“Discover Your Why” (Retaking the Village Green 11/17/20)

“Why?”

Ever have a song that gets stuck in your head?

This past Sunday during worship I shared that last week I did not have a song, but a question. It started by watching a business speaker talking about what kind of businesses thrive while others struggle. I was confronted with the question again while running on my treadmill by the running coach on my app. It was the simple question,

“Why?”

In the case of my treadmill session it was, “Why are you running today?”

            “Because I like being uncomfortable and sweating? – NOT”

The more I thought, the more I realized it is an important question for each of us to answer for our lives, especially considering our current conditions.

“Why do I do what I do in my life?” “Why do I get up every morning?” “Why do I even try to…?”

The business speaker used the example of Apple as a computer company. “Why do people buy products from Apple? Why do they succeed where others fail?” His point (my summary) was that most companies start with answering the “What?” question. “What do you do? – We build computers.” “How do you do it? – By gathering vendors, equipment and customers.” Finally, “Why do you do it?” “To make a profit and a good product.” Not a very inspirational model to attract fan loyalty. Apple starts with answering the “Why?” question- “Why do you do it? – “To be on the cutting edge of innovation in design, technology and life- want to buy one?”

As I thought more about this pounding on the treadmill, I realized the answer to the “Why?” question truly drives and either motivates, or un-motivates my life. “Why are you on this device of torture running in your basement?” If my answer wasn’t, “To ensure the best possible health of my life to spend with the people around me that matter,” then any temporary goal of a “better running time” or “feeling better about myself” is very short sighted, and in the end unsustainable. Age will catch up and times will slow. “Feeling better” will be gauged by my mood of the day, events of the day and weather of the day, or other factors. Knowing my, “Why?” for what I do is far more important than knowing the “What? Or How?” of my life.

This then translates into ministry. Most churches, and many followers of Jesus lead with the, “What?” answer. “What do you do?”- “I do Bible studies, I do worship, I prepare meals, I lead youth group, I… all “what?” answers. We then move to the “How?” question. “I/We do these things by recruiting (begging) people to attend events, lead studies, lead youth groups, classes, play on worship teams, etc.” and eventually we get around to a “Why?” answer like, “To glorify God” (not a bad reason). As I thought more, my conclusion was that I was shooting far too low in my expectations, and my answers. I needed to clarify my “Why? – Why is ministry, why is following Jesus worthwhile?” Here is what I discovered about myself.

My “Why?” goes something like this. Almost everyone I know looks around at the world and thinks, “This is not what I want. Life’s hard. Things are broken, and I don’t see it getting better.” As I read Scripture, I think God would say the same.

The world we live in now was not God’s plan for us. A world where life would be a struggle, and each day would bring a new maelstrom of problems. Scripture says that God’s original creation was, “very good” and it was/is our rebellion, our rejection, our sin against God that created the brokenness we now live in. The promise from God is that one day this world would be recreated again into a place free from the pain and brokenness we now see.

“Why do you do what you do?”- “Because I choose to see the world as God intended, not as it is; and as a follower of Jesus want to do all I can to help as many as I can become a part of God’s intended world by following Christ.” To me that is a much greater way to honor God and stay motivated when so many would follow simply out of comfort or convenience. It lifts my sights higher, to see life – mine and others – higher as God sees it, than my perceptions. It helps keep me from discouragement.

In John 10:10 Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it in abundance.” I hope and pray that I can help lead others, inspire others, motivate others to join in and discover the abundance of life that only Jesus can provide. It is a far higher and more inspiring message than simply, “Join our church.”

God wants to help each of us find our “why?” It starts by discovering the “Who?”, Jesus, in each of our lives and joining Him in His mission.

Back to the treadmill- there’s work to be done.

 

Pastor Kevin

 

 



“Love Your Neighbor” (Retaking the Village Green 3/17/20)

“Look out for your neighbors. What a novel concept?”

With everyone so consumed by this pandemic called Covid-19, while serious, it has been good to see some trying to keep their sense of humor. These have been the comedic conspiracy theories that have been proposed which have to make you chuckle when life seems overwhelming.

  • “Plot by daycares for all the newborns that will occur in 9 months after several weeks of mandated home quarantine.”
  • “Plot by teachers so that in 6 years when all the newborns (see daycares) reach the age of 6, we have to raise taxes to build bigger school and hire more teachers.”
  • “Plot by homeschoolers to show everyone what they go through every day.”
  • My favorite- “Plot by our pets so we stay home with them more.”

These are not to make light of the serious times we are in now, but many need a way to work through the anxiety they are facing.

Many times, as I have been following news stories, stories of people helping people have been highlighted as “points of light” in hard times. “Thinking of the common good.” “Watching out for the vulnerable.” “Caring for those in need,” have been themes that have been highlighted and heralded. People have been called upon to marshal the best of themselves for the best of others. For followers of Jesus, these are best summed up in Jesus own statement 2,000 years ago, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Followers of Jesus share something that most do not, a common moral imperative given to us by Jesus and empowered by God himself. The idea of caring for another more than ourselves, watching out for another’s best interest is written into our spiritual DNA. The Apostle Paul wrote, “In humility value others above yourself, not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of others.” I thought of this verse as I watched the lines in our stores. These moral imperatives fueled by devotion to Jesus and empowered by God changed the shape of the world.

Aristides, a philosopher of the 2nd century, wrote describing the early church, “they care not only for themselves but for the needs of others. If they see someone with a need, they will fast two or three days to provide for that need and provide with what they have.” Julian the Apostate who ruled the Roman Empire in the 3rd century tried to counter the growing Christian threat by starting his own pagan religion to duplicate the Christians actions, except do so void of their God. It failed. When he questioned his advisers he was told, “our people do not share the same moral imperative they seem share because of their allegiance to their God.”

The early church grew, not because it sequestered itself in its buildings, taking care of only itself, hoarding whatever they used for TP, but by being actively engaged in their communities helping those in need with what they had. I am not advocating for a cavalier attitude towards this time we are in. We need to be wise, careful and taking precautions that protect us and others around us. But we also remember that during this time there are people we can help and should help if we truly believe Jesus’ words, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Also remembering that love is fueled by loving God first and remembering God, out of love, reached into brokenness to bring hope and healing through Jesus.
This is a where the Church of Jesus can shine. To do so prayerfully, carefully, and modeling to our neighbors and friends in practical ways what we profess we believe.

Also, remember to thank the people who are serving us during these days. The store stockers, health care workers, first responders, teachers and others who are doing their best so our lives can go on.

This will pass. We will learn the best and worst about ourselves and others during these days. Let’s make sure people learn the best about us as we serve together in Christ’s name.

I have to run. My dog is looking at me funny, and I don’t want to upset him again.

Peace,
Pastor Kevin



“Your Shoe is Untied” (Retaking the Village Green 2/20/20)

I never thought I would envy my father’s shoes.

Years ago, when I would visit my Dad in Florida, he would take great pleasure in showing me all the newest things he discovered to make his retirement years easier. On one particular visit, he was excited to show me his new sneakers. Besides being the plain white uniform sneaker that seemed required of all the retirees in his development, I saw nothing noteworthy until, with great glee he demonstrated, “Look, no tying!” as he quickly put them on and off with the aid of a Velcro strap across the top. “We can stop and get you a pair as well when we head out after golf.” I offered my mumbled, “Thanks, I have new sneakers,” and quickly changed the topic.

Velcro on sneakers just seemed to be one of those “Change of life things” that happened to him and his friends when they retired. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate how convenient they are when maybe your mobility starts to decrease, the floor gets too far away, or you are late for the free samples of cheese at the local store. I felt superior not needing this technological innovation given to us by the Vulcans (if you get that reference let me know), I kept my footwear on with shoelaces like nature intended. I scoffed at the concept, until recently when I broke a shoelace on a favorite pair of shoes.

In my lacing naiveté I thought, “Not a problem, I’ll just pick up a new pair.” What a foolish thought. What I thought would be a simple search for a piece of colored twine turned into a fishing expedition (considered using fishing line briefly) to multiple stores to only find this simple fashion accessory almost impossible to find in either the right color, shape? (who knew), length and consistency. Choices were limited. No, did not want lime green for my black shoes. When I asked one hapless sales associate at my last stop why this was so hard, the answer was, “Not many requests, most people buy new shoes.” This simple, required clothing piece is branded, “unnecessary and replaceable.”

“Why this long diatribe on footwear?” As I pondered my next move on solving my problem, it occurred to me that many view the church today in much the same way. Once seen as essential, now seen as an optional accessory that is replaced by the next best thing that makes my life easier. I am not talking about the institution, but the relationship that comes from being united together in faith with God and others through Christ that keeps my life together and moving forward. The belief, “This is necessary” is replaced with, “What else you got.”

The search for a community of believers which “fits” may take time and energy, but in the long run, is well worth it. Once I find one, invest myself in one regularly, I may find that when my life becomes untied, I have a place that will help me get back on my feet again.

I eventually solved my problem after many failed attempts. I am not ready for Velcro yet (sorry Dad). I can now walk comfortably again secure in the knowledge this should not happen again for a long time. If it does, I know the search was worth it and I would do it again.

Now, anyone want to buy my extra laces?



“The Hypocrisy of ‘Bleepmas'” (Retaking the Village Green 12/4/19)

It was an all too familiar story. A local town board is petitioned by a group. Offended by the Christmas themes of the season, they wanted the local lighting of the now “Holiday Tree” stopped because it was offensive. The town board wanting to be politically correct and culturally sensitive, voted to do away with the celebration and decorations- until someone raised the issue that it would cost $10,000 to replace the wreaths and decorations with something less offensive. The board tabled the decision.

Many today want to enjoy the benefits of the Christmas season. Fun, celebrations, gifts, decorations- these things all bring a little light, and a great deal of profits during this time of year when it seems the sun sets soon after it rises. Shorter dark days are perception for most, reality if you live in Alaska, or the Arctic Circle, or your parent’s basement. What could be wrong with those benefits?

What is wrong is that today people want the fun, celebrations, and the profits of the season and cast aside the religious foundation of the season. They want the “bling” without the responsibility. Retailers look forward to the profits, municipalities plan fairs and events. Schools plan pageants, concerts, and fundraisers. It is commercialism at its best, hypocrisy at the worst.

To ignore any religious significance to the season is a blatant political correctness gone amok and the hubris of hypocrisy. Even the ancient Romans celebrated the festival of Saturnalia to honor the god, Saturn. One historian, Sir James Frazier, describes that celebration as a time, “when the darker passions find a vent which would not be allowed in ordinary life.”

This season is a time that the Christian Church, in all of its different branches, and over 1 billion followers worldwide (not exactly an insignificant number), stop and celebrate the God of all creation who, in an act of love, delivered His Son, Jesus Christ, into this world as a gift for us, to bring deliverance to us. The gift of Christ was priceless for God to give, and free for any to take.  Generations before, Isaiah the prophet would describe this person, this gift, as the “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. He would be empowered to bring peace, and the world should welcome with open arms. Not a bad gift in our increasingly hostile and divided world.

The greeting, “Merry Christmas”- (“Be glad. Go, it is the sending of the Messiah.” literally) should be one that all followers of Jesus should embrace and proclaim boldly, gladly, and with great grace to others. The odorless, colorless, tasteless greeting, “Happy Holidays,” has no power to change a world or a heart. The God of all creation, through His Son Jesus, can. That is worth a true celebration.

So, while we may be tempted to condemn others for whitewashing the “reason for the season,” may those who follow Jesus (remember we are 1 billion strong) not be silent in sharing the message of God’s hope for us, His love shown to us, in Jesus Christ to bring healing for any of us.

The gift of Jesus you will never find on sale, and is always available 24/7. Celebrate well.

Merry Christmas,

Pastor Kevin



“Father Into Your Hands, I Commit My Spirit” Luke 23:46 (Retaking the Village Green 2/13/19)

And so it ended.

It is hard to compress all the events, all the emotion, all the questions of these last 24 hours into a few minutes.

How do you move from intimacy of the table to the agony of the cross? Less than 24 hours previously, Jesus, sharing a meal with his friends again, tried to teach and explain:

“This is my body, broken for you”

“This is my blood spilled for you for the forgiveness of sins”

As they went out into the night to pray and watch with him, questions still remained. As the soldiers took Him away, as they ran from Him, as they watched Him beaten, as they heard the sentence- “Crucify Him” and the crowds reject Him, as they followed from a distance, as they watched the nails driven in and heard His cries of pain- they waited and questioned.

For Jesus, His waiting was almost over. Peering through pain-clouded eyes at the faces arrayed before Him, He waited for the final word to be said.

The stage was now set for the conclusion of His ministry by this day’s long events. After scanning the crowd one last time through eyes misted by blood and sweat, He raised his eyes to heavens and cried out in a loud voice.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”

“It is finished.’

Finally- “Into your hands I commit my spirit”

The attending Roman centurion amazed by this praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” Having seen the death of many before, he knew this man was different. This man was innocent.

Prior to Jesus’ call to God we are told “There was darkness over all the earth from noon to three in the afternoon.” (v44).

Centuries before, the prophet Joel said, “The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” (Joel 2:31). Years after the crucifixion when the first disciples went to India and told of the good news of Jesus’ death for our sins, the people there told of a day when the land went dark and remained that way.

Revelation tells of the coming “wrath of the Lamb” when the sun turned black and those on earth would hide in caves for fear. Luke 23:45 says, “the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of temple was torn in two.” In his atoning death, as even in His life, the power of nature and people was challenged- and Jesus won.

Hear again Christ’s last recorded words from the cross, “Father into your hands I commit my spirit.”

Jesus loved his Father, and at the moment of death, rested in the arms of God. Carried safely into death and into heaven by the angels, Jesus could rest from His labor. Redemption was complete, the day of salvation for all people had come. As John wrote earlier in his gospel, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” However, at this moment, the light to come could not be seen.

After Jesus breathed His last breath, His friends, family walked away into the darkness with the greatest question still unanswered- “Why?”- “Why did he have to die?” They would have to wait three days in darkness to get the answer… we do not have to wait.

Centuries before the prophet Isaiah wrote- “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. Those living in the valley of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.”

In our rejection, in our denial, in our sin, we continue to walk and live in the darkness- even though we have the light.

Jesus finished His mission and went home. In committing His life into the Father’s hands He insured that we would have to walk in darkness no more. Pain has an end. Grieving will cease. Death is defeated. Joy will come. Darkness will not win.

We are not done yet, but when we are, may we go home with the same words on our lips…

          “Father into Your hand I commit my Spirit…”

                   -and do with the confidence that we will be received into the light of Christ.

Amen.



“Happy National Insecurity Day!” (Retaking the Village Green 2/13/19)

We love our celebrations.

Every day of the year is marked by some reason to celebrate. January 21st is “National Squirrel Day.” February 9th is “National Pizza Day” (although many celebrate this holiday every day without noticing).  There are now over 1,500 days of celebration that are tracked. Whether you want to honor your mail carrier, flip-flops, or celebrate popcorn- there is a day for you.

I have self-designated a new day, “National Insecurity Day” on February 14th. Some might recognize this day under its more familiar name, Valentine’s Day.

For many, Valentine’s Day is not a day to stare dreamily into the eyes of someone and hope for a future with them. Valentine’s Day is a day when insecurities can run rampant.

The insecurity of not knowing if someone will designate you as his or her valentine (think back to Charlie Brown waiting helplessly at his mailbox for a store bought card.) The insecurity of not knowing if the person you are sharing a chocolate with “likes you” or “like likes” you. The insecurity of wondering if anyone will ever profess undying affection for you. The insecurity of not knowing if there is enough rocky road ice cream in your freezer. Love, relationships should not lend themselves to create insecurity in our lives, but trust, hope and faith in the other person and in your relationship with them.

In God’s love story to us, God not only talks a good game of love, he demonstrates it. The famous verse proudly displayed at some sporting events, “For God so loved the world he gave his one and only son” tangibly demonstrates a love that breeds security and not doubt. A love of words, backed up by a love of action. A love not of cheap gifts, but a love of giving what is valued the most. A love that is not measured by a price tag or dinner menu, but by an intentional action and presence into our lives. A love, which the Apostle Paul describes as never failing and greater than even faith and hope. A love of our life that caused Jesus to give his life for us. That kind of love gives a security that can never be taken away from us.

So, this Valentine’s Day, let God help you move beyond your relational insecurities, into a secure, permanent relationship with Him that can build within you and others a love that will sustain and last.

So, chocolate hearts, overpriced roses (they are half price the day after)- move over.



“A Prayer of Revival” (Retaking the Village Green 9/7/18)

In looking through some old notes, I came across this prayer we used in Maine almost 20 years ago. I think this still may ring true today. As we come into the fall season of life, may we each find the revival we need.

Pastor Kevin

A Prayer of Revival

In Solemn Assembly, we stand before God to own our sin and our sinfulness.

We confess that our very view of God has been shallow and simplistic.  We have slighted Him by barely knowing Him.  We have been content with learning the most obvious of His ways.  We have had too little thirst for a fuller understanding of His mind, His heart, His will, and His ways.

We confess that we have been guilty of theological pride when we ought to be ashamed of our ignorance. We have assumed we know more then we do.  We have been arrogant toward others.  We have been slothful in study, too quick to assume superficial answers to profound questions.  We have opted for activity to the neglect of prayerful study and humble investigation.

We confess that we have substituted an easy certainty for humble inquiry.  We have been satisfied to sip at truth when we might have drunk deeply at the wells of God’s revelation.

From lack of faith, we have failed to study and investigate.  We have allowed dogmatic certainty to interfere with the search for truth.  We have assumed that old answers are adequate for new equations.  We have allowed ourselves to be engulfed by busyness, leaving too little for being still in order to listen, to inquire, and to search.

We have not prayed as we ought.  We have allowed prayer to become an opening salute and a closing formality to both our worship and our deliberations.  We have forgotten that through prayer miracles can take place.  We have made prayer an effort to gain divine approval for what we have done, rather than the avenue through which we experience what God Himself would do.

We have become ensnared in worldly measures of success.  We have been too quick to give adulation to those who achieve numerical affirmation but too little appreciation of the virtues of faithfulness, humility and simplicity.

We have fallen prey to the attraction of the world.  We have allowed ourselves to be ensnared by sexuality for self-satisfaction and eroticism as a substitute for love.  The materialism of our society with its worship of things has stained us.  We have yielded to the fascination of the power of the computer, becoming more and more adept at compiling data, but less and less practitioners of the care of the soul.

Too often we have substituted money for distant missions and missionary enterprises for time to build redemptive bridges to the neighbor next door and the associate at the adjoining desk.

We have neglected the Holy Spirit and His gifts.  Our fear of extremes has resulted in churches where the Holy Spirit is known on paper but unknown in intimate communion.

We have been quicker to find reasons to separate from other believers than to discover and capitalize upon our common ground.  Lord, you know that we often tend to stay to ourselves.  As local churches we have little if any contact with sister churches in our area or other like-minded churches.  We are not showing forth the love and unity that is ours in Christ and we confess the sin of our independent spirit.

We confess that we have allowed the inevitable depression of our spiritual malaise to dull us to the glorious hope, joy, and freedom of our life in Christ.  We have neither appropriated nor expressed the joy of the Lord.  Our life in Christ has been all too joyless and too often void of the exuberance of life in Christ.

Lord, when we walk through your letters to your churches we are forced to agree that we have forsaken our first love.  We have compromised our lifestyles with materialism, license and the self-centeredness of this world’s gods.  We have become complacent, accepting mediocrity and rationalizing failure.  We have ascribed the sterility of our body life to the hostility of the world rather than to the barrenness of our own souls.  We have chosen the lukewarm safety of mediocrity and unchallenged tradition over the higher but dangerous road of innovative, sacrificial, and experimental love.  We have not reached for the unknown and undiscovered heights of spiritual intimacy and fruitful life which You long for us to know.  In our practices and programs, we have allowed old patterns to continue beyond their usefulness out of fear of change and the cost of the new.

Lord, we have sinned in our relationships within our churches.  We have gossiped, criticized and complained.  We have injured each other by refusing to accept hardship as true soldiers of Christ.  We have limited our commitment by dividing our love between the church and the world.  All too often we have given to the temporal the priority that belongs to the eternal.  We have valued the success of programs more highly than the relationships of family and friends, relationships which have been sacrificed to make those programs successful.

Lord, in spite of your faithfulness we have refused to trust You with our substance and for Your provision.  We have written our budgets in the light of the seen and not the unseen.  We have viewed faith as presumption and faithfulness as unacceptable sacrifice.

Lord, in all these things we have failed to recognize Your grace and Your love.  We have not seen Your tears; we have not recognized Your generous love.  We have accepted Your patience as though it were Your approval.  We have not understood nor recognized the grief of Your heart when we live on the peripheral of Your blessing and might have enjoyed Your lavish hand.

Lord, we have accepted Your grace without appreciating its cost.  We have taken comfort in that grace for ourselves while reluctantly extending it to those who have injured us.  We have squandered the spiritual wealth given to us while extending only the most limited gospel handouts to the broken people who surround us and the world, which is our parish.  For lack of faith we have lived as paupers when we might have lived as princes.  We are a people who could have turned our world upside down but instead have allowed that world to quarantine, confine and sterilize what should have been contagious communities of faith.

We are weak where we could have been strong.

We are divided where we could have been one.

We are despised where we could have been respected.

We are depressed where we could have been triumphant.

We are the people of a risen Lord who have existed like the remnant of a crucified martyr.

We are not the worst that we might have been, not the least that we could have become, not the lowest to that we could fall; but we confess, with shame, that we are not what we might be.  We have not become what we ought to become, and in no way are we the people that a risen Lord, an omnipotent Father and an all-powerful Spirit would have made us had we been willing to yield to Your desires.

All of this and much, much more we stand to confess before our Master in solemn assembly and in deep shame.  We have sinned; we have failed.  We plead Your grace, Your mercy, and Your blood.  We ask for pardon which we in no way deserve and for forgiveness that only our Savior’s death can offer.  Nonetheless, we pray with confidence, believing with certainty that the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin, and in this we find hope and peace and comfort.

In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, and Savior, and Master.  Amen
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“Press and Reset” (Retaking the Village Green 8/7/18)

We all have them; at some point we need them, and they are hard to find.

I am not talking about friends when you need to move or relatives when you need money, but reset buttons.

Every electronic device we own that talks, pings or interacts with us has a reset button. They are the “use as a last resort option” when you have tried countless times to restart, reprogram a device and the black box smiles back at you, taunting you seemingly saying, “Now who is in charge.”

You frantically search the internet for directions because you discarded them long ago thinking you will never need them. Once located, you find the clues to uncover the reset button. The small aperture is usually as hard to spot as a needed friend who has a truck, or relative with spare cash, and is as small as Tinkerbell’s pinky. When you finally locate a #2 pencil with a point sharp enough to split an atom, you insert, press, and you and your electronic friend arrive at a restored relationship again. All is well in the universe again- until next time.

There are times in each of our lives when we wish we had a reset button. A relationship sours, jobs overwhelm, life threatens to overcome us. We look for that hidden button which will quickly and painlessly reset our lives to normal- until the next crisis.

God’s grace has provided a “life reset button’ for us. It is not hidden or hard to find. In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the sign of His life- the cross, God did not hide it. It is easy to access. God has presented to each of us a sign that has emblazoned itself across the course of human history and the lives of those who have already taken advantage of it.

The problem for many is that they have lost the directions. I think of the story of the person walking by a church and asking a friend, “Why is there a plus sign on top of that building?”

Many walk by the symbol of the cross every day. They may even wear it, or have it inked into their skin. When asked some may respond, “I have never seen it.” Alternatively, “I have seen it, but I do not know what it means.” Others, “I once knew but I have forgotten.”

It is up to those who have discovered the power and the meaning of the cross in our lives to provide many opportunities to God’s reset button and make the directions of its use freely available to others.

I am grateful that I have discovered this in my life. I know that as I walk through my days there are many around me who have the need to reset their lives as well. They are more important than any device I may own. I pray I will never become inoculated to that need.

So, who will I help find their reset button next?



“We are under attack! Quick call the Worship Team!” (Retaking the Village Green 5/17/18)

It is hard to imagine this sentence uttered in any modern-day field commander’s tent, or in a meeting in the Pentagon. But have you noticed God has a way of doing things against normal expectations?

Recently, I came across this great story in the Old Testament. Israel is under attack (again). The odds seem overwhelming. The leaders doubt their chances. God shows up in the person of a prophet named Jahaziel (not a top ten name today). His message can be read in 2 Chronicles 20:15, “This is what the Lord says to you; ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours but God’s… Stand firm, take your positions and see the deliverance the Lord will give you.’”  The story goes on that the king listens. The people hear and Levites from the Kohathites stand up and begin to sing songs of praise to God.

Here is where it gets interesting. The king then talks to the people, and in Verse 21, he sets his battle plan into motion. “After consulting the people, Jehoshapat appointed men to sing to the Lord and praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army saying, ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.’” The king’s battle plan is to send out a worship team to lead the army into battle- and Israel wins the day. Who plans that kind of battle strategy and keeps their job? God has His own plan.

If you have been in ministry for more than few years, you may have run into the so called “worship wars” where people sometimes elevate individual preference over congregation benefit. Churches have split, members have left, and pastors are left exhausted. Less frequently do we see and or hear people thanking, praising those who lead their churches faithfully each week.

In this story in my mind’s eye, I pictured choirs in robes, guitar players, percussionists, organist, singers of all shapes, sizes, colors and languages marching in front of the army encouraging them with their songs of praise; reminding God’s people of who He is, and what He has done. That is what our worship leaders are challenged to do each week in the place where they serve. It is a great place, and a tough place to be as they have their own personal, family and sometimes congregational conflicts as well.

So today, I want to give a word of thanks to all the worship leaders, teams and participants out there. If you lead in robes, jeans or shorts… whether your hair is white, pink or non-existent… whether your favorite instrument has keys, strings, pipes, sticks, cymbals or just your hands… no matter if you sing in Old English, Urban slang, Spanish, Telegu or Swahili… if your age is young, old or “none of your business”… if you are musical, or technologically adept… Thank you that each week you remind God’s people of His power, presence and promises. As you do so, you lead all of us into whatever may come before us each week and remind us, “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Now let me go find my ukulele. I have a battle to fight.
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“The Saddest Day of the Year?” (Retaking the Village Green 4/5/18)

If I ever change gears in life through either retirement or a new calling, (I still think I want to give the astronaut thing a go), I will say I will miss preaching through the Easter season.

Each message and theme of Holy Week- from the celebration of Palm Sunday to the reflection of Maundy Thursday, the sadness of Good Friday, and finally the triumph of Easter, hold a special place in my life. Each of these events center me again in the truth and reality of what I believe, and the hope that other’s lives and our world can be different if we were to grasp hold and own the truth of the life, death and resurrection in each person. Easter makes ministry and life worthwhile.

After Easter, however, comes the saddest day of the year for me. (Please understand “tongue in cheek” firmly planted.)

During the Easter season, even more than Christmas, people come to worship- to remember and celebrate. Some come because they feel they should. Others because family wants them with them. A few are not sure why, but they still come. Activity is high, smiles are plenty and a joyful ambiance fills the air. Jesus is risen. Let us celebrate!

One week later, on the Sunday after Easter, life for many returns to the new normal. We fill Sundays with opportunities. Some opportunities are mandated, like work schedules which do not distinguish one day from another. Opportunities for kids for sports, community life, friends and other good things. Opportunities for families to spend time on things that are important for them. Opportunities to throw off winter, and begin to prepare for New England outdoor life in the sunshine. Opportunities to go back to a normal routine. The previous Sunday of Easter celebration becomes a memory of something to do next year.

The power and truth of the resurrection is something that lives with us each day, and as such, can be celebrated each day. Easter Sunday is the flag raised we can rally around. It is the symbol to which we can hold in our everyday lives when the image of Jesus grows dim, we are drawn in again to reality of Jesus in the midst of our everyday world.

I for one will always look forward to Easter and its visible reminders of our faith. It is where I plant myself. It is my hope and prayer that for all who took time out of their lives, for whatever reason they came, to join in the celebration; that each one would find a way of discovering and rehearsing the reality of the resurrection in their lives.

I look forward to Sunday, and each day. Jesus is still risen. I can still celebrate. I hope we each can find time to celebrate as well.