Lifted Up: Overcoming the Isolation of Weakness

Jlifted upesus came and took her by the hand and lifted her up… — Mark 1:31a

Illness holds an incredible power over the human body and spirit – illness is exhausting. The illness starving our bodies and spirits could be physical or mental. Either way, illness has the same debilitating effect. The ill are drained and forced into the isolation of weakness.

“Jesus came and took her by the hand and lifted her up,” (Mark1:31a) provokes a hopeful image. Jesus’ extending of a hand to a woman who is at her weakest signals a message of hope for anyone who knows this exhaustion. Offering a hand of strength, comfort, and assurance transfers a power untouched by modern medicine. Reaching out to another in their weakness is transformative.

Jesus offers his hand to the mother-in-law of Simon Peter. While this miracle story is not the first of Jesus’ deeds of power in the gospel of Mark, the care and concern he shows to this feeble woman is the first of his “healing miracles” in Mark’s account of Jesus’ life and ministry.

A fever had overtaken this woman. Her illness brought her to fragility, confining her to the bed. Jesus sees the woman in her weakness and he reaches out to her.

Mark seems to make a statement with this first healing miracle. He offers his audience a clear impression of Jesus of Nazareth: Jesus is a man with the authority of divine power, who chooses to reach out to people when they are at their weakest; and, therfore, we can all trust that God reaches out to us in our weakness through Jesus. 

Jesus takes the woman by the hand. He holds her. He connects himself to her in her weakness. He believes for her. He believes in God and the power of God to heal. But, Jesus also believes in in the woman. Jesus believes in her potential to be moved from weakness to strength. He believes in the power of God to deliver this woman from her fragility and to raise her to a newness of life! He believes in her ability to be lifted up!

In faith, he took her by the hand and…

He lifted her up.

Accepting the hand of strength, comfort, and assurance offered to us in our weakness is not easy. Relying upon God, trusting in the power of God, believing in the freeing power of God’s love is not easy for all of us. Believing God would determine us worthy of this hand of power is even more of an obstacle. And, yet, in your weakness you will discover this hand of God is not only being offered to you, it has already taken hold of your hand.

Accept the hand that is holding you and know the power it provides.

Be lifted up…

But, allow yourself to be lifted up to a newness of life so that you might become the hand of God for another, who is drained, feeble, and forced into the isolation of weakness. Reach out to others in their weakness with the hand of strength, comfort, and assurance that you know possesses the power to lift up.

 

tillit: Nurturing Inspiration for Spiritual Growth

Slide3Spiritually misplaced is what I will call it…

The way I have been feeling for the last couple of months…it is like I am spiritually misplaced.

It is not the feeling of being lost; it is something else…

Feeling spiritually misplaced is a little like forgetting where you put your cell phone when you walked into the house.

You know what I mean?

You know the phone is there. It is still working – beeping, buzzing, chiming! But, you don’t know remember where you set it down.

You know that frustration?

That’s what I mean when I say I have felt spiritually misplaced. I know my faith is still there, working – beeping, buzzing, and chiming – but it feels like it is just out of reach. The calls are going unanswered because I can’t remember where I set the phone down!

Frustrating!

Have you ever felt spiritually misplaced?

Have you ever felt like your faith was working – beeping, buzzing, and chiming – but it felt just out of reach? Have you ever felt misplaced because you can’t answer the calls?

My spiritual misplacement has had me searching, but I haven’t been searching for my faith, per se. I have come to realize I’ve been searching for something intrinsic to my faith…

I’ve been searching for inspiration.

I’ve been searching for the inspiration supplied by my faith.

I’ve been searching for the inspiration that gets me over doing life so that I can live life – and live it immersed in the abundant grace of God.

I’ve been searching for the inspiration that nurtures my spiritual growth – a growth away from the self and into the presence of God in Jesus Christ.

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One of the most influential teachers from my time in divinity school was Dr. Ellen Davis. She is an Old Testament scholar. Her teaching and instruction was a blessing to my classmates and me.

She brought our attention to a verse in the Bible, which changed my life: “The Lord God placed the man in the garden of Eden to till it and to keep it.” – Genesis 2:15

She encouraged her students to consider the meaning of the words translated “till it” and “keep it.” She argued a compelling case for translating the verse to read: to serve it and to observe it. (For a closer examination of her argument, I would encourage you to read her book Scripture, Culture, Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible.)

Without getting into a full discussion about her argument, she influenced me to reconsider my view of creation! She encouraged me to reconsider the relationship God intended for humanity to have with the dirt. She influenced me to question God’s intent for God’s creation, the responsibility God entrusted to humanity, and the blessed ability to encounter the beauty of God’s presence in my life by valuing life around me.

To till it no longer meant to work the ground  for my own delight, or to exhaust the earth of her resources! To till it meant to care for the dirt that nurtures and sustains life! To till it meant to relate to God by valuing, serving, and observing God’s creation.

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? – Psalm 8:3-4

How does the dirt of the earth relate to my spiritual misplacement? How does the glory of God’s creation speak to my lack of inspiration?

In the midst of dealing with my misplacement, I decided to till it and keep it.

Literally.

I started a garden.

My son and I went to the local feed and seed at the end of February and bought some seeds, a bag of plant mix, and a couple planting containers. I thought it would be a fun activity for him. He could learn about plants and eat the vegetables he grew.

We returned to the house and tried to figure out how to make plants grow, which is when I discovered I did not know what I was doing!

So, I did what any good millennial would do – I got on youtube and watched videos on germinating seeds, transplanting, and gardening for beginners!

Our initial afternoon activity became a daily opportunity for my son and me to explore and learn together.

We learned how to germinate seeds.

We learned how to transplant seedlings.

We learned how to start a garden, build a raised bed, and create row crops.

In the midst of our new adventure, my inspiration began to emerge from the dirt.

The emergence of inspiration within a garden is not surprising. There is a prayerful quality to considering and caring for the dirt, to watering and tending the plants, to tasting the sweetness of the fruit.

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My son showing his mother the first snap pea.

The garden is not the only place to discover the inspiration that nurtures spiritual growth. The location is not the issue; rather, one’s approach to faith is what matters. It is a matter of perspective. It is a matter of how you choose to see things and how to respond to situations in your life.

What can you do when you are feeling spiritually misplaced?

tillit.

I don’t mean go start a garden (unless that appeals to you). Consider the meaning of “to till it and keep it” for you.

What are you tilling and keeping?

Where are your giving your time, energy, and spirit?

If you are feeling spiritually misplaced, maybe God is urging you to redirect your efforts. Maybe it is time to tillit…to serve and observe the things God values. Maybe it is time to give yourself to the thing or the person you otherwise overlook.

Maybe if you learn what it means for you to tillit, you might discover the emergence of the inspiration that nurtures your spiritual growth.

Hope is Healing

Hope is HealingHe is risen!

In his being raised from the dead, all of us are able to discover the hope of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The hope born on this day of resurrection is a hope infused with the grace of God.

The hope extended to us on this day of resurrection possesses the divine power to create a newness of life.

May your Easter be filled by the joy of the resurrection and its hope for a newness of life.

May you experience the strength, comfort, and joy it offers.

If you are not able to make it to a church service this morning, I would like to invite you to listen to Hope is Healing, which is a message prepared for Easter of 2015.

Blessings to you all on this wonderful day of resurrection. Alleluia!

Missing: The Empty Tomb and Our Struggle to Discover Jesus

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“Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were [at the burial of Jesus], sitting opposite the tomb.” — Matthew 27:61

The death of Jesus was horrific. The final exhalation of Jesus did not give way to peace on earth nor a sense of tranquility. Pure chaos erupted as Jesus exhaled his last breath – the curtain was ripped, the earth began to shake, the rocks began to split, and the tombs began to break open.

Many women were at the crucifixion of Jesus and witnessed his death. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (the mother of James and Joseph) were among these women.

These women remained with Jesus as his exhausted body hung from the cross. They remained with Jesus as his broken body was lowered to the crowd. They followed Joseph of Arimathea as he carried the body of Jesus to its final resting place.

“Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were [at the burial of Jesus], sitting opposite the tomb.” (Matthew 27:61) These two women witnessed Jospeh place the body of Jesus in the tomb and roll the large stone in front of the entrance to the sepulcher. Evening was dawning as the sun slipped below the horizon. It was the Sabbath day; they would need to hurry home and return the following day to continue their vigil.

That Holy Saturday following the death of Jesus was marked by silence. The followers of Jesus had retreated to hidden quarters. Many of the disciples and the other followers of Jesus returned to the room were the Passover was shared. They hid from the authorities in the room where they previously recalled Israel’s escape from Egypt. They hid within the room where Jesus pointed to his body and his blood as the source of their liberation from the punishment of sin.

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary must have sat unsettled. They had witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus, the death of Jesus, and the burial of Jesus. These women, however, had not fully observed his vigil. During the early hours of the morning, as the sun began to rise on the third day, these women left their place of hiding and went to see the tomb.

They intended to pray, to grieve, and to pay their respect to Jesus.

They returned to the place where they knew Jesus would be; or, at least, they returned to the place where they expected his body to be at rest.

Only, Jesus was not there!

The tomb was empty.

Where was Jesus?

If there is one thing we can appreciate, it would be the reaction of the disciples following the death of Jesus. Like many of the disciples and followers of Jesus, we spend the majority of our time in hiding. The disciples were not hiding because they felt differently about Jesus. They were in hiding, because they believed Jesus was dead and they feared the consequence for associating with this man. We hide, as well. We hide sometimes, (though we may not want to admit it), because Jesus feels dead to us…

Do we really want to face the consequences of associating with a dead man?

At our best, we have moments such as Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. These women returned to the place where the body of Jesus was laid to rest. They went to the place where they believed Jesus would be…only he is not there. Jesus was not in the one place he was supposed to be.

Do we not share this experience? Have there not been times in your life when you stepped out from your place of hiding so that you could go to Jesus only to discover he was not there? Have you never gone to place Jesus is supposed to be and discovered his absence?

Maybe you have looked for Jesus in church, but struggle to feel his presence.

Maybe you have looked for Jesus in others, but struggle to feel his presence.

Maybe you have looked for Jesus in prayer, but struggle to feel his presence.

Maybe you have looked for Jesus in Scripture, but struggle to feel his presence.

Maybe you have looked for Jesus in all the right places only to discover he is not there!!

What are we to do? What are we to do when the right places prove to be the wrong places? Where are we to find Jesus?

What an interesting question…

What an interesting question to consider over this Holy Triduum as we prepare for Easter Sunday, when followers of Jesus will join together in celebrating the presence of the Risen Lord!!!

On the Road to the Cross – The Centurion

9781501822643Creativity exists within chaos. Something must break down for something new to break through.

The final message in the Lenten series, On the Road to the Cross, ends with the death of Jesus and the profound proclamation of the Centurion (and the others with him).

The death of Jesus is the climatic moment of Jesus’ road to the cross (and the life and ministry of Jesus, as well). The road to the cross is full of suspense and horror. Each of the events along the road to the cross builds upon the drama of his passion.

There is a feeling I have as a watch suspenseful movies or read dramatic stories: my chests tightens and my breathing becomes compromised as I await the climax!

The road Jesus walks to the cross has this same effect on me. As I read the narrative from the anointing of Jesus in Bethany to the death of Jesus upon the cross, my chest tightens and my breathing is restricted as I progress along this dramatic road…

Matthew describes the death of Jesus in the following way: Jesus looked up to the heavens and called out to God. The bystanders awaited the coming of Elijah; perhaps, the great servant of God would come to rescue Jesus. Exhausted of life, Jesus cried out one final time before breathing his last and surrendering his spirit.

Reading these verses, which describe the great exhalation of Jesus, one would be poised to release the suspenseful tension built upon within their chest with an exhausted breath: It is finished…(exhale)!

But, the death of Jesus is not followed by a moment of peace, calmness, or tranquility. The death of Jesus does not give us the opportunity to exhale or the opportunity to reflect and digest all that we have just learned.

Rather, all Hell breaks loose!

Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53 After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many.” – Matthew 27:50b-53

Leaving the resurrection of the saints to the side; because, what’s that all about, anyways?

Everything is far from calm and tranquil following the death of Jesus. There is no peace on earth at this moment!

The temple curtain is torn.

The earth begins to shake.

The rocks begin to split.

The tombs begin to open.

Chaos breaks loose — ripping, shaking, splitting, cracking, and crumbling.

Chaos is destructive.

There is no time to rest, no time to exhale, no time to reflect and digest. The death of Jesus is followed by a moment of chaos defined by destruction.

Undoubtedly, chaos is destructive and the chaos that follows the death of Jesus is marked by destruction, but there is more to chaos.

Chaos is creative.

If you are a creative, or if you know a creative, than you likely understand what I mean when I say there is a lot of chaos in creativity. There is even a lot of destruction within creativity.

I come from a family of artists. My grandmother and my cousin are painters. Another cousin is fashion designer. I’ve always been amazed by their work and their gift to create beautiful art.

A couple of years ago, my wife and I were visiting my cousin in New York. She invited us to her office so we could see where she worked. We arrived at the the unmarked building not too far from Bryant Park later that afternoon. My cousin met us outside the building and led us up to her workspace.

We entered into a large open room filled with several desks. The room was dedicated to the designers. I was amazed by the “busyness” of the room and the disheveled appearance. The designers’ desks were covered in drawings and fabric samples. There was a little bit of chaos going on, as these creatives were busy trying to bring their beauty into the world.

We left the designers area and moved into another room of similar size. Once more, there was nothing ornate about the room. There were a few women sitting behind large sewing machines. Some of the ladies were measuring and cutting fabric. Others were sewing and stretching material. My cousin explained we were in the room of the master seamstresses. The designs created by her co-workers and herself were sent to these individuals, who brought the sketches to life. Just like the designers area, the seamstresses area was a little chaotic, as these creatives were trying to bring their beauty into the world.

Finally, my cousin took us into a third room, which was much different. The room was decorated. There was a plush carpet on the floor. The room was well lit and the walls were painted with a rich-toned color. Everything was just so…perfectly positioned. Beautiful dresses were intentionally fitted upon mannequins equally spaced throughout the room. We were in the viewing room, where buyers view and select the dresses they wish to purchase for their stores.

Creativity is chaotic. Creativity requires a little bit of destruction. But, creativity gives way to beauty.

The moment of Jesus’ expiration is chaotic.  As the world crumbled and collapsed around the scene of Jesus’ death, God was moving, working, creating something new and beautiful…

54 Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” – Matthew 27:54

A great revelation would emerge out of the death of Jesus with the most unlikely pf proclaimers – the centurion.

A centurion was an officer in the Roman army, who was entrusted with the leadership of 100 (or fewer) soldiers. Among their many attributes, centurions were efficient in their work and knowingly loyal to the Republic and the emperor.

Everything in the life and ministry of Jesus led to the cross. Everything along the road to the cross led to this moment of exhalation. While the death of Jesus could be seen as revealing the weakness of Jesus, the centurion identifies the glory of God in the death of Jesus – truly, this man was God’s Son! 

Do you see the irony in this proclamation?

The Jews rejected Jesus as the Messiah, because they believed the Messiah would be a great political/warrior-king, who would rescue Israel from their oppressor (the Roman Empire), secure their national freedom, and restore Israel to a place of prosperity similar to the time of David.

As the defeated and exhausted Jesus slumped from his cross, a Roman officer (the one who oversaw his crucifixion) gives praise to Jesus as God’s true Son!

What!!!…

Here we discover the creativity within chaos.

Something new did break through, after something else broke down.

God’s revelation of love in Jesus the Christ, the only Son of God, is made known to all people, even to those who existed outside of the old covenantal relationship. 

Creativity is a little chaotic, but with destruction comes beauty.

Be encouraged by the ripping, shaking, splitting, and breaking of the death of Jesus, for it serves as a testament that God has and continues to work a new and beautiful thing for all people – God’s love revealed through God’s only Son.

But also be encouraged by the ripping, shaking, splitting, and breaking in your own lives. There are certainly times in all of our lives when we feel we are existing in pure chaos. Everything (or, maybe, something specific) is breaking down.

Forget the feeling of loosing control.

I am talking about when we know control has already been lost!!!

Be encouraged, because maybe this is the exact time in your life when you do not need to have control. Maybe this is the very moment in your life when you need someone else, someone greater, someone more powerful than you to assume control!

Ride the wave of destruction realizing God does the best work amid chaos.

Cling to the hope and the promise that something must break down for something new to break through.

Trust the process, and prepare yourself to take delight in the beauty of God’s creative chaos!

I apologize, but the original message was not recorded. We had some technical issues with our recording device. The rest of the messages in this series and other messages can be found at our site.

Note – This sermon series is influenced by Rob Burkhart’s recent publication, On the Road to the Cross: Experience Easter with Those who were There. The book is a great read during the Season of Lent. I fully recommend you add this book to your library!!

 

Transfigure: Living in the Light of Christ

 

transfigureSunday is Feast of the Transfiguration, or Transfiguration of the Lord Sunday. The Christian year reserves this Sunday for the observance of the transfiguration of Jesus before Peter, James, and John. The full account of the transfiguration can be found here. Continue reading

A Little Fun on a Saturday Afternoon

untitledWHAT IS THE MYSTERY BLOGGER AWARD?

The “Mystery Blogger Award” is an award for amazing bloggers with ingenious posts. Their blog not only captivates; it inspires and motivates. They are one of the best out there, and they deserve every recognition they get. This award is also for bloggers who find fun and inspiration in blogging; and they do it with so much love and passion. Okoto Enigma, creator of the award. Continue reading