God Needed Another Angel…And Other Non-Helpful Comments

      I spent the day yesterday at the local high school as part of a team of counselors, helping students and staff deal with a local tragedy that happened over the weekend. (See yesterday’s entry for more details.) I was impressed with both the students and the staff- they really pulled together and helped each other get through the day. They were an inspiration.       

     As I moved through the day, going from conversation to conversation, I was reminded of what I feel to be one of the worst things we can do when we are talking to someone who has experienced some kind of loss. How many times have you heard one of the following? “God needed another angel.” Or “It was his/her time.” Or “it was God’s will.” We have ALL heard them…and probably ALL said them as well. And when we say them…when anyone says them…we do so with the best of intentions. We want SO desperately to say something that will offer comfort to people who are hurting that we say things that simply…don’t help. Let me explain.
     We want so badly to provide meaning in a difficult situation, so want to answer that burning question…”Why?”…that we say those things. But have YOU ever found solace in one of those sayings? Have you ever had someone say one of those things and said to yourself, “Well, that does it…it all makes sense now!” Of course not…how could you? The answer to “Why?” is NOT because it was his/her time. It’s NOT because God needed another angel. It’s also NOT because it was God’s will. I find, instead, that those answers are veiled indictments of God- blaming Him for bad things that happen.
     So what IS the answer to the question “Why?”, Mr. Smartpants Preacher Man? The answer, often, is that accidents happen. In a fallen world…bad things happen. Sometimes they happen because someone CHOSE to act in a way that would be harmful to others, and sometimes they happen because an unintentional, accidental string of events played out in such a way that the end result was catastrophic. 
     So, next time you are in a situation where your inclination is to offer one of these well-worn but ineffective responses…fight the urge. Instead, be willing to tell the person you’re talking to that you simply don’t know why…there IS no way to know why. Once you experience the freedom of NOT having to have all the answers, you are much more able to offer true comfort to that other person!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

When Tragedy Strikes

      It was Saturday, about 4:45PM. I was driving through my home town in Southern Illinois, taking my family and my wife’s parents to dinner (mother-in-law’s birthday) when I got the call. It was someone from where my wife works. The staff phone tree had been activated- a staff member had died in a freak accident. Not much was known at that time…just that the staff member had died. A 2nd phone call later that evening brought more details…and a request that I be involved in the staff meeting that would take place this morning. And while the details helped better clarify what happened…it didn’t make it any easier.

     The details of this particular event are better left to another time and another place- suffice it to say that a community is hurting and a family is devastated. But this overwhelming tragedy raised an issue that comes up somewhat often in my line of work. I can’t imagine how many times, in the midst of a terrible tragedy, I have been asked, “Why do things like this happen? Why would God do such a thing?” Clearly, what those kinds of questions signify is someone in great despair…searching for answers. And they turn to me, as the resident clergy, wanting me to tell them something that will explain it all, put everything in perspective in such a way that it all makes sense. And I must tell you, when I am in that position, I would like NOTHING better than to offer them just that. It would make life so much more…simple…if there were tidy answers to the difficult questions. Frankly, it would make my job easier…and make me look much…smarter…it that were the case. But sadly, it doesn’t work that way.
     The reality is this…there ARE no easy answers. But there ARE answers. And here they are. The 1st question was: “Why do things like this happen?” And the God’s honest truth? I haven’t the foggiest idea why they happen. The 2nd question was: “Why would God do such a thing?” And the answer to that one is…He didn’t. And I will admit right up front- this is where I tend to diverge from many of my fellow clergy. I do NOT believe God causes everything that happens TO happen. I believe a great many things that happen in this world happen because we live in an imperfect, fallen world. Because accidents happen. Because people get sick. Because…because…because. And that stresses a great many people. “Well, I thought God was all-knowing, all-seeing and all that? If he IS, then He caused this bad thing to happen. And if He’s NOT…then why in the world would I want to follow HIM?!” Valid thoughts, to be sure. Understandable, especially under terrible circumstances. But the God I understand, the God I know, the God I have experienced as a major part of my life for the past 2 1/2 decades…would NEVER cause what happened on Saturday. It’s not in God’s nature to intentionally create that kind of pain, that kind of devastation. 
     The logical follow-up, then is- “If God didn’t CAUSE it…then God ALLOWED it…right?” If you follow the train of thought from “God can do anything God chooses to do”, it easily leads to “God allowed this to happen”, and in that sense…yes…God allowed it. He could have stopped it…and didn’t. Well, then…Mr. Preacher Man…WHY? WHY did/would God allow it? I have to confess…I have no earthly idea. You see, I think in incredibly finite terms, while God looks at things in marvelously infinite terms. 
     So… where is God in the middle of tragedy? With us…that’s where. Sometimes walking behind us, gently nudging us forward. Sometimes walking in front of us, encouraging us to keep moving. Sometimes walking alongside us, arm in arm. And sometimes, when we are at our lowest, He carries us. And through it all, He laughs when we laugh…and weeps when we weep. I am certain God is weeping with the people of the community I serve, as well as people everywhere who mourn this day. God is with us, in the middle of life, good, bad, and everywhere in between. 
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Creative Thinking

     Question #1- How do you put a giraffe in the fridge? You open the fridge, put the giraffe in…and close the door! This questions tests whether you tend to do simple things in overly complicated ways.

     Question #2- How do you put an elephant in the fridge? You open the fridge, take out the giraffe, put in the elephant…and close the door! This question tests your ability to think through the repercussions of your actions.
     Question #3- The Lion King hosts an animal conference and all the animals come…but one. Which one? The elephant- he’s in the fridge! This question tests your memory. Even if you didn’t get the 1st 3 right, you can surely answer this one!
     Question #4- You must cross a river that is inhabited by crocodiles. How do you do it? You swim across- all the crocodiles are at the Animal conference! This question tests whether you learn quickly from your mistakes.
     90% of professionals who took that quiz got them all wrong, while many preschoolers who took it got several right!
     Do you like to color? Do you always carefully color within the lines, or are you sometimes unwilling or unable to follow the rules? Today I want to challenge you to look at words like “faith” and “church” from a different perspective. Why DO we do the things we do? Is there room “outside the box” for God and Church? Is there really even a “box”? Today we focus on creative thinking as it applies to faith. Creativity is the ability to bring into existence, invest with new form or produce by imaginative skill. The power to connect the seemingly unconnected, the ability to do things a new way is a wonderful and rare thing.
     What would you say is the most creative force on the planet today? Hollywood? The business world?  The Internet? What about…God?! The church SHOULD be the most creative force in any community. Why? because God’s there! And if you don’t think God is so creative, look at the night sky, the stars. Or look at the earth itself, with the wildlife, the flowers, the amazing beauty. Imagine for a minute a world without form- nothing but void and darkness. Suddenly, God speaks and brings forth light. From there, He forms the earth, with its water, and plants, and animals. And then, in a great act of love- He creates human life. God clearly doesn’t like the dull, the boring, the routine. He has demonstrated His creativity through His Creation. Did you know that the retina has 100 million light-receptor cells, with cones and rods that convert light to electro-chemical energy? The eye is a delicate camera that takes 196 color photos/second. It has its own light meter and cleaning equipment. It also has self-repairing abilities. Amazing.
     Some see God as dull and boring, while sin, on the other hand, is fun and exciting. But in the end, nothing could be further from truth. Imagine how boring life would be without God’s creativity? God could have made one thing and multiplied it an infinite number of times, but instead He exhibits unfathomable creativity by the variety of His creation. The Bible begins with the creation of heaven and earth and it ends with the creation of a new heaven and a new earth. Science says all of this is simply an accident of nature, there is no real reason, life just…began, and from there it was simply survival of the fittest and natural selection. But if that’s true, then where does our appreciation for art, music, literature and poetry come from? Where does our creativity come from? Actor Alan Alda said, “The creative is a place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of comfort and go into the wilderness of intuition. What you discover there is wonderful. What discover there is…yourself.” Einstein said, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, while the rational mind is a faithful servant. However, we have created a society that honors the servant, but has forgotten the gift.”
     When people think they can’t, they won’t. They are many myths about creativity. here are 5 of them: 1. “I’m not creative”- we are all creative, but we often become parrots, just repeating clever things with no effort made toward creative ideas. When we do that, we learn to inhibit our creativity. 2. “That’s a stupid idea”- we have a habit of censoring creative ideas, telling ourselves that our ideas are stupid. 3. “Creative people always have great ideas”- no they don’t- they always have ideas…some are good, and some are not so good. They have learned to throw them all against the wall and see which ones stick. 4. “Constructive criticism helps others improve their ideas”- tripping a child when they are learning to walk doesn’t help improve their walking skills! Criticism squelches creativity and teaches people to keep their ideas to themselves. Fresh ideas need nurturing, not kicking. 5. “If ain’t broke, don’t fix it”- too many people feel there is no need to change what currently works. Good thing Dr. Hans von Ohain and Sir Frank Whittle didn’t think that – or we’d still be flying propeller airplanes. You see, propeller airplanes worked perfectly fine when they invented the jet engine!
     Birds fly with the wind, rivers wind because they take the path of least resistance. But we aren’t meant to live that way, taking the easy path- our lives are meant to be lived. But things that are new, creative and fresh are often looked upon with suspicion, not fascination. We tend to stifle creativity for the convenience of the known, the recognizable, and the measurable. But a Christian life based solely on yesterday’s repetitive patterns never results in its full potential.
     A company hired a consulting group to come in and increase creativity. So, they tested all the employees. The only difference they found? Creative employees believed they were creative, while less creative employees believed they weren’t! God is creative- and we are made in His image! Therefore, we should value creativity…because we are inherently creative. God created and gifted each of us with a tremendous amount of creative potential. I challenge you to tap into your God-given creativity and find new ways to serve. Use your potential for God’s glory. Because creativity gives birth to New Life. Brennan Manning, in The Importance of Being Foolish, said,
“The Church of Jesus Christ is a place of promise and possibility, adventure and discovery. But security seekers are enemies of openness. Insistence on preserving the status quo thwarts innovation and spontaneity; wanting to keep things the way they are automatically introduces new insecurity with more cautions, threats and nervous tension.” 
     Are you creative? Do you want to be? Do you believe God is more creative than the world? Are you willing to open up to His creative force? Are you willing to pray and ask God to help you be more creative? I believe in a big God Who calls us to big and creative things. We need to be a “possibility” people. Are you ready to become more creative? 1st- think about all the reasons reasons why you are NOT creative: “I never have been been, I haven’t had a new idea in ages, I don’t have the time!” Then…reverse those and make them positive: “I AM creative, I have LOTS of new ideas, I don’t need more time because I already AM creative!”  Do that every day…and see what happens. Join me on creative journey- see how God can use you!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed Sunday! Please make sure and stop by tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Combination Lock Theology

     My youngest son just started Middle School. One of the “rites of passage” there is getting a lock for your locker. So, we went to the office the 1st full day of school and purchased one. The nice woman at the counter even tested it to make sure it worked…and it did! So I handed him the lock and said, “Do you want me to show you how to open it before you go to class?” He assured me that he knew how. I reminded him that he had, to date, NEVER actually opened a combination lock, but he was certain he could. So I told he me could NOT lose the paper that had the combination on it (although I had already memorized it! Remember…this is NOT my 1st rodeo!) and sent him on his way. 

     After school, I asked him about his day (Remember the scene in the movie “The Breakfast Club”? “How’s your day, pal?!” I have become that!) and then asked him about the lock. His reply? “It’s broken!” “Broken? How could it POSSIBLY be broken? You JUST got it!” Then I understood…it wasn’t broken…he was simply unable to get it opened! So we had him bring it home and gave him a the 2-minute training on how to open a combination lock. Now he’s a pro! 
     If you don’t approach a combination lock with the correct steps (turn it all the way around to the right once, then stop at the first number, then to the left PAST the first number and stop at the second number, then to the right again stop at the last number), you will NOT get the lock open. It doesn’t matter how many times you try, or where you stand, or what words you utter or scream, it simply isn’t going to open without the correct approach. 
     The Christian faith is a bit like that as well. I know LOTS of people who say, “I’m a good person, I’m nice to others, I volunteer at the homeless shelter….that’s enough to get into Heaven!” And while appreciate the fact that those folks do all those good things, that’s NOT exactly the combination to get into Heaven. In the Gospel of Matthew, the “powers that be” try to trick Jesus into choose one of the Commandments over the other nine, thereby breaking both tradition and law. They say, “Which is the greatest of the Commandments?” But Jesus, in true Jesus fashion, outsmarts them with His answer, “Love the Lord your God with all you heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” 
     As it all turns out, THAT’S the combination to Heaven. Love God, love neighbor. You may be saying, “That’s IT?” Yep…that’s it. But hearing it and understanding it intellectually is one thing…living it out in  praxis is quite another. In my HEAD I understand it, but do my day-to-day actions reflect that understanding? Do we REALLY love God with everything we have, and do we REALLY love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves? 
     People want to establish their own criteria for everything…including “God stuff”. But it doesn’t work that way. God is our Creator, and as such has earned the right to establish some guidelines…the combination, if you will. But look at it this way- these particular guidelines are pretty simply to understand. They are not at all complicated. As I mentioned before, they can be a challenge to live out…but easy to understand. So…love God, love neighbor…and the rest will figure itself out!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Do the Wise Men Prove the Bible Wrong?

     I have a collection of Nativity scenes in my office. (I know…yesterday was St. Louis Cardinal memorabilia, today Nativity scenes. You’re thinking, “Just how big IS your office?” Let me assure, not very!) I currently have 7 different Nativities. One is very representational, with the characters put out of wood. One is pretty small and “Precious Moments”-ish. (Insert your joke here!) One is rather large and “traditional” and was given to me by a parishioner when he downsized to a smaller home. And the list goes one. Big, small, old new, you name it, it’s covered in those 7 scenes. Of course they all have the baby Jesus. (Wouldn’t really be much of a Nativity without Him now, would it?) They all have Mary and Joseph. They all have some number of shepherds and sheep- the number varies from one to the next. And they all have Wise Men…again the number varies from scene to scene. And there you have it- the classic understanding of the Nativity. But it’s incorrect!

     We traditionally include the Wise Men in the Nativity scene…as if they were actually at the stable when Jesus was a baby. But if you read the Gospels, you find that they didn’t get to Jesus until He was around 2 years old. So clearly they weren’t at the stable. And yet, we put them in the scene. Why? I think the answer to that question points to a larger truth about studying the Bible and applying it to your life. In my opinion, we include them in the Nativity because, in the larger picture, they are a part of the rather sketchy childhood of Jesus. There is almost NO information to be found in the Bible about His life from birth to about age 30. But the Wise Men story is one of the few detailed accounts we get…and He was a small child when it happened. Therefore, we include them in the scene. 
     I have had people say, “Yeah, but they weren’t there!” And they then extrapolate that out to a larger understanding of the Bible as a whole, arguing that this detail and that detail don’t agree, or that there is NO way 3 million people crossed the parted Red Sea, or how could Moses have written the first 5 book of the Old testament when it includes the description of his death? The bottom line is this- if your goal is to “proof-text” the Bible, looking for anything that could be called into question, you have lots of ammunition. AND…you have the entirely wrong approach to reading the Bible! Because we say that the Bible is a history book, people want to use that to make their claim that the Bible is false…since not every fact is logically and perfectly laid out. (I would argue, however, that even the history books…the ones in classrooms across the country…are revisionist and written by the winners. I guarantee other folks have a much different perspective about some of the classic stories from history that we hold dear!) 
     Here’s my perspective on this whole “is the Bible TRUE or not” question. YES…the Bible is true. Is the Bible absolutely 100% accurate in every detail it records from literally the dawn of time? Probably not. Does that matter? Not to me. here’s an example. In seminary, I had a professor who went on and on and on…and on some more…about how the Bible couldn’t possibly be accurate about the number of people it suggests crossed over that parted Red Sea mentioned above. “Instead of 3 million, it was more like 50,000!” My response, which was NOT met with great enthusiasm, was, “So what?” Is the story about exactly how many people were there…or the amazing grace and power of God to deliver His people in their hour of need. I choose B., and therefore how many people were there is suddenly irrelevant. Just like it really doesn’t matter to me that all of my Nativities have Wise Men in them. The Bible IS a history of God’s people…and a history of God’s love for those people. It was written over thousands of years by bunches of people, translated into a gozillion (or so!) languages…and, after all these years, it still holds timeless insight into what it means to be a child of God! I’d welcome YOUR thoughts on the Bible…what IS it?
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Bordering On Obsession

      I am a St. Louis Cardinal baseball fan. I have hesitated to say much about that to this point, because I live in Central Illinois and the Cards/Cubs rivalry is HUGE here! But the truth is, growing up in the St. Louis area, I am a lifelong Cardinals fan. And having been fortunate enough to grow up in an area whose local team is fairly successful, I have been rewarded over the years with competitive teams…and few World Series titles. (I try HARD to forget the 70’s, however!) The accompanying picture is of one wall in my office at church. That is just a PART of the Cardinal memorabilia I have on display. In fact, there is a sign on my door that says, “St. Louis Cardinals Clubhouse- Pass Required”! I will readily admit that my love of baseball in general and the Cardinals specifically borders on the obsessive! 

     As humans, we’re obsessed with lots of things. Along with baseball, I love technology, reading, animals and hanging with my family. I know people who are obsessed with cars, money, real estate, status, or any number of other things. Quite frankly, you COULD be obsessed with almost anything. But what ARE you obsessed with? And if you feel that “obsessed” is too strong a word…I’ll give you that. Then what are you passionate about? What is it that really floats your boat? What gets you up in the morning and motivates you to go out into another day? Think hard now…and be honest with yourself. What is it? Got it?  
     OK…is it…God? Again- think hard…be honest. Most would agree in theory that, of course, God is the “correct” answer (Well, of course Pastor- God is #1 with a bullet!”)…but is it YOUR answer? I would hazard to guess that, if we’re honest with ourselves, God is NOT the answer nearly enough of the time. We have the BEST of intentions, we really do, but all too often, life gets in the way. Deadlines at work, kids having to go 9,000 places, bills to pay, laundry, cooking, mowing…the list never ends. And when Sunday comes, we simply want to collapse! (I recently had someone tell me, “I was going to come to church last Sunday, but I realized it was my only day to sleep in…so I did.”) In the midst of all that, it’s pretty easy to lose sight of God. But Matthew 6:33 says, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” 
     What I hear from that is that, if we put God 1st in our lives, then everything else will tend to take care of itself. If we focus our 1st and our best on the One Who created us…it has a positive impact on every other aspect of our lives. So, again- where do you expend your energy? And perhaps a better question- where do you expend your “free time” energy? People have to go to work- it’s a reality of life. But what do you do with the time that YOU get to decide about? My advice? Seek 1st the kingdom of God…and His righteousnesses…and the other things will be added to it…by your Creator! And really…how awesome is THAT? Now…if you’ll excuse me, there’s a Cardinal game on!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Honor System Vegetables

      On the outskirts of town is a genuine anomaly. A true puzzle. Right there. On the edge of town. It’s…ready?…a produce stand. I KNOW…right?! Now, I’m sure you’re thinking, “Big whoop, preacher man! A produce stand? You’re going all ape-y over…a produce stand? You’ve finally gone off the deep end!” You MAY be right! BUT…this particular produce stand is… different. It’s run on the Honor System!

     If you’re like my kids, you don’t even know what the Honor System is. It hasn’t been used in so long…I think the last time I saw it, I was climbing down off my dinosaur to purchase a new cave! Well…here’s what the Honor System is- you walk into this produce stand (a pole barn) and there, sure enough, is produce! (Ergo the name!) Tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, corn, whatever happens to have been harvested the night before. What’s missing, however, is a human being. What? No sales clerk? How can that be? Because it’s the…say it with me…Honor System! You pick out the produce you want, figure out from the hand-written chart on the wall, what you owe, and slide the money through a slot cut into the top of a tool box that is A) padlocked and bolted to the workbench. Then, you bag your produce…and leave. Remarkable, isn’t it?
     The concept is SO foreign in this day and age. Could you imagine that working in very many settings? You go to Wal-Mart, get your stuff (always WAY more than you intended) and on your way out, you slip your money through a slot cut in a tool box that is A) padlocked and bolted to the work bench. Don’t see THAT happening any time soon! And why is that? Because “honor” isn’t something on which society places a high value any more. Trust is an endangered species. When I was a kid, we didn’t lock our doors. Now, if I’m mowing the back yard, I lock the front door. It’s a different world out there, boys and girls.
     But you know what I find? (I mean, besides a bit more gray in my facial hair every day!) I find that, although it is MUCH harder to see than it used to be, things like honor and trust ARE, in fact, still alive! And I find that the more I exhibit those traits, the more I see them. Likewise, the more I DON’T exhibit them, the LESS I see them. In other words, you get back what you put out. If you walk around, failing to make eye contact, refusing to talk to folks, ignoring simple gestures like holding a door or letting someone go ahead of you at the stop sign, then you are likely to think the world is a cold, harsh, impersonal place. But if you DO those things, then suddenly the world is not so bad after all. Other people are mirrors- they reflect was image we send their way. What image do YOU project? It DOES make a difference…for both you and pretty much everybody who comes in contact with you. Make a conscious effort to reflect the values of the “little produce stand” that could!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Want Some Cheese With That Whine?

     Let me say right up front…I am fully capable of complaining. In fact, there are times when my daily entry on this site is a whine festival. Having said that, however, I TRY not to be a complainer. Life is too short to spend too much time whining about what DID or DIDN’T happen. Or at least it seems that way to me. From experience, obviously not everyone agrees with me! 

     I’m stunned some days to see how many people seem to center their life around complaining. (And let me assure you that, as a pastor, I have a somewhat unique perspective on being on the receiving end of complainers!) Let’s be honest, there are folks that you just KNOW are going to complain. It could be the greatest day EVER in the history of the planet and they would find something to complain about. “There’s a cloud in the sky!”, “The cars aren’t parked in the parking lot correctly!”, “My shoe’s untied!”, “The grass is a funny shade of green!” You get the idea. And we ALL know people like that. (Hopefully we AREN’T people like that!)
     What really gets me is when someone offers a written complaint…and intentionally leaves it anonymous. I am going to be honest here…brutally honest…and call that cowardly. If you are so upset about something that you feel inclined to write it down and turn it in…then have the courage to sign it. An anonymous complaint is toothless- it can’t be confirmed or denied…or even discussed. (When I get those…I put them in that small, round “filing cabinet” that sits next to my desk. You know…the one with the white plastic liner it in?!) 
     The bottom line is this- Life. Is. Short. And…life is precious. It is truly a gift from God. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to always focus on the negative. Life must be SO deadly when your glass is always half empty. Life is going to be hard. Life is going to be difficult. Life is going to throw you curveball after curveball. That’s a given. Therefore…make the most of it. Find the silver lining…and stop focusing on the dark cloud. Look for the positive and don’t always spout the negative. Assume the best of people and tolerate a bit of “not the best”. Smile. It looks SO much better…and it’s actually good for your physical AND mental health!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Time Keeps On Slippin’, Slippin’, Slippin’…

      Remember the Steve Miller song Fly Like An Eagle? (If you don’t…just think “Post Office”! I bet he NEVER envisioned that when he wrote the song!) For me, it is a classic of the era…one of my favorite songs. For my 22-year old son, it’s trite and derivative! (On a side note, as much as I like Steve Miller in general, I have always found it amazing to compare the REST of his work to Fly Like An Eagle. Abracadabra, Jet Airliner, Joker, Jungle Love, Space Cowboy, Swingtown, Take the Money and Run…those a GOOD songs, to be sure, but have a decided…”pop” feel to them. Fly Like An Eagle is so different from them…it’s almost like it was recorded by another band!) Anywho, the song Fly Like An Eagle includes the lyrics, “Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ Into the future.” Amen to that, Steve Miller! Alan Parsons said, “Time

keeps flowing like a river to the sea.” Chicago asked, “Does anybody really know what time it is?” Time is inevitable, ubiquitous, constant…and it affects EVERYONE!
     Which is why I get so frustrated when folks completely ignore it! I’m amazed when others do whatever they want, seemingly oblivious to the fact that their decisions, their actions impact other people with no input into those decisions. You’re supposed to meet someone…and they show up 35 minutes late with no apology and no good reason. You need to do something, but can’t until someone else does something else…and they make you wait forever while they do what they do! You’re ready to leave, but can’t until someone else is ready, too…and they aren’t. You get the picture. Frustrating.
     I wonder, when people do those things, do they do them intentionally…or are they simply unaware that their actions impact others? The reality is, almost everything we do impacts someone else. And yet…I fear we often don’t realize or recognize that. At least most of the time, I don’t believe it to be malicious…just inattentive. We get so wrapped up in what WE’RE doing, that we tend to forget the fact that other people, with their own needs, wants and deadlines are involved, too. 
     I wonder…what would happen if we all agreed to make the needs of OTHERS at least equal in importance to our own needs? Would that be easy to say…yet HARD to do? Would it even be possible? If it WERE possible…what kind of impact would it have? I would like to posit that it IS, in fact, possible. I have NO illusion that it would be EASY…in fact, it would be very hard. But the end result would be…amazing…incredible…miraculous! 
     My challenge to you is this- try putting other people’s needs high on your list for…let’s say…three days. And let’s make it uncomplicated to start with. Focus on the impact your decisions have on others. If you’re at a four-way stop sign, and it’s a bit questionable who got there first…are you really in THAT big of a hurry? Let them go ahead of you. If you are trying to find a parking place and you see one, but someone else is also trying to get it. Would it kill you to walk a few extra steps? Let them have it. Are you working on something, the completion of which impacts someone else’s ability to do something? Then take that in to consideration…and do it. Perhaps the key word to remember today is CONSIDERATION. We need to show more consideration to other people. Try it…and let me know what happens! Right now, I’ve got to run…I’m on a deadline!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Softball Season’s Over

    Well…the season is over! We lost in the 2nd round of the play-offs, and in the play-offs it’s wither “win” or “go home”…there is NOTHING in between! For most teams in the play-offs, losing in the 2nd round can be pretty devastating. But for us, although we DID want to win it all, we HAVE to be happy with losing in the 2nd round!

     Let me explain. If you remember (or even if you don’t!), last year was our first year as a team. We had high hopes…but they were dashed! We went 0 for the season, which means we won NOT ONE GAME! We tied ONE game, but that was A) the first round of the play-offs and AFTER we had to forfeit the game because we didn’t have enough people to play…but then played anyway!
     So…we entered this season without a win as a team. NOT the way you want to enter a season! Then…we lost the first…THREE…games of this season! For those of you keeping score at home, that NO wins last season and NO wins in the first three games THIS season. It gets just a bit…disheartening. Then…the miraculous happened…we WON! And, not be outdone…we won again! And again! And again! And again! So, if you were counting, that’s a record of 5 wins and 3 losses. Amazing, when you consider what led up to it! We split the last two games of the regular season and ended with 6 wins and 4 losses. Then came…the play-offs. Because of rainouts, the play-offs had to be doubled up a bit. Our first game was early in the evening, and if we won, we had to wait an hour and play a second game. Well…we WON the first one! But then, the season came to an end with the second game, which we lost 14-10. 
     1st of all, let me say, “Great season, guys!” You played with heart, sportsmanship and talent, and it was an honor to be a part of the team! Secondly, this season makes me think of how many of us live our lives. So many people face a bit of adversity and they quit. They just give up and move to something else. But my experience is that the only way you ever really get ANYWHERE is by hanging in there when things get hard. If you turn tail and run at the first sign of trouble, then you have no hope of ever really achieving anything of true, lasting value. My dad says it this way, “Anything worth having is worth working for.” Good words, Dad!
     Things tough right now? Hang in there. Keep putting one foot in front of the other, take a good, deep breath periodically, and just keep going. Things WILL get better, and, at the end of it all,  you’ll be so proud of yourself for completing something! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Beyond Lawn Mowing

      I mowed the lawn yesterday! I know…big whoop! You mow the lawn every week…twice a week sometimes. What’s the big deal about the fact that I mowed my lawn? Well…perhaps it’s because I hadn’t mowed it in…ready?…a month! Yes, it’s true- I last mowed the lawn on July 19th. (And yes…2010!) Before you report me to the Bad Neighbor Commission…I have NO cars on blocks in the front yard. There are NO old couches on my front porch. I have flowers planted in the front AND back yards. But I did wait a LONG time to mow the lawn. Here’s the deal. 

     On Sunday, August 1, I was planning on mowing the lawn. It didn’t REALLY need it, but it had been slightly more than a week, so…I was going to mow. But something (I honestly don’t remember what it was) got in the way and it didn’t happen that day. The next day I had available to mow was Tuesday, August 3, but something else got in the way…and I’m WELL aware of what that was. On Monday night, the 2nd of August, I was playing softball…Church League team. I had a poor night at the plate, going hitless in three at-bats. I led off in the last inning with a chance to redeem myself. So I was looked for something to hit, and…I walked on four straight pitches! (Hey, at least I got on base…right?) I was  sacrificed  over to 2nd base, and during that journey I did something to my left foot. I was standing on 2nd base, testing my foot and trying to decide how bad it was, when the next batter got a hit. I took off for 3rd…and nearly went down like a sack of potatoes. It HURT! But I made it to 3rd, where I was promptly waved home by the 3rd base coach! I should NOT have run…but I did. I was thrown out at the plate AND trashed me foot even worse trying to score.
     The next morning, my foot was…BAD! I could barely walk and spent the next 2+ days with a cane. Over the next several days, the foot got slowly better, but I couldn’t play softball…OR mow the lawn. But FINALLY, yesterday, my foot felt good enough to mow. (In the aftermath, the neighbors voted…my family can stay a bit longer!) The funny thing is this- even after 4 weeks, the lawn really wasn’t bad at all. It’s amazing, isn’t it? Earlier in the season, the grass grows like mad…but later in the season, when it gets hot and dry, it slows WAY down. 
     It strikes me that our faith development is like that. There are times when we seem to be hammering on all cylinders. We are feeling good, fulfilled, connected to God. Like is good- the grass is growing well. But then there are other times when we seem to get off track. We feel fuzzy, empty, unconnected. THAT it happens is an indisputable fact. What we DO about it, however, is another story. My experience is that there are people who spend all of their time and energy trying to avoid those “down” times- making sure they don’t happen. Bu that’s not realistic. They ARE going to happen- we’re human, and we live in a fallen world. Some says are diamonds, and some days are stones. So my encouragement to you is this- don’t try to avoid those “down” times- they are inevitable. Instead, see them for what they- a breather. Don’t let them drag you so far down that it’s hard to get back out. But accept them as brief moments of respite that will be followed soon after by a renewed sense of energy and commitment. Oh…and perhaps you need to mow the lawn!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Back To School

       Ah…the first day of school! Remember that? New pencils, new notebook, new gym bag (yes, back in my day, when we rode dinosaurs to school, no one carried a backpack, but we all carried the dreaded but highly sought-after gym bag!), new teacher, new classroom, sometimes new school. And those new clothes! Pre-washed jeans were still but a fantasy in the mind of some R & D guy at the Levis factory. So the new jeans were…STIFF…and made you walk like Frankenstein (all straight-legged and such)! And mom always wanted to get you shirts that, today, would be referred to as “smart casual” but back then were referred to as “your mom make you wear that?”! New sneakers (the cheapest ones you could get when I was younger, blue suede Pumas when I was older and bought them myself) were always on the agenda as well. There was also usually a “back to school” haircut, which would come just about the time your “summer buzz” was starting to grow out! 

     There is something…magical…about the start of a new school year. There is a special feeling in the air, an excitement that is rather rare. Even now, all these years after I stopped being a student (although, if I’m honest, hopefully we never stop being students, whether we are officially in school or not), I still feel that “change in the air”- recognize it as soon as it shows up. And…it’s here…now!
     My 10-year old son starts school tomorrow. He is beginning Middle School…I no longer have anybody in Grade School. Hard to believe! We’ve done all the back to school shopping, the new tennis shoes (“Nobody calls them SNEAKERS, Dad!”) are parked by the front door, ready to head out. The new backpack (actually a satchel this year…ALMOST a gym bag!) is ready, also. The clothes and school supplies are laid out, ready for the 1st day. And it’s ALMOST here!
     Maybe the kids in your community have already started school. Maybe they start in the next few days. Any way you slice it, it is that time of year. Families across the country are knee-deep in change, with everybody’s schedule being re-done to accommodate new events. With that in mind, I would like to take a moment and offer up a prayer for the beginning of a new school year-

“Gracious and loving God, we come to You at the beginning of this new school year, and we lift up all of those affected by its coming. The students, the teachers, the staffs, the families- they are all in the middle of something new. And so we pray that You’re hand would be on them. Keep them safe, give them energy and excitement to start strong…and given them perseverance to stay the course and run the race to its completion. Bless this school year, that it may be a positive, prosperous one for all concerned. It is in Your name that we pray. Amen.” 

     Have a safe, happy, and healthy school year! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

My Near Brush With Almost Greatness

     My younger son and I were sitting in the living room the other day, watching a movie, when the home phone rang. (I don’t know about you, but my home phone rings less and less as my cell phone rings more and more!) I got up, walked over to where the phone was, and checked the Caller ID. It said, “Pitt, Brad”. I looked at it again, just to make sure it really said that. Yep…Pitt, Brad. The area code was one I didn’t recognize. so I decided that it must be some kind of scam or telemarketing ploy and just let the machine get it. I sat back down, and the machine, in fact, DID get it. And, just as I had expected…no message. There. Done. Vindicated. But…I began to get curious, so I Googled the phone number…just to see what I would get! 

     It came back with the information that it was a cell phone, and that it was based out of the area just south of…wait for it…Los Angeles, CA! So now I’m thinking to myself, “Could this have REALLY been THE Brad Pitt? Naw! But…?!” So I told me son what I had found and also told him I was going to call the number back. He said, “What are you going to say?” “Uuummm…I have no idea!” So I called it, and on the 3rd ring, a man picked up with, “Hello?” I told him that I was simply returning a call- that someone from that number had called my house a few minutes ago. He apologized and explained that he had simply dialed the wrong number and had figured that out as soon as he heard my voice on the answering machine. I assured him it was no problem and got off the phone…confidence in the knowledge that, while this perfectly nice gentleman apparently WAS Brad Pitt…he wasn’t THE Brad Pitt! 
     Afterwards, I thought about the whole encounter. I am NOT the type of person who tends to be “starstruck”- I am a firm believer that we all put our pants on one leg at at a time; therefore Brad Pitt, or any other “celebrity” for that matter, is just a human being who happens to have a high-profile job. And yet…I called him back! We put an awful lot of emphasis and attention on “celebrities”- be they actors, musicians, athletes, or this new…breed…call “reality stars”. That attention often mushrooms into full-blown worship…and that’s where it gets dangerous. I have my favorite actors (Kevin Spacey, John Malkovich, Harrison Ford), just like everybody else. I have certain singer and groups (James Taylor, The Eagles, Third Day) that I LOVE to listen to. I have athletes and teams (Albert Pujols, the St. Louis Cardinals) that I follow closely. But when we cross that line from being entertained by them to worshiping them, it’s NOT healthy…for us OR them!
     The only “person” who is worthy of true worship is God…plain and simple. He is our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, and He deserves all the praise and worship we can offer! So…the moral of this story is…if Brad Pitt calls…answer…AND make sure your worship is well-aimed! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

National Tell a Joke Day

     Today is National Tell a Joke Day…so…here it goes!

     When I was a young minister, a funeral director asked me to hold a grave side service for a homeless man with no family or friends. The funeral was to be at a cemetery way out in the country. This was a new cemetery and this man was the first to be laid to rest there. I was not familiar with the area and became lost. Being a typical man, of course, I did not ask for directions. I finally found the cemetery about an hour late. The back hoe was there and the crew was eating their lunch. The hearse was nowhere to be seen. I apologized to the workers for being late. As I looked into the open grave, I saw the vault lid already in place. I told the workers I would not keep them long, but that this was the proper thing to do. The workers, still eating their lunch, gathered around the opening. I was young and enthusiastic and poured out my heart and soul as I preached. The workers joined in with, “Praise the Lord,” “Amen,” and “Glory!” I got so into the service that I preached and preached and preached, from Genesis to The Revelation.  When the service was over, I said a prayer and walked to my car. As I opened the door, I heard one of the workers say, “I never saw anything like that before and I’ve been putting in septic systems for twenty years.”

     A pastor was leaving his area and was saying farewell to his congregation at the Church doors for the last time. He shook the hand of an elderly lady as she walked out. She said “Your successor won’t be as good as you.” “Nonsense”, said the pastor, in a flattered tone. “No, really”, said the old lady, “I’ve been here under five different ministers, and each new one has been worse than the last.”

     A mangy looking guy who goes into a bar and orders a drink. The bartender says: “No way. I don’t think you can pay for it. The guy says, “You’re right. I don’t have any money, but if I show you something you haven’t seen before, will you give me a drink?” The bartender says, “Only if what you show me ain’t risque.” “Deal!” says the guy and reaches into his coat pocket and pulls out a hamster. He puts the hamster on the bar and it runs to the end of the bar, climbs down the bar, runs across the room, up the piano, jumps on the key board and starts playing a tune. And the hamster is really good. The bartender says, “You’re right. I’ve never seen anything like that before. That hamster is truly good on the piano.” The guy downs the drink and asks the bartender for another. “Money or another miracle, or else no drink”, says the bartender. The guy reaches into his coat again and pulls out a frog. He puts the frog on the bar, and the frog starts to sing. He has a marvelous voice and great pitch. A fine singer. A stranger from the other end of the bar runs over to the guy and offers him $300 for the frog. The guy says, “It’s a deal.” He takes the three hundred and gives the stranger the frog. The stranger runs out of the bar. The bartender says to the guy, “Are you some kind of nut? You sold a singing frog for $300? It must have been worth millions. You must be crazy.” “Not so”, says the guy. “The hamster is also a ventriloquist.”

     As it was coming up to Christmas a young boy is praying upstairs while his mother sits by him and his dad and grandma are downstairs. He prays “Lord I pray for a train set, a remote control car, and A NEW BICYCLE!!! “You don’t have to shout dear”, says the mother “God’s not deaf.” “I know” said the little boy, “but grandma is.”

     A man absolutely hated his wife’s cat and decided to get rid of him one day by driving him 20 blocks from his home and leaving him at the park. As he arrived home, the cat was walking up the driveway. The next day he decided to drive the cat 40 blocks away. He put the beast out and headed home. Driving back up his driveway, there was the cat! He kept taking the cat further and further, and the cat would always beat him home. At last he decided to drive a few miles away, turn right, then left, past the bridge, then right again and another right until he reached what he thought was a safe distance from his home and left the cat there. Hours later the man calls home to his wife: “Jen, is the cat there?” “Yes”, the wife answers, “why do you ask?” Frustrated, the man answered, “Put him on the phone, I’m lost and need directions.”

     A couple had two little boys, ages 8 and 10, who were  excessively mischievous. They were always getting into trouble  and their parents knew that, if any mischief occurred in their  town, their sons were probably involved. The boys’ mother heard that a clergyman in town had been  successful in disciplining children, so she asked if he would  speak with her boys. The clergyman agreed, but asked to see them  individually. So the mother sent her 8-year-old first, in the  morning, with the older boy to see the clergyman in the afternoon. The clergyman, a huge man with a booming voice, sat the younger  boy down and asked him sternly, “Where is God?”.  The boy’s mouth dropped open, but he made no response, sitting  there with his mouth hanging open, wide-eyed. So the clergyman  repeated the question in an even sterner tone, “Where is God!!?”  Again the boy made no attempt to answer. So the clergyman raised  his voice even more and shook his finger in the boy’s face and  bellowed, “WHERE IS GOD!?” The boy screamed and bolted from the room, ran directly home and  dove into his closet, slamming the door behind him. When his  older brother found him in the closet, he asked, “What happened?” The younger brother, gasping for breath, replied, “We are in BIG  trouble this time, dude. God is missing – and they think WE did  it!”

     The Rev. Billy Graham tells of a time early in his career when he arrived in a small town to preach a sermon. Wanting to mail a letter, he asked a young boy where the post office was. When the boy told him, Rev. Graham thanked him and said, “If you’ll come to the Baptist church this evening, you can hear me telling everyone how to get to Heaven.” “I don’t think I’ll be there,” the boy said. “You don’t even know your way to the post office.”

     A Sunday school teacher was discussing the Ten Commandments with her five and six year olds. After explaining the commandment to “honor thy father and thy mother,” she asked, “Is there a commandment that teaches us how to treat our brothers and sisters?” Without missing a beat one little boy answered, “Thou shall not kill.”

    Life is WAY too short to not laugh…tell a joke today. Pick one of these, tell your own, it doesn’t matter. Just make sure you make some laugh today! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Old Testament Parables

     A kangaroo kept getting out of his enclosure at the zoo. Knowing that he could hop very high, the zoo officials put up a ten-foot fence. But the next morning…the kangaroo was out again, wandering around the zoo. This time they put up a twenty-foot fence. Again he got out. The next day- thirty feet. Again- got out. When the fence got to forty feet, a camel in the next enclosure moseyed over asked the kangaroo, “How high do you think they’ll go?” The kangaroo said, “Pretty high, unless somebody remembers to start locking the gate at night!” Sometimes in the Church, we just keep building our walls higher and higher, trying to both keep those we already have IN while at the same time keeping others OUT. We even do that to our children. We try so hard to FORCE our kids to do and think what we want regarding church…build the walls higher, if you will…that we end up driving them out, which turns out to be an easy migration because the whole while…the gate is standing wide open. As parents, grandparents, influential adults, we need to close the gate. What IS the gate, you ask? The gate is teaching our kids about God. The gate is being good role models- living out the example we want our kids to emulate. We don’t want to waste the chance to reach them with the Gospel. And we close the gate by teaching and reaching them when they’re young. The end goal of that teaching and reaching is that we might see our kids on fire for God. Psalm 78 points to our responsibility to reach them in that way-

Psalm 78– O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. 2 I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old- 3 what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us. 4 We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done. 5 He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children, 6 so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. 7 Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands. 8 They would not be like their forefathers— a stubborn and rebellious generation, whose hearts were not loyal to God, whose spirits were not faithful to him.

     A Child’s Version of the Bible- In the beginning, which occurred near the start, there was nothing but God, darkness, and some gas. The Bible says, “The Lord thy God is one,” but I think He must be a lot older than that. Anyway, God  said, “Give me a light!” and someone did. Then God made the world. He split the Adam and made Eve. Adam and Eve were naked, but they weren’t embarrassed because mirrors hadn’t been invented yet. Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating one bad apple, so they were driven from the Garden of Eden. Not sure what they were driven in though, because they didn’t have cars. Adam and Eve had a son, Cain, who hated his brother as long as he was Abel. Pretty soon all of the early people died off, except for Methuselah, who lived to be like a million or something. 
     One of the next important people was Noah, who was a good guy, but one of his kids was kind of a ham. Noah built a large boat and put his family and some animals on it. He asked some other people to join him, but they said they would have to take a rain check. 
After Noah came Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jacob was more famous than his brother, Esau, because Esau sold Jacob his birthmark in exchange for some pot roast. Jacob had a son named Joseph who wore a really loud sports coat. Another important Bible guy is Moses, whose real name was Charlton Heston. Moses led the Israel Lights out of Egypt and away from the evil Pharaoh after God sent ten plagues on Pharaoh’s people. These plagues included frogs, mice, lice, bowels, and no cable. God fed the Israel Lights everyday with manicotti. Then He gave them His top ten Commandments. These include don’t lie, cheat, smoke, dance, or covet your neighbor’s bottom (the Bible uses a bad word for bottom that I’m not supposed to say. But my Dad uses it sometimes when he talks about the President). Oh, yeah, I just thought of one more: Humor they father and they mother. One of Moses’ best helpers was Joshua who was the first Bible guy to use spies. Joshua fought the battle of Geritol and the fence fell over on the town.
After Joshua came David. He got to be king by killing a giant with a slingshot. He had a son named Solomon who had about 300 wives and 500 porcupines. My teacher says he was wise, but that doesn’t sound very wise to me. After Solomon there were a bunch of major league prophets. One of these was Jonah, who was swallowed by a big whale and then barfed up on the shore. There were also some minor league prophets, but I guess we don’t know much about them.
After the Old Testament came the New Testament. Jesus is the star of the New Testament. He was born in Bethlehem in a barn. (I wish I had been born in a barn, too, because my mom is always saying to me, “Close the door! Were you born in a barn” It would be nice to be able to say, “Yes mom- don’t you remember? I was.” 
During His life, Jesus had many arguments with sinners like the Pharisees and the Republicans. Jesus also had twelve opossums. The worst one was Judas Asparagus. Judas was so evil that they named a terrible vegetable after him. Jesus was a great man. He healed many leopards and even preached to some Germans on the Mount. But the Republicans and all those guys put Jesus on trial before Pontius the Pilot. Pilot didn’t stickup for Jesus. He just washed his hands instead. Anyways, Jesus died for our sins, then came back to life again. He went up to Heaven but will be back at the end of the Aluminum. His return is foretold in the book of Revolution.

     What do kids know about the Bible? What do WE know about the Bible? Well, we know that Jesus often used parables to get His point across. A parable is a short, allegorical story designed to illustrate or teach some truth, religious principle, or moral lesson. So Jesus used these short. allegorical stories to teach ethical and moral lessons to the people. And we pretty much exclusively attribute them to Jesus and the New Testament. But here, right smack in the middle of the Old Testament, King David says, “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old- what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us.” So stories designed to teach lessons have been around a LOT longer that the New Testament. Jesus didn’t invent the use of parables…merely perfected it! Did you know that 88% of all Christians come to salvation before they reach the age of 19. 68% of those saved are saved between the ages of 9-14. We have a golden opportunity when they’re younger to lay the groundwork. The work we do when they’re young is crucial. If we fail to teach them the ways of God, if we don’t provide them with a Godly example, how in the world can we expect them to follow God? We, as the influencers of our children’s lives, must, first and foremost, belong to God. 

We need to read to them the powerful stories of how God worked mightily in the lives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. In the lives of all the great men and women in Scripture who sometimes stood alone against terrible odds and who saw and felt the power of God. Verse 3 says “our fathers have told us”. For you, it may or may not have actually been your dad who taught you about God, but a previous generation was faithful to pass the torch to you. They gave you the information you needed to come to Jesus Christ. The fact is that the previous generation providing us with that information creates within us a responsibility- we have the obligation to pass that Gospel message forward. In verse 5, we’re told that God commands us to teach our children. We are to be God’s witnesses…and it should begin in our homes. Our responsibility is here…to our children and those in our church, our community. We need to tell our kids about how God has done mighty things in our own lives. How God has interceded in miraculous ways to make our lives better and more focused on Him. Kids need to see evidence of our devotion to God. They learn by our example…good or bad. 
     It’s hard for our kids to believe in what they hear at church if they see us not all that committed to our faith at home. If you find yourself saying, “Do as I say, not as I do”…or the equivalent…there’s a problem between perception and reality. God wants us to straighten the sapling so that the tree will grow straight. God’s desire is that our children will learn to see His righteousness and faithfulness and anchor their faith to Him. A man once said that when he was a teenager, he had a drug problem. He was “drug” to church on Sunday morning, “drug” to church on Sunday night, “drug” to church on Wednesday night, “drug” to Sunday School every week, “drug” to Vacation Bible School…you get the picture. There are people who believe that dragging kids to church will result in them being turned off to church. So their kids don’t go to church. They force their kids to go to school. They force their kids to go the Doctor. They force their kids to do their Dentist. BUT they won’t force their kids to go to church under the mistaken impression that this will somehow be better for their child. And most of them end up without a spiritual foundation for their lives. I’m going to be honest- that “I don’t want to cramp little Johnny’s style or tell him what to think, therefore I don’t make him go to church” is…ready?…laziness. Parental laziness. I find it impossible to believe that most parents, in their hearts, honestly think their kid is no better off IN church that NOT in church. But…it’s easier to NOT get up, NOT get ready, NOT get you kids to church. 
     People say, “These kids today! They were NEVER like this in my day! Things have gotten SO much worse in the past few years with kids’ behavior!” Guess what- people have been saying that for centuries. An Assyrian table written about 4700 years ago lamented: “children no longer obey their parents.” In 425 B.C. Socrates said, “Our youth today love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority, disrespect for older people. Children nowadays are tyrants. They contradict their parents, gobble their food, and tyrannize their teachers.” Children who are stubborn, rebellious and untrustworthy are nothing new. But what Psalm 78 tells us is that we have a way to counterbalance these destructive tendencies. We have a way to inoculate our children against a lack of faith, a lack of trust. How do we do that? We make teaching God’s Word a priority…in our homes. Most people think the Church is the place for that…and the Church DOES exist in part to help you teach your children about Jesus, and faith, and righteousness. But make no mistake… THERE’S NO SUBSTITUTE for what we teach our OWN kids in our OWN homes. 

     If you have a lot of tension and you get a headache, just do what it says on the aspirin bottle:  “Take two…and keep away from children.” Parenting is a 24/7/365 job- it’s never done. Parents are ALWAYS teaching their children things, either directly and by design or indirectly and by accident. Sometimes positive, sometimes negative, but always teaching. Many of the most important lessons your children learn from you actually happen when you aren’t intentionally teaching them. When you’re upset, if you yell and scream, your kids see that, even if it isn’t directed at them. If you suppress your emotions, your children learn from that, too. How do you interact with other people? Is respect demonstrated on a daily basis? Do your children see you being kind and caring towards others, or judgmental and combative? You have to model for your child the type of relationships you would like for them to be involved in one day. Your children are watching you and what they see will be the standard to which they compare their own future behavior. Are you setting the example you want them to learn from?

     In Deuteronomy 6:6-7, God says, “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” What are you teaching your child today? You may be surprised to learn that it was much more than you realized…or intended. Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed Sunday. Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Who Am I?

     Based on some recent conversations I’ve had, I have been thinking recently about the question, “Who am I?” I run into a LOT of people who are asking that question, either overtly or covertly. So many people are not sure if what they are doing with their lives is what they SHOULD be doing with their lives. They feel…unfulfilled…and wonder if there is more. And they seek advice as to those questions. 

     I am always quick to point out that, unlike a lot of pastors I know, I DON’T have all the answers…I’m often just another weary traveler, heading down the same road, trying to figure life out as I go. But experience and education HAS taught me some things…and here they are! (Be honest…you KNEW that was coming!!)
     I spent YEARS being SURE I would spend the rest of my life in the entertainment field…specifically as a performer. I was an actor, a singer, a drummer, a juggler, a magician, a writer…I was sure I was meant to do those things. There was NO doubt in my mind that was what I was supposed to do with my life. Then, over time…reality set it. I had some success, but met with more than a little opposition and more than a few setbacks. One thing led to another, and eventually I found myself in a series of jobs that, while they put food on the table, provided me with little “soul food”…if you will. I felt incomplete as a human being. I didn’t understand why God would have given me all these gifts…and then not enable me to actually use them! Then…I figured it out…FINALLY!
     Over time, I was drawn more and more to the conclusion that I was being called into pastoral ministry. I fought it for years, but simply could ignore it NO longer and finally gave in. I went to seminary (talk about “old dog” and “new tricks”!), I was appointed to serve a church, and I struggled MIGHTILY with the ordination process. So much so that, at times, I briefly considered chucking it all and moving on. But God stood by me, reminding me that He called me to this, and that He had plans for me. So…I hung in there. And here I am, 13+ years in the ministry, and guess what? I’m an actor, a singer, a drummer, a juggler, a magician and a writer. No foolin’! I do ALL those things on a SOMEWHAT regular basis. How cool is that?! All that time, I thought I had missed my dream, when all along I had simply misinterpreted it! 
     Not sure who you are supposed to be…”when you grow up”? Hang in there. Pray. Pray hard. And have…ready?…patience! (That is nearly a dirty word to me…but I try!) God DOES have a plan for you. God HAS gifted you, wonderfully and uniquely, to do the task He has for you. It’s just that, almost always, God’s timing is NOT our timing. Let’s be honest- He deals in “forever” while we think in “today”. You WILL find what it is you are being called to. You WILL find that one thing that satisfies you like nothing else can. You Will discover…who you are! And it will be great! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus! 

Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

     The “motto” of the United Methodist Church is “open hearts, open minds, open doors”. I, for one, like that as a motto. (Of course I do…I’m United Methodist!) And while we do NOT always succeed in every way at living that motto out in real time…it’s a marvelous goal at which to aim. Think about it- “open hearts”. What does that mean? Well, for me it implies that love, the “agape”-type Christian love that we are called to exemplify, is at the core of who we should be as Christians. Our hearts should be open to people of all ages races and nations. Again…easy to say and often heard to do…but a great goal to shoot for.

     Then we get to “open minds”. My guess is, for many people, if I didn’t lose you completely with open hearts, then I just lost you with this whole open minds thing. For many, both within and without the church, an open mind is NOT a characteristic that best describes the average Christian. Christians are OFTEN seen as judgmental and narrow-minded….a “my way or the highway” sort of approach that focuses on the ONLY way to think, act and be…and the consequences for NOT thinking, acting and being that way. But I would like to put forth the notion that there are a lot of good, solid, honest, hard-working Christians out there who are fairly open-minded…it’s just that, like anywhere else, the vocal minority gets all the press! People read or hear something about some Christian group who is condemning this group or that group…and what else can they surmise but that we’re ALL like that? It’s a logical conclusion. But, from my experience, it’s a false conclusion. I have my beliefs, to be sure, and I am steadfast in them…but it doesn’t mean I can’t have room in there for you to have a different outlook on the same subject. We may NOT agree, but we can still walk down the path together…with open minds.
     The last part is open doors. There is both a literal and a figurative element to this. Many churches, either out of perceived necessity or perceived fear, keep their doors locked pretty much all the time…and there is some practical wisdom to that. In this day and age, with for instance my church being the first one you come to as you get off the interstate, it’s NOT wise to leave staff and/or volunteers in situations where they are alone in the building and therefore vulnerable. So, for reasons of safety, it is often wise to lock the doors. That’s a SAD fact, in my mind! But more than whether the door is ACTUALLY locked or not, many churches DON’T “open their doors”. They SAY they are friendly and welcoming, but what they REALLY mean is “we are friendly and welcoming…to people JUST like us!” Woe to the person who looks a little different in many churches across the country. 
     And then…there is me. I AM the person who looks a little different…in any church I’m in!! People NEVER assume I’m the pastor right up front- I mean, my goodness, with the shaved head, and the earring, and the funky little “soul patch” growing under my bottom lip, and the rock drummer thing, and the goofy voices I do, and the magic, and the juggling…and…and…and…I am NOT the typical United Methodist minister! And that’s exactly what I love about the whole thing. People in the church are FORCED to at least try and re-imagine what they expect, what is “normal”, when their pastor is the least normal person in the building!
     Open hearts, open minds, open doors- as I said earlier, I do NOT have that down to perfection…or anywhere close to it…yet…but I’m trying! How about you? Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Sneak Some Zucchini On Your Neighbor’s Porch Day

     Sunday was…ready?…”Sneak Some Zucchini On Your Neighbor’s Porch” Day. For real…NO foolin’! Established by Pennsylvanian Tom Roy, this…”holiday”…encourages the sharing of that long, green summer vegetable of the squash family. The material I read about it said, “Due to the overzealous planting of zucchini, citizens are asked to drop off baskets of the squash on neighbors’ doorsteps.” So the bottom line appears to be this- A. people plant TOO much zucchini, and B. people don’t particularly LIKE zucchini. I would like to address (and at least partially refute) both of those observations.

     While I realize (from growing up with a mother who believed that an acre of garden was a good start!) that a few well-tended vines can produce a LOT of zucchini, unless you plant 8 hills of the stuff, you won’t be TOO inundated with squash. (And frankly, if you plant 8 hills of zucchini…you deserve what you get!!) 
     Further, I can’t speak for anyone outside of my immediate family, but 75% of us like the stuff! (My youngest EATS it, but he does NOT particularly like it!) We eat it raw…in “sticks”. We cut it up on salads. We shred it into bread. We add it to stir-fry. The list goes on and on. I once had a family…yes, “once”…who swore he would NEVER eat zucchini under ANY circumstances. So…we had him over for dinner. And guess what we served? Bread…ZUCCHINI bread! We let him eat about three pieces of it…AND rave about how GOOD the bread was…before we perpetrated the “big reveal”. He was…chagrined.
     So, back to sneaking the stuff onto your neighbor’s porch…gotta love that! The general idea is that (even though it is called “day”) you wait until the dead of night, and you sneak onto your neighbor’s property, creep across their yard, tip-toe onto their porch, place a big bag of zucchini by their front door…and then run like your head is on fire and your rear end is catching back home! As pranks go, that one falls rather squarely into the “lame” category! And quite frankly, if someone did that to ME…I would want to find them and thank them!
     So, the moral of this story is this- if you have any extra zucchini laying about, bag it up and sneak it on to my front porch! I know- sort of kills the whole joke…but I DO end up with extra zucchini! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Book Lover’s Day

     I don’t know about you, but I have had a love affair for many years now. It has been ongoing, quite frankly, since I was a kid. It has profoundly impacted my life in way I never imagined when it began. That love affair, in case you A. haven’t figured it our yet or B. are worried sick that I am using this site as my “midnight confession”, as it were, is with books! 

     I have been a lover of book for as long as I remember. When I was about 6 years old, a box came in the mail one day. My mom was gone for a few hours, and the package was addressed to me…so I opened it! (Makes good sense…right?) It was a four-volume set of Disney books. It was as if the world had been delivered to my door! All of the great classic  Disney tales  where in there, complete with scenes from the movies from some of them. There were stories about wildlife, about folks from other countries…it was…AMAZING! This treasure trove of knowledge and entertainment was delivered to my door, provided by some unknown but greatly appreciated benefactor. I thought I had died and gone to heaven!
     Then…my mom came home! I couldn’t wait to show her this new-found wonder. She too had a shocked look on her face when she saw it…but it was for a different reason! The books were intended as a gift for my birthday…she had just sent back the ordering card that she had received…which had MY name on it! She couldn’t get mad at me or anything- the package was in my name…and I opened it! I got to keep the books and enjoy them right away…and I still got something when my birthday rolled around! (Although I don’t remember what that was!)
     Today is Book Lover’s Day. Do love reading as much as I do? What do YOU like to read? My current tastes lean toward books on Church Growth and Stephen King books! (Quite the mixed bag, eh?) What books are you wanting to read? Further, what books do you have lying around gathering dust that could be loaned/given to some individual or group where they would continue to bring joy to folks? On Book Lover’s Day, I have two challenges for you- 1. if you are NOT currently reading a book…start one! It really doesn’t matter what it is- pick something that you like and read it. 2. Find 2 books in your house that you have read that someone else would like to read and give them away! The worst thing in the world is when a perfectly good book sits unused for years when it could be in someone’s hands and, better still, their heads! So, read a book…share a book! And celebrate Book Lover’s Day! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Neighborhood Pariah

     Irish jokes- Sheamus lived for many years with his dog as his only companion.One sad day he found his beloved dog Sandy had died of old age. He went to his parish priest, an Irishman named Father Sean Patrick O’Flaherty, and asked if services could be said for the dog. The good father replied “Oh no, we can’t have services for a dog here, but there’s a new church down the street that might be willing.” Sheamus replied, “That’s a shame…I was going to make a $50,000 donation to the church?” Father O’Flaherty replied, “Well, why didn’t you tell me your wee dog was Irish?!”
An Irishman walks into a drugstore. “O’Riley,” asks the druggist, “did that mudpack I gave you improve your wife’s appearance?” “It surely did,” replied O’Riley, “but it keeps fallin’ off!”
Bald jokes- I’m so bald you can see what I’m thinking! I’m so bald when I take a shower I get brainwashed! I’m so bald, when I where a turtleneck, I look like roll-on deodorant!
Little Johnny was eating breakfast one morning and got to thinking about things.

“Mommy, why does daddy have so few hairs on his head?” “Well…he thinks a lot,” replied his mother, pleased with herself for coming up with such a good answer…until Johnny replied, “Then how come you have so much hair?”

Jokes about people who are different from us are everywhere- blond jokes, racial stereotype jokes, the list goes on and on. I choose Irish jokes and bald jokes because I’M Irish and bald…so in the end I’m poking fun at myself! But people LOVE to tell jokes about others based on looks, age, gender, race, profession, economics, etc…they also like to treat them differently for those same reasons. One of the areas that hits close to home for me is religion. When I became a minister, I left the old things behind. I quite drinking alcohol, which quite honestly wasn’t nearly as hard as it sounds- I probably had 4 drinks a year max anyway! I tried hard to leave my bad temper behind. I worked, and continue to work, at being a better person, a decent role model. And it was fascinating to see the change that came over people…the way they treated me was a 180 change. They still drank, but they felt the need to hide their liquor, disguising it in a cup. They also suddenly thought I’d never heard a bad word before. If one slipped out of their mouth, it would be immediately followed with and embarrassed “sorry, pastor!” Or better yet, “Pardon my French, pastor!” To which I always reply, “Huh! I didn’t realize THAT was French!” 

Even my dad struggled with it. The 1st time he visited at my current church, he asked me, “What do they call you?” I replied, “Mostly they refer to me as Rev. Mark.” After a pause, he replied, “I don’t think I can call you that!”

Today, we continue our Psizzlin’ Psummer Psalm Psermon Pseries Psequal- we’re spending the summer with a 2nd helping of pearls of wisdom from King David’s Old Testament writings. And today we ask the question- what happens to those existing relationships when YOU change…and they don’t?
Psalm 31– In you, O LORD, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness. 2 Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me. 3 Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me. 4 Free me from the trap that is set for me, for you are my refuge. 5 Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O LORD, the God of truth. 6 I hate those who cling to worthless idols; I trust in the LORD. 7 I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul. 8 You have not handed me over to the enemy but have set my feet in a spacious place. 9 Be merciful to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief. 10 My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak. 11 Because of all my enemies, I am the utter contempt of my neighbors; I am a dread to my friends— those who see me on the street flee from me. 12 I am forgotten by them as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery. 13 For I hear the slander of many; there is terror on every side; they conspire against me and plot to take my life. 14 But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, “You are my God.” 15 My times are in your hands; deliver me from my enemies and from those who pursue me. 16 Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love. 

How many consultants does it take to change a light bulb? We don’t know. They never get past the feasibility study.

How many politicians does it take to change a light-bulb? ‘The Government is well aware of the situation and we are setting up a committee to look into the feasibility of changing it.’

One. How many mind-readers does it take to change a light bulb?

So here is Psalm 31, we get David, as usual, spilling his guts to God. David rarely if ever pulls punches when he talks to God in the Psalms…he just lays it ALL out there. And as David pours out his heart to God here in Psalm 31, it’s clear he’s going through a difficult time spiritually. His prayer focuses on the hope that he will be vindicated in the presence of His enemies. This is NOT simply a cry for help in time of need. It’s also a statement of faith. David is not just asking God for support- he is asking for the strength to NOT be ashamed of his faith. David changed…he found God and devoted his life to Him. But those around him…did NOT. And now he is struggling with being ashamed about that fact. 

Dictionary.com defines the word ashamed as, “distressed or embarrassed by feelings of guilt, foolishness, or disgrace- unwilling or restrained because of fear of ridicule or disapproval: bashful; timid. But WE know what being ashamed means, not because of what the dictionary says, but because we’ve all done things in our lives that we’re ashamed of. Of course we have…we’re human. BUT…David says here that there are SOME things we should NEVER be ashamed of, and our relationship with God would be at the top of that list…#1 with a bullet!

It sounds great…make our relationship with God #1. But there’s this new term floating around these days- Christian atheists. Sounds oxymoronic…doesn’t it? Hamburger steak, jumbo shrimp, airline food, cold sweat…Christian atheists. But even though it sounds contradictory, it’s real. It refers to people who say they believe in God…but live their life as if they don’t. So with all that pummeling us from all sides, how do we do it? What are we called to DO with God? How do we make God #1? In this Psalm, David gives us a road map- a 4-step process to do just that.

The first step is to Possess Him. David says, “be MY rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save ME. Since you are MY rock and MY fortress, for the sake of Your name lead and guide ME”. He is “MY” God! David says he NEEDS God in his life. And it’s NOT a sign of weakness to express a need for God! Because He is our source of Strength, our comfort, our security, our refuge. So the 1st step is to claim God as YOURS…not just some ethereal deity out there in the netherworld, helping nameless, faceless folks…but YOUR God, who connects with YOU. Possess Him. 

The 2nd step is simple- if you possess Him, then you need to profess Him. David says, “Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O LORD, the God of truth”. He is NOT ashamed of people knowing that he is a follower of God! He holds his head high and proudly tells the world that God Jesus is his. If you claim God as yours, then don’t be afraid to tell people that fact. 

The 3rd step is to pray to Him. David says, “Be merciful to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief”. Many see prayer as something that the weak do…because they can’t handle life on their own. But prayer is NOT a sign of weakness- instead it is a demonstration of power! The real weakling is that person who thinks he can handle it himself. Prayer is our greatest resource! It opens the gates of Heaven and unlocks the power of God in our lives! Use it liberally! 

The 4th step is to praise Him. David says, But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, “You are my God”. In fact, 64 Psalms directly address praising God! Our lives should reflect that as well. We have much to praise Him for! It’s our right and our privilege to praise God- 

let’s not be ashamed of who we are as Christians!

And yet, people are threatened by our personal growth and evolution…our change. They don’t like what they don’t understand. Sometimes they begin to see us as the neighborhood pariah. The dictionary says that a pariah is one that is despised or rejected. Ironically, the word LITERALLY translates “drummer”…don’t know WHAT to do with that! In systems theory, when one aspect of the system changes, it disrupts the homeostasis- the balance of the entire system is thrown into chaos. All because of our change. But change is inevitable…except from a vending machine. 

And as you change and evolve as a Christian, the system, which is your friends, co-workers and family members, can begin to feel threatened and go out of their way to keep you in your old role- to keep the homeostasis. This is usually an unconscious approach on their part- they don’t mean to try and de-rail your progress…they just…do. And this is where the problems can arise between you and your old friends, you and your co-workers, you and your family. In a perfect world, they would say things like, “When you change and grow, I get scared because I don’t know how to relate to you.” or “When you’re not in the role I’ve always known you in, I feel threatened, scared, and uncomfortable”, but as we all know…we don’t live in a perfect world! So they treat you differently.

So what do you do about that? You have to make staying true to who you’ve become a higher priority than getting the approval of others or having them understand you. It’s really tempting to try and “change them”- make them get it. After all, that’s often exactly what they’re trying to do to you. But chances are, they’re NOT going to change just because YOU want them to. You just need to keep loving them…sometimes despite their behavior. You need to set boundaries with them- let them know what you will and won’t do. You need to be direct with them. You may even need to be willing to acknowledge that you may need to find a new “community” of people to be with. Above all, you need to be fearless- be strong and courageous…don’t be afraid!

Throughout history, significant change has occurred not because of nations, armies, governments or committees. Instead, significant change has occurred as a result of the courage and commitment of individuals. People like Joan of Ark, Albert Einstein, Clara Barton, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison and Rosa Parks. They didn’t do it alone, but they were change makers. When you become a different person for God in a genuine way…plan on hacking some people off. Plan on losing some friends. Plan on things never being the same again. Plan on it being…better! Facing adversity at work? At home? Roll up your sleeves and change anyway. Continue to be fearless and follow what you know will serve both you AND the greater good. Believe that you have a unique purpose and potential in the world. It’s up to you, with God’s help, to discover it. Believe that you can…and will…make a difference. Realize that everything you do, every step you take, every sentence you write, every word you speak-or DON’T speak–counts. Nothing is trivial. The world may be big…but everything matters.

To BE the change you want to see in the world, you don’t have to be loud. You don’t have to be eloquent. You don’t have to be elected. You don’t even have to be particularly smart. You just have to be committed. Take personal responsibility- don’t say “it’s not my job”. That’s a major cop-out, as is saying, “What can I do, I’m only one person?” You don’t need everybody’s cooperation or permission to institute change. You just need to continue to tell yourself, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.” Don’t wait for things to be perfect in order to begin. Change is messy. Things will never be just right. Follow Teddy Roosevelt’s advice, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

In Westminster Abbey, there is the tomb of a 12th Century Anglican Bishop. Inscribed on it is- “When I was young and free and my imagination had no limits, I dreamed of changing the world. As I grew older and wiser, I discovered the world would not change, so I shortened my sights somewhat and decided to change only my country.

But it, too, seemed immovable. As I grew into my twilight years, in one last desperate attempt, I settled for changing only my family, those closest to me, but alas, they would have none of it. And now, as I lie on my deathbed, I suddenly realize: If I had only changed myself first, then by example I would have changed my family. From their inspiration and encouragement, I would then have been able to better my country, and who knows, I may have even changed the world.”

The most powerful agent of transformation is something much more basic than any technique: a change of heart. It’s never too late to become what you might have been. 

The moment you definitely commit yourself to move…God moves, too. In order for things to change…YOU have to change. We can’t really change others; we can only truly change ourselves. But when WE change…it changes everything.