Can I Have Your Autograph?

     When I was a kid, a highlight…BIG highlight…was to go to Busch Stadium (this would have been what is now referred to as “Old Busch”…the round, “cookie-cutter one that intentionally looked like a beer bottle cap around the top!) in St. Louis and watch the Cardinals play. Now, although the ’60’s were a pretty good decade for the ‘Birds (3 World Series appearances, 2 Worlds Series wins), the ’70’s were a bit more…how should I say this?…BAD! BUT, I am a cardinals fan though and through, and so when I got to go, whether with my family or with the Safety Patrol from school or with the Honor Roll kids (yep…I was both smart…Honor Roll…AND cool…Safety Patrol! LOL!), I always looked forward to it. 

     One of the many things I remember is that, back in the day, players, coaches and managers would ACTUALLY set up tables at various spots around the concourse and sign autographs! Amazing, I know, but they would sit out there in front of God and everybody, at a folding table, on folding chairs, and sign autographs. In that day and age, MOST autographs were signed on a small index card, provided by the team, that said something about autographs and had slots for 3 people to sign. I specifically remember one time meeting baseball legend Joe Torre in that setting, when he played for the Cardinals. Now, what happened to those autograph cards I sadly cannot say- I was not terribly interested…long-term…at the time…but would LOVE to have them now!
     I DO have some autographed things among my Cardinal memorabilia, none of it really worth much…monetarily. I have a ball signed by current Cardinal center fielder Colby Rasmus. I have a ball “machined signed” by the ’82 Cards, my favorite team. I have a ball cap signed by Tom Lawless, a utility player most known for hitting a dramatic game-winning home run in Game 4 of the 1987 World Series. (If you’ve the footage…you’ll never forget it. Lawless, who only hit 2 regular-season home runs in his career, hits this one, looks at it for a second, then flips his bat in the air and rather nonchalantly heads for 1st like he’s Babe Ruth reincarnated! One of my favorite Cardinal moments…and players…ever!) 
     I also have a ball autographed by Glenn Brummer. You might be saying, “WHO?” Brummer was the back-up catcher for the Cardinals in 1982 when the won the World Series. On August 22, in the middle of a pennant race, Brummer was on 3rd, tie game, 9th inning. Now, Glenn wasn’t exactly known for his speed, so no one expected what was about to happen. On the pitcher…Brummer BROKE FOR HOME. The place went up for grabs, Brummer ran home to the amazement of everybody, slid in under the tag and scored the winning run. Arguably the slowest guy in the stadium stole home! I called KMOX, THE sports radio station in St. Louis, once when I was going to preach on Brummer (yes, I have preached on him 2 or 3 times!), to ask the sports department if I had my facts straight. Hall of Fame announcer Jack Buck had just been on the radio MOMENTS before I called, so I asked to speak to him…what was I thinking?…and they aid, “Just a second.” A few moments later, there was that highly recognizable voice on the other end! I was floored! So, I picked my jaw up off the floor and told him why I was calling. He talked with me for about a minute or two about that game. I then said, “Did Herzog send him?”, meaning did the manager tell him to do that. Buck laughed and said, “You’ve gotta be kidding!” 
     I have many heroes- some of them are mentioned in this blog. My parents, both of whom are gone now, are heroes of mine. And my greatest hero, in all seriousness, is Jesus Christ. He DIED for me…and YOU. Can you get your head around that? He didn’t have to, but He CHOSE to give His life so that we might have our sins forgiven and have eternal life with Him. How cool is that? Now, I DON’T have an autograph card with Jesus’ signature on it, but I have something better- I have His name written on my heart! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Disciplined Heart

     This is the 4th week of our current devotional series- The Burning Heart- Unmistakable Fire. This series is aimed at reigniting our hearts; setting them ablaze for God. 3 friends are in a tragic car wreck and suddenly they find themselves in heaven. The 1st one is handcuffed to a rather…unattractive girl. He asks, “Why?” The Response is, ”When you were 9, you killed a bird with a rock.” The 2nd man…same story. The 3rd one, however, was handcuffed to the prettiest girl he had ever seen. ”Thank goodness I didn’t do anything bad like you guys!” The other 2 are upset and want to know why he’s handcuffed to the pretty girl. ”Well, when she was 9…she killed a bird with a rock!”

     “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you!” Has anyone ever used that on you? Have YOU ever used that? Have you ever believed it? I always thought it was the dumbest thing I ever heard…until, that is, I heard it come out of MY mouth! (Don’t you hate that? We have become our parents! When did THAT happen?) Now I realize that my parents were right- it DOES hurt to discipline children. But when you’re struggling with your children, take comfort- even God struggles with HIS children! “Don’t!” “Don’t what?” “Don’t eat the forbidden fruit!” “Forbidden fruit…Awesome!” “DON’T eat the fruit!” “Why?” “Because I’m your Father…and I said so!” At that point, God was probably wondering why He didn’t just stop with the animals! And did you notice what God’s punishment was? He let them have children of their own! And the pattern was set.
     We discipline our kids because we love them and want them to learn right from wrong- to make good choices. We discipline our kids so they will develop self-discipline. When was the last time you heard or said, “That discipline felt SO good!”?
Discipline comes from going against our parent’s will. It hurts to receive discipline- but it hurts more to give it…if it’s truly discipline, and not punishment. What’s the difference between discipline and punishment? They’re often the same from our standpoint. Discipline is done out of love and it is temporary. Punishment is done out of anger and there is often a finality to it. 
     Deuteronomy 8:1-5 says, “Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live/increase/may enter/possess land that LORD promised on oath to forefathers. Remember how God led you all way in desert these 40 years, to humble you/to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger/then feeding you w/manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from mouth of God. Your clothes didn’t wear out/your feet didn’t swell during these 40 years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so God disciplines you.”
     With our actions, we often say, “God I want to be just like you- but just not yet!” We want to live a life of holiness- but just not yet! We want to live a life of purity- but just not yet! We want to be Godly- but just not yet!” We can’t shorten our time in the wilderness….but we CAN lengthen it! The greatest peaks are achieved after the steepest and most difficult climbs. If we focus on how hard it is, the steepness tires us out and we become discouraged. But when we focus instead on the goal, when we put things in
perspective, then we see discipline as the loving action that it is. 
God hurts to see us out of His will. Are you out of God’s will? Are you hurting? How long will you let it continue? You have the opportunity to repent and return to God’s will. If you accept God’s discipline and let Him do His work, then He will mold you- make you into what He wants. God can reverse our situation, but that needs to start with our own change of heart. 
God’s discipline can bring several things out in us- demands- (“Who do you think you are? Who gave you permission? Stop it!”), denial (“My life’s not that bad- a lot of people are worse than me. I don’t deserve this!”), remembrance (we are reminded of what we already know- the transformative power of God’s power and love.), or belief (we see all that Jesus has done for us. We see His discipline as caring concern…and we believe!) Today, there are 2 things Jesus doesn’t want from us and 2 things He DOES want. He doesn’t want our demands and our denial. He DOES want us to remember and believe! Which will you choose today? Will you remember…and believe? Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Bless Yore Heart!

     There is a comedian named Jon Reep (very funny, by the way!) who does a bit about how you can say ANYTHING to/about ANYONE…as long as you end the sentence with “…bless their heart!” Some examples would be: “That man is the biggest idiot on the planet…bless his heart!” “She is the fattest woman I’ve ever seen…bless her heart!” “That is the ugliest baby EVER…bless its heart!” And while we laugh at that…it’s TRUE! And we do it all the time! We talk about people…ESPECIALLY when their back is turned (literally and/or figuratively) …all the time, and we try to couch the bad things we say by adding “…bless their heart” or some other similar platitude.

     As I have thought through this, another…similar…phrase comes to mind that hits a bit closer to home. That phrase is “…God love them!” You know what I mean- “I just can’t STAND to be around that person- he is SO annoying…God love him!” “Did you SEE that dress Mildred had on today? It was HIDEOUS…God love her!” “Our minister couldn’t preach his way out of a paper bag…God love him!” 
     The implication, when we use one of these “qualifiers”, is two-fold: 1. we don’t REALLY have much respect for our fellow humans, and 2. we think we are better than them! Now that may seem a bit…um…harsh…but if you really think it through- it’s true. And I can say that because, frighteningly human as I am< I catch myself saying those things sometimes! So I am NOT just casting stones at others- I’m out there getting hit by the rocks as well! 
     The interesting thing about all of this is that, at least with the 2 examples I’ve given, there is a fairly overt Christian undertone to them: “bless their heart” and “God love them”. So it’s almost like we hide behind the mantle of religion when we speak ill of others. And that’s a shame, because if we’re going to behave that way, we should at least have the decency to accept responsibility for it. 
     The truth of the matter is that, even though we often use them in sarcastic ways, those two statements are dead-on true. God DOES bless our hearts…and God DOES love us…warts and all! We are NOT Number One with a bullet on God’s Top Ten Hit  Parade because we’re so smart, talented funny or good-looking (and speaking personally…thank goodness for that!); instead we are at the top of God’s “chart” because we are His- plain and simple. God loves us and blesses us because we are His children…literally. And we are ALL worthy of that love and blessing. 
     So…next time you catch yourself about to use one of these phrases in this capacity….stop! Think about what you’re REALLY saying and then change it to be a positive blessing- both on the person of whom you speak AND on yourself! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

A DOG…With NINE Lives?!

      I know that it is CATS that are supposed to have 9 lives, but I had a dog once who had that many…at least! Snoopy was the sweetest, most loyal dog you would ever want to know. She was also perhaps the UGLIEST! My wife says she was (and I quote) so ugly she was cute! (How’s THAT for an oxymoronic compliment!) But you know what? My wife was right! Snoopy WAS a pretty…homely…dog, but her personality is what made her cute! Growing up in the country, we often had dogs and cats show up at our door that someone had dumped. Every time, we would BEG my dad to keep them…even though we already HAD dogs and cats. Therefore, every time we begged, he was steadfast in his “NO!” Until, that it, Snoopy showed up! We heard a noise out back and went out to look. We found this dog huddled in the window well, scared to death. She had clearly been mistreated- she was afraid of people. She tried to bite me when I reached in to get her- much more out of self-preservation than aggression. My dad scolded me for sticking my hand in there near a strange, frightened dog, and then he got out these LONG leather gloves he used for grilling, slipped them on, and reached in. He got her by the nape of the neck and, supporting her rear end with his other hand, pulled her out of the window well. She was growling and baring her teeth while also looking very relieved to be out of there. We brought her into the garage…where I IMMEDIATELY began lobbying to keep her! I somehow managed to wear my dad down, because before bedtime that night he said we could keep her. I was in HEAVEN. She was the first dog who was truly mine. Then came the naming. I remember having seen a few minutes of an All in the Family episode that day and suggested Gloria might be a good choice. The rest of the family looked at me like I had lost my mind! (Funny…I STILL get that look often!) We decided to ponder that one overnight. The next morning, I got up early to go out in the garage and see my dog. My dad said he had watched her snooping around and thought that Snoopy might be a good name. I am a big fan of the Charles Schultz comics AND she was black and white- it seemed perfect! So, Snoopy became a member of the family!

     Over the next several years, Snoopy survived a myriad of events, including TWICE getting hit by cars- one ripped a gash in her leg and the other put an eye out…BUT she kept on going! Then, however, the unthinkable happened…she disappeared. Living in the country, it was NOT unusual for the dogs to run off for hours, as they scoured the woods for whatever they could find. But they ALWAYS came back. But this time, Snoopy did NOT. We began to search for her, looking all over the area, including a thorough search of my grandpa’s 150-acre farm next door. She was nowhere to be found. 24 hours passed. Then 48. Then 72. It became apparent that something bad had happened to her, and that she wasn’t coming home. Although in high school at the time, I’m not too proud to admit that I cried over that dog.
     Then, at about the 96 hours lost mark, I got home from school. No one was home, so I went around the back of the garage (that was the door I had a key to), unlocked the door, and stepped in. There, looking pretty thin but VERY happy to see me, was Snoopy!! I was SO happy to see her I once again cried- this time tears of joy! (If you feel the need to call me a big girl over all this tear-shedding, I’ll understand!) So here was this dog, seemingly back from the grave…but the mystery remained- where had she been? And HOW did she get in a locked garage? (I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, but I’m fairly certain I would have noticed had she simply been there the whole time!) It wasn’t until my mom got home that I, like Paul Harvey, got the rest of the story. My mom and my brother-in-law had decided to make ONE MORE search of my grandpa’s place, even though it had been searched 3 times already. As they walked around the farm, they heard a bark- HER bark! (Let’s be honest, like us, dogs have distinctive voices!) They followed the barking to a long-forgotten cistern (basically a deep hole in the ground designed to catch/store water). When they looked in, there she was, looking back at them and wagging her tail! They got a ladder, climbed down in the cistern, and carried her out. That dog was NEVER more glad to see a good meal and a warm, dry place to sleep!
     Miracles come in all sizes and shapes. They happen every day, all around us. And yet, we are SO jaded by society that we seldom actually recognize them for what they are. We chalk everything up to coincidence, luck and happenstance. We are willing to label things “odd”, “eerie”, even “amazing”…but seldom “miraculous”. I recently read about a phenomenon called Third Man, where people in difficult or dangerous situations are suddenly aware of another person there, who wasn’t there before, who guides them to safety. And when they REACH safety, that person…disappears. In the article, this man talked about mountain-climbing and being caught in an avalanche that killed his partner. As he lay, near death himself, a man appeared, made him get up, walked him quite a ways to a shelter that had (ready?) a rescue worker and a nurse on hand, and then…disappeared. The man who told the story made NO bones about the unusual nature of the story, but said (and I paraphrase) that, because he has a doctoral degree in physics, he is too logical to believe that it could be…God. And yet, he had NO reasonable explaination for what it WAS! Society has decided that you can either be smart…or a believer. Sorry, can’t be both! I say that’s a steaming pile of hooey! (That’s a technical theological term, thank you very much!) A person’s ability to string two rational sentences together doesn’t disable their abilty to have belief in something bigger than…them. Look at the world around you. When you see the intricacies of Creation, the amazing and delicate dance that keep the cosmos in balance, how can you NOT see Intelligent Design? This Christmas season, make an early New Year’s resolution- to not be jaded but to see the beauty, the wonder, the miraculous nature of the world. Watch for God’s hand in things; it’s there if you are willing to see it! Thanks for stopping by and spending a few minutes with me, have a GREAT day, share this with your friends and family, come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The “Wussification” of the Church: Do YOU Want to be Made Well?

      Do you want to know how
to stay safe in the world? First off- avoid riding in cars; they’re responsible
for 20% of all fatal accidents. Also, don’t stay at home, because 17% of all
accidents occur in the home. Further, avoid walking on streets or sidewalks
because 14% of all accidents occur to pedestrians. Also, avoid traveling by
air, rail, or water because 16% of all accidents involve these forms of
transportation. Of the remaining 33%, 32% of all deaths occur in hospitals,
so…obviously…avoid hospitals! But you will be pleased to learn than only .001%
of all deaths occur in worship services, and these are usually due to
preexisting conditions. Therefore logic says that the safest place for you to
be at any given point in time…is in church! So the moral of the story
is…attend Church…it could save your life!

      We are in the 3rd week
of The Wussification of the Church, based on the writings of theologian and
writer Leonard Sweet. This series will lead us to Easter and is aimed at the
decline the mainline Church has experienced over the past 30+ years. Each week
we’ll look at what we can do to be on the front line of a much-needed
resurgence. Each week we’ll also ask a hard question that will help us make the
necessary steps. The 1st week we asked, “What are YOU looking for?” Last week we
asked, “Do YOU understand?” And today we ask, “Do YOU want to be made well?”

     There’s a counseling
technique called “Solution-Focused Therapy”. In this approach, the
counselor asks, in relation to the problems the patient’s having, “What
are you going to do?” Almost always the first reply is, “I need
someone else to do something for me.” My husband, my wife, my boss…God.”
Solutions to the problem are OFTEN the responsibility of anybody…but the
patient. But then, that’s a typical human response…isn’t it? It’s far easier
to look for a rescuer than to take responsibility. But Solution-Focused
Counseling reminds people of their role as a responsible participant in their
own lives, not just an innocent bystander- watching life go by, experiencing
hurt, rejection, disappointment, but unable to do anything about it. It focuses
the attention on individual responsibility. But this isn’t really a new
technique- it’s one that Jesus used quite often. We’re going to look at one
such conversation today.

John 5:1-15– Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem
for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate
a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five
covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the
blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for
thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been
in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to be made well?”
“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the
water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of
me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the
man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

     Imagine the pool of
Bethesda- a place where sick people congregate because they believe they can be
healed by getting into the water when it bubbles up. In the middle of this…sea
of humanity is this man who has been in this situation for…did you hear?…38
years! And then one day Jesus comes up to this man who is obviously crippled.
He’s got all of the accouterments- the paraphernalia- common to folks who
begged for a living in those days–a mat to lie on and a collection plate for
the money folks who take pity on him might give him.
It seems Jesus talks to him and finds out that he’s been living like this
for 38 years- longer than Jesus has been alive- hanging out at a pool for 38
years…hoping to be healed. Then Jesus asks the man what seems to be a crazy
question. And the man offers a lame excuse. And Jesus gave an impossible
instruction as a response.

     Jesus asks, “Do you
want to be made well?” What kind of a question is that? Does a crippled man
want to be made well? That’s like when your dad asks, “Do you want a
spanking?” “Is that a rhetorical question, Dad? Can I have a second
to think about it? Are there any other choices?” The answer seems obvious.
But maybe, just maybe, the question isn’t as crazy, as obvious, as
it seems at first blush. Let’s think about it for a second. Here’s a guy who’s
been crippled for 38 years. All of that time he’s been like Blanch DuBois…relying on the kindness of strangers. If he were to “be made
well”, he’d have to suddenly start earning his OWN way in the world…for
the first time in 38 years. He’d no longer have an excuse. The responsibility
would suddenly be his.
So maybe “Do you want to be made
well?” wasn’t such a crazy question after all. Maybe it was instead a
question that drove to the very heart of the issue and exposed the motives that
lay deep inside.

     Notice what comes next-
the man doesn’t answer
Jesus’ question, but instead offers an excuse for why he hadn’t been healed
yet. “I’m all alone, there’s no one to help me.” It’s a sad, tragic
cry. We can’t help but feel sorry for him, alone in the world, crippled and
lonely. But it doesn’t answer the question…it still amounts to an excuse. To
say “there’s no one to help me” also means, “I can’t help
myself…and God’s apparently not going to do anything for me either.”

     But Jesus will have none
of it. He’s heard it all before…and knows there’s a better day waiting ahead
for this man…if he will but believe. Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your
mat and walk.” Jesus doesn’t offer him syrupy sympathy, accepting the
man’s whining and moaning. Instead, Jesus offers a message of life and
vitality. He offers what we might recognize as the Gospel according to Nike-
“JUST DO IT.” And…the man DOES it! He picks up his mat…and he walks…for
the 1st time in 38 years…maybe the 1st time ever.

Now, the healing here IS
100% by Jesus’ power, but there is a human factor. Think about it- who healed
the man at the pool? Jesus. But who had to get up and walk? The man. Who saves
us from our sins? Jesus. But who must repent and believe? Us. Who gives us the
power to live above sin? Jesus. But who has to consciously decide day by day to
follow Him? Us. All too often we hold on tightly to the things that paralyze us
spiritually. But Jesus can heal those things. When Jesus heals us, we are left
with no excuse for our lives and the choices we make. We won’t be able to cry
“My life isn’t my fault, it’s everybody else’s fault!” The man said,
“I don’t have anybody.” But in Jesus we DO have somebody…and not
just someone to drag us around on our mats of self pity but someone who can
bring healing to our damaged lives. It would have been easy for the man at the
pool to dismiss Jesus as a nutjob. But it takes more strength to obey Jesus’
impossible instruction and leave the hurt behind and accept the salvation He
offers.

     John tells us there were
a lot of disabled people around the pool every day. This guy was surrounded by
them…and yet Jesus saw him lying there…Jesus saw HIM. And that should
encourage us. If Jesus saw him, in this sea of humanity gathered around the
pool, then He’ll also see us in the midst of a busy world. If you’re hurting,
take heart: you’re not alone. There are other hurting people- people who don’t
have it all together, people with scars, people with wounds so deep it takes
just a word to open the wound, create fresh hurt.
Jesus isn’t oblivious to
your pain, your hurt, your need. Just as He saw the man and knew he’d been
there a long time, He knows how long, how much, how deeply you’ve been hurting,
too.

     You may be thinking, “What about all those
other people at the pool? Why didn’t Jesus heal them, too?” My honest, Master’s
degree, seminary-trained, 14 years in the ministry answer? I have no earthly
idea! Some of those people by the Pool of Bethesda might not have chosen
healing over hurt, if healing meant losing their income, leaving their life, no
longer being able to lean on others.
Some actually choose to
hold onto their hurts, because they’d rather complain and play the martyr than
do the work necessary to get better.
Maybe Jesus knew this
man was ready to make a change. Jesus asked him, “Do you want to be made
well?” Although it may sound like a “Well…duh!” moment…it’s really
not. I’m convinced a lot of people don’t really want to be healed; they don’t
really want to be made well. Sound crazy? It’s not, because saying “yes” means
admitting we hurt. “Whaddya talking about, Jesus? I’m fine- never better! Don’t
worry about me; go help THAT guy…he’s the one with problems.” Saying “yes”
also means choosing wellness over pain. For some, being an invalid isn’t so
bad. Somebody else does all the work. Jesus didn’t touch the man, or even point
to him, He simply said, Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” It’s clear:
Jesus had the power to heal him…and he did. But what prompted the man to
actually DO it? For whatever reason, the man believed Jesus could heal him. We
need to believe Jesus can heal us.

     Too much of the Church
has become wussified. The Church used to be about great and mighty things-
bringing light into the darkness, making the dead come back to life. The church
of Jesus Christ used to make waves. Now it often struggles to even make a
splash. The Church has become wussified, populated by a healthy percentage of
folks who whine and wheeze about every cut and scrape society gives us. The
Church has a drug problem- we’ve allowed ourselves be drug into places we
really shouldn’t be. In the wussified Church, pain comes from being relegated
to the margins of a postmodern life. The healing offered by Jesus Christ is
downplayed- relegated to nothing better than equal footing with meditation and
exercise regimes that are designed to de-stress our hectic lives. Jesus’
powerful message to a weary world stumbling in soul-sucking darkness is often
considered leisure-time reading– like a light summer novel. The Church has
become just another, and I might add not very well recommended, option for
spending time on a Sunday morning.

     What about us? Jesus looks
at us- crippled by problems, by circumstance, by sin, and what does He say to
us? Could it be that He’s asking us the same question? Could it be that He is
saying to us, “Do you want to be made well?”
Do you want to continue to
hold on to the hurt? Is it easier to just let bitterness fester, to wallow in
the hurt and betrayal, licking your wounds? Or do you want to be healed?

     So the question echoes
across the centuries to us today, “Do you want to be made well?” To
those crippled by past hurts, Jesus asks, “Do you want to be made
well?” To those chained by secret sin Jesus asks, “Do you want to be
made well?” To those battling addiction Jesus asks, “Do you want to
be made well?” To those who haven’t yet asked Him into their hearts Jesus
asks, “Do you want to be made well?” To all who need His healing
touch in any part of their life Jesus asks, “Do you want to be made
well?” But to receive the healing He has for us…we have to actually want
to be changed. We have to be willing to say, “Jesus, I’m ready to put the past
behind me.” Jesus acknowledges the reality of people’s hurts. We tend to
avoid the subject…because it makes us uncomfortable. Jesus didn’t do that. He
saw the man lying there, saw his hurt and knew it was real, and had been real
for a very long time.

     Today, Jesus has asked the
question, “Do you want to be made well?” and He waits for our answer.
Will you continue to hold on to the things that hold you back? Will you offer
the same old excuses? Or will you listen to the call of Jesus and reach out for
that which is beyond you? Will you “Get up and walk”?
It’s time for us to leave
our hurts behind, pick up our mat and walk. Time to choose healing over hurt
and take the first step. Will you do that this morning? Will you believe in
God’s goodness and grace? Will you believe that He wants to revive your spirit
and restore your heart? Will you admit you’re hurting? Will you make the healing
choice? Will you pick up your mat and walk?
Jesus has the power to bring power to lifeless
limbs and empty lives.

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

Is That Humanity…or Humility?

     Remember the Hindenburg tragedy? Radio reporter Herbert Morrison and sound engineer Charlie Nelson had been assigned by Chicago radio station WLS to cover the Lakehurst Naval Air Station landing of the Hindenburg. (Interestingly, they were there on a “test run”. The only pre-recorded sounds the network allowed to be broadcast were sound effects for radio dramas. But Morrison and Nelson were sent, without any equipment to broadcast live, to test out recording news events for later broadcast.) The now famous (perhaps infamous) video footage includes Morrison’s description of the crash- “It’s burst into flames, and it’s falling, it’s crashing…It’s burning and bursting into flames…It’s smoke and it’s flames now…and the frame is crashing to the ground, not quite to the mooring mast. Oh, the humanity…!” It is a moment seared into the collective conscience of all who have seen it. And for me, the key word there is “humanity”. What does that word ACTUALLY mean? According to Merriam-Webster, it means “the quality or state of being human”. 

     Not long ago, one of my parishioners said to me, “I appreciate the HUMANITY that you bring to this congregation.” The more I have thought about that, the more I think she gave me one of the nicest compliments someone can give their pastor. A decent number of clergy seem to feel they need to project this image of “having it all together”- knowing all the answers to life. They are experts on the human condition…just ask them!I am well aware that not only do I NOT have all the answers…most days I couldn’t even tell you what all the questions are! And, for me…that’s OK. Because I’m about as “human” as they come- full of foibles and flaws that crop up on a regular basis. We ALL are. Life is too tough, too complicated to even pretend to have a handle on everything. But do you want to know the “beauty part” of all this? God loves us anyway! Not only because of who were are, but often in SPITE of who we are! God created you the way you are, warts and all. And God loves you like that. It doesn’t mean He doesn’t want to see you contionue to strive to be more; it just means that you don’t have to reach some magic level before you have God’s acceptance.
     The world tells us constantly that we aren’t good enough. If we don’t buy that product or drink that drink or eat that food or wear those clothes or hang with those people…we are somehow incomplete, not good enough. God’s message is 180 degrees the other way. Don’t let other people dictate your self-worth- let God do it. If God can think that I’M OK the way I am…there’s hope for everybody! Are you human? Of course you are? Are you perfect? I hate to burst your bubble, but no! But you are perfectly and wonderfully amde in the image of God. You have value, and you are loved. And since I KNOW the parishioner who told me about my humanity reads this blog…thank you! Know that you are loved, you have great worth, and you matter to God. Have a great day, come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Do You Regularly Buy…Jesus?

     Regular season Major League Baseball is ALMOST here! For some of you, you are thinking right now, “Big whoop! I could care less!” (And by the way- how is it that “I could care less” and “I couldn’t care less mean” the same thing? Shouldn’t they actually be OPPOSITES?!) But for us baseball fans, Opening Day is a nearly sacred time- your team of choice (mine is the St. Louis Cardinals) is in first place…because the season hasn’t actually started yet. Hope springs eternal! And yet, in a few short weeks, many Major League teams will be saying, “Just wait until next year!” (For those of you who A. know me well and B. trade “barbs” with me on a regular basis…I will name NO particular teams at this juncture!) But sports fans have HIGH Brand Loyalty- they are dedicated to their team(s) of choice through thick and thin.(I mean, I served the ’70’s…or what I like to call the Vern Rapp years, and I’m STILL a cardinal fan!) 

     I think the same is true of other areas of our lives as well. Most people buy the same brand of peanut butter, toothpaste and laundry detergent every time. When pressed as to why, most of us could say no more than, “I like that brand.” I don’t know about you, but I’m SURE I haven’t tried all the deodorant brands out there, but I still buy the same one every time. We are a Brand Loyal society- sticking to what we know, what we like and what we trust. 
     As I think through the whole idea of being loyal to one particular brand, it makes me wonder how Brand Loyal we are…to Jesus Christ? Do we show allegiance to Him? Are we faithful to Him? Do we refuse to “buy any other brand”…even when it’s flaunted right in our face? Or do we often show our allegiance to all sorts of other “gods”? I would venture that many Americans show a MUCH greater level of Brand Loyalty to their football team and their brand of soda than they do to Jesus. How…you might ask? By what we devote our prayers, our presence, our gifts and our service to…what we show allegiance to. 
    Do you make sure that you don’t miss your favorite TV program? Do you make sure that you watch every football/baseball/basketball game that is on? Do you make sure that you find time to do the leisure things YOU like to do? Now…those were the “softball” questions. Here comes the “blazing fastball” question- do you offer the same attention, dedication and commitment to going to church? Do you make sure that you are in the pews every Sunday? Do you make sure you pray daily? Do you make sure that you are giving back to God, both in your time and your money, a portion of the blessing that He has bestowed upon you? Only you…and God…know the answer to that question. 
     I encourage you, as well move closer and closer to easter, to make your faith a greater priority in your life. Not only do studies show that church goers live longer and are healthier than non-church goers, but making that kind of commitment will enrich your life in ways you can’t even imagine! All I am saying…is…give Jesus a chance! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Meeting a Spiritual Need…and Killing Me!

     Do you work out? I mean…REALLY work out? I will admit right up front…I do NOT. I SHOULD…but I don’t. That is, until yesterday! A guy in my church felt this…call…to start a group workout at the church. He and I talked about it, and then last Sunday, we stood up at all 3 morning worship services, explained what his vision was, and passed around a clipboard to see what the interest level was. Then he emailed all who showed interest and said that his vision was that we meet at 5:30 A.M. (yes, that’s correct…A.M! I personally had only heard rumors that there was actually a time PRIOR to 6A.M!) Those who gathered would “do” a workout DVD…and then come back for some more then next day. So I signed up, got up at 5A.M. yesterday and dragged my sorry carcass to church and worked out. And it was…ready?…GREAT!

     Bob from Biggest Loser worked us for 20 minutes (it only SEEMED like 60!), and then we were done! And the cool things was this- nobody but the guy whose vision this was and myself even KNEW about this until Sunday, and yet yesterday (only 3 days later) 10 people showed up at 5:30 in the blessed A.M. to voluntarily submit themselves to torture! How cool is that! Not only that, but some of them came EARLY to break down tables and chairs so we would have a place to work out, and EVERYBODY stayed a few minutes afterwards to put those same tables and chairs back. I’m a bit on the sore side, big wuss that I am, but I am glad I’m doing it!
     So what’s the moral of this story? Just this- that we are ALL called to be in ministry. Some of us are called to be in “formal” ministry- i.e. pastoring a church, being a chaplain, serving as a youth ministry or a deacon, etc. And while that is NOT for everyone…ministry IS for everyone. This guy felt God’s call in the direction of helping folks get in better physical shape- spruce up their own personal “temple of God”, if you will. And I don’t know about you, but the better I feel physically, the better my self image is and the stronger my relationship with God is. So, is leading a group of people in a 20-minute workout at 5:30 every morning (EVERY morning…oh my!) a ministry? Absolutely! Now, the question is- what is YOUR ministry? What is it that you are uniquely gifted to do that could be translated into a ministry for God? Maybe you love to visit with people- great! You start a home visitation ministry for the folks in your community who can longer get out. Maybe you love to cook- great! You start a food ministry that provides meals to people who live alone, are ill or are in the middle of a difficult time. Maybe you knit, crochet or sew- great! You start a prayer shawl ministry, making shawls that are prayed over and given to people who are having a tough time for one reason or another.
     The possibilities are endless- limited only by your imagination! What can YOU do today that glorifies God AND makes a difference in the lives of others? Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to rub some liniment on my aching body! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Proud Heart

     Today
we continue a series of weekly devotionals entitled “Burning Heart- the
Unmistakable Fire”. This series is aimed @ reigniting our hearts, setting
them ablaze for God.

Deuteronomy
8:10-14 says- “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your
God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the
Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I
am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you
build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large
and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your
heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you
out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”

     The people settled in land the God had
given them and they experienced great blessing. Because of that graet blessing,
they faced the temptation to think that they were responsible for all that they
had…rather than God. They had pride in their hearts. The word pride has 2
primary meanings: 1. pleasure or satisfaction in something done and 2.
inordinately high opinion of one’s own importance, merit and superiority. Perhaps
a simpler, more direction definition would be “self-worship”.

     Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before
destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall”. The Message translation says
it this way: “First comes pride, then a crash; the bigger the ego, the harder
the fall”. Direct and to the point, don’t you think? A  minister received a Christmas card/ from a
female parishioner. In the card, she was very complimentary about his
preaching,

comparing
him to Billy Graham, saying, “You are one of the greatest preachers of all
time!” He showed the card to his wife, who asked, “Who wrote
this?” He replied, “a very intelligent parishioner who loves great
preaching! How many great preachers do you suppose there are in the
world?” Her reply? “One less than you think!” Pride goeth before the
fall! Moses warns against the temptation of pride, saying we need to always
remember who our benefactor is. He says In everything…we should give thanks.
Pride can be the most dangerous temptation we face- it can have a destructive
effect on our soul. It opens the door to other sins and it tends to taint our
good qualities.

     What are the signs of pride?

1.  A spotty prayer life- we’re not actively
relying on God, not aware of our need for Him.

2.  Anger- we’re not trusting God’s plan and
timing; instead we’re trying to take control.

3.  A critical spirit- we bring others down to
lift ourselves up- this points to an inflated ego.

4.
Defensiveness- an inability to laugh at our own mistakes, taking ourselves too
seriously.

5.  Taking credit for success- it means we’ve
lost sight of God’s provision.

6.  Impatience- displaying an overdeveloped sense
of importance.

7.
An unwillingness to associate with people who “don’t live up to our
standards”.

     So, how do we deal with pride in our
lives? First, we have to recognize it. Ben Franklin said, “the proud hate
pride…in others”! Then we have to repent of it. Thomas Merton said,
“Pride makes us artificial, but humility makes us real”. Then we have
to be strong- fight against it every day! James Lowell said, “Pride and
weakness are Siamese twins”. Pride promotes self-sufficiency rather than
God-sufficiency- “I can do it myself- I don’t need anybody…especially God!”
Pride is one of the most dangerous pitfalls a Christian can face- it has the
capability of destroying lives. It is like an iceberg- the most dangerous part
lies beneath the surface. And in the end, we can’t cure ourselves. The remedy
lies with putting our trust in God. God enables us to stand against pride…but
only if we seek His grace and His mercy! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow and stick with Jesus!

Limitless…Caffeine!

     Have you seen the trailers (i.e. movie ads) for the new movie Limitless? Through the ingesting of some “magic pill”, a guy sees his brain usage go from the typical 10% to almost 100%. He is then able to see, hear, think and do things he never could before. Sounds great, but from what I’ve read about the movie, it focuses a decent amount of the ensuing plot on how bad the withdrawal from this drug is. 

     Have you ever dreamed about, however? Have you ever imagined what you could do if you suddenly became a super-genius, seeing everything through clearer, stronger, brighter eyes? I certainly have. In fact, at some level, I experienced it the other night!
     Right after church last Sunday, my family and I piled into the Soccer Mom van and drove 3 hours to attend a family party. We had a great time, got to see lots of people, and then…all too soon…had to drive 3 hours BACK because we all had work/school the next morning! Well, let me assure that preachers (at least THIS preacher) are rather tired on Sunday afternoons! So, by the time I was getting ready to drive the SECOND 3-hour leg…I was pretty beat. 
     Now, if you have been reading my blog for a while, you probably know that, a few years ago, I gave up caffeine. I had a SERIOUS “caffeine Jones” and decided I needed that monkey off my back! So I quit….cold turkey. (No one wanted to be around me for the first several days- it was like giving up crack…or so I’m told!) And I have been caffeine-free ever since. The ONLY exceptions to that rule have been LATE night Christmas drives (after church services are over) to visit family- THEN I have had a cup of REAL coffee to keep me awake while we drove. Well…after the family party,as I said, I was pretty tired. So I got a large coffee from a convenience store, and away we went. I had put some chocolate creamer in it, and the coffee (I’m not gonna lie!) tasted…GOOD! Within about 35-40 minutes of the 3-hour drive, the large coffee was gone! 
     Now, you have to remember- my system gets NO caffeine…period. Well, it LIKED the caffeine. It seemed to REMEMBER the caffeine. And it responded WELL to the caffeine. Suddenly, I’m like the guy from the Limitless movie- I’m 50 moves ahead! My brain is going a mile a minute. I’m thinking through things like nobody’s business. Everything is clear, sharp, precise. I am on FIRE…ready to take on the world! It was…to be entirely transparent here…AWESOME! That was at about 7PM. Now, fast-forward to midnight! I have been awake for 18 hours. I have preached/led THREE worship services. I have driven SIX hours. I have attended a family party. I have helped do some thing for my wife’s parents. And now…everyone else is asleep and my mind is STILL going like crazy!
     I finally got to sleep about 12:45PM, hoping/praying/expecting that I would wake up just as…brilliant///as I was when I went to bed! NO SUCH LUCK! I woke up just as…normal…as I do every morning! The chariot had turned BACK into the pumpkin, my friends- the beautiful white horses were once again mice! The reality is this- we have a hole inside of us…a God-shaped hole. And we try EVERYTHING to fill that hole- money, fame, success, relationships…CAFFEINE! But the truth is that ONLY God can filled a God-shaped hole. 
     What are you trying to fill your God-shaped hole with? If it’s NOT God…you are destined for disappointment. If, however, it IS God…greater things have yet to come! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

It’s VERY Refreshing!

     There’s an episode of Seinfeld that centers around a delicious little candy…the Junior Mint! Jerry and Kramer go to the hospital to observe a surgical procedure. As they sit in the gallery that overlooks the operating room, Kramer pulls out a box of Junior Mints and starts eating…like they’re at the movies! He offers one to Jerry, who declines. They argue back and forth and in the confusion, one lone Junior Mint flies out of their hands, over the side…and INTO the open wound of the patient! They are too scared to tell anyone and so the doctor closed up the patient WITH the Junior Mint inside! The rest of the episode is spent talking about, and lamenting, the Junior Mint. At one point, the following interchange takes place:

Jerry: Why did you force that mint on me? I didn’t want the mint!
Kramer: Well, I didn’t believe you.
Jerry: How could you not believe me?!?
Kramer: Who’s gonna turn down a Junior Mint? It’s chocolate, it’s peppermint– it’s *delicious*!
Jerry: That’s true.
Kramer: It’s very refreshing!
     Junior Mints ARE very refreshing! But I have learned, through both head knowledge AND heart knowledge, that a relationship with God through the person of Jesus Christ…a TRUE relationship…is the most refreshing  thing we can experience. Words can’t even describe the impact that relationship has on me- I am FAR from perfect…but I am renewed and refreshed daily…hourly…through my connection to Jesus Christ.  And it hurts my heart to see so many people who are struggling mightily with life, barely hanging on, hardly LIVING life, let alone actually enjoying it! Do YOU fall into that category some days? Are there days when you wonder if it’s even worth it to get out of bed? If so, have I got a deal for you! Turn your eyes upon Jesus…look FULL in His wonderful face…and the things of earth with grow strangely dim…in the light of His glory and grace! What a  promise that is! And the beauty part is that…it’s TRUE! It’s NOT just s bunch of tripe wrapped up in the 66 books of the Bible. Instead, it’s 50,000 red-hot poppin’ watts of Jesus Christ, offering to change your life. It’s the cherry on top of the sundae. It’s the Magical Mystery Tour, coming to take you away!
     Will you, this Easter season, commit your life to Jesus? Will you turn your cares and sorrows over to Him…and receive life…abundant life…in return? You will NOT be sorry- it’s VERY refreshing! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The “Wussification” of the Church: Do YOU Understand?

     About 11 years ago a led
a mission trip to inner-city Denver, CO. While there, we worked in a Hispanic
neighborhood where we held a vacation Bible School for the neighborhood kids.  At the end of the 1st night there
was a girl standing in the kitchen of the church, talking to some of our folks.
My sense was that she was supposed to be picked up and no one had come for her.
It also seemed that she didn’t speak English. So I put on my white hat and came
to the rescue…or so I thought! I wanted to find out her phone number so I could
call her house, so I said, “Que es el nombre de tu telefono?” Which sadly
means, “What is the name of your telephone?” She looked at me like I was crazy
(imagine that!) and seemed confused, SO…I repeated my “pigeon Spanish” AGAIN! She
continued to look at me like I had 2 heads, then said, “Are you trying to find
out my phone number?”…in PERFECT English! I felt like a giant goober!!

We are in the 2nd
week of our current series: The Wussification of the Church. Loosely based on
the writings of theologian/author Leonard Sweet, this series, which will lead
us to Easter, is aimed squarely at the decline of mainline denominations over
the past 30 years and what we can do to be on the front line of a much-needed resurgence.
Each week we ask a hard question geared toward helping us make those necessary
steps. Last week we asked, “What are YOU looking for?” Today, we take a page
from my experience in Denver and ask, “Do You understand?”

C. S. Lewis once said
that the most frequently spoken word in heaven is probably, “Oh!” As
in, “Oh, NOW I understand.” “Oh, NOW I see what God’s plan
was.” “Oh, NOW I get why I went through that.” Until then, however,
we don’t have that luxury. We have to walk by faith, not by knowledge. But one
day it will be revealed to us. It’s HARD to understand it all. And today we
look at a Scripture passage that includes a fairly well-known character who
clearly did NOT understand.

John 3:1-21- Now there
was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling
council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a
teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing
if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Very
truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born
again.” “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely
they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus
answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless
they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the
Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You
must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound,
but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with
everyone born of the Spirit.”

“How can this be?”
Nicodemus asked. “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not
understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and
we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our
testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how
then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into
heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted
up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that
everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

Nicodemus is introduced
as a Pharisee, a prominent and fully credentialed Jewish leader. That’s
important- it emphasizes his status. He’s obviously a prominent member of the
Jewish community.
 The fact that he comes to Jesus at night is important. Then
traditional interpretation is that he came then to avoid being seen by others
talking to Jesus. And while that may well true, I think he also chose the evening
because he knew he would likely have more of Jesus’ undivided attention. Nicodemus
addresses Jesus as “Rabbi”, the same title Jesus’ soon-to-be
disciples used when they met him. By using that title, Nicodemus acknowledges what
he believes to be Jesus’ authority and role.
 But then, in light of Nicodemus’ respectful approach,
Jesus’ response seems rather abrupt, almost rude.
It seems as if these men are having 2 different conversations. They’re both teachers of Israel, but Nicodemus doesn’t seem to
recognize that he and Jesus simply aren’t on the same level. Do you understand?

A little girl was asked
to write an essay on “birth”. So she went home and asked her mother
how she had been born. Her mother, who was busy at the time, said, “the stork
brought you and left you on the doorstep.” Continuing her research she asked
her dad how he’d been born. Being in the middle of something, her father
similarly deflected the question by saying, “I was found under a cabbage leaf
in the garden.” Then the girl went and asked her grandmother how she had
arrived. “I was picked from a gooseberry bush”, said the grandma. With this
information, the girl wrote her essay. When the teacher asked her later to read
it in front of the class, she stood up and began, “There has not been a
natural birth in our family for three generations…!” Jesus tells
Nicodemus that he must be born again. To Nicodemus, Jesus’ words are mysterious
and enigmatic.
He should realize who Jesus is…but he doesn’t.
And when Jesus begins answering Nicodemus’s question, with His somewhat
off-putting response, he doesn’t seem to have any expectation that Nicodemus,
as we’ve already established a very intelligent man, will understand. Do you
understand?

    
The great baseball manager Leo Durocher was once asked who was the
all-time favorite player he had coached. Lots of people were shocked when he
named a little known pinch hitter named Dusty Rhodes (no…NOT the wrestler).
Durocher was asked, “Why Dusty Rhodes?” He replied, “In a tight
game, when I looked down the bench for a pinch hitter, some players would avert
their gaze and refuse to look in my direction. But Dusty Rhodes would look me
right in the eye, smile, and tap on his bat. He was always available.” New
birth is like that- it’s more likely to happen to people who are always
available to God.
Then, a subtle shift, not even discernible in English,
takes place. Jesus begins to address Nicodemus in the plural. It’s as if Jesus
isn’t even speaking to Nicodemus anymore; instead He’s addressing this man as a
representative of a larger community. And from this point on, Nicodemus doesn’t
speak.

For God so loved the
world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall
not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world
to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in
him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already
because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is
the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead
of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light,
and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But
whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly
that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

John 3:16 is widely, and
deservedly, seen as the quintessential “summing up” of the Gospel. “For God so loved the world that he gave his
only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have
eternal life.” He loved us…US…SO much…how much? So much that He gave up His one
and only begotten Son…for US!
God’s purpose in sending His Son was so
that we would have the opportunity of eternal life with Him. Eternal life is a
gift from God…available to all who believe. Then Jesus tells us about who He
came- the purpose was salvation rather than judgment.

In 1981, an old VW Bug
was stolen California. Police staged an intense search for the vehicle and the
driver, even to the point of placing announcements on local radio stations to
contact the thief. “Why?”, you might ask. What was SO special about this old
stolen car, just one of MANY stolen that day? Well, on the front seat of that
stolen car was a box of crackers…laced with poison. The car owner was going
to use them as rat bait! So the police were more interested in catching the
thief to save his life than to recover the car. So often when we run from God,
we think we’re trying to escape His punishment…but what we’re REALLY doing is
eluding His rescue. He came to save us. He came to be The Light. And the coming
of the light reveals darkness for what it is…a gutless coward who hides in the shadows
and preys on our fears and insecurities.

I read an article in a
national publication recently and the title contained the phrase “local
church”. Ironically the word “local” was hyphenated between two lines, so
the resulting headline read “THE LO-CAL CHURCH”! I fear that’s what the
Church has become in a lot of ways- the lo-cal Church! I have little patience
for critics who always know what’s wrong with everything, know exactly how to
fix everything, feel the need to tell everyone all about it…and yet continue
to do nothing but complain. Mainline Churches have watered down the broth SO
much in an effort to feed more people that there often isn’t enough spiritual
nutrition left to feed anyone. This leads us back to the title of our series-
The Wussification of the Church. What does that mean- “the wussification
of the church”? Does it mean that when we turn the other cheek, show
compassion, we’re being wusses? No, that’s not it, because turning the other
cheek takes great strength and in the Bible Jesus typically shows gentleness
and compassion. So what does it really mean? The wussification of the Church
points to apathy- being too comfortable…with church on Sunday…and
“everyday life” the rest of the week.

Think about a typical
street evangelist on a soapbox, with some kind of megaphone, handing out
tracts. Methodist Church founder John Wesley basically invented street
evangelism. He would attract huge crowds, people were getting converted and
there was a huge revival going on. But we take that same approach today and it
drives people away! It doesn’t turn people toward Christ but instead pushes
them away. Why? It’s the wussification of the Church and her mission.  In
John Wesley’s day, a book cost the equivalent of about one month’s salary, so
most people didn’t have books- they didn’t have literature in their homes. So
pamphlets and tracts were THE cutting edge hardware of the 18th century. Think
about it- a book is one month’s salary and some street evangelist is GIVING
AWAY books, tracts and pamphlets. Now, fast-forward to the 21st century. Books
and pamphlets are no longer so costly. In fact, fewer and fewer ACTUAL books
are even being purchased anymore. Why? Because more and more people are reading
books on things like this (laptop) or this (Kindle) or this (SmartPhone).
Imagine if we were standing on street corners passing out SmartPhones, Kindles
and laptops- you want to talk about crowds that would wait in line and listen
to what we had to say. But the early street evangelists didn’t just have
pamphlets; they had pamphlets with chapters from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s
Progress
, or Fox’s Book of Martyrs, or Thomas A Kempis’ Imitation
of Christ
.
The hardware came with spiritual software! Do you understand?

Don’t get me wrong- we DO
need the classics. We need depth and mystery. So we embrace the classics…but
we don’t simply dwell on them. The Church also has to embrace fluidity, change.
How do we do that? How do we hold on to an unchangeable God while still
embracing change? We turn to what some theologians call the “double
ring.” Here’s what that looks like. Jesus is at the center of one of those
rings. And the Bible tells us that He is the same yesterday, today and forever.
BUT…for Him to BE the same yesterday, today and forever and still hold on to
us, it’s got to become fresh every morning. In a sense, the only way for things
to stay the same is for them to change. That’s the paradox here: if we want
things to stay the same, we’ve got to constantly change, re-invent. 86% of
mainline Christians polled say they sense that God is motivating people to stay
connected to Him through different means and experiences than in the past. So,
if we want the Gospel to be as alive to our children and grandchildren as it is
to us, we’ve got to be willing to change.
Change is the mark of every living thing. When
we stop changing, we die. The medical definition of death is a body that
doesn’t change. So, change is the definition of life. But the Church in the
last hundred years hasn’t changed much. And that’s the reason mainline
denominations have been in decline.

The church needs to be able
to use the medium of current culture as a vehicle for the Gospel. Why? Because
current culture is the Roman road; it’s the road people are traveling on; it’s
the dominant global culture. For the Church NOT to speak the language of pop
culture, not to use images, sounds and concepts that come from it, well …
that’s not being very incarnational. In order for the Church to incarnate
Christ into the culture that is actually here, we have to find ways to redeem
and embrace pop culture. We are to guide, challenge and encourage others. We
are to help them learn that Godly men and women DO exist, that they can be
trusted and counted on to follow through. We are to change their perception of
God— from distant and indifferent to Someone they can trust. Do you understand?

When I was a kid, I had a
mini bike. It was primarily designed for  riding on the road, but going 20
MPH down a smooth street, with the wind blowing through my hair, (insert your
joke here) got pretty boring…pretty fast- not enough risk involved. But when
I’d take it zipping off-road, into the deep weeds, down twisting trails,
dodging trees and bushes – places where there was some risk of falling and
going out of control – then riding became an adventure. The same can be said
for living a life of faith. It’s when we face our fears and take a risk that we
truly experience the thrill of following Jesus, because faith and risk are
intertwined. It’s only when we stretch our horizons, only when we venture out
from what’s comfortable and follow Jesus that faith is truly and fully
experienced. That’s what Jesus was trying to tell Nicodemus- you must be born
again. You have to risk a new beginning. You have to trust yourself to a new
birth IN God to truly be part of the kingdom OF God. As long as we cling to the
old, as long as we’re afraid to follow, as long as we’re unwilling to risk our
lives for God, we will never truly be a part of God’s great adventure. All too
often the Church is like a spiritual flu shot-  inoculating the world with
a mild form of Christianity…so that it will be immune to the REAL thing. The
purpose of such inoculation? Security- not security in Jesus, but security FROM
Jesus, security from having to rely on Him and His kingdom to give meaning and
significance to our lives.

     For
years, the opening of “The Wide World of Sports” television program
illustrated “the agony of defeat” by showing the painful ending to an
attempted ski jump. If you remember, the skier seemed in good form as he headed
down the jump, but then, for no apparent reason, he tumbled head over heels off
the side of the jump, bouncing off the supporting structure and down to the
snow below. What viewers didn’t know was that he CHOSE to fall rather than
finish the jump. Why? The jump surface had become too fast, and midway down the
ramp he realized that, if he completed the jump, he was going to land on the
level ground beyond the safe, sloped landing area, which could have been fatal.
Amazingly, the skier suffered no more than a headache from the tumble. To
change one’s course in life can be a dramatic and sometimes painful
undertaking, but change is better than a fatal landing at the end. That’s the
problem Nicodemus had. Jesus tells Nicodemus that he’s facing a fatal landing
if he doesn’t change directions. But Nicodemus knows only one way…the earthly
way. And there’s Jesus, talking about Heaven, about being born again. Nicodemus
hears the words “You must be born again,” and he’s confused. It seems
surprising that Nicodemus is so confused- he’s a religious leader and should
therefore understand spiritual lesson. But somehow he’s missed some crucial
truth, and that’s why he’s come to see Jesus. He has an idea that Jesus might
be able to provide that missing important detail. Nicodemus has been headed in
the wrong direction and is beginning to realize he has to change his course.
And yet, Nicodemus seems hesitant. He seems uncertain about making such a
drastic change. Why? What makes this remarkable man slow to take Jesus at his
word?
It’s because Jesus can’t be understood
by the old standards, even those of the traditional Judaism represented by
Nicodemus. Jesus is the fresh and final revelation of God, who puts all that
came before in a new light. Do you understand?

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

Pizza Magic!

      I was a college Theater major recovering from major surgery and needing a summer job when I answered a Help Wanted ad in the paper. The K-Mart Corporation was undertaking an unusual and ultimately ill-fated experiment. Trying (I believe) to capitalize on the success of Chuck-E-Cheese and Showbiz (remember them?) Pizza, but wanting to reach a wider market, they were starting a new restaurant concept called Abra-K-Dabra with two locations in the St. Louis area. They were advertising for kitchen help and…magicians! I wasn’t a magician, but I WAS an actor…I could ACT like a magician. So…I headed down to apply. The gentleman I interviewed with said, “Are you a magician?” I responded, “Am I a magician?! AND, I’m a juggler!” (notice I never actually answered his question), and I was hired! I spent that summer, breaks during the next school year and the next summer working a magician and a juggler. We did live stage shows every 30-60 minutes, depending on the time of day/day of the week, and in between we would go table to table and do close-up magic. I also spent a decent amount of time in the “Abra suit”. Abra was the “mascot” of the restaurant- a wizard who looked much like the attached picture. Therefore, the suit was a long gown under a longer, heavy, velvet robe, a heavy “Santa” beard and wig and topped with a big satin wizard’s hat! (My mom was SO proud! I always thought they had me play the wizard because I was the “actor” in the bunch. Looking back, I fear it was because I was the only sucker willing to wear it regularly!) Everything that COULD have gone wrong on stage DID over the nearly two years I was there! One certainly learns how to deal with adversity under pressure real quickly in a setting like that! In the end, the idea simply didn’t work and K-Mart cut their losses and ran. At the final meeting between employees and corporate folk, they asked me to make one more appearance as Abra.  So as to make sure there was NOT a revival later on, I staged an “assassination”. While a regional Vice President for K-Mart talked, a pre-arranged employee jumped up, yelled “sic semper tyrannis” (Google it) and “shot” me with a starter pistol. A couple other employees got up and dragged me out by the feet while the K-Mart VP stood stood slack-jawed! (What were they going to do- fire us? Although I’m probably lucky we weren’t arrested!) I have been doing magic and juggling (but NOT in a wizard’s suit) ever since!

     Perhaps I AM a little nuts to tell someone I could do magic when I couldn’t (no smart comments here, please!), but I fear that all too often we do little to nothing because we are afraid to step out in faith. We’re scared we’ll fail and people will laugh at us. In our concern over looking foolish, we fail to truly live. But I am living proof that we only truly fail when we quit. So what if people laugh at you! When they do, laugh along with them! Find humor in that which causes you to struggle. Find it hard to do something? Guess what? That makes you remarkably human.  Give it another shot. Surround yourself with people who CAN, and soon you WILL. (How do you think I learned to be a magician?!) Have a great day, please share this with your friends, and stick with Jesus!

St. Patrick’s Day

     Finnegan’s wife had been killed in an accident and the police were questioning him. “Did she say anything before she died?” asked the sergeant. “She spoke without interruption for about forty years,” said Finnegan. I’m Irish. No…REALLY! I’m not just one of those folks who SAY they’re Irish because it’s St. Patrick’s Day. I really am. My mother’s maiden name, back in the “Old Country”, was O’Riley. No, let’s be honest, you can’t get much more Irish than that! And there is an old saying that goes, “There are only two kinds of people in the world- the Irish…and those who wish they were!” I don’t know about that, but I DO embrace my heritage!

     Today is St. Patrick’s Day. It’s the day we recognize the annual feast day celebrating the life of Saint Patrick (circa 385–461 AD), one of the patron saints of Ireland.  Until 1903, it was a religious holiday.  That year, it became a national holiday in Ireland.  (it appears to be a national drinking holiday in our country!) Legend credits Patrick with driving snakes out of Ireland (although post-glacial Ireland never actually had snakes). I know people are often offended by cartoonish characterizations of ethnic groups. In fact, many lawsuits have been filed over the years over just that issue. So with that in mind, I am considering a lawsuit against both Notre Dame and General Mills Foods- the makers of Lucky Charms! I figure…what the heck! Seriously, of COURSE I am not really considering that, but it IS interesting how the Irish are portrayed in this country. And today’s celebration only adds fuel to that fire. 
     What an interesting day- it’s started out as a religious holiday and has become an annual drunken brawl! Colleges and universities often have several days of “unofficial” St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, and invariably people get hurt, people go to jail, and often someone dies. Doesn’t really seem like the kind of thing one wants out of a holiday, does it? And yet…
     So my prayer for you…for everyone…today is this- that you will have a good time with people you enjoy being around, and that you arrive home safely at the end of that fun! As I close, I would like to share the Irish Blessing- which I use to close every wedding, funeral and church service I perform. may the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face and the rains fall soft upon your field. And until we meet again, I pray that God would hold you in the palm of His hand.

The Lost Heart

    What do you do when you have allowed others to drag you down? What do you do when you feel like your heart is lost? In 2009, heart disease cost the United States $304.6 billion! 26% of ALL deaths in the US are attributed to heart disease- it is the leading cause of death among both men and women. The heart is an incredibly vital organ- and NOT just from physical standpoint. It is also central to our spiritual growth! The Greek word for “heart” is KARDIA- it refers to both the physical heart AND also the center or core of our being. The journey from the head to the heart is only few inches…and yet some never make it! The next few weeks we will focus Wednesdays on The Unmistakable Fire, a series of weekly devotionals aimed at reigniting our hearts, setting them ablaze with fire for God. 

     The Book of Deuteronomy says, “It is said, “God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as God has told you. Don’t be afraid; don’t be discouraged.” Then all of you came to me and said, “Let us send men ahead to spy out the land for us and bring back report about the route we are to take and towns we will come to.” the idea seemed good to me; so I selected 12 of you, one from each tribe. They left and went into the hill country, came to Valley of Eshcol and explored it. They reported, “It is good land that God is giving us.” But you were unwilling to go up; you rebelled against the command of God. You grumbled and said, “God hates us; so He brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the the Amorites to destroy us. Where can we go? Our brothers have made us lose heart.'” (Deuteronomy 1:21-28)
     “Our brothers have made us lose heart”…what an interesting statement to make. It’s easy to blame others. It’s easy to allow others to drag us down. John Wesley was known for wearing a bow tie with long ribbons hanging from it. One day a woman came up to him and said, “Are you open to criticism?” He replied, “What criticize?” She said, “Those ribbons are too long- it’s inappropriate for a man of God”, and she took out a pair of scissors and cut them off! Wesley calmly replied, “May I borrow your scissors?” She handed them to him. “Are YOU open to criticism?” She said, “I guess so.” His reply? “Please stick out your tongue!” 
     There is an Indian fable- the mouse had great fear of the cat. A magician took pity on him and turned him into a cat. But then he became afraid of the dog, so the magician turned him into a dog. He then developed a fear of the tiger, so the magician turned him into a tiger. He became afraid of the hunter, do finally the magician turned him back into a mouse, saying, “No matter what, you have the heart of a mouse- I can’t help you!”Chaplain Vance Havner said, “Not going to move world by criticism and conformity, but only by combustion within- our lives ignited by the Spirit of God.”
     So many Christians seem dissatisfied with who they are…stuck in a rut. Why? Because they insist on focusing on their problems instead of God’s promise. They allow others to them drag down. They have the heart of mouse…but want the heart of a tiger. They want a burning heart. So here’s burning question- “What temperature is YOUR heart?” Put God 1st…and have an AWESOME life! If you love God with ALL your heart and with ALL your soul and with ALL your mind and with ALL your strength…your life WILL be blessed! Life’s too short…don’t let others drag you down. Make the most of every opportunity…to the glory of God! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The “Ides” Have It

     Julius Caesar had declared himself dictator for life of Rome. On March 15th (Idus Martiae) in 44 B.C., he summoned the Senate to meet in the Theatre of Pompey to approve his kingship outside of Italy before he went off to war. A fortune-teller had warned him to be on his guard against “a great peril” on that day. As Caesar passed the seer on his way to the senate-house, he said: “The Ides of March has come” and the seer said back, “Aye, Caesar, but not gone.” As the Senate convened, Julius Caesar was attacked and stabbed to death by a group of senators who called themselves the Liberatores (“Liberators”) They justified their action on the grounds that they were preserving the Republic from Caesar’s tyrannical ambitions.
     For Romans living before that event, “ides” was simply a common calendar term used to mark the appearance of the full moon. After Caesar’s death however, the phrase came to represent a specific day of abrupt change.
     “A specific day of abrupt change”…Caesar’s specific day was not a good one. But others have experienced specific days of abrupt change and not only lived to tell about them but flourished because of them. Saul, on the road to Damascus, experienced Jesus in a powerful, overwhelming, life-changing way, and became Paul, arguably the greatest “spreader of the Word” ever. The road from Saul to Paul was not an easy one, and he suffered much in the years that followed. But he always held firm to his beliefs, his faith, his God. And in the end…he changed the world. Don’t believe me? Read the New Testament. Of its 27 books, he wrote 13 of them. One man, on a difficult journey, had a specific day of abrupt change and we still feel his positive impact 2,000 years later.
      Maybe you won’t have a “lightning bolts on the Damascus road” event happen to you. But you can still have a specific day of abrupt change. You can look inside yourself, see the things that you KNOW God needs to change in you, and pray that He will. If you find yourself running into a lot of “idiots” every day, perhaps you need to reevaluate your own life. Maybe THEY aren’t the idiots after all!  Are you judgmental? Argumentative? Angry? Selfish? Unkind? Unfriendly? Unwilling to concede that you might need to change? Turn to God. Ask Jesus Christ to come into your heart, set up shop there, and transform you. Pray that today is the specific day that God brings about abrupt change in you.
     Thanks for stopping by and spending a few minutes with me today. I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back tomorrow and stick with Jesus!

The First United Church of Harley Davidson

     If you read my blog, you know that I pastor a United Methodist Church in a town in Central Illinois. We have three services every Sunday morning, aimed at offering some choice in style, start time and length. We have a Contemporary Service that lasts an hour, a Blended Service that last 45 minutes and a Traditional Service that lasts an hour. They each have their own musicians/singers, their own approaches, their own attendees. We offer a wide variety of worship styles to a wide variety of people…or at least we try! But yesterday, we (albeit temporarily) added a 3rd style…Biker Church!

     I met a gentleman recently who is an Assemblies of God minister not currently serving a church. But he IS serving! He is a biker and has started a Biker Club aimed at Christians who ride. (He is even planning a Biker Coffee Shop that would feature Biker Church on Sundays.) We traded business cards when we parted ways, and I thought I would probably never see him again. I was wrong!
     He called me last week (I missed him) and left a message that he and his biker friends visit other churches the 3rd Sunday of each month and they were planning on visiting ours yesterday! The message said that he had heard the worship times on our answering machine, but didn’t say which service they were attending. So…it would be a surprise! 
     I thought perhaps they would show up at the Contemporary Service…but they didn’t/ Then I figured the Blended Service…but it was NOT to be. So…the last choice was the Traditional Service- that…or not at all. The folks for the Traditional Service came in, sat down and the service began. I figured they weren’t coming. But then, right in the middle of Announcement Time…in they came. There were only 3 of them, but they had an IMMEDIATE impact upon entering the sanctuary! They had the leathers, the vests, the piercings, the whole nine yards! I saw them immediately (in MY congregation, they would be HARD to miss!) and welcomed them. They took seats about 5 rows from the front. All eyes were on them, and I wondered how my Traditional congregation would perceive…and receive…them. 
     Fairly early in the serve, we do Greeting Time. I knew that would be the acid test. Would “my folks” greet them…or avoid them like the plague? I waited with baited breath to see! Then, the moment arrived. The church was invited to greet each other, and as my Associate Pastor says almost every Sunday, they were encouraged to greet “those they do not know”. Well…there was a GREAT capacity for that yesterday! I watched as people started to greet each other. Then, one or two folks went and greeted our biker friends. Then one two more. By the time those few minutes where over, several people had gone to greet them. I was SO proud!
     The reality is that, in many cases, the most segregated place on the planet is a church sanctuary on Sunday morning. We tend to worship with people who are…like us. And if they are NOT like us, we often find it hard to welcome them. Who do YOU tend to marginalize? Who tends to marginalize YOU? The only way to break that cycle is through intentionality. Make a concerted effort to break the cycle of segregation- reach out intentionally to those around you who aren’t LIKE you. After all, we are all the same under the skin- created in God’s image, God’s children, sinners of His redeeming!
     Thanks for stopping by today- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The “Wussification” of the Church: What Are YOU Looking For?

     Sunday, March 13- The
Life Question: What Are YOU Looking For? 

There is a story about
Mike Ditka, former coach of the Chicago Bears and one of football’s living
legends. Throughout his career, both as a player and coach, Ditka demonstrated
great physical toughness.  Once, when the Bears were losing a game, Ditka
went all-out to inspire his team to do better, play tougher. Standing in front
of his men in the locker room at half time, he reached his right hand into a
bucket. He then pulled his hand out…with a snapping turtle clamped tightly to
it!  With his face registering severe pain and the snapping turtle hanging
onto his bleeding hand, Ditka lectured his astonished men on their need to play
tougher in the pursuit of victory.  Finally, holding his wounded hand up
high, he said, “Any one of you can do the same thing if you’re really this
determined.  Are there any volunteers?” William “The
Refrigerator” Perry, a 350-pound defensive lineman, spoke up.
 “I’ll do it coach,” he said. Ditka praised him for his
willingness to demonstrate his toughness, then told him to wait until the
snapping turtle was pried loose from his hand.  “Don’t worry about
removing the turtle, Coach,” said The ‘Fridge.  “Just stick out
your other hand and I’ll bite that one instead.”  

We laugh, but that’s how
lots of folks, both inside and outside the church, see Christianity. They see
discipleship as either a noble life- painful and full of suffering…think
Mother Theresa…or they see it as painful in another way- having to do all this
stuff that’s so boring it’s painful…just to be a Christian. Many would rather
be bitten by a snapping turtle than come to church on Sunday, let alone serve
on a church committee!  We tolerate it; we do our duty; we put in our
time.  But we dread it. That’s how many see salvation and the Christian
life.  What we HEAR is: “Jesus died on the cross to save me from sin. He
paid the price of death. He suffered so that I don’t have to.” That’s all well
and good, but what we THINK sounds more like this: “Now that I’m a baptized
Christian, I’ve got it made.  I’ll try to be better, but I don’t REALLY
have to change…just try…because I can do what I want and continue to sin,
knowing that, even though it bites God on the hand, He will continue to forgive
me.”

Today we begin a new,
challenging series that will lead us to Easter Sunday. I will admit right up
front that this series, based on the writings of theologian Leonard Sweet, is a
bit challenging, and, while it is NOT my intention, it might offend a few. In
fact, my guess is that, by the time Easter comes, you will either be ready to
take the world by the tail OR…run me out of town on a rail!! The series is
called The Wussification of the Church. What does that even mean? Well, neither
the regular dictionary OR dictionary.com have a listing for “wussification”. So
I had to go the Urban Dictionary, which lists more slang and pop culture
language. And the Urban Dictionary says that ‘wussification” is
“the act of turning one into a wuss; the trend of
becoming an increasingly wimpy society”. But as we look at the wussification of the
Church, I want to make it clear that I am talking about THE Church, capital C,
and not necessarily this church and not necessarily any individuals within this
church! But the facts don’t lie, and the facts say that the Church has been in
decline for decades, with no real signs of slowing that descent down. Each
week, we will ask a question, a HARD question, designed to make us all think a
bit longer and harder about the Church…and our involvement in it. Today’s
question is found in the text of our Scripture reading-John 1:35-42. It’s a question that can be interpreted
several different ways, but when Jesus asks it in this passage, He has a VERY
specific context in mind!

The next day John was
there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said,
“Look, the Lamb of God!” When the two disciples heard him say this, they
followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What are
you looking for?” They said, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” “Come,” he
replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and
they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon. Andrew, Simon
Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had
followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and
tell him, “We have found the Messiah”. And he brought him to Jesus.

(Stare at the ceiling. After everybody looks…) What are you looking for? Isn’t
that an amazing thing? All you have to do is stand and look up…and everyone
will join you! The reality is that we humans find it nearly impossible NOT to
look up when they see someone staring up at the sky, even when we know it might
be a trick. So…what are we looking for?
Well, I know what we’re looking for on line. Here are the “Hot Google searches”, meaning the top 5 things people
were searching for on Google yesterday. 1. “sea buckthorn oil”, which is an
anti-aging oil I’ve never heard of. 2. “Three Mile Island”, I would assume
because of the nuclear threat happening in Japan right now. 3. “Daylight
Savings Time”…no real surprise. 4. “NFL Lockout”, because of the possibility of
a football work stoppage.
And
5. “Time Change”…again,
no real surprise.

So that’s what we’re
looking for on line. What are we looking for at work? Well, it seems to depend
on who you ask. Supervisors were asked to rank responses provided to them in order
of importance. They said: 1. High Wages, 2. Job Security, 3. Promotion in the
Company, 4. Good Working Conditions, 5. Interesting Work, 6. Personal Loyalty
of Supervisor, 7. Tactful Discipline, 8. Full Appreciation of Work Being Done,
9. Help on Personal Problems and 10. Feeling of Being In On Things. That’s what
supervisors said. Notice that their top 3 were high wages, job security and promotions.
However, when employees were asked to rank the same responses, their response
was pretty differently. Their top 3 were: 1. Full Appreciation of Work Being
Done, 2. Feeling of Being In On Things, 3. Help on Personal Problems. How interesting
that the supervisors picked a tangible, measurable, job-related top 3, while
the employees picked things that had nothing to do with physical compensation
and everything to do with being appreciated and felling a part of things. And
really…isn’t that what we all want? We want to be appreciated, to feel a part
of something bigger than ourselves and help with our personal problems.
So how does what WE want connect with this supposed wussification of the Church?
Well, when we were growing up, we expected stability. We were used to KNOWING what
everything would be like, and knowing that those things were NOT going to
change. However, our kids are a different story- they expect change. They have
NO expectation of things staying the same, because for them…they haven’t, and
they don’t. And we need look no further than recent trends to see that in
action.

When Baby Boomers were
born, the American Protestant landscape was dominated by 6 major mainline
denominations- the Baptist Church, the Episcopal Church, the Lutheran Church,
the Presbyterian Church, the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist
Church. Since the 1950s, however, mainline churches have fallen on hard times,
declining from more than 80,000 churches to less than 70,000 today. In the past
fifty years, mainline church membership has dropped by more than 25%. Only 15%
of all American adults associate themselves with a mainline church these days. Christians
attend church services less frequency than they used to.

Mainline churches have also
experienced major difficulties in attracting young adults. For instance, in the
past decade there’s been a 22% drop in the percentage of families with children
under the age of 18 attending mainline congregations. Further, adults 25 or
younger make up 6% of the national population but only 2% of mainline congregations.
Also, congregants are decreasingly engaging in the life of the church. Volunteerism
is down an alarming 21% since 1998.

A minority of mainline
attenders are presently involved in any type of personal discipleship activity.
Less than half feel the Bible is accurate in the life principles it teaches.
Only half of all mainline adults say they are on a personal quest for spiritual
truth. And when asked to identify their highest priority in life, only 9%
identify some aspect of faith as constituting their top priority.
Only 49% of mainline church adults describe themselves as “absolutely
committed to Christianity”, while 51% say they’re willing to try a new church. 72%
say they are more likely to develop their own religious beliefs than to adopt
those taught by their church. And it isn’t just folks sitting in the pews who
are struggling with this. 93% of mainline senior pastors consider themselves to
be leaders while only 12% claim to actually have the spiritual gift of
leadership! Jesus raised people from the dead…and yet mainline churches are
barely hanging on.

It speaks volumes that,
in newspapers across the country, religion is covered once a week…either in
the obituary or leisure and relaxation sections.
Is that where religion
belongs? In the death column? Along with leisure and relaxation? Is that what
the cross has become? Something to hang around your neck, or from your ear,
rather than something you carry on your back…even sometimes hang on?
When the cross is something that only pierces your ears and never
pierces your hands, your feet, your side…your heart, then the wussification
of the church is complete.

How many of us have been
biting hands, even the one that feed us, instead of reaching out hands, getting
them dirty, cleaning sores and drying eyes? I fear sometimes the Church would
rather watch from the sideline than pay the price for our faith.
The Achilles heel of mainline churches is what’s called attractional
Christianity- how we get people to come to church. We focus on “come and
see” and not “go and be”. Jesus’ Great Commission at the end of
the Gospel of Matthew isn’t about “come and see,” it’s about “go
and be.” And yet we try so hard to figure out how to bring more people to
Church, when we should be focusing on how to bring more people to Christ.

Closer to home, I see a sign
of Good news. I see a new and growing breed of servant-disciples in this
church.  Now don’t misunderstand me- I’m certain we’ve had them in the
past, but I see them… here and now.  I see folks who would rather go out
on a miserable, snowy evening to deliver Christmas to someone who wouldn’t
otherwise have Christmas dinner than stay at home, warm and dry, and watch TV.
 I see people who give time in such mundane ways as taking a neighbor to
the Emergency Room and waiting for 6 hours with them through all the tests
until the doctors make a decision on the treatment. I see others cooking meals
for hungry people.  Others go out of their way, in all sorts of weather,
to assess and repair the needs of our building.  Others meet to
strategically plan the priorities and ministries of the church.

So…what do YOU want? Do
you want to be comfortable, settled, constant…or do you want to be an active
part of the 50,000 red-hot poppin’ watt church of Jesus Christ? Because the
reality is…you can’t do both. Being a disciple takes effort, intentionality,
dying to self-interest, sometimes even bearing pain and suffering. The ways in
which this new breed of servant-disciple serves vary as widely as their
personalities and skills.  But the motivation is the same- dying to
self-interest, dying to ego and who gets the credit, dying to fear over
inconvenience, and instead giving ourselves over to the life-changing power,
majesty and glory of God.

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

Laughter in the Rain

     Remember the Neil Sedaka song mentioned in the title? (Remember Neil Sedaka?!) In the song he says, “Oooh, I hear laughter in the rain, walking hand in hand with the one I love. Oooh, how I love the rainy days and the happy way I feel inside.” Granted, it’s sappy! But if you’re like me, when you hear it on the radio, you can’t help but sing along! The song always makes me smile, in part because it reminds me of two specific events in my life.

     Event #1 happened in the Spring of 1977. (Wow, just how old AM I?) I was a sophomore in high school (YOU do the math!), and was trying to garner the attention of a beautiful sophomore girl. It was 5th Hour, and I KNEW that A) she was in the same building (the Main) I was in that hour, and she had to head to the same building (the Annex) I did for 6th hour. So I planned to stand outside and wait for her so we could walk to the other building together. The only flaw in the plan was “April showers bring May flowers”! But I was NOT going to let a little rain slow me down. So…I stood…without an umbrella (what self-respecting sophomore boy would be caught dead with an umbrella?!)…in the pouring rain…and waited. When she came out, 2 things were true: 1) I was soaking wet, and 2) I scored BIG points that day! (Big enough that she eventually married me, despite my bad proposal! See A Proposal Made Somewhere South of Heaven.) 

     Event #2 happened in the Summer of 2007. We were supposed to take the boys to the park that day, but (again) it rained. Now, I ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed, so it never dawned on me there was a fun alternative. But it DID dawn on my wife (the sharp one)! The conversation went something like this:  Her- “Get your shoes on everybody! We’re going outside to play Frisbee!” Me- “It’s raining!” Her- “Yes!” Me- “…raining!” Her- “I know!” Me- “…outside!” Her- “Where else would it be raining?” Me- “But…it’s…raining…outside!” Her- “Now you’re just repeating yourself.” Me- “But…we’ll get…you know…WET!” Her- “Exactly!” At 1st, I balked. Then I thought, “Don’t be a big stinking stick in the mud. Loosen up. Have some fun.” So…we all got our shoes on and went out into the pouring rain…and played Frisbee! People drove by, slowed up, and thought we were nuts. (Perhaps they were right!) Our neighbor came out and said, “Don’t you people have enough sense to come in out of the rain?” I looked around, looked at him, and said, “Apparently NOT!” We played for about 30 minutes, came in SOAKING wet…and have talked lovingly about it ever since! In fact, we have talked lovingly about both of these “walking in the rain with the one I love” stories ever since they happened. They STILL make me smile every time I think of them.
     When was the last time you did something crazy? I DON’T mean dangerous, reckless, or illegal, but “outside the box”. Frankly, life is too short to always color inside the lines. If you NEVER let your hair down (for people like me that is very much a METAPHORIC image!), you can never fully live life. I see so many people who are EXISTING, to be sure…but they fall well short of living. Do you ever ride the shopping cart in the Wal-Mart parking lot? Do you ever dance with the one you love to the Muzak playing in the mall? Do you ever try on silly hats…just because you can? Do you ever stand in the rain? If not…try it! Remember the Mary Tyler Moore episode when Chuckles the Clown died? At his funeral, his mantra was shared- “a little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down the pants”! Perhaps we should all embrace that mantra! Try finding the simple pleasures of life. Try having some fun just for the sake of fun- it can be REALLY good for your soul! The world is serious enough- a bit of capriciousness here and there is not only OK, it may be necessary! Have a great day, join my Facebook fan site (left side of the page), share any prayer requests with me (just below this post), take a walk in the rain, come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Theologically Speaking, Perhaps I’m a “Cattle Prod”!

     You’ve probably heard the old joke, which has been attributed to any number of people. “I’m half Catholic and half Jewish- I’m a Cashew!” Good for a chuckle, not (at least from MY perspective)  intended to be offensive to anyone. But as I’ve thought about that joke, it has made me realize something about myself- I appear to be a bit of a “denominational hybrid” as well! Let me explain!

     I am a Christian. I am a Protestant. I am a United Methodist. I am a pastor. Theologically speaking, that more or less sums it up. BUT…it’s not really as simple as all that. Although I have never been a Catholic, I seem to lean toward some of the more “orthodox” parts of the Catholic faith. (I know, crazy, right? Me and orthodox in the same sentence…just doesn’t make sense, right?”) But I am nothing if not complex and convoluted. 
     This fact tends to present itself during THIS particular time of year FAR more than any other. And by “this time of year”, I mean specifically the weeks leading up to Easter. Historically, the 40 days (not counting Sundays) that precede Easter are called, collectively, Lent. The season is intended to be a time of reflection, self- sacrifice and preparation that leads to Easter morning. Lent begins officially on Ash Wednesday, which is immediately preceded by Mardi Gras/Shrove Tuesday/Fat Tuesday/Pancake Tuesday. Well, the bottom line is this- I LIKE the season of Lent, I think it has something powerful to say to the people, and therefore the churches I have served have had the opportunity to celebrate it. They don’t HAVE to, but they CAN if they choose. 
     This year’s schedule is a good indication of what I tend to do: on Tuesday, we had a Fat Tuesday Pancake and Sausage Dinner followed by a 30-minute Prayer Service. On Wednesday, we had an Ash Wednesday Service, where we received the ashes (in the sign of a cross on the forehead) and took Communion. And every Wednesday between now and easter we will have a 30-minute Communion service. For me, it’s a great way to prepare for Easter. 
     And yet I have good United Methodist pastor friends who feel that Lent is NOT a “United Methodist thing” and they don’t really observe it. And I respect that- it really isn’t a “United Methodist thing” as much as it’s a “I think it’s a good thing”…thing…and so we do it! But over the tears of my ministry, I have had several people say, in response to my wanting to observe Lent, “Isn’t that a…Catholic…thing?” So, I have given it some thought, and while I AM Protestant, I DO lean a little Catholic on some things, so I have decided that perhaps what I am is a bit of BOTH…Catholic and Protestant…a Cattle Prod! (And if you know me…that is perhaps a bit more descriptive in a larger sense than I would care to admit! I HAVE been accused of being a bit of a “pot stirrer”, so maybe I AM a cattle prod!) 
     How will YOU prepare for Easter this year? Whether you celebrate Lent or not is, quite frankly, somewhat irrelevant. But I DO think it’s important to prepare for Easter. If we don’t do anything, spiritually speaking, in preparation, then we tend to miss the “bigger picture” of Easter when it arrives. Instead, we get dressed up, go to church, hide the baskets for the kids, have our ham and scalloped potato dinner…and go back to “normal” the next day. And Easter should, in the best of all possible worlds, leave us ANYTHING but “normal”!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!