Holy Week Musing: The waiting in-between of the Garden

Today thoughts go to the garden of Gethsemane.  It is the place where time was spent after the Last Supper and before the events of the crucifixion.  It is the place of Jesus sweating blood, of the disciples falling asleep, of Judas’s betrayal, and of impulse action of cutting off an ear.  It is in essence an in-between time.  A time of anticipation and waiting, for events are about to transpire. Jesus knew full well the weight and importance of what was to come. He maintained surrender through all the emotional intensity that could have held him back.  The disciples meant well but could endure.  Judas submitted to his greed and the darkness, Peter acted impulsively not grasping what was to come.  The in-between times are tough. God gave us this picture of this in-between time as an encouragement. For God is faithful.  The thing is we cannot rush the waiting, we can make things happen any quicker than they are supposed to.  Each time anyone has tried to rush the in-between waiting, the results are not good. The waiting always seems beyond endurance.  Yet, Jesus endured.  He resisted going off on his own way or doing his own thing in place of God’s plan. He submitted.  We though can be much like Judas and do our own thing out of greed.  We can be like the disciples and mean well but shut down.  We can act on impulse and move in directions that are God’s way, thinking we know the plan.  It is in these in-between times that faith is tested. It is in between times that the twists of the heart and areas of needed change become apparent.  The waiting tests and reveals what is there and what is lacking.  The in-between time is always temporary and although it seems to go on and on and will never end, the duration is limited.

Right now, in essence each of us are at such an in-between time.  We are waiting for the return of the King of Kings. We are following whatever path God sets before us and waiting for the results.  Yet, it is this time that is key. It is our response that is critical.  We need to learn our weaknesses and submit. We need to grow in faith. We need to be awake, alert, and sober minded.  We are to endure whatever intensity of difficulty we are in.  For this time is but temporary for Jesus is coming, He is coming soon.  Yes, we wait but in the waiting we are given directions to walk in truth in love, to be sober minded and alert, and to make disciples.  However that looks, God has intent to be glorified through us in whatever way He puts before us.  So as we go through this in-between time we need to keep   focus, love, and endure. This is what God asks and requires for the ways of self, betrayal, and impulse are always lurking promising short cuts and a way out of the in-between time. But this time is always for a reason, for God’s love and patience is great and His desire is for all who will come, to come.

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News Commentary: Mr. Frank Vennes Jr. Indicted- An Exposed Wolf in Sheeps Clothing

         Soon after this blog was started the Tom Petters ponzi scheme was exposed.  One of the individuals involved in the scheme was Frank Vennes Jr. a professed evangelical who had ties to Teen Challenge, a prison ministry called Charis, and Northwestern College in Minnesota.  The initial article[i] called Mr. Vennes Jr. to task for being a wolf in sheeps clothing and those who knew and supported Mr. Vennes confronted this writer for jumping to conclusions and passing judgment without facts on Mr. Vennes. I recognized that my initial response did come from some anger, but the anger was related to what appeared to be blatant deceit.  The anger was recognized leading to a published apology.[ii] In January of 2010, this writer wondered what did Mr. Vennes actually know and commented about how we all need to stand for truth[iii]. See Mr. Vennes friends and voraciously defended the man and his reputation that doubt was caught on the initial impressions and anger.  It turns out the impression and anger was righteous and justified.

            His friends pointed out the fact that Mr. Vennes was not indicted no did he seem the target of the investigation.  It was that one fact that led to questions. Well, now there are questions no more.  As. Mr. Vennes has now been indicted. Apparently his finances had long ago been seized in relation to the fraud.  Sure, an indictment is not “proof” but the points of the initial articles were relevant and on target. See the question was always whether Mr. Vennes was a man conned, or an integral part of the con.  The current allegations point to his being an integral part of the con.  The Star Tribune article[iv] states that Mr. Vennes is on tape stating the empty warehouses will cause the scheme to “implode” and that the whole thing is “a little paper manufacturing plant.”

            See this shows appearance can be deceiving.  It illustrates that the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. If you think you know a person, even had his deep faults confessed, he still can be seeking after that which is crooked and deceiving.  And Mr. Vennes is not really any different that any of us.  Each of us are capable of deceit and betrayal.

            In retrospect, there are lessons to be learned. While caution is always in order, there is righteous judgment and discernment.  The truth can be known without evidence of all the facts. Mr. Vennes is alleged to have actively conned others, and this writer believes that to be true.  He put both Teen Challenge and Northwestern College in positions that impacted them and threatened their existence. The root of the actions and deception was all in order for a handful of people to make a lot of money.

            Another point is no matter how well hidden things seem to be, sooner or later all the deeds in darkness will be exposed. Some, like the Petters scheme will be exposed in this life time before all. But when Jesus returns, every little evil will be brought into open. Nothing hidden! 

            It is also worth noting how easily any of us can be if we operate based on experience.  We think we can know a person, view their actions and conclude they are seeking after pure motives. Yet, there are many like Mr. Vennes or Ananias and Sapphira, or Judas that more is going on then the initial experience. With the disciples, none but Jesus knew what was in his heart, even when he left the last supper, pointed out as a betrayer, the disciples see were unaware of the darkness in his heart. He followed Jesus.  It is due to revelation of the Holy Spirit that Ananias and Sapphira were exposed and brought to death.  Some think that God is cruel for such actions. But it is that deep deception, the deceitful appearance and heart that God knows impacts and corrupts many. Their death was an act of love and righteous wrath. Now, I hope and pray that Mr. Vennes is not like Judas or Annanias and Sapphira. It is not too late for true repentance. However, the man has conned many for a long time and the veracity of anything coming from the man will need to be questioned.  For it is not the appearance of good works that is the fruit of repentance, it is true surrender to Jesus. Mr. Vennes faked it fooling many, but He has been exposed. The story serves as an example for all.  And if there are friends who still seek to defend the man, take it up with the creator, for Mr. Vennes in my mind is a deceiver and wolf in sheeps clothing that fooled many.

Holy Week Musing: Remembrance and the Last Supper

Today, Wednesday is considered the day historically the Passover feast occurred known as the Last Supper.  One can imagine with the events that occurred and the place being provided for the meal as directed by Jesus that there was great anticipation by the disciples.  Surely Jesus would explain what was going on.   Essentially he did just that and it was only realized later by the disciples.  See Jesus intended the day to be a day of remembrance.  The Passover meal was already one God established as a day of remembrance, Jesus filled it up with meaning and gave the disciples images and lessons they would not forget in spite of everything to follow.

Before looking at what Jesus did that was so memorable, it is worth briefly reviewing what Passover provided a reminder of: Salvation!  It is the day the Jewish nation and all that were under the blood of the lamb to be saved from death.  It was the day the Jewish nation was freed from the Tyranny of Egypt and all its gods.  It was a move from the way of the world to the way of God.  The Passover meal brought all this to reminder every year.   The point of this article is not to review all the Passover gives remembrance of, but to focus specifically on what Jesus added to the memory. (It is worth the time to do a search and examination further of the messianic Passover symbolism and encourage all to take time to do such examination.)   There are four key memorable moments that are worth highlighting: the identification of His betrayer, the call to remember the bread and wine, not drinking the last cup, and the washing of the disciples feet.

The first key moment of memory is when Jesus identified Judas as the betrayer and he left.  Jesus told them someone would betray him, none pointed at anyone else, all wonder if it was them.  Jesus did not directly identify but did with symbolism.  The one who dipped into the bitter herbs the same time as Jesus, Judas was identified. Judas then left.   Certainly the disciples remembered that act, but also had it fresh in their minds their own ability to do such an act.  For they all questioned and the memory would stick.

The second point of memory is when Jesus declared a specific point of remembrance: the taking of the bread and wine.  Unfortunately some of the meaning has been forgotten in the church as a whole. We remember the symbols of blood and wine, but we lose the important and central part of Passover Jesus was pointing out.  The bread consumed was the “afikomen.” It is the last thing eaten. It is the bread broken and hidden.  When Jesus broke and ate this bread, declared it His body, He declared himself as Messiah. He declared the coming salvation through His death and resurrection as symbolized by that element of the Passover meal.  The wine was the third cup known both as the cup of redemption and the cup of blessing.[i] When he drank this cup, called it His blood, he declared His blood the source of redemption and blessing.  He then made certain He proclaimed himself as Messiah and set forth significant points of remembrance.

One memorable element to the disciples but clearly forgotten in the church today is that Jesus did not drink the final cup, the cup of praise.  He state he would not drink of the fruit of vine again, until His Kingdom comes (Luke 22:18). It is said that Jesus will finally drink the fourth cup after His second coming after His wrath has been meted out and the millennial reign begins.  One of the reasons it is easily forgotten, as it has yet to be fulfilled, it is coming and there are many other images and thoughts that fill our mind than the drinking of the fourth cup. It would be fresher in our minds if the church had not set aside the participation in the Passover feast.

The finals act of remembrance worth commenting on was Jesus showing himself a servant and washing the feet of His disciples.  Now there is plenty of moments of “washing” in the Passover meal, and the meal finishes with that ceremonially washing. Jesus took further. He took the meaning of the cleansing the washing a step further, to illustrate He was humbling self, serving us, and would clean us wholly. It was an astounding act unheard of, unthinkable.  Peter was so taken a back that He wanted to refuse to let Jesus serve Him in such a way.  The impact of the message definitely stuck with the disciples.

Now, there is much more that went on at the last supper that Jesus gave the disciples to remember. He spent great deal of time teaching and explaining, trying to clear their confusion and redirect their expectations.  Jesus did this day what He set out to do, created a time that would be remembered and examined, pointing to what He was about to do and gave meaning to the Passover meal.

God wants us to remember and we do, even though what we remember has been reduced and diminished.  We still take time each year to remember.  God sent His son to die that we might live.  Sure we miss plenty, but we still remember and thank God for the gift of the eternal Passover lamb, the eternal afikomen, the eternal cup of salvation and blessing. He died, so that all who turn to Him shall live, just as all who lived who came under the blood on the doorpost. The question for each, has the blood of the eternal Lamb been set on your doorpost, are you marked within so you may live.  Now is the time, while it is still today, to consider and act so that you may be saved.   And if you have your doorpost marked, celebrate and remember for He has freedom us from the tyranny of sin and death and given us true life.

Passion Week Musings: The Last Passover Supper

After the Olivet discourse the events documented in the Gospel’s really focuses on events of preparation leading up to the Last Supper which was a Passover meal.   Prior to that meal there are two other significant documented events.  Jesus was anointed with perfume by some woman, which Jesus described as his being prepared for burial.  During this same time the other event described in the Gospels is Judas making a deal with the religious leaders to betray Jesus.   Up until the last Supper all the tensions were mounting and the crescendo was building.   As Jesus spent time preparing both himself and his disciples for what is coming there had to be an emotional storm building in Jesus.  The anticipation of what was to come had to far more intense than anything any of us have gone through.  Tomorrows post on the Garden will touch a bit more on the emotions of Jesus.  Here the focus is really about the preparation and Jesus pointing ahead and trying to prepare his disciples for what is to come while the pieces were moving and being set into play.  Jesus focus during that last Passover supper was all on what is to come.

After all the pieces were in place, Jesus and the disciples had the Passover meal and celebration. Now if the reader is not aware, the Passover points to the night Israel was delivered from Egypt with the tenth plague, the death of the 1st born males in Egypt.  There was instruction to sacrifice a lamb and place the blood on the doorpost, resulting in being spared having the first born killed.   The Passover meal reminds us of sin and bondage and points to God’s once and for all sacrifice in Jesus.  Jesus declared himself the “Afikomen” when he directed his disciples to eat the bread. He declared himself “salvation” when he drank the third cup.  He really told the disciples about what was coming and it would be for salvation.   Jesus also spent time giving the disciples words to remember and a significant object lesson of serving and loving one another.  His actions were all about preparing the disciples for what was ahead, even though he knew they did not understand that they could not possibly understand. When Judas left the meal, after likely dipping the parsley at the same time as Jesus and announced as a betrayer, imagine the confusion and shocked the disciples experienced.  I can imagine the indignation the disciples felt as they were told that they would all falter.  Imagine after the resurrection, the disciples talking and discussion the events of the Last Passover Supper with a new grasp and understanding that had failed them in the midst.  The point that really hits home today thinking about this, is the Jesus and the Father both spent a lot of time preparing the disciples and those around for the events that were to unfold.  The essential point here is God does prepare us for what is ahead. 

Now our being prepared is not something that we are fully aware of at the time.  We like the disciples may be confused and lost in the midst.  We wonder the who, what, when, where, and whys of things we do not grasp. Yet, God does go before us and prepare us. God is in control.  Sometimes many pieces come into play that converge, but God is not caught off guard or surprised by anything and he gives us what He knows we need, which is often different than what we think we need.  Jesus spent personal time with his disciples during an important and meaningful time to prepare them for what is to come.  As what was to come in the next few days was an apex of darkness before the point of victory occurred.  The time leading up to the Last Passover supper was all about preparation,  it was the “middle” part of the story that at the time seems insignificant and can even get  bogged down but really is the essential time as it was the time the pieces moved into place, the character moments established that build to the climax, which in the cause were the death and resurrection to come. 

In this day and age, when pieces and events seem to be moving us ever closer to the second coming, it is important to know that God has us undergoing times of preparation. Whatever we are doing and going through, it really serves to build us up and prepare us for what is yet to come.  God is working in each of our lives to give us the teaching, training, and growth needed for what is yet to come.   Each day is a day closer to Jesus return.  Just like the cross, the moment of victory will be preceded by a time of great darkness and the appearance of victorious darkness. Yet, Jesus is coming and Victory is assured.  God has prepared us for what is ahead and will go before us and lead the way.  We just need to stay the course, be sober, be alert, and remain awake.  God is and will test all claiming to be in the faith. Lines are being drawn, pieces are moving, and we are nearing the end.  It is both a terrible and glorious day.  But worry and fear not, because it is God that prepares our hearts and minds, it is he that enables us to stand firm.  Just seek and pursue truly loving God and others, walk the path God directs and points you and trust that God will prepare you for what is ahead.

Cultural Commentary: John and Kate Gosselin and state of marriage in America

Recently the fceractured marriage of John and Kate Gosselin has been in the news.  The pair became famous after establishing a reality television show chronicling their attempts to parent their eight children.  The couple has one pair of twins and sextuplets.   However, in April the couple on air for a season finale announced their separation and pending divorce. It was the highest rated episode of the show ever.  The marriage reached a failure point connected at a minimum to Kate’s  chasing fame, and John chasing other women.  Yet, the roots to the marriage failure were there well before those elements surfaced.  They reached their goals of children, felt the other didn’t satisfy wants or expectations, and went after the paths that attracted them, leading to the marriage destruction.

There is no shortage of rumors regarding the difficulties of this couples marriage. Any signs of fight or conflit make assorted news providers and blogs around the Internet.     According to Associated Press, Kate Gosselin made a recent appearance on Regis and Kelly and Regis suggested that the marriage still has hope of being repaired.  Kate responded with, “I can’t say that I think you’re right, at all.”  The end of this marriage is sad, yet it is a common result of marriage in the United States.  According to varied sources the divorce rate is at 40-50% of marriages end in divorce. John and Kate simply reflect what transpires in the culture at large.

Unfortunately according to George Barna research Christians are not indistinguishable from anyone else regarding divorce rate according to a Christian Post article. So the question is why do marriages so frequently end in divorce? Why is there no difference between Christians and other people? The prime reason in general is because people take a self-focused approach to marriage.  The focus is on what the partner is doing to display love or meet the interpersonal needs for the other.  It can easily become about what is lacking versus focusing on building each other up.

In general, couples have a hard time doing the work to keep the relationship together.  The Bible gives clear directives on the need to focus on each other in a marriage. The husband is to love his wife as Jesus loves the truth. Think about that for a minute. Jesus stands by and loves us when we are unfaithful or even directly turning our back on Him.  Such love is very difficult, because it in essence but the needs and cares of the wife first.  Now the wife is simply submit and respect the husband, just as we believers are to do with Jesus.  If we had this other focus, marriages would be much healthier and divorce rates much lower.  Now, admittedly this author is far from this standard of relationship in marriage. Yet, it is these essential principles that are a core to marital health.

The fact is divorce, while painful and destructive to all those involved, is a ready out. It is seen as an escape when there is significant damage to self.  Many folks even point to the stated Biblical standards where divorce is appropriate.   When there is the betrayal of adultery in a marriage, the idea of divorce comes too readily.   Yet, if we are to have the mind of Jesus and given the Biblical directives for relationships, divorce should be the last course.

Sadly, separation does not come at times when it should. When a spouse not only fails to interact with Biblical love, but engages in direct, specific harm to a spouse through assorted forms of abuse, then the way of love is to separate and pray for repentance.  Reconciliation should come with significant evidence of repentance and change.

Marriage takes work. There are several sound Christian resources on the Internet that can help with the assorted struggles a couple can encounter in marriage.  Here are a few:

There are certainly other resources out there. If you are in a marriage is struggling or seems to be coming to an end, please look into any of the linked resources.  Besides those resources, please consider seeking sound biblical based marriage counseling. At a minimum, seek support and prayer from any around you willing to stand by you.  If you lack support, at a minimum spend time praying daily for your spouse and work to display love.

Good Friday Musings: Seven common types of emotional suffering Jesus endured.

Today is Good Friday. It is the day where we commemorate the crucifixion of our redeemer. We commemorate the sacrifice of Jesus, the Lamb of God, who was slain to take away our sins. When we consider the day, usually our focus goes toward the immense physical pain he endured, suffering for our sins. We rarely take time to focus on another dimension of his suffering, the emotional suffering. In considering this day, seven common types of emotional suffering were identified in terms of what Jesus endured. So for this article will identify a type of emotional suffering and offer commentary about what Jesus suffered. This article will conclude with even looking at a type of emotional suffering Jesus suffered that was beyond our normal experience.

Stress: This is the most common type of emotional suffering, one that we all endure. There are multiple articles and suggestions on coping with stress. In the events of Passion Week, Jesus suffered stress more extensively than any other human. His stress started with his foreknowledge what must transpire. He entered into the events with full awareness of what he was about to endure. His stress level reached the point where in praying in preparation he reached a point where he sweated blood.

Betrayal: This is another common emotional suffering we endure. At some level we are all betrayed by someone we care about and trust. For Jesus and the events of Passion Week, Jesus faced total betrayal. It starts with Judas turning Jesus over to the Sanhedrin, yet the betrayal didn’t stop there. Peter also significantly betrayed him publically three times. The betrayals of Jesus exhibited by Judas and Peter actually cover the full range of types of betrayal we endure. Judas directly and aggressively betrayed Jesus to his face. Peter’s betrayals were passive and indirect. He did not betray Jesus to his face, but yet the betrayal was still there.

Abandonment: This type of suffering is pervasive and significant in many lives. Abandonment and the fear of abandonment is a big contributor significantly to psychological distress. It is different than betrayal because it is not an outright turning against one who previously stood alongside, but rather it is simply not being there when needed. It is a failure to have needs met. Jesus definitely experienced the full range of abandonment during Passion Week as well. It started with the disciples falling asleep when asked to watch and pray and continued with the disciples simply not sticking around during the events that transpired. He was not given the support He needed and was truly alone.

Rejection: There is something about being rejected that is at a core of a lot of human emotional suffering. We each have a desperate desire to be loved and accepted as we are and not be rejected. The rejections that come in life can add up and be a source of much psychological turmoil. In actuality, one can even view the assorted types of emotional distress and being one form or rejection or another. Jesus, in Passion Week faced ultimate rejection. He faced public rejection with the cries of “Crucify Him” and even had a murderer and rebel chosen over him to be released. He had the personal rejection occur on multiple levels throughout the course of the events of Passion Week. As the Bible points out, “He was despised and rejected of men.” (Isaiah 53:1)

Humiliation: Humiliation is something many people experience at one level or another with the result of a lot of psychological damage. Bullying and harassment are important issues in this day and age. No one likes to see anyone picked on or made fun of for any reason. Jesus faced an extensive amount of humiliation. He was brought down to the lowest possible level, with his claims being made a public spectacle.

Persecution: Persecution is essentially being tortured for something that you hold to and won’t let go of. It is essentially all forums of torture. Thankfully there are only a small percentage of people today who face direct persecution. Yet, many Christians and people readily given in to the more indirect types of persecution that call for compromise. Jesus during Passion Week faced extensive persecution. He was whipped to near death, he was hit, spat upon, had a crown of thorns jammed on his head, had to carry his cross and the ultimately was executed all because of his claim of being the Son of God, Messiah.

Injustice: The world is filled with injustice and we feel the effects of it daily. Yes, innocent are killed, guilty go free, evil prospers, good suffers, the blood of innocents is shed, and more. There is no end to the injustices in this world. Passion Week is the epitome of injustice. Jesus, who did no wrong, was executed alongside common criminals. Jesus was the ultimate shedding of innocent blood. Jesus deserved nothing and faced the totality of human emotional and physical suffering. He did so out of love, for you and me so that we may be redeemed and restored to relationship with the father. Any injustice you have felt, real or perceived pales to the injustice Jesus endured, all in order to bring Salvation.

Separation from God: Jesus endured one type of suffering none of us can grasp. He was in constant communion with God the Father. Yet, at the cross, that communion, that unity, that oneness was disconnected. This led to the agonizing cry “My God, my God why have you forsaken me!” None of us can grasp what Jesus suffered because we walk in continued separation. Even today with the infilling of the Holy Spirit we only grasp a taste of what Jesus had continually. The loss of that was excruciating and in reality was more than he could bear, leading to his physical death.

In summary, reflect on the emotional suffering Jesus endured along with the physical suffering in order that we may be brought away from separation from God and into fellowship with God. The reality is that if the events of Passion Week only brought one person into renewed fellowship with God, Jesus would have still endured it all. If you are reading this, and have not yet come to accept Jesus shedding of innocent blood in order that you may be redeemed, and agreed to accept the gift, the time is not too late, so find someone you know who has accepted this gift and ask them to help you.