Greetings and welcome again to a current thought and my newest book Puzzling 2020.
I consider this book a somewhat eclectic group of puzzle pieces that when connected describe  where we are as a culture and church,  how we got here, and  how we should live in these strange times going forward. It’s addressed mainly to the community of faith and Christians, but truth is truth wherever you find it, and we all profit when we know the truth and act accordingly. “Nothing gives rest but the sincere search for truth” (Blaise Pascal).
In addressing where we are and how we got here I chose to simply point to a time in Bible history 3500 years ago when God spoke through Moses a blessing and a warning to a nation. True it was a nation, Israel, who had entered into a covenant with Him, at His invitation and by their free will. But since He’s the God of creation and the King of the universe, (the same yesterday, today, and forever), these conditions for grace and blessing, judgment and correction have been true for Israel and all the nations of faith and the whole earth for millennia as demonstrated throughout history.
When I first got the vision and leading for this book, I considered a title like Bonhoeffer, Isaiah, and Solzhenitsyn. I knew that would never fly for a title, but it described what I was seeing. These men lived in times very much like our own, in nations that were not only ignoring God, but shaking their fists at Him, going there own way, ignoring the Bible and His ways while making policies and laws in direct opposition to His truths. The three named above were seers, who saw where this would lead, tried to do something about it by speaking the words of the Lord to the people and their leaders. But the people wouldn’t listen. They were blinded by an enemy, and determined to go their own way, until the evil, injustices, and cancer of their sins invited the action of the Almighty, to save the whole, make a correction, and protect people going forward from themselves. People of faith in Germany, Israel, and Russia had read, but apparently forgotten Deuteronomy 28.
“Where are we, and how did we get here — as a church and nation? Doesn’t that seem puzzling? It is to most if they are even aware our churches and country have plunged into some moral morass. This swamp has economic, health care, political, national, energy, business, security, and international ramifications unheard of and unexpected two short decades ago. “Shortly after the COVID outbreak began in 2020, I read this chapter in a daily quiet time of reflecting and engaging the Bible. Deuteronomy 28 is timely and timeless in describing what’s happening in America and speaks to what we need to do in response. As our country went into isolation for the better part of two years, that gave us time and a chance to ponder our ways, consider what was happening, and why it might be happening. “This chapter of the Bible describes an isolated situation. Still, it’s far from isolated in its summary and the story it tells for ancient Israel, Israel through the ages, all nations through the ages, and the USA today. “I encourage you to read and meditate on the entire chapter so you can see its relevance. The message is very plain — the imagery is clear and explicit.”
I go on to quote a good portion of chapter 28 which is very straightforward but not unique in the Bible: “…, if you keep the commandments of the Lord your God and walk in His ways. So all the peoples of the earth will see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they will be afraid of you. The Lord will make you abound in prosperity, in the offspring of your body and in the offspring of your beast and in the produce of your ground, in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers to give you. The Lord will open for you His good storehouse, the heavens, to give rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hand; and you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow. The Lord will make you the head and not the tail, and you only will be above, and you will not be underneath, if you listen to the commandments of the Lord your God, which I charge you today, to observe them carefully, and do not turn aside from any of the words which I command you today, to the right or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them [emphasis added]“ (Deuteronomy 28:1-14).
Daniel and “The Respect for Marriage Act”
As you’re no doubt aware the bipartisan congress of our country passed the act referenced above and the president signed it into law two days ago. Our country and the West has been on this tact for sometime. But this is the most incriminating, public, line-in-the-sand crossing to date. It remains to be seen how and when the Lord will react, and when and if people of faith will wake up and speak up publicly, and to the Lord in prayer.
Yesterday the thought came to me of how Daniel reacted when the bureaucrats, not the wise men, of Persia, the most powerful nation on the earth, pushed through a very bad law. Daniel, the prime minister, and one loved by the King of Persia, and the King of Kings, at great risk to himself, went on to do what he always did, in direct opposition to the bad law, honoring and fearing God more than man. “Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed, he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously” (Daniel 6:10).
Has something changed with this latest law being passed and enacted? It seems to me something is changing with the publication of Eric Metaxas’ new book Letter to the American Church. And other books like Strange New World by Carl R. Truman, and a host I’m hearing about but haven’t become familiar. It seems that the Spirit might be leading us to say and do things differently going forward. Stay tuned or wake up! Whatever and whichever applies. Follow Daniel’s lead. More to follow…
“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be” (Thomas Jefferson).
“Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe” (Thomas Jefferson).
On Election Day, November 8, during her early morning neighborhood walk my wife sent me this quote someone tweeted: “Before you vote please fill up your car with gas, buy your groceries for the week, take a peek at your retirement account, and look at current government spending.”
What’s happening at the moment to our economy and way of life is no mystery to those who carefully read their Bibles and have some grasp of history. I would recommend Deuteronomy 28, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich as a beginning place. No socialistic, secular-humanist people have lasted long as a nation. Without God’s blessings and actions in our individual and corporate lives we implode, make poor decisions, become easy targets for our enemies, and demonstrate we really do need Him — unable to rule ourselves.
In my upcoming book Puzzling 2020, Connecting the Pieces I mention that I don’t put my hope in the political process or politics. I do think politics are important and touch our lives deeply at times in very personal ways, so I vote and pray for candidates with the best character to win. I encourage my friends to do the same. But my hope is in God, the Rock, the Everlasting One — the God of history and Ruler of nations.
I recall now a favorite quote from Charles Simpson: “Good men can make a bad system work, but bad men can’t even make a good system work.” God is the X factor in making men and women, as well as nations comprised of the same, flourish or perish, for their own benefit.
A few relevant Bible verses come to mind: “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Proverbs 14:34). “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance” (Psalm 33:12). And, “When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when a wicked man rules, people groan” (Proverbs 29:2).
Before leaving you with these thoughts to ponder as fodder for action, I’ll give a shout out to an excellent book addressing this subject in an insightful way. Its title is Letter to the American Church by Eric Metaxas. Our 20/20 Men’s Book Club and friendship group is currently reading it. I’m only 10 pages into this succinct 139-page book and can see it’s worth the money and time spent reading it already. May God bless you and yours.
“Why are the nations in an uproar and the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us tear their fetters apart and cast away their cords from us!’ He who sits in the heavens laughs, the Lord scoffs at them. Then He will speak to them in His anger and terrify them in His fury, saying, ‘But as for Me, I have installed My King upon Zion, My holy mountain’” (Psalm 2:1-6 NASB).
“But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more” (Romans 5:20b NKJV).
“The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest minds of past centuries.”
Greetings All, my blog has been rather silent for the past weeks and months as I’ve focused on finishing my third book Puzzling 2020. It should be available in mid December, and I’m very excited. The book’s cover blurb speaks to its purpose:
“Einstein said, ‘Adversity introduces a man to himself.’ The pandemic and explosion of events beginning in 2020 certainly did that to Americans, both the culture and the church. Many things were stripped away from our lives as we pondered how to stay healthy. Some reacted in fear, and some in faith. It caused everyone to reexamine who they trusted for valid information about safety, health, and hope for the future. Puzzling these events, even after two years, a resolution is still inconclusive. This book seeks to answer some basic questions: “Where are we? How did we get here? Where do we go from here, or how do we live in these puzzling times?” We look to the Bible, history, and God for insight and truth — and for grace to live with purpose and without fear. These puzzle pieces will help you “Light a candle, instead of cursing the darkness.”
I hope you’ll give it a look. I think it certainly gives readers a better grasp on where we are as a culture and church, and more importantly, a healthy paradigm or world view for how to live in our day — the present, a gift from our Creator God.
Its seventy short chapters, or puzzle pieces, could be used as a devotional or daily meditation. Hopefully it will bring spiritual sight, light, joy, and renewed purpose.
By using the Descartes quote I didn’t mean to claim a “fine mind,” but simply give a shoutout to reading as a spiritual discipline. By reading, you humble yourself to hear someone else’s thoughts. You also slow yourself, still yourself, and are alone with your thoughts as you read, away from the din of the media, technology, and rush of our time. It’s like a mini vacation refreshing the soul.
Shalom, and stay tuned for more frequent blogs this beautiful autumn.
“Whosoever is delighted in solitude, is either a wild beast or a god.” ― Aristotle
Easter is such a special time, because spring and new life is evident everywhere and coming forth with a ferocity that one can’t ignore. One looks at brown soil one day and a green-grass carpet the next. Trees without a single leaf yesterday now flutter in the wind by thousands or millions, and colorful flowers pop out of the ground from seemingly nowhere. It’s as if Someone commanded them to come forth. It seems mystical, magical, and beautiful. It makes our hearts sing with hope and expectation of warmer seasons, longer days, and more light to work and play.
That’s fitting and apropos, but not the real meaning of Easter per se. New spiritual life has been made possible and commanded to come forth from the original passion week culminating in Christ’s resurrection — life from death indeed. It’s hard to put into words for those who see, yet it makes our hearts swell and feel alive, with hope for better days in this life and then for eternity with the One whose sacrifice made it possible. Amen.
Something changed in response to the light of the sun and the tilt of the earth. Something changed in response to the light of the Son and the inclination of a human heart and head. That’s the spirit and truth about Easter. It’s not that simple, and it’s not that complicated. Maybe it isn’t elementary to explain precisely or in detail, but simple to experience because the grace and revelation are there, awaiting the key of faith.
The road to Emmaus provides many insights into its complexity and simplicity. And why our hearts are full of joy and excitement at Easter’s realization. Our pastor preached on this today, and most of the insights I share here are from his sermon. It’s beautiful synchronicity to me that I wrote a chapter in my upcoming book, “The Puzzles of 2020?” over the weekend saying that the vision or dreams of many had been altered or crushed by the COVID pandemic, and the cure for crushed dreams and blurred vision is a fresh encounter with God. I used Elijah and Isaiah as examples. Then in a Good Friday blog, I cited this same Emmaus incident:
“Maybe the dashed dreams of his disciples and those who believed Jesus to be the Son of God (as He claimed and His miracles attested), the promised Jewish Messiah and King, are summed up by two of his disciples walking to their hometown, Emmaus. They said to a stranger walking with them: ‘Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days? … ‘About Jesus of Nazareth,’ they replied. ‘He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel’” (Luke 24:18b-21a).
Their answer describes the rather hopeless state of two friends walking home, their vision and dreams crushed. They were about to have a God encounter. But it took a while for the light to dawn. That the light did dawn is the most beautiful part of the story for all of us. But fascinating too is that it took a while for its truth to light upon them. Let’s look at Luke 24 for what it might teach us.
I will take some liberties and assume that most of you have read or heard the story many times and have gleaned lots of truth. So I’ll move quickly and trust your familiarity will help you appreciate these insights and apprehend them quickly. They speak to our day and age of doubt and skepticism. They speak to the need for revelation and illumination. It’s a beautiful mystery that is more easily caught than taught, as this story illustrates. Let’s dive in.
These two travelers are on the dark road of doubt. Are you in a dark place? Are you having a debate or an argument about your faith? Are you slow of heart to believe — foolish? Are you walking away from your faith? Do you think Jesus let you down? Jesus himself met these two on the road in this very situation.
Many of us ascribe to the saying, “Seeing is believing.” But these guys have the resurrection staring them in the face, and they’re not believing. Jesus starts to draw them into a conversation, “What are you talking about?” They answer him with their gloomy and doubting assessment that I recorded above. It’s ironic that Cleopas speaking a bit rudely, says: “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” (Luke 24:18). It’s ironic because he’s the one who isn’t aware of what happened in Jerusalem during these days.
They had hoped for what they did not see. How can they reconcile this in their mind? They saw Jesus suffering and then dying. Our suffering can drive us to moments of doubt. Do you have your vision of a king? A savior? What will he look like? Obviously, this is not what they expected of Jesus.
But now we see the stranger (Jesus) rebuke them a little bit: “‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself [emphasis added]” (Luke 24:25-27 NIV).
What about us?! They should know because of what He told them during 3 1/2 years together. They also knew the Scriptures they had pretty well. Then what about us? Indeed, we have more of the story, more evidence, and more proof to understand the happenings that day and believe Jesus and everything He told us. So we should quickly and easily move into His life by faith. Isn’t this a reasonable expectation? Isn’t this His expectation? You decide. But there are some tricky parts to the story we’ve not addressed yet.
Let’s back up toward the beginning of the story: “As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him [emphasis added]” (Luke 24:15). They were kept from recognizing him! What do we make of this, especially in light of the rest of the story? On the surface, it seems that it takes God’s action for people to recognize Jesus, at least in part. Let’s go on with the story, remembering they just received one last Bible lesson.
Will they get it? The suspense grows as they reach their home, and Jesus continues to travel onward: “As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, ‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them” (Luke 24:28-29).
Then what? They sat down to eat: “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him [emphasis added]” (Luke 24:30-31a). So it is; your eyes must be opened to see Him as He is. So it is, if He breaks the bread of revelation for you Himself, you know it. And you’re never the same! You don’t live by bread alone any longer, but by every word or revelation that proceeds from God.
It’s fascinating what happened next: “and he disappeared from their sight” (Luke 24:31b). While He was with them, they didn’t recognize Him. When they recognized Him, He vanished.” Apparently, after you see the Son, then from then on, you relate to Him mainly by His Spirit. It’s not merely semantics, and it doesn’t matter either. You know it’s Him, and He can teach you how it works by walking, or by revelation from His Word, or revelation period. You’ve seen the resurrected Lord, and you can trust Him and live with Him in a new way on a new day. That’s the Gospel, and that’s a fact.
How do we know? Burning hearts demonstrated what they had seen and experienced — the living, resurrected Lord. He disappeared from their sight in bodily form, and all of a sudden, they doubted no more and spoke of it: “They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’” (Luke 24:32).
Not only that, with their sorrow turned to joy, they hurried back into Jerusalem, but not in the same spirit they had departed. They were delighted with the new reality and couldn’t wait to share it with their brothers. Travel wasn’t that safe at night, and they didn’t have street lights, but off they went on the seven-mile trek to tell their friends what they had seen, heard, and experienced with great joy. It couldn’t wait! Their actions are more evidence of their burning hearts: “They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, ‘It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.’ Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread” (Luke 24:33-35).
What Happens Next?
It gets better! And it’s more of the same. Humans are sometimes dull, hard to convince, and slow to believe. The Lord Himself shows up immediately after these two tell their story to the disciples! You’d think this timing and this appearance would do a great deal for them and put all doubt aside about what had happened. Wouldn’t you?
Let’s take a glimpse: “While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’
They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, ‘Do you have anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence [emphasis added]” (Luke 24:36-43).
I’m sure Jesus enjoyed the fish and the beautiful reunion moment with His followers and friends, but He had to shake His head at their continuing unbelief! At first, they didn’t believe because of fear and disillusionment. Now they don’t believe because of joy and amazement!
I will choose to believe the best and step out on a limb a bit and say they couldn’t be rational or use their hearts and minds to believe or process because of all the joy at His surprise visit. He was alive! With them! Just like before the crucifixion and burial. It was like being surprised by a dear old friend who’s come knocking at your door late at night, and you say, “I can’t believe it’s you!” Or, “I can’t believe you’re standing here!” But multiply that feeling times a quad zillion. They had been separated by death!
That said, I still find this a bit puzzling or disconcerting. Maybe you can’t process things with all that flood of emotion, but you still know Who is standing there, and it shouldn’t take anything else to believe. Well, let’s move on to what happens next. It does add a little bit of clarity.
Jesus went on: “He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms’” (Luke 24:44). This reminder was helpful and got them to piece the puzzles of Scripture together again with what they had just seen happen and experienced. But what happens next seems to be the rest of the story and the part we usually don’t notice and don’t understand.
What did Jesus do next: “Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures [emphasis added]” (Luke 24:45).
Is this the same as breaking bread for them and with them? Maybe so. At any rate, what they didn’t believe before, they understood and believed now. Again, there appears to be an unseen God part in moving from doubt to belief. Because we have grown up in a secular, materialist culture and churches many times, we have trouble with the unseen. But it’s central to the Bible, and we must be schizophrenic not to realize it and function in that realm. Jesus told the woman at the well: “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). And what Jesus told Nicodemus in John chapter 3 is the key and secret (an open secret) to life in the Spirit and life in the Kingdom.
What A Day!
Jesus was now telling His disciples something for the last time. I think He had their attention: “He told them, ‘This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high [emphasis added]’” (Luke 24:46-49).
So Jesus finished this welcome surprise and exhilarating visit with a charge and a promise to them. Wow! What a day! Easter, April 7, 33 AD! They know again they are accepted by God, their sins are forgiven, taken away by His sacrifice, and now they receive new directions and vision for the future — a future not devoid of Him. What could be better?! They could now sleep in peace! Or maybe they couldn’t sleep at all? Because He told them He would do something else for them not many days from now.
Then he led them out to Bethany, a place they had often enjoyed with Him, blessed them, and left them — but not for long. To be continued in ten days, on Pentecost.
“He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying” (Matthew 28:6)
In a men’s group recently, the discussion about the Holy Spirit was excellent! Most of the guys were open to new truth and revelation as long as it was in the Bible, but having a Baptist background like me, I wondered how it would go? The same could apply to many denominations, as you will note.
“Why,” it was asked, “does the church in the west, or we have trouble with the Holy Spirit?”
Honest answers proffered and discussed included:
Our educational system is Greek modeled, materialistic, and further influenced by the French Enlightenment, stressing the intellect and neglecting or rejecting the Spirit.
Our churches are affected and infected and have not understood nor taught what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit is mystical and mysterious, so He’s not easy to know if you have the mindset mentioned in 1. and 2. above.
Because of excesses seen or reported, we’ve been skeptical of those sects or denominations who claim to have experienced the Holy Spirit. Some have acted like they have some corner on Him, or have Him in their box, so we’ve rejected them and their teaching, likely throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
Why are our eyes and minds closed? Don’t we love the truth? Are we that afraid of error? Why wouldn’t we trust God our Father to lead us into all truth? One of the most important truths is that we can have and should have a relationship with the Holy Spirit.
Spiritual blindness is more rampant, embedded, and systemic in our lives and churches than we have thought! This omitted teaching and missing experiential relationship with the Holy Spirit is one area that demonstrates that fact. One member of our group just finished reading “The Heavenly Man.” It’s about Brother Yun, a leader of the underground church in China, who the Spirit constantly led. My friend brings it up often, and I can tell the book has changed his thinking about the place of the Holy Spirit in the church and his personal life.
In Isaiah chapter six, we find another clue why we in the community of believers haven’t known the truth about the Holy Spirit and are consequentially spiritually dull. The Lord is understated and doesn’t appear to those disinterested, but usually to those who are humble or desperate and hungry to know Him. Grace is free, but it is not cheap. Grace is costly, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer told the modern church in “The Cost of Discipleship.” He found the German church in his day asleep and deceived, like the Jewish nation of Isaiah’s day. The Lord told Isaiah to speak to the people whatever he heard from the Lord, but also told him the people would not hear, by and large. They had grown dull of hearing because of idolatry and the lack of intimacy.
Jesus on The Holy Spirit
What did Jesus have to say about the Holy Spirit? “Much!” is the answer. I’ll point out a few things for brevity. Let it serve as a springboard to do your research and study. It’s easy to see that the Holy Spirit was a significant focus for Jesus and an essential part of his plan for us.
“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7 ESV).
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26 ESV).
Paul on the Holy Spirit
The Apostle Paul had much to say and demonstrate about the Holy Spirit. In Acts 19, Paul going to Ephesus met a group of believers outside of town and asked them a meaningful, telling question.
“Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit” (Acts 19:2 ESV). Doesn’t that describe or define the church in the West? In America? In our city? We have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit, it seems.
At least we act like it. While we do experience the Holy Spirit from time to time, it seems we do so without being aware. It appears we are wired by God for 220 volts and are living on AA batteries.
There isn’t awareness. There isn’t the practice. There isn’t the experience. There isn’t the hunger. Biblical teaching on the Holy Spirit as an abiding part of our lives doesn’t exist in many churches. The Bible teaches that God sent the Holy Spirit in Christ’s name to dwell with us and in us, to be our Helper. Is He a part of your reality?
The Acts 19 account goes on to say there were about twelve men involved. That’s not a significant number. God is not into big numbers, apparently. I wonder what kind of wonders these twelve accomplished after that experience and for the rest of their lives? Later in the same chapter, we read, “God was performing extra ordinary miracles by the hand of Paul” (Acts 19:9 ESV). Paul continually said it was the Holy Spirit working through him.
We Should Know the Spirit
Back to our reality, the Holy Spirit goes about his work of refining us, convicting us of sin, righteousness, and judgment. He is molding us into the image of Christ, to be his friends and his bride, the church, the “ecclesia?” the called-out ones. But it seems there is so much more available from Him for us and through us if we understand the working of the Spirit.
John chapter 3 is telling and instructive about the role of the Holy Spirit. Jesus talks to Nicodemus, “The Teacher of Israel,” a man schooled and skilled in the Bible, and tells Nicodemus there is more. Someone has said, “God did not leave us just a map. He left us a guide.” The map is the Bible, and the guide is the Holy Spirit. Scripture completely supports this convergence.
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6 ESV). “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8 ESV).
First let me say I don’t know. Only God knows, and He doesn’t make it the most obvious, as is His Way. I just know I’m intrigued by the man, his apparent faith and life lived in his community, and with His God. I tried very hard to search the web and discover who picked the powerful music for the Easter 2020 “Songs of Hope” Bocelli sang to millions that day live, and many more millions since via YouTube. Apparently he did.
It started with a prayer written by Saint Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century put to music, asking that the Bread of Heaven (figurative of Jesus the Son of God — our sustenance and power for living) Who Is “the end of all Symbols” Most Highly Exalted, the promised One — come help us on earth, we who are “poor and needy.”
There followed two songs praising Mary, the Mother of God, for responding to God’s messenger angel, “Be it unto me as you have said.” Accepting God’s offer of divine life to be birthed within her, as mysterious as it mush have seemed to her, and to us still.
There is within these two songs, a prayer to Mary, not dead, but living in heaven, that she would pray for us in this time of our very real need.
His fourth song with 4th century lyrics was a powerful anthem of praise and acknowledgment, of worship, to God the King of the Universe and His son Jesus.
“O Lord God, heavenly King, God the Father almighty. O Lord the only-begotten Son, The only-begotten, Jesus Christ!”
It ended with “Amazing Grace.” A humble acknowledgement that it’s in Him (by and in His grace) that “we live, and move, and have our being” as Paul told the first century stoic philosophers and men of Athens on Mars Hill (Acts 17). And it’s only by His grace that we behold God and know Him, “see” Him, as the African slave trader and ships captain, John Newton, discovered after almost destroying himself and others — then coming to faith and going on the write this song in England about the time of our Civil War in the U.S.. It’s one of the most telling, insightful, powerfully-true songs of all times. It is a fitting ending to humbly bow and acknowledge how needy we are and how gracious He Is. The ending says it’s only by His Grace we see. Amen.
Snippets from Wikipedia
“Doctors had advised the couple [Bocelli’s parents] to abort him, as they predicted that the child would be born with a disability. It was evident at birth that Bocelli had numerous problems with his sight, and he was eventually diagnosed with congenital glaucoma. He has stated that his mother’s decision to give birth to him and overrule the doctor’s advice was the inspiration for him to oppose abortion”
“Bocelli grew up on his family’s farm where they sold farm machinery and made wine in the small village of La Sterza, Tuscany, Italy, about 25 miles south of Pisa.”
“Bocelli showed a great passion for music as a young boy. His mother has said that music was the only thing that would comfort him. He started piano lessons at age 6 and later learned to play the flute, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, guitar, and drums.”
“At age 12, Bocelli lost his sight completely following an accident during an association football game. He was hit in the eye playing goalkeeper during a match and suffered a brain hemorrhage. Doctors resorted to leeches in a last-ditch effort to save his sight, but they were unsuccessful and he remained blind.”
“Since 1982, Bocelli has recorded 15 solo studio albums of both pop and classical music, … selling over 90 million records worldwide. His first compilation album, Romanza, is one of the best-selling albums of all time, while Sacred Arias is the biggest selling classical album by any solo artist in history.”
“In 1998, Bocelli was named one of People magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People.”The Prayer” is his duet with Celine Dion for the animated film Quest for Camelot which won the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song.”
“Celine Dion has said that “if God would have a singing voice, he must sound a lot like Andrea Bocelli”, and record producer David Foster has often described Bocelli’s voice as the most beautiful in the world”
In other places I’ve read he was first married ten years with two sons, and since married several years with one daughter. In spite of a normal life in many respects and a good deal of suffering, or because of it, he apparently has a heart of sincere love for people and for God. Although a somewhat reclusive, multi-millionaire, his wife mentioned that he visits local nursing homes and sings for the residents. Telling, isn’t it?
In His Own Words
Bocelli said: “I will cherish the emotion of this unprecedented and profound experience, of this Holy Easter which this emergency has made painful, but at the same time even more fruitful, one that will stay among my dearest memories of all time. That feeling of being at the same time alone – as we all are in the presence of the Most High – yet of expressing the voice of the prayer of millions of voices, has deeply impressed and moved me. Love is a gift. Making it flow is the primary purpose of life itself. And I find myself once again indebted to life. My gratitude goes to all those who made this possible, the City of Milan and the Duomo, and to all those who accepted the invitation and joined in a planetary embrace, gathering that blessing from Heaven that gives us courage, trust, optimism, in the certainty of our faith.”
In his own statement, Mayor of Milan Guiseppe Sala said, “I am happy Andrea has accepted our invitation. This year, Easter will be very different for all of us. The joyous serenity that usually comes with this day, has been greatly troubled by the pandemic we are experiencing. I am sure that the extraordinary voice of Bocelli will be the embrace we are missing these days, a strong, special hug, capable of warming the heart of Milan, Italy and the world.”
Once the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, Milan, Italy will mark Easter Sunday by staging a very special concert featuring Andrea Bocelli. At the city’s request, the famed opera singer will deliver a solo performance at the historic Duomo cathedral on April 12th. Though it won’t be open to the public due to the countrywide lockdown, the event — titled “Music for Hope” — will be live-streamed globally to promote a message of “love, healing, and hope to Italy and the world.”
Bocelli will be joined by the cathedral organist, Emanuele Vianelli, who will be playing one of the world’s largest pipe organs. The Easter Sunday concert will consist of “carefully selected pieces, specially arranged for solo voice and organ for the occasion,” including “the well-loved Ave Maria setting by Bach/Gounod and Mascagni’s Sancta Maria – uplifting sacred music repertoire on a day symbolic of the renewal of life.”
Andrea Bocelli performed a special online concert from the Duomo cathedral in Milan this Easter Sunday (12 April 2020).
Entitled ‘Music for Hope’, Bocelli’s concert was poignantly performed without an audience and instead streamed globally via Bocelli’s YouTube channel, in light of social distancing measures in place across the globe to stem the spread of coronavirus. Bocelli was joined – at distance, of course – by cathedral organist, Emanuele Vianelli, who provided accompaniment for his chosen pieces. Selected to communicate a message of love, healing and hope to Italy and the rest of the world during this difficult time, the pieces included the popular Bach/Gounod setting of ‘Ave Maria’ and Mascagni’s ‘Sancta Maria’, as well as an arrangement of John Newton’s enduring ‘Amazing Grace.’
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
It is Easter this Sunday. And in Milan, the renowned Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli will be sending a message of love and hope to the world, especially Italy, which has seen more death in this pandemic than any country.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “PANIS ANGELICUS”)
ANDREA BOCELLI: (Singing in non-English language).
GREENE: “Panis Angelica” (ph) is one of the songs Bocelli will be performing Sunday at the Milan Cathedral, which is known as the Duomo.
BOCELLI: Many times, I’ve performed this piece also in front of the pope, for example. It’s a beautiful page of music.
GREENE: On Sunday, there will be no audience because of the pandemic, just Bocelli and his organist in the empty cathedral. He’ll livestream this concert on his YouTube channel for free. Bocelli joined me from his home outside Milan, where he and his family have been staying put, mostly. He says he knows how many Italians have been suffering through this. And he feels fortunate.
BOCELLI: For us – it’s very bad to say this, but I dreamed throughout my life to have a period to rest myself, to stay with my family, to speak with my sons, and I had. But anyway, I am privileged because I’m in my house with my families. And I’m – everything’s OK here.
GREENE: He was speaking to me along with his wife, Veronica. And as we were setting up, I could hear the tinkling of their piano. I mean, the idea of Andrea Bocelli playing for us in a moment like we’re in was a wonderful thought. Though, we were warned not to get our hopes up.
Who’s playing the piano?
BOCELLI: Me (laughter). It’s me.
GREENE: Yeah? Have you been playing a lot of piano during – while you’ve been home?
BOCELLI: Yes, yes. Many times during the day, I go to play the piano because it my first…
VERONICA BERTI: Hobby.
BOCELLI: Hobby (laughter).
BERTI: …And work. Work and hobby both go together.
GREENE: That’s great. Well, I want to hear about Easter Sunday. Andrea, you – the mayor of Milan invited you to do this show.
GREENE: Why did you decide to accept the invitation?
BOCELLI: Because I think that, in this moment, music can help. And in this moment, I think it’s very important to do our best to create positivity among the people. My idea – my will will be to help people don’t lose the hope.
GREENE: Well, I know the Duomo in Milan and the square would normally be very crowded on Easter Sunday. Is it going to be strange to be there and performing with almost no one else there?
BOCELLI: No. It’s not strange because this is not a concert. Basically, this is only a prayer. I really hope that people listening my singing can pray with me.
“This is only a prayer. I really hope that people listening … can pray with me.”
Sounds to me like someone who sees…. Amen?
Lord have mercy on our straying nation and world. Show us our blindness — help us see. Amaze us again, please, by your grace. Amen.
“For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.” II Chron 16:9
“For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” I Samuel 16:7
Beautiful, sincere, and recorded previously in NYC — “The Prayer”
[The NYC version has been removed by Youtube. This one is inferior but worthy of your time and mediation.]
First let me say, “I don’t know.” But as a student of history and the Bible I’ve seen many times that things happen in certain places for a reason. It seems plain to see that it happens that way, but seldom do we see in the spiritual realm, why?
But this Easter 2020 performance, or prayer, as Andrea Bocelli called it, live on YouTube, has so captured my imagination and spiritual hunger, that I’ve tried to look into it as much as I can. To see its fuller meaning, if the Lord would reveal some of it to me.
I know I can’t linger here too much longer. I need to move on to journaling, listening, writing about the next big thing He’s showing me — Grace. In many ways this Easter 2020 event is a good trumpet or launching point for looking at Grace, and its practical work, mystical work, and spiritual work in our lives. It would seem I’ve been blind to how important it is, but now I (am beginning to) see.
“Amazing Grace,” ended Bocelli’s prayer from Milan, Italy, April 12, 2020 — Easter Sunday, in a city and world silenced by a plague called COVID-19.
Snippets from Wikipedia
“Milan, Italy is an ancient city in northern Italy first settled in about 400 BC by Celts. The settlement was conquered by the Romans in 222 BC. Diocletian divided the Roman Empire, choosing the eastern half for himself, making Milan the seat of the western half of the empire, from which Maximian ruled, in the late 3rd and early 4th century AD. In 313 AD Emperors Constantine and Licinius issued the Edict of Milan, which officially ended the persecution of Christians.”
“ In 1450 Milan was conquered by Francesco Sforza, which ushered Milan into becoming one of the leading cities of the Italian Renaissance.”
“In 1629 The Great Plague of Milan killed about 60,000 people out of a total population of about 130,000. This even is considered one of the last great outbreaks of what was a pandemic that ravaged Europe for several centuries, beginning with the Black Death.”
“Napoleon invaded Italy in 1796, and later declared Milan the capital of the Kingdom of Italy. After Napoleon’s occupation ended the Congress of Vienna returned Lombardy and Milan to Austrian control in 1815. This is the period when Milan became a center for lyric opera.”
“With the unification of the country Milan became the dominant commercial center of northern Italy. In 1919 Benito Mussolini rallied the Blackshirts for the first time in Milan, and later they began their March on Rome from Milan. During World War II Milan was extensively damaged by Allied bombings. Upon the surrender of Italy in 1943 German forces occupied northern Italy until the end of the war in 1945. Members of the Italian resistance in Milan took control of the city and executed Mussolini, his mistress and other leaders of his Fascist government by hanging in Milan.”
“Since the end of World War II Italy experienced an economic boom. From 1951 until 1967 the population of Milan grew from 1.3 million to 1.7 million. The city was reconstructed, but in the late 1960s and early 1970s the city suffered from a huge wave of street violence, labor strikes and political terrorism. During the 1980s Milan became one of the world’s fashion capitals.”
“In March 2020 Lombardy had the majority of Italy’s cases of Covid-19 during the 2019-2020 worldwide coronavirus pandemic, with the highest rate of death in the world.”
[Bolding for emphasis is mine.]
Duomo — The Cathedral
“Milan Cathedral (Italian: Duomo di Milano) is the cathedral church of Milan, Lombardy, Italy.”’
“The cathedral took nearly six centuries to complete: construction began in 1386, and the final details were completed in 1965. It is the largest church in Italy—the larger St. Peter’s Basilica is in the State of Vatican City, a sovereign nation—and the second largest in Europe and the fourth largest in the world.”
“At the end of the fifteenth century the greatest architects and artists of the time, including Leonardo da Vinci, tried to accomplish the difficult task of designing the tiburium.”
“The 5-manual, 225-rank pipe-organ, built jointly by the Tamburini and Mascioni Italian organbuilding firms on Mussolini’s command, is currently the largest organ in all of Italy.”
“The American writer and journalist Mark Twain visited Milan in the summer of 1867. He dedicated chapter 18 of ‘Innocents Abroad’ to Milan Cathedral, including many physical and historical details, and a visit to the roof. He describes the Duomo as follows:
What a wonder it is! So grand, so solemn, so vast! And yet so delicate, so airy, so graceful! A very world of solid weight, and yet it seems …a delusion of frostwork that might vanish with a breath!… The central one of its five great doors is bordered with a bas-relief of birds and fruits and beasts and insects, which have been so ingeniously carved out of the marble that they seem like living creatures– and the figures are so numerous and the design so complex, that one might study it a week without exhausting its interest…everywhere that a niche or a perch can be found about the enormous building, from summit to base, there is a marble statue, and every statue is a study in itself…Away above, on the lofty roof, rank on rank of carved and fretted spires spring high in the air, and through their rich tracery one sees the sky beyond. … (Up on) the roof…springing from its broad marble flagstones, were the long files of spires, looking very tall close at hand, but diminishing in the distance…We could see, now, that the statue on the top of each was the size of a large man, though they all looked like dolls from the street… They say that the Cathedral of Milan is second only to St. Peter’s at Rome. I cannot understand how it can be second to anything made by human hands.”
I’m struck by many of the Duomo’s features, but especially the very high statue on the spire, and the extremely large crown at the churches center, homage to Christ the reigning and soon coming King. Amen. [Psalm 2]
“The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.”
He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.” [Revelation 22:17,21-22]
“So you don’t care about one billion Catholics?” That’s what I heard in the spirit recently — a thought that wasn’t my thought — which I’ve learned to believe is from the Lord. I couldn’t even tell you what I was thinking at the time, but I will never forget what I heard.
I have a high view of Catholics, I think, and I’ve always found common ground in Christ when relating to them as friends, in monasteries and retreat centers, and I had a good friend for a time who was the priest at Christ the King Catholic Church in the neighborhood where I lived.
But I didn’t question the thought. I know that “man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” [I Sam 16:7]. The inference, strong but gentle, was,”I do, and you should too.” That became easier and almost a mandate and passion Easter Sunday 2020 with what I heard from Andrea Bocelli. It peaked my spiritual senses, and I believe it reverberated in the heavens. A prayer birthed in the heart of God, to be answered soon. Mercy for our world.
Protestants & Catholics
There may be something just below the surface in protestant thinking that goes something like this, “Most Catholics don’t read the Bible for themselves, and have at times been discouraged from doing so, so how could they believe? Do they even know what they believe?” Something like that or along those lines. Then some superiority illusions or pride creeps in, because we protestants study the Bible, know the Bible and what we believe it teaches. Pride blinds one to truth and reality.
Protestants beware of blinding pride. Or as Jesus told the Pharisees (the most religious Jews of His day), “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” [John 5:39] That is, they couldn’t see that God in the flesh was standing right in front of them, even though they studied Scripture and its prophecies.
But Bocelli’s simple act of faith, prayer, and worship on the world stage demonstrated simple, childlike faith in doing what he had been invited to do. Child like faith may be a trademark of Catholics? Something akin to the thief on the cross, who sensed his own miserable condition, getting what he deserved, but also sensed that Jesus was the Son of God, asked for mercy, and received the grace of salvation — without much Bible knowledge, as far as we know, like a little child.
That kind of faith may be a Catholic strength?! Yet beware of being somewhat familiar with Jesus, and like the five foolish virgins, not being known by Him, [Matt 25:1-13] putting your faith in saying, “I’m a Catholic or I’m a Christian.” Jesus had something to say to the Pharisees about that too, “And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.” [Matt 3:9] Or said another way, “You think you’re fine because you’re Jews, but that’s not enough.” Grace received by faith is required, and the resulting relationship.
I think this pandemic, isolation, and solitude has caused Christ followers around the world to reexamine what they believe. Who and how much they trust? Something along the lines of “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” [Phil 2:12b] And it’s caused Christ followers to minimize their differences and pull together in faith, solidarity, and obedience to Christ.
I’m not talking about universalism here, the teaching or belief that everyone will go to heaven and have eternal life. The Bible doesn’t teach that. And Jesus Himself certainly didn’t. Remember He said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life, and only a few find it.” [Matt 7:13-14] And, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able.” [Luke 13:24] He also said it wasn’t His will that any should perish, but that all would come to eternal life.” [2 Peter 3:9] So our wills, wants, desires, actions, and words play a pivotal part in knowing Him.
I’m just saying I’m not the gate keeper. None of us are. Only One is — He Who rose from the dead that first Easter, once for all time, and for all who believe.
So know Him! More importantly, be known by Him.
Amazing Grace — Blind or Seeing
The Bocelli event ended with Amazing Grace, something every believer in Christ can identify with immediately and intensely. A humble acknowledgement we once were blind. And only by His Grace, now we see — the Risen Savior, for Who He Is. The Christ. The King. The Messiah. God’s Son. A loving, powerful One Who hears prayer.
How striking and strong it was to have a blind man with perhaps the best voice in the world standing there singing and seeing in the spiritual realm, while many sighted people watched who were perhaps spiritually blind. Grace was all around, and is there to be found.
I think something changed with that proclamation and prayer Easter Sunday 2020. Many prayers were ascending to God to have mercy and extend grace in our time of global need. More than 2.5 million people watched the powerful event live. As of this post, 38,629,568 have viewed it! Certainly it must have been the largest Christian meeting or spiritual meeting ever experienced at one time. That it included people of all faiths and many nonbelievers is remarkable as well, in the privacy of their own homes, listening in a world quietened by plague. People looking for answers witnessed a global spiritual gathering and event around Christ — facilitated by YouTube, the world wide web, and a humble man with a great voice and sincere faith, moved by compassion for his city, his country, and the world.
So there you have it. There are an estimated 2.3 billion Christians in the world, 1.2 billion Catholics and 1.1 billion protestants — about 30% of the world population. Because of Jesus, we care about each other and our world. Our prayer is that He show us more of His Amazing Grace in this crisis as we love, serve, and worship Him, Who Is Worthy — He is rich in Mercy and abundant in Grace. Amen.
Allow me to recount the personal way my wife and I spent Easter 2020 along with some thoughts on how Easter was shared among believers in the protestant world.
I’ll start with an entry from my journal on Saturday before Easter. “It’s sunny with clouds and a cool east wind on a crisp spring day atop this beautiful mountain as I read another chapter in Dudley Hall’s, Grace Works.” In the latest chapter he notes, “The major sin of God’s covenant people is that of unbelief… since Gods primary requirement is faith.” “In fact, I would dare say that no violation of the law is ever committed without prior unbelief.”
Profound! Grace and Faith. Faith and Grace. The two key issues with God! (Eph 2:8-9)
Then Abide (John 15:5). No boasting ( I Col 1:29, Jeremiah 9:23-24)!
If you fall back into law or works, pray-repent-admit-be restored at once. The price is paid — Easter 2020. Holy Saturday ends the season of Lent. It’s a good day to ponder such truth. Thank you Lord for leading me. Help me to abide more with You, and in You, and You in me. This is my plea, my prayer for holy Saturday, 2020.
April 12, 2020 Easter
On a beautiful, high overcast morning with a sea of pastel greens and blues below… there is thunder in the area on Easter morning — a power display.
I share “He is Risen!” and “He is Risen Indeed!” — the traditional Easter greeting of the early church — with a few close friends and family by text. Now begins a virtual Easter celebration with our present home church, Fayetteville Fellowship. Strange it seems, real and surreal at the same time, the Covid-19 pandemic has much of the planet in isolation, so on one of the most church-attended Sundays of the year in Christendom, the faithful are not allowed to meet! So plans have been made, with a few weeks practice under their belts, for most of the planet’s churches to meet on line, via streaming, Facebook, YouTube, etc. People are forced to be more private and thoughtful about their beliefs, as they ponder them alone, and with their families, or small groups of believers in a time of uncertainty.
As startling as it is, it’s also refreshing in a sense — to break with tradition and consider what it is you really believe? And why you do what you do?
The outline of our pastors message was: The Fact — of the resurrection The Implications — of the resurrection The Meaning — of the resurrection
You assume His death is the end. His disciple did! The most faithful prepared spices. It’s over.
But within days, Peter, arguably the most prone to act in the flesh or his own strength, has a personal meeting with his risen Lord in Galilee, gets a personal commission, and a few days later the inner empowerment to carry it out, being filled with the same Holy Spirit operative in Jesus.
In similar fashion within a few weeks, Paul a violent, angry religious, Jewish bigot, would meet the risen Lord and receive the same Holy Spirit, along with a new identity. The two of them, in that power, would go on to change the known world of their time extending down to our time. Amazing. Grace.
Or in his own words recorded in Romans 1:1-7
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
So, promised by the Prophets, Jesus Christ our Lord! News by which everything is changed. A plan to fix and reverse the curse of sin… One Who would come has come.
The implications Paul goes on to say in Romans 8, is that, “We are more than conquerors in Jesus Christ our Lord.”
And in Romans 10, “If you declare with your mouth, and trust in your heart, you will be saved.” Declare and believe what? “Jesus was raised from the dead!”
It’s the claim of Easter. The victory we walk in. Celebrate!!
Here are two special worship videos going around in our area this season especially apropos the pandemic and the cultural era in which we live.
I knew it could be special! I’ve heard some of Andrea Bocelli’s songs before. A voice, and seemingly a heart, that turns heads whenever one hears almost any note he sings.
My wife had seen a message on line announcing that Bocelli would be bringing a free concert to the world from Milan Italy at noon our time, live streamed to the world via YouTube. And it happened just like that!
Two and one half million viewers watched it live. During the next forty-eight hours, more than thirty-three million people had watched it. Amazing!
I’ll comment on it later, with the English translations of the songs sung in Italian, but you can watch it here now, and experience it for yourself.
The music, the back story, the architecture , the videography, the choreography, the history, the understated nature of this world-wide communication and prayer to the Almighty will speak to your heart in ways words cannot. Just enjoy it for now, and listen with your heart, to something deeply spiritual, and very special. Music for hope.