Archive for the 'Paul' Category

NEWER THAN WE DARE TO DREAM

As I write, pastors and church staffs are scrambling toward Easter. They’re fine-tuning Holy Week services, printing bulletins, rehearsing music, doing that “something extra” to welcome guests on Easter Sunday. The afternoon  will find these once-frantic folks relaxing with family, headed for well-deserved time off, or simply hibernating at home as they recover from the annual Easter marathon. Meanwhile excited sugar-crazed children in homes across the land will have devastated and deconstructed beautiful Easter baskets. Then school will resume on Monday morning. Store displays of egg-laying bunnies will yield to Mother’s Day marketing. A relieved sigh will be heard throughout the land: “Well, that’s over. We’re done with Easter till next year.”

But the Good News of Easter is—it’s not over! Talented worship leaders Richard Avery and Donald Marsh taught us that truth through their song, “Every morning is Easter morning from now on…” Have some fun watching and singing along with this video. The celebration continues in the lives we live on the far side of Easter. Good News overflows beyond the sanctuary to touch and transform every person and every part of creation. “…if anyone is in Christ,” Paul writes, “that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 CEB) Easter means NEW CREATION is happening right here, right now, in you, in me, and in places, ways, and people we’ve never even imagined! Jesus’ Risen Life is re-creating every person, every creature, every molecule, every institution, every relationship.

Really, Paul? Have you watched CNN or Fox News lately? Surfed the Internet? Talked with the folks in the grocery store, the beauty shop, the neighborhood bar, the church parking lot? “New Creation” sounds pretty impossible to them. I suspect it sounded equally impossible to Paul’s friends in Corinth. They felt Death’s unbreakable stranglehold literally squeezing the life out of their world. But Paul insisted that the Life that had raised Jesus had broken Death’s stranglehold finally and forever. Paul strains the limits of language to describe Life’s ultimate victory: “Death swallowed by triumphant Life! Who got the last word, oh, Death? Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now? It was sin that made death so frightening and law-code guilt that gave sin its leverage, its destructive power. But now in a single victorious stroke of Life, all three—sin, guilt, death—are gone, the gift of our Master, Jesus Christ. Thank God!” (1 Corinthians 15:55-57 MSG)

That’s the Good News of Easter. It’s fresh and new every morning. God is recreating God’s world. God is re-creating people like you and me, and people very different from you and me. God’s Life-giving, death-destroying Love is transforming all that we knew was dead  and broken; resurrecting all we grieve as lifeless and hopeless. Love pours life and health back into what we knew was lost forever. All the big and small things we do in the Spirit of Jesus (especially those small things we think go unnoticed) help to build God’s New World. No-one and nothing can stop Love’s power from completing God’s New Creation: “With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don’t hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort.” (1 Corinthians 15:58 MSG)

Where and with whom are you equipped and called to share this Good News–with struggling families, friends, coworkers? Students and staff in underfunded and overcrowded schools; with the homeless people you passed as you drove around today; men, women, children in the grip of addiction; folks in a nearby jail or other correctional facility? With disaster survivors seeking to rebuild their lives, and those who work alongside them; angry, frightened persons who demonize their neighbors across political, spiritual, lifestyle, and ideological divides? With our United Methodist Church as it seeks a new beginning; our planet suffering from centuries of abuse and misuse by its human occupants?

The list could go on and on. Thank God that “…every morning is Easter morning from now on!” Thank God “the work of the Master” continues to build New Creation. None of us has to do it all. None of us has to heal all the world’s brokenness. (None of us–especially me!– is God, thank God!) Each of us is uniquely positioned, equipped, and called to share the joy of Easter morning (every morning!) with some neighbors within our reach. Can you see their faces yet? Hear their voices? Pray. Ask God. You’ll start to see faces and places, and hear voices. You’ll start to see a way where you knew there was no way. You’ll start to discover others who share your call and bring gifts and skills you may lack. Take a step, and you’ll find the next step.

When the going gets tough–and it will–remember Paul’s words: “…don’t hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort.” 

The Word of the Lord–from the Sports Page!

Frank Deford may be my favorite secular “preacher”. He’s a sportswriter with a keen sense of moral and yes, even spiritual, issues in the sports world. [Please bear with me, non-sports-fans. We’ll get to those issues soon.] Deford’s latest commentary on NPR addressed the recent doping scandal in baseball and the upcoming Baseball Hall of Fame election. This is the first year that Barry Bonds and Roger Clements, the two most prominent players implicated in the scandal, are eligible for election. Some baseball writers have expressed their intent to vote for Bonds and Clements. Don’t do that, Deford warned—loudly! He insists (and I agree) that athletes using illegal drugs are cheaters plain and simple and their cheating should never be rewarded.

It’s not just that they helped themselves. The unfair advantage that Bonds, Clements, and other ballplayers gained disadvantaged other players: “…the dopers did not just pad their own statistics,” Deford wrote. “They keep score in games; by definition, sports are zero sum. By taking unfair advantage, the druggies hurt the players who played fair.” Deford recalled the doping scandal at the 1976 Olympics. He named eleven US runners and swimmers who finished just behind medal-winning East German athletes in their events. The East German athletes were later proven to have used performance-enhancing drugs. “By taking unfair advantage, the druggies hurt the players who played fair.”

The case is clear when we see US runner and silver medalist  Frank Shorter stand by as his illegally-juiced East German competitor receives the gold medal.  It’s harder to identify the victims of drug cheating in a team sport like baseball. Would a drug-free Bonds have set the record for most career home runs? Or would it still belong to Henry Aaron? Would Clements have pitched as powerfully? Would his New York Yankees have been as successful? Obviously we can’t “do-over” all the games in which Bonds, Clements, and other illegal drug users played. But we can at least refuse to reward their bad behavior and in that small way affirm the vast majority of players who play by the rules.

NOW HERE’S THE MESSAGE FOR FANS AND NON-FANS ALIKE: My actions reach far beyond myself. When I cheat my way to victory in baseball, bicycling, horse racing, or Life, I hurt everyone else involved. Those relatively few illegal drug users hurt all the other players, the fans, and the whole baseball community. Playing–or living–by a lower standard is never just about me. It lowers the bar for all involved. It’s easy to lower the bar—and much harder to raise it back to that higher level. Politicians, are you listening? Parents, are you listening? Pastors and church leaders looking for quick fixes, are you listening?

The good news is that the reverse is equally true. One person who steps up and lives at that higher level raises the bar for everyone on the team, in the business, the family, the neighborhood, the church. Abraham, Moses, Esther, and David did that.  Jesus did that supremely—and paid the supreme price. Countless followers of Jesus have dared to follow him in that high-level life the Bible calls “abundant life” (John 10:10). Most have paid a steep price for their faithfulness—Luther, Wesley, King, Mandela, Mother Teresa. Make your own list. Let’s share them through this blog. We’ll be amazed and inspired.

As the message draws to a close, I suspect that Brother Deford, like every good preacher, would call for a decision Will we settle for Lowest-Common-Denominator living on the baseball field or anywhere else in life? Or will we be that “one person” who steps up and lives at a higher level? Will we be the one who raises the bar and lifts those whose lives touch ours to higher, fuller, deeper life?

This morning we heard the news of the shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. One man, James Holmes, devastated the life of dozens, perhaps hundreds or even thousands.  I’m waiting to hear stories of people who stepped up to help others in the aftermath of the tragedy. I’m also wondering if some of the people in Holmes’ life over the years—family, teachers, friends, etc.—are asking themselves if they missed opportunities to make a life-changing difference with him. We don’t get do-overs. We do get all the forgiveness we need and can accept. We do get new opportunities to live at the highest level we know.

Paul sometimes used sports metaphors to make his point. Once he compared following Jesus to a long-distance race(Philippians 3:12-14). A little later he described  the focus that empowers that high level abundant life: “…keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper. Don’t ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise.” (Philippians 4:8 CEV)


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