Monthly Archives: March 2012

Thomas the Sincere

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio

Easter gets treated like a second-class holiday. A time for chocolate bunnies, colored eggs, and gorging on ham and all the trimmings. Easter marks the end of Lent and is linked to the Jewish Passover. I could bore you with a lengthy parade of historical facts and customs about Easter. But I won’t. Instead, let’s go directly to the heart of Easter: It’s about the resurrection of Christ from the dead. I have been a Christian for decades and every now and then a tiny doubt enters my noggin. The resurrection of Christ happened so long ago that it can occasionally seem like a fable, even to a dyed-in-the-wool believer like me. After all, rising from the dead can seem preposterous to those of us living in the modern world where the laws of nature and physics dominate our lives. Those with more scientific minds sometimes accuse us of magical thinking or superstition when we talk about Christ rising from the dead. I understand that not everybody can get their head around a resurrected Savior. And yet I feel guilty when I have an occasional doubt about Christ’s resurrection. I tell myself it’s only natural for me—two thousand years after the event—to wonder if it really happened. But I can’t doubt the unmistakable hand of God in my life. And that God is Christ.

Still, I like to think of Thomas when those irksome doubts appear. History has given Thomas a nickname: Doubting Thomas. Here’s the amazing thing about Thomas—He was one of Christ’s disciples and witnessed many of the miracles Christ performed. Thomas spent years with Christ before the resurrection. And Thomas still had doubts. Here’s the post-resurrection scripture that marked Thomas as a doubter:

John 20:24-27, “One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (who was called Didymus), was not with the others when Jesus came. They told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he replied, ‘I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.’
Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. ‘Peace be with you,’ he said. Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!’”

Thomas was indeed a doubter, but he sincerely wanted to know the truth. God has done enough to satisfy those who really want to know. As for those who really don’t want to know; I doubt (pardon the pun) they would believe even if they saw Christ walk out of the tomb and touched the wounds in his hands and feet. They would say it’s an illusion or that he wasn’t really dead. But for those who really want to know, God has done enough to satisfy our doubts. He performed documented miracles. He taught with power and authority in a completely new way. He impacted lives then and now. He changed the course of human history.

Thomas has already gone before us and demanded hard evidence that he could directly feel and experience. The rest is up to us—to believe. If you sincerely want to know the truth, the truth will reveal itself to you.

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Ask the Holy Spirit

Having walked the planet for more than five decades, I’ve been exposed to a lot of unpleasant human behavior. Unfortunately I’ve also dished out my share of irksome behavior and dumped it on my fellow sojourners through this life. Thank God for his tender mercy. And yet I’m beginning to understand that many of us boomers have picked up quite a few persistent unhealthy foibles that we bring to our faith experience. Physical hurts, bitterness, anger, abuse, depression, complaining, selfishness, materialism, failed relationships, cynicism, pride . . . need I say more? We were “born again” when we became Christians, but what happened? It doesn’t seem like many of us know how to live in the Spirit consistently. If we can’t live it, how will unbelievers ever have a chance to believe it? And how will we find healing and peace? Yes, yes, I know human beings are complicated and flawed. What’s the solution?

All my Christian life I’ve heard the term “the fullness of the Holy Spirit” used to describe how we can experience the power of God in our lives. Frankly, it always seemed like an esoteric term that many Christians (me) were not experiencing. But something recently changed in me. I don’t know how to describe it except that I started to gradually let go of this life. Or maybe I should say I started to let go of MY life. It’s like getting into a swimming pool in early summer when the water is still a bit chilly. I’m one of those who prefer to gradually enter the water, going deeper in little increments until I’m completely up to my neck. I usually don’t like to jump in all at once. That’s how was with me and the Holy Spirit and God’s love. Now and then situations would arise during the day that triggered irritation or anxiety because things weren’t going according to my plan; that’s when I’d simply ask the Holy Spirit to fill me with God’s love. And it happened. There were no bright lights or prophetic visions, but the focus shifted away from me and onto others. In those moments when the focus shifted away from me, I felt . . . peace and contentment. I haven’t felt that good in a very long time. In those moments, my personality and essence do not disappear. Rather, I get the feeling of wellbeing that comes from God’s love. It’s an odd paradox: As my life becomes less self-consumed, I feel better about my life. Go figure! I think this is what is meant by dying to self so that Christ can take over. A pleasant side effect of allowing the Holy Spirit to fill me with God’s love is the ability to live completely in the present moment.

Anyhow, God is inside the heart and mind of each Christian. All we have to do is ask the Holy Spirit for God’s love to fill us and then we have to let go and stop flailing. Try it the next time trouble assaults you or you catch yourself reacting badly to a situation. God’s love is like a medicine for every hurt and imperfection. Don’t be afraid to go a little deeper with the Holy Spirit. It feels wonderful.

Oh, by the way, if your requests of the Holy Spirit seem to go unanswered, try asking God to begin the process of sanctification in your life. Sanctification is the process of becoming aware of sins and overcoming them with God’s power, not human effort. Sanctification is the way of living in the Spirit.

Expensive Pens

About ten years ago I purchased a thirty dollar ballpoint pen with a fancy ergonomic grip. I still have that pen. Most people lose pens all the time. They lose them so often they don’t even notice. That’s because most pens are cheap. The writer doesn’t care if he or she misplaces a cheap pen. They don’t even notice when a borrower walks away with their cheap pen. But when you shell out thirty bucks for a fancy writing implement, you cherish it. I know where my pen is at all times (yes, it is a little obsessive compulsive). I do not let borrowers walk away with my pen.

As Easter approaches, I like to read all the Gospel accounts of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. The suffering and sacrifice of Christ is a poignant reminder of how much God cherishes his people. He paid a high price for us. He always knows where we are. We are in the palm of his hand. He won’t lose us. He won’t let someone else walk away with us without a fight. We are not cheap. We are precious to God.

Incensed at Incense

Except for times I’ve attended services in the Catholic Church, I have never sat through a worship service where they burned incense. We evangelicals take pride in worshipping God in spirit only. We shun rituals. But I wonder if we miss out on some of the ancient trappings of worship that enriched the faith experience of Christians long ago. The burning of incense is not owned by the new age movement and it’s not esoteric in Christianity. It is mentioned several times throughout the Bible.

The sweet fragrance of burning incense is symbolic of the prayers of Christians offered up to God in heaven. In Psalms 141:2 (NLT) it says, “Accept my prayer as incense offered to you, and my upraised hands as an evening offering.”

Prayer is an act of worship. Our prayers have a pleasant aroma to the nose of God. I believe all wholesome prayers please God, no matter how refined. Even so, it’s really cool when we begin to think of the words, and their arrangement, in our prayers as works of art.

Now that I’m well on the way to sixty, I don’t feel the need to pray for physical needs as much. Not because I’m rich or in perfect health. I am not. But because I feel a growing desire to simply experience God’s mercy and grace without tossing up a laundry list of needs. Yes, I know God cares very much about my needs. I simply want to make sure God knows how much I appreciate all he has done for me, a sinner.