Random Thoughts On Communion

     My church celebrated Communion on the first Sunday of every month. I have people ask, “So, is that when Methodists take Communion then…the 1st Sunday of the month?” And the answer is a decided…maybe! The reality is that there is no “set in stone” schedule for serving Communion by which individual United Methodist churches serve Communion- it is left up to the discretion of each congregation. Some serve it weekly, some serve it month, some serve it quarterly…I would hazard a guess that none serve it less frequently…but I don’t know that for sure! 

     Communion is a fascinating topic- it has been around for about 2,010 years, and subject to interpretation for about 2,009 of those years! Some folks serve only unleaven bread, some serve other types of bread. Some serve only wine, some serve only grape juice, some make both available. In some denominations anyone can serve Communion while in others only clergy can serve. Some faith traditions have guidelines about how old one has to be before thy can take Communion…others do not. Some churches only allow members to take Communion, others allow all to partake.      
     Frankly, just about ANY derivation of the basic “bread and cup” format that you can imagine is being done somewhere. For some, that is a cause of stress. They worry that theirs is the only way to serve Communion and if it is not taken that way…then it is flawed. I have a different view, which is frankly one of the reasons I chose United Methodism. 
     I feel that the example of Communion given to us in the Gospels was, like Jesus’ baptism and other things, contextual…that is, it happened in a certain setting, a particular time and place. And because of that contextual nature, it was done the way it was done. In other words, I feel that the specifics of Communion are NOT found so much in the HOW as in the WHY. For me, it is a representational meal that is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual commitment to Jesus Christ- when I serve or take Communion, I am stating publicly that I choose to be a follower of Jesus. Further, by having an “open Communion” (anyone is welcome), I am reinforcing Jesus’ Gospel message that His grace and salvation are for everyone!
     How do YOU take Communion? What is YOUR understanding of what it is, what it means? Notice I said “I feel” and “I think” in this article. Your thoughts are just as valid as mine. So…what are they? How do you view this rather mysterious rite of the Church? I’m curious to know! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

A Plethora of Questions

     I’m a curious person. I always want to know “why?”, which causes some people some stress (like my mom, when I was growing up!) With that in mind, I offer you a collection of questions today. I would be curious to know your answer to any of them…as well as any questions YOU have in this vein!

1. Why do doctors leave the exam room when you change? They’re going to see you naked anyway. 

2. Why is there a disclaimer on the Allstate Insurance commericals that says “Not available in all states”? 
3. How far east can you go before you’re heading west? 
4.Do dentists and barbers go to other people to have their teeth and hair worked on…or do they just do it themselves? 
5. Why is it that everyone driving faster than you is an idiot and everyone driving slower than you is a moron? 
6. Why do things with artificial grape or banana flavoring not taste anything like real grapes or banana?
7. Is there a difference between normal ketchup and fancy ketchup? 
8. Why is the Lone Ranger called ‘Lone’ if he always has Tonto with him? 
9. When does it stop being partly cloudy and start being partly sunny?
10. In the song Yankee Doodle, what exactly is he calling “macaroni”? 
11. Is there a statute of limitations on fortune cookie predictions? 
12. Can something be “new” AND “improved” at the same time?
13. If laughter is the best medicine, why do we die laughing? 
14. Why does caregiver and caretaker mean the same thing?
15. Exactly how fast DO hotcakes sell?
16. Why do people never say “it’s only a game” when they’re winning?
17. Why is it called a funny bone- when you hit it, it’s not funny at all?
18. Why does dishwashing liquid contain real lemons but lemon juice contains artificial flavorings?
19. What do Greeks say when they don’t understand something? 
20. What do the British call English muffins? 
21. Why is the Department of Interior in charge of everything outdoors?
22. What do people in China call their good dishes?
23. If you put a chameleon in a room full of mirrors, what color would it turn?
24. Why do we press the start button to turn off the computer?
25. How old do you have to be before you can die of old age?
26. If nobody buys a ticket to a movie do they still show it?
27. How do you know when you’ve run out of invisible ink? 
28. Why do we constantly look in the refrigerator hoping that something new has magically appeared?
29. Can you “stare off into space” when you’re in space?
30. Why is there a light in the fridge and not in the freezer? 
31. If you soak a raisin in water, does it turn back into a grape?
32. Why do they call steam rollers, steam rollers? They don’t produce, get rid of, or have anything to do with steam 
33. What is another word for “thesaurus”?

     Are you thinking about these things? Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Church League Softball…the Saga Continues!

     I have shared before about the ongoing saga of my church league softball team. Last year was our first year of existence. We were in the B League (there is A, B, C, D) and we went OH for the season! In other words, we won NO games! We TIED the last game of the season (which was the first game of the playoffs), but that was AFTER we had to forfeit because we didn’t have enough players! (We borrowed 2 of their players and played anyway!)

     This season, we moved DOWN a division- from B to C. (We seriously discussed moved to D…but decided against it!) We started the season with 3 straight losses…OK…maybe that move to the D League wasn’t such a bad idea after all! But then…a surprising thing happened…we WON! We had to go into extra innings to do it, but we actually won a game. There was MUCH rejoicing in Mudville THAT night, I can tell you! The next week…we won AGAIN! Again it took extra innings, but a win is a win! Next week, another win! (And this time…NO extra innings!) Next week…WIN! So, for those of you keeping score at home, that’s 4 straight wins…truly amazing! 
     That brings us to this past Monday night. We were playing the best team in our league…they had won 8 and lost only 1. We were a bit concerned that our new-found streak would be broken. We had a sub at 2nd base, but the rest of our “regular” team was there. At the end of the first inning, we were down 2-0 and it looked like our fears were founded. But at the end of the 2nd inning we were tied at 2, and at the end of 3 innings we were ahead 6-2. From there, we never looked back and won the game 13-6. FIVE IN A ROW! If this is a dream…I don’t want to wake up!
     On a personal note, this old guy didn’t do TOO badly in the field- I had 2 hits in 4 at bats, scored a run, drove in 2 runs, and made a dandy little play from out in front of home plate! (At my age and in my physical condition, my goal at each game is simply not to embarrass myself!) 
     It’s been really cool to see this team stick together through adversity (and let me tell you, 16 straight losses over 2 seasons is adversity!) and it’s been really cool to see them reap some rewards for that perseverance. Life is seldom easy…but it can be very rewarding. And I find that, even though I NEVER want the adversity, I almost always come out the other side of it a bit stronger than I was when I went in. Sometimes, just showing up consistently is the key to long-term success! I’ll keep you posted as to how the rest of the season goes- we are almost to the playoffs, where ONE loss means your season’s over! Pray for us!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Unbutton Your Tent!

    I recently attended two events where tents were featured prominently. I officiated at a wedding where the reception was in a large tent and my church is in the middle of our annual “sell pork chop sandwiches at the county fair” event which is held in a tent. 

     At the wedding, the tent was air-conditioned and had big fans going, so it was pretty comfortable…until the power went out! Then, the only hope for survival was to unbutton the walls of the tent and drop them, letting fresh air in. (The air DID come back on after about an hour- it was a WELCOME relief!)
     At the county fair, the tent is not nearly as pretty, but very serviceable. It provides not only a place to prepare and sell the sandwiches, but storage for everything we need AND seating for folks who buy food and want someplace to eat it!! At the end of the night, we have to button up the tent. We spend a few minutes going around the perimeter, hoisting up the rather heavy and cumbersome walls and snapping them into place for the night. The next day, before we open for business, we have to unbutton the tent again.
     In both cases, it strikes me that UNbuttoning the tent is the key to good things happening. At the wedding, the FIRST thing that was done when that power went out was drop those walls- the fresh air and slight breeze, while still HOT, felt pretty darn good under the circumstances! Likewise, buttoning up the tent for the night at the county fair closes it off from ANY contact with the outside world, while unbuttoning it in the morning is the sign that we are “ready to receive”!  
     How about YOUR “tent”? Do you live your life all buttoned up, working hard to keep others out, or do you drop your walls and invite folks into your life? If you’re like a lot of people, you keep the walls fairly tight, guarding carefully against who you will let in. But you’ll notice that, in BOTH stories, good things happened when the walls came down. Fresh air, a new wind, an invitation that others are welcome- all of that came from unbuttoning the walls. 
     Try something for me- start unbuttoning your walls. Now, if they are shut up pretty tight, you may not want to just let all 4 sides drop all at once- that might be a bit more than you are ready for at one time! But you CAN drop one side- it will let a BIT of fresh air and sunlight in AND some folks will be in the right place to see it and wander in. As you get more accustomed to the concept, you can let more and more of the walls down until finally…all four sides are open, the fresh wing and the sunlight are pouring in, and people see that they are being welcomed into your life. THAT’S when really good things start to happen…when you open yourself to the possibilities!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Man, the Myth, the Legend…John Wesley!

     You gotta love the guy in the picture. He could ALMOST be seen as a rock star- the long, flowing hair, the robe, that…collar…thing….I could have seen Elton John, from his earlier days, coming out on stage looking like this! But it is NOT a rock star…far from it in fact. That is a picture of John Wesley- the founder of what is now United Methodism. He was born and raised in England, the son of Samuel and Suzanna Wesley. He only stepped foot on the North American continent once- with rather inauspicious results! And yet, he laid the groundwork for one of the largest Protestant denominations in the world. 

     The funny thing is- he NEVER intended to start a new denomination. This is NOT a Martin Luther “nailing grievances on the door of the church” sort of thing. Wesley just wanted to “awaken” folks, as he had been awaken at a Bible Study, to the abiding love of God. But his passion spread- he sent missionaries to The New World and that lad to The Baltimore Christmas Conference and the forming of the Methodist Episcopal Church- the forerunner to the denomination in which I serve. His brother Charles was no slouch, either- he wrote more than 4,000 hymns in his lifetime, many of which are in our hymnal.
     What I find perhaps most interesting about the story of John Wesley is where the name Methodist came from. His college buddies gave it to him as a way to poke a bit of fun at him- he was SO methodical in everything he did that they called him a Methodist…and it stuck! It seems almost appropriate that the name of this denomination comes from college guys poking fun at someone! The United Methodist Church is founded on principles that now manifest themselves in the slogan, “Open doors, open minds, open hearts”. While us Methodists are far from perfect, I greatly appreciate the fact that we strive to not only open our doors to everyone, but also our minds AND our hearts! Thank you, John Wesley….you Methodist you!!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Please leave Your Name After the BEEP

      I think I should write a book called “How To Leave a Voice Mail Message”. (I don’t necessarily mean to sound like my mother here…but I fear that I do! Oh well!) I had to call someone back recently who left a message on the church answering machine and I had NO idea what their name was. I wouldn’t have know the number either if it weren’t for Caller ID. (By the way, I had my Office Administrator call back, coward that I am!!) Have you noticed this growing trend? People leave messages like this: “Hi, this is Jkhgafdsj Hjhdjqhh (sounding JUST like that), and I was calling for Bvpohqe (ALSO sounding just like that). My number is 555-5555 (said AS FAST AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE!). CLICK.

     It’s as if people forget that they are talking to a machine. They say their names SO fast and SO garbled that it is impossible to tell what they said- you can narrow it down to EITHER Morton Downey Jr. OR Yackov Smirnov! Then they ramble on and on about why they called, often repeating that information over and over…the only information from the call you DON’T need repeated. That whole section of the recording is punctuated by and inordinate amount of “uhm”, “er”, and excruciatingly painful pauses. Then, almost as an afterthought, they throw their phone number at you, spoken faster that a hummingbird’s wings beat…and then they hang up! 
     Now, you might be saying, “Well, you DO have Caller ID…DON’T you?” Yes…I am a card-carrying member of the 21st Century! But the reality is that the name and/or number don’t always come up on Caller ID. (I don’t know WHY that is…just THAT it is!) There really is no reason to HAVE voice mail of any kind if folks can’t/won’t leave a helpful message. So…here is that book I’m going to write…boiled down to a paragraph!
     How to leave a voice mail message: 1. dial the phone number you wish to call (always a good start to a phone call!), 2. wait for what seems like an excessive amount of time for the voice mail to kick in, 3. GREET THEM! “Hi!”, 4. Tell them your name, slowly and clearly– “This is Paris Hilton” (only don’t actually SAY Paris Hilton…unless of course your name IS Paris Hilton! Otherwise…insert YOUR name there!), 5. tell them why you called…be concise and to the point! Imagine you’re on the receiving end of the call…what would YOU want to hear?, 6. tell them the phone number you would like them to call you back at…SLOWLY, 7. REPEAT the phone number, 8. Remind them who you are, 9. tell them the time and day you called, 10. tell them to “have a great day”…or some other positive thought like that, 11. hang up (always a key to the overall completion of the call!) 
     Think about what YOU would want to receive in a voice mail…and do it. Imagine if we all did that? In the words of that late, great theologian Louie Armstrong, “and I think to myself, what a wonderful world”! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

I’m A’Scared, Mr. Quigley!

     There’s a Christian children’s video series out there called Quigley’s Village. It’s about a guy, Mr. Quigley…a REAL guy, who lives in Quigley’s Village…all the other residents are puppets. Back in the day, I agreed to look at it “on speculation”- either keep it and pay for it or send it back. At that time in my ministry I was very involved in youth and children’s ministries, so I gave it a shot. When I received it, I became aware of the fact that it was aimed at pre-schoolers…YOUNGER pre-schoolers. I watched 2 episodes (there were maybe 10 in total) and said to my wife, “This just might be the DUMBEST thing I’ve ever seen!” Her reply? “YOU’RE not 3 years old, either!” Good point! She suggested that I have a screening for the 3-year old girl who lived across the street at the time. I did…she LOVED it! Wanted to watch ALL of them!

     There was an episode of that series called Scary Sounds in the Campground– Overcoming Fear. In the episode, Mr. Quigley takes the guys camping and they have a great time eating and telling stories…until bedtime, when one of the puppets hears strange noises. The noises get louder and imaginations run wild. The episode is about how to feel more secure, how to confront your fears. Fear is a powerful, often misunderstood thing. What IS fear?

     Dictionary.com says that fear is- “a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil or pain; the feeling or condition of being afraid, concern or anxiety. I’m not afraid of heights- I’ve been 30′ in the air sliding along a zip line and 1,000′ in the air strapped to a thin cable that was attached…WAY down there…to a speed boat. I’m not afraid of exciting, high-impact things- I’ve white-water rafted rapids in Montana and West Virginia that are among the most dangerous in the country. I’m not afraid of COMMITMENT- I have been married to the same beautiful woman for 25 years and 19 days and have loved EVERY minute of it! I’m really not afraid of much…except snakes! That’s right- ophidiophobia…the abnormal fear of snakes. Remember the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark? Indiana Jones jumps in the plane…and finds a BIG snake on his lap. He freaks out and yells to the pilot Jock, “There a SNAKE in the plane!” Jock replies, “Oh, that just my pet snake Reggie!” Indy says, “I HATE snakes, Jock! Hate ’em!” And Jock replies…to Indiana Jones, mind you, “Come on…show some backbone!” I know we’re NOT supposed to hate things…but I hate snakes, Jock! Hate ’em! Don’t even like to see the on TV or behind thick glass at the zoo! (Shudder) Creeps me out…just thinking about them!

     What are YOU afraid of? Anybody out there willing to share? There are ALL sorts of specific phobias out there- but there ARE 3 well-defined types of phobias: 1. Specific or simple phobias- fear of an certain object or situation…snake, for instance, 2. Social phobias- fear of embarrassment or humiliation in social settings…many have this regarding public speaking, and 3. Agoraphobia- a general fear of being away from a safe place. Today, we’re going to consider that last one, a general fear of being away from a safe place, as we look at Psalm 19.

Psalm 19 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. 3 There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. 4 Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun, 5 which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. 6 It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is hidden from its heat. 7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. 8 The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. 9 The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. 10 They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. 11 By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. 12 Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults. 13 Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression. 14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

     There was a parachute regiment, and during nighttime exercises the group’s leader sat next to a young officer who was making his 1st solo jump. He was looking a bit pale. The leader said to him, “Are you scared, lieutenant?” “No, sir.” he replied. “Apprehensive.” The leader asked, “What’s the difference between scared and apprehensive?” “Apprehensive means I’m scared…with a university education!”

    There are all kinds of things that try and rob our joy at any given moment….fear is perhaps #1 on that list. In the midst of it all, we have this Psalm, 19, that is ALL about how awesome and wise God is. From start to finish. Period. So what it the crazy preacher talking about…fear? Did you notice, nestled almost right smack in the middle of this Psalm, is verse 9? And verse 9 says, “The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever.” The fear of the Lord. What EXACTLY IS the fear of the Lord? Well, I shared the dictionary definition of the word fear…but I left one part of the definition out. It also says that fear is “to have reverential awe of something…especially God”. The fear of God is an awesome respect or reverence growing out of the greatness and power of God. 

In The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis portrays God as a lion, just as John does in the New Testament Book of Revelation. Lewis’ lion, Aslan, is fierce and powerful, yet tender. His wrath is terrible, but His love and tenderness are infinite. Lewis says: “As the Lion passed by they were terribly afraid He would turn and look at them, yet in some odd way they wished He would. Naturally one would be nervous meeting a lion! The question was asked to one who knew this Lion well, Is He safe?” I find the answer both wise and startling: Safe? Who said anything about safe? Of course He isn’t safe. But He’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” There’s a difference between saying God is our friend and God our “Good Buddy”. I mean, I’m very comfortable with our new bishop, the Rev. Gregory Palmer, but when I walk in his office I don’t put my feet on his desk and say, How’s it goin’, Greg?!”

     If God is so loving, kind and compassionate, why are we supposed to fear Him?  Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” True wisdom comes from Godly fear. If we reject God, we cut ourselves off from our only source of true wisdom. We might APPEAR wise, but we are all too often foolish if we don’t fear God. The fear of God is the one fear that removes all the others. If we cast our cares on Him, we can become fearless. In John 14, Jesus, the Lion of Judah says, “Fear not, for I am with you. I will never leave you or forsake you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

     One summer night during a severe thunderstorm a mother was tucking her small son into bed. She was about to turn the light off when he asked in a trembling voice, “Mommy, will you stay with me all night?” Smiling, the mother gave him a warm, reassuring hug and said tenderly, “I can’t dear. I have to sleep in Daddy’s room.” A long silence followed. At last it was broken by a shaky voice saying, “The big sissy!”

     The Hebrew word for this kind of fear is yirah, which points to piety and reverence as opposed to abject terror.  This ISN’T “I serve God because if I don’t He’ll zap me!” Hardly a perfect motive! It’s the difference between “servile fear”…the fear of getting in trouble…and “filial fear”…the fear of offending someone you love. There is only one kind of fear God wants us to have. The fear of the Lord acknowledges the “otherness” of God, which deserves recognition and respect on our part. It involves worship and awe- God’s love and goodness should inspire awe and worship in our hearts. God deserves our reverent worship and desires our close fellowship.  

     The Fear of the Lord is the convergence of awe, reverence, adoration, honor, worship, confidence, thankfulness and love. Our love and obedience should be inspired and empowered by our worship and awe of God. There was a time when committed Christians were God-fearing people- it was a badge of honor. But somewhere along the way we lost it. Now the idea of fearing God seems like a relic from a bygone age. But old-fashioned or not, let’s pray that we will once again be God-fearing people. Because if we fear God, we have nothing else to fear!

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