Tuesday, July 31- Are You Watching the Olympics?

     I remember it like it was yesterday- my mom and I, watching the Olympics. We watched HOURS of Olympics. And it didn’t matter whether it was the Summer Games or the Winter Games- we watched what they were showing! (And by the way, do you remember when the Summer and Winter games were in the same year? Every bit of Olympics, “one and done”, and then nothing for 4 years? I must confess, I think the way they do it now, rotate the Summer and Winter games so that ONE of them happens every two years, makes more sense!)
     I remember that we would quickly develop our favorites- the teams or individuals who caught our attention. We would watch whatever was being shown, but we would sit up a bit straighter when our favorites came on. We would cheer for them and get all giddy when they won! And then…they would be over, and we would wait another four years for them to come around again.
     For me, the funny thing about this whole story is that my mom was NOT a huge sports fan. She liked to watch basketball, but that was about it. Unless it was the Olympics, that is. They would always serve as the backdrop to a special “bonding” time between me and my mom. We didn’t sit and hold each other close as we watched or anything, but those were special times for us. 
     This has all been on my mind during these current Summer Games from London. It has struck me that I have watched VERY LITTLE of this year’s Olympic coverage. Even when I have had the time to sit down and watch TV, it has rarely been the Olympics. And I think, for me, the reason is not a proud one. At its core, the Olympics is about patriotism and national pride. Yes, we sometimes cheer for an athlete from another country, either because they are just that good or because there are no Americans competing against them! But for the most part, watching the Olympics is about chanting, “USA! USA!” as our athletes compete. And I find that patriotism, that national pride, is lacking in me and, I fear, many others as well. 
     Now, don’t get me wrong, when I say “lacking”, I DON’T mean I have none, that I could care less (or is it “I COULDN’T care less”?) Instead, that whole notion of “our country, right or wrong” has been kicked to the curb. We as a people no longer automatically support our country in everything it does. Don’t believe me? Look no further than the Chief Executive of our nation. Used to be, people respected the OFFICE of the President, whether they liked the particular man or not. Now, MOST people either love or hate whoever is in office. If they wear your political party pin, they can do no wrong. And if they don’t, “get that bum out of office!” 
     That is, of course, painting with a broad brush…but not TOO broad. We seem to have lost that national pride, and I wonder if that’s something you can recover once it has been lost. We, as a nation, need to pray about that. We need to ask God to help us set aside our petty differences as unite as one people for the betterment of our country…and the world.
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- The Rewards For Contagious Christianity

Monday, July 30- Daily Bible Verse

Philippians 1:9-11 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God.

Monday, July 30- This Just In…

     I was recently interviewed for a newspaper in the area. The idea is that they will run an article about “the new pastor” in the area. It was set up as a phone interview- he was going to call my office number. When the day came for the interview, however, I needed to make a 45-minute drive for a hospital visit. So I called the reporter and left my cell number on his answering machine. I figured I could “kill two birds with one stone”- drive and participate in the interview.
     He was a great guy and we had a perfectly good conversation. (He first insisted on knowing that I, in fact, could talk on the phone “hands free” while I drove….I could…and did!) He asked me all of the “usual” questions. He also asked me some interesting questions as well. He wanted to know my favorite Bible verse. (Isaiah 43:18-19- Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.) He wanted to know what brought me to my new church. (A moving van!! And God, through the Bishop!) He asked all sorts of things as I drove that day. And when I was about 15 minutes from my destination, we ended the conversation with the promise that I would email him a “head shot” of me to include with the article. Now I wait to read the article!
     I wonder…what would YOUR article say if someone wrote such a piece about you? What would an article about your life say? Or, let’s get right down to it- what will your obituary say? I read a lot of them (it goes with the vocation), and I find that they fall into 3 general categories:
     1. “nuts and bolts” obituaries. They are the Jack Webbs of the genre- “just the facts, ma’am.” They very matter-of-factly list dates, names, etc. They are short and sweet.
     2. “historic fiction” obituaries. They are long and flowery- they make the recently deceased sound like the 2nd coming of Mother Teresa intertwined with Billy Graham, with a liberal sprinkling of Gandhi. 
     3. “we loved them even though they weren’t perfect” obituaries. These are the obituaries that ACTUALLY talk about what the recently deceased was ACTUALLY like. It focuses on their better qualities, but doesn’t shy away from the fact that they were stubborn, or bossy, or impatient, or whatever. They are genuine.
     So, again, what would your obituary say? What would people say about you? Is it what you would WANT them to say? If not, what can you do to change that- to be the person you WANT to be so that those folks will say what you WANT them to say? Think about 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- Are You Watching the Olympics?

Sunday, July 29- The Church at Pooh Corner

      The Peanuts cartoons are among my favorite. I remember one where Lucy demands that Linus get up and change the channel for her. Linus asks, “What makes you think you can just take over?” Lucy replies, “These 5 fingers. Individually? They are nothing! But when I curl them into a single unit, they become a weapon terrible to behold.” Linus pauses and then says, “Which channel?: As he walks toward the TV, he looks at his hand and asks, “Why can’t you guys get organized like that?”
     Cartoon characters hold a special place in society, and none more so than Winnie the Pooh. Written by A.A. Milne, the story features all types of characters. Today, we will ask, “Which one are you?” as we walk through them all. But first let’s look at some Scripture-
     Exodus 4:10-12 Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord?  Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”
     So, which character are you? Maybe you’re-
     Pooh- He’s a chubby little bear with an old red t-shirt. he’s stuffed with fluff, easy-going, likeable and not easily upset. He’s quiet, slow moving and philosophical. He seems intellectual, but it is really simplicity in disguise. he describes himself as “a bear of very little brain”, but he has uncommon wisdom. He loves to play games, go on adventures, humming/poems, songs and eating honey. And what does he hold dear? His friends’ happiness is his chief concern; there is no better friend than Winnie the Pooh. Is that you?
     Piglet- he’s a small, timid pink pig with a long striped shirt. He is soft-spoken and skittish, constantly wringing his hands and stuttering. His ears twitch to convey his nervousness and fear. But inside his small frame lies a big heart; his generosity and humility far outweigh his meager size. He wants to be brave, and often conquers his fears. He is eager to experience the world, and he is a good friend. He loves adventures, bright colors and balloons. He loves to blow dandelions and always sees the silver lining. Is that you? 
     Eeyore- he’s an old grey donkey whose tail keeps coming off and whose house keeps falling down. He is  intelligent, quiet,  methodical, melancholy and gloomy. But he doesn’t see himself as gloomy. He has low expectations about anything and anybody so that when his friends help, his expectations are surpassed and he is grateful. He pretends to help because he has nothing better to do, but he is always there for his friends. The bright pink bow on his tail is a kernel of joy. Is that you? 
     Tigger- (pronounced T-I-Double Guh-er”)- he is a very bouncy striped tiger. He’s active and fun-loving. His top is made of rubber and his bottom is made of springs. He is cheerful, outgoing, competitive, confident and exuberant. He undertakes tasks with gusto and is always eager to share his joy with his friends, even when they don’t want him to. He is one of a kind and acts on every impulse- often leaping before he looks. He is larger than life. But underneath that happy-go-lucky exterior beats a surprisingly sensitive, gentle heart that loves finding lost friends. His bouncing is an expression of his zest for life. Is that you? 
     Rabbit- he is pushy, decisive and a good speller. His life’s made up of Important Things. He likes to organize and take charge. He is the self-appointed leader. he is stubborn, often overreacts and gets disoriented very quickly in unfamiliar surroundings. He is arguably the smartest, most responsible and most practical, but underneath his bristly exterior is a good heart. His know-it-all attitude is tempered by his ability to admit when he’s wrong. He is loyal to friends he knows, but is reluctant to welcome newcomers. Is that you?
     Owl- he is a large bird who speaks eloquently. Everyone thinks he is the wisest, but sometimes he’s a real bore. he is always happy to offer his opinions, advice and anecdotes, whether they are wanted or not. Is that you? 
     Kanga- she is a mother kangaroo. She is also the tenderhearted voice of reason who is a symbol of security. She takes great care, has a great sense of humor, offers gentle discipline, is full of mother’s intuition and automatically knows the “right thing to do” w/out thinking. She likes to keep things clean, likes to count and organize things, is kind to everyone and will help anyone who needs it. She is also the fastest animal in the woods. Is that you? 
     Roo- he is a joey, but don’t let his age and size fool you. He lives life large, is extremely curious and fun-loving and constantly gets in trouble. But he always learns his lesson, is cheerful and enthusiastic, curious, fun and loving. He takes great joy in discovering the wonders of life and is capable of expressing his thoughts and feelings. he approaches life in a loving, sympathetic manner. His greatest influence is his mom. he is wise beyond his years and thinks he can do anything. Is that you? 
     Gopher- he is a builder and excavator. he is generally hard-working, but doesn’t look where he’s going and therefore often falls in his own tunnels. he is smart but lacks common sense. He also has a habit of whistling when he talks. Is that you?
     Which one of these do you most connect with? Which type aggravates you the most? Since I know you wonder, I am the ADHD, energetic Tigger in an uneven mix with the OCD, take charge Rabbit! So why did Milne create so many types? And what does the Bible say about it?
     Romans 12:4-8 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
     Question- What do John the Baptism and Winnie the Pooh have common? They have the same middle name! There are 3 truths about the Hundred Acre Wood:
      #1-  Each member is essential- we are NOT the same, but we are all essential to the whole. A little girl wanted a starring role in the school play but only got a small role. As she cried, her mom dried her tears and handed her a watch, asking, “What do you see?” The girl said, “Gold plating, a face and hands.” Her mom opened the back and then asked, “Now what do you see?” The girl said, “Wheels and gears.” Her mom said, “The watch is useless without all the parts, even the ones that are hard to see.” We do not&
nbsp;all have a leading role, but we DO all have a purpose and a place.
     #2- Each member is interdependent- without cooperation, vital tasks become impossible. The act of speech requires the brain, nerves, tongue, jaws, lips, larynx, lungs, diaphragm, heart, veins, arteries and capillaries all working together. A European nobleman wanted to leave a legacy, so he built a church. When people first visited it, they all asked, “Where are the lamps? How is it lit?” He explained that there were brackets on the walls, and each family was to bring their lamp to worship. “When you are here, the church will be lit. But when you are not, the church is dark. If you don’t come, your part of God’s house will be dark”.
     #3- Each member is interconnected- what affects one is felt by all. Have you ever smashed your pinkie toe? Every part joins in on it- your leg jumps up and down, your back bends, your hand massages and you moan and groan. No part is untouched- all are affected. 
     If you are going to be a vital part of the body, you have to do your part- you must be connected with others. Get to know the various parts, but don’t wait for them- take the 1st step. Winnie the Pooh says, “You can’t stay in your corner of the forest, waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.” God calls us to focus on the needs of others.
     Each member is indispensable, interdependent and interconnected. We need each other. Pooh also says, “Before beginning a hunt, it is wise to ask what you are looking for…before you begin looking!” God is looking for people to go with Him; to follow His plans and purposes, make Him a priority. He wants people He can use, who will submit and be useful. God has placed each of us here in a strategic role, for such time as this! 
     1Corinthians 12:27-30- Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts.
     You are an important part of the overall effectiveness. God depends on you to be here and use your gifts to the glory of God. 
     At the end of Milne’s book, Pooh and Piglet are walking home. Piglet says, “Pooh, when you wake up, what is the 1st thing you say?” Pooh responds, “What’s for breakfast? What do YOU say?” “Piglet says, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?'” Pooh agrees, “That’s the same thing!” But with all due respect, it is NOT the same! Breakfast dreams are dreams of mere survival, of burying your talents in the ground. But excitement dreams are dreams of flourishing, of investing your treasure for an abundant return.
     What kinds of excitement dreams can we dream? Dreams take substantial effort and they carry a risk of failure, but they are not impossible. How can we grow to meet people? How can we enter more fully into the will of God?What dreams can YOU dream? What dreams can we dream?
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

  Tomorrow- This Just In…

Saturday, July 28- Leadership Promises For Every Day

     I am always interested in leadership. It’s a large part of being the pastor of a church, to be sure, but it was also a large part of my life PRIOR to the ministry. (“You mean you had a life BEFORE the ministry?!” hard to believe, isn’t it?!) For my money, a pastor needs to be a strong leader without being dictatorial. I know pastors who work SO hard at being fully inclusive and seeking such complete consensus that they never provide any real leadership and the church tends to be a bit…rudder-less. On the other hand, I know pastors who have such a strong leadership style that they end up with the “my way or the highway” approach to things. I TRY to shoot for somewhere between those two extremes. But I will confess two things about that: 1. I don’t always succeed! and 2. I’m sure there are current and/or former parishioners who would say I NEVER achieve that balance! But that’s another blog for another day!
     Because of my interest in leadership, I read a fair amount amount on the subject, trying to balance between authors I already respect and ones that might challenge my understanding on the subject. But one of the books that I regularly return to is called Leadership Promises For Every Day, written by John Maxwell. Now, I will say right up front that A. it is not my normal approach to promote somebody’s book on this site and B. Maxwell’s approach to leadership, as put forth in this devotional, is sometimes skewed a bit far toward secular leadership and not spiritual, “church” leadership. But, all in all, he has some really good things to say, and he does it in one page per day…always a good thing!
     I not only use this book myself, but I also share it with my church staff during our weekly staff meetings. I start by looking at the day we are actually on, and if that one seems to fit where we are “at” in that particular moment, I use it. If not, I start walking ahead, one day at a time, until I find the right one. It is then shared with the staff, usually punctated by a few thoughts of my own. 
     Church leadership…GOOD church leadership, should come from a healthy place. It should be seen, by the person in the position of authority, as both a gift and responsibility. If you don’t see it as a gift, you tend to take it for granted. And if you don’t see it as a responsibility, you tend to abuse it. At best, a church leader is a servant who wants the best for the folks with whose care they are charged. They should try and model the Christian behavior they want others to exhibit. They should also not be shy about being where the buck stops when that is necessary.
     So, looking for a good, easy to read devotional on leadership? Try Maxwell. Looking for long-term guidance on how to be a better leader? Try 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- The Church at Pooh Corner

Friday, July 27- Edited For Broadcast

     Yesterday, I recorded 5 “thought for the day” segments at the local radio station. (Area pastors rotate who does them for the week- it was MY turn!) I used to do a Monday morning “thought for the day” at a radio station in Champaign, IL. I also used to be an actor and have a Bachelor’s Degree in acting, so this kind of thing not only doesn’t stress me…I kind of enjoy it!
     I have been writing daily, 500-word (roughly) entries for this website for coming up on 3 years now, so I have a LOT of material from which to pull. It made a WHOLE lot more sense to me to simply pull 5 daily blogs from a couple of years ago and re-tool them for this purpose. I easily and quickly found five that I wanted to use and “cut and pasted” them into a Word document. Then the task of editing them began. 
     As I said, my goal each day on this site is 500 words. Wednesdays and Sundays (Bible Study Day and Sermon Day, respectively) are longer, but the rest of them are around that magic 500-word plateau. But to record a 60-second radio spot only requires about 200 words, give or take. And that includes a pre-written intro and closing that are provided by the radio station. So I only need to come up with about 180-190 words. And while that may sound easy, the truth of the matter is this- it’s HARD to take 500 words that you worked hard to craft and weed them down to 190 words…and still have it make the same desired impact!
     Another issue that gets in the way of this exercise is that writers are notorious for not wanting to edit (or, heaven forbid, have anyone ELSE edit) their precious words! “It’s perfect the way it is!” And while it’s harder to let someone else be your editor, it’s not TOO much easier to do it yourself! So I sat down to weed 2,500 words (five blogs) down to 950 words (5 thoughts for the day) and have them still make some sense. And while it was hard to prune those pieces down, I was…eventually…happy with the finished product. I loaded that finished product into my iPad, headed over to the radio station with my nearly 12-year old son and cranked them out. Done!
     That pruning process, while tough, was essential to the overall health and success of that project. And in much the same, God’s pruning of us is equally essential to our long term health and viability as Christians. God needs to cut away the things in our lives that don’t add to our Christian growth. And for us…that’s often painful. But without it, we can never become the people that God has called us to be. 
     So when you feel God’s pruning shears start to cut into some part of your life, acknowledge the pain, to be sure. But also acknowledge the fact that God does that because He loves you and wants the best for you. He is preparing you for something great!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- Leadership Promises For Every Day

Thursday, July 26- Nobody Saw Batman

     As we all know, a horrible tragedy occurred recently- the shootings in Aurora, CO. It’s amazing that these things keep happening. And while I realize that we are shocked by these heinous, cowardly acts, I fear that we may be getting a bit…desensitized to the whole thing. You know what I mean- suicide bombings happen around the world every day and we become a bit less impacted by them as the frequency increases. We say things like, “That’s too bad!” or “Those poor people!”, but we “get back to normalcy” a LOT more quickly than we used to. And it’s beginning to feel that way with these terrorist acts committed on our own soil.
     But for this particular event, I noticed an interesting phenomenon. It happened a week ago today- on a Thursday. The very next night, last Friday, my wife and I decided to take our younger son to the movies, to see The Amazing Spiderman. We considered the fact that it was less than 24 hours after the shooting. We also considered the fact that it was opening weekend for the new Batman movie (the one, of course, which has now been indelibly linked to the shooting) and realized that fact might make for a packed movie theater. But we went anyway.
     When we got there, much to our surprise, we found the theater to be nearly empty. A Friday night, AND the opening weekend of the most anticipated movie in recent years, and the joint was almost like a ghost town. In fact, I expected to see tumbleweeds blowing through the lobby. As we stood in line for popcorn (and really, can you GO to the movies and NOT get popcorn? I don’t think so!), I thought about WHY it was that way. 
     The reality is that the weekend numbers for that movie were strong. So apparently our theater was in the minority as far as attendance. But I wonder about folks who DIDN’T go to the movies that night. Did they not go because they weren’t going anyway? Did they not go because they were trying to show respect to those who lost their lives? Or did they not go because they were afraid of what might happen?
     The reality is that it was probably all of those options plus some I haven’t thought of, depending on the person. But I am SURE that some folks didn’t go, and have not gone, because of the fear of that happening to them. And perhaps that is A. what the cowards who perpetrate these horrific acts want and B. a crying shame. When we live in fear, we let the devil win. Let me say that again- when we live in fear…we let the devil win. God did NOT give us a spirit of fear and He does NOT want us cowering in the corner, too scared to live our lives. And when we refuse to do things because of fear, we let that fear rule our lives.
     By ALL means, we should do what we can to honor and remember the folks who are injured or murdered by these acts. But we should NOT pull the shades, lock the doors and refuse to go outside as a result of it. We need to live life, and live it abundantly. And perhaps that is the BEST way to remember and honor those 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- Edited For Broadcast

Wednesday, July 25- Why Become a Contagious Christian?

     (Wednesdays are Bible Study Day here at Stick With Jesus. Today, we continue a study based on  a book of the same name written by Bill Hybels and Mark Mittenberg.) 
     Definition- Contagious: adjective- 1. capable of being transmitted by bodily contact with an infected person or object: contagious diseases, 2. carrying or spreading a contagious disease, 3. tending to spread from person to person.
     Definition- Pandemic: An epidemic (sudden outbreak) that becomes very widespread and affects a whole region, continent, or world.
     The word “pandemic” comes from two Greek words: “pan”, meaning “all” and “demos”, meaning “people or population”. So “pandemic/pandemos” means “all the people”. There have been many significant pandemics in human history, and predominantly, what caused them was the domestication of animals. Here are some:
     1. The Plague of Athens, 430BC. Typhoid fever killed 25% of the population. It was so strong that it killed many of its hosts faster than they could spread it, thereby diminishing the fatalities.
     2. The Antonine Plague, 165–180AD. Smallpox brought to the Italian peninsula by soldiers returning from the Near East, it killed up to five million, with 5,000 people a day dying in Rome.
     3. The Plague of Justinian, 541-750AD, 1st recorded outbreak of bubonic plague. It eliminated about 40% of the human population it struck and caused Europe’s population to drop by 50%.
     4. The Black Death, started in the 1300s. Total number of deaths worldwide- 75 million people.
     5. Smallpox killed 50% of Indigenous Australians in the early years of British colonization. During the 20th century, smallpox was responsible for 300–500 million deaths.
     6. Syphilis was a major killer in Europe. Between 1602-1796, the Dutch East India Company sent a million Europeans to work in Asia- less than 1/3 made it back.
     7. Cholera- in India, killed 38 million between 1817-1917.
     8. During 30 Years War (1618–1648), 8 million Germans died of bubonic plague/typhus.
     9. Typhus killed 3 million Russians from 1918-1922.
     10. Since 1850, measles has killed about 200 million people worldwide.
     11. 1/3 of the world’s current population is infected with tuberculosis. In the 19th century, it killed 25% of Europe‘s adult population. During the 20th century, it killed 100 million people.
     Staggering, isn’t it, what being contagious can do? Here are two questions for you: True or False- all Christians want to be contagious. True or False- all Christians ARE contagious. How did YOU answer? For my money, NOT all Christians want to be contagious and NOT all Christians ARE contagious. Why is that? I think it’s because we are unsure- unsure of HOW to do it, unsure of the risks. But deep down, I feel we each have a sense that nothing is better than fully opening yourself to God! Ultimately, a Christian will never become contagious unless they raise their motivation level. How do we do that? We have to look at things from God’s perspective.
     There are 2 major, non-Christian theories out there right now that inform this discussion:

1. The Anthropic Principle- the universe seems to be designed to support and nourish life.
        If the universe’s rate of expansion were different, life would not be possible.
        If the average distance between stars was greater, planets like Earth would not have formed. If less,   
              planetary orbits would not have formed properly.
        If the ratio of carbon to oxygen were different, we wouldn’t exist.
        If the tilt of the Earth was changed slightly one way we’d freeze, slightly the other way, we’d burn up.
        If the Earth were slightly closer to or farther from the Sun, if it were slightly larger or smaller, or if it’s
             rotation was slightly faster or slower, life here wouldn’t exist.
     Conclusion: Someone must have gone to great lengths to make this all happen. Lesson: People really matter to God.  

2. The Upside-Down Pyramid- a business model that says, after decades of the customer slowly sifting to the base of the pyramid, while corporate America rose to the apex, we need to flip the pyramid over, putting the customer at the top where they belong. 
     Conclusion: We have lost our focus. Lesson: If people really matter to God, they better matter to us, too!
     Read Luke 15:1-32 (LONG passage…but a good one!)- Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. 2But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  3Then Jesus told them this parable: 4″Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” 11Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. 13″Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. 17″When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21″The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22″But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. 25″Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ 28″The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ 31” ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ “
     These passages were pointed squarely at the Pharisees- the teachers of the Law. And there are some common threads in these 3 parables:
     Common thread #1- Something of great value is missing.
     Common Thread #2- That which is missing is important enough to warrant an all-out search.
     Common Thread #3- Retrievals result in rejoicing.
     According to the World Health Organization, a pandemic can start when 3 conditions are met:
     1. emergence of a disease new to a population
     2. agents infect humans, causing serious illness
     3. and agents spread easily and sustainedly among humans.
     When we start to look at people through God’s eyes, with God’s perspective, it has a revolutionary effect on the way we treat people. God wants us to be His agents, to catch His love and then urgently and infectiously offer it to all who are willing to consider it. There is NOTHING like the adventure of being used by God to contagiously spread His love, truth and life to other people- people who matter 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- Nobody Saw Batman

Tuesday, July 24- The U of P UMC

     I don’t know about you, but I find Jon Stewart a pretty funny guy. I will grant you that, as a Christian and a pastor, The Daily Show is sometimes a bit more “adult content” than I would like. And I will grant you that, during the 2nd “George W” term, his show was nothing more than a 30-minute “I hate W” rant. But when he is “on” and not too profane, his humor is VERY smart and often dead-on. 
     With that in mind, I recently heard of a quote from him about the United Methodist Church being the “University of Phoenix of churches”. And even though (perhaps BECAUSE) I am a United Methodist, by both faith AND vocation, I found that comment VERY funny! (And before you think that is a veiled slam on the UM Church on my part, let me assure you that I LOVE the UM Church. I don’t always AGREE with everything we do or say, but frankly I don’t ALWAYS agree with ANYBODY! I am fully committed to being a part of this denomination. But I am also willing to own our shortcomings!)
     I decided that A. I wanted to address Stewart’s comments and therefore B. I should look to see what he ACTUALLY said, and in what context it was said. Turns out, he was offering commentary on Chelsea Clinton’s wedding. Her mother (perhaps you’ve heard of her?!) is a United Methodist, and apparently the wedding was an “interfaith” affair. In the context of that, Stewart said, “Being a Methodist is easy. It’s like the University of Phoenix of religions: you just send them 50 bucks and click ‘I agree’ and you are saved.”
     I read responses from others about that comment, and what I found is pretty much exactly what I expected to find- some are appalled and are calling for Stewart’s head on a platter (metaphorically speaking, of course!), while others are willing to “own” the comment. I will admit that I lean MUCH more strongly to the 2nd reaction. First of all, if United Methodists (or anybody else, for that matter), react with anger and/or hate when something is said that paints them in a less than flattering light, what message does that send? “You can’t say those sorts of things about me/us! I, of course, can RESPOND badly…but YOU can’t say those sorts of things!”
      One of the commentaries that I especially appreciated was from Robin Russell, the Managing Editor of the United Methodist Reporter. Here piece was called “Too Bland For Our Own Good?”, and in it she said this about The United Methodist Church, “The place where you and your spouse from another denomination can find ‘neutral’ ground.  The place where no one tells you what to believe.  The place where the Christian journey is self-paced, and where questions are better than answers.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as Seinfeld would say.  But if you are seriously seeking Christian faith development and an engaged, authentic community, some of our United Methodist churches would undoubtedly fall short...” She goes on to say, “…a typical United Methodist church bulletin shows more announcements for Zumba classes and senior citizen outings than for Bible studies or accountability groups.” THAT ONE made me laugh HARD!
     The truth of the matter is this- SOME United Methodist churches ARE this bad. Some are the exact polar opposite of this. And most are…somewhere in the middle. But as a denomination, we are like many mainline denominations in this country- we have simply not kept up with the times. The world has changed DRAMATICALLY over the past 40, 30, 20 years. There is almost nothing (I would argue NOTHING, but I have learned that all sweeping generalizations are false!!) about your life that is the same as it was 20-30 years ago. And yet we want the Church to stay exactly the same, the mosquito trapped in the amber for millions of years, never changing, always the same. 
     But it is exactly that reason that leads folks like Jon Stewart to be comfortable to compare us United Methodists to The University of Phoenix. And if we’re honest? We ARE like that to some extent! (The thought that keeps going through my mind as I write this is that, here we UM folks are, offended by Stewart’s comments. Meanwhile, are the U of Phoenix folks hacked off at being compared to US?!) 
     It’s time for us American Christians to take comments like Stewart’s to heart. It is his perception, but I have found that, for each of us, perception is reality. In other words, if he perceives us that way, then, to him, we ARE that way. We need to re-imagine what it means to be relevant. We need to be willing to keep the message strong and clear while being flexible with the delivery system. We need to admit that “the way we’ve always done it” simply doesn’t work. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to check out The University of Phoenix’s website!
     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 Become a Contagious Christian?

Monday, July 23- A 2nd Look at Single-Ply Faith

     A while back, I wrote about the fact that I accidentally bought single-ply toilet paper at home. If you have EVER bought single-ply toilet paper, you know that it is NOT a pleasant experience! I have heard it described as trying to clean up spilled milk with a piece of cardboard…not very effective!

     Well, as you know, I recently moved to a new church. And one of the first things I noticed, along with how awesome everyone is, is that they have single-ply toilet paper in all the bathrooms. (I have to assume “all”- I have NOT been in the Ladies Room, thank you very much!) I asked the church secretary about it, and after clearing up some intital confusion as to whether I NEEDED some and couldn’t find it, I asked WHY we had single-ply. The answer was simple and made perfect sense- the church had experienced some sewer-related problems and had switched to single-ply to help the problem.
     But the conversation DID remind me of my previous blog. It also reminded me of the fact that, when we fail to trust and rely on God, we are using the spiritual version of single-ply toilet paper. Think about it- we either are unwilling or unable to fully rely on God (FROG), and so we depend on ourselves. And, from my experience, that NEVER works out the way we had hoped. It is only when we trust in the power and majesty of God that we are able to be all that we are called to be. In other words, we need to abandon our dependence on our own single-ply strength and instead turn to the double-ply strength of 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- The U of P UMC

Sunday, July 22- Parting Words


    “Our Father, who does art in Heaven, how didja know my name? Thy king do come, thy woebegone, on earl as it is in heaven. Give us this day our jelly bread, and forgive us our mattresses, as we forgive those who mattress against us. And lead us not into Penn Station, but deliver us some e-mail. For thine is the king dome, and the pallet, and the glow ring forever. Almond.”
     We’ve been building our stream over the past few weeks. And in our stream, love is the bedrock, service is the mud and Jesus is the water. All that’s left is the channel. And for our purposes, prayer is the channel. 
     We start with Paul’s parting words to the church at  Thessalonica-
      1Thessalonians 5:16-24- 16 Always be joyful. 17 Pray continually, 18 and give thanks whatever happens. That is what God wants for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Do not hold back the work of the Holy Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecy as if it were unimportant. 21 But test everything. Keep what is good, 22 and stay away from everything that is evil. 23 Now may God himself, the God of peace, make you pure, belonging only to him. May your whole self—spirit, soul, and body—be kept safe and without fault when our Lord Jesus Christ comes. 24 You can trust the One who calls you to do that for you.”
     In this passage, Paul gives 8 directives; 8 guidelines for life. Let’s look at them-
     1. Always be joyful- the Greek word for joy or joyful is “chairo”. It translates as “rejoice, thrive”. Joy is unlike happiness- it is not based on our circumstances, but our blessings. It is not dampened by bad circumstances but rooted in our relationship to God. It is not self-generated, but is instead a gift from God. Joy takes the burden out of service.
     2. Pray continually- in the Greek, continually means “without intermission, incessantly”. As an adverb, it is often used to describe a hacking cough! We should pray without interruption- an ongoing dialogue, a continuous fellowship with God. Prayer should be constantly recurring, not continuously occurring. Prayer is both attitude and activity- our attitude can be without ceasing even if our activity can’t.
     3. Give thanks whatever happens- in other words…be grateful!
     These 1st 3 stress our individual responsibility. They directly address personal behavior. The next 5, on the other hand, deal with our life with others.
     4. Don’t hold back the work of the Holy Spirit- in the Greek, to hold back translates to “extinguish, quench (as in a fire). But ultimately, we can’t repress God’s inspiration.
     5. Don’t look at prophecy as unimportant- we tend to look at prophecy as nearly akin to voodoo. It is either a very “Old Testament” kind of thing…or it’s something “those” people do! But God DOES speak to us through prophecy- always has, always will.
     6. Test everything- in other words, examine everything against the litmus test of the Word, to see if its genuine or not.
     7. Keep what is good- and here, “keep” does not mean just to retain, but to hold fast, keep secure.
     8. Stay away from everything evil- we are called to abstain from that which causes pain or trouble. Try to avoid what is bad.
     Paul then goes on to pray that our whole self- spirit, soul and body- would be be kept safe and without fault. In the Greek understanding, our spirit is the highest, most unique part of who we are. It enables us to communicate with God. Our soul is the seat of our personality. And our body is the physical part through which our spirit and soul express themselves. They work hand in glove. And at the heart of it all is prayer. Here is an example of how the Lord’s Prayer MIGHT go if God literally responded to what we are saying:
Man: Our Father, who art in heaven……..
God: Yes?
Man: What? “Our Father, who art in heaven…….
God: You called me?
Man: What? Called you? I didn’t call you. I’m praying. “Our Father, who art in heaven…….
God: There, you did it again.
Man: Did what?
God: Called me. You said, “Our Father in heaven.” Well, here I am….what’s up?
Man: I didn’t call you. I was just, you know, praying. I say my prayers every day. It makes me feel good…to check it off my “to do” list.
God: All right. Go on.
Man: Where was I? Oh! “Hallowed be thy name……”
God: Hold it. What do you mean by that?
Man: By what?
God: Hallowed.
Man: It means…it means… how should I know? It’s just a prayer. I don’t know what it means. By the way, what does it mean?
God: It means honored, holy, wonderful.
Man: OK, that makes sense. I never thought about it before… “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
God: Do you really mean that?
Man: Sure, why not?
God: What are you doing about it?
Man: Doing? Stuff. Things. Nothing, I guess. I just think it would be great if you had control of everything down here…like you do up there.
God: Do I have control of you?
Man: Well, I go to church.
God: That isn’t what I asked you. What about your temper? What about your patience? And you don’t take good care of yourself, physically.
Man: Well, I’m just as good as the rest of the people in church.
God: (Sarcastic) Excuse me. I thought you were praying for my will to be done. That will only happen if it starts with those praying for it. Like…you, for example.
Man: OK, OK, I get it. I guess I’m not perfect…like Alice. I can think of some flaws I have.
God: Me too!
Man: I haven’t thought much about it, but I’d like to change some of those things. I’d like to be…free.
God: Good. Now we’re getting somewhere. Let’s work together; some victories can truly be won. I’m proud of you.
Man: Look, I need to finish up here. This is taking a lot longer than usual…”Give us this day our daily bread.”
God: You need to cut back on the bread, my friend.
Man: Thank you, Capt. Obvious! What is this, “Criticize me day?” Here I am doing my religious duty, and all of a sudden you show up and point out all my shortcomings.
God: Praying is a dangerous thing. You might actually get what you ask for! You might actually wind up being changed by it. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. You called me, and here I am. It’s too late to stop now. Keep going, I’m interested to hear the next part of your prayer…..(pause). Well…go on.
Man: I’m scared.
God: Of what?
Man: I know what you’ll say.
God: Try me.
Man: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”
God: Well, what about…?
Man: See? I knew it! I knew you’d bring that up! Do you KNOW the whole story?
God: I didn’t even SAY anything!
Man: Yeah…but WE know, don’t we? And I can’t forgive that one! I need revenge!
God: What about your prayer?
Man: I didn’t mean it.
God: At least you’re honest. But it’s not much fun carrying a load of anger and bitterness around, is it?
Man: No. But, I’ll feel better as soon as I get even. Boy, have I got some plans!
God: You won’t feel any better. In fact, you’ll feel worse. Revenge isn’t sweet. Look how unhappy it makes you. But I can change all that.
Man: Really? How?
God: Forgive those who hurt you. Then I’ll forgive you. Then the anger and bitterness will be someone else’s problem, not yours. Your heart will be at peace.
Man: You’re right. You’re always right. I want to be square with You more than I want revenge…All right. I forgive the people who have hurt me. Help them find the right road. Some way, somehow, show them the right way. There!
God: Great! How do you feel?
Man: Not to shabb
y! In fact, I feel pretty great! I’ll go to bed tonight stress-free for the first time since…I don’t know when. Maybe I won’t be so tired from now on!
God: You’re not through with your prayer yet. Go on.
Man: Sure. “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
God: Good! I’ll do that. Just don’t put yourself in situations that tempt you… that’s your part of the deal. And don’t use me as an escape hatch.
Man: I don’t understand.
God: Sure you do. You’ve done it lots of times. You get in a bad situation and you come running to me. “Lord, help me out of this mess and I promise you I’ll never do it again.” Ring a bell?
Man: Yes…and I’m sorry. I really am. Up until now I thought if I just prayed the Lord’s Prayer every day, then I could do what I wanted.
God: Go ahead and finish your prayer.
Man: “For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever”….Amen.
God: Do you know what would bring me glory? You know what would really make me happy?
Man: No…but I’d like to. I want to know how to please you. I’ve seen what a mess life can be. And I know how great it can be to follow you.
God: You just answered my question.
Man: I did?
God: Sure. The thing that would bring me glory is to have people like you truly love me. And I see that happening between us. Now that some of your old habits are behind you, there’s no limit to what we can do together.
Man: Let’s see what we can make of me, OK?
God: Yes, let’s see.
     Our lives should be filled with the fragrance of prayer. 
     As we close this series, we have built our stream. Love is the bedrock, service is the mud, Jesus is the water and prayer channel. Now…let’s all go down to the river to pray!
     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 2nd Look at Single-Ply Faith