Hamilton versus Worship

My wife and I recently saw “Hamilton” at the Fox Theater. The historical musical entertained and enthralled the audience. The pastor-in-me noticed some intriguing attributes about the “congregation.” They:

  • Paid large sums for premium tickets.
  • Saved the date and prioritized their attendance.
  • Arrived an hour before the play started.
  • Parked blocks away and walked to the entrance.
  • Waited in long lines to enter the building.
  • Took their seats before the opening number.  
  • Wore masks inside the building without complaint.  
  • Remained silent and attentive throughout the performance.
  • Sat in uncomfortable seats for over three hours.
  • Envied those who sat closest to the stage.
  • Took selfies to share on social media.
  • Bought merch to proudly advertise their presence.
  • Talked to family and friends about the experience.

May all of God’s people gather for worship this Sunday “in the room where it happens!”

Night Terrors

The parsonage’s security system alarm awoke me from a sound sleep. The digital display indicated a glass breakage alert. I silenced the alarm while talking to the security company.

I cautiously checked the first-floor perimeter but found nothing. Descending the stairs, I forgot about the basement motion detector. I rushed upstairs to silence the alarm again. Meanwhile, strobing blue lights announced the police’s arrival.

I walked outside with empty hands carefully displayed while identifying myself. The officer entered the house and checked the windows and doors.

Then I spied pieces of red latex beside the dining room’s exterior door. The previous night our family celebrated our granddaughter’s third birthday, complete with presents, cake, and balloons.

I suddenly realized what occurred. An overinflated balloon next to a heat vent burst in the middle of the night. The loud noise activated the glass breakage sensor. The officer listened dubiously to the explanation before nodding in agreement.

We all went back to bed, but sleep eluded me the rest of the night. I thought about what might have been and what could be. I recalled Paul’s words in Philippians 4:6, Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Many of our worries never occur. Most of our night terrors amount to nothing more than scraps of a red latex balloon.

You will not fear the terror of night,

nor the arrow that flies by day,

nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,

nor the plague that destroys at midday.

(Psalm 95)

Sermon Block

I have preached on a weekly basis since 1979. After 42 years of homily preparation, I still encounter writer’s block. Words, phrases, and sentences flow like ice-cold molasses in January.

I read “The Plague” by Albert Camus in college. The character of Joseph Grand stuck like a splinter in my mind. The would-be novelist never advanced beyond obsessively rewriting the first line of his book. He believed that perfectly crafting the introductory sentence would guarantee the novel’s success.  

Yes.  This. 

I can mire neck-deep in analysis-paralysis, attempting to find just the right expressions and illustrations. I sometimes say to myself, “I’m going to write the worst sermon in the history of Christendom.” And at the risk of bragging, I have done so on occasion! The method supposedly relieves pressure and inspires creativity.

Human words cannot contain God’s Word, but the Holy Spirit works in, thru, and despite preachers. When I designed my blog site, “Jars of Clay,” Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians 4:7 inspired the title, But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”

OK, I’ve procrastinated enough and need to get back to writing a sermon.

Social Media

I enjoy a love/hate relationship with social media. At their best, the various platforms deliver community, communication, promotion, and education. At their worst, the social networks are a terrible time-suck that provide opportunities for hate speech, cyber bullying, and ignorant rants.

I resisted the siren’s call of social media for years. I dipped my toes into the water in 2013 with a weekly blog. In 2017, I took the plunge by creating a Facebook page. However, I continue to draw the line at instagramtwittertictoxlinkedinredditsnapchat.

A large part of my vocation is communication. The message remains the same, but the medium changes. I felt convicted to join a social platform to share the gospel and to connect with parishioners.

However, I quickly experienced the addictive nature of social media. What began as a high and holy calling degenerated into scanning pictures of people’s meals or enjoying memes of cute kittens. During any free moment, I found myself habitually checking the latest posts.

During Lent, I committed to check Facebook twice a day in the morning and evening. This felt like a healthy balance that enabled me to keep up with others without wasting time on inane topics. After Easter, however, I slipped back into my old habits.

Social media makes a wonderful servant but a terrible taskmaster. Therefore, I’m recommitting to my discipline of checking Facebook twice a day. Perhaps others might feel a similar need to create appropriate boundaries.

To misquote Jesus, social media was made for people, not people for social media.

Sand Castles

This summer our granddaughter spent a week with us at the beach. I enjoyed building sandcastles together. Give any man a shovel, bucket, and sand, and he will instantly revert to boyhood!

Children do not approach sandcastles with the seriousness of adults. We undertake the task like Georgia Tech engineers designing a skyscraper. However, even the best sandcastles do not last. They are trampled underfoot or washed away. All the work seldom outlasts the day.

In the comic strip “Peanuts,” Linus constructed an elaborate sandcastle, complete with turrets, moat, and drawbridge. Then a giant wave flattened his creation. Dazed, he said, “There is a lesson to be learned here somewhere. But I don’t know what it is!”

In Matthew 7, Jesus told a story about two men who planned to build a house. The first man searched until he found a good site. Then he dug deep and laid the home’s foundation on solid rock.

The second man did not take any care in choosing a construction site. He quickly found a plain of smooth sand. Little work was required to lay a foundation upon the ground, and the house was soon completed.

In Palestine, the wet season begins in September. The rains came and the floods rose. The home built on solid rock survived. However, the waters destroyed the house built on sand.

Jesus concluded the story by saying, “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. Those who hear and do not act are like the foolish man who built upon the sand.”

The world is shot through with fault lines. It provides no firm foundation. Those who base life on the temporal rather than the eternal are building sandcastles before a rising tide.

When the rains come, the floods rise, and the storms strike, only those who build upon the firm foundation of Jesus Christ will stand. Everything else will be swept away.

Growing in Love

The Grand Miss Haisley, our three-year-old granddaughter, stayed two weeks with us in June. The first week she attended ‘Cation Bible School at Northside Church. Then we spent a week at the beach.

Lately, family relationships have fascinated Haisley. For anyone who will listen, she proudly traces her family tree, carefully delineating who is related to whom and why. It’s intriguing to watch her connect the dots.

One day we were discussing the day of Haisley’s birth. My wife described how snow covered the ground, and we traveled to the hospital to see her for the first time.

Haisley perked up to add some details. She said, “Until I was born, I was growing in my mommy’s tummy.” Then she looked at me and added, “And I was growing in Pops’ heart.”

OHMYGOSH. Buy this girl a pony! My heart melted then and there.

I always rolled my eyes when my friends became doting grandparents. Then I became one, and suddenly I understood. Grandchildren are the delayed prize of parenthood, and indeed they do grow in your heart.

Following the Palm Sunday Parade, some religious leaders took Jesus to task. They asked, “Do you not hear what these children are saying?” Jesus responded, “From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise.” (Matthew 21:16)

From the lips of our children and grandchildren, we also discover grace anew. May God’s love incarnate in others’ lives grow in our hearts.

FAQs

The Northside Church August worship series is entitled FAQs. We are exploring Frequently Asked Questions by Christians.  During sermon preparation, I asked my Facebook friends for some ideas and received 67 responses, including:

  • What is God’s last name?
  • Is the church still relevant as attendance declines?
  • Why?
  • Who did Cain and Abel marry?
  • Is the Bible literal?
  • Will non-Christians go to heaven?
  • What about hell?
  • Was Jesus married?
  • And my personal favorite, why are some Christians such jerks?

After curating (I could have used “organizing” or “selecting” but “curating” is SO 2021) the suggestions, I chose five topics:

  • How Can I Know that I am Saved?
  • What is God’s Will for My Life?
  • Do Miracles Still Happen?
  • What is Heaven Like?
  • FAQs—a catchall sermon containing multiple questions

In Matthew 7:7, Jesus promised, “Ask and it will be given to you. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you.” In the process of asking, seeking, and knocking, our questions strengthen our faith.

I invite you to join us onsite or online Sundays at Northside Church with Traditional Worship at 8:30 and 11:15 along with Contemporary Worship at 9:00. We will explore FAQs FYI PDQ IMHO.

Classic Film Lovers

During July, I am rerunning four blogs from the past year. I hope you enjoy a second serving from some of my favorites.

Recently, I accidentally joined the Classic Film Lovers Facebook Group. I must have clicked when I meant to swipe. Regardless, I now belong to a group of 27,276 devotees of old movies.

I don’t like old movies.

Recent, riveting discussions debated the merits of Catherine Deneuve versus Jacqueline Bissett, Cary Grant versus Jack Lemmon, and Westworld (1973) versus Westworld (2016). I have no opinion on any of these matters; however, I enjoy the posts.

In part, the passionate opinions of the participants intrigue me. Some people out there really LOVE classic films. They ardently champion various films, actors, and genres.

However, no one feels a need to denigrate another’s opinion. Whether you’re a Catherine Deneuve or a Jacqueline Bisset fan, it’s all good. Let’s agree Cary Grant and Jack Lemmon were both great actors. Westworld (1973) or Westworld (2016)? Enjoy them both!

Compare and contrast the attitudes of my Classic Film Lovers pals to the rest of Facebook. Someone recently shared that everyone on social media is walking around with two facts and a baseball bat. We defend our opinions with zealous fervor and demonize others’ ideas with spiteful glee.

In his classic book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey advised, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” This is a timely principle in the midst of a polarizing, political season.

Listen and reflect rather than ignore and react. Who knows, we all might learn something along the way.  

Meanwhile, I remain a proud member of the Classic Film Lovers Facebook Group. Does anyone know how to stream “Casablanca?” Here’s looking at you, kid!

Synchronicity

During July, I am rerunning four blogs from the past year. I hope you enjoy a second serving from some of my favorites.

The 20th century psychologist, Carl Jung, coined the word, “synchronicity.” The term refers to “meaningful coincidences” in life. An individual experiences profound significance in seemingly random events.

For example, I recently wrote a pastoral letter that highlighted Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” The following Sunday’s anthem planned weeks ahead of time by the music team echoed the same passage. The next week a devotional from another source quoted the verse.

The world might call this happenstance. However, Christians experience a spiritual synchronicity that sees divine meaning in worldly coincidence. The Holy Spirit wanted to impress Christ’s words upon my heart.

“God-winks” occur on a daily basis for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. However, we are a goal-oriented people who have no time to turn aside for burning bushes. The tyranny of the immediate blinds and deafens us to theophanies along the way.

In John 12, Jesus called out to God, and the Lord answered. Some said they heard an angel speak. Others said it had thundered. The crowd experienced the same event in two radically different ways.

Pay close attention to the coincidences of life. We might just spy the Holy Spirit hovering in the wings.

The Pain of Discipline or Regret

During July, I am rerunning four blogs from the past year. I hope you enjoy a second serving from some of my favorites.

Business consultant, Jim Rohn, wrote:

“We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.”

The bad news is there’s pain regardless of choice. The good news is we have the freedom to choose.

Discipline requires an upfront payment for a delayed payoff. Regret requires little investment with no future return. Because we are a short-sighted people who enjoy immediate gratification, we often choose delayed regret rather than immediate discipline.

However, remember: discipline weights ounces, regret weighs tons.

The principle applies universally to every aspect of life: sleep, exercise, diet, alcohol, drugs, sexuality, education, work, marriage, parenting, friendship, spirituality, and discipleship.

The bad news is there’s pain regardless of choice. The good news is we have the freedom to choose.