Tag Archives: Christ

Life and Death Three Ways


Warning! Super long post!  The Squirrel is in a philosophical mood.

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Brompton Cemetery, London (Picture by LGS)

Last weekend was Easter and thoughts of all Christians (including me) was focused on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.   However,  two other deaths occurred over that weekend that made me ponder the whole issue of life and death.  Or more specifically, how our view of life affects our view of death and vice versa.

First Way

At my church’s Good Friday service, one of the thoughts that we meditated on was the fact that Jesus told his disciples that when he went to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival, he would be arrested and he would be killed but in spite of that, he went anyway.  A death wish?   Christians sometimes say that Jesus was born to die.

All of us die, eventually.  If we are born then we will die.  But of Jesus it is believed that his whole life led to one purpose and that was to die on the cross for the sins of all mankind.  (of course, on Easter, we celebrate his rising from the dead, victorious over death itself).   But my point was that Jesus lived his life with the knowledge that his life’s ultimate purpose would be fulfilled by his death.

Please note that death was not something pleasant even for Jesus.  He knew his death was going to be terrible and costly  physically, mentally and spiritually; that is why he prayed  “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”  That is why he wept for Lazarus, his friend who had died, even though he knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead.  Death is not a good thing.

However, Jesus willingly laid down his life for others because he saw his life purpose fulfilled with his death.

That led me to my first thought:- that we could face death with with more peace if we believed that our lives had purpose and we have lived it to the full.

Second Way

Last Friday, I also learned about the death of one very sweet and very inspiring lady.  Her name was Sharon and she died of cancer.  The doctors had given her less than 6 months to live but she fought on for 21 months.  She had her chemotherapy and suffered through the hair loss and nausea.  She had periods when she was desperately ill and others where it seemed like she was almost untouched by the disease.  But through even the worse of it, she was always ready with a smile and encouragement for those around her.  In fact, her friends say that she smiled with her whole face.

And giving encouragement to others was just what she did.  During those 21 months, she took care of her family and friends, ministering to those who had come to minister to her and she used her energy to set up a Cancer support group for patients and care givers that has been a blessing to several hundred people already.

This was a very special woman and I must add that her compassion for cancer victims did not start only when she herself was stricken by the disease but some 30 years earlier, she had already started to do voluntarily work which included raising money for disabled and abandoned children, and providing support for cancer patients who had their life savings swindled by con men offering fake cures.  Her efforts made such an impression that she was given the keys to the city.  Amazing achievements, I am sure you would agree but I never heard about any of this from Sharon herself.  I only learned about it from the eulogies at her funeral – which only emphasizes just how rare a life Sharon lived.

She had fought the disease as much as she possibly could but she never stopped living life as she wanted to.  She spent her last days spending time with her loved ones (including a couple of holidays), going out to eat her favorite foods (even when she was not able to eat more than a spoonful) and most of all, still serving  and encouraging others.

But, as her life spark began to ebb for the final time, she was at peace.   Death did not scare her because she was confident  in her faith that God who had been with her though it all was ready to lead her to everlasting life after death.

This led me to my second reflection;  if we have hope beyond death, we are able to enjoy life to the full and still be able to let go when the time comes and not cling on to life in desperation and fear.

This is the antidote to the unhappy state that is referred to by  the poet, Dylan Thomas, when he wrote these poignant but sad lines about his dying father;

Do not go gentle into that good night,  Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Third Way

The tragedy of the sinking of the Korean ferry is very much in the news; a tragedy made worse by the fact that so many of the victims were young students from a High School near Seoul.   At the moment of this posting, 104 have been confirmed dead and  198 are still missing.   This is so very sad.  My thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of all who have perished.

However, it was the story about the school vice-principle that really touched me.  He was one of the 174 fortunate ones that were picked up and rescued from the sinking ferry.  He had been brought back on land.  He had been given a second chance at life.

He was found a couple of days later hanging from a tree.  Apparently, he had committed suicide.  He was given a second chance at life and he chose to end it.

Why did he do it?  I am sure he felt he had his reasons.  It  could have been from  a sense of responsibility as he had organised the school trip.  It could have been through a sense of fear of the anger of the bereaved parents; how could he face them?  It could have been through a sense of guilt; why did he survive when so many young people died?  I don’t know what was going through his mind that he thought he had to end his life..  It may seem that he had wasted his second chance but I don’t blame him or judge him.  I am just sorry that there was no one there for him at that moment when he needed help.

But as I thought about it, I came to my third reflection;  when we have no more hope in life, then death is welcomed.

Now most of us don’t think much about death and dying cause we are too busy with living and death seems distant.  But I think death sets the context and helps us understand life just as we cannot really understand and appreciate light if we have not experience darkness, sweetness if we haven’t experience sourness etc.

I know I have been incredibly reflective and sombre.  Thank you for sticking with me if you have made it this far down the post.  I guess what I have been trying to say is that we need to examine our understanding of the end of life so that we can live our lives wisely.  I always say that my one wish is to “die happy” cause that must mean that I look back at my life without regret and look forward with hope.

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Tumultuous Times


 

jerusalem squirrelTumultuous times at the Passover Festival.

(a Special Report by LGS)

This year, the crowds coming to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival seemed to be even larger than before and they were charged with excitement. They had heard of the miracles and teachings of Jesus of Nazarene and some even claimed to have witnessed Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead; a man who had been dead for at least four days. Since it was known that the religious authorities wished him silenced, there was much anticipation and debate whether Jesus would come to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem.

Then, news raced through the crowds that Jesus had been spotted approaching the city, riding on a donkey. The people rushed out and lined the road into the waving palm branches and greeting him with shouts of ‘Hosanna! Hosanna!” The soldiers that had been sent by the religious leaders to arrest Jesus decided to withdraw because of the crowd.

For the next few days, Jesus went about in the city and even to the temple where he caused quite a commotion by chasing the money changers out and debating with the religious leaders; embarrassing them with his wisdom and accusing them of hypocrisy.

For the religious leaders, this was the last straw. On Thursday night, a raiding party sent by them arrested Jesus in a garden on the Mount of Olives. From there, things moved quickly. There was the very unusual (and some say illegal) meeting of the Sanhedrin Council in the middle of the night, which led to the decision to send Jesus to the Roman authorities for execution.

When interviewed, Pontius Pilate says that he is “innocent of this man’s blood”. He insists that he wanted to release Jesus because he found Jesus had done nothing wrong but that the Jewish leaders blocked his attempts to release Jesus.   To emphasis the point, the governor had made a show of washing his hands of the matter.

Subsequently, on Friday, Jesus was stripped, beaten, whipped and crucified. The crowds that had welcomed with such enthusiasm before now jeered and ridiculed him. Above his head,  a mocking sign said, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews’. In this way, the ‘King’ died in the most painful and humiliating way imaginable.

It must seem that with the death of Jesus that his followers would scatter in disarray.   Yet just three days later wild rumors were circulating that Jesus was alive and had been seen by hundreds.  His followers claimed that Jesus had risen from the dead!

Since then, some have referred to that particular Friday as Good Friday because Jesus had laid down his life to bring about the completion of God’s plan to save mankind from the consequences of man’s sinful nature and that he defeated death when he rose from the tomb three days later.   In doing so, he has given all mankind a hope for reconciliation with God and shows God’s love for us all.  And that is Good News!

This is LGS reporting from Jerusalem 2000 years ago. (bet you didn’t know that I was a time traveling squirrel).  Wishing all of you a blessed Good Friday and Easter.

Songs of Christmas


Christmas is still a few days away but many are already sick of the piped Christmas music that assails us at department stores, shops, food courts, lifts and just about everywhere.  Of course, this is partly due to the endless repetition of  songs of snow, reindeer, jolly  Santa and  holiday cheer.  Sugary sweet songs whose cheerful sentiments have no power to really bring joy to the world and because of that become irritating and empty when repeated ad nauseam.

But the songs that celebrate the birth of Christ remain meaningful if the heart has received the joyous message that the angels told the shepherds in the field all those years ago; “But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”” (Luke 2:10-11).

For those reasons, those old classics like “Joy to the World”, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, “Silent Night” and “O Holy Night”, I believe will continue to be cherished by those whose hearts have really been touched by the miracle of Christmas.  However, it is also good to hear some newer and different but meaningful songs for this celebratory season.

This first song is an old Southern spiritual but enlivened by a more recent interpretation by Bruce Cockburn.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

This second one is truly a song of worship (by Casting Crowns) reminding us that Christmas is about God’s gift of Christ to us and not about exchanging presents and over indulgence.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Baptism and A Stained Lab Coat


Last Saturday, we had the joy and privilege of witnessing 17 individuals getting baptised.  There were several teenagers including a 16 year old while the eldest baptismal candidate was a grandmother.  There were two families where almost the entire family got baptised.  It was a great time of rejoicing.  When given the opportunity to say something for a few minutes, many of them shared about how they came to know, trust and follow Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour and how God has made a difference to their lives.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the practice of baptism, it was a command given by Jesus himself that his followers should be baptised.

Matt 28: 18-19  Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

Baptism itself involves someone making a public profession of recognising their own sinful nature and that through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection, believe that they have been redeemed from facing the penalty of sin and reconciled with God.   They are then immersed under water and then raised (before they drown!) in an action that symbolises their death to their old sinful self and resurrection like Christ into a new life.  The bible tells that they have been redeemed by Jesus paying the penalty on all our behalves and that the Holy Spirit have created a new creature – a new start.

I was asked to give a short explanation about baptism to those relative and friends who did not understand this Christian service. With so many people getting baptised and wanting to share their testimonies, I did not want to make my explanation too long (which is a major challenge to a long-winded, yarn-spinning squirrel like myself).  I chose to focus on the root word of baptism which is the Greek word “baptizo”.    Baptizo means to immerse or dip into something with the concept that in the process, the thing being dipped is somehow altered.  This is significantly different from the Greek word “bapto” in which there is no change to the object being dipped.  So you might say that you took a piece of sushi and “bapto”-ed it in the soy sauce.  The sushi may now be covered in sauce but it remains fundamentally the same.  When  baptizo is used in the context of textile process, it can mean dipping it in bleach to be cleaned before it is dyed with another colour.

I then recalled my experiences when I was a university student during one of my early chemistry laboratory classes.  I was wearing my fairly clean new laboratory coat when some chemicals I had been mixing and heating in a test-tube exploded and sprayed me in a shower of chemicals.  I reacted just before the explosion by trying to turn away.  The result was that half my clean white lab coat was now spotted with dots of the black chemical compound.  So picture this, I was one half clean lab coat and the other half 101 dalmations.  I went home and tried to wash it out in the laundry but it would not come out.    I then went to talk to the lab assistant and asked him what I could do with my lab coat which was making me the laughing stock of the class.  I asked him what I could do to get the stains out and he said it could not be done.  I asked what I could do and he dryly said that I could do the same thing to the other half so at least I had matching sides!   Haha….thanks for nothing.

It got worse.  The chemical stains actually began to corrode my lab coats so that after a couple of washes, it ended up falling apart.

In the same way, sin is like that to our soul.  It stains us and corrodes and destroys us.  Nothing but Jesus sacrifice can make us clean  again.  When we ask Jesus to come into our lives, He cleanses us from the stain and corrosion of sin and the Holy Spirit clothes us in Jesus’ holiness.  That is what baptism or baptizo is trying to convey through the symbolism of immersion and rising from the water.  Dipped and changed.

  • Rom 6:3-4  Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

But there’s even more.  The baptisimal candidates are also testifying that this life changing experience extends to a personal knowledge of Jesus – one that they would not exchange for anything else.  In this their testimony is like that of the apostle Paul over 2000 years ago whom I will let have the final word;

Philipians 3: 7- 11 7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in[a] Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.


Surrogates


Sur-ro-gate (verb \ˈsər-ə-ˌgāt, ˈsə-rə-\ ).    According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, when used as a noun, a surrogate is one who is appointed to act in place of another or one that serves as a substitute.

As a Christian, I have never been happy with the commercialization of Christmas where the celebration of God’s love gift of Christ to the world has been substituted with a message of crass consumerism and materialism;  where the joy of giving has been replaced by the lust of receiving and where Christmas has been replaced by X-mas.

But this year, I have a new gripe.  I went to my local shopping mall today and as usual, all the normal over the top Christmas decorations were up. However, there was no jolly ol’ Santa entertaining the children;  no plump  fatherly character with a white beard and bright red suit;  no red nosed reindeer or friendly North Pole elves.  Good Grief, there were not even any Santa-rina’s in short skirts!

Instead, jolly Santa was replaced by the Grinch!  The Grinch, was decked out in Santa’s red costume and wandering the mall yelling out, “Merry Christmas” while doing some kind of dance.  Occasionally, he’d stop, bare his big yellow teeth and pat some child on the head.  The Grinch was not alone.  He was accompanied by what appeared to be a white faced Chinese Martial Arts Swordsman and a leprechaun. The theme apparently was “Christmas – Tis the time to be Fable-ous”.

 

My, my Santa........how green you look!

Most years at this time, I usually include some pictures or videos of Christmas lights, celebrations or decorations.  This year I am using the illuminated Font Magica Barcelona located at Montjuic, Barcelona as a surrogate.  Enjoy.

 

Font Magica Barcelona (Picture by LGS)
Font Magica Barcelona (Photo by LGS)
Font Magica Barcelona (Photo by LGS)
Font Magica Barcelona (Photo by LGS)
Font Magica Barcelona (Photo by LGS)

 

Christmas is….


Christmas is the time to remember that God reached out to mankind by sending His son to be born in a manger. It is the time to remember that the greatest gift ever given was God’s gift of His son; that the story that started in Bethlehem would end in Calvary; that by His birth, light entered the world and by His death and resurrection, hope and reconciliation with God. It is a time of celebration of God’s love gift.

It is a time for people to come together and even in celebration, reach out and share love with others.

It is a time to reflect thankfully of all that we have and remember those less fortunate.

What if God was one of us.


What if God was one of us
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home”
(Song & Lyrics by Eric Bazilian and originally sung by Joan Osborne)

“What if God was one of us?” This was one of the questions posed in the Joan Osborne song from 1995. The song asked many questions about faith and believing. It even asked what I think is a very insightful question, “Would you want to see God’s face, if seeing meant you would have to believe?” Many, I suspect would not want to see God’s face cause having to believe would be very inconvenient to a self-centered life.

However, let us reflect more on this first question, “What if God was one of us?” How would we really react to a God who came down from heaven to walk and live amongst us? What would we ask this God amongst us? How would our life be altered?

If this seems like a novel idea, it is not. The Bible tells us that God’s plan to save mankind from its own folly and sin involved His coming in the form of man. At Christmas, we sing of the baby Jesus born in Bethlehem, we sing of the Emmanuel which actually means God with us. Jesus was God amongst us, one of us.

And how did the world react to Jesus? They crucified him on a cross outside the city gates of Jerusalem where just a few days earlier they had welcomed him in like a king. Just a few days before, he was their Messiah, their savior, their hero. Now they had beaten him, whipped him, striped him and hung him from the cross and there they mocked him as he died.

Yet, it is through his death that good news has reached mankind. Jesus has become our Messiah, our saviour and our hero. He did this by voluntarily dying and taking on the punishment of the sins of all mankind. He did this by defeating death and rising from the dead. He did this at Easter.

The life, death and resurrection of Christ was foretold in the ancient scriptures hundreds of years before. It said that he would be nothing special in appearance……a slob like one of us. However, by dying on the cross, he has freed us from the power and penalty of sin and has given us a future with hope, walking with God. What is our response to God who was one of us, lived and died for us and now alive to give us hope. What is our response? “Would you want to see God’s face, if seeing meant you would have to believe?”

From the Book of Isaiah 53:1-12
1 Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.

8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.

9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.

11 After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light [of life] and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.

12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

(Salvadore Dali’s Crucifixion; 1954)