Judas the Scariest

“Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” — Ephesians 6:11

A conversation-starter: Ask a group of non-Believers to name 10 people in the Bible other than Jesus. It’s likely you’ll hear Judas more often and more positively than you expect.

Through venues as the rock opera, “Jesus Christ Superstar” and the 2006 book and documentary, “The Gospel of Judas,” Judas is viewed with sympathy as a duped victim to advance questionable religious dogma. This is an opposite view, of course, from the belief Judas was the catalyst to Jesus’ crucifixion.

Was Judas a bad man? A conniver? Did Judas — chosen by Jesus to follow him — become a disciple in anticipation of becoming treasurer of a multi-million dollar ministry from which he could embezzle? Should we feel sympathy for him?

Pastor and author Colin Smith brings  more insight into this idea in his book, “Heaven, So Near – So Far: The Story of Judas Iscariot.” However, the question here — as it was when the post was originally written in 2007 — is the contemporary Judas.  The potential one within Christ-followers of the millennium, who, it seems, continues emerging in headlines and social posts.

While Judas may have been the misunderstood, manipulated soul of revisionist history, a closer look at Scriptures notes the source of his manipulation. Luke 22:3 begins: “Then Satan entered Judas….”

This phrase implies Judas failed to do what many of us fail to do when tempted today: We underestimate the subtleties of the Evil One,  don’t put on the full armor of God, and allow our temporary emotions to undermine our witness.   It would be easy to point out celebrities and politicians whose Facebook and Twitter posts seem to express hypocritical Christianity. But what of us? How have we responded to such posts?  What do our posts say about us?

And how do we respond at other times of the year.  Do we uphold Holy Week, ignoring where we are wholly weak?

Do we betray God by not keeping fellowship with Him through prayer and bible study? When we are silent when Jesus’ name is smeared? When we do not act in Christ’s name against injustice — be it social or political? When we don’t call fellow Believers and leaders into account when their words or actions — no matter how well intended — misrepresent the work of God’s kingdom and the meaning of the cross?

How do we minimize our acts of betrayal? By making the tenets of Ephesians 6:10-18 an active part of our daily routine, and remembering how Jesus ended The Lord’s Prayer:

“Deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:13)

Without this protection, any of us can fall as Judas did.  That is the scary reality of what occurred to Judas. Keeping this in mind is an ongoing commemoration of Good Friday.

(Originally published, March 13, 2007)

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When the 25th Is Over

When the 25th is over
And all the kin are gone,
When you’ve packed away the tinsel,
The lights and all the songs…

When you’ve paid the bills for all the frills
And feel your ample girth,
Will you gaze upon your bottom line
And find your peace on earth?

When the 25th is over
And you’re standing in a line
Returning gifts you didn’t like,
But that you said were, “Fine.’

Will you run a tab on your whole life
To see just what it’s worth?
Will you ask yourself, “What must I do
To find some peace on earth?”

As crabby girls and sulking boys
Cry over broken brand-new toys,
When the 25th is over
And you’re taking down the tree,
Can you tell them the irony
Of that tree with lights so bright?
T’will stand for a cross on Calvary
On a darker silent night?

Yes, the 25th is over
And life is back to normal.
You’ve tossed your cookies
And squeezed the candies

(to find the one that’s caramel)

You’re feeling glad Christmas is gone
With all its hype and prices…
Yet, deep inside remains this thought:
“I wonder who this Christ is?”

Then simply search, and simply ask
And think of His good news.
Then simply make His sacrifice
An offer you can’t refuse.

For if you do, He’ll give to you
Peace on earth so strong…
You won’t have Christmas on the 25th
You’ll live it…all year long.

— (c) Michael Edgar Myers, 2002.  All Rights Reserved. Use granted through written permission of the author only.  Cover photo (c) Michael Edgar Myers, 2014.  All Rights Reserved

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“Don’t Save It All for Christmas Day,”  a Mom & Daughter Duet, Vikki J. Myers & Cami Myers

 

 

 

 

 

A Black Jew, A Female Pastor, A Segregationist and Thou

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. — Jesus, quoted in John 14:27

When my pastoral season as a staff associate ended earlier this year, I was liberated from weekly responsibilities at my home church and allowed the liberty to visit other Services of Worship.

This is not “church shopping” as some call it. It’s been a working a sabbatical.  These visitations brought with them new opportunities to commune with The Lord in assorted worship venues hearing other pastors preach, singing various styles of music.

Some places we went were just, “Where do we want to go this Sunday?” family choices. Many of the venues where we traveled were the outgrowth of presentations through our Kingdom Impact Theater Ministries.

Our nomadic Sundays included a suburban megachurch, an urban church plant in a high school cafe, an outdoor tent service on a shopping thoroughfare; our tucked-away home church; a renovated barn; an intimate suburban-city church merger with shoehorn parking; a renovated restart on a sprawling campus that added to Fitbit steps.  We experienced old school Sunday jump-and-shout, a full-blown pop Christian concert, and a traditional stained-glass chapel with a friendly family instruction, “Mom, they’re Lutheran. They don’t raise their hands or move around.”

We found ourselves in the heart of a gay community; where English was a second language; where our presence virtually integrated the sanctuary; where the congregation was all-black; where it was a rainbow coalition. The pastors ran a spectrum from seasoned-and-running-the-church-for-decades to part-of-the-collection-replenishes-my-Proactive-supply.  Yet, no matter where we went the Word of the Lord was solidly presented and, more often than not, we left a little beaten up from a spiritual workout.

One of those places was the Community Church of Barrington in suburban Chicago.

CCB meets in the same location in which it was founded. In 1847.  The congregation is 90 percent Caucasian, and perhaps 70 percent of that is AARP-qualified although none of them was around when the church began.  Their younger pastor is a well-qualified theologian in the Martin Luther King title vein —  a “Reverend Doctor.” The last name has a hint of French aristocracy.  Most of the congregation, however, call the Reverend Doctor by first name: Zina.

Did I say Zina is female?  She is.  Maybe I should also mention Zina is African-American.

 

If all of that seems too deep or pretentious, let me peel this back the way Zina might: She’s a big ol’ black country gal from East Chicago, Indiana, who doesn’t look black, who got a PhD in Boston, and is up here preaching to a buncha white folk in a Baptist church that was built before slave times…and they tell her she’s got 20 minutes to preach.

Ah, but what Zina does in those 20 minutes!

We first met Zina when we were co-presenting at an African-American History celebration at an African-American suburban church about four years ago.  We’ve presented music and workshops at her church a few times since.

The 20 minutes we spent with Zina at Community Church this summer occurred a week after the riots in Charlottesville, VA, when a white man drove his car into a crowd of African-Americans who were protesting Confederate statues in the community.  The driver, a self-described white nationalist, injured 19 people and killed one.  A white female protester.

Zina’s sermon was a convicting confessional.  A head-slapper.  One of those that makes you just sit there and listen instead of taking notes.  The notes will talk to you later. “Later” was this morning when I began reviewing my overnight newsfeed.

Two items on the feed caused a #holyspiritmoment smile of irony:  back-to-back were the last YouVersion verses of the day that I had tried to post from my Kindle earlier in the morning but ran out of time before I had to be the wife’s Uber-driver to work.  When I got home, I see that my verses of the day had been scooped by Ben Mitchell, an acquaintance through the Praise & Prayer Station Facebook Group I visit.

Ben posted:

Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. — Colossians 3:13 (KJV)

and

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; — Matthew 5:44 (KJV)

Just below those verses was a Trump-Putin post with a friend’s rant and like-minded thread, the kind of which I’ve chosen to ignore.  My blood pressure is borderline. Our budget cannot manage BP prescriptions.  I scrolled to find mellower posts. This is what next appeared on my screen:

George Wallace_Aaron Freeman

I can recommend good blood pressure monitors.

Keep Reading

The post-er was Aaron Freeman, a long-time friend and fellow Chicago-based actor.  Aaron is a well-respected comedian, who cut his  improv teeth on the mainstage at The Second City, but established himself as a premiere satirist — in the Dick Gregory mold — when Harold Washington was elected mayor of Chicago in 1983. The landmark election and subsequent battles between the city’s first African-American mayor and the predominately white city council occurred shortly after the original “Star Wars” premiered.  Aaron deftly parlayed the daily headlines into a long-running solo comic tour-de-force called, “Council Wars.”

After Council Wars, Aaron expanded his creative work to include essays, podcasts, public speaking and serving as artist-in–residence at the Chicago Council on Science and Technology.

Besides being actors, Aaron and I have a couple of other things in common.  We both can be found dressed as Illinois Lottery balls in ancient commercials floating somewhere in cyberspace.  We’re both African-American. We both study the Scriptures.

Did I mention Aaron is a satirist?  Okay.  Did I mention Aaron is Jewish?  Ahhhhhh!

Actually, Aaron grew up Roman Catholic and converted to Judaism.

Seriously.

Aaron often comments on things of race, science, African-America and Judaism.  He’s been known to irk people because of his wit.  Sometimes he’s smarter than the average can bear. However, like any evocative public presenter — say, a Reverend Doctor, Aaron makes you think and if feeling an ouch occurs sometimes, so be it.

Aaron Freeman
Aaron Freeman at work (Chicago Tribune)

Everything from A(aron) to Z(ina)

So, let me break all of this down:

Aaron, my black-Jewish comic friend, posts a mind-blowing “photo” of Coretta Scott King kissing George Wallace, a five-term governor of Alabama, who made a national splash in the 1960s for his unavowed, eternal pledge to racial segregation.  Aaron posts this photo with the heart-stopping caption, “How Alabama Negroes Came to Love ‘Their Hitler.’ ”  He posts this two days after Roy Moore’s quest for a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama was denied largely because of the vote of African-American women. (If media can be trusted.)

Now, you may still be in that place I was when I saw the photo:  Skip it, or bang out an immediate, vitriolic response and note really pay attention to Aaron’s comment that accompanied the photo:

Alabama black women don’t just punish racists, they forgive them!

Orrr, you can do what I did and click the Aaron’s accompanying link to get the rrrest of the story on YouTube, originally posted in 2016.  I clicked from curiosity and because, knowing Aaron, I was hoping that the rest of the link didn’t have incendiary data to send me for lisinopril.

I survived.  So might you.  You need to watch this to make sense of the rest of this piece:

Holocaust Memorial Day & The Alabama Negroes

That video essay immediately shot me back to the August morning with Rev. Dr. Zina.

Her sermon is worth a sit-down listen.  Remember, they only gave her 20 minutes; but it you want a quicker connection to Aaron’s essay, fast-forward to 14:04.  My suggestion — request — is to listen in its entirety for full impact.

Sermon inspired by Robert Fulghum’s,All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

Goods for the Soul

The combination of Ben Mitchell reposting the verses on forgiveness, followed by Aaron’s video, and Zina’s extended discourse must give us pause for meditation and prayer:  as a nation, certainly as Christ-followers.  Or even as Americans whose faith in God is confined to the Old Testament — the Hebrew Bible  — wherein The Lord intones:

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. — 2 Chronicles 7:14

What is the sin of America which much be confessed?

What are the sins of Americans which must be confessed?

Where must we, who follow Christ, ask forgiveness in order for our sins to be heard?

As we reflect upon the birth of Christ, we must also prepare for His Christmas yet-to- come.  What does Jesus say about qualifications and responsibilities of those for whom He is returning?

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. — Jesus, Matthew 6:14-15

A Word from Isaiah

All of which brings us to the post between Ben Mitchell’s verses and Aaron Freeman’s photo.  The post about Putin and The President.  Whenever Mr. Trump’s actions result in further dropping of his “approval” ratings, how do you respond? Do you get sucked into the morass of social harping, or retire to your prayer closet and pray for repentance?  Do you pray for the president’s safety, recognizing far worse ramifications? Do you ask forgiveness for placing the government upon his shoulders instead of upon His Shoulders?  What is the source of your peace on earth?

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Admittedly, as Rev. Dr Zina says, “This is nuts.  This kind of love is beyond my pay-grade!”

That’s the peace of the Prince of Peace that Paul says passes all understanding.  Thus we must reflect and act upon her challenge: “We have to have confidence that our prayers and our hopes will make a difference.”

The A and Z of this is, if Aaron and Zina demonstrate how The Lord changed George Wallace, there may be hope for Donald Trump.

Let us pray.

#SDG #Shalom #AndAmen

Featured Photo Thanks:  KingFeatures.com: Shulock, TheSixChix.com & comicskingdom.com

 

Garnering Old School Praise

“It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High..” — Psalm 92:1

Sunday, my wife and I attended a morning Service of Worship at Bellevue Baptist Church,  our sister church in Converge MidAmerica​, and the home church of our partner and musical director Garlan Garner​. In the 25 years of our association with Bellevue, as often as we’ve presented together through Kingdom Impact Theater Ministries​ or Elk Grove Baptist Church​, we had never been able to go to a Sunday morning service.  Add this to our list of #holyspiritmoments.

Bellevue, on Chicago’s South Side, is what we call an “old school” church.  It’s often found in an urban setting or the center of a long-ago established smaller community in a building that was built to be a church decades ago (as opposed to being a converted office building, mall, movie theater or multi-site complex).  Its founding residents were likely another ethnicity than those currently attending, and perhaps that change in demographic was problematic, so much so that it may have hastened the change though few of the current attendees recall.

Such was the case with Bellevue, whose congregation was predominately Caucasian when Lucious Fullwood, a pioneer in encouraging racial unity through the Gospel of Christ, became the senior pastor almost 40 years ago. “Black” was still being accepted as the preferred reference to Americans of African descent.  That there are few Anglos in the neighborhood or congregation Pastor Fullwood still shepherds at Bellevue now is moot, for his messages of maintaining faith in Christ in the face of daily human struggles transcend any particular DNA.

Vikki_Garlan Bellevue

 

Vikki J. Myers and her musical partner Garlan Garner embrace musical styles that transcend neighborhoods and unite communities.

Old-School Worship

Besides,  while the people may have changed certain elements of Sunday worship passed on tradition. In the context of modern church-ulture, “old school” likely means the church has not totally abandoned occasionally reading from The King James Version; announcement time may include conversations from the platform and the pews; guests  may be welcomed by name, invited to stand, and an opportunity to give a greeting during the service; and may have a small, non-flashy, yet boisterous choir whose singers may include those not-yet qualified for AARP.

Garlan led the musical worship as he does three Sundays a month.  In something of a concession to contemporary settings, Garlan plays keyboards that can replicate other instruments.  He is frequently backed-up by what my wife — the gospel jazz singer — calls the rhythm section: drums and electric bass.  They also have an alto sax.  Another modern adaption is having words on the screen versus singing from the hymnal.  Although  there is a printed order of service for the congregation to follow, the printed order is a template.

In old-school church, there is no countdown clock to follow.  No kickoff to hasten home to watch.  DVRs were made for old-school churches (microwaves, too). The first time a preacher says, “As I close” is the 15-minute warning.  the choir, the people and the technicians have to be ready to change. It’s called letting The Spirit work.

Improvisational Worship

Among Garlan’s great gifts is musical improvisation — accompanying in the moment. Without being told, asked, paid or noticed he senses when the atmosphere of a prelude, prayer or offertory  would be more worshipful with keyboard underscoring. He conducts the choir confident that they have done their homework, reviewing their charts, lyrics and mp3s.  Sundays are not for rehearsal, he tells them during their Monday practices,; Sundays are for worship.

He embodies the old old-school form of leading worship, call-and-response, where the person guiding the singing sings or says the upcoming line and the others follow along. An echo. The structure is not dissimilar from Old Testament psalms (e.g., Psalm 136) yet emerged as a distinct element of Christ-centered worship among African-Americans — out of necessity during slavery and as tradition after Emancipation.  At the core of call-and-and response is that there’s no sheet music to follow.   It’s about trusting the leader, listening, knowing the songs by heart, and hopefully singing them from there. Those in the congregation who don’t know the lyrics are not left out.  When the musicians yield to the spirit, the people’s hearts and minds will follow.

All of that history is to help you understand the impact of what happened when Garlan called for a song that wasn’t planned.

 

Garlan Interps

The hands of an arranger:  Hear the score, score the script, play the music, make it your own.

Here We Are to Worship

It started as a “Is-there-a-doctor-in-the-house?” moment.   Garlan moved toward the keyboard, then walked to the edge of platform and shouted for the ushers to see if a choir member was in the lobby.   This was her Sunday off, or she perhaps attended the first service of the morning hours before. Nevertheless, she was not expected in the building, yet Garlan thought he saw her from the stage, and in doing-so a new song came on his heart for the pre-sermon selection; a song he felt was particularly suited to her interpretation.  When the singer could not be found, the song remained appropriate, so Garlan went to the keyboards and began singing “Here I Am to Worship.” The choir and congregation responded. While moving in its own right, the power of these moments became more inspired when we finished singing and recognized what had transpired.

 

Here I am to worship
Here I am to bow down
Here I am to say that You’re my God
You’re altogether lovely
Altogether worthy
Altogether wonderful to me
— (c) 2001, Tim Hughes

Three weeks ago, on a Saturday when we were preparing to serve as KIT Ministries in Sunday worship in Libertyville, IL, Garlan texted Vikki he had lost his hearing during the week.  A medical procedure to alleviate pressure in his ear canal was not only painful, it did not totally take and left him with minimal hearing.  Not good: not for the service plan; not for Vik, whose musical growth has corresponded with Garlan’s interpreting her thoughts; least of all not good for a pianist who — pardon, yet it’s true — plays by ear (as in, Garlan doesn’t read music. For newer songs, Garlan’ collaborated with his wife, Tracey, also an accompanist at Bellevue.  Tracey does read music, so she plays and records the tunes which Garlan listens to a few times, replicates and then adapts. )

Despite prayers for relief, we did not expect him in Libertyville Sunday, and when we arrived at the location before he did (extremely rare) were certain we’d need to improvise and make adjustments with the host lead worshipper.  Silly us.  (translated, “Oh, ye of little faith!) Garlan not only had confirmed his attendance the night before with our host…he not only drove over an hour from his south suburban home to the northern suburban near- the-state-line site and played our set, but only AFTER the service did any of the other musicians know he could barely hear them.

Standing arm’s-length away he explained, in his normal voice, “You sound like you’re in a barrel and feel like I’m shouting.” When he laughed, it felt safe to make a Beethoven reference — something about “Ode to Joy.” He chuckled then headed home, reassuring us he was all right to drive…despite his balance not seeming right.  We waited for news of his followup visits.

Last week, he had another excruciating ear procedure done.  So painful he had to take off work (Garlan does NOT miss appointments), and listening to him tell what occurred creates weak knees and watery eyes.  In the weeks since the initial problem occurred, Garlan and the Bellevue Prayer Ministry (the whole church), went into overdrive.

 

Pastor Fullwood

Pastor Lucious Fullwood:  Preaching the gospel, providing stability throughout transitions.

A Word from the Pulpit

On this particular day — Communion Sunday — as he finished “Here I Am to Worship”by seguing into “Thank You, Lord” in such a way you thought it was planned, as the singers left the choir box to return to their congregational seats, Garlan intercepted Pastor Fullwood just before the pastor announced, “It’s Preaching Time!” He felt compelled to share a brief medical update with the congregation whose last news was that Garlan was unable to hear what he’d been playing that morning’s music.

“I just want to say,” he said hurriedly, apologetically but necessarily to Pastor Fullwood, “prayer works!  I just wanted to thank you for praying.”

Beat.

“The doctors say I’ve got 80 percent of my hearing back.”

Beat.

“I don’t know what God’s going to do about the other 20 percent, but I’ll still be serving, so I just wanted to thank you.”

With Garlan’s testimony still ringing in our ears, Pastor Fullwood resumed with his regularly scheduled “Preaching Time!” message, “Having Faith In God.” He read from the selected  New Testament passages of Jesus healing the leper and Roman centurion’s daughter. (Matthew 8:1-10, 13).  Healing, by faith.  Garlan took his seat in a pew. And the band prayed on.

 

This essay is one of a series called, “Benediction,” a collection of reflections on sermons, keynotes and workshop presentations heard, and church experiences we have had.

#SDG #AndAmen #MEMoFromMichaelEdgarMyers

Something About That Name

God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,  that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,  in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,  to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:9-11 (New International Version)

No name in human history has evoked such a range of conversation and emotion as the name Jesus Christ.

Deified, demonized or defied, “Jesus” evokes some sort of response (even curiosity) among the most casual respondent.  You’re likely to hear or see the name Jesus more this week as public observations about his life are presented as Easter approaches – the calendar date that commemorates the morning his followers believe he returned to life, three days after being entombed following his execution by crucifixion.  Crucifixion, nailing a person a cross until he asphyxiated, was the Roman equivalent of lethal injection.  In other words, capital punishment.

jesus multicultural
Jesus Christ — envisioned by artists across cultures.

To those who witnessed and believed then, and who have believed the accounts of that weekend in the centuries since, the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus is the climactic part of the Christmas story of his birth to Mary, the Virgin. To those believers these collective events prove that God – creator of the universe — was incarnated on earth as a human, lived among mankind, physically died and returned to life to demonstrate that life has eternal qualities; life beyond what we know,  something to which many aspire.  That eternal life, the followers say, starts with belief about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

 

This tome is less about agreeing or disagreeing with the belief than  an encouragement to embrace your curious gene.

MERRY CREASTER

There’s a bevy of research noting that Easter Sunday has the highest attendance of any church services of the year.  More than Christmas.  There are various, ageless running jokes about people who only go to church twice a year, any where from “Chreasters” to “Chriseastians” to CEOs – Christmas & Easter Onlys.  For anti-defamation sake, these designations have been most often heard in these ears from the voices of those who categorize themselves thusly.

So, there’s a question of why?  Why does Easter attendance skyrocket?  Why are there so many Jesus Resurrection-themed programs – films and documentaries – available for our viewing pleasure this week? Why is there such a quandary in many government offices and schools throughout the U.S. about whether or not to be open on Friday – the day Jesus was put to death, the day revered as Good Friday among those who believe his death was the beginning of life?

We cannot overlook answers such as “because Jesus programs make money,” or “church on Easter seems to be the right thing.” (Akin to when avowed atheist W.C. Fields purportedly was caught reading a Bible during his final days and when asked why purported intoned,  “Looking for loopholes.”  He died Christmas Day, 1946.)

It’s likely that many people are drawn to Jesus more than they’ll admit, and that even more are willing to confess that Jesus is who he said he is, The Son of God, who said, “No one comes to the Father but through me.”

ALLURE AND ASSAULT

That the person of Jesus is attractive in many circles is widely admitted.   That the life of Jesus – his commands, his examples, his teachings – has been sullied and misappropriated by poorly educated humans “in the name of Jesus” for centuries is undeniable.  Mahatma Ghandi was impressed by Christ, but not Christians.  Muslims recognize Jesus as a revered prophet, noting so in the Koran, but a revered prophet among many. Dan Kimball, pastor and author, created a popular curriculum of writings and interviews with a title that best summarizes the two-faced Christian image among those who may be CEOs.  Kimball’s curriculum:  “They Like Jesus, But Not  the Church.”

At the same time, Jesus is cursed – as in loathed – in many circles for the very reasons that made him attractive.  Cursed so much so that even saying his name is likely to invoke serious injury, or death.  His name is so despised among many who share his Jewish lineage that “Jesus Christ” may be used as a purposeful pejorative, particularly in his homeland.  It’s the kind of atmosphere that existed in the last days he walked the earth – noted this week.  Holy Week was the start of Passover and began with Jesus’ kingly entry into Jerusalem on Sunday, a coronation of sorts  that subsequently dissipated into Jesus’ tantrum over commercialization in the temple, a political  murder conspiracy,  and a fateful yet hopeful final meal before his mid-night trial, conviction and gruesome killing by week’s end.

Still…after he was resurrected, say his followers… the name of Jesus and reference to these events would land someone in jail, or worse.  One of those men Was the apostle Paul, an early supervisor of Christ-followers killings, who wrote the quote at the top of this article while he was imprisoned for teaching that Jesus was God Incarnate as he claimed.  The verse cited is a lesson learned.  Paul contended that ultimately mankind would discover what he experienced while en route to slay more Christ-followers.  Walking on the road, Paul wrote, he was blinded by a light, knocked to his knees and had a personal conversation with the slain-but-not-dead Jesus. This encounter changed Paul’s life – saving him, he says, from spiritual separation from the God in whom he believed.  To Paul separation from God was eternal death, while embracing God because he believed Jesus was eternal life.  He continued preaching this belief until he was beheaded some 30 years after Jesus was crucified and resurrected.

SYRIA: FOREVER IN THE NEWS

This meeting between Paul and Jesus has taken added significance to this Holy Week, for the encounter occurred on the road to Damascus, Syria…the latest locale of recent political upheaval that has resurrected interest in end-times scriptures as “wars and rumors of wars” and other passages in Revelation pointing toward the Second Christmas – the prophesied return of Jesus.

Is that return true?  That’s why people search.  And write songs. Of the countless numbers of songs that have been written about Jesus, perhaps the one that best encapsulates the multi-faceted impact of “Jesus Christ” is “There’s Something About That Name” written by Gloria Gaither.  While Gaither’s lyrics embrace the attributes of Christ as Savior, at the same time they infer the irritating quality of “Jesus” that leads to its use as a profanity, rash reactions when mentioned in non-religious public discourse, requests to not pray in “Jesus’ name,” or his followers to be  bombed while worshipping him in a church — overseas and stateside.

There’s also something about that name that draws the CEOs to learn more about him in such seasons as this.

For the reader who is curious about the life of Christ – for spiritual, academic or just cultural curiosity – the bevy of Holy Week  programs – on television, at church, in theaters – provides ample opportunity to have that curiosity sated.  For those who already believe, these opportunities provide a challenge to re-examine why you believe what you believe…perhaps to converse with those unbelievers why the name of Jesus is a special something.

When the 25th Is Over

When the 25th is over
And all the kin are gone,
When you’ve packed away the tinsel,
The lights and all the songs…

When you’ve paid the bills for all the frills
And feel your ample girth,
Will you gaze upon your bottom line
And find your peace on earth?

When the 25th is over
And you’re standing in a line
Returning gifts you didn’t like,
But that you said were, “Fine.’

Will you run a tab on your whole life
To see just what it’s worth?
Will you ask yourself, “What must I do
To find some peace on earth?”

As crabby girls and sulking boys
Cry over broken brand-new toys,
When the 25th is over
And you’re taking down the tree,
Can you tell them the irony
Of that tree with lights so bright?
T’will stand for a cross on Calvary
On a darker silent night?

Yes, the 25th is over
And life is back to normal.
You’ve tossed your cookies
And squeezed the candies

(to find the one that’s caramel)

You’re feeling glad Christmas is gone
With all its hype and prices…
Yet, deep inside remains this thought:
“I wonder who this Christ is?”

Then simply search, and simply ask
And think of His good news.
Then simply make His sacrifice
An offer you can’t refuse.

For if you do, He’ll give to you
Peace on earth so strong…
You won’t have Christmas on the 25th
You’ll live it…all year long.

— (c) Michael Edgar Myers, 2002.  All Rights Reserved. Use granted through written permission of the author only.  Cover photo (c) Michael Edgar Myers, 2014.  All Rights Reserved

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“Don’t Save It All for Christmas Day,”  a Mom & Daughter Duet, Vikki J. Myers & Cami Myers

 

 

 

 

 

Worship in The Barn

Says the Lord: “My ways are far beyond anything you could imagine…and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” — Isaiah 55:8, 9 (New Living Translation)

The piano player phoned about 10 minutes before the call time.

“I just wanted to make sure I’m at the right place,” he said.  “All I see is a barn.”

“Red barn?”

“Y-y-ess…”

“You’re in the right place.”

The actors arrived at the big red barn about 15 minutes later, in time to see The Pianist at work.  He grabbed a snow shovel and joined two other men, who may or may not have been attached to The Barn, clearing the sidewalks.  Not because he had to.  It’s just who he is.  The extra hands were helpful because the temperature promised to only become more sub-zero, although no more snow as anticipated.

Except for the eye-watering atmosphere, the scene was picturesque:  The fresh white covering over acres of woods made isolated crimson structure and its attached beige silo more robust.  A Courier & Ives card-in-waiting.

That The Pianist pitched in reflected the aura emanating from The Barn, manifested in the two men who were already at work when The Pianist parked.  The manifestation continued through Shoveler No. 1, George, who stopped shoveling to greet and hold The Barn door for the entering cast.  He was especially elated to meet The Singer, who would be presenting a solo during the Service of Worship.  He had heard a recording of the song she’d selected and made an offer.

“I play drums,” he said.  “May I sit in?”

While The Singer, The Pianist and George The Drummer entered The Barn to rehearse, stabilizing harmonies in the sanctuary;  The Director climbed into the loft of The Barn for an overview of staging and recording possibilities.   Ten minutes later, as George The Drummer assumed his mile-mannered George The Shoveler identity, The Director descended the loft and went to talk with The Pastor in another part of The Barn, the silo — The Pastor’s oval office.

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A commemorative saw, reminder of the craftsmanship, on display in the lobby.

“Lark (n): A lighthearted, fun, carefree episode. Often unplanned, a lark can happen when you are feeling adventurous.” — vocabulary.com

Atop the circular stairs, The Director gazed out the window into the white field glimmering under the eastern rising sun.  The view was pastoral. Placing himself where The Pastor studies at his desk, it was easy — and helpful — to envision the serenity and inspiration of this view on a lush, green day. At -6 outside, this was not that day.

Yet Minus-6 or 98.6, that the view exists is a miracle.  The Pastor, Lamarr Lark, is not the first of many connected to The Barn, who will use that phrase, “a miracle.”

“I remember standing out in the field,” NOW he could flash the smile that rivals the snow for gleam.  “I was…I was crying…and I was…..”

Mad at God?

“I couldn’t understand.”

During this brief chat at the top of the winding staircase that supplanted an office door, Pastor Lark recounted the short, intense history of Connection Church, the church he had been working to plant in the country – farmland – an hour north of Chicago.  He had no idea how apt “planting a church in the country” would be.

Lark and the team had purchased a large acreage of farmland, the centerpiece of which was a rickety building slightly older than Abraham:  a 136-year-old barn.

“You would not believe what it looked like.  I said, ‘God, what are you doing?’ ”

RAISE THE ROOF

Lark had a vision for a church.  This wasn’t it.  When a real estate developer offered cash for the property and a quick closing date, the complex Lark envisioned sharpened.  “I had the spot and the property all picked,” he said.  Something sleek and modern.  Custom-made.  Something economically feasible with bells and whistles to intrigue families of the Media Age, families with whom he interacted when working in corporate America nearby, families curious about The Word but scattered about where it’s hard to meet new neighbors. This vision was clear.

Before closing occurred, village officials nixed the deal.  The developer’s plan for a new multi-house residential complex was incompatible with zoning guidelines.  No sale.  The Barn became a white elephant.  Lamarr wept.

And submitted.  Rather than a barn razing, there was a barn raising.

“God’s plans are not our plans!” Lark’s smile was praiseworthy.

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Praising God in the sanctuary: Refurbished original wood.

IF GOD WERE A CARPENTER

As God unveiled His plan — in His time — He provided new vision, blueprints, capital, partners, and workers.  Like George the Shoveling-Drummer.  Like Brenda Lark, The Pastor’s Wife (First Lady of the Oval Office Silo).   Like Mike the Carpenter.  Lamarr preaches from the pulpit.  Mike preaches from the carpet.  (Or, he would if there were any.  The floors are hardwood.  So are the walls.  And the beams.  Almost everything.)

“We didn’t want any drywall upstairs,” said the soft-spoken Mike.  “We had to shore up the beams, keep the wood.  We didn’t want any pressed wood.   I’m a carpenter.  Carpenters are craftsmen.  I always wanted to pass what I know on to someone else.  God made that happen.”

Among the volunteers was a college-age lad, a medical student who latched on to the intricacies of carpentry.

“Carpentry is one of those professions that used to have prestige, like the pastor was saying.  Sometimes people see me and ask, ‘Are you still pounding nails?’  They don’t mean it bad, I’m not somebody to make an issue, so I say, ‘Yeah, I’m still pounding nails.’ But it means something to be a carpenter.”

He didn’t say so, but like any good preacher, he left room for interpretation and personal application.  On this last Sunday before Christmas, standing in the middle of a rehabbed barn with a nail-pounder gave new insight into the fact that Mary’s husband from the line of David the Shepherd was a carpenter who taught the craft to his son.

“Carpenters are creative. Everything was created through Jesus.”

The Barn has endless sermon possibilities.

IF WALLS COULD TALK

“Somebody was telling me that the walls could preach a sermon,” Pastor Lark interjected into his message.  He continued noting that the whisper of the walls remembering the process of cleaning the building in preparation for the carpenters. “Some of you remember.  When we dug out the downstairs, the SMELL from the horses!  Imagine…THAT is the barn where Jesus was born…”

Cleansed of its horse dung, porous rafters, and unstable foundation, the remodeled basement is the Connection connection. The drywall is painted stark white, offset by hand-crafted wood trim. It’s an adaptable open, modern space where children play, teaching may occur, food consumed, TV viewed over the fireplace.

“That wasn’t supposed to be there,” said Pastor Lark.  Then came Mike, who added two other places that weren’t “supposed to be there:” the kitchen and, upstairs, an entry hall into the worship space.

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Billboard near Chattanooga, TN. Courtesy “Creative South Homes” by Kaliee

“You know, it’s easier for some people to come to ‘The Barn’ than to come to ‘church,’ “ says Mike the Carpenter, who  moved from a church he had been attending for almost 20 years to answer a cry he heard in a message by Pastor Lark. “People have baggage about ‘church,’ but when they come here, and get to see what we’ve done they’re more open to hear The Word.”

Although weekly services began in September 2016, the official grand opening won’t be until Spring 2017 as Easter approaches.  Until then, building within the building continues.  The building of relationships — among the members and within growing local communities in Lake County and across the county lines.

Crossing county lines doesn’t mean just across the road into Cook County.  The mission of Connection to be a multi-cultural church is more than an advertisement on a side of a barn which is why Lark – an African-American leading a small, mostly Caucasian congregation – is partnering with Rodney Patterson, also African-American and pastor of historic Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church on Chicago’s South Side, a predominately black congregation, to worship and study Scripture together. The fellowship hall is the workshop for building that relationship.  It’s a room of transformation– a carpenter’s 2 Corinthians 5:17.

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Remnants of a Brainstorm.

HANDWRITING ON THE WALLS

The fellowship hall walls are covered with poster-sized sticky notes, the residue of brainstorming sessions.  They are a blueprint teaching the members how to interact and engage with people who drive from nearby communities, who have different church experiences or Bible knowledge.  To emphasize the teaching, the sticky-noted mission statement discusses an edit between “A diverse community” to “an inclusive and equitable” community.  That vision, Lark said, is not his, but His.  “We want Connection to reflect a heaven that says ‘every tribe and nation.’ ”

At the same time, he knows he is dealing with humans — real people, sinners, who have personal issues that must be addressed, Biblically.  Like Paul’s church epistles, these sticky notes have specific instructions. One challenge is developing a corporate, proactive sense of serving as exhibited by The Carpenter and The Drummer (who not only played drums on the rehearsed special song, but unexpectedly — miraculously? intuitively? Spirit-fully? — provided improvised drum underscore in the scene performed before the sermon).  Part of overcoming the challenge is discipling through action and language.

Illustration: “I don’t like the word ‘volunteer’ in a church setting,” said The Carpenter.  “A ‘volunteer’ doesn’t have the same commitment.  It’s about ‘servanthood.’ ”

Another illustration hangs on the walls of the oval office.  Above The Pastor’s desk, the post-it note outlines guidelines for developing a Ministry Team proclaiming boldly: “Come and See Orientation Engaging a Non-Believer” leading to TEAM Time:

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SHILOH IN THE SILO

On the opposite wall are outlines for practical application of TEAM Time. “The Worship Experience” speaks of “unity fellowship” an important element in a church culture where “worship” is often a synonym for “music.” (Toward this, Connection jobs-in musical ensembles or individual worship leaders rather than depending on a set musical team or style.  Perhaps something else Pastor Lark had not planned.)

“The Worship Experience” plays out in the Sunday hour, however, it’s especially applicable as the guideline for the burgeoning relationship with Shiloh entitled, “Let’s Talk About Race,” a series of six dialogues including themes of socialization, reconciliation and transformation.  Part of the process includes “unity fellowship” worship experiences in the home church’s neighborhood.  Shiloh is scheduled to visit The Barn in February — African-American History Month.  Among their collaborations is a semi-annual joint Service of Worship alternately hosted on their home sites, meaning – a trip to the South side and a trip to The Barn.

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Lamarr Lark (r) with Dana James and Rodney Patterson from Shiloh.

The idea, Lark explains, is that in an era of increasing racial tensions in the U.S., it’s important to demonstrate that the gospel of Christ is for all;  that worship is more than musical style, but a place of preparation for regeneration; that Christ, more than the ballot, is the hope for the nation. Saying this in his message, The Pastor paraphrased a public official who had recently spoken of feeling without hope as the country changes leadership.  The Pastor looked to the walls of the resurrected barn on which hung a symbolic cross of resurrection.

PHOTO ALBUM:  Connection and Shiloh Fellowship

If the walls could preach, they’d say THAT resurrection was as likely as the expected Savior of Humanity being introduced to the world in the guise of a baby in the din of a stable.  If walls could preach they’d say THAT birth was as likely as a dingy stable being resurrected into a chapel.  If the walls could preach, they’d say either of the above would take a miracle.

If the walls could preach, they’s stay it was no lark that the The Pastor stood in the middle of The Barn talking about the birth in the dingy stable.  They’d say it came from a silo mentality.

God’s ways are NOT like ours.

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