Why do you have that stick?

For me, I give off first impressions in a variety of ways.

People don’t often know what to do with me as I carry a white cane but have normal looking eyes. My eyes track with people as I follow the sound of their voice. My blindness comes from Leber’s Optic Neuropathy, a degenerative disease that affects the optic nerve. My eyes pick the picture find but cannot send the picture to my brain. It is like a TV with a bad chord connecting the cable.

When people meet me, they often don’t put together that I am blind as we talk together. I usually know how to read situations and initiate shaking hands which gives the perception that I am sighted. Most of the time, I don’t hear the odd thoughts that people have as they realize that I don’t see them.

Every now and then, I do get the joy of hearing someone blurt out what they are thinking.

One time while visiting a youth pastor friend, Steve Cecil, (now pastor of the Journey Community of Faith in Madison, Wisc.), I encountered one of my most memorable awkward moments as a blind person. At that time, a relative was also staying with him. Since I arrived late in the evening, I didn’t meet her until the next morning.

When we met, she said one of those things, you don’t easily forget, especially coming from an older person. I came upstairs from the basement where I spent the night and ran into her in the kitchen.

After I walked into the room, she said, what are you, Moses with that staff?

Stunned, I didn’t know what to say, so I smiled and explained what the stick was for. I have many more stories about what people think this cane might be, but this first impression always makes me smile as I remember it.

Wouldn’t it be incredible if God used my cane in the same way he used Moses’ staff?

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The Tomb is Empty

She stood outside the hole hewn into the side of the rock with the garden at her back. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she stood alone-her friends all left her behind on this Sunday morning. The one she came looking for had vanished, so she bent down looking into the opening.

Two angels stood near her, one at the opening of the rock and another on the stone rolled off to the side. They asked her why she cried. Mary barely could make anyone out through the tears wetting her face. Thinking that her enquirerers were some of the guards hired to watch the tomb in this garden, she said someone has stolen her lord. You see, only a couple of days earlier her lord was put to death for a crime he didn’t commit. She came early on this morning; the day after her traditional celebration of the Passover, in order to pray respects to the body of her master. Her master made a lifelong connection with her as he helped transform her life into one of dignity and hope from that of despair.

She came one last time to share her final thoughts with her lord as he lay dead. She wanted to offer her heartfelt gratitude for everything he did for her. Everything seemed to be happening as fast as his trial was fast tracked, and his execution came immediately. Everything he came for had been taken away all at once or so she thought…and now his body had disappeared. Likely those he wanted to destroy him took him away too.

As her misery overwhelmed her another man came up behind her to ask why she was crying and who she was looking for. She looked at him without recognizing that she knew him. She explained her story again.

When he responded to her by calling her name—Mary, suddenly she saw into his eyes and knew him again. She saw those piercing eyes of peace and compassion. The forgiveness that she first realized when he looked into her eyes. Her savior stood in front of her alive. No wonder she hadn’t recognized him as he was the last person she expected to talk with that morning. But when she heard Jesus tenderly say her name in the incredible and unconditional loving way he always called her name or any of the other disciples, she knew it was him.

When we look into the eyes of our Lord, how does he call our name? Do we hear a gruff father calling us as we work hard to make him proud? DO we hear an old grand fatherly figure who just heaps love on us? Or do we hear the most powerful being in the universe tenderly call us as he looks upon us with his amazing love and mercy?

Watching the Death of Jesus

Surely this man was the son of God, said the Centurion standing guard in front of Jesus as he watched him die (Mark 15:39).

As I continue my observations during the Passion Week, I am struck by this character who finds himself mentioned in three of the four gospels. The centurion was one of only a handful to really see what was going on in this story. Somehow this outsider to the primary mission of Jesus caught a glimpse of who God’s son was. We know the mission of God intends for all peoples to know him and be blessed by him, but Jesus’ primary mission was to the Jews, the people of God and through that to draw all people back to him. As Jesus acted on his mission within the context of Judea, he often interacted with outsiders, or Gentiles, and welcomed them into the faith with God.

On one occasion early in his ministry, a centurion (perhaps the same one later standing by his cross, came to Jesus with a request to heal his servant. When Jesus saw the faith of the centurion, he healed the servant and said this talking about God’s overarching mission to call all peoples to know him.

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matthew 8:10-12

Even as Jesus focused his mission on the cross, the disciples, and allowing us to see the visible representation of an invisible God through his life….he still had in his mind the idea of God’s mission.

Even in his death, those from the east and the west began to draw near to God. Maybe this centurion took his story to Cornelius who later became the first Gentile convert into the church. Who knows, but something in the death of Jesus brought the soldier to realize the son of God hung lifeless in front of him. Was it the earthquake, the walking dead, the three hours of darkness from noon to 3 pm, or something else that caused this man’s man to acknowledge God in this moment?

The centurion likely stood guard at numerous crucifixions. He would have been trained in the art of war and death. He knew what death looked like and likely became numb to death over the years. However, when this man died, he saw a righteous man…the son of God. He even praised God (Luke 23:47).

It makes me wonder what clues drew the centurion to his response when seeing Jesus die. The classic novel, Ben Hur gives a fictional look into the life of this soldier, and I would like to believe the story could be accurate. Yet as we think upon Jesus’ life and death this good Friday, let’s remember what shook the world of a soldier…and may we respond in kind and praise God.

Jesus: The Perfect Sacrifice

As I reflect further on the Passion Week, I think of the Last Supper. Today, we look at this as a deeply Christian ceremony, but the first last supper as played out by Jesus and his devoted followers pulled on so many deep traditions of the Jewish people, reminding them of Gods’ goodness in leading them out of Egypt and bondage.

I don’t have time in this post to draw out the amazing symbolism Jesus fulfilled as the supper and traditions took place over the several hour meal. I want to stick on one thing Jesus said that often gets misquoted time and again when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

Jesus took the bread, broke it and said, “This is my body”.

Probably, most of us don’t think about it, but when we participate in the communion ceremony, many who lead the ceremony say, Jesus said, “This is my body, broken for you”. However, Jesus never said his body was, or would be broken. Even though he broke the bread, he never meant that to imply that his body was broken. There are implications to severe, although not earth shattering if we use the phrase, my body broken for you.

Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament sacrificial system, and therefore needed to be an unblemished lamb offered for sacrifice. If the lamb brought to the temple for sacrifice came with a blemish, the lamb no longer could substitute for the one offering a sin sacrifice. The lamb needed to give the appearance of perfection.

When Jesus offered his body, his perfect body in our place on the cross, he had no broken bones. Sure he was lashed with a whip and punched in the face, not to mention the thing with his beard, but the bones stayed intact. So much so that the beatings led to his body giving out on the cross before the two criminals that flanked him on the hill of skulls and before sundown. When the soldiers went to expedite the death process by breaking the bones of the other outlaws, they found Jesus already dead and left his bones alone.

When Jesus offered his body for us, he gave a good and perfect body to go along with his spotless life. As we take communion this week, let’s remember the person of Jesus and the love of God.

The Victory Came Before the Fight

For the Passion Week, I want to make an observation or two for each of the key events the church celebrates this week. As we are planting a church in Bangkok, we have been looking at the Passion Week in a new perspective. Let me start by pulling together a thought from Palm Sunday that we discussed in our Bible study last night. Last night, we came to the point in the story of Jesus’ as told by Luke where we see the long list of names and get a picture of who Jesus was by the family and lineage he had. We talked about one name that stood out to the original audience, King David. This allowed us to jump to Matthew 21:1-11 and read the story where Jesus revealed himself as king.

As my wife said, it was a bit ironic that Jesus, who throughout his ministry downplayed his royal heritage and kingly position, to now show off as the king and the fulfillment of so many prophecies including Zechariah 9:9.

We discussed this key point to Jesus entrance into Jerusalem. In the ancient near eastern culture, if a king rides in on a horse, the people see him preparing them for battle. However, if he rides in on the colt of a donkey as Jesus did in his grand entrance on coats and palm branches, this signifies the king returning in peace. The battle is over; the victory is won.

If we reflect on what subtle message Jesus sends to all of us reading this story, we realize that God has everything in control. Our problems are a mere fraction of anything difficult for our God. Jesus road in symbolizing a conquest that had yet to take place in the physical world. As we can read the story from the vantage point of the future, we know that Jesus won the fight and defeated death and the prince of this world. Jesus fought the battle for our possession, and came away the victor. We are no longer owned by our sin or the enemy, but we are able to belong to God once again.

But none of that happened yet, and Jesus still marched into the lion’s den of Jerusalem…the religious capitol where the religious leaders wanted to kill him, in a stature of conqueror.

Jesus’ point likely was missed on all who observed it as those who followed him wanted him to set up an earthly kingdom like his forefather David’s. They wanted him to overthrow a temporary oppressor, the Roman Empire. Jesus had other plans and anticipated overthrowing the kingdom of darkness as he brought in the kingdom of God to reign forever. We realize the kingdom of God is here now and not yet. Jesus knew with assurance the victory already was won even though he had to live it out some more. How awesome if we could liver our life with that same kind of expectation. The future is already taken care of by our God.

Songkran: A Family Holiday

Our daughter celebrates her first Thai festival this week as Songkran (the Thai New Year) enters the stage in Thailand. Eliana had the special treat of sharing this festival with her nana who is visiting from California. With Thai New Year each summer, comes times of family and blessings. One overarching motif of the Songkran Festival (the Thai New Year, April 13-15) is blessing. Within each family, the younger family members go to their elders to seek a blessing and ask for forgiveness from the previous year’s wrongs. At their elder’s house, they pour jasmine scented water over the palms of their respected members of their family. The water symbolizes the cleansing and renewing from last year’s sins.

As they pour the water, the elders speak a blessing over the younger persons in the family. The ceremony and traditions that come with Songkran tie the families together and cement the sense of community throughout the nation. Everyone goes home for the three-day holiday and often stretch the time into a whole week.

At Our Home Chapel, we celebrated a special Songkran service to honor the elders in the church family. The service’s theme hung on blessing as well. The teaching talked about the practical outworking of a Biblical blessing and how we are all called to bless those around us. At the conclusion of the service, the elders sat along the side wall of the main room while the youth in the church carried their scented water from person to person. Eliana even sprinkled her nana’s hands with water. Nana in turn spoke a blessing over her granddaughter and enjoyed participating in the cultural traditions of Thailand.

 

Spiritual Battles Lurking Around Every Corner

We were just starting our weekly prayer walk. Then, a preteen boy walked past us with his cart and scurried toward the bushes on the side of the Sidewalk. He went to grab a rock and ready himself for a confrontation.

We began to leave the shopping center and walk the blocks between the center and our condo as we bathed our community in prayer and opened our spiritual ears to heaven to hear what God is saying over this community. The past two weeks, I have felt the verse in Isaiah 43:18-21 as a call for us to pray. As we start a new community of faith in this area of Bangkok, God is saying forget the past, and don’t remember the things of old; for I am going to do a new thing.

As soon as we turned the corner onto the sidewalk, a 12-year-old boy came behind us pushing his cart of goods to sell. With an edge in his voice he said the equivalent of get the F’ out of my way in Thai. The Thai guy I was with and I were in the front of our group, but my friend that was behind me told him that I couldn’t see hoping to defuse the situation. I hadn’t heard what he said, and only felt the tension in his voice and spirit. Not fully tuned into the brewing conflict, I stopped in front of the footbridge before we crossed the street. I thought we should pray that space before we started our prayer walk.

However, my friend Chris noticed the boy grab a rock with a look like he was ready to rumble. I took his advice and we crossed the bridge. Our prayer walk turned out effective as again we received visions from the Lord of what he wants to do in the community as well as what we want to ask him to do. One of the women with us saw a vision of a giant wall with just a few small people breaking a hole through the wall.

In Thailand, bringing the kingdom of God into this place is like breaking through a giant wall. We are always encouraged when we have pictures of what God can do with people given to follow him with everything.

Another picture came from me as we walked past the power lines. I wanted to see God surge through the city with his power and spirit infiltrating all parts of Bangkok in the same way the electrical power goes throughout the city. We laid our hands on one of the power line poles asking God to be present in power and flow through us as we walk the streets of Bangkok. We look forward to finding opportunities to pray for others in our community and see God answer their requests with miracles.

When we finished, I thought back on the boy and his uncommon desire to come to blows with us. Thai people are generally so gentle and avoid violence. My wife simply asked me what were we doing. That’s right; we were praying and asking God to come. Immediately, I remembered our first prayer walk and the vision of the spirits preparing to fight to keep their territory. Obviously, they are aware that God is coming, and the kingdom of heaven is about to unsettle their comfort zone. The boy acted out of the ordinary for a Thai boy, but completely in the norm for a spiritual world not ready to relinquish its control on this city.