Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Blood

Sometimes I don’t think I have much on my mind to write about, then, out of nowhere I see something that moves me, gets me thinking and inspired. I have a dear friend, Mark Hollingsworth of Compassion International who has a way of writing things that get me thinking. There are others like Jim Palmer and various others, who do the same thing, I am grateful for those who remind me of the things I need to be reminded of.

This last weekend was kind of different. I spent time doing my regular weekend homeless outreach and came across a man that reminded me of my own story. Fortunately I have a reminder of where I have come from because I have Jesus. This man I was speaking with has crystal meth and outside of that, he doesn’t have much else. As we spoke he showed me the scars on his legs from shooting up. It was as horrid a needle track scar as I have ever seen. We spoke for close to an hour, I tried to convince him of where I had come from and the answers I had found which could help him. He believed my story but was reluctant to accept my faith because of what he had seen in his life. He had an appreciation of Jesus, but was reluctant to accept him because he saw Christians as self consumed and not really caring about a homeless drug addict. I can’t help but believe that my Lord weeps when he knows that despite what so many Christians may believe, many on the streets, many facing struggles sees Christianity in such a negative way because of the examples of some. We can throw a lot of blame around, but we must accept that many of us, many of our organizations have to start mirroring the concerns and life of Christ to those around us. I know some people are critical of the answers I have heard from people like this gentleman, but I know what I have heard because I have put myself in a place to hear what people have to say. I wish more people who says they follow Jesus would get out of their comfort zone to show the people around them that Jesus tells us to love, that they are in fact, loved.

This man used The Virtual Pew cell phone to call his former landlord several times. He recently had a meth rage and did a lot of damage to his apartment. He was kicked out and worried about his violation of parole. He is looking at another 6 or 7 months of prison for the violation and is on the run. He has been spending the night wherever he can find. As I met with him, he was sober, but I was praying, praying he would get caught, praying he would turn himself in. I suggested that he turn himself in and get some help, but to no avail. We spoke for awhile before I gave him a ride to another part of town, encouraging him to turn himself in, to get into a detox center. I am concerned for this man, he is close to death, I won’t be surprised to get a phone call from someone informing me of his death because I gave him my card. He promised he would contact me if he needed to. I pray he will. Sometimes the answers seem so easy from the comfort of our easy chairs, but on the streets, in the reality of life, those easy answers are not always easy, and not always possible. Then again, we will never know that as long as we choose to live a life that provides ease to us, that provides what we want, as opposed to living a life where we give and become the hands and feet Jesus wants us to be to those who suffer.

I wonder sometimes, for those that say they follow Jesus, why are they not consumed with doing the same things he did? We say we love him, we say we follow him, but Jesus never seemed to care so much about obtaining a comfortable life as he was in serving those who were desperate for love. Many of our churches have become an example of everything that seems to be in direct contrast to the teachings of Jesus, and we wonder why we don’t have the impact on the lives of people any more than we do. We wonder why our lives don’t feel fulfilled. I can’t help but wonder, when meeting God face to face, will some of us be those that say we did all the right things only to hear the Son of God say, ‘Depart from me I never knew you.”

I have the same reminders of those who aren’t much different than me except for one thing. I have and know Jesus, I have accepted the blood that was shed and poured out for me. There is an old adage among many of the old time religious folks that talks a lot about the blood Jesus shed on the cross. They remind me of the adage that there is no forgiveness of sin outside of the blood. I am reminded by old songs like, Nothing but the Blood, or There is Power in the Blood, or even The Old Rugged Cross. There was a price to pay to provide me the forgiveness and life I now have.

The blood Jesus shed on the cross was so valuable. The author of Hebrews in the Bible tells us how important it is:

Hebrews 9:13-15 (Contemporary English Version)

(13) According to the Law of Moses, those people who become unclean are not fit to worship God. Yet they will be considered clean, if they are sprinkled with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a sacrificed calf. (14) But Christ was sinless, and he offered himself as an eternal and spiritual sacrifice to God. That's why his blood is much more powerful and makes our consciences clear. Now we can serve the living God and no longer do things that lead to death. (15) Christ died to rescue those who had sinned and broken the old agreement. Now he brings his chosen ones a new agreement with its guarantee of God's eternal blessings!

In the Old Testament people had to offer sacrifices. In fact, in many cultures around the world, their religions stress the importance of blood sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin. So is the case in the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian traditions, yet in Christianity, we have an answer that solves this problem. We have a solution to the problem because Jesus was perfect, and without sin. He offered his own life up as a sacrifice, not just in a symbolic way, but in a real and literal way. I love the wording in this Hebrews passage here, Jesus rescued us from our mistakes, from the things we did wrong. But he had to shed his blood for us to have this opportunity which this passage says, guarantees us of God’s eternal blessings.

Some often ask me where I get my strength. It is from the wonder working power, the wonderful power of the blood provided by my forgiver and leader also known as my lord and savior, Jesus Christ. I realize there is nothing more powerful I could introduce my dear friends to than the blood provided and poured out in the purest love ever known. The truth is, the blood, the love of Jesus has never failed me. I am confident, if giving him a chance, it won’t fail you either. Is the total surrender to Jesus worth it? It is worth it every day and will be worth it until the day I share an embrace with my Forgiver, my Leader, but not before I spend time on the ground, weeping at his feet, thanking him for all he has done for me.

I am amazed and know I will be weeping for a number of reasons. One of those is I know that Jesus knew what the cost of forgiveness was before he even made the sacrifice. He spoke about this the last day he was with his followers prior to his being taken into custody, beaten, stripped, and ultimately killed and crucified. Read the following here to see his own understanding.

Matthew 26:27-29 (Contemporary English Version)

(27) Jesus picked up a cup of wine and gave thanks to God. He then gave it to his disciples and said, "Take this and drink it. (28) This is my blood, and with it God makes his agreement with you. It will be poured out, so that many people will have their sins forgiven. (29) From now on I am not going to drink any wine, until I drink new wine with you in my Father's kingdom."

There are a lot of things we can read into this passage, but can you see where Jesus talks about the shedding of his blood so that people can have their sins forgiven? Again, remember, he is saying this prior to his own sacrifice on the cross for our sins. Jesus didn’t just go there though, he went beyond this, struggling, having difficulty with what was going to occur. We sometimes forget that while Jesus was fully God, he was also at this point a man. A man, who felt pain, knew of the events that lay ahead of him. One of the ways we can see this struggle is by what occurred when he went into the Garden after that last supper with his disciples. He went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray and seek direction from God. Look at what occurred here:

Luke 22:43-45 (Contemporary English Version)

(43) Then an angel from heaven came to help him. (44) Jesus was in great pain and prayed so sincerely that his sweat fell to the ground like drops of blood. (45) Jesus got up from praying and went over to his disciples. They were asleep and worn out from being so sad.

We need to remember, Luke the author of this was also a physician, he knew of the medical aspects of what was occurring. It was a process that occurs due to there being webbed blood vessels around the sweat glands. Under great stress the vessels constrict and ultimately dilate until they rupture. While rare, this process known as hematohidrosis does naturally occur.

While praying over this message, while spending time in it, I realized that where many of us believe the shedding of blood begins with the cross, I realized that it actually begin with the prayers of Jesus. He was praying, realizing the sacrifice he was making for us. While this created a tremendous amount of stress to cause this phenomenon to occur, it was out of his love for us. While many may choose to not accept that love, it does not negate, or change the reality of the love Jesus offered. I often wonder due to my own weaknesses, have I really contemplated and reflected on that love. A love that was so pure the blood started to flow out of his concern for me and his willingness to put himself through the upcoming events, even prior to the cross, Jesus offered this love.

The following are passages that can help us understand the gift Jesus offered a little better. They can also help us appreciate the importance of the blood Jesus offered.

Romans 3:24-26 (Contemporary English Version)

(24) But God treats us much better than we deserve, and because of Christ Jesus, he freely accepts us and sets us free from our sins. (25-26) God sent Christ to be our sacrifice. Christ offered his life's blood, so that by faith in him we could come to God. And God did this to show that in the past he was right to be patient and forgive sinners. This also shows that God is right when he accepts people who have faith in Jesus.

In the above passage, understand that verse 3:24 shows us that God treats us much better than we deserve: The Greek word charis, traditionally rendered “grace," is translated here and other places to express the overwhelming kindness of God. Whether we accept that kindness or not is not a point of question, the reality is it was offered, to not accept it may not be appreciated, but it doesn’t change the heart of the one who offered this tremendous gift. Other verses follow:

Ephesians 1:6-8 (Contemporary English Version)

(6) God was very kind to us because of the Son he dearly loves, and so we should praise God. (7-8) Christ sacrificed his life's blood to set us free, which means that our sins are now forgiven. Christ did this because God was so kind to us. God has great wisdom and understanding,

Of course on the above, we have to accept that gift if we want to receive the hope, and ultimate freedom offered by Jesus.

Ephesians 2:12-14 (Contemporary English Version)

(12) At that time you did not know about Christ. You were foreigners to the people of Israel, and you had no part in the promises that God had made to them. You were living in this world without hope and without God, (13) and you were far from God. But Christ offered his life's blood as a sacrifice and brought you near God.

(14) Christ has made peace between Jews and Gentiles, and he has united us by breaking down the wall of hatred that separated us. Christ gave his own body.

We so seldom see the lack of hatred in many who call themselves followers of Christians. It is one reason that living out the message is so important, it becomes evidence that the sacrifice offered by Jesus can provide hope and change in a life where both hope is needed. We have to understand, our actions have an impact that will help others accept the blood that Jesus shed on the cross. So many of us are so much more focused on things like politics that the message of the cross, the message of the blood shed on the cross is lost. I can’t help but wonder, who is doing more damage, those of political tenancies we may disagree with, or those who forget about the purpose of the cross or at the very least, by their words and actions, take the focus of the forgiveness and liberation of the sins of the world away from the true liberating power, the blood shed on that cross? Let’s all keep in our focus, the power of the blood and the eternal consequences of the acceptance or rejection of the one offering his blood.

Hebrews 9:11-13 (Contemporary English Version)

(11) Christ came as the high priest of the good things that are now here. He also went into a much better tent that wasn't made by humans and that doesn't belong to this world. (12) Then Christ went once for all into the most holy place and freed us from sin forever. He did this by offering his own blood instead of the blood of goats and bulls. (13) According to the Law of Moses, those people who become unclean are not fit to worship God. Yet they will be considered clean, if they are sprinkled with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a sacrificed calf.

We can’t look at how good or bad a person is. While we tend to think that people are limited by their situations, by their conditions, the reality is, the power of the blood of Christ has the power to provide more, more of everything. While we may be limited by the situations we live in and face on this earth, we have to be reminded again of that word, hope, hope of eternity provided by the blood of Jesus.

1 Peter 1:18-20 (Contemporary English Version)

(18) You were rescued from the useless way of life that you learned from your ancestors. But you know that you were not rescued by such things as silver or gold that don't last forever. (19) You were rescued by the precious blood of Christ, that spotless and innocent lamb. (20) Christ was chosen even before the world was created, but because of you, he did not come until these last days.

We tend to have so much confidence in the material possession of life. Yet when we look at this verse the Greek word used here often, though not always, means payment of a price to free a slave or prisoner. I am reminded, as a former lifeguard, those that need rescued are destined for doom. In fact, one who thrashes, who fights the rescue normally quickens their doom. They have to submit, surrender to the one doing the rescuing. Jesus was the ultimate lifeguard. He is the one who provides salvation for this life, but more importantly, for all of eternity. Again, salvation provided by what? The blood!

I realize I am no one special, if the Son of God loves and give so much to me, I know he has done it for you. Accept it, receive it, express gratitude for it, in all ways, and in all manners, then once you enter that special place where you can do this gladly, you are at a point of worship that will produce and give more than you ever imagined, not just in the things you receive, but in the glory, honor, and praise you give to the creator of the universe.

I am grateful, that despite my own failures, I have forgiveness and salvation offered by Jesus through his blood and my acceptance of him. I realize I have done wrong, I realize I will do wrong, but I also realize the perfection of the blood shed by Jesus and what that blood has done for me. The one who loved me, and loves you, freely offered that blood that life, so we can all have a relationship with God that will last forever. Not just one day a year, week, or two, like so many seem to observe at Christmas or Easter, but for all of eternity. Think about the following in this regard:

1 John 1:6-8 (Contemporary English Version)

(6) If we say that we share in life with God and keep on living in the dark, we are lying and are not living by the truth. (7) But if we live in the light, as God does, we share in life with each other. And the blood of his Son Jesus washes all our sins away. (8) If we say that we have not sinned, we are fooling ourselves, and the truth isn't in our hearts.

The truth is, all of us need the blood of Christ to wash our sins away, to correct the wrongs we have done. Jesus, even before the cross, offered himself for us, he did this out of love. Yet we sometimes lack showing that love to him. We have to understand, an amazing thing in this; we show our love to Jesus, to God, by loving others. It is a part of what Jesus meant when he said that loving God, loving others is the greatest of all of the commandments. When we have kept these two, we have kept them all. It is a part of what the Bible means when it says we will know who is, and is not followers of Jesus by their love of others.

Now read the piece from Mark Hollingsworth that challenged me today. Mark can be found at MySpace and Facebook, after you read the section from Mark, I challenge you, to watch and listen to the videos in the order they are provided with your eyes closed, in prayer contemplating on what Jesus has done for you. Now the article from Mark:

Ever looking for music that will help you contemplate or pray? Or perhaps even just set the tone for your day? Here is such a piece that has provided tremendous solace and perspective: “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet.” It is a continual seventy minute piece of an aging English vagabond’s heartfelt declaration of love and acceptance in the form of an old hymn. He sang it in twenty-eight seconds. But artist Gavin Bryars then took that simple prayer and looped it with tender layers of orchestration that is, at turns, both reassuring and uplifting.

Tom Waits became a fan of the piece, which was circulating as an underground cassette back in the mid-70s. He claims it is his favorite piece of music ever. Tom played his copy so often that he wore the tape out, and through much research, was able to finally track down Bryars to ask for another one. Gavin kept Waits’ enthusiasm for the project in mind, and approached Tom in the early 90s about re-recording the piece with his voice added in to the final 20 minutes…singing as a duet with the elderly homeless man. The result is, to my ears, the most moving Tom Waits singing ever recorded. I’m sure the fact that Waits spent time on the streets and riding the rails as a hobo for a time earlier in his life only added to the pathos.

Here is an edited version to give you a taste:


Seventeen years ago, not long after its formal re-release, I was introduced to “Jesus’ Love Never Failed Me Yet.” Part of the liner notes penned by Bryars gives more back-story…

In 1971, when I lived in London, I was working with a friend, Alan Power, on a film about people living rough in the area around Elephant and Castle and Waterloo Station. In the course of being filmed, some people broke into drunken song--sometimes bits of opera, sometimes sentimental ballads--and one, who in fact did not drink, sang a religious song "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet." This was not ultimately used in the film and I was given all the unused sections of tape, including this one.

When I played it at home, I found that his singing was in tune with my piano, and I improvised a simple accompaniment. I noticed, too, that the first section of the song--13 bars in length--formed an effective loop which repeated in a slightly unpredictable way. I took the tape loop to Leicester, where I was working in the Fine Art Department, and copied the loop onto a continuous reel of tape, thinking about perhaps adding an orchestrated accompaniment to this. The door of the recording room opened on to one of the large painting studios and I left the tape copying, with the door open, while I went to have a cup of coffee. When I came back I found the normally lively room unnaturally subdued. People were moving about much more slowly than usual and a few were sitting alone, quietly weeping.

I was puzzled until I realized that the tape was still playing and that they had been overcome by the old man's singing. This convinced me of the emotional power of the music and of the possibilities offered by adding a simple, though gradually evolving, orchestral accompaniment that respected the tramp's nobility and simple faith. Although he died before he could hear what I had done with his singing, the piece remains as an eloquent, but understated testimony to his spirit and optimism.

Taking Bryars’ cue, while I ran my management company back in the 90s, I would often play this over our sound system each morning, and it became a favorite of my staff. It brought a calm and intention to our work. Over the years, it has also served as a great refreshment to me in times of want, as well as a serenade in peaceful devotion. I have loaned it to many, and they have always become fans of the piece, too. We are not alone--as it has quietly sold over a million copies worldwide with no radio airplay, no glitzy marketing ploys, and no recommendations from Oprah.

It is a miraculous treatise that transcends art and becomes something even more rewarding to the soul. “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” is one of those God-breathed creations that are good medicine for any who are in need of its healing. Maybe you will become yet one more who succumbs to the curious affection emanating from this good news.

I want to thank Mark Hollingsworth for letting me share this. Mark recently lost his father, and as mentioned earlier he has been a real friend. This last year he was there for my wife and me when I lost my mother. I only pray that others will be blessed by this message, which was inspired by a dear friend who has been there for me and so many others over the years.

Now for something a little different: I am going to ask you again to watch in a prayerful, meditative state the following videos. You don’t have to watch, you can just sit back, listen and prayerfully ask God’s Holy Spirit to help you understand and contemplate on the meanings of the words to the songs.

To watch the videos just click on them, if they don’t appear, click on the link provided, I ask you to go through each video though, even though the first two may seem like duplicates, listen to them all in order:

Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet,

Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet, Longer Version

There is Power in the Blood

Nothing but the Blood of Jesus

The Old Rugged Cross

Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet

Revelation 1:4-6 (Contemporary English Version)

(4) From John to the seven churches in Asia. I pray that you will be blessed with kindness and peace from God, who is and was and is coming.

May you receive kindness and peace from the seven spirits before the throne of God.

(5) May kindness and peace be yours from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness. Jesus was the first to conquer death, and he is the ruler of all earthly kings.

Christ loves us, and by his blood he set us free from our sins.

(6) He lets us rule as kings and serve God his Father as priests. To him be glory and power forever and ever! Amen.

Asia was in the eastern part of the Roman Empire and is present day Turkey.

Revelation 12:10-12 (Contemporary English Version)

(10) Then I heard a voice from heaven shout, "Our God has shown his saving power, and his kingdom has come!

God's own Chosen One has shown his authority.

Satan accused our people in the presence of God day and night. Now he has been thrown out!

(11) Our people defeated Satan because of the blood of the Lamb and the message of God. They were willing to give up their lives.

(12) The heavens should rejoice, together with everyone who lives there. But pity the earth and the sea, because the devil was thrown down to the earth.

He knows his time is short, and he is very angry."

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