Mad For Good Works

good-works

    “Good works” are an interesting topic. There are those who think that good works are what gets you into Heaven. In fact, there have been times in history where it was thought that all you needed to get into Heaven was…money! You could actually “buy” your loved ones into Heaven. (Interestingly, it was THE CHURCH who got the money for the “Heaven insurance”. Ain’t THAT convenient!)

     But the whole thing begs the question, “Why do good works?” The late great Rich Mullins- for my money one of the best songwriters…ever- wrote a song called Screen Door. The lyrics include this chorus:

    “It’s about as useless as a screen door on a submarine. Faith without works, Baby- it just ain’t happenin’. One is your left hand. One is your right. It’ll take two strong arms to hold on tight.”

    So it’s a pretty easy leap of logic to think that good works are what gets us “in good” with God. I mean, society even supports that theory. What do you remember Mother Teresa for? All the…wait for it…GOOD things she did. Even non-believers are drawn to people who do good works.

    So, what’s the key here? Good works are…well…GOOD! So why don’t they get me into Heaven? The answer is found in the motives. Can good works be done for self-serving reasons? Yes. Can they be done for completely the WRONG reasons. Yes. It’s when we do them for the RIGHT reasons that a sense of harmony enters the equation. And what IS “the right reason”?

    Good works are best done when they are done as a RESPONSE. “A response to WHAT?”, you ask. A response to…God. God has done amazing things in my life. God has SAVED my life…literally and figuratively. And that is a debt that, like that great theologian Dan Fogelberg said, “I never can repay”. I am SO grateful for what God has done in my life that I WANT other people to experience what I’ve experienced. NOT because I’m so awesome, but because GOD is so awesome.

     When our good works are a result of what God has done in our lives, it changes everything. Then, we are compelled to want to do good things, so that we can honor God AND so we can help usher other people into the presence of God that we have experienced. We don’t do god works because we can. We do good works because we HAVE to- based on what God has done in our lives, we simply can’t respond any other way!

    Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Preaching on a Random Bible Verse

bible-with-question-mark

Once, my younger son and I donated some stuff to Goodwill. We pulled the van in line behind the cars that were already there. After just a minute or two, the lead car finished and pulled away, but there was still a car in front of us that was in the process of unloading, so we waited. AS we waited, a car that had been BEHIND us pulled around us and the car in front of us and into the currently vacant “lead” spot. He then proceeded to get out and begin to unload! I was NOT a happy camper! I sat there for a moment- windows down- trying to contain myself…but I failed. “Hey! That’s just GREAT! Really nice! Did you notice the LINE here? Way to wait!” I found myself trying to remember if I had anything on the outside of the van that would identify me as a Christian, or, worse…a pastor! It was NOT my proudest moment!

Today, I offer what I call a “one and done” Wednesday sermon- not part of an ongoing series. I thought about what I might do, and then I thought about the old “arbitrarily flip open the Bible and blindly point to a verse” trick…to see what God might have to say. So…that’s EXACTLY what I did! And my finger landed on-
     James 1:19-20- “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
Comedian Jeff Foxworthy said, “Whenever people hear my Southern accent, they always deduct 100 IQ points!” The IQ, Intelligence Quotient, is used as a predictor of educational achievement or special needs. Do you know your IQ? I’ve decided that God gives us either extra intelligence or extra common sense…but NOT both. I know people who are borderline brilliant…but have difficulty finding their way home at night!
What about your AQ? Not IQ…but AQ- your Anger Quota. Everyone has one- a threshold beyond which, if the right buttons get pushed, you will explode. That threshold is your AQ, your Anger Quota. Now, we’re all absolutely calm, relaxed, quiet, and composed…NEVER get mad! But what about everybody else? Under that calm composure is a great capacity for anger. For some, that anger lies buried deep and seldom surfaces. For others, it sits painfully close to the surface, hovering very near 212 degrees Fahrenheit- the boiling point. All it takes is the right word or the right behavior and we blow up like a volcano. Let’s take a little quiz to test your AQ.
You’re in the “12 items or less” express checkout line at the grocery store, with 8 items in your cart. You notice the guy ahead of you has what must be 25-30 items. The sign clearly says, “Twelve Items Or Less.” Does your pulse rate start to rise? Do you feel your territory has been violated? Most people will just ride out this wave of anger, grumbling to themselves while offering a friendly yet false smile toward the cheater. But some will go further, leaning in and saying to the cheater: “Hey, do you mind? You have WAY more than 12 items. Who do you think you are?” Where are YOU in that story? I will admit 2 things- 1. I have come a LONG way in that respect and 2. I’m not yet where I want to be!
Did you notice the amazing depth of this relatively short verse? We are encouraged to: 1. do specific things, in order to 2. behave a certain way, so that we can 3. obtain a particular outcome. Let’s look further at this. According to Jesus, the end goal of this verse, the “particular outcome” we are trying to obtain, is the righteousness of God. Sounds great and all, but what exactly does THAT mean? Well, righteousness is the quality of being just. As it relates to God, it points to His faithfulness and truthfulness. So God’s righteousness is that infinite, eternal and unchangeable part of His character that is faithful and just.
So righteousness is the desired outcome, but it apparently takes a certain behavior on our part…and that behavior is that we are to be slow to anger, because Jesus says that anger doesn’t produce God’s righteousness. Slow to anger? Really? Why couldn’t you give me something easy…like giving away my tunic or loving my enemies?! But NO…slow to anger! Alright…let’s at LEAST consider it!
Getting angry, losing your cool, yelling, screaming…it’s a painful experience. It’s also an unhealthy experience. Anger can literally damage your health. One anger management study showed that young men who are prone to outbreaks of anger are 7 times more likely to have heart disease or die by the age of fifty. People in general who struggle with anger are five times more likely to suffer coronary heart disease than the average person. People with existing heart disease more than double their risk of a heart attack when they get angry. Anger kills. Anger has to be managed. Don’t hold on to it- it kills. But if you simply INSIST on being angry, here are some steps to help that happen:
· Take pride in being a perfectionist and expect perfection from everybody else.
· Make it a habit to be extremely picky.
· Believe that you can mold and change the people around you.
· Make it a point to force people around you into doing what you know they should be doing. Make sure to be absolutely furious when somebody makes a mistake.
· Hit the boiling point early and often and help others hit that mark, too.
· Don’t listen to anybody else’s view but keep pushing your own. Nobody knows as much as you.
· Always believe that your way is the best way.
· State your view often…and preferably loudly.
· Make yourself so busy that you’re always on edge, ready to snap at the slightest little thing. Expect others to cater to your needs. That’s why God put them here, isn’t it?
· Never laugh and have a good time.
· Never be easygoing, because everything you say and do is profoundly wise and important.
· Have no compassion for others. After all, you’ve achieved your position in life through your own hard work and diligence. Just keep saying, “God helps those who help themselves.”
· Make fun of people who are different from you. Say ugly things about them, being careful to make sure that person is looked down upon.
· Shout a lot.
· Worship money and possessions.
· Completely ignore your own faults and weaknesses, focusing instead on the faults and weaknesses of others.
· Always be offended at any remarks and corrections that are directed your way.
There you have it- a GREAT list that will help ensure a life of anger, loneliness and self-imposed misery. People say that love is the most common emotion. I disagree- it’s anger. Anger is THE most common and destructive emotion out there. You can see it on people’s faces. They have a darkness, an edginess, a pain to them that seems to consume them from the inside out.
Don’t hold on to anger- it rarely ends well. On a recent 4th of July, a 28-year-old Kansas City man accidentally blew up his kitchen. He spent the night celebrating with friends, drinking heavily and shooting off fireworks. Eventually, the neighbors called the police. Someone in the group hid a stash of fireworks…by stuffing them into the oven! Sadly, he promptly forgot about them. About 3AM, the homeowner decided it would be a good idea to bake some lasagna. The kitchen walls all blew out and the oven landed in the yard! I hear that story and I think about how we stuff our anger deep down inside- like those fireworks stuffed in the oven- and they just lie there, waiting for nothing more than somebody to simply light our oven.
So we are seeking God’s righteousness. And the way we find that righteousness is to be slow to anger. But THAT’S the hard part! How in the WORLD do we DO that? Well, in this passage, Jesus says that we learn to be slow to anger by doing 2 things: 1. be quick to hear and 2. be slow to speak. And for many of us…BOY are those hard! Society teaches us the exact polar opposite. We’re told that the only way to get ahead in this world is to be slow to listen and quick to speak. And Jesus wants us to do…the opposite? Come on! We’re supposed to ACTUALLY keep our big yappers shut and…what?…LISTEN…to other people? Oh Lord, how depressing! Freud said that depression is anger turned inward. Some people who feel defeated by life may very well have loads of anger within that they have never owned up to. We all get angry sometimes. But I worry about people who claim to never get angry. We might redirect anger in a positive way. We might contain it so that there’s no real damage done. But anybody who says they never get angry is simply in denial…and denial’s not just some river in Egypt!
So, listen more, talk less. Sounds great…but how do we actually DO that? Here are 6 steps to managing your anger:
1. Make a list of the things that make you angry. Identify those things or persons that just really…hack you off, and then take steps to avoid them or be reconciled to them.
2. Promise yourself that the next time your blood starts to boil you won’t blow up. In Romans 12 we find my older son’s favorite Bible verse, “Don’t repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what’s right in the eyes of everybody. If it’s possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Don’t take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’” Anybody can get angry–even the best of us. In Honolulu. an anger-management counselor lost his temper when a man arrived to class drunk. He allegedly punched the man, who sadly lapsed into a coma and died. AND…the whole thing happened in a church. Be careful how you express your anger. Former Chicago Cubs outfielder Andre Dawson once paid a $1,000 fine for disputing a strike called by umpire Joe West. On the memo line of his check Dawson wrote: “Donation for the blind.”
3. Consider the other person’s situation. The good people of New Jersey have been considering a change their state motto. For as long as anybody can remember, the state motto has been “Liberty and Prosperity” but natives have proposed a new motto that would “bring the focus back to who New Jerseyites are, what we stand for”. The new proposed motto? “Whatchu Lookin’ At?!” Maybe you’re just too picky, too prideful. Maybe what that person said or did that made you so mad was, in fact, truthful…helpful.
4. Help avoid anger by being self-aware. When Muhammad Ali was growing up in Louisville, KY, his parents got him a brand-new bicycle. One day he parked it outside the gym…and somebody stole it. There was a policeman in the building, and Ali told him that he was going to find the guy who stole his bike and beat him up. When the policeman found that Ali didn’t know how to fight, he offered to teach him. And that’s how Muhammad Ali got into boxing. He never found the guy who stole his bike, but he claimed that every time he got into the ring, he looked at the other fighter and said, “Hey, that’s the guy who stole my bicycle!” Remember, nobody’s perfect; we all make mistakes. Life’s too short to be mad all the time.
5. When your anger button is pushed…start counting. A business executive boarded a train that was heading from New Orleans to Washington DC- his stop was in Atlanta. He was a heavy sleeper and needed to be awake no later than 5AM. so that he could get off the train and make a very important business appointment. He found a porter and told him, “I want you to get me up no later than 5AM tomorrow morning, but I’m a heavy sleeper. No matter how much I moan and complain, you have to make sure I get off the train in Atlanta, even if you have to remove me bodily.” The next morning the man woke up…and it was 9AM- he had missed his stop! He was REALLY mad! He found the porter and poured it on, pelting him with abusive language and insults. After he left, another passenger said to the porter, “How can you stand there and take that kind of talk?” The porter responded, “That’s nothing- you should’ve heard the guy I actually threw off the train in Atlanta!” Mark Twain said, “When angry, count to four; when very angry, swear.” But Thomas Jefferson said, “When angry, count to ten before speaking, if very angry count to 100.”
6. Pray! Pray for the strength to give up your anger. Amy Grant, one of the biggest names in contemporary Christian music, was just a teenager when she caught the ear of a record producer. Out of the blue, he called late one night to offer her a recording contract. Just as Amy was accepting the recording contract, her father picked up the extension phone and told Amy she was grounded for talking on the phone after curfew. Here was the biggest moment of her young life, and she got grounded. She was so mad at her parents that she didn’t tell them about the record contract until later. There are only 2 things you can do with anger- let it eat at you like battery acid, spoiling your life, or give it over to God.
Here’s a final word of advice- be careful, the tendency is to hear sermons like this one and think, “I hope so-and-so heard that. That’s exactly how they act!” But the point today ISN’T how “so-and-so” acts…it’s how WE act! There are basically three kinds of people: There are those who look at Christianity from afar, but never even darken the door of a church. Then there are those who listen to Christianity, maybe even sitting on the front row on Sunday morning, but that’s the end of their exposure to Christianity. Then you’ve got a small number who live it every day of the week. In other words, you have got the “lookers, listeners, and livers.” Those who are regularly exposed to small doses of watered-down religion become inoculated against genuine faith. That seems to be what’s happening today- people experienced a watered-down version of religion, mistake that for true faith and say: “Thanks…but no thanks!” You can’t change your past, but God can change your future…if you’ll just let Him.
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Be the Best

The best

   I have the attention span of a gnat. (And that MIGHT be demeaning to the gnat!) My ADHD is such that it is HARD to stay too focused for too long. And that is both a curse and a blessing. It can be a curse because it makes life a challenge. I have had to work pretty hard over the years, developing “work-arounds” that allow me to stay on top of things. My adult life has gone from a completely unscheduled free-for-all to a nearly OVER-scheduled regimen.

    The upside to ADHD, however, is that ability to multitask. I appreciate the humor of comedian Lewis Black. (You DO have to wade through a LOT of language to get it, however!) But I recently heard him say that multitasking is impossible. His “proof” was texting and driving. And while I FULLY agree that texting and driving…well and safely…is NOT possible and should NOT be done, I disagree with the overall premise.

    I multitask regularly. I will have 3 or 4 projects going at one time as I sit at my desk. I will work on one of them until something interrupts me- which RARELY takes long! I will switch to that thing until it is done. Then I will pick up Task #2…until the next interruption. Then on to #3, #4…and then back to the top!

    It also happens that, while I’m working on one thing, my crazy brain will pop a thought in about another project. And I have learned that, whenever possible, I need to go ahead and pursue that thought immediately if I am to make the most of it. So, I will drop the one and pursue the other. Then, “Where was I? Oh, yes!”

    Ministry tends to drag you in many different ways. And when your brain already works that way…it can actually be a good thing! So, for me, ADHD is just not that bad of a thing! It IS labelled as a learning disability…but it’s one that I have managed, with God’s help, to actually harness and put to work! (And don’t get me started on my OCD! That is another story!)

    Do you have something in YOUR life that labels you as “different”? Has life been a struggle. Do you sometimes feel inadequate, “less than”, not enough? That’s the devil talking to you. You are exactly the person God made you to be. Whatever it is that makes you “different”, He sees it less as “different” and more as “special”. He also has greater plans for you. He wants to help you make the most of your God-given uniqueness to best serve Him by serving the world. Be the best “you” you can be!

    Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Super Bowl, World Series, Easter!

Super Bowl WS Easter

    Easter is amazing. It IS the greatest day in history. Think about it- on Easter, we celebrate THE single most amazing and impactful event in history. We celebrate the coming back to life of Jesus Christ…Emmanuel…God with us. And that singular event is the linchpin upon which history itself hinges.

    We literally split time in half based on the Resurrection. BC is Before Christ and AD is anno domini…the year of our Lord. And there is the more “modern”, “politically correct” version- BCE and CE. BCE stands for Before Common Era and CE stands for…you guessed it…Common Era. In seminary, we were REQUIRED to use BCE and CE, over and against BC and AD.

    What I find interesting about the whole thing is two-fold. First, any time you “require” me to do…nearly anything…I am likely to either not do it at all or only do it as long as I have to. The nanosecond I graduated from seminary, BCE and CE went back in the closet! Second, you can call it ANYTHING you want, but the designation STILL hinges on the SAME spot!

    So…Easter is amazing! I tell the staff and congregation with which I serve that Easter is to the pastor what the Super Bowl is to the quarterback or the World Series is to the star pitcher. Churches should do everything in their power to be as welcoming as possible on Easter. Now, don’t get me wrong- churches should be welcoming EVERY Sunday! But statistically, Easter is going to be THE day of the year that brings the most visitors in your door- the “C and E” (Christmas and Easter) folks. So we should, as my mother-in-law says, put the big pot in the little pot at Easter!

    And that’s what the church I currently serve did yesterday! We had nearly 400 people worship with us at three services yesterday. Combine that with the attendance at the Holy Thursday service and we had a worship attendance pushing 500 for the week. In addition, our new Visitor’s Bag ministry has gotten off to a great start! Folks who are visiting get a reusable shopping bag with the church’s info on it. In the bag is- brochures about the various ministries of the church, two Prayer Stones, one of my business cards with a handwritten note attached to it, a loaf of artisan bread from our Bakery Ministry and a plate of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies from our Caring Hearts ministry. Over the past 4 Sundays, we have given out 75 of those bags! In 4 weeks! Awesome stuff!

    We (Christians) have the greatest story in history to share. THE greatest. Period. And yet, all too often, we treat it as if we’re a bit embarrassed by it. We’re reluctant to tell people. We’re reluctant to invite people. We’re reluctant to offer other people the same grace, love and forgiveness we’ve received.

    Here’s my challenge to you- don’t let yesterday be the end of the Easter season. Instead, make it the beginning. Carry the power of Easter all year long. Tell people about what God means in your life. Invite them to church. Share the Good News! Why? Because God is god, a;ll the time!

    Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

In the Shadow of the Cross: Why Are You Crying?

Shadow of the Cross Why Are You Crying

    A family was driving home from church on Easter. Mom and Dad were in the front seat and their 3-year old boy was in the backseat. Partway home, little Timmy started sobbing. His mom turned around. “What’s wrong?!” Timmy gasped and sputtered and then said, ‘The pastor said he wanted us kids brought up in a Christian home!” “Right. What’s wrong with that?” “I want to stay with you guys!”

    Today, we complete our current sermon series- In the Shadow of the Cross. We’ve spent five weeks in that exact spot- the shadow of the cross. We’ve looked at 5 events- 4 that preceded the cross and one…today…that follows it and focused on how Jesus orchestrated events to lead to both the ultimate sacrifice…and the ultimate victory. Four weeks ago, we started with a topic that hit at the very heart of Easter- Before Death…Life. Three weeks ago, we moved to The Plot. Two weeks ago, we looked at an odd and beautiful story about Extravagant Worship. Last week, we came to the very threshold of Easter as we looked at why Jesus would be Riding on a Donkey. Today, we bring it all to a close…AND celebrate the greatest day in history…as we ask the question, “Why are you crying?” Let’s take a few minutes and walk through today’s Scripture.

    John 20:1-18 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. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They’ve taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they’ve put Him!”

    One of the major differences between Jesus and other great religious leaders is that Jesus rose from the dead. And THAT’S what we celebrate today, because Jesus’ story is cause for joyous celebration.

    Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb early on Easter morning to anoint the body. She has NO idea how she’s going to GET to the body…but she just HAS to go. And when she gets there, the stone is rolled away. She’s convinced that Jesus’ body has been taken. So she runs to tell Peter and John. On a side note, notice that this is the Gospel written BY John. And in this story, he often refers to the disciple “that Jesus loved”. And that disciple is…John- HIM! He IS “the disciple Jesus loved”, the “other disciple”. Keep that in mind as we walk through this story.

    So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.

They were as shocked and devastated as Mary was, so Peter and John- “the other disciple”- run for the tomb. Notice that John takes a moment to tell us that he outran Peter and got there first. It’s SUCH a “guy” thing, isn’t it?

    He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but didn’t go in.

    So John gets there first- he is CLEAR to tell us that- but he doesn’t go in the tomb. Why? There are several possible explanations. Perhaps he waited in deference to Peter as the true leader of the group- age before beauty and all that. Maybe. But I wonder- it tells us that he looked in and saw the grave clothes and didn’t go in. I think maybe he saw that and assumed that Jesus’ body was still there. “Nothing to see here- situation normal.”

    Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.

    Peter- who was “behind him”, let’s make sure we get that in- finally gets there. And Peter- headstrong, impetuous, a “shoot first and ask questions later” kind of guy- goes right in. He sees the grave clothes, too, but he also notices that the headcloth isn’t with the rest- it’s off to the side, folded.

    Why would it be separated from the rest of the graveclothes…AND be folded…if someone had simply stolen the body? They either would have left the whole shooting match in a big heap or simply taken them as they took the body. Something…else…happened here.

    Then John…the OTHER disciple…you know, the one Jesus LOVED?…comes in, sees what’s what about you know what…and believes.

    Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying.

    So the disciples return “home”, while Mary stays behind. I would LOVE to know what Peter and John thought as they headed back. So many possibilities…so little information. But we KNOW what Mary thought because she stays behind…standing outside the tomb, weeping.

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?”

    She looks into the tomb, I think to see for herself that the body is gone, and she sees two figures, all in white, sitting where Jesus’ lifeless body had been. Notice that Mary didn’t freak out at the presence of two angels. Either she was clouded by grief and tears or they didn’t look that different from you and me. Either way, they look right at her and ask, “Woman, why are you crying?” At that moment, the answer to that question must seem PAINFULLY obvious to Mary. “Duh! Why do you THINK I’m crying?!”

    “They’ve taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they’ve put Him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she didn’t realize it was Jesus.

    Mary’s answer makes it clear that she has NO expectation that Jesus is alive. And then, she turns…and there He stands. BUT…she doesn’t recognize Him. Is she so blinded by grief? Is she so convinced that He’s dead? Or is it possible that Jesus has intentionally kept her from recognizing Him…for the moment?

    “Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you’re looking for?”

    Notice that Jesus asks her the EXACT same question the angels asked- “Why are you crying?” And then He adds, “Who are you looking for?” It’s important here that Jesus addresses her as “woman”- it’s a rather generic term that keeps her in the realm of talking to a stranger…for the moment.

    Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you’ve carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

    Mary completely ignores the question. Instead, she heads right to why she’s there. “Just tell me where He is. No questions asked. I just want to get Him.” She is so overcome by grief that she’s not thinking through this very well. She came to the tomb having no idea how she was going to get in. And now, she wants to know where the body is so that she can get in, not imagining how she’s going to move a grown man by herself. Mary is overwhelmed by this loss. Then Jesus reveals Himself.

    Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic,  “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).

    It only took one simple thing for Mary to recognize Jesus- He spoke her name. It’s the most penetrating and personal word anyone can say. She…knows. And she turns back toward Him, now confident of SO many things, and calls Him Rabboni. John tells us that is means “teacher”. And he’s right. But interestingly, Rabboni has a more literal meaning- “my dear Lord”. The dual meaning is NOT lost on us.

    Jesus said, “Don’t hold on to Me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to My brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.’ ”

    It’s interesting that Jesus’ immediate reaction to Mary’s adoration is “Don’t hold on to me.” That’s easily interpreted as, “Don’t touch me!” But that’s NOT what Jesus means. Instead, He’s saying, “Don’t detain Me. Don’t try and simply keep Me here for yourself. I still have things to do.”

    It’s also important to note how Jesus refers to God here. He is “My Father”…but He is also “your Father”. He is “my God” and “your God”. Jesus is trying to point out to Mary that believers become members of the family of God when they receive Him into their lives…their hearts. WE ARE a family.

    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.

    Mary has had a unique experience with Jesus…and she will never be the same. Think about that for a moment- she had COUNTLESS encounters with Jesus over the three years of His adult ministry. And they were all meaningful…impactful. But this one was different…special. She didn’t simply have an encounter with Jesus. For the first time, she had a unique experience with the Risen Savior. And any doubt, any wondering about just how literal His claims were was gone. He was…IS…the only begotten Son of God and He died…and rose again…for her…for US! This truly IS the greatest day in history.

    So, I just stopped by here this morning to ask YOU, “Why are you crying?” Maybe you lost a loved one. Maybe you or someone you love is struggling mightily with health issues. Maybe there’s a relationship that’s been broken..or is in danger of being broken. Maybe your relationship with your kids…or your parents…isn’t what you wish it were. Maybe you hate your job…or can’t find a job. Maybe life just hasn’t turned out the way you planned. Maybe…maybe…maybe.

    If you found yourself in there somewhere, I want you to hear something very important this morning. You are NOT alone. No matter HOW you feel, no matter WHO has walked away…you are NOT alone. No matter how bad life seems, no matter how uncertain the future seems…you are NOT alone. There is One Who walks with you, always. Sometimes, He walks beside you, talking, teaching, sharing. Sometimes, He walks ahead of you, encouraging you to pick up the pace and keep pushing on. Sometimes, He walks behind you, gently nudging you forward when you’re finding it hard to put one foot in front of the other. And sometimes…when you simply can’t go on by yourself…He carries you.

    And let me assure you- that isn’t just platitudes and lip-service from the preacher. I’ve been there- to be encouraged, prodded, even carried. And I would CERTAINLY not be HERE if He hadn’t been THERE…for me. Following Jesus doesn’t magically dissolve all of your problems. But it DOES give you an Advocate to lighten the load and help bear the burden. And it gives you hope- something to look forward to beyond this finite life. Think about that, whether you have 1 year or 100 years on this planet, it’s but the blink of an eye when compared to eternity with Him. We are not earthly beings on a spiritual journey. Instead, we are spiritual beings on a temporary earthly journey. “I knew you before you were knitted in your mother’s womb. And now, I go and prepare a place for you. And I will come for you so that where I am..you will be also.” Without Christmas, there is no Jesus. But without Easter, there is no Christ. This truly IS the GREATEST day in history! Christ is risen!

Great Expectation Saturday

tomb 2    Fat Tuesday. Ash Wednesday. Maundy Thursday. Good Friday. Easter Sunday. Wait just a cotton-pickin’ minute! What about Saturday? I didn’t see any Saturday in that list! (Didn’t see any Monday, either, but since we’re focusing on Saturday here, let’s just keep that between us!) There actually IS a day for the Saturday of Holy Week- which is today, by the way. And that name is Low Saturday. Seriously- Low Saturday.
Now I know that it doesn’t have the ring that some of the others do. After Fat, Ash, Maundy, Good and Easter, Low just…comes up a bit short! If this were a kid’s program, we would be singing, “One of these things is not like the others. One of these things does not belong.” And we would, of course, be talking about Low Saturday!
So why is it Low Saturday? Well, because it’s the day…THE day…that the stone was NOT rolled away, that Jesus was NOT alive and out of the tomb. It was…well…low. And although it’s a perfectly good name for it, it needs more. It deserves more. What about “Sunday’s Comin’ Saturday”? Or maybe “Almost There Saturday”? Or perhaps, because we have read the back of the book and know how the story turns out, it should be called “Great Expectation Saturday”.
Think about that for a minute- Great Expectation Saturday. It not only has a much more positive feel than Low Saturday; it also better captures the true feeling we should have for Easter- great expectations. We should be nearly beside ourselves with excitement, expectation and anticipation about Easter. It should be arguably THE most exciting event in our lives.
So…is it? For you, I mean? Is it Great Expectation Saturday? And NOT because of the eggs, candy, baskets and bunnies. And NOT because of ham, scalloped potatoes and great aunt Tillie. (No offense intended to great aunt Tillie, btw!) Is it Great Expectation Saturday for you SOLELY because tomorrow is the day we celebrate the fact that the grave could not hold our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? The obvious answer is “yes”…but is it the HONEST answer?
Pray about that today, and prepare for what should be THE most glorious day of the year. I pray you look into the tomb tomorrow…for yourself- don’t take someone else’s word for it…and see the graveclothes, empty and in a heap. See the stone rolled away. And see Jesus, standing there in the garden, beckoning you to a new way of life…a new LIFE!
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Art of Worship

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    Yesterday was Holy Thursday. I’m on a crusade to try and call it Holy Thursday instead of what I have called it for years…Maundy Thursday…because I try not to use much “church-speak”! My experience is that churches have their own language- everybody IN the building knows it and NOBODY outside the building does! And yet…our goal is to get the people OUTSIDE…INSIDE! So I try to call that room at the front of the building “lobby” instead of “Narthex”. And I try to call that room behind the sanctuary a “closet” instead of a “sacristy”. And I try to call “Maundy Thursday” “Holy Thursday”!

    So, last night we had our Maundy…eerr……Holy…Thursday service. My experience is that having both a Holy Thursday and Good Friday service is simply a case of Divide and Conquer- most people won’t come to both, so you split the attendance…half on Thursday and half on Friday.

    So, I tend to have the mid-Holy Week service on Thursday. Why? Simply put- Thursday is a better draw than Friday. And I actually want people to attend! So…Thursday! Pragmatic? Perhaps. Effective? You bet!

    My typical approach is to walk through the events of Holy Week- Palm Sunday through the Last Supper and the events at the Garden of Gethsemane to the Crucifixion and the tomb. That means that, while meaningful, the service tends to be emotional. It is NOT the typical upbeat, feel-good, ADHD Tigger-inspired worship that I lean toward. Instead, it is introspective, quiet, liturgical and emotional. In fact, after the service, one of our choir members (they sang at the very end of the service) came up to me and said, “Shame on you…for making us sing after THAT!” I smiled and said, “You’re welcome!”

    In a nutshell, there are two types of worship services- regular and special. They are both important, but they take a different approach. The “regular” one are just that- they are the week in and week out worship services…the foundation of a church. And while it is EASY for those to become rote and routine, they don’t have to be. There are ways to maintain the familiar while not sinking into the contemptible.

    The “special” ones are just that- special. There are the obvious ones- Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Watch Night (a United Methodist service that happens on New Year’s Eve), along with Mother’s Day, Father’s Day. Memorial Day, Christmas Eve and Easter. But then there are the “other” ones- Confirmation Sunday, Cantata Sunday, Commitment Sunday. These are not “holidays”, but they ARE special and need to be treated as such.

    I have always been drawn to the “special” services- I think it’s my theater background. Experience has been a good teacher regarding the “regular” ones. Finding the balance between the right amount of “familiar” and the right amount of “new” or “unexpected” is more of an art than a science. And experience tells me that, when those two halves of the equation get into the right balance…oh my! THEN God really gets things going! The church I currently serve seems to be in the midst of that balance right now…and it…is…awesome!

    Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!