In or out of
the cave?

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you

Imagine living our lives in a cave. We can see nothing but images projected on wall in front of us. We are prevented from knowing their true nature. To us, these shadows are our reality. We may name and define the shadows. We may create and entire understanding based on these shadows. But what, if suddenly, we were able to break free from this perceived reality to see things as they really are?

On this Low Sunday let us return to the cave where Jesus had been buried.

In all the encounters in and around that cave, from the burial of Jesus to just after his resurrection, we find people deciding how they would live.

The Jewish leaders had asked for a guard for the tomb. They knew Jesus’ claims. They asked Pilate for soldiers. “You have a guard,” Pilate said. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.

The guards who had been there the morning of the resurrection ran off to Jerusalem to report what had happened. A meeting with the elders was called, and they decided to give the soldiers a large bribe. They told the soldiers, “You must say, ‘Jesus’ disciples came during the night while we were sleeping, and they stole his body.’ If the governor hears about it, we’ll stand up for you so you won’t get in trouble.” So the guards accepted the bribe and said what they were told to say.

The elders and the guards decided they would live in the cave, to stay there in a world of shadows, refusing to acknowledge the truth.

Peter and John went into the tomb, as did the women who arrived first. They saw the reality. Perhaps not understanding it fully, they still accepted and witnessed by leaving the cave behind.

St. Peter praises God today for a new birth to a living hope. He recognizes the fact that the tomb – Jesus’ tomb and in fact his and our tombs, those caves, are to be left behind. We have reality, understanding – and best of all an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for us.

Jesus works to lift us up out of our caves. When we are stubborn like St. Thomas was, He will confront us. He will ask us to see reality and to hope – not just a hope of desire, or of wanting things to be a certain way – but hope that is evident. Let us set forth into the sunlight of Jesus, leaving caves behind.

A whole
year.

Then the angel said to the women in reply, “Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said.”

Raised just as he said. Suddenly all else Jesus said, the full impact of His words, was realized. This came home to me as I prepared the foods for our Easter basket.

I had filled the salt shaker to the top and sealed it, only to realize I hadn’t placed a piece of saran wrap over the top to prevent spillage. As I unscrewed the top to apply the wrap, well there it all went. Salt all over the floor.

The immediate import of the Lord’s words came to me: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” This salt was indeed under my feet and was being trampled into the linoleum. It was useless.

Look at this beautiful drawing completed by our youth (and a few adults). It is various styles of homes. We have square, rectangular, and round homes. We have monochrome and multicolor homes. We have traditional style homes and very contemporary style homes.

If you look very closely at the very first home on the block, there is a sign in the window. Traviss placed a sign in his window that shows a wisdom beyond that of any philosopher or theologian. His house proclaims, “Easter Year.”

That is what this day is all about. This is the sudden and remarkable change this day brings to us. Today gives us Easter forever.

The world offers all sorts of alleged salt and light; none of it lasting. Its salt loses its flavor quickly and is never truly satisfying. Its light is a momentary flash quickly returning us to darkness.

On this most sacred of days it all changed. We went from living day-to-day, grasping after the limited and unfulfilling, and became people of eternal salt and light. We received the power of His eternal promise. Just as He said.

The Lord, in His rising, gives us the opportunity to not only live a year of Easter, but a lifetime of Easter. The wonder of this Easter Sunday is that it made every Sunday this Sunday. Every Sunday throughout the years, decades, and centuries are Easter. We own the perpetual Easter just as Jesus said – days filled with God ordained hope, the perpetual renewal and re-flavoring of our lives.

The sudden and remarkable begun this day has changed us. This day gives us the grace to be the real salt that never loses flavor, that never becomes worthless. The full reality of all Jesus said is real, ours, every day Easter – a sign for our homes – a sign to live by.

Acceptance today.
The gift of glory.

But Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, and gave up his spirit.

We walked through Lent and have reflected on God’s conviction from all sorts of angles.

We started by reflecting on the necessity of choosing differently. Confronted by our conviction, we recognize that the natural outcome of our choices is a judgment of guilty and certain death. Yet, if we chose differently, with Jesus as our model, we are acquitted and receive the abundance of grace and the gift of justification.

We learned that our acceptance of conviction leads to moving from the conviction of guilt to conviction in righteousness. That acceptance and the righteousness that comes from it, allows us to move mountains, change the world, bear much fruit, and be truly victorious.

We know that God waits to meet us. That encounter offers the opportunity to accept our conviction – something that is never compulsory. If we accept our conviction we obtain immediate salvation and begin bearing the fruits that come from that acceptance. We witness and draw many to Jesus.

We found that in Jesus, wherever we come from or whatever we have done is of no account once we accept conviction. We move from who we were to being His children of light. The only reality that matters.

We realized that encounter and conviction, if accepted, provides a gift of faith so deep and powerful that not even death can diminish it. Not death, not disappointment, nothing! We develop a powerful ‘even now’ faith that actively trusts.

This Lenten journey and exploration begins its ending today. As we reflect on the road to the cross and grave we see many seeming to work contrary to God. We see a parade of human sinfulness and its apparent consequences. Those who failed to accept conviction held onto their alleged power. Judas, holding onto the purse, betrays Jesus. The disciples holding onto their perceptions of love and faithfulness, run away because their opinions do not stand up to challenge. The religious leaders hang onto external acts of religion over deep internal change. Pilate and the Roman soldiers hold unto political power, a power that only lasts for a time. The crowds hold unto whatever opinion is popular now. Jesus alone – the one who could never be convicted – accepts conviction.

Jesus submitted to the Father’s will, took up the cross, and staggered through a parade of non-acceptance powerfully displaying total acceptance. He fulfills His mission, opens the door for our ability to accept, and our entry into the powerful and glorious future we live today.

That very day, the first day of the week, two of Jesus’ disciples were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus.

We begin April in Passiontide and end up on the road with the Risen Lord. Isn’t that the way life often goes? We live unfulfilling passions, both attractive and sad, until we find the joy and fulfillment of Jesus. As time passes, old and new passions emerge and sometimes we forget our resurrection joy. We find ourselves in passiontides. This month we rediscover the amazing news of the resurrected Lord. Easter is here. More than just a day in April, it is a present continuous moment. We are called to continuously remove the passiontide veil, see Jesus among us, and live on Jesus’ amazing, eternal, and glorious road. His present Easter!

Join us in completing our Lenten walk with Jesus and join us in rejoicing in His resurrection. Check out our Passiontide, Holy Week, and Easter events, participate in directed giving, reflect during these days, and then commit to doing great things throughout the fifty days of Easter.

You may view and download a copy of our April 2017 Newsletter right here.

Even now
I trust.

Martha went to meet Him; but Mary sat at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”

As we enter Passiontide we continue our focus on conviction and the kind of faith that shows we have not just accepted conviction but have been changed to people of deep faith.

Remember Jesus’ earlier encounter with Martha and Mary. Mary sat at the feet of Jesus, listening to Him teaching, filled with faith. Martha was busy in the kitchen and was annoyed – her sister wasn’t helping. Martha complained to Jesus and Jesus told her straight out that Mary had chosen the better part. Mary saw the opportunity of God’s presence while Martha was convicted for busing herself with less important things.

Now Martha’s brother is dead. He’s been placed in the tomb and the tomb is sealed. They had sent word to Jesus while he was still alive, but He didn’t show up. Now Jesus is approaching.
The woman who busied herself in the kitchen, who missed Jesus’ teachings, who chose the lesser part, comes running out …but Mary sat in the house. What happened?

What happened is that Martha got something deeper from that earlier encounter and conviction. She received a gift of faith so deep and powerful that not even death could diminish it. Not death, not disappointment, nothing!

In running out to Jesus and in speaking with Him Martha proclaims the depth of that faith gift. Listen carefully: “Lord, even now I know…”

Even now… Despite, nevertheless, notwithstanding. No matter what has happened, even now I know You are Lord.

The key is that Martha recognized there was nothing more powerful than God. Faith demanded that she lay aside all mistrust. While Mary listened to Jesus, what did she take away from that listening? Was her trust increased? How was her faith at her brother’s tomb?

Martha believed Jesus could have healed her brother – same as Mary. Yet her faith differed. She exercised a much more powerful ‘even now’ faith. She saw more deeply because she knew Jesus could see her heart. She trusted Jesus completely because He revealed what her true concern should be – not in the kitchen, but in faith. She accepted the gift and made faith active.

If we look closely, Martha did not think Jesus would raise her brother. She knew he was dead She even told Jesus – look, he’s dead, he’s rotting already. And that is the power of her even now faith. She is our example. Everything hasn’t worked out, yet even now I trust in You, Lord.

Expectations.
Realities.

When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, He found him and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered and said, “Who is He, sir, that I may believe in Him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen Him, the One speaking with you is He.” He said, “I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped Him. Then Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.”

This Lent we continue our focus on conviction and its outcome. Today we are presented with two amazing sets of events.

The Lord speaks to Samuel and sets him off to anoint the new king of Israel. “Fill your horn with oil, and be on your way.” Samuel heads to Jesse’s house to carry out this important and solemn deed. We can imagine his sense of excitement coupled with his nervousness. He imagines this strong, sturdy, handsome man, the oil pouring down over his dark hair, his face and beard. Jesse’s oldest comes forward. Eliab – this must be him. A man of lofty stature. God reminds Samuel – “man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.”

Samuel is confronted, as we are, with the unexpected. None of these men are chosen. It will be the youngest, just a boy.

More powerfully, the Pharisees could not believe what had happened. This dreadful Jesus cured a man on the Sabbath.

They try every which way to discredit Jesus. ‘This man wasn’t really blind.’ They were early conspiracy theorists. ‘Jesus is a sinner – just deny Him.’ If we discredit this ‘holy man’ people will stop believing. They were early politicians. Finally, they ridicule and throw out the man born blind. ‘Mock the believers and no one else will believe.’ They were early manipulators.

Samuel, Jesse, and the Pharisees were much like us, people of expectation. What they expected was what they though they should expect. They failed to perceive God’s promise or His will. They only thought, ‘Surely it must be.’

This is how it was before we recognized and accepted our conviction and before we acted on it. We can hear echoes of our words, ‘Surely I must be…” Fill it in: unworthy, good enough, rich enough, too poor, addicted, sick, male, female, too young or old. Whatever our excuse for missing God’s will for us might have been, once we accepted conviction, and moved to admit it and accept Jesus as our one and only Savior, we moved to reality.

Jesus missed the part where we lifted ourselves above Him or thought we were unworthy of Him. He ignores our expectations to bring us to reality. Through the Spirit He prompts us by conviction to be: His children of light. The reality that matters.

Bewildered, convicted,
witnessing.

The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?”

This Lent we continue our focus on the fruits of conviction. Because of our jealousies and selfishness, we face God’s conviction. In our weakness, we chose desire over faithfulness, temporary and fleeting satisfaction over eternal joy, conflict over peace, labor over work, shame, worry, cares, and threats. If we accept our conviction and plead guilty we are given access to the full treasury of God’s grace that starts with His forgiveness, the washing away of our sin.

As new people in Jesus our conviction moves from the conviction of guilt to a conviction in righteousness. We live in the assurance of God’s blessing and become all that God has called us to be.

The story of the nameless Samaritan woman at the well, recorded only in the Gospel of John, is a revealing one, full of many truths and powerful lessons.

This was an extraordinary woman. She was a Samaritan, a race of people that the Jews utterly despised as having no claim on their God, and she was an outcast and looked down upon by her own people. This woman was not welcome at the well while the other women were there – she had to come alone. She was ostracized and marked as immoral, an unmarried woman living openly with the sixth in a series of men.

What happens with this woman is a perfect parallel to the experience of all people. Her conviction by both Jews and her own people was tough to bear. She may have felt terrible about it, yet she refused to admit – really admit – her sin. She persisted in it. Yet God waits to meet her.

Jesus waited for her. Jesus meets her at the well as He meets us when we are in sin and desperate. He is there, even if we haven’t fully accepted our conviction, waiting.

In their conversation, Jesus opens the truths of His care – these truths apply to all of us. He cares, so He encounters us and speaks to us. He has something to give us that no one else can give – living water, truth that gives life. He teaches us about right worship – stemming from Sprit and truth; not just form or function or place. He knows our reality and He holds it up to us asking us to accept conviction – because in the end, we are asked to be honest. He values us enough to not just seek us, but to give us the freedom of choice; conviction or excuse. Like us, she had a choice. Like us, the gifts awaited.

The woman came to recognize God – more than the disciples had. All from one encounter. She went from bewilderment at this encounter, to conviction, to acceptance, to finally witnessing and drawing her community to Jesus. She was saved, fruit from conviction.

Conviction from
the other side.

“Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

This Lent we are focusing on the theme of God’s conviction. Jesus told us that the Holy Spirit would come to convict the world – clearly declaring our guilt.

Recognizing the Holy Spirit’s conviction, we have a choice. We can acknowledge and accept our guilt and flee to Jesus. We can declare our faith in him, admit our sin and conviction, and make Him the Lord of our life. In doing that, all sin is forgiven and we have access to the rich treasury of grace and mercy won for us by Jesus.

On the other hand, we can ignore or self-excuse our conviction. We can bury it, and try to fill our lives with the kinds of noise that shuts out the work of the Holy Spirit. When we do that we grow deaf to God’s call. We condemn ourselves to the coldness of outsider status.

For those who accept God’s conviction, who put their faith in the Lord, something amazing happens. They move from the conviction of guilt to a conviction in righteousness. This is what happened 120 years ago.

In 1897, a group of church goers moved from the hopelessness of external faith to the deep conviction born of a declaration of faith in Jesus alone. Today we celebrate and recognize that day.

The Christian conviction they experienced, their acceptance of the Lord over “going along” transformed their hearts. They moved from an outward conformity – casual agreement and compliance with their Church’s religious rules – to a deep conviction in what God promised them.

People can casually agree or conform with a lot of things and not be fully convinced of them or even believe any of them. People can go for many years living a lie, being deceived about what they believe and what they practice. It isn’t until they face the winds of affliction that the truth of their beliefs is tested. That is when they find out whether their house is built on the Rock or it was built on the sand.

The faithful of 1897 found Christian conviction built on salvation in Jesus. With that revelation, they faced the onslaught of the enemy, of persecution, trials, and affliction standing on the Rock. They found out that their old conformity could not carry them.

As they did, we must do. The Lord knows our choice. Our challenge is to examine ourselves to see whether we are in Lord. If we have accepted our conviction and live true conviction we, like they, like the Apostles, saints, martyrs, and heroes of the faith, will move mountains, change the world, bear much fruit, and be truly victorious.

Convicted and
choosing freedom.

“We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die.'” But the serpent said to the woman: “You certainly will not die! No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is evil.”

God set forth very clear directions for the young couple in the garden, the archetype (i.e., model) for all of mankind. Through them a state of sinfulness entered the world. This is not to say that we are born evil or full of sin, but like that couple, we easily fall into sin because of its allure; because we follow their model.

If we take apart the story of that couple, we see the draw of evil played out in its essence. They had everything – all of God’s gifts – food, peace, work, nothing to be ashamed of, no worries or cares, no threats. But there was that one thing, out of reach, like an apple high up in a tree.

Mmmmm, look at that, just out of reach and something to be jealous of. Why can’t I have it? Who is God to put obstacles or limitations in my way? Who is God to keep the tasty treat of full knowledge away from me? Who is God to be God – I should be god!

The young couple’s choice born of jealousy became the model for the worldly. We now have desire over faithfulness, temporary and fleeting satisfaction over eternal joy, conflict over peace, labor over work, shame, worry, cares, and threats.

Because of their choice, they had to face conviction. God enters the garden, to walk with them, and finds them guilty. Judgment falls upon them as it does on all of us – because of choices. Convicted because we, like they, fail to say, to proclaim: I will obey. I will rely.

Jesus comes into the world, as the Father did, to walk with us. He brings a new example, a new archetype, a new model for our lives. Fasting, tired, hungry, weather beaten – there it was – all power, all the food and power one might enjoy, and the fleeting promise that He could do it all without facing any consequences. Facing the same temptations that young couple faced, He chose differently. He said, I will obey. I will rely on the Father alone.

We certainly stand convicted because of our choices. The natural outcome of our choices is a judgment of guilty. It is certain death. Yet the new model, Jesus, because of His choices, because of His obedience brings us the grace of God, acquittal, the abundance of grace, and the gift of justification.

These things come to reign in our lives when we chose differently as Jesus did – You, Father, are God. I will obey. I will rely on You alone. I choose Your freedom.

He will come to convict the world of sin, to show the world what has God’s approval, and to convince the world that God judges it.

St. John relates Jesus’ last words before his arrest. Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit is coming to convict all of us. We should be thankful! This conviction by the Holy Spirit serves two purposes. It is a starting point and an ongoing call. The Lord convicts those who are His children. It is proof that we belong to God. A believer’s conviction leads us to continuing repentance and to seeking closer union with God. Let us start Lent right, let us plead guilty, repent, and live God’s life more fully. If we recognize what the Spirit is doing for us we will be ready to truly rejoice at Easter.

Join us this Lent as we walk with Jesus so that we, together, may rejoice in His resurrection. Check out our great Lenten events, participate in directed giving, reflect during our devotional exercises, go on retreat with us, order some Easter food, and look at other great events for the months ahead.

You may view and download a copy of our March 2017 Newsletter right here.