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