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Easter vs. Fear

March 28th, 2010 No comments

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust;
I am not afraid; what can flesh do to me? Psalm 56:3-4

According to a recent survey (http://bit.ly/czmm53), only 2% of Americans realize Easter is the most important holiday in the Christian faith. Even among Protestant Christians, just 78% recognized Easter as a religious holiday, and only a bare majority (51%) could connect it with the Resurrection of our Lord.

I always encourage people to participate in worship services during Holy Week, like our own Maundy Thursday service at 7:00 p.m. on April 1, or the community Good Friday service at noon on April 2. The reason is that, like Easter, Palm Sunday is a joyous occasion, and we can gloss over what happened in between the two. But without an appreciation of the price Jesus paid, and the impact it had on his first disciples, it’s easy to forget why Easter is so important.

There’s a fascinating example of that in Mark 15:43. Jesus has just died on the cross, and Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish ruling council, requested the body so it could be buried. (Standard Roman practice was to leave the bodies of crucified people hanging, as a warning to others.) Our pew Bible says he “went boldly to Pilate,” the governor, to request Jesus’ body. But that is surely too weak. The word translated boldly means “to be so bold as to challenge or defy possible danger or opposition.” Paul uses the same word when says (Philippians 1:4) that even though he is imprisoned by Caesar’s imperial guard, he “dares to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear.”

The amazing thing about what Joseph of Arimathea did was that it happened before the Resurrection. We know how hard it can be for us to be unafraid-and we know that Jesus rose from the grave; we know that he will return to claim his church, when the dead will rise to meet him (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17) and even those who have not yet died will be changed (1 Corinthians 15:51ff). Joseph didn’t have that assurance. He dared to ask Pilate for Jesus’ body, not knowing if it would cost him his own life-if he would end up hanging on a cross next to Jesus’ body. The reason Joseph could risk so much was that he was “expectantly waiting for the Kingdom of God” Jesus had proclaimed (Mark 1:18).

Is there anything you are afraid of? Easter reminds us that the worst thing that can happen to us-death-has been defeated. If death has lost its sting, how much more the trivial things most of us worry about. What can that reassurance do for you? What freedom does it give you? What things does it enable you to dare, like Joseph of Arimathea did?

I hope to see you during Holy Week!

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Dictation Software Chuckle

February 15th, 2010 No comments

In my work, I use MacSpeech Dictate, a voice-recognition program for the mac, a fair bit. (It’s pretty good software: the kind you swear by as much as you swear at. Most bad software you either throw out or become resigned to. Dictate I like enough to entertain hopes they’d improve it. Another sign of my regard: I’m thinking about getting their new product, MacSpeech Scribe, so I can have non-interactive voice recognition. Think, sermon transcriptions.)

Anyway, one of the ways I use it is to save myself the trouble of typing some of the prayers in the PC(USA) Book of Common Worship. Mostly, the software does a good job, but once in awhile you get something amusing, like this:

Two.
Grant us, O Lord,
the grace always to do in pink
what accords with your purpose;

That’s an interesting image. It was supposed to be “and think.”

Maybe this was an “inspired” error: it’s a lot easier to think about things than to do them. So, to combine two slogans (from Nike and the breast-cancer awareness people): Just do it. In pink.

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How to Invite People to Church

December 16th, 2009 No comments

Jon Acuff hits the nail on the head again, with this post about how to invite people to church. “It’s funny because it’s true.” (Acuff’s Stuff Christians Like is worth bookmarking. I’ve been reading it for about two years, which is almost in dog or internet years. Once, I even quoted from “The Prayer Ninja” in a sermon.)

Why is it we have so much difficulty inviting other people to church? I can think of two reasons. The first is that we really don’t care all that much ourselves. People don’t usually have much trouble expressing their opinions about things they care about, whether they’re books or TV shows or movies or restaurants or politics. Is our problem that we don’t really care anymore?

Look at Timothy. Either he lost his passion, or Paul was concerned he might. It wasn’t a question of faith — Paul wasn’t worried about that. What concerned Paul was passion: “rekindle the gift of God that is within you … for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice.” For another example, look at what Jesus said to the church in Ephesus.

The other thing that might make us hesitate to invite someone is how our church treats visitors. I’ll talk about that in my next post.

Sharing Good News (a Lesson from the Bible)

December 10th, 2009 No comments

One of my favorite Bible stories is found in 2 Kings 7.

A neighboring empire had attacked Israel and Jerusalem was under siege. The city was surrounded, so nothing could get in or out, and people got very, very hungry. But one night, God caused the besiegers to hear the sound of a great army. They became frightened and fled, abandoning their camp outside the city.

Read more…

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Second-Chance God

November 1st, 2009 No comments

He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:29-31

I began to put on a little weight a couple of years ago. This, without any obvious changes in my diet or exercise. My doctor told me, “Well, that’s middle age for you.” (She put it a little more politely than that, but that’s the message that came through.) So I’ve been watching my diet and trying to get more exercise. I’ve also begun to notice health and fitness articles in the news more than I used to.

A recent survey suggests that even the oldest people benefit from exercise. The 3-year survival rate for active 85-year olds is three times as high as the rate for sedentary ones. (“Active,” in this study, is four hours’ exercise a week, and the “exercise” didn’t have to be lifting weights or running marathons: it could be as simple as taking a couple of 15-minute walks a day.)

That’s encouraging to me. But another finding was even more interesting: It’s never too late to start. Even 85-year olds who became more active after a lifetime of sedentary living still had double the survival rate of their inactive counterparts!

There are so many things in our culture that tell us the opposite message. It’s too late to change. The die is cast. We’ve made our beds and now we have to lie in them. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Our faith teaches us that’s a lie. It’s never too late to change, because our God is a God of second chances. “Remember me when you come into your kingdom,” the thief said, and Jesus replied, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43)

But it’s not just about eternal life. Or, rather, eternal life isn’t just about life after death. Eternal life is a new kind of life that we experience in Christ now, and will continue to enjoy after death. The Apostle Paul put it this way: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”

Where are you experiencing that newness in your own life?

Maybe you could take up a new pastime.

Maybe you can let bygones be bygones, and forgive an old enemy.

Maybe you can invest in a new relationship.

Or perhaps you’re like one of those people in the study who has been living a sedentary life, and you could become more active.

I’d love to hear ways you’re experiencing newness in your life. And until next time, be a blessing!

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the pleasure of service?

August 27th, 2009 No comments

In that random way things turn up on the internet, I was directed to an article “Why won’t feminists admit the pleasure of infants?” by Katie Roiphe. Here’s the part that caught my eye:

But then part of the allure of maternity leave is precisely this: You give up everything you are and care about. The books on your shelves are not your books; the clothes hanging in the closet are not your clothes. You are the vague, slow, exhausted animal nursing its young. Anything graceful, original, sharp, intelligent about you is gone. And it is that sacrifice of self, that total denial of the outside world, that uncompromising violence done to your everyday life, that is this period’s appeal. You are transported in a way you will never be transported again; this is the vacation to end all vacations.

I don’t know how common that feeling is for mothers, but it’s interesting she sees denial of self as a “vacation to end all vacations.”

The Christian life is often expressed in terms like this. Jesus says “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:33-37). He says if he has washed our feet, we should wash one another’s feet (John 13:1-20). And the Apostle Paul describes Jesus’ whole ministry as self-emptying (Philippians 2:5-11).

Do we read those passages this way? Do we see loving service as an opportunity to be blessed? Or as weary drudgery? Perhaps we can learn something from the experience of new mothers like Katie Roiphe.

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The future of retirement

August 3rd, 2009 No comments

A thought-provoking discussion of retirement that I came across had some amazing statistics:

Studies show that retirement is no good for you. Even if you hate the job you go to every day, sudden abrupt inactivity is a bad idea. A working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research entitled “The Effects of Retirement on Physical and Mental Health Outcomes” studied people in complete retirement over six years. It found that retirement led to a 5 to 6 percent increase in illness, a 6 to 9 percent decline in mental health, and a 5 to 16 percent increase in mobility difficulties.

It made me think of this video from Mosaic:

(If you’re curious, I was directed to the WaPo item quoted above from a different type of discussion in the Atlantic; the point there was the strain put on society when retirement ages are falling even as lifespans are increasing and birthrates falling.)

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Son of Encouragement

July 8th, 2009 No comments

Do you see the glass half full or half empty? I’m a half-empty person, myself.

It’s probably my nature, but during the years I was a software developer, that tendency was reinforced. (If you’ve used a computer, you may suspect that programmers are all incurable optimists. Not true: we just aren’t pessimistic enough.) Whether it’s something in my nature or something I learned, I usually focus on what’s broken instead of what works. And a lot of things today are broken.

North Korea is developing nuclear weapons again. People in Iran are protesting a blatant election theft, and their government is shooting them on television.

Last week, unemployment hit a 26-year high of 9.5%. In California, the rate was already two points higher, and San Bernardino county is still worse.

Half of all marriages end in divorce, and two-thirds of second marriages. Sociologist Andrew Cherlin at Johns Hopkins University discovered that a child in the U.S. with married parents is more likely to see his family break up than a child in Sweden whose parents never married.

There’s a lot to be discouraged about today.

But there always has been. The book of Acts in the Bible tells the story of a man whose nickname, Barnabas, means “Son of Encouragement.” In a community facing trouble and persecution, Barnabas stood out, because he could always provide a word of encouragement.

Wouldn’t you like to know someone like Barnabas? I would.

One of the people Barnabas encouraged was a man named Paul. Paul used to persecute Christians, until he met Jesus and became one himself. It wasn’t long after he started to follow Jesus that Paul met Barnabas. Barnabas vouched for Paul with other Christians, when they were still nervous about whether his conversion was genuine. Later, Barnabas and Paul travelled together on missionary journeys.

I think some of Barnabas rubbed off on Paul.

Paul went on the become a leader in the early church, and wrote about a quarter of the New Testament. Something that strikes you when you read Paul’s letters is how often he encourages his readers. Paul wants people to know that, however bad things may seem, God doesn’t hate them. Paul wants to reassure them that God loves us and has already acted in Christ to save us.

When I’m discouraged, I read Paul. Let me encourage you to try it yourself.

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Public Witness How-To’s

May 25th, 2009 No comments

Several local groups of Christians participated in the Grubstakes Parade in Yucca Valley this weekend.

Christians at the Grubstakes Parade
Joshua Springs Christian School Pep Band.

Joshua Springs Calvary Chapel operates a Christian School. They sent their Pep Band. As it went by my position, they were playing the James Bond theme. Very nice.

Christians at the Grubstakes Parade
Yucca Valley Nazarene Church Worship Team

The Nazarene church sent their worship team. The music wasn’t anything I recognized, but it wasn’t obnoxious, and the singer was pleasantly enthusiastic. Another winsome entry.

Then came these people:

Christians at the Grubstakes Parade
Anonymous Kooks

Why are they? I don’t know who these people were, or if they’re associated with a local church, but they should be ashamed of their witness. If this is how they want to present the Good News to people, they should go read how Paul did it (Acts 17:16-23). Or even Jonah (say, Jonah 3:4,5,10; 4:1-2).

Finally, this.

Christians at the Grubstakes Parade
Handing Out Tracts

A guy walked the route passing out tracts. Fine. But look what it says: “Your Parade Guide.” I’m sure that it seemed clever to whoever wrote it — I’ll guide you toward a decision for Christ, which is more important than this parade. But this is worldly cleverness, the kind used to write TV commercials. It’s fundamentally dishonest, because it pulls a bait-and-switch on the reader.

Urgency

January 1st, 2009 No comments

The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.— John 3:8

Happy New Year!

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas, and — if you’re reading this after New Year’s Day — that you’re still keeping your resolutions.

For the past several years, my New Year’s Resolution has been to lose 20 lbs. Needless to say, I haven’t lost 60 or 80 or 100 lbs! In fact, I think this year my resolution should really be to lose 30 lbs!

As an accomplished non-keeper of resolutions, I believe that arbitrary starting dates like New Year’s Day are a way we avoid doing the thing we know we should do. Prior to the start date, we say “I’ll start doing that after New Year’s.” When the start date comes, we do whatever it is for a few days or weeks, but eventually our resolve fades and our resolution fails. But by then it’s February or mid-January, and New Year’s seems so long ago that whatever we’re trying to do will have to wait until the next arbitrary start date. (Lent, perhaps, or the swimsuit season, or after our summer vacation, or — better yet! — after New Year’s next year!)

The Psalmist knew better:

O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! For he is our God, we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. O that today you would listen to his voice! Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness

Jesus described the movement of the Spirit as unpredictable, like the wind that blows where it chooses. When the Spirit urges us to do something, the correct response is not to say, “Okay, God, I’ll make it a priority after the next arbitrary start date.” Conversely, if you sense a leading to make a change in your life starting a month or a year from now, I’d be dubious that it was God’s prompting.

Our tendency is always to put things off until tomorrow. We figure that if something is really important, it will rise to the top of our to-do list without any help from us. If only that were the case! Time-management gurus like Stephen Covey say our lives can become so cluttered with urgent but unimportant matters that we never have a moment to look at the important things.

This year, one of the challenges I hope we address is evaluating our priorities as a church. I’d like to find ways we can do less of the urgent things that don’t matter all that much, so we can spend more time working on the important things that do matter.

I’d like to invite you to do the same kind of categorization in your own lives. I want you to have more free time, because I’d like you to volunteer some of it to help us do more of the important work of the church.

I’m talking about worship, fellowship, discipleship, and especially evangelism and mission. These are the things that make the church relevant in our community and our world. This is the work that Christ commands the church to be about.

Let’s be urgent this year about doing what’s important.

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