And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of The Lord appeared to them, and the glory of The Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, The Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Perhaps others are more geographically versed than I . . . my last course in geography was in the 7th grade. Without confessing the year, suffice it to say, that was a LONG time ago! The world has changed since then. Some countries don’t exist any more; new countries have established their independence. The geo-political landscape of the 21st century is quite different than it was when I was in grade school!
I have gotten in the habit recently of playing a game on my cell phone which tests your world geography competence. Sometimes I practice memorizing U.S. states and capitals (yes, I have forgotten more than a few state capitals!). Other times I focus on my familiarity of South American countries. (Test your geography knowledge: Here’s a fun online geography quiz!) During my recent trip to Russia, I was struck by my significant lack of awareness of the post-Soviet states – most of which came to being in the early 1990s. I thought it would be fun to take a minute to review!
When I was initially asked about the post-Soviet states – three immediately came to mind – Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. I was proud that I knew them by name! I couldn’t name their capitals, but I am fairly confident I could find them on a map. Imagine my dismay when I learned that there are not 3 but 15 states that were established after the fall of the former Soviet Union!
The Baltic independence movements gained their first official success in 1990 when Lithuania established its independence. Several others followed suit in 1991 and later in what became known as a “parade of independence.” All of these regions were a part of the former USSR. I have committed to memorizing these states and to learning more about them in the months ahead! Hope you will join me on the journey.
* Note: These are not necessarily in any particular order
Central Asian States
* An easy way to remember theses: 3 Ts, 2 Ks, and 1 U
* This is where the term Caucasian comes from!
I am blogging today over at World Vision’s Women of Vision blog as part of their Lenten devotional series!
I began my journey with World Vision just over a year ago when I was hired to work with our supporters to educate and encourage around our work in the Holy Land. Little did I know, that in one of the world’s most conflict ridden places, I would find an unexpected beauty in the welcome and hospitality of our staff, supporters, and children!
One of my first work responsibilities was to host a small group from our Orange County Women of Vision chapter – traveling with one of the champions of the faith, Angela Mason, former Chapter Advisor for Women of Vision. I had known Angela from my previous work in the local church in California. I admired her vitality, passion, and zest for responding to the needs of the world’s poor. For years, her work had captured my attention and my heart for children from Romania, to Lesotho, and all over the world. The idea of traveling with her to the Holy Land was thrilling! I consider it a great privilege that she asked me to lead the trip.
In past years, I have sometimes looked to the remembrance of “Good” Friday with a spirit of dread… The darkness of the day. The magnitude of what we commemorate. Christ – the perfect unblemished human and Son of God, diety incarnate – willingness gave Himself, even unto death on a cross for the forgiveness of sins for those who believe.
“And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open.” (Matthew 27:50-51)
The power and significiance of Christ’s death on the cross provides the opportunity for us to take pause. Although the story may be familiar, it is no less powerful year by year as we commemorate the most precious gift of Christ’s sacrifice.
May the reality of the Lord’s gift enter into our hearts this day. In Christ.
All over the world this evening, churches throughout the east and the west will host services to celebrate Maundy Thursday. This Thursday of Holy Week reminds believers of the Last Supper Jesus had with the disciples… and more specifically His teaching them about the power of what it means to be a servant.
Jesus knew what was to come. He had loved the disciples and the world while He lived amongst them and John 13:1 tells us he “loved them to the end.” Christ’s ultimate act of love would follow a few short days after the meal, but His lessons for those who followed Him were not yet complete.
Judas Iscariot had already made the decision to betray Jesus. And Christ knew what was to come. The Scriptures remind us that Jesus knew “all things were in his power” and that He had come from God and was returning to God (John 13:3).
My favorite part of this passage recounts the interaction between Jesus and Peter… As the meal progressed, Jesus got up, removed his outer clothing, and placed a towel around Him. The following conversation ensued between Peter and Jesus (John 13:6-10):
He [Jesus] came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean,though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
What an incredibly powerful picture. Bold, proud, stubborn, determined Peter. “No, Lord… you shall never wash my feet.” I can see his defiance and resistance. Of course Peter would never allow Christ the Savior to humble Himself to such a degree…
Jesus’ actions of washing the disciples feet was an ultimate act of humility and servanthood. He wanted the disciples to follow His example and to be servants to the world, just as He served them in the simple act of washing their feet.
Christ gently responds to Peter’s reticence… “unless you allow me… you will have no part with me…” Peter – chastised and perhaps ashamed – unabashedly responds – I can see him wholeheartedly and with great exuberance replying “then not only my feet but wash every part of me” – the indication of these words imply Peter’s deeply passionate commitment to Jesus. The thought of not being “with him” was too much to bear – Peter’s desire was to be completely intimate and close to Christ. The symbol of desiring his whole body to be washed represents Peter’s intentionality in being fully devoted to Jesus.
The cleanliness Jesus discussed was more than that of dirt simply being removed from the feet of his disciples. Rather, Christ spoke of cleanliness synonymous with purity of spirit. He spoke of “not every one” being clean because He knew already that Judas would betray Him.
As with Peter, Jesus invites us to experience the forgiveness of having our whole bodies cleansed. His act of service – first exemplified in the washing of feet and later profoundly expressed in His death on the cross – is an invitation for all who follow Him to be purified and washed completely clean.
May Christ reveal Himself to us as we reflect upon His actions of service this Maundy Thursday.
Eastern Orthodox Christians all over the world celebrate today as “Holy and Great Wednesday.” One of the key aspects of their worship today remembers the sinful woman who anointed Jesus with her tears.
Traditionally, the Hymn of Kassiani is sung which commemorates this event and tells the story from the woman’s perspective. The hymn was written in the 19th century by St. Kassia who is now acknowledged as one of the saints of Russia.
When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them… [Jesus interacted with Simon the owner of the house]… Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head,but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Blessings to you this Great and Holy Wednesday.
Wednesday was my first day in Moscow. I have heard it said that the first thing one must see upon entering the city is a visit to the Red Square (Plaza Roja). One of the most magnificent of sights to see is the Cathedral of the Intercession – or more commonly known as the “Cathedral of St. Basil.” The cathedral was originally built by Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century to commemorate a victory at battle. In 1588, St. Basil (or Vasily) was buried in the north-east corner of the church. A chapel was built in his honor, and over time, the church has become known as St. Basil’s.
Basil (the blessed) was a Russian saint who was known as a “fool for Christ.” It is believed he was actually born in a church to local peasants near Moscow. His reputation of crazy behavior caught the attention of many. It is said he was a frequent shoplifter – who would steal from local merchants in order to give to the poor. As we think about what it means to be passionate about Jesus, I am not particularly condoning this behavior. Basil would often run around naked bearing chains to remind others of the weight of our sinfulness. Just for the record, I don’t condone that behavior either!
The Orthodox Church in America writes that Basil challenged people in their giving: “The saint harshly condemned those who gave alms for selfish reasons, not out of compassion for the poor and destitute, but hoping for an easy way to attract God’s blessings upon their affairs.”
His prayers were attributed to him as holiness and he was glorified on August 2, 1588. May we all be willing to act unfettered in our worship and expressions of faithfulness as “fools for Christ” as we seek to follow Jesus!