A Fellowship of Food

 Last night, I had 70 of my closest friends over for dinner! Now, if you consider yourself a close friend of mine and DIDN’T have dinner with me last night…don’t get your undies in a bunch…let me explain! My church is now in the 3rd year of a program called Wednesday Night Live…WNL for short. During the school year. the second and fourth Wednesdays of every month are devoted to food, fellowship and faith-strengthening. Dinner is at 6PM, with adult classes, youth groups for all ages, Bell Choir practice and Vocal Ensemble practice…the Nursery is also open for those 4 years old and younger. So a family can come, eat, put their kids in the Nursery or age-appropriate youth group, and attend a class of be a part of a music group. The dinner is a free-will offering…you pay as much…or as little…as you want or can afford. The group that hosts that particular meal decided where the money goes. It really is a great way to spend a Wednesday night!

     Well, last night was our first installment of WNL this school year. I have shared before that I like to cook, so I volunteered to prepare and serve the meal. (I have learned that if you A. choose a good menu, and B. announce it, complete with details about the food, at church, then C. more people come!) One of the adult classes we are offering this fall is a Bible Study that is geared at balancing spiritual, emotional, physical and emotional health. There is a solid weight-loss component to it. So my wife and I decided that we needed to have the menu reflect that fact. There is also cost factors AND prep time to consider when feeding a bunch of people on a limited time and money budget. So, I made lasagna…two kinds. One was what I called “full-fat, full meat, full cheese” lasagna. The other was low-fat, meatless spinach lasagna.
     I spent a couple of hours the night before, in my kitchen, cranking out lasagna. (I use the no-boil noodles when making a large quantity…they are SO much easier and faster!) I had meat cooking, sauce bubbling, cheese blending…you name it, is was going on! I made 3 9X13 pans of the spinach variety and 1 9X13 pan and 1 GYNORMOUS pan of the regular variety. Yesterday, I took it all to church with me when I went to work. Throughout the day, I stuck things in the oven, got things out of the fridge, and generally did the rest of the prep work. Right before it was time to serve, I put 9 loaves of garlic bread, 5 with cheese, 4 without, in the oven, put the salad out, put out cookies and sugar-free pies, got the coffee going, mixed the lemonade, and sat back, bracing for the onslaught! (The reality is that, when you plan something like this, there is that moment when you wonder, “what of no one comes…and I’m just stuck here with all this food and no one to eat it?!” But that didn’t happen!) About 5 minutes to 6, folks started pouring in. The initial reaction was, “Spinach lasagna? Um…I’ll have the regular!” There were a few brave souls, but most folks went with tried and true…the first time through. Then…they started coming back. “You know, I believe I’ll try that spinach stuff.” By the end of the 30 minutes, we had fed 70 people, there was about 4 servings of lasagna left, 1 serving of salad, NO bread, and NO desserts! 
     What always strikes me at an event like this is the fellowship. Yeah, the food was good (if I do say do myself…and if I don’t, who will?!), but it is always SO awesome to see people sit together and break bread. There are 3 worship services at my church, so there are lots of people who don’t know everybody because they don’t attend the same service. But at an event like this, they’re all together, laughing, talking, eating…sharing their lives with each other. And for my money, that is when the Church is MOST the Church…when we forget our differences and join together in fellowship. Do you have a church home where you get to be a part of things like that? If so…how awesome is that?! If not, I would encourage you to find one. As I’ve said before, denominational ties aren’t nearly as important as finding the right fit for you. It may take several tries to find that right fit, but when you find it…you’ll know! And when you find it, you’ll have found an extended family. And believe me…it just doesn’t get any better than that!
     Thanks for stopping by…I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Patience of…Someone OTHER Than Job!

    I was stuck in traffic last week. You may be thinking, “Well…whooped-dee-do, Pastor! I’m stuck in traffic every day!” And I’m sure you are correct! When I lived in the St. Louis area, traffic was a way of life. But you see…I don’t live in the St. Louis area any more. I live in Central Illinois. In the town in which I live, we (literally) call the back-up of cars in the morning and evening “the rush 5 minutes!” No rush hour here! A BIG back-up is 6 cars at the 4-way! 

     So, I was driving to a neighboring town the other day. I got out on the Interstate (which is about 4 houses away from mine) heading east. I immediately realized In was in fro some trouble. Cars were backed up, bumper to bumper, as far as I could see. Great…I’m going to be late! (I’m SURE none of those other folks had anywhere special to go…so YES…it WAS all about me, thank you very much!) It took me almost a half an realized hour to go about 3  miles. And during that time, I realized some things. I realized that, no matter how hard you try, you CAN’T set the cruise control at 3 miles/hour. (I know…right?!) I realized that the absolute MOMENT I change lanes to get in the faster moving lane of a traffic jam…it INSTANTLY becomes the slower moving lane! And I realized that I have very little patience when behind the wheel of a car! OK…I DIDN’T just realize that last one! I have known for a LONG time that patience is NOT one of my strong suits. I have to very intentionally work hard to keep my patience in line and under control…I don’t like to wait!
     My wife says that patience is an interesting thing. She says that, if you are going to pray for patience, you’d better be ready to get it! As soon as you pray for it, things will come up that sorely test it! I know that patience is a virtue, and it is a very good thing to have, but it is also a very difficult thing to keep in check for many folks. And yet, my experience is that the better your patience, the more consistent a Christian you can be. Let me explain. If you constantly struggle with patience- flying of the handle, acting irrationally, blowing up at people- then you are not consistently reflecting Christian values. On the other hand, if you are able to be more…moderate…in your interactions with others, you are more regularly and genuinely showing others what it means to be a follower of Jesus. 
     How’s YOUR patience? Are you pretty even-tempered…or do people never know what they’re going to get with you? If you fall into the 1st category…God love you! You must be doing SOMETHING right! However, if you’re more in the 2nd half…pray about it. Ask God’s help in getting better control of your patience…or lack thereof. Work daily on improving your reactions to others. Let them see the best of you…let them see Jesus in you!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Labor Day Musings

        Today is Labor Day. (How ironic that the one day many of us DON’T work…in on the ONE day specifically devoted to labor! But I’m NOT complaining, mind you…the office is closed today! Woot!) What do you actually KNOW about Labor Day? I realized that, for me at least, the answer to that question was, “Not much”! So I did some reading about it…and here’s what I found.

      The first Labor Day was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City. The first proposal of the holiday described it as a street parade to exhibit to the public “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations,” followed by a festival for the workers and their families. (“Esprit de corps” is just NOT a term that gets much work these days! Kind of a cool term though!) 
     In 1884, the first Monday in September was selected as the day each year to recognize the holiday. The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations and on June 28, 1894, Congress made it a federal holiday. It originated as a “day off for the working citizens” and now is celebrated by most Americans as the symbolic end of summer. (We intentionally hold back our big “Fall Kick-Off” at church until the Sunday AFTER Labor Day…if we did it the Sunday OF Labor Day, it would be me, my wife, my son, and a musician celebrated the blessed event!) 
     In addition, Labor Day marks the beginning of the NFL and college football seasons. The NCAA usually plays their first games the week before Labor Day, with the NFL traditionally playing their first game the Thursday following Labor Day. (Let the office pools begin! I have friends who do Fantasy Football and they have been nearly frothing at the mouth, just WAITING for Labor Day to come…and GO!) 
     What will YOU do today? Is there a barbecue planned? Maybe a picnic? Maybe you, like a growing number of folks, have to actually work on Labor Day? (The interesting thing about having Labor Day off is that, while the number of work days this week has decreased by one…the amount of work to be done has NOT decreased…at ALL! So now, I have one LESS day to get the same amount of work done. It ALMOST makes a day off seem like punishment!) Whatever you are doing today, I pray you feel God’s blessing upon you! I also encourage you to celebrate the working men and women of our country today!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed and safe Labor Day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Shout To the Lord

         In an attempt to be all things to all people and offend no one, the United Methodist hymnal is being rewritten. All your old favorites can now be sung without guilt, discomfort…or conviction. Some of the revised titles include: “Amazing Grace, How Interesting the Sound”, “Praise God from whom All Positive Affirmations Flow”, “Pillow of Ages, Fluffed for Me”, “What an Acquaintance We Have in Jesus”, “Blest Be the Tie that Doesn’t Cramp My Style”, “I Surrender Some”, and of course “Sweet Minute of Prayer”!

     This is the LAST Sunday of the Psizzlin’ Psummer Psalm Psermon Pseries Psequal! After a 2-week hiatus, we return for one last hurrah with David’s Old Testament writings in which he literally pours his heart out to God. And today, with the “revised hymnal” as a backdrop, we look at the act of worship. And that begs the question, “WHY do we need to worship God?” Well, Alex Haley, the author of “Roots,” had a strange picture hanging on his office wall- a turtle on top of a fence post. When asked why, he said, “Every time I write something significant, every time I read my words and think they’re wonderful and begin to feel proud of myself, I look at the turtle on top of the fence post and remember that he didn’t get there on his own. He had help.” THAT’S why we need to worship God- because we didn’t get here on our own…we had help! Here the words of Psalm 100:

Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.

     An old farmer went to the city one weekend and attended a big city church. When he came home, his wife asked him how it was. “I guess it was alright. But they did somethin’ different. They sang praise choruses instead of hymns.” “Praise choruses? What in tarnation them?” “They’re like hymns…only different.” “Different how?” “Well…if’n I sing ‘Amazing grace, how sweet the sound’…that’d be a hymn. If’n I repeat it 6 more times…that’d be a praise chorus!”

     Psalm 100 was written to remind us of our need to be thankful, our need to praise God. It was written for the Hebrews. God said to them, “When you get to the Promised Land, when you get settled down in your nice, warm homes, when you’ve had plenty to eat…don’t forget…Me…the One who led you out of the wilderness and brought you into a land flowing with milk & honey.” Why did God say that? Because it didn’t take very long for the Hebrews to lose that focus and need a reminder. I’m afraid that, all too often, we need that reminder, too. We are a people and a nation truly blessed by God. We need to praise Him! As we walk through Psalm 100, we find five imperatives, five things we are called, as Christians, to do- 

1. The first imperative is, “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.” And this does NOT mean just a little shout-out, but a trumpet blast, a shout of joy to God that comes from your toes, the very depths of your being. Maybe God solved a big problem you had. Maybe He’s given you a new direction. Maybe He’s blessed you more than you could possibly imagine or deserve. A medical missionary spent years in India. Many from the region in which he served suffered from progressive blindness. They were born with healthy vision, but gradually lost their sight as they grew older. Over time, the missionary developed a treatment that would stop this progressive blindness. People came to him, he performed the treatment, and they left with their sight saved. Ironically, they never said, “Thank you”…because the phrase didn’t exist in their dialect. Instead, they used a word that meant, “I will tell others your name.” So wherever they went, they would tell others the name of the missionary who cured their blindness. They received something so wonderful that they simply had to eagerly proclaim it. When you realize God’s been so good to you that you can’t keep it inside any more, you shout your joy to Him. So, from the depths of your soul…sing His praise!

2. The second imperative is, “Worship the Lord with gladness.” Notice- it’s not “worship the church.” It’s not “worship the preacher” (darn the luck!), or “worship the leaders”, or “worship the organization”…but “worship God.” The Bible says that if we tell others about God, if we feed the hungry, if we clothe the naked, if we do God’s work…whatever that might be…we’re serving God. Sounds great, but I’m not sure we always truly get it. Maybe sometimes we serve out of a sense of obligation…or fear…or guilt…or even to draw attention to ourselves. But King David writes, “No matter what, worship God with gladness.”
3. The third imperative is, “Come before Him with joyful songs.” Think you can’t do that? Aren’t capable of joyous songs? Psalm 98:4 says it this way, “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord.” THAT we can do. Notice- the first 3 imperatives center around joy and gladness. God wants us to be happy, to shout with joy, to serve with gladness, to come with joyful songs. Now- look around you. Do the people on either side of you look happy? Or are they just sitting there…scowling…or trying to stay awake?! David says, “Come before Him, serve Him and sing His praise with joy in your heart.”

4. The fourth imperative is, “Know that the Lord is God. It is He who made us and we are His; we are His people, the sheep of His pasture.” God took every bone, every joint, and welded them together with sinew and muscle and covered them with skin and gave us eyes that see, brains that think, and hearts that love. God made us, inside and out. He made us the way He wanted us to be. Amazing, isn’t it? That somehow, in God’s providence, He decided that He wanted an average-looking, barely medium-height man (my acting resume said I was 5’10″…I lied!), bald, not particularly outstanding in anything, just a faithful father and husband who keeps plodding forward. He made me. He made us. God had us in mind…and He made us, just as we are. And He’s STILL making us. He’s not satisfied with the unfinished product. So He’s still making us, still working in our lives.
5. The fifth imperative is, “Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name. For the Lord is good and His love endures forever. His faithfulness continues through all generations.” In the Old Testament, the temple symbolized the very real presence of God. So when the people came to the temple, entered the courtyards, they understood they were coming into God’s presence. That particular temple no longer exists, but that’s OK…because God is everywhere. He’s with us as us drive down the highway. He’s with us at work. He’s with us as we raise our children. He’s with us just now, as we gather here. He’s with us every moment of our lives.
But there’s this nagging thought that gives me cause to pause- what if God started treating us like we often treat Him? What if God decided to meet our needs to the same extent that we meet His church’s needs, to the same extent that we give Him our lives? What if we never saw another flower bloom because we grumbled when God sent the rain? What if God stopped loving us because we failed to love others? What if He didn’t bless us today because we didn’t thank Him yesterday? What if He answered our prayers the way we answer His call to service? What if God stopped leading us tomorrow because we didn’t worship Him yesterday? Sobering, isn’t it?

     Sometimes our expectations regarding worship are simply not quite…met. We want the service to offer THIS…but not THAT. We want THIS kind of music…not THAT. Sometimes we wonder if the preacher is EVER going to stop talking! Let’s be clear…worship isn’t exclusively a “church” or “service” or “Sunday” thing. Instead…worship is a matter of the heart. It’s also not about…ready?…US! Worship is NOT based on who WE am…but Who GOD is. We are NOT here to please ourselves…but God. Worship is about God, about the passionate pursuit of God. Worship is declaring God’s glory…through your words AND your actions. Worship should be done with enthusiasm. Worship should be vocal, public, organized and expressive. Our worship to God should be MUCH more passionate, dynamic and expressive than our response to our favorite sports teams. And when we worship, and when we sing, we shouldn’t do it weakly. We shouldn’t do mildly. We should do it with full voice, with all we have and all we are….or to quote Methodist founder John Wesley, “lustily and with great courage!” Somber, dull, uninspired Christians are NOT contagious Christians. No one is interested in a faith characterized by melancholy, malaise and ennui. We shouldn’t come to worship apathetically. We shouldn’t come only when we are in dire need AND have nothing better to do. We should come regardless of our circumstances. What we should be expressing to God is heart-felt praise. We should DAILY come to God eagerly and adoringly, in whole-hearted anticipation AND participation. And we have GREAT reason to do it….we have a story to tell to the nations…Good News for the world. We are called to have a real relationship with the God we worship. And the closer we are to God, the more we’re motivated to worship Him.

     Are you passionate about worship? Worship God joyfully- we have a lot for which to be thankful. Worship God publicly- we strengthen and encourage each other when gather together in His name. Worship God passionately- God so loved the world He gave His only Son that we might live with Him forever. Worship is not a spectator sport. Worship is not the people up front performing for everyone else’s enjoyment. WE are the players, and we perform for an audience…of ONE. 

Church “Drive-By”

     At my last church, I was the Associate Pastor. From the moment I stepped in the door until 7 years later when I left…that was my title. It never changed. My DUTIES, on the other hand, changed pretty dramatically during that time. At first, regardless of my title, I was ‘the youth and children” guy. That’s what I did! And that leads me to today’s story.

     It was probably fall of 2000. It was a Friday night and I was leading a Senior High lock-in. I had learned the HARD way that if you don’t schedule things for the kids to do…they’ll FIND things to do (and that’s NOT always a good thing!), so I had planned several events that evening. The biggest of these events was a video scavenger hunt. I divided the youth group into 4 smaller groups and had an adult that was assigned to each group. We had a series of riddles that each team got. They had to solve the riddle by figuring out what geographic location in the area was being referenced, and then drive to that location and videotape it, preferably with the team out of the vehicle and in the video. Then, everybody came back and watched the videos…which were a hoot, by the way! 
     My group got the church van, a big old `5-passenger jobbie that was impossible to miss when it was on the road- the church name an logo where plastered all over it and it was just…big! One of the places we figured out we had to go was a tanning salon that was about 10 minutes from the church, on the other side of the interstate. We feared we were behind in the race to get back to church, so we didn’t get out at that stop- we simply pulled up in front, shot a little video of the place, and drove off. When we pulled up, they were closed (it was pretty late at night) but we could see an employee in the store…and he saw us. We videoed and left. Simple, right? Not so much, as it all turned out! We went down to the end of that particular strip mall, turned, drove over the interstate and onto a surface road on the other side, where we were pretty immediately stopped by a red light. As we sat at the light, this car comes SCREAMING up alongside of us ans screeches to a halt! The driver’s door FLIES open and the guy from the tanning salon hops out, absolutely frothing at the mouth! He was nearly apoplectic (Google it) as he screamed at us about videotaping his store while he stood there and counted money and what did we think we were doing and who did we think we were and he was going to call the cops! All the while he somehow seems to fail to notice that we are sitting in a CHURCH VAN! (I understand…that doesn’t guarantee anything, but it would AT LEAST have given me pause to reflect!) 
     Once I was able to talk him down off the ledge and inform him (in no uncertain terms) that he needed to STOP shouting profanities at these high school boys or he was going to find out that the Lord’s justice is swift…and comes from the right, I explained to him what we were doing. He stood there (remember…we’re in the middle of the road, at a dead stop, while all of this is going on!) for a second, then got all apologetic and embarrassed, shuffled his feet a bit, and drove off. Let me assure you- when we all got back to church, regardless of anybody’s video…we had the BEST story!
     Perception is an interesting thing. What YOU perceive is NOT always going to be what I perceive. But at the end of the day, I am convinced that perception is reality- if you genuinely perceive something to be true, then it is…to you. And I fear we all too often lose sight of that fact. We forget that others don’t always see things the way we do, and so we are shocked, or surprised, or angered when they don’t agree with us. And that sometimes leads to consequences that are both unfortunate and avoidable. The next time someone sees something in a way that you do NOT… stop for a second, consider things from their perspective, and try to react accordingly. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with them, just be willing to consider their perception of things. Try it…you’ll be surprised!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

With Faith Like a…TRACFONE

     An older gentleman in my church shared a marvelous analogy with me this week- he said his faith was like a TRACFONE! Let me explain! If you’ve never had a TRACFONE, you might not know what it is. A TRACFONE is a cellular telephone that does not have a contract. You simply buy minutes and add them to the phone as you need them. It is a prepaid cell phone that you can “dump” at any time and not worry about how much time is left on your contract. 

     Well, the gentleman in question has a TRACFONE (or at least SOME brand of prepaid phone). So periodically, he has to buy minutes to put on the phone. And in my weekly prayer group, he said, “My faith is like my cell phone.” And we all just kind of…stared. And so he went on. “I have to put money in my cell phone periodically so it will work.” And we ll continued to stare. And then he said, “That’s why I come to church- to get re-charged!” Ooohhhh….you come to church to…add minutes to your spiritual cell phone…is that it?! I get it now!
     Let me say first, for an older gentleman who’s not terribly versed in the ways of technology…what a GREAT analogy! I was a bit slow on the uptake in GETTING it, but it was great nonetheless. And secondly…I couldn’t agree with him more! People go to church for all sorts of reasons…guilt, loneliness, habit, tradition…the list goes on. Some folks go to church because they have found a place where they can have power. Some folks go to church looking for a mate. There are all sorts of reasons to go to church, and frankly many of them are perfectly good reasons (not that “power” one, however!), but NONE of them are the BEST reason…the RIGHT reason. The best reason, the right reason to go to church is to get your spiritual cell phone replenished by being in fellowship with other believers and, most importantly, spending time in praise, worship and prayer to God. 
     I don’t know about you, but in the midst of a fallen world, I NEED to go to church. I NEED to step out of the stream for just a moment, collect my thoughts, take a deep breath and get re-charged by focusing on the positive and the uplifting. I NEED to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. I NEED to be with Christian brothers and sisters as we share our faith. For me, the world would be a pretty cold, dark place if I didn’t have faith. But WITH that faith, I face the future with hope…assured that God loves me and wants the best for me. Talk about getting your phone re-charged!
     Do you get YOUR phone re-charged? Do you go to church? If you don’t go at all…try it. Please know that you might not find the “right fit” for you right off the bat, but if you keeping looking, you’ll find the YOUR church. Maybe you have a church, but you don’t go very often. Go more…simple as that. You make so many other things in your life a priority…make your spiritual health a priority as well. Once you plug in to a congregation of believers, you will be amazed at how much more full and rich your life can be!! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Hooray For Emma Nutt

     132 years ago today, on September 1, Emma Mills Nutt became the world’s first female telephone operator when she started working for the Edwin Holmes Telephone Dispatch Company (AKA Boston Telephone Dispatch company) in Boston, Massachusetts.

     In January of that year, the Boston Telephone Dispatch company had started hiring boys as telephone operators, (including Emma’s husband. It was soon decided that their lack of patience and penchant for cursing wasn’t working out too well…customer service-wise! (Gee, what a surprise…men didn’t want to talk on the phone, grew impatient and cussed as a result? I would have NEVER seen that one coming! Now, let me get my tongue back out from my cheek…and I’ll continue!) So the company began hiring women as their telephone operators instead. Emma was the very 1st one hired; she ended up staying in that position for about 35 years, give or take. 
     Customers responded well and quickly to her soothing, somewhat cultured voice, her amazing amount of patience and her overwhelmingly positive attitude. So much so, in fact, that she barely earned the distinction of being the first- just a few hours after Emma started work her sister Stella Nutt became the world’s SECOND female telephone operator. (Let’s keep it all in the family..shall we?!) Interestingly, the person who hired Emma to be the first telephone operator was none other than Alexander Graham Bell! She was paid $10/month and worked a 54-hour week. Rumor had it she could remember every number in the telephone directory of the New England Telephone Company. (I struggle to even remember my OWN number! Way to go, Emma!) To be an operator, a woman had to be between the ages of seventeen and twenty-six, look “prim and proper” (define THAT one by today’s standards!), and have arms long enough to reach the top of the telephone switchboard. A synthesised speech attendant system created by ‘Preferred Voice Inc’ and ‘Philips Electronics NV’ was named EMMA in her honor.
     I find it hard to believe in 2010 that we still have discussions about equal rights for women…and yet we do! The reason I find it hard to believe is that gender shouldn’t matter when it comes to issues of pay and responsibility and such. Women should be paid based on their ability…not their gender. EVERYONE should be paid that way! My last Bishop (the person who “oversees” the geographic area in which I live and serve) was a woman. My current District Superintendent is a woman. It doesn’t matter to me, and frankly it shouldn’t matter to anyone. God made us all, and we are ALL His children. So on this 1st day of September, in the year of our Lord 2010, I say…Hooray for Emma Nutt!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!