Just before Easter I shared about an experience I had at McDonald’s that led me to refocus on the simple but powerful fact that Jesus is alive. Everything else in our lives, no matter how big or small, should be seen through the lens of knowing Jesus is alive. This sounds great, but what does this really mean for us practically? How does the fact that Jesus is alive make a difference in our daily lives?
Nearly fourteen years ago, my wife and I went on our honeymoon to Cozumel, Mexico. The whole trip was a wonderful experience. (I will now pause for those immature readers to chuckle like a middle school boys and make silly comments regarding the activities we all know take place on a honeymoon…. and we continue) While in Cozumel we had the opportunity to go either snorkeling or scuba diving, both of which should be done at some point in your life if possible; however, there are some natural fears you will have to overcome in order to participate in these activities. Molly and I chose to go scuba diving. As we went through the crash course of learning how to breath underwater, I realized there was more to submersing yourself underwater for an extended period of time than I had initially considered. I learned that I am very attached to the freedom of breathing on my own terms. Putting a large piece of molded rubber into my mouth and plunging underneath the water revealed the extent to which I enjoy freedom in breathing. Eventually, after what was I’m sure a very thorough 20-minute crash course, we began our descent into the ocean as experienced scuba diving veterans ready to breath and swim under the sea.
Having overcome the breathing fears, I now focused on taking in all of the sea life God has created and I must say, it was amazing. The vivid colors of the corral, fish, and plant life cannot be fully captured by a photo. Seeing the world under the sea with my own eyes was inspirational. At one point in the midst of the beauty and tranquility of the sea I looked in the distance and saw a dark shadow. Then the shadow began to move and all of the sudden the beauty and tranquility did not matter to me in the least. I began to feel the fear rise within me, and my body responded by going into one big muscle cramp. Everything tightened and my heart felt like it was going to stop. I should say that I put myself between my wife and the huge sea creature, but I seem to have forgotten about anything other than the large creature in the distance. The creature was actually a barracuda and I am fairly sure this particular barracuda was the largest in recorded human history. These creatures are very intimidating and after the fight or flight response kicked in I know I tried to literally run away, which must have looked very interesting. My initial response was, “get me out of this place right now, I am no longer in control.” The reality of the environment I was in became crystal clear when confronted with fear. I knew I was at the mercy of the sea and a great white shark sized barracuda. Of course you know that my writing this proves nothing horrible happened and in hindsight the barracuda could not have cared less about us, he would much rather go eat Nemo.
In the earliest copies of the Gospel of Mark we have, Mark 16:8 is the last verse. The verse reads like this: “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” (NIV version) Fear was a very powerful emotion the women and all the other followers of Jesus were experiencing in the days following the death of Jesus. Fear was immobilizing the followers of Jesus and they did not know what to do or believe. They found themselves in an environment where they had no control and they just wanted out. Something had to pull them out of the clutches of fear. Even though Mark ends abruptly, the fact that we are reading Mark today points to something happening that was powerful enough to overcome the fear the followers of Jesus were facing. Simply put, their fears were conquered when they saw Jesus was alive!
So often we allow fear to immobilize us. Fear of failure in our families, with our finances, and in our jobs can bring constant stress. The fear of evil in the world and bad things happening to us can easily keep us from ever getting out of bed in the morning. In many cases we have allowed ourselves to believe that overcoming fear requires the object of our fear to be removed. Unfortunately, if we are honest with ourselves we know this can never really happen. In all areas of life the possibility of things going wrong and possible very wrong exists. There will always be reasons to be fearful and if we are waiting to act or live until all fear is removed we will never act or truly live. In order to overcome fear we do not need the fear removed, but rather an assurance that we are not alone.
The early followers of Jesus remained fearful until they experienced the risen Christ. The fear of being arrested or killed still existed after Jesus appeared to them, but now they knew He was with them. Their ultimate strength did not come from one another, even though that was important. Remember, they were hiding in fear together. Their ultimate strength to act and get on with living came from knowing Jesus is alive. In fact, many of those early followers of Christ would be killed or arrested; yet, they no longer allowed that possibility to deter them from living the way Christ called them to live. They knew the risen Christ was with them always, no matter the circumstance of life.
Fear keeps us from living life to the fullest and Jesus came so we could have life abundantly. If I would have refused to use an uncomfortable and probably very unsanitary breathing apparatus, I would not have experienced the beauty and tranquility of a world I never truly knew existed until I saw it with my own eyes. Step out into a new world today. A world in which the same fears exist, but they are viewed from a position of victory rather than anxiety. At times, fear will seize us, but know that you are not alone, press forward with the strength that only comes from the risen Christ. Jesus is Alive!
I had an unexpected and powerful experience today in an unexpected place. I think you may need a little background to better grasp this experience, so please bear with me. For many pastors and church staff this week feels a whole lot like the opening sentence to the classic book “A Tale of Two Cities.” To be honest this is a book everyone was probably supposed to read and many will claim to have read every page. I however, doubt I ever read the whole thing, but I can throw out the first line to make myself look smarter. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” is a line that rings true this week. I love Easter week and yet I am usually overwhelmed by everything this week is not really about.
This morning I decided to leave the house to go to a quiet and serene location in order to finish or start, depending on how you look at it, preparing for our Good Friday and Easter services. The library is normally my first choice, but because of a horrible mistake I woke up too early and the library does not open until 10. Apparently, in my mind the next most logical place for a quiet and serene preparation place is McDonalds (they do have free wi-fi). As I stand in line to order a healthy and delicious McGriddle meal I begin to take in my surroundings and realize my decision-making paradigm for finding a quiet and serene preparation location needs to be altered dramatically. First, there were very few open places to sit and even fewer that look to have been cleaned due to the excessive number of people ordering the healthy and delicious breakfast value meals. Secondly, I realize there is a constant conversation going on between the very busy workers as they are trying their best to keep up with the ever-growing number of people being drawn to sweet taste of the McGriddle like a swarm of moths to a bonfire. Thankfully, by the time I order, a table has come open. I sprint toward the table in order to claim my little island in the midst of the sea of chaos that is McDonalds.
After enjoying the wonderful McGriddle, I decided to begin/finish my preparation, but before I could even start, my mind started to go through a mental checklist of everything that needed to be done this week. Between preparing for family coming in to town and trying to remember everything that needs to be done for our two services, my mind had plenty of places to wander. Just about the time I am reeling my mind back to where it needs to be, a voice reminiscent of a blow horn bellows through the restaurant, “number 321 please… NUMBER 321 PLEASE!” I said a quick prayer asking the owner of number 321 to please show up at the counter as fast as humanly possible. Finally, I began to focus on my preparation.
I must confess to you that there are times preparing for services and sermons can become somewhat mechanical and routine. This is not to say the Holy Spirit is not involved, but there are times when doing your job feels like doing a job. A hectic week and sitting in the chaotic atmosphere of McDonalds is not the most conducive atmosphere for sermon preparation. As I was reading, thinking and hashing out an order of service I watched a worship video I have seen many times. The final words on the video were, “He is Alive!” That’s it, nothing unusually profound or revolutionary. All of the sudden, in the middle of McDonald’s mind you, my eyes start to tear up. I am fairly sure in the midst of the order calling, cleaning, devouring of McGriddles and general chaos, that not many would notice a grown man balling by himself in the corner; however, I did my best to compose myself. The emotion continued to build and all I could think about was that He is Alive.
On Palm Sunday, I preached about how so many people missed the point of who Jesus was and what he did as he entered Jerusalem. I cautioned us all about how easy it is for us to miss the point as well. There in the middle of McDonalds I realized I had been missing the point. The point is that He is Alive! The preparation of a service remembering Jesus’ death on Good Friday is pointless unless, He is Alive. Preparing for Easter and celebrating the resurrection is pointless unless, He is as Alive and active today as he was on that first Easter morning. In the midst of the chaos of our lives the fact that He is Alive brings purpose, joy, and peace. Do I still need to finish many of the tasks that were swirling in my mind, yes, but those tasks are put into perspective when they fall under the realization that He is Alive.
Don’t allow yourself to get overwhelmed by the unending list of tasks in your life or so involved in participating in the events of Easter that you forget He is Alive! Who would have thought in the middle of a hectic week while sitting in the chaos of McDonalds I would find the perfect spot of peace and serenity. All because, He is Alive!