The Greatest Voice of the Rock Era

     The greatest voice of the rock era- that’s a loaded topic! I am (NO surprise) a HUGE fan of classic rock. For ME, “classic rock” means from 1974-1983…give or take a year here and there! I grew up the baby of the family (I suppose that means I am STILL the baby of the family! Some people would heartily agree with that!), and so I “cut my teeth” musically on what my siblings and parents listened to. Because of that, I have an incredibly varied taste in music. My parents listened to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Andy Williams, Perry Como, Julie Andrews, Jim Nabors, Frank Sinatra…like that. My siblings listened to The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Iron Butterfly, Strawberry Alarm Clock, Three Dog Night, Joni Mitchell…you get the idea. I knew the extended drum solo from In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida before I knew my ABC’s! 

     But then, I began to “come into my own”…musically. I started listening to Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Chicago, The Eagles, The Doobie Brothers, Head East, Boston, REO Speedwagon, Styx, Moody Blues, Pink Floyd, Steely Dan, Blue Oyster Cult, The Edgar Winter Group…the list could go on and on. And let me be clear…I LOVE all of those groups and their music…and many more! But two groups that always seemed to draw me in even more were Journey and Queen. Great music, to be sure, but over time, I began to realize that there was more to it than that. With all the REALLY good groups out there, Journey and Queen seemed to have something…special…different…than the others. I finally realized what that was- they had, in my humble opinion, the two greatest lead singers of the classic rock era. Steve Perry from Journey could hit notes that no human should be able to git…and do it effortlessly. And Freddie Mercury from Queen…well…there has never been another singer quite like Freddie Mercury! 
     As a drummer, I realized LONG ago that, for the VAST majority of successful rock bands, once you get beyond the lead singer and MAYBE the lead guitarist, the rest of the band is basically a collection of interchangeable parts. NO offense intended to any drummers, keyboardists or bass players out there, but  if a different musician sat in at that instrument for a recording session, the average fan would never know the difference. BUT…take away the lead singer…suddenly it’s a Tribute Band covering someone else’s songs! But, at least for me, that’s OK! I don’t play music for the glory (good thing!)- I play for the sheer joy of the creative process!
     Who do YOU think is the greatest voice of the rock era? Admittedly, I “wussed out” a bit by choosing two, but who would YOU pick? Email me and let me know. I f I get enough responses, I will share the results in a future blog! In the meantime…rock on!
     Thanks for stopping by…I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back for tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Birthday of an Angel

     Today is the birthday of an angel…my wife! I have now spent 34 birthdays with this awesome woman. In fact, out FIRST date was on her 16th birthday! I was in the high school production of Oliver! and opening night was…her birthday! I had been trying to get up the nerve to ask her out, and that seemed like a rather low-risk date! (Looking back- asking a girl out on a first date to an event where she has to A. sit by herself and B. watch YOU…may NOT be the best choice…but it worked!) I sent roses to her house that afternoon, so that they had already arrived when I came to pick her up. (I know…smooth…right?!) After the show, I changed out of my costume, scrubbed off the makeup (ALSO not something you would normally flaunt to a new girl on the first date!) and we headed to the restaurant at the local Ramada Inn. I had called ahead and ordered a birthday cake. (Again…smooth…right?!) We ordered sauteed mushrooms and shared them while we listened to the musical stylings of Mike Zichovich. He had two…count them…TWO…electronic keyboards that did EVERYTHING. (You know, guitar, bass, drums, piano…all coming out of two keyboards.) He covered Billy Joel and the like, and we gazed longingly into each others eyes. (At least I did- hers might have been less about me and more about a bit of nausea over the karaoke-like music we were listening to!) After we finished our sauteed mushrooms, I had them bring the cake. As it came out, it became apparent to me, 16-year old boy that I was, that “cake” may be a bit of a misnomer! It was round, about 2″ tall, about 6″ across, and stale as the day is long!! (I know…NOT smooth…right?!) BUT…she blew out the one candle (SURELY they knew she was older than that…didn’t they?!), we had a few bites of stale cake, and the die was cast. 

     I was too big of a goober to actually kiss her when I took her home (to say I was backwards around females would be like saying the sky is blue or the ocean is deep…painfully obvious!!), but I was smitten! And I remain smitten this many years later!
     Love is an interesting thing. It is light, breezy, warm, fuzzy, and all-encompassing. But after “the shine is off the apple”, love takes work. It’s no longer this blindingly beautiful feeling that transcends anything and everything. To fall in love is EASY…to STAY in love is hard sometimes. But I have learned a lot from my wife over the years (she IS a very wise woman!) about how to make a relationship last. Every day, try to put the other person’s needs above yours. Try to do all you can for them. Show them, EVERY day, that you love them. TELL them every day that you love them. Don’t go to bed angry. Do part ways with reminding each other that you DO love each other! Make sure you tell the people you love THAT you love them. Don’t assume they know, but remind them…daily. And if you love them…TREAT them as such. We often tend to treat those closest to us the worst. But they deserve the BEST we can give them. Don’t let today end without telling someone important to you that you love them. My wife is a bona fide saint to put up with me all these years, and on her birthday, I just state publicly that she is the most awesome woman ever and I am LUCKY and BLESSED that she said “yes”! Happy birthday, sweetheart! 
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Eating Backwards

     A few days ago, we had dinner…backwards! Dairy Queen was having a sale- buy one Blizzard and get a second one for just a few cents. I ran to pick up my youngest son from school, and as I was leaving the house, my wife suggested I pick 2 Blizzards up…that we could split between the three of us. I did…and we did. So we had tasty ice cream treats at 3:30PM, and then dinner about 6:30PM. So we did it backwards…ate the dessert and THEN the meal. (My mom would be appalled!) And may I say…my son LOVED it! (Speaking personally, the Georgia Mud Fudge Blizzard is awesome!)

     There are so many rules and social conventions in this world- walk here, don’t walk there, do this, don’t do that, eat this now, eat that later, stand up straight,…you name it, there is a rule or social convention that covers it! Now, don’t get me wrong, there is NOTHING wrong with rules…in the right place and at the right time. If the rule is “walk when the crosswalk sign tells you to walk. there is some wisdom to that- getting hit by a car is NOT high on my “to do” list! If the rule is “don’t touch these high-voltage power lines”, I’m fairly likely to follow that rule- I am not big on being deep fried! If the rule is “don’t stick your hand in the bear cage”, I would like to think that is a rule with a great deal of merit! (My wife once saw a guy in Yellowstone try and feed a younger bear bologna…while it was laying on his opened, outstretched hand! The bologna…NOT the bear! Needless to say…he got bit! He’s LUCKY that’s ALL he got!!)
     Rules are good, rules are meant to keep us safe, rules are intended to help maintain the order of things. And that’s all well and good. But sometimes…you have to fly in the face of rules. Sometimes you have to “let your hair down” (a metaphoric image for me personally!) and do something a little crazy! (Like when my family played Frisbee out in the front yard…in the pouring rain! The neighbors thought we were NUTS! Perhaps we are!) BUT…it should never be something illegal, immoral, or unethical. It shouldn’t have the end result of hurting anyone or anything. It should just be outside the box and…fun!
     So, what can YOU do today that “outside the box”? What can you do that would be marvelously counter cultural and a whole lot of fun? Remember, no harm, no law-breaking, no foul! But you will be amazed at just how good it feels to just…let go…once in a while! If you do something fun (and perhaps a bit outlandish) as a result of reading this- email me and tell me about it! I’d love to hear from you!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Thoughts From a Magic Lamp

     A new Goodwill store opened in town recently. Well, it wasn’t so much a new store opening, as much as it was an old store relocating…but you get the picture! To be honest, we never really liked the old Goodwill store, but LOVE the local Salvation Army store. (I do all of my fine suit buying there- $7 for a suit- hard to beat!) So we decided to give the new Goodwill a try. While we were there, I though about the fact that I wanted a new lamp to sit on my desk at work. So I went to the “lamp section” and found one. Simple, relatively unassuming, and $4- hard to beat. BUT…does it work? (Once bitten, twice shy…and all that rot!) So I carried it over to an outlet and plugged it in. It did NOT come on. So…I looked for a switch (NOTHING gets past me!) to turn it on. As I was looking, my 9-year old son came over. “Whatcha doin’?” “Trying to turn this lamp on!” “What’s the problem?” “Can’t find the switch!” “Maybe it’s one of those ‘touch’ ones?!” He reached out, touched the metal shade, and VIOLA…the lamp came on! He’s a genius! (Me…not so much!) So I said, “Let ME try that!” I reached out and touched the shade…NOTHING! He touched it again, it got brighter. I touched it again…NOTHING! He touched it again, it got brighter. I touched it again…NOTHING! He touched it again, it went off. I touched it again…NOTHING! I felt frustrated, foolish…but $4 for a perfectly good lamp was hard to beat, so I went ahead and got it, thinking at least we could put it in HIS room!

     As soon as we got home, I had to leave for a meeting. When I got back, the lamp was sitting on the kitchen counter, plugged in. So I went over and tried it…VIOLA (again)…it came on! I kept touching it, and it kept doing what it was supposed to do! Awesome! So I took it to my office and set in on my desk. It works great. But there was still the mystery of why it wouldn’t work for me at the store.
     Then I talked to my dad, the retired electrician/design engineer. I said, “Oh, you of all people should appreciate this story” and I proceeded to tell him the mystery of the lamp. As I neared the end of the story, heading toward “and I still don’t know why it wouldn’t work”…it HIT me! When I tried it at the store, I was HOLDING it in my hand, thereby acting as the ground. I COULDN’T light the lamp and be the ground at the same time. My son, on the other hand, was touching it until he tapped it each time to turn it on. Duh!! Another mystery solved!
     It was no accident that I figured that out while talking to my dad, because it was he who told me that, anytime you are trying to solve a problem, imagine the easiest solution first. It’s OFTEN the right answer, and it is ALWAYS the easiest to check! I can’t tell you how many times I have been trying to figure something out, only to stop and say, “Wait a minute, what did dad say?” I then applied that principle…and almost always figured it out immediately thereafter! Have a problem you’re trying to solve? What’s the EASIEST possible solution? More often than not- it’s also the RIGHT solution! 
     Another great resource when trying to solve a problem is prayer. Prayer is conversation…with God. And like any good conversation, prayer should be AT LEAST as much listening as talking. I find when I pray to God, and spend time listening for that still, small voice, often the answer is right there in front of me. Turn to God in prayer- at all times, in all places. It is NOT the least you can do- it is the MOST you can do!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Abbeyfield? What’s THAT?

     When I first moved here, I was asked if I knew about Abbeyfield. Now, I AM a Beatles fan, so I knew about Abbey ROAD…but NOT Abbeyfield. Now…I do! Abbeyfield is a not-for-profit organization that is dedicated to making the lives of older people easier and more fulfilling. Abbeyfield helps people live independently by providing a range of services, all of which are linked to the local community.Each Abbeyfield society is guided by the beliefs that older people have an important role to play among their families, friends and their communities and that overcoming loneliness and insecurity can make all the difference to an older person’s quality of life. People have an essential part to play in helping older people within their community, and the Abbeyfield team of volunteers and professional staff offer practical support and companionship to residents within the comfort of their own community. Residents enjoy an assisted independent lifestyle free from the hassles of running a household and the concerns of dealing with loneliness. Abbeyfield is, in short, a residential living center for the elderly that is specifically and intentionally built to be directly linked to the community in which it exists. Folks can move from their homes into this environment, but stay IN their own community and continue to be a vital part of that community, attending their home church, shopping at their home grocery store, etc.

     So, pastor, why are you taking blog space to promote a “third party” organization of which you are not affiliated? Well…thank you SO much for asking! Yesterday, a group in my community had the official “groundbreaking” for an Abbeyfield facility- I was asked to coming and give the Invocation. This facility (the FIRST one in the United States!) will allow older residents of this community to stay here, even when the are not able to tend a home, yard, etc. How awesome is that?!
     I invite you to say a prayer for this facility, this organization, and ANY organization that is dedicated to helping our elderly remain important parts of our communities, our lives. They deserve our prayers, our love, our attention. Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

McDonalds, Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts?

     What do you call it when a wife or husband makes bad coffee? Grounds for divorce! What Star Wars character drinks too much coffee? Java the Hut! A man goes to the doctor, “Every time I drink my coffee, I get a stabbing pain in my right eye. What should I do?” The doctor replies, “Try taking the spoon out of the cup!”  

     The last two Sundays, we’ve walked with Saul on the Damascus Road, where we witnessed a life-changing encounter with Jesus. We’ve met Ananias, who is sent by God to get Saul. We’ve also talked about coffee…and my addiction to caffeine, and my change to decaf, and how people can also change. When we left Saul last week, he was sitting in Judas’ house on Straight Street, blind, deep in contemplation…and Ananias has gone to Straight Street, laid hands on Saul and restored his sight. 
     Acts 9:19b-28-   “Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” 22Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ. 23After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, 24but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. 25But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall. 26When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. 27But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. 28So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.”
     Bill Cosby said, “Like everyone else who makes the mistake of getting older, I begin each day with coffee and obituaries!” So Ananias goes to Judas’ house, lays hands on Saul, the scales fall from his eyes, and he begins preaching in the synagogues of Damascus. He hacks some folks off, no big surprise there, and so they conspire to kill him. But his buddies stick him in a basket in the dead of night and lower him over the wall of the city and he escapes. He goes to Jerusalem and tries to get in with the disciples, but his reputation precedes him and they don’t want to have anything to do with him. Then along comes Barnabas. It’s NO coincidence that the name Barnabas means “son of encouragement”. He tells the disciples about Saul’s experience on the road to Damascus, about how he is a new person. They accept him, and he begins to preach there. 
     Paul was a pot-stirrer! I’ve been told many times, “If you’re going to preach the Gospel…do so with your bags packed!” But my philosophy is that, in the end, you just can’t let the guy who sweeps up afterwards determine how many elephants are allowed in the parade! God filled Saul with the Holy Spirit that day…and he became Paul. God’s forgiveness can turn you around 180 degrees, but it’s important to note that the Spirit was already at work in his life, convicting him of his sins, preparing him for the person of Jesus Christ. There was a total transformation in Saul’s life. Days earlier, he hated Christians, hunting them down to kill them. Now, he’s getting baptized, identifying with the very people he hated. Saul had to be dismantled and then reassembled as Paul in order to be used for God. God wanted to use Paul to reach the Gentiles in a way no one had. Growing up in Tarsus, being a Roman citizen, speaking fluent Greek, and being Jewish made Paul uniquely and perfectly equipped by God to help people come to Christ. The guy who was sent to stomp out the fledgling church of Jesus Christ is the same guy who is now telling anyone who will listen that Jesus is the Son of God. The transformation from Saul to Paul was complete.
     Being a Christian is truly an amazing thing. Our sins are forgiven, our lives are changed. And, as an added bonus, God gives us people to share the experience with, people to help us along our way. God puts other believers in our lives to encourage us, teach us, help us be accountable for our actions. When I look back at my life, I’m thankful for the people God put in my path. 
     We’ve looked at four different methods for decaffeinating coffee thus far. Today, we look at our fifth and last- the Carbon Dioxide Method. This process is technically known as supercritical fluid extraction. Pre-steamed beans are soaked in a bath of supercritical carbon dioxide at high pressure. After soaking for around ten hours, the pressure is reduced and the CO2 evaporates. The condensed CO2 is then used on another batch of beans. This process avoids the use of potentially harmful solvents. 
     We’ve talked about many different ways to decaffeinate coffee. There are also many TYPES of coffee. Dunkin’ Donuts is the world’s biggest coffee and baked goods chain. They serve about 2.7 million customers a day at about 8,800 locations in 31 countries- 6,400 of those locations in this country. Starbucks is the largest coffeehouse company in the world. They have more than 16,000 locations in 49 countries- 11,000 of those locations in the United States. But regardless of how big Starbuck’s or Dunkin Donuts is, McDonald’s is, and will always be, the 400-pound gorilla in the room. They have over 31,000 locations in 119 countries, serve about 47 million customers every day, and employ more than 1.5 million people. Although they have SOLD coffee for years, they are a fairly recent entrant into the competitive coffee market, but again…they ARE the 400-lb. gorilla in ANY group they enter. So, each of these three, in their own way, is known for their coffee. But they are very different…and market to, and appeal to, relatively different markets. 
     McDonald’s is ubiquitous…they’re everywhere. I would be hard-pressed to believe there are many, if ANY people in this country that HAVEN’T been to a McDonalds. They’re handy, they’re reasonable, they’re dependable- you KNOW what you’re going to get. AND…their coffee’s pretty good! Starbucks is KNOWN for coffee- so much so that their employees have a special name- barista. From the Italian and ironically meaning “bartender”, a barista is a person who prepares and serves coffee drinks. Starbucks is nearly as ubiquitous as McDonalds. They opened one in New York City some years ago, and on opening day, they had a HUGE line of people waiting to buy coffee. Many of the “management types” thought that was awesome, but the president of the company pointed out that people are going to wait 30 minutes to pay $4 for a coffee ONCE! So, they built a NEW Starbucks…across the street! Now, they HAVE expanded too far, too fast, and have had to make some pretty drastic cutbacks, but they are still a strong force in the market, and for MOST people, they have great coffee. (Their regular blend is too bitter for me…but I LOVE their Christmas blend!) They’re high-class, they’re high-profile, they’re an EXPERIENCE- and you KNOW what you’re going to get. Dunkin’ Donuts, for many, is the surprise entrant in this group. A lot of people know them for…well…DONUTS…but don’t think much about their coffee. Let me be the one to tell you…their coffee is EXCELLENT! We buy it TEN pounds at time: five regular and, of course, 5 decaf!! They’re NOT as omnipresent as McDonalds- not by a long-shot- but are nearly as reasonable and have GREAT coffee! They’re old-school, they’re functional, but they’re unexpected- you’re pleasantly surprised by what you get.
     There are many different methods for decaffeinating coffee. There are many different kinds of coffee. And there are many different kinds of people. Saul was about a different as they come. And…God…used… him- in a powerful way…to do great things. God uses ALL types… literally. So…which type of Christian are YOU? Maybe you’re the McDonalds type of Christian- you’re handy, you’re reasonable, you’re dependable- people KNOW what they’re going to get! Maybe you’re the Starbucks kind of Christian- you’re high-class, you’re high-profile, you’re an EXPERIENCE- and people KNOW what they’re going to get. Or perhaps you’re a Dunkin Donuts kind of Christian- you’re old-school, you’re functional, yet unexpected- people are pleasantly surprised by what they get. Not sure? Not perfect? Not ready? Join the club! Saul was a little TOO sure…that Christians were wrong. Saul was far from perfect. Saul was nowhere NEAR ready to serve Jesus Christ. And yet BOY did God use him! 
     Whichever kind you are most like- God can use you. God WANTS to use you. God is ready and waiting to use you. But you HAVE to be willing to respond to the call. Saul could have received Ananias’ touch, had his sight restored…and gone on with his Christian hunting. But he was willing to respond to the call. And, in his own way, he changed the world. You and I…in our own little way…we can change the world, too. I’m ready…what about you?
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed Sunday. Next Sunday, we start a new series- Things Your Parents Said! Please make sure and come back, and stick with Jesus!

Oh, My Aching…Everything!

     OK, let me admit RIGHT up front- I’m 49 years old, I out of shape, and I carry a bit more weight than would be ideal for my body and age! Having said those things (grudgingly…I might add!), last Saturday I paid rather dearly for those cold, hard facts! I tried to be…you guessed it…a weekend warrior! I have been sedentary ALL winter- my only real exercise was shoveling snow…and that wasn’t all that much! So here we are- Spring has sprung…and a middle-aged man’s fancy turns to…the great outdoors! 

     So, on Saturday morning, I went to my son’s soccer game. I was asked to be a Line Judge (before you think that a great honor…I was asked because I was the first one there with “sucker” written on my forehead! Our coach asks me, and added, “Any questionable calls, just remember…it’s OUR ball!) and agreed. Well, it was a very good game, with the kids moving the ball up and down the field the whole game. That’s great and all, but that meant that I had to run…up and down the field…the whole game! (By the way, our team won, 3-2!)  
     Then I went home to a lawn that looked like a demilitarized zone. I had done NOTHING to it since last fall, and needed some help. So I spent about 2 hours picking up sticks, mowing, trimming, pruning…you name it, I did it. Then I went to our first church softball team practice of the season, where I spent 90 minutes taking batting practice and infield practice (i’m the 1st baseman). Then I went home, not feeling too badly at all…until Sunday morning!
     I got up Sunday morning, and my body felt like it had been run over by something large and unwieldy. I hurt in places that I didn’t even know existed! Walking down the stairs to the front door to take the dog out, I felt like I had aged about 40 years while I slept! I popped some Tylenol, got dressed, went to church and tried not to hobble TOO much!
     Our bodies have muscles than need to be used, or they begin to atrophy. They need that semi-regular exercise if we are to keep them supple and ready to use. The same is true of our spiritual muscles. If we don’t use them, they lose their potency. If we are only going to church once in a while, how can we expect to live the life Jesus calls us to live? How can we expect to set a good example for our families, neighbors, co-workers? If we only come to God in prayer when we are in the middle of a crisis, how can we expect our prayers to be genuine, sincere, heartfelt? If we only treat others as we want to be treated when it is in OUR best interest, how can we expect to be seen as Godly people? 
     This week, use your muscles. Do something physical- whatever your body will allow you to do. But also, use your spiritual muscles. Go to church. Pray regularly. Treat people the way you know you should even when you don’t feel like it…especially when you don’t feel like it! If you do, your faith will remain limber and supple, ready to be used at a moment’s notice, ready to withstand a bit of extra stress and strain!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Administrative Assistant’s Day

     Today marks the END of Administrative Assistant’s Week. (If you’re currently thinking, “Oh…SNAP…I didn’t do anything for THEIR NAME HERE!”- it’s NOT too late! Run out and get something. Give them a card. Take them to lunch. Whatever.) 

     I remember when the term was “secretary”. But that is no longer politically correct…and frankly…no longer entirely accurate. When I arrived at my church, we called the person who sits at the desk in the next room the “church secretary”. However, I KNEW that person did so much more than that title gave credit for, so I changed the title of the position to “Office Administrator”. Sadly, the change in title did NOT come with a change in pay…but that title sure looks darn good on a business card! And again, it’s also much more descriptive. My Office Administrator…well…administrated the office! (Duh!) She does the obvious things like answer the phone and greet people when they come in…but she does SO much more! 
     Someone in the church once asked the Office Administrator, “Don’t you get bored with your job…just sitting there answering the phone?” Her response? “You CLEARLY don’t know what I do!” The Office Administrator has to be the receptionist, the greeter, the telephone operator, the creator and publisher of a substantial weekly bulletin and a VERY substantial monthly newsletter, the confidential administrator of church giving, the scheduler…and about 59 other things I could name! In addition, she has to put up with…ME! (No small feat, all by itself!) 
     Who are the people in YOUR life who fill the role of Administrative Assistant (or some similar title)? Perhaps someone you work with- perhaps someone you live with. Who it/they is/are, don’t let today pass without some recognition. Somehow contact them and somehow thank them for the often thankless job they do. Let they know they are NOT forgotten. Let them know you appreciate them. Let them know they do a good job! What the world needs now (along with love, sweet love) is more people patting folks on the back and saying, “Good job!” Be one of those people today!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Fake Fights, Real Wounds

     I have mentioned before that I used to work as an actor. I also have mentioned that I studied acting at a small Midwestern University. Part of my educational requirements was to learn and practice stage combat- mostly fencing and broadsword fighting. “Requirements”…yeah, right! I would have paid THEM to let me do that! It was fun…but not terribly practical. The truly practical aspect of stage combat came in the practical application!

     I was in several plays/musicals/operettas/etc. while in college, but two of them (in the SAME year no less) had me involved in stage combat, and BOTH times with the same person- we’ll call him…Bill. The 1st time was a play called “Cabin 12”. In that play, Bill played an adult son who, along with his father, were staying at a cabin, #12, while traveling. I played a drunken redneck (hopefully NOT type-casting!) who was staying, along with his girlfriend, in the cabin next door. Part-way through the play, Bill’s character and my character were to get into a fight. We brought a guy in who staged the fight for us and taught us how to do it. It was challenging, but a whole lot of fun! (I’m such a…GUY…sometimes!) Partway through the fight, I was to put my left hand on Bill’s right, upstage (away from the audience) shoulder. Then I was to come across with my right fist, MISS his face and HIT my left palm. As soon as he heard the SMACK of my fist in my palm, he was to SNAP his head that direction, thereby giving the illusion I had punched him in the face. Then he was to knock me to the floor, on all fours, and swing his right foot in hard, stopping JUST as he was making contact with my ribs. I was to then propel myself away from his foot, again giving the illusion that he had kicked me in the ribs and sent me flying.
     That was all well and good, but in the heat of the moment (to quote those great rock and roll theologians Asia)…things happen! One night, during a performance, I came through with my right cross, ready to hit the palm of my hand. Bill anticipated a bit too much, snapped his head a bit too early…and got punched in the mouth! I felt horrible, but, as they say, the show must go on! Continuing with the choreography, he knocked me to the ground and brought his foot in to fake-kick me…but didn’t pull up short! He nailed me in the ribs full on and actually sent me flying!
     Later that same year, Bill and I found ourselves in on-stage combat again, in an operetta called Street Scene. I was a philandering milkman (AGAIN hopefully not typecasting!) and he was the jealous husband. Our personal denouement (Google it!) came in a 2nd-story window on the set. We were to struggle in the window with a handgun, smash the window out, fall to the floor (out of sight of the audience) and then a gunshot would sound, signifying my character’s death. The window was a very thin plexiglass that had been scored to make it very fragile. The handgun was a section of lead pipe that I held in my had. He was to grab my hand, we then struggled over the “gun”, and then we pushed the pipe into the plexiglass, breaking it. Well, again, in the heat of the moment…! On the 2nd night of the show, we got to that scene, REALLY got into it, and when we pushed to pipe toward the window, somehow my hand got turned and I punched out the plexiglass, ripping ALL the knuckles on my right hand wide open! I had to come out late in the play as an old man looking to rent the apartment that my other character was killed in. That night, the old man had a bandaged right hand!
     What do YOU do…or SAY…in the heat of the moment that you might later wish you hadn’t done or said! We all tend to do that at times…but when we do, it often has negative consequences. How often do we say something to someone that, even as it is coming out of our mouths, we wish we could take back? But the truth of the matter is that, once it’s out there, there is NO getting it back. And whoever said, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” has either a skewed or twisted view of life! Words are sometimes the MOST hurtful. Physical hurts will heal, but emotional hurts run deep…and linger long. Next time you’re in the heat of the moment…slow down, breathe, think, and don’t say something you will regret later. Care for others the way you want to be cared for!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Crawling Through a Mudhole

     Yesterday, I wrote about the Muddy Buddies. Today we will keep that “mud” theme going! At my last church, I took the Senior High kids on a retreat every fall. We would go to a United Methodist camp in Southern Illinois, where we would rent a big cabin for the weekend. It included 4 bedrooms, each with 5 bunk beds, 2 bathrooms, each with multiple showers, a kitchen, and a rather large “great room”, complete with a big stone fireplace. We would drive down after school on Friday, and come back on Sunday afternoon. During our time there, we went hiking in a nearby state park, played games, goofed around, ate, and worshiped. It was ALWAYS a great time.

     One year, when we arrived at the camp, about 7PM (after dark), we unloaded our stuff and started to get settled into the cabin when someone noticed that…the water didn’t work!! Awwww…SNAP! So, I called the emergency number available to “campers”. The guy in charge told me he would call the repairman and send him out. Well, we were inside (it was a bit nippy, being mid-November and all), we had a nice roaring fire, plenty of food, games to play…we were good…except that we couldn’t “flush and wash”! So we waited for the repairman.
     He arrived about an hour later. He was…LARGE! He was EASILY 6′ 5″ and JUST as easily 350 pounds. He was a BIG boy, in every sense of the word. He looked around a bit and managed to diagnose the problem. THAT was the good news. The BAD news was that the problem was a break in the water main. Now, the cabin was A. OLD, B. in the middle of the woods, and C. built on top of a crawl space. Also, the ONLY “entrance” into the crawl space that was about 3′ square AND at the absolute opposite end of the building from where the water line break was! So this…ginormous…man had to crawl through this TINY opening, and THEN shimmy, on his belly, diagonally across the entire length of the building, in the mud, in the cold, in the dark, in the…Lord knows what else was under that building with him! He finally got to the problem area, inspected it…and decided he needed some parts/tools he didn’t have! SO…he shimmied all the way back out, went and got what he needed, came back, shimmied all the way back in, fixed the problem, then shimmied all the way back out. In the end, he looked much like the picture…covered in mud from head to toe. The water worked…and he was quite glad about that fact, so he could hose off a bit before he went home! 
     Sometimes, you have to crawl through a whole lot of…well…we’ll say CRUD…before you get to where you need to be. It’s NOT fun, it’s NOT pleasant, it’s NOT exciting…but sometimes it’s just…necessary. And SOMETIMES, you don’t just crawl through it once- you have to crawl through three or four times before you get to where you’re going. Now, I do NOT believe that God makes us crawl through the crud. I have people say, “Well, God is testing me- He won’t give me more than I can stand!” I don’t think God works that way. I don’t think God just says one day, “Hmmm…that Rev. Mark looks bored. I think I’ll just drop a whole big steaming pile of hooey on him, just to see how he handles it.” I think sometimes things like that happen because we make poor choices. And I think that sometimes things like that happen because we live in a fallen, imperfect world and stuff just…happens. But the amazing thing is how God can use that negative situation to create an eventual positive outcome. There are SO many times I can look back on where I walked through the fires of Hell…but when I came out the other side, God had done something miraculous in me! That’s the beauty, the promise of God. So when you find yourself face-down in the mud, crawling on your belly through a God-forsaken crawlspace, remember that God is with you, and better times are coming!
     Thanks for stropping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Muddy Buddies

     I grew up as a gardener. Well…to be more precise- the son of a gardener! My mom had the greenest thumb you’ve ever seen! Our garden had apples trees, cherry trees, pear trees, peach trees, grapes, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, asparagus, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, onions, radishes, cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, turnips, green beans, sugar snap peas…I could go on…but I won’t! It was staggering how many different things we grew! It was also a TON of work! So is it any wonder that, as soon as I got out on my own, I did NOT have a garden?! Why in the WORLD would I want to continue that overwhelming amount of work…right?! 

     But then I got a bit more…settled. And we had a kid, and he began to grow up (they have a pesky way of doing that, don’t they?!), and I began to feel the pull of gardening! We were living in a little house in our home town- one that had an equally little back yard. So I scouted out a spot for a tiny garden. It was NOT the best choice- it was the least OFFENSIVE choice! It had some cruddy soil, lots of small rocks, some large rocks and a decent amount of  clay. WOW…now THAT’S some GOOD soil! 
     I got my son and his “bestest” buddy, who lived across the street, and together we formed…The Muddy Buddies! We got shovels and some topsoil…and we worked! We dug out as many of the rocks as we could…although we couldn’t get them all. We mixed in the topsoil the best we could. It was NOT great…but it was better! Then we went to the local plant nursery and bought some plants! We bought eight tomato plants and 4 pepper plants. We proudly brought them home, dug holes and put those bad boys in the ground. We watered them, we weeded them, we put some ground cover around them to better protect them. And then we waited. Oh, we continued to tend them. But we also watched them. And as they grew, I talked to the boys, The Muddy Buddies if you will, about what happens when a plant grows. We watched those tomato plant get bigger, we saw it start to bud, we watched those flowers open, spread and then begin to turn into tiny green tomatoes. Then we saw those tiny green tomatoes start to get bigger and turn red. And then…they were ripe! And let me tell you…The Muddy Buddies had a tomato feast that day!!
     There is an amazing thing about nurturing a plant- you put the “sweat equity” into it, you tend it, you nurture it…and it produces a wonderful return! Faith is much that way- the seed is planted in a person, a variety of people, some intentionally and some UN-intentionally, nurture that faith, and then it blooms…into something marvelous!! And what it produces, although impossible to accurately predict ahead of time, bears great fruit that impacts many people for a long time to come! 
     Who are YOUR Muddy Buddies? Who are the people that have had a great impact on your faith journey? Who are the people who have helped make you the person you are today? Do me a favor- contact them if you can, and thank them for what they have done for you. If you CAN’T contact them, then take a moment and thank God for their impact. Let’s hear it for the Muddy Buddies!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

A (Birth)Day in the Life

      So, yesterday was my birthday. (NOT a shameless attempt at birthday greetings…just a set-up for today’s entry!) Here is what the day looked like:

5:30AM- Alarm goes off
5:31-6:00AM- shave, brush teeth, get dressed, pour coffee (decaf, pre-programmed the night before)
6:00AM- drive to church
6:03AM- arrive at church (I don’t live far!)
6:04-7:20AM- unlock building, turn on lights, check thermostats, make more coffee, “reset” the furniture in a multi-purpose room, go over my sermon
7:20-7:50AM- rehearse with “the band” (yes…I’m the drummer!)
7:50-8:15AM- Greet folks coming to church
8:15-9:15AM- Contemporary Worship
9:15-9:30AM- bathroom, drink, greet more folks
9:30-10:15AM- Blended Worship
10:15-10:30AM- see 9:15-9:30AM
10:30-11:30AM- Traditional Worship
11:30-11:40AM- greet more folks
11:40AM-12:10PM- load drumset into my van, drive home
12:10-2:00PM- birthday lunch with my family, cake and ice cream, PRESENTS! 
2:00-4:30PM- drive to local church (NOT mine), set up drums, play last jazz band gig of the season, pack drums back into van, drive home
4:30-4:45PM- visit with my son before he returned to college
4:45-9:30PM- collapsing in my chair, popcorn, apples and a movie for dinner (Sunday evening tradition), unplanned nap, board game, another unplanned nap
9:30PM- go to bed!
    It was a GREAT birthday! Hundreds of people singing “Happy Birthday” at church, 18 text message greetings, 38 Facebook greetings, 5 phone call greetings, AND…I got to be with both my boys and my beautiful wife! Oh…and my wife made THE BEST lasagna I have EVER had for lunch! AND someone told me they thought I was 7 years YOUNGER than I actually am! 
     Birthdays are special things…the one day of the year that is YOURS. I want to thank all of those who helped make my birthday so great, and I want to wish a Happy Birthday” to everyone who has a birthday coming up. Oh…and just in case you wondered…I’m 49 years…and ONE day!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a great day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Form Follows (Dys)Function

     What do you call a cow that has just given birth? De-calfinated!!! Abraham Lincoln said, “If this is coffee, please bring me some tea. But if this is tea, please bring me some coffee.” Lady Astor once said to Winston Churchill, “If I were your wife, I would put poison in your coffee.”  To which Churchill replied, “And if I were your husband, madam, I’d drink it.”

     Last week, we walked with Saul along the Damascus Road, where he had a life-changing encounter with Jesus. We also talked about decaffeinating coffee, and how the 2 interact. When we left Saul, he was being led off, blind, to Judas’ house for a time of solace and contemplation. Today, we meet Ananias, and go with him on the road to Straight.
     Acts 9:10-16- In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord,” he answered. 11The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.” 13″Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. 14And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” 15But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
     The Swiss Water Process is another method of decaffeinating coffee beans. A batch of green (unroasted) beans is soaked in hot water, releasing the caffeine. When all the caffeine and coffee solids are released into the water, the beans are discarded. The water then passes through a carbon filter that traps the caffeine but lets the coffee solids pass through. The resulting solution, called “green coffee extract”, is now available for decaffeinating coffee. The Green Coffee Extract passes through a proprietary carbon which captures the caffeine. The process repeats, filtering out more caffeine until the beans are 99.9% caffeine-free. 
     Some thoughts on decaffeinated coffee- “Decaffeinated coffee is kind of like kissing your sister.” “Decaffeinated coffee is dirty, hot water.” “If it ain’t caffeinated, it ain’t coffee!” And some thoughts on regular coffee- “Coffee smells like freshly ground heaven.” “Caffeine isn’t a drug…it’s a vitamin!” “Behind every successful woman…is a substantial amount of coffee.” “You haven’t had enough coffee until you can thread a sewing machine while it’s running.”
     Damascus is about 140 miles from Jerusalem and is the oldest continuously inhabited city on the planet. It’s currently the capital of Syria, and it was a major trading city in the ancient Near Eastern world. 
we are introduced to a man named Ananias. He is, by the way, NOT the same Ananias from earlier in the book of Acts who, along with his wife Sapphira, is struck dead by God. This Ananias was just hanging out, waiting patiently to serve God. And…God…shows…up! God calls Ananias by name, and Ananias recognized God’s voice. He had a personal relationship with God. Ananias was willing. He answered the question as to whether he would allow God to use him. God’s directions to Ananias were clear- go immediately to Straight street, do not pass Go, do not collect $200, look for Saul of Tarsus who will be praying in the house of a man named Judas.
     Think about how Ananias must have felt. How do you go and minister to a man that has killed your friends, people you’ve shared your life with? Notice what Ananias, this dedicated servant of God, says when he hears God’s plan. “God…you have GOT to be kidding?! SAUL? THE Saul? The one who’s been persecuting YOUR people? Surely You want to reconsider!” This is no surprise. Ananias and his Damascus buddies have heard all about this Saul of Tarsus character…and NOW he’s on his way here. Ananias has reservations, and rightly so. But God responds, “Nope. He’s the one I’ve chosen to lead…and YOU’RE the one I’ve chosen to go get him!” Ananias asks God for some clarification…and gets it. God is patient with Ananias, gracious.
     Notice the contrast here…between the way God appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus and the way He appeared to Ananias on the roads to Straight. Saul was shocked, overwhelmed, struck blind by his encounter with God. On the other hand, Ananias was listening for God, and God spoke softly to Ananias, because He knew that Ananias was listening for His directions. Notice, too- God tells Ananias about what happened to Saul on the Damascus Road. He wants to reassure Ananias. Saul is a very dangerous man, and God wants Ananias to know that Saul is being “taken care of”.
     So, why does God use Ananias? Is he extra holy or something? I don’t think so…I think God used Ananias because he was available and willing. God used Ananias because he was an ordinary man. God loves to use us to work out His plans. Ananias was in the right place, had a willing heart, and so God used him.
     Alexander the Great and a small company of soldiers approached a strongly fortified walled city. Alexander, standing outside the walls, raised his voice and demanded to see the king. When the king arrived, Alexander insisted that the king surrender the city and its inhabitants to Alexander and his small band of fighting men. The king laughed, “Why should I surrender to you? You can’t do us any harm!” Alexander offered to give the king a demonstration. He ordered his men to line up single file and start marching. He marched them straight toward a sheer cliff. The townspeople gathered on the wall and watched in shocked silence as, one by one, Alexander’s soldiers marched without hesitation right off the cliff to their deaths! After ten soldiers died, Alexander ordered the rest of the men to return to his side. The townspeople and the king immediately surrendered to Alexander the Great. They realized that if a few men were actually willing to commit suicide at the command of this dynamic leader, then nothing could stop his eventual victory.
     Ananias was that obedient to God. Ananias’s faith and obedience was used to bring Saul into the fold of the church, and as we will see next week, this is a turning point for the church. Meanwhile, God also talks to Saul, telling him that a man named Ananias is coming to lay hands on him and restore his sight.
Notice that Ananias was supposed to go to Judas’ house. Ananias and Judas were names with permanent black marks on them. Ananias was synonymous with greed and hypocrisy; Judas was synonymous with betrayal. BUT…Judas MEANS “praise” and Ananias MEANS “God is gracious.” God is about to be praised for pouring out His grace on Saul and using Ananias to do it. 
There is that old saying, “Form follows function.” In today’s story, form follows dysfunction. Saul’s life of anger, and bitterness, and mayhem…dysfunction…is brought into sudden and startling form by the presence and power of God. God used Saul to minister to countless believers and non-believers. But, before that, God used another faithful man to minister to Saul.
    A kindergarten teacher was walking around observing her students as they drew pictures. As she got to one girl who was working diligently, she asked what the drawing was. The girl replied, “I’m drawing God.” The teacher paused and said, “But no one knows what God looks like.” Without looking up from her drawing, the girl replied, “Well, they will in a minute!”
     How amazing is it that God forgave Saul for his sins?! A man who hunted Christians down and had them killed…had his slate wiped clean. THAT’S grace. God wants to use us. But the question is “Am I willing to step outside my comfort zone to serve Him?” Almost every time God asks us to step out, it is outside that comfort zone that we build up around ourselves. I’m amazed at people who say, “I’m a Christian…I just don’t go to church! I can be just as close to God on the golf course or in the deer stand.” There are no Lone Ranger Christians. We’re supposed to band together for support and encouragement, just like the experience Saul had in Damascus. 
     If you don’t take away anything else away from today’s message, take this: God uses faithful, available people. The God of the universe has laid claim to our lives. He has a plan, shaped by love and spanning eternity, and He’s working that plan out through…US. And to miss all of that, to not be part of it, means we miss out on our whole reason for existence…it’s that important. Because Jesus Christ is alive, life can never be the same, we can never be the same.
     Thanks for stopping by- have a blessed Sunday! Please stop back by tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Living Vicariously

     I have a drum student. Well, I have more than one drum student, but there is one in particular I’m talking about today. He has been my student for about 3 years, He is a REALLY talented drummer. And every year, he enters the county Music Contest. He is also a singer and pianist (like I said, talented kid!), and so he often enters in more than one category. But, of course, MY concern is his drum piece every year. He chooses a drum solo every year and brings it to our lessons, where we work on it. EVERY year he has received a rating of 1st. Well, this year’s contest was last weekend, and leading up to it, I was a bit concerned about how he would do this year. After our LAST lesson before he was to perform his piece at the contest, I went home and said to my wife, “Well, I hope he does well. I mean…he HAS to do well…I have a perfect record!”

     I WAS, of course, kidding…really! But it made me think about parents who live vicariously through their kids. How many times have you seen a parent who is WAY too excited about what their kid is doing. They are the parents who enter their kid in a basketball tournament and then argue with the ref over EVERY last call, until everyone gets either so intimidated by them or so sick of them that they let the kid win the tournament just to satisfy the parent! They are the parents who push their kids into anything and everything, whether the kid wants to or not. They are the parents who get more joy our of their kids accomplishments than the kids ever will. They are the parents who are crushed when their kid finally gets up the nerve to say “I NEVER liked (fill in your event here), I only did it because you made me!” 
     No don’t misunderstand me- there is NOTHING wrong with encouraging your kid to be involved in things they like. There is nothing wrong with praising your kid for their accomplishments. The problem arises in the area of motive- if the parents’ motive is to encourage their kid to try new things and do their best…AWESOME! If, however, the motive is to satisfy some deep-seeded need with the PARENT…huge problem. What does it teach our children when they see us behave the way some parents behave at the football/baseball/basketball game/recital/concert/whatever?! 
     Have kids or grandkids in your life right now? Do them a favor- don’t force YOUR tastes/wishes/dreams down their throats. Instead, encourage them to try different things. Encourage them to have an open mind. Encourage them do their best. Encourage them to be passionate about what they do. And make sure it’s what THEY do…not what YOU do. Now, if you’ll excuse men, I am going to go an celebrate my…I mean my STUDENT’S…1st Place rating!!
     Thanks for stopping by…I pray you have a blessed Saturday. Please come back tomorrow for the 2nd week of our current Sunday series- Confessions of a Decaffeinated Christian, and stick with Jesus!

A Joyful Noise

     Did you know that kids make noise? I KNOW it’s hard to believe…but they do! And, believe it or not, they EVEN make noise…GASP…in CHURCH! The NERVE of them!! Church is supposed to be quiet, peaceful, uninterrupted, and…well…QUIET! And yet, you let those pesky kids into the building, and it’s NOT peaceful, it’s NOT uninterrupted, and it’s CERTAINLY not quite! Perhaps we should simply ban all children from church…until they reach such an age where they can be QUIET!

     Sound…harsh? I agree, and yet my experience is that MANY churches think that way, at least based on the way they act. Their approach seems to be “oh, we WANT children in church…as long as they are unnaturally silent and uninvolved.” Churches often frown on kids in worship. And if one dares to make a sound, the parents receive what I like to call the “skunk eye” until the simply leave the room. 
     I like to point out, EVERY time it happens, that the sound of kids in worship is a joyful noise. In fact, if I notice people in the pews prior to the start of the service with kids, I’ll watch them. If the parents seem uncomfortable with their kids being…well…kids in that setting, I’ll go over to where they’re sitting and let them know that kids making a little noise in church is a GREAT thing, and they should NOT feel compelled to leave the room. 
     My experience is that, so often, churches SAY they want kids, young people, new people in their pews. What they fail to voice is that they want those people…as long as they behave a certain way. “We WANT new people…to be like US!” Because of that, there are a LOT of churches across the country who are literally dying for kids, young people, new people in their church. Churches in mainline denominations all across the country are shutting their doors permanently instead of being willing to imagine doing things a new or different way. Churches that truly WANT to grow, thrive, SURVIVE, are churches that are welcoming…of everyone. 
     If you are part of a church family…how does YOUR church do in the “welcoming” area? It’s one thing to consider yourself a “friendly” church. It’s quite another thing to be welcoming to “outsiders”, even if they do things differently that you. If you are NOT a part of a church family, maybe it’s because you experienced exactly what I have been talking about. If that IS the case…try another church. If you have to, KEEP trying churches until you find one that is genuinely welcoming. They ARE out there! And when you find it…make a joyful noise!
     Thanks for stopping by today- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Iceberg Dead Ahead

     Today is the anniversary of….the sinking of the Titanic. (Is is simply coincidence that the anniversary of one of the best-known tragedies in human history is ALSO Tax Day?) Here’s what happened. On April 10, 1912, the Titanic, the largest ship afloat at the time, left the harbor at Southampton, England to begin her maiden voyage to New York City. The White Star Line, owners of the vessel, had spared no expense in providing luxury. Her passengers on that voyage were a mixture of the world’s wealthiest and poor immigrants packed into steerage.

     She was touted as the safest ship ever built- the White Star Line dubbed her “unsinkable”, flying in the face of God and nature. They were so convinced of her safety they only included 20 lifeboats – enough for only HALF of her 2,200 passengers and crew. In fact, since she was “unsinkable”, the lifeboats were only there to rescue survivors of OTHER sinking ships!
     Four days into this maiden voyage, at 11:40 P.M. on April 14, the Titanic struck an iceberg. Although many weren’t even aware of the collision, the icy waters of the North Atlantic soon began pouring in. As the bow of the ship sank deeper, passengers scrambled to the stern, clamoring for the lifeboats. 
     Since there was obviously not enough space in the lifeboats, life jackets were passed around. However, that was almost certainly a death sentence. Once in the water, life expectancy was short- the ocean was 28 degrees. As the stern of the ship drew higher and higher out of the water, more and more people ended up IN the water. Survivor John Thayer witnessed the sinking of the Titanic from a lifeboat. “We could see groups of the almost fifteen hundred people still aboard, clinging in clusters or bunches, like swarming bees; only to fall in masses, pairs or singly, as the great after part of the ship, two hundred and fifty feet of it, rose into the sky, till it reached a sixty-five or seventy degree angle.” The Titanic slowly slid out of sight two hours and forty minutes after the collision- about 2:20AM, April 15th, 1912. Later that morning, the Carpathia rescued 705 survivors. One thousand five hundred twenty-two passengers and crew were lost. Subsequent inquiries attributed the high loss of life to an insufficient number of lifeboats and inadequate training in their use.
     We all know the story- tragic, yet somehow compelling. I have been to two separate exhibits featuring artifacts retrieved from the wreckage- it was humbling, sobering, powerful. This is a story of human loss, of perserverence, of human pride and arrogance. I find God to be a gracious, loving, forgiving God. But I also have the sense that one does not challenge God, either. Do I think God sunk the Titanic to prove a point to her builders? Of course not! But I think we set ourselves up for failure, heartache, perhaps tragedy, when we try to BE God. I still hurt for the lives lost, for the families forever scarred by this event. But it also serves as a reminder to me that there is one true God, and I am NOT Him!! Say a prayer today for the lives lost in the sinking of the Titanic. Also say a prayer of thanksgiving for the one true God! Thanks for stopping by- have a blessed day. Please come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Dandelion Days

     Does your lawn look like you’ve started a dandelion farm? Isn’t it amazing that your lawn can go from one day with NO dandelions to the next day with a sea of yellow? Have you ever known a flower with a more “muddied” reputation than the dandelion? When we were kids, we would go out into the yard and pick a handful of them and…wait for it…bring them in and give them to our moms, or some other woman in our lives. I think most people have had that experience. And mom would graciously accept them, get out a paper Dixie cup, put some water in it and put the flowers in, on display for the world to love on display. They never lasted long in that Dixie cup, but they ARE pretty flowers! 

     Then, as we got older, and had to care more for, and about, our lawns, they moved from pretty flowers to annoying weeds. (My mom always said that a weed was any plant growing where you didn’t want it. In that case, dandelions are, in fact, weeds!) We either buy products we spray on the grass to kill the offending members…or we pay someone else to do it. Whichever, our goal is to KILL those nasty little weeds! 
     And somewhere along that journey, my mom decided to make…Dandelion Wine. She found the recipe/directions somewhere, we picked the flowers, threw them in a 5-gallon bucket, added…SOMETHING…stuck the lid on, and waited! I thought to myself (I was probably late Junior High early High School at the time), “How awesome is that! You can make alcohol…out of dandelions?! Sweet!” Well, not so fast there, rein in those horses a bit. When the time came, we cracked the lid, dipped some out and tasted it. I can say, without reservation, that it was THE WORST thing I have EVER put in my mouth…and that’s really saying something!! 
     So, dandelions…are they beautiful flowers, nasty weeds, or alcohol fodder? The answer is …YES! They are all of those things, and probably more. It all hinges on how YOU see them.
     What are the things that YOU think are worthless? Who are the PEOPLE you think are worthless? I challenge you to look at them again, with fresh eyes. Look at the world with a different perspective, and you just might find that things…or people…you felt had NO value are actually very valuable, depending on your perspective. That’s how God sees us…God sees the potential, the hidden beauty, the disguised talents we all have, tucked away, that others miss. If yo can find those things in other people, ESPECIALLY the people you have no use for, your live will be SO much fuller and richer. Take a walk in the yard, see the dandelions…and see their potential!
     Thanks for stopping by…I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus! 

The Blame Game

     We have a saying at our house that we drag out anytime blame is about to be, or just was, assigned to someone- “let’s identify the guilty and praise the non-participants”! (It’s catchy, isn’t it?) Remember when you were a kid and your main reason for existence was to make sure that your brother or sister was blamed for everything that happened? It didn’t matter if they actually DID it or not (completely irrelevant)- it only matter that THEY were identified as guilty while YOU were identified as a non-participant. I remember standing by the front door for TWO HOURS one day, waiting for mom and dad to get home so I could get my story in first!! I also remember, in 1st Grade, a kid sitting next to me “had an accident” at their desk. The teacher walked over, looked at the puddle on the floor, and said, “What happened?” (That question, while scathing at the time, seems hilariously obvious now!) The kid looked at her, looked at the puddle, looked at ME, POINTED and said, “HE did it!” The We LOVE blame in this country…as long as it is squarely aimed at…someone else!

     Today is National Blame Someone Else Day (and I haven’t even purchased my Blame Day cards or NOTHIN’!) First off, who KNEW there was a National Blame Someone Else Day? Based on the amazing lack of a corresponding Hallmark section at Wal-Mart, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess it simply never caught on! But while I didn’t know there was such a day, I’m not terribly surprised. This country could be called Pass-the-Buck-onia (or some other…lame…name!), based on the way we like to do ANYTHING but take responsibility. I’m shocked at how often the ubiquitous Affirmative Defense (Google it) is used in court, and even more shocked at how often it works. 
     Now don’t misunderstand- sometimes there ARE mitigating circumstances, sometimes things happen and the person responsible is TRULY an innocent victim of circumstance. But OFTEN it is simply someone trying to get out of their responsibilities. The Bible says that, if we ask for forgiveness for sin, it will be granted. It doesn’t say there aren’t consequences for our actions. My prayer for all of us (notice US…I very much include myself in that list!) on this National Blame Someone Else Day is that we would have the courage, wisdom and strength to be responsible for our actions, not only for our own well-being but for the betterment of the next generation as they look to us for guidance! Now, if you’ll excuse me I have to get back to taking care of one member of that next generation who is home with the stomach flu!! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Turkey In the…Car?

     Growing up out in the country, we had a variety of animals- I’ve shared about some of them already. At one point, our chicken yard included…well…chickens, roosters, guinea fowl, and 2 turkeys- a BIG “traditionally colored” Tom and a slightly smaller pure white hen. They were interesting to have around- the hen turkey just kind of “went about her business”, flying under the radar as it were. The Tom turkey, on the other hand, LOVED attention. He would strut around that chicken yard, wings slightly out, chest puffed out, thinking he was all that AND a bag of chips! We had no intention of ever eating either of them (at least not that I knew)- we just liked having them around! 

     My experience is that what everyone says about turkeys is true- they are NOT the sharpest tools in the shed! They DO stand out in the rain with their heads to the sky. They DO walk around in a bit of a daze most of the time. I can only assume that the turkeys Ben Franklin saw that prompted him to want them to be the national bird over the totally AWESOME eagle were a far sight greater birds than the ones we had! I mean, they were fine, but NOT “national bird” material!
     We had the turkeys for several months. Then, one day, we went out to the barn lot to find the Tom turkey…dead. Don’t know what happened to him- it didn’t appear any predator got to him. It seemed that he just…died. It was kind of sad- he had been around for awhile, and we got used to him, but it wasn’t the end of the world or anything. What was REALLY sad was the hen turkey. She was truly broken-hearted. She just moped around the chicken pen- she wouldn’t eat, she wouldn’t drink, she wouldn’t do anything but mourn. It was amazingly…human. We tried several things, but it became quickly apparent that we had two choices: get another Tom to keep her company or get rid of her. (Again, we were NOT going to eat her!) We decided that we really didn’t want to get another bird, so we sold her to a local man who had several turkeys. 
     He came to pick the hen turkey up…in a smaller, “sedan-style” car! (I expected a truck with a cage in the bed.) We asked if he at least had a cloth sack to put her in (birds will usually calm right down if you put them in a sack for transport), but he said he was fine. He paid my mom, picked up the hen turkey, and stuck her on the LEATHER backseat of his car! And just GUESS what she did! Yep- she INSTANTLY…ummm…well…went “Number Two”…ALL OVER the backseat! I was appalled…and it wasn’t even MY car! But he just laughed, said it would clean up, shut the door, got in and drove of! 
      Life is unpredictable. Sometimes…it happens! (You KNOW what I mean!) No matter how great your plans may be, there are simply going to be days when things just don’t go the way you planned. That is simply a given. Can’t avoid. Can’t change it. Can’t predict it. Since all of that is true, the question is- how do you react to it? Do you freak out and blow a gasket, beside yourself that your awesome plans crashed and burned? Or do you simply take it in stride, knowing that (to quote that late, great theologian John Denver) some days are diamonds, some days are stones. How you respond not only sets the tone for YOUR life- it also impacts all of those people who watch you, learn from you, look up to you. 
     Be flexible, be open, be willing to change. You’ll be surprised at how fun it can actually be! Thanks for stopping by- have a blessed day! Please come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Involuntary Detox

     A man and his wife were having an argument about who should brew the coffee each morning. The wife said, “You should do it, because you get up first, and then we don’t have to wait as long to get our coffee.” The husband said, “You’re in charge of cooking around here and you should do it, because that’s your job.” The wife replies, “No, you should do it, and besides, it’s in the Bible that the man should do the coffee.” The husband replies, “I can’t believe that, show me.” So she fetched the Bible, and opened it to the New Testament and showed him at the top of several pages, that it indeed says: “HEBREWS”!

     A few years ago, I gave up caffeine for Lent. Before that, I had alternated giving up Diet Coke and coffee every year, thinking I was REALLY something special. But after a few years of that, I realized that, when I gave up Diet Coke, I just drank more coffee, and vice versa. So…I decided to give up caffeine. I did…and had an unexpectedly profound, life-changing experience because of it. This series is a result of that experience. We will spend the next three Sundays looking at the process by which caffeine is removed from coffee. And we will apply that to the story of Saul’s conversion to Paul as found in the 9th chapter of the book of Acts! How do Saul/Paul, decaffeinated coffee and faith development fit together? Let’s look! 
     First, let’s look at my giving up caffeine for Lent- a seemingly innocuous event that revealed an addiction. Harsh word? I think not. I was so addicted to caffeine I was starting to introduce my wife as my coffeemate! My blood type was Folgers. I didn’t have a problem with caffeine.  I had a problem without caffeine! And we all know that a morning without coffee is like…sleep. I was about ready to check myself into the Starbuck’s wing of the Betty Ford Clinic. David Letterman says, “I drink way too much coffee.  But if it weren’t for the coffee, I’d have no identifiable personality whatsoever.” I fear that described me! When I gave up caffeine for Lent, I had no intention of making it permanent. My first thought was, “I’d stop drinking coffee…but I’m no quitter!” But then I began suffering withdrawal. Clinically, caffeine withdrawal symptoms can begin as soon 12 hours after your intake stops. The symptoms are at their worst at the 24-48 hour mark, and they can last for up to a week. The symptoms include: irritability, restlessness, difficulty concentrating, headaches, jitteriness, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, nausea and an accelerated heartbeat. I had…ready?…ALL of them! Seriously! Even my family didn’t want to be around me! It took days to get beyond it. I literally went through involuntary detox…and it was NOT a pretty sight. Today’s Scripture looks at a New Testament character going through spiritual involuntary detox, with staggering results.
     Acts 9:1-9“Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5″Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.”I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6″Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” 7The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.”
     One morning, a grandmother was surprised to find that her 7-year-old grandson had made her coffee! Smiling, she choked down the worst cup of her life. When she finished, she found three little green Army men at the bottom. Puzzled, she asked, “Honey, what are these Army men doing in my coffee?” Her grandson answered, “Like it says on TV, Grandma- “The best part of waking up is soldiers in your cup!”
     There are a few main methods of decaffeinating coffee. The first is the Roselius process. This first commercially successful decaffeination process involved steaming coffee beans with a salt water solution and then using benzene to remove the caffeine. This kind of decaffeinated coffee was sold in this country as…Sanka. Due to health concerns (gee, benzene in your coffee a health concern?) this process isn’t used commercially anymore. Second is the Direct method, in which coffee beans are steamed for 30 minutes and then repeatedly rinsed with either methylene chloride or ethyl acetate for about 10 hours. The chemical is then drained away and the beans are steamed for another 10 hours to remove any residual chemical. This process is sometimes called “naturally processed” because the chemicals can be derived from fruits or vegetables but it’s usually created synthetically. The third is the Indirect method, where coffee beans are soaked in hot water for several hours- in other words, they make a really strong pot of coffee. Then the beans are removed and one of the chemicals (methylene chloride or ethyl acetate, both mentioned a second ago) is used to extract the caffeine from the water. Through evaporation, the caffeine is separated from the chemical. That water is then recycled, through the same process, with new batches of coffee beans. After several cycles, the water and the beans have a similar composition…except for the caffeine. The end result is that the caffeine is the only material removed from the beans- no strength or flavor is lost. 
     Saul was lots of things: religious, committed to tradition, well educated, ambitious, loyal…and eaten alive by bitterness and hatred. He was doing God’s Will– at least he THOUGHT he was! He was travelling to Damascus for a confrontation…but NOT the confrontation he was expecting. He headed out to confront the enemy, bearing the permission of the High Priest himself, ready to do everything within his power to stop the spread of Christianity, ready to arrest or kill his followers. But Saul didn’t really hear the voice of God. Instead, he heard the voice of the world. But on the road to Damascus, he heard a different voice – a voice of power and authority, a voice that shook him to the core. Suddenly all of the education, the plans, the hatred, the condemnation that had been controlling him was erased in one quick flash and Saul went from accuser to accused. God showed up and interrupted his plans. The voice that cried out, “it is finished” and paid the price of redemption on the cross- now stopped Saul dead in his tracks. And Saul’s response? “Who is it?” Many commentaries think he really didn’t know who it was. I think he had a pretty good idea who it was…and was scared witless. So he asked who it was…and BOY did he get an answer! The answer? “I am Jesus…whom you are persecuting.” Awww…SNAP! At that moment, all that Saul was, and knew, and planned suddenly meant nothing. For three days Saul was blind – giving him time to focus on what God actually wanted him to do, giving him time to think about his life. Saul was changed from persecutor to proclaimer, from Saul the hater of Christ to Paul the lover of Christ. He no longer breathed the fire of destruction but the fire of the gospel. 
     We travel on that Damascus Road, too. So often we’re absolutely positive that we’re right…which of course makes other people wrong. And because we’re right, we think we have the moral and spiritual obligation to fight against anything or anybody that’s different. Like Saul, we set out to defend the faith- determined to confront, convert or convict anybody who disagrees with us. Sometimes we need to be led into a blind corner before we’ll stop long enough to actually listen and hear His voice. Sometimes we need involuntary detox. Because when we’re confronted with Jesus Christ, when we hear His Word, when we feel His Spirit, we can’t help but be changed.