Archive for April, 2006



Message of Easter: Forgive, reconcile (with permission from my favourite sportswriter)…

Pastors use distinct sermons to teach a well-known story

Terry Pluto
Beacon Journal

Easter is no more about just going to church than it is about bunnies and colored eggs. That's the message from several area clergy members who will be speaking in churches this weekend.

“It's about a personal experience with God, a life-changing experience'' said Bishop F. Josephus Johnson from Akron's House of the Lord.

Johnson plans to talk about the conversion experience of the disciple Paul in his Easter message.

“He was blinded on the road to Damascus, and he encountered God,'' Johnson said. “You talk to people who have really committed their lives to Christ, and so many of them have had undeniable, personal experiences with God, and they can't go back to how they used to live.

“It isn't just something that happened thousands of years ago; it still happens today,'' Johnson said.

His point was that if there was no Resurrection, then there's no Paul who wrote so much of the New Testament, no John, Mark, Luke or Matthew, who wrote the four Gospels. There's no modern Christian church because Jesus would have been just another wise teacher and a holy man.

But as C.S. Lewis wrote, “He claimed to be God… either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman, or worse.''

As The Chapel's Knute Larson said, “That's the great dividing line.''

Easter is not about buying a new suit, dress or pair of shoes. It's not about bonnets, baskets or bouquets. It's not about looking good in church. Christians say it's about forgiveness and reconciliation — with God, with ourselves and with others.

`Good Friday world'

Virtually every priest and pastor will tell you that church matters, that it's a key to developing a spiritual life. But it's not enough. It's the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus that is the heart of Christianity, what makes it alive today.

“I'm doing a message called `Empty Heart, Empty Tomb,' '' said the Rev. Bob Combs, pastor of Norton Grace Church. “So often life feels like we're trapped in a tomb, like we're gasping for breath. The power of Christ rising from the dead is knowing that in the end, we do win. There is hope, there is heaven, there is a reason to go on.''

Good preaching often starts with suffering and ends with celebration. It deals with the fact that we are “Easter people in a Good Friday world,'' a phrase used in Europe for years for a Lenten program, and recently quoted in a USA Today story.

Jesus died on Good Friday, when the world was dark — the edge of despair seemed to circle the hearts of mankind. He rose on Easter. Suddenly, the tomb was empty, and hearts began to fill.

“Many years ago, I had a new asphalt driveway, and right in the middle of it grew a plant,'' said the Rev. Ronald Fowler, pastor of Arlington Church of God. “That's what Easter is for me — a real breakthrough.''

Fowler talked about the Resurrection being about more than just hope for life, “but it's the provision for life after life, and how we can take possession of that.''

Christians believe people can cut through the pain of regrets, the depths of depression, and find a reason to go on. It's an ache in the heart of so many people, and it's the reason Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life has sold more than 25 million copies.

Warren once said in a sermon, “Most people can't forgive themselves for something, or can't forgive someone else. Sometimes, it's both.''

In the times of Jesus and for thousands of years before that, offerings had to be made for sins to be forgiven. Crops were burned, animals were killed, blood was spilled.

The Son of God dying on a cross as an offering for sins would resonate strongly with the people of that era. It still does today, as Mel Gibson's enormously successful film The Passion of the Christ demonstrated.

“People don't need a dead savior, they need a living one,'' said the Rev. Arthur Green, pastor of St. John CME Church.

How to tell the story

The challenge for priests and pastors is how to tell the story many know so well already.

For the Rev. Joseph Kraker of St. Vincent Catholic Church, this will be his 44th Easter sermon.

He believes he has something different, something fresh. He's been reading Journey to Easter by Pope Benedict XVI.

His sermon has the working title of “Show a Little Respect.''

“We are dealing with the God of the universe, the God who raised the dead, the God whose power can't be limited or defined by nature because God created it,'' Kraker said. “As Pope Benedict wrote, God does want us to obey him, to follow him. If we take the real meaning of Easter into our hearts, it demands a response.''

It should walk out the church door with us. It should not be tossed out with the Easter leftovers, or hung in the closet and forgotten like a dress from an Easter long past.

“It's not just about doctrine, although doctrine and what you believe does matter,'' said The House of the Lord's Johnson. “It's personal. It also runs contrary to how many of us think. We are taught that we should handle our own problems, that religion is for the weak. Wasn't it (Karl) Marx who said it was the opium of the people?''

Johnson said that faith is supposedly a crutch, but that's what so many of us need because we are limping, at least spiritually and emotionally.

“Easter is the defeat of (spiritual) death,'' said The Chapel's Larson. “It's what keeps us going each day.''

All the way to Harosheth Haggoyim….

still09.jpgI have really enjoyed reading the Old Testament, particularily reading the New Living Translation this year.  It has really brought the Old Testament to life for me.  In reading Judges today, it brought to mind again that the Lord will go and has gone ahead of us.  The only catch is that we must follow.  We pray for the Lord to go with us.  We pray for Him to make us aware of His presence.  When in reality He is always there for us if we just turn and follow. 

All seriousness aside, reading Judges 4 today clearly brought to mind the meeting between the flobbits and the elders of the Razzberry Forest in the “The Lord of Beans”.  I love how the elders refer to “Randolph, son of Mandolph and the formal way that Randolph addresses the elders.  Sounds a lot like Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth and Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali.  Don’t you think???

Speaking of a catch, I did catch the end of Catch 22 the other night.  That really took me back a few years!! That scene where Yosarian walks the streets after M&M enterprises has rounded all the girls and Yosarian sees all the injustice, evil and brutalitiy that men bring on one another reminded me of Healing Rain video.  Funny how a few years can change you viewpoint. 

But we are all in a Catch 22 so to speak.  To live we need to die.  To receive we must give.  It is all upside down. 

Judges..14 Then Deborah said to Barak, “Go! This is the day the LORD has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the LORD gone ahead of you?” So Barak went down Mount Tabor, followed by ten thousand men. 15 At Barak’s advance, the LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword, and Sisera abandoned his chariot and fled on foot. 16 But Barak pursued the chariots and army as far as Harosheth Haggoyim. All the troops of Sisera fell by the sword; not a man was left.

Doing right is required every time (with permission from my favourite sportswriter)…

By Terry Pluto
It's not hard to make the right decision.

It's hard to keep making the right decisions.

I wish I had thought of this, but I'm stealing this thought from a sermon given by a pastor named Gene Appel at Willow Creek Community Church in a suburb of Chicago on Wednesday night.

I was in Chicago covering the Tribe/White Sox games, which gave me a chance to attend a service at Willow Creek — one of America's famed megachurches.

The senior pastor is a brilliant speaker named Bill Hybels. I've listened to him for years via sermon tapes. Some of his books and sermons were critical to developing my faith when I was spiritually searching. I strongly recommend some of his books, such as Too Busy Not to Pray and Making Life Work.

His church is like an arena: 7,000 theater seats in a three-quarters circle surrounding a stage.

About 4,000 people were there Wednesday to sing and pray for the first 40 minutes, then hear a 45-minute sermon by Appel on the moral choices Pontius Pilate faced as he had to rule on what was to be done with Jesus of Nazareth.

I've heard seemingly countless sermons on this event, in which Pilate knows he's sending an innocent man to death — and in the end, he actually washes his hands of Jesus' fate.

There is a famous line where Pilate scoffs: “What is truth?''

He says it as if there is no real truth; everything is open to interpretation and negotiation. That is a common sermon topic: Is there such a thing as absolute truth?

But Appel went in a different direction with his discussion. He mentioned how Pilate wanted to do the right thing, and actually made some attempts to free Jesus.

He did make some good decisions.

He just didn't make enough of them.

That's usually a problem for most of us. We know what we should do. We begin to do it. Then the pressure rises, the heat is turned up. It seems the more good things we do, the more resistance we endure.

I've worked with addicts in jail ministry. I know that we can be like Pilate. We know what we should do. We start to do it. We discover it's more demanding than we realized. We may know to stop spending, and even cut up our credit cards. For a month, we stay away from the plastic. Then comes an offer in the mail; soon we have three more cards, and the debts keep rising.

It's not about staying clean for one day, one week, one month.

It's about doing it every day for the rest of our lives, and some days are just so long, so demanding.

Then we begin to doubt ourselves.

Is it really right? Do we really have to do it? Most people aren't behaving this way; a lot of them are much worse than I am.

Doing the right thing isn't hard.

Doing it every day can be excruciating.

It's like being a parent. It's not that hard to make your kids go to bed on time once or twice. But how about every night? How about when you're exhausted, and you want to go to bed? And you just don't feel like fighting with them anymore?

In business, it's pretty easy to be honest on one expense report or one sales pitch. But how about every report? Every deal? Every time when the boss is demanding more production? Or every time it seems we don't have enough money to make it through the bills for the month?

Especially when we know some others are cutting corners, shading the truth and cashing bigger paychecks because of it.

It's really not fair.

That's when it's so tempting to pass on doing what we know is right, to pull a Pilate and say, “Hey, there really is no truth in this world, anyway.''

But in some situations, we know truth, and we know what we should do. And we have to keep telling ourselves and praying for the power to do it not one time, but every time.

Because just doing it occasionally is not enough, as most of us know when we look back at the mistakes we made.

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5286.4958.t.jpgjersey_200.jpgJim Tressel unveils the new scarlet Buckeye jersey today in Columbus.  Nice biblical color along with blue and purple.  Would be nice with silver and gold trim…

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