And YOU Want To Be MY Latex Salesman?!

     My oldest son recently got this t-shirt for me for my birthday. It is from one of my favorite TV shows. I have shared before that I am a fan of the TV show Seinfeld. While I fully accept the fact that sometimes the show is a bit…bawdy…for my money, it is one of the funniest shows in TV history. There is an episode where Jerry’s best friend George is unemployed and trying to work the unemployment system for all he can. He has to check in with the Unemployment Office regularly, telling them where he has been applying for jobs. The problem is…he really HASN’T been applying for jobs! 

     So one day, he goes to the office and the woman he checks in with asks him where he has applied. So he begins to weave this charming story about a company who’s interested in him- charming…but untrue! He tells her that the business is called Vandelay Industries. It is run by none other than Art Vandelay, and the company is an importer/exporter. She asks what the import and export, to which he replies, “Latex.” She then asks for a telephone number so that she can verify this info. Oops! So George gives her Jerry’s home number. He then runs like a madman to Jerry’s house to tell him that he has to answer his phone, “Vandelay Industries.” Jerry grudgingly agrees.
     Fast forward to later in the episode. Jerry’s neighbor, Kramer, and George are both at Jerry’s- Kramer sitting in the living room and George using the bathroom. Suddenly, the phone rings. Kramer answers the phone with, “Hello?” He then proceeds to tell the person on the other end, “Vandelay WHAT? No. No. You’re WAY off base. This is Jerry Seinfeld’s apartment. I’ve never heard of Vandelay industries.” Just then, George comes RUNNING in from the bathroom, pants around his ankles, boxers showing, yelling, “Vandelay Industries! Vandelay Industries!” He trips and falls as Kramer hangs up the phone. George lays in a heap on the floor, pants still down, dejected, defeated. Just then, Jerry walks in, see him, and says, “And YOU want to be MY latex salesman?!” 
     I wonder if God sometimes feels like that. He sees us, wanting to do the right thing, but messing up over and over. I wonder if He stands there, arms folding, saying, “And YOU want to be MY disciple?!” He would certainly be warranted in that behavior. BUT…I’m convinced that’s NOT what God does. Instead, He helps us up, dusts us off, pats us on the head, and send us on our way- to try again to do what’s right. And for me at least, there is no better news than  the fact that God is a God of 2nd chances. He continues to give us another shot at getting this whole “life” thing right. Why? It’s simple…He loves us!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Birthday of an Angel

     April 29th…an important day in my life! On this date, ___ years ago (Yes, that is intentionally blank! I’m NOT going to publicly reveal my wife’s age! I mean, I was born at night…but it wasn’t LAST night!), my wife was born. She wasn’t, of course, my wife when she was born…but she was destined to be! And I do believe that. We both dated other people in our lifetimes, but I believe with all my heart that we were meant to be together!

     We met on a hayride when we were 15 years old- she was dating a friend of mine and I had recently broken up with a girl I had been dating. Soon after we met, she broke up with the guy she was dating. We struck up a friendship that continued to blossom over the next few months. Then, in April, the school musical was in  rehearsals. Being a Drama Jock (I had a t-shirt that said that and everything!), I was in the musical. (The show was Oliver!, and I was Mr. Brownloe…the guy who adopts Oliver.) I found out that opening night was also her 16th birthday. So, to quote Lady Macbeth, I screwed my courage to the sticking place and asked he out. (You might find this hard to believe, but I was pretty…shy…and backward…when it came to the ladies. I know…right? Who would have thought THAT?!) 
     Amazingly, she said yes! My mom and I picked her up (I didn’t have my license yet…how  embarrassing!) and went to the theater. She sat by herself while I got ready and performed. (Looking back, it’s a wonder she ever went out with me again- making her sit by herself on a date!) I had told her I would tip my hat during the curtain call, and that would be just for her. (Hopeless romantic…right?) After the show, my mom dropped us of at the Ramada Inn (get your mind out of the gutter- we went to the RESTAURANT there! Shame on on you!!) where we shared an order of sauteed mushrooms and then they brought out what proved to be a stale birthday cake that I had arranged ahead of time! All the while, we listened to the musical stylings of Mr. Mike Zichovich and his array of keyboards. The rest, as they say, is history!
     I truly feel blessed beyond measure to have such a wonderful woman who not only tolerates me on a regular basis but seems to actually love me! (They say love is blind- in her case…it MUST be!) I thank God every day for the gift he gave me so many years ago that I continue to treasure today. Happy birthday, sweetheart- I look forward to MANY more with you!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

I Pity the Fool!

     A few years ago, my older son was performing with his high school marching band at the then TWA Dome in downtown St. Louis. At time, we lived near St. Louis, so I jumped on the Metrolink train and headed over so I could watch him perform. After he was done, I walked out of the dome and headed to the train platform to catch the next train back to my car at the station in Illinois. 

     Sadly, I wasn’t paying enough attention when the train pulled up, and therefore got on the wrong train. You see, some of the trains that ran into Illinois went to my stop…but some didn’t. The ones that didn’t terminated in East St. Louis- not a great place to be late at night and by yourself! Well, I didn’t realize that fact until the train had already left the station, so I had a decision to make: I could either go ahead and ride it to East St. Louis, get off and wait for the next train to come that would actually go to my stop, OR I could get off at the last Missouri stop, which is down by the Mississippi River at what’s called Laclede’s Landing. I used to work as an actor down on Laclede’s Landing, so I felt more comfortable there. SO…I got off at that stop.
     The platform was pretty deserted- as I said it was rather late. As I stop there, by myself, not near anyone, I see a figure coming down the platform toward me. As the figure approached, I could tell it was a rather large, imposing-looking African-American male. As he got even closer, I could tell it was a young man- late teens to early 20’s. I hoped he wasn’t actually coming to me…but it soon became apparent he was. I decided I was going to get robbed. I figured the best course of action under the circumstances was to comply- I really didn’t want to make my wife a widow over 13 dollars and some change. So I braced myself for what was to come…and waited. He got right up to me, towering over me, looking down at me as if he were Gulliver and I was a Lilliputian, and he said, in this deep, dark voice, “Excuse me, sir. I need to call home to get my mom to come and pick me up and I don’t have any money. Could I borrow a quarter?” Let me assure you- I couldn’t get that quarter out of my pocket fast enough! In fact, I gave him TWO quarters, just in case he mis-dialed the 1st time!
     I honestly do not consider myself a racist at all. But when I reflected on that scene, I had to ask myself what I would have done/thought under different circumstances? What if it had been a big, imposing white guy? What if it had been a woman? What about an elderly gentleman? A little kid? The truth of the matter is that we tend to make assumptions based on appearance…ALL THE TIME! We automatically assume what kind of person someone is based on physical appearance: skin color, hair length, height, weight, age, gender, etc. And just because we had a bad experience with someone who was a certain “type”, we tend to think that EVERYONE who is that “type” is the same way. 
     That’s not only sad, it’d patently non-Biblical. Jesus makes it clear we are to love one another. He didn’t say, “Love only those who are like…YOU!” Instead, He told us to love EVERYONE, as He does. So my question today is this- how are you doing in that respect? Are you able to love everyone, or do you harbor ill feelings toward certain “types” because of a preconceived notion? If you DO harbor those feelings, here’s my suggestion- give them to God. Get rid of them, and dedicate yourself to starting a new approach to your fellow humans. If you do, an amazing thing will happen- as you begin to truly love others, you’ll be amazed to find that…they will truly love you back!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back, and stick with Jesus!

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Bible: Beginnings

   Today we begin a new Wednesday devotional series called Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Bible. Each Wednesday we will look at a section of books from the Bible- this will literally be an overview of the Bible as a whole. Today’s devotional is called Beginnings, and it deals with the 1st 5 books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. These books, the writing of which is attributed to Moses, are the foundation upon which the rest of the Bible rests- they are very important books. 

     The Bible is 66 books that tell the story of God and His people. But here is the Bible…in only 50 words! God made, Adam bit, Noah arked, Abraham split, Joseph ruled, Jacob fooled, Bush talked, Moses balked, Pharaoh plagued, people walked, sea divided, tablets guided, Promise landed, Saul freaked, David peeked, Prophets warned, Jesus born, God walked,  Love talked, anger crucified, hope died, Love rose, Spirit flamed, Word spread, God remained.
     Author Douglas Adams was on a trip to Europe. And as he lay and looked up at the galaxy, he dreamed up Englishman Arthur Dent and his friend Ford Prefect, an alien writer researching a “wholly remarkable book” called Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In the book, a bureaucratic alien race is building a galactic interstate highway and the earth is in the way…so they destroy it! But Arthur and Ford are saved by the part-time Galactic President who travels around space in a ship called The Heart of Gold searching for The Question to the Ultimate Answer. There are 5 (yes, that’s right…5!) books in the TRILOGY: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Life, the Universe and Everything, So Long and Thanks For All the Fish and Mostly Harmless. As I read these books, it struck me that someone needed to write the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Bible!
     The Bible is an ancient writing- the last author, John, died about 2,000 years ago. There are 2 divisions- The Old Testament and The New Testament. The Old Testament has 39 books, 929 chapters and 23,214 verses and the New Testament has 27 books, 260 chapters and 7,956 verses. There are a total of 66 books; 1,189 chapters and 31,170 verses. It is the monumental best-seller of all time. And it starts at the very beginning (a very good place to start!). There are 3 types of books in the Old Testament: historic, poetic and prophetic.
The rock group Chicago (one of my all-time favorites!) did a sing called Beginnings. In that song, it says, “When I’m with you, it doesn’t matter where we are or what we’re doing. I’m with you, that’s all that matters. Only the beginning of what I want to feel forever. Only just the start, I’ve got to get you into my life.” Today, we start with life…before the Promised Land. In Hebrew, this section of the Bible is called The Torah- meaning “instruction or law”. It’s also know as The Pentateuch-  which in Greek means: pente- “5”, teuxos- “case”. The 1st 5 books of the Old Testament is a continuous story…a story that starts with Genesis-
 Genesis 1- 1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
     Genesis- in the beginning, is the primeval history of Creation, of Adam and Eve, of the Garden of Eden, of their descendants. It also talks about Noah, the flood and HIS descendants. We learn about the Tower of Babel, about Abraham and God’s covenant, about Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. We read about how Jacob’s sons leave Canaan for Egypt  because of a famine. The book sets the rest of the story in motion. 
     Next comes Exodus- a story of redemption. We see Moses as a baby in the bulrushes. We meet /Pharaoh. Moses accidentally murders someone and flees, only to return. The plagues come, and then Moses leads his people out of Egypt. They end up at Mt. Sinai, where Moses receives the 10 Commandments. But the people violate God’s law by building a golden calf. They also build the Ark of the Covenant. 
Leviticus-  worship, how to use tabernacle/cleanliness rules/back on track
     Then we get the book of Numbers- the people wander in the wilderness. Through 2 census, the Hebrews are counted. because of their disobedience, the people have to spend 40 more years wandering through the wilderness, and Moses is told that he will not see the Promised Land. There are battles in the land near Canaan, and finally the people are ready to enter the Promised Land. 
     The next book is Deuteronomy- it is a book full of teaching, including a series of Moses’ speeches about obeying God and His laws. These 5 books, collectively, are the backbone of both the Old and New Testaments. Remember when you 1st learned how to ride a bike? 1remember your st pet? Your 1st day of school? When you lost your 1st tooth? When you went to Senior prom? Your High School grad? Your 1st love? Your wedding? Your children? How about when you 1st met Jesus Christ? These 1st 5 books ARE the story of Moses and the Hebrews…but they are more than that- much more. They are OUR story- about beginning, and redemption, and worship, about wilderness and teaching…about remembering. 
     Deuteronomy 34:1-12 says- “Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the LORD showed him the whole land—as far as the western sea, 4 Then the LORD said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.” 5 And Moses the servant of the LORD died there in Moab, as the LORD had said. 6 He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. 7 Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone. Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the LORD had commanded Moses. 10 Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, 11 who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do.
     Moses sees the Promised Land from the top of a mountain…then he dies. He is buried by God, and the stage is set. These books are a tale of beginnings, redemption, worship, wilderness, teaching. And if Jesus is the heart of the Bible, then these 5 books are its feet, its foundation. They are “only the beginning of what I want to feel forever.Only just the start. I’ve got to get you into my life.” Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Of Wasps and EpiPens

     My younger son has some issues with allergies. We aren’t really sure what he’s allergic to, despite extensive testing…but’s it’s clearly…something! One thing that seems to affect many people who suffer from allergies is the sting of a bee or wasp. I know folks who have HORRIBLY bad reactions to them. (Horribly like, “If I don’t get treated for this in a timely manner…I might die” horribly!) Recently, my wife, younger son and I went to a community in Southern Illinois to visit a family grave plot and place (actually RE-place) some artificial flowers that decorate a couple of the stones. 

     When we arrived, we found the site with no trouble, but had to park a little ways away and walk in. So we got to the spot and pulled the old flowers out of the urns they were in. The next step was to get the rocks out of the bottom of the urns, put the new flowers in, and put then put the rocks back in to weigh the flowers down. My son reached in and instantly yanked his hand back out, saying, “OUCH! I got bit!” My first thought was, “He’s never been stung in his life…he probably got poked by a wire or a stick.” But then we saw the wasp! He got stung right on the finger! He HAD taken his allergy medicine that morning, but we had NO idea what to expect. We knew we had the EpiPen in the car, which we have never had to use. We thought this might be the day! 
     We quickly finished the flowers and headed to the car, all the while watching him and his finger. Although it hurt, it only turned a bit red and was not swelling to speak of. Still…we hurried to the car…and the EpiPen. We watched him for a few minutes, to see how he was going to react. But after about 5 minutes, it became apparent that he WASN’T going to react. So, we left…asking him about every 3 minutes for the next hour or so how his finger was! In the end…it was a tempest in a teapot. And we couldn’t have been happier.
     My wife and I both commented later how glad we were we had the EpiPen. Since we have never needed to use it, it would have been easy to forget about it and leave it at home. But we, like the Boy Scouts, were prepared. But it got me to thinking about being prepared. How prepared are you for the afterlife? I don’t mean that in the way the high-pressure televangelists do who try to scare people into faith…I am convinced that no one comes to faith through fear or intimidation. I mean more from the standpoint that life is fragile, life is short…and we never know what’s going to happen within the next week, the next day, the next hour, the next minute. How prepared are you…with THAT as an overarching fact? Would you be satisfied with the way things ended, if they ended…tomorrow? How’s your faith? Do you feel “right” with God? If not, it is NEVER too late, and we are NEVER too far from God. Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of Hid glory and grace!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

After the Thrill Is Gone

          If you know me at all, you know what a
lover of music I am. I love many different genres of music, but “classic rock”
would have to be at the top of my list. And the Eagles (Don Henley, Glenn Frey,
Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmidt) would have to be one of my favorite bands of
all time. They had MANY hits over the years (Already Gone, Best Of My Love, Desperado,
Hotel California. I Can’t Tell You Why, Life in the Fast Lane, Lyin’ Eyes, Take
It Easy…the list goes on and on!), but there is one song that didn’t get much
airplay but has much to say to up right now. It’s called After the Thrill Is
Gone, and it says, in part: “The flame
rises but it soon descends- empty pages and a frozen pen. What can you do when
your dreams come true and it’s not quite like you planned? Time passes and you
must move on. Half the distance takes you twice as long. Same dances in the
same old shoes. You get too careful with the steps you choose. You don’t care
about winning but you don’t want to lose…after the thrill is gone
.” Time
passes and you must move on. You don’t care about winning but you don’t want to
lose- after the thrill is gone.

     Easter has come…and gone. There is SUCH anticipation
about Easter. The excitement and joy are nearly palpable. We can hardly wait
for it. But then it’s here, and in the blink of an eye, the whole thing’s over.
And, for many, there is a notable, measurable let-down. It’s like the joke that
everyone says is the funniest joke they’ve ever heard. They tell you that and
they tell you that…and then they tell you the joke itself, and it can’t POSSIBLY
life up to the hype. Easter is much like that. So where do we go from here?
What do we do…after the thrill is gone? Do we simply go back to…ordinary…just let
our relationship with God slide, let our church attendance slip, let our prayer
life stagnate? Or do we commit to NOT letting that happen? Do we dedicate
ourselves to being all that God had called us to be? Ultimately, it is a
conscious choice on our part. We can choose to simply…exist…and wait for NEXT
Easter season to get “juiced up” again, or we can step out in faith and be on
the leading edge of a resurgence of faith.

     How about you…is the thrill gone? Are you
feeling a bit…blah…about your faith? Here’s my challenge to you- come to church
EVERY Sunday, participate in the life of the church, be about the business of
Jesus Christ…and see if it doesn’t reset your “thrill” meter! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The “Wussification” of the Church: Why Are YOU Crying?

    A woman was at work when she received a phone call that her daughter was very sick with a fever. She left work and stopped by the pharmacy to get some medication. She got back to her car and found that she had locked her keys in the car. She looked around and found an old rusty coat hanger that had been thrown down on the ground, possibly by someone else who at some time or other had locked their keys in their car, but she didn’t know how to use it. So she bowed her head and asked God to send her some help. Within five minutes an old rusty car pulled up, with a dirty, greasy, bearded man who was wearing an old biker do-rag on his head. The woman looked up and whispered, “This is what you sent to help me?” But, she was desperate, so she was also very thankful. The man got out of his car and asked her if he could help. She said, She told him her situation and asked if he could help. “Sure”. He walked over to the car, and in less than a minute had it opened. She cried and hugged him, and through her tears said, “Thank you SO much! You’re a very nice man.” The man replied, “Lady, I’m not a nice man. I just got out of prison…today- I’ve only been out for about an hour. I was in prison for car theft.” She hugged the man again and with sobbing tears cried out loud, “Oh, Thank you God! You even sent me a professional!”

     Today is the 7th and last week of our Easter Sermon series- The Wussification of the Church. This series, aimed at addressing the decline in mainline Churches over the past 30+ years, is based on the writings of theologian and author Leonard Sweet. Each week we have asked a hard question designed to help us be on the leading edge of a revival among mainline denominations. The 1st week we asked “What are YOU looking for?” The 2nd week the question was “Do YOU understand?” The 3rd week was “Do YOU want to be made well?” The 4th week we asked “Do YOU want to quit?” The 5th week was “Will YOU lay down YOUR life?” Last week was “Will YOU drink the cup?” Today, on this Easter Sunday, we ask, “Why are YOU crying?”
     But first, I have a different question to ask- can we take Christianity at face value? Can people take our church, our lives, at face value? Without strong roots, our face value can quickly become farce value. Oscar Wilde sarcastically wrote, “The first duty in life is to be as artificial as possible. What the second duty is no one has yet discovered.” So many Christian faces look like following Jesus is more a life sentence than a life style! But human beings of every age, at all times and in all places, whether they realize and reflect on it or not, are in relationship with the amazing mystery of human life we call God. So why are we crying? Kahlil Gibran- “When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” Psalm 30:5- “Weeping might endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. Louis XIV- “Why are you weeping? Did you imagine that I was immortal?” Today we ask the polar opposite of that question!
John 20:1-18- 1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” 3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). 17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
     The story of Mary Magdalene meeting Jesus at the empty tomb is found only in John’s gospel. Everything about this little slice of life rings true. A weeping woman lingers by an empty tomb, wondering what’s happened to the body of the one she loved. When Jesus suddenly appears, she doesn’t recognize him. Then she grips his feet so tightly that he has to tell her to let go. The vignette ends with the mourner turned into a missionary, running to tell the others what she has just seen and heard. When Jesus hung on the cross, Mary Magdalene was there. When they took Jesus’ body down from the cross, she was there. When they placed his body in the tomb, she was watching it happen. On Saturday evening, she purchased spices to anoint his body. Early Sunday morning, she and the other women ventured to the tomb to finish the job. When they found the tomb empty, they were confused and terrified. The angels told them that Jesus had risen from the dead. They went to tell the disciples…who thought they were crazy. John and Peter went to investigate, and when they saw the grave clothes exactly where the body had been placed on Friday evening, they believed. They left to tell the others. At that point, Mary Magdalene returned to the tomb…confused, bewildered, frightened, and brokenhearted. The truth of the matter hadn’t hit her yet. It’s often said that Mary Magdalene was “last at the cross and first at the tomb.” She was the first to see him alive. The irony is that when she saw him, she didn’t recognize him. But when the truth hit home, she became the first evangelist in Christian history. Death is never easy to deal with. Most of the time we can avoid it or postpone it. But sometimes death stares us in the face and we don’t know what to do. That’s why Mary Magdalene was standing at the tomb crying on the first Easter Sunday. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’ ‘They’ve taken my Lord away and I don’t know whe
re they put him.’” Well…if the tomb’s empty, then why is she still there? If you’ve ever lost a loved one who meant more to you than life itself, you know why she was there. She was there because death couldn’t destroy her love for Jesus. She weeps because the tomb is empty. What should have been good news broke her heart! We see the empty tomb as one of the greatest proofs of the Resurrection…but Mary weeps. Evidence alone won’t persuade anyone. Unless the evidence is accompanied by proper understanding and an open heart, no one will ever be changed. Mary had all the right facts…but she still jumped to the wrong conclusion. Then, she turns and sees Jesus standing there…but she doesn’t recognize Him. “Woman, why are you crying? Who’re you looking for?” Mary thinks he’s the gardener and says, “Sir, if you’ve carried him away, tell me where you’ve put him and I’ll get him.” Why didn’t she recognize Jesus? The text doesn’t say, but here are some possibilities. She wasn’t expecting to see him. It’s a contextual thing- you see the checker from the grocery store at a restaurant and you don’t recognize her. He was out of context. But I think the main reason is that Jesus deliberately veiled his own identity. He didn’t want Mary to recognize him so that he could teach her an important truth. She had to learn that he’s always present…even when he’s invisible to the naked eye, that he’s often closest to us when we feel the most alone. Just because we don’t see him doesn’t mean he isn’t there. Then Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She instantly recognizes Him and calls him Teacher. Mary clings to Jesus and He tells her not to. Her clinging meant, “I think everything is the same as it used to be.” But Jesus says, “No, many things are different now.” Then He tells her to go and tell the others. So she goes to the disciples and tells them she has seen the Lord. The mourner becomes the missionary! So it is with all who meet the risen Lord. We are called to do as Mary did- run and tell all who will listen that we’ve seen Jesus! 
     There’s great power in the words of someone who can say, “I was there. I saw it.” Turn to someone near you and say, “I’ve seen the Lord!” A church in Bangladesh was showing a movie about Jesus to an audience of people who’d never heard the gospel before. As the story of the crucifixion unfolded, there were tears and audible gasps. As the natives watched, one young boy suddenly spoke up, “Don’t be afraid. He gets up again! I saw it before.” That’s our message to a world overwhelmed with the reality of death. God’s given us the answer. We can say to those who feel bewildered and heartbroken, “Don’t cry…Jesus has come back from the dead. I’ve seen the Lord!”
     150 years ago, 500 people died of cholera in just ten days in one London neighborhood, marking the beginning of another horrible epidemic. Victorian physician Dr. John Snow of London had already written a controversial pamphlet suggesting that cholera was not caused by “vapors,” but was instead a disease of the “gut,” spread by contaminated water. With the high number of deaths in this neighborhood, he studied the cases and was convinced that a pump at the intersection of Broad and Cambridge Streets was the sole source of contaminated water. In an emotional public meeting, he suggested removing the pump handle so no more water could be drawn from that location. The rest is history. The handle was removed, cholera abated, and huge engineering projects were launched for sanitation systems and clean water across Europe. Dr. Snow’s pump handle affected all of us. It led to improvements in the areas of sanitation and purification, and dramatically improved human life, lowering infant mortality rates and increasing life spans. In February of 2008, Starbucks got a new pump handle…they shut down their stores. It was only for three hours, but for some the mere thought that all 7100 Starbucks in North America were closed was enough to create trembling hands and throbbing heads. Why did Starbucks take a three hour coffee break? To clean up their pump handle. The pump handle that first began the Starbucks phenomenon had been so changed and corrupted that the company needed a new one. It’s a concept that sounds like a contradiction. Shut down your business in order to open up your business. But the same logic has been used by physicians for years. Doctors sometimes induce comas in patients with life-threatening injuries, allowing them to regulate body temperature, reduce swelling, and stabilize fluid levels. They “shut down” in order to help the body come alive to health. Perhaps it’s time for the Church to consider changing the pump handle. Maybe we need to find a new pump handle, since the living water that’s been coming out in recent decades hasn’t been healing as many people as it used to. Starbucks is “all things coffee.” Christians are “all things Jesus.” Jesus is our Pump Handle. We’re at our best when we’re entrepreneurial and courageous, when we push for innovation and reject the status quo, when we’re the coffee that brings people together every day around the world to foster conversation and community.
     Who are we? Why are we here? It seems to me that the reason we’re here is because we’re in love…I would be so bold as to call it the passionate throes of “first love”- the love we have for Jesus. It’s that “first love” that brings us to our Savior’s feet. It’s that “first love” that empowers us to ask Jesus to make us His. It’s that “first love” that, through God’s grace, gives us the gift of faith. How much more could we fulfill the Great Commission if we were to reconnect with our first love, and shut ourselves off from all those things that are add-ons to our faith. What if we were to re-plumb…rediscover the heart of our faith, our love for Jesus?
A few years, the Barna Research Group released the findings of a nationwide survey of people who do not consider themselves to be Christian.  They were asked to provide their impressions of 11 groups of people ranging from military officers to drug dealers.  One of the statistics that struck me was that only 44% of those surveyed had a favorable impression of clergy. Even more disturbing, only 22% had a favorable impression of evangelical Christians, who were beaten out by television performers, real estate agents, lawyers, Democrats, Republicans.  The only group that scored lower in favorable ratings than evangelical Christians was drug dealers! Now, whether you identify yourself as an evangelical Christian or not, this attitude ought to concern you. Somebody’s missing the target in their witness for Christ.  It’s like that woman who read that dogs were healthier if fed a tablespoon of cod liver oil each day. So each day she followed the same routine–she chased her dog until she caught it, wrestled it down, and managed to force the cod liver oil down the dog’s throat.  Until one day when, in the middle of this grueling medicinal effort, the bottle was kicked over. With a sigh, she loosened her grip on the dog so she could wipe up the mess–only to watch the dog trot to the puddle and lick it up. The dog LOVED cod liver oil! It was just the owner’s method of application the dog objected to. The delivery method was the problem. The same could be said of the church.  People desperately want to know that God is alive and well…and that He loves them. Why then aren’t our churches full? There must be a problem with how we are communicating our message, with the delivery system. Is the Church ready to stop being wussified? It didn’t happen overnight and we’re not going to cha
nge it over night. But we have to start somewhere. I have a suggestion as to how we might begin to stop it- here it is. Before every committee meeting, ask this question: “Is what we’re about to discuss worth the price Jesus paid on the cross? Is what we’re doing right now, or fighting over right now, worth the shedding of Jesus’ blood? Did Jesus die on the cross so that we could be this kind of church?”
      If you don’t know Jesus, or if you’re not sure, there’s no better time than Easter Sunday to put your trust in him. If you sense God’s calling you to come to Jesus, and if you truly want to know him, here’s a prayer that could change your life: “Dear Lord, I know I’m a sinner. Jesus, I believe you are the Son of God. I believe you died on the cross for me. Thank you for taking my punishment and dying in my place. I believe you rose from the dead on the third day. With all my heart, I trust you as my Lord and Savior. Come into my heart and save me now. I gladly receive your gift of salvation. Amen.” If you prayed that prayer with me, here are two things you can do. First, you can go to my website, get a printed copy of this sermon and write today’s date by the prayer as a reminder of your commitment. Second, TELL someone that you prayed the prayer and accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Your faith will grow and your doubts will wane as you tell others what Jesus has done for you. I close with the question Jesus asked Mary: Why are you crying? The time for tears is over. The time to tell the Good News has come. Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!