June 16, 2016

Surrounded by Symbols

In life we are surrounded by symbols.  Some psychologists have even said that the ability to think symbolically is one of the most important things that separate us from animals and make us truly human.

We are equipped with the ability to simplify complicated subjects into single words, gestures and images. Many symbols even have a strong emotional value for us, the flag of our country, for example. Symbols bring out our feelings about our faith. Religious symbols are a way to unite members of a common faith tradition, and to indicate to others the religious tradition they represent:

In Christianity, the Cross and the Lord's Supper are two of the most powerful, emotional symbols. The Lord's Supper invites all to come to the table and receive the life of God, share in the victory of Christ, and enter into the mystery of the Spirit.

In Hinduism, the "Om" (which is made up of three Sanskrit letters) is an important religious symbol.

In Buddhism, the Wheel of Dharma is an important symbol.

In Taoism, the most well known religious symbol is the Yin and the Yang.

In Judaism, the blowing of the shofar, the ram’s horn, is significant. It is a reference to all those who are “sleeping” (who spend their days without examining the consequences of their actions) that they should arise from their slumber... the voice of the shofar cries out “Awake! Examine your deeds; repent and remember your Creator.

In the LGBT community, to demonstrate solidarity and unity for a common cause, and to graphically represent their vision, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups over the years have used a variety of symbols. 
The rainbow flag has become the most universal.

In Islam, the star and crescent is the best-known symbol. The symbol is not Muslim in origin, it was a polytheistic icon adopted during the spread of Islam. The crescent moon and star symbol actually pre-dates Islam by several thousand years. The faith of Islam has historically had no symbol, and many in the Muslim world today refuse to accept what is essentially an ancient pagan icon.

My trip to Jerusalem inspired me to look more closely at symbols. I challenge you to do the same. What you find may surprise you, even enlighten you.

Joppa, Israel. Photo by Jason E. Royle

May 19, 2016

Jesus Chose His Path

Jesus chose his path, he chose to leave the relative safety of Galilee and his rural ministry, and he chose to confront the political and religious power-structures at the very heart of their existence, in Jerusalem.

But this shouldn't come as a big surprise.  God has allowed us to choose from the very beginning, for example, the presence of a forbidden tree places Adam and Eve in a position of having to choose whether to obey or disobey. Cain and Abel, both sons of Adam.  Abel chooses God. Cain chooses murder.  And God lets him.

Abraham and Lot, both pilgrims of Canaan.  Abraham chooses God.  Lot chooses Sodom.  And God lets him.  David and Saul, both kings of Israel.  David chooses God.  Saul chooses power.  And God lets him.  Peter and Judas, both apostles, both deny their Lord.  Peter denies him three times. Judas once.  Peter seeks mercy.  Judas seeks death.  And God lets him.

Throughout history God has given us the freedom to choose.  And no one preached about this more often and more clearly than Jesus.  According to him, we can choose narrow gate or a wide gate; the narrow road or the wide road.  We can choose to build on solid rock or on sinking sand; serve God or riches; be numbered among the sheep or the goats; attend the great banquet or remain outside in darkness.

Isn't this Christianity’s call?  Hurry-up and make a choice!  
Do I choose to follow the God of my salvation, or not?

So here it is 2016 and all of us have an opportunity to be just like Jesus, by that I mean, we have ever before us an opportunity to make a choice.  And just what choice would that be? Jesus stands at the door and knocks - it is your choice whether or not to let him in, offer him a seat, and listen to what he has to say.

Artwork,Joppa, Israel - photo by Jason E. Royle

April 21, 2016

Do Not Work for Food that Spoils

“Do not work for food that spoils,” Jesus said, “but for food that endures to eternal life..." (see John 6:24-35).  Long ago Isaiah the prophet made a similar remark:  “Why do you spend your money on that which is not bread?  Why do you labor for that which does not satisfy? (Isaiah 55:2)

For some reason we here in America are driven by a desire to have more for ourselves and less for everyone else, and unfortunately we are unable to imagine things any other way.  For many, there is no other reality by which life is measured:
All too often people end up going through life 
striving for more on the outside while 
spiritually starving themselves to death on the inside.

“You are looking for me NOT because you saw miraculous signs,” (Jesus said to the crowd) “but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.” 

“You have seen wonderful things,” Jesus here is saying…“You have seen how God’s grace enabled a crowd to be fed. Your thoughts, therefore, should have been turned to the God who did these things, but instead, all that you are thinking about is bread.  You are not thinking about your souls because you waste too much time thinking about your stomachs!”

I realize people must eat to satisfy their hunger and sustain their health Everyone knows this. Jesus knew this. But in order to satisfy your spiritual hunger and sustain your spiritual life you must have a relationship with God Just like you must eat food daily to sustain your physical life, Christ must be invited into your daily walk in order to sustain your spiritual life as well. 

This is the balance I believe Jesus wanted the crowd to discover; it’s the kind of balance I believe God wants everyone to discover. 

April 7, 2016

Jesus Draws in a Deep Breath

Then Jesus draws in a deep breath, pushes his feet down on the nail, and cries, “It is finished.”

WHAT was finished? The history-long plan of redeeming humanity was finally finished.  What God sent Jesus to do, was done.  The message of God to the world was finished.  The work done by Jesus as a man on earth was finished.  The blood had been poured.  The sacrifice had been made.  It was over. 
Really?  There is nothing more.  No more hope?  No more words to be spoken?  No more thoughts to conceive?  What did Jesus’ last words mean?  Defeat?  Hardly. The mission Jesus had come to accomplish was finished, but the Spirit of Jesus was not. The devastated disciples in Matthew’s Gospel concluded that the mission unto which they had poured their life and energy had ended with Jesus’ final breath. (Mt. 26:56) The soldiers who had pierced Jesus’ side with a spear assumed that the social upheaval caused by the activities of this rebel were finally finished. (John 19:33-34).  The on-edge religious leaders hoped and prayed that his annoying influence on others was “finished”…  just to make sure they asked Pilate to super seal Jesus’ tomb to so that the disciples wouldn’t be able steal his body. (Mt. 27:62-66).

Satan cheerfully assumed that the threat from his sworn enemy had come to an end, and so he gloated, skipped down hell’s highway with a smile on his face that Jesus was finally dead and buried. But all of them—were wrong!  Three days later the Redeemer rose in victory from the grave.  Where now O’ death is your victory?  Where now O’ death is your sting?

Garden of Gethsemane, 2016 by Jason E. Royle

March 31, 2016

God asks Jonah

As the story goes…God asks Jonah to go to Nineveh, a corrupt city, and tell them that if they repent they will "not" be destroyed.  Well this annoys Jonah, who thinks the Ninevites deserve whatever they get.  After peevishly pouting and fretting, Jonah comes up with a plan, he decides to run away by boarding the nearest ship and sailing as far away as he can possibly go in order to flee from God.

But there is a storm, and in desperation the sailors toss Jonah (who told them he was fleeing God) overboard into the sea, (he is, after all, a runaway from his religion) and Jonah is swallowed by a huge fish, a whale. Jonah prays to the Lord for three days and at the end of that time the Lord tells the fish to spit Jonah out onto dry land.  After all this God again asks Jonah to go to Nineveh; eventually he does, reluctantly.  The people hear Jonah’s message, and ALL of them, from the greatest to the least, repent.  The Lord, upon seeing this, has compassion and does not bring about the destruction he had threatened.

Jonah is not the first person to run away from God and will certainly not be the last. Travel north east to Nineveh, God tells Jonah, but the stubborn prophet deliberately heads west.  Like a scared house cat Jonah does exactly the opposite; he wants no part of the job God assigned.  Yet in the long run there is no escape.  After a number of extraordinary experiences at sea, Jonah finds himself seated somewhere on a sunny beach with that same job bouncing right back at him again...“Arise!  Go to Nineveh!” the Lord said…stop trying to flee your calling.

In a world where celebrities and politicians come announcing their own agenda―Jonah comes along in the voice of a less-than-perfect prophet announcing GOD’s agenda.  We can attempt to flee,(throughout life we will again and again try to flee), but in the end there is no place to hide―the GOOD news―we may try to walk out on God―but God will NEVER walk out on us!  “Arise, and go forth” the Lord says to you and me―stop trying to flee your Christian duty―but rather―learn to embrace your Great Commission calling.

Sea of Galilee, photo by Jason Royle, 2016

March 28, 2016

Jesus Returns to His Hometown

In Mark 6:1-6 Jesus returns to his hometown and quickly discovers the harsh reality that his current image is not very well liked, by anyone. He has been rejected not only by the mighty religious leaders, but also by the closest of his connections, the people who should have known him best and loved him the most, his hometown friends.

When Jesus returns to Nazareth and teaches in the synagogue, the people there are amazed by his wisdom and his miracles, but they find themselves unable to reconcile what they see and hear with what they know about the Jesus of the past…..that he is just a local carpenter’s son.  Many commentator’s like to point out here that the old saying, “familiarity breeds contempt,” might be a good title for this section.

The town’s folk fail to see–recognize–understand that God is remarkably at work in a hometown boy, and they point to his family history as proof that he is just one of them. “Come on,” he watered our donkeys.  He fed our livestock.  Not the little boy we used to go fishing with and swimming with and hiking with.  Not the little neighborhood boy who hauled our water from the well and carried our vegetables from the market.  How could God come to us in such a common and ordinary way as to come through Jesus of Nazareth?  Jesus certainly doesn’t measure up to our expectations of what it means to be The Messiah.

And so with cynicism dripping from their words they remark, “Is not this the carpenter?”  Of course he was the carpenter.  They didn’t mean that as a compliment.  They took offense.  We really don’t know why they took offense at him.  We know that Jesus teaches with authority, which may have offended those who were at one time an authority figure to Jesus, and who may even still see themselves that way.  It may be that they did not think he was professionally qualified to teach.  Whatever the reason, it quickly becomes tempting to think that the old saying “familiarity breeds contempt” rings true for Jesus on this particular day.

Unfortunately, just like those in his hometown, OUR familiarity with Jesus (our familiarity with church, our familiarity with traditions, our familiarity with rituals) can sometimes make it more difficult for us to recognize the movement of God’s handy work in OUR lives as well.  May our familiarity not breed contempt or contentment, but movement to be more like Jesus Christ.

The Lord's Prayer in Chinese. 
Photo by: Jason Royle, Holy Land Trip, 2016

Color God - Christian Poem

Color God

What color is God?

The beautiful rainbow after a storm,
The yellow sun that meets us each morn,
The emerald green of the deep sea, 
The blue sky staring down at me, 
The red roses planted on the hill,
The white snot of a winter's thrill, 
The purple peak of a mountain high,
Or the pit black night of a starless sky.

Perhaps God is just a puff of wind,
The clean, clean air that we all breathe in,
For God is the breadth of life.
Color God—but not with the death of life.

Tel Aviv water fountain, photo by Jason Royle
Poem by: Victoria A. Casey