Month: April 2009

Susan Boyle is an inspiration

susan_boyle_audition1You may have seen this YouTube video, but watch it again.  Susan Boyle, frumpy, unemployed, 47-year old church worker is the new media darling from Britain’s version of American Idol, called Britain’s Got Talent.

Unfortunately, YouTube has deactivated the embed feature for all of these videos, but click on the link here and watch it for the first time, or again.  Susan gives a stunning, surprising, and heartfelt performance.  Even Simon loved her.  What a wonderful story in this age of media cynicism.

Sustaining ministry for 7 generations

A friend of mine challenged me today by asking, “What are the elements of sustainable ministry?” Dennis then pointed to the Ojibwa tribe of Native Americans who considered the impact of their decision-making on the next seven generations.  Talk about sustainable community, they had it.

Our church was founded in 1857, and celebrated 150 years in 2007.  If you consider 25-years* a generation, then we are in our seventh generation.  The question we have to ask ourselves is, “What future are we bequeathing to the next 7 generations?”

In thinking about sustainable ministry, three characteristics came to my mind:

1. Everyone has a seat at the table. By that I mean that all voices are heard, all persons are valued and respected, and the congregation acts in love. This makes the process long, messy, and slow but the consequences of not hearing everyone are greater in my opinion.  The popular notion of the charismatic, “follow me, boys” leader who takes charge, rallies the troops, and leads the way single-handedly is a myth that continues despite all the evidence to the contrary.  Leadership hears the voices of supporters and opponents, considers all viewpoints, learns from detractors, and builds trust and confidence in others.

2. The future emerges from the past. I like Mark Lau Branson’s book, Memories, Hopes, and Conversations, which is the case study of Branson’s church (Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary). Branson led them to use appreciative inquiry as a technique to recover the best of their past, and find a way forward in the future. The idea of the future emerging from the past is a very biblical concept, the most outstanding example being the transition Jesus uses in his, “You have heard…but I say unto you” statements.

3. Jesus is the head of the body, and the Spirit is its breath. I know that sounds very theological, but the practical side of recognizing this is not our church is that we can ask some tough questions. David Augsburger’s book, Dissident Discipleship, moves the conversation from “What would Jesus do?” to “What is Jesus doing among us now?” which is a whole different question. Discerning the presence and leadership of God in a congregation is critical.  Recognizing that we are the people of God, saved by the grace of God, and led by the Spirit of God creates a long-term view that is sustainable from one generation to the next.

When churches think about sustaining ministry for seven generations, the question is no longer, “What do I like?” but rather, “What is God leading us to do that will resonate for the next 175-years in this community?”

What do you think?  Have you considered the next 175 years of your church’s ministry?  What questions would you ask to discern God’s guidance into the future.  After all, we’re indebted to the wisdom of those who went before us, and the grace of God among us which has sustained ministry this long.

* Cultural generations are now considered 10-15 years in length, but Native Americans had their own families and their off-spring in mind when they considered the next 7-generations.

Easter Sunrise Sermon: You’re Not Alone

I realize that Easter is over, but here’s the Easter sunrise sermon I preached at 6:30 AM last Sunday.  The setting for our community sunrise service is spectacular — the Owen’s Farm.  The high hill where we stand faces east, and looks out over a magnificent valley where horses run across the pasture, the view stretches for miles.  Of course, this message is good anytime of year, and I hope it encourages you, too!

You Are Not Alone!
Matthew 28:1-10

1After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

2There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

5The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

8So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
On this Easter Sunday morning, we stand amazed with the women who see the angel at the empty tomb. The angel announces to them, “He is risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee.”

Often we think of the death and resurrection of Jesus as a past event.  “He was crucified, dead, and buried” is how the Creed says it.  And it goes on,

The third day He arose again from the dead;

He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

But between Jesus rising and his ascension, some wonderful things happen.  He goes before them, just as he has always done, showing the way.  He goes before them to lead them, to guide them, to encourage them.  Just as God’s presence in the Exodus went before Israel in the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, Jesus goes before his disciples, too.

And on this Easter morning, Jesus still goes before us.  If Easter is about new life, God’s new kingdom, a new beginning for all of creation, then Jesus still goes before those of us who celebrate his rising 2000 years later.

  • Jesus goes before us in good times. At the wedding in Cana of Galilee, his first public miracle, Jesus rejoiced with a bride and groom, and showed that God saves the best for last.
  • Jesus goes before us in lean times. When thousands gathered to hear him preach, staying long past the dinner hour, Jesus fed them.  Jesus feeding of the 5,000 and the 4,000 tells us that in God’s economy there is always enough and to spare.
  • Jesus goes before us in sickness. He knew what it was to touch those thought to be broken and outcast by disease and illness.  He made lepers whole, opened blind eyes, healed with only a word. Jesus goes before us in our sickness and pain, offering the touch of his hand, the encouragement of his presence in the midst of our physical limitation.
  • Jesus goes before us in conflict. He knew what it was like to be rejected by his own townspeople, but religious leaders.  He did not come for the purpose of creating conflict, but his presence was a threat to the systems of greed, corruption, and dead religiosity.
  • Jesus goes before us in doubt. He welcomed Thomas with his doubts, and assured him of his place in God’s kingdom.  He was patient with disciples who did not understand, fled in fear, and acted as though three years with Jesus had never happened.
  • Jesus goes before us when friends fail us. He knew what it was like, not only to be attacked by enemies, but to be abandoned by friends.  All the disciples fled, except Peter, and he denied he knew Jesus.
  • Jesus goes before us in sorrow and death. He wept for Lazarus at his grave, then raised him to life.  He mourned for a city that would not listen, wept tears of grief at his impending death, cried out in agony from the cross, and suffered in silence before his accusers.
  • Jesus goes before us to heaven. His death and resurrection breaks the hold of physical death on this world and ushers in the age of the inbreaking kingdom of God.  He goes to prepare a place for us, and if he goes, he will come again and receive us unto himself, that where he is we may be also.
  • Jesus goes before us into hell. The Apostles Creed says, He descended into hell. Jurgen Moltmann, renown theologian from Germany, says that because we have a Savior who descends into hell, there is hope.

But Jesus does not just go before us, he invites us to meet him in Galilee.  Galilee, where it all started.  Where Jesus called fishermen and tax collectors, where he taught beside the sea, and where he would meet his disciples again for breakfast on the beach.

Galilee is a place of memories, but also a place of ministry.  Galilee is where the world was given a glimpse of the kingdom of God, a new kingdom established by love, empowered by the Spirit, and including all who follow the King.

Galilee, where Jesus lives a life of love before those who come to love him; where he puts before the world God’s great plan to make all things new.

Bennett Cerf, writer and social commentator, told this story one year at Easter:

A little girl was orphaned when her family was tragically lost.  She was placed in a foster home, where unfortunately the couple who was charged with her care was more interested in the check they got, than in the little girl.  While they provided for her basic needs, the atmosphere in that house was cold and impersonal, and the little girl was left for hours on end alone in her attic room.

With little to do and no friends, the little girl soon spotted a squirrel in the tree that rose up by the window in her room.  Each day she would greet her new friend, and managed to sneak small pieces of bread and fruit from the table to him.

One day, the woman of the house heard the little girl talking.  Thinking someone must be in her room, she burst through the door, only to find the little girl at the open window, talking to the squirrel who was perched on a nearby tree limb.

Furious, the woman slammed down the window, and ordered the little girl never to do that again.  She left the room and waited on the stair for what she knew would be an angry outburst from the child.  Instead, nothing happened.

Peeping through the crack in the door, the woman saw the little girl bent over her desk, writing carefully in large block letters.  She watched as the little girl finished her writing, folded the note tightly several times, and them pulled on her coat.

The woman hid in the hall as the little girl made her way from her room, down the stairs, and out the backdoor of the house.  Quickly she pulled herself up on a low-hanging limb, and pushed the folded note into a fork on the tree.  Then, she came back inside, and went to her room.

The woman had watched the little girl carefully.  When her husband got home, she told him the story, and badgered him until he got the step ladder and retrieved the note from the tree branch.

The woman opened the note and to her amazement, read what the little girl had written:

“Whoever finds this, I love you.”

And that’s what God has done.  Sent Jesus, filled with God’s love, sent him ahead of every difficulty we might have in life, sent him into a world that did not receive him, turned on him, and killed him.  Sent him to say, “Whoever finds this, I love you.”

The winding path

Our backyard labyrinth made from rocks and mulch.
Our backyard labyrinth made from rocks and mulch.

We have  a labyrinth in our backyard.  We have one because one day Debbie called me and said, “We’re going to build a labyrinth!”  For those not familiar with labyrinths, their design and tradition pre-dates Christianity.  That fact gives some church folks the willies, but labyrinths also have a long and storied history as places of Christian pilgrimage.  The labyrinth at Chartres cathedral is the most famous and complex.

But, back to ours.  Our backyard is 450-feet deep, but it’s only 60-feet wide.  By the time I got home on the day Debbie called me, she had figured out that a 7-course labyrinth with 30″ wide paths would just fit.  Sure enough, after we staked it off, it turned out to be about 42-feet wide, leaving a little room on either side.

We chose a classic labyrinth design with paths that wind back-and-forth until you reach the center where Debbie has installed, with my help, a large triangle rock.  Triangles in Debbie’s paintings represent God’s presence with us, and God’s guidance for us.  When we found the triangle rock, she just had to have it in the center of our labyrinth.

A few weeks ago a youth group from Church of the Epiphany in Danville, Virginia came to walk our labyrinth.  The kids were great, and we served them lemonade and cookies on our front porch after they walked.  I asked them if they were surprised by the way you think you’re almost to the center of the labyrinth, and then you find yourself on the outside course suddenly.   They all had some interesting insights from their labyrinth experience.

Last Friday, a couple of college guys came to walk.  One was taking a religion course and one of the assignments he chose was to walk a labyrinth.  Last week, our granddaughters, Vivian (8) and Maggie (5) walked it…ran it…and walked it some more.  And Vivian kept finding spots to kneel and pray along the path, and Maggie joined in, too.  We almost had revival down on the labyrinth that day!

It’s funny how some people who have come, especially adults, have just stood and looked at our labyrinth, without actually entering and walking it.  And some adults start in and then quit, and leave the labyrinth by walking across all the circuits until they reach the outer edge.  Children, on the other hand, seem to really like being on the labyrinth.

Debbie mulching the labyrinth.
Debbie mulching the labyrinth.

Before the Danville group came, we had to weed and mulch the paths.  The labyrinth had gotten overgrown during the winter and needed tending.  On that Saturday before, Debbie and I placed 40-bags of cypress mulch all over the paths.  We raked them into place, and sweep the top of the rocks off. Then we walked the labyrinth ourselves for the first time in a long time.

After this past Holy Week of Palm Sunday, Wednesday night Bible study, a community Maundy Thursday service, a Good Friday tennebrae service, preaching for both the community sunrise service, and our Easter morning worship, I’m bushed.  Those of us who lead others in worship need to find our own space and time to connect with God.  For Debbie and me that place is our labyrinth.  I just need to walk it more often.

You can see more of the labyrinth and our house and yard at Debbie’s blog,

Easter sermon: He Is The One


Empty Tomb
Empty Tomb

I’m preaching from Acts 10:34-43 for Easter Sunday, April 12, 2009.  I hope you have a wonderful Easter and that the story of Jesus is told in new and powerful ways in every church on Easter Sunday morning.  He is risen. He is risen indeed!

He Is The One
Acts 10:34-43 NIV

34Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.”

36“You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.

37You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.”

39“We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, 40but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

A Christmas Story at Easter

Paul Hiebert, the late missiologist and teacher, told this story of an experience he had when he served as a missionary in India:

It was Christmas time, and in the little village in South India where he had gathered with Indian Christians in the modest church there, the villagers had put on a Christmas play, the Christmas story.

The boys dressed as shepherds had come stumbling out onto the the stage, acting drunk.  Apparently shepherds in that part of India were notorious for their drinking, and so the villagers howled with laughter at the boys’ comical portrayal of the Biblical story with a local twist.

But then the angels appeared and shepherds and villagers sat in rapt attention at the announcement of the birth of Jesus.  Wise men soon appeared, making their way to Herod’s court where they enquired as to the exact location of the birth of the new King of the Jews.  Everything seemed to be going according to plan as the play went along.

As the Biblical story came to its conclusion, Hiebert thought the play was ending.  But just at that moment, the stage curtain was pulled back to reveal Santa Claus with gifts for everyone!  Hiebert was shocked.  At first he thought that these new Indian Christians were guilty of syncretism — blending in Christianity with their own myths and ancient beliefs.

But then he realized that the missionaries themselves had brought two stories of Christmas.  The first, the Biblical story of Mary and Joseph, and baby Jesus born in a stable in Bethlehem.  In that story, the setting was not far from India itself, and the climate was subtropical.  Palm trees and deserts formed the landscape, and sheep, goats, shepherds, and wisemen were the characters.

The second story was the story of Saint Nicholas, Santa Claus, the giver of gifts with Mrs. Santa Claus, the elves, and reindeer as the supporting cast.  Santa was the giver of gifts, and lived in a climate of snow and ice, where it was always cold and wintry.

Hiebert realized that while the missionaries had brought two stories of Christmas, the villagers in South India had combined them into one great Christmas story of Jesus and shepherds and sheep, along with Santa and reindeer and elves.  Both wonderful stories, but each with a very different point.

You might wonder why I’m telling a Christmas story here at Easter.  Here’s my point:  we have to be careful about how we tell the stories of God.  And the Easter story is no exception.

The Story of Spring Is Not The Story of Easter

Of course, Easter has some of the same wonderful folk stories that Christmas has.  At Easter time, we look for the Easter bunny with baskets of candy and eggs.  We dye eggs multiple colors, hide them from each other, and then make a great game of hunting for these prize eggs outdoors among the rest of nature.

We no longer believe the ancient mythic tales of strange gods and goddesses, and of the rites of spring, or other such nonsense.  The Easter bunny and Easter eggs have been given a whole new story — a story of fun, of springtime, of a harmless and exuberant children’s activity.  And, that’s exactly as it should be.

But, here today, we know there is a difference in the Easter bunny and in Jesus, just as we know there is a difference in Santa and Jesus.  It does not hurt us at all to believe in jolly old men who bring gifts, or to believe that as a sign of spring the Easter bunny distributes eggs just for our amusement and enjoyment.  But, we know that one story is not the other, that there is a difference in the Easter story in the Bible and the Easter sale at the mall.

Okay, so we aren’t like the villagers in South India who confused two very different stories.  But we still must be careful when we tell the story of Easter, because even if we know the story of Easter is not the story of the Easter bunny, we still tell the wrong story sometime.

The Story of Church is not the Story of Easter

One of the stories we tell at Easter is the story of church.  And, many people put on their Easter best and come to church on Easter Sunday.  That’s a good thing to do.  But it’s not the Easter story.

Like many of you, I grew up in the South.  And in the South, we have a way of making language mean what we want it to.  We say things like, “Ya’ll come to see us,” when we don’t really mean it.  And we use phrases to qualify our gossip, like when we say “bless his heart.”  That conversation usually goes something like this:

“Did you hear that Billy Smith was out drunk again last night?”

“Well, yes, I did.  Bless his heart, he’s not ever going to amount to anything.”

So, the “bless his heart” kind of softens the gossipy part, and makes us sound really concerned for poor old worthless Billy.

Well, we did the same thing with this business of church and faith.  I remember as a primary boy, when you walked down the aisle most of the time we called it “joining the church.”  Which is exactly what part of that decision was, but not all of it.  Somehow, we in the South just couldn’t bring ourselves to say, “He became a Christian today.”  Or, “She became a disciple of Jesus today.”  No, we talked about the part of that experience that was less difficult.  We said, “He joined the church today.”

Now, before you get too concerned, I know we meant to include the full meaning.  You joined the church because you had professed faith in Christ, because you had asked Jesus to forgive your sins, because you had repented of all the bad things you had done, even if you were only 6 years old.  I know we understood it meant all of that, but mostly all we could say was, “He joined the church.”

The story we were telling then was the story about church.  And, here’s how the rest of that story went:

  • You joined the church by walking the aisle at the end of the service.
  • Then the church (if you were Baptist) voted to receive you into its membership upon your baptism.
  • Then you were baptized.
  • Then you were expected to take your place as a good church member, which meant coming to church, serving where you could, giving to the church, and doing some other things like reading your Bible and praying.  And when you came to church, they even helped train you to do all of that.

And that was the story about church.  We really thought it was the story about being a Christian, but in our Southern culture and minds both of those stories were the same.

I’m reading a fascinating book titled, The Death of Christian Britain.  by Callum Brown, who is professor of religious and cultural history at the University of Dundee in the UK.  Brown examines the decline of the Christian church in Britain where now less that 7% of the population attends religious services, even though The Church of England is the official state church.

Brown looks at the popular theories for church decline in England.  He examines the theory of the “wicked city” which is the theory that urban centers broke ties to family and friends as the population migrated from the rural countryside to the cities during the Industrial Revolution. But Brown actually demonstrates that during the period of manufacturing increase, more people joined churches than ever before.

He also looks at the theory of the Industrial Revolution itself as a contributing factor to the decline of churches, but again the data show that during the 19th and 20th centuries, up to the 1960s, church attendance and participation in Britain actually continued to increase, and at times increased sharply.

Brown concluded that neither the growth of urban centers, nor the rise of manufacturing were the causes of the decline of the church in England.

His conclusion was that the English simply began telling themselves a new story about church.  Let me explain.  The old story they told themselves about church, as did we in America, is that good people go to church, church is a good influence on growing children, respectable people live according to Christian principles, and that being a church member was a good thing.  You were baptized into the church as an infant, confirmed in the church as a pre-adolescent, married in the church as a young adult, and buried by the church when you died.  Your life was woven into the fabric of the church.

But some time in the 1960s, during the rise of the Baby Boom generation, a lot of social narratives were being called into question.  Women were finding a new place in society, young people were rebelling against their parents and the system, and society was in turmoil.  We experienced the same thing here in America, with similar results.

But, in England people began to tell themselves that you can be good and not go to church.  You don’t have to be baptized, or confirmed, that life isn’t much different for those who are than for others.  That you don’t have to do what the church tells you to do, and you can get along very well without all that religious fuss.  And church attendance began a steady decline that is unabated to this day.  Part of the point of Brown’s book is that there is a point at which Britain ceases to be Christian at all, and the church becomes totally irrelevant.

So, the story of Easter can’t be the story of the Church, because it’s easy to explain away the need for the institution of church itself.

The Story of Heaven Isn’t The Story of Easter

We have often told the story of Easter this way:  Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected so that we can all go to heaven when we die.  Now, there is truth in that statement, but that is not the story of Easter.  Actually, if you read all of the accounts of the Easter story, and of what the disciples experienced on that first Easter morning, there is nothing about going to heaven when you die in those accounts.

There is wonder, and mystery, and sadness, and surprise, and unbelief, and incredulity, but not much talk about heaven or our own death.  Now, we have come to understand that a result of the death and resurrection of Christ is our own salvation which includes being in the presence of God eternally, but the story of heaven isn’t the story of Easter, either.

The Story of Easter is the Story of Jesus

In our passage today, Peter is speaking to Cornelius.  Cornelius is a Roman centurion who lives in Caesarea.  Amazingly, Cornelius, even though he was in the unit known as the Italian Regiment, was a believer in the God of the Jews.  He was well-known and respected by the Jewish community.  One day in prayer, Cornelius saw an angel who told him to send for a man named Simon, who was also called Peter.  The angel told Cornelius Peter was staying in a house in Joppa, about three days’ journey away.

Cornelius dispatched 2 servants and a soldier to bring Peter to Caesarea.  As they were approaching the house where Peter was staying, Peter had a vision.  A large sheet was let down from heaven filled with all kinds of animals, birds, and reptiles.  The voice told Peter, “Get up, Peter.  Kill and eat.”

Peter objected that he had never eaten anything unclean.  Jewish dietary laws prohibited the consumption of certain animals, or meat prepared in certain ways.  But the vision persisted three times.

Then the Spirit told Peter, “There are some men looking for you. Go with them.”

Peter does, and arrives at the house of Cornelius, where he is well-received.  Peter then begins to address Cornelius, and he tells him the story of his vision.  Then he begins with the passage we read today.

Peter tells this story:

  • God doesn’t show favoritism, but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. (Cornelius is a God-fearer.)
  • God sent the good news of peace to the Jews through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. (Not Caesar, who thinks he is Lord of all.)
  • You know the story of Jesus, how he preached in Galilee, was baptized by John.
  • You know that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth (Christ means Messiah which means the anointed one).
  • You know the ministry of Jesus who went about doing good, and healing (saving) those who were under the power of the devil because God’s power was with Jesus.
  • We, the apostles, are witnesses of everything Jesus did in the country of the Jews, but they killed him by hanging him on a tree (OT prophecy).
  • But God raised him up from the dead on the third day (more prophecy) and caused him to be seen (this was no secret).
  • He wasn’t seen by everybody, but by the witnesses whom God chose.
  • We ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.
  • He commanded us to preach to the people and testify that he is the one who God appointed to judge the living and the dead.
  • All the prophets testify about him, that every who believes in him has forgiveness of sins through his name.

So, Peter tells the story of Jesus.  Not the story of the church, or the apostles, or the things that have happened to him.  Peter tells this centurion who seeks God, the only story that matters, God’s story, the story of Jesus.
When we tell God’s story, Paul Hiebert says, “We must begin with the King, for it is the King who defines the kingdom.  The central message of the gospels is the coming of Jesus Christ as King and Lord over all Creation.”

Hiebert goes on, “In the end Jesus was tried for treason by the Jewish and Roman courts and executed as all insurrectionists were — on a cross.  The high court in heaven found Jesus innocent, and Satan and humans wicked.  Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to his lawful throne, and cast out the principalities and powers that had opposed him.  Ironically, his death, which looked like defeat to humans, was the means by which God wrought salvation for those who turn to him in repentance.  In the end, every knee, in heaven and on earth, [and under the earth] will bend before the King.

With the King comes the kingdom.  Within the kingdom is the body of Christ, the church.  And the mission given to the church is to tell the story of Jesus.  Not the story of an institution, not the story of a myth or legend, but of Jesus.

Peter says, “He is the one God appointed…”

  • He is the one born of a virgin, God incarnate.
  • He is the one who grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.
  • He is the one who made blind eyes see, lame legs walk, deaf ears to hear.
  • He is the one who said, You have heard, but I say unto you — re-imagining the law of God in new, loving ways.
  • He is the one who forgave the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, the cheating tax collector, and the thief on the cross.
  • He is the one who taught love for God and neighbor as the summary of the Law and the Prophets.
  • He is the one who wept at the grave of a friend, and then called him forth from the dead.
  • He is the one who broke bread with his disciples and said, This is my body broken for you.
  • He is the one who prayed in the garden, Not my will but Thine be done.
  • He is the one who walked into the night after that Passover meal, knowing it was a walk to his own death.
  • He is the one who was abandoned by friends, rebuked by the religious, mocked by the soldiers, taunted by the crowd.
  • He is the one whose hands and feet were nailed to the cross.
  • He is the one whose side was pierced and whose heart was broken.
  • He is the one who cried, Father forgive them for they know not what they do.
  • He is the one who gave up his own life, and died the innocent victim of the Roman system of capital punishment.
  • He is the one whose body was laid in the grave.
  • He is the one whom God raised on that first Easter morn.
  • He is the one who comforted his disciples, breathed the Holy Spirit onto them, and sent the Spirit to empower them.
  • He is the one who ascended back to the Father.
  • And He is the one who is coming again.

The story of Easter is the story of Jesus.  It is the story the world needs to hear, and we need to tell.  It is the story in which we find our place, for it is our story.  It is a story that goes on, it lives because He lives.

Good Friday

762px-8693_-_milano_-_san_marco_-_antonio_busca_crocifissione_-_foto_giovanni_dallorto_14-apr-2007_dett21Antonio Busca (1625-1684), Crucifixion (detail). Painting in the ceiling of the Pietà chapel, in the left hand transept of Saint Mark church in Milan (Italy). Picture by Giovanni Dall’Orto, April 14 2007.

Bart Ehrman does not have horns

Please watch this 2-minute video produced by HarperOne to promote Bart Ehrman’s new book, Jesus, Interrupted. Erhman is the author of Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, and God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question–Why We Suffer.

Here’s what Wikipedia says about Ehrman:

Bart D. Ehrman is an American New Testament scholar and textual critic of early Christianity. He is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has written about how the original New Testament texts were frequently altered by scribes for a variety of reasons, and argues that these alterations affect the interpretation of the texts.

I’m going to review Ehrman’s book, Jesus, Interrupted soon.  Just wanted you to get ready because Ehrman’s books have caused others to rush to the defense of God, the Bible, and now probably Jesus.  None of whom need a defense, but I think we need to know what the arguments are for those on the other side of the prevailing view of scripture.

And, when you watch the video you may be surprised that Ehrman does not have horns.   A tail, maybe, because we can’t see that on the video.  Just kidding, of course, and I do look forward to the book.  Should make for interesting conversation.

Without 3D Monsters Vs Aliens Falls Flat

vivian-and-maggieOne of the great things about having grandchildren  is getting to see animated movies without being embarassed.  Except those who appreciate great animated films will be embarassed by Monsters Vs. Aliens.  Okay, embarassed may not be the word.  Bored.  Disappointed.  Exasperated.  Those words might express the range of responses to this movie that obviously depended on the 3D effect to make it work.

Debbie, Maggie (5), Vivian (8), and I saw Monsters Vs. Aliens at the non-3D showing because I had a church meeting to go to that evening when the 3D version was shown.  Not seeing it in 3D was our second mistake.  Seeing it at all was our first.

Our grandkids, who will sit for hours enraptured by the likes of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, were restless during the movie.  The plot takes too long to get going, and then is really too-adult for little ones.  It begins as a love story with Susan about to marry Derek, the local TV weatherman.  Only Susan gets hit by a meteor that crashes outside the church on her wedding day, and turns into the 50-foot bride during the ceremony.  (There is one cute bit as the presiding minister whips out his cell phone while Susan is growing to gigantic proportions, but that’s an inside baseball moment for us pastors.)

Susan is then transported, after being subdued by government forces, to a secret Area-51 type facility.  She awakens to discover that she is still very tall, and in the company of other monsters — a mad scientist-turned-cockroach, a blob named Bob (one of the better characters), a creature-from-the-black-lagoon fishman, and Insectosaurus, a big bug.  Their getting-to-know-you scene is amusing, but not funny.

Then, the aliens come into the picture looking for the stuff that made Susan turn into Ginorma, her new government-given name.  From there, Ginorma (Susan) and the others battle the aliens, not once, but several times, and prevail.

Stephen Colbert is the voice of the President, but neither the dialogue nor the plot showcase him well either.  The best scene in the entire movie is the President’s riff on the “tone sequence” scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Mostly MvA is full of not-so-funny lines, a weak plot, a love story that was never about love, and a lot of violence.  Okay, so it’s cartoon violence, but still there’s a lot of it.  The violence could have been offset by some light-hearted clever dialogue, but there wasn’t much of that either.

In short, the movie falls flat.  The animation at times is stunningly real, but the characters — except for Bob the blob — just don’t have the pizzaz a movie like this needs.  Think of Toy Story or Wall-E or even the silly Ice Age films, and MvA is not even in the same league.

If you must see it, and you might have to if you have a 5 or 8 year old, please see it in 3D.  At least then the characters will have some dimension to them, and the plot will appear well-rounded.

The best part of the whole afternoon was spending it with Maggie and Vivian who are animated without any outside help all the time.

Sermon for Palm Sunday: Sustaining The Weary

Here’s the sermon I’m preaching tomorrow, Palm Sunday, April 5, 2009.

Sustaining the Weary

Isaiah 50:4-9a

4 The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue,
to know the word that sustains the weary.
He wakens me morning by morning,
wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.

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