1 Corinthians 10:16: “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?”

It was the night of the great killings. On the eve of Israel’s Exodus from Egypt yearling lambs were sacrificed and their blood spread on the door posts of their homes believing that the angel of death would pass them over. And so it happened. The angel of death entered countless homes in Egypt, including Pharaoh’s palace home, to kill their firstborn sons and daughters while passing over the Jewish homes marked by the blood of the lamb.

Do you think it was coincidence that Jesus’s last night on Earth was the night Jews celebrated their upcoming freedom from Egyptian slavery? Jesus did not think so. Here is what He said to His friends, at the beginning of the Passover (Hebrew: Seder) meal (Luke 22:14-16):

“Then, when the time came, he took his seat at the table with the apostles, and spoke to them, ‘With all my heart I have longed to eat this Passover with you before the time comes for me to suffer. Believe me,  I shall not eat the Passover again until all that it means is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’”

Jesus was anxious to celebrate the Seder meal with His closest friends, the apostles who have been with Him 24/7 for the past several years. He wanted to spend some quality time with them before He died. But then something remarkable happened: Going through the rituals of the Seder meal Jesus took on the role of the sacrificial lamb. In other words, He identified with the Passover lamb (Luke 22:19-20):

“Then Yeshua took bread and spoke a prayer of thanksgiving. He broke the bread, gave it to them, and said, “This [the lamb’s body] is my body, which is given up for you. Do this to remember me.

When supper was over, he did the same with the cup. He said, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new promise made with my blood.”

When Jesus stepped into the role of the lamb He revealed the true meaning of Passover: The blood of the lamb spread on wooden door posts was a forerunner of the blood of Jesus spread on two wooden beams centuries later. The lamb was sacrificed and His blood shed to ward off the angel of death – and the angel of death will pass us over today if we believe in the sacrifice of Jesus. Death in the sense of separation from God has been overcome once and for all on the day Jesus rose from the grave.

Jesus’s death and resurrection wrote history, and nothing has been the same ever since. The world took notice by changing their calendars. The idea of counting years is not a new one, but the idea of syncing up where everybody starts counting definitely is. To have an international standard based on a traditional reckoning when Jesus was born (the A. D. and B. C. system) is a phenomenon which goes to show what a profound impact Jesus has made.  His precious gift, which keeps on giving, is celebrated with every Communion: our friendship with God.

 

Genesis 18:1-2: “The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby.”

Desert dwellers know what “heat of the day” means. It’s the time of day when nobody wants to be outside. It’s the time of day when you hide from the outdoors and retreat into the cooler indoors. Or you jump into cold water to cool off.

Call me fastidious, but I find it interesting that the Lord visited Abraham during the hottest part of the day. Why not choosing the cooler morning hours for a visit? I like to think that if the Lord won’t avoid the heat of a day, He’ll less likely avoid us as we go through the heat of temptation. As long as we’re human we’re exposed to it. And asking the Lord for His intervention, we can expect help coming from not just One or Two, but Three. When the Lord came to see Abraham, three visitors arrived; the Trinity stopped by for a visit!

The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were one of the reasons why the Lord stopped by. He came to find out how corrupted they really were and what course of action to take. God decided to involve Abraham in the process. Here is a snippet of the conversation unfolding between the Lord and Abraham (Genesis 18:16+22-26):

Then the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord. Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? (…) Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

The Lord said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”

Abraham certainly had God’s ear, and I believe that’s very good news for us. Have you ever wondered whether our prayers matter? You bet! God wants to hear what His children have to say.

One of His hallmark features, proclaimed throughout the ages, is God being One. Jews pray and proclaim God’s Oneness in the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9):

Hebrew
Sh’ma Yisra’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad.
Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.

What a beautiful testimony to pray and proclaim!

There is a special feature to God’s Oneness, and that’s His being Three in One. Father, Son and Holy Spirit, differ from one another, and yet they are still a unit. God is diverse and He is One. Don’t we often seem to have a problem with diversity or see fault in it? In totalitarian systems for example oneness is thought to be accomplished by achieving (or by trying to achieve) conformity. Everybody has to think the same, dress the same, act the same. However, that’s definitely not the case in God’s Kingdom. God’s Oneness is based on love and respect, and that’s the kind of respect and love God would like us to adopt.

Not only is “Oneness in Diversity” possible, it’s a mantra in Heaven with God Almighty being the prime example. “Hear o world, the Lord our God is One.” Wouldn’t it be great to make this our international prayer? It would have an effect on how we approach otherness in the people around us, wouldn’t it?

Posted in One

Luke 9:23-24: “Then he [Jesus] said to the crowd, ‘If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.’”

“The living dead” is an oxymoron and basically mutually exclusive: we’re either dead or alive. To say “I am kind of alive” does not make much sense, or to say: “I’m deader than you are.” Being dead is a state of being; so is being alive. No grey zone applies – There’s nothing in between.

And yet, Jesus insists: “Die and you shall live.” What’s that all about?

When Jesus predicted His own death, He remarked to His disciples (John 12:24-25):

“Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.”

Farmers bank on the power of the seed: they throw wheat kernels onto the tilled soil, and they are not surprised to eventually see new plants shooting up, each plant carrying multiple grains of wheat.

Now imagine you and me being a kernel of wheat. We’re sitting somewhere in storage and having a conversation. Our names are (for lack of a better idea) Kern and Vern.

“Hey Vern”, Kern says. “You awake?” – “Not sure that I want to be,” replied Vern. “Today’s the day we’re gonna die.” – “Yeah, I was awake all night. They’re gonna take all of us sitting here, high and dry, and burry us in the ground.” – Yes, replied Vern, and to make matters worse, they’re gonna pour water over us. No more high and dry. Try low and wet!” Kern and Vern sighed until they were interrupted by a raspy voice coming from a neighboring sack of grain that looked half empty. His name was Rascal. “Hey, you crybabies!” Kern and Vern were offended. “What do you mean crybabies?! Nobody broke the news to you? Today you’re gonna die!” – “Don’t you think I know that?” the raspy voice answered. “Last year I headed in the same direction, was going to be thrown out on what people call their seedbed, but for some reason they didn’t scatter all of us. We’re the leftover grain from last year. I’m telling you, don’t worry about it!” – “Oh come on!” protested Vern “You know we’re as good as dead. The fact that you got spared last year doesn’t mean you get lucky this year.” – “What you don’t know,” the raspy voice continued, “is what happens after we’re buried in the ground.” – “Yeah I know” defiantly Kern chimed in, “they’re gonna take the water hose and drown us in water.” “True”, Rascal said. “But that’s not what I’m getting at. Did you know that after a short while the bleak ground opens up and releases beautiful big mother plants full of new grains, just like you and me? There are many new grains inside of you, and you don’t know it. You’ll release them once you’re buried in the ground.” – “No way!” Kern and Vern interjected. “Yes way!” Rascal said, and that was the end of their discussion, because they heard footsteps approaching, and everybody knew what that meant.

Jesus is a great illustrator. Instead of lengthy explanations He gives us the imagery of a seed that comes alive in a seedbed. Here is His piece of advice to all the Kerns and Verns out there: If you let go of your own little cozy corner and open up to the rest of the world taking a vested interest in the people around you, then you’ll have staying power. You’ll leave a legacy for generations to come.

“I’m the last leaf on the tree
The autumn took the rest
But they won’t take me
I’m the last leaf on the tree

When the autumn wind blows
They’re already gone
They flutter to the ground
‘Cause they can’t hang on
There’s nothing in the world
That I ain’t seen
I greet all the new ones that are coming in green.”

Songwriters: Kathleen Brennan / Thomas Alan Waits

 

Hebrews 5:7-8: “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.”

Isn’t it fascinating that our all-knowing God, who comes with an unrivaled experience of eons, still wants to learn? As the Trinity split and the Son of God arrived on planet Earth as a human baby, God experienced birth, childhood and adulthood. Learning by doing, the unlimited God dealt with all our human limitations and frailties. He experienced firsthand how we feel.

So, how does it feel to be young? God knows. He experienced it. How does it feel to grow up? God knows. He went through it.  How does pain feel? God knows. He felt it. How does it feel to be disrespected, marginalized, despised and hated? God knows. The experience of the cross speaks for itself.

A beloved member of the Trinity, Jesus had never experienced loneliness before. So at the hour of His death when He felt separated from the Father, this must have been the worst nightmare to Him. He learned what it means to be utterly alone; Jesus is therefore uniquely equipped to relate to us. He understands our pain like no other.

Jesus prays for us every day! If we knock on Heaven’s door, it will swing wide open. Our cause remains on His heart, and His mission is to save us. Since our friendship with God was restored by Jesus’s death, we will certainly be saved through His life. His death brought us back to God’s kingdom. There’s nothing Jesus can’t do. He reintroduces us to the Father, and we become His children. We’re family now. God is our Dad!

Nobody knows Jesus better than the Father. By the same token, nobody knows the Father better than Jesus. And if we want to know God, the Holy Spirit is sent into the world to assist us in this matter; He speaks the truth into your heart and mine.

Since there’s so much to learn, let’s keep our hearts and minds wide open! God does not stop learning, so why should we?

“How does it feel, how does it feel?
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone”   
Bob Dylan

Psalm 66:4: “All the earth bows down to you; they sing praise to you, they sing the praises of your name.”

At dawn, birds are the first to raise their voices. To them the rising of the Sun never goes unnoticed, and it’s a beautiful thing!  I often walk early in the morning with my neighbor Ken and get to witness the spectacle of daybreak. Interestingly, the Mockingbird exclusively sings cover songs. Mocking birds are known to copy other birds’ tunes. The nightingale on the other hand comes up with an abundance of original songs and has an impressive repertoire of whistles, trills and gurgles. Nightingales are also known to get up at night and sing. Then there are Lovebirds. If you had a chance listening to their song, their singing voice sounds more like the proverbial “joyful noise”. Lovebirds are beautiful but really quite cantankerous.  I think this is hilarious!

The beauty of the chirping birds lies in their variety. The resulting chorus is intricate with all kinds of vocal expressions ranging from delicate to forceful. If birds are not known to be silent, neither should we when it comes to singing to the Lord. Forget about the lame excuse that we’re tone-deaf. We don’t need to be musical to join a bird choir. Each person’s voice is as unique as a fingerprint. There are security systems in place based on voice recognition that take advantage of that. Babies recognize familiar voices even before they’re born, especially their Mom’s voice.

God gave us individual voices so each one of us has a personal song to sing. If we take delight in a bird’s song, why wouldn’t God enjoy listening to us as we sing out loud? And don’t assume that our voices are drowned out by the crowd. If security systems can distinguish human voices, I believe God is more than capable of singling us out.

Have you ever wondered why God likes to be praised? Not that He needs to be reminded that He is great – God is certainly not vane – there is quite a different reason why He loves to hear our praises, and it has everything to do with our personal rendition.

What about you parents: Don’t you like to hear a solo rendition coming from your son or daughter? Well, so does the Lord.  Hearing our voice is very special to Him because we are His kids, and our personal praise means the world to Him. That’s why the whole creation joins in song. And that’s why ultimately God’s children love to sing their praises. Our Heavenly Father loves to hear us sing, and believe it or not, He never gets tired of it. He’s our most faithful fan.

We all have a song to sing. In fact, God’s excitement over our song should be encouragement enough to never break the habit of praising Him. Well – what are you waiting for? Now that you know that God likes your song, get up and give it your best shot! And come what may – be sure to never stop singing your praise to the Lord!

Matthew 26:52: “‘Put your sword back in its place,’ Jesus said to him, ‘for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.’”

Wer Feuer frißt, scheißt Funken. Literally – He who eats fire s**ts sparks. A masterpiece of German idiomatic art! It’s a warning – he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword.

If you can imagine a world not run by military power, then you can imagine God’s kingdom and what Jesus stands for. “But how else are we supposed to protect ourselves from a world infected by evil?” is the question of the day. Well, we’ve tried that approach ever since Adam left Eden, and it never intimidated evil or eliminated it. If anything, the cancer of evil has grown exponentially and infiltrated the entire fabric of human life. We’re hooked on the defense system, and it will take a revolution to change that, a revolution instigated by God Himself.

We all live in countries with a defense mechanism. We all witness violence, and we all are prone to use violence. The non-violent approach on the other hand is foreign to us. The way Jesus submitted to the Roman authorities set a precedent for all God’s children around the world. Jesus introduced us to a new chapter in the history of mankind, also illustrated in the Book of Isaiah. Isaiah described the future of mankind like this (Isaiah 2:4):

“He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.”

The non-violent approach in our day-to-day lives will eliminate our all-too-common anxieties of having to defend ourselves. What do we have to lose? We don’t have to prove anything, and we don’t have to be right. If we speak up, it doesn’t matter if people agree or disagree, listen to us or ignore us. We might have something to say, but actually, so does the person next to us. So, before speaking up it would behoove us to listen first. By doing so, we show some respect. Have you ever noticed that listening goes a long way towards developing empathy? It turns enemies into human beings. We also appear more credible in any dispute if we hear our opponents out before putting in our own two cents. Jesus always listened before He talked, and He touched many people that way.

Can you see that with this kind of attitude it’s pretty hard to imagine advancing any cause, even a good one, at gunpoint?

So what if the ultimate evil happens and our very lives are in danger?  – Even though it’s very counter-intuitive, weaponry is still not the answer. It never was. Jesus demonstrated it. So did His followers. The Jesus movement has been opposed ever since its inception by being ignored, openly ridiculed, violently cut down, all to imply that the way of Jesus has no future and neither have God’s children – and yet the opposite is true: God’s children carry our future. What is considered unrealistic and impossible will be a “dream-come-true” one day. There will be a world without weapons. There will be a world not built on blood-shed and power abuse; instead God’s world will be built entirely on love; fact of the matter is that love completely overrides evil and is much more efficient than all our sophisticated weaponry combined.

Instead of self-defense, all our capacities and resources are used for life and growth in God’s Kingdom. As soon as we live according to the principles of life and love, God’s Kingdom sprouts and spreads. Looking around us, we may detect the beginnings of God’s kingdom right here, in front of our doorsteps. We too can jump on that bandwagon and become part of His kingdom today. There’s only one catch: Yes, you’ve guessed it: We have to let go of that sword!

“Give me love
Give me love
Give me peace on earth”      George Harrison

John 11:25: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.”

Death always means separation, because the dead are separate from the living. We dig graves for that very reason, and we say goodbye when a loved one passes; it often bugs us to no end when we didn’t have a chance to say goodbye before their passing. Death is final that way. On this side of heaven we won’t see this person again.

However, when it comes to death there’s still more separation involved than meets the eye.

  • There’s separation of body and soul, once our hearts stop beating. Not everybody is on board with an afterlife – assuming that once our bodies are dead we are completely gone. Well, here is the good news: a person is way more than just a body (a good thing to remember if you happen to struggle with yours). The soul is the part that passes on, the body is the part that is buried in the ground.
  • And then there’s separation from God, also known as spiritual death. If one has a hard time grasping the fact that human beings have souls moving out of the body at the time of death, then spiritual death will probably make even less sense. Maybe it’s helpful to think of a spiritually dead person as a human being without conscience. We all are born with one. If we succeed in overriding this God-given inner compass we’ll be spiritually dead.

The Bible calls our physical passing “first death” and refers to our separation from God as “second death”. Getting separated from God is like severing roots from a thriving plant. Without roots this plant withers and dies. By the same token, without God our soul withers and dies. So theoretically, we could very well be physically alive but spiritually dead and vice versa. Worst case scenario: we’re both spiritually and physically dead.

I believe that Jesus’s saving power ushers both physical and spiritual resurrection. When we’re celebrating Easter we celebrate the fact that Jesus overcame both: the first and the second death.

  • Jesus conquered physical death when He publicly rose from the grave after three days. Additionally, He resurrected human beings from the dead. Lazarus is a famous example.
  • Jesus conquered spiritual death because He has the power to forgive. That eliminates everything that separates us from God. We get a fresh start with the Almighty, because God forgives and forgets.

Jesus’s resurrection is an amazing milestone in the history of mankind, maybe even an amazing milestone in the history of all God’s creation. Who can imagine the kind of impact Jesus’ death and resurrection made in the entire universe?

Easter is a wonderful occasion to celebrate Jesus’s great accomplishment of saving the world. Easter pushes the door to God’s kingdom wide open. Everybody is called by name. We are all invited to come. Praise the Lord!

“Praise to the Lord
Come on everybody
Stand up and sing one more “Hallelujah”
Give your praise to the Lord
I could never tell you just how much
Good that it’s bound to do you
Just to sing
Anew
The song your heart learned to sing
When He first gave His life to you
Well, life goes on and so must the song
You gotta sing again the song born in your soul when
You first gave your heart to Him
Sing His praises once more
Give your praise to the Lord”            
Rich Mullins