Easter is a Cosmic Battle


Wayne Cordeiro tells the story about a church member named Bully, a gentle man who got his nickname from his days of barking orders at construction sites. After Cordeiro noticed the scars on Bully's hands, he asked him, "Bully, how'd you get so many cuts?" Bully told the following story:


I was working above the bay that our home overlooks. One morning, the tide receded so much that the children ran out to catch fish in the tide pools left behind…But what we didn't know was that the ocean was preparing to unleash the largest tsunami our sleepy little town had ever experienced.


Within minutes, a sixty-foot wave charged our unsuspecting town with a force we'd never seen before. The hungry waters rushed inland…The devastating power of that wave left in its wake twisted buildings, shattered windows, splintered homes, and broken dreams. I ran as fast as I could to our home, where I found my wife sobbing uncontrollably. "Robby is missing," she shouted. "I can't find Robby!"


Robby was our six-month-old child who was asleep in the house when the ocean raged against our helpless village. I was frantic as I looked over the shore strewn with the remains of the frail stick houses that were now piled in heaps along the sands. Realizing that another wave may soon be following, I began running on top of the wooden structures, tearing up pieces of twisted corrugated roofs…I tore up one piece after another running over boards and broken beams until I heard the whimpering of a child under one of the mattresses that had gotten lodged beneath an overturned car.


I reached under and pulled up my little son, Robby. I tucked him under my arm like a football player running for the end zone, then I sprinted back over the debris until I reached my wife. We ran for higher ground, hugging our child and one another, thanking God for his mercy. Just then, my wife said, "Bully, your feet and your hands. You're covered in blood!"


I had been wearing tennis shoes, and I didn't realize that as I ran over the wreckage, I was stepping on protruding nails and screws that had been exposed in the rubble. And as I pulled back the torn corrugated roofing looking for Robby, the sharp edges tore into my hand …. I was so intent on finding my boy that nothing else mattered.


This profound story of a father’s love is an excellent illustration of the cross. The writer of Hebrews describes Jesus at the one who “for the joy set before him…endured the cross, scorning its shame.” He bore sin and pain in order to save us, because nothing else mattered.


This Sunday, as we continue to talk about what Easter means, we’ll remember that Jesus fought a great battle on our behalf.

 Robert Lee

Easter is a Reconciliation

Easter is a Reconciliation


Philip Yancey shares the following story in his book What’s So Amazing About Grace?:


In 1987 an IRA bomb went off in a town west of Belfast. Eleven died; 63 were wounded. Gordon Wilson, a cloth merchant and devout Methodist, was buried with his 20–year–old daughter under five feet of concrete and brick. "Daddy, I love you very much," were Marie's last words, grasping her father's hand.

From his hospital bed, Wilson said, "I've lost my daughter, but I bear no grudge. Bitter talk is not going to bring Marie back. I shall pray every night that God will forgive them."


Once recovered, Wilson crusaded for reconciliation. Protestant extremists who had planned to avenge the bombing decided, because of the publicity surrounding Wilson, that such behavior would be politically foolish. Wilson wrote a book about his daughter and spoke out against violence, constantly repeating, "Love is the bottom line."


He met with the IRA, personally forgave them, and asked them to lay down their arms. "You've lost loved ones, just like me," he told them. "Surely, enough blood has been spilled."


When he died in 1995, all Ireland and Britain honored this ordinary citizen for his uncommon forgiveness.


Stories of reconciliation like this stay with us.  And they can be found wherever long-lasting blood feuds occur.  They are told in Post WWII Germany and in South Africa.  We find them in the American South and in Israel.  There are many such stories in Rwanda. Wherever two groups of people have perpetrated unspeakable atrocities against one another, there are also these remarkable stories of reconciliation.


I think we love them because they are a reflection of supernatural love.  They remind us of grace and mercy.  I believe they are descendants of the greatest act of reconciliation this world has ever seen—one astonishing act of forgiveness that brought about a cosmic reconciliation between the Creator and the cosmos. We’ll talk about it this Sunday.


Robert Lee

EASTER IS ......

Easter is…


The following excerpt comes from Marcello Di Cintio’s book, Walls: Travels Along the Barricades:


Human beings have always been preoccupied with building walls. In the first century, the Roman emperor Hadrian built a 75-mile wall across Roman Britain. In the 1870s, Argentina built a line of trenches and watchtowers called the Zanja de Alsina to protect Buenos Aires from invasion by indigenous peoples. The Berlin Wall went up in 1961, dividing East from West for almost 30 years. In 1975, South Africa built a 3,500-volt electric fence dubbed the Snake of Fire to keep the civil war in Mozambique from spilling over into the frontier. In the middle of the night in August 2006, Italian officials constructed a steel wall around Via Anelli, a run-down neighborhood known for drug trafficking and prostitution.


Walls don't just divide us. They make us ill. After the Berlin Wall went up, East German psychiatrists observed that the Berlin Wall caused mental illness, rage, dejection, and addiction. The closer to the physical wall people lived, the more acute their disorders. The only cure for "Wall Disease" was to bring the Wall down. Sure enough, in 1990, psychiatrists noted the "emotional liberation" felt after November 9, 1989 when the Wall finally fell. Thousands of jubilant Germans climbed the Wall, wept, and embraced each other atop the concrete, and proceeded to tear the Wall down with joyful abandon.


On a recent visit to the Newseum in Washington, DC, I saw an exhibit on the Berlin Wall with full-sized sections of the actual wall.  It was easy to distinguish between the wall’s western and eastern sides.  The western sides were covered with graffiti. The eastern sides were utterly gray. I’m not suggesting that graffiti is ok, but it was clear which side of the wall was full of life and which side of the threatened death from watch tower.


This Sunday we begin a brief series leading up to Easter entitled “Easter is…” It will be a look at some of the different ways to understand what happened at the cross and with the resurrection of Christ. Among these is the good news that the crucifixion (quite literally) brought down a wall that existed between God and humanity.


But that’s just one way to talk about the surprising beauty of the cross.

 Robert Lee


Bill White, a minister, recounts the time he learned what grace looks like from one of his sons.


It was one of those evenings when everything goes wrong. The kids were cranky while I was making dinner, so I gave them some hot chocolate to tide them over. Timothy, who is five, decided to throw his marshmallows at his little sister, knocking her hot chocolate all over her. As she began screaming, the phone rang (and I foolishly answered it) and the doorbell rang (and I foolishly answered it—with the phone on my ear and a screaming kid in the background). I then returned to the kitchen and hollered at Timothy, and promptly had two crying kids.


As dinner began to burn and I deposited my daughter in the bath, I loudly announced that I was so angry I might do anything, so I declared I was putting myself in timeout. I closed the door, none too gently, and tried to get dinner to be the only thing simmering in the kitchen.


Everything changed about ten minutes later when I caught sight of a yellow piece of construction paper sliding under the door. In the unsteady hand of a kindergartener was scrawled a message of grace that pierced my heart and turned me around:


"From Timothy. To Dad. I still love you even when you're angry."


If you’re a lucky parent, you’ll have a moment like this eventually—one where your child is your role model. Parenting isn’t just about teaching our kids, it’s about learning from them. It’s the same at church. Our job is not just to help our young people mature into the image of Christ.  It’s their job to help us do the same. 


Today is Winterfest Sunday—a day where the teens give us a glimpse of what inspired them this year at Winterfest, a youth rally in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Our worship service will be led by teens.  It’s particularly fitting this year, since the theme of the weekend was “Weave”—a call for our teens to be important members of the church.


I already see that in our teens.  The work they do at camp every summer is just one great example.  Today is another.

                                                                                                                      Robert Lee

Saying, "I do."

Saying, “I do.”


This Sunday, we’ll be getting back to basics with a topic that has occupied many a sermon in our fellowship.  We’ll be talking about baptism.  Baptism can be a pretty serious topic, and that’s entirely understandable.  It’s a big deal. But I thought I’d start us off with a few funny stories about baptism that I found on the web.


  • ·        
  • ·        
  • ·         For years, whenever our church held a baptismal service, we had to use a neighboring church's baptistery. So when our church built an addition with a baptismal pool, we were pleased. So was our daughter. While riding in the car with my daughter and her friend, we went past a pond. My daughter's friend proudly spoke up, "I was baptized in that pond." My daughter responded with no less pride: "Oh, I was baptized in a jacuzzi at our church." –Patricia Edwards, Foster, RI
  • ·        


Today, I hope to get back to basics on this basic of the faith.  We can make this a very controversial discussion, or we can decide to look at the big picture.  That’s what I hope to do.  I hope, if you haven’t been baptized, you’ll think about what it might mean for you.


A Clear Blue Sky


The following excerpt is from an article at preachingtoday.com.


In April 2013 an article in the USA Today Moneysection reported that Apple's stock has been struggling. According to the article, "The Apple stock crash is reaching a historic order of magnitude, shaking the faith of investors who piled on in large part on Jobs' showmanship." Shares are down 44 percent and the crash has obliterated $291.2 billion in shareholder wealth.


What has precipitated Apple's stock crash? The causes may be complex, but the article focused on one primary factor—the death of co-founder Steve Jobs on October 5, 2011. Apple isn't the only company that has struggled in the absence of a successful CEO. Research has shown "the fact that a sick or dying CEO is generally a big problem right away for stocks." The article noted that when a CEO leaves a company the "short-term shock" turns into "long-term disappointment."


In contrast, the last time Apple was in serious trouble Jobs was there to move the company forward with fresh energy and vision. But without Jobs, as one prominent stock analyst contends, Apple is "becoming just another stock" and that "the phenomenon [of Apple] is unwinding."


I’ll believe it when I see it.  As far as I can tell, the cult of Apple is still strong.  But the article does bring up an interesting point—that of succession.  What do you do when the charismatic leader of any movement is suddenly, or even not so suddenly, gone?  I can think of two major evangelical figures whose sons will soon struggle to fill their impressive shoes.


But it seems that nothing can compare to the sense of bewilderment the disciples must have felt as they watched Jesus return to the Father, leaving nothing more than the instruction to return to Jerusalem and “wait.”  How will they carry on?  Who are they now that Jesus isn’t with them?


Our familiarity with the story of the ascension of Christ keeps us from understanding what a completely unexpected move it is. Who would imagine that Jesus would leave so soon after the resurrection? And what does that mean for us?  I think it means something very basic.  We’ll talk about it this Sunday.


Plan of Escape


In April 2012 Time magazine ran a cover story titled "Heaven Can't Wait: Why rethinking the hereafter could make the world a better place." In the next issue, Time printed a letter to the editor from Marc Herbert from Walnut Creek, California, who wrote:


Your story [about heaven] says that 85 percent of Americans believe in heaven. That's incredible. They think of heaven as quiet and peaceful, with no need to do anything. [That] sounds pretty dull to me. What do you do with all of that free time? And it goes on forever and ever!


A recent article in Wired magazine makes the same argument.  The author points to how boring our media representations of heaven are:


Try thinking of a really good movie that doesn't play the afterlife for laughs. There isn't one …. The only cinematic visions of the afterlife that are worth [anything]are the ones that depict damnation. As long as your hero goes to hell, the audience stays engaged. Move the story upstairs, though, and God help you.


Hell has proven useful to filmmakers looking for spectacle or a great villain. But heaven, which would seem like a great source of the kind of happy ending Hollywood loves, simply lacks drama. (There's a reason the words "And they lived happily ever after" appear right after the credits—happily ever after is boring.)


For the most point I think the authors have a point.  [One exception is Terrence Malick’s movie Tree of Life.  The glimpse of heaven, where a family is reconciled to each other makes me cry every time.] Still, it’s true.  Heaven usually looks boring.


And that’s a shame.  Because it’s the best new there is.  It’s what makes Christianity the Gospel, the Good News.  I can’t talk about the basics of faith without talking about the resurrection of Christ and what it means for us.  Because it is the first step down a road that ends for us in all things being redeemed by God the Father.

victory in the jaws of defeat

In a great Blog entry from 2009, Kevin DeYoung demonstrates our tendency to remake Jesus in our own image with a list of the different kinds of Jesus’ you can run into. Here’s a sampling of them:


  • ·         There's the Republican Jesus—who is against tax increases and activist judges, for family values and owning firearms.
  • ·         There's Democrat Jesus—who is against Wall Street and Wal-Mart, for reducing our carbon footprint and printing money.
  • ·         There's Starbucks Jesus—who drinks fair trade coffee, loves spiritual conversations, drives a hybrid, and goes to film festivals.
  • ·         There's Open-minded Jesus—who loves everyone all the time no matter what (except for people who are not as open-minded as you).
  • ·         There's Touchdown Jesus—who helps athletes fun faster and jump higher than non-Christians and determines the outcomes of Super Bowls.
  • ·         There's Hippie Jesus—who teaches everyone to give peace a chance, imagines a world without religion, and helps us remember that "all you need is love."
  • ·         There's Yuppie Jesus—who encourages us to reach our full potential, reach for the stars, and buy a boat.
  • ·         There's Platitude Jesus—good for Christmas specials, greeting cards, and bad sermons, inspiring people to believe in themselves.
  • ·         There's Boyfriend Jesus—who wraps his arms around us as we sing about his intoxicating love.


I’m certainly guilty of editing out the parts of Jesus that make me uncomfortable and overemphasizing those characteristics that reinforce my view of the world.  This Sunday, we’re going to see that people even did this to Jesus while he was still alive.  They wanted a Jesus who would save them from the Romans and take the crown of Herod for himself, by any means necessary.


The cross of Christ, is an emphatic response to them and to us.


Lost and Found


In 1970, while Bob Russell was a graduate student at Temple University in Philadelphia, his 1967 Austin Healey sports car was stolen. Over the years, Russell kept the original title to the car and the keys, and he memorized the vehicle identification number.


During a sleepless night on May 11, 2012, Russell got out of bed and began surfing the internet. While browsing eBay, he saw his old car for sale. After contacting the seller, getting a copy of the old police report through the National Crime Information Center, securing the assistance of the Philadelphia Police Department, and haggling with the seller over the buy-back price, Bob Russell and his wife Cynthia (who had gone on their first dates together in that car over forty years earlier), flew to California and took back ownership of the car on June 18, 2012.


Though the VIN plate had been removed, and the glove box lock had been broken, and the lock to the trunk was missing, he was delighted to get his car back. Russell commented, "When it was stolen it was pristine; now it's going to need a lot of work. On the other hand, it's been more than 40 years. It's very gratifying to get it back."


This man went to great lengths to retrieve a car.  He just couldn’t give up on it.  He lost sleep over it.  It mattered so much to him, even after forty years, he wasn’t able to forget about it.  And then when he thought he had found it, he traveled all the way across the country to retrieve it.


As we continue our series on the basics of the faith this Sunday, we’ll come to the heart of the Gospel.  The story of Jesus is a recovery mission that looks like this man’s quest to retrieve his car look like a trip to the local 7-eleven.


The Gospel is the story of God sending his own across space and time to become one of us in order to recover us, his lost creation. The reason he goes to such great lengths, however, is the same.  A man recovers his car because loves it. God recovers us because he loves us.



The Lord is my…


Larry Libby tells the following story in his book No Matter What, No Matter Where:


Bob, my father-in-law, hunts deer every fall in the mountains of north-central California. A number of farmers and ranchers in the area are willing to let individuals or small groups hunt on their property—if the hunters ask permission and show respect for the land.


Last year [my father-in-law] approached a rancher and asked him if he might drive through a certain gate and do some hunting in the evening. When shadows lengthen and the October sun slips low in the west, deer begin to venture forth from their hiding places to graze.


The rancher gave Bob a thoughtful look and said, "Yeah, you can come on the land. But you’d better let me ride with you in the truck for awhile. Want to show you some things."

Now, I can imagine most men thinking, Oh, come on! Show me some things? I’m a big boy, and I don’t need a chaperone!


Bob, however, being the man he is, cheerfully assented, and the pair drove through the gate onto the ranch. They had been skimming across a wide, seemingly featureless field when the rancher suddenly said, "You’d better start slowing down."


Bob pulled his foot off the accelerator. But why stop? As far as he could see, there were no creeks, gullies, or fences. Just a wide pasture stretching out to the dusky foothills.


"Okay," said the rancher. "You’d better park right here. Want to show you something."

Bob did as he was told. They got out of the truck in the cool, mountain air and began walking. Then the rancher put his hand on Bob’s shoulder and said, "Look up ahead." My father-in-law walked slowly forward and then stopped dead in his tracks. Cleaving at right angles across their path—and across the pasture as far as he could see in both directions—was a yawning, black tear in the surface of the earth. Where they stood, the crack was probably 30 feet across. Peering over the edge, the hair on Bob’s neck bristled.

Where was the bottom?


The sheer, rock-ribbed sides of the great volcanic fissure plunged to unknown depths. Cold, still air seemed to exhale from the blackness below....Walking back to the truck, Bob marveled at how difficult it was to see the fissure from just yards away....Bob smiled to himself. Having a guide wasn’t such a bad thing! He gained a new appreciation for a man who knew the terrain—and where to park the truck.


This Sunday we’re going to look at how the most famous Psalm there is describes God as our guide.  It’s a great place to start when we’re talking who He is.


BROKEN BAD - Robert Lee

Broken Bad


Well.  It had to happen.  As the network itself said, “All Bad things must come to an end.”  Millions of Americans tuned in last Sunday to watch the final episode of Breaking Bad—a show that, over its five seasons, traced one man’s fall from middle-class chemistry teacher to murderous drug lord.  I watched the final episode on Sunday. Twice.  The show’s creator and writers had done such a wonderful job of realistically portraying Walter White’s corruption. I had to see the endgame.  Numerous critics have already dubbed it the “best show ever.”


Here’s where I need to restate my disclaimer.  It’s not for everyone.  A lot of people have made the understandable and wise decision not to watch Breaking Bad, because it is tragic and gritty and horrifying.  That’s completely commendable.  Watching Breaking Bad is a lot like reading the book of Judges in the Bible.  You know that nasty underbelly of humanity exists, but you don’t really want to look at it.


Here’s my other disclaimer.  I won’t ruin it for you.  I don’t know how you made it through last week without finding out how it all ends, but if you did, you’re not going to hear it from me.


But I do want to bring your attention to one scene in the series finale. Walter has come out of hiding from the Feds in order to see his wife and children. He’s standing there in the room with his wife, Skyler, a woman whose life he has ruined.  And after all of the deception and abuse and threats, Walter finally comes clean.


Skyler says through clenched teeth, “If I have to hear one more time that you did this for the family —” And Walter stops her and finally speaks the truth. “I did it for me,” he admits. “I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really...I was alive.” And with that, any pretense of a “drug dealer with a heart of gold” is forever gone.


This Sunday, as we go Back to Basics, we need to talk about the elephant in the room—sin. One of the basic truths of the Bible is that we “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” We all have the capacity to break bad.  We aren’t hopeless, but that potential is there for all of us.  Strangely enough, the best place to start is by admitting that.


In His Image


I believe in God the Father, almighty maker of Heaven and maker of Earth…

--The Apostles’ Creed


The following is an excerpt from Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy


While I was teaching in South Africa some time ago, a young man … took me out to see the beaches near his home in Port Elizabeth. I was totally unprepared for the experience. I had seen beaches, or so I thought. But when we came over the rise where the sea and land opened up to us, I stood in stunned silence and then slowly walked toward the waves. Words cannot capture the view that confronted me ….


[I realized] that God sees this all the time. He sees it, experiences it, knows it from every possible point of view, this and billions of other scenes like and unlike it, in this and billions of other worlds. Great tidal waves of joy must constantly wash through his being ….


We pay a lot of money to get a tank with a few tropical fish in it and never tire of looking at their [beauty] and marvelous forms and movements. But God has seas full of them, which he constantly enjoys …. We are enraptured by a well-done movie sequence or by a few bars from an opera or lines from a poem. We treasure our great experiences for a lifetime, and we may have very few of them. But he is simply one great inexhaustible and eternal experience of all that is good and true and beautiful and right ….


I think he’s right about this.  I think the words of Genesis, the very first book of the Bible support what he’s saying.  Just read through Genesis one and see how many times God declares creation to be “good.” I grew up thinking about God as this stern old (white) man going about creation in a very business-like manner.  Now I think it must have been a much more joyful spectacle.


As we get back to basics this Sunday, we start where every story should start: “In the Beginning.”


Home Away From Home


“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:1-2)


Preacher Lee Eclov recounts a sermon he heard from Pastor Bob Russell of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville Kentucky…


The funeral for Russell's father was held on a cold, blustery day in Pennsylvania. The roads were too bad for cars to go to the cemetery after the service, so the funeral director told Bob he would take the body to the grave. Bob couldn't bear the thought of no one being there for his father’s burial, so he, his brother, and their sons piled into a four-wheel-drive SUV and followed the hearse to the cemetery.


In his own words, Russell says: “We plowed through ten inches of snow into the cemetery, got about 50 yards from my dad's grave—with the wind blowing about 25 miles per hour—and the six of us lugged that casket down to the gravesite. We watched the body lowered into the grave, and we turned to leave. I felt something was undone, so I said, 'I'd like for us to have a prayer.' The six of us huddled together, and I prayed, 'Lord, this is such a cold, lonely place.' And then I got too choked up to pray any more. I kept battling to get my composure, and finally I just whispered, 'But I thank you, for we know to be absent from the body is to be safe in your warm arms.'"


This Sunday I get to proclaim the Good News.  I try to do that every week, with varying success.  But this week I get to proclaim the simple bedrock truth of the Gospel according to Jesus of Nazareth.


Just as Bob Russell was able to look past the loss of his father and the dark days without him, Jesus looks past the dark days ahead of him to the promise of a greater hope.  I look forward to reminding you of that hope this week.




Max Lucado tells the story of being dropped by his insurance company because he had one too many speeding tickets and a minor fender bender that wasn't his fault. One day he received a letter in the mail, informing him to seek coverage elsewhere. As he reflected on how he wasn't good enough for his insurance company, the spiritual tie-in was too obvious. "Many people fear receiving such a letter [from God]," Lucado writes. "Some worry they already have."


Lucado then imagines this correspondence, straight from the Pearly Gates Underwriting Division:


Dear Mrs. Smith,


I'm writing in response to this morning's request for forgiveness. I'm sorry to inform you that you have reached your quota of sins. Our records show that, since employing our services, you have erred seven times in the area of greed, and your prayer life is substandard when compared to others of like age and circumstance.


Further review reveals that your understanding of doctrine is in the lower 20 percentile and you have excessive tendencies to gossip. Because of your sins you are a high-risk candidate for heaven. You understand that grace has its limits. Jesus sends his regrets and kindest regards and hopes that you will find some other form of coverage.


I’ve been dropped by an insurance company, too. It’s a helpless feeling to receive a letter in the mail, kicked out by some computer somewhere that has been programmed to sound the alarm as soon as my insurability has dropped below acceptable standards.


It doesn’t lead to a very trusting relationship with an insurance company.  But then, that’s expecting a little too much from an insurance company.  Despite all the commercials about being “in good hands” or a company being “on your side,” our relationship with our insurers is not based on trust, it’s based on numbers.


Unfortunately we often feel the same way about our relationship with God, thus the imagined letter from Lucado.  This Sunday’s message proclaims the good news that Jesus can be trusted.  And since he can be trusted, we can let him see us as we are.




The end is nigh for two of my favorite TV shows—arguably two of the best shows ever.  The final eight episodes of Breaking Bad are set to begin airing in August.  And Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner has said that show’s next season, its seventh, will be its last.  Before I go any further, let me make my obligatory disclaimer.  Neither show is remotely suitable for kids. (File that under painfully obvious.) Also, I understand entirely when people tell me they just can’t watch either of them.  Both shows are long on sin and short on redemption.  I can’t argue with anyone who decides just to stay away from them.


I would, however, take issue with anyone who says these shows encourage bad behavior. I can’t see how anyone watching Breaking Bad or Mad Men would want to emulate the two main characters. If you think these two guys are role models, I don’t think you’re watching very closely. 


Breaking Bad is the story of Walter White.  In the first episode Walter is diagnosed with lung cancer.  His doctor informs him he doesn’t have long to live and he should begin setting his affairs in order.  Unfortunately there’s not much to do.  Walter is a high school chemistry teacher, which means he’s going to leave his family with nothing.  In desperation he turns to cooking meth with a former student in hopes of making a quick haul for his family.  But in the process White loses himself.  As the series draws to a conclusion, he’s become a power-hungry monster.  It’s extremely difficult to feel any sympathy for him now.


Mad Men is mostly the story of Donald Draper, an ad executive in New York during the 1960’s.  Don has trouble navigating the seismic cultural changes taking place around him.  But that’s because he has a very limited set of coping skills—namely alcoholism and chronic marital infidelity.  But none of his exploits is very enticing.  What lies beneath his beautiful exterior is a mess.  Don leaves damaged lives in his wake, most notably the life of his oldest daughter, Sally.


All of that to say neither of these men is a hero.  I’ve been thinking about it, and they both remind me of the book of Judges in the Bible.  The book of Judges is about a particularly dark time in Israel’s history.  The most common refrain by the author is, “In that time, there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”  That’s a pretty good description of Walter White and Donald Draper.


The Bible is clear that the only true hero is God.  And, in Jesus, we find that God’s heroics look nothing like what we would expect.  We’ll especially see that as we read from John 12 together this Sunday.


I Love the Bible


Rachel and I are at our beloved Camp Idlewild this weekend, enjoying (hopefully) the Spring Campout for Cub Scouts Pack 259 of Chesapeake, Va.  That means you’re lucky enough to hear Chris Langley, our youth minister.  One thing that I really respect Chris for is his passion for ministry, that always comes through in his preaching.


That means I’m not tied to a topic for this article.  So I thought I’d do what I did last time and give you a sample from one of my favorite blogs.  The following excerpt is from a blog entry entitled “I Love the Bible” from blogger and author and speaker Rachel Held Evans (all the bold type is original to the article):


It is said that after Jacob wrestled with God, he walked with a limp. So it has been with the Bible and me. I have wrestled with the Bible, and it has left me with a limp.


But I am glad. I am glad because this limp has slowed me down a bit. It has humbled me. It has forced me to stop running so fast and sure down the path of certainty that I forget to listen, to pay attention, to ask questions, to build altars, to wait.


I have wrestled, and I love the Bible more now than I have ever loved it before. I love it more than when I demanded that it answer all of my questions, more than when I forced it to fit my cultural categories, more than when I tried so desperately to make it all resolve, more than when I pretended like it never bothered me…


I have wrestled with the Bible, and, try as I may. I cannot make it in my own image.  I cannot cram it into an adjective, or force it into a blueprint, or fashion it into a weapon to be used against my political and theological enemies. It simply will not be tamed…


We argued theology. God told stories….


And when those stories weren’t enough, when the words themselves would not suffice, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, laughed among us, wept among us, ate among us, told more stories among us, suffered among us, died among us, and rose among us. The Word entered our story and invited us into His…


I love the Bible, but I love it best when I love it for what it is, not what I want it to be…when I live in the tension and walk with the limp…


I’ll be thinking of you as you worship together on Sunday.  See you next week.



Talking in Circles


Following is a portion of a Reuters article from last year about one option German citizens have for dealing with conflict:


Two German entrepreneurs have devised a way for passive-aggressive citizens to blow off some steam - dial a telephone number and give the person on the other end a verbal lashing.


The swearing hotline, known as "Schimpf-los" ("swear away") in German, has operators standing by seven days a week for frustrated individuals to jeer at and taunt using the most unsavory language they can muster.


"We don't judge people who are angry," said Ralf Schulte, who set up the hotline with his fellow media services provider Alexander Brandenburger.


"It happens. It's natural. With us you can blow off steam no strings attached," 41-year-old Schulte told Reuters.


When callers are not creative in their cursing, or find themselves tongue-tied, operators on the hotline prod them with cheeky provocations like: "That's the third time I've heard that today - is that all you've got?"


The service costs 1.49 euros per minute - a figure Schulte feels is completely justified. "For getting everything off your chest, it's a bargain."


It’s such a challenge for us humans to deal with conflict in a constructive way.  In some instances, we even allow conflict to serve as a smoke screen for what’s really happening.  It’s easier to argue something else than to talk about what’s really going on.


In this Sunday’s lesson, we’re going to meet a woman who would rather argue theology with Jesus than talk about what’s really going on.  This is a bit like insistently arguing with your doctor about sports instead of talking to him about your blood pressure.  Thankfully, Jesus heads her off at the pass and brings the discussion back to real life.


I suppose he would like to do the same for me from time to time…


                                                                                                      Robert Lee


Vintage Jesus


The following story is from Matt Woodley, editor of preachingtoday.com


On August 31, 2002, Phil Brabbs, a placekicker with the University of Michigan, lined up for the most important field goal attempt in his career. With five seconds left on the clock and his team trailing the Washington Huskies 29-28, Brabbs entered the game to try a 44-yard field goal. About 100,000 Michigan fans had stayed to watch.

Up to this point in the game, Brabbs wasn't having a good day. His first field goal attempt sailedwide left. In the second quarter he missed again. At halftime Brabbs was booed by the sellout crowd as he jogged to the locker room. Before the third quarter he missed every one one of his warm-ups, all to the left. As a result, coaches benched Brabbs.


But after the backup kicker also missed a crucial field goal, Brabbs had another chance for redemption. As the time expired on the clock, his 44-yard kick flew between the uprights, giving Michigan a 31-29 win. A hundred teammates mobbed Brabbs while the fans cheered him. "I could have died right there," Brabbs said, "and I'd have died happy. I was like a presidential candidate." Even to this day, his game-winning field goal is simply called "The Kick."


But soon after "The Kick," a major injury sidelined Brabbs. He quit the team, graduated with a degree in engineering, landed a job with an IT company, married his college sweetheart, and had three children. But ten years later, in the summer of 2012, Brabbs, a committed Christian, was asked to deliver the commencement address at Frankenmuth High. He knew everyone was expecting him to mention "The Kick," but instead Brabbs looked at the students and said, "Be a failure. It's the misses that propel you forward [in life.]"


In a personal blog post, Brabbs expanded on that message:


“Ten years later…. I am now thankful for the misses, because to this day, they are helping guide me through some of life's toughest challenges … So let's raise our glasses to the many misses we have in life, whether missed field goals, snaps that got away from you, or an occasional botched hold. Those dark moments may just be the predecessor of a really great moment.”


Matt realized that his failures were not permanent.  They could lay the groundwork for something bigger and better. Paul reminds us that Jesus says, “my power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).”


All of this is a reminder that Jesus is in the redemptions business.  He works with God to make the world better for those who trust in him (or for even those who don’t trust him).  John wants us to see that when he tells us about the first miracle that Jesus performed.  We’ll talk about it this Sunday.



The Light Shines


When your kids are little, there is no such thing as a temporary habit.  Case in point—the snack that I send into preschool with my daughter has to be in a plain paper sack with her name and the date written on it.  I’m not exactly sure why we have to commit this environmental malfeasance.  I think it’s required by some state agency wanting to ensure the parents are responsible for the suitability of their own children’s snacks.


So every day I put a snack and a juice box in a paper sack and write Ruth’s name and the date on it.  But there’s more.  Somewhere along the way I started drawing pictures on the bag.  It started simply, but has since evolved into a daily Google Image search for something new to draw—some new favorite cartoon character or holiday themed picture. I’ll admit that it’s overkill.  I’ll also admit that I enjoy it as much as she does.  Drawing is one of those hobbies you think you’re supposed to give up when you become an “adult,” so I’ve come to enjoy my daily 5-10 minute sketch sessions.


I’m always on the lookout for a theme with a lot of material.  Easter has been a gold mine.  Last week was all secular Easter stuff: bunnies, ducks, baby chicks, eggs and any combination thereof.  This week I’ve been drawing pictures from the “Easter Story” in the Bible—Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey, Jesus washing someone’s feet, three crosses and, of course, an empty tomb.


I’ve been surprised how this simple little practice has helped me think about Jesus all week long.  Plus it’s a nice way to talk with Ruthie about all the Bible stories that the pictures represent.  And she knows the stories.  I am so thankful for all the many wonderful teachers at NCOC who have taught her so well.


I hope you’ve had something that has reminded you that, for many, this is more than just a normal week. I understand not everyone in our fellowship is comfortable celebrating Easter, and I understand that.  But if you do, I hope you have had some opportunity to revisit the simple Gospel story of Jesus’ ministry, betrayal, execution, and (most importantly by far) his resurrection.


That’s what we’re going to be doing this Sunday—celebrating the basic truth that Jesus Christ is risen.  Good news.  The best news.


Life of the Party


I thought about our scripture for this Sunday when I read this story from the April 6, 2011 issue of the British newspaper, the Telegraph, as shared by Ted Weis, on preachingtoday.com...


Every marriage has its share of trials and troubles. But imagine going off on your honeymoon and getting victimized by six natural disasters! That's what happened to newlyweds Stefan and Erika Svanstrom when they left Stockholm, Sweden, for their four-month honeymoon in December 2010.


First, they were stranded in Munich, Germany, when Europe was hit by one of its worst snowstorms. Then the couple went to Australia. In the city of Cairns, they were struck by one of the most ferocious cyclones in Australia's history. They headed south to Brisbane but discovered that the city had experienced massive flooding. So they traveled across the country to Perth. There, they narrowly escaped raging bush fires.


Next, the couple flew to Christchurch, New Zealand. Unfortunately, they arrived just after the city was devastated by a magnitude 6.3 earthquake. Later on, the couple went to Japan. But a few days after their arrival, Tokyo was rocked by Japan's largest earthquake on record. The family returned to Stockholm on March 29, 2011, after a much calmer visit to their last destination, China.


Looking back on the trip, Mrs. Svanstrom said: "To say we were unlucky with the weather doesn't really cover it! It's so absurd that now we can only laugh." But Mr. Svanstrom noted that the marriage was still going strong. He said, "We've certainly experienced more than our fair share of catastrophes, but the most important thing is that we're together and happy."


Wow.  It might be nice if this couple would send out plenty of advance warning before they travel.  Perhaps we could tell where the next disaster is going to strike based on their itinerary.


In this Sunday’s scripture we get to hear about a disaster that happens at a wedding instead of a honeymoon.  While it’s not life threatening, it is an emergency--one that could result in dishonor for the host family.


But what makes this story so great is the way that Jesus uses this near catastrophe to teach us all a lesson about the grace of God.  I’m looking forward to sharing with you another story about our God, who gives good things to us all.