The Mission Trip That Wasn’t

     If you have been reading the Wednesday entries of late, you know that 1. the past several have been devoted to past Mission Trips I have led, in anticipation of the one I will lead this summer to inner-city Cincinnati, and 2. there were six in a row, leading up to the one we look at today- the summer of 2004.

     The way I choose Mission Trip sites is that I pray about it. I look for some discernment from God regarding where we are to go. Once I get that discernment, I start contact United Methodist organizations in that area, looking for a church/ministry that would be a good fit for us. That approach has ALWAYS work well. So, as I began to prepare for Mission ’04, I prayed about it…and God said, “Nebraska”. So I dutifully started contacting United Methodist organizations, looking for a fit, and as always, I found one. But as I began to dig into the meat of the preparation, I had a nagging feeling that I wasn’t meant to actually attend this particular trip…I didn’t know why…just that it was so. Well…soon, I found out why.
     My mom had been diagnosed with lung cancer in November of 2003, and in January of 2004, I found out 2 life-altering things: I was moving and my mom was dying. Then I understood why I was not to go on the trip. So, I planned the trip accordingly. Many of the things that I would have done “on the fly” on the trip I now had to plan ahead for and find folks to pick up that slack. The awesome thing was that, after 6 Mission Trips, I had LOTS of people who were “veterans”…it was so great to be able to plug them into leadership roles on the trip.
      I helped the team load the bus for the trip in mid-June- I shed a tear or two as I prayed for them, knowing that I couldn’t go with them. Over the next two weeks, the following happened: my family packed everything we owned on a moving van in preparation for our move, the Mission Team completed their trip and returned with great stories to tell, and my mom lost her battle with cancer. She died on a Tuesday, my house got loaded on a van on Wednesday, it got UNLOADED on Thursday, I performed her funeral on Friday, we drove 5 1/2 hours  to our new home on Saturday, we crashed and burned on Sunday, and I started at my new church on Monday! A whirlwind tour, to say the least!
     I have often heard it said that if you want to make God laugh…tell Him your plans. It’s a bit hackneyed and trite…but also fairly accurate! I’m amazed at how often I (Mr. Schedule) find that what I had planned is NOT what comes to fruition. I am also amazed at how the plans God has for me always turn out so much better than the ones I had for myself! What are YOUR plans? Are they etched on stone…or Etch-a-Sketch? If they are etched in stone, my suggestion is that you find a gear to relax that a bit, knowing that, not matter what you may have planned, at least some parts of your life simply aren’t going to happen the way you imagine. It doesn’t mean don’t plan (all that fail to plan, plan to fail business), but be willing to bend, stretch and grow as your plans do!
     Thanks for stopping by…I pray you have a blessed day! Please stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

10 Gallons of Paint in a 5-Gallon Bucket Revisited

     A few months back, I wrote a piece about being so busy and not having enough time to get everything done. I referred to that scenario as “trying to get 10 gallons of paint in a 5-gallon bucket”. Well…here I go again!

     The reality is that the season of Lent (the time leading up to Easter) is among the busiest times in the church year…or at least it should be. Without Christmas, there is no Jesus. But without Easter, there is no Christ. Easter should be THE most important time of the year for Christians. However, that means it also tends to be the busiest time of the year for the church…and for the church staff!! 
     The season of Lent began this year on February 17th- Ash Wednesday- and it ends on April 4th- Easter Sunday. For my church, this means 30 worship services in 47 days. That in addition to a weekly Bible Study, bi-weekly all-church dinners, monthly committee meetings, practices/performances for 3 separate bands, family commitments, kid commitments…oh yeah…an occasional sleep here and there! Now, what I am NOT saying is that I’m necessarily any busier than YOU- I find that most people these days are pretty heavily scheduled. I am also NOT saying that I wish Easter were over or that I don’t like my job- those are both FAR from the truth. What I am saying is this- the Easter season…Lent…whatever you would like to call it…should be seen as a time to focus. In the midst of the busyness, we need to find ways to slow down, take a big, deep breath, and re-focus on what it truly important. Because there is a STAGGERING difference between “important” and “urgent”. And the urgent stuff stands in front of you and yells in your face constantly, demanding attention. Therefore, we tend to focus all of our time and energy on the urgent. And SOMETIMES…that’s the right choice. But often…it’s not. If someone else decides they want to do something, or they forget to do something, or they do something incorrectly, that doesn’t mean you also have to run around like a chicken with your head cut off- imitating them. Their urgency and panic doesn’t have to be YOUR urgency and panic.
     Meanwhile, the important things tend to (not always) be sort of in the background- not causing a scene, not raising a ruckus, just…waiting…and watching how you react to what’s going on around you. Those important things tend to fall into three categories: personal, family, and faith. We tend to ignore our personal needs- healthy diet, enough sleep, taking good care of ourselves- because we are too busy tending to the urgent. But if we ignore our personal needs too long, nothing else will get done. We also tend to ignore our family. They are…there…and we take them for granted- they’ll always be there. So we focus on work, hobbies, whatever. But for many people, their family ISN’T always there- the kids grow up and move away, and sadly, sometimes the spouse has simply had enough of being ignored and moves on. 
     And then, there’s our faith. Even if we manage to juggle our personal and family needs pretty well, it is SO easy to ignore the spiritual needs. We get busy and church stops being a priority. Our prayer life stops being a priority. Our faith stops being a priority. I see it all too often. People who have been good, strong, dedicated Christians drift away and then start doing things, in the real- and/or cyber- world that reflect that drift. 
     Look over the last week- where did you spend your time? How much of it was spent chasing down the urgent and how much of it was spent with what’s important? Only you know the answer to that…you and God. Re-evaluate, and prepare for Easter Sunday by focusing on the important!
     Thanks for stopping by- have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Crack of the Bat

     Opening Day is ALMOST here! At 1:05PM on Monday, April 5th, the first pitch will be thrown out of the 2010 Major League Baseball season.  The Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Nationals represent the beginning of this season. Twelve more games will be played that day…and I will be in HOG HEAVEN! I won’t mention which team I root for because I don’t want to create enemies (OK…it’s the St. Louis Cardinals!), but the beginning of the baseball season is a special time for me. 

     I didn’t even like baseball when I was a kid. My family wasn’t really a bunch of sports fans, I followed right along. The Cardinals made it to the World Series 3 times in the 60’s- the first decade I was alive. I was AWARE of it, I sort of paid attention to it, but I really didn’t care that much. Then…a kid moved in down the road (growing up in the country, we didn’t have streets…we had ROADS!) who was to become my constant “boon” companion for years. As little of a sports fan as I was, that’s how BIG of a sports fan he was. He taught me about hockey, football, basketball…and baseball! I enjoyed learning about the other sports, and have remained a fan of each of them to varying degrees, but when baseball and I met, it began a lifelong love affair!
     There is something magical about baseball. It is the only sport where the defense controls the ball (think about it). It is the only major sport that has NO time restrictions- the half-inning ends when three outs happen…however long that takes! Likewise, the game ends when nine innings are completed…however long THAT takes…UNLESS of course the teams are tied. Then…extra innings!! And although it is a team sport, there are moments when it comes down to one person up against another. The pitcher stands on the mound, gripping the ball and communicating, long-distant and silently, with the catcher. The hitter stands in the batter’s box, bat in hand, digging his feet in, getting his stance just the way he wants it, and waiting for HIS pitch. THAT is the drama of baseball. Pitcher and catcher…and nothing else matters at that moment. Both players shut out everything around them….it is tunnel vision between pitcher’s mound and batter’s box. And the first time that the bat makes contact with them ball…ah…music to my ears! The ball on the bat, the ball in the glove, the sound of feet thundering around the bases, the chatter…it is the music of baseball…and I love every minute of it!
     The other thing that starts soon is church league softball (I wrote a blog about it a few months ago). Since I am simply too old at 48 (almost 49) to play baseball anymore, I have to get my fix somewhere…and church league softball fits the bill. Within the next week or so, I get to get out the glove and take throws and ground balls at first base- I can’t wait!
     What are YOU passionate about? It may not be the same things I’m passionate about, but what are the things that really get your juices flowing? Whatever they are, I have two thoughts for you:
1. do everything you can to actually participate in the things about which you passionate. Life is too short to not spend some time doing the things you love. Believe me, it is good for the soul!
2. is your commitment to God as complete as your commitment to the things from #1? Life is ALSO too short to NOT have a relationship with God. And, like the things in #1, believe me, it is GOOD for the soul! 
     As much as I love baseball (and I LOVE baseball), as much as I love my job (and I LOVE my job), as much as I love my family (and I REALLY LOVE my family), I try, every day, to put my relationship with God above all those things. I have found that, if you are able to truly put God first in your life, then the rest of the things in your life seem to just…fall into place. It doesn’t mean that everything will be all kittens and moonbeams- life will still have its ups and downs. But it DOES mean that, as you walk through the difficulties..you won’t walk through them alone. And I, for one, find that VERY comforting! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go rub some glove oil into my baseball glove…the 1st practice is ALMOST here!
     Thanks for stopping by…have a blessed day! Please make sure and come by tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Passion of the Christ

      Mark 11:1-10– “As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’ ” They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord””Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” “Hosanna in the highest!” If WE don’t lead the worship of JC…who will? If don’t proclaim kingship who will?
     People are front-runners…we LOVE what’s popular. Whatever the latest fad is, it doesn’t take long before the majority inevitably jumps on the bandwagon. And likewise, it doesn’t take long before they jump back off and move on to the next new, big thing. In just a few days, the people in Jerusalem went from cheering Jesus like a rock star to yelling that they would rather save a criminal than this…person who blasphemes that He’s King of the Jews. The palm branches that were waved triumphantly as Jesus entered the city are now crushed under the heel of oppression and hatred. What happened? People changed their minds.
     The world economy is based on the fact that we change our minds very quickly. The colors and lines that seemed SO spectacular in last year’s fashions don’t seem so good after all- in the cold, harsh light of…now. My phone (the Palm Pre), which was state of the art LAST summer, is now on the discount rack like another can of beans. The athlete who gets praised today for the game-winning, walk-off homer is the goat tomorrow because he lets a baseball roll between his legs. 
Depending on what we hear, see and feel…depending on what our hopes, dreams and desires are- we can change loyalties so fast it’ll make your head spin. 
     One minute we’re filled with awe and wonder- hungry to hear God’s Word and act on it. And the next minute…not so much. We’re faced with temptation. Something aggravates us…or attracts us, and our loyalty to God is threatened and begins to evaporate, and all the things that seemed SO clear in our minds just a minute ago are now hazy. And although it might surprise US when that happens…it doesn’t surprise God in the least. In fact, He’s so aware of it, He has a name for it- sin. 
     So, why did all this happen to Jesus? On one level, it happened simply because the crowd asked for it. In fact, they demanded it of Pontius Pilate. “Crucify him!” And Pilate wanted to appease the crowd, so…he did it. 
     It’s easy for us to condemn the crowd. They were fickle, stupid, evil. What happened? How could they have changed so quickly? What happened to those excited, committed people who were at the parade? Where are they now? It’s easy to condemn them, but are we really that different? What would it take to make us drop our palm branches and walk away? The core of the Christian experience is the cross of Jesus Christ. Through that brief moment in history, we learn more about ourselves and about God that we could ever learn otherwise. 
     Mark 15:1-15- Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, reached a decision. They bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate. “Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate. “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. The chief priests accused him of many things. So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.” But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed. Now it was the custom at the Feast to release a prisoner whom the people requested. A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did. “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, knowing it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead. “What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them. “Crucify him!” they shouted. “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.
     No matter how much you keep the law, no matter how good you are, it’s never going to be quite good enough. That’s why Jesus came in the first place, to die for us, to pay the price for our sin, to bring us into right relationship with God. Jesus came to take the penalty for what WE deserve- our selfishness, our willfulness, our amazing capacity to ignore God, ignore each other. We go to church every week. We sing all the right songs, recite all the right prayers- but if it’s just going through the motions- what’s the point? In the book of Isaiah, God says, “these people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.” We have to stop and ask ourselves, “Why do we do what we do? The Bible reminds us that God doesn’t want empty ritual- He wants true worship. He doesn’t want our “religion”, He wants our relationship. He wants the intimacy that comes with that relationship. He wants us to give ourselves to Him…out of love.
     Mark 15:33-47– At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said. With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” It was the day before the Sabb
ath. So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.
 
     Why did Jesus die on the cross? Did He HAVE to? God could have done something. He could have stopped this atrocity…so why didn’t He? Was it not enough that they mocked Jesus, and spit on Him, and whipped Him, and beat Him nearly to death? Did He have to suffer an agonizing death on a Roman cross as well? And all this time, God is silent. He could have commanded armies of angels to stop the insanity, to save His only begotten Son. But…He didn’t. Why did God just stand back and let this happen? Why the cross? Why did it all happen? 
     On a divine level, it happened NOT because of us…but FOR us. It happened because God loves us. That’s how big our problem with sin is. It’s big enough that Jesus…God with us…had to suffer and die so that it could be forgiven. If it were just a matter of teaching us something else to obey, God would have done THAT instead of the cross. But there was no other way. There IS no other way. The cross is the only bridge that exists between us and God. It’s the only way our sin can ever be forgiven.
     And so on this Palm Sunday, as we look ahead to Holy Week, I invite you to put aside whatever is standing in the way…and come to Jesus. We need to continue to prepare our hearts and minds for a resurrection celebration on Easter Sunday. Come to the cross today and experience the incredible, encompassing, sacrificial love of God so that NEXT Sunday you can come to the tomb and experience the incredible, encompassing joy of a risen Savior. It’s a dark day…but Sunday coming!
     Thanks for stopping by…I pray you have a blessed Palm Sunday! Please stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

What Constitutes a Hero?

     When I was a kid, my heroes were easy to identify. As I have shared in other daily entries, I was a HUGE superhero fan. I read every comic  book I could get my hands on. I played Superman and Batman all the time. I watched Dudley-Do-Right, Underdog, you name it. I LOVED the old black and white George Reeves Superman show on TV. And the Adam West/Burt Ward Batman TV show in the late 60’s…please…don’t EVEN get me started on that! And when they started making movies about them, well, I thought I’d died and gone to Heaven! (Again as I’ve shared, I STILL have a 12′ tall Superman statue that “stands guard” over my office!) 

     Why are so many people drawn to “larger than life” characters like these? Well…it’s because they’re “larger than life”! They are powerful, smart, fast, dedicated, faithful, and…heroic. They have cool costumes, cool cars, cool toys…they’re just…well…cool! We want to be like them. How awesome would it be to be able to drive around in that amazing costume, stopping crime, saving the day, and getting all the accolades? VERY!
     But as I’ve gotten older, I have come to realize what it REALLY means to be heroic. (We always hear that folks like the police and fire department are the REAL heroes, and while I completely agree with that…we’re not going there today.) It seems to me the REAL heroes are those who most definitely have earned the adjective “unsung”. I think those folks who get up and do their job EVERY day are heroes. I think folks who work exhaustively to raise their kids to be decent human beings are heroes. I think folks who are faithful to their spouse are heroes. I think folks who do the RIGHT thing, even when it is NOT the popular thing or the easy thing, are heroes. I think folks who live life in the shadow of God are heroes. 
     It is SO easy to see people doing the wrong thing- it goes on all around us, all the time. Everywhere you look, you can find people skirting the edge of decency. They treat other people badly. They lie, cheat, steal. They make sure they are the most important thing at all times, regardless of anyone else. We ALL know people like that. We ARE people like that at times. 
     But we also know people who have had a difficult life, to say the least. Nothing has been easy for them. And yet, they have a smile on their face, a bounce to their step, a song in their heart. They are the kind of people who don’t have 2 nickels to rub together, but if they found your wallet, you’d get it back with everything still intact. They’re the kind of people who, even when they’re in a hurry, will let you go first through the door or the intersection. They’re the kind of people who take their marriage vows seriously- they aren’t just PHYSICALLY faithful to their mates, but the also treat them with respect, not calling them names and saying or doing hurtful things to them. They’re the type of people who sacrifice for their kids- giving up some of their own desires so that their kids can have the best chance possible to grow into men and women of God. They’re the type of people…you get the picture!!
     Who are YOUR heroes? Who are the people who you look up to? Perhaps more importantly, who are the people who look up to YOU? Who are the people who depend on you being the best person YOU can be so they can try and mirror that behavior? It’s a huge responsibility- knowing that your spouse, your kids, your grandkids, your neighbors, your co-workers, your fellow church members, look to you as an example. How’s that going? Do you find it tough? You should…it’s hard. BUT…if you daily turn to God in prayer, asking for the strength, wisdom, guidance, patience and peace to live each daily to its fullest, it suddenly becomes a WHOLE lot easier. Turn to God, and ask for the strength to be…a hero.
     Thanks for stopping by…have a blessed day! Please make sure and come by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Talking Heads

     OK…let me just qualify today’s blog right up front! I realize that I run a fairly substantial chance of offending some of you with today’s entry. Please know that it is NOT my intention to be divisive or argumentative- I claim right on the home page of my website to NOT do that! And if today’s blog DOES offend, I ask your forgiveness. My intention is simply to point out something that I have noticed causes a fair amount of harm and seems to often run counter to the Christian principle of love your neighbor as yourself. So…here we go!

     Do you remember Max Headroom? He was a commercial pitchman and television star in the 80’s. That’s his picture on the left. He was, perhaps, the original (and remains, to my mind, the quintessential)  Talking Head. If you can’t place him, YouTube him- you’ll remember soon enough! Well, he “popped into my dope cranium” (came to mind) recently. I have been exposed (not by my choice) to a great deal of what I would call The Talking Heads lately. The Talking Heads are the people (mostly middle-aged pasty white guys…much like myself!) who populate the various and sundry news programs that run ALL OVER cable television and the radio. And they talk A LOT about what the OTHER party is doing (or in most cases NOT doing) and how it could be “fixed”. One claims to be “fair and balanced”, one claims to the the “worldwide leader in news”, one claims to be “first in business worldwide” and one claims to be “America’s Truth Detector”. (This is NOT an exhaustive list, by the way, just some of the highlights.) And they all set out to tell us which is the right way to think and which is the wrong way to think. Most of them claim to have no agenda (although some are unabashed about their agenda) and instead offer a completely unbiased view of what’s going on in the world. My experience is that they ALL have an agenda…and they therefore aim all of their available ammunition at those who are on the other side of that agenda. 
     On the surface, this seems to make sense- “THIS is the way things should be, and therefore THOSE are the people who we need to target, because they’re keeping us from doing things the right way.” Seems logical. But what I notice is that, for the most part (and I AM admittedly painting with a broad brush, but, from, my experience, not THAT broad), they focus less on the positive side of ANY story or issue and instead focus on how: stupid, mean, evil, ineffective…pick one…the other side is. And the end result of this? I have a LOT of people who talk to me in my capacity as pastor who are so indoctrinated into this mode of thinking that they start sentences with things like, “These stupid Democrats…” or “Those evil Republicans…”. The Talking Heads have helped create an environment of “us” and “them”. If you’re a Talking Head Republican, then EVERY other Republican is the salt of the Earth who would give you the shirt off their back and would make the best President/Governor/Senator/Dog Catcher ever. Meanwhile, EVERY Democrat is a vile, dirty, filthy, ignorant, slack-jawed Communist sympathizer whose stated goal is to bring about the ruination of the nation! And if you’re a Democrat, then…well…you get the picture! 
     The Bible says we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and love our neighbor as ourself. Sounds great…in theory…but if we were to get a Report Card from God in this subject, what grade would we get? I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I’d want to see it! So do we need to outlaw all The Talking Heads from the airwaves? No. But if we have any hope of becoming the people God wants us to be, we do need some serious rehabilitation in that area. And how would that happen? From us…the people. The TV execs are NOT going to change what they’re doing- their bottom line goal is to sell advertising, and so they will put on the TV/radio whatever  will sell the most ad time to the highest bidder- it’s a business, as simple as that. What is programmed on TV/radio is what WE tell them WE want to hear/see. If we tell them we want partisan, divisive programming that is aimed and pulling us further apart, then that’s exactly what they will give us. Don’t believe me? Turn on your TV! But if we tell them we want something that doesn’t just CLAIM to be “fair and balanced” or the “worldwide leader in news” or “first in business worldwide” or “America’s Truth Detector” but actually IS…that’s what we’ll get! 
     I am a United Methodist minister. It was a LONG and DIFFICULT journey through the process of ordination, with more fits and starts, dropped balls and incomplete leadership that I could possible share here. So much so, in fact, that I developed an “us versus them” mentality- it was little old me- David, with my puny slingshot and rocks- against great big old them- “the system”…or as we call it, “The Conference”- Goliath, all 9+ feet of him. And that put me in a very negative mindset about my own denomination. But one day, I realized that great truth from the old comic strip Pogo, “We have met the enemy…and they is US!” I realized that I AM the conference, and if there are problems within the system (and there are- we’re human), I’m a part of them! And the only way to FIX those problems is to acknowledge that I AM a part of them and join with those I previously held as “them” in finding a way to remedy the situation.  I am convinced that as long as we cling to this “us versus them” mentality in our country, as long as we insist on creating division among ourselves, as long as we focus on what “they’re” doing instead of what “we’re” doing…we simply cannot be in God’s will. So, what I’m NOT saying is “stop watching/listening to” The Talking Heads. (While it’s NOT my cup of tea, it may be yours!) Instead, FILTER The Talking Heads, NOT through divisiveness and “us versus them”, but through “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself”. 
     Thanks for stopping by- have a blessed day! Please stop by again tomorrow and stick with Jesus!

The Theology of Chili

      Ok, I admit…I love chili. For the most part, there are two types of chili in my book…good…and better! We make regular chili, white chili, black bean chili, taco soup chili…you name it, we make it. And all that came into play last night at my church as our MISS10N Team sponsored the all-church Chili Cook-off 2010! Ten entries competed for the top prize…a plaque with their name on it and, more importantly, bragging rights for the next 12 months! And we had a GREAT variety of entries:  Super Meaty/Beanie Chili, Bring It On Chili, The Works Taco Chili, Fire House Chili, Albuquerque Old Town Chili, Venison Chili, Turkey Chili, Sweet Chili Mac, Rich Vegetarian Chili and White Chicken Chili! And they were ALL great!

     About 60 people came to judge the chili. Everyone got a “Sample Cup”, and then visited each of the chilis. No one’s name was on their chili- you only knew the title of the chili itself- that way, you didn’t know who you were voting for. Everyone got to sample each chili, and then they were asked to fill out a ballot choosing their 1st, 2nd and 3rd favorites. After that, they were invited to have a bowl of “regular” chili (or a chili dog) and some dessert. We do all-church dinners twice a month, and this particular event raised money to help the MISS10N Team go to inner-city Cincinnati this summer.
     After a heated voting period, the winners were: 3rd Place- White Chicken Chili, 2nd Place- Turkey Chili, and…drum roll please…1st Place went to Firehouse Chili!The trash-talking among the entrants was held to a minimum, a LOT of food got eaten (I don’t mean to tell tales out of school, but NOBODY eats quite like us United Methodists eat…I’m just saying!), a decent amount of money was raise for a good cause, and everyone went home happy! Another successful night at church! 
     It was fascinating to watch everybody try the varieties of chili. With that many different types, MOST people found at least one that they really liked. But I saw people avoid the White Chicken Chili…because it doesn’t look like “regular” chili. I saw people avoid the Albuquerque Old Town Chili because it didn’t have beans but DID pack quite a punch! I saw people avoid the Rich Vegetarian Chili because…who wants chili without meat? Some thought one was way too hot, while others thought it was (to quote that great theologian Goldilocks) just right”! Some loved the Venison Chili, while others thought is was too “gamey”. (I mean, it is, after all, VENISON chili! LOL) 
     There were ALL types of chili…and it TOOK all types to please everyone. Why? Because we are all…ready?…wait for it…DIFFERENT. And yet…we are “made in the image of God”! What? How can THAT be? How can we all be made in the image of God, when I don’t look anything like Brad Pitt of George Clooney (darn the luck!)? Well, we ARE all made in the image of God, but it’s an internal, spiritual, “heart” sort of thing, as opposed to an external, visual, “I don’t resemble the heartthrob du jour” sort of thing. The more we lead with our hearts and reach out to people and live good lives and treat others the way we want to be treated, the closer to the image of God we get. How much like God do YOU look? If you’re like me, you look a bit more like Him on some days that others. But here’s the good news- where you are on that journey isn’t NEARLY as important as which direction you’re going. So you know someone who’s a living saint, ready to be canonized, and you can’t compete with them. Big whoop! The only person you need to compete with is YOU! 
     So, we can all embrace the fact that we are as different from each as all those types of chili mentioned above…because we are ALL made in the image of God! (By the way, my family entered the Rich Vegetarian Chili…since my wife and I are “vegaquariums” (Google it) for Lent (Google it, too!)- as you can see, apparently not enough people embraced the ways of the vegetarian.
     Thanks for stopping by…I pray you have a blessed day! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am going to have a bowl of chili! Please come back tomorrow and stick with Jesus!