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!

Miss10n- Day 3

          Day 3 of my church’s Mission Trip is “in
the books” now. Breakfast begins at 7:15AM, but we also have to make and pack
our lunch during that time, so we have tended to get down there by 7PM at the
latest. After breakfast, we again split into 2 groups- 12 and 4. The group of
four went to the Wesley Community Mission Center. It’s an outreach ministry
that works out of what used to be a United Methodist Church. The church once
had 1,100/Sunday worshipping there- now it no longer exists! The building that
once housed a congregation and now houses this outreach ministry is in a
neighborhood called Over the Rhine. It is considered the most dangerous
neighborhood in Cincinnati and one of the most dangerous in the entire Midwest.

     Our group of four spent the morning
working in a courtyard area, cleaning it up after years of neglect. Armed with
shovels, trowels and brooms, they pulled weeds, landscaped and swept all
morning- the results were great! Meanwhile, out group of 12 went on a “city
hunt”. Armed with driving directions and clues, we were to follow the “roadmap”
to find and photograph certain Cincinnati landmarks. The whole idea was to get
a better feel for the city- how it’s laid out, how it runs, how impoverished
some areas are.

     Later in the morning, the group of 12 met
up with the group of 4 in Over the Rhine. We spent the rest of the morning
either sorting a TON of school supplies or weeding a community garden. (While
weeding, I met a Yorkie Terrier named Barack Obama!) We ate lunch in the
Community Mission Center (neighborhood kids were in the adjoining building
participating in a Vacation Bible School, and MAN where they excited!), and
then split up some more. The group of four went to another part of the city where
they did…telemarketing…for Jesus! They were calling churches on behalf of a
church that was producing a seminar aimed at decreasing the alarming amount of fraud
that is done against senior citizens. Nine of the 12 stayed in Over the Rhine
and continued working on the school supplies and the neighborhood garden. The
remaining three (of which I was one) went to a nursing home and helped out with
activities for the residents. We played Bingo. (my lady won THREE times, thank
you very much!) But it was SO warm in the atrium where we played, and we were
pretty tired, that the three of us had to work HARD to stay awake!

     Then we moved to another part of the
building where we did crafts. We helped them decorate what I call “Gilligan”
hats (you know what I mean!) and we also stuffed little bears…imagine
build-a-bear workshop on a MUCH smaller scale! By the time we left, we knew
pretty much everybody’s name, and they were sad to see us go!

     Dinner was at 6PM, after which we made our
nightly 2-block trek to the church where we have our daily worship. By the time
we got back to where we are living, it was 9:30PM, and the Rec Room closes at
10PM and Lights Out is at 11PM, so the day is pretty much over by then. At
home, I get to sit in my comfortable Easy Chair in the living room, with a
fresh cup of coffee and a good strong wi-fi signal when I write this blog.
Here…I sit in a wicker chair that is LITERALLY in the closet and write, then I
have to go down the hall, sit outside a certain room (to get wi-fi signal) and
upload it to the blog. I forget sometimes just how good I have it! Mission
trips have a way of bringing those things to one’s attention!

     I miss my dog, I miss my bed, I miss
my…routine! But I wouldn’t trade experiences like this for anything. There is
something powerful, transforming, about going out, away from everything you
know, and helping other people. It gives you a perspective on the Christian
experience that nothing else can! I highly recommend it. Thanks for stopping
by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and check back in tomorrow,
and stick with Jesus!

Miss10n- Day 2

     Well, the first full day is “in the can”! And…what a day it was! 16 folks from my church are on a Mission Trip to inner-city Cincinnati as we speak. And yesterday was the first full day here. We split up into 2 groups- of 12 and 4. The group of 12 was responsible for helping set up breakfast/lunch, so we had to be in the kitchen at 6:50AM! People wandered in, made their breakfast, made their lunch, and tried to get ready for the day. Then we headed out into the great unknown. 

     The group of four focused on food- preparing and delivering food for 16 people at a center that provides a temporary home for folks too healthy to be in the hospital but too sick to be back on the streets- where they normally live. They also helped pack frozen, pre-prepared meals in various vehicles that were to  be delivered to folks for the Meals on Wheels program. 

     The group of 12 went to a place called Stepping Stone. It is a camp on the outskirts of the city that offers a summer day camp for children and youth with disabilities. Kids from 5-22 were brought in, primarily in buses, to spend the day there. Many of them spend 5 days a week there for 9 weeks in the summer. We were divided up into smaller groups and assigned to different age groups of kids. Each group is named after a bug- I was a part of the Butterflies! (We prefer “beautiful” butter4flies, thank you very much!!) The groups did a variety of activities throughout the day- some did art. some did music, some played on the playground, some got to get in the pool (they have BOTH and indoor and an outdoor!), some got to have their wheelchairs taken up in a wagon, which was then drawn by 2 large animals (we debated all day whether they were horses or mules…my vote was horses!) and all got to sit and eat lunch.
     At about 12:15PM, a HUGE storm hit, causing groups all across the camp ( a fairly large area) to scramble for shelter. We spent about 90 minutes trapped in a variety of locations with little to nothing to do but try and entertain these kids- it was tough on us AND tough on the kids! Finally, at about 1:45PM, we were able to get back to some semblance of schedule. 
     I was amazed and awed by the counselors at the day camp. It was HARD work, under rather difficult circumstances…and yet, the ones I worked with continued to do a marvelous job, always showing love and caring to the kids they worked with. The other thing that really struck me was the overwhelming sense of what it really means that we are ALL children of God. I understand that… intellectually, but sometimes need a good hard dose of reality to reinforce the notion in my thick cranium. These kids, with a variety of disabilities that cause them to live in ways I can’t even fathom, do so with a determination and  forthrightness that is staggering. We ARE truly all God’s children, and even though I’ve heard it over and over again that God doesn’t have favorites, I found myself wondering yesterday if perhaps God DOES have favorites, and I was surrounded by them as I helped them participate in their own special summer camp!
     Thanks for stopping by, continue to check back daily throughout the week for updates, and stick with Jesus! 

Miss10n- Day 1

      We made it! The Mission Team from my church arrived in Cincinnati late yesterday afternoon. We left our church at 11:50AM…a new world record for me getting out of the church after worship on Sunday!! (But don’t tell my wife- she’ll want me to be home that soon every Sunday!) 16 of us (four youth, 12 adults) piled into 3 vehicles (including our recently-acquired church van which is making its maiden voyage as far as long trips go!) and drove basically straight through, only stopping once in Ohio for a bathroom break. We arrive at our destination at precisely 4:30PM (which, I would like to point out, is EXACTLY when we were supposed to be there!) and were greeted by very energetic, enthusiastic interns. We are living in what was once a nunnery (which, although they sound a great deal alike, has nothing whatsoever to do with a cannery!), so the interns showed us where we would be sleeping. The women are in one wing of the building- they get SINGLE rooms! (Lucky ducks!) The guys are in a different wing and we have 2 (or 3) to a room. There was a bit of a mix-up on the rooms- for a short period, 2 of our guys had NO room…but we took Rev. John into our room and someone else to Jim, so everybody has a place to sleep!

     After getting our stuff stowed, we drove to the main campus of the church we are partnering with and had our opening worship- pretty rocking! (Church, I’m taking notes!) We then went on a “prayer tour” of Cincinnati, visiting some of the placed where we will be working. We ended the trip at a park that sits high on a hill above the city- from  there, we could see the whole of where our ministry will take place.
     By the time we got back to where we sleep and went over the guidelines (i.e.- rules!) for the place, it was time to go to bed. It was a LONG day- up at 5AM, at church by 5:30AM (YES…you read that right!), three straight worship services, a 3 1/2 hour drive, then all the stuff mentioned above. And yet, when my head hit the pillow, I couldn’t go to sleep. I think it was excitement over what was ahead!
     Over the years of leading people on Mission Trips, I have been asked the question MANY times, “Why take people hours away to do ministry when there are so many needs in your own community?” 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 are able to focus SO much more on the reason there are here. 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 is truly awesome!
     I’ll be back in just a few hours to update you on Monday’s events! Please make sure and come back, please have a blessed day, and make sure you stick with Jesus!

Walk It Off!

     We are in the 7th and last week of Things Your Parents Said.  The 1st week was “Wear Clean Underwear”. The 2nd week we talked about “You’ll Put Your Eye Out”. The 3rd week, it was “Don’t Play With Fire”. The 4th week was “When I Was Your Age…”. The 5th week, we talked about “Clean Your Plate”. Last week, it was “Life’s Not Fair!” Now, before we get to today’s topic, we’re going to, as we have every other week, look at 2 “old  standards”. Do you remember this one? “Don’t make me turn this car around!” I don’t know about you, but there were times, based on where we were going, I would have perfectly happy with Dad turning the car around!! How about this one? “The acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree!” I don’t know if they realized that, if they tell you that after you did something stupid…what does that say about them, if you’re the acorn and they’re the tree? That leads to today’s topic, something my Dad said a lot when I would hurt myself- “walk it off!” As boys, we’re trained from an early age to do just that- walk it off, spit on it, rub dirt on it, you’re fine! It’s OK for girls to get a bit emotional over a scraped knee, but heaven forbid a boy does that! “Walk it off!” The interesting thing is that the notion is decidedly Biblical. In the 10th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells the disciples to do just that- walk it off. Here these words from the Gospel-

Matthew 10:5-16- These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep. “Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

 The Sunday School teacher had spent weeks preparing her 1st grade students- they were going to recite the Christmas Gospel in church. She made sure to stress the seriousness and importance of the event- how they were to behave in church. On the big day, however, as she sat in the 3rd row with some of the kids, a boy in the front row talked and giggled nonstop. Finally unable to put up with it any longer, she whispered to the girl sitting next to her, “Please go up there and tell him he’s done enough talking and needs to stop, right now!” Without question, the girl got up, walked ALL the way to the front and delivered her Sunday School teacher’s message…to the minister, who was in the middle of his sermon!

So Jesus sends the boys out on an evangelism trip. Notice that He tells them they ARE going. He doesn’t say “IF you go,” or “WHEN you go,” but “AS you go!” In other words…“You’re going!” It’s like when you tell your kids, “We’re going to church,” and they say, “I don’t want to go,” and you reply, “I didn’t ask you if you wanted to go- I told you that you ARE going!” It’s  not an option: it’s a command!
And then He tells them some very specific things. First of all, He tells them where to GO and NOT go. He says they should NOT go to the Gentiles or the Samaritans, but instead they should focus on “the lost sheep of Israel”…in other words, the Jewish people. Why would He do that? Shouldn’t they take the Good News to EVERYONE? Isn’t that what the Great Commission at the end of this very same book says? Well…yes…it is. But notice that’s at the END of the book. This is the FIRST time they are being sent out. So Jesus is suggesting they should start among people with whom they have some level of comfort. The disciples are, for the most part…Jewish, so it stands to reason that, if they are going to working on gaining their evangelistic seas legs, they would do it among folks they know. When you try to start a career in sales, you are often encouraged to start among family- they are the most likely to feel sorry for you and the least likely to say “no”! So Jesus says to focus on the Jewish people. 

He then tells them what to say…gives them their sales pitch, if you will. “The kingdom of Heaven is near.” Now, is that the ONLY thing they said as they met people? Doubt it…but it would certainly be a great conversation starter. Not everybody likes my earring…but it’s a great conversation starter! 
Then He tells them what they are to do out in the field- heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, drive out demons. Pretty tall order, but at least He gives them a road map. Know what else He gives them? Empowerment! He gives them the AUTHORITY to do those things. He doesn’t just give them these outlandish goals and say, “Write when you find work!” He gives them the spiritual authority to make them happen. God’s will never calls us to a place where God’s grace won’t sustain us.
     So, they’ve been told where to go, what to say, and what to do. Pretty complete. They may not LIKE what Jesus is calling them to, but they can’t say they don’t understand it! But jest when they think it’s as hard as it’s going to get, Jesus throws them a big old looping curveball. He tells them to only take the clothes on their back. No money, no luggage, no extra clothes, not even a walking staff. What you have on you…and that’s it. Why would Jesus do that? Why would He make it even harder on them? Because He is trying to teach them about trust- trusting God. If they pack all their clothes, and extra cash, and a bunch of food, and their iPod and their snazzy new cell phone, then they don’t need God…or so they think. Jesus wants them to understand that they need only worry about the task before them- their needs will be taken care of.

Then He gets to the hardest part of any sales job- the rejection. He tells them that if someone receives them, great- stay with them, share the Good News, and when it is time, move on. But let’s be honest- the people who receive you well are NOT the ones we want to know about, not the ones we worry about. What about those people who DON’T receive us well? What about those people who…GASP…reject us? What in the world do we do with them? Well, Jesus quotes my Dad, “Walk it off! Spit on it! Rub dirt on it!” He tells them that if someone doesn’t want to hear the Good News, they are to shake the dust from their feet and get the heck out of Dodge. They are NOT to spend their time on people who don’t want to hear it. They are NOT to squander opportunities on folks who aren’t receptive. Instead, they are to make the best of their time, spending it where they might reap the most harvest, make the most impact. 
I love how He ends these instructions. He tells them He is sending them out like sheep among the wolves. Jesus, THE Good Shepherd, is sending His chosen sheep out among the wolves. But if you think about it…who better to send than your chosen people? He warns them to be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Snakes are, of course, considered sly, savvy creatures, and the word “innocent” means “unmixed”- single-minded. So we are to be clever and creative, yet also single-minded and full of integrity.
Jesus tells us to do more than preach- we’re also supposed to meet people’s needs. And He gives us the authority to do it. Jesus also focuses on the fact that God will meet our needs. He also that results are NOT our responsibility. If people don’t receive us or our message- walk it off. They’re not rejecting the messenger, but the message. And He says if they reject the message…they reject salvation…and woe to them. There WILL be those who reject us. They rejected Peter. They rejected John. They rejected Paul. They rejected Jesus! Our job is to deliver the message. We’re not responsible for how they receive the message, just that we delivered it or not.

People say, “I don’t want our little church too get too big!” But Church isn’t a rest home that we come to be comfortable in- it’s a hospital for the spiritually sick and dying! A church is big enough when everybody in the community has come to know the saving grace of Jesus Christ. That’s the mission God has given us, and until it is accomplished our job isn’t done!
It’s easy to figure out if something is on fire- it ignites other things. Any fire that doesn’t spread will eventually go out. A church without evangelism is like a fire that doesn’t burn- a contradiction in terms.  Napoleon told his soldiers to plant trees along the streets of Paris so they would provide shade for his troops. A top lieutenant said, “It’ll take 25 years before those seedlings actually produce shade. Napoleon paused and said, “Well, start now…no sense waiting any longer.” We need to begin where we are, right now,  in sowing seeds of kindness that meet the needs of the people we are ministering to. 

Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ said, “Evangelism is sharing the gospel of Christ in the power of the Spirit….and leaving the results to God.” We are to be good waiters and waitresses- taking the meal from the kitchen and serving it without messing up the ingredients along the way. Evangelism is NOT a suggestion- it’s an imperative. We are called to meet other people’s needs…and we’re  assured that God will meet our needs. Results are not our responsibility.  There may be dangers. Therefore, we should walk by faith…not by sight.
Are you being an evangelist? When God opens doors, do you walk through them, or walk away from them? 
Know that God will supply you with all your needs. Some people hesitate to do evangelism because they don’t think they have enough knowledge, resources or emotional strength. Work with those who are responsive. Ask God to lead you to people who are a good fit with you and your message. Some places will be suitable…and some won’t. We need to prepare our minds and hearts to be strong in God’s power and might. Take up the full armor of God so we can stand our ground.
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed Sunday! Please make sure and stop by tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Father’s Day

          Tomorrowwe celebrate Father’s Day. But do you know the origins of the day? (Amazingly, it was NOT originated by the necktie manufacturers OR Hallmark!) Father’s Day was first celebrated…as a church service (seems fitting, in MY mind!) at the Williams
Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church South in Fairmont, WV, in 1908. (Coincidentally, the first
Mother’s Day was celebrated just 2 months earlier in Grafton, WV, only 15 miles away!) A woman named Grace Golden Clayton is believed to have suggested the service to her pastor to
commemorate 361 local men killed in a mine explosion that year. Father’s Day was not made official, however, until 1966, when President Lyndon Johnson made a recognized national celebration. 

     What are some of the things your dad told you? What are some of those sayings (if you have been reading my Sunday blogs lately, you know we’ve been looking at just that- Things Your Parents Said. That series wraps up tomorrow, on Father’s Day…very fitting!) that he had that made you just shake your head in amazement at the time, wondering how he was even smart enough to sire you. But now, looking back with that marvelous gift of hindsight, you realize the wisdom inherent in those pithy sayings he had. I live my life by something my dad taught me. He told me, “When faced with a problem, always try the easiest solution first- it’s often the right one.” I find that to be true MUCH of the time, so I literally tackle every problem with that mantra. In fact, I recently told him that, wanting him to know that some of what he said when I was a kid actually sunk in and stuck! I told him specifically what he had said, and how I have literally applied it to every facet of my life, and then stood back, waiting to see him beam. His response? “I said that? Really?” Oh well…I tried!!
     Maybe you didn’t have a good relationship with your father. Maybe you didn’t have ANY relationship with him. In that case, what male(s) were instrumental in helping you become who you are today? Who had that positive male influence on you? Maybe an uncle, or a grandpa, or a neighbor, or a teacher…the possibilities are nearly limitless. But whoever that person is, make them “dad” for the day in your mind and heart!
     If you are able to…spend some time with
your dad tomorrow. Take him to lunch or just hang out with him. If you can’t physically be with him, but can CALL him…do that! (If you can Skype, all the better!) If you are unable to
do either of those things (for any number of reasons), take a moment to say a prayer to God, thanking Him
that your dad helped bring you into this world. And remember, “dad” doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with biology- it has a LOT to do with relationship! Honor the men in your life tomorrow!

     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow as we finish that Sunday series Things Your Parents Said, and stick with Jesus!

Why Are We Here?

          Ever ask yourself the question posed in the title? Maybe
your day is going badly, or things just don’t seem to be falling into place in
your life, and you say, “Why am I even here?!” Some day you think you know the
answer, and other days…you wonder!

     I want to pose that same question
regarding our faith journey- “Why are we even here?” There might be days when
you feel you’re simply not getting what you want out of church involvement.
Your needs aren’t being met. Your wishes and desires aren’t being achieved. We
all feel that way sometimes. What do we do about it? What does Jesus say about
it? The answer might surprise you!
     Matthew 20:20-28 includes The mother of the sons of
Zebedee came and said to him, ‘Declare that these two sons of mine will sit,
one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.’ Jesus answered, ‘You
do not know what you are asking. Whoever wishes to be great among you must be
your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just
as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a
ransom for many.’”
What Jesus
basically says is, “It’s not about you!” The radical truth of genuine faith is
that it calls us to stop focusing on our own needs and agendas and give
ourselves to the larger mission- making disciples for Jesus Christ.
     What does all this mean in the
daily/weekly life of our faith? It means that NOTHING will be
exactly as we individually want it to be- that would be impossible unless we
each had our own
ONE! It means that we
may have to re-imagine how it is that we find meaning, purpose, and perhaps
most importantly personal satisfaction. But it also means that when we do that,
we will receive blessings beyond our wildest imagination. When we humble
ourselves before God, put our agenda on the back burner and focus on God’s
plan, we realize that true spiritual satisfaction isn’t found in song selection
or worship times or the color of the carpet. It is instead found in humble,
loving service to God and others. We are here to be the eyes and ears, hands
and feet of our Creator. We are here to serve, not to be served. How will you
set side your desires and serve the greater glory of God this month?
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Near Epidemic Proportions

From dictionary.com) ep·i·dem·ic [ep-i-dem-ik]  

1. (of a disease) affecting many persons at the same time, and spreading from person to person in a locality where the disease is not permanently prevalent.
2. extremely prevalent; widespread.
3. a temporary prevalence of a disease.
4. a rapid spread or increase in the occurrence of something: an epidemic of riots.
1595–1605;  obs. epidem ( y ) (< LL epidēmia  < Gk epidēmía  staying in one place, among the people, equiv. to epi- epi-  + dêm ( os ) people of a district + -ia -y3 ) + -ic
—Related forms
ep·i·dem·i·cal·ly, adverb
ep·i·de·mic·i·ty  [ep-i-duh-mis-i-tee]  Show IPA, noun
in·ter·ep·i·dem·ic, adjective
pre·ep·i·dem·ic, noun, adjective

—Can be confused with:  endemic, epidemic, pandemic.

     The word “epidemic” is thrown around a lot…a WHOLE lot. It’s one of those words we tend to misuse, overuse, incorrectly use. Now…having SAID that, I have noticed something lately- an…(ready?)…epidemic. A WHOLE lot of people are getting sick. And I’m NOT just talking about, “Oh, I have a cold. I need some chicken soup and a bit of bed rest!” A lot of people are getting critically ill…terminally ill. I can barely keep track of all the folks I know who are currently struggling mightily with some type of illness or disease…many of them in real danger of not recovering. 
      don’t always know what to make of this fact, either. As a pastor, an educated person…and just simply a PERSON, I understand that people get sick. I understand not all of those people recover. I understand people die. It’s part of that whole Elton John/Circle of Life thing. But lately, it seems to have become…well…an epidemic! And I can’t decide whether the numbers really HAVE increased, or whether it’s just my imagination, or whether it’s because I’M getting older, and therefore more exposed to it. But what I do know is that a lot of good people are struggling to stay alive…and many of them are losing that struggle.
     Now, before you decide that I’m simply spouting “woe is me” tales and hit “home” on your browser, let me give you the “Paul Harvey rest of the story”. What times like now remind me is that life, at it’s best, is fragile. And life, at it’s longest, is…short. There are no guarantees for any of us. Only God knows how much time we have before we shuffle off this mortal coil, bring down the curtain and go off to join the choir in Visibule. So we need to…make…the…most…of…the…time…we…have! We need to NOT waste time, as if we have all of it that we want. We need to live each day to the fullest. We need to make sure we tell the people we love that… well…we LOVE them! We need to be about God’s business- making a difference in the world. We need to live each day as if it were our last. 
     What will YOU do today to make a difference? How many people will you impact today? Will you tell your loved ones they are loved? Will you make the most of what you have? Will you resolve to live life full out, peddle to the metal, heck for leather? (I NEVER understood what that last expression actually meant- I just know how it’s used!!) Don’t waste another day- because THIS is the day the Lord has made…let us rejoice and be glad in it! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!


     Our dog is…goofy! She is a rescue dog- got her from the local Humane Society as our youngest son’s 6th birthday present. She was about 18 months old when we got her- she is almost 5 1/2 years old now. As you can see in the picture (and yes, that IS her in the picture…with my son’s arm visible. Nice arm, eh?), she is mostly black, with white on her chest and white on her paws. (My mother-in-law says she looks like she dipped all four of her feet in white paint!) She is half black lab and half English pointer. To say she is spirited would be a gross understatement! The first time I took her to the vet, I asked him how long she would be so high-energy. He said she would probably be 3 years old before that changed. Well, apparently she didn’t get the memo, because she didn’t even START to slow down until well into her 4th year. Even now, she’s down to “regular” young dog speed!

     When she’s outside, I notice an interesting thing- when she sees a bird…or squirrel…or rabbit…or basically ANY living thing that’s NOT a person, her tail goes up, her front right paw comes up off the ground, her ears come up, and her gaze is…FIXED. She has never had an ounce of training to be a hunting dog, and yet, the second she sees an animal, that instinct comes right out. It is…inherent. 
     I genuinely believe that God’s love, God’s way of being…is inherent in each of us. Whether we KNOW God, whether we recognize those inherited traits or not is another story…but I believe they are there. I believe they are seeds that God had sown in each of our hearts. For some, those seeds find germination early- maybe from their parents, or grandma, or Sunday School teacher… wherever. For some (like me) , those seeds are dormant for long periods of time, until something jump starts them. For some, sadly, the seeds never germinate. Perhaps they were simply never watered properly. Maybe they were never “set out in the sun” as it were. Maybe they simply reused to accept the input necessary to make those grow and thrive. 
     What are the things in your life that are inherent? What do you do, not because someone taught you, but because it is genetically hard-wired in you. Have you recognized God’s presence as one of those genetically hardwired things? It’s there…waiting to be tended, waiting to flourish. If that hasn’t happened for you, I pray it will…soon!
     Now, I’m going to go walk the dog…and watch her point! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Now…Sit Down and SMILE!

        I have shared before that I used to being in the photography business. For part of that time, I was involved in school photography. Let me say right up front…THAT is combat pay!! I had a co-worker who once said to me, part way through a particularly tough day of shooting…er…excuse me… photographing children, “Look at it this way…no matter how bad today is, no matter what kind of trouble these kids give us, 3:00 is GOING to come…and these kids are GOING to go home!” Like hitting your head over and over with a baseball bat, it feels SO good when you stop!

     One day we were photographing at a Middle School registration day. The kids and their parent(s) came in one end of the library, stopped at SEVERAL stations along the way, and ended their journey with us…in front of the camera. Now, we ALL know that Middle School kids can be a…how to be delicate here…HANDFUL…and this particular day…and these particular kids…were no exception.
     I watched as a mother and her son made their way around the maze of stops on the Registration Train. Let me say right up front- this boy was NO angel. He clearly didn’t want to be there, and he had the “Middle School” swagger down to a science. He made every stop difficult…on his mom, on the people working the registration, on everyone. As he and his mom completed the LAST stop prior to getting his picture taken, his mom’s temper was on a rather short fuse. She started to walk toward us, while just…stood there. She turned, looked at him, and said, “Well? Come ON!” He grudgingly started toward her. As he neared, she impatiently handed him a stack of papers and booklets they had accumulated along the way- she wanted to get her money our for pictures. He took the stack, but as she turned back away from him, he INTENTIONALLY let the entire stack…fall to the floor! It spilled everywhere AND made a decent sound as it hit the floor. Well, that was clearly the straw that broke the camel’s back…and mom was the camel. She turned back to him with a Charles Manson-like look in here eyes. She was on him like a hawk on a field mouse- it was over before it really began. She descended on him like the wrath of God, swung her arm down from above her head, and literally clubbed him to the ground! He immediately began to cry- partly from pain, partly from humiliation. She then grabbed him by the collar, pulled him to his feet, dragged him the last 15 feet to the camera, slammed him down on the seat, and yelled, “There! Now…sit down and smile!” There is NO way those folks were happy with their school pictures that year!
      I see people mistreating, abusing their kids and I ask, “Why?” I KNOW kids aren’t perfect. I KNOW they get on our last nerve VERY easily. I KNOW it sometimes takes the patience of Job to even be around them. But what do we teach them when we humiliate them, embarrass them, hit them? We teach them that those with power get to do what they want. We teach them that it’s OK to bully others…as long as you’re bigger than then. We teach them that love is really about intimidation and force. I don’t know about you, but that’s NOT what I want my kids to learn!
     If you ever feel anger and frustration against your kids or grandkids starting to well up inside you, stop and ask yourself, “Is this what I want them to learn from me?” Take that moment to ask that question, to think through it. Of course that’s NOT what you want them to learn. Because what you want them to learn is that it’s important to love others, to put others ahead of yourself, to simply…be a decent human being. If they learn that…you will have done your job well! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Flag Day

      It was September 17, 2001. My wife and I were standing inside Busch Memorial Stadium in St. Louis, MO. (What people now call “Old Busch”!) It was the night that Major League Baseball resumed playing baseball after the terrorist attacks of September 11. We just happened to have tickets to that game, and were greatly touched by what we experienced that night. As part of the pre-game ceremonies, legendary broadcaster Jack Buck made one of his last public appearances, read a poem that he wrote…just for the occasion. (Google it…it really is very powerful.) 

     That same night, possibly the largest American flag I have ever seen was unfurled on the field, with what must have been hundreds of area firefighters and police officers holding the edges of it. We of course sang The National Anthem (what would a major league baseball game be without The National Anthem?) with that giant flag on the field. I will say up front…I’m not the most patriotic guy in the world. Don’t get me wrong…I LOVE my country, I just don’t tend to be a hardcore flag waver. At least until that night. The sight of that huge flag engulfing the field as a capacity crowd, with tears in their eyes, belted out our national anthem at the top of their lungs…it was one of the most powerful and emotional experiences I have ever encountered.
     After Buck read his poem, he addressed the critics who thought baseball had come back too soon: “I don’t know about you, but as for me, the question has already been answered: Should we be here? Yes!” At the center of the entire evening was that flag, reminding us of who we were.
     In the United States, Flag Day is celebrated…today…June 14th. It commemorates the adoption of the flag of the United States, which happened that day, by resolution of the Second Continental Congress, in 1777. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation that officially established June 14 as Flag Day; in August 1949, National Flag Day was established by an Act of Congress. Flag Day is not an official federal holiday, though on June 14, 1937, Pennsylvania became the first (and only) U.S. state to celebrate Flag Day as a state holiday. The longest-running Flag Day parade is held annually in Quincy, Massachusetts, which began 1952 and will celebrate its 59th year in 2009. The largest Flag Day parade is held annually in Troy, New York, which bases its parade on the Quincy parade and typically draws 50,000 spectators. The week of June 14 is designated as “National Flag Week.” During National Flag Week, the president issues a proclamation urging U.S. citizens to fly the American flag for the rest of the week. This year, remember the freedom that our flag represents, and thank God for that freedom- including the freedom to worship.

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

Life’s Not Fair!

       We’re in the 6th week of our current sermon series,  Things Your Parents Said. The 1st week we looked at “Wear Clean Underwear”. The 2nd week it was “You’ll Put Your Eye Out”. The 3rd week we considered “Don’t Play With Fire”. The 4th week was “When I Was Your Age…”. And last week we looked at “Clean Your Plate”. But before we get to today’s topic, we will, as we have every week, look at 2 “old standards”…do you remember this one? “Who do you think you are?” Seriously? Well, I THINK I’m Superman, but every time I run into a phone booth and strip off my clothes…I get nothing but strange looks! How about this one? “I hope you have one just like YOU one day!” Now that sounds great, but it’s ALL talk! Because as soon as you GIVE them one “just like you”, they go gaga over them! Bill Cosby said he watched his parents with his children and came to the conclusion that they were NOT the people who raised him, but instead 2 folks trying to get into Heaven! That leads us to today’s topic- Life’s Not Fair! How many times did we say that as kids? How many times have we said that…recently?! My mom had a standard reply when we said, “That’s NOT fair!” She would say, “God made the world round…NOT fair!” 

     At the end of the job interview, the Human Resources person asked the recent college grad, “What starting salary are you looking for?” The candidate replied, “$125,000 a year, depending on the benefits package.” The HR person said, “What would you say to 5 weeks vacation, 14 paid holidays, full medical and dental, company-funded retirement fund, and a company car- say, a red Corvette?” The candidate said, “Wow!!! Are you kidding?” And the HR Person replied, “Of course I am…but you started it!” We have a pretty well-defined sense of what’s fair…and what’s NOT, especially when it comes to what we earn. In today’s Scripture, Jesus takes a pretty healthy swing at the idea of fairness.

Matthew 20:1-16 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. “About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. “He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’” ‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’ “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’ “The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ “But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

     The interviewer told the job applicant, “I’ll give you $8 an hour, and in three months, I’ll raise it to $10 an hour. When would you like to start?” The reply? “In three months!” This story is a bit…strange. Why does the landowner go out to the marketplace five times a day, including just one hour before quitting time? Why does he take ALL the workers he finds, without weeding out those who aren’t very healthy, or strong, or motivated? Why does he do this Human Resources work himself, instead of sending an underling instead? Then there’s all the confusion at the end of the day, what with paying everybody the same wage regardless of how much they worked. What’s he thinking? Doesn’t he see how unfair this is? What kind of landowner is he, anyhow? Does he even know what he’s doing? Well, it turns out he knows EXACTLY what he’s doing.  He could have easily paid the workers based on how long they worked- but that’s exactly the central point of the story. So, what are supposed to understand from all this?

      Imagine a corporate executive’s reaction to this parable: If pay isn’t directly related to hours worked, then how can I motivate my employees? And if I can’t motivate my employees, how can I sell my product? And if I can’t sell my product…how can I turn a profit? This reminds me of the story of the Prodigal Son. It’s not fair that the father heaps all his attention on the younger son- treating him like an honored guest even though he’s brought great shame to his family. If all parents acted like the Prodigal Son’s dad, the world would crumble into anarchy. So it is with this guy who owns the vineyard. If everybody ran their business like he did, we’d all be out of work in  a matter of months. Both the Prodigal Son’s dad and the landowner enable bad behavior. Rather strange models of parenting and vineyard management, wouldn’t you say? But we have to resist the temptation to find TOO many universal principles of behavior from stories like this. Nobody asked Jesus, “How do I run a vineyard?” or “How should I pay my employees?” Jesus isn’t teaching bout micro or macro economics- He’s teaching about the kingdom of heaven. But to help the people understand His stories, He has to use human references and analogies. That’s why the kingdom of Heaven is LIKE a landowner…we learn something about the kingdom when we listen carefully.

     So if this parable IS about Jesus’ kingdom, then it’s NOT about “a day’s honest work” or “fair wages”. If the parable IS about Jesus’ kingdom, then it’s also about a gracious and undeserved gift. In our cynical, modern capitalist moments, we’re prone to reduce human interactions to self-interest- what’s in it for me. But this parable isn’t about a landowner looking for workers to hire as much as it’s about a man who gathers up idle, lost people and gives them a purpose. But while this parable isn’t intended to model economic relations, us average-Joe working stiffs still have every reason to be offended…but for different reasons. Jesus’ stories tend to offend everybody- because they hit a bit too close to home.

     It’s hard to imagine a parable that’s more disturbing and yet at the same time more relevant to our lives. It offends our sense of justice and fair play. it points squarely at the notion that others have gotten more than they deserve while we’ve NOT gotten what we deserve. It’s easy to identify with the first-hired workers. We remember all the times we got to work early and stayed late, all the committees we’ve served on, all the work we’ve done, and we say, “Life’s not fair! Why work hard if we’re all going to be paid the same?” Good works aren’t done to EARN something, but to SHOW something…gratitude. God’s done so much for us- why not do for others in that same spirit of generosity? When we work for a reward, we’re always looking for approval and praise- wondering if we’re good enough. But when we do good works out of love and thanksgiving, it frees us. When our only measure is fairness, when our preoccupation is “just desserts”, we lose touch with God’s graciousness. We forget about the God Who loves us more than we deserve, Who extends unmerited generosity and forgiveness to us. True compassion is most evident not when the “deserving” share their well-earned surplus, but when those who recognize they have been blessed beyond what they have the right to expect express their gratitude.

     Look at what comes before and after this parable…like bookends. Just before it starts, Jesus says,  “Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.” And He ends this story with, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” The point is NOT that the landowner is showing favoritism to some of the workers. Instead, he is giving to everyone according to what they need, not what they’ve earned. So what do we have here…really? What we have is a thinly veiled look at who God is. The vineyard is God’s kingdom- a world totally different from ours. And the landowner is God…characterized by His generosity and mercy, the father waiting for his lost son, the king inviting guests from the streets in for a wedding banquet. When we experience God’s boundless love for all people, our reaction to that love reveals whether we view our own labor as a gift FROM God or a benefit TO God.

     The ladder of success- we move UP the ladder when we do well…and DOWN the ladder when we do something wrong. And we spend our whole lives clawing and scratching, trying hard to climb higher and higher up the ladder. But in this story, Jesus tells us that not only is it misguided to focus on climbing the ladder…. but the ladder of success doesn’t even really exist. What? Doesn’t exist? Where’s the incentive to do good if there’s no ladder of success? Why should I go the extra mile if my reward is the same as someone who doesn’t do much of anything? Life’s not fair if there’s no ladder. But the Good News of Jesus Christ is just that…there IS no ladder…NOT in the Kingdom of Heaven. The Good News is that we can’t climb higher up the ladder by doing good works. What we get isn’t earned-  God gives it to us as a gift…of grace. Ultimately we’re inheritors of God’s gifts and graces, His mercy and blessing, and that inheritance does NOT, fortunately,  reflect our efforts.

     Think about this- is it possible that, from God’s perspective, none of us were in the first wave of workers in the vineyard? Is it possible that, from God’s perspective, we all showed up to work at 5P.M.- the LAST hour of the day? It is possible that we’ve all been paid a whole day’s wages for only one hour of work? Don’t misunderstand- there’s value in hard work. There’s value in fair play. But when our focus is solely on “you get what you deserve”, on “life’s not fair”, then some truths about ourselves…and about God…become endangered species. When our lives are reduced to economic value- our hearts contract, and our compassion withers, and our kindness begins to dry up. But recognizing ourselves as receivers of God’s astonishing generosity is what opens our hearts…and hands…to others. The world’s NOT fair…and thank goodness for that! Because God’s grace gives us what we don’t deserve…and DOESN’T give us what we DO deserve!

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

Every Preschooler’s Favorite Question…WHY?

        You just have to love preschoolers- they learn to talk, and one of the first words they learn is, “Why?” And they ask it…continuously…ad naseum…until they drive you completely insane! At least…that’s what I’ve heard!! That latent curiosity is a good thing- that’s how we all learned…and continue to learn. I am a naturally curious person still (and, just like preschoolers, I probably drive LOTS of people crazy because of it!!), so I tend to ask lots of questions and seek lots of answers. I’ve been pondering some thing lately, and thought I’d share them with you:

Why is it that, no matter WHERE I live or WHICH trash pick-up service I contract with, I’m ALWAYS the first house on their route- which has them driving that noisy truck to my driveway and banging trash cans together at 6 o’clock in the blessed AM? 

Why is it that, when I get to the first main intersection after leaving my driveway, the amount of traffic I have to wait for is inversely proportional to how much of a hurry I’m in? If I’m pushing the envelope to get somewhere on time, everybody and their dog has chosen that precise moment to be out driving, keeping me from turning, while if I have all the time in the world…NO ONE is out!

Why is it that the speed at which the dog goes to the bathroom when on a leash is inversely proportional to MY need to go to the bathroom- she takes her own sweet time out there while I dance around the yard like Baryshnikov?

Why do manufacturers make ONE-ply toilet paper? It would be easier to use leaves from the yard than that stuff!

Why is it that I can walk to the camping section and pick up an axe…literally…but if I want to buy cold medicine, I have to fill out the same volume of paperwork it takes to buy a house AND someone has to get it for me from the vault?

Why is it that on days when I HAVE to get up…I don’t want to get up, but on days when I can sleep in…I can’t?

Why is it that, if I drop my bagel, with a liberal amount of cream cheese smeared on it, on the floor…it will ALWAYS land face down?

Why is it that, if I open the freezer and something heavy falls out, it will ALWAYS land on my shoe-less foot?

Why is it that, when there is a squirrel in the road that I am trying to avoid, no matter which way I swerve…he runs the SAME way?

Why is it that my phone NEVER rings when I’m just “chillaxin”…doing nothing…but ALWAYS rings the minute I am involved in something?

And the one that I wrestle with often…why is it that God loves me, uneven, imperfect, goofy person that I am? I don’t know WHY…but I know THAT…God loves me…AND YOU…often despite who we are. And I find GREAT comfort in that fact! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

E.T. Phone Home

     Can you believe it? It was TWENTY-EIGHT years ago today that the movie E.T.- The Extraterrestrial premiered! On June 11, 1982, Spielberg rolled this movie out…and began almost literally printing money as a result! It made a star of Henry Thomas (Elliott) and launched the career of one Drew Barrymore. It also put Reese’s Pieces on the map. (Did you know that M & M’s were offered the gig 1st…but didn’t think it was a good idea?! Although that decision clearly hasn’t negatively impacted M & M’s long-term success, I wonder if they were re-thinking that as the movie launched into the stratosphere…and took Reese’s Pieces with it?!) Let me say right up front…I love the movie! I think it’s good, fun, mindless adventure…with a surprisingly “tear-jerky” ending. (Alright, I admit it, I “girled up” at the end and shed a tear or two! So sue me!) There are lots of analogies that could be drawn from the movie- feeling out of place, the overarching bond of friendship and love, the “Big Brother” nature of government…the list could go on and on. But I want to focus on one particular aspect today- the alien.

     This little…being…(in the book, they often describe him as a brussel sprout! No lie…check it out for yourself!)…accidentally gets left behind by his buddies. (I want to know who was supposed to do the head count! They CLEARLY dropped the ball!) He stumbles upon a family who takes him in…harboring the alien, if you will. Then he jerry-rigs some toys into a communicator that he used to “phone home”. (Again, why? Don’t they KNOW they left him behind? And WHERE? Surely it’s NOT like, “Did we leave him at the rest stop? The gas station? The mall? I thought YOU had him!!” But anyway, he sends the signal, they come and get him, everyone cries (and I mean EVERYONE), and all’s well that ends well. 
     The whole point of the movie is what do we do with “the alien”. (And NO, this isn’t about Arizona’s new laws!) Did you know that the Bible calls Christians “aliens”? The word “alien” appears a BUNCH of times in the Bible as a whole, but one of the places it is used in the most obvious manner is in the New Testament book of 1 Peter, where it says, “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world…” Now, don’t misunderstand my point here- I am NOT writing a History Channel-esque expose’ on the existence of extraterrestrials in the Bible. Instead, the Bible says that Christians are LIKE aliens in this world- we don’t really belong. Perhaps the best way to explain that is that we are called to be IN the world, but not OF the world. We are called to live here, work here, minister here, but we are also called to not be LIKE the world. I must admit…I LIKE that idea. I fully realize that I march to the beat of a different drummer (insert your own joke here!), so realizing that I am not expected to be LIKE the world helps me better understand why I’m NOT! (But, in an effort to presents “fair and balanced” reporting…I wasn’t terribly LIKE the world BEFORE I found Jesus Christ, so…!) 
     Do you ever feel that your faith makes you “different”? GOOD…it should! The world needs a few more (a LOT more, really) folks who don’t simply go with the flow, but are willing to stand up and say, “No…there’s a better way to…BE!” Dare to be different! Dare to be “other”! Dare to be…ET! (And have some Reese’s Pieces on me!) Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
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