Water is a symbol of cleansing and purifying. In Christian baptism, water is used to signify a cleansing from sin.  Also, in some denominations, it is a sign of the newness of life for a believer. The use of water in baptism varies widely. Some believers sprinkle the water from a baptismal fount, while others immerse the individual partially or even completely in a tank. Some believers use baptism of infants as a sign that the child is part of a special covenant (agreement) with God.  Others believe that baptism is a sign of faith and so reserve it until the individual is able to acknowledge their faith before the church. Their baptism is an outward sign of an inward change.  

While the New Testament proclaims baptism to be a sign of all believers’ unity in Christ, the meaning and practice of it has become a source for division. The apostle Paul wrote: Ephesians 4:4-6 (English Standard Version) “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”  And in another place, Paul wrote:  Galatians 3:27-28 (ESV) “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Without dwelling on the differences about baptism’s meaning and practices, it is more useful to look at it’s promises. The baptism of a child or an adult is a sign and seal of God’s promises…to forgive our sins, to adopt us into the Body of Christ, the Church, and to send the Holy Spirit to renew and cleanse us and, in the future, bring that new life to completion in the eternity of Heaven.

The water in baptism is a visible sign of God promises.  

The Anchor Bible Dictionary in looking specifically at the importance of baptism says “Such cleansings can take place on the verge of a new state in life or in entering into a community or upon a new phase of life”

So as water has the ability to cleanse a person or thing, likewise water in baptism signifies a purification of an individual who is entering a new phase in their life.

In the church I attend, there was an elder who has since passed away.  Before the sacrament was administered on an adult or child this elder always scooped up a pitcher full of water and forcefully poured it into a bowl resulting in the water making loud splashing noises and spilling on to the floor. This was deliberately done to emphasize the overwhelming, cleansing grace of God given to the one being baptized.

With this reading, spend a few minutes to acknowledge that the water in each baptism is a beautiful sign of God’s promises over that life. 

Posted in Acceptance, Bapism, Belief, Bible, Church, Eternal Life, Faith, God, Grace, Milestones, New Covenant, Parenting, Priorities, Providence, Religion, Spirituality, Symbols | Leave a comment

The Shepherd

In the movie “Rome Adventure” the character played by Troy Donahue explains to the character played by Suzanne Pleshette, that the reason churches used art in the past was that most people could not read. Art was a a means of communicating biblical truths. Ironically today, many church goers who can read, may not understand and appreciate what they see portrayed in religious symbols, stained glass, or other forms of Christian art. One of the purposes of this current theme is to highlight the meaning behind a few important ones so we all can have a deeper spiritual appreciation of them. 

So far we have looked at lit candles (symbol for Christ), cups (symbol of Christ’s accepting His oncoming death), anchors (symbol that faith in Christ is a source of stability for our life) and bread (symbol of the body of Christ).

In this blog we are looking at the symbol of a shepherd. Christians refer to Jesus as the Good Shepherd because that’s how He characterized Himself: John 10:11-15 (ESV) “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Many leaders have devoted followers, but how many leaders would lay down their life for their loyal fans? Jesus contrasted himself to the hired hand who, when the wolf approaches, takes off. Jesus did not run away from the Cross, but gladly took it upon Himself and with it, the sins of the world. 

In his commentary, Adam Clarke shows how a shepherd takes care of his sheep:

“God condescends to call himself the Shepherd of his people, and his followers are considered as a flock under his guidance and direction.

1. He leads them out and in, so that they find pasture and safety.

2. He knows where to feed them, and in the course of his grace and providence leads them in the way in which they should go.

3. He watches over them and keeps them from being destroyed by ravenous beasts.

4. If any have strayed, he brings them back.

5. He brings them to the shade in times of scorching heat; in times of persecution and affliction, he finds out an asylum for them.

6. He takes care that they shall lack no manner of thing that is good.”  

In the church I pastored in New York State, there was a colorful, stained glass picture of the Good Shepherd holding a little lamb in His arms. One of the members of that church always sat so she could look at that picture during the service. It always reminded her of the special care and protection she had because of her faith. When we look at the truth behind the picture of a shepherd, it can also give us great comfort and assurance. We are not alone. God is walking beside you and me possibly even carrying us, to help each of us when we feel lost and unsure.  

After reading this, I invite you to go back and look at the image of the Good Shepherd with the little sheep walking with Him.  Imagine yourself as one of them and realize again, or for the first time, that He still desires to be your Good Shepherd.  

Posted in Adversity, Art, Atonement, Belief, Bible, Christ, Darkness, Depression, Despair, doubt, Eternal Life, Faith, Faithfulness, Fear, Feelings, Guidance, Letting Go, Loss, Perspective, Priorities, Providence, Quiet Time, Rejection, Religion, Restoration | Leave a comment

Bread Used in Worship

According to Wikipedia “Bread is a staple food prepared from a dough of flour (usually wheat) and water, usually by baking. Throughout recorded history and around the world, it has been an important part of many cultures’ diet. It is one of the oldest human-made foods, having been of significance since the dawn of agriculture, and plays an essential role in both religious rituals and secular culture.”

In Judaism, for example, this prayer is to be said before a meal “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who bringest forth bread from the earth.” In ancient times in the Temple as instructed, the Jews placed twelve loaves of bread, presumably one for each tribe, in the sanctuary before God’s face. These loaves were called the Bread of Presence, a reminder that God was always with them. 

Easton’s Bible Dictionary points out that in the Bible “The word bread is used figuratively in such expressions as “bread of sorrows” (Ps 127:2, “bread of tears” Ps 127:2, i.e., sorrow and tears are like one’s daily bread, they form so great a part in life. The bread of “wickedness” (Prov 4:17) and “of deceit” Prov 20:17) denote in like manner that wickedness and deceit are a part of the daily life.”

For Christians bread plays a very important symbolic part. At the Last Supper, “…as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.'” (Matthew 26:26). With these words, Christ raised the symbolism of bread up to that of a representation of His own body which would be broken during his arrest, “trial”and execution. Realizing this, has given me a new appreciation of the presence of bread in worship. His body was broken that we might have union with God. Can you relate?

Since that time, in worship, Christians have shared bread in what is known as Communion.

So what is a staple in most diets has become for Christians an ultimate symbol of His atonement for sins and our union with Almighty God. It is celebrated in different ways and with different meanings. For some it is merely a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice, to others His presence is all around the bread and even within each piece.

Posted in Atonement, Bible, Christ, Church, Communion, Crucifixion, Culture, diet, Eternal Life, Faith, God, Grace, Healing, Heavenly Father, Holy Week, Jesus, love, Maundy Thursday, Messiah, Miracles, New Covenant, Praise, Prayer, Religion, Religious Heritage, Restoration, Sacrificial Lamb, Scripture, Sin, Spiritual, Symbols, Thankfulness | Leave a comment

Anchor Symbol

According to Apple’s Dictionary, an anchor “is a heavy object attached to a rope or chain and used to moor a vessel to the sea bottom..  It can also be “a person or thing that provides stability or confidence in an otherwise uncertain situation.”

An anchor has been a sign of hope for Christians based on this verse in the Bible: Hebrews 6:19 (ESV) “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain,” The symbol was depicted in many catacombs, ancient underground burial places because Christians did not agree with the pagan practice of cremating their dead. The anchor was also seen as a reminder of St. Clement who was condemned to death by being tossed into the sea fastened to an anchor. 

Hope College, located in Holland Michigan, has used the anchor as its logo. The idea for  this came from an observation by the founder of the city Rev. Albertus Van Raalte  “This is my anchor of hope for this people in the future.” The college’s motto is “Spera in Deo” which translates “Hope in God.”

In Christianity, the church is often viewed as a ship, tossed about by wind and waves.  In this context then, the anchor is what holds the ship in place against the buffeting forces of life. The anchor is God almighty. It is interesting that some have noticed the similarity between a few anchors (like the one pictured above) and the cross. For the believer, having hope based on Christ’s atoning death completes the picture. The English poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote: “Cast all your cares on God; that anchor holds.”

Posted in Art, Atonement, Belief, Bible, Christ, Church, Crucifixion, Death, doubt, Eternal Life, Eternity, Faith, Focus, Forgiveness, God, Good Friday, Grace, Heaven, Heavenly Father, Jesus, Meditation, Memory, Messiah, New Covenant, Religion, Religious Heritage, Repentance, Salvation, Suffering, Trials, Uncategorized, Word of God, Worry | Leave a comment

Guest Blog-Dave Reichert, retired Senior Systems Engineer and Technical Writer, Hughes Aircraft Co. and Raytheon Corp

A long time friend recently shared the article I’m including below. I wanted to pass it along. 

As we approach this Easter Sunday, it’s easy to simplify the holiday with colored eggs, candy and family dinners. Perhaps we overlook Good Friday altogether, as if it were just a “speed bump” on they way to Sunday. Typically, Friday is occupied with gathering the goodies and planning Easter dinner. 

We know Easter is a celebration of the Resurrection of Christ because that Sunday, two thousand years ago, a miracle above all miracles occurred as He rose.

This year, I will be thinking more about Good Friday because of the events of that day. Those events took place over at least 12 hours, and maybe longer. I wish to share with all of you a description of what happened on that particular Friday, as the Passover approached at sundown.

On that Friday, oh my goodness, that Friday! Our Lord and Savior fearfully, yet willingly, offered Himself up as payment for our sin. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” and on that day, the wages were paid in full. On the following Sunday, Death was conquered (“Oh death, where is thy sting, oh grave where is thy victory?”). 

If we can get a full grasp of what actually occurred on that Friday when sin, guilt, and death were taken up on the cross, then Sunday might be as shocking and glorious today as it was to those who personally knew our lord and witnessed the events first hand.

Even though it’s quite long, I would encourage all of you to read the following with penetrating focus and attention, letting your emotions go where they will. 

As the world celebrates they know not what, pause on Friday to reflect on the events of that day detailed below. May we all be in awe of God’s amazing grace beyond our traditional foods and activities. 


A Physician’s View of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ
Dr. C. Truman Davis

About a decade ago, reading Jim Bishop’s The Day Christ Died, I realized that I had for years taken the Crucifixion more or less for granted — that I had grown callous to its horror by a too easy familiarity with the grim details and a too distant friendship with our Lord. It finally occurred to me that, though a physician, I didn’t even know the actual immediate cause of death. The Gospel writers don’t help us much on this point, because crucifixion and scourging were so common during their lifetime that they apparently considered a detailed description unnecessary.

So we have only the concise words of the Evangelists: “Pilate, having scourged Jesus, delivered Him to them to be crucified — and they crucified Him.” I have no competence to discuss the infinite psychic and spiritual suffering of the Incarnate God atoning for the sins of fallen man. But it seemed to me that as a physician I might pursue the physiological and anatomical aspects of our Lord’s passion in some detail.

What did the body of Jesus of Nazareth actually endure during those hours of torture?

The History of Crucifixions
This led me first to a study of the practice of crucifixion itself; that is, torture and execution by fixation to a cross. I am indebted to many who have studied this subject in the past, and especially to a contemporary colleague, Dr. Pierre Barbet, a French surgeon who has done exhaustive historical and experimental research and has written extensively on the subject.

Apparently, the first known practice of crucifixion was by the Persians. Alexander and his generals brought it back to the Mediterranean world — to Egypt and to Carthage. The Romans apparently learned the practice from the Carthaginians and (as with almost everything the Romans did) rapidly developed a very high degree of efficiency and skill at it. A number of Roman authors (Livy, Cicer,Tacitus) comment on crucifixion, and several innovations, modifications, and variations are described in the ancient literature. For instance, the upright portion of the cross (or stipes) could have the cross-arm (or patibulum) attached two or three feet below its top in what we commonly think of as the Latin cross. The most common form used in our Lord’s day, however, was the Tau cross, shaped like our letter T. In this cross, the patibulum was placed in a notch at the top of the stipes. There is archeological evidence that it was on this type of cross that Jesus was crucified.

Without any historical or biblical proof, Medieval and Renaissance painters have given us our picture of Christ carrying the entire cross. But the upright post, or stipes, was generally fixed permanently in the ground at the site of execution and the condemned man was forced to carry the patibulum, weighing about 110 pounds, from the prison to the place of execution.

Many of the painters and most of the sculptors of crucifixion, also show the nails through the palms. Historical Roman accounts and experimental work have established that the nails were driven between the small bones of the wrists (radial and ulna) and not through the palms. Nails driven through the palms will strip out between the fingers when made to support the weight of the human body. The misconception may have come about through a misunderstanding of Jesus’ words to Thomas, “Observe my hands.” Anatomists, both modern and ancient, have always considered the wrist as part of the hand.

A titulus, or small sign, stating the victim’s crime was usually placed on a staff, carried at the front of the procession from the prison, and later nailed to the cross so that it extended above the head. This sign with its staff nailed to the top of the cross would have given it somewhat the characteristic form of the Latin cross.

The Agony in the Garden
But, of course, the physical passion of the Christ began in Gethsemane. Of the many aspects of this initial suffering, the one of greatest physiological interest is the bloody sweat. It is interesting that St. Luke, the physician, is the only one to mention this. He says, “And being in agony, He prayed the longer. And His sweat became as drops of blood, trickling down upon the ground.” Every ruse (trick) imaginable has been used by modern scholars to explain away this description, apparently under the mistaken impression that this just doesn’t happen. A great deal of effort could have been saved had the doubters consulted the medical literature. Though very rare, the phenomenon of Hematidrosis, or bloody sweat, is well documented. Under great emotional stress of the kind our Lord suffered,
tiny capillaries in the sweat glands can break, thus mixing blood with sweat. This process might well have produced marked weakness and possible shock.

His Court Appearances
After the arrest in the middle of the night, Jesus was next brought before the Sanhedrin and Caiphus, the High Priest; it is here that the first physical trauma was inflicted. A soldier struck Jesus across the face for remaining silent when questioned by Caiphus. The palace guards then blind-folded Him and mockingly taunted Him to identify them as they each passed by, spat upon Him, and struck Him in the face.

In the early morning, battered and bruised, dehydrated, and exhausted from a sleepless night, Jesus is taken across the Praetorium of the Fortress Antonia, the seat of government of the Procurator of Judea, Pontius Pilate. You are, of course, familiar with Pilate’s action in attempting to pass responsibility to Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch of Judea. Jesus apparently suffered no physical mistreatment at the hands of Herod and was returned to Pilate.

It was then, in response to the cries of the mob, that Pilate ordered Bar-Abbas released and condemned Jesus to scourging and crucifixion. There is much disagreement among authorities about the unusual scourging as a prelude to crucifixion. Most Roman writers from this period do not associate the two. Many scholars believe that Pilate originally ordered Jesus scourged as his full punishment and that the death sentence by crucifixion came only in response to the taunt by the mob that the Procurator was not properly defending Caesar against this pretender who allegedly claimed to be the King of the Jews.

Preparations for the Scourging
Preparations for the scourging were carried out when the Prisoner was stripped of His clothing and His hands tied to a post above His head. It is doubtful the Romans would have made any attempt to follow the Jewish law in this matter, but the Jews had an ancient law prohibiting more than forty lashes. The Roman legionnaire steps forward with the flagrum (or flagellum) in his hand. This is a short whip consisting of several heavy, leather thongs with two small balls of lead attached near the ends of each. The heavy whip is brought down with full force again and again across Jesus’ shoulders, back, and legs.

The Effects of the Scourging
At first the thongs cut through the skin only. Then, as the blows continue, they cut deeper into the subcutaneous tissues, producing first an oozing of blood from the capillaries and veins of the skin, and finally spurting arterial bleeding from vessels in the underlying muscles. The small balls of lead first produce large, deep bruises which are broken open by subsequent blows. Finally the skin of the back is hanging in long ribbons and the entire area is an unrecognizable mass of torn, bleeding tissue. When it is determined by the centurion in charge that the prisoner is near death, the beating is finally stopped. The half-fainting Jesus is then untied and allowed to slump to the stone pavement, wet with His own blood.

The Roman soldiers see a great joke in this provincial Jew claiming to be king. They throw a robe across His shoulders and place a stick in His hand for a scepter. They still need a crown to make their travesty complete. Flexible branches covered with long thorns (commonly used in bundles for firewood) are plaited into the shape of a crown and this is pressed into His scalp. Again there is copious bleeding, the scalp being one of the most vascular areas of the body.

The Crowning with Thorns
After mocking Him and striking Him across the face, the soldiers take the stick from His hand and strike Him across the head, driving the thorns deeper into His scalp. Finally, they tire of their sadistic sport and the robe is torn from His back. Already having adhered to the clots of blood and serum in the wounds, its removal causes excruciating pain just as in the careless removal of a surgical bandage, and almost as though He were again being whipped the wounds once more begin to bleed. In deference to Jewish custom, the Romans return His garments. The heavy patibulum of the cross is tied across His shoulders, and the procession of the condemned Christ, two thieves, and the execution detail of Roman soldiers headed by a centurion begins its slow journey along the Via Dolorosa.

The Journey to Golgotha
In spite of His efforts to walk erect, the weight of the heavy wooden beam, together with the shock produced by copious blood loss, is too much. He stumbles and falls. The rough wood of the beam gouges into the lacerated skin and muscles of the shoulders. He tries to rise, but human muscles have been pushed beyond their endurance. The centurion, anxious to get on with the crucifixion, selects a stalwart North African onlooker, Simon of Cyrene, to carry the cross. Jesus follows, still bleeding and sweating the cold, clammy sweat of shock, until the 650 yard journey from the fortress Antonia to Golgotha is finally completed.

Nailed to a Cross
Jesus is offered wine mixed with myrrh, a mild analgesic mixture. He refuses to drink. Simon is ordered to place the patibulum on the ground and Jesus quickly thrown backward with His shoulders against the wood. The legionnaire feels for the depression at the front of the wrist. He drives a heavy, square, wrought-iron nail through the wrist and deep into the wood. Quickly, he moves to the other side and repeats the action, being careful not to pull the arms too tightly, but to allow some flexion and movement. The patibulum is then lifted in place at the top of the stipes and the titulus reading, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,” is nailed in place.

The left foot is now pressed backward against the right foot, and with both feet extended, toes down, a nail is driven through the arch of each, leaving the knees moderately flexed. The Victim is now crucified. As He slowly sags down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating pain shoots along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain the nails in the wrists are putting pressure on the median nerves.

As He pushes Himself upward to avoid this stretching torment, He places His full weight on the nail through His feet. Again there is the searing agony of the nail tearing through the nerves between the metatarsal bones of the feet. At this point, as the arms fatigue, great waves of cramps sweep over the muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps comes the inability to push Himself upward. Hanging by his arms, the pectoral muscles are paralyzed and the intercostal muscles are unable to act. Air can be drawn into the
lungs, but cannot be exhaled. Jesus fights to raise Himself in order to get even one short breath. Finally, carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the blood stream and the cramps partially subside. Spasmodically, he is able to push Himself upward to exhale and bring in the life-giving oxygen.

While He Hung on the Cross
It was undoubtedly during these periods that He uttered the seven short sentences recorded:

The first, looking down at the Roman soldiers throwing dice for His seamless garment, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” The second, to the penitent thief, “Today thou shalt be with me in Paradise.” The third, looking down at the terrified, grief-stricken adolescent John — the beloved Apostle — he said, “Behold thy mother.” Then, looking to His mother Mary, “Woman behold thy son.” The fourth cry is from the beginning of the 22nd Psalm, “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?”

Jesus experienced hours of limitless pain, cycles of twisting, joint-rending cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, searing pain where tissue is torn from His lacerated back as He moves up and down against the rough timber. Then another agony begins — a terrible crushing pain deep in the chest as the pericardium slowly fills with serum and begins to compress the heart. One remembers again the 22nd Psalm, the 14th verse: “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.” It is now almost over. The loss of tissue fluids has reached a critical level; the compressed heart is struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood into the tissue; the tortured lungs are making a frantic effort to gasp in small gulps of air.

The markedly dehydrated tissues send their flood of stimuli to the brain. Jesus gasps His fifth cry, “I thirst.” One remembers another verse from the prophetic 22nd Psalm: “My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou has brought me into the dust of death.” A sponge soaked in posca, the cheap, sour wine which is the staple drink of the Roman legionaries, is lifted to His lips. He apparently doesn’t take any of the liquid.

The body of Jesus is now in extremes, and He can feel the chill of death creeping through His tissues. This realization brings out His sixth words, possibly little more than a tortured whisper, “It is finished.” His mission of atonement has completed. Finally He can allow his body to die. With one last surge of strength, he once again presses His torn feet against the nail, straightens His legs, takes a deeper breath, and utters His seventh and last cry, “Father! Into thy hands I commit my spirit.”

After He was Dead
The rest you know. In order that the Sabbath not be profaned, the Jews asked that the condemned men be dispatched and removed from the crosses. The common method of ending a crucifixion was by crurifracture, the breaking of the bones of the legs. This prevented the victim from pushing himself upward; thus the tension could not be relieved from the muscles of the chest and rapid suffocation occurred. The legs of the two thieves were broken, but when the soldiers came to Jesus they saw that this was unnecessary. Apparently, to make doubly sure of death, the legionnaire drove his lance through the fifth interspace between the ribs, upward through the pericardium and into the heart. The 34th verse of the 19th chapter of the Gospel according to St. John reports: “And immediately there came out blood and water.” That is, there was an escape of water fluid from the sac surrounding the heart, giving postmortem evidence that Our Lord died not the usual crucifixion death by suffocation, but of heart failure (a broken heart) due to shock and constriction of the heart by fluid in the pericardium.

Thus we have had our glimpse — including the medical evidence — of that epitome of evil which man has exhibited toward Man and toward God. It has been a terrible sight, and more than enough to leave us despondent and depressed. How grateful we can be that we have the great sequel in the infinite mercy of God toward man — at once the miracle of the atonement (at one ment) and the expectation of the triumphant Easter morning.

Posted in Accomplishment, Adversity, Appreciation, Atonement, Belief, Bible, Bravery, Christ, Commitment, Crucifixion, Death, Easter, Eternal Life, Eternity, Evil, Faith, Forgiveness, Good Friday, Grace, Grief, Holy Week, Jesus, Messiah, New Covenant, Obedience, Passion, Reconciliation, Religion, Repentance, Sacrificial Lamb, Sin, Suffering, Worship | Leave a comment

The Cup or Chalice

According to the dictionary, a chalice is a large cup from which a person will usually drink wine. In the Catholic Mass, a chalice or cup is the container for the consecrated wine. In “Symbols: Signposts of Devotion” by Ratha Doyle McGee, the author explains that the chalice has become “one of the finest of Christian symbols.” The chalice seen in worships reminds the believer of the Last Supper when Jesus “…took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Matthew 26:27-28 (English Standard Version).

A week earlier, when James and John asked Jesus “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” In response, the LORD said, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” Mark 10:37-38 (English Standard Version).  The term cup or chalice stood for the full experience He would go through.

In the Psalms David used the term to encompass the entire experience of God’s redemption “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD,” Psalms 116:13 (ESV).

There have been differences in how the cup of wine or juice is given out in services.  Some religious communities have allowed believers to take a sip from the cup which was wiped clean for the next communicant.  Others allowed for persons to take the communion bread and dip it into the wine or grape juice.  

With the onset of Covid-19 concerns and precautions, receiving wine has changed with some religious communities not offering juice or wine while others  are providing a communion wafer and small juice enclosed in individual packages. 

When I next heard the words “…this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” after seeing “The Passion” movie by Mel Gibson, I instantly saw the uncomfortable and deeply upsetting meaning of the cup of wine Jesus offered His apostles that night. 

In that context, the cup or chalice offers the believer a profound symbol of Jesus’ complete acceptance of His bloody death “for the forgiveness of sins.”

Posted in Acceptance, Adversity, Atonement, Belief, Bible, Christ, Communion, Crucifixion, Death, Faith, Forgiveness, Good Friday, Holy Week, Jesus, love, Maundy Thursday, Messiah, New Covenant, Passion, Passover, Repentance, Sacrificial Lamb, Salvation, Sin | Leave a comment


Candles, which play an important role in this story, are important symbols to many religions, but our story centers on a Catholic altar boy who is mesmerized by the beauty of the candles, the aroma when extinguished and how the boy feels when he is around them.  

Following are some quotes from Christian authors explaining what candles mean to followers of Christ

Symbols: Signposts of Devotion-Ratha Doyle McGee, pgs. 34-35

“Candles are a relatively recent invention. They were not used in Palestine prior to AD 100. So the symbol which the candle replaces is a lamp. Low bowls holding oil in a wick were used for light during biblical times. Thus, by a process of substitution, the candle has come into common use as a symbol of Jesus Christ, “The light of the world.” Therefore, we use candles on our altar or communion table to remind us of the words found in John 8:12 and 9:5: “I am the light of the world.” 

The practice of using two candles, and thus two candlesticks, probably arose from the necessity of balancing one with the other, since the cross should have the central place. However, the two are exceedingly espressive of the twofold nature of our Lord, his human nature in his divine nature.”

Signs and Symbols in Christian Art-George Ferguson, pg. 162

Candles play a great and varied role in churches, and according to their use and numbers the teaching of the church is expressed symbolically. Examples of this are the six lights on the altar, representing the Church’s constant round of prayer; the sanctuary lamp; the Eucharistic candles, symbolizing the coming of Christ in communion; the Paschal candle, symbolical of the risen Christ during the Easter season… the use of candles for devotional purposes, at shrines and in processions, is universal and frequently seen in renaissance art. The candlestick, because of the symbolism attached to the candle, is usually a work of artistic beauty.

Candle Lighter

I can still remember as an altar boy moving the wick out far enough on the top of the candle lighter to get a decent flame with which to light each of the six candles on the altar. Once they were all lit, it was important to extract the wick into the lighter to put it out the flame, but then immediately to stick it out into the air so it would not cause a stain inside the small tube that held the wick. After Mass, there was the heavy smoke and aroma from the candles after they had been snuffed out with the bell shaped extinguisher opposite the wick holder.

Posted in Appearance, Belief, Bible, Christ, Church, Faith, God, Heaven, Inspiration, Religion, Spiritual, Symbols, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Religious Symbols

Religous symbols have been an important part of my life. From an early age, raised Roman Catholic, I was greatly impressed with the sights, sounds and smells of church. 

I was thrilled as a young boy to receive a St. Andrews Missal as a gift. I was greatly impressed by the gold edging on its pages, the feel of the leather binding, and the brightly colored ribbon markers that allowed me to go directly to favorite places.  I so valued it but I was a little put off when a priest walked by sprinkling holy water on the pages I had open.  

I loved the fragrances coming from the censer, a metal container which contained burning incense. With chains leading up to the handle held by the priest I can still see the smoke rising from the metal holder as the priest gently swung it back and forth increasing the fire inside it, which caused its aroma to permeate the sanctuary.

I can still recall the sensation I had the first time I received Holy Communion. I was overwhelmed thinking of what this morsel meant to me. I was experiencing a special connection with God.

I fondly recall the smells of wine as I handed the cruet to the priest who then poured the dark sweet-smelling liquid into the golden chalice. I remember vigorously ringing the bells signaling the moment Catholics believe the unleavened bread and the wine actually became the body and blood of Christ.  

Those symbols were indicators of a greater spiritual reality which called me into a deeper relationship with God. These early experiences were the background to my latest novel “Can’t Hold a Candle to It” about a young boy’s fixation on religious candles which ironically gets him into trouble. The symbols were not meant to be a an end in themselves, but a pointer to a greater spiritual reality.

This leads us to the new theme for this blog: religious symbols, their origins and meaning.  We plan to take them on one at a time on the first and the middle of each month.  We welcome you to join us here so we may together learn the meaning and the reasons for the important symbols of the Christian faith. 

Posted in Appearance, Belief, Bible, Communion, Eternal Life, God, Guidance, Inspiration, Religion, Spirituality | Leave a comment

What is My Brother to Me

(An excerpt, by this writer, from a new book coming out soon “Imaginative Plunges Into Sacred Scripture”)

Cain, the older brother, strained as he dragged fresh vegetables and fruit down into the valley on two huge, leafy branches. It was early morning and he wanted to beat his younger brother, giving his gift to God first. He had always wanted to show his sibling that he was stronger, smarter and more loved by dad and mom. He had taunted the younger brother lately saying God even loved him more.

As he descended, dark clouds crawled across the sky. When he got down to the opening by the water, the sky was dirt brown and Cain felt uneasy but didn’t know why. After carefully laying out his offering in a big circle around him, he sat down in the middle and waited. 

Nothing happened for a long time, and he became impatient. Finally, he got up, stamped his feet on the ground and then threw his offering in the river. As he threw in each item, he snarled and growled.

When the whole offering was gone, he threw in the two branches he’d used. He looked at the sky and shook his fisted right hand. He heard a giant voice asking him “Why are you upset?” but the boy ignored it.

At the top of the valley, he spotted his brother’s preparations. There were already small branches on a mound of dirt. The older brother looked at the pile of dirt, stones and branches and laughed. Then he sat down a short distance away and waited for his brother’s return.

Soon he spotted Abel carrying a noisy little lamb. He smiled when Abel killed the animal with his bare hands then placed the animal on the pile of dirt and branches. Then the younger brother raised his head.

Suddenly the sun broke through the clouds and bathed Abel and his offering in a golden light.

Abel finally noticed his brother. “Oh, Cain, I didn’t see you there.”

“Yea, that’s so typical of you. Always in your little, weird world.” He glared at his sibling.

“I suppose you think this means God likes your offering better than mine!”

Abel seemed surprised. “What do you mean?”

“Oh, I guess you missed it. I brought some fruit and vegetables from my garden to God down there by the river, but nothing happened. I didn’t see any golden light around them, only complete darkness. I waited and waited. And nothing happened. Finally, I threw everything in the river.”

“Really?! That’s a shame!”

“No, that’s not a shame. What is a shame is you! You are the shame in our family! Get away from me, you snake!” 

Abel was quiet for another bit of time then asked. “Do you want me to leave?”

Cain didn’t respond. The air was deadly silent. 

Abel broke the quiet. “Should we go back home?”

Cain didn’t answer. He pointed towards home.

Abel started walking and Cain followed him, a sharp stone in his right fist. Suddenly he lunged at Abel burying the jagged edge of the stone deep in his brother’s skull. “I hate you” he murmured. Abel fell to the ground and didn’t move.

Cain looked at his lifeless body. He had to hide it from dad and mom. He dragged the limp body to the nearby bush throwing it head first down into it. All he wanted now was to get away.

There was a rumbling sound from the sunny blue sky as he sprinted down the hill. Cain stopped dead still. I’ve been seen!

Genesis 4:1-8

Posted in Anger, Family, Forgiveness, Life, Murder, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What Now? (Moses’ Monologue)

What do I do now?  Pharaoh surely will find out what I’ve done.  If these two people heard about or maybe saw what I did the other day, word will get back to Thutmose.  Maybe he already knows I killed an Egyptian.  

I had no choice.  That Egyptian was whipping a man, yelling “Now, Jew, you’ll really have something to complain about.”  The man’s back was covered with bloody slashes.  Was I supposed to just walk away, pretend I didn’t see it? 

Even though Pharaoh’s daughter tells me she is my mother, I know that’s not true.  Some time ago a young woman, about my age, told me I am not an Egyptian, that I am a Jew just like her.  In fact, she told me she is my real sister, that her name is Miriam.  She looked a little bit like me and told me about my real mother and father.  So I am a Jew too.  Was I supposed to just walk away as one of my countrymen was being beaten to death?  Of course, I stepped in and killed the Egyptian.   But what do I do now?

Pharaoh has treated me like his son and given me great honors after I led our patriotic forces to victory against the Ethiopians.  He promised that after his death, I would be Pharaoh of all Egypt.  I was happy with that thought until my sister showed up and told me I am a Jew.  And I saw how the Jews were mistreated, working from morning until night with bricks building the great pyramids to honor all our Pharaohs.   

I no longer think of myself as an Egyptian and those pyramids are being built by the sweat and bloody deaths of my people.  How can I ever go back to living in the palace with Thutmose and his daughter?  And, even if I wanted to, they would not let me.  Egypt has been my country but if I don’t leave it, they will kill me too.  I killed an Egyptian.  I cannot live there.  I cannot live anywhere in Egypt. A life for a life they say.  

Where can I go?  I made my way to my real family’s house and my sister and brother said they would show me where I would be safe.  They talked about the land promised to our ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  It was the land God promised all Jews.  I agreed it would be a good place for me to go.

But then they told me that most Jews do not live there yet.  There were, however, some friendly people called Midianites who would help me.  Even if Pharaoh sent men after me, the they would fight for me.  I should stay there for a very long time, maybe the rest of my life because Pharaoh, like every Pharaoh before him, never forgives anyone.    

Posted in Adversity, Bible, Conflict, doubt, Faith, Family, Fear, Murder, Principles, Providence, Questioning, Trials | Leave a comment