Images of Easter

As you might imagine I am working full-time putting the finishing touches on all of my material for Holy Week. Last week I taught the teenagers a lesson on the cross and this week I am teaching about the resurrection. Friday night I am part of a local community Good Friday program and I am working on my sermon for Resurrection morning. Lately I am in this constant tension between teaching on the cross and on the resurrection. It is nothing new for anyone in ministry, but this year I have noticed something that I think is worth pointing out.

I think the reason I noticed this idea this year was because of a question from our Churches Children’s Church teacher. A few weeks ago he sent me an email asking if it was okay to teach on the resurrection on Easter morning and not talk about the cross. Not long after he asked me this question I was working on the Church website and looking for a good image to post online for our Easter program. As I searched the web I realized that almost every Church image for Easter morning contained a picture of a cross or of three crosses. Then this idea hit me, “We need to be very clear on the message of Easter.” Easter is not about the crucifixion of Jesus. Easter is about the resurrection of Jesus.

I think that over time the Church wanted some image to go with the resurrection of Jesus and they realized an empty tomb is a tough image to capture. So people took a step back and started using the cross as an Easter image. In some ways I suppose that it is okay, but in other ways it misses the point. Very early on in my ministry I was talking to a worship leader about our Easter Sunday morning program and he looked at me and said, “Be sure you kill and bury Jesus on Friday and have him resurrected on Sunday.” It was as simple statement that has guided my thinking, planning and preaching every sense that day.

Let me be clear, I do not think it is wrong to preach on the cross of Jesus on Easter or even to wear a cross as a religious image that day. I get the idea that everyone wants some image to show their faith and a cross is the most common. I 110% believe in the atoning death of Jesus on the cross. I also believe 110% that Jesus defeated the grave by his resurrection. The reason I celebrate his death is because he rose to life again. The Apostle Paul said, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile” (1 Corinthians 15:17).

Easter is not a time to focus on the death of Jesus other than to be the context for a resurrection. Jesus was dead and buried on Friday but on Sunday the story is changed forever. I celebrate the cross but only because it was not the final word on Jesus. The empty tomb is what sets Jesus apart from all other religious leaders and Christianity from all other faiths. But that is a hard image to put on a necklace, earrings or even a Church website.

Open Easter Letter

Dear Church Family,

Can you believe it? Easter is only a few days away!

I’m looking forward to the Resurrection Celebration we have planned for you and the friends you’ll bring with you this year. The message is the final part of the sermon series about Following the Master to “The Empty Tomb.” I am going to try and explain the basic Christian message that is rooted in our Easter celebration. The sermon series that will follow Easter is entitled “Let it Go” and is all about forgiveness. All of us need to know what it means to be forgiven and to be forgiving. I hope you will come as we look at the work of Christ these Sundays!

Here are some specific things that you can do as we prepare to celebrate Easter this year:

1. Join us yourself! Some of you attend every week, but some of you we have not seen in a while. If you have not been here lately we pray that everything is alright. We also invite you back to join us this Easter season. Easter will mean so much more if it is not limited to one day.

2. Bring your family! I would like to see all of you join us for our worship program this Sunday. It would be even better if you could bring all of your family for this time of celebration.

3. Invite your friends! It’s always amazed me that although I know many of my friends are LOOKING for a church to attend on Easter, I still feel nervous when inviting them. Maybe it’s the fact that we all feel a bit nervous when talking about things that are important to us. The truth is, when you invite a friend to join you for church on Easter they very often will come, and even if they cannot, they’ll appreciate the fact that you thought of them.

Please come and join us this Sunday. We will have a special free breakfast at 8:00 am. Then our worship program will be at 9:30 a.m. here at the Adrian Christian Church building on Old Highway 71.

I’m looking forward to seeing you soon!!

My Son’s Day

My third son is 168 months old today. That is 5113 days or 730 weeks plus 3 days for leap years. He was born my pudgy little boy who liked to suck on his fingers and has turned into my tall, skinny teenage boy. He is my Coda, Cuda, Cuda-Bug and Dakotay. He is my buddy and Mini-Me (same chin and all). Today I want you to know a few things:

1. I am proud of the man you are becoming. I pray you stay strong in your faith. I hope you are always my independent little boy who make his own decisions in his own time.

2. Mom and Dad are your biggest fans. We only want the best for you. We only see the good. We want you to succeed in all you do.

3. Keep Your Faith (even when you friends have none). Be the influence and not the influenced. I know that is hard at your age, but try to be a man of faith as you get older. Your God will never leave you or forsake you, but don’t do those things to Him.

4. Your Brothers Love You, that is why they pick on you. Being ignored is worse than being the brunt of their jokes. Your brothers may seem like enemies at times but I promise you they will stand by your side long after your friends have gone.

5. Enjoy Each Moment. Enjoy today. Enjoy each day God gives you on this earth with family, friends and people who care about you. You will not understand this until you reach midlife and probably not live it out until you are a senior citizen. But if you can learn to do this now you life will be full of rich memories that are worth more than gold.

I love you my son. I hope you have a wonderful day. May God bless you with many more and us with many more together.

My Garden

One of my college professors told my class that the best way to learn about your spiritual life was to tend a garden. He contended that gardens are the best metaphor for the human soul. They both require water, sunshine, pulling weeds before there can be a harvest. You cannot just say you are going to have a garden and the rest will take care of itself. It is a summer long process that makes a garden grow and produce year after year.

I think I know what he meant. I feel this in part because I grew up helping my parents keep a large garden for our family. Growing up in the Harris’ house included several hours of working in the garden every summer. Long hours of planting, weeding, hoeing and harvesting were just accepted as part of our normal routine. Now, as an adult, I have honestly only kept one garden for a couple of years since I entered the ministry and they was not by choice. The Church had a “community garden” that was kept by one family in the Church and by the pastor’s family. With the garden right beside the Church and my parsonage I really didn’t have a choice. Once again the hours of work mounted as the summer wore on, but there was an abundant harvest that blessed my family beyond the work it involved.

Planting season is coming quickly upon us here in Missouri and we have decided to keep a small garden at the house of one of my elders. I am looking forward to the harvest but I know there will be a lot of work between here and there. Which leads me back to my professor. I think he had a keen insight about living a life for Christ or a spiritual life as it is called. All of us want a great harvest. We want to be blessed and be a blessing to others, but those things do not come without the work of planting, watering and weeding.

A great spiritual life full of God’s blessings can only come through reading the Bible, worshiping, adding Godly things and removing the evil from my life. It requires hours of thought and discussion. It requires Sunday after Sunday of learning and leading. It involves year after year of hard work away from the public eye. The great men and women of God are formed liked a bountiful harvest over a lifetime of constant tending.

Author and preacher George McDonald once wrote, “Show me the condition of the inside of your car and I will tell you the condition of your spiritual life.” My professor said the same concept a different way, “Show me the condition of your garden and I can tell you the condition of your soul.” I think they both are right.

Damage Control

The last two days Adrian Missouri has been hit by hail. On Tuesday the storm didn’t last long but the ice was about the size of a golf ball. It was the largest hail stones I have ever seen personally. On Wednesday the storm lasted several minutes but it was only about the size of a pea. Thousands of ice pellets covered the ground like a winter snow. Both storms have done some damage to homes and vehicles. As a result the last two days the roofing companies are out in full force. One stopped by the Church, I saw one parked on the road side, I was with a person who received a phone call from one and then when I got home there was a flyer hanging on my door. Last night at the Church I was talking to several families and the conversation about possible damage came into each discussion along with which company they had talked with about it.

As with all situations there are two types of people out in these situations. One group is concerned about people. They really do care if the roof is damaged or if there is any way they can help. The other group is only concerned about making a buck. A bad storm is their opportunity to get some insurance money as they drum up business. To me it seems like every bad situation brings out the best people and the worst people at the exact same time. This is not just true of a hail storm in small town USA, it is true everywhere. Any emergency call will have people interested who want to help and another group of people who have less than pure motives. It is ugly, but true.

All this has me thinking about myself this morning. Am I the kind of person people are happy to see when something bad happens? Or am I the kind of person that people hope does not show up? Am I a help or hindrance? Do I bring hope and joy or further people’s pain and suffering? Are people glad to see my car after the damage has happened or do they shake their heads in frustration as I show up? As a follower of Christ, I want to be a part of the damage control team and not the damage spreading team.

Totally Random Thoughts

I have a list of ideas I am working on for blog posts on my computer. I have another list that I just keep in my head. Unfortunately many of them have never developed into complete articles for my blog. So today I thought I would share some random insights and ideas that I have been carrying around for a while.

1) Music is one of the most powerful tools in the world. It may shape more young people’s minds than books…or anything else. We need to be careful what our kids listen to. Dialog with them about what they listen to. And try and harness music for good. How do we do that exactly?

2) Today’s young people are very interested in social action. My fear is that we are neglecting solid bible teaching to do something for God. There must be a balance between learning, doing and being.

3) I love the quote – “Criticism is easy, kindness is hard.” If you don’t believe me, read the comment section on almost any internet site.

4) Pornography poses more of a threat to the Church than gay marriage. I have worked with 3 people struggling with pornography in the last month. I have worked with 3 homosexuals in the last 20 years. Satan has a way of tricking us into taking our eyes off of bigger issues.

5) Why do Churches worry so much about gay marriage anyway? Especially when people living together is far more damaging to the institution of marriage. Isn’t all sin an offense to God?

6) I have received more criticism for comments I have made about pets than any other statements I have made in my ministry. Even so, I do think we will have to answer to God for the amount of money we spend on animals to the neglect of people.

7) I hate the comment, “You changed too much too fast.” I love the analogy – If you have cancer in your leg would you rather they take your leg off in one surgery or take it off 3 inches at a time over the next 10 years? Either way, you lose your leg – so which is the better choice?

8) The song by the Rolling Stones entitled “Its only Rock N Roll” has some lyrics that connect with me about preaching. The song starts by saying, “If I could stick a knife in my heart. Suicide right on the stage” and then asks, “Would that be enough?” I know it sounds strange but some weeks I share things so intimate to my life it is like I am pouring myself out on the stage. (Cutting myself open, so to speak) I do it so that people will react to the gospel, but it never seems to be enough.

9) Don’t complain about what you get paid to do. If you are a janitor, you should not complain if the kids make a mess you have to clean up. If you are a teacher, you should not complain that the kids are not getting it. And so on. If you are not happy, find another job. I have often wondered why people do this and then one day a guy told me “some people are not happy unless they are unhappy.”

10) THIS POST of 25 pieces of advice for leaders is a great read.

Like I said, these are totally random and very undeveloped thoughts. You may agree or they may upset you, either way I thought they are worth sharing. Maybe you can add to their development or help clarify my thoughts through your comments. Maybe these will eventually become full thoughts and articles that will make more sense. Or maybe I can just hit the delete button and they will be gone after today. Who knows? Thanks for reading my random ideas today anyway.

Lessons from Moving

My wife and I were married in 1994 and since that day we have lived 7 homes plus we lived with a couple for 6 weeks while searching for a home. This number does not include the six weeks we lived in our car, hotel and with family while we traveled the country looking for a job after college. We have traveled across the country to a new home and across town. We have moved with children and we have moved without children. The move we made this last weekend was one of the easiest we have ever made because our children are big enough to help and we only moved a few blocks across town. All of this moving has taught me a few things about life and my journey with God.

1. Treasure people,travel light. With every move I have become more and more willing to let things go. I am at the point that there is very little I could not leave behind. My joy comes from the people I know and love. I used to spend time thinking about what I would do in case of a fire. What would I take out of the house? What are the most important things I own? My list gets shorter with every move and I know that if I have my wife and kids everything else is replaceable.

2. People can endure anything for a short period of time. While making moves I have slept in cars, lived with 4 children in a strangers house and this time we lived with only 3 chairs and no couches. My family of 6 spent the last 8 months sitting on the floor and on pillows in our living room. My family is so excited that this week we get some couches and all of us will have a place to rest. I know this is a minor thing in the global picture but it reminds me of the big truth that God sustains me through everything.

3. Heaven is my real home. With every move I feel less and less like I have a “hometown.” I do not have strong ties to any community in particular. I have lived in 4 states over the last 20 years and each one has felt somewhat like home. I know I was happy to rest in my own bed each night, but beyond that, they did not really feel like “my place.” As a result I long more and more for heaven everyday. I long for a place in God’s house for me. Jesus went there to prepare it for me and I am excited to finally get there to see it.

I guess these three thoughts have been been linked in my mind because for me they describe life. We travel through life with people enduring all kinds or weird and wonderful things until we reach our home in heaven. Every time I move I am reminded of these truths and I hope they encourage you today.

Me and My Elders

It has been a long day (and weekend) of moving. We are finally done moving and we are well on our way to being settled. The only work I have done today is to check my email and attend an elder’s meeting tonight. You need to know that this is the first time in all my years of ministry that I have had a great relationship with all of my elders. So after my meeting I thought I would share what makes our relationship work.

1. We care for each other This is the first group of guys who regularly ask me a simple question, “How are you doing?” Most of my elders have been concerned about what I am doing. This group of men really care about me personally.

2. We share with each other . Part of what helps us to bond is that we share what is going on in our lives. We share our struggles and our praises. We spend a large amount of time sharing what is on our heart and mind. Being open and honest builds great relationships.

3. We pray for each other. After we share what God is doing and how we could use support we pray for each other. I feel blessed knowing three men are regularly praying for me.

4. We pray with each other. All of our meetings end with an extended prayer time. We pray for the needs of our Church and all the people who attend. We always pray on Sunday mornings together before worship and then we add our meetings every other week. I feel like I have people who are fighting for the Lord with me and not against me.

God has blessed me with great elders and I am very happy to serve beside them. I am thankful for them and their relationship with me.

Biblical Leadership

There is an ongoing discussion in our family about leadership. It has really been going on since my kids reached high school but has escalated since we arrived in Adrian. It really started when my oldest son was not allowed to be a co-captain of the football team. The players voted him into a tie with another boy and they gave the final position to the other boy. Then as the season continued the coach kept yelling at him about how he needs to become a leader. The best we can figure the coaches definition of a leader is someone who shouts and gets excited. To him a leader is someone who is very vocal.

The conversation grew again when both of my boys were rejected for a group in the school. To be members of this group the boys had to complete some paperwork. There were two dates on the forms they had to turn in and they misunderstood and turned it in at the later date. Wrong choice. So they get a rejection letter in the mail and it states they cannot join the club because of the timeliness of their paperwork and then it added this statement, “and a lack of leadership.” So the best we can come up with is that this organization defines leadership as being willing to follow instructions. (Which, honestly, is a characteristic of a good follower.)

This topic reappeared last night as one of my boys saw a picture of the group of teenagers who are now a part of this organization. Out of a large group of teenagers only a handful were really leaders. My boys know these teens and I said that all of them are great people, but that does not make them leaders. So while I am talking about this my son Logan asks, “Dad, how do you define leadership?”

I have thought about this question a great deal. First, because he needs to know the truth and everyone seems to come at their definition differently. Second, I ask myself this question as a pastor on a weekly basis. “What does it mean to be a leader” is a vital question that needs an answer.

I have come upon one clear definition in the Bible that I have no way to improve on.

Matthew 20:25-28 (NIV) Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. (26) Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, (27) and whoever wants to be first must be your slave– (28) just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus tells his followers that true leadership is not about having authority over people but is about a willingness to serve other people.

True leadership is a rare characteristic:
-It pick up trash when no one is looking.
-It helps someone in need without putting it on an resume.
-It shows up early and makes sure everything is ready for an event.
-It stays late and cleans up so that the next group will have a clean facility.
-It sacrifices itself for the good of another person.
-It prays for people who are hurting away from the crowd and public eye.
-It serves in hundreds of ways that most people never notice.

Biblical leadership is hard to find because most people seek after titles, authority and praise rather than asking how they can serve. The Church is in desperate need of good leaders but these leaders must be defined by their acts of service more than anything else. So today I am asking myself – Am I a Godly leader … in my home, in my Church and in my community? If not, I may need to go home and get my work clothes on.

It’s Not The Same

Some things sound incredibly similar but they are simply not the same.

Getting older is not the same becoming mature.
Attending school is not the same as getting an education.
Making love is not the same as being in love.
Getting a job is not the same as finding a career.
Getting married is not the same as being married.
Having kids is not the same as bring a parent.
Being a teacher is not the same as teaching someone.
Attending Church on Sunday is not the same as being a Christian.
Talking about serving is not the same as serving.
Staying married is not the same as having a great marriage.
Having grandchildren is not the same as being a grandparent.
Enjoying songs about heaven is not the same as being ready for heaven.

Many things in life sound similar to something else, but they are not the same. One side of the equation comes easily. One side is a position or an event. The other side takes time, commitment, and hard work to make it happen. There is a continual action involved.

It is easy to accept a title or position as being the real thing when it is not the same. Part of the struggle of life is to find out what is real and what is not. Today I need to ask myself, “Do my actions reflect what I want to be?” Maybe you need to ask that too.