July 31- God Is Forgiveness

          A married couple had many disagreements,
but somehow the wife always managed to stay calm and collected. One day her
husband commented on his wife’s restraint. “When I get mad at you, you never
fight back. How do you control your anger?” “I work it off by cleaning the
toilet.” “How does that help?” “I use your toothbrush!” A motorcycle cop
crashed his bike, suffering injuries to his foot and ankle. But when he woke up
in the hospital, he had a large bandage securely taped to his rather hairy
chest; removing it was going to be a slow, painful process. As he examined the
bandage more closely, he saw a note written right on it with a Sharpie. The
note read- “A gift…from the nurse you gave a ticket to last week!” Forgiveness
is tough!

     Today we continue our current sermon
series, God Is…, which focuses on 10 characteristics of God- 10 things about
God that are designed to help us better understand…and connect with…Him. So
far, we have talked about the fact that God is here, God is freedom, God is
prayerful, God is the Arbiter and God is security. Today, we focus on the fact
that God is forgiveness. Forgiveness deals with perhaps the most unpleasant
thing in life- when somebody wrongs you. I’m not talking about some piddly
little thing here- I’m talking about someone who has DONE YOU WRONG!
Forgiveness deals with behavior- if the behavior could be excused, it wouldn’t
need to be forgiven, just accepted. The reason forgiveness is so difficult is because
it deals with that which seems inexcusable, unacceptable, unforgivable. Hearts
easily become fertile fields for the roots of bitterness.

     The word itself points to how difficult
the whole thing is. “Forgiveness” literally means “to let go of” or
“to send away.” Forgiveness is when you let go of the bitterness you feel
toward someone else and give it over to God. It’s a willingness to turn the
offense AND the offender over to God…let Him take care of it. I’ve heard
forgiveness defined as: “Giving up my right to hurt you for hurting
me.” There is only one cure for the cancer of bitterness…forgiveness.

     Few old saws have been more used, and gone
more unsharpened, than “forgive and forget.” Our ability to recall
old injustices, dredge up insignificant slights and reopen old wounds is
masterful. How many of us remember our parents’ anniversary date? On the other
hand, how many of us remember vividly the day we were punished for something we
didn’t do? Though we can’t recall all the times our brother helped us with our
homework, we remember the way he ridiculed us in front of his friends. The same
mind that goes totally blank during an important presentation can clearly
recall every injustice it has ever suffered at the hands of an employer. “Forgive
and forget” is an oft-mouthed but rarely remembered recommendation.

     Maybe you’re thinking: “I AM mad at
somebody. I DO have a grudge against somebody. There IS someone that’ done me
wrong. What business is it of YOURS?” More than a few of us have just a
list like that in the back of our minds in case something happens to us. But you
can’t keep a scorecard. Forgiveness is free, but NOT cheap. We tend to think,
“I don’t get mad…I get even.” But in the end, you never get even when
you TRY to get even. Sometimes instead of offering someone total forgiveness
when they’ve done us wrong, we pray our own version of an old Gaelic prayer:
“May those who love us, love us; and those who don’t love us, may God turn
their hearts; and if He doesn’t turn their hearts, may he turn their ankles so
we’ll know them by their limping.”

     Preacher Dwight L. Moody said it this way,
“The one sin that keeps revival from coming to the church, more lost
people from being saved, and more of the blessings of God from coming upon His
people, is the sin of an unforgiving spirit.”

    There’s a difference between enjoying
forgiveness and experiencing forgiveness. James Oglethorpe once said to John
Wesley: “Sir, I never forgive.” to which Wesley replied, “Then
sir, I hope you never sin.” A lot of people enjoy forgiveness but never
experience forgiveness because they can’t show it.  Forgiveness experienced becomes forgiveness
expressed. Those who have truly experienced forgiveness can’t help but show
forgiveness. Forgiveness is both an attitude and an action. The attitude frees
the forgiver, and the action frees the forgiven. Forgiveness is both real and
liberating- it will free you to forgive others and also free you to carry out what
is often the hardest task of all- forgiving yourself. Being able to forgive
means being able to expose a weakness to someone else- admitting that they have
successfully hurt you.

     Of the seven deadly sins, anger is
probably the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances
long past, to roll your tongue around the prospect of bitter confrontations
still to come, to savor both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving
back…is a feast fit for a king. The problem, however, is that what you’re
wolfing down…is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you. Let’s see what
Jesus says about the whole thing.

     Matthew
18:21-22- “Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive
my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered,
“I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

     A man was bitten by a dog. Later it was
discovered that the dog had rabies. The doctor gave him a careful examination,
left the room to look at some tests, came back in with a very somber expression
on his face, and said: “Sir, I don’t know how to break the news to you,
but you DO have rabies…and you’re going to die very soon.” The man very
calmly got out a piece of paper and began furiously writing. The doctor said:
“What are you doing, making out your will?” “Oh no, I’m writing
out a list of people I’m going to bite!”

     Thomas Fuller said: “He that can’t
forgive others burns the bridge over which he must pass himself.” Peter
asks the question that’s on all of our minds: “How many times do I have to
forgive a brother who sins against me?” Notice Peter gets pretty clever
here- he follows up the questions with a 2nd one…that sounds a LOT like a
suggestion, “Up to 7 times?” The going rate in those days was 3
times, so Peter seems pretty generous here. He doubles the number…and then
adds one more for good measure. I mean, the number 7 is seen as the perfect
number in the Bible. So Peter thinks he’s arrived at the perfect answer. But in
typical Jesus fashion, Peter gets an answer that’s not only surprising,
mind-blowing. Not 7 times…but 70 TIMES 7! And Jesus isn’t simply raising the
bar REALLY high- this doesn’t mean that after 490 times, all bets are off.
Instead, 70 times 7 is another way of saying, “As many as it takes.” Peter was
appealing to the law, but Jesus was appealing to love. Forgiveness has nothing
to do with the law and it has EVERYTHING to do with love. The law has limits,
love does not. The law keeps count, love does not. The law keeps records, love
does not. The law has a long memory, love has no memory. And as hard as it may
be to stomach, Jesus is not offering a suggestion here- He’s giving a command.

     In this passage, Peter asks for help
regarding forgiveness. I’m glad he asked for help because I too need help with
forgiveness. I think we see forgiveness as something we do for God, or because
it’s the nice thing to do. But forgiveness is ultimately a gift we give
ourselves. For our own well-being, we need to purge ourselves of our negative
feelings toward someone who’s hurt us. Sometimes our hurt goes so deep that we
feel we simply can’t let go of it. We say, “But I CAN’T control my temper. I
CAN’T forgive.” That’s not true. We don’t HAVE to carry around bitterness,
resentment and anger. We can choose to forgive. We can…and we need to…for
our own well-being. Forgiveness is one of the best gifts we can give ourselves.
And forgiveness is central to the Christian faith. The Bible is clear- if we
don’t forgive others, we won’t be forgiven. There’s a reason for this- God’s
love can’t live in an unforgiving heart. Not forgiving has the effect of
locking the door to our heart…from the inside. In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray,
“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against
us.” In the Apostles’ Creed, we say, “I believe in the forgiveness of
sins.” It’s not just a piece of theological jargon but a lifestyle.

     Do you remember the famous Brink’s
robbery? It happened in Boston, in January 1950. The robbery netted nearly $3
million, an extraordinary amount of money 61 years ago. Do you know how the
robbers were apprehended? 11 days before the statute of limitations was set to
expire, one of the robbers confessed. His motive? Revenge. The other members of
the gang had let him down and this was his payback. 11 days before the statute
of limitations expired! He sure showed them. He was punished right along with
them. Why? Because he couldn’t forgive.

     Author Philip Yancey wrote: “Not to
forgive imprisons me in the past and locks out all potential for change. I thus
yield control to another, my enemy, and doom myself to suffer the consequences
of the wrong. We forgive not merely to fulfill some higher law of morality; we
do it for ourselves. The first and often only person to be healed by
forgiveness is the person who does the forgiveness.” Forgiveness is at the
heart of who we are as Christians. We’re not supposed to hold grudges, carry
resentments or harbor bitterness. It’s a tough teaching, but one of Jesus’ most
important teachings. It’s at the center of everything we believe about Jesus. It
IS possible to forgive another person- people do it every day. We need to
understand that. We can choose to forgive. The damage we do to ourselves
through unresolved anger and resentment is far more deadly than any damage we
are likely to inflict on someone who hurt us. Why keep hammering yourself? It’s
a medical fact that hating people can cause ulcers, heart attacks, headaches,
skin rashes, asthma, and even death! We are able to forgive because we’ve been
forgiven by our Father in Heaven and we in turn can then share that gift of
forgiveness with others. You can be theologically sound and morally upright and
still be spiritually bankrupt if you don’t have a forgiving spirit.

     A young man got a job with the Illinois
Department of Transportation (IDOT) painting the white lines on a nearby
roadway by hand because the equipment that did that was currently unavailable.
The 1st day he painted 8 miles. The 2nd day he painted 4 miles. The 3rd day he
painted 2 miles. The 4th day he only painted 1 mile. His supervisor became
curious why his production level continued to decrease. The young man replied,
“I’m getting slower and slower because the paint can is getting further
and further away.” If you find your ability to forgive is getting further
and further away from the will of God, maybe it’s because you’re not as close
as you should be to the heart and mind of Jesus. Is there someone you need to
forgive, not for their sake, but for yours? When you find it hard to forgive
someone, remember this: forgiveness is as much for us as it is for the other
person. If you can’t forgive, it’s like holding a hot coal in your hand; you’re
the one getting burned. True forgiveness is complete…not partial, final…not
temporary.

     The alternative to refusing to forgive is
to carry around a lifetime of bitterness, resentment and simmering hatred. Why
would we do that to ourselves? Benjamin Franklin said, “Doing an injury
puts you below your enemy; revenging one makes you but even with him; forgiving
him sets you above him.” Harboring resentment is like taking poison and
waiting for the other guy to die. It’s like burning down your house to get rid
of the mice. When we refuse to forgive, we hurt ourselves most of all. Forgiveness
isn’t a prisoner of your emotions but a servant of your will. Whether you FEEL
like forgiving or not is irrelevant. Not only CAN you forgive…you HAVE to
forgive.

     Rusty Woomer was executed in the electric
chair in South Carolina in 1991. He had been on death row, for the brutal
murder of a young woman named Della Sellers. While in prison, he met Jesus and
was forgiven him for his sins. But there was one final piece missing from
Rusty’s personal puzzle- he wanted Della’s brother Lee Hewitt to forgive him.
Sitting on death row, he watched every day for some kind of a sign that Hewitt
had forgiven him. In the summer of 1989, a plain envelope was slipped under the
door to his cell door. He caught his breath when he saw the return address- it
was from Lee Hewitt. The letter said: “For years I hated you with all my heart.
I could have blown your brains out for what you did to my sister. I only
regretted you were in prison where I couldn’t get to you. But I spent time in
jail myself- 56 times over the years. I felt like a failure. But then I became
a Christian. The more I learned about being a Christian, the more I knew I had
to forgive you. I didn’t want to, but it got to where I couldn’t even pray the
Lord’s Prayer- forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. It
made me so mad- I HAD to forgive you. I prayed about it, and God’s done a
miracle in my heart. I forgive you. We are brothers in Christ. I love you.”
There’s only one place those 2 men could have possibly met and reconciled…at
foot of the cross. At the Cross we’re reminded that we’re already forgiven. At
the Cross we’re reminded of our need of forgiveness. You destroy your enemies
when you make them your friends.

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


          Tomorrow- dodging the skeet!

July 30- How Can It BE July 30?!

     I SWEAR I just looked at the calendar yesterday and it was January. I mean, we JUST started 2011…didn’t we? In fact, I’m still writing 2010 on my checks half the time, for goodness sake! I remember when I was a kid- time just CREPT by! Especially the school year- once late  August/early September showed up, it felt like YEARS before May came around. (The summer months, on quite the other hand, made me feel like I had gotten the DeLorean up to 88 MPH and simply “zapped” straight from June 1 to  August 31! That darn flux capacitor!) 

     You know what I mean- waiting for Christmas when you are a kid was like waiting for Judgment Day…you KNEW it was coming but you couldn’t imagine when. You have ALL the time in the world when you’re young. There is NO hurry, no worry. 
     Then…you grow up. Things start to happen- you get out of college, you get a job, you get married…you have kids. And once those things happen, life becomes a snowball rolling down a hill, gathering speed, size and momentum. Life becomes that train from the movie that was out recently- racing toward the station with absolutely no way to slow down. A white knuckle flight, going so fast you don’t even have time to think…you can BARELY even catch your breath.
     Now that I have your attention- do YOU ever feel that way? If you said, “No”, you’re either…fibbing…or you have the secret that BILLIONS of people would like to know. Of course you feel that way sometimes- we all do. That’s the way life is. And I am convinced that there is NO way around that. Despite what some of the more optimistic theologians might say, we cannot completely avoid the craziness of life simply by being a follower of Jesus. While we are encourage to not be OF the world, we HAVE to be IN the world. BUT…and this is a pretty big but (if you will pardon the image!)…you CAN learn to deal with it better!
     I have learned (the hard way) that the world is going to keep on flying by, regardless of what I do. So, I have a choice to make- I can stay on the train, clinging desperately to the handholds, praying I won’t fall off, watching much of what is important to me fly by…OR…I can choose to better monitor my time, electing to step off the train occasionally, let it go on if necessary, knowing I can either get on another car farther back or simply wait for the next train! After years of beating my head against the wall, clinging to the train, missing so many important things in my personal life, I finally came to the understanding that there IS a balance to be had between a successful career AND a healthy family…if you’re willing to make some concessions along the way. 
     What is YOUR life like? Do you feel you have a good balance, or do you feel trapped on that runaway train, unable to get off…trapped? If you feel trapped- take heart. A. You are NOT alone. And B. Jesus cares about that…about you. Turn to Him. Pray to Him. Seek His presence in your life. Ask Him to help you find that much-needed balance. If you do those things…He will intervene. He will make a difference. You will find a better balance for your life. And the journey will be such a joy! Now, if you’ll excuse me…I’m late for an appointment!!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

     Tomorrow- God is Forgiveness

July 29- A Pork Chop Ministry

     I wrote about this last year…but it bears another look. My church is… famous! In this neck of the woods anyway. And not for what you might immediately think. My church is famous for…ready?…pork chop sandwiches! (I know, right?) 30+ years ago, my church started a food stand at the local County Fair. The stand sold, and still sells, almost exclusively pork chop  sandwiches. (We also offer chips and drinks.) The local grocery store butterflies the chops, then they are seasoned, cooked, sold, and eaten! Since the meat and the bun are consistent from one time to the next, the secret to the sandwich is in the seasoning and the cooking. 

     The seasoning we use comes from a specific source and it is ESSENTIAL that it’s THAT seasoning. (Before I tasted one of these I would have not believed you if you said the seasoning brand made much of a difference…but it does!) They are seasoned on both sides and then allowed to marinate a bit in the fridge. Then they are thrown on the charcoal grill. The key is to sear them, but them cook them slowly and until they are JUST done. They then come off the grill and into an electric roaster, where they are held until they are sold. 
     To say these sandwiches are good would be like saying Einstein was “kinda smart” or  Beethoven “sorta knew” about music. They are amazing! In fact, they are so good that we recently had what we call a “pork chop drive-through” at the church as part of a larger fundraiser. A guy came up, bought one, then turned to me and said, “Don’t you have any ketchup or anything?” I smiled and said, “You’ve never had one of these…have you?” He seemed a bit surprised (and, I fear, a bit offended!) and replied, “No!” I said, “Try it first…then decide if you need ketchup.” He took a bite, his eyes lit up, and he said, “OK…I see what you mean.” 
     This church has made a LOT of money over the years selling pork chops…a good thing. But they’ve also made a LOT of contacts with people they wouldn’t have made otherwise. There are people in this church whose first contact with the church was buying a pork chop sandwich. Inviting them to a concert…or Vacation Bible School…or Youth Groups…or worship…or…or…or…didn’t generate the contact we were looking for. But selling them the best pork chop sandwich they have ever eaten DID! 
     Outreach comes in many shapes and sizes. Knocking on doors and inviting folks is outreach. Handing out Finals Survival Kits to high school students is outreach. Vacation Bible School is outreach. And pork chop sandwiches are outreach, too! The important thing, for me anyway, is not so much HOW you reach them, but THAT you reach them. Because that’s what we are called to do as Christians- go forth and make disciples. And if pork chop sandwiches do the trick…so be it!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!


     Tomorrow- How can it BE July 30?!

July 28- A Prayer For Norway

     How can you even wrap your head around a tragedy like the one that happened in Norway over the weekend? To think that one person could be responsible for taking that many lives is beyond my ability to comprehend. (Quite frankly, to think that someone could take ONE life is beyond my ability to comprehend.) The location of the bulk of the devastation seems to have been “cherry-picked” for it’s remote nature- it took the authorities 90 minutes to get there. My heart hurts as I read the accounts of what happened that day. I can’t even begin to imagine the terror those innocent people felt as they were stalked by a madman with weapons. 

     As I think through this event, 2 primary thoughts come to mind. Please note that I said “primary”- the reality is that a myriad of thoughts and emotions come up, but these 2 are the ones that keep coming back as I think through this.
     The first one is this: why in the world do we give these perpetrators so much publicity? It seems to be EXACTLY what they want AND it seems to simply breed more of them. (This particular individual seems to have borrowed heavily from the thoughts and writings of another perpetrator.) We publicize their names, their faces, their backgrounds. We parade an endless sea of neighbors who say, “He seems like such a nice boy!” We even print portions of their manifestos for all the world to read. These folks seem to do these things with the express intent to gain notoriety. And when they carry out these heinous crimes…we give them exactly what they want! I do NOT understand that way of thinking.
     The other thing that keeps coming back up is that this particular person claims to be a Christian. That has been a centerpiece of the publicity which has surrounded him. And that always raises a great deal of dialogue…some of it pretty divisive. Those who also claim to be Christian yet DON’T go around killing folks tend to distance themselves, saying that he really ISN’T a Christian. Those who DON’T claim to be Christian tend to use his statements as the primary reason they are NOT Christian. “Why would I want to be a part of a group that includes HIM?!” Both sides think they’re right, and both sides are reticent to see any other possibilities. 
     It strikes me, however, that he IS a Christian, at least by his own admission, and since we can’t know what’s in someone’s heart, we can’t truly judge the validity of that claim. We know what we SEE…but we don’t know what’s inside. Therefore, we can’t simply “throw the baby out with the bathwater”, regardless on which side of the fence you find yourself. The reality is this- great atrocities have been carried out throughout history in the name of God. AND great atrocities have been carried out throughout history AGAINST the name of God. But in either case, we can’t simply label an entire group of ANYTHING simply because of the acts of a small portion who claim to be a part of that group. Humans have always done that…and it’s always been wrong. I can’t lump all non-believers as bad people any more than a non-believer can lump me in with folks like this…person…in Norway. 
     We are each unique. We are each different. We are each created in the image of God. Some of us take that image of God and run with it, trying to live their lives in a Godly fashion. Some of us, on quite the other hand, choose to ignore…or rebel against…that image of God and do the polar opposite. Not all Christians are “good” and not all non-Christians are “bad”. 
     I pray that God’s hand would be on the people of Norway. I pray that His healing touch would be felt b y those who have been devastated. I pray that healing, though a long time coming, will begin today. And…I pray for the person who carried out this act.
     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 pork chop ministry!

July 27- Majoring in the Minors: Locust, Anyone?

     (Wednesdays are Bible Study Day here at Stick With Jesus. Today we continue our look at the Old Testament Minor prophets- Majoring in the Minors.) Last 

week we talked about Hosea and his 
personal heartbreak. This week we take a 
look at Joel- and a national calamity. We 
know very little about the author…there are at least a dozen Joels in the Old Testament. We know that THIS Joel was the son of Pethuel, and that his name means “Jehovah is God”. The date of the book uncertain- it  could have been as early as 900 BC or it could have been after the Exile…as late as 400 BC. But in the end, the timing is not so important- 
it’s the interpretation and the application that are essential. 
     I mentioned that Joel’s prophecy grows out of a national calamity- that calamity is a plague of 
locust:
Joel 1:1-4- “The Lord spoke his word to Joel son of Pethuel: 2 Older leaders, listen to this message. Listen to me, all you who live in the land. Nothing like this has ever happened during your lifetime or during your ancestors’ lifetimes. 3 Tell your children about these things, let your children tell their children, and let your grandchildren tell their children. 4 What the cutting locusts have left, the swarming locusts have eaten; what the swarming locusts have left, the hopping locusts have eaten, and what the hopping locusts have left, the destroying locusts have eaten.”
     The older leaders that are spoken of there are not official elders, but instead seasoned citizens who are depended upon to hand down the stories. Did you notice what it said? “Nothing like this has ever happened during your lifetime or during your ancestor’s lifetimes.” In other words, this is the first time in the history of these people that anything this bad has happened. It is so monumental that they are instructed to tell their children and their children’s children, so they will know. This is  NOT some wussy story about a little old bug- this is a big deal! There is a graphic description of the locust plague, and this is not just any plague, but one of “Biblical proportions”, as they say. 
     In 1881, there was a plague of locust in Cyprus, and to stop the infestation, they had to dig up the eggs- 1,500 tons of them! In 1889, there was a swarm of locust over the Red Sea that was estimated to include 120 million bugs and cover  2,000 sq. miles! There were upwards of 90 species of locusts in the Ancient Near Eastern world. but here, Joel talks about 4 different types; not different species, but locust at different stages of development. Look at it this way- butterflies go through what is called complete metamorphosis- they enter the cocoon on thing and come out another. Locusts, on the other hand, go through incomplete metamorphosis- theirs is a gradual change: nymph, no wings, early wings, jumping, nearly grown/cutter, full grown, full wings/flying far. So what Joel says here is that what the full grown locust leave, the successive younger groups devour. He emphasizes the thorough and complete nature of their destruction. The bad part is this- along with the locusts comes drought and famine. 
     We all know that bad things happen to good people. And when they happen, we ask why God is punishing them. But I would argue that, sometimes, hard times are just…hard times. And the positive side of hard times, the silver lining if you will, is that God, while not always causing them, can use them to reach people, to turn them back to Him. And THAT’S Joel’s message- “Repent, turn to God!” He calls for the nation to weep over the devastation and turn to a time of national repentance, led by the priests. If they repent, God will be gracious and provide blessing. But he says they NEED to repent, need to realize that GOD is their strong tower. 
     Joel 2:21-24- “Land, don’t be afraid; be happy and full of joy, because the Lord has done a wonderful thing. 22 Wild animals, don’t be afraid, because the open pastures have grown grass. The trees have given fruit; the fig trees and the grapevines have grown much fruit. 23 So be happy, people of Jerusalem; be joyful in the Lord your God. Because he does what is right, he has brought you rain; he has sent the fall rain and the spring rain for you, as before. 24 And the threshing floors will be full of grain; the barrels will overflow with new wine and olive oil.
     True repentance must be done with the whole heart. It’s an inward thing, not just an outward thing. Joel says, “Hey, this thing happened. Don’t be afraid, but instead be happy, full of joy. Because God has done a wonderful thing. He tells the wild animals not to be afraid, because the pastures have grown grass and the trees have grown fruit. He then tells the people to be joyful in the Lord. BUT, in the midst of rejoicing, we are to remember that it’s God’s mercy that made it all possible. He does what is right- He sends the rain, makes the threshing floor full of grain and the barrels overflow with wine and oil. In other words, God provides abundance. He restores what the locusts have destroyed. And He does it, not because we deserve it, but so that we will know He is Lord. That’s the nature of God- he is gracious, merciful, slow to anger, full of great kindness.     
     “Be happy, full of joy, God has done wonderful thing.” In Hebrew, “wonderful thing” is “gadal”, and it means to cause to grow, to magnify with praise. God causes us to grow- physically, emotionally, spiritually. We are blessed with plenty- as individuals and as a people. Therefore, we need to praise God for His grace, and we need to magnify that praise! 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 prayer for Norway

July 26- Where Were YOU When the Lights Went Out?

     We do three services every Sunday morning at my church- an 8:15M Contemporary Service, a 9:30AM Blended Service and a 10:30AM Traditional Service. It’s always a challenge to get each service over on time, since there is only a 15-minute window between services. If one goes long, it gets the whole thing off-kilter!

     Another fact about Sunday morning worship at my church is that there is not a musical instrument in the building that doesn’t depend on electricity…well…EXCEPT my drums…thank you very much!! So the music of my church is pretty dependent upon the power being on. Which is NOT a problem…MOST Sundays! But this past Sunday…it WAS!
     We were about right smack dab in the middle of the sermon at the 9:30 Blended Service when my headset microphone went dead. It didn’t waver, it didn’t stutter…it died! My Associate Pastor went to get fresh batteries for me (it seemed like the logical explanation!) while I grabbed a wireless handheld mic and continued preaching. But within about 2 minutes, before he could even get back with the batteries, the power went out! Again- no waver, no stutter, just out! It DID try to come back on about 4 times, but each of those lasted about 2 seconds. Then…it was dark. And to be entirely honest, it wasn’t DARK…there was light coming in the windows of the sanctuary. But it wasn’t all bright and well-lit like normal! As you might imagine, there was some uncomfortable laughter and some fidgeting- “what are we going to do now?” But the bottom line was this- I have a loud voice (all those years of acting training!), so we are simply going to go ahead with worship.
     A few folks got up and stepped out, because they figured out that upstairs, where Sunday School classes and the Nursery are located, it was probably a lot darker (fewer windows), so they went up to help. We only had one more song to sing and we sang that a capela (or Acapulco as a former Choir Director used to jokingly say!), so the service ended ON TIME and UNDER BUDGET (as I like to say)! Once I made it to the lobby, there were lots of people milling about, many with flashlights, lighting stairwells for folks and such. During the next 15 minutes, we moved the Nursery to a room on the main floor where there was more ambient light. We started the 10:30 Traditional service on time, but without the organ obviously! We did all of the music we were supposed to do…we just did it again a capela. I talked loud…and we “got ‘er done!” 
     2 things struck me about the morning- 1. I was very proud of the congregation, adapted well to unusual circumstances. They were champs! And 2. how appropriate it was that the power would go out on THIS particular Sunday. My sermon was about the fact that, ultimately, God is our security. I talked about how we look so many other places, but ultimately true security only comes from God. And the fact that the electricity, perhaps the ONE thing we lean on for security more than anything else, was the ONE thing that abandoned us on Sunday, and yet…we were STILL able to worship God in spirit and in truth, with or without lights, musical instruments or amplification! God truly IS our security, our refuge, our constant help in times of trouble!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again  tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!


    Tomorrow- majoring in the minors: locust, anyone?

“Say Cheese!”

     Well…they’re over! After weeks and weeks of planning, calls, scheduling, recording announcements, managing sign-up sheets, coordinating volunteers…they’re over! “What”, you might ask, “is over?” Good question! Church pictures are over! We scheduled them a couple of months ago, and they just happened at the end of last week. For three days, our multipurpose room was turned into a photography studio and our lobby was turned into a waiting room. And then. just as quickly as it came…it was over. All the equipment was packed up, all the furniture moved back to where it belongs- the floors are vacuumed and the trash cans are emptied…things are back to normal. 

     Church Directory photos are a phenomenon that happens every 4 or 5 years…roughly. You strike a deal with one of the Church Directory companies (you get the best deal you can), and then you begin the process of cajoling your parishioners to get their picture taken. It can be fun, it can be maddening, it is ALWAYS interesting! I find that many churches seem to tolerate (at best) Church Directory pictures. They are seen as a necessary evil- not something you really want to do but something that you have to do. I have a bit of a different take on the whole subject.
     I spent 8 years in the photography business- school photography, High School Senior pictures, sports team pictures, family portraits…you name it, I’ve probably taken a picture of it…AND trained other people to do it as well. I stumbled into the business- needed a job. But in the end, I enjoyed my time behind the camera. There is something special about helping families create memories that will be passed on from generation to generation. Over the years I have seen MANY people complain about having their picture taken. But many of those same people have said to me later, “I can’t tell you how important those pictures are to us. My mother/father/brother/son died, and that was the last picture we have of them.” If you ask people what they would grab first if their house was on fire, most of them will tell you, “The family pictures.” You can replace a TV or a sofa….but the family pictures are priceless.  
     My family had a good time getting our pictures taken. The photographer took some of just my wife and me (I especially liked the one where she was behind me with her arms around my neck!), some of the boys (both individually and together), and some of the 4 of us. We haven’t had a family picture taken in quite some time, and with our older son moving away and starting a new life- we were very happy to have some new photos of all of us together! 
     Photographs are little time machines- they capture a specific moment in history and save it…possibly forever. Whether it’s a Matthew Brady-snapped photo of Abraham Lincoln, a sailor stealing a kiss at the end of WW2, the haunting green eyes of a 3rd world girl on the cover of Time..or my family sitting in front of a backdrop in the multipurpose room of my church, pictures freeze moments in a way that nothing else can. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go admire my family’s pictures some more!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!


     Tomorrow- worshiping in the dark…literally!

God Is Security

     Sunday, July 24- God Is Security

     Late one
night a burglar broke into a house. He froze when he heard a loud voice say,
“Jesus is watching you!” Silence returned to the house so the burglar
crept forward. “Jesus is watching you!” the voice boomed again. The
robber stopped dead in his tracks and looked all around. He spotted a parrot in
a cage.

“Was that you?” asked the burglar?
“Yes,” answered the parrot. The criminal sighed in relief and asked, “What’s
your name?”
“Moses,” said
the bird. “That’s a dumb name for a parrot,” sneered the burglar.
“What idiot named you Moses?” “The same idiot who named the
Rottweiler Jesus!”

     Today we continue our current sermon
series, God Is…, which focuses on 10 characteristics of God- 10 things about
Him that are designed to help us better understand…and connect with…Him. So
far, we have talked about the fact that God is here, God is freedom, God is
prayerful and God is the Arbiter. Today, we focus on the
fact that God is security. Dictionary.com defines security as: “
freedom from danger, risk, anxiety, or doubt; well-founded confidence.” Actor Richard
Dreyfuss, star of such movies as “Jaws” and “Mr. Holland’s
Opus”, was being interviewed by Barbara Walters. She asked him: “Richard,
if you could have one wish, what would that wish be?” Dreyfuss pondered
for a few seconds, then said, “If I could only have one wish- I would wish
for inner security.”

     Security is big business. Burglar and
smoke alarms are wired directly from our houses to police and fire stations.
Cars make loud noises in parking lots when somebody pushes the wrong button on
their key pad. High school students walk through metal detectors as they’re
buzzed into their school buildings. There are multi-colored alerts regarding
the threat of terrorism. 10’s of thousands of troops are in harm’s way. North
Korea has nuclear warheads and a restarted plutonium-producing reactor. Never
have so many experienced such chronic anxiety about the state of the world as
now. In an endless search for security, early humans learned how to use a club
in self-defense. As we continuously upgraded our destructive capacity, we
transitioned from the club to the bow and arrow, then to gun powder, through
the gasoline engine to the jet engine and the atomic bomb. And to keep from
simply bringing about the ruin of the human race, we have to find ways to match
our nearly frightening ability to make “bigger and better” with an equally
amazing spiritual and moral maturity.

     Security can be hard to see…even when
you are in the middle of it. We live in nerve-wracking times. Our mountains are
very real. We’re constantly trying to climb over obstacles like a bad personal
history, a poor education, a short temper, illness, addiction, depression. And
how does Jesus respond to all of this gloom despair and agony on me?
“Don’t worry!” And yet…we worry. 20th Century theologian Paul
Tillich said, “Worry is the state in which a being is aware of its
possible non-being. Worry is experienced as one’s own finitude.” Saturated
by a world of worry, it’s no wonder we respond irrationally- devising careful
plans about where and how we will meet up with our loved ones when the world
blows up. And we wonder if, perhaps…just perhaps…Jesus is a
bit…well…naive. “Don’t worry,” he says, as if THAT’S really
possible. He might as well say, “Don’t breath.” It’s NEARLY
impossible not to worry. In fact, the only cure for worry is trust. The only
answer to despair is hope.

     Would you bring along a sack lunch along
when invited to dinner at someone’s house? No! Would you invite 20 people to a
party and only make enough food for 10? Of course not!

Would
you send your kid out into a snowstorm in a swimsuit? Not on a dare! As rude
and self-centered and uncaring as we humans can be sometimes, we still adhere
to a few basics of good behavior and common sense. So why do we think Jesus
wouldn’t? Jesus wants to offer us not just a life of sustenance, but of
abundance. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over. Let’s
see what else Jesus has to say on the subject.

     Matthew 6:25-34- “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat
or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food,
and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow
or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are
you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a
single hour to your life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the
flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not
even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how
God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown
into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not
worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we
wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father
knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and
all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about
tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of
its own
.”

     A man was always bragging about his love
for children. He bragged all over the neighborhood about how special children
were to him and how much he loved them. One Saturday he worked all day pouring
a new cement driveway, then went into the house. While he was inside, the
neighborhood kids got into the concrete- they walked all through it, wrote
their initials in it, even put some of their toys in it…and it hardened that
way! When the man came out of his house, he exploded. And every time he saw the
neighborhood kids, he’d scream at them and run them away. After awhile, one of
his neighbors said, “I thought you loved children?” The man said,
“Well, I love them in the abstract…but not in the concrete!” God,
on the other hand, loves us EITHER way.

     Birds may not sow, reap, or store…but
they DO scavenge for seeds, unearth grubs and scoop up insects. The lilies of
the field might not labor or spin, but they DO know how to put down roots, take
in nutrients, reach for the sun and move with the wind. In order to teach us
how to give our worries over to God, Jesus encourages us to do two things. 1st,
we are to look to the lilies of the field, which, as weapons of mass
destruction cast a shadow over everything, seems…well…a bit preposterous. But
Jesus isn’t describing some kind of mythical bliss. Instead, He encourages us
to study the patterns of nature around us- look and learn. The lilies He refers
flourish for just one day and then are burned as fuel. These flowers have one
spectacular shot at life, and in that brief flash there is beauty and meaning
and joy. Each flower is unique and irreplaceable, but also part of something
bigger than themselves. In other words, Jesus is suggesting that by comparing
ourselves to the lilies of the field, we are facing our fears, and moving
through them. And as we do that, our worry will begin to lose its power over
us.

     2nd, Jesus asks us to live…but to live
in a particular way. He asks us, in the midst of our worry, to live FOR God and
LIKE God. He asks us to strive, first and foremost, for the kingdom of God and
His righteousness, and then, He promises, all the things we worry about will be
taken care of as well. Jesus reminds us that we need to get our priorities
straight. Jesus reminds us of how divinely graced and gifted we are. He insists
that there is so much more to our lives than the quest for physical essentials.
As children of God, our first priority is to strive “for the kingdom of God and
His righteousness”. We aren’t called to be mere consumers of stuff — the “goods
and services” that keep our economy afloat. We are called to keep discovering
God’s righteousness, God’s intentions for us- in everything we do, say, and
experience.

     New Testament scholar Helmut Koester was
serving as guest preacher. Prior to the sermon, there was a baptism scheduled.
During the ceremony, 5-year old Benji, the brother of the infant being
baptized, got scared and crawled under the altar, which had a large cross on
top of it. Despite the plaintive cries of his parents, the church’s pastor, and
assorted members, Benji would NOT come out. Finally the pastor shrugged his
shoulders and continued with the service. When it came time for Koester to
preach, Benji was still under the altar with the big cross on it. As he stepped
into the pulpit, he turned and spoke to the table…under which the boy had
found his security: “That’s all right, Benji, for centuries people have
taken refuge under the cross. You’re not the first, and you won’t be the
last.”

     Jesus chides his listeners for worrying-
about food, about drink, about clothing…all the things necessary to make life
livable. Sustenance and shelter were a daily challenge for the average Joe
6-Pack of 1st Century Palestine- as they are for the average Joe 6-Pack in 21st
Century America. It’s hard to make ends meet…and Jesus knows that. But He
wants us to live a life that reaches beyond the struggles for everyday existence.
He invites us to come along, to join Him in a lifelong journey to seek first
the kingdom of God and His righteousness. And the journey Jesus invites us on
feeds our soul, clothes our mind, and fills our heart. Helen Keller says, “Security
is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of
men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than
outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”

     I read a story about security I wanted to
share with you. It was an unusually cold day in May. Spring had arrived and
everything was alive with color but a cold front from the North had brought
winter’s chill back. I sat in the picture window of a quaint restaurant on the
town-square. As I sat, my attention was drawn across the street. There was a
man, walking into town, carrying all his worldly goods on his back. He also
carried a well-worn sign that read, ‘I will work for food.’ My heart sank. I
had errands to do and quickly set out to accomplish them. I glanced toward the
town square, looking for the strange visitor; I saw nothing of him. I stopped at
a store and then got back in my car, but deep inside, the Spirit of God kept saying:
‘At least drive once more around the square.’ So…I headed back into town. As I
turned the corner, I saw him, standing on the steps of a store front church,
going through his sack. I pulled in, got out and approached the town’s newest
visitor. ‘Looking for the pastor? ‘Not really, just resting.’ ‘Have you eaten
today?’ ‘Oh, I ate something early this morning.’ ‘Would you like to have lunch
with me?’ ‘Sure!’ As he began to gather his things, I asked some surface
questions. ‘Where you headed?’ ‘St. Louis.’ ‘Where you from?’ ‘All over; mostly
Florida.’ ‘How long you been walking?’ ’14 years.’ I knew I had met someone
unusual. He removed his jacket to reveal a bright red T-shirt that said, ‘Jesus
is The Never Ending Story.’ Then, Daniel’s story began to unfold. He had seen
rough times early in life. He’d made some wrong choices and reaped the
consequences. 14 years earlier, while backpacking across the country, he had
stopped on the beach in Daytona. He got a job with some men who were putting up
a large tent and some equipment. A concert, he thought. But the tent didn’t
house a concert…but a revival, and from that service he saw life more clearly.
He gave his life over to God. ‘Nothing’s been the same since,’ he said, ‘I felt
the Lord telling me to keep walking, and so I did, some 14 years now.’ ‘Ever
think of stopping?’ ‘Oh, once in a while, when it seems to get the best of me.
But God’s given me this calling. I give out Bibles, that’s what’s in my sack. I
work to buy food and Bibles.’ I was amazed. My homeless friend…wasn’t homeless.
He was on a mission and lived this way by choice. The question burned inside
for a moment and then I asked: ‘What’s it like?’ ‘What?’ ‘To walk into a town
carrying all your things on your back and to show your sign?’ ‘Oh, it was
humiliating at first. People would stare and make comments. But then it became
humbling to realize that God was using me to touch lives and change people’s
concepts of people like me.’ We finished our lunch and walked out. Just outside
the door, he paused, turned to me and said, ‘Come Ye blessed of my Father and
inherit the kingdom I’ve prepared for you. For when I was hungry you gave me
food, when I was thirsty you gave me drink, a stranger and you took me in.’ I
felt as if I was suddenly on holy ground. ‘Could you use another Bible?’ I
asked. We stopped by my church and I was able to find my new friend a Bible- he
seemed very grateful. ‘Where are you headed?’ I asked. ‘Well, I found a map on
the back of this amusement park coupon.’ ‘Are you hoping to get a job there?’
‘No, I just figure I should go there. I figure someone there needs a Bible, so
that’s where I’m going next.’ He smiled, and the warmth of his spirit radiated
the sincerity of his mission. I drove him back to the town-square where we’d
met two hours earlier, and as we drove, it started raining. We parked and
unloaded his things. ‘Would you sign my autograph book?’ he asked. ‘I like to
keep messages from folks I meet.’ I wrote in his little book that his
commitment to his calling had touched my life. I encouraged him to stay strong.
And I left him with a verse of scripture from Jeremiah, ‘I know the plans I
have for you, declared the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you;
Plans to give you a future and a hope.’ ‘Thanks. I know we just met and we’re just
strangers, but I love you.’ ‘I know,’ I said, ‘I love you, too.’ How long’s it
been since someone hugged you?’ I asked. A long time,’ he replied And so on the
busy street corner in the drizzling rain, my new friend and I embraced, and I
felt deep inside that I had been changed. He put his pack on his back, smiled
his winning smile and said, ‘See you in the New Jerusalem.’ ‘I’ll be there!’
was my reply. He headed off with his sign, his bedroll and pack of Bibles. He
stopped, turned and said, ‘When you see something that makes you think of me,
will you pray for me?’ ‘You bet,’ I shouted back, ‘God bless you, Daniel,
wherever your feet take you.’ ‘God bless,’ he said. And that was the last I saw
of him. Late that evening, the wind blew strong and I bundled up and hurried to
my car. As I sat back, I saw them…. a pair of well-worn brown work gloves sitting
on the seat. I picked them up and thought of my friend and wondered if his
hands would stay warm that night without them. Then I remembered his words;
“If you see something that makes you think of me, will you pray for
me?” Today his gloves lie on my desk in my office. They help me to see the
world and its people in a new way, and they help me remember to pray for my
unique friend and his ministry.

     When we humans are faced with mounting
security concerns, some tend toward the “cabin in the wilds of Idaho” approach.
But to the contrary, as Christians we’re called to reflect God…and live IN
the world. But to do that, we need protection from the evil forces of the
world- because the Church wasn’t meant to hibernate its way into the future. We
can’t water down the teachings of Jesus to encourage passivity and meekness. There
is no greater security than that which is found in Jesus Christ. It’s the
security that allows us to walk with grace and reverence under all
circumstances. I think everybody ultimately wants security. But it only comes
when we realize that Jesus Christ paid for our sins- when we put our faith in
Him…trust in Him. Then we can truly say we have security. 

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

     Tomorrow- did you smile pretty?

Extreme Weather Fun!

     People say I’m fun…but if they ONLY knew! I am merely the giant head on the screen, babbling on and on, trying to keep people’s attention! My wife, on quite the other hand, is the wizard behind the screen, making everything happen! Let me explain.
     I have shared before that my wife is the fun one- thinking up fun things to do with the kids, building lasting memories. (She’s the one who convinced me to loosen up a bit and join her and the boys playing Frisbee in the pouring rain! They STILL talk about it!) Once, when our older son was a kid, we had a few winter days that were beyond cold- I’m talking WELL below zero with a wind chill of somewhere south of -40! Those are days when “normal” people would stay in at nearly any cost. But not us! My wife had read about soap bubbles freezing in that kind of weather…and wanted to try it! So we bundled up and trudged out in the arctic winter. It was SO cold that it hurt to breath. Your face hurt, your legs hurt (regardless of how much clothing you were wearing)…it was just flat cold! And there we were in the driveway…blowing bubbles! (We MUST have looked a sight!) And it was SO cool. They DID freeze, and depending on how much water was in the particular bubble, they either shattered when the hit the ground or the rolled down the driveway! We stayed out for a few minutes, then ran back in and had hot chocolate!
     Well, right now in central Illinois, it is hotter than smoke! Yesterday the air temperature was 97 and the heat index was 118! So my wife says, “I wonder if you could bake cookies in the car on a day like today?” To which my 10-year old replied, “Let’s try!” They dutifully made cookie dough and portioned it out on a cookie sheet. meanwhile, I moved the “old” van out of the driveway and along the street…where it would get the MOST sun and get NICE and hot! Then we put the cookie sheet on the dashboard…and waited. At the hour mark, there was no real change. But at the 3-hour mark, they were clearly beginning to bake! We decided at that point to take them in and finish baking the traditional (i.e. boring) way. They were delicious! 
     Sometimes you just have to let your hair down (metaphorically speaking for me!) and do something a bit off the wall! And I will admit, that’s sometimes hard for me. That’s one of many reasons why I’m so glad to have my wife in my life. What do YOU do to just let go and have some fun sometimes? Is that easy for you? Hard? It IS very therapeutic, so if you don’t do that now…try it. You won’t be disappointed! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
     Tomorrow- God is security

A Professional Painter at the Age of 14!

    I grew up out in the country- my closest neighbor, geographically, was 1/4 of a mile away. Most of the money I made as a kid/youth was made doing some kind of manual labor: picking up hay, cleaning out barns, tending animals, mowing, etc. But the summer of my 14th year (sounds like a movie title, doesn’t it?), the widowed neighbor lady (the one who live 1/4 of a mile away) hired me to paint her house and garage. I had ne ver painted a house before in my life, but assured her I could do it! She got all the paint and supplies (rollers, brushes and the like) and I was ready to go. 

     I started with the garage, because it was small and easy to get to. (Picture a building that would JUST hold a car…and nothing else…literally!) I scraped it (which, at least for me, is by FAR the worst part of painting!) and then started painting. I painted what I could reach from the ground first, then got the step ladder out and began painting the top half. I was about halfway through the top half when…disaster struck! I had a big container of paint on the ladder, and instead of taking it off first, I decided I could move the ladder with it on there!Oops! The container tipped over…right onto me! The paint hit me just below the chin (at least it missed the face!) and POURED down the front of me! The front of my shirt, my arms, and part of my legs were covered in white paint! I stood there for a moment, frozen, trying to decide if that REALLY happened or not! But ONE look down was all I needed to convince myself that, yes, it did indeed happen! So, I did what any self-respecting 14-year old would do…I ran! I actually ran to my bike, flew home, got cleaned up, washed the paint out of my clothes, got fresh clothes, and then pedaled back to keep painting.
     Later on in the job, I got to a part of the house that was on the 2nd floor. The house had a Loft-style 2nd floor that only covered part of the 1st floor. It wasn’t reachable with a ladder from the ground- the only was to get to it was the roof of the 1st floor. BUT…the roof of the 1st floor had such a steep pitch (the angle of the roof), that it was nearly impossible to stand on it at all, let alone actually paint something! What to do, what to do! Aha! I went home and got a long rope we had. I tied it to the front porch railing of the house I was painting. Then I threw the rope over the house, climbed up on the roof on that side, TIED myself to the house…and painted that part! 
     In the end, the neighbor lady was quite please with the job. (She told me, after the fact, that people told her she was CRAZY to let a 14-year old paint her house! Looking back…they MAY have been correct!) The paint job held up well for years, in fact. But what I took away from that job (other than the money I made!), was the need to be flexible and creative. And that awareness has served me well, in a VARIETY of settings, over the years. We so desperately want life to be cut and dried, black and white. But in the end…its just NOT! And if you try to FORCE things to fit into that cut and dried/black and white mold…you end up banging your head against the wall, over and over. If, on quite the other hand, you are willing to be flexible and creative, you will be so much more ready to meet what comes. Things may happen the way you thought they were going to…but you are READY for that! You bend, you shift, you adapt…and life is a whole lot more interesting and satisfying. 
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
     Tomorrow- extreme weather fun!