Sunday, April 1, 2012

Lenten devotion: Palm Sunday

The Lenten season reaches a high point on Palm Sunday. It is a day of great celebration yet one also we know has deep sadness soon approaching. On this day, Jesus entered Jerusalem as its king with thousands rejoicing. The scene is written in John 12:

The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,


“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Blessed is the king of Israel!”

14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written: 15 “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.”

16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him. (John 12:12-16 NIV).

One of the typical things Christians do when visiting Jerusalem is to take the “Palm Sunday Walk.” You begin at the top of the Mt. of Olives at the chapel which commemorates the place where Jesus looked over Jerusalem and wept knowing what this week held. You can walk down the steep road, past the Garden of Gethsemane, and toward the Eastern gate of the city.

The area looks a bit different now. There are high walls built on both sides of the road and many reminders of death along that way. Since Zechariah 14 prophesied that the Mt. of Olives is where the end of earthly things and the beginning of heavenly things will take place, many people want to be buried there so not to miss out on the resurrection. Zechariah himself is buried there along with about 150,000 others.

There you will also learn a new thing about palm branches. In the days of the Hasmonean dynasty over a century before, the palm branch was a nationalistic symbol of Israel’s independence. It was even printed on their coins. Those who were waving palm branches were making a political statement hoping that Jesus would free them from Roman rule returning their sovereignty.

You put it all together and it’s no wonder Jesus wished they had recognized their hour of visitation. No one really understood who he was or his purpose.

Many of us have learned over the years that Jesus is more than we can imagine; and often does things in ways we would not anticipate. Time and again it is in hindsight we see how he did provide – in a way we had not expected; how he did keep us from harm – when we wondered why he was silent.

How blessed we are to understand the Passion Week from our perspective. Let us be reminded then that our Lord still moves in ways we might not expect. And as surely as the sun will rise he will return for us. So today we have confidence to joyfully proclaim: “Lift up your head, open the doors, let the King of Glory come in. And forever be our God.”

Monday, March 26, 2012

Lenten devotion: Baptism

They were two very special cousins, Jesus and John the Baptist. It seems inconceivable they would have grown up unaware of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth some three decades earlier, and the miraculous nature of their births. Now, a crucial meeting between them occurs. Matthew writes in his gospel:

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John to be baptized by him in the Jordan River. But John tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you come to me?” So Jesus replied to him, “Let it happen now, for it is right for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John yielded to him. After Jesus was baptized, just as he was coming up out of the water, the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my [beloved] Son; in whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:13-17)

Many of us know what it’s like to be buried with work and some of us also know what it’s like to be buried under a mountain of grief. There’s another kind of burial that isn’t burdensome, though. In fact, it’s life-giving: the Bible calls it being buried with Christ in baptism.

One writer paraphrases Romans 6:3-11 this way:

[This is] what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we’re going in our new grace-sovereign country.

Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That’s what Jesus did. (Peterson, 2002)

“Righteousness” means living in harmony with the will of God. At baptism, the Holy Spirit wonderfully moves, much like Paul writes: “testifying with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Rom. 8:16). And the Lord is surely pleased!

Lent has been traditionally linked to preparing people for baptism. These are services when we can celebrate with those who publically declare “passing over” with Jesus from death to sin into a new life in Christ. Let us do this as well, that we may fulfil all righteousness.


Peterson, E. H. (2002). The Message: The Bible in contemporary language (Rom 6:3–11). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Lenten devotion: Self-denial

As the Lord first taught, so it is to this day, that life in the Kingdom of God often contrasts the ways of the world. For all the talk of leadership in our day we might overlook that the primary emphasis in the Kingdom is actually on followership. While leadership serves as a spiritual gift to the Church, which not everyone enacts, followership is a practice expected from all of us and will be so for eternity.

Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. (Matt. 16:24-27)

A portion of The Book of Common Prayer appoints specific days in which we ask God to “mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace” (BCP, p. 99). A hasty resistance to Jesus’ way of self-denial is often a struggle to set aside the ambitions to lead ourselves and grasp the life of following.

Thousands wanted something from Jesus – in so far as it suited their interests; few wanted his Kingdom according to his interests. To these John says that Jesus would not entrust himself to them for he knew the hearts of men.

Biblical self-denial is less about withholding pleasure or causing discomfort and more about daily placing the interests of God before the interests of self. Of course, this requires us to face the question: Do we trust God to know what is in our best interests even better than we do?

By faith a person receives Christ into their innermost being. And Christ, as a transforming presence reverses the course of that life from self-assertion to self-denial; from self-trust to trust in God.

Paul commends his co-worker Timothy for living such a life, saying, “I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself… (Phil. 2:20–22).

Perhaps Paul was contrasting him to those referred to earlier in his letter; those who preached Christ out of selfish ambition (Phil. 1:17); once again, following in so far as it suited their own interests. These are surely like the seed Jesus taught falls among thorns; “They hear but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop (Luke 8:14–15).

The good and noble heart will learn to deny the worries of life, the allure of riches, and the distraction of pleasures for the sake of following Christ. He is no fool who gives up these to preserve his soul. Walking in the way of cross, may we also learn to say “For me, to live is Christ. And to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Lenten devotion: Cleansing

When God speaks his Word creates what it commands. So when Christ says, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you” (John 15:3), we are truly clean. When the Word says “There is no condemnation” (Romans 8:1) there is truly none. This we live in and trust by faith.

God speaks through the prophet Ezekiel saying:

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God. I will save you from all your uncleanness…”(Eze. 36:25–29).

The Old Testament picture of purity vividly portrays the need for cleansing and atonement to approach God. In his teaching and actions, Jesus reached across barriers to approach those who were unclean, outcasts and marginalized: a leper, a suffering woman and even a dead child receive the touch of cleansing and a new life. Yet to those who thought of themselves clean by their external life, he reminds that it is not that which goes into the body that makes one unclean but rather it is that which comes out of the heart (cf. Matt. 15:18).

After careful examination which leads to repentance, a believer gains nothing by continuing in a guilty conscience. As John puts it, to say that we have not sinned when we have “shows God’s word has no place in our hearts” (1 John 1:10). Likewise, to insist that we are filthy when we have been cleansed is equally false. There comes a time when the most spiritual thing we can do is to accept cleansing from all sin as an accomplished fact and stop calling unclean that which God has made clean.

The final book of the Bible proclaims that the cleansed will live in the new heaven and new earth. There, disease, death, tears and brokenness are gone forever. The Lord and his people are at last together, thanks to the cleansing brought about for the entire creation by the sacrifice of Christ.

Of that place, Revelation says “Nothing impure will ever enter it…Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city…He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus (Rev. 21:7; 22:14, 20).

Come soon.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Free to sin or free from sin?

Our church is studying the book of Jude in our weekend services and Life Groups over the next several weeks. The philosophical dilemma in Jude is the influence of false teachers whose doctrine and lifestyle is called antinomianism (lit. Greek anti,"against"; nomos,"law"). This is a term used to characterize believers in the early church who wrongly thought that salvation by faith in Jesus Christ freed them from all moral obligations and that they could sin without fear of consequence or punishment.

Advocates of this teaching and lifestyle would agree that God's grace redefines the believer's position with God, but would also insist that grace redefines sin! Therefore, antinomianism means: a) the doctrine or belief that the Gospel frees Christians from required obedience to any law, whether scriptural, civil, or moral, and that lifestyle is irrelevant to salvation; or b) the belief that moral laws are relative in meaning and application as opposed to fixed or universal.

Antinomianism believes the Christian is free from obligation to observe the moral law as set forth in the Old Testament or any prescribed moral guidelines from an authoritative church tradition. It is a concept that sits within discussions on Christian ethics and morality.

Application Planning
This week take stock of the current influences in your life; perhaps even write them down in a notebook. Consider if you would share these with your group later. Answer questions like these:

  • What books/authors are making a strong impression on you lately?
  • Are there any particular charismatic leaders, teachers or prophetic figures you are paying attention to?
  • What is the content of their message(s)?
  • Are you drawn toward seeking "new revelation" or knowledge? How have you been evaluating this against the Evangelical/Pentecostal tradition of our church?
  • Have you been resenting any moral constraints taught by this tradition?
  • What relationships around you help ensure that you are staying in the love of God and trustworthy teaching?

An article about antinomianism:

Suffering for the sake of His body

A curious statement is made by Paul concerning an aspect of his ministry: “I am glad when I suffer for you in my body, for I am participating in the sufferings of Christ that continue for his body, the church. God has given me the responsibility of serving his church by proclaiming his entire message to you. This message was kept secret for centuries and generations past, but now it has been revealed to God’s people. For God wanted them to know that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too. And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory. So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, [mature] in their relationship to Christ. That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me.” (Colossians 1:24–29, NLT)

Let me quote the ESV Study Bible notes on the phrase “I am participating in the sufferings of Christ that continue for his body, the church”: “[This] does not imply that there is a deficiency in Christ’s atoning death and suffering on the cross, which would contradict the central message of this letter and all the rest of Scripture as well (cf. Heb. 9:12, 24–26; 10:14). Christ’s sufferings are in fact sufficient, and nothing of one’s own can be added to secure salvation. What was “lacking” in Christ’s afflictions was the future suffering of all who (like Paul) will experience great affliction for the sake of the gospel, as Paul described, e.g., in 2 Cor. 1:8–10” (The ESV Study Bible, 2008, p. 2295).

Paul certainly experienced sufferings in his ministry in the form of opposition, persecution, imprisonment, and rejection from those outside of the church. But remember he also named the daily pressure of his concern for all the churches (2 Cor. 11:28)! Read the whole list starting from verse 22 for a scary job description!

Could it be that suffering through conflicts, offences, and sin from other Christians is a part of “participating in the sufferings of Christ that continue for his body, the church”? Moreover, that these sufferings are a part of what it takes to present everyone mature in their relationship with Christ? How does this possible interpretation change how you view being hurt by the church? How would it change the way you engage in relationship with those you may be in conflict with or hurt by?

Monday, December 5, 2011

The way of non-violence

Palmer describes violence as anything which violates the integrity of anotherPalmer person. The examples he gives (e.g., insults, demeaning, treating others as disposable, etc.) make me think that dignity might be a better term than integrity in this definition. Regardless of this minor issue, he points out that a circle of trust can show how abnormal violence really is. This reminded me of a story told by a military chaplain out on patrol with fellow soldiers yet he was the only one without a weapon. One soldier noticed this and remarked that not carrying a gun must feel strange to the chaplain. The unit’s leader corrected the soldier by saying the chaplain “is here to remind us that it’s unusual to be carrying weapons in this world.”

Palmer outlines three options of conflict responses: fight, flee or honour the soul of the other. The purpose of this chapter is to encourage his reader to choose the third way. I think this chapter would be complemented greatly with Ken Sande’s (2004) The Peacemaker : A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict. Sande is actually an attorney who explores in greater detail what peacemaker responses – as opposed to escape responses or attack responses – can look like. Here is Sande's model.

For Palmer, acting non-violently means holding the tension of opposites long enough to break our hearts open to new ways or ideas; or as he puts it, “until a new vision emerges” (p. 176). I like this idea quite a bit as I tend to shy away from hasty decision-making, especially when it is not clear what to do next. Holding such tension open (i.e. neither fight nor flee) seems to bring more creativity to the surface.

I imagine some situations limit this though. For example, workplace bullying is sometimes called workplace violence. How long does one neither fight nor flee from that? A lack of safety can only be tolerated for so long. Palmer suggests four resources for the person wishing to serve as an agent of non-violent change (p. 171) but I think these should take the direction our moral compass points in the situation.

I do find it surprising how little forgiveness is discussed in this chapter. While it is important to teach on honouring the soul of another as to not enact violence on them, what are we to do with those who bring violence to us? Practicing unforgiveness in the workplace has many expressions: gossiping, workplace deviance, grudges, refusing to trust, exclusion from power, etc. Honouring the soul of an offender is equally important and part of keeping civility. In fact, I would suggest that forgiveness is a pillar moral virtue in Christian spirituality.


Palmer. P. J. (2004). A Hidden Wholeness. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.