By Daniel Malakowsky
“From dust you came and to dust you shall return.”
Five years ago I was preparing to join my mother and aunt in picking up the ashes of my father who had recently passed away. It had been several weeks since his memorial and death and there had been space to grieve. Still, we knew that in receiving his remains that a finality would set in in regards to the grief we had come to know so unexpectedly.
As I was leaving a morning class to proceed to join my family, I received a phone call from my wife. Nearly three years earlier she had been experiencing some fatigue and unstable blood sugars and we took her in to check for the potential of diabetes or some other related cause. Instead of discovering some underlying health issue, we were surprised to find out that she was pregnant. This phone call would be reminiscent of that time, with her asking me to pick up a home pregnancy test as many of the same symptoms were present.
So on the day that I was to take home my father’s ashes, I also found myself in the nearest supermarket buying a pregnancy test. I had 15 minutes to spare in bringing it home to my wife before I had to leave, but in those 15 minutes we discovered that we would soon be welcoming our third child into the world. Unlike the few weeks after my father’s death, there was no time to process or space to reflect on this gift, the time had come to join my family.
About an hour later we were leaving the facility where we had gathered my father’s ashes. I offered to be the one to carry them out and on the drive home. It is rather difficult to put into words the overwhelming and confusing emotions that were conflicting within me. There I was sitting in the back of a car holding my father’s ashes and all that remained of his 58 years, the vapor and mist of his life, and yet cherishing in my heart the joy of knowing a new life was forming within the womb of my wife.
For a number of years I have had the privilege of imposing ashes on the foreheads of many followers of Jesus on Ash Wednesday, reminding them that they are from dust and to dust they shall return. On that fateful day I, perhaps more than any other, felt the tension that sits between those two short clauses. Holding in my lap the fragility of life and in my heart the miracle of its existence.
We are mortal beings and the finality of our existence is beyond our control. Despite our cultural impulses towards immortality (soaring medical expenses, plastic surgery, anti-aging products, etc.), those words hold in them a truth and reality that no human being has been able to, nor will they be able to, exploit or overcome.
The words from “dust you came” remind us of both the humility and majesty of our beginning. We are not the source and foundation of life, but its recipient. That God would breathe into the dust of the ground and bring forth his likeness, those who in his image create and recreate, extending his presence throughout his created realm, reveals the dignity of our being. Still our life is dependent upon something outside of ourselves, the someone who brought us forth in love.
We are frail and mortal, and our fragile frames will once more return to the dust, relinquishing the breath that was first put within us. With that we are also eternal beings, though we are still temporally bound. Our days are numbered and we walk in perishable tents, tightly gripping the vapor and mist that ultimately is slipping through our fingers.
Embracing this truth holds within it a hidden gift though, one that allows us to hold that vapor and mist lightly, letting go of fleeting promises and vain pursuits. It is so easy to see only the present, the tangible elements of our life, and as we do they begin to spread and take anchor in our hearts. We become trapped by the temporal, locked and imprisoned by the idols of our day and unable to see beyond them, only chasing after vanity of vanities.
The gift then is one of letting go. Letting go of our control...letting go of our temporal treasures so we can receive eternal ones...letting go of our life so that we can truly find it. As we let go we discover the treasure and truth of Jesus. The One who said that if man wishes to find his life, he must first lose it, invites us into the riches of himself. It is then that our hearts can truly desire his will be done on earth as it is heaven, because we are living for heaven, receiving the incarnate love that is available to us here on earth.
Five years ago I was forced to sit in the midst of that tension. To sit with the invitation that is embodied within it. To sit with my mortality and yet the steadfast faithfulness of the One who conquered death and declares a love so bold that anyone who believes him is guaranteed not to perish, but to embrace an eternal and everlasting life.
So repent, turn from your sin, and believe in the Gospel.
photo 1 Taken in Sedona, AZ
photo 2 Taken in Mt. Lemmon, AZ
O God, You are our God, the One in whom we trust. We’ve gathered together to come before You, to open our hearts and minds to Your presence. We long to meet You here, and to hear Your voice.
We come with confidence, because we’ve met You here before; we’ve been awed and inspired by Your glory and Your power. We come with gratitude, because we’ve known Your steadfast love, a love which is better than life itself.
And so we praise You, lifting our voices, lifting our hands in joy and expectation. Come among us in Your power. Pour out Your spirit on our thirsty souls, that we may be filled with Your goodness and love.*
Imagine the angelic choirs, and God the Lord of all sitting, and his Only Son sitting with him at his right hand, and the Spirit with them present, and thrones and dominions doing service, and each man and woman among you receiving salvation. Even now let your ears ring with the sound: long for that glorious sound, which after your salvation, the angels will chant over you:
Blessed are they whose iniquities have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. [Ps 32:1]**
Song - Psalm 118
Oh give thanks to the Lord
Oh give thanks to the Lord
For He is good, He is good
For He is good, He is good
His steadfast love endures
Forever, forever, He endures
Reading – Psalm 90
(Take a moment to ponder your mortality and to confess your need for God)
Song – Psalm 66
Come and see what God has done, see what God has done
For every daughter and every son
Oh, Come and hear what God has done
For everyone who fears the Lord will sing of what he’s done
And all the earth will shout your praise
And all the earth will sing your name
For You are great, For You are great
How glorious your name
How awesome are your ways
For you are great, For you are great
Reading – Psalm 92
Free expression of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord
The Words of Jesus – John 15:18-27
"If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.
But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: 'They hated me without a cause.' (Psalm 35:19; 69:4)
But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.”
• On how God is meeting you through your pursuit of him in the Psalms
• On what God is teaching you about himself and what it means to walk with him
• On what is stirring in your own hearts as you grow in the heart language of God
Song – Psalm 134
Come and bless the Lord
Come and bless the Lord
Come and bless the Lord
All you servants of the Lord
Lift up your head
To the holy place
Lift up your head
And bless his name
Evening Readings – Psalms 3, 4, and 137
Closing Prayer and Benediction
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. ~ Jude 24-25
*Adapted from re:Worship (Opening Prayer Psalm 63)
**Cyril of Jerusalem, Procatechesis
“And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him…” ~ Mark 3:14a
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.’” ~ Revelation 21:3
We were created to be with God and our existence is to be one of abiding communion in him. It forms the bookends of scripture, being embodied in the Edenic picture of God walking with man in the cool of the day, and then forms telos of redemption where the Lord eternally dwells with man. In the space between there is Christ, the word who became flesh and dwelt among us. In Christ we find not only our way back to God, but the perfect vision of what a life with God looks like, a life we are being invited into with Jesus.
Yet our world is one of confusion and chaos, hardship and struggle. Busyness grows exponentially and often we find ourselves struggling to know how to live life with the God who invites us to call him Immanuel, God with us. The challenge is then how do we live out the truth that Christ promises to be with us.
A great place to begin this journey of learning to be with Jesus is in the Psalms. Apart from being the prayer book of Israel and the Church, the Psalms found their words on the lips and tongue of Jesus more than any other book of scripture. In the Psalms we then find:
The Language of Communion - The Psalms teach us how both be with God, but also how to speak to God. They give us permission to be honest with ourselves, our circumstances, and with God himself.
The Totality of the Human Experience - The Psalms also let us know that the totality of the human experience is part of our sacred journey with God. It is not only the set asides times that God is attentive to, but the whole of who we are. It speaks to our failures and brokenness, but also to God’s faithful love and the joy that is ours in him. In the Psalms we find permission to lament and cry out, to extol and proclaim, and to find the one who promises to never leave us or forsake us.
Taken from the Benedictine tradition, where the Psalms have been prayed weekly for nearly 1500 years, we have adapted them to a monthly reading plan that has morning, midday, and evening readings. Psalms that are prayed within the Benedictine tradition daily have been kept with some greater regularity. As we do these monthly readings it is also important to remember the following:
Daily Engagement - While our lives and schedules may not allow for the full engagement of the readings each day (generally 9-10 Psalms; about 30 minutes of total reading daily), being daily in the Psalms, even if we can only read one that day, allows us to grow together in being with Christ.
Consistency - The goal is not perfection, but consistency. This is a practice of learning to habitually come before God, realizing that in Christ he has already come to us and is present. If a time is missed it is important to remember that the purpose of this study is not to check a box off a list or merely get through the Psalms monthly, but to be with God. There is no merit in this process so be gracious with yourself with the goal of growing in your ability to be with God, who in his love and mercy is already present to you.
Prayer - At their core the Psalms are prayers, the prayers of individuals and of the people of God. It is important for us to approach them as such. We have been trained to read analytically, yet the Psalms are lyrical and poetic, inviting us to not just read them, but to experience them. To help combat our tendency towards reading them analytically, it can be helpful to read the Psalms aloud, even if doing so by one’s self. This slows them down and allows the heart to hang onto each word spoken out loud, finding the cadence and rhythm of the Psalm and discovering the emotions of each prayer.
Mindfulness - We must grow in our awareness of what these readings and this process stirs up within us. For some the emotive nature of the Psalms may bring up painful and challenging memories, areas of our heart and life that we have not yet learned to bring to Jesus or may still need his healing presence to touch. That can at times feel overwhelming and cause us to be anxious. For others this can be a source of joy and a gift, giving words to experiences and feelings and thus be a source of a relief. Remember that as we journey together in the Psalms that our collective experience will be shaped by our individual experiences.
Click Here for Monthly Order Psalms Readings
"You know very well, my brother, that someone who wants to set out on a long journey will first of all examine himself, and then he will attach himself to other travellers with whom he is able and willing to keep up; otherwise he may get left behind by his companions on the journey and come to harm. It is exactly the same with a person who wants to travel the road to righteousness. First of all let him look into himself and see how strong he is, then let him choose a way of life that is appropriate for himself. It is better to begin from one's feeble state and end up strong, to progress from small things to big, than to set your heart from the very first on the perfect way of life, only to have to abandon it later, -- or keep to it solely out of habit, because of what others will think -- in which case all this labour will be is vain.
Anyone who wishes to embark on the labours of the virtuous life should train himself gently, until he finally reaches the perfect state. Do not be perplexed by the many paths trodden by our Fathers of old, each different from the other; do not zealously try to imitate them all: this would only upset your way of life. Rather, choose a way of life that suits your feeble state; travel on that, and you will live, for your Lord is merciful and he will receive you, not because of your achievements, but because of your intention, just as he received the destitute woman's gift." ~ Evagrius
-By Ryan Thurman
“I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”
"In Jesus’ resurrected presence, the invisible kingdom of God has become visible reality. The word has taken shape, love has become real. Jesus showed what love meant. His word and life proved that love knows no bounds. Love halts at no barrier. It can never be silenced, no matter what circumstances make it seem impossible to practice it. Nothing is impossible for the faith that springs from the fire of love."
"It is of crucial importance that the cross of Jesus Christ is in the center of our hearts – central to our calling, and central to our mission. The Lamb of God on the cross stands before the throne of God. (Rev. 5:6) The cross is the center of the universe. We must experience its meaning in its height, depth, and breadth as a mystical revelation through the Holy Spirit. It is not enough to believe it; we must ask God that we may be allowed to experience it in a living way."
-J. Heinrich Arnold
"The cross is not a defeat, but a victory. It is the dramatic reassertion of the fact that God’s love is sovereign, that the rulers of the world do not have the last word, that the kingdom of God has defeated the kingdom of Satan, that the kingdoms of the world have now become, in principle, the kingdom of our God, and of his Messiah: and he shall reign for ever and ever."
"Whoever enters discipleship enters Jesus’ death, and puts his or her own life into death; this has been so from the beginning. The cross is not the horrible end of a pious, happy life, but stands rather at the beginning of community with Jesus Christ."
"Easter comes out ringing in terms that we all hear if we seek to hear it, that the soul of man is immortal. Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ we have fit testimony that this earthly life is not the end, that death is just something of a turn in the road, that life moves down a continual moving river, and that death is just a little turn in the river, that this earthly life is merely an embryonic prelude to a new awakening, that death is not a period which ends this great sentence of life but a comma that punctuates it to more loftier significance. That is what it says. That is the meaning of Easter. That is the question that Easter answers – that death is not the end."
-Martin Luther King Jr.
by Ryan Thurman
If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants
Remember those leading you, who spoke the word of God to you, consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
It takes no special talent to look around and point out things that are numbing and depressing. But becoming keenly and consistently aware of what’s good, true, and beautiful requires we be intentional: we must open our eyes, minds, and hearts, and keep them open.
One way to do this is to recognize and reflect on the people who have marked our lives. I have been thinking about this lately and want to write around this theme. It is a way for me to follow God’s instruction to be a 'remembering' people, who remember God’s work of grace throughout history and in our own lives. This is also a way for me to publicly honor those God has placed in my life.
We live in a time where it is hard to maintain healthy relationships in our lives, from our own family, to our friends. We have been disappointed often by those closest to us and we are aware that we too have failed those we love most. But here is the mystery; although we are weak and frail God chooses to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God to others.
We also are formed from a very early age by a message, that says we need to be independent and self-sufficient. As Frank Sinatra so famously sang, "I made it my way." But I think this is wrong. The Biblical example is that we are to follow and learn by imitation from those who walk with Jesus in an intimate way. We need these spiritual mothers and fathers who can love us and point us to Jesus and allow us to walk with them as they walk with Jesus.
Father Peter Hocken is one of those people in my life. I have gotten to know him over the past few years as we have been part of the Wittenberg 2017 initiative together. At first I was enamored with him as a gifted teacher, and then this grew into deep respect as I watched him interact with others so genuinely and humbly. This past June while we were in Wittenberg, Germany together we moved into friendship as we had different opportunities to sit together and share a meal. One of the last evenings I was able to spend one on one time with him. We walked through the old town and stopped at a cafe and he bought me a Heineken. As we sat together enjoying our beers I was able to ask him many questions about his life. It was one of those events that are sealed into my memory as a transformative moment. Father Peter, at age 85 continues to pour out his life as an offering and a testimony to the love and power of Jesus.
Who have been the people in your life that have helped shape who you are today?
Who are the people in your life whom God might be leading you to pursue and invest in. And who knows, one day may write about the importance of your investment in their life?
Fr Peter Hocken writes about his teaching ministry
In the mid-1990s the Lord gave me a new understanding of the centrality of the second coming of Jesus in the biblical revelation, that His coming in glory is what everything else is preparing for, along with the place of Israel and the Jewish people in the Father’s plan from before creation. I saw that everything the Holy Spirit is doing is preparing for this wonderful consummation. My earlier teaching had focused on the renewal of the Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council and on the importance of Christian unity in this renewal. The new light on Israel and the second coming gave a fuller context to that teaching based on a more complete biblical vision. The Lord raises up His Coming in glory and that sheds new light on everything else. Some people have told me I give a “big picture” teaching.
Only in the last three years have I had a website making these teachings of recent years available: www.peterhocken.org
Some of the main areas of this teaching are:
by Amber Hunter Jesse
My mom really loved my dad, and I think he really did try to love her back. Together, they brought me and my big brother Cliff into the world, and they wanted to make us a happy family.
But our family broke and fell to pieces.
I cried my eyes out on their bed, as mom told us she was divorcing him. I was only eight years old. I understand now that she couldn’t live anymore with his unwillingness to get the help he needed for his depression and mental illness. He often stayed home while she worked full-time at the courthouse and we were dropped off at mediocre babysitters, the only one’s mom could afford.
When I was 11, my mom cried as she told me that my dad would be spending the rest of his life in prison. He had shot a man to death. I remember my young and puzzled brain, trying to make sense of it. I think I went into survival mode. My immediate response was, “It doesn’t matter. I’m fine. He was nothing but a sperm donor to me.” Looking back, I can see that I was traumatized. My mom was limited in her understanding and ability to walk us through a healthy, healing process. She tried to bring it up throughout the years, but I had made it an “off-limits” topic. I was ashamed and terrified that people would find out that I was the daughter of a murderer. “Anguish” isn’t too strong a word to describe how I felt realizing I had lost my dad forever.
In the middle of my senior year of high school, my mom was diagnosed with a gastrointestinal stromal tumor. In other words, cancer. She died only four months later. I remember a conversation we had maybe a month before. She said, “Amber, there will be times in your life when you think, ‘I wish my mom was here,’ but I want you to know that I already know. I already know that you’ll do so many amazing things in your life.”
Since then, I’ve been on quite a journey! After graduating from college and spending a very inspiring summer in Pemba Mozambique, I was invited to move into Downtown Phoenix , to start community of people called “Apprenticeship to Jesus, (A2J for short).” These past eight years, we’ve tried to walk closely together, on a common path into the beautiful heart of Jesus. I’m so thankful for how God has surprised me with this miracle of community! It’s been a safe harbor where I’ve consistently felt known and cared for, and where I’ve had a sense that I belong. Our shared life has also been a place of transformation; we’ve come to understand that relationships are the context where God matures, heals, and forms us in Love.
When I moved into the A2J community I was very passionate about Jesus, but I was also more injured than I knew. I was limping, spiritually and emotionally. I was extremely sensitive and when a wound got touched I lashed out at the people who loved me the best. My A2J family supported me through a much-needed season of mourning. I pinned this large burlap cross above my bed and, for two solid months, I wept and ached in the presence of God. My community also gave me the courage to begin unpacking my painful places with a professional counselor. Over these years, I’ve experienced significant growth and heart-healing that, upon reflection, causes me to gasp in amazement.
What’s even more amazing is that my brother Cliff decided to jump on board! Cliff is one of my best friends and one of my very favorite people. You should see him! The love of God has completely transformed him, along with his beautiful wife and kids. It’s been a dramatic and beautiful thing to behold.
Four years ago, my brother called me up and said “Amber, I think it’s time for us to go visit our dad.”
We had reconnected with our dad through letters, but we’d never gone to see him in prison.
I knew Cliff was right, it was time. So, we sent him a postcard to let him know we were coming and, before hearing anything back from him, we drove the eighteen hours to the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas to visit our dad for the first time. We hadn’t seen his face or heard his voice in over fifteen years.
My heart was pounding as I sat at that picnic table waiting for him to come. His letters had revealed significant mental illness and instability, so we had no idea if he would even come out, or how he would respond to us. Would he be angry or overwhelmed? Would he say strange things? I wasn’t even sure how he felt about me. Would we hug? Would that feel weird?
I looked up and saw a frail inmate in an all-white jumpsuit. He had grey hair, and he was unfamiliar. “Well, that’s not him,” I whispered to my brother. But as he came a bit closer, Cliff leaned over and said, “that is him!”
When our eyes met, my dad gave a hesitant smile. I found myself jumping out of my seat as he sped his own steps. We threw our arms around each other and I said, “Hi dad.”
As tears welled up in his eyes, my dad said, “do you remember the last time I saw you? I’ve replayed it over and over in my mind. I just can’t remember if I hugged you… if I told you that I love you.”
Our visit inspired me to write a song called Freedom Road.
It’s been a long road, learning what it means to forgive my dad for all the ways he wasn’t there for me when I needed him. I’m still learning to trust God with my dad. This process has opened my heart and allowed love to grow and to blossom.
Since then, our dad has sent me a lot of his amazing original artwork, and I’ve created art books that I’ve sent back to him. He said to me “they’re the best gifts I’ve ever received and that comes right from the center of my heart!” As I sort through all his creations, I feel so proud of him and thankful that we've found this way to collaborate and make something beautiful together.
I cannot imagine the pain of spending life in prison, let alone with his serious mental illness, and in one of the harshest prisons in America. He's starting to become more open with me, even sending a drawing of the inside of his cell. Art helps this dad and his kids to connect.
Last month, my brother and I went back for a second visit. It went beyond our hopes.
We arrived on the rare picture day and were able to get a photo with our dad! I was so excited! We didn’t even think that was possible.
Our dad has the sweetest smile. Cliff says that it’s his favorite thing about our visits. This time, dad shared stories from his childhood that made our hearts hurt, and helped us to understand him so much more. He sang for us a new song he had written. Yep, it turns out all three of us are songwriters! His song was gentle and emotional, and his tears made his chin quiver as he sang. He said it was the best visit ever, and that he felt like “a free man, outside of the fences.” We all agreed together that God is restoring so much in our family.
As we were leaving, and he was headed back to his cell, I got this urge and I ran back over to give him
another hug. It caught him off guard, and he smiled.
We left that prison with a mix of joy and sorrow in our hearts.
I remember my mom’s words. “Amber, there will be times in your life when you think, ‘I wish my mom was here,’ but I want you to know that I already know. I already know that you’ll do so many amazing things in your life.”
I feel an ache as I read those words.
I wish my mom was here to see this photo.
By Evelynn Malakowsky
It is 7:44 am on a Saturday morning, the day before mother’s day. To start off the day the first words my 2 year old son uttered were, “Mommy, I hear the birds,” embracing me with his snuggles and in return I kissed his forehead. As I wiped and swept up the muffin crumbs that exploded in the kitchen and made its way to the living room mysteriously, I wondered if God will bless our family with another child growing in my womb. The longing for another baby seems to keep its little tug on my heart, even as I think, “how in the world can we stay up all night again?!” Deeply reminded that I need to focus on my health if that were to be so, in prayer I asked God if he would have it in our family’s future to adopt and if I have already heard his answer on that.
I washed dishes as my busy bundle of blessings built a fort with every blanket in the house, and, for the most part, with cordial team work. With Mother’s day on my mind and the call to embrace the role of a mother, I am reminded of the precious reality that as we take our journey through life with Christ, our children have been gifted to us. There is also an entrusted calling to give them Jesus, all of him, all of his love, all of his affection, all of his truth.
Years ago, as we were just beginning growing our family and serving in ministry, I often struggled with “having to miss study nights” because I needed to nurse, chase my toddler outside or go home early to put my daughter to bed. It was a season where I often felt isolated and a deep sadness, loneliness and resentment started to well up in my heart. There were times when our living room was filled with families from our neighborhood and we would have crafts, guitar lessons, 'drama rama’ and so much more. The passion for children to experience our amazing Lord and how he has changed my husband and I could not be put in a box never to be expressed. In the midst of that season of serving, so grand and God’s work visible among us, the Lord reminded me that out of all the people in the world I express him to, of utmost importance should be my daughter, the very precious, sweet person he has entrusted me with.
I began to unpack deeper and deeper the call to motherhood. That even though I couldn’t always participate in the most magnificent outreach events I could reveal a real and loving God to my children. It takes one disciple to make a difference. What if I raised 3? What if they rise up to be missionaries, pastors, worship leaders, lovers of Christ in their work places, friends in high school that change another child’s life? It can be easy to be pulled into being stagnant and not offering more of ourselves or our families to serve Christ and on the other end allow ourselves or our families to become so busy with life, or even busy with serving, that we miss the little gifts God desires for us to impact as well.
Its now 8:12…We had breakfast, the kids got into a scuffle, all the furniture is moved, clothes are everywhere as they dressed up for their imaginary play. I still have not combed my hair or brushed my teeth and the song by Audrey Assad, “Good to Me,” plays in the background. Embracing the words from the chorus…. “You are Good to me, Good to me, Your goodness and mercy shall follow me all my life, I trust in your promise ” and I stop washing dishes to raise my hands up high to the king.
I thank him for spit up that fell into my eye when my youngest was a newborn and how I called the doctor frantically asking if I was going to get pink eye. I thank God for the stomach bug we had last week and pray we NEVER EVER go through that again, I thank God for the days my kids throw themselves in full on melt downs, ask me to read a book when I just want to end the night with a chat with my husband. I thank him for the walk down the sidewalk with video recorder in hand as my daughter walks off with her kindergarten teacher the new person I will trust being with my baby longer than myself. I thank him for the milk spills, ripped clothes for myself so I can stay home with them as preschoolers. I thank him for singing worship songs with them in the car and how they minister to my heart, their love to read the Action Bible, their decisions to follow him and be baptized, their desire to serve him in A2J, MOPS, everywhere and anywhere else we go. I thank him for the calling to be a mother.
by Johannes Hartl
Bold, plain, and sharp as a razor
These aren’t mere words. Socrates’ speech in his own defense at his trial in Athens remains an unforgettable document in favor of freedom of conscience – even after almost 2,500 years. Unforgotten also is Churchill’s “blood sweat and tears” speech, which infused new confidence into the demoralized English nation and focused them on victory over Hitler Germany – a victory they only gained five years later. Great orators don’t just utter fine words. Their words create something. Great orators have always fascinated me.
And actually it was the first thing that fascinated me about Jesus, when I was a teenager and had first started to read biblical texts for myself. Even though I had heard many parables or sayings of Jesus, this was my first experience with a whole book of the New Testament (it was Luke’s Gospel) and something struck me that I’d never seen in other great speakers. Really, the first thing that fascinated me about Jesus was his powerful use of words.
This observation may seem at first almost trite. To proclaim great words – any ad writer can do that. But everybody who knows about the power of language will start to listen for nuances. And with Jesus every nuance rings true. It begins with his parables and figures of speech. Even two thousand years later, everyone can understand what it means to build a house on sand or can imagine a debtor who would choke and threaten somebody who owes him much less, even though he himself has just been forgiven his own debt.
The greatness of a speaker is often revealed by the greatness of the images he uses – intuitive, vivid, stirring, and profound. And Jesus can also be poetic and full of deepest wisdom. Like when he speaks about the lilies of the field and the birds of the sky in a language whose simplicity is full of beauty and whose beauty is full of simplicity. And then again, his words are incredibly bold like the Beatitudes. In a few sentences – eight in all – Jesus can outline a complete reorientation of the whole world. Who else has ever dared to do this and still avoid inaccurate trivialities?
And Jesus can be razor sharp. Mercilessly he unmasks the hypocrisy of the scribes. Even his enemies were left speechless: “And no one was able to answer him a word, and from that day onward no one dared to ask him any more questions” (Matthew 22:46). Even bleeding and bound he reveals that there is no real power behind Pilate’s official power – the same Pilate who will sentence him to death. That’s fearlessness. The ones who were sent to arrest him came back empty-handed. And what did they report? The same as somebody who opens the New Testament expecting someone who ranks between ancient orators and modern politicians: “No one ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:46).
Harmony and Balance
Of course, there are lots of people who can utter great words. It’s said that the philosopher Max Scheler was once accused of not practicing what he preached. He replied by saying, roughly, that a finger that points at the moon, does not travel to the moon. The meaning? That you can speak the truth even if you yourself are not attesting it with your own life. And then there is the other extreme – those who let their actions speak louder than their words. They would prefer to do the good than talk about it. That also has greatness, but there is poverty when the spoken word is missing. And there is something compelling when there is resonance, balance, between words and life.
It’s exactly this balance which is so striking with Jesus. Which is more impressive, his words or his life? We could go even further. Was he focused more on God or on people? Did he live more actively toward the external or was he more internal and reflective? Wherever we look at Jesus’ life as the scripture recounts it, we encounter this captivating balance. Jesus the Jew. Jesus the revolutionary. Jesus the friend of the poor. That’s what he was called. Researchers found Pharisaic theology in him. They found Greek philosophy. They found apocalyptic thinking of the time. And they discovered secular practice.
Again and again there has been this attempt to limit Jesus to one of these aspects. But in Jesus there are all these – in such a way that from an inner integrity there is no belabored attempt to make sense of contradictions but instead a manifestation of an unfolding of spectrum of colors, a restful abundance. Not only is this true of his words and deeds, but also the person of Jesus himself is maintained by a symphony of proportions, a remarkable balance. Harmony, symmetry and integrity are essential traits of beauty. The nature of Jesus is beauty.
Not from others …
And in the end it was just a small sentence in John’s Gospel that brought me to be in awe of Jesus – how he made me horrified about my own heart. It was the simple sentence: “I do not receive my honor from men” (John 5:41). This sentence has a totality. It is so fundamental. For Jesus, the question does not arise about whether people agree with him, or how they evaluate him or whether they acknowledge him. Those are not an issue.
It’s interesting that Jesus does not claim that honor and appreciation are unnecessary. Everybody needs them. But Jesus has a different origin. How very different we are from him! We could fill books with all the activities we engage in just for the sake of receiving more appreciation from others. Whole markets evolve around products whose value derives solely from making the owner “seen,” praised, and acknowledged. What would life look like if a person took the radical approach of just doing what was right – what God approves of – and was completely unconcerned with what others thought of it?
Jesus led such a life – straightforward and uncompromising, but also humble. Because only the person who knows that he is seen and honored by God gains the inner freedom to serve. He gains the freedom to be humble and to serve without inner strain and without cheapening yourself. “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet” (John 13:3-5).
It’s Jesus’ gifted use of words which delighted me from early on. It was his balance which put me in awe of him. But it is his humility which brings me to my knees, and it’s the gift of his love even to the death, which brings me to tears.
In 2011 Ryan Thurman and Thomas Cogdell had a chance to visit Johannes Hartl and spend time in the Augsburg House of Prayer in Germany. To learn more about Johannes Hartl you can click this link
by Tim smith
In your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. -1 Peter 3:15-17
In today’s Scripture the apostle Peter is writing at a time Christians are being rounded up, tortured and killed, and a short while before he is crucified by Nero. Yet in such a hopeless time Peter is encouraging Christians to be ready to answer any who ask them to “give an account of the hope that is in you.” Peter knows that in the midst of fiery trials Christians radiate such hope that others will be left scratching their heads and wanting an explanation.
Followers of the crucified Lord have always been marked by hope and a lively expectation of good things to come. In fact, the apostle Paul told how hope, along with faith and love, are the three things that last, that endure (1 Corinthians 13:13). Hope has never been an optional extra for the people of God. In fact God commands the obedience of hope because of the great promises He has given to us. We live daily in the confident expectation that God always keeps His word!
Hope takes our faith turned towards God in the past (the Cross and the Resurrection), and turns it towards the future. The New Testament Greek word for hope, elpis, signifies the confident, assured expectation that God will do just as He has promised. A Christian’s hope for the future is very different from what the world usually thinks of as hope. Christian hope is no wishful, will-o’-the-wish, elusive desire without any assurance attached to it. It’s not like the man who “hopes” to catch a big fish (Ask any fisherman if that works!). Rather, Christian hope is rather rock solid because it is founded on the God in whom we have placed our hope. It is as good as God’s character and integrity.
Consider but a few of many Scriptures that bolster our hope for the future. We have a “living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3); a “steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into heaven” (Hebrews 6:19); “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:17). Our hope is the confident expectation to forever share in the very life and glory of God!
On those days when I am feeling discouraged and less than hopeful, I like to turn to two sources that always fill the Christian with hope. First, I turn to God’s Word, given to fill us with hope:
Romans 15:4: “For whatever was written in the former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.”
The apostle Paul is writing to Christians about the “encouragement” that the Scriptures give us, as they are intended that “we might have hope.” The Scriptures Paul has in mind are the Old Testament Scriptures, as the New Testament is still in the making. But stories of God’s faithfulness and goodness to an Abraham, a Moses, or a Sarah, stir hope within us for the future. We turn our faith in God toward the past and direct it to our future.
Second, I turn a few verses down the page where Paul tells how the Holy Spirit fills Christians with hope: Romans 15:13: "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."
We turn to the Holy Spirit, and to the Holy Scriptures, that we “may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” In difficult, trying times, I cannot turn on hope within me. But the Holy Spirit and His Scriptures can!
Ponder what the great theologian Karl Barth said concerning our Christian hope:
“Where there is the great hope, necessarily there are the small hopes for the immediate future…It is certainly in these many little hopes that the Christian lives from day to day if he really lives in the great hope…He does not fail and is never weary to live daily in these little hopes.”
-(Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV. 1).
Grace and peace, and yes, hope – daily!
Tim Smith is a friend of Apprenticeship to Jesus and leads a ministry called WATER from ROCK. To learn more click here
by Jeff Skeens
I’m a contractor. That is to say, over the last 20 years of my life, one of the main ways I have financially provided for my family has been via construction jobs. I started out as a framer/roofer, then started laying tile, became a journeyman bricklayer, got into all other types of floor covering, then got into small scale general contracting work. It has been a nice trade to have when I’m in the middle of life transitions, as I am now. It also serves as a great platform for life lessons.
A couple of weeks ago, my brother-in-law approached me about a plumbing issue he had with his main sewer line. It had been backing up and overflowing into the shower/bath tub… shit doesn’t always flow downhill, especially when underground pipes disintegrate. This was their problem. They had a plumbing locator come out with a digital “snake” that could go down in the main plumbing drain with a camera to see what the problem was.
Years ago, plumbers replaced an old 4″ drain with new ABS pipe. The problem was, they stopped 4′ short of the city main, thinking the old pipe was good enough since it still looked like it was in good shape. Well, years later, the downhill ascent of the messiness of our lives came to an end at this residence. The locator marked the ground where the pipe was, and gave us a depth of 6.5 – 7 feet, and a range of a few feet wide of where it “could” be.
The answer: hand dig over 6 feet down, find the pipe where the new meets up with the old, and then chase the disintegrated pipe to the city main and replace it with new ABS pipe. It’s a crap shoot (pun intended). I agreed to help out my brother-in-law since he was having a hard time getting a plumber to commit to remedying the problem, even though I was totally nervous about accomplishing this feat in a days work. I headed out there with a helper named Red. He’s a little younger than I am, and was eager to get after it for the day, but I didn’t tell him that this was going to nearly take our lives today… I wanted to keep his spirits up!
So we got to the job and stuck our shovels in the dirt and went for it. Hour after hour, we would dig, then widen the hole and create steps so we could actually dig, shovel the dirt out, and climb in and out of the hole. The deeper we got the narrower the pit got, and the more the oxygen around us seemed to absorb into the walls of dirt around us, instead of our lungs receiving the refreshment. It got to the point where we would switch digging every 10 minutes. I never told Red, but I was discouraged when we got to the 6.5′ mark and couldn’t find the pipe.
Eventually after digging around we found the new pipe fitting at the very corner of our hole. If we didn’t widen the original hole by 6″ at the beginning, we would’ve missed it altogether, because the old pipe had disintegrated and we could not see where it was. At this point, we new roughly where the city main was, so now we had to tunnel our hole toward the alley, and pray that we would hit the main. Now I am thinking this one day job is going to turn into two days or more, and we will possibly have to get a permit to dig in the alley and rent a back hoe, etc… this was not going to save my brother-in-law money like I wanted to.
There Red and I were, tunneling a dirt hole that had turned mildly muddy from the “watered-down toilet papery poopy” water coming out of the main sewer line. We were in the “shit pit!” Literally! This was one of the hardest days of work I’ve had, and I’ve had some hard days. The physical pain of digging, the psychological battle of trying to decide if we dig 6″ more to the left or go 6″ more to the right was wearing me down, and Red wasn’t as excited about getting after it anymore at this point. Finally, I was in the pit and started yelling out, “Mercy, mercy, mercy!” Red looked into the pit and was wondering what in the world was going on. I finally broke. I told him, “I’m done… I don’t think we’re going to find this stupid pipe.”
So I got out of the pit and he started digging, crying out for mercy too, in his own way. It seems that this is all we can do sometimes when we get into the pit, and we come to the end of what we have brought to the table. Two grown men, begging for mercy, weary and feeling a sense of powerlessness to change our situation. Pathetic, I know! This is typical to how life gets sometimes though, when we are worn down with nothing left to give. Crying out for help never seems to be a good answer until you’re at the bottom of the “shit pit,” then, that’s all you got.
So we kept taking turns digging. Finally after a few hours of tunneling, I was in the muddy pit, crying like a poor school boy, complaining about everything under the sun, and then I heard a high pitched “DING!” That was it. I hit the main! I busted out in an old hymn, “All creatures of our God and king, Lift up your voice and with us sing…” Red was laughing at me, and my sister-in-law was in her house and heard me singing and then came out on the patio and joined in with me and started singing… “Alleluia! Alleluia!…O praise Him! O praise Him! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!”
We hit the main! We can fix it. We can make the smell stop and flow get back to the way it’s supposed to be. Mercy showed up and offered relief, and Red and I knew, we couldn’t have done this alone. We needed each other, the breaks, the mental and verbal encouragement, the knowledge that someone else is there and they care about this problem too. Oh how we need this type of lesson to speak to us in the midst of the craziness and relentlessness of life.
If you’re down in the pits, cry out for mercy! It’s okay to cry out, even as adults. Sometimes we find ourselves in the pit, and need others to be in it with us, to cry our for mercy with us, to share the load with us, to sing with us when relief comes. This is a picture of why we need one another in life. Don’t go at it alone. Invite others into your journey. Be vulnerable. Be available. Don’t be afraid to get messy. Cry out when you’re in the pit of despair. And if you’re sitting with others in the pit, cry out on their behalf. We need each other.