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Posts Tagged ‘savior’

No Sacrifice For You

Those who know me real well know that I have a strange sense of humor.  My funny bone is often struck at the most inopportune times.  Most of the time I am able to keep it to myself and keep it together.  Sometimes I will share my humorous experience or insight later with friends.  Most of the time they remain private moments of hilarity.  I was bred to keep up appearances, retain proper decorum and affect a serious mode in most public settings and especially in religious ones.

Unfortunately, it is in some of the most serious religious settings that some of the funniest things happen.  After spending most of my life in church and half of it leading congregation, I have some of the funniest stories to tell.  Some serious religious types would shudder at some of them.  Some of the more irreligious types would fall over backwards with side-splitting laughter.  It is just the way the make up of the Church is arranged.  And, since the apostle Paul tells us that God arranged the members of his Church the way he wanted it, well, we can blame it on him.

Recently, our church was celebrating communion together.  This is something we do once a month in our church tradition.  It is a celebratory time.  Different members of the congregation serve the communion to the congregation by gathering at the front of the church and dividing into four serving stations.  The congregation arises at the direction of the ushers to go to the front of the church, if they choose, to receive the communion elements – a piece of bread and a small cup of grape juice.  There is even a “gluten free” station.

This is always a special time.  The congregation continues in prayer and worship.  Some are participating in the Lord’s Supper.  Some are watching the Supper being distributed to fellow congregants.  One gives a piece of bread and one receives it with the words, “This is Christ‘s body broken for you.”  Then one gives a small cup of juice and one receives it with the words, “This is Christ’s blood shed for you.”

All those who choose to may participate in the Lord’s Supper.  Whole families take part in it together.  There are also widows, widowers, singles, and a whole host of diverse people scattered among us.  Each humbly receives a token of the body of Christ and then receives a token of the blood of Christ.

This is an important event for every Christian.   Some celebrate it every week.  Some celebrate it only once a year.  We have lay-ministers who serve it to people in the hospitals and nursing homes.  It is a special and meaningful event.  It reminds us of the sacrifice Christ made for our sins so that we could receive forgiveness and be made righteous in God’s eyes so that we can have open fellowship with him.

Without that perfect sacrifice made by the sinless son of God, Jesus the Messiah, we would still be in our sins.  The fear of death, judgment after death, and separation from God forever would be our demise.  There would be no hope for this life or the one to come.  There would be no freedom from sin’s bondage, the fear of death or the afterlife nor the hope that there is life after this life.

Moss Covered Tree on Multnomah Creek Above Multnomah Falls, Spring 2010

Moss Covered Tree on Multnomah Creek Above Multnomah Falls, Spring 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

This most recent time that our church was celebrating the Lord’s Supper – the Eucharist – an accident of sorts took place.  Those who were to replace empty communion cup trays with full ones were off cue.  Suddenly, there was a line that had no communion elements.  This is a crisis of unthinkable proportions!  You cannot celebrate the Eucharist without the bread and juice elements.  It is the whole point after all.

The team of individuals at this breadless, juiceless station looked a bit befuddled as to what to do.  They were frantically gazing about looking for the team that was to be bringing refilled trays of bread and juice.  The gentleman who was serving the juice, Allen, is known in our congregation as somewhat of an entrepreneur.  He and his wife, Dee, started Martha’s Cupboard several years ago and now it is a growing ministry concern that touches hundreds of people’s lives in the Tri-cities.

Allen is also known for his sense of humor; a bit strange like mine.  I smiled as I watched him and Dee attempt to sort out what to do.  Suddenly, he turned to the next person in line and with a big humorous grin on his face said, “I’m sorry.  There is no blood of Jesus for you. And it looks like we are out of his body, too.”  He repeated this as each person came up to him and his wife, Dee, to receive the Lord’s Supper.

At first, this drew a startled look from the congregants.  Then, they would see his humor and move to the next station that had the communion elements available.  Some chuckled.  Some looked worried.  Some moved on and others glanced back in what looked like a bit of consternation at such a rude awakening to the solemn occasion.  This all got me thinking:  I mean, what if Jesus’ last supper with his disciples in the upper room was ill prepared and he had run out of bread and wine?  Of course, this had me in stitches.  I like Allen!

Thankfully, it was not too long before things were restored and Allen and Dee were able to serve the Lord’s Supper to congregants once again.  However, I still chuckle to myself when I think of that experience.  We humans want to be so right and prim and proper at these important solemn occasions.  We do not know how to handle ourselves when it all falls apart into apparent spontaneous hilarity.

We have a choice.  Attempt to cover it up and continue in our solemnity as if nothing happened.  Or, we can acknowledge our humanness and laugh at ourselves.  I think God joins us in the latter.  He is not as horrified as we are at our frailties and shortcomings.

As we enter into Holy Week, I am reminded of the importance of the sacrifice Jesus made for humanity.  What a tragedy that would truly be if there really were no sacrifice for you or me?  “I’m sorry.  There is no blood of Jesus for you. And it looks like we are out of his body, too.”  No way to recover from our rebellion against God.  No way to be healed of our self-destructive ways.  No promise of life beyond this life or a hope-filled life in this life.

The story of Jesus and his sufferings and crucifixion tells us that God out of his great love provided for us what we needed and could not provide for ourselves.  The greater story of his resurrection, which we will soon celebrate, tells us that God accomplished and will continue to accomplish all he set out to do.  Death, the grave and eternity are conquered for us.  He invites us to his table to break bread with him and drink with him and give thanks.  A sacrifice has been made for you – his body broken for you and his blood shed for you.  And it will never run out.  Guaranteed.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Public Displays of Worship

How we love to laugh at ourselves!  A joke frequently told in parts of the upper midwest USA that exposes its Scandinavian heritage is, “Did you hear about the Norwegian who loved his wife so much that he almost told her?”  (You could put Swede, German, or any other Northern European group in there.)  Yes, we Scandinavian and Germanic folk are known to be a somewhat emotionally reserved.  Some would say we are emotionally constipated!  Granted, we are not a little reticent about open public displays of affection.  We were taught early on to guard the expressions of our hearts.

Unfortunately, this cultural attitude creeps into our attitude and expressions of worship towards God.  Our definition of worship done ‘in decency and order’ means in an acceptable fashion to our cultural tastes; something that does not move one out of his or her comfort zone.  At the same time, we can look across the great diversity of God’s kingdom and see many expressions of worship that draw upon our hearts: southern gospel, urban gospel, African American gospel, not to mention the other diverse styles and types of worship around the world.  If you were to sit through a Latin American or African church worship service, the sight and sounds would be a lot different than a typical upper midwest USA service.

Never mind cultural flavors in worship, the Bible describes worship as “bowing low, kissing another’s feet, expressing adoration.”  Simply, worship is the love language of the worshipper.  How much do you love the One you worship?  That will indicate the level of your extravagance in displaying your love to the object of your love.  Now, I am not talking about weirdness.  Neither am I talking about expressions that draw attention to the individual worshipper instead of to the Lord.  True worship points to and gives focus toward God only.

Opening Rose Bud, Bush House Gardens, Salem, Oregon, 2009

Opening Rose Bud, Bush House Gardens, Salem, Oregon, 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

The book of The Song of Solomon is an extravagant display of affectionate words and actions between two lovers.  To real conservative people, it comes across as being ‘over the top.’  When I was a poor Bible college student, I wanted to show the girl I was interested in how much I cared for her.  On Valentine’s Day, singing groups on campus would deliver Singing-grams with a carnation.  So, I used the last of my pocket change to have a group deliver a carnation and sing, “You Light Up My Life”  (Yes, I’m THAT old!).  I wanted to do something extra special to show how much I cared for her.  (Unfortunately, I later learned it was a song she hated!  Oops.  Well, she married me later anyway.  Some things are forgivable.)

Two stories of Scripture that have always captured my imagination are found in 2 Samuel 6 and Luke 7.  In both of these cases, something extravagant was done to worship the Lord.  In 2 Samuel, David “wearing a linen ephod, danced before the LORD with all his might…with shouts and the sounds of trumpets.”  David’s worship, along with “the entire house of Israel,” before the Lord was an extravagant celebration of his love for God.  Michal, David’s wife and the daughter of Saul, was embarrassed by David’s unbecoming conduct and “despised him in her heart.”

David’s response to Michal was not to gain her approval!  He told her, “It was before the LORD…I will celebrate before the LORD.  I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes…”  I have to admit that I cannot recall a time in my spiritual journey where I would call my worship of God “undignified” or something that caused me to be “humiliated”.  Still, it this proposal by David challenges me and prods me.  Have I ever allowed my worship of the Lord to become that extravagant?  I am more like Michal, I am afraid, than David.

In Luke 7, a story unfolds that is recorded in all four gospels.  It is the record of a single worshipper at the feet of Jesus.  This was not a ‘religious person.’  Far from it, it was “a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town.”  In other words, she was the town prostitute and everyone knew it.  While Jesus reclined at a religious leader’s table eating dinner, this sinner came up behind at his feet weeping profusely.  Using her tears to wet Jesus’ feet, she then took her long, beautiful hair (the object of her glory and dignity in her culture) and washed them clean.  Next, she kissed his feet tenderly and took the alabaster jar of perfume she brought (worth more than a year’s wages – $28,000 in today’s terms) and poured all of it on his feet, rubbing it in carefully to anoint them.  The aroma of her perfume filled the whole room.

What an amazing picture of extravagant love openly displayed before others.  Of course, not everyone could appreciate such worship.  Some, like the Pharisee, were put off by the woman’s reputation and ‘over the top’ self humiliation.  It was undignified!  In the other Gospel accounts, one of Jesus’ disciples was bothered by what appeared to him to be a waste of money, time, and effort.  Jesus stopped all those who looked down their noses at her by asking, “Who loved more?”

As forgiven and redeemed sinners, we should appreciate more than anyone extravagant worship and displays of lavish love for our Lord and Savior.  He has forgiven us for so much.  He has given us so much.  Yet, if you are like me, we have grown uncomfortable around others who openly display their adoration of God in song, dance, and shouts of joy.  Early 20th century Pentecostals were especially known for their extreme acts of worship.  They did not earn the name “holy rollers” for nothing!  However, a tame “Jericho march” would throw many worshippers into a tail spin today.

What Michal saw as “undignified” and “humiliated” was for King David a celebration of his love of God.  Both David and the sinful woman worshipped and displayed their extravagant love publicly, not in private.  Does the world around us know how much we love the Lord?  Is public thanks and love to God expressed from our lips daily and on every occasion we get to give it?  Or, are we afraid that we will appear “undignified” and be “humiliated” because we appear so radically in love with the God who forgave us and blessed us with his salvation?

If worship is the love language of the worshipper, do others know that we are in love with our Redeemer, the Lover of our soul, and the ‘fairest of ten thousand?’  It might be time to let the secret out and let others know.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Truck Stop Jesus

One would have expected a different plan to introduce an important person; even if that person was a baby.  Historically, after all, royal births were always accompanied by fanfare and celebration.  Every important dignitary in the world is notified and invited to the event.  When the savior of the world arrived little more than 2,000 years ago, maybe someone made a mistake and got the address wrong.  Not only that, but they forgot to get reservations.  The young couple was left out in the cold to give birth to their child among animals and all that accompanies animals posted in a barn.  These would not be the first sights and sounds that I would have wanted any of my children to have as their first experience in this world.  Jesus’ birth was so radically different than the antiseptic world we live in today.  It leaves the modern individual amazed he survived his first year.

The irony and mystery of Jesus’ birth is that it was planned ahead of time to take place just the way it unfolded.  Prophets hundreds of years before had already laid out how this baby boy was going to come into the world.  The details they left for others to figure out, who were some of the wisest people on earth by the way, did not include royal privilege, birth in a capital city or any of the other things that would normally accompany the birth of someone important.  There was no golden spoon privilege for this messianic figure.

Imagine a modern day set of new parents caught far away from any hospital, family or friends when the expectant baby decides to come into the world.  Not only that, but now the birthing plan, carefully prepared hospital bag for mother and baby and new born baby clothes are all forgotten.  The fact of the matter is that even for 1st century Joseph and Mary the conditions of the birth of their child were far less than desirable.  Any parent of any socio-economic class at any time in history would have hoped for better.

Jesus was to be born in Bethlehem of Judea.  Bethlehem, the city of ancient king David’s origin, was not an important city on the world map 2,000 years ago.  It still is not in today’s political or economic world.  It was more like a modern day truck stop on the way to a major city – Jerusalem.  Today it is a walled-up small city that survives on the arrival of tourists who come to ogle the supposed site of Jesus’ birth.  It is a battle-scarred town divided by deep religious factions that only seems to know peace once a year.  In Jesus’ day, Bethlehem was not prominent.  Its history was more storied than its present.

Bethlehem was a place that served the more impressive city of Jerusalem to the north.  Its trade in sheep, wool and grains provided for the needs of the much bigger and more important metropolis.  Bethlehem was a place one passed through on the way to Jerusalem.  It was rarely, if ever, a destination city.  On the trade route from Egypt, it served as a resting place for the traders.  The surrounding hills provided pasture for the sheep that were used in the temple sacrifices or kitchens of Jerusalem.  Bethlehem, “the house of bread”, also had rich fields surrounding it that provided the wheat and barley for Jerusalem’s bakeries and kitchens.

Like a modern day truck stop, then, traffic was always flowing in and out and through with goods on the way to the more important city of Jerusalem.  At the time of the census, when Joseph had to report to his ancestor’s hometown, Bethlehem, the already bustling city was packed.  The only space available was the equivalent of a small garage where some vehicles of transportation were parked.  Unfortunately, these eco-friendly vehicles would also leave their exhaust all over the floor of the place.

Cascades from Elk Pass Rest Area

Cascades from Elk Pass Rest Area ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

Truck stops are never pretty places.  As much as I appreciate the Flying-J Travel Plazas, Pilot Travel Centers and TravelCenters of America, they are not places I ever intend to stay very long.   I am always just passing through.  On top of it, I would definitely not ever have dreamed of having a child at one of those places.  Perhaps it is for the purpose of avoiding having children at truck stops that doctors now discourage women from traveling during their final couple weeks of pregnancy.

Jerusalem was the capital city; the city of commerce and politics; the center of religion and learning.  Everything and anything important that happened took place in Jerusalem.  In the United States, it would be the equivalent of New York or Los Angeles.  In Europe, it would be the Paris or London.  In Asia, it would be the Tokyo or Beijing.  Anyone who wanted to be anybody made their way to Jerusalem, bought property, and hobnobbed with the rich and powerful.  Perhaps God did not get updated about conditions in Palestine during 1st century B.C./A.D.  I suspect, however, that he had a different plan and procedure than the one derived and practiced by humans since their arrival.

The birth of a messiah and savior would have been much more pronounced if I had been calling the shots.  Everyone on earth would have known that “God-in-the-flesh” had shown up on the scene to straighten out the crookedness of humankind’s ways.  It surely would not have been left up to a few foreign wisemen and local low-class shepherds to welcome the arrival of the most important figure in human history.  But then, I am not God.  This is not my creation.  It is not my story.  Plus, I suspect that God’s ways are directly counter intuitive to most of our human ways.

As it is, God might as well come in disguise. I mean, who among us would be apt to recognize his arrival today anymore than his contemporaries did then?  His economic class, education and means of arrival did not shout “God’s here!” in neon letters that is for sure.  Besides the angelic proclamation to lowly shepherds, no birth announcement cards were sent out.  Likewise, most scholars and religious leaders did not get the cryptic prophetic message left hundreds of years before by various writers of the Old Testament.  So, in a sense, when God sent a savior, he did it on the sly.

So, the most important birth of the most important human was scripted ahead of time to take place in obscurity – a couple of low socio-economic status and a shed on the back side of a truck stop served as the main characters and the setting.  As the story continues, things do not get any better.  Soon the couple was on the run from the law, spent a few years as illegal immigrants in a foreign country and only returned to their own home town years later.  The messiah grew up in obscurity and learned the family business.

This amazing story of truck stop Jesus violates our highest sensibilities of what we believe God is like.  We like to picture him in a Cathedral with mighty stone pillars and statutes, rich woods and tapestries, and lofty music.  I think, rather, that given Jesus’ birth record he would be just as out of place there as he would be at a Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue or Bloomingdales.  After all, we like our deities to remain “high and lifted up” – far above the corruption of lower class humanity.  We would rather have the name of our deity pronounced in the more lofty open throated English “Gawd” than the too familiar buddy-buddy name of Jesus.  Somehow, a god who would prefer blue-grass music to Mozart and Beethoven just does not meet our criteria for divinity.

I suspect that if we were to have to look for Jesus’ arrival today that we would be better off looking for him at a truck stop.  His neighbors are more likely to be migrant workers and trailer park inhabitants than a gated suburban community.  I suspect that his address would more likely be under a bridge, overpass or homeless shelter than in a 2,000 square foot house.  He would be more acquainted with the living conditions of foreigners in our land than the economic well-to-do and socially established.  As a religious reformer, his audience would more likely be among the illiterate and poorly educated working class than among the highly respected theologians and seminarians of our day.  His calloused carpenter hands would shake more gnarled and calloused hands than manicured ones.

In short, most of us might have a hard time relating to this truck stop birth of Jesus.  I suspect, however, that it is all part of God’s redemption scheme.  For those of us who think we are better off than others, we will need to get down on Jesus’ level and humble ourselves to accept him and his mission to the least, the last and the lost of this world.  To those among this latter group, he raises their vision, empowers their future and invites them to participate in his redemption story.  So, the next time you have a chance to stop in your travels at a truck stop, just think to yourself, “Maybe Jesus is here.”

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

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Have you ever experienced a period of time where nothing goes right for you? We all probably have at some point, or will.  I have had a rash of bad circumstances.  My car breaks down and it’s not a minor fix.  Then my computer crashes and it is not a minor fix either.  It takes a couple of overhauls to finally get my computer running right.

My car?  Let’s not talk about that. One of my friends at church told me that he and his buddies knew what to get to help me out.  A mountain bike and a note pad!  Health problems.  Relationship problems.  Child raising problems.  Broken cars and broken computers.  Did I mention an appliance to repair or replace?

When this happens, do you ask, “Why?” I do!  I want to stop it and fix it to get out of the pain as soon as possible.  I want to find the cause for the effects I’m suffering.

Unfortunately, there are no simple answers to that simple question. Sometimes its just life.  Life can be harsh.  People I don’t know, circumstances I cannot foresee or control, can change my life forever.  I can only draw strength from God and others and move on.

At other times, I have to honestly look myself in the mirror and say, “It’s your own fault.” Whether lack of experience, wisdom, or just plain stupidity, I sometimes cause my own greatest pain.  I can only learn from them and go on.

Purple Flowers on Mountain Hike, Full Color, July 2003

Purple Flowers on Mountain Hike, Full Color, July 2003 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

Frequently, I hear people blaming God for their troubles. They think he is paying them back.   They are left wondering what “sin” it was this time that angered God.  As a result of this faulty faith, many live with an unhealthy fear and loathing of God.

I also see many people today loaded down with shame and guilt. Our society seems to thrive on it.  Some individuals relationship with God are based upon a constant sense of shame and guilt.  They think God is always waiting to strike them if they don’t get it right.  They picture him as the great umpire in heaving waiting to call strikes against us – and ultimately to call us, “Out!”

Yes, sometimes we do suffer the consequences of our own sinful actions. But that is not God hammering us.  It is reaping what we sowed.  Just like the laws of physics, there are laws of the human spirit, laws of human relationships, and laws of behavior.  We all violate them at our own risk.

For a reason beyond my understanding, he mostly chooses to not shield us from the effects of our own sinful behavior or sin-filled effects raging in the world.  Instead, he walks us through them and gives us strength in the midst of our troubles.

I do not know about you, but I would much rather have an escape route. However, life does not work that way.  And God chooses not to accommodate me with an escape.  Instead, he promises his presence and power in the middle of it all.   Frankly, I will take that rather than self-reliance or nothing at all.

Many of our insurance policies make allowances for “An Act of God.” Do you see bad circumstances as an act of God?  When bad things fall upon you are you apt to look to heaven and ask, “What did I do?”  You are in good company.  Most people do.  However, that is not how God works with us.

The good news proclaimed in Jesus the Messiah and Savior is that he did not come to condemn the world but to save the world. The world is already under judgment and condemned.  He did not come to add to it.  He came to remove people out from underneath the heavy load of fear, guilt, and shame.

So, when trouble strikes, it’s not an act of God. In our own doing, or just because we live in an imperfect world, things happen to us.  When they do happen, even at our own doing, we no longer need to look for guilt and shame from God but for help and power to overcome.  After all, he is on our side now.

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Lone Tree and Seaside

Lone Tree and Seaside ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

I walk the lonely road of the broken
unseen and yet seen by
more perfect human specimens than I.

I turn my face to its good side
loved and yet unloved by
critical eyes that scan for fleshly flaws.

I cannot hide my cracked and broken self
hated and despised by
myself in the mirror of people’s eyes.

I cannot heal my wounds
festering and seething through
my broken facade of self-made beauty.

I walk the lonely road of the broken
seeking and yet not finding
one who will love my fractured self.

I turn my face in hope of finding
love extended in tender kindness
patiently mending my torn soul.

I expose my cracked and broken self
longing and looking for
a savior to rescue me from my destruction.

Who will heal my wounds?
Who will bind my broken places?
Who will not run from my festering sores?

I walk the lonely road of the broken
looking for you.

© Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

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