Here are five things that I learned or was reminded of this week:
1. If there is a such thing as tax-dumb, then I’m tax-dumb.
2. Video devotionals are great.
3. Man can’t live on spaghetti alone.
4. Cable isn’t worth the price I pay for it.
5. I don’t know what movies are up for an Oscar this year.
What did you learn this week?
I watch the clock tick down on the two big screens on each side of the stage. When it hits zero the lights go down and the blinds lower over the windows, blocking out the sunlight. The drummer stomps the bass drum and I feel it reverberate as I lean against the back wall of the worship center. The room is a subwoofer and I am right in the middle of it.
As a member of the church host team, I often stand in the back just in case I’m needed. You notice a lot of things from back here. You see who’s coming and going. Who sits where and who they’re with. You see joy and pain. You see relief and enlightenment. You see it all.
There’s the married couple who sits in the same section every week. He keeps his arm around her and she snuggles in close and every now and then she’ll scratch his back. They seem comfortable and happy to be there. It’s one of those things they do together. Worshipping as a pair.
There’s the large family on the opposite side. They take up half of a single section. The widowed matriarch sits closest to the aisle and she is joined by her children and grandchildren. They are surrounded by each other. Not only is it just children and grandchildren but they’re also joined by cousins, nephews and in laws. Today they grow closer as a family as they grow closer to their maker.
There are the teenagers down front. No one worships like them. They exude spirit and excitement. When the music is playing they jump and dance and raise their hands to the sky. They’re uninhibited; wild and reckless. And when the sermon begins they are attentive. They soak it in like a sponge.
The older people, in the next section over, find the kids either humorous or annoying. It’s hard to tell. They smile gingerly when they let out a scream or a whoop.
But the kids are setting the example, showing us how it’s done. Why are we not following? Worshipping freely and wholeheartedly?
There is the singe lady who sits by herself every week. She is receptive to the message that is being taught. You can see it in her unblinking eyes and the way she nods her head. The lights are going off. She gets it. God is making sense.
When the pastor ends the sermon and the music starts up again, the people in the room seem rejuvenated and restless. Sometimes it’s like witnessing an aftermath. Their world is wrecked and re-imagined. Like a tsunami has washed through.
From the back wall I can see that hope has arrived. Voids have been filled and doubts have been crushed.
From the back wall, I see that God was here today.
My paternal grandparents, Pop and Georgette, lived in a quiet little house in a quiet little neighborhood in the suburbs of Atlanta. In their living room, was a small shelf that was built into the wall, right next to their chiming alarm clock that hung above the couch that I slept on when I stayed over.
On this shelf, they kept knick knacks and keepsakes. There were matching coffee mugs with their names on them. There were pictures of my great grandparents and other relatives that I had never met. There were statuettes of birds and angels and dust covered artificial flowers. The shelf was full of things that they collected over the years. Things that meant somethings to them, memories.
On one of the lower shelves were pictures of my grandparents when they were in their early twenties or younger. The picture of my grandmother was beautiful with her big blue eyes and white smile. She was a looker; Pop was a lucky man.
The black and white picture of Pop is one that will never fade from my mind. He was in all of his military gear. He wasn’t a very big man so the gear and the uniform seemed to swallow him up. He looked too young to be wearing it all, like a child in a halloween costume.
The one outstanding feature of this photo was the big smile on his face and the look in his eye. He looked happy, excited, nervous. I could tell that he was happy to be a soldier. He wanted to serve and fight for his country despite not knowing exactly what he was about to face. I wonder what kind of memories Pop formed while he served, the friends he made, the friends he lost.
I’m not sure of what branch of the armed forces Pop was in or where he traveled to but I’m proud of him that he did. It’s humbling to know that he risked his life for his wife, children and grandchildren.
It’s heart warming to know that the same man who took me camping, held my hand, bought me happy meals, taught me about faith and made me pancakes, put his life on the line to protect my freedoms.
Because of Pops service and all of those who serve and have served, I am able to live in a country where I can freely worship God. I’m free to live the life that I choose.
I’m free to write this post on my couch, in my quiet little house in my quiet little neighborhood in this suburb of Atlanta.
I have an acoustic guitar that sits by my bedroom door, propped up against the wall. A plastic pick is interlaced between the high E and B strings and a capo is clamped to the end of the neck. I attempt to play it every once in awhile, feeling guilty that I just let it sit there. But for the most part it gets neglected due to other things in life that demand my time.
I keep it by the door so that I see it every time I enter and leave the room. The dog hates it. She sometimes whacks it with her tail as she enters and leaves, causing it to emit an off key chord. It startles her; she moves on.
It’s a simple, organic instrument. There are no buttons or outputs on it. It’s just a wooden guitar with no bells and whistles. I keep it in view because it reminds me that, sometimes, I need to unplug. To take off the filters and get back to basics.
The week before our church moved into a permanent building of its own, we spent one final Sunday in the local high school gymnasium. We took one last look around at what had been the church home for so many years. That last sunday was special. One of the things that made it special was that we took a moment to unplug. We went acoustic.
There were no electric guitars or synthesizers. No stage lights or fog machines. Only the rich sound of an acoustic guitar and a room full of voices. There were no videos or effects. It was all very simple. A group of people and God, with no distractions.
Life can be distracting. It comes at us from all angles. Some of those distractions are positive while others are not. Whether they are good or bad, they can all become overwhelming at times. Our need to be plugged in can become a burden.
It’s important for me to have those unplugged moments at least once a day. Free of TV. Free of the internet and free of anything that demands my attention.
I need to go acoustic with God. No filters or enhancements. Just one on one time with my maker, in soft silence. How about you?
There is no mistaking Donald Trump for anyone else. From his swooping, reddish gray hair to his stern demeanor, it is impossible to accidentally mistake him for another. He is one of a kind.
He has become a pop culture icon, not for his business savvy or his political ambitions but for his lack of mercy in a camera filled boardroom. It’s here where he puts ambitious young business men and women and celebrities through the ringer. He asks tough questions like: “Who is your weakest player?” or “Who would you fire if you were me?”, all intended to make the contestants squirm.
Two words have made him famous. The two words that the contestants never want to hear but the millions watching at home can’t wait to hear.
What if God was like Donald Trump?
When I was a child, I imagined God was like this. I imagined a stern older man sitting in a big, cushioned chair with Gabriel and Michael seated on either side in equally as cushioned but slightly smaller chairs.
I imagined walking into the middle of a smoky, white room and standing directly in front of God. I could feel all the residents of heaven looking at me, sizing me up, determining whether or not they could predict what God would do with me. Let me in or fire me?
God would look me over for a second before He would speak. And then came the poignant questions:
“What were your weakest moments?”
“Why should I let you into Heaven?”
After I gave my response, He would confer with Gabriel. Gabriel would give him a long list of reasons why I should be allowed in and why I shouldn’t. Mostly the latter. Then God would stare at me again while He rubbed his chin, pondering my fate. In or out?
He then turned to Michael and asked for his opinion. It was much of the same. The two arch angels at God’s side were not helping my cause. I was sure that I would hear those two fateful words and be asked to leave the boardroom and Heaven for good.
But thankfully God isn’t like that.
As I grew older the message changed. People stopped teaching that God was all about fire and brimstone. The message changed to who God really is. He is loving and full of grace.
God doesn’t want to fire us and send us to Hates. He takes no joy in that.
He doesn’t want to scare us straight. He wants to love us and have us love Him in return. He wants a relationship.
Now could you imagine Donald Trump saying, “I love you.”, instead of , “Your fired”?
Weird isn’t it?
How did you imagine God growing up? How do you see Him now?
One of the things I love about baseball is the fact that the champions celebrate like no one else. It’s not the champagne and the plastic covered locker rooms or the trophy presentations. It’s the final out, that final strike.
When the last pitch hits the mitt, jubilation occurs. The crowd roars. Gloves and caps fly in the air. The players swarm the mound and dog pile the pitcher and catcher.
Baseball players do it right. Their joy of victory is palpable. Even if your team lost, you can’t help but watch the winners celebrate.
I imagine this is what it was like in heaven when Christ took his last breath on earth and entered into paradise.
Angels roared. They ran to Jesus, picked him up and carried Him around on their shoulders. The residents of heaven stood to their feet and applauded. Jubilation occurred. They relished in victory.
I imagine a victory parade. The heavenly hosts marched down the streets of Heaven. Bands played, confetti drifted through the air and choirs sang as Jesus rode in the back seat of a car and waved to everybody.
After years of toiling with rebellious humans and evil, God won. His sacrifice payed off.
And because of His victory, we are free.
Our sins washed away.
Isn’t that worthy of a celebration?
How did you celebrate Easter?
Here are five things that I learned or was reminded of this week:
1. God sent his Son for us…
2. He lived a perfect life..
3. He died on a cross for us…
4. He rose again, defeating death and sin…
5. He is alive! His victory is our victory! We are free! Free indeed!
What did you learn this week?
If Christmas is the national championship game for church people then Easter is the Super Bowl. Easter Sunday is the one day out of the year that many people will attend church. And even though they come every year, they forget that it can be a harrowing experience. Because Easter Sunday is different. It’s special and if you aren’t prepared for it, it can be bad. Enter the ninja greeter.
Ninja greeters are highly trained, highly skilled and very friendly church ambassadors. And since they are the first people you will probably see (or not see, because they’re ninjas) when you enter the church, rest assured that they will make your church visit as pleasant as possible.
They have seen and done it all. So they want to impart some knowledge on you before coming to church on Easter Sunday.
Here are five things you should know if you want to survive… err… enjoy your Easter service.
1. Get there early (part 1) - Great parking lot teams know exactly where open parking spaces are but even they can’t create a parking space out of thin air. If you’re late or even on time, go ahead and book your ticket on the complimentary church shuttle or bring a power bar. It’s a long walk from the overflow parking lot at the supermarket that is four miles away.
2. Make a sacrifice - Prepare to sacrifice a member of your group to save seats. This person must be brave and have thick skin. This is no job for the meek. They will get the evil eye and they may be cussed at. Encourage them to stay strong. Also, have them grab a handful of bulletins on the way in because pens, phones, shoes, and small children aren’t always considered to be credible seat saving devices.
3. Get there early (part 2) – If you arrive late, you’ll be subjected to the notorious plastic folding chair of doom. The plastic folding chair is infamous for causing butt numbness and for making inappropriate noises every time you try to adjust. It’s extremely embarrassing during those quiet moments.
4. Know your exit strategy – Know where the exits are. If you are in a group, select a rendezvous point before hand. When the herd of people bears down on you, it’s easy to be separated. Don’t panic. Remember the game plan. Fall back to the Alamo which, in your case, is probably the place you’ll have lunch (Chili’s, Applebee’s, Aunt Ethel’s house).
5. There will be hats - Despite current fashion trends, people will still don the Easter bonnet – that feathery, fluffy, pastel colored behemoth that draws attention and garners stares. Be prepared to strategically pick your seat where the feathery bonnet doesn’t interfere with the view. And if you still refer to a hat as a bonnet – welcome to 2012.
Easter is a time of celebration. It shouldn’t be fraught with frustration and despair. Remember these five nuggets of knowledge and spend your Easter service worshiping instead of suffering.
The other day, someone asked me why I like to run marathons. I stood there for a moment in a stupor because I couldn’t think of a reasonable answer. It’s ludicrous if you think about it, running 26.2 miles. Suffering. Causing yourself so much pain and discomfort. Wanting to die at mile 23.
Now that I’ve had time to think about it, I’ve come to the conclusion that I enjoy it because of the journey to get there. I enjoy the struggle. For me, the race itself is secondary to the accomplishment of getting there.
It’s difficult to motivate yourself to run everyday. Marathon training is a series of tedious and often painful battles. Each training run is a battle with your body and mind. It is your will forcing your body to adapt, to get stronger and to be more efficient.
Each battle gets you one step closer to the moment you have been training for, the war. And a marathon is a war. Twenty six miles and 385 yards of you vs. you. Hope vs. doubt. Mind vs. heart.
Marathon training mirrors life in this same way. We have everyday battles. Our goals and dreams aren’t easy to achieve, at least for most of us. There are obstacles that get in our way and unforeseen forces that want us to fail. And many of those battles are internal. As humans, we have a tendency to doubt ourselves.
When you are in one of those battles, remember this:
“For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” - Jeremiah 29
Doesn’t that say it all?
We continue on because we have hope. We have faith in a promise. We have faith that God has a plan and He will show us the way.
During marathon training, I run everyday because I have faith that it will get me to where I need to be. Every step and every mile is an act of faith. I have a solid plan that will get me there.
God has a plan too. A plan to get you where you need to be. His plans aren’t our plans because we can’t see the big picture. So have faith in his plan and enjoy the journey.
Do you have faith in his plans for you?