M1SS1ON Joplin- Day 4

     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!

     Fortunately, that’s NOT yesterday’s highlight. We sent 3 work crews out for the day- one went to the  Distribution Center we have frequented all week, one went to a Christian publishing company to them move things from an old location to a new location, and one went out with Americorps to work clearing debris from the affected areas. For the first time since we got here, I went out with the Americorps folks. Oh my! First of all, it is VERY hard work! You show up at the stadium parking lot of the local university. From there, you take a bus to a staging area in the high school parking lot…the high school that was BADLY damaged by the tornado. Then, you get on another bus that takes you to the work site. We were dropped off at a street corner. (Someone  asked me where specifically I worked and I had to tell them I didn’t know- there are NO street signs left in that part of the city.) Then, the foreman of the crew explains the particulars of the job. (Some home owners haven’t given specific permission and so we had to stay out of the backyard and the foundation of the house. Then they explain how things are to be sorted-  metal in one pile, construction wood in another pile, tree wood in another, debris in another, hazardous in another, and any personal belonging that are found in yet another. Then they explain the safety rules- you HAVE to wear a mask. If you step on a nail (an INCREDIBLY easy thing to do out there), they have a nurse ON HAND who will give you a tetanus shot and clean and dress the wound. If you start feeling badly, they will call a bus for you and take you back to the staging area.
      There were easily 50 people in the crew that I was a part of. We attacked the house we were told to start  on, and by lunchtime, we had finished that house and the three next to it. Here is a picture of the area in which we worked yesterday.
     And BOY was it hot! The air  temperature reached 100 degrees…I shudder to think what the heat index was! They stress drinking lots of water and taking breaks when you need to. (I easily drank 15 or more bottles of water PLUS 4 bottles of Gatorade! Sometimes the pile of empty water bottles rivals the pile of debris! OK…maybe not!) The work consists of picking up the large pieces and hauling them to the curb, then shoveling the small pieces into a wheelbarrow and wheeling that to the curb. Periodically guys come by and pick up the scarp metal for salvage, and about once a day the Corp of Engineers comes through with this amazing machine that looks like to huge long dumpsters connected by a crane in the middle. They scoop up the debris that is on the curb and move on. 
     At lunchtime, they either bus you or have you walk (depending on the distance) to one of their sites (we ate at the Red Cross tent). We expected bologna and cheese sandwiches. But yesterday they served a beef roast, mashed potatoes, green beans and fruit salad. You have a choice of drink, fresh fruit, desserts, granola bars…you name it, it’s there for the taking. After about a 45 minute break, we walked back to the job site to continue working. (I was HARD to get motivated after a great lunch and 100 degree weather, let me tell you!) 
     Perhaps the hardest thing about the day, surprisingly enough, wasn’t the work itself (although it was hard). Perhaps the hardest thing was finding the personal belongings. And the strange thing is that we found lots of things at one house and basically nothing at the house next door. A child’s shoe. A doll. Scattered baseball cards. A Voter’s Registration card. Dishes. Clothes. Food. And maybe the hardest are the pictures. Pictures of little kids playing, not a care in the world. And as you look at those pictures, you wonder what happened to that little girl the night the tornado hit. Was she home? Was she scared? Did she survive? If she did, how traumatized is she? Will her life ever be the same? It’s almost overwhelming. These are the images that stick in your head, encouraging you to do all you can for these people while you’re here. And in the middle of all this devastation, we found a simple message of hope- a scraggly but determined rose bush, growing out of the foundation of a house, illustrating that hope and beauty can grow out of the ashes of tragedy.
     Today is our next-to-last full day here- we start back on Saturday morning. And while it will be great to get back in our own beds, I pray we don’t go back to our old lives. I pray that this experience and others like it will change us from who we were to who God calls us to be. That IS the beauty of mission work! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!


     Tomorrow- M1SS1ON Joplin- Day 5

M1SS1ON Joplin- Day 3

     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 had another great day yesterday. Some of us went back to the Distribution Center to help displaced folks get much needed supplies. I put one of my hobbies into play and spent the day in the kitchen, helping cook lunch for the volunteers. (I made tubular noodles in a Velveeta reduction…please to enjoy!) Others from our group went out with Americorps, clearing debris. Still others went to a man’s house and helped him carry his house…yes, his house…piece by piece to the curb so that the proper authorities can come and cart it off. Here is a picture of just a small portion of the effected area. It truly looks like a war zone.

      We arrived back “home” a bit more tired and a bit more touched by God…and with a tray full of Chick-Fil-A sandwiches for dinner!!
     But the best part of the day, at least for me, was after dinner. My cousin, who was one of thousands of people displaced by the tornado here, came with part of her family to visit and share their story. Theirs is a powerful and moving story of “what if” and “almost was”. They barely survived the storm, and a number of events happened in those few precious minutes that, had they happened the least little way differently, they would have NOT survived. Two things struck me about their visit- 1. it was great to see her and spend a little tile with her, and 2. her family’s faith, in the midst of overwhelming circumstances, was SO obvious. I also think it is what has helping them get through this. I have heard SO many people here, time and time again, tell me, with absolute certainty, that God is with them and will see them through. The faith and spirit of this community is truly remarkable! 
     The folks on the trip with me have been nothing short of amazing. They have done everything that has been asked of them…and so much more. There have been times when we weren’t sure what we would be doing the next day, the next hour, the next minute. There have been times when we weren’t sure what or where dinner would be. There have been times when 6 people were already ahead of you in line for the shower and hot water seemed but a memory. But through it all…they have been steadfast and faithful. My experience is that this sort of activity just brings out the best in people. They step up and do what is needed, and they do with a smile on their face and the spirit of God in their heart!

     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow for another M1SS1ON update AND…stick with Jesus!

     Tomorrow- M1SS1ON Joplin- Day 4

M1SS1ON Joplin- Day 2

     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!) 

     5 from our group went to work with Americorps. They met at the university in Joplin, got on a bus and went to various job sites. Our folks spent the day moving broken rock and brick…creating a “wall” 6′ high and 25′ long! They were wiped OUT when they got back! The rest of the group went to a survivor distribution center set up at a church in Joplin. It was a relatively well-oiled machine. They have a number of large tents (the type you would have for a wedding reception); each one had a different type of supplies. I worked in the Cleaning Supply tent most of the day…at least when I wasn’t doing Parking Patrol- helping folks who arrived know where they should head. It is truly amazing what people in Joplin need that we take SO much for granted- dish soap, paper towels, laundry detergent, pillows. 
     The best thing about working at the Distribution Center was getting to meet the people and hear their stories. And they really want…perhaps need…to tell their stories. There was Luke, who took his handicapped wife and grandkids down into the storm cellar when the storm hit. When they emerged…their house was simply gone from over the top of them. And yet, in the midst of such devastation, Luke still has the faith to tell me that God has blessed him so much. Amazing! Then there was Teresa, who lived in a trailer park. The park HAS a storm cellar…but the owner doesn’t maintain it so it had 3′ of water AND snakes in it! She, her daughter and her son-in-law threw the grandkids in the car and literally drove as fast as the car would take them to WalMart, which was the nearest place they could get to. Her grandkids were being pulled off the ground as they ran, hand in hand, into the store. She has nothing left, but she still thanks God for a family that is alive. “I can get a new house!” Amazing!
     After working ALL day, 12 of us loaded into the church van and drove through the area devastated by the tornado. Block after block of…nothing. It looked like a war zone. Not a single building left truly standing. Not one tree with bark or limbs left on it. The hospital was devastated. The high school. Churches. Homes. Businesses. Lives…randomly and indiscriminately wiped off the face of the map. It was hard to even picture that this had once been a community with families carving out a life. Family photos strewn among the debris. A desk chair standing alone in the middle of a clear spot. Part of a bed. And the debris. And this is all after a month…a MONTH of recovery efforts. I truly can’t imagine what it looked like that 1st morning after. Tears ran down my cheeks as I drove a van full of silent youth and adults through what seemed like post World War 2 Germany. In fact, tears well up as I write this…the emotions are so strong. 
     If you think your life sucks…come to a place like Joplin, MO…even for just one day- roll your sleeves up, work hard…and talk to the people. I guarantee by the end of the 1st day life will seem s whole lot better by comparison. As I said, yesterday- you come to a place like this expecting to touch people’s lives…but you go away having YOUR life touch in a much greater way! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow for another M1SS1ON update AND…stick with Jesus!


     Tomorrow- M1SS1ON Joplin- Day 3

M1SS1ON Joplin- Day 1

     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. 

     We arrived in Carl Junction, MO (it’s just a skip and a jump from Joplin) about 8:30PM. We are staying in a Christian Church (is it OK for Methodists to stay in a CHRISTIAN Church? I’ll need to look into that one!), so we found who we needed to find and began to settle in…as it were! The males are sleeping in the gym…one large room separated by  a 6′ portable wall. We BARELY found room among those who are already here to set up our cots and stow our gear. The females are on the 2nd floor…they have their own room! BUT…I have been told that they are quite…CLOSE! There appears to be about 50 people already living in this church, along with the 17 we added last night. I am fortunate that the church has WiFi…I am sitting in the “church library” writing this!
     After we got settled, we met as a group to make plans for the morning. Today, 5 of us are headed out to a college in Joplin to work with Americore- they will be part of larger work crews cleaning up debris. The rest of us will head to another Christian Church, this one is IN Joplin, where we will work in a Distribution center that has been set up there. Folks from the area who have been displaced by the tornado, and there a LOT of them, come to this center for basic needs- food, water, personal items, etc.  We will work in a variety of jobs there, including cooking for the volunteers. 
     I have been leading Mission Trips for as long as I’ve been in the ministry, and yet I NEVER cease to be amazed at the willingness of people to roll up their sleeves and help others. It is truly amazing and inspiring. The other thing that continually amazes me about these trips is that everyone leaves home planning on “helping people”…and they do. But by the time the head back home, they realize they have received MUCH more than they gave! THAT is the beauty of mission work!
     Thank you for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and keep us in your prayers, come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!



Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow for another M1SS1ON update AND…stick with Jesus!


     Tomorrow- M1SS1ON Joplin- Day 2

God Is Here

         Recently
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!” 

    Today
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!”

    Sounds
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?

    Luke
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,
“Yes!”

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
presence.

    A
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.

    God
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
for it.

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

     Tomorrow- M1SS1ON Joplin- Day 1

All My Bags Are Packed, I’m Ready To Go

     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!

     Now…here we are. We leave tomorrow, right after church. “We” is 17 folks from my church- 8 women and 9 men, 6 youth and 11 adults. Tomorrow, we will load into 4 vehicles (including our 12-passenger church van) and “get your motor running, head out on the highway, looking for adventure, whatever comes our way. BORN TO BE WILD!” Oh…sorry…I got a bit carried away! But I’m better now! 
     We will drive as “straight through” as 17 people can drive, arrive in Joplin sometime tomorrow night and get settled in for the night. (We are sleeping in a church on cots that we are bringing.) Monday morning, we begin the adventure. Some of us will be working in a Distribution Center, set up to help provide daily needs for displaced folks. We will load, unload, stock, restock and even be “personal shoppers”, assisting folks as they gather their materials. Others of us will be going out with work crews, continuing the clean-up effort. In the evening, we will…well…I don’t really KNOW what we’ll do yet, but we’ll think of something constructive! Next Saturday, we’ll “pack it up and tear it down”, then head home, a bit more tired and a bit more connected to God!
     The amazing thing about being involved in mission work is that you go out with the intention of helping people- a noble plan. And you DO help people. BUT…in the end you realize that you GOT much more than you gave…no matter HOW much you gave!! If you feel God calling you to greater involvement, I would highly encourage you to take that leap of faith. You don’t have to start with a week-long trip into a devastated area. You could start with a couple of hours at the local food pantry, homeless shelter or other para-church  organization. They ALL could use the help and they would all welcome you. And as you do that work, pay attention to what it is doing…to you. You will notice that, as you help those other people, you will feel a change being to happen in you. And like a drug, it will make you want to do more so that you can experience more of that change. It’s a GREAT cycle of change and spiritual growth. Step out and try it!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back for the next several days to keep up with our trip, and stick with Jesus!

     Tomorrow- God is here!

The Night the Lights Went Out In…Central Illinois!

     “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? 

     There is a Saturday Night Live skit that features Will Ferrell. (I know, “That doesn’t narrow it much, pastor! Give me a chance…will ya’?”) In this skit (see, I’m getting to it!) Ferrell plays the anchor of a local morning news program. In the middle of the broadcast, the teleprompter (the thing they read their lines off of) goes out suddenly, and none of the “on-air talent” knows what to do, or more  importantly, to say! Chaos ensues and the broadcast, in true SNL fashion, decays into mayhem. A “Lord of the Flies”-type tribe emerges, ON THE AIR (remember, this is Saturday Night Live!) named The Order of the Hand, fires get lit, people die…it’s not a pretty sight! At different times in the skit, Ferrell proclaims, “The weatherman is dead!” and “The Order of the Hand rules!” Then, just as quickly as it stopped working, the teleprompter starts up again, and the on-air talent that survived the ordeal is horrified over what has happened. 
     We laugh at things like that (or at least I laugh at things like that!), but there is some truth behind that wild skit. Case in point- our power went out the other night. We were out running some errands when a pretty bad storm hit. When we finally made it home about 7PM, we were greeted with no electricity. The Dairy Queen just across the way had power and the high school over there had power, but our neighborhood was…DARK! We made our way into the house, lit some candles, grabbed some flashlights and waited. No lights. No air conditioner. No TV. No…nothing, seemingly. My cell phone and my IPad both were charged, but my phone is a battery hog and so I was hesitant to use it any more than I had to, not knowing how long the power would be out. And while my IPad worked, I could get on the internet (the router, of course was out because…NO POWER!), so my options were a bit limited there. (I mean really…how many games of Spider Solitaire can you actually play?!) 
     Over the next several hours, I found myself looking longingly across the main road at Dairy Queen, wishing I, like them, could have the luxury of electricity! At one point I even muttered, “The weatherman is dead. The Order of the Hand rules!” It is so…isolating to be in that position. And you suddenly realize just how much we take things like electricity for granted- they are always there, but woe to them when they are NOT! I fear that’s the way we treat God, often. We just take for granted He’s there, keeping the lights on and the air conditioner running (so to speak!). But then, something happens and there we are demanding to know where God was in the midst of all of it. And when the crisis is over, we go right back to taking Him for granted. 
     I would like to encourage you to take a moment today to BE AWARE of God in your life. Make a short list of some of the things God does for you every day. Then…thank Him for them. Instead if sitting at the window of life, pining over the fact that others are out there living, we need to make sure we’re “in the game” (spiritually speaking) every day! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

     Tomorrow- All My Bags Are Packed, I’m Ready To Go!

That Is the Dumbest Thing I Have EVER Seen!

     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?!

     I got the box of videotapes delivered to me, and a few nights later I popped one into the VCR (kids, ask your parents…or grandparents…what that is!) to watch an episode. I dutifully sat  through an episode, but one was all I could take. When it ended, I announced to anyone who would listen, “That was the DUMBEST thing I have ever seen!” I then went on to talk about how boring and vapid it was. My wife, wonderful person that she is, patiently waited for me to finish, then said, “But YOU’RE not 3 years old!” (She probably wanted to add, “NO matter how much you might ACT like it!” but was kind enough to keep that to herself!) 

     She had a valid point, so I invited the 3-year old daughter of our good friends who lived across the street to come over and watch it. She plopped down on the living room carpet and I hit “play”. She was enthralled! She sat, in rapt attention, while this little puppet drama played out before her. She didn’t move or speak the entire time. When the episode was over, she said, “That was GREAT! Can I watch another one?!” I turned to my wife and said, “Score at the half- wife- 3, pastor- ZERO!” I bought the videotapes and we used them in our Children’s ministry program!
     Now, let me say that this is NOT intended to be a plug for Quigley’s Village! Instead, it made me think long and hard about something- it made me think about how we invite and welcome new people into the family of God. I find that many churches, with the best of intentions, want to tell unchurched folks what they should like, what they should think, what they should feel. In other words, the Church has a language all its own. We use words and terms like narthex, altar, nave, apse, sacristy, Communion, Holy Ghost, exegesis, canon and Pentateuch…just to name a few…and we wonder why folks have a hard time connecting. We look at what we do and say…and we understand it…so we think everyone else should, too. Yet when people come, struggle fit in and understand, then leave…we’re baffled. As crass as this may sound to some, “marketing” the church to the unchurched is very much like marketing McDonald’s burgers to hungry consumers. If you watch  commercials, the ones that are effective ARE effective because the communicate in a way that their target  audience understands. We connect with advertising that helps us see the benefit, perhaps even the need, for a product or service. And THAT’S how we need to market the church. If our audience is the unchurched (and if it’s not…then who IS it?), then we need to be willing to meet them where they are, not always expect them to come to where we are. Our goal is to make disciples for Jesus Christ…not to make ourselves happy or meet our own needs and desires. Yet so many churches tailor their ministries to exactly what THEY want and exactly what THEY think others need…and that’s just wrong-headed. Instead of dismissing the insipid videotape up front, we need to show it to the target audience and see what THEY think! At the end of the day, Church is NOT here to meet OUR needs but to better equip us to help meet OTHERS’ needs!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

     Tomorrow- The Night the Lights Went Out in…Central Illinois!

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Bible: I Will Remember You

     (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.)

     An elderly couple was having problems remembering things, so they went to the doctor. He suggested they write things down to help them remember. Later, they were  watching TV when the wife said, “Would you get me some ice cream? Do you need to write it down?” To which the husband replied, “No! I can remember ice cream!” The wife added, “I want some strawberries on the ice cream. Why don’t you write it down?” Again the husband said, “I can remember it!” The wife said, “Oh, a put some whipped cream on it. You really should write this down!” “I CAN REMEMBER!” He went into the kitchen and came back out a while later…with a plate of bacon and eggs! The wife looked at him, shook her head and said, “You forgot my toast!”
     There are about 100 billion neurons in the brain, and the memory is a fascinating thing! There are 3 types of memory: Sense Memory, which is the momentary recording of information. It is evoked through the 5 senses. Then there is Short Term Memory, which is a recording of information currently that is being used. We tend to hold it form about 1/2  minute. That kind of memory storage is small- about 7 independent items at once is all we can remember. And unless there is repetition, the information is lost. Then there is Long Term Memory, which is when we store information over a long period The capacity for that type seems somewhat unlimited. There are also 3 categories of memory: procedural- which deals with motor skills. It is slow to acquire, resistant to change, and easy to lose. There is declarative- which is remembering facts that are easy to learn. This is also easy to lose. Then there is episodic- which is the recording of events and experiences. 
     How we remember is important, what we remember is important and THAT we remember is important. We all want to remember the significant things in life. We all want to BE remembered…and feel significant. Memories can transport us to a different time and place. What do you remember? I remember the smell of fresh-cut hay, the smell of a cut Christmas tree, playing with GI Joes, the feel of our chestnut-colored horse, and many other things. Author James Barrie said that God gave us our memories so that we might have roses in December!
     The Bible talks about remembrance. In the story of Noah and the Flood includes the rainbow. In that story, God says that He will remember the covenant that He made to never again flood the earth.  When Jesus hangs on the cross, one of the criminals next to Him says, “Remember me when You get to Your kingdom.” In the story of the loaves and the fish, Jesus says, “You have eyes, but you fail to see. You have ears, but you fail to hear. Don’t you remember?” Again, how we remember is important, what we remember is important, and THAT we remember is important.
     We started this study at the very beginning (Julie Andrews would say that’s a VERY good place to start)- the Old Testament. Now we are in the New Testament. We have looked at the Gospels, as well as Paul’s letters, and we are now nearing the end. Today we look at what are called the General Epistles: letters written TO a variety of people and churches BY a variety of authors. 
     In the Book of James, we learn about the leader of the church in Jerusalem, who is also the brother of Jesus. It is the most Jewish of any New Testament book. It is an ethical instruction for Jewish folks who became Christians. It is NOT a scholarly essay about Christian theology but a practical letter about Christian ethics. It talks about faith with good works and it insists that works, not words, are the true mark of a disciple. We are to remember how to act.
     The Books of 1 and 2 Peter were written by…Peter…THE Peter. These letters urge us to be brave and patient, to have hope, courage and trust. We are to be steadfast, even amid persecution. These letters call for a life of purity, godly living, steadfastness and faithfulness. We should remember that God will keep His promises. 
     The Books of 1, 2 and 3 John are written by…John…THE John…of the Gospel and of the Book of  Revelation. They encourage Christian love and Christian conduct, and they offer praise for the showing of hospitality. They talk about the certainty of eternal life, they confirm God is love, and state that love is the test of religion. We are to remember how to be.
     The Book of Jude was written by the brother of James and Jesus. It was written for Christians wherever unity is threatened and it warns about those who deceive. It also urges us to “run for faith” and remember what the prize is. 
     Author Corrie ten Boom said, ” Memories are the key not to the past, but to the future.” Hebrews 11 says- “Faith is being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you do not see.” The Book of James says- “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.” We are the firstfruits, the “pick of the litter”, to God
     Singer Sarah McLachlan recorded a song called I Will Remember You. In it she says, “I’m so tired but I can’t sleep. Standin’ on the edge of something much too deep. It’s funny how we feel so much but we cannot say a word. We are screaming inside, but we can’t be heard. I’m so afraid to love you, but more afraid to lose. Clinging to a past that doesn’t let me choose. Once there was a darkness, deep and endless night. You gave me everything you had, you gave me light. I will remember you. Will you remember me? Don’t let your life pass you by. Weep not for the memories.” What do you remember? If it’s pain, hurt, sorrow, anger, jealousy, hate, retribution- let it go. Remember what matters, what lasts. Remember what God has done for you. Also know God remembers you, He knows your name, the number of hairs on your head. (A metaphoric reference for some of us!)
     Psychologist Og Mandingo said- “Live this day as if it will be your last. Remember that you will only find ”tomorrow” on the calendars of fools. Forget yesterday’s defeats and ignore the
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.”
     In the 1st chapter of the Book of Jude we get- “To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore!” Thanks be to God! And thank you for stopping by today- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

     Tomorrow- That is the DUMBEST thing I’ve ever seen!

Just When You Thought YOUR Life Was Bad…

     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?!) 

      So just when I was REALLY starting to feel sorry for myself, something happened that put my piddly little troubles in perspective- the bus garage at the local high school burned to the ground! (That is a picture of our firemen fighting the fire.) And when I say “burned to the ground”, I mean “burned to the ground”! There is was a smoldering pile of wreckage left in the wake of the fire. Thank God no one was hurt and thank God it was only “stuff” that was destroyed. But as I looked at the remains of that building and thought about was could have been and what was…I realized that the problems of one little pastor don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world! (Or words to that effect!)
     How often do we do that? How often do we get SO caught up in our own trials and tribulations that we fail to see the problems of those around? How often do we insist that our life is the worst and fail to see all the folks who have situations that are a LOT worse than ours? I guess at some level it’s a survival tactic. But it’s also not what Jesus calls us to do. Jesus calls us to focus on others- helping them, comforting them, supporting them. And He tells us that, if we do that, we will come out the other side of things better off ourselves. And while that might SOUND like a steaming load of tripe, I have witnessed it in action so many times in my life that I cannot ignore or dismiss it. Don’t believe me? Try it! Seriously! Find a person or organization that has bigger fish to fry than you do…and help them. Whatever that means to you…help them. Volunteer your time. Give them money or supplies. Pray for them…and WITH them. Invite them to church. make them a meal. The list goes on and on…but you get the idea. When we are the hands and feet of Jesus to those who need it, that behavior does NOT go unnoticed…or unrewarded…by God. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go call the insurance company again!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

     Tomorrow- Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Bible: I Will Remember You

Father’s Day- Lasagna and Andy Warhol Art

     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!” 

     Then I went home…and was LAVISHED with attention! My wife met me at the door with a fresh glass of iced sun tea. The whole house smelled of an amazing pan of lasagna (complete with sweet Italian sausage) my wife was making for Linner (which is, of course, lunch and dinner combined). She also had a pair of St. Louis Cardinals short and a Cardinals t-shirt waiting for me…I’m wearing them as I write this! Then there was a THREE HOUR DVD about the great moments in baseball history. (I am a serious baseball fan!!) Meanwhile, my sons were sequestered in the garage, furiously working on a secret project for me. Then, about 1PM, just before we ate, they brought their project in. It was the artwork in the picture above. And it is…amazing. It is a personally-designed, hand-painted Andy Warhol-inspired version of our family. Those are NOT photos, but painted from stencils. Truly amazing! (Apparently the serious artistic genes skipped a generation!) 
     Then we had Linner, and the lasagna was perhaps the best thing I have ever tasted! We also had garlic bread and salad, and for dessert, we had chocolate cake with whipped cream icing (my choice) and ice cream. Wow! (I later had another piece of lasagna, at room temperature, and called it Dinner. Hey! It’s Father’s Day! Give me a break!) Along the way, we Skyped my wife’s parents, wishing my father-in-law happy Father’s Day. We also hung out, took a wee nap, watched a movie…it was a full day! And I loved every minute of it!
     This morning in church, I talked about the fact that not everybody’s dad is Ward Cleaver. Not everybody had the warm and fuzzy dad who played catch and taught them how to drive. In fact, some people had pretty crummy dads. So prayers in church included the fact that some people should offer prayers of thanksgiving for their great dads while some should pray for the strength to forgive their dads who fell short. And, I would  suppose, many of us fall somewhere in the middle of all that. I do. My dad wasn’t always Ward Clever or Robert Young. He missed the “dad”  mark a fair amount of the time when I was a kid. Life wasn’t always kittens and moonbeams. But in the midst of that reality, two things are true: 1. He DID provide me with a comfortable home in which to live, clothes to wear, food to eat, and a good education. That’s HARD to put a value on, and 2. He made a complete 180 over the last few years of his life. Once my mom was diagnosed with cancer in 2003, he became a different person….a great person! And I am eternally grateful that I had the extreme honor and pleasure of getting to know the man he became. And when he died, folks came our of the woodwork down where he lived to confirm that fact by telling us what a great man he was. 
     I pray you have/had a great dad. And if you didn’t, I pray you found some peace about that along the way. But regardless of anything else, just remember that your HEAVENLY Father is always there- watching over you, guiding you, supporting you, and…most of all…loving you! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

     Tomorrow- Just When You Thought YOUR Problems Were Bad…!

Growing Spiritual Redwoods: Vista Eight- The Tree of Life

         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
take place.”

     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
seldom see.

    
#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
today.”

     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
years pass.

    
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!

    Tomorrow- Lasagna and Andy Warhol on Father’s Day!

Happy Day, Dad!

      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

Faith and Politics- Strange Bedfellows?

     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 recently had a conversation with a parishioner that has made me consider anew the potential blending of these two “institutions”. Over the years, I have been asked to preach on abortion. I have been asked to preach on homosexuality. I have been asked to preach on divorce. I have been asked to preach who people should vote for. And, in my 14 years of ministry, I have steadfastly refused to do that. That decision has hacked more than one person off…but such is life! 
     Do faith and politics have a place in the same arena? We have ALL seen preachers who did NOT shy away from bringing politically-charged topics into the pulpit. We have all seen preachers who weren’t afraid to stand before their congregation on Sunday morning and tell them what they should think about certain issues and topics. But just because we’ve seen it…does that make it right? I certainly mean no disrespect to those preachers who tackle politically-charged topics from the pulpit- they have to do what they feel God is called them to do. And so do I! 
     My thought on the whole issue is this- if I stand in the pulpit (metaphorically speaking in my case- there IS no pulpit in my church’s sanctuary…on purpose!) and give folks the “truth” about one of these types of topics, then two things happen. 1. I make it clear what I think and what I want others to think, and 2. I alienate an entire cross-section of folks who see that issue differently. And because of that, I don’t think there is a place in the pulpit for those topics. If we are truly to be “open hearts, open minds, open doors”, how well are we living that out if we are so rigid and legalistic that we run people off before they even get a chance to connect? 
     Now, don’t misunderstand me- I have very specific thoughts, ideas and beliefs about these kinds of topics. But they are MY specific thoughts, ideas and beliefs. Some of them are lock-step with the denomination I serve under and some are not. But the beauty of the denomination I serve under is that, as founder John Wesley said, “If your heart is right, take my hand.” In other words, if the “main stuff” is the main stuff, then let’s do this together and not sweat the small stuff. And, at least for the most part, the “big stuff” is Jesus as the Son of God, our Savior and Redeemer, and the small stuff is PRETTY MUCH everything else!
     So, are you going to hear me tell you from the pulpit what you should think, or what I think for that matter, about all of these “hot button” issues? Nope…not going to happen! Are you going to hear me say things designed to bring us closer together as children of God, often DESPITE our personal opinions and beliefs? Every day and 3 times on Sunday! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Tomorrow- a look at Father’s Day!

Sorry To Disappoint!

     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!

     I am always interested when Christians are “baited” into acting in un-Christian ways. Now, don’t get me wrong- if you entice me to act a certain way, it’s STILL very much MY fault if I actually do it. You can’t MAKE me act a certain way, you can only enable me to. So ultimately the credit OR the blame for how I respond is mine…period. But it DOES make me wonder about the motivation behind such behavior from others. Why would you WANT to provoke bad behavior in others? It seems to me there are really only 2 possible answers to that question:
     1. Your experience is that Christians are nothing more than hypocrites so you want to expose that, or
     2. You feel really bad about yourself and so you want to ‘spread the wealth”
     Either seems likely. I have certainly known LOTS of “Christians” over the years who seemed more than a bit hypocritical- they said one thing and yet did another. Likewise I have know LOTS of unhappy people who seem to want to make it their life’s work to make others just as unhappy. So what’s the answer here? Well, like the possibilities…it is two-fold. 
     1. There ARE lots of hypocrites out there disguised as mild-mannered Christians. And because they are so vocal, they are the ones that get the most attention and give the “rest of the bunch” a bad name. But like in any other setting, it is a poor choice to simply “throw the baby out with the bathwater”. To assume that all Christians are hypocrites because you know some who are is no better than assuming all fathers are bad because yours was. 
2. If you are feeling badly about yourself, dragging others down there with you won’t help any…it will only make you sink a bit deeper into the morass. On the other hand, if you surround yourself with positive, “glass half-full” kinds of folks…that will begin to rub off on you. You will begin to feel yourself lifted out of that morass and into a better place.
       Are you one of those folks who love to fire shots across the bow of others…simply because they’re different? Try looking at them as a human being and not as a category or label. You’ll be amazed at what you find. Likewise, are you one of those folks who seems to always be called names or made fun of simply because of how you look or what group you are a part of? Just remember…you ARE a child of God, irregardless of what other people think, say or do. God loves you for who you are! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
     Tomorrow- Faith and Politics- Strange Bedfellows?

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Bible: Hello It’s Me

   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.

      Here is the Perfect Pastor Chain Letter. “The perfect pastor preaches exactly 15 minutes, condemns sin and never upsets anyone. He works from 8:00 AM until midnight and is also the janitor. He makes $60/week, wears good clothes, buys good books, drives a nice car and gives $50/week to the poor. He’s 28 years old but has been preaching for 30 years. He is wonderfully gentle and handsome. He smiles all the time…with straight face. He’s got a great sense of humor but keeps seriously dedicated to his work. He spends all of his time evangelizing to the “unchurched”, but is always in the office when he’s needed. If your pastor doesn’t measure up, simply send this letter to 6 other churches. Then bundle up your pastor and send him to the church at the top of the list. In 1 year, you will receive 1,643 pastors…1 of them should be perfect. WARNING!!! Keep this letter going! 1 church broke the chain and…they got their old pastor back!”
      Todd Rundgren recorded a song called Hello, It’s Me. The lyrics include, “I’ve thought about us for a long, long time. Maybe I think too much but something’s wrong. There’s something here that doesn’t last too long. Maybe I shouldn’t think of you as mine. It’s important to me that you know you are free.” Paul’s letters to individuals say much the same thing: they provide instruction and advice. In the New Testament books of 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon, Paul says, “Hello, it’s me.” These are not public letters, but private ones…and yet they have significance and relevance beyond the personal. These letters include what are known as the Pastoral Letters, which offer “de ecclesiastico statu“, which is Latin for the state of the Church. Paul sees the Church as an island in a sea of paganism. He sees a danger of infection from outside. So he lays out the duties of ministry and encourages the work of ministry. These letters are about being a minister…and so much more. They are practical, discussing everyday problems and speaking of the brotherhood to be found in Jesus. 
     After church one day, a boy said to his mother, “Mom, I’ve decided I want to be a minister when I grow up.” His mother was a bit surprised. “OK, but why?” The boy replied, “Well, I figured that since I have to go to church anyway, it would be more fun to stand up and yell rather than sit down and listen.” Here are 3 passages that, together, tend to sum up these personal letters from Paul.
     1Timothy 3:14-15- Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.
     Titus : 1-11- Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men. At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.
     Philemon- although in Christ I could be bold, order you to do what you ought to do, I appeal to you on the basis of love. So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.
     A minister had served the same church for years, and had decided to leave. On Sunday morning he announced, “The same Jesus that called me to this church many years ago has now called me to leave and serve another church.” At that moment, the choir fortuitously stood and sang, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”! These letters focus on the importance of the Church, on sticking to sound principles, on the importance of holy living. Paul encourages the reader to be bold in the face of opposition and persecution, and through it all…remain faithful. He also encourages believers to treat others with Christian love and fellowship. And I would argue that there’s not enough of that in the world. People are nice to your face…but then mean behind your back. But what if the whole planet got together and pulled a Rodney King…all get along?
     What do other people hear from your mouth? More importantly, what does God hear from your heart? Are there people you treat one way to their face, but another way behind their back? Do you gossip? Do you spread rumors? Do you judge? Do you speak badly of others? I am convinced that people who do those things do so because they feel bad about themselves, and so they project that negative feeling onto others. Are they behaviors you exhibit that you’re not proud of? Are their attitudes you hide from others? What WOULD Jesus do…and think…about what YOU do…and think? Paul says we are to conduct ourselves like we are in God’s household. We are to be obedient and ready to do good. We should slander no one, be peaceable and considerate, show true humility toward all and avoid foolish controversies, arguments and quarrels because they are unprofitable and useless. 
     Isn’t it nice to know that we don’t have to go through a long series of intermediaries to get to God? We don’t have to climb a long ladder to God-  ordinary people CAN get to God. There is no middle man, no magic decoder ring, no special chants or incantations. Instead, we are justified by grace and we are heirs to eternal life! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

What Exactly IS Flag Day?

     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. 

     That’s the nuts and bolts of Flag Day, but my question for the day is this- what does the flag mean to YOU? Here’s why I ask. I have never been much of what I’ve always called a “flag waver”. Oh, don’t get me wrong- I’m patriotic, love my country. But I had always…balked…a bit at pledging allegiance to a piece of cloth. That never felt quite right to me, even as a kid. I SAID the pledge, because that’s what you did, but inside I struggled a bit with the words and their meaning. (I even remember my friends and I singing, “Jose, can you see…”, which we thought was just hysterical. Now, looking back, it’s just…stupid!) Then…911 happened. And a few days AFTER 911, I had tickets to a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game. (I had them for a couple of weeks PRIOR to 911.) If you remember, they suspended all major league baseball games immediately after that tragedy. So we weren’t even sure they were going to play the games for which we had tickets. But as it turned out, it was the 1st game the played. So needless to say, we went. And the atmosphere there was super-charged. It was an amazing feeling. And when they played The Star-Spangled Banner, they unfurled a MASSIVE flag on the field, held in place by members of the armed forces. It was amazing. And as we sang that song…we wept. It wasn’t tears of sorrow…completely…but it was a strong dose of tears of resolve. And as my wife and I stood with 50+ thousand other folks and sang, I paid attention to the words of the song with a new perspective. And when we sang that, despite everything, the flag was STILL flying…I got it. I guess I ALWAYS got it intellectually, but at that moment…I got it emotionally, spiritually. We had just experienced the worst attack EVER on American soil…and we were still standing. We were battered and bruised, but our resolve had NOT wavered. In fact, it had strengthened. And the cheer that went up in that stadium that night as we all stood, hands over hearts, and gazed upon that massive symbol of our freedom unfurled on that field, was nothing short of life-changing. After all those years…I finally had “gotten” the point of the flag!
     Take a moment today to thank God for the freedoms we enjoy in this country. Include in that prayer the countless men and women who came before us to help make that freedom possible. And also include a prayer of thanksgiving for the flag that serves as a symbol to the world who we are and what we believe in. Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Family Reunion

     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.

     The reunion was in Southern Illinois…about 3 hours south of where we live. It was at a park in my home town…the park we “always” have it in. And it was great! I got to see my siblings. Sadly, the last time I saw all three of them together was in January  when my dad died. I got to see their spouses, who I ALSO don’t get to see often enough. I got to see SOME of their kids (3 out of the 6 nieces and nephews). I got to see aunts and great-aunts that I hardly ever get to see. I got to see cousins whom I almost don’t recognize…because it’s been so long. AND…I got to see my brand new great niece. Now, I’m partial, but she is just about the most beautiful thing I have ever seen! It was great- I got to hold her, love on her…and then give her back to mom and dad! All in all, it was a great day- spent time with people I love, had good food, good fellowship…and then had to drive 3 hours back home! 
     At times like this, I am reminded of the importance of family. We all tend to take that for granted, and I might be the biggest offender of all. And I don’t think most of us ignore our families on purpose. I think, instead, that we simply get…busy. You know what I mean- life gets in the way and before we know it, years have passed. And one day we wake up and we realize that we have lost connection…TRUE connection…with parts of our family. And then EITHER try to make our way back and mend those relationships…or we simply throw up our arms and throw in the towel.
     Are there folks that you USED to be close to that you have lost touch with…drifted away from? My guess is…yes. First- don’t beat yourself up over it. Whatever the reason is that you find yourself in this situation, you can’t go back and change that now. All you can do is go forward, committed to making things different…better. How? By starting to mend those fences. By contacting those people and telling them  you want to re-connect with them. And, when necessary, offering apologies, asking for forgiveness. If THOSE are the things holding you back…don’t let them! Vow to make a change. Decide to step up, be the bigger person, and re-establish those relationships that used to be SO important to you. You will feel so much better just having tried…imagine how you’ll feel if you are successful!
     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 7- The Fruits of Life

          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
snow.” (Shakespeare/Macbeth)

·       
“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.”
(Paul McCartney)

·       
“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)

·       
“Just
as each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another
.” (Bible/1
Peter 4:10)

     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
that?

     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.
Practice hospitality.

     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.
     We
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.”
     Bud
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.
     Today is
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
God.
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

We’ve Got Magic To Do!

     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!