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!