Little

IMGP0637Sometime last year I talked how small we humans are in the universe. That was driven home to me last October on vacation in Nova Scotia, Canada.

One of the most incredible sites on our trip was the 24 hours we spent in the tiny fishing village of Peggy’s Cove. Even though it was a tiny fishing village, the rocky coast there was both massive and amazing!

It was very easy to feel small on those rocks, just a speck in the universe; in fact, I’m even a speck in the photo posted here. Thinking about how big the universe is leads me to believe that God must be so awesome.

During Lent, I talked about humility and said, “Your view of God will determine how humble you are.” I was thinking about Peggy’s Cove when I crafted that statement. The bigger we realize God is, the smaller we realize we are. Humility is a by-product of our view of God.

Holy Humor

The writings of early church theologians (like Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Chrysostom) pointed to the fact that God played a practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead. Three days Jesus lay in the tomb. Three days the devil celebrated. But on the morning of the third day, God had the last laugh! Jesus conquered death. Jesus conquered sin. Jesus was alive again, bringing new life and laughter to all.

“Risus paschalis – the Easter laugh,” the early theologians called it.The Greeks in the early centuries of Christianity began an old Easter custom called, “Holy Humor Sunday.”

Holy Humor Sunday was a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection on the Sunday after Easter. For centuries in Eastern Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant countries, the week following Easter Sunday, including “Bright Sunday” (the Sunday after Easter), was observed by the faithful as “days of joy and laughter” with parties and picnics to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. Churchgoers and pastors played practical jokes on each other, drenched each other with water, told jokes, sang, and danced.

Sounds like a great way for Christians to rediscover the joy of our salvation!

See The Joyful Noiseletter for more info.

Breaking News!

I wrote a "breaking news" report for 12th Street’s Easter Sunrise service. If there would have been a cable news network 2,000 years ago, the morning Jesus rose from the dead might have looked a little like this …

[News Anchor]: We interrupt your regular Sunday morning routine to bring you some breaking news related to the recent trial and execution of Jesus of Nazareth. Let’s go to our correspondent at the scene for the latest developments. Randy, I understand you have some breaking news to report.

[Randy]: That’s right, Jennifer. I’m here just outside Jerusalem, near the tomb where Jesus of Nazareth, a young up and coming rabbi, was buried recently.

As we’ve been covering this year’s Passover, the big story has been Jesus. It all started last week when he arrived in Jerusalem. He received red-carpet treatment with thousands of people waving palm branches and throwing their coats on the roadway in front of him and shouting "Save us!"

During the week, Jesus spent much of his time teaching the crowds that gathered to listen to him. But early in the week, Jesus caused quite a stir in the Temple by driving out the people selling animals for religious sacrifices. In fact, after this incident, religious leaders put out a warrant for Jesus’ arrest.

Late Thursday evening, after Jesus and his disciples, celebrated the Passover meal together, law enforcement picked up Jesus and brought him in for questioning. Inside sources tell 12th Street News that it was one of Jesus’ own disciples who betrayed him.

The court conducted a speedy trial overnight and handed down a sentence of death by crucifixion, and Jesus was crucified at noon on Friday. Bloodied and badly beaten, the medical examiner placed his time of death around 3:00 pm.

The body of Jesus was placed in the tomb just behind me. Due to the high profile of this case, officials placed Roman soldiers at the tomb where Jesus was buried.

And that brings us to the breaking news this morning. We’ve just received word that a group of women arrived here at Jesus’ tomb earlier this morning. When they arrived, they claim that Jesus’ body was missing.

And their story gets pretty bizarre from there. They claim they had a conversation with an angel who told them Jesus came back to life and he will be appearing to his disciples shortly.

You can imagine the stir this is causing officials here. The CSI Jerusalem team is still conducting their investigation in the tomb and won’t let our cameras in.

An APB has been placed for Jesus’ disciples. Investigators want to talk to them to find out what they know about the disappearance of Jesus’ body.

We’re also waiting for a press conference later this morning by the Centurion’s Department for the latest updates on this breaking news. We’ll bring that to you live.

But for now, everyone is asking, was Jesus body taken from the tomb to make it look like he rose from the dead, or did he really rise from the dead?

Well, that’s the latest news from here. Now back to you!

Forgiveness

Today is Good Friday. And this morning I participated in my first Good Friday service in Huntingdon. From 12:00 pm to 3:00 pm, we rotated from church to church meeting in seven historic downtown churches. We spent about 20 minutes in each church, then walked to the next church. The host pastor of each church led worship and a guest speaker spoke on one of the "seven last words of Jesus."

I spoke at the first service and talked about Jesus’ statement, "Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing" (Luke 23.34).

Speakers had to keep it to 5-7 minutes so it had to be very focused. Here’s what I shared …

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It’s hard for me to forgive: I’d rather hold a grudge! I’d rather get revenge!

But, it’s probably just me, right?

Jesus had some pretty challenging things to say about forgiveness:

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! (Matthew 5.43-44).

“Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you" (Luke 6.27-28).

The point is, Forgiveness is the hallmark of what it means to follow Jesus!

Here’s why this is important: If you forgive others, you will be forgiven. If you don’t forgive others, you won’t be forgiven. That sounds pretty important to me!

And remember the prayer Jesus used to teach his disciples how to pray? It included the phrase, "and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us." After the prayer, Jesus added some commentary about forgiveness: “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins" (Matthew 6.14-15).

For Jesus, it went beyond words, beyond teaching. He knew that the road ahead would include responding to his "enemies." Jesus said, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of his enemies. He will be killed …" (Matthew 17.22b-23).

How did Jesus respond to his enemies? After being tortured, and while nailed to a cross — and worse, being crushed underneath the weight of our sin — he prayed, "Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing" (Luke 23.34).

It’s hard enough to forgive under fairly normal circumstances, isn’t it? It’s much easier to hold a grunge. It’s much more natural to get revenge. But Jesus taught us by his words and his example that forgiveness is the best response. In fact, it’s the hallmark of what it means to follow Jesus!

Who do you need to forgive?
Who do you need to forgive today? What do you need to let go of? What issues do you need to work through in order to be able to forgive someone who’s hurt you?

What would it look like if the Church practiced forgiveness? What if forgiveness became the hallmark of all of Jesus’ followers?

Prayer
O God, thank you for the gift of forgiveness. Thank you for sending your Son Jesus to die on the cross for our sin so that we wouldn’t have to. Help us, Lord, to forgive others when we are hurt. Help us not to hold onto hurts, or worse, to try to get even with those who hurt us. May we be like Jesus who forgave, and prayed for, his enemies! Amen.

Who am I?

Exodus 3.1-10 Moses and the Burning Bush, A sermon for Lenten Community Service

I don’t know if you’ve ever done anything stupid before, but I know I have. And you might say Moses did. When he sees an Egyptian mistreating a Hebrew, he reacts. That’s a good thing. He knew what he saw wasn’t right. But his reaction wasn’t right either – he kills the Egyptian. His life threatened, Moses flees into the desert to Midian.

Moses is in Midian forty years when God speaks to him out of a burning bush and calls Moses to go back and deliver the Hebrew people from the mistreatment they are suffering. Moses’ response is “Who am I?”

I propose the answer to this question might be found in the burning bush. God took a normal bush and inhabited it, making it something extraordinary. Moses was aware of his shortcomings. He was aware of his failure the first time he tried to help the Hebrew people. The first time Moses tried to do things his way and in his strength. This time God promises to go with him. God promises to do something extraordinary through an ordinary person.

“Who am I?” Moses asked. Moses is teachable – he learns from Jethro, a priest and his father-in-law. Moses has a humble spirit. He is but a vessel through whom God will speak. Moses has passion and compassion for those who are oppressed. God wired Moses for this.

Moses was a Hebrew raised and educated by Egyptians. He understood their ways.Moses was broken. He left a palace for the desert. He left royalty to become a shepherd.

“Who am I?” Moses asked. God answered, “You are the one I have chosen. I am sending you.” And God did not stop there. he said that he would be with Moses, that he would help Moses, that he would teach Moses what to say.

“Who am I?” is the proper response of any one who is called of God. We all have made mistakes. We all have failed. We all have acted outside God’s will. But we cannot step beyond the bounds of God’s reaching and forgiving. We cannot step beyond the bounds of God’s call.

“Who am I?” Are you curious enough to draw near the burning bush to find the answer? Are you curious enough to tread on holy ground? Are you curious enough to listen for God’s voice speaking to you?

Nothing But Nets 2.0

I recently wrote about a youth sporting event to raise money and awareness for Nothing But Nets. That event took place last Saturday night. Youth from several area churches brought money from donations to help send nets to Africa.

We gathered at the Juniata Valley High School gym for an evening of basketball and volleyball (net sports). Randy opened with devotion and shared that early Christians were called “athletes of God.” The group of “athletes” who gathered in the gym Saturday night, Randy said, came for more than physical activity; they came to make a difference in someone’s life in another part of the world.

Many thanks to area youth who raised $1051!

And that number is sure to rise as donations are still coming in. Special thanks to our top two money raisers: Erica Brechbiel (from the12th Street UMC) who raised $173, and to Ben Irvin (from Faith UMC) who raised $166.

For more info on this effort to save lives in Africa, check out Nothing But Nets.

Athletes of God …

Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9.24-27).

Unity AND Diversity

Several months ago, I did a message on unity. My point was, oneness is God’s dream for us. Jesus certainly prayed for unity, praying that we would be one with God and with one another (John 17).

But does oneness mean sameness? I don’t think so. I believe God values both unity and diversity. The Trinity is an example of both—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one and they are diverse. Look at creation—God obviously loves diversity. Earth is only a tiny speck in God’s creation, and yet, this planet alone is filled with such tremendous diversity—topography, cultures, languages, attitudes, personalities, all the way down to fingerprints and DNA.

The challenge, of course, is in the interaction. There have always been battles related to ideology, racism, classism, sexism, etc. Add theology to the mix, and you have a recipe for conflict in the Church. Christ-followers have always struggled to get along and work well together. Rather than valuing our differences, many Christ-followers reject other followers because they believe, think, act, and sometimes look, different.

Christ-followers who believe that unity means sameness tend to be more narrow in their thinking, while Christ-followers who value diversity tend to be more open-minded. Like most things, of course, the extremes are bad. We’ve got to find the balance so that we are not too narrow (rejecting everything) or too open-minded (accepting everything).

But I believe it’s a balance we must try to find. The only way to truly be the body of Christ is to value both unity and diversity.