This blog entry was written last April by my husband Mike, who is pictured at left, for his own blog Observations, Chit Chat and Idle Gossip in the Smile Hi City. I thought this blog was appropriate today. Enjoy!
Today is Maundy Thursday.
That's one that gives the kids giggle fits. "Monday-Thursday"?
Nope. Actually, it has to do with one of the most significant of Jesus' acts, but one which today is missed by many who claim to be practitioners of the Christian faith(s).
Christians like to cite John 3:16 as the cornerstone of why we should Believe. You can even get golf balls, Christian golf balls - or perhaps they are Gospel Balls - with John 3:16 imprinted upon them. One can only presume that swatting such balls will get you on God's foursome.
But without John 13:34-35, which cites Christ's New Commandment, does John 3:16 have any real substance? Without at least a good faith attempt on the part of the faithful to comply with Christ's commandment, does a simple belief in him do the trick? Does a simple belief in John 3:16 carry an implicit acknowledgment of that New Commandment - and more importantly, an acceptance of Christ's charge to his disciples? If it is implicit, is it perhaps too subtle for many people? Christ was pretty direct when he laid the commandment on, but the focus is always on John 3:16 - those golf balls, again - rather than John 13:34-35.
BTW ... you won't find John 13:34-35 on any golf balls.
Maundy Thursday has to do with that New Commandment, which Christ symbolized by the washing of his disciples' feet. "Maundy" is derived from the Latin for "command" or "commandment". Peter initially refused to have Christ wash his feet, but was told, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." Why?
Some churches actually do have a foot-washing service, but generally, Maundy Thursday and the ritual foot-washing as a symbolic display of acceptance of the New Commandment are not observed by most churches, at least in this country. Why? Too much focus on getting out to the golf course after the Easter service and swatting a few of those John 3:16 balls?
Eighth-century martyr Andrew of Crete wrote, "Let us say to Christ: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the king of Israel. Let us wave before him like palm branches the words inscribed above him on the cross. Let us show him honor, not with olive branches, but with the splendor of merciful deeds to one another. Let us spread the thoughts and desires of our hearts under his feet like garments, so that he may draw the whole of our being into himself and place the whole of his in us.
Pretty good, huh? Kind of like succulent Porterhouse steak nicely seasoned and straight off the grill to your plate.
This is Holy Week. And, with its onset, our family is having some interesting discussions at the dinner table. I don't know about your family, but ours likes, or often gets into, religious discussions. So last week with Palm Sunday coming up - it was yesterday - Mike wanted to know if Jesus committed a crime by having his disciples take the donkey from the house of whomever it belonged.
My instant reply was, "Of course not."
And he returned with "Don't you think you're replying that way because of everything you've been taught? Why don't you think for yourself?"
It went downhill from there, but Mike has a tendency to ask questions that I'm sure not many people think about and I like that. As for the boys, Jonathan likes to get into it, but the other two usually remain silent. However, I hope that in their silence they are listening and absorbing what we discuss because they are good times to teach the kids how to give answers to other people outside our family and "always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks (them) to give the reason for the hope that (they) have ..." I Peter 3:15.
So using some of the discussion for Grand Theft Donkey as my basis, I will show you some of the basic principles that we are trying to teach the kids. We usually don't spell them out but here they are.
1. Read the Bible.
It sounds so simple, but how many times do we defend something we have always believed without actually knowing where, or if, it's found in the Scriptures? These days it's pretty easy to find any verse if you have Google, but for those who don't, or for those who do not want to use the computer, there is usually a concordance in the back of many Bibles.You can also skim through the passages if you have an idea where the verses can be found. The Triumphal Entry is pretty easy to find. Most Bibles have headers so you can just skim through those to find the story. For this question, I checked all four gospels because I knew the story was in all four and because each writer includes different details - amazingly so - about the alleged theft. Observe:
Luke 19: 28 - 35: "After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’” Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They replied, “The Lord needs it.” They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road."
John 12: 19: "Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written ..."
Matthew 21: 1-3: As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” Some footnotes may include that the Lord will send it back right away, or something similar.
Mark 11: 1-3: "As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”
Mark's account is the clincher. The disciples said they would return the donkey shortly. But why didn't the other gospel writers say this?
Differences of opinion
First of all, we must remember that each gospel writer was a different person with a different personality who was writing with a different audience in mind. Some details may have not been as important to Luke's audience as they were to Mark's, for instance. Also, Luke and Peter (whom many believe was telling his story to Mark) have very different backgrounds, and very different educational levels. All of that comes into play when writing. We must also remember that they were Jewish men living in the first century. We run into trouble if we discern what people did in the Bible with 21st century American eyes because there is a huge difference in our perspective. Mike, as a retired police officer, tends to examine the gospels as he would witness statements. He looks for conflicts and inconsistencies, and questions them. On the other hand, a first century Jew may see these statements as par for the course according to their customs, or it may have something to do with what all the writers have left out - whether or not Jesus made prior arrangements with the owner. We don't know any of this for sure. Some of it is clearly conjecture. All that is truly important to the writers is that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey in fulfillment of the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9:
"Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey."
I can almost hear what some of you may be thinking. Isn't scripture inspired by God? Yes, it is, but God didn't sit down with the gospel writers and dictate every word they were supposed to write down. The differences in the gospels show this plainly. As Paul describes in 2 Timothy 3: 16 - 17, Scripture is "God-breathed." In other words, it worked for them like it works for us. We sit down to do something and we feel "inspired." We may even feel God directing us either through thoughts or impressions. Ever have that feeling? That's what I think it was like for the Biblical writers because they were people just like we are whom God was using for his purpose.
2. Read commentaries
After reading the scripture, go to the commentaries. There are plenty online from a variety of perspectives or your pastor would probably be glad to let you read from his or hers if you don't have any. Some people may disagree with me saying that scripture alone is sufficient. However, reading the work of people who have studied scripture in the actual languages in which they were written brings a refreshing and sometimes a better perspective to anything we may think of ourselves. I am often amazed by how the Holy Spirit brings my thoughts together after I read the work of another person.
3. Discuss ... But do this with gentleness and respect
There are two issues that most people do not like to discuss: religion and politics. Why? They are like time bombs. People usually get really emotional over these two subjects and before you know it, the conversation explodes leaving bits and pieces of human wreckage everywhere. However, these are two issues that really need to be discussed so the latter part of I Peter 3: 15 - "but do this with gentleness and respect" - is timely and timeless advice for anyone who loves these topics. This is especially true when discussing the scriptures, because if you speak arrogantly it will turn the other person off. By speaking with gentleness and respect, we also give the other participants time to share their feelings. They will be more likely to listen to us and consider what we say. We do this out of love for Jesus and for the other person. Wouldn't you agree? By speaking with gentleness and respect, we also allow room for the Holy Spirit to work in the life of the other person.
This is my final suggestion. We cannot hope to understand scripture or to explain it to someone else without connecting to the one who breathed scripture to its writers. We also cannot hope to speak about such an emotional issue without gentleness and respect unless we have spent time with God so that he has time to develop these attributes in our lives.
Have a meaningful Holy Week. I will be back tomorrow.
I've had such a morning. Since I started working from home there have been days or, at one time weeks, when productivity was barely detectable. I'm used to the newspaper world where I have written two articles within two hours and where there was always a completed product everyday by 12:30 p.m. In the newspaper world it's go, go, go. Produce, produce, produce. Family? Forget them. They'll be waiting for you when you get home. They'll just have to understand. It's not a job; it's a lifestyle.
Although I fought against adopting that attitude, it did get in there somehow. Or, perhaps, my personality is such that I feed off of that type of work environment. Yes, that's it. The personality was and is definitely there.
So, when I quit my job and decided to work at home I had a lot to get used to. It took me about a month to come down from the frantic pace and I thought I was doing pretty good, but today I backslid.
Go. Go. Go. Get 'er done, done, done.
Get what done? I'm working for myself. Things are getting done.
The trouble is that results aren't always readily visible when you work from home. It takes time to build from scratch. Sometimes visible results are available even at the office. That's difficult when your boss is looking over your shoulder, asking about the project. Sometimes, even when your boss isn't looking over your shoulder, you may still drive yourself.
"Get this done! You'll get fired if you don't hurry!" Hurry, hurry, hurry. After a while you begin to feel like a hamster on a wheel during the middle of the night. Run. Run. Run. I don't know where I'm going but I must hurry!
Yesterday I came across this prayer in my morning devotions from "Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals." The book is set up by dates and you follow the readings for that day. In doing this, you would think that prewritten devotions would not apply to your daily situation. Not true, for the Holy Spirit works in marvelous ways. Here's the prayer:
"Give us patience and humility with our feeble efforts at faithfulness. Bless the minute things we do in your name that our small acts of faith may find witness among many and thereby give you glory."
In the past I've always taken exception to words such as "feeble" or "minute" in this context. Doesn't God regard anything we do out of faithfulness as great? Well, probably, but when comparing myself to God, some of the things I do are "feeble" and "minute." It is God, however, who takes those "efforts at faithfulness" and makes them into something great in the life of someone else for his glory.
In God's economy no act is too small. He is the one who provides the dividends. Our job is to be faithful. Patience, faithfulness and prayer. These are the three huge things that God has been working on in my heart lately. I didn't ask for it. It came with the territory. Remember too that one of Richard Simmon's steps to permanent weight loss is patience. Patience not only covers weight loss, it covers a lot of other things as well. We perfectionists struggle with that mightily.
And so grabbing a pillow and screaming into it can help, but it should be followed by prayer. I've always had the suspicion that we should be completely honest in prayer.
This may shock you but in Old Testament 101 during my first year at Point Loma Nazarene University, Rueben Welch, the professor and a great Bible teacher, was talking about prayer and asked a class full of students:
"Have you ever told God to go to hell?"
You can imagine the looks of shock that were exchanged in the room that day. I was one of those shocked students, but the question never left me. It speaks of brutal honesty in prayer. This kind of honesty is how we mortals can keep from going nuts in a world gone mad.
Here's a quote from an article I've been chewing on the last two weeks. It's called "Prayer and Personality: Prayer as Primary Speech," by Ann and Barry Ulanov. The article can be found in the book The Study of Spirituality, edited by Cheslyn Jones, Geoffrey Wainwright and Edward Yarnold, SJ:
"In prayer we speak to and of ourselves, of what lies heavy on our minds, of what rumbles in fear at the pit of our stomachs, of the grudges and resentments we hold behind our eyes below the surfaces of our outward being. We speak what we have to say, whatever that is, and however we are moved to say it ... If prayer works, the human personality always increases. It never diminishes. The self that emerges this way comes forth unshackled, scoured, clean, uncovered because anchored in God ..."
And, a few paragraphs later:
"There, in prayer both private and liturgical, we find a space for aggressions, hatreds, discouragements, chaotic urges, and undirected longings to be experienced, brought into conversation with God. Slowly they take on shape to be used in our shared life. When ignored, these unharnessed energies are acted out by us against our neighbours and ourselves. The anger we do not understand whips out at our defenceless child. The love that is undirected and unreceived turns to hate."
Pretty deep, huh?
And yet, so simple.
But it's the only way to make screaming in a pillow worthwhile. After you're done screaming the pillow is still there, you're still there and worse yet, the problem hasn't gone away. You just feel more relieved, for about a minute or two. It is through prayer that we find relief, help and sometimes answers. When the answers don't come, peace is there when we give up our "right" to know the answers. Funny how God works, isn't it?
And so I advocate this method. Screaming into a pillow, yes, sometimes, but prayer always. God will be there when you call.
Ever since I first read "The Hiding Place" by Corrie Ten Boom as a young girl, I have been fascinated with literature about the Holocaust because these stories demonstrate unlimited faith and the will to survive against unspeakable odds.
The Secret Holocaust Diaries: The Untold Story of Nonna Bannister is one of those stories, but was kept secret for approximately five decades as Bannister dealt with the pain and waited for the right time to tell her family. It's a really inspiring story, which begins in Russia and tells how Nonna and her mother traveled to Germany as laborers. I'm sure you will learn a lot from it.
To find out more about it read my review at Suite 101. It's called "Woman's Secret Diaries Surface Decades after Holocaust."
Can you believe it's April already?
The days are flying by quickly. It's already baseball season. Pretty soon summer will be here and all of those fruit and veggie stands in the Arkansas Valley will be open. Our own garden will be producing peppers and squashes by the dozens and there will be flowers in bloom.
With all that to look forward to it would be easy to want this day to hurry up and get over with so that we can advance toward warmer days. But I can't. As I look out my window, I see that today is beautiful and there is plenty for which to be thankful. The tulips are in bloom. I have five bright pink ones in the backyard that I can see from my kitchen window. The blackbirds sang joyfully outside my bedroom window this morning and the wind isn't blowing - much. On Sunday it threatened to blow us to Kansas. Thankfully, the wind brought a nice wet snow that melted by noon.
There is a lot happening in the world right now. Have you noticed? The people in the Middle East are bravely trying to gain their freedom from powerful dictators, the Japanese are still dealing with the affects of that awful earthquake, Washington has finally agreed to let the 9/11 conspirators undergo trial with a military tribunal, and the 2012 election is right around the corner. We're already hearing about it. Dog gone it.
Oh yeah, and don't forget the fact that our elected officials can't seem to form a budget so that our nation won't go bankrupt.
In Memphis earlier this week, a terrible windstorm felled trees and killed six people. One woman on the news said that she was blessed to not have been in her car, which had been crushed by a tree. I almost laughed at her understatement, but realized that it was all she could say. The newscaster said she was lucky. I disagree. The lady's guardian angel must have been working overtime.
Right now I am grateful for a peaceful existence for the moment. There have been times when my life seemed like it was in chaos. Now I can look back on those times and thank God for bringing me through. I can also see how he brought me through in a lot of ways. Hindsight is 20/20, you know.
With all the upheaval in the world, it would be easy to give into depression. When things happen we often catch ourselves wondering why God would allow such chaos. It's easy to lose focus on the fact that we live on a fallen planet and that God doesn't send bad things our way.
To survive spiritually, we must have faith. Paul likens it to a prize. Consider Philippians 3: 12 - 14:
"Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."
And I Corinthians 9: 24:
"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize."
This means we should keep the faith no matter what. Paul's athletic metaphor is quite fitting, especially in our time. Athletes are heroes in our society, but they don't become that way without a lot of hard work and discipline (and sometimes steroids, but that, like some of the attitudes and behaviors of some our athletes is for another time, eh?).
I learned this during college when I was required to take a physical education class called "Fitness and Movement." I called it "Running and More Running." At that time in my life I hated exercise and sweating. I didn't like the feeling of my heart thumping hard. I didn't like being out of breath. So when I had to take this class, I was mortified, but I knew that I had to get through it. I also knew that I wanted an "A" to help make up for an embarrassing "C" I had recently earned in tennis.
In order to earn an "A" in this class we had to show improvement in running a mile, and it had to be under six minutes. My first attempt was around 10 minutes, so I had a lot of work to do. The first thing I learned was that if I kept my breathing regular and concentrated on it, running was a lot easier. I didn't get side aches and I was able to run for longer periods. I also learned that if I focused on the above verse from Philippians that I didn't think about the agony I was suffering (well, it wasn't really agony, but that's a matter of perspective). At the end of the course I achieved the six minute run. It was a personal milestone and one that I still think about once in a while.
Concentrating on scripture, praying and disciplining ourselves to read the Bible regularly will help us when times are rough, but we must do these things when times are good so that we receive the benefit later on. Again, exercise is a good example. If we exercise and keep our body in shape when we are healthy, our times of sickness will be fewer and we'll recover more quickly. Getting my knees and legs toned up now when I am still relatively young will be a great benefit years from now. Barring anything unusual, I should still be able to climb stairs and walk well later in life. By listening to my doctor now and by doing my best to ingest 1,000 mg of calcium a day, I should have an excellent chance of having strong bones later in life.
Do you see my point? Some people call it paying it forward. The good you do, the discipline you undergo, the way you take care of yourself all add up and you reap dividends in the end. The spiritual life is similar. The time I spend studying my Bible and praying will benefit me greatly when times are rough. These practices will act as an anchor in the storms of life. They'll keep me from drifting all over the place and losing my way when it seems like God is hidden by dark, billowing clouds.
Meanwhile, if you need a little encouragement, here's a song to get your blood pumping. "Keep your eyes on the prize" is a Freedom Song from the civil rights era. Bruce Springsteen has a great rendition of it here: Keep your eyes on the prize
This company was developed by Presbyterian and a Roman Catholic who had the novel idea that helping Mexicans stay on their farms because they had a good source of income was a way to help solve the immigration problem. I don't know about you, but I think this is really cool - Christians uniting to help solve a social ill is a great way to show the world that Jesus cares. Give the article a read. Who knows? You might come up with a great idea as well.
Join the discussion
If you have any ideas that may help others, let us know. Put in a comment or start a discussion on Facebook. Let's show the world we care!