Saturday, April 18, 2009

What Do You See

(Re-posted from Fall, 2008)

Last week I mentioned Mrs. Hollinger, one of my high school teachers. Actually, I had her for 2 years of German ("Frau Hollinger") and Senior English. She was, without doubt one of the most challenging teachers I ever had. Our report cards were scored with both our letter grade AND our percentage -- rounded to the nearest tenth -- for the grading period.

I goofed off through plenty of classes back then, but not hers. She was strict. She was demanding. She brought me into focus, though, for one reason: she believed in me! She believed that I could learn and do good work. She never accepted less than my best, but she believed I could learn to speak and write effectively.

A few years later, while I was in college, a prominent Phoenix businessman made the commitment to come to our campus and teach us how to share our faith in Christ. A group of us met with him once or twice a week in the late afternoon. Just before we started one day, he approached me out of the blue and said, "God is going to use you." I was caught off balance, but I never forgot that moment.

I'm not sure, but I think most of us pretty much believe in ourselves when we're small. (The other night at our Family Fall Festival, I saw a boy -- age 6 -- deftly take out his light saber and start taking on imaginary Imperial Storm Troopers with moves that would have made even Yoda smile.) Along the way, though, we each hit the wall (or the ground or the tree or the Principal's Office) enough times to thoroughly shake our confidence.

I'm convinced that many of us -- including me -- wouldn't have the courage to shake off the failure and try again if we didn't have someone we respect make it clear that we have possibilities. The encouragement we receive from one or two key people can become the fuel that burns deep within us when all outward evidence says our fire is gone.

Here's the best way I know how to say it: tell me what you believe about the people in your circle of influence and I'll tell you how much chance they have to succeed. Or fail.

Jesus took a handful of misfits that the high and mighty of his culture had no use for and, through them, shook the world!

He might just be able to use someone like me.

And you.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Adult Pain, Part 2

"This is the last one," her father snorted angrily as they waited. The flies seemed to dance with the dust in the sunlight coming from the small window. "I have used every extra shekel I made for the past seven years. I have nothing else left for you. The rest of your family has needs, too, you know!"

Then, more tenderly, he added, "Relax, daughter. Perhaps this physician will have some new potion that can help. He has helped others, I'm told."

She was leaning against the mud brick wall as yet another spasm started at her waist and inched its way up to her neck. She moaned. "If only I had listened to my grandmother," she thought. "If only I had stayed home that day my friends went to the hut of the witch." Her memory brought tears as she recalled the moment. She had been only thirteen years old at the time, not quite a woman. It the small, dingy abode, the old woman had looked at her with empty, black eyes.

"Are you willing to do anything to see my power?" the witch had asked.

"Yes, anything," came her answer with a giggle. The brew she was drinking made the room of the hut move. The moment the word of assent came from her mouth, she noticed the dark shapes hovering above the little table. One of them pressed close to her and suddenly disappeared. At that same moment, she felt the first spasm in her back. "My imagination," she thought.

By the time she turned sixteen, her back was noticeably stooped. The pain, whether light or intense, was always present. No longer able to force even a small smile, she became an outcast to everyone. Except her family.

She asked one or two of the Rabbis if they thought her problem had started that day at the witch's hut. "No," they would say as they softly scratched their beards, "some people just have maladies that can't be explained nor cured."

Her last trip to a physician completed, she resigned herself to the pain, the increasingly bent back and the humiliation. When she ventured out she could hear the whispers. "Mommy, what's wrong with her? Is she a monster?" "You must have committed a grave sin for the Eternal to punish you like that!" "Don't touch her -- she might be contagious!"

Finally, the only time she departed her father's house was to the synagogue for Sabbath.

She held her mother's skirt as she shuffled in and sat with the other women. At least here they weren't outwardly unkind. Some ignored her, others avoided her. It had been three years since she had been able to look up enough to see the sky. She took her place, stooped almost double. Saliva drooled from the corner of her mouth as the Psalms were read.

The visiting Rabbi began to speak. She knew she had never before heard his voice. He had only said his introductory blessing when he stopped suddenly. Something stirred within her.

"Woman, today you are free. I heal you from this sickness."

Her heart was pounding. She suddenly realized it. No pain!

Then, the touch of a man's hands on her bent shoulders. "Stand upright, sister."


10 One Sabbath day as Jesus was teaching in a synagogue,
11 he saw a woman who had been crippled by an evil spirit. She had been bent double for eighteen years and was unable to stand up straight.
12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Dear woman, you are healed of your sickness!”
13 Then he touched her, and instantly she could stand straight. How she praised God!
14 But the leader in charge of the synagogue was indignant that Jesus had healed her on the Sabbath day. “There are six days of the week for working,” he said to the crowd. “Come on those days to be healed, not on the Sabbath.”
15 But the Lord replied, “You hypocrites! Each of you works on the Sabbath day! Don’t you untie your ox or your donkey from its stall on the Sabbath and lead it out for water?
16 This dear woman, a daughter of Abraham, has been held in bondage by Satan for eighteen years. Isn’t it right that she be released, even on the Sabbath?”
17 This shamed his enemies, but all the people rejoiced at the wonderful things he did.
(Luke 13:10-17 New Living Translation)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Adult Pain

I sat in a meeting in which a church leader opened up about the pain he feels from something he did twelve years ago. Some dark sin? No. He wanted to serve and took a responsibility completely outside his area of comfort or expertise.

The experience was horrible. He followed through because he is a man who keeps his obligations. He is not a bitter man, but he has never forgotten and still carries some of the pain.

Another guy I know recently opened up to me about the pain he carries from growing up with a mom who is a drug addict. He is learning to pray for her after admitting his previously hidden hurt.

A third man I know has a similar story about a drug-addicted mother. He has dealt with his pain in a different way, but he still carries it.

Yesterday one of the readers of this blog requested prayer for her husband who obviously carries childhood pain. I'm amazed at the number of adults I am meeting who have this burden. Some of them were wounded by a family member or other trusted adult. Others received their wounds from the actions of the church.

I shared some things about this subject at church a few weeks ago. You can go here and click on "He Felt Our Pain" to get the sermon audio.

Would any of you care to share about the pain with which you are familiar?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

To Market, To Market

Yesterday my daughter C. Beth posted a very interesting blog about the mailings she received inviting their family to various Easter services. I was fascinated by her thoughts and the comments she was receiving (including the one from her mother admitting that we recently had a sermon series by the same title as one in her post).

I actually shared the substance of Beth's thoughts with our Senior Leadership Team yesterday morning. You see, many of us in the church world are scratching our heads about how to reach those who don't go to church with the basic message of Easter -- that Christ died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead. Easter is one of the few opportunities left when people in this culture seem to be thinking about going to church.

I was doubly fascinated because we did something different this year: we didn't advertise -- at least not in the traditional sense of the term. In previous years we have have bought ads in the local paper and on the most popular local radio station. We have sent out direct mail postcards to those in close neighborhoods and, while they weren't as "catchy" as Slumdog Savior, they were designed to be "inviting." While we have rotated different ones of these strategies, we have annually placed a very large banner on our campus with Easter service times. Didn't do that one this year either.

INSTEAD, we went to all our Small Groups and asked them to develop prayer lists of people we care about who don't go to church. We began to pray for God to give us opportunities to comfortably invite them to an Easter service with us. We then printed out simple invitation cards with the service theme, times, location and a map of how to find us.

I can be as doubtful as Thomas sometimes and wasn't sure this strategy would work. I showed up Easter morning with concerns that our attendance would drop considerably. I prayed, invited a friend (he didn't come -- at least I didn't see him) and prepared to tell the Easter good news to those who showed up. The result? Our Easter weekend attendance was up over 170 people from last year.

Everywhere I looked, I saw new people. Most of them were with friends who already attend Stone Ridge.

No postcards in the mail. No newspaper. No radio.

No brunch. No Easter Egg hunt with special prizes.

Just friends.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Say Hi For Me

We had four services Easter morning. I'm still trying to recuperate. I met people before and after them all, but it was like a blur by the time I arrived home.

I'm mentally sorting out the details now. And I remember my two little friends who caught up with me mid-morning. Abby and her sister Allison were grinning in their Easter dresses. As I remarked how pretty they were, their mom reminded me that they had been to Disneyland since I talked to them.

"Say 'Hi' to Mickey," I had said.

They did. They told Mickey Mouse that Pastor Sam says, "Hi!"

Made my day!

Monday, April 13, 2009


Someone asked me recently about days off, given that i work on Sunday. After a very full week of Easter and writing, I'm taking one off from this blog.

Have a great Monday!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The New Beginning

Four thousand years. From generation to generation the understanding had been passed down. The Eternal had spoken the world into existence during six days. The seventh day was His day of rest. The eighth day was for starting over. A new cycle of time. Whatever had taken place before was gone. It was a new beginning.

But how could she begin again? The work that was completed on Friday was too final. Others had left their jobs to follow the Teacher. She had left hell. Was she doomed to go back?

She shuddered as she remembered the voices. Her months following Jesus had all but washed their memory away. He was gone -- would they return? One by one would they seize her, pulling her into the degradation that was once her life? Would she spend her evenings with the filthy men hungry for her touch, then leap on them clawing and screaming, only to face the dawn whimpering in the corner of some dingy room? After those nights -- every night -- the voices came. They reminded her of her worthlessness. "Destroy yourself!" they wooed.

Yes, others had left their jobs. Some had endured separation from their families. But Jesus had delivered her from the voices. What would be her destiny now?

Timidly she had asked a few of the other women to come with her at sunset on Friday. The Sabbath, with its travel restriction, was upon them. She was brave, though. And they all wanted to know where the Teacher's body would be taken. It was their duty to make sure he was properly prepared for burial.

The final rays of the golden orb were dropping behind the hills and into the Great Sea to the west when they took note of the burial place -- a tomb in the rocky hillside. It was too late to take care of Jesus' body, though. They would need to return Sunday morning.

All day on Saturday, the women waited. As they provided food for the mourners, they choked back their own tears to gather the necessary spices. They would arise early enough to be at the tomb before the sun woke up. It would be a busy day of travel from the city following Passover and they wanted to be ahead of the crowds.

In the dark stillness, she arose. Her fitful dreams had wandered from the Teacher doing miracles to the unbelievable events of last week to...the voices. With the others, she slipped out into the night, noticing the faint light in the eastern sky. The smell of their spices permeated the air as they walked through the city gate.

They steeled themselves in preparation for what they would say to the Temple Guards who were watching the tomb. They hoped for someone who was kind enough to let them in and help them with the large stone. Maybe they wouldn't be perceived as a threat.

Rounding the last boulder near the tomb, they stopped in shock. The stone was rolled from the entrance and the Guards were gone! Had someone already stolen the body? Would they blame it on the disciples who were grieving inside the city walls?

The other women were glancing around fearfully. "Someone must look," she said and stepped quietly to the opening. "It's empty!"

They dropped their spices and began to run back into the city. The sun had not yet risen, but two familiar figures were walking toward them. "The tomb is empty!" she cried. Peter and John began to run toward it.

The other women, afraid and distraught, started back into Jerusalem. "I'm going back." She was crying now. They didn't understand. She had nowhere else to go. The memory of the voices pounded in her head.

The two disciples were completely inside the tomb when she arrived. She stood and wept as they left it and hurried past her toward the city. They didn't try to make her leave. Finally, with the sun up over the horizon, she went back to the entrance. At least she could touch the place where they had laid him.

Looking into the shadows, she almost fainted. Two men, dressed completely in white, were sitting at the head and the foot of where he had lain. "Why are you weeping?" one of them asked.

"Because they have taken away my Lord, and I don't know where they laid him."

Noticing a shadow in the entrance just behind her, she turned. A man looked down at her, but she didn't recognize him -- the sun was in her eyes as she looked up at him. It was probably the gardener who had just arrived for work. "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?"

"Sir, my Lord was buried here on Friday, but he has been taken away. If you took him, please tell me where he is and I will see that he is properly prepared."

Jesus said her, "Mary!"

To my readers: the eight days we have come to know as "Holy Week" is detailed graphically in Scripture. The parts we don't know much about are the human elements, especially from the viewpoint of Jesus' closest followers. My attempt this week is to stay true to the Biblical text, while shading in what it may have been like "between the lines." Please distinguish my ruminations from God's Word by reading the last few chapters of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. My hope is that the reading of my words impacts you even a tiny percentage as much as writing them has impacted me.