Category Archives: About Joe

Putting the Fun in Funeral

‘”Well done, good and faithful servant…'” Matt. 25:23

Of all the wedding ceremonies at which I have officiated there’s one that I speak of more often than any other.  I won’t say that it’s my only favorite, because many of the couples whose ceremonies I have performed read my posts and I have precious few readers already, they’re all my favorite.  There that should keep me from offending anyone.

The wedding I speak of most often was for two senior adults at a church where I was a thirty-something associate.  The bride-to-be was once widowed and the groom was two times a widower, so they were rather “experienced” in years.  The bride was born in Russia and and as a child, along with her family, escaped Stalin’s regime just to find themselves in Nazi Germany.  Shortly before the outbreak of World War Two they emigrated to the United States.  I enjoyed speaking with her just to hear her accent.  The groom was a southern gentlemen and they both were pillars of the church.

The bride called me one day and asked to stop by my office.  When an associate pastor, who has oversight of the youth choir, receives a meeting request from a senior adult it usually isn’t for pleasantries.  But Elsie wasn’t the type to complain, in fact she was rather progressive in her view of reaching young people, so I wasn’t sure what to make of the request.

In the meeting she shared with me that she had met a certain gentleman, Vern, and that they had decided to get married.  That brought a grin to my face and a certain amount of relief to my countenance.  I congratulated her and she continued…

“Joe, do you remember the funeral you performed for Eleanor a few months ago?”

Eleanor was another senior adult that played in the church orchestra.  As I was the Associate Minister of Music Eleanor’s family requested that I speak at her funeral.

“Yes, Elsie, I enjoyed that celebration of her life very much.  It was a pleasure to learn of all the things that she did for God’s Kingdom while I got to know her family.”  My emotions moved from wondering what one of the youth might have done to confusion over the connection between Elsie and Vern’s pending nuptials and a funeral.

“Vell,” Elsie said, “Vern and I vould like you to officiate at our wedding.” [my futile attempt at writing an Eastern European accent]

“What, huh?” I replied eloquently.  “Elsie, I’ve gotta tell you that of all the things I anticipated you saying to me today, this ain’t one of them.”

“Joe, we enjoyed Eleanor’s funeral so much that Vern and I decided that if you could make a funeral fun you could make our wedding…how do you like to say it?  Off the chain…off the hook?” Yes, that is a real quote.  I loved Elsie!

Of course, I said yes.  And someday I’ll write a book about a thirty-something pastor giving pre-marital counseling to two engaged seventy year olds.  The “bedroom” part of the counseling is worth several chapters alone.  But I digress.

Frankly, it wasn’t me that made Eleanor’s funeral fun.  She did that.  Eleanor did it through the life that she led.  I was just the one who helped plan the goodbye party here on earth.  We were sad to see her go, but we also celebrated what we would miss about her.  We didn’t mourn the way the world mourns and we didn’t necessarily celebrate the way the world celebrates.

We rejoiced because while we were remembering, crying and laughing and celebrating a life lived for Christ Eleanor was face to face with her Master hearing hearing him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  How can that not be fun for Eleanor and those that she left behind?

Juxtapose that with what was about to happen in the lives of Elsie and Vern.  The two great allegories of Scripture overlapping each other.  A child of God, a wayfarer in this dry and barren land, coming home to the Father and the Groom coming for his bride.  And in a way that was completely unexpected.

That’s what I want.  When I leave this world I want to hear my Master say, “Well played, son…well, played.” [paraphrase]  And I want those that I leave behind to celebrate like it’s a wedding.  In reality, I won’t care what happens after I’m gone because I’ll be one with my Savior, but for now that’s the way I want it.

I want my life to put the “fun” in funeral.  I want my life of AWEthentic worship to lead, encourage and inspire others to worship the One that I worship…even after I’m gone.

That’s why worship.

Whales, World Class Musicians and Me

“Jesus answered: ‘Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time?”” John 14:9

I spent my teenage years in the shadow of an extremely talented and well-known musician.  Actually, he isn’t just well-known, he’s considered to be in the top ten performers in his field.  And I was on the very edge of his shadow, but still somewhat in it.  I won’t drop his name, but those of you who know me personally are at least familiar with him.  In fact, many of you know him personally, as well.  (The man Jesus addressed in the scripture verse above should give you a hint, so let’s call this famous musician Phil, shall we?)

He’s a few years older than I am and I did literally spend time in his shadow.  On occasion, while he was an older teen and I was a young teen, we would hang out around the basketball court or softball field or soccer pitch together.  More accurately, he and his friends would tolerate me being around.  Not a rude toleration, just the sort that would allow me to hang out while not really taking notice of my presence.  I doubted he even knew my name.

So, in a practical manner that’s how I stood in his shadow, literally…hanging out around a basketball court in the church gym or on a softball field at music camp.  This all was mostly before he became “famous”, but occasionally after his notoriety, too.  I knew, in some vague manner, that he was a fine musician who played with some other fine musicians, but I mostly knew him as a guy who was friends with some other older guys that I knew.

When I was in high school, our high school orchestra took a field trip to a large city where Phil was rehearsing with a well known orchestra.  My orchestra mates were excited, almost giddy, with anticipation as we entered the rehearsal hall.  Our high school musicians sat attentively listening to the rehearsal, some appeared to approach the point of rapture just being in proximity to professional musicians.

At the rehearsal break I stood up and approached the stage, much to the mortified astonishment of my orchestra teacher.  He seemed genuinely aghast that I would so blatantly break some unspoken protocol as to approach an, as of yet, undefined holy-of-holies.  To had insult to injury I waved toward the brass section and yelled, “Hey, Phil!”  The gasp from my teacher and school mates seemed to sucked the air from the room.

There was no pretense, on my part, that he would remember my name, but I was sure that he would remember my face as the kid who hung out around he and his friends a few years prior.  He looked my direction, somewhat surprised to hear his name beckoned from the mostly empty audience seats.  He peered through the dimly lit hall.

“Hi, Joe,” he replied, once he put a face with the voice.  “I heard that you’re that you’re high school might make it to watch our rehearsal.  Are you enjoying it?  How are we doing?”

He remembered me!  All that time I thought that he merely tolerated a little awkward kid, he knew my name.  He even knew enough to recognize the local high school orchestra I attended and to expect to see me.  And he was asking my opinion!  Of course, it was in that moment, while my school mates rushed the stage and surrounded the two of us, that I realized that there must have been something special about Phil that I had been missing.

Familiarity hadn’t bred contempt, but it had bred a certain amount of ambivalence.  I was acquainted with a world-class, but had allowed ambivalence to blind me to the opportunities available if I had known him.  I was an aspiring musician myself, but never took advantage of knowing a great musician that would have offered priceless direction and advice.

With maturity I grew to know Phil better.  And I also learned to treasure the wisdom he offered as a musician and godly man.  I had the pleasure of sitting under his leadership as a conductor and a Bible study leader.  As the relationship grew, as I matured, Phil has invited me to perform with him on more than one occasion.  Through Phil, it’s been my privilege to share the stage with some of the world’s greatest musicians.  Not because I’m anything more than a serviceable performer, but because I have a relationship with one who is exceptional.

In my youthful immaturity I settled for familiarity.  With maturity I learned to treasure what it is to know and to be known…and to treasure it.  I grew to know the joy and importance of knowing and being known.

Let it never be said of me that I have settled for an ambivalent acquaintance with Jesus.  In fact, knowing Christ is a bit of a dichotomy.  The less I’m a acquainted with Him and the more I know Him and the more I realize how little I know of Him.  The more I delve into knowing Him, the more there is to know and the more exhilarating life grows.

It’s like dipping a toy sand bucket in the ocean, not finding any whales in the bucket and assuming there are no whales in the ocean.  I can spend a life time filling the bucket and will never find a whale.  No, to find a whale, to experience the exhilaration of encountering such a wondrous beast, I need to get in the ocean.  I need to get in a boat, or better yet go deepwater diving, to even begin to discover what a whale is all about.

I don’t want to ever be acquainted with Jesus.  I want to know and be known by Him.  I crave loving and being loved by Him.

That’s why worship.

Please, Pay Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

“At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.  The earth shook and the rocks split.” Matt. 27:51

Click link to view: Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain – video clip

In one of the most iconic scenes in cinematic history an antagonist, who has to this point of the movie remained unseen, is revealed for who he really is.  Throughout “The Wizard of Oz” the wizard remains an elusive, distant, aloof figure of imaginary proportions.  With trickery, slight of hand and pyro-technic misdirection he has kept both the citizens of the Emerald City and hapless travelers at a distance.  The Great Oz’ ambiguous tests and unreasonable demands are designed to keep others in awe and reverence of himself.  When the most innocent of characters, Toto the dog, uncovers his charade he declares, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”

Too often we have a similar perception of God.  We superimpose our own tendencies on His intentions.  Jesus says, “You may ask Me for anything in My name, and I will do it.” (Matt. 14:14)  If He doesn’t do it in the way that we see fit we assume His modus operandi would be the same as ours: negotiation (“if you were more holy, I would…”), manipulation (“I will when you start obeying…”), duplicitousness (I need to keep you guessing…) or many other ulterior motives all born of fallen humanity.

But God is completely “other” from us.  His ways aren’t just different from ours, they’re completely other.  When our failings are made public, we’re the ones to demand, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”  Ever since Adam and Eve sinned we’ve been the ones trying to hide and he is the one wanting to reveal Himself.  We’re the ones that are duplicitous and manipulative and we assume that God’s motive must be what our motives would be.

Again, He is completely “other.”  While we draw the curtain tighter around our “secrets” He tears the veil from top to bottom saying, “please pay attention to the Man behind the curtain.”  He pleads, “draw near.”

Earlier in Matthew 14 Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”  Our way of thinking tends to make this an exclusive (negative) statement only; which in one regard it is (there is only one way to God, Jesus).  On the other hand, Jesus doesn’t say, “stay way from God unless you go through Me.”  He says, “come.”  Paraphrased, God wants us to know Him and we can know Him by knowing Jesus.

It’s on the cross that the curtain is torn and all have invitation to the presence of God.  Not just access, He desires us in His presence.  While we try to hide our pain caused by our sin, Jesus wants us to know what He willingly endured so that His love for us is revealed. A love that separates our sin from our pain as far as the east is from the west.

I’ll let Oswald Chambers continue the thought:  “The veil is drawn aside to reveal all it cost Him to make it possible for us to become sons of God…The Cross of Christ is a triumph for the Son of Man.  It was not only a sign that Our Lord had triumphed, but that He triumphed to save the human race.  Every human being can get through into the presence of God now because of what the Son of Man went through.”

Please, please pay attention to the Man behind the curtain.  He wants us with Him.

That’s why worship.

Prideful Humility

“‘Come,’ he said.  Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.”  Matt 14:29,30

Complete abandonment.  Peter never gave a second thought to stepping out of the boat.  No deep breath, no psyching up, no preparation, no theological consideration, no examining the pros and cons.  Just complete abandonment.

It made no sense.  I’m sure at least one of the others tried to grab him when they realized what he was doing.

Grown men yelling and falling over each other as they tried to grab Peter’s arm.  “No…wait, it’s too dangero…!  You swim like a “rock”!”  (Get it.  I made a pun.) But he shakes their grip, his arm slips from their hands and they’re left clutching sweat and salt water.  Wide eyed they stare over the side of the boat.

Are you willing to jump out of the boat when He calls?  Even when it makes no sense?  Or when those around you, even other Christians, tell you that you’re nuts, it will never work?

Are you completely abandoned to the sound of His voice?  When He says jump, do you ask how high on the way up?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!”

One minute Peter’s full of reckless abandon, the next his lungs are full of burning salt water and his heart’s full of doubt.

How quickly we lose our vision.  We make a decision then come face to face with the reality of it.  The wind stings our eyes to tears and the waves beat us into submission.  Sometimes doubt doesn’t creep in, it bowls us over like a gale force wind.

But look at Peter’s example.  It doesn’t say he struggled against the wind, reached back to the boat, or tried to swim or even tread water.  He did the only thing that would save him, he cried out through the choking briny spray, “Lord, save me!”.

So the next time you look down on Peter’s lack of faith, don’t be too harsh.  He was humble enough to know he couldn’t save himself, and didn’t hesitate to cry out. He knew Jesus would still be there.

When the next storm hits, don’t wait, call out His name.  He’s still right there.

That’s why worship.

Scripture as Litmus Test: A Practical Application

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the Word and to present her to himself as a radiant church without blemish, but holy and blameless.” Ephesians 5:25-26

*Ladies, please don’t tune out until reading through the fourth paragraph.  I think there is something invaluable in this verse for you, too.

Yesterday I presented the concept of reading scriptural commands as a litmus test (A Grape Doesn’t Try to Be a Grape).  In short, a Christian doesn’t discipline himself to be obedient as much as obedience flows from who he is in Christ.  Authentic worship results in obedience.  One of our favorite quotes at Worship Concepts is, “Missions exist because worship doesn’t,” from John Piper in his book “Let the Nations Be Glad.”  In essence, loving God results in loving people.  People who love God, love people.  And true love for people results in telling them about Jesus.  If you’re not loving people, then check your love level toward God.  Our actions don’t establish who we are, they reveal who we are (James 2:14-25).

So, let’s apply this principal to a specific verse, Ephesians 5:25-26.  If you replace the word your with their, then we have a different perspective; it becomes, “Husbands love their wives…” It’s now an if/then statement.  “If I love my wife, then I am a husband.”  The inverse is also true, “if I don’t love my wife, then I am not a husband.”  My position as a matter of civil law may apply the title of husband to me, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that I am the husband God intended me to be.  Applying a title to something no more changes its essence than the Grinch tying antlers to his dog made it a reindeer.  Using the template of “worship as being verb”, my actions reveal my state of adoration for God, they don’t establish it.

In this case, I can plumb my love for God by how I treat your wife.  Is it natural for me to encourage her or is she the punch line to my jokes?  When another man whines about the “old lady” do I commiserate or rejoice in the wife of my youth (Prov. 5:18)?  I’m sure you get the idea.  Agreed, sometimes it needs to be a choice to respond in a certain manner, but what are my actions the majority of the time?  Also, if I notice that I’m having to force myself to respond in love more frequently, then it’s time to check myself as worship of God.

One of my favorite church announcements goes like this: “Would Jane Smith’s husband please find her in the church lobby after the singles service?  She would really like to meet you tonight and hopes that you have a proposal prepared.”  If you’re a single lady wondering if a particular man is the husband God has for you, first apply this scripture verse as a litmus test to see if he’s the husband God has for anyone.  Does he exhibit a Christian love for the ladies already in his life?  How does he respond to his mother?  What is his relationship with his sisters?  Is he respectful of women in general?  What jokes, if any, does he crack about “women drivers?”  If a man exhibits the scriptural attributes of a godly husband while he’s single, then he’s already a husband; God’s timing to make him one flesh with his wife just hasn’t come to pass, yet.  Referring back to paragraph two, getting him to sign a marriage license isn’t going to make him a husband.

Wives, do you allow gentlemen to treat you as ladies or do you struggle with accepting chivalry with grace?  Something as simple as allowing your husband to hold the door for you reveals if you are truly comfortable with who you are in Christ.  Husband hint, this means that we have to hold the door.

Parents, we can apply this as well.  How do our young men treat ladies?  Do they need some more rearing?  In our home it took a very practical form of respect; the toilet seat goes up and the toilet seat returns to the down position when finished (you know what I’m talking about.)

Also, what types of young men are our daughters attracted to?  Has a daughter learned from observing mom?  As an example, does she pause at the door, like mom does, to allow a gentleman to open it for her?  Has her dad been the example of a husband and laid down his life for mom just as Christ laid down His life for the church?  In this way, she’ll know which young men are laying down their lives for others rather than just simply just wanting to lay down (please excuse my apt coarseness).

All of these things are a litmus test for who and where we are in Christ.  I realize that today’s post has been a bit far afield from my normal schtick, but the idea of scripture as a litmus test is integral to our teaching on worship at WCN and I hope that a practical application helps clarify the thought.  We are who we are in Christ; nothing more, nothing less.  And out of the abundance of our hearts…

That’s why worship.