Friday, March 29, 2013

Famous (almost) Last Words...Really!

If you could choose your last words, what would that be? Words of encouragement? Words of love?

In the Gospels, Jesus has 7 last words. Well...almost last words...(because He rose again).

Luke 23:34-Jesus asks God to forgive the people who were crucifying Him.
Luke 23:43-Jesus tells one of the thieves that the thief will be with Him in paradise.
John 19:26-27-Jesus tells Him mother "here is your son" and one of the disciples "Here is your mother."
Mark 15:34/Matt. 27:46-Jesus cries out "my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
John 19:28-Jesus says "I am thirsty."
John 19:30-Jesus said "It is finished."
Luke 23:46-Jesus gave His Spirit to the Father.

There are a few sites that have created devotionals around the 7 almost last words of Jesus. See here and here. I encourage you to read over these last words of Jesus on Black Friday (today) and reflect on His words and His sacrifice.

The one that I find most intriguing is Mark 15:34/Matt. 27:46. I find it intriguing because it's quoting a Psalm that's a foreshadowing prophecy about Jesus's death. (See Psalm 22). Psalm 22 is one of the Psalms of David. How interesting that the haunting cry of Jesus on the cross is, in fact, Him praying a Psalm.

Matthew 27:43 is almost a direct quote of Psalm 22:7-8. "He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’" [All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. "He  trusts in the LORD," they say, "let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him."] Verses 7-8

In John 19:28, Jesus is thirsty. In Psalm 22:15, His mouth is dry. Psalm 22:16-18 goes on to describe His hands and feet being pierced, as well as His clothes being divided. [My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.] Verses 15-18

Yet, the end of the Psalm assures us that God has listened to His cry for help. [For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.] Verse 24

How do the last words of Jesus impact you? What do they show you about God?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Holy Week and Resurrection Sunday

Holy Week is the week leading up to Resurrection Sunday (Easter). It begins with the triumphal entry on Palm (Passion) Sunday. The week continues with Maundy (Holy) Thursday, Good (Holy) Friday, and Holy Saturday. It climaxes with Resurrection Sunday (Easter).

Maundy Thursday is when the last supper was held. Christians get the tradition of communion (Eucharist/sacrament of Thanksgiving) from this meal. Jesus and His disciples were in Jerusalem for Passover and that was the meal they were sharing. The color is red for the disciples.

On Good/Holy Friday, believers are to remember the suffering of Christ. His arrest, trial, crucifixion, suffering, death, and burial are the focus of the service. No communion is given; communion is a celebration. The color of the service is black: for sin, for death, for the thought of life without God.

Some denominations mark the following passages as containing the last phrases Jesus spoke before His death and resurrection:
7 last words of Jesus
Luke 23: 34, 43, 46
John 19:26-27, 28, 30
Matthew 27:46
Mark 15:34

Some churches have a service of darkness/shadows. It is a service of scripture and meditation. As the service progresses, lights and candles are gradually extinguished, to represent the growing darkness of Jesus’s death and hopelessness in world without God. The last candle lit is the Christ candle (see, it's not just for advent!). This candle is extinguished and carried out, to symbolize his death. After a loud noise that symbolizes the closing of the tomb, the congregation leaves in silence.

Holy Saturday is a day of rest, reflection, and waiting. It is a time to remember family and friends who have died (while we await the resurrection), to honor martyrs, to fast, to keep a vigil.

The service on Resurrection Sunday (Easter) starts in darkness. As the service progresses, a candle is lit and others candles are lit from it. Lights are turned on as scriptures are read. This is a joyful service. The traditional carry-in dinner is to break the fast of Holy Saturday. The color is white for the resurrection.

Some churches display a rough, wooden cross during Lent and cover it in flowers for Resurrection Sunday. Some churches display a miniature tomb that is opened for the service.

You might be wondering why I keep calling Easter "Resurrection Sunday." I personally believe it is more accurate. When I was researching Easter, I found out that the name is strongly steeped in paganism (based on the word for the English goddess of Spring). History, Origins, and Practices of Easter. I like the thought of using a name that directly spells out what is so great about this holiday.

What are some of your traditions for Resurrection Sunday (Easter)?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Decorate the Cross

Have you ever learned of a tradition that you then want to incorporate?

Well, I learned of a new tradition, known as the flowering Easter cross, from the Easter Season page of the Christian Resource Institute. This cross is actually set up during Lent or at the start of Holy Week. It is supposed to be a rough, wooden cross. Each service of Lent, it is a plain, rough, wooden cross. During the Black Friday service, it is covered in black cloth. On Easter Sunday, the cross is decorated in flowers and white cloth. Jesus is risen!! The bare cross is now carrying blooming flowers.

The power of that symbolism stopped me in my tracks. How would seeing that rough cross every Sunday impact my Lent? How would seeing the flowering cross on Easter Sunday impact the joy of the resurrection? For the visual learners, it's one thing to hear about the importance of Jesus' death on the cross, but to be faced with a cross and then see flowering life on the instrument of death? That seems powerful.

The colors of the church year events have a novel symbolism for me. The following are several sites that explain the symbolism of the different colors of the church year: Liturgical Colors, Colors of the Church Year, and The Church Year in Full Color. If you are wanting more information on different ways to celebrate the church year, check out Liturgical Year Activities. Resurrection Sunday (what most people call Easter) is quickly approaching. This site here provides a little bit of the background of Easter.

I challenge you to research traditions that your church practices and learn the meaning behind them. How else will they hold meaning for you?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A New Look at the Psalms

The book of Psalms is one of my favorite books of the Bible. One day, someone mentioned that Moses had written a Psalm. I started to group them by their author and here's what I came up with. There are some overlaps between the Psalms of Ascents and other categories.

Psalm Number
Unknown Author
Psalm 1, 2, 10, 33, 43, 66-67, 71, 91-100, 102, 104-107, 111-121, 123, 125-126, 128-130, 132, 135-137, 146-150
Psalms of David
Psalm 3-9, 11-32, 34-41, 51-65, 68-70, 86, 101, 103, 108-110, 122, 124, 131, 133, 138-145
Sons of Korah
Psalm 42, 44-49, 84-85, 87
Psalm 50, 73-83
Psalm 120-134
Psalm 72, 127
Psalm 90
Ethan the Ezrahite
Psalm 89
Psalm 92
Giving Thanks
Psalm 100
Afflicted One
Psalm 102

Consider reading the Psalms by the author (or lack thereof) instead of their numerical order. Try to camp out in the book that shows the heights and depths of human emotions. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Bless the Lord, O My Soul (Psalm 103)

I've been thinking about the concept of Jewish-blessing prayers again. (You can read my first rambling on it here.)

The idea is simple, throughout my day, whenever I see something that prompts my prayers, I will utter a short (one sentence) prayer praising God.

Side Tangent: Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg introduced me to this idea in their book Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith. Lois Tverberg expands more on the Jewishness of Jesus in her next book Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewish Words of Jesus can Change Your Life. It is fascinating to be shown Jesus in the context of a 1st century Jewish Rabbi, instead of in the context of a modern Christian preacher.

A blessing-prayer is a praise; it's a prayer of thanksgiving to God.  Pages 92-98 of Spangler & Tverberg's book gives many examples of these prayers, but they are easy to invent as well. Hebrew4Christians, Tverberg, Tverberg, another blogger, and another blogger have many examples of blessing-prayers for many, many occasions.

What am I thankful for?
Delicious strawberries? I should thank God for them.
Beauty in nature? I should thank God for it.
Eating bread? I should thank God for it.
God met my needs? I should thank God for that.
I have money for ______? see above.
Thunder in a storm? I should thank God.
Reaching a special day? I should thank God.
Seeing a rainbow? I should thank God.
Seeing the ocean? I should thank God.
When traveling far away? I should thank God.
Returning from travel, getting better after sickness, released from prison, safety from natural disasters? I should thank God.
When it's raining or I'm getting dressed or other events? I should thank God.
Seeing lightning? I should thank God.
And when something goes wrong, there's a blessing prayer for that.

Little prayers throughout the day to foster my thankfulness. I like the sound of that.

You may think that this blog title comes from 10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman, but I actually got it from Psalm 103.

What are you thankful for? Have you thanked the giver of what you are thankful for?

Friday, March 8, 2013

Exploring the Commandments Part 11-Specific People or Region

For the backstory of what this blog series is on and why it has been written, check out part 1 and part 2 of the series. The original list of all 613 commandments in their textual order that I used came from the site Hebrew4Christians. <> 
Some commandments apply to specific people. If you are interesting in completing a Nazarite vow, check out the commandments describing it. Priests had their own specific rules (and a commandment to respect them). The Jews were commanded to sacrifice at the Temple. Since the temple was destroyed, no one can sacrifice any more). While many Christians view many of the dietary restrictions to be outdated, they still have merit. Such as the commandment to not be a drunk or a glutton. 
  # 18 Commandments Concerning Specific People or Region: When I sorted the commandments, I came up with 186 about Specific People or Region. I further divided them into the following categories: Nazarite Vow, Priests, Temple, Offerings/Sacrifices, Dietary Concerns.

1.    # 18.1 Commandments Concerning the Nazarite Vow: When I sorted the commandments, I came up with 10 about the Nazarite Vow.
       A)    If doing the Nazarite vow, follow these guidelines (Num. 6)

2.    # 18.2 Commandments Concerning Priests: When I sorted the commandments, I came up with 82 about Priests.        A)    Respect and honor priests (Lev. 21:8)       B)    If a priest, follow these guidelines (Exo. 25-30, Lev. 6-7, 10, 16, 21-22, etc)

3.    # 18.3 Commandments Concerning the Temple: When I sorted the commandments, I came up with 8 about the Temple.        A)    Sacrifice only at the Temple. Don’t sacrifice elsewhere (Deut .12:26, Lev. 17:4)       B)    Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice

4.    # 18.4 Commandments Concerning Offerings/Sacrifices: When I sorted the commandments, I came up with 62 about the Offerings/Sacrifices.       A)    Don’t sacrifice anywhere you want to (see Temple) (Deut. 12:13)

5.    # 18.5 Commandments Concerning Dietary Concerns: When I sorted the commandments, I came up with 24 about the Dietary Concerns.       A)    Don’t be a drunk, glutton, or live-animal-eater. (Lev. 19:26)
       B)    Many of the food requirements were altered by Jesus (that which defiles) and the Holy Ghost (take Peter, Kill and eat)

And somewhere, I lost 4 commandments. 609 total were counted.

Parsons, John J.. "Taryag Mitzvot 613 Commandments of Torah." Hebrew4Christians. Web. 2004. <>.

This sums up my exploration of the commandments. This was an very interesting study. I am very grateful for Mr. Parsons letting me use his list of all 613 commandments.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Exploring the Commandments Part 10: Misc. Categories

For the backstory of what this blog series is on and why it has been written, check out part 1 and part 2 of the series. The original list of all 613 commandments in their textual order that I used came from the site Hebrew4Christians. <> 
God gave instructions on punishing rebellious cities.

 # 13 Commandments Concerning Rebellious Cities: When I sorted the commandments, I came up with 3 about Rebellious Cities.

1.    Destroy rebellious cities and don’t profit from them (Deut .13: 17-18)

Strangers are to be treated well, as are converts. We don't need to be afraid of our enemies.

# 14 Commandments Concerning Other Nations: When I sorted the commandments, I came up with 17 about Other Nations.

1.    Treat strangers nicely (Deut. 10:19)

2.    Don’t be afraid of enemies during wars (Deut. 20:3)

3.    Don’t wrong/oppress converts (Exo. 22:20)

God gave instructions to provide sanitation measures and for treating lepers/uncleanness. 
# 15.1 Commandments Concerning Sanitation: When I sorted the commandments, I came up wit 3 about Sanitation.
1.    Have an outside-of-the-city sewage plant and bury your poop (Deut. 23:13-14)
2.    # 15. 2 Commandments Concerning Lepers/Unclean (subcategory sanitation): When I sorted the commandments, I came up with 22 about Lepers/Unclean.
       a)    In a nutshell, isolate unclean people until they are cleaned and purified (Lev. 11-15)

The Israelites were given specific instructions in how to dress. They would have differed from those around them, at a glance.

# 16 Commandments Concerning Clothing: When I sorted the commandments, I came up with 11 about Clothing.

1.    Jews were given guides on clothing and this helped to set them apart at a glance from other peoples.

2.    Don’t cross-dress (Deut. 22:5)

3.    Wear reminders of the Torah (Numbers 15:38, Deut. 6:8)

My typical Bible translation says "don't sacrifice your child to Molek" for this Leviticus passage.
# 17 Commandments Concerning Things I Couldn’t Find a Category For: When I sorted the commandments, I came up with 14 about the Things I Couldn’t Find a Category For.

1.    Don’t abort babies or kill children (Lev.18:21)

Parsons, John J.. "Taryag Mitzvot 613 Commandments of Torah." Hebrew4Christians. Web. 2004. <>.