"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14

Friday, March 29, 2013

Torn Curtain

What do the words "torn curtain" mean to you? Perhaps they conjure images of some trouble you (or the cat) got into when you were younger. Maybe you remember an old Hitchcock movie by that name. To those of us who know and follow Jesus, the words carry a strong mix of emotions and meanings. Mark's gospel tells the story of what we now call "Good Friday" like this:

At the the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, " Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthoni?"-which means, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" When some of those standing near heard this, they said, "Listen, he's calling Elijah."...

With a loud cry. Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, "Surely this is the Son of God!"

While this brief and action packed passage is ripe with opportunities and meanings, this Good Friday I want to highlight the torn curtain. In the Jewish Temple, covering the most sacred area known as the "holy of holies", hung a thick curtain. Only the ceremonially clean priests were allowed to enter this area, as they offered temporary atonement for the sins of the people. It is my understanding they tied a cord to one of their ankles so that if they fainted in God's presence, they could be safely pulled out without peril to a non-priest bystander. We have lost sight of the awe of God, throwing around the words "awesome" and "God" as common slang. In those days, the holiness of God was considered serious- dead serious!

The tearing of the curtain at the exact moment of Jesus' death would have caused a Jewish reader of the gospel to gasp in amazement. The passive form of the verb and the complete tearing "in two" from top to bottom mean this event can only be seen as an act of God. The priests would have been, at that very moment, offering the evening sacrifice. The torn curtain was a sign that Jesus death ended the need for repeated sacrifices for sins, opening a new and living way for free and direct access to God (Hebrews 6:19; 9:6-14; 10:19-22).

No longer would people have to rely on another human being as a go-between for them to God. No longer would we need to repeatedly offer animal sacrifices for atonement (payment as a penalty) for our sins in order to be justified (pronounced not guilty) before God. Jesus paid it all. He made all things new.

Usually we think of Good Friday (aka Black Friday) as a melancholy day in contrast to "Easter" Resurrection Sunday. Friday is the day Jesus died. The disciples hopes were dashed. It appeared Satan had defeated him. But see mingled with the dark threads of this tapestry, threads of bright hope: a declaration of faith- "Surely this is the Son of God!" And a torn curtain.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Faithful Friends

As I count the considerable and undeserved blessings of my life, faithful friendships inevitably make the top 10. These are people who understand reciprocity, the give and take of relationships. More importantly to me as time rolls on, they share the common bond of faith and purpose that motivates my life. They are not only faithful to me, but are also full of faith.

With what might at first be a personal aside (we are tempted to skim over) Paul speaks of such relationship when he refers to Timothy and the Philippian church:

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me... (Philippians 2:19-23)

Paul speaks so highly of Timothy as he "has proved himself" a true partner in the gospel who has a genuine interest in the well-being of others (not just himself). It is absolutely biblical, if we follow Paul's example, to evaluate relationships in such a manner. This proving, of course, goes way beyond saying the right (flattering) words when it suits us. We prove ourselves by staying the course of the furtherance of the gospel even when it seems no one is looking. There is no room for facades or divisiveness in it. We honor one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21)

I love the realistic undertones of these verses. Even Paul knew the loneliness that comes with the realization that such friends are a rarity in this world (I have no one else like him...everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ). Nevertheless, his overarching message in this letter is one of relentless joy, as he focuses on the true friend in the Lord that he does have in Timothy.

If we bring this passage home to our hearts, we might evaluate, first, the quality of friendship we offer others. Honestly, whose best interest are we invested in? What is our common mission (recreation, ego, competition, or the gospel)? As we look around in our lives, who can we be thankful for? Do we thank God for them? Do we thank them?

God, please, make me such a friend to others. Help me to notice those in my life who follow hard after you, shoulder to shoulder, for the sake of your Kingdom. Amen

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Joyful Sacrifice

How often have you said to someone, "it's not so much what you say as how you say it"? Somehow, a critical or offensive attitude comes through in the words spoken. Words otherwise received as constructive or even helpful result in defensivenes and are rejected. Attitudes of the speaker and of the listener change everything. Similarly, when we do things begrudgingly or with an attitude of being put out, it comes through somehow.

Possibly this is why Paul has gone to such great lengths to admonish the Philippians to have the same giving, self-sacrificial, submissive and obedient attitude that Jesus demonstrated when he left heaven to die on the cross for us (Philippians 2:1-11). More specifically, he has commanded them to do their acts of service without grumbling or complaining. and shares with them that this is one of the fruits that will determine the validity of his own ministry to them (Philippians 2:14-16). Now he turns the mirror around and asserts that even if he should give his life in their service, he will rejoice.

But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me. (Philippians 2:17-18)

The possibility of his own death is on his mind here. Earlier he has mentioned the options of his release and of his death, saying that he is torn between loyalty to them and his own desire to be face to face with the Lord (Philippians 2:19-24.  He then expressed his belief that it is probably God's will that he remain to serve them. Now he looks at the opposite possibility and sees it, too, as reason for rejoicing.

How often our prayers are directed toward our own comfort and what we see as a positive outcome?When we send out missionaries, do we ever pray that if they are die in service that we and other believers will rejoice? The concept of death as a joyful outcome rarely crosses our minds, much less our lips. We want to remain together on this earth, at best to serve the Kingdom of God. Paul's remarkable perspective is that even if he should die, he will rejoice for the priveledge of being poured out on the sacrifice of their service. Paul used the same word for sacrifice in Romans 12:1 when he encouraged them to present their lives as living sacrifices (being no longer conformed to the image of this world).

From our perspective, it usually seems as if there is more to be done here. We want to remain, if we are kingdom minded, to continue in the good works of the Kingdom. If we are still self-orientated, we long to experience the remaining pleasures this life has to offer. In either case, we tend to ignore, rather purposefully, the possibility that our departure may actually bless others. For example, as we grow older, generally our sphere of influence shrinks. The number of lives brought face to face with the gospel by our departure diminishes. Bottom line, I would gladly sacrifice some years to touch some lives.

Jesus taught that if we want to follow him, we must be willing to give up anything (including our own lives) for his sake. If this raises anxiety in us, it is because we have not yet come to trust that he has our backs and that he has our (eternal) best interest at heart at all times. He will never slip up or drop the ball where we are concerned. He is not indifferent to any detail of our lives, but his priorities are eternal ones. As we are renewed, so will ours be. Then we will say, as Paul did, even if we die in his service, we will rejoice. Let's rejoice together in any and every circumstance, trusting Jesus to redeem everything in season. He is trustworthy and soveriegn. In him is joy, no matter what.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

International Readers of Author Website

Visiting Countries for “Milestones” Website

These are the countries this relatively new wordpress website has captured as visitors:
United States, Philippines, Brazil, India, Argentina, Indonesia, Australia, Canada, Russia, Sweden, Uruguay, Colombia, Singapore, Pakistan, Hong Kong, and Nigeria.

To view the author website go to: http://warnersteve.wordpress.com/about-milestones-on-the-road-home/

Thanks to you all, and thanks to God for spreading his message through “Milestones: On the Road Home”!