Saturday, December 31- Watch Night

      It’s the BIG day- New Year’s Eve. What are YOU planning for this evening? I must admit that New Year’s Eve has NEVER been a really big deal for me…even when I was “young and wild”! In fact, the “wildest” thing I have ever done on New Year’s Eve was play drums for a special high-priced dinner/theater event that ended at midnight that night. It was great fun, and any excuse to get paid to play the drums is a good night for me! (I mean, to get PAID for something I would do for free? Forget about it!) In other words, I am NOT your average, run of the mill party animal. And it’s NOT simply because I’m a “preacher man”- I never have been. I will probably share some finger foods with my wife, youngest son and in-laws, watch some TV, “tweak my New Year’s Day sermon…and completely miss the ball actually dropping! (I know…I lead and exciting life!)
     New Year’s Eve has always had a special place in the history of Methodism. The founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley, observed New Year’s Eve by originating Watch Night services in 1740. He also called them Covenant Renewal Services….make sure and come back tomorrow to read more specifically about that. The services provided Methodist Christians with a Christian alternative to what Wesley called “drunken revelry” on New Year’s Eve. Methodist Watch Night services include singing, spontaneous prayers and testimonials, as well as Scripture readings. A liturgy for the Watch Night service is found in The United Methodist Book of Worship. Watch Night services provide the opportunity for Christians to review the year that is ending, confess their sins, and then prepare for the year ahead by praying and resolving to accomplish certain things. 
     Maybe you’re planning to party this evening. If so, more power to you! (Please drink and drive responsibly!) No…I’m not going to try and talk you out of the big party you are counting on. You’re an adult- you can do what you want! BUT…I would encourage you to also spend some time today in pray, asking God to forgive you of any sins you have committed, and looking ahead to what God has in store for you in the new year. I pray that God shows you some GREAT things for your new year! I also pray that you continue to join me on this odd ride I call Stick With Jesus! 
      Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

  Tomorrow- What Is “Covenant Renewal”?

Friday, December 30- Whew!

     It’s over! Yesterday we “tore down” Christmas at my in-law’s house. And within the next day or two we will tear it down at our house. Then, after NEXT Sunday, we’ll tear it down at church. (We wait until Epiphany- the celebration of the Wise Men coming and spreading the news about Jesus to the wider world- is over.) Decorations are safely tucked away for another year. Any presents that didn’t fit (or whatever) have been returned and any gift cards that were received have already been spent. Holiday parties are over- save those tomorrow night on New Year’s Eve. (Let’s see- will I send the evening with Carson Daly or Ryan Seacrest? Is there a choice C…”none of the above”?!) But however you slice it- the Christmas season is safely in the rear view mirror. And MANY folks across the world breath a BIG sigh of relief, wiping their brow and saying, “Whew!”
      And to that fact I say, “What a shame!” Don’t misunderstand me- as a pastor, Christmas is arguably THE busiest time of the year. (Easter gives it a pretty good run for its money, but Christmas wins hands down!) And there is definitely a part of me that looks VERY forward to the week’s vacation I traditionally take the week between Christmas and New Year’s. And the “regular” nature of January and February feels like a mini-vacation all by itself after the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season. 
     But, ALSO as a pastor, I lament how rapidly we kick Christmas to the curb. Can’t WAIT to be done with it by the time it gets here. That’s a shame, because the true message of Christmas is one that Christians need to carry with them all year long. With Easter, there is no Christ. But without Christmas, there is no Jesus to BE the Christ. Christmas is the foundation upon which we Christians build everything. And yet, when I have the audacity to include “Joy to the World” in a worship service in, say, July…I invariably will have someone complain about it. “That’s a Christmas song!” No joke! And since Christianity is founded upon the events of Christmas, shouldn’t we be a bit more willing to carry the “feeling” of Christmas with us into the new year?
      How will you keep Christmas alive in 2012? maybe you’ll continue to smile at people, hold doors open for them, tell then to have a great day. maybe you’ll do something special for someone for no other reason that it’s a great thing to do. Maybe you’ll serve at a homeless shelter or a food pantry. Maybe you’ll visit nursing homes, spreading good cheer as you go. Maybe…maybe…maybe…the potential list is endless. What will you do? Will you go back to “same old, same old”…or will are you determined to not let Christmas die this year?
    Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- Watch Night

Thursday, December 29- Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

    Remember Kenny Rogers? “Back in the day” he was a multi-platinum sex symbol recording artist. Now…he’s a cautionary tale on what happens when you have too much facial plastic surgery! One of his hits was The Gambler. It was such a big hit that it even spawned a movie or two. And as anybody who has actually lived in the good ‘ol U. S of A. in the last, say, 30 years knows, it includes the following lyrics, “You gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.” Believe it or not, I’ve been thinking about that phrase lately. Let me explain.
      When in the ministry, dealing with inter-personal relationships is just part of the gig. If you’re NOT at least being encouraged to help people “fix” relationships with others, you’re not trying very hard. And the fact is this- us ministers tend to want to strap the Superman cape on, fly to the rescue and fix everything. It goes with the territory. I would argue that most, if not all, pastors have at least struggled with that fact. Some have learned better than others how to handle it…but it is a simply a part of the job.
      It seems to me that we DO need to “know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em”- we need to know when it is the right thing to step in an help people resolve their issues. But it is JUST as valuable, if not more so, for us to know when to NOT get in the middle of things. We simply cannot fix everybody’s problems- sometimes they simply have to work through them on their own.
     I recently had such an event. It was a disagreement between people, and others suggested that I needed to “strap on the cape”, step in and fix everything. But as I prayed about it, God helped me see that this was one of those times when I needed to stay out of it and let things run their natural course. Sometimes you just have to take the cape off and let things work themselves out.
     Do you have that gear that pushes you to try and fix everything for everybody? If you do…welcome to the club! But also…be mindful of what you do about that urge. If you step in at the right time, you can make a real difference in the lives of others. But if you step in at the WRONG time, you can make things worse for them AND damage your relationship with them. How so we know the difference, you ask? Did you notice the key word in the 3rd sentence of the last paragraph? “But I prayed…” Prayer is the key to the kind of discernment I’m talking about here. If you ask God for guidance, truly seek it, and WAIT for it, He WILL provide it. And once He provides it, the key is to actually abide by it. So many people SAY they pray about things, but they only actually respond positively to the answer they receive if it already agrees with them. If it doesn’t…”I don’t think it was God talking!” How convenient- God only talks when He agrees with us!! 
     Pray to God for discernment. :Listen for His still, small voice. And then…respond to it. Even if He tells you to simply let sleeping dogs lie. Perhaps ESPECIALLY if He tells you that! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
 Tomorrow- Whew!