Thursday, April 24, 2014

I Doubt It

  Okay, so we all know the story of "Doubting Thomas". Here was a guy who travel for years with Jesus, ate with him, saw many miracles and witnessed great miracles and yet could not believe that Jesus resurrected. What a maroon.
  To be honest, Thomas had the worst publicist of all the disciples, possibly excepting Judas. When we look at John 20:19-31 we may be surprised at what we see. As I alluded to in my earlier post, all of the disciples were in a locked room because of paralyzing fear when Jesus came to them. All except Thomas! (Of course, this all happened after the events of Easter Sunday.)
  Thomas was the only one who was not to scared to go in the outside world. Many people figure he was getting grub. Okay, I'll buy that- but why was he alone? Your are buying food for eleven, wouldn't you want help carrying the groceries.  When Thomas get's back all the other say, "guess who just dropped by to bless us? Jesus, Jesus made an appearance through that locked door, it was great!"
  Can you blame Thomas for doubting? These scared little disciples who wouldn't even go outside, they're the ones Jesus comes to? I really believe that Thomas did not doubt Jesus- he doubted his friends. (What's that smell? I know- it's Peter's cloak that is on fire.)
  When Jesus comes back in a week to a room with a closed door, (but not locked-baby steps), Thomas is with them. What does Thomas do? He tells Jesus "My Lord and my God." He professes that Jesus is divine. Did any of the other disciples do that? No!
  So I know you are asking yourself why is Steve taking up for Thomas so much? The answer is easy- because Thomas is Me! I am not afraid to go out into the world even though many people know I am a disciple of Jesus. However, I do not always believe the things that other disciples tell me, I sometimes demand proof. Not that I don't believe God can do anything, I do. I just have a hard time believing that He would do it to some people.
  Here is the rub. Is wanting some level of proof always a bad thing?   I don't think so. I tell people all the time it is okay to have doubts, that causes us to seek the truth. That causes us sometimes to exercise our faith. What happens when we exercise? We get healthier.
  I believe that God wants his followers to be healthy. I also believe that people will tell us things that are not true. Sometimes it's unintentional but sometimes it is planned. There are deceivers in this world, and if we can not seek truth use our judgments, we will fall into the trap set by the ultimate  evil doer.
Go-Fight-Win. Amen

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Did Easter Change the Church?

  Another Easter Sunday has come and gone. We all had big crowds, the day in East Texas was beautiful, and the world was absolutely changed and redeemed. Well... I don't think it is totally by chance that the Sunday after Easter is Doubting Thomas Sunday in the lectionary readings.
  When we look at the story from John 20:19-31, we see remarkable similarities with our own lives. Jesus arose, presented himself to the ladies and to some of the disciples so what do they do? They hide, behind locked doors. Their fear overcomes their joy, and the truth is locked away in a room.
  So what do we do after some absolutely glorious worship events? Well, traditionally the Sunday after  Easter is known as Associate Pastor Sunday or Lay Leader Sunday or even "Low Sunday". The excitement of the risen Lord dies within a week.
  Actually, the week after Easter should be the big week. We should all be so fired up about the gospel that we take that fire out into the world and start to change it, we should be evangelizing to the point where the crowd after Easter Sunday should be even larger than the crowd the previous week. But it's not-is it?  We get so worn out by the excitement and passion of Holy Week that we take the next week off to rest, we retreat behind closed doors and Christ has to come chase us out. 
  Pastors are the worst. We are so worn out, but really what did we do? I preached three services, helped at another, assisted in a feeding that was truly miraculous and had a funeral. Full week. Does this mean I can ignore the excitement we helped create? Or does this give me the base to which I can really reach out to my congregation. If Jesus conquered death so that we can have faith, can't he also provide strength and energy to help us this week?
  Sometimes we can be like our friend Thomas. We really doubt that is what it is really about. We want to believe, but we are tired.

  Go-Fight-Win. Amen.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Holy Week of Holy Week!

 This week is Holy Week! Duh! Really? If you are in the "church business" you know this all too well. My home church celebrates Holy Week this year by having a Seder Meal on Monday night, ( if you have never heard someone raised in Deep East Texas speaking in Hebrew- it is worth the price of admission. Think more flem.)  We then have a Maundy Thursday service, a Good Friday service, our new Saturday night service kicks off it's weekly appearances, then on Sunday we will have a sunrise, a 8:40 traditional and the 11:00 contemporary service.
  The small church I preach at has a shared service on Maundy Thursday at another church, a Good Friday service, a sunrise (Sonrise) service and the regular 11:00 AM service on Sunday. This is after we concluded our Lenten Bible Study on Monday night. Everybody gets their moneys worth during this week.
  I have heard of other Holy Week traditions and plans at other congregations. One town has a sunrise service in the parking lot of their county jail, and the inmates can attend. Several congregations have prayer vigils from the end of their Good Friday all the way 'til sunrise Easter morning. There are really some incredible things happening.
  At most congregations, the attendance will be the highest for all year- by a long way. The sanctuaries will be packed, flowers will be everywhere and children will wear clothes they would have never picked for themselves. Happy Easter!
  But why? Why is this week so special? I know the Sunday School answer- this is the day we celebrate Jesus' conquering death by raising from the dead. We can't do this every week? If we think this is such a big deal, shouldn't we be excited every day?
  I don't want to complain, but I will do it anyway. If we really believed in a risen Savior- we would do the things we do this week year round. There- I said it. Why are we such posers? Do we really think that God will see how we act a few hours every year and say "that's close enough"?
  Go to the special services. Sing with gusto "Christ the Lord is Risen Today!!!" Get fired up and feel happy. The world is ours because of what Jesus did. Tell your neighbor!
Go-Fight-Win. Amen.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Palm Sunday

  This Sunday is Palm Sunday. This is the beginning of Holy Week, so it is kind of a big deal. We celebrate Jesus's triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and mimic the crowd as they waved palm branched and shouted Hosanna!
  I am familiar with the story, I have heard it many times through the years. As a preacher, I try to make each Sunday exciting and educational for the congregation, so what do I do?
 What I always do. Not what I always say, but the way I always act, a little different. The lectionary text this week is Matthew 21:1-11. This particular passage of Jesus's entry of course has him procuring two equines, a colt and a donkey. So Is Steve going to look at this version of Jesus riding roman style?(two horses). Is that the outside the box twist for this entry? Nope! I'm going to let that one slide.
  Instead I will focus on the palms. It does say that the crowd cut branches and lay them on the road, (with their cloaks-that is a good way to ruin a good Sunday cloak.) It does not say they were all palm branches. To be honest, maybe the waving of the palms has nothing to do with palm trees and everything to do with human anatomy. The people waved their hands at Jesus.
  So what? How is this thinking outside the box? Please, how many of you have really put this together? The main point of this is that then crowds, the people, the hands are now a bigger part of the Holy Week experience. They (we) are now a separate character, right up there with Pilate, Judas and the Pharisees. We are the palms in Palm Sunday.
  How often do we wave our hands in the air during worship and call out to be saved,(Hosanna!) In the United Methodist Church- rarely. We have an aversion to raising our hands. I have been a basketball referee during my past, so I would help with my churches Upward Basketball. There is not a three point shot in Upward, (most kids can't even throw up a decent free throw.) One of the adults I was training to help referee asked why no threes. I replied that we are playing in the Christian Life Center of a Methodist Church, and we don't raise our hands for anything here.
  But we do! Even in very conservative worship styles we all cry out to god with arms raised. We all wave and shout. We are all the palms that wave at Jesus, this is our Sunday!
Go-Fight-Win. Amen.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Zombies and the Church


   On Tuesday I wrote a satirical piece about Jesus and Lazarus suggesting we should think of Lazarus as a zombie, strictly for commercial reasons. Yes, I can get cute and snarky at times-in fact maybe too much. I closed with admitting that I could never preach about zombies, or could I?
  My mind has been spinning out of control the past few days thinking on this subject. The more I thought about, the more I prayed and studied, the more I knew that not only I could preach about zombies- I knew I would. It occurred to me that it many ways the church (little "c") may have become a zombie. To really understand what I mean, we have to look at what zombies are.
  Zombies are not alive- they are just un dead. Lazarus was not a zombie because Jesus restored life to him. Are our churches really alive?, or just un dead. That can be a hard question. Just because we are adding numbers does not mean we are alive because;
Zombies look for the living for nourishment. Zombies attack the living to keep them going, therefore making more zombies.  Do we, as the church, just care about putting bodies in the pews so we can continue to exist? Or, do we care about the person and want them to grow and mature in their relationship with God?
  Zombies can be slow, methodical and a little predictable. No one likes change, that is a human condition. It is also a church condition, (because the church is a bunch of humans.) The world changes however, and sometimes the church is slow to meet these changes. I am not saying we need to change the gospel- we just need to change how we show it. The gospel is the word, not the way the word is presented. Be cautious, sometimes we can be very fired up with the process but we need to remember; Zombies can be very zealous about getting their final goal (your brain). So are we fired up about Jesus- or the process.
  Zombies only exist in the present, they don't learn from the past or dream of the future. Sometimes the church can be so focused on what is happening right now we forget to look at the past and see what lessons we could learn. I have heard from several churches who say that they wish they would have expanded in the past when they had families, but it was too expensive. They now understand that it takes faith to be disciples of Christ, and sometimes that faith means we step out financially. Also, we can worry too much about the financial crisis we are now in to look at the future. As with having children; if we wait until we can be financially secure before we have children, most of us will never have them. If the church waits until it can pay cash for expansion, we will never expand.
  Zombies infect all they touch- but they bring them to their un-dead level. This is very important to remember. So often, we as the church want our members to act just the same as we do. Newsflash- we do not always act as Christ wants us to. So we expect the members of our congregations to conform to our idols, our expectations and our politics.
  Zombies never win- they just are. Zombies never win at the end of the movie, they just cause a lot of pain and trouble. Churches that are not alive with Christ will not win. Eventually, the Truth will overcome, but it may take a long time. Those who cling to their traditions and heritage over the teachings of Jesus can cause much pain and suffering- both for the church and the un-churched.
 The last thing I need to stress is this- Zombies are not real! Zombies are made up to entertain our darker side. Zombie churches do exist. There are congregations that are not growing with the Spirit, that only feed off of others and infect all they touch. Here is the good news! Christ calls everyone to be alive in Him. We are not un-dead, we are living through Him and because of Him.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Bethany Zombie

  How did zombies get to be such a cultural rush? It seems like everywhere you look these days there is something or some show about Zombies.  The Walking Dead is very hot on cable right now, although I have to confess that I have never seen a full episode, ( I know, I am such a loser.) It is spawning lots of other zombie and un-dead TV shows, my favorite being High School of the Un Dead. ( I may have to check that one out.)
  Zombies took over the movies years ago. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was a silent flick that really started the genre, but Night of the Living Dead really got it going. Since that 1960's movie we have had Dawn of the Dead, Walking Dead, Shaun of the Dead (my favorite), Para Norman ( for the clanimation  fans). Both the Simpsons and South Park have had Zombie shows, what more can I say.
   Another fad that is sweeping entertainment now are the Bible movies. I understand that they have always been around, but lately it seems like we are being bombarded by them. We had Son of God, God's not Dead, Noah (I know- it is really not a God movie, but it is a God theme), Heaven is for Real- all in, or soon to come in, the theaters recently. Isn't it time to combine these two genres for a real money maker?
  This weeks lectionary reading again comes from the book of John. John 11:1-45 is the story of Jesus and Lazarus.  This is the story of Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the Dead. The zombie possibilities are endless. I am proposing Bethany Zombie. In this story when Lazarus comes from the tomb he is a zombie. But this Zombie doesn't want your brains- he wants our hearts (aww!)
  My mind is twisted, and I know that I am supposed to be reading and preparing a sermon that will touch the congregation, but I can't get passed the obvious. Do I have the courage to do a zombie sermon?  No way! But... if I bring out.
Go-Fight-Win. Amen.