Elation and Deflation
This time of year I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Jesus' disciples. The emotional roller coaster they found themselves on just kept on rolling for the disciples. First, there was Palm Sunday, then there was Good Friday, then there was Easter, and as we'll be reminded in upcoming weeks (post-resurrection) there was also fear and doubt. Elation, deflation, elation, deflation.
And now we too, are about to enter the holiest of weeks in the Christian Church with this upcoming Palm and Passion Sunday. If you are one, or a family, who fully embraces and participates in all of the Holy Week services, you understand the rollercoaster of emotions the disciples were on, and that await us. If you have not participated in the Holy Week experience, I encourage you to come and see and experience the elation and deflation that is Holy Week.
To help us understand I share this story that has been told about Albert Einstein, the brilliant physicist of Princeton University in the early 20th century. Einstein was traveling from Princeton on a train, and when the conductor came down the aisle to punch the passengers’ tickets, Einstein couldn’t find his. He looked in his vest pocket, he looked in his pants pocket, he looked in his briefcase, but there was no ticket. The conductor was gracious; “Not to worry, Dr. Einstein, I know who you are, we all know who you are, and I’m sure you bought a ticket.” As the conductor moved down the aisle, he looked back and noticed Einstein on his hands and knees, searching under the seat for his ticket. The conductor returned to Einstein; “Dr. Einstein, Dr. Einstein, don’t worry. I know who you are. You don’t need a ticket, I’m sure you bought one.” Einstein arose and said “Young man, I too know who I am; what I don’t know is where I am going.”
And that is the good news of Holy Week and Easter; that we know where we are going. It would be frightening to have experienced the first Holy Week with all of the surrounding uncertainties and unknowns. The disciples likely would not have known, through all the ups and downs and twists and turns, where they were going or where they were to end up.
We have been told by the Jesus that his life and death (and all of the suffering and persecution throughout) has promised us life eternal. Nothing has ever, or can, change that promise. Unemployment doesn’t change that promise. Neither does divorce, or bankruptcy, or cancer, or depression, or felony, or failure. Even the unimaginable horror of what unfolded at the Covenant Elementary School in Nashville this week, cannot change the eternal elation of resurrection.
In the midst of this upcoming Holy Week and through elation and deflation and every emotion in between, the truth remains; we know whose we are and we know where we are going, because the Son of God - who is the way, the truth, and the life - has promised us.
See you in Church! (and bring a friend!)
Rooting for the Underdog!
Carrie and I enjoyed watching our youngest son, Tobie, compete at the NCAA Division II National Diving Championships last week in Indianapolis. He did very well, placing 12th in the 3 Meter Board and 16th in the 1 Meter Board competitions and being named an All-American in both boards. We are very proud! However, despite how well he did, it became clear to us, that, as a freshman, competing against mostly seniors, Tobie was the underdog in the competition. Of course, Carrie and I, but others as well, couldn't help but cheer for Tobie. That's the thing about underdogs, isn't it? We love to cheer for them. Especially when they're our own child :)
Another NCAA national championship tournament is currently underway! The National College Basketball tournament, also known as "March Madness." My family and I, for years, have filled out our brackets for the tournament, in hopes that our individual selections might combine to be the winning bracket (go Kansas!). We even have a family trophy that Caleb made as a child, that still gets passed to the winner every year! My strategy is always to cheer for, and select, at least one or two of the underdogs - or Cinderella teams - they are often referred to as. In the same way, the whole nation seems to rally around and enjoy cheering for the underdog when they do well during March Madness.
There is often no reasonable explanation as to why an underdog performs so well and maybe even upsets a top seeded team, other than the team's single-minded determination and belief that they can win under any circumstance and against any team - so much so, that we tend to believe them, too!
Similarly, in life, most of us desperately want to believe that if we just work hard enough, if we just keep our eye on the prize and stay focused, we, too, can upset even the toughest of competitors, and be winners in whatever it is we choose to compete in.
Maybe that’s why grace is so hard for us to understand – and believe. Because grace says this has nothing to do with our determination or hard work or single-mindedness – it only has to do with the single-mindedness of God, who was willing to empty Himself, take the form of a slave, be born into human likeness and humble himself in obedience to a cross, which he didn’t deserve. Grace says we cannot earn our salvation on our own, but owe it all to the single-mindedness of the God who says, “It’s already been done.”
Good thing, too. Because no matter how talented and determined a top seeded college basketball team might be, or even a top ranked college diver, sometimes they lose or do not perform well. As is the case for all of us, at times. But we can trust in the grace and love of a God that never fails, never loses, and always performs at its best. And that’s something we can all rally around and cheer for!
See you in Church! (and bring a friend!)
Thinking About Free Will
Our friend and retired pastor, Pastor Marla Amborn, will be leading worship and preaching for me on Sunday, March 12. She will be addressing the Lenten question, "Just wondering, Jesus: Why do you allow free will?"
To get you thinking about the idea of free will, let me provide you with one bad statement and three good questions.
The bad statement is this; in fact, it is the only bad prayer that I’ve ever heard of, and this is the prayer: “Forgive me, God, for what I’m about to do.” Knowing it’s wrong and and asking God in advance to rescue you is a horrible prayer and it cheapens God's grace.
The three good questions are these; and might come in handy when presented with a difficult choice.
The first question is “Is this thing I am about to do good for me?” We know the things that are good for us and the things that are bad for us. I’m not talking about having a second piece of pie; I’m talking about a decision that is immoral or illegal or detrimental to our lives or the lives of others. We know right from wrong, we just need the courage to follow through.
The second question is this: “Will this thing I am about to do honor God?” I imagine how much God hurt when Eve ate the forbidden fruit. I imagine how much God grieves when we follow through with things that we know are against his will?
And the third question: “Will I regret my actions tomorrow?” A generation ago a Lutheran Pastor and alcoholic, Phil Hansen, wrote a book entitled “Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired” in which he weaves his story with the Parable of the Prodigal Son, which he understood, to be a story of alcoholism. Throughout the book he described his decision to change his life so that he might feel better about himself. We might consider the same deliberation in our day-to-day choices.
The Lenten season is not a season of legalism; it is not a time to beat ourselves with rules and regulations and the failures of our lives. However, it is the season of introspection and repentance; an opportune time to consider God’s amazing grace, and how our living might be the evidence of our gratitude for that grace.
In these remaining days of Lent, may we refuse to our free will go unchallenged. And may that lead to good choices, joyful living, and deeper faith in the Savior.
See you in Church! (and bring a friend!)
Pastor Dale Stiles
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