Check back regularly for a new note from Pastor Jonathan “Pastor Jon” Privett, the lead pastor as he relates something he’s discovered in his daily life with his daily walk with God.
On a lighter note, the puppets are ready for Family Sunday! Pastor Debbie Hallman and Jerimee Aaron were very concerned that I did not have anyone in the sanctuary when I was preaching on Sundays. So they called me into the sanctuary on Tuesday after staff meeting and helped me get acquainted with my new friends!
One thing the picture does not show is the puppet on the back row. We have (and I did not know this until Tuesday) a puppet called "Satan". Seriously? Seriously! And he has been placed on the back row! That'll preach!
One thing you may not know about me is that I grew up doing puppets. My Mom was a nurse anesthetist and worked full-time but always had time to do Children's Church. It was considered pretty liberal back then. Folks in North Carolina had decided that kids needed to be in church with their folks. But my Mom bought puppets from Puppet Productions and organized Children's Church. I helped every Sunday. My brother Dave and I did a LOT of puppet shows.
I grew up singing songs into a microphone behind a puppet stage for 40-plus kids. I loved singing and I loved making the fun different voices as a different puppet character every week. We sang fun songs like:
"Jesus Loves Me"
"Into My Heart"
"I am a C… I am a Ch… I am a C-h-r-i-s-t-i-a-n".
"This Little Light of Mine"
"I May Never March in the Infantry... But I'm in the Lord's Army"
I grew up as a child led by a Mom who taught me how to serve…as a child. And I felt wanted, loved, needed, and included in a much larger family that I felt was the most special place on earth. I felt 'connected'.
Eight years of college and seminary and 34 years of ministry later, I still feel with all of my heart that the church, in whatever form or shape it takes, is the most special place in the world to feel loved and connected and included and wanted.
We have had 1400 views of our Facebook Live service. Seriously? Seriously! We've worked through most of our technical difficulties, so you should be able to hear and get connected. Also, we will be live-streaming on YouTube as well.
We are family.
We are connected.
We will get through this.
We'll get through this together!
Friday, March 12, 2020
I took this picture at Thousand Steps Beach last week near San Diego. The waves crashed and the water foamed but the rock never moved.
I can’t control the tides or the sun or the weather or the seasons but I can build my life on the rock.
Humanity has had a virus ever since Genesis Three. Any illusion of invincibility or power was destroyed the minute death entered creation. We Bible folk know full well what dust to dust and ashes to ashes mean.
That’s why we have joy in times of suffering. We have put our hope in Jesus who is the only hope there is. Jesus of Nazareth, whom we confess, is both Christ and Lord. He is our rock and together we stand by faith. On this side of the resurrection life is 100% fatal. But because the tomb is empty, we too shall rise. We have every reason to have 100% Hope. Why? Because Jesus is Lord today. Tomorrow. And forever.
I used to sing in youth group, “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love”. I pray that is true regardless of the litany of fear everywhere.
So, instead of staying home in fear, adopt a senior citizen. Be their meals on wheels if they need it. Pick up their pharmacy if they need it. Do a grocery run too. Take them to the doctor if they need a ride. Speak words of tenderness and calm in a season of fears. That’s what it means to take up the towel. Just like Jesus.
Be a good neighbor. I just met my new neighbor from New York State and she was very alone and had no friends. We welcomed her in her home and shared oranges and lemons with her. We gave her our cell phone numbers and I told her that if she ever needed anything we are here for her.
The people of the rock can face every storm. Take up the towel and serve your neighbors in a season of crisis
What About Sunday?
Our church will gather for worship Sunday as scheduled: 8:30 am for prayer; 9:00 am for Sunday School; and 10:15 am for Worship.
Following the directives of our Arizona District Superintendent and the Church of the Nazarene leadership, we will not be passing out bulletins or passing offering plates or giving out communion. Also, we have been directed not to distribute coffee or serve food.
Things will be a little different for a season: We'll have offering baskets as you leave. Communion will continue with individual cups you can pickup as you enter on Family Sunday. Please bring your own coffee! Greeting without physical hugs or handshakes is strongly encouraged. That's tough but it's time to take precautions!
We are monitoring daily developments and will make further changes as needed for the health of our people, our school and the many ministries on our campus.
February 26, 2020
I grew up thinking Easter was really just one day everyone wore something white, churches bought lilies, and kids had Egg hunts. And it seemed to be the one day where folks who said they would come some Sunday of the year, chose this one. The choir sang an extra song and Dad preached a little longer and every kid I knew was itching to go outside and have an egg hunt. Not candy eggs. Real eggs. All colored up by and painted by the ladies group on Saturday. I grew up thinking Easter was the day Mom stayed up late to finish that pattern she sewed for that one special day of the year. I grew up thinking Easter was just one really big day.
And then I was invited to Ash Wednesday. Say what? I thought Nazarene folk did not do Ash Wednesday. Only Catholics, right? I was invited to Northwest Nazarene University by my pastor-friend and church member, Diane LeClerc. She shared a message I will never ever forget. She told everyone her story. I mean she told her story of stuff I never heard growing up. She told her journey of deep struggle after years of abuse that led her to the brink of taking her life. And then God showed up. God’s grace brought her up out of the ashes and began a journey of healing her.
I’m not sure what it was but church has never ever been the same again for me. I realized in a way I have never realized that there was plenty of broken stuff in my heart. Too many grudges, too much anger, too much defeat and failure, and too many recorded efforts of failure. As the ash and oil were placed on my forehead, I admitted to God how much I really needed God’s help. And God showed up. God helped me and began a deeper healing in my life than ever.
So, I started Ash Wednesday services. Not a big church service. But it gets me started on a 40-day journey of asking God every day for help, for healing, and for wholeness. Every year is a little different but after preaching through Revelation I call it “Marked by the Lamb”. Folks today are fearful of the ‘mark’ of the beast but John tells us that all in Christ are 'marked by the Lamb'.
In our world of achievement, self-promotion, and comparing ourselves to each other, I need to be marked again by Jesus. He was the Lamb of God who sacrificed His life for all of us. Only in Christ do I find hope and healing.
We will eat together this Wednesday. 6pm. Bring a crockpot or bread to share. A simple meal. And then we will have three simple readings and a short 5 minute devotional. And then we will share communion. For those who desire it, ashes and oil will be applied to your forehead in the shape of the cross.
Why? It’s time to get ready for the next 40 days for God to do a new work in me. And you. And us. And those who God is leading to us for healing.
February 24, 2020
I love Family Sunday. What is it? It is the last Sunday of the month when our children join us for the whole 10:15 am worship service. Our kids get involved in a Sermon-in-a-Sack and we celebrate The Lord’s Supper together. Here are a few thoughts as to why I love Family Sunday.
I love worshipping together. Every age singing. Every row filled with every generation. Our relationships are built on our shared faith in Jesus Christ. Everyone, married or single, widowed or visiting, belongs at 3929 S. Rural Rd.
I love Sermon-in-a Sack. Each month one of our children picks something I need to make up a sermon about. Only rules? 1-Cannot be living 2-Cannot be dead 3-Cannot be filled with liquid. I am amazed at how perceptive and insightful our children are. I learn something every time. It is one of those moments you just do not want to miss. God uses children to speak truth to us. That’s another reason I love Family Sunday.
I love the offering. Say what? I do. I remember as a child watching my Dad give. My Mom gave. My first giving statement in 1972 was $12.00. Summer lawn mowing money. And I tithed it. I like giving together. Everyone can give something. And this week, we give at the end of service in the Alabaster Offering. Every age can give. Pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters all to build houses for God’s work around the world. We’ll sing and we’ll give. I love every minute of it.
I love the message. Not because I’m usually the preacher, but because I love hearing every age read the Bible with me. It might not be a big thing we talk about every week but it is powerful to hear babies cry, watch kids react, hear adults say “Amen”, and laugh together. You won’t get that with a Wi-Fi connection. You get that “we went to church together” experience by going to church together.
I love communion together. Broken bread. Poured out juice. Symbols of the costly salvation for every single one of us who name ourselves as a follower of Jesus. Together we unite as one at the table of the Lord. One cup. One table. One baptism. One Lord. One God and father of all of us. In the most divided time ever, it is one of the best ways to be family.
I love our second service. That’s what I call it. A few sprint to the parking lot but most plant, turn, and speak to their neighbor. Maybe that’s the best part of all. Hugs, laughter, stories, connection, and where-we-are-headed-to-eat-together happens. Stay for second service. You might get a family invite to eat with new friends. Family Sunday is a good way to invite someone to join your family to eat, laugh, share cell numbers, and connect in everyday life.
See you Sunday. I love it. And for those of us who are ill, homebound, or unable to get out, we are working on a live feed for you as well. Why? Because you matter. You’re part of the family also.
February 16, 2020
I remember being single and in seminary and being broke. I came to church hoping someone would invite me out to lunch because I was getting tired of dollar cheeseburgers at Burger King that winter in 1984 in Kansas City, Missouri.
I worked at a Federal Halfway House part-time and went to school full time. I went to class at 7:30 am and left school for work at 3:30 pm for the 4pm to midnight shift at the Halfway House. I made just enough to pay for my tiny one room apartment and buy gas and food.
I went to Kansas City First Church of the Nazarene where Keith Wright was the pastor. One Sunday they had a missionary come and speak and I had $10.00 cash in my pocket. I had no credit card because I had so little, I could not get one. This is way before debit cards folks! I had a check book with 45 bucks in it and $10.00 in my wallet. That was all I had for the week. I could eat a meal at the halfway house if I cleaned the kitchen. The cook, Miss Lil, would make beef ribs and save a few for me for cleaning.
Will clean for food!
That Sunday the missionary, who I cannot remember, shared his story of sacrifice and service and a life of giving to God. All of his life was God’s. His time was God’s. His family was God’s. His children were God’s. He had dedicated everything. All of it. Nothing was held back. I felt like Jesus was speaking through him to me in a way I cannot fully describe.
Have you ever felt like Jesus was talking right at you in a worship service where the message led you to make a personal decision that changed the rest of your life? I have. And I know many of you have. And I remember that Sunday.
It was time for the offering. We all stood. The plate was passed. I had some change in my pocket that was my first idea. But then I heard the Voice, the Prompting, the Lord speak to my Spirit and say, “Jon, trust me and give me all you have right now, and I will take care of you forever”. I took the $10 dollars out of my wallet and gave it. I was pretty scared at first and nervous but had a funny sense of peace about all of it.
That Sunday a nice couple invited me to eat with them and bought me a meal. Monday my director at the Christian Halfway House asked me to come to his office. Pastor Thornton told me I was doing a good job and he wanted to bless me: he handed me a $250.00 bonus check, plus gave me a small raise.
I’ll never forget that moment. It was a life-changing decision that I will never forget. I’m sure there are some of you reading this short article that can say, “Amen” too. And for what it is worth, if I had never gotten a pay raise or an invitation to lunch, God would be still be my God regardless.
Listen to the Holy Spirit. Give as God leads. Someone is going to get blessed when you release your grip on what you have to give it to the God who has all you have ever needed.
Worried about the future? Here’s a reminder of the Bible truth about eternity: When you die, and you breathe your last breath, you get what you cannot purchase or buy or earn: resurrection from the dead and life forever in the presence of the King.
Can hardly wait for it!
October 1, 2019
I love greeting new people. I love making new friends. I love learning new names. I love writing down on my Sunday notes the names of those I meet. I love seeing a new family, a new couple, a new single mom, a new person join our fellowship and feel the love of Jesus and the fellowship of the Spirit. It is just so much fun to meet and greet and get to know people.
Often times I am asked by someone, “So, what is a Nazarene?” I get that question a lot. My answer is really, really simple. Three words are all I need.
1-Christian: We are a Christian church. We want everyone to know the hope we have in Jesus Christ. Every Sunday we open the Bible to learn how to live for Jesus, love like Jesus and share Jesus with everyone we can.
2-Holiness: We are a Holiness church. We are radically optimistic about every person, even though broken by sin, can be fully transformed into a Christ-Like disciple. It's not perfection, but it's possible in this life to love God and loe your neighbor.
3-Missional: We are a Missional church. Ever since our beginning, we are a sending church. We send men and women all over the world to share the hope of Jesus Christ. We have started hospitals, feeding centers, schools and organized with other churches to provide relief when disasters strike.
And what about this “Nazarene” name? That's what Jesus called. We take the name “Nazarene” simply because it is what Jesus was called. It was a name of scorn and mocking. So, we want to be a church that loves and welcomes those scorned and mocked by the world.
In essence, everyone is welcome here. And at Tempe Nazarene, we know names, share laughter, tell stories, give hugs and stand alongside each other on the journey.
And if you have a question about our beliefs and practices, let me invite you to join me on October 6 at 9am in the gym to talk about “What We Believe”. I'll give you a booklet to read. But most of all, we'll make this journey to heaven together!
July 26, 2019
Mrs. Blue was the school typing teacher. She was a short lady of small statue but she ran a pretty tough ninth grade class. At Hawthorne Junior High School in Charlotte, North Carolina she was my ninth grade teacher. Her classroom was loaded with thirty-five typewriters. Imagine running a typing class with ninth graders. I think I would have had a 500 grain Advil.
I arrived halfway through the beginning of the fall semester due to our family's move from Concord to Charlotte. I was in a new school and in a new place and I was a ninth grader in a new city. When I received my new schedule, I was interested in learning to type on a keyboard and wanted to learn like my Dad who always was on the typewriter. Every Saturday night it was Dad doing the church bulletin in triplicate for the weird mimeograph machine. Anyone remember those? Dad would type and print one hundred bulletins and I would fold them. I figured if I learned to type I could help Dad someday.
Mrs. Blue was tough and asked me first, “Do you think you can catch up? You are already four weeks behind.” I said, “I can do anything if you help me.” And she did. She gave me some extra help and told me, “I believe in you, Johnny.” (Do not call me “Johnny”. Thanks…only Mom does that now!)
So, Mrs. Blue coached me. She encouraged me. She was the best part of ninth grade. Every single time she spoke a word of encouragement. I have typed every paper through college and seminary and written a full manuscript for sermons for 33 years. And Mrs. Blue gave me encouragement—she nominated me for the Junior National Honor Society. I still have the certificate simply because I like her signature.
One word from a teacher made a huge difference in my life. Sure, I had my part to do but she helped mold and shape my young life in a way that helped me the rest of my life.
God created the world with words. God's one and only Son was the Word of God before time that became flesh in real time to reveal God's love. The Holy Spirit brings the person of Christ to flesh in our words and actions. Most folks catch Jesus from our words.
So what are your words creating? What kind of world is formed when you speak? Are you the inspirational voice for a spouse? A coach for your children? A voice of love in a dark place for someone in distress? A messenger of grace from God's Word in a broken world?
Sunday we will read James 3:1–12. “Taming the Tongue” is the message. Pray this week and the weeks ahead that if someone overheard us over a 30-day period of time they would want to worship with us, eat with us, learn with us, and bring their family to the very place we gather.
I hope and pray I can use words to encourage others just like Mrs. Blue did for me. She is part of my “Hall of Fame” of people in my life that God used to bless and build me. I can be that for someone.
And so can you. Be a “Mrs. Blue” for someone. One call. One text. One card. One note. Go ahead, text someone a word of encouragement. You'll never know how many people you affect for generations to come!
April 26, 2019
Last weekend we had 707 people visit our campus in three different Passion Play performances and our Sunrise Service. I spent a lot of time out front greeting folks. I said hello to as many as I could. I knew some names of folks I recognized but more than half were new to me. I introduced myself as "Hello, I'm Pastor Jon. So glad you are here with us. Have you visited before?"
Over and over again I heard: "No, this is my first time." Some told me that they were here to see a friend in the Passion Play. Some were family members of a person in the Passion Play. I was impressed at how many attended by a simple invitation. But what surprised me were how many who were first-time guests. They had simply seen the ad on Facebook. Many said they were looking for a service this weekend and found us on Google. But the phrase that struck me again and again was, "This is my first time."
Every Sunday, since I can remember since September 17, 2017, that I have been on our campus, someone tells me: “This is my first time here.” Every Sunday someone is new. They may be a new attender who is visiting for one Sunday. Some Google a place of worship when they are staying here for work or visiting family. Every Sunday someone is going to say, “This is my first time here.”
Here's my thought the week after Easter Sunday. We celebrate the Resurrection right? Jesus is risen from the dead and this God miracle changes everything, including the Sunday after Easter and the Sunday after that. So God could be busy resurrecting a life for months of preparation until the miracle happens: they are starting a new journey with Jesus and God has led them to Tempe Church of the Nazarene.
Think about God birthing a new believer and trusting us to be the church who cares and guides and loves and helps. Some will come nervous. Some will need directions. Some will have questions. Some will have little ones who need nursery or Children's Church. Some will be alone and wonder where they can sit. But all need the poured out agape love of Jesus Christ.
That's why Jesus died. To redeem the world one person at a time. Through ordinary folks like me. And you. That's why I think Easter Sunday is 52 Sundays a year. God is going to do a new thing in someone's life this week. And I can't wait to see a miracle!
See you Sunday,
February 8, 2019
Tomorrow I’m going to get up pretty early, probably about 3:15 AM. I’ll drive to Bass Pro Shops and park. It is going to be cool but I am ready. I’ve been to Goodwill and bought a cheap fleece jacket. I’ll donate it back at the starting line. The bus will truck me about 5:00 AM to the starting line of the Phoenix-Mesa Half Marathon. At 6:30 AM the gun will fire and I will start running 13.1 miles. This will be my 5th half-marathon. It is a nice downhill course which will help this 250 pounder! I’m in the Clydesdale Division (over 200 pounds). I’m slow but steady. 3 hours and 12 minutes is my goal. That will break my Personal Record. But that’s not why I signed up.
I signed up to raise some funds for our teens to go to Camp Pinerock this summer. Every mile I will pray that God will do something amazing in their hearts and minds. Maybe one of them will be a pastor or a missionary or a professor or a person who lives for Jesus in such a way they may a Kingdom difference.
A few dollars to help them go to camp is just one part of God’s work in their lives. Your support is amazing. More than $1100.00 have been given. More than 1800 pledged. Plus, Annie Cherryholmes, who will be one of the camp counselors this year, is running as well and will help raise funds to get teens to camp.
I hear there is Chic-Fil-A at the finish line. That’s exciting. I hear there’s free chocolate milk at the finish line. That’s awesome. I know Cathleen will be at the finish line to give me a kiss. I really, really, reallly, really, really love her!
And this July, I pray that one of our youth will run the race Christ has set out for them and cross the finish line of line with hands lifted high ready to see Jesus face to face. That’s worth it all!
Run for God,
September 7, 2018
I grew up trying my best to read the Bible. I loved the beautiful Bible my parents gave me as a child. I felt loved and valued and cared for in a very special way. Sadly, I tried and tried to read it but felt little connection to it. Thankfully, the Living Bible came my way in my teen years. I was able to connect to the stories of the people who shared a personal testimony about their encounter with Jesus Christ. I think I read the stories of the people in the margins of the books of the Living Bible called “The Way" designed just for teens. I read and read and read and felt connected.
I really believe it may be a challenge for our busy and distracted culture to stop and listen and read the big story of God in the 66 books of the Bible. Many surveys suggest rather strongly that the actual Bible reading of those who say they believe the Bible and its values is smaller than ever. It takes intentional effort both as individual believers and a community of believers to hear the Story of God.
This September we are starting the 31-week trek through the Bible. Each week we will have Scripture sections to read together and discuss together in small groups and classes as well as personal study. If you would like a Story NIV Bible with the 31 sections of Scripture, they are available in the foyer this week. You can pick up the e-book online if you like.
Most of all, I cannot wait for the Story to start. Every week we learn one of the big ideas of Scripture. Why do this? We all have a story to tell and it is God's story of working in our lives. I can hardly wait to hear how God is doing a new thing in our lives as we listen to God’s story.
Here’s where we are headed in September
September 9: The Beginning of Life (Genesis 1–4 and 6–9)
September 16: God Builds a Nation (Genesis 12–13; 15-17; 21–22; 32–33; 35; Romans 4; Hebrews 11)
September 23: Joseph (Genesis 37–39; 41–48; 50)
September 30: Deliverance (Exodus 1–4; 10–17)
Read the Scripture sections and get ready for hearing how God can take every single day of our lives, both good and bad, and connect us to the new work God is doing in our lives. God never quits and God never gives up. That's one of the best reasons I know for reading God's Story.
August 17, 2018
What is a traffic light supposed to do? Control traffic at an intersection right? Green means “Go” and red means “Stop” and yellow means “Yield”. The yellow means green is done and red is coming. I have noticed in my first year of driving in Phoenix that the yellow seems to mean something different for many different people! I wonder how many accidents result from trying to get through the intersection when the traffic control signal hits yellow!
The Arizona Revised Statues gave me this legal definition of a Yellow Traffic Control Signal: “Vehicular traffic facing a steady yellow signal is warned by the signal that the related green movement is being terminated or that a red indication will be exhibited immediately thereafter when vehicular traffic shall not enter the intersection” (28-645).
If anything, the way I respond to a yellow traffic control signal can dramatically affect the physical destiny of everyone in my vehicle and everyone in the other vehicle in the intersection. It matters.
Sometimes I have sensed from the Holy Spirit a 'yellow light'. Time for caution. Time to yield. Time to look carefully at the direction I am headed. Time to re-evaluate my speed. Time to let my foot off the gas and brake hard. I’ve been thankful for the times I slowed down and stopped at an intersection and avoided a wreck.
God has a great story of guiding an entire nation of people who did very well when they paid attention to God's signals and did badly when they ignored them. Read the story of Israel in the Old Testament or the story of the church in the New Testament and you can hear God giving clear signals on when to go and when to stop and plenty of warning lights.
What might God be saying to you if the Holy Spirit were a yellow traffic control signal? Do you need to slow down? Or stop completely? What intersection of life do you need to heed as a warning? Finances? Relationships? Health?
I believe God is faithful. God will say “Go”. God will say “Stop”. And God will warn us with “Yellow” signals.
All I have to do is follow God’s signals.
August 10, 2018
Our new home has a 20-year-old orange tree. The former owners left us a note telling us it would need extra water but it was worth it: it has consistently produced amazingly sweet oranges for years!
I sat at the kitchen table today and drank a pot of Dunkin' Donuts® coffee and stared at our orange tree long enough to get inspired. Guess what? I think the orange tree is a beautiful illustration of discipleship.
1. Get Started: Two folks committed to an orange tree and planted it. I am sure it was not much to look at when it started. But it was planted! Get started on your walk with Jesus Christ. Restart your walk with Jesus! Whatever you have to do get started!
2. Get Rooted: I cannot imagine how deep this orange tree goes but I am sure its trunk and size are evidence it goes deep. The deeper the roots go the better the fruit. It is easy to put your hope in emotions or experience but our faith has to get grounded in the God that is revealed fully in the Word of God about Jesus the Messiah. Go deeper!
3. Stay Put: Sorry to say it but transplanting an orange tree sounds like a recipe for disaster. It is well watered twice a day by our irrigation system and gets a special blessing from the hose on super hot days. I’ve seen a lot of Christians jump from church to church, uprooting men and women and children from life-long relationships with disastrous consequences. Stay put and bear fruit. A church change may come but first ask: “How can God change me?”
4. Bear Fruit: If there is no fruit, this orange tree is not an orange tree, just a waste of space and soil and water. It exists to bear fruit. Its work is to feed my family amazing oranges. It has a purpose and its purpose is to reproduce life-giving fruit.
I love the church of Jesus but I believe it exists for more than just disciples to gather every week to sing together and learn together for decades: we exist as a church named after Jesus the Nazarene to make disciples that reflect the love and life of Jesus Christ in our world. As precious as my past years in the church are, I set aside my preferences to reach one person for Jesus who has never said “yes” to Jesus yet. We exist to make disciples: our work is to reproduce Christ-like disciples.
5. Pruning is Painful but Necessary: Our good friend helped us by pruning our tree. It was painful to watch and the orange tree was pretty ugly for a while. But the evidence was seeing new life form and grow and branches bend with new fruit. God will ask you by the Holy Spirit to set aside stuff to serve. It will not be easy but it will need to happen to produce fruit, to make disciples, to build the Kingdom, and to move the church forward. Bearing fruit is a beautiful outcome of a painful experience like releasing and letting go of a hurt, habit, or hangup. Prayer is where God prunes my soul: time alone with God reveals what needs to go and where I need to grow.
Let Me Hear Your Thoughts on Discipleship! Okay, you may have some thoughts about discipleship. I am learning to be a better listener. I am way interested in making disciples of every generation. Shoot me a text or email about something God has laid on your heart. Together, we will pray and work alongside each other to make disciples.
July 20, 2018
I am not much of a gamer. Video gaming that is.
Call me old-school: PacMan, Tank, etc. And those were the machines that were as a big as a truck in college.
Years ago, when I purchased a first generation Macintosh, I picked up a free copy of the Oregon Trail Game (the black and white version). Cathleen and I played together. What a fun family bonding experience!
We loaded our wagon and off our family went trekking across the West to Oregon. We were doing well until I thought we could save time and supplies and navigate a river voyage. We all drowned. The Privett family: RIP. Never touched that game again. No second chances. Zero grace. Uggh!
Years later, a nice family gave me a special gift during Pastor's Appreciation and our family decided to buy the super-sale priced Nintendo 64. Sarah and Emilie were ecstatic. We bought four controllers too. One night Cathleen and I played Donkey Kong and spent until 3am trying to get to Level 2. After going to work the next day with little sleep, we moved on to something fun and simple: Super Mario Kart. The whole family had a blast on our small 30 inch TV with four race tracks and four Super Mario Kart race cars. How much fun can you have?
I loved driving fast on the screen and seeing Mario fly around the track, pick up points and avoid obstacles and pass the Finish Line. Even though my nimble-fingered daughters usually were faster on the controllers, we had family fun together.
I discovered a grace moment in Super Mario Kart. When I put the pedal to the medal, as I like to do, I crashed a lot. I went off the course plenty. And there is one section of the game where there is a deep crevasse on the Alpine Race and you go off the mountain if you go off the track.
And I fell.
Or Mario fell.
The word on the screen was ominous: “Uh-Oh!"
I thought I was a goner. Game Over. No second chances. No grace.
And then a GREAT BIG HAND scooped me up. Seriously! It came out of the sky and picked me up and put me right back on the track where I slid off.
And then Mario said: “Here we go!"
And I was back on track.
I have never forgotten the feeling of being graced by getting back in the race by the hand from above. It had a profound impact on me. In reality as a pastor, I'm really just in the race with you and will remind you when you go off course, God will pick you up. Every. Single. Time.
At 57 years of age, I'm here to give witness that the grace of God scoops you up when you fail. Do I have a witness? Every single one of us can tell the story of God’s grace.
And that's why I have hope for me. And for you. And for us together. And for our church. And yes, even for our world. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the God who is faithful when we fail. Every single time. Grace finds a way. Grace makes a way. Grace holds us up as we learn to stand and then walk and even run again. Grace never quits.
Read the Bible. God creates a people and they fail. God covenants with His people and they fail. God sends His Son and we crucify Him. God creates the church by the Spirit and we walk away. Does God stop? Grace never stops. God keeps working. Until the end of all things when one day God will graciously give us all things. Who I am to argue with God? Why would I be quick to judge with a God who is quick to grace? God has way more grace than any human being ever: that’s why God is God (and I am not…and you are not).
If you have been hurt by well-meaning folks in a church whose words sounded more like judgment than Jesus, then let me the first to introduce you to my Super Mario Kart kind of God who takes you and me, scoops us up and puts us back on track.
Why does our church exist at 3929 S. Rural Rd? Why do we gather together, sing songs of praise and share the message of grace? On one of the busiest streets ever? To be a grace place. To offer folks whose lives have fallen off the rails a place to begin again.
And that's not a video game: that's a Bible promise. That’s the God who starts a good work in us and is faithful to complete it.
It's all grace folks!