Preview: Easter’s Done – Now What?

The “big event” is over; Jesus has risen from the dead. Easter breakfasts have been eaten, churches have been filled, and songs of praise have been sung. Now the party is finished and reality begins to sink in: we have to go somewhere from here. The disciples locked themselves in a room for fear of the Jews; we will meet openly this Sunday morning. Come worship with us as we consider what happened with those disciples in John 20:19-31!

–Pastor David

Don’t Leave the Light Switch On

When I was growing up, my brother and I had a bad habit of leaving lights turned on whenever we left our bedrooms, hallways, bathrooms, and so forth. Our parents had to remind us over and over again, for the sake of stewardship of electricity (not to mention the monthly electric bill), to remember to turn off the light switch when we left a room. Sometimes I would get all the way to the other side of the house before remembering (or being called back) to turn off a switch in another room.

We have just experienced the highest holiday of the church year: our annual remembrance of the resurrection of our Lord from the dead. What a tremendous high point to celebrate! For many churches, including Mt. Haley, Easter Sunday marks the highest Sunday morning attendance of the year. So not only do we have reason to celebrate in Jesus’s victory over sin and death, but we also might feel grateful and energized because the pews are slightly more crowded than usual.

I know that I am new to this role of “pastor,” and in fact this is my first Easter as a full-time minister, but I have a hunch that our attendance will be back to “normal” next week. Some folks choose to come to church once or twice a year, and they may have already reached their quota for the year. I observed something interesting on Easter Sunday this past week: it seemed that each visitor knew at least one of our regular members. The visitors were family, friends, coworkers, people who had grown up in the church as children, and so forth.

In last week’s article, I wrote that the darkness of Christ’s death must come before the light of his resurrection. Now that the light has arrived, we would be foolish simply to assume that the work of sharing the message of Christ has been completed. It’s like when I was a child: I left light switches turned on in rooms I wasn’t going to visit again. We have shared the light with our once-a-year visitors; we shouldn’t assume that the rest will take care of itself! And since we collectively have personal contact with most of the people who have passed through the church doors, we should find creative ways to carry the light of Christ into the places where our neighbors have gone.

On another level, I believe the same analogy can apply to our spiritual lives, both as a congregation and as individuals. We have experienced “Focus 40” – forty days of prayer and fasting – and now the joy of Christ’s resurrection has illuminated our hearts. Should we simply walk away from that light, leaving the switch turned on in the room we only visit on high holy days? I believe it is much healthier for us to carry the joy of the Easter season in our hearts throughout all seasons of the year.

With these two applications in mind, I invite you to read and meditate on the following passage of scripture:

Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:1-6 NIV)

–Pastor David

The Lord is Risen!

Over the past few days, we have remembered and celebrated the weekend that changed the world. On Maundy Thursday, we shared in the Lord’s Supper and washed each other’s feet. At sunrise on Easter Sunday, we gathered with the women at the empty tomb. Later that morning, we celebrated with the full congregation of those who had heard the good news: the Lord is risen! Click the links below to hear Pastor David’s messages from these three services.

Maundy Thursday

Easter (Sunrise Service)

Easter (Regular Worship Service)

Darkness Before Light

This is one of the most powerful weeks in Christian faith – the week known as “Holy Week,” the set of days that commemorate the final days of Jesus’s life, those that led up to his crucifixion and burial. Within a week of being ushered into Jerusalem with shouts of “Hosanna!”, Jesus was condemned to die via public execution as an example to those who would disrupt the status quo. Of course, we understand that his death had tremendous significance: he was the sacrificial lamb, perfect and unblemished, wholly divine, whose death satisfied the demands of a just God who requires sacrifice to accompany our repentance of sin.

Yes, we always live as Easter people. That is, we live as people who believe in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, an event the Christian world will celebrate on Sunday. Christ proved his power over sin and death by rising to newness of life; therefore, we too have hope that this life is not the end of the story for those who believe in him.

Yes, we always live as Christmas people. That is, we live as people who celebrate the fact that God chose to become one of us, to live and dwell among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. We have the comfort of knowing that God understands our human predicament, and he continues to dwell in and among us in the person of the Holy Spirit.

However, at least for this week, we must live as Good Friday people. We must remember the betrayal, trial, and torturous death experienced by our Lord. We must experience the spiritual darkness of Good Friday before celebrating the marvelous joy of Easter Sunday. Why?

I believe that if we do not fully experience the magnitude of this week’s events, then our message of the gospel becomes truncated. If our message to the world is only hope and peace and joy and victory, then that message will bounce right off of the pain-hardened shells in which people live. Yes, we have a message of hope – for ourselves as well as the world – but this is no mere feel-good message. This is a gospel which has tasted the bitterness of death, which has walked through the darkest valley, which has known the worst that the world has to offer.

Friends, allow the joy of this Sunday to come when it will come. In the meantime, contemplate the magnitude of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Walk with him through the Garden of Gethsemane, into the courts of Caiaphas and Pilate, and along the long road to the Hill of the Skull. And remember that these dark events have tremendous meaning for God’s relationship with you and with those around you.

–Pastor David

The Center of Attention

On Palm Sunday, we enjoyed a children’s program entitled “The Tale of the Three Trees” in our morning worship service. This musical helped to lead the congregation in worship, much like the children did when Jesus entered Jerusalem two thousand years ago. Click the link below to hear Pastor David’s sermon on Matthew 21:1-17, the story of Jesus’s triumphal entry.

Listen now!

(Please excuse our technical difficulties: the wireless microphone cut in and out of operation a few times during this message.)

Truth and Narratives

Lately, I’ve been thinking frequently about narratives – stories that inform our lives, that give our lives meaning and direction, that help us to view the world in a particular way. A narrative can be something simple like “I like how I look,” or it can take a form as complex as your family history. Narratives can be true (“my work is valuable”) or false (“no one loves me”). They can be helpful or harmful, and that is a different quality than being true or false. These stories orient us to the world in specific ways, often in ways that we do not fully understand.

For Christians, the primary narrative of our lives should be the gospel of Jesus Christ. The meaning of our Savior’s life, ministry, death, and resurrection should shape everything that we do and even how we think about the world. We should see ourselves as sinners who have been redeemed at great cost and who have been given a great commission to spread this message of redemption and new life to people of all nations. Our obedience to the Lord is a natural outworking of this narrative; because we belong to Christ, we obey him at every opportunity – or at least that is our goal.

However, this Christ-centered perspective on the world is challenged by other narratives, many of which are false and unnecessary. The world presents us with alternate stories to adopt: the value of my life is determined by my health, safety, possessions, money, and so forth; what others think of me is more important than what God thinks of me; my success in life depends on how much power I can accumulate. Many similar perspectives can distract us from the truth of our human existence.

I met with a few pastor friends this week, and we were discussing among ourselves The Shack, a recent best-selling book about a man who comes to faith after experiencing terrible tragedy in his family life. If you haven’t read this book and are interested, just let me know – you may borrow my copy! Without spoiling too much of the story, I will say this much: the main character has a vision (of sorts) in which he interacts with God and wrestles with the meaning of his suffering. One of the pastors in my meeting this week suggested something fascinating about this vision: what if this vision of God was no mere vision but actual reality?

My reaction to his suggestion was to scoff and say, “of course not – that’s just a vision.” But as we discussed this idea, I came to realize that this reveals part of my own personal narratives. Specifically, I approach the world as if I am the one who gets to determine what is real and what is imaginary. A vision cannot be real because it’s just a dream! Do you ever function in the same way?

How would we think, feel, and behave differently if we acknowledged that God determines reality? What if we adopted his perspective on the world, on other people, and on ourselves? Jesus Christ has the transformative power to reshape our false, broken narratives into stories that reflect ultimate truth, which necessarily comes from his perspective. The journey of the follower of Christ requires laying down our perspectives on life and picking up those that belong to the Lord. If we see the world through his eyes, then we will better understand how to minister to a world that is in need.

–Pastor David

Give Up Despair

Dead bones are reassembled, with muscles and tendons and skin forming on top of them… and then the breath of life enters these bodies, which stand up and form a great army. A scene from a recent Hollywood film? No, we’re talking about Ezekiel 37:1-14, in which God calls Ezekiel to prophesy to the dead bones, which represent the people of Israel in exile. How does this passage speak to the issue of despair in our society? Click the link below to hear Pastor David’s sermon on this topic.

Listen now!

Preview: Give Up Despair

How often have you felt despair in your own life? How often have people in your circle of family and friends felt the same way? The good news of Jesus Christ is not that we are guaranteed lives free from trouble, but rather that our Lord promises to revive us even when all seems lost. Come worship with us on Sunday morning as Pastor David helps us investigate the “dry bones” prophecy found in Ezekiel 37:1-14.

On the Earthquake in Japan

Nearly a month has passed since the massive earthquake off the eastern coast of Japan, and the situation there has shown few signs of improvement in recent days. Not only are the people dealing with the loss of life and destruction due to the fifth-strongest earthquake in recorded history (and the subsequent tsunami), but they are also struggling to contain enormous amounts of radiation from various nuclear reactors in the area. What are we to make of these events? How should we as followers of Christ respond? We have a number of options:

Response #1: This is a sign of the end times. I don’t believe this is the case. Although Jesus did mention earthquakes and wars and famines in Matthew 24, we also read in 1 Kings 19 that God is not always to be found in natural phenomena. God created this world, but he created it to be constantly changing: seasons, tides, warming and cooling periods, and even earthquakes. If anything, Jesus’s words in Matthew 24 challenge us to remain faithful to him even when tragedies and suffering occur in our own lives – not just in the world around us. The technological advances in our culture allow us to see events all over the world almost instantaneously; I do not believe that the events themselves are any more significant than they have been throughout human history.

Response #2: We should spiritually support the people of Japan through this crisis. This is certainly a reasonable response, especially for people of faith. We have brothers and sisters in Christ in all parts of the world, so our extended family has been affected dramatically by recent events in Japan. We should mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice; we should lift up to the Lord those who are suffering through grief, destruction, and radiation poisoning. Prayer is a powerful tool, and we should not limit our application of prayer to our own personal needs.

Response #3: We should financially support the people of Japan through this crisis. This brings up the issue of stewardship of resources. The Lord has blessed us tremendously, whether we realize it or not. Consider this: have you thrown away edible food in the past month? If so, then you are quite rich when compared to the rest of the world. We have the ability to give to charitable organizations when disasters occur; last year’s earthquake in Haiti is a prime example. However, we need to take into account the financial situation of the people who are suffering. Haiti and Japan are in two very different financial positions. Japan is much more likely to be able to take care of its own needs; our charity and financial support will be more useful in other situations, even those in our own communities.

Response #4: We should prepare for the unexpected in our own lives. I think this is the most healthy response for us today. I don’t mean that we should stock up on canned goods and medical supplies, just in case the unthinkable happens in our part of the world. What I mean is this: we should be in constant relationship with the Lord, continually turning from sin and pursuing holiness. We should be ready to stand before the Lord as a result of tragedy or sacrifice at a moment’s notice. And we should make the most of every opportunity to share the message of Jesus Christ with those around us who are not in relationship with him. Even helping with the real-life issues facing people in our community is a way for us to witness to the reality of Christ, as long as we do these things in his name.

Your reading assignment for the week is 2 Timothy, the second letter written by Paul to Timothy, the young church leader. It’s only four chapters long, so see if you can read it all in one sitting. As you read it, ask yourself this question: what does this letter say our response should be to a world that is falling apart?

–Pastor David