Good News and Better News … October 5th, 2015

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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Good News Cross Plains

Yesterday I had the chance to share at a Lutheran church in Cross Plains, Wisconsin.

Lutherans believe in grace. I have to admit, I do favor that particular favoring. Grace seems to be a cool drink of water on a hot day.

But I must tell you, I do think grace requires a bit of confirmation.

Just as kind is bolstered by a bit of kindness, and love is greatly enhanced by loving, grace waits patiently for the arrival of gracious.

Yes, those who have been bestowed grace are given the opportunity of being gracious. It is an opportunity that certainly should be embraced as an expectation. And what is gracious?

Gracious is when we wink our eye at our brothers and sisters and laughingly say, “You think you’re bad? You should know me!”

  • It’s endearing.
  • It’s humble.
  • It’s human.
  • It’s funny.
  • It’s relaxed.
  • And it is the definition, in human form, of good cheer.

I looked for the presence of gracious in my Cross Plains hosts.

Wow. They did good.

They welcomed us. They listened, They were helpful. They shared their own hearts without fear. And most importantly, rather than standing at a distance in piety, they learned.

It was amazing.

So what is my contribution to this lovely group of people I met in Cross Plains? Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you’re either too young or too old.

The church is losing its power by eliminating the youth, and assuming that those who have reached retirement are incapable of transformation. If you’re going to stunt the growth of a congregation by thinking people are too young or too old, you’ll put your faith in those in the middle, who are completely encompassed with raising children and having their mortgage growl at them every month. These are not the people to lead your church–these are the folks who desperately need the ministry of the church.

But getting your younger members to be excited about church again, and your older folks to put their work boots back on instead of setting them in the corner, is what will transform all churches–including the Lutheran souls in Cross Plains–into a force of gracious effort.

I so enjoyed all the people I met.

I was greeted with warm handshakes, smiles, tears, hugs and one dear lady even kissed me.

But good Lutherans that you are, please remember, grace is much easier to understand when it is acted out by those who are gracious.

And it will be the young who will see visions ,,, and your older folks who will hatch new dreams.

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If You’re Happy and You Know It … June 9, 2013

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church campMaybe it’s the notion that it’s summertime or that I drove by a lake on the way to my Sunday gig–or just the sunshine filling the air with warmth instead of chill that makes me reflect back on church camp. Church camp is one of those terrifying experiences mingled with lasting memories and benefits that are only recognized as you find a little gray creeping into your temples.

It’s terrifying because you are suddenly thrown together with a bunch of strangers who you deem to be more attractive, lining up to trail down to a lake for swimming, staring at one another in disbelief and confusion.

Lasting memories happen because it may be the first place you got kissed on the lips that wasn’t initiated by some overbearing aunt, and benefits arrive because a vesper service in the woods can certainly make God seem closer than scooting your bottom on a pew, hoping the sermon will end real soon.

But one of the things I remember is that joyous little ditty, “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” For all of its simplicity and child-like quality, it is actually a theologically profound message.

For after all, it declares:

  • If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands”
  • “If you’re happy and you know it, lift your hands”
  • “If you’re happy and you know it, lend a hand”

and it closes out with the sublime realization that

  • “If you’re happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it.”

No kidding.

I just wonder. If there was such a device as a face-ometer, which was used to evaluate the contentment of a human being, and it was brought into church on a Sunday morning, would the meter  register joy, or immediately dip into the red for a reading of malcontent?

What we consider to be childish often is what God considers to be truly human. So we have given clapping hands, lifting hands and lending a hand over to the care of the world for their celebrations of music and mission, and we use our hands only to fold in prayer or clutch an offering plate to procure funds.

Is this really the best deal? Some mainline denominational churches have such a fear of revivalism that they’ve forbidden clapping hands–and certainly lifting hands–as the taboo of tent revivals.

But if you go to a rock concert, people clap their hands ferociously and if a slower song comes on, they all lift their hands to the sky and wave them in unison. They even take their cell phones out to shine a beam and give light to the situation. Therefore an overpaid singer on a stage who is crooning some melancholy tune is worthy of hand-waving, but not “our Father which art in heaven…”

A politician posturing his political position is appreciated by applause but for some reason, we think God would prefer not to be touted quite so loudly.

If it were possible to express happiness without smiling, being joyful or exuding physical energy, I would be more than willing to accept the sobriety of typical religious worship. But the truth is, even those stern-faced, ardent believers who sit in their seats and fold their arms in an aggravating position of disapproval will go out to a football game or a country music show and hoot and holler at the players.

Sooner or later we have to realize that when people are happy and they know it, their faces will surely show it.

And a God who claims to be pretty upset when we worship other gods probably isn’t too pleased when clapping hands, lifting hands and lending a hand is reserved for adventures other than the kingdom of God.

So I must warn the good folks of Carlyle, Illinois, that I am of a conviction that happiness always shows up in what we do, not in what we pledge, plead, narrate, recite or hymn-sing.

So if you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands, lift your hands and lend a hand. You might be surprised that once your face is notified of your intentions to be ecstatic, you will take the tension off those wrinkles and end up looking a lot younger.

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