Symbol Man

Hebrew - Beth

No worries, I am not following in the footsteps of Prince and becoming symbol man or the blogger formerly known as The Pastor. But if I were to become a symbol man or something of the sort, I like this one. Not just for is aesthetic appeal but for what this symbol refers to. So I am keeping this symbol in front of me.

So why the symbol?

The symbol is called a bet, and it is the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

O.K., that makes sense but that still leaves more questions.

Hold on, there is more.

Psalm 119 is an acrostic poem. It is broken up into 22 sections of 8 verses (one section for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet). Each verse within a particular section begins with that corresponding Hebrew letter. The section titled, bet, (the above symbol) refers to verses 9-16 which reads as follows:

(9) How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.
(10) With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!
(11) I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
(12) Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes!
(13) With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth.
(14) In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches.
(15) I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways.
(16) I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.

These verses caught my attention yesterday as I was preparing devotions for our local radio station; particularly verse 9 about how to keep one’s way pure.

You see, (and you really don’t need me to tell you this), our world is filled with so many distractions. Satan is on the prowl, looking for someone to devour. Just yesterday I read about a pastor who got caught up in prostitution and was arrested. He said he had a moment of “great weakness”. I am not judging him but I can’t help but wonder if that weakness was due to taking his eyes off of God; by not guarding his way according to the Word of God.

I am not suggesting that I am tempted to engage in prostitution (and I am definitely not tempted) but there are other temptations that Satan uses to attempt to draw me away from God. We all face these attacks. Some battles we win and many we lose. And in those defeats I look to another symbol; one that points to God’s incredible love and grace:

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Forgiven, I live to continue to fight the fight of faith.

How?

By guarding it a according to the Word of God; by loving God’s Law; learning it; meditating on it; memorizing it; reading it. And keeping at it, for when you drift away from reading scripture you quickly forget, because we all have very short term memories when it comes to God’s Law and the Gospel.

Guarding one’s way can not be done through clever tricks or strength of mind or simple human will power. Guarding one’s way is only done through the strength of God through the Holy Spirit. The Word of God.

And so I am going to keep this symbol in front of me as a reminder to fight the fight of faith; guarding my way according to God’s Word. And you too, Christian, fight on, going in the strength of God, guarding your way according to His Word and clinging to God’s awesome grace in Jesus Christ.

Holy God, may I always keep Your Word in front of me; that I may not turn away and go astray. But when I do go astray, retrieve me as a shepherd hunting down a lost sheep and restore me to life. It’s in Jesus name I pray, Amen.

The Pastor (a.k.a. Symbol man)  -|—

Good Friday Prayer

As you contemplate the cross on this Good Friday, I offer this prayer for you:

Holy God; loving, compassionate and merciful,

we were not actually there when they crucified our Lord, but we were there, for it was our sin that Jesus died to take away. And when I think about this it indeed causes me to tremble and shudder and be ashamed that Your Son would suffer and die as he did so that we could live.

What an awesome show of love; Jesus laying down his life for us all.

And so I ask that if anyone here tonight does not claim Jesus as their Savior, that Your Spirit may speak to their spirit and convict them of their sin and show them the truth of Your mercy and grace. May they run to You and fall into Your loving arms.

For those who have placed their trust in Jesus may they feel drawn ever closer to You and strive to live a life worthy of the Gospel; bringing You praise and glory.

May the cross convict us and may the empty tomb on Easter bring forth joy from our hearts.

In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

The Pastor -|—

Where’s the cross?

A few weeks ago my wife and I were chatting with some friends about Holy Week.  We were sharing what our respective congregations were planning.  Here…we share Maundy Thursday and Good Friday worships with Belmont Lutheran Church (the small county congregation I serve).  We each take one of those services and then flip the following year.  This year we worship at Belmont on Maundy Thursday and at Salem for Good Friday.

As I was sharing this I was talking about this old rugged cross that a couple Salem guys made a few years back.  It stands about 6 feet tall and made from two nice-sized tree branches.  They did a very nice job and it’s perfect for Good Friday worship.  As soon as I mentioned this I froze.  You see…on Ash Wednesday we put a larger cross in Salem’s narthex (we decorate this cross with palm branches and lilies for Easter Sunday).  There is a crown of thorns on top and it is draped with a purple cloth.  It greets people as they enter the narthex to remind then of Lent and of Jesus’ suffering and death.

Well…the cross was not there in the narthex.  I forgot to put it out 😦

How could I possibly forget the cross?  My wife was quick to remind me that our custodian always put it out…but here’s the thing…that person is no longer our custodian due to a stroke he suffered last June.  I always took for granted that Dave would have the cross out and ready to go for Ash Wednesday and Lent.  But that doesn’t absolve me for forgetting that cross.

I mean…think about it.  Lent is a time for us to remember why Jesus suffered and died on the cross.  We are to remember our mortality and sin.  We are to remember that from dust we came and to dust we shall return.  We are to remember that without the cross we are condemned to hell.  The cross is the focus…and I forgot that narthex cross.  But here’s another thing…no one else noticed either (or at least they didn’t say anything to me).  I am not sure what bothers me more:  Me forgetting or no one saying anything about it.

So the solution was  to put it up for Palm Sunday (which we did); marking the beginning of Holy Week.  The purple cloth on that cross will be replaced on Maundy Thursday with a black one.  The cross will then be put outside for Good Friday to REMIND people of what Jesus did for us.  And…the cross will be “decorated” with palm branches and lilies to remind us of the joy that comes through the cross.

Now…when I walk through the narthex I feel a little more complete…with the reality of the cross staring at me.  I hope that when Easter is done that I won’t need a large cross in the narthex to remind me of what Jesus did FOR YOU and FOR ME.

May you have a blessed Holy Week and a very happy Easter!

Praise be to God!

-edh-

Holy Week stress and an answer to prayer

Holy Week has been a good one for me this year, but there was still some stress for me.  This is an account of one particular stress point and the faithfulness of our awesome God who came through for us.

We have a number of traditions here at Salem Lutheran Church as it pertains to Holy Week; traditions I look forward to.  Here are just a few of them (that relate to my particular stress point this week):

–We have a large rugged cross that stands in the narthex during lent that has a purple cloth draped on it topped with a crown of thorns.

–On Maundy Thursday we strip the altar and bring that rugged cross outside, to the base of the narthex ramp and drape a black cloth over the cross beams.
[A cool story about this from Good Friday.  Our custodian saw a van flying down the street next to the church on Friday.  When the van got to the church and saw the cross at the base of the ramp he slammed on his breaks and came to a screeching halt.  He looked at the cross for a couple moments and then proceeded on his way.  This cross, each year, attracts a lot of attention.]

–On Saturday we bring that rugged cross back inside to prepare it for Easter.  There are rings attached to the cross that hold Easter lilies.  We then staple the palms from Palm Sunday to the cross.  And let me tell you it is quite a sight…as pictured below…

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…well…here’s where the stress comes in…

…on Wednesday this week my wife and I noticed that the Palm branches from Sunday were dead.  They were dried up and crunchy even though they were still in water.  The problem was that we forgot to cut the ends to allow the branches to soak up the water.  Now what were we to do?  Wednesday was already a stressful day for me and this was the last thing I needed.  One of my deacons came in and cut the ends and put them in water.  We prayed that somehow God would resurrect those palms for Sunday.

On Thursday when I went out to Belmont for Maundy Thursday worship I noticed that Belmont had a bunch of palms that they were no longer needing.

[cue the ligh bulb that popped up over my head]

I asked the ladies of Belmont if Salem could have the palms and they said that would be no problem.  Now we have palms for the cross and our Easter tradition can continue.  An answer to prayer.  Praise be to God!

Now…as I write this, people are up in the sanctuary getting ready for Easter worship.  There are families in the Fellowship Hall preparing for the Easter breakfast.  And I am here finishing this post and soon will be finishing my Easter sermon.  I sit here feeling refreshed from great Maundy Thursday and Good Friday worships.  I sit here feeling hopeful that our amazing God is ever so faithful.  I sit here looking forward to our Easter worship services (as tiring as they will be for me, but I never seem to notice at the time).

God is faithful…not because He “resurrected” some palm branches for us, because…well…just look at the cross.

Have a very blessed Easter Sunday and God bless!

-edh-

The Old Rugged Cross

On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
the emblem of suff’ring and shame;
and I love that old cross where the dearest and best
for a world of lost sinners was slain.
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
and exchange it someday for a crown.
(Words/Music by George Bennard, 1873-1960)

This song is another memory I will cherish about Lyle (see previous posts to get caught up).  Lyle was a craftsman and loved working with wood.  He made many bird houses, benches, wooden tractors and small wooden crosses.  Lyle would deliver those crosses to the nursing home and the hospital.  One day Lyle came into my office with a box filled with these 5″ by 3 1/2″ crosses and said he would like to leave these in the narthex for people.  I said that would be great.  I made an announcement in worship and by the time I left to go home that Sunday morning all the crosses were gone.  Lyle made more for Belmont and they were quickly snatched up as well.

During the final days of Lyle’s life, he lay in his hospital bed clinging to one of his “old rugged crosses” and I remember thinking what a proclamation of faith.  He was not only clinging to a piece of wood but he was clinging to what that cross represented to him (to us).  Lyle lay in his bed clinging to the hope of the resurrection and the promises that Jesus gave us through the cross.  Lyle lay in his bed undaunted by what was happening to him and looked forward to what Jesus had prepared for him.  His hope did not waver for the cross stood as a reminder to him of the life Jesus came to bring for us all.

What a great image and reminder for all of us…”cling to the old rugged cross and exchange it someday for a crown“.

Praise be to God, always and forever.

-edh-