And YOU Want To Be MY Latex Salesman?!

     My oldest son recently got this t-shirt for me for my birthday. It is from one of my favorite TV shows. I have shared before that I am a fan of the TV show Seinfeld. While I fully accept the fact that sometimes the show is a bit…bawdy…for my money, it is one of the funniest shows in TV history. There is an episode where Jerry’s best friend George is unemployed and trying to work the unemployment system for all he can. He has to check in with the Unemployment Office regularly, telling them where he has been applying for jobs. The problem is…he really HASN’T been applying for jobs! 

     So one day, he goes to the office and the woman he checks in with asks him where he has applied. So he begins to weave this charming story about a company who’s interested in him- charming…but untrue! He tells her that the business is called Vandelay Industries. It is run by none other than Art Vandelay, and the company is an importer/exporter. She asks what the import and export, to which he replies, “Latex.” She then asks for a telephone number so that she can verify this info. Oops! So George gives her Jerry’s home number. He then runs like a madman to Jerry’s house to tell him that he has to answer his phone, “Vandelay Industries.” Jerry grudgingly agrees.
     Fast forward to later in the episode. Jerry’s neighbor, Kramer, and George are both at Jerry’s- Kramer sitting in the living room and George using the bathroom. Suddenly, the phone rings. Kramer answers the phone with, “Hello?” He then proceeds to tell the person on the other end, “Vandelay WHAT? No. No. You’re WAY off base. This is Jerry Seinfeld’s apartment. I’ve never heard of Vandelay industries.” Just then, George comes RUNNING in from the bathroom, pants around his ankles, boxers showing, yelling, “Vandelay Industries! Vandelay Industries!” He trips and falls as Kramer hangs up the phone. George lays in a heap on the floor, pants still down, dejected, defeated. Just then, Jerry walks in, see him, and says, “And YOU want to be MY latex salesman?!” 
     I wonder if God sometimes feels like that. He sees us, wanting to do the right thing, but messing up over and over. I wonder if He stands there, arms folding, saying, “And YOU want to be MY disciple?!” He would certainly be warranted in that behavior. BUT…I’m convinced that’s NOT what God does. Instead, He helps us up, dusts us off, pats us on the head, and send us on our way- to try again to do what’s right. And for me at least, there is no better news than  the fact that God is a God of 2nd chances. He continues to give us another shot at getting this whole “life” thing right. Why? It’s simple…He loves us!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Birthday of an Angel

     April 29th…an important day in my life! On this date, ___ years ago (Yes, that is intentionally blank! I’m NOT going to publicly reveal my wife’s age! I mean, I was born at night…but it wasn’t LAST night!), my wife was born. She wasn’t, of course, my wife when she was born…but she was destined to be! And I do believe that. We both dated other people in our lifetimes, but I believe with all my heart that we were meant to be together!

     We met on a hayride when we were 15 years old- she was dating a friend of mine and I had recently broken up with a girl I had been dating. Soon after we met, she broke up with the guy she was dating. We struck up a friendship that continued to blossom over the next few months. Then, in April, the school musical was in  rehearsals. Being a Drama Jock (I had a t-shirt that said that and everything!), I was in the musical. (The show was Oliver!, and I was Mr. Brownloe…the guy who adopts Oliver.) I found out that opening night was also her 16th birthday. So, to quote Lady Macbeth, I screwed my courage to the sticking place and asked he out. (You might find this hard to believe, but I was pretty…shy…and backward…when it came to the ladies. I know…right? Who would have thought THAT?!) 
     Amazingly, she said yes! My mom and I picked her up (I didn’t have my license yet…how  embarrassing!) and went to the theater. She sat by herself while I got ready and performed. (Looking back, it’s a wonder she ever went out with me again- making her sit by herself on a date!) I had told her I would tip my hat during the curtain call, and that would be just for her. (Hopeless romantic…right?) After the show, my mom dropped us of at the Ramada Inn (get your mind out of the gutter- we went to the RESTAURANT there! Shame on on you!!) where we shared an order of sauteed mushrooms and then they brought out what proved to be a stale birthday cake that I had arranged ahead of time! All the while, we listened to the musical stylings of Mr. Mike Zichovich and his array of keyboards. The rest, as they say, is history!
     I truly feel blessed beyond measure to have such a wonderful woman who not only tolerates me on a regular basis but seems to actually love me! (They say love is blind- in her case…it MUST be!) I thank God every day for the gift he gave me so many years ago that I continue to treasure today. Happy birthday, sweetheart- I look forward to MANY more with you!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

I Pity the Fool!

     A few years ago, my older son was performing with his high school marching band at the then TWA Dome in downtown St. Louis. At time, we lived near St. Louis, so I jumped on the Metrolink train and headed over so I could watch him perform. After he was done, I walked out of the dome and headed to the train platform to catch the next train back to my car at the station in Illinois. 

     Sadly, I wasn’t paying enough attention when the train pulled up, and therefore got on the wrong train. You see, some of the trains that ran into Illinois went to my stop…but some didn’t. The ones that didn’t terminated in East St. Louis- not a great place to be late at night and by yourself! Well, I didn’t realize that fact until the train had already left the station, so I had a decision to make: I could either go ahead and ride it to East St. Louis, get off and wait for the next train to come that would actually go to my stop, OR I could get off at the last Missouri stop, which is down by the Mississippi River at what’s called Laclede’s Landing. I used to work as an actor down on Laclede’s Landing, so I felt more comfortable there. SO…I got off at that stop.
     The platform was pretty deserted- as I said it was rather late. As I stop there, by myself, not near anyone, I see a figure coming down the platform toward me. As the figure approached, I could tell it was a rather large, imposing-looking African-American male. As he got even closer, I could tell it was a young man- late teens to early 20’s. I hoped he wasn’t actually coming to me…but it soon became apparent he was. I decided I was going to get robbed. I figured the best course of action under the circumstances was to comply- I really didn’t want to make my wife a widow over 13 dollars and some change. So I braced myself for what was to come…and waited. He got right up to me, towering over me, looking down at me as if he were Gulliver and I was a Lilliputian, and he said, in this deep, dark voice, “Excuse me, sir. I need to call home to get my mom to come and pick me up and I don’t have any money. Could I borrow a quarter?” Let me assure you- I couldn’t get that quarter out of my pocket fast enough! In fact, I gave him TWO quarters, just in case he mis-dialed the 1st time!
     I honestly do not consider myself a racist at all. But when I reflected on that scene, I had to ask myself what I would have done/thought under different circumstances? What if it had been a big, imposing white guy? What if it had been a woman? What about an elderly gentleman? A little kid? The truth of the matter is that we tend to make assumptions based on appearance…ALL THE TIME! We automatically assume what kind of person someone is based on physical appearance: skin color, hair length, height, weight, age, gender, etc. And just because we had a bad experience with someone who was a certain “type”, we tend to think that EVERYONE who is that “type” is the same way. 
     That’s not only sad, it’d patently non-Biblical. Jesus makes it clear we are to love one another. He didn’t say, “Love only those who are like…YOU!” Instead, He told us to love EVERYONE, as He does. So my question today is this- how are you doing in that respect? Are you able to love everyone, or do you harbor ill feelings toward certain “types” because of a preconceived notion? If you DO harbor those feelings, here’s my suggestion- give them to God. Get rid of them, and dedicate yourself to starting a new approach to your fellow humans. If you do, an amazing thing will happen- as you begin to truly love others, you’ll be amazed to find that…they will truly love you back!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back, and stick with Jesus!

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Bible: Beginnings

   Today we begin a new Wednesday devotional series called Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Bible. Each Wednesday we will look at a section of books from the Bible- this will literally be an overview of the Bible as a whole. Today’s devotional is called Beginnings, and it deals with the 1st 5 books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. These books, the writing of which is attributed to Moses, are the foundation upon which the rest of the Bible rests- they are very important books. 

     The Bible is 66 books that tell the story of God and His people. But here is the Bible…in only 50 words! God made, Adam bit, Noah arked, Abraham split, Joseph ruled, Jacob fooled, Bush talked, Moses balked, Pharaoh plagued, people walked, sea divided, tablets guided, Promise landed, Saul freaked, David peeked, Prophets warned, Jesus born, God walked,  Love talked, anger crucified, hope died, Love rose, Spirit flamed, Word spread, God remained.
     Author Douglas Adams was on a trip to Europe. And as he lay and looked up at the galaxy, he dreamed up Englishman Arthur Dent and his friend Ford Prefect, an alien writer researching a “wholly remarkable book” called Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In the book, a bureaucratic alien race is building a galactic interstate highway and the earth is in the way…so they destroy it! But Arthur and Ford are saved by the part-time Galactic President who travels around space in a ship called The Heart of Gold searching for The Question to the Ultimate Answer. There are 5 (yes, that’s right…5!) books in the TRILOGY: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Life, the Universe and Everything, So Long and Thanks For All the Fish and Mostly Harmless. As I read these books, it struck me that someone needed to write the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Bible!
     The Bible is an ancient writing- the last author, John, died about 2,000 years ago. There are 2 divisions- The Old Testament and The New Testament. The Old Testament has 39 books, 929 chapters and 23,214 verses and the New Testament has 27 books, 260 chapters and 7,956 verses. There are a total of 66 books; 1,189 chapters and 31,170 verses. It is the monumental best-seller of all time. And it starts at the very beginning (a very good place to start!). There are 3 types of books in the Old Testament: historic, poetic and prophetic.
The rock group Chicago (one of my all-time favorites!) did a sing called Beginnings. In that song, it says, “When I’m with you, it doesn’t matter where we are or what we’re doing. I’m with you, that’s all that matters. Only the beginning of what I want to feel forever. Only just the start, I’ve got to get you into my life.” Today, we start with life…before the Promised Land. In Hebrew, this section of the Bible is called The Torah- meaning “instruction or law”. It’s also know as The Pentateuch-  which in Greek means: pente- “5”, teuxos- “case”. The 1st 5 books of the Old Testament is a continuous story…a story that starts with Genesis-
 Genesis 1- 1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
     Genesis- in the beginning, is the primeval history of Creation, of Adam and Eve, of the Garden of Eden, of their descendants. It also talks about Noah, the flood and HIS descendants. We learn about the Tower of Babel, about Abraham and God’s covenant, about Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. We read about how Jacob’s sons leave Canaan for Egypt  because of a famine. The book sets the rest of the story in motion. 
     Next comes Exodus- a story of redemption. We see Moses as a baby in the bulrushes. We meet /Pharaoh. Moses accidentally murders someone and flees, only to return. The plagues come, and then Moses leads his people out of Egypt. They end up at Mt. Sinai, where Moses receives the 10 Commandments. But the people violate God’s law by building a golden calf. They also build the Ark of the Covenant. 
Leviticus-  worship, how to use tabernacle/cleanliness rules/back on track
     Then we get the book of Numbers- the people wander in the wilderness. Through 2 census, the Hebrews are counted. because of their disobedience, the people have to spend 40 more years wandering through the wilderness, and Moses is told that he will not see the Promised Land. There are battles in the land near Canaan, and finally the people are ready to enter the Promised Land. 
     The next book is Deuteronomy- it is a book full of teaching, including a series of Moses’ speeches about obeying God and His laws. These 5 books, collectively, are the backbone of both the Old and New Testaments. Remember when you 1st learned how to ride a bike? 1remember your st pet? Your 1st day of school? When you lost your 1st tooth? When you went to Senior prom? Your High School grad? Your 1st love? Your wedding? Your children? How about when you 1st met Jesus Christ? These 1st 5 books ARE the story of Moses and the Hebrews…but they are more than that- much more. They are OUR story- about beginning, and redemption, and worship, about wilderness and teaching…about remembering. 
     Deuteronomy 34:1-12 says- “Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the LORD showed him the whole land—as far as the western sea, 4 Then the LORD said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.” 5 And Moses the servant of the LORD died there in Moab, as the LORD had said. 6 He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. 7 Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone. Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the LORD had commanded Moses. 10 Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, 11 who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do.
     Moses sees the Promised Land from the top of a mountain…then he dies. He is buried by God, and the stage is set. These books are a tale of beginnings, redemption, worship, wilderness, teaching. And if Jesus is the heart of the Bible, then these 5 books are its feet, its foundation. They are “only the beginning of what I want to feel forever.Only just the start. I’ve got to get you into my life.” Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Of Wasps and EpiPens

     My younger son has some issues with allergies. We aren’t really sure what he’s allergic to, despite extensive testing…but’s it’s clearly…something! One thing that seems to affect many people who suffer from allergies is the sting of a bee or wasp. I know folks who have HORRIBLY bad reactions to them. (Horribly like, “If I don’t get treated for this in a timely manner…I might die” horribly!) Recently, my wife, younger son and I went to a community in Southern Illinois to visit a family grave plot and place (actually RE-place) some artificial flowers that decorate a couple of the stones. 

     When we arrived, we found the site with no trouble, but had to park a little ways away and walk in. So we got to the spot and pulled the old flowers out of the urns they were in. The next step was to get the rocks out of the bottom of the urns, put the new flowers in, and put then put the rocks back in to weigh the flowers down. My son reached in and instantly yanked his hand back out, saying, “OUCH! I got bit!” My first thought was, “He’s never been stung in his life…he probably got poked by a wire or a stick.” But then we saw the wasp! He got stung right on the finger! He HAD taken his allergy medicine that morning, but we had NO idea what to expect. We knew we had the EpiPen in the car, which we have never had to use. We thought this might be the day! 
     We quickly finished the flowers and headed to the car, all the while watching him and his finger. Although it hurt, it only turned a bit red and was not swelling to speak of. Still…we hurried to the car…and the EpiPen. We watched him for a few minutes, to see how he was going to react. But after about 5 minutes, it became apparent that he WASN’T going to react. So, we left…asking him about every 3 minutes for the next hour or so how his finger was! In the end…it was a tempest in a teapot. And we couldn’t have been happier.
     My wife and I both commented later how glad we were we had the EpiPen. Since we have never needed to use it, it would have been easy to forget about it and leave it at home. But we, like the Boy Scouts, were prepared. But it got me to thinking about being prepared. How prepared are you for the afterlife? I don’t mean that in the way the high-pressure televangelists do who try to scare people into faith…I am convinced that no one comes to faith through fear or intimidation. I mean more from the standpoint that life is fragile, life is short…and we never know what’s going to happen within the next week, the next day, the next hour, the next minute. How prepared are you…with THAT as an overarching fact? Would you be satisfied with the way things ended, if they ended…tomorrow? How’s your faith? Do you feel “right” with God? If not, it is NEVER too late, and we are NEVER too far from God. Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of Hid glory and grace!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

After the Thrill Is Gone

          If you know me at all, you know what a
lover of music I am. I love many different genres of music, but “classic rock”
would have to be at the top of my list. And the Eagles (Don Henley, Glenn Frey,
Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmidt) would have to be one of my favorite bands of
all time. They had MANY hits over the years (Already Gone, Best Of My Love, Desperado,
Hotel California. I Can’t Tell You Why, Life in the Fast Lane, Lyin’ Eyes, Take
It Easy…the list goes on and on!), but there is one song that didn’t get much
airplay but has much to say to up right now. It’s called After the Thrill Is
Gone, and it says, in part: “The flame
rises but it soon descends- empty pages and a frozen pen. What can you do when
your dreams come true and it’s not quite like you planned? Time passes and you
must move on. Half the distance takes you twice as long. Same dances in the
same old shoes. You get too careful with the steps you choose. You don’t care
about winning but you don’t want to lose…after the thrill is gone
.” Time
passes and you must move on. You don’t care about winning but you don’t want to
lose- after the thrill is gone.

     Easter has come…and gone. There is SUCH anticipation
about Easter. The excitement and joy are nearly palpable. We can hardly wait
for it. But then it’s here, and in the blink of an eye, the whole thing’s over.
And, for many, there is a notable, measurable let-down. It’s like the joke that
everyone says is the funniest joke they’ve ever heard. They tell you that and
they tell you that…and then they tell you the joke itself, and it can’t POSSIBLY
life up to the hype. Easter is much like that. So where do we go from here?
What do we do…after the thrill is gone? Do we simply go back to…ordinary…just let
our relationship with God slide, let our church attendance slip, let our prayer
life stagnate? Or do we commit to NOT letting that happen? Do we dedicate
ourselves to being all that God had called us to be? Ultimately, it is a
conscious choice on our part. We can choose to simply…exist…and wait for NEXT
Easter season to get “juiced up” again, or we can step out in faith and be on
the leading edge of a resurgence of faith.

     How about you…is the thrill gone? Are you
feeling a bit…blah…about your faith? Here’s my challenge to you- come to church
EVERY Sunday, participate in the life of the church, be about the business of
Jesus Christ…and see if it doesn’t reset your “thrill” meter! 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: Why Are YOU Crying?

    A woman was at work when she received a phone call that her daughter was very sick with a fever. She left work and stopped by the pharmacy to get some medication. She got back to her car and found that she had locked her keys in the car. She looked around and found an old rusty coat hanger that had been thrown down on the ground, possibly by someone else who at some time or other had locked their keys in their car, but she didn’t know how to use it. So she bowed her head and asked God to send her some help. Within five minutes an old rusty car pulled up, with a dirty, greasy, bearded man who was wearing an old biker do-rag on his head. The woman looked up and whispered, “This is what you sent to help me?” But, she was desperate, so she was also very thankful. The man got out of his car and asked her if he could help. She said, She told him her situation and asked if he could help. “Sure”. He walked over to the car, and in less than a minute had it opened. She cried and hugged him, and through her tears said, “Thank you SO much! You’re a very nice man.” The man replied, “Lady, I’m not a nice man. I just got out of prison…today- I’ve only been out for about an hour. I was in prison for car theft.” She hugged the man again and with sobbing tears cried out loud, “Oh, Thank you God! You even sent me a professional!”

     Today is the 7th and last week of our Easter Sermon series- The Wussification of the Church. This series, aimed at addressing the decline in mainline Churches over the past 30+ years, is based on the writings of theologian and author Leonard Sweet. Each week we have asked a hard question designed to help us be on the leading edge of a revival among mainline denominations. The 1st week we asked “What are YOU looking for?” The 2nd week the question was “Do YOU understand?” The 3rd week was “Do YOU want to be made well?” The 4th week we asked “Do YOU want to quit?” The 5th week was “Will YOU lay down YOUR life?” Last week was “Will YOU drink the cup?” Today, on this Easter Sunday, we ask, “Why are YOU crying?”
     But first, I have a different question to ask- can we take Christianity at face value? Can people take our church, our lives, at face value? Without strong roots, our face value can quickly become farce value. Oscar Wilde sarcastically wrote, “The first duty in life is to be as artificial as possible. What the second duty is no one has yet discovered.” So many Christian faces look like following Jesus is more a life sentence than a life style! But human beings of every age, at all times and in all places, whether they realize and reflect on it or not, are in relationship with the amazing mystery of human life we call God. So why are we crying? Kahlil Gibran- “When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” Psalm 30:5- “Weeping might endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. Louis XIV- “Why are you weeping? Did you imagine that I was immortal?” Today we ask the polar opposite of that question!
John 20:1-18- 1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” 3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). 17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
     The story of Mary Magdalene meeting Jesus at the empty tomb is found only in John’s gospel. Everything about this little slice of life rings true. A weeping woman lingers by an empty tomb, wondering what’s happened to the body of the one she loved. When Jesus suddenly appears, she doesn’t recognize him. Then she grips his feet so tightly that he has to tell her to let go. The vignette ends with the mourner turned into a missionary, running to tell the others what she has just seen and heard. When Jesus hung on the cross, Mary Magdalene was there. When they took Jesus’ body down from the cross, she was there. When they placed his body in the tomb, she was watching it happen. On Saturday evening, she purchased spices to anoint his body. Early Sunday morning, she and the other women ventured to the tomb to finish the job. When they found the tomb empty, they were confused and terrified. The angels told them that Jesus had risen from the dead. They went to tell the disciples…who thought they were crazy. John and Peter went to investigate, and when they saw the grave clothes exactly where the body had been placed on Friday evening, they believed. They left to tell the others. At that point, Mary Magdalene returned to the tomb…confused, bewildered, frightened, and brokenhearted. The truth of the matter hadn’t hit her yet. It’s often said that Mary Magdalene was “last at the cross and first at the tomb.” She was the first to see him alive. The irony is that when she saw him, she didn’t recognize him. But when the truth hit home, she became the first evangelist in Christian history. Death is never easy to deal with. Most of the time we can avoid it or postpone it. But sometimes death stares us in the face and we don’t know what to do. That’s why Mary Magdalene was standing at the tomb crying on the first Easter Sunday. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’ ‘They’ve taken my Lord away and I don’t know whe
re they put him.’” Well…if the tomb’s empty, then why is she still there? If you’ve ever lost a loved one who meant more to you than life itself, you know why she was there. She was there because death couldn’t destroy her love for Jesus. She weeps because the tomb is empty. What should have been good news broke her heart! We see the empty tomb as one of the greatest proofs of the Resurrection…but Mary weeps. Evidence alone won’t persuade anyone. Unless the evidence is accompanied by proper understanding and an open heart, no one will ever be changed. Mary had all the right facts…but she still jumped to the wrong conclusion. Then, she turns and sees Jesus standing there…but she doesn’t recognize Him. “Woman, why are you crying? Who’re you looking for?” Mary thinks he’s the gardener and says, “Sir, if you’ve carried him away, tell me where you’ve put him and I’ll get him.” Why didn’t she recognize Jesus? The text doesn’t say, but here are some possibilities. She wasn’t expecting to see him. It’s a contextual thing- you see the checker from the grocery store at a restaurant and you don’t recognize her. He was out of context. But I think the main reason is that Jesus deliberately veiled his own identity. He didn’t want Mary to recognize him so that he could teach her an important truth. She had to learn that he’s always present…even when he’s invisible to the naked eye, that he’s often closest to us when we feel the most alone. Just because we don’t see him doesn’t mean he isn’t there. Then Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She instantly recognizes Him and calls him Teacher. Mary clings to Jesus and He tells her not to. Her clinging meant, “I think everything is the same as it used to be.” But Jesus says, “No, many things are different now.” Then He tells her to go and tell the others. So she goes to the disciples and tells them she has seen the Lord. The mourner becomes the missionary! So it is with all who meet the risen Lord. We are called to do as Mary did- run and tell all who will listen that we’ve seen Jesus! 
     There’s great power in the words of someone who can say, “I was there. I saw it.” Turn to someone near you and say, “I’ve seen the Lord!” A church in Bangladesh was showing a movie about Jesus to an audience of people who’d never heard the gospel before. As the story of the crucifixion unfolded, there were tears and audible gasps. As the natives watched, one young boy suddenly spoke up, “Don’t be afraid. He gets up again! I saw it before.” That’s our message to a world overwhelmed with the reality of death. God’s given us the answer. We can say to those who feel bewildered and heartbroken, “Don’t cry…Jesus has come back from the dead. I’ve seen the Lord!”
     150 years ago, 500 people died of cholera in just ten days in one London neighborhood, marking the beginning of another horrible epidemic. Victorian physician Dr. John Snow of London had already written a controversial pamphlet suggesting that cholera was not caused by “vapors,” but was instead a disease of the “gut,” spread by contaminated water. With the high number of deaths in this neighborhood, he studied the cases and was convinced that a pump at the intersection of Broad and Cambridge Streets was the sole source of contaminated water. In an emotional public meeting, he suggested removing the pump handle so no more water could be drawn from that location. The rest is history. The handle was removed, cholera abated, and huge engineering projects were launched for sanitation systems and clean water across Europe. Dr. Snow’s pump handle affected all of us. It led to improvements in the areas of sanitation and purification, and dramatically improved human life, lowering infant mortality rates and increasing life spans. In February of 2008, Starbucks got a new pump handle…they shut down their stores. It was only for three hours, but for some the mere thought that all 7100 Starbucks in North America were closed was enough to create trembling hands and throbbing heads. Why did Starbucks take a three hour coffee break? To clean up their pump handle. The pump handle that first began the Starbucks phenomenon had been so changed and corrupted that the company needed a new one. It’s a concept that sounds like a contradiction. Shut down your business in order to open up your business. But the same logic has been used by physicians for years. Doctors sometimes induce comas in patients with life-threatening injuries, allowing them to regulate body temperature, reduce swelling, and stabilize fluid levels. They “shut down” in order to help the body come alive to health. Perhaps it’s time for the Church to consider changing the pump handle. Maybe we need to find a new pump handle, since the living water that’s been coming out in recent decades hasn’t been healing as many people as it used to. Starbucks is “all things coffee.” Christians are “all things Jesus.” Jesus is our Pump Handle. We’re at our best when we’re entrepreneurial and courageous, when we push for innovation and reject the status quo, when we’re the coffee that brings people together every day around the world to foster conversation and community.
     Who are we? Why are we here? It seems to me that the reason we’re here is because we’re in love…I would be so bold as to call it the passionate throes of “first love”- the love we have for Jesus. It’s that “first love” that brings us to our Savior’s feet. It’s that “first love” that empowers us to ask Jesus to make us His. It’s that “first love” that, through God’s grace, gives us the gift of faith. How much more could we fulfill the Great Commission if we were to reconnect with our first love, and shut ourselves off from all those things that are add-ons to our faith. What if we were to re-plumb…rediscover the heart of our faith, our love for Jesus?
A few years, the Barna Research Group released the findings of a nationwide survey of people who do not consider themselves to be Christian.  They were asked to provide their impressions of 11 groups of people ranging from military officers to drug dealers.  One of the statistics that struck me was that only 44% of those surveyed had a favorable impression of clergy. Even more disturbing, only 22% had a favorable impression of evangelical Christians, who were beaten out by television performers, real estate agents, lawyers, Democrats, Republicans.  The only group that scored lower in favorable ratings than evangelical Christians was drug dealers! Now, whether you identify yourself as an evangelical Christian or not, this attitude ought to concern you. Somebody’s missing the target in their witness for Christ.  It’s like that woman who read that dogs were healthier if fed a tablespoon of cod liver oil each day. So each day she followed the same routine–she chased her dog until she caught it, wrestled it down, and managed to force the cod liver oil down the dog’s throat.  Until one day when, in the middle of this grueling medicinal effort, the bottle was kicked over. With a sigh, she loosened her grip on the dog so she could wipe up the mess–only to watch the dog trot to the puddle and lick it up. The dog LOVED cod liver oil! It was just the owner’s method of application the dog objected to. The delivery method was the problem. The same could be said of the church.  People desperately want to know that God is alive and well…and that He loves them. Why then aren’t our churches full? There must be a problem with how we are communicating our message, with the delivery system. Is the Church ready to stop being wussified? It didn’t happen overnight and we’re not going to cha
nge it over night. But we have to start somewhere. I have a suggestion as to how we might begin to stop it- here it is. Before every committee meeting, ask this question: “Is what we’re about to discuss worth the price Jesus paid on the cross? Is what we’re doing right now, or fighting over right now, worth the shedding of Jesus’ blood? Did Jesus die on the cross so that we could be this kind of church?”
      If you don’t know Jesus, or if you’re not sure, there’s no better time than Easter Sunday to put your trust in him. If you sense God’s calling you to come to Jesus, and if you truly want to know him, here’s a prayer that could change your life: “Dear Lord, I know I’m a sinner. Jesus, I believe you are the Son of God. I believe you died on the cross for me. Thank you for taking my punishment and dying in my place. I believe you rose from the dead on the third day. With all my heart, I trust you as my Lord and Savior. Come into my heart and save me now. I gladly receive your gift of salvation. Amen.” If you prayed that prayer with me, here are two things you can do. First, you can go to my website, get a printed copy of this sermon and write today’s date by the prayer as a reminder of your commitment. Second, TELL someone that you prayed the prayer and accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Your faith will grow and your doubts will wane as you tell others what Jesus has done for you. I close with the question Jesus asked Mary: Why are you crying? The time for tears is over. The time to tell the Good News has come. Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! 

The Smell of Vinegar!

     I don’t know about you, but to
this day I can NOT smell vinegar without immediately being transported to the
kitchen counter of my boyhood home, newspapers spread out, glasses of pastel-colored
water scattered about, decorating Easter eggs. We would use those little wire
utensils to dip the eggs into, and ladle them back out of, the dye mixture. My
dad would then hide them out in the yard for us to find. (I still remember,
being the youngest and therefore having the hardest time finding eggs, that he
would hide some in really obvious places and tell the other kids to leave them
alone for me to find!) We would eat a few of the eggs, but eventually there would
be the obligatory egg salad laced with multi-hued stripes! As I got older, the
Easter gifts I received changed. (I remember one year get the “Superman: The
Movie” soundtrack…on 8-track tape!) I remember so many Easters over the years.

     I also remember having no real clue what
Easter was all about. Growing up, Easter was simply a time to get candy
and take a break from school.  Even as a younger adult, Easter was little
more than another time to see the wide-eyed wonder in my son’s eyes.  And
then I met someone, and all that changed.  Who did I meet?  Jesus
Christ. (My wife introduced Him to me!) And as I got to know Him better, I
began to understand better the true meaning of Easter.  Easter is the
celebration of the greatest gift ever given.  It commemorates the most
amazing sacrifice we can imagine. It is the foundation upon which
Christianity is built.  I have heard it said that without Christmas, there
is no Jesus.  True.  However, without Easter there is no Christ, no
Christianity.  Jesus willingly laid down his life for us- no one took it
from Him. But the grave could not contain Him. On the third day, He
rose!  He died for our sins, and lives for our eternal souls.


     This year, enjoy the eggs, the baskets,
and the chocolate (don’t forget that plastic Easter grass!), but make sure you
take time to acknowledge the greatest gift of all.  Make sure you come to
church to celebrate a risen Savior.  Bring someone with you who doesn’t
normally come (Easter is the safest day of the year to bring a visitor) and let
them look into the tomb for themselves. Jesus is not there; He is alive
and well, living in our hearts!  We are Easter people!

     Thanks for stopping by today. Have a
blessed day and a GREAT Easter. Please share this with someone. Make sure and
stop by tomorrow for a special Easter message, and stick with Jesus!

What’s So GOOD About Friday?

     Today is Good Friday- the day we remember Jesus’ death on the cross. Let’s take a look at what the act of crucifixion ACTUALLY consisted of.  
     Crucifixion is thought to have been invented by the Persians around 300 BC. But it was Rome who “perfected” it in the first century BC. The common crucifixion cross consisted of an upright pole permanently fixed in the ground with a removable crossbar that weighed about 100 lbs. The victim was laid on their back with their arms outstretched- they were then nailed to the crossbar. Nails (about 7-9 inches long) were driven through the area surrounded by the radius and ulna arm bones and the small carpal bones of the hand. The nail placement was intentional- that specific area is strong enough to support the body, the nail would sever the median nerve in the hand, causing burning pain and rendering the hand useless, and there would be minimal blood loss, prolonging death.
     The positioning of the feet was also crucial. The knees were bent and the feet flexed until they were parallel to the vertical part of the cross. Another 7-9 inch nail was driven through both feet between the 2nd and 3rd metatarsals. That nail would sever the dorsal pedal artery, but again blood loss was insufficient to cause death. The resulting body position created a horrific sequence of events- events that resulted in a slow, painful death.
     The bend of the knees caused the victim to bear their weight with their thigh muscles- which was impossible to maintain for any great length of time. As leg strength gave out, the body weight had to be sustained by the arms and shoulders. 
As the arms gave out, the body weight was transferred to the chest, putting pressure on the rib cage. In order to exhale, the victim had to push their feet down so their rib muscles could relax. As the legs tired again, the victim was less and less able to bear their weight, making breathing more and more difficult. The inadequate breathing caused the blood oxygen level to diminish and the blood carbon dioxide (CO2) level to rise. The rising CO2 level caused the heart to beat faster in an effort to increase oxygen delivery.
     Unable to deliver more oxygen, the rising heart rate only increased oxygen demand. After several hours, the heart began to fail and the lungs began to collapse and fill with fluid. The combination of blood loss and hyperventilation caused severe dehydration. This combination of collapsing lungs, failing heart, dehydration, and inadequate oxygen supply eventually caused death. The victim, in effect, suffocated to death. When the Romans wanted to expedite death…they would break the victim’s legs, causing them to suffocate in a matter of minutes. A more gruesome death would be hard to find.
     So, why in the WORLD would a day when we remember the HORRIBLE death Jesus endured be called GOOD Friday? One theory is that the words “God” and “good” were inadvertently switched because of their similarity. So, “God Friday” became “Good Friday”. But I think it’s more simple and direct than that- we call it Good Friday because, with the benefit of hindsight, the events of that horribly “bad” Friday 2000 years ago ultimately brought about the greatest good there could ever be. So a bad Friday becomes the ultimate Good Friday. 
     Thanks for stopping by…blessings to you. I pray you stop back by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus! 

What in the World is “Monday Thursday”?

The preacher was delivering a sermon on the evils of alcohol. “If had all the wine in the world, I’d pour it in the river! If I had ALL the wine in the world, river,” shaking his fist in the air, “all the wine in the world, I would THROW it in the river!” He then sat down, satisfied with a job well done. Immediately, the song leader stood up and said to the congregation, “Will you join me in our Hymn of Response- #365, Shall We Gather At the River!”
     All the wine in the world can’t compare to the transforming power of the Communion cup. Today is Maundy Thursday- NOT “Monday” Thursday, but MAUNDY Thursday. It is also known as Holy Thursday. It’s the Christian feast day that falls on the Thursday before Easter. It commemorates the Last Supper. The word “Maundy” is derived from the Latin “mandatum”, the first word in the phrase “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos”- which translates “A new commandment I give you- love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus said this to the disciples as they sat in the Upper Room that night, sharing the Passover meal. Up to that point, folks had been instructed to follow THE commandments- the 10 Commandments- as a guiding principle in their lives. But Jesus offers a new commandment- love one another as I have loved you. Throughout the centuries, people have argued that this “new commandment” is simply too short and too simple to be of any real, intrinsic value. I think, however, that misses the point. The 10 Commandments are a GOOD set of guidelines, but they can become a bit…cumbersome. Imagine if we all lived our lives by this “new commandment”. If we TRULY loved each other as Jesus loves us, then we wouldn’t lie, cheat, steal, commit adultery, and all the other things covered in the original commandments. We would honor our parents, we would love our spouse and children, we would treat each other with respect and care. Suddenly, this overly short, overly simple new commandment seems to scratch us right where we’re itching! 
     Whether or not you are a “religious” person (and let me just say, I tend to NOT be a “religious” person, but a person of faith- there is a fairly big difference) or not, whether or not you are a follower of Jesus Christ, I invite you to take some time today to meditate on this “new commandment”. See how it can apply to your life. Where are the areas that you feels you’re doing a pretty good job living it out in real time, and where are the areas that could use some work. Pray about that and ask God for the strength to continue doing the things that are going well and to “shore up” the things that are not going so well.
     They walked in tandem, each of the 92 students filing into the crowded auditorium. With rich, maroon gowns and traditional caps, they looked almost as grown up as they felt. Dads swallowed hard behind broad smiles, Moms brushed away tears. It was graduation day, but this class would NOT pray during commencement…not by choice, but by court ruling. As the ceremony unfolded, the principal, the president of the school board, and several students were very careful to stay within the guidelines allowed by the court. They gave inspirational, challenging speeches, but no one mentioned God or asked for His blessings. The speeches were nice, if routine…until the final speech. A student walked to the microphone, and the entire auditorium was still and silent. Then- it happened! ALL 92 graduating students, as if as one…SNEEZED! The student on stage leaned in to the microphone, winked, and said, “‘GOD BLESS YOU, each and every one of you!’ He then walked off the stage as the audience exploded in applause. He was able to invoke God’s blessing on the future with or without the court’s approval. Nothing could separate those students from what they felt was essential. Likewise, nothing can separate Jesus Christ from those who seek Him, and nothing should separate us from His presence and love. 

     Thanks for stopping by today…GOD BLESS YOU, each and every one of you! Please stop back by tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Burning Heart

      I have heard it said that if you love something, set it free. If it comes back…it was (and always will be) yours. If it never returns…it was never yours. II would add that if it just sits in the living room and messes up your stuff, eats your food, uses your phone, takes your money and never behaves as if has been set it free…then you either married it…or gave birth to it!

     This is the 7th and final week of our Easter season Wednesday devotional series: Burning Heart: The Unmistakable Fire. This series has been aimed at
reigniting our hearts. The 
1st week we talked about the lost heart. The 2nd week it was the proud heart. The 3rd week we considered the turned heart. The 4th week it was the disciplined heart. In the 5th week we turned to the trimmed heart. Last week it was the giving heart. Today we finish the series with the burning heart. On this journey of the heart, where do you find YOURSELF?
    On Valentine’s
Day, the inevitable topic is, of course, love. So…let’s pretend it’s Valentine’s Day, and let me ask you a question. Do you love God with all your heart?
 Consider your answer as you read today’s Scripture-

Deut. 6:3-6– “Hear, O Israel, and be
careful to obey so that it may go well with you and you may increase greatly in the land
flowing with milk and honey, just as the God of our fathers promised you.  Hear, O Israel:
Love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you
today are to be upon your hearts.

     A couple was not speaking to each, but the man realized he needed his wife to wake him up at 5AM so he could catch a flight. He d
idn’t
want to be the 1st one to speak and lose the argument, so he left her a note- “Please wake me up at 5AM.” The n
ext
morning, he woke at 9AM…he had missed his flight. He was furious…until noticed the piece of paper on his nightstand. 
“It’s
5AM. Wake up!” Ah, such heart!

     The word “heart” refers to the center of an object. In the Hebrew it means “the kernel of the nut”, and it has
to do with feelings, the will, and the intellect. Did you know that more people die from heart attacks than any other
killer? The s
ame is true spiritually.  God always begins with the heart and works His way outward- but the heart comes 1st. Therefore, the heart needs to be guarded at all costs. The reason there are so many spiritual casualties is that the heart is ignored. It
should receive the greatest effort, the most attention. 
We
protect our homes with security systems, dead bolts and motion detector lights, y
et we ignore our hearts. Too many people try to live a Christian life with no effort being made. But
life is a constant warfare, so it requires spiritual energy.

     OK, that sounds great and it makes sense…but how do we do that? Here are 5 guidelines…5 things to keep our hearts right: 


I. Keep your mouth right– what comes out of your mouth has a profound bearing on what is in your heart. 
Mean-spirited
speech is a big indicator of a mean-spirited heart. I l
ove it when people cuss and then say to me, “pardon my French, Reverend!” My response? “Gosh…I didn’t realize that was French!” The connection
between our mouths and our hearts is strong. Our mouths can do more heart damage than anything else. 
Keeping your heart right means keeping your mouth in check. The wrong
mouth and the right heart can’t occupy the same body, so don’t let your mouth overload your heart.

II. Keep your eyes right– what your eyes see affects your heart. Keep your eyes straight
ahead. 
Much
temptation is brought in through the eyes- they are incredibly influential on the body. 
Most of our memory is formed by our eyes- most of us remember more than 80% of what we see, while we remember only
11% of what we hear. What our eyes see…our heart wants. 
When we allow our eyes to run freely without control, we risk a “heart attack”.

III.
Keep your feet right

where your feet go…your heart goes also. D
on’t
turn your feet loose anywhere they want to go. Don’t make rash decisions. 
Be careful whom you walk with- use wisdom in choosing your path.

IV.
Keep your ears right
– your ears hear things they should…and shouldn’t. There are times we should plug our ears and simply serve God.

V.
Keep your heart right

if you don’t keep your heart protected, you face serious spiritual injury. 

     Has your heart
become sluggish in your relationship with Jesus? Have you lost that personal connection, that “lovin’ feeling”, if you will? 
One
thing that will help you regain that connection is revival. 
Revival
has one chief aim- to cleanse us of sin…to purify our hearts. 
Revival is God’s surgery for those who have grown spiritually hard of hearing. Revival
creates a burning heart, and then it burns out complacency, discouragement and despair. 
Burning
hearts are filled with the presence, power, purpose and protection of God. But h
ow do we turn up the flame on our heart? How do we regain that bright flame? If you want your heart to burn for God- you have to stoke it…feed the fire. Getting
closer to Jesus sets our hearts aflame, and the closer we get, the brighter and hotter our heart burns.

     This week, ask
Jesus to take over leadership of your life. Give your life to the One who gave you life; the 
One
Who gave His life for you. Would you r
ather
have a heart as cold as ice…or a heart burning with passion for God? The choice is truly yours. 

     United methodist founder John Wesley said,
“If I had 300 people who feared nothing but God, hated nothing but sin, and were determined to know nothing but Jesus…I could set the world on fire!” We
 are each on our own road, heading somewhere. And Jesus has one desire- to meet us on the road to somewhere…and make something very clear- He
died and rose again to set our hearts on fire. Where is your heart today? 
Is it on a depressing spiritual walk? Do you have all the information…head knowledge, but it doesn’t seem to make much difference? Is your heart
on fire because of Jesus…or has the “PILOT” light gone out?
 Life is short…and Jesus is here, ready to re-ignite you! Will meet Him on your road to somewhere?

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

50 Years Ago: Life in 1961!

     Yesterday was my birthday- I turned 50! That’s right…I was born in 1961. What was the world like 50 years ago? Well, John F. Kennedy succeeded Dwight Eisenhower as President of the United States. The Beatles performed for the 1st time at The Cavern Club. The Peace Corps was established. The trial of Nazi Adolph Eichmann began in Jerusalem. Ham, a 37 lb. male chimp, was sent into space aboard  Mercury-Redstone 2. Russian Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space. Alan Shepard became the 1st American in space. Kennedy announces his goal of a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev defects will touring in France. Construction of the Berlin Wall begins. The Vietnam War officially begins. Yankees outfielder Roger Maris hit 61 home runs, breaking Babe Ruth’s single-season record. 6 Flags Over Texas opened. Comic book superheroes The Fantastic Four debuted. Barbie gets a boyfriend- Ken appears for the first time. 

    Other people born in 1961 include: Princess Diana, actors Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Eddie Murphy, George Lopez, George Clooney, Lea Thompsen, Michael J. Fox, and Meg Ryan, singers Enya, Boy George, Toby Keith, and Billy Ray Cyrus, guitarist The Edge, hockey players Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky, rocker Vince Neil, gymnast Mitch Gaylord, baseball player Don Mattingly, President Barack Obama and musician Winton Marsalis.
     Popular films included The Guns of Navarone, The Parent Trap, The Absent-Minded Professor, 101 Dalmatians, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and West Side Story. Popular TV shows included Wagon Train, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Perry Mason, The Red Skelton Show, The Andy Griffith Show, Candid Camera, My Three Sons, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone and Mister Ed. Popular songs included Will You Love Me Tomorrow by The Shirelles, Calcutta by Lawrence Welk, Pony Time by Chubby Checker and Surrender by Elvis Presley. The average income was $5,315. The average house cost $12,500. The average car cost $2,850. Eggs were 30 cents/dozen. Gas was 27 cents/gallon. a loaf of bread was 27 cents. 
     Life was SO different in 1961 than it is now- there is not ONE facet of life that’s the same. And that’s exactly the way it should be. Things that don’t change…die. We need to be willing…even eager…to change. We should always we pushing forward, looking toward the next big thing. Don’t get complacent…don’t get comfortable…don’t give up! So…here’s to the next 50! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Dinosaurs on the Ark?

     Recently, I visited the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. It is truly a fascinating place- great displays, interesting things to learn, and more to see than you could manage in a day. As you 1st walk in the building (at least the entrance we used!), you are confronted by a T-Rex skeleton…a FULL-sized T-Rex skeleton. It is truly amazing how big those bad boys (or in this case bad girls…her name is Sue after all!) are when you see them up close. For instance, the REAL skull that goes with the skeleton you see in the picture is too heavy to mount with the rest of the body; it is in a case on the 2nd floor.

     As I stood there looking at that behemoth, I began to think about, of all things, the Bible. (I know, I’m a preacher…I see the Bible behind EVERY rock and tree…right? Well…in fact…I DO! But that’s a different story for a different day!) No, the reason I began to think about the Bible is that I have heard so many different stories about dinosaurs and the Bible. I’ve heard so much conversation about how dinosaurs fit into the whole Bible story. Did they exist millions and millions of years ago…or has the earth only been around for about 6,000 years and dinosaurs lived alongside everything else? Did Noah have them on the ark? If not…why not? The questions just keep coming and coming. What DOESN’T seem to keep coming is any real, hard answers!
     There are basically 2 camps here- the scientists who use carbon-dating and other scientific methods to date the dinosaurs back millions of years and those who are sometimes referred to as “Bible Literalists” who use the Bible itself to support their belief that the earth is only 6,000 years old. Notice I said there are “basically” 2 camps…I used that word carefully! Why? Because I fall somewhere between them!
     Let me say right up front- I mean NO disrespect to anyone here. I am simply stating MY opinion…not dissing anyone else’s. And what IS my opinion? My opinion is that there is SO much that SO many people are SO sure about…that we simply cannot be sure about. Do I KNOW that dinosaurs are millions of years old OR only 6,00 years old? No…I don’t. I know what others TELL me…but I can’t prove or disprove any of it. And that’s the truth in so many areas. Do I KNOW that Matthew wrote the Gospel of Matthew? Nope. Does anyone else, for that matter, know that to any great certainty? Again…nope. 
     Ultimately, there are MANY things in this world that will probably never be proven, one way or another, with any great certainty. So what do we do with those things? What do we do when we cannot be absolutely certain? We take it on…ready?…faith! In the end, does it really matter how old dinosaurs are? Or how old the world is? Or who wrote the Gospel of Matthew? For MY money…NO…it doesn’t matter. The world is what it is…the Bible is what it is…regardless of how they got here. I won’t spend too much energy on things that, at the end of the day, don’t really impact the big picture. And for me, here at the onset of Holy Week, the big picture is this- Jesus is the on;y begotten Son of God. He died for MY sins and YOUR sins. He rose from the grave so that we might have eternal life. That’s it…that’s the big picture. The rest of it? Just stuff for us to discuss!
     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: Will YOU Drink the Cup?

     Do you know where the Willis Tower is? Don’t feel bad if you don’t! What if I said the Sears Tower? Ah…Chicago! Well, the Sears Tower is no longer the Sears Tower…it’s the Willis Tower. A Large British insurance company (coincidentally named Willis!) became the largest tenant of the Sears Tower in July of 2009. Part of their deal was that they got to re-name the building. Guess what they named it? Good guess! The Willis Tower. And on the 103 floor of the Willis Tower is the Observation Deck. And the same month that it became the Willis Tower, The Ledge was added to the Observation Deck. The Ledge is actually 4 boxes…glass rooms that jut straight out from the side of the 103rd floor…1,353 feet above the street below. These boxes, designed to hold 5 tons each, give you a…unique perspective of Chicago. I’m not afraid of heights…in fact, I kind of ENJOY them. But as you prepare to step off of the comfort of the “solid” floor and onto the clear glass floor of The Ledge…you pause. You think to yourself, “What am I doing? I’m about to step onto…glass…that is 1,353 stinking feet off the ground. Am I NUTS?” Sure…it’s safe. Sure…it’ll hold FIVE TONS. But that matters not a whit when you stand there on the threshold. When you DO step out, you do so gingerly, not so much stepping as sliding out onto the glass, walking as if you are on thin ice that could crack at any moment. Ultimately, like Indiana Jones in the Last Crusade, as he prepares to make the leap from the Lion’s Head, it is a leap…or step…of faith. In the end, you simply have to trust that it will hold you. That is the mindset that we will look at today.

We are in the 6th week of our Easter sermon series, The Wussification of the Church, based on the writings of theologian and author Leonard Sweet. This series, which began the first Sunday of Lent and will lead us to next week…Easter…is aimed at the decline of the mainline Church over the past 30+ years and how we can be at the forefront of a resurgence. Every week we ask a hard question designed to help us be on that forefront. The 1st week we asked, “What are YOU looking for?”The 2nd week, the question was, “Do YOU understand?” The 3rd week it was, “Do YOU want to be made well?”The 4th week we asked, “Do YOU want to quit?” Last week was, “Will YOU lay down YOUR life?” Today we ask one of the most interesting, provocative and challenging questions of this entire series, “Will YOU drink the cup?”
Did you know that many of our commonly-held sayings come from “drinking the cup”? It was the accepted practice in Babylonia 4,000 years ago that for a month after the wedding, the bride’s father would supply his son-in-law with all the mead, or honey beer, he could drink. This period was called the “honey month” or what we know today as the “honeymoon”. Before thermometers were invented, brewers would dip their thumb into the mix to find the right temperature for adding yeast. Too cold, and the yeast wouldn’t grow. Too hot, and the yeast would die. A thumb in the beer is where we get the phrase “rule of thumb”. In English pubs, ale is ordered by pints and quarts. In England of old, when customers got unruly, the bartender would yell at them to mind their own pints and quarts and settle down. It’s where we get the phrase “mind your P’s and Q’s”. Many years ago in England, pub frequenters had a whistle baked into the rim of their ceramic cups. When they needed a refill, they used the whistle to get service, ergo “Wet your whistle”.
Today, we’re going to look at a few points about drinking the cup, about the call to service…and how we might answer the question at hand. But where does the question come from? It comes from today’s Scripture reading.
Matthew 26:36-46- Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” 39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” 40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” 43 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. 44 So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. 45 Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”
The Women’s Petition Against Coffee of 1674 says in part, “Coffee leads men to trifle away their time, scald their chops, and spend their money, all for a little base, black, thick, nasty, bitter, stinking nauseous puddle water.” Speaking of coffee, have you bought a cup of designer coffee recently? They should call it Cost-a-latte or Café au Laitaway! But the reality is that a day without coffee is like…night! You’re familiar with Murphy’s Law? The coffee derivation of it is- as soon as you pour a fresh, hot cup of coffee, your boss will ask you to do something that will last JUST long enough to make the coffee cold and undrinkable! I’m a BIG fan of coffee- my blood type is Folgers. Coffee smells like freshly ground heaven. I’m shocked that women who want to attract a man don’t wear coffee-scented perfume. If it weren’t for coffee…I’d have no discernible personality. But given enough coffee, I could rule the world. 
Today is Palm Sunday- today we enter Holy Week. Today Jesus rode triumphantly into Jerusalem. The Cross ahead, the world behind, and Jesus didn’t falter even a single moment in moving forward. He knew where He was going and what the result would be- the Cross…and death. Jesus heads to Jerusalem, knowing that before Him is torture and death on the cross. For Him, the cup IS the cross, and He asks us: Are you going to take up your cross…and follow Me? Are you willing to drink this cup that is fact a cross? Later, when He went to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane, He said, “My Father, if it’s possible, may this cup be taken from Me.” He didn’t want to drink the cup of suffering. But He also prayed, “Yet not as I will…but as You will.” Even when He was arrested and Peter drew a sword and tried to kill a soldier, Jesus told him to put the sword away, and then asked again, “Am I not to drink the cup God’s given Me?” So the image of the cup is important. It’s an image of life…and suffering…and death.
On a HUGE bulletin board on the campus of Florida State U
niversity was listed the short-term evening adult education classes. In huge, bold headlines, two courses were listed: “Overcoming Divorce”, and “How to Handle Handguns”! Some things just don’t seem to go together! Take, for instance, the Cup and the Cross. They just don’t seem like they should go together…but they do. Jesus’ drinking of the cup is intimately connected to His death on the cross. He completes on the cross what He began in the Upper Room, where He promised that He wouldn’t drink of the fruit of the vine until He drank it in the restored kingdom. Through his death the kingdom comes and He drinks the final cup as He enters it.
     Rev. Walker Railey was the pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Dallas, TX. The church had a huge, crude wooden cross on the front lawn of the church during Lent. One day he received a telephone call- it was a woman who said, “For God’s sake, Reverend, can’t you do something with that dreadful cross out in front of your church? The caller was a woman who had visited the Dallas Museum of Art across the street, and was bothered by the contrast between the loveliness of the Museum and the ugliness in front of the church. The woman didn’t want to debate. She simply wanted the cross taken down because it seemed so out of place on the busy, beautiful corner where the church stood. She’s not alone. There are always folks who don’t understand why we erect crosses, much less preach about them. Humans have never comprehended God’s purpose in using the Cross. Yet for over 2,000 years that ugly symbol of execution has been the focal point for generations of Christians. Many Christians are unable to put into words the meaning of the Cross, so they try to ignore it. Yet there’s something so haunting, so powerful about it that we can’t simply put it aside.
     Jesus was stripped of all His earthly possessions and hung on the cross to die. And He shed His own blood for the sake of writing God’s poetry on our hearts with a love that’s so abounding…it sounds almost too good to be true. But it IS true. Jesus chose to die. He could have escaped death if he wanted to. He could have walked right through the soldiers who came to arrest Him and gone His merry way. But he didn’t. Instead, He chose to die. Jesus didn’t die on the cross simply to fulfill Old Testament prophecy. He didn’t suffer and die as a human sacrifice to appease an angry deity. Jesus died on the Cross to show the extent to which God will go to reveal to us just how much we’re loved. The Cross is one of the most dramatic reminders of God’s unmerited and undeserved grace. THAT’S why we call the day of His crucifixion Good Friday. At the cross, we’re assured there’s more love in God than sin in us.
People can be petty, can’t they? We’ve all seen it, in a multitude of organizations.  When it happens in the Kiwanis or the Lion’s Club, maybe it’s not such a big deal. But when it happens in the church of Jesus Christ, it’s a big deal. We are those called to turn the world upside down. We can’t afford to be petty. Which leads us back to the Wussification of the Church. What’s happened to Mainline Churches in the 21st Century that we turn as many people off as we turn on?  Why do people have difficulty identifying with us, being attracted by us?
There was a man living in the Appalachian area during the Depression who went to Knoxville for the first time to transact some business.  While there he saw a refrigerator that made ice.  Since it was summertime, he thought it was a miracle of God.  When he returned to his hometown in the mountains, his church was in the midst of a revival worship service.  He arrived at the service during the time when people were giving testimonies.  He told of the miracle of seeing ice made in the midst of the summer.  Well, a dispute broke out.  Many claimed that there was no such thing.  Others wanted to believe him. It resulted in a schism within the church.  Many left the church to form a new church.  Its name, to this very day, is “No Ice in The Summer Southern Baptist Church.” That’s how the Church got where it is today.
So how do we answer this question? Are we going to drink from the cup of suffering love and selfless service and give our lives for others OR do we avoid the cup and continue with our own selfish pursuits? If you were 30,000’ up in an airplane and I offered you a parachute, would you jump? What if the plane was on FIRE and I offered you a parachute- would you jump then? Appropriate motivation can be a decision-changer, can’t it?
So…what’s our motivation? How do we do it? We do it by putting away our own selfish pursuits. We do it by serving others…as Jesus does. We shouldn’t be afraid to drink the cup of Jesus. We should share His life, share His suffering, give our lives in service to others. It’s not easy…in fact, it can be very hard, even painful, but it’s also the best thing we can do with our lives. And we can do it…because Jesus has gone ahead of us and shown us how- He’s with us every step of the way. When we drink of our cup, we’re joining Jesus in accepting God’s will for our lives in complete surrender. Some days it’s easy to drink from the cup; other days…not so much. When we drink from the cup of Christ, we’re saying we want to share our life with Jesus, that He’s going to live in us, that we’re going to follow Him no matter what. And we can trust that one day the cup of suffering and difficulty will be transformed into the cup of blessing, the cup of joy, the cup of resurrection. Remember, every saint has a past…but every sinner has a future. 

Dare to Step Out!

     103 stories up. 1,353′ in the air. AND…sticking four feet out AWAY from the building! AND…not only the walls and ceiling but the FLOOR are glass! I was in the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower in Chicago recently. The elevator takes you from the basement (literally- you enter the building on the 1st floor…makes sense…and then go DOWN a floor to get the elevator to the SkyDeck!) to the 103rd floor in 60 seconds. I don’t know about you, but in MY book…that’s fast! You get out and are immediately struck by the view. (We were fortunate enough to have picked a bright, sunny, clear day- we could supposedly see 4 states from where we stood…although try as I might I simply couldn’t see ANY of the lines that make up the borders that I see on the maps!!) 

     They have pay-as-you-go telescope/binoculars. They have the obligatory gift shop. (Is there anywhere on the planet that DOESN’T have a gift shop? I’m seriously considering putting one in my house for people who come to visit. But then I think, “What would I actually SELL that people would actually BUY? And I put the idea to bed again!) And then they have…THE LEDGE!
     The Ledge is actually 4 separate boxes, made out of glass, that stick out from the side of the building. As I mentioned above, the walls, ceiling AND floor are glass. The picture you see is literally my son’s shoe and my wife’s shoe as the three of us stand suspended 1,353′ above the street below! Now, if heights are no problem for you, you might be saying, “Big whoop, preacher! It’s completely safe!” And you would be right. And yet, while I am not afraid of heights (I actually kind of enjoy them!), it is a bit unnerving to step out onto a piece of glass that is that high off the ground…no matter HOW thick the glass is! You find yourself gingerly stepping out, as if you might crack and/or break the glass at any moment. I’m sure these Ledges are tested to some ridiculous weight level. But that doesn’t seem to matter when you first step out.
     I watched several people do it, and most of them clearly had the same sensation I did- they would step right up to the edge…and stop. Then they would start sliding there foot out, every so slowly, as if “testing the waters”. As I watched them, I realized that what I was watching was an analogy of how many people approach their faith life and serving God. Think about it…we step right up to the edge of faith- going to church, getting involved here and there, praying at meals, etc. But then, when we are called to step out further…we blanch. We start sliding the one foot out ever so slowly, testing the waters, trying to decide if it will hold or not. And often…we will only step out so far before retreating to the safety of solid ground. Remember the Bible story where Jesus walks on the water? Peter says, “That looks awesome…let me try!” And Jesus says, “Go for it, big boy!” Peter starts out…and he’s doing it! But then doubts sets in and he starts sinking. Jesus sighs, shakes His head and reaches out His hand, saving Peter. That’s what He’ll do for you, too, if you are willing to step out in faith. He will encourage you believe, but if there is some doubt or hesitation, He’ll be there to catch you and put you back on solid footing. 
     Take a chance and step out in faith today- you’ll be amazed at how far you can go…AND…He’ll be there to catch you if you start to fall! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Ode to Jackie Robinson

     On this date in 1947…a remarkable…and long overdo thing…happened. The 1st African-American debuted in Major League baseball. before that, some of the best players in the country played in what was called The Negro League…because they weren’t allowed to play in any other league. We will never know what Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell or Satchell Paige would have done if they had played their peak years in the majors. All 3 of them, along with several others, are in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. But they were denied the right so many other players took for granted. 

     On April 15, 1947, a 28-year old named Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier by breaking Spring Training camp as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. He had been hand-picked by general manager Branch Rickey. Rickey was especially interested in making sure his eventual signee could withstand the inevitable racial abuse that would be directed at him. After many tryouts and interviews, he decided that Jackie was his man. And Jackie did NOT disappoint.Sadly, while many applauded the Dodgers for their move, some teams threatened to strike if they were forced to play against Robinson. 
     He played in 6 World Series, was voted to the all-star team 6 consecutive years, was the Rookie of the year in 1947 and the Most Valuable Player in the national league in 1949. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962 and had his number retired across all major league teams in 1997. He retired from baseball in 1957 and was diagnosed with diabetes. Treatment did little to help, and on October 24, 1972, weak and nearly blind, he passed away at the young age of 53. he was laid to rest at the Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn- the Jackie Robinson Parkway runs through the cemetery.
     Jackie Robinson was not the only person of color to become an icon for the impact they had on desegregation and race relations…but he IS one of the best-known and best-loved. He withstood circumstances that would have crippled many- he was determined to see it through to the end, holding his head high all the while! Jackie Robinson, I salute you on this anniversary of breaking the “color barrier”. You are an inspiration to all. Thank you.
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Showering at the Steak and Shake

     I was in Chicago recently- my wife, youngest son and I went on a mini-vacation. We had a a marvelous time! We stayed at the Best Western on Ohio in downtown Chicago. (They have FREE parking, an indoor pool, and are close to the things you would want to see. I would recommend it!) We saw all sorts of things (you will hear more about them in the days and weeks to come). But there was one thing that stood out as…odd. The decor of the room in general was…fine. It was pretty much what you would expect out of a motel. It wasn’t nearly as…tacky…as in many rooms I’ve stayed in- it was…fine. But then there was the shower. It was fine, all in all. It had decent water pressure, as well as one of those cool rounded shower curtain bars that brings the curtain out a bit farther from the back wall- thereby keeping it from sticking to your body while you shower!

     No, all in all the shower was fine…except for the decor. Yep…that’s right, the shower A. HAD a decor and B. it was…unusual! The decor of the shower (the tile walls specifically) was VERY similar to the tile on the floor at Steak and Shake! In case you have either never been to a Steak and Shake (is that POSSIBLE?) or you just can’t picture it, I have included a picture. It is your basic black and white checkerboard design. On the floor of a restaurant that is designed to look rather “old school”, it works fairly well. (It’s not my favorite there either, but it works with the motif they are shooting for.) On the other hand, when you see it on the walls of a shower in a hotel room that, while not vying for awards from national hotel publications, is perfectly acceptable…it stands out. As you stand in the shower, you look around and ask yourself, “Huh?” followed by 2 things: “What were they thinking?” and “Can I get chili with my burger?”
     Remember the Sesame Street song that went, “One of these things is not like the others. One of these things does not belong.”? What are the things that stand out, in your mind, as not belonging? Usually, if you are like me, they are things that would be described as negatives. Things that stand out because they are sub-par, deficient in some way. But as I have thought through this whole thing, it dawns on me that perhaps the thing that stands out as “wholly other” more than anything else is really a good thing- being a Christian!
     Do you know what I mean? When you see someone who is a committed Christian out in public, going through daily life, they tend to stand out. And they stand out because they often do things that most folks aren’t doing. And the things they are doing that stand out are things that most of us would describe as good things: holding doors for people, greeting everyone they come in contact with, smiling at folks, just having a positive  attitude about life. And they stand out because they tend to look like a pilgrim in a strange land. 
     Are you one of those people who stand out…or do you tend toward being one of the folks who NOTICE the people who stand out? If you are one of the “noticers”, what do you think of them when you see them? Do you think, “What a dweeb!” or do you think “I wish I were more like that”? You CAN be more like them. It takes  intentionality. It takes perseverance. It takes commitment. It’s not easy…but it IS rewarding! Give it a shot…BE one of those folks for a week, and see if it makes a difference in your life…AND the lives of those around you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to take a shower in MY shower stall, that does NOT resemble a restaurant!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Giving Heart

     The pastor told his church they needed to give more money, needed to be more generous. He said they were going to pass the offering plates  and whoever gave the most would be able to pick 3 hymns. After they were passed, and elderly woman was identified as the top giver- $1,000! She was invited to come to the front and pick her 3 hymns. She made her way to the front, turned to the congregation, and with a twinkle in her eye, said, “I choose him, him and him!” Today, we continue our Lenten season Wednesday devotional series- The Burning Heart: Unmistakable Fire. This series is aimed at reigniting our hearts. Today we look at the giving heart. In this journey of the heart- where will you find yourself?

     Here’s a riddle- what’s the easiest way to make a small fortune these days? Start with a large one!  What does the Bible say about a giving heart? What wisdom can we gain? Deuteronomy 15:7-11 says, “If there is a poor man among you in any of the towns of the land God is giving you, don’t be hardhearted and tightfisted toward them. Rather be openhanded and freely lend whatever he needs. Give generously to him, and do so without a grudging heart; because of this God will bless you in all your work, in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers, toward the poor and needy in your land.
     It is a deeply rooted problem in our society- the lack of charity- giving without the thought of return. Too few Americans really live to serve others- instead many of us have the “what’s in it for me?” mentality. But we don’t have to be like the culture- “what in it for me?” doesn’t have to be the norm we live by. God wants us to take a different path than the world. He wants us to give- to help others. Why? Because a commitment to giving not only helps others…it helps US…grow in faith.
     The 1st billionaire was John D. Rockefeller. He was a millionaire by the age of 23 and a billionaire by the age of 50. Every decision he made, every attitude he had, every relationship he was in was tailored to create personal power and wealth. But at the age of 53…he was dying- the world’s only billionaire, who could buy anything he wanted- and the doctors predicted he would only last a year. He figured out that he couldn’t take successes and his wealth with him- the man who controlled the business world realized he had no control of own life. So, he made a choice. He wanted to channel his assets to hospitals, research and mission work, establishing the John D. Rockefeller Foundation. That move led to the discovery of penicillin, as well as cures for malaria, TB and diphtheria. But the most amazing part is that the moment he began to give…he also began to get better. The man who almost died at the age of 53 lived to 98. He learned gratitude and generosity. It made him whole. It’s one thing to be healed, but quite another to be made whole. 
      There are 3 realizations made by generous people:
1. What I have doesn’t really belong to me- God owns it all. It’s not what we have, but what God gives to us to manage. All is simply on loan. We possess much…but own nothing. Think about your house- how long has the GROUND been there? Ask yourself- do you REALLY own it, or do you simply possess it? The title reflects temporary possession. And if we really believe that, then we’re free to give God’s resources generously for His purpose. 
2. I shouldn’t complain about what I don’t have. God gives us opportunities for service in accordance with our ability to make use of what we have. Since we don’t all have the same ability, we don’t all have the same opportunities.
3. I should invest what I have in God’s kingdom, not hide it. One distinguishing characteristic of a Christian is their service, their giving. Katie Fisher was a 17-year old who entered a lamb in the County Junior Livestock sale. She was also battling cancer, with multiple hospital stays and extensive chemotherapy. The auctioneer told the audience about Katie, hoping to push the price above the $2/lb. average. In the end, he did so much more. The buyer paid $11.50/lb. Then…he gave it back! This began a chain reaction, people buying the lamb and giving it back. In the end, the lamb was sold 36 times and raised $16, 000!
     When we give through our prayers, our presence, our gifts and our service, we can impact lives around the corner…and around the globe. The Bible is full of people who did a lot with a little- the widow with the coins, the boy with the fish and the bread, etc. But there’s an obstacle we have to overcome before we are able to take little and do a lot with it. “My little bit won’t amount to much in this big world. I have barely enough to care for….me!” But Ephesians 3:20 says, “God is able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we can ask and think!” We forget- a little is much when God in it! He can do much with our little!
      The best way to do for God is to commit to help people become passionate followers of Jesus. Corrie TenBoom said, “I have held many things in my hands and lost them all. But whatever I have placed in God’s hands, I still possess. We should be faithful in using any and all opportunities for service to God. We need to give up what we cannot keep to gain what we cannot lose. Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Stick-er Picker Upper!

     I can tell Spring is here…my yard is COVERED in sticks and limbs. Well…it WAS covered, that is! Recently my 10-year old and I spent part of the morning out in the yard, filling up the wheelbarrow with sticks. We FILLED that wheelbarrow FOUR times…just in our yard! We have the benefit (I GUESS it’s a benefit) of living in a neighborhood FULL of big, mature trees. (You know the type- they don’t do childish things, they have IRA’s, they stay home on the weekends, stuff like that!) So picking up limbs is a regular, on-going job around here…especially right after Winter.

     Growing up out in the country, what to do with “refuse” was never an issue. We either burned it, dumped it on a ravine or composted it…not problem. But when you live in town, what to do with limbs, grass clippings, leaves and the like can be a problem. Where I used to live, there was no real plan in place. You STILL had the “yard leftovers”…just no place to officially put  them.  Where I am now, however, has a solid plan in place- you put whatever it is that you want to get rid of out by the curb…and they pick it up. (Of course, the BURN it rather than compost it, but one thing at a time!)
     As I was dumping another load of sticks on the pile, I was thinking about cleaning up the yard. I get all the garbage (and living almost right next door to a high school, there is a fair amount of true garbage) picked up in anticipation of the regular summer maintenance…mowing. And I simply cannot do the regular maintenance if I don’t do the clean-up. Our lives are much like that, aren’t they? When we have “refuse” in our lives, we really can’t carry on with regular life until we do something about that baggage. Oh, we TRY, to be sure. We pretend that we have no problems. OTHER people have problems, but we are just fine and dandy, thank you very much. But the reality is that we all have baggage of some sort- the dead limbs, leaves and grass clippings of life that clutter up things and make it impossible to truly be healthy, truly move forward. 
     How do we do that, however? How do we shed the things that keep us from being who we are so that we can make forward progress? First, we have to recognize, name and accept them for what they are. We have to confess them, admit that they negatively impact our lives, and seriously want to be free of them. Then…we give them over to God. Boom. Just like that. Give them to God. Because the Bible encourages us to do just that- hand our garbage over to God and start over with a clean slate. And let me assure you- that is an awesome feeling! What are YOU carrying around? What’s weighing you down? Do you want to get rid of it? Do you want to be made well? Turn to God, let go of that which ails you, and become a new person in Christ! You will be amazed at how freeing it can be!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

A Man…With His Pants Down!

     I have, just perhaps, truly seen it all now! I THOUGHT I had already  seen it all…but NO! Let me explain. I was driving down a rural county road recently. It was about 5:30 PM- in other words…broad daylight. I turned onto another rural county road and was on my way to a parishioner’s house when I noticed, quite a ways up ahead of me, a vehicle. At first I thought it was simply driving. As I drew closer, however, I realized that it was a van, at it wasn’t moving. Then I realized that the driver’s door was open. Then I realized that there was a guy standing next to the van…with the door opened. Now you might be thinking, “So what, preacher? A guy stopped his van and got out…big whoop!” Well, I haven’t yet gotten to the part that had me saying I have now seen it all…but here it is!

     As I drew even nearer, I realized one more thing…not only was he out of the van, standing in the road, but…he had his pants down! Seriously… HE…HAD…HIS…PANTS…DOWN! Now I can honestly say that I could NOT see exactly what he was doing…but I DO have an imagination…and it was running wild! Quite frankly, I came up with a few scenarios…but NONE of them are ones that I would be willing to share in the openly Christian blog! At the end of the day, I simply DON’T know what he was doing…I will NEVER know what he was doing…and I NOT sure I even care! 
     What seems obvious to me was that, whatever he was doing, he chose to stop in that particular spot because he thought no one would be able to see him. He thought, out there in the middle of nowhere, that nobody was watching! Obviously…he was wrong! There WAS some scrambling as a drew nearer. When I went past him, he was sitting in his truck, “averting his glance”, as it were! 
     My question is this- don’t we ALL do things specifically because we think no one is watching? Aren’t there times when we behave in a certainly BECAUSE we aren’t being watched? (There is a goofy little…jump…I do for my wife, to make her laugh, that no one else is allowed to see! I always pay special attention to who else is watching before I do it!) That’s all well and good, but if you believe in God, then you KNOW there is always someone watching. It’s not in the sense of Santa Claus…”he knows when you’ve been sleeping, he knows when you’re awake. He knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!”…I always, even as a LITTLE kid, found that more than a bit creepy! (To quote Marty from Back to the Future, “He’s a Peeping Tom!”) With God, it’s not a Big Brother/All-Seeing Eye as much as it is a benevolent parent, keeping watch over us, protecting us…sometimes from ourselves. 
     As you go through your day, be aware of how you act, what you do, the choices you make. NOT because the great and powerful OZ is watching you, but because you have a parent watching over you, guiding you, protecting you, shaping you, molding you. And if you’re like me, you don’t want to disappoint your parents! God loves you, wants what’s best for you, and will continue to watch over. I thank Him for that daily! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!