February 24, 2015

Foxes have holes

As they were going down the road someone says to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.”  And Jesus says to them, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Jesus’ invitation to share in his homelessness likely stops the would-be follower of Christ in his tracks. Kingdom life is always growing, always changing, an unpopular kind of life; it doesn't allow you time to settle into complacency, all the comforts of a stable lifestyle cease to exist. Faith becomes your guide, not your luxuries. Thus the Son the Man has no need for a mortgage payment, no need to mow the lawn, or rake leaves, or wash the car... these things consume too much valuable time.

Jesus has a second encounter. To this person he says simply: “Follow me,” and the man says, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father” – “Let the dead bury their own dead,” Jesus tells him, “I need you to go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Now this seems like a reasonable request.  And absolutely, it is more than fair to ask permission to go bury your deceased father, but not if you take into consider the perspective I’m about to share, one about a peculiar practice that began around the time of Jesus where people in the Jerusalem area began a type of “secondary burial.” 

Rabbinical sources, archeologist, early historians, all confirm that for a period of about 100 years this practice gained in popularity in and around Jerusalem during the time of Jesus. What is secondary burial? Secondary burial is when someone dies and a family member wraps the body in a shroud and places it in a slot in a tomb carved out of soft rock.  Perhaps they left a few artifacts: a perfume bottle, a small lamp, a memento to accompany the deceased.  Then the family waits—for 12 months—they wait for the flesh to decompose.  Then one or more family members re-enters the tomb, gathers up the bones and places them in an ossuary.  There are many different theories about how and why this practice began and what it means.

My point is: This man was asking Jesus to let him wait the customary 12 months until secondary burial took place. Now who is being unreasonable!?

This hard saying has to do with priorities, of making wise use of your time, of choosing God over everything else. Commitment to anything else before the kingdom of God simply will not do (ensuring your father’s funeral arrangements are properly executed is no exception).

Finally another person tells the Lord, “Lord, I’ll follow you but first let me go back and say good-by to my family." To that person Jesus says, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Again, Jesus seems to be saying that the kingdom of God must come first. Take plowing a straight row, for example.  Look back, lose your concentration, let your mind wander, and the nice straight rows become useless zigzags in the dirt.  Not paying attention results in inferior work. And so it is in our relationship with God.

Our Christian journey involves choices and commitments. The three encounters in Luke’s gospel are about choices and commitment. The relationship between Jesus and his disciples (us) is much more than simply signing your name on a list to take a trip to heaven some day.

It is a lifetime journey of becoming fit for the kingdom—it’s a commitment to seeking out a deep and lasting relationship with God, it’s a commitment that has the power to transform us into something that more closely resembles The Master. (Luke 9:57:62).

Rudy Royle

February 19, 2015

Ash Wednesday: Why 40 days?

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent.
Many Christians mark the season by making a spiritual commitment that helps them focus more on Christ: giving up a habit or luxury; reading a daily devotional; doing volunteer work;  taking a short-term mission trip; helping a neighbor. 

Why 40 days? 
40 day periods of time commonly accompany close encounters
with God in the Bible.  For example:

 It rained 40 days and nights: Gen 7:4, 12. 

40 days after sighting the tops of the mountains, 
Noah set forth a raven and dove: Gen 8:6-7.

Joseph mourned the death of his father Jacob 
for a period of 40 days: Gen 49:33; 50:3.

          Moses spent 40 days in fasting on Mt. Sinai prior to his receiving 
the Ten Commandments ( Exodus 34:28, Deu 9:9-11).

Moses pleads for Israel 40 days on Sinai: Deu 9:18-25, 10:10.

Canaan spied on for 40 days: Num 13:25, 14:34.

Goliath taunted Israel for 40 days: 1 Sam 17:16.

Elijah fasted and journeyed to Horeb for 40 days: 1 Kings 19:8.

Ezekiel bore the iniquity of Judah for 40 days: Eze 4:6.

Jonah warned Nineveh of judgment in 40 days: Jonah 3:4.

Jesus fasted in the wilderness for 40 days: Matt 4:2, Mark 1:13, Luke 4:2.

Jesus was seen for 40 days after His crucifixion: Acts 1:3.

Cabin in the woods, Gatlinburg, TN

February 16, 2015

Genesis 3:19

Why Ashes?
Genesis 3:19

Many denominations begin Lent marked by ashes on the forehead or hand reminding us that we are not going to make it out of this world alive.  Everything we are and have will return to the earth—everything except our soul.  God’s hands formed our bodies from the earth—then God breathed spirit and life into our bodies and all of creation. 

Our life is a gift from God.  When we are done with these bodies they will return again to the earth from which they came.  We live by the grace of God’s tender hands, cherishing what we are called to do and what we have been given, eventually we must let go. 

Prayer:  Dear God, help us hold tightly to the things of eternal value and help us hold loosely to everything else.

Ash Trivia:  The ashes used for “Ash Wednesday” are made by burning the palm leaves that were distributed the previous year on Palm Sunday.

February 2, 2015

Jesus the Healer

Three times in a row in Mark’s gospel we see Jesus the healer in action (see Mark 1:29-39). First he healed in the synagogue then he healed in the house of his friends, now he healed in the street, the people are lining up—they are bringing Jesus their uncured, their lame, their blind, their sick…“the whole town has gathered at the door,” scripture tells us.  
Let’s try to imagine what Jesus was trying to reveal to his disciples on this extraordinary day involving a series of healings.  Whether it literally happened within a twenty-four hour period of time is not that important. 

What is important—this is the way Jesus began to form the church—with healing.

If you are not feeling well, spiritually, your first priority is to let God heal you and make you whole. We can have spiritual healing, with God’s help, we just have to ask. 

True healing beginswithin.

“A wise Christian is much like a John the Baptist who recognizes that 
his only mission is to prepare the way for greater healing.”  (J. Royle)

January 15, 2015

God Calls Samuel

God calls to Samuel one night.  And Samuel gets up to ask Eli what he wanted (First Samuel 3:1-10).  But Eli had not called.  This happened a second time and finally Eli realized that God was calling Samuel and instructed the child, coached the child to answer, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” 

Yahweh did call for a third time, and this time Samuel responded as he was instructed. And so it was that Samuel finally heard what it was God wanted to say to him.  And so it was that Samuel learned the fate which was to fall upon Eli. And so it was that Samuel becomes the hope of a new beginning.  The lamp burns brightly, once again.  The times may have been dark in the days of Samuel, and the presence of God among his people somewhat sporadic, but there is good news—the lamp of God had not yet gone out.

Isn’t that the promise of Advent?
(That God’s light still has the power to overcome darkness).

Isn’t that the mystery of Christmas?
(That God’s light still lives among us–even when we fail to see it).

Isn’t that the heart of Epiphany?
(That the light of God’s love has not gone out, but still burns freely for all the world to see). 
                                                                    Clingmans Dome, TN

December 24, 2014

The Christmas Story

The Christmas Story

a  marriage vow
an angel dream
a  virgin blessed
a  promised King
a  troublesome word
a “how can this be?”
a  faithful heart
“may it be to me”
a  Caesar decree
a  census to run
an  inn with no room
a  feed trough
a  Son
a  stable to house
a  manger to hold
a  swaddling cloth
to ward off the cold
a  shepherd’s night watch
an  angel therein
a  message of joy
a  “goodwill toward men”
a  heavenly host
a  sky all ablaze
a  Savior
the Christ
a  chorus of praise
the regal robed kings
a  star to behold
incense and myrrh
a  gift of pure gold
the kings from the east
worship and part
the mother of God
her pondering heart
the words—all familiar
the story—quite old
the tone—amazement
the setting—bold
the subject—a Child
a mystery—the theme
the narrative—holy
the purpose—redeem

-by:  JD Collier

December 18, 2014

Advent Poem

Advent is a time to search our hearts, to discover, both individually and as a community, where we can do a little better – while the days are going by...
      There are lonely hearts to cherish
        There are weary souls who perish,
                While the days are going by-
        If, with a smile we can renew,
        As our life journey we pursue,
        Oh, think of all the good we can do,
                While the days are going by-
        There’s no time for idle scorning,
        Let your face be like the morning,
                While the days are going by-
        The world is already full of sighs,
        Full of sad and weeping eyes;
        Let our job be to help others rise,
                While the days are going by-
        All the loving links that bind us,
        One by one, we leave behind us,
                While the days are going by-
        But the seeds of good we sow,
        Both in shade and shine will grow.
        So let us keep our hearts aglow,
                While the days are going by-

         (by George Cooper, abridged by J. E. Royle)