Thursday, October 31- Trunking and Treating

     So…today is Halloween. I wonder- is there a more polarizing “holiday” on the calendar? I mean, there’s Christmas and Easter- both are built on the foundation of pagan holidays with the intent to re-imagine those holidays from a different perspective. They both tend to bring out the more vocal non-Christians, who seem willing to take some pretty good shots at both the observances AND those who observe them.
     The there’s Halloween- built on the foundation of a pagan holiday. It tends to bring out the more vocal Christians, who seem willing to take some pretty good shots at both the observance AND those who observe it. WOW…that somehow sounds familiar! I wonder, then, if Halloween can be re-imagined from a different perspective.
     The church I currently serve is holding our 2nd Annual Trunk or Treat event. We close off the street alongside the church (Yes…we got permission!) and line both sides of said street with cars- parked nose-in with the trunk facing out into the middle of the street. Each car opens their trunk, decorates it and sits next to it with a basket of candy. We then invite…the town…to come and trick or treat…or more descriptively TRUNK or treat!
     Last year, the first year we did it, somewhere north of 200 people joined us. Many of them were folks who would be somewhat unlikely to come into the church building. So…we took the church out to them! We welcomed them. We gave them candy. We even gave them grilled hot dogs…FREE! (That was almost funny! People struggle to wrap their heads around fresh-cooked food that is…FREE!)
     Several things struck me about last year’s event:
1. The people who came had a great time and seemed to genuinely appreciate the effort.
2. The people who made it happen (through their cars, their hot dog cooking, their organizing and their donations) also had a great time.
3. People of the community got to see a side of our church that they might not see under other circumstances.
     I will say that there was some opposition to the event. Some folks thought that churches shouldn’t be acknowledging Halloween in any way, shape or form. And, at one level, I get that. (See above comments about pagan holidays.) But the truth of the matter is this: the community is going to celebrate Halloween whether we do or not. So we have a choice- refuse to participate and further drive home the notion that Christians are narrow-minded elitists who think they are better than everybody else OR re-imagine the day as something that we can get behind and use to connect with those around us who don’t have a church home. Can you guess which choice I support?!
     As I said, tonight will be the 2nd Annual effort. The weather (which was PERECT last year) doesn’t look very promising this year- rain, rain and more rain! But if it rains, we will simply move the candy (NOT the cars) into the church basement and try to make lemonade out of these lemons! And regardless of whether it rains or not, regardless of how many people show up because of the rain…we’ll be back out there next year, trying once again to better connect with the good folks of our community!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
Tomorrow- Trunking and Treating- Part 2

Wednesday, October 30- My Cheeseburger

     I will be the first to confess- I like Veggie Tales! If you have seen it, you are probably nodding and smiling right now. If you haven’t, you’re probably thinking, “Veggie Who?” For the uninitiated, Veggie Tales is a series of animated Christian DVD’s that tell Bible and faith-related stories through the lens of…talking vegetables! (No foolin’!) One of the stars of Veggie Tales is Larry the Cucumber. (Again…no foolin’!) One of the “running gags” that Veggie Tales does is called Silly Songs With Larry, in which Larry sings…well…a silly song! In one such episode, Larry is sitting in his car in the drive-thru of Burger Bell, where he sings his order, “I’d like a cheeseburger, and I might like a milkshake as well.” The “voicebox” responds, “I can’t get you either.” To which Larry asks, “Isn’t this Burger Bell?” The reply? “Yes but we’re closed now. We open tomorrow at 10.” Larry sings, “I guess I can wait until then!” And then he hits the big chorus, “Cuz you’re my cheeseburger, my yummy cheeseburger. I’ll wait for you!” He stays in his car in the drive-thru all night. But when he wakes, he sees a billboard for Denny’s- bacon and eggs- ½ price! He sings, ”How can I resist such an offer? I really need something to munch. Cheeseburger, please don’t get angry. I’ll eat and be back here for lunch!” 
     Today, I ask you this question, “What’s your cheeseburger?” We are in the 4th week of our current Wednesday Bible Study, Livin’ on a Prayer. Jesus has gone up on a mountain, where He delivers the Sermon on the Mount, which include the subject of this study- the 8 Beatitudes. So far, we have considered that blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven, blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted and blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Today, we look at #4-
“Blessed are those who hunger/thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
     Advertisers spend billions of dollars getting slogans and logos in front of us. Why? Because it works! They buy real estate in your mind- if they can get their slogan or logo in your head, then they can influence your choices. Target, Coke, Pepsi, Taco Bell, Nike- they have delivered some of the most successful images in history.
     Madison Avenue uses 2 deliberate strategies: 1) make us think that our world is incomplete without their product, and 2) get their logo in front of us over and over. We won’t necessarily buy after the 1st commercial, but what about after a thousand. Clever…
     but Jesus had Madison Avenue beat 2,000 years ago: He understood that an image connected with an idea was powerful. He did it often- mustard seeds, loaves, fish, a tree, a pearl…the Cross. But of all the images Jesus used, hunger and thirst are the only ones we all experience every day- they are a part of life. Why did He pick those? To get the full impact, the full meaning, He needed to put them in front of us again and again. And hunger and thirst are not only everyday realities; they are powerful images that help reveal the greatness of Jesus.
     If you were to try and define Hunger, you might call it a strong, compelling desire or craving. If you were to describe thirst, you might say…the same thing. It’s an ongoing cycle- we get hungry or thirsty, we get filled, and then we start it all over again. 
     If you were starving or dying of thirst, it would be an all-consuming, overriding drive. What you wear, where you live, the weather, sports, TV- nothing else would matter; it would be irrelevant. When the Prodigal Son was hungry, he tried to satisfy his hunger with hog slop, but it didn’t fill the void. So what did he do? He decided to go back home. He had a strong desire to hear and obey the will of his father. 
     Are you hungry? Maybe your hunger is strong- a gnawing, or as kd lang called it, a constant craving. Do you have that deep desire? For what? We should hunger and thirst for that which only God can give- personal righteousness and spiritual rebirth. Who do you want most to please in life? Yourself? Your spouse? Your kids? Your boss? Is it more important to gain the approval of family and friends…or God? We please God when we hunger and thirst for His righteousness. And when we hunger and thirst for righteousness, it’s a by-product of a regenerated spiritual life. 
     What’s the starting point of any achievement? Desire. And limited desire brings limited results. What’s the key to will power? Want power. If you it want badly enough, you will find the power to achieve it. What’s the difference between apathy and ignorance? I don’t know and I don’t care! Apathy is not a state of mind; it’s a state of the heart. The prefix “a” means “without”, while “pathos” means passion. Apathetic people understand; they just don’t care. They have lost their hunger and thirst. 
     What is the secret to a healthy spiritual life? Having a hunger, a thirst, a passion for God. And that naturally flows when we realize that we are poor in spirit, when we mourn, when we meekly turn to God. We won’t hunger and thirst unless the 1st 3 happen. Education might you’re your hunger for knowledge. Relationships might meet your hunger for belonging. Accomplishments might meet your hunger for significance. But those things are fleeting. They are simply place markers- they point to a deeper, more significant longing- a hunger for truth, love/knowledge, belonging and significance. Spiritual hunger and thirst are a thermometer- they determine your spiritual health. 
     Are you hungry and thirsty for God’s righteousness? Are you emotionally starved? Do you seek love and affection from your parents, your spouse, your child, your sibling, your friend? Where do you turn? Remember, Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. 
     Did you know that one of the 1st signs of physical illness is a loss of appetite? The same is true of spiritual illness. If you are not hungry and thirsty, you won’t eat and drink. And if you don’t eat and drink…you will die. We need to cut out of our lives the spiritual “junk food”- it pacifies the appetite but offers no true nourishment. 
     The Scripture passage says, “They will be filled”. That points to complete satisfaction, but what does that mean? It doesn’t mean everything we want and wish for. It doesn’t mean that every whim will be fulfilled. Instead, it points to divine contentment. 
     What does spiritual hunger and thirst bring? It brings conversation with God. It brings excitement about God. It brings passion for God. Good commercials get you to act immediately, “Offer good today only!” Are you hungry and thirsty? That’s good. The offer is good today-  come and be filled. 
     Do you know what the most frequent promise found in the Bible is? “I will be with you.”  Don’t settle for cheeseburgers when you hunger for the whole cow. Don’t settle for a slice when you want the whole loaf. Don’t settle for a sip when you thirst for the whole glass. Don’t go away hungry and thirsty. Instead- come and be filled.
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
 Tomorrow- Trunking and Tre

Tuesday, October 29- Over the Hump!

    There is a two-word phrase that exists in the theological world of today’s churches. It is a phrase that can be very polarizing- it is either seen as an essential imperative that churches can’t live without…literally…or it is seen as the final nail in the coffin, once and for all proving the notion that today’s American Protestant churches have finally and completely sold out to the worldly, corporate approach.

     Have you figured it out yet? The term is…ready?…Church Growth! (Cue dramatic orchestral music!) Right now, you are probably doing one of two things:

1. Frowning and saying, “Church Growth? Really? THAT’S the big deal you built up to nearly Godzilla-sized proportions? Or

2. Nodding and saying, “Been there…done that!”

     I honestly can’t think of very many things that are more potentially polarizing to American Christians than the subject of church growth. It seems to have the ability to take perfectly rational, sane, centered people and make them a bit…well…“left of center”. Why is that?

     Some see it as the Church selling out to Madison Avenue. They feel that it shows we have stopped being IN the world and started being OF the world. They see it as a sign that we have shifted our priorities away from Jesus Christ and toward the almighty dollar. And I honestly understand why they might think that…but I don’t fully agree.

     The truth is that church growth CAN be a “bad word”—IF it is done for the wrong reasons, with the wrong goal in mind. If the goal is simply to get more people in the seats and therefore more money in the plate…then the goal IS wrong! But if the goal is to get more people in the seats…so that you can connect MORE people with Jesus Christ, then church growth is suddenly NOT a good thing…but a GREAT thing!

     The church I serve has a VERY simple Mission Statement: “We exist to connect people with Jesus Christ.” Really, it couldn’t be any MORE simple. Simple…but NOT easy! And I think…perhaps hope…that some variation of that is EVERY Christian church’s Mission Statement. Maybe not those exact words, but certainly that overall theme. Why? Because that should be the goal of every church that claims Jesus as its foundation. If we believe that He IS the One and Only begotten Son of God- Emmanuel…God with us- then what else could POSSIBLY be our Mission Statement?

     If it is good…GREAT…to connect 100 people/week with Jesus Christ, then wouldn’t connecting 200 people/week with Jesus Christ be…TWICE as good?! No matter how I skew the math, the answer to that question, for me, is ALWAYS, “Yes!” And if THAT is our goal, then suddenly church growth is a GREAT thing. Suddenly, putting more people in the seats on a Sunday is the best thing that could happen!

     Have you noticed that, once I brought it up early in the article, I have NOT gone back to the “money” issue since? That was intentional! I fear that is where churches who DO go wrong…GO wrong. They make the goal more MONEY, NOT more people connected to Christ. If the goal is more money, you may well get it, but you will NOT connect more people to Christ- you will simply make them feel good every week so that more money gets put in the plate. But if the goal remains rock steady on connecting people to Jesus, you WILL get it done. And along the way, as more and more people get connected to Christ, the money tends to take care of itself.

     Church growth folks will tell you that breaking the “200 in average weekly attendance” barrier is the HARDEST one to break. And…they are correct. Shifting from a church of 150/week to a church of 250/week requires a substantive, fundamental change in the way we look at church, and THAT’S why it’s so hard.

     The church I serve is on track to end this calendar year with an average weekly attendance of 250. It appears that we have made it “over the hump”! And because of that, we have set a goal of 10% growth for next year. That means we are aiming at 275/week next year. A lofty goal, but one worth shooting for. Why? Because if connecting 250 people/week to Jesus Christ is good (and it is!), then connecting 275 people/week to Jesus Christ must be…ready?…10% better!

           Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Tomorrow- My Cheeseburger

Monday, October 28- Carving the Pumpkin!

     This weekend, we participated in one of our patented “family traditions”, of which we have several. We go out every year, cut down a Christmas tree, drag it home and decorate it while we listen to Christmas music and reminisce. We go out to the apple orchard and pick apples. We make sugar cookies for the holidays. We dye Easter eggs. And that’s just a partial list. As I said, there are many!

     But the one we did this weekend is as long-standing as any of those. This weekend…we carved the pumpkins! It is such a tradition for us that we waited a week to carve them so that our older son could be home and participate. We start by splitting two garbage bags and using them to cover the dining room table. We then haul the pumpkins in. Yes…plural- pumpkins. We always have at least two, and this year was no exception. This year’s pumpkins came from what appears to be a new family tradition- attending the Punkin Pickin’ Party that a family in the church I serve hosts.

     After the pumpkins are in place, the carving begins! After sawing the top off the pumpkin, the “gutting” begins. We are very careful to separate the “crud” from the seeds. The, once the insides are…outside, the faces start to take shape. My younger son and I drew out a face and then carved it into the pumpkin. My older son simply “free-handed” a face that included a nose that looked like the Nike “swoop”.

     As they finish the pumpkins, I take the seeds into the kitchen and wash them off. I then dry them, spread them out on a cookie sheet, brush some olive oil on them, sprinkle some salt and garlic powder on them and then stick them in the oven at 325 degrees. Stir them every 8-10 minutes and cook them until they are golden brown. They. Are. Awesome!

     As I write this, the pumpkins…er…jack-o-lanterns are on the front steps, their candles shining brightly in the clear darkness. My older son is nearly back home in Chicago. And the rest of us are watching the World Series. And another family tradition is “in the books”.

     For us, WHERE we are and/or WHAT we are doing is MUCH less important than WHO we are with. We actually enjoy being with each other. I worry…and hurt…about families that don’t seem to even like each other. They seem like people living in the same building…and little else. They don’t make much of any effort to be together. They don’t go out of their way to help each other, encourage each other, love each other. But if you can’t count on your family…who CAN you count on?

     You don’t have to travel long distances and spend inordinate sums of money to have a good time as a family. If you enjoy each other’s company, it really doesn’t matter where you are or what you’re doing. And if you DON’T enjoy each other’s company…why not?

      Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Tomorrow- Getting Over the Hump

Sunday, October 27- Daring Greatly: Scarcity and Abundance

      A man lost his job and didn’t have enough money, so he started poaching lobsters. A game warden saw him and said: ‘I’m going to have to arrest you. Poaching is illegal.’ ‘I’m not poaching lobsters,’ the man said. ‘These are my pets. I’m exercising them. I throw them into the sea, then whistle, and they come back.’ ‘Show me,’ the warden said in disbelief. The man threw the lobsters into the water and started to walk away. ‘Wait!’ the warden shouted. ‘Don’t you have to whistle to call your lobsters back?’ The man looked at the warden, paused, and said, ‘What lobsters?’
     Every day we experience the uncertainty, risks, and emotional exposure that define what it means to be vulnerable, or to dare greatly. Whether it’s a new relationship, an important meeting or a difficult family situation, we daily have to try and find the courage to engage vulnerability with our whole hearts.
     Our new sermon series, Daring Greatly, based on the book by Brene’ Brown, challenges everything we think we know about vulnerability. We will argue that vulnerability is not weakness, but rather our clearest path to courage, engagement, and meaningful connection to others…and to Christ. This series will spark a new spirit of truth- and trust- in your church, your family…your life.
Genesis 27:28 God will bless you, my son, with dew from heaven and with fertile fields, rich with grain and grapes.
     Jesus says that there’s enough for everyone to be fed. And we say, in so many words, “Jesus, are you outside Your mind? We don’t have that kind of money. We can’t provide for all of these people. Our resources are limited. Be more realistic, Jesus. Think about what You’re asking, for goodness sake!”
     We’re confronted with troubles every day. We look around and see burning needs. We see poverty, destruction, recession, illness…the need is overwhelming at times. And so we pull in. We revert to scarcity mode. “There’s only so much to go around. We can’t possibly make a dent in the enormity of the needs that exist around us. There’s only so much we can do, so much we can give, so much we can say.”
     People are afraid to take risks and try new things. It’s easier to stay quiet than to share stories, experiences, and ideas…to risk, to dare. We feel like no one is really paying attention or listening. It seems as if everybody is struggling to just be seen and heard.
     Churches buy into the myth of limited resources. We often think there’s just enough for us- maybe even just enough for SOME of us.  And therefore…some simply have to go without. Why? We’re worried we’ll run out. But guess what? God has enough for all of us. We come from all different walks of life, but the one thing we have in common is that we’re sick of feeling afraid. We’re tired of asking, “What should we fear?” and “Who should we blame?” Instead, we want to be brave. We WANT to dare greatly.
John 12:1-8 Six days before the Passover feast, Jesus journeyed to the village of Bethany, to the home of Lazarus who had recently been raised from the dead, where they hosted Him for dinner. Martha was busy serving as the hostess, Lazarus reclined at the table with Him, and Mary took a pound of fine ointment, pure nard (which is both rare and expensive), and anointed Jesus’ feet with it; and then she wiped them with her hair. As the pleasant fragrance of this extravagant ointment filled the entire house, Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples (who was plotting to betray Jesus), began to speak. “How could she pour out this vast amount of fine oil? Why didn’t she sell it? It is worth nearly a year’s wages; the money could have been given to the poor.”  This had nothing to do with Judas’s desire to help the poor. The truth is he served as the treasurer, and he helped himself to the money from the common pot at every opportunity. Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. She has observed this custom in anticipation of the day of My burial. The poor are ever present, but I will be leaving.”
     Recently, a group of researchers conducted a computer analysis of three decades of hit songs. They found a statistically significant trend toward narcissism and hostility in popular music. They found a decrease in words such as “we” and “us” and an increase in words like “I” and “me”. We have become a selfish, narcissistic society. We have fully embraced scarcity and self-care. But what if we were to imagine a new way of thinking? What if we were to loosen our death grip on what we have and imagine what we could do with it? What if we dared to be…vulnerable?
     Jesus has come to celebrate the Passover meal. And in the midst of this observance, Mary enters the room, carrying an abundant offering for Jesus. She approaches Him, breaks open her alabaster jar, falls to her knees and pours the contents on His feet, wiping it in with her hair.
     Nard is a perfume derived from a plant found only in the Himalayas. It was VERY costly and VERY precious. It would be absolute madness to WASTE such a precious thing by pouring on someone’s feet! And as Mary pouring it out on Jesus’ feet, people were appalled at the extravagant waste. “Mary! Why in the WORLD would you do that?!” But Mary trusted that her scarcity could be made abundant in Jesus. Mary believed that she could NOT out-give her Master. And so she poured out a year’s wages in an abundant act of worship. Worship must be sacrificial and selfless and Mary proves that. She doesn’t hold anything back. It was all she had.
Mary was willing to give all she had. Many of us, however, are content to just dip our finger into that which we consider precious…and dab JUST a bit of it on Jesus. Can’t possibly do more…we might run out!
     A church in Houston, Texas was struggling badly. It had been in serious decline for years with no prospects of increasing membership. The congregation’s average age was climbing- Susan, who was 63 years old…was the youth group! The pastor saw the handwriting on the wall and suggested something radical. “We’ve clearly chosen to die. If we’re GOING to die…let’s die well.” He convinced the remaining members to systematically give away the church’s assets- invest in the community. Reaching out, they started finding needs and spending money to help their neighbors. And they spent all of their money and closed their doors forever…right? Wrong.
     As they began doing God’s work and giving things away, an amazing thing happened- the church began to be revitalized! Instead of continually declining in membership, people from the community began attending. They began joining in the process of giving away what the church had. And the congregation found out something quite interesting and life-changing–they couldn’t out-give God- just wasn’t possible. Every time they tried, more people…and more money…came in to ensure that God’s work would continue to happen. When it comes to doing God’s work, there IS no such thing as scarcity. There is ALWAYS abundance. But we have to ask ourselves, do we live our lives as if we believe that?
     The author of Daring Greatly argues that the opposite of scarcity is not abundance. She feels that wholeheartedness is the opposite of scarcity and that abundance is simpl
y the other side of the scarcity coin. If abundance is measured in earthly ways…I agree completely. But for our purposes, abundance has NOTHING to do with earthly measurements and EVERYTHING to do with God’s measurements. A theology of abundance is ultimately a matter of trust…of faith.
     The Roman Empire claimed that the gods supplied food through the emperor. Their philosophy was, “Wanna eat? Better stay on the correct side of power. Keep the gods happy, keep the emperor happy.” But then along comes this Jesus guy, offering up a radical notion. “You wanna eat? The first thing you gotta do is . . . share.” The SOURCE of ministry is God, but the means of production and distribution are…us. When people’s needs aren’t met, it’s not God’s doing. Theologian Walt Brueggemann said, “The only shortage in the world today is the shortage of will to share what God has provided to us.”
     Our current situation simply pushes us farther into the scarcity mode- rising food costs, skyrocketing medical care costs, falling stock prices, a slack job market. Scarcity is a scary thing. What holds us back from freely sharing what we have? As individuals, as a church, as a nation, what is it that keeps us living out a sense of abundance? It’s our fear of scarcity. “What if we run out? What if there’s not enough to go around?” We are SO little in a world that is SO big. Just one church, made up of modest members living modest lives.
     We thrive on the “never enough” statements. You know- never good enough, never thin enough, never powerful enough, never successful enough, never smart enough, never safe enough, never extraordinary enough.
     Author Lynne Twist refers to scarcity as “the great lie.” She says, “For me, and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is ‘I didn’t get enough sleep.’ The next one is ‘I don’t have enough time.’ Whether true or not, that thought of not enough occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it. We spend most of the hours and the days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don’t have enough of.… Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. And by the time we go to bed at night, our minds are racing with a litany of what we didn’t get, or didn’t get done, that day. We go to sleep burdened by those thoughts and wake up to that reverie of lack.… This internal condition of scarcity, this mind-set of scarcity, lives at the very heart of who we are.”
     Scarcity thrives in a culture where everyone is hyper aware of lack. Everything from safety and love to money and resources feels restricted or lacking. We spend inordinate amounts of time calculating how much we have, want, and don’t have, and how much everyone else has, needs, and wants. Worrying about scarcity is our culture’s version of post-traumatic stress. It happens when we’ve been through too much, and rather than coming together to heal (which requires vulnerability), we’re angry and scared and at each other’s throats.
     But God says we can’t out-give Him. And with that assurance implanted in our brains and embedded in our hearts, we can find the courage to share that with which we are richly blessed- God’s awesome abundance. God is in the “abundance” business. But from God’s abundance, we often manage to create scarcity. And we receive that scarcity…when we’re willing to settle for it.
     The nard that Mary poured out had a powerful scent that even the people outside could smell. The aroma of her abundant gift was powerful. When we abundantly give ourselves to Jesus, the aroma is powerful. When a church is made up of committed Christians who are willing to give everything they have to Jesus, the scent is inviting…undeniable. Even those outside are drawn to the fragrance within.
Matthew 6:19-21  Don’t store up treasures on earth! Moths and rust can destroy them, and thieves can break in and steal them. Instead, store up your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy them, and thieves cannot break in and steal them. Your heart will always be where your treasure is.
     The truth is that while some are attracted to the abundance of God, others are disgusted by that kind of extravagance. Your extravagant love for God will be perplexing to those who like to whine and complain. But don’t let that stop you! Those folks are typically more into serving themselves than serving God. They might couch their disapproval in spiritual language…but their hypocrisy is just as evident.
     The people outside our walls are starving for life…and life abundantly! No matter what society tries to tell us, people are hungry for true, authentic worship. And if they aren’t drawn to the truth, they’ll simply settle for counterfeit. People are starving for Jesus, not just stories ABOUT Him. The question is…are we ready to be vulnerable and embrace a theology of abundance?
      Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
 Tomorrow- Carving the Pumpkin!

Saturday, October 26- The Combine is on the Move

     I don’t know if YOU live in a farming area…but I do. In fact, at some level, I always have. I grew up out in the middle of nowhere. My family did NOT make our living in farming, but basically everybody around us did. Our property- 2 ½ acres- was bounded on three sides by fields. The 4th side was woods! So we were rural.
     I grew up working for farmers, and the seasons of farming dictated the rhythm of life. In the spring, the ground was prepared and the seed was planted. In the summer, the crops were checked regularly. The corn was de-tassled and the beans were “walked”- you literally walked row by row, weeding as you went. The cows were tended and the hay was cut, raked, baled, picked up and stored in the barn. 
     Then comes fall. All the work and attention of spring and summer culminate in fall’s harvest. The “window” of harvest opens, and the farmers have to be able to step through that window, because it’s not opened for terribly long. Of course, the weather plays a large role in the ability to harvest in a timely manner. The rain that was so scarce in the summer when the plants needed it suddenly seems all too abundant in October. 
     But as sure as the sun will rise, the combines begin to emerge from their long slumber to rumble out into service. Grain trucks become as regular as school buses. And slowly, the corn that has obscured the horizon for months makes way for wide-open vistas that seem to go on forever.       
    Two things strike me this time of year-
1. This is the time of year the farmers work for. Sure, it is the quality and quantity of the crops that, in large part, dictate what kind of year they have. They pray for a good, bountiful harvest. But I also see that this is a special time for them. They can’t hardly WAIT to get in that combine and get out there in the field. It is where they belong. It is where they we meant to be!

2. A rather large part of this country has no real idea just how important the American farmer is to our way of life…our very existence. Think of the things you buy at the grocery store. You won’t find many that aren’t a direct result of some farmer pouring his or her blood, sweat and tears into the land.
     We owe such a debt of gratitude to the farmers of our country- a debt we could never repay. But the interesting thing is that I don’t think the farmers WANT us to repay that debt- that’s not why they do what they do. They do it because, as I said before, it is where they belong. It is where they are meant to be.
     Are you doing what you were meant to do? Are you where you were meant to be? I pray you are. But if you aren’t, I encourage you to pray to God and ask Him to reveal WHERE you are supposed to be…and how you should get there!
      Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
Tomorrow- Daring Greatly; Scarcity and Abundance

Friday, October 25- Band on the Run


     Wednesday night was both a stroll down memory lane and yet another chance to be proud of my kids! My younger son, who is 13 and in 8th Grade, participated in a regional band concert that night. 8th Grade band students from 6 schools in the region came together that day. They arrived at the school where the concert was (about 45 minutes from home) just after noon. They spent the rest of the afternoon practicing their music. They ate dinner together and then, I assume, practiced some more! We arrived at 6:30PM for the 7PM concert, and over the next 30 minutes…the place filled up!

     A young woman was the guest director and she obviously had the respect of her younger musicians. Over the course of the next 35 minutes or so, they played several songs and showed both great talent and great passion for the music! After the kids helped “strike the set” (put the instruments, chairs and stands away), we piled in the van and headed for home.

     It is really cool to be a band PARENT after being a band STUDENT so many years ago. Our older son went through the public school band program, and now our younger son is following suit. When you put all the concerts I’ve PLAYED in together with all of the concerts I’ve watched my KIDS play in…wow!…that is a LOT of concerts!   

     But all of that is NOT the only reason this particular concert was a stroll down memory lane. When I was in school, our school district broke things down this way- K-6th was Grade School, 7th-9th was Junior High and 10th-12th was High School. And when I was in 9th Grade, my last year of Junior High, I participated in a similar event. Schools from around the county hand-picked 9th Graders to participate in the County Band Concert.

     Much like what my son did, we gathered at a school in the area and spent the day practicing. Then, that evening, we had a concert. An event happened at that concert that would later be both a realization AND a point of contention between me and my wife!

     I didn’t know her at the time- we went to different Junior Highs- but my wife, who played the bassoon, was also a part of that County Band. And a few years later, after we had been dating for a bit, she said to me one day, “Where you in the County Band when we were in 9th Grade?” “Um…yes, I was. Why?” “I remember you!” I’m thinking that I was so cute that I stood out. “Really?” “Yes…you dropped the cymbals!”

     Here’s the real deal. After all these years, the truth can finally be told. I did NOT drop the cymbals! The cymbals FELL…or at the least CYMBAL fell…but I did NOT drop it! I DID, however, break a cardinal rule of concert percussionists. As a concert percussionist, there are certain things you are not supposed to do. And perhaps Number One on that list is this- never, never, NEVER use either of the tympani as a stand for other equipment! (Aaahhh…you can see it coming NOW!)

     It was a rather involved percussion song, and I was playing three different instruments. I had the hand cymbals, for some big cymbal crashes. I also had a triangle and a wood block. So you play one, put it down, pick up another, play it and so on. Well, at one point in the song, I had to crash the cymbals, put them down as fast as possible and pick up the triangle. The kid playing the pair of tympani drums didn’t need the smaller (and closer to me) of the two for a few measures. SO…I set the cymbals down, one on top of the other, on that smaller tympani.

     The plan was FLAWLESS- except, that is, that the kid DID need the larger tympani. And when he played that one, it caused the other one to vibrate. And when it vibrated, the top cymbal slowly…slid…off! I saw it unfold in slow-motion, but couldn’t get to it in time. The cymbal landed on its edge, made a nice “crash” sound and bounced. I “one-hopped” it before it could hit a 2nd time, but the damage was done! And then…2 years later, this girl that I was…and AM…head over heels about…remembers me as “the cute blond kid who dropped the cymbals”!

     Memories are a great thing. Cherish them. Revel in them. Enjoy them. But DON’T live in them. Don’t hang SO tight to them that you are unable to move forward in your life. Remember the past…but don’t dwell on it. No matter how great the past was, God has so much more in store for you!

     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 Combine is On the Move