Friday, May 30, 2014

That's Not a Rat!

Perhaps you have heard a church mouse. But this was no mouse, despite the fact that it was loose in the church. This was a rat. Or, at least, so I thought. 
Is that glue on his fur?

The infestation was noticed a couple of weeks ago. 3 men with brooms were unable to stop it. An innocent child noticed it on a Wednesday night. Then a lot more children noticed it on a Sunday morning, while it waved its little arms and arrogantly pumped its chest, as if to say, 'Come and get some!'

Taking up the challenge, one man stepped up to solve the eliminate the problem. Much to the chagrin of ladies everywhere, 'eliminate' was used like the mafia might use the term. Unfortunately for that one man, he was not just battling a rodent. He was battling the prayers of my 7-year old daughter, lover of all God's creatures, no matter how vermin-like they may be. 

I knew we were all in trouble when she named him Frank. Frank the Rat. Tears flowed as I explained why Frank had to go. 

But as it turned out, Frank was going nowhere. Thanking us for the peanut butter left on a trap, Frank continued to live large and taunt us all. Actually, it's a good thing he did, because Frank the Rat turned out to be Chocolate Chip, the pet Gerbil of one of our preschool teachers. 

Like most things, it got me thinking.

Chocolate Chip, back where he belongs.
Don't let people tell you who and what you are.
We were hunting a rat void of emotion, because he was a rat. But Frank was not a rat and was not about to go down like a rat. I think I may have noticed him once, throwing the rat trap in my direction as if to say, 'Is that all you got?!?'

Misnamed and misunderstood, Chip kept doing his thing, living as God intended. He was undeterred by the actions of those around him. 

Don't ever stop fighting for life.
You probably can't see it in the picture, but our gerbil friend was covered in glue from the trap. I don't know how he overcame, but the fact is that he did. 

For us, life can mean so many things. Not just life here, but eternal life. Not just breathing, but living the peace and joy as God intended. Not just our life, but those of everyone around us as well. Life!

Don't ever doubt the power of prayer.
Especially when it comes from the lips of a believing 7-year old girl. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Create Those 'You-Won't-Believe-What-Happened-Next' Moments

I'm a sucker. I'm not proud of it, but it's true. As everybody gets more desperate to have others click on their story links, the measures have become, to put it mildly, manipulative. For example;

A guy asked a girl out. What she said will inspire you...
An insignificant man started a blog. What he wrote about will shock you...
A cat licks itself. What the owner did next will amaze you...

The fact is, I click on more of those links than I am willing to admit. Because I want to be amazed and inspired and shocked. Sometimes I want my day to actually be made by one silly video. But what if what I have to offer isn't mind-bendingly awesome? What if what I have to give is just what you need, albeit something simple? 

I think I see one such instance from the Bible, in Acts 3. It could have been titled, A guy denies a homeless man some change. What happened next will change how you see life.

Pete and John were just headed to church, but you never know what's going to happen when you go to church. After all, this is God we're talking about, the too-big-to-be-contained, amazing-beyond-your-imagination, God.

As Acts 3 records it, they come across a beggar. It seems like an intelligent place to beg, with all the compassionate people coming and going. It actually makes me wonder why more beggars don't hang around churches these days. (I'm afraid the lack of beggars around churches may say more about the Church than the beggar.)

The beggar asks for money. He did so without looking up, perhaps to avoid the awkward stares of people who would rather not give. Peter asked the beggar, who also happened to be crippled, to look him in the eye. The beggar does so, hoping for some money. Peter kills that dream rather quickly, saying, 'I don't have any money, but I will give you what I have. In Jesus' Name, walk.'

He helps the beggar up, who decides to jump around, giving praise to God. He's in church, so it raises some eyebrows and things get interesting from there. (You can check out Acts 3 for the rest of the story.)

'But I will give you what I have.'

We read this story and only see that what Peter had to give was greater than money. But what if what we have to give isn't seen as greater than money? What if the beggar had looked at Pete and said, 'All things considered, I'd rather have the cash.'?

What if, for inexplicable reasons, the beggar decided money was worth more than the ability to walk? And what if Peter and John decided to withhold anything else, deciding that only money would make a difference to this man?

Then Acts 4:4 would not have been written. See, after the miraculous healing, Peter, ever the opportunist, decided to preach to the onlooking crowd. It actually becomes quite a spectacle and gets Peter and John arrested by those priests who felt their own power was more important than God's. But after all of that, we read this;

But many who heard the message believed; so the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand. ~Acts 4:4

That's 2,000 more than the previous update we're given on the number of Christians. It didn't happen because people gave a lot of money. It happened because one guy said he would give what he had.

Our attitude should always be, 'I will give you what I have.'

Monday, May 26, 2014

Ministry Monday: Youth Pastors Are Missionaries?

We have all seen them. They stand out like a sore thumb. But they stand out for a reason. I am talking about missionaries. 

You may have known them before they left for the mission field. You may have even prayed over them in a special service just before they boarded a plane for some distant country and culture. They looked like you, dressed like you, ate at similar restaurants. 

But upon their visit back stateside, you are wondering what happened. Guest speaking at your church, you see them wearing clothing native to the mission field. They are teaching yo strange sounding vocabulary and possibly introducing you to new foods. 

This is not the same person. They're odd. (Disclaimer: I don't think missionaries are odd. I am saying some people, other than me, might think you're odd. If you're a missionary, don't shoot the messenger. In fact, I know the first missionary who will comment about this post to me.)

When missionaries are odd and speak the language or act like the natives they work with, nobody says a word. That's what we want them doing. We pray for them and support them with our money and hold weekend events focused on them for a reason. We want them to succeed. To reach another culture, you have to find a common ground. That often means fitting into their culture. You don't lose your identity, but who you are grows into something more than it was before you arrived. 

Being different from our culture is what we expect. We'd think them to be uncaring and certainly unsuccessful if they didn't learn how to integrate into the culture they were preaching the Good News to. So why do think it odd when a youth pastors fits in well and communicates well with teens? 

I'm not advocating irresponsibility, but should we expect the youth culture to connect with anyone that looks like he comes from another land? Don't we also wish success on these pastors to our youth? I know people pray for me, so this is not a personal rage against the machine. I seek to encourage.

Youth pastors... Go into the mission field to which you have been called, integrating yourself until they see that you care. Become one with them so they can hear your voice and connect it to Jesus. Do your best to be the interpreter of youth language. 

Church people... Lift these youth pastors up in prayer. Come alongside them and ask how you can help them. Look past their oddities (like you might a missionary) and thank God for people who choose to sacrifice normalcy for youth ministry. 

  • Oh, I have one more thought. Does anyone ever ask a missionary when they're going to become a real pastor? If not, then I think you know what question to youth pastors has to go as well. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

If I Were Spiderman, I'd Need A Chiropractor

It comes out of nowhere. Actually, that cannot be true. It comes from somewhere. I choose to ignore it likely comes from weakness, lest I feel sorry for myself. So I come up with other possibilities, such as;
  • I was about to break a personal record for bench pressing weight.
  • With spiderman-like reflexes, I saved a mom and baby from near death. 
  • I faced down a ninja in a street fighting competition.
All of these could explain why my back is in such great pain. Of course, these scenarios ignore the fact that;
  • I don't have a personal record for bench pressing weight.
  • I have neither spiderman-like reflexes nor a situation which called for them.
  • The only street fighting I have ever done was on the old Nintendo game, Double Dragon.

But still, my back hurts. I wish I could explain it to you. It's this pain, not unlike 3 small hobbits decided to jump on me simultaneously from different directions. This has been the cause in the past. No, this time it came during some mundane exercise routines. This exercise, ironically, is supposed to make me stronger, not send me whimpering to a La-Z-Boy recliner.

While I lay there, studying my ceiling, trying to discern patterns, I wonder if God is attempting to teach me something. Perhaps, like Paul being blinded for 3 days before being called by God to become the greatest missionary the world has ever known, I am being prepared for some great work. Maybe I'll be sharing this story in front of great crowds of people who will all buy my book afterwards, realizing the great spiritual insight I have.

Of course, my back has been hurt before. Yet great crowds and book deals have gone unseen. More than likely, God is once again showing me that His grace is enough for me. That, and I was probably twisting in such a way which my back won't tolerate.

The truth of the matter is that many people have to suffer much more than I do. Others might have to suffer less, but that is not my concern. Each of us, with the focus we have, should look to God.

I'd offer more, but I need to get back to a recliner and studying my ceiling. What are you focused on today?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Blood Doctrine

Here's the description I was given of Blood Doctrine by Christian Piatt.

What would happen if scientists were to take blood samples from ancient relics of Jesus’ crucifixion and extract the DNA in order to create a clone?
Filled with action, murder and miracles, Blood Doctrine is a brilliant story that bridges the miracle of modern science and the miracle of the crucifixion of Christ.

This sounds like a great book that I would devour and recommend, right? Yeah,! Let me start with the biggest problem, one I have mentioned here on my blog in the past. Foul language is unnecessary.

Especially for Christian authors, the use of bad words very profane language is not only unnecessary, but grasping for shock value to cover up deficits in other areas of the story. See, after the first couple of chapters, I was hopeful of two distinct matters. First, that the aforementioned profanity would stop, or at least slow down. Second, that the plot would be so entirely amazing that I might forgive the grievance of characters having a small vocabulary.

Let's not waste time talking about the characters, non-Christian, needing to sound authentic to make for a good story. If that was the intended purpose, it failed. Piatt had characters swearing in front of priests, albeit bad guy priests. Even the people who swear in my presence usually ask for a pardon on their French.

If nothing else, the bad language is an affront because I don't expect to see it in Christian novels. Call me a prude if you wish, I understand I can't expect purity in the world. However, when I open a book, it is by my choice.

Now, all of this may have been a blip on the radar had the story left me wanting more. The only thing I wanted was some conclusion. Piatt, I think, was attempting to weave two narratives together for the sake of combining historical narrative and modern science. From my vantage point, I was reading revisionist history and seeing no connection to the modern portion of the story.

Plus, I could see it coming, my disappointment that is. As the stories were reaching a climax and the pages were running out, I knew either things would be wrapped up too quickly or I would be left with questions. Neither is a good place to be in, but sadly I am left with questions.

It's unfortunate, because the idea was full of potential.

I was given this book by the good people over at SpeakEasy. They give me books in exchange for an honest review. I think we can all agree I've been honest here today.

Christian Piatt - Website
Christian - Blog (Patheos)


Monday, May 19, 2014

Ministry Monday: That Was Supposed To Work

Chalk it up to experience, but I usually know what to expect from teens. This isn't to say that I'm never surprised by what they say or do, how they act or feel, but in a general way, I've learned (and re-learned) their culture. 

But my job isn't limited to simply working with teens. No, a few years ago my local church decided I would be a good fit to oversee working with jello. 

Yes, jello.

Jello is wiggly. It's hard to grab. It stains the carpet. It comes in all sort of flavors. Some of you might assume jello is a metaphor for working with the older ladies and helping them plan their mother/daughter teas or ensuring there are different types of salad at the next Missions Brunch. 

Nope, jello would refer to a much younger group. Kids. (Insert over-reacting woman's scream right here.) The horror. Perhaps this can be chalked up to my inexperience, but I feel lost with children in a ministry setting. They are a great mystery to me. When one of them, from age 3 through 6th grade walks up to me, I have no idea what they are going to say or do. I am clueless as to whether they are going to tell me a cute story or kick me in the groin. Even if they are mid-way through a story about their dog, I stand guarded.....just in case. 

You can't effectively lead a children's meeting if you are curled up on the ground in the fetal position. 

Here are a couple of examples of the mystery that is children. 

I once gave a little devotion during Big Church about how God uses angels to watch over us. One little boy raised his hand. Guarding my groin, I asked him what he wanted to share. He said, "I believe in angels....I also believe in leprechauns." 

Ah, lesson accomplished!

More recently I was teaching a group of children how God wants our attention. Following the curriculum, planned by people who have supposedly tried this at home, I tried the following exercise.

What was supposed to happen: Child A hold two pencils with arms outstretched. While closing one eye, Child A then attempts to make the pencils touch at the end. Understanding depth perception as you do, you would figure on them failing. 

What actually happened: Child A was unable to close just one eye. 

What was supposed to happen next: A second child would be called up. They would each close an eye and attempt to touch these pencils tips together. 

What actually happened next: Child A (a girl) and Child B (a boy) giggled about having to stand next to each other and sort of, barely touched the pencil tips together. 

The supposed conclusion: It should have been easier when two kids attempted this, thus solidifying the point that God wants us to work together and He often uses other people to get our attention. But these children failed both times and, when asked, said it was harder working together. 

Ah, lesson derailed!

Perhaps my lesson for working with children is two-fold. Always be ready to admit when an experiment doesn't work and teach them what I wanted to teach them anyway. And always protect my groin when they say they want to tell a story.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Let's Review. Who Said, "Follow Me?"

Here's another portion of a recent sermon. I date myself and tie a ribbon on it. 

When Jen and I lived in Michigan, pre-children, there was this one time when we were invited to a wedding. Kids, this was before Google maps and GPS and smartphones telling you when and where to turn. We had Mapquest and we liked it. We would print out the directions…on paper. (We were basically one step up from calling our AAA agent and getting a TripTik.)

The wedding was a few hours away, so that is what Jen and I did. We printed our map and set out. The directions were not great. Once we got closer, we got turned around. But in a lucky twist, we happened to see Jen’s boss, also heading to the wedding. Jennifer told me to follow her. (My wife is beautiful and intelligent, good with the kids and wonderfully organized (is that how you wanted me to say it, Jen?) She told me following her boss would be easier than stopping at a gas station. I believed her.

They turned right. We turned right. They looped around suburban neighborhoods. So did we. For another 20 minutes we followed them in a city where we had no idea where we were. As it turned out, neither did her boss. She pulled over. We pulled over. She came back and asked if we knew where we were. We admitted we were just following her. She replied, ‘Well, I didn’t tell you to do that.’ (I knew she hadn’t told us to. My beautiful, intelligent wife had.)

Eventually, we all found the wedding. Life oftentimes has a lot of twists and turns. I’m sure it felt that way for Peter, the once-again fisherman. From fisher of fish to fisher of men, back to fishing for fish. But if you think his thoughts were racing that night, let’s read on and see what happened at dawn.

4 At dawn Jesus was standing on the beach, but the disciples couldn’t see who he was. 5 He called out, “Friends, have you caught any fish?”
“No,” they replied.
6 Then he said, “Throw out your net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you’ll get some!” (That should sound familiar.) So they did, and they couldn’t haul in the net because there were so many fish in it.
7 Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his tunic (for he had taken it off), jumped into the water, and headed to shore. 8 The others stayed with the boat and pulled the loaded net to the shore, for they were only about a hundred yards from shore. 9 When they got there, they found breakfast waiting for them—fish cooking over a charcoal fire, and some bread.
10 “Bring some of the fish you’ve just caught,” Jesus said. 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net to the shore. There were 153 large fish, and yet the net hadn’t torn.
12 “Now come and have some breakfast!” Jesus said. None of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Then Jesus served them the bread and the fish. 14 This was the third time Jesus had appeared to his disciples since he had been raised from the dead. ~John 21

I find it fascinating that Jesus was cooking them breakfast. This is post-resurrection and Jesus is cooking up breakfast on a beach. He’s cooking fish for fishermen. Fishermen that He had given a new job to. Fishermen that He had specifically told to follow Him and He would make them fishers of men (Matthew 4). Plus, He also helped them catch a large number of fish.

Even in the midst of our failures, Jesus is there, continuing to provide for us.

15 After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”
“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.
16 Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”
“Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.
17 A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.
18 “I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.” ~John 21

Much has been written about this conversation, about the specifics of how Jesus asked the question, to how many times He asked the question. The bottom line is that Jesus was here to reinstate His relationship with Peter and to remind him of his given mission.

Unlike Jen’s boss on the way to that wedding, Jesus is clearly inviting us to follow Him. The fact is, He’s leading us to another wedding feast.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

What Do We Do When We Fail?

2 weeks!?! They let me preach 2 weeks in a row! So I'm continuing to post portions here for those of you who did not benefit from hearing the dulcet tones of my tenor voice. 

I have heard it called the biggest failure in Pete's life.

It’s not like we don’t have other moments to choose from. This is the guy that cut off a Roman soldier’s ear. Noble, but bad form Peter. Pete was the one who tried to keep Jesus from washing his feet. He tried to set up tents for Moses and Elijah. In other words, he talked when he should have been silent. He walked on water…almost. And let’s not forget that he denied he even knew Jesus..(cough)…three times. Oh, and Jesus once referred to him as the devil.

So, go ahead and pick any of Peter’s Greatest Hits and decide which one was his biggest failure. Oh, there’s also another failure recorded in the book of Acts when Peter decided he wanted to only eat kosher, even as God invited him to a meat buffet. Then Paul called out Peter in his letter to the Galatians, basically for being a hypocrite.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Peter, a man of God.

But before I get to his biggest failure, let me ask you a question. What if your life were to be written down like we have Pete’s? What if all your highs and lows were recorded, for people to read throughout all of history? How would you fare? What chapters would you want left out? What episodes would you want to be able to explain to people as they read through and judged you without being there? (That Roman soldier…ha…he had it comin’.)

Let’s not forget that Peter was a flesh and blood man. He may have been a big, unschooled fisherman, but he received an invitation from God. There had to be a reason. Even as Peter fumbled along, trying to keep up with Jesus, clearly there was something in him that God saw of quality.

What do we do when we fail?

What was Pete’s biggest failure? Let’s set the picture.

Jesus has been raised from the dead. The same Jesus that Peter chose to follow, to leave his livelihood behind for, the one he attacked a Roman soldier for. This was the Jesus he betrayed and felt immense guilt over. This was the Jesus he saw resurrected. At least a few times.

Let me read John 21 to you and see if you catch it.

Later, Jesus appeared again to the disciples beside the Sea of Galilee. This is how it happened. 2 Several of the disciples were there—Simon Peter, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples.
3 Simon Peter said, “I’m going fishing.”
“We’ll come, too,” they all said. So they went out in the boat, but they caught nothing all night.

It’d be easy to assume the failure was in not catching anything. I would offer the bigger failure was in going fishing at all. If you are someone who sometimes fishes for fish, don’t get offended and storm out. I’m not saying that fishing is a sin. But let’s put this in perspective for ol’ Pete.

Peter was a fisherman by trade before Jesus called him. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke all record Peter and Andrew leaving their nets behind. Luke emphasizes that they left behind everything. This was total liquidation. It was a going-out-of-business sale. What was Peter doing, going out fishing? Where did this equipment come from?

We’re not given the idea this is just a relaxing, toes-in-the-sand, let’s see what happens adventure. This is 7 men going out with nets at night, which is when the business fishermen liked to fish. This is a day at the office, working for the previous employer.

I’ve had people comment in my presence that I could do other things besides ministry. I’m never quite sure what they are suggesting. I’ve always assumed the best, they were merely complimenting my ability to support a family in other sectors of life. And there have been days when I have thought….I could do something else….hmmm…

But the truth of the matter is that I have been called to youth ministry. I have been called by God. It is a calling I take very seriously. In fact, I have two rules I share with people when they are considering youth ministry. The first rule is…run (as far and as fast in the other direction as you can.) Think Jonah; God said go this way and he went that way. If you choose to ignore rule #1, the listen to rule #2; commit at the beginning to stay until the end.

This is what I would offer to any of you as well when accepting a call from God to do anything. It doesn’t have to be a pastor. I’ve got news for all of you. Each of you has been called! Each of you, accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior, has accepted His call on your life.

This is what I would have said to Peter. Your calling is not done. In fact, if anything, it has just started. Put the fishing nets down and go do what Jesus told you to do. It doesn’t matter that he messed up…big.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Highly Happy Marriages

I would like to think I do not need to offer an explanation. I would assume that you, my confidants, would understand the reasons without me even giving them. But, since online scuttlebutt is what it is, I will go ahead and offer an explanation before I go any further.

My marriage is fine. Actually, my marriage rocks. In fact, if my marriage were to race against your marriage, I would bet on my marriage every time. Not that I'm a betting man.

Having said that, let me tell you that I enjoyed reading Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages by Shaunti Feldhahn. That's right, my wife didn't make me read it. She didn't say I needed to get in touch with my feelings. And when I informed the Mrs. that I was reading this, she didn't go in a corner and curl up in the fetal position until I bought her something shiny. And do you know why?

Because my marriage is awesome!

However, awesome can always be made even more so. So I read. Shaunti has taken a topic that could be considered overdone and made this an interesting read that offers instant practicals for your marriage, if you want it to rock like mine.

Each secret is worded in a counter-intuitive way, thus the surprise. She spent oodles of her time conducting interviews and weeding out the couples who were only a little happy. She wanted the insights of the highly happy. Instead of resting on conventional wisdom, she looked at marriages as they were presented to her, in very real ways.

This book is not for those looking for an instant fix, because any problem will take time to solve, at least as long as it took to grow and fester. But with links to statistics and surveys and real-world conversations, she offers a conclusion of what the happy couples are doing.

My favorite part of the book was how Shaunti maintained a Christian worldview, without flaunting it or coming across as high and mighty. She stated the truth simply and allowed the results to speak for themselves. This could even be a good book for engaged couples to go through, so they can approach marriage with both eyes open.

This is a great read for any couple, even if your marriage rocks, like mine. I was given this book by my good friends over at Waterbrook Multnomah. They give me awesome books and ask that I post a review. Which I have now done.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Get Your Teenager Talking

There are parenting books that help you as you figure out ideas of your own. Then there are parenting books that create the ideas, leaving you more time to actually implement them with your children. In other words, there are parenting books, then there are PARENTING BOOKS!

Jonathan McKee has written the latter. He packs this book full of discussion starters, each one complete with a great opening question and followed up with several other questions, so you can keep the conversation going. 

But perhaps my favorite part was right at the beginning when McKee shares 5 tips for communicating with your teenager. He shares some simple-to-implement ideas for getting beyond one word answers. As someone who works with teens for a living, I can't tell you how many times I have gone through 5 or 6 questions in less than a minute because they weren't good questions. 

This book will not only serve me well in youth ministry, but with 3 kids of my own all getting closer to their teenage years, this will be a book I bring home with me as well. With 180 springboard conversations, you very likely won't have to let your kids know you're using a book, increasing your cool factor in their eyes. 

That's right, I just said a Jonathan McKee book will make you cool! 

On a serious note, I believe there are very few things more important than good communication between people, but especially within a family. This book is a great tool to help you accomplish just that. 

You can check this book out for yourself at Jonathan's site,a  great place with lots of parenting helps, or over at Amazon. I'd suggest you do this sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Now What? -Part 2

I got to preach again recently. I don't know why they keep giving me a microphone. Here's some more of what I shared. 

So let’s make sure we’re on the same page. John 20 records the events of the very first Easter Sunday. The actions of the disciples are a bit curious. Here’s the timeline we’re given.

· Mary Magdalene shows up at the tomb, to find the stone rolled away.

· Mary runs to find Peter and John and shares the news with them.

· John outruns Peter to the tomb (Pete would later say John got a head start), where they see the tomb is empty and the burial clothes are folded. (Note to children; even Jesus folded His stuff when getting up from the dead, so perhaps you can make your bed.)

· According to John 20:10, after seeing an empty grave, the disciples went home. Of course they did! Maybe it was time for lunch. Jesus will still be resurrected after we eat, right?

· Mary stays around and Jesus shows up and tells her about His impending resurrection.

· Mary tells the disciples.

· That evening, they lock themselves in a room. Why not? For all they know, it’s a Zombie Apocalypse happening in Jerusalem with these reports of dead men walking around.

Let’s keep in mind this all centers on Jesus. This is the Jesus that called these guys, spent 3 years with these guys. If they spent their weekend mourning their loss and regretting their cowardice at Jesus’ moment of need, then how do you explain them not jumping at the chance for redemption? I get that they did not yet understand from scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead (John 20:9). What I don’t get is why they’re not out somewhere looking for Him.

Mary tells them she’s seen Jesus. Now what? ‘Let’s go hide!’ ‘Maybe He’ll find us.’

Jesus does find them. After the events of Friday, you might assume He has some stern looks and words of rebuke for these guys. I might have used my go to love language in dealing with them. Hey guys, remember when you were going to follow me? How about a do-over? Or, Hey guys, I hope you didn’t pull any muscles when you ran from the scene while I was busy dying for your sins and all.

But this is Jesus. He offers them peace.

19 That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. 20 As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! 21 Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” ~John 20:19-23

In fact, He offers them peace twice, no doubt to ensure they get it. He says, ‘As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ (John 20:21). Then He speaks to them about forgiveness.

You only have one chance to make a first impression. So why does Jesus choose peace and forgiveness as His first words to the disciples, post-resurrection? Could it be that peace and forgiveness is supposed to be the first thing we’re giving to people? Could it be, since Jesus is sending us in the same way that God the Father sent Him, that He was once again modeling for us the method of relating to people?

Jesus offered peace.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Now What?

My next few posts will be portions of my sermons from the past couple of weeks. When the senior pastor is away, the youth pastor doesn't play. He gets to preach!

Well, that was a nice story. Jesus loved me. He died for me. He rose from the dead and told the Easter Bunny to leave me some eggs with chocolates in them for me. That was nice. I guess we can relax now until Christmas for the other big story. Or, for the fanatical, we could look ahead to Pentecost Sunday and celebrate the Holy Spirit for a Sunday. We could do that.

Not many of us would be so bold as to say that, at least not here inside these walls. I do wonder if we think it. But no, we profess to believe this. We profess God come to Earth, lived, crucified and rose among us, this ultimate of love stories. (And if I just said that last line without you thinking twice about it, then maybe you’re not a Christian, or perhaps you’ve been a Christian for too long. We profess God…come to Earth….lived, crucified and risen.)

When studying scripture, we're taught to get to the so what, the implications. We don't say so what as if it doesn't matter. We say so what as in, why does this matter. Never is this more necessary than post-Easter. For those who believe this love story to be true, the question becomes; Now What?

Because we believe it to be true, what comes next is a response on our part.

Now what?

Can’t you just picture the disciples standing around an empty tomb, looking at each other and asking, ‘Now what?’

This is the question we ask in many areas of our lives. Sometimes the answer is obvious.

Dinner is over. Now what? I guess we need to clean up.

The school year is almost over. Now what? This sort of depends on who you are. A student? You celebrate. A teacher? You also celebrate. A parent? Kids, I'll let you ask your parents for an answer to that one.

Sometimes the answer is a bit harder.

A high school break-up. Now what? We move on. But that's easier said than done.

A job is lost. Now what? We search the want-ads and update our resume. Again, easily said, but change is hard.

But sometimes the answer to Now what? is so important that it literally demands a total change in the course of our lives.

Easter happened. Now what?

It actually happened. God came to Earth as a man. He did some pretty amazing stuff. The week between the original Palm Sunday and the original Easter seems like a whirlwind of events, but it happened. We killed Jesus. (Does that sound a little too close to home? ‘I wasn't there’, you might protest. It might have been Jewish Pharisees and Roman soldiers on the scene, but it was love for us and a desire to clean up our sin that put Him there.) We killed Jesus.

But, being fully God, Jesus has a way of having His own way in things. He didn't ask anyone for permission. He didn't check with anyone else's schedule. He took a bat to the head of sin and bashed death to...well....death. Jesus rose victorious.

Now what?

to be continued...

Friday, May 2, 2014

What Do Pastors Do All Week?

I would like to give you an insider's look at what pastors do during the week. I really would. It actually pains me not to be able to do so. Alas, I cannot. 

You might wonder why. That I can share. If I were to tell you the secrets of Monday through Saturday as lived by a pastor, then I wouldn't be honored to hear the skepticism is people's voices asking what we do all week, as if the week is just one long hop from communion-filled clouds to soft mounds of Bibles. 

I'm not complaining because I know you can relate. You have each had 40+ hour work weeks. There are many weeks where you wonder if you can continue to drag your body in and out and about. Then you have those weeks. You know the kind; where big deadlines approach or the corporate heads decide to make an appearance. (If anyone shows this to the superintendent, I obviously don't mean him.) 

Easter, which we just celebrated last week, can be that kind of week for pastors. From helping to organize all the special music pieces, to planning extra services (on top of the regular services), to making sure the sound system doesn't pick this week to die (that's another story), the extras can pile up. 

It's a special week. And it deserves the special attention we give it. But have you ever noticed something? Even after we celebrate Easter together, we all come back the next week expecting more. So, eve as we plan Easter, we have to look beyond. We must keep planning ahead. 

Deep breaths.

Rather than eternally filling our cups, Easter should give us a hunger for more. Honestly, every Sunday should accomplish this. I remember, when the kids were younger and more easily fooled, they would wake up and proclaim their hunger for breakfast. I'd protest, 'We just fed you yesterday! Do you mean we have to do it again?!?' Their quizzical looks would turn to smiles as they realized that their parents had, in fact, planned ahead for more than one day's worth of meals. 

What do pastors do during the week? Among other things, we plan ahead. We look forward. We dream of what will be. Easter fills us with visions of what could be, as every Sunday is a celebration of our resurrected Savior. Each week is a continual reminder of the price which was paid on our behalf, a debt cancelled and sealed with a gift. When we view each week this way, what could be viewed as a burden is seen as a blessing. 

Yes, we look forward. We hope you do as well.