They call it a Perfect Storm. Perfect, not because it is good, but because all the necessary components are in place for an inevitable disaster. It refers to the potential of a complete ocean disaster in nautical terms. The perfect storm for sailors would consist of profound wind, rain, and waves, all driving at the same time and place. It’s just bad, and you truly don’t know if you will survive.
They call it a perfect storm. Those times in our lives when multiple pains and problems appear simultaneously at our doorstep. I suppose it was like that for the women in Matthew 28 that morning. Everything had fallen apart, and no hope was on the horizon. Jesus, the one they had hoped in, was dead. The leading Jews set themselves against Christ’s followers. Rome still ruled like an iron fist, and perhaps worst of all, it seemed God had forsaken them. But as with all else, things are not always as they seem with God.
Yes, they approached the tomb in the darkness that first Easter Sunday morning with no hope. Then, something happened. The historical narrative tells us that an angel appeared before them, rolled the stone away, terrified the Roman guards to the ground, and pronounced that Jesus had risen.
The angel invited the women to go in and see the evidence. But what if it was a myth? The following verses tell us that the Roman platoon went into the city and reported to the chief priests, who fabricated a story of the apostles stealing the body while they slept. The argument does not make sense right out of the shoot, as the guards could not have known who the thieves were if they were asleep. In addition, these were professional Roman soldiers with their lives in jeopardy if they failed to do their job right. But what if the women merely experienced a hallucination or that Jesus never actually died on the cross? These stories take more faith than the testimony of the resurrection itself. But what if the arguments are valid and the resurrection is a farce? Well, our lives will end with a perfect storm of no hope.
But what if the resurrection is true? What’s interesting about the women’s response in this historical narrative is how they left to share the news of Christ’s resurrection with the apostles. The text tells us that there were afraid yet filled with joy. Some form of fear may remain with us all our lives on this side of eternity. Yet for them, their faith rose above fear and changed them. Because of the resurrection, they knew Jesus was and is the divine son of God. They knew that God kept his word. They knew Christ had risen victoriously over sin and death and that there was hope.
That same transformation is available for all of us. In thinking of a perfect storm, I remember the change of the slave trader, John Newton. John lived in complete rejection of Jesus Christ. Then everything changed on the fateful night of March 21, 1748. Newton was at the helm of a ship in a literal perfect storm at sea on the verge of destruction and death. In those moments, his heart was drawn back to the truths his mother taught him as a child. In those moments, he entrusted himself to Christ and his resurrection. In those moments, he was transformed.
On March 21, 1805, shortly before his death, he recorded in his journal memories of the transformational night at sea: “Not well able to write; but I endeavor to observe the return of this day with humiliation, prayer, and praise . . . On that day, the Lord sent from on high and delivered me out of deep waters.”
How could a man of such depravity, and that of his own admission, be so transformed? In his poetic form, Newton described it as, Amazing Grace, and thus wrote the words still sung today around the world in many languages.
Do you know this grace? I hope you will. Do you know friends who are removed from Christ? I hope you will be the one to share the Amazing Grace of Christ with them.
I’ve never been much of a high church guy. By High Church, I refer to Christian traditions which rely heavily on form, procedure, and religious rote for their corporate gathering and private lives of worship. We see this most clearly in the Catholic and Orthodox faiths and some protestant traditions such as the Episcopalians. There is indeed an air of religious feel to the form, but in my arrogance, I have always assumed a void of life. The writing out of prayers and reading them to God felt like a suitor giving a formal and legal document to his sweetheart as a marriage proposal. No personal words or heart on fire. Just data. “Here is my proposition in detail; please sign on the bottom line if you agree to these terms.”
No, such a traditional experience was not for me, and I didn’t give the subject much thought. And then. Then? Then my wife, who is working through a hospital chaplain residency, told me that she was planning to observe the tradition of Lent with others at her hospital. This kicks off today with what is known as Ash Wednesday.
In short, Lent is from a Latin word meaning the 40 days before Easter when Christians observe special fasts and other rites. The significance of the 40 originates from the 40 days that Jesus prayed and fasted in the wilderness before launching into his public ministry. A solemn spirit of repentance also flows with directed fasting and prayer currents. The Ash traditionally is from the burning of palm branches from the previous year’s Palm Sunday. Those most engaged celebrate by placing the form of a small cross, from the ash, on their forehead as a sign of their devotion and commitment to the process.
While I do not see myself ever diving fully into the deep end of this and similar traditions, it forces me to be quiet momentarily. In thinking practices, I am already engaged in some spiritual disciplines. For example, I am systematically reading my Bible and allocating time for prayer before I launch into anything else in my day. But in thinking about the principle of discipline in general, could more not hurt? The discipline of the musician and athlete distinguishes those who are serious from those just out for fun. The goal is for these rhythms to become second nature. While we want our inner lives to be passionate and constantly abiding with Christ, could more regular discipline help in this manner?
The reality is that while some have wrongly put their hope in the form instead of the Savior, to throw out all disciplines is a knee-jerk reaction on the other end of the pendulum swing. The improper use of something does not negate the proper use of it. I do not know the hearts and minds of others and their motives anyway. In truth, Jesus himself learned the Psalms of David and the words of the Pentateuch by rote as a child. So, there might be something here to take another look at.
Yes, my amazing Bride got me. Neither of us plans to convert to the High Church traditions. But what are we missing by snubbing something which does not fit into our paradigm, even if others may have abused the practice? Maybe there might also be some providence here when I consider that my heart has been circling the same half dozen verses over the past few weeks. Could this be a call of the Holy Spirit to slow down more and meditate on these texts at regular intervals of the day? Is formally setting aside specific times during the day a bad idea or something positive? Yes, probably the latter. So here we go. Lent of 2023 will no longer be a mere and mild passing joke about the lint found in the dryer but rather another pivotal moment drawing me closer to my Savior, which is where I want to be no matter how I get there.
What about you? Regarding Lent or any other practice that enlivens your walk with Jesus?
Typically the week between Christmas and New Year’s is quiet for me, and this year was no exception. This year I drank richly in the presence of all my family being together. In the last few days of the year, I usually begin to organize my receipts and records to compile on my schedule C for taxes and quietly take stock of the previous 12 months.
In this process, I will slowly read through my prayer journal from the last year and see prayers answered in amazing ways and lessons taught by God’s grace. Some I’m still chewing on. This year, I was able to recount a few truly miraculous answers from God’s loving providence. The landscape included such graces as the right medical provider coming on the scene at just the right time and family medical bills being forgiven.
Other touches from Heaven reminded me of God’s faithfulness and thus His calling us to rest in Him. As I reflected on these provisions this past week, I was reminded of God meeting the Hebrew’s daily needs in the history of Exodus as they wandered and waited upon Him in the wilderness.
Along with the events and answered prayers I recorded, it was interesting to review the scriptural passages that I had meditated on over the year. Some of these came to mind in prayer, daily life, or my yearly systematic reading of His word. Altogether, my quietness this past week reminded me of God’s faithfulness.
Below I’ve recorded a number of the verses that found their way into my prayer journal for 2022. Some of them were in application to something I was praying about at the time. Some caught me off guard and were out of nowhere. Some were not for me but an application for others, the church, and society. They are a reminder of God’s providence, Christ’s love, and the Spirit’s guidance. As we bring 2022 to a conclusion, they might be of encouragement to you as we move into 2023.
What about you? What are some lessons from the past year for you?
Some of the texts from my 2022 Prayer Journal.
1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
1 Peter 5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
1 Peter 2:24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”
2 Timothy 1:7 For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
Titus 1:8 Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, and who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.
Philippians 4:6-8 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.
Psalm 31:14-15 But I trust in you, Lord; I say, “You are my God.” 15 My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me.
Psalm 86:11 Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.
Psalm 90:17 May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us— yes, establish the work of our hands.
Isaiah 54:2 Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.
Psalm 18:19 He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.
Isaiah 54:4 Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.
Psalm 131 My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. 2 But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. 3 Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.
Psalms 107:1-3 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. 2 Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story— those he redeemed from the hand of the foe, 3 those he gathered from the lands, from east and west, from north and south.
Romans 8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus
Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Ezekiel 11:19 I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.
1 Chronicles 22:13 Then you will have success if you are careful to observe the decrees and laws that the Lord gave Moses for Israel. Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged.
Revelation 2:17 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.
Zephaniah 3:17 The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”
Zephaniah 3:20 At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes,” says the Lord.
Psalm 68:28 Summon your power, God; show us your strength, our God, as you have done before.
Did any of these speak to you? Are there Biblical passages that ministered to you this past year?
I don’t think I’ve ever had a problem with the virgin birth as is recorded in the Bible. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a home with a Biblical worldview and have always had some experience with church and reverence for the Bible. I know others are skeptical, though. Sometimes the doubt of the virgin birth is slow and casual. For others, there is a harsh and blatant rejection. “It’s impossible and a stupid idea,” they say. Something akin to Greek mythology. For me, it’s simple. If there is a God, and most people believe in God in a general sense, then why would the Incarnation be an impossibility? I mean, God can do anything.
But I wonder if the wrong question is being asked. It’s not so much about the how as the why. Is the virgin birth of Jesus through Mary necessary? That depends on who we are and who God is. Often doubt of the Virgin birth is not as much about the physical but the spiritual. To accept the Virgin birth is to admit one’s need for the Incarnation.
The Incarnation is a theological term, taken from Latin, simply referring to God taking on flesh. The Incarnation is then a greater miracle than the virgin birth. The apostle John refers to this miraculous conception by noting, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
Because the man, Jesus, was not the product of natural conception, he was not marred by the sinful nature passed on from Joseph all the way back to Adam. Jesus went on to live a perfect life which none of us has done. This brings power to his death, burial, and resurrection 33 years later. Because Jesus was and is divine, he was the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Because he rose from the dead on the third day, he proved his power and divinity. The resurrection of Jesus also confirmed that his sacrifice was sufficient for our sins.
Maybe that’s the real reason people reject virgin birth. To accept it leads to the conclusion that we need the Incarnation; we need God’s forgiveness. Admitting that need means we are not as good as we think we are. We have sinned against a Holy God, and it is only through the grace of His Son, Jesus, born of a virgin, that we can find peace through his sacrifice.
Christmas is many things. Ultimately it is a reminder of the power of the Incarnation. It is a reminder that God, because of his immense love, took on flesh to dwell among us and save us.
The warm Christmas plays and children’s toys are always a good thing. But the real power comes in the reality of God breaking into humanity to save me and all who would come to Him.
That is Christmas, and that is the most excellent news of all.
I’m not a huge baseball fan and was never very good at the sport when I was a kid. But when your home team is in the playoffs and World Series, you’ve got to root for them. So, yes, I was pleased with the Astros’ win over Philadelphia last night. A vital component of the contest was, mostly unheard of, Cristian Javier, from the Dominican Republic, who threw a perfect no-hitter game.
Even while watching the game, I could see how calm and collected Javier was. I also noted that there seemed to be some element of genuine faith in God in his life.
In addition to calmness under fire, much of the commentary about Javier has been about his parents. Apparently, on Tuesday, his mother told Javier that he would throw a no-hitter in the game last night, which is what happened. So the media has picked up on his family commitment. But what was even more impressive, which the media is a bit slow to address, is his devotion to God in his actions and words.
In response to his parent’s proclamation, Javier noted, “I kept my faith in God, and obviously, I knew I had a big commitment today being down 2-1 in the series. And obviously, with my parents being here, I just tried to give my best. Give my family the best that I could.” He also admitted, “It’s funny, my parents told me I was going to throw a no-hitter . . . and, thanks to God, I was able to accomplish that.”
His faith seems to be more than a publicity stunt in the World Series, but something that permeates his whole life. Over a year ago, he was sent back to a practice site, away from the significant action, and instead of complaining, he trusted God. He stated then, “In reality, I didn’t expect it. But I felt everything was normal. I put everything in God my Father’s hands.”
What do I find in the scriptures? That it is God who gives us our ability, whether people admit that or not. For Javier, this is central to who he is, and I hope we can learn something from that young man from the D.R.
Note the number of times Javier references his praise to God.