Thinking about the tomb that first Easter morning

empty-tombIn a cold, dark, dead tomb a corpse is wrapped in a shroud. No motion, no life.

Then, there’s a small motion as cells in the body begin returning to life. Tissue begins to regenerate and suddenly the body moves as the dead man takes a deep breath.

He stirs and finding himself bound by the shroud casts it off. He sits up and then removes that which was wrapped around his head and lays it off to the side.

There’s nothing frightening about all this. In an unexplainable way it all feels “right” – the way it should be.

In a flash of brilliant white light an angel appears in the tomb. The angel immediately falls to the ground, bowing, “My Lord and my God” he says.

At that moment the stone sealing the entrance to the tomb is rolled away. A second angel bows low, “My King,” he says.

The Resurrected One smiles and cheerfully replies, “Good morning! I think I’ll go for a walk in the Garden.”

Good Friday is a “No Parking Zone”

parkingThe story of the Crucifixion is powerful. The cross was more an instrument of torture than it was one of execution. Some film makers have made it their mission to portray the agony of the cross with as much graphic realism possible.  Maybe it’s that realism or something else but it seems to me that many Christians are stalled at the cross, thinking it is what Easter is all about.

It’s not. Easter is about victory, hope, and redemption. The only reason to go to Good Friday is because we can’t get to Easter without it. However, the enduring symbol of Christianity isn’t (or at least shouldn’t be) a crucifix. Rather, it’s an empty cross. The reason we don’t make a cross with its victim our primary symbol isn’t because we can’t bear seeing Jesus hanging on it. We make an empty cross our primary symbol because Jesus is no longer on the cross. He has defeated it and all it stood for.

So, for believers, Good Friday is a “No Parking Zone.” We spend time on Good Friday remembering the cross and especially the love of Jesus for us that caused him to endure it. But we happily turn the page to Sunday morning, Resurrection Day.

Easter services shouldn’t be about the Crucifixion. References to the cross should be about Christ’s victory over it. If pastors and other church leaders have done their job the ordeal of the cross should have already been brought to the attention of the Church. That paves the way for Easter.  Individuals too should make it their practice to visit the cross on a regular basis, but not park there.  Its the Resurrection that transforms the crucifix into an empty cross and its the Resurrection that should be our primary focus.  Let’s turn the page from Good Friday and celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord and what it means to us.

Reflections on the second anniversary of my retirement

Wow, retirement anniversary number two.  It was the first Sunday of May, 2013 that we concluded our pastoral ministry and entered into retirement.  In our case, we retired to travel and the very next day we drove off with our RV, starting the next primary chapter of our lives.

This last year has been terrific.  We traveled from Houston to the northwestern corner of the continental United States and then journeyed at a leisurely pace south along the western coast where we enjoyed amazing scenery and cool Pacific Ocean temperatures.  We visited numerous national parks and, in general, had a blast.

Our winter and early spring has been spent doing a variation of our fulltime RVing lifestyle.  We’ve volunteered at the Texas San Jacinto Battleground/Battleship Texas State Historic Park.  In exchange for donating 100 hours of our time each month we’ve enjoyed “free parking.”  That “trade” has saved us some serious, and needed, cash! We’ve thoroughly enjoyed this experience which allowed us to do some very interesting things while being close to family and friends.  While we’re more than ready to begin our travels again we enjoyed the volunteering experience enough that we’ve already signed up to do it again next year.

I did a few more clergy-like things than I did our first year but not a lot.  I filled for our pastor when he was away, filled in for our Sunday School teacher (who happens to be my son) when he was away, did a baby dedication, and finalized my series of books of devotionals.  Aside from that I’ve happily sat in the pew, appreciating the ministry of others.

All in all, we’ve spent over 4 months in the Houston area during this stay.  That means we suspended our “church hopping” ways and settled into a more typical church attendance routine.  While visiting many different churches during our travels is enjoyable we’ve missed the sense of community associated with being a part of a congregation.  This being our second winter as part of our home church helped us feel more a part of things.  It’s interesting to me how things we at first felt were somehow different become, in just a few weeks, just “the way it is done here.”  One thing that become increasingly clear is that no church can be evaluated in just a week or two.  Churches have personalities and that personality isn’t apparent until one is part of the congregation (and involved beyond an hour on Sunday mornings) for a while.  Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy visiting churches, but I know that being a regular, contributing part of a church family is superior.

So, I’d say retirement is going quite well, thank you!  We’re well aware that we are blessed to live this life and we don’t take it for granted.



Thinking about Good Friday

old-rugged-cross1I fear that too many people think the primary focus of Good Friday is supposed to be about how much Jesus suffered on the cross – and, we certainly do need to remember that. But really, the primary focus should be this: Jesus loved me that much. It’s that realization that should stun us, humble us, and cause us to bow in complete surrender to him.

My how things have changed

As a young preacher (and I started preaching at age 16) I was encouraged to use lots of Scripture references in my preaching.  I probably overdid it and over time dialed things back, especially as I moved away from proof texting.

Still, I often mention different verses in a sermon, generally to give an example of what I’m talking about.

At first, I took strips of paper and numbered them in the order of verses I intended to mention.  I bookmarked my Bible with those bits of paper so I could easily find the verses.  As you can guess, it wasn’t a very good plan and sometimes left me searching, first for that numbered slip of paper and, not seeing it for some reason, for the passage itself.

My next plan of action was to type the verse directly into my notes.   That solved the slips of paper problem and worked okay.  However, at some point it dawned on me that I was going to be typing some verses many times in my preaching career.

 So, I hit upon a plan.  Every time I referred to a verse, I’d take time to type it onto a 3×5 card.  In my sermon notes, I simply included the reference.  I’d organize the cards in order for that sermon, then, after the service, I’d file the cards by book of the Bible.

From that point on a part of sermon preparation was to go through my Bible verse file and see if I’d already added the verses I wanted for the sermon.  I’d add the news ones for that sermon and then file them after the sermon.

As you can guess, after 20 years of so of preaching, I developed quite a file system.  It was so useful that it crossed my mind that the file box and cards needed to be placed into the hands of some young preacher when my preaching days were over.

Then in the mid-1990’s I added a computer to my study and things began to change.  I now had the Bible in electronic form and in multiple translations.  Inserting the text of a verse into the sermon notes was a simple copy/paste process.  My extensive collection of 3×5 cards was no longer necessary.

For years the file box remained on my desk simply because that is where it had always been.  Finally, needing desk space, I moved it to storage in the attic.  There it stayed for several years until today.

I decided it was time for me to clear out the attic and there, covered with dust, was my old file box of scriptures.  In spite of the countless hours of work represented by those 3×5 cards it was time for it to go.  I reluctantly brought the poor old filebox down, took these final photos of it, and put it all in the recycle bin.  Just awhile ago the pickup crew came, and not knowing or caring what was in the bin, carried it off.

Looking back on my system, I think I hit on a good plan.  I accomplished exactly what needed to be accomplished.  Not only that, but by typing out the passages, I became more intimate with them.

Still, over time, things change and the need for that approach is now part of my personal past.  Happily, even though the way I handled the Bible has changed, I’m glad to report that it’s message is just as current and needed as ever before.

The Battle for the Computer

Last week I commented that I thought I was getting over thinking about the excellence and wisdom my denomination showed in it’s approach to Bible inerrancy and related matters.  My parting shot was that maybe I’d soon follow up with some nice juicy computer problem to write about.

A couple of days later I went to the computer to check my email and had no internet connect.  The interesting thing is that just a few minutes earlier I’d received some new email on the computer.  Now, though, there was no internet.  I rebooted the modem, router, and then the computer.  Still no go.  I called my internet provider and the fellow (I think in India) walked me through the steps I already know.  When he instructed me to bypass the router I was reluctant because it’s hard to get to and, after all, it was all working just fine when the email came in just a bit earlier.  He insisted and I knew that if I wanted to get a trouble ticket going I had to cooperate.  To my surprise, taking the router out of the mix solved the problem.  I fiddled with things a bit longer and then headed out to Office Depot for a new router.  The wireless on this one is supposed to be 6 times faster.  I can’t tell any difference, but the new router fixed the problem.

However, as I was working on bypassing the router the cable I was using wasn’t long enough to reach my desktop.  No problem, I just grabbed my laptop which stays plugged in in the living room next to my favorite chair.  I unplugged it and plugged the modem into it.  As I said, the internet came right up, however, in about 5 minutes the computer started complaining that the battery was dying.   That seemed strange, it had been sitting there plugged in just a few minutes earlier.  A few tests later and I ended up ordering a replacement from Amazon.

Another strange thing happened with the laptop as I was working on the router problem.  I heard the hard drive running and running and running.  I knew what the problem was on that one because I dealt with it a couple of days earlier on the desktop.  No, it wasn’t a virus.  Rather, it was a little utility I run for checking email, Google Wave messages, etc.  There’s a bug or conflict related to it that causes it to go nuts and fill it’s error log file with gigabytes of errors.  I removed it from the desktop but had forgotten to remove it from the laptop.  Once it was removed and I found it’s log file which was buried deep in the file system the disk space problem was solved.

So there you have it.  I “hoped” for a juicy computer problem and ended up with three.

That’s three unless I tell you about my smartphone and Outlook having a fight creating hundreds of duplicate calendar entries.  That was another few hours of computing adventures.

Needless to say I haven’t thought a whole lot about the Battle for the Bible.  Instead, I’ve thought more about the Battle for the Computer

The Online Bible – an interesting journey

Many years ago, when I had my first computer, I ordered a Bible program called the Online Bible.  The funny thing is that it wasn’t “online” at all.  Of course, in the late 1980’s the term didn’t have anything to do with the Internet.  I ordered the program and a week or so later I received a box of 3.5″ diskettes.  I copied them onto my “massive” 20 megabyte (no, it’s not a typo) hard drive.  What a thrill it was to have the Bible on my computer.  My trusty Bible Concordance was placed on a forgotten corner of my book shelf and I could now do amazing searches of the Bible.  I know there are many good Bible programs out there today, but I’ve stayed with the Online Bible through the years.   I have it on my computer at home and also on my PDA. These days the Online Bible folks explain that the name doesn’t mean that their Bible is actually “online” although the program is actually, of course, available for download “online.”  However, some folks just go to the Biblegateway website and do their Bible searching online for real.   It’s interesting to me that the Online Bible started before anything was actually “online” but that now, there are several real “online” Bible websites that most folks just take for granted.  We’re on an interesting journey through technology even in our access to that old Book.