Busted flat in Baton Rouge…or at least Carl Junction! Yesterday I shared that the males sneaked our beds/belongings into another part of the church in which we are living in an effort to get better/more sleep. 2 things: 1. the first night was GREAT! We slept like babies! (You know, waking up every two hours, demanding to be fed!) BUT…yesterday we were BUSTED! Apparently moving to the rooms we chose was…shall we say…not an option! When we got back to the church yesterday, all our stuff had been moved out into the main area again! Oops! Oh well…we tried!
Like thieves in the night we moved. Skulking through the halls of the church in which we are living. Surreptitiously dragging belongings down endless hallways. Why? Because…THEY are coming! We heard a rumor last night that a new group was coming in to live among us…at ONE in the morning!! It’s hard enough to sleep with the guys who get up at 4:45 every morning…ONLY after they let their alarms sound for 30 minutes. It’s hard enough to sleep when they yell at each other across the sleeping area at 5:05 every morning to see if they’re ready. It’s hard enough to sleep when EVERY time some middle-aged man (like myself!), gets up and goes to the bathroom in the middle of the night, opening the bathroom door and momentarily flooding the room with light. It’s hard enough to sleep when the ladies (dear, SWEET ladies) who come in to fix our breakfast every morning start banging pots and pans and catching up on all the latest gossip at 6AM. Now a NEW group is coming in…at ONE in the MORNING?! The madness must end. So…we waited until the church staff left and went on a reconnaissance mission, boldly go where no mission worker has goner before, bravely scouting out as yet undiscovered territory in which to lay our precious, sleep-deprived heads at night! And…and…and…VICTORY! We found the promised land, which is why we have been skulking through the halls of the church with our bedding and belongings. The reality is that sleep is to a mission trip as cigarettes are to a prison- a valuable commodity. And the further into the week you go, the harder you will try for a decent night’s sleep. Which is why I slept RIGHT NEXT to a puppet theater last night. Oh, and by the way…it was heaven!!
We survived! Yesterday was a long day, a hard day…a GREAT day! Somebody was texting where the guys slept…until 2 in the morning! (It was GREAT to hear that “boop, boop, beep, boop” for half the night!) Then, that same guy’s alarm went off at 4AM, and because he had stayed up so late texting, he slept right through his alarm! But the REST of us heard it!! Someone from our group finally got up and shut the guy’s phone off! (He was STILL asleep at 8AM when we left! Oops!)
Well…we made it! 17 of us left the church at noon yesterday…and we drove! And drove! And drove! We stopping in…somewhere…for gas and bathrooms. Then, about 2 hours later, we stopped in…somewhere else…for dinner. We dined at a very fancy restaurant…McDonalds! (It was VERY special! I recommend the Big Mac…VERY continental!) Then, about 10 minutes before we got to our destination, I got a text that someone in another car had to “use the facilities”! (I’ll be honest- I thought to myself, “You have GOT to be kidding! Couldn’t they wait 10 more minutes!) But we stopped…only to find out that the text had been sent…THREE HOURS BEFORE! I had JUST received it! So we got back on the highway and finished the trip.
I was interviewed on the noon news program of a local TV station regarding a
benefit for a local family. It was a pretty simple, straightforward thing-
about 2 ½ minutes. no big whoop. A couple days later, I walked into the local
IGA in my shorts, t-shirt and baseball cap to get a few groceries. As I
walked in the front door, I ran into a high school kid who works there. He
stopped, pointed at me, and just…stared. I was a bit…confused…so I just
smiled. Then he said, “Weren’t you…weren’t you…you know…on TV?!” I
allowed as how…yes…I had been, a couple of days ago. “I SAW you! You’re the
pastor! I SAW you!” He walked away smiling. I just didn’t know what to do with
that…but it DID remind me of a Mission Trip I went on once. We were in the hills
of North Carolina. One day. we tore an old porch off a house and built a new
one. I am NOT all that handy, but no one else in my crew was handy…AT ALL.
Therefore, late in the day, as we were finishing up, the matriarch of the
family said to me, “You’re a good carpenter!” I chuckled, thanked her and said,
“Even a sparrow appears as an eagle when there are no other birds!”
we begin a new sermon series called God Is… This series looks at the person
of God…who God is, and how He can transform our lives. Today we consider the
fact that the most basic truth is also the easiest to forget. And that truth is
that God is here. And you say, “Well…DUH! Kind of obvious, isn’t it pastor?”
But I would argue that no, it’s isn’t always that obvious. When electricity was
just becoming available in rural areas, a woman went to great trouble and
expense to have electricity installed in her home. A few months later, the
power company noticed the home didn’t use very much power. Fearing there was a
problem, they sent someone out to check. The power was indeed working properly
and so he asked the woman, “Do you use your electricity?” The woman replied,
“Of course we do. We turn it on every night…so we can see to light our oil
lamps…then we turn it off!”
ridiculous, doesn’t it- having all the power you need AND the ability to tap
into it any time you want, but only using just enough to “get by”? We’d NEVER
do anything like that…because it wouldn’t make sense…right? But the reality
is that we do the exact same thing all too often. We go to church and we worship…but
we often have minimal relationship with God the rest of the week. We face
difficulties every day, but only when we are at the end of our rope do we ask
for God’s help. We have the power of God at our disposal ALL the time, but over
and over we try to get by on our own strength. Perhaps we’re a lot more like
the woman who wouldn’t use her electricity than we would like to admit. Just
like electricity, when we remove the presence of God from our lives we remove
God’s power as well. What does the Bible say about God’s presence?
17:20-21- Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God
would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something
that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’
because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”
Being in the presence of celebrities
does interesting things to people…like the kid at the IGA!! Years ago, I was
the Business Manager at the
Westport Playhouse in St. Louis. We booked shows in, produced our own shows,
and also booked celebrities in for weekend shows. Since I was the Business Manager,
I paid all these celebrities. So they would come looking for me! Folks like
Pearl Bailey, Tennessee Ernie Ford, the Amazing Kreskin and Jay Leno would show
up at my desk, looking for rather large checks! I wasn’t that impressed by
their presence. But many people get goofy in the presence of “the famous”. Brad Pitt
got to see that first hand. A bouncer at a promotional event for his
movie The Strange Case of Benjamin Button failed to recognize him and
pinned him to a wall. The guard pulled Pitt out of a crowd of photographers who
had infiltrated a secure area and spun him around “quickly and
aggressively,” according to the the New York Post. Once he realized
who he had grabbed, the guard apologized and ushered Pitt into the theater for
a Q&A session about the movie. Pitt laughed it off as “just
another day in the life”.
The Bible is full of people who felt unqualified or simply did not
want to do what God was calling them to do. Moses was a reluctant follower.
“Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of
Egypt?” It took Samuel 3 tries before he realized God was calling him to
service. Isaiah was a reluctant prophet- “I am a man of unclean lips, and
I live among a people of unclean lips.” Jeremiah talked about his
unworthiness to answer God’s call: “Lord God! Truly I do not know how to
speak, for I am only a boy.” And yet they each came to recognize
God’s presence and that motivated them to answer the call that was before them.
God doesn’t judge by appearance or even skill but instead looks
into the heart. God is not only present in the powerful, attractive and
authoritative. God is present in everybody…but we run the risk of missing God
if we’re not careful. We have to be open to God’s presence and God’s
call. We can’t have any hope of holiness if we are not radically open to God. As
John Calvin said, we’re not worthy to stand before God. Yet, God accepts us for
who we are. God doesn’t call the equipped…God equips the called. He actually
chooses those who understand themselves to be unworthy. God provides that which is necessary to complete
the assigned task. So we have to step forward in faith, confident that God is
active in our world.
God’s call often feels like an interruption, a detour from daily
life. But it’s through a willingness to serve God, a willingness to change,
that our greatest opportunities for growth are found. God is all around
us…but are we open to that fact? God is present in the dawn each morning and
the dusk each evening. But God is most profoundly present in people…us AND
the folks we encounter every day.
But have you ever wondered whether God was REALLY present in your
life? Times are hard and the pain seems endless. You work long and hard every
day but there always seems to be too much month left at the end of the money.
And you cry, “God, where are you?” God is always with us,
even during our most trying times. Here are three truths about God’s presence.
1. God always hears the
cries of His people. God is like a loving parent with a small child. When the
child cries, the parent hears…and responds. God hears our cries just like a
good parent because God cares. When things fail to go as planned, what do you
do…when you don’t know what to do? What do you do when the situation is
beyond human capabilities? When everything you’ve tried has failed, what do you
do? You cry to God…because God is here, and God is listening. God knows our
every hurt and disappointment and wants to help us.
2. God chooses His
people. We aren’t announced
candidates elected by the people, but rather, chosen by God to serve. Romans 10 says:
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How, then,
can they call on the One they have not believed in? And how can they believe in
the One whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone
preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is
written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news…” The
certification of the servant doesn’t have to come from ordination or the laying
on of hands. We are authenticated as proclaimers of the Word when God says,
3. God delivers when we
are obedient. God doesn’t find disobedience acceptable. He tells us to “go and make disciples of all
nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy
Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” And that’s
awesome! But then He adds those extremely important words- “surely I am with
you always, to the very end of the age.” God is always with us,
but the benefit of God’s presence isn’t maximized until we acknowledge that
pastor traveled often, and when he flew, he liked to be left alone. He didn’t
want to be pestered by the person sitting next to him, so he employed a simple
procedure. He would take out his Bible, open it, and set it in his lap…and
everyone left him alone! How many of us come to church week after
week…and have no real experience with God? What’s the problem? The problem is
we settle for the status quo and leave our lives parked right there. But if we
settle for what we’ve already experienced with God, we can’t grow. When we
settle, we can’t move forward in our walk with Him. I’m here this morning to
say we simply can’t settle anymore! People want a deep
relationship with God but don’t want to pay the price for it. Developing an
intimate relationship with God takes time and effort. It doesn’t happen
overnight. If we want to have a deeper relationship with
God, we need to ask Him 3 things:
1. “Teach me Your ways.”
It’s only when we know the ways of God that we can truly follow Him.
2. “Let me know You.”
There’s a direct connection between knowing the ways of God and knowing God.
It’s only when we know God personally that we can be called His people.
3. “Let me live in Your
favor.” Once we know God’s ways and know God personally, then God’s favor can
rest on our lives. It’s impossible for you to have the divine favor of God in
your life if you don’t know God. When we do these things,
it opens our lives to the presence of God. When we strive to know God’s ways
and know God, He throws open the floodgates of heaven and pours out His divine
favor into our lives.
created us to have a deep personal relationship with Him. He walked
with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. Think about that- God literally walked…and
talked…with Adam and Eve. They were able to fully experience His presence.
God’s greatest desire is to have that same kind of relationship with you. He
wants you to walk in His presence. Do you want to truly see
the majesty of God? Do you want to see Him without the barriers? Do you want to
see Him in all of His glory? Then you need to live daily in His presence. Are
you seeking more of God every day? The only thing holding you back from a
deeper experience with God is…you. God wants you to know Him more and
experience more of His presence. If you want more of God’s presence…ask Him
Thanks for stopping by today- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus.
Well, it’s finally here! Months ago, I began planning this year’s Mission Trip. Initially, we were to go to Manhattan, KS and work with folks through Kansas State University. The plans for that were coming along nicely and were pretty much all set. Then…life got in the way! The community of Joplin, MO was devastated by a tornado. (I lost one cousin and had several other relatives displaced.) Several of the folks who were going on the Mission Trip felt pulled to change course and go instead to Joplin. I hated to do that because we had already committed to the awesome folks in Kansas. But the more I prayed about it, the less I could ignore God’s call. SO I reluctantly contacted the folks in Kansas, told them of the news, apologized profusely, then began to go a new direction!
“The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia”…. remember that song? OK…but do you remember who SANG it? Ah! It was…ready?…none other than Vicki Lawrence of the Carol Burnett Show and Mama’s Family fame. Who’da thunk it?
When I was just starting in the ministry, I was cajoled into “test-driving” a set of videotapes. (I know…video tapes! It might as well have been 8-Track tapes!!) The set was called Quigley’s Village, and it was a Christian-based series centered around a live actor and a bunch of puppets who all lived together in peace and harmony in…you guessed it…Quigley’s Village! As you can see in the picture, the target audience is kids 2-7 in age. I was supposed to view the series, then decide if I wanted it for the church or not. If I did, I was supposed to pay for them, and if I didn’t, I was supposed to simply return them. Sounds simple enough…right?!
(Wednesdays are Bible Study Day here at Stick With Jesus. Today we continue our current weekly walk through the Bible- Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Bible.)
problems of tomorrow. This is it. Doomsday. All you have. Make it the best day of your year. The saddest words you can ever utter are, ”If I had my life to live over again. ”Take the baton, now. Run with it! This is your day! Beginning today, treat everyone you meet, friend or foe, loved one or stranger, as if they were going to be dead at midnight. Extend to each person, no matter how trivial the contact, all the care and kindness and understanding and love that you can muster, and do it with no thought of any reward. Your life will never be the same again.”
I have recently shared that we suffered a lightning strike at our house. We lost (to date) 2 TV’s, a computer printer, 3 telephones, 2 cable TV boxes, a modem a router, and the use of our air conditioner for several days. It’s…a pain! Certainly not the end of the world…but a pain nonetheless. I have to deal withe the insurance company, and although they have been very helpful, there are still many hoops through which to jump! I have whined and moaned about at various times, complaining that I simply didn’t need “one more thing” to mess with in the midst of an already busy schedule. I mean, come on, I’m a busy guy…couldn’t this have happened to someone OTHER than me?! (Would you like a little cheese with that WHINE, pastor?!)
Well, yesterday was Father’s Day. And what a interesting…and GREAT Father’s Day it was for me! It was a mixed bag, to be sure, but the lion’s share was awesome. On the “not so great” side, it was the 1st Father’s Day in my 50 years of life that my dad was not around for- he died in January. So that was a hard thing. But church was great. We honored the men (I believe that you don’t restrict it to just “dads” because there are lots of men who have impacted us yet aren’t our dads) of the church at all 3 services- we brought them up front, prayed over them and gave them gifts! (Hard to beat THAT with a stick!) One phenomenon I always find interesting on days like Father’s Day is when a woman comes up to you and says, “Happy Father’s Day” and you reply, “Thanks! You too!”
A tiny little guy applies for a job as a
lumberjack. “Sorry”, says the head lumberjack, eyeing the man up and down,
“You’re just too small.” “Give me a chance to show you what I
can do,” the guy pleads. “You won’t regret it.”
“Okay,” says the boss. “See that giant oak over there? Let’s see
if you can chop it down.” Half an hour later, the mighty oak is felled,
amazing the boss. “Where’d you learn to cut trees like that?” he
asks. “The Sahara Forest.” “You mean the Sahara Desert?”
“Sure…that’s what they call it NOW!”
Today we finish 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 you believe our purpose in ministry is
to make members…or disciples?”
Terrence Malick, director of such films as
Badlands, Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line, directed a movie called The
Tree of Life. It’s the story of a Midwestern family in the 1950’s. The movie
follows the life of the oldest son, Jack, from the innocence of his childhood
to his disillusioned adult years as he tries to reconcile the relationship with
his dad, played by Brad Pitt. Jack finds himself lost in the modern world,
looking for answers to the meaning of life while questioning the existence of
faith. The movie shows us how both unforgiving nature and spiritual grace shape
our lives. Trees are a powerful symbol of growth- the only living things that
continue to grow throughout their lifetime. There’s a great forest
of important trees throughout history. In fact, the word “temple”
comes from the ancient word for “sacred grove.” The Bible is full of
tree tales. There are broom trees, green olive trees, trees planted by water,
palms trees in the desert, and trees in the garden. There are fig trees, good trees
known by their fruit, the Great Cedars of Lebanon, and Zacchaeus’ favorite
sycamore. With their height, depth and breadth, trees give life three
dimensions. Imagine how flat the world would be without trees.
The Tree of Life symbolizes wisdom, protection, strength, bounty,
beauty…and redemption. It provides shelter, has deep roots, bears fruit and
reaches toward the sky. With nurture and
care, it lives for generations. It sustains creation with its abundant fruit,
protection and regeneration. It also represents us- we develop roots,
strengthen our trunk and branch out to a wider vision of life as we grow. The
Tree of Life links heaven and earth. This is perhaps best illustrated in the
very LAST book of the Bible…the Book of Revelation.
Revelation 22:1-6- Then the angel showed
me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne
of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each
side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit,
yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing
of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the
Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his
face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night.
They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord
God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. The angel said
to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God who inspires
the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon
Apparently tree-cutting habits are
hereditary. When I was a kid, my dad and my grandpa were cutting down a tree in
our yard…and LARGE tree. My grandpa
insisted on being the one to use the chain saw…that SHOULD have been the big
warning sign! So, there we were- my mom, my siblings and I standing off to the
side watching, my dad standing over my grandpa watching, and my grandpa on his
knees, LARGE chain saw in hand, cutting the tree down. What he really hadn’t
calculated was WHERE the tree would fall. Suddenly, the tree is falling…right
on top of him! My dad grabbed him by the shirt and literally yanked him off the
ground and out of the way AS the tree came crashing down on the spot where he
was kneeling! Now, fast-forward about 42 years. My sons and I cutting down a
good-sized pine tree at my father-in-law’s house. My older son is manning the
saw, topping” the tree about halfway up, I’m on the other side of the tree…pulling,
and my younger son is off to the side watching. At one point, my younger son
said, “Am I standing in the right spot?” I answered, “Sure! The tree is going
to fall right on me!” To which my son replied, “Really? What are YOU going to
do?” I replied, “Run as fast as I can out of the way!” A couple of minutes
later, the tree started to fall and I ran as fast as I could, feeling the tree
brush me on the top of my head as I ran!” Grandpa would have been proud!
Every December we succumb to a combination of nostalgia, our
children’s pesterings and cultural peer pressure, venture out to some
“cut-your-own” tree farm and get a Christmas tree. Million of
evergreens are sacrificed for a few weeks of decoration. Growing Christmas
trees is a huge industry, dedicated to producing acre after acre of perfectly
symmetrical, closely-clipped, firm and bushy trees. Finding the endearingly
scruffy “Charlie Brown” tree has become virtually impossible. Every
tree has been pinched and pruned into a perfect isosceles triangle, like the
way we drew Christmas trees when we were kids.
Trees have always
fascinated people throughout history, representing something larger and more
enduring. A tree can easily watch three generations of humans live and die.
There’s a bristlecone pine in California estimated to be 4,600 years old- it’s
been alive since the days of the Pharaohs. Is it any wonder that trees evoke
such a sense of awe and wonder?
Job 14:7 says “There is hope for a tree- if it’s cut down, it
will sprout again, and its shoots won’t stop.” From the apparently dead
and withered stump of Jesse shoots forth the green, supple new growth of a
completely new being – the 2nd Adam, the Messiah…Jesus. Jesus incarnates the
Tree of Life and brings the possibility of eternal life back to everybody. A
redwood bears seeds, which contain the essence of the tree, and this continuous
regeneration is a powerful symbol of eternity. As we grow and develop
spiritually, a more mature personality emerges and begins to flower and fruit,
sharing its gifts with the wider world.
Jesus calls us to become “tree” disciples, to grow a faith that
has the qualities of a tree. There are three qualities of a “tree” faith that I
want focus on today.
#1- a “tree” faith isn’t a boring, flat
existence…but a four-dimensional faith. The three dimensions are the ones we
see every day- height, depth and breadth. The vital, continually growing and
intertwining human/divine relationship is a reality that occupies space and
time, transforming a flat, one-dimensional existence into a three-dimensional
expression of love. The 4th dimension is found underground- the root system.
There’s as much of us, or more, that’s invisible as there is visible. Our root
system feeds and nourishes our soul; it’s what shapes the visible part of who
we are, the part that others can see. For us to have a vibrant, three-dimensional
life that others can see, we first have to create a vibrant life that others
#2- a “tree” faith grows fastest and deepest in winter. When it
looks like the tree is most dormant, maybe even dead, struggling against the
wind, rain, snow and sleet, that’s exactly the time that the tree is deepening
and widening its root structure and taking a new hold of the earth. How well a
tree functions in winter determines how well a tree flourishes in the spring
and summer and fall. We can look at times of suffering, pain, rejection and
discouragement as setbacks…or we can approach these seasons of life as
opportunities for us to grow deeper root systems and find new sources of
nourishment and strength. Roots, flowers, fruit. That’s the order of “tree”
faith. Strong roots produce beautiful flowers that generate fruit for a hungry
world. That’s why lives that offer the most delicious fruit are often those
that have endured the greatest hardships.
#3- a “tree” faith provides windbreaks for others. After the
dust bowl of the 1930s, the federal government provided money for planting
hedgerows so that farms would have protection from blowing topsoil and drifting
snow, and animals would have shelter where they could live and raise families.
In similar fashion, “tree” disciples are hedgerows that help others put food on
their spiritual table.
A guy is sitting in a sidewalk cafe when he notices a couple of
guys from the public works department working across the street. One of them
digs a hole, and then the other guy comes along behind and shovels the dirt
back in the hole. They go up and down the entire block like this. Finally, as
they stop to work in front of the cafe, the man speaks up. “I’ve been
watching the two of you work, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what it
is that you’re doing.” One of the guys looks at him and says, “Oh,
well normally there’s three of us, but the guy who PLANTS the trees is out sick
The “beauty” business is
BIG business. Primping ourselves, perfecting every perceived imperfection,
curling what’s straight, straightening what’s curly, bleaching
this/highlighting that- products designed to make the younger look older and
the older look younger. Low-tech squished fruit and high-tech spliced genes-
all promising to transform our faces, save our skin, and sanctify our
souls…if only we’d buy that ONE magic product. An Arizona-based cosmetics
company called Philosophy actually sells a moisturizer called “Hope in a Jar”!
The label on the jar promises, “where there’s hope…there can be faith. And
where there’s faith…miracles can occur.” So…undoubtedly for a hefty price
tag…you can buy “hope in a jar”! But obviously the consumer has to provide
their own “faith”…if, that is, they expect a “miracle” to occur. The reality
is that nothing we smear on our face, rub through our hair…or scalp, or
massage into our cellulite is really going to defy the space-time continuum and
fix everything that’s wrinkled, grey, or sagging. Deep down, we all KNOW that
if anything being hawked on the Shopping Channel or on a late-night infomercial
could REALLY do what it claimed…then it wouldn’t have to be hawked on a
late-night infomercial! The problem with that kind of hope is that it’s too
often rooted in…hype: unlikely, unprovable, unrepeatable, unreliable…hype.
Hope based on hype leads nowhere…at best. Hope is like a nice arrangement of
cut flowers. They’re beautiful, uplifting, and colorful. But like cut flowers,
hope can’t keep blooming, can’t keep living, once disconnected from its life
source. It takes more than hope to sustain us…and that something more
is…faith. According to the Sandra Bullock movie…hope floats. But things
float because they’re full of air. So hope DOES float- on currents of
hospitality, momentary dreams and desires. While on quite the other hand faith
has roots that hold it steady and feed it fully, no matter what the circumstance.
Faith has wings that keep it soaring- sending it forward, giving it freedom, no
matter how bad the present surroundings may be. Faith gives hope a reason to
BE. Faith is the reality of things HOPED for, the proof of things not seen.
Faith doesn’t float on the hot air of half-baked human assertions. God doesn’t
simply offer His spiritually thirsty congregations a message of hope based on
hype. He doesn’t weave us a yarn about a perfect life that’s just around the
next corner. Instead, he speaks about faith- faith that stands firm even as the
There’s a legend that when Adam was dying, he
sent Seth to the Garden of Eden to get Oil of Mercy. No matter how much Seth
begged, the guardian angel wouldn’t give him any, but instead gave him a seed
from the tree of life and told him to plant it on his father’s grave. When Adam
died, Seth did what the angel said. That seed grew into a tree that, years
later, gave Moses the wood for his miracle-working staff. Later the tree was
cut down and tossed in the reject pile, where it was later picked up and used .
. . to make the cross on which Jesus was crucified. It was truly the tree of
life. Will you become the tree of life for those around you?
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
The picture to the left was taken toward the end of World War II. That’s my dad! He was…ready?…SEVENTEEN years old, had just enlisted (only AFTER he promised his teacher/principal mother that he would finish high school when he got out! And…he did!) and was ready to be shipped out. What a great picture. They HAVE changed the uniform JUST a bit since then…but the dedication is still the same. He left a wide-eyed kid and, after duty that led him to places he never dreamed of, he returned a veteran.
During his enlistment he served as a gunner on the aircraft carrier The USS Kula Gulf. He told stories over the years of his many adventures around the world, as well as how many valuable life lessons he learned. He was awarded a Victory Medal during service and was honorably discharged in 1946. The opportunity to help defend his country was a great source of pride to him. After he left the Navy, he completed his high school education. He then went down a path that led him to eventually become a design engineer for a major company…even though he didn’t have as college education! When he retired, the person that replaced him HAD to have a Master’s Degree! He was an artist- drawing and painting mostly. He was a ham radio operator. He was a brilliant man- he loved to tinker with electronics.
My dad passed away earlier this year, after spending 7 years as a widower after my mom died. Was he a perfect man? No. Did he do everything right…as a man and as a father? No. But then again…who IS perfect? Who does EVERYTHING right? Nobody I know…certainly NOT me! He taught me a great deal about the world, about life, about how to be a man. And there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t miss him and remember him fondly. (I was recently at a Steak-N-Shake in southern Illinois…my dad LOVED Steak-N-Shake…meeting family for dinner. As I pulled into the parking lot, I found myself looking for his car!)
Tomorrow is Father’s Day. If you are able to actually be WITH your father…do it. Spend some time with him. If you are NOT able to be with him but ARE able to talk to him…do it. Tell him how much you appreciate the things he has done for you. If you can’t do either of those things, then take a moment tomorrow in prayer, thanking God for your dad. Then, take a moment in thankful prayer for your OTHER father… your heavenly One. Thank Him for all He has done in your life…and all He is ABOUT to do! And if YOU are a father…happy Father’s Day! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
Tomorrow- Growing Spiritual Redwoods Vista 8: The Tree of Life
Author and editor Charles Dudley Warner said, “Politics makes strange bedfellows.” Groucho Marx amended that statement a bit when he said, “Politics don’t make strange bedfellows…marriage does!” First off- this is NOT a post that will be taking potshots at marriage. I AM married, and consider myself to be the luckiest man in the world that my wife not only tolerates me…she actually LOVES me! (Amazing!!) No, today we are going to consider the “marriage” of faith and politics.
I was recently reminded of an interesting (and I usually think quite funny) phenomenon. And that is the apparent need some folks have to try and shock others. I recently saw a Tweet on Twitter that said (and I intentionally misquote just a bit!): “I kick life square in the @&#%*, ^%#& it in the @&% and *@$ all over its $%@^! How’s THAT for an inspirational tweet?” And, I would assume, I was supposed to be shocked and outraged at that and respond with some scathing (and frighteningly un-Christian) response. Then I was probably supposed to remove this person from my Followers list. I THINK that was what I was SUPPOSED to do. And yet I fear that, like in so many cases, I didn’t do what I was supposed to do! So sorry to disappoint!
Wednesdays are Bible Study Day here at Stick With Jesus. Today we continue our current series, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Bible. Every week we have walked through a different section. Today we focus on Paul’s letters to individual people.
In the United States, Flag Day is celebrated on June 14th…TODAY. It commemorates the official adoption of our flag, which happened by resolution of the 2nd Continental Congress on Jun 14, 1777. It didn’t become officially a “day”, however, until 1916, when President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation that officially established June 14 as Flag Day. But not until August of 1949 was it OFFICIALLY official, when an Act of Congress established national Flag Day. It’s NOT an official federal holiday, but Pennsylvania celebrates it as a state holiday. The longest-running Flag Day parade is held annually in Quincy, Massachusetts- it celebrates its 61st year today. The largest Flag Day parade is held annually in Troy, New York, which typically draws 50,000 spectators. During this “National Flag Week”, the president will issue a proclamation urging U.S. citizens to fly the American flag.
Fried chicken. Potato salad. Chips. 3-Bean salad. Cole slaw…..it MUST be a picnic! There is nothing quite like picnic food. And that food, good though it is, is made even better when it is served at a Family Reunion. And that is the setting in which I had those foods over the weekend.
When I was in college, I had major back
surgery between my Junior and Senior years. After surgery, I was trying to find
a job that I could physically do for the rest of the summer…picking up hay
was out! I saw an ad- an new restaurant was looking for magicians. I was an
actor…I could ACT like a magician! I hadn’t done much magic to speak of, but
I had always been fascinated by it. So…I went and applied. When I got there,
a man was sitting at a card table in front of the restaurant, which was
obviously not quite open for business. He had a deck of TV Magic Cards (special
playing card that do the tricks for you…no talent required)! He did a few
“tricks” for me, then asked if I did magic. “Sure!” Then
came the response I didn’t want to hear. “Show me.”
Um…er…um…that is to say…I didn’t bring anything with me.” Lame, unacceptable
excuse, right? But the amazing thing is…he bought it! I got the job…and
then set out to learn some magic! I was an actor for years, and one of the
things I learned about being an actor is that you do what you have to do to get
a job. If the director says, “The role requires you to be able to ride a
horse. Can you ride a horse?”, your response is, “Of course I can
ride a horse! I was practically born on a horse!” Then you run out and
start riding lessons!
In my first year of college, freshmen
weren’t allowed to audition for acting roles. They wanted you instead to
“pay your dues” and do the “grunt work”- manage props, run lights,
handle costumes, apply makeup, usher. The first show of my freshman year was a
musical- Candide. Since I couldn’t audition for it, I thought it would
be fun to play drums in the pit orchestra. I got “special
dispensation” to trade the “grunt work” for the pit orchestra. It was
great! The next play was Death of a Salesman. The director wanted odd
percussion sounds that would happen when Wiley Loman was kind of “losing it”. I
again got to skip the “grunt work” and play drums. By the end of the year, I
had played drums for all 4 main stage productions, the mainstage Children’s
Theater production, the Dance Show AND a show produced at a restaurant in town.
Oh, and I NEVER did the “grunt work”. (It was pretty awesome!) Most people at
the university thought I was a music major that first year- I even had REAL
music majors asking me why I wasn’t in any of their classes!
When it comes to talents, skills,
gifts…whatever you want to call it…I have a very odd skill set! When I was
6 years old, I played Snoopy in front of hundreds of people. In 3rd grade I did
a Bill Cosby routine in the school talent show (which I STILL remember…42
years later!). In 4th grade, I did a Flip Wilson routine, complete with full
Geraldine costume (“The devil made me do it!”). I acted in plays and
played in bands all through high school, college and beyond. I did some TV
work. I portrayed a variety of witnesses in courtrooms in Springfield as I
participated in a lawyer training session. I do voices and impersonations. I
have been the warm-up act for the Miss Illinois pageant. Just…weird stuff! So
it seems to me that, if God can use ME for the ministry…God can use ANYBODY!
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 you
believe our purpose in ministry is to make members…or disciples?”
How good are you with Bible quotes? Here
are some quotes- see if you recognize them as coming from the Bible or not. And
if not, then see if you know who DID say them.
“There is method to
my madness.” (Shakespeare/Hamlet)
“As pure as the driven
“There is no new
thing under the sun.” (Bible/Ecclesiastes 1:9)
“Don’t count your
chickens before they hatch.” (Aesop’s Fables)
“The weak can never
forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” (Mohandas Gandhi)
“In the end, we
will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our
friends.” (Martin Luther King Jr.)
“In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the
life in your years.” (Abraham Lincoln)
“In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”
“If you tell the
truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” (Mark Twain)
“God helps those
who help themselves.” (Benjamin Franklin/Poor Richard’s Almanac)
as each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another.” (Bible/1
What gift do you have…to use for God’s
glory? As Christians, we can be assured that we are constantly receiving God’s
gifts. Even during spiritual dry spells, the giftedness is still there; God
never approaches us empty-handed. But we need to be bold enough look for those
spiritual gifts. When we try new things that enable us to find and claim new
spiritual gifts for ourselves, we are renewed. What does the Bible say about
Romans 12:4-13- For just as each of us has
one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same
function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs
to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to
each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith;
if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to
encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if
it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. Love
must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one
another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal,
but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in
affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.
Any parent who travels is aware of the “traveling parent
disease.” This rarely discussed disease kicks the moment you enter the
airport for your flight home. Suddenly, visions of tiny offspring, sadly pining
for mom or dad, spring to mind, and you become obsessed with the unshakable
need to buy them an “I’m back” gift. This is a clear and definable
malady- if you don’t believe me, just look at the gift ship the next time
you’re in the airport! Why else would airport gift shops be stocked to the
gills with ridiculously-priced stuffed animals, felt-tip marker sets,T-shirts
and replicas of every Disney creature ever created? The unfortunate side effect
of this gift-giving syndrome is not only the huge dent it makes in your wallet,
but also the fact that your little darlings no longer greet you with
“Welcome home, Mommy,” or “We missed you, Daddy” but
“What did you bring me?”
Often, we childishly accost God with the same question…and
about the same grace…as our kids. We expect God will present us with some
fully developed, nicely wrapped package. We envision God saying, “I’ve
given you the gift of teaching…so take it and go teach!” Or perhaps “For
you, I’ve brought the gift of leadership. From this moment forward, you shall
stand at the head of the church and…lead!” The problem with having such
a literal expectation of God’s gifts
is that we often end up standing around waiting for a “special
delivery” package that never comes.
There are lots of resources
out there about spiritual gifts,
but the problem with most of them is that they still focus on finding that
specially wrapped, little box hidden somewhere in Daddy’s or Mommy’s luggage.
For many of these resources, a spiritual gift is something we can hang onto and
claim as our own personal possession. But any spiritual gift that conforms to
those standards is about as spiritual as a Big Mac and fries. At their best,
spiritual gifts need to be constantly recyclable resources that take on
different forms and fulfill different tasks depending on the circumstance. God’s
gifts to us are always surprise packages.
An elderly woman walked up to
a little old man rocking in a chair on his porch. Though he looked weathered
and feeble, he had a contented smile on his face. “I couldn’t help noticing how
happy you look,” she said. “What’s your secret for a happy life?” “Well, I
smoke three packs of cigarettes a day,” he said, waving a wrinkled hand through
the air, with a smoldering cigarette between his thumb and finger. “I also eat
fatty foods, drink to excess and never exercise.” “That’s amazing!” said the
woman. “How old are you?” His answer? “26!” Life is a gift, and
right now, each of us is nurturing a profound spiritual gift inside…and we
don’t even know it. Most of us are just flat too scared to try out the gift we
have. In fact, we tend to pathologically avoid situations where our gifts might
accidentally get recognized and put to use.
Are you a leader? Then
whatever you do…don’t volunteer to help organize that new ministry! Are you a
speaker? Then by all means don’t speak those words that keep landing on the tip
of your tongue. Are you compassionate? Then great heavens above don’t offer to
shelter the homeless and feed the hungry. Are you a teacher? Then I can’t
stress enough- don’t you dare use those gifts to communicate ideas and reveal
information to others. Are you a prophet? Then I better not see you sharing
anything that might make a difference. Sometimes the spiritual gifts God gives
us may not be what we think we’re any good at or what we find particularly
pleasing or enjoyable to do. Our spiritual gift might be something we have to
work long and hard at before we feel any scrap of comfort…let alone
expertise. God offers us these gifts not to glorify our abilities or highlight
our weaknesses, but to help maintain the Body of Christ. Fitness experts
preach, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” We need to flex our
spiritual muscles in order to keep the Body of Christ fit and strong.
New birth is a requirement
for spiritual redwoods. Botanists have made an interesting
discovery about trees. They’ve found that when the roots of two trees touch,
there is a substance present that reduces competition. A yet unknown fungus helps
link roots of various trees, including dissimilar species. In this way a whole
forest can be incorporated together. Some trees have better access to
nutrients, other trees better access to water, and still others better access
to sunlight. They cooperate with each other, and that cooperation enables them
to not just survive but thrive! New birth is a
requirement for spiritual redwoods.
Mark Twain talked about being upset at the discord he saw among God’s
creatures. He decided to carry out an experiment. He put a cat and a dog in a
cage. He said that within an hour the cat and dog were friends. Next he added a
rabbit and all three became friends. Over the next several days he added a fox,
a goose, a squirrel, and some doves. Finally, he added a monkey to the mix.
They all lived together in harmony. So he decided to experiment with religion.
In another cage he confined an Irish Catholic, a Scottish Presbyterian, a
Muslim, a Methodist, a Buddhist, and a Salvation Army Colonel. He stayed away
for two days and came home to record the results. Not a single specimen was
left alive. This tongue-in-cheek story resonates well with conditions in our
world. All too often we look at Christianity as a duty… an obligation.
Imagine if we saw faith as a gift to be received with gratitude and expressed
with joy. Then our attitude would not be to anticipate what’s required of us but instead what
opportunities are open to us to use the gifts God’s given us. God has given
each one of us a special gift that sets us apart from others. Like snowflakes,
no two of us are alike and each one of us has something special to share.
are all God’s gifted people. Roberto Clemente was one of the greatest baseball
players ever. A reporter interviewed him and compared him with the great Willie
Mays. Anyone would have been flattered by the comparison… and Clemente
was. But when the reporter was done, Clemente said, “Thank you…but nonetheless
I play like Roberto Clemente.”
Wilkinson, onetime coach of both the University of Oklahoma and the St. Louis
football Cardinals once described football as “50,000 people who
desperately need exercise watching 22 people who desperately need rest.”
That might well describe how many churches operate- a few dedicated people
exhaust themselves trying to do the work of the church while many others sit in
the stands, munching hot dogs and wondering why more isn’t being done? Imagine
if all who are able exercised their particular gifts so that the whole body
would be built up, strengthened and enriched. Some argue that none of us have
ever seen Jesus, and we don’t even know anybody who has. But I would argue that
we HAVE seen Jesus…in the lives of others.
the last day of the season of Easter, also known as Pentecost Sunday- the day
we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit on the followers of Jesus gathered in
the Upper Room. They were waiting, not knowing what to do, not know what would
happen, just…waiting. Then, suddenly the Holy Spirit, like a great wind, came
upon them, and things like tongues of fire came down on each one of them, and
they each received…wait for it…a gift from God. They each gained the ability to
speak another language. You see, there were thousands of people in town for a
religious festival; people from all around the empire, people who spoke a wide variety
of languages. But with these gifts, Jesus’ followers were able to immediately
go out into the streets and talk with these people in their native tongue,
sharing the Good News of great joy that is for all people.
There’s a denominational church magazine
that includes a section of church “help wanted” Some of the ads use
high-sounding language to describe what they are looking for: “Dynamic,
energy-filled, imaginative, innovative, enthusiastic, with unrelenting desire
…” And they often describe themselves in glowing terms as well:
“Rapidly growing, historic, in a beautiful community, with excellent
facilities …” But recently and ad ran that was a bit more…honest:
“Imperfect church, imperfect pastor, seeks imperfect Director of Christian
Education…in order that grace may abound.” And they were swamped with
applicants! Maybe we should put
an ad in the local newspaper: “Imperfect church, imperfect pastor,
imperfect members, invites imperfect visitors…so that grace may abound!” If
we regularly use our spiritual gifts,
they will help us have the strength we need- both in the here and now AND in
the great about-to-be. We can depend on the faithfulness…and the giftedness…of
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
Do you recognize the clown to the left? (Isn’t that a song? “Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right. Here I am…stuck in the middle with you.” Anyway…!) That is yours truly! I was doing magic on the Crow Indian reservation in Montana in that picture. A bit…frightening…isn’t it? It appears that I am doing the tried and true Cut and Restored Rope trick in this shot, but I could be wrong. It is obviously something with ropes. Ropes are great magic props- there are lots of things to be done with them and them pack well! I was told, anytime I wore that particular clown outfit, that I looked like a scary biker clown. In fact, that became that character’s name- Scary Biker Clown. (I should probably get a t-shirt printed up!)
I have been a magician longer than I have been a minister. (In fact, I been LOTS of things longer than I’ve been a minister!) I started dabbling in it when I was a kid. I took another small step forward in college when a classmate was a working magician- that caught my attention. Then I went the rest of the way when I lied about my skills and got a gig as a magician at a restaurant…I have written about that before. I have used magic MANY times since I have been in the ministry…as recently as a few days ago when I entertained the Kindergarteners at their Fun Day at the park on the last day of school. And as long as I have been using magic as a tool for ministry, I have had people complain that magic shouldn’t be connected to the church or to faith…it’s “evil”. I had a very well-intentioned woman at a church once decline my offer to entertain for free at their fundraising event once she found out what I did. She said, “WE don’t think magic belongs in the church!” I translated that to, “I don’t believe magic belongs in the church!”
I have people complain to me about all sorts of things related to magic. “How can you condone children reading Harry Potter? It’s evil!” My first question to the is, “Have you READ Harry Potter?” And like any good attorney, I know the answer to that question before I ask it. Of course they haven’t. My second question is, “Did you watch the Wizard of Oz when you were a kid? How about Mary Poppins? Nanny and the Professor? They are ALL built on a solid foundation of…ready…magic!”
Now, don’t get me wrong. If folks are wanting to do what we all think of as “black magic” in the church- sacrifice small animals, draw pentagrams on the floor and chant things, smear pig’s blood on each other and like that- then I would frown on that. But to use magic, or any number of other tools for that matter, to get people’s attention and draw them into a conversation about God…seems like a good thing to me. It’s not whether or not you read Harry Potter that matters to me…it’s what you DO with it. It’s a tool…a tool that has singe-handedly revived the art of reading for an entire generation or two. I don’t even particularly care for the books…not my cup of tea so to speak…but GO J. K. Rowling! If reading Harry Potter or watching the Wizard of Oz or Mary Poppins is going to be the downfall of western civilization, then we as parents are SERIOUSLY missing the boat. Only in a complete vacuum where there is seriously inadequate parental influence can those benign, somewhat insipid bits of entertainment have the dark powers people want to give them
Tomorrow is Magic Day. Yep, that’s right… Magic Day. Tomorrow, thank God for the many and varied ways He has provided us to reach others in His name. Thank Him that, to help someone better understand God, we have to first build relationship with them. And to build relationship, we have to have something that will break the ice. Thanks for stopping by-0 I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!