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Easter Too Soon  

Easter is in the air, which means there's a spring in our step. Enough spring that many evangelicals are prepared to hop right over Good Friday.  Again.

We love to celebrate Christ's victory over sin and death—as we should.  But is it possible we shortchange the sufferings of Christ on Good Friday?  Wouldn't you agree there is no point to the victory party, if you don't—or won't—embrace the struggle that came before?

Not Good at Doing Somber

It's a peculiar observation of mine that we evangelicals, for the most part, are just not good at doing somber.  Or pensive.

Look at the category of songs we call Contemporary Christian Music.  Most of all these tunes involve boosting our hands, thwopping our drums and surging up and down whilst holding a guitar or bass.  Thoughtful music lacks the bubble gum snap of “Praise and Worship.”  We are postiviely uncomfortable with pauses and silence in group prayer. 

For the most part, we just don't do somber. Introspection lacks the sizzle needed for digital billboards and PowerPoint transitions.  

Of course, much of this is driven by our culture.  Chocolate eggs and pastel bunnies are the distilled essence of our secularized celebration of Easter. 

Culture Trumping the Church?

We buy Easter candy, not Maundy Thursday bitter herbs.

We buy Easter dresses, not Good Friday sackcloth. 

But since when does the culture trump the church?

When Jesus said, “Remember me,” He intended a whole lot more than plastic cups and grape juice and factory-perfect bread chiclets.  He meant every staggered step of His cross bearing walk.  He meant every swing of the executioner's hammer.  He meant every ghastly cry from the cross.  And yes, He meant the brilliance of the angel sitting at the entrance of His empty tomb.  

I am all for a raucous, rollicking shout of joyful worship this Easter Sunday.  But we dare not shrink or trivialize that glory by avoiding the agony of Good Friday.  

For Jesus—and His followers—there has never been a crown without a cross.

And that is why we must linger over Good Friday.

 

 

 

 

 
1894 Birthday Party--Recorded!  

How do you celebrate your birthday?  

Some dine at a special restaurant. 

On my birthday, (which happens to be my Mom's birthday, too) Diana bakes a spectacular apple cake—loaded with cinnamon.  This is I adorn with a mountain of whipped cream.

I was recently let in on a birthday celebration from 1894.  They recorded it!  (at least part of it). 

Before mp3 files or CDs or vinyl records, people recorded audio by speaking into a metal “horn” that recorded onto a small wax cylinder (about the size of a large can of peaches).   The sound was scratchy, but it did the job.

Recording from 1894 Birthday!

In the amazing book and compilation, Waxing the Gospel, the October 22nd, 1894 birthday of one Joseph Sawyer was recorded.   As you listen, you hear Joseph himself give the date and announce in a strong voice, “This is my seventy-first birthday, and I am very glad to see my children and grandchildren here.”  His children, and grandchildren then all offer a short tribute.

His wife follows singing a verse of her husband's favorite hymn, Rock of Ages.  Then...amazingly...the entire family gathers around and boldly sings the Doxology:

Praise God from whom all blessings flow....

Born in 1823

Think of it.  I was listening to the celebration of a man born in 1823.    Thomas Jefferson was still alive.  D.L. Moody had not yet been born.  The Civil War was nearly four decades away.

Of course, God heard this all “live.”  I only heard it recorded.  But you know, I'm wondering if Joseph Sawyer would mind if I borrowed his Doxology idea, should God grace me with another birthday.   I'm guessing not.

So dust off your hymnal.  Loosen up those vocal cords.  We'll plan to sing then, Lord willing!

 
Giving to God--Lessons from an 8-Year Old  

How good are you at giving to God?

This week, I was schooled by an eight year old.

Joslynn and I sat down to play “Money Matters for Kids,” developed by Christian Financial Concepts.  The game feels a lot like Monopoly, but with entirely different objectives.

Your goal as you wind your way around the game board is to set aside enough money that you can give away $30, save enough to pay for a toy you want, and also have enough cash on hand to pay for living expenses.

Too Focused on Winning

Naturally, I wanted to win the game, so when I had amassed the $30 for giving (but not yet fulfilled the other game requirements) I confess a sense of disappointment when my roll of the dice landed me on the “Give to Church” square.  Too focused on “winning”—I regretted having to start again from scratch.   

By contrast, I watched as Joslynn landed repeatedly on the same spot on the board.  But her reaction upon learning she would surrender her saved up cash was, “Great!  Look how much I can give away!”  I wish you could have sat there on the carpet with us to see the smile on her face.   At one point she gave $50, then $8.  At another moment I heard her count out (excitedly) “90 dollars!  Yay!  I get to give 90 dollars!”

My Inner Grump

Her bubbly enthusiasm was a contrast to my inner grump. You may be tempted to chalk all of this up to the innocence of youth, presuming that Joslynn does not fully understand the value of a dollar.  Not so. She does chores, saves her money—but gives it freely.  

Of course, anyone can be generous playing with fake money rather than real green. Yet this same eight year old was recently at a Cracker Barrel restaurant and bought a toy for her two siblings as well as herself!

If it’s true that “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7) then life’s ultimate winners are those who give with the biggest smile. 

Thanks for the lesson—and that huge smile, Joslynn!

 

Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  --2 Corinthians 9:7

 
Pop Tart Christianity  

As my fingers tap the keyboard creating this blog, my mouth is munching the last of a blueberry Pop Tart. I’m no addict, but I confess to enjoying the lard-laden lusciousness of a Pop Tart. Blueberry is my flavor of choice. 

But as I hold the toaster-hot pastry in my hand, a new twist on an old favorite has caused me to do a bit of critical thinking.  When Pop Tarts first came out, they were touted as being filled with real fruit.  We were far less critical of sugar back then.  Hydrogenated oil was a familiar friend and who had even heard of Trans fats?.    So while no one would have suggested the Pop Tart was highly nutritious, it was generally deemed a worthy snack.  

Now with Sprinkles!

After a few years, Kellogg’s decided to add frosting.  Ka-BAM!  That created serious snack waves, and to this day, Pop Tarts remain Kellogg’s’ most successful brand in the United States!  Yet I couldn’t help but notice munching on mine a moment ago, that the frosting is different.  It now also features sprinkles!  Plain ol’ frosting is just WAY too boring.  Gotta kick things up a notch.   Who would possibly want a Pop Tart adorned with regular frosting?

I sometimes wonder if we’re not that way in our Christian walk—specifically our daily quiet time with God. 

Fast, Fun and Frosted

We unwrap our one-minute-with-God devotional, pop it into our souls and move on with our day.  We are unnourished, unaffected, and unconcerned. When it comes to our time with God, we like it fast, fun and frosted. 

Is it any wonder that we are largely unmoved by sin?  That we are so much like the world?  That we fail to tithe?  That we avoid sharing our faith?    That we watch R-rated films and TV shows and sense no filth?  That we are unable to make a case for biblical sexuality or the sanctity of life?

Tozer says, “God can be known satisfactorily only as we devote time to Him.”

Here’s to reaching for more than a mere Pop Tart Christianity. 

 
Glass, Not Plastic  

Yes, Virginia, there really is an Ohio—in Illinois.  The little town boasts no more than 550.  But heading south on Route 26, Ohio is merely a navigation marker, not a destination. We’re in search of an even smaller berg known as Kasbeer (pronounced with a Long “A”).

As the town and its sign are easily missed, look for its two largest landmarks.  To the east towers the Kasbeer grain elevator, and much closer to the highway is the white steeple tower of the Kasbeer Community Church.   Its stain glass history is filled with generations of my wife’s family.

The white steeple tower

Like all old buildings, Kasbeer Community Church has its own set of unique smells reminding you you're home.  Sunday morning hymnal selections are posted on two antique wooden boards on either side of the auditorium.  On the back wall, the ancient gears of a circular Seth Thomas electric clock grind a sort of white noise.  A four-paddled ceiling fan twirls slowly from on high with doubtful effectiveness.   The blue and green basket weave carpet looks the same as it did the day Diana and I got married.   

As for the service itself, Pastor Eric did a capable job preaching from Luke 4 in a sermon he titled, “The Authority of Jesus.”   Then followed communion and I couldn’t help but notice the cups were made of glass, not plastic.

Dare not ever forget

In an age where so many churches are immersed in lighting rigs, fog machines and video walls, the lack of technology was actually therapeutic (this from an admitted techno geek).  Imagine church without a bass guitar.  Or one single drum.  Some may doubt it’s even possible.  Not only is it possible, it was actually refreshing.  Like glass, rather than plastic.

Nothing wrong with technology.  Were Jesus to minister today, He would likely use a wireless mic—and maybe even PowerPoint. But power has never been in our technology.  And the point ought always to be Jesus and His gospel. We dare not ever forget that. 

 
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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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