Monday, April 30- New Old Friends

     I had a cool thing happen yesterday. 4 folks from the church I am moving to soon came to see me at my current church. Now, you might be saying, “Big whoop, Pastor!” And if you said that, you don’t realize that they live THREE HOURS away from me! THREE HOURS! And they drove that far…ONE way…to see me! How cool is that? (In case you thought that was a rhetorical question, it wasn’t…and the answer is, “Very!”) 
     They Facebooked me ahead of time (gotta LOVE social media!) to see when worship services are, so I knew they were coming. And even though I told my family they were coming, I intentionally didn’t tell my current church about it- just in case plans had to change and they couldn’t make it. But about 9:10AM, as I was finishing up our early service, I looked out and saw them in the lobby, chatting with some of my current parishioners. They then attended both the 9:30AM and 10:30AM services and, I believe, headed to Cracker Barrel!
     Two things struck me as I thought through their visit that I want to share with you:
1. I was reminded about just how bittersweet being moved to a new church is. On the one hand, I am someone who thrives on new challenges. In addition, I have met (either in person or over the internet) several folks from my new church, and they are really great people! I look forward to serving with them. On the other hand, I have been at my current church for 8 years. I have grown to love the community in which I live…AND the people in it! The folks in my current church are outstanding. They are committed Christians who do more mission work, pound for pound, that any church in the state! AND…they are my family. And not just in some ethereal, “perfect world” kind of scenario. We share our lives with each, like a church should. I will miss them more than they will know!
2. My current church doesn’t want me to leave. (At least MOST of them!) My new church doesn’t want their current pastor, whom they love dearly, to leave. And yet…and yet…I watched my current congregation be incredibly gracious to our visitors. They welcomed them, shook their hands, talked to them, made them feel at home. AND…I saw these folks from my new church be JUST as gracious, friendly and open. Anybody from either side of this equation could have been rude and standoff-ish, but no one was! And that’s the BEST thing about churches- when they are spiritually healthy, they are the kind of people you want to be around!
     So, a big “thank you” goes out to my current church AND my new church. I feel truly blessed to be in the ministry and serve alongside such awesome folks!!
     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’s it all about, Alfie?

Sunday, April 29- After the Show: Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay

          2 avid fishermen decide to go on a fishing trip. They rent all the equipment: rods, reels, wading suits, boat, car, even a cabin in the woods. They spend a fortune. The 1st day out, they don’t catch anything. 2nd day…same thing. 3rd…again. Every day, same thing. That is, until the last day- one of them catches a fish…ONE fish. On the drive home, they’re really depressed. One guy turns to the other and says, “Do you realize that this one lousy fish cost us $1,500?” His buddy says, “Really?” “Yep- $1,500!” “Wow! It’s a good thing we didn’t catch any more!”
      Today is week 3 of a relatively short 5-week walk through the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus called After the Show. We won’t talk about ALL of His appearances, but will focus on an overview of what happened between Easter morning and Jesus ascending into Heaven. Today we look at the fact that Jesus often shows up when we least expect it.
Jeremiah 29:11-14 I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the LORD; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. When you call me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me. I will be present for you, declares the LORD, and I will end your captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have scattered you, and I will bring you home after your long exile, declares the LORD.
     Each week has a song tied to it – in fact it’s the name of the message – that relates to the story we’re looking at. Today’s song was written by Otis Redding and Steve Cropper- (Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay. Redding recorded it on December 7, 1967, ironically just 3 days before he died in a plane crash outside Madison, Wisconsin. The song, which spent 4 weeks at #1 on the charts in 1968, looks at a guy who is doing literally nothing with his life.
     Sittin’ in the mornin’ sun, I’ll be sittin’ when the evenin’ come. Watching the ships roll in, and then I watch ’em roll away again, yeah. I’m sittin’ on the dock of the bay watching the tide roll away. Ooo, I’m just sittin’ on the dock of the bay wastin’ time. Look like nothing’s gonna change. Everything still remains the same. I can’t do what ten people tell me to do so I guess I’ll remain the same.
     Picture that- this guy is just sitting there…doing nothing. All day long. Watching the ships come and go. Watching the tide roll in and out. Just sitting there. And nothing’s going to change. Everybody’s trying to tell me what to do, but I don’t want to hear it. So I’ll just keep on sitting here! This is exactly the situation the disciples find themselves in as we look at today’s Gospel reading.
John 21:1-14 Later, Jesus showed himself to his followers again—this time at Lake Galilee. Some of the followers were together. Peter said, “I’m going out to fish.” The others said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat. They fished that night but caught nothing. Early the next morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the followers didn’t know it was Him. Then he said to them, “Friends, did you catch any fish?” They answered, “No.” He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat, and you’ll find some.” So they did, and they caught so many fish they couldn’t pull the net back into the boat. Then the follower whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Peter heard him say this, he wrapped his coat around himself. (Peter had taken his clothes off.) Then he jumped into the water. When the other followers stepped out of the boat and onto the shore, they saw a fire of hot coals. There were fish on the fire, and there was bread. Jesus said to them, “Come and eat.” He came and took the bread and gave it to them, along with the fish.
          A group of fishermen in Oslo, Norway took their 63’ boat out to fish for herring. The fishing was good and they completely filled their net with herring. However, nobody told the herring they were trapped- they refused to give up without a fight. When the crew tried to haul in the net, the entire school of herring swam for the bottom. The ship…capsized! The crew tried to cut the nets loose but was instead forced to abandon ship. No one was hurt but the boat only took 10 minutes to sink.
     When I read that story, I thought of today’s Scripture. Picture this…it’s not long after the 1st Easter. Many of Jesus’ disciples had gone back to their old lives- fishing. Isn’t it amazing how quickly they forgot the power and majesty of Easter and instead reverted back to status quo? Isn’t it amazing how quickly we do…the very same thing? So they’re out there fishing…all night. And as dawn breaks over the Sea of Galilee, they’ve caught a great big whopping total of diddly-squat. (I don’t believe that’s the King James translation!) Their nets are empty. And then, through the early morning mist, they see a shadowy figure standing on the shore, watching them. He calls out to them, “How are they biting?” Rub salt in the wounds, much? “No!” Then this…guy…has the audacity to say, “Cast your net on the OTHER side of the boat- you’ll catch some fish.” Give. Me. A. Break! You’re going to stand there on the far shore, with that smug little smile, and tell us all we have to do is put the net on the other side of the boat and we’ll catch fish? Gee whiz, Wally, why didn’t WE think about that…while we stood in this stinking boat…ALL NIGHT?” But you know what? They DID it! They actually tried it. After a frustrating night of no fish, they apparently figure, “What the heck?” So they cast their nets on the other side of the boat and VIOLA! They catch so many fish they are unable to haul the net in- it nearly sinks their boat. These professional fishermen come up empty, but the One standing on the shore, who called them to be fishers of men in the 1st place, knows exactly where to find the fish.
     We love a good success story, don’t we? But we all know that, regardless of anything else, there will STILL be setbacks. We’ve all been there. Winston Churchill was asked what it was that prepared him to lead Great Britain against Nazi Germany. He said it was repeating a grade in school. “You mean you FAILED a year in grade school?” Churchill responded, “I never failed anything in my life. I was given a 2nd opportunity to get it right.” The disciples succeeded….ONLY when they did what Jesus told them to do. And what exactly DOES Jesus tell us to do? Work hard. Be honest. Be reliable. Show up on time. Treat people the way you want to be treated. Don’t promise more than you can deliver.
     The difference between average people and successful people is that successful people don’t waste time defending their limitations- they transcend them. They take their fair share of lumps and continue on, regardless. Often bruised and sometimes emotionally injured, they still manage to pick themselves up and start over…again and again. Like those blow-up clown you punch- they refuse to stay down. I’m not saying if you live by Jesus’ principles you’ll succeed in everything you do. What I AM saying is this- Jesus died on the cross…but He didn’t stay down. If you’re down, you don’t have to stay there; you have a choi
ce. The essential question here is how do you define success? The disciples did what Jesus said and pulled in nets jammed with fish. But ultimately, they yearned for so much more than simply full nets. And “so much more” is really what this story is about.
     Our culture hates failure. We don’t even like SAYING the word! In job interviews, we will ask people to tell us about their successes and their…wait for it!…GROWING EDGES! And I’m as guilty of that as anybody. Failure is the new “F” word! And that mentality has invaded the Church. We Christians don’t want to talk about failure- it’s off limits. But it’s a very real part of life, and it happens to all of us at one time or another- it’s arguably our greatest common denominator. And the Bible, from Genesis all the way to Revelation, doesn’t shy away from failure. Why? Because God KNOWS we’re going to fail. And since He knows that, He’s not even the least bit concerned about it. Instead, He’s concerned with how we respond to failure. For God, failure’s not an obstacle and never an excuse. Instead, it can be a doorway to a spiritual re-awakening. The only people who never fail are those who never try. Likewise, if you’ve dared to risk…you’ve failed.
     In the end, what IS success? Success is meeting your responsibilities…and doing so joyfully. Success is making a contribution to the lives of the people around you- your family, your co-workers, your community. Success is standing before God at the end of your life and hearing Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Here are 3 thoughts about how Jesus speaks to us of success in our moments of failure.
     1st- Jesus pierces the darkness of our despair and defeat by feeding us, body and soul. After the humiliating experience of Jesus’ death on Friday followed by the idle chatter about His resurrection on Sunday, some of the disciples responded to Peter’s suggestion and went back to what they knew best- fishing. It was daybreak, and they were fishing the calm, clear waters of the Sea of Galilee- the ONLY calm and clear reality in their lives at the moment. Then a stranger from the shoreline asks about the fishing. I think I know fishermen well enough to know that this unsolicited advice from the shore was NOT greatly appreciated. Imagine their surprise when they realize that the stranger on the beach (cooking breakfast for them, no less) is The Big Guy Himself! Think about that- a Messiah…Who cooks! Not going to find THAT too often! When the disciples come to shore, Jesus says, “Come and have breakfast.” Then He breaks the bread and the fish and gives it to them, reminiscent of the meal they shared with Him in the Upper Room the night He was betrayed. He could have scolded them, lectured them, even done the “told you so” dance. But He doesn’t. Instead, He feeds them. He has plans for them, even when they think they have no future. Jesus shows up on the beach, choosing to spend time with defeated, frightened, disillusioned fishermen whose hearts are as empty as their nets. If you can think of better news than that- please tell me!
     2nd- Jesus shows us that the tomb of death has become the cradle of new life. Jesus comes to the shoreline and turn this funeral, this pity-party into a celebration of new life and new beginnings. Jesus comes to heal the failures of the disciples. Imagine- a God who turns tombs of death into cradles of new life. What a privilege to be claimed by such a God!
     3rd- Jesus comes to the shore to lead us from paralyzing defeat to a new direction of service to God. A Dutch pastor and his family hid Jewish people in their home during WW2. They were eventually found out, seized and loaded into a cattle car to be taken to one of the notorious death camps. All night long, the pastor and his family rode in heartbreaking anguish along with the other prisoners who were jammed in the car. Finally, the train stopped. The doors of the cattle car were opened and light streamed in. They were marched out and lined up beside the railroad tracks, resigned to the fact that they would be separated from each other…and ultimately killed. But in the midst of their gloom, they discovered some good news that was beyond belief! They found that they weren’t in a death camp at al. In fact, they weren’t even in Germany, but Switzerland! During the night, some daring, courageous soul had thrown a switch and sent the train to Switzerland- and freedom. And those who led them out of the train car were not their captors, but their liberators. Instead of being marched to death, they were welcomed to new life.
     This is what happened to Peter and the other disciples when Jesus came to cook breakfast for them. He pulled the switch from defeat to victory. In the midst of their greatest failure and despair, Jesus, showed them His love in the cooking of a meal, then reminded them that they were still part of His plan. Jesus’ appearance caused the disciples to get their eyes off of their present circumstances and instead focus them where they should be- squarely on Jesus.
     Back to the song for a minute- the last verse sums up what the disciples were feeling that morning in the boat when Jesus showed up and once again changed their mood, their outlook, their lives. “Sittin’ here resting my bones and this loneliness won’t leave me alone. It’s 2,000 miles I roamed just to make this dock my home. Now, I’m just gonna sit at the dock of the bay watching the tide roll away. Sittin’ on the dock of the bay wastin’ time.
     But Philippians 1:6-8 tells us about the promise God gives us when we feel down and out-
I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus. I have good reason to think this way about all of you because I keep you in my heart. You are all my partners in God’s grace, both during my time in prison and in the defense and support of the gospel. God is my witness that I feel affection for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.
     And Jesus still shares that same message and ministry with all who follow Him. Don’t be afraid to bring your failures to Jesus. As a matter of fact, the only way we can fail is if we don’t try, if we don’t bring all that we have and leave it at the foot of the Cross. History tells us that the disciples picked themselves up and got back into the race. And, by the grace of God, we can, too! What about you? Whose lives are you touching? Are you a success? Not just in your business or professional life…are you a success where it REALLY matters, with God? This morning, Jesus stands on the shore and says to us, “Breakfast is ready!” Will you come?
     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 City of New Orleans

Saturday, April 28- It’s Birthday Time!!

     Tomorrow is a banner date in my life! Several years ago, on April 29th, my life changed- positively and dramatically! I was a high school sophomore and acting in a production of the musical Oliver! And in the midst of that…there was this girl! Beautiful, sweet, funny…you name it, she had it- the Complete Package, as they say! We met the previous fall and had begun a slow but steady flirtation. I was gaga over her and she seemed to be able to tolerate me! 
     Then, on my birthday (April 18), she gave me a Monty Python record album- it must be love! And then, the planets aligned to make the next step possible! Opening night of the music just happened to be…wait for it!…her 16th birthday! (I know, right?!) So I invited her to attend the show. (Typical date with an actor- “You sit in the audience, by yourself, and watch ME!)  Amazingly,  she said, “Yes”!
      I had roses delivered to her house that day, hopeless romantic that I am! Then, she watched the show while I acted in the show. Afterwards, I took her to the Ramada Inn (Get your mind out of the gutter! We went to the restaurant!), where we had a small cast iron skillet full of sauteed mushrooms and listened to the musical stylings of Mr. Mike Zichovich! Oh, and I had arranged to have a small birthday cake delivered to the table at just the right moment! (It was stale, but seemed like the best cake ever, due to the surroundings!) 
     That was our first date, and other than a bit of time here and there through the years, we have been together ever since. And every year, when April 29th rolls around, I am taken back to a dimly lit hotel restaurant, a sizzling skillet of mushrooms and the most stunning woman I have ever seen! I simply can’t imagine life without my beautiful wife. I am blessed beyond measure to be her husband. And I thank God regularly for allowing me to “marry up”! Happy birthday, sweetheart!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay

Friday, April 27- Funeral For a (Non) Friend

     Elton John is one of my all-time favorite artists. Don’t mistake him for his music- I don’t always appreciate what he does as a person (just like I’m QUITE sure, if he knew me, he would not always appreciate what I do!), but I LOVE most of his music. In fact, the FIRST 8-track tape I owned was his Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy album…good stuff! 
      On October 5, 1973, he released the double album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. The opening track of that album is called Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding. Funeral For a Friend is an instrumental he wrote while thinking about what he would want played at his own funeral. He said that the 2 songs weren’t originally intended to fit together, but Funeral For A Friend ends in the key of A, the same key Love Lies Bleeding opens in, so the two were played as one long piece when recorded. The whole piece, at just over 11 minutes long, was too long to be released as a single, but did get some airplay on FM stations. Where it has REALLY found its niche is on tour. Here is the song, if you’d like to take a listen…I’ll wait!

     Done? OK! So the song is sad and mournful, beautiful and haunting. AND…a rather substantial departure to much of what he was doing at the time. But as I listen to it, I am reminded of one of the harder tasks a minister has…doing a funeral for (to paraphrase Mr. John) a NON-friend. In other words, officiating at the burial of someone you never met. Let me say right up front that it offends me big time to attend a funeral, when I KNOW the preacher never met the deceased, and hear them talk as if they were best buddies! (Blood pressure rising, anger building…!) It’s offensive. So when I do a funeral like that (and quite frankly…I do a LOT of funerals like that! I seem to have earned the reputation as “the funeral guy”…don’t know if that’s good or bad!), I say right up front that I didn’t know them. And then I work really hard to paint a picture of them, based on what I have uncovered. 
     While I am honored to officiate at someone’s funeral (I truly believe that we ALL deserve the dignity of being remembered when we die), I always am left wishing they would have had a relationship with a pastor so that they could be eulogized by someone who actually knew them. (I officiated at BOTH of my parents’ funerals, in large part because neither of them had a relationship with a pastor…well…that is, except me!) 
     Do you have a relationship with a pastor? (Don’t be funny…you KNOW what I mean!!) Is there someone who will be able to stand at your funeral and say, “I knew this person well and can tell you about their life”? I hope so…you deserve it. If you DON’T have that…yet another reason to get involved in a church. Try one- if you don’t like it, you can always try another! Keep church-shopping until you find the one that is right for you- it IS out there somewhere! And once you find it, dive in head first. Get involved. Become a part of the church family. It will be one of the best decisions you ever made!!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- It’s Birthday Time!

Thursday, April 26- At Breakneck Speed

     I entered the ministry in August of 1997. On the one hand, it seems like an eternity ago. On the other hand however, it seems like it was last week! And as I look back on the 15 years I have been a pastor, I am struck by how much has changed during that time.
     When I started, my ONLY son was 8 years old…just a pup. And I was not only a brand new pastor, I was a rather new Christian.  I was simply trying to figure out how I fit into the larger picture. Now, my OLDEST son is a  23-year old college graduate living and working in Chicago and my YOUNGEST son is 11 years old, tearing up band and Scholastic Bowl!
     Technology has changed, too. My 1st year in the ministry, very few people had cell phones. In fact, I was the 1st person on our staff to have one. Now, of course, EVERYBODY has a cell phone- young people, old people, children, grandmothers, infants, great-aunts, llamas…you name it, they have it!
     Another area that has changed is internet-related technology. In 1997, if I wanted to get on the internet, I had to make sure the phone line wasn’t in use, go to the big, clunky desktop computer we had, wait 4 hours for dial-up to connect, funnel everything through AOL, and then try to find…anything! But to quote that great theologian Bob Dylan, “The times, they are a’changin’!”
     When I started at my 1st church, nobody knew me. I walked in the 1st Sunday having met about 8 people in the church. When I started at my 2nd church, I got the chance to preach there a couple of times before I actually started there.
     Now, I’m about to start at my 3rd church, and because of social media (which didn’t even exist a few years ago), I have connected with dozens and dozens of folks at my new church. Of course, connecting with them over the internet can never replace face-to-face relationships…but it’s a great start!
     Because of the internet, I can preach to people anywhere in the world, whenever they want to. You can read the sermon, watch the sermon, or (within the next week or two) listen to the sermon through iTunes. I have on-going theological discussions with all sorts of people from all walks of life. I share in the joys of people’s lives. I pray with and for people. All because of the rise of social media. I even have some folks who talk about my having a “real” congregation and an “Internet” congregation. I even have one person who refers to me as their Facebook pastor!
     So do I think this all makes me special? Heck no! Do I think that internet-based ministry is a great replacement for the hands-on version? No way! But do I see both the ability AND the need to embrace the medium at some level? Obviously! The message should never change, because we have the BEST message ever! Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, died for our sins and rose for our eternity. GREAT message! Don’t touch the message! The delivery system, on quite the other hand…well we should feel comfortable to tinker with that every day and twice on Sunday! (Charles Wesley used English drinking song melodies for his hymns because the “average Joe” knew them, for goodness sake!) 
     If we rail too strongly against the way ministry is done – wrong worship style, too casual, bad music, too long, too short, too…whatever – then perhaps we are worshiping the wrong thing. Dig deeper, ponder the message BEHIND the ministry- does it champion the cause of Jesus Christ? Is it true to the power of the Gospels? Is it steeped in Scripture? And is it REACHING people? If so, then ease up a bit, take a big, deep breath and…go with the flow. Life changes…we need to be willing to, as well! 
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- Funeral for a (non) friend

Wednesday, April 25- Beyond John 3:16: Sing, Sing a Psalm

    (Wednesdays are Bible Study Day here at Stick With Jesus. Today, we continue our current study – Beyond John 3:16. Each week, we look at a different “3:16” from the Bible to see what it has to say to us. Today we consider Colossians 3:16, which tells us that God calls us to teach with thankful hearts.)

     The President of the Church Women’s Group stood up in worship on Sunday and announced a new project the group was undertaking. She called the other ladies up front to help her make the announcement. She had asked the pianist to inspire them with some marching music and suggested “The Lord’s Army”. The ladies started to sing, “I may never march in infantry…”, but the pianist began to play, “the old gray mare, she ain’t what she used to be…!”

     Music carries a message; it invokes feeling and emotion. Do YOU have a “song”? Even military folks have songs- there is a Pentagon School of Music, where it takes 15 months to learn to become a bandleader. (In the USAF, it only takes 13 months/ to become a jet pilot!) Music can communicate, inspire and change us. It affects our heartbeat and respiration, as well as our brain function. There was a study done at MSU. They found that people who spent at least 15 minutes each day listening to music saw in increase in their levels of immune chemicals, as well as a decrease in cortisol, the thing that increases your blood pressure and blood sugar and decreases your immune response. Music is a tool- we can use it to strengthen ourselves AND encourage others.

     So far in this study, the 3:16’s we have looked at are: Exodus- which tells us that God loves us, Daniel- which tells us that God empowers us, Joel- which tells us that God is our strong tower,  

Zephaniah- which tells us to have no fear but to keep pushing, Malachi- which tells us that our name is in The Book, Acts- which tells us that God heals us though our faith. and 1Corinthians- which tells us that God is our dwelling place.

     Today, we look at Colossians 3:16, a letter sent to the church at Colossae, intended to counteract false teaching. The synopsis of this section is that we are raised with Jesus, and that should set our hearts on things above, not earthly things. We are to put to death our earthly nature: immorality, impurity, lust, greed and idolatry. We should clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
     You should let the teaching of Christ live in you richly. You should use all your wisdom to teach and instruct each other by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

     Many people don’t like to sing in public- they feel embarrassed and say things like, “Singing should be left to the singers! On the other hand, we call football stadiums “cathedrals”, and we speak of worshiping our team. We go crazy at the games, yet we are reserved in church and turn our noses at those who show too much emotion in church. But those great theologians Karen and Richard Carpenter said we should, “Sing, sing a song, sing out loud, sing out strong. Don’t worry that it’s not good enough for anyone else to hear. Just sing, sing a song!”

     We are called to make a joyful noise. We should love to sing, because we have something to sing about! If we truly love Jesus, then our voices will be the sweetest musical instruments heard in Heaven. The Apostle Paul tells us to sing with gratitude in hearts to God. The Greek word for gratitude he used was “charis”, which literally translates to “grace”- awe should have an attitude of grace. We should see God’s grace in everything, and therefore sing God’s song with grace and thankfulness in our hearts. Writer Fulton Ousler tells of an old African American nursemaid he had named Anna Marie. She was a part of the family- there when his mother was born AND when he was born. He told of how she would sit at the kitchen table before a meal, her old hands folded on her starched apron. With glistening eyes lifted to the white-washed ceiling, in a husky, whispering voice she would say, “Much obliged, Lord, for the vittles.” Once, he asked her, “What’s vittles?” She replied, “What we eat and drink.” He told her, “But you get that whether or not you thank God!” She replied, “But being thankful makes everything taste better!” After the meal, he noticed she thanked God again- she said she needed to look for things to be thankful for. She said that many days she would pass right by the thankfulness, unless she was looking for it. But one morning, she woke up and laid there, thinking, “What have I got to be thankful for?” And she said she couldn’t think of anything! Then, she went to the kitchen, where she experience the most delicious smell ever—coffee. And she said, “Much obliged, God, for the coffee, and the smell!”  Years later, Ousler was called to Anna’s bedside as she lay dying. He said, “What do you have to be thankful for now?” She opened her eyes, looked at all the people, closed eyes, smiled and said, “Much obliged for such fine friends.” She saw God’s grace and was thankful for the simple things- her heart was filled with gratitude.

     In the end, there should be 3 ND’s (noticeable differences) in the life of a Christian:

ND #1- They should be thankful to Jesus
ND #2- They should praise Jesus
ND #3- They should worship Jesus

     We should WANT there to be a noticeable difference in our lives! We should WANT to be different from others. We should WANT to effectively reach the world for Jesus Christ. It has ben said, “If you have the ability to do something, you also have the responsibility to do something.” So, how does music help us do all of that?
1. It changes our attitude

2. It gives us the power to rise above our circumstances (Look at Paul and Silas in jail)

3. It changes the people around us AND gives us tools to teach and witness

     When we sing to God, when we surround ourselves with music that glorifies God, we are actively putting ourselves into the very presence of God. We should not live like God owes us something. We don’t earn what we have- it is ours by the grace of God. And grace is not getting what we deserve while getting what we do not deserve. It is being thankful and gracious. 
     Argentina and Chile were in a war. After they reconciled, they made a 23’ high statue of Jesus. 

Underneath it was the inscription: “Sooner shall the mountains crumble into dust than the peoples of Argentina and Chile break this peace, which at the feet of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer, we have sworn to maintain.”
     On an isolated peak in the Andes, a statue stands: Christ the Redeemer of the Andes. It is an awe-inspiring statue. But the truth of the matter is that Jesus is the redeemer of Andes, the Rockies, the Alps, the Smokies…and our lives. We need to let the peace of Jesus Christ rule in our hearts.

What rules your heart? What determines what you do and how you act? Colossians 3:17 says that whatever you do, in word and in deed, we should do in the name of Jesus.
     After the 1988 World Series, Johnny Carson had series MVP Orel Hershiser of the Los Angeles Dodgers as a guest. He asked Hershiser what he did to calm his nerves. He replied, “I sing songs. Carson was surprised and asked him for an example. Hershiser sang, “Praise God from whom all blessing flow…” God wants us to worship Him in word and deed, spirit and truth. He wants to deliver us from bondage- the bondage of legalism and traditionalism. He  longs for His Church to hear His Word.  

What should worship look like? How long should it last? How many songs should you sing? How long should you stand and how long should you sit? What is the correct style? Which are the correct musical instruments? The New Testament is no help in that area. Why? Because it’s not about us! We need to consider what God wants, not what we want. Psalms, hymns, spiritual songs- music expressing praise for God’s character and actions. Music is a direct address of praise and glory to God. It is not for self-pleasure…but God’s pleasure. God is aroused by a seeking heart that longs to declare truth and express love. God’s people have every reason to rejoice, to sing, to make music in their hearts. God doesn’t want long faces, sour or serious expressions. God wants joy! We are to enter His gates with thanksgiving in our hearts. We are to enter His courts with praise. Why? Because when we sing songs for His glory, we exalt God! 

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

  Tomorrow- At breakneck speed

Tuesday, April 24- Some Days Are Diamonds, Some Days Are Stone

     Remember John Denver? (Far out!) I LOVED John Denver back in the day! (If I’m honest, I STILL like his music!) On his 1981 album titled Some Days Are Diamonds, he included the title song- Some Days Are Diamonds, Some Days Are Stone. Written by Dick Feller, this song (while not getting a lot of air play or notoriety), really has some great things to say about perseverance- “Some days are diamonds some days are stones. Sometimes the hard times won’t leave me alone. Sometimes a cold wind blows a chill in my bones. Some days are diamonds some days are stones.”
     You just have to love perseverance! To paraphrase American humorist Josh Billings, the postage stamp is a great example of perseverance- it’s usefulness is based solely on its ability to stick to one thing until is gets where it’s going! I recently had someone comment on my perseverance, pointing out that I post to this site EVERY day. They imagined that there are days when I don’t feel like it, yet I do anyway. I thanked them for their words and went on my merry way.
     Their comments caused me to remember a quote by author Stephen King- “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware off, no shortcut.” How true! There are some days when I sit down to write and it just POURS out- I can’t type fast enough to keep up with my head! But there are other days when I fire the ‘ol laptop up, get comfortable, put my fingers on the keyboard, and…I got nothin’! I am so dry, I make the Sahara look like an oasis! On days like that, I simply DON’T. WANT. TO. WRITE! I want to close the laptop and go do something else…ANYTHING else. But when I started this website 2 1/2 years ago, I made a commitment…to myself AND to God…that I would write every day. And with VERY few exceptions, I have managed to publish something every day. And I will be the 1st to point out that some days, what I post is not half bad, while other days, it is hardly worth the cyber-space it takes up! But that “nose to the grindstone” approach has paid off in many ways for me. And over the 2 1/2 years of Stick With jesus, there have been a quarter of a million log-ins to read what’s going on that day! (That translates to literally DOZENS/day at first and thousands today!)
     Is life closing in around you? Do you feel like giving up? Are you ready to throw in the towel? All I can say is…DON’T. Psalm 30 (as well as the Contemporary Christian song Trading My Sorrows) says, “Though the sorrow may last for the night, the joy comes in the morning.” God IS with you, whether your days are diamonds or whether they are stones. (He seems to be with me even more when they are stones!) He will never leave you or forsake you. Hang in there…persevere!
     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: Sing, Sing a Psalm

Monday, April 23- Hissy Fits, Lawnmowers and God

     I needed to mow my lawn! BAD! I’m talkin’ B.A.D. It was so bad, if I had a bailer, I could have bailed my yard and sold it to local farmers. It was so bad, the neighbors were getting a petition together to ask us to move. It was so bad, I took the little dog out on the leash…and lost her!! (It only took 90 minutes to find her again!)
     It’s interesting when you live in a neighborhood that is predominantly retired folks…nearly every neighborhood I have ever lived in, oddly enough! My neighbors have a lot of time to mow their lawns. Consequently, their yards always look great. I seem to have little to NO time to mow my lawn, so my yard looks GREAT for 3 days…then terrible for the next 6-10! 
      Then, you throw in the ubiquitous “April showers” (there BETTER be some great May flowers!), and it becomes REALLY hard to mow the lawn. And by last Friday, my lawn was…well…you already read how bad it was!! And Fridays are my day off (at least in a theoretical world!), so I was gearing up big time to mow that morning. In fact, I told my wife Thursday night that I was going to mow the next morning. Her response? “It’s supposed to rain.” “Really?” “Supposed to start tonight and rain all day tomorrow.” “NO!” I proceeded to whine about the fact that I finally had a window of opportunity to mow…and now it was going to rain! Great! Just great!! The picture above might only be a SLIGHT exaggeration of what I looked like while I whined about it. I added, as a way to punctuate the conversation, “I’m going to pray about it!”
     The next morning, when I got up, it…was…DRY! NO rain overnight! I hurriedly did the things I had to do 1st. Then, I went out to mow…only to be reminded that my gas can was empty! Shoot! So I ran to the local Casey’s and filled it up ($7.47…what’s up with THAT?!), then ran home, fired up the mower, plugged in the headphones, and off I went! It takes a minimum of slightly over an hour to mow my lawn, and as I mowed, the sky got darker and darker, and the temperature got colder and colder, and the wind got stronger and stronger. BUT…I made it! I finished the lawn BEFORE it rained! Huzzah!
     When my wife got home, I said, “Well, I got the lawn mowed!” Her response? “So apparently throwing a hissy fit to God helps!” Ouch! We laughed about my whining, then went on with life. But as I thought through that, I thought about the fact that we often seem to think that “hissy-fitting” God DOES help! We throw the spiritual version of a temper tantrum, telling God what He should be doing and why He needs to listen to us! But really…that’s not how it works. Did it not rain because I “hissy-fitted” God? No, of course not. I am convinced that God has bigger fish to fry than the height of my grass! It didn’t rain because the forecasters were wrong- now THERE’S a novel thought! Prayer is NOT us telling God what to do. Instead, it is a conversation- and like any good conversation, it should include more listening than talking!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
   Tomorrow- Some Days Are Diamonds, Some Days Are Stones

Sunday, April 22- After the Show: Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

    A couple of years ago, my family and I were driving to a town about a half-hour from where we live. We had never been there before and were on a time crunch, so I used the GPS in my phone. We were out in the middle of absolutely NOWHERE when suddenly my phone said, “You have LOST GPS signal.”  Aaaawwww…..SNAP, son! We wondered around a bit, heading in what I thought was the general direction of our intended destination, but we still couldn’t find what we were looking for. Then, just about the time we were considering giving up, my cell phone suddenly said, “You now have GPS service.” Oh, victory in Jesus!!

     Today is week 2 of a relatively short 5-week walk through the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus called After the Show. We won’t talk about ALL of His appearances, but will focus on an overview of what happened between Easter morning and Jesus ascending into Heaven. Each week has a song tied to it – in fact it’s the name of the message – that relates to the story we’re looking at.

     The song tied to today’s message is I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For by the group U2. The song was written as a group collaboration- lead vocalist Bono (NOT the name his mama gave him!) was interested in the theme of spiritual doubt. Meanwhile, lead guitarist The Edge (ALSO not the name his mama gave him!) had written down the words “still haven’t found what I’m looking for” and wrote a chord sequence to go along with it. They put everything together and ended up with the 2nd track for their 1987 album, The Joshua Tree. The lyrics include- “I have spoke with the tongue of angels. I have held the hand of a devil. It was warm in the night. I was cold as a stone. But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” Sounds very much like someone crying out to God, looking for what they don’t have. And then, as if Jesus is responding to us, the song offers, “I have climbed highest mountains. I have run through the fields only to be with you. I have run, I have crawled. I have scaled these city walls, these city walls, only to be with you, only to be with you.”

      Have you ever been near the end of your rope, hanging on for dear life? And then, somebody says something, or you hear a song or read a story, and you realize it’s not really a message from them…but from God? It’s as if God is speaking directly to you.  Hear these words from 2Chronicles 15:2b-4 The LORD is with you as long as you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you abandon him, he will abandon you. For a long time Israel was without the true God, without a priest to teach them, and without the Instruction. But in their time of trouble they turned to the LORD, Israel’s God. They sought him and found him! Sometimes the answer is right in front of us.

     Fred was in a restaurant with some business associates when a distinguished-looking gentleman rushed up to his table. Hardly able to contain his enthusiasm, the man began to pump Fred’s hand vigorously, all the while calling him Joe and fondly recounting the great times they had together in the Army. Fred, who had served in the Merchant Marines, gently told the man that he was mistaken and had evidently confused him with someone else. The stranger, obviously embarrassed, apologized profusely and left. A week later, while leaving the same restaurant, Fred bumped into the same stranger. This time, the stranger hugged him and repeated to all within earshot the poignant story of two Army buddies who had not seen each other in years. Finally, before Fred could speak a word, the man said, “And you know what? You’re never going to believe this, but I met some guy in here last week who looks just like you!” 

     One of the oldest and most time-worn conventions in all of entertainment is that of mistaken identity. What 60’s and 70’s sitcom didn’t use the “evil twin” convention? (As I recall, Gilligan’s Island likes it so much they used it SEVERAL times!) Movies like The Great Dictator with Charlie Chaplin, The Court Jester with Danny Kaye and North By Northwest with Cary Grant, as well as books like The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain and Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors are based firmly on the premise of someone being mistaken for someone else. 

     Mistaken identity- notice that after the resurrection, Jesus only showed Himself to those who believed in Him. That’s often true in our lives as well. If you surround yourself with a veil of skepticism, you might not hear God speak. But if you believe and ask God to reveal Himself, you’ll be surprised how often that prayer is answered. In today’s story, He showed up in an unlikely place…with some surprising results.

     Read Luke 24:13-18, 27-32- That same day two of Jesus’ followers were going to a town named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking about everything that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and began walking with them, but they were kept from recognizing him. Then he said, “What are these things you are talking about while you walk?” The two followers stopped, looking very sad. The one named Cleopas answered, “Are you the only visitor in Jerusalem who does not know what just happened there?” Then starting with what Moses and all the prophets had said about him, Jesus began to explain everything that had been written about himself in the Scriptures. They came near the town of Emmaus, and Jesus acted as if he were going farther. But they begged him, “Stay with us, because it is late; it is almost night.” So he went in to stay with them. When Jesus was at the table with them, he took some bread, gave thanks, divided it, and gave it to them. And then, they were allowed to recognize Jesus. But when they saw who he was, he disappeared. They said to each other, “It felt like a fire burning in us when Jesus talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us.”

     In 1972, NASA launched Pioneer 10- its mission was to fly to Jupiter and take pictures of the planet and moons. Many scientists didn’t think it was possible- up to that point, no probe had even made it past Mars. But, Pioneer 10 completed its mission in November of 1973, and continued on. By 1997, the probe had traveled six billion miles from the sun. In spite of the great distance, scientists were still picking up decipherable radio signals- all from an 8 watt transmitter; the equivalent of a night light. The last, weak signal was received on January 23, 2003. Pioneer 10 is now outside the solar system, in interstellar space. And isn’t it amazing that we SO easily accept the wonders of science…and yet are so quick to dismiss the power and the purpose of the Creator who set it all in motion in the 1st place?

     This story takes place on the road to a place called Emmaus. 2 amazingly ordinary people, only one of whom is even given a name, are walking along an amazingly ordinary road when suddenly a stranger shows up and injects Himself into the middle of their grief. And isn’t that just the way it goes- when you’re perfectly fine to see other people, you never see a soul. But when, like Greta Garbo, you WANT to be alone, here comes somebody…butting in where they’re not wanted. And people say, “How could they NOT recognize Jesus?” Well, He probably looked a bit familiar- “Haven’t we seen you someplace before?” But you have to remember- they weren’t looking for Jesus…He was dead.

     Maybe their failure to recognize Jesus was just a continuance of their failure to recognize Him before He was crucified- to really understand who He is and why He’s come. Recognition is not simply a function of memory- it’s also about relationship. Is this story about a stranger who turns out to be Jesus, or is it a story about Jesus…Who turns out to be a stranger?

     Ephesians 1:16-19 I don’t stop giving thanks to God for you when I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, will give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation that makes God known to you. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart will have enough light to see what is the hope of God’s call, what is the richness of God’s glorious inheritance among believers, 19 and what is the overwhelming greatness of God’s power that is working among us believers. This power is conferred by the energy of God’s powerful strength.

     Did you notice that Cleopas and his running buddy weren’t following directions? Were they on their way to Galilee to meet with Jesus? No. Were they staying in Jerusalem, waiting for the dramatic arrival of the Holy Spirit? No. They were out for a Sunday afternoon stroll, trying to put some distance between them and the place where they saw their little world crash down around them. But we’ve all been there, haven’t we? Sometimes when the hurt is so deep, you have to get away from it for a while. We’ve all been on the road to Emmaus before- that temporary hiding place, that momentary distraction, that change of scenery.

     Let’s be honest- some days we ARE Cleopas and friend on the road to Emmaus; trying to get away from it all, if only for a little while. Then we hear footsteps behind us- a stranger has shown up, intruding on our misery. We don’t want to talk to anybody…and here this person is!  And this stranger doesn’t even know what’s happened! So we tell him. And what does HE do? He starts lecturing us! What’s up with that? But, in an effort to be nice, you invite him in for dinner. And being polite, you pass him the bread first. And suddenly…you recognize Him- it’s Jesus! “Lord, forgive me! I didn’t realize it was You!” It was only when they broke bread together, when they did something they had done so many times before, that Cleopas and his friend recognized Jesus. Their eyes were opened and they recognized Him. And then, in the twinkling of an eye, He’s gone…vanished into thin air! And they’re left to ask each other, “Weren’t our hearts burning while He talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” After that revelation, they immediately return to Jerusalem and meet with the other disciples, telling them what happened and how they recognized Jesus when He broke the bread.

     Throughout my years in the ministry, I’ve heard people say they’re jealous of the 1st Century folks who got to see Jesus in the flesh- to walk with Him and talk with Him along life’s narrow way. Maybe you’re sitting here today thinking the same thing. If so, I’ll tell you the same thing I tell them- you can still do that today. Jesus is still here- alive and well. When you hear that still small voice- the one you hear with your heart and not your ears- that’s Jesus, reassuring you that no matter how bad things might seem, despite the trials and tribulations, whether you understand the tragedies of life or not, through ALL your fears and doubts, He’s been there the WHOLE time, standing with you, uplifting you.

     The reality of this story is that moments of TRUE revelation, sacred times when we feel the presence of God in a real and powerful way, are more often than not frighteningly ordinary times. If we only look with our eyes, or listen with our ears, then all we see is a gardener, a guy on the shore who thinks he knows where all the fish are, or a stranger on the road to Emmaus. But when we share our lives in true relationship, those Emmaus moments happen more and more often. When our eyes are opened and we suddenly recognize Jesus for Who He is, then we know- really know- that God understands. He understands our tiredness, our sorrow, our sadness. And in those moments, with sighs too deep for words, we make a deep, personal connection with the Risen Christ. We are able to hear Jesus’ voice saying, “Do this in remembrance of Me.”

     Emmaus reminds us that our God is a God who will never leave us alone, even when we’re hurt and disappointed, even when it seems that the brightest and best in life is gone, over, destroyed. Jesus’ death couldn’t stop God from loving us any more than the moon can keep the sun from coming up every morning. God loves because God IS love. And when the love of God is alive in us, Jesus is alive in us. Jesus comes, often unexpected and often uninvited, and then He vanishes just as quickly as He came, because Jesus can’t be confined or constricted any more than He could be held down by the tomb.

     I don’t know about you, but I’m delighted about the fact that Jesus being alive today isn’t dependent on my ability to understand how the Resurrection actually happened. We tend to keep on misunderstanding who Jesus is and what He’s about, just like those 1st disciples did. We keep right on worshiping the wrong things, chasing the wrong dreams, being taken in by false messiahs. And in the midst of it, God just keeps right on loving us, often despite us. Emmaus moments happen. Emmaus moments are those times when, right smack in the middle of life, you meet the Risen Christ. And when that happens, Easter is so real you can taste it.

     Jesus is alive, up close and personal. He cares about you and wants to reveal Himself to you, just like He revealed Himself to Cleopas and friend on the road to Emmaus. He’s NOT dead and buried in the ground. Instead, He’s alive, well and with us. That’s what Cleopas and his buddy discovered on the road to Emmaus. They were discouraged, downhearted, defeated, and just when they were about to give up, they encountered Jesus.

     People say to me, “I don’t need to go to church to find God! I can find Him just fine on the golf course! After all…isn’t God everywhere?” True enough- He is. But in worship, in the presence of other believers, when the Scriptures are shared and the bread is broken- that’s where you are most likely to encounter God. Why do we come to church? Because it’s the decent thing to do, or you like the music, or it looks good to other people, or it serves as glorified medication? The best reason to go to church…is to find God. Or better yet, to open ourselves to God…Who is searching for us. In worship, we here the echoes of eternity. When the Scriptures are read, when the bread is broken, when we bow before the throne, God is here. We need to open ourselves to God and hear Him speak to our hearts.

     Back to the song for a moment as we close. This last verse offers us the true meaning behind the Emmaus story- “I believe in the Kingdom Come, when all the colors will bleed into one, bleed into one. But yes, I’m still running. You broke the bonds and you loosed the chains, carried the cross of my shame, of my shame. You know I believe it. But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” In God’s Kingdom, all the colors bleed into one. There IS no black, white, old, young, male, female, rich, poor, whatever. We are radically equal in God’s eyes. And yet, we still run, we still search. But the good news of the Gospels is that Jesus broke the bonds and loosed our chains. He carried the cross of OUR shame. Have YOU found what you’re looking for? If not, stop looking- it’s here. What you seek, that part of you that simply refused to be complete, can be made whole only in the healing and saving presence of Jesus the Christ. Turn to Jesus on YOUR road to Emmaus and say to Him, “My Lord and my God.”

     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- Hissy Fits, Lawn Mowers and God.

Saturday, April 21- Earth Day

     An environmentalist dies and reports to the pearly gates. St. Peter checks his dossier and says, “Ah, you’re an environmentalist–you’re in the wrong place.” Thinking that heaven could never make an error, the environmentalist reports to the gates of hell and is let in. Pretty soon, the environmentalist gets dissatisfied with the environment in hell and starts implementing eco-friendly improvements. After a while, global warming, air and water pollution are under control. The landscape is covered with grass and plants, the food is organic, and the people are happy. The environmentalist has become a pretty popular guy. One day, God calls Satan up on the telephone and says with a sneer, “So, how’s it going down there in hell?” Satan replies, “Hey, things are going great. We’ve got clean air and water, the temperature is better and the food tastes better, and there’s no telling what this environmentalist is going to fix next.” God replies, “What??? You’ve got an environmentalist? That’s a mistake–he should never have gotten down there; send him up here.” Satan says, “No way. I like having an environmentalist on the staff, and I’m keeping him.” God says, “Send him back up here or I’ll sue.” Satan laughs uproariously and answers, “Yeah, right. And just where are you going to get a lawyer?”
     Tomorrow is Earth Day. I’m sure of it. Why? Because it’s also my sister’s birthday. And if there is ANY day that is an appropriate day for my sister’s birthday, it would be Earth Day! My sister IS Earth Day! But beyond a celebratory day in my family…what IS Earth Day? The name was coined by a guy named John McConnell in 1969 but the early growth of the Day is attributed to the efforts of a Wisconsin senator named Gaylord Nelson. The first Earth Day observance was the next year- 1970. It has grown every year. The theme for this year’s Earth Day is “Mobilize the Earth”. 
     “So what does all this mean? And why should we care about Earth Day? Are you one of them there tree-huggers, pastor?” The short answer is…not really. I’ve never been chained to anything or carried a picket sign. BUT…I DO care about the planet. “Why’s that, pastor?” Because of the Old Testament Book of Genesis. Yep…you read that correctly. The Book of Genesis. Read this-
     “God created human beings; he created them godlike, reflecting God’s nature. He created them male and female. God blessed them: “Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge! Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.” Then God said, “I’ve given you every sort of seed-bearing plant on Earth and every kind of fruit-bearing tree, given them to you for food. To all animals and all birds, everything that moves and breathes, I give whatever grows out of the ground for food.”  
     So we should care about Earth Day because God GAVE us the earth…to BE RESPONSIBLE for it. How are we doing with that? Not real great! Pray about how you can be a better steward of God’s creation, and how you can positively impact others to do the same.
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- After the Show: Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For