Five Good Things About This Good Friday

Today is what is known as “Good Friday.” It’s the day that commemorates the death of Jesus Christ upon a cross at Calvary. Calvary is also called “Golgotha,” which means “place of the skull.”  It is a literal hillside immediately outside Jerusalem’s walls. This photo captures what it looks like today, along with a side-by-side display capturing it prior to heavy erosion and excavation.

A really horrific event took place on this site (or one quite similar to it). The death of Jesus was unjustified and unbelievable. It was grotesque. Friends, it’s really difficult to reduce the crucifixion to a charming story, complete with chocolate candy, bunnies or a gold crucifix necklace.

Jesus was an innocent man subjected to a trumped-up trial, followed by agonizing punishment. He was mocked with a crown of thorns on his head and he was hailed by his tormentors as a king. Pontius Pilate, realized he was presiding over a major injustice, looked for some way to release this man in whom he could find no fault, but decided instead to go along with local opinion. Jesus was nailed to a wooden cross and died.

So, it doesn’t seem like there is much good in this series of events.  Or is there? Here are five good things about Good Friday.

1.  Jesus’ death was the perfect sacrifice for our sins.  

Hebrews 9:22 tells us that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” Simply put: someone had to die. Only a perfect, sinless sacrifice would suffice, and that certainly rules US out. Jesus, as the only sinless person to ever live, fit the bill exactly. His sacrifice upon on the cross paid it all!

2.  Jesus’ death reminds us to not rely on our own strength.

Luke 23:46 captures some of Jesus’ final words on the cross as he said “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” This was a cry of submission and surrender. The Apostle Paul understood this when he said in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”  We can learn from this. A good thing about Good Friday is that we have an annual reminder to submit and surrender to God’s strength.

3.  Jesus’ death is an expression of God’s passionate love for us.

Romans 5:8 tells us that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The most famous scripture of all time, John 3:16, echoes this: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son…” No greater love has anyone shown than to lay his life down for a friend. That’s what God, through Jesus, expresses to us.

4.  Jesus’ death reconciles us to the Father.

Romans 5 goes on to say in verse 10 that “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son….” This means that you and I have been justified (just as if I’d never sinned), and redeemed (bought back from the enemy), and positioned as a child of God (rather than his enemy).

5.  Jesus’ death was a sweet set up for his Resurrection.

The best good thing about Good Friday is that it’s a launch pad for Easter. Tony Campolo famously said, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s Coming!” Death is swallowed up in VICTORY. Just when you think all is lost, there is the hope of the resurrection. That’s good news for modern man.

 

 

Through the Roof

Zig Ziglar once said, “I have such optimism, I’d go after Moby Dick and take the tarter sauce with me.”

I love this quote, because I am an optimistic guy. I enjoy taking on big challenges (I know, I know…I’m kinda sick in the head).

I tend to look at impossible situations with tarter sauce in hand.

I’m a cup half FULL kind of person.

What about you?

Recently I was in Capernaum on the north side of the Sea of Galilee in Israel. It was at this historical site that Jesus was teaching in a home. You can read about it in Mark 2:1-12. As Jesus was teaching in a packed out home, four guys brought their sick friend in order to receive a healing touch. They couldn’t get through the doors or windows due to the volume of people engrossed in Jesus’ teaching. There was simply NO WAY to get their friend inside the house.

Or was there?

It is at key junctures such as these that most people get discouraged and walk away (picture Charlie Brown sulking).

But not these guys. They went after Moby Dick with the tarter sauce in hand!

They went through the roof.

Not many folks would think to go through the roof. That takes work, costs money, makes a mess and causes a scene.

AND…it’s what gets friends healed.

I love the optimism. May we become more and more like these guys, especially when it comes to our friends that need to get to Jesus.

Awake My Soul

Ah Ezekiel.

Ezekiel was a prophet at the same time as Jeremiah. When he was 26 years old he was taken into captivity to Babylon along with about 10,000 of his fellow Jews. In the fifth year of captivity Ezekiel received a call to be a prophet of the Lord and for the next 22 years he ministered to his fellow captives.

If you were to split his prophetic ministry into two halves and used the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem at 587 BC as the dividing line it would look like this:

1. Prior to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem Ezekiel spoke of DOOM.

2. Then after 587 BC Ezekiel was a prophet of HOPE.

Isn’t that what we need sometimes?

Not doom. We have enough of that.

I think we need more Hope.

Especially when we’re feeling spiritually dry, dusty, or dead. Lord, give us hope! When we’re in a spiritual valley, we need glimpses of perspective that comes through hope.

I think we all understand the concept of “valleys.” This is where we feel trapped, confused and discouraged. I imagine that’s how the children of Israel felt while they were in captivity…until one of their own, Ezekiel, started to speak hope into their valley.

That’s what he did in chapter 37, the famous vision called ‘The Valley of Dry Bones.” It was given to him more than 2,500 years ago for the Babylonian exiles. I think the words still apply to us today.

Here is the Vision:

The Lord took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of the Lord to a valley filled with bones. He led me all around among the bones that covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out. Then he asked me, “Son of man, can these bones become living people again?

“O Sovereign Lord,” I replied, “you alone know the answer to that.”

Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, listen to the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

So I spoke this message, just as he told me. Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them.

Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.’”

So I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet—a great army.

God’s question to Ezekiel is an important one: “Can these dry bones live?” I think this is a question He is still asking us today. Now, from a human point of view the answer to this question is obviously NO. But with divine perspective, we know nothing is impossible.

“God gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did.” Romans 4:17

God takes that which is dead and makes it live again! How does this happen? I believe the text gives us two ways:

1. The Word of God

2. The Spirit of God

As Ezekiel walked through the valley of dry bones the Lord told him to prophesy (which means “to speak”) to the bones.  He said to the bones: “Hear the Word of the Lord.” As he spoke the Word of the Lord the bones started coming together with sinew, muscles, and skin.

Imagine this scene. Freaky and weird, huh? Especially for a good Old Testament Jewish prophet, because he isn’t supposed to touch dead things! But when God’s Word gets in contact with dead people it causes life.

Is it doing that in you? If not, then are you in close enough contact with God’s Word, and is it getting into you?

What is the Word of God saying to you? God is speaking, but are you listening? When we listen to God and his Word, it has the power to pull the dry, fractured parts of our life together. Things start to make sense again.

 

In a nutshell: The Word forms us.

 

When your life is falling apart, when you are in spiritual valley of dry bones then be quick to get in contact with the Word of God and let it form you.

Notice then in the text that the bodies that had formed didn’t have breath so God said to Ezekiel:  “Speak to the breath and tell it to breathe on these dead bodies so they can live again.”

 

In a nutshell: The Spirit fills us.

 

The BONES became a BODY with the Word of God and the body became an ARMY with the Spirit of God.

Friends, we need BOTH! Oh to be formed with the Word AND filled with the Spirit!

Join me in this pursuit. Join me in crying out to the Lord: AWAKE MY SOUL.

My Social Networking Purge

So I took a month off of all social networking…and lived to blog about it.

It’s not uncommon for people to “fast” from particular things such as chocolate, coffee, and carbs. I’ve been known to do that off and on.  I’ve also fasted from Facebook a few times. But since the advent of Twitter, Path, Foursquare and Instagram, I had yet to purge my system of ALL forms of social networking at once.

So that’s what I did in August. Now by no means does that make me a saint or superhuman, lest you be wondering “John, how in the name of all that’s good and right did you possibly abstain from all forms of social networking? How did you manage?  Was communication with the rest of the human race somehow truncated?” These are wonderful and jest-filled questions, because I know of no one that has DIED due to lack of internet-ready networking apps.

But I nearly did.

At least it felt that way.

It’s kinda sick how disconnected I felt just days into my 31-day fast. A buddy of mine declared that I wouldn’t make it the whole month, and he was nearly right. I wanted to check. I just had to see what people were saying. Who was thinking about me? Was a tagged in a photo?  Is anyone quoting rich and profound thoughts from my weekend sermons?  Someone has to capture an Instagram of me and my new bro-tank shirt!  Not to mention: who else “checked in” at the State Fair and are they going to the REO Speedwagon concert?  I gotta see a Vine Video of that epic 80’s band!

When you really get down to it: pride rears it’s ugly head. That’s not to say that social networking is ALL about pride and ego. There are certainly wonderful and redeeming aspects. Connections are made. Information is shared. Prayer and praise are facilitated. All good stuff.

But the dark side of social networking is excessive vanity.  It can quickly become about ME (insert SELFIE photo here). That, of course, is a pretty unbecoming characteristic of a Jesus-follower. Author Brett McCracken says “social media like Facebook and Twitter reinforces our sense of self-importance, urging us to say whatever is on our minds because some audience, somewhere, really wants to know.”

And yet, Philippians 2:4 challenges us to “look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

Easier said than done, I know.

So moving forward in my social networking venture, I’ve developed a few personal guidelines that, if properly interspersed, will help me not make it all about ME.

1. Ask questions. Lots of them.

2. Quote smarter people than myself (which gives me a bunch of folks to draw from).

3. Be a resource of helpful thoughts, ideas, books, etc that benefit those that follow me online.

 

On another note regarding social networking: some people have asked me what apps and systems I utilize. Here are my personal thoughts on the matter. I try to create systems and use apps that serve and conserve. What will serve me and my ministry as well as conserve time and energy? To that end, I do the following:

• I use Instagram as my social hub. I will often take a picture of something and it automatically posts to Twitter and Facebook for me.

• I try to stay off Facebook as much as humanly possible. It’s a jungle out there. Recently, I switched to a “Public Figure” Facebook page, which gives me a few specialized options like turning off messaging, and it doesn’t give me access to other people’s timelines. And also, sadly, I discovered last week on my birthday that others couldn’t see the day of my birth nor post their well-wishes on my timeline. That was a tough pill to swallow. At the end of the day I peeked at FB to discover only a few messages from close friends. Ouch. It felt like my birthday got cancelled this year!  Anyway…even though this feature removes me somewhat from the “Facebook Flow,” the time-saving benefit is great.

• I will often post to Twitter from sites like Zite (personalized news magazine) and YouVersion (Bible reading). I then try to stay off my Twitter feed because it’s mind-numbing. The thousands of posts with 140 characters and links start to blur together and my eyes gloss over when scrolling my feed. So, by and large, I’m trying to stay off of it, except for the posts of a few trusted people and sites that I know can keep me current on news and events.

Instagram is frankly my kryptonite. My thumb goes to my iPhone app like Pavlov’s dogs. Thankfully I don’t follow a ton of people. And if you post trash, too many selfies, or more than five pictures in five minutes of your “smoking hot wife” then I stop following you!

• I check in on the Foursquare app periodically, but haven’t found it to be a very vibrant community. Google+ and LinkedIN bug me (sorry). Path is of interest, but I’ve not spent much time there. Vine and SnapChat don’t grab me at all. I think they are novelty and, bottom line, sin portals.

On that note: every social networking tool can be used for good or evil. I know that sounds very Obi Wan Kenobi of me, but it’s true.  I encourage you to choose good. Run from evil.

Happy Networking!

 

Ride On…Q&A with Joseph Fehlen (Part 2)

josephfehlen-cover-thmbJoe is my brother (and he’s not heavy). Recently I had a Q&A with my brother about his book “Ride On: A Motorcycle Journey to Awake your Soul and  Rediscover it’s Maker.” It’s available on Amazon: As well, you can purchase his book at his blog (www.agrowingfamily.com), or at West Salem Foursquare Church on the weekend of July 6/7.

 

This is part 2 of a Q&A with Joe.  Enjoy.

 

JOHN:   I feel in Ride On you left me with a cliffhanger. I was wondering if you would ever come back? Are you working on a sequel? 

 

JOSEPH: Yes, I do come home but I just take the long way! I got ideas in the works for two other books. One called, Rebuild: When your life and your bike seem beyond repair.  I am rebuilding a 1974 Honda CB360 that was my father in law’s bike back in the 70’s. He sold it in the early 80’s and two winters ago we found it buried in several feet of pine needles and with a five-foot pine tree growing up through the frame.

It is now in my garage and we are trying to get it restored…but I don’t know what I am doing. Which makes a great premise for a book. I got some ideas for a third one but don’t want to get too far ahead of myself because I am currently writing one about hunting.

 

JOHN: Hunting book? You don’t know anything about hunting.

 

JOSEPH: Yes, that’s correct. Another hobby I took up in earnest in my late 30’s and I am fumbling through it.  I am tracking along and hope to have it ready to go to the editor early 2014. My working title is, Nine Arrows: A Hunters life of patience, practice, perseverance and utter failure.  It has been really fun to write and I hope it will be an encouragement to others that are thinking about quitting.

 

JOHN: Wow that is great… One last question.  Many in my church make fun of me for riding a Vespa. When you come out here would you ride with me on a Vespa to let them know they are cool also? 

 

JOSEPH: I almost purchased a scooter instead of the motorcycle and have a chapter about that dilemma. Because my motorcycle is not huge, and not a Harley, I have a lot of love for any two wheeled vehicle. All of what I talk about in Ride On is applicable to scooter riders as well as those that peddle around on two wheels. So, yes, I would be proud to ride with you on a scooter.

I will, however, not wave to you when I am on a motorcycle and you pass me on your scooter. That is reserved for those on real motorcycles.

 

Ride On…Q&A with Joseph Fehlen (Part 1)

josephfehlen-cover-thmbI have one brother.

I call him Joe.

But now that he’s kind of a big deal author, he likes to be called “Joseph.”

I refuse.

Joe currently is the associate pastor at Grace Foursquare Church in Rhinelander, Wisconsin.

Recently Joe wrote a book called “Ride On: A Motorcycle Journey to Awake your Soul and  Rediscover it’s Maker.” It’s available on Amazon: As well, you can purchase his book at his blog (www.agrowingfamily.com), or at West Salem Foursquare Church on the weekend of July 6/7.

 

I want to introduce you to Joe and his writings through this two-part Q&A. Enjoy…

 

JOHN:  As your brother, I know that you know nothing about mechanical things and you are not a gear head. What inspired you to write a book about motorcycles?

 

JOSEPH:  Yes, you are so true. The first thing you need to know is that Ride On is not a handbook on motorcycles maintenance, a travel book or an ‘I survived the Hell’s Angels’ memoir (I can neither confirm nor deny that I was a mole in a hard core gang). There are great reads out there on those topics.

Ride On is my story, which I tried to write in a fairly whimsical manner, yet straightforward story-telling mode, that explores my entrance into the motorcycle community and what I learned about life, faith and things that really matter. I was new to the community, in my mid thirties, and my eyes were aware of things that many may had forgotten after years of riding. Many had forgotten how and why they began riding.

It was at that point that I started to make these links between Jesus and motorcycles. The motorcycle became my vehicle to share the person of Jesus to others and give them tools to share Him with their friends. There were so many links that seemed obvious to me, but as I communicated them verbally to others they seemed to miss them. I knew at that point that I needed to write this book.

It was the bikers that followed Jesus that inspired me to get this on paper and ultimately to this point of a published book. They were asking me to help them share their faith in a real way to a community of people that many had pushed aside. So I immersed myself into the world and community of motorcyclist and kept my spiritual ears up for truths that could help them in their faith walk.

 

JOHN: What is the main point about the Christian faith you hope people would get from Ride On?

 

JOSEPH: I wanted to reintroduce (or introduce) people to a person named Jesus that we read about in the Bible. The problem is that for 2000 years we’ve added so much to Him and what He is about. I want to strip it back to the simplicity of who he is, what he did and what he said. Jesus is not some unattainable philosophy or a person that we have to completely figure out before we accept Him. He walked this earth telling people about His father and what life in this world is and should be like. He spoke in stories that had both practical and spiritual implications. So everyone that heard got something that could help them… and that is what I tried to do in Ride On.

You will notice in my writing I don’t have any direct quotes or indented scripture references. When I reference Jesus, He is just a continuation of the story I am telling. He is part of my story and I think He can be part of other’s stories as well. I endeavored to share about Him in a natural way because most people, when talking to their friends, don’t recite Scripture. No, we just tell the story of what Jesus did and what He is doing in our lives today. [I do have endnotes if people want to look further into what I am saying.]

So I guess the main point is… Jesus. Not religion, not rules, not your grandma’s church, but Jesus. He is the one wire we need to hook into to get our life on (or back on) track.

 

Be watching for Part 2 of this Q&A coming soon.

The Best Graduation Speech NEVER Heard

I should have did it.

I can’t believe I said NO.

When I was a senior in high school I was one of three students that were asked to consider being the commencement speaker. The administration asked two people but only needed one.  I declined even though I knew exactly what I would have spoken on. I could picture myself on the platform. I knew the exact stories, Scripture and key points I would make.  I could even hear myself speaking the words to the crowd and sharing the Gospel with them.

Even in high school, I was no stranger to public speaking.  I did it often in speech classes, drama class, school plays and youth group. It wasn’t that I was scared or intimidated. I should have said YES. I don’t know why I didn’t.

But, alas, I didn’t.

Instead I deferred to the other student. Inside I was hoping she would defer back to me. Then I would rebuff and point back to her. Then she would customarily shift it back my direction and THEN I would say yes. You know the drill. The same thing happens between multiple parties at a restaurant when the bill comes!

On that note…have you ever had the bill come and you said “Oh, let me get this” only to have the other party immediately say, “OK, thanks.” Isn’t there something in you that mutters “Hey, you broke the bill paying rules!”

Anyway…I should have said yes. Now, over 23 years later I still think about it.  I thought about it when I was back in my home town of Osceola, Wisconsin last week for a wedding.  As I was driving around my old stomping grounds, I noticed that my high school had been torn down and replaced with some condos, but I still thought about it. I thought about it again this morning during my devotional time in the Bible.  Our Life Journal Reading Plan brought me to the book of the Bible that I knew many years ago I was to speak at my graduation ceremony…but I didn’t.

I want to encourage those that are graduating this month to live with as few regrets as possible. Few spiritual regrets. Few relational regrets. Few financial regrets. Few emotional regrets.

 

Oh, and by the way…here is the text of Scripture I was going to talk from (but I didn’t) in my “Graduation Speech Never Heard”

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, 

before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them.”

Ecclesiastes 12:1

 

Don’t You Remember?

Muse on this question.

“Don’t you remember?”

This is the question that Jesus asked his disciples in Mark 8. It came on the heels of two HUGE food distribution efforts. One was for a group of 5000 men (see Mark 6) and the next was for a smaller group of 4000 men. By most estimations the groups were 2-3 times larger than reported due to the inclusion of women and children. In both cases Jesus proved himself to be a miracle-worker. His batting average is perfect. Of course, isn’t that what you would expect from the Son of God?!?

After feeding thousands (and healing a possessed girl, a deaf/mute man, and oh yah…walking on WATER), Jesus and his disciples retreated to a boat ride on the lake. Shortly after disembarking, the disciples realized they had brought only one loaf of bread with them for the journey. This was clearly not enough for a day on the water.

What would they do? Where will they go? Who gets to eat?  Who goes hungry?

Questions. Questions. Questions.

Then there was one from Jesus “Don’t you remember?”

He didn’t stop there:  Don’t you get it? Is your heart hardened? Can’t you see or hear? Don’t you remember when I feed five thousand and we had a bunch of left-overs?  Don’t you recall when I fed four thousand and we had basketfuls of pieces to pick up?
“Don’t you remember?”

  I need to confess that I have a short-term memory. Do you?  Are you like me and so easily forget the past blessings of the Lord when current challenges present themselves?  It’s so common for us to watch the Lord move in powerful ways one moment then fail to trust him the next.

5000:  Fed and happy.
4000:  Full with left-overs.
Boat full of disciples with one loaf of bread between them:  Help! We’re gonna die!! All hope is lost!!!

Jesus must shake his head at the obvious display of unbelief and distrust…both then and now. Has God taken care of you in the past and yet you wonder if he will continue to moving forward? Have you given of your tithes and offerings watching how he “opens the floodgates of blessings” and yet fear grips you this month with your limited funds? Did you thank God for the food on your table last night but aren’t sure if he’ll sustain you tomorrow and the next?

 

“Don’t you remember?”
 
I believe that the power of anticipation is fueled by the practice of reflection. When you remember what God DID it builds a sense of excitement for he will DO!