Tuesday, April 6th, 2010
The Lamb Who Was Slain
Creation Groans for Renewal!
For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
I wrote a blog on Thursday about the Passover, then I felt inspired to write about Good Friday as well. I wondered if I should write something on Easter Sunday but didn’t think more about it until I had experienced Easter 2010 myself! I had no idea it would be as it was.
Easter morning while we were pondering and preparing for our annual Passover Seder we realized that our sweet little toy poodle Spencer was missing. Once about six months prior he had gotten out of our sight and wandered down the street. We fortunately found him and brought him back home. When we found he was missing again this Sunday morning we all went out searching for him all over the neighborhood but to no avail, we couldn’t find him. I couldn’t imagine where he might have gone and feared we would never find him.
My wife, Vileen, saw a pick-up driving by and asked the man inside if he had seen our little dog. He said he had seen some police cars where a little dog had been hit by a car. He took Vileen several blocks away where this had occurred. When she arrived, there was little Spencer laying in the street in front of the police car and found there was not one police car, but there were five! They had stopped to protect him from getting hit again. The gentle man that had brought Vileen to the scene lifted Spencer off the pavement and gently laid him on the grass while Vileen was calling me to come. We were amazed that the police had been so caring and thankful because we might not have found him otherwise and might have always wondered what had happened to him.
After seeing all of the commotion the lady who lived in the house came out and was comforting Vileen when I arrived. She went back in to her house and came back with a phone book turned to a page for emergency animal care and hurriedly tore the page out of the book and sent us on our way. We arrived at the hospital and after some tests found that Spencer was broken beyond repair and that we would serve him best by placing him in the hands of Jesus.
13 years ago
When we got Spencer we selected a breeder who was known for sweet spirited little poodles. After all these years of having him in our home I couldn’t imagine a sweeter dog. He never complained, always waited for us to lead him to whatever he needed even water and food were not taken without us being right beside him to protect him. His official name was “Smid’s Spunky Spencer” and that proved to be true as well. Up until the day of his accident he remained high spirited and excited when it was time to through his bone or to greet us at the door. He was getting older and slept a lot more but his excitement about our family never waned it just lasted a little while shorter than it had in the past.
When we arrived home after his passing I placed his little box with him lying in it into the garage. We had to get into “host mode” to prepare for our Seder. As I reviewed the readings from the Seder script I was quickly reminded of the history of the Jewish families bringing into the home their best little lamb and to live with it to make sure it was the healthiest and best suited to become the Passover Lamb. I clearly didn’t think I was going to make it through reading that section as Spencer was our “little lamb” for sure and he had died on Easter Sunday. Oh, boy, how could I go through this today?
After Easter was over I began to grieve terribly and knew I had one more thing that had to be done. I had to bury our little doggie, but it was late and I felt the next day was best to do that. My grandson, Devin, made sure he told me to bury his “bone toy” with him. Interestingly enough, before I went to bed on Sunday night, I looked next to our bed and saw his little red furry bone laying there still and silent. Spencer never tore anything up and he had that red bone as his best toy for over 10 years. It was his only toy and we washed it over and over again so it seemed very appropriate that it would go with him.
So, early Monday morning I went to get the shovels and pick to dig his grave. I gently took him in his little box and his bone and placed it in the grave and covered it up. Vileen, Devin, and I went to pray around it and laid our little one to rest.
I was not expecting the following hours and days to be as tough as they have been. I cried out to the Lord in the middle of the night trying to hear Jesus’ voice for comfort. I finally went back to sleep. But the next day brought even more pain and I realized the center of my pain was in my heart, the location of my physical heart. I entered into the reality of the grief cycle. Lord, I just want to hold him again, I want to hear his bark, I want to see him skip around in circles. I want to see him sleeping in when the rest of the house is already up and running.
I want him to follow me outside to lay in the sun and to lay on my lap just so he could be with us. I want to eat lunch with him again when I am home and to know he is there laying on his bed no matter where I am. I want to feel his soft gentle spirit as I pet him. Lord, I know we can’t have him back and that’s the greatest pain of all. I know I can’t.
I received a poem from a friend on the next day. It was called the “Rainbow Bridge” and was about our family pets when they die. It talks of their wholeness on the “Rainbow Bridge”, their running and jumping in “doggie heaven”. It talks of them having little friends and lots of food and refreshment. The poem also tells us that their wounds are healed and they are no longer in pain. Meant to be hopeful and helpful, the poem took me into a different place.
As I read this, my heart was the heaviest it had been all along. I felt as though barbed wire had just gone through my heart. I could see that the joy of seeing my little Spencer being whole again was deep in my heart. In some ways, the poem brought him back to life in my mind at a time when I was really struggling to let him go. But, the another heart ache came when the poem spoke of when I got to heaven, my little doggie would see me from afar and run to me excited to see me again. At times this pain seemed more than I could bear.
I was in my office most of that day and not having him here brought me to a deep loneliness. I wasn’t able to sit still and felt I had to leave and go somewhere to get away from the pain but it continued. Even as I write this my heart aches all over again wanting that day of seeing him run to me to be NOW! I am tired, shocked, empty, and want so much for the pain of my loss to be comforted. Does anyone understand? Am I silly for having this deep of a loss over a dog? But, I cannot help it, it hurts.
We are all groaning for renewal!
So, as I read over the passage from Romans above, I have once again been reminded that this world is not heaven. It is not perfect. It is full of pain, grief, and loss. God’s original intent for our lives was perfection. We were designed for His perfect Eden and this isn’t it.
During some of the painful times alone I felt the Lord, my Father, spoke gently to me, “John, that is the way I feel about you. I wanted to have you back, to hold you, to have a relationship with you for eternity.” He reminded me that He gave His son over to death so that He could hold me again. As I grieve the loss of my little Spencer, I recognize even more of the Lord’s pain when he sees us suffering. I see His heart for our hurts and our loss because we are not with Him either. We are all wounded, full of suffering and separated from Him.
Much as my little Spencer lays in the grave outside of my window; without Jesus Christ, I was laying in a grave without hope and my Father wants so much for me to be reconciled with Him in eternity. Spencer dying on Easter morning made the message of God’s love even louder in my heart. He died for us and rose again so that He could have us back! He is very interested in all of our lives and even more desirous of us being with Him eternally.
When I die I will go into my eternity searching for more than my little Spencer. I hope I will run up to my Father with eager anticipation of our perfect reconciliation. I have already learned that He will be running to me like my little Spencer may be doing.
In the end, right now, my heart aches missing my little friend. I am asking God for His grace for the moment. His comfort for my pain, His purpose in my grief and His patience to endure through the healing process.
No other dog can replace you. You were unique, quirky, and we loved you very much. We miss you, Spencer.
Friday, April 2nd, 2010
Today is Good Friday!
But the other one made him shut up: “Have you no fear of God? You’re getting the same as him. We deserve this, but not him—he did nothing to deserve this.”
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom.”
He said, “Don’t worry, I will. Today you will join me in paradise.”
By now it was noon. The whole earth became dark, the darkness lasting three hours—a total blackout. The Temple curtain split right down the middle. Jesus called loudly, “Father, I place my life in your hands!” Then he breathed his last.
Was it a good Friday?
How interesting that we call this Friday “Good Friday” when the most heinous act in our human history severely abused and killed an innocent man by hanging him on the cross.
While he hung, two other men were being punished for their crimes and were bantering back and forth discussing the event they find themselves embroiled in. Jesus hears the true heart cry of one criminal for grace and honors his desire by giving him the confidence that he will gain eternity in paradise.
We have heard many a discussion on salvation as it relates to behaviors that some deem reprehensible. Some talk about things that some may do that could cost them their eternity with Jesus but who is the real judge?
How could we lose the entrance to paradise?
Many years ago I went through a series called Evangelism Explosion where we learned how to present the gospel to those we come into contact with. But, I was the main target of my own lesson! I learned about my own salvation that sealed the deal so tightly.
I learned that I did not earn, nor did I deserve a place with Him in paradise from a perfect God!
I learned that my life was imperfect and could never mesh with God’s standards of complete perfection so I was lost without some kind of mediator who could bridge the gap between God and me.
I found that there was nothing that I could do that could heal the broken relationship with God. No matter how hard I might try I couldn’t do enough. I love the passage above because it reveals the power, the mystery, the incomprehensible events that occurred on Good Friday over 2000 years ago.
These events changed my life, they changed yours, they permanently altered a downward spiral of eternal death for humanity!
There is nothing that will save me from eternal death other than the blood of Jesus Christ! Salvation is available for all, equally.
Salvation does not depend on my being good, doing good, or even having a right heart attitude. It only depends on my own willingness and God’s willingness to hear my own heart cry for help. It is based on a trust that He will meet me there with His grace. I have needed help for my imperfect life from my mother’s womb. I was broken from the start and needed a savior’s love from my first cell splitting!
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom.”
I hear far too many who remain estranged from God’s love because somehow they have gotten the message that they are too bad or too broken, for Him to accept them. Or some have walked away from Him thinking that something they have done has separated them from Him. Some people actually believe He will walk away from us.
So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—He was raised to life for us!— He is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture. Romans 8:34-36 (the Message)
His love is unconditional.
I didn’t earn it by anything I have done, and I do not believe I can lose it by anything I have done or might do.
He said, “Don’t worry, I will. Today you will join me in paradise.”
The payment for my sin was accomplished through one perfect man, Jesus. He was willing to go to the cross so that I wouldn’t die. He knew there was nothing I could do about my broken life. He made the way for me. He made the way for you.
The whole earth became dark, the darkness lasting three hours—a total blackout. The Temple curtain split right down the middle. Jesus called loudly, “Father, I place my life in your hands!” Then he breathed his last.
He finished the transaction. Can you imagine being there that day, close to that temple where the huge, thick, iron like curtain was torn, top to bottom? Can you imagine hearing the thunderous sounds of a death that would ring out through the universe?
Can you imagine a God who loves you so much that no matter what you have done, or what you might do, He offers you a redeeming love that transforms you day to day, year after year until you reach His perfection.
Oh, I am not expecting perfection to come to my life anytime soon but I do look for the day when I will see Him face to face when I experience the completion of redemption. It will be my turn to spend eternity in paradise with Him. I look forward to meeting the “thief on the cross” to talk with him about dying beside our Savior.
I look forward to seeing all kinds of imperfect people like myself to find out how Jesus love transformed their life. How did He love them in the midst of their own failures and shortcomings? At what point did they realize they couldn’t earn His love. At what time in their life did they realize they couldn’t lose it – no matter what they felt they had done that worried them about the potential loss of their own paradise.
My prayer on this Good Friday is for the many people who struggle with whether or not Jesus loves them. I pray that they will see the curtain in their own lives torn in front of them so that the shining light of the Love of Christ meets their eyes with a new life.
Thursday, April 1st, 2010
We are preparing for our annual Passover Seder. We will have 25 people coming together from “Celebration Fellowship”, our house church, to share in the meal and the celebration. Shopping for the meal, preparing for the event, guests will be coming to meet new people. How exciting!
In 1987, I was part of my first Passover Seder. I had heard of these celebrations before but really didn’t know what they were all about. The Love In Action program I was a part of and all of the staff would be participating. There was going to be about 36 people in all. We began by setting the stage. We would use the large great room at New Hope House. This meant that we needed to move all of the furniture out of the room. Being in California, it wasn’t a problem to just set it all outside.
Then we needed to set a large table to facilitate all of the festivities. The men and women let loose of all of their creativity to make the room look like it was literally set during the day of Jesus life. Palm fronds, lots of purple fabric, floral displays began to dominate the room in such a manner it was hard to remember its former use. There were several very creative people involved so the room was highly decorated and we couldn’t wait until the candles were lit and the guests would come and see the creation.
The recipes for all of the ceremonial foods were brought out. The one we all enjoyed making the most was the Charoseth, or “mortar’. It was made of apples, oranges, dates, raisins, walnuts, and a little cinnamon. This mixture was almost impossible to make without a food processor since it all had to be chopped and mixed together. So, several of us began by peeling, cutting, and shoving into the top of the processor. As it came out, the ingredients lost their vibrant colors and became a bland brown. Each of us took a teaspoon to taste the mixture and it was quite delicious in spite of its ugly brown presence. We asked a lot of questions as we cut up all of the bitter herbs like parsley and the fresh radishes. Since each one had historical meaning, the day became a Bible lesson of the Jewish heritage of the Christian faith.
We took all day working hard to get all of this ready. Each group had their jobs to do. As we all worked together, Frank Worthen, the director of our ministry, taught us about the real meaning of Passover. Frank also talked about the modern day Jewish practice of the Passover Seder and how many who held Passover meals served chicken. I remember him saying, “It was the Passover Lamb, not the passover chicken.” . When Frank left the ministry in 1991, to go to Manila Philippines, I got to become the “Seder Master” leading the ceremony. I would often think of who we might invite to come and experience this wonderful event. Inviting people who were from outside of our ministry family seemed to be similar to the guests in Jesus day that would come into the cities to celebrate Passover.
Cleaning, organizing, and pondering all that we will experience all are reminiscent of what the people of Jesus day were going through. I have been involved in preparing for this event each year for 24 years. It is a special holiday celebration for me. It is the only holiday that has only positive memories. It is special also because it is unique to my own Christian walk.
This year, as is typical, I am cooking the lamb and with helping hands, I’ll also be preparing the Charoseth (mortar) because I really like doing that. It is especially fun when there are others involved. We have others who will be shopping, cutting up the fresh vegetables, and preparing the settings. It really is a family coming together to remember our history, and our heritage.
I want to set the stage so you can get into the mood of a Passover Seder!
I have found that many Christians do not really know what a Passover Seder is and the traditions that were in place that brought Jesus to what most refer to as the Last Supper.
By reading the following you might be able to picture just what Jesus and the Discples may have been thinking right before the fateful experience of the death of Jesus on the cross for the atonement of all of our sins.
Passover, God’s Object Lesson
When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. Matthew 26:20
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” Matthew 26:26-29
Back in Old Testament Times
You’ve just sat down to a Holiday Meal that you have done each year as a family. For weeks, you have been cleaning your homes, watching workmen repair all kinds of things around you like streets and sidewalks. You were getting ready for your town to swell in size to four times its normal population for the upcoming passover celebration.
Your household also received extensive teaching for about four weeks. The Jewish people placed much emphasis on teaching and reinforcing the holiday’s meaning.
You are going to have many visitors in your home. Some family, some from far away who just need a place to stay. The people would come about two weeks before Passover so they could go through their seven days of ritual purification. This was a time of joyful expectation and relational unity. This was also a time of hospitality and gift giving.
This past week your father selected the best lamb in his possession and brought it into your house to observe for four days. This lamb was approaching the prime of its life and was frisky and winsome. The test was to see that it was healthy and perfect for the Passover feast. The kids and adults alike became attached to the cute little thing as you fed it and cared for its needs. You will probably have to avoid its eyes as the head of the house kills it.
You did not have meat often but how could you eat the friend of the family? The lesson was painfully sad: God’s holiness demands that He judge sin, and the price is costly indeed. But He is also merciful and provides a way of escape.
The innocent Passover lamb foreshadowed the One who would come centuries later to be God’s final means of atonement and redemption. This is a reminder to us today that Jesus the Messiah presented Himself to Israel in public ministry for three years and showed Himself perfect in heart and deed toward the Father. Even Pilate found no fault in him. 1 Peter 1:19 describes Him as the Lamb without blemish or spot. In Exodus 12:3, the commandment is to take a lamb, a nebulous, unknown entity, nothing special; in Exodus 12:4, God says “the” lamb. Now he is known, unique, set apart.
No Leaven Allowed!
Your family has cleaned until there is nothing more to clean. One of the special projects is to rid your house of all leaven. Leaven is almost always a symbol of sin in the Bible. Leaven causes dough to become puffed up so that the end product is more in volume, but not more in weight. The sin of pride causes people to be puffed up, to think of themselves as far more than they really are.
Paul described the unleavened bread as sincerity and truth. The Hebrew word matzo, means “sweet, without sourness.” The unleavened bread typified the sweetness and wholesomeness of life without sin. It foreshadowed the sinless, perfect life of the Messiah, who would come to fulfill all righteousness and to lay down His life as God’s ultimate Passover Lamb.
For the Hebrews, the putting away of all leaven symbolized breaking the old cycle of sin and starting out afresh from Egypt to walk as a new nation before the Lord. They did not put away leaven in order to be redeemed; rather, they put away leaven because they were redeemed.
The Bitter Herbs
Tonight your palate will experience some very interesting things. Jehovah commanded the Israelites to eat the Passover lamb with bitter herbs. With bitter herbs they shall eat it. Exodus 12:8
The first symbolism that comes to mind is the obvious one – the hardships which the Israelites endured under the whips of Pharoah’s taskmasters.
Bitterness in Scripture often speaks of death. The bitter herbs are a reminder that the firstborn children of the people of Israel lived because the Passover lambs died.
Bitterness in Scripture also speaks of mourning. Zech. 12:10 says, Israel as a nation will weep and be in bitterness of deepest mourning for her Messiah, as when one mourns for an only child who has died.
The Last Supper
The Passover was the feast where Jesus had His Last Supper with His disciples. The momentous occasion when Jesus told us to “do this in remembrance of Me!” Imagine with me tonight that you were in your own home while Jesus was eating with His disciples and knowledgeable of what was going to take place the next day in His life.
1. Arm of the Lord – Lamb shank bone
2. Tash – three compartments for three pieces of matzo
3. Special plate, goblets etc.
Other Ceremonial Foods
1. Charoseth = Sweet mixture of apples and nuts
2. No dessert but rather, the affikomen, the Matzoh left at the end of the ceremony.
3. Bitter herbs = radish, horse-radish, parsley, lettuce, celery
4. Roasted Eggs = sign of new life mixed with salt – tears.
Matzoh, and other Symbols
Interesting to note, the matzoh is made of unleavened bread. The matzoh that is on the grocery shelves today is like a large soda cracker. But, it is pressed into a ribbed form and toasted. It is also made with pierces in lines. Since it is made this way, the toasting process puts dark lines across each piece. Therefore, the scripture says that “He was pierced for our transgressions, and by his “stripes” we are healed”. During the ceremony, their are three pieces of matzo in the “tash”. At one point, the middle matzoh is removed, it is broken and part of it is hidden. At the end of the ceremony, the matzoh, called “affikomen” is brought back out and shared as the “dessert” of the meal. It was amazing for me to see this symbol, and practice so connecting to the prophetic passages of the coming of the Messiah and how the torture, death and resurrection of Jesus so aligned with these symbols and yet people of the Jewish faith who practice this each year did not see Jesus for who he really was and is today.
Another symbol is the mixture of the bitter herbs and the strong flavor to help each participant to feel the bitterness of slavery as in Egypt. Then the taste of the heavily salted water as the “tears” of bondage. There is a shankbone of the lamb on the Seder Master’s plate. This is a strong, and raw reminder of Jesus broken legs as he hung on the cross.
Drinking the four cups of “wine” tells me of the many symbolic ceremonies that the Jewish faith have to carry their message of the coming Messiah throughout history.
In many churches today a symbolic “Communion” is practiced. Throughout my lifetime I have participated in symbolic communion. Many of us are familiar with the small “Chiclets” sized piece of bread and a little “thimble” sized cup of grape juice. I used to think that WAS communion until I began practicing an annual Passover Seder. When I saw the ceremony that Jesus was referring to when He spoke of “taking this bread, and drinking this cup” I realized that there was so much more to the symbolic practice we saw today.
As I read the scripture:
So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 1 Corinthians 11:27
I realize that He wasn’t talking about the little piece of bread and the small cup we commonly call communion today. Those are just symbols. After these many years of celebrating Passover, I realize there is a real communion that Paul was talking about in First Corinthians. This is a sharing of fellowship that is real, honest, and is in truth. Coming together for a meal is something that brings relationship to a deeper level. To prepare a meal and invite someone into our homes can be incredibly intimate. When Paul exhorts us not to do this in an unworthy manner I believe means not to fake it! Not to come into a friend’s home when you hold something against them but hide that while you eat. When it says to “examine” ourselves, this means to get right with God, and to get right with each other before we partake of “real” communion. I don’t think this specifically means not to take the “chicklet and thimble” in an unworthy manner, as those are only symbolic of the real communion.
There was a time when I was invited to eat with a small group of people. I felt uncomfortable accepting the invitation for some reason but I didn’t really know why. So as I prayed and asked the Lord for clarity, I realized that I was uncomfortable because there was a broken place in the relationships that were represented in the small group. It was at that time when the passage in First Corinthians became so clear to me.
Scripture also says not to come to the Communion Table hungry so as to “overeat”. Well, how can you over eat or over drink with a chicklet and thimble? I then saw even more of the truth of Christian communion. I looked back over my time as a believer and saw that eating in the homes of others in the faith brought a deeper relationship and memories that would not go away quickly. The real fellowship we shared was sweet, meaningful, and built deeper and valuable facets to all of our relationships.
So, today when I consider sharing communion, the Passover Seder has helped me to value others more deeply, to understand the ways Jesus taught us to honor one another, and of course most significantly, to see the cross of Christ more clearly.
Easter has a fresh new meaning each year as we partake of the Passover Lamb together. Think about researching the Passover Seder for yourself. Build a Seder into your family history and see if it will do what it did 2000 years ago in the lives of those you know and love.