Why did Jesus call Lazarus by name – “Lazarus, come out” (JOhn 11:42)- when He raised him from the dead? Some way, following Ambrose, replied, ‘If Christ had not called Lazarus by name, He would have emptied the whole graveyard,” But indeed, so He has.
“The Lord … raised not Lazarus alone but the faith of everyone. If you believe what you read, your spirit also, which was dead, revives with Lazarus. For what does it mean that the Lord went to the sepulchre and cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out’ except that He wouldd give us a visible proof and set out an example of the future resurrection? Why did He cry with a loud voice, as though He were not accustomed to work in the Spirit and to command in silence? He did this only that He might show that which is written: ‘In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet … we shall be raised’ (1 Corinthians 15:52). The raising of the voice answers to the sound of trumpets. And He cried, ‘Lazarus, come out,’ Why is the name added, except that one might seem to be raised instead of another, or that the resurrection were rather accidental than commanded? …
…When the power of the divine command was working, nature did not reguire its own functions; brought, as it were, into extremity, it obeyed no longer its own path but the divine will. The bonds of death were burst before those of the grave. The power of moving was exercised before the means of moving were yet supplied.
‘If you are amazed by this, consider who gave the command, so that yo might cease to wonder; Jesus Christ, the power of God, the life, the light, the resurrection of the dead. The power Himself raised him who was lying prostrate, the life Himself produced his steps, the light Himself drove away the darkness and restored his sight, and the -resurrection Himself renewed the gift of life’ (Ambrose, “On the Death of Satyarus, 2. 77-79) quoted in “A Year with the Church Fathers” p 65 edited by Scott Murray
…A OnePoll survey found that 88 percent of Americans feel that the holidays are the most stressful time of the year. Seventy-seven percent find it difficult to relax during the season that purports to be a time of joy and celebration, and well over half use the word ‘chaotic’ to describe the holiday season.
Financial concerns and others’ expectations top the list of holiday stressors for most Americans. Yet by the time November comes around, most households have piles of fundraising letters from ministries and nonprofits that grow each day. Already stretched by the number of gifts they need to purchase and dinners they need to host, some feel as though adding philanthropic giving to their December to do list is simply one task – and one hit to the bank account – too many…
…when Christians think of themselves as merely as potential donors, they see their financial contributions as an act of ‘giving away’ of resources.’ There’s no ongoing relationship with the organization or sense of investment. But the team at Maclellan says that a ‘steward-investor’ concept invites deeper engagement between giver and organization…
…Rather than experiencing them as yet another obligation or guilt inducing to do item, a steward investor mindset invites Christians to think wisely and intentionally about which ministries or organizations to support, as well as what it might look like to give generously and with a sense of lasting impact…
…The experts at Stewardship Legacy Coaching recommend taking inventory of one’s finances at the end of each year, looking for places where stewardship could be increased and more intentional giving could be practiced…
…The thought of giving at the end of the year may seem stressful or anxiety inducing, but research shows that generosity actually improves mental health in several ways. Scientists at the University of Oregon have conducted scans that show the pleasure-related reward centers activating when people decide to donate money to a cause they believe to be good. Additionally, participants in a joint study from the University of Lubeck, Northwestern University and University of Zurich who pledged to spend money on others over the next four weeks exhibited brain activity while making that decision that predicted an increase in their happiness.
Giving also has positive effects on hormones and other neurological functions. For example, donating releases oxytocin, the hormone that is most often associate with feelings of love and connection to others. Individuals also experience the release of serotonin, the mood stabilizing hormone, when they give, as well as dopamine, the feel good transmitter.
Between activating the brain’s reward center and initiating the release of positive hormones, acts of generosity can become habit forming as givers want to repeatedly experience those positive feelings. Such a routine is a win-win for all involved: organizations can count on regular support from a reliable giver, and the giver enjoys less stress and increased happiness during a busy time of year.
In addition to the brain boost, people who give report higher life satisfaction than those who do not, and, according to the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkley, generosity is associated with workplace benefits, such as a lower risk of job burnout. In an era rife with mental health struggles and skyrocketing rates of mental illness acts of generosity can lessen depression and produce a sense of meaning and purpose.
Generous behaviors also seem to reveal connections between mental and physical health. For example, giving is linked to physiological benefits like lower blood pressure and successful recovery from coronary related health events. Researchers at the University of Michigan have even found that generosity seems to increase one’s lifespan: Individuals who did not provide support to others were more than twice as likely to die in the next five years than people who gave support.
And, perhaps most fitting for all of the holiday campaigns funneling through our mailboxes and inboxes, Jill Foley Turner at the National Christian Foundation shares research from the American Psychological Association that indicates generous people have a higher likelihood of experiencing the feeling of awe or wonder. These givers ae likely to feel small, but not in a negative way – instead, in the way that one might feel small beholding a starlit night sky or the ocean as it meets the horizon. In other words, when people give, they are invited to remember who they are in light of an immense God and to participate however they can in reflecting His goodness. What better time to reflect on our smallness than the Christmas season, when we celebrate the arrival of God as an infant: tiny and infinite at once…
…SRG managing partner Paul Schultheis and fellow members note that giving collaboratively has several positive outcomes for the givers. These benefits include a stronger approach to vetting organizations, the opportunity to take on large projects, and a variety of gifts and skills brought to the table by a diverse group of donors. Collaborative giving allows people of various financial means and availability to join together in making a difference – perhaps one person can write a large check while someone else has the time in their schedule to serve as a liaison with the designated ministry…
… Parents can help their children research organizations and choose one to support, for example, or participate in an endeavor like the Salvation Army Angel Tree, which provides Christmas gifts to children who otherwise may not receive any…
…’whoever sows generously will also reap generously’ (2Cor 9:6), giving during the Christmas season is a powerful way for believers to experience the goodness of God while simultaneously ushering it into the lives of others. As the angels brought tidings of great joy at the birth of Christ, so can we bring tidings of great joy to organizations and ministries carrying out God’s work in the world and to our own hearts, as well.”
…should rightfully not trust in the pseudo gods of medicine or ‘science’. ‘Science’ has become a god for many who think it has the ultimate answer. Rather than seeing science as the pursuit of knowledge, they want it to be the source of all absolute truth. However, the scientific method is only the pursuit of hypotheses. Many of the ‘truths’ it has uncovered have later failed to pass the test of actual data (evolution, global warming or climate change, green energy, etc) Science should follow the data, not self-proclaimed experts…To a world of fear and fear-mongers, we confess that God came in the flesh to be killed in our place and raised up on the cross in the ugliest of deaths that we might know the wrath of God has been satisfied by the atoning death of the Son of God…
…Let us remember what a god is. It is someone or something that we trust in for the good in our lives. During the last year it became clear that our life, that is our bodies and our own wellbeing, has become our greatest idol. This is nothing new, but the way so many Christians and Christian churches fell victim to this idol was stunning and tragic. Men have feared temporal death more than the reality of eternal death. Do we no longer believe that we are born in sin? (Gen 3: 17-19, Ps 14: 1-3, 51:5; Rom 3:21-25) and deserve eternal punishment (Rom 3: 2: 5-11, 6:23)? Do we no longer believe that Christ came in the flesh? His Incarnation (Jn 1:14) meant that He breathed the germ laden air around him in the filth of Judea and Galilee. He touched unclean things and was touched by people who were disease ridden … He looked upon men and had compassion… He calls us to take up the cross, that is, to suffer with Him in this age until we receive eternal life in the age to come…
We were hounded by the social distancing and mask commandments of this new god. Do this and live, we were told, but nothing could be further from the truth. These two new ‘commandments of men’ became the excuse for breaking the Third Commandment. People were told that through close contact they would kill people. Did not God say, ‘It is not good that man should be alone and How good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity…? Did we no longer understand the story of Elijah’s loneliness where he is renewed by being fed by God and goes in the strength of that food for forty days…? Do we no longer believe the words the Holy Spirit taught us to confess through David, ‘I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’ Are we not to encourage one another all the more as we see the Day approaching…? We are the Body of Christ… and we need one another. The devil is always attacking that Body, and he is smiling about his accomplishments during this last year. But our hope is in Christ alone and the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church, … When we gather in the house of the Lord, we confess that we are dust and to dust we must return… but God has breathed life into these lumps of clay to bring us from death to life… God feeds us with the food far better than manna or the food given to Elijah. At the altar we eat and drink the flesh and blood of the crucified Son of God who rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. This is the Tree of Life, the bread of heaven, by which we are strengthened throughout our journey through this wilderness of sin and death, not just for forty days or forty years. This is the medicine of immortality that is more powerful than any vaccine or medical treatment of this world, for it is strengthening our bodies for eternal life. These who have been reborn in Holy Baptism need the milk of the Word in preaching and the solid food of the Supper … Yet, many have trusted in themselves rather than the gracious gifts of God, the Sacraments of the Church given to save body and soul from eternal death. The Spirit of the Lord cries out, ‘Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful’…
…Our gathering as the Body of Christ is the ultimate confession of our faith in the Incarnate Lord. We gather before the altar and God comes to us uncovered in the preaching of His Word, the water of Baptism, and the gift of the flesh and blood of the Christ who died and rose for us. The Church should not be the place of mask wearing, but the place where in every sense we confess that this is the Body of the Risen Lord and death cannot harm us. In love, I may give people the option of doing as their conscience dictates, but I have a responsibility to call all of us to repent (yes, the non mask wearers also grow arrogant) and confess that our life is only in Christ. This results in an outward confession of faith in the Resurrection. We have already died in the waters of Baptism and been raised to life, God has killed us to make us alive. Can I be silent about such dangers?
How different this is from the masks that are designed to hide the God-given identity. It marks all men as our enemy, those who might kill us. If we are to fear we might kill each other, will we ever return to the faithful clean conscience before God without the mask? Yet, God has not ordained masks. They are a creation of man. It is even admitted by those who want them required that they do not necessarily work to prevent the virus. As such, society presents us with the mask as a false god to trust in to ‘save lives’. Masks have become an idolatrous, ‘sacramental practice’ for many, that is, an outward sign that identifies them as virtuous and carries with is the promise of being delivered from death….. Some of the best hymns about the good and gracious will of God were written in times of plague, death and uncertainty (LSB 713, 724, 743, 760) Is God no longer good? Surely, we must all repent of the weakness of our faith.
…We have slipped into the misguided idea that we must obey the government at all times, but this means we have forgotten that the governing authorities do not have authority over the church and its practices. Remember that the early church was an illegal religion that is, that they were not permitted to worship openly until the Edict of Milan in February of 313 AD. Yet they came together to hear the Gospel preached and received the Blessed Sacrament. Many were jailed and even put to death because they would not deny the faith (Ignatius and Polycarp). They followed the example of those in the Old Testament: Isaiah who was sawn in half, the three men in the fiery furnace … and Daniel… The New Testament testifies of Stephen … and James … and we are aware of the beheading of Paul and the upside down crucifixion of Peter… At the time of the Reformation, Martin Luther was hidden from the authorities who sought to kill him. Christians defied the authorities who told them to cease and desist worshiping at the time of the Magdeburg Confession. Governing authorities have their limits in regard to Christian faith and the practices of the Church, (I will not address constitutional matters here.) Can the government order Christians to wear masks n Christian worship? Absolutely not. Notice that in some states they ordered that Communion not be celebrated. In fact, the mask issue led many to refrain from the Sacrament for months. Christians churches were far too complacent in allowing the government to make the decisions for them.
The Fifth, Seventh, Eighth and Ninth Commandments are closely related in this particular issue. As there is no conclusive, factual evidence that we are saving lives by using masks, we must be careful not to say we are saving lives by wearing masks or social distancing. I have personally seen the damage this time of social distancing, lockdowns, and refusal to allow hugs, kisses and even social interaction at meals has done to family members. Have more people been killed by ‘protecting’ them or by COVID?… Many were also forced to delay cancer treatments, heart surgeries and other conditions to ‘protect’ people. Evidence indicates that some of these people have died. Did we kill them? The isolation of elderly and young people has led to a surge in suicide as many doctors warned, but all we hear is COVID. Don’t our children need physical contact and in person instruction? But we, our governing authorities and teachers’ unions, have stolen that from them. The governing authorities are driven by good intentions, but not by facts. I am reminded of this quotation of C S Lewis, “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.’ Lockdowns have destroyed our neighbors’ businesses, ripped apart their families, left many unemployed and all of it was done, so we are told, for our good. Are we not to speak up in defense of our neighbor?…
…our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. In a world that promotes fear, let us boldly proclaim life that comes to those who have died with Christ and have been raised with Him.”
“Only when we have felt the terror of the matter [of God’s coming at Christmas], can we recognize the incomparable kindness. God comes into the very midst of evil and of death, and judges the evil in us and in the world. And by judging us, God cleanses and sanctifies us, comes to us with grace and love. God makes us happy as only children can be happy God wants to always be with us, wherever we may be – in our sin, in our suffering and death. We are no longer alone’ God is with us. We are no longer homeless; a bit of the eternal home itself has moved into us.. Therefore we adults can rejoice deeply within our hearts under the Christmas tree, perhaps much more than the children are able. We know that God’s goodness will once again draw near. We think of all God’s goodness that came our way last year and sense something of this marvelous home. Jesus comes in judgment and grace: ‘Behold I stand at the door … Open wide the gates!” (Ps 24:7) from “A Testament to Freedom pp 185-186
When my wife and I first attended a Lutheran service, we were impressed with how formal it was, a far cry from what we were used to in the mainline Protestant denominations we grew up in and in the evangelical congregations we attended in college. So we came back next week, only to find both the congregation and the pastor chanting. We thought we had been transported back to the Middle Ages.
It turns out, that first service we attended was the one informal service that was held on months with five Sundays. We came to learn that when Lutherans try to be informal–or, more recently, contemporary–they are still more formal and less contemporary than just about anyone else. But the definitive Lutheran worship, which we learned to treasure, is to be found in what they call the “Divine Service,” which is called that because in it, Lutherans believe, God serves us.
Patheos has asked its writers to respond to some of the most frequent questions about the various religious traditions that they receive. What most puzzles Patheos readers about Lutheranism is its worship. They wonder what they need to know in order to understand what is going on. Specifically, as the Patheos editors summarize the inquiries, “What should I keep in mind when visiting a Lutheran church?” So it falls to me to try to explain.
What follows is an account of the traditional Divine Service, which can be dressed up or down, made more elaborate or more simple. Even contemporary Lutheran services will tend to have the same structure and most of the same elements–from the confession and absolution to the Law & Gospel sermons–so that what I describe here, except for what I say about music, will mostly still apply.
(1) The Liturgy Consists Mostly of Words from Scripture
The first reaction of many visitors is, “This is Catholic!” Or, “This is too Catholic!” Yes, the liturgy goes way back through church history and is similar to that of Roman Catholics, the Orthodox, and, among Protestants, Anglicans, whose Book of Common Prayer was greatly influenced by Lutheranism.
But the Lutheran liturgy also shows forth the principles of the Reformation. Luther wanted to reform the church, not start a new one. Later Protestants would want to start, more or less, from scratch, but the work of “reforming” means changing what is problematic, but leaving what is good. For Luther, everything that pointed away from Christ and the Gospel should be eliminated, but what does point to Christ and the Gospel should be retained.
So the Lutheran liturgy leaves out elements in the Catholic mass such as praying for the dead and invoking the saints. But it retains the overall structure and the ancient liturgical set-pieces, such as the Kyrie (“Lord have mercy. . .”) and the Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”). In fact, those set pieces and nearly all of the responses of the congregation are taken straight from the Bible. When someone objects to our liturgy, I ask, “Which words of God do you think we shouldn’t say?”
The sanctuary will also demonstrate the Reformation principle of retaining elements that point to Christ. There will typically be quite a bit of art in the sanctuary. Lots of crosses. That will include pictures of Jesus and other representational art. This is not idolatry, since that means worshiping false gods and Jesus is the true God, who came as a visible, tangible human being discernible by the senses (1 John 1:1). Lots of crucifixes, depicting Jesus on the cross. Some Christians say that one should only use empty crosses because Jesus isn’t on the cross any more–He rose! Well, Lutherans certainly believe in His Resurrection (and also have empty crosses), but we need to keep a constant focus on “Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1 and 2 Corinthians 1:2), upon which which our salvation is based and which Lutherans apply in a host of ways in their “theology of the Cross.”
(2) Chanting Lets Us Sing Prose, Such as Texts from Scripture
The Divine Service is mostly chanted by both the pastor and the congregation. This may be the aspect that seems the most “Catholic” or “Medieval” or just unusual to visitors. But chanting, with its flexible meter and flowing melodic line, is simply the way that a person can sing prose.
Most of our songs today–whether hymns or raps–are metrical, with fixed patterns of rhythm and rhyme. That is to say, they put music to poems. But it is also possible to sing any sequence of words. That requires music that flows along with the pattern of speech. This is what chanting is.
Some of my friends who are Reformed (a term Lutherans never use for themselves), belong to Psalms-only congregations. Using their principle that Christians may only do what the Bible specifies (while Lutherans believe they are free to do whatever the Bible does not forbid), they do not sing hymns, just Psalms. But what they sing are really metrical paraphrases of the Psalms, forced onto the Procrustean bed of meter and rhyme. But we Lutherans sing the Psalms right out of the Bible by chanting them.
Lutherans do sing hymns that will be familiar to most visitors, including some of those metrical Psalms, drawing on the vast and varied musical heritage of the church universal. Perhaps stranger to some visitors’ ears are the hymns from the Lutheran tradition, particularly those from the 16th and 17th century, often in the baroque style of vivid imagery and achingly beautiful, but complex, music.
(3) The Pastor Will Forgive Your Sins
What most puts off quite a few visitors is at the beginning of the service when the members of the congregation confess their sins, first reflecting silently and then reading a prayer of repentance, after which the pastor says this or something like it:
Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for you and for His sake forgives you all your sins. As a called and ordained servant of the Word I announce the grace of God to all of you, and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“I forgive you?” some say. “The pastor can’t forgive sins! Only Jesus can do that!” Well, right, only Jesus can forgive sins. But Lutherans believe that God works through human beings. That is the doctrine of vocation. Notice the wording: “As a called and ordained servant of the Word.” “Called” refers to vocation, which is simply the Latinate word for “calling.” God forgives sins through pastors, just as He gives us our daily bread through farmers and creates new life through mothers and fathers. The basis of the pastor’s forgiveness, also known as “absolution,” is “the grace of God to all of you” and the fact that He “has given His Son to die for you.” (Lutherans reject the Reformed doctrine of Limited Atonement, so all have access to this grace and atonement.)
And the Scriptural warrant for human beings forgiving sins is pretty explicit. After His resurrection, Jesus breathes on His disciples, saying,“Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:22-23).
(4) You Will Hear a Law and Gospel Sermon
The sermon may also be different from what you are used to. There will be no politics, no pop psychology, no Biblical principles for successful living. (Lutheranism, with its theology of cross-bearing, is pretty much the opposite of the Prosperity Gospel.) The sermon will be based on one or more of the three Bible readings (an Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel reading as determined by the Lectionary, a plan for Scripture reading tied to the church year), but it will be handled in terms of the distinct Lutheran hermeneutic and preaching paradigm of Law and Gospel.
The moral law in the Scripture will be proclaimed, but in a way that precludes self-righteousness. Listeners will be persuaded that they do not, in fact, obey God’s Law, with its multiple ramifications, and that they are in sore need of repentance. Whereupon the sermon will move to a proclamation of the Gospel, namely, that Christ has fulfilled this law on our behalf and has paid the penalty that we deserve for breaking it with His atoning death and resurrection. When we know that we are sinners and cannot save ourselves and believe that Jesus has died for us and offers us new life, we have saving faith, which, in turn, bears the fruit of love for our neighbors.
This is not “cheap grace” the pastor is teaching. A skillful preacher can really make you feel guilty, which tempers our bad behavior. And, by preaching the Gospel, he really make you feel free. Lutherans speak of three uses of the Law: the first, the civil use, is to restrain our external sinful proclivities; the second, the theological use, is to convict us of sin and drive us to the Gospel; and the third, the didactic use, is to teach Christians how to live in order to please God, which, motivated by gratitude, they now desire to do.
You will find no altar call in a Lutheran sermon. Coming to faith is not a one-time decision. Rather, the pattern of repentance and faith is repeated throughout the Christian’s life, and is enacted throughout the Divine Service. The point at which you objectively became a Christian is when you were Baptized, even as an infant, a purely passive experience in which God called you by name and gave you the gift of the Holy Spirit. But, just as that infant must be fed, be taught, and grow, the baptized Christian must be fed and taught and grow by means of the Word and Sacraments. Otherwise, faith will die.
(5) You Must be Catechized Before You Go Up for Communion.
If you are a visitor to a Lutheran church, observe what is happening and, if you want, go up for a blessing. (Bow and cross your arms when the pastor comes your way.) But if you are not a Lutheran and if the pastor doesn’t know you, you should refrain from taking the consecrated bread and wine. The liberal Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) would probably let you, but the more conservative Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, Wisconsin Evangelical Synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, and smaller and independent church bodies practice “closed communion.” Sometimes this is phrased as “close” communion, meaning that those who commune together should be close to each other as in being part of the same congregation or church body, but it means the same, that the altar is “closed” to those who have not been catechized and confirmed in the host church, its denomination, or a denomination with which it is in formal fellowship.
Please, please, do not be insulted, as many visitors are. Lutherans are not denying that you are a Christian. Anyone, of any denomination or non-denomination, who confesses faith in Christ is considered to be a Christian, and Lutherans do accept all Baptisms, of whatever mode or at whatever age. It’s just that Lutherans hold to the Biblical teaching that no one should receive the Lord’s Supper without examining oneself and without “discerning the body” (1 Corinthians 11:28-29).
“Discerning the body,” of course, means different things to different theologies. Catholics believe the bread is transubstantiated into the Body of Christ and so is no longer bread; Calvinists believe in a spiritual presence that depends on the faith of the person receiving it; most Protestants, again, hold it be merely symbolic. But Lutherans believe that the body and blood of Christ are really present in, with, and under the bread and wine. More than that, Christ gives His body and His blood in these physical elements “for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28). Evangelicals speak of “receiving Christ” at their conversion. Lutherans believe they “receive Christ” every time they take Holy Communion.
Some say that “discerning the body” refers not to the bread and wine of Holy Communion, but to the Body of Christ that is the Church. Well, fine, and maybe it refers to both, since the two senses are intimately connected. But that too is an argument for “closed” or “close” communion, since it requires awareness of those with whom you are communing.
Catholics and the Orthodox also practice closed communion, in line with their similarly high view of the Sacrament. I have had occasions—weddings and funerals—to attend a Catholic mass, but it never bothered me that I couldn’t take communion. I didn’t want to. If I presented myself for communion, I would be participating with a church body that I don’t belong to and that I don’t agree with. This is also why most Lutherans won’t commune at other churches that practice “open” communion. It’s a matter of respecting differences. And this respect can co-exist with a spirit of welcome and good-will.
So, please, visitors, know that you are welcome to a Lutheran service and don’t let our quirks be an obstacle. I think you will appreciate, as my wife and I did, the sense of transcendence and holiness that we found there.
We begin in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all God’s children said AMEN!
Psalm 126 is another Psalm that is not by King David, probably another psalm that was written by the post-exilic, that is those who returned to Israel from Babylon after the Israelites were removed from Israel and brought to Babylon by King Nebuachadnezzar in 597 BC. They returned when King Cyrus of Persia authorized the return of the Jews to Israel in 538 BC, about 60 years that Israel was in exile. When they returned to Israel that is when the stories of Nehemiah who rebuilt the wall around Jerusalem and some of the infrastructure, Ezra re-established, the temple. Solomon’s Temple was destroyed. Many think the Babylonians took the ark of the covenant from the temple at that time and brought it to Babylon. The rebuilt temple was a poor successor to Solomon’s. It was rebuilt to a more impressive building under Herod the Great about 30 years before Jesus’ birth.
The people who were returning to Jerusalem had little or no idea what Jerusalem had looked like or looked like at their time. There was no Google maps, or Fox News reporting live from Jerusalem on the return of the Jewish people. When they returned to Jerusalem they dealt with trials, under foreign/alien captors. The Persians were tolerant and seemed to have no problem including the Jewish people. Many of whom were placed in high positions in the government. We know about Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, Esther, her uncle/guardian Mordecai, Nehemiah. These are the ones mentioned in the Bible, surely there were others. Under Queen Esther the Jewish people were given some protections and self-government, but not permitted to go back to Israel. After 60 years most had no idea, about Israel, had established lives in Babylon, and no reason to return. They would have to leave livelihoods in Babylon, make a very long journey back to Israel, either take their possessions with them, sell them in Babylon and get new stuff in Israel, or what probably most did, do without. In addition to finding a way to make a living, get what they needed in order to ply their trade: bakers need ovens, pans; blacksmiths need furnaces, hammers, anvils; farmers need ploughs, livestock, other implements. It would not be easy to return and set up a whole new life. But it was an opportunity to return to the land God promised them. To reestablish the temple, their form of government and self-determination, the customs unique to Judaism. It was an opportunity to return to the life that God had assured them they would have if they were faithful. They would not be subject to alien/pagan customs they had been surrounded by. They knew these customs were not what God wanted for them. Israel’s God was much more familiar, favorable, supportive than the pagan “gods” of the time. Many like to criticize the vengeful/ wrathful God the Bible. Compared to pagan “gods” Yahweh, was warm, supportive, strengthening comforting, none of which these pagan gods were. I was talking to a woman who is Hindu, talking about the “goddess” Kahli. She told me all about her, then she said, “you just better not make her angry”. The pagan “gods” are vengeful and punishing. God, the actual/only God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, he can be angered, but He’s not vindictive, fickle, easy to anger. If God is angry it is out of pure love and righteousness. God is looking out for His own, He wants what is best for His children. That’s how you tell the real God apart from pagan Gods who are easily disturbed, solely out for themselves, not interested at all in you. Yet people believe in these fictional/hateful/selfish/ uncaring beings. They do exist, they are forms demons take on to subjugate those who are easily impressed, they are selfish, and always trying to intimidate. The true God, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses, the Father of God the Son Jesus, might intimidate, but only does so to get you to follow what is genuinely good for you. Not trying to grab anything He can, intimidate or frighten you. God the Father is not at all about frightening or intimidating. How many times is someone told “fear not” in the Bible? About 130 times. God the Father is not interested in trying to frighten or intimidate us, whereas there seems to be a lot of beings out there who are trying to frighten and intimidate and a lot of people believe that they are “gods”. They’re not! Not Allah, not Vishnu, Zoroaster, Karma, etc. None of those are interested in the growth, security, strength, and overall love we receive from Abba, Jesus tells us to be familiar with Him and call Him Daddy! Don’t try that with Allah! Other “gods” are mean, vengeful, easily defeated and not “gods”.
This was what the Jewish people were subjected to in Babylon, yet they knew the truth. Can you imagine being separated from Jesus? People like to make Jesus all warm and squishy, our enabling “god”. He’s not. He’s more than ready to set someone in their place. But He loves and protects us through the Holy Spirit.
From what the psalmist wrote we see Yahweh is like that: “Those who sow in tears…” Yet the psalmist quickly adds shall reap with shouts of joy. “Tertullian defends Christianity, demanding legal toleration and that Christians be treated as all other sects of the Roman Empire. It is in this treatise that one finds the phrase: “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” (Apologeticus, Chapter 50).  It is tough to be a martyr, but God has promised those who are martyr’s a crown, reward in heaven greatly exceeding the ordinary believers. A reward that is eternal and imperishable. We might think martyrdom is harsh, somehow punitive, but as we see in history up to today, the church all over the world has grown because of the blood of the martyrs dating back to St Stephen sometime around 60 AD. The church has grown exponentially and saved billions of people. In contrast to those beliefs, such as Israel was under in Babylon they always destroy themselves with their erroneous beliefs in what they believe to be a deity.
Our God sacrificed Himself for us, no other belief system promises eternal life to their believers because of the sacrifice of God. It’s only in Jesus, only what Yahweh did for the Jewish people to banish them to Babylon then restore them to Israel. Chastened, yet joyful. They knew God was teaching them to trust Him for their own good. The psalmist writes: “The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad…” There is not a sense of being forced to say that. You can tell the heartfelt thankfulness, sincerity of Israel to be home in the land promised to Abraham for his people. Israel has been delivered: “Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy.” They have been freed, like their freedom from Egypt. They now return to the true God, the hope and promises of God. Not evil oppression, but the expectation of the Messiah who will come to give them, us, true life, life more abundant. Dr Luther writes: “At the end the psalmist concludes that it happens – and always happens – to the saints they first suffer before they can rejoice… the saints sow with tears to reap afterward with joy… But God loves His saints so much that He regards even their death (which is truly the most abominable, accursed seed of the world) as more precious than all of the world’s treasures and goods” Israel is delivered from Babylon and celebrates and is joyful. When we are delivered from the evil and oppression of the world, the sin, decadence and persecution of the world. When we are in the presence of the Lord at our death and then resurrected to the New World, the world of perfection and endless possibilities, what will our joy be like? How hard will we laugh and praise we “shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” Who in your life needs to hear those promises and given the hope that they too will one day leave the Babylon of this world and go into the true hope, joy, and celebration in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ who promises us “life and life more abundant…”
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Shalom and Amin
If you watch a large national sports tournament, oh let’s take the NCAA’s Men’s Basketball championships, often referred to as “March Madness”. You will see, teams there that haven’t got a snowball’s chance in hell of doing anything more but playing in the first round, then watching the rest of the tournament.
In 2018 the Long Island University Blackbirds were unceremoniously eliminated from the first round, what’s actually a kind of you’re the last two seeds and only one can proceed round. LIU comes from a small conference won a championship, got to the NCAAs. No problem, just to say I’m sure they were thrilled to be there, played as hard as they could, and just didn’t have the firepower of bigger schools with a higher level of programs.
I just recently had my own comparable experience in triathlon. USA Triathlon has Olympic distance (.9mile swim, 25 miles bike, 6.1 mile run) national championships and this year it was held in Cleveland, Oh. I managed to place in a group category in a race in Rock Hall, Md, Waterman Triathlon and thereby received an invitation to the National Championships. I placed last year in a race in Wheeling, WV “Faith in Action Triathlon” and that earned me a place in the championships in Omaha, Ne. that year, which I couldn’t go to.
I’m sure much like the LIU team to be on college basketballs biggest stage, I know I was thrilled to be on, one of at least, USA Triathlon’s, ok, we’ll say bigger stages. But it was the biggest one that I will probably ever be on, at least in terms of sports.
This was my principle race, my target race for the year, without any pretense that it would be anymore than get there, do the best you can, be happy with the results. But it was still stressful, especially the closer I got to the date. The “what are you doing?, what makes you think you can do this?, Don’t you know this is going to be a lot of trouble which nothing good will come of?” You know, those kinds of thoughts. Trying to be conscious of what I ate, how I worked out. Still over weight from last year by about 5 pounds, stressing out over how that is going to affect my race. We’ve moved from the hills of York, Pennsylvania. Is the terrain here in Maryland going to help or not be enough of a challenge to be in good condition? And of course the ever present, why? you’re not going to make it, you won’t finish, … On and on.
If the trip there was any indication, I should have listened to “thoughts” and stayed at my son’s house. We left the eastern shore of Maryland at 8am, with no doubt that there was plenty of time to get to Cleveland by 5pm, 9 hours, no problem. Yeah, well, there were a few problems. About 3 hours sitting in traffic, which I, frankly am shaking my head even as I write this. And it rained, so hard, that again, just had to slow down. So what should have taken less than 6 hours, well it resulted in taking 10 hours. So could not get all my stuff for the race the next day. Wasn’t even sure I’d be able to get it and be in the race the next day.
Saturday, my son and I get up at zero dark thirty and I was able. My son dropped me off at about 5:30 and I, somehow, found my way in the dark to the right place, got my bag, Timothy showed right back up to help me get organized the rest of the way and I found myself on the beach on Lake Erie with time to spare and much relieved. My wetsuit got left in the car, and no one was going back for it at this point, but as it turned out, that might have been a good thing. The water temp was at about 78, it was a mildly hot day. The more I think about it, it seems that being in the wetsuit would have left me over heated for the rest of the race and while my swim time was, to put it mildly, horrible, I’m not sure, based on some other issues, that it really would have made any difference.
The bike part was mostly through downtown Cleveland. This was my 60th race, which I completed just before I turned 60 years old, and I had never really done a race in a straight up urban environment. It was great and I’m glad I had the experience. I’m not sure a lot of the people in the downtown area we went through saw it that way, those who were trying to otherwise live their life, but I appreciated it.
I was ok, stronger than I thought I’d be on the run. Don’t misunderstand, doesn’t mean I was strong, just better than I thought.
Finally finished and I only put this on here as a matter of record, ‘cuz it sure weren’t anything to brag about
hey, I still maintained my “I haven’t finished last record”, and I did finish. Got the medal, got the t-shirt.
It is to say that despite all the tension, anxiety, it still happened. Believe me, it is all glory to God! Certainly not for the actual performance, because that was mine to louse up. But that I did get there, I did start on time, I did do the swim, the bikethe run and to the glory of God, did acceptably and had a great experience in a different environment, did my first race in a city setting, my first race on a Great Lake (Lake Erie) and certainly the first time I’ve done a “National championship” of anything. I’m going with I may have finished very near the bottom, but it was near the bottom of the best in the country. So I’m going with that and again, giving all glory to God and thanking Him for giving me such a tremendous experience. I do want to thank USA Triathlon too, they did a great job organizing this. They provided the atmosphere for a “championship event” that I was eligible to be a part of, albeit circumstantially. But I’ll take it.
Since the vast majority of people don’t read “Triathlete Magazine” I am going to pass on an article called Get Phit by Erin Beresini. Erin writes: “Ameica is terribly inactive. Acording to the Centers for Disease Control, 80 percent of us don’t get the recommended minimum of 2.5 hours of moderate physical activity and two muscle-strengthening sessions a week.” (Triathlete Magazine May 2017 p 26
Now for all those who spend most of their lives sitting around and griping about how lousy they feel, how everything is so messed up wah, wah, wah. You are the people who are going to be old, obese and infirm by age 50, if not younger, of course according to you it will be someone else’s fault and you will of course expect someone else to pay your massive medical bill for your diabetes, heart problems etc. You’re the ones who are quick to grouse on FaceBook, but you won’t do a thing for anyone including yourselves. Get off the sofa, turn off Oprah and or your computer, put some comfortable shoes on and go walk a mile or so. Get some elastic straps (any sporting goods store and very inexpensive) hook them on to something sturdy and do 20 minutes of resistance training. Really, really simple! In a few weeks you will be feeling a heckuva lot better and maybe you will avoid having to have me pay for your diabetes medication.
Erin writes: “Eight of the top 10 diseases in the United States are related to physical inactivity,’ including mental health, diabetes and heart disease, says Tom Cove, CEO and president of the Sports and Fitness Industry Association.” Wow and all it takes is a little effort on your part. I was on my bike waiting for my GPS to boot up when this obese woman pulls in front of me in her car and starts laughing. Sure she takes a handful of pills everyday because she gets winded walking up a flight of stairs, but she thinks I’m funny looking in bike clothes. Maybe I am, but I think you’re kind of sad condemning yourself to a life of such misery and then laughing at others. Wow!
The point of Erin’s article is to set up a way for people to pay for their physical activity. OK, it does cost a little money, especially if you start to get a little serious about it. Fine, if the government were a little smarter about it, let you deduct the cost of running shoes, bike, health club, etc, you actually did something, the health crisis would disappear in rapid succession. We would not be paying billions for those who can’t control their food intake, who just can’t be bothered to get up and do something physical for even 20 minutes. “The PHIT Act would let individuals set aside up to $1,000 in pre-tax dollars and families up to $2,000, to spend on physical fitness related expenses…” Wow, could you imagine the immediate upgrade at your YM/YWCAs, Jewish Community Centers, etc? Tiny investment would make hundreds of millions notably more healthy. In the meantime you can do it on your own. I squirreled away money for about 6 months to buy a really nice race bike. It can be done.
Hey how about this, Start thinking about what you eat. Start to go easy on the alcohol. Ditch the marijuana and other drugs (yea I know the ones out there who are trying to tell us that it’s actually good for you. Seriously? Why don’t you shut up and admit you have a problem). Get up twenty minutes earlier in the morning, go downstairs and use some straps, put on your comfy shoes and go outside. Get over your precious little dignity. I certainly don’t look that great working out, but anyone who has a clue knows what I’m doing and respects me for it. Even if I’m no one’s poster boy. You certainly aren’t in the least dignified being a hundred pounds over weight and unable to walk a flight of stairs. Chose the indignity of getting out there and exercising, I will have a lot more respect for you. Imagine, in a few weeks a few pounds lighter. You enable your body to activate the feel good hormones in your brain (dopamine, endorphins etc), you start having a positive outlook on life instead of all your whining on FaceBook, you avoid a lot of serious health risks and both you and I don’t have to pay a ridiculous amount of money for healthcare. Seriously think about it
I did it! I’ve been competing (putting it charitably), in triathlons since 1985, and I finally medaled! I accomplished another goal in this particular race too. I drove all the way to Hammond, In. to do Leon’s Triathlon. I have now done races from Maine to Kansas and south to North Carolina. Leon’s Triathlon has also been the site of the U.S. Military triathlon championship and also as part of the race spotlighted the anniversary of the USO. Being retired military I did appreciate the emphasis on military in this race.
Now triathlons have different categories, not always the same, but age group categories always. Some races, like Leon’s, has a military and/or public safety category and many have a Clydesdale category, I finished second in the Clydesdale category. Hey it’s something and I finally hit it. Clydesdales are triathletes that are over 200 lbs and yea I more than qualify. The medal in the middle is the finishers medal, the medal off screen is the silver medal (I’ve been messing with it and I can’t line it up).
It was a lake swim and nice flat run and bike. Doing all my training in the hills all around me in south/central Pennsylvania, it is definitely pushing me. Leon’s was a really well run race. I’d like to do it again, but driving all the way to Indiana isn’t real practical and there are other states (West Virginia, Kentucky, South Carolina) that are closer that I haven’t done. Hey maybe I can follow up this medal win with a sponsor, a summer of triathlons starting in the south, through the midwest, ending in Bermuda, oh yeah!!
I would like to thank the folks at Leon’s for a really good race and a nice excuse for a short getaway with my wife. And very thankful for helping me finally get something for the mantle after 30 years of trying.
(Please note the flags that were all around the course) I am not trying to say that I all of a sudden received a huge influx of energy or talent, but I just finished reading Meredith Atwood’s inspirational article in Triathlete Magazine (September 2016, p 23). “The Hare sometimes allows the ego and objective speed to get the best of him. the Tortoise can get discouraged for a million other reasons. The best bet is to have faith in yourself, [as a Christian I would also say God’s will for me too] and be proud of all of your efforts and races – but to always ask yourself if you are doing the best you can with what you have. I challenge my fellow Tortoises of the world to really push themselves in the next running race or workout. Ask yourself if you can channel your inner Hare, just for a little while, and see what you are made of. You might be surprised and learn to believe that ‘fast for you’ is sometimes exactly all the fast you need.”
I stuck with it and because of a few factors, yea I finally did it. I would hope that people would pick a passion and really stick with it. Even if “channeling” doesn’t get you a medal, I have really enjoyed triathlon and the other goals that I’ve set for it. I guess I could add to my trophy mantle of 1 (including a few finishers medals), a map of the U.S. showing the states that I have competed in. I’m going to keep doing it, maybe things will line up again, but just as important, I’m doing it.
One thing I find odd about people today is that too many of them genuinely think that things are supposed to happen nice and easy, that they’re never supposed to experience any kind of pain, that there shouldn’t be any risk to what they do. Basically we have become unrealistically averse to any kind of pain or risk. An article in “Triathlete Magazine” (October 2015 p 28) written by Jene Shaw discusses the fact that if you’re going to do anything to grow, there’s going to be pain.
It really is called maturing, too many really think that they can really sit back, contribute as little as possible or nothing and expect everyone else to scurry around them. Obviously as a person and in a society, that model is not going to last too long. Only so many people can take, because there are only so many available to give. In order to grow and become stronger and be better positioned to support those in genuine need. When we all do what is necessary then it’s not just for someone else, be we do become much stronger and a lot better able to cope with life. As a part of that whole we become better.
Too many really believe that pain is bad and something is wrong when they have pain. As the picture posted by someone in the triathlon community puts so well, at the end , when the challenge is overcome, the pain is a sign that you have grown through it. Whether it’s triathlon, basketball, weights, abs, swimming, if I don’t feel some pain, muscular, a little bruising I really don’t feel I’ve gotten the whole experience. That pain in the muscles tells me, that my body will rebuild from that pain and make me stronger.
As Jene suggests in the article, you need to accept the pain, if you fight it or fear it you can’t grow into it. Believe me there have been plenty of times when I’ve stood at the start of a swim at 7am wondering what I’m doing up at this time, knowing that hitting that water is going to be a, yea, painful experience. Knowing that I’m probably going to be kicked and elbowed by other swimmers, knowing that I have to get out to bike and run, yea there is anxiety. But knowing the feeling of accomplishment, success in finishing and knowing what it will do for my physical, mental and yes spiritual growth that will follow (some call it “bragging rights”), helps me to stand up to the challenge. So realize what you love about it, what it will move you to and the heck with the pain. I’ve done 54 triathlons and dozens of other races, so yea, I think I know what I’m talking about.
Jene suggests setting some goals. How can I do the swim, bike, run faster. Isn’t that finishers medal going to look good with my other medals, how great it will be to share with the other finishers, with my family, friends, others at church? Think about the things you need to do during the race in order to finish as strong as possible.
She suggests relaxing, find some positive way; deep breaths, stretching and shaking, encouraging mental images, encouraging the other triathletes. It will work out and it will be rewarding, even if it’s only for your personal satisfaction.
Yes there is pain that is a warning sign. When you get to the point where you have overcome a lot of fear, anxiety you might think you should push through that pain. You do have to learn the difference, when you need to push through and accomplish, or when you do need to stop in order to prevent further damage. So there is pain that we need to overcome on our own in order to grow stronger, but pain when we do need someone else’s help. Can you say “medical tent, take me to the hospital”?
But in a Christian context it is the same. As disciples we need to grow and strengthen. When we do, those around us can take courage in us, we become stronger to help those who are genuinely in need, we become givers and leaders, not just takers. Yes there is a time in the Christian walk when we do need to take. Jesus has provided those times to be baptized, to be strengthened in His Body and Blood in our body and spirit, to be built up and strengthened in His preached word and in Scripture. To be a part of Christian fellowship that builds up yourself and those around you. There are times when you will feel you can’t go on. Truth is that being a Christian marks you out for attacks by the devil. The upside is that it also marks us out to be protected by the Holy Spirit, and to be strengthened and gifted to be better able to provide for yourself and for others. Certainly Jesus’ disciples started out as kind of weak and petty. Within a few short years they grew to be tigers of the Christian faith who served many others and also stood up to the fear and challenges of being disciples up to and including dying for Christ.
Too many people today make up their minds that they can’t, when it’s really they won’t. They think that they’re too weak, when they’ve never even tried to see how strong they could be. I’ve experienced this a lot: “well you are bigger and stronger, mentally and physically, you’re special so you can”. I assure you the only way I became that way is by pushing myself. There are plenty of times when I could have just rolled over and let it defeat me. There are too many people who’ve already decided they can’t do anything for themselves and let it defeat them. Ironically those will be the someones who decide that you shouldn’t be doing those things for yourself either. You have to continue to strive. Yea, don’t get me started on those people who stand there, find some way to pooh-pooh what you’re doing and give you this “hey! You think you’re better than me?” Me? I really don’t care, but apparently you seem to know deep down.
Ministry has been a very real lesson in knowing who I can rely on and who I just need to keep at arms length. Sure I serve anyone as much as I can. But, especially in an inner-city church, there are a lot out there who simply don’t want to step up and in fact want to take all that you will give them, if not more. They really see others as simply a source to provide for themselves. Again, yes, do what you can and don’t try to make excuses to avoid situations. However, know your limits and what pain is a warning sign. Do you want to beat yourself on some of those people who are hard as rocks? There are a lot of Christian brothers and sisters who do understand their own growth and growth together with others. Those are the ones that you need to pull together with.
Yes, there is pain, that’s a good thing and the sooner you accept that it will build and strengthen, the better for you and those around you. Sometimes you do need to be at that starting line wondering; “what the heck am I doing here”. But you seem to get to the finish and realize how great that was. There is team too. It is exhilarating to win a basketball game as a team, even though you’ve gotten bruised and banged and it’s kind of hard to really stand. Those painful muscles in the morning are a wonderful memory of the things you did to be stronger from the previous day. Find those who encourage and build you up and let them do the same for you. Quit sitting behind that computer looking for that kind of fellowship. It’s sad on your part and it’s just not going to happen.
Celebrate the success you’ve achieved, share it with those who know what it means to be fearful and have pain, it’s a great way to grow in brothers and sisters. Realize that even when there is suffering for Jesus, He knows what’s going on, who is and isn’t His. I’m glad I’m His, I’m glad He’s given me the challenges He has and that He’s been the one to move me through the fear, pain, anxiety and given me the thrill of victory, no matter how small the world sees that victory. Let Jesus move you to where you need to be regardless of the things you have to overcome. When I’ve reached the end of those challenges, I’ve realized that Jesus has done the things necessary in order to get me there. So feel some real pain and fear, join those who know the joy and accomplishment that makes you feel. You will be a far better person and so much of your fear and stress will disappear. Find me at the starting line of the next race, it would be great to obsess and encourage with you. !