I Wonder What YOUR Easter Surprise Might Be?

I have never had a surprise party.  I have never been to a surprise party.  My only frame of reference for such an event is television.  Usually on TV there is some convoluted plan that goes awry and challenges the surprise that creates the “comedy” in “situation comedy.”  In the end it all works out and there is a celebration for the person who is the focus of the party.

Surprises can be fun, enjoyable, and exciting.  Like surprise parties, other surprises can be great as well.  I recently had someone pay back a debt I had basically forgotten about and written off.  I love it this time of year when the forecast says it’s going to be 45 and it turns out the be sunny and 65!  Some surprises are wonderful!

Not every surprise is a positive of course.  Sometimes life is moving along, from one day into the next and we receive a lab report that brings a surprise illness.  We have heard of such things in other people’s lives, but now it’s us and the surprise is very unsettling.  The dreaded 2:00 A.M. phone call from a friend or a child or the police is a surprise none of us want to receive.  So again, not every surprise is a positive experience.

But for those who visited the tomb of Jesus that first Easter morning, the surprise they received was life changing.  For them, it transformed Friday’s worst news ever, into a joy they could never have imagined.  It pulled back the cloud of uncertainty and fear, and opened the door to fresh hope and eternal possibilities.  The Easter surprise for those who first went to the tomb was more than they could take in, in that moment.  But as the reality sank in through the events of the days and weeks ahead, Easter’s astonishment became a brand new perspective on everything!

I wonder what might be our Easter surprise this year?  I wonder where we might find hope as we celebrate the empty tomb in our churches and our lives this year?  Most of us have places of struggle, places of doubt, places where we are challenged by life’s circumstances.  What would it mean for us to allow the promise of Easter to pervade those areas of our life and to fill them with new hope and potential?

The Easter surprise is real.  It is the core of our faith.  It lifts us to possibilities never imagined without it.  I invite you to let the message of Easter capture you anew this year.  I invite you to allow it to surround you and all the challenges you are facing just now.  I invite you to be surprised by the power and depth of the resurrection that you might live life in new ways, and celebrate with profound joy.

Peace,
Bill

 

Preparing for and Experiencing Holy Week

I used to talk often as a local church pastor about the need to go through all of Holy Week. Most of our churches or at least our communities have services for Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter. Experiencing each of these days and the worship services that go with them are a “package deal!” My hope is that each of us will take time to be a part of this very special week in the life of our Christian Community.

Each of these days represent for us an important event and, more so, an important aspect of our faith. I hope you are looking forward to each of these services throughout these days. I trust that worship teams, pastors and the whole church body are preparing well to journey though these events together. May God lead us and bless us as we engage this very special time with our whole selves so that we might receive all that God has for us in them.

Peace,
Bill

Jesus Taught us a Third Way of Thinking

A third way. It’s a concept that I like. Third way thinking says simply that very often there aren’t just two ways to go. There isn’t just a right or wrong, forward or backward, this way or that way option, but rather there is very often a third way we might follow as we deal with a given situation. The interesting thing about third way thinking is that most of the time it requires us to work a lot harder.

Two sided thinking is easy. It is clear. I’m right, you’re wrong. This is the way to go or that is the way to go and those are the only options. Two sided thinking by definition creates opposing, conflicting, perspectives. It is either this or that. Third way thinking requires us to go beyond the easy course of two sided conflict to discover a new alternative. It requires creativity and often humility. It demands that we push beyond what is easy to embrace that which may stretch us and cause us to find a way we never considered before.

Jesus taught third ways all the time. His culture demanded that one was either Jew or Gentile with all kinds of rules around what that meant and how one lived out that reality. Jesus found ways to embrace the humanity in everyone and widened the circle beyond the two sided cultural construct. The culture says there are enemies and friends and everyone is treated appropriately according to those categories. Friends you treat well and enemies you seek to hurt or kill. Jesus invited a third way that called us to love enemies as well as friends and end the circle of violence both real and emotional, that always seems to accompany the way enemies are treated. Jesus third way invites us to see again the humanity even in the enemy and treat them accordingly, giving the best opportunity for a change in the relationship.

Two way thinking says that evil, anger, and violence can only be defeated by a stronger force ─ greater violence ─ that overcomes the violence first perpetrated upon us. My mother invoked this thinking when I told her that my friend had gotten angry and hit me. Her response was, “hit him back.” Jesus’ third way thinking invites us to resist evil and violence differently. He invites us to resist it to be sure, but to resist it without engaging in it, to resist it without falling into its cyclical spiral, to resist it in ways that actually defeat it by pointing out its futility and evil through creative non-violent means.

I suppose that the ultimate third way is seen in the reality of Easter. Until Easter, there was life and death. Jesus invites us to see a third way which is life through death. That reality really changes everything and opens up all the avenues of third way thinking.

May we be those as individuals, as congregations, as a Denomination, who choose not to settle for two sided thinking, but who instead seek to discover third ways, ways that often only come through humility, prayer, and the guidance and the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Peace,
Bill

Muskegon Area Holy Week & Easter Events

HOLY THURSDAY – MARCH 24
Lake Harbor UMC will host a potluck at 6:15 p.m.  People are invited to bring finger foods such as those that might have been a part of Jesus’ meal with the disciples.  We’ll worship at 7:00 p.m. with a celebration of Holy Communion and an opportunity for footwashing.  Your church may already plan for this time of worship, but I wanted you to be aware of it.  It’s an opportunity for you to worship if you don’t have a service at your church that night.  Please feel free to pass it along.
We also host a prayer vigil beginning after Holy Thursday worship that continues overnight until Good Friday at noon.  There are people there all night as hosts, and you’re welcome to come and pray anytime.  Again, I offer that to you and your congregation as another opportunity to be in prayer as we consider Jesus’ love and sacrifice.

GOOD FRIDAY – MARCH 25
Temple UMC will host worship at 12:00 p.m.
Again, your church may already plan for this time of worship, but it might be an opportunity for those who work in Muskegon to join us.  Please feel free to pass it along.

EASTER SUNRISE – MARCH 27
One tradition at Lake Harbor is to celebrate Easter morning at Mona Lake Boat Club (off Randall Rd.).  We plan for a 7:00 a.m. meeting, and we’re usually done by 7:30 a.m.  Jeff Bowman and I have made plans for the service; it will be a meaningful time for us to consider the power of resurrection in our lives.
It is not intended to replace Easter worship services, but simply a time to gather and reflect with music and Scripture.  An offering will support Muskegon Rescue Mission’s discipleship program

Easter Thinking: We have more in common that pulls us together than pulls us apart!

There is more that we have in common, more that pulls us together than pulls us apart.  This statement was made by a leader in our church in a recent conversation I had with several people regarding our upcoming General Conference.  It is certainly not a new sentiment to me.  I have heard it several times over the years as struggles over human sexuality, appointment issues, and any number of other concerns have faced our United Methodist Church.  But while I have always agreed with the statement, in the face of our ongoing struggles as we approach our global gathering in Portland in May as well as the polarized political state of our nation as a whole, I have too often allowed myself to be sucked into positions and “us and them” mentality.  I have allowed these perspectives to define the way I have interacted with people and engaged life in general.  I have too often forgotten the reality that was named the other day.

But it is true!  We do have more in common, more that pulls us together than pulls us apart.  It’s true in the church certainly.  In our denomination and across the Church as a whole. This week points that out to us in deep and significant ways.  We may disagree about all the theological nuance, but at the end of the day we all gather around the cross this Friday, and we come together to sing “Alleluia, Christ Arose!!” come Sunday.  There is more that we have in common than pulls us apart and this week we have a marvelous opportunity to celebrate the heart of that common message, mission and life once again.

Why do we so often focus in the other direction?  Why do we so often look for the difference first?  Why do we go for the place of dis-agreement rather than finding the similarities and the things we can hold together?  While we argue a lot about sin, I can’t help but wonder if perhaps Jesus weeps over this reality more than most.

I’m not suggesting that we ignore our differences.  I’m not suggesting that they aren’t important.  I am suggesting that what my friend said the other day is an incredibly powerful truth, there IS more we have in common, more that pulls us together than pulls us apart.

I wonder what would happen in our lives, in our church, in our world if we spent most of our energies looking for those things and celebrating them together.  Let’s begin this Easter.  Let’s commit to going there first.  What do you say?  Let’s change the angle of the lens and celebrate that which brings us together.

Christ is Risen!!
Bill