Saturday, March 31- “Roger…We Can Confirm That!”

     Tomorrow is Confirmation Sunday at my church. What, you may ask, is that? Well…I’ll tell you!
     In my faith tradition, when someone is baptized, a promise is made. If the person being baptized is an infant or a small child, the parents make the promise. If the person being baptized is older, they make their own promise. And what IS that promise? It’s a promise that everything possible will be done to ensure that the person in question is raised to be a man or woman of God. Boom. Simple. No flash. No frills. That’s it. BUT…that can be  VERY difficult promise to fulfill!
      OK, so the promise is made. Then, along about 8th Grade-ish, youth go through Confirmation. They spend time each week, for some pre-determined number of weeks, digging in to what it means to be a Christian. In MY Confirmation class, we learn a bit about Methodist history. Not TOO much – don’t want to put anyone to sleep! But enough to help them understand who we are and from where we came. We also watch a Contemporary Christian (i.e. “rock”) video, paying attention to both what we see and what we hear. We then talk about what the lyrics are trying to say and what the video is trying to say. We also work through a Christian Case Study each week- a true story (with the names changed to protect both the innocent AND the guilty!) about something that happened in ministry. We reads it and then talk it through, considering what happened and what it says about being a Christian.
     Then, at the end of that pre-determined time, the youth in the class are confirmed. They stand before their church, answer the classic questions of faith (which boil down to “do you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?”) and become full members. And that part of the journey happens…tomorrow! We have 8 young people being confirmed. One of them is also being baptized- one of my favorite things in the whole world! (We ALSO have an infant baptism at the same service! More than 50% of United Methodist churches across the country won’t have ONE baptism or new member this year. We will have 8 confirmands, 7 new members and 2 baptisms – all that AND Communion in a 45-minute service! My older son said, “How are you going to preach at that service?” My reply? “I am writing a haiku!”)
     For my money, if confirmands, new members and baptisms doesn’t light your fire…you’re wood’s ALL wet!! These are EXACTLY the kinds of things the Church is supposed to be doing. We don’t seeking new members just to pad our numbers or “look good”- we seek new members because we are called to make disciples of Jesus Christ! I celebrate this awesome next step in the lives of these confirmands, and if they are any example of what the next generation is all about, I say that we are in GOOD hands!!  
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- Palms, Passover, Passion

Friday, March 30- Coincidence? I Think NOT!

     I recently got an email from (I know, big whoop…right? I get them every day, because I was stupid enough to buy something from them and am now on their email list until the rapture occurs!!) I normally delete them without even opening them. BUT, this particular one caught my eye. In what I call the “teaser”- the 1st few words of the email that you get BEFORE you open it- it said this, “Etch-A-Sketch Products starting @ $11.99 | Wilson Golf Balls @ $12.95 | Vibe Mini Vac @ $15.99…” Let me say right up front, it was NOT the golf balls OR the mini vac that caught my attention. No! It was, of course, the Etch-A-Sketch!
     The iconic Etch-A-Sketch was born one year ahead of me- in 1960. (YOU do the math!) When I was a kid, we actually had one. (I seem surprised because we were generally NOT on the cutting edge of toy technology! The year before we got the Etch-A-Sketch, we finally joined in on that brand new toy craze sweeping the nation- rocks and twigs! By the way, do YOU remember when Mr. Potato Head was nothing but a box of body parts? You had to use a…ready?…REAL potato! No foolin’!) I thought the Etch-A-Sketch was the greatest thing since the invention of fire. I was HORRIBLE at it – always have been, always will be – but I thought it was awesome. That is, until my brother left it up in the back window of the car on a sweltering July day in the Midwest. It basically turned to pudding! (There is STILL some dispute about who actually left it in the window, but I, for one, am sticking to MY story!)
     The reason I bring up the Etch-A-Sketch is probably apparent by the picture I chose. (And no, that is NOT Dick York, the first Darrin on Bewitched!) Recently, Mitt Romney’s  longtime, trusted aide Eric Fehrnstrom was talking to CNN after Romney’s victory in the Illinois primary. Fehnstrom argued that Romney would have no problem pivoting toward the political center after the primaries, because the general election campaign is “almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all of over again.” The Democratic National Committee, along with Romney’s own GOP rivals, immediately jumped on the remark with both feet, saying it proved once and for all that Romney has no true conviction. 
     Now, let me say right up front (or, in this case, 417 words in!) that I am NOT bashing Romney OR his aide. You will seldom if ever find me taking political sides on the site- not my style. Instead, it strikes me that it is NO coincidence that shortly after the “Great Etch-A-Sketch Debacle of ’12”, HAPPENS to be featuring an Etch-A-Sketch. The stinkin’ toy has been around for 52 years, and they SUDDENLY are featuring it?
     The bottom line is this- I get more than a bit turned off by how opportunistic we are as a society. Something happens, and we have NO interest in taking the high ground and responding in a Christian manner. We also have NO compunction about making a buck off of it! Don’t get me wrong- the whole Romney/Etch-A-Sketch thing is silly…AND, in the end, a non-story. But it IS a symptom of a much bigger problem in this country. Where did the Christian values go? And how do we get them back? We get them back…one person at time! Don’t worry about what other do- worry about yourself, and how YOU respond to things. Look back over the last week – the last DAY – and consider your reactions. Have they been loving and forgiving, or have they been sarcastic and mean-spirited? Change how YOU respond, and you change the world around you, a bit at a time!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- “Roger, we can confirm that!”

Thursday, March 29- Lawn Stars

     Rick, The Old Man, Big Hoss, Chumlee…if you know those names, you  watch The History Channel…or, as they now call it…History! They are the stars of Pawn Stars, the highest rated show on History and one of the highest rated on cable! I must admit- the show is a guilty pleasure of mine! We DVR it and watch it when we have time, buzzing through the commercials in the process. 
     My older son, who has a degree in history, is NOT happy with the proliferation of shows like Pawn Stars on channels like History. Him- “What does THAT have to do with history?” Me- “Well, they DO get some historic pieces brought in for sale!” Him- “That’s a HUGE stretch!” Me- “Fair enough!” 
     I have recently decided that my younger son and I need to start our own reality show. It would probably fit best on the Home and Garden Channel, which means we will NOT be raking in the BIG TV bucks! It will be called Lawn Stars! I have included a picture that will be used in the opening credits. ANY resemblance to any reality show currently making mega-bucks on basic cable is PURELY coincidental! (And if you believe that, I have a bridge in the Great Salt Flats to sell you!) It’s focus will be two-pronged: 1. the lawn needs mowed early and often and 2. my younger son is “in training” to take over the mowing. Sounds AWESOME, doesn’t it? I foresee a HUGE audience for this hard-hitting show! (Perhaps I need to try and sell that bridge…to myself!)
     The winter here in Central Illinois was SO mild and spring came SO early that my lawn has taken off like a rocket! I don’t WEED my lawn. I don’t SEED my lawn. I don’t FEED my lawn. I go way out of my way to ignore it, hoping it will go away. But NO…it just keeps coming back, year after year, growing like…well…WEEDS! I have been cutting grass for nigh on 40+ years- I KNOW how to mow! (Sorry to brag, but when you’ve “got” it…!) But my youngest son does not know how…yet! We recently started the tutorials. I picked the front yard because it is the closest thing our yard has to a nice rectangle. We took turns, I mowed the first revolution, he took the second, and so on. When it was MY turn, he just hung out. But when it was HIS turn, I walked the yard with him, helping him see where he needed to cut and how he needed to cut it. It was a fairly successful 1st attempt!
     As we walked around the yard, pushing the mower, talking and pointing, I thought about what we were actually doing. Yes, we were mowing the lawn. But we were doing so much more than that. We were “training”. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” And, for my money, that is EXACTLY what we, as adults, should be doing- training the next generation to replace us! Sure, I could have mowed the front yard a lot faster by myself. But my goal wasn’t speed and efficiency- it was teaching my son a basic life skill that he will use…forever!
     What have YOU taught someone to do today? This week? Whatever knowledge you have, whatever special skills you have- don’t hoard them. Don’t just keep them to yourself. Share them. Let others benefit from what you’ve learned…AND from the mistakes you’ve made. Train them in the way they should go…and they will not turn from it. If we don’t teach them, how will they learn?
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- Coincidence? I think NOT!

Wednesday, March 28- Beyond John 3:16: Keep Pushin’

     (Wednesdays are Bible Study Day here at Stick With Jesus. Today, we continue our current study, Beyond John 3:16, where we look at OTHER “3:16’s” in the Bible to see what they have to say. Today, we look at Zephaniah 3:16, in which God says, “Stay the course.”)

     I am a bit of a thriller seeker. I probably don’t seem like it…but I am! Several years ago, I led a mission team to the Crow reservation in Montana for a week. Late in the week, we planned in going white water rafting. The day we were to go…it SNOWED! Seriously! Some members of the group said, “We’re not still going, are we?” I told them that I did NOT drive halfway across the continent to wuss out now. So 8 of us went and 20 did NOT! It was freezing cold, but we had a blast and I was SO glad I went.
     The next year, the I led a mission team to West Virginia. Some of the people from the previous trip who did NOT go white water rafting asked me to plan another rafting trip in WV. “We missed it last year and have regretted it since. WE are NOT going to miss it again!” It was THE best white water rafting ever!
     The next year found us in Biloxi, Mississippi, with a side trip to Florida for parasailing. It was amazing- 1,000’ in the air, parachute above you, thin cable connecting you to a boat that was so far away you couldn’t tell who was who. It was SO quiet that all you could hear was the wind and the creaking of the riggings! And you realize that, at the end of the day, it is 2 karabiners that are holding you up! One woman was terrified to do it…but she did anyway, because she wanted to get over her fear.
     The next year, we were in Michigan, 35’ up on a wooden platform, getting ready to step into space and ride a zip line. One of the women on the trip stood on the platform, strapped in, ready to go…and crying. But, to quote Lady Macbeth, she screwed her courage to the sticking place and stepped off. Afterwards, I asked her why she went. She told me it was an issue of faith, of overcoming fear.

     So far, we’ve looked at 3:16- Exodus 3:16- which says that God loves us, Daniel 3:16- where we learn that He loves us because…He empowers us. Then it was Joel 3:16- and we learn that God ‘s love leads us through empowerment to THE strong tower. Today, we consider Zephaniah 3:16.

     Zephaniah was a minor prophet during the reign of king Josiah (B.C. 641-610). He was a contemporary of the prophet Jeremiah, and this 3-chapter book is the only real source of information about him. Zephaniah gets after the people for their obstinate insistence on irreverence, immorality and sin. Yet at the same time he encourages them to seek God’s mercy and restoration, because HE promises favor and prosperity. In midst of that encouragement we find verse 3:16- “On that day, Jerusalem will be told, “Don’t be afraid, city of Jerusalem. Don’t give up.”

     It was the 1st day of school and a 1st-grader handed a note to the teacher, “Opinions expressed by this child are not necessarily those of their parents!” We don’t want to listen to others who simply deliver the message- we want the SOURCE. The people hear Zephaniah, but they say, “We don’t have to listen to you! You’re not the boss of us!” But Zephaniah not just A messenger…he is GOD’S messenger! And he had a strong message for God’s people.
     The truth is that quite a bit of this rather short book is devoted to God’s judgment on the people. People do bad things…there are consequences; it’s a simple cause and effect. But like any GOOD prophecy, it also includes a message of hope, a 2nd chance if you will, the offer to turn around and head the right direction.  And in that message of hope, Zephaniah says 2 things-

1. don’t be afraid. The Hebrew word for afraid translates to dread or to be terrified. This is no simple fear here. And fear is an ugly thing- it can rob you of your self-esteem, your confidence, your life, even your soul. Fear freezes you, shackles you, cripples you, removes your ability to act on God’s call. Fear is the darkroom where negatives are developed. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale said, “When you’re afraid, do the thing you’re afraid of, and soon you will lose your fear of it.”

     We should be LESS afraid of our life ending and MORE afraid that we have done nothing with it. Those great theologians Toad the Wet Sprocket (Google them) said, “Is it that they fear the pain of death…or do they fear the joy of life?” Too many of us are not living out our dreams because we are instead living out our fears.

     Zephaniah says, “Fear not” and we say, “What? Not even a little?” And he responds, “No, fear not.” And we say, “How about a little bit of trembling?” And he says, “No, fear not. Not today, not tomorrow, not for the rest of your life. When fear comes, drive it out because there is simply no room.” Ultimately, our fear is removed when we recognize that God dwells in our midst- He is the light in our darkness. The Rev. Billy Graham said, ” Courage is contagious; when a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are stiffened.” If God loves us, and finds joy in us, what is there to be afraid of? 

2. don’t give up. The Hebrew word for “give up” translates to “relax, let your guard drop, be disheartened, withdraw, or abandon”. In other words…don’t give up! If God is for us, we should want and need to be for Him with all of our energy, with our hands and feet, our head and heart. People often say, “I’m burned out of church work.” But I am convinced that we won’t become weak and tired if our service for Him is done for the right reasons. What makes you holy can make you happy, energized, satisfied, complete.

     Robert Louis Stevenson said, “You can’t run away from weakness; you must fight it out or perish; and if that’s so, then why not now, right where you stand?” General George S. Patton said, “I don’t fear failure; I only fear slowing up the engine inside me, which is pounding, saying, ‘Keep going.'” Winston Churchill said it more simply, “Never, never, never give up!”

     If you want food, you need to draw closer to the source of the food. And if you want to have joy, you need to draw closer to the source of joy- Jesus Christ. If you turn to God in repentance, He will forgive you, restore your joy and give you peace. If we find joy in, and obey, God, He will delight in us and share His best with us.

     God is saddened when we are not with Him, and He is overjoyed when we, like the Prodigal Son, have returned home. Jack Nicholson, in the movie A Few Good Men, said, “Are these REALLY the questions I was called here to answer? Phone calls and footlockers? Please tell me you’ve got something more, Lieutenant. Please tell me there’s an ace up your sleeve. These 2 marines are on trial for their lives. Please tell me their lawyer hasn’t pinned their hopes to a phone bill.” People complain about all sorts of things that don’t really matter. And I want to say to them, “What’s the REAL problem? Please tell me you’ve got something more!” And I find that, usually, the problem is a sense of distance from God.

     Are you unhappy? Check the mirror, then check your relationship with God. If it is not healthy, then nothing else will be. Is your glass half empty or half full? Do you find the silver lining or the dark cloud? Do you focus on drums in the sanctuary, or the color of carpet, or what the thermostat is set at, or which group gets the credit? Or do you focus on ministry opportunities, knowing that we are called to…wait for it…make disciples?

     Don’t be preoccupied with the negative. Don’t be like the mainstream press, whose mantra is, “If it bleeds…it leads.” Us Christians need a different mantra! Learn to not focus on the small stuff, to not concentrate on what’s horrible, awful, skeptical and negative. Aesop said, “It’s easy to be brave from a distance.” True. And it’s easy to criticize from a distance as well.

     What’s the secret to coping? Hoping. Where YOUR hope? God will never fail or forsake us.  God is in our midst, giving us hope and assurance that His great promises will be fulfilled. Those great theologians REO Speedwagon said, “Goin through all the changes, I made so many mistakes. 

Tryin to leave behind the heartaches, and sometimes I think I was a little bit crazy, but I keep pushin on. You’ve got to be so strong even if you think strength is gone, Keep pushin on!” God’s love leads to empowerment, because He is our Strong Tower. So we need to keep pushing and let God calm our fears and fill us with His promise. We can be confident, courageous and proactive in our ministries, our lives, knowing in Whom we believe!

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

  Tomorrow- Lawn Stars!

Tuesday, March 27- I’m Dancin’ As Fast As I Can!

     Back in the day, before I went into the ministry, I managed photography studios. I had 20 studios, spread over 4 states, with about 100 employees. With that many employees spread out over that many studios and that many states, there was NEVER a normal day!
      During my time there, I hired more people than I can imagine, and I fired a decent number of people, too. Firing is NOT an easy thing to do, no matter what anybody tells you. (Let me put it this way- if it’s easy…you need to do a heart check!) I always tried to remind myself that I wasn’t the one firing them- they fired themselves. I was simply delivering the news.
     I remember one person particularly. He was a young man…VERY young, and not very mature when it came to full-time jobs and responsibilities. I had SEVERAL conversations with him about his job performance…or lack thereof…and finally an event happened that precipitated his immediate termination…it was time to fire him! The only problem was that I was 5 hours away in another state and my boss had a strict policy about not firing anybody over the phone (a fairly good policy). So I could either A. wait, or B. have another area manager who happened to be in that studio that day do it for me. It talked to her, explained the situation, and asked her what she was comfortable with. She said she would go ahead and terminate him. He called me and informed me that, had it been ME sitting across the table from him, he would have punched me! (Nice!) I helped him understand that if that if he was going to punch me, he’d better kill me with the first punch…because he wouldn’t get a second chance!! (I don’t take threats lying down!)
     What I noticed most about my experience with that employee was that, every time I would call him on the carpet about something he had done (including allegedly sleeping on the job!), he would start to dance. You know what I mean- “It wasn’t my fault. Someone else started it. I couldn’t help it. My car broke down. My girlfriend made me late……”- the list went on and on. And the more I tried to talk to him, the harder he danced. “I’m dancin’ as fast as I can!” And he danced, and he danced…right out the door!
     We tend to do that, don’t we? Rather than simply own up to the fact that we are less than perfect, we dance. And the deeper we get, the harder we dance. But God tells us over and over that He KNOWS we aren’t perfect…but He loves us anyway. And if God loves us, often despite who we are, we should be comfortable enough to stop dancing and start…being!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- Beyond John 3:16- Keep Pushin’

Monday, March 26- Where Has All the Service Gone?

     I will admit right up front that today’s post puts me in great risk of sounding like my dad! And I have figured out 2 things about that dynamic- my dad WAS right some of the time, and I’, OK with sounding like him…some of the time! Anyway, I have been wondering lately where customer service has gone. Have you seen it? It seems customer service’s picture should be on a milk carton! Seriously.
     I remember when I was a kid- customer service was the norm. A guy would RUN out to your car when you pulled into the service station (NOT “gas” station!). He would fill your car up, wash your windshield, check your oil, check your tires, and offer up some pleasant conversation to boot! (The guy at our local station new my mom’s history of waiting until the last minute to get gas. It became a running contest to see just how low the tank actually was!) 
     The lady at the grocery store was glad to see you and talked your ear off as she rang up your groceries. The guys at the men’s clothing store would wait on you hand and foot. T^he waitress at the local restaurant was SO good at her job that your cup was NEVER empty, your food was delivered hot and she even laughed at your jokes!
     Now…not so much! People seem SO unhappy with their job, their situation, their life, that it’s all they can do to even GET to work, let alone have a halfway decent attitude while they are there! My wife and I find good customer service such a lost art that when we ACTUALLY receive it, we find a manager and tell them. And sadly, we don’t have to do that very often!
      So what’s the deal? What has happened that has changed the face of the service industry SO radically? I think the key can be found in the 1st sentence of the last paragraph- “
 People seem SO unhappy with their job, their situation, their life, that it’s all they can do to even GET to work, let alone have a halfway decent attitude while they are there!” That’s it, right there. People are unhappy with their lives. Why? I would argue that it’s because we have moved farther and farther away from God. Period. We have allowed all sorts of other things take His place. We have allowed “stuff” to so rule our lives that we have forgotten who our Creator is. We are an instamatic society- we want it, we want it all, and we want it now. And when we don’t actually GET that (and we SELDOM do), we become disenchanted with our job…our life. Nothing is as we wanted it to be, and so we take it out on every poor slob who comes along. And then we are SHOCKED when we lose that job because we were doing it so poorly. 
     God provides…what we need. Not always what we WANT, but always what we need. Consider what you need, trust that God will provide, and be satisfied with your life. Find joy in the world around you. All along the way, help other people find that same joy. It SURE makes life more interesting!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- I’m Dancin’ As fast As I Can!

Sunday, March 25- On the Road: The Dichotomy of Giving


     My Grandma was a sweet, sweet woman. She would do anything for you, and she LOVED her grandchildren. BUT…she wasn’t the best money manager in the world. One time the bank called her to inform her that her checking account was overdrawn. Her response? “I CAN’T be overdrawn…I still have checks left!”

    Today we continue our current sermon series, A Journey of Hope. This series will take us all the way to the 8th of April- Easter Sunday. Through it, we will walk all the way through the Easter story, stopping along the way to see some unlikely characters and some unexpected events. We’re on a journey where our God-given talents mean so much to our fellow travelers. But being on a journey requires money. There are some people who have very little, but are eager to share it. While others have much and are ruled by the fear of losing what they have.

     What makes your blood pressure spike? I mean, besides salt, fatty foods and forgetting to take your beta blockers? For many, it’s talking about money. We simply don’t like to talk about it…especially in church. But today we focus on putting the proper perspective on money so it doesn’t get in the way of hope. Do you have a healthy relationship with money? Do you have MONEY, or does money have YOU? The Old Testament Book of Proverbs (3:9-10) says this about money- Honor the Lord with your wealth and the firstfruits from all your crops. 10 Then your barns will be full, and your wine barrels will overflow with new wine. Among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.

     The Gospel of Mark has several references to money and how it can get in the way of discipleship. Today we look at “bookend” Scriptures from that Gospel that, together, illustrate those two extremes AND give us Jesus’ response.

     Mark 10:17-22, 12:41-44- As Jesus continued down the road, a man ran up, knelt before him, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to obtain eternal life?” 18 Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except the one God. 19 You know the commandments: Don’t commit murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t give false testimony. Don’t cheat. Honor your father and mother.” 20 “Teacher,” he responded, “I’ve kept all of these things since I was a boy.” 21 Jesus looked at him carefully and loved him. He said, “You are lacking one thing. Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.”22 But the man was dismayed at this statement and went away saddened, because he had many possessions.

     This passage shows how Jesus feels about people who make “Bottom-line profit” their main priority. The rich young ruler was on the right track…for a while. He realized he was empty inside and so he came to the right place for help- Jesus! He came to Jesus in search of life…real life. The only problem was he couldn’t finish what he started, he wouldn’t see it through, he didn’t do what Jesus told him to do. He couldn’t make the leap of faith, so he turned away, unfulfilled. Why didn’t he follow Jesus that day? What held him back? He wasn’t able to prioritize, he wasn’t able to love his fellow man and he wasn’t able to trust. The rich young ruler was a guy whose relationship with money created a huge gap between him and God. He had never given of himself; therefore he never gave of his resources. Giving of our resources is an outcropping of giving of ourselves- the inevitable result of a warmed heart. When we surrender our hearts to God, we should WANT to give…not only ourselves but our resources, to Him and His church. The widow in this next passage is an example of making God a top priority over money.

     Mark 12:41-44 Jesus sat across from the collection box for the temple treasury and observed how the crowd gave their money. Many rich people were throwing in lots of money. 42 One poor widow came forward and put in two small copper coins worth a penny. 43 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I assure you that this poor widow has put in more than everyone who’s been putting money in the treasury. 44All of them are giving out of their spare change. But she from her hopeless poverty has given everything she had, even what she needed to live on.”

     A teenager lost a contact lens in the driveway. After a brief, fruitless search, he gave up. His mom took up the cause and within minutes found the missing lens. The boy asked, “How’d you do that?” We weren’t looking for the same thing- you were looking for a small piece of plastic. I was looking for $150!”

     The last passage showed how Jesus feels about people who make “Bottom-line profit” their main priority. This passage shows how Jesus feels about people who are willing to give what they have. This story is often referred to as “the widow’s mite”- a widow gives all the money she has as an offering in the Temple. And through that act, she receives the praise of Jesus Himself. The story is generally seen as being about giving, and clearly that’s a strong element here. In terms of an actual amount, she gave almost nothing- less than a penny in today’s money. The extravagance of the gift is found in the fact that it was all she had.

     But there’s another piece to this story that we tend to miss. We’ve just talked about the rich young ruler and his love of money. And it’s in the light of THAT story and stories like it that Jesus singles out the widow. Jesus is sitting with the leaders of the temple, watching people as they donate. The coins make a terrible noise as they roll down a long horn and drop into a pool of coins. And here comes this little old lady with her two small, pitiful, worthless coins. She drops them in…and they barely make a sound. The Temple leaders roll their eyes and hope for better results from the next person. Jesus says, “This poor widow has put more in than all the others.” The Temple leaders are shocked- to them, this widow is nothing more than a waste of their time. But to Jesus, she is the stuff by which Kingdoms are built. So the widow’s mite isn’t REALLY a story about giving- it’s a story about motivation.

     Why do we do what we do? What do we hope to achieve through our giving? The Temple leaders gave seeking recognition. And…they received the reward they were looking for- people praised them. The woman, on the other hand, gave out of love for God. And, according to Jesus, she also received HER reward! So giving isn’t about dollar amounts- it’s about motivation. Why do we do what we do? What’s the motivation behind our giving?

     The 1st motivation for giving is that we have 1st given of ourselves. The Apostle Paul said, “First we gave of ourselves, and THEN we gave of our resources.” Too many of us get that backwards. The church was involved in a major financial campaign and they sent a contingent to visit a wealthy member of the congregation. They said that, in view of his considerable assets, they were sure he would like to make a substantial contribution to the church campaign. “You have me all figured out, do you? Did you know that I have a widowed mother with no other means of support but me? Did you know that I have a sister who was left with five children and no means to provide for them? Did you know that I have a crippled brother who can’t work to support his wife and family?” Embarrassingly, they responded, “No, we didn’t know any of that.” “Well, I’ve never given any of them a cent, so why should I give anything to you?!” We tend to put the cart before the horse. We say, “I give, therefore I’m a Christian.” But in reality, it’s just the opposite. It’s because we are followers of Jesus Christ that we give.

     The 2nd motivation is that our money follows our heart. Jesus said it this way, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Look at your checkbook- it will tell you what’s important to you. Money is nothing more than congealed personality. It’s a barometer of our Christian discipleship. Our money follows our time, and our time follows our commitment. If you commit to something, you invest in it, with your time AND your money. The #1 reason people say they don’t commit to their church is that they don’t have enough time. They WANT to do it…but they’re too busy. But we can clear our calendars in a heartbeat for something we really want to do. In the end, Jesus doesn’t want your money…He wants your heart. Once you’ve surrendered your heart, things like monetary giving will naturally fall into place.

     The third motive for giving is because it makes God happy. In his letter to the church at Corinth, Paul wrote, “God loves a cheerful giver.” Dr. James I. McCord, former president of the Princeton University School of Theology, told the story of a man who said he was never going back to a particular church because all they ever talked about was give, give, give. Dr. McCord responded, “I can’t think of a better definition of Christianity than that: give, give, give!”

Imagine a strong, healthy dog walking down the street. He passes a flea-bitten mutt- weak, near starvation. Would the healthy dog give his bone to the sick dog? Of course not! He’d hang on tight and walk on by. That’s the nature of animals. Only humans know how to be gives. We are the only species that understands that God is pleased when we give.

     The 4th motivation is to give not because the church bills need to be paid but because we are moved by a sense of gratitude. I fear the Church takes the wrong approach to giving- we print out a line-item budget detailing our expenses for the ensuing year. It’s boring, dry, and very few people actually read it. AND it perpetuates the idea that we are supposed to give in proportion to what our bills are. But we should be giving out of a sense of thanksgiving and joy, not to simply pay bills.

     When I give money to the church, I don’t look at a line-item budget. I look at my kids, my wife, my church family, my life. I am truly blessed by God, and so I give out of a sense of gratitude. I am much more fulfilled personally to give out of gratitude, all the time, than I am to give at a specific time because an air condition valve is broken and needs to be replaced. I don’t give money simply because the church is leaking and needs repair. I give because I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for what Jesus did for me at the cross of Calvary. It’s a matter of motivation. The Church focuses so much on “let’s pay the bills”. But when people only give on that level, and for that reason, they miss the true joy of giving.

     2Corinthians 9:6-8 says, Remember this: The person who plants a little will have a small harvest, but the person who plants a lot will have a big harvest. 7 Each of you should give as you have decided in your heart to give. You should not be sad when you give, and you should not give because you feel forced to give. God loves the person who gives happily. 8 And God can give you more blessings than you need. Then you will always have plenty of everything- enough to give to every good work.    

     In 1970, Malcolm Muggeridge, Europe’s Tom Brokaw, went to Calcutta to interview Mother Teresa. He met her in the streets, working with the sick and the poor in a ghetto- amid stench, filth, garbage, disease, and poverty beyond belief. What struck him most was the deep, warm glow on Mother Teresa’s face- the deep, warm love in her eyes. “Do you do this every day?” “Oh, yes, it’s my mission. It’s how I serve and love my Lord.” “How long have you been doing this? How many months?” “Months? Not months, but years. Maybe eighteen years.” “Eighteen years! You’ve been working here in these streets for eighteen years?” “Yes, it’s my privilege to be here. These are my people. These are the ones my Lord has given me to love.” Later, Muggeridge said, “I will never forget that little lady as long as I live. It was like being in the presence of an angel.” We can’t all be Mother Teresa, but we CAN all live in that spirit. In our own way, we can all learn to give. Together we can do more than any one of us can do alone.

When we give to God’s Church, love is no longer just an idea- it’s an action. OUR reasoning says- you can’t give what you don’t have. God’s reasoning says: you can’t have what you refuse to give away.

     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- Where has all the service gone?

Saturday, March 24- The Hunger Games

     Well…I saw it! I read the book. (In fact, I read all 3 books.) And now…I’ve seen the movie- The Hunger Games. My younger son and I went and saw it yesterday- the 4PM show to be exact. Thinking that it might be sold out, I bought tickets online ahead of time. The theater wasn’t sold out…but it was close. We got our popcorn and drinks (you HAVE to have popcorn when you go to the movies- I’m fairly certain it’s a federal law!)  and found our seats. We then watched about 6 1/2 hours of previews! THEN…finally…the movie started. And. for my money, it did NOT disappoint.
     I enjoyed the books. Like most sequels (books OR movies), I like the first one better than the other two, but they are all good. And the movie stuck pretty close to the book. So…liked the movie!
     Now you might be thinking- “Well THAT’S a relatively lame movie review, pastor!” Thanks! Seriously, my point here is NOT to review the movie. Instead, my point is to address what I see as the larger issue of what’s appropriate and what’s not. For years now, I have had folks complain about what the kids are reading and/or watching. “Them Harry Potter books is evil, talking about witches and such!” “I won’t let my kid watch those Larry Potter movies- they are bad!” “I would never let my child read The Hunger Games. They hunt people in that book!” 
     My response to them is always along these lines- “Do you watch the Wizard of Oz? Mary Poppins? Nanny and the Professor? Nanny McPhee? They all have one thing in common- witches and witchcraft!” Harry Potter and The Hunger Games have reintroduced the love of reading to entire generations of kids. How cool is that? In a world dominated by anything electronic, for a book to have the power to drag kids away from their Wii, XBox, computer or IPad is nothing short of remarkable.
     I worry when we want to automatically criticize something for being bad- often when we really know nothing about it. We hear something, or see something, or someone tells us something, some little nugget that may or may not even be accurate, and we extrapolate it out into a full-blown opinion about something. “Don’t let truth get in the way of a good opinion!” But consider this- if we’ve done our jobs correctly as parents, shouldn’t our kids be capable of knowing the difference between cartoonish wizards and real life? They know people aren’t taken to Capitol City and hunted in REAL life. And if they DON’T know those things- we have REALLY dropped the ball somewhere along the way!
     Should we screen what it is our kids watch, read and listen to? Absolutely! That is our job as parents. But should we do that to the point of squelching them? Nope, not for my money!! Sometimes, we need trust them to make the right choices.
     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 Dichotomy of Giving

Friday, March 23- The Road to Change

     In the Gospel of Mark (10:46-52), we find this story- Jesus and his followers came into Jericho. As Jesus was leaving Jericho, together with his disciples and a sizable crowd, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus was sitting beside the road. 47When he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was there, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, show me mercy!” 48 Many scolded him, telling him to be quiet, but he shouted even louder, “Son of David, show me mercy!” 49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him forward.” They called the blind man, “Be encouraged! Get up! He’s calling you.” 50 Throwing his coat to the side, he jumped up and came to Jesus. 51 Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said, “Teacher, I want to see.” 52 Jesus said, “Go, your faith has healed you.” At once, he was able to see, and he began to follow Jesus on the way.
     A few years ago, I wrote a rock musical about the life of Jesus, blending the actual words from the Bible with classic rock songs from the 70’s and 80’s. I find God in all sorts of music, especially where I doubt the songwriter intended it to be. One song like that is Change the World by Eric Clapton. The song opens with these words:
     If I could reach the stars, I’d pull one down for you, shine it on my heart so you could see the truth- that this love I have inside is everything it seems. But for now I find, it’s only in my dreams…that I can change the world. I would be the sunlight in your universe. You will think my love was really something good, Baby, if I could change the world.
     So Jericho is about 15 miles from Jerusalem- a…what?…15-20 minute drive, at most? Not far at all…unless you’re walking, like Jesus would have been. For Him, it would have been a minimum of 5 hours, and possibly up to a day, depending on if He took His time or not. And the truth of the matter is that Jesus was probably not in a big hurry, because He was heading toward Jerusalem. And He had been heading toward Jerusalem, in one fashion or another, for 3 years. And He knew what was ultimately waiting for Him there. After 3 years, He was now only one day away.
     Also, this was to be the last miracle stop in the Gospel of mark before He got to Jerusalem. After Bartimaeus, it was a forced march to the cross. And speaking of Bartimaeus, here was this blind beggar, sitting along the roadside, day after lonely, repetitive day. People walked past him as if he were simply part of the scenery- a tree, a bush, a rock…and Bartimaeus. He’d been there so long that no one even paid any attention to him anymore. But he decided that, on this particular day, it was no longer going to be possible to ignore him. He started to shout: “Jesus, Son of David, show me mercy!”  And the people were most forgiving. “Shut up. Pipe down, old man! You’re disturbing us!” He was an embarrassment. He was annoying. AND he wouldn’t go away. Their only hope was to ignore him and hope he would stop- but he didn’t! Like a fog horn cutting through the mist, he shouted again: “Son of David, show me mercy!” And he shouted again, and again. And the people were no longer simply embarrassed…they were angry. They had come to hear Jesus, and this blind beggar was interfering. They wanted to hear the old, old story of Jesus’ love and forgiveness, but this guy wouldn’t shut up! Then…Jesus stopped. The cross would come…in time. But for now, it would have to wait, history would have to wait, for this blind beggar.
     Jesus hears his voice and says- “Call him forward.” And did you notice what Bartimaeus did? He jumped up, threw off his coat…and ran! Blind Bartimaeus ran! Stumbling, falling, running…and coming to Jesus. Like a child running to meet their dad after a long trip. He RAN. Of course he ran. So would you! So would I. And then Jesus said, “What do you want me to do for you?” Now this was probably NOT a request for information- it was obvious to anybody that he was blind. But Bartimaeus had the advantage of knowing he was blind. We pretend to see well, but often are just as blind.
     Bartimaeus said, “Teacher, I want to see.” And Jesus said, “Go, your faith has healed you.” And at once he could see and he began to follow Jesus. Boom…end of story. So I wonder- what REAL difference does one blind beggar’s healing really make? Does it really matter? Or is this simply a story of Jesus’ last miracle? To many who saw that day, that’s all it was. To many who hear or read it now, that’s all it is. But it is, in fact, more, much more. You see, we can’t simply forget about those people who tried to silence Bartimaeus. If we do that, then we simply become part of the crowd who told him to be quiet. If we do that, we are, in essence, asking Jesus for the exact opposite thing that Bartimaeus asked. “Make us blind, Jesus! Don’t let us see. Don’t make us see! Let us simply sing hymns of glory and offer prayers of praise. Don’t make us see those who are in need…we have our own needs!” In the end, it really wasn’t Bartimaeus who was blind after all- it was the people around him.
     Too many times, we see without really seeing, we observe without really comprehending. True sight is only given to those who want it, dare to accept it and actually care to see. What about you? Are you willing to change? We all want world to change- that would be a good thing. But, sadly, it HAS to start with us being willing to change personally. And there is no better time than the season of Lent, leading up to Easter, to do just that. Are you willing to have Jesus take the covering off your eyes, enabling you to TRULY see the world around you? Michael Jackson recorded a song called Man in the Mirror. The opening words are:
Gonna make a change for once in my life. It’s gonna feel real good, gonna make a difference, gonna make it right. As I turned up the collar on my favorite winter coat, this wind is blowin’ my mind. I see the kids in the street with not enough to eat. Who am I to be blind, pretending not to see their needs? A summer’s disregard, a broken bottle top and one man’s soul- they follow each other on the wind ya’ know, ’cause they got nowhere to go. That’s why I want you to know I’m starting with the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways. And no message could have been any clearer- if you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change.
     Are you willing?
     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 Hunger Games

Thursday, March 22- Gotta Love the Meeting!

     I LOVE meetings! Really, I do! AND…I lie a lot!! OK, I DON’T lie a lot, and I DON’T love meetings either! I was reminded of that when I recently attended a clergy meeting. 40+ pastors, gathered in 1 room for a “command performance”- good times! Actually, the meeting was that bad. The “worship/devotional” time was led by a young clergy couple (in our conference, any couple under 45 is young!), and they did a great job. The meeting itself was even interesting. We talked about financial planning and fundraising. (You are saying to yourself, “Self- did he say fundraising? Why would a bunch of preachers talk about fundraising?” Because the reality is that, if you are in ministry, you are, at some level, a fundraiser!)
     I also go to see clergy friends that I thoroughly enjoying being around but don’t get to see often enough- including my former Associate Pastor who I miss greatly and very much appreciate! I was reminded, however, that I always get in trouble at these events BECAUSE of the people with whom I choose to sit! Get us together at the same table and NOTHING is sacred…OR serious!
     “So, if the content of the meeting was good and the company was good, then what is there to witch and moan about, pastor? Why don’t you just stop your bellyaching and get over yourself?!” Alrighty then, I will! No seriously, the reason I hate meetings is because I have ADHD- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. (Up until recently, I thought I only had ADD, but a couple of weeks ago my wife said, “Oh no, honey…you have the “H” too!”) When you have ADHD, sitting still and quiet is a form of punishment. It is SO hard  to do that simple thing. People who DON’T have ADD/ADHD seem to have little to no problem sitting still. But us ADD/ADHD folks find it nearly impossible to do. I fidget, I twist, I turn, I slide down in the chair, I sit up in the chair- you name it, I do it!
     Now, I spend several hours a day at my desk in my office at church. BUT, I have the freedom to get up whenever I want. I have the freedom to turn on music if I want. I have the freedom to drive my poor Office Administrator nearly crazy with my “stream of consciousness” conversation! So I DO sit at a desk…but I don’t! And that is one of the things I love about being a minister. No 2 days are alike. There is very little repetition or routine. And while that drives some folks crazy, I thrive in that environment!
     One of the beautiful things about God’s creation is that we are all different. We don’t think the same things. We don’t feel the same things. We don’t so the same things. And I, for one, thank God daily for that fact! What a wonderful world!
     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 Road to Change