Sunday, April 24, 2011

Holy Week: The Resurrection and Doubting Thomas

Dear friends,

Happy Easter to you! 

Caravaggio: Doubting Thomas

"Saint Thomas Putting his Finger on Christ's Wound" by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio

This morning in church, introducing his sermon with this Caravaggio masterpiece, our pastor Mike Tilley told the story of doubting Thomas. He was the disciple who wasn't there when Jesus first appeared to the others on the day he was resurrected. Even though the others told him about it, Thomas said he wouldn't believe it until he saw it for himself, until he could feel the wounds on Christ's body. Jesus appeared again about a week later, suddenly in a locked room. Nothing could keep him out! The thing is that Jesus didn't chew out Thomas for doubting.  He greeted him with "Peace be with you!" and invited him to see and touch the wounds so he could fully believe.  And when Thomas saw him, he exclaimed, "My Lord and my God!" I think he got it right that time.  Thomas understood his relationship with God personally and he also responded with a heart of surrender, acknowledging Jesus as his Lord.

Mike encouraged the doubters among us to freely come to God with our honest questions. There is more than one kind of doubter.

Some aren't sure that there is even a God, or that Jesus is God. I remember, as I once wrote in a poem, "looking for a skylight in the floor of my upside down world." I not only didn't believe in God, but I was mad at Christians for trying to tell me about him. I was quite some doubter. Maybe you are, too. There is nothing wrong with exploring the historical evidence to find out if what the Bible says is true and asking God if he is really real. Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel, both solid skeptics, dared to do this -- and ended up convinced of the claims of Christianity. McDowell later wrote the books Evidence that Demands a Verdict, More than a Carpenter, Don't Check Your Brains at the Door and many others. Strobel penned The Case for Christ, The Case for the Creator, The Case for Easter, and more.

Other doubters, also like me, have served God for years, even decades. I've been a Christian for 35 years as of this July. I have read the Bible all the way through multiple times, memorized large portions of it, read hundreds of Christian books, gone to church nearly every week, served on missions and evangelism teams, taught Sunday School, home schooled my 10 kids, written Christian books/e-magazines/blogs, and talked about God to groups of people more times than I can remember. Do I have all the answers by now? Not by a long shot! I have my own perplexing questions about God, too. There are times that I just don't understand what he is doing or why. There are times when I am angry at God and wonder if he is really a loving Father after all. Is he really good? Is he really just? Will the burdens ever lift? How badly will I mess up, and will he be able to fix it when I do? Does he really have it all under control? Will it really come out all right in the end? With all of the varieties of Christian teachings out there, some of them at odds with one another, how do I know what to believe and how to behave? And how do I take what I know in my mind and make sure that is seeps all the way into my heart, too, so I can trust him? Lord, have mercy!

Fortunately, God is big enough to handle angst, confusion, and cynicism. And it helps to know that devout Christians throughout the centuries have faced the same doubts and spiritual insecurities. It is just reality until we get to Heaven and see him face to face. For now, it's better to be honest, wrestle the doubts, and ask the hard questions, even while knowing it's not all going to come clear until eternity. For me, it helps to read the Bible and pray, even when it is hard to sense God's presence. Another thing that is an immense encouragement is to read and hear the testimonies of other believers about how God has been faithful and real in their lives during the most difficult times. And oddly enough, getting out there, putting one foot in front of the other, and serving him the best I know how somehow draws me even closer to him. I don't always know just what I'm doing when I start out, but seeing God work through me -- in spite of me -- is something of a miracle to behold.

I am thankful, too, that the good folks of Lake Baldwin Church welcomed me in when I was feeling more than a bit lost in transition last year. It's been a safe place for me to be just me. Even a few simple hugs and kind words from my sweet sisters-in-Christ there gave me a powerful boost toward more faith this morning. God might not be moving in spectacular ways, but I think he's at least whispering tenderly in my ears.

Peace be with you!

Virginia Knowles

P.S. If you haven't read my other Easter posts this week, you can click here: Holy Week.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Holy Week: "Behold the Man" on Maundy Thursday

Dear friends,

Today is Maundy Thursday, when we remember the last Passover supper (where Jesus ate with his disciples, washed their feet and encouraged them about the future), his prayers and his betrayal by Judas at the Garden of Gethsemane, his arrest, and, in the wee hours of the next morning, his trial and Peter's denial.  You can read all of this in John 13-19.

The name "Maundy" is derived from the Latin word “mandatum”, meaning a commandment. At the Last Supper, Jesus commanded: "And now I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another."  And there also he set the example of servant-hearted love by washing their dirty feet, saying: “Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you." (See John 13.)   As a side note to this, I have done a lot of informal research on the abuse of spiritual authority within modern day religious movements.  One of the hallmarks of abusive organizations or families is a rigid hierarchy of roles and rules in which those at the bottom of the pile are expected to unquestioningly serve and obey and give to those above them. Jesus rebuked the legalistic Pharisees of his day for much the same attitudes and behavior. Wouldn't it be helpful for many present day Pharisees to remember that it is the Lord himself who served us, and that instead of demanding respect and obedience, that they should instead model humility, mutual submission, and service out of a genuine love for God and fellow man?  Should the gospel bring true liberty or more religious bondage?  Should we follow Jesus or mere man?  As the apostle Peter wrote in chapter 5 of his first epistle: "To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away."


But back to the Bible story...  When I taught middle school English in a home school co-op, I usually gave them special assignments for Holy Week, with literature, art, poetry, music and writing.  Here is a small taste of what they learned on one of the days:

The painting "The Last Supper" (above) is by Leonardo da Vinci. He painted it in 1498 on the refectory (dining room) wall in the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy. It is 15 feet high and 29 feet long! Click on the picture to enlarge it.  Pay attention to the details in the picture!
All four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) include the story of the "Last Supper" but each one differs in how they present what happened. Read Matthew 26:17-35Mark 14:12-31, and John 13:1-37.  Can you find at least one detail in each passage that wasn't in the others? What parts of the story do all of them include? What is one thing that you can apply in your own life from these passages?
Read about Gethsemane and the trial at Matthew 26:36-75
The painting "Ecce Homo" is by Swiss artist, Antonio Ciseri (October 25, 1821 – March 8, 1891). You can click on it to enlarge it. "Ecce Homo" means "Behold the Man." The scene is Jesus' trial before Pontius Pilate.  Pilate has already had Jesus scourged, then mockingly dressed in a purple robe and a crown of thorns.  He then presents Jesus to the crowd, with the words, "Behold the man!"  He asks the crowd if Jesus should be released, and spurred on by their religious leaders they yell, "Crucify!"  Pilate listens to the crowd rather than choosing what he knows is right - justice for an innocent man. But even this was in God's eternal plan, for Jesus was willingly offering himself up as the sacrifice for our sins so we could be shown mercy and grace instead of the just judgement that we deserved. 


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Holy Week: "I AM!"

I Am...

Dear friends,

To fully understand Holy Week (the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus), we must understand who he was and still is -- the perfect Son of God who lived and loved on this earth for 33 years until he died in our place to take the punishment for our sins.  He never did anything wrong, and his righteousness becomes our righteousness as we trust in him.  He dwells in the heart of those who believe him, and they dwell in him, too: "Christ in us, our hope of glory."

As I make this last little edit to the post, my kids are watching The Gospel of John on DVD.  We are reading through John 16-21 this week, too, which is good timing since we've been working through this gospel bit by bit this semester and now we're ready for the final sprint to the end.   

These verses are all taken from the Gospel of John.

I AM the bread of life.

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty." John 6:35

I AM the light of the world.

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

I AM the door.
Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep." John 10:7

I AM the good shepherd.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me...." John 10:11-14

I AM the resurrection and the life.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies." John 11:25

I AM the way, the truth and the life.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." John 14:6

I AM the true vine.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." John 15:1, 5


So why does it matter who Jesus is? Because who is affects who I am in him! When I trusted Christ to save me, I became a new creation, beloved of God! 

I am adding in this music video that some friends shared on Facebook: "You Are More" by Tenth Avenue North.  
Are you wondering who you really are?  Listen and be blessed!

Who I Am In Christ

These descriptions of my identity in Christ come from the Freedom in Christ Ministries web site, Is this what you want for your own life?  You can click on the verse references to see the actual Bible words behind the affirmations listed here.

John 1:12 I am God's child.

John 15:15 As a disciple, I am a friend of Jesus Christ.

Romans 5:1 I have been justified.

1 Corinthians 6:17 I am united with the Lord, and I am one with Him in spirit.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 I have been bought with a price and I belong to God.

1 Corinthians 12:27 I am a member of Christ's body.

Ephesians 1:3-8 I have been chosen by God and adopted as His child.

Colossians 1:13-14 I have been redeemed and forgiven of all my sins.

Colossians 2:9-10 I am complete in Christ.

Hebrews 4:14-16 I have direct access to the throne of grace through Jesus Christ.

Romans 8:1-2 I am free from condemnation.

Romans 8:28 I am assured that God works for my good in all circumstances.

Romans 8:31-39 I am free from any condemnation brought against me and I cannot be separated from the love of God.

2 Corinthians 1:21-22 I have been established, anointed and sealed by God.
Colossians 3:1-4 I am hidden with Christ in God.

Philippians 1:6 I am confident that God will complete the good work He started in me.

Philippians 3:20 I am a citizen of heaven.

2 Timothy 1:7 I have not been given a spirit of fear but of power, love and a sound mind.

1 John 5:18 I am born of God and the evil one cannot touch me.

John 15:5 I am a branch of Jesus Christ, the true vine, and a channel of His life.

John 15:16 I have been chosen and appointed to bear fruit.

1 Corinthians 3:16 I am God's temple.

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 I am a minister of reconciliation for God.

Ephesians 2:6 I am seated with Jesus Christ in the heavenly realm.

Ephesians 2:10 I am God's workmanship.

Ephesians 3:12 I may approach God with freedom and confidence.

Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.