Archive for February 16, 2012
Tags: Abraham, Christian, Christianity, God, Hebrew Bible, Jews, Michelangelo, Vatican
“You, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you.” —Romans 11:17–18
Several years ago a book was published covering a subject near and dear to my heart – bridge-building between Christians and Jews. “The Sistine Secrets – Michelangelo’s Forbidden Messages in the Heart of the Vatican” shows how 500 years ago the renowned artist Michelangelo embedded images that appeal for Jewish-Christian understanding in one of his greatest works – the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.
Pope Julius II in 1508 commissioned Michelangelo to paint the crumbling chapel ceiling in a very simple fashion – a demeaning job for such a great artist, particularly one who considered himself primarily a sculptor. Instead, Michelangelo threw his full creative energies into the task. The result is a masterpiece adorned primarily with images of heroes and heroines of the Hebrew Bible, and full of subtle reminders of the Jewish roots of the Christian faith – a stunning visual appeal for a revolutionary change in the relationship between Christians and Jews.
Indeed, the apostle Paul in his letter to the emerging church in Rome made it very clear that Gentiles, “branches from a wild olive tree” had been grafted in to Abraham’s tree, and therefore “now you also receive the blessing God has promised Abraham and his children . . . But you must be careful not to brag about being grafted in to replace the branches that were broken off. Remember, you are just a branch, not the root” (Romans 11:17–18, nlt).
This verse is one of the reasons why I love the imagery of the olive tree so much — it points to the very heart of The Fellowship’s mission: to build bridges of understanding between Christians and Jews, and to help Christians understand the very roots of their faith.
Only when we begin to understand each other — what it means to be a Christian, what it means to be a Jew — can we truly love each other as God has intended. God calls us to lead a life of imitation dei, imitating Him and loving real people. While it is much harder to love real people than to love the idea, or even ideal, God calls each one of us to do precisely that.
We cannot change what is past. But we can, and must, reverse the history of Christian-Jewish encounters. We can, and must, bridge the deep chasm existing between our faith communities by living out the doctrine that serves as cornerstones of both our faiths: love. True love is the gift of our faiths to the world; it is both the process through which we achieve the goal of God’s love and the goal itself. Living a life of love is how we can achieve a proper relationship with God.
My prayer for both faith communities, Christians and Jews, is that we nurture that life of love today, enabling it to grow abundantly in the future.
Tags: Dream, Health, Lord, Mental Health, New International Version, Personal development, Self-Help, Studs Terkel
Fourth, you must share your dream visually. Only when people “see it,” will they buy into it. People are in search of significance; they want to feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves. Author Studs Terkel observed: “Most of us are looking for a calling, not a job. Most of us…have jobs that are too small for our spirit.” When a dream is truly great, it benefits everyone. Your job is to help people see what those benefits are. You need to help them connect with the opportunities for achieving personal growth, finding fulfillment, and increasing their self-esteem. You need to provide them with every reason you have for joining. If you can’t offer them plenty of legitimate reasons for doing so, then you have no business trying to recruit them in the first place. Will this be easy? No, it never is. Even people who say they desire a dream often don’t want it. What they want is the result of the dream, not the price required to achieve it. Look at all the TV commercials for diets. People see before and after pictures, and they want the “after.” But if you live your dream, practice integrity, and achieve a degree of success, people will see what the dream has done for you and that will make them want it too. How will you know when you have successfully shared your dream with someone else? Because they will take ownership of it, add to it, and want to make it even bigger and better. When that happens, your dream becomes bigger than you or your team.
Tags: Babylon, Buzi, Ezekiel, God, Jerusalem, Khabur River, Lord, Priest
In the thirtieth year, on the fifth day of the fourth month, I was with the exiles at the Chebar River when the heavens opened and I saw visions of God. (It happened on the fifth day of the month, in the fifth year after King Jehoiachin’s deportation. The LORD’s word burst in on the priest Ezekiel, Buzi’s son, in the land of Babylon at the Chebar River. There the LORD’s power overcame him.) (CEB)
The first three verses of Ezekiel introduce us to the prophet and his unexpected calling. In verse 1, Ezekiel explains the context of his divine encounter. It happened when he was thirty years old. Ezekiel was in Babylon with other Jewish exiles. They had settled along the Chebar River, which was, in all likelihood, an irrigation canal. There, Ezekiel states, “I saw visions of God.”
The next two verses were added by the anonymous editor of the prophecies of Ezekiel in order to help the reader understand more about the prophet and his peculiar calling. We learn that Ezekiel was a priest, the son of Buzi. We also learn that the word of the Lord “burst in” on him and the Lord’s power “overcame him” “in the fifth year after King Jehoiachin’s deportation,” which would be 593 B.C. (see 2 Kings 24:8-17).
It would be easy for us to miss an ironic and moving element in this introduction. Ezekiel, as a priest, would have had the extreme honor of serving in the temple in Jerusalem. No doubt he spent much of his young life looking forward to this opportunity. In fact, he would have been eligible for priestly service when he turned thirty years old. But his hopes were dashed because he was exiled to Babylon during the time when he could have been serving in the temple. It’s not hard to imagine Ezekiel’s disappointment with how his life turned out.
Yet God had other plans for Ezekiel. When the priest turned thirty, the Lord began to reveal fantastic visions to him. God spoke to him and told him to pass on this word to his people. Ezekiel would have the chance to serve God in a most influential and difficult way, as a prophet of judgment and hope.
God has plans for each one of us. Sometimes these plans line up with our expectations. But, often, they surprise us. We have plans for our life, but God may have other plans. And his are always the best, though they might come in the midst of disappointment, and though they might lead us into greater challenges than we would have chosen for ourselves. God wants to use you for his purposes, even as he once used Ezekiel. How will you respond to his call?
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Indeed, how will you respond to the call of God on your life and work? Are you willing to hear what God wants you to do, even if it’s not what you were expecting?
PRAYER: Almighty God, when I think about Ezekiel, I wonder about his disappointment in not being able to serve you as a priest. That which would have been the pinnacle of his life and career, was chopped down by the oppressive power of Babylon. I wonder if Ezekiel was angry with you for abandoning him along the Chebar River, so far from Jerusalem. I wonder if he cried out to you to use him somehow.
You had great plans for Ezekiel. Not easy ones, to be sure. But you chose to use him in a way that was far greater than anything he would have imagined. Through the priest who was never able to serve as a priest, you spoke mighty words of judgment as well as hope. Through Ezekiel, you prepared your people for the day of restoration and resurrection. And, through Ezekiel, you do this very thing for us today.
Help me, dear Lord, to be open to your call in my life and work, even and especially when it isn’t what I would have imagined or wanted. I know your ways are the best, Lord, best for you, best for the world, best for me. Amen.
Tags: Book, Cathedral of Praise, Foot, God, Jeremy Camp, Lord, Manila, Religion and Spirituality
Because I’ve written many articles and a book about dealing with life’s losses, I have the privilege of being introduced to a number of fellow strugglers along life’s journey. One of my new friends is a mom whose 21-year-old daughter died suddenly in 2009, which sent her reeling. She told me, “I feel like an outcast from the normal world. I feel crushed and my soul is in so much pain.”
Yet what I’ve discovered is something musician Jeremy Camp made clear in a song he wrote after the death of his wife in 2001: When you are knocked off your feet by life’s difficulties, remember that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1). That’s reason enough to get back up again. Camp described his struggle in the song called “Understand.” He asked, “Why don’t I get back on my feet again?” And he recognized that he could because “I know You understand it all.”
When trouble knocks us down, we can look up. God is there. He understands and cares. It’s not easy, but we can trust Him to help us get back on our feet again.
Lift up your eyes, despairing one,
The Lord your help will be;
You have a friend in heaven who cheers,
And calms the troubled sea. —Anon.
There is no place where earth’s sorrows
are felt more than in heaven.
Tags: Augustine of Hippo, Christian, Christianity, God, Lord, Reality, Religion and Spirituality, Thy (district)
Beyond the Shadows
“Behold, Thy servant,” confessed Augustine concerning one period in his life; “behold, Thy servant, fleeing from his Lord, and obtaining a shadow.” “God is stupendously rich Reality,” wrote von Hugel 1,500 years later, “the alone boundlessly rich Reality.” These sentences agree with and explain each other, and both accord with the teaching of Scripture and the facts of the creation. God is the only absolute Reality; all other reality is relative and contingent. While the things we know and experience day by day are real, they are not real in themselves but only as God gives them existence. They could not continue to be should God withdraw His constant word of creation and leave them to themselves for even one short moment. Here then is the rational ground for the Christian‘s insistence that God must be everything to us, that we must hold nothing dear except God. All other things are to be seen in relation to God and valued only as they are held in God and for God. All things are but shadows cast by the great Reality, God, and if we were to gain the whole world and miss God, we should have no more than a handful of shadows.