A Three-peat!!

     We won! We won! My church softball team won our game Monday night- 14-5. Our record is now…ready?…3 wins and 3 losses for the season!! Now, you may be saying to yourself, “What kind of loser IS this guy that he is celebrating a record of 3-3? Well, let me tell you…the BEST kind of loser! Let me explain.

     I have shared before that our church has a softball team. It is the FIRST softball team here in a long time. Last season was our first season…and it was a HARD season. We went 0 for the season- in other words, we were winless in our inaugural year! (I’m told it builds character…I just wish it would have built it a bit faster than that!!) We dropped DOWN a division for this season, going from the B division last year to the C division this year. Great…but we started this season by losing our first three game! It appeared we were in for another tough year. But then, a couple of weeks, we won our first game! We had to go into extra innings to do it…but we won! And there was MUCH rejoicing in Mudsville that day, I can tell you! 
     Then, last week while I was on our Mission Trip, the team won AGAIN…and again in extra innings! That’s 2 in a row! (I told our Mission Team that, if we hadn’t won the week before, I would have taken it way too personally that our first win was the week I was gone! Fortunately I was spared that indignity!) So, for those of you keeping score at home, that 2 wins in a row…both requiring extra innings to do it. That led up to this past Monday night.
     For the first time this season, we had the early game. (Usually, our games are at either 8PM or 9PM on Mondays, but this week we had the 6PL slot.) We got there and began warming up. (Old guys like me take a while to warm up…and even then it’s NO guarantee!) It got to be 6PM…and we had NO scorekeeper and NO umpire! Things didn’t look good. But then, at the last second, they both showed up. Game on! We scored 3 runs right off the bat (every pun intended!), but the other team responded with 3 of their own in the bottom of the first. It appeared it was going to be a nail-biter. But…we proved that theory wrong! We ended up winning 14-6, by far our biggest win of this young season, and the first win that didn’t require extra innings! The down side, however, is that our First Baseman messed up his ankle sliding into 2nd- I fear he might be out for a while. 
     Perseverance is an interesting thing. If you have it in healthy doses, you can weather all storms, knowing that  eventually  something  good will happen. If you DON’T have it, then your ship is sunk by the least little squall that comes along. And I have found that, for many, the deciding factor in all of this is your faith- the stronger your faith, the more you are able and willing to overcome. Likewise, the weaker the faith, the more adversity wins in your life. Having faith doesn’t guarantee that you won’t have problems- we live in an imperfect world…you WILL have problems. Having faith instead guarantees that you won’t have to walk through those problems alone. It means you will have God to walk that journey with you. And I find, over and over again, that with God alongside, the journey is not only much more navigable…it’s much more pleasant as well!
     Our team doesn’t play next Monday (4th of July-related day off from the schedule), so pray that we can “four-peat” the week after that! Thanks for coming by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

You Rush a Miracle Man, You Get Rotten Miracles!

    Have you ever seen the movie Princess Bride? (It is, I will admit, one of my favorites! Some of the girls in my youth group at my last church LOVED it, and anytime we had a lock-in or went on a Mission Trip…we watched it!) It is, for my money, a very funny movie with great performances by Mandy Patinkin, Andre the Giant and Billy Crystal, just to name a few. Billy Crystal, as Miracle Max, utters the famous line that makes up today’s title. 

     Miracles are a fascinating topic. We all know the Bible stories, especially the Old Testament stories, that are built around miracles. The parting of the Red Sea, the burning bush, Jonah and the whale, Daniel and the lions, not to mention all of the miracles Jesus performed in the New Testament. You can’t swing a stick in the Bible without hitting a pretty major miracle. People understand that. We grew up hearing the stories. You think Bible…you think miracle. But how does that translate to today?
     I can’t tell you how many times in my ministry I have talked with people who said something to the effect that, while miracles were commonplace in the Bible, they just don’t happen today. They are an “old school”- great when they happened…but a thing of the past. And I must confess, the way we tend to talk about miracles, from a Christian standpoint, I understand why folks would think that way. I don’t see seas parting, bushes talking AND burning without being consumed, or guys being spit out on the shore by whales every day. Or ANY day, for that matter! So, from that perspective, miracles DON’T happen!
     Now you’re saying, “WHAT?! Pastor, did you just say that miracles don’t exist?!” No…I DIDN’T say that…I said FROM THAT PERSPECTIVE…they don’t exist! Big difference. 
     I see miracles on a regular basis. I know a man who, just a few weeks ago, was in a coma, with the doctors saying he probably wouldn’t even wake up. He’s not only awake…he’s home! I know a little girl…well, she NOT little any more…who had a brain tumor,  confirmed by advanced medical tests, that doctors said they couldn’t do anything about. When she went back to have another scan, to see how much it had grown…it was gone. The doctors couldn’t explain it…but I can! God is still very much in the miracle business. They may not always look like those found in the Bible, but miracles are very much alive and well. The reason many people don’t think so is they aren’t looking in the right places. Miracles are all around us, every day. Life itself is a miracle. 
     Where will you see miracles today? If you’re expecting to see the body of water closest to you part…it’s probably going to be a LONG wait! But if you are willing to see the miraculous power of God in the everyday, you will be nearly inundated with miracles! Watch for them, recognize them, respond to them…thank God for them! Thanks for stopping by- have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Same…Only Different!

      I have been writing over the past few days about the Mission Trip I just returned from. I mentioned in one of those blogs about spending one day at a place called Stepping Stones- a summer day camp for mentally and physically challenged kids from 5-20 years old on the outskirts of Cincinnati.

     It was a very challenging but rewarding day. I had never worked much with kids with those kinds of challenges, and I found it stretched me almost beyond my ability to stretch! But by the end of the day, I wanted to come back- it really was awesome. One of the things we did that day was take our group of kids, The Butterflies, into the indoor poor. (The camp had both an indoor and outdoor pool.) Our first order of business was to get all the kids changed into their swimming suits- that was a daunting task! Once they were in their suits, they had to come out by the pool and sit on a line of benches, waiting their turn to swim. 
     I chose NOT to get in the pool, instead staying on the sidelines to help where needed. As I stood there with a kid while her “partner” went and got changed, I started looking at the row of kids sitting on the benches. As my eyes scanned the kids, all of a sudden I did a double take and backtracked…visually- there was my son. He had gotten changed and was dutifully waiting on the benches with the other kids. I then paid more attention to ALL the kids waiting there. None of them…not ONE…was doing anything…just waiting. Perhaps 2 dozen “special needs” kids, with my son somewhere in the middle of them. And at that moment it struck me- the differences between the “normal” kid and the “special needs” kids was impossible to notice in that setting- my son was virtually indistinguishable from the other kids there. They weren’t one “normal” kid and 2 dozen “special needs” kids- instead they were 25 kids, period, waiting somewhat patiently to get in the pool!
      I hear SO much conversation about different denominations and faith traditions- what the Baptists do, what the Catholics do, what the Lutherans so, what the Methodists do- and it is OFTEN said in a very divisive manner. We set up guidelines that automatically exclude others, that automatically create divisions. We seem to thrive on it, in fact.  But that way of thinking is counterintuitive to what the Bible says. It says neither Gentile or Jew, neither slave or free. The bottom line is this- at the end of the day, our similarities FAR outweigh our differences. It is absolutely true that us Methodists think somewhat  differently than the Catholics…or Baptists…or Lutherans…or whatever other group you might want to mention. But my question is…so what? All of those groups still believe in God. All of those groups believe that we are called to leave the world a better place than we found it. How we take Communion or what we consider baptism is, in the grand scheme of things, the small stuff…and we ALL know what your NOT supposed to do with the small stuff!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed start to the work week! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Miss10n Sunday

     The rule of thumb is that a preacher puts in 1 hour of prep work for every minute of a finished sermon. I just spent 123 hours on the Mission Trip. That 123 hours of prep work would translate to 123 minutes of finished sermon. The way I figure it is that I have roughly…2 hours and 3 minutes…to deliver this sermon! SO…get comfortable!! 

     I want to share with you what I’ve learned from spending this past week out in the mission field. I call it “You May Be On a Mission Trip If…” You may be on a mission trip if you find yourself regularly having NO IDEA what’s happening next. You may be on a mission trip if you’re so used to wearing a name tag you realize you’re wearing it in the shower. You may be on a mission trip if you’re nodding off in worship…at 7 p.m. You may be on a mission trip if peanut butter and jelly 2 meals a day…EVERY day…seems normal. You may be on a mission trip if dry, clean socks are a luxury. You may be on a mission trip if you’ve grown to actually enjoy the feel of a nylon sleeping bag against your skin while you sleep. And you may be on a mission trip if camo shorts and a t-shirt are your Sunday dress clothes! 
     What else did I learn? Well, I learned about Graeter’s Ice Cream, where Buckeye Blitz on a pretzel cone is nearly Nirvana. I learned that Buca di Beppo isn’t a rapidly spreading disease but is instead an Italian restaurant…or a chain of Italian restaurants…that features family-styled food that…is…AMAZING!! I learned that, even though breakfast is at 7:15AM, it’s best to go at 6:55AM to beat the crowd, and it’s best to toast your bagel and pour your bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios BEFORE packing your lunch, because most people fix their breakfast first…but come later than you, so this schedule allows you to avoid a line at BOTH places! I learned the importance of taking good care of the Ziploc bag your lunch is in…because it’s the only one you’ll get…all week! I learned that getting to dinner earlier than the 6PM start time didn’t help…they changed the order of which table went first every day! I learned that, just like my mom when I was a kid, we were going to eat whatever they served…and like it! I learned that my Associate Pastor is even more of a gracious human being than I thought- he was SUPPOSED to room with a relatively normal guy, but a snafu on the part of the Cincinnati mission staff had him instead stuck rooming with me and my son! And he never once complained about it…at least not that I know!

     Perhaps the greatest thing I learned is how prevalent God is in those around you…if you’re willing to take the time and effort to look. At Stepping Stones, a 9-week summer day camp for kids with disabilities, I learned that there is no kissing in camp. A young man who was a camper there apparently had some issues with wanted to kiss others and had been told, many times and in no uncertain terms, that there was NO kissing in camp. So he took it upon himself to walk around and tell everyone that fact! I also met Billy- a little boy with Down’s Syndrome. He was completely devoid of verbal communication. I was warned that he would run…and he lived up to that warning. He would sit stock still for 30 minutes, then hop up and run off in the blink of an eye. I found myself running across the lawn more than once, chasing this little boy. I was also warned that he would scratch and bite…and he lived up to that warning, too. He scratched me three times, drawing blood once, and tried, fortunately unsuccessfully, to bite me several times. The counselors called him Spinner, because he could literally spin ANYTHING on the tip of his finger, something I was sadly unable to do! I met Dalton- an older boy with autism. He was shorter than me but heavier than me, and because he had no verbal communication, I learned sign language…water…drink… food…and sadly…sorry…because he punched me…twice, the first one taking my breath away because I didn’t see it coming, he tried to bite me several times, and when I would tell him that was wrong, he would tell me he was sorry (sign language) and want to kiss me on the cheek. So apparently for me there WAS kissing in camp- seven times! He also wanted to hold my hand while we walked together. I also met Nathan– he was almost as tall as me, heavier than me and very verbal (he knew LOTS of really bad words). He attacked another kid in the pool, and when the female staff members in the pool tried to get him out…they couldn’t. They got him to the pool ladder, but couldn’t get him any farther. I could see that things were only going to escalate, and I was concerned he would hurt one of them, so I ran over to the edge of the pool, grabbed him under the armpits and hauled him out of the pool! THAT’S when I heard the really bad words he knew! And yet, later he asked me if I would help him find his jacket and then thanked me for finding it.
I learned that many people who live in really dangerous neighborhoods don’t want to be there and are perfectly good folks. I also learned that drug dealers don’t know what to do with pasty white folks who walk up and start talking to them! I learned that people appreciate outside effort made in their community garden, especially ladies with cute little dogs named Barack Obama! I learned that a Middle School girl named Shanikwa desperately wants to get a good education, reading anything she can get her hands on, because she wants to get out of her Over the Rhine neighborhood and do great things with her life. 
     I learned that Honey, Harold, Betsy Ross, Rayburn, Jimmy and the other residents of the Lincoln Crawford Nursing Home love to make hats, necklaces and bracelets, love to stuff little bears and love to eat pancakes…but what they love most is when folks spend time with them. I made a hat for one woman named Ruby, and when I asked her what she wanted on her hat, she said she wanted her mom’s name on it because she wanted to give it to her. Understand that Ruby was in her mid 80’s! She also wanted me to paint a Nativity scene on the hat…so the other thing I learned was that I really stink at painting Nativity scenes on hats!! 
     At the Meals on Wheels location, I learned that carrying desks and shelving units up a flight of stairs…so many times that I came within two stories of climbing the equivalent of the Empire State Building…literally…is a REALLY good cardio workout! (If you don’t die from it, that is!) And I learned that adversity brings out the best in people. We worked hard, we slept in strange beds, or mattresses on the floor, we did things that were WAY out of our comfort zones…and we had a great time- we worked, we talked, we prayed, we worshiped, we sang, we laughed…we cried…and we saw the face of God…in each other…in the other people we served with…and in the people of Cincinnati we went there to help. Most folks who go on a Mission Trip for the first time go expecting to give…to help other people. And, hopefully, you do! But what most figure out along the way is that, no matter how much you give, in the end you get MUCH more in return. The blessing you receive, both from the people you serve with AND more so from God, is beyond what you possibly imagined when you went. 
Matthew 28:16-20– Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

     People ask, “Why do you go so far away when there are needs right here in your own county?” Good question! Here’s my answer- when you take people out of their daily routine, out of their usual patterns, out of their BED, for goodness sake, they’re able to focus SO much more on the reason they’re there. It takes them out of their comfort zone and forces them to rely on other people…and especially rely on God. I can’t tell you how many lives I’ve seen changed over the years by Mission Trips. I have a handful of Mission Trip alum who have gone on to serve God is vital ministries as their chosen profession. It’s truly awesome! 
     I saw great things this week. I saw lives touched, hearts softened, attitudes altered- it was truly amazing. AND…I saw incredible things from our Mission Team. They worked HARD this week- and I NEVER ONCE heard them complain!! They truly were the hands and feet of God, carrying His light into a world that so desperately needs to experience it. How will YOU serve God this week? This month? This year? Step out in faith- you will be amazed at what God can do in you, with you, and through you! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed Sunday! Please come back tomorrow to start your week with me, and stick with Jesus!

Miss10n- Day 6

     Home again, home again…jiggedy jig! After a 7-hour round-trip, 5 nights of sleeping in a converted convent, 5 mornings of getting up early, eating bagels and cereal and packing a lunch, 5 days of working our TAILS off, and 5 evenings of powerful worship services…we made it home! We arrived in the church parking lot at about 3PM yesterday, unloaded, said our goodbyes and all headed home. It was an amazing week. We did things we didn’t imagine we could do. We worked harder than we thought we would. We spent more time in violent neighborhoods than we expected. We saw things we never see in our little town in Central Illinois. And in the midst of it all, we experienced the power and presence of God in a unique, personal and life-altering way. 

     We were all glad to get home, but at the same time reluctant to leave the mission field. It can be so transforming to step away from your everyday existence and see the face of God in the people you serve with, that it can be hard to leave it behind when the time comes. But what I’ve learned over the years (and now 8 Mission Trips I have led) is that if you go on a Mission Trip, have a great time, and then come home and simply go back to the status quo…you kind of missed the point. However, if you go and then come back renewed, invigorated, ready to do some things differently, to see the world through a renewed pair of eyes…then you got the point of the whole thing.
     Most folks who go on a Mission Trip for the first time go expecting to give…to help other people. And, hopefully, you do! But what most figure out along the way is that, no matter how much you give, in the end you get MUCH more in return. The blessing you receive , both from the people you serve.serve with AND more so from God, is beyond what you possibly imagined when you went. If you ever have the opportunity to serve others in a missional setting, whether it is by going away somewhere for a number of days or going to a local outreach ministry and volunteering for the day….do it. The positive impact you have on others will only be outmatched by the blessing you receive!
     It was awesome to get home and sleep in my own bed, next to my wife, for the first time in almost a week! After sitting in a wicker chair shoved in a closet all week to write, I am thoroughly enjoying sitting in my own chair in my own living room to write this! And the dog…oh, my goodness…the dog! To say she was glad to see us would have been a GROSS understatement! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed Saturday! Please make sure and stop by tomorrow and share in Sunday’s message, and stick with Jesus!

Miss10n- Day 5

LAST full day of our Mission Trip is over. And WHAT a day! It began, as usual,
with breakfast/lunch packing at 7AM. At 8AM, we all met for our next to last
morning small group devotional time. (I have thoroughly enjoyed the youth, from
other churches, who have been a part of my small group!) When I got up
yesterday morning, I was under the assumption that I was going to be part of a
group who were going to work at a place called MEAC- they are a free food and clothing
ministry- in the morning, followed by a return to a Nursing Home that we
visited on Tuesday. But then I found out that plans had changed- I was going
back to the garden in the Over the Rhine neighborhood (I just found out today-
it was voted THE most dangerous neighborhood in America!) to work in the
community garden. So I went and got my gloves and do-rag- 2 essential items
when working with your hands AND sweating profusely! BUT…as I was about to
leave, I found out that plans had changed…again…and I was NOW going to Meals on
Wheels for the morning, and then to the Nursing Home in the afternoon! (Did you
get all that? Gotta have a scorecard to keep track!) SO…I put my gloves and
do-rag back and left! When the three of us (myself, my son, and another guy
from my church) arrived at Meals on Wheels (thinking we were going to help pack
meals), we found out that we were instead going to move furniture! (Oh, if only
I had my gloves and do-rag!)

     We had to move bookcases, desks, computers
and TONS of heavy insulated food storage boxes…from the first floor to the
second floor! Oh, and NO elevator! One round trip was 40 stairs…I made
FIFTY-ONE round trips! For those of you keeping score at home, that’s 2,040 stairs
in about 2 ½ hours! 2,040 stairs translates to about 100 stories…the Empire State Building is only 102 stories!! (I definitely got my cross-training in yesterday!)

     After we ate lunch, we went back to the
Nursing Home we had worked at on Tuesday. The residents remembered us and were
very glad to see us! And the afternoon activities were a study in contrast to
the morning ones! At the Nursing Home, we made bracelets, necklaces and…pancakes!
They had a Pancake Celebration, so we made pancakes, cut up bananas and
strawberries, rinsed blueberries, cracked open the whipped cream…and they LOVED
it! (My son loved it, too…because he got to have some with them!)

     The rest of the group went to MEAC
(mentioned above), where they sorted books and clothes, stocked food, helped
clients collect their food for the month. My wife, who spent her day there, summed
it up best when she said, “My day was awesome!!” We finished the day with a
great dinner at our host church, a marvelous time of worship, featuring
Communion, and a walk down to the local ice cream shop for one scoop of Buckeye
Blitz on a pretzel cone…my day was complete!

     I have seen great things this week. I have
seen lives touched, hearts softened, attitudes altered- it has been truly
amazing. AND…I have seen incredible things from my Mission Team. They have
worked HARD this week- and I NEVER ONCE heard them complain!! They have truly
been the hands and feet of God, carrying His light into a world that so desperately
needs to experience it. If you have never stepped out of your comfort zone and
gone somewhere to do some kind of mission work…I highly recommend it. It not
only positively impacts the lives of the people who you help- it also
positively impacts YOUR life! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed
day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!


Miss10n- Day 4

          Day Four of MISS10N is over! Today, our
group of four went back to Over The Rhine (the most dangerous neighborhood in Cincinnati)
and spent the day working in the garden- weeding, sweeping, harvesting lettuce!
The group of twelve also went back to Over the Rhine and spent the day helping
lead a Day Camp for kids Kindergarten – 8th Grade. What a
fascinating thing that was! As is usually true of “Vacation Bible School”-styled
programs, there were a LOT more little kids than older kids (the older kids are
too cool for that kind of stuff)! We split up and helped with the different
groups. (I helped with the Middle School kids.) They did activities, crafts, a
lesson, a snack, music- all the things you would expect them to do! A few
things really struck me about the experience. First, I was blown away by the
staff that ran the Day Camp. They were AWESOME with the kids. They knew every
kid’s name, they greeted them, talked to them, hugged them…made them feel
welcomed, wanted. Also, they went way out of their way to try and help further
the kids- not only spiritually, but intellectually as well. The Middle School
staff is starting a summer reading program for the kids who come. If the kids
read a certain number of books over the summer, they get a pizza and video game
party. And not only are they encouraging the kids to read, but they are
supplying them with books. George Orwell, Robert Louis Stevenson, C. S. Lewis-
great authors are being made available to these kids, at NO charge, and
accompanied by a great deal of encouragement. Amazing! They even have the older
kids write short stories about things, so that they can get a “baseline” of
where these kids are at academically- therefore, they know what kind of help
the kids need over the summer.

     The other thing that struck me was
spending so much time in such a dangerous neighborhood. Although I wouldn’t
want to be there later at night, we felt very welcomed by the people who live
there during the day. Many of them seemed genuinely glad to see us- happy that
someone outside their community actually cared. They stopped by to see what we
were doing, they spoke to us as we walked past, they didn’t hesitate to point
it out to us when we accidentally parked in the bus loading zone!! All too
often we tend to look at other people as statistics- based on race, age, skin
color, economic circumstance…whatever, we make snap judgments about others, and
we treat them accordingly. What trips like this remind me is that we are truly
ALL God’s children…ALL worthy of being treated as such. At the end of the day,
our similarities FAR outweigh our differences. We could all do well to be regularly
reminded of that fact.

     Last night was our ONLY free time, so we
went to an Italian restaurant called Buca di Beppo. They served amazing Italian
food family style, we all ate way too much, and had a great time! At the daily
worship service (which didn’t start until 9PM!), we played with clay and made a
vessel that represented…us. We put a lit candle in it and placed it on the altar
as an offering…of ourselves…to God. Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed
day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!