Monday, September 30- A New Trumpet!

     We are a musical family. I started playing drums when I was in 5th Grade. My wife was in band since 7th Grade- playing primarily the bassoon (a REALLY cool instrument!) during concert season and percussion (bells and cymbals) during marching season. (Because there really isn’t a LOT of call for a marching bassoon!)
     My wife and I decided early on that our kids would play an instrument. We agreed that we would let them CHOOSE their instrument, but they were going to play something. Our older son started the trumpet in 6th grade. He played it through High School, but he found his TRUE love when he graduated from Junior High. We got him a used electric guitar and used amp. He has NEVER looked back! Our younger son started the trumpet when he was in 5th Grade and is still playing.
     The trumpet he uses was his older brother’s. We did the “rent to own” thing with our older son, ending up with a rather expensive…rather mediocre…trumpet. But in 2003, the United Methodist ladies at the church I was serving had their twice-annual Rummage Sale. Included in the gymnasium full of stuff was a trumpet. It was inexpensive and looked decent, so I bought it. It turned out to be better than the trumpet we paid so much to rent to own. He used it the rest of his high school career, after which it sat in a closet.
     Then, when our young son took up the trumpet, we dusted that trumpet off and put it back into service. He has played it for over three years now. That would be AFTER the years our older son played it AND the years that…well…SOMEONE else played it. So, it has some serious mileage on it! Which leads to the phone call I got on Saturday. The musical instrument sales and repair place that we sent my son’s trumpet to called to give us the bad news- the trumpet…has…died! It would take about $200 to fix it, and I spent $20 on it…10 years ago! It’s simply not worth $200. So, we have jumped BACK on the “rent to own” bandwagon- a new trumpet is being delivered to us soon!
      Music is a POWERFUL thing. It has the ability to illicit emotion. It is beautiful. And it speaks to me in ways that few other things can. I feel God’s pleasure when I play music. That’s why I continue to be involved in music. That’s why we have encouraged our sons to be musicians. There is a power in music that is beyond my ability to adequately describe it!
     With what has God gifted YOU? It might be music…but then again…it might NOT be music. But I KNOW that God has gifted you in some way. What is it? It’s important to our spiritual growth that we both identify and pursue those things with which God has gifted us. They make us feel more…complete…and they bring God pleasure! So…what are YOU good at?!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
 Tomorrow- Food and Fellowship

Sunday, September 29- Tongues of Fire: Indweller

     A burglar broke into a house one night. He shined his flashlight around, looking for valuables, and when he picked up a CD player to place in his pack, a strange, disembodied voice echoed from the dark saying, “Jesus is watching you.” He nearly jumped out of his skin, clicked his flashlight out, and froze. When he heard nothing more after a bit, he shook his head, promised himself a vacation after the next big score, then clicked the light on and began searching for more valuables. Just as he pulled the stereo out so he could disconnect the wires, clear as a bell he heard, “Jesus is watching you.” Freaked out, he shone his light around frantically, looking for the source of the voice. Finally, in the corner of the room, his flashlight beam came to rest on a parrot. “Did you say that?”, he hissed at the parrot. “Yep,” the parrot confessed, then squawked, “I’m just trying to warn you.” The burglar relaxed. “Warn me, huh? Who in the world are you?” “Moses,” replied the bird. “Moses?” the burglar laughed. “What kind of people would name a bird Moses?” “The kind of people that would name a Rottweiller Jesus!”
     We are in the midst of 7 weeks of digging deeper into exactly Who the Holy Spirit is. Each week, we focus on one word- a name that describes the Holy Spirit. The first week, we talked about the fact that the Holy Spirit is the author of the Bible…God’s Word. Week 2, we considered that the Holy Spirit is the ultimate Encourager. Last week, we looked at the Holy Spirit as the quintessential Guide of our lives. Today, we consider the fact that the Holy Spirit is an Indweller- He lives within us.
     Each week, we will also close the sermon with a good ol’-fashioned altar call. And we will open the sermon by recognizing the Holy Spirit’s presence among us by singing the classic refrain, “Surely the Presence of the Lord”. Will you join me as we lift our voices to Heaven?
(Sing the hymn)
Ephesians 2:21-22 You are a building that is built on the apostles and prophets. They are the foundation. Christ Jesus himself is the most important stone in the building. The whole building is held together by him. It rises to become a holy temple because it belongs to the Lord. And because you belong to him, you too are being built together. You are being made into a house where God lives through his Spirit.
     The Bible is full of things that are hard to believe, but let’s be honest- the hardest story to believe in the entire Bible is the story of Jesus- on the surface it’s the most ridiculous. That God Almighty would leave the beauty, glory and majesty of Heaven to be born a helpless baby, grow up as a human, heal the sick, raise the dead, walk on water, feed the hungry, be rejected by the very beings He created, die on a cross as payment for their…our…sins…and then rise from the dead the third day and ascend back up into heaven? Wow! I have GOT to stop eating the General Tso Chicken right before bedtime! It seems like pure foolishness! But the foolishness of God is far wiser than we could possibly imagine. And in His wisdom, God’s Holy Spirit resides in the hearts of God’s people.
Romans 8:9-11 But your sinful nature does not control you. The Holy Spirit controls you. The Spirit of God lives in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Christ. Christ lives in you. So your body is dead because of sin. But your spirit is alive because you have been made right with God. The Spirit of the One who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you. So the God who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your bodies, which are going to die. He will do this by the power of his Spirit, who lives in you.
     We once lived in a house that sat in the median strip of a highway. You didn’t really notice, except when you went somewhere- you had to leave the driveway doing 60 MPH. In the church parsonage, there’s this light switch that doesn’t do anything. Every so often I flick it on and off…just to check. Yesterday, I got a call from a woman in Germany. She said, “Cut it out.” The parsonage runs on static electricity… If you want to run the blender, you have to rub balloons on your head and if you want to cook, you have to pull off a sweater real quick. (Thank you, comedian Stephen Wright!)
     In today’s passage from his letter to the church at Rome, Paul reminds us that, as believers, we have an antidote for our sinful nature- the Spirit of God. He lives in us. We are His dwelling place. The Holy Spirit is often referred to as the Spirit of life because of His regenerative, renewing power. And He is the Spirit of God because He carries out God’s plans and purposes. He applies the fruits of Jesus’ redemptive mission to the lives of believers. The presence and fullness of Jesus Christ are realized in the lives of believers through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is at the evidence of the salvation we have been given. The life given us by the indwelling Holy Spirit is beyond the power of death or any other effort to destroy us. Instead, the life given us by the Holy Spirit is the very life of God, powerfully blessed and eternally indestructible.
     One Bible commentator said that, when we say the Holy Spirit dwells in the hearts of believers, we don’t REALLY mean a personal or physical indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I beg to differ- that’s EXACTLY what we mean! The Holy Spirit lives in our hearts and He influences, directs, and guides us, producing meekness, love, joy, peace, gentleness and goodness. There is a strong intimacy between us and the Holy Spirit- the fruits of His Spirit are produced in our hearts.
     The Holy Spirit resides in the hearts of God’s people, and that indwelling is the primary distinguishing characteristic of a regenerated, NEW person. And from within us, He directs us, guides us, comforts us and influences us…as well as producing in us the fruits of the Spirit. He provides that marvelously intimate connection between God and His children. We HAVE the Spirit of God living in our hearts.
    1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Don’t you know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit? The Spirit is in you. You have received him from God. You do not belong to yourselves. Christ has paid the price for you. So use your bodies in a way that honors God.
     The Bible often says we should “fear” God, and that stresses a lot of people. Maybe you had a dad you feared. Maybe there was a bully in your neighborhood you feared. Maybe there is someone else in your life that has made you afraid. And if that’s the case- I’m so sorry. You shouldn’t have to live with a spirit of fear- it’s NOT of God. So that’s NOT what “fear” means in this case. The Holy Spirit doesn’t “walk softly but carry a big stick”. Instead, “fear” in a Biblical context means respect. We meet Him, we come to know Him, we see the amazing things He’s doing, in both us AND our church, and our lives change…and suddenly the “fear of the Lord” takes on a whole new meaning! Our respect for God grows as we accept a deeper and deeper indwelling of His Spirit.
     What makes a home? I used to think the answer was brick and mortar. Both my wife and I lived in ONE home with our families our entire “growing up” years. Neither of us knew what it was like to move. For both of us, “home” was a str
ucture…one consistent structure…where we lived. It was a place…a specific place, an address. But in the 28 years that we have been married, we have lived in…ready?…EIGHT places, including one apartment, one house that we rented, 2 houses that we owned (or more precisely the bank owned and they let us live there…as long as we made the payments!) and 4 parsonages! That means moving an average of every 3 ½ years! Well, if your understanding of “home” is brick and mortar at a specific geographic location and you move that much, you better either get a new definition of “home” or just quit trying! We have both come to understand that home has MUCH less to do with an address, with construction-grade materials, and much MORE to do with where your heart is. As trite as that saying is, as much as it belongs on a cross-stitched sampler on the wall of grandma’s dining room, home really IS where the heart is. 
   And where is GOD’S home? He has moved around almost as much as we have. He has dwelt in a burning bush, in the clouds and in a pillar of fire. He has resided in the Ark of the Covenant. He took up residence in the Holy of Holies in the temple in Jerusalem. But wherever He lived, there was always that dividing line between us and Him- the veil of the temple that separated us from His direct presence. But when Jesus came, when He died on the cross, all that changed. He came to bring us into closer relationship with the Father. And He did just that at Golgotha, when the veil of the temple, the curtain that separated us from God, was torn in two…top to bottom. No mistaking Who did that. We would tear it bottom to top. But God Himself rent the veil in two, starting at HIS end, because He wanted a more intimate relationship with us. And the crowning piece of that puzzle, the cherry on top, the pièce de résistance if you will, happened when Jesus, after His ascension to Heaven, sent the Holy Spirit to be with us. And not JUST to be with us, but to be IN us…to dwell within us.
     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 New Trumpet!

Saturday, September 28- Paperwork…AGAIN!

     An old friend of mine has a saying that I have appropriated! When you are facing a person or situation that is…NOT measuring up well…you describe it as “scaling the sheer rock face of Stupid Mountain”! Well, I JUST finished scaling the sheer rock face of PAPER Mountain!
     There is an event in United Methodist churches called Charge Conference. It is an annual event that takes place in the fall. The easiest, simplest way I could describe it is getting your ducks in a row for the upcoming year. The folks who will make up the various committees and ministry teams are established. The annual budget is set. Property and Casualty insurance is reviewed to make sure it’s adequate. Both the church and the parsonage are inspected to make sure they are “up to snuff”.
     Let me say two things right up front about Charge Conference:
1. I NEVER look forward to it and
2. it is very important and very necessary!
     All told, I emailed 22 separate documents to my District Office early yesterday morning. 22! And the “email” part is a GREAT thing! When I first entered the ministry 17 years ago, Charge Conference paperwork was done with…well…paper! A LARGE packet would get mailed to the church, complete with all the necessary forms. And each sheet was s different color…intentionally. But when you photocopied them, they would be…you know…white! So the sheet that was originally green had the word “green” on the top corner. Then, when you photocopied it, the “green” sheet would SAY “green”, but be white! You had to get hard copies to different people in the church to gather all the information necessary. That meant that, in the end, it was EASY to have 2-3 copies of the SAME document floating around. It was nearly impossible to tell which one was which!
     Then…they started making the forms available online. Huzzah! You couldn’t fill them out electronically, but at least you didn’t have to get that big bundle of paper snail mailed! And THEN…they made them in such a way that they could be filled out electronically! BUT…you STILL had to print them out and snail mail them! But now, you can download them, fill them out electronically and email them- you never have to actually print out a hard copy!!
     Being a pastor means wearing many hats- a jack of all trades…master of none! You have to be able to run the church like a business…while NOT running it like a business! A seminary professor once told me, “You will come back and tell me ALL the things I didn’t teach you!”  After 17 years in the pulpit, I STILL find that to be true! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am going t go and double-check my paperwork!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
 Tomorrow- Tongues of Fire: Indweller

Friday, September 27- A Sad Day

     Ministry is an interesting gig. You can plan ALL you want, but your day seldom goes the way you planned. If you struggle with change…this may not be the profession for you! But if you thrive on change, if you welcome change, if you prefer change…become a minister!
     Part of that “constant change” is the fact that you tend to meet with people at the milestones of their lives. You know- weddings, new babies, baptisms…and funerals. You experience both the highs and the lows of the people with whom you share your ministry. And usually the lowest of the lows revolve around funerals. I met one of those head-on this week.
     A woman who JUST joined the church I serve lost her husband late last week. 3 months ago…THREE months ago…this 45-year old husband and father of 2 was diagnosed with cancer. Did I mention three MONTHS ago? He passed away last week. His death was both a great blessing- he is no longer suffering- and a horrible tragedy- he was WAY too young to leave behind a widow an two kids.
     One of the first things that needs to happen is planning the funeral. That alone is hard- the LAST thing you want to do when you’ve lost someone is have to sit down and make decisions…important decisions that impact both your family and your wallet. But it’s necessary, so…you do it. They wanted to have the visitation on Sunday and the funeral on Monday. For my money, a funeral trumps ALMOST everything else when it comes to scheduling. ALMOST. I had 2 doctor’s appointments and scheduled lab work waiting for me in St. Louis on Monday. These are important appointments that are hard to get and directly impact my attempts at treating the nearly golf ball sized tumor in my head. I simply…can’t miss them. And…I felt terrible about having to say that…but I did. The service was moved a day later…to Tuesday.
     After a whirlwind 30-hour round trip to St. Louis that included blood draws, lab work, two different doctors and an unexpected out-patient surgical procedure, I got home Monday night in time to sit down and write the funeral service. On one hand, that task has gotten easier over the years because I’ve done so many funerals. On the other hand, it’s one of the hardest things I do every time I have to do it.
     The funeral was a sad, heart-breaking yet beautiful thing. Dozens and dozens of motorcyclists blended with several VFW members and a small contingent of active-duty Marines to honor the deceased in a powerfully moving way. Standing in a national cemetery surrounded by American flags as a lone bugler plays Taps is heart-wrenching. My heart breaks for this woman and her children.
     Days like Tuesday do two things: 1. they make me face the greatest challenges in ministry and 2. they remind me just how short and precious life is. We live our lives as if we have all the time in the world. But the truth of the matter is that none of us has any clue how long we have on this earth. life is but the blink of an eye. Therefore…make the most of it. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Don’t spent time on hate, anger, jealousy, grudges and the like. Don’t get mad about stupid stuff. Treat others the way you want to be treated…whether they reciprocate or not. Make the most of every day. Live life to the fullest. Work hard. Play hard. Love fully. 
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Thursday, September 26- Baby, She Was Born to Run!

     If you have been reading this website regularly, you know we have a dog. She is an 8 1/2 year old Black lab/English pointer mix named Zoey. She was my youngest son’s 6th birthday present. 
     Zoey is a…force of nature! She is a HUGE bundle of energy. She has the best (or worst!) of both of those hunting breeds. She was born to run! Sadly, she doesn’t get much opportunity to do that!
     We live “in town, with a very small yard that isn’t fenced. Also, Zoey is a “runner”- when she gets the opportunity, she bolts at the first chance! Therefore, she doesn’t get a great deal of opportunity to run. 
     Recently, we were out of town long enough for Zoey to be at the kennel for two nights. Our “usual” kennel wasn’t going to work on those dates, so we took her to another kennel in town. And she…was…HAPPY!
     This new kennel has a rather large fenced-in area where she can not only run, but she can play with other dogs! There were a couple of other labs there when she was there, and the lady who runs the place said she was in hog-heaven! (My term, not hers!) She had such a great time running and socializing that when my wife went to pick her up, the dog looked at her and said, “Oh, hey! Good to see you! But…I’m good. I’ll stay awhile!”
     There is a Christian band called Big Daddy Weave. They have a song called Fields of Grace. The lyrics are:
There’s a place that I love to run and play.
There’s a place that I sing new songs of praise.
Dancing with my Father God in fields of Grace.

There’s a place that I lose myself within.
There’s a place I find myself again.
Dancin’ with my Father God in fields of Grace.

There’s a place where religion finally dies.
There’s a place that I lose my selfish pride.
Dancin’ with my Father God in fields of Grace.

I love my Father, my Father loves me.
I dance for my Father, my Father sings over me.
and nothing can take that away from me.
Dancin’ with my Father God in fields of Grace.

     There are all sorts of things within those lyrics we could talk about, but the words I want to focus on are found at the very beginning…a very good place to start! “There’s a place that I love to run and play. There’s a place that I sing new songs of praise. Dancing with my Father God in fields of Grace.” Zoey LOVES to run and play. And in her own way, she sings songs of praise! (She is a VERY vocal puppy!) Our relationship with God should want us to do the same thing. We should want to run and play, dance and sing. A relationship with God should be the catalyst for a life of joy and fulfillment. 
     So…how’s that working for you? Do you feel joyful and fulfilled? Or is life one big struggle after another? True- a life lived in Jesus Christ is NOT going to be a life free from strife and trouble. In some ways, following Jesus offers MORE of that, not less. BUT…the joy that comes along with that connection FAR outweighs the struggles of life. The world can mess with your happiness- take it away, spoil it, minimize it.  But no one- let me repeat that…NO one…can take your joy from you. It is God-given, and the only way you can lose it is to willfully relinquish it.
    Do you have God’s joy WHERE? Down in your heart? Are you dancing with your Father God in fields of grace? It is THE most awesome thing EVER. I HIGHLY recommend 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- A Sad Day

Wednesday, September 25- The Waiting Game: Week 2

     (Wednesdays are Bible Study Day here at Stick With Jesus. Today, we begin a four-week study on the subject of…wait for it!…WAITING. We will look at four types of waiting, and what they means to our faith.)
     2 old men had been friends for years. They were also diehard baseball fans. Then, one of them was dying. As he lay on his deathbed, his friend came to visit, “When you die, do you think there will be baseball in heaven?” The man who was dying responded, “Sure.” A couple of days later…he died. A few days after the funeral, the friend who remained was eating lunch when suddenly he heard his late friend’s voice. “It’s me! I have good news and I have bad news. The good news is that there IS baseball in heave!” “Well, that IS good news! What’s the bad news?” “The bad news is that…you’re scheduled to pitch this Wednesday!”
     Waiting is a hard thing. There is a French proverb that says that people count up the faults of those who keep them waiting! last week, we looked at the Rich Young Ruler who asked how to get to heaven. We decided that he was holding in too much. This week, we look at a man who waits until nighttime and then comes to Jesus- he is holding up.
   John 3:1-12 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.” “How can anyone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked. “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 
     Have you ever been asked, “Are you going to Heaven?” The answers that most people offer to that question are fairly predictable, “I hope so.” “I’m trying.” “I’m doing my best!” “Yes, I’m baptized.” “Yes, I’m a church member.” And while they are fairly predictable AND sound pretty good…none of them are right. It IS the most important question ever. And the reason that’s true? There is only one alternative to heaven- there is no middle ground, nothing in between.
     It is a 2,000 year old conversation, “How do you get to Heaven?” But in this case, the man in the story doesn’t actually ask that question. Nicodemus…we’ll call him Nick…comes at night. I guess that makes him…ready?…the original Nick at Night! (Chortle! Snort!) But who IS Nick? He’s a Pharisee- a well-respected group with great knowledge of the Old Testament. They are the “keepers of the law”.
     We are also told that Nick is not only a Pharisee- he is one of the most important religious teachers, “a ruler of Jews”, a member of the Sanhedrin. Jesus even calls him “Israel’s teacher”. He’s not just “a” teacher-he is THE most popular religious teacher. Nick is, in  one word, good! In fact, he’s very good! (OK- that’s 2 words!)
     But why does he come at night? He wants to avoid crowd. He doesn’t want his conversation to be limited. AND…he is somewhat afraid of being seen with Jesus. In John’s gospel, the darkness opposes the light. So this setting symbolizes the darkness that is shrouding Nick.
     He has nagging doubts that his religion can’t seem to answer. He’s been watching Jesus work- preach, teach, heal- from the shadows. And he has seen something that his religious rule-keeping hadn’t provided- LIFE! So what does Nick really want? He says, “Jesus, is goodness enough to get into Heaven? Is GOOD good enough?” And Jesus says, “NO.” Why? Because no amount of goodness is good enough. 
     Nick is holding up…legalism. He won’t let down his guard and therefore he won’t let Jesus in. It doesn’t matter about his good works. It doesn’t matter how much money you give. It doesn’t matter how many underprivileged kids you help. How do you get to Heaven? You have to be born again.
    But what does it mean to be born again? Billy Preston sang a love song that claimed, “With you I’m born-again.” Former President Jimmy Carter claimed he was “born-again”. By the next election, nearly all of the candidates were claiming the same thing. But now, the term “born again” has been stripped of  much of its meaning. These days, it can mean anything…or it can mean nothing. But when Jesus says it, it is NOT old and tired- it is radical and new. To be born again means to change your spiritual citizenship. In the Greek, the word “again” has a double meaning. It can mean either “again” or “above.” So to be born again is to be born…from above.
     Jesus says two important things about being born again.
1. It is necessary- a “must.” It’s not just a good idea or a recommendation. It is an imperative.
2. It is universal. In the Greek, there is a distinction between the singular and plural “you.” Jesus uses the plural.
     Jesus says that being born again is a mystery. It’s like the wind; it blows where it wishes. You can’t hear it and you can’t see it. It is governed by the Holy Spirit. We accept all kinds of earthly mysteries by faith- TV, the internet. If we so willingly believe in them, then why are we not willing to accept heavenly truths by faith?
Being born again is not about our human efforts. Position, popularity, prestige and goodness won’t save you. So what is it to be born again? It I not turning over a new leaf. It’s not like a diet you try for the umpteenth time. It’s not a New Year’s resolution.
     Jesus said that, unless you are born of both water AND the Spirit, you can’t enter heaven. Nick asked, “How can I be born when I am old?” Jesus is speaking on a spiritual level, but Nick is hearing on a physical one. He has LOTS of head knowledge- religion- but not enough heart knowledge- relationship. Millions of people sit in churches every Sunday morning lost. They have have head knowledge, but they lack heart knowledge. They are involved with church, but not with Jesus. They miss Heaven by 18”- the distance from the head to the heart. Nick a had hard time realizing the difference between religion and relationship. Being born again is about a personal relationship.
     Are YOU goin
g to Heaven? Some people say they are not good enough to get into heaven. Know what? I agree…neither am I! Many envision God as holding a big book with our pluses and minuses in it. But that is not how God’s plan works.
     Did you know that the original boxed cake mix was a big flop? The directions were SO easy- just add water and bake. But the public was uneasy with a cake mix that only required water- it was too easy. So they changed the formula and the directions- you had to also add an egg. The result? A big hit! Salvation sounds too easy, but God has not changed the “formula” to make it more marketable.
     Next Wednesday, we will switch from “holding up” to “holding on” as we continue our look at waiting.
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
 Tomorrow-  Baby, She Was Born to Run!

Tuesday, September 24- Health Update Part…Whatever!

     We interrupt your regularly-scheduled blog to bring you this special update!
     Seriously, I have an update on my health situation and, since I promised to keep you up-to-date…here you go!
     Yesterday started when the birds started chirping at 7AM. Seriously…the birds woke me up! (I use my iPhone as my alarm clock and I have the “ring tone” set for…chirping birds! Could I BE a bigger geek?! I don’t think so!!) So the birds woke me up, we got ready and headed out.
     The first stop was the otolaryngologist’s office. “The WHAT, Pastor?!” How about ENT? “Aaaahhh, that’s better, Pastor!” So we went to the ENT’s office because my last MRI showed a “substantial” amount of fluid in my right middle ear- the side the tumor is on. He checked me out, looked at the MRI results and agreed that there was a LOT of fluid in there! My choices were: A. do nothing and see what happens or B. have a tube put in my ear. Choice A didn’t seem like much of a choice- the fluid had caused me to go from “kinda deaf” to “totally deaf” in my right ear AND it was causing me to have issues with dizziness and nausea.
     We figured that A. he was going to tell us that I needed a tube and B. I would have to schedule another appointment for out-patient surgery. Imagine my surprise when he said, “I could put the tube in…now.” “Uuuhhh, well….what?” He pointed out that I had a decent amount of swelling in the ear and that it may be tough to get in, but if I could “stand it”, he was willing to try. I assured him I was up to the task!
     He squirted some…goo…in my ear to numb the area, then he stuck what amounted to a funnel in my ear, stuck something through the opening and cut a hole in my eardrum! He then sucked what felt like a quart of fluid (as well as have my brain matter!) through the hole he just made! Then…the tube went in. I have a high threshold for pain AND he numbed the area in advance, but I know understand why they sedate kids before they do that procedure! As he sucked the fluid out, I literally felt like the room was spinning- my inner ear was OUT OF WHACK!
     Immediately after he was done, an amazing thing happened- I COULD HEAR out of my right ear! For the first time in a while, I could hear out of that ear! It’s not great- I’m back to “kinda deaf”. BUT…I can hear from that ear! I got ear drops to use for a few days and then sent home with an appointment in 6 months for a follow-up.
     Then, it was on to the hospital for blood work and a check-up with my oncologist. My blood work came back “in range” for everything they check- that’s good! The I saw thee oncologist, who said that, basically, no news is good news. There is nothing positive to report in the sense of the symptoms changing or the tumor shrinking, but it’s too early in the drug therapy to see those things. Instead, he lifted up that fact that I am no worse than I was a month ago. Good stuff!
     So- a hole poked in my ear. My brains sucked out though the hole! A tube jammed through my eardrum. Needles stuck in my arm. Poking and prodding. And…my family and I claim it as a gift from God! I can hear a little better. The pressure in my head isn’t as great. My blood counts are good. And the tumor is NOT getting worse. Thank. You. 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 Waiting Game: Week 2

Monday, September 23- Before the Parade Passes By!

     First off- let me apologize! No, there is not anything wrong with your computer! I did NOT post a blog on Saturday. I had a rather bad evening, health-wise, on Friday. It wasn’t until about halfway through Saturday that I even realized that nothing got posted. And by then, I thought…why bother! So, please accept my apologies- I try hard to post EVERY day, and over the almost four-year history of Stick With Jesus, I have “hit the mark” MOST days. But I MISSED it on Saturday!
     Last Thursday was the Homecoming parade in the town where we live. It’s a pretty big deal in our town. There are a LOT of entries in this parade. The route itself isn’t really very long, but the parade is LONG!
     Conveniently, the parade passes RIGHT past our front door. AND…we have a deck on the side of our house. So my wife and her parents got to sit right out on the deck, in the BEAUTIFUL weather, and watch the parade pass by! It could NOT be easier/better for them!
     You may have noticed that my younger son and I were absent from that scenario. That’s because my son was marching in the band and I was walking with my church’s entry in the parade. The church I serve participates in the parade every year. This year, 17 folks showed up to be a part of it. We got the church bus out (which is absolutely THE best rolling billboard the church could have!) and we all walked along with the bus, handing out ink pens. The pens were simple- church name, address, phone number and web address. Our thought was that a bottle of water or a candy bar with the name of the church on it would last all of 5 seconds and then go in the trash. A flyer about the church would be dropped to the ground. But a pen…nobody is going to throw away a perfectly good pen! So we handed out hundreds of pens!
     So, is marching in a parade “ministry”? I mean, working at the food pantry is ministry. Taking blankets to the homeless is ministry. Leading worship service at the nursing home is ministry. But marching in a parade? Ministry? YES! Our presence in the parade helped people in the community see us as more than a stuffy bunch of church goers. The “general public” often has the idea that church folks are boring, overly serious sticks in the mud! And the truth of the matter is…sometimes they are absolutely right! But often…they are NOT! 
     Being a Christian doesn’t have to be a dull, boring, serious, “no fun” way of life. You CAN have fun and be a Christian. If fact…you SHOULD have fun if you are a Christian! Following Christ is THE most exciting life you can have. And, if you will excuse my saying so, if your experience of Christianity is NOT fun and exciting…you MIGHT be doing it wrong!
     Take a look at your life- is it lifeless and boring? Or is it fun and fulfilling? It can be all that you would want out of life…if you will let it. Show the people around you that being a Christian is THE best decision they could make. They are NEVER going to come to that conclusion through rules and regulations. They are ONLY going to come to that realization if they see it…in you! Show those people what a life lived in Christ can be like. And do it…before the parade passes by!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
 Tomorrow- Health Update Part…Whatever!

Sunday, September 22- Tongues of Fire: Guide

     Several years ago, my wife and I took our oldest (then ONLY) son to Washington DC. We had a GREAT week, visiting all of the places you would expect tourists to visit when in our nation’s capital. The day we were to fly home, we left for the airport in plenty of time to return the rental car, check our bags and board the plane. That is…if I had turned the right direction on the interstate! We were 20 minutes…IN THE WRONG DIRECTION!…before I realized it. (Give me a break- I had never been to DC before and this was LONG before cell phones and GPS devices!) So when we got back to where we started, we were a full 40 minutes behind time. AND…our plane tickets were NON-refundable, so if we missed our flight…we were in a world of hurt! The tickets we had would be useless and we didn’t have enough money to buy new ones!
     We are FLYING down the interstate and I am trying desperately to not teach my son any words that he doesn’t know! My wife is trying to be the voice of reason, but I was hearing NONE of it. I was sure we were going to miss our flight. And then, my wife suddenly says, “We’re going to make it.” “WHAT?” “We’re going to make it.” “I don’t think so!” “No, we ARE- GOD is guiding us.” I nearly came unglued, “That’s just GREAT…but we are STILL 40 minutes late!” My wife said again, “No, we’re going to make it- God is guiding us. Look!” And she pointed out her side window. I looked past her and out the window…to see a large panel truck with the words “Guaranteed On-time Delivery” on the side- Guaranteed On-time Delivery- G.O.D! I shut my mouth, quit my whining and just drove. AND…we made it with time to spare! God’s Holy Spirit guided us!
     We are in the midst of 7 weeks of digging deeper into exactly Who the Holy Spirit is. Each week, we focus on one word- a name that describes the Holy Spirit. The first week, we talked about the fact that the Holy Spirit is the author of the Bible…God’s Word. Last week, we considered that the Holy Spirit is the ultimate Encourager. Today, we look at the Holy Spirit as the quintessential Guide of our lives.
     Each week, we will also close the sermon with a good ol’-fashioned altar call. And we will open the sermon by recognizing the Holy Spirit’s presence among us by singing the classic refrain, “Surely the Presence of the Lord”. Will you join me as we lift our voices to Heaven? (Sing the hymn)
Joshua 1:9 Here is what I am commanding you to do. Be strong and brave. Do not be terrified. Do not lose hope. I am the LORD your God. I will be with you everywhere you go.
     So the Holy Spirit is our Guide. But what does that word mean? Well, according to the internet, it means, “One who shows the way by leading, directing, or advising, one who serves as a model for others, one who leads others, one who controls alignment, shows direction, to exert control or influence over. The Holy Spirit promises to guide those who believe to better know and understand the truth.
John 16:12-13 I have much more to say to you. It is more than you can handle right now.  But when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own. He will speak only what he hears. And he will tell you what is still going to happen.
     A young man wanted to ask his girlfriend to marry him, so he went to talk to her dad…to get his blessing. The two met one Saturday morning for coffee.  The father quickly got down to business. “Do you have a job?  How do you plan to support yourself and my daughter?” The young man paused and said, “God will provide.” The father then asked, “Where do you intend to live?  Do you have a house lined up for my daughter?” The young man paused and again, with much conviction said, “God will provide.” The father then asked his third question.  “Do you have any money? What do you plan to live on?”  The young man looked him right in the eye and said again, “God will provide.” The two finished their coffee and the father went home. As he walked through the front door, his wife said, “Well? What do you think? Her husband looked at her and said, “I’m not sure if he’s the one or not, but I DO know that apparently he thinks I’m God!”
     In today’s passage, Jesus says that when God sends the Holy Spirit, He will…what?…GUIDE us into all truth. Guide us. Show us the way. Direct us. Advise us. Lead us. Control our alignment. Show us the right direction. He won’t simply be speaking on His own, but will be…IS…the very Spirit and essence of God Himself. And…He will tell us what’s going to happen…if we are willing and receptive to listening to Him.
     Not only did the Holy Spirit guide the Scripture writers- He also promises to guide us to know and understand the truth they recorded. Those who belong to Jesus Christ have the Holy Spirit living IN them, guiding them to all they need to know…and do. But those who haven’t accepted Christ have no “interpreter” to guide them.
     I’m sure you’ve noticed how “busy” your church has become? (Our custodian jokes that he can barely find time to clean because someone is always here!) Worship attendance is up, Christian Education attendance is up, Youth Group attendance is up, giving is up and involvement in the many and varied ministries of the church is up.
     As we continue to grow, we need a plan in place to help us accommodate that growth. Without a plan, we have no choice but to be reactive to what happens whenever it happens- never a good place to be. But WITH a plan, we can be proactive, anticipating the needs and challenges that lie ahead and, with God’s help, facing them head-on. And the current leaders of your church have done just that- MAP.
     The MAP (Ministry and Planning) Process started with a survey, asking each of them to dig deeper into their personal faith journey, as well as their feelings to consider both the current reality and the potential future of our church. They were encouraged to invite the Holy Spirit to guide them, to “dream big” and to not be constrained by “”what if’s” and “not possible’s”. From that exercise, a list of “AUMC dreams” was established.
     At the first actual meeting, the entire list of dreams was narrowed down considerably. We then dismissed to spend a couple of weeks praying for the Holy Spirit’s guidance about the items that remained. We then got back together to turn the remaining list of dreams into a tangible list of goals for the next five years. And that’s an important step. Dreams are great things…but not achievable in and of themselves- they have to become goals. The MAP team was given the guidelines that define a goal- S.M.A.R.T.:
     Out of discussion, dreaming, prayer and openness to the guiding of the Holy Spirit grew a set of 1-, 3- and 5-year goals for our church. They were then presented to, and approved by, your Administrative Council…and I would now like to share them with you.

1-Year Goals (to be completed by 9/15/14)
1. FACILITY- Form a Facility Task Force whose responsibility is to study ALL the options for our current facility use and future needs and then have a recommendation to the Administrative Council in place by the 3/16/14 meeting. The Administrative Council’s final recommendation will then be presented to the whole church for approval.
2. WINDOWS- Form a Stained Glass Windows Task Force whose responsibility is to study ALL the options for our current stained glass windows and then have a recommendation to the Administrative Council in place by 3/15/14. The Administrative Council’s final recommendation will then be presented to the whole church for approval.
3. WORSHIP- Experience 10% growth in average weekly worship attendance (from 250/week to 275/week) and implement substantive changes in the AM Worship Service to make it more Contemporary.
4. FAMILIES- For a Young Family/Couples Ministry Team, create a plan and have a first ministry event scheduled by 1/1/14.
5. MINISTRY- Hold two New Member classes and see 25 new people connected to one or more of our on-going ministries.
6. YOUTH- Form an Advisory Committee of 6 people by 11/15/13.
7. KITCHEN- Form a Kitchen Task Force whose responsibility is to create a comprehensive plan for our current kitchen use and future needs and then have a recommendation to the Administrative Council in place by 3/15/14.
8. STAFF- Form a Staffing Task Force whose responsibility is to study ALL the options for our current staff and future staffing needs and then have a recommendation to the Administrative Council in place by 9/15/14.

3-Year Goals (to be completed by 9/15/16)
1. WINDOWS- Stained Glass Window project completed.
2. BUS- Form a Bus Task Force whose responsibility is to study ALL the options for our current bus and future staffing needs and then have a recommendation for a replacement bus in place.
3. MISSIONS- Increase the number of “Mission Trip” opportunities we offer: Year 1- 3 trips, Year 2- 4 trips, Year 3- 5 trips

5-Year Goals (to be completed by 9/15/18)
1. LOFT- Form a Choir Loft/Organ Task Force whose responsibility is to study ALL the options for our current situation and future needs and then have a recommendation in place.
2. KITCHEN- Ongoing implementation of one-year results
3. STAFF- Ongoing plan based on one-year results
     These goals will be re-visited and re-evaluated yearly to make any “course corrections” that arise. Of course, you will be kept completely “up to date” as this 5-year plan unfolds.
     These goals are lofty ones. They are ambitious. They are challenging and far-reaching. AND…they are inspired. The leaders of your church took seriously their charge to pray and be open to the guiding of the Holy Spirit. I invite you to keep this process in your prayers. The Holy Spirit is moving and guiding your church in powerful ways…and great things are in store!    
Psalm 143:10 Teach me to do what you want, because you are my God. May your good Spirit lead me on a level path.
     As a congregation, we invite the Holy Spirit to teach us what He wants us to do…because He is our God. We pray that He will lead us…guide us…on the path that He has for us. We pray that He will give us the courage to follow the path He has laid before us. I close with a question posed by theologian and author Leonard Sweet- “Are you bored to death…or baptized to 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- Before the Parade Passes By!

Friday, September 20- We’re Getting Plastered!

     Well, did the title catch your attention? Did you read it and (especially if you DIDN’T look at the picture) say, “Pastor! you’re WHAT?!” Not gonna lie- that  WAS my goal!!
     Obviously, the term “getting plastered” is usually synonymous with heavy drinking. And if you know me well, you KNOW that I don’t drink alcohol. I USED to, but when I finally gave in and agreed to follow God’s call into the ministry, I decided that I wanted to give up alcohol. Now, before you think, “Wow! How sacrificial of you, Pastor!”, I must confess that I didn’t drink much to begin with. A beer here, a glass of wine there…that was about it. So it really wasn’t that great of a sacrifice.
     But anyway, the odds of me “getting plastered” in the traditional sense are slim and none. So the “plastered” we have been getting is the LITERAL plastering. For most of this week, two very nice gentlemen in our community have spent their days in the upstairs of our house- the church parsonage- fixing the ceiling.
     The house in which we live is 100 years old, and it is a beautiful old house! It is a large 2-story with a full, walk-up attic and a rather cavernous basement. There are high ceilings, lots of gorgeous woodwork, leaded glass, a built-in buffet/sideboard and a beautiful front staircase. The church has done a great job of maintaining the house, so it is NOT an ugly old house that is drafty and uncomfortable. Instead, it is a well-kept house that is truly a showpiece.
     So, then, why the plastering? The ceiling in the upstairs was starting to show wear. There were several cracks in various rooms. Not plaster falling in- just cracks. So the Trustees of the church I serve hired those two aforementioned nice gentlemen to fix the problem! And the transformation has been staggering- what was cracked and showing age at the beginning of the week is now smooth, clean and shiny!
     That’s what God does for us. The ceilings of our souls start to show some wear- cracks form and they threaten to widen and deepen if not properly tended. And so…God tends them. He cleans off the rough edges, reinforces the areas that need special attention, spreads a new coat over the whole thing to fill in the cracks, sands the whole thing down smooth and then…paints over the whole thing to make it seamless.
    God can…God WILL…re-plaster your life, making you a new creation in the process. But it will ONLY happen if you LET it happen. You have to be open and receptive to what God wants to do. What does He want to do in YOUR life? Be open. Be receptive. Be willing to let Him in do to that which only He can do. You will NOT be sorry! Now, id you’ll excuse me, I have to go and move tarps so we can go to bed!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
   Tomorrow- Before the Parade Passes By!