Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Cardinal's Song

This has been a frigid year for many of us. The winter has dumped more than its fair share of the white stuff around these parts. So much so, that if you want to get people riled up, all you have to say is SN*W. Now while snow’s pretty to look at (that is, until you have to shovel or drive in it), there’s not much that can be done about the C-O-L-D temperatures we’ve experienced the past few months.

Top that with the job losses that continue to mount locally as well as around the country, and things look pretty bleak.

Everybody is looking forward to spring. Everybody.

So imagine my surprise when I opened the door yesterday and heard a scarlet bird singing its heart out. Yes, a cardinal in February!

Spring is on its way!

Every time I see a cardinal, I see a reminder of God’s provision. It doesn’t mean that things are going to go the way I plan them to, but that God’s going to take care of me and my loved ones.

Cardinals to me, are like rainbows to Noah. Whenever times look tough, God sometimes has to poke me a little to get my mind off my circumstances and onto Him. Jesus said, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”

If your eyes are fixed on God, you’ll get everything you need.

What is it that you need as winter comes to a blustery end? What is your heart’s desire? What sign will God share with you that spring indeed is on the way? What words will God whisper to you to calm you in the storm?


Luke 12:6-7
“What is the price of five sparrows—two copper coins? Yet God does not forget a single one of them. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.

Genesis 9:12-17
Then God said, “I am giving you a sign of my covenant with you and with all living creatures, for all generations to come. I have placed my rainbow in the clouds. It is the sign of my covenant with you and with all the earth. When I send clouds over the earth, the rainbow will appear in the clouds, and I will remember my covenant with you and with all living creatures.

Never again will the floodwaters destroy all life. When I see the rainbow in the clouds, I will remember the eternal covenant between God and every living creature on earth.” Then God said to Noah, “Yes, this rainbow is the sign of the covenant I am confirming with all the creatures on earth.”

Proverbs 12:25
Worry weighs a person down; an encouraging word cheers a person up.

Matthew 6:25-34
“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

“And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Ash Wednesday

I was privileged to be part of a band once (a very MINOR and temporary part, but part of one nonetheless). I was in college and was trying to teach myself the keyboard when a friend invited me to join his electro/industrial band. The band was called Ash Wednesday. I eventually moved on to devoting my Wednesday afternoons to youth ministry, but remember that brief period of time that I was indeed part of a band. It is just as well that I didn’t stick around because I have ZERO musical talent (Jed was quite patient with my limitations).

Ash Wednesday, the commencement of Lent, was celebrated this week. Growing up Catholic, I remember attending mass and receiving the mark of a cross (ashes mixed with holy water or oil) on my forehead deftly instilled by the thumb of a priest. One Ash Wednesday, I barely remember sitting through a long service when my mother took us outside the sanctuary (muttering something about the service not being a comedy show). One of the priests met us out there and gave us our marks.

Satisfied, Mom took us home.

The mark is a sign of repentance as well as a reminder of our origin and future.

From dust we came, to dust we’ll return.

It is a day for contemplating how absurdly short life is, and to press on to make the most of what God has us here for.

It is the beginning of lent, a 40 day period of fasting and preparation for the observance of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection.

We all have stuff in our lives that prevent us from fully living the life God intended us to live. Lent is sometimes used as a motivator for some to spend 40 days without a particular vice.

“I’m giving up ________ for Lent.”

But instead of going without a vice for a limited time, what if we spent this time focused on giving up something for good? What if we spent 40 days focused on Jesus and the life He offers instead of “How do I quit ________ for 40 days?”

This lent, let’s not look at temporarily fasting from stuff that causes us spiritual harm, but spending time walking with God and allowing Him to remove those afflictions from us. That which controls us prevents us from living a free life.

May you find the courage to pursue the freedom that Christ offers to you.


Related Verses
Ezekiel 18:23-32

“Do you think that I like to see wicked people die? says the Sovereign LORD. Of course not! I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live. However, if righteous people turn from their righteous behavior and start doing sinful things and act like other sinners, should they be allowed to live? No, of course not! All their righteous acts will be forgotten, and they will die for their sins.

“Yet you say, ‘The Lord isn’t doing what’s right!’ Listen to me, O people of Israel. Am I the one not doing what’s right, or is it you? When righteous people turn from their righteous behavior and start doing sinful things, they will die for it. Yes, they will die because of their sinful deeds.

And if wicked people turn from their wickedness, obey the law, and do what is just and right, they will save their lives. They will live because they thought it over and decided to turn from their sins. Such people will not die. And yet the people of Israel keep saying, ‘The Lord isn’t doing what’s right!’ O people of Israel, it is you who are not doing what’s right, not I.

“Therefore, I will judge each of you, O people of Israel, according to your actions, says the Sovereign LORD. Repent, and turn from your sins. Don’t let them destroy you! Put all your rebellion behind you, and find yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O people of Israel? I don’t want you to die, says the Sovereign LORD. Turn back and live!

Matthew 4:12-17
When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he left Judea and returned to Galilee. He went first to Nazareth, then left there and moved to Capernaum, beside the Sea of Galilee, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. This fulfilled what God said through the prophet Isaiah:

“In the land of Zebulun and of Naphtali, beside the sea, beyond the Jordan River, in Galilee where so many Gentiles live, the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. And for those who lived in the land where death casts its shadow, a light has shined.”
From then on Jesus began to preach, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Blame the Groundhog

Will the snow ever end? Mercifully, Culpeper was spared the full brunt of both winter storms, and yet we’re still buried up to our waists in the white stuff. Parking lots have suddenly turned into mountain ranges with ice valleys. The melting glaciers have created pools of gritty slush.

Two snow shovels (at last count) on my block have literally bitten the dust. We run to our windows whenever we hear a snowplow come by. We jump up and down when the garbage truck slips and slides down our frozen street. They’re our heroes. Let’s just say that snow is beautiful and fun until you have to shovel or drive through it.

Punxsutawney Phil doesn’t have many fans in the Mid-Atlantic States this February...

“Phil's official forecast as read February 2nd, 2010 at sunrise at Gobbler's Knob:

Hear Ye Hear Ye Hear Ye
On Gobbler's Knob on this glorious Groundhog Day, February 2nd, 2010, Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Prognosticator of all Prognosticators awoke to the call of President Bill Deeley and greeted his handlers, John Griffiths and Ben Hughes.

After casting a joyful eye towards thousands of his faithful followers, Phil proclaimed, "If you want to know next, you must read my text. As the sky shines bright above me, my shadow I see beside me. So six more weeks of winter it will be."”

Six more weeks of winter can hardly be blamed on an overgrown rodent, yet it feels good sometimes to have a scapegoat. Something you can pin your troubles on and toss far, far away.

The word “scapegoat” has two main definitions according to the American Heritage Dictionary.

scape•goat (skāp’ gōt)
1. One that is made to bear the blame of others.
2. Bible A live goat over whose head Aaron confessed all the sins of the children of Israel on the Day of Atonement. The goat, symbolically bearing their sins, was then sent into the wilderness.

On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, sin was atoned for through sacrifice and the casting away of the scapegoat. The scapegoat was viewed as carrying away the filth of the nation’s sin from the previous year. The guy responsible for driving the goat away even had to wash his body and clothes before they’d let him back in the city!

This Sunday we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper; a reminder of what Jesus went through as He became our scapegoat once and for all time. May we remember what He endured to take away the mistakes we have made; past present and future. To give us a clean slate each day.

“Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” Psalm 51:7


Leviticus 16:6-22
“Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household. Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the LORD and the other for the scapegoat. Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the LORD and sacrifice it for a sin offering. But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD to be used for making atonement by sending it into the desert as a scapegoat.

“Aaron shall bring the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household, and he is to slaughter the bull for his own sin offering. He is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the LORD and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain. He is to put the incense on the fire before the LORD, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the Testimony, so that he will not die. He is to take some of the bull's blood and with his finger sprinkle it on the front of the atonement cover; then he shall sprinkle some of it with his finger seven times before the atonement cover.

“He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull's blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the Tent of Meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness. No one is to be in the Tent of Meeting from the time Aaron goes in to make atonement in the Most Holy Place until he comes out, having made atonement for himself, his household and the whole community of Israel.

“Then he shall come out to the altar that is before the LORD and make atonement for it. He shall take some of the bull's blood and some of the goat's blood and put it on all the horns of the altar. He shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times to cleanse it and to consecrate it from the uncleanness of the Israelites. (NIV)

“When Aaron has finished purifying the Most Holy Place and the Tabernacle and the altar, he must present the live goat. He will lay both of his hands on the goat’s head and confess over it all the wickedness, rebellion, and sins of the people of Israel. In this way, he will transfer the people’s sins to the head of the goat. Then a man specially chosen for the task will drive the goat into the wilderness. As the goat goes into the wilderness, it will carry all the people’s sins upon itself into a desolate land. (NLT)

Isaiah 53:1-12
Who has believed our message? To whom has the LORD revealed his powerful arm? My servant grew up in the LORD’s presence like a tender green shoot, like a root in dry ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. He was despised and rejected - a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.

Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed.

All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the LORD laid on him the sins of us all. He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth.

Unjustly condemned, he was led away. No one cared that he died without descendants, that his life was cut short in midstream. But he was struck down for the rebellion of my people. He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave. But it was the LORD’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief.

Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the LORD’s good plan will prosper in his hands. When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied.

And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins. I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier, because he exposed himself to death. He was counted among the rebels. He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels. (NLT)

Friday, February 5, 2010

Thin Ice

“What is truth?” Pilate asked.

I stare out as flurries swirl outside my office window. Some sink like lead while others dance about on eddies of air currents that flow around our house. Off in the distance I can see strands of trees and a tiny glimpse of Lake Pelham. The surface might freeze over during the course of the next few days.

Frozen lakes look amazing!

After a cold spell a few weeks back, Kathy and I went to Mountain Run Lake a few miles away from home. We marveled over how far the lake had frozen over. There were a lot of Canadian geese as well as other assorted waterfowl along with a very confused looking seagull (Wait… was I supposed to take a left or a right when I left Daytona Beach?). They all seemed to adapt well enough (watching them land on the stuff was hilarious), but we ourselves were only willing to tentatively step on the ice a few inches from the shore.

To ensure safety on ice, you need to take in account a lot of variables: What is the air temperature? How long has it been below freezing? How thick is the ice? Is there water flowing beneath the ice? Is the water salty? How deep is the water? What exactly do I want to do on the ice? Do you simply want to take a stroll or do you want to drive your pickup to the other side?

Testing ice is one thing. But how do we test truth?

What is truth?

What happens when people make competing claims about truth? What happens when these competing claims about truth destroy relationships?

When Solomon, the son of King David, passed away, his son, Rehoboam, took over. He decided to posture himself as an iron-fisted dictator to intimidate the rebellious northern part of his realm. The plan backfired and the northern kingdom of Israel seceded from David and Solomon’s southern kingdom of Judah (which contained Jerusalem). Like a family squabble gone horribly wrong, both sides squared off against each other for centuries.

Over time, Israel created their own worship customs and even created a place within their own territory to offer sacrifices. Throughout the years Israel became known Samaria, which was repeatedly invaded. Other people groups were resettled there, and the existing populace intermarried with them. As a result, the people of Judah looked upon their neighbors as half-breeds.

The people of Samaria (Samaritans) believed that they possessed truth. The people of Judah (Jews) believed that they possessed truth.

What is truth?

As Jesus was walking through Samaria one day, He broke many social norms. He was the embodiment of purity, and yet His love for humanity proved Him to be no respecter of blind traditions. He spoke with a woman who was not only a Samaritan, but had been married several times. She was an outcast even among her own people.

“Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet. So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?”

Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews. But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”

The woman said, “I know the Messiah is coming—the one who is called Christ. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

Then Jesus told her, “I AM the Messiah!” (John 4:19-26)

Jesus claimed to possess truth. Truth that transcended geography, politics, and traditions.

Where did He get this truth?

He makes a very interesting statement. “You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews.”

How is it that the Jews knew all about God? They studied about Him in their Scriptures. Ceaselessly. They memorized entire books, they wrote passages on their door frames, and they even carried little boxes that contained verses.

They were fascinated about who God was, and what He was like.

What is truth?

Truth is not found in traditions. It is not found in feelings or hunches. It isn’t a democratic process where we get to choose what we like and dismiss what we don’t.

Truth exists just as it did for Jesus, the author of our faith as it does for us. Truth exists in the Scriptures and is unveiled by the Holy Spirit.

Truth can be tested.

There is much I don’t understand about this world: temporal justice, sickness, hatred, war, selfishness, self-righteousness, sin.

Regardless of my feelings, truth continues to define a path not only for me, but for all to follow.

“Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.” (Psalm 119:105)


Related Verses
1 Chronicles 10:1-16

Rehoboam went to Shechem, where all Israel had gathered to make him king. When Jeroboam son of Nebat heard of this, he returned from Egypt, for he had fled to Egypt to escape from King Solomon. The leaders of Israel summoned him, and Jeroboam and all Israel went to speak with Rehoboam. “Your father was a hard master,” they said. “Lighten the harsh labor demands and heavy taxes that your father imposed on us. Then we will be your loyal subjects.”

Rehoboam replied, “Come back in three days for my answer.” So the people went away.
Then King Rehoboam discussed the matter with the older men who had counseled his father, Solomon. “What is your advice?” he asked. “How should I answer these people?”

The older counselors replied, “If you are good to these people and do your best to please them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your loyal subjects.”

But Rehoboam rejected the advice of the older men and instead asked the opinion of the young men who had grown up with him and were now his advisers. “What is your advice?” he asked them. “How should I answer these people who want me to lighten the burdens imposed by my father?”

The young men replied, “This is what you should tell those complainers who want a lighter burden: ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist! Yes, my father laid heavy burdens on you, but I’m going to make them even heavier! My father beat you with whips, but I will beat you with scorpions!’ ”

Three days later Jeroboam and all the people returned to hear Rehoboam’s decision, just as the king had ordered. But Rehoboam spoke harshly to them, for he rejected the advice of the older counselors and followed the counsel of his younger advisers. He told the people, “My father laid heavy burdens on you, but I’m going to make them even heavier! My father beat you with whips, but I will beat you with scorpions!”
So the king paid no attention to the people. This turn of events was the will of God, for it fulfilled the LORD’s message to Jeroboam son of Nebat through the prophet Ahijah from Shiloh.

When all Israel realized that the king had refused to listen to them, they responded,

“Down with the dynasty of David!
We have no interest in the son of Jesse.
Back to your homes, O Israel!
Look out for your own house, O David!”
So all the people of Israel returned home.

John 4:5-26
Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food.

The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?”

Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”

“But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water? And besides, do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?”

Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”

“Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.”

“Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her.

“I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied.

Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband—for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!”

“Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet. So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?”

Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews. But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”

The woman said, “I know the Messiah is coming—the one who is called Christ. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

Then Jesus told her, “I AM the Messiah!”

John 16:5-15
“Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.

John 18:33-40
Then Pilate went back into his headquarters and called for Jesus to be brought to him. “Are you the king of the Jews?” he asked him.

Jesus replied, “Is this your own question, or did others tell you about me?”

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate retorted. “Your own people and their leading priests brought you to me for trial. Why? What have you done?”

Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.”

Pilate said, “So you are a king?”

Jesus responded, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.”

“What is truth?” Pilate asked. Then he went out again to the people and told them, “He is not guilty of any crime. But you have a custom of asking me to release one prisoner each year at Passover. Would you like me to release this ‘King of the Jews’?”

But they shouted back, “No! Not this man. We want Barabbas!” (Barabbas was a revolutionary.)

Psalm 119:97-112
Oh, how I love your instructions!
I think about them all day long.
Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are my constant guide.
Yes, I have more insight than my teachers, for I am always thinking of your laws.
I am even wiser than my elders, for I have kept your commandments.
I have refused to walk on any evil path, so that I may remain obedient to your word.
I haven’t turned away from your regulations, for you have taught me well.
How sweet your words taste to me; they are sweeter than honey.
Your commandments give me understanding; no wonder I hate every false way of life.

Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.
I’ve promised it once, and I’ll promise it again:
I will obey your righteous regulations.
I have suffered much, O LORD; restore my life again as you promised.
LORD, accept my offering of praise, and teach me your regulations.
My life constantly hangs in the balance, but I will not stop obeying your instructions.
The wicked have set their traps for me, but I will not turn from your commandments.
Your laws are my treasure; they are my heart’s delight.
I am determined to keep your decrees to the very end.