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Margins of Miraculous

MARGINS OF MIRACULOUS – Last Supper  by: Shawn Blythe
 
Most of us live on the margins of the miraculous. Although undeniably possible, certainly a matter of Biblical record and, of course, dependent on how one defines miraculous – few of us personally experience the miraculous on a regular basis. We are, more likely than not, observers or witnesses to the miraculous, rather than direct participants.
 
When Jesus healed the man who was blind from birth (John 9), that individual was unlikely to be the only blind person in Jerusalem. It is likely that others heard about this miracle but never experienced first-hand the healing that Jesus bestowed upon that particular man on that day.  Many people waited to be healed at the pool at Bethesda (John 5), but we have record of Jesus healing just one man that day—an invalid of 38 years. The others were witnesses to, rather than recipients of Christ’s healing power.  On the night when Jesus and his disciples celebrated their last Passover meal together, one of the most momentous events in all of history was going to happen but, apart from Jesus, no one—not even those directly involved—had a clear understanding of the implications.
 
First, there was a man carrying water. There is no indication that this man had any understanding of the role he would play in leading the disciples to a specific house. He was unlikely to have been a successful man, as carrying water was often a woman’s role at that time. (For example, in Joshua 9, Joshua punished the Gibeonites by forcing them to chop wood and carry water, so it is unlikely to have been a glamorous or respected task.) There is no reason to believe that this man realized he was being followed—or that he would have cared, even if he did know. He was likely a servant of some sort, simply going about his daily business and unaware of the historical events unfolding around him.
 
Next, there was the owner of the house. Although there are many Jewish traditions about who this man may have been, the Scriptures shed no light on his identify. It is unclear what his expectations may have been, as he prepared the room that day for guests yet unknown. The owner was likely a reasonably wealthy man, since he had available a large, furnished guest room. I often wonder if anyone else inquired about the availability of the room—perhaps even offered money for use of the premises—before Jesus’ disciples came calling. I think about the owner’s family: did they question what the room was being saved for, or have an opinion about how the room should be used that night? The owner may or may not have known who the disciples meant when they referred to “the Teacher” but, given events in Jerusalem during the previous week, he may at least have wondered if this group was related to the rumors about a Messiah.
 
Finally, no review of that evening’s events could be complete without mentioning the Sanhedrin, local leaders with rights granted by the Romans to make certain governance decisions in Jerusalem. Although a subject of much debate, it is at least plausible that the Sanhedrin of this time was a mixture of Pharisees and Sadducees. Pharisees were largely religious scribes and, in theory, followers of the rabbinical traditions and their application to everyday life. Sadducees, on the other hand, represented the Jewish aristocracy. They had generally aligned themselves with Rome and possessed significant societal power and wealth. The designated leader of the Sanhedrin was the High Priest, a position typically filled by a Sadducee.
 
The Sanhedrin had a vested interest in maintaining the peace, neither doing anything that would cause the Romans to replace them with some other governing body, nor allowing a situation that the Romans would consider rebellion, which would lead to direct intervention by force. In fairness to the Sanhedrin, this was not the first time they had been faced with potential unrest, as Acts 5 clearly indicates that they had earlier grappled with this issue with both Theudas and Joseph the Galilean. As a group, they had a lot to lose if they allowed this situation to get out of control.
 
As a result, the Sanhedrin was less interested in the veracity of Jesus’ claims than in ensuring that Jesus’ popularity did not rise to a level that threatened their position or, to put it more charitably, the relative independence of their country. In John 11, Caiaphas (the High Priest) famously chastised the Sanhedrin with the equivalent of “You know nothing! It’s better for this man to die than for us to allow him to jeopardize our position and country.” As individuals, Jesus may have given pause to the members of the Sanhedrin regarding exactly who He was (for example, Nicodemus the Pharisee, in John 3 and 7) but, as a group, that evening their interests were largely political and/or national, rather than spiritual.
 
And so, we see a mixture of people going about their daily lives. Some, like the man carrying water, were simply doing their jobs and possibly more concerned with sore feet or an aching back, and perhaps calculating how many additional trips to the well before the day was over. Others may have been more aware of the somewhat mysterious nature of unfolding events but focused on various administrative duties, such as the owner of the house, who readied his guest room. Still others, like the Sanhedrin who had significant “skin in the game,” were more concerned with mitigating the potential risks associated with this latest “Messiah” than with considering spiritual salvation.
 
Life is a continuum of events and, despite the line we Christians have drawn between the sorrow of Friday evening and the joy of Sunday morning, life in Jerusalem carried on.  The water carrier likely continued his daily work, not knowing or caring about the events of the weekend which, at that point, probably had no personal impact on him. The homeowner may have been somewhat concerned if he put two and two together, connecting the group who used his upper room with the events in the Garden of Gethsemane and the subsequent trial and execution. After all, the last thing a businessperson needs is to be associated with a treasonous criminal convicted of capital crimes.  The Sanhedrin had their own problems: there was an unfortunate scene at the execution (including an earthquake, darkness, and some apparent issues with the temple curtain), along with reports of trouble at the gravesite that included the fact that the body was missing. Ahh, politics.
 
They all lived on the margins of the miraculous. With the possible exception of Nicodemus, none of them appear to have been personally impacted by the events of that weekend. They were just like us, with jobs, money concerns, status concerns, and egos. If successful, they had gripes with those who threatened the status quo; if unsuccessful, they had gripes with those who failed to resolve their grievances.
In Jerusalem that weekend, a person was much more likely to be on the margins of events than directly involved. It is no different for us today. We need to get comfortable operating in the margins, ever aware and always ready for our Savior to call upon us, always prepared for the God of all creation to call our name. But in the meantime, we must remain actively engaged as witnesses to the extraordinary interventions of our Father. No matter the circumstances, understand that the miracle is always for the glory of God, and the glory of God must be recognized.
 
Whether direct recipients or observing from the margins, we are witnesses. And witnesses have an obligation to tell their story.
 

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LOVE, THE OPPOSITE OF SELFISHNESS

LOVE, THE OPPOSITE OF SELFISHNESS    by: Pastor Raphael Giglio

As the Valentine’s Day flowers begin to fade, the cards and love notes sink underneath stacks of bills and junk mail, and the mushy “love posts” on our social media feeds get swallowed back up by the usual political rants and selfie madness, we have to ask ourselves “what do we really believe about Love?”
 
Love is probably one of the most overused and misunderstood words in the English language. It’s a beautiful word, with many common applications, but the essence of true love is often lost due to the word’s familiarity. We can use the word “love” to describe our feelings about anything we like. We can say we love chocolate cake in one breath and tell our children we love them in the next.
 
When we try to define love, we usually come across the usual descriptions; · an intense feeling of deep affection. · a great interest and pleasure in something. · sentiment of deep romantic or sexual attachment These are good functional definitions and can apply to most situations, but what about true love? What could describe the sense of deep devotional love and selfless commitment that you have for someone you would do anything for, even sacrifice your own interests, possessions or life for without hesitation. The unwavering willingness to lay your life down for a child, parent, spouse or even friend is more than what could be described simply as; an intense feeling, great interest, or some kind of sentiment. It is best described as true love, real love, divine love or what the Bible calls agape (sacrificial love).
 
The Bible is not short on defining and declaring the true meaning of love, so it’s worth looking at what it has to say, considering that the one who inspired every word in the Bible (God) is himself the embodiment of Love. (1 John 4:8 “God is love.”). Paul describes agape love in his famous “Love Chapter” using a list of what love “is” and what love “is not”.
 
In 1st Corinthians 13 he writes: • Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. • It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. • Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. • It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
 
This is a beautiful description of selfless, others-oriented love, but seems so different than the me-centered love we often encounter in our world. So often the message we get in media, songs, and even some of the most romantic love notes is; “I love you because of how YOU make ME feel”. This message, as well-intended as it might be, is actually the opposite of the love Jesus taught about.
 
In John 15 Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” This is the love He loves us with, and tells us to love others with as well. To do this we need to be God-inspired and others-oriented, not selfish or self-seeking. That’s why when I’m asked to define love, I often respond with a definition of what it “is not”, to allow the truth about what it “is” to be easily understood. Love, (in its truest form), is “the opposite of selfishness”.
 

Time and Purpose – Pastor Raphael

The passing of time is one of the most mysterious sensations we experience. Have you ever said or felt: “I can’t believe so many years have passed since … ” or “It seems like only yesterday when … ?”

It should feel ordinary and natural that time passes as it does because we’ve been on the same time clock our whole lives. Certain events and experiences, however, surprise us when significant amounts of time have passed.

As I write the date “2018,” just the appearance of the numbers looks daunting. Then when we consider that next year’s New Year’s Eve celebration will be welcoming in the third decade of the century, “The ’20s,” it’s crazy!

Watching the Winter Olympics with our 10-year-old twins is one of the reminders of how quickly time passes. They are now intelligent young people who have been waiting for the games to begin and are intrigued by every event.

Last time, however, it was all new to them, and we had to explain it in language they could understand. The time before that they were babies, and the next time they’ll be teenagers.

These types of markers are reminders that we are temporal, and the passing of time is constant and inevitable. So why is that so hard to fathom and accept? 
 

Here’s why: “We were made for eternity.” Not our bodies, of course, but our “hearts,” the spiritual essence of who we are. Solomon the Wise tells us in Ecclesiastes 3:11: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart.” 

Since God set eternity in our hearts, things that are temporal seem unusual or peculiar and sometimes hard with which to get comfortable. Ultimately, God desires for us to spend eternity with Him, but here in this life, we live under the “Tyranny of Chronology.”

The good news is that this is not a mistake. God has intentionally given us a limited amount of time to achieve a designated number of purposes. How do we know this? We look again to Solomon: “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

“A time for every purpose” means that each of the dots in the timeline of our lives has a specific purpose to be fulfilled. It makes it exciting to live out our days knowing that for each moment we live, God has plans for us to fulfill and purposes for us to achieve.

So, although I am still a bit uncomfortable with the rapid passing of time from year to year and decade to decade, I am also excited to discover God’s purposes for those times as each day begins.

My hope is to fulfill each one of them the best I can and to enjoy every passing moment along the way.


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“Make America Grateful Again” – Pastor Raphael

“MAKE AMERICA GRATEFUL AGAIN” – by: Pastor Raphael Giglio
 
Thanksgiving is a great holiday for people of faith, because scripture speaks so much about being grateful forall that God has done for us. It is mentioned over 100 times in the Old Testament and over 70 times in the New Testament.

With all this emphasis on “Thanks,” we should be the most thankful people in the world.

From 1st Thessalonians 5:18: “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Even beyond Thanksgiving, our celebration of gratitude should last all year long. When we consider God’s love for us, His protection and provision in the big and small things in life, our best response is to say “Thanks.”

As we give thanks, we are expressing a heart of gratitude to God and to those to whom we are grateful. Gratitude is contagious. It’s hard not to be grateful when youare around someone who always is.

The word gratitude has its origin in the words “gratus” and “grace.” This is why “thank you” in other languages sounds so similar: Latin: “gratias,” Italian: “grazie,” Spanish: “gracias.”

“Thanks” and “grace” go hand-in-hand. This is why we often refer to the “giving of thanks” before a meal as “saying grace.” Many families give thanks, or say “grace,” before every meal, some only on holidays like Thanksgiving. Others don’t say it at all.

I grew up in a Catholic family that said grace before dinner every evening. We were a large family of six sons and six daughters. My mother would sit on one end of the long table, my father on the other. We were lined up on benches according to age — boys on one side, girls on the other, oldest to youngest. No one could touch the food or eat a morsel until my father said “grace,” which was always the same:

“Bless us, Oh Lord, and these thy gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ, Our Lord. Amen.”

After the “amen,” it was a free-for-all of food, plates, silverware and serving-dishes being passed around in a wonderful frenzy that lasted until the final portion was eaten and every casserole dish was empty. It was crazy and chaotic, but we were all grateful.

Today, I carry on this tradition with my small family, but we offer a more casual, less-scripted thanks, and there is not nearly as much food consumed.

I have found that it’s not the “saying of grace” that’s important, but having thankful hearts. Having “thankful hearts” means that we remain in a posture of receiving and recognizing God’s grace. When we recognize the nature of grace, it’s very easy to be grateful.

Jesus gave thanks

Jesus was always giving thanks. Both times that he fed the multitudes with fish and bread, he began by “giving thanks.” On the road to Emmaus after the resurrection, he initially fooled the apostles he was walking with into thinking he was someone else, but he was recognized by them by the way he “gave thanks.” During the Last Supper, which was essentially a Passover Seder meal, He broke bread and served wine. Before breaking the bread, and passing the cup however, He gave thanks. (Baruch a Ta Adonai … .)

Jesus also appreciates being thanked. There is a story in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 17, where Jesus healed 10 lepers. Of all those who were healed, only one returned to say thanks. In Luke 17:17 “Jesus asked, “Were not all 10 cleansed? Where are the other nine?” He was told that only one of those who were healed returned to him to give thanks. This is the one whom He blessed.

Sometime it’s difficult to be grateful when circumstances are hard and things did not go our way. There are times when we face tragedies and grief and it seems impossible to utter anything that even remotely sounds grateful.

These are the times when we need to receive “grace.” Grace is God’s free gift to us of His love, compassion, mercy and understanding. When we understand the depth of His grace toward us, in spite of circumstances, it’s easy to be grateful.

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Advice from the Bible: “Have Fun!” – Pastor Raphael

   I RECOMMEND HAVING FUN – by: Pastor Raphael Giglio
 
 “I recommend having fun!” That doesn’t sound like a typical Bible verse does it? We all know summer slips by way too fast, whether you are a kid enjoying the long-awaited summer break from school, or an adult who has been waiting all year for those “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.”

If you like summer the way I do, you want to bottle it up and save it for a time when you either have some days off to enjoy it, or better yet, save it to pour out on one of those bitter cold, dark, miserable days of winter. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could have a bottle of summer to dispense at any time you wished?

Unfortunately you can’t. You must enjoy it while you can and make the most of each sun-filled day while they’re here.

Life is like that, too, isn’t it? Some moments are so precious and enjoyable, that we wish we could capture them and revisit them any time we want. We scroll through old photographs and videos of happy days and meaningful moments and wish we could transport back to them somehow. But real-life isn’t still-life. Much like summer, it passes quickly and we have no choice but to enjoy the moments, in the moments.

So what does the Bible say about this? The Bible seems to have all the answers we need about so many other subjects and issues we face.

Solomon, the wisest king of all, wrote a peculiar and unusual book called Ecclesiastes that in many ways seems more straightforward in its approach to common human emotion than any other book of the Bible. In it, he spends time analyzing common daily life and offering practical wisdom on a variety of subjects including; life, death, youth, work, eating, drinking and even the passing of time. His observations of life always revealed a deep understanding of God that has inspired readers with their own relationships with God for 3000 years.

So what would Solomon say to people like us, who want to find a way to get the most out of each waning day of summer and for that matter, each rapidly-passing year of life?

In Ecclesiastes 8:15 he says: “So I recommend having fun, because there is nothing better for people in this world than to eat, drink, and enjoy life. That way they will experience some happiness along with all the hard work God gives them under the sun.” (Ecc. 8:15 NLT)

God is concerned with everything that concerns us. He is with us in our troubles and our triumphs and even though He is eternal, He understands mortality. That’s why He offers the reward of eternal life for those who believe, but He still wants us to enjoy each day of the lives He gave us. They won’t always be happy days, they may not always be good days. But His love for us never ceases, and His mercy is endless. Psalms tells us; “He shows us the path for our lives and in His presence is fullness of joy” (Ps. 16:11).

So it’s a very simple plan: Find His path for your life, spend time in His presence, and you’ll experience His joy. It’s the best way I know to have a great summer — and for that matter, a great life. So, how should we spend our summer? “I recommend having fun!”


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Worry – Pastor Raphael

   WORRY – by: Pastor Raphael Giglio

  Someone told me one time that “worry is basically just a mild form of atheism.” You don’t really believe in God enough to trust that He will come through for you, or you’re not convinced that He has everything under control. You tend to think that your situation without your own intervention and manipulation will result in awful results for you. I worry a lot. I am told it comes from being Jewish, that somehow Jewish mothers impart “worry instincts” into all their children to help them cope with life to come. I am not sure about that but I actually think that worry is more like “reverse meditation.”

Think about it, when you worry about something you obsess over it. You think about it all the time until you wear yourself out with all of your attention on this one meditative thought. You try to think of other things but the object of your worry keeps coming back to you like an unwelcome memory or a melody you can’t get out of your mind no matter how hard you try.

I remember the day I got married. We made plans to have a beautiful wedding at the Jersey Shore with all our family and wedding party in a circle on the beach under a chuppa. I had prayed for months and months to have not only a sunny day but a sunny forecast on the weather channel a few days before to ease my mind.

Well as fate (God) would have it, the weekend drew nearer and the weather report became worse and worse. When they showed the weather map of our area, there was a big green blob of rain heading east all week and looked to have an E.T.A. exactly on Sunday afternoon, about the time we were to be married. I did what every Christian-Jewish-Pastor-to-be-wed would do, I prayed and I worried. I worried about the out-of-town travelers, I worried about the rehearsal dinner, I worried about the cake getting wet, the flowers getting ruined, the pictures turning out ugly, and about having a bad hair day.

The more I prayed, the more I worried, then I did less praying and more worrying until the morning of the wedding rolled around and I flipped on the weather channel and saw it…my worst fear…the big green glob of weather on the weather map was located directly over the area of the Jersey Shore where we were going to have our wedding in just a few hours. It looked more ominous than ever with patches of dark green mixed with light green and just a few breaks and holes in its ugly monstrous form. My worry became exponentially intensified over the next few minutes and my disgust and disappointment were too much to contain. I let out all my frustration, anxiety and discouragement in a short but pungent blast of emotion.

After regaining my composure I resigned to the fact that life is not perfect and prayers are not always answered the way you hope they will be. I muddled through the next few moments feeling sorry for myself but trying not to let it ruin the wedding. I grabbed my tuxedo, went to the beach, organized the seating and the preparations in the rainy drizzle and did my best to be hopeful yet unaffected. I remember sitting with Michael W. going over the order of the songs when he looked out the window and said “Bro, do you see that?”

I looked outside and saw two things, one was that the day had now become partly cloudy and there were splashes of sunlight flashing upon the sand and the waves. The other was even more breathtaking, a huge rainbow stretched over the beach where the chairs and chuppa were set waiting for the ceremony to begin. The sky dramatically became sunny and blue and the rainbow remained high in the sky as a vivid banner of love painted by the hand of God for our event, for our wedding, our marriage, for us.

This was the kind of rainbow that had to be planned and prepared. It needed a long day of sustaining moisture (rain) falling from the sky, saturating the earth. Then it needed the right temperature, sunlight, wind, and humidity to form to perfection. All the time that I was worrying, God was working. As I was praying my “non-rainbow producing weather report prayers,” God had something so much more amazing, and glorious in mind. My words of worry did not change His plan of providence and I was glad (although I did have a bad hair day.)

Jesus said: “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food and the body more important than clothes?…Who by worrying can add a single hour (or day) to his life?” (Matthew 6:25,27)

I believe that the opposite of “worry” is “trust”, and trust is the building block of our entire faith and relationship with God. The Greek word “pistis” is the same word used for both Trust and Faith. So then it could be said that worry is also the opposite of faith.

Trust in God, have faith in Him. He will not let you down, if you can trust that His ways are higher than ours and His plans are wiser than ours are.

Worry
by Raphael Giglio

Last night I couldn’t sleep,
I laid awake and tried to keep
from worrying about the days and weeks ahead.
And as I tossed and turned all night,
I closed my eyes and tried to fight
The desperate nervous feeling in my head.
But Your hand is strong, Your words are true,
And I just gotta trust them
That’s all I’ve gotta do…

CHORUS
When anxious worry finds me
Your precious word reminds me
Worrying won’t add a single day
At times I’m unfulfilled and
Forced to live by faith but still I
wouldn’t have it any other way.
‘Cause Your hand is strong, Your words are true
And I believe in You.

When I face anxiety and doubtful spirits lie to me
They say I can’t believe what I can’t see.
I put away the fear and doubt and quit trying to figure out
The questions of my self-sufficiency
‘Cause Your hand is strong, Your words are true
And I just gotta trust them,
That’s all I’ve gotta do

[CHORUS]

Because I know that there’s a plan that you have for me,
And it’s only plans for good and not reality
And it gives to me a future and a hope…


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