The Killing

lamb

The priest thrusted the knife into the lamb, and within seconds the animal was slain. After some the blood was collected for later, the fire was built to burn the remains. The first part of the atonement process was complete, and he was only beginning an intense spiritual journey on behalf of the people.

As he shuffled toward the water basin, he couldn’t help feeling very uncomfortable. All his life, he was told that contact with blood and death made one unclean. That was bad enough out in public, but it was sinful to enter the temple if you knew you were unclean. In s technical sense, he was sinning, but he knew that God required it, so it wasn’t sinful. Perhaps, then, he was representing sin.

He approached the water with calculated reverence but somewhat of an impatient anticipation. He ritually said a prayer and quoted the Torah then plunged his hands into the tepid water. The water became tinted, and he move on his way into the tent. He took a deep breath and prayed with each step.

He would never consider questioning God or His highest purposes, but admittedly he couldn’t help but wonder why blood had to be involved. If God wanted, He could require grain, coins, or some concrete action of devotion. Why death? Why such permanence? Perhaps, the High Priest thought, the answer is in the question. Permanence. When a created being is killed, there is no purpose left on earth for it. There is no turning back. Considering a second option such as something superficial we could simply take out of our personal inventory would not be as powerful, because we would not feel the weight of the action. Plus, the lamb symbolizes innocence. It is animate. It has breath. It has gender, and a role within its family. Taking away this creature disrupts life to an extent.

The High Priest entered the place and he was alone. Even though he just walked in, he could already smell the incense. He couldn’t think about that right now because that was near the end. His attention was grabbed by the flickering of the candle stand. His heart began to beat out of his chest. He felt a sense of fear that seems appropriate and even healthy considering the context.

As he slowly walked to his ultimate destination, the priest’s mind slightly wandered back to the mental picture of the slain lamb. He remembered the look in the animal’s eyes as it took its final breath. It was an odd combination of scared and peaceful.

He snapped out of his daydream and continued…

…to be continued.

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The Approach

altar-bronze

If you think about it, the High Priest and the Lamb are two sides of the same spiritual coin. Neither one could fulfill their life’s purpose without the other.

The High Priest, as he walked and guided the lamb down the center of the city, briefly closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. He concentrated on the dressing ritual he just finished and went through the mental task list to make sure there was nothing he missed. He was interrupted by the savory smell of mutton cooked in olive oil, and immediately he remembered the task at hand.

He looked down and made eye contact with the precious animal he was guiding, and he mentally noted the ironic beauty in the events of the day. This small creature had no idea what its job was for the day, yet it seemed perfectly content with the way things were going. There was a bliss in the ignorance. With each step, other sheep from various households would bleat almost as if to tell this lamb what was about to happen. In utter joy or perhaps stupidity, the animal would answer back as if not believing what they were saying. It was almost a shame that its end would come very soon. No matter though. It had to be done.

Taking each step, the priest became more and more aware of the weight both figuratively and literally. Figuratively in the sense that he knew that what he was doing was something that he could not afford to mess up. Literally in the sense of the physical discomfort he felt wearing the necessary garments. The vest alone weighed him down, but it was a vital piece of the overall ensemble.

The High Priest silently prayed as he walked to make sure his heart and attitude were right. For a little while he could concentrate on the blessings that he as praying, but as he came closer to the Temple, he could hear the near-deafening activity that was happening in the courtyard. As he entered the front gate, a domino effect of attention was directed at him, and one by one people took notice of the fact that he was entering. The sound started to diminish, and even the commerce halted.

After the introductions, quotes, songs and psalms, the priest went about his duty and bound the feet of the lamb to bring about full submission. He readied the bowl in which he would collect the blood and looked up to make sure the fire was burning.

He raised the ceremonial knife and said a final prayer. His hands shook as if it were his first time.

The crowd went completely silent.

…to be continued

Overcoming Evil

Overcoming EvilEvil is all around us. Most people agree on this subject whether they are a Christian or not. When we see a child brutally murdered or a government horribly oppressing its people, we can see darkness and it is blatantly obvious.

The Bible uses different words to describe evil. We see synonyms like “wickedness” or “malice” among many others used to convey this intention. When these words are used, scripture goes on to describe details that include a wide range of activities. Many times, in fact, we see the perpetrators seeming to have a great time and falling into very comfortable patterns when they are called out in this way.

Sometimes, it is easy to throw the word “evil” around at our own discretion. For instance, if something inconveniences us enough or someone behaves outside of our understanding of “goodness” then we may be tempted to use this significant word to describe the event.

The Word is clear that we are to stay away from evil of every kind. It also indicates that we should avoid associating with those who practice evil. Yet, in even more places in scripture, the example is given that shows us we are to come alongside the sinner and even serve them. We see healing, teaching, feeding, loving, and caring for these people who are living lives directly opposed to God’s law? So, how do we reconcile these thoughts? Do we avoid these folks, or do we love on them? Do we stop at praying for them? Or, do we get into their lives?

These are thoughts I am still tossing around in my mind, but I do know that people will not accept or follow the life-giving message of Jesus if they do not hear it in our voice and see it in our lives. Granted, we are never the ones who convert people, but we can still convey a message of hope and show that there is a way out.

Evil is born from a full embrace of sin. When we reject God and His abundance, we begin to look at the world in a way that was never intended through the process of creation. We also begin to look at ourselves as the one true authority in the universe.

Here is something interesting to ponder, though. So many times, when God comes down hard on sin in scripture, it is in response to the actions of people who claim to follow Him. Sure, people who don’t know Him are mentioned, and even rebuked, but often they are being spoken about in third person. Essentially, they are referred to as the mission and part of the purpose of believers.

So, what are we to do with the verses that tell us to avoid evil and those who promote sin? Well, in many cases these things are being said to believers who are very immature in their faith. A mature follower of Jesus has grown and prayed for the mind and heart of God. He or she has established in their own heart that their deep passion is to see that the lost are found, and the wicked are made clean. Also, their mindset changes as they begin to see these “evil” people through God’s compassionate eyes.

I can’t say that I fully grasp God’s grace and mercy, but I can make assumptions based off what I do know. Here is the way I see it. While sin and evil are synonymous, I think God’s perspective is much deeper than simply writing off transgressors.

Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life…The question, I have is “what are we doing to offer people life as an alternative to death?”

We need to stop looking at people as evil and instead start looking at them as hurting, dying, and in need of rescue.

That man who is on his third drunken binge this week…is he sinning? Yes

That single lady caught up in promiscuity…is she sinning? Yes

That person who abandoned their family…are they sinning? Yes

But…before we call them evil let’s ask ourselves if…

that man is trying to medicate the memories of a past abuse,

or

this lady has never seen a healthy relationship…

or even

if this person went through a crisis that they never worked through in a healthy way.

Leading people out of sin means investing in them. It means sometimes getting dirty. God wants us to be a living sacrifice, and while we are never called to participate in evil and sin, we are called to help mend broken hearts.

Be someone’s way out today.

Love you all

-Landon DeCrastos

The Coming King (Repost)

When will we erase these hateful notions
That the cure for debate involves explosions
Realizing bitterness is a sour potion
Wishing our enemy would die

It makes no sense that the color of skin
Or the past life, or where people have been
Or even who you claim as closest of kin
Could feed the posionous lie

I believe in 2 or 3 generations
Racism will be purged, uniting the nations
The king will come and restore relations
And lift our spirits high

Really, I am no better than you
I was born sinful and needed rescue
I have even lived through pain too
And bleed like any other guy

What I fear is a world for my kids
Women being sold; bought by high bids
Babies dying; abortion…SIDS
Evil and good locked in a tie

I think though, everything will be fine
As long as humans who have a spine
Acknowledge the One who gave us a sign
For, in the end, He will descend from the sky.

-Landon DeCrastos

The Gospel According to My Brother (Repost)

TaraxacumOfficinaleSeedAs I write this today, I am sitting outside enjoying the afternoon breeze. The sun is shining, the grass is green, and the gentleman no more than 15 feet away from me puffs nervously on his cigarette. His vice is one that I can not rightly pass judgement on because I imagine people look at me the same way when I am at my prime at a local all-you-can-eat Asian food establishment. I have learned to understand that whatever we consider an idol involves an attitude of sin. Sin that separates us from God. Regardless, I am still enjoying the beautiful flowers. They are perfect.

Jesus talks about sinners in scripture. Many times in fact. He doesn’t condone it. Quite the opposite actually. Often, when He approaches those in sin, Jesus takes it much more seriously than I do. In the “Parable of the Weeds” He compares those living in sin as figurative weeds in a garden or a pasture. Jesus says that God will not remove the “weeds” because this would have negative consequences for the “good plants”. So, when reading that throughout my life, I have always been on alert. “Weeds (sinners) are all around me…I need to be on guard”, I have always thought. For a long time, I developed an attitude of defense when it came to these dangerous sinners. The idea was that I should not get too close or the evil darkness of their hearts will infect my pure, innocent soul.

I thought this until my brother taught me a little about landscaping. My interpretation expanded a bit. He taught me something he did not intend to be spiritual, but now guides my ministry thought process. It also gave me deep insight on the parable mentioned above.

My brother owns a small farm and understanding the needs of the land is a massive passion of his. He raises chickens, grows vegetables, and takes pleasure in God’s creation. Every time I visit the farm, we walk together and talk about things like ministry, work, and parenting. A few weeks ago, I presented him with a question I had been saving up for a few weeks. The question had to do with how to get rid of the ugly weeds in my front yard. So, I asked. The answer somewhat surprised me.

“Don’t be mad at the weeds”, he said. “The presence of weeds simply tells you what the greatest need is.” I stared at him with a puzzling look. He knew I didn’t understand so he expounded. “When you have weeds in your yard, many times it means there is some nutrient that is lacking…the weeds tell you your needs.” He went on to describe scenerios pertaining to more and less nitrogen, chemical balance, and other things that brought about certain families of pesky flora. I learned more than I cared to know in that instance. At the time, I really didn’t want a long explanation…I just wanted to get rid of them. I wanted to avoid them.

When we read the “Parable of the Weeds” in scripture and we begin to think of “weeds equal bad” and “no weeds equal good” I think we miss the point. The presence of weeds tell us the needs. So, we can think of it this way…God calls us to look at the sinners around us through His eyes. These are people with needs. Not just stubborn folks with no moral compass and lacking in wisdom. The need is food. The need is relationships. The need is healing and hope. The need is Jesus. How can we really judge, when God is trying to open our eyes to the great need?

Pray for God’s eyes today. Let’s attack sin.

-Landon DeCrastos

Confined by Freedom (Repost)

I posted this a few years ago, but I feel led to repost…

—–

A married couple sits in my office and there are long minutes of weeping and silence. They are trying to navigate their emotions, and the anger they feel for one another. The wife has committed adultery, and the husband doesn’t know it yet. I know it as the pastor, because of a previous private conversation with the wife. Both have spiraled downward in their walk with God and their relationship with each other. If it is possible to describe it this way they would say that they hate each other, but still love one another deeply.

The husband drinks a lot. He also has been frustrated with his wife because of her lack of interest in times of privacy. It all makes sense now.

They used to have so much fun together….they thought. They used to stay up late, party, and live however they wanted to live. When I asked them about their spiritual history the wife rolled her eyes and described a legalistic religious past that drove her away from the Church. The husband nodded as if to echo a similar history. “All they ever talked about was things we shouldn’t do”, she said “you can’t drink, you can’t smoke….you can’t have sex…..can’t, can’t, can’t.”

This couple was so broken. As a pastor, I could have sat there and told them everything they did wrong….and believe me there was going to be a time soon for stern guidance…..but right now I was there to listen.

I am not sure if it was because she was caught or she was frightened that she would lose her family as she knew it but she wept bitterly at the thought of divorce. I wish I could give a happy ending to this story, but sadly I can’t. As would be expected the couple split and the whole family dynamic changed.

Why do I tell this story? It is one that is all too common, and so many people are hurting because of this same scenerio. The fact is I can understand why people get frustrated with a church or belief system that seems to be so confining (can’t do this…can’t do that). It is much more attractive to seek to live a life in which one is not confined by such values. I get that. I am not one that could be called a legalist, but I do get tired of  seeing lives torn apart by brokenness. At the time, these lifestyles seem to bring about so much freedom….but way too many times there are people sitting in front of me….weeping….wishing they would have chosen another path. People become captive to their own desires.

God heals….yes……but if we obey Him to begin with He will show us such incredible freedom, and a life that is defined by joy.

Follow Him.

-Landon DeCrastos

Giants fall

How hard do giants fall?
From ivory towers, or empowered calls
At one time they stood so tall
Thinking they were immortal

The firey end that pride brings
When once they acted as kings
Enjoying power and such nice things
Basking in sin’s basic reward

Above the law was their boast
Pleasure to the uttermost
Their passion became their ghost
And left their values behind

What once was their first love
No longer fit like a glove
Their power no longer from above
And their blessing became self made

For them, the way they can restore
That which the enemy broke and tore
Their pride, their soul, what they had before
Must come from the one who knows

The one who knows their very life
Who can pull them out of sinful strife
Who can cut to the heart like a knife
And expose lies with the truth

Flee to the still small voice
Giants who have forgotten how to rejoice
Cleanse your heart with one simple choice
Repent and be restored.

-Landon DeCrastos

How’s Your Bucket?

How'sYourBucket-There is a bucket in my back yard that I have neglected for a while. It came as a result of some yard work I did a long time ago. The purpose of the bucket was to be a place where I would put the rocks that I would dig up as I was tilling up the ground.

When I put rocks in this bucket, I would dispose of them in a pile at the back of the yard. It was a great system. The problem came when I forgot about the bucket.

Several months later, I went out into the back yard, and saw this bucket that had evaded my thoughts for so long. As you could imagine, it was mostly full of water from the rain that had fallen during that time. The water was clear, still, and beautiful. Occassionaly, a breeze would blow and the water would gently stir.

When I approached the bucket, I bumped into it, and I noticed that something happened that change my perspective of its beauty. The dirt and sediment became visible and began to travel through the container; contaminating the batch. If I let it sit peacefully still, then the water would become clear again.

Some might find it odd that anyone would get a lesson out of this, but I think there are a few. First, I felt as if God were asking me if I looked like this bucket. Does my faith in Him become disturbed and unclear when there is turbulence in my life? Another thought I had was regarding my “heart condition”. Is there still darkness in my life that needs taken care of? A darkness that is easily seen when times get tough, or pressure increases?

It is easy for us to seek peaceful existences so that water becomes still, the sediment temporarily disappears, and we can pretend it is not there. This attitude, however, doesn’t help us in the long run. It only hinders us from experiencing His abundance. Certainly, as Christians, we don’t seek turmoil, but so many of us continue to ignore the reality that our souls are eroding daily. We neglect prayer. We yawn when we think of scripture. Community worship becomes a hobby that we do “when everything else settles down”. We try so hard to be good, but soon realize that goodness is an empty goal. We fall, and discouragement digs a deeper pit.

How does your bucket look? Are you allowing God to have full reign in your life, or are you simply going through the spiritual motions so that you look good to the world around you? I think God wants a radical transformation in each one of us, and I often wonder if the world is losing trust in Christ-followers, because we tend to play church instead of authentically attacking the evil within us.

God wants more for you and He wants more of you. Be honest with who the true you is, and allow Him to stir up the darkness, so that He may cleanse. Don’t settle for the type of faith that leaves sin unconfessed, and relationships unmended. His way is better.

How’s your bucket?

-Landon DeCrastos

The Sad Story of Pete

Ladies and Gentlemen,
I present to you
A very sad story
Every word of it is true

The tale I am about to tell
Comes as a surprise
A narrative of a sad little bird
Who, in the end…dies

I may have given the last chapter away
Perhaps you think it ended too fast
Hold on, though, because I assure you
The lesson has not yet passed

Consider this tiny store bought bird
To expound, let’s call him Pete
Wings clipped and caged up
He was a domestic parakeet

Pete could see out of his cage
He admired the owner’s wares
He saw fancy linens displayed around
He admired the wood-carved chairs

There was something he longed to touch
He imagined himself having fun
A bright red ball, inviting him to play
Shiny and glistening in the sun

The temptation took over his mind
So much, that he thought of a plan
One day, he would escape his cage
and take the ball before he ran

The day had come when he chose
To make his final run
He knew he could open his cage
His operation would soon be done

Little did he know his wings grew back
He found out he could soar
But, he so desperately wanted that ball
And now free, even more.

He approached the ball slowly
But had a horrible surprise
The ball was too heavy
To lift it into the skies

So, not wanting to let go
Pete played with his toy
Until the family cat came by
and stole the little bird’s joy

It was fun while it lasted
But temptation took his soul
Little Pete died that day
And ended his lifelong goal

Pete could have flown away
And chosen to be free
Instead he was devoured by the cat
Without a last wish or plea

So when you are caught
Not knowing where to turn
Remember this bird
And the lesson he should have learned.

One day the choice will be in your hands
And the temporal will look so great
Simply choose life over death
Fly to freedom. Don’t take the bait.

– Landon DeCrastos

Within Me

A battle that is raging every day
A debt that I can’t possibly pay
The grace to lead from astray
Power that is not from me

The struggle I furiously fight
Clinched fists from morning til night
No immediate hope; no light
A solution I cannot see

Still you hold me when things get tough
I push away as if you are not enough
I reject; you call my bluff
And fight aggressively

My hubris sets me back again
Like Icarus; falling…sin
Reminding myself of who I have been
Desperately wanting to flee

But, it is in those times that I resign
When I look up and step over the line
Give up and call you mine
And acknowledge your work on that tree

I can’t praise you enough for what you gave
How you killed death and rose from the grave
And to think how I currently behave
Compells my bended knee

Thank You God for your all
For giving me my holy call
For being there when I fall
And loving unconditionally