Skip to content

Fearless

April 22, 2019

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

Zig Ziglar, the late motivational speaker said, “F-E-A-R has two meanings: ‘Forget Everything And Run’ or ‘Face Everything And Rise.’ The choice is yours.”  A committed Christian, Ziglar knew that the power to overcome fear comes from the resurrected Christ:  “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).  Ziglar shows us how ordinary people like you and me can face down our fears and go on to be productive and creative members of society when we rely on Christ Jesus.

Last week’s blog summarized some of the compelling arguments for the truth of the resurrection (https://dianereagan.com/2019/04/15/week-end-tomb-2/).  The fact that Jesus rose from the dead is proof that he is God. And that means that every word he spoke and every lesson he taught is a treasure beyond measure. He promised that those who believe in him and seek forgiveness will be with him for eternity.  This assurance, along with the Spirit of Jesus, gives us the strength that we need to face anything.  Bill and Gloria Gaither captured it in the refrain of their song, Because He Lives: “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, every fear is gone.”

The horn is an ancient symbol of victory.  The psalmist’s words foreshadow Christ’s victory over death: “And he has raised up for his people a horn, the praise of all his faithful servant of Israel, the people close to his heart” (Psalm 148: 14). Because Christ was victorious over death, we also are assured of life with him when the curtain closes on our life on earth. No matter what happens to us in this life, we are assured of an eternal home with him.

The Scripture verses this week demonstrate the power that the Holy Spirit gives us to overcome the fears we face.[1] After Jesus died on the cross, the disciples gathered in the upper room behind a locked door. They were quaking in their sandals, afraid that the religious leaders would find them and that they would meet the same fate as Jesus. They were frightened, confused, and unsure of the future.  But everything changed in a flash, when the resurrected Christ appeared to them on Easter night in that locked room, and gave them the power of the Holy Spirit.

The resurrected Christ Jesus gave his disciples a special foretaste of Pentecost to empower them to preach in the temple and to perform miracles. Luke tells us that the apostles went back to Solomon’s Colonnade, on the temple grounds to preach where Jesus taught.  They were fearless.  By preaching and performing miracles in the same place where Jesus had preached and performed miracles, they showed that the power of the crucified and risen Christ was with them. The power of the disciples to heal was so amazing that “people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits and all of them were healed” (Acts 5:12-16).

Imagine that–Peter’s shadow carried enough power to heal the sick!  And in case you have doubts as Thomas did, John records that “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of this disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name”(John 20:30-31).

Luke reminds us that receiving power from God did not insulate the disciples from hatred and prosecution. The temple priests were “filled with jealousy” of the apostles’ power, and from the attention they were receiving: “They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out” (Acts: 5:17-19).  The apostles defied the religious leaders and went back to the temple courts to preach the gospel. Again, they were ordered to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest, who asked them why they continued to preach against their “strict orders not to teach in this name [Jesus’ name]. . . Peter and the other apostles replied: ‘We must obey God rather than human beings!’” (Acts 5: 28,29).

The authorities also tried to put an end to John’s ministry.  Because of his bold teaching and his refusal to stop teaching, he was exiled to the island of Patmos about 35 miles off the coast of Turkey.  But the plan to end his ministry backfired. John spent his time on Patmos in prayer and meditation, and it was during his time there that he received a powerful and explosive message from God in the form of a vision.  We know that vision as the book of Revelation.  John was sent to Patmos as a punishment, but it turned into one of the great blessings of first century Christianity. It was another example of the God working to fulfill his plan under adverse circumstances.

The power of the Holy Spirit enabled the apostles to continue to preach for many years after Jesus’ death.  They were transformed by the Holy Spirit and never deviated from the message.  All of the apostles, except John, were martyred for their beliefs.  The fact that they were so convinced of the truth of the gospel message that they boldly preached it for many years without regard to the consequences is a powerful proof of the truth of the message.

The disciples were not the only ones who received the Holy Spirit.  Fifty days after Easter, on Pentecost, God sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in all believers.  When we are fearful, we freeze—we are paralyzed and helpless.   But the Holy Spirit empowers us to break away from those fears so that we can move forward fearlessly in confidence. When you invoke the name of Jesus, his Spirit leads you to a sure path.  Remember Paul’s words: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). The Spirit is with you to see you through the fears that the Evil One throws in your path.

When you invoke Jesus’ name you are calling on the one who took your mistakes, your fears, and your anxieties with him to the cross.  Your sins and the sins of all were nailed to the cross with Christ Jesus, so that you can live with him in paradise after your time on earth. Jesus paid your debt so that you don’t have to.  Bring your mistakes, your fears, and worries to Jesus and leave them at the foot of the cross.  He will relieve you of your burdens; they were bought and paid for by the blood of Jesus.  Give him your fear of failure, of job loss, of illness, of death, of relationships– along with your worries about past, current, and future challenges and disappointments.

There is power in the name of Jesus.  Tap into the power of the Holy Spirit and become the fearless person that Jesus wants you to be and has enabled you to be.

Prayer:  Father, be with us and send your Spirit to rescue us when we are paralyzed by fear and anxiety.  Send the Evil One packing when he sows weeds of doubt, insecurity, and anxiety in our hearts.  Replace our fears with the sweet blossoms of your everlasting peace and love, which casts out all fear.  In your name we pray. Amen.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1]The Scripture texts for the Second Sunday of Easter are Acts 5:12-32; Psalm 148; Revelation 1: 4-18; John 20: 19-31.

Week-End Tomb

April 15, 2019

“Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen. . . (Luke 24: 5)

In his lecture on the Passion, Dr. Bill Creasy describes an imaginary conversation between Joseph of Arimathea and his wife when Joseph arrived home on Good Friday night after burying Jesus in the new tomb that he had purchased.  He tells his wife that he placed Jesus’ body in their tomb. “What?!!” she exclaimed.  “You gave that new tomb away? Do you know how much it cost?”  To which Joseph replied, “Don’t worry, he only needs it for the week-end.”

But the disciples hadn’t yet grasped that fact.  The women were surprised and perplexed when they arrived with spices for the body early Sunday morning and found the stone rolled away and the body missing. Two angels, appearing as “men . . . in dazzling apparel . . . said to them ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen . . . Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” (Luke 24: 2-8). They ran to tell the others, who were skeptical—“their words seemed to them like nonsense” (Luke 24: 11).[1]

It wasn’t until Jesus appeared to them later that day that they finally grasped the reality of Jesus’ resurrection: ”While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost ” (Luke 24: 36-37). Their surprise soon turned to “joy and amazement” (Luke 24: 40) when reality began to set in.

I can identify with that. I was surprised a few years ago by the unexpected appearance of our youngest son, who we had not seen in a year.  I was just drifting off to sleep when his sudden appearance shocked me.  I didn’t grasp the reality of his being there because my brain was telling me that he was still in Italy.  After a few seconds when the fact of his presence hit me, I flung my arms around him and hugged him for a long time.  It gave me an inkling of how the disciples felt when Jesus surprised them—shock then joy and amazement.  The disciples must have peppered Jesus with questions, as I did our son.

One of the psalms for Easter Sunday sets the tone for our rejoicing over the empty tomb:  “This is the day the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).  We rejoice on Easter because of the resurrection of Jesus, by which we are assured that we will also experience new life with him when our time on earth is over.  David sings “Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead . . . you make known the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16: 9-11).

Christians don’t have to speculate about whether or not we will continue to live with God after our time on earth has ended. Paul assures us that  “[I]n fact Christ has been raised from the dead . . . For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive“  (1 Corinthians 15: 20-21).  Jesus showed us how it is done—how believers will be resurrected into new life.  We celebrate the resurrection of Christ in every mass and worship service because it gives us great hope and assurance for our own future after death, as well as that of our loved ones.

Can we trust the resurrection story or is it a convenient myth?  Dr. Norman Geisler, a highly respected current day theologian and scholar, explains, “Evidence for the resurrection of Christ is compelling.  There are more documents, more eyewitnesses, and more corroborative evidence than for any other historical event of ancient history. The secondary, supplementary evidence is convincing; when combined with the direct evidence, it presents a towering case for the physical resurrection of Christ.  In legal terminology, it is ‘beyond all reasonable doubt.’”[2]

The following is a brief summary of the evidence in support of the resurrection, and answers to popular objections:

  • Jesus first appeared to women (John 20:15-18; Matthew 28: 8-10). The first appearance of Jesus to women is “an unmistakable sign of authenticity . . . in a male dominated culture . . . In the first-century Jewish culture, a writer inventing a resurrection account would never have taken this approach. A woman’s testimony was not even accepted in court.”[3]
  • The transformed disciples are evidence of the truth of the resurrection: This fact is highly persuasive; if they were spinning a yarn, they would not have hid and been afraid. Even more convincing is that they were still skeptical when the first reports of his resurrection were reported.  They didn’t actually accept it until Jesus appeared to them. And Thomas, who was not present when he initially appeared to them, continued to disbelieve the reports of Jesus appearances.  But a few weeks later, these same people were boldly proclaiming the resurrection of Christ, even to the chief priests who were responsible for Jesus’ death.
  • The reaction of the Jewish authorities also confirms the truth of the resurrection.They did not dispute the missing body or search for it, but instead, bribed the soldiers to lie (Matthew 28:11-15).
  • Jesus appeared many times after his death, in his physical body, to his disciples and to others.“Jesus appeared to more than 500 people over a forty day period of time” (Acts 1: 3); to Peter(1 Corinthians 15:5; John 20: 3-9; Mark 16: 12; Luke 24: 13-35); to ten disciples(Luke 24: 36-49; John 20: 19-23); to eleven disciples(John 20: 24-31); to seven disciples(John 21); to commission the apostles(Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16: 14-18); to five hundred(1 Corinthians 15:6); to James(1 Corinthians 15:7): Jesus’ brothers were not believers before his resurrection. John tells us that ‘even his own brothers did not believe in him’ (John 7:5).  But after his resurrection James and Jude became believers—and James was a pillar of the early church; at the Ascension(Acts 1: 4-8); to Paul (Acts 9: 1-9; 1 Corinthians 15:8).  “On all . . . occasions Jesus was seen and probably heard. Four times he offered himself to be touched.  He was definitely touched twice. Jesus revealed his crucifixion scars on two occasions.” There are four accounts of the empty tomb, and he was witnessed eating food on four other occasions—all of which confirm that Jesus rose from the dead in a physical body” (Baker Encyclopedia, p. 655).
  • The early church consisted of Jews, who proclaimed that Jesus was God.For their testimony as to Jesus as the Christ, they were beaten, persecuted, threatened with death and martyred.  This is strong evidence in support of their encounter with the resurrected Christ.
  • Jewish historian, Josephus: Even the first century Jewish historian, Josephus, who was not a believer, reported “At this time there was a wise man called Jesus, and his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. Many people among the Jews and other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive. Accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets reported wonders. And the tribe of the Christians, so named after him, has not disappeared to this day.” [4]
  • Other theories against the resurrection accounts (the wrong tomb theory, the swoon theory, the stolen body theory, and others) have been debunked by scholars. Paul Maier summarized that scholarship. [5]

The scholarship of the past two thousand years supports Jesus’ resurrection.  The lives of millions of Christians who have experienced life with the living Jesus is further proof that Jesus lives.  J. P. Moreland, a distinguished philosopher, stated to Lee Strobel that “the final confirming proof  [of the resurrection] is the ongoing encounter with the resurrected Christ that happens all over the world, in every culture, to people from all kinds of backgrounds and personalities—well educated and not, rich and poor, thinkers and feelers, men and women. They will testify that more than any other single thing in their lives, Jesus Christ has changed them.” [6]

Easter is a time for rejoicing because the resurrection is proof that Jesus was raised from the dead and lives today. We give thanks for the gift of salvation that he secured for us.  St. Augustine of Hippo, often quoted by Pope John Paul, counseled: “Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song.”  The transformation experienced by people all over the globe testifies to the truth of the gospel message and that Jesus lives today. Believe it, rejoice in it, and be transformed by the Easter message. Alleluia!

Prayer: Lord, forgive us and soften our hearts to become more receptive to the truth of Jesus’ resurrection.   We praise and thank you for your sacrifices for us. We praise and thank you for securing our salvation.  We praise and thank you for your witness after your resurrection, which brought to light your truth.  We praise and thank you for bringing love and joy into our lives. Lead us to your light.  Amen

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SXh7JR9oKVE

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1]The Scripture texts for Easter Sunday are Isaiah 65:17-25; Psalm 16; Psalm 118: 15-29; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26; Luke 24:1-12.  A version of this blog was originally published on this website in 2016.

[2]Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Books (1999), pp. 651-664.

[3]Id, p. 651.

[4]Josephus: The Essential Works,translated by Paul L. Maier, Kregal Publications (1988), pp. 269-270.

[5]Paul L. Maier, In the Fullness of Time, Kregel Publications (1991), pp. 189-205.

[6]Strobel, The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus, Zondervan, (1998), p. 255.

 

Coachella

April 8, 2019

The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, ‘Hosanna!’ ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Blessed is the king of Israel!’” (John 12:12-13)

Some of our children went to the Coachella Valley Music and Arts festival during their high school and college years. The festival this year will be going on next week-end on Palm Sunday.  I grew up in the Coachella Valley, a desert area in Southern California.  Palm trees abound in the Coachella Valley and play a prominent role in next Sunday’s Scripture text.[1]

On Palm Sunday we remember the Sunday before the resurrection when the Passover crowd hailed Jesus as a king when he rode into Jerusalem. They were promised a king, and correctly assumed that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, because they had heard of the wondrous things he had done.  And now here he was, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey as foretold by the prophet Zechariah: “See your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt” (John 12:15; Zechariah 9:9)!  One biblical scholar suggests that waving palm branches was meant as a symbol of swords waving in victory over their oppressors.

John records that as they waved the palm branches the people exclaimed “hosanna”: “The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, ‘Hosanna!’ ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Blessed is the king of Israel!’” (John 12:12-13).  The exclamation of “hosanna” came naturally to this crowd.  It is derived from an Aramaic exclamation of praise, shouted during major Jewish religious festivals, including Passover.  It was originally an appeal to be delivered from bondage, and came to be used as a joyful expression of the anticipated deliverance.

The people expected Jesus to deliver them from Roman rule.  They expected a warrior, a conqueror. That’s why they were waving their palm branch “swords.” Scripture is set in the historical times it was written, but is often a foreshadowing of events to come.  As noted in Sunday’s Old Testament text their hope of deliverance was grounded in the Torah.  Moses sang, “The Lord will vindicate his people and relent concerning his servants” (Deuteronomy 32:36).

But instead of attacking the Romans, Jesus attacked the Jewish religious leaders, and the people turned against him in the blink of an eye.  A week later, Pilate wanted “to release Jesus . . . but they [the people] kept shouting, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’” (Luke 23:20). Jesus went from being welcomed as a rock star to being maligned as a pariah in just a few days. Celebrity in the world’s eyes is short-lived.  Paul teaches us to take the long view– to have “the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, hemade himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,  . . . humbled himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5-8).

What does “having the same mindset as Jesus” require of us? Surely we, who are but a speck of dust in God’s great creation, are not to be compared to God.  But we can do our best to emulate Jesus—to follow his example.  He lowered himself to come to earth as a human being.  Jesus said that he came to serve rather than be served. With the help of the Holy Spirit living within us we can serve others. We can minister to others. We can help heal. We can encourage. We can feed the hungry, and give water to the thirsty.   As ordinary people we can repent of the sinful pride in our hearts and reflect on and adopt the attitude and actions of Jesus.

Coachella has great music, but next Sunday, come to another festival. Come to the festival honoring Jesus. Participate in the parade. Wave the palm branches and sing hosanna.  But make no mistake–Jesus did not come to free us from worldly oppression, but to save us from ourselves—to save us from our sin so that we can spend eternity with him. That is reason to rejoice—and to follow Jesus’ example of serving, helping, ministering, healing, feeding, and encouraging others.

Prayer:  “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. From the house of the Lord we bless you. The Lord is God, and he has made his light shine on us.  With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar. You are my God, and I will praise you; you are my God, and I will exalt you. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever” (Psalm 118: 26-29).

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1]Deut 32:36-39; Psalm 118:19-29 or Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; John 12:12-19 (Palm Sunday Procession), Luke 22:1-23:56

 

Road Trip to the Passion

April 1, 2019

Do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19)

Every February we take a road trip from our beach community to a remote high desert monastery in Valyermo, California, where we join others for a retreat.  The monastery is nestled against mountains that are at an elevation of about 4700 feet.  It reminds me of Jesus’ 17- mile road trip from Jericho, at 900 feet below sea level, to Jerusalem, which is at 2500 feet.  Jesus made this trip with his disciples for the last time at Passover in about 32 A.D. It was the road trip to the cross.  The terrain of the Judean Wilderness is not unlike the high desert in Valyermo—vast areas of dry land with few natural sources of water.

The Scripture texts this week prepare us for that trip.[1]  Psalm 126 is in a group of Psalms (120-134) called Psalms of Ascent—songs that were sung by the pilgrims as they ascended the road to Jerusalem.  The road from Jericho to Jerusalem was steep.  Singing these 15 psalms kept their minds off of the physical exertion and on the spiritual purpose of the journey.  They were also uplifting:  “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy . . .Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, and carrying sheaves with them” (Psalm 126: 3, 6). Pilgrimages were made to the temple in Jerusalem for the three feasts: Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles.[2]  Jesus’ final trip from Jericho to Jerusalem was during the time of Passover; he and his disciples would have sung this psalm on the ascent to Jerusalem.   Jesus must have been enveloped with a sense of his destiny as he sang the song promising a harvest of joy: “He who goes out weeping carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him” (Psalm 126:6).

The words of Biblical prophets are always set in the context of the times, but often also foreshadow greater events in the future. The last chapters of Isaiah, including Chapter 43, are filled with references to the Messiah.  In our text this week, Isaiah recounts the exodus (v. 16-17) and promises that the miracles of the past are nothing compared to what is to come: “Do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19). Isaiah is looking to the Messiah, who would rescue mankind once and for all.

In this week’s gospel text, Jesus predicts his death at the hands of the religious leaders.  In the parable of the wicked tenants who beat the servants and killed the vineyard owner’s son, Jesus thinly disguises the players of the Passion, and the priests knew it:  “[T]hey perceived that he had told this parable against them” (Luke 20:19).   God is the owner of the vineyard, Israel is the vineyard, the tenants are the religious leaders and the son is Jesus, the Messiah.  The religious leaders now knew that Jesus was aware of the plot to kill him, “So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor” (Luke 20: 20).

Paul discusses Jesus’ suffering for our sake and “.  . . the power of his resurrection. . .” (Philippians 3:10).   He encourages us to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (v. 14).

The Benedictine monks at St. Andrews Abbey in Valyermo created a path up the side of the mountain behind the monastery, where metal and wood sculptures are set at intervals, depicting the stations of the cross, reminding us of Christ’s suffering and death.

As you ascend toward the spiritual peak of the Passion and Resurrection, be confident that the seeds of faith that you carry will result in a harvest of great joy.

Prayer: Father, be with us as we journey to the Passion during the next few weeks.  Comfort us as only you can as we recall your suffering on the cross.  Put your arms around us in our sorrows and in our suffering.  Help us perceive the new things that you are doing in our lives.  Fill us with your Spirit and songs of joy as we celebrate your Resurrection and the joy that we will experience when we are reunited forever with you and with our loved ones who have gone before us. Amen.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1]The Scriptures for the Fifth Sunday in Lent are Psalm 126; Isaiah 43:16-21; Philippians 3:8-14; Luke 20: 9-20.

[2]“[W]orshipers originally sung these psalms as they ascended up the road to Jerusalem to attend the three pilgrim festivals (Deuteronomy 16:16) or as the priests ascended the fifteen steps to minister at the Temple in Jerusalem.” (Keith Ruckhaus, As Though We Were Dreaming: A Commentary on the Songs of Ascent for Lent, 2013, Wipf & Stock, p. x).

The Lost Sons

March 25, 2019

“When he came to his senses, he said ‘ . . . I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you’ . . . [T]he father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him.  Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it.  Let us have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was was lost and is found.’” (Excerpts Luke 15: 17, 22-24).

Speaking of their teenage daughter, Henry McCord, a religious studies and ethics professor, remarked to his wife in an episode of Madame Secretary: “She’s a flawed mortal stumbling toward enlightenment.” That statement reminded me of the lost son in this week’s gospel lesson. The fifteenth chapter of Luke is called the “Lost Chapter,” because Jesus tells three parables of lost things and people: the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son.[1] I know first-hand the terror of losing a son.  It happened to me twice.

The first time, I was in a large fabric store with our son, Michael, who was about 3 years of age at the time. I let go of his hand to touch a fabric, and when I turned around a minute later, he had vanished. When I couldn’t locate him within two minutes, I asked the manager to lock the doors and post employees at all exits so that we could search for him. About ten minutes later (two hours in “mom time”), after listening to me call his name repeatedly, he emerged from an upright bolt of fabric that he had wrapped around himself.

The second time, Peter, who was five years old at the time, spent the morning amassing quarters by selling lemonade and cookies in front of our house. One of his older brothers was with him at all times. By noon, they had put away his stand, and all of the kids were in the house. Bob was working in the garage when I went upstairs to take a shower. When I came downstairs 20 minutes later I didn’t see Peter.  Everyone thought he was with someone else. We searched the entire house, including all of the known hiding places. No Peter. Bobby got on his bike to look for him, and I got in the car, instructing Bob and the others to stay at home in case he came home. Bobby and I both arrived at the local video store a few minutes later, and found him stuffing quarters into a video game machine in the back of the store. He had snuck his bicycle (with training wheels) out of the garage behind Bob’s back and rode it to our village a mile away, crossing several residential streets and two major boulevards, with the quarters jangling in his pocket.[2]

Both times, while looking for my sons, I prayed “the mother’s prayer” silently and out loud “ Please, please, Lord return him to us safe and sound.”

In my thirty-five plus years as a mother I have had many heart-stopping moments of concern for our four children, causing me to fall to my knees to plead with God keep his hand on them, to send his angels to rescue them, and to bring them home safely.

Monica was another mother who prayed for many years for her son. He led a dissolute life, frittering away his immense intellect and abilities.  A stalwart prayer warrior, Monica never gave up on him. She prayed constantly for him, and spoke to godly people who would have a positive influence on him.  At the age of 32, her son was struck by the truths of Christianity during a personal crisis, and was converted.  He was Augustine of Hippo—and according to R. C. Sproul, he was “Without a doubt . . . the most significant extrabiblical theologian of the first millennium.” In one of his best-known works, Confessions, Augustine recounted his path to the cross. In the psalm assigned to this week, David confirms that God forgives our sins when we confess: “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’ and you forgave my sin” (Psalm 32:5).

During a visit to St. Petersburg in 1986 Henri Nouwen had the rare opportunity to study Rembrandt’s painting, The Return of the Prodigal Son, for a total of four hours over several days. His book, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming, explores our own “lostness” in the context of the painting.  Nouwen suggests that a more fitting name for the parable would be “The Parable of the Lost Sons.”[3] While we normally think of the son who left home as the “lost son,” clearly, the elder brother, lost in his anger and resentment toward his younger brother, was profoundly lost as well.

The story of the prodigal is our story. We have all been lost at some point in our lives, and we all have a lost child, spouse, parent, sibling, or friend. We have reason to give thanks to God for his mercy, forgiveness, and comfort (Isaiah 12: 1). The pain and angst a prodigal brings to a family or friendship is great, but we must never give up. The father in the parable is a wonderful illustration of God our Father’s forgiveness of us, and is an example of the importance of letting go of resentments.  Paul reminds us that God reconciled himself to us through Christ “and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18).  We should follow the father’s example of reconciling with the prodigals in our lives as God reconciled with us through Jesus.

If you are lost, remember that God, your Father, will always welcome you home with open arms. You are still a member of the family of God. He will never give up on you.

If you are the friend or relative of a prodigal, remember to follow Monica’s example by praying for that person and offering assistance when possible. When he or she comes home, remember that he or she is a flawed mortal, stumbling, hopefully, toward enlightenment. Open your arms and reconcile. Reconciliation doesn’t mean giving in to the prodigal’s demands, but instead, offering assistance to help the person work toward self-sufficiency. And remember that it is the prodigal’s job to “come to his senses” with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Prayer: Father, we follow Monica’s example in praying for the prodigals in our lives.  Send your Spirit to help them “come to their senses” and reconcile with you and with those who care for them.  Envelope them and us in your love, and strengthen and comfort us as we wait for them.  Amen.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1]The Scriptures for the Fourth Sunday in Lent are Psalm 32; Isaiah 12:1-6; 2 Corinthians 5: 16-21; Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32. A similar version of this blog was published on this website on March 4, 2016.

[2]This is the determined kid who is graduating from law school in a few weeks.

[3]Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son, Doubleday, 1994, p. 69.

Turnaround

March 18, 2019

Tell them, ‘As sure as I am the living God, I take no pleasure from the death of the wicked. I want the wicked to change their ways and live. Turn your life around.’” (Ezekiel 33:11, The Message)

Unless you turn to God, you, too, will die.” (Luke 13:5, The Message)

Troubled companies hire turnaround managers–experts who specialize in rescuing failing companies and turn them into productive, going concerns.  These experts identify the reasons a company is failing and implement a long-term plan to return the company to solvency.  God is the Master Turnaround Manager.  He knows how to turn floundering people and organizations into productive people and organizations, and gives us a roadmap in this week’s Scripture texts.[1]

We learn from the Old Testament reading that God appointed Ezekiel to be a watchman over the Israelites—to tell them where they were going wrong, and how to turn their lives around.  He was God’s turnaround representative, tasked to bring a message of hope to the Israelites. God instructs Ezekiel to “Tell them, ‘As sure as I am the living God, I take no pleasure from the death of the wicked. I want the wicked to change their ways and live. Turn your life around.’” (Ezekiel 33:11, The Message)

He promises that “if a wicked person turns away from their wickedness and does what is right and just they will live by doing so” (v. 19).  God offers his hand to us and pulls us out of the graves we are digging  for ourselves.  He shepherds us into eternal life with him.  Why?  Because he loves us.

Like any good turnaround manager, God is invested in you.  He desperately wants you to live a productive life under his guidance and to continue a joy-filled life after your time on earth is over.  The first order of business for a turnaround manager is to identify the problems that caused the company’s troubles.  Paul identifies some historical problems:  worshipping idols and false gods.  He describes God’s wrath against the Israelites who worshipped the golden calf in the desert (Exodus 32) and Baal (Numbers 25).  We don’t call our false gods Baal these days, but we are tempted to worship at the steps of celebrity, power, and wealth.  We are distracted by worldly pursuits, ambition, fame, and the endless pursuit of money so that we can buy more stuff.

When some feel the acute emptiness of their lives, they turn to self-help gurus, cults, or constant amusements to fill up the emptiness.  At times, it seems like we are too far away from the Master to turn back to him.  But like a good rep of the Master Turnaround Manager, Paul assures us that we can always rely on God: “When you are tempted, he [God] will provide a way out” (1 Corinthians 10:1-13).  God will never give up on you.  He will work to revive and resuscitate you until you take your last breath. There is no such thing as an irredeemable person in God’s eyes.  We are all his precious children who he wants to enjoy and be with forever.  If you turn toward him, he will take your hand and will lead you to spiritual health and life with him.

Jesus, the Master himself, is more direct in his turnaround advice–repent or perish: “Unless you turn to God, you, too, will die” (Luke 13:5, The Message).  He explains that every person on earth will eventually die—but our life does not need to end when our hearts beat for the last time.  God offers us a place with him forever—our forever home. Whether we “stay dead” or go on to live with Jesus after death depends on whether we are sorry for our bad behaviors, thoughts, habits, and activities and want to turn our lives around.

Another corporate turnaround method is to cut unproductive programs, policies, practices, products, etc. in the business.  Jesus demonstrates this technique in his parable of the fig tree.  He says that an activity that hasn’t produced results within a reasonable time should be eliminated.  Cut it out and try something new.  Replace it with something that will produce positive results.  Cut out the unproductive habits, behaviors, and activities that are bringing you, your family, or your church down.  You know what they are: laziness, gossip, idleness, slander, anger, impatience, pride, arrogance, addictions, etc.  The list is endless, but God shows us a way out of the downward spiral. He gives us hope.  He shows that if we turn to him, he will set us on a new course.

The psalmist asks the Lord for a revival: “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?  Show us your unfailing love, Lord, and grant us your salvation” (Psalm 85: 6-7).  In verse 8 we are told that God “promises peace to his people, his faithful servants. ” He promises a good harvest to his faithful servants (v. 10-13). He will revive you. Turn to God and ask for his help. He is your personal turnaround coach. God rewards those who are faithful.

You can turn yourself around with God as your coach. Turn away from those things that are keeping you from using your God-given potential to be a productive member of his company. Ask him to take your hand and lead you away from the negative forces in your life.  You can turn your life around with his help.  If you are sorry for your mistakes, he will revive you and nudge you toward the path of eternal life.  Turn away from those things that separate you from God and become a Trinity Team player.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

Prayer: “We beseech thee, O Lord, mercifully to correct our wanderings; and by the guiding radiance of thy compassion to bring us to the saving vision of thy truth.”               –Gothic Missal

[1]The Scripture texts for the Third Sunday in Lent are Psalm 85; Ezekiel 33:7-20; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13: 1-9. Another version of this blog was published on this website on February 28, 2016.

My Name is Patrick. I am a Sinner.

March 11, 2019

The Lord Jesus Christ, who by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3: 21)

When our fourth child, a son, was born on St. Patrick’s Day, many people assumed that his name would be Patrick, and in fact, we received cards addressed to “Patrick” after Peter’s birth.  Even though we didn’t name him after St. Patrick, Patrick was a giant in the church, and is still an inspiration to us today. We think of him this week leading up to St. Patrick’s Day next Sunday, not only for that reason, but also because there are parallels between next Sunday’s Scripture texts and St. Patrick’s life.[1]

Like the prophet Jeremiah, Patrick was taken to a foreign land against his will. Like Jeremiah, Patrick spent many years preaching to unbelievers.  And like Jeremiah, his life was threatened from time to time because of it.  But both Patrick and Jeremiah were undeterred by the threats and continued to preach God’s Word.  Neither was successful by the world’s standards, but both were highly successful in God’s eyes because they listened for God’s voice and obeyed it, despite their personal setbacks and hardships.

Patrick begins his Confessio with these words: “My name is Patrick. I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers . . . He [God] protected me and consoled me as a father does for his son.  That is why I cannot be silent—nor would it be good to do so—about such great blessings, and such a gift that the Lord so kindly bestowed in the land of my captivity.”

Abducted by Irish pirates from his home in Britain when he was almost sixteen, Patrick was taken to Ireland where he was sold as a slave.  Ireland was a pagan druid land in the fifth century. As a teenager, Patrick had not embraced the faith of his father, a deacon, or his grandfather, a priest—but he spent much of the next six years in prayer whilst tending his master’s sheep.  David, another giant of the faith, was also a shepherd in his youth.  Patrick’s prayers during his captivity must have echoed David’s prayer: “Answer me when I call you, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer” (Psalm 4:1).

Patrick’s prayers were answered.  During his captivity in Ireland, he had a vision or a dream that he believed came from God, telling him to make his way to the coast, where a ship would be waiting to take him home. He walked 200 miles to the coast and boarded a ship for home.  After he returned to his family, he began his studies for the priesthood in Europe, and years later returned to the country of his captivity to evangelize that pagan country.

Like Jeremiah, there were threats against Patrick’s life.  Jeremiah records that as soon as he “finished telling all the people everything the Lord had commanded him to say, the priests, the prophets and all the people seized him and said, ‘You must die!’” (Jeremiah 26: 8).   After Patrick returned to Ireland his life was threatened. It happened during the druid springtime fire festival known as Beltrane.  The druid priests commanded that all fires in the land be extinguished under threat of death. The pagan priests would then light a fire from which other fires could be relit.  But on Easter Eve Patrick lit a huge bonfire that could be seen for miles.  The great bonfire symbolized the light that Christ brought to the world—in stark contrast to the darkness of the druid religion. The king was furious, and called for Patrick’s capture and death. He was not killed, but instead, like Jeremiah, lived to preach and evangelize for many more years.

Like Patrick, Jeremiah, Paul, and others, Jesus’ life was threatened many times before he was finally crucified on the cross.  One such time was when the “Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, ‘Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you’” (Luke 13: 31). And like Patrick, Jeremiah, Paul, and the others, Jesus was not deterred: “He [Jesus] replied, ‘Go tell that fox, I will keep driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow’” (Luke 13: 32).

Like Patrick, Paul also called himself the greatest of sinners and the least of believers, and he also traveled to foreign lands to preach the gospel to unbelievers. Paul warned the church at Philippi that they would encounter enemies of Christ: “As I have often told you before, and now tell you again, even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:18-21).

My name is Diane. I am a sinner, just like you.  We were lost, but now we are found.  We are weak, discouraged, distracted, distraught, depressed, and mired in self-pity  from time to time. We have walked in darkness, but Christ has lifted us up from the depths of darkness by his light—the Paschal candle. We may never be recognized as movers and shakers in the world’s eyes, but if we listen to God’s voice and obey him, we will be rewarded with the highest accolade that exists in the universe: “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21).

As we journey to the cross in the coming weeks, may we also take the Paschal light to the dark corners of our communities to illumine the path that leads others to Christ.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

Prayer:   “I arise today through the strength of heaven;  Light of the sun, splendor of fire . . . I arise today through God’s strength to pilot me; God’s might to uphold me, God’s wisdom to guide me, God’s eye to look before me, God’s ear to hear me, God’s word to speak for me, God’s hand to guard me, God’s way to lie before me, God’s shield to protect me, God’s hosts to save me.  Afar and near . . . Alone or in a multitude.  Christ shield me today . . . I arise today through the mighty strength of the Lord of creation.”

Excerpts from “St. Patrick’s Breastplate,” attributed to St. Patrick.

[1]The Scripture texts for the Second Sunday in Lent are Jeremiah 26: 8-15; Psalm 4; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13: 31-35.