Thursday, May 31- Dream Job

     My older son was home for the weekend, visiting from his home in Chicago. It was his birthday on Monday, Memorial Day, and he had a paid holiday. So he made it a long weekend and came to see us. It was great!
     His job has him getting up early every morning, and we all know that when you have to get up early 5 days a week, you are VERY likely to get up early on the weekends, too! 
     I got up Monday morning about 8AM, and to say that’s sleeping late for me is a gross understatement! Usually, if I’m not up by 6:30AM, something is wrong. Now, to be fair, I actually got up at 6:10AM- the dogs woke me up because they were…desperate! (Although I STILL don’t know if they were desperate to go outside…or desperate to eat!) I figured if I got up, took them out and fed them, then I could go back to bed for a while and they would leave me alone. It worked!
     So anyway, here I am, up at 8AM. I walk into the kitchen to make coffee, and I see my older son sitting at the dining room table. He is eating leftover fried chicken from the day before and reading a HUGE hardback book on the history of DC superheroes. (The men in my house, present company included, are unabashed superhero geeks!) I greeted him and wished him a happy birthday. Then I said, “So, how does it feel to get paid to sit at the dining room table, eat chicken and read comics?” He didn’t even look up from the book as he replied, “Really…it’s my dream job!” He and I both had a good laugh and both secretly thought, “True. True!”
     As I thought through that encounter later, I thought that, at some level, that IS the dream job of a lot of people, especially a lot of pastors. But a lot of pastors don’t necessarily want to get paid to sit and read about superheroes- they want to actually strap the cape on and BE one! Pastor are well-known to want to fix everything. We are famous for wanting to be Superman, swooping in and putting everything right before flying off because our super-hearing has detected another call of distress. Is it any wonder that I have both an 8 1/2 X 11 drawing of Superman that my dad did when he was 12 AND a 12″ tall Superman statue (it is NOT an action figure and definitely NOT a doll!) in my office at church?
     Many people have that desire to save others. And while it IS an admirable quality, it often is taken to illogical extremes. In the end, we simply CAN’T fix every problem everybody has. Let’s be honest- we can’t even fix every problem WE have! We are NOT Supermen. We are NOT saviors. There, always has been and can ONLY be…ONE…Savior. Jesus Christ chose to walk among us and live like we did. he chose to lay down His life – nobody took it from Him – to take away our sin. And He chose to pick that life back up again to offer us eternity with Him. How cool is THAT?! He IS Superman, without a doubt!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- A Great Cloud of Witnesses

Wednesday, May 30- Heart Condition: The Turned Heart

     (Wednesdays are Bible Study Day here at Stick With Jesus. Today, we continue our current series- Heart Condition.)
     My mom’s maiden name was Riley. Actually, it was O’Riley, by was anglicized to Riley when her family came over from the “Old Country”. Therefore, a strong part of my heritage is rooted in the Emerald Isle! Here are some of my favorite Irish sayings: “Here’s to your roof- may it be well-thatched. Here’s to all who are under it- may they be well- matched.” Another is,
“Don’t break your shin on a stool that’s not in the way.” Or, “‘It’s better to spend your money like there’s no tomorrow than it is to spend tonight like there’s no money!” And, “Wisdom is a comb given to a man after he’s lost his hair.” Then there’s, “What butter and whiskey won’t cure…there’s no cure for!” Also, “A man is incomplete until he marries. After that, he finished!” Or, “Dance as if no one’s watching, sing as if no one’s listening, and live every day as if it’s your last.” But perhaps my favorite is, “May those who love us love us. And for those who don’t love us, may the good Lord turn their hearts. And for those whose hearts won’t turn, may the good Lord turn their ankles so we will know them by their limping!”
     This is the
3rd week of our current study- Heart Condition. This study is aimed at reigniting hearts- setting them ablaze for God. The 1st week we talked about the lost heart. Last week we considered the proud heart. Today, we look at the turned heart. We will primarily focus not on hearts turned toward God…but away. What do we when we turn away from God? What’s our responsibility when a fellow Christian turns away from God? The journey from the head to the heart is but a few inches…yet some never make it.

     The Greek word for heart is KARDIA- it speaks not just of the physical heart, but also of the center, the core of our being. As we continue looking at the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy, we will experience the journey of the heart from lost to on fire. Where will you find YOURSELF on the journey?

     Deuteronomy 29:16-18- “You yourselves know how we lived in Egypt and how we passed through countries on the way here. You saw among them their detestable images and idols of wood and stone, of silver and gold. Make sure there is no man or woman among you today whose heart turns away from God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison.”
     A b
oy was in a boat, fishing with his dad, and he was scared. As he clung to the side of the boat with white knuckles, we asked, “Is the water over my head?” His dad said, “Yes.” “Is it over your head?” “Yes.” Tears began to well in his eyes, “Is it over God’s head?”

     If you remember, the Book of Deuteronomy is Moses’ last, best hurrah. He was ordained by God to write it before he died. In it, he reminds the people of their history, their covenant with, and how they are to live by it. Did you hear what it said? “Make sure no one among you turns their heart away from God. Make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison.”

     So admonishes don’t only come from God- we are also not supposed to let each other turn, either. But the truth is that turning from God often seems almost logical. A disaster strikes and we say, “How could God let that happen?” And we use that thought to deny the existence of God. But, just for a moment, say those people are right. Let’ say that God doesn’t exist. The tragedy is STILL there- getting rid of God didn’t solve any problem. In fact, it creates problems. We want to blame somebody else for bad things, and God is SO convenient. And so…we blame Him. “If there IS a God, and if He is SO good, then how could He let this happen?”

     But what are we really saying when we blame God? How about,  “Since God didn’t act the way I THOUGHT He should, then He is WRONG, and BAD, and DOESN’T EXIST!” But if you look at it logically- it’s hard to be mad at someone who doesn’t exist, isn’t it?

Atheists spend LOTS of time and energy on someone doesn’t exist!

     So, DO we believe in God ONLY if He acts the way WE want? DO we form certain opinions of God when He acts in a way that is opposed to how we THINK He should act? Sometimes, we don’t SEE the goodness of God, especially when bad happens. And when we experience heartache, disappointment and tragedy, it seems like God isn’t good at all.

     Even Christians find themselves struggling against God at times. We say we want peace…but peace doesn’t always fit into our agenda. Why? Because peace calls for doing…nothing sometimes, and we can’t handle that. Pascal, the great philosopher and scientist, said, “Most of our troubles come from our inability to be still.”

     Perhaps our problem is that we use the wrong standard for “goodness”- we use OUR standard. You know- “Good is whatever is good for me. I am the standard for good.” But God gently reminds us: “No…I am the standard for good.” God is the gold standard, the good standard. Because God is good…all the time! 
     A boy was trying to pick up a rock. “It’s too heavy!” His dad said, “Son, you can do it.” “Dad, it’s too heavy!” “You can do it.” “It’s TOO heavy!” “You’re not using all your strength.” “I am! It’s just too heavy!” “You’re not using all your strength.” “Why do you keep saying I’m not using all my strength? It’s too heavy!” “I know you’re not using all your strength, because you haven’t asked me to help yet.” 
      We haven’t used all our strength if we haven’t asked God to help us yet. We n
eed to ask God for help in our Christian walk…in life.

     For my money, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is second to none on the subject of peace and seeking God’s help. Here are snippets from 2 of his speeches:

     “Love your enemies- have the Christian and moral responsibility to discover the meaning of His words, discover how to live out His command, and why we should live by that command. There is power in love that the world has not discovered yet. Jesus discovered it centuries ago, but most men and women will never discover it. We must discover the redemptive power of love. When we discover that, we will be able to make of this old world a new world. Love is the only way. Jesus discovered that and civilization must discover that. Individuals must discover that as they deal with others. It’s the telescope through which we look out into the long vista of eternity and see the love of God breaking forth. Love is the only creative, redemptive, transforming power in the universe. Let us join together in the great fellowship of love and bow down at the feet of Jesus.”

     “I have dream- that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of the creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident: all men are created equal. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream that one day every valley will be exalted, every hill and mountain made low, the rough places made plain, the crooked places made straight and the glory of Lord revealed all flesh will see it together. When we let freedom ring, we will be able to speed up the day when all of God’s children will join hands and sing the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last!” 
     God is our place of protection, our source of power our means of rescue, our rock of salvation. The o
nly hope for true security is to turn to Him!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- Dream Job

Tuesday, May 29- Post-Memorial Day Thoughts

    On Sunday, my church had a special Memorial Day observance. I began that part of the service in prayer, and then left it open for anyone who wanted to lift up someone. The idea was this- if you had someone in your life who served in the military and had since died, your were encouraged to say their name out loud during the prayer time. 
     It was a powerful time as more and more folks said the names of loved ones who they had lost. My younger son had said in advance that he would like to say the name of my dad, who served in the Navy at the very tail end of WW2 and died a bit over a year ago. I looked up to see if he was going to, and he was looking at me- wanting some approval. So I nodded to him. Then he said my dad’s name out loud.
     Suddenly, the whole point of Memorial Day came rushing in at such breakneck speed that I nearly lost it. Tears welled up and I was glad I didn’t have to speak at the moment. I thought about my dad, as a 17-year old kid, having to get his mom’s permission to go into the Navy. She kept refusing and he kept pushing. Finally, my school principal grandma made him promise her that he would complete his high school education once he got out of the Navy. (He did it, too. He got his GED and went on to be a design engineer!) 
     I thought about him leaving home, going to basic training, and then ending up on a destroyer off the coast of China. He saw things that I can only imagine. In fact, I probably CAN’T imagine much of what he saw. He left a kid and came back a man. I could barely find my way home at night when I was 17. He was halfway around the world, helping defend our country. 
     “Thank you” seems insufficient for all of the men and women, throughout the history of our country, who willingly and sacrificially, served their country. They defended our freedoms. And we could never repay them for what they have done. But on Memorial Day, along with Veteran’s Day, we do our best to let them know how appreciative we are for their sacrifice!
     So, thank you, dad. Thank you, wife’s grandpa. Thank you, Uncle Bill. And thank you countless men and women across history. We owe you a debt we simply cannot pay!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- Heart Condition- The Turned Heart

Monday, May 28- Tebowing

     Did you read about the kid in Fort Myers, Florida who recently got in some hot water at his high school graduation? Bishop Verot Catholic High School senior Chuck Shriner Tebow-ed on stage Saturday prior to receiving his graduation diploma. If you don’t know what Tebowing is, look at the picture.
     Tim Tebow (for those who have perhaps been stranded on a desert isle with Ginger, Mary Ann and Gilligan for quite some time) is an NFL quarterback (recently traded from the Denver Broncos to the New York Jets) who is very vocal about his Christian faith, often dropping to one knee in prayer. He has done that so often that the pose is called Tebowing.
     So, back to young Mr. Shriner at Bishop Verot Catholic High School. He got on stage, and before he accepted his diploma, he Tebowed. The principal wasn’t amused and refused to give him his diploma. His mom, a math teacher at the same school, offered her full backing to the principal.
     I’ll be honest- when I 1st read this, I was not happy. It sounded like yet another example of someone being persecuted for their beliefs. That is, until I read the rest of the article! It seems the act wasn’t a demonstration of faith. “I just thought it was fun,” Shriner said. “I was just doing it to make graduation memorable.” Shriner also won a $5 bet for doing it, although he contends that the money wasn’t a factor. Students and parents apparently burst into laughter when he took a knee and bowed his head. His mom picked up his diploma the next day- but only after he’d cleaned up the gym where the graduation was held.
      “They said what I did would give underclassmen inspiration to do something else, that it might lead to something else,” Shriner said. “So they were trying to set an example.” But he doesn’t seem terribly remorseful. When asked about his mom, Shriner replied, “She was really mad, but I think it was worth it!”
     So perhaps Mr. Shriner wasn’t trying to make a religious statement that day on the graduation stage. maybe he was just trying to…make a statement. BUT…there are lots of people who, either intentionally or unintentionally, make a religious statement. And in this country, that’s frowned upon. People can make political statements. They can make moral statements. In fact, they can say anything they want to say, including portraying Christians as either rabid zealots or mindless drones. 
     But if a Christian makes a statement of their faith, they are castigated. They are branded as being intolerant of others. And I, for one, am tired of it. Am I perfect? Far from it! Do I sometimes make bad choices? Absolutely! Am I a model Christian? Pffft! But I try hard to love others. I try hard to realize and accept that other people have other thoughts and opinions AND that those thoughts and opinions aren’t always going to agree with mine. And that’s OK. 
     The founder of United Methodism, John Wesley, said, “If your heart is right- take my hand.” In other words, we don’t always have to agree. But if you are willing to be a part of the conversation and try and work through the differences, then join together and make it happen. Wouldn’t it be GREAT if that could actually happen?
     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 Post-Memorial Day Thoughts

Sunday, May 27- 80% of Success is Simply Showing Up

     3 pastors were having lunch. One said, “You know, since summer started, we’ve been having trouble with bats in the church attic. We have tried everything- noise, spray, cats- nothing seems to scare them away.” The 2nd pastor said, “Yeah, we’ve had the same problem. Hundreds of bats live in our bell tower. We had the place fumigated but they wouldn’t go away.” The 3rd pastor said, “We solved that problem!” The other 2 were amazed. “How’d you do it?” “We baptized all our bats and made them members of the church…haven’t seen them since!”
     Having a Bachelor’s Degree in Theater, a background as an actor and extensive experience at running businesses, I geek out about things like movie theater box office receipts. Do you know which movies are the highest-grossing films of all time? Now, let me qualify that- I think the only way to fairly measure that is to adjust totals for inflation. With that in mind, here are the top 5 movies of all time-
5. The Sound of Music, released in 1965, $2.26 billion
4. Titanic, released in 1997, $2.4 billion
3. Star Wars, released in 1977, $2.71 billion
2. Avatar, released in 2009, $2.78 billion
1. Gone With the Wind, released in 1939, $3.3 billion
     Imagine that- the highest-grossing movie in history was released in 1939! Here’s another amazing box office statistic- since just April 11th of THIS year- 6 weeks!- the movie The Avengers has brought in $1.23 billion, as of Friday morning! $1.23 BILLION with a “B” in 6 weeks! That’s a LOT of people attending a LOT of showings!
    Today, we continue my LAST sermon series at this church. (Hard to believe!) This 4-week series is called Do YOU Remember the Vows?, and it focuses on 2 things: 1. the membership vows of the United Methodist Church and 2. me telling you what I have NOT said until now!
   The last part of the membership vows is, “As a member of this congregation, will you faithfully participate in its ministries by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, and your service?” Prayers, presence, gifts, service- those are the “hot buttons” in this series. Today we look at supporting your church through your presence- attendance. 
     People are always willing to attend things like hit movies- it’s a no-brainer. But what about showing up for church? That’s a different story altogether. That great theologian Woody Allen said, “80% of success is simply showing up”! Do you believe that? I do! I was once hired as a photographer- seasonal help. I started in August and was supposed to be laid off by Thanksgiving- 3 ½ months. I ended up spending 4 years there, simply because I kept showing up! People who “show up” in church are often referred to as “the righteous”. And the Old Testament Book of Proverbs (11:23-25) has something to say about the righteous- The desire of the righteous ends only in good, but the hope of the wicked only in wrath. One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.
     Did you hear that? “Whoever refreshed others…will be refreshed”. Wow! What a promise! And WHERE does that “refreshing” happen? WORSHIP! Back to “presence”! There’s an old English proverb that says, “Absence sharpens love, presence strengthens it.” I would amend that to, “Absence sharpens faith, presence strengthens it.” When we are absent from our faith, it gets sharper, more acidic. But when we are present in our faith, we are strengthened.
     When you’re not in church, God misses you. And that’s NOT simply intended to be a guilt trip…it’s TRUE. There’s an old poem that says, “When I pass the village church, I stop to pay a visit, for fear that when I’m CARRIED in, The Lord will ask, ‘Who is it?’”
     One of the greatest problems we face in the church today is “meaningless membership”. According to the Barna Research Group, 1 out of 7 people will look for a new church this year; 1 out of 6 attends two or more churches on a rotating basis. And us “regular, steady”-type of  churchgoers tend to be critical of such “church hoppers”. But the truth is, when people hop from church to church, what they’re saying is, “My church membership doesn’t really matter”. And it happens so gradually that it’s easy to miss. You miss a few Sundays because of sporting events and a week’s vacation. . Suddenly, the habit of going to church is…gone. If you’re not consistent, it’s hard to go back to what once was- that’s true of anything. At this church, 42% of our ACTUAL membership is in the pews on any given Sunday! And sadly, that’s higher than the national average!
     We all have questions about all of this, so let’s look at them. Here are 3 questions that we all want to ask and have answered at one time or another.
     1. WHY should I be a member of a church? In the Bible, “church” refers to a local, visible, single congregation- membership is always assumed. Ephesians 2:19 says, “You belong in God’s household with every other Christian”. There’s a reason for that: God knows there are some tremendous benefits to His people when they would join a church. There are physical benefits. According to a study from Perdue University, people who join a church, attend regularly, and get involved, get sick much less often than those who don’t. In fact, it was found that non-church members who never attended church or participated were more than twice as likely to report health problems as those who were members.
     God knew what He was doing when He said, “Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together.” 20% of all fatal accidents happen in cars- stay out of cars. 17% of all accidents happen in the home- don’t stay home. 14% of all accidents happen to pedestrians- Stay off the streets and sidewalks. 16% of all accidents happen on public transportation- avoid travel by air, rail, or water. But only .001% of all deaths happen during worship services! Obviously, the safest place for you to be is in church. Perhaps our new slogan should be: “Come to church- it could save your life!”
     There are also emotional benefits to joining a church and getting actively involved. You won’t just be healthier, you’ll be happier. The Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Company compared people who joined a church, were actively involved, prayed, read their Bibles, and surrendered their life to Jesus to people who didn’t attend church. They found that church members are twice as likely to say their home is happy. Church members are almost twice as likely to believe that their work contributes to society. Church members are more than twice as likely to reconcile marital problems rather than divorce. Church members are six times more likely to do community volunteer work.
     Being an active member of a church offers spiritual benefits as well. Being a church member identifies you as a believer. The church provides a place where you can mature in your faith. The church gives you a place to discover your spiritual gifts, as well as a place to put them to work.
;   2. WHAT should I be as a member of a church? The Christian life is more than just commitment to Jesus; it’s also a commitment to other Christians. You become a Christian by committing yourself to Christ, but you become a church member by committing yourself to the church and to other members of the church. There’s one thing every member of a church has, ever member of a church needs, and every member of a church should be doing- encouragement. And the great thing is that you don’t need a college degree, a seminary education, money, or even be a certain age to be an encouragement to others. Every church member needs to be an encouragement, and every church member needs to be encouraged. We should become encouragers. When I see you loving Jesus, it makes me want to love Him. When I see you serving Jesus, it makes me want to serve Him. When I see you worship Jesus, it makes me want to worship Him.
     3. WHERE should I be a member of the church? There are things you should look for when you are choosing a church to join. You should look for the Word. find a church where the Word of God is preached regularly. No matter what else a church does, or how well they do it, you will starve to death spiritually without the Word.
     You should look for Worship. Find a church where worship is the core- uplifting, inspiring, motivating and, centered on Jesus Christ. Worship should feed your soul.
     You should look for Witness. Find a church that understands and believes Jesus’ Great Commission- to go and make disciples, baptizing and teaching.
     You should look for Work. Find a church where you can get involved, putting your spiritual gifts to work in the service of Jesus Christ. A great place to start is with the church’s Mission and Vision Statement. Our Mission is: to invite all people to grow in faith through Jesus Christ. Our Vision is: to Gather as the body of Christ in worship, fellowship, and service; Grow in faith through prayer, encouragement, and support; and Go share God’s word and love daily with the world. Gather, grow and go. In a church that truly has those characteristics, you can’t help but be drawn closer to God.
     Hebrews 10:19-25- So, friends, we can now—without hesitation—walk right up to God, into “the Holy Place.” Jesus has cleared the way by the blood of his sacrifice, acting as our priest before God. The “curtain” into God’s presence is his body. So let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.
     “Walk right up to God, into the Holy Place…full of belief.” Why? Because “He always keeps His word.” What else? DON’T avoid worship…as some do…but spur each other on!
     During the great California gold rush, some prospectors discovered a very rich mine. “We’ve got it made,” they said, “as long as we don’t tell anybody else before we stake our claims.” They made a vow of secrecy.  But they had to go into town for provisions and tools. When they left town to head back to their claim, dozens and dozens of people followed them. Why? They didn’t HAVE to say a word- their secret was written all over their faces. It was impossible for them to hide what they’d experienced.  A motivational speaker was asked to describe his most difficult speaking assignment. He said that it was an address to the National Conference of Undertakers entitled “How to Look Sad at a $10,000 Funeral.”
     Today is Pentecost Sunday, the day we remember when the disciples were gathered together, “all in one place”, and the Holy Spirit came down among them and empowered them to go out and spread the Good News. Their sorrow instantly turned to joy. It was impossible for the disciples to mask their joy on that 1st Pentecost. In fact, they were so happy that some folks accused them of being drunk. Can you imagine people driving by our church and seeing us so excited, they think we’re drunk?!
     A little boy was sitting with his mom in the front pew at church. He was as quiet as he could be, not bothering a soul. But every once in awhile, he’d turn around and smile at everybody behind him. He did this several times, to the delight of everybody…except his mother. All of a sudden, she jerked him around and, in a loud whisper, said, “Stop being so happy…you’re in CHURCH!” Tears started to form in the corners of his eyes. His mother responded, “That’s more like it!”
     You might be saying to yourself, “Why should I make that commitment?” Matthew 18:12-13 says, What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. You should make that commitment because God is GOING to be here…EVERY Sunday…and He wants to meet YOU here. The truth is that we are ALWAYS either moving forward or backward spiritually- we are NEVER standing still. Worship helps us move forward.
     The Bible is constantly saying, “Worship the Lord.” The focus of worship is ALWAYS God. The preacher is secondary. The music choices are NOT the chief issue. Whether you wear a tuxedo or shorts and t-shirt shoes isn’t the point. GOD is the focus of this hour. He SHOULD be the focus of our lives.
     The essence of worship is encountering God and then responding to the offer He makes on your life. Without that…you simply haven’t worshipped. Imagine you run into an old friend at the restaurant after church today and they ask you, “Did you worship today…or did you just attend church?” Notice they didn’t ask you how good or bad the sermon was or whether the music was a 2 or a 10 or whether the people were friendly. Those things are important, but they are NOT the most vital issue of worship. All that really matters is whether or not you encountered God and responded to Him. What will you say? Remember, you haven’t worshipped unless you’ve encountered God and responded to His offer on your life.
     Every member matters. You need membership in the church, and the church needs your membership. Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among you.” You have AT LEAST one appointment with God each and every week, right here! Is it in your calendar? Is it on your “to-do” list? Lots of OTHER things are- things that don’t have NEARLY the eternal value. Are you willing to promise the God Who loves you enough to save you that you will be checking in regularly? He’ll be expecting you! Don’t neglect your regular appointments with 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- Tebowing

Saturday, May 26- A Word From Across the Planet

     Earlier this week, we had an out-of-town guest visit our church. And when I say out-of-town, I’m talking WAY out of town. The Rev. Albert Barchue was our guest for dinner and a time of sharing. Rev. Barchue, an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, is the District Superintendent of the Kakata/ Farmington District of the United Methodist Church. Oh, I failed to mention- that’s the Kakata/Farmington District in Liberia!
     If you don’t know where Liberia is, let me tell you. It is on the western coast of Africa, about 1/3 of the way dawn from the top of the continent and just north of the equator. Rev. Barchue came to the United States to attend our United Methodist General Conference- an every four years meeting of United Methodists from around the world. (This year, it was in Tampa, FL.) He is now visiting churches in Illinois prior to attending out Annual Conference in Peoria, IL in early June.
      We were blessed that Rev. Barchue could join us for our Wednesday Night Live event. Dinner was at 6PM (I cooked- my last opportunity to fix dinner for the church before we move), followed by a “thank you” event for our Sunday School teachers. Then at 7PM, we gathered in the sanctuary to hear what Rev. Barchue had to say. And it was powerful.
     He shared with us the extreme difficulties the people of Liberia experience on a daily basis as a result of the civil war that decimated the country’s infrastructure. Things that we take for granted here are tough, if not impossible, to come by there. Pastors make 5 American dollars a month…if they’re lucky. Roads, schools and hospitals simply have ceased to exist. Even clean drinking water is a luxury many citizens of Liberia  aren’t able to enjoy. 
     He talked about having to walk 6, 7, 8, 9 hours, sometimes through rivers up to his neck, to get to some of his churches. He talked about taking 3 shirts with him on trips…and coming back with only one because he gave the others away to people who didn’t have enough clothes. He talked about a country in which 75% of the population is both unemployed and illiterate. SEVENTY-FIVE PERCENT! It’s hard to even try to wrap our heads around how bad the situation is there.
     What can do about it? There are primarily 2 things we can do:
1. pray for them, diligently
2. get involved. You can send money, you can collect goods for them, you can join a mission team going there. 
     These folks are our brothers and sisters in Christ. If #2 is too hard…would you commit, with me, to pray for them on a regular basis? Prayer is NOT the least we can do- it’s the most. James 5:16 says, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” Pray for the folks in Liberia.
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- 80% of Success is Simply Showing Up

Friday, May 25- Sing It, Alice Cooper!

    School’s out for summer. School’s out forever. School’s been blown to pieces. No more pencils. No more books. No more teacher’s dirty looks.” If that rings a bell, then you are old enough to remember School’s Out by rock legend Alice Cooper. If you DON’T know the song or the artist…Alice Cooper’s a dude!
     Cooper (born Vincent Damon Furnier) is a rock and roll singer, songwriter, and musician whose career spans more than four decades. He wrote this now-classic song in response to a question someone asked him. “What’s the greatest three minutes of your life?”. Cooper replied: “There’s two times during the year. One is Christmas morning, when you’re just getting ready to open the presents. The greed factor is right there. The next one is the last three minutes of the last day of school when you’re sitting there and it’s like a slow fuse burning. I said, ‘If we can catch that three minutes in a song, it’s going to be so big.'”
     School’s Out became the 1972 title track of Cooper’s 5th album. It was his 1st major hit single, reaching #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop singles chart and propelling the album to #2 on the Billboard 200 pop albums chart. My older son knows the song because he heard it on our classic rock radio station as a kid. My younger son knows it because we have a…ready?…animatronic guinea pig in a cap and gown that sings it while dancing if you squeeze his hand! (I’m fairly certain that is one of the signs of the apocalypse!)
     School IS out, at least where I live. And I have noticed, over my 15 years in the ministry, that the fact that school is out seems to mean that church is out, too! I’m amazed at how many people simply take the summer off from church. They readily admit it and see no problem with it. My response is always the same- “How would you feel if God took the summer off…from YOU?” “Well, not too good, I suppose.” “Exactly! Then why is it OK to take time off from Him?” We need to be in church regularly, refueling our spiritual batteries and lifting each other up in prayer and encouragement. And NONE of those happen when we decide to take the summer off from church. This summer, commit to being in church every Sunday. If you go on vacation, attend a church for the week wherever you are. But (unless you have a MUCH better job than me) you are not away from home on vacation from June 1 – August 31!
     One last thought- one of my favorite lines EVER in a song comes from School’s Out. “Well we got no class, and we got no principles, and we got no innocence. We can’t even think of a word that rhymes!” An AWFUL lot of sing writers experience that- Cooper is one of the very few who is wiling to admit it so freely!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- A Word From Across the Planet

Thursday, May 24- Nothing Says “Thank You” Quite Like Ritz Snack Mix!

     So I was standing in the church lobby last Sunday. It was between services and I was “working the “room” as I call it. As I stood there, one of the grade school-aged kids in our church came up to me and stuck his arm out at me. Extended from the end of that arm was a gift bag. He said not a word- just stood there.
     I looked at him for a moment and then said, “Yes?” He still said nothing, just thrust his hand out a bit more. So I said, “This is for me?” He nodded, so I took it. And he walked away.
     I had NO idea what it was for, and I didn’t have time to look at it. So I set it in the church office and went back to my “room working”. About 60 seconds later, another kid came up with an identical gift bag and said, “Here.” Having a tad bit of history at that point, I thanked them and then asked them what it was for. They struggled a bit to explain it, but their Sunday School teacher was nearby and heard the conversation. “We made those in Sunday School. They are ‘thank you’s’ for people they feel help tem them. They got to choose who to give them to!” Pretty cool! Not only the idea itself, but the fact that I got 2 of them! I still didn’t have time to look at it, so I set it in the office next to the other one and went to start the next service.
    After Sunday morning worship services were over and pretty much everybody had gone on their merry way, I took the gift bags into my office to look at them. There was a paper and cotton ball flower pot on the front of the bag, along with a note that said, “Thanks! You are so sweet!” Aaaawwww! I opened one of them and found some Hershey’s Kisses, some tiny Tootsie Rolls, a small box of raisins, a few mints and a snack bag of Ritz Snack Mix. Awesome! How in the world did those kids (and more importantly, their teacher, who I am quite sure bought the food) know that those items are among my favorites?!
     I don’t eat breakfast on Sundays, so I ate a box of raisins and a bag of Ritz Snack Mix as I sat at my desk. Delicious! Over the next few days, I worked my way through the rest of the goodies- they are now gone. (Sigh!) But the bags are still folded up on my desk. How cool is it that those kids ( and their teacher) did that? Not only because I got 2 of them (although that doesn’t hurt a bit!), but also because they gave them away! I’m sure they would have rather kept them, but they didn’t. They passed them on to people who have made a difference in their lives as a way to say, “thank you”. 
      How have YOU said “thank you” today? HAVE you said it? If you haven’t…you’re missing out. To be able to bless someone else with a sincere “thank you” is also a blessing to the person offering it. Take some time today to bless others – AND yourself – by saying “thank you” for what they have done!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- Sing It, Alice Cooper!

Wednesday, May 23- Heart Condition: The Proud Heart

     (Wednesdays are Bible Study Day here at Stick With Jesus. Today, we continue our current study, Heart Condition, by looking at what impact a proud heart has on faith development.)
     It is said that pride goeth before the fall. MY pride wenteth AFTER the fall. A couple of years ago, I left the church to head home for lunch. It was raining and so I hurriedly opened the driver’s side sliding door to put my backpack in…and the door…FELL OFF! No foolin’! It remained attached at one spot in the bottom corner, but the rest of the door was NO longer a part of the vehicle! So I stood there, in the rain, trying desperately to imagine a way…ANY way…out of this! I called a local guy who does work on my car and asked if he could help. At first, he said that he probably couldn’t come for about an hour. Then he developed a better picture in his head of what actually happened. After that, it was all, “Yeah, I’ll be right there! I’ve never seen anything like THAT before!” So 1st it was “the fall”…of the door…and then it was “the fall”…of my PRIDE!
     This series ia aimed at reigniting hearts- setting them ablaze for God. The Greek word for heart is “KARDIA”, and it refers not only to the physical heart, but also to the center or core of our being. As we walk through the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, we will experience the journey the heart takes. Where will you find YOURSELF on that journey?
     In the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses is 120 years old and about to die. God wants him to write down a record of the covenant made between God and His people. So this book is about the history leading up to that covenant, as well as the terms of it AND the people’s call to be faithful to it. The people had settled into the  land and experienced GREAT blessing. But they also faced the temptation to think that they were responsible for those blessings, rather than God. 
     Last week, we looked at the lost heart. Today, we consider the proud heart. The word pride has 2 meanings: pleasure or satisfaction in something done well, or an inordinately high opinion of one’s own importance, merit and superiority. My definition of that 2nd kind of pride is self-worship. Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, and the haughty spirit before a fall.” The Message Translation of that passage is, “First pride, then a crash. And the bigger the ego, the harder the fall”!
      Deuteronomy 8:10-14- When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
     A minister received  Christmas card with a note from a female parishioner. The note was very complimentary about his preaching, comparing him to Billy Graham as “one of the greatest preachers of all time”. He showed the note to his wife, who asked, “Who wrote this?” He replied, “A very intelligent parishioner who loves great preaching, that’s who! How many great preachers do you suppose there are in the world?” Her response? “One less than YOU think!”
     In this passage, Moses warns against the temptation of pride. He says the people need to always remember who their benefactor is- in everything, give thanks. They should remember what God did for them in the past, because it was Him and not them who was responsible. The word remember literally means to re-member- to bring back together separated parts, to reunite the whole. 
     There is a different kind of pride where I’m from. It’s not like “We’re from New York- we’re tough” or “We’re from Dallas- we like things big”! It’s more like, “We’re from MY hometown…we’re thinking about moving!” Pride can be the most dangerous temptation we face. It can have a destructive effect on our soul. It can:
1. open the door to other sins. We give in to greed when pride makes us feel we deserve more. We give in to envy when pride makes us feel that an honor went to someone who was less deserving. We give in to anger when pride makes us feel offended. We give in to criticism when pride makes us feel our self-esteem is being attacked. We give in to resentment when pride makes us feel threatened by others.
2. taint our good qualities. Love- Pride takes a love that is a selfless interest in others and turns it into a love that focuses on self-interest. Pride pride drives away any hope of true joy. Pride makes it impossible to have real peace. Pride turns patience into, “I don’t have to put up with this!” Pride turns self-control into “Why can’t I have and/or do this…simply because I want to?!”
     What are the signs of self-pride?
1.  A spotty prayer life- if you are not actively relying on God, the you are not aware of your need for Him.
2.  Anger- if you are not trusting God’s plan and timing, then you are trying to take control.
3.  A critical spirit- If you bring others down to lift up yourself, that points to an inflated ego.
4. Defensiveness- Do you have an inability to laugh at your mistakes? Do you take yourself too seriously?
5.  Taking credit for success- Have you lost sight of God’s provision?
6.  Impatience- Do you have an overdeveloped sense of importance?
7. Unwillingness to associate with people who don’t live up to your standards.
     Henry Beecher said, “A proud man is seldom a grateful man. He never thinks he gets what he deserves.” The Spirit of God is like a fire, but fire cannot not burn in a vacuum. We need to be the oxygen that provides the proper environment. And we can’t do that when we are filled with self-pride.
     So, how do we deal with pride in our lives?
1. Recognize it. Benjamin Franklin said, “The proud hate pride…in others.”
2. Repent of it. Thomas Merton said, “Pride makes us artificial, while humility makes us real.”
3. Be strong- fight against it every day! James Lowell said, “Pride and weakness are Siamese twins.”
     I have a pastor friend who says that, when he starts feeling too full of himself, re reminds himself that, if he were to die tomorrow, his church would be sad and miss him. They would have a nice luncheon in his honor…and then meet with the District Superintendent to find out who their new pastor will be, so that they kill him! (Ouch!)
     When I left my last church, I worried about what they would EVER do without me! And do you know what they did? Not much- just built a new, multi-million dollar sanctuary and grow from 800/Sunday to 1,500/Sunday! It was at THAT point that I came to realize that the  sun WILL rise and set today just fine without MY help!
     Pride promotes self-sufficiency rather than God-sufficiency. We think, “I can do it myself. I don’t need anybody, especially God!” Pride is one of the most dangerous pitfalls a Christian can face. It has the capability of destroying lives- it is a ticking time-bomb. And like an iceberg, the most dangerous part lies hidden ben
eath the surface. But we can’t cure ourselves of it. The remedy lies with our trust in God. He enables us to stand against pride, but only if we seek His grace and mercy!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
     Tomorrow- Nothing Says “Thank You” Quite Like Ritz Snack Mix!

Tuesday, May 22- Does Anybody REALLY Know What Time It Is?

     I am a big fan of what is commonly referred to as “Classic Rock”. (However, this recent trend toward calling it “oldies” is REALLY ticking me off!) I have several favorite groups from that era- The Eagles, The Doobie Brothers. Boston, REO Speedwagon, The Edgar Winter Group…the list goes on.
     But VERY near the top of that list is Chicago. (Did you know that, when they released their first album, they were called Chicago Transit Authority? That is until the city of Chicago’s lawyers helped them understand that name was already taken! By their next album, they were Chicago!)
     One of the MANY classic songs is called Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?
Written and sung by Robert Lamm (Chicago was one of those groups that had more than one “lead singer”.), the song takes a somewhat existential look at time and life and how the two interact. The verses of the song are:
1. As I was walking down the street one day, a man came up to me and asked me what the time was that was on my watch
2. And I was walking down the street one day- a pretty lady looked at me and said her diamond watch had stopped cold dead.
3. And I was walking down the street one day, being pushed and shoved by people trying to beat the clock, oh, no, I just don’t know.
     And the chorus is, “And I said, ‘Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care? If so I can’t imagine why.  We’ve all got time enough to cry.'”
       The picture is of a clock that hangs in my office. For those non-drummers in the group, it is a Zildjian Cymbal (which is one of THE best) that has been made into a clock. It was given to me by the band at my last church when I left. Notice that is has NO markings on it, save the manufacturer’s name. When my younger son was JUST starting to learn to tell time, he looked at that clock and said, “How can you tell what time it is? There aren’t any numbers!” I explained how that works (which is, fairly well for some people, not so much for others!) and he seemed satisfied.
     But it DOES beg the question- How DO people tell time? Now, that sounds like a stupid question, but based on what I see, there must be a variety of answers? I see some people who work a full-time job, have a spouse and kids, have hobbies, and are actively involved in the life of the church. I see other people who have those same things…SAME things…and yet tell me, “I would LOVE to be more involved in church- I just don’t have (here it comes!) THE TIME!” 
     Now correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t we all have exactly the same amount of time? The last time I checked, there are 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, 4.33 (on average) weeks in a month and 12 months in a year. Period. The same for you. Me. Everybody. And yet, some people “don’t have time”. Huh?!
     I would argue that “I don’t have time” is code for “it’s not a priority for me”. Because I see folks spending HOURS AND HOURS running their kids from one event to the next. I see folks spending HOURS hanging out at the bar in the restaurant. I see folks spending HOURS doing all sorts of things…except getting more involved in God’s work. And…and…and…it’s the ONLY thing they do (or could do) that has eternal consequences. 
     Think about that- being involved in ministry is the ONLY thing you can do that has eternal consequences…at least POSITIVE ones! So perhaps this issue of priority is really and issue of faith- “Do I have enough faith, is my relationship with God strong enough, that I can put that at the top of my priority list and give it the BEST of my time- not just the scraps and leftovers?” What’s YOUR calendar like? Do you REALLY know what time it is?
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- Heart Condition: The Proud Heart