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Easter Magazine 2013: It Changes Everything
I may have told you about the worship leader who overslept and failed to show for the Easter sunrise service at his church. The next year, the pastor called him Easter morning at 4 a.m. and said, "Jesus is Risen! You had better too!"
I remember the first Easter Sunday I realized that Jesus was alive. It wasn't as powerful as the disciples' realization; but, for a peon like me, it was close.
As a young pastor in theological graduate school at Boston University, I served a small church on Cape Cod to pay the bills. All winter, in that little church, we had struggled to get by. Cape Cod winters can be brutal and the people of New England are not known for putting church attendance at the top of their To Do list.
Someone said her church was so small that "when the pastor says 'beloved,' I blush." That describes the small church on Cape Cod. We had worked all winter to get people to church with very little success. That had a negative impact on our paying the bills and on me. I began to think that God had not called me to this. I had made a lot more money doing a morning radio show in Boston and, while I was willing to work for less, it began to look like the church wouldn't even be able to pay me.
I was in my small study (so small that if I sneezed, I caught my own cold!) and heard some noise outside the door. I opened it and to my astonishment, the ushers were moving chairs from the church parlor and the Sunday school rooms into the sanctuary. "What are you doing?" I asked. They explained that it was Easter and Easter meant big crowds.
Now that really ticked me off! I decided to change my sermon to one on hell with the addendum of "that's where you're going and I'm glad." (Not really. In those days, I didn't believe in much of anything and certainly not that people were lost for all of eternity.)...
Magazine: Quit Trying To Do It Yourself!
We have a lot of problems that simply can't be fixed. When God entered time and space, He did what we can't do. Grace was born.
For instance, we all have what Pascal said was a "God-shaped vacuum" in our souls and what Augustine referred to—that we were created by God and our hearts were restless until they found their rest in Him. The Psalmist said, "As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God" (Psalm 42:1-2).
The problem is that there is nothing we can do about the desire so we hide it, fake it or pretend we have fixed it when we haven't. We try, of course, with the idols we worship, but we know that idolatry (whether the formal idolatry of making a god with our hands or the informal idolatry of creating a substitute god out of our sin) is silly and it never satisfies the hunger in our hearts.
The problem with our desire for God is that God is so big, so awesome, so powerful and so...uh...well...God, that it is insane to even have the desire. Best to focus on something else.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us...
Easter Magazine: When Getting Better Doesn't Matter
The gospel of free sins makes getting better sort of irrelevant. In fact, the constant pressure to "get better and better, every day in every way" is driving people away from the truth of the gospel. It's not about getting better.
Let's start with a principle: almost everything of any importance is found while we're headed somewhere else. I know that runs counter to the common wisdom of most leaders, but nevertheless, it's true. We are admonished by almost everybody "who knows" that goals are important and if we don't aim at something, we won't hit anything.
While setting goals is a good thing and setting laudable goals even better, if you get neurotic about it, you probably won't achieve your goals, and you'll make yourself and everybody you know miserable in the process. Christians, by and large, are neurotic about purity, obedience, and holiness. It is probably the main reason we're not very pure, obedient, and holy. And in order to maintain our witness, we have learned to fake it.
The book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible is a realistic and, I believe, accurate view of the world as it is-especially when God isn't factored into the equation. The writer of Ecclesiastes has been there, done that, and has several T-shirts. He allows us to see what is important and what isn't. Let me give you a verse from that book: "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might" (9:10). That means your life is too important to waste on trying to do the impossible. Best to do what you're called to do, what you do best, and what is put in front of you. Then the impossible might become possible. In other words, almost everything of any importance is found when you are headed somewhere else, and that includes getting better.
I want to give you two truths that can change your life and maybe even make you better. Then again, maybe not on the "better" part, but that's okay...
Christmas Magazine: I Love You. Is That Okay? -God
Do you sometimes have trouble deciding between what is important and what isn't? I think I could make that decision if everybody would just leave me alone...but they won't.
The Christmas season is a time when a lot of people are trying to tell us what is important and valuable. They put up Christmas trees in October. They started playing Christmas music in November. We are inundated by those who say... Our laptops are out of date. Our clothes are old fashioned. Our friends and family would love us more if we bought them better (and more expensive) stuff for Christmas.
This isn't just another rant on the evils of the commercialism of Christmas...
Fall Magazine: Repent Now!
I saw a bumper sticker once that read, "Sin Now, Repent Later!"
Truth is, as blasphemous as that sounds, it's what most of us do anyway.
I have friends who like to feel pure by saying that they don't plan sin. They suggest it sort of sneaks up on them and, before they know it, they are caught. I guess they think that, if they didn't plan it, God will understand and love them more. Frankly, if that is true, I'm in serious trouble.
Sin hardly ever sneaks up on me. In fact, most of my sins are first degree. I planned the sin, I thought about it for some time, I considered the consequences...and by then, it was too late...I did the sin.
Our dearly departed dog, Quincy the Wonder Dog, who is now in heaven, did that too. He decided to run when I said "come"; to chase a cat when I wanted him to heel; and, stick in mouth, to bound off in the opposite direction...away from me. Sometimes, when he was thinking about chewing up a shoe or worse, I yelled at him, "Quincy, don't you even think about it! If you do it, I'm going to come after you!"
Whenever that happened, Quincy stopped for a moment, looked at me then looked in the "wrong" direction, thought about it some more...and did it anyway.
I could see it in his eyes and I know exactly what was going through his head: "I'm in trouble if I do this...big time trouble. But it's worth the price and, besides, Steve really likes me. After I pay the price, he'll scratch my head and give me a treat. And what I'm getting ready to do isn't all that bad anyway."
I know Quincy did that because I do it with God...