Holy Week is a wonderful week but also one that can be rather busy. Some churches have Passover (Seder) meals during the week to remind them of their Biblical/historical roots. Many have services of Holy Communion; some even practice "foot washing." In many communities there are Good Friday services, and most churches will have an Easter egg hunt for the children. Then, of course, there is the celebration of Easter Sunday, coupled with special music, choir cantatas, Easter lilies, and other special events. For most Christian churches this is rather hectic time.
In the Gospel narratives it is amazing that nearly 1/4 of the stories in the synoptic gospels and 1/3 of the stories in the Gospel of John describe events that take place in a one week period of time. It is very difficult, in such a brief period of time, to wrap one's heart and mind around all of the various themes that are presented. In light of this, I have found it helpful each year to take a "slice of Holy Week" and let my thoughts center on one main theme. This year my slice is the prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane,
The focus of my attention this year is on John 17:6-12. This is known as Jesus' prayer for his disciples; so I interpret this to be one of Jesus' prayers for me. In this prayer Jesus prays that his followers might experience 4 main things: protection, unity, joy, and sanctification. It is clear, as we read this text, that these are four things that Jesus desires for each of us.
Protection is needed because the world can be a dangerous place. Some of the dangers are physical, others are relational and/or spiritual. How easy it is, at times, to be tempted into an addiction, an unhealthy relationship, an unkind way of speaking, or a destructive way of thinking. Our hearts and minds, as well as our bodies, need protection from destructive forces.
Unity is required in every type of fellowship: marriage, church family, work place, community and school. All we have to do is look to our current political scene to see the destruction dis-unity can bring. It doesn't mean that we always think a like; that is not the goal nor is it even healthy. It does mean, however, that in the midst of differences of opinion we learn to work together to accomplish a greater good. Jesus said it well: "a house divided against itself can not stand."
Joy is more than happiness. Happiness tends to be an emotion that is based on positive circumstances.. Joy is more of a deep seated satisfaction that is evidenced in both good times and bad.
Sanctification, for Christians, is simply the ongoing journey of being transformed into Christ-likeness. The question for each of us is simply: "Am I more like Jesus today than I was yesterday?" If not, perhaps a change in attitude, values, or priorities should be considered.
So this is my "slice" of Holy Week for 2019. It may not be the place where you feel led to focus. But I do encourage you to find a passage or theme and allow your mind to "settle in" during this important week. For this is a holy week: a time when hearts can be touched and our lives can truly be changed.
It finally happened! The tree in my back yard, that I was planning to cut down, fell over. I didn't even know it had happened; my grandson came in from the backyard and shouted, "Pappy, your tree fell down!" He was right. It had toppled to the ground and when I examined it, amazingly, I could find no evidence of any roots. I don't know exactly what happened to them, but without roots the tree had no chance to remain standing. It is much like that in our spiritual life as well...
One of my many interests is that of photography and one of the key principles of photography is to "protect your highlights." Now what does that mean? A highlight is usually the "brightest area of a photograph in which you can see detail." It is what gives the photo contrast and it is the portion of the photo that captures our attention. Recently I listened to photographer/philosopher Sean Tucker describe this theme of "protect your highlights" but he applied the principle to more than just photography; he said this principle also needs to be applied to life.
It is very common this time of year for families, churches, shopping malls, (and even some businesses) to decorate in ways that lift up the Christmas season. The light displays throughout the Tulsa and surrounding area spectacular. Christmas trees and manger scenes can be easily found. (Pictured above is a display that was set up by the Passages Sunday School class of the 1st UMC of Sapulpa). But the value of these displays does not come from a simple casual glance; rather the value is found in a pause coupled with reflection...
Every year, at this time, the beloved Dr Seuss classic, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, can be found on one of our local or cable stations. It is a humorous story and one which provides a wonderful lesson for children young and old. But the fact is, there are real "grinches" who steal Christmas from many, each and every year. Some of theses grinches have been around since the birth of Christ.
I recently learned that our local Presbyterian Church (1st Presbyterian of Sapulpa) was offering a Blue Christmas service for families during Advent. Some may ask, "Why would they do that? Isn't Christmas a season for celebration and joy? Who would attend a "blue" Christmas service?" Well the fact is many will (or should) attend.
Recently we celebrated a Day of Thanksgiving. For Kristi, Beth and me this is always a wonderful family time. On Thanksgiving day we were joined by our son John, his wife, Alisha and our two grandsons (also the grand-dogs!). We were also blessed by having Alisa's parents and sister join us this year. It was a feast of both food and fellowship. Usually we connect with Kristi's sister and family on Friday after Thanksgiving for pizza at Hideaways (pictured above) but this year that side of the family was doing a mini-vacation in Alabama. Still we had a great time with all who were able to join us. Indeed, we had much to be thankful for...
After an almost snowless winter last year, it was nice to have snow come early in November this year. Our first snowfall was not a blizzard but it was beautiful all the same! (Pictured above is Sarah, my Administrative assistant, enjoying winter's first snow.) We didn't have much Fall this year, but I welcome the early Winter all the same. It brings an end to "rag-weed season" and the heat and dust that accompany summer. It also reminds us of "the seasons of life" of which the writer of Ecclesiastes speaks: There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens, says the writer in Ecclesiastes chapter 3.
This month we celebrated Beth's (my daughter, pictured above with brother John) 37th birthday. It was a joyous event, in large part due to the fact that Beth loves birthday parties. She loves seeing her friends and family. She loves the atmosphere of special events; and people love being around her because she is a special person. Beth is special in many ways: she has a delightful (bubbly) personality; she has a wonderful sense of humor, and she has numerous special needs, many of which she has risen above.
In light of the recent passing of Billy Graham it is difficult not to share personal thoughts regarding his life and ministry. I had the privilege of hearing him "live" on two occasions: The first was when I was in college and he was the featured spearer at Expo 72 in Dallas Texas. I had only been a Christian for a couple of years and hearing him speak to 40,000+ college students in the Cotton Bowl was an incredible experience. The second time I heard him was in Oklahoma City, some 25 years after the Expo event, at what many thought may be his last public rally. It wasn't, but the experience of hearing him twice, with a 25 year span between events, brought home for me the challenge of perseverance and faithfulness. Billy Graham's message and life rang true across the years.
Though I didn't know it when I first heard him, I now realize that Billy Graham was a solution focused preacher. He proclaimed that we do not have to be bound by our old life of sin but that we can find a whole new life and future through faith in Jesus Christ. In a day when segregation was a way of life, Billy insisted on a new future at his events; one where black and white could sit together and hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. Billy, no doubt, wanted us to leave the old ways behind and focus our hearts on the new kingdom Christ would one day bring. Thank God for his life, his example, and his legacy. I can say, along with countless others, that his life and message have been a wonderful part of my journey.
Dr. Allen Schneider is a United Methodist pastor and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist presently serving the Sapulpa and greater Tulsa communities.