Monthly Archives: March 2018


If your stomach is empty, you’ll be hungry.

If your bank account is empty, you’re broke.

If your coffee cup is empty, that’s a bummer.

If the cookie jar is empty, that’s sad.

If the candy dish is empty, that’s worse.

If your gas tank is empty, I hope you are wearing good walking shoes.

If your trophy case is empty, you must be a Detroit Lions’ fan (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

If someone’s words are empty, they are meaningless.

If my church is empty on a Sunday morning, the church board will start shopping for a new pastor soon.

Empty is usually a bad thing. But not always.

On that first Easter morning, the ladies who were expecting to do the grim job of applying spices to the cold dead body of Jesus instead discovered that the tomb was empty.

Occasionally, empty is the best news of all!  The angel told them: “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.” (Matthew 28:7-8).  If Jerusalem had a tabloid newspaper, then the headline would have been a one word, large print, eye-catching caption above a picture of a giant rock on the side of an open tomb: EMPTY!

We are celebrating Easter on Sunday.

The tomb was empty. Death has been defeated. Jesus is alive.

Here’s more good news:

If you are feeling empty;

If your heart is empty;

If your life is empty;

The Resurrected Jesus will come and fill you with His love and presence. Jesus words on the Sermon on the Mount are still true: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. (Matthew 5:6)

The tomb is empty, but you don’t have to be!


Palm Sunday Blues

Palm Sunday is this week.  We remember the day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem and the crowds waved their palm branches and shouted, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”  Usually, on this beginning day of Holy Week, our kids with great excitement march through the sanctuary swinging their palm branches and we joyfully sing “Hosanna, Hosanna!!” Well, not everybody.

One year a young unnamed pastor’s kid was not thrilled to participate in the parade of palm branches.  He reluctantly dragged his palm branch behind him through the crowd. He didn’t quite exude the excitement of the original day.  There was a look of bewilderment on his face as he followed the lineup of kids with a “why-are-the adults-making-me-carry-this-dopey-palm-branch-throughout-the-sanctuary” look on his face while his palm branch followed in tow. Maybe it was too early in the morning to march through anything (I’ve been there).  Maybe he didn’t want to be a follower but wanted to lead the parade (I’ve felt that way).  Maybe it was just one of those days (we’ve all had them).  To all the parents who noticed him shuffling by dragging his branch, it was considered kind of cute as we could all relate to our kids and a time when they had a less-than-thrilled attitude about some activity.

Why remind you of that boy’s Palm Sunday Blues (by the way, the next year he was much more content to wave his palm branch and march through the sanctuary)?

I think a lot of us are kind of like that kid.  We shuffle through life with a bewildered stare. We don’t feel like singing or waving our branches.  We’d rather be left in a corner somewhere with a “Don’t Bother Me” sign around our neck.  Maybe we do what we are required to do but we have little joy and even less enthusiasm for the things of life.

Jesus has more for us than that. In fact, on the night that we call Maundy Thursday, Jesus told his followers gathered in the upper room: Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. (John 16:24 underlining mine).  Jesus is the Ultimate Restorer of joy. He calls for us to ask for it and He freely gives it.

If the stuff of life has been robbing you of joy lately, ask in Jesus’ name for his glory to return! In other words, in faith, remind yourself of the Good News that Jesus has come and he will come again! These tough days won’t last forever. So don’t drag your palm branches through life, but lift them high and expectantly and faithfully let your soul rejoice: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”

March Madness and Amazing Grace

College Basketball’s March Madness begins today.  It seems that everyone in the country fills out a bracket and picks a team they believe will be the eventual winner.  Well, not everyone.  I was at a funeral this week for the parent of a parishioner and the pastor mentioned something about March Madness and filling out a bracket and the octogenarian lady in the pew in front of me, in a not-quite-a-whisper voice asked her husband, “What’s a bracket?”  I saw a non-sports loving person post the following on Facebook: “I don’t know anything about football, but I filled out my bracket.”

I saw that the odds of someone actually filling out a perfect bracket (picking every winner in all 63 basketball games during the three-week tournament) is 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 to one.  To quote Lloyd Christmas (played by Jim Carey) in Dumb and Dumber, “So your telling me there’s a chance. Yeah!”

I filled out a bracket, but I have no hopes of winning.  One year, when Ben was about 4 years old, I had him pick the winners and losers in the tournament.  He picked teams based on bodily functions or body part sounding names.  His final four were:  Duke, Butler, Austin Peay and IUPUI (pronounce Ewey-Pooey). He did better than me.  Jimmy the Greek, I am not.  I have heard of people choosing teams based on the color of the uniforms (i.e. “I like blue better than green”) or team mascots (i.e. “Wolverines are cuter than Spartans, I’ll take them.”)  Generally, such methods are just as accurate as the picks from the so-called experts (underdogs frequently upset a higher seeded team, hence the reason for calling the tournament “March Madness.”). Picking winners is hard.

40 years of filling out a bracket has taught me this important lesson (not about basketball, I stink at that skill, but) about God: God does not pick us based on our ability to shoot a basketball, our name, background, clothing color or any other silly criteria. In fact, the Bible indicates that God has picked all of us to be winners.  Isaiah 43 has God’s words to Israel which we can claim as our own saying: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1).  Paul tells a group of Christians, “In him we were also chosen” (Ephesians 1:11) and Peter reminds us: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9).

God has chosen you and me not because we can shoot a basketball straight or not but simply because we are His children and he wants us to win in life (which is a tad more important than a basketball tournament). Peter put it this way:  God “is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9).

No matter who you pick to win the basketball games (I chose Michigan to win it all, shocking I know), make sure you choose God. He’s on your side and has already picked you as a winner—that’s not madness it’s called Amazing Grace!

Ten Ways to NOT invite a Friend to Church on Easter Sunday

When inviting a friend to church on Easter Sunday DO NOT say any of the following:

1) “Easter is on April Fool’s Day this year.  That’s kind of your daily double, isn’t it?”

2) “Your big ears look like the Easter Bunny’s ears, you’re as fruity as a jelly bean and your cologne smells like deviled eggs– you were made for Easter Sunday.”

3) “Don’t make me say: “Christ is Risen, but my friend is still in bed.”

4) “Easter Sunday is also known as “bring-a-peep-to-church-Sunday.”

5) “Easter just happens to fall is on a Sunday this year, could you join me?”

6) “On Easter, we are having a Barabbas look-alike contest, I think you will have an excellent chance of winning! The winner gets released from the service early.”

7) “Instead of an Easter Egg Hunt, this year our fourth graders are Hunting-for-Heretics, so unless you want 14 snotty nosed Sunday School kids showing up at your place at 9AM, you might want to join me at church.”

8) “At our church, visitors get an Easter Basket filled with year old Sunday school papers, last week’s church bulletins and Good Friday Potluck leftovers.”

9) “Before entering the ministry, our preacher was a pyrotechnics director in Hollywood. He promises that his Easter sermon will have REAL Fire and Brimstone.”

10) “Everyone goes to church on Easter except goobers.  Don’t be a goober.”

Please DO NOT use any of the above invitations to Easter Services, but DO INVITE someone to church on Easter!  Start praying about who could join you on Easter Sunday!


A Riddle from Pastor Grim Reaper

Do you like puzzles?  Here’s a riddle:  I have a cousin who isn’t having a birthday this year. She didn’t have one last year and she won’t have one next year either. She will have one in two years although. Here’s a hint: while she is nearly eligible for social security, she can truthfully make the claim to still being a teenager since she has had only 15 birthdays.

Answer:  She was born on February 29 so her actual birth day only rolls around every four years. I’m not sure if she celebrates her big day today or if she blew out her candles yesterday.

While, I don’t have my cousin’s excuse, there may be days when I act like a teenager (so says Karla) but there are probably more days when I feel like I’m ready for the rocking chair. In either case, the truth remains I am closer to the grave than ever before.

Moses, who knew a thing or two about birthdays (on his last birthday he blew out 120 candles), wisely instructs us in Psalm 91: “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 91:12). Moses understood whether born in a leap year or not, we are not guaranteed any birthdays. Our days are numbered and we aren’t the one who numbers them.

None of us are promised another year on planet earth.  As many of you know, our family has recently experienced grief (Karla’s dad passed away less than two months ago). Likewise, many in our church have freshly faced death’s menacing reality. Just this week, a classmate of some of our children passed away.  Our kids had prayed for this precious little girl last Sunday in Children’s Church and now that little one is in heaven; yesterday a pastor officiated the funeral of a 25 year old man; tomorrow our funeral committee (they are awesome servants by the way) is preparing a post-funeral meal for the family of a church member; and then on Saturday I will attend the funeral of mom and step dad of a lady from Central both of whom passed away within two weeks of one another and the family is having one funeral for both parents.  Death is a constant reminder that our lives on this old world are numbered, and we aren’t the ones who number them.

Added to these tragedies is the national grief we are experiencing in the wake of the latest school shooting.  Politicians will debate the best strategy moving forward, but all of us can agree that school shootings are a national disgrace. Our kids need to be safe and should be worrying about who to ask to prom not if there’s an active shooter is in their building.  By heart breaks for the students and grieving families in Parkland.

My intention isn’t to be Pastor Grim Reaper today, but simply to remind us that each of our numbered days is precious. Every day is a gift.  Hug your kids a little tighter and let go of grudges a little quicker.  Don’t take your days or your relationships for granted.  Use your days for God’s glory whether you are 14 or 84.