Confessions of an Easter Bunny

Confessions of an Easter Bunny

by Phil Baker

I am the Easter Bunny. If you didn’t already know that, I’m sorry to burst your bubble. I’ve been playing the Easter Bunny at Revive for several Easters now and it is probably one of my favorite times.

Kids have funny reactions to the Easter Bunny. As soon as I come out in costume some kids stare at me, some cry, and some run up and give me a hug. The kids that stare are usually the younger ones. This may be their first time seeing Mr. Bunny. They need time to process and decide how they feel about him. It’s understandable. A large costumed character can be a lot to deal with. The ones that cry usually have recently had an experience with another Easter Bunny that didn’t go well. They see me and get flashbacks of their parents forcing them to sit on my lap, like some sort of holiday PTSD. But the ones that run up to me are the ones I love. I don’t have to explain why. The Easter Bunny is a celebrity. They know me and love me. They just want to come up and thank me for the Easter basket they received earlier that morning.

As the Easter festivities at Revive go along, a few of the kids who were “on the fence” about the Easter Bunny might warm up to me. I do my best to put them at ease and charm them into coming closer so their parents can snap a picture. One thing that seems to happen over and over during these interactions is that the kids will often give me one of their Easter eggs. It is such a sweet gesture. They just worked hard searching for and gathering these eggs and now they want to give one to me?! Why would they do this? Maybe they want to be my friend. Maybe they know that Easter Eggs come from the Easter Bunny so they are just giving back what is mine. Or maybe they just want to give.

Of course, I don’t keep the eggs. I thank them for their offering (as best I can in my own bunny miming way) and give it back to them. If they were previously unsure about the Easter Bunny, this usually closes the deal. We’re friends now. And that’s all I really want.

A few days after Easter (as I was coming down from my candy high), I thought about this exchange and how it reminds me of our interactions with God. When God shows up in our lives, some will stare, not sure what to make of it. Some will cry at how He has interrupted the plans and expectations they had. But some will recognize Him immediately and run to Him.

God has placed Easter eggs in our lives. They might be a job, children or a spouse. They might be your stuff, your dreams or your future.  As we wander this field of life, we fill our basket with these eggs.

And then we see God.

And we look down at our basket.

How are we going to react? Will we run to thank Him? Will we cry and run away, fearful that He will take away our eggs? Or will we just stop and stare?

What being the Easter Bunny has taught me is that maybe the best response is to offer our eggs back to God. This is what Abraham did with Isaac. This is what Hannah did with Samuel. Call it reciprocation, reciprocity or re-gifting. This simple exchange of receiving something from God, offering it back to Him only to have Him give it back to us, is just another way to grow your relationship with Him.

He, like the Easter Bunny, just wants to be your friend.

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Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

by Phil Baker

It was 50 years ago that Fred Rogers first asked us to be his neighbor. For the next 33 years, the Presbyterian minister-turned PBS icon welcomed us into his home with a song as he donned a sweater and comfy sneakers. Then he proceeded to teach us without the slightest hint of judgment or condescension. We felt welcomed to be there. His gentle nature made us feel this was a safe place and that we were loved.

Mr. Rogers wanted to be our neighbor. He wanted us to be his neighbor. Did he mean he wanted everyone to move to Pittsburg? I mean, we all can’t live next door. Mr. McFeely would never be able to deliver all our mail! No. He was just reminding us of Jesus’ teachings about what it means to be a neighbor.

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

Luke 10:25-37

Being a neighbor has little to do with geographic location. According to Jesus, it has everything to do with how you treat everyone else. Being a neighbor means showing love. Being a neighbor means spreading joy and peace. It means having patience, showing kindness, being faithful. It means being a friend to everyone regardless of race, creed or economic status.

As we begin this new chapter of Revive church’s outreach efforts, let’s not get hung up on who our literal neighbors are. Instead, put on your Mr. Rogers sweater and comfy shoes and focus on the person in front of us in the moment. Who is sitting next to you right now? Who’s Facebook page did you just look at? Who is behind you in the check-out line?

Who is you neighbor?

#Revive37135

Miguel

Last Night I sat in bed and again cried my eyes out.…

I weeped with I am sure millions of others who were preparing themselves for the most emotional episode of NBC’s “This is Us” to-date. I won’t spoil it for those who may decide to watch it at a later point in time via Netflix binge, but I will say that in some ways it lived up to its hype as being historical.

In a way none of us are wired to be prepared for loss. That makes walking through it or seeing others walk through it so difficult. Personally I find myself at times trying to mentally prepare for a moment I hope never comes but nevertheless fret will.

Why? Shows like “This is Us” help instill a bit of a panicked spirit in all of us sure but in another sense I think each of us wonders how we will respond in the moment. Here’s to hoping that never comes but what if the unthinkable does happen? Do we have a Miguel?

Family is so important and I don’t want to down play how vital it is and how we should strive for healthy families. But if there is a major flag I can wave having finally viewed the Jack Pearson finale it would be the relationship flag. Do you really have a “first call” friend?

A first call friend is someone who can you can do more with than just hang out and party with. I think we all probably have some people we know that we can go out with and have a good time with chatting it up. But if you strip away everything and lose everything who is your “first call”?

Some of us reading this blog have blood family close enough that when or if the unthinkable came we would pick up the phone and they would be there. But there are countless number of folks around us in Nolensville and the greater Nashville area who don’t have anyone building an intentional relationship with them and consequently wouldn’t have a first call.

Jesus created the body of Christ primarily for his glory and worship. One of the ways glory and worship is achieved is when we go out of our way to develop friendships and see people reached with the gospel. It takes a lot of prayer and effort to do this without an overly religious attitude but when we do it authentically the best way we know in the power of the Spirit to do it God smiles.

So be someone’s Miguel this week. Be someone’s first call friend.

Pastor Brock

Gandhi – The Christmas Theologian

Mahatma Gandhi one of the most well known spiritual leaders of the past century is attributed with the following thought as it pertains to Christianity. “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are are so unlike your Christ.”

Debate could be had regarding the legitimacy of whether this quote was verbatim from Gandhi or simply a sentiment he conveyed within a conversation to those who ultimately ended up attributing it to him afterwards. But that debate is not the purpose of brining this quote to mention here. Rather this quote surfaces the idea behind the frustration Gandhi like so many others have had with Christianity. Many people who are agnostic, callous, skeptical about Jesus may take great comfort in the notion Gandhi put forward in the above concept. Because lets face it Christians stink at being Christian. However this idea itself is a very appropriate starting point for a very different discussion at this time of year.

One of the truths the bible heralds regarding the story of Jesus we so often read this time of year is Mary his mother conceived him without sexual-intercourse.  How in the world does that happen? Thankfully Gandhi so adequately explained it for us. Christ isn’t like Christians. He was the God-man. Fully God. Fully Man. No if, and’s or buts around it. Both his beginning in the womb of a Virgin and his resurrection over death declare exactly what Gandhi struggled with. Christ is different from Christians.

This does not give Christians a license for acting in rebellion but rather a starting point for a deeper understanding of Jesus. If we can’t believe the virgin birth with at least some sort of conviction can we believe the resurrection? Can we believe God exists at all? My purpose is not to be-little anyone or shame anyone but rather call us into a greater understanding of what it is we are saying we believe this time of the year. The bible mentions many times folks who struggle between unbelief and belief. In fact Mark 9 tells an account of a boys father who was struggling with unbelief in specificity. Jesus healed his son after the father admitted his struggle.

Within the day of technology, information, google and the iPhone we are a self educated people. We can do our own research and come to our own conclusions about things. Through quick  “research” we can find the various reasons why so many people and clergy for that matter dismiss the virgin birth for “good” reasons.

“Its a story that’s been borrowed from other ancient cultures documents on origins of deities.” “Its barely mentioned in the NT other than the two synoptic writers Matthew and Luke.” “Plus its plain crazy!”

What will you believe this Christmas? Believe what Gandhi said. Christ is different than Christians!

If you’re looking to do some more research check out these links:

Was the Virgin birth copied from Other Religions?

Experiencing the Christmas Story

 

Merry Christmas!

-Pastor Brock

 

 

The Fall

The Fall

by Phil Baker

I’m coming off a very busy summer. My wife and I took a trip to Pennsylvania to research her family tree. I helped Montgomery Bell State Park put on their first ever “Ernest Day”. Our VBS is always a big but rewarding effort. We did a 5th year of Movies by Moonlight. I had minor surgery. And I started learning the banjo. Phew! I was looking forward to becoming less busy and fading into the background for a while. But what I didn’t anticipate was that my self-worth would also fade.

As the temperature began to fall with the leaves, I started to fall into a funk. I felt like I was descending into “the winter of [my] discontent.” Why is this? Things in my life are pretty good. I have a roof over my head, money in the bank, and food on the table. As I thought about this, I was reminded of all the things I did this summer. I was missing the busyness of it all. My identity had become tied up in it. So when all this went away so did my identity, my self-worth.

God softly whispered to me “It’s time to slow down. Let’s spend some time together.” I read 2 Corinthians 3:5 which reminded me that my identity, my adequacy, my sufficiency should be in Christ. We often find our identity in other things – our jobs, our family, our stuff – when God should be at the core of who we are. What’s just as janky is when we supplant Him with His gifts or His mission. While well intentioned, these also miss the mark.

In his book “Spiritual Rhythms” Mark Buchanan illustrates the seasons in our life. Each season is necessary for healthy growth. Just as a tree must lose its leaves and go dormant for a while so that it can leaf out in glorious green again in the spring, we have to retreat at times into God’s loving arms so that He can nurture us and prepare us for our next season of fruitfulness.

If you too find yourself discouraged or a little down. It’s okay. Maybe you just need to go dormant for a while. Spend some time just being with God. Set everything else aside, including what you are doing for Him. You don’t need to do anything for Him. He is enough.

‘nuff said.

 

 

Football Is Back!

Football Is Back!

by Brock Benson

“Gentlemen, this is a football”

Those famous words spoken by the legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi still stir the emotions of millions of football enthusiasts worldwide.  Spoken in the 1961 training camp, Lombardi was reorienting his team to what mattered most – the fundamentals.

As a mild football enthusiast I don’t follow a lot of football action but two stories this off-season have caught my attention in particular.  Since some of those reading won’t be familiar with these stories I will try to give a brief overview of the little bit that I know.

 

Story 1

In July one of the more successful SEC coaches, Hugh Freeze, resigned from his position as head coach at Ole Miss. Apparently some of the drama was surrounding escort communication Freeze had engaged in on behalf of players who he was recruiting.  To put it succinctly the situation at Ole Miss is disheartening, irritating, and downright EXPECTED. (I’ll get to that in a moment.)

 

Story 2

America’s team the Dallas Cowboys are in the spotlight due to the suspension of legendary Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliot. The NFL elected to suspend Elliot for 6 games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy surrounding domestic violence accusations made by Elliot’s ex-girlfriend. The latest news is that Elliot plans to appeal the suspension. What will be the ultimate outcome? Only time will tell…

One of the facts I have found most interesting is the heat Jerry Jones (famous owner of the Dallas Cowboys) is getting from the media for how he has supported Elliot during this time. Radio hosts on our own local 104.5 have aired how negatively they feel Jones has handled this whole situation.

A few years ago when all the drama from Penn State hit the media I was devastated. I’m not an official Nittany Lion fan but my granddad was an Alumni and so growing up I remember how much I loved watching them play especially when I was with him. So to hear what happened crushed me.

Football brings out a lot of passion and pride for people, especially college football. As fans our smack talk reaches its height when college rivalry weekend comes. Why? We want to beat our rival. Actually that was too soft. We want to CRUSH them. Fair?

It’s this very sentiment that should cause us to pause especially in the midst of these recent stories and do something every good football player does after a game. Film Study. It’s in the film room we look back and reflect on how we played and what we could do better. I don’t claim to know the ins and outs of football since I’ve never played. But one thing I’ve heard is truly great players like Peyton Manning or more locally our own Blaine Bishop (former Titans safety) is they took the film room very seriously and really worked hard in reflecting on the game.

Why did Hugh Freeze, Ezekiel Elliot, Jerry Jones, and even Joe Paterno act the way they acted? Perhaps you won’t agree but I think it’s because we wanted them to.

Winning is everything. Even in the midst of trying to provide hope and healing for the Ole Miss faithful hear what former coach Tommy Tuberville said:

“It’s just a sad day for them, it really is, because people in that state really want to win games and want to be competitive at Ole Miss. They’ve done a great job to this point, and now they’ve had a terrible setback.”  (http://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/20342694)

Sure we would never say we condone the actions of these individuals but the pressure we put on them as fans to win is serious. And so is it any wonder they act the ways in which they do? NO! Furthermore we should expect it to happen again and again and keep expecting it to happen until something happens and hearts get wrecked over the bigger problem.

Maybe you think I am being harsh or unreal. But doesn’t the Bible tells us the first murder ever committed was because of a brother who was competitive? Cain wanted to win and beat out his little brother and felt spited when God accepted his brothers offering over his. (See Genesis 4)

As football fans we can continue to expect this behavior from coaches, owners and players because we want to WIN. And we might not say it verbally but our hearts are so attached to the WIN at times we don’t care as much about how it was attained so long as it’s attained. I’m grateful to the various universities and organizations like the NFL who try at times to make a stand for what’s right but I wonder are we seeing the real struggle? Are we upset over sin or because Elliot being out might cost us a few games in our fantasy league?

I know your attention span is running thin but this is real for so many of us, myself included. I’m stupid competitive in everything I do. I have been ever since I was a little boy and use to race my little brother to see which one of us could get done with our paper route faster. It doesn’t matter whether it is fishing, sports, coaching, or life itself. I want to WIN. I almost wear it like a badge of honor most days. But when I don’t win, I face legitimate depression-like tendencies. Why? Because I easily forget my FUNDAMENTALS. I forget that it’s not primarily in those arenas God has wired me to be competitive in. Instead I must be reminded of the most basic of fundamentals, like who my real competition and enemy is. The Bible tells me he is like a lion and he seeks to steal, kill and destroy me and everyone one else in his path.

I love football and I am not going to quit watching it this fall. And I hope you won’t either. But instead of getting mad and caught up in the drama mix like I so easily do I am going to try and realize how my sin nature has to be fought. My college football coach, Will Muschamp, gets really angry when the gamecocks get railroaded…which happens a lot unfortunately. Why? Because he has fanatic fans like me who want him to win and who get angry when he doesn’t. I’m not proud of the fact there have been many Saturdays watching the gamecocks where I got even angrier than Muschamp/Spurrier themselves but its true. I wanted them to win and they know I wanted them to win. And so when they didn’t…well it was bad, really bad.

Football is back! May this be a call for us to rise up and allow the competitive drive God’s given us to be fuel against our real enemy! May we take him on together remembering the fundamentals this fall. And through doing so, see how God’s shaping our hearts even as we enjoy the big hits and the long passes!

Book Report: “Movies Are Prayers”

by Phil Baker

Author Josh Larsen started his career as a journalist reviewing movies for various mainstream publications before landing at the website ThinkChristian.com. A guest shot on the movie discussion podcast Filmspotting eventually led to him becoming the full-time co-host. His well-thought and well-articulated insight gave credibility to his conservative Christian perspective despite it being a secular podcast.

“Movies Are Prayers” is his first book, but one that feels like it’s been simmering inside him for a while. Larsen explains that any time humanity creates, cries out to, or just wonders at the universe, he is praying, citing the popular adage “Prayer is exhaling the spirit of man and inhaling the spirit of God.” He broadens that statement to include nonbelievers saying “even the howl of an atheist is directed at the God they don’t acknowledge.”

Larsen proceeds to walk through nine different types of prayer:

  • Praise
  • Yearning
  • Lament
  • Anger
  • Confession
  • Reconciliation
  • Obedience
  • Meditation and Contemplation
  • and Joy

He gives a few movies for each that express those types of prayers. For example; he focuses on several Wes Anderson films that express Prayers of Yearning, dissecting the various melancholy denizens of Anderson’s stories. For Prayers of Mediation and Contemplation, Larsen highlights silent movie star Buster Keaton and his often expressionless face throughout his various silver screen adventures. And Prayers of Joy are portrayed through the classic musicals of Fred Astaire and the “holy nonsense” of the Muppets.

Each chapter is like a well-supported essay. But it isn’t until the final chapter that Larsen reveals that each of the prayer types retraces the journey of man and his relationship with God – from the Praise of His new creation, to man’s Anger at God, to the beauty of Reconciliation, and finally back to the Joy of a right relationship with Him. He expounds upon that using a single movie – another of Wes Anderson’s – Rushmore. Unlike the other movies cited, you really should watch Rushmore before reading this book, or at least before reading the last chapter, because Larson lets the spoilers fly as he delights in explaining how each prayer is played out through several characters’ story arcs. It’s obvious this is one of his favorite (if not absolute favorite) movies.

I enjoyed this book as a film buff and a Jesus buff. Many of the movies discussed were very obscure and unknown to me. Will I seek them out? Doubtful. I already meditate a lot on the movies I watch and what the filmmakers’ are expressing. My main takeaway from this book was the different forms prayers take. I am now more aware of what I’m expressing to God as I oscillate from Praise to Anger to Reconciliation to Joy and back to Praise. And I’m now more aware of the mediums through which I’m expressing these. Movies aren’t the only things that are prayers. My posture is. My resting face is. My thought life is. My social media presence is. What I put into my body, mind and heart is. This blog post is. The very movie of my life is a prayer. May its viewers see God’s direction in it.

Lord, may I exhale my spirit and inhale yours. So that my next exhalation will be more holy.

“Pray without ceasing.”

1 Thessalonians 5:17