Memorial Day Remembered

     Today is Memorial Day. Today, towns all across America will have parades- school bands and VFW floats meandering the city streets, tossing candy and playing patriotic music. Today, lots of folks will be char-broiling a wide variety of meats- charcoal and gas grill tank sales rise dramatically in anticipation of Memorial Day. From the ages of 18 to about 22, I was a part of a community Municipal Band that performed twice a week during the summer- I was among the youngest of the members. We would always participate in the Memorial Day parade and the Fourth of July celebration. It was inaccurate to describe us a “marching” band- we were really much more of a “strolling” band. And although we would stroll…amble…call it what you will…on the parade route all the way TO the cemetery, the tone and mood changed noticeably once we got there. The band just seemed to…understand…the gravity of the proceedings, and our demeanor changed. And then, as we stood there at attention (or at least as much at attention as a band can be!) and heard the lone trumpeter blow taps, it was powerful. As those mournful notes echoed across the cemetery, unimpeded by ANY other noise but the breeze and the birds, I couldn’t help but tear up- thinking about the countless men and women who gave their lives…their LIVES…so that I had the freedoms that I so much enjoy…and all too often take for granted. 

     I wonder, do we really understand and appreciate the gravity, the weight of Memorial Day? Do we truly appreciate the sacrifice we honor today? Memorial Day is traditionally observed on the last Monday of May…today. It was formerly known as Decoration Day. It is intended to commemorate United States soldiers- men and women- who died while serving in military service to their country. It was first enacted to honor Union soldiers from the  Civil War- the date we now recognize as Memorial Day falls near the day of official, nationwide reunification after the end of the Civil War. The observance of Memorial Day was expanded after World War I to include American casualties of ANY war or military action.

     In his now-famous Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln said, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” 

     Today, we honor those men and women who gave their lives for our country. Please remember the ultimate price these brave people paid so that we might have freedom- including the freedom to worship as we see fit. Say a prayer for them and their families! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

When I Was Your Age…

     We are in the 4th week of our current sermon series- Things Your Parents Said. If you remember, the 1st week we looked at “Wear Clean Underwear”, the 2nd week we looked at “You’ll Put Your Eye Out”, last week it was “Don’t Play With Fire”. Today, as we have every week, we’ll consider 2 “old standards” before getting to the topic at hand. Do you remember this? “Money doesn’t grow on trees!” Well…no…DUH! (But how many of us have wished that money DID in fact grow on trees?) How about this one? “Stop crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about!” Well, isn’t THAT special? Apparently I’m NOT already upset enough- I mean, I’m only in tears! But now you’re going to “give me something to cry about”! Well, I can hardly wait! How about this one? “When I was your age…” You KNOW what I mean! You would be complaining about how bad your life was, and your mom and/or dad would say something like, “When I was your age, I had to walk to school, every day, 8 miles, each way, uphill, BOTH ways, barefoot, in three feet of snow, carrying a thousand pounds of firewood on my back, with rabid wolverines chasing me and biting at my ankles!” Do you ever feel  like your kids just aren’t caring about, even paying attention to your stories about “back in the day…”? Let me let you in on a little secret- technology is the key in that case. If you really want your kids to know how deprived and empty your childhood was, talk about the technology you didn’t have. “In my day, we didn’t have computers, cell phones, IPods, Facebook…”- that’ll get their attention! But be careful- there’s a fine line between garnering sympathy and inviting ridicule. Hunter once asked me if we had music when I was a kid. I assured him we hummed Gregorian Chants will we rode our dinosaurs to school. But perhaps the best example of this is “back in my day” mentality is found in a Monty Python skit where two men are talking about “the old days”.

1ST MAN: In those days we were glad to have the price of a cup of tea.
2ND MAN: A cup of cold tea.
1ST MAN: Without milk or sugar.
2ND MAN: Or tea.
1ST MAN: In a cracked cup.
2ND MAN: Oh, we never had a cup. We used to have to drink out of a rolled up newspaper. But you know, we were happy in those days, though we were poor.
1ST MAN: I was happier then and I had nothing. We used to live in this tiny old house with great big holes in the roof.
2ND MAN: House! You were lucky to live in a house! We used to live in one room, all twenty-six of us, no furniture, half the floor was missing, and we were all huddled together in one corner for fear of falling.
1ST MAN: You were lucky to have a room! We used to have to live in a corridor!
2ND MAN: Oh, we used to dream of living in a corridor! Would have been a palace to us. We used to live in an old water tank on a rubbish heap.
1ST MAN: When I say ‘house’ it was only a hole in the ground covered by a tarp, but it was a house to us.
2ND MAN: We were evicted from our hole in the ground; we had to live in a lake.
1ST MAN: You were lucky to have a lake! There were a hundred and fifty of us living in a shoebox in the middle of the road.
2ND MAN: Cardboard box?
1ST MAN: Aye.
2ND MAN: You were lucky. We lived for three months in a paper bag in a septic tank. And the one-upsmanship went on from there! “Back in my day” stories can be annoying, but in the end they can be time-worn stories that teach! Look at this New Testament passage-

John 2:1-11- the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” “Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied, “My time has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.

     You’ve seen the commercial that asks the question: “Got milk?” Well, today’s question is: “Got wine?” And the answer is: “No!” The wine was gone. The new couple was facing the ultimate embarrassment- not being able to provide. They would be forever remembered as the ones who failed to take care of the needs of their guests. The supply of wine was already running low- Jesus and his boys showing up only put an addition strain on the already diminishing supply of wine. 
Did you notice that the story opened with the words: “The third day…”? There is a strong allusion to the resurrection. John’s Gospel, and Jesus’ ministry, begin where they end- a miracle at the end of three days. With this story, John begins the slow, steady build to the greatest miracle ever- the resurrection of Jesus, when Jesus becomes the bridegroom and the church becomes the bride, adorned for her Husband. Jesus’ first miracle points to his penultimate miracle, the one by which He shows His glory.

     After Jesus and his disciples arrive at the wedding, Mary, Jesus’ mother, comes to Him and says, “They have no more wine.” Some theologians believe that Mary was not actually asking for, or even expecting, a miracle.but was instead saying, “You and your friends showing up has helped cause this problem. Send some of your buddies over to the Casey’s to get some more wine.” But I respectfully disagree with those folks. I think the more likely scenario is that Mary knew exactly what she was doing. I mean, she has known all along who Jesus was…remember, the angel visited HER with the news of the coming miraculous birth. She KNOWS who Jesus is…and what he’s capable of. She knows of His baptism, of His calling the disciples- she understands that His public ministry has begun. She knows that He’s about to do something wonderful. I think she sees this “mini-crisis” and providential. And so, even through His reluctance to start his ministry before its time, she tells the servants: “Do whatever He tells you.” 

     This is a story about miracles…involving everyday, ordinary needs. Miracles happen when we understand that Jesus cares about our everyday needs. Mary knew that- Jesus cares about people, about our physical needs, not just our spiritual needs. Jesus is the kind of guy you want at your party. He knows how to have a good time. He enjoyed himself so much that, in Matthew 11:19, He quotes his detractors as calling Him a “glutton and drunkard”. No one ever accused Jesus of promoting a rigid, serious, emotionally stifling religion- quite the opposite. Wherever Jesus went there was life and joy. In fact, in John 15:11, He states that his life mission is that his joy might be in us and that our joy might be complete. Jesus came to bring His joy…to us. He is the God of irrepressible joy, and He’s come to share it. He offers the wine of joy to all those who are thirsty for life — for all those who are willing to come and drink.  

     This is a story about miracles. Miracles happen when we understand that Jesus transforms our everyday experiences. Jesus didn’t come to give us information; he came to give us transformation. He came to change things. He didn’t come to bring new ideas; he came to make new people. God is in the transformation business. The world wants us to get a new hairdo, a new wardrobe, a face lift. But Jesus doesn’t want to change our looks, He wants to change our hearts. He doesn’t want to rearrange us; he wants to transform us. Jesus is in the business of turning water into wine, sinners into saints, fear into courage, sorrow into joy, defeat into victory, despair into hope and death into life. 

     In this story, when the master of the banquet tastes the wine, his eyes light up. He can’t  believe what he’s tasting. He says, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests are drunk; but you’ve saved the best till last.” Jesus always saves the best till last. The world puts its best right up front…and then things quickly go downhill from there. But when God shows up, things go from good…through better…to best. Like the water jars, we can be filled to the brim with the blessings of God. The best the world has to offer pales when compared to the new wine Jesus offers. Notice- Jesus waited until their resources had completely run dry before he performed the miracle. Only when the people came to the end of their supply were they ready to receive what Jesus had to give. 

     Today is Memorial Day. Memorial Day is about giving your last full measure of devotion to your country. It’s about sacrificing for something larger than yourself. Its about being willing to lay down even your life for what you believe in. Memorial Day is about sacrifice and service. Faith in God is also about sacrifice and service, about being willing to lay down even your life for what you believe in. When I shuffle off this mortal coil and go to join the choir in Visibule, I want to be remembered as someone who loved others. And I want our church to be known as a church that’s not judgmental and stand-offish, but rather a church that opens up their heart to everyone- even people who are stumbling and falling, a church without judgement in our hearts, a church that says “I’ve got some really Good News for you- I met this guy named Jesus, and He changed my life. I want to share Him with you.” Christian witness, at its’ heart, isn’t about some authority telling everyone how they should live. Instead, it’s about one beggar telling another beggar where they can find some food.

     We need to hunger for the living bread of heaven, instead of the white bread the world offers. Are you satisfied with yourself…and your TV…and your computer…and your job?  Or do you hunger…and thirst…for more? Do you find yourself looking around and thinking, “This CAN’T be all there is…there HAS TO BE more!” Are you thirsty for something more? If so, you’ve come to the right place…the right Savior…because He is the God of abundance, the God of life…new life…new wine. To receive this new wine, you have to come to Him with a legitimate, sincere thirst. You have to stand before Jesus and follow the instructions of His mother, “Do whatever He tells you.” If you do, something wonderful will happen- new wine, new life, a miracle.

     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed Sunday and a GREAT Memorial Day tomorrow! Please make sure and stop then, and stick with Jesus!

Unity…Or Uniformity?

     Remember Junior High? Everybody wanted to be like “the cool kids”…and I was NOT one of the cool kids! We all wanted to wear the right clothes, have the right hair style, say the right things. We wanted to be…alike! The funny thing about that it that even people who want to be different than the mainstream folk end up looking JUST LIKE the people they run with. I once heard someone ask a guy who was wearing all black with eye liner and spikes and chains everywhere, “Why do you dress like that?” The response? “I want to be different.” The irony? They were surrounded by about a dozen people who all looked JUST like them! 

     I just finished teaching a Bible Study on the New Testament book of Romans. (An aside- that is one TOUGH book to get through! Some of the folks in the class said, “We enjoyed that…but could we pick an easier book for the next study?!”) Late in the book, the Apostle Paul talks about unity. I challenged the class to consider what exactly “unity” means. We kicked around several possible definitions, and the ensuing discussion led to exactly the point I was hoping to get to- the difference between unity and uniformity.
     Uniformity is being just like everybody else. Uniformity is wearing the same things, doing the same things, saying the same things, thinking the same things, believing the same things! Uniformity is one small goose step away from the kind of mentality that got Nazi German in so much trouble. Uniformity takes away individuality and replaces it with mindless adherence to rules and norms. Whether we are talking about faith or just…life…uniformity is something that I just can’t stomach.
     Unity, on the other hand, is a whole different ballgame. Unity has NOTHING to do with lock-step adherence to a convoluted group of rules. Instead, it has everything to do with being an individual AND a part of something larger than yourself. It means having a kinship and a symbiosis with a group of people while still being able to hang on to who you are as an individual. Unity is a body of unique individuals united in a common cause. 
     Unity over and against uniformity is one thing I appreciate about the United Methodist Church. I have to look no further than myself to see it at work. I am about to go to Annual Conference, where all the clergy and representatives of the laity gather together once a year to both worship together and have the Church’s “business meeting”. When I attend the clergy session, there will be young clergy and old clergy, male clergy and female clergy, clergy of all colors, races and nationalities, urban clergy, suburban clergy and rural clergy. And in the midst of them will be…ME…a shaved-headed, earring-wearing, rock-drumming United Methodist minister…and I am accepted and welcomed into that gathering. We are NOT uniform, in an way, shape or form…but we have great unity in our goal to make disciples for Jesus Christ.
     I encourage you to always seek unity with the people around you…while holding tightly to your uniqueness. Reject uniformity…but covet unity! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Duct Tape’s Nerdy Cousin

     WE all know the power of Duct Tape. Carl Zwanzig said, “Duct tape is like the force:  It has a dark side…and a light side and it holds the universe together.” (Perhaps Darth Vader could say, “The Duct Tape is strong in this one!”) I found a website that lists things you can do with Duct Tape. Here are just SOME of them: make a decorative book cover, fix a broken tail light, repair a cracked windshield, patch clothing, repair a broken hose, wallpaper your house, make a hinge for a cabinet door, repair upholstery, roll into a ball for hockey practice, mark lines on a sports field, use to pull unsightly hair, patch holes in vinyl siding, make jewelry, make shoes, close chip bags, fix vacuum cleaner hose, repair eye glasses, make a wallet, hold a car hood shut, make a belt, use as handcuffs, remove lint from clothes…the list goes on and on! Dave Barry said about it, “Magnetism is one of the Six Fundamental Forces of the Universe, with the other five being Gravity, Duct Tape, Whining, Remote Control, and The Force That Pulls Dogs Toward The Groins Of Strangers.” While G. Weilacher said,  “One only needs two tools in life: WD-40 to make things go, and duct tape to make them stop.”

     Much has been written about Duct Tape. Much has been done with Duct Tape. Duct Tape is seen as the glue that holds the world together. But what about Duct Tape’s nerdy cousin…Masking Tape? Today is the anniversary of the patent being issued on Masking Tape.  It was invented in 1925 by 3M employee Richard Drew. He visited auto=body shops, trying to sell sand paper. While there, he watched auto-body workers getting frustrated when they tried to remove butcher paper they had used to mask cars when painting them. The adhesive on their tape sometimes peeled off some of the paint they had just applied. Drew realized they needed a new tape with a gentler adhesive. So he set out to make one. He worked on it so long, his boss at 3M finally told him to stop and get back to his sand paper. He obeyed…for one whole day! He went back to it and was eventually rewarded for his efforts with the first successful Masking Tape!
     If you have ever done any painting, you know JUST how invaluable Masking Tape is. No other tape works like Masking Tape when it comes to…well…masking!! (I mean, it IS called MASKING Tape…after all!) On this, the anniversary of Masking Tape officially entering the world, we would be remiss if we didn’t take a moment and hail the unsung hero of tapes. Duct Tape may get all the press, but Masking Tape comes through when the paint brushes roll out! So today, be thankful for a sand paper salesman who met some disgruntled auto-body workers and had an epiphany. Bravo, Masking Tape!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Riding the Kindergarten Bus

     When I was 5, I contracted Rheumatic Fever, an inflammatory disease that occurs follows a bout of things like strep throat. It can impact the joints, skin, heart and brain. I was in the hospital for a month, in bed at hour for some time after that, and had to learn to walk again. Because of all that, I was rather late starting Kindergarten- I didn’t start until after Christmas! When I first started, I was not even allowed to play outside. So when the other kids went out for recess, I had to stay in and watch them. It was NOT fun! I also didn’t know anybody. The other kids had the entire first semester to meet people and make friends, so I was definitely “behind the curve” when I got there. But that changed rather quickly.

     I attended Afternoon Kindergarten, and I had to ride the bus home every afternoon. My bus had kids from High School all the way down to…ME…and that was pretty intimidating. But within the first few days, I saw this kid who seemed to be my age, but seemed to be more comfortable than I was…so I gravitated toward him. Turned out, he was in the OTHER Afternoon Kindergarten class- that’s why I didn’t know him. Also, he lived EVEN FARTHER out into the “hinterlands” than I did, so we rode the same bus. 
     We became fast friends, playing together at recess (once I could go outside), sitting together on the bus…we was like peas and carrots! But between Kindergarten and First Grade, the school system re-districted the area, putting me in a different school. I was so upset… was going to lose my new friend! BUT…on the first day of First Grade, there he was, in my class!! In fact, he and I went all the way through Sixth Grade in the same classroom! And then we went to the same Junior High, where we had many classes together, were in many of the same after-school activities, and continued to be best friends. Then we went to the same high school where, again, we had many of the same classes and were involved in many of the same activities. Then  we went away to college…but did NOT go to the same university! We kept in touch, however, and got together in the summers. Since, we have both gone on to do post-graduate work- me earning a Master’s Degree and him earning the title of Doctor! We have both since gotten married, had kids and gotten heavily involved in careers. And, amazingly enough, we have ended up 60 minutes away from each other!
     Yesterday, he was in the area and so we made arrangements to have lunch together. He came by the church and we walked across the parking lot to a local restaurant, where we had good food but better conversation! 2 hours passed in the blink of an eye and we had to both “get back to life”! I can’t describe how good it was to seem him, spend time with him, get caught up. The only people on the planet who have known me longer than him are all related to me. Those types of friends are rare and special.
     Who in your life is that sort of person? Who are the people who go way beyond “friends” into something so much more? Who has impacted your life like so few others have? Take some time today and contact them. Take some time today and let them know how special they are. Take some time today and thank them for the impact they have had on your life. Let them know what they mean to you. And stay in touch with them. Don’t let the time just…slip away (like I am prone to do) without devoting some of it to the people who matter in your life! By the way, to my friend who I had lunch with yesterday (and who reads this blog)…thanks…and I love you like a brother!!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Free To (Carpenter) Bee…You and and Me

     My youngest son and I were planting flowers the other evening (we waiting until after dinner to try and avoid the heat…it was MILDLY successful!) We planted several flowers in the flower bed we have in our front yard. When we were done, we had several flowers left over (amazingly enough…all part of my plan!) so we carried them around back, lugged them up the stairs and put them on the deck. Then, we set out to plant our tomatoes. I have tried what I call “Pot Tomatoes” ( and NO…it has NOTHING to do with any illegal substances, but instead means I plant them in big…ready?…POTS on the deck!) the past few years, with VERY limited success. So…I have officially jumped on the Topsy-Turvy bandwagon! Yep, I went to the local Wally-World and bought three of them. I ALMOST left without buying tomato plants. (The Topsy-Turvy is rather useless without the actual plants!) 

     So we got them out of their boxes (the planters, NOT the plants) and grudgingly read the directions. (I am, after all, a GUY, and guys, as we ALL know, DON’T read directions!) It seemed easy enough, so we set about trying to actually plant the tomato plants. It really is quite simple- even a 49-year old pastor can do it! (I should be on their commercials!) 
     But, in the middle of all that, I noticed sawdust…FRESH sawdust…on the deck, right under the wooden shelf built into the side of the house and jutting out into the deck. My first thought was the “T” word- termites. I got down and looked under the shelve, but couldn’t really see anything. So, I made a mental note to check that out later, after the tomato-planting was complete. So, back to tomatoes we went. However, all of a sudden, along comes this Jurassic bee. I mean to tell you, this thing could have carried off a small child!! My son got a little panicky, and I immediately went into “dad” mode- moving him farther way from the bee while assuring him “it won’t hurt you if you don’t hurt it!” (I wonder if Daniel Boone ever told HIS kid that when a bear lumbered out of the forest? I find it somewhat hard to swallow when we’re talking about a bee. I would find it absolutely ridiculous in relation to a bear!) The bee flew around us a bit, causing us to run around like stunt doubles from a Jerry Lewis movie, and then it flew over the the previously-mentioned shelf, landed on it and crawled under it. Now, I am seldom accused of being the sharpest tool in the shed, but it did NOT go unnoticed to me that the bee crawled up under the shelf RIGHT above where the sawdust was. Coincidence? I think not!
     So we finished planting the tomatoes (with me planting and my son serving as “bee lookout”) and went inside. The next day, I happen to see the man from Terminex who does the bug treatment at my church, so I asked him, “Is there a bee that bores into wood?” And THAT’S when I learned about the Carpenter Bee! Turns out, the Carpenter Bee bores into untreated wood (this deck is TECHNICALLY treated…but I believe it was treated sometime during the Carter Administration) and lay their eggs. The other thing I learned was that, even more so than most other bees, they WON’T sting you unless you do something really stupid like grab them out of mid-air or something. So all of our running around like chickens with our heads cut off (I am SO thankful no one was videotaping…I GUARANTEE it would be on YouTube by now!) was for naught- the bee REALLY wasn’t going to hurt us unless we hurt it! Who knew?
     How often do you “judge a book by its cover”? How often do you make decisions about people based solely on their appearance, without giving them the benefit of the doubt? My challenge to you is this- spend the rest of the week REFUSING to judge people- see what happens. Who knows? You may come across a shaved-headed, earring wearing rock drummer who turns out to be a United Methodist minister! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Sitting With the Bishop

     In the United Methodist system, the country is broken down by Jurisdictions. The jurisdictions are broken down by Annual Conferences. The Annual Conferences are broken down by Districts. The Districts are broken down by Clusters. The Clusters are broken down by Charges. And the Charges are broken down by individual congregations. (And individual congregations are broken down by arguing and backbiting! Boo-Doom-Ching! Oh, I’ll be here all week! Try the veal! Tip your waitresses!) No, seriously, us United Methodists never met a structure we didn’t like. (We are, after all, METHOD-ists!) Well, if you noticed, in the midst of that list was the Annual Conference. In my case, the Annual Conference is basically the entire state of Illinois south of Chicago. And every Annual Conference is governed by a Bishop, who serves as the spiritual leader of the Annual Conference. For a time a few years ago, the resident Bishop would come to every District once a year and meet with the clergy. It was intended to be a time of prayer a sharing, as well as an opportunity to take care of any “housekeeping” that needed attention. 

     One year (about 11 years ago), I was preparing to attend just such a meeting. I was serving a church as the Associate Pastor (technically half-time, but in the ministry there really isn’t any half-time work, just half-time pay!) while going to Seminary full-time. I literally met myself coming and going most days during that period of time, and this particular day was no different. I HAD to attend the meeting with the Bishop, but I had a great deal of work to do, between church and Seminary. What to do? So, I decided to take my laptop to the meeting and sit in the back. I could LOOK like I was engaged in the meeting and taking copious notes while all the while trying to get caught up on mounds and mounds of Seminary-related work. Perfect! So, I got there early (because if you don’t make it to ANY Methodist function early, you will NOT get the back row- it is the first to go!) and laid claim to a seat. The room was set up with round tables, seating eight people, so I chose a seat at the table farthest away from the front, but with a seat that FACED the front. There was a plug nearby, so I was set! I got some coffee and settled in. The Bishop got up and began the meeting. She did what she was there to do, which took about 30 minutes, at which time she turned things over to someone else who would be leading the next part of the meeting. Meanwhile, I was working, working, working- delighted with the way things were going! (To quote that great theologian Hannibal Smith from the A Team, “I love it when a plan comes together!”) 
     As the Bishop completed her opening segment and left the dais area, I watched her. She walked past the first row of tables…past the second row of tables…past the THIRD row of tables…and toward my row. It was at that moment I realized the one tragic flaw in my master plan- the chair right next to me was…EMPTY! Oh…SNAP! “But”, I thought, “there are still other tables with empty seats between her and me. Surely she’ll take one of them.” But, one by one, she passed the other available seats at the other available tables until she ended up…right next to me! She greeted everyone at my table and asked, “Is this seat taken?”- indicating the one right next to me! What was I going to say at that moment? “I’m sorry Bishop, but my imaginary friend Brian R. Mate is sitting there. He is just on an extended trip to the bathroom!” So, the Bishop sat RIGHT NEXT to me…AND…I closed the file I was working on in my laptop, opened up another file on which to TAKE NOTES, and dutifully participated in the proceedings the rest of the day!! 
     I never asked the Bishop if she did that on purpose or not. It FELT intentional on her part…but I also know that God has a marvelous sense of humor…so it could have easily been Divine Intervention at its best! What are you trying to get out of today? I doubt if the Bishop will come and sit next to you and ruin your plans for avoidance, BUT…perhaps today is th day to STOP avoiding that one thing and just (to quote Nike) DO IT! It probably won’t be as bad as you imagine it to be. And once you do it…it’s DONE! 
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Don’t Play With Fire!

     Johnny’s preschool class went on a field trip to the local fire station. The firefighter giving the presentation held up a smoke detector and asked the class: “Does anyone know what this is?” Johnny’s hand shot up and the firefighter called on him.”You know what this is?”  “Yes! That tells Mommy when supper’s ready!”

     We are in the 3rd week of our current sermon series, Things Your Parents Said. The 1st week we looked at “Wear Clean Underwear”. Last week we looked at “You’ll PutYour Eye Out”. Today, as we have every week, I offer you two “old standards” before we get to the topic at hand. Do you remember this? “You gotta eat a peck of dirt before you die.” I don’t know about you, but I thought that was a horrible one! I envisioned having to sit out in the barn lot with a spoon, grimacing and trying to figure out exactly what a peck was! What about this one? “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” On the TV show Cheers, Frazier offers this one up to his cronies sitting around the bar. Woody, never known as the sharpest tool in the shed but often the deliverer of homespun wisdom replied, “Well Dr. Crane, you may catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, but you catch the most with a dead squirrel!” Now to the topic at hand- Don’t Play With Fire! Do you remember when your mom or dad said that? I learned the HARD way why they say it. I was about 8 years old…and mom and dad were at work! NOT a good combination! I was watching TV (black and white, as large as a couch, full of tubes!) and sitting next to me was…a cigarette lighter. (Both my parents smoked!) I looked at it, then looked at the paper sticking out of the trash can across the room and thought, “Hmmm. I wonder what would happen if…!” Well, the next thing you know, the plastic trashcan was in flames! And we ALL know what happens when you blow on a fire that is too big…that’s right, it gets BIGGER! I managed to get some water and put it out, but the trash can was ruined. AMAZINGLY the carpet wasn’t hurt. But suffice it to say- that day I learned that the wrath of God is swift and comes from the right! Fire can burn to be sure…but it also has a great capacity to bring about change! 
     Acts 2:1-4- “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”
     3 prospectors found a rich vein of gold duringthe California gold rush. They realized what a great discovery they had and decided they couldn’t let anyone else know about it, so they agreed to keep it a secret. They headed into town to get the necessary equipment, then headed back to their find. But much to their surprise and dismay, a crowd followed them. How did everybody know? They hadn’t told a single person. The truth is…the expressions on their faces gave them away. Their faces were glowing with the anticipation of the wealth that would be theirs. People who saw them knew they had found something special.  
     The anniversary ofJesus’ birth happens and the world pauses to celebrate Christmas. The anniversary of Jesus’ resurrection happens and much of the world pauses to celebrate Easter. But today is a special day…and hardly anyone even knows it. Today is the anniversary of the birth of the church, and we celebrate Pentecost. It’s NO coincidence that this watershed event happened when it did.The Feast of Pentecost was an agricultural festival- the Jewish people were together fifty days after Passover to celebrate the harvest. Jewish people fromall over the Empire gathered in Jerusalem at Pentecost. God KNEW that- and chose this day to send the Holy Spirit to visit those gathered…and change the world. 
     A motivational speaker was asked to describe his most difficult speech. He explained that it was when he spoke at a national Funeral Directors convention. His topic was to explain to them how to look sad…during a $20,000funeral! When there’s joy inside of you, it’s really hard to keep it from showing! At Pentecost, the early Christians realized the unspeakable joy of Jesus Christ, and everybody could tell by the looks on their faces. Think about it- these early Christians hear the Good News about Jesus Christ on the day of Pentecost…and 3,000 people joined the Church that day. The people had repented of their sins, they’d been baptized, they’d been redeemed and they’d been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. And suddenly they’re a part of something new…something wonderful. They’ve left behind a world of slavery and superstition, of selfishness, greed and dishonesty. And now they’re part of this new, incredible fellowship where they can be a part of something so much bigger than themselves, something different from anything else they’d ever experienced. Their numbers grew quickly as the Church spread throughout Jerusalem and beyond. 
     Pentecost was a”once in history” event- the day the Church was born. Pentecost teaches us that the Church was created, NOT by people, but by…God. Pentecost teaches us that the Church offers a fellowship that is unique in theworld. Pentecost invites us to be a part of the fellowship the Church offers. Pentecost can be summed up in that one word- change. The disciples changed, the 3000 gathered changed, and we can change, too…as a result of Pentecost. Pentecost tells us that the Church is called to be wholly other. We are to be an oasis in the middle of the desert, a shade tree on a hot summer day, a cup of cool water when you’re thirsty, a place of acceptance. Pentecost changed the lives of the people closest to Jesus. The disciples were…confused about a lot of things…even more so after Jesus’ death. They were just…hanging out, waiting for something to happen. But at Pentecost, the disciples were no longer confused. They were no longer timid. Look at Peter – two months earlier he was so confused and afraid that he actually denied Jesus three times. Now he’s speaking to the gathered crowd with a confidence and understanding that he never had before.
     Many Christians todayare like those disciples before Pentecost – confused, weak, timid. But like them, the Holy Spirit comes to us, to change us. But many folks don’t think they even NEED to change. A lot of folks are Christians, but still have sinful habits they don’t want to get rid of, still completely misunderstand what God is telling them, still have moments when they fail to share their faith because they’re too timid. It’s true that we are Christians, but we still need to change. They still need to become the people God wants them to be. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? God is interested in change. God is interested in changing YOU. When we look at Pentecost, we see God changing people’s lives. This morning, if you’re lonely, or tired, or feeling taken advantage of, then know that you are NOT alone. Know that you can come to Church and just be yourself…warts and all. Know that because of Pentecost, the Church is called to be a place where we can find love and acceptance, where we can be the family of God.
     Most institutions are primarily interested in what you can give them. But the Church, at Its best, is primarily interested in what they can give to you. The Church, at Its best, is where you can hear the truth, be ministered to, have your spiritual needs met. And experience the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is in the business of changing people. As the Holy Spirit changes you, the Holy Spirit strengthens your faith, increases your love for Jesus and increases your love for others. That’s what the Holy Spirit does. It was done miraculously on that first Pentecost. And it’s still being done today. So, if change is what Pentecost is about, then how do we change? Well, you can’t do it by trying to become a better person. That’s like trying to fix your car by becoming a better driver. When your car doesn’t work, You need someone to fix it for you. When your faith isn’t complete, you also need someone to fix it for you- and that someone is the Holy Spirit. Now,the Holy Spirit may NOT come to you in a rushing wind and tongues of fire. The Holy Spirit might instead come to you in prayer, or in nature, or in the hearing of the Word. 
     Why is red the color of Pentecost? Well, there are a variety of reasons. Red issymbolic of Jesus’ blood, shed for our sins. Red also reminds us of the tongues of fire that descended on Pentecost. And red reminds us of that fire of faiththat burns inside us, a gift from the Holy Spirit. That fire burns away theselfishness and confusion. That fire ignites the faith, fuels the trust andlove for Jesus. Do you want to be more confident? Do you want to be more at peace? Do you want to be less confused about the Bible, about life? Do you want to be able to share your faith more naturally, more confidently? Do you want to be able to live the way God wants you to live? Do you want to change your world for the better? Pentecost is all about change. Today, pray that the Holy Spirit continues to work in you, to change you, to fan the fire that burns in each one of us.
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed Sunday! Please make sure and stop by tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Federal Investigator!

     I recently had an appointment with…a Federal Investigator! A former parishioner has applied for a job that requires Federal security clearance, so this gentleman is doing a background check and I was listed as a reference. When the gentleman called me to set up the appointment, he sounded like he was about 16 years old! I made the appointment for a couple of days later. That day, he showed up about 4 minutes early, with a freshly pressed and creased pair of pants, a freshly starched white dress shirt and right smart tie! He was much more “business” in person than on the phone, sounding and acting like a…grown up! He showed me the badge (I wonder if they EVER tire of that- it seems it would be pretty cool to be able to flash a badge!) and explained that our conversation was subject to the Privacy Act. I nodded and smiled…as if I actually knew what that meant! (Oh well!)

     He then proceeded to ask me questions about the former parishioner in question. They were pretty much exactly the kinds of questions you would expect to be asked in that circumstance. And frankly, I gave pretty much exactly the kinds of answers one would expect, too! (I was fortunate that this particular former parishioner was easy to say good things about- I have had SOME…well…don’t get me started!) He asked the questions he wanted to ask, thanked me for my time and went on his merry way…all in about 8 minutes! (Pretty simple, all in all!) 
     As I thought through the meeting, one question continued to run through my head- what would people say if they were visited by a Federal Investigator and asked about ME?! I mean, you may…fudge…a bit if you are offering a job reference to friend’s potential employer- focusing on the good things about them while conveniently omitting the wild Bahamian drinking spree during Spring Break! (And NO…I have NEVER been to the Bahamas!) But when talking to a…GULP…Federal Investigator…well, fudging seems out of the question! “Just the facts, ma’am!”
     So what do you think people would say about YOU in that setting? Would they be kind? Honest? Could they be both at the same time? It seems to be the same basic question as what will God say about you when you stand before him on Judgement Day. (Now THERE’S a sobering thought, eh?!) What is the HONEST, unadulterated truth about YOU? If it were known, would you be proud of it…or embarrassed by it? Now, don’t get me wrong- we ALL do things we aren’t proud of, things we regret. But what would your “life story” read like, if it were printed in its purest form? Well, let me tell you this- no matter WHAT your life story is like…2 things are true: 1. it is NEVER too late to “re-write the story”, as it were, and 2. God is all about forgiveness! I don’t know about you, but I find that AMAZINGLY hopefully- God forgives us, regardless of who we’ve been or what we’ve done. All we have to do is SINCERELY (and that IS a key word) ask God for forgiveness. Amazing, isn’t it? 
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Hard-Headed Determination

     I take the dog out EVERY morning…about 6:30AM. Within a few minutes either way, you could pretty much set your watch by it. I get up, get the dog’s bed and take it into the the living room (she SUCH a cupcake!), use “the little pastor’s room”, then put her on the leash (she’s a very spirited black lab-English pointer mix and runs off if she get loose outside!) and take her out for her “morning constitutional”. (Do you like all the euphemisms for “bathroom” being thrown about?!) Yesterday, as I stood out in the dewy-wet morning grass, trying to fully wake up and wishing I had about another hour in bed, I heard something. And unlike some sounds you hear that you can’t immediately identify, this sound was EASY to place- it was CLEARLY a woodpecker, rat-a-tat-tatting its way through the quiet morning. 

     I quickly figured out that he (I have NO idea why I assumed it was a he, other than the fact that “he” was beating his head against a tree– sounded like something I’d do!) was in the tree closest to me, so I began to look for him. At first, I couldn’t find him. I could HEAR him…NO problem (I’m fairly sure the neighbors could hear him from inside their houses!), but I couldn’t find him. Then, I noticed a relatively dead branch sticking almost straight up, right in the center of the tree. I followed that branch skyward with my eyes, and lo and behold- there he was. Perched on the side of the branch, near the top, was this relatively small woodpecker, and he was “tearin’ it up”, as they say! He was trying his best to make mincemeat of that tree branch in hopes of finding breakfast. 
     As I watched him, my first thought was, “What a hard head he must have to sustain that kind of constant jarring impact! Wouldn’t it be easier to find bugs on the ground? I have NO problem finding them when I’m ON the ground!” But then I thought more about what he was actually doing, and a grudging admiration for this little bird began to grow in me. Think about it for a moment- he has a goal…to find food. And millenia of training, genetics and specialization have taught him that the best way for that to happen is to bore holes in trees and dig his crawling breakfast out. So, with great determination, he finds a suitable tree…and begins excavating. Using his face like a jackhammer, he digs and digs. Sometimes, he finds the “breakfast mother lode” and chows down. And sometimes he finds…nothing. And when he finds nothing, what does he do? He “screws his courage to the sticking place” to quote that great theologian Lady Macbeth and moves to a new spot- momentarily thwarted but completely undeterred. And he will KEEP moving spots until he achieves his goal. 
     I wonder how much we could learn from that level of tenacity. I wonder what kind of world this would be if we all dug our heels in a bit deeper when we meet with obstacles. I wonder what it would be like if we all refused to so often take the easy road, the path of least resistance, and instead took “the high ground” more often. Next time you hit a snag in your plan, think of the woodpecker…and be a bit more hard-headed!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

We Threw a Party…And Nobody Came!

     There is a new “initiative” in my town- a small group of doctors, along with a small group of pastors AND the mayor, are trying to put into motion a health initiative that is focused on certain basic approaches aimed at improving the quality of life, even extending life. The idea is to combine sound preventative medicine with spiritual support. It is being offered to the community “at no charge”. (The mayor doesn’t really like to use the word “free”!) Those of us involved in it are very excited about the possibilities and really believe that is can be extremely beneficial to the community as a whole. BUT…we have to get that very same community on board with it before anything else can happen. And that brings me to Tuesday night!

     Tuesday night was to be the “maiden voyage” of Phase One of this project. The idea was to begin with seminars/town hall meetings…call them what you will. We would invite people to one of the local churches, where they would get to hear from  the doctors involved, the pastor(s) involved, and the mayor. They would see a united front from leaders of the community AND get an overview of the program- what it is and how it could benefit them and their families. I volunteered my church to be the location for this 1st meeting. We advertised it in the local newspaper. We advertised it in the church bulletin. We advertised it on the big “changeable letter” sign out in our parking lot. We were offering NOT only the overview of the program BUT some singing, the ONLY (I think) “ventriloquist/oncologist in North America, a singing doctor, a juggling preacher…I mean to tell you…we were loaded for BEAR! We invited folks. We even offered free childcare, courtesy of my church! The event was to begin at 6:30PM, so we arrived about 5:45PM to set up. I set up the sound system, the computer and the project for the presentation that was to follow. The doctors got their notes ready (as well as tuning up their ukeleles and prepping their ventriloquist dummies!), the mayor looked over his notes, the nursery worker got her space ready. We were SET. And then…we sat back and braced for the onslaught!
     We figured folks would start arriving at 6:20PM. Well, 6:20 came and went…with no people. 6:25 came and went. 6:30 came and went. So did 6:35. And 6:40. And 6:45. Finally, at 6:47PM, we all allowed as how it appeared no one was coming! Let me be clear- THAT was NOT the great part of the evening. Not by a LONG shot! No, the great part of the evening came immediately after that, when we began to talk about…things. And it was the great part because the unanimous agreement was that this was NOT the crushing end of our dream. Instead, it was a somewhat ignominious beginning. None of us (“braced for the onslaught” notwithstanding) really thought many people would come out this 1st time- it was too new and too…radical…to start with a bang. (And if we only expected a small handful…well…we weren’t off by MUCH!) We spent the next 20 minutes or so regrouping, re-imagining how we could better reach our intended audience, and re-committing to the process as a whole. And then, after I prayed for the group and its mission, we headed on our merry ways, surprisingly upbeat for such an inauspicious beginning!
     I LOVE what I call “the pioneer spirit”- that spirit that has been exemplified by this nation in countless ways over the past 200+ years. I love it when I see folks hit a roadblock, and instead of giving up and turning around, they get out, MOVE the roadblock, and keep going! That’s not only the foundation upon which this country rests, but it is the foundation upon which Christianity rests as well! If the early Christians had given up when the going got tough, I would certainly NOT be sitting at my computer right now writing a daily blog called Stick With Jesus! But they DIDN’T give up, they DIDN’T quit, they DIDN’T throw in the towel. They dug their heels in and pushed a bit harder. 
     When you feel discouraged or defeated by something that didn’t do the way you planned, take a step back, look at the “big picture”, and then take another run at it. Very few people succeed with the 1st try. (How many times did Thomas Edison try to make a light bulb before he succeeded?) Don’t give up…or to quote those famous theologians REO Speedwagon…keep pushin”!  Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

A Spiritual Gear-Shifter

     I live in s small town. Well, actually, it’s NOT really even a town. TECHNICALLY, it’s a VILLAGE. (And we ALL know that it takes one to raise a child, at least according to Hillary Clinton!) In our town…excuse me…village…we don’t have Rush Hour. Instead, we have what our mayor calls “Rush 5 Minutes”! Well, recently I was caught in the veritable ONSLAUGHT that IS the Rush 5 Minutes, and as such, I had a whole extra 2-3 minutes to think…and examine life! But…I didn’t! Instead, I began to ponder, of all things, the shift level that is on the steering column of our 2002 Ford Windstar. (I REALLY need a hobby, don’t I?!) As I pondered it, it dawned on me (I mean, I’ve only had the car EIGHT years…why would you think I would have noticed it sooner?!) that the shift lever on my “soccer mom” van is much like our faith! (And you can STOP rolling your eyes…I’ll get there eventually!) 

     On my shift lever, it offers 6 potential choices: Park, Reverse, Neutral, Drive, 1 and 2. And I realized that those are really the same choices we as Christians have about faith and our involvement in, commitment to, it. Think about it. If you shift your spiritual journey into “Park”, you are not only NOT moving…you have no HOPE of moving, even by accident or outside forces. You are saying, in essence, “Here I am. I have no interest in going anywhere in my faith- I’m comfortable and happy where I am!” Now, if you move your spiritual gear shifter to Reverse…well…you’re going the wrong way. You are not only NOT gaining ground…you’re losing ground. If you move it to Neutral, you are NOT moving forward…but you’re also NOT moving backward. AND…you at least have the potential to move, either by accident or outside force. If you put your shifter on “1”, you ARE moving forward, but BOY are you moving slowly. It’s VERY safe, VERY precise, VERY secure. And NOT very satisfying. You CANNOT go above a certain speed…regardless. If you put that shifter on “2”, then you’re moving faster than you were on “1”…but NOT much. There is still a lot of caution and uncertainty about your movement. 
      Obviously, I have been moving all along to where I think your shifter should be- Drive. When your spiritual life is in Drive, you are A. not parked, B. moving, C. moving the right direction…forward, and D. not intentionally inhibiting your progress. Instead, you are putting yourself in the position to have the best chance to flourish in your faith walk. And I don’t know about you, but I figure ANYTHING I can do to increase my chances for success spiritually…I’m all over it!
     I often see people try to compare themselves to another Christian they know, and they often choose someone who makes their journey seem somewhat less than positive. For me, the bottom line is that it really doesn’t matter WHERE in the journey you are. Of COURSE some folks will be farther along the journey than you, just like some will be behind you. What really matters is NOT where you are on the journey, but instead which direction you’re headed. If you are in Park, Reverse or Neutral…you’re NOT headed the right way. If you’re in 1 or 2, you are certainly headed the right way…just not as strongly as you could be. If you are in Drive, I encourage you to pray for the courage to put the pedal to the floor, give it your all and see what God can do FOR you, IN you, and THROUGH you!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!!

How Do YOU Worship?

     As I clearly (and proudly) state as a function of this blog, I am a United Methodist minister. And us United Methodists are infamous for being rather…shall we say…RESERVED…in our worship style! I have a preacher friend from a another denomination who I once heard say, after a worship service, “That was really a spirited service! I actually saw one of my Methodist brothers take ONE hand out of his pocket!” While that understanding of “us Methodists” is painting with a rather broad brush…there is more than a kernel of truth behind it!! 

     Just this past Sunday, I performed a baptism at one of the morning worship services. I baptized their older son a while back, and Sunday I got to baptize their youngest son. (By the way, point of order- after 13 years of ministry and a BUNCH of baptisms, I had NEVER had a child cry during the actual baptism. I can now say that…my streak is intact!) The family of the little boy being baptized brought lots of extended family with them (always a GOOD thing!), and they participated in the baptism specifically, as well as the worship service in general. 
     There was a little blonde-headed girl (we’ll call her Peyton) who was part of this extended family. During the last song, her mom was standing and holding her while everybody sang. As the sound was dying away from that song, little Peyton started clapping…something that RARELY happens in Methodist circles. Most people kind of chuckled, while a few folk looked a bit startled and “mom” looked a bit embarrassed. The Associate Pastor gave the closing prayer, and before I gave the blessing (which, for me, is ALWAYS the Irish Blessing), I pointed at the little girl and asked, “What’s her name?” The mom looked at me as if to say, “Oh dear Lord, I’m sorry she clapped!” and said, “Her…name?” “Yeah…her name. What’s her name?” Mom looked at me for a second and responded, “Peyton.” I then turned to the congregation and said, “Peyton CLAPPED in response to a praise and worship song…I LIKE Peyton!!” 
     How do YOU worship? Do you lean toward the more “Methodist” style- a bit reserved…heart-felt, to be sure, but reserved nonetheless? Maybe you’re a highly liturgical, traditional type of person. Or perhaps you’re a bit more…demonstrative…moving with the music, clapping, throwing out the occasional “amen” in response to something the preacher said. Maybe you’re a full-blown “let it all hang out” kind of worshipper- singing like no one’s listening and dancing like no one’s there. Or maybe you are somewhere in the middle of all that. No matter where you fall on that scale- guess what? That’s perfectly fine! My experience is that, no matter what style of worship you are most comfortable with, there is a church and a congregation that is a good fit for you. Some churches, like mine, offer a variety of styles. Some focus on one particular style. So THIS church or THAT church might not be THE church for you…but SOME church will be! If you have a church home…good on ‘ya! Keep on being a strong supporter of your pastor and the ministries your church supports. But if you haven’t found the right fit yet- don’t give up. Don’t be afraid to keep “church shopping”- you WILL find the one that best fits you. And when you do, things will start to come alive for you! Try it…and let me know what you find!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Atheistic Agnostic Preacher

      I recently read an article in the Christian Post entitled Preachers Who Don’t Believe – The Scandal of Apostate Pastors. The gist of the article is that there is a surprisingly high number of clergy in this country who…don’t…believe…in…God. Let me say that again (more for my own benefit than yours)- they DON’T believe in God! As I read the article, I thought to myself, “How can this be?” How can ANYBODY stand up in the pulpit every Sunday and profess Jesus Christ as their Savior and NOT mean it? How can anybody lead worship of God and be pretending? 

     Let me say a few things here: I understand pretending. I was a actor before going into the ministry. I have a degree in Theatre. I have spent much of my life play-acting- pretending. No problem getting my head around that one. Also, I understand hating your job and having to “fake it to make it”. I have certainly had jobs that I hated. And I pretended to love them and be good at them because I needed them. No problem getting my head around that one either. I even understand folks who don’t believe in God. I know LOTS of people, many of them good, decent, hard-working folk, who, for a myriad of reasons, claim there is no God. I fully understand that. I don’t AGREE with it…but I was once there myself- I can get my head around it. 
     My problem lies in combining these three things into one person. If I work the “self check-out” lanes at Wal-Mart, I may have days when I have to fake liking my job, fake liking the people who come through. But my faking it THERE has no real effect on the customers- they go about their merry way regardless. But if I am in a position of authority, of influence, of trust…and I PRETEND to believe something that I am trying to get others to also believe in…there is GREAT potential harm to be found there. Imagine the damage that is to be done by this approach- to the members of the church where you work, to your family, to other clergy.
     Some of the “clergy” quoted in the article said basically that they continue the ruse for economic reasons- they need the job or cannot make as much money elsewhere. But where is the MORAL obligation here? The implication is that it’s perfectly OK to manipulate and lie to an entire group of people who TRUST you simply because the paycheck ain’t bad!! (And the oxymoronic value of that is NOT lost on me- NOBODY goes into preaching for the money!) The hypocrisy inherent in this construct is simply beyond my ability to fathom. If you don’t believe in God then OK for you…I’m sorry you haven’t had a genuine encounter with the Creator, but that’s your decision to make. But please, PLEASE don’t drag a congregation full of people down with you. 
     A pastor friend of mine, upon reading this article, replied, “I just vomited in my mouth after reading this!” And while that MAY be a bit more…direct…than I would tend to be, amen to Him! Pastors who don’t believe in God are like doctors who don’t believe in medicine…and I CERTAINLY don’t want one of them operating on me any time soon! If you are clergy and don’t believe in God…reconsider. I would LOVE to say reconsider your faith, but again- that’s your gig to decide. But AT LEAST reconsider your insistence to live a lie while collecting a paycheck from an unsuspecting congregation. 
     What do YOU think about all this? I would love to open some dialogue. If you have an opinion, simply post a comment just below this blog. Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus! 

You’ll Put Your Eye Out!

     After 17 years of marriage, a man dumped his wife for a younger
woman. He demanded that he stay in their expensive downtown luxury apartment,
telling her to move out. She agreed, but asked for 3 days alone in the
apartment to pack up her things. He agreed… and left. The 1st day, she packed
her personal belongings. The 2nd day, the movers came and collected her things.
the 3rd day, she fixed herself a marvelous dinner, feasting on a pound of
shrimp. When she finished, she went throughout the apartment, putting leftover
shrimp tails into the hollow shafts of each and every curtain rod. She then
cleaned up and left. Her ex came back with his new girl and all was great…for
a few days. Then it started, slowly but surely…the smell. They tried
everything — cleaning, mopping, airing the place out. They had the vents
checked for dead rodents, the carpets were steam cleaned, air fresheners were
hung everywhere. Exterminators were brought in, carpets were replaced, and so
on and so on. Finally, they had enough, gave up and moved. The moving company
arrived and did a very professional packing job, taking everything to their new
home — including the curtain rods!

     We’re in our 2nd
week of looking at things our parents said. Remember this one? “Eat your
vegetables- there are children starving in India!” And of course, our standard
response was…? That’s right! “Great! Send them MINE!” It didn’t fly to well at
my house, either! What about this- “go to your room, and wait ‘til your father
gets home!” George Carlin said that when his mom said told him to go to his
room, he would say, “Great! That’s where all my stuff is!” And when she would
tell him to wait ‘til his father got home, he would respond, “Great! That dude’s
NEVER home!” But the one we are going to look at today is, “You’ll put your eye
out!” Now, let me say right up front- that one scared the bejabbers out of me! I
pictured, rather than damaging the eye, it would, in fact, put it OUT…that the
eye would literally fly OUT of my head and land on the floor! It kept me from
doing LOTS of things! Did you realize that putting one’s eye out is Biblical? Jesus
addresses it in the 5th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew.

Matthew 5:38-42- “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye
for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But
I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right
cheek, turn to him the other also. And
if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as
well. If someone forces you to go
one mile, go with him two miles. Give
to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow
from you.

Bored during a long flight, an eminent scholar leaned over and
woke up the sleeping man next to him to ask if he would like to play a game.
“I’ll ask you a question,” the scholar explained, “and if you don’t know the
answer, you pay me $5. Then you ask me a question, and if I don’t know the
answer, I’ll pay you $50.” When the man agreed to play, the scholar asked,
“What’s the distance from the earth to the moon?” Flummoxed, the man handed him
$5. “Ha!” said the scholar. “It’s 238,857 miles. Now it’s your turn.” The man
was silent for a few moments. Then he asked, “What goes up a hill with three
legs and comes down with four?” Puzzled, the scholar racked his brains for an
hour–but to no avail. Finally he took out his wallet and handed over $50.
“Okay, okay, what is the answer?” the scholar asked. The man said, “I don’t
know,” pulled out a $5 bill, handed it to the scholar, and went back to sleep! Paybacks…what
are they again?

     This passage appears in the middle of what we know as the Sermon
on the Mount. And let’s admit right up front- this is a difficult passage that
causes many of us some concern. It’s hard to wrap the head around. But 1st century
Jewish people would have understood this Old Testament command “an eye for
an eye” differently than we do. They would not have seen it as God
suggesting they carry out revenge, but instead as a description of controlling
and limiting it. The punishment was supposed to fit the crime. An ancient
Jewish text, the Mishnah, says: “If anyone wounds his fellow, he becomes
liable to compensate the injured party for five different aspects of the
injury: damage, pain, healing, loss of time from work, and insult”. When a
1st century Jewish person heard the expression, “an eye for an eye,”
they would not have taken it literally. Instead they would have translated it
with litigation and compensation in mind.  In ancient Jewish culture, a
slap in the face was considered a great insult. When Jesus says we should turn
the other cheek, He’s not so much talk about self-defense. Instead, He’s
referring to an ongoing debate of the day- did “an eye for an eye” actually
apply to being insulted? In this passage, Jesus doesn’t mince words- not always
fighting back might offer opportunities for people to see that perhaps
Christians are more concerned with doing right before God than with
“getting ahead.”

      I have always loved the word “oxymoron”. I always assumed it had
something to do with being…well…a moron, so I got mad the 1st time
someone called me an oxymoron. But then I found out it referred to two things
that don’t go together- jumbo shrimp, hamburger steak. So, according to this
passage, an unforgiving Christian is…an oxymoron. In this passage, Jesus asks us to look at a different way of doing
things. If you have computer disks from an old Apple II computer, they won’t
work on a Windows based unit…without some serious conversion. Why? Simple-
it’s the OS…two different operating systems. Jesus commands us to live under
a different operating system than the rest of society: a different way of
thinking, with different values and a different lifestyle. We have
to be willing to be different…sometimes radically different, in the eyes
of the world. Being a follower of Jesus Christ means operating our lives under
the auspices of a different program, motivated by our relationship with
Jesus. That different program, that new operating system, has 3 basic
components.

     The 1st component is to be generous with our grace. The issue is
NOT self-defense or non-confrontation. The issue is how we react to insult
and/or injury. In this passage, Jesus is saying, “offer people a measure
of grace.” This approach embodies going the extra mile, giving people the
benefit of the doubt. There IS moderation inherent here- you walk the EXTRA
mile, NOT an unlimited amount of miles. Be tolerant- allow others the room to
be human, to mess up. Jesus basically says, “better to take a little
loss and stay on good terms with others than prove your point and alienate
them.” When we display grace, we are going beyond what’s required. Jesus
encourages us to an attitude of service, of grace, of generosity.

     The 2nd component is to be stingy with hatred. Hatred and love CAN
co-exist-the book of Ecclesiastes talks of both a time to love and a time to
hate. Loving an enemy means CHOOSING to let our Christian love override our
feelings of hatred.

     The 3rd component is to value God’s influence in our lives above
the influence of others. Our heroes, our earthly role models tend to influence
us more than we think, more than we admit. We see singers, actors, sports
celebrities…and we want to emulate then. 
But we should instead aim to be more like God and less like the people who
populate our TV screens. Jesus calls us to be generous with our grace, stingy
with our hatred, and aim at the RIGHT target: following God.

     We seek revenge when we think justice hasn’t been served. In this
passage, Jesus offers us the solution to that desire for retaliation- turn the
other cheek, give more than is required, go the extra mile, show mercy to those
less fortunate. We have a higher calling in life than revenge. Why? Because
we’re not called to fairness- we’re called to righteousness. We’re called to
service. We’re called to ministry. We are called to be a living testimony to
God’s mercy. Christianity is a 2nd mile religion. To love your neighbor is the 1st mile-
to love your enemy is the 2nd mile. To bless those who bless you is the 1st
mile- to bless those who curse you is the 2nd mile. To do good to those who do
good to you is the 1st mile- to do good to those who hate you is the 2nd
mile. Praying for those who pray for you is the 1st mile- praying for those who
curse you is the 2nd mile. As Christians, we are asked to live in the 2nd
mile. The 2nd mile is the Witnessing Mile. The 2nd mile is the Sacrificial
Mile. The 2nd mile is the Commitment Mile. The 2nd mile is the Sowing Seeds
Mile. The 2nd mile is the Healing Mile. It means rising above the desire
to “get even”. It means swallowing your pride and self-interest. It
means being slow to anger and quick to forgive. It means living by grace, even
when life is unfair. Jesus went the 2nd mile for us, are you willing to go
that 2nd mile for Him? Are you willing to commit your life to God? Are you
willing to take that extra step? Are you committed to live in the 2nd
Mile? 

     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed Sunday. Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!


How Much Do You Like Freedom?

     Today is Armed Forces Day. In the U.S., it is celebrated on the 3rd Saturday in May. It comes near the end of Armed Forces Week (2nd Saturday of May to 3rd Sunday of May). Armed Forces Day was created in 1949 to honor Americans serving in the five U.S. military branches – the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard. The 1st Armed Forces Day was celebrated by parades, open houses, receptions and air shows. The longest running Armed Forces Day Parade in the U.S. is held in Bremerton, WA- today they celebrate their 61st consecutive Armed Forces Day Parade.

     My dad is part of the ever-dwindling “greatest generation”- World War II veterans. He served in the Navy near the end of the war, and has some interesting (and harrowing) stories to tell. When I was a kid, listening to those stories, it sounded romantic, dashing, heroic. As I have gotten older, however, I have come to realize that, while STILL heroic, there was/is nothing romantic or dashing about war. War has always been, and will always be, a sometimes necessary evil. 
     I ask a rhetorical question in today’s title- how much do you like freedom? Every Sunday, as I stand in front of my congregation leading worship, it strikes me just how fortunate we are to live in a country that allows that. Many Christian across the planet have to worship in secret, risking persecution at best, death at worst. But in this country, we are free to worship WHEN we want, WHERE we want, and WHAT we want. That is truly an amazing gift…one that doesn’t come without a price. And that price has been, since the inception of this country, the blood, sweat, tears and something very life of  countless men and women who willingly have served their country. And today…we honor them. 
      The men and women who have given their lives in defense of our country were nothing if not heroic. And the men and women who have served and continue to serve our country in that same capacity deserve our praise and gratitude. I encourage you to not let today pass without taking time to A. thank God in prayer for the folks who have helped secure our freedom throughout the history of this country, and B. if you know someone who has served or is now serving in a branch of the Armed Forces, contact them if possible and thank them personally. (You talk to them in person, call them, text them, email them, Facebook them…you get the idea!) 
     To those of you who have served or are currently serving your country…thank you. While that seems almost insignificant compared to the sacrifices you have made…it IS sincere and it IS heart-felt. I pray a special blessing on you and your family this day!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

I’m On the Outside Looking In

     A while back, I wrote a piece about a lock-in I helped host. Today, we go from lock-IN to lock-OUT! When I got to church yesterday morning, my Office Administrator met me at the top of the stairs coming in the building with this cryptic question, “Have you had problems with the lock on the office door?” Well, I have never been mistaken for a rocket scientist…but I DO know that kind of question is “code” for “I can’t get the office door unlocked”! As it turned out, I DID have problems with the lock then  night before, but got it opened and so chalked it up to “operator error”!

     So I went to look at the offending lock. The door into the church office is of the sliding glass variety, and it has what I would describe as a “slide lock”- it’s a small piece that, when unlocked, is completely separate from the door itself. To re-lock it, you slide the lack assembly into a channel which is attached to the door. It’s NOT the most high-tech thing in the world, but it works…normally! I tried and tried my key (I mean, I AM a guy, after all…surely I can make it work…right?), but to no avail. I tried to “MacGyver” it with the obligatory “pointy stick” (or in this case- a screwdriver and the end of a coat hanger), but EVEN THAT didn’t help! So, we called a locksmith. 
     In the meantime, there IS a secondary way into the church office. In the back of MY office is a short, narrow hallway that leads to a door. Through that door is the hallway that runs alongside the church office. So…if you go down that hall, through that door, up the short hallway and through my office, you get to the church office. That’s all well and good, but this church is…shall we say…”limited” in its storage space. So…I tend to use that short hallway in the back of my office NOT as an egress, but as storage. Therefore, at the moment we found the lock broken, that hallway was NOT passable! (Not even CLOSE to passable!) SO…I had to WADE through the…stuff…to get IN, then spend some time pulling stuff out of that hallway and stacking it in my office. So now, the regular, main door in the office is NOT passable due to the broken lock, and the ONLY way in is through the hallway, past the rubble, through my office and into the church office. SO, my office has become Grand Central Station and now looks like…well…you get the idea! People come to the regular office door and are so perplexed…is there a quarantine or something? Did anthrax break out in there? Why can’t I come in? 
     The locksmith arrived and said, “Well, it’s not working (knew that part!)…and I’ve never seen a lock like this before.” Let me assure you- those are NOT the words you want to hear from the locksmith who is trying to fix your lock! Much cell phone conversation from technician to “home base” ensued, as they tried to figure out what to do. The bottom line is…the lock is older than you and I put together, and will have to be replaced. 
     To quote the late, great John Denver- some days are diamonds and some days are stones! And while yesterday’s “lock” experience made the day a bit more of a stone than a diamond, it seems to me that, if that’s the worst thing that happened…the day simply wasn’t too bad! How’s your day going? Have you had some “bumps in the road” of late? Remember this, regardless of what you experience in life, you DON’T have to experience it alone- God is always right there with you. He walks behind you when you need a gentle nudge. He walks in front of you when you need a soft tug. He walks beside when you are in conversation. And He carries you when things are at their worst! I don’t know about you, but I consistently find great comfort in that! Now, I’m going to get back to Grand Central Station…AKA my office! Thanks for stopping by…I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Some Jobs Are NEVER Done!

      I was mowing the lawn the other day (I told my oldest son, when he graduated from college last week, “I’m sure going to miss you…now I’M going that have to mow the lawn!), and something dawned on me…the lawn is actually NEVER mowed! My schedule is such that I usually mow the front and side yards one day and the back yard a different day. By the time the back yard is done, the front yard is already well on its way to needing mowing again. And of course, there is the trimming/”weed eating”…don’t get me started on that!

     Likewise, the dishes are never done. The dishwasher takes a few days to fill up enough to run it. So, for about 3 days-ish, there are dirty dishes in the dishwasher. Then, we run it. And it never fails, by the time the dishwasher is done running, there are always dirty dishes sitting on the counter, waiting to go into the dishwasher.
     And then…there’s the laundry! If you don’t own a washer and dryer, you go to a laundromat, you monopolize several machines, and you get every piece of clothing you own clean and dry in about 90 minutes. However, if you DO own a washer and dryer, you have your own personal ticket to what I like to call “terminal laundry”! There is ALWAYS a load in the washer. There is ALWAYS a load in the dryer. And there is ALWAYS dirty clothes in the house. 
     And speaking of the house, the cleaning of the house is also NEVER done. Oh, you may finish your cleaning list for the day…but there are still many other things that need cleaned. 
     Life is a series of “unfinished symphonies”….things that are just terminally… undone. That often seems like a very frustrating thing. It gets to be too much when we can’t seem to complete anything. BUT…there is hope in that midst of all that unfinished business. And that hope is found in a rather unusual place…our faith journey.   
     The reality of faith is this- anyone who says they are “complete” as a Christian is sadly mistaken. No one is “done” when it comes to being more Christ-like; we are all on an on-going journey. We may be at different places on that journey, but NONE of us is at the end. Our growth as children of God is never finished, always undone. And I, for one, find great hope in that! Because if I’m not “done”, then there is still hope that I can be a better father, a better husband, a better Christian, and better human being, than I am now. 
     Feeling a bit…”undone”? Join the club! That doesn’t make you strange…it makes you marvelously human!! Just continue to work as it- a step at a time, one day at a time. The journey is well worth it! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Why Do Bad Things Happen?

     There has been a near epidemic in my church of late of people being diagnosed with cancer. It feels like every day, someone new calls me or comes by the church and tell me how they, or their spouse, or their parent, or someone else near and dear to them has cancer. Age, gender, socio-economic status…makes no difference. It appears that cancer is an equal-opportunity offender- everyone is welcome and no one is safe. And so person after personal makes the pilgrimage to the oncologist and begins the journey that seems to inevitably lead to chemo and/or radiation. And, while it can have a profound positive affect on the disease itself, the treatment seems to be as hard on the body as the cancer itself. Folks lose weight, they can’t eat, they tire easily, they seem to lose that…edge…they had before it all started. And while sometimes they pull through, recover, and get back to life, often they do not…and those who love them are left to pick up the pieces of a shattered life. 

     I have shared before that, almost 6 years ago, I lost my mom to cancer. Well, let me rephrase that…I have a pastor friend who says, “You didn’t lose her…you know where she is!” My mom died in 2004, the day (literally) before my family moved to the church we now serve. It was a devastating blow at the time, and although time has softened that blow to some extent, days like Mother’s Day are STILL hard. The bottom line is this…it’s tough…at BEST…to have someone close to you suffer and die.
     As a minister, I have had to deal with my share of of sickness and death. Hospital calls, surgeries, emergencies at people’s homes, death, funerals…it all goes with the territory. (In ONE year of ministry…2005 to be exact…I performed 23 funerals. Don’t for a minute think that doesn’t take a toll on you!) And in MANY of those instances, I have people inevitably ask the same question, “Why do bad things happen?” Or perhaps more pointedly, “How could God allow bad things to happen?” The inference is always this- if God is so loving, and kind, and giving, and gentle, and all that…STUFF…then how can YOU, the highly educated professional, explain all this tragedy that goes on in the world? How can God allow all of this horrible stuff to go on? 
     It’s a valid question- and I would be lying if I said I NEVER thought that same thing myself. (I AM human after all- despite popular opinion!) I have certainly wanted to ask God, “How can you let all these atrocities happen?” But then a thought occurs to me…a thought that freezes me in my tracks, a thought that causes me to take a BIG step back and re-think my position. That thought is this- what if God asked me the same question? What if God said, “Why do YOU allow bad things to happen?” On the one hand it’s easy to think, “I’m just one person- what can I do?” But on the other hand, it has to start SOMEWHERE. If we ALL committed to do all we could to stop the horrible things that people do to each other…we would literally change…the…world. A little too Pollyanna-ish, you say? A bit too naive and simplistic? Perhaps. But imagine for a moment, just imagine, if we actually stopped trying to blame others, including God, and started taking some responsibility for what goes on around us. The world would never be the same!
     So, next time you feel overwhelmed by life, the next time you want to say to God, “How can you let this happen?”- stop and imagine if He asked you that same question. What can you do to make a difference? Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a great day!! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

A Flower Ministry

     Last Sunday was, of course, Mother’s Day. (We went to see Iron Man 2 on Saturday for Mother’s Day. Hey…don’t laugh! My wife WANTED to do it! And I cooked on Sunday- sirloins on the grill, baked potatoes, fresh asparagus, fresh broccoli, rolls, and fresh strawberry shortcake for dessert!) We also had a GREAT Sunday at church! Lots of folks brought “mom” with them. All 3 worship services were well-attended and spirit-filled. It was just a good weekend all the way around.
     There is a tradition my church has for Mother’s Day (and really…what church doesn’t love a good tradition?!) that has gone on some length of time MORE than I’ve been here. A former member, who has since passed away, LOVED getting flowers at church on Mother’s Day ever year. And her daughter, witness to that annual event for many years, remembered that. When her mom died, she decided that a fitting tribute to her mother would be to buy flowers for all the women of this congregation every year on Mother’s Day! SO…every year, we receive a check from her, with the express intent that it is to purchase flowers…LIVE flowers…that are to be given out at church on Mother’s Day!
     Last Sunday (as they do EVERY Sunday), the kids came “up front” for the Children’s Moment. After our Youth Pastor was done delivering that, we split them into two groups. I then had all of the women in the church stand. Notice I said “women” and not “mothers”. It strikes me that, at its heart, the point of Mother’s Day is to honor those women who have made a difference in your life. And I can honestly say that there have been many women in my life who have impacted me…helped me become who I am. The top two on that list would be my mom and my wife. My mom died 6 years ago, but I certainly think of her often…daily…and Mother’s Day was NO exception. My wife has had a profound impact on my life…and she is certainly NOT my mother! My mother-in-law has been like a mother to me. I have sisters and sisters-in-law who have helped shape me. Teachers, neighbors, friends…the list goes on. It seems to me that ALL of the women deserve some kind of recognition on Mother’s Day…whether or not they have ACTUALLY given birth. Therefore, I have ALL the women of the church stand, and then the kids run around and deliver flowers to them! (It’s especially sweet to see a kid work hard to make sure that THEY get to deliver the flowers to THEIR mom or grandma!!) When all is said and done, every woman in the congregation has a small “flat” of potted flowers, ready to be planted, when they go home from church. We also always have some left over. They are taken to women who are not able to get out, as well as to nursing homes in the area. Although amazingly simple, it is one of my favorite ministries of the year!
     What did YOU do for Mother’s Day? If you have any good stories…I’d LOVE to hear them!! Simply comment on this story or go to my homepage (www.stickwithjesus.net) and email me. Thanks for stopping by…I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!