And so it began

No, it did not begin with palms waving and coats thrown on the ground as Jesus passed. It did not begin with planning to secure the right animal upon which Jesus rode. It did not begin with the swell of public excitement and anticipation or the dread and angst of the Jewish authorities as Jesus approached the holy city.

“As Jesus was going along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. When He came to the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began to celebrate and praise God at the top of their voices” (Luke 19:36,37). “This was the moment they’d been waiting for. All the old songs came flooding back, and they were singing, chanting, cheering, and laughing. At last their dreams were going to come true. But in the middle of it all, their leader wasn’t singing.” “When He came near and saw the city, He wept over it” (Luke 19:41).

Why did He weep? Prophecies were being fulfilled. The Passover festival annually carried the hope that this was the year that Messiah would appear. Messiah did appear, but He was not chosen for an earthly kingdom. He came for a higher purpose. His tears flowed as He saw a people looking for another kind of king. He cried because of the cost of redemption. His sorrow overflowed because many would reject Him and every prophecy that hailed His coming.

It began at the foundation of the world. A plan had been formed to restore a broken world and to reclaim a lost humanity. It began with the Creator’s determination to save His creation from the ravages of sin and death. It began with a mission to save the world, not condemn it.

Holy Week acknowledges, mourns, and then rejoices over the plan that would send the guiltless to pay for the guilty. The perfect Lamb of God would be sacrificed on the cruel altar of the cross.

Jesus had set His face to Jerusalem. He had told His disciples what would happen when He came to the city. He was not surrendering to His fate; He was taking charge of the arrangements. Just as He set in motion the parade on the day we call Palm Sunday, He would make preparation for the Passover meal where He would share His last supper. He would see it through – blood, sweat, and tears. The King had arrived …

Direction

This definition doesn’t sound very technical, but it communicates: “A first responder is someone who is trained to run toward trouble, not away from it.” Even with sophisticated training, people still have to respond appropriately.

The collapse of a 350 foot section of I-85 in Atlanta could have been tragic. 250,000 cars travel that stretch of highway every day. The billowing dark smoke raging from the fire underneath obscured the vision of startled motorists. Collisions seemed inevitable. Once the roadway began to disintegrate, vehicles could have plunged into the gap. People should have been hurt or killed. No one was.

Atlanta Fire Station #29 is located two blocks from where the calamity occurred. Fire personnel responded immediately to assess the danger. A number of them stood under the bridge to determine the extent of the damage while the fire was still gaining strength. As it was becoming certain that the intense heat would be too much for the concrete and steel structures, fire officials ordered their teams to move away … just in time. No one was hurt, no one was killed.

Above on the interstate, Georgia State troopers and Atlanta police had already halted traffic. Risking their lives as cars and trucks kept coming they prevented any possibility of injury and death by their quick action.

Col. Mark McDonough from the Georgia Department of Public Safety was one of many officials who tried to describe the scene for the public. His first words were directed to the first responders. He thanked law enforcement and fire department personnel and then he looked sky ward and thanked the Lord. No one was hurt, no one was killed.

Atlanta is in a mess and will be for months. A poster I saw months ago had a picture of that same highway crowded with bumper-to-bumper traffic. The heading of the poster read: “Thinking of moving to Atlanta?” At the base was this comment: “We full.”

“Inconvenience” does not begin to describe what life will be like in a city already infamous for its traffic congestion. For small businesses in the affected area, the months ahead can spell doom.

Going forward will define direction … not just alternative routes to travel but the attitude we demonstrate. Adversity reveals character. I would love to think that we would see the best in people when difficulty comes our way. Paul wrote to the Colossians: “Whatever you do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus, all the while giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” Okay, reps. Time to show up.

Spring brake

No, I didn’t spell it wrong. During this time of year, people need a brake. Kari Myers wrote an article entitled “Being good when you feel bad.” Here are some of her thoughts.

“Sickness, stress, and sleep deprivation are three things that can really do a number of a person’s disposition. Don’t ask me how I know this. I just do. Maybe you know it, too. When we feel bad, physically or emotionally, we tend not to handle things as well as we would on a good day. Bad days can tempt us to focus inward. If they persist we can fall into self-pity or become obsessed with improving our situation. We can be self-absorbed, self-serving, or just plain selfish. But it does not have to be so. Jesus showed us another way. At the moment of His betrayal to an angry mob who would take Him to a cruel death, He healed the servant of His enemy. On the worst of days, as He was unjustly arrested and threatened, He responded with compassion. In the midst of His own pain, He took notice of and tended to the pain of another. Jesus loved in good times and bad.”

We need a brake. We need to stop striving so much. We need to inventory our busy-ness. We need to honor Sabbath keeping, as Bryan Brock taught in the Gathering last week. We cannot run on empty without damage to us and others.

He had been neglecting his young daughter. He knew it, but what could he do? Work was crazy. Meeting one deadline after the next required immense investments of time and energy. His wife had reminded him often that he was missing a lot at home, with her and with their 3 year-old little girl. He promised he would come home early and spend time with her. He left work only to bring work home. But he could take a few minutes. “What would you like to do with your dad?” he asked her while glancing at his watch. “I wanna take a walk.” Simple enough. How long could that take? One quick turn around the block. Only it wasn’t one quick turn around the block. Every few steps, she stopped, bent over to examine a bug or a flower or a crack in the sidewalk and exclaim, “Lookit!” His exasperation was evident. Passing them by was an elderly neighbor. The old man whispered to the dad, “You’re missing it.” Trying to be polite, the father responded, “I’ve seen a bug. I’ve seen a flower.” The neighbor stopped and said, “That’s not what you’re missing.”

 

Apply the brake. Don’t miss life. “Lookit!”

 

 

One little letter

They sound the same. They are spelled the same … except for one little letter.

Mourning and morning. Mourning is about grief, about the recognition of loss. You cannot love without loss. That’s where the one little letter comes in.  “U” stands for each of us because each of us has known and will know what it means to lose something that or someone who matters. The “u” can also refer to us. Grief can drive us apart or bring us together. We may mourn privately but our healing usually comes in community. We can be overwhelmed by our personal sadness but we can also be surrounded by those who will bear our griefs with us.

And yet there is more. How does mourning turn to morning? We are approaching Holy Week. In order to arrive at Easter we have to pass by the cross. The blackest day in history calls us not to pass by, but to linger and mourn – mourn the death, mourn the devastation of sin, mourn our responsibility. But we cannot linger long because Sunday’s coming.

On the morning of the third day, the power of sin and death and evil was broken. In the morning the stone was rolled away. In the morning the perfect sacrifice who suffered a cruel death left the grim reaper in the dust. In the morning He turned mourning to joy.

Within the span of a few days, the deaths of two remarkable women named Debbie have given us reason to mourn. Our hearts are broken for the families who have suffered loss. But we are people of hope as they were women of faith. Our mourning will turn to joy because of that morning two thousand years ago. One little letter … For God so loved “u” that He gave His only Son. Mourning turned to morning.

Legacy

Over these past three days, our youth have been participating in Disciple Now Weekend, focusing on living authentic lives for Christ. We will be hearing from them as they lead us in worship Sunday.

Peter’s second letter speaks to authentic living. He wrote: “As we know Jesus better, His divine power gives us everything we need for living a godly life” (2 Peter 1:3). The apostle was determined to leave a legacy of faithfulness while encouraging others to do the same: “I plan to keep on reminding you of these things as long as I live” (1:13).

You cannot build a legacy after you die; you can only leave one. What will you leave behind that will be worth passing along? Peter told his readers that he desired that they remember what he had taught them “long after I am gone.” He also stressed that his words were not “clever stories” but his own witness and convictions. As he had told the Sanhedrin when they demanded that they quit spreading news about Jesus: “We cannot stop telling about the wonderful things we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).

What will the world hear about Him from us? Our legacies have to have eternal consequences. You might think our youth are not old enough to consider such things, but they are charting their life courses now. As we surround them with support and encouragement, it would certainly give us more credibility if we were living authentic lives, too!

Now, who am I?

Ah, spring is in the air! For many of us, that means pollen season. Oh, joy! With a wacky winter soon behind us, our thoughts turn to budding trees, blooming flowers … did I mention pollen season?

It is almost time for baseball to begin again. The 162-game schedule will stretch into early November – over seven months to watch a handful of teams contend for a title while the rest try to reach .500. A 20 year-old stadium was ditched in Atlanta so that people in Cobb County will have something to gripe about for years to come. The new stadium has a shelf life of at least two decades, right? Night games will have to start at 9:00 so fans will have a chance to negotiate the I-75/285 traffic.

Baseball has its twists and turns. According to history.com: “On March 12, 1903, the New York Highlanders were given the go-ahead by team owners to join baseball’s American League.” The team had recently relocated from Baltimore, where they were called the Orioles. In their new home, fans began referring to them as ‘Yankees’ and the name stuck. In 1913, the team got its new identity – the New York Yankees. Teams relocate and players get traded. The Braves started in Boston, moved to Milwaukee, then landed in Atlanta. Keeping up isn’t simple.

Sometimes it’s hard. Consider the case of Joel Youngblood. Youngblood made baseball history by getting a hit in two different cities, for two different teams, against two Hall of Fame pitchers, all on the same day in 1982.

To understand baseball better, you need to watch the classic Abbott and Costello “Who’s on first?” routine. Any confusion you may have should be cleared up soon.

Identity can be a challenge for a team or a player. In life, we need more, something deeper. Henri Nouwen wrote: “Spiritual identity means we are not what we do or what people say about us. And we are not what we have. We are the beloved daughters and sons of God.”

Creature finds himself in relationship with Creator, discovering the most exciting answers to two crucial questions: ‘Who am I?’ ‘What is my purpose?’ Paul knew where our identity should be found: “For to me, to live is Christ.”

Rich!

We’re rich! Can you believe it? We just got this very personal letter from a guy in Nigeria, who I am sure is destined to be a really good friend. He wants to give us $3 million. $3 million! He is doing this out of the goodness of his heart because he wants us to be happy. I can be happy with $3 million, can’t you? The details are a bit fuzzy … something about needing our financial information so that the transfer can be handled without any problems. I am so excited just thinking about all the things we can buy with that money!

Oh, you’ve heard from him too. He must have lots of friends and lots of money. What a guy!

Somebody must have taken the bait. Somebody has had his/her bank account drained by this scam. I hope they catch the guy and all the rest just like him … but they won’t.

I only know one get-rich scheme that works. There was this other guy wo sent me a letter. He spoke about treasure and inheritance and abundant life. He wasn’t trying to get into my bank account; He was trying to get into my heart. He promised me something money couldn’t buy and I couldn’t earn. It was worth far more than any earthly wealth could acquire.

His letter wasn’t a scam letter; it was a love letter. He didn’t just address it to me. He wanted everybody to read it. He wanted everybody to know it was meant for each of us.

I am rich. I am a joint heir with the King of kings and the Lord of lords. I hope you are, too.