The Grace of the Cross

Update:  Lisa learned yesterday that a request has been made to extend her contract here in Loma Linda, Ca. (for how long we don’t know).  Should that happen – she will request time off to go home and be with our daughter and son-in-law in time for the grand baby.  This is part and parcel of travel jobs in that we never know from one assignment to the next how long we will actually be in one place.  We will keep you posted.

I miss teaching the Bible.  For years I taught Bible studies at my church and miss the great conversations and discussions that would be generated.  Today I am doing something a little different with our blog – a Bible study.  If you want to go ahead and click off until our next post – feel free.  For those who want to keep reading – my hope is that this will generate enough interest that you will read the scripture for yourself.

In a few weeks (God willing) we will be home to celebrate Easter with our family and friends at our home church.  Lisa and I have missed the activities around our church and church family as we have struggled to find a church to settle with here in Loma Linda.  And as they say – there is no place like home.  Lisa and I are flattered knowing that people have followed our blog that don’t know us personally and being able to connect that way with strangers is really amazing.  It is with that in mind that I share the fact that we are Christian in our beliefs and the impact of Christ on our lives and our faith in His providence has sustained us in our travels.  If that turns some away from reading our blog we are sorry.  It is just who we are.

Recently I have been giving thought to the cross of Christ and spending time reading again the passion story as it is in scripture.  In my studies I have re-discovered some marvelous truths and have been challenged with some facts that make me question some of the things I have believed in the past.

1.  Did Jesus really ask God to not make him go to the cross?  I have always been told that Jesus agonized in the garden of Gethsemane over whether to go to the cross or not.  This common interpretation is that Jesus was begging God to not make him suffer.  But is that what he was praying?  I have a problem thinking that Jesus ever asked God to change his destiny.  Jesus had foretold his death to his disciples numerous times (Mark 9:31) and even in his prayer He said, “let this cup pass from me not as I will but as Thou wilt.”  Furthermore we read in Matthew 26:53 Jesus telliing his disciples who are ready to fight over his arrest, “do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”  In other words Jesus is saying all he would have to do is ask God to deliver Him and He would.  I conclude then that Jesus never asked God to take away the cup. To say Jesus asked to get out of going to the cross really is a problem for me.  I believe Jesus was saying – let this end quickly not the way I want but the way you want.

2.  Did Jesus carry His cross?  In Matthew, Mark and Luke we find the person of Simon of Cyrene being chosen by the soldiers to carry Jesus cross.  Tradition has it that Simon was a black man from an area of Africa which would be Libya today.  We just don’t know.  But the question I have is whether Simon really carried Jesus cross for Him.  The symbolism of the cross is so significant in that we know Jesus had to go to the cross – and go alone.  It was on Him and Him alone that the burden of sin was placed.  I struggle then to think how having a human being carry Jesus cross for Him works into that symbolism.  But maybe that is not what really happened.  If I try to pick up a ten foot beam and drag it along the ground – it will be a struggle.  If someone steps behind me and lifts the beam higher than I can lift it – I now am carrying the full weight of that beam.  I believe that is what happened with Jesus.  Knowing that he was already slumping from the beating He had recieved, I have to assume that when Simon lifted the back of the cross – the back was higher than the front which Jesus held. This forced Jesus to carry the full weight.

3.  Can we really grasp the horror of crucifixion?  Movies and depictions of the crucifixion have tried to capture the suffering of what dying on a cross was like.  I just sense there is no way that can be done accurately.  According to historians – many died due to the flogging – exposing ribs and bones to the extent that they bled to death before going to the cross.  Jesus lived for six hours on the cross and in that six hours he was forced to push up on the nails in his feet to catch a breath or else he would have suffocated.  Can we really fathom the level of Christ’s suffering?

4.  How many men were crucified with Jesus?  Tradition tells us that Jesus was with two other men who were also crucified.  However, when you do a parallel study of the gospels and look at all the facts – it may lead you to believe as I do that Jesus was one of four and possibly five crucified.  Consider the facts:

Matthew:  In chapter 28 verse 38, the scripture says “At that time two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and one on the left.”  That would seem to be evidence enough that there were only three.  But hold on.  With this verse we can only conclude that Jesus was between two robbers.  So we know there was at least three men crucified including Jesus and that Jesus was “between two robbers”.  But maybe there were more.

Mark:  The account of the crucifixion in is very close to that of Matthew with the description of Jesus being crucified between two robbers. See Mark 15:27.

Luke: Here we find more detail regarding two of the men hung with Jesus.  Luke describes these two as “criminals” and goes on to tell of the conversation between them with one “hurling abuse” at Jesus while the other is described “rebuking” the other criminal for his insults.  Is it possible there is a difference between “criminal” and “robber”?  Perhaps there were two robbers and two criminals along with Jesus.

John:  Now it gets interesting.  In John 19:18 we read, “There they crucified Him, and with Him two other men, one on either side, and Jesus in between”. In the original text the word “one” is not there.  This would lead me to believe that there may have been five crucified.  After Jesus had died on the cross – John describes the soldiers coming to break the legs of those being crucified (which forced their suffocation since they would no longer be able to stand up on the nails in their feet to catch a breath).  John 19:32-33:  “The soldiers therefore came, and broke the legs of the first man, and of the other man who was crucified with Him. But coming to Jesus when they saw that He was already dead they did not break His legs.”  If I follow those verses carefully I have these soldiers walking down the line of crosses breaking the legs of those still alive.  If I am to assume there were only three – why would they break the legs of one – skip Jesus – break the legs of the other and then come back to Jesus in the middle only to find him already dead?  Putting all this together I conclude that Jesus was, in fact, crucified between two criminals and two robbers for a total of five.  Does any of this really matter?  Nope.  But maybe you will now read the story for yourself and ask these questions.

5.  “It is finished”.  These are (to me) the most powerful three words in scripture.  What is finished?  Where common interpretation of this verse is that Jesus is saying simply – his earthly life is finished, I happen to think He is saying far more.  The work of Jesus is finished.  We cannot add to or subtract from His finished work.  His work on the cross and His suffering and death in our place – reconciles once and for all our broken relationship with God who now sees us, His children, as blameless and without condemnation – not based on our ability to ever please Him – but based on Jesus finished work on the cross.  Romans 9 says it best – “Nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God.”  If we are trying to earn God’s love – forget it!  It has been earned for us.  I love Christian speaker Steve Brown who on his radio show will offer listeners three free sins.  I get his point.  We are sinners and that will not change on this earth.  But scripture says our lives are now hidden in Christ.  In other words – when God sees us – He sees Jesus.  We are free indeed.  So live in that freedom.  The grace of the cross is the greatest truth known and yet one hard for many to accept.  It is a grace earned at a great cost (even “violent” according to Michael Card) and the last thing we should do is cheapen it by trying to “earn” it.

6.  Why was the stone rolled away?  Did Jesus need the stone to be moved in order to come out of the tomb?  Absolutely not!  The stone was rolled away not for Jesus to get out – but for us to look in and see that it was empty.  And that empty tomb is the great conundrum for the skeptics and atheists today.  They can deny Jesus was the Son of God.  They can call Him a fraud and a fake.  But they have never been able to explain that empty tomb.

Recently I read a powerful quote from Christian theologian Robert Capon.  “If Jesus did not arise from the dead then nothing else matters.  And if Jesus did rise from the dead then nothing else matters.”  I love that!

Happy Day!

Steve

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Turning For Home

     “I am packing my belongings in the shawl my mother use to wear when she went to the market and I am going from my valley”

One of my favorite books is Richard Llewellyn’s  “How Green Was My Valley”.  That opening line comes to mind as Lisa and I near the end of our stay here in Loma Linda, California.  Our “valley” for the past three months has not been a Welsh mining community as depicted in the book nor did my mother even have a shawl that I know of – in fact, the San Bernardino Valley (where we have lived since early December) is the antithesis of the world Llewellyn created.  Where his was one with soot filled skies and harsh winters, our winter here in southern California has seemed like paradise in comparison.  And yet we are excited to begin thinking about home as we prepare to go from our valley here in California’s “Inland Empire”.  We are not looking forward to the two thousand mile drive ahead of us – but it will probably seem like a quicker trip knowing we are finally going home.

We left Owensboro December 7th and will not get home until around March 12th.  In some ways this assignment has seemed much longer than our four and half month stay in central Pennsylvania.  Much of that has to do with being away at Christmas coupled with Lisa’s two-week delay in starting work which was frustrating, to say the least, and made those first two weeks (which included Christmas) even more painful and slow.

Finally, we managed to work our way into a routine and have adjusted to the pace and living conditions of the Pacific coast.  I have described it as ‘easy living’ and Loma Linda would really be a nice place to retire.  We will miss the palm trees, orange groves, blue skies, green grass and mountain vistas.  We will not miss the $4.50 gas prices, ambulance sirens going to the hospital two blocks away at all hours of the night, the radio obsession with the Lakers (it is all they talk about), or the spandex wearing -vegetable eating – bicycle riding – tofu loving – granola eaters.  (I believe I can get away with saying that if I end my diatribe with a “bless their hearts”).

Lisa had a job offer in Santa Rosa, which is about seven hours north of Loma Linda above San Francisco.  The job would have started March 11th but was for four weeks or longer.  That would just not work out for us as our first grandchild is on his way and we didn’t think Conner Jack would wait until the middle of April for us to get home.  So she declined their offer.  We are interested in a possible job in Washington DC.  Her recruiter was very excited about her putting in for that job which will begin in May.  We are somewhat familiar with the area and think it would be an interesting assignment. But for now, we are happy about being home for at least a month with our family.

We managed to finally get to “California Adventure” which is the Disney theme park adjacent to “Disneyland”.  It was absolutely fantastic.  We visited Disneyland several years ago and were really unsure if the $87 per person cost would be worth it.  It really was.  The newest area is called “Cars Land” and it is an exact life-size replica of “Radiator Springs” from the Pixar movie.  Even though Disneyland and California Adventure do not have the luxury of size that Disney World enjoys, they utilize their space amazingly well at both parks.  Two enthusiastic thumbs up!

Finally – it is good to say: We will see you soon!

Steve and Lisa

 

Life in Tinseltown

Life here in southern California has been pretty exciting in recent days.  This week our little hamlet has been in the news – first for a terrible bus accident that killed eight and injured forty just outside Loma Linda. Lisa and I actually heard the sirens and helicopters bringing the bus crash victims to the hospital.  We did not know until the next morning what had happened and people at the hospital reported that it was one of the most horrific accidents in memory.

Now we learn there is a massive manhunt for a former LAPD officer who is on a killing rampage and whose car was spotted at Big Bear Resort, which is also just a few miles from us.

But the big news here is that Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard can’t get along.  It seems to be the only thing on the news these days.  Thank goodness the soap opera LA Lakers help keep our priorities straight.

This has been an interesting place to live – I would call it a world of contradictions.  Here we are in a place known for its healthy lifestyle and world renown hospital and medical school and yet I am alarmed at the number of homeless and destitute.  Jesus said the poor we would have always and I need to remember that human suffering is real everywhere – even in ‘Tinseltown’.

There seems to be a ‘stand off’ kind of attitude with people here.  According to a co-worker Lisa has gotten to know – people are friendly but have very few friends.  There is a sort of guarded reserve with people here and Lisa’s southern hospitality, just like in Pennsylvania, has made a positive impact on her workplace.  Recently she invited a co-worker to go to Disneyland with us and she was thrilled and shocked to be invited.  People just don’t normally reach out to others like that here. The other day she asked Lisa if they could stay in touch after Lisa returns home.  People want to have real friendships but struggle with knowing how.  Lisa and I have a heart for these who seem so lonely and shut off from others but who want to have people they can share life with.  It is my hunch that this problem is everywhere – not just here in California and I am sad about that.

In our travels Lisa and I have depended on each other in ways we never had to before in our married life.  Our hearts break when we see people eating alone and we cannot imagine living our lives without each other or without the friends and family in our lives.  In one of the most populated places in America we have discovered so many people living in desperate loneliness.

In four weeks we will head home to our family and friends – a fact we hope to never take for granted.

Walking in Loma Linda

Life here in California can best be characterized as easy living.  Lisa and I came to that conclusion after recently driving on I-4 in Orlando Fla., a city known for Disney World but based on crime statistics was recently labeled the angriest city in America.  We were actually screamed at twice while in Orlando – once by an eighty year old codger on a golf cart and once while digging in our trunk for change to get through a toll booth.  Angry indeed.  Our son, Justin, lived in Orlando for two years and had to drive I-4 often.  He never wants to go back.

That is not the case here in California.  Traffic is crazy busy and ten lanes can be intimidating.  But drivers seem far more accommodating here – even more so than in central Pennsylvania.  The stereotype of the laid-back California beach comber may not be such a bad thing – ‘Cheech and Chong’ at least will let you change lanes.

So life is easy here and I spend a good amount of time walking around enjoying the weather and the mountain views.  Although it does not really compare to walking the battlefield at Gettysburg, walking around Loma Linda has become my main past time outside washing, cleaning, cooking and all the other domestic chores I have agreed to while Lisa works.  It is an arrangement that works.

An enterprising grad student could probably get a doctorate degree researching the spiritual benefits of walking.  I have even considered writing a Bible study based on scripture where walking is involved.  The first century may have looked much different had the combustion engine been invented and I have no reason to think that Jesus and the disciples would not have tooled around in a mini-van rather than hoof it all over Galilee.  However, we know that was not the case and walking became a part of the gospel story.  For me – walking is a spiritual endeavor.

My journey here begins with a walk through the Loma Linda University campus.  There I dodge passing students with their noses in a text-book or study guides.  These are mostly medical or dental students who seem stressed and tired.  I feel sorry for them.  Often I will see them with their lap tops open typing something or looking over a program about kidneys or bicuspids.  The hospital campus is a beautiful place – the prettiest hospital Lisa and I have ever seen.  It is a world renown hospital and is the answer to an obscure trivia question.  Alan Reed, the original voice of Fred Flintstone – donated his body to the hospital here for medical research.  So one can say this is Fred Flintstones final resting place.  You would think there would be a “Yabba-Dabba Doo” sign somewhere.

I walk on and from there I make my way to the first busy cross-street, one of many I will eventually traverse.  Here pedestrian right of way is honored by almost everyone as there are many walkers, bikers, joggers, skaters, and even a few homeless people pushing grocery carts. While I have been here – no one has been run over (someone knock on some wood).  So I push the pedestrian crossing button and wait until the yellow stop hand turns into a white stick person and then I proceed.

My hike next takes me past the University Fitness Center.  Here the parking lot is always full as people serious about their heart rates come and go non-stop.  The outdoor lap pool is normally busy with swimmers of every age and I am reminded I am in southern California where outdoor pools are the norm.  Just past the outdoor pools are the sports fields where both adults and youth play soccer.  I have to wonder why there are not more adult soccer leagues back home – but maybe there are adult leagues and I am just out of the know on that since I never really cared for the sport – just saying.  I do know a lot of adults play it here.

Next my journey takes me past the “Jerry Pettis Memorial Veterans Hospital”.  I actually tried to volunteer there but they could not even talk to me until April – not kidding.  My heart goes out to these men (mostly) who are patients here and many suffer from mental illness along with other physical conditions.  I never know what I will encounter as I make my way past the people milling around and the dozens of poopy ducks that make the hospital grounds their habitat.  Ducks are just nasty and here I have to be careful where I step.  All part of my daily adventure.  Loma Linda has bike lanes on nearly every street and just past the Veterans hospital it is not unusual to see as many as thirty very serious spandex wearing bike riders in law-abiding formation.  Before I leave here I hope to stir the ducks up just at the right time to greet the bike riders.  Bombs away!

It is about this point in my journey that my arthritic left knee begins to cry out followed soon by the bunions on both my flat feet.  Inevitably I will reach down and cover my knee with my hand as if I just became Bennie Hinn.  It never relieves my pain – only throws me off stride and makes my knee hurt even worse.  So – I just keep hobbling along.

I sometimes stop at the Loma Linda Public Library – which is just across from the Veterans Hospital but closed Fridays and Saturdays (you read that right).  I just can’t get use to the Seventh Day Adventist Calendar.  (We have been told this is the only place in the US where mail runs on Sunday – again not kidding).  But most days I just walk past the library as I near my halfway point.

Here in Loma Linda we have “Carls Jr.” which is the western version of Hardees.  “Carls Jr.” is the next significant landmark on my journey.  Everything on the menu at “Carls Jr.” has a Mexican flavoring.  I believe even the soft drinks have salsa in them.  My walk goes past “Carls Jr.” and toward the “Stater Brothers” grocery – our Krogers.  Tired and (always) hungry at this point I often pit stop at “Mannas” Donut Shop.  For all the health food emphasis in Loma Linda – you would not believe how many donut shops there are here.  I hope to try them all and leave my review of each. Still, I would pay good money for a Rolling Pin long-john.  From there my journey continues past the Loma Linda Golf Center where I sometimes stop to practice my golf game.  Amazing how good I am on the driving range and how terrible I am on a real golf course.  I suppose I’m a practice player. Cue Allen Iverson – “We’re talking about practice, man!”

The last part of my hike takes me across a railroad overpass.  Trains run here night and day and if it’s not the ambulances and helicopters going to the hospital that wakes us up in the middle of the night – it will be the blaring train whistles.  But I love trains so – no big deal.  Finally I reach a point where the sidewalk ends and stop, turn around and head back home.  My total journey is about nine miles – not bad, I suppose, for an old, fat guy.

But all that walking gives me (more than anything else) time to think about stuff – pray about stuff – appreciate God’s earth – and much of the time – long for home.  I think about our friends and family. I smile when they cross my mind and I thank God for his goodness in giving them to me.

And then I thank God I can walk – because I plan on doing it again tomorrow.

Thanks for reading!

Steve