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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Thomas's Bad Rap

John 20
I’m nearing the end of the study on the Gospel of John I’ve been doing and then sharing with the girls in the mornings. This morning we got to the story of “Doubting Thomas,” as he is commonly known.
A few weeks ago, I was talking with a friend and then my pastor about this label, and thinking it was perhaps a bit of a harsh judgment on Thomas, that for two millennia he is remembered as “the Doubter,” when the others knew him as “the Twin.” It seems to me that Thomas has gotten a bad rap, because even though he did have doubt, he also responded completely appropriately when he saw the risen Lord, even acknowledging him to be “My Lord and my God!” There’s no doubt in that statement! We even applied to him the principle that “one who is forgiven much, loves much.” And I like that. But I still think there’s more to this story.
So this morning, I was asking myself why it was that Thomas had doubt in the first place. And this little line jumped out at me: “Peace be with you.”
The reason this jumped out at me wasn’t exactly something to be proud of. In fact, the first time I read it, I rather glossed over it. Yeah, yeah, peace be with you…sounds like a common greeting. But I don’t think this was intended as a common greeting from Christ to the disciples at all. I think it was meant to be a transfer of power.
When Jesus says something once, we should pay attention. This is the very first thing he is recorded as saying when he appears in the locked room with the disciples, who were gathered there “for fear of the Jews.”
Earlier this day, they had discovered the empty tomb. Here they are, gathered together in something of a tomb of their own—locked up in the dark (it says it was evening), too afraid of their murderous enemies to go out. And the resurrected Jesus appears and offers them peace.
Now, here’s the thing. They see him, physically raised. The text says that the ones who are there get to see his hands and side. And they were “glad.” Some translations say they “rejoiced.” But it doesn’t say they were filled with peace or relieved of their fear. They saw, and yet somehow even this truth didn’t fully penetrate. So Jesus says it again, “Peace be with you.”
Now when Jesus says something twice, we know it’s important and we should sit up and take note. It should have an effect. He goes on to give them directions: “I am sending you…Receive the Holy Spirit…forgive sins.” He has given them peace, proof, purpose, and power.
And yet, a WEEK later, they are still entombed behind locked doors. This time Thomas is with them. This Thomas, who is remembered as the one who didn’t believe the testimony of the other disciples when they told him they had seen the risen Lord.
And we say, “Oh, Doubting Thomas. He didn’t believe what he heard.”
Well, now I say, “Can we really blame him?” His friends had seen the Lord appear, seen the marks in his body. They knew death had no power over him. They heard him speak the command to have peace and get up and get to work. And yet, nothing changed.
Maybe Thomas doesn’t believe, not because he doubts God’s ability to be raised, but because he knows how he would react to seeing the Lord, and he doesn’t see that reaction from the others. They are still dead in their fears.
I think we often read his words, hearing the emphasis on the seeing or on marks of the crucifixion and that might be the wrong emphasis. “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
Maybe the emphasis should be on the word “I” instead. “Unless I see…” Maybe this is because they claimed to have seen, and yet received nothing from it. It doesn’t sound like valid testimony to Thomas because it brought no practical reaction, no active or obedient response, no peace. They are still gripped by their fear of the Jews, as if there was no God in Israel.
But the Lord gives Thomas his chance. He appears again in the same way, and greets them with the same words, now stated for the third time. (Are we listening yet?) “Peace be with you.” And again he offers a view of the physical proof of the cross and his resurrection, and Thomas responds in a way that is much greater and more complete than anything recorded from the disciples at the earlier meeting. Not just gladness, but awe and worship and the fullness of the Christian’s testimony: “My Lord (ruler and director of my life) and my God (omnipotent Creator)!” There’s peace and power in that statement. Thomas simultaneously submitted his will to Christ and acknowledged the power of God to overcome any fear of men in just five small, awe-inspired words. Words pouring out of belief.
In the next scene, we see that the disciples have returned to work. They are no longer hiding in the darkness of a locked room. They are out fishing, and Thomas is mentioned by name as being there.
I think Thomas deserves some credit. Perhaps it was the full belief of the one who saw and did believe, which helped empower those who saw and still could not yet go where he sent them.
I don’t think I’d mind being remembered as a Thomas.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Few Images from the 2010 Mountain State Fair

Miriam and Jill take on the motorcycles.

Jane and Mary, finally tall enough to ride the MoonRocket--a roller coaster that goes completely upside down.

Yes, my child is up there.

Looks like a good time was had by all. What a thrill!

Emma and Elizabeth getting in some practice for their learner's permits.

A Tribute to Childhood Friendship

From the time they were old enough to talk, “Jay-ub” and “Meee-umm” were the best of buddies. More than once we heard that the two had to be separated in the nursery for fighting. They grieved the separation far more than the wounds inflicted.

“Miriam, will you play nice at nursery today?” we would ask each week.

“Oh, yes!” was her happy reply.

“Miriam, are you going to hit Jacob?”

“Oh, YES!”

And so it went. A rough-and-tumble fellowship of diaper-clad tots, each able to take it on the chin and come up smiling.

Then came the dreadful announcement about two years ago that Jacob’s family would be moving away. How much can a three-year-old really understand about the depths of friendship and the loss of it?

I daresay the answer is that the understanding runs deeper than we give them credit for.

I will never forget the going-away gathering our church held for the Caines family that summer. While the adults and older kids were providing the audience for a series of amateur performances—skits, poetry readings, sing-alongs—to honor and “roast” the family, little Jacob got up, walked across in front of the entire group, and held out his pudgy little hand to Miriam. No words were said, but she just extended her own tiny hand to take his, and the two left the room together. Both smiling sweetly at each other, he led her down the hall and into the nursery playroom. We all watched them go, and I found myself thinking, “I wonder if he’ll come back for her again just that way in another 15-20 years.”

This weekend, we were blessed with a too-short visit while Sarah and the kids were traveling through.

Miriam, now five, got dressed three times in anticipation of seeing her friend again. First, she chose a casual but nice outfit. That lasted about a half hour. She then decided that she wanted to “look pretty for Jacob,” and so she changed into a lovely dress and had me braid her hair. For the next hour, that was satisfactory, but Miriam will be Miriam. Just before time to leave to meet them, she rushed to her room once more and came out in old jean shorts and a shirt reserved for crafts and gardening, unmatched socks, and her old sneakers. With her chin held high, she announced, “I changed my mind. I want to play HARD!”

That’s my girl. Don’t miss out on life by trying to impress with beauty that is passing. Remember to “play HARD!”

It was so good to see our friends again, and to see “Jay-ub” and “Meee-ummm” still friends, though maybe not quite as focused on each other as they were at one time. I know the day is coming when he’ll likely find girls icky and want to surround himself only with other little boys. My mother’s heart hurts a little thinking ahead to that, but I would venture that with a little more time passing, he’ll likely get over that and come to his senses again.

They say that true friends can always pick right back up where they left off, no matter how much time passes between them. I know that to be the case in my own experience. And a part of me is really hoping it will be that way for them, too.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


We were looking last night at Luke’s gospel, as Christ is on the cross. My Captain pointed out that in the words recorded here, when Christ speaks, he shows his utter confidence in eternity. There is no doubt as he is there, dying. He tells the thief next to him with certainty, “This day you will be with me in Paradise.” And just a few sentences later, at the very point of death, with confidence he commits his spirit into the Father’s hands.

I noticed that sandwiched between those two proclamations of confidence was a description of the time when this occurred. “When the sun had failed,” it says.


I don’t know about you, but if there’s anything at all that I would say I put my confidence in, it’s that the sun is going to be there doing its job every single day, in summer and winter, in springtime and harvest. I get up, it’s there. I watch it slip away behind the trees out back, but I know it’s still there, doing its thing and we’ll come around to it again the next time. Even the moon gives evidence that the sun is still working.

Nothing in my experience yet has caused me to question the sun’s reliability. No amount of cloud cover, no eclipse. It’s the SUN for heaven’s sakes. You can depend on it!

But at the very time that God was actively fulfilling his promises to save his people, the sun failed. The very sun itself not only pales in comparison to the reliability of the promises of God. It actually fails. There is nothing in the universe that we can count on with more certainty than the reality of the future, in which God’s word is fulfilled. The sun may fail, but there will come a day when those who put their trust in the work Christ did on the cross will be with him in Paradise.

So for this moment, who am I not to commit into his hands with confidence the day in which the sun still shines?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Not Forsaken

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
From Matthew’s gospel, the words of Christ on the cross, near the end.
It rings of total despair and abandonment. It’s a question some have considered troublesome for the Christian faith. Can God forsake himself? If Jesus is God, then he’s all-knowing, right? So how can he ask this question of the Father?
It occurred to me tonight that maybe the question is asked by Christ for our benefit—so that we will arrive at the answer ourselves.
God gives us the example of human marriage in part so that we can understand his triune nature and his relationship to us, the believers he collectively refers to as the Bride of Christ, in personal terms.When a man and a woman get married, if they use traditional wedding vows, they will say of their union something like “forsaking all others.” The intention is that the relationship that is being established won’t be divided by another's interest in either of them. Unlike the Godhead in its perfect unity, human unions must strive for harmony of will and direction and for mutuality in love. But even so, the unity of the couple is sacred and the two are committing to protecting their oneness from division by other people. It’s a lifelong process for most thriving marriages. The symbolism is used to show how the people of God are related to Christ—as the bride to the bridegroom.
But we strive for a unity with a spouse on earth which will never fully reach the unity Christ already enjoys with the Father and the Spirit. He understands the complete oneness of communion.
My pastor has given an example of what happens to two people when they become divorced. He takes two pieces of paper and glues them together. After a time, he then tries to separate them again. He likens the separating of two who have been joined as one to this process of separating the glued pages. They don’t come apart cleanly. There is tearing, there is pain, there are open wounds. Neither is left intact.
When Christ on the cross took onto himself the sin of the world, he had to separate from the Father. He had to carry those sins and the punishment for them far away from us and from God. He took them into the ground for purification. But the separating from the Father was a rending of their total unity. Oh, how it must have hurt! To be ripped from the bosom of the Father, the place he had held from eternity.
And even as he cried out in the anguish of the moment, I think his cry was not so much a question he needed to have satisfied as a question he desired for us to fully understand.

Why, my God, did you forsake him?
And the answer, is “for you.”
God chose to forsake his own son. The son chose to be forsaken. Because of me. To include me in communion with them, God had to tear himself apart.
It is completely incomprehensible that something so perfect as the communion of the Trinity would be rent on my behalf.
Just who does God think I am?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

He Is There and He Is Listening

Today I got a message directly from God. Again.

It happens. Just often enough to keep me firmly in his grasp. Always just when I begin to fall away into the lie, believing that he doesn’t really want to hear from me, that I can’t possibly hope to “avail much” with him. Just when I begin to think that his unknowable will is operating on autopilot or something, he does it again. Just reaches down and reveals, as if he touches me on the forehead, as if to say, “Here. The little bauble you’ve been asking for. I’ve been waiting to give it to you.”

I’m always a little ashamed of my surprise. But never ashamed of my joy when I see that all the time I was praying, he was already working.

What a delight it is to be allowed to know that you prayed in his will, and therefore he is pleased to grant your request! My response is a more fervent prayer life, thanking him for including me in the inner circle. Bringing before him with new diligence many of you on whose behalf I’m already making petition regularly. It’s such a blessing to be allowed a place at the boardroom table, or so it seems. To see the outworking of a larger plan, orchestrated by the master, and be able to say, “Yes! Go with it! I’m with You!”

Leaves me a happy girl.