This Side of Easter

We have a benefit over those followers of Jesus in His day walking the earth. We remember the events leading up to the cross, but they lived it. However, we know before He dies, he will rise again. What an advantage! We see everything on this side of Easter.

Today we celebrate the empty cross, the Risen Lord and all we have learned about what comes after the discovery of the tomb that could not hold Him. Our grief yields to celebration. Despair turns to hope. We lift our heads and look high. A new Day has been born.

The Re Words.

There are dozens of them. I call them the “re” words. They are almost all powerful words. They are Spring words. Renewal. Revisit. Rejuvenate. Restart. Reconcile. Return. Reconsider. Rethink. Recommit. I love them all. They all blend “surrender” in with “power.” To yield is strength when we see from the back side of a decision.

These words apply to people, to relationships and to communities themselves. A visionary sees the entire continuum. A wife or husband can see the necessity of healing, and the results. Some fast-growing cities are overwhelmed with new growth. A mature mayor and city manager place equal joy on rebuilding the old parts of town. Birth and rebirth taken together result in resiliency and vibrancy.

Easter Song.

While I mentioned hymns on Good Friday, it is actually praise music that has added to my re-energized soul in recent years. Many churches have blended the old hymns with lively praise, often in the same song. I like that. I am one of those who firmly believes that Heaven will be filled with songs of praise and worship. It is the worship service today that gives me the best glimpse of Heaven. I don’t see Heaven being a passive experience.

It is this spirit that I direct you to a few links of some praise music. I searched with pleasure and found way too many to make it an easy choice. If you have never heard of Hillsong, then let me introduce them to you. This is a church in Australia that has turned their music into a ministry of its own. A highlight is a woman named Darlene Zschech. We were fortunate to see Hillsong and Darlene a few years back at a church in Carrollton.

The first song is called Hallelujah Choir Opener. I like this version (Darlene is not in this one) because it involves normal city scenes that show how we can be in a mindset of praise in the middle of our busy lives. It also gives me hope to see Gen-Xers and Millennials taking the lead.

The second song involves Darlene singing Shout to the Lord, one of my favorites. She is joined by Michael W. Smith. When our son Kenneth was a young teenager, he attended a Christian sports camp in Missouri. The owner of Kamp Kanakuk, Joe White, was a friend of Michael W. Smith and had him surprise the campers one night for their very own show.

If this music speaks to you, I promise you could fill your day searching YouTube, and you will be richly blessed.

Happy Easter! LFM

 

And Can It Be That I Should Gain

Good Good Friday to you! Or Holy Friday. Or Great Friday. Or Easter Friday.

Years ago I taught a Sunday School class on the Poetry & Theology of Hymns. In one sense, I was not very qualified. I am not a musician nor am I a singer. I just enjoyed the power of a hymn to both explain the Gospel and to draw one nearer to Christ. Part of the fascination, too, was about word study. Especially when the lines in the hymn are directly tied to Scripture as well as the language usage at the time the hymn was written.

The lessons included the story behind the hymn. You might love Amazing Grace, but the hymn is bound to your heart forever once you know it was written by the master of a slave ship having an awakening. It is Well With My Soul grabs you in a deeper way when you learn it was written after a man lost his entire family. And Blest Be The Ties That Bind is more relatable when you read it through the eyes of a pastor who changes his mind about leaving his church for another one. Many of the best hymns are relatively simple, easy to remember and compelling in their message.

And then there was Charles Wesley. Most historical references to Charles Wesley say he wrote over 6,000 hymns. He was highly educated. He and his brother John’s rigid devotion and worship was methodical, hence the label Methodists was placed on the Wesleyan movement of that day. Another noteworthy point about both of the Wesley brothers is that they were both involved in Christian ministry and were believers without a doubt. But both had a subsequent religious experience. A profound revelation.

This is relatable to many of us who were born and raised into Christian families, attended church and were perhaps well into adulthood when something happened. It is often that one moves from a head knowledge to a heart knowledge. It may be due to a major event, such as a family death or an accident. It may not be earth shattering at all. C.S. Lewis experienced that moment riding down a dusty road in a motorcycle sidecar driven by his brother. It becomes real. Personal. Rich. You own it. It is a special moment. It is often repeated through rededication or yet another inexplicable time of reawakening. Sometimes a result of an intentional search. Many times by surprise. Always wonderful!

These transformational moments reset one’s GPS. Things are different from that point forward. It was after a life-changing moment, separated by days for the Wesleys, that their true belief became alive and their ministries flourished. This setting is important to understand when you study the context in which many hymns were written.

Charles Wesley wrote many of the great hymns sung in churches today. I had heard of most of them and used many in my Sunday School class. However, it was when I heard that a favorite hymn of Mike Beidel’s was And Can It Be That I Should Gain that I took a closer look. Mike was the headmaster of Trinity Christian Academy in Addison at the time, and a man I greatly respected – and still do. I then read the hymn and listened to the music many times. It grabbed me.

There is an awe in the words. Charles Wesley is writing in disbelief that Jesus’ death for the sins of Man was to benefit him, Charles! So, on this Good Friday, I lift up the words of this hymn for you to consider. Like any piece of poetry, this is not a drive-by collection of words, thoughts and concepts. Dwell on them, and make them yours. Read them and think of Charles crafting each word, each line.

In fact, if you really want some meditative material that will make you think and find nuggets of joy, just savor the poetry and theology in hymns. Some will be familiar, such as O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing. Others such as my favorite Love Divine, All Loves Excelling may be new. All of them have a needed message for us today. They are timeless, as is the case in most things we search for in an effort to find comfort and guidance. LFM

And Can It Be That I Should Gain
By Charles Wesley

1 And can it be that I should gain
An int’rest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, should die for me?

Refrain:
Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, should die for me!

2 ‘Tis mystery all! Th’Immortal dies!
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine!
‘Tis mercy all! let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more. [Refrain]

3 He left His Father’s throne above,
So free, so infinite His grace;
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race;
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free;
For, O my God, it found out me. [Refrain]

4 Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free;
I rose, went forth and followed Thee. [Refrain]

5 No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him is mine!
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own. [Refrain]

After soaking up the message from reading several times, read it again while listening to the hymn here.

 

Thinking About My Bro

This was the eulogy I gave at my brother’s funeral December 19, 2015:

Bob

James Robert (Bob) McLain

James Robert McLain. The James is from our Uncle Jimmy. The Robert is from our Uncle Bob – Our Dad’s two brothers. And no, not once to my knowledge was he ever referred to as Jim Bob.

He was born on January 8, 1952, the day Elvis Presley turned 17. He passed away on December 14, 2015. We know these things because Bob’s birth and death certificates say so. And because family members were there to witness both events.

Humor. Bob would have appreciated these tidbits of information being highlighted at his funeral. If we could hear him right now, he would be ready to follow with at least three corny jokes – in his head. But only one he would have gotten out.

You see, BEFORE Bob told a single word of a joke he would start laughing. By the time he was 15 seconds into the joke, he would be wheezing at his own humor, as red in the face like an apple.

His jokes were best when he had a table or a knee to slap as he attempted to tell it. He added rhythm to his jokes in a sense.

I don’t remember a single joke out of the thousands in his repertoire. But I remember everybody in the room wheezing by the time he got through one. We know this because we all heard him and laughed with him.

You never had to guess what was in Bob’s head. That’s because he was unfiltered. Whatever he was thinking was seconds away from rolling out of his mouth. Bob was usually not politically correct. But that was part of his charm.

If you weren’t laughing with him, you sat there – (sometimes in fear, sometimes in awe) – of what he was about to say. We knew this about Bob by being in his presence.

Goodness. There are many words to describe Bob, and perhaps I gave you a glimpse, but I’m sure those of you who knew him have a pocketful of endearments for Bob. The one that dominates my thoughts right now was his GOODNESS. You can precede the entire vast inventory of Bob’s traits with “He was a good ______________.” Person, Son, Brother, Husband, Dad, Granddad, Uncle, Co-Worker … the list is endless.

But all can be wrapped in genuine, golden GOODNESS. To the core. Without reservation. He was the real deal. We knew that by being blessed by Bob.

Bob was the hardest working person I’ve ever known. Our Dad passed down the trait to us. Thank God for Blue Collar upbringings. Bob worked for me several years, most of the 1980s.

All I had to do is point to the work and step out of his way. Quickly. He picked up a set of skills largely on his own and by cook-booking my work. And then he turned it into something better, adding his own brand.

When he was a young teenager, I once visited him at a hamburger stand where he was working. He could talk, laugh and flip hamburgers with his hands moving faster than I could keep up with. The scene remains a Kodak moment in my mind.

He was a fantastic utility rate analyst and consultant. But the fact is – he loved work for the great value that comes with fulfilling, hard work of any type. Many of us knew that by bearing witness to his productivity.

Bob was a Christian. And more than in name, he had a true relationship with Christ. Knowing this eases the pain. It’s a huge factor in our acceptance of losing him!

You didn’t have to guess about Bob’s faith. He felt it. He showed it. He shared it.
It would be impossible for me to count the number of times he told me that he was praying for Linda and me. We felt Bob’s love.

There are wonderful analogies that help understand or at least accept the mysteries of death and beyond. For example, the Chaplain in the hospital said we walked Bob to the bridge, and then Jesus and the Angels walked him to the other side. I buy that.

Others I like (and now am stealing) include about Bob being in a quiet boat on a calm lake slowly drifting to the other side to be received into his heavenly home. I’ll take that one, too.

But the fascination I have is with the actual moment of his entry into Heaven. I wish Bob could tell me about it right now.

Was it like the peripheral views of the camera in the opening scene of Gone with the Wind going from the outside and swooping through the huge doors of the mansion and into the room full of music and dance?

Were there 10,000 Angels singing at that moment and even now? Oh, how wonderful! Did the sounds wash over you, Bob?

What is it like to be in the presence of Jesus, to hear His voice, to touch His hand? What does the Voice of God sound like to the ear?

Was there a warmth, an indescribable embrace? Did you fall on your knees in awe? After all these years of grasping and savoring the reality of a Savior, Bob, what did the Lord’s arms feel like?

We don’t know exactly yet, … but Bob does. Bob is there with full knowledge, complete benefits, totally absorbing the ultimate experience! We will miss him here, but it is hard to be totally sad knowing he’s There. Praise God for Bob!

Lest you think these thoughts were formed just to eulogize Bob, his son Jason found a love-poem I wrote Bob 25 years ago on his birthday recording about 80% of these thoughts and observations. Like I said, Bob was the real deal. And he knew it.

Big Brother. It dawned on me last night that for Bob’s 64 years I have been the big brother of sorts. Ahead of him in school, driving, college, marriage, parenting and career. But on December 14, 2015, Bob became MY big brother. I find solace in that thought. And that is how I will think of him until we meet again. LFM