He is Risen!

March 31, 2013 § Leave a comment

Sunrise “Love is the victor. Death is not the end. The end is life. His life and our lives through him, in him. Existence has greater depths of beauty, mystery, and benediction than the wildest visionary has ever dared to dream. Christ our Lord has risen.”

Frederick Buechner, The Magnificent Defeat

My wife Katherine comes from the Moravian tradition. In my mind there is no more beautiful expression of the Resurrection than from the Moravian Church.

At 2 AM on Easter Morning the Moravian Church Band deploys throughout Old Salem (North Carolina), and begins to play hymns, preparing hearts for the celebration. After an early morning ‘watch’ in the dark, in which about 7,000 worshippers gather and sing, at dawn they pour out into the cemetery proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus with the traditional responsive acclamation, ‘He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!’

Moravian gravestones are flat and each is exactly the same (children’s are smaller than adults), signifying equality in death. Each Moravian cemetery is called ‘God’s Acre,’ and in the rolling hills of Winston Salem there are few more lovely sights. What makes the tradition even more special is that on the Saturday before Easter, entire families scrub each gravestone and place flowers at them.

Throughout the rest of Easter morning, these thousands of worshippers are fed breakfast in groups. Everything about the tradition signals one truth: That Jesus, our Feast of Life, has conquered death, and He invites us to celebrate what He has inaugurated and what for us will one day be, in His good Kingdom.

And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing and joyful be;
And through eternity, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And through eternity, I’ll sing on.

Alexander Means

What good news.

He is Risen Indeed!

peace.

Sunrise - 2

Egg Hunt Theology

March 30, 2013 § 3 Comments

Egg Hunt ‘Death used to be an executioner, but the Gospel has made him just a gardener.’ – Tim Keller, paraphrase from George Herbert’s Time

As I write, hundreds of children (and their parents) fill a small play area and a larger lacrosse field in search of thousands of brightly colored plastic eggs that contain all kinds of treats and candy. It is a lovely day and this adds to the spectacle of joy – Children with painted faces (yes, we’re a full-service church) – Parents – Volunteers – Staff – all together, enjoying, taking pics, pointing out eggs, and sharing the moment. I love it.

It caused me to think. This is the day we know so little of. What was Jesus doing in that grave that Saturday between His burial and His resurrection? We have hints in the scriptures, Cemeterybut suffice it to say that regardless of the actual details, even in the grave Jesus was no victim. We know that the Father had not abandoned Him (Acts 2:27), which is undoubtedly why, in his monumental sermon on Pentecost, Peter quoted David’s prophetic cry – “You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.” (Acts 2:28, Psalm 16:11)

To God and to the Lamb, I will sing, I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb, I will sing.
To God and to the Lamb who is the great I AM;
While millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing:
While millions join the theme, I will sing.

I guess this is what those precious, loud, exuberant children bring to mind. By entering the grave, Jesus has begun to turn our cemeteries into playgrounds. The crazy thing is that if we had hidden the eggs among tombstones, the children would have been just as excited. Their world is that safe.

And because Jesus went to the grave, so is yours.

peace.

Egg Hunt - 2

Until Emmanuel Comes…

December 14, 2012 § 1 Comment

Sorrow Oh, come, our Dayspring from on high,
And cheer us by your drawing nigh,
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel 
Shall come to you, O Israel!

This morning Katherine and I left for Pensacola, Florida to attend our daughter Emily’s college graduation, to be held tomorrow. Within hours we will be reunited with all of our children, including our daughter-in-law, and Katherine’s sister and brother-in-law, so you can imagine the joy that filled our hearts in anticipation of the weekend together when our jet took off. However by the time it touched down, 27 people, including 20 children under the age of 10, had been senselessly and violently murdered by a gunman who then took his own life, in Newtown, Connecticut.

I have no answers, only anguish and devastation. My heart is heavy. Before I am a pastor I am a husband and dad, as well as an often-confused Christ-follower. This shouldn’t happen – but in a fallen world it does, and will again. Even as I write, our dear friends in Miami await their unjustly imprisoned son’s release from a Mexican jail. And this on the heels of a mall shooting in Happy Valley, Oregon that left two victims dead and one critically wounded, along with the shooter, earlier this week.

After the initial sense of horror, we were filled with profound thankfulness for our children’s wellbeing, but also an even deeper sorrow, realizing that we will celebrate something with our daughter that these parents never will with their babies. Throughout their entire lives we have prayed for our children and their safety. We prayed when they would fall asleep in their cribs, when they began to walk and put everything in their mouths, while baby sitters were watching them, when they first learned to drive, and every time they were on the road after and since. We prayed for them when working late, walking in parking lots, in classrooms, on flights, and while in college. All along knowing that ultimately we are not in control and have absolutely no way of protecting them – that their world is just as fallen as ours – that their lives are just as fragile.

And now young dads and moms will have to identify their precious ones who will not be able to respond to their expressions of love and tenderness, nor dry their tears. Somehow these dear folks will have to figure out how to make sense out of the rest of their lives.

It is Advent. We long. We wait for violence and death and rage and illness and sadness to be gone forever, when Jesus comes to heal our damaged world and make all things new, where everything that is wrong is transformed into what it was created to be.

Our consolation is Jesus. We don’t hold on to something – we cling to someone, and only a Father, whose Son died so violently and publicly – for us – can both comprehend our deep longing, and understand our profound sadness.

And while we wait, the One who entered into our brokenness, has given us one another – to celebrate, to love, and yes, to weep, comfort and be devastated – together. He has also put us in this world, and permits and desires for us to mourn with those we don’t know – To love those we haven’t met – And embrace those we can’t touch.

So today, and every day, no answers. Tomorrow, with great joy we will celebrate our precious Emily. When she walks across the stage and receives her diploma, we will look at her in the context of what transpired today. We will weep with a deep joy for every memory and this mixed with a profound sadness for others who may never know such gladness.

Until Jesus comes, I think this is the way it is supposed to be…

Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

peace.

Witness

September 29, 2012 § 1 Comment

This past week I had the privilege of being guided through Gettysburg by a friend who is passionate about Civil War history. As you may know, Gettysburg was the site of the greatest loss of human life on American soil in US military history. There were roughly 50,000 casualties in that little Pennsylvania Township in the heat of the summer between July 1 and 3, 1863. Every available building was turned into a hospital, including churches. Homes were destroyed, the landscape was bombarded by cannon fire, blood flowed like a river, and thousands of bodies and dead cattle were strewn throughout.

Amazingly, the nation healed.

Throughout Gettysburg there are trees, including the one posted above, called Witness Trees, because they stood during that epic battle. Historians have identified these particular trees from pictures taken at the time. All the while, as the battle raged and men fought and died, they were there. And they stand today.

I have been involved in a bible study with friends over the past few weeks, and together we are going through the book of Ecclesiastes. The whole subject of healing from past hurts came up in a circuitous way on Wednesday as we considered chapter three, that famous chapter put to music by Pete Seeger and made famous by the Byrds. The writer’s point was that everything has a season, but that God is eternal, and He has set eternity in the heart of man (verse 3). In other words, God is eternal and He has embedded this mysterious reality within us.

In some way each of us is like a vast landscape on which much occurs. We experience battles, seasons of loss and gain, and if you are anything like me, some of these experiences are more difficult to get over than others. Some of my most tortured moments come when I wonder why certain things occurred, and why I couldn’t prevent them, or didn’t. In other words, I can get lost in something that was intended to be a season, because I treat it as though it is eternal.

A mistake.
A sin.
A broken relationship.
A lost opportunity.
A painful experience.
A failure.

You get the picture. Hey, when we’ve been wounded, or if we have failed in some way, the hurt is real and our memories are sharp. But here is where we sometimes miss the storyline: None of this is meant to be eternal – only God is.

I’m tempted to say that you don’t have to hold yourself in those broken patterns of guilt, shame, remorse and regret – and it is true, you don’t. But I want to put it this way: You are allowed to be free of them. You see I don’t think it is only about feeling as though we can’t break free, but that we don’t believe we are allowed to. But we are. We have permission to move on, even in the reality of things we will never be able to change, relationships we will never be able to fix and mistakes we will never be able to undo. There is such a thing as accepting responsibility, making whatever amends we can, living with consequences, and then moving on, because seasons weren’t intended to be mistaken for eternity.

Because of Jesus.

Deep down I think most of us tap back into the very human, but diabolical notion of thinking that if we have done something wrong, something bad should happen to us in return. It is really an arrogant expression of resentment over the reality of our imperfectness. But this just isn’t how the gospel works. The gospel reveals that the fall has happened to all of us – and we willfully act consistently with it.

But Jesus has come. And He gives us permission, the power, and even the responsibility to rest in His work, and then thrive in His healing. By ‘finishing’ our redemption in His death and resurrection, The Eternal One who has entered into our time and space, has ensured that no unfinished reality that defines our past ever has to have the power to enslave us.

This is the witness of Jesus, and it is our good news.

peace.

No Answers

July 20, 2012 § 1 Comment

The world floods in on all of us. The world can be kind, and it can be cruel. It can be beautiful, and it can be appalling. It can give us good reason to hope and good reason to give up all hope. It can strengthen our faith in a loving God, and it can decimate our faith.

Frederick Buechner, The Longing for Home

What does one say in the shadow of such violence as visited upon Aurora, Colorado at a theater this week? No words can bring back lost life. There is no comfort to curtail the tide of sorrow for those who have suffered such violation.

As you have read here many times, our world is broken. And there are moments when we witness particularly brutal reminders of just how damaged it is. Though we don’t have to look past ourselves, in such violence we are reminded of how far our own sin would take us without the benefit of God’s restraining grace.

It all seems so random. Last week there was a shooting in the store our youngest daughter works in as a receptionist. Fortunately she was with me in another state for college orientation and registration. Katherine and I have praised God over and again. But here, this…

I offer no ‘how-tos’ or principles for understanding such tragedy. I know what you know – from the moment of the fall something has been terribly wrong with our world. Space Shuttles explode in mid-air. Seemingly quiet recluses go on murderous rampages. Tsunamis demolish countries. Babies die before being born. Soldiers – mere boys and girls – die in war. Marriages crumble. Depression ambushes sweet minds. Life breaks dear hearts.

It is all so painful.

We want to protect those we love – but ultimately we can’t even protect ourselves. We want to recoil and find political and theological resolves – all for the wrong, though understandable reason: We are afraid and we don’t want those whom we love to suffer.

What we have is Jesus.

Jesus never explained away tragedy with platitudes, nor did He shy away from it. The comfort He offered was anchored in what He would do on the cross, and accomplish in His resurrection. In these two events, one horrifically violent and unjust, and the other miraculously victorious, He would make good on His promise for a renewed world – In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world (John 16:33).

We have no answers. Not today. Not ever. We have Jesus.

And this is our good news…

peace.

Rise

April 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

“…According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…”

1 Peter 1:3

For all the times you wanted to throw in the towel, Jesus is Risen. For all the regrets you live with and the shame you bear, Jesus is Risen. For all the people you long to reunite with, all the indiscretions and all your sorrows, Jesus is Risen. For all the mistakes you can’t fix and all the sins and words and actions you can’t take back, Jesus is Risen. For all the injustice, oppression and heartache you see, and even that which you have caused, Jesus is Risen. For your troubles and the sorrows of the world, Jesus is Risen. For all the love you’ve lost and failed to give, Jesus is Risen.

And death is at your doorstep
And it will steal your innocence
But it will not steal your substance

Mumford & SonsTimshel

In His Name, Rise Up.

Jesus is Risen.

He is Risen Indeed!

He is Risen for you.

peace.

The Throwaway Day

April 7, 2012 § 1 Comment

“For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.”
Isaiah 53:8b

It is Saturday morning, the day before Easter. The Church celebrates the three days surrounding this day, but not Saturday. On Thursday we celebrate the evening Jesus instituted His new command that we love one another. On Friday we reflect on the Cross. And then, of course, we rejoice on Easter Sunday – the day every promise of God was validated – when Jesus arose from the grave.

But Saturday. As I reflected on this yesterday I was reminded of our daughter Emily’s philosophical assessment of turning 19 years old. Eighteen was such a big deal. And 20 would be the first age away from teenage years, with 21 the year she was officially an adult. But nineteen. Blah! She saw it as a throwaway year – a boring year – the year that didn’t really matter.

That must be how we generally see Saturday during Easter week. It was the day the disciples packed it up and went back to their lives, and the day the women prepared spices to pack a corpse the next morning. It was the day the Jews returned to their religious activities, and the day the Romans patted themselves on the backs, having squelched yet another uprising.

But it was more than all this. God was there. He was silent, but He was there. His plan was unfolding. His care was ongoing. His gaze was undeterred. The next day His Son would rise. But on Saturday, the Forsaken One remained in the grave with our forsakenness. It was anything but a throwaway.

Today I reflect on the assurance that with the Father there are no throwaway days. That in the blur of our crazy calendars and messy lives, He has not lost sight of us, and His plan never thwarted, regardless of how forgotten we may feel. We matter…

Because we are His.

That is good news.

peace.

Words, Song & Hope on Good Friday

April 6, 2012 § 2 Comments

At the Lamb’s high feast we sing Praise to our victorious King,
Who hath washed us in the tide
Flowing from his pierced side;
Praise we him whose love divine
Gives his sacred blood for wine,
Gives his body for the feast,
Christ the Victim, Christ the Priest.

6th century Latin Hymn

“…we’re Easter people living in a Good Friday world.”

Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith

“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

Galatians 6:14

“The crucifixion was the shocking answer to the prayer that God’s kingdom would come on earth as in heaven.”

N.T. Wright, Simply Jesus

Let us love and sing and wonder
Let us praise the Savior’s name
He has hushed the law’s loud thunder
He has quenched Mt. Sinai’s flame

Let us love the Lord who bought us
Pitied us when enemies
Called us by His grace and taught us
Gave us ears and gave us eyes

He has washed us with His blood
He has washed us with His blood
He has washed us with His blood
He presents our souls to God

Let us wonder grace and justice
Join and point to mercy’s store
When through grace in Christ our trust is
Justice smiles and asks no more

He who washed us with his blood
He who washed us with his blood
He who washed us with his blood
Has secured our way to God

Let us praise and join the chorus
Of the saints enthroned on high
Here they trusted him before us
Now their praises fill the sky

He has washed us with his blood
He has washed us with his blood
He has washed us with his blood
He has washed us with his blood
He will bring us home to God

John Newton

Our Beautiful Hen

February 9, 2012 § 6 Comments

“A few days ago you and your mother came home with flowers.”
Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

As I write, Katherine’s Mom, Mildred ‘Millie’ Snider, is at the threshold of eternity. She has bravely battled pancreatic cancer, having even survived surgery that lengthened her days, with dignity. God has blessed her. By His grace and through her courage she was able to attend her granddaughter’s wedding last summer, something no one thought possible when her battle began.

Just last week our entire family was able to spend a few days with ‘the Hen’ as we affectionately call her. It was a rich weekend of love, songs, memories and touch. All were the beneficiaries of the grace and peace that have characterized her entire life.

Katherine’s Mom was born in Mt. Airy, North Carolina, a Mayberry sort of town outside of Winston Salem. That is no exaggeration. She grew up with and sang in the church youth choir alongside of Andy Griffith in the Moravian Church both were raised in. Mt. Airy was the model after which Mayberry was fashioned for the TV series. Only this past week we discovered that she had a pony named Star. She was delighted with an old picture of her and Star that I dug out of their garage.

This April she and Katherine’s Dad, Rev. Paul A. Snider, will have celebrated their 63rd wedding anniversary. The story of their first encounter and eventual engagement and wedding are stunning. Together they bore five wonderful children, two boys, one of whom died within days of his birth, and three girls. I am blessed to be married to their baby. To our children and all her grandchildren, the Hen is known as ‘Oma.’

Hers was always a simple life of beauty, music, family and faith. One could not miss her love for Jesus – she has no qualms with singing to and speaking with Him in the moment, and when she does, it is obvious that He is there. She and Katherine’s Dad were cut out of the old school mold pastor-wife team: singing duets, playing piano, laboring overseas – you name it, they did it – together.

She loved life and constantly saw opportunities to take it fully in. While transporting Katherine and her siblings to college she would sometimes stop on I-55 just to pick wild flowers in the median (thus the quote at the head of this post). Even in that Hospice room she took flowers out of the vases and put them in her hair. She always made the nastiest instant coffee, a long-running joke between us, and cooked the best southern fried chicken you’ll ever eat.

Last Sunday in worship I spoke on the beauty of God in Creation and I can’t think of a better word to describe the Hen. She is simply beautiful in every way and every direction. Since that day it has been heartening and sweet to be approached by people who simply ask, ‘How is the Hen?’

In a matter of days or weeks we will suffer a deep loss. As I will one day with my own Mom, I will feel profound grief when it is time for Hen to go. But Katherine’s Mom will be home, of that I am certain. She will be reunited with friends, fellow parishioners, her parents and siblings, and to her joy, her own dear Karsten – not to mention the One she ever lives before – Jesus.

Robinson’s words ring powerful here (from the lips of an old retired pastor to his grandchild):

“While you read this, I am imperishable, somehow more alive than I have ever been, in the strength of my youth, with dear ones beside me.”

This morning, in my own devotions, I read of Enoch, who walked with God and then was taken away (Genesis 5:25). Hebrews 11:5 says that he ‘was taken from this life,’ but the old King James Version reads that he was ‘translated,’ and I think this is what we witnessed this past weekend – a beautiful saint who bears evidences that heaven itself is finding its way into one it holds dear – before our very eyes and hearts.

What beautiful news.

peace.

Forsaken but not Abandoned

July 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

“And the goal of a Christian life becomes not enlightenment but wholeness – an acceptance of this complicated and muddled bundle of experiences as a possible theater of God’s creative work.”

I have become attached to this quote by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in his book, The Wound of Knowledge.

Have you ever noticed that the best movies somehow tap into the deep sorrows we experience in life? And have you ever wondered why? I think the answer is that we live in the constant awareness of our fallen condition – It isn’t always sad, but it is always there. And regardless of the packaging, deep down every human knows that he or she is broken. So consequently every one of us is somehow mysteriously relieved when we feel as though someone else can relate to that – when someone, or something (like a movie) confirms that we are not alone.

The problem with the culture is that while it can identify our brokenness well, and then yearn beautifully for something redemptive (Katherine and I recently saw Win Win, starring Paul Giamatti and it is fabulous), it offers no substantial reason for hope – only longing.

In the past three weeks three friends have died – suddenly and unexpectedly. All knew Christ, and each shared the hope that there is more. Death is the ultimate and most violent reminder that the world is broken.

For some reason it struck me, weeks after Easter, that I had never considered two statements regarding Jesus’ death, as they relate to one another. One came from the Cross, when Jesus cried, ‘My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me!’ The other came at Pentecost, when Peter, in his first sermon, quoted Psalm 16:10 (“he was not abandoned to the grave”) – In other words, the Resurrection is the rest of the story – the story the culture longs for but always misses, and the one we sometimes forget – or doubt – or ignore – you insert the right words.

Sometimes all we have to hold on to is that we live in the promise of God’s new world. In a sense everything comes down to that reality, and ultimately it is enough. I know, I know, when in the midst of pain and sorrow this isn’t always easy to swallow or believe. Sometimes, on an emotional level we walk away from what we know and believe. And yet amazingly, the scriptures don’t teach that we don’t abandon God – they teach that He doesn’t abandon us. So there is even grace for those many moments when we want to chuck it all – It never did depend on us in the first place.

In the meantime we belong to a Father who delights in His children and sprinkles His lovely creative mercies upon our lives. We rebel. We forget. We wander. We struggle. Let’s face it – we are unfinished. And throughout our lives, and from time to time, we taste the bitterness of the fall – we taste in part the forsakenness that Jesus bore in fullness on the Cross. But we are never abandoned – not even to the grave.

Because we are His.

And that is sweet, good news…

peace.

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