Real Worship: A summons to the feet of Jesus

 

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Real worship is about Jesus. It IS costly. And it DOESN’T make sense.

Scientists tell us of the powerful ability of the sense of smell to trigger memories—that the olfactory bulb in our brain links scent to event. That is why walking into a home with cookies baking in the oven can carry you back to the security of grandma’s house decades earlier. Scent, somehow, unifies and cements all 5 senses and places us, momentarily, in the experiences of our past.

One suspects the story of the anointing by the woman at Bethany provided just such a fragrant link in the disciples’ minds between burial perfume and Jesus’ looming Passion.

The story of the woman of Bethany was obviously an important one in the early church, as all four Gospel writers record it (Matthew 26:6-12, Mark 14: 3-9, Luke 7:36-49, John 12:1-8). As a whole, the Gospel writers tell us three things in this story: Real worship is about Jesus. It IS costly. And it DOESN’T make sense.

That is why it is so odd that in this fragrant Gospel narrative, the memory of the eyewitnesses seems fuzzy…

There is a woman. There is an anointing. There is expensive, perfumed oil. There is the objection to using it on Jesus. But then the details start getting jumbled.

Are these four accounts one event? Two? Three? Scholars have wondered for centuries. It’s easy to get frustrated with the Gospel writers here. They carefully name and give character to the Twelve, yet they blur the details of this woman and her story.

Who was this woman? Both Matthew and Mark have Jesus predict that this story will always be told in memory of this woman…but then her name conspicuously escapes them. Luke tells us she was a “A sinner.” John alone tells us that her name was “Mary.” But Mary was the most common women’s name in first Century Palestine. There were three women named Mary present at the crucifixion that we know of. Which Mary is this?

Luke places the story early in his Gospel. Matthew, Mark, and John place it in Bethany, the day before the Last Supper and Jesus’ arrest by the mob in the garden. Here are a few more details:

Several days before his betrayal and death, Jesus and his disciples dine at the home of Simon the Leper in Bethany. While they recline at the table, a woman, whom John, the last Gospel writer by decades, identifies as Mary of Bethany approaches Jesus. We don’t know how long she had followed Jesus. What we do know is that Mary knew that worship has an object: Real worship is about Jesus.

She has an alabaster jar of expensive perfume, worth a year’s wages. The jars were permanently sealed. To let the perfumed oil out one had to break the neck off. Once opened, like a jar of mayonnaise, it had to be used. Mary broke her jar, and emptied the perfume on Jesus. Worship is costly.

In another fuzzy detail, John has the woman anoint Jesus’ feet, wiping them with her hair. Matthew and Mark report that the woman of Bethany anointed Jesus’ head.  Both actions flower with symbolism.

In the ancient Near East, anointing the head signified Kingship – Kings were anointed at their coronation by the high priest or prophet. The word “Christ,” is a transliteration of the Greek word “Christos,” itself a translation of the Hebrew word for Messiah, which means “the anointed one.”  As Rachel Held Evans says, “This anonymous woman finds herself in the very untraditional position of priest and prophet.” Only in the upside-down Kingdom of Jesus, does this make sense.”  Because real worship DOESN’T make sense.

Anointing feet, on the other hand, models humility, service…love. John’s account is more intimate. Awkward even.  In a culture in which a woman’s touch was forbidden, for Mary to cradle Jesus’ feet in her hands and brush oil over his ankles and toes with the ends of her hair was unthinkable. This is most likely the oil for her own burial she has poured out. Mary breaks her treasured bottle of burial perfume and empties it on Jesus. She spares no expense. She is fully committed. She is “all in.” She is sacrificing her own future. The self-emptying of this action foreshadows Jesus’ washing the disciples feet to come the next day on Maundy Thursday. And just as we see the male disciples discomfort at that event, their unease at her display of affection is palatable.

Real worship is about Jesus. It IS costly. And it DOESN’T make sense.

In the midst of all this symbolism and foreshadowing, Jesus interprets the event for us: this is an act of worship in preparation for his burial. When the disciples rebuke the woman for what they see as a waste of money, Jesus rebukes them saying, “Why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. You always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial.”

Jesus had been speaking of his impending death for a good while, but the Twelve kept missing it. The idea of a kingdom ushered in with the death of their friend rather than the death of their enemies was unthinkable. It is no wonder they complained about the “waste” of money the anointing represented – they assumed they would need to finance their ministry with Jesus for years to come.

Mary alone seems to get it. She is the first of Jesus’ disciples to acknowledge his impending death… the one who anoints “the anointed one.” For this, Jesus gives her his highest praise. “Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”

What a remarkable thought—that from open air revival to cathedral, Europe to Uruguay, Israel to Africa, this woman’s story would be told.

Jesus wanted us to remember. Yet we aren’t even sure of the woman’s name.

How is it that, unlike other Gospel stories in which details drop out as we get to the later Gospels, her name does not appear until very late?

I suspect it is because this good lady did not want it to appear.

The beneficiaries of the events in Jesus’ ministry joined the early church after his resurrection. They shared their stories to encourage one another. Later, when it became obvious that Jesus was tarrying in his expected return, writers gathered and recorded those stories. In the early stories of blind Bartimaeus, for example, we know Bart’s name, his dad’s name, and even that a blind friend was beside him in the early Gospels. But by the time (and distance) that Luke writes, Bartimaeus is presumably gone and his name is dropped. And Bart’s story does not even make John’s Gospel, the last one written.

So why is this woman not named by the early authors? The obvious guess is that it was specifically because she was still around. And SHE did not want it named.

We know that Mary was a worshipper. My guess, knowing a few Mary types, is that, for Mary, worship was, first and foremost not about her, but about Jesus. And she didn’t want folks to get distracted in admiring her.

My guess is that Mary is named in John specifically because she is no longer around to keep an eyewitness from recording her name.

But what of you? Where is your focus?

What is your perfume?

What do you guard and value above all else?

Is it material possessions? Is your perfume your reputation? Friends? Career? Take a moment and name that which you value most, because you cannot pour out that which you cannot name.

The challenge of Mary this Holy Week is that we would dare break open that which we value most and pour it out as a fragrant offering upon our Lord. Perhaps, with the help of the Holy Spirit, the scent of a fragrant offering might trigger a memory… like the comfort of grandma’s house, bought through decades of difficult labor during hard times, we would be reminded that our comfort from God was bought at a high price.

Because Real worship is about Jesus. It DOESN’T make sense. And it IS costly.

 

*This was the message from “Dinner Church,” our Wednesday Holy Week liturgy for families. It has a contemplative feeling (with some Taize and Taize-esque songs.) It is based on 1 Corinthians and what is thought to be the earliest non-canonical Christian literature, a teaching tool called The Didache. It is essentially the biblical “love feast” (Jude 1:12, 1 Cor. 11). The candle light and contemplative music work well for our rowdy urban kids. People prepare the meal together, light the worship/dinner space, pray and sing and eat over candle light. It also gives us a chance to give folks an overview of the upcoming Triduum of holy week and pass out devotionals for families to use at home.

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Holy Week for Newbies

Matt Marino:

With Holy Week fast approaching I wanted to repost this as an invitation to my friends…

Originally posted on the gospel side:

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A primer for those wondering what all the hubbub is about.

Holy Week, in a nutshell, is a spiritual retreat without leaving home. Remember summer youth camp? You had an authentic, transformative experience of God in a group of others having the same experience. You came home connected to those people and God in a new way. You thought, “That was fantastic. I am different and I can hardly wait to come back next year.” Holy Week is a lot like that.

Holy Week is series of liturgical experiences that walk us through the final week of Jesus’ life. We journey with Jesus, in the short span of a week, from His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, to the missing guard unit, neatly rolled grave clothes, and the shocking appearance of a risen Savior. In a symbol and story impoverished culture, Holy Week opens our hearts to the gift of Jesus’ victory over sin and death. This is more than a psychological…

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Goodbye, Papa.

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Martin Ubaldo “Marty” Marino

Nov. 11, 1934 ~ March 14, 2014

In a world of unique individuals my father might have been the uniquiest. He was a high roller who hit it big. Twice. He also hit rock bottom. Twice. Unfortunately that last hit was a doozy. After that, Phoenix’s highest-flying realtor mostly “worked” from home. First it was online gaming and later the stock market, which, come to think of it, is really the same thing.

We all have our own unique vantage point on other’s lives. You may have known my dad as “Marty the realtor”… or grandpa…or golfer. “Marty the political campaign manager” or “Marty the original Suns season ticket holder.”  “Marty the colleague” or “Marty the card player.” But we all knew him as “Marty the forwarder of factually questionable spam.”

To me, Marty was dad.

And my dad was a paradox: An extroverted recluse. A curmudgeon with a heart of gold. He wore his vices on his sleeve, but hid his virtues under a Grumpy Cat exterior.

My father was a virtuoso reaction provoker. You could not spend more than 5 minutes with my father without either loving him or hating him.

Most likely both.

Usually at the same time.

When I was a child we would vacation at Pajaro Dunes, a lovely semi-private beach. But as my dad aged, he reverted to the NY kid who longed for the hubbub of the boardwalk. He began to holiday on Mission Beach, San Diego’s answer to Coney Island. He rented on the promenade. Always with a second story balcony to watch the girls and talk smack to the fellas. My dad was still talking smack in his 70′s.

In the mornings he would greet the world with vocal renditions of Sinatra, Bennett and Hoagie Carmichael. Picture the Mission Beach boardwalk at 8 am on a midweek July morning: A few fit joggers & bikers power by. Locals kibitz over coffee. Hung over college kids stumble home. But mostly families that stayed up too late are trying to grab a few more moments of shut-eye. And there, on the balcony above it all, is my retirement-aged, 260 pound, shirtless, chain-smoking Italian father belting out “Fly me to the moon.”

No, it wasn’t good. And, yes, he knew it.

But for a month each summer people would walk past our rental either snickering or grimacing. In my 49 years I cannot recall a single incident in which my dad was not the center of attention. I don’t think he tried to be attention seeking or reaction provoking. He was just a smidge larger than life.

Ideas were important to my dad. He had them. Articulated them. Argued them. And he always won the argument. Usually because his idea was persuasive. When it was not, he had perfected a technique I call “vocal Darwinism”: Survival of the loudest.

Words were important to my dad as well. He used them often – either in the declarative or the exclamatory. If you used a word wrongly you would receive a lesson on its Latin etymology, delivered in the declarative exclamatory. Inside of my father’s home, where the lion spent the lion’s share of the last 25 years, the most common words addressed to him began, “O Papa.” The “O” could be pronounced with shock, joy, fear, dismay, gratitude, or exasperation. As in “O, Papa!” when he went out of his way to help one of us, or when you caught him, a man in end stage congestive heart failure, sneaking an entire box of sodium enhanced prepackaged spareribs for breakfast.

Most of my father’s favorite words cannot be said in church.

My dad was an Italian. A New York raised, swarthy, chain wearing, chain smoking, looked like a mafia Don and sounded like one too, Italian. In case you would like to be an Italian, there are 3 essential words you need. My dad made sure we knew them: Capish (understand), Stai Zitto (shut up), and Luie Monjagovol (an untranslatable expression useful for all occasions…mostly for those rare times when you could not use any of the words my dad really preferred using…the ones you cannot use in church.)

My father was extremely funny. And sarcastic. Unfortunately, sarcasm often goes over one’s children’s heads…and when it does it often carries decades long consequences. For example, when I was seven and writing the obligatory post-Christmas “Thank you” notes, I made the mistake of telling my dad that envelopes “taste bad.” He said, “That’s because the glue is carcinogenic.” I was always learning important things from my father, like how to pronounce “carcinogenic” and that envelope glue was a dangerous yet unregulated substance.

I didn’t lick envelopes until I was a high school junior. I was working as a Suns’ ballboy when one night Ron Lee, a highly personable Suns guard, half licked a ticket envelope and handed it to me to finish. I licked my finger and used that to finish the envelope. I looked up and the entire team was staring at me. I had no idea that they were wondering if I was a racist for not licking an envelope after a Black man. With full conviction informed them, “Licking envelopes is stupid. Y’all are going to die of tongue cancer!”

My dad’s name was Martin Ubaldo Marino. I once asked him why he always wrote “Marty.” He told me “Martin Ubaldo” was long and WOPy sounding so he had it legally changed. I saw him write “Martin U. Marino” on something last year and asked him when he changed his name back. He had no idea what I was talking about.

I live in fear of what other great fictions await my discovery.

My dad was the strongest man I knew. As a kid I would hold on around his neck as he swam underwater 2 complete lengths of our long swimming pool. I could barely stay on due to the water resistance. It must have taken tremendous strength to propel his enormous body and mine through that water. I would have to let go on the first leg to get air and catch him again on his way back.

My dad broke racial barriers long before it was fashionable. In the late 1960′s, Phoenix was a very Anglo town. The first time I laid eyes on an African American was in my house. Asleep. Connie Hawkins had flown into town to look at homes and was tired. So my dad, who sold the early Suns players their homes, brought him over for a nap.

Back then professional sports were divided not by management and labor (they all made about the same money), but by color. My dad and trainer Joe Proski socialized with White and Black alike. It took me years to realize that they were the only ones doing that. He never mentioned “justice” or “reconciliation.” He just lived it.

If we did something hard working or noble my dad said, “You’re a good man, Gunga Din.” I lived to hear those words.

The event that summarized my dad as a parent and grandpapa was beating us to the hospital for our daughter’s birth…and then hazing us loudly all over the hospital for being late to our own child’s delivery.

Boys always learn the important things in life from their fathers. Here are…

10 life lessons I learned from my dad:

1. Tools are something you buy…but for someone else to actually use.

2. Do stuff you don’t like simply because you love your kids: Bouncing a Lincoln Continental all over Northern Arizona forest roads to take 2 teenagers fishing comes to mind. I have never met anyone more out of place in a forest than my father.

3. Everyone gets to win in a deal. My dad was a very moral businessman: “Never let anyone get screwed, Matt.” He once told me when some friends hatched a get rich quick scheme.

4. Care for people. One Christmas he was ordered to “tone it down” by the Salvation Army: When he drove up to the house and saw how poor the family was, he loaded the whole tribe into his Fleetwood Brougham and took them on a shopping spree to a warehouse store.

5. It’s better to be kind than nice. My dad was not a nice man. But he was a remarkably kind one. He would come to your aid no matter how ridiculous a situation you had gotten yourself into. But he would ride you on it the whole time.

6. Your gifts can be a stepping-stone or a tombstone. The same pride that made my dad a legendary real estate agent also made him too proud to return to it. Don’t be a victim of your gifts.

7. You can save a lot of money by making your own cigarettes, but money is all you are saving.

8. For a man for whom religion was a regular target of his sarcasm, I learned a great deal about faith from my dad:

-He taught me to read the Bible beginning in the Gospels. I had started the Bible twice and got bogged down in 2 Chronicles both times. Who starts a book 2/3 of the way through? My dad taught me that it is really a collection of books, and that the New interprets the Old.

-I learned to stick with it. On three occasions I thought about quitting the ministry for something that would pay better. Each time my dad was the one who beelined it to my house to talk me out of it. “Why would you do that?” He said. “You were made for this.”

-I learned that what we say and what we mean aren’t always the same thing. Last month, my father, the vocal atheist, called me concerned about a lack of faith by a close family member. The conversation was both funny and profound…

Dad: What are you doing?

Matt: At 6:30 A.M. on my day off?

Dad: You aren’t sleeping are you?

Matt: Not any more.

Dad: Do you know that  ____ doesn’t believe a GD thing about Jesus Christ. Can you believe that? I mean… JC. Who doesn’t love Jesus, GDit. What the H. Everyone loves Jesus Christ. Even I love Jesus Christ. And I do, dammit. I do love Jesus Christ. GDit. Who doesn’t believe anything? C. I mean really NOT believe anything. What the H.”

Matt: Dad, Have you considered contacting Guinness? You might have set a new record for blasphemies in a conversation for Jesus.

Dad (after an out of character apology for his word choice): You need to do something about that! You need to talk to him!

Matt: Dad, you have spent 30 years mocking faith. And you are surprised that he took you at your word? I have always known you had a secret thing for Jesus, you just protested too much. But I really think you should have that talk. Be honest. Let him know that, although you have big issues with the church, that you actually think quite highly of Jesus and it bothers you that he doesn’t.

I don’t know if that conversation ever happened.

9. Number nine takes a little setup: My dad went to great lengths to avoid exercise. If he had a religion, it might have been named Exercise-avoidance-ism. This religion had at its theological core the doctrine that “every human is allotted a certain number of heartbeats at birth and that if you want to waste yours exercising, that is your business.” So, #9, I learned that His theory on “the conservation of heartbeats” is probably flawed.

10. Speaking of flawed, the worst day of a kid’s life might be the day he finds out his dad is flawed. And my dad was quite flawed. However, one of the best days in a man’s life is the day he finds out that his flawed dad is still quite human and, in many ways, quite holy. One day last summer he and my stepmother came over unannounced and told us that she had had beaten cancer.  They had never told us that she had cancer-it might have been the only secret my father ever kept. That day, the only time in my life that I saw my father cry, he threw his arms around my stepmom, squeezed her hard enough that we feared for her safety, and blurted through his tears how much he loved her and how lost he would be if anything happened to her. I will never forget that day. It told me my dad was growing…becoming more alive…even as his body was obviously dying.

As I thought about a memorial to my father I thought, “It will be the first time someone gets the last word on my Marty Marino.” But as a Christian, I don’t actually believe that I have.

Dad I love you and I miss you already. See you later.

Holy Week for Newbies

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A primer for those wondering what all the hubbub is about.

Holy Week, in a nutshell, is a spiritual retreat without leaving home. Remember summer youth camp? You had an authentic, transformative experience of God in a group of others having the same experience. You came home connected to those people and God in a new way. You thought, “That was fantastic. I am different and I can hardly wait to come back next year.” Holy Week is a lot like that.

Holy Week is series of liturgical experiences that walk us through the final week of Jesus’ life. We journey with Jesus, in the short span of a week, from His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, to the missing guard unit, neatly rolled grave clothes, and the shocking appearance of a risen Savior. In a symbol and story impoverished culture, Holy Week opens our hearts to the gift of Jesus’ victory over sin and death. This is more than a psychological remembrance, it is actively allowing ourselves to be in that final week, baptized (immersed) into his death…”Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? …in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”  (Romans 6:3-4)

Holy Week is sacramental

…and we are sacramental creatures. Regardless of any initial reaction you may have to that word, hear me out. A sacrament is a tangible symbol that creates what it signifies. Like kissing. When you first kissed that special someone on the doorstep at the end of the evening, it did more than represent thinking the girl was pretty and nice and that you enjoyed talking with her. It actually created and amplified those feelings. You walked back to your car more emotionally connected to her than you were when you opened her door a brief moment earlier.  And when her front door clicked shut, you fist pumped the air. “Heck, Yeah!” Because that kiss actually made more of what it signified.

So God gave us, fleshly, sacramental, critters that we are, a God who came in flesh. Who lived. Who breathed. Who touched us and was touched by us. Who walked willingly to a criminal’s cross, laid down, spread his arms wide for humanity, and waited for real nails to pierce his hands and feet. It is because you too are flesh and blood that you should engage in Holy Week…because Holy Week creates what it signifies: “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil 3:10)

A current reality

The ancient prayers point us to the deep mystery in this: It isn’t “Christ rose.” It is “Christ is risen!” Holy Week is a current reality. A more real reality. So we do more than meditate on these holy mysteries. We allow them to become true within us, as our baptism is true within us. We join him on Maundy Thursday in His Last Supper. We are with him on Friday in His death. We keep prayerful watch before His tomb on Saturday. With growing anticipation we mark His descent into Hades and His trampling of death by His death. Finally, with shouts of joy, we greet His resurrection on Sunday morning, knowing that one day it will be our resurrection too. In Holy Week, as Orthodox priest Fr. Steven Freeman says, “The life to come becomes the life we live.”

A “deep mystery,” it should be said, is not magic. We must surrender to the prayers and liturgy – faith must be lived. In the end, Holy Week isn’t something we do. It is something that does us.

So what is the hubbub?

Holy Week is more than an emotionally powerful experience. It is an opportunity for a greater sanctification. As Paul said, “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” (Romans 6:8) Or, as an Arnold Swarzenegger character once said, “Come with me if you want to live.”

Do yourself a favor, make time to engage in Holy Week, especially the three-day “Triduum”: The despair of Golgotha on Good Friday, the muted sorrow of Saturday, the joyful Baptisms at Saturday’s Great Vigil, and the surprise of a risen Savior on Easter morning.

Almighty God, who through your only‑begotten Son Jesus Christ, overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord’s resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life‑giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Holy Week Sched 2014 Blog

 

 

Celebrity Jeopardy, Pastor’s Edition

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It is a game we find endlessly entertaining. It pays lavish cash gifts to the contestants – celebrity pastors long on speaking gifts and ego. Part of the appeal is that the game appears unscripted. In reality it is anything but: First come video-venue multi-sites…necessary because “our man” is “da man.” Then book deals complete with manipulated sales. 16,000′ homes? Of course. “An ox is worthy of its hire.” – That’s biblical. Financial transparency? Not in this game, Alex. And, as celebrity stature grows, church boards are re-filled, not with parishioners, but with the pastors of other megachurches. The final page of the script is to re-brand oneself from pastor to CEO. After all, a pastor can’t take three quarters of a million in “winnings” each year. For the IRS, however, “What is a CEO?” is the answer in the form of a question for the ambitious pastor.

Last summer, in a post entitled “When did evangelicals get popes?” I pointed out the ironic similarities between celebrity video-venue preachers and the papacy that Protestantism rose in protest against. Extending the irony has been Pope Francis’ humility this year in contrast to the growing list of celebrity pastor abuses…

This new generation of celebrity preachers do not disclose salaries. They play shady games with parishioner money. They plagiarize while exhorting others not to. They shamelessly teach even children to idolize them. They bully those who would question their bad behavior. This game turns people from parishioners to Svengali following fans and renders the faith foolishness to an increasingly unchurched culture.

Yes, any public figure draws criticism, and envy is an ever present human problem. However, when you have harmed so many through your teaching and lack of financial accountability that former staff and parishioners set up websites to warn others of you, perhaps it is time for us to change channels?

I am told that I should lay off – that celebrity turnstile church pastors are “making Jesus famous”? I say they are making themselves famous, Alex. Not to mention fabulously wealthy. And when someone viewing at home grumbles we are told by the studio audience that their success validates their ministry and that we should not dare to “raise a hand against God’s anointed” (1 Sam. 26:11).

I have also been told that this is a Philippians 1 issue of “whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached…so I rejoice.” That, however, is Paul saying, “It doesn’t matter what happens to me.” This is much different. This is not a leader sacrificing his wellbeing for the extension of God’s Kingdom, it the systematic fleecing of the flock by celebrity CEOs. A more appropriate scripture would be the condemnation awaiting careless teachers (James 3:1).

I have my own answer in the form of a question: Did Jesus ask to be made famous or followed?

Like celebrity obsessed groupies, the flock willingly participates in their fleecing. They arrive at video-venues by the minivan full. Then stare like pre-teen girls waiting for a pay-per-view performance of “the Biebs” as they wait for the screen to tune in from across the continent…victims of sophisticated manipulations, emotionally steered to avoid the obvious questions.

Contestant: “I will take “idol worship” for $200, Alex?”

Host: “A big lie, a big secret, and a big bully.”

Contestant: “What are Mark Driscoll’s, Steven Furtick’s, and Perry Noble’s books, salary, and treatment of their critics?”

There are tens of thousands of humble servants of God ascending pulpits and standing behind the table of the Lord every Sunday in churches small, large, mega and super-mega. Do your soul a favor, instead of being a consumer of the “show,” join one those humble folk in their humble work. Be a part of something that exercises financially transparency. Give your time, talent and treasure to a community that is about serving and reaching the world rather than the pastor. Your faith life should contribute to more than the Nielson ratings and “winnings” of the latest celebrity “CEO.”

Cut to theme music while contestants appear to be thoughtfully crafting their latest scripted answers.

How long will we remain glued to this show? Because the kingdom of God is not a game.

A parent shares an unlikely secret to raising great teens

Studio Portrait Of Five Teenage Friends Standing In Line

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Do you have kids in those really enjoyable third through sixth grade years? If so, you are probably a bit nervous about the teen years you know are looming around the corner.

I am the parent of two teens…at least until my daughter turns twenty next month. For the most part, our kids thrived through high school. And without arresting beauty, stellar brains, or athletic prowess, our kids were both voted president of their classes all through their high school years and were pursued by quality universities…including my son being invited to the Naval Academy’s summer program. Our parenting secret? While my friends pushed their kids to learn second languages, play on club teams, and take etiquette courses, we charted another parenting course. We involved our kids in an innovative program for youth. A program that data told us is linked to:

  • Dramatically reduced rebelliousness and risk of committing a crime
  • Increased participation in high school
  • Lowered rate of premarital sex
  • Reduction in binge drinking in high school and college
  • Improved academic performance in high school and college
  • Improved odds of saying they have a “very happy life” as an adult
  • And is even linked to an 8 year increase in life expectancy!

What is the activity that gives parents these outcomes we want for our kids?

The answer may surprise you. It is active participation in a local church. No, I’m not kidding. The data comes from sources such as the Center from Disease Control, Indiana, Michigan and Duke Universities, and the Barna Research Group. The caveat, the student has to be “deeply involved” in the church. According to the National Survey of Youth and Religion, “occasional attendees” have virtually no behavioral difference from non-attenders. Research indicates that regular church participation is associated with a decrease in every risky behavior that parents want their children to avoid and an increase in the behaviors that parents want to encourage.

Sometimes it is an issue of not seeing the forest for the trees. What we really want for our kids isn’t to be a great soccer player or to have a specific friend group. What we really want for our children is to have a great life. We see those other things as means to the end of becoming great human beings; self-sufficient and making a contribution to the world we leave them. The church is your number one support in your deepest yearnings for your kids.

Which brings us back to my kids: Although I am a picky parent, I genuinely like and respect the people my kids have become. I am proud of the decisions they make and the motives behind them. I am proud of how they carry themselves, a strong young woman and young man who stick up for underdogs, refuse to push others around or allow others to push them around. They are kind. They work hard. They serve others. They have stuck to their sexual purity guns. They are deep and fun. They, especially my daughter, are admirably resilient. They are viewed as leaders by their peers.

Why does it work?

To a great degree the people they have become is the result of a deeply committed walk with God. And a deeply committed faith is almost always the fruit of deep commitment to a local faith community. Regardless of what you personally think of Christian commitment, a deeply committed faith is a gift that, unlike participation in a club team, will keep giving to your child over the arc of their life.

What is the secret sauce?

Deep immersion in a church almost always includes a relationship with an older Christian mentor, aka, a youth worker. Youth workers reinforce parent’s messages from home. They do this as an influential voice a step or two older and wiser than their peers. Youth workers are role models and visible pictures of what positive choices gain one in life. They are a gift to parents that cannot be under-estimated.

As a parent, you and I have more to do with our teen’s success than anything or anyone in their lives. One of the best things we did to leverage that parental influence was to involve them in the church. At church, great young adults who love God, loved my kids. These young people, both church workers and Young Life leaders, helped my kids have a bigger vision for their lives. They helped my kids see their gifts, gave them opportunities for leadership and encouraged them to develop those gifts. Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers” tells us that highly successful people are the first ones to 10,000 hours in an activity. In a good church, leaders will spend a great amount of time teaching your child to serve others, speak in public, develop and articulate deeply held beliefs, discover musical gifts they didn’t know they have, and develop social skills that will bless them the rest of their lives. They will be busier, without a doubt, but they will develop new capacities, and the life skills that they need most for future life-success. And our kids are not unique in this. The kids in our small mission church’s youth program are a virtual Who’s Who of the student leaders in the four neighborhood high schools they attend.

So parents, take your kids to church. Get involved. Get your kids involved. In the end, it will do far more for them than the soccer league you miss on Sunday mornings. I promise.

Is Lent really 40 days long?

Matt Marino:

Father Brench in New England offers a nice tutorial on why Lent lasts 46 days, but even more, why a cycle of introspection is a spiritually helpful interruption to our usual praise-dominated worship.

For an idea of how biblical this is, take an afternoon and read all 150 songs in the Jewish hymnal (the Psalms) in one sitting. You will be amazed at how many would not be included in a modern hymnal as unsuitable for public worship.

Originally posted on Leorningcnihtes boc:

Every now and then someone goes through a calendar and counts the days in Lent and is shocked and annoyed (or at least confused) to discover that Lent is actually 46 days long.  (It’s six full weeks, which is 42 days, plus the days of Ash Wednesday through Saturday adds 4 more to make 46.)

Hey!  What gives?  Is this a conspiracy by the Church to trick people into a 40-day season of discipline when secretly it’s really 46, and we’ve just been tricked because we almost never bother to count?

The answer is going to sound a little weird to those who are not used to the tradition of the Church, but bear with me.  Lent is 46 days long as a season, but it’s only a 40-day fast.  How is this possible?  Because Sundays don’t count.

So, what, does this mean that Lent is a manic depressive season:…

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