I used to love hearing people say, “Great worship today.” Not so much anymore. Although I understand their intent and they believe God was present among us, I also know what they’re really talking about is the music. Somehow it’s become less acceptable to “compliment” musicianship, and more acceptable to only categorize it as being worship. It’s as if we’ve somehow decided music is now the only acceptable form of worship, and in many churches I’ve attended that’s reflected in the attitudes of the worshippers.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe music is an incredible form of expressing our emotion and thought and as such should be a powerful part of our corporate experience. But if music is the only form our expression takes then our worship is lopsided and incomplete. Be assured, God will always accept our offering of love when we come to Him with clean hands and a pure heart, but there are so many more ways of expression than music.

I love my wife Jacque more today than I ever dreamed possible back in 1977 when I first said, “I love you.” That being true, I try to find new ways of expressing my love so it’s an accurate reflection of the depth and richness of my emotion. If I only said those three words over and over again, at some point they’d become commonplace and lose their appeal and impact. Out of love it’s up to me to keep my expression fresh and appealing.

In recent years I’ve learned to express my love for Jacque in ways that are meaningful to her. Before then I guess my expressions of love were based more on my preferences than hers. I don’t think this was a conscious thing on my part but more an indication of the maturity level of my love. As my love for her has grown and matured so has the variety and depth of my expression. In that process I’ve grown to understand that if my love is pure then my expression needs to be focused on her preferences more than my own, otherwise it’s about me. While she never tires of hearing the three words I would daresay they’ve become far more meaningful as I’ve expressed them more on “her terms” than mine.

So, how does God want us to express our love to Him? In as many ways as our God-given creativity will allow. It’s for sure we’re not limited to music, and definitely not one style or sound of music. The options are myriad and God stands ready to receive whatever we offer Him. So when you say, “Great worship today,” what do you mean?

A community is a group of people who care about each other more than they should.

This quote is from a significant business book of 2000, The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual. I’ve been reflecting on that quote and have come to like it on multiple levels. When you place it within the context of Christian community it becomes especially interesting.

Have you ever been part of a group of people where things have just clicked? You loved being together. You’d do anything for each other. You looked for excuses to spend time with each other, and when you were together the conversation flowed effortlessly. By all outward appearances you cared about each other more than you should – at least that’s what some were maybe thinking.

I believe this is the kind of community Jesus speaks of, and longs for us to experience. The Acts 2 kind of daily gatherings where people just did life with each other. From the outside looking in I imagine there were many people who thought they cared about each other more than they should. But that’s part of what happens when there’s a supernatural kind of connection between people. You can’t explain all of the reasons why you just love being together.

I’m not talking about some kind of exclusive group that keeps others out; that’s not Acts 2 (the Lord added to their number daily). I’m speaking of true community where people join together largely because of shared experience, shared purpose and goals. A community where God is really at the center and life is truly a shared experience. You can call it whatever you like: Small Group, Sunday School, Church, Affinity Group, Organic Church, Body of Christ, Community.

No huge point here, just a reminder that God flows through community; the body of Christ.

Yesterday at work one of my employees casually commented about God not liking her very much right then, and that He was punishing her. She laughed a little after she said it and during her laughter I commented that I was quite certain that God liked her, and the current issues with her son and the other difficulties she’s dealing have nothing to do with God punishing her. “That’s not who God is,” I told her. To which she quickly said, “Oh He’s punishing me alright.”

I left the room wondering why she has such a distorted view of such a loving God. My understanding of God is so different from hers, and it’s a shame, no it’s more of a tragedy for anyone to see God through such a distorted lens. Viewing God in such a skewed fashion is like seeing Him upside down.

God is God. God is love. God is merciful and kind. God is truth. Life happens. Good stuff, bad stuff. In between stuff. God is neither a cosmic killjoy or a genie in a bottle. God is God!

Being a dad can be the most rewarding thing in the world. There are those times when your heart is so full you don’t think it will hold anymore. This past weekend I had such a time. Although my fiftieth birthday is still a few days away we celebrated over the weekend because our three out-of-town kids were here over their Spring Break. We had a really wonderful dinner at home and retold some funny stories from the kids’ childhood. It was a lot of fun. After dinner our kids brought out some birthday gifts. Jacque (my wife) had told them to be creative, very personal and to not spend much money.

Jessica, our oldest gave me a beautiful scrap book that she had loaded up with stories from her life. On each page she captured a different phase of our life together. Some of the memories were fun and some even a little painful. Each of them express our lives together as father and daughter. Among many other things she said, “I would not be the person I am today without you.” In the back of the book she had written out the words to the song, I Love You, Lord. It’s a song I used to sing to her at bedtime when she was a little girl, and then when she got married I quoted it within the ceremony. It has always been a special song for the two of us. At the bottom of that back page was an envelope and inside was a CD. She and our son Ryan had recorded their own arrangement of the song the night before. Listening to it is just one of those moments for me. It will never get old — go ahead and listen.

Ryan, our fun loving, non-sentimental son (the one who engineered the recording of I Love You Lord, and played drums, keyboards and who knows what else) gave me a card and inside he had written words that I will cherish the rest of my life. While I’m unwilling to share all of them with the world I will proudly say that according to him, I am his hero and inspiration — it doesn’t get any better than that. Along with the card he gave me an N scale, toy train caboose to keep on my desk. He’s always loved trains, and he and I have had some great model train memories over the years. The caboose will remind me of him every time I see it.

My baby girl Aimee made me a beautiful card and mounted it in a floating frame. The card says,

Holds you when you cry, scolds you when you break the rules, shines with pride when you succeed, and has faith in you even when you fail. I love you. Happy 50th.

It summarizes what she knows about me. It will find a special place on my office wall.

Jacque and I are very blessed and proud parents. We’ve got three great kids of our own and two of them have married great kids. Throughout our adult lives people have asked us how we’ve raised such great kids, and while I think the reasons go far beyond this simplistic answer I usually say something like, we spent lots of time together. Much of it around the dinner table sharing the highlights (and sometimes lowlights) from our day, laughing and occasionally crying.

I could keep writing but there’s really no point. God has blessed us and I’m thankful. Turning fifty couldn’t be any better than this

I grew up in a very non-liturgical church. I hate to put this in writing but in our church most liturgy was more likely viewed as mindless repetition. Reflecting back I now understand it was a matter of ignorance more than preference. We had a Good Friday service a few of my growing up years but many times we went from Easter to Palm Sunday with no focus on the passion of Christ. I never heard the term Maundy Thursday until I was an adult.

In more recent history I have come to appreciate much of what I missed during my growing up years. One of those is Maundy Thursday and the focus it provides. In my reading this morning I ran across this short hymn sometimes sung on Maundy Thursday in Eastern Orthodox services. I offer it here for reflection.

Of Thy Mystical Supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant; for I will not speak of Thy Mystery to Thine enemies, neither like Judas will I give Thee a kiss. But like the Thief will I confess Thee: Remember me, O Lord, in Thy Kingdom.

Have you ever been so shocked by something that you were practically frozen in place and didn’t know what to say. Yesterday after I got home from work Jacque and I were watching the news and catching up on the day when we heard the front door open. That seemed very odd because no one just walks into our house but our kids who live a few miles away and they nearly always call before they drop by. But sure enough when I turned to see who it was there was Jessica. I still didn’t think too much of it, although I wondered why she’d stopped by. Then the, Oops I Crapped My Pants moment: behind Jessica was Aimee, then Ryan and then Claire. All of them standing there with wide grins on their faces, having just flown in from Idaho to surprise Dad.

I was stunned and pretty much totally speechless because I was so shocked. I was full of questions that wouldn’t come out and I couldn’t put all of the pieces together. I was suddenly feeling older than the fifty years they’d come home to celebrate. After a long round of hugs, followed by more stunned silence I figured out my wife Jacque was in on the whole thing. In fact, she’d been planning it since before Christmas. I had no idea any of this was happening. Many other people knee but not me. In fact, most of the people I work with knew and they were able to keep quiet. Not a word, not a even a twitter!

As I went to bed last night I realized how blessed I was to have a wife who would plan such a great surprise — I could not have a better wife than Jacque. I also realized that I had five really amazing kids that I was very proud of and they were all with me to celebrate a milestone in life. Then I remembered Ryan and Claire were down the hallway in Ryan’s old bedroom, sleeping together under my roof for the first time since they got married in December, and Oops, I Crapped My Pants all over again! 

Welcome Home Kids — I love you!

I went to church on a recent Sunday and discovered that on Easter we were going to be a different church than we are on every other Sunday of the year. A church that normally has two different services (in reality they’re not that different from one another) at 9:30 and 11:00 is going to have identical services at 9:00 and 11:00. I’m sure their reasoning was along the lines of it being Easter and wanting to do something special, accommodate the crowds, etc. I understand that, but for me that’s only part of the problem. 

Easter is one of those days when a lot of people are going to make their twice yearly trek to church, so the church leaders, being the marketing geniuses they are tend to think they should do something special on that day. After all, if the show’s good enough maybe these twice-yearly attenders (Chreasters) will become regulars. Here’s the problem with that line of thinking.

When you decide to pull out all the stops and put on a big show, your Easter guests aren’t getting a true representation of who you are. They might be getting what you wish you were, or what you want them to think you are, or even you on steroids, but it’s not a true picture. For those who still don’t see the problem, what happens if they come back the next week?

For starters, some of them will show up at 9:00 for the 9:30 service since that’s the time they came on Easter. Those who come on time may not feel the same buzz in the air when they enter the building as they did the week before.  Once the service starts there’s a good chance they’ll feel it; the Easter switch. The church they attended on Easter and the church they’re in now are two different churches. Sure it’s the same building, some of the same people but it’s a totally different service. They’ve been duped!

Just because it’s Easter and you may attract a bigger crowd please don’t be different than any other Sunday. Sure you should celebrate the risen Christ. Go ahead and make it a Sunday to remember. But why is that different from the other Sundays of the year? Be true to who you are. This isn’t a contest, it’s Easter!