I have had the honor of being a hospice volunteer for 20 years, the last 5 giving pastoral care to patients and their families at their request. Sharing this part of life with these dear people has provided some of the most rewarding moments in ministry to me.
Oswego County Hospice provides most excellent care for the families they serve. In what is usually the most trying of times for a family, the administration, care providers and volunteers of our hospice organization treat them all with the dignity and respect they deserve, providing emotional and practical help to each one.
Once a year, Oswego County Hospice holds a memorial service for all of their patients from the previous year. This touching ceremony allows us to say good bye to those who have passed as well as letting their families know that they are remembered as well.
Due to the on-going restrictions in place because of Covid-19, the memorial service was help virtually again this year. I’ve included a link to it should you care to share in this experience with us. Also included is Betsy and my presentation of “On Eagles Wings.” We sing it to honor those who have passed and as an encouragement to those left with holes in their heart.
Christianity 101 tells us that the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ is central to its theology. Jesus, the very Son of God, came to earth and lived a sin-free life as He taught and demonstrated of the nearness of the Kingdom of God.
He ultimately revealed the depth of His love for all mankind when He willing went to an awful death by crucifixion. As He did, He supernaturally bore the weight of the entirety of the world’s sin on His person in order that ordinary folks like you and me could be saved for all eternity.
The Apostle Paul sums this all up for us in his letter to the Roman church: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9 NIV)
I would gladly welcome conversation on any of the above at any time, including questions, concerns and uncertainties. But let’s do that during another post. For today I want to focus on the physical cross itself that Jesus was crucified on. I believe that God is still calling us to Himself and that much of the invitation still lies in and around that wooden implement of death that God has wondrously turned into an invitation to life.
I have been giving some thought to the physical cross. I know that much of Christian art has depicted Jesus carrying an entire cross up Calvary’s hill. However, research seems to have shown that the Lord carried only the cross piece as the longer vertical pole would have been left in place for re-use.
Joseph Zias, an anthropologist with the Israel Department of Antiquities, and Eliezer Sekeles of Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem state that, “One can reasonably assume that the scarcity of wood may have been expressed in the economics of crucifixion in that the crossbar as well as the upright would be used repeatedly.”
If they are correct, and I have no reason to doubt them on this, that means that the crossbar that Jesus carried and died on was used again, possibly many times.
I think it unlikely than any of those being put to death by crucifixion by the Romans of that time for treason, speaking against the government, rebellion or murder (the crimes most often punished by this means) knew of the previous carriers of their cross-piece. Word of who Jesus was and what He had done was still confined to a relatively few people at the outset. How sad to think that the very piece of wood that had held the Savior’s body was unknown to them.
Conversely, how wonderful is it that we live on the other side of the event of the Cross of Jesus! Because He took the place of all sinners (that’s you and me again!) and willingly paid the price for all of our transgressions, we can know that our forever home has been secured with Him.
Yet as we celebrate this greatest news ever presented to human beings, let us not forget how it came to be. In other words, let us not lose sight of the significance of that cross-piece that Jesus carried. We have the opportunity to know why His Passion had to play out as it did.
As you contemplate that awesome truth again today, I ask that you also remember those who have no knowledge of what Jesus did (and is doing). Many are trudging through life carrying a burden that can only be relieved by the One who cares for us all. Please, if given the opportunity today, won’t you share the incredible story of God’s love for all as it is represented in the Cross?
Well, um, not really. But I did have a pretty cool experience under ‘the lights’ yesterday. As many of you know, my wife Betsy and I have a unique hobby: We sing our national anthem at sporting events and other activities around the Central New York area. We’ve been doing this since the attacks of 9/11 as way to show our support and appreciation for all those who put their lives on the line for others.
Also, if you’ve been reading this for the past 6 weeks or so, you know that I am a huge proponent of getting vaccinated against Covid-19 when it becomes available to you.
Anyway, back to the bright lights, these two areas of passion in my life brought about the opportunity to bring them both to the forefront. A community action group called, Health Care Equity Task Force got wind of our talents and support of the vaccine and invited us to be videoed singing our rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. After we did this, and because I have received both of the shots, they had me sit down for a taping of my thoughts about this particular vaccination.
Pondering this experience the following morning, I began to see the connection between our presenting of the anthem and getting vaccinated. As I said above, we sing to honor this country that we love. That’s not to say I/we are naively unaware of the many challenges facing America today. I do not filter my view through the lens of any political party. I stay informed on the issues and daily pray that God will intercede on behalf of our land with a sense of His peace and leading.
Given the platform to perform the national anthem, we do so because, flawed as it is, this is still the greatest country on the earth; and even more so, we recognize that a vast number of people we will never know personally have and are performing duties and functions that protect us all. We sing to honor, respect and remember.
Getting vaccinated against Covid takes the same approach for me. Yes, I do not want to contract this thing, but I primarily have gotten the shots to serve others. I will never know, nor do I need to know, the positive affect my getting vaccinated is having. The point is, in my opinion, to put yourself in the place of others. By putting their well being at least on a par with my own, I tend to see the simple necessity of receiving the shots as doing the next right thing for others. I did it for the common good, as I attempt to honor, respect and remember all.
Be blessed and be a blessing,
PS: I will let you know when and where the video is to be released, most likely sometime this spring.
I love my country, and my country has been very good to me. However, like any relationship, there are struggles along the way. Injustice, violence and political stupidity all cause me deep pain. But on this Veterans Days 2020, I post our rendition of the Star Spangled Banner in respect for those who have served this land so bravely and well as well as for those men and women who continue to do so today with dignity and empathy. And I continue to pray that God heals America; not to restore it to some glorified past, but rather to a place that glorifies the Lord Jesus!
We’ve all heard the adage, ‘hindsight is 20/20.’ Even though our look back can still be skewed, things are often clearer as we consider the course of past events.
Joseph, the son of Jacob, was an important figure in the Book of Genesis. As one picks up his story near the end of that book, you find that his father is now dead, and his brothers have come to him to apologize for the contemptible way they had treated him. For review, Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob, which caused his older half-brothers to be extremely jealous of him. They plot to kill young Joseph but instead settle on selling him into slavery.
Joseph had many trials as a slave; to say nothing of being abandoned by his family. Genesis records the ups and downs of his life. Finally, he becomes a very powerful person in Egypt, rising to the number two person in power there, subject only to Pharaoh. He plans for and then administers the food he had set aside during a wide-spread famine in such a way that many lives are spared.
The narrative tells of Joseph brothers coming to beg food. They do not recognize him as their brother. Still, he takes care of them. Sometime later, after their father Jacob has died, the brothers come to him again.
Here is the account of part of what Joseph said to his brothers at that meeting which can be found in Genesis 50:20:
“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (NIV)
Here we see clear evidence that Joseph had 20/20 vision as he looked back over the events of his life. He recognized that everything that happened to him was part of God’s overall plan for his life. Joseph makes a great testimony to the sovereignty of the Almighty.
The question I ponder as I consider Joseph’s life is this: Did he have that same insight about God’s plan as the bad things were happening to him? Was he able to keep his chin up and say, “It’s alright, God is working out part of His great plan through what is happening to me.”?
If I put myself in Joseph’s place, I do not see me saying those things as they occur. Being threatened with murder and then abandoned by my family would most certainly evoke anger with a dose of desiring revenge sprinkled in.
However, I will gladly admit that the passage of time has helped to attune me somewhat with God’s plan as it has unfolded in my life. I can see more clearly now that much of what I have gone through, self-inflicted as it was, has been used by our Heavenly Father to mold me into a more useful instrument for Him today.
I have concluded that we are not given the day to day thoughts of Joseph for good reason. This allows us to work through our own stuff. What needs to be constant is our focus on God, not on our circumstance.
God is true to His word. He is working all things for good: His good! We ought to be honored and humbled that He chooses to give us a role to play in the grand scheme of things. I’m not saying this makes everything easy to go through, but experience is helping me to learn that the more I trust God in the midst of the storms of life, the less turbulent are the seas.
The apostle Paul sums this up for us in his letter to the Romans in verse 28 of Ch. 8: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (NIV)
The word translated as know used by Paul in this verse carries with it the idea of coming to know and understand something and then to put that information to use. For me, and hopefully you, Faithful Reader, this is a great teaching point. We are to see our current circumstance or those formational parts of our lives as being parts of God’s greater plan. I do not know why this often includes going through trials and pain. But I can say from my own experiences that it is the seasons of pain and uncertainty that have been the ones that have brought me closer to Him.
Admittedly, I usually don’t come to the point of understanding until I’ve gone through what it is I am going through. I am learning through them all to trust more and more in God’s care, which is, I believe, the point Paul makes as we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.
Seen in this light, the occurrences of our life are not just random and scatter-shot, but are actually all part of an intricate plan sculped by our all-powerful and knowing God.
Today, I am grateful that with the help of my eyeglasses my vision looking forward is 20/20. Yet even more this, I am eternally grateful that God is revealing to me that His care, love and protection are infinitely perfect today as they were yesterday and will be going forward.
I was only a toddler when President Kennedy was assassinated. My only knowledge of that tragedy has come from what I have read and the things my parents told me about those days. I did not experience the shock, horror and sadness the country did.
The events of 9-11-2001 were entirely different for me. I remember where I was (in an industrial paint spray booth, painting dump trucks) when a co-worked told me.
After work that day I sat for hours watching, trying to come to grips with what had happened and worried about what was next. I recall the conversation on the phone with my Dad as his voice quaked in a mixture of outrage and fear.
Getting our two young children ready for bed that night was a challenge as well.
The images of the ensuing days as the rubble burned and smoldered are forever etched in my memory. Many of us prayed for those who might still be alive in all that carnage, that they be discovered quickly.
As the days passed and turned into weeks, then months, our nation began to emerge from the rubble. In my lifetime I had never experienced the national unity we were feeling. We, as a nation had been attacked. And from the rubble, came a resolve to care for one another simply because we were all Americans. We had been hurt and we were scared. But we were together. We wanted justice and we strived to care for one another in the process.
Nineteen years later, we are buried in rubble once again. This time the explosions of hate have come from within. The unity were knew as a country as been obliterated. The idea of helping a stranger simply because they need help and we could provide it is completely foreign to most in these dark days.
My fervent prayer today is that we as a nation can once again rise up from the rubble. The wreckage of racial hatred, the senseless violence and the fractured state of national politics have buried us. There is seemingly no light, no one working feverously to free us from what appears to be total collapse.
Thankfully, there is someone, and His name is Jesus! Only He can lift the boulders of hate and distrust from our hearts. Only He has the power to unite us truly and eternally, not only as a nation, but as a world-wide body of believers.
I am asking you, Dear Reader, if you know Jesus as your Savior, to join with me today. Please pray that our nation rises from the rubble again. Not only rises, but stands united with Christ as it’s headship and that a true spirit community replaces distrust and disunity.
Are we asking for a lot? Yes we are. We are asking for something that is beyond any human power to achieve. That being said, allow me to leave you with the words of Jesus Himself as He discussed matters that were above the capabilities of mankind:
“With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27 NIV)
It was heartening to see so many other bloggers taking time on this Memorial Day Weekend to share their heartfelt thoughts about the importance of remembering those who gave their life for the protection of our country. As I wrote yesterday, I join my heart with yours in expressing my deepest gratitude to them all.
The preacher in me would like to take this opportunity to remind us all, including me, to remember Jesus. He too gave his life; not for the service of any one country, but for all humanity. The sacrifice that Jesus made makes it possible for sinners just like me to be welcomed into sweet fellowship with Him. The salvation that God offers is entirely from Him. I/we can not earn, nor could we ever truly deserve it on own merit. Jesus, motivated by pure love, bore the punishment that each of our wayward lives should bear.
And if that were not enough, His resurrection from the dead that we celebrate each Easter seals the deal: Jesus has won the ultimate victory over death. Whereas the brave men and women we remember during this time each year gave their only life and died, Jesus, who also died, is alive!
If, Dear Reader, you have a relationship with our Living Lord, I rejoice with you; asking only that you call to mind frequently the price Jesus purchased you with.
However, if you’re reading this and Jesus is nothing more than a historical or maybe mythical figure, I simply ask you to seek Him out. The Bible promises that He is available always to anyone who calls out to Him. Search your heart and mind and consider if there is an emptiness there that you just can’t seem to fill. If there is, won’t you consider asking Jesus to fill that void. My own experience with this process proved that there was nothing He couldn’t or wouldn’t do to fill me to overflowing with His love. I assure you He can and will do the same for you!
Once you accept the Lord’s invitation to salvation, you will find that remembering Him will bring great joy.
For many, Memorial Day Weekend is the unofficial start of summer. While the weather is actually trending toward that season here in Central New York, this year feels unlike any other as we all deal with the Covid-19 outbreak. No pandemic, however, should ever affect our memories.
In the States we use this day to pay our respects to all the brave men and women who have paid the ultimate price for the protection of our freedom. May we as a nation never forget the cost they paid for us.
I was reminded the other day about Nathan Hale, an American spy captured by the British in the early stages of the Revolutionary War. Just before they placed the noose around his neck, Hale has been quoted as saying, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” I’m sure this was a sentiment that many felt in the ensuing years and through our various wars and conflicts as they gave up their lives in the service of our country. I hope you will join me as we honor them this weekend (and always).