The Trimmed Heart

    This is the 5th week in our current Sunday series- The Burning Heart: Unmistakable Fire/ this series is about reigniting hearts! The 1st week, we looked at the lost heart. The 2nd week it was the proud heart. The 3rd week, we considered the turned heart. Last week, we imagined the disciplined heart. Today,l we look at the trimmed heart.
As we continue to look at the book of Deuteronomy and experience the journey the heart takes- where will you find YOURSELF?
     Deuteronomy 30:4-6- “Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the LORD your God will gather you and bring you back. 5 He will bring you to the land that belonged to your fathers, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. 6 The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.”
     Circumcision- it was handed down to Abraham and his descendants as “a token of the covenant” made by God. Here, God expands that idea as He talks about circumcising the heart- trimming it to make it healthier, more receptive.
     My mom was the original organic gardener. I learned more things about gardening from her than any other human! Here are some trimming tips she shared with me.
1. Before cutting- assess the shape of what you are about to cut. Always make cuts with the overall picture in mind, and never cut unnecessarily.
2. Always keep your tools clean and your blades sharp so you don’t produce a ragged cut that is slow to heal.
3. Use the right tools- shears to cut small branches and a saw for larger branches.
4. Remove all that is dead, damaged or diseased- it promotes healthy growth.
5. The harder a shoot is trimmed, the more vigorous it will grow.
6. Place the trimming blade right next to the branch to get as flush a cut as possible.
7. Pruning paint is not recommended; a well-placed cut will heal perfectly on its own.
     This list of tips for trimming translates well to God trimming our lives:
1. Before cutting- assess the shape of what you are about to cut.
Always make cuts with the overall picture in mind, and never cut
unnecessarily. God never trims unnecessarily- instead He assesses our situation and keeps the overall picture in mind.
2. Always keep your tools clean and your blades sharp so you don’t produce a ragged cut that is slow to heal. God’s Word is clean and sharp, and when He trims, He does it cleanly, swiftly, and with complete healing.
3. Use the right tools- shears to cut small branches and a saw for larger branches. God knows the right thing to use at the proper time for our betterment.
4. Remove all that is dead, damaged or diseased- it promotes healthy growth. God wishes to excise all that is diseased or dead, to help bring about spiritual health.
5. The harder a shoot is trimmed, the more vigorous it will grow. The more we are trimmed by God, the stronger we will come back.
6. Place the trimming blade right next to the branch to get as flush a cut as possible. When God trims us, He will be as close to us as possible, offering us His support and comfort.
7. Pruning paint is not recommended; a well-placed cut will heal perfectly on its own. We don’t need anything but God, and any trimming God does will heal perfectly on its own.
There are 5 truths about trimming:
1. God is the trimmer. Be encouraged- He is not merely some stranger with no interest in you. He is your Heavenly Father, and you can trust Him.
2. God has a purpose for your life. When a man goes through the vineyard with his trimming knife, he doesn’t indiscriminately cut without regard. Instead, he has a purpose- to produce the best fruit possible. When God looks at our lives, He has certain expectations- He expects to see love, joy, peace, patience and kindness. Do you have love, joy, peace, patience and kindness? If not, what prevents you from those things? God wants to make us more like Jesus Christ. He wants to remove the things that don’t help us fulfill our purpose.
3. God’s trimming knife is sharp. It must be extremely sharp if His trimming is to be effective. A dull knife might cut, but it will also damage the wood. The most effective knife is as sharp as possible. What does God use as a knife? Our circumstances, our relationships, our trials, and His Word.
4. God only removes what is unnecessary. The dead wood must be removed. It harbors insects and disease, and it can spread to the entire vine. God moves among us with His trimming knife, removing the dead things from our hearts- bitterness, resentment, selfishness, anger, self-centeredness, arrogance, pride- anything that doesn’t look like Jesus Christ. 
5. It is essential we stay connected to the Trimmer. The single most important thing we can do is to maintain our connection to God.
     If we are pruned of denial and resentment, then we accept our situation, and our ceases to be a problem. We become more authentic and compassionate. So why does God sometimes do some serious pruning in our life? People think it’s because God is mad at them, has forsaken them, or forgotten them. But when trimming happens, God is trying to get our attention. But trimming is painful and so we’re quick to cry out, “Why does it have to hurt so much?” And what is God’s response? “My grace is sufficient. My power is perfected in your weakness.”
     Ultimately, trimming is God’s hand, preparing us for service. God cuts away the unusable to make us more…usable! His loving hand strips away the dead wood to reveal the healthy fruit of the Spirit. We must be trimmed before we can bloom, so thank God for pruning certain habits, thoughts and dependencies. It enables you to be more fruitful. But the trimming process doesn’t last just one day, or one week, or even one year- it lasts a lifetime, it’s ongoing. in what areas of your life is God’s trimming knife active right now?
Is it resentment? Or bitterness? Or anger? Just remember what the passage from Deuteronomy above said, that no matter where you are, you are never too far away- God will come for you, find you, restore you!
     Thanks for coming by today. Have a blessed day, make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Those Niebuhr Boys II- The Serenity Prayer

     Yesterday, I wrote about “those Niebuhr boys”- brothers Richard and Reinhold. (In case you think Richard got the more “anglicized” first name, his ACTUAL first name was Helmut!) I mentioned in the piece that they are considered giants of 20th century theological thought. I would agree with that assessment. But what many people don’t realize is that MOST of us know, or at least have heard, a very well-known prayer that was actually written by Reinhold Niebuhr. You may know it as The Serenity Prayer. The earliest known version of the prayer is from 1937. It appeared in a Christian student newsletter called “The Intercollegian and Far Horizons”, which claimed to be reprinting the prayer from an earlier edition of the same newsletter. They attributed authorship of the prayer to Reinhold Niebuhr. That version, slightly different from the version most of us know today, reads like this:
     “Father, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other.” The most popular version reads like this: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Sometimes, these additional lines are added: “Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him Forever in the next. Amen.” This prayer is frequently used by Alcoholics Anonymous, as well as other 12-step programs, as a centering statement. 
     Niebuhr recounted to interviewers on several occasions that he had written the prayer as a “tag line” to a sermon he had delivered on Practical Christianity. But he DID leave some “wiggle room” regarding authorship when he said, “Of course, it may have been spooking around for years, even centuries, but I don’t think so. I honestly do believe that I wrote it myself.” So, for the sake of argument, let’s just say that the dearly departed Rev. Dr. Niebuhr IS the author. If you read his prayer, you find a stunning request to God. Let’s break it apart a bit and see what we find. We will focus on the FIRST half- the half most of us have heard.
     1. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change”- how marvelous is that?! Admitting that there are things we have no control over AND asking for serenity about that fact! The reality is this- we have control over a big grand whopping total of diddly-squat (a theological term- the Niebuhr boys would be SO proud!)…EXCEPT how we respond to life. Don’t believe me? Name ONE thing that you REALLY have control over…I’m waiting…nothing, right? We simply can’t control…things…but we can control how we react to those…things. How will YOU react to what life offers today?
     2. “the courage to change the things I can”- If how we react is the only thing we can change, then it takes REAL courage, in the middle of a world that is dead-set on getting everything we can and having it be all about ME, to stand up and say, “No. There’s a better way!” You CAN change the way you react to life- what you think and feel about things. And if you let God be the ruler of your life, you’ll be amazed at how GREAT that can be!
     3. “and the wisdom to know the difference.”-  All I can say to that is to repeat Reinhold’s last word- amen! Do you know what “amen” means? “So be it”! So when we end a prayer with “amen”, we are really saying, “So be it. I have said this prayer, and I want it to be so in my life.” So, where does that wisdom to know the difference come from? (And yes, I know I ended my sentence with a preposition. I am NOT being graded on this, at least not for school, so sue me…I like it!) That wisdom comes from NO WHERE but God.
     I have a challenge for you- say this prayer EVERY DAY for the month of February. Write it down, print it off this site, whatever, (I actually wear the “long play” version of it on a bracelet), and say it daily. And don’t just SAY it…but actually PRAY it…and mean it! God can do amazing things with a willing heart- how’s yours?
     Thanks for stopping by today. I pray you have a blessed day. Please share this with others, make sure and stop by tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Those Niebuhr Boys

      I went to seminary in St. Louis. I think every seminary has a theologian (or two, or three, or four…) that seem to be their “favorites”. For any number of reasons, they focus much of their attention on that (or those) theologian(s). Nothing wrong with that, by the way. You can’t focus on ALL of them; why not pick a small handful who seem to lift up a theology that is congruent with the theology espoused by the seminary? Well, at my seminary, two of the theologians who were lifted up quite often were brothers Richard and Reinhold Niebuhr. Now, let me qualify- they were NOT the only theologians we focused on, by  any means. But they are revered in the hallowed halls of my seminary, to the point that they are forever memorialized in the stained glass of the chapel there. (I SERIOUSLY doubt I will EVER see me memorialized in stained glass. A DC comic book perhaps, but never stained glass!) You might ask, “Why them?” If you are like most people who haven’t attended seminary, you probably haven’t even heard of them. Here’s why- both brothers are graduates of this seminary, and Richard also taught there. They went on to be among the “giants” of 20th century theologians and Christian thinkers. They impacted and influenced a generation of national and world leaders. Pretty big stuff! Or so one would think! But read on, MacDuff!
     The Niebuhrs grew up in a small town outside St. Louis called Wright City. So, one day, two of my seminary professors decided to take a run out to Wright City and see where the Niebuhrs grew up. They found the town and drove around. They went to the house where the brothers had lived as kids. Then, they decided to go see the church the Niebuhrs had attended. They found the church, and they also found an elderly lady out in the church yard pulling weeds and planting flowers. They stopped and struck up a conversation with her. They asked her if she remembered Richard and Reinhold Niebuhr. Well…YES…of course…she absolutely remembered them! They told her they had come out to see where the Niebuhrs had grown up- to see their house, their church, their town. She listened to them, and when they were done, she looked them in the eye, and with a straight face asked, “What ever happened to those Niebuhr boys? Did they amount to much?”
     Let me say right up front- YES, the “Niebuhr boys” DID amount to much! But how often do we get to feeling full of ourselves, thinking we are all that AND a bag of chips, only to be knocked down a peg or two…or three…or twelve? I don’t know about you, but every time I start feeling like the world owes me something, that GOD owes me something, I get a great big heaping tablespoon of reality shoved down my throat! I sadly cannot count the times that has happened in my life! (I’m a bit on the slow, thick-headed side- it takes A LOT to get through to me!) Why do you suppose that happens? I have a thought. (Now THERE’S a surprise!) At least for me, I think that when I am getting a little “too big for my britches” (to quote my mother!), God has a way of stepping in and taking me down a notch or two- putting me in my place, as it were! That used to REALLY make me mad! But finally (remember, I’m hard-headed!) I recognized it for what it was- the correction or discipline I needed in my life at that moment to be a better, more productive, more loving Christian. When I am able to put it in those terms, suddenly it becomes much more palatable! So, next time you start having trouble getting your big ‘ol swelled head through the doorway…keep an eye out. My guess is…the correction is coming. It may not be pleasant. It may not be fun. It may not be ego-boosting. But it WILL be just the thing you need to re-align your perspective!
     Thanks for stopping by today and spending a few moments with me. I pray a blessing on you this day, that you will feel God’s presence in a real and tangible way. Please share this with others. Make sure and come back by tomorrow…we look at a WELL known prayer that one of these very Niebuhr boys wrote! Oh, and stick with Jesus!

Superman Theology

   I will admit, right up front, that I am a geek! I have claimed that several times in this very space. In fact…I embrace my geekhood! (Geekdomness? Geekitude?) I have been a fan of the Superman character since I was old enough to realize it! (In fact, at this very moment, I have, in my office at church, 1) an 8 1/2 X 11 drawing of Superman that my DAD made when he was a kid, and 2) a 10″ statue of Superman that “stands guard” over my office from the vantage point of a shelf!) Yep…I’m a geek!
     But have you ever noticed the amazing similarities between Superman and…ready?…Jesus Christ? Now, this is NOT like that joke where the Sunday School teacher says, “Boys and girls- I have a question for you. What’s brown, with a bushy tail, and lives in your yard?” The kids just sit and stare. “Come on, children, you KNOW this one- he gathers nuts and stores them for the winter. Anybody?” Again, they just stare. “Oh, you KNOW this one! He’s cute and furry and loves to climb trees. Come on, someone guess!” Finally, a boy speaks up from the back of the room, “It SOUNDS like a squirrel…but it’s PROBABLY going to be Jesus!” This is NOT like that, so hear me out!
     Superman is sometimes refered to as the most omnipotent hero ever invented- a legitimate Christ-like figure. Superman is the pop culture “God with us”.  Why? Take a moment to consider the Superman mythology- father Jor-El , from the distant, unknown Krypton, sends his son Kal-El (Kryptonian for ‘Star Child’) to Earth. This divine child from the stars” is wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a space-age manger during the Kryptonian “nativity scene”. As Jor-El does this, he says, “I send them my only son”.  He also says his son is “the light to show them the way.” The baby is then rocketed into outer space, to begin his journey to his destiny. He miraculously arrives, preordained, on Earth, a blazing example of moral and spiritual light upon a darkened planet. He is raised incognito by Earthly parents, his childhood shrouded in mystery. And when he is about 30 years old, he arrives in Metropolis with a clear idea of his messianic mission to battle evil and save Earth from its sin. Superman’s costume consists of a blue suit, red cape and yellow accessories. Evildoer Lex Luthor facetiously refers to him as “the blue boy”,while a Daily Planet newspaper article refers to him as a “blue bomb”. Biblically speaking, blue is the color of the divine, of truth, and of fidelity. Blue is also a symbol of purity. But when the people first see Superman, they are skeptical about whether he’s the “real deal” or not, saying, “True or false? Miracle or fraud? Man or myth?” They eventually accept him, and he goes on to give his life for his people. His body is laid in a tomb, only the tomb can’t hold him and he comes back to life.
    Jesus and Superman. Superman and Jesus. Both had earthly family ties, both had heavenly origins, both were raised incognito on Earth, both were of “royal” blood, both righted wrongs, both acted as saviors, both displayed incredible powers, and both performed miracles. Both had normal lives, complete with “day jobs”, in addition to their miraculous deeds. Both exhibit humbleness, gentleness, goodness, and caring. Both, despite difficulties, doubts and anxieties, eventually accepted and fulfilled their earthly mission. So…Superman is the fictional, secular equivalent of the sacred hope we are promised in Jesus!
     But did you notice the key words in that last sentence? “Fictitious” and “secular”! Superman, while an entertaining, fascinating, well-thought out character with some obvious Christ-like qualities, is just that…a character. He is NOT real. Jesus, on quite the other hand…IS! I have people say to me, “You actually BELIEVE in Jesus?” And my response is always the same, “No, I don’t!” That ALWAYS gets their attention! Then I follow up by explaining that I don’t BELIEVE in Jesus…I KNOW Jesus. If you don’t really see the difference- look at it this way. What would you say if someone said, “Do you believe in your husband/wife/child/grandchild/grandparent/dog catcher/ milkman/paperboy?” You’d say, “BELIEVE in them?! What does THAT mean? I don’t believe in them…I KNOW them!” Exactly! If I “believe” in something, that implies that I think there is room in my understanding for the potential that it DOESN’T exist…I simply BELIEVE it does. I don’t have to believe in Jesus…I have had SO many personal encounters with Him as my Lord and Savior, I KNOW He exists!
     What do YOU think about all this? Is Jesus, like Superman, just a fascinated, albeit fictitious, character created in some ancient writings? Or, like me, do you see Jesus as the living, breathing, life-changing Son of God, sent here to take away our sin and offer us eternity with God? Is Jesus a lifeless entity forever captured in the pages of a book…or is He the 50-thousand watt, red-hot popping only begotten Son of the Father who came to rock our world? I think you KNOW what I think…what do YOU think?
     Thanks for coming by today- I pray you have a blessed one! Please share this with your favorite comic book geek, make sure and come by tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Prophets…and Other Strange People

      We hadn’t been in town long at all. They way it works in the United Methodist system is this- our Bishop, responsible for all the United Methodist churches in Illinois south of Chicago (roughly), along with the Cabinet, spend a great deal of time in prayer regarding which pastor is serving which church. If they discern God calling a pastor to a different church, then that pastor receives a phone call telling them of this discernment and their impending move. That is how my family and I found ourselves in central Illinois some 5 1/2 years ago! Anywho… we had basically JUST arrived here and we made a trip to Sam’s Club, to pick up a few things. While there, my wife, younger son (then age 3) and I were looking at books, while our older son (then age 16) was a few aisles over, looking at CD’s. All of a sudden, a rather….unkempt… gentelman approached our older son and started talking to him. We couldn’t hear what was being said, but we could SURE see the look on our son’s face as the guy walked away! Based on that look, we immediately thought this man had done something to him or at least said something WILDLY inappropriate to him. With my wife’s “mother lion” radar going off full blast, we hurried over to him. It took e second or two to actually get an answer from him as to what happened- he was kind of shell-shocked. Once he could speak again, here’s what he told us- the man, a TOTAL stranger AND a bit on the…shall we say…eccentric…side, approached him and said, “The Lord just spoke to me and told me to come over and tell you that you are going to be a minister.” And then…he walked away! Never saw him before…never saw him since!
     An interesting foot note to this story is that my wife and I have been saying, for YEARS, to our older son that we think God is calling him into the ministry. He has all the gifts and graces (unlike me, who gets by on sheer will power and my good looks! LOL), has a great knowledge of the Bible, is extremely talented musically, and has a real heart for people. He has, of course, denied and rejected that claim all along. But then, to have a total stranger come along, completely unsolicited, and tell him that…wow!!
     His call from God is yet to be subtantiated. I have shared before that my call from God was years in the making and denied by me at every turn. So…my question for the day is this- what is God callinjg YOU to? What important, powerful ministry is God wanting you to be a part of? Now, you may be saying, “Well, Pastor Smartypants, not EVERY Christian is in the ministry!” Au contraire mon frere! I believe that ALL Christians are called to ministry. It may not be formal ministry, where you go to school FOR EVER, stick “Pastor” or Reverend” in front of your name and serve a church as their spiritual leader. But we are ALL called into ministry. In fact, every Sunday, the bulletin at my church lists Senior Pastor, Associate Pastor, Youth Pastor, Office Administrator AND Minister. Under all the others is a name. Under “minister” it says “all who attend”. We are ALL ministers of the Gospel, called to help spread the Good News to a world that so desperately needs to hear it. Where do we do that? Wherever we are- at home, at school, at work, out in the neighborhood, at the grocery store, the local restaurant…wherever! Ministry isn’t only done in the church. In fact, often the BEST ministry is done everywhere BUT the church! This week, pray about this- what ministries is God calling you to? How does God want you to be involved in His project to save the world? If you pray sinecerly about this…be careful, because you WILL get an answer! What will you DO with that answer?
     Thanks for spending a few minutes with me today. I pray that you and your family have a blessed day. Please share this with other people, come back and visit tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Caramel Corn Chemistry

  Sundays are sacred around my house. If you aren’t dead…you’re in church! (The joy and curse of being a pastor’s kid!) Sunday evenings are also sacred- but in a different way! We have a Sunday evening tradition at my house that began about a year ago. I was involved in a Hospital Chaplaincy certification program that had me out of town from Sunday afternoon to Tuesday evening every week for 3 months. While I was gone, my wife and younger son began this tradition- popcorn and apples for dinner while watching a movie! Well, I never met a bowl of popcorn and a fresh apple I didn’t like, so I jumped right on that tradition when my schedule changed and I was home again on Sunday evenings.

     We have the Whirley-Pop (pictured here)- I HIGHLY recommend them! I picked ours up at a garage sale for $1, and it makes the BEST popcorn ever! They are readily available new for about $20 on-line (we got one for my in-laws for Christmas!) It takes 2 tablespoons of oil (I use the Orville Redenbacher oil) and 7 heaping tablespoons of popcorn. I pop 2 full kettles, dumping all of one kettle and a BIT of the 2nd kettle into a large DOUBLED (one bag inside the other) brown paper grocery sack, while the rest of the 2nd kettle goes into a 2nd grocery sack. Some melted butter gets drizzled over the lesser amount of popcorn, followed by some salt. Shake the bag REALLY well to mix it all together…and that one’s done- pour it in a bowl!
     Then I start on the OTHER bag, with the larger amount of popcorn in it. (Many thanks to my church Office Administrator for this recipe!) Combine a stick of butter, a cup of brown sugar, 1/4 cup of white (Karo) syrup, and a dash of salt. Microwave on high until all is melted. Stir together, then microwave on high for 2 more minutes. THEN comes the magic! Add 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda to the mix. As you stir it in, an amazing chemical reaction occurs, and the very nature of the…goo…in the bowl changes as well…into caramel! Pour that over the popcorn in the doubled bag, roll the top down tight, stick the bag in the microwave (turn off the turntable if you are able) and microwave on high for 1 minute and 30 seconds. When it’s done, unroll the bag and shake the daylights out of the popcorn, mixing it up really well. Pour it in a bowl and enjoy! (Because you have just made the easiest, BEST caramel corn you will ever eat!) I then slice up the apples, hit “play” on the movie…and away we go!
     The amazing thing to me in this whole process is when you add the baking soda. Baking soda is sodium hydrogen carbonate or sodium bicarbonate, NaHCO3, and it is the weakest alkali among sodium compounds. When baking soda is broken down by heat, a chemical reaction occurs which generates carbon dioxide (CO2) gas. It’s what make pancakes bubble as they cook, and it changes the color, look, AND texture of the mix you have created in the microwave. It turns the whole gloppy mess into caramel. When you make it, the transformation is truly amazing! (Although I am admittedly a geek of the highest degree, so your amazement level may not be the same!)
     As I made this wonderful concoction this past Sunday evening, I thought about the difference God has made in my life. Before God impacted me in a real and tangible way, I was just going through the motions, not really “doing anything” with my life. I was a decent enough person and all, but I didn’t really do anything that…mattered. I was the goo in the bowl, fresh from the microwave! Then God came along and acted as the baking soda. It didn’t take much, either. But once that “enhancing agent” got stirred into my life…amazing things started happening! I was active in church. I was leading youth groups. I was teaching classes. I was planning seminary. I was making RADICAL changes in my life that have made me NEARLY unrecognizable compared to the person I used to be. Now, I would LOVE to say that I have become as sweet and creamy as the caramel corn…but too many of you know me well enough for me to pull THAT one off! I am NOT perfect. I am NOT “all that and a bag of chips”. But I am also NOT who I once was…and I praise God every day that He stirred that heavenly baking soda into the raw materials that were me…changing me into something wholly (and holy) other.
     Have you experienced that? You can! Let God work a miracle in your life. Let God change you. Let God be the ruler of who you are and what you do. You will NOT be disappointed! Great things are coming…can you feel them?!
     Thanks for spending a few minutes with me today. I pray that you have a blessed day. Please share this with others, make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!


      I got to rock out Saturday night! Winter Jam, a touring Christian rock concert, came to my area on Saturday evening. So…my wife and I met a couple from our church, left OUR kid with THEIR kids (not quite sure who got the worse end of THAT deal!), loaded two packs of diapers in the car (NOT for me as I stood in line- the promoters were asking for diaper donations to aid a local women’s shelter), made a stop at the Atlanta Bread Company (Chicken/Sausage Gumbo and Asian Chicken Salad…oh… and a water, thank you very much) for dinner, and then off to the concert venue! The doors were to open at 5PM, with the concert scheduled to start at 6PM…BUT…there were NO tickets! It was open seating, $10/person at the door. SO…the line…check that- LINES- 3 of them, at different parts of the building, were LONG when we arrived at 4:45PM. Thousands of people were waiting to get in. Fortunately, the weather was pretty mild for January in Central Illinois, so we waited in line with everyone else. We made it into the building by about 5:35PM, found seats (not TOO shabby, by the way- a bit left of center and about 2/3 of the way up the venue. We could see quite well…and hearing was NO problem!
     AS we took our seats, Robert Pierre was already singing. I had never heard of him before, but the guy can SING! He finished up just before 6PM, and they made some changes to the stage while we watched a video. The next group up was Sidewalk Prophets, a GREAT band who did a dynamite version of Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror. Following them was Fireflight, a high-octane band with a decidedly “metal” feel to their music. Next up was Newsong, the group who was sponsoring the tour.They are nearly legendary in Contemporary Christian circles, and they did NOT disappoint! Next was Newsboys, one of my favorite Christian groups of all time. Their lead singer rode a rather small, round platform about 25-30 feet into the air, while singing, then grabbed a cable that hung above him…and JUMPED off, riding the cable back down to the stage! (It was awesome!) The next group was Tenth Avenue North, who did a great set with several songs I knew- just didn’t know ahead of time it was THEM who did the songs! The “big dog in the yard” for the night, Third Day, closed the show with a great extended set. Got in the building at 5:35PM, paid $10 to hear SEVEN good bands and lots of ear-splitting Christian rock (my ears are STILL ringing! Of course, I have tinnitus, so my ears ALWAYS ring!), and was walking back to the car by 9:40PM! An aging Christian rocker’s dream!
    Two thoughts spring from the evening:
     1) Tenth Avenue North was a bunch of YOUNG guys…I mean, they were YOUNG…I have SHOES older than them! But their lead singer said something that really stuck with me. He pointed out that we DON’T go to church for God. THAT got my attention! Fortunately, he repeated it. “We don’t go to church FOR God,” he said. “We go to church BECAUSE OF God!” What a powerful distinction! We don’t go looking for God. We go because God has done so much in our lives that we HAVE to go and worship Him. That is something I can get my head around!
     2) I heard great vocals, awesome drum riffs, and face-melting guitar solos. I saw GREAT production values in a large concert venue. I saw pyrotechnics, special effects, and one of the most talented, efficient stage crews I have ever witnessed. I attended a concert that would rival ANY concert in the country. And I paid a grand whopping total of $10 to do all that! AND…it was an environment that, while we chose NOT to take him, I would have been perfectly comfortable taking my 9-year old son to. The musicians were awesome, God-loving people. The staff were awesome, God-loving people. The AUDIENCE were awesome, God-loving people. So…great values that offer…um…great values…still exist! There are STILL lots of things you can do with your family, AS a family, that won’t break the bank and will be great fun! There are things that ARE family friendly. Take your family to a concert. Take them to the art museum. Take them to the zoo, the park, the soccer field. There are lots of great things you can do with your family!
     Thanks for stopping by today! Have a blessed day, please share this with others, make sure and come back tomorrow, ROCK ON, and stick with Jesus!

The Disciplined Heart

     This is the 4th week in our Sunday series- The Burning Heart: Unmistakable Fire. This series is aimed at reigniting hearts. The 1st week, we looked at the lost heart. The 2nd week, it was the proud heart. Last week, the focus was on the turned heart, and today we look at the disciplined heart. As we continue walking through the book of Deuteronomy, we experience the journey of the heart- where will you find YOURSELF?
     “This will hurt me more than it hurts you.” Have you ever used that? Has it ever been used on you? Have you ever believed it? Me neither! It’s the dumbest thing I ever heard…until I heard it come out of MY mouth with MY kids. Don’t you hate that- when you become your parents?! When did THAT happen?! Now, however, I realize that my parents were right- it does hurt to discipline your children. But when you struggle with your children, take comfort- even God struggled with His children! He said to Adam and Eve, “Don’t!” They replied, “Don’t what?” “Don’t eat the forbidden fruit!” “Forbidden fruit? We have forbidden fruit? Awesome!” “DON’T eat the fruit!” “Why?” “Because I’m your Father and I said so!”  Later, God sees Adam and Eve on an apple break, and He’s ticked! “Didn’t I tell you not to do that?” “Uh huh.” “Then why are you?” “I don’t know! She started it! Did not! Did too! DID NOT!” “Enough!” God’s punishment? Letting them have children of own! And the pattern was set!
     We discipline our kids because we love them and want them to learn right from wrong, to make the right choices. We discipline our kids so they might develop self-discipline. When was the last time you heard or said, “That discipline felt SO good!”? It hurts to receive discipline- but it hurts more to give it…if it’s discipline and not punishment. What IS the difference between discipline and punishment? They’re usually the same…from our standpoint. Discipline is done out of love; it’s temporary. Punishment is done out of anger; there is a sense of finality about it.
     Deuteronomy 8:1-5 says- “Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and you may enter and possess land that the LORD promised on oath to your forefathers. Remember how God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. Your clothes didn’t wear out and your feet didn’t swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.”
     We say, “Lord I want to be just like You – but not quite yet. I want to live a life of holiness – but not quite yet. I want to live a life of purity – but not quite yet. I want to be Godly – but not quite yet!” We can’t shorten our time in wilderness….but we CAN lengthen it! The greatest peaks are achieved after the steepest and most difficult climbs. But if we focus on the difficulty, the steepness will tire us, and we will become discouraged. When instead we focus on goal and put it in perspective, we can see discipline as the loving action it is.
God hurts to see us out of His will- He knows what’s best for His children. Are you hurting? Are you out of God’s will? How long will you let it continue? You have the opportunity to repent and return to God’s will. If you accept God’s discipline and let Him do his work- He will mold you and make you into what He wants.
     But be careful- it’s a slippery slope. Lots things happen that are NOT God’s discipline. Often, what we attribute to God’s discipline is the result of our own actions, or the natural order of the natural world. The purpose of God’s discipline is not to crush us, but to create in us a right heart. God’s discipline is designed to deliver us from destructive behavior. God can reverse our situation, but it has to start with our own change of heart.
     Discipline is not a delight for us…or for God- but it’s not meant to be pleasant. If it were, it would have no corrective power. Discipline is both unpleasant to administer AND to endure. Surgery and physical therapy are painful, uncomfortable and inconvenient to endure. But we do it for an end result—better health. How much more should we be willing to endure God’s treatment of spiritual needs?
     How do we perceive God’s discipline? We might see it as surrendering – waving the white flag. We might see it as resignation- get it over with, just do this.  We might see it as self-pity – suffering for God again. We might see it as punishment – we’ve been bad, and now we’re grounded. OR, we might see it as correction- God wants the best for us. Discipline can result in demands- “Who do you think you are? Who gave you permission to do this?” Discipline can result in denial- “My life is not that bad, there are people lots worse than me. I don’t deserve this!” Discipline can result in remembrance- we are reminded of what we already know about the love and power of God. Discipline can result in belief- we see all that Jesus did, and we see His discipline as caring concern. We believe!
Jesus wants 2 things from us this morning- He wants us to remember…and to believe. He doesn’t want demands or denial from us- just belief. Will you believe Him today?
     Thanks for spending part of your Sunday with me! Please share this with others. Have a blessed day, make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

To Attend or NOT To Attend…THAT Is the Question!

      <!–[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 <wunctuationKerning/> false false false <woNotPromoteQF/> EN-US X-NONE X-NONE <wontGrowAutofit/> <wontVertAlignCellWithSp/> <wontBreakConstrainedForcedTables/> <wontVertAlignInTxbx/> MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 <![endif]–> <!–[if gte mso 10]>

/* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:”Table Normal”; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:””; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:”Times New Roman”,”serif”;}<![endif]–>     Remember not wanting to go to school when you were a kid? You might have feigned illness, injury or even death to avoid going! But your mom would remind you that if you didn’t go to school,you couldn’t go to “soccer/band/rehearsal/playtime/insert your event here” after school. You suddenly made a miraculous recovery! Why didn’t we want to go? We always thought we had something better to do. But looking back on it, we can (hopefully!) see the difference an education made in our lives, and we are grateful our mothers were as steadfast as we knew them to be! (At least I HOPE we are!)

     Church attendance is much the same. We find a variety of reasons not to go. Traveling, sporting events, family time and just plain tired are all seemingly good reasons to miss Sunday morning worship. Perhaps the worship time you like and the music you like don’t coincide. Let’s be honest- some people don’t go to church because they just don’t like the pastor! All of this begs the question: why DO we go (or NOT go) to church? And what does it matter? Let’s look at both sides of the coin:

·        Maybe you go to church simply for the music or the fellowship. Perhaps you go to church because you like the pastor. Maybe you go to church out of a sense of duty or obligation. If any of these are your sole reason for going…you’re missing the point.

·        On the other hand, maybe you DON’T go to church because of the music or the fellowship. Perhaps you don’t go to church because you DON’T like the pastor. Maybe you don’t go to church because it seems like a duty or obligation. If any of these are your sole reason for not going…you’re also missing the point.

     We should go to church to proclaim that JesusChrist is our Lord and Savior. We should go to church because what better place could we POSSIBLY be on Sunday morning than with fellow Christians in the presence of our Creator? We should go to church to praise and worship God- pure and simple. THAT’S the point. Anything else is just gravy…or a minor inconvenience!

When we look back on our education, we see the value of it. And yet, as valuable as that education is, it pales in comparison to the value of praising and worshiping God. One deals with our level of knowledge, the other deals with our eternal soul. Whether you go to church or don’t go to church, ask yourself, “Why or why not?” If your answer doesn’t begin with praising and worshiping God, reconsider. Our souls are simply incomplete without the connection to God that group worship offers.

     Thanks for stopping by today- have a great Saturday! Please share this with others, please make sure and stop by tomorrow, and please stick with Jesus!

Why Are We Here?

      “Why are we here?” Ever ask yourself that question? Maybe your day is going badly, or things just don’t seem to be falling into place in your life, and you say, “Why am I even here?!” Some days you think you know the answer, and other days…you wonder!
     I pose that question regarding life in general- “Why are we even here?” There might be days when you feel you’re simply not getting what you want out of life. Your needs aren’t being met. Your wishes and desires aren’t being achieved. We all feel that way sometimes. What do we do about it? What does Jesus say about it? The answer might surprise you!
     Matthew 20:20-28 includes “The mother of the sons of Zebedee came and said to him, ‘Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’”
     What Jesus basically says is, “It’s not about you all!” The radical truth of genuine faith is that it calls us to stop focusing on our own needs and agendas and give ourselves to the larger mission- making disciples for Jesus Christ.
     What does all this mean in daily life? It means that NOTHING in life will be exactly as we individually want it to be- that would be impossible unless we each had our own world…of ONE! It means that we may have to re-imagine how it is that we find meaning, purpose, and perhaps most importantly personal satisfaction. But it also means that when we do that, we will receive blessings beyond our wildest imagination. When we humble ourselves before God, put our agenda on the back burner and focus on God’s plan, we realize that true spiritual satisfaction isn’t found in how big our  house is or what color the drapes are. It is instead found in humble, loving service to God and others. We are here to be the eyes and ears, hands and feet of our Creator. We are here to serve, not to be served. How will you set side your desires and serve the greater glory of God today?
     Thanks for stopping by and spending a few minutes with me today. I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and stop by tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Ice, Ice, Baby!

      First off- let me ASSURE you that this is NOT a photo of me! I have NEVER had hair like that (I HAD hair, thank you very much…just not like THAT!) and I can’t imagine wearing an outfit like that! For the unititiated who are reading this, the picture is of Robert Matthew Van Winkle, AKA rapper Vanilla Ice. His heyday was in the early ’90’s. (I remember seeing him perform “Ninja Rap” in the 2nd Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie! A proud moment!) Of all crazy things, I found his biggest hit, “Ice, Ice, Baby” running through my head this morning as central Illinois experienced freezing rain. The weather in central Illinois is SO strange. Mid-morning, a parishioner came in to the church and told us that it was terrible out…roads SO slick…wrecks everywhere… chaos abounds! Then, about 30 minutes, another parishioner came in and said that everything’s great, NO problem driving, roads not icy at all! I’ve heard that, if you don’t like the weather in Illinois…just wait! Boy…is THAT true!
     As it “iced” this morning, I remembered an ice storm we had several years ago. I made the horrible mistake of trying to go out and get the mail. I got almost to the street before I fell…the 1st time! I went down like a sack of potatoes in the yard. Fortunately, it was in the YARD, so it didn’t hurt…much. I got up, looked around to see if anyone was watching, and continued. I made it to the curb before I fell again…this time into the street. That one hurt more. I proceeded to fall TWO more times in the street before I even make it halfway across! Every time I tried to get back up on my own, I went back down hard! I ended up crawling across the street…on my hands and feet…only to find…you guessed it…NO mail! I can only pray that the neighbors weren’t watching as I CRAWLED back across the street to the relative safety of my yard! (Perhaps I ended up on America’s Funniest Home Videos and didn’t even know it!)
     It’s no fun to have unstable footing like that. It is an inconvenience at best, and downright frightening at worst. To feel like you are unable to even control your forward motion is frustrating. How often do we feel that way in life? We think we have everything under control. We think we have the world by the tail. We think we know exactly where we’re headed. The the “ice storm” hits- something happens in life that pulls the rug out from under us. We go from standing firmly in our own destiny to floundering around, barely able to keep our footing, in a New York minute. What do you do when life knocks you to your knees? You crawl…straight to God. Don’t try to get back up on your own. Don’t try to go “check the mail”. Don’t try to do ANYTHING but head to God. I think we often “lose our footing” when we stray from God. We are right there, face to face with God, having a great time. Then, life gets in the way, and we begin to wander, and then next thing we know, God is nowhere in sight. We wander around lost for a while. Then we find the path we HAD been on and we follow it back. And when we get back to where we started…there is God, waiting patiently. He never left us…we left Him…and He waited for us to come back.
     How your “footing” in life? Feel a bit staggered by the job, the economy, the world? Seek God. Find God. Love God…with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. Lives change when we put our trust…and our love…in God.
     Thanks for spending a few minutes with me today. I pray you have blessed day, full of God’s presence. Please share this with folks who need to hear it. Make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Tuesdays Are Tough

      Tuesdays are tough! For many people, it’s Monday that’s hard. (And don’t get me wrong… Mondays are not necessarily all kittens and moonbeams for me, either!) But on Tuesdays, I have a busy morning. The moment I walk in the church, RIGHT at 8AM , staff members are amassing for our weekly staff meeting, which begins at 8:15AM. So I hurriedly toss my stuff down in my office, check messages, grab a few things, and head off to lead the staff meeting. I have the BEST of intentions that it will last 43 minutes and end at 8:58AM… BUT…”the best laid plans” and all…it usually hurriedly ends at about 9:03AM. The reason it should end at 8:58AM is that, at 9AM on Tuesdays, a Prayer Group meets in our upstairs Chapel- 3 people, counting myself, from the staff meeting are ALSO part of that Prayer Group! So we HURRY up the stairs, come in a few minutes late (they are usually already singing a few hymns when we arrive) and join the group. The Prayer Group usually meets until about 10AM. When I get downstairs from that, I spend the next 20-60 minutes returning calls, opening the mail, catching up on email, etc. Now it’s 11AM, lunch is in an hour, and I feel like, in some ways, I really haven’t started the day yet!
     This feeling was simply exacerbated yesterday by the fact that the office was closed on Monday in honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday. Loved having the day off with my family. Loved remembering and reflecting on the powerful legacy left by Dr. King (see yesterday’s blog). But an amazing thing happens when a holiday creates a 4-day work week- there is STILL 5 days of work to do! It’s not like the cobbler’s shop- little elves (sadly) don’t come in late at night and do the work FOR you! I usually prepare the next week’s bulletin on Monday. So when I got in yesterday, on top of all the “normal” Tuesday stuff, the bulletin was still sitting there in the computer, waiting for me (“…steeled in the grass, all coiled up and hissing!” Name THAT classic rock song!) . There are times when a holiday in the work week ALMOST seems like punishment instead of reward!
     Taking time off- we all WANT it…we we ALL feel we don’t get enough of it. But how does that translate to our faith life? There have been several times in my ministry when people have said words to the effect, “I’m a little ‘burned out’ on church right now…I’m going to ‘take some time off’!” Or they say, “We don’t ‘do’ church in the summer…we take the summer ‘off’ for vacations, baseball, softball, basket weaving, tiddlywinks, etc.” Many churches ALMOST shut down completely in the summer. Now, I understand that we all get tired, and we all like some time away from…LIFE…but my thought, when I hear people talk like that is always, “Take some time off… from GOD? Would you be OK if God took some time off from…YOU? When should He do that? When would be a good time for you to NOT have God in your life, watching over you, providing for you, loving you? Just let God know so He can plan His vacation from YOU accordingly.” Someone at my church recently brought up this subject- “We are a family. And you DON’T take a vacation from family!” Here, here!
     Public school in my community is a 9-month/year venture. It starts in late August, ends in early June (give or take), and has the summer (as well as weekends and holidays) off. That’s awesome. However, our faith life is NOT tied to the school calendar. A life truly lived for God is not a 5-day/week, 9 month/year sort of deal. Instead, it is a 24/7/365 kind of thing. It shouldn’t simply be what we do…it should be who we ARE. On an episode of MASH, Hawkeye and Father Mulcahey are talking. Hawkeye implies that Father Mulcahey can’t know what Hawkeye is going through, having lost a patient. Father Mulcahey replies, “When you lose one, YOU lose a LIFE. When I lose one, I lose a SOUL!” Spiritual decisions we make NOW have eternal consequences. Isn’t that more inportant than soccer, or football, or Disney World, or reading the Sunday paper in bed? Time away from work is nice… (pragmatic, but nice!), but time away from God leads to an erosion of the soul. I challenge you to make “church” a priority from now until Easter (April 4th). Go every week. Participate. Attend a Bible study. Take your kids to Youth Group. Celebrate a risen Savior on Easter morning. Then let me know how you’re doing. My guess? If you actually DO it, commit to it, you will see a noticeable change in your life as you sit down to the Easter dinner of ham and scalloped potatoes!
     Thanks for stopping by today- have a blessed day! Please share this with others- that’s how this ministry will grow! Make sure and stop by tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Big Piece of Chicken

      I recently heard comedian Chris Rock talking about the differences between moms and dads. He said moms get all the “good press”, and dads get nothing. He said, “Dad puts a roof over your head, food in your stomach, and clothes on your back. And what does he get for all that? The big piece of chicken!  Now don’t get me wrong- he SHOULD get the big piece of chicken. You can’t work 12 straight hours and come home to a wing!”
     Gender roles are interesting…aren’t they? We all know what they are: dad is the bread winner, mom “takes care of the house”. Dad fixes things, mom cleans. Dad mows the grass, mom does the laundry. Dad eats the food, mom cooks the food! Now, I think these are sweeping generalizations, and as my old friend Father Dominic says (with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek), “ALL sweeping generalizations are false!” Now, in most sweeping generalizations, as in most stereotypes, there is a kernel of truth. At one point in our nation’s history, much of what I said above was true in many homes. But, to quote that great theologian Bob Dylan, “The times, they are a changing!”

     This had been on my mind recently because my wife JUST got back from being out of town for a week. While she was gone, several very well-intentioned women as me if I needed them to cook, clean, do laundry, take care of my son. Now, let me repeat, ALL of the requests were very well-intentioned, from very sweet women who, from their hearts, simply wanted to help me. So to those women I say (as I did when they offered), “Thank you…SO much!” But the reality is this: I am a very good cook (ll modesty aside!), I kept the house very clean while she was gone, I kept on top of the laundry, and my son was well taken care of. (As an aside, it always hacks me off when people, usually guys, see me with my son and say things like, “Oh…babysitting, huh?” My response is always the same, “No. If I had YOUR kids…THEN I’d be babysitting. But since it’s MY kid…it’s called PARENTING!”)
     The bottom line is this: I am fully capable of taking care of myself. My mom made sure we ALL knew how to cook, clean do laundry, etc., so that we could function in society. Therefore, I DIDN’T marry my wife because I needed someone to take care of me. I married my wife because I love her with all my heart and I wanted to raise a family with her, spend my life with her. And the same could be said of her. She is fully capable of getting the oil changed, gluing a chair, moving furniture, or checking the breaker box.
     I think that, if we could let go of, or at least loosen, our grip on stereotyped gender roles, we…(sorry, I had to pause while I went and moved the laundry along!)…would accomplish so much more as a people. Don’t get me wrong, as I mentioned above, we HAVE come a long way in that respect. But there are times when I feel we have a ways more to go! What does the Bible say about that? “For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything. For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. And we are members of his body.” (Ephesians 5:22-30, New Living Translation)
     People OFTEN abuse this passage. Yes…it DOES say “wives…submit to your husbands”. Yes…it DOES say “a husband is the head of the wife”. It ALSO says, “husbands…love your wives…as Christ loved the church. He gave His life for her…” What I get from that passage is a “give and take” sort of relationship. Women should be able to depend on their husbands to act in such a way that they ARE the head of the household. Men should be willing to do anything, including laying down their lives, for their wives. When we act in partnership, instead of hierarchy…amazing things can happen! I encourage you to look at your relationships and see if they are built on equality and partnership or inequality and power. Your personal spiritual health will benefit GREATLY from healthy interpersonal relationships!
     Thanks for stopping by today- have a blessed day! Please share this with others. Invite your Facebook friends to become fans of the Stick With Jesus Facebook Fan Site. Email it. Twitter it. Oh, and make sure you stop by tomorrow! And, as always, stick with Jesus.

I Have a Dream

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     Today we celebrate the anniversary of the birth of slaincivil rights leader Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. For our kids, it’s a dayoff from school. My experience is that for many of them, that’s all itis. Why DO we celebrate this man’s birthday?

     Althoughhe is often labeled as simply an advocate of African-American rights, Dr.King’s message truly transcended any notion of merely being a spokesman for aparticular group. His was NOT simply a message of race and color; his was amessage of hope- grounded in strong Biblical principles.

     When he delivered whatwas arguably his most famous speech, he said, “I have a dream.” Hisdream was NOT that we would let ethnicity separate us. His dream was NOT thatpeople of a particular skin color would strike out against those of anothercolor. His dream was NOT that children would learn to hate others because oftheir physical appearance. His dream was that ALL people could live together inpeace and harmony, regardless of the color of their skin. When that gloriousday happened, he said, we would be able to quote the old spiritual and exclaim,”Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free atlast!”

     We are allunique and we are all different. That’s NOT our weakness- it’s our strength!Our diversity makes us strong. We are all children of God- made in His image.Today, take a moment and reflect on Dr. King. Tell your kids or grandkidsabout him. My prayer is his prayer- that one day we will live in a world wherepeople aren’t judged by the color of their skin, but the content of their heart.

     Thank you for stopping by today. Have a blessed day. Please share this with others- Dr. King’s message is one that needs to continue to be heard. Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, have a blessed day, and stick with Jesus!

The Turned Heart

      My mother’s maiden name was Riley, anglicized from O’Riley when the family came over from Ireland. It is my heritage. So I would like to share a few Irish sayings with you:
“Here’s to your roof, may it be well thatched. And here’s to all under it – may they be well matched.”
“‘Tis better to spend money like there’s no tomorrow than to spend tonight like there’s no money!”
“Dance as if no one’s watching, sing as if no one’s listening, and live everyday as if it were your last.”
“Wisdom is the comb given to a man after he has lost his hair.”
“Don’t break your shin on a stool that’s not in your way.”
“What butter and whiskey won’t cure…there is no cure for.”
“Man is incomplete until he marries. After that, he is finished!”
     And then there’s this one- “May those who love us love us, and for those who don’t love us, may the Good Lord turn their hearts. And for those who hearts won’t turn, may the Good Lord turn their ankles so that we may know them by their limping!”
     We are in the 3rd week of this current Sunday series- The Burning Heart: Unmistakable Fire. It is aimed at reigniting our hearts, setting them ablaze for God. The 1st week we talked about the lost heart. Last week, we talked about the proud heart.  Today, we look at the turned heart, but primarily we will focus on hearts that have not turned toward God…but away. What do we do when we turn away from God? What’s our responsibility when a fellow Christian turns away from God? The journey from the head to the heart is but a few inches…yet some never make it. I shared last week that the Greek word for “heart” is KARDIA, and it speaks not just of the physical heart, but also of the center or core of the being. As we continue to walk through the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, we will experience the journey the heart makes from being lost to being on fire for God.  Where will you find YOURSELF?
     Let’s look at Deuteronomy 29:16-18- “You yourselves know how we lived in Egypt and how we passed through the countries on the way here. 17 You saw among them their detestable images and idols of wood and stone, of silver and gold. 18 Make sure there is no man or woman among you today whose heart turns away from God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison.”
     A little boy went with his fisherman father for a first trip on a lake. Fear gripped his little heart, and he held on so tight his little knuckles were white. “Is the water over my head?” he asked. “Yes, son,” said the father. “Is it over your head?” the boy asked as the land grew farther and farther away. “Yes, son, I’m afraid it is,” replied the father. Tears rolled down the boy’s cheeks, and then he asked, “Is the water over God’s head?”
     Remember from last week- Deuteronomy is Moses’ last, best hurrah, ordained by God, before he dies. He is reminding the people about their history with God, the covenant made by God, and how they are to live in that covenant. In today’s passage, he says, “Make sure there is no man or woman among you today whose heart turns away from God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison.” He admonishes the people to not only not turn from God themselves, but to not let others turn either. Turning from God might seem almost logical to some right now. People say things like, “How could God let so many people in Haiti die?” And they use that thought process to deny the existence of God. So…let’s say they’re right and God really doesn’t exist. The tragedy is STILL there- getting rid of God didn’t solve the problem. We always want to blame somebody else for the bad things that happen to us. God is convenient, so…we blame Him. “If there is a God, and He’s SO good, how could He let this happen?” What are we really saying when we blame God? “Since God didn’t act the way I THOUGHT He should, He’s either WRONG, BAD, or DOESN’T EXIST.” But it’s hard to be mad at someone who doesn’t exist, isn’t it? Do we believe in God ONLY if He acts the way WE want Him to? Do we form our opinions of God from how He acts as opposed to how we THINK He should act? Sometimes, we don’t SEE the goodness of God, especially when something bad happens. When we experience heartache, tragedy, disappointment … it seems like God isn’t…good. Otherwise, why would God allow this to happen to us? Even Christians find themselves struggling against God at times. We want peace but it just doesn’t fit into our agenda. Peace calls for doing nothing sometimes, and we can’t handle that. Pascal the great Christian philosopher and scientist said, “Most of man’s troubles come from his inability to be still.” Our problem is this- we use the wrong standard for “goodness”. We use OUR standard- “Good is whatever is good for me. I am the standard for good”. But God corrects us: “No…I am the standard for good.” God sets the standard for good. Because God IS good…all the time! 
     A little boy one day was trying to pick up a rock. He said, “Dad, it’s too heavy.” Dad replied, “Son, you can do it.” The boy strained and tried, but he said, “Dad, it’s too heavy.” The father insisted, “Son you can do it.” He tried again. “Dad, it’s too heavy.” The father said, “Son, you’re not using all your strength.” “Dad, I am! I am! It’s too heavy.” “Son, you’re not using all your strength.” “Dad, why are you always saying I’m not using all my strength? It’s too heavy.” The father replied, “I know your not using all your strength, because you haven’t asked me to help yet.”
     We need to ask God for help in our Christian walk…in life. There are four aspects of God that, if we understand them and apply them, will help keep us in sync with God.
1. God Is A Protector
2. God Is A Provider
3. God Is A Powerhouse
4. God Is A Peacemaker
     Tomorrow we celebrate Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. (Make sure and read the special blog on that subject tomorrow!) I would like to close with snippets from two of his more famous speeches:
      “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
     “Love your enemies…We have the Christian and moral responsibility to seek to discover the meaning of these words, and to discover how we can live out this command, and why we should live by this command. There is a power in love that our world has not discovered yet. Jesus discovered it centuries ago. Mahatma Gandhi of India discovered it a few years ago, but most men and most women never discover it. For they believe in hitting for hitting; they believe in an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth; they believe in hating for hating
; but Jesus comes to us and says, “This isn’t the way.” We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we discover that, we will be able to make of this old world a new world. Love is the only way. Jesus discovered that. And our civilization must discover that. Individuals must discover that as they deal with other individuals. There is a little tree planted on a little hill and on that tree hangs the most influential character that ever came in this world. But never feel that that tree is a meaningless drama that took place on the stages of history. Oh no, it is a telescope through which we look out into the long vista of eternity, and see the love of God breaking forth into time. Love is the only creative, redemptive, transforming power in the universe. Let us join together in a great fellowship of love and bow down at the feet of Jesus. Give us this strong determination.”
     Our only hope for true security in this life is to turn to God. He is our place of protection, our source of power, our means of rescue, our rock of salvation. I opened with Irish sayings- I now close with the one I close ALL services with- the Irish Blessing: “May the road rise to meet you, may the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, and may the rain fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, I pray that God would hold you in the palm of His hand.”

A (Grudging) Random Act of Kindness!

      My son’s class got to go to the local ice skating rink yesterday as a reward called the Block Party. I signed up to go with him, as I did last year. Now, let me explain something. Last year when I went, I had literally NOT had ice skates on my feet in…35 years maybe? (And I WASN’T very good even then!) But I got skates on an went out on the ice with him anyway. It was NOT a pretty sight! I only fell once, and that was because a kid fell, slid INTO me and took me out! However, I spent the entire time clinging to the sideboards for dear life so…! This year, I decided to go again, but NOT get skates this time. I went out on the ice with my tennis shoes on instead (ever seen Rocky? Kind of like that!) I spent the whole time getting grief from a 9-year old girl who insisted I wasn’t supposed to be on the ice without skates. I finally had enough and invited her to show me ONE sign in the entirety of the building that supported her contention. (I had ALREADY checked! Like a good attorney, NEVER ask a question that you don’t already know the answer to!) She left me alone after that! (Score at the half: me-1, 9-year old girl- 0!)
     But, all of that is NOT the point of today’s story. When I arrived at the skating rink, which is on the campus of a large state university, I had some difficulty finding a parking place. I finally found an on-street spot about 2 blocks from the rink. I parked and headed for the parking meter. It was going to take $1.50 in change for the 2 hours I would be there. So I dug change out and started dropping it in. JUST as I dropped the last coin in to reach $1.50…I realized that I had put it in the WRONG parking meter! There were 2 on the pole- one for my spot and the other for the spot just behind me. I had put money in the meter for the empty spot behind me! So I thought to myself, “Self- you could just back the van up one space and all would be well!” Just as I started for the van…a car pulled into the spot behind me!
     So now, I am on the horns of a dilemma- do I explain the “sitch” to the driver of that car and ask them to move, or do I do the Christian thing and pay for their parking? I wanted SO much to NOT do the Christian thing! I wanted to tell that driver to move out of MY spot! But then I thought about the cross that hangs from my left earlobe…and what it represents. I thought about my son, in the building just down the street, waiting for me. And then…I took a big deep breath…sucked it up…walked over to the driver…and informed them their parking was already paid for, and to have a great day. I then dug MORE change out of the car, fed MY meter, and went skating (sort of!) with my son.
      Do you ever do that? Perform a random act  of kindness? Even when you are reluctant to (like me), if you feel God encouraging you to do something like that…do it! You will be SO glad you did! I find the greatest feeling I get as a Christian is when I do something for someone else. You feel somehow more connected to God…and others…at times like that. And that is truly an AWESOME feeling! What can YOU do for someone today? It doesn’t have to be something big- mine cost me a whole whopping $1.50. The point isn’t the cost- instead, it is that you emulated Christ and touched someone else’e life. Watch for opportunitites to perform a random act of kindness…and do it! You won’t regret it!
     Thanks for stopping by and sharing a few moments with me today! Please share this with others- that’s how this ministry will grow. In fact, please invite your Facebook friends to become members of the Stick With Jesus Fan Site- I am still shooting for the goal of 500 members before the end of the month! Have a blessed day, come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Our Neighbor…the Vampire!

      A while back, I wrote a piece about a window broken while playing a game with a buddy that I was specifically told NOT to play! Today, I want to share ANOTHER “broken window” story- this one with a much different emphasis! When my older son was about 8 years old, we lived across the street from a family whose son was MY son’s best buddy. They were “like peas and carrots”- always together. Now, to be absolutely accurate, we did NOT live RIGHT across the street from them. We lived “catty-corner” to them, and we live RIGHT across the street from a woman named Shirley. Shirley was a widow (I don’t know how long it had been since her husband had died), and she kept pretty much to herself. We rarely saw her- usually it was only when she would come out of her house, walk across the yard to the detached garage, get in her car and drive off that we would actually have any contact with her, and even then it was little more than a wave. While she was out in her car, she would leave the garage door open- she didn’t have an automatic opener and she obviously didn’t want to get out and shut the door when she left, only to have to get out and open it again when she came back. Well, one day my son and his buddy where playing baseball in his buddy’s backyard, which was adjacent to Shirley’s garage. (You can just SEE this one coming, can’t you?!) Next thing I know, my son comes home, looking like someone shot the dog. “What’s wrong with you?” “I…broke… Shirley’s…window!” So, we trudged over to have a look. Yep…it was broken all right! (Ace detective that I am!) We went to her door, assuming she was NOT home, as her garage door was UP, and that was confirmed. So, we measured the pane of glass that broke, went to the hardware store, bought a new piece of glass and some putty, came back, and fixed the window. Within 45 minutes of him telling me, the window was as good as new, and no one would have ever known it happened. Or at least that’s what my son HOPED would be the case! But I assured him that, even though it was repaired, he still had to tell Shirley when she got home. He hemmed and hawed around about not wanting to do it, until I finally asked him what the REAL problem was. His reply? “She’s a vampire!” OK…didn’t see THAT coming! Give me a minute to catch my breathe- had the wind knocked out of me! What…wait…there! I’m good! So, I proceeded to try to reassure him that Shirley was NOT, in fact, a vampire, or any other undead creature of the night for that matter! He was less sure than I was!
     We watched for her to get home, and when she did, we marched over there…we I marched, he sort us reluctantly shuffled! We had rehearsed what he was going to say, and he hesitantly walked up to her door and rang the doorbell. She answered relatively quickly, must to his dismay! He dutifully recited the apology that we had rehearsed…and then waited for her to drain all the blood from his body through two tiny little holes in his neck! To his amazement…she DIDN’T! Instead, she smiled and told him that it was OK, accidents happen, and she thanked him for being so conscientious! He was floored! She gave me a knowing smile, as I stood out on the sidewalk, offering moral support while not actually going to the door with him. (I didn’t want to get bit by the vampire, for goodness sake!)
     How often to we judge people without even knowing them? My thought? OFTEN! Guess what? while we’re doing it to them…they’re doing it to us! But the Bible is clear on the whole “judge not lest ye be judged” thing. How often do we miss wonderful opportunities to develop new friendships because we assume things about people, based on what they look like, or what they do, or what others tell us? Who are the people in your life who, if you’re completely honest with yourself, you have pre-judged? Perhaps today would be a great day to throw those pre-judgments out the window and ACTUALLY find out what there REALLY like. Is it possible your pre-judgment was correct? Yes. It is possible you get to know them and STILL don’t like them? Yes. But is it also possible that you may find them to be totally different than you imagined. Absolutely! Pray about it. Ask God to give you the courage to NOT simply make snap judgments on people, but instead look at them as He would! You might be really surprised!
Thanks for stopping by today. Please share this with several people. Have a blessed day, come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

I Forgot My Backpack!

(Author’s update: my son and I got in the car this morning, the VERY morning this blog posted, I shut the door, put on my seat belt…and realized I had forgotten the garage door opener remote in the house! 24 hours after the events that caused me to write this blog in the first place, and I do it myself! I just sat in the car and laughed..then had to explain to my son why I was acting like a crazy person!)
      My wife is out of town. That changes the dynamic of EVERYTHING at my house! The interesting thing is that when I say that, most people automatically respond, “Oh, eating out every night, huh?” The implication is that she does all of the cooking and we merely do all of the …well…eating! But that would not be accurate at my house. I, in fact, do most of the cooking. My wife is an EXCELLENT cook, but she doesn’t particularly like to do the boring “day-to-day” cooking- she is more drawn to the “big-deal” dinners and specialty baking. I, on the other hand, enjoy “grinding out” dinner every day! So…I usually cook! No, when she’s gone, it’s not a catering issue. Instead, she is really the glue that holds the home together! So while we FUNCTION just fine when she is gone…we DON”T like it! Things just don’t quite…go right…when she’s not here! Yesterday is a good example of that. My 9-year old and I got ready to leave for school/work, got coats and shoes on, got to the garage, got IN the car, and he suddenly said, “Oh, no!” Not what you want to hear at that point in the day! I asked him what the problem was, and his response was, “I forgot my backpack!” I assured him it was not a big deal, we got out of the car, went back in the house, got the backpack, headed back to the car, and headed out for the day. The ONLY thing I said about the event was when I kidded him about how it would have been really tough when lunchtime rolled around, since his lunch was in his backpack and all.
     Now, you might be reading this and thinking to yourself, “Self? What is today’s blog about? It started with such promise…and then kind of…fizzled…they got the backpack…big whoop!” Oh, ye of little faith! Here’s the rub- the “former” me would have gotten upset about the backpack being left in the house. Not screaming or hitting or calling bad names or anything like that- that’s NEVER been my style. Instead, it would have been quiet anger as I huffed and puffed about how he SHOULD have remembered it, and how NOW we’re going to be late, and how he NEEDS to think more about others, and…blah…blah…blah!! That was what I USED to do…but then I noticed something. It seemed that EVERY time I acted that way, I would display a similar behavior within 24-48 hours! If I got mad at my son for forgetting his backpack, I would forget MINE. If I got upset with my other son for losing his keys or his phone, I would do the same thing! Now, admittedly, I am more than a little hard-headed- it sometimes takes me a LONG time to “get it”! Well, fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, three times, four times, five, six, seven…shame on me! But I FINALLY got the point- God was trying to show me that I needed to re-think how I was reacting to these things. I needed to remind myself that EVERYONE makes mistakes…even…(gasp!)…ME, and that I needed to cut others some slack if expected them to cut me some as well! (There! You see? And all it took was simple clubbing over the head!!)
     I have learned in my life that, often, we like LEAST in other people the things we do ourselves! But, while we rail against them actions, we completely ignore ours. We SEE their mistakes, but we conveniently don’t notice ours! So, my challenge to you today is this- think about the things that drive you crazy when other people do them. Then, ask yourself, HONESTLY, if YOU do those things, too! My guess is, if you are anything like me, you will find that some of the things on that list are things you too are guilty of. Pray that God will give you the wisdom to see those things and the patience to realize that everybody makes mistakes- you included! Life is simply TOO short to spend so much of it on misplaced anger.
     Thanks for stopping by and spending a few minutes with me. Have a blessed day, share this with someone you know who might benefit from reading it, makes sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Death of the Pinto

          When we got married, we both brought cars with us into the union. I had an old, blue Ford Fairmont that had been a “lease car” (i.e.- treated like dirt), and my wife had a 1974, bright yellow Ford Pinto! When she first got it, it was all that AND a bag of chips! It had an FM converter for the AM radio AND an 8-track player WITH a cassette tape converter in it! (Oh, man…I get all tingly just THINKING about it!) It DID have its share of…challenges! Her dad and I put a new floor in the driver’s side- the original floor had rusted through and, like the Flintstone’s car, you could see pavement through the floor when you drove! (Not the ideal conditions one might want!) We kept it well into our married life- my 21-year old son remembers it fondly! (In fact, he has one of its hubcaps on the wall in his room to this day!) But there came a time when it was…well…TIME…to get rid of it- it had problems that simply were no longer worth fixing. It died it’s final death as my wife pulled into the driveway from school one day- never to start again. We talked about it, looked at our options, and decided to get rid of it. We COULD have sold it…for $25 and a bus token, maybe…but we decided to simply give away to someone who would TOW it away! I made the arrangements for it to be towed, and the guy was to come the next day. He said, “Have the title on the front seat and have it parked on the street. Well, the title was no problem, so I put it in the front seat. I also planned to push it out of the driveway and onto the street the next day- the day he was coming to tow it away.
     I went out the next morning, intent on pushing the car out of the driveway. It was facing “nose in”, so I opened the passenger door and popped the car out of gear so I could push it out. WELL… what I didn’t think through very well was 1) the driveway sloped DOWN, away from the street, so I would have to push the car UPHILL, and 2) even though the Pinto was a small car, it was an older car, and therefore not made from the Reynolds Aluminum Foil that today’s cars are made from. That bad boy was HEAVY! And gravity wanted to pull it further down the driveway, toward the backyard and away from my goal of the street, REALLY BADLY! I braced myself and began to push…and got NOWHERE! In fact, the CAR was pushing ME down the hill. If I didn’t so SOMETHING quickly, the car was going to end up either smashing into the retaining wall that edged the driveway OR continuing down the driveway, across the backyard, and smashing into the back of the neighbor’s garage. (Now THERE’S a fun choice!) So I braced myself against the retaining wall, my feet halfway up the wall and my shoulder against the frame of the car. So there I was, body VERTICAL instead of HORIZONTAL, legs threatening to buckle and shoulder being crushed by the car…and no one else home! Hmmm…what to do?! I managed to shift my body, get one leg in the car, across the passenger side, into the driver’s side, and step on the brake. Then it was simple matter of putting the car in gear, climbing out, and whimpering like a 4-year old girl about how bad my shoulder hurt! After I caught my breath, I swallowed my pride, went across the street,got the neighbor and had him help me. (Aside- even with TWO of us, we barely got that stinkin’ car out of the driveway!)
     I consider myself a relatively smart human. I have 2 college degrees, earned in 7 years of post-high school education. And yet, sometimes I do dumb stuff! I’m amazed at how often us humans jump into the middle of something (pushing a car, for instance), without thinking through it, weighing options, imagining potential outcomes. And yet, there is a fine line between being proactive and being careful. How do we recognize the difference? We pray about it. What is muddy and cloudy when we try to tackle it on our own becomes clear when we receive discernment from God. I firmly believe that any difficult decision is made infinitely easier when we pray about it.
     Do YOU pray about things like that? If you DO, keep it up. You have clearly seen God work in your life and want to continue that. If you DON’T, I would encourage you to try. The next time a difficult decision comes up, ask God for discernment. Ask God to show you what the best choice is. So you’re NOT asking God to solve the problem YOUR way, which we often tend to do. Instead, you are telling God that you put your trust in Him to reveal the right decision for you. Try it- God truly CAN do miracles!
     Thanks for stopping by and sharing a part of your day with me. I greatly appreciate your willingness to be a part of this growing ministry. Please share this with others. Make sure and stop by again tomorrow, have a blessed day, and stick with Jesus!

A Monster From the Deep

      My dad traveled quite a bit with his job. And mky mom LOVED to fish. So, us kids often found ourselvs on the business end of a fishing pole! This particular story is a direct result of that fact! We were on the banks of the mighty, muddy Mississippi. Growing up so close to that river, it was simply a part of life for us. We were on the Missouri side, fishing from the bank. I never really liked fishing (too ADD to stand still that long, I suppose!), so I was doing more “throwing things into the river” than I was fishing! But my sister was trying hard to catch something. Then…it happened. Wham! Something took her bait, and it put up a pretty good fight! She pulled and reeled, reeled and pulled, trying to get…WHATEVER it was…out of the water and onto the stringer. Meanwhile, my mom tried to call out helpful suggestions while my brother and I danced around, yelling and being completely UNhelpful! She finally got the…thing…out of the water and flipped back behind us, farther up the bank. We turned and started toward it, anxious to see what she caught. Suddenly, seemingly from out of nowhere, a man (who, it turns out, had been fishing near us) came running over, yelling and waving a rather good-sized piece of driftwood! He ran up to the…thing..on the bank…and proceeded to beat it to a pulp with his driftwood club! My mom and sister yelled, my brother stood in stunned silence…and I cried! (Hey…give me a break! I was a little kid!)
     After the excitement died down a bit, we got the Paul Harvey moment- the rest of the story. It turns out that the…thing…my sister caught was a gar. (The thing in the picture IS a gar, just as a point of reference!) They are in the pike family, and are known as fierce predators that pursue their prey with their needle-like teeth! And these mild-mannered, middle-class, Southern Illinois farm children pulled one out of the Mississippi with some fishing line and a worm! The man had seen my sister pull this thing out, instantly knew what it was from years of experience, and ran over to keep us from trying to get the hook out and getting chewed up by this thing! Pretty amazing!
     It strikes me that this nameless guy, who we never saw before or since, was our knight in shining armor that day. He didn’t save any lives, but he DID potentially save one or more of us from a nasty bite. He came out of nowhere, unexpected and unsolicited, “made the save”, and then faded into the background from which he came. In other words, this guy modeled God on a small scale. Think about it- with the gift of hindsight firmly in place, I can look back to many times in my life when God intervened and saved me from something. Sometimes it was the danger was physical, sometimes moral, sometimes spiritual. But there have been MANY of them! Now, you might be thinking, “I can think of lots of times when something bad DID happen…where was God then?” My response is this- God is ALWAYS present with us, rejoicing with us when we rejoice and crying with us when we cry. Sometimes He breaks into time and space, intervening to work a miracle on our behalf…and sometimes He does not. Can I explain WHY it is that way? Can I predict WHEN He will and when He won’t intervene? No…and no! ?Why not, pastor? You’re supposed to have all the answers, what with that fancy Master’s Degree and all!” The bottom line is, we are finite, God is infinite- we can’t POSSIBLY fully understand His ways. But what I DO know (and it’s NOT much!) is that God IS always with us, and He WILL step in and intervene when the timing is right, saving us from something we are about to do that we shouldn’t. Trust that still small voice you hear when it is telling you to NOT do something that you shouldn’t do- God is trying to tell you to NOT touch the fish, to NOT allow yourself to be dragged down.
     Thanks for stopping by and spending a few minute with me today! Play the video on the home page and check out the other links mentioned there. Also, please help me reach my goal of 500 Stick With Jesus Facebook Fans by the end of the month- invite YOUR Facebook friends to become fans. It has proved to be a great way to help make this fledgling ministry grow. Have a blessed day, make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!