Archive for April, 2020

If you want to see something that is truly a dichotomy, look at my Facebook feed. Being an artist and a minister will do that. The thing is I really care about all of these people, but at times it feels like I’m being drawn and quartered, but most of the time, it just feels like something I grew quite used to in my teenage years. I don’t really fit in anywhere. On one hand I see the liberal Christians I know, lauding our churches being shut down due to COVID as a badge of honor and those who want to open as if they are committing an act of violence. All I can say is I miss my people. I’m doing online services and trying my best to minister, but my most at risk people from COVID are the ones I can do the least for. I can’t visit, and the best I can deliver for them is a phone call and, as a worship experience, cobbling my sermon notes together into a letter they can read. That breaks my heart.

Then on the other side, the more conservative folks are posting things. like this quote from Steven Lawson which stated “Stop with the secular wisdom from the pulpit. Cancel the entertainment in the church. Fire the drama team. Get rid of the schtick. Unplug the colored lights. Put the pulpit in the center of the building. Stand up like a man, open the Bible, lift it up, let it out and let it fly.” Now two things, first of all I’ve never heard Mr. Lawson, and I know nothing about him. Secondly, I agree with some of what he said here, but when he speaks to firing the drama team, I just want to cringe. Now before we go any further, when it comes to God’s Word, I am pretty conservative. I believe the Bible is inerrant and that unless otherwise noted, the Bible says what it means and means what it says. Mr. Lawson’s approach will work just fine in a room full of established believers. The problem is a church should not necessarily ever be full of established believers. We should be constantly reaching beyond the walls and people need to be met where they are. Further, one day I will stand before God to give an account. What will I say when God asks me why He gave me a whole bunch of talented people that could have been used mightily to reach those people?

Now to be clear, I will never hold a church service where God’s Word is not preached, ever, but part of my responsibility is to find the gifted and help them to use their gifts to serve the Lord. After all, I am a walking illustration of how that works. I was dwelling on these thoughts as I was walking this morning and I started to pray. I was taken to an unusual place, to my favorite band from my teenage years, long before I was a believer. The band is Rush. I loved that band. When it seemed everyone else was trying to feed me a diet of sex, drugs and rock and roll, Rush was giving me classic literature, complex stories, Greek mythology and more. The song I was led to was their epic, full side of an album song Hemispheres. The opening lyrics say, “When our weary world was young, The struggle of the ancients first began.The gods of Love and Reason, Sought alone to rule the fate of Man.” Yes it’s mythology. Yes, I only believe in one God and yet, this is the battle—science vs. faith, heart vs. mind. What people tend to ignore is we are all led by both. The object of my faith is the Creator of science, and I am commanded to love Him with all my heart, soul and mind. He is the Lord of both heart and mind. He is Creator. He is the greatest theologian and the greatest artist. To love Him is to love all of Him. He is Lord of heart and soul and mind. Why should I put Him in a box?

Maybe that’s why I was drawn to the song this morning. Now it’s not a Christian song by any stretch of the imagination. What it is, is an amazing work of art. The song expresses the battle between heart and mind. It shows how when one is emphasized over the other, both sides are weakened. In the song, there is a person in the midst of this battle who sees something better— balance. Heart and mind together, and the gods of Olympus promote him to being Cygnus, the god of balance. Now I know I titled this piece Am I Cygnus? Let me first off state, that I have no desire to be a god, nor do I have any illusions toward that, but what if God has given me the gifts and talents and, dare I say, passions He has given to, in some small way, bring balance? And what if I’m not alone. What if there are a lot of us out here, who don’t always fit, but who have a calling to minister from both heart and mind? What if we refuse to be either/or, but to proclaim the truth of the unchanging Gospel with all of our gifts and talents? What if that’s why we don’t fit?

Lately, I’ve been having some trouble sleeping. It’s not surprising given all that’s going on. The dialog going on in my head is the problem. I try to pray but the combination of fatigue and distraction make it difficult to concentrate. I think about all that is going on in the world and all that I am hearing from so many quarters, from the uninformed to the informed that I doubt are telling me the truth. I think of the death toll. It’s small compared to even things like the flu and so I wonder why the lockdown? At the same time, I realize that any loss of life is hard and affects many. I start to wonder if I’ll ever just be able to take my wife to dinner, sitting in a restaurant again, and how in the midst of social distancing if we’ll ever be allowed to worship together. I know it’s only been about a month and a half, but on the other hand it’s been a month and a half. There was a big protest at our capitol here in Pennsylvania. The usual suspects are condemning them, but a little voice in my head wonders if they’re right. I hear business moguls talking about prevention methods that sound more like Nazi Germany or number of the beast than the America I know and want to live in. I wonder who, if anyone is behind this mess and what should be done to them if they’re found out. I think of friends and family in business who will have a very hard time weathering this storm. What can I say? Right now inside my head can be a very scary place, especially in the middle of the night. Add to that the condemning voice that wonders what kind of man of God would be wrestling with this, and you might understand the insomnia.

But it’s about this time that they prayers break through, and I hear other words. “David, David,” (think Martha, Martha, if you’re familiar) “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.” It’s the story of an overwrought hostess, who is trying to get all her ducks in a row when she notices her sister and main helper, Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus, hanging on His every word and Martha is irate, so irate that she goes to yell at the guest of honor. The above phrase was His response to her and, I think, to me. See the bottom line is most of the thoughts above are none of my business. If there is a conspiracy, the conspirators have already been caught by the ultimate righteous judge. He has all of this under control and none of it is my job.

What is my job is the one thing, the thing that Mary chose. Sitting at the feet of Jesus. See what our world needs right now is Jesus. Not conspiracy theories, not panicking preachers calling everything out. No the world needs what (who) it has always needed. We need Jesus and in this time of separation, we need people who are creative and who know the technology, doing what it takes to share His love. In short this is my one thing. In a sea of things over which I am powerless, this is the thing that I can do, so this is what I must do.

After this, I slept.

This is is how I have been delivering services the last few weeks. While I am really looking forward to getting back to preaching before my congregation, I have to admit, I am pleased to be learning some new methods of delivering worship and am considering ways to use some of the things I am learning to take the Gospel beyond the walls of the church.

This is classic Lewis. Seven essays all thought provoking and dealing with a lot of issues that are as important as they have ever been: The efficacy of prayer, belief, culture, religion, etc. There was also another appearance of Screwtape. Probably my favorite piece was the piece on Good Work versus Good Works and how our good works must also be good work. Lewis is brilliant. Remember there is Lewis the author of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and there is Lewis the theologian/professor. They are both the same person, but the words are very different. This is, for the most part, the theologian/professor. It is not an easy read, but the brilliance is worth the effort.

Disclosure: The publisher requires me to tell you that they sent me a copy of this book for free, because I am a blogger. I will also say, I only ask for books that I am interested in reading and think might be beneficial in one aspect of my ministry or another. Such is the case with this book.

The Inquisitive Christ is a fantastic book that I thoroughly enjoyed. The book deals with twelve questions that Jesus asked of various people in Scripture. Ms. Murphy mines rich gems from these questions to help modern day readers to really examine their lives in light of Jesus’ teachings. This is a superb book. One example is Jesus asking the man at the pool if he wants to be well. What first seems like a “duh” moment (if it weren’t for the fact that it’s Jesus asking the question) really bears a deeper meaning. We all have things in our lives that we would like to change but when all is said and done, do we have the will to actually make the change and do we really want to change?

Now at times, I have read non fictions books especially ones with a theological emphasis that have been a little “dry.” Such is not the case with this book. Cara L.T. Murphy is a brilliant story teller. When she is retelling a Bible story, she walks the line of fleshing out the story without straying into adding anything that might take it out of the realm of being biblical, and she does this nearly flawlessly. I am hesitant to say that she brings the Bible to life, because I believe that the Bible is alive with no help needed from us. That being said she does make the reader feel as if they are in the room with our Lord while the events are happening. Further she tells related stories from her personal life that really add to the points she is trying to make. Her use of language feels poetic and yet highly relatable. Ms. Murphy ends each chapter with a “Lectio Divina” section that further urges the reader to put themselves in the story. I have done “Lectio Divina” numerous times but never like this. This is the first time I have found it fulfilling. Finally each chapter has a series of study questions adding to the applications the reader can make. This is a five star book. I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to reading more from Ms. Murphy.

I know in this time almost every church is closed on Easter Sunday. I know most of us are doing something online, but if you have need of a Worship service, or you’d just like to experience one more. Here is the one I made for my church.
Jesus is risen! He is Risen Indeed!

How will you express the love of Jesus and His sacrifice, His life death and resurrection to our world in this season? This is one of my favorites. It’s a six foot wooden cross that is covered with stories from the newspapers and magazines about sin and it’s effects. It’s a deliberately uncomfortable image for many. Some may even think I am desecrating the cross. To think that is to miss the point. The cross itself was desecration. Jesus bore every every act of evil and every sin to a hideous instrument of gruesome death. The reason we revere the cross is because Jesus changed the narrative, making an instrument of death into a symbol of life and love and grace. Our sins are what put Him on the cross. The cross as I have created it symbolizes 2 Corinthians 5:21 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

I position the cross on the platform and as a narration of John 19 plays, I do to the cross what was done to Jesus. I “flog” is with red paint representing the beating He took. I place a crown of thorns on it, put a purple robe on it, and finally I throw the robe down and drive nails into it. Then I nail a sign to it, “Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews.” The very last thing is to add some thin purple paint in response to Jesus saying “I thirst,” the final prophecy fulfilled in Jesus’ earthly life. By now the piece is pretty messy. The final words of the narration are “It is finished,” Jesus’ last words before the tomb.

I then begin speaking. You see Jesus Christ did not speak English, as a matter of fact there was no English. So in effect He did not say. “It is finished,” but the Aramaic equivalent, a single word, “tetellestai.” It did in fact mean, “It is finished,” but it has a secondary meaning. I paint this meaning across the crossbar. You see, it also means “Paid In Full.” That is precisely what Jesus did—He paid your sin debt and mine in full. He did what only He could do, and because He did, when we trust Him as Lord and Savior, our debt is paid and we are set free. Eternal life begins, not at the gate of heaven, but in the moment when we come to Him. From that point on, we can live with Him in this world and in the life to come.

Have you trusted in Him? If so, share Him. Tell people about Him and His love. If you have not, why not today? Ask Him to forgive you and ask Him to come into your heart and into your life. He is good. One final thought. The cross is hideous and awful. Why did Jesus do it? Because you and I were in danger of being lost forever, but out of perfect love, He did it for you. Jesus loves you!

My friend Kerry Jackson from Georgia did a Stations of the Cross art exhibition and I was honored to be invited to contribute a piece. Since we are so far apart, I did something digital, an animated video called 39 which I’ve shared before. Well as with virtually everything else in our world these days, COVID caused the exhibition to be cancelled. Well when Kerry told all of us artists that we were cancelled, we all said why not take it virtual. So that’s what he did. The opening of the show was tonight. I wanted to share it with you tonight.

I’ve been leading my church through a study on the book of Esther.
Here is the video I created for chapter 7.

Well yesterday was Palm Sunday and we’re looking at the Songs Jesus Sang from the Hallel, Psalms 113-118. This weeks we landed on Psalm 115 and its amazing how well it fits with what was happening on Palm Sunday. Check it out.