Faith Tracks Friday: “He Came, He Saw, He Conquered,” by Petra

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Petra1If there is one band that epitomized good ol’ Christian rock for me, it’s these guys, PETRA. Now I’m a little biased because way back in the day I got to meet keyboardist John Lawry and hang out with him for like, 5 minutes. These guys rule though. The classic Petra lineup with Greg X Volz is cool too, don’t get me wrong. This picture at the left is the lineup that I grew up to though. These guys were such a huge part of my youth. I’ll put these three albums: “Back to the Street,” “This Means War,” and “Beyond Belief” up against any three album combo from that era, Christian music or secular.

They had that late 80s melodic rock thing down pat. They evolved over the years too, eventually trying to emulate the grunge rock sound of the 90s on albums like “God Fixation.” I listened to that too, but it just wasn’t Petra for me.

This song though, this is Petra at their best. We saw them on the “This Means War” tour and I wore my Tshirt from that show down to the threads. Then I did the same with the shirt my mom had gotten for herself. I didn’t care that this wasn’t what my friends were listening to at that time, this was my jam.

jesus-music

This song is not only a great example of Christian rock from the period (something I find lacking in a lot of today’s Christian music), but it highlights the ultimate triumph of Christ and the hope at the center of our faith.

“He came alone into the battle
He knew nobody else could face His foe
He left His throne, He left His glory
He knew nobody else could ever go
He called the bluff, He took the challenge
He came into this world to seek and save
No one could know, noone could fathom
The way to win was only through the grave
They laid Him in His tomb
They thought they’d sealed His doom
But He rose
He rose!
He came, He saw, He conquered death and hell
He came, He saw, He is alive and well
He was, He is, and only He forgives
He died, He rose, He lives
He came, He saw, He conquered!
The doors were locked, they heard Him knocking
They were afraid they would be taken, too
Familiar voice said, “Come and follow”
Come and see the things the Lord can do
They went to where He lay
The stone was rolled away
He rose
He rose!
He came into this world
He saw humanity
He heard the SOS
He met the enemy
The enemy was conquered
The enemy was conquered!”

 

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Faith Tracks Friday, Pentecost Edition: Mighty Rushing Wind by Terry Talbot

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01spiritFor Faith Tracks Friday today we’re getting into the way back machine and headed back to the golden age of Contemporary Christian Music. If you listen to CCM today you might be familiar with John Michael Talbot, who still writes and performs on the scene today. You may not be familiar with his brother Terry though.

Terry Talbot was one of the CCM artists that I grew up listening to. I remember we’d play a cassette of his album “Face to Face” as we drove across the country on our family vacations. We saw him in concert here in Ogden, and my mom even sang backup vocals in a local choir that was recruited for the occasion.

It’s hard to find Terry’s music today. He’s not even really on Spotify, which is weird. I was able to find obscure Christian songs like “People in a Box” by Farrell and Farrell on there, but not Terry Talbot. Finally I stumbled on a compilation of songs from both Terry and John Michael called “The Best of the Talbot Brothers” on Spotify that contained this song, which is my favorite of all of his music.

Mighty Rushing Wind is the quintessential late 80s/early 90s Christian song. It’s heavy on the synth but contains an infectious, driving beat and a great message. To me the chorus of this song is Pentecost:

You shall receive the power that you need
And as you believe, it begins.
All those who thirst, shall be immersed,
In the driving rain of the Mighty Rushing Wind!

I’ll post the song down below, just maybe it will help put a spring in your step as we celebrate Pentecost this weekend! Happy Friday!

 

The Lion was there with His disciples
For truly He was risen and alive
And He said my promised gift shall entice you
And you shall be baptized, in the Holy Spirit´s fire
And you shall be a fame to rise forever
Driven by the wind of my word
And you shall set a blaze the world around you
And your light will brightly burn
And reach to the ends of the earth

Chorus:

You shall receive, the power that you need
And as you believe it begins
All those who thirst shall be immersed
In the drawing rain of the mighty rushing wind

And so we must be filled with His Spirit
Seeking every gift we shall rejoice
For clever words, cannot proclaim the gospel
They only make a void
Their sound becomes a noise
And so we need the fire and the power
To touch the hearts of stone, we shall ignite
Yeah we shall go forth the dawning is the hour
When the evil of the night, shall be consumed by the light

Faith Tracks Friday: “Mighty to Save” by Laura Story

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01mightyToday was a crummy end to a pretty crummy week for me. I’m not going to get into it, but it’s been a rough ride. I don’t know if you wanna call it the devil, the accuser, or such things as negative self talk, but man, after the high of my retreat a couple of weekends ago it seems like things have been conspiring to get me down.

And I hate to say it, but it’s worked.

I’ve sought comfort a lot this week. I’ve prayed (a lot), read scripture (a lot), bounced things off of some people I trust (a lot), and even took a two and a half hour drive to clear my head (and I HATE driving!) These things have had various degrees of success.

This afternoon, between trips to the bathroom (I told you I was miserable), I was working on two things: putting some notes together for my dad who is teaching my adult Sunday School class this weekend and putting the finishing touches on a sermon that I get to preach in another town on Sunday. I had hit a block on both fronts. My cat was sitting on my bed attempting to chew her way into my nasal spray (she failed) and this song came up on my playlist.

It was what I needed. I love the message it brings. No mountain is too big for God to move, and indeed what seems like an insurmountable pass to me (which is kind of where I feel like I’m at) is but a step to Him.

Also, I had a real moving experience with this song on my retreat a couple of weeks ago. It was just two acoustic guitars and about 30 guys sitting in a small chapel area singing this song. Guys can be reluctant to really sing sometimes, but something was different this time. The Spirit was afoot. It started out ordinarily as ever but when the chorus hit everyone just belted it out.

SAVIOR HE CAN MOVE THE MOUNTAINS! OUR GOD IS MIGHTY TO SAVE.

…and it just kept going like that.  When the song was over the guitarists just stopped and the Spiritual Director wisely just let the moment sit there and bathe us in it’s power.

I’m not saying it was Pentecost II: The Sequel, after all there were no tongues of fire, but you’ll forgive us if we felt like that for a minute. Hearing this song today brought back that memory and warmed my heart all over again, and I desperately needed that.

I’m not under the delusion that God is going to move this mountain out of my way. I’ve asked for that, and the answer is clearly no. He must have something to teach me from it. My job is to submit to that and let Him lead me through, which I know He will, because he is MIGHTY TO SAVE!

Well, everyone needs compassion
A love that’s never failing
But let mercy fall on me
Well everyone needs forgiveness
The kindness of a Savior
The hope of nations
My Savior
He can move the mountains
My God is Mighty to save
He is Mighty to save
Forever
Author of salvation
He rose and conquered the grave
Jesus conquered the grave
So take me as You find me
All my fears and failures
And fill my life again
I give my life to follow
Everything I believe in
And now I surrender
(I surrender)
Savior
He can move the mountains
My God is Mighty to save
He is Mighty to save
Forever
Author of salvation
He rose and conquered the grave
Jesus conquered the grave
Savior
He can move the mountains
My God is Mighty to save
He is Mighty to save
Forever
Author of salvation
He rose and conquered the grave
Jesus conquered the grave
Shine your light and let the whole world see
We’re singing for the glory of the risen King
Jesus
Shine your light and let the whole world see
We’re singing for the glory of the risen King
Savior
He can move the mountains
My God is Mighty to save
He is Mighty to save
Forever
Author of salvation
He rose and conquered the grave
Jesus conquered the grave

Sacred Words: “Power”

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01strengthBut he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV)

I have a confession to make. I’m a scaredey cat. No, really. I’ve let fear run my life for many of my near 40 years. I’ve generally been the kind of guy who plans everything out and takes the most cautious path possible. When I haven’t been cautious, I’ve been burned badly because of it. Trust me. The most rash thing I’ve ever done was 11 years ago when I quit my job, packed a couple of bags, and left my family and friends behind to move to Florida and get married.

That little experiment failed, miserably. I haven’t been able to forget the day that my wife said she wanted a divorce. It nearly destroyed me. Why? Because the worst fear I have is the fear of rejection. That was pretty much the ultimate rejection. The woman who took a vow till “death do we part” ended up being like, “nah, never mind.” Honestly, I look back at that and I’m not sure how I made it through. I’m pretty sure it has a lot to do with an amazing family behind me and a whole lot of God’s love and grace.

I’ve always been like that though, even from my younger days. I was the kid who was absolutely petrified of being picked last for anything. More than a few times growing up I had to hear the phrase “well, I guess we get Brandon.” Ouch. The only time anybody actually wanted me in their group was if it was an ensemble assignment in choir, because music was the one thing this awkward dude was good at.

I also remember the first time I sheepishly got up the nerve to ask a girl to a dance. She said she would love to, but since I wasn’t LDS (Mormon) her parents wouldn’t allow it. Interestingly enough, that really wasn’t a rejection, but I interpreted it as such. It ended up being too bad, because nobody else asked her, and we both ended up sitting at home.

Two weekends ago I attended a retreat, and one of the things we were asked to do was to confess our biggest weakness. It was easy for me. Fear, fear of rejection came to mind immediately. We did an exercise where we committed these things to God. I pulled a piece of bread off a loaf, stood in front of what can only be described as an old, rugged cross, and named my weakness out loud.

“FEAR OF REJECTION.”

Then I placed the piece of bread in a basket at the foot of the Cross.

Now this is where I’m supposed to say that God magically took my fear of rejection away and emboldened me, right?

Well, not so fast, my friend. This last weekend a relatively minor social interaction (that again wasn’t even really a rejection) ended up dredging up those same old feelings. I was at a bit of a loss. I prayed again, half heartedly, for God to help fix this, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.

Because guess what, God reveals himself and his power in my weakness. I read that in my devotional yesterday. Now, I’ve read that scripture lord knows how many times, but yesterday the author the devotional asked me to, again, name my biggest weakness. Again, this was easy. However, instead of asking God to get rid of it, he asked how God could, or perhaps already has, revealed his power through my weakness.

So I thought about it, and I realized something.

Last week a person in one of our Adult Sunday School classes, who I went to high school with, commented to my father that she really enjoyed hearing me teach and preach. She said it kind of blew her mind because I was always so quiet and reserved in high school.

Huh.

And then other things started to come to mind:

The lay director of my retreat telling me what an awesome job I did writing and performing in an impromptu skit.

People from my church telling me how they can’t wait for me to preach again because it’s always so powerful.

One church member telling me the reason she stayed was because of a sermon she heard me preach.

Getting called to preach at a church who didn’t know me at all and having them like me so much that they invited me back.

Guess what? Something has happened. Despite my biggest fears and my biggest weakness, God has used me. Any power that comes through when I preach or teach a class is his, not mine.

Not only am I not being rejected, I’m being accepted. God took me, this little quivering mass of fear and caution, and made a preacher out of me, and a teacher too. I don’t know how he did it, but let me tell you, it proves just how awesome his POWER is. I know that I’m not done with my fear of rejection. I know I’ll get hurt again, but I hope that next time that happens I’ll remember this lesson and look to Him for grace and strength.

And that little kid who was afraid of being picked last? Well God picked me for his team, and He always picks the last ones first!

Book Review: “Unafraid” by Adam Hamilton

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AHUnafraid“Unafraid: Living With Courage and Hope in Uncertain Times,” By Rev. Adam Hamilton. Published 2018 by Convergent Books, New York. This Review refers to the hardcover edition.

If you’re a regular reader of Adam Hamilton, like I am, this book might seem to be a bit of a departure. In my spiritual growth committee meeting at church I described it to others as “not your typical Adam Hamilton book.” That’s a good thing, by the way.

But what do I mean when I say that? Hamilton’s books, most of which are excellent, are either Biblical character studies or vaguely fluffy devotional style books that revolve around special times like Advent or Lent. Now there’s nothing wrong with that, but THIS book is so much more! To me it’s his most important book since “Confronting The Controversies.”

There is not a spec of fluff to be found in this book. This book is like a well oiled, ultra efficient machine where every word and sentence serves it’s purpose. It’s very compelling, and despite the lack of fluff, Hamilton doesn’t depart from that simple, wonderful pastoral voice that characterizes his books. Some might wonder if it’s too long. At 230 plus pages it clocks in at almost twice the length of some of his other books, but like I said, every sentence and every illustration builds on the last and servers his purpose.

Basically put, this book is about fear. It’s about fear and coping with fear. This is a hot topic right now. As Hamilton himself notes political propaganda (from both sides), the 24 hour news cycle, and the ubiquity of social media have violence, catastrophe, sickness, and hate in our faces 24/7. This seems on the surface like one of the most dangerous times to be alive. I hate the news at this point. No matter who you listen to we’re either on the edge of the next horrible terrorist attack, a gunman shooting up your local school, nuclear war, or a constitutional crisis that will bring about the end of the US government as we know it.

Pick your poison.

Some of these can be legitimate fears. Of course we should be concerned with terrorist attacks. Of course we should be trying to put an end to mass shootings. But in the last 100 years we’ve experienced two world wars. Nothing like that is happening now. Violent crime is down in the US overall, and each year car accidents and medical errors kill more of us than terrorists.

Hamilton’s book talks about these and many other fears. He has done his research, citing a whole host of scholarly works. He starts by talking about about the neurological basis of fear and about how our nervous system reacts to perceived threats. In this he mentions that fear can be a good thing that actually protects us!

But what happens when those fears take over? That’s where the rubber meets the road with this book. Hamilton deals with many types of fears, breaks down a lot of the statistics concerning them, unpacks the reasons we are afraid of them, and offers concrete ways to cope.

So what about faith? If you’re reading this right now you might be wondering what this review is doing on a Christian blog. You might be wondering if Adam Hamilton sold out just to write a bestseller. No. No he didn’t.

Faith is how Hamilton largely proposes that we deal with these fears. He mentions in the book that people of faith who are actively involved in a faith community tend to live longer and report higher levels of overall happiness. Every chapter on every fear is grounded in scripture, in stories from scripture, and in the love and grace of Jesus. This is perhaps most poignant near the end of the book when he’s talking about death and the fear of dying, which none of us will escape.

If you’re a regular reader of Adam Hamilton you might scratch your head at first, but keep with it. It’s one of his best books. If you’re just looking for a book to put your mind at ease about our world, I’d suggest putting down social media for a bit and picking up this book. Either way, check it out. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!

*I received no compensation for this review. The copy I read was not a reviewers copy, but my own copy which I purchased.

 

Faith Tracks: “Hills And Valleys” by Tauren Wells

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TaurenWellsI’ve said before that sometimes contemporary Christian music annoys me because so many times it seems like the message is “Everything is always awesome because I love Jesus!” Loving Jesus is definitely awesome, but sometimes songs like that feel like they ignore the reality that Christians struggle too. My pastor put it like this once: “God doesn’t promise a smooth flight, just a safe landing.”

Well the more I listen to some of what’s actually out there today I’m starting to think the maybe I’ve given a lot of it a bad rap. My tunes of choice are usually “The Message” on SiriusXM and you know what? It kind of seems like Christian music is growing up a little bit.

I first heard “Hills and Valleys” by Tauren Wells in the car on my way to meet my pastor for a meeting about preparing for the UMC Local Pastor program. The tune was catchy right off the bat, and Tauren has an outstanding voice. I heard the chorus talking about not only being high on those mountaintop experiences but also being down in the valley.

Could it be that this was the current Christian song that I was looking for, the Holy Grail of honest music? I arrived at church before the song was over, but when I left an hour later I plugged Spotify into my car and listened to the whole thing. Then I put it on repeat until I got home!

Yes folks, I love this song, and every time I hear it, it encourages me! Maybe it will encourage you today too!

“I’ve walked among the shadows
You wiped my tears away
And I’ve felt the pain of heartbreak
And I’ve seen the brighter days
And I’ve prayed prayers to heaven from my lowestplace
And I have held the blessings
God, you give and take away
No matter what I have, Your grace is enough
No matter where I am, I’m standing in Your love

On the mountains, I will bow my life
To the one who set me there
In the valley, I will lift my eyes to the one who sees me there
When I’m standing on the mountain aft, didn’t get there on my own
When I’m walking through the valley end, no I am not alone!
You’re God of the hills and valleys!
Hills and Valleys!
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone!

I’ve watched my dreams get broken
In you I hope again!
No matter what I know
Know I’m safe inside Your hand

On the mountains, I will bow my life
To the one who set me there
In the valley, I will lift my eyes to the one who sees me there
When I’m standing on the mountain aft, didn’t get there on my own
When I’m walking through the valley end, no I am not alone!
You’re God of the hills and valleys!
Hills and Valleys!
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone!

Father, you give and take away
Every joy and every pain
Through it all you will remain
Over it all!
Father, you give and take away
Every joy and every pain
Through it all you will remain
Over it all!

On the mountains, I will bow my life
To the one who set me there (to the one who set me there)
In the valley, I will lift my eyes to the one who sees me there
When I’m standing on the mountain aft, didn’t get there on my own
When I’m walking through the valley end, no I am not alone!
You’re God of the hills and valleys!
Hills and Valleys!
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone!
You’re God of the hills and valleys!
Hills and Valleys!
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone!
And I will choose to say “Blessed be Your name, yeah, yeah”
And I am not alone”

Songwriters: Chuck Butler / Jonathan Lindley Smith / Tauren Wells
Hills and Valleys lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Essential Music Publishing

Sacred Words: “Joy”

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01joySo they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word. (Matthew 28:8 NKJV)

I don’t think the reaction I had to this devotion in the book Pauses for Pentecost is quite what the author had in mind. You see, joy and I don’t always play well together. I’ll get back to that in a second.

We Christians have our own kind of jargon that we often use when we speak to each other. Oftentimes this jargon can be said in a well meaning manner, but can be the total opposite of what the person needs to hear. A couple of these little lines/quips make me want to throw myself through the nearest glass window. One of the worst offenders for me is the admonition: “Don’t let anyone steal your joy.” Even typing it is like running fingernails on a chalkboard to me. Kids, chalkboards are what we old dudes used before dry erase white boards. If your teacher got mad at you he or she would make you clean the erasers, and if you had to do that, you were going to have a bad time.

But back to the “stealing of joy.”

I have a degree in Psychology. I know that there are many perfectly legit reasons why a person would not feel joy. Clinical depression is just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve suffered from depression, and let me tell you, I felt incapable of feeling joy. I also have a degree in Forensic Science. Once I stood in the emergency room of a hospital and took evidence photos of a woman who had been beaten to a pulp by her husband. It was pretty much the most horrible thing I have ever had to do. If someone had come into that room and told her “don’t let anyone steal your joy,” I would have shoved my camera down their throat myself.

Joy is a good, wonderful, sacred thing. However, we need to remember that not everyone is in the same place on their faith journey. We never know what valley someone might be crossing or what battle they might be fighting.

Which brings me back to my personal experience. As I mentioned earlier, I have suffered from depression. As recently as two or three years ago, I might have said that I don’t remember the last time I felt joy. Now since then I’ve received some wonderful treatment from a doctor who takes the time to listen to me, and perhaps more importantly I’ve been able to be honest with God about how I felt and experience some of the healing that only he can provide.

But I still struggle. In response to this word and devotion I found two main problems that I have with experiencing joy.

First, when I start to feel joy I start to also get a feeling back in the base of my skull that it’s not going to last. I’m constantly waiting for the other shoe to fall. I’m always wondering what the catch is. I’ve become so acquainted with disappointment, and I fear rejection so much that whenever I feel joy I pretty much expect it to be a short lived experience that will make me feel worse in the long run. Basically if joy is the mountaintop experience, I’m afraid of taking one step too many and falling off the sheer face into the valley below.

Kind of sad huh? But wait, there’s more!

Let’s say I can get past that. Let’s say I find something to be legitimately joyful about. Well, next up comes guilt. I start to think about other people suffering from depression. My mind goes back to that woman in the hospital room with injuries from domestic violence. Why should I get to be happy when so many other people are hurting? I’ve literally had people tell me that I’m entitled to be happy once in awhile too, but honestly, sometimes I don’t feel like I am.

Maybe you’re like me, for these or any other number of reasons. If you are, then what do we do about it? I don’t think that having a bunch of well meaning but kind of annoying people throw out platitudes like “Don’t let anyone steal your joy” is the answer.

But I do think that there are answers, and if not answers, then there are a couple of good places to start.

First off, if you feel like you might be suffering from severe depression, please, please, PLEASE SEEK HELP. When I say help I mean from a licensed health care professional. Sometimes we Christians think that if we just pray hard enough, talk to our pastors, and lose ourselves in scripture then the problem will be taken care of. But take it from me as someone who both believes in the power of God and is trained in mental health services, depression is a medical condition that should be treated as such. When I got my psychology degree my adviser knew I was working toward being a pastor. She drilled one thing into me: KNOW WHEN TO REFER TO A DOCTOR. God has given these folks talents and we should not be afraid of letting them help. It just might save your life.

Second, try to find someone you can talk to about how you feel, and be open to letting them minister to you. This takes a lot of trust, but I have a couple of really good friends that I can talk to and it helps a lot! Pastors and people from church are excellent for this!

Third, go to God and be honest. Maybe try dispensing with the formal prayer posture and language and just talk to Him like he’s right there next to you. Some of my best prayer experiences have come from moments like this, and I’d be willing to bet that God the Father loves it when his kids take time to have a good heart to heart with him.

Finally, when you do get a chance to feel joy (and you will), try to just let it in for a few moments. I KNOW how hard it is to let down your guard. I’ve FELT how vulnerable a person can be when we first step outside of the walls we’ve built. Keep in mind that is possible to feel both fear and joy, as the women did that first Easter morning. So try to dip your toe into the river of joy once in awhile, you might be pleasantly surprised!

Trust me, it can and does get better. I’m proof. I’m still imperfect and I still get scared and feel guilty sometimes, but Jesus is with me, and he is with you too. The author of Hebrews states that Jesus, our great high priest, has felt everything that we do and can identify with us. That is a source of great comfort, and even joy!

In the USA, the National Suicide Lifeline is:
1-800-273-8255
It is available 24/7. Please call if you need help.

Sacred Words: “Stone.”

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01stoneYes, they made their hearts like flint, refusing to hear the law and the words which the Lord of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets. Thus great wrath came from the Lord of hosts. (Zechariah 7:12 NKJV)

The idea for this post and some others that I’ll *hopefully* be able to write comes from the book Pauses For Pentecost by Trevor Hudson. It’s a 50 day devotional designed to be used between Easter and Pentecost. Each day invites the reader to take a few minutes and ponder a specific word on the journey of Eastertide.

I have a love/hate relationship with daily devotionals. Every once in awhile I’ll come across one that is really meaningful, but often they come across to me as so much fluff. Now, sometimes I need fluff. However, on days when I don’t need fluff, I often have a hard time connecting with devotional literature. I have daily scripture readings that I do, but I don’t know, devotionals don’t tend to meet me where I’m at.

Now it’s only been a few days, but so far this one has been different. I hope it stays that way! It’s really been speaking to me, and we all need that in our spiritual life.

What I’m about to write is intensely personal. Originally I wasn’t going to put this up on here, but I was encouraged to do it because maybe my story would help others in similar circumstances. I hope that’s the case.

The first word that Pastor Hudson invites us to consider is the word “STONE.” We know from the Gospel accounts that a large stone was rolled in front of Christ’s tomb after his body was placed inside. When Mary Magdalene and the other women came to prepare the body on Easter Sunday morning, they wondered who would roll away the stone for them. Matthew’s account (Matt. 28: 1-10) is quite dramatic, saying an angel appeared like a bolt of lightning, scaring away the tomb guards and rolling away the stone.

Trevor Hudson suggests that in much the same way that the angel had to roll away the stone from the tomb before we all could experience the totality of the joy and new life that comes with Easter, we often have stones in our lives that need to be rolled away today. Oftentimes those stones reside inside our own hearts. The Bible talks about “hearts of stone” on a few occasions, one of them being the verse in Zechariah that I listed above.

Sometimes we might purposefully make our hearts like stone and reject God’s teaching. That comes with certain consequences. Those can be hard stones to roll away for sure, but I don’t think they’re the only kind of stones our hearts can turn into. Maybe someone has made you so angry that you’ve developed a heart of stone toward them. Maybe something has hurt you so much that you have felt the only way to protect yourself is to turn your heart to stone. Maybe you’ve failed so miserably at something and been damaged so badly that you felt that you had no choice but to turn your heart to stone.

It’s almost like a defense mechanism, isn’t it?

Hudson asks us to think about what the stones are in our hearts that need to be rolled away. I didn’t have to think about it very long at all.

You see, I have a good portion of my heart that’s been turned into some really hard, first rate stone. Sometimes it seems so hard that nobody could penetrate it or roll it away.

My stone is the failure of my marriage. I told you it’s personal.

You see, for the most part I’m fairly confident. I’m good at my job and have gotten no shortage of accolades for it. As I pursue ministry again I’m very confident in my ability to teach and preach, and my regular job working the public has gone a long way toward helping me deal with people.

But one part of my life is still rather shambolic.

In 2007 I married a wonderful young lady that I had known for about three years, though a large part of that time was online interaction. That summer I left all my family and friends behind as well as everything I owned except for what I could fit in two suitcases. I moved to Florida via airplane with no job, a brand new degree in Forensic Science, and only the skeleton of a plan for the future.

You might be tempted to say, “Wow, what a step of faith!” Trust me, it was anything but that. I call it my Jonah experience. I was running away from many things. I was running away from a job that was a dead end, from a family that loved me but that I was convinced didn’t have the first clue about what was best for me (I was so wrong), from a staunch and suffocating conservative culture in Utah that didn’t line up at all with my own more liberal views, from a closed church and a false start at ministry, and most importantly from my own inadequacies.

Well running away really didn’t work for Jonah, and even though I spent zero time in the belly of a fish, it didn’t work out for me either. I couldn’t adjust at all. Everything was pretty much the polar opposite from what I had known all my life. My family has always been pretty close knit, and the loss of that daily support structure nearly destroyed me by itself.

But I was also chasing an ideal, that ideal family. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had some very specific expectations for my marriage and my wife. Now, before you go there, no, I wasn’t looking for a little mild mannered lady who would do everything her husband said. Ugh. I’ve never wanted that, and still don’t. I wanted someone who was every bit my equal in all facets of life, and I got it. My ex-wife was very much that in every regard.

The problem was that we were pretty much incompatible in every other way. That became obvious to me pretty quickly. It had been obvious to others in my circle of family and friends before that even, but I refused to listen at all. I was bound and determined to make it work. I was desperate to make it work.

There were a lot of reasons that it didn’t work, most of them not fit to post here, but they rest in the pages of my journal. In the end I was trying desperately to smash a square peg into a round hole, and I tried so hard it damaged both of us.

To make a long story short, I ended up back in Utah feeling like a total failure as my marriage circled the drain and finally ebbed totally away. I didn’t feel like I was any use to anyone, myself, my friends, my family, or certainly God. But over the last 4 years or so God has been redeeming me piece by piece. I know it, I’ve felt it, and others have seen it! It’s been nothing short of remarkable, and I haven’t really had much to do with it.

I finally hit rock bottom and came to God with my hat in my hands, and he’s been lifting me up since that day. It hasn’t always been easy and sometimes we’ve taken three steps forward and two back, but we’re moving. As Brad Paisley sings: “Me and Jesus, we got our own thing going.”

I realized that was the stone that needs to be rolled away, and I’m happy to say that God is on the job, which is a good thing because I can’t do it myself. It’s not all the way gone yet, and it might never be this side of paradise, but bit by bit the light is shining through!

I’ve been working toward the Local Pastor Program in the UMC, and last month God brought me to a mountaintop experience with that. I was invited to go to a church that is currently without a pastor to preach and deliver Communion. I was nervous because it was the first time in forever that I’d had to preach in front of people who didn’t already know me. But those wonderful people blessed me so much and it was such a privilege to share the Supper of the Lord with them.

As I stood at the pulpit, opened my hands for the communion liturgy, and shared that with my brothers and sisters in Christ, I felt that Tooele, Utah was a long way from Orlando, Florida and that I was finally distancing myself from my failures there.

Could it be that the stone is almost totally rolled away? I hope so, and no matter what your stone might be, hold fast to God and trust in him, because he is always with you!

Easter 2018–Can You Still Get Excited?

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Easter18Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they came to the tomb. They were saying to each other, “Who’s going to roll the stone away from the entrance for us?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away. (And it was a very large stone!) Going into the tomb, they saw a young man in a white robe seated on the right side; and they were startled. But he said to them, “Don’t be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He isn’t here. Look, here’s the place where they laid him. Go, tell his disciples, especially Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.” Overcome with terror and dread, they fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. (Mark 16: 2-8 CEB)

If you’re like me, Easter was probably pretty exciting when you were a kid. It wasn’t as exciting as Christmas, for sure, but it was still fun. There was the promise of lots of candy, and maybe a present or two in your Easter Basket. In addition it was one of the only couple of days when our whole extended family would go to church, and I thought that was pretty awesome.

Now if you’re not like me and you didn’t grow up in a Christian house, maybe you didn’t even think much about Easter until you became a Christian. Many churches, including mine, receive new members and new Christians on Easter, inviting them to participate fully in the life of the church. People get excited about the promise of eternal life, the fact that there is something for us after we die.

But what happens after you grow up? What happens after you’ve been fully involved in the church for a number of years and the newness of baptism or confirmation has faded?

Maybe more importantly, what happens today as we look around at the broken state of our world, either on the news or in our very own cities?

Can we still be excited about Easter?

I think a lot of us might say yes, that of course we can be because of it what it means for after we die. Yes, that is absolutely something to be excited about, but it’s only part of the story.

When Jesus finally appeared to his disciples after the resurrection he didn’t collect them all, tell them how awesome heaven was, and let them pack their bags for a one way trip to paradise. No, he had something else in mind.

And they didn’t know what to make of any of it just at first! The verses I cited above are the original ending of Mark’s Gospel. It is the earliest gospel to be written and one of the earliest Christian documents. Look at the final words:

Overcome with terror and dread, they fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

Dread? Terror?

I don’t know, what would you feel?

Later Jesus appeared to the 11 after the women had brought them the message. What would they have felt? Afraid? Yeah I’m sure. If someone I had watched die stood there in front of me talking I’d be pretty freaked out. Did you notice how the verses above instruct the women to tell the disciples and especially Peter? I identify with Peter a lot and my guess is that knowing that he had betrayed Jesus, a part of him was petrified (no pun intended) to see him show up.

But Jesus sets their minds at ease. He tells them to be at peace, and there’s even a little physical demonstration for Thomas (hey I can’t blame him). They probably grew at ease back in the presence of their friend and teacher.

But…what’s next? That’s where it gets exciting.

The good news of the Kingdom of God is here! Jesus is risen, and all the disciples got to go tell all the world about it. If this happened to you, if you were there in that room, how could you help but to run into the streets shouting it?!

This is indeed good news, and yes, we can (and should) still get excited about it! Our message has changed the course of human history. Our message STILL CHANGES THE MINDS AND HEALS THE  HEARTS of people today. I promise you it does. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

I’ve seen people weep when Christians have done something nice for them.

I’ve seen Christians fight for, and make a difference for, all kinds of people from prisoners on death row to poor and homeless people the world over, to migrant families and refugees fleeing war torn regions.

And there is so much more. There is so much more we have done and so much more we have left to do. There are still people who are hurting. There are still people who are suffering, and as long as that’s the case we still are charged to take our message of Christ’s unconditional love and amazing grace to them wherever they are.

God loves everyone. Period.

I don’t care what you’ve done.

I don’t care what you haven’t done.

I don’t care if you’re male, female, gay, straight, trans, queer, bisexual, rich, poor, middle, class, democrat, republican, city slicker, country boy, black, white, brown, bald, hairy, short, tall, fat, thin, able bodied, disabled, sad, happy, mad, in love, lonely or any combination of those things.

Christ Is Risen and he is constantly seeking you, reaching out to you in his love and grace. All you need to do is say yes.

And don’t wait. Do it now, say yes now. I’m not asking you to do that because you might die and miss out on heaven. To me that’s the just the destination. I’m asking you to say yes so you can be a part of this exciting work that God is doing. You can be a part of taking the good news to others. You can be a part of feeding people, loving people, healing people, and encouraging people. The power of the resurrected, living Christ is at our fingertips and I know that with it we can change the world.

And that is definitely something to be excited about!

From my family to yours, have a happy and blessed Easter!

In a Few More Hours (Part II)

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emptytomb“And behold, a severe earthquake had occured….”

Darkness and stillness reign, but….

In a few more hours….
The first rays of dawn will warm the land,
the sky adding light minute by minute.

In a few more hours….
The first sounds will split the silence
They rise to resonate the world over.

In a few more hours….
The first guards will rub the sleep from their eyes
and encounter a sight no man has seen before.

In a few more hours….
The first angel will descend to earth
and place his holy hands on the cold stone of the tomb.

In a few more hours….
The first footsteps will be heard
from inside the tomb and behind the great stone.

In a few more hours….
The first fruits of a New Creation will bless the Earth
And the glory of the heavens will sing again:

HE

Oh Death where is your victory?

IS 

Oh Grave where is your sting?

RISEN!!!!!

Christ is the King and Victor!