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April 2014 entries

Easter Has Passed

Well Easter has passed. I wish it were Easter every weekend. It's not just because I get to preach the gospel before thousands of people. Although, I admit, that is a spiritual rush. I loved Easter when I was a child. The warmth of the sun. the chocolate Easter bunny in my basket of paper straw, and hunting hard boiled eggs in the backyard. No plastic eggs at our house, no sir, just the real thing. My brother and I had spent a couple of hours before dipping the eggs in a colorful mixture of vinegar, water, and food color. Easter was the only time, outside of the beginning of the school, my brother and I got new clothes. We would get white or yellow sport coats to go with sky blue or white slacks. Only once do I remember getting an entire ensemble. It was a suit the color of a june bug with the same reflective qualities of a june bug's wings. It was a single breast with narrow lapels and skinny pants. I looked like James Bond or maybe the youngest member of the rat pack.

Now as an adult I still enjoy dressing up for Easter. I relish the celebration when believers join together from all over the world to join in unison and declare, "He is Risen!" No doctrinal arguments. No complaining about worship styles or preaching methods. It's like an unspoken truce between Christian denominations and factions. For one Sunday a year we resemble the saints gathered before the throne in heaven. Our eyes are not fixed on one another. We are just worshiping our Savior together. I wish the unity of Easter could last for more than just one week. But we are human. As redeemed as our spirits may be, we still dwell within earthen vessels. So as long as we drag this old body around with us we will distrust one another's motives. We will question each others theology. We will complain about the other church. They are either too fundamental or too liberal. We are too much flesh and not enough spirit.

All of this makes me long for heaven more. So until next Easter we will take up arms against each other. We will compare, criticize and complain. That is until the Risen One appears and we will see just how little our differences are in the light of His glory and grace.            

Its Sunday!

It's Sunday. Friday has past. The darkness can be understood. It was all in God's plan. 

The angel rolled the stone away from the tomb and bowed at Jesus feet. He instructed the angel to stay near the tomb. He would have the privilege of being the first to speak of the resurrection to the women who would be there shortly.

While the world was still under the curse of sin, Jesus knew that know there was hope. He ran His fingers over the nail scars and thought, "These will remain as proof of my sacrifice."

News had reached the evil won. His victory celebration had come to an abrupt end. He no longer had power over death. He had not only been defeated at the cross, but now Jesus stood as proof of his complete annihilation. Only those foolish enough to deny God's forgiveness would be his from now on. Immediately he sat out to blind the eyes of those who would hear of Christ's resurrection. He may have lost the war, but he knew he would yet win many battles.

Soon Jesus would appear to hundreds as proof of His resurrection. He would commission His follower's to a great task. Soon He would be returning to the Father in heaven. But know He was going to enjoy the moment. He could see some women approaching the garden with tears and spices. Theirs would be the same experience that millions of His followers would experience until His return. A personal encounter with the One who won life's final battle on their behalf!

It's Sunday! Praise God, it's Sunday!  

Its Saturday but Sundays Coming

The body of Jesus had received a hasty preparation for burial. No time for an eulogy. No time for mourners to comfort Mary at her loss. His body had been quickly wrapped in linen and deposited in a borrowed tomb. Everything had to be done before the Sabbath's official beginning precisely at 6 PM Friday. If not His body would either be left exposed to the elements or tossed into the smoldering dump just a short walk from Golgotha where Jesus died.

Mary sat until well after dark outside the entrance to His tomb. Now deep into the Passover sabbath she felt weak from lack of sleep and lack of food. Seeing a figure approaching from the shadows she hoped against hope that it was her Son. She struggled to her feet and turned to greet Him. A strong arm swiftly brushed her aside as she went tumbling to the ground. "Get out!" the man snarled. It was a soldier sent to guard the tomb. "Go home! Nothing to see here." Indeed there wasn't. Nothing was moving. The city was in shock. Not so much from the death of Jesus. The citizens of Jerusalem had become accustomed to seeing men die on that awful hill. No they were disturbed by the reports of empty open graves all over the city. Some had reported seeing strange men and women with an unearthly glow walking their streets. Since the darkness and earthquake earlier in the day it seemed that something supernatural was taking place in this ancient city.

Somewhere in the shadows one tall grotesque figure huddled with the creatures that Mary had seen around the cross. There were shrieks of laughter and outbursts of profanity. This was a celebration of darkness. Light had come into the world but they had helped to extinguished it. Now the world was dark and lonely. Just as they preferred. They had been condemned to darkness and death and the leader explained to his followers that now the whole world would share in the same fate. Christ's body lay cold and lifeless. Occasionally the evil commander would dispacth one of his soldiers to the garden to check on the tomb.  It seemed with each incoming report the sinister figure became more bold. He was already making plans to plunge the world into further into darkness.

The Sabbath would be over tomorrow. It would be the first day of the week and the law would not inhibit their plans. Mary had met with the other women who had aligned with her Son. Since they could not sleep they began to prepare spices for a proper burial. They had collected them all day from those who had not turned against her Son. There were pockets of the faithful throughout the city. Mary dug deep into a basket that she had carried with her since His birth. She had cared for these jars as if they were a king's treasure. Her mind journeyed back more than 30 tears since the wise men had presented these to her as gifts for her tiny Child. She wept as she uncorked these fragrant oils for the first time since she had opened them in the presence of the kings. She never imagined something that could bring so much joy could ever hurt so bad. She despaired of life. She could not imagine a world without her Son. One of the women whispered in Mary's ear as she observed her tears. She quoted a verse that Jesus had taught them while He was with them. "Weeping lasts for a night, but joy comes in the morning."

Mary...its Saturday, but Sundays coming!!  

Its Friday but Sundays Coming

She could barely recognize Him now. His face was disfigured, swollen and bleeding.

She could not tolerate the horrible scene all around her. Some soldiers who had stripped her Son were now playing a gambling game for His robe. Others who were assigned to the task of executing criminals were bored. They were accustomed to verbal sparing with the condemned, but Jesus would not cooperate with them. Instead, occasionally they would hear Him forgive them. This infuriated the soldiers. Why should He forgive them? They were just doing their job.

Then there were the others. Mary only made eye contact with them once. They were scattered almost strategically around the cross. They would not take their eyes off her dying Son except once when one of them looked at her. His eyes made her blood run cold. He smiled when he saw her tears. She could hear them laugh whenever one of the men on the cross would curse or cry out in pain. Death amused them. They seemed to grow even more excited when the world around them had turned suddenly dark and cold. It was as if they were in their element.

Three hours after the darkness had arrived Jesus began to move violently on the cross. It was as if He were in a battle although His hands and feet were nailed securely to the cross. Then just as suddenly as He had become agitated He became peaceful. His body relaxed. Whatever the battle was it was now over. Jesus looked down from the cross. He looked at His mother and His friend John. It seemed to both of them that He nearly smiled. At least it wasn't the awful look of anguish they had observed for hours.

Breaking the silence Jesus cried, "It is finished!" Everyone around the cross heard it. The unearthly creatures Mary had observed before neared the cros and stood rigid. They had come to the posture as if they were standing in the presence of some unseen military leader. They were poised to take action. This was it. The moment they had waited for. Would there be an angelic garrison on this forsaken hilltop at any moment? Would they have to fight for the body of Jesus? Their answer came suddenly and swiftly.

Jesus cried one more time. This time it was not intended for the crowd to hear. Only those who stood very near the cross could hear it. "Father, into Your hands I commit my Spirit." Moments later Jesus breathed deeply and lowered His head upon His chest. He was dead.

Mary dropped involuntarily to her knees. She could hear the men surrounding the cross roar. John kept Mary from running toward he Son. He knew the soldiers had been instructed to use whatever means necessary to keep His body from being taken.

She waited for the soldiers to lower His body down. They did so quickly and efficiently as they had done hundreds of times before. They allowed His body fall to the rocky ground like a rag doll. Mary ran to His corpse screaming, "I'm His mother!" over and over. A respected religious leader motioned to the soldiers to let her be. She grabbed her Son's lifeless body and pulled his head into her lap. She wept uncontrollably as she rocked he Child. Her sould was pierced. She was dead inside. There on that lonely hilltop Mary wept like millions of moms who had lost their sons in battle.

Somewhere there was one lone dark figure standing next to a bent and gnarly tree. At his feet was the lifeless body of the man he had deceived into betraying Jesus. Now there were two men lying dead at the base of two different trees just outside the city walls. He laughed out loud. In this one delerious moment he fooled himself into believing that he had finally won.

Oh but wait. Its only Friday but Sundays coming.  

Its Thursday but Sundays Coming

The worried expressions on the disciple's faces revealed to Him their greatest fear. He would be leaving them. How could this be. Things were going so well. The crowds who followed them from village to village were enormous. His fame was growing exponentially. Jesus was at the apex of His popularity. The disciples had even been discussing who would hold what important position in their Master's soon coming kingdom.

All of these factors pointed to greater days ahead. But Jesus had just destroyed their plans with one remarkable statement. "If I am lifted up from the earth, I will I will draw all peoples to Myself." They recognized immediately the code language Jesus was using. He was speaking of dying. And soon. Their world was being turned upside down. They had left everything to follow Him. There was no plan B in their minds. Mixed emotions were battling for dominance in their thoughts. They grieved to hear Jesus speak of dying. They had grown to love Him greater than they believed humanly possible. The thoughts of His death were even stronger than those when they dropped everything, including their families, to follow Him. But just as strong were the haunting thoughts of the future without Christ. What could they do? Where would they go? How could they ever live a normal life after what they had experienced while following their Master?

Jesus saw the fear on their faces. He was not happy about what He was about to face either. Later that evening He would plead for another way. However, He was committed to seeing His plan all the way to the end. He needed these men to stay with Him. They were His legacy. If they were to abandon Him now the world would be lost. Jesus stood up and every eye looked deep into His. "Don't let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God, believe in Me also."

When Jesus had finished His brief but powerful talk the disciples had been told what they could expect after His death. He would not be gone long. He would return for them. The days may be dark ahead, but the ultimate outcome of the dark days ahead would result in great reward. But Jesus would not mince His words. Dark days were ahead for Him and His disciples. And they would begin in very short order. After they sang a song together they left the room and followed Jesus to the Mount of Olives. All of them but one. During the evening Judas had left the room suddenly. He had not returned.Jesus looked grieved when one of them suggested they wait until he returned. Judas would be with them soon enough.

Judas watched Jesus and the disciples cross the Kidron Valley and begin the slow ascent up the Mount of Olives toward the Garden of Gethsemane. He now wished He had not known Jesus so well. He was having second thoughts about his plan. However, when those thoughts would surface a sudden and terrible pain would bring him to the point of unconsciousness. He knew he was no longer in control of his destiny. This evil within him would no longer entertain thoughts of compassion or turning back.

After what seemed like hours the temple guards were finally only a stone's throw down the steep slope below where Judas hid near the kneeling Jesus. The disciples were startled when the light from the torches began to illuminate the edge of the garden. Jesus was not as surprised. The shadowy figures that were now emerging from the darkness were moving toward the group. Suddenly Judas stepped in front of them all. When his face was lit by the torches held by the soldiers around him, the disciples felt relief. The soldiers were with their fellow disciple. This was certainly not a hostile encounter.

Jesus watched as Judas drew near Him. The guards had been told to seize the one whom Judas greeted. Judas walked up to Jesus and greeted Him with a kiss. The disciples saw Jesus respond to Judas with sorrow. Then chaos. Screaming. Swords flashing by the light of the torches. Judas running into the night. Confusion reigned. The only one in the group who seemed to be un-phased by the sudden eruption of activity was Jesus. It was as if He had seen this moment in His mind long before now. He knew how it must resolve. This was the beginning of the final phase in His earthly ministry. It would also be the most painful.

Its Thursday, but Sundays coming.            

Its Wednesday but Sundays Coming

His mind was being flooded with conflicting thoughts. Voices were sometimes whispering and other times screaming in his head. He had taken a step from which he could never return.  

Would it be easier to attempt to lure Jesus to some dark corridor of the city. A voice in his head quickly reprimanded his feeble plan, "You know Jesus can't be manipulated. He follows both His heart and God's will. He would never fall for a simple plan trap devised by human reason."

Judas then thought that he could point Him out in the crowd. He knew that Jesus would be visiting Jerusalem each day of the festival and perhaps in the chaos of the masses a soldier of the temple could simply carry Him away. Once again the voices in his head protested. "You fool!" they screamed.  To arrest Jesus in public would be a disaster. The people still think of Him as a rabbi at least. Many have already anointed Him as their Messiah. "Besides" the voices reasoned in his head, "have you not seen Jesus simply vanish before those who would attempt to apprehend Him?" It was true, Judas thought, Jesus had an uncanny ability to disappear when He needed to.

Ultimately, a voice darker and more sinister than all the others whispered in his head, "I know how to betray Jesus." The voice startled Judas to his core. This entity speaking was part himself and part evil. It was as if he could no longer separate the two. He was becoming the voice who spoke within him. "Let us use His dependence upon His Father to defeat Him. You know where He goes whenever He feels threatened don't you?" Judas shuddered as he answered out loud, "He always goes to God in prayer." Now his voice joined in unison with the voice inside of him, "And where does He go to pray?"

"In the garden! Jesus will be in the garden," Judas spoke out loud as he began to see the scene in his mind as if it had already occurred. The guards, the torches, the look on Jesus face, the kiss... So this is how it would end.

Judas began to gather his things to join the other disciples. He felt the weight of his change purse as he stood. It was heavier. Thirty pieces of silver heavier. The price of a slave. "Let's go friends" Jesus gently prodded His disciples. We must get an early start today. The crowds will begin growing in the city. Passover is almost here and pilgrims will be flooding the market to make ready." The master touched the shoulder of each disciple as he took His place at the front of the group. When He touched Judas a shudder ran up the disciple's body. He felt unclean in the presence of His teacher. Something in Jesus' expression let Judas know that He was aware of the voices in his head. Yet He still loved him. He knew somehow Jesus would love him to the end.

It's Wednesday, but Sunday's coming.    


Its Tuesday but Sundays Coming

From this day forward this week I will retrace the steps of Jesus each day leading to His resurrection on Sunday. The sequence is taken strraight from the Gospel of Matthew. 

Its Tuesday, but Sundays Coming. 

Jesus enters the house of Simon the Leper in the bedroom community of Bethany outside of Jerusalem. He is visiting with friends after His daily trips into the city to celebrate Passover. Things have quietened down a bit since the crowds cheered Him into the city two days before. 

The religious leaders are looking for a chink in His armor. Someone, perhaps a close friend, that could share some bit of dirt on Him. Everyone makes mistakes. Somebody must have been present when Jesus had stuffed a skeleton or two in a closet.

Jesus is reclining at the table of His friend when a woman quietly walks behind Him with her head bowed and a beautiful jar in her hand. The disciples move quickly to send her away when Jesus raises His hand as to gesture, "Leave this woman alone." She opens the bottle and a beautiful fragrance envelopes the room. There is no mistakig this aroma. It is the costliest of perfumes. The woman pours the oil in its entirety over the head of Jesus. He closes His eyes and drinks in the moment. He knows the next time this fragrance will touch His body the world will be a much sadder place.

The disciples immediately protest. "This fragrant oil could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor." Their self righteous indignation may have more to do with the woman's unselfish act than their sudden concern about the poor. They had been with Jesus for over three years and not one of them had ever expressed their love in such an extravagant way.

One man in particular was shaken. He excused himself and was quickly running back to Jerusalem. He needed to move quickly or they would notice that he was not back before evening prayers. Judas Iscariot finally approached the temple area. He found the chief priests huddled together. They were praying that soon a close associate of this Man the people had now crowned as their Messiah would surface. Out of breath from the journey, but needing to act hurriedly, he asked "What are you willing to give me?" The priests smiled at one another. Their prayers had been answered. The traitor had identified himself. The destinies of the Savior and Judas had just been sealed. Neither would survive the week alive.

Its Tuesday, but Sundays Coming!   

"What Would It Take for You to Drive Jesus Home Today, Little Lady?"

My wife and I are looking at replacing her car. In just a little over 6 years she has driven over 150,000 miles in the one she owns now. She drove more than that in her previous car. So its time to get her another vehicle. She hates to shop for cars, so she usually sends me. I like to look at cars. Sometimes I'll just spend a Saturday looking at the new inventory at several lots while collecting catalogs with specs and pictures. (I know, its a sickness.)

She doesn't want to negotiate or be pressured. She makes a list of the things she wants and sends me on my merry way. Except now she has  found a lot where they don't pressure you or even dicker on price, not even on the price of your trade-in. Now she goes with me. With the new shopping experience comes an added side effect, sticker shock. While not shopping for a car in years, if ever, she can't believe what they cost. Even used ones. That's what happens when you visit a car lot once each decade. Things change.

That's exactly what people say about the church I pastor. Many guests have been out of church for years. When they visit they are blown away about how things have changed. The room looks different. The music sounds different. There are no orders of worship to follow. Where's the organ? Where's the Lord's Supper table and the pulpit? All gone. Why? For the same reason that car dealership appeals to my wife. At the dealership there's no one asking, "What will it take for you to drive this car off the lot today, little lady?" At church there's no one asking first time guests to stand and be gawked at by the regulars. No visitor's ribbons for your lapel or special visitors section seating. There are no hymnals, although we do sing hymns.

So has the purpose of the car dealership changed from the ones a decade or two ago.? No. They are still in the business of selling cars. They are still competing for your business. They just do it differently than before. Do you want to know why? They don't mistake the purpose of their business with their methods for getting it accomplished. Keeping things the way they were is not their highest priority. The past is to be learned from, not duplicated. Things that sold cars in the past don't necessarily work well today.

That's why our church has changed; not purpose, not motive, just methods. Our purpose is still, and will always be, to share Christ with a hurting imperfect people. Whatever walls that have to be torn down to see that happen is what we will do. We will not compromise. We will not use unethical methods. We will not re-define sin. We will not ignore heaven or hell. We will preach the whole Bible and Christ as the only way to heaven. However, we will not insist that people fit a mold that they are not made to fit. High pressure will not be used to scare or intimidate people "to drive Jesus home today." We will worship in ways that may not seem orthodox to some, but the object of our praise will never change. Jesus.

Things are changing. Do I like the way things are headed. Sometimes yes. Sometimes no. But it's not about me. It's about Him and making Him known. So if you're out kicking tires some Sunday, why don't you come by Dallas Bay. We're not selling anything. We're giving it away!