In Joy Podcast #1 – “Joy in the Un-Enjoyable” (Updated)

In Joy Podcast #1 – “Joy in the Un-Enjoyable” (Rebecca)

*** This is an updated post with a new link to the podcast ***

Hey TD!

In this week’s posts, we’re looking within to try to see what God wants to clean up to replace with something better.  If you haven’t read the last post, My Messy House, please do so.

We’re excited to unveil the year’s first In Joy podcast, “Joy in the Un-Enjoyable”! Through mix of common sense and personal illustrations, Rebecca reminds us that God often works to give us joy through that which is not enjoyable, and shares how not to miss out on God’s gift of joy to us.

Give it a listen and then prayerfully resolve not to miss out on any more of the good that God has in store for you!

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Easter Reflection from Ravi – “No More or Not Here?”

Hey TD!

The Apostle Paul said that if Christ has not risen from the dead, we (Christ followers) are to be most pitied.  He’s absolutely right.  Jesus’ bodily resurrection makes all the difference in this world and the next. That’s Easter hope.

World renowned apologist Ravi Zacharias shares some reflections on Easter hope, a hope I hope you’ll have soon.  Enjoy. – Arthur

 

No More or Not Here?

An Easter Reflection from Ravi Zacharias

There is a hotel where I have stayed frequently over the last thirty years. I know many of the staff and every time I return, they give me the best and kindest hospitality. I have found that when you talk to people, you learn so much about life at different economic levels, but all with the same challenges.

One of my favorite people was a bellman called Raj. He took particular care to make sure I never violated my doctor’s orders to not lift heavy suitcases. Whenever I checked in, he would bring my bags and set them up in my room. We often talked politics and spiritual issues. He was a very intelligent gentleman and a great conversationalist. I’ll never forget his statement on politics in his country. “They are not political parties, Sir. They are cartels scheming and manipulating. We pay the price for our foolishness,” he said. Fascinating take.

This time when I stayed there, I didn’t see him the first day so I assumed it was his day off. When I didn’t see him the second day, I asked one of the other bellman if Raj was on vacation.

“Oh no, Sir. He is no more,” came the reply.

Quite surprised at the phrase, I asked if he didn’t work there anymore. The reply came repeating the phrase: “No Sir. He is no more. He died last month.” I was shocked because the man was in his fifties. Evidently he had gone home one night after work, told his wife that he was not feeling well, and went to bed after a very light snack. When she tried to wake him up for breakfast, he had already breathed his last.

“He is no more.”

That phrase is pretty defining, isn’t it? The famed writer Nikos Kazantzakis, who had his run-ins with the church over his very controversial “The Last Temptation of Christ,” asked that the following words be put on his gravestone:

Den elpizo tipota.
Den fovumai tipota.
Elmai eleftheros.

I hope for nothing.
I fear nothing.
I am free.

Very cavalier statements, except that he is not there to defend those propositions. So it is much more meant to impress the reader than tell you anything about the departed one, whether he was justified in what he said or not. And as to his state of mind after death, all of those sentiments are an ultimate category mistake. If he doesn’t exist, attributing those sentiments brings to mind what Aristotle would have said in defining “nothing”: That which rocks dream about. A rock never hopes, fears, or seeks freedom. That is for the living.

The whole message of Easter defines this longing to be. After Jesus rose from the dead, the women went to visit where they had placed the body. The angel they met did not say, “He is no more!” He said, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead? He is not here: He is risen” (Luke 24:5-6).

That statement defines everything about who we are. For the one who has given his or her life to Jesus, we will never ever “Not be!” We are meant to be in his presence eternally. The very phrase “goodbye” is a contraction of “God be with you.” It is the same with “adios”: “Go with God.”

Our hearts long for intimacy. Heaven is the consummate intimacy of the spirit. That is not a category mistake; rather, it defines the ultimate expression of life in its essence. Our spirit in communion with his. The closest thing to a touch felt by the Spirit.

The time will come when we also will have to say goodbye or adios for the last time. When that happens, how wonderful to know that those who speak for us do not have to say, “He is no more.” They can victoriously say, “He is not here; he is risen.”

The gospel message from beginning to end is dependent on this promise of Jesus that he would rise again. That unsealed tomb is the seal of his promise as the giver of eternal life. Over the centuries, skeptics have gone to ludicrous lengths to try and explain why his enemies could not present his body. That would have been all they needed to quash this rumor of his resurrection. But it wasn’t a rumor. It was a fulfilled promise seen by vast numbers, and it changed the course of history.

Luke was a physician. He knew what happened to a body when it died. He writes of the resurrection and the work of the early church. The resurrection was seen and lived out. It was the event that told the world that ultimately history is His Story of what life was meant to be.

The noted writer and atheist turned follower of Jesus A.N. Wilson said that he was at an Easter service when he saw the sham and the hollowness of his life without God. He described his conversion to atheism as “a Damascus road experience” and his return to Jesus as a slow arduous process through doubt and struggle. Part of that struggle made him see the difference of the logic that drove Hitler to his mission and Bonhoeffer to his. The belief and its consequences were worlds apart. He clearly saw the value of life in keeping with the message of Jesus and the hope and the joy of the Christian message. The faith that he once attacked, he now embraced. It all happened in a small church as he heard the message and listened to the hymns. Death was no longer to be feared, not because we are brilliant or daring or write prize-winning books as Kazantzakis did, but because Jesus lives to give us life everlasting. Even the atheist Anthony Flew granted that this was the litmus test of the Christian faith, and if true would define life.

Billy Graham tells the story of German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer looking at the ruins of war and saying to Mr. Graham, “Outside of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I know of no other hope for mankind.”

The conversion of Saul to Paul and the skeptic Thomas showed how two of the finest thinkers of their time were willing to pay with their lives after seeing the risen Jesus. One went east and the other went west. Today, more bend their knees to Jesus than to any other name.

This same trip that began in one country for me ended in Bangkok, Thailand, two weeks later. Every day as I looked outside my window, I would look scrutinizingly across the Chao Phraya River, because it looked to me like a cemetery on the other side. So I inquired of the bellman if indeed there was a cemetery on the other side of the river. He said he thought so. I hailed a ride and went over there. The main reason was to see perchance if my dear friend Koos Fietje, who was murdered in Thailand in 1981 at the age of 38, could be buried there. Bangkok is a massive city. But I was sure the Christian burial sites would not be many. As I entered, I noticed there were gravestones going back to the 1800s. I walked through the cemetery looking in every direction. Suddenly I came upon the stone you see here in the United States. I was shocked. Koos and I were very close in our undergraduate days. He paid with his life for the gospel. The last time we met was in Bangkok in 1974. He died in 1981. This was 2019. He died at the age of 38. I was standing by his grave 38 years later. Koos served as a missionary with Overseas Missionary Fellowship.

I placed some flowers at his grave and thought back on what a powerful life he had lived. Yes, there were tears.  When I went back, the bellman asked me if I found it. I showed him the picture. He looked at it and said, “What this means?” He was pointing to the verse on the stone, “For me to live is Christ but to die is gain.” I did my best to explain it to him. I saw a tear in his eye.

Two bellmen. Two weeks apart, two countries apart. Both had a tear. One because of a loss. The other because of a gain. The resurrection of Jesus makes the difference.

The hymn writer said it triumphantly:

Up from the grave He arose,
With a mighty triumph o’er His foes
He arose a Victor from the dark domain,
And he lives forever with his saints to reign.
He arose! He arose!
Hallelujah! Christ arose!

That is why the Easter greeting is not, “He is no more.” Rather it is, “He is risen!”

And the joyful reply, “He is risen indeed.”

Happy Easter!

Ravi, on behalf of all of us at RZIM

A Christmas Devo from Angela – “The Paradox of the Present

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The Paradox of the Present 

by Angela Hsieh

In this Christmas season , songs filled with general holiday cheer are echoed everywhere proclaiming “it’s the most wonderful time of the year,” “tis the season to be jolly” and the like. Though lighthearted, these sentiments in cultural may subtly influence our expectations of what this season is supposed to deliver. For many people, however, they are left with deep disappointment, and the holidays are far from “the most wonderful time of the year.” For if Christmas is not grounded in the hope which Christ brings, it can be the most depressing time of the year – it can be a time where the presence of unfulfilled longings and the absence of loved ones may be felt most of all.

Yet Christmas is not just for the healthy, happy, and prosperous. The blessing of Christmas is for those who realize their need for a Savior.

Many dear families that I know have tragically lost loved ones this year. When death hits home, gaping wounds are left which cannot be soothed by any well wishes or holiday cheer. In fact, they may make it sting even more. As it often is, there is a strange contrast between the simultaneous life experiences of people. For some, this Christmas is tainted by grief as it marks the first year without a loved one, yet for others, it is joyfully celebrated as the first Christmas for a new arrival. While many gather in warm homes for Christmas parties, others are homeless on the street. While many appreciate the warmth of familial love and companionship, millions of children are in orphanages without a family to call their own. While many feast, others are famished. While people give and receive a bounty of gifts, others lack the basic necessities of life. The human existence is filled with paradoxes like these.

Yet Christmas is not just for the healthy, happy, and prosperous. The blessing of Christmas is for those who realize their need for a Savior. Jesus says in Matthew 5:3-8, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted…blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” God bestowed this message of blessing through the person of Jesus Christ. God drew near to a broken and needy people in a marvelous way – by becoming one of us. Truly Christmas is about how He broke through darkness to “give the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:6).

The present of His Presence is the most wonderful and paradoxical occurrence in history. Christ, the Lord of all and yet the Humble Servant, reaches out to save all people – those drunk with pleasure and those overcome by sorrow, those enamored with success and those who’ve hit rock bottom, those who are seeking and those without hope. He is the One who fully knows each person’s experience and offers to speak meaning into it. The King of Kings (Rev. 19:16) was not born in a lofty palace but a lowly manger. The Prince of Peace’s (Is. 9:6) arrival would cause the uproar of a nation. The Son of the Most High (Luke 1:32) became the son of a young girl and carpenter. The One robed in majesty (Psalm 93:1) traded His garments for infant swaddling clothes. Christ knows exactly how to address the human condition and bring reconciliation that every person desperately needs.

He is the Present of infinite worth that we could only receive if we come with empty and open hands. This Christmas, will you open up your heart to receive the greatest Present ever given?

Immanuel, God with us.

 

Confessions of a Churchgoer

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Introducing Jill to Almond Green Milk Tea with Boba (or bubble tea, as they say in Atlanta)

Hey TD!

The old maxim says, confession is good for the soul.  As I was reading today’s A Slice of Infinity by my friend, Jill Carattini, I must confess that I too share the same shortcomings that she references in her Slice. Read on, fellow churchgoer, and see if you do too. If so, let’s confess, repent, believe, and let God continue His redeeming work in our lives, so we can share the greatest confession of all:

“If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9

– Arthur

Confessions of a Churchgoer

In a world of finger-pointing, Tetsuya Ishikawa paused instead to confess guilt. After seven years at the forefront of the credit markets, he took the idea of a friend to write a book called How I Caused the Credit Crunch because, in the friend’s analysis, “it sounds like you did.”(1) In the form of a novel that discredits the notion of the financial sector as a collaboration of remote, unthinking forces, he admits in flesh and blood that he believes he is guilty, too. Though reviewers note Ishikawa does not remain long with his admission of responsibility, he succeeds in showing the financial markets as a reflection of human choices with moral dimensions and, ultimately, the futility of our ongoing attempts at finding a better scapegoat.

Whenever the subject of blame or fault comes about in any sector of life, whether economic, societal, or individual, scapegoating is a far more common reaction than confessing. Most of us are most comfortable when blame is placed as far away from us as possible. Even the word “confession,” the definition of which is concerned with owning a fault or belief, is now often associated with the sins of others, which an outspoken soul just happens to be willing to share with the world. We are interested in those confessions of a former investment banker/warlord/baseball wife because the “owning up” has nothing to do with owning anything.

Perhaps like many of us in our own confessing, Charles Templeton’s 1996 book, Farwell to God, and the confessions of a former Christian leader, is filled with moments of confession in both senses of the word—honest commentary and easy scapegoating. In his thoughts that deal with the Christian church, it is particularly apparent. Pointing near and far and wide, Templeton observes that the church indeed has a speckled past: “Across the centuries and on every continent, Christians—the followers of the Prince of Peace—have been the cause of and involved in strife. The church during the Middle Ages was like a terrorist organization.”(2) He admits that some good has come from Christian belief, but that there is altogether too much bad that has come from it. He then cites the church’s declining numbers as evidence that the world is in agreement; people are losing interest because the church is failing to be relevant. Pews are empty; denominations oppose one another; the church is floundering, its influence waning—except perhaps its negative influence, according to this confessor.

Paul Klee, City of Churches, pen, pencil, watercolor, paper, 1918.

Of course, many of these confessions regarding the church are indeed riddled with difficult truths that someone somewhere must indeed own. Other assertions are not only difficult to posit as relevant, but are simply dishonest attempts to point blame and escape the more personal, consistent answer. As Templeton determinedly points out the steady decline of attendance in the church as reason to disbelieve, it is unclear how this supports his personal confession that Christian beliefs are untrue. Does the claim of the church’s decline (the veracity of which is debated) say anything about whether Christianity is based on lies, lunacy, or fact? Jesus spoke of those who would turn away, churches that would grow cold, faith that would be abandoned. Moreover, if one is truly convinced that Christianity is an outlandish hoax, isn’t it odd that so much energy is taken in criticizing the church in the first place—as if one had a vision of what the people of God should look like?

Of course, responding to Templeton’s darker admissions regarding the church, I am at times tempted to make a scapegoating confession of my own. Specifically, if I could reasonably judge God by some of God’s followers, I would surely say farewell as well. Like Templeton, I have seen so many lives badly wounded by the pulpit, people trampled by those who call themselves Christians. I have been more disillusioned within the church than I ever have outside of it. Templeton confesses in his book that the church “has seldom been at its best,” and on this point, I couldn’t agree more.(3) But I would also have to add a critical addendum; namely, that I am rarely at my best. I am a part of this church who fails to love well, who says things that hurt, and falls short of its best on a regular basis. But if the church is truly meant to be the place where followers learn to become more like Christ, then I also can’t imagine a better place to be holding such a confession. Failings and all, it is the community that communes with the one who longs most for our human flourishing, who embodies God’s hope for humans at our best. Of the one who meets us in this human place, it was once confessed: “The righteous one shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:12).

It was with such a conviction that G.K. Chesterton responded to a newspaper seeking opinions on the question “What’s wrong with the world?” in one sentence. “Dear Sirs,” he replied, “I am.” In confessions of dark or disappointing realities, can our own hearts really be excluded? It was with visions of war and brokenness around him that David prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.”(4) It was before the cross scarred body of the human Christ that Thomas confessed, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” This, I believe, is humanity’s best confession.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) Sathnam Sanghera, “Confessions of the Man Who Caused the Credit Crunch,” The Times Online, April 20, 2009, http://timesonline.co.uk, accessed April 21, 2009.
(2) Charles Templeton, Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1996), 129.
(3) Ibid., 127.
(4) Psalm 51:10.

The Key to Living Well?

Hey TD!

What is the key to living well? I believe it is abiding in Christ.  John 15 speaks quite a bit on this:

4“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. 5“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. 6“If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. 7“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8“My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. 9“Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 10“If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. 11“These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.

Our friend, Margaret Manning Shull, from Ravi Zacharias Int’l Ministries, recently posted a very valuable article in RZIM’s A Slice of Infinity.  Please read the article below and grow your acumen in abiding in Christ, not only for your sake, but for the sake of all those around you! – Arthur

The Art of Abiding by Margaret Manning Shull

When it comes to exercise many of us ask: “How long will it take?” or “How much do I have to do?” The shorter the duration the better, we hope. Scientists at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario have researched the benefits of shorter-duration, high-intensity workouts. They found that the aerobic benefits were just as high as those who had worked out for much longer periods of time.(1) As one professor noted, “If you are someone, like me, who just wants to boost health and fitness and you don’t have 45 minutes or an hour to work out, our data show that you can get big benefits from even a single minute of intense exercise.”(2) This is good news for all who feel there are not enough hours in a day.

Yet, as good as this news may be for some, I am increasingly nervous about all the schemes and strategies to make one’s life more efficient. From the One Minute Manager to the One Minute Workout the short-cutting of our lives appears endemic. If one needs a quicker, faster, shorter version, there is an app for that. But I worry about what happens to our aptitude for endurance in the elevation of the efficient?

Edgar Degas, Musicians in the Orchestra, oil on canvas, 1872.

By contrast, author Malcolm Gladwell argued in his book Outliers that ten thousand hours of deliberate practice are needed before one can become good at some things. He cites Mozart, Bill Gates, and the Beatles as examples of brilliant artists and inventors whose patient practice and discipline began at an early age.(3) In fact, many artists suggest that their creative expression is something that must be practiced—exercised, as it were, just like any muscle. Significant achievement—in any area—is realized when bounded by discipline, and a tireless commitment to practice, routine, and structure. The painter, Wayne Thiebaud, once said that “an artist has to train his responses more than other people do. He has to be as disciplined as a mathematician. Discipline is not a restriction but an aid to freedom.”(4) Sadly, Thiebaud’s and Gladwell’s views are often the minority report in our hurried age.

Assumptions about growth in the spiritual life often parallel these assumptions about efficiency. Often, the drive to see measurable results creates unrealistic expectations. We often want a One Minute Spiritual Life that still yields unbounded growth and instant transformation. We expect the constant flow of “good feelings” surging through us. If we do not experience these things, or if we don’t perpetually experience something novel and instant from the rhythm of worship, prayer, or study, then we believe that something isn’t right. Sadly, we eschew the repetitive nature of discipline and routine.

Ritual, discipline, commitment, and structure seem impediments to growth, rather than the soil in which spiritual growth is nourished and fed. The drive for efficiency lures us into wanting a spiritual life more like osmosis—a process over which we have little control or responsibility.

There are not three easy steps to a vital spiritual life, nor an efficiency guide to greater transformation. And in his life and ministry, Jesus makes this connection between growth and discipline. In the gospel of John he exhorts his followers to “abide” in him—literally to rest and to take nourishment from the life Jesus offers.(5) Rest is the opposite of the efficient. In addition, he describes abiding in terms of love and obedience. “Just as the Father has loved me, I have also loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love; just as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.”(6) Jesus insists that joy flows from a life of discipline and obedience that includes keeping his commands. They are not separate endeavors, but intimately enjoined to produce abundant life.

How ironic this statement seems when most of us do not associate joy with discipline or endurance! Our daily living often feels like monotonous routine. We can understand the desire to find a short-cut that brings excitement or instant results. But joy cannot be reduced to a feeling, nor is it dependent on the whims of our personalities. Joy is the result of a life lived in the rhythm of rest, routine, and discipline. Following in the way of Jesus can sometimes feel both tedious and difficult, as surely it is both tedious and difficult at times. But disciplined obedience is not a blockade to fullness of joy, but rather a doorway that opens into the abiding presence of God. There, we encounter one who produces something beautiful that remains.

Margaret Manning Shull is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Bellingham, Washington.

(1) Gretchen Reynolds, “One Minute of All-Out Exercise May Have Benefits of 45 Minutes of Moderate Exertion,” The New York Times Blog, April 27, 2016, Accessed 20 May 2016.
(2) Ibid.
(3) As cited by Timothy Egan in “The One Minute Life,” The New York Times, May 13, 2016, Accessed 20 May 2016.
(4) As cited in Clint Brown, Artist to Artist: Inspiration & Advice from Artists Past & Present (Corvalis, OR: Jackson Creek Publishers, 1998), 87.
(5) John 15:4-5.
(6) John 15:9-11.

 

What Did Jesus Do On Saturday?

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Safely Home by Ron Dicianni

Hey TD!

Most of you recognize this painting as the one that hangs in my dining room.  It’s done by renowned artist, Ron Dicianni, and is part of a trilogy that includes a powerful song by Steve Green and a life-impacting novel by Randy Alcorn (if you haven’t read it, ask a TD leader to borrow a copy.  It will impact your life.)

On this “Easter Saturday,” Ron sent his constituents and email giving us his thoughts on what Christ did on Saturday.  I’ve included excerpts below to help you continue to draw on Easter power today.

Below his devotional thoughts are thoughts from Ron the Christian, who ministers through his art.  Enjoy.  – Arthur

———–

I have a question. We know Christ died on Good Friday, and we know he was raised to Life on Easter, but what happened in between?

As we recapture what Easter really means, I want to walk with you through a few truths that sometimes fall through the cracks.

The Bible tells us that, contrary to what some might think, Jesus did not just lay there in the grave and count sheep. In fact, the Bible tells us that He descended into Hades and took the keys of Death and Hell from Satan. That’s what I tried to capture in my painting He Holds the Keys.

Nor did Christ stop there, the Bible says that He led out those who had been held captive. I don’t know what that looks like – but someday I would love to try to paint the picture!

My point is that for us, this Saturday kind of falls through the cracks. Easter is tomorrow, Good Friday was yesterday, so what do we do today?

All I can offer you is my practice…

On Good Friday I remember the sorrow of what took place when Jesus paid our debt, On Sunday I remember (and rejoice!) that the grave could not hold Him, and in between I remember that He took the keys of hell and death away from Satan, to use them to free us…forever!

Scripture tells us that the sting of death was sin and that the power of sin was the law. Elsewhere we are told that the law brings death. That we all, because of the sins we talked about in yesterday’s email, were under a death sentence. But what did Christ do? He went and took the keys of death and hell away from Satan. No longer can we be terrorized by fear of death or hell! Christ didn’t just take the judgement away, He took away any hold, any claim Satan had against us!

People tell me all the time they are haunted by the sins of their past. No more let fear make you tremble! In God’s sight you are white as snow. What does the Bible say, perfect love drives out fear! And where else but on the Cross did we see more clearly God’s perfect love – for us! Our accuser has been cast down and no longer has power over us. No longer let doubt scream that you are the accused. And no need to ever again replay the video in our heads that the only side of Easter is the pain Jesus bore. We can, and must, dwell on the victorious side of Easter when we celebrate what no other person, religion or philosophy could do…conquer the grave, and set us, the prisoners free!

————-

 

People ask me often, where I get my inspiration and my answer is “I open my Bible”. Rather than preach at you… “Pray for your family”! I painted Spiritual Warfare and A Mother’s Love. Rather than tell you… “Jesus Loves you and the Cross is the measure of His love“, I painted Salvation. Rather than just pat you on the head and say and “l’ll pray for you”, I painted Divine Healing to remind you that you can still reach out and touch the hem of His garment. And rather than merely say “There, there, He knows” I painted one of my most personally meaningful works, In the Wilderness. And many, many more.

I am blessed that God has used my paintings – in fact they are more correctly His paintings – so far beyond what I could have ever imagined. From princes and presidents to teachers and fireman to pastors and the unemployed, God truly has sent His Word out in visual form and the results have been a harvest beyond my anything I could have made happen. I truly believe, and have dedicated my career to the truth, that if you surround yourself with the Message of Christ in your Life, that it will bear dividends, in His providence, beyond what you can imagine.

And just by reading this, you are a part of that story. Thank you.

In Him,

Something to Consider on Good Friday

Hey TD!

Blessed Good Friday to you. Have you ever wondered why it’s called Good Friday? There are reasons people have offered: that what God was doing was ultimately good, or that it was really God Friday and morphed into Good Friday, etc. One answer that seems quite plausible is that the word good used to mean holy; so, Holy Friday was more the idea than the usual meaning we ascribe to the word good. 

On this Holy Friday (holy means set apart), please take extra time to commune and relate with our Lord, in remembrance, in appreciation and thanksgiving, in prayer, in meditation and contemplation.  Fill your senses and faculties and imagination with Him. Make it all about Jesus.

Below is a Slice of Infinity by our friend, Jill Carattini, that will give you something to consider this Good Friday.  Blessings – Arthur

The Absence of Beauty

Posted by Jill Carattini on April 14, 2017
Topic: A Slice of Infinity

I stood in front of the painting long enough that my neck hurt from craning upward, long enough to make the connection that onlookers that day likely held a similar stance as they watched Jesus of Nazareth on the cross. Francisco de Zurbarán’s massive 1627 painting The Crucifixion hangs in gallery 211 of the Chicago Art Institute. Viewers must stand back from the piece and gaze upward in order to take it all in. Zurbarán depicts the point just before Christ takes his last breath. His body leans forward from exhaustion; his head hangs downward. All details of any background activity are absent, the black backdrop a jarring juxtaposition beside his pale, bruised skin. The artist’s use of light intensifies the stark pull of sympathy towards a body that is both clearly suffering and yet somehow beautiful. At the time, I wasn’t sure what I believed about Christianity. But there was something about the painting I couldn’t stop trying to grasp.

There is indeed something about beauty that for many of us is intensely spiritual. Whether peering into the natural beauty of a majestic waterfall or the exquisite lights of the Eiffel Tower, many describe a connection between beauty and the transcendent in religious terms—at times, even contradictingly so, our own theories of the world either undercutting or cutting off the very possibilities we want to espouse. For many of the minds I admire today, beauty is both a compelling part of their faith and compelling evidence for God’s existence. A blind and mechanistic universe cannot answer for the longings stirred by earthly beauty. Stated more personally, I could not account for the longings stirred by the beauty of a suffering God in person. Staring at Jesus in The Crucifixion, I could not explain the quality of beauty that seemed distinctive of his very soul—choosing even in pain and death to forgive tirelessly, though surrounded by people who do not. As a hen uses her wings to gather her chicks, there are indeed times I suspect the Spirit uses beauty to bring us quietly before the Son.

There are also times when the opposite is true and it is the absence of beauty that leaves us scattered and scurrying, aware and afraid, and longing for the shelter of divine wings. Good Friday offers such an occasion. In Christian churches all over the world yesterday, the last moments of Jesus were remembered and reenacted in various ways. In his final moments before he would be tortured and killed, he shared the Passover meal with his closest friends. He washed his disciples’ feet and he tried to comfort them, though death no doubt loomed with suffocating force. In some services, following a foot washing ceremony or a last celebration of the Lord’s Supper before Good Friday, a ceremony called theStripping of the Altar concludes the worship service.

I was privileged to participate in such a service one year at King’s College Chapel, the stunning cathedral built by Henry VI in 1446. With a deafening silence that amplified the sense of heaviness at the approach of the crucifixion, objects were removed piece by piece from the altar: communion chalice and plate, the altar cross, the holy Bible, the altar candles, the liturgical coverings. As the altar was slowly stripped to a stark table, the dramatic Tudor glass windows were simultaneously growing dark as the sun set. I was struck with the impending sense of death. What happened next unexpectedly heightened that sense. Behind the altar, a massive painting by the artist Peter Paul Rubens portrays Jesus as an infant in Mary’s arms; the magi are gathered around in adoration, leaning toward the child expectantly. The sound of the painting being shut was jarring; the echo sounded like the closing of a tomb.

But it was the image of the baby suddenly and jarringly absent, beauty extinguished, that finally compelled tears. As the congregation exited in silence, I left thinking about the crucifixion in way I hadn’t before. I left with the disquieting thought of God’s absence—a Son crucified, a mother mourning, a world without Christ.

In his famed Nobel Prize acceptance speech Alexandr Solzhenitsyn eloquently hoped aloud that when the day comes that truth and goodness are crushed, cut down, not allowed through cultures and minds, then perhaps the fantastic, unpredictable, unexpected stems of beauty will push through and soar to that very same place.(1) Today, on this Good Friday, it is the absence of Christ, the death of truth and goodness and beauty himself, that pushes through, pleading with a noisy world to stop and listen to the deafening silence, which just moments earlier heard him plead: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

 

 

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

 

(1) Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, Nobel Lecture in Literature 1970, from Nobel Lectures, Literature 1968-1980, Editor-in-Charge Tore Frängsmyr, Editor Sture Allén, (Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co.: 1993).