(With my wife’s upcoming hip replacement getting nearer, I’m in the midst of making preparations for taking a week off in order to help her with the recuperation after her surgery. There’s a lot to get done, so with your kind indulgence I’m going to repeat an article from 2014. It still expresses my desire for our church here in our town.)
While visiting our son recently, we had the chance to sail on a tall ship out into Lake Michigan, and got a closer look at a lighthouse, one of many that are scattered around the lake.
We also got to attend Sunday morning worship at the Moody Memorial Church, which stands like a spiritual lighthouse in Chicago’s Olde Towne. And what a wonderful experience that was!
We parked in the first-time visitor’s lot just across the street from the church, and we were greeted by dapper parking lot “attendants” in coats and ties. I asked, “How do we prove to you that we’re first-time visitors?” He smiled a million-dollar smile and said, “Just tell us ya are!”
When we got out of the car and stepped onto the sidewalk, we joined a throng of people streaming to the church from all points of the compass. And that’s when we started to feel the excitement. People were smiling and greeting one another with “Good morning!” (I think that’s the first time that’s happened to me in Chicago!) We immediately felt that we were surrounded by brothers and sisters in Christ.
When I was in college the King James Bible was pretty much the predominant translation used in most churches. Sometimes I miss the days when nearly everyone was reading from the same translation. We are wealthy in God’s Word today, with many good English translations of the Scriptures available. (There are some stinkers, too.) But in those days, it was the King James Version.
The college I went to emphasized what is called “The Great Commission” given to us by Jesus after His resurrection and before He ascended into Heaven. It appears five times in the New Testament, in Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20 and Acts 1. But the first time the Great Commission appears is in the Gospel of Matthew. In the King James Version it reads like this:
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
It seems a little unreal that it’s already Easter time again. This last year has been a strange and trying one with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and all the restrictions and shutdowns. A year ago, I was crushed to realize that we wouldn’t be able to hold our usual Easter services. As the weeks rolled by, Sundays seemed strangely quiet. We continued to put on a service with music and a message for the radio broadcast and the podcast for our website. But it was with a “skeleton crew”, just a handful of people to help us continue our radio presence.
Now here we are at Easter time again, and we want people to come back and worship and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus in person at church again. But we also know that there are still many who have fears and concerns about the virus. So, like many churches, we are going ahead with Easter services, but it’s not “full steam ahead.” We’re forging ahead even as we acknowledge the lingering reluctance of some. Please join with us again when you feel that you can.
When I came down with the virus after Easter last year, time seemed to pause. I had a relatively mild case, for which I am very thankful. But every day was the same: I felt tired and achy, and I slept a lot, more than 20 hours out of 24 on some days. I woke up, ate breakfast; slept, ate lunch; slept, ate supper; then went to bed early. For days, the routine never varied. I told my wife I got sick and tired of being sick and tired.
Last year when we were first asked to shut down our country because of the coronavirus, it was “two weeks to flatten the curve.” A young friend of mine lamented on Facebook: “What will we do if we can’t be in church for Easter?” And I said, “Oh, we’ll be back in church before Easter!”
Now we have established that I am not a prophet.
It is astonishing to me that we are a year into all of the various COVID restrictions that unfortunately have become our new normal. Social distancing; wearing a mask; asking “Did you remember you mask?” when you go out; getting food to go and eating in your car (again); all the instructions and cautions from the media and our government that seem to change on a regular basis; people angry if you don’t follow all the (current) guidelines; people angry if you try to follow any of the guidelines; and lots and lots of time at home, especially for school-age children and teenagers…all these things have unfortunately become part of our daily lives. When will it end? Some say we should lift all the restrictions now. Others tell us it might still be a year or two.
Last week our family lost one of the finest men I’ve ever known. He was my wife’s father and my father-in-law, Ray Kegley. Our kids called him “Grandpa Kegley.” When our first grandson was little, he just called him “Kegwey.”
When I started dating Rae Anne in high school, one of my classmates told me he had once seen her father grab a wooden extension ladder by the first and third rungs and set it up against a house. Ray worked from the time he was a small boy as a contractor, first with his father and older brother Jack, and then on his own. Not long after I started dating his daughter I saw Ray without his shirt on. He was built like a bodybuilder, only he used concrete blocks and 4x4s instead of barbells and dumbbells.
We only told a handful of people about this when we were going through it. It was my wife’s call, and she didn’t want to tell everybody unless there was something to tell. So we told our kids, and a handful of others, and asked them to pray with us about it. And let me say up front that the news was good. But after the fact, I’d like to tell you about the best Christmas gift I ever received. And it was on December 17th, eight days before Christmas.
We didn’t get to celebrate Easter at church the way we wanted, because of the coronavirus pandemic. We probably won’t get to celebrate Christmas at church the way we would like to, either. But we still celebrated Easter, and we’ll celebrate Christmas, too. Those two holidays mark the “bookends” of the Christian faith. Christmas celebrates the Incarnation, when God became a man in the form of Jesus of Nazareth. And Easter celebrates Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, after He paid for our sins by dying on the cross (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Christmas is the beginning of the Easter story, and Easter completes the story begun at Christmas.
The word Christmas means literally “the Christ mass”. It is the service at Christmastime in which liturgical churches celebrate The Eucharist, or what we call The Lord’s Supper. The word mass comes from the Latin word missa, which means “dismissal”. At the end of the service the priest would say “Ite, missa est” (or, “Go; it is the dismissal”). In time, that word came to mean the entire church service.
There is a reason we have Deacons and other boards and committees. Proverbs 24:6 says “…for by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory.” A good idea can be made better by the input and perspective of others. And what seems to be a good idea at first can be revealed to have some serious flaws when it is discussed and prayed over with others.
Back on June 28th of this year I said something in my Sunday morning message that seemed like a good idea at the time. Actually, it seemed like a great idea. It also was a good illustration for the passage I was preaching on, Luke 8:20-26, where Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. And blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.” We looked at the reality that being poor or hungry isn’t necessarily a guarantee of sainthood. Poor people can be mean old sinners, too, and the hunger Jesus was talking about was a spiritual hunger for righteousness. Nevertheless, people are poor, and hunger is an ongoing problem, even here in America. It’s hard to talk to people about Jesus when their stomachs are empty.