How Did You See To Get Here?

     About 10 years ago, I FINALLY went to have  (ready?) my FIRST adult eye exam! (The one at the DMV doesn’t count-  if you can recognize the faintest of colors and shapes, you’re gold!) At the time, I was squinting down to about 20/20 (or so I thought), but it was getting harder and harder to read things (and when you speak for a living…reading is rather important!) So, I went to a local eyeglass place where a parishioner was the tech who made the glasses. First, I had my eye exam. (#1 or #2? #3 or #4?) Then…they photographed my retina! If you’ve never had that done, imagine looking into the very core of the sun…then multiply that by about 12! They bring you into a darkened room, sit you in a chair, have you look into a special hole…and they totally FRY your retina! But just one! Then, with one eye “normal” and the other eye feeling as if it were ON FIRE, they send you stumbling out into the waiting room to let the 1st eye “adjust” so they can bring you BACK in and do the 2nd eye! Who are they fooling?! Fry my retina ONCE- shame on you! Fry my retina  TWICE- shame on me! Believe me when I say you are NOT terribly motivated to have the 2nd one done! Perhaps it should be like when they pierce little girls’ ears at Claire’s- one person on each side and they shoot the gun simultaneously- get it over with all at once! But no, I went back in and had a nuclear reactor shot into my 2nd eye! Then, once I had been COMPLETELY blinded, I was sent out to talk with my parishioner/tech. She looked at the results of the eye test, looked at me and said, “How in the world did you see enough to walk IN here?!” Apparently the squinting wasn’t as successful as I thought it was! I picked out some frames, got them filled, and have had glasses ever since. (When I went for my 2nd pair of glasses, I had ALREADY made the jump to bifocals!)
      I often say it would almost be worse to lose my wallet than my glasses. The wallet  and it’s contents can be replaced, but with no glasses I would be unable to read anything well enough to replace those items! Without my glasses, I’m as blind as the proverbial bat (and WHAT does that mean- proverbial bat? Are there bats that go around spouting pithy proverbs all day? I don’t think so!) Although I have to slide the glasses up and down my nose when I lay in bed and watch TV (if you don ‘t know why, you DON’T have bifocals!), I can basically see everything with great clarity through them. Without them, that clarity drops precipitously and I look at the world through severely frosted lenses. I often think that’s the way we look at the world, glasses or no glasses. We KNOW the way we are to act, we KNOW the things we are to do, but we allow ourselves to look through the cloudy lens, ignoring the “right thing”. I have people say to me, “I don’t know what God wants me to do, pastor.” I think MOST of us have a pretty good idea what God wants of us- we just choose to ignore it and hope it will go away. Being good is HARD, while being bad (or even just benign) is easy by comparison. And yet, if we are never willing to step out in faith and live the life God has for us, we have NO hope of reaching our full potential as humans. Life not always working out the way you had hoped? Tired of looking through the frosted lens? The definition of insanity is to continue to do the same thing and expect different results. Step out in faith, live the life God has for you. To get what you’ve never had, you have to do what you’ve never done! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and clean my glasses! Have a great day, share this with others, and stick with Jesus!

The Gospel According to Harry Potter

     My sons love Harry Potter! My older son read ALL the books, as soon as they came out. My younger son is partway through the series right now. They both thoroughly enjoy them. I can remember a parishioner once who “had a chat” with me before church on Sunday. It went something like this. Parishioner- “What do you think about Harry Potter?” Me- “Personally…or in general?” Parishioner- (impatiently…I CAN be a bit sarcastic!) “Do you think kids should read those evil books?” (Don’t pull any punches…how do you REALLY feel?) Me- “Well, let me put it this way- MY kid reads Harry Potter.” The initial response was a face that seemed to say either, “Pastor, there is a large tarantula on your shoulder!” OR “Pastor, the four horsemen of the apocalypse are riding up behind you as we speak!” They then said, “You let HIM read…THAT?!” I replied, “Yep.” Them- “How could you do that?” “Me- What’s the problem?” Them- “They are evil. They promote witchcraft and black magic!” Me- “Have you READ any of them?” Them- “Well…NO, but…I’ve heard about them!” Me- “Let me ask you something else- did you grow up watching the Wizard of Oz?  Sleeping Beauty? Snow White? Mary Poppins? Bewitched? Nanny and the Professor (aka Mary Poppins for the small screen)? They ALL center around witchcraft! And who doesn’t like The Wizard of Oz or  Mary Poppins?”
     So, you are now saying to yourself- pastor, what’s the point? Here is the point! Would I let my 9-year old watch The Blair Witch Project, The Covenant or Burn Witch Burn? Probably not! (OK…NO!)  They are too “adult”, intense, graphic and frightening for someone his age. But does my kid know the difference between the fantasy portrayed in Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia or The Wizard of Oz and real-life devil-worshiping or devotion to “black magic”? Yes, in fact he does! Just as he understands that, while fun to read and pretend about, people don’t really fly like Superman or spin webs like Spiderman.  If I tell my kid, “NO! You can’t read Harry Potter!”, he immediately wonders what’s so great about Harry Potter that I’m keeping from him. But if I tell him (as we did earlier), “you are a bit young right now, but soon you’ll be able to read them, and we can talk about them”, he has something to look forward to and at least understands our postition, even if he doesn’t agree with it. We have always been on the more conservative side at my house when it comes to what movies our kids are allowed to see and what they are allowed to watch on TV. And yet, there’s a fine line between monitoring which outside influences are allowed to impact our kids and shielding them from the world to the point that they have difficulty discerning for themselves between right and wrong, good and evil.  We need to put our children in a position where they can think for themselves- set them up for success. They need to be always challenged to think through things and come to a logical, well-informed decision. OK- enough preaching for the day! By the way, our youngest just finished the 2nd Harry Potter book and moves on to the 3rd one tomorrow! Have a great day, read with/to your children/grandchildren, share this with your friends, and stick with Jesus!

Abra-K-Dabra…I Wanna Reach Out and Grab Ya

     I was a college Theater major recovering from major surgery and needing a summer job when I answered a Help Wanted ad in the paper. The K-Mart Corporation was undertaking an unusual and ultimately ill-fated experiment. Trying (I believe) to capitalize on the success of Chuck-E-Cheese and Showbiz (remember them?) Pizza, but wanting to reach a wider market, they were starting a new restaurant concept called Abra-K-Dabra with two locations in the St. Louis area. They were advertising for kitchen help and…magicians! I wasn’t a magician, but I WAS an actor…I could ACT like a magician. So…I headed down to apply. The gentleman I interviewed with said, “Are you a magician?” I responded, “Am I a magician?! AND, I’m a juggler!” (notice I never actually answered his question), and I was hired! I spent that summer, breaks during the next school year and the next summer working a magician and a juggler. We did live stage shows every 30-60 minutes, depending on the time of day/day of the week, and in between we would go table to table and do close-up magic. I also spent a decent amount of time in the “Abra suit”. Abra was the “mascot” of the restaurant- a wizard who looked much like the attached picture. Therefore, the suit was a long gown under a longer, heavy, velvet robe, a heavy “Santa” beard and wig and topped with a big satin wizard’s hat! (My mom was SO proud! I always thought they had me play the wizard because I was the “actor” in the bunch. Looking back, I fear it was because I was the only sucker willing to wear it regularly!) Everything that COULD have gone wrong on stage DID over the nearly two years I was there! One certainly learns how to deal with adversity under pressure real quickly in a setting like that! In the end, the idea simply didn’t work and K-Mart cut their losses and ran. At the final meeting between employees and corporate folk, they asked me to make one more appearance as Abra.  So as to make sure there was NOT a revival later on, I staged an “assassination”. While a regional Vice President for K-Mart talked, a pre-arranged employee jumped up, yelled “sic semper tyrannis” (Google it) and “shot” me with a starter pistol. A couple other employees got up and dragged me out by the feet while the K-Mart VP stood stood slack-jawed! (What were they going to do- fire us? Although I’m probably lucky we weren’t arrested!) I have been doing magic and juggling (but NOT in a wizard’s suit) ever since!
     Perhaps I AM a little nuts to tell someone I could do magic when I couldn’t (no smart comments here, please!), but I fear that all too often we do little to nothing because we are afraid to step out in faith. We’re scared we’ll fail and people will laugh at us. In our concern over looking foolish, we fail to truly live. But I am living proof that we only truly fail when we quit. So what if people laugh at you! When they do, laugh along with them! Find humor in that which causes you to struggle. Find it hard to do something? Guess what? That makes you remarkably human.  Give it another shot. Surround yourself with people who CAN, and soon you WILL. (How do you think I learned to be a magician?!) Have a great day, please share this with your friends, and stick with Jesus!

Pastors Are People, Too! (Sort Of!)

     Would you believe it if I told you that I eat, sleep, laugh, cry, go to the store, mow the lawn, even (gasp!) use the bathroom facilities on a somewhat regular basis? I know…hard to fathom, isn’t it? There is an interesting perception of pastors in our country. If people see me on Sunday morning, suit and tie, primped and primed, ready to lead worship- no problem. But when people see me at the grocery store in jeans and a t-shirt- it’s another story! They have a hard time putting me in context! One day, I was IN THE CHURCH, at a music rehearsal, with jeans, a baseball jersey and a baseball cap that was, at the moment, on backwards. I came around a corner, face-to-face with a parishioner. She didn’t know who I was! Then, it hit her and she said, “Oh, I thought you were one of the high school kids!”- to which I promptly thanked her! I actually had a former parishioner say once, “Well, Rev. Whosywhatsit wore a shirt and tie to mow his lawn!”, as if to say perhaps I needed to follow his lead! I assured them that mowing my lawn in a shirt and tie would most likely be one of the signs of the apocalypse! I also had a parishioner once notice my growing goatee and say, with a certain amount of disdain, “I guess you lost your razor?!” I quickly assured them that, no, I had NOT lost my razor, but thanked them for their concern! I will say that, when I entered the ministry, I had my own preconceived notion of what a pastor should look and act like- and it had a profound impact on my early ministry. I was never myself, but always what I thought everyone wanted me to be. In my efforts to be all things to all people however, I watered down the broth so much I fear no one was being fed! Then, an amazing thing happened. God impressed upon me that I should be (to quote that great theologian Marlo Thomas) “free to be me”! I realized that I could only adequately minister to others if I was at the same time being true to myself. So now, my weekday “uniform” is black jeans, t-shirt and jacket (perhaps a non-neon nod to those wonderful Miami Vice days! But I do NOT push my jacket sleeves up! I USED to…but not anymore!) The other things that grew out of that revelation God gave me were the shaved head and the earring. I had a receding hairline in college, and the older I got, the farther north it receded! I REFUSE to be one of those guys whose part starts down by their ear and swirls all around their head, so I started cutting it shorter and shorter, until finally I just started going all Telly Savalas (who loves ya’, baby?). Around that same time, I shocked everyone (including my family) by announcing I was going to get an earring. So now I have a cross dangling from my left ear- it’s a GREAT conversation starter!
     Are you willing to be…YOU? Are you OK with letting people see who you really are? Or do you hide behind the image you think you need to maintain? Do you fear that, if others saw who you “really are”, they wouldn’t like you? Here’s my question- if people are not going to like you because you change your hair, pierce an ear or get a tattoo, did they really like you in the first place? Are they worth subjugating who you are? The Army has it right when they say, “be all that you can be.” God made you the way you are, and God loves you! That should be good enough. If God loves you for who you are…then BE that person, and let the chips fall where they may. Be comfortable enough in your own skin to let others see YOU, warts and all. I think you’ll be surprised at what you find. I am NOT perfect…but what you see IS what you get!! Oh, and by the way, the picture? It’s of a pastor, circa 1916. How cool is it that, in 1916, he was comfortable enough to sport a ZZ Top beard? Have a great day, share this with someone, and stick with Jesus!

All Dogs Go To…My House?

     It was the day after Thanksgiving. Our nephew (now serving in Irag) had spent the night. He and our oldest son went for a walk to the pond near our house. About 30 minutes later, our son came to the door saying, “Dad? Can you come here?” I knew SOMETHING was up! I SHOULD have known! I came out into the yard, where the boys were playing with a dog…one which I had NEVER seen before! (I failed to mentioned thus far, but our son is a MAGNET for lost/stray dogs! They can somehow…SMELL him! And NO, it’s not a hygiene issue!) They said (oh, don’t be coy! YOU know what they said!), “He followed us home! Can we keep him?!” I believe I broke the speed of light with how fast I answered, “No!” I then flipped to page 67 in the parent handbook and quoted, “We already HAVE a dog! I’m sure he didn’t actually FOLLOW you- you called him! He already has a home!” and any other pithy sayings I could think of! But, at the end of the day, my son knows that I’m a softy at heart. At the time, we lived next to a very busy road- I couldn’t just leave the dog to his own devices. SO…we began walking him around the neighborhood, door-to-door, asking people if he was their dog. (I have NEVER had more doors shut in my face…even when I sold life insurance “back in the day”!) Eventually, we came back WITH the dog…which the boys had named Chip. I said, “No! Don’t NAME him! Ooohhhhh, I CAN’T believe you named him! Take it back! Take it back!” Because we all know, once they name the animal, the end is near! So, we decided to take the dog in the house and try to figure out what to do with him. However, we had a problem. Unlike my son, the dog DID have a hygiene problem…he smelled BAD! So (remember, I SAID I was a softy!), I took him into the bathroom and…bathed him! Yeah, I know- you don’t have to say it! I got done, started to dry him off…and if anything, he smelled WORSE than before. So, I did what any manly man would do in that circusmstance- I bathed him again! Didn’t help! Now we had a lost, smelly dog that no one would claim. To make matters worse, it was the day after Thanksgiving, so the county animal control folks were off until Monday! But then…I caught a break! The county Humane Society said that, IF we would bring him in, within the next 45 minutes, they would take him. I threw him in the car and sped off! When we got there, the first thing they did was get out their scanner. They found that he had a (ready?) CHIP implanted in his neck, (look back at the name the boys gave him!) so they would be able to find his owner. We left, congratulating each other on a job well done!
     Now fast-forward about 2 weeks. I pick up the St. Louis paper (we were living in the area at the time) and find an article about a St. Louis Rams player- DeMarco Farr- who had one of his two stolen dogs returned to him recently. I thought, “Oh, what a coincidence- we FOUND a dog recently…small world!” Then I read on and the world got smaller. The dog, Tazz, had been missing from his St. Louis County home for some time over a year, and had turned up in the Belleville, Illinois Humane Society the day after Thanksgiving! Authorities said that the dog was brought in by a man and his son, but they didn’t believe he was the man who STOLE THE DOG! I thought, “I went from hero to suspect AWFULLY quickly there!”
     Do you ever find yourself in a position where you have the ability to step out of your comfort zone and do something for someone else who is in need? Do you sometimes find your “inner voice” saying, “Someone else will come along and do this- I don’t want to get involved.” What if everyone said that? What if it was YOUR dog, or kid, or spouse, or mother, who needed help? Puts it in different perspective, doesn’t it? Now- DON’T put yourself at unecessary risk, BUT…if you stumble upon someone who needs help, and you CAN help them…do so. Don’t do it in an effort to recieve accolades and awards. Do it simply because it’s the right thing to do. God calls us to extend a hand to others in the name of Jesus Christ! Have a great Sunday, share this with your friends (especially if you are friends with DeMarco Farr), and stick with Jesus!

A Brand New Day For the Tidy Bowl Man

     Recently, we had…toilet…problems. (am I allowed to say that on the internet?) The parsonage (church-owned pastor’s home) we live in is about 40+ years old, and apparently so was the toilet in the downstairs bathroom. (As an aside, the downstairs bathroom is the “guys” bathroom. My wife lobbied hard over the past few years to get a bathroom unused by males. Something about the seat being up and the bathroom being harder to clean…I don’t know!) After several repairs, yet another part from the rather limited “guts” of the toilet broke. In true MacGyver fashion, my older son and I took turns “fixing” it with bailing wire, shoe polish and chewed gum. Eventually, it became apparent that our clever approach wasn’t going to have a lasting effect on the functionality of the aforementioned fixture. So…I hopped in the soccer mom van (the blue one, not the red one. Yes, we have TWO soccer mom vans. What of it? I’m comfortable enough with my manhood to drive a soccer mom van…aren’t you?) and headed to the Mart of Wal. There, I procured what I thought was the absolutely perfect repair kit- it would solve ALL my problems, even ones totally unrelated to plumbing! Then, I got home and actually LOOKED at the toilet. The repair kit I had was useless! (I discovered this AFTER I had dismantled the toilet, so now, it is COMPLETELY unusable instead of only KIND of unusable.) So, my youngest and I went to Lowe’s (again in the blue soccer mom van). I looked at what they had to offer, hyperventilated JUST a bit, and then pressed the “panic” button. Actually, it was the “call for help” button- it only FELT like the “panic” button! A very helpful associate came who, once he completely understood my problem, announced cheerfully, “I can’t help you!” The toilet was old enough that the kits they sell now don’t work. Now, I don’t mean to brag but I have been fixing toilets for years (please hold all applause until the end), and I have NEVER NOT been able to fix one. (Good use of double negative, eh?) I mean, that’s what you do, right? You FIX them! I was stumped! Then…it struck me! I could always (ready?) replace it! So, we moseyed (perhaps sidled, but NEVER sashayed) one aisle over where there was a veritable panoply (have to put that Master’s Degree to use somehow!) of shiny new…receptacles. Make along story short (I know, too late), I walked out with a brand new toilet for $40, took it home, installed it in about 10 minutes (again, don’t mean to brag!), and all was well!
     As much as we say we like new things, the reality is that we like change if things change ONLY when and in the manner we want them to. Change is often a dirty word in our society, especially in the church. We find a comfort level and we don’t want it to change. Even when things begin to fall apart, we would rather stick a band aid on them (or bailing wire, shoe polish and chewed gum) than imagine it might be time for a change. Change asks much of us- we have to stretch, grow, become more than we are. That’s hard! And frightening. We cling to the past with such ferocity that we often miss the great new things going on around us. But God says,  “Forget the former things; don’t dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; don’t you perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” Sometimes, hanging on to what you have IS the best course. Sometimes, however, the best course is to boldly step out in faith, chart a new course, and see what God has in store! Give that a try- look at what you are holding on to that you need to let go of! (By the way, got any suggestions on what to do with a 40+ year old toilet  currently sitting in my garage?) Have a great day, please share this with your friends and family, and stick with Jesus!

All the Geeks Down in Geeksville

     I KNOW this will be hard to believe, but when I was a kid…I was a bit of a geek! (Hey! Stop laughing so hard. It’s not THAT funny!) When I was in 6th Grade, our school had a field hockey tournament. The PE teacher picked 6 kids to be team captains, and much to my (and everyone else’s for that matter!) surprise, I was picked as one of them. It was both an great honor AND a awesome responsibility- I had to now uphold the honor of all the geeks in the school. I had become, in that one sparkling and unexpected moment, the entire geek population’s lovely spokesmodel! Well, all the kids lined up and the captains began picking.  I stood at a crossroads at that moment- do I pick my friends, geeks one and all, or do I pick kids who can actually help me win? The decision seemed simple- I went with friendship over victory! I loaded my team with every geeky kid there was (and if you are reading this and were ON that team, sorry…but we ALL know it’s true)! The other captains just laughed as my geek quotient got higher and higher. BUT…the last kid picked WASN’T the geekiest as usual- a moral victory at least! All the Vegas pundits picked us to fall  really early and really hard- some didn’t even think we would actually make to the START of the 1st game. Kids were betting hard-earned lunch money against us. Things looked gloomy for the All-Stars (yes, that WAS our name. Got a problem with that?!) Then, the tournament started. We played round-robin, double-elimination as I recall, and I took the whole thing so seriously that my mom was the only parent in attendance!  (I insisted she come!) And throughout the tournament, a remarkable thing happened! We kept winning! As more teams dropped out, the geek-laden All-Stars, corrective shoes flying and inhalers working overtime, hung in there. Finally, it came down to us and one other team- the championship game! The World Series, Super Bowl and Stanley Cup rolled into one (perhaps I exaggerate JUST a bit)!  Even now, the dramatic memory is so intense it makes the hair on my head stand up (metaphorically speaking, of course)! The puck was dropped, one of my geek teammates, who (due to some issues with a restraining order- it was all a HUGE misunderstanding!) shall remain nameless, slapped the puck OUT OF MIDAIR (Wayne Gretzky, eat your heart out)- the puck flew, straight and true, into the genu-whine plastic goal, and the first goal was scored! That goal so demoralized the other team (either that or they simply had better things to care about, unlike us All-Stars) that the game was quickly out of reach. When the final buzzer sounded (OK, it was the PE teacher’s whistle), the All-Stars, after marching undefeated through the prelims, walked away with our taped glasses and pocket protectors held high, victorious to the end! And there was GREAT rejoicing among all the geeks down in Geeksville…and I was hailed as their king! I get misty just thinking about it!
     How important is status to you? Is the latest fashion, the best car, the most expensive house what motivates you? Are those pesky Joneses getting tougher and tougher to keep up with? I have found, as I have gotten older, that all the stuff that seemed SO important at one time just doesn’t really matter. I have enough food to eat, I have clothes to wear, a car that gets me to work, and a house in which to live. I have a wonderful family that loves me, geekiness and all. I have a marvelous church that constantly challenges me to be the best Christian I can be. And I have a God who never leaves me or forsakes me. When the world looks at people like my Geek Squad All-Stars and sneers, God looks at us and sees His children. God loves you for who you are. He’s not interested in how much you make or how many cars are in your garage. He’s more interested in what kind of life you live, what impact you’re making on your fellow humans. Sometimes feel unworthy of anyone’s love, let alone God’s love? I am here to tell you, if the Geek Squad All-Stars can win the Grade School Championship…there’s hope for all of us! Have a great day, share this with your friends, and stick with Jesus!