What I Wish I Were Thankful For


Amy_Carmichael_with_children2I wish I were thankful for trials. I know James says we are to count them as joy. I know that trials produce endurance and end up shaping us into the likeness of Jesus Christ. And I’m thankful for the trials I’ve gone through that are over, not just because I survived them, but because I see God working in my life because of them.

But I’m not a fan of trials. I don’t eagerly long for or look forward to the next one or the one after that. I’d much rather hear good news and have things go my way.

I’d rather see the US experience a great revival. I’d rather see the health of the people I love improve. I’d rather get a big book contract. I’d rather my church had a perfect staff and perfect congregants and did ministry perfectly.

It would be so much easier to be thankful, wouldn’t it?

But the reality is, I’m not perfect, the US may not see a revival, my family and friends will struggle with health issues and one day die, my church doesn’t have perfect people at any position, and I may never see that big contract.

So what?

Is God greater if everything goes the way I want it to or is He the same, whether I suffer or not?

This is a critical question, because thanksgiving can’t depend on what we have. If I have plenty, I’m thankful and if I have less, I’m not? If that were true, what would be the line of demarcation indicating when we needed to be thankful and when we could start complaining?

So if thanksgiving isn’t about “counting our blessings, naming them one by one,” what is it?

I suggest it is above all a focus on who God is.

Recently I heard a poem entitled “Flame Of God” written by Amy Carmichael, a missionary to India who opened, then ran an orphanage for fifty-five years. The poem is such a rich, reverent piece, I think it gains strength by repetition. The point for this post is that Amy Carmichael clearly saw God in a way that made her want to give Him her all.

She wouldn’t have created a thanksgiving list that included stuff that made life easy or comfortable. She’d thank God for Himself, His word, prayer, His redemption. But she’s mostly thank Him for the privilege of serving Him, for the opportunity to give her life to care for the least and lost.

When asked once what missionary life was like, she wrote back saying simply, “Missionary life is simply a chance to die.” (Wikipedia)

The words of “Flame Of God” inspire me and convict me at the same time. Above all, they make me want to see God the way Amy Carmichael did.

Flame Of God

From prayer that asks that I may be
Sheltered from winds that beat on Thee,
From fearing when I should aspire,
From faltering when I should climb higher
From silken self, O Captain, free
Thy soldier who would follow Thee.

From subtle love of softening things,
From easy choices, weakenings,
(Not thus are spirits fortified,
Not this way went the Crucified)
From all that dims Thy Calvary
O Lamb of God, deliver me.

Give me the love that leads the way,
The faith that nothing can dismay
The hope no disappointments tire,
The passion that will burn like fire;
Let me not sink to be a clod;
Make me Thy fuel, Flame of God

Suffering is a part of life. I don’t think it’s wrong for the sick to pray for healing or the unemployed, for a job. I think it’s good to pray for God’s comfort in the face of grief. But should I pray for “softening things” or for “easy choices”? I think too often that’s what I do.

What I want to do instead is learn to use suffering for an occasion to thank God—for His presence, His strength, and whatever else He shows me. I’m most often mindful of His omniscience—that the things which surprise me, are no surprise to Him. That He knew all along what would happen and what I’d need. And of course that reminds me how trustworthy He is.

I don’t know that I’ll ever have the spiritual maturity Amy Carmichael displayed when she wrote “Make me Thy fuel, Flame of God.” But I’m convinced thanking God, no matter where He puts me or what He takes me through, draws me into a deeper relationship with Him.

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Published in: on November 12, 2015 at 6:34 pm  Comments (4)  
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Pollen


I was a hay fever kid. Every spring, especially during recess or P.E. class, newly mowed grass gave me fits. I was allergic to ragweed, too, but apart from those two plants, I managed just fine.

Unlike others, I neither out-grew the condition nor became worse, though I discovered one more thing I’m allergic to — more than anything else I’ve ever encountered. And it so happens I am living right next to it.

Just beyond the fence is a beautiful tall, full tree that offers wonderful shade in the summer. In the fall, which is usually in December here in SoCal, the tree begins to lose its leaves. Sometime after the first winter rain, it starts growing little blossoms which eventually produce new leaves. In the process those tiny yellow flowers release a fine yellow pollen, visible on our car windshields, porch, stairs.

It is that pollen I am allergic to.

Mind you, I’m not complaining, though some times I fall into a bit of a grumble. Except, I don’t want that tree gone. How many people live in the Los Angeles basin and can look out a window without seeing another apartment building or house? Plus there’s that extra shade which makes a ten to fifteen degree difference in the summer temperatures. I like this tree. I just don’t like its pollen.

Except, of course, the tree would have no leaves if there were no pollen. And Science 101 says pollen is important for bees and such — the whole eco-system. I’ll have to take the word of the experts on that one. I just know, I have to take the bad if I want the good. And I do.

This whole pollen thing seems a bit like an illustration of all of life. Things happen — a broken wrist, a rejection notice from an agent, a promotion that goes to someone else, a fender bender on the way home from work. All such things are much like the pollen — those are not things anyone wants. Except without them, we don’t have the growth needed that can get us through the days when the temperature rises. The tough things train us.

“Consider it all joy,” James says, “when you encounter various trials knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2-3).

Peter says positive things about hard times too:

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:6-7)

For a little while things might be hard, but rejoicing is still possible because there will be a reveal.

Writers like reveals. It’s something we need to put into our novels to create those A-ha moments for readers. And of course the biggest and the best reveal is saved for last. So too in real life.

Now the days of pollen (which are almost over — we had some rain today, which clears the air) will serve as more than a reminder that new leaves are coming on the wonderful shade tree that will cool my place in the summer. Now I have one more reminder that God makes joy and rejoicing out of the various trials He allows because the great A-ha is coming!

This post originally appeared here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction in February 2012

Published in: on February 10, 2015 at 6:43 pm  Comments Off on Pollen  
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The Passion Of The Christ: Resolving The Four Trials In Three Hours Issue


Arrest_and_Trial011The more closely I read the details of the events leading up to Jesus’s crucifixion, the more convinced I am that they unfolded over a period of days, not hours.

The morning after his arrest, Jesus was hauled in front of the Sanhedrin for a final religious kangaroo court. The decision had been predetermined the night before, but to simulate legality, the elders, chief priests, and scribes gathered together to make it official.

Having declared Jesus a blasphemer, they dragged Him off to Pilate. Not wanting to defile themselves by entering into a Gentile home, which would make them unclean and unable to eat the Feast of Unleavened Bread, they remained outside while Pilate came to them.

I don’t know what they expected. A rubber stamp on their guilty verdict? They didn’t seem prepared. Pilate asked them what Jesus was guilty of and they said, in essence, Trust us, he’s no good. In other words, they made no accusation at first, apart from calling him an evildoer—a fact, they told Pilate, he could believe because they would not have brought him otherwise. A rather circular argument, and one Pilate wasn’t buying.

His first ruling was, You take him and punish him if he’s broken your law.

The Jews cut to the chase, then: “We are not permitted to put anyone to death.” But they still had the problem that their accusation of blasphemy was not a crime against Rome.

That’s when they changed tactics and started accusing Jesus of things that would be an affront to the Roman government: “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.” (Luke 23:2-3)

The last point got Pilate’s attention. Leaving the Jewish leaders outside, he went into the judgment hall and called Jesus to him. In reality, this interview began the first of the three political trials Jesus faced.

Did all these events happen in less than an hour? I have my doubts. In fact, because it was the day after Passover and the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a special Sabbath according to Old Testament law, I would postulate that the Pharisees delivered Jesus over to Pilate’s soldiers and scurried on home without hanging around the Gentile judgment hall.

I could be wrong about this. Pilate might have concluded this first trial some time that day, but I think it’s just as possible he didn’t rush right out when the Jews came calling, that he dealt with this legal matter in order, after he’d tended to the usual matters of the day. At this point he would certainly not have had reason to think the situation was an emergency.

At any rate, at some point, whether that day or whether several days later after the Special Sabbath and the regular Sabbath, in his interview with Jesus, the governor tried to nail him down regarding this accusation that He claimed to be a king.

Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Pilate *said to Him, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38)

Pilate went outside to the waiting Jewish leaders and rendered his verdict regarding Jesus—not guilty. The Pharisees, perhaps growing somewhat desperate, tried to strengthen their case against Jesus, telling Pilate He was stirring up the people from as far away as Galilee.

At last Pilate saw a way out of this mess. Kind Herod, ruler of the Galilean district, was in Jerusalem for Passover. He could deal with Jesus.

And so ended the first trial. But did the second trial start that same day? Scripture doesn’t say one way or the other. But we are told that up to this point Herod and Pilate didn’t get along. Would Herod have rushed to respond to a message from Pilate that he was sending him a prisoner to examine?

Possibly. Scripture says Herod was eager to talk to Jesus. But did he know at once that Jesus was the prisoner?

I don’t know.

And I don’t know what the protocol was for judicial hearings. I do know that John the Baptist had been kept in prison for days and that Paul, when he was to be tried by Festus, also remained locked up for days. I don’t think there was a Roman policy about a speedy trial.

Scripture does say, Herod “questioned Him at some length” (Luke 23:9a). Was that for hours? All day? We don’t know for sure, but I suspect it was longer than the hour the traditional view of these events would allow.

The thing was, Jesus wouldn’t placate Herod’s curiosity. He refused to answer his questions. Even when the chief priests and scribes showed up to accuse Jesus of crimes He hadn’t committed, He made no defense.

Herod didn’t render a finding but that didn’t stop his soldiers from making sport of Jesus. After the official part of the trial, they decked Him out in a robe, mocked him, and treated him with contempt.

Back Jesus went to Pilate. The governor, according to Luke, had to call the chief priests and scribes together, again an indication that they weren’t standing in the streets waiting for this decision to be handed down.

I suspect by this time they realized they needed more leverage against Pilate. And if these trials were spread over several days, they would have had a reasonable amount of time to stir up some opposition to Jesus.

I don’t see the crowd who welcomed Him into Jerusalem turning against Him in a matter of an hour or so. But given time, word would get out that the Sanhedrin had found Jesus guilty.

On top of that, there were a number of Messiah claimants who preceded Jesus. Were the people once again disillusioned when the Passover came and went and Jesus didn’t lead them against Roman rule? That’s what most of the Jews expected from the Messiah. He would come as the descendant of David to claim his throne.

At any rate, when Jesus returned to Pilate, the Jewish leaders were prepared. They had the charges they could bring and the people primed to do their part.

Pilate again declared Jesus to be innocent and turned to the people, hoping they would side with him. Instead they clamored for a real insurrectionist named Barabas, and cried for Jesus to be crucified.

The governor had one ally, though. His wife had had a dream—which fits more perfectly into the timeline of events if she had heard about Jesus appearing before her husband, then had a dream in the night. Whenever this dream occurred, it unsettled her for some time, (“last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him” Matt. 27:19b) to the point that she had to warn Pilate not to have anything to do with “that righteous man.”

Pilate settled on a different punishment from crucifixion—scourging. His soldiers beat Jesus, mocked Him, feigned obeisance to the “King of the Jews”—the people they hated. None of this satisfied the Jewish leaders.

Again they threw the original charge at Jesus: “He made Himself out to be the Son of God.” Now Pilate was terrified, but he was more terrified of Rome. When it looked like he’d have a riot on his hands, when the Jewish leaders accused him of being no friend of Caesar’s for allowing this rival king to live, he relented.

And so, after all his findings of not guilty, Pilate washed his hands of the matter, literally, and told the Jewish leaders to do what they wanted to do.

Three political trials and one religious trial, all in the space of three hours? It doesn’t seem likely. But if these events were spread out over days, not hours, it’s easy to see them unfold logically—particularly the crowd growing more and more hostile and Pilate’s resistance wearing down.

Easter events calendar2

Published in: on April 15, 2014 at 7:13 pm  Comments Off on The Passion Of The Christ: Resolving The Four Trials In Three Hours Issue  
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The Passion Of The Christ: Arrest And First Trials


Arrest_and_Trial032In the introduction to this series of Easter posts, I mentioned that I’ve been troubled when reading the various gospel accounts of the events involved with Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection.

One of those troubling aspects for me was what appears to be the sudden dramatic reversal of the crowd reaction to Jesus. Especially now as a writer, I like to see that events are properly motivated, and quite honestly, the Big Reversal seemed too abrupt to be explained. Remember, in the traditional way of looking at things, the Pharisees had perhaps an hour or an hour and a half to convince the crowd that the man they’d wanted to crown as the promised Messiah actually should be crucified.

Putting in more time for these events to happen answers a lot of questions, at least for me. With that said, here’s a look at one possible timetable.

Passion Events Calendar

Let me reiterate, I’m not a Hebrew scholar. In addition, I haven’t studied ancient calendars. All I’m doing is postulating a way all the events mentioned in the gospels could have happened which would allow Christ’s body to have been in the tomb three days and three nights.

The traditional understanding of what we’ve called “the last supper” seems fairly straightforward. Jesus instructed some of His followers to get things ready for the Passover meal, the first of the eight days of celebration:

Then came the first day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. And Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, so that we may eat it.” (Luke 22:7-8)

Much happened at that meal: Jesus instituted a remembrance ceremony:

And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. (Luke 22:19-20)

He also outted Judas—or at least made it known that one of the twelve would betray Him. At some point in the evening, Satan entered Judas.

Another important event during this meal was Jesus confronting Peter with the truth that despite his protestations of loyalty, he would deny Jesus that very night.

Amazingly, in the face of doubts and denials and betrayal, Jesus spent a good deal of time talking with His followers about what was about to happen. He also washed their feet, prayed for them, sang a hymn with them, then headed out for a quiet garden where He could pray.

After a time of fervent communion with His Father and a period of ministry by angels, during which His disciples slept, a group of Roman soldiers and a mob from the chief priests, scribes, and elders, led by Judas, came looking for Jesus. His arrest was nearly without incident.

Peter tried to back up his bold words earlier and took a sword to one of the Roman servants. I used to be bothered by the Biblical record that Peter lopped off this guys ear. It seemed so odd. I couldn’t picture how or why Peter would go after the guy’s ear.

Except, the word for sword, machaira means “a small sword, as distinguished from a large sword,” or “large knife,” the kind a person would most likely use to cleave downward. A possible explanation, then, is that Peter intended to cleave this man’s skull in two, but either he wore a helmet which deflected the blow or he moved to evade it. At any rate, his ear took the brunt of Peter’s action.

After Jesus restored Malchus’s ear, his disciples ran off. I imagine the appearance of a sword riled up the soldiers and they wanted a little payback. At any rate, Jesus was alone with the crowd of Jews and Romans who led him off to his first trial.

He actually had three religious trials of a sort and three political trials. That night after his arrest, He faced the first two religious trials.

First He was led to the house of Annas whose son-in-law was the current High Priest. Here’s what Strong’s Lexicon says about Annas:

high priest of the Jews, elevated to the priesthood by Quirinius the governor of Syria c. 6 or 7 A.D., but afterwards deposed by Valerius Gratus, the procurator of Judaea, who put in his place, first Ismael, son of Phabi, and shortly after Eleazar, son of Annas. From the latter, the office passed to Simon; from Simon c. 18 A.D. to Caiaphas; but Annas even after he had been put out of office, continued to have great influence.

I should say he had influence—over his son, then his son-in-law, if not with the other Pharisees.

How long did this phase of Jesus’s trial last? We don’t know. But at some point Annas sent Him to Caiaphas, the sitting high priest. He was the one who had counseled the other leaders that they needed to kill Jesus (John 18:14).

No surprise then, that Jesus faced a series of trumped up charges brought by false witnesses. And yet, they couldn’t get the required number of two to agree.

Caiaphas resorted to another illegal tactic—he directly questioned Jesus. When He answered, Caiaphas declared Him guilty based on the “blasphemy” they’d just heard.

But there were a couple problems. Among the illegal aspects of this trial was the fact that only the Sanhedrin, the group of seventy elders, could determine guilt and only during the day. In addition, Jews, living under the authority of Rome, couldn’t carry out the death sentence. On top of that, blasphemy was not an offense Romans cared about.

Hence, trial number two was not sufficient to accomplish what Caiaphas wanted. There had to be a third religious trial, and then they had to deal with the Romans.

Published in: on April 14, 2014 at 6:57 pm  Comments (2)  
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Pollen


I was a hay fever kid. Every spring, especially during recess or P.E. class, newly mowed grass gave me fits. I was allergic to ragweed, too, but apart from those two plants, I managed just fine.

Unlike others, I neither out-grew the condition nor became worse, though I discovered one more thing I’m allergic to — more than anything else I’ve ever encountered. And it so happens I am living right next to it.

Just beyond the fence is a beautiful tall, full tree that offers wonderful shade in the summer. In the fall, which is usually in December here in SoCal, the tree begins to lose its leaves. Sometime after the first winter rain, it starts growing little blossoms which eventually produce new leaves. In the process those tiny yellow flowers release a fine yellow pollen, visible on our car windshields, porch, stairs.

It is that pollen I am allergic to.

Mind you, I’m not complaining, though some times I fall into a bit of a grumble. Except, I don’t want that tree gone. How many people live in the Los Angeles basin and can look out a window without seeing another apartment building or house? Plus there’s that extra shade which makes a ten to fifteen degree difference in the summer temperatures. I like this tree. I just don’t like its pollen.

Except, of course, the tree would have no leaves if there were no pollen. And Science 101 says pollen is important for bees and such — the whole eco-system. I’ll have to take the word of the experts on that one. I just know, I have to take the bad if I want the good. And I do.

This whole pollen thing seems a bit like an illustration of all of life. Things happen — a broken wrist, a rejection notice from an agent, a promotion that goes to someone else, a fender bender on the way home from work. All such things are much like the pollen — those are not things anyone wants. Except without them, we don’t have the growth needed that can get us through the days when the temperature rises. The tough things train us.

“Consider it all joy,” James says, “when you encounter various trials knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2-3).

Peter says positive things about hard times too:

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:6-7)

For a little while things might be hard, but rejoicing is still possible because there will be a reveal.

Writers like reveals. It’s something we need to put into our novels to create those A-ha moments for readers. And of course the biggest and the best reveal is saved for last. So too in real life.

Now the days of pollen (which are almost over — we had some rain today, which clears the air) will serve as more than a reminder that new leaves are coming on the wonderful shade tree that will cool my place in the summer. Now I have one more reminder that God makes joy and rejoicing out of the various trials He allows because the great A-ha is coming!

Published in: on February 27, 2012 at 6:49 pm  Comments (4)  
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Darkest before the Dawn


I don’t know if the expression “darkest before the dawn” has a bases in nature or not, or if darkness is even a measurable quantity. But we’ve all heard the adage, and we understand it because there seems to be experiential truth.

Novelists often take characters into the “black night of the soul” before a climactic reversal and triumph. And readers accept this as “real.”

Scripture chronicles a number of instances when the darkness got darker before God moved.

Lazarus got sick, seriously sick, and then … Jesus came? No, then Lazarus died. And was entombed for four days. Darkness at it’s darkest before Jesus showed up and said, Come out.

Or how about the enslaved Israelites, crying out to God because their burden was grievous. At God’s command, as a direct result of their cries, He sent Moses. And things went from bad to worse.

Keep making bricks, their slave masters told them, only now you have to collect your own materials because you’re so lazy. And when they didn’t meet their quota? Their leaders were beaten.

Darkness turning darker. And then the exodus.

Or how about Gideon. Already out manned, God reduces his fighting force, not once but twice. Darkest darkness. And then God intervened to defeat the enemies.

And even for those saints who died. The thief on the cross had Jesus’s promise that he would be with Him that day in paradise. Stephen, as he was dying, had a face that shone like an angel’s.

But here’s where I’m glad I have the Bible. I think of Abraham hiking up to the mountain with his teen son Isaac, ready to sacrifice him on the altar they would build. He didn’t know how that darkest moment of his life was going to turn out. He just knew he needed to trust God completely and obey.

The Israelites didn’t know that Moses was indeed the one who would lead them out of slavery. They thought he was, when he showed them the miraculous signs from God. But then the slave masters’ demands came and the beatings came. Suddenly, Moses’s own doubts resurfaced:

O Lord, why have You brought harm to this people? Why did You ever send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done harm to this people; and You have not delivered Your people at all.

The thing was, God intended more for His people than just release from slavery. When Pharaoh finally sent them away, they had acquired silver and gold from their neighbors. They had a reputation as a people blessed by God, so when they arrived in Canaan, the locals were scared to death.

My temptation, when the darkness comes, is to find my own way into the light. I’m impatient and don’t want to wait for the fullness of God’s time. If I would only remember, dawn follows the darkest of the dark.

Published in: on August 31, 2009 at 12:27 pm  Comments (6)  
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