Easter Bombs…

While we were singing, they were crying.

On Easter Sunday, halfway around the world, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowded park in Lahore, Pakistan.  Seventy two people died, including 24 children.  Three hundred forty one were injured.  A splinter group of the Pakistan Taliban claimed responsibility.

The attack was deliberately timed to occur on Easter.  Although most of those killed and injured were Muslims, the target was the tiny Christian community in Pakistan, only 2% of the population.

This is not the first attack on the Christian community in Pakistan.  In 2013, a church was bombed and 80 people died.  Last year, a Christian community in Lahore was attacked, and 14 were killed.  In fairness, many Muslims denounce these attacks.  Muslim extremists, however, are demanding a strict interpretation of Islamic law be the rule of law in Pakistan.

I am writing about this not to lament how awful it is, though it is awful.  I am not writing about this to issue a call to destroy Islam.  I am not writing this to make any political statement or endorsement.

I want you to join me in a gut check – that’s why I am writing this.

Would you still call yourself a Christian if your life was threatened?  Would you still come to church if there was a constant threat of being bombed?  Would you still gather with your small group in the name of Jesus if you thought your neighbors would storm your gathering with guns?

I think I suffer for Jesus because everything is not just the way I like it in my life.  I have no idea what it really means to suffer for Jesus.  My faith has never been tested the way our brothers and sisters around the world have their faith tested each day.

I need to shed my American arrogance that wants to tell God how tough I have it, and open my eyes to a bigger world.  More people will martyred for Jesus Christ this year than any other year in history.   My brothers and sisters in Jesus are constantly putting themselves at risk just to follow Jesus.

These Easter bombs remind me to be profoundly grateful for my freedom.  They also remind me not to long for the illusion of safety, but to follow Jesus wherever He leads.  The bombs remind me to get a grip and remember my complaints about music, conveniences, preferences, and tastes are silly.  What matters is the work of my Lord.  Maybe if my view of what God is doing in the world got bigger, my grumpiness would get smaller, and my soul would be more like Jesus.

I pray for the people in Pakistan, for those grieving and those injured.  I pray for the Taliban, because Jesus told me to pray for my enemies.  And I pray that God will make me an instrument of His peace, because His peace, the peace of Easter is so desperately needed, like drops of gently rain on parched, cracked soil.

Don’t Be Afraid of Easter…

As the youngest sibling, I was subject to many cruel practical jokes from my older brothers and sisters.[1]  One Easter we were hunting Easter Eggs, and my brothers seemed very helpful.  They kept pointing out eggs for me to find.   Then they excitedly pointed to a brightly colored egg with black stripes.  I dashed towards it, failing to notice my brothers’ sniggers.  My hand extended, I reached toward the egg and the prize when an alarm sounded in my brain: something was dreadfully wrong with this egg!

My brothers had found a small black snake.  They killed it and then wrapped it around the egg, leaving a surprise for their little brother.

I screamed, I dropped my Easter basket, I ran.  I heard their laughter.  I realized it was a joke – and the joke was on me.  My face flushed and I died a little of embarrassment.  I never hunted Easter eggs again.

My brothers, feeling some guilt (and prompted by my mother, I’m sure), tried to comfort me by telling me, “You had nothing to worry about.  The snake was already dead.”

Did you ever notice the message of the angel at the tomb to the women:  “Fear not.”  An odd message, don’t you think?

These women are present as the world turns upside down.  They see an angel for the first time (“His appearance was like lighting and his clothes were white as snow”).  Soldiers were lying on the ground, knocked out.  A heavy stone is out of place.  Most of all, their teacher who was dead yesterday, is missing.  It has all the elements for fear – for panic, even.

What is the angel saying to them?  Could he be thinking of another snake – the old deceiver, Satan, who ages ago persuaded a woman that fear was to be trusted – the fear that God wasn’t fair; the fear that something was being held back that was really good; the fear that in the garden of perfection something was missing?  The woman took that fruit, ate, gave some to her husband, and the world turned upside down.  The world went in completely different direction than God intended.

Maybe the angel was telling them, “Fear not.  The world has started to turn right side up.  Jesus has won.  Death that entered the world no longer controls you.  The snake that tried to hold the Savior has been cut off from His power over you.  Fear not.”

In the rich truth of Easter, this is one more lesson – Reach out your hand.  There is grace, not a snake.  Fear not.

[1] I have gotten even with my siblings through the years by writing stories about them, using them as sermon illustrations and the like.  Some of the stories I tell are even true.

If Good Friday Happened Today…

Jesus has been convicted of being a terrorist.  It’s a trumped up charge, but the authorities are tired of agitators and unpredictability. In unprecedented swiftness, the legal system has set a quick date for his execution.  Jesus refuses to make any appeals for a stay.

He is moved from his cell to the death house.  He is laid on gurney, and prepped for the needle.  Though at peace, he seems to be carrying the weight of the world.

In the viewing room, the authorities have gathered.  Though the rooms are supposed to be sound-proof, Jesus can hear their sarcasm:  “Hey, if you are a hot-shot messenger from God, save yourself.”

Only one of his closest friends is present.  His mother is there, with some women who believed his message.  They look forlorn.

The warden says to Jesus, “Any last words?”  His reply: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

An attendant swabs his arm with alcohol – to protect him from infection?  A needle is inserted.  A drop of blood oozes out.  An IV line is attached.  The building vibrates from thunder.

Jesus seems to be overwhelmed now, as if confronting something he has never faced.  His eyes trace the flow of lethal fluid toward his vein.  He says, “It is finished.”

His chest no longer rises and falls.  A doctor moves forward with a stethoscope.  He listens intently, frowns, and says, “Time of death, 3:00 PM.”  The warden murmurs, “This was a righteous man.”

Curiously, a wealthy man has volunteered to oversee the burial.  It must be done quickly, per regulations.  On such short notice, the only option is to bury Jesus in his own plot, in the oldest, most fashionable part of the cemetery.  Within hours, Jesus’ body is entombed, in a hardwood casket, then a concrete vault, and covered with three feet of dirt.  A police detailed is posted, just in case there are any shenanigans.

Watching a dead man’s grave is the ultimate in boring cop duty.  After twelve hours of caffeine aided vigilance, the shift changes.  Twelve hours later, another shift takes over.

It happens at the end of the third shift.  A brilliant blast of light startles the detail into alertness, then stuns them into unconsciousness.

When the police regain consciousness, they see dirt flung aside as if a grave has exploded.  They stagger from their car, and stumble over the concrete lid of the vault.  That lid must weigh 500 pounds.  Who moved it?  They see the casket opened and empty.  Some women are running away from the scene, flowers carelessly falling out of their baskets.

What just happened?

It is the question we all must answer.

The View From the Cross…

He looked down from his cross, from his lofty perch of sacrifice.

He saw the religious leaders, the priests and Pharisees who had conspired to have him murdered.  They were hurling insults at him: “He saved others!  Let him save himself.”  The hatred in their words and the scorn on their faces told him these were people who knew a lot of about God, but they did not walk with God.

He saw the soldiers, doing their job, as they had done dozens of times before.  He could see these foreigners taking in the insults of the religious leaders, noting the odd feeling of the crowd, trying to puzzle out ‘what did all mean?’  He looked at the men who had just nailed him to the rough wood, who had beaten him until he bleed, and he gave them words of grace: “Father, forgive them, they don’t have a clue.”  His gift of grace was rewarded with an offer of sour wine and shouts that kings don’t die on crosses.

He saw the curiosity seekers, the ones who came out for every crucifixion.  They were there to watch the show, to see if he would do a miracle and bring himself off the cross.  The longer they waited, the more restless they became.  Finally they joined the religious leaders in mocking him, because he wouldn’t do what they expected a Messiah to do.  If only they knew.

He looked to his left and saw a man also hanging on the cross.  The man yelled at him, “Aren’t you the Messiah?  Get us off these things!”  A voice responded on the right: “Don’t you get it?  We’re dying.  We deserve it.  He doesn’t.”  He looked to his right.  The man on that cross said, “Lord, don’t forget about me, because I believe you really are the King.”  He said, “When you die today, your life will just be beginning; you will be with me.”

He saw the darkness fall.  All of the universe was coming unglued; something was happening that was against the design of the universe.  People were looking at the sky, and murmured to each other.

He looked out again.  There was his mother, Mary.  He saw her tears.  He knew she knew this moment had to come, but now it was here, a nightmare worse than imagination.

He saw the empty spaces, where his disciples should have been.  There was only one, his friend John.  With a strained voice, he told his friend, “Take care of my Momma.”

His breathing was shallower; the time was drawing near.  Maybe in that moment, he saw the stream of history.  He saw faces and sins, from the lie of a three year old, to the murders done by Hitler, Stalin, and all the villains of history.  Maybe, in that moment he saw me.  Maybe he saw the times I turned away from him, the times I defied him, the times when I chose what was wrong instead of choosing him.  If he saw all that, it amazes me that he still extended grace to me.

Then he cried, “It is finished.”  His eyes closed.  He saw nothing.  Death came.

But Sunday is coming.  His eyes will open again.  Through eyes of grace, he will see me, not as I am, but as he died for me to be.

What is Maundy Thursday?

On Thursday, March 24th, at 7:00 pm we will celebrate Maundy Thursday, also known as Holy Thursday.  This is a time to participate in the Lord’s Supper, to remember our Lord’s crucifixion, and to confess our sins.

“Maundy” is an odd, old word, and no one knows for sure where it comes from.  Most scholars think it comes from the Latin, mandatum, which means to command, or to give a mandate.  It’s origin comes from the Latin version of the Bible, and a phrase Jesus shared with his disciples after he washed their feet during the celebration of the Lord’s Supper:  “A new command I give to you, that you love one another, as I have loved you (John 13:34).”

Followers of Jesus exist in a new community, called church.  This new community is predicated on the reality of love for one another, just as Jesus loved us.  In our new community, Jesus model is our model.  We learn to lay down our lives for each other.

Thus Maundy Thursday is a day to come together as the body of believers, as the new community to remember Jesus makes a new relationship possible.  We remember his body broken on a cross, the suffering he endured, and the shedding of his blood for the forgiveness of our sins.  We remember the horrible story of the night before he was crucified, when he struggled with the Father’s will, when he was betrayed, denied, falsely accused, put on trial, and then nailed to a cross.

All this not only made it possible for us to have a new relationship with each other, it made it possible for us to have a new relationship with our Father in Heaven.   Our sins are forgiven, eternal life is open to us.  The whole trajectory of our life changes.

All of this remembrance makes Maundy Thursday essential preparation for Easter.  Easter is a day of joy and celebration – as it should be.  But before there can be celebration, there needs to be recognition – of our sin, our guilt, and the amazing grace of Jesus.

Before there can be resurrection, there must be crucifixion.  Before there can be forgiveness, there must confession.  Before there can be Easter, there must be Maundy Thursday.  Before there can be light, there is darkness.

The darkness must be called out, so the light may overcome it.

Three Principles for Managing Money

Three Principles for managing money:

  1. Understand how much is coming in and how much is going out – and where it’s going!  “You  got to be a knowin where your money is a goin.” – Andy Stanley.
  2. Develop a Discipline Plan – also known as a budget or a spending plan.  Have the hard conversations, do the math, figure it out.  Be accountable to someone.  Ask for help if you need it.
  3. Decide – Decide you don’t want anyone else to be the master of your money but Jesus.  Ask for His help and guidance.  Get out of debt.  Use the Dave Ramsey method of paying off the small debt first and then applying that payment to the next big debt.  “I want is better than I owe” – Andy Stanley

The Power of an Invitation…

“Hey, let’s go to breakfast sometime.”  She says yes, there is conversation and laughter, which leads to dating, marriage, three kids, and a life together.  It all began with an invitation.

“Do you want to go to the ballgame son?”  He says yes, and his six year old eyes go wide at the sight of all the orange and blue, the cheers, the band, and of course, the football.  A loyalty is born.  Forty years later, he doesn’t ever remember why he has such a passion for his team in good times and bad.  It all began with an invitation.

“We have a customer who needs to talk with someone and there’s no one else to take the call.  Could you handle it?”  Nervously, he picks up the phone and soon feels like he talking to an old friend.  He handles the problem for the customer, hangs up the phone and feels great; he helped someone have a better day.  The next week the boss comes in and says, “We’re promoting you.”  It all began with an invitation.

“I think we need to go to counseling.”  The marriage has been rocky, but lately the rocks are winning.  She agrees to go.  In the counselor’s office, she feels safe, opens up, and pours out her heart.  Her husband says, “I never knew you felt that way.”  Hope begins to crush the rocks.  It all began with an invitation.

“Hey, you want to go to church with us this Easter?”  He shifts nervously.  He hasn’t been in a church for years.  He has no plans for Easter.  So more out of loneliness, he says, “sure.”  He comes, hears the good news, and discovers a spiritual hunger he didn’t know he had.  He comes back the next Sunday, and then the next.  He discovers there are answers to his questions, and that Jesus is a lot smarter than he thought.  One Sunday afternoon, on the way home from church, he is pondering all of this, when there is a movement in his heart.  He realizes it is all true – and he needs Jesus.  He pulls off the road and prays, “Father, I don’t understand everything, but I get you love me.  I am a sinner and I need Jesus.  Please come into my life.  I will follow Jesus always from now on.  I want to be your child.”

After a few weeks and talking to a pastor, he is baptized.  He meets an amazing woman at church.  They get married and start a family.  He serves in the parking lot ministry, is honest, and every day asks God for help.  His life story is different because he met Jesus.  It all began with an invitation.

Invitations make a difference.  Someone’s life can change.   It is the simplest, kindest thing your can do – invite someone to take a step toward Jesus.   God doesn’t do much with an empty chair, but he can change people who sit in that chair.

It all starts with an invitation.

Five Reasons You Need to Talk to God About Money

Five reasons you need to talk to God about money:

  1. Ever seen the bumper sticker that says “I Owe, I Owe, so Off to Work I go?”  God doesn’t want you to be a slave to debt.
  2. Greed is a thirst in your soul that is never satisfied.  God wants you to be free from greed.
  3. Only God knows how long you will live.  Don’t you think it makes sense to talk to Him about how much you should save?
  4. Everything you buy in a store you will eventually consume, throw away, give away, lose, or sell.  It’s all temporary.  If you are going to live eternally, will that impact what you purchase?
  5. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, that’s where your heart will be.”  So what does your checkbook say about your heart?