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