If You’re Gonna Be a Bear…Be a Grizzly!

      I said something in my sermon yesterday that I would like to dig a bit deeper into. Here’s what I said- “Whatever you do, you’re going to be criticized by someone. Even if you do nothing, you will still be criticized for it. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather be criticized for doing SOME thing than for doing nothing. I’d rather be persecuted for doing the right thing than be rewarded for doing the wrong thing. I’d rather be called a fool for following a God who’s a party person than be called wise man for NOT following Him.”

     That observation is based on 14 years in the ministry. Before that, I thought…I honestly thought…that I could please everyone if I tried hard enough. (I know… naive…right?) I was a pleaser, born and bred. And that just didn’t work very well. When I first entered the ministry, I continued being a pleaser. (I mean, we are what we are…aren’t we?!) But as time went by, I began to figure it out- you simply could NOT please everybody. And not just all the time, but never! Can’t do it! 
     And once you figure that out, the logical next step is to focus on pleasing yourself. Think about it- as that great theologian Ricky Nelson said in the song Garden Party– “But it’s all right now, I learned my lesson well.
You see, ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself.”  We all fall into that at times. Look out for #1. Take care of yourself because no one else will. Do what’s best for you. And all that!
     But somewhere along the way, between trying to do what everyone wanted me to do and trying to do what I wanted me to do…I figured out that the only way to find real peace in the middle of it all was to do what GOD wanted me to do. Ultimately, you can’t do what everyone else wants you to do. And you sure can’t simply do what YOU want all the time. But you CAN do what God wants you to do.
     BUT…when you do that…you WILL hack some people off. You will ALSO make some people very happy. If you change your approach to try and make the first bunch happier…you will make the 2nd bunch madder!! Then, if you decide that doing anything makes people mad, you are prone to do…nothing. Well, let me assure you that just makes people mad as well! If I choose to pick THIS music for Sunday, then THOSE people are as happy as clams…but THESE people are madder than wet hens! 
     So…I choose to do what I feel God is calling me to do…and let the chips fall where they may! Happy with what I did? Thanks…but just wait…I’ll do something else soon that will hack you off. Unhappy with what I did? Sorry about that…today just isn’t your day…and tomorrow isn’t looking too good either! If you’re going to follow God, at some point you just have to take a big, deep breath…and jump in the current! You have to grab life with both hands and refuse to let go. In other words, if you’re going to be a bear…be a grizzly!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Jesus: The Party Person

    I have a retired
preacher friend who is…shall we say…colorful! He used to smuggle Bibles into Communist-bloc
countries. He’s been detained by KGB agents. He yearly leads a men’s ministry
group in the French Quarters of New Orleans in the middle of Mardi Gras, the
wildest party in the world- 50 guys, marching 5 across, carrying a cross down
the middle of Bourbon Street in the midst of debauchery that is hard to describe.
He also used to hang out in the local bars of the town where his church was. He
would sit near the men’s room (his philosophy was that, when you spend time in
a bar, everyone is going to end up in the restroom!), and when guys would come
by, he would get their attention and say something like, “Jesus loves you. Brother.”
The responses ranged from ignoring him to cussing at him to spitting on him.
But he said that, as the night wore on, and people got more…lubricated…they
also became more receptive to his message. When asked why he did it, he would
say, “Jesus told us to try and save the sinners…and there are a LOT of sinners
in those places!”

David Brown said, “Never
be the first to arrive at a party or the last to go home
are in the 4th week of our current Sunday sermon series- “Who Is Jesus?” Based
on a book by United Methodist Bishop William Willimon. In this series, we peel
back the shiny, pristine veneer that we use to cover Jesus and look at who He
REALLY is…and some of it is shocking. The 1st week, we looked at Jesus the Vagabond.
The 2nd week it was Jesus the Peacekeeper. Last week- Jesus the Storyteller.

And today we look at Jesus the Party person. Ann Landers said, “At every party there are two kinds of
people – those who want to go home and those who don’t. The trouble is, they are
usually married to each other!”

     One of the most common portrayals of Jesus
in the Gospels, and yet one of the more under-appreciated and under-recognized,
is that of him enjoying dinner and having fellowship at the table with people
in their homes…Jesus the Party Person.

There are people who
seem to think that Christians shouldn’t have a good time- it’s improper and
undignified for us to…GASP!…have fun! But regardless of what the
puritanical party-poopers think, when Jesus is present, it’s “Party on Wayne!
Party on, Garth!”. Pull up a chair and grab a plate!

     Did Jesus EVER turn down a dinner
invitation? It doesn’t seem like it! He visited all kinds of homes and shared
all kinds of meals with all kinds of people. Whether it was a Pharisee or tax
collector, a friend or a religious opponent trying to catch him in a trap, a
small gathering of the spiritual elite or a large, raucous party full of
sinners, Jesus would sit with them, talk with them, tell stories, laugh, enjoy
their company, discuss important issues…and challenge their accepted notions.
Jesus’ habit of relating to people at parties reminds us that
God is personal and social- intensely interested in personal fellowship with
His people. It also challenges us to remember that the only effective way to touch
people with the Gospel is through face to face personal human contact—being
present, listening, sharing, making connections. We all know Jesus spoke to
crowds, but often it only served to provide an opportunity for the REAL work of
the ministry, which took place with an individual or small group, in a more
intimate setting.

Mark 2: 13-17Once again Jesus went out beside the lake.
A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he
saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth.“Follow me,”
Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner
at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his
disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law
who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they
asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On
hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but
the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

You know…nothing makes
you more tolerant of a neighbor’s noisy party than …being there!
The most controversial part of Jesus’ habit of
partying with people was his choice of parties. He frequented places the pious
folks avoided religiously. He associated with characters who were
well-known…and NOT in a good way. He touched people…and let people touch
Him…when it was SURE to cause scandal. He welcomed spiritual losers and
enjoyed the company of common folk who had less social clout than your average
houseplant. When He HAD the opportunity to shine in front of the paparazzi, he
wasn’t appropriately deferential or cheesy but instead challenged their
spiritual snobbery and questioning their hidden idolatries.

     I have heard it said,
“I’m thankful for the mess to clean after a
party because it means I have been surrounded by friends.”
There is nothing like a feast. We celebrate
all our holidays and special days with marvelous traditions, awesome, delicious
comfort foods, rich desserts, and extensive preparations and presentations that
we save for just such occasions. We anxiously await warm weather holidays when
we get to have people over for a cookout. We gather at tailgates, local pubs
and sports bars to watch games and cheer on our team around tables piled high with
food and drink. Churches (WE do it best!) are the acme of partiers; we bring
our folks together for potlucks and pleasure.

     Nowhere is Jesus’ human-ness more apparent
than in the image of Him moving from one party to the next. He’s no puckered,
pious Puritan- He’s a party person! He wasn’t a temple priest bathed in
incense; he was a wandering rabbi who did some of his best teaching amid the
festivity of the dinner table. Jesus was accused more than once of behaving
like a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners. His
response? “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I haven’t come
to call the righteous, but the sinners.”
When Jesus wasn’t
preaching or teaching…you’d find Him at a party. It might be at a tax
collector’s house or at Pharisee’s home. The guests might include power men in
the community…or the real riffraff. And what seemed to bother the stuffy,
“religious” types wasn’t that Jesus went to parties, but that He
seemed to enjoy Himself a bit too much.

     In fact, it was at just such a party that
Jesus performed His first miracle. Remember the wedding at Cana of Galilee?
They run out of wine, and Mary tells Jesus to do something. Does she want him
to make a beer run down to the Cana 7-11? No. Does she see this as His time to
shine? Yes. And what does He end up doing? He turns water into wine…about 400
gallons of it!
I’ve heard many people try and explain away this
first miracle. “Jesus simply sped up a natural process- in nature
grapevines turn water into wine,” or “All miracles are really just
nature sped up.” But they’re missing the point. The point is this- running
out of wine is the surest way of bringing a party to a grinding halt, and
Jesus’ act allowed the party to keep going.

      In 1966, Time Magazine announced that God was dead. In 2005,
George Barna pronounced that mainline denominations were basically dead after
hemorrhaging members for decades. The United Methodist Church in the U.S. is no
exception, having gone from 13 million members in 1968 to 8 million members in
2004. We have been called a sleeping giant…and we are just that; a body 8
million people strong…poised to be used by God. I believe with all my heart
that we have a relevant message for our generation- God’s unmerited grace. It’s
what this world needs…and what we need to hear regularly from our pulpits. We
need to experience it in our relationships with each other. We need to come
face to face with the living God and receive forgiveness from sin, freedom from
guilt, and healing from our brokenness. We need to NOT get so caught up in all
the pomp and circumstance, tradition and ritual, that we fail to remember that
Jesus…THAT Jesus…the one we claim to follow when we claim the name
“Christian…was the life of the party. He was in the middle of the action- He
WAS the middle of the action- NOT turning away from those who need Him the most
but instead breaking bread with the sinners, ne’er-do-wells and flawed humans
of the world…in other words…us.

     WE engage in revelry because parties offer
a breather from the dull, humdrum world we live in Monday through Friday. But
in HIS partying, Jesus
rejects the notion of
taking a temporary break from the world and instead offers a glimpse of the
world healed, redeemed, and restored to what God originally intended. God
promises to be with us, celebrate with us. And that all sounds all fine and
good until God dramatically makes good on His promise and actually shows up…
not as the thoroughly moldable God we want him to be but rather as “He who
parties with sinners”- Jesus of Nazareth. Whatever you do – you’re going to be
criticized by someone. Even if you do nothing – you’ll still be criticized for
it. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather be criticized for doing
SOMEthing than for doing nothing. I would rather be persecuted for doing the
right thing than doing the wrong thing. I would rather be called a fool for
following a God who is a party person than to be called a wise man for NOT
following Him. Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we’re here we
should dance.

     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

What Do You Know About the Bible?

     The Bible…and amazing book…regardless of your beliefs. But what do we know about it? Bits and pieces? Fractions of stories we’ve heard? here’s some Bible trivia that you may find interesting!

The Bible is the most shoplifted book in the world. (That should tell you something!)

About 50 Bibles are sold every minute

The Bible was written by over 40 authors from three different continents-Asia, Africa, Europe

The Bible is actually made up of 773,692 words and would take someone 70 hours to read!

The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament was written in Greek but now the Bible is written in 6,000 different languages around the world!

Abraham was the first person in the Bible to be called a Hebrew.

The oldest person in the Bible was Methuselah, who died at the age of 969!

There are two men in the Bible who never died- Enoch and Elijah…God took them directly to Heaven.

A raven was the first animal to emerge from the ark.

The word “Christian” only appears 3 times in the Bible.

The word “Trinity” is never mentioned in the Bible.

The very last word used in the Bible is “Amen”.

     Did you know these things? There is SO much to found in the Bible. My challenge to you is this- pick up the Bible…and reads it. If you haven’t really read it before…don’t start at the beginning and try to work your way through. I KNOW that is the logical way to read a book, but THIS book is different! The first 2 books of the Bible- Genesis and Exodus- are a good read. Lots of familiar characters and a great deal of stuff happens. But then you get to Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. If you make it through those, you should get a T-shirt commemorating the event! So, read genesis and Exodus. read the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John…found at the start of the New Testament)…they tell the story of Jesus. Read The Book of Acts (found in the New testament, right after the Gospel of John)…it tells the story of the beginnings of the Church. Read the Book of Psalms and the Book of Proverbs (both found in the Old Testament)…they offer great wisdom and insight into what it means to have a relationship with God. From there, wander around the Old and New Testaments and see what you find. If you hit a section that just seems to bog you down…flip to something else. As you get more and more comfortable with reading the Bible, those areas that bog you dowen will get fewer and fewer!
     The Bible really is a life-changing book… give it a try! Thanks fro stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

How Will YOU Be Remembered?

     I meet with an attorney today. Not just any attorney…my dad’s attorney. I am the executor of my dad’s estate (that always sounds funny to me…it sounds like there should be some “Tara-like” manse on a big hill overlooking the entire plantation!) and that means stuff needs to be done. 

     As I have begun to think through the “disposition of the estate”, it makes me think of the legacy we leave behind when we are gone. We all know people who have died leaving LOTS and LOTS of physical assets. We also all know people who have died leaving basically NOTHING physical behind. The reality is that most of us will fall somewhere between the two extremes when our time her is gone. 
     So…what will YOU leave behind as a legacy when you are gone? The bedroom set, the dining room furniture, the Savings Bonds, the car with lots of miles on it…the list goes on. But what will you REALLY leave behind when you’re gone? Don’t misunderstand- the “stuff” we leave behind is great…at least SOME of it is! BUT…if that’s all we leave when we shuffle off this mortal coil…then we’ve really missed the mark. 
     Stuff has a lifespan…it only lasts so long. After a time, there will be no more of the stuff left. But if we make positive, deep, lasting connections with other humans, then our legacy can live far beyond the half-life of a dining room chair! 
     My dad leaves some stuff behind…to be sure. But for me, the best “stuff” he left behind won’t fit in a box (or my living room decor)- instead it resides in my “dope cranium”…and my heart, where it continues to impact me and inform me daily. One of the cardinal guidelines I live by was taught to me by my dad. If you are faced with a problem, always try the easiest solution first- it’s the easiest to try and it is often the right one. I can’t tell you how many times I have used that philosophy…and how many times it has paid off in spades. (The funny thing is that, when I told my dad that I used that often, he said, “I said that? Really?”) 
     How do you remember those who have gone before you? And how will YOU be remembered when you are gone? make a conscious decision today to leave a legacy that WILL stand the test of time…a legacy of love that your family and friends can pass on to future generations! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Goodbye, Farewell and Amen

     Today I do one of the hardest things I have ever done…bury my dad. And I don’t just mean attend his funeral…I mean perform his funeral. I officiated at my mom’s funeral, and today I do the same for my dad. It’s interesting- I have had many people say (either regarding my mom or my dad) “I can’t imagine how you could do that!” or “Isn’t there someone else?” or even “Bad choice, pastor!” And while I understand that those folks are well-intentioned…for me…in my situation…they’re wrong. 

     It’s not a matter of “I can’t imagine how you could do it.” Instead, it’s more like “I can’t imagine NOT doing it.” Neither of my parents had a real relationship with a pastor; well, not counting ME! And I have done dozens and dozens of funerals for folks like that- folks who had no pastor to call upon to perform the funeral. And so…they get a total stranger. Now, I try HARD to provide a meaningful service for those people…they deserve it…but in the end, it’s just not the same for them. It couldn’t possibly be. And nothing irks me more than when a preacher gets up there and makes out as if the deceased was their bestest friend in the world while everyone in attendance knows they never even met! So I would want ANYBODY to have their funeral officiated by someone they knew…someone who knew them. Wouldn’t I therefore want that all the more for my own parents?
     Sometimes, you get to push the “easy” button and that’s a good thing. Sometimes, however, the “easy” button is broken and you have to roll your sleeves up, plant your feet, steel your resolve…and just do it…because, while it’s NOT the easy thing to do, it’s the RIGHT thing to do. Today is just such one of those days. 
     When you are faced with difficulty, challenges, roadblocks…look at the situation. Is there an easy way out that is also a GOOD way out? Great…take it! But if the easy way out is NOT also a good way out…take a big deep breath and do what has to be done, knowing it won’t be easy but it WILL be right! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Hope “Springs” Eternal!

     It’s getting closer! I can feel…can you? On February 13th, pitchers and catchers report to the Spring Training camps to begin the process of getting ready for another season of Major league Baseball! (At least the St. Louis Cardinals report that day, and since they are my favorite team…I will admit that I don’t REALLY care when the other teams report!) Soon mt beloved sports magazines will be filled with what REALLY matters…baseball news! And soon I will be able to watch my Cardinals play ball, or at least follow it pitch-by-pitch on my phone and/or laptop! (Yes…I’m a geek! BUT…I embrace my geek-ness…or is it geek-hood? I guess I could always check that out on Wikipedia!!) And like all good baseball fans, I enter Spring Training every year confident that THIS is the year when my team wins the World Series. For baseball fans…for sports fans all across the spectrum for that matter…hope springs eternal. 

     Hope is a marvelous thing- it brings a ray of sunshine where there isn’t any. It shines a light in the darkness. It breathes new life into a lifeless situation. Hope is the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best. Hope is looking ahead with a positive attitude. 
     Hope is also one of the greatest gifts that is offered in the Bible. For Christians, Jesus is the source of that hope. In fact, the New Testament says, “In His (Jesus) name the nations will put their hope.” 
     We can put our hope in Jesus, knowing that He will ALWAYS be with us, always be guiding us, always be molding us into the people He would have us be. Hope in Jesus isn’t some pie-in-the-sky kind of thing. Instead, it’s a powerful, and very genuine, thing that can change your life…forever. So, as Spring Training draws near, my hopes for the St. Louis Cardinals is on the rise…but my hope in Jesus Christ, and an eternity with Him, is strong, faithful, steadfast. What a GREAT thing that is!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Things Didn’t Turn Out the Way You Planned

     That great theologian Pablo Cruise said it best when he said, “things didn’t turn out the way you planned!” It’s the truth- often things simply do NOT turn out the way you intended them to. Case in point- I would hazard to guess that, while there TONS of football fans celebrating this morning because they root for the Packers or the Steelers, there are tons MORE who are disappointed  today because the team they picked at the beginning of the season to “go all the way” is at home right now, on the collective couch (it’s a BIG couch!), jockeying for position and waiting to watch the Super Bowl! 

     Likewise, there are kids who were SURE that it would snow enough last night to cancel school this morning. many of this kids are now sitting IN school…lamenting the fact that their plans went awry! 
     I have had SUCH a case of “things not turning out the way you planned”-itis lately. It started last Saturday. I got up, knowing what the day would be like. Or at least THINKING I knew what the day would be like. And yet, a phone call in the 9 o’clock hour from my brother, saying that my dad had died, totally changed all that! Then I began to go into “regroup” mode, thinking about what I needed to do before the funeral. So I plan to go into the office Monday-Wednesday to get as much done as possible before I leave for the funeral. But that plan went awry as well! My Office Administrator is experiencing HORRIBLE back problems and is therefore not in the office. There go THOSE plans as well!
     We’ve all heard the old saying, “The best laid plans of mice and men are often gone awry.” By do you know where it came from? Scottish poet Robert Burns, in 1785, wrote To a Mouse, which included the following words, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, gang aft agley, an’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, for promis’d joy!” WHAT? Is that English? (No…it’s Scottish!) But here’s what it means- “The best laid schemes of mice and men oft go awry, and leave us nothing but grief and pain for promised joy!” And BOY…isn’t that true? We plan and plan and plan…and then it all go to heck in a hand basket and we’re left with grief and pain. 
     I have learned one way to address that fact. Don’t follow YOUR plans…follow God’s plans FOR you. (I have heard it said, “Want to make God laugh? Tell Him YOUR plans!”) Anyway, what does that mean…follow God’s plans? In a nutshell, it means pray about what God wants you to do with your life…and then…DO IT! I have people say, “Pastor, I have NO idea what God wants me to do!” My response is this- I believe, with all my heart, that MOST people DO know what God wants of them. They just are either too afraid or too resistant to do anything about it! I have found, however, that when you DO admit…and embrace…what it is God has for your life, things just kind of…fall into place. Not that everything is perfect…just that it’s…right! 
     So what are God’s plans for YOU? (And don’t say, “I don’t know”…because I’m not buying that!) Embrace those plans…grab hold of them…commit yourself to them…and it will just be…right! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!