I’m Gonna Rub Your Fur the Wrong Way, George!

     I have always been a fan of Warner Brothers/Looney Tunes cartoon. Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, Daffy Duck, Taz…the whole lot of them…very funny. (They just don’t make cartoons like that any more! But back in MY day…!) There was one (actually more than one) that featured  Hugo the Abominable Snowman. He is the large, hairy looking beast in the picture. In the episode, he wants a bunny rabbit as a pet…and he targets Bugs. Bugs convinces him (as only Bugs can) that Daffy is, in fact, the rabbit. The “climactic” scene comes when Hugo is holding Daffy, who’s shirt makes him look like a rabbit, and he says, “Oh, boy, a bunny rabbit! I will name him George and I will hug him and squeeze him…” Daffy replies, “I’m not a bunny rabbit…” Hugo goes on, “…and pat him and pet him and…” Daffy says, “You’re hurting me. Put me down, please.” Hugo continues, “…and rub him and caress him and…” Daffy shouts, “I ain’t no bunny rabbit!” Hugo looks at him and says, “I’m gonna rub your fur the wrong way, George!” 

     There are two things about that cartoon that stand out in my mind. #1 is that there is a marvelously subtle nod to Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” with the large, slow-witted character (Lennie in the book, Hugo here) talks to a smaller, smarter character named George. (Gotta love those hidden references in the “old school”  cartoons!) The 2nd thing that stands out is the love of “bunnies”. Of all things, I thought of this cartoon as I stood at my front door the other morning. I was waiting for my wife and son (we were leaving for work/school), And as I stood at the door, I saw a rabbit out in the front yard. I stood, stock still, for a good 5 minutes, just staring at this rabbit. He didn’t really do much of anything but sit there- his nose moved constantly, his eyes blinked occasionally, and other than that…he just sat there. And I…just stood there. He was unaware that I was there, and I was completely aware that he was there! 
     Watching the rabbit, I got strong sense of God’s creation. I mean, here was this little animal who lived…out there somewhere. He was genetically engineered to survive in the wild- find a place to live, find food, and keep from BEING food. He is fast, he is beautiful, and he is a marvel of God’s creation. The same is true of the squirrel. And the raccoon. And the deer. And the horse. And…and…and…! Have you taken the time to look at God’s creation? I mean REALLY taken the time? God’s creation is, to sum it up in one word…amazing. It is  beautiful, spectacular, divinely inspired. And yet we overlook it ALL THE TIME. We get SO caught up in the “busyness” of life that we don’t see the beauty, the splendor that is all around us.
     Here’s my suggestion for the day- take some time to actually SEE what is all around you. Notice God’s creation- the trees, the animals, the weather…everything. See it. Appreciate it. Thank God for it. Do this consistently for a week or 2 and it will become a habit. And what an AWESOME habit that would be! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Growing Spiritual Redwoods: Vista Five: Following the Flow

         
Three pastors were having lunch together. One said, “I’ve been
having trouble with bats in the attic at church. I’ve tried everything- noise,
spray, cats- nothing seems to scare them away. The 2nd one said, “Me too. I’ve
got hundreds living in the belfry. I’ve even had the place fumigated, and they
won’t go away.” The 3rd one said, “I don’t have a problem. I got rid of
all of mine!” “How did you do that?” “I baptized them and made them members of
the church… Haven’t seen one since!”

    Today we continue our current Sunday sermon series Growing
Spiritual Redwoods
, based on the book by Bill Easum and Tom Bandy. The
series starts from the premise that “the way we’ve always done it” often
keeps churches from successfully ministering to the unchurched. We will try to
answer some of the questions that confront Christians in this era of rapid and
uncertain change- questions like “Are we committed to Jesus…or to a
particular doctrine?” “Do we see faith as an experience of Jesus…or as a
heritage to protect at all costs?” “Do we believe our purpose in ministry is to
make members…or disciples?” 
Last week we looked at the fluid
that flows…worship. Today we consider what happens next…what lies beyond the
flow?

    A girl lost her arm in an accident. She was so embarrassed
that she didn’t want to go anywhere. Finally, she agreed to try Sunday school.
Her mother called the teacher and asked that nothing be done to call attention
to the girl’s missing arm. The teacher agreed, but got sick and had a
substitute lead the class. At the end of class the students were acting out the
old ditty, “Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors and
see all the people.” The girl was about to cry when a boy in the class
suddenly dropped down beside her and put one hand against her good hand and
together they demonstrated what a real church is all about. We are the hands of
Christ. We are the feet of Christ. We are the only Bible the careless world
will read. We are the body of Christ, and each one of us is part of it.

    
Those
who fold bulletins, move tables, restock the pews, work in the nursery and mow
the grass are just as important as those who visit shut-ins and teach Sunday
School. We church folks are supposed to be united. But how can we be truly
united? We do it by checking our egos at the door. Every so often someone comes
to me to complain that the church isn’t meeting their needs. Now, I’m always
striving for more effective means of ministry, but I often suggest to those
folks that their concern is more secular than spiritual. Customers question the
effectiveness of retailers to meet their needs. But we are NOT customers in
God’s retail store. We’re all part of the heavenly choir, singing praise and glory
to God. We HAD an old life that said things like: look out for #1, get all you
can, don’t get mad, get even, win at all costs. But now we have a NEW life that
says things like: find yourself by losing yourself, give all you can, forgive
others as God has forgiven you.

    
The
Church isn’t about buildings, budgets and business. It’s not even about people,
programs and progress. Then what IS it about? Simple…Jesus Christ. When the
Church stops taking its cues from Christ, bad things happen.
C. S. Lewis said that the model many
of us have in our minds for the church is the same model we have for secular
organizations. That is, we think of the church as an organization that we join.
Then we do what members of an organization normally do- we come to meetings and
pay dues. Maybe, occasionally, we read the organization’s newsletter…if we
have time. But this is NOT Jesus’ model for the Church. Jesus’ intent is that
His people will be joined to His Church in the same way that parts of a
physical body are joined to that body. It’s a living relationship. The body
gives life to its members and they, in turn, are indispensable to the body. For
the person in whom Jesus lives, being actively involved in church isn’t simply
an option…it’s a necessity. Each of us is indispensable. We all have a place
in His family.

    
1Corinthians
12:12-20- Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts
form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so
as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all
given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but
of many. Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong
to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if
the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it
would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were
an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear,
where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the
body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one
part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

    
A family went to the movies. The son stopped by the snack bar to get
some popcorn. By the time he got into the theater the lights were dim. He
scanned the theater and couldn’t find his family. He paced up and down the
aisles looking for a familiar face. He finally stopped and said, “Doesn’t
anyone recognize me?” When visitors come into a church they’re looking for
family, companionship, connection. And often they stand neglected in the aisle,
the lobby, the parking lot. Deep in their hearts they’re crying out,
“Doesn’t anyone recognize me?” We owe it to them to offer genuine
love and concern.

    
The
Church is made up of children of the Kingdom. It’s not made up of employees of
a corporation. Paul had plenty of political, hierarchical, and civic
organizational models to use to describe the character and function of the
church. But he chose to use the analogy of a body- an organic unity in which
all facets and functions look out for the care and well-being of the whole.
When there’s a thorn in the foot, the whole body stoops to pluck it out. In the
Kingdom of God, winning isn’t the only thing. Jesus invites us to get
lost…lost in service, lost in wonder, love and praise. As God’s children, the
question is no longer whether we’re the losers or the winners. Instead, the
question is: “Are we a healthy part of the body of Christ?”

    
Just
because you have strengths in one area, doesn’t mean you have strengths in
others. Remember in 1994 when Michael Jordan decided he wanted to be a
professional baseball player? He put on the right uniform. He used the right
equipment. He even played right field. But watching Michael Jordan play
baseball was NOT like watching Michael Jordan play basketball. Fly balls hit
him in the chest. His swing was often behind a fast ball. He called umpires “referees.”
He ended up in the minor leagues. Each of us has strengths. Each of us has
places God can use us most effectively. The secret of a strong and vital church
is making certain that everyone uses the gift God’s given them. We often fail
to use God’s gifts because we’re shy, selfish or just plain lazy. But failing
to use our gifts disappoints God and denies others the opportunity to enjoy
God’s blessings with us. God’s will is that we use our gifts…regardless of
what they are.

    
When you’re a kid, there’s nothing better than being on the winning
team. Of course, when you’re a kid there’s nothing worse than being on the
losing team. Think of all those great, feel-good Disney-esque movies- they
don’t ever end with the hometown team losing the big championship game. No, the
whole point of these happily-ever-after stories is that the under-dog, scrubby,
gave-it-their-all losers are transformed into top-of-the-heap winners. But for
adults, winning and losing is rarely as clear-cut as it was when we were kids.
But we do have one event in our grown-up lives that still makes us feel like an
instant loser. Nobody wants to lose. Nobody wants to be known as a loser…not
even in church. We love to talk about winning souls for Jesus. And since Jesus
Christ is the head of the church, we see Him as the ultimate CEO, mapping out
successful corporate strategies and takeovers. We want to be winners. But
today’s gospel text reminds us of the force and focus of Jesus’ message and
mission. We need to leave our fantasy Jesus behind and get to know the real
Jesus- the One who came to bring good news to the poor, give sight to the blind
and set the captives free. The real Jesus came for the least and the lost, not
the best and the brightest. He came not for the cream of the crop…but for the
skimmed milk.

The
emergence of spiritual redwoods signals a revolution in church organization. The
age of repeatable, predictable church bureaucracy has come to an end. It’s been
replaced by organic organizations that share the common features of the forest:

1.
Emerging organizations are designed to grow. Their purpose isn’t to repeat or
protect a religious heritage that was their original programming. Instead,
their purpose is to expand and thrive in any way that will enhance their life
with Jesus. They are oriented around a core vision of life to the fullest with
Jesus, and that core vision is the only benchmark for self-evaluation.

2.
Emerging organizations grow in the midst of sea of diversity. Their strategy
isn’t to clone themselves in as many places as possible. Instead, their
strategy is to empower whatever works, in order to overcome any obstacle
limiting their life with Jesus.

3.
Emerging organizations grow in constant, creative change. Their spiritual life
is not repeatable or predictable. Instead, their spiritual life is a constant
bubbling of innovation and change, the energy for which is entirely devoted to
enhancing their life with Jesus.

     The issue of control dominates the agenda
of the institutional churches that are slowly but surely disappearing in the
new era. That drive for control is fueled by the desire to preserve and protect
the great and glorious heritage of their institutions. These church
bureaucracies are machines. They may be of endless variety, they may be simple
or complex, they may be liberal or conservation, but they are machines nonetheless…and
their aim is control.

     Spiritual redwoods are NOT machines. They aren’t
foreign bodies intruding on culture with the intent of controlling it. They’re
organisms…living organisms, and they understand the health of the church and
the health of the community to be one and the same. Why? Because enhancing the
fullness of life with Jesus is all that matters.

     Now, you might be saying, “But I’m not a
spiritual redwood yet. I’m barely a spiritual sapling.” Or maybe you’re saying,
“I used to be a growing tree, but now I’m dried and withered, lying on the
forest floor.” Or maybe you’re saying, “The church is irrelevant; it died in 1970-
its roots are dried up and gone away.” If you’re saying these things…here’s
some hope for you. In January, a seed was planted in Israel…a 2,000 year old
seed. The seed, by all accounts, was dead.  The tree it came from, a date
palm from King Herod’s palace, had long been extinct. They planted a dead
seed…from an extinct tree…in a desert. They planted it in soil from its
native community and they nurtured it. Five months later, that 2,000 year old
date tree is 14 inches high, and has grown five leaves. Where there was death,
now there is life. That ancient tree is no longer extinct, but growing. And we
can grow too. God isn’t through with us yet. Jesus began his ministry by
announcing the birth of another world. Give thanks to God today and ask Him to
let a new world be born in you.

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

Who’s Training Who?

          The other day the dog told me she needed to go out. And in case you’re thinking to yourself, “She TOLD you? Really? She TOLD you?” Yes…she told me! She has distinctly different  behavior, depending on what she wants/needs. “I’m hungry” is different from “I’m thirsty”, which is different from “I want to play” which is different from “I need to go outside”. She may not speak English…but she certainly communicates! And she told me she had to go outside. 

     So I walked down the stairs of our split level, put my shoes on, grabbed the leash and headed outside. I shut the door, stepped off the front porch…and realized I didn’t have the dog!  I had the LEASH…but not the dog! I retraced my steps…and found her dutifully sitting on the steps, exactly in the spot and posture she is supposed to be before she goes out. She had this look on her face that said, “Have you lost your mind? You took the LEASH out…and forgot ME?” Then she sort of shook her head, let me attach the leash, and went outside to do her business. 
     As I walked her around the yard, I thought about what had just happened. And then it dawned on me- who’s actually  training who here? I’m SO sure that I have trained her to sit on the steps and wait while I attach the leash before she can go out. BUT…she HAS taught me how to recognize when she has to go out…AND I WAS the one who came back in and got her! If I’m honest…the dog has trained me quite well!
     Our relationship with God is much the same. If we’re honest, we try really hard to train God. We come to Him in prayer and try to tell Him how things should be. “You really should do this and that!” Or “God, I want you to do this or that!” We don’t necessarily MEAN to approach the relationship that way…we just…DO! You do it. I do it. We ALL do it. But my experience is that it just doesn’t work. And it doesn’t work because, at the end of the day, when everything is said and done, it is God is large and in charge…not us! 
     So, why do we do it? We do it because we want control. We strive for control. We crave control. But, if we are honest with ourselves, we really have NO control. Not really. God is in control. God knows the way, the truth and the life. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. God wants to train us in the way we should go, so that we won’t turn from it. Did you hear that? He WANTS to train us! So here’s the $64 question…will you let Him?
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus! 

The Sirens Are Going Off!

     As we all know, tornadoes have been touching down EVERYWHERE…or at least it seems that way! The devastation in Joplin, MO is overwhelming. (Here is a link to a CNN video-  http://bit.ly/jPne2u.  The woman in the video is my 2nd cousin. her aunt, my 1st cousin, lost her life in the tragedy.) The devastation is overwhelming. And when it is so fresh in your mind, it has a far greater impact on how you respond to things. 

     Two nights ago, we were having our Wednesday night programming at church. It includes a meal, classes for adults and youth groups for kids Kindergarten-8th grade. The adult classes are done for the season, but the dinner and youth groups still happened. Dinner was over (I brought my grill and cooked SEVERAL hamburgers!) and we were cleaning up. There were about 12 kids in the basement with us and about another 15-20 on the 2nd floor. Our community is built on a flood plain and there aren’t a ton of basements in town. So when there is a threat of a tornado, my church is a common place for folks to come. Someone from the fire house (across the street) came over and told me there were 3 confirmed tornadoes on the ground west of us and headed our way. He asked if he could send community members over and told me that if I had anyone in the building, they should stay there and get in the basement. 
     We gathered all the kids into the basement, but didn’t give them much in the way of details…no sense in scaring them any further than necessary. Then…the sirens went off. And quite frankly, I have ignored those very same sirens before. “Oh, it’s JUST the tornado sirens…nothing’s going to happen!” But that was then…this is now. We herded the kids (and the adults from the community who dropped in) into the safest spots we could find in the basement. And we waited.
     The reaction from the kids was…interesting. There were kids who seems a bit stressed, but were handling it pretty well. There were a few kids who cried. And there were several kids who had been in the middle of decorating their own sugar cookies who were delighted to sit in an interior hallway and eat their cookies, oblivious to what was going on around them!
     In the end, the sirens stopped, the storm passed, and we dodged another bullet. Soon, everyone was acting as if nothing had happened. We laughed and talked and went home. But I noticed that the laughing and the talking had a bit of what I call “whistling in the graveyard” to it. We were fine…but not entirely unchanged. We were safe, but not entirely secure. And the bottom line is this- we are NEVER entirely secure in an earthly sense. We can do all that is possible, but we can’t guarantee anything. So from where does our help come? Our help comes in the name of the Lord, Who offers us peace and grace. Our help comes in the name of the Lord, in Whose presence is fullness of joy, in Whose hand is pleasure forever more!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Life’s Short…Eat Dessert First!

        I am a big fan of the TV show MASH. I watched it regularly and with great anticipation when it was in “first run”. (It was in syndicated  reruns for what seemed like an eternity, but you just don’t see it on much any more.) I have many favorite memories from that show, but one of them revolves around a relatively minor character- Dr. Sidney Friedman, the psychiatrist. (By the way, in his 1st appearance on the show, intended to be a “one and done” sort of thing, the character’s name was Milton. When thy brought him back, they decided to change it to Sidney.) In this particular episode, he shows up at the camp at the onset of a particularly bad stretch. They are inundated with wounded and performing surgery for hours and hours. Toward the end of the episode, when everyone is near the breaking point, Sidney gets ready to leave. Sensing the massive amounts of stress in the room, he leaves them with these parting words, “Ladies and gentlemen, take my advice- pull down your pants and slide on the ice!”

     I have been thinking about that quote a lot lately. My church lost a matriarch the week of Christmas. Then I lost my dad a month later. Then it was a former long-term member who moved away a few years ago. A few days ago, my cousin was killed when a tornado ripped through Joplin, MO. And yesterday I buried the adult daughter of that previously mentioned matriarch- a woman who had been the Office Administrator at the church. It’s been a tough few months. As a pastor, I performed four of those funerals (all but my cousin). As a human being, the grief has been tough to balance. It causes you to think of all sorts of things- what’s it all mean? Is it worth it? Why do people die? What’s the meaning of life? What next? And I have pondered all those questions. 
     But I have also pondered the advice Dr. Sidney Friedman gave the doctors and nurses at the beloved 4077th. I know…it’s just a TV show. Those people aren’t real. But the ADVICE is VERY real…and, at least for me…helpful. Am I going to REALLY pull down my pants and slide on the ice? Highly unlikely! But it does speak to the need to just “let loose” occasionally- do something out of the ordinary, odd, goofy, fun. For example, last night I was at a church function. I was standing and talking to a couple of folks and I had a sheet of paper in my hand. For no apparent reason and with no warning, I put the paper flat against my mouth and sucked in. The result was that the paper “stuck” to my face. While it was there, I waggled my eyebrows at the people I was talking to. Then I simply took the paper down, smiled, and continued with the conversation as if nothing had happened. One of them shook their head, chuckled and said, “I’ll bet you were a pistol in school!”
     Sometimes you just have to do something that proves you don’t take like too seriously. Life’s short- we only have so much time on this planet. Don’t be so afraid to die that you forget to live. Since probably none of us are going to pull down our pants and slide on the ice, I propose the next best thing- eat your dessert first! Fly in the face of convention every now and again. In other words…live. It will not only brighten YOUR day, you’ll have a positive impact on others as well! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Bible: Short People

    (Today we continue our current Wednesday  devotional Bible Study, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Bible. Each Wednesday, we walk through another section of the Bible and see what it’s all about.) Singer/songwriter Randy Newman has a song called Short People. The lyrics include: “Short People got no reason to live. They got little hands and little eyes and they walk around tellin’ great big lies. They got little noses, tiny little teeth. They wear platform shoes on their nasty little feet. Well, I don’t want no Short People round here.” He then adds, “Short People are just the same as you and I. All men are brothers until the day they die. It’s a wonderful world!” Sounds great, huh? But then it’s right back to- “Short People got nobody to love. They got little baby legs, they stand so low. You got to pick ’em up just to say hello. They got grubby little fingers, dirty little minds. They’re gonna get you every time. Well, I don’t want no Short People ’round here.”

     Now, let me say a few things about the song. One, I am convinced that Mr. Newman’s tongue was FIRMLY planted in his cheek when he wrote it. Two, being BARELY 5’9″…on a good day (My acting resume said I was 5’10″…it lied!), I am what many would consider on the short side. And three, all sweeping generalizations are false! Seriously, stereotypes are sweeping, false, and harmful. here are some of the more overt ones. All Arabs are named Muhammed, wear turbans, drive taxis, and are terrorists and look alike. All Asians are named Chong, are short, speak poor English, have a high IQ, are great at math and look alike. All Hispanics are named Paco, are poor, illegal, eat tacos, speak no English and look alike. All Irish are named Seamus, have red hair, are alcoholic, Catholic, beat their wives and look alike. All Italians are named Tony, eat pasta, are great cooks, talk with their hands, are in the mafia and look alike. All French are named Rene’, are rude, pretentious, hate Americans, wear berets, eat cheese and look alike. All Americans are named Steve, are aggressive, shallow, wasteful, overweight, rude and look alike. 
    It seems to me that it’s easy to capitalize on someone’s shortcoming and weaknesses…but we all fail sometime. And casting stones doesn’t seem to be the answer. There are stereotypes everywhere- even in the Bible. For many the group we are looking at today would constitute the B team- that would be the 12 Minor prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. The are often overlooked…but truly have a great deal to tell us today. In these books, idolatry prevails, immorality is rampant, and the prophets urge repentance and a return to God, Who will offer mercy and forgiveness, restoring the nation’s religious purity.
     Stereotypes are caricatures. Prominent features are exaggerated and non-prominent features are diminished or eliminated altogether. believe it or not, we have caricatures of God. he is the Shepherd, the Policeman, the Grandfather, the Managing Director, the Clockmaker, the Cruel Jokester. We see 2 extremes of God in the Bible-  in the Old Testament we see Him as all-wrathful, while in the New Testament we think of Him as all-loving. I wonder which caricature is more harmful- the wrathful one…or the kindly one? At least the wrathful one inspires something. But an impotent, sacchariny, safe God doesn’t necessarily drive us to our knees in prayer. It doesn’t really inspire awe. It doesn’t move us to shout from the rooftops. It doesn’t motivate us to sacrifice. So- we end up with “God in the Box.” When we need Him, we take him out, and when we don’t, we store Him until next time. But where does  that leave us? 
     In the Minor Prophets, we get to see some of the genuine characteristics of God. God is- good, eternal, gracious, righteous, merciful, just, holy, etc. But all of those other characteristics flow from 1 primary characteristic- love. It all starts with love. We simply can’t get a handle on the others until we get one on love. Only when we see God’s love can we see the true image of God. God’s love forever changes the lives of those who experience it. And there is never more evidence of that than in the books of the Minor Prophets. 
     The end of the Book of Malachi is also the end of the Old Testament. It’s the last thing we hear from God for hundreds of years…until the start of the New testament. Malachi says this- “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall. Then you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things,” says the LORD Almighty. Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel. See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.”
     What a great promise to end the Old Testament. The hearts
of families will be turned to each other. And when Jesus comes, He comes preaching about the family…the family of God. And w
hat is God? God is holy fire- and when it’s dark and cold…don’t we all want to be close to the fire? I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!