Starting a new feature for the next several months called Book of the Month. I will present one of my books and tell you a little of the ...
Friday, April 16, 2021
Tuesday, April 13, 2021
Do I really have the desire for change in my life, if I constantly resist that change? Do I really want to follow Jesus, if I continually refuse to surrender to him? If I constantly try to manage and control my own life? If I refuse to embrace the powerlessness and dependence necessary to be truly led by him? If I refuse to be still and listen. If I refuse to respond to his will and his direction, rather than forcing my own? If I refuse to become nothing, so that he might become everything? If I refuse to become forgotten, so that he can be remembered? If I refuse to become small, so that he can become big? If I refuse to be hidden, so that he might be seen? If I refuse to become no one, rather than always trying to be someone?
The answer: probably not.
Monday, April 12, 2021
Friday, April 9, 2021
Most people measure time by months and seasons, but when I was a kid our family always marked time by how close it was to the first full week in April. And that was not because of the days getting longer, or the dogwoods beginning to bloom, but because of a little yearly pilgrimage that we were able to make to Augusta.
When I was young, somewhere in the early to mid sixties, we spent a few years living in Greenville, South Carolina. And my dad and some of his buddies had just taken up golf and decided to head over to Augusta National to see the tournament. Back in those days, to the best of my dad's recollection, you could just walk up to the gate and get tickets. My, how times have changed! One year, when my father and his friends were leaving the tournament to head back to Greenville, they noticed a table set up where you could sign up for season tickets, so they all did. And a family tradition was born.
For the next 55 years or so, someone from the Branch family would get to go to one of the most beautiful places on the planet, to see one of the greatest spectacles in all of sports. It was glorious! It wasn't until my early thirties that I finally worked my way into being one of the regulars, most often going with my dad for a week of excitement, drama, some of the best golf ever, and as many pimento cheese sandwiches as we could stand. During those days dad always set himself up behind the green on #7 and watched as every single golfer made his way around the course. Then he would meander over to Amen Corner and do the same. I usually picked a couple of groups to follow and walked the course, enjoying watching the story of the tournament unfold for some of my favorite golfers, dropping by #7 green several times during the day to hang out with dad. At the end of each day we would grab a bite to eat and watch the replay on TV as we fell asleep in the hotel room, only to go and do the very same thing the next day. It was wonderful.
When my dad's health began to decline and he was unable to attend anymore himself, he gave the tickets to me and my family so that the Branch family tradition could continue. And as a result, for several years my wife and I had the privilege of sharing the wonder of The Masters with our children as well. For years everyone would take off of work, or school, and cram into a couple of hotel rooms in Augusta, Aiken, or Columbia and have the week of our lives, trading off the badges so that everyone got the chance to see as much golf (and eat as many pimento cheese sandwiches) as possible. They are some of my very favorite memories.
A couple of years ago, we knew my dad was nearing the end of his life's journey. His only prayer that year was that he would live long enough for us to be able to get the Master's tickets one more time. You see, not only was my dad a great father, but he was also an incredible grandfather. Right up to the end what brought him the most joy and happiness was to bring joy to his kids and grandkids. And did he ever!
That year his prayers were answered. In his grace and kindness, God gave my dad the exact gift he most wanted to have, another Masters for his children and grandchildren. My father passed away on April 8, 2019 and on April 10 we all piled into cars one more time to make our final pilgrimage to Augusta National. We knew that's exactly what my dad would have wanted. And it was probably our best trip ever: being together, enjoying the tournament, eating way more than we should, laughing a lot, remembering dad's life, and once again experiencing his love and care. In fact, every time I passed by the 7th green I looked for him, and imagined where he would be sitting and what he would be eating and who he would be waiting to see come through. It was, and always will be, holy ground.
So if you are fortunate enough to be one of the lucky few (relatively speaking) who get tickets (especially this year when tickets are so scarce), savor every minute. And if you see a silver-haired man in an Appalachian State hat, eating a pimento cheese sandwich behind the seventh green, it wouldn't surprise me one bit. I'm not really sure how things work in heaven, but if somehow dad is not able to be there, I would like to image that he and Jesus are sitting somewhere with a great view of the seventh green, eating pimento cheese sandwiches, and watching some incredible golf. Even the thought of that makes me smile.
So pardon me if I get a little sentimental this time of year, because April always makes me think of the Masters, and the Masters will always make me think of my dad. And now, with the birth of my first grandson, last year on April 9th, I have so much to celebrate and be thankful for every time this time of year rolls around. It's my favorite!
Apparently a significant part of living the resurrection life has to do with being able to recognize the Risen Jesus when he is standing right in front of us. (Luke 24:15-16) We are told that the travelers on the road to Emmaus were kept from recognizing him, but we are not told who, or what, kept them. Was it somehow Jesus himself that was hiding in the encounter until it was the right time to reveal himself? That’s a definite possibility. Or was it their circumstances, their distractions, or their own state of being that kept them from being able to tell it was Jesus? Who knows, maybe it was their own opinions, preferences, and agendas that kept them from being able to recognize his presence. Maybe they were so full of themselves that they had no room for Jesus; we are not told. All we know is that recognizing the Risen Jesus is essential to being able to enter into the resurrection life with him.
Wouldn’t it be great if somehow we were able to train ourselves to look for him and listen for him in every event, encounter, and conversation? My guess is that if we could actually do that we would see him and hear him much more often. And what we would see and hear would probably be much different from out preconceived thoughts and notions of what should happen in any given situation or circumstance. Only when we are truly open and truly free can we even begin to hear his voice, rather than our own, and to see his hand, rather than forcing ours.
Lord Jesus, help me to recognize you. Help me to be able to see you and hear you in the midst of all the circumstances and conversations that will fill my day. Help me to look for your hand and listen for your voice. Help me never to miss you because I was so preoccupied with my own thoughts, concerns, and insecurities. For only then can I hope to be a non-anxious presence in this anxious and fearful world.
Wednesday, April 7, 2021
Monday, April 5, 2021
I have to believe that in John’s account of the resurrection (John 20:1-18), the mention of him getting to the tomb first involves something more than just letting us know that he was faster than Simon Peter. That sounds petty to me, and the Scriptures are never petty. They are, however, inspired and intentional. There is a reason John mentions it. Maybe it is to show us that his eagerness to get to the tomb, was followed by a hesitation to go in. Simon Peter may have been a little less eager to arrive at the tomb; he certainly would’ve had good reason to be. Or, then again, he may have, indeed, just have been slower, who knows? But once he arrived on the scene, he went right in. And then there’s Mary, who stood outside the tomb weeping; still convinced that someone had stolen the body, rather than believing that Jesus had risen from the dead. She, like Thomas later on, was unable to “believe” until she encountered the Risen Jesus outside the tomb.
So whether it was John in his eager hesitation, or Peter in his reluctant boldness, or Mary in her weeping confusion, or Thomas in his doubting demandingness, Jesus met them all exactly where they were. And that is a beautiful thing. They were all different. Each had processed his life and his death a little differently. Each carried different ideas and wounds and baggage and hopes and dreams to that tomb on the first Easter morning. Thus, Jesus showed up to each of them in exactly the way they needed him to. John needed to see to believe, Thomas needed to feel to believe, and Mary needed to hear Jesus tenderly calling her name in order to believe.
What about you? Where do you find yourself on this Easer morning? Where do you see yourself in the story? What do you carry with (or within) you to the empty tomb? What is it going to take for you to really “believe,” again and anew? Whatever it is, Jesus wants to meet you there. Because he is risen, and he wants you to be as well.