Christ

Master & Pupil

Many of us remember the TV show Kung Fu of the early 1970’s that entertained us with martial arts.  David Carradine (Grasshopper) played the part of an Oriental traveling nomadically across the American West of the late 19thcentury.  The TV drama introduced us to the lifestyles of Shaolin priests while teaching their pupils in a Temple in China.  I enjoyed the snippets of Grasshopper as he would travel back in his mind reflecting on his youth asking questions of his masters while he was growing up in the Temple.

“Master?” he says as he gazes out over the ocean from a cliff with the bind priest, his favorite teacher.

“Yes, Grasshopper?”

“Why is the ocean one color?”

“Ahhh, yes, Grasshopper, what appears as one color from this spot is totally different when one is closer, much less down under the depths.  I have been told there is vast array of colors, more than one can describe.  Tell me Grasshopper, since I am blind, describe to me what color you see at this time.”

I made this conversation up.  It was never in the script, but it sounds like it.  Now let me get to what I really what to talk about, that being “Master.”

I was blessed to be introduced to the Lord as a young teenager.  I have always prayed for wisdom, courage, guidance and so forth, however, let me share how I could have improved my walk with the Lord.  I’m not sure I looked upon Jesus as my master.  Let me explain.

If I prayed, “Lord be with me in this challenge,” or “guide me safely,” it was as if I was asking Jesus to be beside me.  To a certain degree there is nothing wrong with this, just as there is nothing wrong with asking for courage.  I used to envision God giving me confidence as I embarked on any new challenge or experience.  Athletics, college, a new job, whatever.  With Jesus beside me I felt safe and secure.  Sounds good doesn’t it?  But I’m not so sure anymore.

Like most Americans I was raised to be respectful of authority.  This was definitely reinforced when I was in athletics, or shall I say it was  forcefully enforced.    It was again definitely brought home with my time in the military.  However, I was never taught to be overly submissive to authority.  In some ways that is good.  I was also taught it is wrong to be a slave to anything or anyone.  Sounds good, but here’s the problem.  It has to some degree hindered my relation with Christ.  It gives me hesitation in allowing him be in total control, much less bow to him as I would if he were my King.  I do not recall ever bowing to anyone or anything.  For most of recorded history if you did not bow to a king it very well could have been the last thing you ever did.

The 12 disciples of Christ, his eventual apostles, were very young, much younger than any pictures, paintings or movies depict.  Most were probably in their teens while following Christ as their Rabbi.  He was elder to them in age and knowledge. I know they sometimes walked beside him as their Rabbi and teacher, but I think most of the time they were merely following him.  Watching, observing, learning as an apprentice would of their teacher or master.

As I mature in my Christian walk I am learning to bow more in my prayers, not just physically which I need to do more, but with a submissive reverence and abandonment.  I still am going to question things but I want to learn to bow spiritually with a profound respect and happiness when doing so.  For many of you this may have never been a challenge, but for me , well let’s just say I’m still a pupil.  As I enter into prayerful thought my mind asks, “Jesus, (Master)?”

A voice whispers in my mind, “yes, Keith.”

“What does it mean to rest in the Lord?”

“Ahhhh, yes, my curios one, a very good question,” as a voice once again whispers in my mind.   “Let us ponder this thought together.”

Parables and Fables

Treasure can come in many different ways; A good meal with friends, a quiet beautiful sunset, the laughter of children playing.  One thing that I definitely treasure are any drops of wisdom that I can acquire on my life’s journey.  They can more valuable than gold and silver.

I wanted to infuse this thought in the board game Treasure Trove as players traverse the world collecting fabled treasures.  We all fantasize about what it would be like to find lost treasure in an attic, or win the lottery, or what it what be like to have come up with Facebook.  It is human nature to wonder about such things.  And yet, the important things of life are right in front of us, if we choose to see them.  If we choose to search for them right under our noses.

I choose to place within the situation cards drops of wisdom that have come from all religions that remind us of spiritual truths.  I think it is God’s way of trying to teach us to search for the spiritual things of our lives, not just physical blessings.

Many truths about something of great value in God’s Kingdom are often conveyed in the sense of something that would be of value such as gold or diamonds.  One of the situation cards describes a large pearl, one of great value.  Most of you would recognize the saying as that of Jesus, who often taught in parables.

Have you ever tried to define what a parable is?  What is a fable?  We have an idea what they are, basically, short stories with fictional characters that have a moral lesson.  People love stories, and these are a great way to teach, which Christ did.

Included within the game is a booklet that gives brief descriptions of the treasures on the game board.  Some real, some only myths, and some of the treasures I just made up.  A footnote section at the back of the instructional booklet lists real treasure findings.  There is also some discussion about things on the game board.  What is an archeologist?  Who was Dr. Livingston?  What is a herpetologist?  Where is Shangri-La?

The following comment was placed in the footnote section concerning the difference between a parable and a fable.     

A parable is a brief story that illustrates a moral or religious lesson.  It differs from a fable that uses animals or inanimate objects as actors while parables generally feature human actors.  Jesus often taught his followers by use of parables.”

I don’t think people take the time to read the booklet given with the game.  Most of the time we are in too big of a hurry, including when we are playing the board game.  Such is the pace of our lives.  Consequently, we miss a lot of lot of little factoids, and truths. It takes time to search for those drops of wisdom and truth, but they can make the playing of the game that much more rewarding.  I think our lives are often the same way.  We are searching for life’s treasure often in the wrong places. 

Early this morning I read from the book of Matthew, Chapter 5.  Not one of the parables of Jesus, but his Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes. Now that is real treasure.  I could read it ever day, and never get tired of it.  If I had a large diamond, I suppose I would love looking at every day, but I don’t.  Instead, I will enjoy my treasure of living for Christ, and holding onto those beatitudes.

Pentecost

 Jewish people commemorate the giving of the Law in the Old Testament on the Feast of Pentecost, 50 days after Passover.  It is still a holiday in Israel, and celebrated by Jewish people around the world.  It is one of seven feasts they honor throughout the year.  I remember discussing Pentecost in a Sunday school class at a Protestant denomination over 40 years ago while I was in Junior High.  We read in the New Testament how the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles as they spoke to the crowds in Jerusalem.  I did not give much thought at the time what it meant to Jewish believers.  I just knew it as the day God poured out His Spirit into the world.

            This morning I attended a Protestant worship whose liturgy included readings and a lesson concerning Pentecost as written about in the Book of Acts.  Many in attendance had worn red articles of clothing symbolic of the Holy Spirit.  I had taken with me a small burgundy red blanket to drape over my shoulders during communion.  My way of inviting the Holy Spirit into my life; into my heart.  The readings and lesson reflected on the new law that Christ had brought into the world, a law within our hearts. The written law that the Jews had observed for centuries was not to be ignored but a new law as witnessed by Christ had been ushered in.  One that fulfilled the old law so to speak because all the hopes, purposes, intentions and directions that the old law tried to accomplish in bringing the Jewish people into relation with God were brought to greater meaning with the sacrifice of Christ.  God’s desire for his people, the Jews, to be in relation with him had been initiated with the writings of the Old Testament prophets.  After Christ death and resurrection, seven weeks later on the day of Pentecost, all peoples of the world were invited into God’s Kingdom.  Christ promised his apostles he would send his Spirit into the world to those who believed in him.  Long before Christ lived this had actually been prophesied in the Old Testament in the Book of Joel.

            “I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy.  Your old men will dream dreams.  Young men will see visions. In those days, I will pour out my Spirit even of servants, men and women alike.”

                                                                Joel 2: 28-29

            The little blanket I took with me to the assembly of believers has some small words embroidered towards one of the corners that reads “Freedom is Not Free.” My Father-in-Law gave the blanket to my wife because he received it as a gift for giving to an organization to help wounded Veterans.  He gives to a lot of charities so he receives a lot of thank you gifts.  I like the little blanket because it not only reminds me of the sacrifice that our Veterans have made for our freedom, but it reminds me of the price our Savior paid for our freedom from sin. Tomorrow is Memorial Day, the day to commemorate those of our nation who died in our wars.  That blanket will be used again tomorrow.  I also use it many times each week in devotional time as I remind myself of the sacrifice others have made for me, including the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus who won the war over Satan and his Kingdom.   

Crown of Life

The past few weeks my blog has touched on crowns, tiaras, and diadems.  These are items of beauty as well as value that people of authority and royalty wear, especially in past centuries.  In the context of treasure they are indeed items to be sought.  That is why many illustrations in religious writings use the context of crowns to convey a message.  For example, in Islamic teachings, a Crown of Pearls in the afterlife awaits those who have lived honorably for God in this life.   

            In the Old Testament the High Priests in the tabernacle wore crowns as they eventually would in the Temple.  The Kingdoms of Israel and Judah had rulers who for hundreds of years wore crowns.  The New Testament writers spoke of a crown of glory, a crown of life, and a crown of righteousness.  I often think of this image of a crown of righteousness.  Paul in the book of Ephesians speaks of the armor of a Christian.  He uses the image of a soldier.  The sword represents the Word of God, the shield represents faith, while the belt represents truth.  The soldier also wears a breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation. 

            This image of righteousness is intriguing to me.  Christ offered himself as a sacrifice in order for us to have the opportunity to be presented as righteous before God.  I can envision a Roman helmet, but I ask you this.  What is your image of a crown of glory or a crown of righteousness?  Is it a Halo?  Is it a gold diadem?  It may be hard to describe what a crown of righteousness would look, and that is fine.  The point is righteousness.  What does that look like?  Again, different images come to the minds of different people.  Let me share with you images that are on my heart.        

 When Jesus lived as an adult, the absolute ruler was Tiberius, Emperor of Rome.  He had absolute power and lived a life of opulence and indulgence.  The later years of his life he lived secluded on an island with a predilection to sex.  It has been written that he preferred young males and after a period of time would discard them by having them thrown over a cliff.  Sounds like a depraved, evil existence.  Contrast that with Jesus who walked and lived among ordinary people often staying in their houses. He chose to use his power to give to others by teaching, sharing his food, and healing.  Not to mention the greatest gift of all, a crown of righteousness given to each of us if we choose to accept it.  The next time you wonder if it would be cool to be rich, famous or have royalty, remember that it is not unusual to ponder such thoughts.  It is also not inherently wrong to be rich, just that it is often a trap and can be destructive spiritually as it was for Tiberius who had it all in this life.  During this Christmas season of gift giving remember Christ’s gift for each of us, the gift of life, a crown of righteousness.          

Ancient Temple

Have you ever wanted to explore the ruins of an ancient temple?  That would be a unique experience wouldn’t it?  If you had asked me what comes to my mind when I hear the word temple, I would think of King Solomon’s Temple.  I have been a bible reader all my life so I obviously have given much thought to the ancient Israelite Temple and its significance in God’s Kingdom.  God used the Temple to try and convey the nature of himself to mankind just as he had done with Moses and the Tabernacle.  God was trying to reveal His Holiness to them: His righteous.  His is still trying to do so to us today.  By the way, the following passage popped out at me as I was reading the bible just recently.

“This is the basic law of the Temple:  absolute holiness!”

                                      Ezekiel 43:12

The Mayans had temples, the Greeks and Romans had temples.  There are temples all over Asia.  There are many to visit, but just for the sake of imagination, would it not be an interesting adventure to explore a temple all to yourself, especially an abandoned temple.  A temple no one else has explored, just waiting for you.  But, unfortunately, what are the chances of finding an abandoned Temple?  You may be surprised you don’t have to travel to a distant or remote location.

Ancient Temple

Hindu Temple

Greek Temple

In the New Testament, many times Jesus tried to teach his followers that God does not dwell in Temples or buildings but within peoples’ hearts.  I think this was a challenging concept to his Jewish disciples.  During the time of Moses while the Israelites were in the wilderness God would enter the Tabernacle.  After King Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem for God, scripture teaches that God chose to indwell there.  But why would the Creator want to enter the hearts of people?  After all, it is not always a safe place to enter.  Greed, envy, anger, lust, deceit: you name it and where does it start?  In the heart.  Unfortunately, to some degree all of us carry some of this dirty baggage.  And yet, amazingly, that is where God chooses to live.  The Kingdom of God dwells in our hearts.  That is where His Temple is.  It is something I think most of us know intuitively, yet something I personally struggle with.

I want God to walk with me on my daily journey but I am hesitant to invite the Lord into my Temple: my heart.  There are too many distractions.  When I sit still and try to pray, my mind wanders; the day’s schedule, bills to be paid, the upcoming football game and so forth.  On a more sobering note, I’m not sure God wants to come into my heart when I have anger issues, some degree of unforgiveness towards those who have wronged me in the past, anxiety over finances, and so forth.  I have shared these thoughts with my wife.  She responded:

“You may need to relax more before the Lord and accept his graciousness.  You may not believe you are worthy enough to invite God, but that is a lie from Satan.  God is always more than willing to engage you when you genuinely seek him, even if you don’t feel up to it at that moment.  Remember , you don’t always have to pray,” she adds.

“What do you mean I don’t have to pray?  I thought that is what I was supposed to be doing during intimate time with the Lord?”  I add, “As a matter of fact I often pace back and forth in the backyard very early in the morning underneath the canopy of the stars in order to reveal the passion of my prayer petitions to the Almighty.”  However, I admit to her, “I have wondered if I am working at it more than just, ‘letting it flow,’ so to speak.  I’m a disciplined hard worker, so it just seemed natural I would pray that way.”

“But that is just it,” she says. “Sit still, try to clear out the distractions in your mind, and rest.  Rest in the Lord.”  She goes on to say, “As I said, you don’t even have to pray.  If you are inviting the Lord into your heart he will know your prayers.  Some days you will feel the presence of the Lord more than others: some days when you are tired you may even fall asleep.  But enjoy it.  The more often you relax and enjoy his presence, it will be that much easier for him to indwell within you.  It will not be long before you earnestly seek to return to this place of rest and the easier it will be.  It won’t have to be in the backyard or in the study, much less a certain time.  It will be a state of mind that is abandoning itself to the Lord.  That is not to say you do not need to engage in prayer, just don’t feel guilty if some days it does not seem to come naturally.  The Holy Spirit will guide you.  There will be days when you are drawn to your knees.  Other times you may want to ‘just sit,’ and peacefully reflect: yet you are still praying even if you are not directly articulating the words in your mind.  And don’t forget, you are made right with God through Christ, because of our faith in Him, He has made us Holy.  We may not feel like we are, but that is his promise to us.    ”

My wife calls it, “Abandonment to God.”  She explains, “We all have experienced the feeling of being abandoned by God.  Yet it those times that provide an opportunity for God to reveal himself or his nature to us: His mysterious ways.  You and I grew up with the word ‘surrender,’ but I like the feeling of being abandoned to God’s providence.  Each of us has a choice to feel abandoned by God or to abandon ourselves to him.”

As each of us journeys through life we will realize more and more our human limitations physically and emotionally, coupled with a spiritual neediness.  I think God encourages each of us to invite him into our hearts as we become Temples of Abandonment. Our exploration is probably the most important search of our life.  Life’s treasures await us all in these temples:  God’s Holy treasures.