Archive for March, 2016

Mar
27

Questions in the Garden

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Each of us have experienced the pain that comes into our hearts when someone we love passes from this life. We are too familiar with the experience of mourning: black clothes and black cars; hushed voices that whisper in solemn tones; flowers whose brilliant colors are drained as we view them through an endless flow of tears. It is hard to let go and hard to say goodbye.

The school bus drives down the street but no longer stops in front of the house.
Rush hour traffic dwindles into twilight, yet no car arrives in the driveway.
Busy feet rush through the back door, yet there is no kiss of welcome.
And worst of all, there’s an empty place at the table.

Death brings questions. We should not be surprised that there were questions raised surrounding the death of Jesus. Three such questions were offered at the dawn of the first Easter.

The first question was “Who will roll away the stone?” (Mark 16:3)

In rural areas of the country, many country folk have a simple tradition. One the calendar its called Memorial Day. But for an older, more agrarian culture its called Decoration Day. It’s a time when people got to modest cemeteries and place flowers on the headstones of friends and family. Those marble monuments, tombstones we call them, stand on bright green grass, freshly awakened from winter’s sleep. To the right, there is a stone that marks the separation of a husband and wife. To the left, a stone that marks the separation of a parent and child. Across the well measured row stands another that marks the separation of a friend who took the time to share the joys and sorrows of life.

When the body of Jesus was taken down, it was laid in a borrowed tomb. A stone was rolled across the entrance, symbolizing the separation of our Savior from his family and followers. As the women prepared to make their way to the garden tomb, they were well aware that a stone of separation would block the way. “Who will roll away the stone,” they asked?
And it’s a fair question for us even today. Who will roll away the stone, and end this great enemy of life? Is there anyone who can roll away the stone?

The second question offered was “Why seek the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:6)

Imagine that! The body of Jesus was missing! He had told them he would rise again, yet in their grief they are not thinking of the promises of God. They’re thinking of their present problem. A graveyard seems like an illogical place to look for life. It is a place representing the mortality of our lives. But if you pause and think for a moment, isn’t that exactly what so many are doing today?

Some seek meaning in life through relationships or in other people. Some seek purpose from obtaining a promotion or a position of prominence. Others seek life by obtaining possessions or acquiring enough wealth to secure their futures. For others still, life is best found through pleasure or some new experience.

Trying to find the meaning and purpose of life among these things is like seeking the living among the dead. It’s like sticking a plug into a dead outlet. It looks good, but there is no power. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these things. The problem is, they never were intended to deliver what we hope they will. We find ourselves bored and disappointed when they don’t deliver, and then it’s on to the next thing.

The final question was “Why are you weeping?” (John 20:11-13)

It’s interesting that this question was not asked on Friday.

On Good Friday, Jesus was
Arrested,
Accused,
Judged,
Beaten,
Mocked,
Insulted,
Crucified,
and Buried.

On Friday, it appeared as though all was lost. On Friday, there was bad news. There was suffering, death, sorrow and fear. Friday was the day for tears.

But the good news of Easter is that Jesus only needed the tomb for the weekend!
On the first day of the week, the one who laid his life down willingly took it back up again and rose victorious over sin, death and the grave! Jesus died our death so we could live his life forevermore!

Who will roll away the stone? God rolled away the stone, not so that Jesus could get out, but that the world could see in. That stone of separation was moved so that we would come to understand that our earthly separations are not final. They’re only temporary.

But what about the other questions? Are you seeking life among things that were never designed to deliver it? It’s always easier to see it in someone else that in ourselves.
Why are you weeping? We may weep in this life, but we do not weep as those who have no hope.

Categories : Easter
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Mar
19

The National Congregations Study

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I recently received my copy of the National Congregations Study due to my participation in the process. The NCS was directed by Mark Chaves, Professor of Sociology, Religious Studies, and Divinity at Duke University. The study gathered information from 3,185 congregations from across the religious spectrum. What follows are some of the important results from the research.

1. The number of congregations claiming no denominational affiliation increased from 18% in 1998 to 24% in 2012.

2. White mainline congregations, and the people in those congregations, are older than the congregations and people of other religious traditions.

3. Most congregations are small but most people are in large congregations. The average congregation is getting smaller, but the average church goer attends a larger congregation.

4. People in smaller congregations give more money to their churches than do people in larger congregations.

5. Worship services have become more informal and expressive.

6. 10% of church goers worship in a multi-site congregation.

7. American solo or senior pastoral leaders are more ethnically diverse and older, but not more female than they were in 1998.

8.Food assistance is by far the most common kind of social service actively pursued by congregations, with more than half listing food assistance among their four most important social service programs.

9. 13% of all congregations are led by a volunteer solo or senior pastor.

10. Women could, in principle, serve as a senior or solo pastoral leaders in 58% of American congregations. However, only 11% of those same congregations have a woman serving as a solo or senior pastor.

What do you think? Any surprises?

Categories : Church, Church Growth
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