This is the view of the beginning of my 20 minute drive to work each day as I round the corner at Kreuzegg and head towards Wollerau on the East side of Lake Zurich. ….also a Cross on a nearby hill along the way!
For a guy like me who still draws with stick figures at age 37 (ok, nearly 38), who am I to know anything about art. And as a kid who was into sports and music, I was bored just thinking about art and drawings or staring at a painting. Slowly over time, I’ve come to appreciate artistry and imagery of those who are blessed with such abilities, but still have no real understanding of what is good, exceptional and and/or a masterpiece. Ultimately for me, I appreciate what is “behind the art” when it grabs my attention with the meaning of what the impression is trying to communicate (which admittedly it not too often does).
This past weekend in Malta, I found myself in worship of what was behind the masterpiece that I was gazing at. Let me be clear, I was not worshiping the art itself (it’s just a painting), but worshiping our God in heaven, who inspired the Bible, and of which this artist’s impression of Matthew 14 was created. This masterpiece has been there to share with the world for now more than 400 years. In Valletta, Malta is the St. John’s Co-Cathedral and therein a massive canvas painting (approx. 5 meters by 4 meters) of Michelangelo Merisa da Caravaggio called “The Beheading of St. John the Baptist”, which was painted at that location in 1608. My great Italian friend (and boss) said that we HAVE to go see this amazing painting that is so well known, otherwise I would have continued down the busy tourist streets and seaside attractions unknowingly missing out on something special.
There he was, John the Baptist, laying on the floor with a sword nearby and the executioner with dagger in hand to finish the job. Sorry to be so descriptive, but then again, those raised with Bible lessons all know the story from Matthew 14 about Herod granting his wife’s daughter her request of the head of John the Baptist on a platter after her impressionable dance. We normally don’t really consider the gruesomeness of this reality, nor the days of John’s desperation leading up to this “spontaneous” death. The rest of the scene around John’s lifeless body also artistically brought out other points of consideration. For example, the setting was almost as if in a hallway, just outside the prison rooms, giving impression of the hastiness of the request and not a normal “staged” event in an execution chamber, or public setting. Two other prisoners looking out their bars, perplexed at the commotion of what just happened, without warning. Another onlooker with a seemingly un-approving look, but having to follow the orders given by the tetrarch. A cold, dark, hastily act was portrayed in Carvaggio’s impression of the martyr’s death of John the Baptist.
So what would cause me to “worship” God, as I stared at this painting? Of course, it is what is BEHIND the ART, not the art itself. It was, for the last three or four years, often studying God’s Word in Matthew 11 and 14 and being impressed in particular by two contemporary Christian authors (Beth Moore and Erwin McManus) who have expanded my depth and understanding of those days before John the Baptist died. Like you and I often are in life, John was seemingly frightened and scared and even questioned his faith, although for him it was while sitting in prison before his execution. Remember, John sent his followers to ask Jesus if Jesus was the one, or would there be another, implying that in desperation of his unknown future, he needed to hear from Jesus if Jesus was really “the One”! For you and me, we can relate easily, as we often are unsure about what’s ahead and sometimes are filled with doubt and despair, although I’ve never been falsely convicted and awaited a death penalty… a whole another level of desperation. But you and I aren’t John the Baptist either; the man who personally knew Jesus Christ, the man who baptized Jesus (after knowing exactly who Jesus was in stating he wasn’t worthy to baptize Jesus, but it should be vice versa). He saw the dove and heard God say “this is my Son, in whom I am well pleased”, and he, even as a baby in his mother’s womb, jumped in her stomach when Mary came into the room with Jesus in her womb. Yes, John KNEW Jesus was “the One”, and yet, still in despair needed to ask Jesus, needed to hear from Jesus……just simply needed Jesus!
So on one hand, Jesus only spoke of the obvious things that all knew in his reply to John regarding him performing many healings and preaching the good news, but not exactly answering John’s question, nor being too comforting. On the other hand, as the men were leaving, Jesus gave John some huge encouragement in speaking so highly of John, to the point that no human born of a woman being greater than John. But it’s that verse, “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” that gives the answer. In effect, Jesus was implying that he wasn’t going to rescue John with angels or other, and John was going to continue his purpose that our sovereign God had intended for him, and John was to deal with this reality ahead…… but be blessed by still holding on and believing what he knew, that yes, Jesus is “The One”! In other words perhaps something like this, “John, I’m not going to come through for you in this case, but you know in your heart that it IS ME, and be blessed for not losing hope”. And then the deep words of praise to what John had done for giving his life and ministry to advance the Kingdom like no other!
So there I was gazing at this massive painting, deeply touched by what John the Baptist had done in giving his life (even to such a death) for the Gospel message and for walking with God! There I was, praising God in worship for his love and grace and blessings in my life, for my faith in Him, my family, friends and everything else in my life. There I was, thinking about past difficulties that of course didn’t turn out so bad and that I had often been worried for nothing, in contrast to John the Baptist. There I was, knowing too, that Jesus IS “The One!”, for John, for me and all of the world! There I was, in worship of God, not a painting, as He is my reality, “behind the art” and in everything else!
In His grip and grace,
John the Baptist Beheaded
1At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, 2and he said to his attendants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” 3Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 4for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her.” 5Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered him a prophet. 6On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for them and pleased Herod so much 7that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. 8Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” 9The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted 10and had John beheaded in the prison. 11His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. 12John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.
Jesus and John the Baptist
1After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee. 2When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples 3to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” 4Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. 6Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” 7As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. 9Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10This is the one about whom it is written:; ” ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’11I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.
For you have been my hope, O Sovereign LORD,
my confidence since my youth.
From birth I have relied on you;
you brought me forth from my mother’s womb.
I will ever praise you.
Psalms 71:5-6 NIV
As this week comes to an end, I realize once again the Lord is sovereign and that He has comforted me with His Word as the verses above ring so true in my heart and life. Regardless of circumstances, I will praise the Lord and depend on Him.
Since yesterday when I got the text message from Livia saying Silas broke his arm, it’s been a tough couple of days to try and work abroad in the UK when I desperately wanted to be home with my family. Finally I’m on a plane home (Friday evening), even blessed with switching flights to save a couple of hours, hopeful to kiss the kids before they go to sleep, especially Silas. What was supposed to be an easy work trip for three days, turned out to hit me where it hurts the most; an emergency at home with my family, the most important aspect of my life alongside my faith in God. Thank you to those who have prayed and lifted up our family the past 24 hours. Silas was playing on the playground equipment at school as he does most every day, when a wooden bar that he was hanging on broke, causing him to fall to the ground below and break his left arm just under the elbow. Normally for an active 8 year old this means a cast and a month of healing, but it this case it was more serious in that it was the top of the bone that is involved with the twisting motion of the lower arm and hand, thus emergency surgery and a pin from the wrist to the elbow was needed. Praise God that the surgery went very well and the healing process begins; two months of no sports until the 2nd surgery to get the pin out (a tough task for our active Silas), and another month after that until full recovery. I felt helpless and far away, but Tanya was strong and courageous as any mother is in the time of need for her child, taking the situation head on. Thanks for the many text messages and e-mails and especially the prayers that we cherish and believe the Lord acted upon in aiding the doctors in wisdom and ability to perform the surgery.
So after a day and a half of going through the motions and presentations for my work as I just wanted to get back home and currently I am sitting on a plane approaching Zurich soon. Just before boarding, the Lord game me a little glimpse of His love and showed me He cares about me, even in circumstances such as this. As I was walking down the stairs to the waiting area just before boarding, I saw a small wad of folded bills with a 100 CHF note on the outside. No one was in the stairway, and I was smooth in pocketing it before rounding the corner to the room of 30+ people so nobody knew I had it. Do I tell the check in clerk, or do I keep it for myself? I hadn’t even looked to see how much it was, but the extra zeros with a 100 note made me think there was more in the rest of the bills. Across the room was a man about my age searching his pockets, booklets, backpack, etc. I knew what I had to do and I “walked across the room” and asked if he was missing something, which got a quick reply, “Yes, money!” From there my answer perhaps meant more to me than him, in not just doing the right thing, but knowing that God IS sovereign and shows Himself in real ways. I smiled at the man and said “Fortunately for you, and for me, Jesus IS still relevant today and I have no problems doing the right thing”, as I handed him the bills. He smiled back and said thanks.
It wasn’t a life changing encounter or deep discussion of faith, but just a little thing. However, for me it was a glimpse of the beauty of God’s love in realizing I can love others, even at a time when I feel I’m the one needing to be loved. My heart also was saying that “yes, God loves me too!” Moments later, His Word reminded me of my lifelong faith that He put in my heart, and my lifelong journey of knowing He IS in control and sovereign! For you have been my hope, O Sovereign LORD, my confidence since my youth. From birth I have relied on you;
you brought me forth from my mother’s womb. I will ever praise you.
In His grip and grace,
Hello all from the UK,
Business travel isn’t always as exciting as one might think……. Many of you know that very well. Besides the work aspects, there can be the excitement of seeing world cities and staying in nice hotels, but for a family man like me there is also the aspect of being away from what matters most; my wife and kids that the Lord has blessed me with. It can also seem that I am missing out on my real life and purpose, that of a husband, father and church planter. But thanks and praise be to the Lord that I am never truly alone or missing out on life and purpose. I can simply worship, reflect and meditate on God and His Word wherever I am. Of course today’s technology of mobile phones, internet, etc also allows me to stay connected to my loved ones even with physical distance between us. Whenever I am traveling for business and staying at a hotel, I usually seek out a coffee shop, lobby or even a pub (as is the current case……it is the UK) and prayerfully engage in my laptop in serving the Lord to work on messages (with Bible software at my fingertips), Sunday morning PowerPoint presentations, music team chord charts and often these LIFT updates. Over the past years, I estimate that perhaps 70% of these LIFT updates have originated on a plane or train or in a hotel, coffee shop and/or pub from locations too numerous to count all over Europe or in a few cases even from South Africa.
Worship is the element of fire at LIFT and we often preach about simply including God in our normal daily life and activities in an intentional way. I try to live this myself in my daily life, even while abroad…..or should I say, especially while abroad. As Carpe Diem is Latin for cease the moment, I hope and encourage you too that whenever and wherever you are to simply cease the moment to worship our God. Praise and thank Him for the big and little things He is blessing you with and yes, even call out to Him to help you when times are tough. You are never alone! Cease the moment to include God in your life, at every moment possible!
Years ago I was challenged by a 17 year old student as he shared with other students that he sometimes “prays” Psalms 119 out loud. It’s the longest chapter in Psalms, so of course, he didn’t make it easy. His name was Tyler and at a youth event, he spontaneously took the microphone and spoke incredible wisdom and encouragement to his peers. It stuck with me too, even years later. He challenged us to pray Psalms 119 out loud as a prayer, asking God to lead our ways with His Word and Holy Spirit while at the same time committing to God that we will allow His Word to lead and change us. I’ll give you the same challenge, but at the same time only if I live up to the challenge myself. Tomorrow I return home after some morning meetings. I’ve just set my alarm a bit early to read Psalms 119 aloud before I start my day and journey home. (Thanks again to those wonderful Gideon’s as I have a Bible in my room and don’t need to fire up my computer or smart phone to access God’s Word.) If you are reading this, it means I prayerfully read it myself, thus putting my actions before my suggestions.
Here’s a few verses to get us started:
How can a young man keep his way pure?
By living according to your word.
10 I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands.
11 I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.
12 Praise be to you, O LORD;
teach me your decrees.
13 With my lips I recount
all the laws that come from your mouth.
14 I rejoice in following your statutes
as one rejoices in great riches.
15 I meditate on your precepts
and consider your ways.
16 I delight in your decrees;
I will not neglect your word.
Enough to get you started? Go for it yourself and set some time aside to let the Word of our Lord speak into your life!
Looking forward to seeing you at LIFT on Sunday! Our journey through 1 Peter has begun and Ken is sharing the message this week.
In His grip and grace,
The coolest thing happened this past Sunday while my family was between “vacations”. We scheduled three Sunday’s away from LIFT as the kids got out of school on the 4th of July and we left for France the next morning. Late Saturday night we arrived back home in Zug for a quick stopover before leaving again to the UK for the 2nd leg of our vacation today, which is today, or Tuesday. (It’s actually a work trip for me, but I brought the family along for the ride and write these updates as I often do while sitting in a plane!)
So back to the coolest thing on Sunday. Since we weren’t expected at LIFT, our family decided to casually get up Sunday morning, have a family breakfast together and gingerly head out to visit a nearby church down in Zug. It happened to be called LIFT, The International Church of Zug. Arriving at 10, just as the service was starting, we found a seat and the kids went up front to sit with other kids. Many friendly faces were talking with one another and a lot of smiles were found in this friendly place. The music and singing began and it was clear that it wasn’t just singing, but a group of people who were actually LIFTing their voices and hearts to God….I believe this is called real and genuine worship! During the break as the kids were excused we even met a couple sitting behind us that we’ve never met before, seemingly fellow visitors together in this friendly church. The message was moving as a leader of the church, not the normal pastor, shared the message, but one would have thought this guy must preach often as he had such passion in sharing the Word.
I have to admit, the whole experience of “visiting” the local international church in Zug was very touching for our family. I remember in 1997 when Tanya and I lived in Zug for three months and an English speaking church didn’t even exist in the community. (Although Christlicher Treffpunkt and perhaps one of the other local German speaking Christian churches provided translation and/or a Bible study sometimes.) Even four years ago in 2004 when we relocated to Zug for real, there wasn’t a church like this where internationals and Swiss could gather to worship in English.
Aside of my playful writing about “visiting” LIFT, as you and I both know that my family’s passion and mission in life is all about LIFT, I want to, in a more serious manner, truly express that it was an incredible morning of worship and praise for me, Tanya too. To just attend LIFT and witness God’s faithfulness in His work here in Zug. It was with awe in my heart and soul to sing a simple song about standing in awe of Jesus and telling Him that I love Him. (A song that we’ve never sung before at LIFT.) To see a packed church room with so many different people serving with music, snacks, set up, preaching, childcare, and, and, and…….and I was able to just continue our family vacation and “visit”. It was delightful as mentioned above to meet a new family sitting behind us, and as far as they knew, we were just visiting like them. To our whole church body at LIFT, thank you all for serving and loving one another as it is a tribute to the Lord that yes, an international church is alive and well in Zug, Switzerland.
Unfortunately our plane trip back to Switzerland isn’t until this Sunday afternoon, so we won’t be able to drop in and visit LIFT again this week, but for the rest of you who gather to worship our Lord down by the lake, be blessed!
In His grip and grace,