Sunday, April 24, 2011

What are you doing this Easter?

(Luke 23:55-56) "The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph (of Arimathea) and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment."

A friend named Keith shared this passage with me a few years ago. He told me how often he had read this passage yet overlooked this simple statement...

"But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment."

I cannot think of a more pivotal few days in the history of the world. Jesus, the one being followed as the Messiah by a growing handful of rag-tag believers, has been put to death. Not just any death. Death on a cross. Death that is only benefitting a common criminal or an enemy of the state. Death that causes and intentionally inflicts severe and cruel punishment on the unfortunate soul undergoing its ordeal.

But this was no criminal, no petty thief that was being crucified. It was, if He was who He claimed to be, the one and only Son of God the Father. He was the Lamb and the Lion. He was the Chosen One who takes away the sins of the world. The Only One who would and could ever claim to be without sin. And yet, here He was, being crucified alongside sinners.

A King and Creator, dying on a cross, awaiting burial and then, evidently unforseen by His followers, a glorious resurrection. We all know and cherish the story. But what happens here in the in-between time is what baffles yet excites me.

As Jesus was taken down from the cross, a man from Arimathea, a follower, asked for Jesus' body. He took it and wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a newly prepared tomb. There was no time for a proper burial. It was "Preparation Day" and the Sabbath was about to begin. So all the followers left Jesus in the tomb, partially prepared yet temporarily left and awaiting a proper burial. They even prepared the necessary spices and perfumes but, "they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment."

In our age of hustle, bustle and screaming noise, it may be that God is calling you and me this Easter to a place of rest, a Sabbath in obedience to the commandment. I think that my tasks and my life is so important that I cannot slow down. I am deceiving myself. If the followers of Jesus could rest on the Sabbath while the Lord of all creation awaited a proper burial, I am fooling myself to believe that my work is more important than honoring God and His appointed Sabbath.

My prayer for you (and me) this Easter season is that amidst the Easter eggs, new clothes, Sunday worship, and intolerable scramble of panting feverishness, that all of us would stop to rest, reflect and to honor God's Sabbath...

Happy Easter, everyone!

Friday, April 22, 2011

"It would have been better if the tsunami had come at night..."

(This story was related to me by a Japanese pastor who had just returned from the earthquake and tsunami impacted areas. He wept as he told me – through an interpreter – what he had heard from this one grandmother. I tried to capture the story's message accurately.)

"It would have been better if the tsunami had come in the night…"

A 71-year old grandmother shared she was so tired that she could not go on. She related her story about fleeing for her life as the tsunami approached their home. She was able to run to higher ground with her daughter-in-law and granddaughter who were at home with her at the time.

As they fled to some nearby hills and turned around, they watched the debris filled water swallow up their community and their home. The water reached up to the third story of buildings in their small town. They watched as the water engulfed everything in the lower lying areas, as far as they could see.

Then she began thinking about other family members. Where was her husband of so many years? Where was the son that was the family wage earner?

As the weeks have passed, she has dealt with living in government shelters, freezing cold weather, and a lack of basic supplies for daily living. She and her daughter and grand-daughter have moved back into the shell of her destroyed home and trying to put their lives back together. They are resigned to the fact that they will never see their lost family members again. It is hard knowing that there are no bodies for them to bury or even to say prayers over.

Understandably, she is tired. She is tired physically. She is tired emotionally. She is tired spiritually…

It would have been better if the tsunami had come at night, she told the pastor. That way, we would all have been dead and not suffering like this.

Please pray that the people of Japan would find the hope and peace of Jesus in the midst of their incredible suffering. Pray that they would find the comfort of the Great Comforter, the Holy Spirit. And pray that God will make Himself known in this nation even through this terrible disaster event.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Three Common Sins of Israel...

I have made it a habit over the past many years to read through the Bible at least two times per year. It is a part of my spiritual discipline and daily devotions. It at times is dry (mainly because of my heart, not God's Word) but at other times, God speaks truth and I am most fortunate to hear.

The other day, as I was working my way through Isaiah, Jeremiah and now into Ezekiel, a thought occurred to me. It seems that there are three things that keep coming up regarding Israel and her sin: rejecting God's Law, idolatry, and breaking the Sabbath. Then the thought came that these are really measuring sticks of how much Israel loved or did not love their Creator God.

If we love God with all our heart, mind and strength, He gives us the desire to follow His Law, His way (image) and to honor Him in all we do and say (such as honoring Him on His Sabbath). Interesting enough, the desire for these things (to follow God) actually comes from Him and we cannot have that desire unless God gives it.

Moreover, the love and desire that God gives us for Himself and that which should grow as we grow in Him, has external manifestations and consequences. In other words, each of the prophets mentioned above talk about how Israel has strayed from God (idolatry, breaking His Law, not keeping the Sabbath) and what that means to relationships to their fellow Israelites and to the nations as a whole. Ezekiel says, "You adulterous wife! You prefer strangers to your own husband!" (Ezekiel 16:32). And thus the result was that, "(you) were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; (you) did not help the poor and needy. (You) were haughty and did detestable things before me..." (Ezekiel 16:49)

This is the very thing that Jesus was saying in the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:34-39). The summary of the Law and Prophets? Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind...Love your neighbor as yourself."

When we sin, we sin against God. When we sin against God, it has great implications for our fellow believers and for our neighbors as well. We cannot be lulled into thinking that our sins only affect us. There are consequences personally for our sins but also corporately. I guess the statement is that none of us sin in a vacuum.

Praise be to God that He has established this great love/trust relationship with us through His Son Jesus Christ and what He did on the cross.

Praise be to God that even after I know Jesus as my Lord and Savior and I still sin, He still loves me, seeks me and draws me to Himself.

Praise be to God however far my sins take me from Him and from perfect community with His body, He is always standing at the gate, looking for the lost and wandering child such as I to come home.

As Ezekiel says, "The soul who sins is the one who will die." (Ezekiel 18:20) "But if a wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die." (Ezekiel 18:21)

I don't know about you, but I choose life in God...


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Here and Now and There and Then...

I read a quote by Thomas Kelly recently that said, "Men nowadays take time more seriously than eternity."

The quote was from the book, "A Testament of Devotion" and under his chapter regarding the church and social concern. I thought this odd in that Kelly seems to be indicating that the more we become God-focused and thus eternity focused, the more we become concerned about our world.

Growing up Southern Baptist, I found it easier to be heavenly minded when thinking spiritual thoughts and truths. It seemed to me that we were always preaching and being taught that the best was yet to come. And that this life here on earth was at its best an ordeal to tolerated until we could get to our final reward which of course was heaven.

What I have since learned in my maturing faith (and still am in a steep learning curve) is that our inward life with Christ does not reduce our concern for the world but rather spurs us on towards and more truly whole and righteous burden for the world that God created and all that is therein.

The deeper we go into God, the deeper we go into the paradox of what the early church fathers called 'contemptus mundi' - turning away from earthly attachments and ambitions - to 'amor mundi' - a divine but painful concern for the world. It is not that we become more detached from the world the more spiritual we become but rather the opposite. The more we become "in God" through Jesus Christ, the more we begin to see, have concern for and love the world through God's eyes. And this is a terrible and painful yet wonderful (all at the same time) burden.

It's like John Coffey ("Like the drink, but not spelled the same") in the movie, "The Green Mile." We begin to see the world as it really is: beautiful yet dark; wonderful yet painful; filled with joy yet filled with evil. And we yearn and are even tired down to our bones with the anticipation of one day, God setting everything in place like He planned from before the beginning of time. Yet in the in-between time, we find ourselves - called to turn away from the world but still be concerned and join God in His great redemption process of bringing His world back to Himself.

Ours is not an easy journey. But then the way of the cross is never easy, is it?


Monday, April 11, 2011

One House at a Time...With Dignity

As I wrote in my last blog, my 16 year old son, Ethan, and I had the opportunity and privilege to head to Haiti and help out with our Southern Baptist "Rebuild Haiti" project. The project has as a goal to see 6,200 homes constructed for Haitians in the next two to three years. The homes are simple, 12 foot by 16 foot cinder block houses with tin roofs. They are not much compared to US standards but they are a far cry above the tents and temporary shelters that almost 1 million Haitians are still living in.

A part of our desire was to see Haitians get back into homes that were safe, expandable, culturally appropriate and done in a way that gave them dignity. Ethan and I saw and worked on some of these homes and can attest that these three criteria are being met.

We have adjusted the construction to inter-lock the corners of the houses by overlaying the blocks and using reinforcement bar to add stability. We have also reduced the load bearing on the walls by utilizing a tin roof instead of heavy cement. We have also worked hard to ensure that the cement mix and materials being used are of good quality.

The homes being constructed are culturally appropriate in that the houses are very much like the ones they had before the earthquake and all materials to build are available locally. Nothing has to be brought in from outside the community. One of the neat concepts of these houses is that they are expandable. They are built in a way that next month or next year, when they get enough materials or money to buy the materials, they can add on another room or two to make it into a larger home for their families. We learned this concept in our rebuilding projects in the Indonesian tsunami of 2004.

Finally, these are homes being built with dignity. The communities are involved in the process of deciding and selecting who gets the homes. Most families, if they have able bodied people, are involved in the process of participating in the construction of their own homes.

To date, we have seen almost 800 homes constructed with a number nearing completion as I write this. The cost is about $2,500 to build one home and while we only have funding on hand for about half this number, we are trusting in God to provide the rest.

We are still a ways from our overall goal of 6,200 but it is exciting to see Haitians rebuilding their country one house at a time...with dignity!

God bless,

Jeff Palmer

Monday, April 4, 2011

Good News from Haiti...

This past week, my 16 year old son, Ethan, and I had the privilege of going to Haiti for a few days and work with our BGR team there. We spent a few days building homes for Haitian families in our "Rebuild Haiti" project and a lot of time in meetings and touring some of the communities where we have been working for over a year.

It was a wonderful trip. We were able to work alongside Haitian community members who were excited about seeing the new homes going up in their communities. Moreover, it was as if we were witnessing a transformation of some of the communities whereby they were not only getting new homes but dignity and pride in what they, Haitians, were being able to accomplish.

I thought about BGR's vision to see, "...people experiencing a full and meaningful life with hope and peace that inspires them to raise their families in confidence, build their communities with dignity and share this life with others." And I thought, "this is what we are seeing!" How exciting!

We saw homes built but people being built up as well. We saw communities working together for the benefit of all and we saw people whose lives were being literally transformed by the message of hope that our team was living out among them and sharing verbally.

It is hard to think that a little over a year ago, the city of Port-au-Prince lay in rubble. Today, much of it still does. But in the communities where our BGR teams are working, the rubble is returning to community not only in terms of good housing but in terms of people whose hearts and lives are being transformed! Radical!

I want to thank our BGR team members who are working so hard in Haiti to make this happen. I also want to thank Southern Baptists for their gifts and volunteerism that is such a key part in this transformation that we're seeing. And I want also thank our Haitian partners who are opening up their lives the transforming power of God.

"Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven..."

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Trouble, Trouble, Trouble...

You see it when you turn on CNN, Fox News, or BBC. You can't look at a news and information website without it jumping at you off the screen. It dominates the world today. Trouble.

There's the earthquake and tsunami with resulting radioactive issues in Japan. Countries in North Africa and the Middle East are dominoing with popular uprisings. A relatively ignored war is happening in Ivory Coast where we now see over one million refugees and internally displaced peoples. Not to mention that Haiti is still trying to crawl out from under last year's rubble, chronic hunger grips many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, HIV-AIDS has now killed almost 30 million worldwide, global economies and traditional power houses are reeling from financial pressures, etc., etc., etc....

Signs of the end of the ages? Absolutely! Reasons to turn it off, turn our backs and become more and more insular each day? Not a chance!

We are living in some of the most opportune days since the beginning of the world. While our hearts go out to those in these areas mentioned who are suffering, we as followers of Jesus Christ and believers in an all powerful and all knowing God have complete assurance that God is at work in these historical events. Moreover, the history that we see being made today in the form of all these troubles really is a part of the grand design.

So, is it God's will that people suffer due to armed conflict, HIV/AIDS, hunger and poverty? Absolutely not! God created man (and woman) to be wholly in Him, His fellowship and His care. The "troubles" that we experience and see today are the results and a sure sign that we live in a fallen and dying world. This bears repeating: our world, at best, is a dying world. It will pass away just like me and you. Don't believe for one minute that our cleverness, collective human knowledge or any other attributes we possess will work to change this fact. We are a dying race of man living in a dying world. Pessimistic or just plain realistic?

Here's the good news, however. Jesus said to His followers in John 16:33, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world!"

So, if you and I want to avoid trouble, we have probably been born to the wrong species. How I find comfort in all the trouble is to ask God what He is doing in the midst of what I perceive as chaos. I then ask Him to show me not only what He is doing but how can I join Him in doing something about it that will align myself with Him in seeing His Kingdom come and His will being done.

Trouble? It isn't going to go away. But even if it doesn't "go", we can always take comfort and confidence in knowing that something better is coming...Jesus Himself! :)

God bless...