Saturday, June 30- Why? Can You Make It HOTTER?

     Are you familiar with George Wallace? You might well be thinking about the late Alabama governor who was a very polarizing figure. That is NOT the George Wallace of whom I speak. The George Wallace I am referring to is the one in the picture. He is a comedian/actor who is really pretty funny.
     I was thinking of George Wallace (again- the comedian, not the governor) recently. It was hot two days ago. I’m talking hot. Like…HOT! You know- “heat index of 107 degrees” kind of hot. And as I stood out in that NASTY heat, waiting for two dogs to…do their business…and wondering what wrong turn in my life had me standing in 108 degree heat index waiting for dogs to…do their business…I thought of George Wallace. I once heard him say, “Don’t you hate it when someone comes up to you and says, ‘Is it hot enough for you?’ Is it HOT enough for me? Why? Can you make it HOTTER?”
     The obvious answer to Mr. Wallace’s (the comedian, not the governor) question is, “No.” Of course we can’t make it hotter. (And why would we? I have spent 51 summers in Illinois, and EVERY July I ask myself WHY I live in Illinois!) But we complain about it. We worry about it. We fuss over it. And yet…we can’t do anything about it.
     We tend to approach life that way. We worry, stress, fret and stew over all sorts of things in life. We are constantly concerned about something that hasn’t happened yet. We let it eat us up inside. It interferes with our relationships. It even negatively impacts our health. And yet…we worry. But the reality is that the VAST majority of things we worry about never even happen. We put ourselves through H-E-DOUBLE HOCKEY STICKS for nothing.
     And what does jesus say about the whole thing? He asks, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” What an EXCELLENT question! Can we add even one minute to our lives through worry? No! So…don’t worry. Give your troubles and concerns over to Jesus and be confident that He’s got it!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- Which is the Greatest?

Friday, June 29- Music Truly IS the Universal Language

     It all started when I was 10 years old. The band director from the local Junior High (Middle School Fiddle School! Back in MY day, we had Junior Highs…and we LIKED it!) came to my Grade School to recruit new musicians. He brought some students and their instruments along and had each of them demonstrate what their particular instrument could do. He then went instrument by instrument and asked if there were kids who wanted to play that instrument.
     Well, I had wanted to play the drums since I was old enough to know better! It just looked like it would be awesome! (Turns out…I was right!) So, when he got to the drums, my hand SHOT up! And just like that, I was a drummer! My mom was a little surprised when I got home from school and told her that I had signed up to play drums without asking, but she let me do it anyway.
     I played in band all through Junior High and High School. I also was in the Marching Band and the Pep Band. (Honestly, while I loved them all…Pep Band was my favorite!) Then I went away to college, to be an actor. But Freshman actors at that particular university weren’t allowed to…act. But the first show of the year was a musical, so I asked if I could be in the pit orchestra instead of having to be an usher. That started a chain reaction that had me play drums for 5 shows that year plus a musical review (a PAYING gig!) at a local restaurant. In fact, I played drums so much that year, most people thought I was a music major! Along the way through late High School and College, I also played in a municipal orchestra (ALSO a paying gig, and one that got me into the musician’s union!) for several years.
     Then, life got in the way and I went several years without really playing at all. That is, until I went into the ministry. Not long after I started, the church I was at wanted to start a Contemporary Service, but alas…they had no drummer. So I bought a cheap set and dove in. I played for about 6 years there before moving to my last church. I started a Contemporary Service there as well, so I played 8 years there.
     And now I find myself at a new church. On the FIRST full day in this new town, I went to band practice. I really went just to listen, but I got the chance to sit on a couple of numbers. It was a blast! And as I sat at the drums, playing one song I have played a bunch of times and one that I have never even heard, I thought about the old saying about music being the universal language. And guess what? It is! I had never played with these particular musicians and singers before, but there we were, cranking good music out. We didn’t have to know all about each other- we just had to love music and love God! And both of those things were abundantly evident.
     Without music, I would be an incomplete person. Music is a language that transcends race, color, age, gender and nationality. It reaches down, way past your brain, and touches your soul. There are few things that connect me to God AND others as powerfully as music does. That great theologian Don MacLean asked the question, “Can music save your mortal soul?” Forme, the answer is, “Yes!”
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus! 
 Tomorrow- Why? Can You Make It HOTTER?

Thursday, June 28- Oh. My. Goodness!

     Have you ever been overwhelmed by goodness? I have! Certainly it has happened in the past, but it has happened in spades in recent weeks!
     It started in earnest on the 10th of June. (It certainly began before that, but the REAL DEAL started then! That was the day my last church (Boy, that sounds STRANGE! I spent 8 years there…and now it’s my “last church”. Funny how that works.) had a going away celebration for me and my family. We did one BIG service (instead of the normal 3) that day. They presented us with some very generous gifts, showed pictures of us “though the years”, and then had a big potluck. (They even had a cake that mentioned something I say all the time in worship.) It was an amazing day- one I will always remember!
     Then my family began packing in earnest. And over the next two weeks, there was a steady stream of folks stopping by the church and/or our house with cookies, pies, dinner, all sorts of things. Then, on the day we moved, someone showed up with snickerdoodle cookies- they were GONE in nothing flat! Right up to the moment we pulled out of the driveway, people were well-wishing us. It was very humbling!
      Then we got to our NEW church…and the generosity simply continued. When we arrived at the new house, there was already food waiting for us in the fridge! Then, throughout the day as the moving van was unloaded, people kept stopping by with more food and well-wishes! After a LONG day of unloading, we settled in for th our first night in our new home.
    Bright and early the next morning, someone showed up with fresh, hot breakfast for us! There have been dinners, fruit baskets, cookies, pies…the list just keeps on coming. Yesterday, I had my first staff meeting at the new church. They are a REALLY good bunch of folks! Last night, I attended praise band practice. I had the extreme joy of sitting in on a couple of songs. They sound really good together!  
     The bottom line is this- both churches have been SO nice. My last church is grieving our leaving while welcoming their new pastor. My new church is grieving the loss of their last pastor, while welcoming THEIR new pastor…me! Both churches could have been, for different reasons, not very happy with us. One could be saying, “We’re mad at you for leaving” while the other could be saying, “We’re mad at you for replacing our pastor!” They COULD have…but they haven’t. They have both been incredibly gracious in the midst of difficulty. And that’s the way Christians SHOULD be- incredibly gracious. 
     How’s YOUR “grace quotient”? Are you showing all the grace you could be…should be? You might be saying, “But nobody ever shows ME grace!” Au contraire, mon frere! God has shown us more grace than we could possibly imagine, certainly more grace than we could ever deserve! God gives us grace…and encourages us to share it with others. So get out there and share that God-given grace, like a couple of churches who are near and dear to my heart 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- Music Truly IS the Universal Language

Wednesday, June 27- Heart Condition: The Burning Heart


     (Wednesdays are Bible Study Day here at Stick With Jesus. Today, we complete our current study- Heart Condition, a study from the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy.) 
     There’s that old saying, “If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it was (and always will be) yours.
If it never returns, it was never yours.” Women could add to that, “If it just sits in the Living Room, messes up your stuff, eats your food, uses your phone, takes your money, and never behaves as if you set it free, then you either married it or gave birth to it!”
     Today is the 7th and final week of Heart Condition, a study aimed at reigniting our hearts. The
1st week we looked at the lost heart, the 2nd week it was the proud heart, the 3rd we considered the turned heart, the 4th week it was the disciplined heart, the 5th week saw the trimmed heart and last week it was the giving heart. Today, we finish up with the burning. On this 7-week journey of the heart, where do you find YOURSELF?

     In this life, love is an inevitable topic. And the question of the day is this- do you love God…all your heart? Consider this question as you read this-
Deuteronomy 6:3-6– “Hear, O Israel and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and you may increase greatly in the land flowing with milk and honey, just as the God of your fathers promised you.  Hear, O Israel: Love the LORD your God with all of your heart, soul and strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.

     A couple was not speaking, but the man realized he needed his wife to wake him up for a 5AM flight. He didn’t want to be the one to speak first and lose, so he left her a note- “Please wake me up at 5AM!” The next morning, he woke up and it was 9AM; he had missed his flight! He was furious…until he noticed a piece of paper on his nightstand. “It’s 5AM. Wake up!” Ah, such heart!
     The word “heart” refers to the center of an object. In Hebrew, it means “the kernel of the nut”. It h
as to do with feelings, will and intellect. And yet, more people die from heart attack than any other killer. And the same is true spiritually.  God always begins with the heart and works outward- but the heart comes 1st. The heart has to be guarded at all cost. The reason there are so many spiritual casualties is that the heart is ignored. It should receive the greatest effort and the most attention. We protect our homes with security systems, dead bolts and motion detector lights. Yet we ignore our hearts. Too many people try to live a Christian life yet put forth little or no effort in that respect. But life is a constant warfare and it requires spiritual energy.

     OK- that sounds great and it makes sense…but how do we do it? Here are 5 guidelines toward that goal, 5 things we need to keep right:
1. Keep your mouth right– what comes out your mouth has a profound bearing on your heart.
Mean-spirited speech is an indicator of a mean-spirited heart. I love it when people cuss, realize I’m standing there and then say, “Pardon my French, Pastor!” I inevitably respond, “Well, I didn’t know THAT was French!” There is a strong connection between our mouths and our hearts. Our mouths do more heart damage than anything else does. Keeping our heart right means keeping our mouth in check. The wrong mouth and the right heart can’t occupy the same body. Don’t let your mouth overload your heart.
2. Keep your eyes right– what your eyes see affects your heart. Keep your eyes straight ahead.
Much temptation is brought to us through our eyes- they are incredibly influential on the body. Most of our memory is formed by our eyes. Most of us remember more than 80% of what we see, but only 11% of what we hear. What our eyes see…our heart wants. When we allow our eyes to run freely without control, we risk a “heart attack”.

3. Keep your feet right– where your feet go, your heart will follow. Don’t turn your feet loose anywhere they want to go. Don’t make rash decisions. Be careful with whom you walk. Use wisdom in choosing your path.

4. Keep your ears right– the ears hear things they shouldn’t. There are times when we should plug our ears and serve our God.

5. Keep your heart right– if you don’t keep your heart protected, you face serious spiritual injury. Has your heart become sluggish in its relationship with Jesus? Have you lost that personal connection?

One thing that can help you regain that connection is revival.

     Revival has one chief aim- to cleanse us of sin, to purify us. Revival is God’s surgery for those who have grown spiritually hard of hearing. Revival creates in us a burning heart, and without revival, the heart tends to burn out with complacency, discouragement and despair.

     Burning hearts are filled with the presence, power, purpose and protection of God. But how do we turn up the flame on our heart? How do we regain that bright flame? If you want your heart to burn for God, you have to stoke it, feed it.

     Getting closer to Jesus sets our hearts aflame. And the closer we get, the brighter and hotter our heart burns. Ask Jesus to take over the leadership of your life. Give your life to the One Who GAVE you life, the One Who gave His life for you. Would you rather have a heart that is as cold as ice, or a heart that is burning with a passion for God? The choice ia truly yours.

     When John Bisagno, former pastor of Houston’s First Baptist Church, said that when he interviewed for the pastor position, he entered the sanctuary to find it dimly lit, with a few people huddled together singing an old, slow funeral song. It was depressing. Later, he took a walk through downtown Houston He passed a jewelry store that was having a grand opening. There were bright lights and greeter who welcomed him with a smile. When he entered, he found a celebration going on, with refreshments and people talking, laughing and feeling welcomed. Shoot, there was even punch! After attending both the church and the jewelry store, he said that if the jewelry store would have offered him a job, he would have joined them!

     United Methodist founder John Wesley once said, “If I had 300 people who feared nothing but God, hated nothing but sin, and were determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ, I could set the world on fire!”

     When you’re offered a job, you don’t just consider the salary- you also look at the benefits: insurance, vacation, pension, etc. Well, if you look at the benefits of faith- I am confident you will say, “God, I’ve looked over the whole benefits package You offer and- I ACCEPT!”

     Here we are, each on own road, heading somewhere. And in the midst of that, Jesus has one desire- to meet us on the road to somewhere and make something very clear to us- He died AND rose again to set our hearts on fire. Where is your heart today? Is it in a depressing spiritual walk? Do you have all the information, all the head knowledge, but find it doesn’t make much of a difference? Is your heart on fire because of Jesus, or has your “PILOT” light gone out? Life is short, and Jesus is here, ready to re-ignite you! Will you meet Him on your road to somewhere?
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- Oh. My. Goodness!

Tuesday, June 26- Daily Bible Verse

Isaiah 59:21 21 ‘As for me, this is my covenant with them,’ says the LORD. ‘My Spirit, who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of their descendants from this time on and forever,’ says the LORD.

Tuesday, June 26- Sandusky: A Cautionary Tale

     Well…it’s over. Or at least almost over. He’s been found guilty, and now we just wait for the inevitable sentencing. And let’s be honest- he’s going to be in prison for a LONG time. And once that happens, it will all be over. 
     But the truth of the matter is this- it WON’T be over. In some ways, it will NEVER be over. There are…how many victims? He was found guilty of 45 out of 48 counts. There are a LOT of people involved in this tragedy. And the saddest part? many of them are kids. 
     I don’t know about you, but I am, to quote Charles Durning as Governor Menelaus (pass the biscuits) “Pappy” O’Daniel from Oh Brother Where Art Thou?, a “forgivin’ and forgettin’ Christian.”  We are called to forgive others…if we want to be forgiven. And usually that’s not too hard. BUT…when you consider someone who has do SO MUCH evil to SO MANY children, well…if we’re honest, that’s a tough one.
      What’s the answer here? This…guy…horribly abused his authority to prey upon all these boys. What are we supposed to do with that? These victims have experienced something that will haunt them for the rest of their lives. They have scars that are so deep, they will never go away. He has ruined, or at LEAST severely damaged dozens of lives…really hundreds, when you consider the families that are impacted. And we’re supposed to…forgive him? “Not gonna happen, pastor!”
     I understand that. I really do. Even though I am a pastor, even though I am Christian, I have said more than once, “If anybody ever does something to my kid, they’d better hope the police catch them before I do!” So…I get it. BUT (Ah! You KNEW that was coming, didn’t you?!), look at it this way- when we refuse to forgive, who are we hurting? Certainly not Sandusky, or anybody else who has done some heinous thing. He could care less right now whether I forgive him or not. No, when we refuse to forgive, we hurt ourselves. Why? Because we cling to that anger and hate, and over time…it eats us alive, from the inside out. 
     The other issue to consider here is The Lord’s Prayer. Yep, that’s right- The Lord’s Prayer. Think about it- “forgive us our trespasses AS WE FORGIVER THOSE WHO TRESPASS AGAINST US”. In other words, when we say The Lord’s Prayer, we are asking God to forgive the things WE do…ONLY as much as we forgive others for what THEY do. Ouch! So we are only forgiven as much as we…forgive? Well, THAT put’s it in a different perspective!
     Is it EASY to forgive, especially somebody like Sandusky? Absolutely! Is it essential to do it? I would argue…yes. If we want the best that God has for us, we have to let go of hate and anger. We have to give it over to God and seek the light in life. 
     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 Burning Heart

Monday, June 25- Trash Cans Are HARD To Throw Away!

     Have you ever tried to throw away a trash can? It is NEARLY impossible! I once tried THREE times to throw a trash can away… without success! Think about it- you put the can out on the curb every week. The plan is that they dump the trash out of it and leave the can. That is the unwritten agreement we have with the waste management industry. You take my trash. You leave my can!
     We are moving…TODAY! As you read this, there is a semi in my driveway (which won’t actually BE my driveway in a few hours!), and 5 guys I’ve never met before are loading everything I own into said semi. Then, they will drive away, and I am to trust them that they will actually show up tomorrow morning at the new house…with my stuff! (Pretty trusting, right?)
     I have been creating trash like you read about! (I don’t mean to brag, but…!) And a few days ago, I decided we needed to throw away 3 of the five trash cans we had. But…how to do it? So, I dragged them ALL around to the curb (because they were ALL full of trash!), but I put a HUGE note across each of the 3 that I didn’t want to still see in the yard at the end of the day that said, “PLEASE TAKE THE CAN, TOO! (IT’S TRASH!)” And guess what? They. Took. Them! It was awesome! (I am, CLEARLY, easily amused!)
     I find that getting rid of our trash cans isn’t the only trash that’s hard to get rid of. It’s also REALLY hard to get rid of the spiritual trash in our lives. We have ALL that baggage that we carry around. We KNOW that we need to let go of it. We KNOW that God wants us to give it over to Him and be rid of it. But we still insist on hanging on to it. I wonder if it is the old “devil you know versus the devil you don’t know”? You understand what I mean? “I don’t like this baggage, but at least I know it. If I get rid of it, I DON’T know what will replace it.” And so we insist on hanging on to everything.
     Here’s my suggestion for the day- identify your spiritual baggage, that internal garbage that you cling to, drag it out to the curb and put a BIG sign on it that says, PLEASE TAKE THE CAN, TOO! (IT’S TRASH!)” Get rid of it. Throw it out. Be done with it. Then see what God has in store to fill the newly created void. It will be SO much better!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- Sandusky: A Cautionary Tale

Sunday, June 24- Sad Songs Say So Much



     (Sundays are normally reserved for the manuscript of my sermon for the week. However, I’m not preaching anywhere today! So I have pulled out a sermon I did about 5 years ago!)
     A man died and went to heaven, where he stood before St. Peter, who said, “I have looked at your life, and it seems that you didn’t do anything particularly good OR bad. I’m just not sure what to do with you! Is there anything you did that can help me make a decision?” “Well…yes. I was driving, and I came upon a woman who was being harassed by a group of bikers. I stopped, got out, picked up a tire iron, and walked right up to the leader. I reached up and tore his nose ring out, and told him that he’d better better stop or he would have to deal w/me! St. Peter replied, “I’m impressed! When did you do that?” The man said, “Oh, about 2 minutes ago!”
     Elton John recorded a song called Sad Songs. The lyrics include the following: “Guess there are times when we all need to share a little pain. And ironing out the rough spots is the hardest part when memories remain. Sad songs say so much.” It may be catchy, but do we really believe that? Today, we focus on Matthew 5:4, which says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” If we’re honest, that’s a hard one! If Jesus would have just said, “Blessed are the happy…” we’d say, “Yeah! Amen!” But He didn’t! Instead, He said the exact polar opposite! Blessed are those who mourn. “Hold phone, preacher! What? Mourn?” 
     When our heart aches, when it’s nearly breaking, we don’t feel so blessed! So what does Jesus mean? It seems contrary to human experience. Our society has an amusement-park mentality. Everything is supposed to be all kittens and moonbeams, not mourning and crying. “Mourning? I don’t thinks so! What kind of sense does that make?!” Perhaps the better question would be how in the world do we find the comfort of God in the midst of grief and mourning? Where do we even start? What is meant here?
     We tend to immediately think of mourning as being the loss of a loved one. Is there any Biblical precedent for that notion? Absolutely. In the Ancient Near Eastern world, mourning was very dramatic. Many times, mourners were actually hired to weep. Luke 19:41 says- “As I came near and saw the city, I wept over it.” John 11:35 says- “Jesus began to weep.” 
     The definition of the word “mourn” is- “To feel and express grief, sorrow and regret.” So mourning is NOT only mourning the loss of a loved one. We’re also talking about mourning evil in the world- not necessarily bereavement, but those who experience the sorrow of sin. We mourn because of man’s disobedience to God, because of our own sins. We mourn over bad decisions we, and others, make, over opportunities lost, over time wasted. We mourn over how we fail to treat others the way we should, over how God’s will is not being done, over how we spend too much time JUDGING one another, not LOVING one another. We mourn over how people who NEED God…reject God. We simply can’t mourn if we do not appreciate our inability to handle life on our own, if we don’t have humility.
     The funeral was about to start and the family had made a specific choice of music to begin the service. The song was to be Elvis Presley’s, “Love Me Tender”. Unfortunately, the funeral home played the wrong track. As the family walked in, they heard the beginning of “Return to Sender”!  
     So how are we supposed to be mourners? It starts with a recognition of our own responsibility for our personal sinfulness. It also includes being tenderhearted to others. We should not walk around all the time with our heads hanging, but there are times when we need to mourn. We should grieve over, and pray for, those who need God, yet don’t seek Him. Do you want more Biblical precedent for that? In Isaiah 61:2, it says that we are sent to comfort all who mourn. In Ecclesiastes 3:4, it says that there is a time to mourn, a time to dance. It’s OK to mourn- it’s healthy, it’s part of God’s promise.
     Revelation 21 says, “I will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death, or mourning, or crying or pain, for the old things have passed away.” Those who mourn…will be comforted. The Greek word for one who comforts is paraclete. It means “one who consoles, encourages and strengthens. We need to let others be the paraclete to us, to be sure. But perhaps more important- we should return the favor. God comforts those who mourn in 2 ways: 1) with His presence and 2) with His promises. 
     Human sorrow and mourning is often caused by conditions of life. It involves deep personal agony. And it MAY be caused by sin. It requires a specific response, and it is best characterized by confession. And the response to mourning is forgiveness.
     It’s OK to mourn. It’s healthy, because there is a time for every purpose under heaven. And what is the end result of mourning? Comfort, from above, throughout  our life. Do you know joy in your life? Not happiness, but true joy? Do you know real peace and contentment? Do you know comfort? Divine peace and comfort come to those who mourn against sin. Have you experienced that?
     God wants to give us peace, comfort and joy. How? Through prayer. That great Theologian Jon Bon Jovi said it best- “We’ve got to hold on to what we’ve got. We’ve got each other and that’s a lot, but we’re halfway there if we’re livin’ on a prayer.” When we see evil in the world, it should make us mourn, drive us to our knees in prayer. Mourn sin- in your life and in the world. Ask for forgiveness and mercy. Say to God, “Create in me a clean heart. Renew a right spirit in me. Restore my joy.”
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- Trash Cans Are Hard to Throw Away!

Saturday, June 23- “Clean Out the Freezer” Recipes

     Moving day is almost here. And as folks have done since the first caveman packed his family up in the paneled station wagon and moved to a new cave, we are downsizing in anticipation of the move. That includes giving away books, dishes, games and other items that we simply don’t need/want anymore. But it also includes clearing out the perishable food.
     We start packing the truck on Monday morning. On Monday evening, we will sleep in a motel. Then on Tuesday, we will drive the 3 hours to our new home, where we will oversee unloading the truck and setting everything else up. Then we will get into our beds and slip into a coma until Wednesday morning! And the truth is that NONE of that is conducive to trying to haul around perishable food.
     So I have been cleaning out the freezer. I should actually say freezerS…we have two refrigerator/freezers AND a chest freezer. This reality causes you to get creative in your cooking! The other day, I was going through the chest freezer and found a package of stew beef and two bags of beef broth left over from making Italian beef. Hhhmmm? Ah! Vegetable beef soup! But I had already packed the cans of diced tomatoes, and we LOVE those in our soup! But no worries- I have a jar of spaghetti sauce! That’s solved, now what vegetables do I have? Lots of fresh carrots, a big bag of frozen green beans, and…frozen spinach! That’ll work! But I want something to thicken the stock just a bit! Oh wait- a big bag of tater tots! In they go! The result was NOT like my “normal” vegetable beef soup…but it was good!
     I also found a hamhock and 2 boxes of scalloped potatoes. Ding! Cheesy Ham and Potato Soup! But I was out of Velveeta. No problem! I had an extra block of cheddar! And I didn’t have any instant mashed potatoes to thicken the soup with. No…but I DO have those tater tots! I made a casserole with my LAST can of cream of chicken soup, frozen green beans, some leftover grilled chicken, those ubiquitous tater tots, and a block of cream cheese. I have made breakfast from eggs, leftover ham, cheese and…tater tots, all scrambled together. Basically, you name it, I’ve made it recently!
     I think God works on us much the same way. Although we would LOVE to be made of nothing but the best ingredients…we aren’t! We’re imperfect, flawed, human. BUT…God can sort through our spiritual freezer, see what we have, and make something great out of it. He can do that…if we let Him. How open to God’s “sorting and mixing” are you? Do you buck the system every step of the way, or do you let go and let God do His stuff? If you DO let go, God can work absolute miracles with the leftovers we have to offer!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- Sad Songs Say So Much

Friday, June 22- We’re (NOT) Getting the Band Back Together

     Do you remember the movie The Blues Brothers? Did you remember that the characters started as a bit of a “goof” on Saturday Night Live and became SO popular SO quickly that The Blues Brothers quickly took on a life of their own.
     I always enjoyed the fact that Dan Aykroyd’s character, Elwood Blues, felt that they were “on a mission from God”! I think a LOT of people SAY they are on a mission from God in order to try and justify their behavior!
     There’s another spot in the movie where Elwood’s brother, Jake Blues, played by John Belushi, says, “We’re getting the band back together.” That quote has been running through my brian a lot the past few weeks. Why? Because for me, they are NOT getting the band back together!
     When my family arrived at the church we are about to leave, in July of 2004, there was no Contemporary Worship Service. I felt that was something that A. had a decent amount of traction from a section of the congregation and B. was “do-able”. SO…I set out to do just that. It was met with…mixed reviews- some thought it was the greatest thing ever, while others couldn’t tell any difference between that and the worst idea they had ever heard! 
     The first thing one does when starting a Contemporary Service (at least in MY estimation) is put together a band. (It’s hard to do Chris Tomlin on an organ!) So I began asking around about musicians and singers. I brought a singer, guitarist and drummer with me, so we had a good start! We added a keyboardist and 3 more singers…and Gates of Grace was off and running! 
     Over the past 8 years, we have done some adding AND some subtracting, with singers and musicians coming and going. I have gone from drummer to percussionist to back-up drummer/singer! (And that’s how it should be- my job as pastor is to equip OTHERS to do ministry…not to simply hog it all myself!) But even with all of those changes, 5 of us from the “original” group have been together the whole time. And over the years, Gates of Grace has become SO much more than a group of individuals- it has become a family!
     Now I KNOW that sounds trite, but in this case, it’s true! We have spent so much time together, watching each other’s kids, eating together, playing together, sometimes fighting together, that we have developed a closeness that is hard to come by.
     A few nights ago, the band had a going-away cook-out for us. It was great! They gave us some lovely gifts, cooked some great food, and even had a cake that said “God is good!” on it! We had a marvelous time. That is…until it was time to go. Then suddenly nobody, myself included, knew what to say. (And let me assure you, I am SELDOM speechless!) There was some hugging, some tears, and some “we’ll miss you”‘s. And then…we drove away. And things will never be the same.
     But it occurs to me that, if we are willing to leave things at “things will never be the same”, then guess what? They WON’T be! BUT, if we trust that God has something great in store for us, then we can, grudgingly, let go of what was to make room in our hands for what’s about to be. Do you have trouble letting go of what was? It’s, ultimately, a matter of trust, to quote that great theologian Billy Joel! Trust God, and let go of the past. Don’t forget it; learn from it. But don’t dwell on it, trying to continue to live in it. God has so much more planned for you. Embrace it!
    Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- “Clean Out the Freezer” Recipes

Thursday, June 21- The Statute of Limitations Is Up

     According to the laws of the fine state of Illinois (the ONLY state where the governors make the license plates!), the statute of limitations on property damage is 5 years. And since it happened…oh…about 36 years ago…I think I can now safely ‘fess up!
     I grew up out in the country. If there was another kid within a 2-3 mile radius, we were automatically good friends! And from the time I was about 9, one of those kids was…well…we’ll call him Gary. (If you actually KNOW who this person is, you will probably get the irony of the fake name!) We spent LOTS of time together. And one thing boys do when they spend time together is make up games. I can’t even imagine how many games Gary and I made up over the years. And since we were both rabid baseball fans, many of them revolved around America’s Pastime.
      One game we invented involved the pitcher, complete with a rather squishy softball, standing out on our asphalted driveway, about 15 feet from the garage. The batter, complete with a real baseball bat, stood IN the garage, toward the back, with the door open. The pitcher would toss the ball so that it arced up, barely missed the header above the garage door opening, land on the garage floor and then bounce up into the batter’s strike zone. Then batter would try and hit it. A “swing and miss” counted as on out. If you hit it, where it went and what the pitcher did with it decided what it counted as. 
     We had been playing it for some time when my mom came upon us one day. She told us to stop playing because we were likely to break a window. Bummer! It was SUCH a great game! But we stopped…that is…until she wasn’t home! 
      As soon as she left the house, we started playing again. I was pitching and Gary was hitting. I lobbed a good one in there, he swung, and CRASH…one of the windows in the garage door broke! Aaawww SNAP, son! We considered running away, but I quickly pointed out that wouldn’t help me…I LIVED there! BUT…Gary had JUST gotten his driver’s license! How fortuitous! So we ran the half-mile to his house, convinced his mom to let us use the car, and drove into town…to the hardware store. 
     We went to the back of the store, where we had a guy cut a piece of plexiglass to fit the window opening. We paid and then beat feet back home. As soon as we got there, Gary suddenly remembered that he had to get home! And off he went! It was all on me. So I popped the molding out that held the glass in, cleaned out the broken glass, and put the piece of plexiglass in. All I had left to do was re-install the molding! I was furiously hammering those little nails in, working my was around the frame. I hammered the LAST one in and was JUST starting to put the tools away…when my mom pulled in the driveway! She got out of the car and asked, “Whatcha doin’?” “Oh…nothing!”
     They say that confession is good for the soul, and BOY do I feel good! What about you? What do YOU have to confess? Whatever it is, here’s the beauty part- you can take it to God, confess it, ask for His forgiveness, and it is done! THAT’S how awesome our God is! Take what you have, everything you have, to God, lay it at His feet, and see what He can do with your life!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- We’re (NOT) Getting the Band Back Together