To Bash or Not To Bash

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bash

    I’ve noticed an interesting trend in my lifetime. It seems to cross ALL lines- racial, gender, age, heritage, orientation, religion…doesn’t seem to matter. It is an equal-opportunity offender! And here’s how it usually plays out. Some group (again, really doesn’t seem to matter WHICH group) has an ax to grind. They feel that some OTHER group (again…doesn’t matter) is “out to get them”…discriminating against them, demeaning them, devaluing them. And, of course…sadly…it happens all the time. And it should NOT happen…it’s wrong, regardless of who you are. But what I want to focus on today is the RESPONSE to that fact.
What often happens (please note the word “often”…I am trying to NOT simply paint with a broad brush and lump everyone into one tidy package!) is that the group who feels they are being attacked…lashes back. They point out that the attacking group is showing prejudice in their behavior. And they decry that prejudice. So far, so good. However, it’s the next step that’s often the problem.
After they have identified the presence of prejudice…they begin to participate in it! As they decry the prejudicial behavior, they exhibit it themselves, resorting to the same name-calling and slandering they railed against. And USUALLY, they don’t even recognize that fact. And it becomes a vicious cycle.
Sometimes, groups that are often the target of this type of behavior don’t even wait for the first shot to be fired…they begin lobbing cannonballs over the port bow preemptively. And yet they are the first to cry “foul” when someone starts in on them. Perhaps the most obvious current example of this is political ads that simply sling mud at the opponent, completely ignoring the qualifications of the candidate who actually paid for the ad. But don’t misunderstand- this is NOT just a political thing- it goes on all the time, in nearly every setting, with nearly every imaginable group.
So, what do we do about such behavior? It’s really pretty simple (not necessarily EASY…but simple)- we refuse to participate in it. And when we catch ourselves doing it, exhibiting behavior to another person or group that we would not want aimed at us…stop. The Bible says that, along with loving God, we should love our neighbor as ourselves. Sounds pretty… Pollyanna-ish, I know, but imagine a world where this would be the norm, not the exception. A world where we realize that while we aren’t all alike, that we aren’t going to agree all the time, we can still treat each other like…what?…oh, yeah…people! Give it a shot- it won’t be easy, but it can be VERY rewarding!
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

65 Years of Wedded Bliss!

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hank and betty

Yesterday was a milestone in my wife’s family…OK…MY family! My in-laws celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary yesterday. 65 YEARS! That’s amazing! 1952. That’s a long time! And what is even more amazing is that I have known them for 40 years. Yep! They have been married for 65 years and I have known them for about 62% of that time. To put an even bigger number up, I have known them 71% of my life! I met them when I was 16 years old and I am about to turn 56!

There are SO many memories I have of them. I remember them accepting me right from the start- this young, upstart farm boy wanting to spend time with their “baby” daughter! I remember them attending all of our band performances in High School. I remember sitting in their Family Room on cold, winter nights, playing Gin Rummy with my mother-in-law while my wife and my father-in-law watched TV and talked. I remember them standing by me when I was…less than perfect! I remember the day we got married. I remember them letting us- me, my wife, our older son AND the dog- live with them for 3 months when we had a house fire. I remember them watching our older son every day after pre-school AND watching our younger son every Friday. I remember all of the health issues they had…and we had. And I remember them living with us for 4 ½ years before moving into the place they now live not quite a year ago.

I remember SO much. They have been a major part of my life. But perhaps the single most important thing I will remember is how they, rather quickly, became a second set of parents for me. They always made me feel welcome. They always made me feel like a part of the family. They were always willing to make me a part of what they were doing. They helped teach me how to be a man- how to be a better person.

We have had our ups and downs. We have had knock-down drag-outs. But we have always had each other’s backs. And for me- that’s the definition of family! Families don’t always agree. They don’t always get along. But they always love. Thank you, second Mom and second Dad, for accepting me as a part of your family all these years! Happy 65th!

Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

What Do You Want People to Say?

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A church member died yesterday. I chose that word- “died”- carefully. Years ago, I spent 3 months in a Hospital Chaplain Residency program, as part of the requirement for ordination. I would drive an hour to the hospital on Sunday afternoon, getting there ahead of 5PM, when my “on call” shift started. I was on call from 5PM Sunday evening until started my “regular” shift at 8AM the next morning. (I would sleep in the hospital, in a room attached to the Chaplain’s office.) I would work and attend classes all day Monday, drive the hour back home to spend Monday night at home, turn around and drive the hour back early Tuesday morning, work/classes all day Tuesday and then drive the hour back. Then, I was done for the week! (Done with THAT! I still was pastoring a church full-time!)

The woman who ran the Chaplaincy program had very specific ideas on lots of things regarding chaplaincy. And one of those specific ideas revolved around what word you used to describe someone who no longer was alive. Her take was that we didn’t lose them. They didn’t pass away. They aren’t gone. Instead…they died. At first, I was a bit bothered by her insistence on using that word above all others. But after a while, I began to see the value of calling it was it was- claiming the word so that the event could be better understood and processed.

So, again, a member of the church we currently serve died yesterday. We all knew she was dying, we just didn’t know when. I was out of town when the news came in. But when I got back IN town, mid-afternoon, I tracked down a family member and found out that the family was meeting with the Funeral Director at 3PM.

So, I met them there to help make plans. The date and time of both the visitation and the funeral were set. And then, we spent some time talking about the service itself. We talked about Scripture. We talked about music. We talked about who would speak at the service. We then moved on to one of the most important questions I ask at a time like this. “Imagine for a moment that there is someone at the funeral who never met her. What would you want them to know about her?” That conversation typically starts slowly but builds like a snowball rolling down a hill. Soon, stories are being told, people are laughing…and crying. It’s a powerful time.

With all of that in mind, what would you want people to know about YOU after you died? What would you want YOUR legacy to be? The truth is…you have a lot of impact over that answer! What do you want people to think about you, to KNOW about you? Are you living your life in a such a way that will lead them to that understanding? IF not, WHY not?

Ask yourself these questions: 1. Who do I want to be? 2. AM I that person? 3. IF not, what can I do differently to become that person? And then…do it! Become the person you feel you can be. Better yet, become the person God ,made you to be!

Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

This Seems…Familiar!

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deja-vu   Tuesdays are a busy day in the life of a shaved-headed, earring-wearing, rock-drumming United Methodist minister! I teach a class at 9AM every Tuesday morning. That means arriving at the office at 8AM, take 25-30 minutes to catch up on emails and other messages and take care of a few other little things. Then, at about 8:30AM, I head to our Café (where the class meets), make sure everything is set (our awesome Worship Director comes in and gets everything set up for that class, including getting the lights on doors unlocked AND coffee made so it ‘s always ready!) and then head to the lobby for my “Walmart Greeter” job! I spend from about 8:35AM to just before 9AM opening the door for folks coming to the class and greeting them. I look forward to those few minutes every week!

The class is from 9AM to about 10:15AM, closing in prayer. (Right now, we are working through a VERY “deep” about the Trinity. If you’re not careful, it makes your brain hurt!) It’s then a quick run next door to the house to take the dogs out and refill my coffee before heading back to the Café for Staff Meeting at 10:30AM, followed by Worship Planning meeting about 11:15AM.

Each week, we end our Staff Meeting with a short devotional from one of two “books” I have in my Kindle that focus on leadership. At yesterday’s Staff Meeting, the devotional led to a conversation about comfort and complacency. I shared that it is REALLY easy for weekly worship to become TOO comfortable and TOO complacent. And usually, when that happens, it is the pastor who A. created that scenario and B. can avoid it or stop it.

It happens with the best of intentions. Worship leaders work hard to make the service as smooth and flowing as possible. And as you do that, a comfort level starts to be created- patterns start to emerge. And if you’re not careful- sometimes REALLY careful- those patterns become the rote pattern of EVERY worship service. I mean, you do one…or two…or, in our case THREE services each and every week, 52 weeks each year. It’s something worship leaders, me included, need to watch for and work to avoid. Familiarity does, after all, breed contempt!

The take-away for folks who DON’T lead worship is pretty much the same here. Don’t let life get too predictable, too patterned, too comfortable. When it gets that way, it also gets too boring and lifeless! Be willing to stir things up a bit. Notice what you do without even thinking and then…think about doing it some other way! Be unpredictable. Live life. Have fun. Go off-script sometimes. It’s a LOT of fun and makes life more enjoyable!

Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

A Teen Shall Lead Them

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Last night was our monthly United Methodist Men’s dinner/meeting. And since it was guys, the food was typical great. (Although honestly, at THIS church EVERYBODY produces great food!) After the dinner, we had our “business meeting”. For us, that amounts to how many opportunities to serve are coming up, how many me we need to make those events happen and who’s going to sign up! (Our mantra is, “We don’t fundraise…we serve!”)

After the business meeting, we had not one but TWO “presenters”. (We typically have some kind of program.) The first was a couple of guys from the group who went to do street ministry at Mardi Gras in New Orleans. They go every year as part of a larger group. They showed a PowerPoint presentation and talked about the impact of the trip.

Then, we had four kids from our Junior High Youth Group who came to share about a Youth Conference they recently attended. This is the 4th year we have sent youth to this conference and some of those who came to share last night have been all 4 years! They each talked about why they go and what impact it has on them. It was SO cool to hear them talk about how the music, the prayers and the speakers had such a positive effect on them!

When I was in Junior High, I was barely able to find my way home at night. (The fact that we live RIGHT next door to the church helps a LOT now!) I was NOT a church goer. I was NOT a believer. In fact, I made fun of the people who WERE! So to see these kids be so spiritual and SO willing to show that is SO refreshing! It takes great courage to stand tall in your faith as an adult in the midst of a world that says you are wasting your time. Imagine how much MORE courage it takes for a teen to do that!

It is an honor to be a pastor. And it is an honor to be the pastor of young people who have such strong convictions. I am proud to call them church family!

Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Epic Fail!

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     If you know ANYTHING about me, you know that I am a bit of a techno-geek. I love technology and what it can do. I embrace it and I am always trying to learn more about current and emerging technology…and how it might be applicable to my life and/or the church. Because of that fact, I have NO problem with technology being a part of the worship experience. It’s a ministry tool, just like nearly everything else. And in this day and age, it DOES help many better connect with worship.  

     On a regular basis, technology is a pretty central part of worship at the church we currently serve. There is the sound system– not all that we will one day need but MUCH more advanced than many. There are the microphones- wired, wireless, headset. They, along with a cadre of rechargeable 9V batteries, get used a LOT on Sundays. Amplifiers, direct boxes, speakers, monitors and hearing assist devices round out the sound technology.  

     Then there is the computer. Sitting in the sound booth, it connects to two monitors on the sound booth desk, along with two projectors mounted in the ceiling- one “throws” on the front wall and one on the back wall. (The front wall one is the one 98% of the people in the room look at. The one on the back wall is GREAT for those of us who are “up front”, with our backs to the main screen.) Song/hymn lyrics, Scripture, sermon slides, prayers and creeds, as well as 2-3 separate videos are incorporated into the mix on any given Sunday. We offer 3 Sunday morning worship services- 8AM, 9:15AM and 10:30AM. They each are built around roughly the same level of technology…which works GREAT…when it works! 

     Yesterday was an interesting day- technologically speaking! At precisely 8AM (If you don’t start on time, then people who are late don’t KNOW that they’re late!), I stepped into the Sound Booth and gave the “high sign” for the Call to Worship video to start. (It’s an original music video, connected to the day’s message, that I produce weekly.) The sound operator opened the proper channel on the sound board and made sure the volume was in a good spot. Then, the computer operator started the video. It ran JUST fine…except there was NO sound!  

     We quickly decided that the obvious things- channel muted, volume set incorrectly- were correct. So…what’s the problem? I had them reboot both the sound board and the computer. As soon as that happened, we restarted the video and all was well. For a moment! Part way through the video, it suddenly froze. I decided to just go ahead, hoping that they could get the issue fixed before the weekly announcement video needed to run…which was NOT much time! We would then run the Call to Worship video before the sermon. 

     The announcement video started fine. But about 2/3 of the way through…it restarted! I had the tech folks shut it down and we just went on. Over the next few minutes, the computer was rebooted, software was shut down and restarted…they tried everything they could think of! But- it was NOT to be! During a spot where something that didn’t involve me was going on, I slipped into the Sound Booth and just had them shut it down- it was no longer a “rescue mission” but just a distraction. I told the congregation that there had been worship a LOT longer than there had been computers and projectors- SURELY we could manage without! 

     The songs were a bit tough, since the congregation didn’t have lyrics to use. I have moved pretty far away from my sermons depending so heavily on “visuals”, so that wasn’t a problem. And in the end, we finished that first service just fine, thank you! 

     We had SOME issues at the second service, but not nearly as many. And by the third service, we had apparently worked the bugs out because that service went off pretty much without a hitch! 

     Is this a cautionary tale, warning all who will listen to NOT rely on technology in their worship? Not even a little bit! Instead, it’s a reminder that, if the wheels fall of the bus, if the technology denigrades into an epic fail in the middle of the service…you can STILL worship God just fine! You may need to drop back and punt, but it’s only a major problem if you let it be. Go with the flow. Be flexible. Don’t sweat the small stuff. And, for me, it’s almost ALL small stuff! 

    Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Creed: Sustainer

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Creed Sustainer     Isaiah 11:2-3 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him- the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord- and He will delight in the fear of the Lord.
It was Christmas time and the Sunday School teacher was teaching her class about the life of Jesus. They talked about His birth and the events surrounding the stable, the angels and the shepherds, about Joseph taking the family to Egypt, about Jesus in the temple at the age of 12 and on down the line. The teacher then asked the children to draw a picture of something they had learned. She then had each student show their picture to the class. One kid drew a picture of the angel coming to Mary to tell her she would have a baby. Another kid drew a picture of Jesus teaching the rabbis in the temple when He was 12. It was then little Timmy’s turn to show his picture. The teacher was more than a little surprised and more than a little puzzled by Timmy’s drawing. It showed what clearly seemed to be a passenger jet! And standing next to the jet was a pilot with 3 people who were obviously the Holy Family standing nearby. The teacher asked Timmy, “I don’t really understand your picture, Timmy. I don’t remember there being an airplane in the Bible!” Timmy frowned and said, “Sure you do! Don’t you remember? That guy is Pontius the Pilot and this is the flight to Egypt!”
Today we continue our current sermon series- Creed. We are spending the 7 weeks leading to Easter walking through one of the foundational pieces of the Christian faith- The Apostle’s Creed. What we now know as the Apostles’ Creed seems to be a “fleshing out” of a piece known as the Old Roman Creed. The first known occurrence of the Apostles’ Creed, in a form that we recognize, was in the early eighth century. It gained acceptance throughout France and Germany, was officially recognized by King Charlemagne in the early ninth century, and eventually was incorporated into the liturgy of the Church of Rome. This long-standing statement of belief in many ways encapsulates what Christians believe. We will look at a small part of it each week. But we will recite the entire Creed each week as well. Would you join me?
     I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. The third day, He rose from the dead, He ascended into heaven and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Amen.
So, on Week 1, we started with “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth“. Last week, we moved forward as we looked at the next portion of the creed- “And in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord” Today we step deeper into the Creed and look at these words, “Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried“.
Let’s walk through today’s portion of the Creed a bit at a time. We start with, “Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit”. Let’s unpack a key word from that phrase- “conceive”. According to dictionary.com, it has several meanings and, in their own way, they all pertain to today’s discussion. It means:
1. To form an idea or purpose of- to imagine
2. To hold as an opinion- to believe
3. To express
4. To beget
So, “beget”- by defining ONE word, we find another one we need to define! “Beget” is a very Old Testament word that may, or may not, make a lot of sense in today’s world. Here’s what it means:
1.  To procreate or generate offspring, especially from a male parent
2. To cause or produce as an effect
So, God formed an idea, a purpose- He imagined a new and better way for His people. He believed in His people and wanted to develop a more personal relationship with them…us. So, He set out to express that desire- put the plan into motion. And so, He beget His only Son. And more than generating offspring from the male parent, He produced an effect- Jesus- that continues to have a profound impact on the world 2,000+ years later.
And how did that happen? Test tube baby? In vitro? Parthenogenesis (reproduction without a male)? How about…the greatest story ever told? Admittedly, that title is a bit “After School Special” in its tone. But that doesn’t make it any less true- or amazing. God had planted all the seeds in the Old Testament. Then there was 400 years of waiting. And then, it was time. God came down to earth, in the form of His Holy Spirit, to put in motion the plan…THE plan that would forever change…everything. The Creator came to Earth as the Redeemer, made human through the efforts of the Sustainer. Father. Son, Holy Spirit. Conceived by the Holy Spirit.
Then what? Well, He was “born of the Virgin Mary”. Obviously, the word that catches everybody’s attention in that phrase is “virgin”. We know what it means…and it makes us uncomfortable to talk about in places like church- or home- or the car- or…! It’s helpful to look at the languages that produced the written forms of the Bible to help us better understand that word. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek or Aramaic. The Hebrew word for “virgin” is “almah” and the Greek word is “parthenos”. IN both cases, they absolutely refer to a woman who has not been with a man. But in both cases, they also mean “a maiden”. A young woman. A girl. And that is an important distinction to make here. It doesn’t negate or cheapen the primary understanding of that word that we all have. Instead, it enhances it. This woman- Mary…Mother Mary…was young- by our standards, a girl. She was, it is thought, around 14 years old. Jesus was born of a girl- young, pure and clearly not only very well-briefed in Old Testament Scripture but also in possession of an incredibly deep and abiding faith in God. Let it be so.
What’s next? “suffered under Pontius Pilate”. OK- we KNOW he’s NOT Pontius the Pilot and we KNOW he did pilot Jesus’ Flight to Egypt! But who WAS he? There was a title used by the Romans- Prefect. A Prefect was a Roman official who served as the Roman Empire’s representative ruler in a specific area. Pilate was the fifth Prefect of the Roman province of Judaea, which included Jerusalem. He was Prefect of Judaea from AD 26–36, serving under Roman Emperor Tiberius. In all four Gospels, Pilate lobbies for Jesus to be spared crucifixion, giving in only when the crowd refuses to back off. In Matthew’s Gospel, he even ceremonially washes his hands to show that he’s not responsible. Some use those passages to show that he wasn’t a bad guy, but in the end, he caved to public opinion and allowed it to happen.
Todays’ portion of the Creed ends with, “He was crucified, dead and buried.” Crucifixion was a favorite of the Romans- cruel and unbelievably painful, it was designed to keep the people in their place. Roads would sometimes be lined…LINED with people hanging on crosses. No one wanted to be one of those people. And that fear and intimidation brought about the unholy environment the Romans sought all along. They called it Pax Romana…Roman Peace.
In the end, after suffering terribly, He died. No one TOOK His life from him. When the time was just right, He willingly laid down His life for us. “It is finished.” And then Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus (the Pharisee known as the Teacher’s Teacher who came to Jesus at night to find out more) came, took His body down off the cross and, gently and lovingly, laid in Joseph’s tomb. He was crucified, dead and buried.
A key part of this section of the Creed is that it is intended to remind us that Jesus’ life and death were all fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy. Psalm 2:7 says, “He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father.”Conceived by the Holy Spirit“. Isaiah 7:14 says, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a Son, and will call Him Immanuel.”Born of the virgin Mary“. Isaiah 53:7 says, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open his mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth.”Suffered under Pontius Pilate“. Isaiah 53:12 says, “Therefore I will give him a portion among the great because He poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” And Isaiah 53:9 says, “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth.”He was crucified, dead and buried“.
So there are two key parts to today’s reading. One is the “formal” introduction of the Holy Spirit- the last part of the Trinity. The Great Three in One. God is the unmade Maker of all things. He chose to come down to earth in human form- Jesus- to live among us, experience what we experience. And when that time was complete, and not a moment before, He went back to Heaven, leaving His Holy Spirit behind to live within us- guiding, leading, protecting. God is the Creator. Jesus is the Redeemer. And the Holy Spirit is the Sustainer.
John 14:26-27 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
The other key part is the emphasis on the nature of Jesus. He is fully God. In the beginning was the Word. The Was with God and the Word WAS God. He is the only begotten Son of God- Emmanuel…God with us. But He is also fully human. Born of a woman. Physically suffered at the heads of a despotic ruler. Was crucified. Suffered horribly. Died. Laid in a borrowed tomb.
Jesus is fully God…but He is also fully Man. He created all things because He was there in the beginning. He was born into our world as a helpless infant. He lived like we lived…and He died like we died. And He was laid in a tomb, a stone rolled over the mouth to make sure that was the end of the story. But it was NOT the end of the story. I believe.