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!

An American Badaxe

      Every week for the past several, I have devoted the Wednesday entry to Mission trips I have led, in anticipation of the one I will be leading to inner-city Cincinnati this summer. We began in the mountains of North Carolina, then went to Denver, Colorado. From there, we moved on to Crow Agency, Montana, and then to the mountains of West Virginia. Last week we went to Biloxi, Mississippi. And today, we arrive at the last mission trip I led, which was to Bad Axe, Michigan. (Gotta LOVE that name!)
     We actually stayed in a town called Caseville, which is right ON Lake Huron, up in the tip of the “thumb” of Michigan’s “mitten”. 54 of us loaded onto a chartered bus and drove there (we watched Remember the Titans for the 3rd straight year!), arriving later in the day on Saturday. Upon first glance, some of “my folks” wondered why in the world we had come to a place like Caseville. It is a quaint little tourist town that has a fairly strong New England feel to it. LOTS of boats, a decent amount of visitors passing through, and on the surface of it, not much Mission work to be had. But looks can be deceiving!
     We stayed in the United Methodist Church there. It was an OLD building (on the National Registry), and didn’t appear to be very involved in the community…until you took a better look. Across the street from the church was a series of buildings that the church had purchased. They had turned one of them into a “Goodwill”-like used clothing store. Clothing donations POURED in there- in fact some of our folks spent most of their week in that building sorting clothes. 
     Next to it was a building that the church had transformed into a Community Center. It was a rather large “banquet hall” kind of room with full kitchen and bathroom facilities in it. They both rented it out for special occasions and let charitable/community groups use it free of charge for meetings, dinners and such. We did some general repairs, plumbing, and door-hanging in that building.
     Next to THAT was a building that, while structurally sound, had a BAD roof on it. And when I say bad…you could stand in the building and see rather large patches of daylight thought the roof! We had a crew re-deck and shingle that building over the course of the week. 
     Back across the street was the church. While in pretty good shape, there was a section of the back exterior that needed new wood added to it, blended in with the existing wood, and painted- did that. Next to the church was the parsonage, where the pastor and his family lived. Being that close to both the church AND the road, they had basically NO privacy if they were outside their house, so we erected a privacy fence around their backyard, giving them a place they could enjoy family time without the whole town whizzing by!
     Through the church connections, we were also hooked up with several older couples/widows/widowers who were having trouble keeping up with inside and outside home maintenance. We sent crews to all those houses and helped them get caught up. Just outside of town was an old, abandoned skating rink. It was a rather large, cavernous, barn-like building that a ministry group from Bad Axe (Ah…THERE’S the connection!) were wanting to convert into a worship center for a youth ministry they had begun. Some of our folks spent the week there, washing away decades of grime, painting, patching, rebuilding, wiring, plumbing…the list goes on!
      Although we did a TON of ministry in the “thumb” of Michigan’s “mitten” (we also got to got boating on  the lake and play on a zip line…but that’s another story!), there are two things that really stand out from that trip. One is that one of the girls on the trip was part of the crew who fended in the pastor’s backyard. As they moved a pile of wooden pallets away from the back of the garage, they stumbled upon a litter of kittens. Of course, the kittens got played with and loved on, but at the end of the day, I said they had to leave them there- the mama cat would be back for them. The next morning, ALL the kittens were gone…except one! He NEVER got picked up by the mama cat. So this girl, who had been playing with him, loving on him, feeding him…you get the picture…said, “Can I keep him?” My first response was, “No!”, but she wore me down to the point that I said, “Talk to your parents- if they say it’s OK, we’ll figure out a way to get him home.” She DID talk to them, and then came back to me. I said, “Well…what did your dad say?” “Well…he said, ‘absolutely not!'” “Oh…what did your MOM say?” “She said, ‘Yes!'” “Well…let’s go to Wal-Mart and get a pet carrier- we’re taking a cat home!” (We tried to sneak it on the bus- figuring what the driver didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him…or us. WE were SO careful not to let him see the cat. Then, about 3 hours into our drive back, we stopped to eat. As I exited the bus, he looked at me and said, “Don’t you need to take your livestock out and let him walk around?”!
     The other thing that stands out is that the church in which we lived while we were there had JUST re-carpeted the entire building before we came…and there were several parishioners who were pretty upset with the pastor for letting the interlopers come and sleep, eat, live, and especially make messes, on their brand new carpet. His response to them? “When I stand before my Maker on Judgment Day, I want to be able to say more than, ‘I kept the carpets clean!'” All I can say to that is…AMEN!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and stop by tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Will It Fit In My Schedule?

     OK…yesterday, I gave you just a glimpse into my daily schedule, and hinted that A. there was MUCH more to it, and B. is was more than a bit OCD (Google it)! Well…here it is! On weekdays, I get up at 6:45AM. I “use the facilities” (More euphemisms for body functions!) and take the dog out. Then I come in and make my youngest son’s breakfast. (He gets up at 7AM.) Then I pour a cup of coffee (I got the coffee ready the night before and set the timer to have it ready when I get up) and pack my son’s lunch. (PBJ, chips, fruit, cookies, juice box- typical fare!) After that, I go downstairs and get dressed. Then, I go across the hall to the bathroom where I shave (left side of head, back, right side of head, left beard, right beard, mustache) and brush my teeth (top left, top right, bottom left, bottom right, back). Then I put all the cushions up on the chairs and couches in the living room (the dog will sleep on the furniture while we’re gone if I don’t) and shut all the bedroom doors (the dog will sleep on the beds if I don’t. Come to think of it…the dog dictates an AWFUL lot of this schedule…doesn’t she?! WHO actually runs this house?) Then I pull the car out of the garage and leave it running in the driveway…to warm up. At 7:50AM, we pile into the car. I drop my wife off at the high school (no…she is NOT a student! She works there!) Then I drop my son off at the grade school (yes, he IS a student there, he DOESN’T work there!) Then I go to work, arriving there at 8AM. (The town is rather…small…everything is relatively close together!) As so it begins! That is literally how my day begins 5 days a week. The deviation that occurs from one day to the next is normally too small to measure.  

     On Sunday, I get up at 5:30AM. I go to the bathroom (see…I CAN use the proper terms!), take the dog out, and pour some coffee (again…preset from the previous night). I shave (same order as before), brush my teeth (same order as before), and I get dressed- suit and tie. I pack my things and head off to church. Once there, I unlock the doors, turn on the lights and the sound system, and set the thermostats. I make LOTS of both decaf and regular coffee (can you see that coffee plays a rather important role in MY life?!), and then spend the next hour or so going over my sermon- getting into “the zone”. The 1st service starts at 8:15AM and the 3rd/last service ends at 11:30AM. I go home, change my clothes, collapse in a coma for a while, get up the next morning, and start the “garbage run” (see yesterday’s blog). 
     Now, you might be saying to yourself one of two things: 1. “Why in the world did you just waste that much cyberspace with the minutiae of your life? or 2. You are one frighteningly compulsive preacher? Then again…you may be saying both!! Let me explain. I AM a very “schedule oriented” person. I wasn’t always that way- I used to barely be able to function in society, I was so “anti-schedule”. But over the years, I realized I HAD to live out of the calendar if I was going to actually be a contributing member of society. I realized that, if I didn’t develop some pretty strong commitment to structure, I simply wasn’t going to make it…literally.
     I have also found that, if I don’t make a pretty strong commitment to my faith…my relationship with God….my life is…incomplete. Now, I don’t have to be so…(let’s be kind, shall we?)…rigid, as I am with the whole schedule thing. There IS definitely some “wiggle room” when it comes to faith. “Wiggle room?”, you say. “You, a minister, promote…wiggle room?” Yes, I do. There is a huge difference between religion and faith. Religion often tends to be about following the right rules, saying the right prayers, singing the right songs. Faith, on the other hand, is about a right…relationship with God. Faith is about doing the right thing NOT because you think it earns you “points” but because it is a natural response to what God had done for you. Faith is about the ONE thing that makes everything else in life make sense. Faith DOESN’T make your life perfect…it makes your life…make sense. 
     Look at it this way, if an ADD/OCD poster boy like myself can find a home…and a career…with God…there is hope for ANYBODY! What runs your life? Is it your schedule, your day-timer, your PDA? Is it s need to please others? Is it a chip on your shoulder about the way your life has turned out? Or is it the love, acceptance, grace, power and forgiveness of God? It’s ALL there…if you seek it!
     Thanks for stopping by…have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow and stick with Jesus!

The Trashman Cometh

     Monday is Trash Day- at least in MY neighborhood! And I am SUCH a creature of habit that I can tell you pretty much EXACTLY what my schedule was this morning. I got up, visited the…little pastor’s room (if you know what I mean!)…and take the dog out (we don’t have a fenced-in back yard, so she is on a leash). After she’s “done her business” (don’t you just LOVE all the euphemisms for such a simple task as going to the bathroom?!), I put her back in the house and go around the back of the house to get the trash that has already been taken out of the house. I drag it around the front to the curb, then go in and start “the routine”. Now, WHAT the routine IS isn’t relevant to this story, but it will probably show up in a later blog (like…tomorrow)! 

     The trash, however, is NOT done yet. There is still the trash IN the house that has to be gathered and taken out. So, I go around and collect all that trash, tie the bag shut and put it by the front door- intent on taking it out before we leave the house at 7:50AM. That, by the way, USED to be perfect timing, because the trash man didn’t come until 8AM. So, I would take a side-trip to the front curb on my way from the front door to the car, and the trash would be done. Until, that is, THE DAY! The trash man had come at 8AM for more weeks in a row than I can count. But that particular day, he came at 7:49AM…ONE minute before I put the last bag out! I MISSED it! So…I put that bag around back and went to work.
     The next Monday, determined to get ALL the trash out, I planned on getting that last bag out by 7:46AM. Guess what? The trash man came at 7:45AM! Yep…missed that last bag…AGAIN! So, I dutifully took THAT bag around the back and went to work. But I was NOT going to miss the trash the next week! So…I got smart and planned on 7:40AM…a FULL 20 minutes before their original arrival time! Hah! In your face, Trash Man! Well…apparently in MY face, Preacher Man…because the trash truck pulled up at…yep, you guessed it…7:39AM! I missed them again! Now I take it ALL out at 6:50AM, when I take the dog out. (The trash men have trained me well, haven’t they?!)
     I have a theory as to how they were able to beat me by one minute each time, no matter when I planned on doing it. Their truck is actually a DeLorean, and they get it up to 88MPH, go forward in time, see when I’m going to put the trash out, then go BACK in time, and…perhaps I’ve been watching TOO many Conspiracy Theory shows on cable!! (I need to get a life!) 
     What are the mundane, routine things YOU do every day that would make others laugh if they knew about them? What are the crazy habits that YOU have that you are reluctant to let others know about? Are you willing to share them…with me? My thought is that, if I get enough response on this question, I could devote one day’s blog to it. I would publish your submission either anonymously or not- whatever your wishes are. So…think about it. Do YOU have anything in YOUR daily routine as OCD (Google it) as my obsession with the trash men? Let me know!
     Thanks for stopping by…have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Following God…on MY Terms

    I have conducted a great many job interviews in my life. Here are some of the crazier things I have heard:
“I have trouble getting out of bed, so I’ll be late a lot!” “I miss work a lot on Mondays…is that OK?” “If there’s a drug test for this job, I’d need some advance notice.” “I have anger problems, so I need a job where people leave me alone.” “I don’t want a job where I have to actually learn stuff.” “I have problems with authority.” “I don’t have a car, so if it’s raining or cold, you’d have to come and pick me up.” “It would be best if you didn’t run a background check on me.”
It’s hard to get a job when potential employers refuse to do things our way! It’s also hard to obey God when He refuses to do things our way.
     I think everybody has a secret (or perhaps not so secret) dream that everything will work out according to THEIR plan. I’m like that…I want everything to go my way! I’m not bossy, I just have good ideas! We often think that way about our life…and we tend to think that way about our spiritual life, too. We expect God to do things our way. The amazing thing I’ve discovered through trial and error…painful trial and error, is that sometimes God won’t do things my way…even when it makes perfect sense! We struggle with what it means to follow Jesus. Oh, we’re willing to follow alright…as long as it’s on OUR terms. But what happens when things don’t go the way we expected? What happens when God changes the rules? What happens when things aren’t working out like we expected? What’s our response then? 
     The disciples spent three years following Jesus. They knew Jesus…and they thought they knew God’s plans. So they assumed Jesus was going to act a certain way- I’m mean, that’s what a Messiah is supposed to do, for goodness sake! But then they ran smack into the cold, hard reality that Jesus wasn’t playing by their rules. The disciples thought they were willing to fight for Jesus, to die for Him…but Jesus didn’t even seem willing to fight for Himself. And their whole idea of what God was doing came crashing down, their faith came crashing down. They had a crisis of faith.
     (Mark 14:32-42) 32They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 34″My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” 35Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36″Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” 37Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? 38Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” 39Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. 40When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him. 41Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”
     When I was in Junior High, there was a kid who fell asleep in class every day. One day, the teacher had apparently had enough of it, and he hatched a scheme. He told us that, when the bell rang, we were to QUIETLY get up and leave the room. Whatever we did, we were NOT to wake the kid. The teacher then stood at the door and told all the kids coming IN his classroom to be equally as quiet. So, the last class left, the next class came in and started, and the kid slept through it all. He apparently woke up about halfway through that next hour…and BOY was he disoriented!
     So, the disciples go with Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane. They had SUCH high hopes for what He was going to do. He was the Messiah, the King, the One sent from God, and He was going to roust those pesky Romans, take the throne, and establish the Kingdom of God here on Earth. But in the last few hours, they had experienced the Last Supper, where He…washed their feet! They found out that one of their own, Judas Iscariot, was going to betray Jesus…and Jesus KNEW about it! And now, instead of making plans to avoid this supposed coming death, or at least gather a posse to go and get Judas, He wants to go and PRAY! If ONLY He had done what THEY wanted…things would be SO much better! They’re not bossy…they just have good ideas! So they head out to the Garden of Gethsemane defeated men. They’re depressed…and we know that when we’re depressed, all we want to do is…sleep. Jesus says, “Wait right here. Don’t go anywhere, don’t do anything, just…wait. I won’t be long.” And he goes further into the garden, to pray. And when He comes back…they’re all asleep. All they had to do was wait…and they failed. They had a spiritual crisis because things didn’t turn out the way they planned. Maybe we have spiritual crises, too. Maybe we deny Jesus, too. Maybe there are times when God isn’t doing it our way. It’s not working out like we thought it would and our faith is challenged. We face moments like that. When we come to one of those moments, when we’re facing struggles, how do we respond? We can be like the disciples and ignore it…sleep it off. Or we can be like Jesus…and pray. It’s hard to obey when God doesn’t do things our way. But we need to fight the battle of obedience, and the way to do that is to learn to pray. We NEED to pray, we NEED to listen, we need to wait.
     Sometimes God doesn’t do things according to our plan. Sometimes God does things we don’t understand, and sometimes we know what He wants us to do and we have a choice to make. Maybe some of you are facing hard choices right now. Maybe it’s a struggle with your marriage. Maybe it’s a struggle with your children. Or your job, or your other relationships. Or maybe it’s the struggle to commit your life to Jesus. “I can’t see Him, I can’t touch Him…and God allows the world, maybe even causes the world, to be like this- beautiful yet chaotic, hopeful yet evil.” And there you in the middle- struggling with the decision to follow Jesus. “I didn’t get the job I deserved. I didn’t get the car I wanted. I didn’t get the marriage I prayed for. And I’ve been an honest, law-abiding, God-fearing person – and yet few of the things I wanted have gone my way. God, why don’t You do what You’re supposed to do?” Let’s be honest- “what I want God to do” dominates our thoughts and prayers more than we would care to admit. We tend to live our lives with an unspoken quid pro quo that if we live decent lives God will do what we want. But then we find ourselves in the middle of a painful situation and that notion that God’s ways are limited to our expectations blows up in our faces. An earthquake, a recession, an untimely death – something tragic happens that threatens to turn our theology to dust, leaving us vacant and vulnerable. When that happens, our first reaction tends to be anger. When my mom got lung cancer, some people where mad about it. Maybe they were angry at the circumstances, but it bled over into their understanding of God. It didn’t seem to matter to them that she smoked her entire adult life. They were simply unwilling to face God until He ‘fixed it.’ And depending on how you look at things, God did…or didn’t fix it. She died, which ended he
r pain and suffering, and everyone returned to their lives. But those kinds of things should cause us to take a deeper look at that anger, trying to understand why God would have the audacity to act outside of our predetermined framework.
     We’re not the first ones to feel this way. Today we saw the disciples feel that Jesus turned out to not be the kind of Messiah they thought He should be. Their disappointment, confusion and uncertainty caused them to lose focus and fall asleep when they most needed to be paying attention.
And so we ask: why has God not lived up to our expectations? Why has He had the gall to defy our ardent requests? Are we angry about it? Are we complacent about it? Should we be? Living a life fully in the shadow of God means resisting the urge to put our expectations on God. It means being open to what every new day might bring.
     Maybe you can’t quite let go of that one thing that interferes with your relationship with Jesus. Maybe it’s that thing that God is calling you to. You don’t want to take the step because it’s too much of a risk. So what are we to say about these things? We have to remind ourselves that this is no lower-case “g” god we’re dealing with. Money is a lower-case “g” god. Status is a lower-case “g” god. Power is a lower-case “g” god. But the God we serve is God with a capital “G”. This is no little, toothless God that we seek to get a special favor from at a certain shrine in a certain place at a certain time. This is GOD- the Creator of the universe, the Creator of heaven and earth, the Creator of…us. God is not looking for suggestions…just obedience. The question is- will we listen? Will we obey? Will we follow?

Spring Has Sprung!

     Ah…Spring! Today is the first day of Spring. I LOVE Spring. Every summer and every winter, I ask myself, “Why do you live in Illinois again?” But then Spring and Fall come…and I remember! It really is amazing. It seems as if one day it’s cold, and wet, and nasty….and then the very next day, the sun is shining, the birds are singing, things are starting to turn green, the air is warmer…it’s coming! Well…it is no longer coming…it’s HERE! I look out and I see the grass starting to do its thing. I see the tulips starting to shoot out of the ground. I see buds starting to pop out on tree branches. (Of course, I ALSO see the potholes “spring”-ing up, the sticks and small limbs all over the yard that need to be picked up, and all the other things that one has to do when Spring arrives…but that’s a whole DIFFERENT story!) The new life that shows up this time of year is refreshing, renewing, life-giving for me. (I sometimes wonder if I have a mild case of SAD- Seasonal Affective Disorder- I look SO forward to Spring!) 

     Which is YOUR favorite season? My guess is, it depends in part on where you live. Perhaps you live in a particular part of the country BECAUSE of the weather in that area. Perhaps you live there DESPITE the weather. Regardless, it probably impacts your answer to that question. Is it, like me, Spring? Perhaps, for you, it’s Summer- with the hot weather, sunshine, and somewhat more relaxed feeling. Or maybe you prefer Fall (my 2nd favorite), because you love the colors, the crispness in the air, the general feeling of the season. Or maybe you are a winter person- to beautiful snow, the coldness that makes the days sharp and crisp and the nights deep and clear.
     Perhaps the main reason I prefer Spring is that, as a Christian, it “speaks” the most to me. Not only is Spring the season that includes Easter, but it is also the season that, by it’s very nature, POINTS at Easter. It provides a living, breathing visual of what Easter is about- new life, new growth, new birth…re-birth. Just as the plants come back to life and fill the Earth with their finery, we are offered the opportunity to experience our own re-birth. Regardless of where you find yourself, spiritually, Spring offers you the ability to renew yourself. Are you unhappy with where you are in life? Maybe its something tangible (a job, a house, a town), or maybe it’s something deeper, harder to put your finger on (a relationship, a feeling of not belonging, a spiritual hunger). Whatever it is…Spring is here. Not only outside…but in your heart. God is RIGHT here, waiting, watching, wanting you to reach out to Him, seek the newness, the true re-birth that only He can offer. Someone said to me recently, when I suggested that they try something different to turn their life around, “But I always do it THIS way!” My response? “How’s that working for you?” Do you feel something missing from your life? Have you been doing things YOUR way for as long as you can remember? How’s that working for you? The good news- Spring is here!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Do You Know the Way to San…Juan?

     Every year, on March 19th (St. Joseph’s Day- dedicated to the Virgin Mary’s husband), an amazing thing happens- the cliff swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) return to the Mission at San Juan Capistrano, in California. “Scout” swallows precede the rest by a few days- it seems their chief duty is to “clear the way” for the main flock. On March 19th, swarms of cliff swallows fill the sky as they arrive at their summer home. As the birds arrive, the village of San Juan Capistrano comes alive, with the bells of the old church ringing and people from all over the world cheering as they witness the miraculous return. A huge fiesta and parade follow. Once there, they begin rebuilding their nests that cling to the ruins of the old stone mission. (built in 1776, the roof collapsed during the earthquake of 1812 and was never fully rebuilt. It is the oldest building still in use in California.) After spending the summer there, On October 23, the cliff swallows leave (after circling the Mission one last time to say “goodbye”) and head to their winter home- 6,000 miles south in Goya, Corrientes, Argentina. 

     Legend has it that the birds originally took refuge in the Mission to escape an irate innkeeper who destroyed their nests- they return to the old ruined church each spring knowing they will be protected within its walls!

     Perhaps I’m just a simple guy (please hold your jokes ’til the end!), but I find it amazing that these birds return to this same spot at this same time every year. (Yes, I know some come a bit early and some come a bit late AND they don’t just live at the mission, but throughout the Capistrano Valley- but MANY of them come today…and MANY of them come to the mission.) What is it that draws them there every year at this time? It must be some kind of genetic “geocache” (Google it) embedded in their collective consciousness, passed from generation to generator in their DNA sequence. How incredible is that? Birds fly to the same spot at the same time every year. Butterflies fly the same route every year; the ones who begin the trip are often not the same ones who end the trip- yet they make it every year. Deer use the same migration trails year after year, regardless of what humans do to try and disrupt that. Nature has an amazing way of “bringing things home”. Implanted in nature is a “homing device” that seems to draw things to where they belong- inviting them “home”.
     Where is “home” for you? It MAY be the place you lay your head at night…but then again it may NOT be. I know it’s INCREDIBLY trite to say, but I truly believe home IS where your heart is. There’s a Contemporary Christian song that says, “If home is where the heart is, then I’m in Heaven.” I couldn’t agree more. I live in a house (that doesn’t even belong to me- it’s the church parsonage), but that’s NOT really home for me. Home is where my family is. Home is where the people I love are. Home is where my heart is. Home is that which makes me whole. Then how do I know where that is? You’ll be shocked to discover that, for my money, God guides me to know what/where home is. God gives me that “geocache”, that “homing device”, implanted within my heart, that draws me toward those I love, to what brings me joy, to…God. Just like the deer, just like the butterflies, just like the cliff swallows, if we are receptive to God’s calling, we will be drawn “home”. And, at least based on MY experience, Dorothy WAS right…there IS no place like home!
     Thanks for stopping by…I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Crazy Labels

    I drove through McDonald’s the other day and was reminded of the signage that deals with the fact that the HOT coffee is HOT. Now, I personally don’t blame McDonald’s for feeling the need to plaster that information everywhere they can think of- if I had been sued by someone who didn’t realize that HOT coffee was HOT until they dumped it on themselves…I would be a bit gun-shy as well! But it got me to thinking about other advertising that seems a bit…obvious…redundant…goofy! Here are some examples:

-printed on a carton of sleeping pills: “Warning: May cause drowsiness”. A SLEEPING PILL, causing DROWSINESS…what ARE those people thinking?!
– printed on a car steering wheel lock: “Warning — remove lock before driving.” Whew! Barely dodged THAT bullet! (Explains why I crashed the car 3 times, though!)
– printed on a pudding cup: “Warning: product will be hot after heating.” Wait…AFTER heating it will be hot? OH…I get it now!
– printed ON THE BOTTOM of a cup of Tesco’s Tiramisu dessert: Do not flip over! Huh?!
– printed on a package of Christmas lights: “Warning! For indoor or outdoor use only!” I may be missing something…but where else is there to use them?
printed on a bottle of baby oil: “Keep out of reach of children” Then HOW do I use it?!
– printed on the packaging for a Wet-Nap: “Directions: Tear open packet and use.” Slow down…you’re losing me!
-printed on a package of Dial Soap: “Directions: Use like regular soap.” So Dial ISN’T “regular” soap? Then what IS it?
-printed on a package of Old Spice Red Zone deodorant: “Use only on underarms.” I don’t know about YOU, but I never even IMAGINED using it anywhere else! Have I been missing something all these years?
– printed on a bottle of Zantac 75: “Do not take if allergic to Zantac.” Insert own joke here!
– printed on a bottle of pepper spray: “Caution: Never aim spray at your own eyes.” Does this thing work? I’ll stare directly into it while I spray it to find out!
-printed on a car shade/windshield visor: “Warning: Do not drive with sunshade in place.” I see now…explains why, after I took my steering wheel lock off, I STILL kept crashing!
– printed on a package of Pine Mountain Fire Logs: “Caution: Risk of fire” Who’d a’ thunk that?!
– printed on a road sign: “Caution- water on road during rain.” I bet there’s snow on the road when it snows, too!
– printed on another road sign: “Cemetery Road. Dead End” Makes sense.
– printed on the packaging for a Children’s Superman costume: “Wearing this garment does not enable you to fly.” Goes even further in explaining my multiple head injuries.
– printed on a bag of American Airlines Peanuts: “Instructions: open packet, eat nuts.” Did we even need TWO steps?
– printed on a can of Nabisco Easy Cheese: “For best results, remove cap.” The cheese-like substance squirts out a WHOLE lot better when you do!
– printed on the box for a 500-piece puzzle: Some assembly required.” I want a REFUND!
– printed on a bag of Frito’s: “You could be a winner! No purchase necessary. Details inside.” So…I could…wait…I…
-printed on a bottle of children’s cough syrup: Do not drive car or operate machinery.” SHOOT! And I was going to have my nine-year old grade the driveway a bit later!
– printed on a wheelbarrow: “Not intended for highway use.” Then how am I going to get to town?
– printed on a box of rat poison: “Warning: has been found to cause cancer in laboratory mice.” Is that REALLY my biggest concern when I am trying to euthanize rodents?
– printed on the packaging for an electric thermometer: “Do not use orally after using rectally.” I…they…never mind!
– printed on a bus stop sign: “No stopping or standing.” So…should I run in circles until the bus comes?
– printed on a hammer: “Caution – Do not use this hammer to strike any solid object.” Maybe my dad lied to me all those years, but…
– printed on the box for a VCR: :Instructional video on hooking up VCR included.” What can I say but , “Duh!”
– printed on the packaging for a toilet brush: “Do not use for personal hygiene.” I think I just threw up a tiny bit in my mouth!
– and printed on a container of bathtub cleaner: “For best results, start with clean bathtub before use.” I guess that’s ALWAYS true, isn’t it?
     Seen any stupid advertising lately? If you DO, email me and share it with me! (I love a good chuckle!) Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Have’s and Have-Not’s

      I have been taking every Wednesday to look at Mission Trips I have led in  the past…in anticipation of THIS year’s Mission Trip to inner-city Cincinnati. Today we go back to 2002, when 52 people loaded onto a chartered bus and headed south…to Biloxi, Mississippi. We actually stayed at the Gautier United Methodist Church in the town of Gautier (pronounced go-shay), a few miles east of Biloxi on the Gulf coast. The church has a “Family Life Center” (the current “buzz phrase” for gymnasium!), and we ALL slept in there. (There were sleeping bags, inflatable beds, and cots scattered EVERYWHERE!) Every evening, we led a Vacation Bible School for the kids in Gautier. I honestly think our kids had more fun leading it than their kids did participating in it! 
     On Monday morning, we all got up early, ate breakfast, pack our lunches, and headed out to the job sites in Biloxi. Along with several others, I filled a water jug with ice and water so that my crew would have something to drink while we worked. The job sites were many and varied. Some of us worked for a fledgling ministry that was trying to provide for the needs of the community around them- we painted their building and did some repair work. Some of us worked at a Day Camp for at-risk kids, helping lead the programming and offering puppet shows, magic, juggling, clowning and the like. Some of us worked at a facility that provided a variety of ministries to the community. One of their main emphases was a Day Care. And because they were a Day Care, they had many “hoops” to jump through to meet state and federal guidelines. And some NEW guidelines had JUST come down, so we worked on bringing different aspects of their facility up to code. One of the sweetest yet most heartbreaking aspects of their ministry was their Nursery. SEVERAL babies were brought in every day so that parents could work, and many of the babies were what are often called “crack-babies”- they had been born to mothers addicted to crack cocaine. Some of our more “seasoned citizens” spent their days holding, rocking and loving these babies. That experience permanently impacted those people!
     I mentioned filling the water jug…and you KNEW it would come up again! Well…here it is! That first day “out in the field”, I got the water jug out and took a drink. Aaaahhh!!! It smelled…and tasted…like…FISH! It was terrible! But…it was wet! So I forced myself to drink some of it throughout the day, to stay hydrated. When we got back to the church that night, the pastor’s wife was looking for me to tell me, “Oh, I forgot to tell you…don’t drink the water out of the tap…it’s bad! We ONLY drink filtered water!” What is that they say about a day late and a dollar short?!
     The think that most impacted me about that trip was the amazing difference between the have’s” and the “have-not’s”. As you drive into Biloxi from the East, along the Gulf coast, you are immediately taken by the splendor and opulence of the ocean-front casinos. Flashing lights, sparkling fountains and stretch limos are the order of the day. People there are livin’ large, and money flows like the water in the Gulf. And yet, just a few blocks inlaid, is some of the worst poverty I have ever seen. To say that many of those folks were living in sub-standard conditions would be a GROSS understatement. One the 3rd day we were there, I sat in a borrowed pick-up at a stoplight in the middle of that poverty-stricken with two Junior High-aged boys who were part of my team. As we waited for the light to change, I pointed out to them that, right across the intersection from us, a drug deal was being transacted AND a prostitute was negotiating a price with a prospective…customer. These white-bread boys had never seen anything like this, and were more than glad when the light changed and we got some distance between us and that intersection!
     So…is this just a chance to rail against gambling? No. Although I choose NOT to gamble (I never have enough discretionary income to risk losing), that’s NOT my point. My point is that, in this country, it’s frightening how great the gap has grow between those who have and those who don’t. I don’t begrudge ANYBODY who worked hard for what they have and want the opportunity to enjoy it. I just hurt for the people who don’t have enough money to even put adequate amounts of food in their children’s stomach but who get to watch the limos drive them on their way to gamble more in one evening than those folks will make in a year. Jesus said we should take care of each other, protect the widows and orphans, care about our fellow man. And I fear that, in this capitalistic society, we have lost sight of that. We tend to lose sight of the basic fact that we are ALL made in the image of God, and ALL worthy of love and respect. Please pray about this…I know I do.
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Faith and Begorra

     Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day (the Irish name for it is Lá Fhéile Pádraig). It’s an annual feast day celebrating Saint Patrick (387–493AD). The day is a national holiday of Ireland, a bank holiday in Northern Ireland and a public holiday in the Republic of Ireland. In the UK, Australia, New Zealand and the United States, it is widely celebrated as a public holiday. St. Patrick was born Maewyn Succat to wealthy parents during the 4th century in Britain. When he was 16, he was kidnapped and forced into slavery- working as a shepherd in County Mayo, Ireland. During that time he turned to God and became a Christian. One day he acted on a dream and escaped, traveling 200 miles back home to Britain. He then had another dream in which an angel told him to become a missionary and spread Christianity in Ireland. He spent the next fifteen years becoming a priest, choosing Patrick as his Christian name. In 432 AD he went back to Ireland as a priest and tried to convert the Irish to Christianity. He also created and taught at several schools there. He used a shamrock (3-leaf clover) to explain the Trinity to the Irish people. He died on March 17th, 461 AD. Soon after, Ireland decided to honor him…and St. Patrick’s Day was born.
     My heritage is part Irish (my mom’s maiden name was Riley, anglicized from O’Riley when the came over from the old country). I have been noticing different groups suing large companies and organizations over the use of “mascots” that they deem derogatory to their heritage. With that in mind, I am currently drafting a lawsuit against Notre Dame University and General Mills, the makers of Lucky Charms cereal, claiming that their portrayal of leprechauns is derogatory to those of Irish descent. I figure they both have deep pockets! I am, of course, KIDDING about that- my tongue is planted firmly in my cheek! But my point is that we often do things for the wrong reasons…and St. Patrick’s Day is just such an example!
     This is a day set aside to commemorate a great man who literally gave his life in service to God. And how do we recognize it? We dye the beer (and the river in some places- see The Fugitive with Harrison Ford) green, the bars have fabulous specials/parties planned, and many communities turn into drunken brawls disguised as St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. I find it sad that, on a day set aside to remember the great ministry of someone who was canonized for their efforts, we have to make our police forces work overtime because they know the violence will increase that day!
     Now, I don’t mean to sound ancient, or like a prude, or both (and any other description that might be running through your head right now!)- I am NOT against drinking (although I personally choose not to) and I am NOT against partying and having a good time. But I feel we lose track of the “main thing” when we do things like this. It’s not really a day to remember St. Patrick…it’s an excuse to get hammered, do stupid things, throw up, and feel like (your choice of expletive here) the next morning. Just doesn’t make sense to me.
     What will YOU do tomorrow (now that I’ve guilted you enough? LOL) for St. Patty’s Day? More importantly, will you keep the main thing the main thing tomorrow…and beyond? What IS the main thing…to you? I encourage you to make a relationship with God the main thing. A night of drunken revelry might be fun…for a few hours…but the fallout is rarely fun. A relationship with God last a WHOLE lot longer, and its rewards are MUCH more eternal!
     Thanks for stopping by- have a blessed day! If you DO go out to “celebrate” tomorrow…please be careful! Make sure and stop by sometime tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The “Ides” Have It

    Julius Caesar had declared himself dictator for life of Rome. On March 15th (Idus Martiae) in 44 B.C., he summoned the Senate to meet in the Theatre of Pompey to approve his kingship outside of Italy before he went off to war. A fortune-teller had warned him to be on his guard against “a great peril” on that day. As Caesar passed the seer on his way to the senate-house, he said: “The Ides of March has come” and the seer said back, “Aye, Caesar, but not gone.” As the Senate convened, Julius Caesar was attacked and stabbed to death by a group of senators who called themselves the Liberatores (“Liberators”) They justified their action on the grounds that they were preserving the Republic from Caesar’s tyrannical ambitions.
     For Romans living before that event, “ides” was simply a common calendar term used to mark the appearance of the full moon. After Caesar’s death however, the phrase came to represent a specific day of abrupt change.
     “A specific day of abrupt change”…Caesar’s specific day was not a good one. But others have experienced specific days of abrupt change and not only lived to tell about them but flourished because of them. Saul, on the road to Damascus, experienced Jesus in a powerful, overwhelming, life-changing way, and became Paul, arguably the greatest “spreader of the Word” ever. The road from Saul to Paul was not an easy one, and he suffered much in the years that followed. But he always held firm to his beliefs, his faith, his God. And in the end…he changed the world. Don’t believe me? Read the New Testament. Of its 27 books, he wrote 13 of them. One man, on a difficult journey, had a specific day of abrupt change and we still feel his positive impact 2,000 years later.
      Maybe you won’t have a “lightning bolts on the Damascus road” event happen to you. But you can still have a specific day of abrupt change. You can look inside yourself, see the things that you KNOW God needs to change in you, and pray that He will. If you find yourself running into a lot of “idiots” every day, perhaps you need to reevaluate your own life. Maybe THEY aren’t the idiots after all!  Are you judgmental? Argumentative? Angry? Selfish? Unkind? Unfriendly? Unwilling to concede that you might need to change? Turn to God. Ask Jesus Christ to come into your heart, set up shop there, and transform you. Pray that today is the specific day that God brings about abrupt change in you.
     Thanks for stopping by and spending a few minutes with me today. I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back tomorrow and stick with Jesus!

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Worship In the Dark

      Itwas the summer of 1982. I had been forced to take incompletes in all my classesthe Spring semester of my Junior year of college. I had to have major backsurgery, and was recovering and looking for summer employment. I saw an ad fora restaurant that was hiring magicians and I thought to myself, “Hey! A chanceto perform for the summer AND get paid for it! Sweet!” So I took the ONLY cardtrick I knew with me and headed down to apply. The guy who was sitting outsidethe building interviewing (who turned out to be the General Manager) said, “Areyou a magician?” My response? “Sure!” “Then show me a trick!” So I produced thedeck of card and did the only magic trick I knew…BUT I did it with the flairand panache of a hungry acting student! He hired me on the spot! I then wenthome and began to learn all I could about being a magician! That’s the way itworks for actors. The casting director says, “Do you know how to ride a horse?” “Sure!”Then you rush out and take riding lessons! 
     It’s a little scary to jump into something with both feet, not knowing what the outcome will be…not even reallyunderstanding the situation in the first place. The same can be said for faithin Jesus Christ. Think about it- thethought of giving up power and control…to be subservient to someone you can’teven see or touch…that’s kind of crazy, isn’t it? Are we willingto offer ourselves to God in worship and service, even when wedon’t have all the answers? 
     Join me as we go back two thousand years…to the week beforethe crucifixion. As we do, I want you to ask yourself, “Which one of these people do I most identifywith? Where am I in the story? Wheream I before God?” It’s a confusing time. Hanging with Jesus is always hectic,but now…the pace has picked up considerably. You can feel it. Passover is justa few days away and there are thousands of people coming in to Jerusalem. By the time Thursday comes, 50,000 will have swelled to a quarter of a million! Jesus has been staying in the nearbytown of Bethany- going into Jerusalem for the day and then coming back atnight. He has friends there- Mary, Martha and Lazarus, whom He raised from thedead. And even though it’s dangerous for Jesus to be in Jerusalem (thereligious leaders have already made it public that they’re gunning for Him), Hecomes anyway. And He’s NOT keeping his head down, hiding in the crowd- quitethe opposite. He’s out there…living large. And He is NOTHING like the Messiah theyexpected. He hasn’t conquered the Romans.  He’s not made friends with the religiousestablishment. And if that’s not bad enough, He keep talking abouthis impending death. The disciples are confused. They’ve been dragged through all kinds of danger. They’vehacked off all the wrong people. And Jesus, THE Jesus, the one they believed tobe the coming king, is not doing ANYTHING they expected. Instead of pullingeverything together, He seems to be letting everything fall apart. And thatbrings us to today’s passage from the Gospel of Mark.

Mark14:1-11“Now the Passoverand the Feast of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chiefpriests and teachers of the law were looking for some sly way to arrest Jesusand kill him. “But not during the Feast,” they said, “or thepeople may riot.” While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in thehome of the man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came in with an alabaster jara very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured theperfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to oneanother, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more thana year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked herharshly. “Leaveher alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done abeautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can helpthem anytime you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could.She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. I tell youthe truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she hasdone will also be told, in memory of her.”

     My wife and I went to the movies and we were running a bit late, so I sent her on into the theater to get ourseats while I got the popcorn and soda. As I entered the theater, I realizedthey had already started showing previews and it was DARK. My eyesstill hadn’t adjusted, so I stumbled along in the dark, feeling my way along the wall. I came around the corner just as the screenlightened up. All at once my eyes adjusted and I couldsee…my wife standing literally six inches in front of me! I yelled…and jumped…spilling thepopcorn everywhere! Walking blindly in the dark is not a pretty thing! 

     So Jesusgoes to dinner at Simon the Leper’s house. Simon can’t actually be a leper-he wouldn’t be able to have this kind of social contact. He probably WAS aleper- but had been healed by Jesus. Into this dinner party comes a woman. TheGospel of John says she was Mary- Lazarus and Martha’s sister. So she isn’t justsomebody off the street that came to greet Jesus. She has sat at His feet and listenedto Him teach. She has seen Him perform miracles. She has seen her own brother raisedfrom the dead by Him. And so she comes in…withan alabaster jar full of perfume. Alabaster is a type of marble…a verybeautiful, very expensive marble. Inside this beautiful, expensive jar…is pure nard, avery expensive perfume. It was worth a year’s wages. And THIS is what she bringsto Jesus- a VERY expensive perfume in a VERY expensive jar. Usually, IF youopened it, you would do so carefully, sparingly putting a few drops on eachguest’s head as a sign of hospitality. But not Mary. She walks in, breaks thejar open, and pours the whole thing on Jesus. Extravagant…to say the least.This perfume, enough to provide for ten families for a month, is pouring downJesus’ hair, running down his beard, dripping onto his clothes and feet. Andwhat is the response of those gathered there, those who have come to celebrateJesus? They think it
s a colossal waste! These are GOOD people. They knowJesus. They’ve been listening to Him. They believe in what He’s taught…and yethere they are…indignant. “Haven’t You taught us how important it is to takecare of the poor? Haven’t You taught us about good stewardship, about how weshould use what we have? And then SHE does THIS? You gotta bekidding me?! What a waste!” They’re appalled- an opportunity to do SO muchgood…wasted. 

     And in the middle of their “whine andcheese” party, Jesus says, “Whoa, whoa, whoa! Back off! Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her?She’s done a beautiful thing for me. The poor will always be with you, butyou will not always have Me. She poured perfume on my body to prepare for myburial. And I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughoutthe world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” Well, this catches them completely offguard. “He took HER side?! Did we miss something?” Something profound hashappened, and they just CAN’T wrap their heads around it. It’s dangerous totry and get inside somebody’s head- to try and figure out their motives. But wehave to ask the question, “Why did Mary do what she did?” What would make youwalk into a banquet, take a year’s wages, and pour it over the head of theguest of honor?

     Maybe itwas gratitude- “Thank you Jesus, for who You are andwhat You’ve done, especially for my family. This perfume isn’t wasted because You’vetaught us what it means to know God.” So maybe it was gratitude.

     Maybe itwas faith- “Jesus, I believe you ARE theMessiah, the anointed one…and now I’ll show you…and everyone else…through thisanointing that You ARE the one anointed by God to be Savior of the world. Thisperfume isn’t wasted.” Maybe it was faith.

     Maybe itwas sorrow– “Jesus, I believe You when You sayYou’re going to die. I don’t understand it, I HATE the thought of it, and I’ddo ANYTHING possible to stop it…but I believe You. And so, if it must be, I’mat least going to make sure Your body is anointed for burial. I want to honorYou…and this is the best thing I can think of.” Maybe it was sorrow.

     The world is going to reject God’slove…and it will all fall on Jesus’ shoulders. And this woman is the only onewho seems to see that. She sees it, but she doesn’t understand it. It doesn’t make sense.She doesn’t have all the answers. But despite the uncertainty, despite theunknown, she believes in Jesus. She believes what He says, and so…she does whatshe can, what she must. She honors Jesus in the darkness of her confusion. Despite all her questions…she offers him heropen devotion.

     Where areYOU in this story? Maybe you’re seated at the table, recliningwith the others gathered there. Maybe you’re standing in the crowd gatheredaround the table. Maybe you see the woman come in. The room is not well-lit andyou can’t make out everything clearly, but you hear the crack of the bottle asthe smell of perfume wafts through the room. Are you like the people asking, “Whois this Jesus that somebody would do such a thing?” Are you surprised by theaction, clueless as to why it happened, wanting to know more? Are you like the disciples? They’ve heardthe same things this woman has heard…and more, and yet they are more…restrained…intheir response. Are you like them? Maybe you still expect life to be exactly likeYOU planned it…and you expect Jesus to be exactly like YOU want Him to be. Maybeyou’re ready to serve Jesus, but you’re holding something back until youunderstand everything better…or until He does things your way. Or maybe thereare STILL some things that Jesus said…that you don’t really believe. Or…are you like the woman? You don’thave all the answers yet. In fact, you’re carrying around some pretty bigquestions, but one thing is clear- Jesus is your Lord and Savior, and so evenWITH the confusion, even WITH the questions, even IF Jesus isn’t doing exactly whatyou expect Him to do…you’re still willing to offer yourself fully to Him,without reservation.

     Jesus’ response to the woman wasthat she had done a beautiful thing. And the sacrifices we make, even when wedon’t have all the answers, perhaps BECAUSE we don’t have all the answers, arestill beautiful in His eyes.  I asked youwere you are in this story. The good news is that, wherever you found yourself,Jesus knows where that is, and He’s ready to meet you where you are. And whereverthat is, He wants to make Himself known to you in a deeper way, to draw you deeperinto a sense of worship. 

     Thanks for stopping by- have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Spring Forward

     Tonight (technically EARLY tomorrow morning, but who actually gets up at 2AM to reset their clocks?), we “Spring Forward”- that is, we turn our clocks ahead one hour. Did you know that ancient civilizations adjusted their daily schedules to fit the amount of sunlight available? They often divided the “daylight” part of the day into twelve equal hours…regardless of how long the daylight was! Roman water clocks had different scales for different months of the year- at the winter solstice, the 3rd hour after sunrise started at 09:02 and lasted 44 minutes. At the summer solstice, it started at 06:58 and lasted 75 minutes! Over time, equal-length hours became the norm.
     Many people attribute the “invention” of DST to Benjamin Franklin. During his time as an American envoy to France, Franklin, author of the proverb, “Early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise”, anonymously published a letter suggesting that Parisians economize on candles by rising earlier to use morning sunlight. This 1784 satire proposed taxing shutters, rationing candles, and waking the public by ringing church bells and firing cannons at sunrise. But Franklin did NOT propose DST; like ancient Rome, 18th-century Europe didn’t keep such precise schedules. But as the use of rail transportation grew and as communication networks became more sophisticated, a greater standardization of time became necessary.
     Actually, Modern DST was first proposed in 1895 by New Zealand entomologist George Vernon Hudson, whose shift-work job both gave him leisure time to collect insects AND made him aware of the value of “after-hours daylight”. That year, he presented a paper to the Wellington Philosophical Society proposing a two-hour daylight-saving shift, with a follow-up paper being presented in 1898. Many  incorrectly credit DST to English builder/outdoorsman William Willett, who seems to have independently conceived DST in 1905 during a pre-breakfast ride through the countryside. He noticed how many Londoners slept through a large part of the summer morning. An avid golfer, he also hated having to cut his rounds short at sunset. His solution was to advance the clock during the summer months, a proposal he published two years later. He unsuccessfully lobbied the UK to adopt DST until he died in 1915. Germany and its occupied zones were actually the first European countries to use it, starting on April 30, 1916, as a way to conserve coal during wartime. Britain and many other European countries soon followed suit. Russia and a few other countries waited until the next year; and the United States adopted it in 1918.
     I must confess…I find the whole DST thing rather…funny. Growing up out in the country, surrounded by farmers, it simply wasn’t an issue. You went to work when the sun came up, and you quite work when the sun went down- it was THAT easy! It didn’t matter what the clock said; it only mattered whether you could see or not!! Now don’t get me wrong…I LOVE “fall back”! (As a preacher, I would be DELIGHTED if we fell back EVERY Saturday night! Then, roughly once a month, we could simply eliminate a day…I vote Monday…to make up for it!) Yep…LOVE “fall back”! BUT…HATE “spring forward”! I feel gypped every year when I loose that hour. I WANT that hour. I NEED that hour! But no…they take it away from us every year!! (I’m sorry…I lost it for just a moment…but I’m back now!)
     Boy George said, “The time is precious, I know.” Dr. Frankenfurter said, “Time is fleeting.” Pink Floyd said, “Time keeps flowing like a river to the sea.” Steve Miller said, “Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future.” Mick Jagger said, “Time is on my side.” Styx said, “Too much time on my hands.” The Guess Who said, “I got, got, got no time.” Billy Joel said, This is the time.” And Chicago asked, “Does anybody really know what time it is?” In the end, it’s about us trying to govern the passage of time…a
concept that is ludicrous on the face of it. We try SO hard to control the things we cannot…and often ignore the things we CAN! Do you feel that time is passing you by, or that it is passing too quickly? Here’s the reality…you can’t do anything about that. Time is…what time is. It just…passes. The key is what you DO with the time.
     Time is TOO precious to waste it. Do you find yourself saying things like, “I’ll do that later” or “I’ve got all the time in the world” or do you quote Scarlett O’Hara- “Tomorrow is another day”? We DON’T know how much time we have…so we should make the most of it. Have a relationship you have neglected? Fix it. Have things undone around the house, at work? Do them. Been putting off pursuing a relationship with God until the kids are out of the house, or the weather turns warm, or the weather turns cold, or you retire, or…or…or…! You could “or” yourself to death…and never get anywhere. You were made for such a time…as THIS! Don’t wait…live! Grab life by the horns and live it! You will be richly rewarded in ways that matter…in ways that are eternal!
     Thanks for stopping by- have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Patchy Dense Fog

     We have had a decent amount of fog lately. Overnight and into the morning, it has been rather hard to see clearly. I don’t know about you, but my instinct when I can’t see as well as I would like while driving at night is to…turn the brights on…and well all know THAT doesn’t help!! A few nights ago, my nine-year old and I left the local High School parking lot (I had Jazz Band rehearsal) to drive home. (I live VERY close to the High School!) As we walked out to the car and then drove off the parking lot, it was SO foggy that you simply couldn’t see more than a few dozen feet in front of you. I decided to use that as a teaching moment for my son about why you don’t turn your brights on in the fog. As I turned to corner from one street to the next, I explained what I was going to do…then did it. His reply? “Looks better to me!” And it did! In relatively short order, we had gone from SOLID fog to NO fog! As I pulled on to our street, with literally NO fog around me or ahead of me, I looked back at the High School campus. It was as if a small patch of dense fog had settled right on the High School…and nowhere else! It was rather…creepy! (Made me think of a John Carpenter movie!)
     When I was a kid, I had to walk 1/2 mile from home to the bus stop every day. (No…this ISN’T one of those “back in my day” stories! Although I DID have to walk uphill BOTH ways with cardboard for shoes through the blinding snow even in July!) I grew up out in the country, so there weren’t houses close by- the nearest neighbor was 1/4 mile away. On really foggy days, as I walked, an unsettling thing would happen- our house would quickly disappear from sight, while no other houses were yet visible. The overall effect was that the world had disappeared and I was the only one left! (It was always very comforting when the neighbor’s house came into view!)
     Weather “people” (is that the politically correct term?) never met a weather catchphrase they didn’t like. When I used to live in the St. Louis area, weatherman Dave Murray loved to talk about “peekaboo sunshine”. One day, one of the radio drive-time DJ’s he was interacting with pointed out that Peekaboo Sunshine sounded less like a weather condition and more like an exotic dancer! Also, according to weather professionals, storms like to follow major interstates (“along a corridor following I-74…”). My question is this- how does the storm know where the interstate is? Do they follow it, like we do, because it makes for faster travel? Another term they love is “patchy dense fog”. I believe what I experienced the other night at the High School would qualify as patchy dense fog (there was certainly NO peekaboo sunshine)! We often experience patchy dense fog as we drive. I think we also experience it in our spiritual lives as well.
     There are times when our spiritual journey seems to be hammering on all cylinders- we feel good, we feel, strong, we feel…”right”…with God. Then there are other times when we don’t feel that so much- we are trying to make our way through patchy dense spiritual fog. You know what I mean- nothing feels right, nothing goes right, the world just seems to be against you…like that! And when that happens, if we are not careful, is when we tend to feel the farthest away from God. It’s when the fog that keeps us from seeing His plan for us clearly is at its most dense. What do we need to remember at times like that? We need to remember that, along with being dense, that spiritual fog is…patchy! We may be right smack in the middle of it, but the reality is that we don’t have to be in it forever. We can look for the edge of the “patch”, move toward, and get out of the worst of it. But often…we don’t. Often, when the fog descends, we hunker down, pull the wagons in a circle…and wait it out. The problem is, it may take a while if we aren’t actively trying to get beyond it.
     The truth of the matter is this- we are going to have those fog-shrouded times. We cannot avoid them. And we cannot shorten them either. They are what they are. But while we cannot shorten them…we CAN lengthen them! You might be saying, “Why would I do THAT?” But the reality is that we ALL do it sometimes. Here’s my encouragement to you- when you feel that fog closing in around you, be aware of it…and be proactive. Increase your prayer time. Look for the positive in the situation. Make sure your glass is half full…NOT half empty. If you do that, you WILL come out of that fog sooner. Also, see that time as a time of growth. Figure out what you can learn from the difficult times…and do it. I fully believe that God doesn’t simply go around throwing roadblocks in our paths so that we will “learn something”- many things happen because we live in a fallen world. But I am also convinced that God finds the good in a bad situation…and encourages us to see it too!
     Thanks for stopping by…have a blessed day. Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with with Jesus!