Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow | All happening right now

   By the time Sunday has arrived, we will have spent three nights with children and families in the craziest week of the year - Vacation Bible School. In just three hours a night, for a total of only nine hours, our goal was to have every child play, eat, run, jump, sing, dance, and sit still just long enough to hear this clear message: God made each of them special in order for each of them to make a difference.
   We are so blessed to have women and men who are willing to engage children at VBS and throughout the year to make them feel special and share the love of God. As I walked through the halls this week I saw child after child spellbound by the volunteers standing in front and alongside of them. Ask a kid what was happening right then, they would have named the activity and maybe the names of the people in the room. Of course, I saw history being made.
   Kids are only kids. They only see "now." To them, adults just drove them to school, ate a meal with them, told them a story, bought some groceries, or played ball in the driveway. But, adults know better. Adults see that yesterday, today, and tomorrow are connected. 
   Being present in the life of a child makes history by connecting the right now of today with their tomorrows. We have the power to prepare them for challenges and triumphs, good and bad, tough and terrific. We can teach them faithfulness even when the world seems to be falling apart. 
   May this Father's Day be a reminder to men and women everywhere that the moments we spend with children help shape eternity. Grace and peace, Scott

Thursday, May 25, 2017

They gathered in the summer heat to remember...

Decoration Day, around 1927
   On a spring afternoon over 150 years ago, a family stepped off the wagon bench and made their way across the cemetery to find the crude marker erected for John. He would have been brother, son, maybe even husband and father. John would have been one of the hundreds of thousands that were similarly remembered at cemeteries hastily lined out on the very fields of battle of the Civil War. They came out to remember and hold on.
   In 1866, the practice of remembering one person extended to many persons. Three women in Columbus, Mississippi decorated the graves marking fallen from both sides with flowers. The US Department of Veteran Affairs gives Columbus, Georgia a nod as possibly being one of the first cities to observe the day - a distinction that apparently is hotly debated. By 1868 the practice of decorating soldiers' graves had spread. The earliest Memorial Day celebrations were simple, somber occasions for veterans and their families to honor the day and attend to local cemeteries.  It was known as Decoration Day for the first many decades of its observance.
   Regardless of the name of the day, or the soldier memorialized, the tradition that was started for one war has been extended to the wars and conflicts since. It has extended out from the families of fallen soldiers to families of thankful Americans everywhere. No longer can we leave the work of Memorial Day only to those most closely affected.
   My prayer is that the memorials we offer last longer than cut flowers.  My prayer is that we would be unfailing in our prayers of thanksgiving and efforts for peace.
   The church gathers to say thanks to those who have served, to those who are serving, and to remember those who gave their lives in our nation's efforts to establish freedom. The Scriptures use the word Remember over 200 times. Apparently God knows that even the command to remember is something we will forget. It is a theme and an action we must continue to pick up and carry on.
   Grace and Peace to you, Scott

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Stop Spinning Around and Around

   It is silly, but these are all the craze with children and kids in their early teens. They are called fidget spinners. I don't know where they originated, but I do know they are being made by the tens of thousands overseas and shipped to homes. They are even found on the counters of local convenience stores - I got this one just a mile from here on the corner of Moody and Hwy 96.
   Made out of plastic or metal, they feature a ball-bearing in the center that spins and spins after you've loaded it with energy with a good push. What little advertising is associated with them suggests they are good for keeping a person focused, or relieving stress. I doubt the FDA would support either claim. This one will spin for nearly two minutes before finally coming to a stop.
   How long can you go before finally running out of energy? The terrible truth is we regularly test our limits. We work too long, play too much, sleep too little, and wonder why we finally come to a complete (crashing) stop. The wisdom of the Bible makes this much clear: we are not made to work and go forever. We are made to rest in between. We are made to stop, from time to time, and reset. We are made to live in the rhythm of being on and off, of work and rest; it is the rhythm of Sabbath and the devotional life.
   It is hard, I know. Taking the time every morning (or evening) to sit in front of the word of God involves overcoming a wealth of obstacles, not to mention the force of inertia that tell us to keep going once we've started the day. But, we are not made like toys. We are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). We are made to work and rest, go and stop, spin and sit still. Grace and peace, Scott

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The emptiness of Easter

   Thousands of eggs will be found on Sunday morning by little hands. They will fill up baskets and bags with eggs containing enough treats and candy to make any dentist weep. The eggs were filled by the generous efforts of dozens of volunteers who took the time to make sure that kids would have something to delight in - what a blessing it is to think about the people who make things happen in service to the love of God!
   I don't blame a child for wanting every egg to contain something special inside. But, Easter is more about emptiness than anything else. Frederick Buechner said this,

"The symbol of Easter is the empty tomb. You can't depict or domesticate emptiness. 
You can't make it into pageants and string it with lights."

Think about the abundance of Christmas images and items that point back to that first Nativity: a baby in swaddling clothes, a kneeling mother, mangers, stables, angelic choruses, admiring shepherds, and even adoring animals. Now, think about how most of the images of Easter are about things that have nothing to do with the actual first Easter morning: eggs, bunnies, chicks, etc. Isn't it because it is very hard to sell emptiness?
   Our story begins with the empty tomb. The best news the world has ever heard is not something that can be monetized. The hinge of history turns on something that wasn't there (a body). The foundation of our hope is emptiness! No wonder the first disciples stumbled out of the garden that morning. No wonder they ended up temporarily returning to their previous jobs before the week was out. We want every present to contain something we can cling to, something we can show others. Instead, the emptiness of Easter is too grand and magnificent to be kept inside an egg, a tomb, or even a painting over the mantle.
   God is inviting me - and you - to look into the empty tomb and find power over death, love that conquers fear, and something greater than anything we've put our hands on. Grace and peace, Scott

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

You Know Me

“Lord, you have examined me.
    You know me.
You know when I sit down and when I stand up.
    Even from far away, you comprehend my plans.
You study my traveling and resting.
    You are thoroughly familiar with all my ways.”
Psalm 139:1-3

   I was stopped going through security two weeks ago, about an hour before time for the flight back to Atlanta was supposed to depart from Chicago. I had removed my belt, slipped off my shoes, and placed my wallet, keys and phone into a basket that was being scanned. Nevertheless, the full body scanner showed something that I had failed to remove! It was a single mint in my left front pocket that showed up as a flashing yellow square on the screen.  The airport security officer looked me dead in the eye and said, “It doesn’t miss anything.” He was right and I snapped this photo as evidence!
   We sometimes think of God as this Divine Scanner in the Sky, waiting to catch us holding onto or doing something wrong or dangerous. Instead, God's power is intended to open us up to being loved. Consider that Psalm 139 ends with, "Look to see if there is any idolatrous way in me, then lead me on the eternal path!" When we go to God in confession and prayer, it is about more than coming clean and admitting we're caught. It is about removing the layers of weight and sin that cover up the best of who we are. This is the essence of Genesis 3 and Hebrews 12. Let us not hide or be weighed down.
   As we draw closer to Easter, may the routine of daily readings from the Praying for 5 booklet, your attendance in worship, and the powerful grace of God all together prepare us for what God is revealing to us. Grace and peace, Scott

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

BANG...that made me jump!

   It was already in the third inning of the baseball game when it happened the first time...BANG! The report of the gun bounced across the stands where we were sitting and caught most of the crowd by surprise. The sound came from a starting pistol and marked the start of one of the first races being run at the track meet on the other side of the high school campus. The sound-waves had already traveled 300 yards by the time they made all of us jump. It was not the last time. The starting pistol went off another dozen times before the game we were watching was over, and each time caught folks off guard.
   Most of us are used to being caught off guard from time to time. How high did you jump the last time the sonic boom of an F-15 came just as you stepped outside on an overcast day?
   Jesus was doing his best to prepare the disciples for what was to come in the days leading up to Holy Week. In Mark's Gospel he literally starts in the middle, the eighth chapter of Mark's sixteen chapter book, with the first of three predictions or words of warning about what will happen to him. They don't understand. I can imagine that in the closing weeks, as they journeyed to Jerusalem for the last Passover they would attend together, they had little idea of what was coming.
   Who among us like to be caught of guard? No one. We would rather know now, what lies ahead, that be surprised tomorrow. But, life rarely unfolds like that. The story of Easter is one of surprise, sadness, sorrow, and then something else.
   Like the starter's gun the other day, the Book of Hebrews likens the journey of faith to that of a race, pleading that we would continue to run and not give up (Hebrews 12). As we draw closer, keep praying for your friends and yourself: pray that we would all be caught off guard, this Easter, by the sheer joy of God's love for us. Grace and peace, Scott

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Offer (Yourself) Grace

   These things are true...
1) we love it when someone says something that sounds like something we've said before, because we all like knowing that others share our thinking.
2) we love it when someone says something that applies to me in a positive way.
Both of these truths come together in a little note that my friend, Jay Hanson, and his team included in the Praying for 5 devotional book we are reading through as we prepare for Easter. On page 13, they instruct us to

"Offer Grace. We often think about offering grace to others or whether or not others are offering grace to us, but it's really important to remember to give ourselves grace as well."

They were writing to encourage each of us to develop and stick with a routine of praying, specifically, for others as we read through each days' brief devotional entry. I love this instruction because I need it and I try to practice it with myself. I get into great habits and routines, and then fall out of them just as fast. Let us be clear, the world is not working to help us keep our good routines, but our God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Psalm 103)!
   I love the fact that we take time out of worship to greet each other with words of grace and peace every Sunday. It is who we are, and it is something we need. So, this Monday through Saturday, do your best to keep the routine of reading the Praying for 5 book and lifting up 5 people (or more) by name that you are traveling through life with. God is surely calling you to encourage them to receive the grace and peace found in the body of Christ, if they are not already. Pray about ways you can share your story and invite them to see for themselves.
   Much grace and peace to you and me, Scott

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Lent is Here

   We begin the Season of Lent this week on a day known as Ash Wednesday, so significant that one city prepares all year long for the party* that wraps up the night before.
   What is Lent? Lent is a forty day period, excluding Sundays, during which disciples of Jesus Christ prepare themselves spiritually for the remembrance of Christ's suffering, death and resurrection.  The name is derived from the Old English, lengten, a reference to the lengthening of the days in the spring.
   Beginning in the second century, Christians would undergo a brief period of fasting and prayer in preparation for Good Friday and Easter. By the fourth century the period had been extended to forty days to coincide with the forty days that Jesus fasted and prayed in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry. The number forty also corresponds to the forty years God's people were wandering in the wilderness after the Exodus.
   It was common to fast from meat and dairy products during Lent, and many Christian converts made their first professions of faith in Jesus as Lord. It was also a time of repentance for those who had abandoned the faith. The season is a time for more intense and intentional spiritual growth during which we remember the message, the life, the suffering and death of Christ.
   Our annual Ash Wednesday Service begins at 6:30 pm in the Sanctuary, where we are marked with ashes as a sign of our desire to repent of our sin and follow Jesus, and offered the chance to write out our prayers of confession and then destroy them following the service. I invite you to attend this special service.  It will be brief, but the experience will stay with us. It will be a time spent well in preparation for Easter.
   In the tradition of the ancient church, we're inviting you to do three things this Lent:
1.  Be in worship every weekend you are in town.
2.  Give up something as a fast and expression of your faith and identification with Jesus' suffering.
3.  Join the whole church in reading through the devotional book, Praying for 5, available at the church this Sunday. We can make Easter the best ever for folks who need a church home!
   Join us as we start this journey on Wednesday. Grace and Peace, Scott

* New Orleans is the city, and Mardi Gras is the party.