Perfect Religion

      A recent survey has compiled all the qualities that people expect from the perfect pastor. Here we share some of them with you. Results of a computerized survey indicated that the perfect pastor preaches exactly 12 minutes. He frequently condemns sin but never upsets anyone. He works from 8AM until midnight and is also a janitor. He makes $60 a week, wears good clothes, buys good books, drives a good car, and gives about $80 a week to the poor. He is 28 years of age, and he’s been preaching for 30 years. He is wonderfully gentle and handsome. He gives of himself completely but never gets too close to anyone lest he be criticized. He speaks boldly on social issues, but must never become politically involved. He has a burning desire to work with teenagers; he spends all his time with senior citizens. He makes 15 calls daily on parish families, visits shut-ins and the hospitalized, spends all his time evangelizing the unchurched, and is always in his office when needed. If your pastor does not measure up, simply send this letter to six other churches that are tired of their pastor too. Then bundle up your pastor and send him to the church at the top of this list. In one week you will receive 1,643 pastors; at least one of them should be perfect. Have faith in this letter. One church broke the chain and got its old pastor back in less than 30 days!
     The perfect pastor- wouldn’t that be great? (It seems to me that the closest to perfection a person ever comes is when they fill out a job application!) We want everything to be perfect…don’t we? We want perfect kids, the perfect spouse, the perfect job, the perfect house, the perfect life. And we want our religion to be perfect, too. Sadly, that puts us in good company. In the Gospel of Mark, disciples James and John want the perfect religion. And they have the chutzpah to ask Jesus about it.
     Read Mark 10:32-45– “They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. 33″We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, 34who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.” 35Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”  36″What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.  37They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”  38″You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” 39″We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” 41When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
     A story about the Perfect Husband- Several men were in the locker room of a golf course clubhouse. A cell phone on a bench rang and a man engaged the hands free speaker-function and began to talk- everyone else in the room stopped to listen. MAN: “Hello?” WOMAN: “Honey, it’s me. Are you at the club?” MAN: “Yes.” WOMAN: “I am at the mall now and found this beautiful leather coat. It’s only $1,000. Is it OK if I buy it?” MAN: “Sure, go ahead if you like it that much.” WOMAN: “I also stopped by the Mercedes dealership and saw the new 2004 models. I saw one I really liked.” MAN: “How much?” WOMAN: “$60,000.” MAN: “OK, but for that price I want it with all the options.” WOMAN: “Great! Oh, and one more thing- the house we wanted last year is back on the market. They’re asking $950,000.” MAN: “Well, then go ahead and give them an offer, but just offer 900,000.” WOMAN: “OK. I’ll see you later! I love you!” MAN: “Bye, I love you, too.” The man hung up the phone. As the other men in the locker room looked at him in astonishment, he asked: “Anybody know who this phone belongs to?”
     James and John- gotta love this request. Think about it. They’re following Jesus. They’ve watched him teach, heal, perform miracles. They say they’re convinced He’s the real deal- the Messiah. They seem to show great faith by recognizing that He’ll be sitting on the throne of power. But they miss the boat when they want Him to put them on His left and right. They think big- you HAVE to give them that. But they make a selfish request- asking to have power, authority and prestige in the new kingdom. “We want you to do for us whatever we ask.” How’s that for a definition of perfect religion? But at some point, isn’t that really the kind of relationship we want with God? “God, I want you…to do whatever I ask!” Wouldn’t that be awesome- God wouldn’t make any demands on us. He’d just do whatever we wanted. It would be like having a genie in a bottle. Rub the lamp, get your wishes. That would be perfect. God would be like a good waiter at a fancy restaurant- invisible until you needed him. And then he’d efficient, discreet, helpful, and polite. Sound crazy, far-fetched, almost blasphemous? I think we sometimes live our spiritual lives like that. We pray for exactly what WE want, thinking all things revolve around us and our needs. Winston Churchill said, “They say nobody is perfect. Then they tell you practice makes perfect. I wish they’d make up their minds.”
     We think it’s like the Superman story- Jimmy Olsen has his special watch. When all is well, he has no need for Superman. But when times are tough, he pushes a special button on the watch that emits a high-pitched sound that only Superman (and apparently all the dogs in an 8-block radius) can hear. And Superman flies to the rescue, red cape streaming behind him. When we’re in danger, we call for help. And it’s GREAT to call on God when we’re in trouble, but if our relationship with God is always lived on that level, it’s really no relationship at all. We want God to do what we want God to do. And if He doesn’t do it, then we think God is being mean or perhaps doesn’t even exist. Is God really like that? Is God so…open-ended, so wishy-washy, so easily manipulated that He’ll do anything we want? If that were the case, we’d have God zapping people out of existence who cut us off in traffic!
     Perfect religion- what is it? What’s your definition? What would it look like? Is there such a thing? Does it mean we get whatever we want? We never do that, do we? “God I want you to do whatever I ask!” It’s great to have faith in the power of God, but if we think the nature of our relationship with God ends up being getting God to do what we want- we are going to be disappointed…at best. Although God meets our NEEDS, you simply can’t always get what you WANT…but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need. James and John knew Jesus could do what they wanted. What they missed was that they expected God to do something FOR them before God was through doing something IN them. They
wanted God to work FOR them, before He worked ON them.
     Notice Jesus’ answer. They make this outlandish request and His answer is, simply, “no”. There’s no, “I’ll pray about it” or “I’ll talk to my Father about it”- it was just a solid, “uh uh!” Why? Because there are bigger fish to fry. God has greater things in store. They want to be with Jesus in glory, and His response is, “will you be with me in the suffering, too?” If we really want to follow Jesus, we’ll receive the same challenge from Him, “will you stay with Me? Really? Will you stick with me in the suffering as well?” We seek the power of the Holy Spirit because we want to be more like God. You might call that “Bruce Almighty” religion. We want to be large and in charge. Michael J. Fox said, “I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence, I can reach for; perfection is God’s business.” We want to make things be the way WE want them to be. And so, sometimes, that’s why we pray. But when God answers our prayers, He gives us the power alright- the power to be more like Jesus. He gives us the power to walk through the suffering, to withstand it, to serve other people, to give…and forgive. He says even the Son of Man didn’t come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. So faith isn’t something we have to outgrow- but something we have to grow deeper in. The measure of greatness is service. St. Augustine said, “the very perfection of a man is to find out his own imperfections.”
     We’re great when we serve the poor, the weak, the friendless, when we love the unlovable. These are the things that make us most like Jesus. Perfection is achieved NOT when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. That serving heart is in all of us. I’ve seen it. One of the greatest rewards of being a pastor is when I am able to see Jesus in people as they serve each other and serve the world beyond their walls. God’s plan for all of us is to be more like Jesus- to be servants of a sinful, needy and often thankless world.
     When we sincerely come to God with our genuine needs, we discover 2 things: God takes our needs seriously, and God has plans for our lives. We come to God asking Him to change our situation and instead God uses our situation to change us. Perfect religion isn’t when we get whatever we want from God, but when we give God what we have and He works a miracle through it. James and John started with selfish ideas, but were challenged to be more like Jesus and follow Him no matter what the cost. THAT’S what perfect religion is. Not when we get everything we want from God, but when God provides us with what He wants us to have, when God works in us to make us more like Jesus. We come with our own agendas, but it’s the same challenge that comes to all of us. Be like Jesus, no matter what it takes, no matter where it takes you. Are you willing to follow?
     Thanks for stopping by today. Have blessed Sunday, please come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Play That Funky Music, White Boy

     I have been a drummer for 38 years. (I started 3 years BEFORE I was born!) I have played in marching bands, pep bands, concert bands, municipal bands, symphonic bands, orchestras, rock bands, Christian rock bands, paying bands…you name it, I’ve played in it. EXCEPT…jazz bands. That is…until last night! The community in which I live started a Community Jazz Band this year. I LOVE playing, and I don’t have many things that I do just fo myself, so I signed up. Although I have been reading music for 38 years AND playing the drumset for nearly that long, I have NEVER done both at the same time. You see, reading music while playing the drumset is VERY difficult- it is nearly impossible to do simple things like turn pages while both hands and both feet are busy. So I am used to listening to a song, figuring out what is required from the drummer…and doing it. I make a few notes on a lyric sheet and that’s the closest to “music” I get. But in a jazz band…they want you to actually READ the music….AND play it!
     It has been an interesting (and sometimes rather STEEP) learning curve thus far. After this many years behind a drumset, I thought I had seen everything. But there are markings and notations on a jazz chart that I have never seen before. I felt like I was back in Junior High, raising my hand to ask the director (who, by the way is a really good guy who I have shoes older than!) what something means. It has been challenging. It has been fun!
     We had our first concert last night. It was almost comical- 3 local high school jazz bands and us…a bunch of old white guys interspersed with some high school kids. AND we were the last band to play- traditionally the slot that is reserved for the best group. No pressure there! I spent a bit of yesterday morning breaking down my drumset from my church sanctuary (its usual home) and loading it into the back of the van. Then, after a drive to Bloomington to pick up my older son for a weekend home, I unloaded the drums at the local high school (we got the “old gym”, because NOTHING happens in the “new gym” except basketball…just like NOTHING happens on the football field except football!) The concert started at 7PM. We had our jeans and our long-sleeved black t-shirts with the band logo on the left breast. We sat through the other bands (to show some solidarity!) and then played our set. It was a whole lot of fun! We aren’t going to be confused for Buddy Rich’s band or Maynard Ferguson’s band…but we weren’t too bad! And we’ll do nothing but get better!
     Having been a drummer this long AND having given drum lessons for years, I have an…interesting perspective on team building. Drummers are an interesting lot. Many of them seem to think that the rest of the musicians/singers who perform with them exist simply to support them. If the drums aren’t being featured every moment of every song…it’s NOT music! They have one volume- loud…and one style…LOUD! But the reality is that there are some songs that DO feature the drums. They need to be driving, loud, “in the spotlight”. But there are OTHER songs that need a quiet touch from the drummer. They need simple, soft, easy. And still other songs are best served if the drummer lays out (doesn’t play) altogether! And yet, there are many drummers who just don’t have a gear for that. And the group they are a part of suffers because of it!
     We all know about teamwork- it is touted so strongly in the American workplace that it is easy to be SICK of the word. BUT…there is a reason it is so talked about. Teamwork is absolutely essential to the long-term health of ANY group- in a a band, at work, at home, at church, wherever. If you always focus on what’s in it for you, you stand little chance of ever creating something REALLY meaningful with a group. But if you recognize your role, figure out what part of the larger whole you are, great things can happen. It means that sometimes you WILL be “the star”…and sometimes you only have a “walk-on”- but ALWAYS you’ll be part of something bigger than yourself. And, at least for me, that is a great feeling. Teamwork…corny…but effective! Try it!
     Thanks for stopping by today! Have a blessed day, please stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Night Disco Officially Died

     I was in Junior High (we didn’t have any stinkin’ Middle School back in the day!) and, although I’m SURE you will have a hard time believing this NOW…I was a bit of a geek! OK…I was a raging geek! A geek and a half, quite possibly a geek and three-quarters. A double geekburger with cheese! You get the idea! There was a dance coming up, and I guess my mom felt sorry for me, always wearing my brother’s hand-me-downs. She went out, unbeknownst to me, and bought me a new outfit to wear to the dance. And it was AWESOME! No more sleeveless sweater vests. No more badly hemmed pants. This outfit was all that AND a bag of chips!
     Let’s start with the shirt- it was a rather pale blue Quina (I know…right?!) with…are you ready?…palm trees, sailboats and sunglasses all over them! It was ‘da bomb! Then, pale blue bell bottom pants with “slit” horizontal pockets AND a white belt! The stunning ensemble’ was completed by a pair of tan shoes with crepe soles. (No matter HOW cool the guy in the picture looks…I put him to SHAME!) Remember the movie Stayin’ Alive with John Travolta? At the end of the movie, he says (and I quote), “I gotta’ go strut!” And he did! Well, my friend, THAT was me that night!
     I was steppin’ and fetchin’, and no one could take their eyes off me! (What I didn’t realize until much later was that they couldn’t take their eyes off me because I was struttin’ in this outlandish disco-inspired acid trip of an outfit!) I was never great “with the ladies” (I know, hard to believe!), but I was sure this outfit would change all that! Yes sir- there was going to be a new “me”, and he was debuting this very night! Watch out! Well, I went to the dance and had a great time. It was, however, like every OTHER Junior High dance I had gone to- the boys stood on one side, the girls on the other, and when we realized the dance was JUST about to end, we all made our desperate move to dance with…GASP…a GIRL! North Junior High had seen some geeky boys in its time, “But I could have told you Vincent, this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.” (Name THAT tune!) I came to understand that who I am is…well…who I am, and no amount of synthetically created, man-made fabric is going to change that!
     Remember those Golden Days of yesteryear? The awkward Junior High dances? At the time, they were life and death. Would “she” be there? Would “she” dance with you? Would “she”…kiss you? (I don’t know about you, but I had my first kiss in the gym at North Junior High during a school dance! You had to be sneaky, because the female P.E. teacher was vigilant about that kind of stuff!) Remember when things like that were SO important? You felt like you would die if that one particular person wasn’t there and/or wouldn’t give you the time of day. Looking back, it seems MUCH less important and MUCH more sweet and funny. That’s how life is. Things that are earth-shattering today are often fun stories to tell tomorrow.
     I encourage you to be discerning about your life. If something happens and you find yourself overwhelmed by it- take a second a put it in perspective. Perhaps it IS a major event that is worthy of the reaction you’re giving…but often it is NOT. Often it is something that, in the grand scheme of things, really doesn’t matter all that much. If you find that it is in the latter category…lighten up. Cut yourself some slack. Life is too short to overreact to everything- that kind of stress tends to put people in early graves. Choose your battles. Give proper attention to things that deserve proper attention, but be willing to know the difference. Be willing to let go of the small stuff. Decide which hills you are absolutely willing to die on…and let someone else struggle over the other ones! If you are able to do this, you will be so pleased with where you find yourself. You will appreciate the “little things” so much more. You will notice things around you that you never have before. Life is SO much more full when you are able to truly enjoy it!
     Thanks for stopping by today. I pray you have a blessed day, please come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Prayer of Jabez

    “What a pain!” Has anyone ever said that about you? Have you ever said that about someone else? Maybe your kids, your spouse, your boss? It was said about the guy we’re looking at today- Jabez. Who was Jabez? We find him buried, literally, in the middle of a long list of genealogies in the Old Testament book 1 Chronicles — this person begat that person, who begat that person, who begat that person…ad naseum. Think that’s a bit harsh for a preacher? Think again…it goes on for nine chapters! That’s a WHOLE lot of begats, I’m here to tell you! You’re so stinkin’ bored by the time you get to Jabez…you almost miss him. But in the midst of this long list of anonymous characters, there he is. As far as we know, Jabez didn’t win any great battles or build any great buildings- he simply prayed a prayer. But it must have been significant, because out of all the people in this nine-chapter list, he’s the ONLY one singled out this way. We only know 2 things about him: 1. he was more honorable than his brothers, and 2. his mother named him Jabez (which means “pain” in Hebrew) because he caused her pain at birth. Nice lady! Remember in “When Harry Met Sally”- Billy Crystal’s mom calls him on his birthday? He hits the speaker button and lies in bed while she delivers what is a “remembering his birth” speech that she has obviously given MANY times before- he lip-syncs it with her, right down to the laughs and sighs. My sense is that, although Jabez’s mom had her own rehearsed “remembering his birth” speech, it wasn’t nearly as warm and fuzzy as Billy Crystal’s. She gave birth to him in great pain…and never let him forget it! In fact, she NAMED him Pain, so he’d always remember! But in spite of all that, he overcame those obstacles. The Bible says he was an honorable man — more honorable than the rest of his family. Why? Perhaps it’s because he was a praying man. And here is his prayer, buried among all the begats!
     1 Chronicles 4:9-10– “Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.” 10 Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will not cause pain.” And God granted his request.”
What’s so unusual about this prayer? Let’s look at it and find out:
     The 1st thing he asked for was God’s blessing on his life. He wasn’t being selfish- he wanted God’s best and was convinced God wanted to give it to him. Why did he want God’s blessing? So he could be a blessing to the world. That’s why we exist. It’s NOT wrong to pray for personal blessing…if you intend to use it to bless others. If you just want more for yourself, you’re probably out of luck. But if you want more resources to better serve others…pray for it. Apathy has got such a grip on this country that we don’t seek God’s blessing. We’re too busy. Blessing means responsibility. Serving God takes time. If God gives me more, I have to DO more. But the surest sign that your faith is growing is that you have a growing desire to be used by God.
     We are preoccupied with self. It’s all about us. We want more, and we want it faster, better and cheaper. As the commercial says, “I want it all…and I want it NOW!” Our lives are merely shallow and self-centered when we worry about how we look, what we have, and who might have more. Many people never have a purpose larger than themselves. That’s why Jabez prayed the second part of his prayer- that God would enlarge his territory. He wasn’t thinking about himself- he was thinking about others. The people would have more space in which to live. More resources with which to serve. God wants us to see beyond our own circumstances. He wants to enlarge our lives if we will join Him by praying and believing.
     The 3rd thing Jabez prayed for was for God’s hand to be on him. He knew he was praying for something so big that only God could accomplish it. What have you dreamt about, but dismissed as impossible? Pray for God’s hand to be on your life so that you can accomplish something great for Him. And when it comes to pass, you’ll be forced to say, “This HAD to be God, because there’s no way I could’ve done that myself!”
     The 4th thing Jabez prayed was that God would keep him from evil…so that he wouldn’t cause pain. It’s a play on words. His name MEANS pain. He’s already caused pain- heard about it his whole life, remember? But he doesn’t want to cause any more. He wants his life to be a blessing.
     God is faithful in caring for those who seek Him. The best thing of all is that “God granted his request.” It is the ANSWER to prayer that brings the blessing. God IS the real deal, and He WANTS to bless you, so that you may be a blessing to others. If you want to either start or strengthen a relationship with God, prayer should be at the foundation. This prayer seems to have been left intentionally as a model, a pattern, a cast, putting into visible shape what normally stays in the dark recesses of our hearts. The Prayer of Jabez reminds us that everybody struggles between relying on themselves or relying on God. It sets a great example of how God wants us to come to Him in constant and passionate prayer. God blessed him, enlarged his territory, placed His hand upon him, and kept him from evil.
     Bruce Wilkinson, author of The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through To the Blessed Life, said this- “Attempt something large enough that failure is guaranteed…unless God steps in!” Jabez wanted to be used by God more than anything else. Is that YOUR prayer? Do you have a longing inside to be used by God? Are you living for yourself, or do you want God to use you? Do you want to be a blessing? Then pray that God will bless you, enlarge your territory, keep His hand on you, and keep you from harm.
     Thanks for stopping by today! Have a blessed day. Please come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Rocky Mountain High

      It was the summer of 1999- merely months away from the impending chaos and terror of Y2K. (And we all know how THAT brought about the end of the world as we know it!)  It was my 2nd mission trip (see the 2/17/10 blog to read about the 1st one) and I was taking 14 people (including my wife and older son) to Denver, Colorado. We drove a 15-passenger van (with 10 people and a LOT of stuff!) and a Pontiac Sunfire (with 4 people and a little stuff!) from the St. Louis area. It always amazes me just how long it seems to take to get through Kansas, east to west. I swear we drove for 3 days within the Kansas borders!
     I was the only person out of the bunch who had been to Colorado, and I kept telling the group just how amazing the Rocky Mountains are. What I FAILED to mention was that the Rockies are NOT on the eastern edge of the state! The group somehow imagined that the moment we crossed from Kansas into Colorado…the Rockies would just magically crop up! The reality is that eastern Colorado looks a WHOLE lot like western Kansas! But after some more driving, the Rockies begin to show up…and MAN are they spectacular!
     We got to Denver and found the hotel we were staying in. (Imagine, on last year’s mission trip we stayed in a cabin in the middle of the woods. This year we’re in a hotel!) My son and I roomed with 2 other boys- my wife with 3 girls. Everyone else spread out to other rooms. Our mission work was going to be done in  a church in a neighborhood of Denver called Barnum. Located in the area known as West Denver, the neighborhood’s northern boundary is the Sixth Avenue Freeway, its eastern boundary is Federal Boulevard, its southern Boundary is Alameda Avenue, and its western boundary is Perry Street. The reason it’s called Barnum is that P.T. Barnum purchased this 760-acre site in 1882 and used it as an off-season winter home for his circus. During the day, we did repair work at the church- re-plastering basement walls, painting an entryway, etc. In the evening, we did what the church REALLY wanted done! The church was an older white congregation that sat in the middle of what was now an almost exclusively Hispanic neighborhood- “white flight” had driven the former residents away, but the church remained. And although the wanted to reach out to the community around them…they didn’t know how. They never ventured outside the walls of the church (except to get in and out of their cars), and the residents of the neighborhood never ventured in. So we would clean up after working all day and host a Vacation Bible School in the evening. The neighborhood kids would come in at dinnertime and we started the evening by feeding them! Then we would spend the next 90 minutes knee-deep in games, crafts, lessons, songs, skits…you name it, we did it! Then all the kids would go home and we would start it all up again the next day!
     On the first night, there was one girl who was supposed o be picked up by her parents and they hadn’t come yet. She seemed a bit worried, so we tried to help her, but she didn’t seem to speak English. Well…I don’t mean to brag, but I took TWO WHOLE YEARS of “Espanol”, so I stepped in to save the day. I wanted to find out what he telephone number was so that I could call her house and see if someone was coming for her. So NATURALLY I said to her, “Que es el nombre de telephono?” Naturally! The only problem was that, while I WANTED to ask her what her number was, what I ACTUALLY asked her was, “What is the name of your telephone?” (Oops!) The poor girl kept looking at me, not understanding what I was asking. Then, to add insult to my injury, she said, “Do you want to know my telephone number?” I was laughed at in two different languages that night! In addition to the work at the church, we visited the towns of Estes Park and Boulder, we toured the Denver Mint, and of course we wandered around Rocky Mountain National Park (or, as I like to call it…heaven on Earth)!
     When we drove away from the Barnum neighborhood for the last time, the kids who wouldn’t talk to us when we first showed up chased us around the block, crying and begging us to stay! There were more than a few tears INSIDE the van as well! There is power in the building of relationships. The physical building we did was important and welcomed, but the relational and spiritual building that was done was far more lasting and impactful. That’s the beauty of mission work- you go thinking you are going to swing a hammer, or man a paint brush, or handle a broom, or fold some clothes…and somehow through those acts change others. But what you find is that the physical labor leads to meaningful exchanges with others, and those exchanges lead to change all right- but often YOU are the one who is changed! Have you ever been on a mission trip? If you have, you know exactly what I mean. If you haven’t…go on one. Find one that…fits…and jump in. It may be an afternoon at a local food pantry. It may be a day at a homeless shelter. It may be a few days or a week “out of town”, doing work for others. But whatever it is, wherever it is, commit to it. Jump in. Get busy. And fully expect God to show up in a major way! You will NOT be disappointed!
     Thanks for stopping by today- have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus.

Superboy To the Rescue

     I have admitted many times in this space to being a geek. I have also admitted to being a comic book geek. What I have NOT yet admitted to is being…ready?…
SUPERBOY! When I was a kid, I wanted nothing more than to be Superman when I grew up! (Come to think of it…I STILL think that would be pretty cool! But then, of course, I haven’t grown up yet!) So…I made a Superboy costume! (I mean, come on, you can’t be SuperMAN when you’re 8 years old. THAT would be silly! Don’t be ridiculous!) First, I took a pair of white Long Johns (Long Handles, Thermal Underwear, call them what you want!), drew the Superman…excuse me…SuperBOY log on the chest, and put them on. Now, mind you, this was in the middle of SUMMER, in southern Illinois, when the temperature is 112 in the shade and the humidity is 1000%! So here I am, in thermal underwear in July…but I’m NOT done yet! Next, I add shorts to the outfit, on top of the thermal underwear. Then, I add those LONG white tube socks with the colored band around the top that were popular in the late 60’s and 70’s. I pull them ALL THE WAY UP to my knees. So, white thermal underwear, cut-off blue jean shorts, and long tube socks. (I was truly a fashion faux pas!) BUT…I still wasn’t done, because what would Superboy be without a cape?! I pinned a bath towel to my shoulders after drawing the Superman logo on it as well (I got in trouble for that one, as I recall)! There…the costume is complete! BUT…I can’t reveal my secret identity, so…I add a pair of jeans and a shirt over the top of that, to hide my costume until I “really needed it”! Two layers of clothes (one a set of thermal underwear) AND a full size bath towel under my shirt…I MUST have been completely insane! (Insert your own joke here!) I loved that suit. (In fact, I wonder if I have a pair of thermal underwear that I could…never mind!)
     Looking back, I see that I often retreated into that world of imagination as a way of dealing with a somewhat volatile home life. When things got less than pleasant, I could always fall back on Superman, Batman, Lois Lane and the rest of the people who inhabit the world of 8-year old make-believe. That imagination life led to a love of theater and acting- being someone else is sometimes a great place to be! And while I still have that love- I enjoy superhero movies, I continue to perform in front of audiences, I still greatly appreciate a good performance by an actor or actress- I find that when I was able to stop trying to be someone else and was able to simply be who I am, things changed radically for me. I had spent my life trying to be who I wasn’t, who I thought others wanted me to be. And I was never really happy, never really…satisfied. Then I realized that I couldn’t be what I wanted to be for others if I couldn’t first be true to who I really was. And when that “thaw” began…it went quickly! The funky little “soul patch” facial hair showed up. The hair went from trimmed short to completely shaved. And the earring showed up. And as that “phase” of my life has unfolded, I have come to realize that there will ALWAYS be people who want you to be something you’re not…and they’re not going to be terribly happy if you fail to give them that “version” of you. After years of trying to please those people, I now say, “This is me. Take it or leave it.” And I have found that not only has it been a very healthy change for me, but it has opened up many in my church to the understanding that we need to not simply judge people by their appearance, but look beyond their appearance to who they REALLY are. So it seems that DUMPING the superhero costume had the most heroic affect on others.
     Do you let others see who you REALLY are…or are you hiding behind your own Superboy costume? If you are often “putting a mask on” for the benefit of others, I encourage you to cast that mask aside, be who you really are, and let people see the real you. If they are truly your friends, they will appreciate the change. And if they DON’T appreciate the change…maybe they weren’t really your friends in the first place. Either way, YOU will be happier being yourself! Try it…let me know how it goes! I’ll pray for you!
     Thanks for coming by today- have a blessed day! Please share this with others, make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

I Survived the Lock-In!

     My Friday evening began at 6:20PM. My younger son and I arrived at the church to open up the building and help set up for the Middle School Lock-In. Kids were to arrive at 7PM. But, in true kid fashion, the first three arrived at 6:25PM- before even the folks who were organizing the event arrived! By 6:50PM, 8 kids were there. By 7PM, it was up to 14. At 7:10PM- 21. 7:15PM- 28. And by 7:30 PM, there were 32 youth (along with 4 adults) running around our basement Fellowship Hall- the night had officially begun! After sleeping bags, pillows, food, IPods and various video game systems had been carted in and piled… everywhere…the real fun started. Within minutes, there were kids playing Foosball (still a great game after all these years!), 2 different video games, 3 different board games, one game of cards and a strange hybrid touch football game! As I watched them, I thought ahead (based on years of ministry…AND lock-in…experience) to the fact that, in about 9 hours, I would be feeling like I had been run over by a VERY large truck…and probably wishing I HAD been! Boy was THAT to be a prophetic thought!
     By 8PM, the kids were in the middle of making personal pizzas- rolling out their own dough, spreading the sauce, adding the pepperoni and cheese…and then impatiently waiting for them to be done baking. It’s truly amazing to watch a kid eat a pizza while never missing a beat on a video game! After the pizza was done, full-bore play was back in full swing! As a variety of games were played, the kitchen was cleaned up and preparation began for the NEXT item on the night’s menu- nachos, which, by 9:30PM, were being wolfed down all around the room. Meanwhile, the Wii was in full swing, with a rousing game of Mario Kart happening. There was a waiting line at the Foosball table. The other video game system was full. Board games dotted the countryside. The whole room was a cacophony of conversation.
     At midnight, everything ground to a temporary halt. We all went upstairs and into the sanctuary for a devotional time. I had turned the lights low and lit dozens of candles to set the mood. This was to be a time set aside from the rest of the night- a time to be still for a few minutes and listen for, and to, God. After 5 hours, they seemed genuinely ready for a moment of quiet reflection…but ONLY a moment! I asked them about the word “deny”- what does it mean, how do we understand it, how does it impact our lives. Then I shared 2 bits of Scripture with them. Matthew 26:31-35 says, “Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” 33Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” 34″I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” 35But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.” Jesus predicts that Peter, THE Peter, The Rock upon which the church will be founded, will deny Him not once or twice, but THREE times before dawn. Peter categorically denies it.
     Then comes Matthew 26:69-75- “Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said. 70But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. 71Then he went out to the gateway, where another girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!” 73After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away.” 74Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!”   Immediately a rooster crowed. 75Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.” Peter does EXACTLY what Jesus said he would do- what he (Peter) vehemently denied would EVER happen. And notice- it not only happens in the same book…it happens in the same CHAPTER- only 34 verses apart from each other. It makes the head spin! I talked with the kids about how we deny Jesus. They had some great insights as to how that happens, and what we might do to overcome that tendency. After that discussion, I asked for prayer requests and we spent some time in prayer. Then…back to the mayhem!
     The next thing on the agenda was…ready?…ice cream sundaes! (So, for those of you keeping score at home, that’s hand-made pizza, nachos AND ice cream sundaes…all in 5 1/2 hours! I told the woman who had organized things and was providing the food that, if this was any indication of what things were like at HER house…I was ready to be adopted! Here’s the ironic thing about all that great food at a church lock-in- for Lent I gave up meat and sweets, so all I could enjoy was the nachos! (Sometimes there is just NO justice in the world!) The rest of the night was filled with Wii bowling, movies, and MANY other things! At 5AM, with myself and two of the other adults STILL awake from the night before, one of them said to me, “If you want to get some rest, go ahead.” (She told me later that I looked a bit dazed at the time. I reminded her that I OFTEN look that way!) By that time most of the 32 kids were asleep. So I slipped out, went to my office (on the next floor) and slept on the couch for about an hour. It was absolute heaven! I am QUITE sure that if I had not set my alarm, I would probably STILL be sleeping!
     At 7AM, we woke all the kids up, had them eat some breakfast, and then…clean! They vacuumed, bagged trash, picked up, put away, and then sat, semi-comatose, waiting for their rides. By 8:05AM, they were all gone. My son and I turned off the lights, locked the doors, drove home….and collapsed into heaps! He went to bed immediately and slept until lunch. I talked to my wife a bit, took a shower, and THEN went to bed! As I write this, 48 hours after the heart of the lock-in, I still am not completely “back up to snuff”!
     I was reminded of two things (primarily) as a result of this lock-in. The first thing is that I am simply not as young as I used to be! Now, at 48, I would posit that I am a fair amount “younger” than many others my age. But this whole “not sleeping all night” thing is simply going to HAVE to stop in the near future! The other thing I was reminded of is that Middle School kids are loud, obnoxious, sneaky, pushy, dirty, smelly, conniving, and a WHOLE lot of fun! You want to talk about having a lot of life? Hang around a bunch of Middle Schoolers for a while (say…all night)! They are so full of life, so interested in finding out what life is all about, so willing to think outside the box. After spending the past several weeks with them at their Wednesday night youth group and then an EXTENDED period of time with them over the weekend, I am here to tell you that, if they are any indication of the youth of this nation.,,future is in pretty good hands. It seems that the vocal minority, who want to make stupid choices and get into trouble, are the ones that get all the press. But they ARE the minority. The majority of kids I come in contact with are GOOD kids, trying to figure out the world and how they fit into it. Are they perfect? No…but neither am I. Are you?
     Thanks for stopping by today. I pray you have  blessed Monday. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Who Am I, Really?

     Two cars are waiting at a stoplight, one behind the other. The light turns green, but the man in front doesn’t notice it. The woman in the car behind him begins pounding on her steering wheel and yelling at the man to move. The man doesn’t move. The woman continues ranting and raving at the man, pounding on her steering wheel and blowing the horn. Finally, as the light turns yellow, she shares an unfriendly hand gesture with him and screams profanity at him as she drives around him. The next thing she knows, she is being pulled over by a police officer, who promptly arrests her, puts her in the patrol car and takes her to jail, where she is fingerprinted, photographed, searched, booked and placed in a cell. After a couple of hours, a policeman comes, opens the cell door and escorts her back to the booking desk where her personal effects are waiting. He hands her her things and says, “I’m sorry for this mistake. But I was you blowing your horn, cussing and generally going crazy. Then I noticed the “What Would Jesus Do” bumper sticker, the “Follow Me to Sunday School” bumper sticker, and the chrome plated Christian fish emblem on the trunk. So, naturally I assumed you had stolen the car.”
     Today, we begin a new, very special Sunday series, Passion, that will lead us through Lent (the time of preparation leading to Easter), preparing our hearts and minds for the majesty, wonder and power of Easter Sunday. What does the word “passion” mean to you? Does it have different meanings in different contexts? Dictionary.com says that “passion” is: the state or capacity of being acted on by external agents or forces; intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction; ardent affection; a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept; an object of desire or deep interest; and the sufferings of Jesus Christ between the night of the Last Supper and his death. Intense feelings, ardent affection, strong desire, and the suffering of Jesus Christ. What an interesting mix.
     People have always been divided on the issue of who Jesus really is. Remember the Mel Gibson movie The Passion of the Christ? Now, I am not going to use this space to either defend OR criticize Mel Gibson for some of his more public actions- that’s another topic for another time. Instead, let’s focus on what, for me, is one of the most powerful, impactful movies I have ever seen. It is a movie that I think everyone should see, but I have seen it twice (once during its original theatrical release and again last year with the Confirmation class) and both times left it thinking, “That movie sincerely changed me…and I’m not sure I will ever watch it again.” If you’ve seen the movie, you’re probably aware of just how radically different people’s responses were to it. Once reviewer said, “What Gibson has provided for me for the first time in my life is a visceral idea of what The Passion consisted of.” Another said, “The Passion is simply fabulous. It’s emotionally wrenching because it is brutally honest about the violence of Jesus’ death.” While still another said, “The holier than thou passion pummels its audience with action film cuts, slasher film makeup and two bit theology.” Pretty different responses to the same movie, but that’s just another day at the races for a topic as controversial as Jesus Christ- there’s bound to be a wide variety of responses. The movie’s controversial… Jesus is controversial. There’s bound to be a wide response to the question of  who He is.
     Some see Him as a great teacher…and nothing else. They reserve a spot for him among the greatest teachers in history, but see no divinity in Him- he IS man…He is just NOT God. Others believe Jesus thought some pretty strange things about Himself and taught some strange things about who He was, and so He must have been deluded. Then there’s a third group of people who think the Bible is a reliable account of who Jesus is. They think that Jesus reunited humanity with God by suffering, dying and rising again in our place. To Hindus, Jesus is a holy man…among other holy men. To Muslims, Jesus is a prophet of God. To atheists, there is no God, so Jesus is just the punchline of a joke. So…Political rebel, gentle teacher, wild-eyed prophet, carpenter’s son, Son of God- we’ve flipped over all the cards, would the mystery guest please stand up and reveal His true identity? I wrote a Classic Rock musical a few years ago called Free Ride: the Life and Times of Jesus Christ. I combined the Bible and about 40 Classic Rock Songs to tell the story of Jesus. And in this scene, where Jesus asks the disciples who He is, I used the song Who Are You (think CSI theme song) by The Who to ask the question. This kind of discussion has been going on since Jesus showed up; it’s nothing new. In fact, in today’s Scripture, Jesus brings it up Himself. And when He does, we are given some possible options.
     Mark 8:27-29– “Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi and on the way he asked them, “Who do people say that I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ.”
     I grew up LOVING Bill Cosby. My mom bought all of his records. (That’s right…records! Those round vinyl things that look like giant CD’s!) And I would sit and listen to them for HOURS, memorizing whole albums in the process.  Do you remember his bit about Noah and God? It starts like this:
     “There’s fella by the name of Noah, built an ark. Everybody knows he built an ark. You say, “What’d Noah do?” Well…he built an ark. But very few people know about the conversation that went on between the Lord and Noah. You see Noah was in his rec. room, sawing away, he was making a few things for the home there. He was a good carpenter. (The sound of a saw) Vooba, vooba, vooba. God: “Noah!” Noah: “Somebody call?” Vooba, vooba, vooba. God: “Noah!” Noah: “Who is that?” God: “It’s the Lord, Noah!” Noah: “Right! Where are ‘ya? What do you want? I’ve been good.” God- “I want you to build an Ark!” Noah: “Right! What’s an Ark?” God: “Get some wood build it 300 cubits by 80 cubits by 40 cubits.” Noah: “Right! What’s a cubit?” God: “Let’s see a cubit…I used to know what a cubit was…Well don’t worry about that. Noah. When you get that done, go out into the world and collect all of the animals in the world by twos- male and female- and put them into the ark.” Noah: “Right! Who is this really?”
     “Who is this, really?” Funny, but a question we’ve all asked of God, of Jesus, in our lives. “I know who I WANT You to be…but who are you REALLY?” In today’s Scripture, Jesus asks the question, and the response is that some people say he is John the Baptist- a great prophet who called people back to God and was put to death. Maybe John the Baptist has been resurrected or maybe he didn’t really die. Other people felt he was Elijah, an Old Testament prophet who DIDN’T die, but instead went directly into God’s presence. Maybe God’s sent him back to help a new generation return to God. Still others say He’s a prophet ministering to the people of Israel in the name of God.
     Jesus patiently hears them out…but isn’t satisfied with what they say. He responds, “But YOU… who do YOU say I am?” These guys have been with Jesus for three years- they’ve watched him teach, heal, drive out demons, even raise people from the dead- and after all that,
Jesus asks them what they think? Well, duh…what do You THINK they think? Peter answers for the group (no surprise there!)- “You are the Christ.”
     Christ is a Greek word that transliterates the word “Messiah”, which points to the anointed one- a political picture. It is the person anointed to be the King of Israel, and at this particular time in Israel’s history they are desperately looking for the king promised by God who would destroy Israel’s enemies and establish an eternal kingdom.  It wasn’t solely a political picture though- Israel was a religious nation and they understood that their prosperity couldn’t be separated from a right relationship with God. So Peter is saying that Jesus is the leader, the one they all had been expecting, the one who was coming to change everything. This image of the Messiah, the Christ, was planted, through centuries of longing, in the hearts of the people of Israel, and it eventually flourished and grew in Peter’s heart through the longing he experienced. I mentioned a minute ago, “Well, duh…what do You THINK they think?” But the reality is that Jesus had good cause to question them. Because not too long after that discussion, Peter, The Rock, strongly distances himself from Jesus, denying even knowing Him.
     We all have such differing opinions. Don’t believe me? Think about a movie you really like. Then think about conversations you’ve had about that movie with others who think it’s the worst movie ever made. We were talking to our college-aged nephew at Christmas and Gone With the Wind came up.  (My wife and I like that movie very much.) Our nephew said, “Oh, I hate that movie. It’s so boring! And it’s like, what, 6 hours long?!” Now think about when you have disagreed with…yourself! The first time I watched the movie Oh Brother, Where Art Thou, I thought to myself, “Well, there’s 2 hours of my life I’ll never get back!” Then, for some yet unknown reason, I watched it again…and got it! Now it’s on my top-ten list!
     The bottom line this morning is this: Jesus was one of three things, period- He was clinically insane, He was a bold-faced liar…or He the only begotten Son of God, sent to save us from our sin and offer us an eternity with Him. I mentioned that Peter completely denied Jesus 3 times just before the Crucifixion. But a few months later, we find Peter standing in front of thousands saying Jesus is the Lord and the Christ. Years later, Peter is willing to face crucifixion, even then not feeling worthy to die like Jesus but instead asking, begging to be hung upside down on the cross. He’s had years to forget these crazy ideas and stories and get on with his life, but he’s still willing to die for the message, for Jesus. He believed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. And that’s what I believe. But the question this morning is, “what do you believe?” Who is Jesus, really?

Godspeed, John Glenn

     He took off from Launch Complex 14 at Cape Canaveral, Florida, aboard Friendship 7, at 9:47:39AM EST on February, 20, 1962. The Mission Objectives were simple: place a man in orbit, see how he
reacts to that environment, and bring him back safely. But in 1962…it
was anything but simple. He made 3 full orbits around the Earth and traveled 75,679 statute miles, reaching a maximum speed of 17,544 MPH and a maximum G Force of 7.7. During his flight, he described the sun setting over the Indian Ocean
this way, “this moment of twilight is simply beautiful. The sky in space
is very black, with a thin band of blue along the horizon.” When he neared the time to re-enter, a heat shield and compressed landing bag which were no longer locked in
position caused some moments of fear and anxiety, but he safely
navigated the dangerous upper atmosphere and at just under 17,000 feet,
watched (with great relief) the main chute deploy and open. Friendship 7 splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean at 2:42:23PM EST, about 40 miles short of the predicted area.The USS Noa picked him up shortly thereafter. He spent a grand total of 4 hours, 55 minutes and 23 seconds in space.And his life, and the history of our nation, would never be the same.
     48 years ago today, John Glenn, in Friendship 7, became the 1st American (and 3rd human) to orbit the earth.When you read about accounts of events like this, you realize that the pioneer spirit of folks like Lewis and Clark, from the early history of the United States,  was still alive and well as the John Glenns, Wally Schirras and Neil Armstrongs of the world set out to conquer space. Sadly, we all know how dangerous space travel can be. The tragedies of the astronauts who lost their lives in the Challenger and Columbia Space Shuttles, not to mention Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee, who died on the launch pad during a training exercise, remind us of that. But the early days of the space program were populated by people who embraced that spirit of adventure, of boldness, of stepping out of one’s comfort zone to try and accomplish more.
     I fear that we, as a nation, have “lost that lovin’ feeling”, to quote the Righteous Brothers. We seem so much more about comfort and status than we do about exploration and discovery. We seem perfectly content as a people to park it in front of the TV, remote in hand, and not be bothered by things that might challenge us. As a minister, I see that same mentality in how many people approach their faith life. They “do religion” when it suits them. If they have nothing better to do, they will come to church on Sunday morning, but OFTEN there IS something that obviously takes priority and precedence over faith.
     A relationship with God is an adventure. If your experience with “church” is that it is boring and uninspired…I am so sorry. Because a life TRULY lived for God is a life full of excitement, challenge and massive reward. But it takes that same pioneer spirit that folks like John Glenn exhibited to truly live your faith. We have to be willing to stretch, grow, change. We have to be willing to not settle for the “ordinary life” the world offers, but instead seek something with more meaning. We have to be willing to get out of our comfort zone, step out of the boat, dream big dreams, dare to be…different! (And let me assure you…I’m about as “different” as they come! Just ask my church, my family, my friends…!) A life lived for God is a life full of purpose, meaning, fulfillment…adventure.
     How do YOU perceive your life? Is it full, rich, rewarding? Or is it empty, hollow, lifeless? You CAN change that…if you are willing to take the leap of faith! Are you? Trust me, you WON’T regret it!
     Thanks for stopping by today! Have a blessed day, make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

A FREE House? REALLY?

      God is amazing! Let me just say that right up front! NOW…let me offer just one of many reasons why! I was 35 years old, making the HUGE decision to abandon a career I had worked hard to develop to go into…the ministry? I would have NEVER, in a gazillion years, imagined that prospect had you asked me. Who in their right mind would go into the ministry? (I STILL ask myself that some days!) We were living in our hometown in Southern Illinois. My wife was teaching, my then-only son was in 5th grade, I was going to seminary in St. Louis full-time and serving a church in Illinois, 40 minutes from our house, “part time”. I put “part time” in quotes because the reality is this- if you are a part-time pastor, generally only the PAY is part-time- he work is more like full time! So, going to school full-time, serving a church basically full-time, and commuting to EVERY bit of it! 5th grade was the last year my son’s school had, so he would have to go to a new school the following year. We decided it was time to move to the community where our church was, so he could get into the school district there in anticipation of ministering there “full-time” after graduation. Only problem, United Methodist don’t provide parsonages (homes for pastors and their families) to part-time clergy. So…we had no place to live. We decided we would have to rent something in that town until I was full-time, at which time we would have a parsonage to live in. BUT…I was a full-time student, only getting half-time pay, and my wife would have to quit her job when we moved. Hmmm…on the horns of a dilemma!
     Then, a pastor friend said, “Where are you going to live?” My response? “Good question…but God will provide!” We continued to pray about the situation. Meanwhile, God was working on that pastor friend. About a week later, he called me and told me that he had found us a house, in that town…rent-free! When I regained consciousness, I asked for some clarification. Turns out, there was another, much smaller United Methodist church in that same town. They owned a church parsonage but had a part-time minister who didn’t need/want to live in it. So, it sat vacant. They heard about us and offered to let us live there rent-free- all we had to pay were the utilities. They were happy to be helping someone AND have someone living in the house so that it wasn’t vacant. We were ECSTATIC to have a nice roomy house, only 10 minutes from the church, five minutes from the new teaching job my wife got, and only five minutes from a major interstate that would take me into St. Louis and the seminary…AND FREE!
     During the years I was in that community, we developed a deeper relationship with the members of that little church. Even after we moved out of their house, a year later, and into MY church’s parsonage, I continued to preach for them periodically- special services and times when their pastor was gone. They were (and I’m SURE still are) an incredibly generous and loving bunch of folks who clearly serve God and others.
     My family was incredibly blessed by the generosity of what was, at the time, total strangers. (“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers…”  can you tell me where THAT quote is from?) They simply didn’t have to do what they did- but they DID it…out of the goodness of their hearts and with a Biblical imperative to help others. Here are two things I know: 1. God will, and DOES, bless us. Your blessing may not be in the form of a free house…but God blesses you! Look for it, expect it, and appreciate it. 2. God uses use to bless others. You may NOT have a free house to give, but you have been uniquely gifted by God to be a blessing to those around you. Be open to that fact, and how God might use you in that capacity. If you feel that pulling on your life…go with it. Let go and follow through with what you feel God calling you to do. No matter WHAT yo do for others, you will truly receive more blessing that you give!
     Thanks for stopping by and 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!

Blanket Mission

          How often do we take things for granted? Clothes on our backs, food in our stomachs, a warm, dry place to sleep- most of us see those as “givens” in our lives- things we just…assume… will be there. Sadly not everyone has that luxury, however. With that in mind, my church yearly joins with an organization called Church World Service to raise money to purchase blankets for those in need. The blankets, purchased one at a time by members of my congregation, are sent to people in need literally all around the world. In addition to being used for the obvious purpose (to keep warm), they often serve many other purposes as well. They can be used as outer clothing, as temporary shelter, and as a way to transport person belongs, just to name a few.
     Although this has been an annual event at my church, we added a new “wrinkle” this year. We left our Christmas tree up in the sanctuary (minus the ornaments!) for the month of January and added a small white bow for every blanket that was purchased. The bows served as a marvelous visual reminder of the impact the congregation would have around the world. By the end of the month, 222 blankets had been purchased- so many, in fact, that a second tree had to be erected to accommodate all the bows! I continue to be amazed at this congregation’s willingness to be so involved in God’s ministry and mission. When we give of our prayers, presence, gifts and service in ministry to others, we are truly being the hands and feet, the eyes and ears of God.
     A blanket costs $10. Over the years, I have heard people say, “Well, $10…one blanket…what kind of a difference is THAT going to make?” Perhaps you’re thinking that as well. Let me share two thoughts with you. One- one blanket may NOT make a difference to a large group of people, but it can make a HUGE difference to ONE person. Two- If only one person in my church donated for a blanket, not many people would be touched. But with 222 blankets being shipped as a direct result of the mission and ministry of ONE church, hundreds will be touched. Now, multiply that out by the number of churches in the country, and suddenly a difference is being made on a GLOBAL scale!
     Now, I’m not saying you need to run out and buy a blanket for the needy. What I AM saying is this- in what ways are you involved in improving the overall quality of life on the planet? I what ways are making a difference in the lives of others? In what ways are you reflecting the love of God to those around you? THAT’S when we really start impacting the world! Find a humanitarian effort you’re passionate about…and get behind it! Find out how you can help make difference in that ministry. The roll up your sleeves, dive in and see what can happen. The amazing thing is this- the more you help other people, the more you will be blessed in the process!
     Thanks for stopping by for a moment today- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Beauty For Ashes

      Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the period of Lent. Huh? Let me explain. Lent is the 40-day span from now until Easter (not including Sundays, as they are seen as “mini-Easters”). Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of that time.  What is Ash Wednesday? It is derived from the Old Testament practice of putting ashes (associated with humility and mortality, fasting and remorse) on your head as a sign of repentance.  The ashes are intended to remind us of our own mortality, our sin. If you’ve sinned (and we all have- Romans 3:23, “For
all have sinned and have come short of the glory of God”), if you want to repent of your sin, then you receive the ashes as a sign of your sorrow and repentance.  Around 230AD, a group of Christians began fasting (as a way to prepare their hearts) for the 40 hours leading up to Easter. The idea caught on. Later, it was changed to 7 days of fasting, bringing about the understanding of Holy Week. And in 325AD, the church officially made it 40 days. Some questions that come up:

A. From where do the ashes come? Traditionally, the ashes for Ash Wednesday come from last year’s Palm Sunday palm branches.

B. Why 40 days? Right after Jesus was baptized, He went out into the desert to fast and be tempted by the Devil for 40 days. Those 40 days were a time of introspection, preparation. During Lent, we are invited to make that journey with Jesus.

C. What is repentance? There are 2 Greek words for repentance. The 1st one is “metanoia”, which means “to change your mind”. When you repent, you change your mind about your actions. If you want to be right with God, you have to change your mind about the way you’ve been living. The 2nd Greek word is “anastrepho”, which means “to turn around”. Changing your mind about your sin isn’t enough. You have to change your direction- turn around. True repentance isn’t feeling sorry for yourself because you did something wrong. It’s feeling sorry enough about your actions to change your habits, your life. Repentance is realizing that your life is going in the wrong direction and turning around.

D. Why should I sacrifice something for Lent? We don’t sacrifice during Lent to get God’s attention. We do it so God can better get OUR attention.

E. What is MY role in Lent? Lent is a time to evaluate yourself in light of God’s Word. It’s a time to receive God’s forgiveness and strength, to renew your desire to serve God. It’s a time of self-examination, acknowledging that we are not perfect, that there are things that need to be changed, adjusted. Ash Wednesday is about getting rid of our sin and about admitting to God that we are nothing but dust and ashes without Him in our lives. It’s a chance for us to come clean, to clear the air between us and God.

     Lent is a time of spiritual “spring cleaning”. Take a close look at yourself, and ask, “What kind of person am I? What are my strengths? What are my weaknesses? What are my sins? In which areas do I need to improve my life? Do I show God’s love through my words and actions? Do I love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength? Do I make sacrifices for Him? What kind of person am I? Look deep within yourself, then look to Jesus, who won the battle for you, and receive His forgiveness. Let your appreciation for Him grow during Lent. Become more aware of just how much He loves you.
     Read Psalm 51- “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion, blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin, for I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place. Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.”
     These next 40 days, I invite you to think of your sins, and then rejoice in Jesus’ forgiveness. Let God strengthen you through his Word this Lenten season. Let God help you overcome the sin in your life. And once these 40 days before Easter are over, continue living for Jesus. Remember that God loves you! No matter who you are or what you’ve done, you can always come back to God. He’s right here, arms are open, just waiting for you to repent and come home!
     Have a blessed day, and thanks for stopping by. Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Pancakes, Anyone?

      Today is Shrove Tuesday. Doesn’t ring a bell? How about Pancake Tuesday? Nope? Fat Tuesday? That’s starting to sound familiar. Mardi Gras? Ah, there is it! The day before Ash Wednesday (read tomorrow’s blog for more information about Ash Wednesday) is seen as the day to “get it all out of your system”, so to speak. Shrove Tuesday gets its name from the ritual of shriving, when the faithful confessed their sins to the local priest and received forgiveness before the Lenten season (the time leading up to Easter) began. As far back as 1000 AD, “to shrive” meant to hear confessions. In fact, the term survives today in the expression “short shrift”- giving little attention to someone’s explanations or excuses.
     So Shrove Tuesday marks the beginning of the 40 days of Lent- a period of fasting when the faithful were forbidden by the church to consume things like butter, eggs or milk. most families had a store of these foods in their pantry which would go bad by the time the fast ended on Easter Sunday. So they would try and use up the milk, butter and eggs ahead of Shrove Tuesday. That’s explains Fat Tuesday. Take the eggs, milk and butter, mix them with a little flour, and you get…pancakes! Ergo, Pancake Tuesday!
     So, the day before Ash Wednesday is the day to
“get it all out of your system”. That explains Mardi Gras. It is intended as a last-ditch joyride before the sacrifice of Lent. (And if have ever been in New Orleans for Mardi Gras or seen the festivities on TV- “last-ditch joyride” is an EXCELLENT description!) The interesting thing about this, however, is that while I have had many people tell me that they want/need to enjoy the hedonistic (Google it) pleasure of Mardi Gras so they can be ready for Lent…but then they do absolutely nothing to actually recognize Lent when it comes.
     Lent is SUCH an important time in the life of a Christian. It is this time of preparation that truly allows us to be ready to understand and appreciate the power of Easter. Without Easter, there IS no Christianity. Without Easter, Jesus was just a good guy who taught some good things, did some good things, and ultimately died a violent and horrible death for his troubles. But the empty tomb of Easter ushers in the true nature of Jesus- the only begotten, risen Son of God who died for our sins and rose for our eternity. But if Lent is glossed over and we simply rush headlong to Easter, there is no way to adequately appreciate the power and majesty of the day. Giving up something for Lent (my wife and I are being “vegiquariums” during Lent- not eating beef, pork and chicken but instead eat only seafood and produce…PRAY FOR ME!) gives you just a SMALL taste of the sacrifice Jesus made for us. So…have a big steaming plate of pancakes tonight…and then decide what you might be willing to sacrifice between now and Easter that will help you prepare for Easter. (If you decide you ARE going to give up something, I would LOVE to hear from you regarding what it is. I would also love to pray for you during Lent. Just hit “home” above and choose “email stickwithjesus”, drop me a note and let me know, and KNOW that I will pray daily for you.
     Have a blessed day, please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Prayer Stones

     On Sunday, Sept. 11, 2005, my church undertook an unusual project- each person in attendance that day received a red glass “stone” (the kind you’d buy at a craft store). It was to represent ONE sincere prayer they had. They were invited to put this “Prayer Stone” somewhere they would see it regularly- their dresser, their desk at work, the dashboard of their car, their pocket, their purse, etc. Every time they saw it, they would be reminded to pray for that ONE thing. And WHEN their prayer was answered, they were invited to bring their stone back and place it on the altar as a visual acknowledgment of answered prayer. They were welcome to share the details with me- or they were free to remain completely  anonymous. Whether I know the details or not…God does! When stones came back,they were pointed out (and shared, if appropriate) during worship. Then they were placed in a glass container on the altar. I envisioned this as a “one-shot” deal- get a stone, pray, return it…end of story. But God had other plans!
     As the stones began returning, people began asking me if they could have another stone for another prayer. I had some “leftovers” in my office, so I willingly obliged. As more and more people requested more and more stones, I had to go and buy more! And the stones just kept on coming! As of the writing of this article, there are exactly 235 stones in the container on the altar! 235! That means we have averaged slightly more than one stone returned as recognized answered prayer EVERY SUNDAY for about 4 1/2 years! I now carry 5-6 stones with me at all times so that, when someone asks me for a Prayer Stone, I can immediately oblige! (It makes for interesting conversations at Wal-Mart when the cashier sees all those stones!)
     Do YOU believe God ALWAYS answers prayer? I do! I also believe  that often God doesn’t answer prayer the way WE want. But I find, looking back with the luxury of hindsight, that God’s solution is always MUCH better than the one I dreamed up! What prayer is on YOUR heart today? Perhaps you could use a Prayer Stone. There is absolutely NOTHING magical about a hunk of red glass- it’s just a placeholder, a reminder to daily turn to the One who made you and pray for Divine Intervention! God is good, all the time!
     Thanks for stopping by today- have a blessed day! Please make sure you come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Burning Heart

    Women- if you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it was (and always will be) yours. If it never returns, it was never yours to begin with. If it just sits in your living room, messes up your stuff, eats your food, uses your telephone, takes your money, and never behaves as if you actually set it free in the first place, you either married it or gave birth to it!
     We are in the 7th and final week of our current 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. The 3rd week saw the turned heart. The 4th week it was the disciplined heart. The  5th week we looked at the trimmed heart. Last week it was the giving heart. And today we finish with the burning heart. As we finish the journey the heart makes, I will ask the same question I’ve asked every week- where do you find YOURSELF on the journey? Today is Valentine’s Day, and the inevitable topic is love. So…do you love God with all your heart? Consider that question as you read this passage:
     Deuteronomy 6:3-6– “Hear, O Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your fathers, promised you.  4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.
     A man and his wife were having some problems at home and were giving each other the silent treatment. Suddenly, the man realized that the next day, he would need his wife to wake him at 5:00 AM for an early morning business flight. Not wanting to be the first to break the silence and lose, he wrote on a piece of paper, “Please wake me at 5:00 AM.” He left it where he knew she would find it. The next morning, the man woke up, only to discover it was 9:00 AM and he had missed his flight. Furious, he was about to go and see why his wife hadn’t wakened him, when he noticed a piece of paper by the bed. The paper said, “It’s 5:00 AM. Wake up!” Ah, such heart!
     The word heart refers to the center of an object. In Hebrew it means “the kernel of the nut”. It has to do with feelings, will, intellect. More people die from a heart attack than any other killer. The same is true spiritually.  God always begins with the heart, then works outward. The heart comes first. The heart is to be guarded at all cost. The reason we have so many casualties spiritually is because the heart is ignored. The heart should receive the greatest effort. We protect our homes with security systems, dead bolts, motion detector lights- yet we ignore our hearts. Too many Christians try to live their Christian life with no effort, but life is a constant warfare that requires spiritual energy. Sounds great, makes sense…but how do we do it? We do it by living our lives according to 5 guidelines:
I. Keep your mouth right- what comes out of your mouth has a profound bearing on your heart. Mean-spirited speech is a sure indicator of a mean-spirited heart. I love it when people cuss in front of me and follow it up with, “pardon my French, Reverend.” My response? (Innocently) “I didn’t realize that was French!” There is a connection between our tongues and our hearts. Our mouths do more damage to our hearts than anything else. Keeping your heart right means you must also keep your mouth in check. A wrong mouth and a right heart can’t occupy the same body. Don’t allow your mouth to overload your heart.
II. Keep your eyes right- what your eyes see affects your heart. Keep your eyes straight ahead. Much of the temptation we face is brought on through our eyes. The eyes are incredibly influential on the body. Most of your memory is formed by the eyes. You can remember more than 80% of what you see and only about 11% of what you hear.
What the eyes see…the heart wants. When you allow your eyes to run freely without any control you risk a “heart attack.”
III. Keep your feet right- where your feet go will cause your heart to respond. Don’t just turn your feet loose to go anywhere they want to go. Don’t make rash decisions. Be careful whom you walk with. Use wisdom in choosing your path of life.
IV. Keep your ears right- the ears hear things at times that they should not hear. There are times when we should put earplugs in our ears and go on and serve God.
V. Keep your heart right- if you do not keep the heart protected you face serious spiritual injury.
Has your heart become sluggish in your relationship with Jesus Christ? Have you lost that personal connection? One thing that will help you regain that connection is revival. Revival has one chief aim- to cleanse us of sin, to purify us. Revival is God’s surgery for people who have grown spiritually hard of hearing. Revival creates a burning heart.
     Burning hearts burn out complacency, discouragement and despair. Burning hearts are filled with the presence, power, purpose and protection of God. How can we turn up the flame on our heart? How do we regain that bright flame? If you want your heart to burn for God- you have to stoke it, feed it. Getting closer to Jesus Christ is how our hearts are set aflame. The closer we come to Jesus, the brighter and hotter our hearts will burn for Him. Ask Jesus to take over leadership of your life. Give your life to the One who gave you life; the One Who gave His life for you. Would you rather have a heart that’s as cold as ice…or a heart burning with passion for God? The choice is truly yours.
     John Bisagno, former Pastor of Houston’s First Baptist Church, tells the story of his coming there to interview for the position of pastor many years ago. He said that as he entered the auditorium it was dimly lit, with just a few people huddled together. They were singing some old slow funeral type song that was depressing. Later that day he took a walk in downtown Houston and came upon a jewelry store. It was some sort of grand opening and there were bright lights and a greeter at the door to welcome you in with a smile. Inside there was a celebration going on. There were refreshments and people having a good time talking and laughing with each other. They welcomed him and offered him some punch. He said that after attending both the church and the jewelry store, if the jewelry store had offered an invitation, he would have joined the jewelry store! Methodist founder John Wesley said, “If I had 300 people who feared nothing but God, hated nothing but sin, and determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ, we would set the world on fire.”
    When you’re offered a job, you don’t just consider the salary- you look at ALL the benefits: insurance, vacation time, pension, etc. If you look at the benefits of faith- I’m confident you will say, “God, I’ve looked over the whole benefits package you offer- and I ACCEPT!” Here we are, each on our own road heading somewhere. Jesus has one desire, to meet us on our road to somewhere and make something very clear. He died and He rose again to set our hearts on fire. Where is your heart today? Are you in a depressing spiritual walk? Do you have all the information, all the head knowledge, but it doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of difference? Is your heart on fire because of Jesus or has your pilot light gone out? Jesus is here and ready to re
-ignite your fire! Will you meet Him on your road to somewhere?

Love- Wikipedia Style

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Wikipedia- have you heard of it? To some, it is the wonder of the Modern Age. To others, it is the bane of rational thought and NOT to be used by any self-respecting intellectual…which is EXACTLY why I am quoting it now! Here’s how Wikipedia defines themselves- “a multilingual, web-based, free-content encyclopedia project based on an openly-editable model.” As of 2009, it has 65 million visitors monthly. Written collaboratively by an international group of volunteers, there are more than 85,000 active contributors working on more than 14,000,000 articles in more than 260 languages. And, and tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, Wikipedia has some interesting things to say about…love. It offers the following steps on HOW to love:

1. Say it– When you say the words “I Love You”, they should carry with them the desire to show someone that you love them. Make sure you really mean it and are willing to do anything for that special person.

2. Love unconditionally– If you can’t love someone without attaching stipulations, then it is not really love. If you have no intention of allowing that person to be themselves and accepting them as they are, then you are not loving them unconditionally.

3. Expect nothing in return– Love just for the sake of love. Realize that someone may have a different way of showing his or her love for you; do not expect to be loved back in exactly the same way.

     OK- Wikipedia has its problems…admittedly! But in THIS case…I think they got it fairly correct! Think about what they said- if you love someone, you need to tell them (“say it”). They need to KNOW that you love them, and they only way they can truly know that is if you TELL them! They also said to NOT put qualifiers on your love for someone (“love unconditionally”). If we ONLY love someone based on what they do or don’t do for us…it’s NOT love. Lastly, they said don’t have ulterior motives for your love (“expect nothing in return”).

     What does the  Bible say about such things? Well…to be honest, it says A LOT of things about love. But perhaps the best spot to look is the 13th chapter of the New Testament book 1Corinthians– “The Love Chapter”:

     If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have  a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.  Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts,
always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love
.”

     Love is SO many things…good and bad. TRUE love is all the things mentioned in this passage. And how comforting is it to consider that, when EVERYTHING else around you is failing, there will be 3 things that remain- faith hope, and love…and that the GREATEST of these is love?! Celebrate Valentine’s Day tomorrow by telling the people you love THAT you love them!

     Thanks for spending a few minutes with me this morning. I pray that you have a blessed day. Please share this with other people…people you love! Make sure and come back tomorrow and stick with Jesus!

The Great Emancipator

      The picture was taken at the Antietam battlefield. I don’t know who the gentlemen on the left and right are…but we ALL know who the gentleman in the middle is. Today is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. Born on February 12th, 1809, Lincoln has become, over the years, the president many lift as the greatest in our country’s history. High praise for some with such humble beginnings.
     Being an Illinoian born and bred, I have always understood the importance of Lincoln to both the state and the nation. But I remember as a kid having my mom tell me we were off school because it was Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. I asked when he was born and when my mom told me 1865, my response was, “Man…he’s old!” (I keep telling you I am NOT the sharpest tool in the shed some days!)
     Lincoln was a polarizing, somewhat enigmatic figure. He was born to Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks, two farmers, in a one-room log cabin on the 348-acre Sinking Spring Farm in southeast Hardin County, Kentucky. This fact made him the first president born “in the west”. In 1816 he moved to Indiana, and in 1830 on to Illinois. He was, among other things, a shopkeeper in Salem, IL and an attorney in Springfield, IL. He married Mary Todd in 1842 (her parents disagreed with her marrying Lincoln because he had a poor background), and they had 4 children- Robert, Edward, Willie and Tad. Robert was the only one to reach adulthood. (Ironically, Robert would go on to be an eyewitness to Pres. Garfield’s assassination, andwas at the World’s Fair when Pres. McKinley was assassinated.  He was also saved from a train accident by Edwin Booth, the brother of his father’s killer, John Wilkes Booth!)
     We all know the details surrounding his assassination. (Did you know that Booth yelled, “sic semper tyrannis!” as he leapt to the stage after shooting Lincoln? It’s a Latin phrase meaning “thus always to tyrants”. It’s often mistranslated “death to tyrants”. It’s the official motto of Virginia and was also said during the assassination Julius Caesar.) But here are some interesting things you may NOT know about our 16th president:

     – He created a national banking system with the National Banking Act in 1863, resulting in the
       first standardized currency in America.
     – He was the tallest U.S president at 6ft 4 inches, and the first president to have a beard.
     – He was fond of pets, owning at various times horses, cats, dogs and a turkey.
     – He was afraid of dentists because a dentist broke off part of his jawbone while pulling a tooth.
     – He is the only U.S. president to hold a patent. In 1849, he came up with an idea that helps
       boats float over sandbars.
     – His stovepipe hat served as more than fashionable headwear.  He used it to store and carry
       notes, letters, even bills. 
     – Some think his historic Gettysburg Address speech wasn’t even his best. A speech he made to        the Illinois Republican Convention on May 29, 1856 is thought by some to be his best, but      
       sadly, no record of it exists.

     Lincoln died on April 15th, 1865 at the age of 56. When my family stood in the room where he died- in a house across the street from Ford’s Theater- and looked at the bed on which they laid him, it was a very sobering moment, to be sure. But there was also an overwhelming sense of history as I stood there- of some connection to the past, to this great man who had such an impact on our nation. I could almost see the body, the people crowded around him. I could almost hear the panic, the fear, the crying, as the magnitude of what happened settled on the people gathered there and began to spread across Washington D.C, across the nation. Not many people in the history of the United States is remembered, and beloved, by more people that Abraham Lincoln. Take a moment today and thank God for him, and people like him- people who refuse to simply maintain the status quo but stand up and demand to be counted, insist that there is a better way, a brighter future, for all.
     Thanks for stopping by today! Have a blessed day, make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Two Turtle Doves…Abra and Dabra

      I have mentioned before that I used to make my living as a magician and juggler. What I DIDN’T tell you is that I faked my way into it in the first place! My undergrad degree is in acting, and one of the first things you are taught as an actor is this: when a director asks you if you can do something…say “yes”! It doesn’t really matter whether or not you can ACTUALLY do it! If he says, “Can you ride a horse?”, your response is a resounding, “YES!”….And then you go out and learn how to ride a horse! Well, when I was near the end of my Junior year of college, K-Mart opened a fledgling restaurant chain called Abra-K-Dabra. The idea was simple- pizza, sandwiches, salads, etc., with live magic throughout the day. I wanted IN on that! So, I went to apply. The guy talking applications (who turned out to be the manage of the location I worked at) said, “Do you do magic?” My response? “Of course!”…It was a bold-faced LIE! I had dabbled with one or two magic tricks that EVERY kid does, and I was a performer, but I had NEVER really combined those two things! So, he hired me on the spot! And I set out to become a magician!
     Now, fast-forward about 3 years. I am out of college, working as an actor and as the Business Manager of a theater in St. Louis. I am also trying to develop a legit magic act. Someone offered to sell me a pair of doves. I thought to myself, “Self…doves…magic…hmmm! I think I could make something of that!” I knew NOTHING about doves or how to train them for magic- I only knew they looked COOL when they appeared from out of nowhere! So, I bought them and their cage, took them home and named them Abra and Dabra. (Hey! I never claimed to be the sharpest tool in the shed!)  David Copperfield, watch out! Now, you must understand- the internet was still nestled snugly in Al Gore’s head for most of us regular citizens at that time. I couldn’t simply get on line and Google “how to train doves” like I can now! So I…played around…with how to train them. But because I REALLY had no clue what I was doing, there was simply NOT much training going on! The birds couldn’t do magic…but they COULD coo! And BOY, did they! They didn’t care what time it was- they just KNEW when it was sunup. And if you are thinking, “Well, why didn’t you just covere their cage?”, I made be an idiot but I’m NO fool! I covered their cage with everything except 3 yards of concrete- nothing worked! I put them everywhere in the house I could think of, including one night in the CLOSET, thinking it would be dark enough to satisfy them so I could get some sleep. NOTHING worked!
     In the middle of all this, I was engaged to be married, and I made the mistake of telling my “intended” about this revolting development. She didn’t really have a great fondness for birds to begin with, and the thought of 1. living with them and 2. having to hear them coo did NOT sit well! I kept assuring her it would NOT be a problem…meanwhile wondering how in the world it was NOT gonng to be a problem! Well, we got married, went on a brief honeymoon, and came back to live together in the apartment. The first morning…”Coo! Coo!” Second morning…”Coo! Coo!” Third morning…”Coo! Coo!” (See a pattern developing?) By the fourth morning, I received an ultimatum…”me or the birds…you pick!” Let’s see, a lifetime with an incredible, beautiful, awesome woman…or these 2 birds which had brought me nothing but less money and sleeplessness…hmmm…is this a TRICK question?! THAT VERY DAY I found a new home for them, actually GIVING them away to ensure they wouldn’t be in the apartment one more night. I had the best sleep I had in WEEKS that night AND I am still married to that  incredible, beautiful, awesome woman! I think I made the right choice…what do you think?!
     I often deal with people who are in the middle of (or sadly in the aftermath of) a fractured relationship. And I’m not just talking marriages, although the statistics aren’t all that great in that department these days. All sorts of relationships get strained, stretched and sometimes broken all the time. Friends, work relations, people in your church, neighbors, even family members are often at odds. And I feel like a common thread throughout many of these strained relationships is an unwillingness to “meet in the middle”.  How often have you been in a relationship where you came to a crossroads – a disagreement about something perhaps – and there were two choices: one of you bend, or the relationship breaks. What did you do? Were you willing to bend? Was the other person? Or did that relationship suffer perhaps irreparable damage? Now, don’t misunderstand me- you can’t/shouldn’t be the one to “give” EVERY time this comes up. But you SHOULD be willing to be that person at least 50% of the time. I find may people aren’t willing to do that. They want it their way…period. Sadly, I find a lot of those people end up being rather lonely, as well.
     You may be asking yourself, “How do I know when to “give” and when NOT to?” Ask yourself thos, “Is THIS a hill I’m willing to die on?” In other words (to use language I use when I do pre-marital counseling), is this a deal-breaker? You know what I mean- which is more important in THIS particular situation…coming to a consensus…or winning? Are you in the middle of a situation like this right now? If so, search yourself. Ask yourself the questions we’ve looked. Decide which hills you are willing to die on. And make the BEST decision for the relationship…for everyone involved. Let me know how things turn out!
     As always, thanks for stopping by today. I pray that you have a blessed day. Please share this with people who need to hear it. Make sure and stop back by tomorrow (when we will look at…Abraham Lincoln!) and stick with Jesus!

North Carolina Cheerwine!

      The year was 1988- July to be exact. I had been in the ministry a grand whopping total of 11 months. And I was going on my FIRST mision trip. Not only was I GOING on my first mission trip- I was LEADING the mission trip! (Talk about the blind leading the blind!) Six of us (3 adults and 3 youth) piled into a van early on a Saturday morning and drove to North Carolina. That night, we slept on the floor of a United Methodist Church in Ashville, North Carolina. (In the middle of the night, a FIFTY-strong high choir came in and joined us!) The next morning, Sunday, we drove to Camp McCall, just outside Bostic, North Carolina. There, we joined 44 other people from churches around the country. We spent that day getting settled, getting acclimated, and being assigned to work teams. The teams consisted of 5 youth and 2 adults, and you were intentionally NOT put with anyone who can with you. The next morning – Monday – each team got their work assignment and tool list for the day. They went to the tool shed, checked out what they needed, and headed out into the hills of southern North Carolina. My group was AWESOME! We spent the week rebuilding porches, sealing house trailer roofs, framing walls and hanging doors. I grew close to my team…I grew close to everyone in the camp that week. AND…I was introduced to a product that would turn out to be nectar of the gods! That product is…(drum roll please!)…Cheerwine!
     Cheerwine is primarily unique to North Carolina (although you can buy it online and at specialty stores around the country). It is, first off, NOT wine. It is not alcohol of any kind. It is a soft drink,,,a cherry soft drink. And it is awesome! The woman who was my “partner” that week introduced it to me. We were on the way back to camp after a hard day’s work when she (she was from North Carolina, by the way) said to me, “Ya’ll ever had Cheerwine?” “I’m sorry?” “Cheerwine.” “Cheerwine?” Cheerwine.” It was quickly denigrading into a bad Abbott and Costello bit before I understood what Cheerwin was. We stopped at a convenience store along the way, where I bought my first…Cheerwine. I was hot, and it was COLD…and delicious! I guzzled the first one in moments and bought a second. I think I drank eight of them that week! Since then, I have ordered it online twice and had one of the youth who went with me on that trip, who is now a grown man, bring me back a case. I still have that FIRST empty glass bottle, from that convenience store, sitting on a shelf in my office. In it is a nail from the porch I helped rebuild that summer.
     I have fond memories of that trip. (And of the Cheewine!) Mission trips have helped shaped my ministry, my faith, my life. I have been on six of them and am currently planning number seven, which will happen this summer. I will, over the next few months, write about the other five I have been on, and will share number seven with you when it is in the history books. But let me say, right here, right now, that to go somewhere specifically to help other people is one of the best things you can ever do. You leave thinking you are going to give to others. But you come back realizing you have received MUCH more than you gave!
     Thanks for stopping by today. Have blessed day, have a Cheerwine for me, make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

A Hundred-Acre Wood Theology

          There’s a Peanuts cartoon where Lucy demands that Linus get up and change the channel. “What makes you think you take over?” Linus asks.  Lucy responds,“These 5 fingers. Individually…they’re nothing! But when I curl them into a single unit, they create a weapon terrible to behold.” Linus thinks for a moment, then replies, “Which channel do you want?” As he walks to the TV, he looks at his own fingers and says, “Why can’t you guys get organized like that?” Cartoon characters hold a special place in the American lexicon, and perhaps none are more revered than Winnie the Pooh and his friends in the Hundred-Acre Wood. Author A.A. Milne created an amazing world populated with an incredibly diverse group of “types”. As we walk through the various characters, ask yourself- “which one am I?
     First off is the title character- Winnie the Pooh. He is a chubby little bear. He wears an old red t-shirt and is stuffed with fluff. He’s easy-going, likable, and not easily upset. He is quiet, slow moving and philosophical. He seems somewhat intellectual, but it is really simplicity in disguise. He refers to himself as a “bear of very little brain”, but he has an uncommon, clear-eyed wisdom. He loves to play games and have adventures. He likes humming, poems, songs and finding and eating honey. And what does he hold dear? His friends’ happiness is his chief concern; there is no better friend than Winnie the Pooh. Is THAT you?
     Next is Piglet. He is a small, timid pink pig with a long striped shirt. He is soft-spoken and skittish, often wringing his hands. His stuttering and ear twitching convey his nervousness and fear, but inside that small frame is a big heart. His generosity and humility far outweigh his meager size. He wants to be brave and often conquers his fears. He is eager to experience the world, and he is a good friend.  He loves adventures, bright colors and balloons. He loves to blow dandelions, and he tends to see the silver lining in the grey cloud. Is THAT you?
     Next up is Eeyore. He is an old grey donkey whose tail keeps coming off and whose house keeps falling down. He is intelligent, quiet, methodical, melancholy and gloomy…but he doesn’t see himself as gloomy! He has low expectation about anything and anybody, and when his friends help, his expectations are surpassed and he’s grateful. He pretends to help others because he has nothing better to do, but he is always there for his friends. The bright pink bow on his tail represents the kernel of joy that occasionally surfaces. Is THAT you?
     Next up is Tigger- or as he says, “T-I-Double Guh-er”! He is a very bouncy striped tiger. He is active and fun-loving. His top is made of rubber and his bottom of springs. He is cheerful, outgoing, competitive, confident and exuberant. He undertakes tasks with gusto, and is always eager to share his joy with his friends…even when they don’t want him to! He is one of a kind, he acts on every impulse, he often leap before looks, he is larger than life. But underneath that happy-go-lucky exterior beats a surprisingly sensitive, gentle heart. He never gets lost, but loves finding lost friends, and his bouncing is an expression of his zest for life. Is THAT you?
     Next is Rabbit. He’s…well…a rabbit! He is pushy, decisive and a good speller. His life is made up of Important Things. He likes to organize and take charge- he is the self-appointed leader. He is stubborn about his viewpoints, he often overreacts, and he becomes disoriented very quickly in unfamiliar surroundings. He is arguably the smartest, most responsible and most practical of the bunch, and underneath that bristly exterior is a good heart. His know-it-all attitude is tempered by an ability to admit when he’s wrong. He is loyal to friends he knows, but reluctant to welcome newcomers. Is THAT you?
     Next is Owl. He is a large bird wo speaks very eloquently. Everyone thinks he is the wisest, but sometimes he is a real bore. He is always happy to offer his opinions, advice and anecdotes, whether they are wanted or not. Is THAT you?
     Next we have Kanga. She is a mother kangaroo. She is tenderhearted, the voice of reason, a symbol of security. She takes great care of others, has a good sense of humor, is gentle with her discipline, and full of mother’s intuition. She automatically knows “the right thing to do”, without even thinking. She likes to keep things clean, she likes to count and organize things, she is kind to everyone, and she will help anyone who needs it. Oh, and she is the fastest animal in woods! Is THAT you?
     Then there is Roo. He is the joey, the baby kangaroo, but don’t let his age and size fool you. He lives life large, is extremely curious and fun-loving, and constantly gets in trouble…but learns his lesson. He is cheerful, enthusiastic, curious, fun, loving, and takes great joy in discovering the wonders of life. He is capable of expressing thoughts and feelings, and he approaches life in a loving, sympathetic manner. His biggest influence is his mom. He is wise beyond his years, and thinks he can do anything. Is THAT you?
      Last we have the American addition to the cast- Gopher. He is a builder and excavator. He is generally hard-working, but often doesn’t look where he’s going. He often falls into his own tunnels. He is smart, but lacks common sense, and has a habit of whistling when he talks. Is THAT you?
     Quick…what do Alexander the Great and Winnie the Pooh have in common? They have the same middle name! (Boo!) So…which one do you most connect with? Also, which type aggravates you the most? I know you’re wondering, so…I see myself as a cross between the ADD Tigger and the take-charge Rabbit! Why did Milne create so many types? Is there a need for each of them? Let’s look.
     There are three truths about the Hundred-Acre Wood that speak to us today:

#1- Each member is essential- they are NOT the same…but they ARE essential to the whole. Not all have a leading role, but all have a purpose and a place.

#2- Each member is interdependent- without the cooperation of each, vital tasks are impossible. Think about the act of speech- the brain, nerves, tongue, jaws, lips, larynx, lungs, diaphragm, heart, veins, arteries and capillaries all work together to make that happen- all are essential.

#3- Each member is interconnected- what affects one is felt by all. Have you ever smashed your pinkie toe? Every part of your body joins in on the response- your leg jumps up and down, your back bends, your hand massages, your mouth moans and groans. No part is untouched- all are affected, all come to the aid of the one. If we’re going to be a vital part of the body, we have to do our part and be connected with others. Winnie the Pooh says, “You can’t stay in your corner of the forest, waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.” Each member is indispensable, interdependent, interconnected- we NEED each other.
     Winnie also says, “Before beginning the hunt, it is wise to ask what you are looking for before you begin looking for it!” God is looking for people to be a part of His plans and purposes in the world. And I truly believe each of us was placed here in a strategic role for just such a time as this! You ARE an important part of that effectiveness- BE a part of it, carry out your function, use your gifts.
     At the end of the Milne book, Pooh and Piglet are walking home, and Piglet says, “Pooh, when you wake up, what’s the first thing you say?” Pooh replies, “What’s for breakfast? Why…
what do YOU say?” Piglet says, “I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” Pooh responds, “Same thing!” With all due respect to Pooh, they are NOT the not same! Breakfast Dreams are dreams of survival, of burying your talents in the ground and not using them. But Excitement Dreams are dreams of flourishing, of investing your spiritual treasure for an abundant return. Dreams take substantial effort, and they carry the risk of failure…but they are NOT impossible. What kinds of dreams can YOU dream?
     Thanks for stopping by today- have a blessed day! Please share this with others, make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!