Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

       A pastor friend of mine told me once that the sanctuary of his church had a LARGE clock in it. It was in a prominent spot, right along the side where everyone could see it, and was a memorial gift, given in the name of a former patriarch of the church. For those of you who don’t know, a clock in the sanctuary is a dangerous thing to feature so prominently. The folks in the pews tend to focus on the clock instead of the worship. They begin to time the services and complain if they go even a few minutes long. The focus slowly switches from being all about God to being all about getting to lunch on time. So…he MOVED the clock  to the back of the room, where no one could see it without craning their necks. To help them move away from that focus on time, he spent hours writing a sermon about slowing down, about taking time, about focusing on what was important. He labored and labored over that sermon, until he felt it was nearly perfect. Then…he delivered it! He felt that the people in the pews were hanging on every word. He felt that they were very invested in the message. He felt that he had truly reached them with his thoughts of slowing down and taking time to be holy. To put the period on that sentence, he had chosen just that hymn, Take Time To Be Holy, to end the service. He finished preaching, said “amen”, and sat down with a great sense of satisfaction- job well done! It was at that moment his worship leader stood up, stepped to the microphone, and announced, “due to the time, we will sing Take Time To Be Holy…verses 1 and 4″! Sometimes, you JUST…CAN’T…WIN!!

     Now, let me confess that I am OFTEN bound to the clock! So, where is YOUR focus? Does the clock dictate what you do? Are you so bound by your calendar that you miss much of…life? There is a HUGE difference between the important and the urgent. SOMETIMES they are the same thing, but usually they are NOT! The urgent will always pull at you, insisting that you give all your attention to it. Meanwhile, the important is sitting on the sideline, being neglected. The urgent might be the phone ringing, the deadline looming, the people demanding your time- any number of things. The important might be your faith, your family, your health- any number of things. The key is to sort out those two lists- know the difference between them. The more stroke you give the urgent, the more it will demand. Likewise, the more you ignore the important, the deeper the hole gets. Today, take time to be holy (ALL the verses)! Weigh the urgent things- if they truly need your attention, give it. But make sure you take time for the important things in your life. Now, if you’ll excuse me, my phone is ringing, someone’s at the door, and I have an appointment in 3 minutes! Have a great day, let me know what you think (Twitter, Facebook, email, ratings, and comments are all on this page), and stick with Jesus!

Jesus: The Delegator

    Fresh out of business
school, the young man answered a want ad for an accountant. Now he was being
interviewed by a very nervous man who ran a small
business that he had
started himself. “I need someone with an accounting degree,” the man said. “But
mainly, I’m looking for someone to whom I can delegate my worrying.” “Excuse
me?” the young accountant said. “I worry about a lot of things,” the man said.
“But I don’t want to have to worry about money, so I want to delegate that to
you. Your job will be to take all the money worries off my back.” “I see,” the
young accountant said. “And how much does this delegated job pay?” “I will
start you at $100,000/year.” “$100,000/year!” the young accountant exclaimed.
“How can such a small business afford a sum like that?” “That will be your 1st
worry!”

We are in the 8th week
of our current sermon series, “Who Is JC? Based on a book by Bishop William
Willimon, this series attempts to peel back the shiny, pristine veneer we use
to cover Jesus and see who He really is…and some of it is surprising,
shocking. The 1st week He was a Vagabond. The 2nd week he was a Peacekeeper.
The 3rd week it was a Storyteller. The 4th week- a Party Person. The 5th week
it was a Magician. The 6th week- a Sovereign. Last week- a Homewrecker. Today
Jesus is a Delegator.

Author and humorist
James Boren once said, “When in doubt…mumble; when in charge… delegate.” What
does it MEAN to delegate? According to the dictionary, to delegate means to
empower another person to act. Delegation is the act of enabling someone else
to accomplish a task.  Delegation says, “I believe in you. I believe
you’re capable of following through on this responsibility or task.”
 Delegation says, “We’re part of a team.”  Delegation in
the church helps others find their niche in ministry.  Delegation helps
develop new abilities and a deeper sense of contribution. To delegate to others
expands their level of competence and confidence.

Although delegating sounds
like one of the simplest things in the world to do…it can be one of the hardest
to accomplish. Often, our attitudes interfere with our ability to effectively
delegate. We tend to think things like, “Delegating is really just
relinquishing.” Dumping tasks on someone else without any effort to foster
their success is relinquishment.  Proper delegation isn’t anything like
that–it’s actually hard work. But if you fail to delegate because you want to
save time in the short term, there’s likely to be a time in the future when you’re
overloaded with work and don’t have anyone prepared to help you.

We also think,
“Delegating means giving up power and control.”  I would argue- not
when done properly.  Effective delegation involves retaining control over
the end result. In addition, delegating frees up time that you can use to
pursue new, innovative projects that make you more valuable to God.  Maybe
we think, “If I delegate I become nonessential.”  We fear that
we’ll lose our value, so subconsciously we decide that the best way to deal
with that fear is to hold others back. Or we think, “It’d be SO much
easier to just do it myself.  What I can do in 10 minutes will take 30 if
I have to teach someone else how to do it. If you want something done right, do
it yourself.” But when we think like that, we aren’t seeing the big
picture, we’re not thinking of the long-term benefits. A SHEPHERD can only lead
so many sheep- no one to delegate to. But the number of sheep a RANCHER can
manage is only limited by his ability to delegate to his ranch hands.  

Since the beginning of
creation, God has been delegating- empowering others to accomplish a task.
 Psalm 8 says, “What is man that you are mindful of him…You made
him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his
feet.”  God entrusted His creation to…us…and through us He’s
going to accomplish His plan. God made the animals, but He delegated to us the
job of naming them, taking care of them.  He designed the ark, but
entrusted Noah with the job of building it.  If God, the Creator of the
universe, entrusts His creation to us, shouldn’t we be more willing to act on
it?

In Exodus 18 we learn
about the “Jethro Principle” (not to be confused, of course, with the
“Ellie Mae Principle”!)…another approach to delegation.  Moses is the
leader of hundreds of thousands of Israelites. He serves as the judge for the
people, and they stand around him all day long…he is basically overwhelmed.
But his father-in-law, Jethro, gives him some timely advice:  “Select
capable individuals from all the people and appoint them as officials over
thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. This will make your load lighter,
because they will share it with you.”

Educator Howard
Hendricks once noted, “Any time you do for someone else what they are
capable of doing for themselves, you are helping to create an emotional
cripple.”  As Christians, our job is to develop good leaders, not
just willing followers.  God wants His people serving…ALL His people.
Christian leaders are developed as God entrusts us with greater levels of
responsibility and decision-making. However, many people simply don’t delegate,
or respond to delegation, well. But Jesus is not like many people! He’s NOT,
for instance, like preachers who can’t ever let go of the reins of power and
delegate important tasks. Jesus is a delegator.  He really does authorize
us to act for Him, to act LIKE Him, and He empowers us to do so.  

In the Gospels, Jesus
offers some truths about delegation:

1. Delegation is a trust-
the one delegating AND the one receiving the delegation must trust each other

2. We need to consider a
person’s abilities- setting someone up for failure is never helpful

3. Faithfulness in a few
things is a prerequisite for being in charge of many things- empower someone to
carry out a relatively simple task. If they succeed, they are ready for greater
things.

Let’s look at one of the best-known, widest-impacting Scriptures about
delegating:
Matthew 28:16-20– Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to
the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.17 When they saw him, they
worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All
authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make
disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the
Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have
commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

We can learn a lot from
Jesus’ approach as a delegator of ministry in this passage.

What He asked His
disciples to do was something He had already modeled for them.

But notice the specifics
he gave them revolved around vision- an overall approach.

He gave very little
direction on the how-to of the ministry itself – no detailed instructions. They
had seen Him model all of that, and He was encouraging them to be free to use
their own judgment and be who they were as they did ministry. This is a
Deploy-and-Debrief form of ministry training- as opposed to training them for
years on every hypothetical situation before letting them try it. He gives them
authority and power – this is key for delegation. He reminds them to stay focused;
at the end of the day it’s more about their message and their faith and less
about fancy bells and whistles. Jesus delegates authority to all believers to
act in His name–to heal and prophesy, cast out demons, raise the dead, do all
manner of things as we exercise the gifts of the Holy Spirit. And the authority
for these things comes from Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t dumb down
discipleship.  He raises the bar pretty high…high enough that we can’t
get over it without His Divine Intervention…and lots of it.  Jesus
invites Himself into our lives, gets us prepped, delegates His mission to us,
and the next thing you know we’re Christians on the move.

There are 2 main goals
of delegation
:
1. Success- failure is
seldom a good motivator in taking on new responsibilities

2. Development- raising
competence, confidence and faithfulness in others

There are 3 types of delegation:
1. Directing- giving a
specific job with intermittent deadlines to ensure success.

2. Coaching- enabling
someone to design their plan, with coaching and advice, until the job is done.

3. Authorization- simply
turning a task over to someone who is capable and ready.  

There are 6 steps to
delegating
:
1. Indentify needs
2. Select the best
person for the job- trust is one of the best forms of motivation

3. Define guidelines and
potential pitfalls

4. Establish levels of accountability
and evaluation

5. Identify available resources

6. Turn them loose!
In the end, you can
delegate authority, but you can’t delegate responsibility. You can give others
the power to do things on your behalf, but, no matter who does something wrong
or right, the final responsibility always lies with the one delegating
authority. In common parlance, “Blame rolls uphill.”
When we DO exercise the gifts of the Holy Spirit with love, when
we DO make disciples for Christ, when we DO share the Word of God with
authority and power, then God is glorified. The best way to glorify Jesus is to
obey Him, follow Him, imitate His ways.  Reading Scripture is great…but
it’s not enough.  We have to get up, get out, and get moving.

Jesus didn’t come to
meet our every demand, make all our wishes come true, or ‘complete us’.
 He came to enlist us in bringing in the Kingdom. Jesus is not here to
help us get what we want out of God; He’s here to see that God gets what He
wants out of us. Jesus doesn’t say “please love Me”, or “please agree with Me-
He says “follow Me…and I’ll make you fishers of the most slippery eels to
catch- people.” And through faithful fulfillment of a delegated
responsibility, we experience the joy that comes from having God use us. 
And we, as it all turns out, are God’s hands and feet in the world.  

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

The Grass Is ALWAYS Greener…Or Is It?

     It was my first day at my new church- now more than 5 years ago. I had moved from a very urban area near St. Louis to a village (albeit a quickly growing village) in central Illinois. I had also, in the week of the move, experienced the following: Tuesday- lost my mom to cancer, Wednesday- loaded everything we owned into a moving van, Thursday- had our stuff driven to our new home in Central Illinois and unloaded while we drove to southern Missouri for my mom’s funeral, Friday- performed my mom’s funeral, Saturday- drove from southern Missouri to central Illinois (with a stop in the St. Louis area to pick up our other car and rescue our dog from the kennel), Sunday- attended the funeral of a parishioner at my new church, Monday- started work! Which brings me back to where I started this blog- my first day at my new church. I left the house and drove to Casey’s for a cup of coffee on my way in (the coffee was, as I recall…STOUT!), and then went to the church. The Office Administrator and the Youth Director had made a “welcome” sign that was on the door as I came in- a very pleasant thing to find. I spent the day doing “new pastor” stuff (which, by the way, goes on for a while when you move to a new church!), and then went home at the end of the day. My wife (wonderful woman that she is) met me at the door with, “Well…how was it?” I sighed, looked at her, and said, “Well, as best I can tell, this is Mayberry, the church is the courthouse…and I’m Sheriff Taylor!” (Now, if you ATTEND my church, before you get upset, let me clarify! First of all, I LOVE The Andy Griffith Show! Second, remember that I had just moved from a large church in a very urban area AND lost my mom. Third, you KNOW that I LOVE this church and this town!) That night,  as I lay in bed, I wondered how this town could EVER adjust to…me! (When we first arrived, one of the youth looked at me and looked at my then long-haired older son and said, “I don’t know what to think! My pastor has an earring and his son looks like Jesus!) But I can say that this town and this church has been SO welcoming and SO loving to me and my family. They have truly “thought outside the box” and accepted this shaved-headed, earring-wearing, rock-drumming United Methodist minister better than I EVER imagined they would or could!
     So many people say, “If only I pastored THAT church”, or “if only I had THAT job”, or “if only I had married THAT person”, or…or…or…! We tend to live our lives in the shadowy realm of “if only”. But it seems to me, if we waste all out time and energy wishing we were somewhere else doing something else with someone else, we miss all the wonder, beauty and grace that God has for us right where we are. I believe that we are where we are for a reason. What that reason is…who knows; or quien sabe, as the Spanish say. Perhaps the correct answer to that is “Dio sabe”- God knows. Here’s what I know (pay attention- it’s ALL I know!), rather than wish your life away…focus on the here and the now. Do the absolute best with the hand you have been currently dealt. Try to make the most of EVERY opportunity, EVERY encounter, EVERY moment. Then, when it’s time to move on to the next “new thing”, you can do so confident that you have done your best where you were. Find yourself in a situation that isn’t what you’d hoped it would be? I have 3 simple words for you- bloom where you’re planted. (Wait! 1, 2, 3…shoot, that’s FOUR words…but you get the idea! I’m a pastor, not a math whiz!) Give life all you can give…you won’t be disappointed. Now, if you’ll excuse me, Ernest T. Bass and Floyd the Barber just came in- I have to go! Have a great day, bloom where you’re planted, share this with others, and stick with Jesus!

What ARE “Proverbial Bats”?

   About 10 years ago, I FINALLY went to have  (ready?) my FIRST adult eye exam! (The one at the DMV doesn’t count-  if you can recognize the faintest of colors and shapes, you’re gold!) At the time, I was squinting down to about 20/20 (or so I thought), but it was getting harder and harder to read things (and when you speak for a living…reading is rather important!) So, I went to a local eyeglass place where a parishioner was the tech who made the glasses. First, I had my eye exam. (#1 or #2? #3 or #4?) Then…they photographed my retina! If you’ve never had that done, imagine looking into the very core of the sun…then multiply that by about 12! They bring you into a darkened room, sit you in a chair, have you look into a special hole…and they totally FRY your retina! But just one! Then, with one eye “normal” and the other eye feeling as if it were ON FIRE, they send you stumbling out into the waiting room to let the 1st eye “adjust” so they can bring you BACK in and do the 2nd eye! Who are they fooling?! Fry my retina ONCE- shame on you! Fry my retina  TWICE- shame on me! Believe me when I say you are NOT terribly motivated to have the 2nd one done! Perhaps it should be like when they pierce little girls’ ears at Claire’s- one person on each side and they shoot the gun simultaneously- get it over with all at once! But no, I went back in and had a nuclear reactor shot into my 2nd eye! Then, once I had been COMPLETELY blinded, I was sent out to talk with my parishioner/tech. She looked at the results of the eye test, looked at me and said, “How in the world did you see enough to walk IN here?!” Apparently the squinting wasn’t as successful as I thought it was! I picked out some frames, got them filled, and have had glasses ever since. (When I went for my 2nd pair of glasses, I had ALREADY made the jump to bifocals!)
      I often say it would almost be worse to lose my wallet than my glasses. The wallet  and it’s contents can be replaced, but with no glasses I would be unable to read anything well enough to replace those items! Without my glasses, I’m as blind as the proverbial bat (and WHAT does that mean- proverbial bat? Are there bats that go around spouting pithy proverbs all day? I don’t think so!) Although I have to slide the glasses up and down my nose when I lay in bed and watch TV (if you don ‘t know why, you DON’T have bifocals!), I can basically see everything with great clarity through them. Without them, that clarity drops precipitously and I look at the world through severely frosted lenses. I often think that’s the way we look at the world, glasses or no glasses. We KNOW the way we are to act, we KNOW the things we are to do, but we allow ourselves to look through the cloudy lens, ignoring the “right thing”. I have people say to me, “I don’t know what God wants me to do, pastor.” I think MOST of us have a pretty good idea what God wants of us- we just choose to ignore it and hope it will go away. Being good is HARD, while being bad (or even just benign) is easy by comparison. And yet, if we are never willing to step out in faith and live the life God has for us, we have NO hope of reaching our full potential as humans. Life not always working out the way you had hoped? Tired of looking through the frosted lens? The definition of insanity is to continue to do the same thing and expect different results. Step out in faith, live the life God has for you. To get what you’ve never had, you have to do what you’ve never done! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and clean my glasses! Have a great day, share this with others, and stick with Jesus!

If THAT’S a Dog’s Life…I WANT It!

  We have another girl in our house that I don’t mention very often- Zoey. She is a black lab/English pointer mix…and she’s a big goofball! When he was 5 years old, our youngest son said, “You got my brother a dog when HE was 5. Well, I’M 5…” We had lost our last dog heartbreakingly after several years and weren’t sure we were ready for another dog, so we ignored it as best we could until he was 6…at which time it was simply impossible to ignore any longer! So we decided it was time. My poor wife had our last dog, a HUGE black German shepherd, named Bud, kind of pushed on her, so we decided she should get to pick the dog this time. We also decided it would be best if we went to the Humane Society WITHOUT our son to pick a dog! So, off we went. We got there, and BOY was it hard. All the dogs wanted to go home with us…and we wanted to take them all home! We looked around, and Zoey really caught our eye. In fact, we had seen her picture on the internet before we even came in. We took her out of her pen and into a room where we could play with her and get to know her a bit. She seemed like a good dog, but she was bigger than the lap dog my wife wanted, so we put her back and kept looking. We came upon two beagles in the same pen. They were older, with grey around their muzzles and little bandannas tied around their necks, and the sign said they needed to be adopted together. As we neared their pen, the female sat up on her haunches and begged (literally) for us to take them! We decided that, if we were getting a dog for ourselves and not our 6-year old, we would have gone home with two beagles that day! Meanwhile, Zoey was beside herself in her pen, standing up on her hind legs and  saying, “Hey! What are you doing? I CHOSE you! You can stop looking!” We eventually came to that same conclusion and made the necessary arrangements to get her. She was a year and a half old when we got her, and the vet said she would keep her “puppy enthusiasm” until she was about three. Well, apparently she hasn’t received that memo yet, because she just turned 6 on valentine’s Day and shows NO signs of slowing down! And yet she is, for all her hyperactiveness, devoted, loving, smart, and a great addition to our family. She is even such a little cupcake that she has her own bed! (However, she still sneaks up on the couch when she thinks we’re not looking!)
     I have never experienced the blessing of adopting a child, but I can only imagine, from the joy we receive from our furry adopted “baby”, what it must be like. Have you ever thought about the fact that God is our adoptive parent? We all have biological parents who brought us into this world. But we all also have the opportunity to have an adoptive parent- God. We constantly look around, checking out all the options available to us, searching for that intangible thing that is missing from our lives. Meanwhile, God is there all the time, looking at us with eyes that say, “Why are you looking at other options? I already chose you! You can stop looking and come home!” What an AMAZING thing to consider…God CHOSE you! No matter what other people think of you, no matter who has rejected you, no matter what you’ve done or left undone, God…chose…you! He has reserved a place just for you. He knows everything about you…and still loves you, warts and all. He is devoted, loving, smart, and a great addition to your family! Struggling to find your place in the world? Have those days when you wonder how anyone could love you? Wonder sometimes if it’s all worth it? Wonder no more! God chose you, and life is so much more worth living when you realize that! Now, please excuse me. The dog is standing at the door,  her leash in her mouth, saying, “Please step away from the laptop! I NEED to go!” Have a great day, pet your pet if you have one, share this with someone, and stick with Jesus!

Just Chillaxin’!

     When I announced, at the age of 35, that I was going into the ministry, my then 9-year old son said, “Awesome!” Thinking that he had some sort of theological epiphany, I encouraged him to say more about why he thought that would be awesome. His reply? “You only work ONE day a week!” Yep…that’s right! I only work for a few hours on Sunday morning and the rest of the week I watch soap aperas and eat bon-bons with my feet up- what a life! Actually the ministry is few very ODD profession in many ways. I remember in my younger days swearing that I would NEVER have a job where I had to work a split shift. So what do I do? I have my mid-life crisis a bit early, quit my job, willingly go to seminary, spend three years as a full-time student, full time parent/husband, and nearly full-time pastor (almost killing myself in the process!), just so I can…wait for it…work split shifts! I spend mornings in the office, followed by afternoons either at home working on the computer or out making calls. THEN, I often go back to church at night for meetings, counseling, rehearsal, etc. Never work a split shift, huh? I have learned this- DON’T tell God what you’re NOT going to do…unless of course you REALLY want to end up doing it! You may have noticed that, despite my claim that this is a DAILY blog, nothing got posted yesterday, NOT coincidentally Sunday! First- I had the best of intentions! But the road to…where is that?…is paved with good intentions! Between a full morning at church, an afternoon with our Senior Citizens group, and an evening at the hospital with a young parishioner, life just…got in the way, as it is oft to do!
     Does that ever happen to you? You start the day with the best laid plans, yet when your head hits the pillow at the end of the day, you realize that most of those plans still reside solely on your to-do list, unchecked and unfinished. When that happens, you have to evaluate WHY that’s the case. If they remain undone because you simply didn’t feel like it, that’s one things to consider. However, if they reamain undone because other equally important things came up that required you attention…go with the flow. A plan is great, but if you’re not flexible, life is really hard! As I say in church (almost every Sunday), “The bulletin is JUST a suggestion!” This week, start each day with a plan- but be open to God nudging you in a different direction.
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Dream a Little Dream

     I was going to be an actor. I knew that, at some level, from the time I was old enough to know better. I was ALWAYS putting on shows, doing magic tricks, playing drums…whatever…as long as it was in front of people…entertaining. When I was in Junior High, a group from the High School brought a play they were doing to our school and performed part of it in our gym. If I wasn’t smitten before…I sure was then! I couldn’t wait to get to High School so I could be in the plays. I got there…and promptly missed the auditions for the 1st show of the year! BUT…I was NOT to be defeated! I made sure I knew when the next auditions were. I tried out, and got cast…as @ different characters, no less! I was walk-on #7 and  walk-on #11! No lines, nothing to do but…walk on…and stand there. I don’t mean to brag, but I was good! (NOBODY stands and walks like me!!) From there, the roles got a bit bigger with every play. I NEVER missed a performance, 3 plays and a musical each year, my entire High School career…until the LAST one my SENIOR year! (Ouch!) I was…not cast AND I was NOT happy! But, I sucked it up and took the Stage Manager job (I ROCKED it hard, if I do say so myself!!) 
     Then, it was on to college. I played drums for all 5 “Mainstage” shows that year (everyone thought I was a music major!) in addition to acting in 2 other shows. I was cast more and more throughout college until I had both a co-starring role AND a title role my senior year.
     Then I moved into the professional ranks, and that, of course, is tough! I did some live theater (including a starring role) as well some TV commercials. Then I got the chance to be the Business Manager of a theater in St. Louis. It was a steady gig, with decent pay and benefits, and it allowed me to continue to audition for acting jobs. So, I took it. And that began the slow drift away from my dream of acting. The job, while challenging, interesting and fun (I once got to write a check for $40,000 and deliver it to Jay Leno!), was demanding and really DIDN’T allow much time to pursue acting.
     Meanwhile, I got married (to the most awesome woman in the world, thank you very much!) and got a house. Decent job IN THE BIZ (as “they say!), great wife, house…all was well. Then, the theater changed hands and the “new broom swept clean”! I was unemployed…with a house payment. I literally stumbled into the photography business, as a way to pay the bills, and ended up staying there 8+ years, climbing the corporate ladder to become an Area Manager, with the responsibility of 20 studios spread over 4 states. I was doing well, there was room for more advancement…but I was NOT satisfied in the least. I had strayed SO far from my dream…it was obvious I would never get back to it. That’s when God started working on me!
     NEVER a religious sort, I started going to church just to appease my wife. And slowly, God started chipping away at my skeptical heart. After several years of trying HARD to avoid the call I clearly felt God placing on my life, I finally relented…just so He’d leave me alone!! And once I made that commitment…amazing things started to happen. My home church volunteered to pay part of my tuition. As I’ve shared before, a church I had NO connection to let us use a house they owned…free of charge! AND…God showed me ways to use the gifts and graces for performance I had. I began to play drums at church- which I have continued to this day! I began to introduce creative approaches to the worship services. I wrote and directed and performed in an original Classic Rock musical based on the life of Jesus. Let’s see- acting, writing, directing, playing drums, performing magic, juggling, speaking in front of hundreds of people on a regular basis…this is starting to sound A LOT like what my dream was! That’s when it hit me- God had been preparing me all that time for just such a time s this. The gifts and graces I honed in college theater WERE to be used- just not in the venue I imagined. I get to do ALL that AND serve God as a pastor at the same time. How blessed is that?!
     Do you ever feel you have given up on your dreams? Maybe you, like me, just kept beating your head against the wall, trying to pursue those dreams, until finally you said, “Enough is enough!” and chucked it all, only to “settle” for something that feeds the family…but NOT the soul. I’m here to say, “Don’t give up.” Maybe God has a plan for you to pursue those dreams in a way you never even imagined. Maybe God has GREAT things in store for you…the timing just isn’t quite right yet. Pray about it. Ask God to reveal to you the plans He has. It may be revealed in a flash…or it may take some time. Be patient. I didn’t begin my career as a minister until I was 35 years old. God is NOT finished with you yet. hang in there- better days are ahead!
     Thanks for stopping by today. I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

A 40-Year Old Tie Tack From My Dad

     I have shared that my dad died about 4 weeks ago. Since my mom died almost 7 years ago, we have been going through my Dad’s things. If you have ever had to do that, it’s a difficult thing to do…but it it can also be pretty rewarding. I was digging through the things in his dresser a couple of weeks ago and came upon this…tray…that he always had on his dresser. I remember as a little kid he kept change, keys…amazing treasures that a kid loved to look at! In his later years, the tray was getting more than a little…dog-earred…and so he stopped putting it ON his dresser and started putting it IN his dresser. And THAT’S exactly where I found it!

     As I dug through it, suddenly…I saw it. It was a tie tack. Yep…that’s right…a TIE tack. I know, right? What in the world is so exciting about a tie tack? I mean, not a ton of guys even wear tie tacks anymore. So…what’s the deal? Well…HERE’S the deal. This particular tie tack is about 40 years old. How do I know that, you ask? I know that because I made the tie tack when I was in grade school…about 40 years ago! 
     I got a rock polishing kit for Christmas that year (go ahead…insert your joke here…you KNOW you want to!) and, along with a variety of rocks, it also came with with the materials to make a variety of pieces of jewelry…earrings, pins, keychains…and tie tacks. So I made a tie tack for my dad. I mean, it was a natural. He had to wear a tie every day to work, so…a tie tack! I lovingly “tumbled” that rock (again, feel free to put your second joke here!), then glued it to the base of the tie tack and gave it to him. I don’t remember if I gave it to him for some special event (Father’s Day, birthday, whatever) or if I just gave it to him, but there it was. 
     Now, I honestly don’t remember if he wore it or not…but I KNOW he saved it…for FORTY years! When I saw it in the tray, I instantly knew what it was. I took it out, held it in my hands- a smile on my face and tears in my eyes. All these years…and he kept it. Who knew? I will tell you- that tie tack went into my pocket that day, made the trip home with me, and I wore it to church yesterday! It was a nice connection- wearing the tie tack I had made for my dad 40 years ago, feeling good about having it, remembering my dad. 
     If there are people in your life that you love…yet you don’t tell them…let me offer you this little piece of advice…tell them! Don’t let another week, another day, another hour, another minute go by…tell them that you love them. Thanks for stopping by today- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Jesus: The Home Wrecker

     A couple, desperate to
conceive a child, went to their priest and asked him to pray for them.
“I’m going on a sabbatical to Rome,” he replied, “and while I’m
there, I’ll light a candle for you.” When he returned three years later,
he went to the couple’s home and found the wife pregnant AND busily attending
to TWO sets of twins. Elated, the priest asked her where her husband was so
that he could congratulate him. The wife replied, “He’s gone to Rome, to
blow that candle out!”

We are in the 7th week
of our current sermon series, “Who Is JC? Based on a book by Bishop William
Willimon, this series attempts to peel back the shiny, pristine veneer we use
to cover Jesus and see who He really is…and some of it is surprising,
shocking. The 1st week He was a Vagabond. The 2nd week he was a Peacekeeper.
The 3rd week it was a Storyteller. The 4th week- a Party Person. The 5th week
it was a Magician. Last week- a Sovereign. Today, Jesus is a…Homewrecker.

I have heard it said
that if minutes were kept of family gatherings, they would show that
“Members not Present” and “Subjects Discussed” were one and
the same! Family is an interesting thing, isn’t it? “My brother and me…we
fight. My brother and me…we fight…you!” We are often frustrated with our
families. We sometimes treat family members worse than we would treat a total
stranger. And yet…we love them…they are ours. So it’s REALLY hard to think of
Jesus as a…Homewrecker! I mean…that’s just…wrong! When the delivery guy from
Rogards Office Supplies came on Thursday, he said, “Read your sign
out front…I just might have to come to church on Sunday for THAT one!” It’s not
easy to hear Jesus called something as negative-sounding as a Homewrecker. In
fact, some might think it downright blasphemous! But let me assure you- I mean
NO disrespect by it…and I’m pretty positive Jesus would confirm that
assessment!

Erma Bombeck describes
the family this way- “a strange little band of characters trudging through life
sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another’s desserts, hiding
shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain
and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and
trying to figure out the common thread that binds us all together.”

I love my family, you
love your family…but “family values” wasn’t really a Jesus thing.
We know next to nothing about the family of Jesus. Mark says that Jesus had a
number of brothers and sisters, but what do we know about them? Jesus’ family
plays a remarkably negligible role in his story. And in his ministry, Jesus
thought nothing of destroying a family business with a terse, “Follow
me,” demanding that these fishermen abandon their aging father in the boat
and join Him as he wandered about. Jesus’ invitation to hit the road broke the
hearts of many first-century parents who were counting on the kids for help in
their old age. Membership in God’s kingdom is a joyful thing, but it also
involves some relinquishment.

Hear what Jesus had to
say about families:

Matthew 12:46-50-  While
Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside,
wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are
standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” He replied to him, “Who is my
mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are
my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is
my brother and sister and mother.”

Matthew 10:34-39- Do
not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to
bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law- a
man’s enemies will be the members of his own household. Anyone who loves their
father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son
or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their
cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it,
and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

That’s a text rarely
used on Mother’s Day! Jesus has some strange ideas about family. The family has
become the center of our adulation, the most important of all human gatherings.
So, why was Jesus so cool toward family? It’s hard to balance the fact that
Jesus seems to devalue that which we consider so valuable.

Now, to be fair, Jesus
is no more negative toward family than he is toward, say, money…or
success…or government officials…or religious authorities. With Jesus,
everything is subordinate to His mission; nothing is more important than
obedience to God. The gospels tell us that the chief focus of Jesus’ mission
was to reconstitute the scattered lost sheep of Israel. Jesus left his
biological family in order to form a new family  NOT based on genetics but
rather on the gracious, barrier-breaking call of God. Jesus got into trouble
for scandalously practicing open-table fellowship- calling the least, the lost
and the orphaned back home. Even as He was dying in agony on the cross, Jesus
invited an outcast, a somewhat repentant thief, to join Him and His family in
paradise. Jesus seems intent on forming a new family composed of those who had
difficulty fitting in with their human families.

I’ve heard it said that
the Family is a social unit where the father is concerned with parking space,
the children are concerned with Outer Space, and the mother is concerned with
closet space. There has been much talk over the years of the Nuclear Family-
you know…dad, mom, 2.5 children, a dog, and a paneled station wagon…or in
this day and age a mini-van. For years it was the quintessential understanding
of the American Family. We held it near and dear to our hearts. Then…things
started to change, and that Nuclear understanding began to erode. In recent
years, we’ve asked the nuclear family to live all by itself in a box.
 With no relatives, no support, no faith…we’ve put ourselves in an
impossible situation.

Now, the statistics are
staggering- according to the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology, 50%
percent of first marriages will end in divorce, 67% of second marriages and a
whopping 74% of third marriages. What do we do with that? Do we just say, “Oh
well…sign of the times”? Do we fight tooth and nail to turn it around? Well,
Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “Out of discord comes the fairest harmony.”
Perhaps that what Jesus is saying here. perhaps Jesus is saying that, as
important as biological family is, it is ultimately our spiritual family that
will bring us harmony. It is ultimately our faith family that will help us best
connect to God on a deeper level. It is ultimately our church family that may
form the deepest connection. You can’t destroy the bonds of the family of God:
 our chains might stretch a little sometimes, but they can never break.

In a world of
grandparents without their grandchildren close by, single-parent families and
marriages under stress, we need a bigger family than the one we were born into.
We need to be born again into a NEW family, a family as large as the love of
God. You see, for all its virtues (and if it’s like mine, it has MANY of them!)
your human family is just too small.  To credibly be called a Christian,
we have to be willing let go of our uniquely American sense of rugged
individualism and become part of a bigger…and more demanding family. To
become a Christian, to have your life taken over by Jesus, is to be joined into
a family, a people joined by “water and the Spirit,” a family bigger
than your biological family.

The church sponsored a
weekly husband’s marriage seminar. At the session one week, the guys asks Tony,
who was approaching his 50th wedding anniversary, to share some insights into
how he had managed to stay married to the same woman all these years. He said,
“Well, I’ve tried to treat her nice, take care of her, spend money on her, but
best of all is, I took her to Italy for our 25th anniversary!” The other
husbands said, “Tony, you’re an amazing inspiration to all the husbands
here! Tell us what you are planning for your 50th anniversary?” Tony
proudly replied, ” I going to go back to Rome…and pick her up!”

As He hung on the cross,
having been deserted by most of His family, the crucified Jesus, in a last,
wild, desperate act of inclusion, invited a thief to join Him in paradise–a
stunningly defiant thumbing of the nose to the ways the world looks at people.
Only Jesus would parade into Paradise arm-in-arm with a criminal.

In the end, it’s NOT
flesh and blood, or DNA, or birth certificates…but the heart…that makes
fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, brothers and sisters. When we step up
and answer Jesus’ call, we are washed in the water of baptism, and act which
says that we have been reborn, starting over, adopted into a NEW family. And we
get a new name, “Christian,” that takes precedence over our family
name. And the church is a fresh, new family composed of others who’ve also
heard Jesus’ words- “Follow me”-, stepped forward and said “Here
I am, Lord.” The chief act of Christian worship isn’t a mysterious, dark,
ancient rite. It’s a family meal with everyone around the table…the Sunday
dinner…family as God intended it to be.

Would you pray with me?
Lord Jesus, by your grace bring us into your big family. Help us to feel part
of the family. Help us to see all people as brothers and sisters in your
family. In the name of one who was crucified for hanging out with people like
us, we pray. Amen.

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

Clark Kent Junior

     I have admitted many times in this space to being a geek. I have also admitted to being a comic book geek. What I have NOT yet admitted to is being…ready?…
SUPERBOY! When I was a kid, I wanted nothing more than to be Superman when I grew up! (Come to think of it…I STILL think that would be pretty cool! But then, of course, I haven’t grown up yet!) So…I made a Superboy costume! (I mean, come on, you can’t be SuperMAN when you’re 8 years old. THAT would be silly! Don’t be ridiculous!) First, I took a pair of white Long Johns (Long Handles, Thermal Underwear, call them what you want!), drew the Superman…excuse me…SuperBOY log on the chest, and put them on. Now, mind you, this was in the middle of SUMMER, in southern Illinois, when the temperature is 112 in the shade and the humidity is 1000%! So here I am, in thermal underwear in July…but I’m NOT done yet! Next, I add shorts to the outfit, on top of the thermal underwear. Then, I add those LONG white tube socks with the colored band around the top that were popular in the late 60’s and 70’s. I pull them ALL THE WAY UP to my knees. So, white thermal underwear, cut-off blue jean shorts, and long tube socks. (I was truly a fashion faux pas!) BUT…I still wasn’t done, because what would Superboy be without a cape?! I pinned a bath towel to my shoulders after drawing the Superman logo on it as well (I got in trouble for that one, as I recall)! There…the costume is complete! BUT…I can’t reveal my secret identity, so…I add a pair of jeans and a shirt over the top of that, to hide my costume until I “really needed it”! Two layers of clothes (one a set of thermal underwear) AND a full size bath towel under my shirt…I MUST have been completely insane! (Insert your own joke here!) I loved that suit. (In fact, I wonder if I have a pair of thermal underwear that I could…never mind!)
     Looking back, I see that I often retreated into that world of imagination as a way of dealing with a somewhat volatile home life. When things got less than pleasant, I could always fall back on Superman, Batman, Lois Lane and the rest of the people who inhabit the world of 8-year old make-believe. That imagination life led to a love of theater and acting- being someone else is sometimes a great place to be! And while I still have that love- I enjoy superhero movies, I continue to perform in front of audiences, I still greatly appreciate a good performance by an actor or actress- I find that when I was able to stop trying to be someone else and was able to simply be who I am, things changed radically for me. I had spent my life trying to be who I wasn’t, who I thought others wanted me to be. And I was never really happy, never really…satisfied. Then I realized that I couldn’t be what I wanted to be for others if I couldn’t first be true to who I really was. And when that “thaw” began…it went quickly! The funky little “soul patch” facial hair showed up. The hair went from trimmed short to completely shaved. And the earring showed up. And as that “phase” of my life has unfolded, I have come to realize that there will ALWAYS be people who want you to be something you’re not…and they’re not going to be terribly happy if you fail to give them that “version” of you. After years of trying to please those people, I now say, “This is me. Take it or leave it.” And I have found that not only has it been a very healthy change for me, but it has opened up many in my church to the understanding that we need to not simply judge people by their appearance, but look beyond their appearance to who they REALLY are. So it seems that DUMPING the superhero costume had the most heroic affect on others. 
     Do you let others see who you REALLY are…or are you hiding behind your own Superboy costume? If you are often “putting a mask on” for the benefit of others, I encourage you to cast that mask aside, be who you really are, and let people see the real you. If they are truly your friends, they will appreciate the change. And if they DON’T appreciate the change…maybe they weren’t really your friends in the first place. Either way, YOU will be happier being yourself! Try it…let me know how it goes! I’ll pray for you!
     Thanks for coming by today- have a blessed day! Please share this with others, make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

What Does “The Prayer of Jabez” Say?

    “What a pain!” Has anyone ever said that about you? Have you ever said that about someone else? Maybe your kids, your spouse, your boss? It was said about the guy we’re looking at today- Jabez. Who was Jabez? We find him buried, literally, in the middle of a long list of genealogies in the Old Testament book 1 Chronicles — this person begat that person, who begat that person, who begat that person…ad naseum. Think that’s a bit harsh for a preacher? Think again…it goes on for nine chapters! That’s a WHOLE lot of begats, I’m here to tell you! You’re so stinkin’ bored by the time you get to Jabez…you almost miss him. But in the midst of this long list of anonymous characters, there he is. As far as we know, Jabez didn’t win any great battles or build any great buildings- he simply prayed a prayer. But it must have been significant, because out of all the people in this nine-chapter list, he’s the ONLY one singled out this way. We only know 2 things about him: 1. he was more honorable than his brothers, and 2. his mother named him Jabez (which means “pain” in Hebrew) because he caused her pain at birth. Nice lady! Remember in “When Harry Met Sally”- Billy Crystal’s mom calls him on his birthday? He hits the speaker button and lies in bed while she delivers what is a “remembering his birth” speech that she has obviously given MANY times before- he lip-syncs it with her, right down to the laughs and sighs. My sense is that, although Jabez’s mom had her own rehearsed “remembering his birth” speech, it wasn’t nearly as warm and fuzzy as Billy Crystal’s. She gave birth to him in great pain…and never let him forget it! In fact, she NAMED him Pain, so he’d always remember! But in spite of all that, he overcame those obstacles. The Bible says he was an honorable man — more honorable than the rest of his family. Why? Perhaps it’s because he was a praying man. And here is his prayer, buried among all the begats!
     1 Chronicles 4:9-10– “Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.” 10 Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will not cause pain.” And God granted his request.”
What’s so unusual about this prayer? Let’s look at it and find out:
     The 1st thing he asked for was God’s blessing on his life. He wasn’t being selfish- he wanted God’s best and was convinced God wanted to give it to him. Why did he want God’s blessing? So he could be a blessing to the world. That’s why we exist. It’s NOT wrong to pray for personal blessing…if you intend to use it to bless others. If you just want more for yourself, you’re probably out of luck. But if you want more resources to better serve others…pray for it. Apathy has got such a grip on this country that we don’t seek God’s blessing. We’re too busy. Blessing means responsibility. Serving God takes time. If God gives me more, I have to DO more. But the surest sign that your faith is growing is that you have a growing desire to be used by God. 
     We are preoccupied with self. It’s all about us. We want more, and we want it faster, better and cheaper. As the commercial says, “I want it all…and I want it NOW!” Our lives are merely shallow and self-centered when we worry about how we look, what we have, and who might have more. Many people never have a purpose larger than themselves. That’s why Jabez prayed the second part of his prayer- that God would enlarge his territory. He wasn’t thinking about himself- he was thinking about others. The people would have more space in which to live. More resources with which to serve. God wants us to see beyond our own circumstances. He wants to enlarge our lives if we will join Him by praying and believing.
     The 3rd thing Jabez prayed for was for God’s hand to be on him. He knew he was praying for something so big that only God could accomplish it. What have you dreamt about, but dismissed as impossible? Pray for God’s hand to be on your life so that you can accomplish something great for Him. And when it comes to pass, you’ll be forced to say, “This HAD to be God, because there’s no way I could’ve done that myself!” 
     The 4th thing Jabez prayed was that God would keep him from evil…so that he wouldn’t cause pain. It’s a play on words. His name MEANS pain. He’s already caused pain- heard about it his whole life, remember? But he doesn’t want to cause any more. He wants his life to be a blessing. 
     God is faithful in caring for those who seek Him. The best thing of all is that “God granted his request.” It is the ANSWER to prayer that brings the blessing. God IS the real deal, and He WANTS to bless you, so that you may be a blessing to others. If you want to either start or strengthen a relationship with God, prayer should be at the foundation. This prayer seems to have been left intentionally as a model, a pattern, a cast, putting into visible shape what normally stays in the dark recesses of our hearts. The Prayer of Jabez reminds us that everybody struggles between relying on themselves or relying on God. It sets a great example of how God wants us to come to Him in constant and passionate prayer. God blessed him, enlarged his territory, placed His hand upon him, and kept him from evil. 
     Bruce Wilkinson, author of The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through To the Blessed Life, said this- “Attempt something large enough that failure is guaranteed…unless God steps in!” Jabez wanted to be used by God more than anything else. Is that YOUR prayer? Do you have a longing inside to be used by God? Are you living for yourself, or do you want God to use you? Do you want to be a blessing? Then pray that God will bless you, enlarge your territory, keep His hand on you, and keep you from harm.
     Thanks for stopping by today! Have a blessed day. Please come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

10 Gallons of Paint in a 5-Gallon Bucket Revisited

     Sometime last year, I wrote a blog about having too much on your plate at one time, or, as I like to call it, “trying to put 10 gallons of paint in a 5-gallon bucket”! Well…it’s time to revisit that!

     If you read this blog regularly, you know that a great deal has been going on in my life and in the life of my church recently. My dad died, and in the middle of that a cherished member of the church staff has developed some pretty substantial health issues and is unable to work. So my plate went from “pretty full” to “grossly overflowing” in about 3.2 nanoseconds…or so it seems! 
     Now, don’t misunderstand- the purpose of this blog is NOT to find a place to say, “Woe is me!”, but instead I want to talk about what happens when your life is too full- in other words, when that paint begins to run over the sides of the bucket and all over the floor!
     If you are like me, you get into a routine- you develop a certain rhythm of how life ebbs and flows, and that rhythm becomes pretty…comfortable…safe. And then, inevitably,  something happens that changes that whole dynamic, and suddenly you are in danger of being completely overwhelmed. I’m NOT talking about folks who don’t know how to say, “No!” and therefore get themselves into all kinds of trouble. (I used to be one of those  folks…BIG time…but let me assure that the ministry will break you of that…break you or kill you, one of the two!) No, that’s a different story all together, for a different day. I’m talking about when things just…happen, and you find yourself nearly buried through no fault of your own. What do you do? It seems to me there are 3 main possible answers to that question:
1. You can simply wave the white handkerchief and quit, ceding that you can’t handle it.
2. You can dig your heels in, put your head down and just plow forward through sheer force of will.
3. You can admit that you simply cannot handle things on your own and turn to God.
     I basically NEVER do #1- not my nature. I tend to OFTEN do #2- it IS my nature. But I find, as I get older and hopefully wiser, that when I do #3 (supplemented by #2), things tend to turn out the best. That’s right- when I admit that I simply don’t have the time, energy or “stuff” to climb out of a deep hole I find myself in and instead turn the whole thing over to God, a miraculous thing happens. I get a sense of peace, a peace that, because of the overwhelming circumstances, passes all understanding. And that peace does more for my mental health at those times than anything else possibly could!
     How’s the stress level in your life right now? Does it seems like the tide is coming in and you are having a harder and harder time keeping your nose up out of the water? My suggestion is simple- let go and let God. Go to God in prayer and admit that you simply can’t handle everything on your own. Admit that you need help. let go of the stress, the tension, the pressure and let God do…God’s stuff! And then wait for that peace to come! It will feel SO good when it does! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

A Very U-Haul Kind of Day

     Have you ever had to rent a truck? It’s a fun thing…let me tell you! A few days ago, I needed to rent a U-Haul truck so I could haul some things from my dad’s (who recently passed away) house to my house. The adventure started on Monday, when I went on line and reserved a 10′ truck. (I didn’t have THAT much stuff to haul!) After I had completed the reservation process, I realized that I probably would be better served to change a few things about the reservation. After going back to their website, I decided it would be easier to simply cancel the reservation and start over than to change the existing one…so I did. 

     I was to pick up the truck on Friday, so Thursday I called to make sure all was well. The nice young man on the other end of the line assured me that the reservation was all ready. So the next morning, I got up and drove to the rental location to pick up the truck. I arrived at about 7:40AM, to find one person, an older gentleman, working. I told him I was there to pick up a truck I had reserved, and he looked at me as if I had two heads. “A TRUCK?”, he said. Well…yeah…this IS after all a truck rental place…isn’t it?! He informed me that he would have to look on the computer. He then proceeded to BOOT the computer…which was older than he and I put together AND took about…3 hours! (Not really, it just SEEMED like it!) It took so long to boot the computer that I decided one of the squirrels must have fallen off the wheel that was undoubtedly inside that computer! When he FINALLY got the computer up and running, the screen said, “You have NO pending rentals!” Awwww…SNAP! You have GOT to be kidding me! After the reservation…and the cancellation and re-reservation…AND the phone call the night before to VERIFY the reservation…there was NO reservation?! (It’s like the Seinfeld episode when Jerry shows up to pick up a rental car only to be told that, despite the fact that he has a reservation, there are no cars. He tells the clerk, “You know how to TAKE the reservation…you just don’t know how to HOLD the reservation!” 
     After THIRTY-SEVEN minutes (NOT an exaggeration), I had a truck and was on my way! So I call the 800 number to complain about the whole thing. A nice lady listens to my sad tale of woe, then makes this offer, ” because of your problems, I am authorized to give you a $50 gift certificate to be used on your NEXT truck rental.” I asked her this, “Let’s say you want to take your spouse out for a nice dinner. You call a nice restaurant and make a reservation. The night before the dinner, you call to verify the reservation and they tell you all is well. You get all decked out and head to the restaurant, only to be told that you have NO reservation! So you end up having to wait 37 minutes for a table, and then the food is less than satisfactory. So you complain to the management, and they offer you a gift certificate for your NEXT visit. They blew your reservation, they made you wait, AND the food was bad. Would you want to go BACK there?” Amazing!
     In the end, my 10-year old son, my lab-sized dog and I piled into the cab of that bad boy and drove it, fully loaded, from the St. Louis area to Central Illinois. Days like this remind me that customer service, sadly, is a dying art. The next time you get GOOD service from someone, thank them for it. AND, take a  moment to tell their boss how great they did. Why? Because that type of customer service doesn’t come along very often. But you can help- smile at people. Say, “Hi!” Hold a door for someone. Show the love of God to the people you meet. If you do…they’ll actually start to show it back!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Love: Wikipedia Style

     Wikipedia- have you heard of it?
To some, it is the wonder of the Modern Age. To others, it is the bane of
rational thought and NOT to be used by any self-respecting intellectual…which
is EXACTLY why I am quoting it now! Here’s how Wikipedia defines themselves- “a
multilingual, web-based, free-content encyclopedia project based on an
openly-editable model.” As of 2009, it has 65 million visitors monthly. Written
collaboratively by an international group of volunteers, there are more than
85,000 active contributors working on more than 14,000,000 articles in more
than 260 languages. And, in this Valentine’s Day month, Wikipedia has some
interesting things to say about…love. It offers the following steps on HOW to
love:

1. Say it– When you say the words “I Love You”,
they should carry with them the desire to show someone that you love them. Make
sure you really mean it and are willing to do anything for that special person.

2. Love unconditionally– If you can’t love someone without
attaching stipulations, then it is not really love. If you have no intention of
allowing that person to be themselves and accepting them as they are, then you
are not loving them unconditionally.

3. Expect nothing in return– Love just for the sake of love.
Realize that someone may have a different way of showing his or her love for
you; do not expect to be loved back in exactly the same way.

     OK- Wikipedia has its problems…admittedly!
But in THIS case…I think they got it fairly correct! Think about what they
said- if you love someone, you need to tell them (“say it”). They need to KNOW
that you love them, and they only way they can truly know that is if you TELL
them! They also said to NOT put qualifiers on your love for someone (“love
unconditionally”). If we ONLY love someone based on what they do or don’t do
for us…it’s NOT love. Lastly, they said don’t have ulterior motives for your
love (“expect nothing in return”).

     What does the  Bible say about such things? Well…to be
honest, it says A LOT of things about love. But perhaps the best spot to look
is the 13th chapter of
the New Testament book 1Corinthians
“The Love Chapter”:

     If
I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a
resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of
prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith
that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3If I give
all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not
love, I gain nothing. 4Love is patient, love is kind. It does
not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is
not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love
does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always
protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8Love
never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are
tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9For
we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10but when perfection
comes, the imperfect disappears. 11When I was a child, I talked like
a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man,
I put childish ways behind me. 12Now we see but a poor reflection as
in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall
know fully, even as I am fully known. 13And now these three
remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love
.”

     Love is SO many
things…good and bad. TRUE love is all the things mentioned in this passage. And
how comforting is it to consider that, when EVERYTHING else around you is
failing, there will be 3 things that remain- faith hope, and love…and that the
GREATEST of these is love?! Celebrate Valentine’s Day by telling the people you
love THAT you love them! 

     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed Valentine’s Day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Love, Love, Love!

     Love is an amazing thing. It breaks all
the rules. It has a mind of its own. And it cannot be stopped. Think about it-
there are people you love, and you can’t even begin to explain why…you just
do. Likewise, there are people who love you, and sometimes you can’t imagine
for the life of you why they do. Another truth about love is that it is so much
more than simply an emotion. Love is a conscious choice that takes dedication,
perseverance, and some good, old-fashioned hard work. 

     We all know that Monday is Valentine’s Day- the day we send cards, flowers, and candy to loved ones.
(Hallmark and Hershey’s have made several fortunes based on that fact.) This
Valentine’s Day, I hope you do that again (if it is your habit). But along with
the conventions, I have a challenge for you…2 challenges, to be exact.

1.      Your first challenge is to make a list of the
people you love the most. Write down the 5 things you love the most about them.
And then…TELL THEM! Share with them what you love about them. Leave out ANY
negatives (we all have them), and focus on the positive aspects of the person.
It will make them feel so good, and, surprise, surprise, it will make you feel
good, too!

2.      Your second challenge is to spend a total of 15
minutes every day this month in prayer, letting God know how much you love Him.

     You may be saying, “15 minutes?!” I said total.
Split it up- 5 minutes at a time. You may be saying, “EVERY day for a MONTH?!”
Remember, February is the shortest month of the year! You may be saying, “How
much I love God?! Yes, we are called to love God, above all else. God
loves us SO much that He sent His only Son to live among us, teach us, die for
our sins, and rise for our eternal lives. When you look at it that way, how
could we NOT love God? Make sure you tell those around you they are loved.
Also, make sure you tell God how much you love Him. 

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

Magic: The “Reveal”

     (Author’s note: this is the last in my “unofficial” series reminiscing about my years doing magic and juggling.) I love magic. I look at it differently than many people do…figuring out how they did it rather than simply enjoying it…but I love it nonetheless! I have even enjoyed the “Masked magician reveals the secrets of magic” specials, although many of my brothers and sisters in the magic world have not. (And I understand that- the “code” for magicians is that you never reveal a trick!) 

   But there is something to be said for never revealing a trick, and here’s why. Not only does it diminish the performer’s ability to entertain (who wants to see a trick that you already know the secret to?), but frankly most magic tricks are pretty…disappointing…when you actually know how they’re done. We tend/want to think that there is some amazing, complicated, hi-tech answer as to how they did it. And sometimes…there is. But all too often, the answer is MUCH more simple than that. And when you find that out…it is a bit of a letdown! 
     Last Sunday, I preached about Jesus: The Magician. And as part of that sermon, I did a magic trick. I’m sorry…illusion! What I did was have someone choose a card from a deck, look at it, show it to the people around them in the pews, stick it back into the deck (which I gave to them) and then hand the whole thing back to me. I then attempted to bring the card to the top of the deck. After 5 or 6 failed attempts at that, I then asked someone in the congregation to open the hymnal that was in front of them to page 100. There, they found a giant version of the card in question! Job well done! After the last service of the morning (I do 3 each Sunday), two brothers, one in high school one in grade school, came up to me and said, “You just had a whole deck of the King of Hearts!”…which was the card that was selected at that service. I told them that then deck I used was sitting on the front pew- they were welcome to go and look at it. It was a perfectly normal deck of cards. Then, the younger of the two brothers said, “Wow! How did you DO that?” My response? “Quite well, thank you!” 
     I know (and agree with) the saying that knowledge is power, but sometimes it is simply better to NOT know everything about everything. Sometimes it’s better to accept the joy and mystery of life rather than try to analyze it to death. This week, I encourage you to recognize and appreciate the mystery and wonder of God’s creation! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Magic: Watch the Sharp Implements!

      Magicians and jugglers are, by nature, show-offs! It seems logical- you are doing something that, by design, puts you in front of a bunch of people AND makes you the center of attention. Seems natural that you would be a bit of a show-off, right? Almost a job requirement, in fact. But that quality can get you in some fairly major trouble! 

     When my wife and I were dating, still in college, we went to the mall one night. (And if you know me very well, you KNOW I must love the woman if I was willing to  persevere the mall for her. I would rather have a sharp, pointy stick jabbed in my eye than go to the mall! But…that’s a story for another day!) We were walking through a department store and we were moving through the Housewares area…specifically kitchen tools. There was a BIG knife sitting in a display (in the CURRENT climate, that would probably NOT be a good choice on the store’s part!), and I couldn’t resist! In an effort to impress my date, I picked it up and started juggling it. “Ooooo, look at ME!” Well, that was all fine and good…for about 20 seconds. Then I caught the knife wrong and it sliced my hand open! 
     Suddenly, I’m not so cool (OK, your point is well taken- I wasn’t so cool to begin with!) but I didn’t want her to know. So, I tried to hide the blood that was coming from my hand! I was…unsuccessful! She saw, she knew…and she still married me! (I must be living right!)
     Jugglers tend to get themselves in trouble with sharp things! I was out in Boulder, Colorado, at an outdoor mall (there’s that mall again…for someone who hates them, I seem to GO a lot!) watching street performers. There was a juggler who, at one point, balanced on…something (I don’t remember what) while juggling three very sharp knives. That was all well and good until his weight shifted just a bit. He DIDN’T fall…he just sliced his FACE open with one of the knives!
     So, the moral of today’s story is this- DON’T try showing off by juggling sharp things- it tends to end in tragedy! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Magic: A Scene-Stealer at the Miss Illinois Pageant

     I have shared this story before in this setting, but A. it was about a year ago and B. it bears repeating, especially since I am currently on the “Remembering My Days in Magic Nostalgia Tour”! Several years ago, I was asked to “warm up” the crowd for the Miss Illinois Pageant. (I knew a guy who knew a guy…!) I was pretty jazzed about it- I’ll be honest that beauty pageants aren’t exactly my cup of tea, but it WAS a fairly major venue with a fairly sizable live audience. (And really…what performer doesn’t want a big audience?) 

      My 22-year old son was in Grade School at the time, and I asked him if he wanted to help me with the act. (He had done that before. I did it less because a Grade School kid is such a big help and more because most Grade School kids don’t get the opportunity to be in front of that many people!) He said he did, so we planned the act around that fact.
     The big day came, and he and I went to do our gig. We set up, got everything ready, and then it was “go time”. The show was going well and people seemed to be enjoying it. (As much as folks who came to see a beauty pageant CAN enjoy seeing a comic magician/juggler, that it!) My son was doing fine, a bit nervous and not really engaging much, but it was exactly what I expected. Then I got to the Lettuce of Death! Let me explain!
     When I do the juggling part of my act, I include a bit about this “dangerous” stunt I do called the Lettuce of Death. I play up the “razor-sharp” edges of the head of lettuce and how, with one slip of the hand, I could be in BIG trouble! Then I juggle the head of lettuce and 2 juggling balls while eating the lettuce! It is a fun comic bit that never fails to get a response. (Most often, “Is this idiot for REAL?”) I finished The Lettuce of Death and was trying to get the worst of the debris out of the way so I could continue. My son was helping me do that, when he suddenly stopped, picked up a rather large leaf of lettuce, turned directly to the audience, took a big, obvious bite, and said, “Actually, the lettuce of death is quite tasty!” What he said, and more importantly the way he said it, brought the audience to their knees, metaphorically speaking. In other words…he brought the house down! I then spent the rest of the show trying to get back what I lost…and I never did! They were still talking about the funny kid with the lettuce!
     In show business, they say never follow children or animals. That night, I finally understood why! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Magic: The “Oops” Factor!

     Yesterday I shared that Sunday’s sermon got me to reminiscing about my years doing magic. I also shared that I worked at a theme restaurant as a magician for about 2 years, where we did a stage show every 30 minutes and close-up “table” magic in between. This much performing, with a variety of other magicians with a WIDE variety of skill levels led to many…unusual… occurrences! 

      One day, I was doing a stage show. It was mid-afternoon, so there weren’t many people there. I was bored out of my skull, but TRYING to appear interested and engaged. I should have tried harder! I brought a kid up on stage to help do a trick- he was probably about 10 years old. I set up the trick, did some comedy “schtick” with the kid, then got ready to actual “do that voodoo that I do”. I handed to kid the prop I was using (NOT usually the best approach) to inspect and asked him if it was solid. He looked at it for a moment while I talked to the audience, then loudly announced, “No!” I stopped in mid-sentence. “What?” “No!” “No…what?” “No…it’s NOT solid!” “Er…um…ahem…what do you mean, way-too-smart child?” “Look, if you pull this back there’s a hole right there!” And with that, he literally revealed the “secret” to everyone in the room! Awwww…SNAP!
     So I stood there for a second (it only SEEMED like 10 minutes!), then turned to the kid and said, “You DID it!” I then turned to the audience and said, “Give this young man a hand!” and started to applaud. The audience offered a bit of half-hearted applause, not really understanding why the idiot magician who had just been revealed was asking for applause for the kid who did the revealing. I then said, “We have been waiting for MONTHS for someone to figure this one out! And YOU, my boy, have DONE it! And because you did it, we have a free personal pan pizza with YOUR name on it!” The audience applauded louder, the kid got a huge smile on his face…and I had to cough up the money to buy the little…dear…a personal pizza! My fellow magicians didn’t let me forget that one for quite some time!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow for another story of humor and disaster from my magic career, and stick with Jesus!

He’s a Magic Man

     Remember the rock group Heart? Ann and Nancy Wilson…every woman wanted to be them…and every guy wanted to date them! Great voices, great music- Crazy On You, Barracuda, Dreamboat Annie, Dog and Butterfly, Tell It Like It Is, and, of course, Magic Man. 

     Yesterday I preached about Jesus: The Magician, and it got me to thinking about some of my favorite moments as a magician. I have been doing magic for 30 years. I started in college, learning from a guy I went to school with. Then, a restaurant near where I lived was opening up called Abra-K-Dabra. Owned by the K-Mart Corporation, the idea was a restaurant that offered magic all day long- a stage show every 30 minutes with close-up magic at the tables in between. K-Mart dumped so major bucks into the project, including creating promotional videos that featured an animated version of the restaurant’s “mascot”- a wizard named Abra- and a snappy theme song. It played on a regular loop all day long, so if I heard that song once, I heard it 80 gozillion times (give or take)! 
     But we decided that we didn’t like “their” them song, so we adopted our own. At that time and place, “Abracadabra” by Steve Miller was popular. So when the management types weren’t looking, we would replace THEIR song with OUR song…and we LOVED it! The art of magic is a fascinating thing…it’s truly a study in human nature. It’s MUCH less about the “wow” factor of the illusion itself and MUCH more about how it’s presented- the “showmanship” if you will. I have ALWAYS been a fan of the art, and it has been interesting over the years to blend what I’ve learned about magic, my ability to juggle, and my background in performance. It has created many…interesting…stories, and talking about it yesterday at church has made me nostalgic about it. SO…it will spend the next days sharing so of the funny, goofy and embarrassing stories with you! Don’t miss it!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!