It started with a piece of tape.

And then another, and another and another. And then the next roll. And the next….

A view from upstairs and you can see what it is. The chairs are all gone and the tape marks the outline of where the congregation normally sits.

Why?  Because Good Friday isn’t comfortable.

Then came the musicians.

Plugging in cords. Setting up microphones. Tuning the cello and the guitars.

Hey, you see those two over there? What are they doing? I don’t know.

They move from place to place around the room. Soon it’s obvious what they are doing.

They are praying. They are praying for the worshippers that will soon be coming in. .

Every one of them.

The pastors and musicians gather for prayer as people start wandering in. Some of the elderly sit in a row of chairs around the back. Everyone else sits on the floor.

Just enough light shows to help people pick out spots on the floor. Families sit in groups. Parents tell their little ones why it’s dark and why they are sitting on the floor.

Some are very comfortable on the floor, many are not. But more and more people are coming in.

It’s quiet, unusually quiet. Reflective, somber, anticipatory.

And more people come in. The ushers keep busy trying to find a place for them.

They succeed even as the empty spots get smaller and smaller. They ask and people gladly move closer together.

The minister spoke in the dark. Words of reverence and hope. Words of redemption. Words of awareness.

The music joined in – many of the musicians were playing from their heart and soul – and without any written music. The music wove itself throughout the room, turning people’s hearts to Jesus and to Good Friday.

“Were the whole realm of nature mine, that would be a present far too small.” A heartfelt admission that we are more broken than we think we are and more loved than we could ever imagine.

The seven stations of the cross – followed by a candle being extinguished. The darkness grows.

Judas betrays Jesus. The darkness grows.

Peter denies Jesus. The darkness grows.

The thief begs for salvation. The darkness grows.

Every step of the way, the darkness grows.

“Father into thy hands, I commit my spirit.

It’s late on Friday and a wise man and a believer worked with the Mary’s and get him down and buried him.

It’s Friday – but Sunday’s coming.

It’s Friday – but Sunday’s coming.

The pastors jointly said, “May the Lord Bless you, may the Lord make his face to shine on and keep you. Go forth in the knowledge it is currently Friday, but Sunday’s coming.

Sunday is coming and God is so so good.

Tom

So What Did You Learn Today?

That is a question I’ve been driving my kids nuts with for decades. So many nights at supper time, that question comes up…..

But I figure, hey, if we’re spending the time and effort and money to send them to private Christian schools, we should have the right to know what they learn, right?

I won’t tell you how many times they can’t remember, at supper time, what they learned that day at school. Those of you who are teachers would cringe…….

But I want to share with you two things I learned at and about church a few weeks back and I hope you’ll find them useful……

First, if someone shares a struggle that they are going through – whether that be a physical, emotional, relational, financial or ? Kind of struggle, you should consider the fact that they shared it with you as a holy compliment. That means you should pray wholeheartedly for that person and do what you can to help them. There are very few things more disillusioning to a hurting member of a church than for them to open up to a fellow church member and then either find the news gossiped around the church or completely ignored.

Secondly, if someone brings you into the circle of people who know about their journey – journey of illness, journey of pain, journey of whatever they are fighting against, don’t apologize for not knowing about it sooner. Be grateful for the chance to help them be strong from the inside.

Simple things – but simple things that could make the church a much healthier place.

And together we could then Rejoice in the Lord in a much more deeply personal and spiritually healthy way.

God is good.

All the time.

TJV

Grief – Wrapped in Worship

It happened again this morning. Pastor Dave was finishing up his sermon on Isaiah 6. If I had to summarize the sermon, I would say it this way, “We serve an awesome God who is way bigger and more powerful than we could ever imagine.”

At the end of the sermon, Pastor Dave had the congregation sing the song, Holy Holy Holy and do it without instruments.

The singing was powerful.

The song is powerful.

As we started the second verse, the feeling hit again.

The grief hit again.

It has many times since March 23 when my Dad entered heaven.

Not only do I miss my Dad but I also get a very strong sense that when we are worshipping God, when we are gathering as believers, those who went before are somehow gathered and watching and supporting us.

I don’t know if it’s theologically sound or not, but I firmly believe that when we are gathered in worship it can quite often be an opportunity to feel closer to those who have gone before us.

This morning, my Dad wasn’t there singing Holy Holy Holy with us.

But he was. And it hurt. And it was good.

Because God is good.

All the time.

Tom

12 Words – a Powerful Statement

You know, I never really gave it much thought.

It was just part of the Sunday morning worship service. Sometimes the pastor would say it and sometimes the Pastor wouldn’t.

But after a while, I began realizing that no, he didn’t say it sometimes. It was a consistent statement, a solid foundation to build the rest of the worship service and frankly your week on.

It’s a conversation. Actually, it’s more of a testimony.

No matter whether you lost your job or someone you care about lost their battle with cancer or depression….. (We could name a million challenges that you could face in a week.) Even though we hurt, even though we suffer, even though we question, we acknowledge this one true foundation:

“God is Good!” said by the worship leader. One of the church leaders, someone who knows more about the pain that sits or stands in front of them than pretty much anyone in the church up and firmly proclaims that God is good!

The congregation plays an important role in this. They respond, in one voice:

“All the time.”
Even when jobs are lost
“All the time”
Even when loved ones die
“All the time”
Even when hate crimes seem to be on the rise.
“All the time”
Even when illnesses don’t heal.
“All the time”

And then the call is reversed.

“All the time”
“God is good”

What a powerful statement to make in light of the world we live in.

What a powerful statement to make in light of all of the illness, sickness, and death in this world.

What a powerful statement to make in light of the increase of publicized racial tension.

God is good. And we must hang on to that.

All the time. Not only when the going is easy.

All

The

Time

TJV

“GOD is good, a hiding place in tough times. He recognizes and welcomes anyone looking for help, No matter how desperate the trouble.”
Nahum 1:7 MSG
http://bible.com/97/nam.1.7-10.msg

Talking to Yourself

No, I don’t think I’ve totally lost it (though if I have, how would I know?) but seriously, I don’t know about you but I do a lot of talking to myself – but I do it on digital paper. What’s digital paper? It’s the computer screen. I can usually think and type way faster than I can write and so my thoughts to myself make more sense that way.

So back to the real subject that I want to share with you.

I was talking to myself about some of the things that have happened in my family this past year. There have been highs, there have been lows, there have been really low lows. The lows were often a lot harder than we expected they would be. Thanksgiving without my Dad here was hard.c  After my son read a poem in church that he wrote about his grandpa, it was hard and it was good. Hearing Pastor Joy pray a prayer of gratitude for all my dad has done and the people he has blessed. All of this took place in a prayer request time. There were many prayers of thanks but also many prayers filled with sadness.   In addition, I could go on about my medical issues (which are still ongoing), about…..

As I was talking to myself in my journal, I found me saying, “At the same time, I don’t want to stay where I am.”

I stopped, looked at what I had written and said, “How do you mean that?” Do you mean, “I have a plan and here’s the way I want it to go?”

Or do you mean, “God, I don’t know what “all of this” is for, I don’t know why it has happened, I don’t know why I’m still dealing with side effects, rather nasty ones, from a medical procedure for an AVM (Google it if you want to know more), 10 months later when it should have only been two to 4 weeks. What do you mean?”

I don’t want to stay where I am.

But

I can’t seem to see where you want me to “go.”

At that point, the words of Pastor Darrell came back to me from a discussion that he and I had over all of “this.” “Tom, do not doubt that the Lord has you exactly where he needs you and you are right here and right now, for such a time as this. Be still and know.”

I think you and I both know that God isn’t using major life events to bring us back to “where we were.” He’s using them to change us so we can be the change that our communities are.

So may we all spend more time being still, more time listening for God and a lot less time trying to force our plan into motion.

Tom