Overcoming While Facing Death

A Reflection on Acts 7:55-60

Death has become something that many people have had to face during this time of pandemic. While it has always been real, and something that we ultimately must contend with, we often choose to look at other things, think of other things, not allowing this to be our reality. However, we now all get the opportunity to understand this is a reality many of us have had to deal with, either our own mortality, or the suffering and death of a loved one or someone close to us. Another reality that the pandemic has brought to the forefront is that we are a part of a dying world that is crying out for an answer to suffering and pain.

God reached out to a world that was dying, and gave His Only Son sacrificially to save the world, to save you and me. This Mother’s Day, I am reminded of many mothers that have given sacrificially to give their children, either biologically or not, love, joy, peace, and hope. Many have come beside us and loved us unconditionally, so that we have had opportunities far beyond our own abilities to succeed, and thrive, in spite of our own selfish actions. We have fallen and hurt ourselves, and the mothering love has picked us up and cleaned out our wounds, and allowed us to get up again. We also see the example in our world of so many mothers stepping up and providing the compassion and caring for a world that is suffering.

God is the author of this type of love, and God offers it to us in the darkness of the world. Stephen, in the Book of Acts, experienced this love, and when he faced his own death, he looked to the heavens and saw Jesus Christ, the embodiment of that love, and was as peace, and realized that even though his life on Earth was over, he had a reason for hope, and he could share that hope and peace right to his last breath.

55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

Acts 7:55-60 (NIV)

Those that attacked Stephen were not open to hearing the message of hope that he was offering that they covered their ears and yelled trying to drown out this hope. Hope in the form of a conquering Savior, and a compassionate God, stand in stark contrast to the message of a dark and dying world, and that contrast creates friction that leads to an angry response. Stephen, however, through the power of the Holy Spirit, responds to this with a peaceful acceptance, and yielding to God. He didn’t raise his voice louder to try and speak over the screaming, but rather he allowed his actions to embody the peace that God offers.

This same peaceful response is the type of response that we as the Church must offer to the world. Right now, there is so much noise in the world, many have even resorted to screaming and yelling and covering their ears, just to drown out any message other than the one they believe. Unfortunately, many Christians have also been those trying to scream over the top of all this noise. When the church does this, it contributes to the chaos, which contradicts the peace God offers to us. Stephen understood this, and sought to allow his action to speak peace into the anger and rage of the crowd.

In the midst of getting stoned, the crowd’s attempt at squelching his voice, Stephen responds with a prayer to God to accept him and his sacrifice, and a prayer for his persecutors. Stephen’s last words were a prayer for the forgiveness of the sins of his murderers. It was this type of peace that spoke the truth of God’s salvific grace. In a world that has been plagued with protests, and counter-protests, and counter-counter-protests, the attempt to speak over one another does not lead to any dialogue. However, if the church looks at the world, the way that Stephen looked at his killers, with compassion, and offers up a prayer for the world, we can contribute to the solution, and embody God’s peace, compassion, and hope to a dying world facing an uncertain future. God has given us a reason to have hope, and a purpose to bring peace to our world.

Precious Freedom

A Reflection on Psalm 116:1–4, 12–19

In our time of distress, and a dramatic loss of life and freedom in our world, we may feel afraid and ready to rebel and strike out against our leaders, and our God. We miss one another, we are missing our friends and family, and we may be getting stir crazy! We are more prone to making choices that are selfish and for our own good, rather than the good of God’s Kingdom. 

Such is the debate going around now, as we see that some things and places are going to be starting to open up again soon, while other locations remain shut down. Our thought process is that if we aren’t getting what we want then we feel as if we are suffering a loss. God does not take our losses lightly, but rather His love for us is present for us, and wants us to thrive in all things.

We are all in danger, not just from disease and death, but we are in danger of losing our perspective about God’s control over the universe. This perspective must be firmly placed upon what God is capable of and upon the things that God has already done for us and for his people. Just as Israel was reminded that God had rescued them from slavery, from death, and from destruction, so too we need to be reminded that God has been with us and rescued us in times of danger and death.

The Psalmist uses this recollection of God’s salvation power and mercy as an important aspect of worship in the community. Psalm 116 is a recitation and recollection of God’s salvation of the Psalmist, and while this was a personal experience, it has become a part of the corporate worship experience. The joy and gratitude expressed in this Psalm reminds the hearer that we cannot thank God enough for what He has done.

In our current situation let us read the text of Psalm 116, and worship with the Psalmist.

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live. The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came over me; I was overcome by distress and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the Lord: “Lord, save me!”  

Psalm 116:1-4

What shall I return to the Lord for all his goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants. Truly I am your servant, Lord; I serve you just as my mother did; you have freed me from my chains. I will sacrifice a thank offering to you and call on the name of the Lord. I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the house of the Lord— in your midst, Jerusalem. Praise the Lord.  

Psalm 116:12-19

The opening of this Psalm expresses the love for God, and although present in worship, is still rare in the Old Testament. This expression is a fulfillment of the call to love God with our whole selves, heart, mind, soul, and strength. We often entreat God with our admiration after God has come in and showed us that He hears us, He cares about our condition, and when we need God- God intervenes on our behalf.

Out of control, we too often grasp for something that we can control. Unfortunately, in the situation we find ourselves now, no protest, no yelling and screaming, nothing will give us any lasting comfort. Our circumstance reminds us how we cannot control life and death, even if we do everything we are told, we can still fall ill, we are still susceptible to death.

We need God, and thus we need to call out to God when we are in need. We must place our trust in God, we must fully submit to God’s grace, guidance, and guardianship in order to fully experience the benefits of that covenant relationship with the Almighty God. In the midst of trials, we must bind our heart and mind to God, and seek out God in that time. As we do that, we are breaking the bonds that death has over our life, and binding ourselves to God and God’s purpose for the world.

Even though we ask God to guide us in all things, we are not immune from the negativity and disease of sin in the world. Bad things still can happen, and we cannot ignore that, but we need to call out to God. As so many of us have been brought through some terrible experiences, sometimes they have even been worse than the situation we see in the world now. God is by our side, and delivers us from evil, and we worship God, because He never fails.

What could we possibly give to God to repay His love for us? Nothing. No offering, no sacrifice, no praise, no worship, no vow, nothing is enough to repay to God for the grace that has been poured out upon us. We cannot possibly give enough back to even the ledger with God, so we must give back the most we can, which is our very selves, all of ourselves must be given to worship. It is this that Paul writes about in Romans when we are asked to present our bodies as living sacrifices.

We do this to make sure we don’t take God’s blessing for granted. God doesn’t require our praise, but God loves receiving our prayers, as a loving Father loves the words of devotion from His children. As a loving Father, God does not expose us to the death lightly, as He looks upon us as His precious children. In this, His salvation for us, out of the darkest of darkness, shows how powerful, and how in control God is over all things.

God’s salvation comes as a response to the cruelty and injustice in the world. When we take up our cross and follow Christ, we submit ourselves to be God’s servants, and to submit ourselves to be a part of God’s salvation and kingdom coming to the world. God doesn’t want to see anyone suffer and die, and invites us to be an expression of God’s mercy to bring peace and love to those hurting, those suffering, those dying. 

Because God has saved us, we bring His grace, His peace, and ultimately His salvation to a world facing an executioner. We practice and live out our faith so that the world can see life in the face of death, hope in the face of despair, and peace in the midst of chaos. We don’t do this alone, but if the church raises up to bring this, we practice our mutual faith, and it ultimately will stimulate the cultivation and environment that leads to godliness. This is ultimate freedom, freedom from death, freedom from despair, and freedom to live a life as a precious child of God.

Since Jesus Was Raised From The Dead, His People Need To Rise Up To This Moment

A Reflection on Matthew 28:1-10

On a silent morning, there were guards, there were women, there was an angel, and there was a stone rolled away. Jesus had been resurrected, so He wasn’t there. The women went to the grave with good intentions, they went to prepare the body, they went to finish what they could not do on Friday. They were unaware that God finished the work of salvation… Jesus has completed the work, sin is defeated and death is defeated, Grace has won, Hope has won, Love has won, and PEACE has won.

Our world needs this right now, chaos is around us. People are shouting at one another, physical distancing has put many people on edge, anxiety, depression, frustration at one another is on the rise. Selfishness is on the rise, Anger is on the rise, Sadness is on the rise. The world needs peace, the world needs hope, the world needs the Church to step up and do the work to bring God’s Kingdom to the world.

These are similar feelings that Christ’s followers had when they saw Jesus crucified. They went and isolated themselves, not because of a virus, or because the government had imposed any sort of orders, but because they didn’t know what to do. Sabbath came and they sat in sorrow and fear because they did not think this would happen.

Matthew 28:1-10

28 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. 

2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. 

5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” 

8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

This victory happens in an instant, none of the disciples or followers were there to see and give us their eyewitness, but they encountered Christ and told us about their encounter. They did not give us a scientific explanation about how Christ was raised from the dead, but rather we are told how they encountered Christ. The importance was not on the how, but the who. Who Christ was, who Christ encountered, and who Christ loved enough to go the lengths that he did to shatter the power of darkness and bring forth the light.

Everyone in this story had a purpose. The guards had a purpose to keep Jesus in the grave. The women had a purpose to prepare the body of Christ. The angel had a purpose to deliver the message. Jesus had fulfilled His purpose, and now was bringing blessing to all of those He appeared to on that blessed Sunday. His light was snuffing out the darkness that sin had introduced into the world.

This darkness has grasped hold of our world. Fear and uncertainty surround us in an unprecedented way. Chaos grips the world, we do not know when there will be an end to these orders, we do not know when there will be an end to the fear that has grasped so much of the world that looks for answers to the end of a virus. 

People look for answers, but the church needs to bring hope. The church needs to bring an answer to chaos, and that is peace. God’s love must pour through all of us and overwhelm the world with grace. In the light of this, now is the time for the church to rise up and fulfill their role within the world. Just as Esther was placed in her role to save the Hebrew people, for such a time as this, the Church must rise to the occasion to be the leaders in the world.

The role that the Church needs to fulfill is not one of radical disobedience to the authorities, or one of fear, but rather to lead the world by being the source of ingenuity, peacemaking, grace, mercy, hope, and love. It is this moment where we act out of the wisdom God has given to us, where we look out for the vulnerable and weak. The Church must lead in showing the world that God’s control is not in question even in the face of the many fears this virus may rise up in us. Rising up in this season will lead to revival, rejoicing, and reconciliation. This is that which Christ came to lead His Church!

Simplify: Time

There is never enough time to do everything, or is there?

Looking through our days we have time when at work, time at play, time spent with others, time alone, time eating, and time sleeping. However, every day has the same number of hours included. Well, almost every day in the places that still observe the practice of “Daylight Savings Time”, because they get one 23 hour day and one 25 hour day a year. Many of us got to experience our 23 hour day this past weekend. However, no matter how we try and manipulate it, there are simply only a set number of hours to do the things we want to accomplish.

Time always seems to slip away like the sun at sunset

This fact requires us to assess what items for which we have time. If we try and do everything, ultimately we will only be able to set aside a small amount of time for each, and as such they may not bring as much joy, or not worth the sacrifice needed to make room for it. For instance, if you want to start taking an art class, it meets at a certain time, and you need to make the time necessary to take the class and do the work required. If art is something you are only marginally interested in, then you have to decide whether taking that class is worth the time.

Sometimes there are things that you know you need to add into your life such as: prayer and devotional time, exercise, church, Bible Study, work, sleep, etc. Adding this requires us to trim something or eliminate something to allow the space in our life. It is never as easy as we might think, because to start a new pattern requires us to break old patterns. It is the pattern of life that often leads to complexity, and the inability to make the necessary adaptations in our lives.

In the book, Love Wins by Bob Goff, he details how every Thursday he quits something. This practice always allows him the space to add something that may be life giving and fulfilling. Understandably, most of us are not as eccentric as Bob Goff, but the simplicity of the task of quitting something to make space is something we may all learn from. Most people have devotional time and exercise time in the morning. To put this practice into place, the space needs to be made in the morning, which means wake up earlier. This doesn’t just mean set the alarm to go off earlier, because that would be sacrificing sleep, which is essential to our health and wellness, but rather we need to go to sleep earlier. That undoubtedly requires quitting something in order to get to bed at the required hour to get a full night’s sleep.

Ultimately, if you are like me, and many people I know, I like to do everything. I run all the races, I work multiple jobs, I volunteer to help, I love spending time with friends, I love going on every vacation, I am go go go, never saying no, no, or no. When I do this I fill up the calendar, and I make my life very complex. Fortunately, I married someone that keeps me in check, and before I say yes, I need to check with her. This is the governor that God placed in my life in order to control me overly complicating my life.

To follow this path to simplify my life, I will take on the task to quit things and say no. Nothing but making space in my life for the things that matter most. I admit I have not been successful at this to this point in Lent, but I seek out the simple life, and offering to God, my time is my fortune, and in this offering I seek to glorify my Creator.

Simplify Social Media

Living a certain way for a great amount of time, develops habits that become innocuous. Social media thrives upon us keeping these habits up and encourages us to get “engagement”, and even as I write this, I realize I look at my page views too frequently, and I want you all to like me. While our purpose for doing a task may not be to get the maximal views or likes or comments, we easily fall into the trap of looking at them for approval, for increasing our social score, and when we reach a certain level our task, our accomplishment, our writing is then validated.

The problem with this type of living, especially as a Christian, is that we seek the approval of others first. Most of us are not attention hounds such going after social media approval, but if we don’t get that validation, we wonder why someone didn’t comment, or like my post. In turn, we reciprocate by liking everything, because our thinking become if I like their stuff, they are going to like mine. This pattern can easily become a time consuming, and add to the complexity of our lives.

For Lent, in a quest for simplicity, let us walk away from the little numbers in the corners that grade our social media validation. Some will choose to fast completely from social media, and that is great, but most of us just need to let that engagement go a little, and simplify our interaction with it. By simplifying these interactions, we make more room to seek our validation from the Almighty God, rather than each other.

Ultimately, that is the ultimate goal in this quest for simplicity. Where do I find my affirmation? If it is in anything other than God, then I have to really question whether it is edifying or not. This does not equate to living as a hermit in solitude, because God does want us to have joy, and we were given bodies to enjoy life, and people are brought into our life to enhance that joy, but God is the source of that joy. Since God gives joy, it is God’s approval we are called to seek.

Welcome to Lent (Ash Wednesday)

The party is over, and today we begin the journey to the cross. This is the beginning of Lent, a period of 40 days (not including Sundays), before we get to the celebration of the resurrection. This is a time of deeper reflection and a season to put aside those items that interfere with our relationship with our Creator, our Savior, and the Holy Spirit. As we reflect upon Christ’s sacrifice, we understand our mortality, and offer ourselves to God as an act of repentance from the sinful lifestyle we live.

Although there are no poppies… yet, God’s promise is evident, even on the bleakest days.

Why Ashes?

The practice of the imposition of ashes can be found to date to the 10th or 11th century. When the church leaders stated, “We read in the books both in the Old Law and in the New that the men who repented of their sins bestrewed themselves with ashes and clothed their bodies with sackcloth.  Now let us do this little at the beginning of our Lent that we strew ashes upon our heads to signify that we ought to repent of our sins during the Lenten fast.”

The use of ashes in a Christian sense is found throughout scripture during times of
mourning, mortality, and penance. The during Job’s suffering he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, as an act of repentance the people of Nineveh put on sackcloth and ashes, and Daniel in his earnest prayers put on sackcloth and ashes when prophesying. These are only a few places where this practice is found in the Bible, but it should not be construed as an extra biblical idea that ashes are a part of our devotion to God.


Remember, man you are dust and to dust you shall return.

Giving Up

Often during Lent, people turn to giving something up, or fasting from a joyful experience or thing. This is a Christians way to mimic the 40 days Jesus fasted in the desert prior to the beginning of His ministry on Earth. It is well known that many Catholics practice giving up eating meat, and even McDonald’s, among other fast food chains, capitalize on this practice by advertising their Filet-o-Fish heavily during Lent. If you have practiced “giving something up” for Lent, that is a great practice, but it must also be something that you don’t do for public consumption, but rather as a practice of private devotion, because we must hear Jesus warnings not to be like the hypocrites.

Many years I too practiced giving things up. Among the fasted items were: soda, sweets, Starbucks, social media, fast food, among many other items that do not immediately come to mind. These were just things that I gave up temporarily, and “celebrated” the Resurrection by engorging myself with them. At times, I joked with the idea of giving up sin for Lent. In this attempt at humor, I might have been closer to the true intention of the fast. Giving things up is a great introduction to the practice, but if we just wait for Easter to dive back into our old ways we miss the point.

This act of giving something up is better expressed in the practice of burying our Hallelujah during Lent. This means that during our times of worship and praise we put away the songs that are upbeat and filled with Hallelujah language. We do this for a time, so that when we bring them back on Easter it is a jubilant and joyful reintroduction celebrating Christ’s resurrection from the dead. We don’t pretend that Christ is not risen, but rather we put these types of praise away for a time, so that we appreciate them even more when they are out. The UMC site compares this to having our Christmas lights out, and that we don’t appreciate that neighbor that has them out all year, but when they come out in December we get a special sense of joy.

A Simplified Season

At the beginning of this season, the Holy Spirit draws us deeper in, and asks us to put aside those things that get in the way of our relationship. Let go of the other voices pulling us in different directions, and fully embrace our calling to Jesus, and to follow Him. This may mean giving things up, but it may not just be for 40 days, it may actually mean give things up. Use this season as a season of simplicity. Give up what you need to, and don’t give into the temptation to give up. Simplifying, like Sanctifying, are processes and may not be mastered overnight.

This is my drive this season to simplify, not just as an act of penance, but as an act to bring me closer to the man God wants me to be. Also, I have already messed up, but I don’t stop working on it. May God be your spark of joy this season, and may we use this season to draw closer and closer, getting rid of everything pulling us in every and any direction.

May you find blessing today and this season.

Standing with the Accused

The world is full of less than perfect people trying to figure out how to best cope with the imperfections in the world all around. When we all approach situations we have to make serious decisions about whether or not go one way or another. Some decisions made are right, some are wrong, and still others are ambiguous. The world is full of people doing wrong or regrettable things. At the same time there is a crowd waiting to pounce, waiting to tear the people apart that don’t have the power to hurt them back.

We live in a world where the powerful do wrong, and then when caught in the act they shrug it off because very often the people that accuse have no power over them, and no ability to enact change in their lives. When this happens we cry and yell about the injustice of the act and that something needs to happen to upend the power structures. In politics, this often turns into the imbalance of the power structures that lead to divisiveness that our political systems thrive upon these days. Power makes you think you can get away with anything, and if that power is not checked you become more bold in doing wrong things. Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, and any number of tech companies have all been caught in the same traps, that people will follow you and use your product, no matter what you do, because the followers or users feel powerless against the powerful companies doing things that are detrimental with their data, with their privacy, and with their loyalty. In this environment, we feel about power and wrong-doing, when we find wrong-doing that we can affect change upon we pounce.

Unfortunately, this leads to the mob mentality that wants to burn the house down of those caught in the act. You have no power to do anything to me, therefore I will destroy you. This has happened too many times in our society, especially in the social media age. One person gets accused of something, and then their social media accounts get published on the internet, and sometime worse their physical addresses get broadcast, and then the physical safety of the person standing accused is put in danger. The mob justifies the actions based on the accused gave up their freedom when they did wrong, but this justification is truly toothless. Rather, it is just an excuse to get release and try to establish justice in a world that is often devoid of justice, but this justice is not truly justice. Justice is essentially life giving, but the actions of the mob are truly destructive.

Jesus, in John 8, shows us a better way. Here a woman is caught in the act of adultery and the mob is seeking to destroy her and make her pay the price for her misgivings. However, Jesus doesn’t simply allow the mob carry out their intended action, but rather he makes them contemplate and asks if they have no sin then carry on, but if not then drop the stones. He doesn’t do this to point out their sin, but rather to stand in between the woman and the angry mob. Obviously, the only reason they pulled this woman out was that she could do nothing to defend herself, where was the man? Adultery takes at least two, but the man probably had too much power, too much voice to bring out into the light, therefore the justice they wanted to carry out was incomplete and destructive.

Unfortunately, we have a lot of people in our world that are willing to pull the woman out for public scorn, but unwilling to stand up to the mob. Jesus calls us to stand with the woman, and to stand with the accused, even if they have done something wrong, even if they are guilty. There is no chance for reformation, and no chance for shalom if the person is destroyed and stoned and broken, and Jesus came to bring shalom not shame, He came to bring love, and not blame, and we are all invited to join in the Kingdom of God to defend the defenseless.

One last aspect of this is that we encourage those to go and sin no more, and it is vital that we do this. We need to do whatever we can, in order to help them carry this out, but if the mob wins, they do nothing but carry with them the Scarlett Letter and are not granted grace, but surrounded by scorn and ridicule that leads them to feel and know that it doesn’t matter if they turn their lives around, they will always be that of which they are accused. We want to defeat and enjoy the grace that God gives us, and share it with everyone, especially the accused.