection of the Christ and the Messiah is the sum of what our connections to the creator, the community, the conscience, and the creation mean in each of our lives.

Happy Easter.   Christ has risen.   Let us celebrate.

Ash Wednesday, Valentine’s Day, and Facebook

In case you haven’t noticed the people walking around with ash crosses on their foreheads, today is Ash Wednesday.   It is an important day in the Christian calendar which marks the beginning of the season of Lent.   It is a time when Christians fast from something (i.e. meat on Fridays for my Roman Catholic friends) in order to turn their attention to God, preparing their hearts for the holy days that come during the week of Easter.

Tonight I had the opportunity to attend the service at the West Chester United Methodist Church; the Methodists are Wesleyan cousins of my own denomination, the Church of the Nazarene.   It was a beautiful service; they have a great choir as well! But during the course of the service, several ideas were on my mind:

There is sorrow in repentance for the sins that we so often commit against God and one another.   There is a grieving that we have not done more in our lives to devote ourselves to God and his kingdom.   There is a yearning to prioritize God in our hearts, seek after his Spirit, and know Christ as our example.

And while there is a realization of our utter insignificance as we consider the perspective of God’s absolute power, especially with the common reading of Genesis 3:19 and the placing of ashes on our foreheads, there is the sudden and awe-inspiring awareness that comes with it – God still desires to know, love, and use each and every one of us in the expansion of his beautiful kingdom of holy love!   If that does not demonstrate the depth of God’s love for his creatures, I don’t know what does.   This understanding is made real when we take the elements of Christ’s body and blood through the bread and the wine (or grape juice for those of us in the Church of the Nazarene and other Protestant denominations); Christ died on a cross and rose again so that each one of us may be reconciled to God and become an incredibly useful part of his kingdom and the body of Christ on earth.

Last year during Lent I decided to give up cookies and other sugary sweets; I barely survived. The day after Easter I only ate cookies, cookies, and more cookies. This year I’ve decided to fast from the Western world’s most addictive social media site – Facebook.   All too often, we replace real relationships with virtual relationships. Christ tells us in several of the gospels what is most important – love God with everything that we are and love each other in the same way (Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28). In fasting from Facebook, I hope to be able to invest more time in real relationships with people rather than virtual relationships with people; it means actual phone calls, trying to get coffee with friends and talking to them face to face, and training carrier pigeons to bring small, handwritten, coded messages to various cities across the nation (it also means smoke signals!).

Tomorrow is also Valentine’s Day; pretty much every time this holiday has come around, I have thought to myself, “Ugh.”   Of course, I may also think this because I have always been single and have never quite managed to find that certain girl to love. But as we commemorate this holiday, perhaps each one of us, and whether we have someone to celebrate this day with or not, can remember the great love that God shows each and every one of us. We can dwell and meditate on the true standard-bearer of love, Jesus Christ. We can think about what it means to love one another, our friends, family, and even enemies, with Christ’s example of selfless love. Let us not dwell on the selfish love that culture and society too often try to overpower us with in greed. This might be more in tune with the season of Lent and what St. Valentine would have wanted when he was martyred in the year of our Lord, February 14, c. 270.

Let us repent during the weeks approaching Easter. Let us grieve, mourn, and be in sorrow for the sins we have committed toward God and toward one another. Let us yearn to be in communion with God’s Spirit. Let us desire, more than anything else, to prioritize our love for God as we fast from whatever it is we are fasting from. Let us seek to love God with everything that we are and love each other in the very same way. And let us rejoice that through Christ we are an integral part of God’s amazing kingdom of holy love!