LEGOS: Relationships

     Bob was in trouble. He forgot his wedding anniversary. His wife was really mad. She told him, “Tomorrow morning, I expect to find a gift in the driveway that goes from 0 to 200 in 6 seconds…AND IT BETTER BE THERE !!” The next morning he got up early and left for work. When his wife woke up, she looked out the window and there was a gift-wrapped box lying in the middle of the driveway. Confused, she put on her robe and ran out and brought the box back in the house. She opened it…and found a brand new bathroom scale! (Dramatic pause) Bob has been missing since Friday.

This is the 3rd week of our current series- Toy Box Leadership. We are focusing on lessons of Christian leadership learned from the toys we had as kids. The 1st week we considered the Slinky Dog and what it had to tell us about vision. Last week we talked about Little Green Army Men and what they could tell us about strategy. Today we consider LEGOS and what they can teach us about relationships.
In 2004, at the age of 31, high-powered, highly-paid attorney Nathan Sawaya won a contest. As a result of that win, he gave up his lucrative career and took a job making $13/hour. Can you guess what his new job was? He went to work for the LEGO company as a Master Builder! I don’t know about a 31-year old attorney, but I have a10-year old 5th grader in my house who would think he had died and gone to heaven if he could be a LEGO Master Builder!
LEGOs got their start in 1932, in Billund, Denmark. Ole Kirk Christiansen was a carpenter. Along with handmade step ladders and ironing boards, he also sold small wooden toys, which he called LEGO, derived from the Danish and meaning “play well”. In 1942, his factory burned to the ground. As he rebuilt, he decided to go with a plastic-injection molding machine instead of the wood. Then, in 1961, LEGOs were introduce to North America, and the rest, as they say, is history! More than 235 BILLION (with a “B”) LEGO pieces have been made so far, with the factory producing 33,000 bricks/minute! Their annual sales topped $2.1 billion last year!! In 2000, it was named the toy of the century! Did you know you can arrange just six 8-studded LEGO bricks in a staggering 915,103,765 combinations?! There is a life-sized car made out of 650,000 LEGO bricks…and it all began by connecting 2 little bricks.
In the movie Home Alone, grade schooler Kevin McAllister is accidentally left behind when his family flies to France for Christmas. At first, Kevin’s delighted, realizing he has the run of the house. He jumps on the beds and rides a toboggan down the staircase. But soon his attempts to entertain himself lose their attractiveness as he comes to the conclusion that without people to share in the celebration, Christmas is empty and sad. Because of his loneliness, Kevin overcomes his fear and reaches out to Old Man Marley, a reclusive neighbor he thought was a monster. These two neighbors encounter each other and quickly develop an appreciation for togetherness…for relationships. What does the Bible have to say about relationships?
Matthew 22:37 – Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all  your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’
A group of kids were asked relationship questions. How do you decide who to marry? Kirsten, age 10- “No person really decides before they grow up who they’re going to marry. God decides it all way before, and you get to find out later who you’re stuck with.” What’s the right age to get married? Freddie, age 6- “No age is good to get married at. You got to be a fool to get married.” How can a stranger tell if two people are married? Derrick, age 8- “You might have to guess, based on whether they seem to be yelling at the same kids.” What do you think you mom and dad have in common? Lori, age 8- “Neither of them want more kids.” What do most people do on a date? Martin, age 10- “On the first date, they just tell each other lies, and that usually gets them interested enough to go for a second date.” When is it OK to kiss someone? Pam, age 7- “When they’re rich.” How would you make a marriage work? Ricky, age 10- “Tell your wife that she looks pretty…even if she looks like a truck.”
A little boy entered the family room after dinner. His dad was tired after a hard day on the job. He had his recliner kicked back and was reading the paper. The little boy inched up beside him and said, “Daddy, I love you.” “I love you too, son,” the father replied as he continued reading the paper. But this didn’t satisfy the boy, so he went around the other side of the chair and began rubbing his dad’s arm. “Daddy, I love you,” he said. And with the slightest amount of impatience in his voice, the father again said, “I love you, too, son.” But still the little one was not satisfied. Suddenly the little boy came crashing through the newspaper onto the father’s chest, reaching his arms as far around his dad as he could, and said, “Daddy, I love you…and I just HAD to do something about it!” Love is selflessness- thinking not about yourself, but thinking first of those you love. We are most like God when we offer love to one another. If we are going to relate to each other as God intended, then our relationships have to be built on the foundation of love.
Sometimes loving those closest to us is the hardest thing to do. We can give money to feed starving people on the other side of the world, but to deal kindly with someone at work or our next door neighbor may be a different matter entirely. LEGOs teach us that each person is dependent on the interconnectedness of the whole. There are 3 aspects of connection that LEGOs help us recognize:
1. Connectional value– How do you build with LEGOs? You build from the bottom up! The same is true of relationships. Our relationships are ultimately more important that our power or position. Connection has great value- crucial to every stage of our spiritual life. Partnering with others means treating them with value and respect. How do we best do that? By working alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ, placing value in those connections. When we make a connection, it helps build a foundation. The more relationships we can foster, the stronger the foundation becomes. And the stronger the foundation, the higher we can build. Connecting helps bring about unity. Unity occurs when we set aside our personal agendas and support the greater good of the body. When a group of people comes together to make a decision, ultimately the majority votes FOR it and the minority votes AGAINST it. Unity occurs when those in the minority support the outcome…regardless of how they voted. Unity occurs through connection.
2. Connectional ability– LEGOs are reliable- only 18 of every million pieces produced don’t pass inspection. LEGOs are compatible- they fit well together because they were designed to…studs on top, tubes on the bottom. LEGO makes about 3,000 different pieces…yet they all fit together. A brick made yesterday will fit perfectly with a piece made in 1958. But pouring a box of LEGOs out on the floor doesn’t produce a castle…it produces a pile of LEGOs! LEGOs don’t come together by accident. They have to be intentionally joined together. Likewise, the best relationships don’t happen by accident. Relationships, at their best, are designed, intentional, connected and built. Bringing it all together required the ability to connect others…and connect WITH others. LEGOs are also reusable- you can build something, disassemble it, then build something else. Relationships need to flexible- we simply CANNOT stay the same…we have to be willing to adapt, change, rebuild.
3. Connectional failures– there is nothing more frustrating than when you are in the middle of a cell phone call and you lose service, or you are nearly done doing something on the Internet… and you lose your connection! When we fail to connect, communication fails, tasks go undone, and frustration reigns. When connections fail, relationships fail. In a Peanuts cartoon, Lucy says to Snoopy: “There are times when you really bug me, but I must admit there are also times when I feel like giving you a hug.” Snoopy thinks to himself: “That’s the way I am – huggable and buggable.” This is the situation many find themselves when we try to connect with other people- they are all both huggable and buggable. But In the church, if we fail to connect…we’re out of business. That’s a good reminder that relationships are more important than accomplishments.
If you ask people what makes them happy, they’ll often say things like money, success, fame, good looks, popularity, prestige, power. And yet, there are LOTS of people who have those things and still have a void…a need for something more. That “something more” they crave to fill the emptiness in their lives is relationship…with God…with others.
Think of all the ways people can connect within the church. They can connect in worship, in Sunday School, in United Methodist Men and United Methodist Women, in WinGS, in the various musical groups, in the events of Wednesday Night Live, in Bible Study, in Youth Groups, in Children’s Church, in Missions work, in folding bulletins and newsletters…the list goes on and on. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10- says “Two people can accomplish more than twice as much as one; they get a better return for their labor. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But people who are alone when they fall are in real trouble.” If you were going to die soon and had only one phone call you could make, who would you call and what would you say?  And why are you waiting? The value of a relationship is in direct proportion to the time that you invest in it.
Gertrude always bought her stamps at the Post Office. One day the line was particularly long and someone pointed out that she didn’t have to wait in line because there was a stamp machine in the lobby. “I know that,” said Gertrude, “but the machine doesn’t ask me about my arthritis!” For her, buying stamps wasn’t about speed or efficiency…it was about personal contact and human relationship. Ben Stein said, “Personal relationships are the fertile soil from which all advancement…all success… all achievement in real life grows.” There is tremendous value in planning, but the real strength of any organization is the relationships.
Carl Printz had been the Swedish consul in Toronto for years. He was interviewed on his 99th birthday and asked: “Give us the rule you have followed during your long and useful life.” Printz replied: “I would mention one definite rule—one must be temperate in all things.” Then he added quickly, “Perhaps I should say: ‘Except one—to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind and your neighbor as yourself. These are the only things we can rightly do to excess!’” It’s impossible to love God too much. And the more we love Him, the more we will love others. The two go hand-in-hand. To love the Father means we must also love His children…all of them. Have you ever put a jigsaw puzzle together…only to find one piece missing? It’s SO frustrating, because it can simply NEVER be complete without that missing piece. As believers we are a part of the body of Christ, we are more than friends; we are family in the household of God. The love of Christ unites our hearts as brothers and sisters. Anything less is only a social club. We are a part of the church–those called to be in the world…but not of the world. God is putting a living puzzle together, and we are the pieces. I pray He knit our hearts together so that the beauty of His Body will be seen in us.
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed Sunday! Please make sure and come back tomrrow, and stick with Jesus!

What’s Up With Halloween?

     Halloween is an interesting “holiday”. You dress your kids up in some strange, unusual, funny, bizarre costume and parade them around to other people’s houses, where they receive candy. (Remember the people who gave lame things like mints and tooth brushes when we were little?!) It’s also interesting to see how the Church responds to Halloween. The response is as wide and varied as the number of people involved. I have had people who thought the whole thing was evil…literally…and refuse to have anything to do with is. I have had people who wanted to have haunted houses in the church. And I have had everything in between! And in the middle of all that is…me!

     It seems to me that the one things we miss in this whole Church vs. Halloween equation is the folks we are trying to reach. Because the reality is this- the VAST majority of parents in this country are GOING to take help their kids celebrate Halloween- it’s a given. And when the Church refuses to acknowledge that fact, when we simply stick our head in the sand and ignore that fact…we are, in my humble opinion, missing out on Jesus’ call. He said, “GO and make disciples…” In other words, meet folks where they are and help them begin to see a different way of looking at things. And tomorrow night, where most of them will be is celebrating  Halloween. So it seems that the Church has a choice- we can either refuse to accept that reality and continue to struggle with being relevant in people’s lives…or we can embrace that fact and creatively find ways to be a part of it.
     I have shared before that I am a magician and a juggler. (I know, magician, juggler, drummer…preacher? I am TRULY a font of useless talents! My mother was proud!) But that rather…ODD…skill set provides me with an opportunity to embrace Halloween while offering the children of our community a safe alternative to other things they COULD be doing. Tomorrow night, I am offering a magic and juggling seminar at my church. The entire town is invited, and kids who attend will each receive a free set of practice juggling balls AND a magic trick. During the hour they will be at the church, I’m going to offer them instruction on how to juggle and how to do magic. I’ll teach them all one magic trick (in addition to the one they get to take home) as well as the basics of juggling. Do I think I’m going to save any souls this evening? Probably not! Do I think I will pick up a family or two who might be looking for a church? Possibly. Do I think the kids who attend will leave with a different, more relevant picture of what a pastor, what a church, is? Absolutely! And since that’s the case…job done!
     How will you celebrate Halloween? What will your kids and grandkids go away from tonight thinking? How will you reinforce the positives of their experience while trying to help them contextualize the less savory aspects of the holiday? For me, it has much less to do with “Halloween is evil and therefore we must avoid it at all costs” and much more to do with “how can we be a PART of Halloween while remaining true to who God has called us to be?”
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Locked Out of the Church

     Yesterday was a sad day in the life of my church. In the end, many people won’t even know it happened…but I’ll know. And it has less to say about the nature of the town in which we live and more to say about the nature of the world as a whole. The “it” I speak of is locking the church doors. Now you’re thinking, “You JUST started locking the doors to the church? Exactly how small IS the town in which you live?! No, we didn’t just start locking the doors to the church. When no one is here, the doors are locked (except for those time when the last person out either doesn’t check or forgets they are the last person out. Then…I come in and find the doors unlocked! You immediately wonder ALL SORTS of things at that point!) 

     No, what has changed is this- when I’m not in the building during office hours, the building is now locked, exclusively for the safety of my Office Administrator. We have had some…incidents…occur over the past few years that have brought us closer and closer to this decision. And now…we’re here! I have already had a couple of people complain about it…it’s inconvenient for them “and not very welcoming”. Well, I have to be brutally honest- I really could care less if it’s inconvenient for them…BUT…I couldn’t agree more that it’s not very welcoming. However, if my choices are being a bit more welcoming and tending to the safety of my staff…well there really IS no choice there, is there? So, if you come to my church during office hours, expecting to get it, and find the door licked, you simply have to ring the bell and wait for someone to come. 
     What does this kind of action herald? What does it point to? It points to the slow eroding of values we have seen in  this country over the past 40-50 years. I grew up out in the middle of nowhere, and we NEVER locked our house. Until, that is, we were robbed in broad daylight. I was at the neighbor’s house and although it was a tad more than a quarter mile away, I could see our driveway from their living room. I watched as a car pulled up in my driveway, two guys got out and walked around the back of the house. A few minutes later, they reemerged carrying something, which they loaded in the car and drove off. Turned out it was the portable colored TV from my parent’s bedroom. (Understand that this was 1970, and a portable color TV was VERY expensive!) We were pretty sure who did it but couldn’t prove it. After that, the house was locked up tighter than a drum. Now, I wouldn’t DREAM of leaving my house unlocked.
     But the church should be different. The church should be a safe haven, where people feel welcomed and accepted. Instead we have to lock the doors…even when we’re there! Sadly, the threat and fear of violence far outweighs the desire to “always have the light on”. Don’t misunderstand me- it is ABSOLUTELY the right decision to make. Her safety IS more important- no doubt. It’s just a shame that we’ve come to this as a nation. I would invite you to pray about these things. Pray for peace. Pray for understanding. Pray that enough hearts will change, enough people will come to know God in an intimate way that we don’t have to live our lives behind locked doors. We were made for SO much more than that!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Horrible Water Bill- Part II

     A few days, I wrote about a frighteningly high water bill I had received. (In case you didn’t read that entry, it was more than $7,100!) I recently received THREE separate pieces of mail regarding that same issue…so here’s the update!

     First- I called the water company to see what was going on, as I hadn’t received anything for a while. They said it had all been taken care of and that my amended bill was $14.43…a FAR cry from $7,300! So I just went ahead and paid it, right then and there. Done and done! Great! Perhaps! Because then I got a bill in the mail…the SAME day that I spoke with them, for even MORE money…the original amount plus the usage since then! BUT…since I had just talked with them I was sure that everything simply crossed in the mail and all would be revealed in the last act. THEN…I got ANOTHER bill two days later that said I owed…ready…$14.43! Which, of course, I had already paid. So, again, all is well!
     But wait…there is one more (so far) piece of mail to come…it came a couple of days ago. It was NOT a bill, but a letter. I thought to myself, “Oh joy, a LETTER! What, pray tell, will THIS be about?” Well, it basically said, “Oops! We messed up, due to a faulty meter, but all has been set right.” Awesome. But in the context of that letter, I finally found out how much water they thought, for a time, that I had used. Ready? 1.5 MILLION (yes, with an M) gallons! Can you even imagine that? (If you can, you are at least a step ahead of me!) That revelation took me back to my original conversation, after I had received the first gynormous bill. As I shared before , the customer service representative (a VERY nice and helpful lady, by the way!) asked me if I had been using more water recently. I shared at the time that I had NOT, and that the most water I had EVER used in a month was about 16 months ago when someone gave us a pool that I had to fill- it added about 45 bucks to my bill! But now that I know 1.5 MILLION gallons? Oh my goodness! 
     Do you realize how much water 1.5 million gallons actually IS? It would fill an Olympic-sized pool…3 times! It’s almost exactly the amount of water the Mississippi River (third largest river in the world) moves each second. Based on statistics, it would take the average American more than 33 years to use that much water. That’s a LOT of water!! All I can say is that I’m grateful to have that taken care of!
     What crazy “utilities” stories do YOU have? I would love to hear them! Simply comment on this blog or email me from the link above! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Crafta-whatsa?

     When I first got to my current church, the United Methodist Women there had tis awesome event called The Christmas Bazaar. (Please note: that’s BAZAAR…NOT BIZARRE!) They had an amazing amount of Christmas crafts/gifts/etc., great food, great baked goods…you name it, they did it. People from all around came to the event every year. Over time, the event got harder and harder to produce each year, while the number of ladies working on it dwindled. Finally, after requests for more help and some attempts at paring the event back, it was decided that it was a ministry that had run it course. Sadly, it was “put to bed” a few years ago. People in the town continued to ask each year, “When is the bazaar?” and we had to tell them…it isn’t.

     THEN…a great thing happened. A pair of younger women in the church got the idea, about a year ago, that they would like to resurrect the event in some form. They decided to call it something new, and so they dubbed it The Craftaganza! (You will NOT find that on a key chain at Stuckey’s!) They have spent the last year preparing for it. They have had monthly Craftaganza events, where folks in the church (let’s be honest…WOMEN in the church) have gotten together and made a variety of crafts. They have gotten the United Methodist Women involved, making their amazing soups and pies. They have gotten the United methodist Men involved, making their county-wide famous butterfly pork chop sandwiches. They have gotten the Missions Team involved, running a bake shop. They have gotten the youth involved, selling Christmas ornaments. They have somewhere in the neighborhood of 14 outside vendors coming in to sell their stuff as well. It has been an amazing sight- this “resurrection” of a ministry!
     Nobody was happy to see the Christmas Bazaar come to an end. But likewise, I think everybody’s happy to see it come back to life as The Craftaganza. It’s always exciting to see a wide variety of generations unite in a common cause within the church! And the great part is that the proceeds from the event will be used to help families in need in our community this Christmas. A united effort to provide a fun, delicious day…AND it benefits folks who need help. Hard to beat that with a stick, my mom would say! Please pray for this event (Saturday, November 13th from 9AM-2PM)- pray that is goes well, pray that it touches a lot of people, and pray that several families can be helped through the proceeds!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Leadership…a Lost Art?

     I have been thinking a lot lately about leadership. And the more I think about it, the more I realize the amazing leadership vacuum that seems to be happening in this country. At EVERY level of leadership, in EVERY  conceivable setting and scenario, there seems to be a crucial shortage of good leaders. 

     Now, you may be saying, “I don’t know what HE’S talking about…my boss/preacher/congressman/whoever is a GREAT leader! What does HE know?” (And the answer would be…NOT much!) But to clarify, notice I didn’t say “absence of leadership”…I said “crucial shortage”. If you are still having trouble seeing it, look at it this way. Consider your workplace. Consider your kid’s school district. Consider your church, both locally and beyond. Consider the stores and restaurants you frequent. Consider the companies you do business with. If your experience is like mine, then good customer service is the exception…NOT the rule. For my wife and I, when we receive GOOD customer service, it stands out SO much that we almost always find the manager on duty and tell them…and sadly…we don’t have to do that very often. 
     Now, don’t perceive this as a veiled critique of my kid’s school, or of the hierarchy of the United Methodist Church. Not the case. My kid’s school is run by very competent, able folks who care about my kid…and all the other ones there. And my bishop is one of the BEST preachers I have ever heard and is a great leader and motivator. I consider myself fortunate. But across the board, good leaders seem to be a hard to come by as lukewarm Cubs fans! You might be asking yourself, “So what? My life is OK like it is…why would I care if other people are good leaders or not?” Here’s my answer. Basically everything I learned about leadership I learned from some who led ME- a boss, a teacher, a minister…whatever. They were good, solid folks who were good solid leaders, and they passed their wisdom on to me. However, if all we have (or if the majority of what we have) is poor leaders, then what kind of role models do we have to follow? What kind of leaders are being produced? What impact does this all have on our kids…and their kids?
     The Bible says, “Where there is no leadership the people fall, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” (Proverbs 11:14) Think about that- without leadership…the people fall. Seems like there’s a WHOLE lot of falling going on right now. BUT…an abundance of counselors provide safety. And in that statement, I hear the inherent “QUALITY counselors”. So what then are we to say about these things? It seems to me, the approach is two-fold: 1. identify and praise the good leaders, and 2. put those goos leaders into some kind of mentoring/training program so that they can replicate their good leadership traits in other emerging leaders. It would take intentionality and planning, as well as a willingness on the part of those leaders, but it would pay off with massive dividends. New leaders would be molded in such a way that they would lead with integrity, courage, intelligence and vision. (Doesn’t sound like too many of the leaders I currently know…how about you?) Imagine the impact that would have on our families, our communities, our nation, our world. Godly leaders committed to leading with integrity could/would literally change the world!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day!! Please make sure and come by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Magical Properties of Elevators

     The country family heads to the city for the first time. They get the the big, grand hotel…it’s more amazing, more opulent than anything they have ever seen. While the mother goes to use “the powder room”, the father and his son walk, slack-jawed, through the nearly overwhelming lobby. They come to a pair of shiny golden doors. As they stand there, trying to figure out what they are looking at, an elderly woman makes her way to the doors. She reaches out and pushes a button marked “UP” that’s next to the golden doors. After a brief moment, the golden doors slide open and the elderly woman walks into the small room that is revealed. Then…the golden doors slide shut. The father and son look at each other, wondering what in the world they are witnessing. Then…it happens. A few moments later, the golden doors slide open again, and out walks a gorgeous  young blonde woman. She passes the father and son, who watch her walk away. The son turns to the father and asks, “Daddy…what just happened?” The father,  after a pause, says, “I’m not sure, son…but go and get your mother!!”

     Have you ever given much thought to the elevator? They are really quite magical, when you think about it. You push a button, a door opens, you step into a small room, the door closes, and when it re-opens, you are in a TOTALLY different place, perhaps several stories higher…or lower…than you were when you started. And then of course there is Willie Wonka’s elevator- remember? It literally goes anywhere- up, down, sideways, whatever! It would be quite helpful to have such an elevator!
     Elevators are directional- they go FROM a specific place TO a specific place. Unless you push the wrong button, you know exactly where you will end up when you start an elevator journey.  It’s a shame that LIFE isn’t like that, huh? We have plans, and goals, but we really don’t know where we are headed at any given moment. (Don’t believe me? Let me put it this way- if you had said 20 years that I would be a minister…I would have laughed in your face! I’m the one who bragged about going to a United Methodist-related university and NEVER ONCE in four years stepping foot in the chapel!) 
     Life is simply NOT as predictable as the elevator is. We just kind of push our boat out into the stream and try and keep from sinking while we are carried along by the current. And if we don’t have a rudder…we are at the mercy of that current. I find a lot of folks don’t have a rudder. But I learned that God WANTS to be our rudder. He wants us to give our lives to Him. And when we do that, He becomes our rudder, helping us find direction in our lives. And let me assure you that direction, especially in these uncertain times, is a GREAT thing to have. I mean, God is NO elevator….He is SO much better!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!