Behind Your Mask

For those who are interested in such things, Mardi Gras is officially coming up this week. In case you don’t know a lot about it, the term Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday,” which is Feb. 28 this year. Of course, there have already been a couple of weeks of celebrations in some places, and even Mr. Facebook himself included a visit to a Mardi Gras parade in Mobile as part of his trip to Alabama this week.
Mardi Gras is supposedly a Christian tradition, borne out of French Catholicism, and begins after the liturgical feasts of the Epiphany, culminating on the day before Ash Wednesday. The emphasis of Fat Tuesday is on the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season. Somehow it seems that a few other rituals of excess have been added to the tradition over the years.
I have never been a big fan of Mardi Gras, for reasons that I hope are obvious, but I am intrigued by the history of it, especially in the United States. Though New Orleans is known as the center of Mardi Gras in America, the first organized celebration in the New World that was to become the United States was in the settlement of what is now Mobile, Alabama in 1703. In the more than three centuries since, it has developed into celebrations all along the Gulf Coast in areas with early French colonial heritage.
There are other similar traditions around the world. In Switzerland every year, in the city of Basel, the festival of Fasnacht is held. Like Mardi Gras, the event takes its name from the start of the fasting season of Lent. Before beginning this time of penance and doing without, there are three days of parties and festivities and revelry.
Presbyterian pastor and author James Montgomery Boice lived in Basel three years during some of his theological study. He described the carnival as a time of riotous behavior in which the normally restrained and stolid Baselers let themselves go morally. Apparently, what makes the event especially popular is that, like in Mardi Gras, the revelers wear masks. With their identity completely veiled, they are emboldened to do what they would be ashamed to be known for doing otherwise.
Each year during Fasnacht, however, the Salvation Army challenges people to a higher standard of behavior by placing large posters around the city bearing the German inscription: “Gott sieht hinter deine Maske,” Or, “God sees behind your mask.”
It’s a great truth, but also a great reminder to all of us, whether we are participating in debauchery or hypocricy. We don’t have to be in Switzerland or New Orleans or even Mobile to hide behind a mask. It doesn’t require a Mardi Gras or Fashacht observance to hide ourselves behind pretense and to try to mask who we really are. But God is not deceived by our outward deception, He is not blinded by our pretense, and He sees behind our masks. He knows what’s really going on in our hearts and lives.
That may on the surface seem like bad news, that we are “busted” in our hypocrisy, but in reality it is good news, that God knows who we really are, and He loves us anyway. No doubt, we shouldn’t hide in our sin, like the revelers in Basel or New Orleans, but neither should we hide under a cover of self-righteousness, any time of year.
So, may the words of that Salvation Army sign remind you to come clean, take off your mask and get real before the Lord who sees you, and knows you, and loves you infinitely and unconditionally. I am praying for you, as I hope you are for me, and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

Grace for Misteak Makers

Because I have mentioned my interest in bad church signs in this space before, periodically I will get a text or email from a friend or church member with a photo of a sign that someone has come across. This one from last week was pretty good, or bad, depending on your way of looking at it, if only because of its irony:

 

“God doesn’t make misteaks.”

 

I don’t know if the person who put up that particular marquee did it on purpose, to accentuate a point and get our attention (like a certain attorney’s upside-down billboards). Or perhaps he or she was never much competition in the school spelling bee. Either way, the message of the sign highlights a couple of good points. Yes, God doesn’t make mistakes. But we do.
That’s one of the encouraging messages of the Christian life–that we all blow it, that it doesn’t surprise God that we blow it, that there are second chances when we blow it. In fact, that’s the essence of the gospel itself: Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and to give His life as a sacrifice to pay the price for our “mistakes,” big and small.  “God demonstrated His love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  (Romans 5:8). Now, that’s good news!
With His grace in mind, here are a few examples of some rather humorous mistakes, not from church signs, but church bulletins. You have probably seen some of these before, in lists of “bulletin bloopers” that have been circulating for years, supposedly real-life mistakes in real-life bulletins. Enjoy, all you mistake-makers, with a smile, reminded that God is still in the business of overcoming our mistakes!
The senior choir invites any member of the congregation who enjoys sinning to join the choir.
 
For those of you who have children and don’t know it, we have a nursery downstairs.
 
Please place your donation in the envelope along with the deceased person you want remembered.
 
Ladies, don’t forget the church yard sale.  It’s a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house.  Don’t forget your husbands!
 
Applications are now being accepted for 2-year old nursery workers.
 
The associate minister unveiled the church’s new tithing campaign slogan last Sunday: “I upped my pledge. Up yours!”
The Rev. Adams spoke briefly, much to the delight of his audience.
The Ladies Bible Study will be held Thursday morning at 10. All ladies are invited to lunch in the fellowship hall after the B.S. is done.
Due to the pastor’s illness, Wednesday’s healing services will be discontinued until further notice.
The cost for attending this year’s Fasting and Prayer Conference is $39, which includes meals.
Weight Watchers will meet at 7 p.m.  Please use the large double door at the side entrance.
If you choose to heave during the postlude, please do so quietly.
And, I might add to that last one, please do so outside. I do hope you’ll allow God to pour out His grace on your mistakes, whatever they may be.  I’m praying for you, and I look forward to seeing you Sunday.

Love and Waffle House

Guys, it’s the second week of February, and you know what that means. It’s almost time to start thinking about Valentine’s Day. I know it’s the toughest day of the year for us, having to stand in line with the other desperate guys at the grocery store, trying to buy flowers, candy, or a card at the last minute. It’s truly a Maalox moment on a Hallmark day.

 

Because I care, I wanted to share some good news for how you can turn on the romance on Feb. 14. If you’re looking to really impress your wife or girlfriend this Valentine’s Day, and save a few bucks while you’re at it, Waffle House might be just the place for you.

 

The restaurant chain began a tradition ten years ago, helping couples celebrate Valentine’s Day together. It’s a reservation-only event at Waffle House restaurants in sixteen states, including twenty-one locations in Alabama. Unfortunately, the closest participating Waffle House to our area is in Pinson, Alabama. But hey, surely she’s worth the drive, and I hear Pinson is lovely this time of year.
On the big night, Waffle House promises to dim the lights, light a few candles and serve up heart-shaped waffles for love-struck couples. Or, you can celebrate your love with a heaping plate of hash browns or a t-bone steak with eggs. (You’re welcome.)

 

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that most guys need all the help they can get. Whether it be flowers or candlelight dinners, romantic getaways or sentimental cards, we are out of our element when it comes to expressing our love for our mate. But I have a theory–actually, an observation–from both my own experience and from what I have seen in the lives of other men and women, in and out of marriage.

 

The secret to genuine romance more than anything else, is usually effort. That is, selfless, out-of-the-comfort-zone attempts to please the other person. That is why most romance, both for us men and also for women, is usually somewhat awkward and uncomfortable to the one doing the romancing. It’s not what we would normally be inclined to do–it stretches us, and makes us feel vulnerable. That is why romance for a man is different than romance for a woman. It’s not necessarily about what you do, but how you do it, and the effort you put into it.

 

No doubt, love and romance are entirely different things, but perhaps there’s a reason they get lumped together with the big red hearts. Maybe, just maybe, the reason why we celebrate love on Valentine’s Day by focusing on romance, is because love itself requires effort. It involves that same vulnerability, a selflessness that is basically unnatural for self-seeking sinful humans like us. It is about putting others ahead of ourselves, and giving instead of receiving.

 

Jesus said it this way: “Greater love has no man than this, than he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Now, that is effort. That is stretching beyond one’s comfort zone. That is vulnerable and risky and selfless. That is, and was, Jesus.

 

So guys, and gals, here’s some Valentine’s advice on romance from your friendly pastor and “love coach.” If you want to do better at showing love, if you want to see and know and understand what real love is, don’t look to Hollywood, and don’t settle for Hallmark. Follow the example of the Lord Jesus, who told us what love was all about it, then went to the cross and gave Himself away to show it.

 

Now that’s the kind of love worth celebrating. It’s even better than Waffle House!

 

By the way, this is not permission, guys, for you to spiritualize your futile attempts at romance, and give up altogether. Actually, it’s a call for you to work a little harder, just as it is for you ladies. I would even dare say that if each of us will offer Christ-like love to our mates, we’ll see a spark rekindled in our relationships like we never would have expected.

 

Happy Valentine’s Day to all. I love each of you, and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

Prognosticators and Prophets

I’m sure you are aware that yesterday was Groundhog Day, that insignificant “holiday” where a glorified rodent supposedly predicts the weather for the rest of the winter. I’m not sure of its origins, or how Punxsutawney, Pa. became the center of its celebration, but I did enjoy the movie filmed there.
In fact, if you turned on your TV news or scrolled through your social media posts yesterday you probably saw video of the real ceremony, where a celebrity groundhog named “Punxsutawney Phil” came out of his hole at Gobbler’s Knob on a sunny morning, saw his shadow, and thus predicted that we will be having six more weeks of winter.
I’ve never been to Punxsutawney, though I do enjoy saying the word (considerably more than I do typing it!). I did play played baseball in college with a guy from there (his name was Bill…and yes, we called him “Punxsutawney Bill.”) He said it was the biggest event of the year in Punxsutawney, as one might imagine, with much pomp and circumstance. Still, it’s hard to get that excited about the accuracy of a Pennsylvania rat as a weather prognosticator.
Of course, it’s not like the crowd of trained meteorologists at our local TV stations do a lot better, even with their computer models, Doppler radar, and satellite imagery. But sometimes I think the frustrations and disappointments of blown forecasts are more the fault of the milk-and-bread buying general public when things don’t go as predicted, because we all expect too much to begin with. In the end, they are trying to predict the future, and experience proves that’s there no guarantees at that for anybody.
It does seem that we have more than our share of prognosticators and prophets these days, forecasting everything from long-term weather patterns, to college football recruiting, to the Super Bowl, to the stock market. And, of course, there are always our trusty end-times predictors, who have a a Bible in one hand and a Fox News report in the other, ready to tell us what the future holds and that the end is near. Or, at least near-er.
When you get down to it, only God knows what’s going to happen the next six weeks, or six months, or six years, and I happen to trust His judgment on the issue more than a celebrity groundhog, or even a weather guy with a colorful map behind him. And I hope you will too.
As Corrie ten Boom once said, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” That assumes two things, which are both vital for us to understand. The first is, the future is unknown for all of us, even if we think otherwise. You never know what tomorrow holds. But, on the other hand, you can know the God who holds that future in His hands, and He can be trusted.
I am sure you have heard the old saying, “I don’t know  what the future holds, but I do know Who holds the future.” I hope you don’t just know about Him, but that you know Him, personally and intimately, as your Lord and Redeemer. Rest in Him, and trust Him with your today, and all of your tomorrows. And whether your life seems sunny, partly cloudy or altogether stormy, He will be there with you.
I am praying for you, as I hope you are for me, and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.