Our Numbered Days

Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom. — Psalm 90:12

People wonder if God talks to people anymore. People wonder about people who say God talks to them.

Since this author is convinced of both — that God does talk to people, and God speaks to me — you may wonder about me.  You’re welcome to do so. It’s a long line, and I’m in the front. I wonder about me a lot myself.

We should be clear about what we mean by this speaking with God business.

Calendar
Photo by STIL on Unsplash

It is not unexpected that there is uncertainty about people who say they’ve been in conversation with God and instructed by Him to do certain things. It started with Moses and the burning Bush, continued through and number of old testament prophets, and the new testament church builders — Jesus and Paul.

God-speak lunacy has been attached to crusaders, warriors, soldiers, church leaders, contemporary politicians and media practitioners. Indeed, a reason for much of our American party fighting is how either side co-opts God-speak to justify a personal cause that affects public policy.

Example:  I recently read a New Yorker reprint talking of how George W. Bush spoke of how God told him to invade Iraq; contrasting that point of view with how Muslim opponents contend the same type of conversation with Allah compelled jihad.  So, to be clear, I’m not talking about a monumental overthrow of issue that will make headlines for a news cycle.

I’m not disputing the perspective of faith as an instrument of public policy, nor supporting it. Not in this piece, if I were to take a position. I merely point out the differences of how God-speak exists today to further clarify what I mean — to distance myself from the lunacy bend as I prepare a journey and extend an invitation to join me.

The journey is simple. It’s a reading journey. One day at a time. There will be bumps and detours en route, but I guess that’s part of the fun. Kinda like those college road trips. “On the Road” with Jack Kerouac. Driving across “Route 66” on TV in a blue Corvette.

The road map here is just the Verse of the Day. I get one in my box each morning from You Version, one of the Bible apps I employ. My goal — the POINT — is to reflect, mediate and journal on how God speaks to me through that verse. That’s all. That’s our journey.

Route 66 TV Show
Opening credits of Route 66

I have no idea what the verses are until I see them. I’ve done this intermittently for years…the journaling from Scriptures. The process has yielded personal thoughts and many scripts I’ve written for Kingdom Impact Theater. Now in my Medicare days, the Scriptures inspire me differently. “Speak” to me differently; particularly in light of the daily events around us. Cultural and, yes, political.

I think that’s a beauty of reading Scriptures: the assortment of personal understandings at various points of our lives. On one level, we read them for knowledge. On another level, for guidance. There’s also a dangerous level in which some read Scriptures in order to bully…to manipulate an agenda. Yet, the bully pulpit can be defused and redirected by maturity — maturity through life experience, or through an equally forceful intervention by a more insightful, direct colleague who invokes the admonitions of Jesus and Peter and the litmus test of John.

Such centuries-old statements are cannons and whispers in my head today whether I’m reading Scripture, hearing a sermon, or watching a news interview with an evangelical-du-jour. I am intrigued in such moments when a passage or verse comes to mind that, as one-time talk show host Arsenio Hall would say, “Makes me say, ‘Hmmm.’ ” I think that’s when God’s talking, and, yes, I find that fascinating.  And scary.  And fun.

So, my desire to read them — and sit through sermons live or revisit online — has taken a new purpose.  Perhaps like me, you have endeavored to begin a new year determined to read all 66 books of the Bible in 365 days, and the 24-hour grace of a leap year.  Perhaps, like me, you’ve achieved the task; or perhaps, unlike me, you’ve read the Scriptures in their entirety numerous times, and have already begun such a journey.  You’ve perhaps even made a point about sharing how many times, or how many Bible translations you’ve completely read through.  I applaud your discipline, and ask: “How often in reading have you had that Aresenio Hall Moment of “Hmmm?” How often has your read of  Scriptures been fun? Breathtaking like a rollercoaster ride? Skydive free fall? Mental white water rafting?

Daft, you say? Maybe. But when I read the verse today — at the start of a new year, “teach us to number our days;”   and I am more certain that Moses’ prayer to God is also God’s voice to me saying “Don’t waste any more time.”

It’s the opposite voice of when I would start the day reading my horoscope and hoping something good would happen or fretting about the thing to watch out for.

I am also calmed and bemused by the Proverb posted on January 1  — “In their hearts humans plan their course, but The Lord establishes their steps.” — in contrast to the rituals surrounding resolutions, annual goal-planning, or good luck dietary meals designed to make the next 365 days go better than good riddance to the last 12 months.

You Version Bible Apps: Daily Verse, Devotionals and More

At the same time, the verses leave me humbled in light of the year-end posts of dear friends who recount their horrible personal challenges of the year — be they severe illness, multiple deaths of close friends and family, or just the inability to make ends meet.  In each case, no doubt, the last year began as this — with good riddance and hope in their hearts.  

In most of the cases of my friends who have suffered, most of them also recognized their achievements in spite of the losses.  In deed, several may say had it not been for the losses, the impact of their achievements would have been less…or not at all.

So, collectively, these events — plus the challenges in our own household — gave pause in the predawn quiet of this day when verse 12 came into my reading, and spawned not just a momentary read, but a thirst for more.  So I read the entirety of Psalm 90 which speaks of mortality, promised years, and God’s attributes — both His anger and His compassion.

Moses, the author of the Psalm, concludes his conversation with this request:

“May the favor of the Lord Our God rest on us — establish the work of our hands for us; yes, establish the work of our hands.” 

Psalm 90:17

Psalm 90: New International and King James versions side-by-side.

The lesson of numbering my days and establishing my work speak loudly as a freelance artist, especially since they were the first words I saw upon awakening the morning after a two-month assignment ended the night before. Actors or jazz musicians will tell you that often the power of a selection is less the script or notes on the staff, but the offbeat.  What’s spoken behind the line; the subtext.

So, the voice of God that also speaks through His creation (nature), His people (friends and enemies as well as clergy), His Spirit (“Hmmmmm”) as well as the printed text tells, me this:

“Stop saying, ‘I don’t have enough time,’ or, ‘I wish I wish I had 28 hours,’ or, ‘I’ll get to it,’ or, ‘There aren’t enough hours in the day.’ Stop saying that, if you say you believe in me.”

Numbering my days is God telling me, “Look, you choose to believe me and in me. So since you do, and you know I am creator, use the 24 hours I’ve given you as best you can. Given all the things you have to do or wish to do, which is the best to do today: Binge watch, or read? Social media rant, or conversation? Procrastinate, or create? Your choice. Just realize, the days, like the hairs on your head, are Numbered. And you are bald.”

Thus sayeth The Lord.

Featured Photo above by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

Song of Reflection: Order My Steps

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God & Family: Who’s Up First?

Balancing church and family responsibilities is a reason Paul cautioned wannabe pastors in Corinth about getting married.

Depending on the source you’re reading, there are varying views about divorce rates among couples who profess to be Christ-followers. The rates are either growing at the same rate as non-believers, greater than that rate, declining from that rate, or were never as high.

Assorted denominations have particular perspectives whether couples should divorce and what roles those who do divorce should have in Christian ministry, particularly leadership positions.  Whatever the numbers, whatever your opinion, these facts remain:

  • children of God divorce;
  • they have done so since the time of Moses;
  • divorce is not God’s desire.

Of the numerous verses in Scripture about divorce, the best perspective is Matthew’s gospel account of Jesus’ conversation with Pharisees.

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two, but one flesh.

“What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

(Yes, we switched from the New International to the King James for the last verse for readers who may have heard the words at weddings yet didn’t realize these are the words of Christ, not just the preacher.)

The salient exchange is this:

 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.”

The question 20 centuries later, then, is, “What causes hearts of married couples to become hardened today?”  Moreover, “How do Christian couples become hardened?” For our purposes, one more reflection: “What happens if one of those hardened Christian spouses is a pastor?”

Divorce Certificate Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Keep these questions in mind when listening to Family Priorities, today’s audio installment from “Who Prays for the Pastor?” In this segment, author Frederick Ezeji-Okoye recounts the testimony of a pastor whose zeal for evangelizing produced fruit, not all of which was sweet.

Before you start, discuss or journal about the following:

  • What does the phrase “God-First Ministry” mean to you?
  • What does Family-First Ministry mean?

Pray for the health of your pastor’s marriage as you hear the following testimony.  Ask God to improve communication between both spouses and their offspring.

LISTEN TO THE 1-MINUTE AUDIO DEVOTIONAL

“Family Priorities”

Spreaker: https://www.spreaker.com/episode/14803153

Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/michaelmyers-4/who-prays-for-the

FOR FURTHER STUDY

Download the Free Devotional Discussion Guide

Look into Kingdom Impact Theater Ministries Leadership Workshops

  • “Practicing What Is Preached:” Steps to apply weekend sermons to daily communication.
  • “The Roscoe P. Love Love Clinic:” Practical relationship communication for men, for women; couples, singles; adults, teens.

For maximum, on-going impact, we recommend purchasing the paperback or the audiobook, or both.  Each is available at amazon.com.


This essay is one in a series of devotionals on coping with stress in ministry, and is based on the book, “Who Prays for the Pastor?” written by Bro. Frederick Ezeji-Okoye.  The accompanying discussion guide was written by Michael Edgar Myers, who also narrated the audiobook and 1-minute devotional excerpts. If you have any difficulties accessing the material, please e-mail mem@kit-ministries.com.  Thank you.

#SDG #Shalom #AndAmen

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.

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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.