Friday, March 27, 2020

Random Thoughts: A New Normal

Have you adjusted to, "Our new normal"? From time to time over the last couple of weeks I've heard people call our international response to COVID-19 our new normal. Each time I hear it I wonder how something so temporary qualifies as normal and being ordered to stay home is anything but normal (fun but not normal). Besides, it's just a matter of time before we all return to our old normal.

Last week Philly's mayor asked businesses to allow employees to work from home. I had already asked for the week off in hopes of resting and watching March Madness. But as you know there is no March Madness this year and I wound up having to check my work email during my break in order to keep up with the changes while we work from home. Still, I had a full week before having to adjust and once my vacation was over I planned for my first week of staying home.

In a way this is a preview of a hoped for future. Between now and the point at which I reach retirement age I hope to be able to work from home. This "New normal" teases that possibility. And although my current schedule is a mix of answering questions for my day job mixed with additional questions from my son's homework, I must say that working from home is quite appealing even when having it forced upon me.

I am gaining a new perspective, encouraged to do more to shape my future. Who knows how much longer I will have to work from home but already this has been a blessing as I enjoy this cloud's silver lining. Have you found a silver lining in your situation? The Bible tells us that God works all for our good (Romans 8:28). These are difficult times but God's nature remains true. He is at work in your situation. Seek Him. Then kickback with some popcorn and watch Him work.

Monday, March 23, 2020

The Humiliation of Jesus Christ

Photo by Rodolfo Clix from Pexels
I suspect there is no place on earth where spitting on someone is an acceptable custom. In fact spitting on someone is a sure fire way to show that you don't respect a person and in many cases that person might respond with violence. So when the soldiers spit on Jesus they weren't doing so as an act of worship. They wanted to let the man know that they were in control and that they could do whatever they wanted. What they wanted was to bring this "King" down a few notches. Spitting was their way of humiliating One who just a few days earlier claimed to be the Son of God.

The Bible tells us that after Pontius Pilate delivered Jesus to be crucified, soldiers took Him into the Praetorium where an entire garrison gathered around Him (Matthew 27:26-27, Mark 15:15-16). The Praetorium served both as the home and judgement seat of a Roman governor, in this case Pilate who was serving as the prefect of Judea. In researching the Praetorium I found myself thinking about what this represented during Jesus' trial. God incarnate, the King of Kings and the LORD of all standing before Pilate in the man made Praetorium. The One who judges all standing before a man and judged under Roman law: His case heard in a building made by human hands. And although Jesus was found not guilty, He would be sentenced to death and taken prisoner by a garrison of Roman troops.

This garrison of troops was likely the one assigned to protect Pilate and the Praetorium. Based on information from several different sources a garrison would have been just under 500 soldiers, implying that the group that gathered around Jesus in the Praetorium was quite large. Unlike the five or ten soldiers often depicted in movies, hundreds of soldiers came to mock this man from Galilee as implied when scripture says the "whole” garrison gathered around Him.

The garrison stripped Him, according to Matthew 27:28. Reading this gave me flashbacks to highschool swimming class. I avoided having to change clothes during gym class by wearing my shorts under my pants. This didn't work when we had to take a semester of swimming. I had no choice but to drop trousers in a locker room full of teenage boys, all of whom trying to keep their eyes focused straight ahead into our assigned lockers. It was unnerving. The occasional taunt or practical joke might have built character but at the time were just downright painful. Jesus was stripped by and in front of a large group of soldiers. I can only think of one word: embarrassing. At least Adam and Eve got to wear fig leaves.

The soldiers then dressed Him in a scarlet robe. Their choice is interesting, as scarlet is also the color of blood and of the stain of our sin which Jesus bore on the cross (Isaiah 1:18). But the soldiers were not thinking of sin when they put the robe on Jesus nor did they care about the burden He would bear when they put upon his head a crown of thorns. His was not a scepter of power but a reed of shame placed in His right hand as they bowed and made fun. They mockingly called Him king. They then spat on Him and hit him in the head with His reed/scepter before once again stripping Him in front of them all.

Jesus made it clear that He could call 12 legions of angels to save Him from this path (Matthew 26:53-54). So why didn't He? Why endure such humiliation when in a snap He could have single handedly turned the tables on each and everyone of those soldiers? I'm not always comfortable with the answer to that question because it involves a love that is deeper than I can even begin to fathom: God's love for you and for me.

My studies of what it means to observe lent have led me to look at the meaning behind Ash Wednesday and Baptism. I also looked at fasting and Jesus’ time in the wilderness. Along with these aspects of the faith, it’s important to think about the abuse Jesu endured at the hands of the soldiers and how humiliating this situation had to have been. He endured being spat on as part of the path necessary for our salvation. It should have been you and me standing before those soldiers. Instead it was our Lord. Keep that in mind as you meditate and consider your relationship with our LORD.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Life in the Wilderness and Fasting

Photo by Mike Andrei from Pexels

Last year I spent some time researching and thinking about Lent, a journey during which I wrote two posts (A post about Ash Wednesday and one on Baptism). Observed by Catholics and Orthodox Christians, Lent is an annual event during which believers reflect upon the meaning of being a Christian as they prepare for Easter. It is a time to repent and for some a time of fasting in hopes of a growing intimacy with our Lord. Lent lasts for forty days (not counting Sundays) matching the time Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness. But why did Jesus fast and is there any spiritual meaning in this for today's believer?

The Bible says the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness where He fasted for forty days and was tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-2). Normally fasts were about repentance or about mourning. Jesus' wilderness trip was about neither, instead being about submission and about spiritual battle. I suspect that fasting helped Jesus stay centered and focused on His Heavenly Father. I also suspect that fasting helped Jesus battle from a position of strength even though we generally associate submission with weakness.

Ultimately that's what Lent is all about: focusing on our Heavenly Father and submitting to His rule. Through repentance the believer turns away from sin which interferes with true intimacy with God. I believe this should be more than just, "I'm going to stop doing this for a time." Repentance comes from the heart as we learn to align our thinking with God's. Fasting, though not required, becomes a form of submission as we put God first while trusting that He will meet our needs.

I do fast occasionally, though never for forty days. I also know others who fast and who testify of spiritual growth that follows their fasts. I find it amazing how God responds when I give myself over to seeking Him in full submission. I don't see fasting as required but I have found it beneficial to my spiritual journey, especially when I find myself in those wilderness moments of spiritual battle. It's during those times, when I find myself in the midst of the struggle, that I am glad that Jesus set an example of fasting and (as He did in the Garden of Gethsemane) of prayer. As I focus on and call out to my Father, I find that He always responds and always brings victory. I believe that if you call upon Him with an earnest heart, He will bring the same to you.