Iron Men

When the kid in the car in front of us got out and threw a beer bottle at our windshield, that’s when I knew we were in trouble.  When another car pulled up behind us, trying to block us in, that’s when I wondered how we would get out of this trouble.  None of this was in our plans for the evening.

The night started out innocently enough.  It was Halloween but because we were in college we figured we were too old for trick or treating so we decided to do what any group of mature young men would do.  We drove around town in a Honda Accord taking turns wearing a Halloween mask, sticking our heads out of the windows yelling at people.

When that got old, we parked in a parking lot where everyone else with nothing to do was hanging out.  After a few minutes of deciding what to do next, we noticed a car that belonged to a guy we knew named Jason.  We dared my friend Jeff to put the Halloween mask on and run over to Jason’s car and act like an idiot.  Jeff accepted the harmless dare and walked across the parking lot in the ridiculous mask, jumped all over Jason’s car, did a crazy dance and started walking back over to us.

On his way back, we noticed that the plates on this car were from Georgia.  Jason’s car had North Carolina plates.  We started yelling at Jeff to run but he had no clue what we were saying or what was happening behind him.  He was still walking like he was taking up the offering at church, well, except for the wearing a mask part.  By the time the guy who was not named Jason and was not from North Carolina started closing in on Jeff, our friend figured out that something was wrong.  He dove in our car and we sped off.

But we had company.  I’ve always wanted to say that.

We spent the next several minutes driving all over the county trying to lose this guy who didn’t like strangers dancing and jumping on his car.  Finally, on a curvy country road, we met our match.  The car that we mistook for one belonging to someone we knew sped past us and slid sideways to block us.  It seems that the driver had been watching a lot of Dukes of Hazard.  Thankfully, his friends in the car coming up from the back seemed to grow up watching Little House on the Prairie and only blocked half of the road behind us.  As soon as the beer bottle hit our front windshield, we were able to back up and head back to the safety of our college campus.

I don’t think I ever saw that Halloween mask again.

But a year or so later I would sit down for dinner with my friend Jeff and he would show me what kind of a friend he really was.  I had a big decision to make and I knew what to do but I didn’t know how to do it.  Jeff told me that making the right decision would not please everyone and it didn’t.  He also told me that no matter what, he would be with me, and he was.

Jeff reminded me that there’s more to friendship than acting like idiots together and making memories.  Jeff showed me that a real friend pushes you to do what’s right and is always there with you, no matter what.

There are other friends and other lessons from my younger days.

I spent my early teenage years following my friend Keith around the woods behind his house.  At football games or the mall I would accept his dares to go up to older, more popular kids and ask them if I could have a ride home because my mom forgot to pick me up.  Nobody ever said yes.  Today Keith is in the Czech Republic and I think if he called me up today with a dare, I’d probably still do it.  We don’t walk through the woods together anymore but it feels like I’ve been following Keith ever since.  I’m better for it.  Keith taught me that a great friend can also be a great leader.

There are also friends like Brian, Dan, Andy, David and Derrick.  I think we spent somewhere around 73% of our teenage and college years at my house watching movies and drinking my mom’s sweet tea.  When I had to preach my mom’s funeral, they were there.  Afterwards, we all sat around a table, told dumb stories, laughed a lot and drank sweet tea.  Friends share common griefs and the good part about those griefs is that they have a way of bringing us all back together again, even if it’s only for a few hours.

When my boys are older, I hope that they have friends like I did.  I hope they have friends that stick with them, push them and teach them, friends that are worth following.

I just hope that on Halloween they stay inside, watch a movie and drink sweet tea.

And I hope that they do it at our house.

Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.  Proverbs 27:17 (ESV)

One Out Of Two Ain’t So Bad

When you are the pastor presiding over the funeral, it’s always a good idea to show up a little early.  You don’t want to come walking down the center aisle, past the family, past the deceased and right up on the platform ten minutes after you were supposed to be there.

With that in mind, I left home early to preach another funeral for someone I had never met.

I got to the funeral home about 30 minutes early.  This was perfect because it would give me time to meet some of the family and find out the last minute details.  One of the owners of the funeral home met me at the door.

“You must be the preacher.  Right this way.”

I followed him to a large room where the family was mingling and where he introduced me to the daughter of the deceased.

“Ma’am, this is the Reverend Jay Sanders.  He will be officiating the service today.”

The lady looked at me with pure disgust.  Her disgust wasn’t directed toward me, it turns out, but toward her sister.

As she spoke, she turned into a pit bull.

“Why did she do this?!  I told her I would get the preacher for the funeral but she wouldn’t listen.  Now we’re going to have to deal with two preachers!  I’m sorry, Reverend.  This is not your fault.  Let me go talk to my sister and straighten this out.”

Off she stomped to do some straightening.

The owner gave me one of those this happens all the time looks and he told me to follow him to the room where the actual funeral service for this man would be held.

And that’s when I almost had a stroke.

The funeral director said that this was a man’s funeral.

I was supposed to do a funeral for a woman.

That’s when he told me that I was at the wrong funeral home.

And that’s when I had a stroke.

Now that lady that gave me the disgusted look earlier was really disgusted.  I hope she was able to work things out with her sister.  Ladies, if you happen to be reading this, please accept my sincerest apologies.

I raced frantically to the owner’s office to get directions to the funeral home where I was supposed to be.  The owner and his staff sent me on my way with their best wishes and a few laughs.  They were the ones doing all of the laughing.

So much for being 30 minutes early.

Several minutes later I was parked at a gas station asking a guy who spoke a different language than me for directions to a funeral home that I was supposed to be at five minutes ago.  That didn’t work out too well.

I was able to call the funeral home where I was supposed to be and explain my situation.  They told me not to worry because the family was having some sort of dispute at the moment.  If you’re keeping score, that’s two families I’ve wrecked so far in one afternoon.

Finally, I made it.

I got out of my truck, walked inside the front door of the funeral home and eventually down the center aisle, past the family, past the deceased and right up on the platform. Ten minutes after I was supposed to be there.

This time I had the right funeral home.

One out of two ain’t so bad.

A Kinder, Gentler Racism

I guess I was about 15 the first time I had an encounter with the KKK.  My friends and I had just finished playing basketball and were on our way to get something to eat.  We pulled up to a very busy intersection and noticed several men in white sheets walking up and down the median.  They were holding signs and chanting racist propaganda.  When our light turned green we stuck our heads out of the windows and yelled derogatory statements at them.  It made me feel like we had done our part for racial equality, like I was the next Medgar Evers just because one of my friends yelled at the Klan.

I eventually moved from Atlanta’s south suburbs in Clayton County and headed to the northeast Georgia mountains for college.  This is where I would see the KKK for the second time.  They were holding a rally on the courthouse square in Toccoa, Georgia.  I use the term rally loosely.  For every one Klansman that was present, there were probably two or three people who showed up to drown them out.  It was a beautiful sight to see, blacks and whites joining together to overpower the white sheets.

That was the early 1990s.  I haven’t seen or heard from the Klan since then.

Little did I know that there has been another, more sinister and powerful group working against blacks, among others, long before my first run-in with the Klan.  Since that time, while the Klan has seemed to disappear, this group has flourished.

In it’s early days, this group’s founder started something called The Negro Project where she sought to greatly decrease the number of babies born to black families.  Today, Margaret Sanger’s organization, now known as Planned Parenthood, has been polished up for mass appeal.  And boy are the masses appealed.  So much so that our own government forcibly takes money from its citizens to fund this organization.  I’m sure those cowards I saw when I was 15, the ones hiding behind the white sheets, are wondering why they didn’t come up with such a brilliant plan to attack the race that they so despise.

In the early 1990s, right around the same time that those men with the Klan were shouting from the courthouse steps in my tiny college town, Planned Parenthood performed almost a quarter of their abortions on black women.  In case that doesn’t seem like much to you, remember that black women make up a very small segment of our nation’s population.  It has been estimated that from 1973 to 2002, 10 million black babies were killed by abortion.  Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, has the blood of many of those babies on its hands.

John Ensor explains that this is no coincidence but that minorities are actually being targeted by Planned Parenthood (emphasis mine).

“To date, the pregnancy center movement has grown mostly in rural and suburban areas. The great challenge now facing us is to respond to the abortion industry’s dominant business strategy of abandoning rural and suburban abortion facilities and targeting urban neighborhoods. For example, Planned Parenthood closed 17 abortion facilities in 2004. But they sold 20% more abortions. How did they do this? By targeting minority neighborhoods in major cites. Currently, 94% of America’s abortion facilities are in cities. And African-American women, who make up 13% of the female population account for 36% of all abortions.  Latino-American women makeup another 13% of the female population, but account for another 20% of all abortions.”

“But,” some have told me, “Planned Parenthood does a lot of good too.”

And so did Joe Paterno.  He built libraries and made sure kids graduated on time, all the while knowing that younger kids were being raped in the very facilities he was trusted to watch over.

And if the Church continues to stand by, doing nothing, while government sanctioned genocide happens right in front of us we too will be just like the legendary coach.

May history not remember us as a people who did nothing.

Bible Belt

The church building was dimly lit and packed with hundreds of people.  There was a picture of Grace Slick projected on a wall and The Eagles were playing over the speakers.

It was the mid 1980s and this was not my fundamentalist church’s attempt at relevance.  It was a seminar about the evils of rock and roll.  Grace Slick, former member of Jefferson Starship/Starship/Jefferson Airplane/Starships of Jefferson with an Airplane, was pictured on the wall because we were being told the famous rock and roll urban legend about how she named her kid “god”.  The woman that sang Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now somehow got lumped in with Aleister Crowley and the Church of Satan.

The Eagles weren’t being played because our pastor was really into Joe Walsh but because of the evils of Hotel California and its hidden messages about the awesomeness of Satanism.  Ironically, this is probably one of the best songs ever written against such evils but that kind of talk isn’t what packed out church buildings in 1985.  Along with The Eagles, Led Zeppelin and others were played backwards.  When you’re ten years old and sitting in a dark church building, nothing scares your more than hearing Robert Plant’s voice played backwards.  I was clay in the hands of the evangelist leading the seminar.

Just as fascinating as the backwards music were the stories that went along with these seminars.

“I preached a seminar at a church just like this one and afterwards several of the people brought their rock and roll albums into the parking lot, threw them into a big trash can and lit them on fire.  As those albums from AC/DC and Meatloaf (seriously?) burned, a black snake crawled out of the fire.”

I can’t prove it but I’m pretty sure that one of the guys that saw that happen went on to marry the girl that woke up lying in a bathtub full of ice in a Panama City hotel room with one of her kidneys missing.  I’m sure they’re doing well.

That did it for me.The next day I grabbed Michael Jackson’s Thriller cassette (a small plastic device with tape inside of it used for listening to music, preferably in a Camaro with T tops and the phrase Youth Gone Wild written on the top of the front windshield) and smashed it with a rock in my driveway.  I never saw a snake but I did purchase that music again later on in life.

Rock and Roll seminars were the norm in the 1980s in what is known as the Bible Belt.  As funny as they seem now, they are a perfect fit for this area of mostly southern states with a few Midwestern states and some of Texas thrown in.  When you drive down a road in the Bible Belt you will see as many churches as you will Waffle Houses and dead possums.  That’s another way of saying that there are a lot of churches in the Bible Belt.  Also, everyone who lives in the Bible Belt says the same thing – “I live in the buckle of the Bible Belt.” That’s another way of saying that my place is more Bible Belt-ier than yours.  Unlike most other belt buckles in the south this one probably says something like Turn Or Burn instead of Bocephus.

Maybe you’ve heard it said before that the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman nor an empire.  As a life long resident of the southern states, I think that the same formula could be applied to the Bible Belt.  There’s not a whole lot of Bible and there’s certainly no belt.  But there is a lot of that old time religion, good manners and church buildings.  None of which ever saved anyone.

In the Bible Belt, people are absolutely in love with Jesus.  They wear bracelets reminding them to do what he would do, they spend money on roadside billboards telling commuters that he’s watching them and they even listen to music about him (sort of) on radio stations with words like fishjoy and love in their names.  The Bible Belt Gospel, just like the 1980s Anti Rock and Roll Gospel, focuses only on the externals.  They are both false gospels because of their emphasis on morality and performance.  Who needs Jesus when you already live in his favorite part of the world and you’ve just burnt your collection of Winger records?  Yeah, all two of them.

But even in this gospel of performance, there’s not much room for commitment to the very body for which Jesus died.  There are games and recitals and trips and work and sleeping in late that prevent many from showing any kind of devotion to a local church body.  As a pastor, I’ve lost count of how many people have told me that the church where I pastor is, “their church” and “where they belong” but have never set foot into our building in the time that I’ve been here.  When I was a kid, one of my heroes in the faith told me, “If your religion isn’t good enough to get you up out of bed, I wouldn’t count on it getting you into heaven.”  I’ve thought about that a lot lately.

Burn this, don’t drink that, join this and vote for him may have their place at times but they offer no real eternal hope when they are presented as the meat and potatoes of the gospel.  You can burn all the Whitesnake albums you want and you can buy all the old time gospel standards you can afford but if the gospel of Christ never truly penetrates your heart, convicting you of your sin and moving you towards obedience, you’ll end up singing your gospel favorites in hell one day with all the other Satan worshipers.  One possible clue that the gospel of Christ hasn’t truly penetrated your heart is a lack of commitment to his church (see 1 John).

Many refer to the Bible Belt with joy and appreciation and certainly there are plenty of excellent gospel-centered churches in the Bible Belt.  But I can’t help but wonder if the title we’ve given to our part of the country is actually an indictment against us.  For all of our churches and for all of our good manners and for all of our traditions, is there really a deeper sense of the Holy Spirit’s work in Georgia than there is in Stockton, California or Entebbe, Uganda?

I think that Satan is just fine with the Bible Belt.  I think that he has absolutely no problem with blue laws that prevent the sale of alcohol on Sundays.  I think that he loves hearing young people say kind words about Jesus and seeing older people cling to that old time religion.  He’s fine with all of these things just so long as the gospel isn’t clearly understood and applied and just so long as hearts are ignored in favor of surface level bells and whistles.

So maybe the Bible Belt isn’t really a region in the United States. Maybe it’s just some imaginary accessory Satan gives to people in the south in order to convince them that they’re okay with God.

I’m sure that it has a very big buckle.

This entry was originally posted on May 24, 2011.

The Illuminati

“You know The Illuminati, right?”

Someone asked me that question recently in the middle of an otherwise normal conversation about politics and religion.

This Illuminati that was being referred to is the group many think is responsible for Tupac’s death, Dave Chappelle’s sudden move to Africa, the 9/11 tragedy and the weeds in your garden, just to name a few.  If you Google the word Illuminati you’ll get somewhere around 51 million results.  If you Google Illuminati again, you’ll notice a black van parked across the street from your house.  If you write a blog post about The Illuminati they’ll immediately come and get you and take y

Okay, I’m back.

Conspiracies, and by that I mean the merger of two or more parties to do something shady, have been around since the Garden of Eden.  From that point we’ve witnessed a long line of assassinations, power grabs, cover-ups and so on.  We may not know all of the details involving the murder of president John F. Kennedy, for example, but we can all agree that two or more people were conspiring to make it happen.

But for every conspiracy there must be somewhere around, well, 51 million conspiracy theories. By conspiracy theories I mean those claims that are so void of tangible evidence that they could never be proven and are so bizarre that an effort on your part to disprove them will lead the author or supporter of said conspiracy theory to believe that you had something to do with it all along.

“Do you have any evidence to support your claim that Mr. Rogers worked for the KGB?”

“I knew it!  You’re in on it too.”

See what I mean?

When I was asked the question, “You know The Illuminati, right?” the bizarre conspiracy theories were what was being referred to.  The question could have just as easily been restated as, “You know that there’s someone behind the scenes controlling all of this crazy stuff that’s going on in the world, right?”

I spent the rest of the day thinking about that question and about conspiracy theories before finally coming to this conclusion.  So what if some weird group is controlling things from behind the scenes?  What are we going to do about it?  Maybe we could write them a letter and tell them to stop?

Dear Nicolae, Brody, and Jay Z:

Please stop all of your Illuminati shenanigans.  Thanks!

Sincerely,

Jay

P.S. Before you stop, could you do something about getting the Falcons in the Super Bowl this year?

Christians have a better option than obsessing over what might be happening.  While he was living as a refugee under several different corrupt kings, I’m sure that Daniel had plenty of opportunities to speculate.  Instead, after seeing the terrifying visions that God had given him, Daniel, “went about the king’s business” (Daniel 8:27).  And this king was one who would soon die as a failure.  How much more should we be about the business of our King who is risen and victorious?

There is no doubt that there are corrupt and conspiratorial powers at play in our world.  But it would serve us well to remember that the world is not run by a small group of men in a basement somewhere in The Netherlands, even if that sort of thing really does exist.  Instead, as Sam Storms points out, Jesus Christ is the architect, builder and goal towards which all creation is moving.  He is the one, not shadowy government types, that is sovereign over all things and holding all things together.  As for the man or group that stands opposed to his reign, no matter how powerful they may be, their “dominion shall be taken away to be consumed and destroyed to the end” (Daniel 7:26).

Now, if you’ll please excuse me, there’s a dude in a black suite that keeps knocking on my door.

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  Colossians 1:16-17 (ESV)

The Church That Starts With An S

When the two ladies came in the door with a table full of needles, I knew it was time for me to leave.

I had only been in the hospital room for a few minutes, visiting a church member, when they came in.  I’m not a big fan of hospitals and I’m an even smaller fan of shots so I quickly blurted out something that I thought sounded pastoral and would also get me out of the situation.

“Well, I guess I better let these ladies do their job.  Is it okay if I pray with you before I leave?”

The man I was visiting responded in the affirmative.

To my surprise, so did the two nurses with the arsenal of needles.

“Hey!  Can we pray too?”

Seconds later, the three of us were standing in a semi-circle praying over a sick man from my church.  I wasn’t ready for what happened after I finished praying.

“Oh, that was so good.  I just love a good prayer.  There’s just something about taking our needs to Jesus.”

“Well, lookey there.  I’ve got chill bumps.”

“How about that.  Me too.”

I thought I would be in my truck by now but instead I found myself watching two nurses comparing chill bumps.

To break up the awkwardness I decided to blurt out something else pastoral.  I’m not sure where the word blurt comes from, but whenever I do it, strange things happen.

“Where do y’all go to church?”

The first nurse looked at me like I just asked her to find the square root of the letter G.

“Uh…”

The room grew silent, except for the chirping of crickets.

“Uh, let’s see.  It starts with an S.”

Tumbleweed blew through.

“There’s actually two of them that I go to.  What’s the name of that church?”

While she continued trying to figure out the name of her church that starts with an S, the second lady told me about how she met her husband of 25 years at her church and how it has played a significant role in her life.

The first nurse had now resorted to Google Maps.

“Let’s see, if you go down 19 and 41 and take a right.  No, a left…”

More chirping crickets and tumbleweed.

This really bothered me.  It bothered me because I think a lot of people, particularly in the southeastern United States, can relate to the first nurse.

They claim to love Jesus.

They pray.

Sometimes they even get emotional when they pray to Jesus.

And of course they go to church.  When they can.  Their church starts with an S.  Or something like that.

In 1 John 4:11 we are told, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”  John wrote this to a community, or communities, of believers so he wasn’t telling us to simply love the idea of love.  He was telling us to love one another.  This is impossible to do apart from commitment and community.  John will go on to write that a failure to love one another is a failure to love God, regardless of what religious tactics we may use to convince ourselves otherwise (1 John 4:12-21).

Joining a local church never saved anyone.  Salvation is only by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).  There will be plenty of people whose names are on church rolls who will be told by Jesus, “Depart from me.  I never knew you.”  But although belonging to a church is no real indicator of belonging to Jesus, failure to commit to a local church body can be a good indicator of failure to commit to Jesus.  This should frighten those of us who live and work with people who have drank the Kool-Aid of loving Jesus while at the same time ignoring, or perhaps even hating, the very body for which he died.

When it was time for me to leave, that first nurse still didn’t know where she went to church.

I’m sure that the church that starts with an S doesn’t know her.

And sadly, the more I think about it, Jesus probably doesn’t either.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’  Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV)

 

Repeat After Me

At least once a day I tell my three-year-old son the same thing.

“It’s your turn to pray.”

And every time, he responds the same way.

“Dad, you can help me?”

And so I do.

“Dear God.”

“Dear God.”

“Thank you for this food.”

“Thank you for food.”

“Thank you for Jesus dying on the cross.”

“Thank you for Jesus cross.”

“In Jesus name.”

“In Jesus name.”

“Amen.”

“Amen!”

Sometimes I get tempted to wonder why he still needs my help.  Have I messed up somewhere in a way that is keeping him from praying on his own?  What am I doing wrong?

And then I remember just how right these repeat after me prayers really are and how their impact will likely be felt far beyond our kitchen table or living room.

Whenever I think back on my mom’s life, I think about all the times that I had to see her cry.

I think about the time when I heard her crying on the phone, pleading with some creditor who she couldn’t afford to pay.

I think about the time I stood out in the hallway while doctors came into her hospital room to remove some kind of tube from her chest.  I still don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone scream like that before.

And I think about the times towards the end of her life when she withered away in her bed.  Those were the times that I always joined her in crying.

But with each tear there was a lesson.  My mom, in spite of her great suffering, was a joyful woman.  Although I seem to remember the tears more often, I think she smiled twice as much as she cried.  Sometimes she did both at the same time.

I think a lot about the times when my mom cried but I do not remember her as a sad woman.  I remember her as a very happy woman that kept her eyes on Jesus through some great trials.   I don’t think either of us knew it at the time but she was leading me in her own repeat after me prayer.

I’m thankful for a mother that lived a repeat after me life.

I’m thankful for a son that looks at me every day and asks, “Dad, you can help me?”

And I’m grateful for the challenge of living my life in a way that he can repeat after me, even after we both say, “Amen.”

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.  1 Corinthians 11:1 (ESV)

Just a Few Questions

These are just a few questions that I have.  If you could help me out with the answers it will likely stop my hair from graying, help me put on 10 pounds of muscle and add three or four years to my life expectancy.  No pressure.

First, when is the appropriate time to quit calling your grandparents by the nicknames you gave them as a child?

8-year-old kid: “When I get home from school my Bo Bop and Wookie are picking me up and taking me fishing.”

This is perfectly acceptable.

32-year-old man: “Honey, I’ll be home late tonight.  I’ve gotta drop by Bo Bop and Wookie’s after work.”

Unless Bo Bop and Wookie’s is the name of a chicken wing restaurant something just doesn’t sound right here.  But again, I’m just asking questions.

Here’s another one.

What’s the proper way to respond to a Facebook status like this one?

Lucille McNullty Schramm So thankful to be celebrating my one year anniversary with Hoyt Schramm.  It’s been one tough year for the two of us and even though everyone we know told us not to get married we made it baby.  I’m so sorry I put that restraining order out on you.  I can’t wait until July of 2014 when I get to see you again.  I love you so much baby!  SMH!!!!!!!

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m glad that Lucille and Hoyt have defied the odds and that their marriage has survived for at least a year but is it appropriate for me to hit the like button on this one?  When will Mr. Zuckerberg finally install that I Like Portions of This Status But Much of It Greatly Concerns Me Button?

Just one more for now.

In the cinematic masterpiece Red Dawn, what was up with the communist army that was invading the United States?

In the first two minutes of the movie we learn that the school where Charlie Sheen plays football can’t manage to pave the parking lot or put together a decent football team or stadium.  And yet, all the communist nations in the world decide to merge their powers to rain down their collective wrath on this single A school with a below average football program and a cow pasture for a parking lot.

What were these guys thinking?

“Vladimir, you are a fool for wanting to attack Washington D.C. and New York City.  I say we drag this thing out and start with Calumet, Colorado.  Their football team won a whole 3 games last year so we’ll want to be careful but I think we can do this.”

Please tell me that we haven’t been following this same strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Is there really any wonder that the Wolverines prevailed in this one?  Ooops.  Sorry for the spoiler.

Bruce Willis was a ghost all along.  Man!  There I go again.  My sincerest apologies.

Well anyway, thanks in advance for the help.

The Girl That Rejected The Lord’s Supper

I’ve spent my whole life in church.

I’ve seen more than my share of bad solos, dances, sermons and glow stick routines.

I got to experience the pure terror of having a guy that looked sort of like an extra from The Walking Dead walk up on the stage in the middle of my sermon and ask if he could speak to the ladies in my church.

I’ve seen the ugliness of people acting like the church belongs to them and the beauty of lives changed by the gospel.

But one of the best things I’ve ever seen happened last Sunday when a girl rejected the Lord’s Supper.

I always begin communion by explaining what it is all about.  I talk about the danger of taking this meal while unrepentantly holding on to sin (1 Corinthians 11:17-34) and I talk about how communion is a celebration for believers only and more like a wedding reception than a meal after a funeral.

Everyone is always real quiet during my explaining.  They always sit respectfully still, waiting to take the bread and juice.  Until last Sunday.  While the cups were being passed out, a girl stood up and walked towards me.  This never happens.  In one hand she was holding her full cup and in the other she had the tiny piece of bread.  At some point, she decided that she would rather deal with the awkward stares from others than simply go through the motions of another communion.  She was saved but she was struggling.  She had resolved that prayer and confession was better than playing a part.  She was acting an awful lot like the woman who washed Jesus’ feet, disregarding what the religious people around her might think (Luke 7:36-50).

Later, this girl would partake in the Lord’s Supper and it would remind me of the gospel’s power. The worst sinner is welcome to stay at the Lord’s table but the sin is not.  Only Jesus can take care of both the welcoming and the cleansing.

All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
(Matthew 11:27-30 ESV)

 

Thunder and Lightning

The thunder was still just a gentle rumble but it served it’s purpose in warning us that a storm was on the way.  As I walked through the house unplugging the TV and computer I thought about the family in our community that had a barn burn down just the day before because of a lightning strike.  The storm had yet to register with my boys who were busy building towers and robots out of Legos.

We left our house early because I knew that the storm would make for a slow drive to pick up my wife.  As my youngest son was getting in his car seat the gentle rumble of thunder quickly turned into a violent boom.  My oldest son had a look of surprise on his face but my youngest son was crying.  Loud crying.  He would spend most of our drive with his hands over both ears.

When lightning flashes across the sky, adults think about what could happen.  We bring kids inside because we know that each bolt is more than enough to kill and we unplug electronics because we’ve seen what a power surge can do to a TV or computer.

When most kids see lightning, they think it’s cool.

The thunder that follows is a different story.  Adults rarely give it a second thought but it’s enough to send a small child running for cover.

Kids are afraid of thunder.  Adults are afraid of lightning.

We know that we are maturing in our walk with Christ when we get our fears in order.  We are prone to fear other humans because of what they might think or do to us or we are consumed with a fear of death, disease, loneliness or some other thing that could happen.  But ultimately, these are all thunder.  Sure, they make a lot of loud noise and are very scary but, in Christ, there’s nothing of eternal consequence they can do to us (Romans 8:31-39).

Jesus was really good at pointing our attention to the lightning, the thing that we should really fear.

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.  (Matthew 10:28 ESV)

Christians need not fear God because he might throw them into hell.  The true Christian’s eternal inheritance is forever secure (1 Peter 1:3-5).  There is also no need for us to fear God’s wrath or condemnation (Romans 8:1) because through faith and repentance, Christ took that on himself on our behalf (Romans 5:6-11).

Instead, our fear is a reverential awe before the holy and sovereign creator of the universe, the One who had every right to leave us as enemies but instead, “chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4).

We live in a frightening world.  It’s hard to go a day without hearing scary words like divorce, cancer and goodbye.  But the gospel reminds us that as painful as these things are, they are still just thunder with no power over us.  The funny thing is that the lightning, the really scary stuff, is actually working at full power on our behalf (John 10:28-30).

While my son sat in the back seat crying, I was in the front seat, driving the car past flashes of lightning and telling him that everything was going to be okay.  And it was.

Sometimes the scariest place in the world is also the safest.