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!