CHRISTIAN Halloween? Huh?

     Halloween…is there a “holiday” with a more mixed bag of symbols, understandings, and methods of celebrating? From devil-worshiping on one end to fundamental condemnation on the other (and lots of cute little kids in costumes jockeying for candy in the middle), Halloween just doesn’t know who it should be. That is perhaps no more obvious than when it comes to how the Church views it. I have seen churches that condemn it from the get-go, refusing to even use the word in their building. I have also seen churches who have full-blown Halloween parties, inviting children into their building (in full costume) for games, activities and treats. How can they both be right? The bottom line is…it (like most other things) is very much a personal choice. Individuals (as well as organizations) have to decide for themselves what they think.
     Here’s what I do for Halloween. I go out and buy the biggest pumpkin I can find. I bring it home, and my sons design and carve whatever strikes them that particular year. (This year it was a very detailed Mario face. Don’t know Mario? Google it!) I take all the pumpkin seeds, wash them, soak them in salt water, and roast them. (They NEVER last beyond that afternoon!) Meanwhile, my younger son decides on a costume for the year. The only ground rules- it has to be something positive. (No vampires, ghouls, or ax murders in our house. The closest we have ever come to breaking that rule was a mildly dead ninja about 11 years ago!) This year he is going to be…Mario! (See a theme?!) Trick-or-Treating starts at 5:30 tonight in Our Town (hey…good name for a play!). We will hit a few houses of people we know (we DON’T go to houses we DON’T know), after which we will head to another church in town who does Trick or Trunk. (or is it Trunk or Treat…I can never remember!) They rim their parking lot with cars, trunks open, full of candy! After that, we will head to my church where the younger set of our community is invited to attend a special Halloween magic and juggling show put on by yours truly- pure fun with a subtle but unmistakable Christian theme. By 8PM, my family will be back in the “friendly confines” of home, with a happy dog greeting us at the door! Another great Halloween!
     It seems to me church folk often try so hard to be “in the world but not of the world” that we want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We see the evil that is carried out under the guise of something like Halloween and we automatically distance ourselves from it. But…the rest of the world doesn’t! So when we step back, fold our arms and pronounce judgment, we automatically distance ourselves from the very people we claim to be trying to reach as well. If you read anything about history, all the “good” Christian holidays began as pagan celebrations, embraced and transformed by a fledgling Christian community. It seems to me, if we try so hard to prove we aren’t like “them”, all we do is alienate “them”. The kids in my community are GOING to celebrate Halloween. Perhaps it is my responsibility as  a Christian to celebrate it WITH them, all the while gently and lovingly showing them a new understanding, a new way. How do YOU celebrate Halloween? Have a great day, check out the Prayer Request section (just below), join the Facebook fan site Twitter or email me, (all on the left side of the page), come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
    

The Demise of the Front Porch

     I don’t mean to sound like my dad, but…back in MY day…there seemed to be more pride for a job well done. That pride seemed to translate, in part,  to what we all know as Customer Service. If you walked into a business, you were greeted, you were welcomed, you were appreciated. And although pragmatism would dictate that you were treated that way because you were the customer and you helped pay their salaries, I always felt it was more than that.  It felt more like people actually…CARED…about each other, a sentiment that seems in short supply these days. And one place that really seems to SCREAM that lack of caring is in the marketplace. I am saddened  and somewhat appalled by how BAD customer service has become! Recently, my family went to an area pizza place for dinner (our older son was home from college and specifically picked the place). We walked in AT 5PM on a FRIDAY night (the beginning of prime time for restaurants), and there was NOBODY there! (That should have been the BIG tip off, but again, I ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed!) We walked to the counter to place our order, and found NO employees, either! We stood for a few minutes, partially deciding what to order and partially wondering where everyone was, until a lone employee came from the back. At last…service! But wait! He walked toward the counter, took a left turn, came around the counter out into the restaurant, walked RIGHT behind us, said NOT A WORD, and disappeared out the other side! We stood, stunned, until another employee stuck his head out of the office, saw us…and disappeared back into the office! At that point, we decided we should heed these blinking neon signs of bad customer service and go elsewhere. Pizza Hut was glad to see us, feed us, and take our money! Then, I went into a costume/magic shop looking for some things for a magic show I’m doing this weekend. I went to the part of the store that carries magic props, only to find it roped off with a “closed” sign dangling from the rope. I walked to the front counter (where I was the ONLY customer) and asked one of the THREE employees standing there why that area was closed. The reply? “We’re too busy to have that part opened during Halloween week!” (Apparently standing is a 3-person job!)
     What’s happened to hospitality? Caring? Kindness? I personally think it was killed by the demise of the front porch. Think about it- back in the day, folks sat on their front porches. As neighbors went by, they stopped and talked, developing deeper relationships in the process. Today, the alarm wakes us up and we hustle around, getting ready, barely even speaking to the people who actually live in our house. We walk into the garage, drive to work, and then, at the end of the day, we get in our cars, drive home, pull straight into our garage, and hunker down for the night. It’s perfect- we never have to actually SEE another living being! As a minister, I see so many people literally starving for relationship. Are YOU one of them? Here’s a thought- become part of a faith community. I happen to be United Methodist, but any denomination/tradition would do. When you become part of a group, you have a built-in way to foster and develop relationships. And what greater gift, in our current societal climate, could there be? Have a great day, Follow my blog (left hand side of this page), join the Facebook fansite (also left hand side of page), share this with as many people as you can, come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

In the Shadow of the Great Fish

     We took the VW camper and headed north. There would be five of us on the trip- mom and dad  slept on the couch that folded out into a bed. My brother slept on an air mattress in the back. My sister slept on a pallet that was laid over the top of the driver and passenger seats. And I slept in a hammock that hung ABOVE those same seats. We would fix breakfast on a Coleman stove and lunch would be “picnic style” somewhere along the road. We went to Canada and Colorado in that camper. This time, however, our main destination (as I recall) was the Wisconsin Dells. (Somewhere, there are pictures of my brother and I, with our buzz haircuts and matching shirt/short outfits, feeding goats on that trip!) Along the way, we stopped in Hayward, Wisconsin, home of the Fishing Hall of Fame. I don’t recall that we stopped there to actually see the museum. Instead, we wanted to see the giant fiberglass fish out front! (Unlike the pics that accompany many of my blogs, this one is actually THE fish in question!) The concrete, steel and fiberglass sculpture was 1/2 a city block long and 4 1/2 stories tall- its gaping jaw able to accommodate 20 people. What farm kid could resist THAT? We parked the camper near the fish, and while mom unpacked the lunch, we scampered off to explore this fiberglass behemoth. It…was…awesome! Then, we ate lunch, and while mom cleaned up, we played some more. (I see a trend of us running off while mom does the work!) Once the camper was  re-packed, we reluctantly piled in for the next leg of the journey. And THAT’S when the trouble started. Apparently, the ground where we parked the van was softer than we thought, because when my dad tried to move it…it wouldn’t!  He gave it gas…it spun. He rocked back and forth- it spun. It seemed that nothing was going to get that camper unstuck. But…AAA to the rescue! My dad placed the call (no cell phones back then- he actually had to…ready?…drop a DIME in a PAY PHONE to call them! I thought pay phones only existed in the Smithsonian!) and they came out. The problem was, if they actually pulled their truck into the spot necessary to simply hook up and pull us out, they would be stuck too.  I was getting tired of waiting, and just getting plain tired, when I heard my mom say, as she watched them struggle with the camper, “We’re never getting out of here!” Well, I was young and gullible…and I took what she said literally. I thought we would have to live there forever, in the shadow of the great fish! I would never get to go home again. I would never see my friends again. I would have to sleep in that stinking hammock for the rest of my miserable life! I promptly sat down on the ground and cried. So, in the middle of trying to deal with everything else, my mom had to figure out what my problem was and try to “talk me down off the ledge”! Eventually, they rigged cables around a big tree and towed us out that way. And YES, I DID get to sleep in my own bed again!
     What is hope? A common understanding of the word is that is means “wishful thinking”. For my money, however, the best definition is “confident expectation”. The New Testament says it produces joy and peace. (I don’t know about you, but I can ALWAYS use a bit more joy and peace!) Hope is a valuable commodity. With it, we can do nearly anything. Without it, however, life…stinks! Do you have hope? Or is every day just another example of “punch the clock, do that thing I do, punch the clock again, go home, get up, do it all over again”? Life is too short to not live it to its fullest. Feel hopeless? Pray about it. Ask God to give you an extra large dose of hope. And when you get that hope, pass it on! Share it with those who are hopeless. Help them find what you have already experienced! Have a great day, watch where you park, sign up to Follow this blog, join my Facebook Fan site (link on this page), come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Amateur Night Demolition Derby

     My family used to LOVE to fish. Let me rephrase that- my PARENTS used to love to fish! While I can’t speak definitively for my siblings, I was never a big fan of drowning worms myself. But when you’re the baby of the family, you often have to simply “go with the flow”, as they say! (“They” again…I’m getting just a BIT tired of THEM inserting themselves into my daily entries!) We had gone to Beaver Dam State Park for the day, and even though I really didn’t want to fish, I always enjoyed going to Beaver Dam (although I always thought I was getting away with something bad when I said the name of the park…I have never been the sharpest tool in the shed!) We stayed, fishing from the bank with our cane poles, until the bitter end, not packing and leaving for the rather long drive home until dusk. That brought us to just outside the town of Shipman, IL after dark. As we drove along the 2-lane state highway, we came upon a car in front of us that was driving REALLY slowly. My dad followed the car for some time, but then decided it was time to pass. He pulled out into the left lane…only to have the other car speed up. So…my dad pulled back into the right lane, at which time the car in front slowed back down! My dad, beginning to get a bit frustrated, pulled back into the left lane and the other car sped up AGAIN, causing us to pull back over. This happened FOUR times, at which point my dad had simply had enough. He gripped the steering wheel tighter, pause a moment, pulled back out into the left lane and tromped on the accelerator! We shot alongside and momentarily past the guy in the other car. He, however, was NOT going to be passed! He sped up to match us, so my dad sped up. There we were, in the wrong lane, flying down this state highway, neck and neck with a guy determined to NOT let us pass. Then, the unimaginable happened. The guy in the other car looked at us, swung his car slightly away from us…and then swung it back, slamming into the side of our car at 50 MPH! The impact pushed us toward the left hand ditch and pushed the other guy toward the right hand ditch. My dad regained control of our car just as the other car came in for a 2nd shot, again smashing into our side! My dad, fearing for the lives of his family, slowed up and began to pull over, just in front of a restaurant with a full-sized fiberglass cow on the roof (if you’re from the area, you know JUST where I’m talking about). Amazingly, the other guy pulled over as well, about 30 feet farther up the road. My dad told us to stay in the car (NO problem there, dad!), and he got out. As he started walking toward the other car, that driver also got out…with a 10-foot section of chain in his hands! As he walked toward my dad, he began to swing the chain in a big lazy circle over his head. We were all quite sure we were going to see our dad die right before our very eyes (whatever very eyes are)! Just as the guy was about to reach my dad with the leading edge of the chain, he suddenly stopped, the chain dropping by his side. He stood for a moment, then turned and ran back to his car, jumped in and took off. We all though, “Go dad! You da’ man! Get down with your bad self, scaring the crazed guy with the chain off just by looking at him! Whoot! Whoot!” Then we got (as the late Paul Harvey would have said) the rest of the story. A heretofore unknown 3rd car had been following us, watching this all unfold. They stopped behind us to see if they could help. And as the chain-wielding guy walked toward my dad, getting out of the 3rd car was what could only be described as a mountain on 2 legs. This ginormous man, easily 8’5″ (remember, I was just a kid!)…extracted…himself from his car and came to my dad’s aid! Hurray for the American offspring of Andre the Giant!
     I’m amazed at how often I think I have any given situation completely in hand, only to realize (often MUCH later) that I had NOTHING in hand! To misquote that great theologian Janet Jackson, it’s all about control! We try SO desperately to gain and keep control of what goes on around us, when the reality is that we simply have no real control over anything that really matters. Life…happens…and as much as we’d like to say otherwise, we simply can’t control what happens. So, if we have no REAL control,  then what’s the point, what’s the use? Why even bother? My experience is this- once we realize, accept, and embrace the fact that we have no real control…that GOD is ultimately in control, then it frees us from a great deal of worry and stress. If I can’t control what other people do, what may or may not happen today, then there is absolutely NO reason to worry about it. And when you decrease worry, you increase joy.  And increasing joy is absolutely the best gift you can give yourself. Because while happiness is fleeting, dependent upon circumstances, and can be taken from you by others, joy is steadfast, completely unswayed by circumstances, and cannot be taken from you. Joy is (ready?) God-given. Do you have joy? REAL joy? You can…if you want it! Have a great day, be careful passing cars, become a follower of my blog (on the left-hand side of this page), share it with others, come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Asian Beetle Invasion

     Have you been INUNDATED with Asian beetles/lady bugs/whatever they’re called? Where I live, the little buggers are EVERYWHERE! They are on the trees, on the cars, on the house, and, most importantly, IN the house! I remember when I was a kid, one of the “locust cycles” hit- it was awful! Actually, they aren’t really locusts, but cicadas. They hatch from eggs laid in trees, drop to the ground, burrow about a foot down…and SIT…for 13 or 17 tears, depending on the type. Then…they come…like a bad horror film. They fly around, make lots of noise, mate…and die. Lather, rinse, repeat…17 years later! Anywho, I digress…back to Asian beetles. Supposedly, they were brought to this country to help the farmers control aphids. That’s great, but the crops are quickly coming out around here, which means the bugs have nowhere to go AND the weather’s turning colder, so they head for MY house and MY church…. looking for a nice warm place in which to winter. (I personally would MUCH rather winter with my sister on the Gulf Coast of Florida than in my attic! But no one asked me!) The bottom line is this- I’m killing them by the truckloads (perhaps I exaggerate JUST a bit) in  my house, and they seem to love one of our upstairs classrooms AND my office at the church! (There were 10…YES I counted them…above my head on the light fixture when I wrote this!) So…I called the local pest control company- the one who says, “any time you have a pest problem, just call us, we’ll be right out!” Apparently I misunderstood what “right out” meant, because the response my Office Administrator got over the phone was, “Yep. They’re bad. Vacuum them up! If you still have problems in a few days, call back!” That didn’t seem like the answer I wanted, so I called and pushed a bit- they’re coming out!
     There seems to be a bit of a history of us humans importing some animal to solve a problem, only to have it create a new problem! It makes me think about how we handle other problems.  In my dealings with people I often find that, when a problem occurs, rather than just dealing with it head on, we often try to downplay it, sugarcoat it, or simply throw the rug over it and pretend it doesn’t exist. That works for a while, but inevitably, the problem will again rear its ugly head, and when it does, it won’t be pretty! Something that was small and manageable when it first started usually becomes huge and unwieldy when ignored. Or the “band aid” we try to put on the problem simply makes it worse, or creates new problems we didn’t have. It is so much more proactive to deal with things as they come and not try to ignore them or “MacGyver” them. Got a problem you’re struggling with? How will you deal with it? Here’s a suggestion- pray about it, turning to God for strength and wisdom. Over time, that approach will become 2nd nature and have a profound impact non your day to day life! Have a great day, try and avoid the little pests that might be plaguing your home, share this with as many people as you can, come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

A Bit of Stolen History

     Have you ever been to Colonial Williamsburg? We went there a few years ago. My son and nephew SWEAR they will never go back! Let me explain. While there, we did all of the “normal touristy” things one would expect to do. We walked around all of the old buildings and interacted with the people paid to be “locals”. (That, by the way, is a fascinating character study all by itself! There are people there who take their job VERY seriously, wandering around calling everyone “Billy Biggles!” with about as thick of a cockney accent as one could muster. Meanwhile, there are others who say things like, “Dude, I’m, like, a Colonial Williamsburger…welcome!”) We paid an amount equal to the GNP of most smaller countries for the privilege of eating leg of…something…at the Raleigh Tavern! We “weathered” a virtual monsoon at Busch Gardens, riding some great roller coasters in between raindrops. But the funniest thing that happened was in the Armory of Colonial Williamsburg. My older son (then 14) and my nephew (then 12) went to see the weapons on display there. One of the displays they saw was a collection of real bayonets from the time period. This was a “hands-on” exhibit, allowing people to pick up the bayonets. After the kids were done, they left the armory and walked back to my brother-in-law. Right at that moment, a Williamsburg bicycle policeman came tearing up, skidding to a stop in the loose gravel. He informed my brother-in-law that the boys were going to have to come back to the Armory with him “for questioning”! They made their way back, only to find out that the person responsible for the Armory was accusing the boys of…stealing a bayonet! He named my 12 year-old nephew as “the brains” of the operation, and insisted that he had taken one of their original bayonets. Now, understand, these boys had on shorts and t-shirts. Where exactly would one hide a 14″ long bayonet in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt? The more they talked, the more my son began to figure out that they weren’t even sure how many bayonets they had to begin with! So my son said, “What does the missing bayonet look like?” The guy described the “bit of stolen history” to the policeman present. My son walked over to the display, picked a bayonet up off the table, and said, “You mean…THIS one?” After an awkward moment, the guy allowed as how that seemed to be the bayonet in question- perhaps this evil ring of hardened criminals did NOT, in fact, steal history! Another case closed! We breathed a collective sigh of relief, stopped baking the cake with the file in it, and went on with our vacation!
     Why do we point fingers at others, trying our best to undermine them and bring their shortcomings out into the bright light of day? It’s because we are not happy with ourselves. When we are less than we wish to be, less than we can be, we feel the need to drag others down with us. That it REALLY an unpleasant place to be, for everyone involved. Instead, we should expect the best from people. It doesn’t mean stick your head in the sand. It doesn’t mean take unnecessary risks or put yourself or those you love in dangerous situations. It does mean that, at the end of the day, our similarities FAR outweigh our differences. Age, race, gender, economic circumstance, faith tradition…they only separate us if we let them. The next time you see someone and you feel those judgmental feelings rising, stop…take a deep breath…say a prayer…and think again. Treat folks they way YOU want to be treated! Have a great day, don’t steal any ancient artifacts, share this with as many people as you can (Facebook it, Twitter it, email it, whatever!), come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Birds, the Bees, and the…Electric Slide?

     I have a strange (but valid) theory! (Now, I say valid, but MOST people who hear it lean more toward “crackpot” than “visionary”! YOU be the judge!) I have noticed that, when I am at a wedding reception…ANY wedding reception…an interesting phenomenon occurs. At some point in the evening (I guarantee), a group assembled on the dance floor will spontaneous burst forth with (wait for it) The Electric Slide! It matters not one wit whether the DJ actually plays the song or not- irrelevant. Some collective “pack mentality” kicks in and it…just…happens. BUT…have you noticed…it is almost exclusively those with 2 X chromosomes who are participating? Almost NEVER do you see more than one or two of the XY chromosome types dancing (and some of my friends have questioned the chromosomal makeup of those folks)! Why is that? (That’s the less than subtle literary cue for my theory to come to the forefront!) Remember 5th Grade, when Mrs. Sedrick separated the boys and the girls? The girls went off with her to mystical destinations unknown, while the boys went to Mr. Ray’s room and watched (yes, it’s true!) the “birds and bees” filmstrips (and got really uncomfortable and tried not to snicker, as we were explicitly informed of the fact that heinous punishment would swiftly follow THAT particular crime). But what of the girls? They wandered off to “we don’t know where”, and came back with a knowing, conspiratorial smile on their collective faces. I have become convinced that they were taken off and (this part is known in the biz as “the reveal”) TAUGHT THE ELECTRIC SLIDE! Think about it, and suddenly it all makes perfect sense! They are the only ones who actually know it. When and where did they learn it? It HAD to be sometime when the boys weren’t around. (And let’s be honest; boys don’t stay away from girls very long- never have, never will). Therefore, ipso facto (I’ve been waiting YEARS to use that phrase!), while we were subjected to those filmstrips, they were off with Mrs Sedrick, learning The Electric Slide! By the way, I personally would have paid GOOD money to see Mrs. Sedrick do The Electric Slide. (Author’s note: since blowing the lid off this nefarious scheme, I have devoted my life to learned WHY they do it! I’ll keep you posted!)
     Life is a mystery, isn’t it? Just when you think you have everything figured out, something happens that proves you really haven’t a clue! Don’t despair- we ALL feel that way! (Anyone who says they DO have it all figured out is either spoofing you or sorely mistaken- possibly both!) So what are we to do, if life is too complicated and too capricious to figure out? We turn to “the greatest commandment” as found in the Bible. What is that, you may ask? (And thank you for asking!) Love God with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. That’s it- simple. (Not always EASY, but simple!) If you put God ahead of everything else, you gain a marvelous thing- perspective! Also, if you put God first, that love He has for you translates to how you treat your neighbor. As corny as it sounds, life would be so MUCH better if we actually did that. To quote that late great theologian Louie Amstrong- “what a wonderful world”! How will you focus on the main thing today? How will you refuse to be sucked into the negativism that is rampant in our country? How will you make a positive impact on those you meet today? Perhaps…The Electric Slide? Or perhaps, treat people like you want to be treated, love God, love life! Have a great day, share this with as many people as you can, think of me next time you see The Electric Slide, and stick with Jesus!

A Marriage Proposal Made Somewhere South of Heaven

     We’ve all seen those amazing stories where guys go to great lengths to propose to their girlfriends. You know: they take their sweetheart to the exact place where they had their first date, or they stage an elaborate scavenger hunt that ends with a ring, or hang a ring box like an ornament on the Christmas tree, or they hire a skywriter, or they have it put up on the Jumbotron at the football game, or..or..or! (personally, those guys make me sick! OK, perhaps that’s the jealousy talking!)  Well, I hinted a couple of days ago that my marriage proposal was…less than romantic and well-thought out (read Well…Guess Again). OK..here goes! My wife and I met when we were 15 years old (she was on a hayride at Joehl’s Alfalfa Queen Farm…with one of my friends!) and our 1st date was her 16th birthday (I was Mr. Brownlow in our high school’s production of Oliver and opening night was her birthday! So…technically…I didn’t even sit with her on our 1st date. It suddenly sees logical that my proposal was so lame!) After the show, my mom drove us to the restaurant at the local Ramada Inn, where we had sauteed mushrooms and stale birthday cake while we listened to the pop stylings of Mike Zichovich. We then spent the next several years together. After college, we took some time off for…bad behavior…but then found ourselves drawn together again. When it became apparent that we couldn’t simply be friends, I realized that we were coming to a major crossroads- marriage or nothing! Now, let’s pause for reflection for just a moment! It was at that moment that I could have conjured up some amazingly creative and romantic way to say that to her. I’m an actor, for goodness sakes. You’d THINK I could come up with something! But NO! Instead, as we drove down “The Beltline” one night, I turned to her and said, “You know…if we get back together, we both know what that means.” That’s it! No bells! No whistles! No Jumbotrons! It’s truly a miracle the woman even married me! (Come to think of it, it’s a miracle the woman has STAYED married to me, but that’s a conversation for another day!) If you looked up “lame marriage proposals” in the dictionary, there would be a picture of…me!
     How many times in life do you wish you could jump in the DeLorean, set the time circuits for whenever, get that sucker up to 88 MPH, jump back in time and redo something? Wouldn’t that be great sometimes? To be able to reset life and have a 2nd chance at things? Take back that thing you said? Fix the mess you made? The reality is, however, that doesn’t happen. It can’t happen. What you did yesterday is done, good, bad, or indifferent. However, there are still 2 things to consider about all of this: 1) so you messed up yesterday! Know what that makes you? Remarkably human! I’d be more suspicious if you said you DIDN’T mess up! Since you can’t change it, pick yourself up, brush the dust off, make amends with anyone hurt by your actions, and move forward, determined to do better. Don’t quote the late, great comedian Peter Cook when he said, “I have learned from my mistakes and I’m sure I could repeat them exactly!” 2) Even though life is stingy with 2nd chances…God isn’t. The Bible is FULL of folks getting 2nd chances. If you messed up, ask God for fogiveness, knowing that you CAN be a new person in Him!
     Take a moment to become a follower of my blog, email me, Twitter me, Comment, or whatever! Have a great day (because today IS the day God has made), share this with as many people as possible, come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Big Brother Program

     “We were going to have a baby!” That was the news we were spreading when we found out a 2nd son was on the way (see previous posts Creating Children Through Prayer and Well…Guess Again.) So we began to spread the word. We called people. We visited people. We stopped people on the street! When I announced it to my church, I stood up in front of the congregation and said, “You all know my wife has been sick lately. We finally decided that she needed to go to the doctor, and based on what we have found out…I come this morning asking for your prayers. You see….my wife…is…PREGNANT!” People were relieved, exciting and throwing things at me- all at the same time! When our sister-in-law said to her daughter, “Guess who’s pregnant:, her daughter answered, “Well it better NOT be you!” The really funny part, though, was when we went to tell my wife’s parents. We drove the 45 minutes to their house, and on the way there our then 11-year old son said, “Can I be the one to tell Grandma and Grandpa?” We assured him that would be fine, so he spent the rest of the trip planning what he was going to say. We got there, we exchanged pleasantries, then gave him the “high sign” that it was time for the big “reveal”! So he said, “Grandma, Grandpa, I’m going to be a big brother!”…PAUSE…”That’s nice, dear.” “No, Grandma, I’m going to be a big brother.” “I know- that’s nice.” We looked at each other with incredulity and then my wife said, “Mom, did you hear him? He’s going to be a BIG BROTHER.” “Yes, I know. I heard him. That’s nice!” My wife replied, “Mother! He’s going to be a big brother! We’re going to have a baby!” At which point, reality set in. My in-laws just stared, gape-jawed, for a moment, before my mother-in-law said, “A baby? A baby! You’re going to have a baby?!”We felt some explanation for my mother-in-law’s behavior was in order, so we asked! My mother-in-law said, “I though you meant he was going to be a part of the Big Brother Program!” We were telling her another grandchild was coming in to the world and she envisioned her oldest grandson was going to play pick-up basketball with at-risk kids on the weekend! Once we had it all straightened out, they were (and continue to be) ecstatic!
     Have you ever had something that you were really excited about, but when you tried to share that excitement with others, they fell well short of being as excited as you? How did you feel? Were you disappointed by their behavior? I think all too often we depend on other people to affirm us, fulfill us, or to quote the great theologians from “Jerry Maguire”, complete us. If you are depending on others for your joy, you are ultimately not going to be very satisfied. As John Denver said, some days are diamonds and some days are stones. Some days, others come through with flying colors and you feel affirmed. Other days, they  let you down big time, and you’re left wondering what happened! Ultimately, accept whatever affirmation the world gives you. But expect and thrive on the affirmation God gives you. Not “feeling the love” from God so much? Then you need to check the mirror. How do you live  your life? Are you living a life that would make God happy? How do you treat others? (There’s a lot to be said about the lessons learned in the Robert Fulghum book All I Really Need to Know I Learned In Kindergarten– share, play fair, don’t hit, put stuff back where you found it, clean up, say you’re sorry when you hurt someone, wash, flush, take naps, watch for traffic, hold hands, stick together!) The big question is- how much love are you sending God’s way?It IS a relationship; it requires attention. Looking for affirmation, completion, joy? Look to God. Have a great day, share the joy with others, share this blog with others, come back tomorrow for my lame marriage proposal, and stick with Jesus!

Well…Guess Again!

     Yesterday, I shared about how my older son prayed my younger son into existence (read Creating Children Through Prayer?). What I DIDN’T tell you was how I found out about the fact that the 2nd son was coming. (Now, to my wife’s defense, my marriage proposal was LAME and poorly thought out- that story will appear  the day after tomorrow!) Anywho, I was sitting in the Great Clips, minding my own business! (If you know me or have noticed the picture on my profile, you MAY be wondering what I, of ALL people, was doing in a place whose sole purpose in life is to cut hair?! A valid question! My older son was getting HIS haircut, thank you very much. I, on the other hand, was reading really old issues of magazines I would NEVER read under ANY other circumstance!) About halfway through the haircut, my cell phone rang. The caller ID told me it was my wife, calling from home. I figured she was calling to see when we would be getting home. BOY was I mistaken! After a BRIEF exchange of pleasantries, my wife says, “Well…guess who’s pregnant?” My immediate (and, I thought, logical) response was, “Well, certainly not you!” She replied, “Well…guess again!” I cannot adequately describe the few moments that followed, but I’ll try! I said…NOTHING…but instead stammered…while she repeated, over and over, “Are you there? Are you there? Are you OK?” I finally regained my ability to speak (something I don’t lose often, to the chagrin of many!), and said something brilliant like, “Yes”! She asked that I wait until we get home to tell our older son, which was NO problem for me as I was unable to string more than about 2 words together at that precise moment. The haircut was completed, I THINK I paid for it (if, not, Great Clips has an APB out on a bald guy with an earring, last seen stammering and drooling), and we drove home. When my wife met me at the door, she said, “Are you OK? Are you OK…with this?” I pointed out that was 2 distinctly different questions and asked her to ask the 2nd question first. “Are you OK with this?” “Yes, now ask me the 1st one.” “Are you OK?” “No!” Clearly, I recovered, we were excited, and son #2 continues to be a (currently 9-year old) joy each and every day!
     What was the biggest shock of your life?(This may not have been my biggest…but it’s REAL near the top of the list!) What do you do when life throws you such a curveball? Do you (to keep the baseball metaphor going) fear it’s going to hit you and bail out, only to see it curve harmlessly through the strike zone, making you look foolish as you pick yourself up off the ground? Or do you dig in, knowing that, even if it hits you, it’s not going to kill you (and I FIRMLY believe that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!)? The bottom line is this- life throws curveballs. I don’t know about you, but I see a pretty steady diet of “breaking pitches”, and very few fastballs right down the middle that allow me to fully extend the bat and get the “sweet spot” on them. (Too much of the baseball metaphors? Sorry, I am a baseball fanatic and my team was dumped in the first round of the playoffs- I’m going through withdrawl. Does the Betty Ford Clinic have a baseball wing? Ah, but I digress!) Life is 5% what happens to you, and 95% how you respond. You USUALLY have NO input on what happens to you, but you have 100% input on how you respond. How will you respond to what life throws at you today? Only you can decide that! Here’s a suggestion though- decide to face life head on, knowing that, with God’s help, you can deal with whatever comes along. Contact me and telll me your biggest shock. Have a great day, share this with as many people as you can, beware phone calls while in Great Clips, (doesn’t have the same UMPH as that whole “Ides of March thing”, does it?)  and stick with Jesus!

Creating Children Through Prayer?

     Our 1st son was born in 1987. And then…as they say…time passed!  Years went by, and he was STILL an only child. Then, when he was 11, he announced that he didn’t want to be an only child anymore! We informed him that, despite what he may WANT, that ship had sailed. He countered with, “I’m going to pray about it!” THREE months later, my wife was pregnant! THEN…he announced that he wanted a brother. We told that he couldn’t simply choose the gender. He again said, “I’m going to pray about it.” 1st Ultrasound? “Five…five…five…five…one. It’s a boy!” (Think about it!) So…for those keeping score at home, my oldest son A) prayed for a sibling, afters YEARS of no sibling, and he got one, AND 2) prayed for a MALE sibling, and he got one! We told him, “Thank you SO much for praying your brother into existence…please STOP praying for children!” I sincerely believe that my youngest son is an answer to the prayers of my older son- he was LITERALLY prayed into existence! (Yes, I took all the “birds and bees/parts is parts” classes in 5th Grade. Yes, I DO understand the basic biological process of procreation. HOWEVER…I still believe he was prayed into existence! (By the way, I have a theory about the 5th Grade “birds and bees” classes- that will appear in a later blog!)
     So…what do we do with this odd story? Am I saying that, if you want something, all you have to do is PRAY for it? That God is some cosmic Santa Claus, ready to drop down our spiritual chimney and bring us what we want? Or perhaps He is a theological Genie in a Bottle, ready to grant us three wishes if we but rub the lamp? NO…that’s NOT what I’m saying. Do I completely understand the complex and mysterious nature of prayer? Not on my best day! Do I believe that God answers ALL prayer? YES! Do I believe that God answers all prayers the way WE want them answered? NO. Do I know what criteria caused Him to answer one prayer my way and not another? No.
     Here’s what I do know (don’t blink, this will be short!)- Prayer is conversation with God…pure and simple. Imagine a conversation between a child and a parent. The parent listens to what the child has to say, considers it, and then answers with what they think is best. If that answer is, “Yes”, everybody’s happy. But the answer is OFTEN not “yes” from the parent. They have to weigh the pros and cons and decide what would best benefit the kid in the long run, and not simply cave and give them whatever they want whenever they want it. In a simplified way, prayer is much like that. If I come to God asking for the 2010 Koenigsegg CCXR Edition (Google it) which costs $2.2 million, goes from 0-62 mph in 2.9 seconds, has a top speed of 254 mph, and it’s gas mileage is listed as “N/A”, I’m probably going to come up empty-handed- it’s not REAL high on my “needs” list. But if I come to God asking for wisdom, strength, courage, and patience to make it through today a bit better than I made through yesterday…I’m much more likely to get that!
     There is a basic prayer model I like to follow. It is CERTAINLY not the only way- just one good one! It is the ACTS model- Adoration (tell God how much you love Him), Confession (tell God that you are not perfect, have sinned, and are asking forgiveness), Thanksgiving (tell God how thankful you are for what you have), and Supplication (ask God, 1st on behalf of others, lastly on your own behalf). I find that, when I follow this model, by the time I get to what it was I so desperately wanted God to do for me or give me, it often has lost much of its urgency. What do YOU pray for? WHEN do you pray? DO you pray? Again, prayer is just conversation…with God, and like any good conversation, you should listen AT LEAST as much as you talk. Share your thought, fears, hopes and dreams with God, and listen for that still, small voice guiding you to peace and wisdom! Use one of the methods on this page (Facebook, Twitter, email, Comments, etc.) and tell me what YOU think about prayer. Have a great day, pray for your family, friends, the world, me AND yourself, come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Master Electrician

     My dad is an electrical whiz…apparently the apple fell FAR from the tree, however! Before becoming a Design Engineer with a very large company, he was an electrician in his earlier days. He TRIED to pass that on to me…but I fear it was not to be! Growing up, my brother was a bit of a gear head, buying and selling cars like water. He also usually had car stereos sitting around. Well…he had an 8-track tape deck for the car sitting on the shelf in our basement. I saw it and thought to myself, “wouldn’t it be awesome to have an 8-track tape player in my room?!” Now, how to make that happen. Well, here is this 8-track player with wires already hanging out of it- that’s a good start…right? So, I went into my dad’s work room, rooted around, and found…an extension cord! I got some wire strippers, cut the male plug end (along with about 2 feet of cord) off, and stripped the ends of the wires! (You can already see where this train wreck is headed, can’t you?) Now, let me point out a few things: 1) it NEVER dawned on me that, regardless of power issues, there were NO speakers attached to this thing (Speakers? We don’t need no stinkin’ speakers!), 2) it NEVER dawned on me to stop to think that it would greatly behoove me to ask the resident electrician (he would have just said, “no!), and 3) the fact that I carried this nefarious plan out in the secrecy of the basement should have been a tip-off to me that it wasn’t a good plan! Well…I took those bare wires from the end of the amputated extension cord and wired them to the ends of the wires hanging out of the 8-track tape deck. All was ready. I got an 8-track tape (my brother’s…and NO…I DIDN’T ask! Asking was for wussies!), put it into the player (remember…NO speakers), picked up the newly-wired plug…and…plugged it into the wall! I can’t adequately describe the huge blue fireball that blew out of the wall. Nor can I do justice to the acrid burnt smell or the horrible ZZUUNNTT” sound that issued forth. Immediately, 2 other things happened- I jerked my hand back because I received a healthy shock, and the power went out in the basement! So here I am, sitting in the dark, nursing a hurting hand, smelling that lovely burnt hair smell, and hearing my dad thundering through the house! My life flashed before me…and I was young enough, I had to call for a rerun because it was so short! My dad…shall we say impressed upon me…the error of my ways! (He also wasn’t very symapthetic about the fact that I had been shocked! I decided to not push the issue!)
     What happens when you do something stupid? When someone does something stupid to you? We all know what SHOULD happen- forgiveness. If we are on the receiving end, we think it should be doled out without question. If we are on the giving end, we cling to it like a life raft from the Titanic, unwilling to let it go.  Forgiveness is a tough thing. But God says that we will be forgiven to the same measure we forgive- no more, no less. Our ability to RECEIVE forgiveness is directly proportional to our ability to GIVE it! Is there someone you NEED to forgive? Have you held a grudge for years, unwilling to let go? When you do that, you do infinitely more harm to yourself than to the other person. Today, think about the people you need to forgive. Think about the forgiveness that YOU seek. Let go of the anger, the hatred, the grudges. You will be AMAZED at what a difference it can make in your life. Also, DON”T hot wire car stereos for home use! Have a great day, share this with others, come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

A-D-D….O-C-D….M-O-U-S-E!

     They say confession is good for the soul (and I wonder…who are “they”, and how do they have so much stroke that we quote them all the time?!), so here goes. I have ADD…and…OCD. For those of you who are wondering what the alphabet soup is, let me tell you! As an adult, I  have been diagnosed with an interesting mix of “disorders” that, at some levels, go hand in hand and, at other levels, fight each other tooth and nail. Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is characterized, in part, by 1) a need for high stimulation to diminish distractibility and to function more effectively, 2) nearly constant fidgeting that creates an inability to sit still for long (explains the drumming!), 3) difficulty engaging in leisure activities, 4) excessive talking (THAT explains alot!), and 5) a need to always be on the go. ADD folks tend to choose highly stimulating jobs, they work long hours, they are easily bored, and prone to impatience. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) on the other hand, is characterized (again in part), by 1) repetitive behaviors (hand-washing, counting steps, ordering and arranging things, etc.), and 2) ritualistic behavior (which is ironic when you consider that in the ONE area of my life you would THINK I would be ritualistic- religion- I’m not!)  OCD folks often have the need to express themselves almost continually, they are often preoccupied, and they are often drawn to symmetry. The irony here is that, in 16th century Europe, people with these characteristics (symptoms, if you will) were thought to be possessed by the devil! Now, if you know me, you know that many (OK…all!) of these characteristics describe me perfectly! But when I was a kid, nobody knew what things like ADD and OCD were. So, when I WAS diagnosed with these things and read about them as an adult, all of a sudden the lightbulb went on, and a great deal of my life to that point made great sense! The amazing thing about all this is, once I began to better undertand these disorders and how they impacted my life, I was able to not only gain some control over them but more importantly make use of them. As a pastor, it is truly a gift to thrive on chaos- many things happening a the same time. ADD actually enables me to better juggle the myriad of inputs that is life as a pastor, while OCD enables me to put them into some kind of order and perspective.
     Are there issues YOU struggle with that seem to get in the way of…life? Are there things you KNOW cause you to have difficulties in life? If so, I have 2 suggestions for you: 1) discuss it with a qualified medical professional. Learn what options are available for treating it or coping with it. And 2) Pray about it. I used to pray that God would “fix” what was wrong with me. But I came to the realization that this is the person God made me to be. At that point, I stopped praying to be changed and started praying to better understand and utilize the unique gifts I had been given. That change in attitude made ALL the difference in the world! You are uniquely gifted. It may not be the SAME gifts I have, or your spouse has, or your next door neighbor…but you have gifts that are unique to you. What are they? How can you best use them to make a difference in the world? Don’t get dragged down by what you CAN’T do; be uplifted by what you CAN do! Have a great day, share this with someone you know who needs to read it, and stick with Jesus!

Guaranteed On-Time Delivery

     We were in Washington D.C. The week had been great! We had seen nearly ALL the things one can see in our nations’ capital. But, sadly, it was time to go home. We had to drive from Maryland to Dulles Airport, turn in our rental car and get on the plane. No problem! Except- I was driving! (In my defense, this was pre- heavy-duty internet use and pre- GPS systems in your cell phone! In fact, for us, it was pre-cell phone!) Here’s the problem- I got to the exit for the Interstate that would take us to the airport JUST FINE. But I am somewhat…directionally challenged…and got confused on the whole north-south, east-west thing. In the end, I went the exact opposite direction than I should have. To make matters worse, I didn’t realize it until I had drive for ALMOST half an hour! To make matters EVEN worse, I had booked the airline tickets through Priceline (this was the EARLY days of Priceline- I believe I was their 3rd customer! No William Shatner yet!), and the tickets were NON-refundable. If we missed the flight, we had to find another way home! I was muttering some rather “not nice” words (hey- it was the pre-pastor days, cut me some slack!) and panicking about the fact that we were going to miss our flight and not have enough money to buy new tickets. It was NOT pretty in the rental car! Meanwhile, my wife, ALWAYS the voice of reason, is saying, “We’ll make it. It will be OK. God is with us.” All the while I’m swearing and driving like a madman (paints a glorious, proud picture, doesn’t it?!) Just when I was about to give up ALL hope, my wife again said, “We’re going to make it.” I replied, “What makes YOU so sure?” She calmly repeated, “God is with us.” I said, “Yeah, I know. You’ve already told me that!” She said, “No! God IS with us…LOOK!” and pointed out the passenger side window. I said, “Wha…?” but that’s all I got out of my mouth, because, right next to us, going 75 miles an hour down the Interstate, was a large delivery truck for a business called “Guaranteed On-time Delivery”. And in large letters that took up MOST of the side of the truck, it said “G.O.D.”! I was so surprised that I nearly swerved INTO the side of the truck, but managed to maintain control and drive the rest of the way to the terminal. We pulled into the car rental drop-off (where they checked us in and sent us on in RECORD time), scampering into the terminal, found our gate JUST as they called for the 1st passengers to board, and flew home! We made it!
     Now, you can smile a knowing smile, shake your head and say, “Oh, that was just a coincidence…voodoo…happenstance…whatever!” But I firmly believe that God gives us signs (e.g. the rainbow- look it up in Genesis 9:12-16). For me…that’s not an issue. Instead, the issue is are we WILLING to see them? God is to be found in Creation…ALL of Creation…if you are willing to look. How will you live your life? Will it be cynically, quoting that great “Forrest Gump” theologian Lieutenant Dan, “we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze”, or will you instead quote that OTHER great theologian, Forrest’s mother, “we each have a destiny”? God DOES have a plan for each of us- it’s not written in stone, but instead on our hearts. It’s not in stone because we have the choice to accept or reject that plan, to accept or reject God. But regardless of our choices, God is steadfast and will be there, day in and day out, leaving signs for us to see, guideposts to point us in the right direction. We just have to be willing to SEE them. What “Guaranteed On-time Delivery” truck will God put in your path today? Be assured…it’s there. And if you waltch for, and follow, those signs, they can lead to a greater sense of peace than you have ever experienced! Have a great Sunday, share this with someone, and stick with Jesus!
    

Commando Cat

     His name was Charlie. He looked a fair amount like Morris the Cat of TV commercial fame. He was a rather large house cat. He had been found by friends in the middle of Meramec Avenue in St. Louis. He ended up with us! Charlie had that marvelous “cat” personality- independent, obstinate, stand-offish…but a great pet to have around- when he WANTED to be great! He wanted to be a hunter,  but being a house cat, that was a bit tough…until…! I grew up out in the country, and in the winter, we would get mice in the house. We could hear them running around on the TOP of the basement ceiling tiles (16″ square)- so between the ceiling of the basement and the floor of the upstairs. WE could hear them…and so could Charlie! He would stand, cock his head, and watch the ceiling intently. After some time of that, Charlie (smart cat that he was) figured out that, if he went over to the “unfinished” side of the basement, he could actually get up in the ceiling himself. He was big enough (and FAT enough) that, once he got up there, he had to crawl along. If you were in the room, you could not only hear the mice- you could hear Charlie, scootching through the ceiling. That went on for a while, until…IT happened. I was talking on the phone with a BEAUTIFUL girl (who would later be foolish enough to marry me!), listening to Charlie scootch through the ceiling, when I heard an altogether different sound. I snapped my head in the direction of the sound in time to see one of the tiles pull loose from the ceiling, WITH CHARLIE STANDING ON IT, and fall to the ground. Picture a cat, terrified look on his face, clinging with all 4 paws, riding the tile all the way to the floor like a bizarre surfer! The tile landed flat, Charlie ran away like…well…like he had fallen out of the ceiling, and I fell to the floor laughing! It was a good 2-3 minutes before I could catch my breath enough to tell the beautiful girl on the other end of the phone line what was SO stinking funny! (It was, maybe, THE funniest thing I have EVER seen!) It was so hilarious, so bizarre, so unexpected.
     What do you do when the unexpected happens? (It happens ALL the time- let’s be honest! You can’t avoid it.) So…the question is (again)- what do you do when it happens? Do you let it overwhelm you, cripple you, stop you dead in your tracks? OR…do you meet things as they come, deal with the curves in the road, make the necessary adjustments and move forward? We all know that old saying about life, lemons, and lemonade. As worn-out as it seems, there’s a great deal of truth to it. When the unexpected happens, you can run off and hide, or you stand strong, face it, even laugh it off. You have the choice. By the way, 2 things: 1) Charlie NEVER tried to get up in the ceiling again, and 2) my dad didn’t think the hole in the ceiling was NEARLY as funny as I did! Have a great day, share this with others, and stick with Jesus!

Time Keeps on Tickin’, Tickin’, Tickin’

     (Editorial note: Wednesday the 14th of October marked the 1-month anniversary of this blog. Let me say…thank you! In that relatively brief time, the site has had 2,418 hits! Since I make NO money from this, my goal is simple- to reach as many people as possible, and you are helping me do that. Please continue to come back daily and  read and please share this with as many people as you can!) A pastor friend of mine told me once that the sanctuary of his church had a LARGE clock in it. It was in a prominent spot, right along the side where everyone could see it, and was a memorial gift, given in the name of a former patriarch of the church. For those of you who don’t know, a clock in the sanctuary is a dangerous thing to feature so prominently. The folks in the pews tend to focus on the clock instead of the worship. They begin to time the services and complain if they go even a few minutes long. The focus slowly switches from being all about God to being all about getting to lunch on time. So…he MOVED the clock  to the back of the room, where no one could see it without craning their necks. To help them move away from that focus on time, he spent hours writing a sermon about slowing down, about taking time, about focusing on what was important. He labored and labored over that sermon, until he felt it was nearly perfect. Then…he delivered it! He felt that the people in the pews were hanging on every word. He felt that they were very invested in the message. He felt that he had truly reached them with his thoughts of slowing down and taking time to be holy. To put the period on that sentence, he had chosen just that hymn, Take Time To Be Holy, to end the service. He finished preaching, said “amen”, and sat down with a great sense of satisfaction- job well done! It was at that moment his worship leader stood up, stepped to the microphone, and announced, “due to the time, we will sing Take Time To Be Holy…verses 1 and 4″! Sometimes, you JUST…CAN’T…WIN!!
     Now, let me confess that I am OFTEN bound to the clock! So, where is YOUR focus? Does the clock dictate what you do? Are you so bound by your calendar that you miss much of…life? There is a HUGE difference between the important and the urgent. SOMETIMES they are the same thing, but usually they are NOT! The urgent will always pull at you, insisting that you give all your attention to it. Meanwhile, the important is sitting on the sideline, being neglected. The urgent might be the phone ringing, the deadline looming, the people demanding your time- any number of things. The important might be your faith, your family, your health- any number of things. The key is to sort out those two lists- know the difference between them. The more stroke you give the urgent, the more it will demand. Likewise, the more you ignore the important, the deeper the hole gets. Today, take time to be holy (ALL the verses)! Weigh the urgent things- if they truly need your attention, give it. But make sure you take time for the important things in your life. Now, if you’ll excuse me, my phone is ringing, someone’s at the door, and I have an appointment in 3 minutes! Have a great day, let me know what you think (Twitter, Facebook, email, ratings, and comments are all on this page), and stick with Jesus!
    

FREEZE!

     My Grandpa lived next door to us, on a 150-acre farm. My Grandma died when I was 6, and after that my Grandpa sort of let the place go. The house and outbuildings began to take on that classic “haunted house” feel. But the land itself was a great place to go camping- not far from home…but far enough! So my buddies and I went camping often in the summer. Camping for us was sleeping bags, food, and fire- that’s it. No tent (tents are for sissies, or at least people who have a shred of common sense!), no cot, just a sleeping bag on the ground next to the fire. Well, one time we chose a camping spot at a wide spot in a farm road that ran around the perimeter of all the fields. It was a great spot because it was clear, flat and dry, with a good semi-circle of trees on one side to protect from the wind. We lugged our “stuff” back there, including my buddy’s Honda mini-bike, and then went to do what we always did when we camped- run the neighborhood. (And I use the term “neighborhood” loosely- the closest house to mine was 1/4 of a mile any direction!) When we decided to head back to the campsite (well after dark) to build a fire, eat junk food and listen to KSLQ on the radio, we headed down my Grandpa’s LONG, winding driveway (which had weeds growing 6 feet high on both sides, creating a very claustrophobic feeling, especially after dark). We hadn’t gone very far when a vehicle starting come DOWN the driveway, away from the house. We jumped in the weeds to hide while it went by, and saw that it WASN’T my grandpa, but someone in a pick-up truck. We were a bit worried about our “stuff” at that moment, since a strange vehicle had just left. We climbed out of the weeds and started again for the campsite. Within about 2 minutes, the truck returned, coming back UP the driveway, toward the house AND our campsite. We again hid in the weeds, then jumped out and RAN toward our stuff. When we got within sight of the site (still a decent distance away) we saw that the truck was parked right there- they were stealing our stuff, including the mini-bike! I knew what to do. I ran to my Grandpa’s house, climbed through the kitchen window (he would NEVER hear you knock and I didn’t have a key!), and ran to his room. He was sitting up in bed, reading, and was VERY surprised to see me burst into his room. I yelled something about our stuff being stolen, got into his closet…and took his rifle out! Before he could even process what was going on, I was gone! I ran out of his bedroom, through the dining room and into the kitchen, just in time to see a grown man climbing through the same window I had used! I yelled, “Freeze” and pointed the rifle at him, ready to do…something! He looked up, saw me pointing a gun at him, put his hands up in front of his face and said, “Don’t! Stop!” it was at that precise moment I came to an important revelation- this man half in and half out of the window was…my uncle! He had come looking for us to make sure we were all right! Well, he lived to see another day and I (after swallowing my heart back down where it belonged) went back to camping!
     Patience is an important thing- one I am often in short supply of! I have great patience for some things and NONE for others! It is SO easy, and SO tempting, to fly off the handle sometimes and offer some knee-jerk reaction that might have serious repercussions later on. How often do we see that? How often do we DO that? What do we do ABOUT that? It is said that we have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen twice as much as we talk. I think the theme that underlies that is appropriate here. When we feel our impatience rising, we need to take a deep breathe, slow down, and NOT speak or act right away! Pretend your kid/grandkid/niece/nephew/whatever is standing there watching you. What would you want THEM to see and hear? Patience is difficult to acheive, but marvelous when harnessed! Try to be patient when you drive (HARD!), work, play, interact today. Oh, and one more thing- try to avoid pointing firearms at your relatives! Have a great day, let me know what you think (email, Twitter, Facebook, rate the blog, and comment are all on this page), share this with others, and stick with Jesus!

Coming In Loud and Clear!

     (Note- please forgive the lack of post for yesterday- we traveled ALL day- planes, trains and automobiles…literally, and I just couldn’t get to the computer!) I recently mentioned that there are some odd features of being a minister, and that one of them was wearing a body microphone on a regular basis (see Batteries Not Included). I also recently talked about a pastor I used to work with who started going to church because he had been stuck under an outhouse (see Outhouse Evangelism). Well, put that pastor together with the wearing of body microphones and you get…this! When you wear body microphones, you have to be VERY careful what you say and when you say it. If you are trying to whisper something to someone during worship that is intended to be NOT heard, better mute the mic! If someone comes to you after church with a conversation that is intended to be confidential, all is for naught if you leave the mic on. If you’re going to cough, sneeze, or perform any other bodily function you don’t want to be broadcast, turn it off! Then there’s the ultimate- we did 3 services each and every Sunday morning, which left little time in between for anything you might need to do. Well, this particular day, the pastor in question ran to “the little pastor’s room” between services. He did…what one does in the restroom…then he washed his hands and dried them, singing “Victory in Jesus” all the while. Only problem? Yep! He left his microphone on! So everything (and I DO mean everything) that happened in that restroom was broadcast throughout the church in digital-quality audio! For those of us listening, it took a bit to figure out what we were hearing, because you become used to the fact that, usually, what you are hearing is actually happening in the same room. At first, we looked around, trying to figure out what in the world that noise was. Then…it all became abundantly clear! Everyone there loved him as much as I did, so when he came back, we tried to be gentle, but the laughter just couldn’t be contained. Perhaps the best part of the whole event was that, when he WAS told what happened, he turned on HIS MIC and said, with a big grin on his face, “I hope you all enjoyed the show!” Nothing ruffled the man!
     Have you ever said or done something you wish you could take back? Of course you have…you’re human! We ALL have done that. We say and do stupid things all the time. (Notice I said WE!) Then, when that marvelous hindsight kicks in, we wonder what in the world we were thinking. We want to just crawl in a hole and pretend whatever it was never happened. But in the end, that doesn’t get us anywhere. The next time you do or say something you regret, I suggest a 3-step response: 1) fess up to that fact that you did/said it, 2) if necessary, apologize to anyone hurt by it, and 3) pick yourself up, shake the dust off and MOVE FORWARD. It’s important to take responsibility for your actions. It’s important to make amends when it  is appropriate. But it is ALSO important to realize that messing up is part of life. learn from it, laugh about it if appropriate, and then move on. If you can’t laugh about your mistakes, you are WAY too uptight, and if you can’t move forward from them, you are destined to simply repeat them. Have a great day, make sure your microphone is off, share this with someone else, and stick with Jesus!

Softball Warrior

     This past summer, I did something I hadn’t done in a while. (And no, it wasn’t  grow hair! Think you’re SO funny!) I played Church League softball! My church, for the first time in many years, fielded a team in the local church league. Here’s the problem, however. In our church league, there are 4 divisions (aptly named A, B, C, and D…I know, clever, right?) When we signed up, with our BRAND NEW team, we boldly placed ourselves in the B division. (Oh folly, thy name is…well…our team!). Let me assure you that we belonged in the D division. (Frankly, had there been a G division, we would have been right at home there, possibly even champions!). After (count them) TWO grueling practices, we boldly marched onto the field, warriors of the diamond. Now, I played some baseball “back in the day” (and I LOVE baseball, by the by), so I was looking forward to this. I explained to the coach that, although I would play wherever he put me, I had some things to tell him. In my humble opinion (insert your won joke here!), the outfield is for those who are fast AND have a strong arm. I, sadly, am no longer either of those things! Further, when I played, I was a 3rd baseman. So, I was probably going to be better suited to life in the infield. Thankfully, he believed me! So, I played one game at 2nd and the rest of the season at 1st. Albert Pujols (Google it) is shaking in his cleats!
     It was an…interesting season! 3 things happened: 1) I was injured trying to stretch 2nd base into 3rd base. As I neared 2nd, I saw that I had a legitimate shot at 3rd and I went for it. Midway there, my right calf just screamed, “Oh no you didn’t!” and popped! Good news- I was safe at 3rd! Bad news- I couldn’t walk when I got there! Our 3rd base coach yelled to the ump, “We have a broken pastor here!” Bottom line- a strained calf kept me on the disabled list for a few weeks, but I made it back. the 2nd thing that happened was that we…never…won…a…game! That’s right, we had the perfect season…except the “0” was at the wrong end of the equation. Early in the season, we lost a few times to the “10-run mercy rule”, which says if you are losing by 10 runs, game over. Later in the season, we actually led a few times, only to have the wheels come off the bus late in the game. At the end of the season, the coach mentioned “the playoffs”. I was stumped- how does a winless team make the playoffs? Well, turns out- EVERYBODY makes the playoffs! Hurray! Except- we had roster trouble and the night of the 1st playoff game, we didn’t have enough players to field a team! We had to forfeit! THEN, the other team loaned us 2 players…and we tied them! (How ironic is THAT?!) The 3rd thing that happened is, to quote that famous theologian Patrick Swayze (again), I had the time of my life! The team did some serious “male bonding”, I got to spit and scratch with the best of them, and it was a joy to get out there with this group of guys and have a good time in the name of God, win or lose! (And I am a COMPETITIVE person, too!)
     Do you have joy in your life? Not happiness- happiness is fleeting. It is dependent upon your cimrcumstances, and others can take it away from you. Happiness is like trying to hold onto vapor. I’m talking about joy- that state of being that transcends your cimrcumstances. Better still, no one can take it away from you! You are positive, upbeat, glad to be alive regardless of what the world has dealt you. If you have that in your life, I am SO happy that you are SO blessed! If you don’t have it…you CAN! It took me years to find it, but when I did, I found it in (ready?) a relationship with God. That relationship, once I truly gave it the attention it deserved, brought me joy that I never thought possible. Does that mean my life is perfect? Hardly! But it DOES mean that I have a different gear with which to deal with adversity when it comes. It means I have the ultimate team leader to guide me and protect me spiritually. Are you struggling with joy, fulfillment? You can find it in God. If you aren’t sure how that works, contact me (Email, Twitter, Facebook and Comment links are ALL on this page!) Happiness is fleeting, but joy is permanent! Now, if you will pardon me, I’m going to to go ice my calf! Have a great day, share this with someone, and stick with Jesus!

Outhouse Evangelism

     I once worked with a retired minister who was (truly) the best human being I ever knew! I still want to be him when I grow up (whenever THAT might be!) He began his faith journey in a rather odd way, however. Earlier in his life, he was still a good man but NOT a religious man. The local preacher had been “working” on him, trying to get him to come to church. He wouldn’t. One day, the preacher asked him if he would help with some “plumbing problems” the church had. In fact, they needed to dig a new outhouse! (If you don’t know how that worked, you would dig a new pit, to whatever depth you wanted it, and then you would simply slide the OLD outhouse over the NEW hole! Voila- new outhouse!) So, he agreed to help. The preacher, a deacon from the church and my friend showed up that day. They each took turns with the shovel, digging the pit deeper and deeper. When my friend was deep in the hole, the preacher and the deacon (ready?) pushed the old outhouse over the new hole…with him in it! To say he was trapped would be a gross understatement! He immediately begin to protest (like ANY self-respecting human would). But the preacher stayed calm and said, “We’ll let you out…as soon as you give your word that you’ll start coming to church! (Evangelism through blackmail…hhmmm…I wonder…!) He reluctantly agreed, they let him out, he went to church that Sunday, never STOPPED going to church, because a minister, and eventually changed countless lives through his ministry!
     What reasons do YOU come up with to not further your faith? (I’m too busy, I’m too far gone, it’s too early, church is full of phonies, etc, etc, etc!) Now, here’s the $54 question…why do you REALLY not go to church? Many people are afraid to commit because if God gets ahold of them, they may have to change! To that I say, “EXACTLY!” When God gets ahold of you, you have to change. Better still, you WANT to change! You no longer want to be the “old” you (no matter good that model was!), but instead want to be a new creation through God! What an amazing gift that is! Don’t wait until the preacher traps you inside an outhouse to take the plunge (don’t make me come to your house!)…become a stronger part of a faith community. What denomination/type? Makes no difference! Being a part of a faith community pays dividends you can’t even imagine! Oh and, if someone asks you to dig an outhouse…be busy that day! Have a great day, share this with someone, let me know what you think (Twitter, Facebook, email and comments are all available on this site), and stick with Jesus!