Thomas, the Twin – Our Twin?

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Apr 282019

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: Thomas, the Twin – Our Twin? By:  Ron Woodrum

  There are a lot of famous twins. Most people know the actor Ashton Kutcher. But did you know he has a twin brother named Michael? Most know of President George W. Bush-so it follows that his twin daughters Jenna and Barbara are famous now too. Since their successful sitcom most people know about the Olson twins-Ashley and Mary-Kate. Keifer Sutherland is known for his successful acting career, and his father Donald, but did you know he has a twin sister named Rachael? Everyone knows of the brothers Gibb-i.e. The Bee Gees. But two brothers of that trio-Maurice and Robin were twins. The world knows of the King of Rock and Roll-Elvis Aaron Presley. But did you know that he was the surviving baby of twins. His brother Jesse Garon Presley was still born at the delivery, and is buried in an unmarked grave in Tupelo, Mississippi. Anyone visiting Graceland can see his stone included in the family memorials along with Elvis, Vernon, and Gladys Presley. And then of course who can forget the Biblical twins of Jacob and Esau? But today I want to bring to your memory another twin. His name is Thomas. The Bible speaks of “Thomas, who is called Didymus, meaning twin”. Actually both names-Thomas and Didymus means “twin”. One is Aramaic-Thomas. The other is Greek-Didymus. They both mean twin. Who was the Apostle Thomas a twin to? We are not told. When lists of the disciples are given he is usually linked with Matthew-so some assume that is his twin. Tradition tells us that Thomas took the gospel to India in A.D. 52, and died there as a martyr to the cause of his Lord Jesus Christ. You can visit his tomb in Edessa today. Tradition also tells us that Bartholomew worked alongside Thomas in that commission. Many have caused that fact to link him to be Thomas’ twin. In the Apocryphal book written in the 200’s called the Acts of St. Thomas, he is called “Judas Thomas”-or “Judas the Twin”. Some have linked him with James, the Son of Alphaeus then as a twin. All of that is speculation. We do not know who his twin actually is. Frederick Buechner, in preaching about Thomas, says “I can tell you who his twin is-I am! and I am not far off the mark to say that you are too!” You see when it comes to being disciples that trend toward doubt, and find ourselves being disappointed in Jesus, due to circumstances that suddenly throw us into discouragement and despair; we may just be identical twins to Thomas, called Didymus!

We are told in the Gospel of John that when Jesus appeared to the ten disciples who were gathered in the upper room on the first Easter evening that Thomas was absent. They had the joy of seeing the Lord alive again. They inspected his wounds. They were commissioned to a new mandate. He breathed on them to receive the Holy Spirit. The passage describing the event emphasizes that “they were glad when they saw the Lord!” Thomas missed it all. He was disheartened, discouraged and disengaged from the rest! When they sought him out to tell him he frankly told them that their word and witness would never be enough for him. He would have to see with his own eyes, touch with his own hands, experience Him for himself in a personal, intimate, and vital way or he would never believe! That kind of demand of evidence has earned this twin the reputation and name of “Doubting Thomas”. But what about doubt? Was Thomas wrong for wanting to see before believing?

Some of the greatest minds of history have spoken candidly about doubt. Bertrand Russell said, “It is a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on a thing you have long taken for granted”. He also said, “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always certain of themselves, but wiser people are full of doubts!” The great Christian Scientist, thinker, and Philosopher Francis Bacon said, “In contemplation, if a man begins with certainties he shall end in doubts; but if he is content to begin with doubts he shall end in certainties!” Shakespeare said, “Modest doubt is the beacon of the wise”. Alfred Lord Tennyson said, “There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the world’s creeds” One of the best quotes I have come across comes from Tryon Edwards, the grandson of the Revivalist Preacher Jonathan Edwards. Tryon Edwards wrote, “Doubt, indulged and cherished is in danger of becoming denial; but if it is honest, and bent on thorough investigation it may soon lead to the full establishment of truth”. That kind of sounds like modern day philosopher-baseball player, Yogi Berra who said, “You can observe a lot by seeing!” I believe that is what Thomas needed. He needed some empirical evidence that he could witness with his own eyes. But when he encountered the Lord, risen in all his glory, he saw not only with the eyes of his head, but with the eyes of his heart, and his doubt was transformed to devotion. He then became the example for the Lord to talk of greater blessing than what Thomas experienced on the 8th day of Easter. We can learn a lot from examining Thomas’ journey from Doubt to Devotion by doing an Autopsy on a Doubting Disciple. I want to share with a poem about what Thomas experienced on the 8th Day of Easter. May we too be so transformed by our Risen Lord?

When Thomas afterward had heard That Jesus had fulfilled His word, He doubted if it were the Lord: Alleluia! “My hands, my feet, my body, see; “And doubt not, but believe in Me”: Alleluia!

No longer Thomas then denied; He saw the feet, the hands, the side; Thou art my Lord and God,” he cried: Alleluia!

 Posted by at 12:34 pm

GUEST PERSPECTIVE: What It Means to Worship a Man Crucified as a Criminal.

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Apr 212019

GUEST PERSPECTIVE: What It Means to Worship a Man Crucified as a Criminal. By Peter Wehner

During a Christmas break while I was a student at the University of Washington, I tuned in to a show that influenced the trajectory of my faith, quite by accident. It was a broadcast of an hourlong “Firing Line” interview in 1980 between William F. Buckley Jr. and Malcolm Muggeridge, the British journalist who late in life converted to Christianity.

In the course of the interview, Mr. Muggeridge used a parable. Imagine that the Apostle Paul, after his Damascus Road conversion, starts off on his journey, Mr. Muggeridge said, and consults with an eminent public relations man. “I’ve got this campaign and I want to promote this gospel,” Paul tells this individual, who responds, “Well, you’ve got to have some sort of symbol.” To which Paul would reply: “Well, I have got one. I’ve got this cross.”

“The public relations man would have laughed his head off,” Mr. Muggeridge said, with the P.R. man insisting: “You can’t popularize a thing like that. It’s absolutely mad.”

The reaction of Mr. Muggeridge’s imaginary P.R. person is understandable. The Episcopal priest Fleming Rutledge has written that until the accounts of Jesus’ death burst upon the Mediterranean world, “no one in the history of human imagination had conceived of such a thing as the worship of a crucified man.” And yet the crucifixion — an emblem of agony and one of the cruelest methods of execution ever practiced — became a historical pivot point and eventually the most compelling symbol of the most popular faith on earth.

As a non-Christian friend of mine put it to me recently, the idea that people would worship a God who is compassionate toward us is one thing, but to worship a God who suffers and dies — as a condemned criminal, no less — is distinct to Christianity. In my friend’s understated words, “When you think about it, it is a little strange.”

Perhaps the aspect of the crucifixion that is easiest to understand is that according to Christian theology, atonement is the means through which human beings — broken, fallen, sinful — are reconciled to God. The ideal needed to be sacrificed for the non-ideal, the worthy for the unworthy.

But the cross is more than simply a gateway to the City of God. “I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross,” John Stott, one of the most important Christian evangelists of the last century, wrote in “The Cross of Christ.” “The only God I believe in is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as ‘God on the cross.’ In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?” From the perspective of Christianity, one can question why God allows suffering, but one cannot say God doesn’t understand it. He is not remote, indifferent, untouched or unscarred.

Scott Dudley, the senior pastor at Bellevue Presbyterian Church in Bellevue, Wash., and a lifelong friend, pointed out to me that on the cross God was reconciling the world to himself — but God was also, perhaps, reconciling himself to the world. The cross is not only God’s way of saying we are not alone in our suffering, but also that God has entered into our suffering through his own suffering.

Scott readily concedes that there’s no good answer to the question, “Why is there suffering?” Jesus never answers that question, and even if we had the theological answer, it would not ease our burdens in any significant way. What God offers instead is the promise that he is with us in our suffering; that he can bring good out of it (life out of death, forgiveness out of sin); and that one day he will put a stop to it and redeem it. God, Revelation tells us, will make “all things new.” For now, though, we are part of a drama unfolding in a broken world, one in which God chose to become a protagonist.  

One other significant consequence the crucifixion had was to “introduce a new plot to history: The victim became a hero by offering himself as a willing victim,” in the words of the Christian author Philip Yancey. Citing the works of the French philosopher René Girard and Mr. Girard’s student Gil Bailie, Mr. Yancey argues that a radiating effect of the cross was to undermine abusive power and injustice; that care for the disenfranchised and those living in the shadows of society came about as a direct result of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Edward Shillito, a minister in England who watched waves of badly wounded soldiers return from World War I, wrote a poem, “Jesus of the Scars,” in which he said, “The heavens frighten us; they are too calm; In all the universe we have no place. Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm? Lord Jesus, by thy scars we know thy grace.” Mr. Shillito ended his poem with this stanza, which beautifully captures what makes the cross unique:

The other gods were strong; but thou wast weak;

They rode, but thou didst stumble to a throne;

But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,

And not a god has wounds, but thou alone.

Worshiping a God of wounds is a little strange, as my friend said. For some, it is grotesque and contemptible, a bizarre myth, an offense. But for others of us, what happened to Jesus on the cross is profoundly moving and life-altering — not just a historical inflection point, but something that won and keeps winning our hearts. As individuals with wounds, flawed and fallen, we cannot help but return to the foot of the cross.

The most important moment in my faith pilgrimage was when the cross became my interpretive prism. What I mean by this is that I was and remain a person with a skeptical mind and countless questions. There are parts of the Bible I still find puzzling, difficult and troubling. (That is true of many more Christians than you might imagine, and of many more Christians than are willing to admit.)

But I did arrive at a settled belief that whatever the answer to those questions were — answers I’m unlikely to ever discover — I would understand them in the context of the cross, where God showed his enduring love for people in every circumstance and in every season of life. I came to treasure a line from an 18th-century hymn by Isaac Watts that I have replayed in my mind more often than I can count: “Did e’re such love and sorrow meet, Or thorns compose so rich a crown?”

In response to his fictional P.R. person’s claim that using the cross as a symbol for faith would be mad, Malcolm Muggeridge replied: “But it wasn’t mad. It worked for centuries and centuries, bringing out all the creativity in people, all the love and disinterestedness in people, this symbol of suffering. And I think that’s the heart of the thing.”

It is the heart of the thing. Where some see the cross as superstitious foolery or a stumbling block, others see grace and sublime love. For us, the glory and joy of Easter Sunday is only made possible by the anguish of Good Friday.

 Posted by at 2:58 am

“Transforming bad luck into blessed luck!”

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Apr 142019

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “Transforming bad luck into blessed luck!”  By:  Ron Woodrum

  Do you remember the group from Hee Haw that used to sing the song, “Gloom, Despair, and Agony?” It went something like this…”Gloom, despair, and agony on me. Deep dark depression, excessive misery! If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all. Gloom, despair, and agony on me!” It could be that Simon, from Cyrene, who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish Passover, may have found himself singing that song. He quickly found his celebration turn into confusion. He got caught up in a mob’s commotion parading condemned criminals to a crucifixion. Just being confronted with this awful scene was bad enough, but as he stood by he was forced to “become involved” and was “compelled to bear one of the criminal’s cross”. Mark gives us a vivid description to this event. “And they led him out that they may crucify him, (Jesus), And they compelled one passing by, Simon of Cyrene, coming in from a field, to lift and carry his cross” Mark 15:20-21. Mark, retelling Peter’s recollections, tells us that there was a bystander, one just passing by, coming in out from the countryside. But the Roman guards in charge of the execution picked him out of the crowd, and forced him, against his will, at least at first, to lift the heavy cross Jesus was being forced to carry to his execution. By anyone’s first impression-not so good happenstance! Why me? Why this? Why now? What now? Touching the blood, made him unclean. Now he cannot participate in the Passover-the very reason for his trip to Jerusalem. What bad luck! He was clearly “a passer-by”. He was clearly forced to change his plans, and get right into the middle of a public execution. None of these events were on his planned agenda. He did not choose them. They were forced on him, against his will. The word compelled is the Greek word, aggarueo, “means to force against one’s will!” But when we take a closer look at the incident, and the things that followed, we may conclude that what appeared to be bad luck was actually blessed luck!

How do we define “luck”? The word originally came into the English language in Middle English, from Middle Dutch, meaning “to happen fortunately”. Early on it was not seen as the result of “chance”, but an integral part of God’s involvement in one’s life. Originally, in the Anglican Book of Common Prayers, Psalm 45: 2 was translated “Good luck have thou with thine honor”. Good luck was seen as “God’s luck to you”. Robert Farrar Coppola, in his book Health, Money, and Love, …and why we don’t enjoy them- says “all luck good or bad is God’s metier”, (specialty). He quotes Charles Williams as saying, “all luck is Holy luck!” Eugene Peterson, author of the translation The Message, picked up on this and chose that phrase, Holy Luck, as the title of his book of Spiritual Poems describing the Christian’s blessed experience of the Sovereignty of God in his life. After all Romans 8:28 does not say “all things work together for good, to those who love the Lord, and are called according to His purpose”, (as the King James Version says), But instead the Greek reads literally, “For we know…that for those that love God, He works all things together into good, for those called according to His purpose”. That sounds a lot like “Holy Luck”. We are all recipients of that! But as we read the story of Simon of Cyrene we will likely conclude that what appeared as his “bad luck” was actually “blessed luck!”

  Simon’s story is in all three Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. So it is important. Why is this “nobody” so duly noted? Mark tells us that he was the father of “Rufus and Alexander”. (Mark was written to Rome, and it is assumed that the Roman Church knew these two young men). Paul, in his letter to the Romans, in 16:13, mentions Rufus, as “a chosen vessel of the Lord, and his mother, as a mother to Paul as well”! There is an osurary, (a container of bones), found in Jerusalem with the name of Alexander, the son of Simon of Cyrene. Tradition tells us that somewhere along the Via Dolorosa, or at the foot of the cross, or at Pentecost, that Simon of Cyrene became a believer in Jesus Christ. Tradition tells us that he died as an early Christian martyr, and that his two sons Rufus and Alexander, and his wife were dynamic first century Christians in Jerusalem, and perhaps later in Rome. None of this would have become a reality had Simon not encountered his stroke of “Holy Luck”…his “bad luck” being transformed by God into “Blessed Luck”.

I love how the poet Khalil Gibron describes this transformation of Simon with his pen…”I was on my way to the fields when I saw Him carrying His cross; and multitudes were following Him. Then I too walked beside Him. His burden stopped Him many a time, for His body was exhausted. Then a Roman Soldier approached me, saying ‘Come you are strong and of firm build; carry the cross of this man.’ “He goes on to write, “I was filled with wonder. Now, the cross I carried has become MY Cross. Should they say to me again, ‘Carry the cross of this man’. I would carry it till my road ended at the grave…this happened many years ago; and still whenever I follow the furrow in the field, and in that drowsy moment before sleep, I think always of that Beloved Man.” God gives all of us similar “Holy Luck” to carry the Cross of Christ too. As a matter of fact, the writer of the Book of Hebrews challenges us to Run our Race, by Carrying our Cross, focusing on the example our Lord has given us. That is our message today.

 Posted by at 4:41 pm